Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy
Publisher: Activision (2017)
I'll never forget the first time I played Crash Bandicoot
(PS1, 1996). As I ventured down that scenic island path I felt as if I was being engulfed by dense jungle foliage! The 3D graphics were rich and the tropical theme was brimming with style and character. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy resurrects the series for a new generation, giving the stages a makeover while retaining the classic gameplay. The original game represented a new breed of 3D adventure, restricting the player to a path but allowing for free movement within its confines. As Crash hops across overgrown ruins he'll bash crates, collect fruit, and perform twirls that send turtles, crabs, and aardvarks spinning off the screen. There's plenty of variety too. Certain stages are more 2D in nature while others let you run toward
the screen. Crash 2 introduced new moves, a stage select, and a higher difficulty level. Crash 3 tempered the difficulty while introducing motorcycles, airplanes, and even a bazooka! The developers did a fine job porting these three to the Switch but took a few liberties. When bouncing on crates Crash now collects three fruit at a time, minimizing the number of bounces necessary. Now that
is a good idea! When you spin into animals, they tend to fly into boxes and enemies up ahead, which is very cool. There are new icons to collect, presumably to unlock new features. Upon completing a stage you'll watch all the crates you missed getting smashed over the head of Crash, and that gets old in a hurry. A few new stages are included but if "Stormy Ascent" is any indication, these are more punishing than fun. So the big question is, do these games measure to the originals? Well, the controls don't feel as tight and despite the graphic fidelity I had problems with depth perception and hard-to-see hazards. Then again, unless you own an old CRT TV it's hard to experience the trilogy in its original glory. Retro gamers should clutch their old discs like grim death, but newcomers will discover N-Sane Trilogy packs plenty of bandicoot goodness for the money. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
Publisher: Activision (2019)
At first Crash Team Racing reminded me of Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy
(Activitision, 2019), resurrecting a beloved franchise with updated graphics along with some new features to sweeten the deal. Back in the day Crash Team Racing
(PS1, 1999) was the only kart racer that could stand toe to toe with Mario Kart 64
(N64, 1997). This updated edition offers "revved up" versions of tracks from the original game as well as the less-than-stellar Crash Nitro Kart
(Xbox, 2003). The developers managed to bring the graphics up to 2019 standards while retaining that cartoon likeability. The gameplay however suffers from a serious lack of tuning, beginning with the frustrating single-player adventure mode. While there appears to be a whole island at your disposal, in fact everything is locked except for two tracks, and you need to finish first
in each to progress. That's a problem because the difficulty is so hard you'll need more luck than skill to win. The action is chaotic but not in a good way. The game's rubber-band physics has CPU karts slingshotting all over the place. One second you're in first place and next you're in dead last. Most weapons are pretty lame but those guided missiles are too
good. And then there's that weird weapon that turns everybody into drunk drivers. I blamed myself for the lack of progress in adventure mode, until my friends suffered the same hardship - in easy mode
no less! The four player screen screen action is always a welcome feature and the framerate is quite smooth. But like the single-player game, you'll find yourself fighting for 5th place!
The over-engineered, non-intuitive controls suggest nobody played-tested this game. Power-slide boosts were key in the original game, but here you'll be lucky to figure out how they even work!
When I did pull off one by accident the payoff was weak. In the final analysis Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled can be considered nothing more than a terrible disappointment. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Dragon's Lair Trilogy
Publisher: Digital Leisure (2019)
The last time I purchased Dragon's Lair it was on Blu Ray so I figured it was the end-all-be-all. But when I just recently tried to play that disc in my PS3 the video was skipping, apparently due to some obscure system update (yes, updates are
harmful). With that in mind, this Switch edition is looking like a sound investment. Trilogy contains all three original laserdisc epics: Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair II: Timewarp, and Space Ace. Each is fully customizable, allowing you to adjust lives, audio/visual feedback, and difficulty. You can even incorporate the cabinet art around the screen to convey that arcade feel. This version even records your local high scores, which is a pretty big deal considering how most modern titles have adopted online
leaderboards (the worst). Special features including arcade intros, deleted scenes, interviews, and the ability to view each game as a movie. The Dragon's Lair interview reveals the possibility of a motion picture adaptation, and I've got my fingers crossed! For those not around during Dragon's Lair heyday circa 1983, it's basically an interactive cartoon that requires you to make well-timed moves to avoid hazards. The treacherous obstacles Dirk the Daring must overcome include dark knights, burning ropes, crumbling platforms, and underwater river rapids. One legitimate knock on these games is that it's not always obvious what move you need to perform when, leading to a cycle of trial and error. Thank goodness we no longer need to pay 50 cents per credit! The games now include an optional "move guide" that lights up an arrow or sword icon, supplying you with correct move. You can get through some scenes using these prompts alone, but you still need to be quick on the trigger. At the very least you know what you did wrong. While the interaction may be limited, the rich, rapid-fire animation remains a sight to behold. The original Dragon's Lair is the best of the three. Dragon's Lair II incorporates too many lengthy complicated sequences, rendering it nearly unplayable. Space Ace is fun sci-fi take on the genre, and I noticed I could make out voices ("close main gate") and subtle animations I had not noticed before. As a historian of gaming I have a deep appreciation for these oldies, but I can certainly understand how younger gamers might not quite "get it". © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sidebar Games (2017)
Now here's something different! Golf Story is a role-playing game (?!) starring a kid who must master several fantasy golf courses on his way to becoming pro. I don't think I've played a game like this since World Court Tennis
(Turbografx-16, 1991). The old-school pixelated graphics feature anime-style characters, checkerboard greens, and plenty of witty dialog. The controls employ a standard three-button swing meter with oversized holes that make putting easy. On approach shots I end up hitting pin a lot.
