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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Playstation 2 Reviews B-C

Batman Vengeance
Grade: B+
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2001)
Posted: 2002/2/4
Rating: Teen

screenshotIt's been quite a while since there's been a good Batman game, but fans should take note of this one. Vengeance combines the award-winning animation of the popular Batman animated cartoon series, the voices of the actual characters, and a pretty good storyline into a nice cohesive package. And unlike every Batman game since God knows when, this one is even fun to play!

The action isn't too repetitive, thanks to a healthy supply of gadgets in Batman's ever-popular utility belt, and you'll love pelting the Joker with batarangs shortly before kicking his ass with a little hand-to-hand action. The fine voice acting includes Mark Hammill as the Joker, trash talking and mocking you as you attempt to uphold justice. You'll also face Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, along with a boatload of henchmen and women. For transportation, you can ride either the Batmobile or the Batwing!

Vengeance contains over 40 minutes of cinematics that blend nicely into the storyline. There are over 20 levels of punching, jumping, flying, diving, and puzzle solving mayhem. The only things holding this game back are occasional camera difficulties and the fact that Batman's partner is Batgirl. What happened to Robin? © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance
Grade: D
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Posted: 2005/10/28
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)

screenshotWhat attracted me to this mediocre fighter? It was my eternal hope that one day a Streets of Rage-style brawler will be produced for the modern systems. On the surface, Beat Down appears to follow the same basic formula: battle gangs of thugs, make use of various weapons lying around, and explore gritty urban locales. Beat Down does a few things right but a lot of things wrong.

The character models, while hardly state of the art, are detailed enough, and the dirty streets and sleazy bars look realistic. The fighting action is good but not great. I like how you automatically "lock on" to any thug you approach, and there's a nice variety of punches, kicks, and grabs. My favorite move is straddling an opponent on the ground and wailing away on him. Using weapons like knives, boards, or girders (!) is also satisfying. An unusual feature is the option to "negotiate" with subdued opponents, possibly recruiting them into your posse. Unconscious bodies can be searched for cash and bonus items. I also enjoyed the techno music soundtrack.

Beat Down sounds like a winner so far, but in fact it's badly flawed. First and foremost, the loading screens are excessive, to say the least. You'll spend more time staring at "Now Loading…" than playing the [expletive] game! The city is divided into small sections about a block or two in size, and as you move between areas, you'll have to wait a good 15 seconds to load the next section! Compare this to other games like Spider-Man 2 or Grand Theft Auto where you can explore an entire city with no pauses. It's hard to believe an established company like Capcom would tolerate such poor design.

I could also do without the endless dialogue, punctuated with gratuitous profanity. You won't be able to skip the cut-scenes or page through that boring text dialogue fast enough! Technically, Beat Down looks sloppy, with pedestrians and cars that appear out of thin air. You have several characters to choose between but they all behave the same. It looks pretty silly when the hooker in high heels picks up that huge girder and starts swinging it around. If you're playing the one-player mode, please note that the female news reporter is used to save your game. I didn't realize this the first few times I played, and it was quite frustrating (who wants to talk to a reporter in the middle of a fighting game anyway?).

But Beat's Down's biggest disappointment is its two-player mode. Instead fighting gangs side by side (like the good 'ol days), it's just a lame one-on-one "versus" mode. I was hoping Beat Down would offer some old school action with updated graphics, but instead it emphasizes everything that's wrong with the "new" school. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Beyond Good and Evil
Grade: B-
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2003)
Posted: 2004/9/26
Rating: Teen (realistic violence, comic mischief)

screenshotWhen Beyond Good and Evil was first released, magazine critics fawned over it and hailed it as one of the best games of the year. Consequently, those same critics voiced their shock and dismay when the game didn't sell. Well, there's a reason for that. Beyond Good and Evil is highly overrated. I will admit that it's technically impressive, with gorgeous graphics, spectacular sound effects, outstanding music, and crisp controls. Heck, even the pacing and difficulty are finely tuned.

But just because it's polished doesn't mean it's fun, and Beyond Good and Evil struggled to keep my attention. The storyline involves a planet that's being attacked from space, and the conspiracy plot that ensues is convoluted to say the least. The island-covered planet is inhabited by humans and "evolved" animals that are equal to humans. The game stars an attractive (but fully-clothed) woman named Jade with black hair and green lipstick. Her sidekick is a hillbilly pig that's supposed to provide comic relief but rarely does.

Beyond Good and Evil is a nice mix of exploration, puzzle solving, and fighting, and there are some shooting, air hockey, and racing stages thrown in for good measure. The graphics and animation are the quality of a Disney animated feature, which smooth textures and fluid movements. The exotic music is terrific, and the sound effects are so good that you'll actually take notice. The controls feature a nifty auto-jump, and thankfully you can't fall off the edge of cliffs.

