The game's bizarre premise suggests that mind-altering drugs played a key role in the development process. The "King of All Cosmos", who appears to have a sack of potatoes in his pants, has accidentally destroyed all of the stars in the sky, and chosen you, a small alien creature, to restore them. Naturally this is accomplished by "rolling up" things on earth into massive clumps. Yeah, I know it makes no sense, but work with me here. Utilizing a unique control scheme that uses both joysticks, you roll around a large ball which everything sticks to.
Each stage challenges you to grow the ball to a certain size, and the stages progressively become larger in scope. The one catch is that you can only roll up items that are smaller than your ball, and bumping into larger objects will cause things to break off. There are a stunning assortment of items and even living creatures to roll up - we're talking hundreds per stage.
The first stage takes place on a tabletop, where you pick up stuff like tacks, pencils, candy, and matchbooks. Next, you'll be wandering around a neighborhood, rolling up tools, plants, and toys. Eventually, you'll even be able to roll up people, and it's hilarious to watch them scream and struggle in vain as they get sucked into your unstoppable monstrosity. The ball even feels heavier and more unwieldy as it grows.
It's an ingenious concept, and it's always interesting to see what each new stage has in store. Ultimately, you'll reach a point where you're rolling up buildings in a city. Playing Katamari Damacy is a surreal experience that's fascinating and compelling. The graphics are more functional than flashy, but like any puzzle game, the visuals don't matter much. Occasionally the camera gets out of whack, but I think that's to be expected.
The offbeat musical score ranges from incredibly catchy to downright annoying. Between stages, the King tends to spout off a lot of nonsensical dialogue, which I skipped through as fast as I could. The worst aspect of the game is the tedious user interface used to move between stages. But in the end Katamari Damacy definitely gets extra credit for originality. It's a breath of fresh air in a video game market loaded with knock-off titles and endless sequels. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Seriously, there are floating platforms, laser beams, items to collect, electrified floors, switches to pull, weapon power-ups, and boss encounters. Heck, there are even stealth stages (ugh!). Despite its derivative nature, KND still gets by thanks to its varied gameplay, brisk pacing, responsive controls, and reasonable difficulty. Blasting the generic henchmen is no problem thanks to the tight lock-on controls, although switching targets using the right stick can be awkward. The jumping controls are forgiving enough, so you shouldn't have any problems leaping between those giant donuts.
Through the 15+ stages, you'll face some unconventional villains including spank-happy vampires, nefarious lunch ladies, and the notorious "Toiletnator". You can unlock a lot of "Super Triple Top Secret" stuff by collecting - you guessed it - rainbow monkeys. KND's graphics are cartoon quality, meaning there's not a lot of detail. There are camera issues, but nothing more than you'd normally have to deal with in this type of game. The orchestrated soundtrack is surprisingly good, and has a dramatic James Bond motif.
The varied stages include tree houses, factories, backyards, and floating pirate ships. Unfortunately, areas within each stage tend to repeat, giving the player a serious case of deja-vu. You'll play as all five characters through the 14 stages, each with their own set of moves. Most stages are strictly by-the-numbers, but a few display some innovation, like one where you round up scurrying hamsters (which is much easier when you acquire the freeze gun, by the way).
But the stages that really captured my attention were the flying shooting stages. Surprisingly well executed, these combine old school vertical-shooting gameplay with beautiful, fluid 3D graphics. You can power-up your weapon to several degrees, and there are even smart bombs (known as "Chicken-Soup-erators" here). KND's cut-scenes are appropriately juvenile, but some of the dialogue is pretty clever, and the only character I couldn't stomach was the bubbly "Numbah 3".
The game is well crafted in general, with a handy auto-save, infrequent load screens, and dialogue you can quickly page through. Kids Next Door: Operation Videogame could be considered a "cookie cutter" game, but it deserves credit for its clear objectives, reasonable difficulty, and kid-friendly theme. Fans of the show should bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Kinetica's fantastic tracks are the main attraction, and they are definitely worth checking out. Highlights include the Lost City with its dense jungle environments connected by rusty tunnels, and Orbital Junction which looks like a series of clear tubes in outer space. Unlike most racers, you cling to walls and ceilings, defying gravity as you whiz through tracks that twist and turn in all directions.
