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

Xbox Reviews M

MVP Baseball 2004
Grade: B
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
Posted: 2004/6/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOf all the baseball games released in 2004, MVP Baseball is widely considered to be the best of the bunch. If you want to know what's so great about it, look no further than its awesome "throw meters". After EA completely removed the meters from its golf games, it's ironic to see them crop up here. A two-press meter determines the speed and accuracy of each pitch, which is quite challenging and makes the whole pitcher/batter aspect far more interesting. Swinging only requires a single button press and thankfully doesn't require any unrealistic "aiming".

In the field, a one-press meter is used to determine the strength of the throw, and this works incredibly well. Batted balls are drawn with a line underneath of them, and the thicker the line, the higher the ball is. A diamond-shaped runner display in one corner has four small picture-in-picture screens to view each runner's whereabouts. Nifty animations include fielders that spin around and throw on the run, hook slides, and first basemen that stretch for wide throws.

The gameplay is good, but the visuals could use some work. The players look chunky and a few have HUGE asses. The grainy field reminded me of the old RBI Baseball games for the Genesis, and the distant scenery looks awfully fuzzy. The gameplay is not perfect either. Computer-controlled fielders pause momentarily when you take control of them, and they don't apply tags as quickly as they should.

The play-by-play is uninteresting and often even wrong. I've heard the commentators refer to a fielder's choice play as an infield single, describe a bloop hit as a line-drive, and say a foul ball "had the distance" when it most certainly did not. MVP Baseball tends to provide poor angles of certain plays, notably close plays at first base.

Finally, some of the cut-scenes, like players walking to the plate, simply waste time and can not be turned off (although you can skip them with a push of a button). That's what I hate about modern baseball games - all those little cut scenes are supposed to add realism but just slow things down. Still, MVP Baseball is the first new baseball I've played in a while that doesn't put me to sleep after a few innings. If EA tightened up the presentation MVP would be tough to beat. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 2 players 

Magic the Gathering Battlegrounds
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Posted: 2005/10/11
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotAs a casual fan of Magic the Gathering, I was curious to see how Atari would translate the strategy-intensive card game into video format. Battlegrounds is basically a "real time" version of the game, with each player controlling a "wizard" on each side of a battlefield. Actually, the game is played on a very small piece of real estate, and some might even call it cramped. By gathering "manna" that appears on the ground, players amass enough energy to conjure spells and monsters. Your creatures automatically attack your opponent, but often collide with opposing creatures along the way, resulting in a battle to the death. The action is nonstop - there's no concept of turns, so you have to think fast.

The overall design of Battlegrounds is pretty clever, but the implementation is flawed. For example, when a monster penetrates your defenses, you can turn it away at the last second by "smacking" it with your staff. Regrettably, the lagging controls make this simple action almost impossible to execute. The monsters and spells available are a small subset of those from the card game. But unlike the card game, combining them in imaginative ways is impossible because your selection is terribly limited at any given time.

Another problem is the poorly-designed user interface, requiring an inordinate number of button presses to do anything. The one-player mode is addicting for a while, but then you reach a certain stage that's practically insurmountable. The difficulty should really ramp more gradually. Magic the Gathering Battlegrounds isn't really a bad game - there's plenty of fun to be had despite its flaws. But when you consider how great it could have been, you have to be somewhat disappointed. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Max Payne
Grade: B
Publisher: Rockstar (2001)
Posted: 2003/5/13
Rating: Mature (violence, blood, adult subject matter)

screenshotDeveloped by our Finnish friends at Remedy, Max Payne may be the most violent game I've ever played. It's a third-person shooter with an intricate storyline carefully woven into it. The drama begins with a rather disturbing scene of Max's wife getting murdered. Three years later, Max finds himself downtown in New York stuck in a snowstorm, wanted by the law for a crime he didn't commit, and caught up in a mob war. And you thought you had problems!

