SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
Publisher: SNK (2018)
Rating: Teen Adolescents (mild blood, mild violence, suggestive themes)
Most associate SNK with the Neo Geo system (1991), but this 40th Anniversary Collection reminds you that the company has actually been producing games since 1978! This collection focuses on those formative years from 1978 thru 1989. A well-designed museum mode walks you through their complete catalog of arcade and console titles from that era - 74 in all! The slideshow format works great, displaying short (and often funny) text along with design illustrations and screenshots. You feel like you're getting a history lesson in Japanese arcades, learning about the first boss, first voice, first continue, etc. The arcade section offers 23 titles, and in many cases you can play both the arcade and console versions. Not all of these games will be familiar to American audiences, but there are some standouts including Vanguard, Guerilla War, and Ikari Warriors. There's a heavy emphasis on violent Rambo-style shooters, but there's really a wide range of styles. Street Smart was SNK's first fighter and Crystalis is an NES role-playing game. Ozma Wars reminded me of Gorf
(Colecovision, 1983) with its distinctive intergalactic waves, and Paddle Mania was the clear precursor to Windjammers
(Neo Geo, 1993). Athena, Mobile Muncher, and Fantasy have a wacky Japanese charm, and during Psycho Soldier some girl sings in the background the entire time! The games control very well and the arcade games save high scores. All games are configurable and there's even a rewind
button! I realize not everyone shares my fascination for video game history, but SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is like an all-you-can-eat buffet of classic gaming goodness. Note: This collection was also released for the PS4 with two additional titles. © Copyright 2020 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.
Snow Moto Racing Freedom
Publisher: BigBen Interactive (2017)
Being a sucker for seasonal games I purchased Snow Moto Racing Freedom despite mixed reviews on Amazon. I was just looking for something wintery I could play with my friends; preferably a game that wouldn't make me feel nauseous after five minutes. Apparently I set the bar too high. Your first order of business is customizing you rider, which required scrolling through about 1000 country names. I should have just went with Albania! The two basic racing formats are sprint racing and snocross. In sprint you race between gates marked with smoke plumes, not unlike Smuggler's Run
(PS2, 2000). The scenery is sparse but the snowmobiles look sharp and the smooth hills look inviting... at first. But shortly after I left the starting line I started to feel uneasy. The first-person view is so rough and choppy, I felt like I was getting sick!
Even after switching to a higher view the action is far from smooth, and the controls are atrocious
. The hills throw your sled all over the place and you're constantly oversteering. The load screen hints suggest it's easier to steer when not going full steam, but how do you regulate that? The right trigger doesn't provide much "give", so are we supposed to tap it?
Wouldn't the right analog stick have made a better solution? Adding insult to injury the gates are inexplicably one-way
and more often than not you approach from the wrong side
, forcing you to go around the back. The right trigger pulls double duty as both sharp turn and reverse, which makes things very interesting when trying to get unstuck from the edge of a gate. As bad as sprint mode is, snocross mode is ten times worse. Now you're bouncing around a hilly track trying to perform tricks as opponents repeatedly knock you off-course. I couldn't stand
it! There's just something about the camera and framerate in this game that makes me violently ill
. I haven't felt this bad since I saw that Ronald Reagan
movie. The snow effects are weak and randomly-generated racer names clutter up the screen. I tried the four-player split-screen mode with friends and it was utter chaos. Hard to play and even harder to watch
, Snow Moto Racing Freedom is a perfectly miserable experience. File this one under F... for Freedom
. © Copyright 2020 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
Star Wars Pinball
Publisher: Zen Studios (2019)