The torrid pace and abrupt changes in direction seem cool at first, but after a while, it's just nauseating. The visuals are more effective on a wide-screen TV, and by "effective" I mean "more likely to make you throw up". Kinetica's controls are responsive, but the developers went overboard by incorporating every freakin' button on the controller.
In addition to turbo, you can power-slide around corners, activate power-up icons, perform stunts off ramps, and siphon energy from yellow stretches of track. There's too much to remember, and the confusing stunts and siphon controls are not even worth attempting. Am I really expected to use the face buttons and right stick at the same time? How many fingers did these game testers have anyway?
The one-player season mode is pretty hard, and a split screen option is included for two players (during which my friend Scott asked if there was an "end game early" power-up). I did enjoy the audio, which consists of high-octane techno music that perfectly matches the theme of the game. All in all, Kinetica is an ambitious title that's technical proficient but too complicated for its own good. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
As the seventh and eighth chapters of the series, King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 don't stray far from the original formula. There are more characters (35 and 42, respectively) and a few minor tweaks, but the visual style and core gameplay are vintage 1994. The SNK roster has its share of Ken and Ryu clones, but you'll still find some interesting characters like the silver-haired K' (pronounced K-Prime), the lovely Mai Shiranui, and the gargantuan Chang.
Unfortunately, the poorly-designed character selection screen features a sea of tiny faces that are hard to make out. New additions include a bald freak named Lin and a chick named Kula who uses her hair as a weapon. Although many characters are androgynous, I like how the fighters tend to be human instead of a bunch of shape-shifting freaks.
The fighting action is rock solid, and Street Fighter veterans will feel right at home with the controls. You select three characters for your team, and a fourth as a "striker" who can be called upon to apply a quick hit in the heat of battle. KOF 2000's stages are only mildly interesting, but the aquarium and wet city street stages are still more attractive than anything Capcom has come up with in recent years. If only there were as many stages as there are fighters!
The arcade mode features some very interesting (and often twisted) endings for each character. KOF 2001 offers more of the same, but the striker mechanism is far more restrictive. The new characters are mainly the locked ones from the previous game, including the sword-wielding Foxy and the arm-drilling K9999.
In terms of graphics, King of Fighters 2001 seems to have hit a wall. The washed-out backgrounds are plastered with "King of Fighters" banners, which unfortunately block much of the exotic scenery. The blocky spectators would look more at home in an Atari 5200 game. Still, I do like the improved character selection screen with the rolling clouds in the background. Both games feature Japanese voiceovers and high scores are automatically saved.
There are minimal load times, and if you have an arcade-style joystick, you'll want to drag it out of the closet. The music covers a wide range of styles, but it's the edgy synthesized tunes that really stand out. This is a package for fighting game enthusiasts. King of Fighters 2000/2001 may still have a foothold in 1994, but for fans of the old school, there's no place they'd rather be. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
KOF02 drops the "striker" mechanism, but that's fine because it was pretty much beaten to death in the previous games. Instead you have a "Max activation" mode which takes the action to the next level, letting you administer high-speed beat-downs with conviction. The 44 characters are familiar but the stages are more interesting. The tranquil Japanese garden and stormy Mexican ruins are beauties, and aircraft can sometimes be seen scaling in and out of the sky. The concept of day-changing-to-night during the rounds has returned, and the effect is quite dramatic.
And if you find KOF02 refreshing, you'll find KOF03 positively invigorating. The new "multi-shift" control allows you to switch characters at any time with a press of the button. The roster has been scaled down a bit to 35, but there are several new characters including a huge muscle man with a bird mask. Three health bars line each side of the screen (one for each team member), and while they consume a lot of real estate, at least they serve a useful purpose. They effectively add a new layer of strategy as you juggle your squad to create the most favorable match-ups. Still, three bars can be annoying when they're used by a single character - it's like having to defeat the same guy three times in a row!
