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

Nintendo Switch Reviews A-C

Grade: D-
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Posted: 2017/5/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNobody likes this game! My friends just shake their heads whenever I put it in. Chris took one look at the full-motion video and asked if it was a CD-i game. My wife wanted to know if I paid money for this. 1-2-Switch is mainly a showcase for the new Joy-Con controllers. These tiny overpriced controllers ($50 each!) are basically miniature Wiimotes, complete with the "be mindful of your surroundings" warnings. Despite their size the Joy-Cons are jam-packed with functionality, housing a microphone, camera, sophisticated rumble feedback, an accelerometer, and gyroscope for motion tracking.

1-2-Switch bundles up 28 mini-games, some of which are so trivial you'll be amazed they made the cut. All are two-player only, and most instruct you to look your opponent in the eye, which I found awkward. The action is largely driven by sound cues and force feedback. In fact, a blind person could play this! Some games test your reflexes, like the Wild West shootout and a phone-answering contest. Zen challenges you to remain perfectly still, detecting even your slightest movements. Ball Count simulates a number of balls rolling around in the controller and it's pretty neat. Some of the more elaborate motion games like runway model and air guitar are probably more entertaining if the players have been drinking... a lot.

Some of the more offbeat games incorporate shaving, eating, and milking a cow. Signal Flag and Sword Fight are too confusing to be fun, although you could argue that none of these are particularly fun. A few, like Dice Roll and Soda Shake, barely qualify as a game. To its credit, 1-2-Switch boasts slick production values, bright color schemes, and enthusiastic actors. Judging from the tutorial videos alone you'd expect every game to be a complete riot. Most critics have written off 1-2-Switch as a glorified tech demo that should have been shipped with the system. They aren't wrong. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Posted: 2017/8/10
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotArms is Punch-Out!! (NES, 1987) for the 90s! I mean 2000's! Whatever! This high energy, one-on-one slugfest features fighters with long, coily arms. Not only can you throw punches from a distance, but you can guide your fists toward your opponent. The stylish presentation boasts bright visuals and a spirited vocal chorus. It occurred to me that Arms has one element you rarely see in modern video games, and that's a catchy soundtrack! It'll have you cranking up the volume and humming right along.

The colorful cast includes ninja dudes, chicks with taffy hair, a hulking mummy, a robot, and a Gumby-like character. You outfit your fighter with a variety of arms (hands really) equipped with gadgets like shields, missiles, or saws. The arenas range from a laboratory to a dance club to the steps of a Japanese temple. In addition to throwing punches you can dash, jump, and block. Naturally there's a special move that lets you go buck-wild with a crazy barrage.

I found the screen layout confusing. Your opponent's health meter only appears intermittently, often in the distance. The game is surprisingly playable with the Joy-Con motion controls. It's satisfying to land a combo or catch a dodging enemy in the side of the head. Unfortunately, configuring the Joy-Cons as individual controllers is pain, so my friends and I normally just stick to the standard controller configuration. Either way, the game will make you work up a sweat.

In addition to best-of-three matches there are basketball, volleyball, and target-punching mini-games. I guess the main problem with Arms is that it doesn't have legs. Competing against a friend is fun, but there's little incentive to play solo, outside of earning credits to unlock new arms. Still, I have to give Arms credit for its refreshing arcade-style gameplay with originality to burn. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari Interactive (2022)
Posted: 2023/2/23
Rating: Teen

VCTR SECTR I've been skeptical of the latest company calling themselves Atari which seemed to serve no other purpose other than to cash in on its legacy. But this elegant, thoughtfully-crafted 50-year tribute made me think otherwise. I sat down with this one Saturday morning and by the time I was done, it was dark outside!

Atari 50 lets you freely explore several branching historic timelines dating back to 1971. Their four topics are arcade origins, the Atari 2600, the Atari computers, and the 1990s. Each is jam-packed with fun quotes, interviews, commercials, artwork, design notes, and promotional materials. The polished interface with its relaxing music is so effortless to peruse, the hours just melt away.

For the interviews they brought in some big guns from Atari's heyday of the late 70s through early 80s. Legends like Al Alcorn, Gary Kitchen, David Crane, and Tod Frye provide fascinating, passionate insight. Eugene Jarvis is hilarious as usual, and the great Howard Scott Warshaw (of ET fame) strikes me as perhaps the most gracious figure in video game history. The interviews are surprisingly frank with topics like "Did they do drugs at Atari?" and "5200: An Atari Tragedy".

