system Index D-K
Deathsmiles I & II
Grade: B
Publisher: Strictly Limited (2022)
Posted: 2022/12/4
Rating: Teen

screenshotI loved the original Deathsmiles (Xbox 360, 2010) with its anime style, manic shooting, and rich Halloween theme. It was such a treat I was totally bummed when its Christmas-themed sequel was only available in digital format. Well, thanks to this great Strictly Limited release, I finally own a physical copy of Deathsmiles II.

In the first Deathsmiles the destruction quotient is off-the-charts as you direct your rapid-fire at flying eyeballs, grim reapers, and rampaging trolls. The first stage takes place in a port where you blow pirate ships into wooden shards. Later stages include a haunted graveyard and a swamp inhabited by a witch. You play as one of four flying, giggling Japanese girls, and yes their voices are annoying.

The controls are first-rate. You can fire in either direction or activate a "target" attack which locks onto a nearby enemy. You also have smart bombs that obliterate everything on the screen. While you're met with substantial resistance, the collision detection works very much in your favor. Though your character is sizable, she only takes damage when hit in her heart.

The opening stage of Deathsmiles II reeks of Christmas as you glide over a snow-covered village all decked out for the holidays. You'll face seasonally-correct adversaries like snowmen and disembodied Santa boots. The villain is "Satan Claws" riding a demonic reindeer boss! The festive music sounds vaguely like Jingle Bells.

Unfortunately subsequent stages lose their holiday spirit. The next three feature generic suburbs, an underwater stage, and haunted ruins that would be more at home in a House of the Dead (Saturn, 1996) game. I do find it interesting how the boss in that level is called "Nice older man". Yeah, a nice older man trying to kill you! These stages reprise enemies from the first game, including pig chefs armed with butcher knives.

Both titles are fully configurable. You can adjust the difficulty, continues, and screen appearance. You can save high scores to online leaderboards, or disable that garbage! Offline scores are also recorded, although not with initials.

The original Deathsmiles is a classic but the sequel feels like a bait-and-switch. It's still fun but the 3D layers make it hard to tell what you can shoot and what's in the background. That said, if you enjoy shooters and have never experienced Deathsmiles, this two-for-one deal is a no-brainer. The games are too intense to play for hours on end, but if you're in the mood for an adrenaline rush, fate smiles upon you. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Christmas Crisis (Philips CD-i)
Christmas Nights Into Dreams (Saturn)
Reindeer Rescue (Atari 2600)
Deathsmiles (Xbox 360)
Daze Before Christmas (Europe) (Super Nintendo)

Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King
Grade: C+
Publisher: Disney Interactive (2019)
Posted: 2020/1/15

screenshotThis unexpected title contains the Genesis versions of both Aladdin and The Lion King - two critically acclaimed 16-bit platformers from the mid-90's. The SNES version of The Lion King is also included and it looks surprisingly similar to the Genesis version when both are presented in high definition. The games looked gorgeous on our old CRT TVs but in HD they appear surprisingly pixelated with muffled sound effects. I guess I was expecting the games to look better in high definition? 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 a more cinematic experience 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 just 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. If you enjoyed these gems back in the day, Disney Classic Games will let you relive the magic. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Aladdin (Genesis)
Lion King (Super Nintendo)
Aladdin (Super Nintendo)
Breath of Fire II (Guest Review) (Game Boy Advance)
Disney's Hercules (Playstation)

Double Switch 25th Anniversary Edition
Grade: C-
Publisher: Screaming Villains (2018)
Posted: 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 fail to 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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High score: 72
1 player 

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

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

screenshotThe last time I purchased Dragon's Lair (PS3, 2009) it was on Blu Ray so I figured that was the end-all-be-all. But when I recently tried to play that disc on my PS3 the video was skipping, apparently due to some system "update". 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.

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!

