ESPN Extreme Games
Publisher: Sony (1995)
Rating: Kids to Adults (animated violence)
This was one of the very first Playstation games I purchased, and to this day it's one of my all-time favorites. Whether played solo or split-screen, ESPN Extreme Games really lives up to its name. You race on bikes, skateboards, skates, and luge sleds through scenic locations like San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Italy, and Utah. The action moves at a breakneck pace and the sense of speed is sensational. You can use kicks and punches to knock opponents to the curb, and there's nothing more satisfying than the sound of a skateboarder hitting the asphalt at high speed. In recent years I had acquired the repackaged version of this game called 1Xtreme
(989 Studios, 1998), yet I sensed something was missing. One day I finished the game and noticed an empty monitor on the screen. It then dawned on me that the original game had video clips!
I then tracked down an original copy in the "long box" format so I could once again experience Extreme Games as it was meant to be. The game opens with an obligatory intro video showcasing "extreme" stunts. Before and after each race some hip commentator provides information about the course and grades your performance. It's really not that big of a deal, but I like it. Live video was one of the hallmarks of the early Playstation titles, and it's something you rarely see anymore. I prefer this over 1Xtreme, not just because of the video content, but also because the title is a lot less stupid! © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Agetec (1999)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language)
I enjoy survival horror but this obscure title had slipped under my radar until a reader brought it to my attention. Echo Night is a slow-moving but intelligently designed adventure in which you play a character investigating the disappearance of his father. Most of the action takes place on an ominous ship at sea, where you'll communicate with ghosts, scour for clues, and solve puzzles to put restless souls at peace. The rooms and hallways tends to be very dark, so you'll always want to look for a light switch (which keep evil ghosts at bay). Echo Night generates a lot of suspense with its deliberate pacing and foreboding atmosphere. The scenery looks pretty remarkable thanks to its rich textures and excellent lighting effects. The characters tend to be stiff with distorted faces, but this makes them all the more creepy. Most of the action involves exploration and manipulating items to solve puzzles. You play from a first-person perspective, which can be disconcerting in close quarters, conveying a sense of claustrophobia. The controls are digital only and they feel stiff. The button configuration takes some getting used to, as the left shoulder buttons look up and down and the right ones are used to strafe. Echo Night's narrative is a little hard to follow. Some of the awkward dialogue and bizarre cut-scenes don't make much sense, but that might be a translation problem. Flashback scenes take you to brighter, less scary locations which attempt to fill in holes in the story. Is Echo Night scary? Yes! I freaked out when I saw that floating girl in the hallway, and whenever I heard her giggle my blood ran cold. The vibration feedback and stereo effects will also give you a jolt. Slow-building but effective, Echo Night is a cinematic horror title that will keep you on the edge of your seat. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Squaresoft (1998)
Rendered in graphically stunning 3D, Einhander ushered side-scrolling shooters into a new age. Its layered backdrops, swinging camera angles, huge adversaries, and realistic explosions make Einhander a feast for the eyes. There are several weapons available which you can aim on the fly. Einhander is fun, but you must always begin on stage one, and reaching the later stages is difficult and time-consuming. Also, since your ship is large and the bosses are huge, there's rarely enough room on the screen to maneuver around. It might not be a classic, but many fans of the shooting genre consider this an old favorite. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Working Designs (1997)
I had a habit of picking up obscure titles in the late 1990's, some of which turned out to be valuable collector's items. Buying Elemental Gearbolt was one of the best things I ever did. This elegant light gun title was published by Working Designs, a company that specialized in Japanese game translations. Its impressive packaging includes a double-wide CD case and thick instruction book. This has got to be the best CD-sized manual I've ever seen. Printed on quality stock with a metallic cover, its 48 pages contain beautiful artwork, extensive background information, and even an interview with the game's art director. This is the kind of physical media you're proud to own. Gearbolt's anime intro and intermissions are first-rate, setting up a dramatic storyline with a lush orchestrated score. The game itself is played from a first-person view where your movements are automatic. The fact that Namco's super-accurate Guncon is supported is key, as you'll be expected to hit some very distant targets. The graphics are breathtaking as you're whisked through townships, forests, and across shimmering lakes. The chunky textures are compensated for by the artistry of the graphics and a silky smooth framerate. The pacing is damn near perfect. Your rate of fire is slow and deliberate, forcing you to carefully choose your targets. The good news is there's no need to reload. You'll aim at giant dragonflies, leaping lobsters, and hulking guards with hammers. Hitting consecutive targets racks up your combo meter, adding a risk/reward element. Do you go for that gem in the distance, or play it safe to preserve your combo? It almost becomes a game within a game. You can toggle between three elemental weapons but the "fire" shotgun is all you need. The game is very easy to play. Rotating wireframes highlight monsters about to attack, and your shots are represented by large bright orbs. Between stages you're presented with a trade-off screen that lets you sacrifice bonus points for more power. It's not an all-or-nothing decision; you can adjust the percentage. Ranking in the top three gives you the honor of carving your initials
into a stone. I was really blown away when I saw that cursive "D" I inscribed more than 20 years ago! The attention to detail makes other light gun shooters feel like carnival games. The one downside to Elemental Gearbolt is that it's a very linear experience that's always the same. But it is an experience, and when you take into account the pinpoint controls, rich artistry, and thoughtful design, this may be the best light gun game ever made. NOTE: Light guns only function on old-style CRT televisions. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Acclaim (1997)
Rating: Kids to Adults
If you missed out on this obscure superhero fighter, consider yourself lucky. Side-scrolling brawlers were few and far between in the 32-bit era, and judging from Fantastic Four, it was for the best. This game is an embarrassment!
