Raiden V (Japan)
Publisher: Moss (2016)
As a rabid fan of the series since the Raiden
(Turbografx-16, 1991) I had to own this, even if it meant ponying up big bucks for an expensive import. I don't regret my decision, although the lengthy install process placed a few doubts in my mind. Why would a vertical shooter require hours
to install? When I finally reached Raiden V's main menu I was apprehensive to see the default "story mode". Say... what?
Raiden has always been a frantic arcade experience so the notion of a storyline felt ill-conceived. Sure enough this mode spewed a ton of inconsequential tiny text to my screen which I could hardly make out. That's one negative characteristic about the game - everything is so tiny!
It's as if the developers expected everyone to be playing it on a 100-inch 4K television! The playfield only takes up the middle third of the screen, and your ship is puny. That said, the shooting action is mesmerizing. It feels like classic Raiden as you obliterate incoming ships with your incredible rapid-fire arsenal. I love the unconventional weapons like lasers that twist around like electric snakes. The difficulty is far more reasonable than your garden variety "bullet hell" shooter. Destroyed enemies release yellow shards you're supposed to collect, but they tend to blend into the bright, ever-changing backgrounds. The side panels depict a variety of graphs and indicators which are unnecessary but certainly look cool. A man and woman exchange banter throughout the game, and while you can safely mute this a few lines are pretty funny ("That information is beyond your rank! But... I'm not good at keeping secrets... so I'll tell you"). I wish I understood the combat system better; a tutorial mode is badly needed. Apparently there's a "cheer" system that lets you call for or send out help. It feels like a ham-fisted way to justify online functionality, and I don't like it. That said, the game plays exceptionally well offline (especially for an Xbox One title), saving your local high scores along with the date. The stages branch and there's even a stage select. Raiden V is the kind of game shooter fans dream of. It isn't exactly what I was expecting but in many ways it's far better
. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood, language, mature humor, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence
Classic game compilations have become scarce in this age of digital downloads, so we need to embrace collections like Rare Replay. This is a hell of a lot of gaming for the money. Rare Replay's opening musical number and menu interface is strangely reminiscent of a vaudeville stage act. The first few titles were originally released for the ZX Spectrum - a computer practically unknown in the States. These charming, blocky titles tend to be shooters or dungeon crawlers. They include Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac, Sabre Wolf, Underwurlde, Knight Lore, and Gunfright. It's actually quite impressive how they manage to create the illusion of 3D scenery with such low resolution. The next games appeared on the NES, including Battletoads, Slalom, Cobra Triangle, Solar Jetman, RC Pro Am (1 & 2), and Snake, Rattle, and Roll. Digger T. Rock is an awkward but fun Dig Dug/Boulderdash hybrid. One arcade game included from this era is Battletoads Arcade which offers some raucous two-player action. Next up is a slew of quality Nintendo 64 titles including Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, Banjo Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Banjo Tooie, and Conker's Bad Fur Day. The single Xbox entry is Grabbed By Ghoulies - an adventure that looks and plays far better than I remember. Rounding out the collection are several Xbox 360 titles: Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Viva Pinata (both versions), Jetpac Refueled, and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Sadly, the 360 games are tied to your Xbox Live account, so if you don't go online you can't save your progress. For all games, the scores for the "snapshot challenges" are saved but not regular high scores. Bogus.
Several games (including Killer Instinct and Conker's Bad Fur Day) can only be acquired via an update.
