system Index T-Z
Team Sonic Racing
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (2019)
Reviewed: 2019/6/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSonic All-Stars Racing has been a great series, delivering arcade-style thrills on various tracks inspired by classic Sega franchises. Team Sonic Racing on the other hand feels like an incoherent mess. Whenever you see a franchise trying to shoehorn in some kind of teamwork element, you know they're running out of ideas.

Even before your first race there are ominous signs. Despite supporting four-player split-screen only three characters are available from the start, so two people have to be the same character. Way to think it through Sega! When browsing the racers there's a palpable lag when trying to select a character. The tracks are poorly designed. I expected the twisting casino tracks to be disorienting, but even the bright summer-themed tracks are cluttered and confusing. One course has you racing on a layer of pink mist and you can't really tell where you're going. A little restraint could have gone a long way. One track is called "Frozen Junkyard" and that pretty much says it all.

The weapons are useful but you'll probably have no problem naming their Mario Kart equivalents. Likewise creatures like the lava monster and desert worms seem awfully familiar. The races are engaging but the physics is suspect, as I noticed CPU cars changing speeds erratically.

The story mode is mildly enjoyable despite the inane dialog you can't skip fast enough. Two players can work together on the same team, unlocking branching tournaments, challenges, and survival modes. The team mechanic lets you pass items or give your teammates a boost via your slipstream. To be honest, it's all very confusing in the heat of battle.

Even Sonic Team Racer's split screen action is technically deficient. If you're used to playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo, 2017) the low framerate in this game is bothersome. Brent actually had the nerve to ask me if there was a way to unlock "smooth mode!" Team Sonic Racing feels like it was designed in a boardroom by executives. It isn't terrible but there's a palpable lack of fun. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Crash Team Racing (Playstation)
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with Banjo Kazooie (Xbox 360)
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)
Al Unser Jr.'s Road to the Top (Super Nintendo)
Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)

Tiny Barbarian DX
Grade: C
Publisher: Nicolis (2017)
Reviewed: 2018/5/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI should have never played Axiom Verge (Badlands Games, 2017) because it set the bar way too high for retro titles like this. Exactly what I was expecting, Tiny Barbarian is 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.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Strider Hiryu (Japan) (Playstation 3)
Skeleton Warriors (Saturn)
Axiom Verge (Nintendo Switch)
Shovel Knight (Wii U)
Rush 'N Attack (NES)

Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove
Grade: D
Publisher: HumaNature Studios (2019)
Reviewed: 2021/3/22
Rating: Everyone 10+ (crude humor, mild cartoon violence)

screenshotThe original Toejam & Earl (Genesis, 1992) had a lot going for it. It was one of the few Genesis titles to support split-screen and probably the first with co-op action. It had a trendy rap theme featuring two aliens decked out in hip-hop attire. Their goal was to collect the missing parts of their spaceship scattering over sprawling flat levels. The game also featured randomly-generated landscapes, providing nearly unlimited replay value.

As you wandered over platforms suspended in space you collected gifts that had random effects while dealing with zany characters like an opera singer, a hula girl, or Santa Claus in a jetpack. Back in the Groove is a faithful, high-definition version of the original. The problem is, all those gee-whiz features seem pretty ho-hum in 2021. The randomized levels all play pretty much the same, although some do feature snow, desert, water, or darkness.

The stereotypical characters and "gifts" tend to be so obnoxious you develop a tendency to avoid them. You just move from one level to the next trying to cover every inch of ground to fill in the maps. Entering an elevator lets you ascend to a higher platform level, but it's pretty clear this psychadelic "elevator ride" is just a glorified loading screen.

I got sick and tired of wandering around in this game. The rap theme feels played out and what game nowadays doesn't have a "weiner meter" or Santa in a jetpack? At least the surround sound is strong, with zany noises and voices coming from all directions. Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove is fine if you just want to sit back and chill, but if you're looking for excitement, this isn't your stop. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Toejam and Earl (Genesis)
Santa Claus Saves the Earth (Game Boy Advance)
ToeJam and Earl III (Xbox)
Apprentice, The (Philips CD-i)
Space Spartans (Intellivision)

Toki
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microids (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/2/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotboxUpdating the graphics of a classic game is easy, but getting the gameplay right is another story. Fortunately I can tell that Toki's designers actually understand what makes retro games fun.