But the best aspect of the game is the picture-taking system, which makes it easy to aim and zoom in on various creatures. Taking interesting pictures will earn you credit and bonus items, and some missions require you to infiltrate enemy facilities and photograph their activities. There sure is a lot to like about Beyond Good and Evil, but I have to take issue with a few things. For an action/adventure, there's an awful lot of text to read, and at times I found myself becoming very impatient. When you encounter a new character, there's a list of questions to ask him, and unless you go through all of them, you might miss a vital piece of information.

Your pig sidekick will get on your nerves after a while, and there are too many "slide the block" and "enter the right combination" puzzles. Still, there are ample save points and you'll rarely have to repeat long sections twice. Beyond Good and Evil is certainly good, and if you have a lot of patience, you may find it a rewarding journey. But in no way is this one of the best games of the year. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Blitz: The League
Grade: C-
Publisher: Midway (2005)
Posted: 2006/8/6
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs, violence)

screenshotThe first time I played Blitz:The League, I was totally into it. The games are short and action-packed, with crisp controls and over-the-top animations. Its irreverent arcade style took me back to the good old days when NFL Blitz ruled the Playstation. But the more I played the game, the more Blitz:The League's tawdry side would gnaw away at my very soul. The game embraces everything perceived to be wrong with sports: Performance-enhancing drugs, gratuitous violence, scantily-clad cheerleaders, bad language, and illegal gambling.

The graphics could use some work, but at least the animation is on point. The strength of the game lies in its fast, unpredictable on-field action. The hits are vicious as helmets fly, balls are tipped, and constant turnovers keep the outcome in doubt. The simple control scheme makes the game easy to play, and the bone crunching tackles are satisfying. There's no NFL license, but you can customize your team to resemble its NFL counterpart.

Its core gameplay is decent, but unlike NFL Blitz, which came off as funny and irreverent, Blitz:The League constantly pushes the limits of good taste. In my experience, it's pretty easy to tell when a game is authentically "adult" (GTA San Andreas, Far Cry), and when it's forcing the issue (BMX XXX, Outlaw Anything). With its gratuitous potty-mouth, bad hip-hop music, and cheerleaders assuming erotic poses, this game made me feel dirty. Whenever you're worried about the wife walking in when you're playing a game, that's never a good sign.

Blitz tries to incorporate gambling and steroids into the pre-game festivities, but these things just tend to get in the way. I really hate the idiotic kick meter, which prompts you to hit certain buttons quickly before the kick. The cut scenes of players talking trash or coaches in the booth are mildly amusing at first, but soon become horribly annoying and interrupt the flow of the game. Note to Midway: If you're going to make us ogle cheerleaders after every play, at least make them look good!

The load and save screens are agonizingly long. In fact, this is the first game I've played where the loading and saving are longer than the game itself! Blitz probably could have been a viable alternative to Madden, if Midway had not gone off the deep end with all the raunchy gimmicks. Ultimately, Blitz:The League will likely go down in history as an ill-advised novelty item that most people will find more embarrassing than entertaining. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Bode Miller Alpine Skiing
Grade: D
Publisher: RTL (2006)
Posted: 2008/11/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis bargain-priced skiing game is okay, but I liked it better the first time I played it, when it was called Torino 2006. Apparently someone copied the skiing code out of Torino and repackaged it as "Bode Miller Alpine Skiing". Yes, they did tack on a create-a-skier option and career mode, but these are lightweight at best. In case you don't remember who Bode Miller is, he's the American skier who bragged about hanging out at bars all night before his competitions. And sure enough, when he competed in the 2006 Olympic games, he skied like a guy who had stayed up all night drinking in bars!

As much as I enjoyed the skiing action in Torino, it's far less impressive as a stand-alone game. The sensation of speed is good, but it doesn't really feel like you're heading downhill. Instead, it feels like you're gliding over a wide-open flat surface. Unlike Torino, you can't toggle your viewing angle, and your skier often blocks your vision as you're trying to line up the next set of gates. The runs are really long, and with multiple heats, it's just too much. The snow-encrusted trees and mountain backdrops look attractive enough, but there's nothing striking about the graphics.

The meat of the game lies in its career mode, which is just a string of competitions. Between contests, your "training" consists of simply pressing a button and viewing the results. Sure it's lame, but at least it is consistent with Bode's actual work ethic! The "1-12 players" claim is somewhat misleading, considering only one player can ski at a time. Considering how long it takes to finish each run, I sure would hate to be that twelfth player! And what's the deal with the "betting" option? Are we condoning gambling in skiing now?

