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ESPN NFL 2K5
Grade: A+
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/12/19
Rating: Everyone


screenshotBefore the "dark times" of EA's sordid monopoly, Sega produced some amazing football games. NFL 2K5 is quite possibly the best football title ever produced, and certainly the most ambitious. Each contest begins with a fully rendered Chris Berman at the anchor desk introducing the upcoming match-up. You're also treated to camera shots of enthusiastic fans filing into the stadium.

NFL 2K games have always boasted cutting-edge graphics, but 2K5 raised the bar even further with players that remove their helmets and jaw-dropping television graphics. Even the cheerleaders were given a makeover. 2K5's gameplay is rock solid, offering balanced passing and running attacks. The controls are responsive and the action moves at a brisk pace. It's a little heavy on the turnovers by default, but you can dial that down via the sliders on the option screens.

The playbooks are loaded with fun gadget plays including flea-flickers, halfback passes, and fake reverses. One small issue is how on defense it can be a little hard to pick out the blitz plays. Brief cut-scenes show coaches ranting on the sidelines, chain measurements, and dejected fans. The commentators are very spirited and often joke around with each other. I can't say enough good things about the replay system, which puts all the others to shame. Not only are its controls intuitive, but the analog triggers let you adjust the speed of playback with pinpoint precision.

The coach's challenge system is terrific as well, with close calls correctly handled "from the booth" when less than two minutes remain. The half-time and post-game highlight shows are accurate and entertaining. Chris Berman provides a comprehensive recap of all the big plays while referring to players by their comical nicknames. These highlights are animated footage - not still images! I also love how the "ticker" at the bottom of the screen displays various game statistics.

And just when you thought things couldn't get any better, at the end of each game a fully-rendered Suzy Kolber interviews the star player on the field! Sega pulled out all the stops with 2K5, and priced it at a mere $20 - undercutting Madden by $30. Once Electronic Arts realized they couldn't compete fairly, they contrived an exclusivity deal with the NFL that effectively put the 2K franchise out of business. It was a slap in the face for football fans, because NFL 2K5 is better than anything EA has ever done - and probably ever will do. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

ESPN NFL Football 2K4
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2010/12/19
Rating: Everyone


screenshotAs the second NFL 2K game to appear on the Xbox console, this edition does a far better job of harnessing the power of its hardware. Although it retains the trademark arcade style, NFL 2K4's visuals have been given a dramatic overhaul. The players look far more realistic, having shed the "angular" look of their Dreamcast days. The stadiums now boast dramatic shadowing effects, and while the light fixture shadows look cool, they're a little too dark for my taste.

Before each game Chris Berman lends his voice to an exciting preview, and later in a flashy half-time show. 2K4 is more offensive-minded than its predecessor. It's much easier to complete a pass, but also easier to have passes picked off. Running backs "get skinny" while trying to squeeze through the line, making it possible to bust a big run. It's hard to bring down a runner in the open field, resulting in a lot of big-yardage plays.

The game incorporates some nifty true-to-life animations, such as players helping their teammates up from the turf. The cheerleaders are a nice addition, but they look like a bunch of string beans dancing around. The play selection screens are more Madden-like in 2K4, meaning the diagrams are larger and easier to read. Unfortunately it's not readily evident how deep some of the routes extend. The coach's challenge system is extremely well executed, giving the player a specific list of items to challenge, such as "spot of the ball" and "not a fumble".

The commentators are very funny at times, especially when they mention how a tackler "buffed and polished" my clock. They can also be brutally honest, which was the case when they mentioned "The Ravens' best drive in the first half was a three-and-out!" The only thing that annoys me about the commentators is how they consistently mispronounce player names including Troy Polamalu, Dave Zastudil, and Adam Vinatieri.

An interesting bonus is a "first person" mode that puts you in the helmet of the players on the field. It's really a whole separate game with its own set of controls. I found it extremely difficult to play, partly because it's hard to locate the football in the air (it gets lost in the lights). The only thing that really stands out is the first-person kicking, which is pretty amazing. As a whole, ESPN 2K4 is a potent combination of realism and arcade fun. Play this and see how good football games can be when there's competition in the football game market. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

ESPN Winter Games Snowboarding 2002
Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/6/7
Rating: Teen

screenshotCould Konami come up with the longer, more unimaginative name? ESPN Winter Games Snowboarding 2002 really doesn't have much to offer, but for only $9.99 (at Best Buy), I couldn't resist. The truth is, snowboarding games are a dime a dozen, and there's nothing here to make this one stand out. This game needs an edge, badly.

The graphics are average and the control scheme is borrowed almost completely from SSX (PS2). The game fails to convey much sense of speed or excitement. The grinds are done on roller coaster-like rails, but the fact that you don't need to maintain your balance (just hold a button) greatly reduces the challenge. The graphics are smoothly animated but plain, and your large snowboarder often blocks your view of upcoming ramps and obstacles.

