system Index C-D
Grade: B-
Publisher: Taito (1991)
Reviewed: 2012/1/11

screenshotCadash is a medieval side-scroller designed to be played cooperatively by two players. You select between four characters: Warrior, Mage, Priest, and... Ninja? That warrior is one sorry-looking bastard. It's bad enough he's not wearing pants, but his legs are flabby! Your journey begins in a castle with guards that offer less-than-helpful hints like "Kill monsters and take their gold to buy items!" Thanks for the advice buddy, but I've played video games before! One thing I really love about castles in the middle ages is how they always have a monster-infested cave within convenient walking distance. It's fun to forge ahead with a friend, especially when you complement each other's abilities. You'll slash through green slime, skeletons, spiders, and pig-faced trolls. Magic users have a selection of spells but must hold in one button to cycle thru them. That's really awkward in the heat of battle. What was wrong with the "select" button? When it comes to avoiding traps, both players must carefully coordinate their movements. Each stage (or "continent") has a unique back-story and mini cut-scenes to add a little flavor. Unfortunately the first stage is so ridiculously hard it almost ruins the entire game. It features a tricky jump sequence over a pool of water. If you fall in, your character will continuously lurch backwards as you desperately try to climb out. It's obnoxious enough to set Cadash back a full letter grade. One key to survival is to "grind" on weak enemies to get your experience level up to 2 or 3. If you manage to defeat the "black pudding" boss, the game really opens up. Not only can you resurrect your partner in the next town, you can upgrade your weapons and load up on herbs. The lack of a password option is glaring, but you can find codes on the Internet that let you skip ahead. I have a love/hate relationship with Cadash. Its design flaws infuriate me to no end, yet I can't resist the urge to give it "just one more try". © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox)
Ninja Crusaders (NES)
Kung Fu (NES)
Golden Axe (Genesis)
War of the Monsters (Playstation 2)

Camp California (CD)
Grade: D-
Publisher: Icom (1993)
Reviewed: 2019/9/7

screenshotCamp California is one of those rare Turbografx-CD games that goes for several hundred bucks on eBay. I'm glad I settled on a reproduction copy because this game is not so hot. The main character is a bear who embodies 80's kitsch, decked out in sneakers, Jams shorts, and sunglasses. Okay, he's cool - we get it. A California beach is the planned location of a new nuclear power plant. To prevent this travesty you must collect random items like cans or tires or socks. The action begins on a beach where you kick crabs and punch skinny birds. The bright scenery is attractive, and in the distance you can see a giant sandcastle foreshadowing a future stage. The controls aren't bad; you can jump, low kick, and punch. The stages however are poorly designed. Your path is littered with annoying obstacles and crabs sprout from beneath your feet ("Bogus!"). The next stage is a waterfall level, and it's miserable the way you tend to get knocked off ledges by tiny unseen projectiles. Just try to get to the end as fast as you can. The third stage is an immense sand castle you need to traverse, but the rules in this game are wonky. You can jump on gargoyles, but only some of them. Can you jump on that catapult to get a little higher? Maybe, maybe not! It's very easy to get stuck in this game, and often you wonder if you've stumbled across a bug. Make it past the castle and the game opens up with selectable stages including a trendy mall, a military range in the desert, and a Las Vegas stage that looks more like a dungeon. Unfortunately the van that lets you explore the map is constantly running out of gas! WTF? The games contains some Beach Boys music, but if that's supposed to be a selling point I don't think the marketing people knew their audience very well. If anything the license is underused. Why would you not have the Beach Boys playing over the title screen? The music in the mall stage sounds suspiciously like Huey Lewis and the News (Power of Love?). Camp California tries to come off as hip and environmentally friendly, but I wish they would have made good gameplay a priority instead. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Wonder Boy (Sega Master System)
Hot Love (Odyssey 2)
Super Bug 2 (Arcadia 2001)
Stormlord (Genesis)
Spelunker (NES)

Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (CD) (Japan)
Grade: A
Publisher: Konami (1993)
Reviewed: 2003/9/3

screenshotThis rare title, only available in America as an import, is considered by most Castlevania fans to be the best of the series, and they'll get no argument here. Rondo of Blood is visually stunning, even today. The graphics are painstakingly detailed and high resolution, and the use of color is nothing short of brilliant. The demons and creatures you encounter are highly inventive, and effective animations usher in the appearance of bosses. For example, before your encounter with the werewolf, you can see his silhouette in front of the moon in the distance before he leaps into the foreground. The gameplay is typical Castlevania, where you use your whip and special weapons to battle monsters while collecting items hidden in candles. One aspect I especially like about Dracula X is although you can take multiple paths, the stages don't contain a myriad of confusing staircases like so many other Castlevania titles. I should warn you that this game is extremely hard and will frustrate novice gamers. Complementing the gorgeous graphics is the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a Castlevania game, along with crisp, distinctive sound effects. You can save your game and return to any stage you've completed. Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood is a classic, and if you can get your hands on it, an excellent addition to your Turbo Duo library. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 21,270
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PSP)
Castlevania (Nintendo 64)
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES)
Castlevania Bloodlines (Genesis)
Castlevania Dracula X (Super Nintendo)

Chase HQ
Grade: B
Publisher: Taito (1992)
Reviewed: 2014/8/21

screenshotI just recently discovered the Chase HQ series and I'm really digging it. If you enjoy arcade racers like Outrun (Sega Master System, 1987) you'll feel right at home with the scaling cars and colorful locations. The idea is to drive an undercover police car through traffic until you catch up with a suspect's car. Then you ram him until his car catches fire and comes to a halt. Before each mission you're presented with a screen that describes a suspect like "Ralph the slasher". This screen also dispenses some truly heinous voice synthesis. This is Nasty at Chase Headquarters?! Oh wait - she said Nancy. On the road you'll shift gears from low to high while weaving around vehicles that smoothly scale into view. A multiplier provides bonuses for avoiding consecutive cars, but it's hard to keep it going because the collision detection is so unforgiving. The road has small hills and dips, and even forks on occasion. The sense of speed is excellent, and at top speed you're barely in control. It's easy to forget you can hit the select button to activate turbos. You actually tend to hug the curves better when your turbo is engaged. The city skylines look terrific and objects on the side of the road include colorful signs and houses that resemble vending machines. When you reach your target the ensuing chase is exciting. It's tough to catch the bad guy because there's so much traffic and your car tends to lose control after a collision. It takes over 20 hits to stop the bastard, but you can often inflict several hits in succession if you approach from the side. Once you pull him over you're treated to a scene showing two cops roughing up the criminals. For a game that looks so good the soundtrack is understated. Three continues are provided and you'll want to use them. Chase HQ is rather obscure but I love its brand of old-school racing action. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: w/ continues
Our high score: 2,340,950
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Chase HQ 2 (Genesis)
Chase HQ Plus SCI (Japan) (Saturn)
Super Chase H.Q. (Super Nintendo)
Hot Wheels: All Out (Game Boy Advance)
Fatal Run (Atari 7800)

China Warrior
Grade: B-
Publisher: NEC (1989)
Reviewed: 2013/5/12

screenshotWhy did it take me so long to discover China Warrior?! This may be the best looking game I've seen on my Turbografx! The characters are absolutely gargantuan, and the attention to detail is stunning. The slow, deliberate pace reminds me of the old martial arts game Karateka (Atari XEGS, 1985). Your warrior is a Bruce Lee look-alike who walks toward the right while fighting enemies and dodging obstacles. His muscle definition is amazing, and if you look close you'll even notice that he blinks his eyes! It's fun to control such a huge character, but your mobility is limited. You can jump, punch, and kick, but the controls are a little stiff. The action is unintentionally hilarious at times. Most enemies are peaceful-looking monks approaching with their hands in their robes! Am I really supposed to be beating up these guys?! And then there are the harmless, migrating swallows you need to punch into oblivion. My friend Scott mused that this guy seems to be on a mission to destroy everything that is good and natural. You'll need to jump over bounders, duck under spears, and keep an eye out for the occasional sticks and stones. It's pretty ridiculous when you exhibit amazing martial arts skills through several levels, only to die when a small rock nails you in the forehead! Each stage ends with the obligatory boss, and they look impressive. Unfortunately you end up having to face several variations of the same boss, which is disappointing. The first three bosses look like the same guy! The music is excellent, combining catchy electronic tunes with undertones of ancient China. China Warrior doesn't play as good as it looks, but it looks pretty damn good, so give it a whirl. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: CJS 174,000
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Bruce Lee (Atari XEGS)
Bruce Lee (Commodore 64)
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (Jaguar)
Kung Fu (NES)
China Syndrome (Atari 2600)

Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams (Japan) (CD)
Grade: B-
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1993)
Reviewed: 2015/11/24

screenshotThis is one of those bizarre Japanese shooters anime fans can't get enough of. There's no question that Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams exudes more personality than most side-scrolling shooters. The main character is a cute witch on a broom with an exuberant voice that makes some of the cut-scenes hard to stomach. Cotton maintains a vaguely-Halloween theme with dilapidated houses, graveyards, Frankenstein monsters, and grim reapers. Most adversaries however seem completely random, like fluffy pink birds, bubble-blowing lizardmen, hopping plants, clouds with faces, and flying sharks that latch onto trees. Anything goes in a game like this; you never know what's going to show up next. I appreciate the imagination but sometimes it's hard to tell what's harmful! Sure you can brush up against that jagged landscape but touching a cloud is fatal. Each stage ends with an obligatory boss encounter and some transform into several forms so never let your guard down. I'm recommended using turbo to engage rapid-fire until you reach a boss, at which time you'll want to use your charge attacks. Cotton is a challenging game. Enemies drop crystals but they are hard to gather because when you shoot them they fire into the air like rockets. Collecting them once they settle on the ground is risky because there's often something lurking in the scenery. The upbeat musical score is a lot fun but the explosion effects have some static. The game offers three continues and saves high scores. Cotton is a thoroughly ridiculous shooter that's occasionally irritating but always entertaining. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
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Recommended variation: continues
Our high score: 56,940
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Bubble Bobble (NES)
Bravoman (Turbografx-16)
Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams (Japan) (Saturn)
Gunbird (Japan) (Saturn)
Encounter at L5 (Atari 2600)

Grade: B-
Publisher: NEC (1990)
Reviewed: 2018/6/12

screenshotThis game didn't do itself any favors with an uninspired title and a ludicrously easy default skill level. The cheesy intro incorporates the line "Let's take a trip through time aboard a magic carpet ship". Ugh. My initial play-through begged the question "is this all there is to it?" After ten rounds I was bored to tears! Then I tried the "difficult" setting and I was hooked! Cratermaze bears a passing resemblance to Bomberman (NES, 1991) as you guide a pudgy dude around a scrolling maze, collecting chests while avoiding random characters. After collecting all the chests a key appears, allowing you to exit. Patrolling each maze are a motley crew of adversaries that include gangsters, policemen, hockey players, robots, horned ghosts, and hopping gremlins. When one approaches you, just press a button to dig a hole that they will fall into, trapping them temporarily. Press the button again and you'll bury them for bonus points. But here's the thing: if you complete a stage without burying any enemies an "NEC" bonus icon appears worth a whopping 20K! There are tons of enemies milling around so you need to choose your paths wisely. Falling into your own hole costs you a life and it's frustratingly easy to do. The maze designs aren't particularly interesting but the toe-tapping music is terrific. Trampolines, portals, and doors spice things up but can be awkward to operate. Special items allow you freeze enemies, stop time, and you guessed it - drop bombs. When the game ends a passcode is displayed in the form of four colored heads. How am I supposed to write that down? You also have the option to continue on your last completed maze. At its best Cratermaze is a sweet combination of Bomberman, Dig Dug (Atari 5200, 1993), and Lock N Chase (Intellivision, 1982). It may not look like much but its pleasant, leisurely style is hard to dislike. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: difficult
Our high score: 113500
Save mechanism: password
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Lock N Chase (Atari 2600)
Lock N Chase (Intellivision)
Scooby Doo's Maze Chase (Intellivision)
Mr. Do! (Atari 2600)
Dig Dug (Atari 5200)