I learned so much while pouring through all of this information. Did you know Atari nearly released a hologram handheld in 1981? Did you know all Atari 2600 games are required to run at 60 frames per second? You may be surprised to learn that many classic Atari games were designed or programmed by women. In the Combat section of the timeline you can view the game's entire source code on one screen, and it's so compact you won't believe it.

The timelines have the added bonus of incorporating the actual games, allowing you to immediately experience what you just read about. This provides much-needed context, giving the player a whole new appreciation. The massive selection includes 25 arcade, 40 Atari 2600, four Atari 5200, seven Atari 7800, six Lynx, five Atari XE, and nine Jaguar games. Many of these are previously available on other collections, but the sheer breadth of content here is staggering.

Never-before-released arcade games include the incomprehensible arcade game Akka Arrh and the uniquely non-violent Quantum where you lasso flying stars. Airworld for the Atari 2600 serves as the long-awaited conclusion to the Earthquest series, and Yars' Revenge Enhanced gives the classic a flashy new "skin" with pulsating music. I especially appreciate how they included Bounty Bob Strikes Back for the Atari 5200 - a rare cartridge few can afford in real life.

Atari 50 also includes several new "reimagined" games that are surprisingly strong. Haunted Houses faithfully resurrects the same vintage gameplay using Minecraft-style graphics, and VCTR SCTR (Vector Sector) feels like every classic Atari vector game rolled up in one! Quadratank is a thrilling four player update to Combat's Tank Pong.

My main complaint is how certain games with analog controls (like Warlords) aren't well adapted to modern controllers. Could they have included more games? Maybe, but you have to remember most Atari 5200 and Jaguar games employed a numeric keypad to some degree. But I don't think you'll be complaining about a lack of content. Atari 50 is electric chicken soup that is sure to nourish your soul. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Atari Flashback Classics
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (2018)
Posted: 2020/5/26
Rating: Everyone

screenshotCombining the three previously-released volumes of Atari Flashback Classics, this massive 150-game compilation would seem to be a tremendous value. You get 32 arcade games, 102 Atari 2600 games, and 16 Atari 5200 titles. The arcade selection includes all-time greats like Centipede, Tempest, Asteroids, and Missile Command. Digging deep into its archive, Atari also unearthed ancient black-and-white arcade titles like Avalanche, Destroyer, Basketball, and Fire Truck. They look sharp but their audio is the true revelation. That bonus beep in Asteroids Deluxe sounds like it's coming from another dimension!

The console selection includes some legitimate classics (Adventure, Warlords, Video Pinball, Yars' Revenge) but there's plenty of filler like Hangman, Stellar Track, and Basic Math. Several homebrews are also included like Yars' Return, Wizard, and Adventure II. M-Network titles like Armor Ambush and Frogs and Flies are great third-party additions, but the lack of Activision and Imagic games is glaring. They produced some of the best titles for the system! And where are Defender, Phoenix, Galaxian, Jungle Hunt, and Pac-Man? Apparently they were only licensed by Atari for their consoles.

It's neat how you can bring up a virtual Atari 2600 dashboard and flip its switches. To determine which variation you want, you can peruse digitized manuals and they even included the comic books for the Swordquest titles. My main issue is regarding the controls. Most of the arcade games and even some of the console titles required special controllers like paddles or trackballs. An analog stick is a marginal substitute. It feels more touchy than precise, even when you dial down the sensitivity. Certain games work fine with the thumbstick (Black Widow and Night Driver) while others don't respond at all (Red Baron and Race).

The Atari 5200 keypad emulation is comically bad. It ruins Realsports Baseball, which also suffers from visual glitches and off-key sound. The Flashback menu interface is poor in general, requiring you to begin a new game before you can return to the main menu. Local high scores are saved for the arcade games but not the console titles. Atari Flashback Classics may contain a treasure trove of classic material, but it feels like a case of quantity over quality. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Axiom Verge
Grade: A
Publisher: Badlands Games (2017)
Posted: 2018/4/7
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotI tend to hop from one game to the next but Axiom Verge became an instant obsession. I still can't get over how finely-crafted and inventive this sci-fi platformer is. Though clearly inspired by Metroid, Axiom Verge manages to out-Metroid every Metroid game ever made. Its gorgeously-pixelated 16-bit graphics employ limited color schemes for dramatic effect with stages composed of granular blocks. Its superb 2D gameplay is enhanced by a mind-bending story and pulse-pounding musical score.

The environments feature a lot of familiar elements like steam vents, rolling boulders, and toxic pools, but don't let that fool you. The creativity in this game is off the charts, with monsters, items, and weapons like you've never imagined. Case in point is the "address disruptor" gun which actually allows you to create graphical glitches in the game for your own benefit!

