Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition
Publisher: Limited Run (2018)
Rating: Teen (blood, suggestive themes, violence)
In 1993 a Nintendo executive went on record stating that Night Trap would never
be released on a Nintendo system. This "filthy" early CD title allowed the player to toggle between cameras positioned around a mansion, viewing live-action video of seven rooms plus the front of the house. The object was to save girls at a slumber party from shambling creeps in black by activating traps at the right times. Night Trap starred the late Dana Plato of Diff'rent Strokes fame along a cast of scantily-clad hotties. While innovative for its time, Night Trap's grainy visuals and limited interaction led many to dismiss the game as a cheap gimmick. In fact, Night Trap is fairly ingenious. Its well-crafted storyline features scenes that unfold in parallel and you can even follow actors from room to room. Each play-through is a unique experience as you catch glimpses of different clips while gradually picking up bits and pieces of the story. Activating traps is satisfying as you drop goons through trap doors, suck them into walls, and catapult them off the roof. The dialog is campy and the Night Trap song is irresistably cheesy. Edgy guitar riffs kick in when baddies appear, adding tension and excitement. This newly-released Switch edition of the game is pretty much the same as the Playstation 4 version. The video quality is ten times better than the original Sega CD version yet still never rises above VCR quality. There's even static in certain scenes. The biggest advantage of the 25th Anniversary edition is your ability to view what's happening in every room at the same time
via the eight small screens on the bottom. It feels like cheating but frankly it would be hard to go back to the original version where you had to click on each room to detect activity. The game is still tough and will abruptly end if you don't bag a certain percentage of bad guys. The good news is that you can continue once you reach the 14-minute half-way point. The new survivor mode is a randomized mode that rewards quick reflexes and a keen eye. You also get the behind-the-scenes documentary featuring clueless members of Congress claiming Night Trap advocated violence against women. Extra features include a theatre mode and a playable Scene of the Crime prototype game. Unfortunately you need to complete a perfect game (?!) to unlock those. I would have preferred more customization options, like the ability to turn off the color codes for example. Still, I played the hell out of this game and loved it. I suppose I should feel ashamed for deriving so much enjoyment out of the most egregiously violent video game of all time. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 83
Publisher: Sega (2017)
Puyo Puyo Tetris is a safe bet for puzzle-minded gamers with its colorful graphics, simple controls, and an avalanche
of variations. There are three general game types: Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and Fusion. Tetris might seem like old hat until you realize there's probably an entire generation of young gamers who haven't even heard
of it! Invented in 1984, its block-stacking gameplay remains timeless. I love how in this version you can press up to instantly cement the next block to the bottom. Puyo Puyo is also fairly long in the tooth, dating back to 1991. It involves stacking colored beans... um... blobs... er... what the [expletive] are those things anyway?
All I know is, they are squishy. When four puyos gell together they generate an explosion that can trigger chain reactions. Fusion is a combination of Tetris and Puyo Puyo. Sometimes you get bricks and sometimes puyos. Though fuzzy on the rules, I'm always mesmerized by this peculiar hybrid. Up to four people can play at once, each choosing their own game style. Sega took a minimalist approach with the graphics and I think it paid off. The sharp objects and bright colors look very inviting. A series of tutorials not only explain the basics but go over advanced strategies in detail. The controls feel crisp and the bubbly music has an infectious quality. The voices are repetitive but they add a nice punctuation when you clear puyos ("solved it!"
). What puts Puyo Puyo Tetris over the top may be its myriad of variations, too numerous to list. There are party modes that toss random objects into the mix. There's a swap mode that lets you play two games at once. I personally prefer "endless puyo" which lets me compete for a high score (sadly it doesn't save initials). The story mode looks like a throw-away but its rapid-fire CPU challenges had me hooked!
