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Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Grade: A
Publisher: Sony (2016)
Reviewed: 2016/6/26
Rating: Teen (blood, language, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)

screenshotWith its lifelike graphics, dramatic acting, and cinematic storytelling Uncharted 4: A Thief's End toes the line between video game and interactive movie. I might have a problem with the lengthy cut-scenes if they weren't so damn good! The clever, well-written dialog rivals that of a major motion picture. The gameplay is a combination of exploration, puzzle-solving, off-road driving, and wild shootouts. The tombs and puzzles have a heavy Indiana Jones influence, but there's a dash of The Goonies as well.

The game sets the stage with "flashback stages" recounting our hero's youth at an orphanage. The predicaments he and his brother find themselves in foreshadow the main story while fleshing out their characters. Uncharted 4 is first and foremost a pirate adventure, so expect gorgeous tropical islands, mysterious caves, and mayhem on the high seas. The game takes every opportunity to show off its spectacular scenery by letting you enjoy some amazing panoramic views. Certain games contain eye candy, but Uncharted 4 is eye candy. You can practically feel the humidity of the dense jungle, smell the musty caverns, and squeeze the mud between your toes.

For the first few stages the game feels like it's on autopilot as you effortlessly scale crumbling ruins like a contestant on American Ninja. Your ability to swing on ropes makes this feel like a spiritual descendant of Pitfall (Atari 2600, 1982). Speaking of old school, in one part of the game you actually find yourself playing the original Crash Bandicoot (Playstation, 1997) - a game within a game! The driving stages are a blast, taking the term "off road" to the extreme.

The puzzles are hard enough to make you think, but not so onerous you have to go digging for an FAQ. The real challenge of the game lies in its exciting gunfights. The battlegrounds allow for all sorts of strategy and barriers you take cover behind actually deteriorate as you take fire! The more I played Uncharted 4 the more I loved it. I'm glad the game has frequent autosaves because there are really no good stopping points.

The only part of the game I could have done without was the prolonged ending, which brought back memories of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The game seems remarkably polished (no camera issues at all) so I was disappointed when it locked up on me. Unlike what other reviewers may claim, the gameplay is unchanged from previous Uncharted titles and the story is exactly what you would expect. Uncharted 4 is just bigger and better, and considering its pedigree that's saying a lot. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (Playstation 3)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Game Boy Advance)
Pitfall 2 (Atari 5200)
Crash Bandicoot (Playstation)

Undertale
Grade: A-
Publisher: Fangamer (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/11/12
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotReview contributed by eneuman96 of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
Summarizing a boldly unconventional RPG like this without revealing any spoilers is quite the challenge. Undertale puts you in the role of a child trying to survive an underground world so you can return to the surface. You'll encounter a wide variety of quirky enemies and allies, often in the form of half-goat and half-fish characters. Discovering a new creature is always a joy due to their creative designs and descriptions.

Much of Undertale's appeal emanates from the fact that it subverts or eschews so many RPG conventions. For one thing, killing enemies is unnecessary. The player is allowed to spare them, usually after conversing with them first. Despite occasional moments of trial and error, Undertale is anything but dull whether you choose to be a pacifist or a psychopathic killer. The game goes out of its way to make you feel guilty if you choose the latter.

Although battles are turn-based, enemy attacks are dealt with innovative shoot-em-up-style action segments where you dodge obstacles with a heart. The simplistic yet charming graphics (reminiscent of cult classic SNES title Earthbound) belie the insane amount of detail present in every other aspect of the game. With a memorable cast of characters, hilarious yet moving writing, and some of the catchiest video game music of the decade, Undertale will remain with you long after you've completed it. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Chrono Trigger (Nintendo DS)
Funky Fish (Arcadia 2001)
Go Fish! (Atari 2600)
Killer Satellites (Atari 2600)
Crossbow (Atari 7800)

Until Dawn
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sony (2015)
Reviewed: 2015/9/25
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotNot since Night Trap (Sega CD, 1992) has there been a game I'd describe as an interactive horror movie, but Until Dawn certainly qualifies. The premise revolves around a group of teenagers that return to a ski lodge one year after a tragedy took place. Until Dawn borrows liberally from every horror movie and video game including Evil Dead, The Shining, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alan Wake, Saw, Scream, Heavy Rain, and I Know What you Did Last Summer. The results are spectacular.