Even the commentary is lame. In one exchange a commentator asks his partner, "What do you think Wolf?" and Wolf pans "I think we'll just have to wait and see." Wow, that's insightful stuff. Bode Miller Alpine Skiing is bargain priced, and now you know why. It might provide some mildly amusing entertainment for a snowy day, but like Bode himself, there's not a whole lot of substance here. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 12 players 

The Bouncer
Grade: B
Publisher: SquareSoft (2001)
Posted: 2014/4/15
Rating: Teen (animated violence)

screenshotSide-scrolling brawlers like Final Fight (SNES, 1991) and Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991) peaked during the 16-bit era (early 90's), but The Bouncer tries to resurrect the genre in 3D. Its cinematic opening is fun to watch as a gang of ninjas fall from the sky and abduct a blonde girl from a bar. The three playable "bouncers" would look like pretty boys if not for all their tattoos and piercings. Heck, Volt has two metal horns sticking out of his forehead! Considering how realistic and boring modern games tend to be, the ridiculous story and colorful characters are refreshing.

The Bouncer's gameplay boils down to a series of short skirmishes separated by melodramatic (and sometimes awkward) cut-scenes. You won't mind sitting through these because the graphics are absolutely gorgeous! Pressing start will pause a scene, giving you the option to skip it (which is a good system). The character models have no rough edges or visible seams, and their faces look remarkable even by modern standards. You will notice a lot of outdated clothing styles, including spandex pants and jeans pulled way up.

The graphic quality is equally impressive in the actual game, although the blurring effects used during fights take some getting used to. Before each encounter you select which character to use, and you fight side-by-side the other two bouncers (controlled by the CPU). The fighting areas tend to be confined, and the close camera angles will force you to move around to locate creeps in the vicinity.

Your basic moves are effective, and you can purchase new moves (and upgrade stats) between fights. The encounters are refreshingly short and there's also an imaginative (and funny) sequence where you use gestures to sneak by guards. In typical Japanese fashion, the bosses look like they spent hours just working on their hair!

The Bouncer's soundtrack has a flair for the dramatic, and the surround-sound effects are effective. One flaw with the game is how certain areas are highly repetitive, making it tough to tell where you need to go. I like the idea of frequent saves, but the saving process is cumbersome to say the least.

The load screens are so prevalent, I swear there are load screens for load screens. Upon dying you're dumped out to the title screen, and have to reload to continue. Still, I enjoy the game's sense of style, artistry, and personality. The Bouncer is original, entertaining, and perhaps the most polished PS2 title I've played. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Capcom Classics Collection Vol 1
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Posted: 2005/11/15
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotI'm truly impressed with the generous selection of quality games offered in this outstanding compilation. At $20, this is an absolute steal. The 22 titles and numerous extras are attractively presented via a "hand-drawn" user interface, making Midway's compilations look slapped together by comparison. Not only are these oldies extremely fun to play, but they convey a history lesson of sorts. Gamers will recall most of these titles by their NES incarnations, but these are the arcade-perfect originals.

You might expect the antiquated graphics to look crude and pixelated, but in fact they appear very smooth and attractive. Not all the games are "classics", but all have some degree of play value. 1942 (grade: C-) is a simple yet fun vertical airplane shooter game with the worst audio effects ever heard in a video game. It sounds like someone continuously blowing a whistle! 1943 (B) is a major improvement, with an easier difficulty level, two-player co-op, devastating "smart bombs", and a catchy musical soundtrack. While I welcome the addition of the health bar, did they have to put it on the frickin' playfield where it obstructs the action?

Bionic Commando (B), a popular shooter on the NES, features a hero with extendable metal arms used to pull himself onto platforms. Commando (B) is a Rambo-style vertical shooter where you mow down approaching soldiers while tossing grenades into their bunkers. Exed Exes (D+) is a thoroughly forgettable vertical shooter similar to 1942, except with an insect theme and headache-inducing music. Final Fight (A) is one of the true highlights of the collection. I've played the SNES version of this side-scrolling brawler, but the graphics here are far crisper and the two-player action is terrific. Forgotten Worlds (A) is an under-appreciated side-scrolling shooter where you sport a jet pack and can rotate and fire in any direction. The futuristic scenery looks awesome, and the rapid-fire two-player mode is seriously intense.

Ghosts N' Goblins (B) is an old favorite where you're a sword-throwing, armored knight traversing graveyards, forests, mountains, and caves. Despite the game's insane difficulty level, you always find yourself wanting to play "just one more time". Its sequel, Ghouls and Ghosts (A), features richer graphics and better control (you can shoot up instead of just sideways). Super Ghouls and Ghosts (A-) is the single non-arcade entry on this compilation. It's actually the SNES version, which incorporates some interesting new stages and a useful double jump move.

Gun Smoke (C) is similar to Commando, but takes place in the Wild West, and you fire your two pistols in a number of trajectory combinations. I found GunSmoke somewhat frustrating because your shots have such limited range. Legendary Wings (C) features both vertical and side-scrolling shooting action, but is otherwise unremarkable. Mercs (A) is a turbo-charged version of Commando, with stages that scroll in all directions, huge mechanical bosses, and insane firepower.