The story is conveyed through narration and comic book-like stills with real actors and bubble dialogue. Actually, these "actors" look a bit young and innocent for their parts, so I'm guessing they were probably people on the development team who wanted to appear in the game. The dialogue is melodramatic and quite colorful. The game itself involves walking through seedy downtown locations like subways and cheap hotels while mowing down gangsters at every turn.

But what really sets Max Payne apart is the Matrix-inspired "bullet time" mode that lets you dive on the floor and shoot people in slow motion. It's a great way to avoid fire, and you'll find yourself diving and shooting so much that it's almost comical. The blood and violence is VERY explicit, so you won't want the kids playing this. The game also contains a surprising amount of adult subject matter, some of which made even me feel uncomfortable! An interesting feature is the use of "painkillers" to heal yourself. But the best feature has got to be the "auto-save" which tells you that your game is saved every few minutes - very convenient and reassuring.

The graphics are, for the most part, very realistic, with the seedy parts of town looking appropriately filthy. You can even interact with most objects like faucets, phones, vending machines, and televisions. The characters, particularly Max, all have photo-realistic faces. The animation is very smooth, especially during "bullet time". However, the collision detection could have been better, as Max often ends up with half of his head stuck in a wall after diving. The sound effects are amazing, but the audio transitions are sloppy at times.

In terms of control, I really wish there was a "turn around" button, because Max rotates slowly, making it hard to locate where those pesky bullets are coming from. The aiming controls are non-intuitive (pushing up aims down and vice versa), so most players will need practice before getting comfortable with it. In addition, the camera sometimes gets "out of whack" which makes you feel disoriented - very inconvenient during shootouts.

I should also mention that you'll need to sit through tons of loading screens, although I'm guessing they pass more quickly than they do in the PS2 version. Max Payne is a good game to play when you need to blow off some steam after a hard day's work. It's not for kids, but mature adults in the mood for action should dig it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Mech Assault
Grade: B-
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Posted: 2004/1/28

screenshotThis shooter received many accolades in 2002 when the Xbox library was still pretty thin. Mech Assault is less impressive now, but still a lot of fun. As in all "mech" games, you walk around in a huge, armored robotic war machine. Mech Warrior is an arcade-style shooter with simple controls and straightforward missions. You view the action from behind your mech, and the left joystick is used to move while the right one aims (like Halo).

Your mech looks terrific from the back and moves in a very fluid manner. The well-designed control scheme lets you push in on the left joystick to engage your thrusters and fly momentarily. Your first few missions feature easy adversaries including infantry that you can step on like ants. Many of your weapons have lock-on capabilities that make it easier to get a bead on your enemies. Large, satisfying explosions occur when you take out larger targets, and destroyed buildings crumble to the ground magnificently.

The quality and magnitude of these explosions alone have to be worth at least a letter grade. Sometimes you'll find yourself in the middle of a huge battle against tanks, cannons, and other mechs, and when things heat up, you spend most of the time mindlessly strafing and shooting constantly. The graphics are about average, and the game is not glitch-free (I once got stuck in a rock). The two-player split-screen mode didn't do anything for me either. Mech Warrior is probably no longer considered a "must have" title, but it's still a fine way to kill an afternoon. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 8 players 

Medal of Honor: Frontline
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Posted: 2008/3/16
Rating: Teen

screenshotIf Medal of Honor Frontline was meant to convey the horrors of World War II, then it serves its purpose well. The first stage is a virtual living hell as you storm the beaches of Normandy (a la Saving Private Ryan) with spraying bullets, constant explosions, and dead soldiers all over the place. If that wasn't bad enough, the game tortures you with confusing objectives and unresponsive soldiers. When a fellow soldier asks you to lay down cover fire and then refuses to run, it's frustrating. It gets worse when you run out of ammo and have to scamper around the beach like a chicken looking for more.