The game looks like a million bucks, featuring remarkably lifelike characters with a full range of facial expressions. My friends actually recognized the real actors who were digitized for the game! The atmosphere is moody as all hell thanks to excellent cinematography and clever camerawork. Disturbing sound effects and a brooding musical score keep you on the edge of your seat.

You control each of the characters at some point, typically wandering around to investigate flashing objects. When the action heats up you must respond to rapid button prompts, and it's pretty intense. Periodically you're required to make a decision which might involve deciding a course of action (safe route or shortcut) or determining how to relate to other characters. I love the idea of a branching storyline but it's not always clear your actions are having much impact, especially when your choices are limited to "shut up" or "dismissive".

Until Dawn definitely strings you along but it's refreshing not having to conserve ammo, scrounge for health, or restart from the same spot over and over. I like how the game takes full advantage of the PS4 controller. You'll slide your finger across the touch screen to light a match or browse a smartphone. You'll need to keep the controller perfectly still during certain scenes to avoid detection.

Much like Alan Wake (Xbox 360, 2010) the game is broken into chapters, each beginning with a recap of the story so far. Yes, there are plenty of horror cliches (all of them I think) in the form of cheap scares, raunchy jokes, and people investigating noises when they should be running in the other direction. But I knew the game was something special when I found myself face to face with a psychologist questioning me about my own actions in the game! Whoa. Bonus videos include a Blair Witch-style "documentary". If you're the kind of person who allows themselves to be afraid and enjoys the feeling, Until Dawn will tap into your deepest fears. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Silent Hill (Playstation)
Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
Late Shift (Playstation 4)
Alien Trilogy (Playstation)
Silent Hill 4: The Room (Xbox)

Wild Guns: Reloaded
Grade: C
Publisher: Natsume (2016)
Reviewed: 2017/11/28

screenshotThis unlikely PS4 release probably caught a lot of gamers off guard. Reloaded's graphics and gameplay are nearly identical to the original Wild Guns (SNES, 1994). I guess that makes it appealing for retro gamers who can't afford a copy of the original Super Nintendo cart.

It's quite a shock to fire up your PS4 and see that 16-bit title screen with pixelated graphics and old-school music. Upon selecting one of four characters you find yourself in a wild west scenario fighting outlaws and retro-futuristic robots. Like the original version you can't move and aim at the same time. You'd think Natsume would have leveraged the modern dual-stick controller configuration to overcome that limitation.

One button unleashes continuous fire (with shell cases flying), a second lets you jump/dodge, and a third unleashes devastating bombs (limited in quantity). The gameplay is pure arcade mayhem as you blast everything in sight. I love the explosions! When thugs get too close Annie can slug them with a baseball bat, which is awesome. Rolling and jumping lets you avoid incoming orb-like bullets, and I got into the habit of performing these maneuvers all the time.

Unfortunately this game made me realize just how awful the PS4 directional pad is compared to the SNES. The stages look great and you get a wide field of view, allowing you to even see the rooftops in the street stage. High scores are saved offline for each difficulty, although you still have to wade through those annoying "can't upload" and "want to connect?" prompts.

Reloaded incorporates two new characters but mainly just for novelty value. There's a dog with a drone that fires on his behalf, and a fat chick named Doris who tosses grenades. Neither is particularly fun to play. Four players can participate at once, but frankly even with two players the chaos is a bit much. I enjoyed Wild Guns Reloaded but frankly it made me want to go back and play it on my SNES. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: team
Our high score: 39470
1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Wild Guns (Super Nintendo)
Metal Slug XX (PSP)
Star Wars: The Arcade Game (Atari 5200)
Scrapyard Dog (Atari 7800)
Dark Cavern (Atari 2600)

Wipeout: Omega Collection
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/8/2
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotBack in the day the original Wipeout (PS1, 1995) blew me away with its sleek vehicles, futuristic tracks, and pulse-pounding electronic beats. The game had style to burn but it was too unforgiving. Rubbing against the side of the track would bring you to a screeching halt, allowing CPU competitors to whiz right past.