Pirate Ship Higemaru (B-) is a cute maze game with an easy-going style and bouncy musical theme that makes it hard to dislike. Section Z (C-) is a forgettable side-scrolling shooter, although this version is certainly better than the NES translation. Son Son (D) is a little-known side-scrolling platformer where you leap between platforms while shooting enemies and grabbing fruit. While fast and easy to play, I didn't find it too compelling.

Trojan (B-) is a seriously tough post-apocalyptic side-scroller that lets you position a shield to protect yourself from projectiles. Vulgus (C), yet another vertical shooter, was Capcom's very first game. It's unexceptional (there are no power-ups), but certainly playable. Street Fighter 2 (A) is probably the best game on the disk, but doesn't everybody already own several versions of this? The three included here are original, championship, and hyper fighting.

Capcom includes background information for each game, but other extras, such as tips, artwork, and music, need to be unlocked. I could only find one flaw with this excellent package: you can't adjust the number of continues. All of these games feature infinite continues, which waters down the challenge to a huge degree. Even when you don't want to use the continues, you'll often trigger one accidentally via the X button. Despite that oversight, this package is a no-brainer for any serious video game fan. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Capcom Classics Collection Vol 2
Grade: A
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Posted: 2007/1/5
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence) 1 or 2 players

screenshotLike the first Capcom Classics, this 20-game collection is chock-full of fine arcade titles from the late 80's and early 90's. Despite a few clunkers, Volume 2 is a remarkable value. 1941 is an outstanding vertical airplane shooter that's actually a sequel to 1942 and 1943 (go figure). Varth is very similar and just as fun. Avengers is an outrageously bad punch-and-kick game with an ill-advised overhead perspective.

Black Tiger plays like a second-rate Ghouls and Ghosts, and Block Block is a very good Breakout clone. Captain Commando is an engaging side-scrolling brawler in the tradition of Final Fight, only it's set in a goofy, futuristic world. Eco Fighters is an unusual side-scrolling shooter that lets you aim your cannon using the right thumbstick.

King of Dragons and Knights of the Round are two excellent medieval side-scrolling hack-and-slash games along the lines of Sega's Golden Axe. Magic Sword is similar, but has a frenzied, breakneck pace that took me by surprise. Mega Twins is a whimsical platform game that I didn't find particularly appealing. Last Duel plays like a futuristic Bump N Jump as you speed down a futuristic track while blasting enemies and jumping over pits.

Quiz and Dragons is the oddball of the bunch, awkwardly incorporating pop trivia into a medieval-themed board game. As a nice bonus, a Capcom trivia version is also included. Side Arms is a conventional side-scrolling space shooter, but it's still a blast. The original Street Fighter is mainly interesting for historical reasons, but Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo represents the true pinnacle of the series.

Another old favorite, Strider is a superb platform slasher with a wall-clinging hero. The side-scrolling karate fighter Tiger Road manages to be both confusing and simplistic, and it's probably the weakest entry in the package. Speed Rumbler is another throwaway title. Three Wonders is a pleasant surprise, providing a nice combination of platform, shooting, and puzzle action. It could easily have been broken up into three individual titles.

Capcom Classics Volume 2 has plenty of bonuses to unlock, an auto-save mechanism, and each game is fully configurable. Just be sure to turn off that bogus "infinite continue" option (it's on by default). No question about it, this is a lot of gaming action for your money. Note to PSP owners: There's a significant overlap between this package and the recently released Capcom Classics Remixed. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence) 1 or 2 players 

Capcom Fighting Evolution
Grade: D+
Publisher: Capcom (2004)
Posted: 2006/7/29
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotI'd love to know what Capcom was thinking when they conceived of Evolution, because it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. This one-on-one 2D fighter contains a hodgepodge of characters from several Capcom fighting franchises, including Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter Alpha, Darkstalkers, and Street Fighter 3. What's new is a group of fighters from something called "Red Earth", a fighting game that was never released in America. A new hottie by the name of Ingrid is thrown in for good measure.

There have been plenty of other Capcom "compilation" fighters dating back to the Dreamcast in 1999, including the Capcom vs SNK and Marvel vs. Capcom games. But compared to Marvel Vs. Capcom 2's 56-man roster, Evolution's 21-character lineup seems downright paltry. With only four fighters from each franchise, this seems more like a sampler platter. I suppose it could have been justified if only the best fighters were included, but that is definitely not the case.