And once you think you have Axiom Verge figured out, you're just getting started. Like a good Zelda adventure once you acquire a new ability you'll want to comb over old locations to make new discoveries. Backtracking has never been so satisfying. A handy map is at your fingertips and the save points are perfectly placed.

The audio is striking, from the crisp tapping of your drone scurrying around to the Defender-like electronic noise when you find a new weapon. Static in the music adds to the atmosphere of isolation, but some people might wonder if there's something wrong with their sound system.

Axiom Verge was developed over five years by a single man. And when you consider Tom Happ even created its otherworldly soundtrack, this is an astounding accomplishment. My one complaint has more to do with the Nintendo Switch controller. A game like this demands a directional pad which you won't find on a Joycon. Double-tapping is so awkward I found myself accidentally changing weapons! Once I switched to a Pro Controller, it was like night and day. Axiom Verge isn't a Metroid clone - it's a Metroid killer! This is one of the best games I've ever played - hands down. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Battle Axe
Grade: B-
Publisher: Numskull Games (2021)
Posted: 2021/8/29
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, fantasy violence)

screenshotBattle Axe harkens back to the old sprite-based hack-n-slash classics like Gauntlet (NES, 1987), Golden Axe (Genesis, 1989), and Dungeons and Dragons Collection (Saturn, 1999). The controls feel outstanding as you rapidly hurl knives and wildly slash at trolls, skeletons, and plump flying insects. This is pure pick-up-and-play fun.

The destruction quotient is commendable. Creatures burst into meaty chunks, expelling gems and gold coins in their wake. It's satisfying to see point values light up the screen. Portals explode into mushroom clouds and wooden towers come crashing down in a heap. I do however wish you could aim more precisely using the analog stick instead of being limited to the eight basic directions.

The two player co-op is awesome but you only get a choice of three characters - a dark elf, an oversized dwarf, and a hobbit that lashes out with his beard. The game is played from a tilted overhead view, and while you can move freely, the elevated platforms tend to be fairly linear in design. Along the way you'll save helpless people (named after the designers no doubt) while avoiding occasional spear, flame, and bear traps.

The 16-bit style graphics are absolutely gorgeous but the voices sound more hip ("see ya!") than medieval, and that's kind of a turn-off. The stages are cookie-cutter to the max, although there are fun details like blowing leaves and occasional raindrops. The synthesized music is terrific and a perfect match for the action.

There are special items and power-ups but these are too rare to play a significant role. If you hear that classic line "needs food badly", you're pretty much a goner. And why is it that no matter how well I do, my end-of-stage rating is always an E? Am I missing something?

Despite its rinse-and-repeat style Battle Axe is endlessly playable. Heck even my wife likes this. The high score screen looks incredible but why not allow the players to enter their initials? The only skill levels available are easy and hard. Stuff like this really bothers me. Battle Axe offers some of the best hack-n-slash/shooting action I've experienced in years, yet doesn't come close to reaching its full potential. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: easy
Our high score: 262,420
1 or 2 players 

Blade Strangers
Grade: D+
Publisher: Nicalis (2018)
Posted: 2019/11/19
Rating: Teen (mild blood, mild language, partial nudity, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis one-on-one fighter really does live up to its name. Who the hell are these people?! According to its NES-style instruction manual most hail from Cave Story and something called "Code of Princess X". I did recognize Shovel Knight and that Isaac dude at least. Blade Strangers kicks off with an exuberant, feel-good vocal animated intro. Its 2D characters are large and detailed but their grainy edges suggest the screen resolution isn't high enough.

The warriors hail from ancient times all the way through the future, and there are a few legitimate hotties. Most are armed with a weapon like a sword, knife, gun, or... backpack? There's no blood, even when a girl is kneeling over an opponent and stabbing him repeatedly with a knife! One chick rides on the back of her enormous cat who does most of the fighting with his claws. When someone takes a hit the screen warps a bit like there's a sudden tear in the space-time continuum.

The controls are pretty standard, with plenty of combos and counters. Expect some really over-the-top moves, like getting smacked into the stratosphere with a baseball bat. I like how using the same attack over and over results in a repetition penalty. That said, button mashing can get you pretty far, and once I cornered my opponent they usually had no chance. The voices are all Japanese, giving the game some street cred. The stages tend to be bland and uninteresting, including a space station, clock tower, and empty basement. Even the Halloween-themed "Lich Yard" is lacking in detail.