An optional "move guide" will light up an arrow or sword icon, supplying you with the correct move. You can get through most scenes using these prompts alone, but you still need to be quick on the trigger. At the very least you'll 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 a 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 younger gamers might not quite "get it". © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dragon's Lair Trilogy (Wii)
Dragon's Lair (3DO)
Space Ace (Playstation 3)
Dragon's Lair (Playstation 3)
Space Ace (CD) (Jaguar)

Duck Game
Grade: D-
Publisher: Adult Swim Games (2019)
Posted: 2021/6/11
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotWho can resist a multiplayer deathmatch between a bunch of zany ducks? Not this critic. Duck Game's charmingly-pixelated graphics feature well-armed cartoon birds shooting it out for "duck domination". Actually that would have been a much better name.

I've owned Duck Game for quite a while now but had to wait for Covid to subside before playing with friends. The multiplayer action isn't terrible but it isn't particularly good either. What's the deal with these touchy, non-intuitive controls? You basically just jump and shoot, so why is this game so hard to play??

Each level is unique in design, with random items like grenades and jetpacks scattered throughout. Unfortunately it's not readily apparent what most items are, and experimenting usually results in more harm than good. The chaotic, rapid-fire matches are typically over before any strategy has a chance to unfold.

The solo "arcade mode" is a complete bust. Instead of shootouts with CPU ducks you're subjected to a series of timed obstacle courses. Ugh. The non-intuitive controls make a simple action like putting on a helmet frustratingly difficult. How do I get through these glass doors? Oh, you have to slide through them. Instructions would have been nice.

In multiplayer you may wonder why no scores are displayed. It's because after every ten battles an intermission screen shows the ducks chucking rocks down a football field to reveal the current standings. It's a clever touch but sorry to say it's also the highlight of the game. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: International Track and Field (Playstation)
Stellar Track (Atari 2600)
Cyberball (Lynx)
Frogger II: Threedeep! (Atari XEGS)
Walter Payton Football (Sega Master System)

Dusk
Grade: D
Publisher: New Blood Interactive (2021)
Posted: 2023/10/31
Rating: Mature 17+

screenshotAt a glance, Dusk is the ideal first-person Halloween shooter. You begin in a dingy basement armed with a pair of sickles. The dark, spooky atmosphere is punctuated by disturbing imagery and brooding, pulse-pounding music. As you ascend the staircase and explore the house you're assaulted by hooded cult members, charging goats, and chainsaw-wielding maniacs. Pretty alarming stuff!

The polygon graphics in Dusk are very basic. While not unattractive, objects are angular and stamped with rudimentary textures. This looks like the kind of game you might have played on a PC in the mid-to-late 1990's. But there's a catch. Dusk is the fastest first-person shooter you'll ever play. You sprint through hallways, zip up ladders, and run circles around enemies. And the frame rate remains silky-smooth through it all.

At first this game plays like a dream. Who needs detailed graphics when you're forging from room to room, mowing down satanic worshippers standing in your way? Advanced weaponry includes an assault rifle, riveter, crossbow, sword, and of course the obligatory shotgun. I love how enemies go flying across the room when blasted at short range. Health, ammo, and money icons are abundant.

The scenery is very eerie despite the lack of detail. The flat "walls" of the corn maze didn't bother me at all, and I freaked out when those creepy scarecrows started coming to life! Much of the action takes place in close quarters, but there are a few wide-open industrial locations reminiscent of Doom (Playstation, 1995). When being attacked from all sides the circle-strafe is your friend. The frantic action will leave you breathless.

What dampened my enthusiasm was the focus on obtaining colored keys (red, blue, yellow). Some are out in the open, but some are really, really hard to obtain - even when you know their location. As you scour each area for clues, it starts to feel like a wild-goose chase. During these times I could feel sweat forming on my brow as a feeling of nausea slowly crept over me.

Worse yet, certain stages incorporate a lot of long, tight passages you need to crawl or God forbid swim through! It's disorienting, and the controls, while super responsive, feel slippery. I also found the weapon selection "wheel" unintuitive.

I'm on board with the old-school graphics but the game's gradually increasing complexity undermines the raw simplicity that makes it so appealing. In addition to campaign modes there's an "endless mode" which is basically my idea of pure hell. Suffice to say, I like the concept of Dusk better than actually playing it.