Up to four players can participate in this dumpster fire so I roped in a few unsuspecting suckers (whoops I mean friends) to give it a go. Playable heroes include Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Human Torch, She Hulk, and The Thing. To help pass the time during the loading process everybody gets to play a nifty overhead racing game. You could argue that this micro-racer packs more entertainment than the game itself. Fantastic Four looks downright appalling
with its pixelated characters and dark, washed-out scenery. As you step through town you'll beat up zombie kids, red apes, and rock monsters. The scaling effects are an absolute joke.
Walking away from the camera causes your character to go from looking like a lumbering giant to a small child. Your attacks look awkward and the collision detection is heinous. Enemies are constantly pelting you with clubs that you can't seem to avoid. Special moves are available but they are damn near impossible
to execute when you need them. The graphics are so muddled it's hard to tell what's happening at times. Rotating camera angles might be cool if there wasn't such a big section of scenery blocking your view. The inappropriate jazz soundtrack suggests something from an adult film, prompting Kevin to inquire "Did someone order a pizza?"
Fantastic Four may be the more bizarre Playstation games I've ever come across, and just the thought of playing it again makes me ill. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Eidos (1999)
Rating: Mature (blood, gore, violence, suggestive themes)
I don't know how I missed out on this game the first time around, but it is outstanding! This addictive thriller incorporates innovative visuals and a mysterious occult storyline in world straight out of Blade Runner. Fear Effect comes on four
CDs (!), so you know
you're getting a lot of game for your money. The stylish graphics are unlike anything I've ever seen before, with pre-rendered, realistic backgrounds combined with animated characters that sport amazing facial expressions. Cinematic sequences are seamlessly intertwined with the action, and the music and voice acting is absolutely top-notch. Fear Effect's controls are similar to Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, but an intelligent user interface lets you manipulate items without even bringing up a menu screen. There are plenty of save points, and that's always a good thing. Fear Effect is one exciting, dark adventure that Playstation fans should not overlook. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Eidos (1996)
Fighting Force was the victim of some unrealistic expectations upon its release, so I figured it was time to give this side-scrolling beat-em-up another look. Many gamers (including myself) expected it to be the 3D incarnation of Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991). I recall having a bunch of friends over to give it a go, but they were not impressed. The opening sequence features a helicopter dropping off our heroes on a city street with an amazing digitized skyline looming in the background. The chunky characters and blocky urban environments looked fine, but the game itself was awkward to play. The camera was never positioned correctly, and thugs would always linger just outside of the frame. It was hard to tell where you were supposed to go and there were a lot of invisible walls. Factor in lengthy and frequent load screens and you have one big party killer on your hands. Fighting Force was a disappointment in its time, but when I revisited the game's single player mode I was in for a pleasant surprise. The camera isn't great but it's a lot better since there's only one character to focus on. The responsive controls include punch, kick, grab, and jump. The shoulder buttons are used to run and execute hilariously floaty jump-kicks and super-effective slide-kicks. The triangle button pulls double-duty as the back-punch and
grab move, which was a horrible design decision. The fighting action is satisfying enough thanks to pixelated blood that splatters with each kick and punch. You can even attack thugs when they're down! Weapons like bats and clubs pack a whallop, and the pistol lets you shoot thugs point-blank in the face. After running out of bullets, you'll throw your gun, and it's pretty funny when that turns out to be the knockout blow. Fighting Force is loaded with unintentionally funny details like that. When defeated, goons drop huge wads of cash and sometimes even gold bars
. Despite being decked out in black suits, the henchmen still don silly names like Bruiser, Snakey, and Punk. You can kick a soda machine and enjoy a refreshing beverage while goons hang back and wait in their fighting stances. Why aren't they firing their weapons? As in Streets of Rage, bad chicks tend to be decked out in sexy dominatrix outfits. Fighting Force has its share of eye candy, and the office that looks out over the harbor at night looks really spectacular. The game is fun while it lasts but it's hard to progress. Health packs are few and far between, and the endless stream of thugs eventually wear you down. You'll get further if you play with a partner, but that requires both players to make a concerted effort to stay close to each other. It's possible to harm one another, so don't stand too
close! This is an oddball title for sure, but there aren't many games like Fighting Force, and retro gamers should get a real kick out of it. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 55,450
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Id Software (1996)
Final Doom certainly has the look of a money-grab, reprising the original Playstation Doom with a new set of levels. It's targeted at those who played the hell out of first Doom (literally) and crave even more first-person demon-shooting mayhem. I guess Final Doom serves its purpose. Not only does it contain a whole new set of stages, but the difficulty has been ratcheted up to the max!