Zangeif is one of the Street Fighter 2 representatives, yet he's generally regarded as the least popular fighter of that series. The Darkstalkers cast includes Anakaris, a shape-changing mummy who's probably the cheapest fighter ever conceived. The oversized Red Earth monsters seem totally out of place. The hulking T-Rex looks great but is poorly animated, and most of his matches are a farce. The indiscernible Hydron is such a confusing mess that it prompted my friend Scott to inquire, "What the hell am I, an octopus?"

In addition to the odd mishmash of characters, Evolution's backgrounds aren't too exciting either. While some stages are mildly interesting (like the vampire castle or jungle) others like the subway station are awfully bland. There's minimal animation, and in the poorly rendered waterfront stage, you can actually see seams in the night sky! Capcom Evolution is a questionable release, and in my opinion a big step back. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Capcom Vs. SNK 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Posted: 2002/1/22

screenshotI loved the first Capcom Vs. SNK (Dreamcast, 2000), but now the formula seems to be wearing thin. This time there are more than 44 fighters, but Capcom has by far surpassed the point of diminishing return. Unlike Marvel Vs. Capcom, I don't know who most of these people are, and in some cases, I can't tell the males from the females! Some characters seem a bit out of place, like the sword-wielding warrior from Samurai Showdown. When you put him up against Sakura in her cute little schoolgirl outfit, and it just doesn't seem right.

The background stages are almost completely in 3D, and while skeptical at first, their amazing effects won me over. For example, when fighting in the Nairobi desert, there are jeeps that zoom in from the distance and jump right over the fighters! Few stages are that good however, and there are far fewer stages than there are fighters.

Capcom has come a long way with the backgrounds, but I can't say the same about the fighters, who haven't changed much in 10 years. The pixelated sprites actually look out of place in front of the smooth polygon backdrops. Capcom Vs. SNK 2 has no shortage of playing modes, and you can fight one-on-one as well as three-on-three.

The controls are pretty straightforward, with the exception of the "groove" systems that let you perform special attacks. There are six different groove systems in all, and I don't understand any one of them - guess I'm just too old school. As far as the audio goes, I wasn't impressed with the cheesy music or the annoying announcer. If you're looking for a 2D fighter, Capcom Vs. SNK 2 delivers the goods, but I think this cow has been milked enough. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Castle Shikigami 2
Grade: C+
Publisher: XS Games (2004)
Posted: 2008/6/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe predecessor to this game was marketed as "Mobile Light Force 2" in America, which explains why the manual refers to this as "Mobile Light Force 3" on occasion. Castle Shikigami 2 (CS2) doesn't try to hide its anime roots, and the group of characters on its cover would almost suggest an RPG. But no, CS2 is an over-the-top 2D vertical shooter where you control flying people instead of aircraft.

Your adversaries tend to be floating metal objects, and boss characters are often people surrounded by force fields. If the dialogue is any indication, everybody in this game is crazy. "Always unbelievable! Don't forget in hell!" "I'm so pissed! Stop making trouble. Kicking your butts." "I am Dandeon. Keeping it a fool-free zone." Despite the eye-rolling-inducing dialogue, the game itself is pretty fun as you unleash rapid-fire shots against waves of dense but slow-moving enemies and projectiles.

The "tension bonus system" heats up the action by dramatically intensifying your firepower when you avoid narrow scrapes. Destroyed enemies drop coins, but the tiny numbers displayed as you collect these are hard to see. The city and castle stages look great, but the maze-like areas with shifting walls are just plain annoying. The six playable characters each offer a unique experience, although the repetitive "meow" sounds of Nigi Gorgeous Blue will get on your nerves after about ten seconds.

Shikigami 2 records high scores as long as you don't use continues, and I like how it combines the scores of both players in the two-player simultaneous mode. I always enjoy games like this, but my friends were far less impressed. Shikigami doesn't hold a candle to classic shooters like Thunder Force 3 (Genesis) or Lords of Thunder (Turbografx), but hey, this is the PS2, so we'll take what we can get. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Castlevania Lament of Innocence
Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Posted: 2003/12/26
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotI find it amusing how certain video game magazines are forced to give this mediocre game a high score after shamelessly hyping it for months (serves them right). The Castlevania series has a long, proud 2D tradition, but it has yet to excel in the 3D realm, and Lament continues its descent into mediocrity. Sure, the two Nintendo 64 Castlevania games were in 3D, but those failed to convey the gorgeous visuals and polish that the series was known for. Lament of Innocence looks terrific, but there are more fundamental issues with this long-anticipated game.

Let's start with the lengthy, overwrought introduction, along with its awful exposition. I don't know why Konami bothered with the pages and pages of background text, when in fact this is just your standard "rescue the girl" scenario. Of the two main characters, one looks like a chick and the other looks like Michael Jackson! What's up with that? Once the action begins, you'll see a lot of familiar monsters, including puking zombies, lizard men, sword-wielding skeletons, winged demons, and floating eyeballs.

