Okami's characters and landscapes are rendered in an unusual Japanese style that combines several art styles including rough sketching, cell shading, and watercolor. As you banish evil from various locations, the land bursts forth with colorful flowers, rolling green hills, splashing waterfalls, and bright blue skies. The game's most innovative feature is your ability to "paint" the screen in order to battle enemies and solve puzzles. You'll paint suns, bridges, and bombs to achieve your goals, as well as slash monsters in half.
The concept is ingenious, but the analog stick makes for a clumsy drawing device, and most of my circles ended up looking like squares. If the game were not so forgiving in this regard, it would have been monumentally frustrating. Otherwise Okami's gameplay is not exceptional, consisting of the typical exploration, item collecting, mini-games, platform jumping, and hack-n-slash fighting. The controls are responsive, and I like how you wolf gradually picks up steam as he runs across long stretches.
Definitely on the easy side, the game actively "holds your hand" to keep you headed in the right direction. Okami's main fault is its excessive verbiage. The narrator and characters have a lot to say, and they tend to go on and on as you scroll through their endless, redundant text. Heck, you have to scroll through about a half hour's worth before you can even get started!
Gamers with short attention spans probably won't last long. In addition, I thought the number of attributes, tools, artifacts and other items was a bit excessive. For patient gamers who savor every moment of their adventures however, Okami can be a very fulfilling quest. It struggled to hold my attention at times, but in this day and age, a healthy dose of originality is worth celebrating. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
The traditional Japanese scenery (including some that appears Mortal Kombat-inspired) is gorgeous and nearly photo-realistic. The water effects are particularly impressive. Character outfits possess astonishing detail, and even the faces look realistic. A wide range of locales include a bright marketplace, mysterious haunted houses, and dark caverns. Since the scenery is pre-rendered, you can't adjust the camera on the fly, but that's okay because the game automatically switches views as you move.
This does present a problem during combat however, since the abruptly-changing angles affect the directional controls. You absorb souls of defeated foes for power (a la Soul Reaver) and consume herbs for health (a la Resident Evil). The exploration and combat is fun enough, but the item management aspect slows things down. A major part of the game involves presenting "gifts" to various characters in exchange for items and information, but this requires an awful lot of trial and error. Characters can have comical reactions to odd gifts like a chicken, love potion, and grilled fish.
Onimusha 2 provides a generous number of save points, which also allow you to enhance weapons and armor. Still, it's painfully easy to get stuck, and constantly respawning monsters ratchet up the frustration level. Another issue involves having to use the digital control instead of the analog stick to move. You either run or stop - there's no walking, which is disappointing. The voice acting is pretty bad, although dialogue like "My daughter has been taken by monsters!" doesn't help matters. Still, those who enjoyed the first Onimusha will find this good-looking sequel worthy of their attention. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
The game also features a series of puzzles which tend to be wildly uneven in difficulty. While most are reasonable, occasionally you'll come across one that's way over the top. Periodically you'll team up with a female partner (a real hottie, by the way), and join forces to overcome obstacles.
Onimusha Warlords is remarkable in several ways. The game's awesome cinematic introduction blurs the line between video game and movie, depicting an epic battle between two massive ancient armies. There's quite a bit of gore, but the sheer artistry and brilliant musical score elevates it well above your standard full motion video (FMV) fare. In fact, the sequence looks so good that once you start playing the actual game, it's almost disappointing. There's NO analog control, so you're either running or standing still, and the abrupt movements don't look good.
The rest of the controls are better, including a block and a handy 180-degree turn move. When fighting, your warrior always turns and swings at the nearest enemy (thankfully). The graphics are outstanding, with life-like character faces and gorgeous scenery. In fact, I sometimes found myself pausing play just to marvel at the surroundings. The backgrounds are pre-rendered, which means they look super detailed but aren't very interactive, and you can't adjust the camera angle. All in all, Onimusha is a quality title for who prefer a good dose of action in their adventures. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
In the original Outrun arcade game (1986) you drove a red convertible through a branching course while trying to beat the clock. Outrun 2006 stays true to the formula, and the eye candy is off the hook. You'll cruise the hills of San Francisco, the resorts of Palm Beach, the towering Niagara Falls, and majestic Mayan ruins. The sense of velocity is first-rate, and the steep, winding roads make the game feel like a virtual roller coaster ride. It's almost as fun to watch as it is to play!
The responsive controls provide excellent handling and let you perform power-slides with ease. Outrun 2006 has a progressive scan option, and I highly recommend it. The visuals look much sharper than the Xbox version of Coast to Coast, with bold colors that leap off the screen. I prefer the classic "arcade mode", but the "coast to coast" mode does add replay value with its diverse set of challenges which include slamming into cars or avoiding UFOs.
My biggest beef with Outrun 2006 is its lack of split-screen action - multiplayer is on-line only! Also, it's way too hard to crack that high score screen, which is dominated by some guy named "Sega". Despite these oversights Coast to Coast is one truly spectacular game that manages to put the fun back into racing. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Initially I had held out some hope for this game. Unlike the first Pirates of the Caribbean (Xbox, 2003) game, this is easy to play and correctly places the emphasis on action. The problem is, its familiar hack-n-slash gameplay has already been done far better in countless other titles including Onimusha, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates - Legend of Black Kat.