A second game called Dusk '82 was included as well, which looks like an Odyssey 2 title with its static, solid-colored characters. While it features many Dusk elements, like shooting monsters and blowing up barrels, the stages feel like little puzzles as you try to work your way to the exit. It's not a bad little bonus. And it didn't even make me sick! © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Wolfenstein 3D (Jaguar)
Doom 64 (Nintendo 64)
Doom (Saturn)
Ghoul School (NES)
Escape From Monster Manor (3DO)

Final Vendetta
Grade: B
Publisher: Numskull Games (2022)
Posted: 2023/7/8
Rating: Teen

screenshotFinal Vendetta is clearly an homage to classic side-scrolling brawlers like Final Fight (SNES, 1991) and especially Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991). The characters are extra large but sport that 16-bit look. Likewise the in-your-face techno soundtrack exudes a 90's sensibility, infused with rap beats, scratches, and samples. The game itself is pure pick-up-and-play goodness with a terrific co-op mode.

There are three playable characters: a big white guy sporting a mullet, a black dude who has a Michael Jackson thing happening, and a white chick who's like Blaze in Streets of Rage. Your enemies are your standard punk-rock types, construction workers, and masked freaks. They sport names like Judd, Zane, Raven, and Carver. Although the girls are dressed in appropriately skimpy attire, they lack sex appeal due to their odd proportions.

The controls incorporate all the basic punches, throws, and jump-kicks, but there are a few extra moves. There's a block which I tend to forget about but comes in handy for bosses. There's a super move you can only use when your super meter is full, which it usually is. My favorite is stomping someone on the ground. It's habit-forming.

Most enemies go down after just a few punches so the game rarely feels dull or repetitive. In fact, the controls are so fast and fluid, you'll find yourself getting into a rhythm. Being able to quickly pivot from one foe to another without missing a beat is great fun. You can dash or roll, but these controls are sensitive to the point of feeling slippery.

The stages are strictly by-the-numbers, consisting of city streets, elevators, docks, and subway stations. Every now and then you'll notice an interesting detail, like a cat grooming itself on a dumpster. I love the girl on the subway casually enjoying her drink before callously tossing it aside to join the fray.

In addition to standard punching you'll find weapons like knives or cricket bats. You won't get much use out of them however since they disappear once you take a hit. Picking up an enemy and tossing him into oncomers an effective strategy. Bashing crates open will reveal health items like grapes, hot dogs, or a side of beef.

I kind of like the fact that there are no continues. Ranking in on the high score screen is fun, although it doesn't distinguish between easy and hard difficulty. I appreciate how this game remained faithful to the classics, but more characters or selectable stages would have really pumped up the replay value. I tend to collect Streets of Rage clones and Final Vendetta may be the most enjoyable of the bunch. I really wouldn't mind a sequel. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended: easy
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Final Fight One (Game Boy Advance)
Final Fight CD (Sega CD)
Final Fight (Super Nintendo)
Return of Double Dragon (Super Nintendo)
Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Five Nights At Freddy's: Core Collection
Grade: C-
Publisher: ScottGames (2020)
Posted: 2023/11/26
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, mild blood)

screenshotIn this unconventional game you're the new night security guard at what appears to be a dark, twisted version of Chuck E. Cheese. Confined to a small security room, you scan the cameras situated around the restaurant. Throughout the night animatronic creatures come to life and roam the halls. If they enter your room, you're a goner.

Five Nights At Freddy's doesn't really give you much to go on besides a brief answering machine message when you begin each night. Beside scanning the cameras, your only controls consist of opening and closing the doors on either side of your room. You can also turn on lights on each side, illuminating the adjoining room.

As long as the doors are closed you're safe. Problem is, you have a limited battery life and using light and keeping the doors shut consumes it faster. This adds tension as you're trying to keep the doors open as long as possible without letting anything in.