Toki is not a one-for-one remake like Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (PS4, 2018). While certainly inspired by Toki Going Ape Spit (Genesis, 1991), this new Toki stands on its own. It stars a comical monkey that climbs, jumps, and spits projectiles. The rapid-fire spitting gives the action a shooting flavor and I love the ability to spit diagonally.

Toki faces a weird hodgepodge of enemies like bats, warthogs, spiders, ghosts, and... Frankenstein monsters? The hand-illustrated stages are beautiful with orchestrated music so clear it sounds like the musicians are in the same room with you. Toki not only lives up its its source material; it exceeds it! This game is crazy fun. Although the sprites tend to be large they rarely overcrowd the screen and the collision detection is forgiving. The jumps are floaty and you can fall from any distance.

The backgrounds look sharp but certain objects do have a way of blending in. Only fools rush in and Toki is living proof. Ghosts can materialize out of thin air and just because you're climbing down a vine doesn't mean there's a safe landing below. The rapid-fire shooting is very effective, especially on bosses. Sometimes to clear out a crowd of enemies you'll go into a butt-pouncing, rapid-fire frenzy. As with most classic 2D platformers Toki is a linear game. You get nine lives but you can go through them in a hurry. There are plenty of continues and half of the fun is trying to beat your high score.

Toki is a GameStop exclusive and it's good to see that store catering to collectors. The Toki Retrocollector edition comes in a box with all sorts of fun extras including a comic, art, and a little cardboard arcade cabinet to house your Switch. This Toki remake was crafted with love and care, so retro-minded gamers will want to secure a copy immediately. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Toki (Lynx)
Return of Double Dragon (Super Nintendo)
Flag Capture (Atari 2600)
Congo Bongo (Intellivision)
Math Gran Prix (Atari 2600)

Ultra Street Fighter II
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/6/7
Rating: Teen

screenshotI'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. I guess good things come to those who wait... nine years!

I have to admit I'm loving the HD graphics. They add amazing detail while retaining the original distinctive 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 their regular counterparts except they happen to be demonically possessed (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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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (Playstation 2)
Power Instinct (Super Nintendo)
Street Fighter Collection (Playstation)
Street Fighter Alpha (Saturn)
Street Fighter Alpha 2 (Saturn)

Windjammers
Grade: C+
Publisher: DotEmu (2018)
Reviewed: 2020/6/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWindjammers (Neo Geo, 1994) aka Flying Disc Game was an underrated sports title for the Neo Geo. It features two athletes competing on an enclosed court, attempting to hurl a spinning disc past each other for points. Despite the simple concept there's a lot of technique involved. You can carom the disc off the sides or lob it for two points if your opponent doesn't catch it. Directional pad movements allow trick shots that curve or catch fire.

The matches are short but intense, with upbeat music and vibrant arcade graphics amping up the excitement. There are several bright courts to select from, but you can't beat the sandy court with the tropical scenery. Windjammers is a great head-to-head game, but its single player arcade mode is fun too, letting you work your way through a series of competitors. There are even two bonus stages. One lets you control a dog running on the beach, leaping over sunbathers while trying to catch the disc. In another you knock down bowling pins.

It's nice to see Windjammers being exposed to a wider audience, but this is got to be the laziest port I've ever seen. They just plopped the 1994 game onto the Switch with no substantial enhancements or additions. The low-resolution graphics look pretty harsh and the Joy Con is a lousy substitute for those irresistibly tappable Neo Geo controllers. There are online leaderboards but local high scores are not saved which is unacceptable. Windjammers is an undeniably great game but it deserved better than this barebones treatment. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 72203
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Windjammers (CD) (Neo Geo)
Bowling (Atari 2600)
League Bowling (Neo Geo)
Nester's Funky Bowling (Virtual Boy)
Mario Tennis Aces (Nintendo Switch)


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