It may not push the hardware, but Puyo Puyo Tetris is a likable little title with universal appeal and seemingly endless replay value. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: THQ Nordic (2017)
A throwback to old 2D shooters like Steel Empire
(Genesis, 1992), Sine Mora EX combines crisp 2D shooting with gorgeous 3D layered scenery. The game strikes a retro-futuristic motif with biplanes, blimps, tanks, and locomotives. You hold down a button to unleash a stream of rapid-fire shots, and I love the sound of the your bullets hammering enemies while depleting their little health bars. The explosions are satisfying thanks to some crisp audio and nifty smoke effects. Your main cannon can be powered up to nine levels, so grab a red icon whenever you can. Upon taking a hit your red icons will spill out, but if you're lucky you can scoop them right back up. You also have a limited supply of heat-seeking missiles and the ability to slow time. But when everything on the screen is reduced to slow-motion, your ship's controls remain very touchy. The collision detection is kind of mysterious. Certain stages contain a lot of activity in the background, making it hard to tell what's in your line of fire. While trying to dodge overwhelming waves of missiles it seems as if I should have been incurring serious damage. The stages have a highly unncessary time limit, so unless you continuously blow up stuff up time can expire. The highlight of Sine Mora are its epic bosses, which are brilliant in design. They include an octopus where you shoot off its tentacles, a train where you methodically destroy each car, and a giant rickety robot. The eclectic soundtrack is understated but adds a lot of atmosphere. Sine Mora EX should have been the perfect game for a shooter fan like me, but the game around the game
falters. You need to be online
to access the leaderboards. Are you telling me they couldn't implement a local leaderboard? The lack of decent instructions for a shooter this sophisticated is unforgivable. Setting up each game is confusing. What the [expletive] is a Chronome? I love the idea of Sine Mora EX, but ultimately this stylish old-school shooter is betrayed by its modern trappings. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Slain: Back From Hell
Publisher: Digerati Distribution (2017)
Rating: Mature 17+ (violence, blood and gore)
Well, this game lives up to its name; I've never died so much in my entire life!
Slain: Back from Hell is a stylish, artistic Castlevania-style platformer. Its demonic imagery, unflinching violence, and driving guitars feel like an Iron Maiden album cover come to life!
The title screen alone deserves an award is its weathered crypt and twisted trees under an ominous moon. The art direction is fantastic. The medieval scenery calls to mind Lord of the Rings with exquisitely engraved ruins depicting grotesque haunting images. You have to love the subtle details like wispy curtains, ornate chandeliers, and candles dripping wax. Your sword-wielding heavy metal hero leaps between platforms, hits switches, and battles legions of undead. Creatively-rendered enemies include skeletons, witches, werewolves, and walking bat creatures. Hack-and-slash may get your past the early waves but you'll need to master the block-and-counter move to defeat the big guys. Fortunately it's not hard to do; just press block before the enemy is about to strike. When timed right, the screen zooms in as you unleash a devastating blood-spraying slash. You also have a blue magic bar that lets you unleash fireballs and bombs. The controls are a bit slippery as you're forced to use the analog stick. The areas between checkpoints aren't long but they are super challenging. I noticed a lot of cursing! No, not from the game - coming from out of my mouth
whenever I met an untimely demise by a converging mob or unseen trap. Is Slain too hard? Maybe, but since the game restarts immediately at your last checkpoint, it has an old-school try, try again quality. And when you finally do reach that checkpoint lamp there's a real sense of accomplishment! Some things in life are worth the pain. Slain: Back from Hell is the real deal. Jaw-dropping graphics, relentless guitars, and taut action combine to create one of the more underrated titles in recent memory. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2017)
It seems like every year Sega cranks out another mediocre 3D Sonic game just close enough to Christmas that people can't catch all the bad reviews. With all the recent hubbub over Sega's 2D Sonic Mania, it's hard to excited about Sonic Forces. The stages alternate between between behind-the-back speed running and more traditional side-scrolling fare. You'll execute homing attacks on robots, slide between rails, and watch extended automated sequences that will make your head spin. Highlights include being chased by a giant rampaging crab and being whisked around the Star Wars-inspired "Death Egg". There's no shortage of spectacle but it feels like you're on autopilot half the time. Worse yet, there are times when it's not clear whether if you're in control or not, and stepping in at the wrong moment can send you flying off the rails. You'll play as two different Sonics (classic and modern) as well as a custom character you design yourself. The problem with using three characters is that they all control differently and it's hard to switch gears. The sense of speed is breathtaking at times, but your boost lasts so long you can plow through many stages with little or no resistance. I'd say it feels like cheating, but frankly the entire game
feels like a cheat. The "hard" difficulty is so low it's tough to earn anything less than an "A" in a given stage. You're then awarded so many unlockables that your thumb will get tired of paging through them all. I will give Sonic Forces credit for variety. There are dozens of stages and each of which feels like a unique experience. Unlike the idyllic locales of the original Sonic trilogy, you'll need to traverse war-torn cities in this game. Stages that reprise the classics like the Green Hill, Casino, and Chemical Zones mainly serve to emphasize how superior the original 2D versions are. The layered 3D graphics make it hard to tell what you can or can't jump on, and the controls are not responsive. Sonic Forces does offer upbeat musical tracks, some with vocals. It's hard to stomach the corny cutscenes, but thankfully you can skip them. Sonic Forces is long on razzle dazzle but short on gameplay. It's just another 3D Sonic game, and that's probably all you need to know. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic Mania Plus
Publisher: Sega (2018)
The collector in me was bitterly disappointed when Sonic Mania was originally released as a download-only title. Only after significant push-back by fans did Sega finally relent and give us this wonderful new 2D Sonic. And it's on a cartridge running on a Nintendo
of all things! Sonic Mania Plus reprises the 16-bit splendor fans have wanted for decades
. Unlike the ill-conceived Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
(Xbox 360, 2010), Mania looks and feels like classic Sonic - maybe to a fault!