KOF03's backgrounds are arguably the strongest of the entire series. The train ride through new Zealand features a gorgeous, continuously scrolling background that begins with a bright city harbor and concludes with scenic rolling hills. Similar scrolling stages include a ride through town on the flatbed of a truck, and rafting through Egypt with massive monuments looming in the background. Even the static stages are brimming with eye candy, including a beach with an approaching blimp and a rooftop with neon lights. KOF02/03 easily ranks among the best in the series. Readily available and cheap, 2D fighting fans should consider this required gaming. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
The roster has been expanded to 38, including four brand new characters. The newcomers include a dude with outrageously dyed hair, a short chick dressed like a bee, and an ethereal butterfly woman who floats around gracefully. Considering the series has lacked distinctive fighters from its inception, these new additions don't really add much in terms of play value.
But like Maximum Impact, the fighting action is exceptional. The controls are crisp, the pacing is frantic, and there are some devastating attacks. The bouts are contained within enclosed areas, but except for being slammed against walls, there's no interaction with the scenery. Speaking of scenery, it continues to be a weak point for the series. There aren't many stages, and those included fail to impress. While locations like "hunting cave" and "temple ruins" would seem to hold promise, they're surprisingly dull. In fact, I've seen far more appealing stages in the old 2D KOF games.
KOF2006 features both English and Japanese dialogue, but it's predictably dumb, with eye-rolling lines like "time to write your epitaph!" Extra modes include various party and mission modes, but these simply change the conditions of the fight, which typically increases the challenge but reduces the fun factor. The story modes should be more fleshed out, as they just seem like a series of random match-ups. KOF2006 will do the trick if you want a quick battle against a friend, but in the final analysis, this seems like a case of "more is less". © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
In addition to the "advanced" and "extra" control schemes, you also get an "ultimate" option that lets you cherry pick features from each. The 64-character roster is the largest ever for a KOF game, so you're sure to find all of your old favorites including Terry Bogard (with trucker hat), Geese Howard, King, Blue Mary, Mai Shiranui, and Wolfgang Krauser.
I was never impressed with the quality of the stages in the original KOF98, but these 3D rendered versions look absolutely sensational. The Korean boat harbor in particular looks like an absolute paradise. The soundtrack has also been turbocharged, sounding more forceful and energetic.
Playing modes including arcade, practice, endless, and a challenge mode. High scores are automatically saved, along with various statistics based on characters usage and fighting systems. King of Fighters 98 Ultimate is a fine example of properly updating a classic title without sacrificing the gameplay that made it one. As icing on the cake, the original KOF98 is also included. This is all the King of Fighters action you need. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
I didn't think Maximum Impact could replicate the frenzied action and tight control the series is known for, but I was wrong. This is one of the most entertaining, intense one-on-one fighters I've played in years. In addition to maintaining the fast action of the 2D games, Maximum Impact's 3D graphics actually elevate the gameplay with new moves and superb camera angles. The characters look terrific, complete with the intriguing "bouncing boobs" feature SNK pioneered years ago (God bless them).
The game even features a few genuine innovations, most notably the new "guard gauge" that lets you break down your opponent's defenses if he blocks too much. The robust move list includes counters, "blow back" attacks, emergency evasions, fall breakers, spiral moves, and too many others to list. This is the type of game that's simple to play but could take an eternity to master. I was disappointed that the sidestep move is initiated via a shoulder button instead of the standard "double-tap" up or down, but I got used to it.
The 19-fighter roster includes 14 "classic" characters and five new fighters. SNK veterans will enjoy seeing their old favorites rendered in 3D, but novice players probably won't find these generic fighters particularly interesting, except of course for the voluptuous blonde assassin who is literally busting out all over (holy cow!). I made a point to play Maximum Impact with my friend Jonathan, a longtime SNK fanatic. I expected him to be somewhat critical, but his reaction was just the opposite. He thought the game was a refreshing change and far better than the past few 2D iterations.