Frontline's single player experience improves when the action moves into the war-torn towns, but it's still pretty easy to become hopelessly stuck. The graphics are quite good - so good that my friend Chris asked it this was a 360 game! The realistic environments are truly immersive, and the crisp sound effects of whizzing bullets, yelling soldiers, and distant explosions really make you feel part of a large conflict. The soldiers look good - even up close. It's realistic how injured Nazi soldiers sometimes get up and continue fighting. The AI has some pretty big lapses however, like when you're standing right next to an enemy and he doesn't even notice!

There's no blood in this game, but those Nazi soldiers really love to put on a show with their dramatic, two-minute long death routines! Just die already!! There are a lot of opportunities to man mounted machine guns, and it's great fun to mow down the bad guys by the dozen. While there's a lot to like about Frontline's solo mode, it consistently made me feel ill when I tried to play it for extended periods of time (over an hour). My friends thought it was great though, so maybe it was just me.

I prefer the multiplayer split-screen experience, with its well-constructed environments that are ideal in size for four players. In addition to run-and-gun action, there are always plenty of places to camp out. In one memorable contest my buddy Steve (aka Sln7zer) unleashed a one-man reign of terror with his diabolical sniping tactics. Frontline isn't the landmark title it once was, but it's certainly a high quality war title for the Xbox. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Mega Man Anniversary Collection
Grade: C
Publisher: Capcom (2004)
Posted: 2014/1/25
Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)

screenshotMega Man was a seminal series that debuted on the NES in 1987 and continues to this day. Mega Man Anniversary Collection contains emulated versions of the first eight Mega Man games, along with two never-before-released Mega Man arcade titles: Power Fighters and Power Battles. These two bonus titles are locked, which royally sucks for those buying this disc just for them. The first six Mega Man games were NES staples, and Mega Man 7 for the SNES has become a rare collectable. The eighth game appeared on the Playstation and featured pastel, cartoon-like graphics.

As a whole, these games represent some of the best 2D platform shooting action ever made. They look sharper than ever on the Xbox, yet retain their pixelated charm. The music sounds right on key and has that distinctive resonating quality. Unfortunately, the sound effects could use some work. The abrasive "hits" sound like someone banging garbage can lids together (the PS2 version does not have this issue). The controls also take a hit, since the Xbox controller is lacking in so many ways. The digital pad is wonky and the rounded buttons are uncomfortable.

I'd recommend playing on an old-fashioned TV because the margin for error in the platform jumping is razor thin. Even the slightest input lag will make these games even more frustrating that they were originally (hard to believe, I know). The save system is a welcome feature, but it's poorly implemented and confusing. Sorry, I did not unlock the bonus games (bad critic, bad!) I love Mega Man as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure this collection is the best way to enjoy them. Still, Mega Man Anniversary Collection makes a lot of sense for those on a tight budget or younger gamers who just want to see what all the commotion is about. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Metal Slug 3
Grade: A-
Publisher: SNK (2004)
Posted: 2004/7/24
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)

screenshotJust to illustrate how prejudiced the media is against 2D graphics, one popular video game magazine recently claimed Metal Slug 3 (MS3) would probably qualify as game of the year - ten years ago! That's not fair. In my opinion, fun is fun, and shooters don't get much better than this. One or two players assume the role of soldiers in this intense run-and-gun arcade game where the action never stops.

MS3's graphics are superbly detailed with wacky cartoon animations and interesting backgrounds that resemble oil paintings. Like all Metal Slug games, your firepower is awesome, and the on-screen explosions are supremely satisfying. Some weapons are limited to shooting either forward or up, but you can always lob grenades at hard-to-reach enemies. You can commandeer vehicles like planes, tanks, and subs, and there are plenty of surprises along the way.

MS3's visuals are so lush and brimming with personality that it's easy to miss humorous little animations that occur in the heat of battle. The five selectable stages each require a different style of play, and the locations take you from a desert to the depths of the ocean to a zombie-infested island. Complementing the superb visuals is a killer soundtrack and crystal clear sound effects.

