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

Nintendo Switch Reviews S

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
Grade: A-
Publisher: SNK (2018)
Posted: 2020/5/26
Rating: Teen Adolescents (mild blood, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotMost associate SNK with the Neo Geo system (circa 1991), but this 40th Anniversary Collection is a reminder that the company has actually been producing games since 1978! This collection focuses on those formative years from 1978 thru 1989.

Its well-designed museum mode walks you through their complete catalog of early arcade and console titles - 74 in all! The slideshow format works great, displaying short (and often funny) text along with design illustrations and screenshots. You feel like you're getting a history lesson in Japanese arcades, learning about the first boss, first voice, first continue, etc.

The arcade section offers 23 titles, and in many cases you can play both the arcade and console versions. Not all of these games will be familiar to American audiences, but there are some standouts including Vanguard, Guerilla War, and Ikari Warriors. There's a heavy emphasis on violent Rambo-style shooters, but there's really a wide range of styles.

Street Smart was SNK's first fighter and Crystalis is an NES role-playing game. Ozma Wars reminded me of Gorf (Colecovision, 1983) with its distinctive intergalactic waves, and Paddle Mania was the clear precursor to Windjammers (Neo Geo, 1993). Athena, Mobile Muncher, and Fantasy have a wacky Japanese charm, and during Psycho Soldier some girl sings in the background the entire time!

The games control very well and the arcade games save high scores. All games are configurable and there's even a rewind button! I realize not everyone shares my fascination for video game history, but SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is like an all-you-can-eat buffet of classic gaming goodness. Note: This collection was also released for the PS4 with two additional titles. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Complete Edition
Grade: D+
Publisher: Ubisoft (2021)
Posted: 2023/1/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI originally reviewed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game (Xbox 360, 2013) when it was download-only. I raved about its pixel-art visuals but felt its gameplay to be a bit of a slog. Now that it's on physical media I thought I'd give it a second chance.

Scott Pilgrim's old-school graphics are striking. Its anime-style characters stay true to the comic, but it's the snowy Toronto-at-night scenery that steals the show. Every street, shop, and cozy house is so richly detailed, it's like strolling through a winter wonderland at dusk.

The game supports up to four players at once and its electronic music is fantastic! It just keeps looping and building, eventually reaching exhilarating heights. The stages generally follow the movie, incorporating all the major characters and memorable boss encounters.

The punch-and-kick gameplay seems ho-hum at first, but gets more interesting as you level up and acquire new moves. I like how damage points are displayed whenever you smack somebody. There are plenty of objects lying around you can use as weapons (bats, umbrellas, basketball, etc) but most do very little damage. I did however discover one technique that involves repeatedly bouncing a trash can off an enemy, dealing significant damage in the process.

The problem with this game is that enemies absorb way too many hits. How many times do I have to wack a guy over the head with a street sign before he flickers away? More annoying enemies block your attacks, and when knocked down they take forever to get back up. You move so slowly that collecting coins spilled from defeated enemies starts to feel like a chore.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World will win anime fans over with its old-school graphics, humor, and high-energy soundtrack. That said, its lengthy stages and repetitive button-pounding will take their toll on even the most ardent fan. You do level-up as you play, so the next time through should be a little easier. The question is, will there be a next time? © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Shantae and the Seven Sirens
Grade: B+
Publisher: Wayforward (2020)
Posted: 2022/9/20
Rating: Teen (cartoon violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotI've always enjoyed the platform adventures of this sassy half-genie but wondered what more could be done with the series. In Shantae and the Seven Sirens, six half-genies have been invited to a festival on a tropical island. All but Shantae are suddenly kidnapped during a show, presumably by her arch-nemesis Risky Boots.

Like all Shantae games, the exotic visuals are easy on the eyes. I especially love the subterranean ruins with glass windows to an undersea world, calling to mind Bioshock (Xbox 360, 2007). The platform action seems pretty standard as you'll collect items, battle crabs, and unlock doors. There are pressure switches, fire-breathing statues, and the occasional old mage to save your progress.

It sounds very by-the-numbers but Seven Sirens benefits from some of the best level designs in the business. Each unique section of the game is big enough to scour and interesting enough that you'll want to. The puzzles are consistently fun, and each genie you save imbues you with a new power, beckoning you to revisit old areas. The ability to drill through soil has a real old-school vibe that harkens back to Boulderdash (NES, 1990).

The controls are so tight that navigating platforms feels effortless at times. Shantae seems light as a feather yet her hair attack is enough to smack down every spider, troll, and leaping lizard that stands in her way. I like how when an enemy drops gems, they remain instead of flickering away after a few seconds. Ethereal skulls emanate from pits which are not safe to fall into.

