Xbox Reviews I-K

Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
Grade: C+
Publisher: LucasArts (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/5/23
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotIt might be tempting to call this a Tomb Raider rip-off, except for the fact that it was Tomb Raider that ripped off Indiana Jones in the first place. Anyway you look at it, Emperor's Tomb treads on some very familiar territory, and sometimes teeters precariously on the edge of mediocrity.

Emperor's Tomb places Indy in a series of castles and ruins as he collects items, solves puzzles, pulls switches, and beats up bad guys. As an Indiana Jones fan I was hoping this game would capture the flavor of the films, but except for the trademark music, that's not the case. In fact, I suspect you could swap Lara Croft with Indy and nobody would even notice. Heck, the main character doesn't even look like Harrison Ford, although the voice is a close match.

The control scheme is very good, feeling more natural and streamlined than the classic Tomb Raider controls. Guiding your character around is a breeze and you can perform some death-defying stunts with relative ease. Most surprising of all, the camera never seems to be a problem. You can punch out the bad guys, but that requires an inordinate number of blows, so use a gun whenever possible. For some odd reason the machete is worthless during battle.

Although the first stage feels like a Tomb Raider outtake, Emperor's Tomb does ultimately deliver its share of intense moments, like creeping through a cave of giant bats or swimming to shore with a huge crocodile on your tail! These thrills make up for some of the game's more frustrating sequences. Periodic technical flaws tend to reveal the game's PC origins (gasp!), and these include clipping problems, collision detection issues, frame-rate stutters, and misplaced shadows. One time I even found myself walking on thin air!

But the biggest liability is the hit-or-miss controls. Sometimes you can grab a ledge, while other times you cannot. Sometimes you can pull a switch, and sometimes you can't. This is not the polish we expect in a console adventure. At least your game is saved automatically (and transparently) on a regular basis, which is a very nice feature. It doesn't capture the unique spirit of the films, but if you can accept Emperor's Tomb for what it is, you'll probably find it worth your while. NOTE: The instruction manual that comes with this game is amazing! Maps, newspaper clippings, hand-written notes... it's a handbook worthy of Indy himself! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Jaws Unleashed
Grade: F
Publisher: Majesco (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/7/6
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotPoorly conceived and practically unplayable, Jaws Unleashed is an unmitigated disaster. As a huge fan of the movie, I was licking my chops at the thought of a video game adaptation, but nothing could have prepared me for this abomination. The novel concept of controlling the shark may have seemed promising on paper, but in fact it's no fun at all.

What made the movie so great was the suspense and tension created by the fact that you never knew when or where the shark would appear. When you are the shark, there's no excitement at all. Yeah, you can bump boats and bite swimmers, but that gets old the second time you do it! And the game's programming is as shoddy as its design.

In terms of graphics, this looks like a first generation PS2 game. The default "behind-the-shark" camera angle makes it impossible to judge distance. A shark cage will appear to be 50 feet away, when in fact you're right up against it! The preponderance of tight spaces doesn't help either. The first-person view is equally useless, as you can never tell what the hell is going on. The game's tutorial actually made me feel nauseous, and at one point my shark actually became stuck in a pier! Apparently the programmers anticipated this predicament, and included a "restore from last checkpoint" option on the menu. But wait - it gets worse.

The initial objective of the first stage is to "find an ID card to open the gate". Huh? Is this Jaws or freakin' Splinter Cell?! The controls are heinous. You can never direct your "tail-whip" in the proper direction, and the simple act of eating a person is utterly confusing. Did I swallow that guy, or did he just escape?! Your objectives are rarely updated, often leaving your shark lost and bewildered. Worst of all, you're saddled with an irritating "hunger meter" that causes your shark to suddenly die if he doesn't eat something every two minutes.

In general, you'll find your shark going belly-up all the time for no apparent reason. Does Jaws Unleashed offer any redeeming qualities? Well, the little factoids about the original movie that scroll by during the load screens are interesting. Also, the audio is quite good, especially when it comes to recreating those muffled, underwater effects. But nothing can possibly redeem this despicable mess. ET for the Atari 2600 may have been bad, but I'd prefer it to Jaws Unleashed any day. This may well be the worst video game of all time. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Jurassic Park Operation Genesis
Grade: B-
Publisher: Universal (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/6/6
Rating: Teen (Blood and gore, violence)

screenshotBilled as a 3D "action-sim", Operation Genesis is an ideal way to bring Jurassic Park to the video game world. One aspect of the original movie that fascinated people was the elaborate theme park, equipped with safari tours and other attractions. Now you can create your very own dinosaur park, and like other sim-style games, it's incredibly addicting. Once you get into this game, the hours just seem to fly by.

There are tutorial exercises to get you up to speed, but I think it's more fun to learn as you go. The menus can be intimidating at first because there are so many options available to you. First you'll need to deploy fossil diggers around the world and extract DNA at your genetics lab before you can even start breeding dinosaurs. Initially you'll have to settle for the small ones, but you'll gradually uncover fossils of larger beasts.