Throughout the years the series has incrementally improved by offering wider tracks, a smoother framerate, and more forgiving gameplay. It's a shame Sony relegated the franchise to their handheld consoles, severely limiting the potential of the franchise. Until now, that is. Wipeout: Omega Collection includes three Wipeout titles: Wipeout 2048, Wipeout HD, and Wipeout HD Fury.

Wipeout 2048 is the latest incarnation and definitely the main attraction. The animation is silky smooth as you gracefully careen from one elevated track to the next. Spectacular futuristic cities offer transparent roads, winding tunnels, and neon-lit skyscrapers. Wipeout HD and Fury are similar but with less detail and more narrow tracks.

All variations offer an addictive blend of racing and combat. The shoulder buttons are used to sharpen your turns, but go easy on them to avoid fishtailing. Sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled, so seek out alternate paths. I love hearing that sexy British babe announce "new lap record!" The tracks look attractive but they start repeating too early in the campaign. The weapons could be more satisfying. You'll nail another ship with a missile and it seems to have minimal effect.

There's a nice sense of progression as you gradually unlock new ships and tracks. The two-player split-screen mode is fun too, allowing you both to compete against a grid of CPU opponents. Wipeout is known for its electronic soundtrack but some of the beats here are really sparse. Still, this game is addictive, especially when you get into a zone. Wipeout: Omega Collection is the arcade-style racer the PS4 library desperately needed. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Wipeout (Playstation)
Wipeout 2048 (Playstation Vita)
Wipeout 3 (Playstation)
Wipeout Pure (PSP)
Sega Rally Championship (Saturn)

Wolfenstein: The New Order
Grade: C
Publisher: Bethesda (2014)
Reviewed: 2014/9/13
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)

screenshotWolfenstein: The New Order kicks off with an exhilarating airplane stage that requires you to switch planes in mid-air. Once on the ground you're attacked by mechs and terrifying robotic dogs. The narrative spans from the 1940's to the 1960's in some kind of alternate universe where the Nazis have won World War II. As if Nazis aren't bad enough, they've augmented their army with cyborgs and terminator-style robots.

The controls feel crisp as you run for cover, target enemies, and perform sneaky takedowns. For the first hour or so New Order feels like an old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall shooter. Eventually it settles into more of a stealth adventure, which is true to the series' roots dating back to the original Castle Wolfenstein (Atari XE, 1983). Wolfenstein 3D (Jaguar, 1994) also makes a cameo appearance in the form of a goofy "nightmare" sequence.

For the most part New Order is pretty serious with heavy violence and even some sexual content. You play a soldier in a band of underground rebels. Semi-interactive cut-scenes will play with your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat. The first-person shooting is exactly what you'd expect, with a few new wrinkles like sprint-slides and health overcharging. Using laser cutters to break chains is cool, but using them to cut openings in chicken wire is tedious, especially since you have to keep waiting for the stupid thing to recharge.

Cleaning out one concrete bunker after the next gets a little repetitive, and I really hate those annoying drones. It is kind of cool how scenery takes damage, so you can't hide out in one spot for too long. The robotic dogs are scary, but I find it odd how you can defeat them with... a knife? Hitting the square button to pick up items can be tiresome, especially in storage rooms littered with junk. The graphics go for realism but are sometimes less than convincing.