As you hack your way through a series of confined areas, you'll have to deal with hordes of regenerating clones that spawn out of thin air. The controls can be frustratingly unresponsive, and certain stretches of the game are terribly monotonous. The one feature I did enjoy was the ability to break wooden platforms, bringing enemies camped out on top of them tumbling down.
In terms of graphics, there's not much to see and the animation looks choppy. By the time you reach the Shinobi-style Asian stages (not sure why they're even in this game), Legend teeters precariously between boring and unbearable. Instead of following the movie's storyline, the game unwisely follows its own plot, which is all over the place.
Two-player cooperative action is supported, and you can play as Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turning, or Elizabeth Swan. The main strength of the game is its audio. Johnny Depp lent his voice to Captain Jack, and the musical score is quite good. Bethesda really needs to call in the VGC as a consultant however, because this game is riddled with design flaws. When you open a treasure chest, the loot inside silently fades away, leaving you wondering what the heck just happened. Did I just get something or not?
The "save game" screen offers two options: "continue" and "quit". Huh? Granted, it saves your game in both cases, but that's not intuitive at all. When you load your previous game, it doesn't even take you back to where you left off! Instead you need to navigate a map to locate your previous spot! After a while you get the impression that no one at Bethesda has ever played a video game before; they thought they were inventing the first one! Gamers with super low expectations or clueless magazines might approve of this, but hardcore gamers will see right through it. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Not only is each area multi-level and mazelike, but the 2D map is worthless, and you're often forced to backtrack extensively. Attempts to move blocks or open doors trigger messages like "You are unable to move this at the moment" or "This seems protected by some mysterious force". Equally irritating is the manner in which enemies tend to constantly regenerate out of thin air.
Black Buccaneer's graphics aren't bad, but they aren't great either. The lush jungle scenery looks inviting from a distance, but is claustrophobic and fake up close. Decent music and exotic sound effects make up the audio track. Buccaneer's gameplay involves a good deal of boss and monkey fighting, but it's primarily about platform jumping and puzzle solving of the hackneyed switch-pulling/block-pushing variety. The jumping controls are forgiving, but your pirate tends to hang onto every ledge, which is irritating when you just want him to drop down! I like the idea of using cannons to blast open doors, but this concept is overused in the game.
The ability to transform into the hulk-like Black Buccaneer doesn't add much either. And just when you think you're starting to make progress in the game, you'll encounter an invincible monkey or fall through an unseen trapdoor onto a bed of spikes. Legend of Black Buccaneer doesn't make much sense, and its arbitrary rules and frustrating stages are enough to make you celebrate a quick death! © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
You won't find any block pushing or memory puzzles here, thank goodness. Instead, prepare yourself for exciting swordplay, island exploration, and impressive sea battles. Even treasure hunting is fun, as the controller actually vibrates when a buried chest is detected nearby.
Most of the action takes place in the open sea or wide-open land areas, so the camera angle is rarely an issue. The sea battles look awesome, with massive explosions and flying chunks of burning wood. Unfortunately, when a ship is destroyed, it explodes instead of sinking, which is somewhat disappointing. The ship battles can also be played in the two-player mode, but these are less exciting.
Legend's graphics are only fair, with rigid character models, flat landscapes, and water that looks artificial, especially up close. The audio, on the other hand, is quite rich, with creaking boat hulls, booming cannons, exotic nature sounds, and even traditional pirate music. If you're looking for an action-packed adventure with a pirate theme, you can't go wrong with Legend of Black Kat. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Prince of Persia feels like the most perfectly programmed mediocre game there ever was. What's the deal with critics who claimed this was revolutionary? Haven't they ever heard of Tomb Raider? I've played my share of adventure games, and Sands of Time gave me the worst case of deja vu ever. Basically you navigate an endless series of huge rooms loaded with platforms to jump between, poles to swing on, traps to dodge, and ledges to hang on to. It's like a compilation of the most tedious parts of every platform game you've ever played. As in Tomb Raider, when you enter an expansive new area the camera pans around to highlight locations and items of interest. But unlike that classic, Sands of Time offers little pay off.
The fighting element has its share of problems as well. The sword-to-sword combat looks impressive but is mainly automatic as you tap buttons on the controller. It's irritating how monsters can disappear and reappear directly in your path, and your prince always turns to face them, even when you're attempting to run. I also hate how you're forced to "suck up" the souls of slain monsters using your magical dagger (a la Soul Reaver) before they can come back to life. Lucky for us, the remaining monsters usually stand around like dorks, considerately giving you a few seconds to perform your fancy little dagger move.
Prince of Persia's graphics have a slightly cartoonish quality reminiscent of Beyond Good and Evil (yet another overrated Ubisoft title!). The scenery is certainly attractive but repetitive as all hell. I can't count the number times I asked myself, "Wasn't I just in this room?" The crisp sound effects are top notch, from the alarming sound of crumbling rock to the pitter-patter of light footsteps. The voice acting is very good, and the music has an appropriate middle-eastern influence.
Sands of Time offers two features worth mentioning: the ability to run along walls and control time. The time control mechanism adds a strategic element, but it's hardly a revolutionary idea (Blinx for the Xbox comes to mind). The controls are exceptionally forgiving, especially with the "time rewind" feature that lets you repeat ill fated leaps. Ubisoft clearly employs competent programmers, but their efforts are largely wasted with this. On a final note, I've noticed that certain magazine editors have been critical of the gaming public for the tepid sales of this game and its successor. I think that just validates this review. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, GameSpot, Moby Games, YouTube, Video Games Museum