The story mode begins slowly but gradually gains traction while teaching all the subtle nuances of the sport. The varied courses are set in a desert, a spooky swamp, a bright beach, and snowy mountains. Each is plagued by pests like moles, crabs, or birds you'll help eliminate. The golf-related challenges are incredibly imaginative. You'll bounce balls off turtle shells. You'll hit chicken legs at crocodiles. You'll knock eyeballs into skeletons and hit flaming balls at frozen people. The target-style challenges are super addictive. Not all the action takes place on the courses; at one point you'll need to solve a murder mystery in a clubhouse! There's even a tongue-in-cheek "8-bit" golf game called Galf! You spend a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out what to do next, but that's the nature of this type of game. There's plenty of text but the prose is entertaining. The use of animated fonts to convey voice inflection is especially effective. That said, the further I progressed the less patient I became at the verbose dialog. My friend Brent was shocked
I was taking the time to read it all! The golf action is quick, easy and fun, but a little shallow. You get a brief overhead view of each hole at the start, but there's nothing to reference afterwards. You can only "see" the course ahead by aiming your shot, and some holes are so cluttered it's hard to locate the fairway. That said, there's plenty of tension and excitement as you challenge rivals in brisk nine-hole tournaments. Crisp sound effects and catchy (if repetitive) music really add to the experience. I wouldn't recommend Golf Story to die-hard sports fans but this game has a whimsical charm that will keep most gamers engrossed for hours on end. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Team Cherry (2018)
If ever there was ever a slow-burn video game it's Hollow Knight. For the first hour or two you might even regret purchasing such a bland, melancholy platformer. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into. I've clocked in over 37 hours playing this - more than any other game in recent memory. Hollow Knight's dark, understated graphics convey a brooding, tense atmosphere. Your character is a modest little fellow with horns in a shadowy world populated with stylized insects ranging from beetles to worms to praying mantis to... jellyfish? Your primary weapon is a sword-like "nail", although you can also unleash energy projectiles. Hollow Knight is nothing if not polished. Every platform is situated with precision and each enemy placed with exact purpose. Though difficult, the game is never unfair. Larger enemies exhibit distinct attack patterns, often telegraphing their strikes with vocal cues. Defeated foes drop "geo" currency used to purchase items. Though the game borrows elements from franchises like Zelda (health system) and Dark Souls (reclaiming lost loot), there's no lack of innovation. Hitting enemies fills your soul meter which can be used to rekindle health, and this constantly plays into your strategy. Collectable "charms" add a whole new dimension to the game, exponentially expanding the strategic possibilities. Each charm provides some sort of advantage like improving your range, providing a protective shell, or sending out little fairies to collect loose geo. You can only equip a limited number at a time, and it's fun to mix and match for each new situation. The game saves often and life-replenishing "benches" serve as convenient rest stops. Despite its substantial grinding and backtracking, the evolving nature of the game prevents repetition from setting in. The brief, often inscrutable dialog is sweetly poetic. An unobtrusive audio track consists of soothing music and crisp, delicate sound effects. Hollow Knight's haunting storyline, somber atmosphere, and gothic scenery makes it like the Smashing Pumpkins of video games. It's hard to believe something that looks so simple and plain can turn out so engrossing and beautiful. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Horizon Chase Turbo
Publisher: Aquiris (2018)
Rating: Everyone 10+
I've seen Horizon Chase compared to Sega's Outrun series in reviews, but I think that's generous. Horizon Chase Turbo is an easy-to-play racer with razor-sharp graphics, a silky-smooth framerate, and pulsating soundtrack. But this game has no heart. Technically it probably has more in common with Pole Position
(Atari 5200, 1982) with its winding tracks rendered before static backgrounds. The fluid animation should be expected considering Horizon Chase has all the graphic fidelity of a cell phone game. Some may find the smooth curves and pastel colors appealing, but the tracks are so boring there's little incentive to unlock new ones. The only track I took note of was the Los Angeles skyline, but only because the sunset causes the buildings to light up to dramatic effect. You select between generic unlicensed race cars which can be upgraded in various ways. Each track is several short laps in length. The racing action is pretty easy as you weave between competitors and slide around corners. You can collect coins and gas can icons along the road, and you feel a satisfying "bump" as you ride over them. The idea of having to collect "gas can" icons just to maintain enough fuel to finish the race is idiotic. Half the time you don't even notice the cans until you've driven by them. Hitting other cars bumps you back and slows you down, making it very frustrating to pass on narrow roads. As you progress you'll unlock tracks in unlikely locations like Iceland, India, and Chile. The mesmerizing electronic music that pumps during each race is definitely the highlight. The lowlight is constant prompts to check your internet connection when playing offline. It happens during every race!