After beating arcade mode on my first attempt I gave the story mode a try. It featured a bunch of computers having funny conversations about bringing fighters back from throughout time to battle. Wouldn't you know I beat that on my first try too? The survival mode might be a challenge if you set it too hard, but by then I felt like I'd seen just about all the game had to offer. Unless you have a vested interest in these obscure characters Blade Strangers feels like generic, disposable fighting fare. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Bloodrayne: Betrayal - Fresh Bites
Grade: D
Publisher: Ziggurat Interactive (2021)
Posted: 2022/10/18
Rating: Teen

screenshotThe original Bloodrayne (GameCube, 2002) was a stylish, 3D hack-n-slasher. Set in the bayous of Louisiana, it starred an red-headed vampire vixen named Rayne with blades on her arms. After a lackluster sequel the series lay dormant for a decade or so until this 2D incarnation emerged. It bummed me out when it was download-only, but eventually Bloodrayne: Betrayal eventually found its way to physical media.

Betrayal borrows heavily from Castlevania with its gothic visuals and momentous orchestrated music. The graphics have a hand-drawn, cell-shaded quality with bold colors - particularly red (go figure)! The brooding atmosphere is fine but it's hard to tell the foreground from the background. The camera zooms in on characters when it can, as the visuals remain razor-sharp.

The combat system is designed to let you easily handle enemies on both sides. You can quickly dish out slashes and there are a limited number of gunshots as well. It's pretty fun to shoot through five guys at the same time. You can also suck the blood of a stunned enemy to replenish your health.

It all sounds great but disappointment sets in from the outset. The first stage rapidly flashes move instructions but there are too many guys dropped into your lap to properly digest it all. Worst yet there are patches of this green, poisonous fog that burn your skin. It's really hard to see - and harder to avoid. Somebody thought this was a good idea?

The fighting can be awkward. Whenever you want to remain in one spot, Rayne shifts. When you're trying to move, she remains in place. Regenerating enemies are bad enough, but when a red portal just continuously drops one after the other, it's just irritating.

Once you get the hang of combat there's a myriad of traps to deal with. In chapter four you'll deal with converging circular saws, cannons, and missiles - all at the same time! It's like the final level of a Mario game for crying out loud.

There are some cool moves like kicking your enemies into whirling blades. Most are difficult to execute however, especially in the heat of battle. I hate how you can't duck unless you perform a low kick. Bloodrayne: Betrayal is not easy to play, and Rayne isn't even sexy. Maybe this deserved download-only status after all. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Grade: B-
Publisher: Inti Creates (2018)
Posted: 2019/10/29
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotCurse of the Moon is one of two recently-released Bloodstained titles, so try not to get them confused. Curse is an NES-style Castlevania throwback with charming pixelated graphics, old-school platform gameplay, and reverberating minor-key music. For those with fond memories of the original Castlevania (NES, 1987), Curse of the Moon fits like an old shoe.

Its graphics are understated but artistic, with layered scenery that's easy on the eyes. The opening scene features a dark forest silhouette over the night sky, with a ghostly blue locomotive chugging in the background. The monochromatic characters and monsters are rendered with thick outlines and frankly it's hard to tell what some of them are supposed to be. The animations are engaging however, with decrepit skeletons pointing the way and the scuttling rats that periodically hunch up to look around.

The controls are so simple you can even navigate stairs with ease. You begin play as a swordsman but new characters soon join your party which you can toggle between on the fly. They include a wizard, a lady with a whip, and a vampire dude that transforms into a bat. I love how each has special attacks perfectly suited to particular enemies. When a character dies you still have the rest of the crew to fall back on. On the downside, there are certain areas that are awkward, if not impossible to complete if you don't have access to the right character.

The bosses are great, including a skeletal giant composed entirely of gold coins. The old-school gameplay does afford a few old-school headaches. The controls feel stiff and taking a hit will often knock you backward into an abyss. If the challenge is too much you can switch to the easy mode at any time. The game offers automatic saving, unlimited continues, and even a score. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is an enjoyable love letter to all the gothic platformers of yore. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Grade: B+
Publisher: 505 Games (2019)
Posted: 2019/10/29
Rating: Teen (blood, partial nudity, violence)

screenshotBloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a modern Castlevania-style platformer unlike Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch, 2018) which delivered retro-style Castlevania action. Ritual boasts high-resolution anime characters, lush environments, and excellent 2.5D platform gameplay with heavy RPG elements. I love the look of this game. Its foggy courtyards, exquisite castle architecture, and omnipresent full moon convey a cozy, gothic atmosphere.