Grade: C+
Publisher: IGN Soft (1990)
Reviewed: 2005/6/26

screenshotThis insect-themed, vertical shooter won't win any awards for graphics, but its simple, twitch gameplay won me over. Instead of manning a ship, you control a half-human creature that mutates when he touches a power-up. The bug-infested stages include a crumbling city, forest, desert, and an ancient shrine. One neat feature is the ability to both shoot and drop bombs on the ground below (a la Xevious). While it's tempting to fire both weapons constantly, firing one will degrade the effectiveness of the other, so you'll want to be selective. When collecting power-ups, it's imperative to choose one color and stick with it if you want to achieve maxiumum power. Cyber-Core's gameplay is satisfying as your rapid-fire cannon thins out swarms of approaching insects. Killing bugs is such a guiltless pleasure. The select button can be used to adjust your speed, but it's not really necessary. Cyber-Core's graphics are its weakest feature. Most enemies tend to be small, and the bosses aren't particularly imposing. Likewise the generic backgrounds are rudimentary and uninteresting. I did enjoy the electronic musical score however. Although it's repetitive, it does get under your skin after a while. Cyber-Core is nothing spectacular, but it has a certain charm and I found it appealing. If you can enjoy a straight-forward shooter, this will not disappoint. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 140200
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Legendary Wings (NES)
Sagaia (Genesis)
Xevious (NES)
Sky Jaguar (Colecovision)
Astro Battle (Bally Astrocade)

Darius Plus (Japan)
Grade: D
Publisher: NEC (1990)
Reviewed: 2017/3/8

screenshotI've always been a vocal advocate of undersea destruction, but Darius Plus come across as super lame. This subaquatic side-scrolling shooter features nondescript enemies appearing over and over in the same tired formations. The first stage is downright monotonous and it takes forever to reach the fish-shaped boss. Your ship can unleash missiles and bombs non-stop, so why not just crank up the turbo and hold down both buttons? Enemy ships try to ram you before turning tail and exiting stage right like a bunch of wusses. Keep an eye out for more colorful enemies that carry an orb which can augment your firepower or shield. The stages tend to be generic caves with cannons mounted on the floors and ceilings. Be cautious of those red twirly-bird things - their deadly explosions tend to linger. Also, the tanks that unleash heat-seeking missiles can catch you off-guard. Upon losing a ship you return in the customary invincible (blinking) state, yet you can't collect orbs while blinking. That flat-out sucks! The audio is poor thanks to muffled sounds, uninspired music, and irritating whistles. Unlike other Darius titles you can't select the order of the stages. I don't know what the Plus is supposed to signify, but I do know you can do a heck of a lot better on the Turbografx. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 1,240,800
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Darius Twin (Super Nintendo)
Darius Gaiden (Saturn)
Grind Stormer (Genesis)
Firepower 2000 (Super Nintendo)
1942 (NES)

Darkwing Duck
Grade: F
Publisher: Disney (1992)
Reviewed: 2015/2/22

screenshotThe Turbografx library doesn't have many licensed titles. Most of its characters are of the home-grown variety like Bonk or Keith Courage. So when you see a character that looks like Daffy Duck in a Turbografx game it kind of draws your attention. Darkwing Duck is a highly sought-after title, but you should think twice before breaking your piggybank. The title screen is intriguing enough, with the hero decked out in a trench cost as catchy music plays in a minor key. Start a new game and you're presented with a picture of villains sitting around a table. Guiding a magnifying glass over the character's faces serves as a stage select feature. So far so good, right? One stage takes place on a San Francisco street with skateboarders jumping ramps. Another is set on rooftops with electrified fixtures. The third takes place in generic caverns. If only any of these were actually worth playing. The gameplay is painfully lackluster as you duck under flying objects, pounce on enemies, and time your leaps between floating platforms. The uninspired stage designs are populated with cheap, one-hit deaths and fatal drop-offs. You're armed with a pop-gun that's completely worthless! The controls feel terribly mushy, causing Darkwing to hesitate at times when precision is required. The collision detection is atrocious. Touching an icon with your hands isn't good enough. No, your entire body needs to pass over it! Even the graphics and animation are substandard. Darkwing Duck is the sort of game you want to like, but the more you play, the more you realize the game simply blows enormous chunks. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: easy
Our high score: 87000
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (Turbografx-16)
Super Pitfall (NES)
Mouse Quest (Atari XEGS)
Deadly Duck (Atari 2600)
Aladdin (Game Gear)