The idea of inspecting various cameras reminds me of Night Trap (Sega CD, 1992). I like the concept but the dark, grainy images don't offer much to see. Sometimes you'll see a shadowy figure in a hallway or corner. The creatures resemble large chickens or teddy bears, but they definitely exude a cold, creepy vibe.

I played this game with a group of friends, and while we never fully grasped the gameplay, the suspense was palpable. One of us would be playing while the others watched, trying to help. Every now and then we'd hear a strange sound to heighten our sense of paranoia. And when we heard the pitter-patter of feet running, we were freaking out. After the screen blacked out and a bear popped up we all shrieked in unison.

This "Core Collection" contains five complete Freddy games, so fans are getting a lot. The second game lets you pop on a mask when danger is near, as well as illuminate areas on camera. Once again, it scared the living daylights out of me. In another game you're in a bedroom and have to continuously check your closet and adjoining rooms. This game taps into everyone's primal childhood fear of the dark.

To be honest I haven't got very far and I'm still not even sure what the strategy is. What I can tell you is Five Nights at Freddy's is extremely unnerving and loaded with jump scares. I don't want to play this alone! And when a game can reduce four grown men to a bunch of screaming schoolgirls, that's got to be worth something. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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

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

screenshotIt's hard to imagine a more blatant Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis, 1991) ripoff than Freedom Planet, and I happen to like it quite a bit! It originated as a fan-made Sonic game and certainly looks the part. This game contains just about every Sonic-ism I can think of, minus blast processing of course (this isn't running a Genesis, after all). Even the explosion sound effects seem lifted directly from Sonic.

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 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. Stages range from a tranquil rainforest to a bustling China stage with arcades, malls, and fireworks. I was less keen on the Trap Hideout which feels like a never-ending series of laser and spike traps.

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)
Heavy Metal Geomatrix (Dreamcast)
Sonic Chaos (Sega Master System)
Sonic 3D Blast (Genesis)
Sonic Blast Man (Super Nintendo)

Friday the 13th: The Game
Grade: D-
Publisher: Natsume (2019)
Posted: 2023/10/31
Rating: Mature 17+

screenshotI love the Friday the 13th movies, but the Playstation 4 version of Friday the 13th: The Game (PS4, 2017) left me cold with its unnecessary always-online requirement. I was hoping this "Ultimate Slasher" edition would deliver some offline love but that's not really the case.

The initial load screens convey the appearance of a fuzzy, gritty old VHS tape (need to adjust that tracking!) Creepy and antiquated, it made me wish the entire game looked like that! By comparison, the razor-sharp main menu doesn't look scary at all.

Like the PS4 edition, Friday the 13th is heavily geared towards online play. Offline is limited to three modes: offline bots, challenges, and a virtual cabin. While playing offline experience points earned are not saved.

Offline "bots" lets you systematically hunt down and skewer up to seven camp counselors at your leisure. There are eight campsite locations to choose from and several versions of Jason to unlock. The third-person view isn't bad. I love the dark, stormy atmosphere but the graphics are a step down from the PS4 version. Some of the characters look like they're made of plastic.

If you thought the teenagers were dumb in the Friday the 13th movies, wait until you get a load of this! You'll spot a guy continuously climbing in and out a window. A girl will be running in place, as if stuck on an invisible obstacle. I really wish these kids would try to hide more, because it's a pain in the ass to chase them down.

You also have a set of special abilities to experiment with. One lets you sense victims' locations. Others let you do things like set a bear trap or travel over the ground at supernatural speeds. During close encounters you perform context-sensitive kills like slamming a kid under the hood of a car, or impaling a guy on a pole. These are fun to watch... the first time.

When you're not executing stealth kills the game just plain sucks. Jason is clunky to control and his awkward, delayed attacks often harmlessly clank off a door frame or other nearby obstacle. Victims have a habit of tossing fireworks in Jason's face, leaving him temporarily bewildered. Even when you finally bludgeon one of those brats you'll need a good four or five hits to get the job done. That's hard to do when the camera is all over the place.