Playing as the attractive female warrior Miriam you navigate platforms while slaying squid monsters, werewolves, and towering knights. Some of the weirder enemies include flying pigs, fluttering fairies, demonic bunnies, rolling balls-o-death, and animated portraits (of the programmers, no doubt). Your adventure begins on a rickety pirate ship in stormy seas, and if you think the water running down the hull of the ship looks amazing, wait until you see the colossal mermaid with her tremendous rack.

There's a wide selection of weapons to choose from including guns! Ritual of the Night is also one of the few games where being impaled by a giant glass shard is a good thing. Shards imbue you with magical powers like weilding fire, summoning demons, or materializing a huge boney hand to remove heavy obstacles. There are so many magical attacks in this game it's kind of overwhelming. I prefer to stick with my fully-powered "bone throw".

A "familiar" shard gave me a floating silver knight companion, but boy he is one worthless sack of [expletive]. Beating up enemies is satisfying however and I love the numeric damage displayed for every hit. Inventory management is easy enough and it's satisfying to equip a new item that pumps up your stats. Even the crafting process is relatively painless as the game lets you know what you can create based on your inventory.

The stages are complex mazes but a handy map on the top-right lets you know where you haven't been. Ritual of the Night looks amazing but there are a few technical flaws. It's disconcerting how the screen "blacks out" for varying periods of time while moving between floors. Worse yet, the game actually crashed on me twice ("software was closed due to an error"). Fortunately save rooms are so frequent I didn't lose much progress. I've failed games for less, but Ritual of the Night is just too much fun. This is one I looked forward to playing every night. It was like a ritual! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends
Grade: D+

screenshotThe original Bubble Bobble (NES, 1988) was a classic platformer starring one or two pudgy little dinosaurs. An arcade romp with no rhyme or reason, you blew bubbles to trap foes and popped them to produce fruit bonuses. The game was addictively fun whether played solo or with a friend. Sadly, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends fails to capture the essence of the original.

The primary mode "challenges" (and I use the word lightly) one to four players. Each screen-sized stage sports an uninteresting kids' room theme, and the graphics are so sugary sweet it hurts. You'll face little resistance as you methodically clear out animated tanks, cannons, and Lego bricks. Upon completion dozens of high-value fruit and confections flood the screen.

Not only do I feel undeserving of 40k-point donuts, but the game gives you so much time to gather them up it starts to feel like a chore! It takes forever for any challenge to kick in and the selectable power-ups are confusing. Before long you'll want to run out of lives. The carnival-style background music is nauseating.

You'd expect multiplayer to be the main selling point for a game with "4 Friends" in the title but there's no competitive element. Teaming up to clear a screen is boring and you even share the same score! Bubble Bobble 4 Friends might be considered the "participation trophy" of video games.

This game does have one ace in the hole however, and that's Bubble Bobble Classic Arcade. This mode presents the original 1986 arcade game in all its pixelated glory. Tuned to perfection, the game offers seemingly endless series of imaginative stages. I played head-to-head with Brad and had a blast competing for high score. Classic mode not only redeems the entire cartridge but reminds you why people like Bubble Bobble in the first place. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: classic
Our high score: 142,500
1 to 4 players 

BurgerTime Party
Grade: D
Publisher: XSeed (2019)
Posted: 2021/7/1

screenshotIt's hard for me to put my finger on what's wrong with BurgerTime Party. It retains the same gameplay and whimsical graphic style of the 1982 arcade hit, but with an endless supply of screens and support for up to four players. So why am I not having a good time?

If you're not familiar with the original BurgerTime (Colecovision, 1984), the idea is to navigate a little chef over a series of platforms while avoiding wandering hot dogs, eggs, and pickles. Walking across buns and patties causes them to drop down to form burgers below. Sandwiching foes between dropping layers nets you bonus points, and you also have a limited supply of pepper to freeze enemies. The original game was extremely difficult as you had to strategically maneuver to avoid getting trapped.

Like too many modern remakes BurgerTime Party lacks intensity, piling on the lives, pepper, and a lot of unnecessary new power-ups. The solo mode is so easy it comes across as a braindead tutorial. The selling point of any "party" game is its multiplayer modes, so why are they locked from the outset? And for a game that requires precision control, the lack of digital pad support is unforgivable.

The only mode I found moderately fun allows four players to compete at the same time on expansive screens of sprawling platforms. Still, it's hard to keep track of what's going on with so many characters milling around, especially when the camera is pulled way back. Your initial placement on the screen is critical but out of your control. At the end of each stage a winner is declared but it's not clear what criteria is used to determine that (it's not score).