The scenery is attractive enough, but no more impressive than anything we've seen in the Devil May Cry games (Capcom). All the traditional moves are at your disposal (including the double-jump), and the auto-aim keeps you locked onto enemies. There's even a portal room that lets you move between different stages. It may sound good on paper, but in terms of fun, Lament doesn't hold a candle to its 2D relatives.

For one thing, the camera is completely out of your control. You'll struggle to see certain areas and often find yourself blindsided by off-screen foes. It was easy to strike candles to reveal items in the 2D games, but in this case the candles are scattered around each room, and it's hardly worth the effort to run around to each one. Monsters simply drop out of the ceilings, and then regenerate when you re-enter rooms. In the 2D games, you had no choice but to battle them since they blocked your way, but here you can mostly just run around the whole mob and avoid the aggravation.

In addition, the game has a lot of tedious backtracking, and you're forced to use an ill conceived "real time window" to select items in the heat of battle. On a positive note, there are some devastating weapons, and the beautifully-orchestrated, pulse-pounding musical score is extraordinary. But despite its polished presentation, Lament of Innocence's gameplay does not live up to the Castlevania legacy. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

City Crisis
Grade: D+
Publisher: Take 2 (2001)
Posted: 2003/9/20
Rating: Everyone (mild animated violence)

screenshotThis old Playstation 2 game was hailed as a new breed of video game with innovative gameplay and minimal violence. It didn't start any new trends, but I must admit that City Crisis is a different bird. Piloting a rescue helicopter, you respond to emergency calls from around a city, fighting fires and airlifting civilians to safety. There are even occasional dogs to rescue, and for some odd reason I felt far more obligated to save the dogs than the humans. Your arsenal includes a water spray and special fire-fighting missiles. In addition to rescue missions, there is a second set of "chase" missions where you pursue a hijacked vehicle at night, keeping your spotlight on it while swarming police cars attempt to corner it. It's all fairly entertaining, but City Crisis suffers from some very silly oversights that nearly spoil the fun.

For one thing, the developers forgot to explain the controls in the instruction book, and while the dual-joystick control scheme isn't hard to figure out, there's really no excuse for the omission. Even the so-called "training modes" don't provide many clues. I suspect this game was rushed, because early versions didn't even have the title of the game on the spine of the case!

Another problem has to do with unlocking the missions. Only two are available initially, and simply clearing them is not enough to open more - you need to execute them perfectly to access new missions. Maybe I just suck (always a possibility), but I can't manage a score any better than a B on the first rescue mission, so I'm basically screwed.

In terms of graphics, the city buildings look very cool from above, but they do suffer from the "jaggies" - quite common in early PS2 games. The fire itself looks somewhat fake, as does the water. The energetic music will pump your adrenaline though. City Crisis is an imaginative little game, but a little quality control could have gone a long way. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Clock Tower 3
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (2003)
Posted: 2003/10/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotThe first two Clock Tower games, released for the Playstation, were surprisingly effective at conveying suspense and terror despite their limited graphics. Clock Tower 3 (CT3) uses the same techniques that made the first two work so well: isolated environments, creepy monsters, dramatic camera angles, and downright alarming sound effects. You control a schoolgirl searching for her missing mother while fleeing terrifying ghosts and monsters. Of course there's a background story, but it never makes much sense, and it gets more and more bizarre and convoluted as you progress.

The game plays somewhat like Resident Evil, thanks to a familiar-looking mansion, "find-the-key" puzzles, and the awkward control scheme. Some of the outdoor sequences feel more like Silent Hill, particularly the one with the falling snowflakes. Clock Tower 3 transports you to numerous locations, including dark city streets, a concert hall, the sewers, and a graveyard. But while it certainly feels derivative at times, the unique "panic meter" gives the game a unique flavor. As frightening things happen around you, your panic meter gradually fills. Once it's full, your movements become frantic and you become susceptible to instant death.

Although I've seen far better graphics in other survival horror games, the animation here is fantastic. When the girl stumbles around in fear, she looks truly lifelike. Clock Tower 3 effectively builds drama and suspense thanks to chilling sound effects (including one from the movie Psycho) and music that will make your skin crawl.

Sometimes you can hide in places like lockers and phone booths, and it's absolutely nerve-racking to watch your stalker snoop around just outside. Your attackers are slow and dumb but relentless once they get a bead on you. Grabbing a flashing item during a chase will sometimes result in a cut-scene showing the girl temporarily subduing the monster, although it always comes back a few times (in true slasher-movie style).