Davis Cup Tennis
Grade: D
Publisher: NEC (1991)
Reviewed: 2016/6/5

screenshotAs much as I enjoy the whimsical antics of World Court Tennis (NEC, 1989) there are times when I want to sit down to a serious game of tennis. To that end Davis Cup Tennis features realistic players from various countries competing on grass, clay, and hard courts. The presentation is superb with all sorts of options and modes. The players look sharp but those tight shorts look ridiculous. Before each match the athletes stand at attention as their nation anthem is played, and thank goodness you can skip that. In contrast to World Court's simple controls, the swing mechanics in Davis Cup are wildly counter-intuitive. It took me a while just to figure out how to hit the freakin' ball! Apparently you press and release the button before the ball arrives. It doesn't make much sense but you get used to it. Still, I could never hit the ball at a sharp angle, making it hard to get it past my opponent. Sometimes a long volley will seemingly end in an arbitrary manner as the ball passes through a player's racket. The low viewing angle is also problematic. You always play on a split screen (even against the CPU) and it's hard to judge the ball, especially when playing close to the net. Davis Cup does feature clear voices including a judge who calls the ball out and a pretentious announcer who states the score after each point. Players will sometimes even grunt while swinging! A ball boy runs out to retrieve balls hit into the net. I love the realistic elements of Davis Cup. It's a shame its gameplay takes a backseat to all the pomp and circumstance. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Mario Tennis (Virtual Boy)
Hot Shots Tennis (Playstation 2)
Wimbledon Championship Tennis (Genesis)
Tennis (Intellivision)
Championship Tennis (Intellivision)

Dead Moon
Grade: B+
Publisher: Natsume (1991)
Reviewed: 2004/4/21

screenshotThis side-scrolling shooter may not boast flashy graphics or elaborate sound effects, but in terms of gameplay it does just about everything right. Dead Moon has some excellent features that I wish more shooters would adopt. Colored pods allow you to obtain four types of cool weapons, and each can be powered-up to four levels. You can switch weapons by touching a pod of another color, but only by touching a pod of the same color will you increase you firepower. As a result, you won't want to just grab everything that comes along. Another cool feature is the fact that when your ship takes a hit, your firepower decreases by one level, and only at its weakest level are you vulnerable to death. You can also acquire homing weapons (love 'em!) and shields. The stages are uneven in terms of visual quality. The multi-layered, picturesque city in the first stage looks terrific, but the subsequent moon and cave stages are far less interesting. Enemies tend to take the form of simple shapes, but a few of the bosses, like the skeletal bird with the beating heart, are quite interesting. The uptempo music is okay but not exceptional. Dead Moon won't blow you away, but repeated plays reveal a well-constructed shooter that most shooter fans will really appreciate. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: JDH 594,200
1 player 

If you like this game, try: R-Type (Turbografx-16)
Killer Satellites (Atari 2600)
Override (Japan) (Turbografx-16)
Space Invaders (Atari 5200)
Andro Dunos (Neo Geo)

Deep Blue
Grade: D
Publisher: NEC (1989)
Reviewed: 2003/3/11

screenshotDeep Blue is not one of the better shooters for the Turbografx-16. The undersea graphics are marginal, but even worse is the fact that the game is entirely too hard. You control a slow, unmaneuverable sub against huge schools of fish that overwhelm you with their numbers. There are three different weapons to collect, but you can only hold one at a time. The default weapon is fine for strafing little fish, but it's useless against the big guys. The other two weapons are more powerful but painfully slow. Since both buttons fire, I'd advise you to set one of them to "turbo" so you can switch between them as the situation warrants. Your sub can withstand numerous hits, and that's a good thing because it's often impossible to avoid the small fish that swarm you. There are power-ups that speed you up and boost your firepower, but they're lost once you take a hit, so they're always short-lived. According to the instructions there are four stages, but just getting past the first one alone is a major accomplishment. Deep Blue isn't very fun, and it seems like every time I play it I do worse. The visuals are awfully boring, and the background tune sounds like a child's music box. There's too many good shooters on the Turbografx to be messing around with this one. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 19550
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Go Fish! (Atari 2600)
Whip Rush (Genesis)
Robotech (Game Boy Advance)
Turbo Sub (Lynx)
Submarine Attack (Europe) (Sega Master System)