If the game has a flaw, it's frequent load screens. They wouldn't be so bad except this game is all about scouring every area and revisiting them multiple times. The 20-second load times might not seem objectionable at first, but they add up over the course of the game. Especially for a cartridge, this is grating.

Still, Shantae and the Seven Sirens has a level of energy, polish, and personality other platformer's lack. The dialog is smart, self-referential, and occasionally hilarious. Seamlessly-integrated anime cut-scenes are great fun to watch, and frequent save points tempt you into playing just a little bit longer, even when it's running past bedtime. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Sine Mora EX
Grade: C
Publisher: THQ Nordic (2017)
Posted: 2017/11/19
Rating: Mature

screenshotA throwback to old 2D shooters like Steel Empire (Genesis, 1992), Sine Mora EX combines crisp 2D shooting with gorgeous 3D layered scenery. The game has a retro-futuristic motif with biplanes, blimps, tanks, and locomotives.

You hold down a button to unleash a stream of rapid-fire shots, and I love the sound of your bullets hammering enemies while depleting their little health bars. The explosions are satisfying thanks to some crisp audio and nifty smoke effects. Your main cannon can be powered up to nine levels, so grab a red icon whenever you can. Upon taking a hit your red icons will spill out, but if you're lucky you can scoop them right back up.

You also have a limited supply of heat-seeking missiles and the ability to slow time. But when everything on the screen is reduced to slow-motion, your ship's controls remain very touchy. The collision detection is kind of mysterious. Certain stages contain a lot of activity in the background, making it hard to tell what's in your line of fire. While trying to dodge overwhelming waves of missiles it seems as if I should have been incurring serious damage.

The stages are saddled with highly unnecessary time limits, so unless you continuously blow stuff up, time can expire. The highlight of Sine Mora are its epic bosses, each brilliant in design. They include an octopus where you shoot off its tentacles, a train where you methodically destroy each car, and a giant rickety robot. The eclectic soundtrack is understated but adds a lot of atmosphere.

Sine Mora EX should have been a dream-come-true for a shooter fan like me, but the game around the game falters. You need to be online to access the leaderboards. Are you telling me they couldn't implement a local leaderboard? The lack of decent instructions for a shooter this sophisticated is unforgivable. Setting up each game is confusing. What the [expletive] is a Chronome? I love the idea of Sine Mora EX, but ultimately this stylish old-school shooter is betrayed by its modern trappings. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Slain: Back From Hell
Grade: B
Publisher: Digerati Distribution (2017)
Posted: 2019/1/3
Rating: Mature 17+ (violence, blood and gore)

screenshotTrue its name, I've never died so much in one game in my entire life! Slain: Back from Hell is a stylish Castlevania-style platformer. Its demonic imagery, unflinching violence, and driving guitars feel like an Iron Maiden album cover come to life! The title screen alone deserves an award is its weathered crypt and twisted trees under an ominous moon. The art direction is fantastic. The medieval scenery calls to mind Lord of the Rings with exquisitely engraved ruins depicting grotesque haunting images. You have to love the subtle details like wispy curtains, ornate chandeliers, and candles dripping wax.

Your sword-wielding heavy metal hero leaps between platforms, hits switches, and battles legions of undead. Creatively-rendered enemies include skeletons, witches, werewolves, and walking bat creatures. Hack-and-slash may get your past the early waves but you'll need to master the block-and-counter move to defeat the big guys. Fortunately it's not hard to do; just press block before the enemy is about to strike. When timed right, the screen zooms in as you unleash a devastating blood-spraying slash. You also have a blue magic bar that lets you unleash fireballs and bombs. The controls are a bit slippery as you're forced to use the analog stick.

The areas between checkpoints aren't long but they are super challenging. I couldn't help but notice a lot of cursing. Not from the game, but from my mouth whenever I met an untimely demise by a converging mob or unseen trap. Is Slain too hard? Maybe, but since the game restarts immediately at your last checkpoint, it has an old-school try, try again quality. And when you finally do reach that checkpoint lamp there's a real sense of accomplishment!

Some things in life are worth the pain. Slain: Back from Hell is the real deal. Jaw-dropping graphics, relentless guitars, and taut action combine to create one of the more underrated titles in recent memory. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Snow Bros. Nick & Tom Special
Grade: B-
Publisher: Daewon Media (2022)
Posted: 2023/2/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHaving just recently discovered Snow Bros. on Toaplan Arcade 1 (Evercade, 2022), the timing was perfect for this modern remake. Special reprises the same style and gameplay of the 1990 arcade game - almost to a fault! It does however benefit from high-definition graphics, brisk pacing, and tighter controls. Unlike the original game which had 50 floors of action, this has 80, with "Satan" - yes Satan - waiting for you at the top. Clearly the stakes are quite high.