My friends thought this was okay, but clearly BurgerTime wasn't meant to be a party game. It requires a certain degree of strategy that basically goes out the window when three other players are causing chaos. I'm all for reintroducing a long-dormant franchise to a new generation, but this watered-down version has "participation trophy" written all over it. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Cannon Dancer
Grade: B-
Publisher: United Games (2023)
Posted: 2024/3/1
Rating: Teen

screenshotSo... what the [expletive] is a cannon dancer? Maybe it's Japanese for bad translation! This 1996 arcade game was critically-acclaimed in its time but little-known outside of Japan. Now we can all experience this lost gem. The cart also includes the American version called Osman, not to be confused with Donny Osmond. Both games are essentially the same as far as I can tell.

I'm glad Limited Run resurrected this obscure title on physical media. As the unofficial sequel to Strider (Genesis, 1989), Cannon Dancer is a fantastic, ninja-riffic romp. Starting a game can be a challenge however. It turns out you need to press the left thumbstick in. Wait - WHAT?!

Cannon Dancer's eye candy is so off-the-charts it might just blow your mind. The sparkling exotic skylines look spectacular and everything you kick explodes like a fireworks display. I don't know how many colors are used in this game but I'm guessing all of them. The characters are large and some of the bosses are beyond description. One is a giant female deity balancing a Cadillac on her back. And you should see the weird ones!

Cannon Dancer is super easy to play. Our hero can not only slash rapidly but grabs onto anything. He can climb up the side of buildings and even underneath structures arm over arm. When you strike enemies it looks like you're knocking their skin off! The controls are responsive and forgiving.

The graphics do get a little busy at times, especially when you pick up a certain power-up that will have you seeing double. In situations where you do find yourself surrounded, you can initiate a special attack that causes you to dash around the screen, dealing major damage to everything in sight. Use it to make short work of bosses.

The stages run the gamut from a submarine to a desert to vertigo-inducing heights. The music has a jazzy quality that calls to mind David Bowie's "Let's Dance". But what makes this game special is its surreal imagery. I don't know if it's best described as a dream or nightmare, but it reminds me of a 2D Bayonetta (Xbox 360, 2010).

The standard mode allows for rewinds and cheats, but the challenge mode forces you to play under a strict set of conditions, adding some replay value. You can save states (including high scores) and I like how each continue tacks a point to the end of your score.

Old games are tricky to grade on a modern system. While I love the increbible visuals and pick-up-and-play action, Cannon Dancer is a pretty short romp. I guess the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long! Still, collectors of rare antiquities are sure to cherish this long-lost artifact. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Capcom Belt Action Collection
Grade: B-

screenshotYou don't see many 2D side-scrolling beat-em-ups nowadays but they were big in the 1990's. This awkwardly-titled import offers seven arcade games from the era including Final Fight, King of Dragons, Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, Warriors of Fate, Armored Warriors, and Battle Circuit. Despite being a fan of the genre, I had never even heard of some of these!

Final Fight is a classic brawler where you punch and kick your way through the mean streets of "crime capital" Metro City. Any fighting game that lets you shatter a phonebooth with one punch has got to be good. Like the other titles, only two buttons are used yet there's still a wide range of moves. Final Fight's vibrant city skyline is a feast for the eyes although more variety in the thug department might have been nice. The game is great for coop and the ending is well worth the effort.

Captain Commando is like a futuristic Final Fight with post-apocalyptic scenery and mechs you can commandeer. In the medieval world of King of Dragons you employ might and magic to battle orcs, minotaurs, and dragons (duh). Knights of the Round is more sword-oriented, with gorgeous countrysides, classy renaissance music, and RPG elements. In Warriors of Fate you do battle on horses but I found it mediocre.

Armored Warriors is a futuristic fighter with hulking mechs like the film Pacific Rim. The sprites definitely push the envelope with behemoths that fill the screen. Battle Circuit is a downright weird futuristic romp with aliens and mutants in a tawdry, reality-show setting. One of the bosses is actually an Elvis impersonator.

All games are configurable but only three let you adjust the continues. The others are on "free play" which removes any tension and undermines the high score system. I'd recommend lowering the difficulty, cranking up the lives, and forgoing any continues. My friends clocked a lot of time with Capcom Belt Action Collection, especially since most games support up to three players. Not all are gems but collectors will appreciate owning these on physical media. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 3 players 

Castlevania: Anniversary Collection
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2021)
Posted: 2022/11/6
Rating: Teen

screenshotCastlevania: Anniversary Collection is a fine way to get up to speed with the franchise or revisit its gothic glory. It includes the original NES Castlevania trilogy (1987-1990), providing quality 8-bit platforming mayhem with a macabre edge. You also get two 16-bit titles from the Genesis and SNES. Rounding things out are a pair of Game Boy entries, along with a bonus Japanese-only NES release called Kid Dracula (1990).