Devil's Crush
Grade: A-
Publisher: NEC (1990)
Reviewed: 2014/8/21

screenshotDevil's Crush is an edgy pinball title with a gothic theme. The table boasts many interesting targets including knights, wizards, and fire-breathing dragons. This game appeared on the Genesis as Dragon's Fury (Genesis, 1992), but I would argue this version is slightly more playable. Vital statistics like your score and bonus multiplier are displayed along the top (instead of the side), making more efficient use of screen real estate. The wider table makes it easier to appreciate the detail of the mysterious creatures and medieval contraptions. The table is stacked with three basic sections, and unlike the Genesis game, it's easy to ascend to higher areas. I love how the woman's face in the center of the table gradually transforms into a dragon as you hit it. Creepy! A skull with a pulsating brain mocks you, and crumbling structures release scores of spiders. Bonus mini-tables let you face off against hydras and wizards. The artwork in the bonus stages isn't as eye-popping as the Genesis, but you could argue these stages play better. The exotic musical score adds hints of danger and suspense. Devil's Crush may just be the most addictive game I've played on my Turbografx. I could play this one for hours on end. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,786,700
Save mechanism: Password
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dragon's Fury (Genesis)
Ruiner Pinball (Jaguar)
Pinball Jam (Lynx)
Dragon's Revenge (Genesis)
Galactic Pinball (Virtual Boy)

Double Dungeons
Grade: D
Publisher: NEC (1990)
Reviewed: 2006/4/25

screenshotI gave Double Dungeons a fair shot, but was left with the impression that the entire game was built around a single visual effect. As you move through an endless maze of hallways, the illusion of movement is nicely conveyed though fluid scaling and rotation techniques. Combined with the game's responsive controls, navigating passageways can be done quickly and easily. The problem is, all of these hallways look exactly the same! You'd think the programmers could have at least changed the color scheme between levels, but no! Confusing matters further is the complete lack of a map! Since there are no landmarks and monsters constantly regenerate, you'll find yourself moving in circles. Creatures are rendered in colorful detail, but only as static images. A bit of animation would have been nice. You can upgrade your weapons and armor at shops, and you'll find items along the way including keys, magic rods, and healing potions. The battles are remarkably shallow, requiring you to press a button continuously as the "action" is described by sparse text. You always have the option to flee or use a special item, but in general there's little strategy. And don't get me started about the confusing password system! At any time you can press the Run button to display a lengthy password, but after completing a stage, I found myself inexplicably back at the main title screen, leaving me both alarmed and bewildered. On the bright side, Double Dungeons is the only RPG of its kind to allow two players to explore simultaneously, and the game also boasts a rousing musical score that plays throughout. It's not a total loss, but Double Dungeon's monotonous gameplay didn't hold my interest for very long. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin (Intellivision)
Venture II The Abysmal Abyss (Atari 2600)
Escape From The Mindmaster (Atari 2600)
Tunnel Runner (Atari 2600)
Venture (Intellivision)