Snow Bros.' gameplay reminds me of Nightmare in the Dark (Neo Geo, 2000), except without the heinous slowdown. Its goofy cartoon style calls to mind Bubble Bobble (NES, 1988). Designed for two players, the game is played over a series of platform screens populated with hairy apes and fire-breathing lizards who can really pin you down.

Assuming the roles of semi-creepy jumping snowmen, you clear each screen by repeatedly shooting the monsters, transforming them into giant snowballs. Give these a nudge and watch them careen around the screen, smashing everything in their path and leaving bonus sushi in their wake. That's right - sushi!!

The game is good old-school fun with a few annoyances. The fact that you can't jump downward off of platforms will alter your strategy, often forcing you to navigate screens in a very circuitous manner. Certain power-ups, like speed and range, have a way of working against you. Finally, there are some harsh sound effects and circus-like music that didn't really do it for me.

Snow Bros. has long been a rare NES cart, so I'm glad more people can now experience this old gem. There are several play modes but they are all just slight variations of the arcade mode, so not a ton of variety. The high score screen is as good as they come, breaking down the top 10 scores with initials for every mode. Especially when played with a friend, Snow Bros. Special has the old-school fun you need with the new-school features you want. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Snow Moto Racing Freedom
Grade: F-
Publisher: BigBen Interactive (2017)
Posted: 2020/1/15

screenshotBeing a sucker for seasonal games, I purchased Snow Moto Racing Freedom despite mixed reviews on Amazon. I was just looking for something wintery I could play with my friends; preferably a game that wouldn't make me feel nauseous after five minutes. Clearly I set the bar too high.

Your first order of business is customizing your rider, which requires scrolling through about 1000 country names. I should have just stuck with Albania! The two basic racing formats are sprint racing and snocross. In sprint mode you race between gates marked with smoke plumes, not unlike Smuggler's Run (PS2, 2000). The scenery is sparse but the snowmobiles look sharp and the smooth hills look inviting... at first.

But shortly after I left the starting line I started to feel uneasy. The first-person view is so rough and choppy, I felt like I was getting sick! Even after switching to a higher view the action is far from smooth, and the controls are atrocious. The hills throw your sled all over the place and you're constantly oversteering. The load screen hints suggest it's easier to steer when not going full steam, but how do you regulate that? The right trigger doesn't provide much "give", so are we supposed to tap it? Wouldn't the right analog stick have made a better solution?

Adding insult to injury the gates are inexplicably one-way and more often than not you approach from the wrong side, forcing you to go around the back. The right trigger pulls double duty as both sharp turn and reverse, which makes things very interesting when trying to get unstuck from the edge of a gate. As bad as sprint mode is, snocross mode is ten times worse. Now you're bouncing around a hilly track trying to perform tricks as opponents repeatedly knock you off-course. I couldn't stand it! There's just something about the camera and framerate in this game that makes me violently ill. I haven't felt this bad since I saw that Ronald Reagan movie.

The snow effects are weak and randomly-generated racer names clutter up the screen. I tried the four-player split-screen mode with friends and it was utter chaos. Hard to play and even harder to watch, Snow Moto Racing Freedom is a perfectly miserable experience. File this one under F... for Freedom. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Sol Cresta
Grade: D+
Publisher: Platinum Games (2022)
Posted: 2023/3/30
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotSol Cresta is my kind of vertical arcade shooter, employing purposely-rendered 16-bit graphics and wonderfully twangy music that might as well be coming out of a real Sega Genesis. The shooting action is limited to the center-third of the screen, with cool-looking side bars that provide minimally-helpful information.

The clammy, craggy rocky planet surfaces are nicely textured but there's not much to see as you fly over well-fortified areas, weaving through a crossfire of projectiles. The rapid-fire shooting is enjoyable enough and it's satisfying to collect falling coins and power-ups that gravitate toward your ship!

One unique feature is the "split/dock" button. Periodically you "join" with bonus ships that appear. Pressing the split button separates the ships, allowing you to reposition them into formations by fiddling with the thumbsticks. This is a very touchy and clumsy mechanic however. If you do manage to initiate a formation you'll unleash a wide beam of whoop-ass in some random direction. If it happens to be aimed south-east, you may need to work your way to the top corner of the screen to hit anything!