I enjoy killing Nazis as much as the next guy, but I could only take this game in short bursts. Some first-person shooters tend to make me queasy, and this is one of them. It's no surprise considering how you constantly need to adjust the camera to navigate claustrophobic passages. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a competent game but after a while I got the sinking feeling I was playing every first-person shooter I've ever played in my entire life. Note: The German version of this game substitutes the Nazis for the more generic (and less offensive) "Regime". © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 plater 

If you like this game, try: Medal of Honor (Playstation)
Warbirds (Lynx)
Knife Edge: Nose Gunner (Nintendo 64)
Break 'Em All (Nintendo DS)
Ghen War (Saturn)

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
Grade: A
Publisher: DotEmu (2017)
Reviewed: 2018/7/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe fact that a 1989 platformer merits a PS4 release speaks to the greatness of the original. Fresh off reviewing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega Master System, 1989) and the Turbografx version called Dragon's Curse (T16, 1990), I might just be overqualified to review this modern makeover! The game actually recreates the original gameplay with remarkable precision, preserving the same stage layouts, items, and enemy placements. In fact, you can toggle between modern and classic modes on the fly!

I was skeptical about the graphical makeover at first; cartoon characters lack the charm of their pixelated brethren. But the scenery... oh... my... goodness. The lush backdrops add a whole new dimension to this game. The layered castles look magnificent and the coastal area is enhanced with a beach and pirate ship. Combined with relaxing drum music these scenic views call to mind Monkey Island Special Edition Collection (Xbox 360, 2011). Some areas are nearly unrecognizable. Underground dungeons convey a damp, shadowy atmosphere enhanced by cool echo effects. In the upper reaches of the tower you can hear the wind whipping around and the muted sound of activities below.

Amazing audio complements the fresh visuals, from soothing waves to crisp slamming doors. The soundtrack sounds like something from a Disney movie for crying out loud. The controls feel tight and I love being able to manipulate items without bringing up an item screen. The only thing lost on me was how to save. Apparently there is an autosave feature although it doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere. Wonder Boy: A Dragon's Trap is an unlikely treat for Playstation 4, offering the simple fun of a classic game with all the bells and whistles of a modern title. How can you not love this? © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dragon's Curse (Turbografx-16)
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega Master System)
Monkey Island Special Edition Collection (Xbox 360)
Escape From Monkey Island (Playstation 2)
Dragon Spirit (Turbografx-16)

Yooka Laylee
Grade: B-
Publisher: Team17 (2017)
Reviewed: 2018/1/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotDo you have fond memories of classic 3D platformers like Spyro the Dragon (PS1, 1998), Banjo Kazooie (N64, 1998), and Jak and Daxter (PS2, 2001)? Well, the good times are back with this charming Kickstarter project, currently available on most platforms. Yooka Laylee is a refreshingly light hearted platformer starring a cartoonish lizard and bat who control as a single unit.

Each vibrant stage is an inviting playground of platforms, mini-games, and puzzles. There's tons of stuff to collect and all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. There are even wild minecart stages a la Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1994). The characters you encounter are cleverly designed and their self-aware dialog is amusing. The Despicable Me-inspired villain has a hilarious sidekick who resembles a duck/gumball machine hybrid. Together they've constructed a machine which is sucking up every book in the world.

Their evil lair serves as the main hub, which is confusing since it also functions as its own stage. Collecting golden pages lets you gradually unlock new areas and quills let you purchase abilities. The smooth animation and orchestrated music score is impressive but the gameplay is uneven. The camera requires constant supervision and you might even get a little queasy after extended play. With no map to fall back on it's not always clear what to do next. Be sure to talk to everybody!