Download (Japan)
Grade: A
Publisher: NEC (1990)
Reviewed: 2016/3/27

screenshotThere's so much to love about Download, beginning with its name. NEC had no idea what kind of confusion this seemingly innocuous title would cause in the future! The intro features a glimmering city skyline so inviting I wanted to climb into my TV! A camera zooms into a particular area of town to introduce our hero, sitting on a couch. Pound for pound Download is one of the best side-scrollers I've ever played. You can adjust your weapon configuration beforehand, but I recommend sticking with the default "beam valcan" (not a typo) and "chaser" sub-weapon. The beam has terrific screen coverage and the chaser conveniently cleans up the scraps. The background graphics feature city landscapes that look sharp yet never impinge upon the action. Catchy electronic beats provide a steady rhythm to help you get into a zone. Unlike modern shooters, Download manages to maintain difficulty without descending into chaos. Your main weapon is unlimited but you may be tempted to conserve your sub-weapon. Don't bother, because staying alive is your top priority. Floating icons change form every few seconds, allowing you to strategically augment your weapon, sub-weapon, or shields. Taking hits drains your weapons and shields, which is a fair system. The first boss seems really tough until you realize you can just fire down its throat to destroy it. Stage two changes things up as you navigate narrow passages lined with cute robots. Level three gets a little metaphysical as you blast dominoes that explode into vinyl records. I particularly enjoyed level four which is set at sea and with storm clouds looming in the sky. The stages aren't particularly long and bosses are reasonable. When you perish, a "mission incomplete" screen shows our hero reciting poorly-translated English dialog like "S--t is not this a good beginning!" and "I can not f--k up for this" Needless to say, these one-liners are worth their weight in gold. Unlimited continues are available in addition to a password feature. Quirky, challenging, and fun, Download is one shooter that had me grinning from ear to ear. Note: This game will not run natively on a non-Japanese system. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 118,100
1 player 

If you like this game, try: 1943 (NES)
Override (Japan) (Turbografx-16)
Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii)
Zero Wing (Europe) (Genesis)
Blazing Star (MVS) (Neo Geo)

Download 2 (Japan) (CD)
Grade: B-
Publisher: NEC (1991)
Reviewed: 2016/5/5

screenshotThe original Download set the bar pretty high and this sequel struggled to meet expectations. The switch to a CD format didn't help. The load process is time-consuming and the cinematic introduction contains too much dialogue. In one cutscene our hero is shown sitting naked on the edge of his bed! Once the game finally gets started it looks like the first Download, only the lower part of the screen is obstructed by some sort of guard rail. WTF? The background depicts a half-buried city under a gorgeous red sunset. In a nifty piece of foreshadowing, the first boss can be seen creeping across the background. The guitar-driven soundtrack is good, reminding me a lot of Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast, 1999). The rapid-fire shooting action picks up where the first game left off, but this time the second button toggles between weapons. I like this scheme because the weapons are fun to experiment with. In addition to your standard wide shot and penetrating lasers, you have a very short-range electric bolt that fries anything directly in front of you. The fourth weapon is slow-moving orbs that serve as homing missiles. Once you max out the orbs you can overcome nearly any adversary. The difficulty is higher than the first game but it helps that you get five lives and occasional shield power-ups. The first boss is spider-like and the second looks like a freaky monkey robot. The game begins to lose momentum in stage three however, which simply throws geometric shapes at you. The fourth stage is also lame as you have to avoid blocks sliding all over the screen. Download 2 gets off to a pretty good start but can't sustain the fun like the original game could. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 19,820
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Sonic Adventure DX Director's Cut (GameCube)
Sonic Advance 3 (Game Boy Advance)
Download (Japan) (Turbografx-16)
King of Fighters 94 (CD) (Neo Geo)
Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80s (Playstation 2)

Dragon Spirit
Grade: C
Publisher: NEC (1989)
Reviewed: 2007/5/16

screenshotWhat's disappointing about Dragon Spirit is how utterly ordinary it is. As a vertical shooter that lets you control a fireball-spewing dragon, I was hoping for a cool medieval theme, but instead the game is so generic I might as well be controlling a jet plane. Even the music lacks any distinctive qualities. The stages call to mind a "lost world" of sorts, with duckbill dinosaurs in the water and pterodactyls in the sky. You get all the obligatory environmental conditions including water, volcanoes, desert, jungle, caves, and ice. The graphics lack detail, with static scenery and creatures that look like shapeless blobs. There are a lot of annoyances including water-tornados that act like heat-seeking missiles, and active volcanoes that create a minefield of eruptions. The gameplay is decent, with power-ups that not only increase your strength, but even add extra heads to your dragon, to double and even triple your firepower. A two-headed dragon is understandable, but a three-headed dragon?! That's kind of unrealistic! And how come all the creatures explode when they get shot? Be sure to engage your turbo switches for this game - they make a big difference. For those of you who enjoyed Dragon Spirit on the Namco Museum Volume 5 (Playstation, 1997), this Turbografx edition is actually better because it consumes the whole screen instead of a narrow strip. There are no passwords or continues. For a generic shooter, Dragon Spirit is serviceable, but its lack of imagination makes it feel like a missed opportunity. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 62290
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dragon Spirit: The New Legend (NES)
Namco Museum Volume 5 (Playstation)
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Playstation 2)
Twin Eagle (NES)
Sky Jaguar (Colecovision)