Besides arcade mode there's a "dramatic mode" that displays chatty anime characters on both sides of the screen as you play, conveying some sort of underlying story. When my cat Claire overheard these people ranting and raving in Japanese, she just sat in the front of the screen and cocked her head like "what the hell?!"

Most vertical shooters are short but if you play Sol Cresta you'd better get comfortable because it awards shields, power-ups, and free ships like they're going out of style. Expect to be playing for a half hour minimum. This game holds you hostage, as if it doesn't want you to stop playing! Once I was on my last life and ready for bed, when suddenly the game awarded me with ten extra lives!

Most irritating of all are the bosses. Not only do they repeat, but massive behemoths go down easily while fighting a little pip-squeaks can be a drawn-out, exhausting ordeal! Sol Cresta is a viable option for those looking for an old-school shooter that doesn't reach "bullet hell" proportions. Its gameplay offers plenty of room to experiment but the lengthy stages and repetitive enemies tend to wear out their welcome. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Sonic Forces
Grade: D+
Publisher: Sega (2017)
Posted: 2017/12/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt seems like every year Sega cranks out yet another mediocre 3D Sonic title just close enough to Christmas that people can't catch all the bad reviews. With all the recent hubbub over Sega's 2D Sonic Mania, it's hard to get excited about Sonic Forces.

The stages alternate between behind-the-back speed running and more traditional side-scrolling fare. You'll execute homing attacks on robots, slide between rails, and watch extended automated sequences that will make your head spin. Highlights include being chased by a giant rampaging crab and being whisked around the Star Wars-inspired "Death Egg". There's no shortage of spectacle but it feels like you're on autopilot half the time. Worse yet, there are times when it's not clear whether you're in control or not, and stepping in at the wrong moment can send you flying off the rails.

You'll play as two different Sonics (classic and modern) as well as a custom character you design yourself. The problem with using three characters is that they all control a bit differently and it's hard to switch gears. The sense of speed is breathtaking at times, but your boost lasts so long you can plow through many stages with little or no resistance. I'd say it feels like cheating, but frankly the entire game feels like a cheat. The "hard" difficulty is so low it's tough to earn anything less than an "A" in a given stage. You're then awarded so many unlockables that your thumb will get tired of paging through them all.

I will give Sonic Forces credit for variety. There are dozens of stages and each of which feels like a unique experience. Unlike the idyllic locales of the original Sonic trilogy, you'll need to traverse war-torn cities in this game. Stages that reprise the classics like the Green Hill, Casino, and Chemical Zones mainly serve to emphasize how superior the original 2D versions are. The layered 3D graphics make it hard to tell what you can or can't jump on, and the controls are not responsive.

Sonic Forces does offer upbeat musical tracks, some with vocals. It's hard to stomach the corny cutscenes, but thankfully you can skip them. Sonic Forces is long on razzle dazzle but short on gameplay. It's just another 3D Sonic game, and that's probably all you need to know. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Sonic Mania Plus
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2018)
Posted: 2018/9/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe collector in me was bitterly disappointed when Sonic Mania was originally released as a download-only title. Only after significant push-back from fans did Sega finally relent and give us this wonderful new 2D Sonic on a cartridge - running on a Nintendo of all things!

Sonic Mania Plus reprises the 16-bit splendor fans have wanted for decades. Unlike the ill-conceived Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (Xbox 360, 2010), Mania looks and feels like classic Sonic - perhaps to a fault! Longtime fans will experience deja vu as most stages tend to be remixed and expanded versions of classic zones like Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Hydro City, and Oil Ocean. The term "rehash" comes to mind, but let's face it - the classic stages are hard to top! Sega took the "if you can't beat em, join em" approach, and it works. Don't worry - there are four brand new zones including an inventive Wild West stage with trains, guns, totems, and pianos.

Mania also incorporates a slew of crazy new gadgets you've never seen before. The gorgeously pixelated graphics are faithful to the 16-bit era, with the visual highlight (for me) being the sparkling blue grotto at the end of the Green Hill zone. Like most Sonic games you have the option of speeding through each stage or taking your time to explore. Tails the fox is your constant companion, but it took me a while to figure out how to use his flying ability. Staying alive isn't a problem with so many rings bouncing around but earning extra lives by collecting 100 rings is a challenge.

The expansive stage layouts can be a little hard to grasp but I love all the alternate routes. The bosses are pretty easy once you get their patterns down, including a Metal Sonic encounter and a reprise of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Genesis, 1993). You'll earn gems in new bonus stages that have you chasing UFOs around an F-Zero (SNES, 1992) style track. Sega also brought back the blue sphere bonus stages.