Creating the park layout is a joy. You'll run fences and paths, and place trash cans, benches, and fountains. You'll set up concession stands, souvenir shops, and hire cleaning and security personnel. You have a research staff that you can assign to one project at a time, which gradually increases your building options.

Once you officially open your park, it comes alive with thrill-seeking visitors. You can actually zoom in on the people to see their reactions! Naturally the character models look rougher up close, but they still look good. Eventually you'll construct balloon rides and safaris to keep the people entertained. Best of all, you can actually participate in the rides yourself, and even take pictures! To keep you abreast of your progress and latest developments, you are almost constantly notified by incoming emails. It sounds annoying, but they tend to be informative, short, and to the point. I don't think I ever got bored playing this game, because the bigger your park gets, the more there is to do.

For gamers who prefer instant gratification, there's also an exciting mission mode that challenges you to take pictures, shoot down rampaging carnivores, herd herbivores, or perform rescue missions. I played Operation Genesis for hours on end, but there were a few flaws that eventually tempered my enthusiasm. You'll often need to shoot dinosaurs from a helicopter in order to sedate them, and the targeting absolutely sucks. The cursor is far too sensitive to get a bead on the really small dinosaurs.

Next, transporting new dinosaurs from a breeding pen to their permanent homes is a time consuming and tedious process. You need to tranquilize them from a helicopter, move them to the proper area, and finally revive them. It isn't so bad for one dinosaur, but when you're breeding four or five at a time, it's downright aggravating! Also, I hate how some of the dinosaurs have such short lifespans. Few last more than a few years, and some only live for six months! Once your dinosaurs start dying off, you can't breed them fast enough.

I should also mention that the occasional hiccups in the framerate, while not offensive, are certainly noticeable. But overall, Operation Genesis is still one of the most engrossing games I've played on my XBox. If you have any interest in dinosaurs or the Jurassic Park movies, don't miss out on this. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 players 

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Reviewed: 2010/6/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor my entire life I've searched for the perfect surfing game, so how did I miss Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer? The game can be described as "Tony Hawk on water", and I mean that in the most positive way. You select between several beaches, each with its own unique characteristics as described by Kelly Slater himself via brief intro videos. The Sebastian location in Florida offers easy, fun-in-the-sun action, while the massive, crashing waves of the Maverick shore in California are more formidable.

Since you're looking out towards the ocean, there's not much in the way of scenery. When you see that big wave well up behind you however, it's pretty exciting. Each beach has a handful of goals, but you have complete freedom to ride the waves as you please. Typical goals involve topping a certain score, executing specific tricks, or performing stunts like jumping over a pier. Completing every goal is a tall order, but you only need to complete a subset to progress to the next level.

The basic controls are smartly designed and fairly intuitive in nature. Holding the A button lets you speed up, and this also functions as jump when you release it at the top of a wave. To "stall" (slow down) you pull back on the thumbstick, and this allows you to get sucked into the barrel of a wave. Fancy tricks are performed via combinations of the stick and buttons. It's fun to mess around, but to become a skilled player you'll need to practice and memorize a lot of moves.

The game usually captures the most dramatic camera angles, but it can be disorienting when you catch big air and can't tell where you're about to land. Frustration can occur when you blow a slew of combo points simply by wiping out a few seconds after the fact. The graphics are amazing, with smooth, natural-looking waves and realistically animated surfers. The game does a fine job of capturing the spirit of the sport while offering enough variety to keep the player engaged. I actually found myself contorting my body as I played! If you're looking for a surfing game for the summer, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is the best I've seen. . © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

King of Fighters Neo Wave
Grade: B+
Publisher: SNK (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/8/27
Rating: Teen (blood, mild suggestive themes, violence)


screenshotThis 2D fighter seems to have flown under the radar, but those who discover King of Fighters Neo Wave are in for a real treat. Unlike the recent spate of 2D rehashes, Neo Wave does more that take an old game and add an on-line mode. It takes an already great fighter and makes it even better.

True, Neo Wave is basically an amalgamation of the many other King of Fighter (KOF) games, but this package has it all. Its core one-on-one fighting engine has changed little over the years, but it's still perhaps the best one out there. The matches tend to be ferociously competitive. KOF veterans will appreciate the game's depth and rich set of moves, while newcomers will find satisfaction with simple button mashing.

With the exception of its unsightly intro sequence, Neo Wave is the best-looking King of Fighters title to date. The 35 characters look somewhat "smoothed over" in appearance, with less of that pixelated edge we're accustomed to seeing in games like this. I've always admired the artistic beauty of 2D fighters, and Neo Wave offers substantial eye candy. Many locations offer magnificent city views, and I love how they transform from day to night between rounds. In a surprising twist, one stage looks like something straight out of Mortal Kombat.

If only there were more of these fine looking stages. Also, it's hard not to notice the pronounced "jiggle" effects employed for the more attractive female characters. With Capcom unable to produce anything fresh in recent years, King of Fighters Neo Wave is clearly the way to go for 2D fighting fanatics. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 


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