That's disturbing when content advertised on the box is not contained on the disc. The lack of SNES titles (like Donkey Kong Country) is glaring, but the games you get have never looked better and the emulation is dead on. Extras include a collection of short documentaries. Rare Replay is a treasure trove of classic games offering history, nostalgia, and a lot of fun. Even Microsoft couldn't screw this up. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Red Dead Redemption II
Publisher: Rockstar (2018)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language, drugs and alcohol)
Five years in the making, Red Dead Redemption II is every bit the epic sequel you'd expect from Rockstar, the publisher of all those crazy Grand Theft Auto games. In this realistic period piece you play a turn-of-the century cowboy in a roving band of outlaws, looking for the last "big hit" so he can finally settle down. In the opening sequence the gang finds themselves exiled in snowy mountains that look magnificent. The scenery soon gives way to greener pastures and rolling hills teeming with wildlife. The primary storyline is fairly linear but there are plenty of challenges to keep you busy. Although many incidents are preordained (like your wagon wheel falling off) there are definitely some sophisticated decision branching algorithms at work. The dialog is rich, and I like how conversations reference events earlier in the game. A selection of missions is available at any given time like robbing a train, tracking down deadbeats, or killing a giant bear. The story gradually fleshes out a number of characters, their stories skillfully weaved into the main narrative. Traveling across the wilderness can be time consuming, but the scenery is awe-inspiring at times and I love the variable time-of-day and weather conditions. You character's mannerisms are uncanny as he scratches his face or ducks under a branch. Though technically impressive, I ran into a few issues in the early going. The install process took forever and it didn't take long to realize a massive update was required just to keep the game playable. The controls are clumsy at times, especially those unwieldy "item wheels". Sometimes when trying to perform an innocent action (like talk) I'd accidentally pull out my gun instead. That will cause a guy to shoot at you, so naturally you need to kill him, and next thing you know you have the whole damn town bearing down on you! The micromanagement can be a little much, as you're expected to regularly eat, rest, and even shave your beard. You even need to clean and feed your horse. Several tiny status icons adorn the bottom left but I could barely make them out. That said, Red Dead Redemption II plays like an interactive movie, offering a big country to explore and lots of people to rob. Now if you'll excuse me gentlemen, I have to go feed my horse. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Publisher: Capcom (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
The original Resident Evil: Revelations
(3DS, 2012) was a fun spin-off so I figured I'd give its sequel a whirl. During the obligatory install process the game informed me a big fat update was needed, so I went offline to avoid that junk. Revelations 2 begins with a lengthy intro explaining how a company called TerraSave was formed to save the world from the horrors of biological warfare. During a TerraSave office party Claire Redfield exchanges smalltalk with the newest member of the company - some potty-mouthed teenage girl named Moira! After both are kidnapped the real action finally begins... or so I thought.
What is the deal with this choppy framerate? Why can't I control my character? Guess I needed that "patch" after all. The Xbox One is super high maintenance! Fortunately Revelations 2 managed to redeem itself with some choice survival horror gameplay. It doesn't exactly ease you in as Claire and Moira find themselves in a prison crawling with monsters and whirling-blade traps. The tension runs high as you dash through a maze of doors with shambling creeps on your tail. Moira may not seem very useful at first but her flashlight locates shiny items and her crowbar weapon never runs out of ammo. Expect all the typical Resident Evil tropes including dark corridors, corrugated metal, and doors locked from the other side. The puzzles are typical too. You need a cog to open the door but you have to activate a machine to get the cog and you have to turn on the power to activate the machine (you can stop rolling your eyes now). The game is designed for coop play with different stages taking you through the same locations with different pairs of characters. It may seems lame at first but different characters can access different areas. There's local split-screen option that actually works pretty well if you can set it up. Passing items between characters is a bit awkward but otherwise the controls are practically effortless. I hate to advocate a game that was essentially broken out of the box, but Resident Evil Revelations 2 is the most fun I've had with my Xbox One in quite some time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Publisher: Square Enix (2015)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
This cinematic adventure blurs the line between video game and film, interweaving dramatic cut-scenes, white-knuckle action, and striking cinematography. Rise of the Tomb Raider begins with a snowy mountain trek that will leave you breathless. Later you'll visit a watery Syrian tomb, trudge through snowy Siberian, and explore a lost city under a glacier. Lara looks more realistic than ever thanks to natural mannerisms like periodically pulling back her hair. The storyline is compelling and the facial expressions during the emotionally-charged cutscenes are remarkable. Lara is so nimble that scaling treacherous ice-encrusted cliffs and crumbling ruins feels nearly effortless. The jumping and climbing are less intense than Tomb Raider games of old, but I sure don't miss the frustration. There are a lot of convenient ramps and strategically-placed zip lines that are fun to ride. The new crafting system kind of sucks, and I grew weary of scouring each area for mushrooms, plants, and other minor items. Pressing in the right stick highlights items of interest hidden in the scenery, along with your objective marker which looks like a ray of light. Ice picks are your best friend, allowing you to scale ice walls, break through crumbling rock, pry open chests, and perform one-button takedowns on unsuspecting baddies. There's a surprising amount of stealth and gun battles in this game. If you can thin out the herd ahead of time, there's usually enough ammo to polish off the rest. In addition to exploding red barrels, there are exploding red jars you'll want to light up. Rise of the Tomb Raider is exciting, addictive, and when you face the bear in the cave, it's downright terrifying. The main storyline offers its share of twists and turns, and there are plenty of optional tombs and side-quests as well. I encountered a few bugs but these are mitigated by the fact that the game saves your progress so frequently. Its gameplay draws obvious parallels to Sony's Uncharted series, but Rise of the Tomb Raider is darker, devoid of humor, and downright grim. It seems as if the designers were bending over backwards to earn a Mature (17+) rating. The language includes plenty of F-bombs and there's an eye-gouging scene I could barely watch. What the hell?