In addition to primary "mania" mode there's an encore mode that lets you switch between characters including a flying squirrel and a ground-pounding armadillo. The head-to-head split-screen mode is a nice addition but I'm still not sure what qualifies as a win. It would be nice if there were a manual to explain things but this is 2018 and manuals have been outlawed. Still, I love Sonic Mania. The more I played it the more I realized how much I had missed this type of simple platform fun. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 50,100
1 or 2 players 

Sonic Superstars
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2023)
Posted: 2023/12/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt's long been apparent that the people currently running Sega don't understand what made the original Sonic games special. Sonic Superstars adheres to the philosophy that more is better. You get bigger, sprawling levels that lead in all directions. You get longer, more elaborate bonus stages. There are more lengthy sequences that automatically whiz you all over the place. There are frequent boss battles and up to four people can play at a time. So why am I not having fun?

The good news is, this is a genuine 2D Sonic game. You spin-dash through loops, bounce off springs, blaze through tunnels, and hop on robotic enemies. The stages however are a huge letdown. Bridge Island, Pinball Carnival, and Sand Sanctuary will give you a terrible case of deja vu, but that's not the worst part. What's worse is how the same scenery and gadgets are cut-and-pasted all over each stage ad-nauseum, giving you little sense of geography or incentive to explore.

The simplistic graphics look so generic that one of my friends actually used the word "cheap" to describe them. At least this game will be easy to port to a mobile phone! There's really nothing eye-catching to speak of. Lagoon City should have been the most beautiful Sonic stage yet with its majestic ruins and tall waterslides, but it's a bore. The flashing colors and grating music of the Pinball Carnival zones are just obnoxious.

There are plenty of portals in this game that transport you to tedious mini-games. In one you're trying to reach a chaos emerald by swinging on orbs floating in space, and it's just awful. Then there are these rotating mazes inspired by the original Sonic, but they feel too easy and repetitive. Before long you'll find yourself actively avoiding the portals at all costs.

A slew of gadgets including rubberband plants that slingshot you skyward, and sections that play like frenetic versions of Breakout (Atari 2600, 1977). But for every new concept that works, many others fall flat. The semi-3D wall runs are confusing. The blocks that unfold when you step on them are irritating. And if you want me to ride a rollercoaster, maybe have it look like a rollercoaster? The new "powers" are a joke, because the low difficulty renders them totally unnecessary. You'll forget you even have them.

Bosses appear at the end of every stage, which is too often if you ask me. Still, these are the most creative parts of the game, and tend to be mercifully short and easy. They include a giant red jumping fish and a psychotic clown. The musical score has a nice easy-breezy vibe, even if it's not particularly catchy. Up to four players can participate at once but good luck trying to keep everyone on the screen. Sonic Superstars feels like a game generated by ChatGPT. It checks all the boxes but the enjoyment factor is much less than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Star Wars Pinball
Grade: A
Publisher: Zen Studios (2019)
Posted: 2019/10/12
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs a Star Wars fan and owner of two pinball machines, this game falls right into my wheelhouse. Star Wars Pinball packs no less than 19 full-featured tables, each of which delivers its own deep, unique pinball experience. Apparently this series has been incubating on the Playstation Network for some time, and now Switch owners get to enjoy the series in its entirety.

Certain tables are based on the specific films including Rogue One and Solo, but I'm a little sad the prequels didn't get much love. Other tables are based on specific characters like Boba Fett and Kylo Ren, and there are even spin-off tables like Rebels and Clone Wars. I was worried the tables would have an unrealistic video game fakeness, but in fact they feel like real world constructions with realistic proportions and all the mechanical gadgets you'd expect on an actual table (bumpers, lanes, rails, etc). Although somewhat obscured, the dot matrix display offers charming animations, and the colorful illustrations on the table have a distinctive retro look.

There's also plenty of razzle dazzle in the form of animated characters recreating scenes and ships flying around the table. I love how you activate bumper-mounted cannons to destroy circling fighters. The audio is absolutely first-rate, with superb orchestrated music and memorable sound effects. You'll hear many lines of dialog from the movies, like Palpatine's "The dark side of the force is a pathway to many abilities, some considered to be unnatural". Some lines were definitely not lifted from the films, such as Vader's "Awesome!"

The pinball physics is convincing although my friend Brent claimed it was a little too smooth (unnatural?). The flippers are crisp and responsive, although the pro controller is your best option when it comes to clicking those triggers non-stop. There are several viewing angles to choose from, and I prefer the one that follows the ball around. An addictive mission mode lets you explore each table by completing various objectives like a five-minute challenge, two-ball challenge, and flipper challenge which limits you to 200 flips. Every "mission" has three levels of achievement, appealing to any skill level.