Metal Slug 3 is a blast to play solo, and even better when teamed up with a buddy. As much as I love the game, there are a few negative aspects I have to mention. One is obvious to anyone who has played the game - it's entirely too hard. Even on the "easy" difficulty with the lives cranked up to five, clearing a stage is a monumental achievement. Your score inexplicably does not reset when you continue, rendering the scoring system worthless. Also, the menus are confusing as hell to navigate. But these issues shouldn't deter you from buying this game.

Metal Slug 3 is a breath of fresh air next to all the first-person shooters and gangster games out there. Old school gamers will relish every moment of it, and other players may wonder why there aren't more titles like this for Xbox. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Midnight Club 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Rockstar (2003)
Posted: 2003/9/6
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotThe first Midnight Club (PS2) was somewhat underrated, but for some reason Midnight Club II has been overrated to no end, with some magazines calling it revolutionary. Are they trying to overcompensate perhaps? Don't get me wrong, it's a terrific game, but it's really not a whole lot different than the first Midnight Club, which got rather mediocre reviews by comparison. Like the original, you cruise around town challenging drivers to race, win new cars, and open up tracks as you advance.

Midnight Club II is one of those games that you can jump right into without worrying about complicated controls or tedious tutorials. Even the first few cars respond well. I love to just cruise around the cities checking out the scenery. Los Angeles is pretty boring, but Paris looks terrific, and the colorful lights of Tokyo are mesmerizing. The graphics are only slightly better than the first Midnight Club, but definitely a step up from Grand Theft Auto Vice City. I was slightly disappointed by the angular roads and relatively small size of the cities.

The gameplay itself is fun and addicting. Some races require you to pass through markers scattered all over the place, but those require too much trial and error, as well as knowledge of the street layout. Plus it's hard to watch your map while flying down the road at 100 MPH. I prefer the "straight" races that provide high-velocity thrills of the magnitude of Burnout. When you hit the "turbo" button, the visual effect is astonishing.

One big disappointment is the multiplayer mode. These "capture the flag" variations try to be like Smuggler's Run (PS2), but that type of game just isn't suited to these dark, enclosed environments. Also, I wish the control scheme used the trigger buttons for accelerate and brake functions. In terms of music, the pulse-pounding beats and rap music are an improvement over the generic rhythms of the first game, but still not what I would call great. Midnight Club II doesn't really break any new ground, but it's still a decent racer. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition
Grade: B+
Publisher: Rockstar (2005)
Posted: 2005/10/11
Rating: Everyone (mild language, mild violence)

screenshotNo question about it - Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition raises the bar for racing games - if only in terms of pure eye candy. The texture of the road, vehicle details, and realism of the scenery easily surpasses anything I've seen in a previous racer. When I showed this to my friends, their jaws collectively hit the floor. The illusion of speed is exhilarating; especially once the nitrous oxide kicks it.

The cities are bustling with cars and people, and weaving through traffic has an adrenaline-pumping "Burnout" flavor. Opposing cars are surprisingly aggressive, even going as far as running you off the road! The controls are outstanding. Squeezing through traffic and power sliding around corners feels almost second nature - even the first time you play.

The single-player "career" mode is what you'd expect; you cruise around town in your shiny car, challenging racers and earning money to upgrade your ride. Unlike some lesser racers that will go unnamed (*cough* Gran Turismo 4 *cough*), you actually begin the game with a half-way-decent car! Another feature I can certainly appreciate is the "auto-upgrade", which lets you easily enhance your car without having to be a certified mechanic.

There are a variety of race types, but the classic Midnight Club style is to race through ordered "checkpoints" placed around the city, marked by colorful smoke plumes that extend to the sky. Unfortunately, these races are tainted by one glaring design flaw. The floating, translucent, 3D "arrows" that direct you to the next checkpoint are really hard to make out! It's so annoying - how could none of the game's testers not have noticed this when every single one of my friends did?!