Dragon's Curse
Grade: A
Publisher: Hudson Soft (1990)
Reviewed: 2018/6/12

screenshotDragon's Curse doesn't come cheap but I definitely don't regret tracking down a copy. This is actually an enhanced version of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega Master System, 1989). While the gameplay is essentially the same, this Turbografx-16 version offers sharper graphics, better music, and a super-convenient file save (in addition to a password). I guess the biggest improvement is easy access to your item screen via the run button. On the Sega Master System you have to press the pause button located on the console itself! I noticed certain monsters sport new color schemes, and the facial expressions they make when you strike them look hilarious. Dragon's Curse is whimsical platformer with RPG elements, kind of like a cross between Adventure Island (NES, 1987) and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES, 1989). Collecting gold coins dropped by enemies lets you purchase armor, shields, and swords. The fact that merchants won't sell you items until your charisma is high is frustrating at first, but makes sense in the long run. The maze of doors connecting the various areas (coast, desert, forest) seem confusing to navigate, but there's no shortage of fun things to do. Colorful enemies including cyclops, genies, mummies, skeletons, and scarecrow heads. I really hate those fire-dropping storm clouds that relentlessly follow you around. Throughout the course of the game you'll transform into a lizard-man (breathes fire), mouse-man (climbs), piranha-man (swims), hawk-man (flies), among others. I like how the final gauntlet tests you meddle through all of the various forms. An engrossing mix of arcade and RPG-lite gameplay, Dragon's Curse is one of the few games I found myself playing compulsively from beginning to end. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: password, file save
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega Master System)
Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Sega Master System)
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Playstation 4)
Dragonstomper (Atari 2600)
Mouse Trap (Colecovision)

Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest (CD)
Grade: C-
Publisher: Victor Entertainment (1993)
Reviewed: 2020/1/10

screenshotIf you were a D&D fan back in the day a game like Dungeon Master was a dream come true. Instead of convening all the neighborhood nerds in your basement you could let this computer program run the show, embarking on a solo adventure at any time! The animated intro to Theron's Quest boasts CD-quality music and narration, but the cutscenes are limited to a small window. Before I could begin the game prompted me to make room in my "file cabinet". It was referring to my Turbo Duo memory and I had to clear a lot of files. The Dungeon Master series was revolutionary for its time. To begin you assemble a four-character party. Instead of navigating an overhead maze you're presented with a first-person view of your surroundings. It's like you're in the game! The visuals are sharp and richly-detailed. The perfectly-square dungeon passages look fake but at least it's easy to spot items and not-so-hidden levers. Originally designed to be played on a computer via a mouse, the interface feels less than intuitive. The system for picking up items and shuffling your inventory is reasonable, but it took me a while to figure out how to simply navigate the hallways. I was expecting the side arrows to turn, but they side-step. Turning is done via the bent arrows, which makes sense I guess. Combat is exciting because it occurs in real time. It's fun to watch skeletons reduced to ashes by your sword blows or magic lightning. The traps and door mechanisms seem pretty straightforward at first, but when you encounter timed challenges the clunky interface becomes a liability. The audio is erratic. Sometimes you'll hear booming music, sometimes dripping water, and often nothing at all. Certain areas make it really easy to get lost, teleporting you in circles. I anxiously searched for some kind of save option, only to discover you can only save after completing an entire dungeon! What is the point? Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest is a rich dungeon crawler but it asks a lot of the player, so sit back and get comfortable. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dungeon (Atari 2600)
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin (Intellivision)
Sword of Fargoal (Commodore 64)
Flashback (Sega CD)
Gateway to Apshai (Colecovision)

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