Each table packs remarkable replay value with special modes, mini-games, and hidden surprises that will take weeks to uncover. The vibration feedback is disappointing, which is probably why it's off by default. And while I don't appreciate being prompted to "sign in" between games (I'm offline), I was thrilled to see local high scores are saved along with initials! Having this on physical media at a budget price is icing on the cake. Star Wars Pinball is a mind-blowing value. I don't think I've ever seen a movie license put to such good use. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Streets of Rage 4
Grade: A-
Publisher: Limited Run (2020)
Posted: 2020/8/29
Rating: Teen (cartoon violence, mild language, mild suggestive themes)

screenshotStreets of Rage (Genesis, 1991) marked the pinnacle of side-scrolling brawlers, but after two successful sequels the franchise lay dormant... for 25 years! The long-overdue Streets of Rage 4 revitalizes the beat-em-up genre with its modern style, extraordinary polish, and storyline that pays homage to the past. They even brought back Yuzo Koshiro to do the musical score.

The new comic book-style graphics are sharp and the fighting is outstanding. Playable characters include old favorites Axel, Blaze, and Adam, along with newcomers Floyd and Cherry. Axel put on a few pounds but Blaze picked them up in all the right places. The game's fighting engine is rock-solid with pinpoint control and a dazzling array of moves.

Every punch, kick, and body slam lands with resounding authority. You can't attack a guy while he's down but you can execute some wild juggling wall bounces. Laying into several thugs at a time is great fun, as is tossing one over your shoulder into oncoming goons. A great new combo system lets you rack up points for consecutive hits.

It was smart to dedicate a button to picking up items. The wide range of weapons include pipes, swords, mops, sign posts, tasers, and even hammers! Enemies are distinctive and varied, and you might even recognize a few old faces like Donovan or Y. Signal. One element I wish they hadn't brought back was the way all the bad guys fall down when a player spawns a new life. With multiple players this happens too often and disrupts the flow.

The stages reflect a new art style which is artistic but lacks the mystique and atmosphere of the old games. That said, you will be treated to some awe-inspiring city skylines. I was disappointed at the lack of branching stages which would have substantially improved the replay value. The soundtrack certainly sounds like Streets of Rage but I didn't find the tunes particularly infectious. I'm not a fan of locking all the modes until you complete the story mode. I'm also not crazy about the idea of keeping high scores per stage. For me a score should reflect how long you managed to survive in arcade mode.

Finally, it rubs me the wrong way how stereotypical cops who are often used as bad guys. Our police have it hard enough without being demonized by a video game! That said, Streets of Rage 4 ultimately delivers on its promise. I hope it sends a clear signal that this long-neglected genre is still viable - even in 2020. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Super Bomberman R
Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (2017)
Posted: 2017/5/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI've been a fan of this franchise since Super Bomberman (SNES, 1993). Bomberman is a landmark party game designed for four players. Gameplay involves dropping bombs around a maze, collecting power-ups, and frantically avoiding chain-reaction explosions. Super Bomberman R applies a glossy 3D sheen to a classic formula.

Four players are required for battle mode, with CPU characters filling in the missing slots. Unfortunately the poorly designed menu system makes setting up each contest a major hassle. There are plenty of options except the one you really want which is a damn CPU difficulty setting. You see, the CPU players have a tendency to run roughshod over humans. I think my friend Chris is the only person I've seen prevail against those CPU bastards. And God forbid if there are multiple CPU players. You'll have wait forever for them to eliminate each other, as their flawless AI allows them to run the clock down to the very last second.

I do enjoy the bouncy, jubilant music which is a throwback to the 16-bit era. Bomberman R introduces a few innovative features like an 8-player mode and "revenge carts" which let you toss bombs from the perimeter after you've been eliminated. The story mode is challenging enough but the lengthy cut-scenes can be a little hard to stomach. The modern visuals don't improve the gameplay one bit, and you could argue they are detrimental! Unnecessary lighting effects make it hard to differentiate shadows from pits, and why is the camera wavering? Ramps can take you to raised areas on the board, but sometimes it's hard to tell if you're on the same level as the guy standing next to you. Even the controls feel slippery.

Apparently the R in Super Bomberman R stands for "rushed". Konami has patched this game several times since its release, but I'm not letting them off the hook for such a sloppy, disappointing effort. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (2021)
Posted: 2023/3/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSuper Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013) was the crown jewel of the Wii U library. It exuded pure platforming goodness along with interesting tweaks like a cat suit that let Mario climb walls. It deserved a much wider audience so I can't blame Nintendo for resurrecting it on the Switch.