Midnight Club 3 also includes "autocross" races, which are more conventional walled-in courses. These tend to be less exciting however because you don't encounter those crazy intersections. But the most exciting race type by far is the new "Frenzy" mode, which gives you automatic bursts of nitrous the whole race through! As you can imagine, it's insane, and just staying on the road is a challenge.

The San Diego, Detroit, and Atlanta locales are very realistic, although they lack that "sightseeing" quality. The pedestrians don't look very realistic, and you can drive right through them, which looks pretty bad. The eclectic music mix is mediocre, although I found it thankfully less "extreme" than crap I've heard in other racers. Gamers looking for realistic late-night racing action will certainly appreciate Midnight Club 3. It offers a lot of game for your money, and plays as good as it looks. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance
Grade: B-
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Posted: 2002/12/25
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotIn the early 90's, Mortal Kombat (MK) was one of those blockbuster hits that took the world by storm. Its gameplay was somewhat different from the other popular fighters of the time (Street Fighter II), and gamers were mesmerized by the digitized warriors, flying blood, and gruesome fatalities. In addition, its dark, otherworldly style was both mysterious and inviting. The series peaked with MK2, lost steam with MK3, and fell flat with MK4. But Deadly Alliance signifies a Mortal Kombat comeback, combining the style of the original game with a state-of-the-art 3D fighting engine.

Each fighter can switch between three fighting styles on the fly (including one with a weapon), so there's never a shortage of moves. With over 20 characters and moves galore it's unlikely you'll ever see everything this game has to offer. The basic move set includes a sidestep, back flip, taunt, and shove. Precise movements and exaggerated sound effects make each match look like a well-choreographed martial arts flick.

On the downside, some of the combos are way too complex, and those that include a trigger button are almost impossible to pull off. In addition, many of the moves that appear devastating on the screen in fact do minimal damage. Dark Alliance's graphics are good, but still a notch below Dead or Alive 3. There are some cool details, like steam emanating from Sub Zero's arms, but the gratuitous flowing blood looks ridiculous. I prefer the old "flying" blood over this new "streaming" stuff. I also dislike how the fighters stand up briefly before collapsing in defeat.

The netherworld backgrounds are less than dazzling, but MK vets will welcome back the familiar bonus stages that challenge you to smash wood or ice. The innovative Konquest mode teaches you the moves of each fighter and lets you earn "koins". This currency can be used in the "Krypt", which holds over 600 coffins, each individually priced and containing a unique prize. Items range from artwork, to video clips, to hidden characters, and my curiosity kept me coming back for more. My favorite feature is open from the start: a fun video called "The History of Mortal Kombat". Midway put a lot of effort into Deadly Alliance, and it shows. But was it really necessary to kill off Liu Kang?? © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Mortal Kombat Deception
Grade: B
Publisher: Midway (2004)
Posted: 2004/11/22
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotI suspect this sixth Mortal Kombat installment is called Deception because it tricks gamers into thinking this is a brand new Mortal Kombat game. In fact, Deception feels more like an extended version of Deadly Alliance (Xbox 2002). Sure, there are more fighters, battlegrounds, and play modes, but the main fighting engine is pretty much unchanged. It may have been cutting-edge two years ago, but since then it's been surpassed by the likes of Soul Calibur 2 and Virtua Fighter 4. By comparison, Deception's fighters look somewhat stiff and their moves disjointed.

The only real changes to the fighting are a new "combo-breaker" move, multi-level arenas (a la Dead Or Alive 3), and gory "death traps". But Deception does pack a good deal of gameplay for your money. The character roster has been expanded to include old favorites like Baraka, Nightwolf, Sindel, and Kabal. An improved Konquest mode incorporates a "boy coming of age" storyline with expansive worlds to explore. I enjoyed running around gathering coins in Konquest mode, but the mediocre graphics, poor collision detection, and half-assed missions (find the dog!) make it look somewhat cheap and tacked-on. In addition, some of the tasks are crazy hard, like fighting with half a life-bar while bleeding to death.