The mini-games try to mimic old arcade games yet fail to register on the fun-o-meter. But my biggest complaint is how the game lets you toil in areas you don't have the ability to conquer yet. That would never happen in a Nintendo title. The good news is, you can just move on to the next thing, because there's always plenty to see and do. The game saves whenever you collect a major item but I wish I could save at any time. Yooka Laylee is good-natured and addictive. It's flaws may be plain as day but they are far outweighed by the fun you'll have. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Spyro the Dragon (Playstation)
Banjo Kazooie (Nintendo 64)
Donkey Kong Junior (Colecovision)
Dragonstomper (Atari 2600)
Donkey Kong Jr. (NES)

Zombie Vikings
Grade: F
Publisher: Zoink (2015)
Reviewed: 2017/3/14
Rating: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Language, Crude Humor, Use of Drugs)

screenshotI've been a fan of side-scrolling brawlers dating back to Double Dragon (NES, 1988) but modern games can't seem to get the formula right. My initial impression of Zombie Vikings was much like Dragon's Crown (PS3, 2013) and Pirates Plundarrr (Wii, 2010). The game offers artistic visuals, offbeat humor, and frantic button-mashing fighting.

I'm always rooting for games like this, especially when they support four-player local action. Zombie Vikings opens with a cutscene replete with wacky humor and professional voice acting. But while the actors seem to be having a great time these long-winded cutscenes will eventually have you reaching for the skip button.

The hack-and-slash action is pretty standard with an emphasis on combinations that allow you to spin through a group of characters like a whirling dervish. You'll slice and dice trolls, witches, worms, cats, and all sorts of gnarled creatures. But despite the stylish visuals and jazzy music Zombie Vikings left me cold. The muddled stages all look the same and any interesting animations are lost amidst the pulled-back camera and frenetic carnage. There's some technique (like throwing objects) but a mindless hack-n-slash approach works just as well. And who cares if you can deal 200 points of damage at a time when you still need to hit an enemy 20 times?

The final nail in the coffin came when my friend Scott and I became hopelessly stuck and unable to advance. I had heard rumors that the game was buggy, but this qualifies as broken! I suspect I could download some kind of enormous patch, but in this case I don't think it's worth my time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Pirates Plundarrr (Wii)
Double Dragon (CD) (Neo Geo)
Return of Double Dragon (Super Nintendo)
Double Dragon 3 (Genesis)
Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 (Xbox)

Zombieland: Double-Tap Roadtrip
Grade: D
Publisher: Gamemill Entertainment (2019)
Reviewed: 2021/1/27
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, strong language, violence)

screenshotThis zombie shooter is based on the Zombieland sequel. What - you didn't even know there was a sequel? Join the club, pal! I only picked up because I've seen it compared to Super Smash TV (SNES, 1991). Sure enough, Double-Tap Roadtrip is a chaotic overhead shooter supporting up to four players at a time - offline no less!

That's the good news. Its four characters are based on actors from the movie. Prior to each stage you're forced to page through their endless dialog bubbles which are consistently unfunny and often profane. The guy doing Jesse Eisenberg must be a good voice actor because he sounds just as annoying as the real Jesse Eisenburg!

It's hard to tell if Double Tap's graphics are any good because the camera is pulled so back so far the characters look tiny! The controls let you strafe and shoot in all directions but they are touchy as hell. You'll be converged upon by many types of zombies including clowns, ninjas, and the obligatory fatties who can absorb a ton of bullets. Weapons hidden in the trunks of cars include shotguns, uzis, double handguns, and even a katana.

It's mildly fun to splatter ghouls all over the concrete but it feels like a battle of attrition as they just keep coming. Blowing stuff up is satisfying but the melee combat is awful. Chopping up ghouls with an axe would be a blast if not for the lack of sound effects and decent collision detection. Missions involve unlocking gates, guarding doors, and blowing up spot-a-pots to remove invisible barriers. There's even an escort mission involving a granny with a walker. Should you perish you'll need to restart the entire mission, which means sitting through that God-forsaken dialog again.

I struggled to get past the amusement park stage but after that the difficulty dropped like a rock. While traveling across the western US the game has a lot of really rude things to say about rural states like Utah and Nebraska. Four-player co-op may be a good selling point, but I'm afraid Zombieland Double-Tap Roadtrip is unlikeable, unnecessary, and much like the movie sequel - unwanted! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: NARC (NES)
Fatal Run (Atari 7800)
True Lies (Super Nintendo)
Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues (Super Nintendo)
Super Smash TV (Super Nintendo)


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