As a Star Wars fan and pinball machine owner, this game falls right into my wheelhouse. It packs no less than 19 full-featured tables, each of which delivers its own deep, unique pinball experience. Apparently this series has been incubating on the Playstation Network for some time, and now Switch owners get to enjoy the series in its entirety. Some tables are based on the specific films including Rogue One and Solo, but I'm a little sad the prequels didn't get much love. Other tables are based on specific characters like Boba Fett and Kylo Ren, and there are even spin-off tables like Rebels and Clone Wars. I was worried the tables would have an unrealistic video game fakeness, but in fact they feel like real world constructions with realistic proportions and all the mechanical gadgets you'd expect on an actual table (bumpers, lanes, rails, etc). Although somewhat obscured, the dot matrix display offers charming animations, and the colorful illustrations on the table have a distinctive retro look. There's also plenty of razzle dazzle in the form of animated characters recreating scenes and ships flying around the table. I love how you activate bumper-mounted cannons to destroy circling fighters. The audio is absolutely first-rate, with superb orchestrated music and memorable sound effects. You'll hear many lines of dialog from the movies, like Palpatine's "The dark side of the force is a pathway to many abilities, some considered to be unnatural
". Some lines were definitely not
lifted from the films, such as Vader's "Awesome!" The pinball physics is convincing although my friend Brent claimed it was a little too
smooth (unnatural?). The flippers are crisp and responsive, although the pro controller is your best option when it comes to clicking those triggers non-stop. There are several viewing angles to choose from, and I prefer the one that follows the ball around. An addictive mission mode lets you explore each table by completing various objectives like a five-minute challenge, two-ball challenge, and flipper challenge which limits you to 200 flips. Each "mission" has three levels of achievement, appealing to any skill level. Each table packs remarkable replay value with special modes, mini-games, and hidden surprises that will take weeks to uncover. The vibration feedback is disappointing, which is probably why it's off by default. And while I don't appreciate being prompted to "sign in" between games (I'm offline), I was thrilled
to see local high scores are saved along with initials! Having this on physical media at a budget price is icing on the cake. Star Wars Pinball is a mind-blowing value. I've don't think I've ever seen a movie license put to such good use. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Streets of Rage 4
Publisher: Limited Run (2020)
Rating: Teen (cartoon violence, mild language, mild suggestive themes)
Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991) may have been the pinnacle of side-scrolling brawlers, but after two sequels the franchise lay dormant... for 25 years!
The long-overdue Streets of Rage 4 revitalizes the beat-em-up genre with its modern style, extraordinary polish, and storyline that pays homage to the past. They even brought back Yuzo Koshiro to do the musical score. The new comic book-style graphics are sharp and the fighting is outstanding. Playable characters include old favorites Axel, Blaze, and Adam, along with newcomers Floyd and Cherry. Axel put on a few pounds but Blaze picked them up in all the right places. The game's fighting engine is rock-solid with pinpoint control and a dazzling array of moves. Every punch, kick, and body slam lands with resounding authority. You can't attack a guy while he's down but you can execute some wild juggling wall bounces. Laying into several thugs at a time is great fun, as is tossing one over your shoulder into oncoming goons. A great new combo system lets you rack up points for consecutive hits. It was smart to dedicate a button to picking up items. The wide range of weapons include pipes, swords, mops, sign posts, tasers, and even hammers! Enemies are distinctive and varied, and you might even recognize a few old faces like Donovan or Y. Signal. One element I wish they hadn't
brought back was the way all the bad guys fall down when a player spawns a new life. With multiple players this happens too often and disrupts the flow. The stages reflect a new art style which is artistic but lacks the mystique and atmosphere of the old games. That said, you will be treated to some awe-inspiring city skylines. I was disappointed at the lack of branching stages which would have substantially improved the replay value. The soundtrack certainly sounds like Streets of Rage but I didn't find the tunes particularly infectious. I'm not a fan of locking all the modes until you complete the story mode. I'm also not crazy about the idea of keeping high scores per stage
. For me a score should reflect how long you managed to survive in arcade mode. Finally, it rubs me the wrong way how stereotypical cops who are often used as bad guys. Our police have it hard enough without being demonized by a video game! That said, Streets of Rage 4 ultimately delivers on its promise. I hope it sends a clear signal that this long-neglected genre is still viable - even in 2020. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
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.
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