Sharing the twin-bill is a new game called Bowser's Fury, which I'll focus on here. It's kind of a sequel, but more sandbox-y in nature, allowing you to freely explore groups of islands. Its bright graphics and folksy music are irresistibly fun and inviting. You'll feel like a kid at a playground with all the sand, slides, trampolines, rides, castles, and hidden items to uncover.

Each island offers several large structures that present various platforming challenges. You may need to climb a tower, dispatch cats by flipping floor tiles, or collect blue icons before a timer runs out. Your ultimate goal is to collect all the "cat shines" icons, and whenever you obtain one of those things it feels so good!

Among the new power-ups are propeller blocks that zip you a mile into the air, giving you a beautiful bird's-eye view of your surroundings. Some mission objectives are nebulous at best, but each area is constrained in size so it doesn't take long to figure things out. Likewise the treasure-hunting aspect is superb.

What really sets this game apart is how every few minutes a raging storm moves in and a Godzilla-sized Bowser emerges from the depths. With glowing red eyes and breath of fire, the sight of this demonic beast is downright terrifying. You need to run for your life when he appears, but you can sometimes trick him into destroying certain structures for you.

Whenever I'm feeling a little frustrated or bored, Bowser's Fury introduces something fresh and exciting. I like the game but don't love it, mainly because I can't enjoy myself without having Bowser crash the party every five minutes! He's stressing me out man!! Still, if you never played the original 3D World, this two-fer deal should be an easy purchase. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2023)
Posted: 2023/11/26
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYou may wonder what the big deal is about a new 2D Mario game until you realize the last one was New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U, 2012)! Granted, that game did get ported to the Switch in 2019, but still. Super Mario Bros. Wonder does a fine job of reprising that classic platform magic but feels less invigorating than other new Mario titles. That said, the sight of a pristine white castle reminds me why I love to lose myself in video games.

As you might expect, the world map contains distinctive areas from the sunbaked desert to icy mountaintops to the tropical islands (love the steel drum music). Some areas are pretty ho-hum however, like the pink clouds or golden waterfalls. Also, the stages seem random and disconnected from the areas they reside in. That said, each brings something new to the table. Some areas are treasure hunts, some are beat-em-ups, and there are even rhythm-based challenges.

Mario's new "outfits" turn him into an elephant or let him trap enemies in bubbles, a la Bubble Bobble (NES, 1988). More notable are the new "badges" that give Mario one selectable ability going into each stage. These might allow you to float on your hat, perform a "straight-up" wall jump, or swim like a dolphin. The badge you equip will change the way you approach each stage.

In addition to coins you can collect pink lucky charms and seeds to unlock new areas. But most noteworthy are "wonder flowers" which instantly transform the current stage into a psychedelic version of itself. Expect weird stuff like inch-worming pipes or piranha plants that break into song. Not all of the effects are fun and I was often glad when the effects wore off.

The outstanding musical score covers a range of styles and often has a catchy cha-cha-cha flavor. I'm not used to hearing voices in Mario games, but here there are cute little flowers that say things like "we believe in you". Each area offers stages of various difficulties, rated from one to four stars, accommodating all skill levels.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder didn't knock my socks off but I found playing through it to be almost a zen-like experience. I'd often smile and think "oh I see what they did here." I don't think you're going to find a more well-crafted, less objectionable gameplay experience. The only thing lacking, ironically enough, is a sense of wonder. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Super Mario Odyssey
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Posted: 2017/11/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI figured Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017) would be impossible to top, but never underestimate Nintendo. Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation and a celebration of the complete Mario catalog. But unlike past Mario escapades, Odyssey feels unconstrained with sprawling kingdoms that extend as far as the eye can see. There's a frozen desert, an elevated forest kingdom, a gorgeous undersea realm, a festive snow world, and a vertigo-inducing metropolis.

The stages are expertly designed so you'll want to explore every nook and cranny. At first the gameplay feels a lot like Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996) as you scamper around simple environments, talking to characters, hopping on enemies, and snagging items. But then the game tosses one surprise at you after another and never really lets up. Mario's new hat-throwing ability opens up all sorts of possibilities, allowing you to take control of just about any creature or animated object. You can leap high as a frog, fire mortars as a tank, or go on a destructive rampage as a giant T-Rex.

In a nod to the old-school, certain areas seamlessly transition between 2D and 3D realms. It's hard to describe this game without dropping a few spoilers. The creativity is off-the-charts, and it seems like everything you do is fun. The game has a comforting familiarity with classic enemies (like goombas) and distinctive sound effects (descending into a green pipe). The difficulty is low. It only costs a few coins to continue and there's no shortage of those.