The HD upgrade gives the original trilogy a dramatic facelift with colors that really pop. Still, I prefer the scanline filter option to soften the edges. The emulation is fine, although I detected some audio imperfections with the original Castlevania. In general the music is slightly less full compared to the NES cart, and the controls slightly less tight. I know because my friend Chris and I played them side-by-side.

Super Castlevania IV was one of the original titles for the SNES, boasting nifty rotation effects and the ability to whip in any direction. But Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Genesis is the true revelation. If you don't remember it looking this good, that's because it never did. The Genesis video signal was always a bit fuzzy. Now Bloodlines is not only drop-dead gorgeous, but also the most playable game in this collection.

Next up is a pair of Game Boy (read: black and white) games. In Castlevania Adventure you're ascending some kind of mountain graveyard whipping rolling eyeballs. It's slow and unresponsive. Belmont's Revenge on the other hand plays like a dream. Instead of going the RPG route like the NES sequel, this is a straight-up platformer with selectable stages.

Wrapping things up is the oddball of the bunch, Kid Dracula. This cartoonish take on the Castlevania formula features a white-haired vampire brat fighting Frankenstein monsters, kung-fu dogs, knights, and other random enemies. Cute minigames and the ability to rapidly fire shots keep the fun factor above water, if just barely.

Bonus materials come in the form of a "digital book" offering 80 pages of box art, instructions, history, and discussion. But it's time to address the elephant in the room. What happened to the two Dracula X games, including the critically-acclaimed Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (T16, 1993)? I hate to rain on the parade, but to me this collection feels strangely incomplete. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Cotton Reboot!
Grade: B
Publisher: Beep Games (2021)
Posted: 2021/10/13
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotFor longtime 2D shooter fans, the Cotton shoot-em-up series is the stuff of legend. Originating in Japan back in 1991, this quirky side-scroller is bursting with spooky Halloween imagery and zany anime elements. Its fun rapid-fire shooting action is punctuated by blinding explosions, crazy combos, sexy fairies, and random, bizarre enemies.

The original game is included, starring a cute witch on a broom. The Halloween themes shine through with dilapidated graveyards, haunted houses, and spooky villages. A huge variety of enemies includes flying eyeballs, spear-tossing blue devils, and head-hurling Frankenstein monsters. The intermissions feature giddy Japanese schoolgirl talk that will have you reaching - no lunging - for the skip button.

The new "arrange" mode is everything you'd expect from a modern remake, with dazzling graphics, rich music, and shooting with an intensity cranked up to "11". It reminds me of Deathsmiles (Xbox 360, 2010) - another seasonal favorite.

This reboot plays differently from the original. Instead of crystals blocking your shots, they refract them, allowing you to effectively spray and inflict far more damage. Avoid the urge to snatch the gems up and let them float out there instead. Snagging purple crystals can net big points, but frankly it's hard to discern colors when things get hectic. When the screen is being plastered with point values it's pure sensory overload.

Armed with unlimited continues you could finish these games in one sitting if you wanted. Personally I like to play for the high score, always displayed on the top right. These scores have so many digits they are hard to read! Have the developers ever heard of a comma? There's also a manic two-minute time-attack mode if you just need a quick fix.

The game contains a very funny digital instruction booklet that walks you through all the subtle nuances of its combo system, which I have yet to fully comprehend. Cotton Reboot looks so amazing that the original looks quaint by comparison. Overall this is a pretty sweet package for seasoned shooter fans, and also for younger gamers who want to see what all the fuss is about. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy
Grade: B
Publisher: Activision (2017)
Posted: 2019/8/2
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI'll never forget the first time I played Crash Bandicoot (PS1, 1996). As I ventured down that scenic island path I felt as if I was being engulfed in dense jungle foliage! The tropical 3D graphics were brimming with style and character. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy resurrects the series for a new generation, giving the stages a high-def makeover while retaining its classic gameplay.

The original game ushered in a new breed of 3D adventure, restricting the player to a path but allowing for free movement within its confines. As Crash hops across overgrown ruins he'll bash crates, collect fruit, and perform twirls to send turtles, crabs, and aardvarks spinning off the screen. There's plenty of variety too. Certain stages are more 2D in nature while others let you run toward the screen. Crash 2 introduced new moves, a stage select, and a higher difficulty level. Crash 3 tempered the difficulty while introducing motorcycles, airplanes, and even a bazooka!