There is no good reason a Tomb Raider game should be rated any higher than Teen. Developer Crystal Dynamics is taking things way too seriously. That said, this is still probably the best game I've played on my Xbox One. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2015)
Like most EA sports titles Rory McIlroy PGA Tour spares no expense. It's got a PGA license, real golfers, excellent commentators, orchestrated music, and beautiful visuals. It's also a bloated beast
. I'm glad I didn't pop in the disc when a friend was over because Rory takes forever
to get started. After an endless installation process and obligatory updates you're forced to play as Rory McIlroy in a series of learning situations. Annoying and unnecessary, this is an unwelcome trend I'm seeing in a lot of newer sports games. The agony is further dragged out with interspersed clips of Rory giving insight into each situation. Once that's finally done there are more
tutorials to teach you about the three available control schemes. The analog swing is the default, but it's inexplicably controlled using the left stick!
I'm glad you can switch that because it's a boneheaded design move. A classic three-press meter is also available. The main menu interface is a bear. Setting up a multiplayer match is counter-intuitive with critical options buried in the layers. I was unable to configure a second controller for a friend, so we had to share one controller
. Upon undertaking a pro career the intro video kept playing over and over until I shut the system down and restarted the game. Why does my custom golfer have those big EA patches all over his shirt? I hate
EA! Once you actually begin playing golf the game is enjoyable. I liked the course selection although the Battlefield 4 "fantasy" course is not nearly as fun as you would expect. The television presentation looks professional and the screen is uncluttered. The feeling of smacking the ball off the tee is satisfying but lining up your shot can be a pain in the ass. You don't always get a good angle and adjusting the camera is a nightmare. The greens are poorly defined, often blending in with the rough. The pacing is brisk due to short ball rolls but do we really need to see a golfer reaction after every shot? On the green you'll see the message "reading green" before it renders the projected path of the ball. This algorithm is so slow
it's ridiculous! The best aspect of the game is the two-man commentary team. "Wow, he got robbed Frank." "It's like kissing your mother-in-law." "There's no crying in golf, Rich." Despite some bright spots Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is substandard and only serious PGA fans will be willing to put up with the aggravation. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Publisher: Microsoft (2014)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language)
This highly-anticipated Xbox One exclusive proves that looks aren't everything. It's been a while since I've played a proper gladiator title, with Shadow of Rome
(PS2, 2005) coming to mind. That said, Ryse (which I insist on calling "rinse" for some reason) is pretty much what I expected. It's a linear hack-n-slash adventure with combos, counters, and fatalities. The combat system is almost exactly like Batman: Arkham Asylum
(Xbox 360, 2009), letting you quickly block one foe and strike the next. The storyline follows the life of a Roman centurion played by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers. The detail in the cut-scenes is impressive. The voice acting and facial expressions are so convincing, it's obvious real actors were used. In addition to hand-to-hand combat, you can occasionally command troops using button (or voice) commands to volley arrows or fire catapults. As you accumulate "valor" you can upgrade your abilities, but be careful while navigating the upgrade screens. If you run out of valor you may be dumped into a screen that lets you pay with real money
. If this is how modern games work, remind me to never
give Microsoft my credit card! I love the way Ryse looks with its majestic towers and scenic aqueducts, but it can't match the pure spectacle of God of War 3
(PS3, 2010). The ability to toss spears and move in formation (to block raining arrows) is neat, but most of the game is tedious swordplay. It seems like I was always fighting the fat barbarian who looks like John Goodman. I must have impaled that guy 100 times
for crying out loud! The action becomes painfully repetitive as you face the same band of savages over and over. You finish off every foe with a color-coded fatality, and a little restraint could have made these a lot more satisfying. Despite its state-of-the-art "Cryengine" technology, Ryse is hampered by old-school issues like invisible walls, enemies that get stuck on the scenery, and your inability to strike multiple foes. After a while I felt like I was playing the game just to see the stages, and not because I was having fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2015)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Screamride caught me off-guard when I saw it at Best Buy. I love theme parks and rollercoasters, so how could I resist? When I watched the intro I grew concerned with all the talk about research and engineering. The last thing I want to do is learn
, but thankfully my fears were quickly laid to rest. There are three basic modes: screamrider, demolition, and engineering. The first lets you ride mammoth, high-tech coasters constructed over water. The idea is to lean into turns and activate your turbo boost to finish the coaster in record time. It's wild, but you're not so much in