We identified only two obvious flaws, one being the well rendered but incredibly unimaginative background scenery. From generic construction sites to the aptly named "packing area", there's not much to distract you from the fighting action. Also, the lame story mode only adds a brief introduction to each match by some freak that looks like the Joker. Still, Maximum Impact has it where it counts - in its terrific fighting engine. Clearly a success, will the new 3D King of Fighters supplant the venerable 2D series? © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
King of Fighters XI (KOFXI) is a functional 2D fighter, but it's certainly no better than KOF03, and feels like a step down in some regards. There are 47 characters - the most ever - but 14 of them are locked, and where's Mai? Apparently the new challenge mode lets you unlock characters, but man, that's just tedious! I was however glad to see Duck (of Fatal Fury fame) join the crew. You might think that the first KOF for the PS2 would try to be a little more accessible, but it's not.
In fact, both newbies and longtime fans are likely to find the move list daunting. I counted no less than 30 controls on the "basic move" list alone! It's getting out of hand! As in KOF03, you can freely swap out characters on your team, but now there are four ways to do this, and that's just excessive. Other completely unnecessary new features include a "dream cancel", "judgment indicator", and a "skill gauge". It's getting to the point where you need an engineering degree just to figure out how all of this stuff works.
In terms of graphics, the backgrounds are very sharp (almost painted) but the style is consistent with the older games. The designs however are uninspired and lacking in animation. Even the alleyway with hookers comes off as boring. Unlike the backdrops, the character graphics have not been upgraded, and compared to the sharp scenery they look downright pixelated.
The fighting action is fun but not exceptional. When you dispose of an opponent the next one appears in the same place, and you can use this to corner the new guy and apply some cheap early hits. As one of the weaker entries in the series, King of Fighters XI is long on characters and extraneous features but short on imagination. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
If SNK knew one thing, it was 2D fighters. Many of the characters may seem generic and derivative, but the well-tuned fighting engine is first-rate. The basic controls are simple enough (two punches, two kicks), but good technique is required to prevail. The characters are nicely detailed, but it's the layered backgrounds that steal the show with their imaginative locations and amusing animations. My favorites include the helicopter wreck in the Brazilian jungle, the smoky jazz club, and the ship docked in front of a glimmering city skyline at night. There's just so much to see you feel compelled to press pause just to gawk at the scenery.
These games are perfectly emulated as I can tell, right down to the SNK intro logo. Some features originally "locked out" in certain regions are turned on by default, including bouncing breasts and splashing blood. There's a few seconds of load time between matches, but nothing objectionable.
The buttons are configurable, but you really need a good joystick to do this game justice. The full move lists are available via the pause menu, and high scores can be saved to memory card. Since playing for high score is apparently not good enough anymore, SNK also included a "challenge mode" that lets you play matches under varying conditions, unlocking illustrations and music tracks as you go.
One feature I wish SNK had included was progressive scan mode, since PS2 games displayed at the default 480i exhibit a slight lag on my plasma TV. Finally, what's the deal with this "Orochi Saga" subtitle? Well, apparently King of Fighters 95 through 97 had some kind of overarching storyline about a secret power called "Orochi". Who knew? Better yet, who gives a [expletive]? You don't need a story to enjoy top-of-the-line fighting action like this. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
The main mode consists of a series of very short races against the clock or a rival trucker. You'll need to sit through plenty of boring intermissions and skip through a ton of silly dialogue as the game tries to convey a weak storyline about an evil gang of truckers. The stages tend to be very uninteresting with mediocre graphics to boot. The scenery lacks detail, and the tornadoes that were so awe-inspiring in the first game look like moving tree trunks here! Worst of all, the rival truckers are incredibly cheap, weaving like crazy and keeping up with you no matter how well you drive. Only by cutting them off or using a well-timed turbo can you defeat them.
Route 66 includes several other modes, but these are simply collections of mini-games, many of which take longer to load than to play. Some involve collecting tokens in a certain amount of time, which is incredibly tedious when you're driving an 18-Wheeler. The two-player split screen "race" is absolutely no fun at all. Route 66 is an uninspired game with mediocre gameplay, ludicrous AI, and excruciating load times. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
For starters, the first music heard in the game - KH's theme song - is a hit single from a hot Japanese pop singer, Utada Hikaru. Its plot managed to keep my attention throughout the whole game, with entertaining cameos from characters from both the Disney and Final Fantasy universes. The puzzles are challenging, and bosses are difficult.