Longtime fans will experience deja vu as most stages tend to be remixed and expanded versions of classic zones like Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Hydro City, and Oil Ocean. The term "rehash" comes to mind, but let's face it - the classic stages are hard to top! So Sega took a "if you can't beat em, join em" approach, and it works. Don't worry - there are four brand new zones including an inventive Wild West stage with trains, guns, totems, and pianos. Mania also incorporates a slew of crazy new gadgets you've never seen before. The gorgeously pixelated graphics are faithful to the 16-bit era, with the visual highlight (for me) being the sparkling blue grotto at the end of the Green Hill zone. Like most Sonic games you have the option of speeding through each stage or taking your time to explore. Tails the fox is your constant companion, but it took me a while to figure out how to use his flying ability. Staying alive isn't a problem with so many rings bouncing around but earning extra lives by collecting 100 rings is a challenge. The expansive stage layouts can be a little hard to grasp but I love all the alternate routes. The bosses are pretty easy once you get their patterns down, including a Metal Sonic encounter and a reprise of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
(Genesis, 1993). You'll earn gems in new bonus stages that have you chasing UFOs around an F-Zero
(SNES, 1992) style track. Sega also brought back the blue sphere bonus stages. In addition to mania mode there's an encore mode that lets you switch between characters including a flying squirrel and a ground-pounding armadillo. The head-to-head split-screen mode is a nice addition but I'm still not sure what qualifies as a win. It would be nice if there were a manual to explain things but this is 2018 and manuals have been outlawed. Still, I love Sonic Mania. The more I played it the more I realized how much I had missed this style of game. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 50,100
1 or 2 players
Super Bomberman R
Publisher: Konami (2017)
I've been a fan of this franchise since Super Bomberman
(SNES, 1993). Bomberman is a party game designed for four players. Gameplay involves dropping bombs around a maze, collecting power-ups, and frantically avoiding chain-reaction explosions. Super Bomberman R applies a glossy 3D sheen to a classic formula. Four players are required for battle mode, with CPU characters filling in the missing slots. Unfortunately the poorly designed menu system makes setting up each contest a major hassle. There are plenty of options except the one you really want
which is a damn CPU difficulty setting. You see, the CPU players have a tendency to run roughshod
over humans. I think my friend Chris is the only person I've seen prevail against those CPU bastards. And God forbid if there are multiple CPU players. You'll have wait forever
for them to eliminate each other
, as their flawless AI allows them to run the clock down to the very last second. I do enjoy the bouncy, jubilant music which is a throwback to the 16-bit era. Bomberman R introduces a few innovative features like an 8-player mode and "revenge carts" which let you toss bombs from the perimeter after
you've been eliminated. The story mode is challenging enough but the lengthy cut-scenes can be a little hard to stomach. The modern visuals don't improve the gameplay one bit, and you could argue they are detrimental!