the coaster as following closely behind four enthusiastic riders. When the coaster goes off track it's fun to watch bodies fly and carnage unfurl. The second mode, demolition, is like Angry Birds in 3D. You launch "cabins" at towering structures and sit back to watch them collapse and trigger spectacular chain reactions. This mode is addictive as hell but a little too easy. It seems like just rubbing against
a humongous tower is often enough to bring the whole damn thing crashing down. The clean, sterile structures convey massive size but aren't very detailed or interesting. The final mode, engineering, challenges you to fill gaps in pre-made coasters, which should appeal to the more cerebral crowd. The game's narrator is a female robotic voice clearly inspired by the one in Portal. Her matter-of-fact commentary about the widespread devastation is comical. There's no actual violence in this game (all the test subjects survive). Screamride gets off to a rip-roaring start but I felt the fun dissipating in advanced stages. The rollercoasters become less about speed and more about avoiding obstacles. Likewise the demolition stages get complicated, forcing you to do stuff like launch cabins between magnets just to get a clean shot at targets. Screamride may not be a "system seller" but for its bargain price it packs substantial entertainment value. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Publisher: Square Enix (2018)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Since its inception in 1997 I've seen Tomb Raider evolve from a groundbreaking 3D platformer into a semi-interactive movie. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider you play as Lara Croft in her prime, exploring ruins, scaling cliffs, and taking down mercenaries in stealth mode. Her hair looks amazing and at one point she even wears her original outfit! You'll enjoy fascinating locations like Cozumel during the Day of the Dead, and survive harrowing predicaments like the rushing waters of a tsunami. The bulk of the game is set in Peru where you'll find old-school tombs with booby traps, crumbling ruins, and head-scratching puzzles. Lara can rappel on ropes, scramble up walls, and use her pick-axes to even climb under
rock ledges. I suspect she employed a stunt double for some of the more dangerous moves. Her bow and arrow are often used to solve puzzles but come in handy against hungry jaguars as well. Pressing the right stick causes an indicator to appear on the horizon, charting your next objective. Items of interest are highlighted in the scenery but I rarely knew what I was picking up. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is fun but technical glitches have a way of taking you out of the moment. Fortunately the game saves frequently. The controls feel overloaded, partly due to renewed emphasis on crafting
(ugh). The camera can be a liability, especially when you're fighting in close quarters in dense jungle or caves. Shadow of the Tomb Raider begins as an exhilarating adventure but grows progressively more repetitive and laborious. I wish it were shorter and tighter. That said, it's still ten times more entertaining than that new Tomb Raider movie. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Sid Meier's Civilization: Flat Earth Edition
Publisher: Planar Games (2019)
Well, it's official: Sid Meier has lost his [expletive] mind!!
After a much-publicized falling out with former Civ publisher 2K Games (ascribed to "philosophical differences") Sid plotted his own course, publishing this long-awaited (and highly controversial) Flat Earth Edition. You have to admire the man's courage and conviction, standing up for what he believes in the face of overwhelming media scrutiny. I've never been a flat-earther per se
, but at least I'm willing to keep an open mind. I do tend to believe what I see with my own eyes, and what I see here is a logical evolution of the Civilization franchise. At long last exploration-hungry gamers can break free of the confines of the conventional world, passing through the Summer Gate into the vast realm of the outer continents. You'll discover actual places like the Cliffs of Narzod, the Tributary of Pamprin, and the Well of Perpetual Gravity. This is a thinking man's game, with every strategic decision fraught with peril. A peaceful settlement in Hapis might offer a false sense of security until the moving island of Thoth approaches with its army of outer continent warriors. The authenticity is commendable, employing scientific geological data, astrological charts, and actual navigational manuscripts. Still, there are signs the game was rushed. The menu interface is a little clunky and the style of the map
screens are inconsistent. Still, I can highly receommend this. A game like Civilization: Flat Earth Edition is what the world really needs right now. The media may denounce Civilization: Flat Earth Edition all they want, but it's become clear to me that old Sid Meier isn't so crazy after all. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2014)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, sexual themes, strong language, violence)
In Sunset Overdrive you play the role of a goofy hipster stuck in a post-apocalyptic city overrun by hideous pink mutants. Your firepower is awesome but your mode of transportation is what sets this game apart. You whiz around town by grinding telephone lines, fences, guardrails, and just about anything with a straight edge. It reminds me of Jet Grind Radio
