Xbox Reviews U-Z

Van Helsing
Grade: B-
Publisher: Universal (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/6/23
Rating: Teen (Blood and gore, violence)

screenshotUnlike most movie-based video games, Van Helsing is a very enjoyable action-adventure. I wasn't thrilled with the film, but I must say that Van Helsing's subject matter is perfectly suited for a video game. All the monsters, stages, and bosses are conveniently provided by the film. Van Helsing is a monster hunter in a trench coat on the trail of the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula. The characters closely resemble those in the movie, and like the film, the acting and dialogue are pretty bad.

The background story is a streamlined version of the movie, but it's of little consequence in a game like this. You'll have a lot of fun exploring the haunted castles, collecting items, and blowing away undead ghouls. The game is played from a third-person perspective, along the lines of Devil May Cry, Onimusha, or Castlevania Lament of Innocence.

Van Helsing doesn't innovate on the genre, but it doesn't have to. The dark, gothic European scenery is quite atmospheric - I just wish I had some control of the camera so I could freely examine my surroundings. The castles, towns, and graveyards are meticulously detailed, but I found the annoying cave levels to be far less interesting. I actually had to subtract half a letter grade for getting stuck in those caves (by no fault of my own of course)!

Many stages feature pathways that look similar to each other, resulting in a lot of inadvertent backtracking. You'll face a host of cool creatures like flying vampire women, ephemeral ghosts, and shambling skeletons. Unfortunately, you'll also have to deal with some downright boring pests like floating skulls or Dracula's diminutive workers, who look too much like Ewoks. Our hero is armed out with some very effective weapons like spinning blades and a rapid-fire crossbow.

As you would expect, you collect new weapons and learn new moves as you progress. Monsters tend to regenerate when you return to previous areas, but you can often dart right past them. Van Helsing is action packed, and the puzzles aren't very hard to figure out. I love how the game is saved often and transparently. Van Helsing doesn't push the envelope, but it serves its purpose very well. Monster movie fans would be wise to give this one a chance. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Voodoo Vince
Grade: C-
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2012/12/5
Rating: Teen (mild realistic violence)


screenshotThis whimsical 3D platformer is similar to Grabbed by The Ghoulies (Xbox, 2004), but Voodoo Vince wins out with its charming New Orleans scenery and lavish production values. You control an accident-prone voodoo doll who defeats enemies by inflicting pain on himself. When Vince gets the wrong end of a chainsaw, all enemies in the vicinity get sliced in two! The "Big Easy" theme is nicely reflected in the French Quarter architecture, a jazzy musical score, bayou locations, and dark voodoo imagery.

Vince appears to be made of fabric, and this was many years before Little Big Planet (Playstation 3, 2008) made that look fashionable. Vince looks funny scampering around but his one-liners fall flat. The platform action is pretty standard as you run around beating up creeps, collecting items, and solving puzzles. Enemies include sparkling frogs, hovering insects, and a T-Rex skeleton boss.

The stage objectives are imaginative. In one area you need to blow up some "evil gas pumps" by setting yourself on fire. In another stage you open and close various businesses by adjusting the clock in the town square. The game frequently saves your progress. Voodoo Vince is a polished title but it suffers from the typical nagging 3D platformer issues. Sometimes you don't know what to do, and you'll wander in circles trying to make progress.

The city areas have been rocked by earthquakes (apparently), leaving bottomless gorges all over the place. The right stick gives you control of the camera, but it's still hard to judge the edge of walkways. The game's creative moments are offset by some painfully tedious stages. In one where you need to haul a flammable tank up a series of caverns lined with flame mechanisms, and it's less fun than having a tooth extracted. Voodoo Vince has style to burn, but as Vince would say, it's no pain, no gain. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Wakeboarding Unleashed
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/7/16
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWakeboarding Unleashed is truly a hidden gem in the Xbox library. Its kick-ass intro features Van Halen's "Unchained" playing over footage of people performing stunts on boards while being pulled by speedboats. I don't know if Wakeboarding is a real sport, but this game is amazing. Unleashed is best described as Tony Hawk on water. You launch off your boat's wake, hit buttons to perform crazy acrobatics in mid-air, and finish in time to nail the landing.

Naturally there are plenty of strategically located ramps, half-pipes, and rails sticking out of water to grind on. If you get enough air, you can even grind on boats, buildings, and even telephone lines! It's possible to release the rope in mid-air, allowing you to soar to even greater heights! I love the cooperative aspect of this game.

One player can drive the boat while the other performs stunts, and this can be played on a horizontal split-screen (preferred), vertical split-screen, or full screen. It's not unusual for the driver to plow into some rocks because he was gawking at some crazy trick.

Once you really get the hang of it, Wakeboarding is a thrilling experience. I actually found myself twisting and contorting in my seat while playing. When you're soaring through the air and Molly Hatchet is blaring in the background, the game reaches a level of fun few games can match. Wakeboarding is crazy addictive, but you'll first have to overcome a substantial learning curve which may deter some players.

Only one lake location is available from the outset, and while it's not bad, some tropical scenery would have made a better first impression. Other locations include the Louisiana bayou, Venice, and an amusement park. The addictive career mode lists challenges to perform and secrets to find, and most are very difficult to complete. Opening new locations is like pulling teeth, and unlocked stuff doesn't transfer to the cooperative mode. The game could certainly be more accessible, but those who stick with it are in for one hell of a ride. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

World Series Baseball
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/6/16
Rating: Everyone


screenshotIn 2002, World Series Baseball blew all the other baseball games out of the water. It provides just the right mix of realism and arcade action to create a baseball experience that's fast and exciting. The game minimizes lulls in the action by eliminating time-consuming aspects such as throwing the ball back to the pitcher, batter introductions, warming up relievers, etc. The TV-style camera angles are amazing, and the player mannerisms are remarkably faithful to their real-life counterparts.