The levels are jam-packed with enemies and the elaborate stage layouts expose you to constant danger. If you feel like a sitting duck, it's not your imagination. Complicating matters is the fact that armor and health packs are in very low supply. One thing you do have in your favor is firepower. Heck, the chain gun and plasma gun are available in the very first level
. You'll need them, because to these demons you're like a walking McRib. Completing any of these levels is a monumental achievement. Final Doom uses the same graphic engine as the first, and since the action is more intense it sometimes struggles to keep up with the chaos. The mouse controller is supported and a two-player mode is available via the link cable. A password is provided between levels. It's bad enough the first Doom didn't let you save your progress to memory card, but there's absolutely no excuse for it here. Final Doom is a respectable extension to the series but I think its audience is fairly limited. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
1 or 2 players
Final Fantasy VII
Publisher: Sony (1997)
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, mild animated violence, mild language)
Review contributed by ptdebate of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
A dramatic event during the first act of Final Fantasy VII is one of the most talked about moments in gaming history. In this near-silent video sequence, a well-liked character is murdered by a mysterious villain. This gives cause to mourn not only to the other characters but also to the player, who without warning permanently loses an essential member of his party. The twisting, turning narrative of Final Fantasy VII is punctuated with surprises like that, sometimes comedic, sometimes dramatic, and sometimes both. The balance between silliness and gravitas is something that would come to define the Final Fantasy series. The story is a wickedly satirical take on modern society. When an powerful corporation threatens to drain the planet of its life force, the planet fights back! Throughout the 40-hour-long journey you'll control a total of nine characters that can be taken into battle in any combination of three. The battle mechanics are turn-based but operate on individual "cool downs". This results in constant, overlapping action in contrast to the stop-and-go feel of other turn-based games. In addition to using common spells like Fire, Cure, and Haste, characters can discover and equip abilities that grow more effective over time. This easy-to-grasp form of advancement also allows for a moderate degree of customization. The charming graphics are highly detailed, with urban landscapes that mark a departure from the medieval-themed RPGs of the past. The hand-drawn 2D backgrounds occasionally transition into CGI sequences, making stunning use of the PlayStation’s storage and video capabilities. Likewise summoning deities to your aid will conjure up sublimely imaginative 3D-rendered sequences. Although the quality of the polygon models may not compare favorably to modern titles, the absorbing story and accessible gameplay earns Final Fantasy VII the status of an immortal classic. This is Final Fantasy at its very best. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Final Fantasy VIII
Publisher: Sony (1999)
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Review contributed by ptdebate of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
How do you follow up what is widely regarded as one of the greatest games of all time? In the case of Final Fantasy VIII, the answer is to rethink everything. Instead of playing it safe with well-established mechanics, the designers took traditional Final Fantasy gameplay and turned it on its head. Instead of equipping equipment
you equip magic
. Depending on how you spread it over your characters allows you to emphasize certain attributes over others. This highly customizable system lets you really dig deep into the numbers but presents a much higher learning curve than previous games in the series. The process of acquiring a sufficient amount of magic can be tedious, as it must be "drawn" from enemies and specific locations. Unfortunately if you choose to cast magic associated with an attribute, that attribute will decrease with the number of cast spells. The exploration and flow of combat remains relatively unchanged from the FFVII, but the 3D graphics have greatly improved, with human models rendered with a high level of detail. The story is a wild ride through a series of action blockbuster set pieces. Sullen military academy student Squall is joined by his classmates in an escalating series of missions. The encroaching foreign kingdom of Galbadia is revealed to be manipulated by a powerful sorceress with diabolical intentions. Running from a giant mechanical spider through a crumbling city, redirecting half of a train that’s still moving to kidnap a president, thwarting an assassination attempt, and invading a military base to avert a missile launch are just a few of the situations you might find yourself in during the first half of the game. The story attempts to awe and delight the player at every beat, but with varying degrees of success. The main villain is a red herring, and the real villain barely gets little characterization, leading to numerous fan theories about her origins. The strongest aspect of the story is the relationship between the two main characters, which gradually blossoms into a endearing romance. The phenomenal soundtrack has depth and range, including moody atmospheric pieces, waltzes, bombastic orchestra and choir pieces, and a lyrical piano ballad. This game has high aspirations but some of its bold new ideas don’t always land on two feet. Once you learn how to properly manipulate its systems, however, Final Fantasy VIII proves a satisfying, memorable experience. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1999)
The back of this game's case reads "the #1 arcade hit comes home!" Hey - I like the sound of that!