The developers did a fine job porting these three to the Switch but took a few liberties. When bouncing on crates Crash now collects three fruits at a time, minimizing the number of bounces necessary. Now that is a good idea! When you spin into animals, they tend to fly into boxes and enemies up ahead, which is very cool. There are new icons to collect, presumably to unlock new features. Upon completing a stage you'll watch all the crates you missed getting smashed over the head of Crash, and that gets old in a hurry.

A few new stages are included but if "Stormy Ascent" is any indication, these are more punishing than fun. So the big question is, do these games measure to the originals? Well, the controls don't feel as tight and despite the graphic fidelity I had problems with depth perception and hard-to-see hazards. Then again, unless you own an old CRT TV it's hard to experience the trilogy in its original glory. Retro gamers should clutch their old discs like grim death, but newcomers will discover N-Sane Trilogy packs plenty of bandicoot goodness for the money. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
Grade: D
Publisher: Activision (2019)
Posted: 2019/8/2
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMuch like Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy (Activitision, 2019), Crash Team Racing Nitro attempts to resurrect a beloved franchise with updated graphics, tossing in a few new features to sweeten the deal. Back in the day Crash Team Racing (PS1, 1999) was the only kart racer that could stand toe to toe with Mario Kart 64 (N64, 1997). This updated edition offers "revved up" versions of tracks from the original game as well as the less-than-stellar Crash Nitro Kart (Xbox, 2003).

The developers managed to bring the graphics up to 2019 standards while retaining that cartoon likeability. The gameplay however suffers from a serious lack of tuning, beginning with the frustrating single-player adventure mode. While there appears to be a whole island at your disposal, in fact everything is locked except for two tracks, and you need to finish in first place to make any progress. That's a problem because the difficulty is so hard you'll need more luck than skill to win.

The action is chaotic but not in a good way. The game's rubber-band physics has CPU karts slingshotting all over the place. One second you're in first place and next you're in dead last. Most weapons are pretty lame but those guided missiles are too good. And then there's that weird weapon that turns everybody into drunk drivers.

The four player screen screen action is always a welcome feature and the framerate is quite smooth. But like the single-player game, you'll find yourself fighting for 5th place! The over-engineered, non-intuitive controls suggest a lack of play testing. Power-slide boosts were key in the original game, but here you'll be lucky to figure out how they even work! In the final analysis Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled feels more like a wreck than a souped-up ride. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Cruis'n Blast
Grade: B+
Publisher: Raw Thrills (2021)
Posted: 2021/11/7
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotJust like Justin Timberlake brought sexy back to music, developer Raw Thrills is now bringing arcade back to video games.

There was a time when colorful arcade games were common on consoles, with visceral racers like Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast, 1999), Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast, 2000), and San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing (Nintendo 64, 1996). Then the industry became obsessed with realism and the fun went away. I'm being facetious. Not really.

The idea behind Cruis'n Blast is to jockey, power-slide, and yes blast your way to victory on dozens of dazzling tracks. This game is so over-the-top that each race feels like one extended turbo boost. Your hair will literally be blown straight back. You can even perform Burnout-style takedowns.

The tracks aren't realistic but they aren't cartoonish either. No, they hit that sweet spot with sparkling colors and eye-popping animation. In London, the ferris wheel breaks loose and rolls through the streets. In the American West track tornados lift trucks and earthquakes cause gaping chasms to appear in the road. Advanced variations incorporate environmental hazards like rain, snow, and dinosaurs.

The progression is very good. You complete circuits to open new tracks, collect keys on the courses to unlock new cars, and earn experience points for upgrades. Arcade mode lets you play for score, but it only registers the initials of the profile currently in use, which is too bad because this is a great pass-around game.

The four-player split screen mode is a welcome addition, solidifying the game's old-school street cred. Granted, you definitely lose that sense of grandeur on the smaller screen. And then there's the cheesy music, which I can't stop singing - much to the consternation of my friends. Cruuuuuusinnnnn... c'mon gotta go cru-u-siiiin!

Cruis'n' Blast may be arcade to a fault. The speed boosts are practically non-stop and nothing much can slow you down. When playing with four player mode, it seems like all players finish within a fraction of a second to each other. It kind of undermines the skill of driving when the race is kept artificially close like that. That said, edging out the leader by a hair at the finish is exhilarating.

It's been a long time since a game has delivered this degree of eye candy, adrenaline, and unmitigated joy. Cruis'n Blast is pure arcade satisfaction with gorgeous graphics, a bouncy 90's-era dance track, and irresistible pick-up-and-play fun. I'd love to see it start a new trend. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, MobyGames.com, Nintendo Everything, Nintendo Life, Polygon, Nintendo Difference