The controls make for far and away the best action RPG system I've ever experienced, even though the game has elements of 3D platformers (which I generally don't enjoy - my depth perception sucks). Donald and Goofy are your teammates and are controlled by a customizable AI. You could also add other Disney characters to your party depending on the stage.
For a change of pace from the standard RPG action, they threw in a "Gummi" stage between chapters reminiscent of old-school space shooters. (You actually get to build your own ship!) Audio samples are crisp and clear, not to mention they got the entire Disney voice-acting staff to reprise their roles! Stage music is breathtaking on my surround sound system, and is perfect in its setting.
KH looks vibrant with fluid animation and rounded, crisp cel-shaded graphics (very impressive for the PS2). The programmers did a fantastic job of capturing the design of both FF and Disney characters. KH even featured pause-able (but not skip-able) cut-scenes. My favorite is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas - a cult favorite.
My only complaint is that the "super-secret" ending - a trailer for KH2 - was not worth the extra 15-20 hours I spent completing the required elements of the game. I would have also liked skip-able cutscenes in case you die while fighting a boss, then when you try again, you don't have to waste 3 minutes of your life on a video you've already seen. Overall, Kingdom Hearts is well worth the $19 and 50 hours I spent with it, and I fully recommend this game for platform and RPG enthusiasts. (Now patiently awaiting KH:Chain of Memories and KH2!) © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Although Klonoa's surroundings are fully 3D, his movements are in 2D, meaning he can only move on a predefined path. This works great and has been used in many other games (like Pandemonium on the PS1). The control is precise. Besides jumping to avoid creatures and collecting items, Klonoa can "grab" his foes and use them to perform special moves like double jumping, activating switches, or smashing walls.
The round, balloon-like adversaries reminded me of Kirby of Nintendo fame. Having to grab creatures all the time makes the game move at a slow, deliberate pace, but also allows for some innovative and thoughtful level designs. I think it was the Jungle Slide that really won me over. In it, you careen through tropical rapids and over huge waterfalls as you pursue Tat the cat. It's supremely fun and often breathtaking. The amusement park stage is also a winner, incorporating rides and attractions while fireworks paint the night sky.
The only real weakness of Klonoa 2 is its ultra-cute cut scenes. You know, I used to think video games were age neutral, but the dialogue here is infantile. The music and sound effects are so sugary sweet that they made my teeth hurt. Reading the slow-scrolling text while hearing Japanese children recite it was more than I could take. I started skipping these things just to maintain my sanity (and saved a LOT of time too!). All in all, if you like platform games, especially in the classic 2D style, Klonoa 2 is a good choice. It looks fantastic and provides highly satisfying gameplay. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
The storyline behind L.A. Rush was clearly inspired by the Fast and Furious films. It's a rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-back-to-riches tale infused with gangsta culture and rap music. You begin the game with no cash and gradually work your way up. The cut-scenes are punctuated with some curvy ladies and some unintentionally hilarious facial expressions. Most races involve moving between highlighted points on a map depicted by huge towers of light. It's cool because you can locate shortcuts and sneak through back alleys.
Sadly, L.A. Rush falters in the "fun" department. First off, there's way too much traffic. We're talking about bumper-to-bumper back-ups at traffic lights and 18-wheelers blocking entire intersections. Don't people play video games to escape reality?! The collision detection is so unforgiving that even clipping a guardrail will bring you to a dead stop. And those pesky police are everywhere! Maybe I'm going crazy, but I'm pretty sure I saw a pair of police cars literally fall out of the sky!
The violent, slow-motion collisions look great at first but they all look the same after a while. It's hard to accumulate cash so you end up entering the same races over and over. Technical glitches and rampant slowdown run amok in this game. The final insult occurred in the middle of a race when the game froze and prompted me to "please wait" as it loaded from disc. Seriously?!
The two-player split screen mode is better than I expected but although several tracks were available, only one car was unlocked out of the box. This game has plenty of content, but when it comes to fun, L.A. Rush is its own worst enemy. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.