That is a cardinal sin worthy of two letter grades at the very least. Horizon Chase doesn't try very hard and rings hollow as a result. If this was Outrun, then it would be called Outrun: Corporate Edition. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
I Am Setsuna (Japan)
Publisher: Square Enix (2017)
I purchased this upon hearing it was a winter-themed role-playing game (RPG). What could be better than curling up with a good RPG on a cold winter night? I Am Setsuna is a Japanese game but all the text including menus and dialog display in English so it's not a problem. The game certainly has a nice sense atmosphere with its snow-covered forests and quaint villages. Gentle piano music nicely complements the falling snowflakes. I like the anime style but "monsters" like walrus, rabbits, and penguins are almost too cute to slaughter! Almost. The character conversations tend to be brief and inconsequential. The two responses you're asked to choose from are basically the same answers worded differently, so there's little if any impact on events. I find it odd how whenever a new character is encountered the game asks if you want to change their name. What is the point?
Is there somebody out there who wants to change Setsuna's name to Shirley? The exploration element is fun thanks to the frosty scenery but combat system leaves a lot to be desired. Each character must wait for their meter to fill before they can act, resulting in an uneasy mix of real-time and turn-based combat. When multiple meters are full, it's hard to tell who you're controlling. Worse yet, the stat boxes across the bottom of the screen aren't presented in the same order of the characters on the screen, which is confusing. Nothing worse than accidentally "curing" someone with full health! Pressing the Y button during an attack adds "momentum" for extra impact, but it's not clear when you did it right. The game makes a point of telling you it does not automatically save your progress, as if that's some kind of badge of honor. The save points are few and far between. You'd think there would at least be one in each village, but nope!
There were times when I felt like the game was holding me hostage
for crying out loud! As if to rub it in, there is
a "save" option on the menu but it's disabled. I general I found the game to be fairly dull, with boss encounters that go on forever. I Am Setsuna satisfied my appetite for winter but I feel like it tried to reinvent the wheel and it turned out square. Note: I'm told the save option is available when you are on the world map, but I still don't like the system. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol)
I think we all knew Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was going to be good. I mean, it was only in development for five years
for crying out loud! This epic journey begins with Link emerging from a 100-year slumber and gazing across a sunny rolling landscape with distant castles, ruins, and volcanoes. I usually stick to the main quest in open-world games, yet Breath of the Wild made me want to explore every inch of its vast uncharted wilderness. Maybe it's the tight, responsive controls. The dash move lets you cover a lot of ground in a hurry, and the new climbing controls mean nowhere is out of reach. The crisp, cell-shaded graphics are more realistic than previous Zeldas but still possess an anime charm. The control scheme is so well designed that sifting through your inventory is a pleasure. In addition to a captivating storyline there are endless side quests and over 100 shrines scattered around the world. Each shrine is a dungeon offering mind-bending challenges employing the powers of magnetism, time, fire, and energy. As jaded as I am, I found myself constantly amazed at this game's ingenuity. Awe-inspiring boss encounters feature four "divine beasts" which brought back fond memories of Shadow of the Colossus
(PS2, 2005). I was skeptical about some of the new features but they won me over. The stamina meter adds a lot of suspense as you try to climb a peak without losing your grip. I scoffed at the idea of cooking, yet it turns out to be surprisingly entertaining to toss ingredients into a pot and see what comes out. The fact that weapons break down adds a layer of strategy as you try to conserve your best items for the toughest beasts. Breath of the Wild is a massive game that will not only dominate your Switch but leave your other systems starved for attention. An NES-style manual would have been nice, but frankly it's hard to find fault with this. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a title you'll anxiously look forward to playing every day after school or work, and when was the last time a game made you feel like that?
© Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2018)
I like a good fishing game but this one just sucks, man. The user interface is a nightmare. No matter what control scheme I tried the game complains it's not supported. "You cannot play with dual-controller grip in Arcade Mode. Please adjust your settings". WTF?
Setting up a two-player contest was such a headache that Kevin and I actually threw in the towel!
The single player experience feels like a colossal chore. Only one rod and lure is available from the outset. When trying to examine locked bait the menu automatically cycles through them all like your controller is broken. In terms of graphics Legendary Fishing would be a good-looking Wii title. The water surface looks realistic but the scenery looks far too clean and artificial. After casting your line the camera focuses in on your lure just below the surface, removing any sense of suspense or mystery. Hooking a fish isn't a challenge because there's always plenty around. As several converge on your line a creepy announcer coos in your ear "Oooo - I like
that! Here it comes!
" We are
talking about fishing, right?
Once the fish is hooked the game fails in spectacular fashion. To keep the fish on the line you need to center him within some kind of half-assed viewfinder as he darts from side-to-side. Am I trying to catch a fish or snap a photo of the damn thing?!
Trying to keep it in the frame is an agonizing experience, and your reel is so slow
. Taking a picture of Bigfoot
would be easier! The announcer adds insult to injury with his repetitive commentary ("Get that fish!" "Get that fish!"
). Shut the [expletive] up!
Legendary Fishing's career mode offers an extensive number of missions and locations, but what's the point if it's no fun? The only thing legendary about this game is its degree of ineptitude. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Publisher: Ubisoft (2017)
Ubisoft hasn't had the best track record as of late so Mario + Rabbids comes as a pleasant surprise. Kingdom Battle has the look and feel of an Nintendo title, and that is high praise indeed. It's turned-based "strategy lite" designed for casual gamers, with wacky characters, simplified gameplay, and a gently-ramping difficulty. It's like a kid-friendly version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown
(Xbox 360, 2012). In the chaotic intro mischievous "rabbids" wreak havoc with a virtual reality machine, causing objects to fuse together with crazy results. To restore order Mario finds himself teaming up with two friendly "cosplay" rabbids (dressed as Peach and Luigi) in a fanciful world that looks like a Candyland board game. There's some lightweight puzzles and exploration but the game is mostly a series of short battles. During each turn you methodically position your three characters, attack exposed enemies, and employ special abilities (like healing or weaken) to tilt the advantage. The first few battles are mindlessly simple and it takes a while for the game to gain traction. But once you get to the meat of the game Kingdom Battle is one heck of a good time. Battle concepts tend to build upon each other and the multi-tiered environments provide all sorts of strategic possibilities. Each character can cover a lot of ground per turn by utilizing transportation pipes and "team jump" techniques. The graphics look extremely polished and the shimmering blue water is gorgeous. I noticed a few collision detection and camera issues but not nearly enough to derail the fun. The cut-scenes are funny and I found the frequent "progress saved" messages reassuring. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle isn't the type of game I'd play for hours on end, but it's a good option if you need a quick fix. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Okay, so it's a blatant rehash. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still the best kart racer you've ever played. The original Mario Kart 8
(Wii U, 2014) was spectacular, save for a weak battle mode. With Deluxe that oversight has been addressed to the full extent of the law. Instead of taking shots at players while doing laps, you battle in layered arenas with all sorts of interleaving, crisscrossing paths. It's chaotic, exhilarating, and with eight players per match there are always plenty of targets. Fun locations include Luigi's Mansion, a Japanese temple, a lunar colony, and a stage inspired by Splatoon
(Wii U, 2015). All of the DLC released for the original game is baked in, and since I never purchased any, I was thrilled with the wide selection of characters and tracks. One drawback to having so much unlocked is there's little incentive to master each circuit, although you'll still win coins for upgrades. The eye candy is mesmerizing as you race through a pristine airport, careen down jungle water slides, and zoom through an underwater kingdom. My personal favorite track is the rainy metropolis with its colorful neon lights (a la Blade Runner). Once I started playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it was hard to stop. The gameplay is well balanced, although I wish there were more ways to defend yourself from shells. The controls feel great and the revving vibration is remarkable. Unless you are absolutely sick of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U (not likely), this Deluxe version is a good investment. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Tennis Aces
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
I was almost certain Mario Tennis Aces was going to be Nintendo's latest runaway hit, but it turned out to be a gimmick-laden mess
. The default adventure mode forces you to traverse a map with more mini-games and boss battles than actual tennis matches. In addition to standard shots (topspin, lob, backspin) there's a laundry list of special moves: star shots, charge shots, leap shots, power shots, slow-motion shots, trick shots, target shots, zone shots, and more! You can even initiate bullet time
for Pete's sake! I couldn't grasp the controls and can't imagine trying to explain them to a friend. What's wrong with regular tennis? The exotic court locations (jungle, temple, haunted house) look nice but even those are gimmicky. The pirate ship court has a mast that deflects the ball and the haunted house court has floating mirrors that intercept your hits. Stuff like that may add variety but it's not particularly fun. I hated adventure mode and found no joy in tournament mode either. Aces is less about playing tennis and more trying to figure out what crazy shot you can pull out of your ass. And do we really need to view an automatic replay after every point?