The challenge mode places you in specific scenarios that are mildly fun, as you're forced to take a divide-and-conquer approach. Finally, there's a "virtual cabin" that lets you peruse Friday the 13th movie memorabilia while learning trivia about the movies and the making of the game. It's a fun little bonus.

The highlight of the game is the disembodied voice of Jason's mom who cheers him on with lines like "Find them Jason! Make them pay for what they did to us!" It sounds amazing resonating from both speakers. Sadly, this game hasn't evolved much at all from the PS4 edition. I wish I could play as a councilor, but that would probably involve putting my Switch online, which is a fate far more horrible than you could possibly imagine. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Friday the 13th: The Game (Playstation 4)
Friday the 13th (NES)
Friday the 13th (Commodore 64)
Doom (Jaguar)
Berzerk Voice Enhanced (Atari 2600)

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

screenshotNow here's something unique! 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 quite like this since World Court Tennis (Turbografx-16, 1991). Its old-school pixelated graphics feature anime 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 golf purists fans but this game has a whimsical charm that will keep casual gamers engrossed for hours on end. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Golf (NES)
Great American Golf 2 (Philips CD-i)
PGA Tour Golf (3DO)
NES Open Tournament Golf (NES)
Pebble Beach Golf Links (Genesis)

Grand Mountain Adventure
Grade: B
Publisher: Microids (2022)
Posted: 2023/12/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis one caught my eye with its old-school look. You view the action from high overhead, with miniature people and quaint cottages that make you feel as if you're looking down on a Christmas garden. I love the concept! Grand Mountain Adventure has much to offer with its simple controls, smooth animation, and multiple sprawling mountains to explore at your leisure.

After choosing between skis or a snowboard, you're placed at the top of a hill in a resort. The controls seem simplistic at first, but eventually you learn advanced moves like drift turns and aerial tricks. The high camera angle provides a great view of rolling white hills, treacherous cliffs, and quaint villages. You need to navigate up the mountains via lifts, but holding in a button puts them into fast-forward mode. This is a gorgeous game with some truly breathtaking lighting effects. The snow is so soft and fluffy that carving the well-groomed trails feel effortless at times.

Consulting your "piste map" reveals that each mountain is loaded with challenges. Most are timed slalom races but there are others that challenge you to soar off perilous cliffs for distance. Completing these earn ski passes that gradually unlock new lifts and mountains. While exploring you'll stumble upon hidden trails and ski passes hidden in elusive spots. The resort is full of tiny people milling around, some of which will chat with you. The ice-encrusted trees are beautiful and you'll often spot deer and other wildlife. Just beware of bears!

There are a few minor flaws. The camera angles can also throw you off a little, especially when they swing as you weave through narrow gates. I found the soft blue and pink gates a little hard to make out, especially with evening shadows creeping in. Lining up with grinds is a challenge simply because you're so tiny! A more fundamental issue is trying to figure out which way is "up". There's no compass and the overhead view can be a bit disorienting. You'll find yourself flipping to the map a lot just to get your bearings.

This is one of the most relaxing games I've played in recent memory, with gentle piano music and subtle sound effects like the whoosh of snow or the creak of a lift. I love how you're free to explore each mountain of your own accord. There's even a four-player racing mode that's surprisingly playable, with quick loading and randomized courses. Grand Mountain Adventure is an amazing, unique game that provides a zen-like winter experience. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Skiing (Atari 2600)
Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)
Winter Extreme Skiing and Snowboarding (Super Nintendo)
We Ski and Snowboard (Wii)
Val d'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding (Jaguar)

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

screenshotIf there was ever a "slow-burn" video game, it's Hollow Knight. For the first hour or two you might 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 - far 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 another 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 be so engrossing and beautiful. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Neutopia (Turbografx-16)
International Track and Field (Playstation)
Bloodborne (Alternate Review) (Guest Review) (Playstation 4)
Dark Souls 3 (Guest Review) (Playstation 4)
Neo Geo Battle Coliseum (Playstation 2)

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

screenshotI've seen Horizon Chase compared to Sega's OutRun (Genesis, 1991) in reviews, but I think that's being far too generous. Horizon Chase Turbo is an easy-to-play racer with sharp graphics, a 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.