Unnecessary lighting effects make it hard to differentiate shadows from pits, and why is the camera wavering? Ramps can take you to raised areas on the board, but sometimes it's hard to tell if you're on the same level as the guy standing next to you. Even the controls feel slippery. Apparently the R in Super Bomberman R stands for "rushed". Konami has patched this game several times since its release, but I'm not letting them off the hook for such a sloppy, disappointing effort. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Odyssey
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
I figured Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
(Nintendo, 2017) would be impossible to top, but never underestimate Nintendo. Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation and a celebration
of the complete Mario catalog. But unlike past Mario escapades, Odyssey feels unconstrained with sprawling kingdoms that extend as far as the eye can see. There's a frozen desert, an elevated forest kingdom, a gorgeous undersea realm, a festive snow world, and a vertigo-inducing metropolis. The stages are expertly designed so you'll want to explore every nook and cranny. At first the gameplay feels a lot like Super Mario 64
(N64, 1996) as you scamper around simple environments, talking to characters, hopping on enemies, and snagging items. But then the game tosses one surprise at you after another and never really lets up. Mario's new hat-throwing ability opens up all sorts of possibilities, allowing you to take control of just about any creature or animated object. You can leap high as a frog, fire mortars as a tank, or go on a destructive rampage as a giant T-Rex. In a nod to the old-school, certain areas seamlessly transition between 2D and 3D realms. It's hard to describe this game without dropping a few spoilers. The creativity is off-the-charts, and it seems like everything you do is fun
. The game has a comforting familiarity with classic enemies (like goombas) and distinctive sound effects (descending into a green pipe). The difficulty is low. It only costs a few coins to continue and there's no shortage of those. What presents a challenge is Mario's momentum (especially in slippery areas) and the manual camera, which requires your constant attention. The controls are as crisp as the pitter patter of Mario's feet. You have the option of using motion controls, but I didn't think they were worth it. The game saves often and the light jazz soundtrack is outstanding. Mario Odyssey has a level of polish you don't see much in this day and age. Once you begin playing the hours just melt away. Ridiculously fun and universally appealing, you could make a case for this being the best video game of all time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Party
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
I guess Nintendo got tired of numbering their Mario Party games, opting to go the "super" route instead. Super Mario Party was released to little fanfare but it still packs a lot of entertainment value. Fours players march around a board while triggering events, avoiding hazards, using items, and competing in minigames. The boards tend to be more square and compact than recent outings - more like traditional board games. I enjoyed the tropical splendor of Mega-Fruit Paradise and the sparkling gold opulence of Kamek's Tantalizing Tower, but only four boards? No winter board? Each player is required to use half
of a joy-con controller - even when playing solo. That's because many mini-games incorporate some sort of motion control. And before you roll your eyes, these are not the waggle-prone controls of the Wii era. Precise motion sensing lets you guide an airplane through a tunnel with precision, and subtle force feedback lets you feel the gentle tug of hungry fish. One standout game looks positively photorealistic as you flip a steak cube around a frying pan. Others offer random tasks like climbing poles, snatching pancakes from a plate, and even delivering packages with drones! I was less impressed by the memorization games, and wish there weren't so many 3-on-1 contests. The pacing is good although they could still cut out some dialog and maybe not review the current standings every ten seconds. While playing friends there's always somebody
forgetting to press their button - especially when everyone is required to press SL and
SR to exit mini-game practice. Expect lots of twists as you move around the board, with players getting transported all over the place while stealing items from others. The ten-round games only run about an hour and frankly I can't imagine playing any longer. The last three rounds are dragged out to the extreme, and the "blue shell effect" might leave you with the impression that winning is more about luck than skill. Rounding out the package are team variations and bonus minigames including one that reminded me of my old Epoch Basement tabletop game. Super Mario Party may not pull out all the stops but its upbeat music, sparkling graphics, and easy gameplay are hard to dislike. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
Rating: Everyone 10+
I always felt the Smash Bros. franchise was overrated but I can't deny Ultimate is simply bursting at the seams with Nintendo goodness. This is the comfort food of fighting games. All your favorite characters are presented in memorable stages rolled up into a simple 2D fighter anyone can play. The primary "Smash" mode is highly addictive, offering a never-ending series of one-on-one matches against a friend or CPU. Nearly all of the stages are unlocked from the outset, and what a selection.
