system Index D-K
Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King
Grade: C+
Publisher: Disney Interactive (2019)
Reviewed: 2020/1/15

screenshotThis unexpected title contains the Genesis versions of both Aladdin and The Lion King - two critically acclaimed 16-bit platformers of the mid-90's. The SNES version of The Lion King is also included and it looks very similar to the Genesis when both are presented in high definition. Both games looked gorgeous on our old CRT TVs but in HD they appear surprisingly pixelated with muffled sound effects. I guess I was expecting some kind of visual enhancement. Screen filters are available but they make the visuals look worse. Both Aladdin and Lion King feature quality platforming with artistic stages that mirror scenes in the films. The controls feel very precise and it's cool how you get to wield a sword in Aladdin. The Lion King is more cinematic but some of its puzzle-style stages border on tedious. The excellent soundtracks reprise all the memorable songs from the films. One welcome new addition is the ability to save at any time. Back in the day you always had to start from the beginning unless you had some kind of cheat code. Multiple versions of each game are included, like the Japanese version, demo version, and "final cut" editions. The differences are very subtle. You also have the option to "watch" each game which is kind of like sitting through a YouTube play-through. These run 45 and 50 minutes each which tells you how long (short?) these games are. Rounding out the package are an extensive set of featurettes detailing the making of every aspect of the games, with plenty of behind-the-scenes interviews. I'm not sure I'd recommend this to the casual player, but if you enjoyed these gems back in the day Disney Classic Games lets you relive the magic. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
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If you like this game, try: Aladdin (Genesis)
Aladdin (Super Nintendo)
Lion King, The (Super Nintendo)
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck (Genesis)
Lion King, The (Game Gear)

Double Switch 25th Anniversary Edition
Grade: C-
Publisher: Screaming Villains (2018)
Reviewed: 2020/12/27
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotUnlike its predecessor Night Trap (Sega CD, 1992) this full-motion video (FMV) title didn't benefit from controversy-driven publicity. You'll be forgiven if you've never even heard of it. Double Switch takes place in an Egyptian-themed apartment complex where you spy on tenants with security cameras and set traps for roving gangsters. With its wide open, well-lit rooms, this game lacks the creepy atmosphere of Night Trap. The acting is fun to watch however. Cory Haim is the charismatic young man directing you from the basement. Debbie Harry of Blondie fame plays the role of building manager, and while a bit past her prime she still exudes sex appeal. The drill sergeant from the film Full Metal Jacket plays the handyman. There's some kind of Egyptian punk group performing a song, and after hearing it 100 times I kind of grew on me. The gameplay is similar to Night Trap but there's a map indicating which rooms are inhabited at a given time. The controls seem overcomplicated, requiring you press a button no less than four times to set and activate a trap. Each room contains multiple traps and it's fun to spring them at just the right time. Unfortunately the changing camera angles make it hard to determine where the bad guy is located and what trap to employ. There are some elaborate trap animations but you can't enjoy them because you're always rushing to the next room. If you don't stay on top of things Corey abruptly pulls the plug on your game. The story offers some unexpected twists, but the gameplay is reduced to rote memorization. This 25th Anniversary edition offers clear video and a choice of screen layouts, but it really should have included an easy mode so people could enjoy the story. Bonus materials aren't unlocked unless you finish the game with an A rating, and that's nearly impossible. I thought I was near perfect and got rated an F! The ending includes an "in memoriam" sequence to honor the actors in the game who have passed away, and it's a long list. Double Switch 25th Anniversary isn't all it could have been, but if you enjoy going back in time you're in for quite a fascinating trip. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 72
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Double Switch (Sega CD)
Double Switch (Saturn)
Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition (Playstation 4)
Night Trap (CD) (Sega 32X)
Night Trap (Sega CD)

Dragon's Lair Trilogy
Grade: B
Publisher: Digital Leisure (2019)
Reviewed: 2019/9/22

screenshotThe last time I purchased Dragon's Lair (PS3, 2009) 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.
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If you like this game, try: Dragon's Lair Trilogy (Wii)
Space Ace (Playstation 3)
Dragon's Lair (Playstation 3)
Space Ace (CD) (Jaguar)
Dragon's Lair (3DO)

Freedom Planet
Grade: B-
Publisher: Xseed Games (2018)
Reviewed: 2020/4/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt's hard to imagine a more blatant Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis, 1991) ripoff than Freedom Planet. I like it a lot! From what I understand this originated as a fan-made Sonic game and it certainly looks the part. This game contains just about every Sonic-ism I can think of, minus blast processing of course (this isn't a Genesis after all). You get two selectable female characters to begin, Carol and Lilac. Each has her own acrobatic moves that are vaguely Sonic-like but just different enough to throw off your timing. Freedom Planet's presentation is pure 16-bit gold, with sparkling pixel-art stages and glorious synth music. The arcade action is moderately difficult as you hop between floating platforms, bounce off bumpers, and rip through loops and corkscrews. You'll bitch-slap giant frogs, flaming crabs, robot dogs, and all sorts of random adversaries. The action is pretty much non-stop as you sprint across flying dragons, leap between speeding trucks, and ride motorcycles up walls. The controls feel responsive but there are times when I had trouble vaulting off a wall or performing a double jump - probably because I'm used to Sonic controls. The stages tend to be so expansive it's hard to know where to go next, especially after being flung around by various contraptions. The crisp explosions look and sound exactly like those in a Sonic game. The visual detail is exceptional including some amusing facial expressions. Freedom Planet is a little boss heavy, but these include amazing creations like a king-sized praying mantis worthy of a Godzilla movie. Some stages offer tranquil nature themes like the rainy Bamboo forest. Then there's the busy China stage that takes you through arcades, shopping malls, and over rooftops. I was less keen on the Trap Hideout which feels like a never-ending series of laser and spike traps. Still, there's a word I associate with Freedom Planet and that word is joy. This is the type of cheerful game you play on a Saturday morning. Light, airy, and fun, it's pretty much everything Sonic titles have been lacking for much of the last 20 years. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Sonic Mega Collection Plus (Playstation 2)
Sonic Chaos (Sega Master System)
Sonic 3D Blast (Genesis)
Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory (Atari XEGS)
Slave Zero (Dreamcast)

Golf Story
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sidebar Games (2017)
Reviewed: 2019/7/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNow 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.
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Golf (NES)
NES Open Tournament Golf (NES)
Mario Tennis Aces (Nintendo Switch)
PGA Tour Golf (3DO)
Great American Golf 2 (Philips CD-i)

Hollow Knight
Grade: A+
Publisher: Team Cherry (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/4/20

screenshotIf 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.
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Neutopia (Turbografx-16)
Dark Souls 3 (Guest Review) (Playstation 4)
Bloodborne (Alternate Review) (Guest Review) (Playstation 4)
Dark Souls (Guest Review) (Playstation 3)
International Track and Field (Playstation)

Horizon Chase Turbo
Grade: F
Publisher: Aquiris (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/9/22
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotI'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.
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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Final Lap Twin (Turbografx-16)
Rad Racer (NES)
Fatal Run (Atari 7800)
Wipeout: Omega Collection (Playstation 4)
Turbo (Atari 2600)

I Am Setsuna (Japan)
Grade: D
Publisher: Square Enix (2017)
Reviewed: 2018/1/27

screenshotI 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.
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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Winter Heat (Saturn)
Nagano Winter Olympics 98 (Playstation)
Dragonstomper (Atari 2600)
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (Japan) (Playstation 3)
Sno-Cross Championship Racing (Dreamcast)

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