At first, I found Clock Tower 3's gameplay to be pretty intense and genuinely frightening, but as the game wore on the bosses became less scary and the puzzles less interesting. It's definitely not as good as Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but Clock Tower 3 does deliver its share of thrills and excitement. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

College Hoops 2K6
Grade: C+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2005)
Posted: 2006/1/29
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThere's a lot of room for improvement in this game, but it still beats the hell out of EA's abysmal March Madness 06. College Hoops delivers a fluid, fast-paced style of basketball action that's especially fun when you team up with several friends. Passing and catching is smooth and exact, allowing for seamless fast breaks and give-and-go plays. The tip-ins are extremely realistic, and I like the idea of tapping the square button to fight for jump balls. Don't try any careless long passes, because they'll almost always get picked off.

The controls are responsive, but the scheme could use some work. On offense, the right stick is used to perform a variety of shots, but this is hard to get the hang of. Since that same stick is also used for steals on defense, you'll sometimes steal the ball and inadvertently hurl it the length of the court! I prefer EA's use of the right stick to initiate crossovers.

I hate College Hoop's foul shooting system, where you hold back the right stick until the player releases the ball. I could never get a feel for it, and unlike NBA 2K6 (which uses the same system), this game never tells you what you're doing wrong. Although rebounding against the CPU requires an act of God, College Hoop's core gameplay is solid, with players who perform more or less as they should. Certain aspects of the game need adjustment from the outset, namely reach-in fouls and ball-handling, but handy "slider" options allow you to fine-tune these.

In terms of graphics, College Hoops is a big step down from NBA 2K6. The players look pretty rough up close, and coaches like Gary Williams of Maryland are totally unrecognizable. The mascots are pretty sad looking as well. The emaciated Maryland Terrapin looks like a bird! College Hoop's cutscenes are sloppy and often inappropriate. For example, when a shooter is fouled, the ref will hand him the ball at the foul line, but then you'll see the same player celebrating with his teammates somewhere else on the court - without the ball! Then, magically, they suddenly reappear back at the line. That's just sloppy. And even if you turn these "cut-aways" off, they still appear from time to time.

Another major glitch is how the action tends to "freeze" momentarily during dramatic moves like slam-dunks. It's really irritating. Other glaring flaws include late sound effects (including shot clock buzzers) and camera cut-aways that show absolutely nothing (seriously). 2K Sports clearly put a lot more effort into their NBA game, making the lack of polish here all the more glaring.

The season modes have their ups and downs as well. Real schedules are included for each team, and although the players aren't named, you can easily enter in their names. Once a name is attached to a player, the announcers actually start using it during the game! That's very cool. There are tons of recruiting options - probably too many! But one feature you'll want to steer clear of is the "simulate games" option. When beginning my season, I opted to simulate the early contests, only to have Maryland lose to some real cupcake teams! Bogus! All in all, College Hoops 2K6's basic gameplay is good enough, but I can't get over terribly rough it is around the edges. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 8 players 

Contra: Shattered Soldier
Grade: D-
Publisher: Konami (2002)
Posted: 2003/1/7
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)

screenshotI waited many months in anticipation of this title, but became utterly disillusioned after finally getting my hands on it. This is a disgrace. Oh sure, it's easy to get excited by the wild 3D graphics and 2D gameplay, but this is Contra by name alone. The original Contra was a landmark game on the NES, featuring strategically designed stages and thrilling run-and-gun gameplay. Shattered Soldier wisely retains the 2D gameplay and incorporates some impressive 3D visuals.

The problem is, the stage design is atrocious!! It can be summarized as mindless shooting at an endless parade of bosses! The debacle takes place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic earth - a formula so played out that it's not even funny. I would have preferred the exotic jungles of the original game to this dreary, washed out scenery we have here. Your soldier spends far too much time riding motorcycles, snowboards, missiles (!), and other vehicles instead of moving on foot.

Then there's the insurmountable difficulty. Even on the "easy" level you'll be pulling your hair out in disgust. I thought the two-player simultaneous mode would help, but the bosses were twice as hard to kill! By far the biggest issue is too much emphasis on the frickin' bosses!! Bosses in video games were great when they were used sparingly, but blasting away at these impenetrable beasts for ten minutes at a time gets old in a hurry.

Shattered Soldier does have a few things going for it, notably a well designed and responsive control scheme (use the digital pad). The 3D graphics are admittedly well done and don't confuse the action. But it's all just window dressing for a bad game. My friend Steve, a die-hard Contra veteran, even gave this game a big fat F! © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Cool Boarders 2001
Grade: D+
Publisher: Sony (2001)
Posted: 2006/1/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI always enjoyed the Cool Boarders snowboarding series on the Playstation One, but this "next generation" edition frustrated me to no end. With Cool Boarder's time-tested gameplay and the added power of the PS2, this should have been a slam-dunk. In terms of downhill racing action, Cool Boarders 2001 is solid, and I actually prefer it to the popular SSX series.