It looks like a wall of postage stamps plastered over my screen! We're talking about over 100 colorful stages inspired by past and present franchises like Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, Luigi's Mansion, Castlevania, Splatoon, Star Fox, and Zelda. There are even pixelated stages inspired by Duck Hunt, Balloon Fight, and the original Donkey Kong. You can also expect a few oddballs inspired by Wii Fit, Game and Watch, and, and PictoChat. It's almost sensory overload! Unlike the stages, the characters are rationed out gradually. You begin with just five, but after every few matches you face a "challenger" who will be added to the roster if you can defeat him. Old standbys include Mario, Donkey Kong, and several version of Link. Newer faces include the Squid kids, Bayonetta, Ryu of Street Fighter fame, and Simon from Castlevania. Each battles runs two minutes and 30 seconds by default. The action is chaotic as you try to bash each other off the screen while keeping an eye out for helpful items and weapons that appear randomly. Certain items introduce an "allie" which takes the chaos to a whole new level. While there is certainly technique involved, often it feels like the hard part is facing the right direction in the heat of battle! I was disappointed the digital control isn't supported on my Pro controller; the analog stick feels inexact - especially when trying to dash. Trying to stay on the screen is challenging when platform configurations are shifting and the camera is zooming all over the place. There were times when I found myself just off the screen and wondering why the camera couldn't zoom out a little. You never quite know for sure who won the match until the "big reveal" afterwards. There are a wide variety of alternate modes including "spirit adventure" but none appealed to me. Still, you should give all the secondary modes a try as that will instantly unlock a few things. I'm not convinced Smash Bros. Ultimate is all that much better than its previous Wii U iteration but for Nintendo fans there is a lot here to love. Even if it's less than the sum of its parts, that's a heck of a lot of parts. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Tiny Barbarian DX
Publisher: Nicolis (2017)
I should have never played Axiom Verge
(Badlands Games, 2017) because it set the bar way
too high for retro titles like this. Tiny Barbarian is exactly what I was expecting, for better or worse. It's an homage to the 8-bit days of pixelated graphics, parallax scrolling, and 2D hack-n-slash platforming. Each stage opens with a scrolling map a la Ghouls 'N Ghosts
(Genesis, 1991) which is a nice touch. Your barbarian certainly is tiny, and I like the way he flexes his muscles when left without supervision. The gameplay is simple as you hop and climb while slaying snakes, birds, and armed guards. The controls feel responsive and my new Pro Controller got a good workout. The directional pad is precise and much like Strider
(Genesis, 1989) our hero can perch on the edge of a block and pull himself up. It's possible to execute a long lash or spin attack, but with no instructions I can't tell you how. Tiny Barbarian is not as satisfying as it could be. Striking anything with your sword makes a lame "thump" sound, as if you're smacking someone with a wet sock. Slain enemies just sort of fall over when defeated. I would never advocate violence, but a little blood and gore never hurt anybody. The stages are colorful but what you see is pretty much what you get. Frequent annoyances include enemies that repel attacks and skeletal hands that reach up from the ground. But the worst offenders are the birds or snakes that perpetually respawn, forcing you to rush through certain sections while absorbing hits along the way. Can a brother get a health icon?
Old-school references include the gnome from Golden Axe
(Genesis, 1989) you can smack around for bonuses, and a God of War
(PS2, 2005) inspired maiden scene. The animation has style and subtle humor. The problem is, Tiny Barbarian DX isn't particularly addictive and becomes progressively less enjoyable as you go. What saves the day is its two-player coop. Trying to beat a stage with a buddy harkens back to the old sleepover days when you'd stay up half the night trying to conquer a hard level. And be sure to check out the Horde mode which challenges you to stay "king of the mountain" for as long as possible (usually under a minute). It won't win any awards but when it comes to old-school throwbacks Tiny Barbarian is legit
. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Ultra Street Fighter II
Publisher: Capcom (2017)
I've been a Street Fighter II
(SNES, 1992) fanatic since day one, purchasing just about all of its countless variations (super, turbo, alpha, etc). The only reason I passed up Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (2008) was because it was download-only. Well I guess good things come to those who wait... nine years!
I have to admit I'm loving the HD graphics! They add amazing sharpness and detail while still retaining the original art style. Ryu's moonlit temple and Ken's sunny yacht look gorgeous, and I love the sense of depth in Chun Li's market stage. The characters are so sharp you can actually see lines on Ryu's face! The original low-resolution graphics are available as an option, but they look downright harsh
on a modern TV. The original fighting lineup has returned along with newcomers Evil Ryu and Violent Ken. These guys seem suspiciously similar to "regular" Ken and Ryu, except they happen to be demonically possessed (hey - it happens). The strategic one-on-one fighting feels just like the old days, but if you're used to cranking up the turbo setting it might feel a little slow. The improved clarity tends to undermine the collision detection, causing some obvious misses to be registered as hits. The original musical score is back, but the remastered tunes sound a little less edgy. I'm pleased to announce Capcom has rediscovered their long lost "arcade mode" technology, and you can even rank in with your initials. Just be sure to crank up the difficulty to "master" (at the very least) because normal is ridiculously easy. It would be nice if the game kept a different set of high scores for each difficulty. Playing with a Joy-Con controller takes some getting used to. I kept switching between the digital and analog directional controls but didn't feel completely satisfied with either one. By default heavy attacks are assigned to the right and left bumpers, but they are really
hard to reach in the heat of battle. And why is it that when I pull up the move list I then have to select my character from a list? If I'm playing as Chun Li, just show me her damn moves! It's not that hard Capcom! In addition to the standard online, training, and versus modes, Capcom tossed in two new modes of questionable value. Buddy Battle mode lets you team up with a friend (or CPU) to beat the living crap out of a CPU player. There's no score so it's basically just a novelty. Way of the Hado mode offers a first-person perspective as you execute Joy-Con motion controls to dispatch oncoming soldiers. The controls are so bad they feel like the worst Wii game ever. Ultra Street Fighter II is a lazy effort, but it's still worth owning, particularly if you haven't experienced this classic in HD. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
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