When you tire of Konquest (and you will), there's "Chess Kombat", which puts the MK crew on a chessboard, where they must literally fight for each square. The game has an Archon flavor that I find appealing, and the contests are a nice mix of strategy and skill. The third new mode is Puzzle Kombat, which plays like the old Street Fighter 2-inspired Puzzle Fighter 2 (Playstation). This Tetris clone is addictive enough but feels out of place in a Mortal Kombat game. Deception also has an on-line mode, but I've never been into that.

One holdover from Deadly Alliance is the popular "Krypt" area, where you trade in your coins for various prizes. There's plenty of stuff to win, but unfortunately, most of it is junk. We're talking "alternative" character bios, photos of the developers, and lame production sketches. With so many cheap "prizes," the Krypt feels really watered-down. I should also mention that I encountered a few bugs in the game. Most are minor, but the game did lock up once during a load screen. Deception is only an incremental improvement over Deadly Alliance. There's plenty of play value, but to be honest I was expecting much more. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks
Grade: D+
Publisher: Midway (2005)
Posted: 2005/12/18
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

screenshotThe first two Mortal Kombat spin-offs failed miserably on the Playstation One, but many critics claim that Shaolin Monks finally does the franchise justice. I don't think so. It's not that Mortal Kombat (MK) couldn't be made into a decent adventure game. With its rich set of characters, interesting storylines, and mysterious locales, it has all the necessary ingredients. But for every good design decision in Shaolin Monks, there's an equally boneheaded flaw.

The stars of the game are Liu Kang and Kung Lao (both of Mortal Kombat 2 fame), and many other familiar faces make appearances including Raiden, Johnny Cage, Baraka, Shang Tsung, and Sonya Blade. The storyline is conveyed through succinct, enjoyable cut-scenes that contain a surprising amount of humor. But what will attract most MK fans to this game is the opportunity to explore the stages that served as backdrops for previous MK titles. Most locations are derived from MK2, including Goro's Lair, the spiked pit, the Dead Pool, and the Living Forest. The "earth" locations are breathtaking with their towering waterfalls and misty mountains, and the dark "Outworld" areas exude the proper aura of mystery and danger.

Unfortunately, your freedom of movement is heavily constrained, limiting your exploration to a few obvious paths. The fighting action is similar to recent one-on-one MK games (Dark Alliance and Deception), but the controls have been tailored to let you strike multiple enemies in quick succession. "Multipliers" are displayed for consecutive hits, and it's not unusual to rack up some ridiculous numbers when battling a gang.

Unfortunately, fighting the same old thugs over and over gets tiresome, especially when they regenerate whenever you return to an area. I hate how you punch a guy 50 times in a row and he'll still get up no worse for wear. As my buddy Scott remarked after unlocking some concept art, "What I really need to unlock is the ability to inflict something besides slight damage to these endless clones!"

Shaolin Monks does manage to incorporate several trademarks of the series, including weapons, traps, fatalities, and even "test your might" challenges. The traps are sweet; there's nothing more satisfying than kicking your foe into a wall of spikes, or launching them from a catapult. Fatalities are much easier to perform than in past MK games - and thank goodness for that! Not only are you provided with the codes on the screen, but you have ample time to enter them! Unfortunately, all fatalities are performed on a generic black background - as if the two characters were floating in space!

In general the graphics are about average, although the animation and control are a cut above. Two players can battle side-by-side, but the camera is a real pain. The save points could be spaced better; I played over an hour before locating a new one. Shaolin Monks is a mixed bag. At its best, the game lets you delve into the world of Mortal Kombat like you never could before, but at its worst, it feels like that awful Xbox Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. © Copyright 2005 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, Lutris, LaunchBox Games Database, Video Games Museum