Bumping other cars slows you down, making it 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! Horizon Chase doesn't try very hard and rings hollow. If this were OutRun, 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: Pole Position II (Atari 7800)
Pole Position (Atari 5200)
Pole Position (Atari XEGS)
Rad Racer (NES)
Final Lap Twin (Turbografx-16)

Hotshot Racing
Grade: C
Publisher: Curve Digital (2020)
Posted: 2022/3/15
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotIf you're a retro gamer, the mere sight of Hotshot Racing will trigger warm memories of Virtua Racing (Saturn, 1995). This throw-back offers the same aesthetic style with bright colors, crisp lines, and charmingly angular landscapes. With tracks like Sea View, Alpine town, and Area 51, I felt right at home. But can Hotshot Racing match that same classic arcade fun?

At first the answer is an emphatic yes. Hotshot Racing is the most silky-smooth racer I've ever played. Heck even the four-player split-screen is fluid. The steering is responsive and the shoulder buttons provide the acceleration and brake functions as God intended.

The key to winning is to generate turbo boosts by power-sliding around turns, and it takes practice to execute these without losing control. You can "bank" up to four boosts, and you'll be wise to keep one in your back pocket for the homestretch. CPU competitors tend to exhibit "rubber band physics" but it's still fun to edge them out at the finish.

The Grand Prix mode pits you against seven CPU racers through a series of circuits, and each track looks like a dream vacation getaway. These fun locations incorporate sunny beaches, suspension bridges, flashy casinos, volcanoes, ski resorts, and amusement park rides. I enjoyed working my way through all 20 tracks, but many are very similar, and there are no secrets or shortcuts to uncover.

My friends were less enamored with this game. They could appreciate its pretty graphics but frowned upon its power slide fixation. In addition, each car comes with a stereotypical driver who belts out unfunny quips around each turn. Were these characters even necessary? I think not.

Hot Shot Racing is fun until you beat all the circuits, but that won't take long. Once you do, the game loses its appeal. Still, this is a good value for the money. Like a piece of bubble gum, the game is delicious for a while but once it loses its flavor you'll be ready to move on. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Rad Racer (NES)
Virtua Racing (Saturn)
Sega Rally Championship (Saturn)
Grand Prix (Bally Astrocade)
Virtua Racing Deluxe (Sega 32X)

House of the Dead Remake, The
Grade: C
Publisher: Forever Entertainment (2022)
Posted: 2022/7/8
Rating: Mature (17+)

screenshotDespite its chunky, muddy graphics, I've always had a soft spot for the original House of the Dead (Saturn, 1998). Considering how many times its sequels have been reissued over the years, this remake is long overdue. Sad part is, it's arrived at a time when light guns aren't really a thing anymore.

Remake's graphics are utterly fantastic. Each area conveys an ominous, sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere while retaining the arcade style of the original. With terrifying creeps lurking around every corner, Remake is like a haunted house thrill ride. The shooting action is satisfying. It's fun to blow body parts off advancing ghouls before watching them dissolve into a puddle of bubbling goo.

In many ways Remix fulfills the promise of the original, fleshing out creepy locations like the courtyard, mansion, and underground laboratory. Its high-energy soundtrack contains creepy undertones and the dialog has that vintage B-movie quality ("Help - everyone is getting killed!") Unfortunately the constant calls to "reload! reload!" drove me so batty I was forced to shut off the dialog completely.

You have two control options. You can drag the cursor around the screen with the thumbstick (lame) or use the gyrometer feature to aim by tilting the controller. This option is remarkably precise with very little movement required. Problem is, after a little while your "center" begins to drift, and over time you may find yourself holding the controller sideways just to hit the middle of the screen. Some kind of cursor reset button would have been nice.