You have just the right degree of control, and it's quite an adrenaline rush to careen down the realistic courses while weaving through the gates. Unfortunately, the game's rigid level design is so unforgiving that I basically gave up on the career mode early. That's problematic, because that allows you to unlock the courses. Only one course is open from the start, which is one of the cardinal sins of video game design.

In fairness, the course is pretty good, with soft rolling hills, wide-open trails, and attractive but unobtrusive scenery. It's a pity that unlocking the remaining trails is such as chore. First, you're forced to complete an absolutely tedious training level, which shoves every nuance of performing tricks down your throat. This tutorial has a lot of steps, and if you mess up three times during the whole thing, you have restart the entire tutorial from the beginning. I can't describe the frustration when you forget to hit a button during the fifteenth trick, and the female narrator (who sounds bored off her ass) deadpans, "let's start over from the top".

Unlocking subsequent courses is equally excruciating. Instead of concentrating on the pure racing aspect, where the game truly excels, the emphasis is placed on performing trick combos and executing "sequences" (interacting with parts of the environment). The difficulty is insurmountable! Another problem is how your boarder often blocks your line of sight, and there's no first-person view!

As will all snowboarding games, you'll want to turn off the generic guitar background noise in favor of the whooshing snow sound effects. There's also a two-player split-screen mode, and it runs pretty smoothly. Overall, Cool Boarders 2001 had a ton of potential but was doomed by its rigid objectives and unreasonable difficulty. I'm not surprised that this long-running series met its demise with this ill-advised chapter. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Crash Bandicoot The Wrath of Cortex
Grade: C-
Publisher: Universal (2001)
Posted: 2001/11/17

screenshotI consider myself a Bandicoot veteran, having played through all five of the Playstation Crash Bandicoot games, but Crash's first PS2 game is a bit of a letdown. Although new developers were hired to handle this edition, they've tried to preserve the winning formula of the original series. Wrath of Cortex does indeed play like the old Crash games, but the control is lacking and the load times are deplorable.

The highlight of the game is the "roller ball" stage, in which Crash rolls around in a transparent ball. It's almost worth the price of admission. As he careens through the bamboo gutters, it almost feels like a Disney attraction, and the vibration feature is used to good effect. Other stages let Crash man vehicles like a sub, minecart, plane, or jeep.

The game has tremendous variety, but there are serious problems. First and foremost, the loading times are absolutely excruciating. Between stages you have to sit through load screens that rival those of EA sports games (that's long!). Next, the gameplay doesn't feel as tight as the old Crash games. It's difficult to judge some jumps, and the collision detection is suspicious at times. Sometimes I died over and over trying to perform what should have been a simple jump.

While the graphics are superb for the most part, I have to take exception to the new "jungle" stages. The exotic, lush jungles of the old Bandicoot games have been replaced with fairy-tale forests - bad call! Also, the so-so music is not up to the old Crash Bandicoot standards. Wrath of Cortex is not a bad game, but Bandicoot vets will not be impressed. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Crash Twinsanity
Grade: C+
Publisher: Vivendi Universal (2004)
Posted: 2005/8/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotCrash Bandicoot was king on the original Playstation, racking up no less than four blockbuster titles for the system. Unfortunately, his initial foray into the "next generation", Crash Bandicoot Wrath of Cortex (Xbox, 2001) was not well received. While it played similar to the originals, it lacked tight controls and didn't seem as fun. Crash's stock is down nowadays, which may be why Twinsanity flew in so low under the radar.

I hadn't heard much at all about this game, so I naturally assumed it was a dud. This chapter involves Crash teaming up with archenemy Neo Cortex to defeat aliens from space. Yes, the unlikely premise sucks, but the gameplay is not bad at all. I was impressed with how Twinsanity preserves the basic mechanics of the original games while incorporating unique and innovative stages.

For example, in one stage you must clear out obstacles in the path of bee-swarmed Cortex, and in another you must hide behind weeds to avoid a lookout in a tower. "Teaming up" with Cortex translates into slamming him into crates and tossing him to hard-to-reach areas. Some sections are free roaming, and there are several enjoyable "roll-through-the-half-pipe" stages.

Twinsanity can be a lot of fun, but it's dogged by quality control issues. First off, the camera is pretty bad. Although the shoulder buttons are supposed to swing it around, these often don't don't respond at all - usually when you really need them. Next, there's the fact that you cannot abort the cut-scenes, even when you've already seen them a dozen times! It's irritating! How these issues escaped game testers is beyond me (unless, of course, there were no game testers).

In terms of the graphics, Twinsanity has a simplified, cartoonish look that harkens back to the Playstation One titles. There's not much detail, but at least the graphics have a bright, clean look. The cut-scenes are very well acted and often humorous. If you're a fan of this bandicoot, there's definitely some fun to be had here. Too bad it feels like such a throw-away title. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, GameSpot, Moby Games, YouTube, Video Games Museum