A career mode lets you create, outfit, and live a day-by-day schedule as a snowboarder. Unfortunately, the many layers of menus become tedious to wade through after a while. The rock soundtrack features some big names like Offspring and 311. For novice snowboarders this game will suffice, but veteran gamers will want more. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Egg Mania: Eggstreme
Grade: C-
Publisher: Kemco (2002)
Reviewed: 2012/1/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor those who can't get enough puzzle action, Egg Mania is an interesting take on the classic Tetris formula. This shape-stacking game is played on a split-screen against the CPU or a friend. Despite what the title might imply, you're not stacking eggs. No, these are standard Tetris-shaped blocks. The difference is that you control an egg-shaped character who catches the blocks and slams them into place. The ability to hold each block buys you some extra time so you can thoughtfully position them and fill in the gaps.

Unlike Tetris your ultimate goal is to build a tower high enough to reach a hot air balloon hovering above. The integrity of your structure is a factor because it will collapse if it becomes too rickety. Special items appear which either aid your building efforts or let you sabotage your opponent. It's fun to lob a bomb over to the other side as that poor slob attempts to jump out of the way.

Adding further chaos are bees and dragons that occasionally fly in and attack. Frankly, there's far too much stuff happening in this game. Egg Mania is far more complicated than it needs to be, which becomes clear if you attempt the tutorial which just goes on and on until you finally quit out of the damned thing. There are some interesting ideas here, but Egg Mania tries to do too much. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Enter the Matrix
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/7/24
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotSo this is the game so many critics and gamers have been complaining about? This is the same game that's been written off in newsgroups as a bug-ridden, poorly designed waste of a license? Well, I hate to ruin the party, but I actually like Enter the Matrix! Not only is its gameplay fast and exciting, but it captures the essence of the films perfectly.

You assume the role of one of two characters: a black woman named Niobi or an Asian guy named Ghost. Most missions involve sneaking around buildings, shooting it out with police, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The left trigger kicks in the "focus" mode (the equivalent of "bullet time" in Max Payne), slowing everything down so you can perform incredible stunts like dodging bullets. Performing hand-to-hand combat in focus mode is even more remarkable. The fluid manner in which Niobi grabs, disarms, and flips a cop in one smooth motion is a sight to behold. It really isn't hard to pull off some mind-blowing attacks, many of which you'll recognize from the films.

The controls are well designed, with the possible exception of the "shoot" button that's mapped to the somewhat awkward "black" button. I like how your character ducks automatically - it's great for running under low pipes. Enter the Matrix features a lot of dark, boring environments and stoic acting, but at least they're consistent with the films. There are ample police and soldiers to shoot up, but if you encounter an agent (you know, one of those Republican guys wearing a tie), you're better off running, since they are very difficult to defeat. The stages tend to be brief with ample save opportunities, and a handy arrow at the top of the screen keeps you heading in the right direction. Respectable driving stages are interspersed to break up the run-and-gun monotony.

One of the major failings of Enter the Matrix has to be its uneven visuals. You'll see a near-photographic brick wall next to a cheesy-looking waterfall of white lines. Niobi's flowing, shiny coat looks remarkable, but car tires and power buttons are shaped like octagons instead of circles! It looks pretty heinous. I also don't like how when you fire a weapon, your bullets don't appear to be going in the right direction, even when you're locked onto a target. The collision detection is hit-and-miss (pun intended), but the occasional lapses don't adversely affect the gameplay.

It's been reported that Enter the Matrix is susceptible to locking up, but I haven't experienced any of that. I can't forget to mention the much ballyhooed extra Matrix footage filmed exclusively for this game. I'm not a big fan of the trilogy, but these scenes are a real treat for fans. Unfortunately, the video is not DVD quality and looks somewhat grainy. Enter the Matrix definitely has its share of issues, but I still had a good time playing it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick
Grade: D
Publisher: THQ (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/12/9
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotI wasn't expecting much for $20, but being a long-time Evil Dead fanatic, I was hoping that Fistful of Boomstick would at least be respectable. I figured I could tolerate some mediocre gameplay as long as it retained that classic over-the-top horror formula I've always loved. Well, you have to be careful what you ask for, because this is certainly mediocre, and I don't think I like it so much. Wandering through town blasting ghouls with your shotgun and dismembering them with a chainsaw is entertaining for a while, but the fun doesn't last.

The graphics are below average, with plain-looking, uninteresting scenery. The character models are blocky, although the gratuitous splattering blood and flying limbs do compensate for this somewhat. Our hero Ash is voiced by Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell, who sounds like he's having a swell time. His funny wisecracks include gems like "Yes, you may have another", "Thank you for shopping at ass-whippings R Us," and "I bet you're for gun control now, huh?" The monsters do seem to possess the classic Evil Dead mannerisms, but they look pretty rough for an Xbox game.

The stages contain a series of puzzles that often defy logic, and you'll find yourself running in circles. Battling zombies in the streets hardly feels like an Evil Dead movie, and it's frustrating not being able enter most buildings. In addition to fighting, you'll also talk to people and collect keys to open new areas. Spells gradually become available, but trying to execute a spell in the heat of battle is hazardous to your health. In later stages medical kits are in short supply and the zombies swarm you from all directions. Fistful of Boomstick was an ill-conceived project, and even Evil Dead fans will find it hard to justify shelling out $20 for it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, GameSpot, Xbox Addict, Playstation.com, Moby Games