Another problem is the whole scoring system. You're given ten continues which is non-configurable, and can purchase additional continues for 5K points each. That's okay I guess, but you can only rank in if you finish the game, which kind of defeats the purpose of keeping score in the first place. And while there's supposed to be a two-player mode, my friends and I could never get it to work.

My copy of the game included a few doo-dads but what I could really use is a proper manual. None of the various play modes, control schemes, or scoring systems are explained anywhere. House of the Dead fans will appreciate Remake, but after a while this starts to feel like a case study in missed opportunities. I'd really like to see somebody remake this remake. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: House of the Dead 2 and 3 Return (Wii)
House of the Dead (Saturn)
Crack'ed (Atari 7800)
Return to Haunted House (Atari 2600)
House of the Dead III (Xbox)

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

screenshotI purchased this after hearing it was a winter-themed role-playing game (RPG). What could be better than curling up with a good RPG on a bitterly-cold winter night? I Am Setsuna is a Japanese title 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 really somebody out there who wants to change Setsuna's name to Shirley?

The exploration element is fun thanks to the frosty scenery but the 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 who already had full health! Pressing the Y button during an attack adds "momentum" for extra impact, but it's not clear when you timed it correctly.

The game makes a big deal of telling you it does not automatically save your progress, as if that's some kind of badge of honor. The save points in fact 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.

In general I found the game to be rather 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: Nagano Winter Olympics 98 (Playstation)
Dragonstomper (Atari 2600)
Winter Heat (Saturn)
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (Japan) (Playstation 3)
Sno-Cross Championship Racing (Dreamcast)

Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl
Grade: D+
Publisher: Interabang (2020)
Posted: 2021/3/22
Rating: Teen (crude humor, fantasy violence)

screenshotI've been a Jay and Silent Bob fan since I first saw Clerks way back in 1995. The prospect of watching this quirky duo in an old-school brawler sounded like a lot of fun. It's worth noting this is technically an NES title. I just happen to be reviewing the Switch port which was more readily available.

On the surface Mall Brawl looks a lot like River City Ransom (NES, 1988) and Double Dragon (NES, 1988), with short, boxy characters. Using jump, punch, and kick combinations you methodically beat up skateboarders, ninjas, security guards, and furry mascots in various sections of the mall.

The lack of detail in the scenery is somewhat disappointing. The mall location has so much potential, so what are these empty storefronts all about? Is this mall going out of business? At least the food court stage offers some degree of color and detail. The fighting action is okay but nothing special. Enemies take a lot of punishment and it's really hard to avoid getting sandwiched between them. You can pick up weapons like bats, brooms, and hockey sticks, but they usually break after a whack or two.

The game does have one excellent feature missing from side-scrolling fighters since, well, forever. When a player expends all his lives, he can be brought back into the game if the second player kicks enough ass. What a great idea. In single player mode it means you'll always have another "life" waiting in the wings, providing you don't screw up too badly.

Breaking up the monotony is a dodge-the-obstacles shopping cart-riding stage. This could have been the highlight of the game, but loose controls and piss-poor collision detection turn it into a dead end. Jay and Silent Bob Mall Brawl feels generic. Outside of the character likenesses (which I admit are pretty good) there's not much here for fans to grasp. Instead of a tribute to Jay and Silent Bob's zany adventures, Mall Brawl feels like a run-of-the-mill beat-em-up with a license slapped on top. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: River City Ransom (NES)
Double Dragon (CD) (Neo Geo)
Double Dragon (NES)
River City Girls (Nintendo Switch)
Double Dragon (Genesis)

Katamari Damacy: Reroll
Grade: C+
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2018)
Posted: 2024/2/6
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSeveral words come to mind when I hear Katamari Damacy. Quirky. Charming. Eclectic. Weird. I have fond memories of the original Katamari Damacy (PS2, 2004). It was a boldly original concept with a fresh, offbeat style. To this day, it's still a one-of-a-kind experience.