What presents a challenge is Mario's momentum (especially in slippery areas) and the manual camera, which requires your constant attention. The controls are as crisp as the pitter patter of Mario's feet. You have the option of using motion controls, but I didn't think they were worth it. The game saves often and the light jazz soundtrack is outstanding. Mario Odyssey has a level of polish you don't see much in this day and age. Once you begin playing the hours just melt away. Ridiculously fun and universally appealing, you could make a case for this being the best video game of all time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Super Mario Party
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
Posted: 2018/12/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI guess Nintendo got tired of numbering their Mario Party games, opting to go the "super" route instead. Super Mario Party was released to little fanfare but it still packs its share of entertainment value. Four players march around a board triggering events, avoiding hazards, using items, and competing in minigames.

The boards tend to be more square and compact than recent outings - more like traditional board games. I enjoyed the tropical splendor of Mega-Fruit Paradise and the sparkling gold opulence of Kamek's Tantalizing Tower, but only four boards? No winter board? Each player is required to use half of a joy-con controller - even when playing solo. That's because many mini-games incorporate some sort of motion control.

Before you roll your eyes, these are not the waggle-prone controls of the Wii era. Precise motion sensing lets you guide an airplane through a tunnel with precision, and subtle force feedback lets you feel the gentle tug of hungry fish. One standout game looks positively photorealistic as you flip a steak cube around a frying pan. Others offer random tasks like climbing poles, snatching pancakes from a plate, and even delivering packages with drones! I was less impressed by the memorization games, and wish there weren't so many 3-on-1 contests.

The pacing is good although they could still cut out some dialog and maybe not review the current standings every ten seconds. While playing friends there's always somebody forgetting to press their button - especially when everyone is required to press SL and SR to exit mini-game practice. Expect lots of twists as you move around the board, with players getting transported all over the place while stealing items from others.

The ten-round games only run about an hour and frankly I can't imagine playing any longer. The last three rounds are dragged out to the extreme, and the "blue shell effect" might leave you with the impression that winning is more about luck than skill. Rounding out the package are team variations and bonus minigames including one that reminded me of my old Epoch Basement tabletop game. Super Mario Party may not pull out all the stops but its upbeat music, sparkling graphics, and easy gameplay have a certain charm. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
Posted: 2019/1/19
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotI always felt the Smash Bros. franchise was overrated but can't deny Ultimate is bursting at the seams with Nintendo goodness. This is the comfort food of fighting games. All your favorite characters are presented in memorable stages rolled up into a simple 2D fighter anyone can play.

The primary "Smash" mode is highly addictive, offering a never-ending series of one-on-one matches against a friend or CPU. Nearly all of the stages are unlocked from the outset, and what a selection. It looks like a wall of postage stamps plastered over my screen! We're talking about over 100 colorful stages inspired by past and present franchises like Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, Luigi's Mansion, Castlevania, Splatoon, Star Fox, and Zelda. There are even pixelated stages inspired by Duck Hunt, Balloon Fight, and the original Donkey Kong. You can also expect a few oddballs inspired by Wii Fit, Game and Watch, and, and PictoChat. It's almost sensory overload!

Unlike the stages, the characters are rationed out gradually. You begin with just five, but after every few matches you face a "challenger" who will be added to the roster if you can defeat him. Old standbys include Mario, Donkey Kong, and several versions of Link. Newer faces include the Squid kids, Bayonetta, Ryu of Street Fighter fame, and Simon from Castlevania. Each battle runs two minutes and 30 seconds by default. The action is chaotic as you try to bash each other off the screen while keeping an eye out for helpful items and weapons that appear randomly. Certain items introduce an "ally" which takes the chaos to a whole new level.

While there is certainly a good amount of technique involved, often it feels like the hard part is facing the right direction in the heat of battle! I was disappointed the digital control isn't supported on my Pro controller; the analog stick feels inexact - especially when trying to dash. Trying to stay on the screen is challenging when platform configurations are shifting and the camera is zooming all over the place. There were times when I found myself just off the screen and wondering why the camera couldn't zoom out a little. You never quite know for sure who won the match until the "big reveal" afterwards.

A wide variety of alternate modes are available, and you should give all the secondary modes a try as they will instantly unlock a few things. I'm not convinced Smash Bros. Ultimate is much better than its Wii U iteration but for Nintendo fans there is a lot to love. Even if it's less than the sum of its parts, that's a heck of a lot of parts. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 8 players 

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