(Dreamcast, 2000) - on steroids! To elevate yourself above the fray you bounce off cars and vault off walls to propel yourself through the air. This game is kenetic to the max, but holding the left trigger slows things down so you can properly aim. Your weapons inflict wide-scale destruction so you don't need to be a perfect shot to blow up a mob of puss-filled creatures. Sunset Overdrive is divided into missions that involve collecting items, escorting people, and guarding areas for a period of time. The missions can be repetitive, and frankly some feel like busy work. Heck, even the star of the game expresses his discontent with having to run around town retrieving trivial items. The graphics are crisp, colorful, and arcade-like. The city is expansive but so cluttered that it's hard to tell where to go or what to do. Your tiny yellow destination marker tends to get lost in the scenery, especially since you're constantly changing direction. The camera will let you down at the worst possible time, like when you're grinding the upper floor of a skyscraper lined with bombs. Sunset Overdrive tries hard to be stylish but its irreverent punk-rock motif had my friends rolling their eyes. The language is pretty juvenile but I will admit there are some funny moments. I'll give Sunset Drive credit for its high energy and raw enthusiasm, but I feel like I should have enjoyed this game a lot more than I did. Installation note: This game is ill-behaved if your console is offline. Not only does it force you online to install, but it forces you back online to check for periodic updates. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Super Lucky's Tale
Publisher: Microsoft (2017)
Focusing on the PC demographic has left the Xbox One with a dearth of kid-friendly games. Super Lucky's Tale tries to fill that void starring a cartoon fox in a heavily-constrained 3D world. Though lightweight by Xbox One standards, I was still forced to go online and download a 3.5 GB system update just to play the damn thing. When it comes to the Xbox One you can't even play an innocent little game like this without a Microsoft-sized headache! Once up and running Super Lucky's inviting fantasy world reminded me of Yooka Laylee
(Playstation 4, 2017). Our hero has a kid's voice but thankfully he doesn't talk much. The hub area is a floating island with lush green foliage, waterfalls, and bridges connecting to new areas. Many stages tend to be of the side-scrolling variety, calling to mind Crash Bandicoot
(PS1, 1997). Of course Super Lucky isn't in the same league. The controls feel a bit laggy with no digital pad support. Frequent frame drops and minor glitches make the game feel undercooked. It's easy to get caught up on obstacles you thought
were part of the background. Spicing things up are puzzle challenges and perpetually-moving stages. Super Lucky does offer few original features like the ability to burrow under the ground, made all the more satisfying by excellent rumble effects. Sometimes you'll dig in a side-scrolling stage only to reappear far in the background. You're then expected to continue play from that distant viewpoint, which is occasionally even obstructed!
The gameplay is forgiving thanks to bouncy physics and a handy double-jump move. Completing a stage rewards you with a four-leaf clover that helps you unlock new areas, but I have no idea what the point of collecting all those gold coins is. I figured 100 would award me with a free life but nothing seemed to happen. Super Lucky's Tale is strictly by-the-numbers, but if you're looking for a kid-friendly romp this will serve its purpose. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2013)
On a console with so many "epic" titles it's refreshing to play a family-friendly game like Zoo Tycoon. Constructing a zoo from scratch is surprisingly easy. Instead of building on pre-existing confines, you grow your zoo outward into a large, sprawling park. Basic habitats and exhibits are readily available; you simply stamp them into the landscape. Time-consuming "research" is required to enable more advanced options like exotic animals or elaborate concession stands. Adopted animals make a dramatic entrance via a helicopter unloading a large freight - like Jurassic Park! You'll want to select animals appropriate to the habitat climate (tropical, savannah, alpine, etc). I love the idea of "pinging" the happiness of the animals and visitors, giving you a birdseye view of your status. It's distressing when an animal isn't happy because they look so lifelike, you grow attached to them! I love watching the baby monkeys jump around and play. You can enrich exhibits by adding feeding stations, shelters, and interactive features. It's satisfying to watch your zoo come to life as people filter into the park and start interacting with exhibits. You can roam around at ground level and even ride a buggy. No, you can't mow people down (I tried). The layered menu interface is logically designed and easy to flip through. Leaving no stone unturned, there's even a "poop" option that lets you sanitize an exhibit. Zoo Tycoon has several different modes. Free-form lets you build with no regard to money, but it feels like playing with a cheat code. The campaign mode places you in various problematic scenarios. But the real meat of the game is the challenge mode, which lets you build your zoo from the ground up while carefully managing resources. It requires some patience but the game offers frequent rewards with much fanfare. I love the general style of the game with its safari music, animal sound effects, and clean visuals. What's not to like? Well, the sprawling, cookie-cutter zoo layouts all look the same, and the game starts to feel like an actual job
after a while! That said, Zoo Tycoon is a classy, well-intentioned title that will appeal to gamers who would rather create than destroy. Bump up the grade by one letter if you enjoy Minecraft or "Sim" games. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
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