A vaguely creepy Burger King-like deity presides over the game, creating all the different worlds you explore. He's pretty funny although sometimes long-winded. The idea is to roll a ball around each stage, causing objects of smaller size to stick to it. The snowball effect is strangely compelling as your "katamari" becomes increasingly large and unwieldy. Your goal is to reach a certain diameter before time runs out.

The game begins with a room loaded with household objects: tacks, forks, matches, apples, knives, spatulas, alarm clocks, lipstick, batteries. The variety of items is truly astounding. They thought of everything! As you progress the venues increase in scope, eventually reaching gargantuan proportions.

Bumping into larger objects causes you to drop items, and moving hazards like angular cats and remote-controlled cars can also knock stuff loose. But your biggest enemy is the camera. You can only see straight ahead and I often felt like I was "rolling blind". You can find yourself in some claustrophobic areas, losing objects but not knowing why.

That said, collecting stuff is fun and addictive. Katamari gives you that satisfying "cleaning up" feeling not unlike Centipede (Atari 2600, 1983) or even Tetris (NES, 1989). The music is silly and childlike, but after a few minutes you'll be humming along to it. The stages get a little repetitive however, as they tend to repeat and build upon each other.

Reroll is less of a sequel and more of an excuse to re-introduce the game to a new generation. That's not a bad idea but they could have tightened up the interface, or at least added an autosave feature. As it is, Reroll feels more like a rerun. If you've never experienced Katamari Damacy before, give it a try. You'll have a ball. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Katamari Damacy (Playstation 2)
Megamania (Atari 5200)
Funky Fish (Arcadia 2001)
Tetris (Nintendo) (NES)
Bases Loaded 2: Second Season (NES)

Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (2022)
Posted: 2023/5/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI had been suffering from Kirby fatigue for the last decade or so. While so many of their storied franchises have fallen into neglect, Nintendo has continued to crank out Kirby games like there's no tomorrow. Nothing against the chubby pink guy, but I'm not sure his "star power" warrants the over-exposure. Kirby was one of the final 3D holdouts, but with the Forgotten Land he finally took the leap.

The fully-3D style reinvigorates the series, starting with the spirited musical intro featuring a Japanese girl belting out a bouncy pop tune. With responsive controls and a simple button configuration, Forgotten Land is practically effortless to play. There's a "spring breeze mode" for extra-young kids, but it's hard to imagine this game being much easier.

Like the original Crash Bandicoot (Playstation, 1997) Kirby finds himself washed up on a sandy beach before venturing into a forest. He emerges to the sight of a post-apocalyptic, overgrown city where all of its human inhabitants are long dead.

Kirby can jump, float, and swallow enemies to assume their abilities. He might become a sword-swinging Link, a bomb-tossing wizard, or a fire-breathing hothead. You can even wield a giant Donkey Kong-style hammer. Your goal is to save cute "Waddle Dees'' imprisoned by equally-cute fluffy animals. It's fun to experiment with various abilities, and the cleverly-disguised hidden areas are great fun to uncover.

This game's sense of imagination is off the charts. Not only are the levels highly original, but some of the powers you can possess are outrageous! Ever wanted to be a tornado or a giant water balloon? How about a vending machine that can rapidly spit out cans? There's only one correct answer to these questions, and that is an emphatic yes.

The stages are as inventive as they are beautiful, from an abandoned amusement park to an ice-encrusted city. Doing the doggie-paddle through shimmering blue waters of an abandoned beach to the sounds of steel drum music is an act of pure joy. Everywhere you look there are subtle details and interesting animations that are easy to miss if you're not paying close attention.

If Kirby is guilty of anything, it's being too "floaty". I do sometimes get the buttons mixed up, which is odd considering there are basically two. Still, this game is relentlessly enjoyable, with fun that keeps coming in waves. I knew Kirby and the Forgotten Land would be good. I knew it would be polished. What I didn't expect was one of the best 3D platformers I've ever played. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Kirby Super Star (Super Nintendo)
Crash Bandicoot (Playstation)
Kirby's Dream Collection Special Edition (Wii)
Donkey Kong Jr. (NES)
Kirby's Adventure (NES)


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