Fisherman's Bait feels like the kind of game you'd find in the back of a Colorado sports bar, maybe with a built-in rod controller. The visuals combine digitized scenery with polygon graphics to good effect. First you select your location. There are three lakes with about seven spots each to select from. I like the idea of digitized scenery but it looks grainy. The scenes are just static images with "wave effect" trickery to simulate shimmering water. The pond locations are bland but the city spots are more interesting. You'll often see "shadows" of fish lurking just beneath the surface. A simple power meter is used to cast your line. The left thumbstick moves your rod and rotating your right stick reels. It's a pretty neat system! Once you get a bite you'll battle the fish as the tension meter spastically shoots up and down on the right side of the screen. The key is keeping it out of the red, and sometimes it's necessary to press the shoulder buttons to let out some line. Occasionally you'll see a close-up of the fish running or leaping out of the water, adding some excitement. If it's not a "game fish" (bass) you don't get any credit however, even if it's a big juicy rainbow trout. It's a shame there's no way to "cut bait" when you clearly have the wrong kind of fish. Once you reel in your catch there's some fanfare as its size and weight are tabulated. The games are timed and sometimes the timer will run out while you're reeling in a big one. If you have a continue be sure to use it, as you'll pick up off right where you left off. If you're good like me you can enter your initials as one of the "top anglers", saved to memory card. I noticed that the #3 angler was "GIL". GIL!!
While not particularly compelling, Fisherman's Bait is a perfectly good lightweight diversion for a summer afternoon. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 5.06 lbs
Publisher: Capcom (1996)
Rating: Teen (realistic violence)
I never expected a company like Capcom to venture into the full-motion video arena, but they went all-in with Fox Hunt. This interactive movie employs real actors, exotic locations, and video footage spread over three discs!
You play the role of a goofy young guy fresh out of Bruce Campbell's School of Overacting (or is it Jim Carrey's?) His mannerisms are so exaggerated he can't even pick up his car keys without hamming it up. Hijacked by the CIA, he's trying to deliver a briefcase to the Russian mob. Like most "laser disc" games you watch video clips and are prompted to take action at specific times. In the opening scene however you actually have some freedom to explore your apartment. You press the directional pad to turn, resulting in a video clip pointing you in a new direction. If there's room to walk forward you press up and watch your character move to a new spot. It's a strange sensation unlike anything I've experienced. If you remain still a short clip loops, giving the impression your game is broken. Since the different areas of your apartment don't fit together in a neat grid it's easy to become disoriented. Once the storyline gets rolling the game feels like random scenes patched together. The gameplay almost completely trial and error, and the chase scenes in particular require rote memorization. Save often, as you'll frequently find yourself on the wrong end of a death scene. Fox Hunt features real actors George Lazenby, Timothy Bottoms, and Rob Lowe (!) Their performances are very much tongue in cheek and the game plays out like a comedy - only without the laughs. Seriously, this game tries to be funny all of the time
and doesn't succeed once!
The audio and video quality is substandard, probably the result of compressing nearly two hours of video onto three CDs. Fox Hunt may have some value as a collector's item. The fashion, music, technology, and cultural references are a fascinating slice of 90's culture. Your character's "CD-ROM" reader looks a heck of a lot like an iPad! Fox Hunt may inspire curiosity, but enjoyment? Not so much. I'd recommend watching it on YouTube instead. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Hasbro (1998)
With Frogger, Hasbro decided to fix what wasn't broken, and in the process transformed a charming arcade favorite into a mundane 3D maze game. Like the original game, the first stage features a street full of cars followed by a stream of floating logs. It's not bad, but the blocky 3D visuals don't add anything at all. After that, things take a turn for the worse as you toil through several stages of generic jumping platforms and uninteresting mazes. And don't get me started about the unresponsive controls! Your frog seems to jump a full half second
after you move the freaking joystick! I was really excited about the four-player mode, but even that turned out to be a complete dud. As the last straw, Hasbro didn't even bother to include original arcade version! © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
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