When you're not skipping replays you're mashing buttons to page through the pointless dialog. Why does a tennis game need so much dialog? Most Nintendo sports titles lean toward the arcade end of the spectrum, but Mario Tennis Aces went completely off the deep end. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom
Publisher: FDG Entertainment (2018)
After recently playing through the retro-flavored Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
(PS4, 2017), Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom gave me a case of deja vu. It turns out Monster Boy is the spiritual successor
to the Wonder Boy series. In this vibrant 2D platform adventure you are a boy who can assume the form of several animals including a sniffing pig, a snake who can slither up walls, and a frog with a slingshot tongue. The layered forests and colorful underwater scenes are a real feast for the eyes. The controls feel crisp and responsive, and if that laid-back, jazzy soundtrack doesn't put you in a good mood, nothing will. The various animal forms add variety and the weapons are fun too. The ability to hurl multiple boomerangs at a time is great, but even better is unleashing little tornados that bounce around and clear a path for you. The platform action is mixed with clever puzzles and I love the Zelda-esque fanfare that plays when you solve one. As much as I enjoyed Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom the game did test my patience at times. It's frustrating when you're sinking in mud while trying to avoid a swooping bat, or getting pushed off a platform into a bed of spikes when you run out of real estate. Your pig has a "poke range" of about a millimeter, so have your weapons ready. Speaking of which, switching weapons is a hassle. Instead of just clicking a shoulder button to cycle through them you need to select from a "wheel" using the right thumbstick. Otherwise the game's polish is commendable. There are ample save points and if a boss is giving you a hard time, the game will begin doling out more hearts to give you a hand. The box contains a glossy, full-color booklet that harkens back to the NES days. Friendly, fun, and not too hard, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a good-looking title that's hard to dislike. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Mutant Football League
Publisher: Digital Dreams (2018)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, drug reference, mature humor, strong language, violence)
The original Mutant League Football
(Genesis, 1993) was an offbeat title pitting monsters against each other on trap-laden fields. Sounds like a blast, right? Well, the action was choppy and the hazards were more annoying than fun. That said, it was an interesting concept. This updated version actually has more in common with NFL Blitz
(PS1, 1998). They even brought back the same announcer! The teams are a mishmash of armored creatures including skeletons, werewolves, demons, aliens, and trolls. The action kicks off with a horribly non-intuitive kick meter, complete with incorrect on-screen instructions. The play-calling interface is easy enough although the play selection is paltry. It's easy to initiate a run or pass, but what happens next is hard to discern. With all those spikes, tails, and wings flying it's impossible to tell what the [expletive] is going on! After a chaotic scrum you'll assume the play is dead, only to push the thumbstick up and continue running. It's hard to tell how a fumble or interception occurred, and no instant replay either. Hazards like spikes and mines add gratuitous gore, and occasionally players will brandish weapons like a shotgun or chainsaw! In a game like this where anything goes, how could there be penalties?!
I had three touchdowns
called back in a single game!
So dumb. I will admit the stadiums look awesome and some resemble gothic cathedrals. There's a little "shoot the ref" halftime game that plays like an overhead shooter. Wanton violence is something you would expect from a game like this, but who thought strong profanity was a good idea? The play-by-play is unfunny to begin with, and the raining F-bombs make it downright embarrassing. My friend Chris assured me that this game would be hilarious... if we were 12 years old.
The problem is, this is supposed to be a mature (17+) title. I'm glad the quarters are mercifully short because I found Mutant Football League extremely hard to stomach. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
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