The animation is superb. A ball hit to a fielder will clearly enter his glove, and the player will catch, plant, and throw in one fluid motion. And unlike other baseball games, these guys always act naturally, even when they're just standing around. The stadiums are much less impressive. The scenery isn't very detailed, and the crowd is pixelated and flat. But unlike the harsh, jaggy visuals of other PS2 baseball games, World Series has a soft, polished look that's oh-so easy on the eyes (like a Dreamcast game!).

World Series is easy to play thanks to simple, intuitive controls, although pressing the R button to dive seems a bit odd. The strike zone is large and fielders snatch up everything in their vicinity. Automatic replays show you the angles you wish you'd see on TV, and the manual replay feature is a pleasure to use. The game engine is rock solid, and the attention to detail is commendable. Balls bounce off infielder gloves, first basemen reach for errant throws, and birds fly over the outfield. When you hit an opposing team's batter, be prepared to get a taste of your own medicine.

But the game isn't perfect. There are some minor graphical glitches, and the two-man commentary is nowhere NEAR the quality of a television broadcast. Their remarks are sparse, and the color commentator is so boring that you'll always hit a button to skip his lame remarks. And no matter how thrilling a game is, the crowd and commentators always sound like they're ready to nod off.

Other problems include the fact that all foul balls look the same, some players are the wrong skin color, and their faces look downright scary up close. Batters always hit the plate with the bat after striking out. You don't get a good view of fly balls, which takes away from the drama of homeruns. Despite its flaws, World Series is still at the head of its class. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

World Series Baseball 2K3
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/5/13
Rating: Everybody


screenshotAt least this game gets extra credit for getting the year right. Believe it or not, most new baseball games are passing themselves off as 2004 games - that nonsense has got to stop! World Series 2K3 builds upon the previous year's solid effort with more animations, deeper gameplay, and additional options. World Series is the best baseball game I've played in a long time.

The controls have been dramatically enhanced since last year - just be sure to switch off that stupid "pitching cursor" from the options menu. The best new feature is the ability to jump straight up to snag liners, or scale the wall to rob homers. You can also swing for power, drag bunts, redirect throws to the infield, and steal bases with ease. Pitchers can even shake off pitches you try to enter (how cool is that?), and relievers can be managed in the bullpen.

There are a slew of new "retro" options that let you play in classic parks, play as 25 Hall of Famers, or wear throwback uniforms. Otherwise the gameplay is pretty much the same as last year, which is a mostly good thing. Fielders apply tags cleanly, coaches dodge screaming foul balls, and players pull off picture-perfect double plays. The instant replay system is superb, and most of the auto-replays are worth watching.

The graphics are about the same, which means the players still look like "Michael" from the Halloween movies. I was rather impressed to see trees in the background swaying in the breeze. The crowd noise is fantastic - it actually sounds like you're at an actual baseball game. I like how you can hit a button to expedite the game between plays, but I wish it wouldn't cut off the commentators so abruptly.

Yes, they are boring as hell, but at least they could finish their sentences. Other problems include the fact that the pitchers try to field too many balls. The runners are too swift, creating an inordinate number of triples and inside-the-parker homers. The homerun angles are lousy, and the CPU opponent is slow.

Like any serious baseball fan, I like to see what happens when I start hitting batters in the head. This does incite a fight, but you only get to see the batter running toward the mound before the game switches to the pitcher selection screen. Next year, I want to see blood! World Series 2K3's intuitive control and arcade sensibility make it your best bet for a "next generation" baseball game. But as good as it is, it's still a bit slow, and it's still baseball. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Worms 3D
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2016/4/12
Rating: Teen (really?)

screenshotThis is what happens when you take a beloved multiplayer classic and skewer it beyond recognition. Saddled with chunky, unwanted polygon graphics, Worms 3D is almost too painful to bear. The original 2D game let you command an army of worms scattered around a randomly-generated screen. The idea was to eliminate other worm teams using an eclectic set of weapons ranging from bazookas to baseball bats to exploding sheep.

In this version the 3D graphics only serve to detract from the fun. Instead of focusing on your plan of attack you spend 90% of your time fumbling with the camera. The fact that it's pulled in so close makes the process of finding an enemy feel like a major chore. The trigger brings up an overhead map but it's surprisingly unhelpful.

If you finally do locate a target you'll struggle with the weapon controls. Each weapon has its own set of instructions so I hope you keep that manual handy! It's so difficult to gauge your power and trajectory you either miss your target by a mile or inadvertently blow yourself up. On the off-chance you hit a worm on the other team the ill-behaved camera prevents you from enjoying the moment.

The single player modes are pure misery and setting up a four-player match is a nightmare. Why does a four-player game only offer three different teams by default? Worms 3D does some many things wrong this review should be considered a cautionary tale. You just can't "unplay" a game this bad, but you'll wish you could. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Worms Forts Under Siege
Grade: F-
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2016/4/12
Rating: Teen

screenshotWorms was once a proud franchise before it was destroyed by a clumsy transition to 3D. I thought Worms 3D (Sega, 2003) was a travesty but nothing could have prepared me for the polygon horror that is Worms Forts. Instead of addressing the glaring flaws of the first 3D game, Forts doubles down and piles onto its rickety foundation. At least in Worms 3D you could locate enemies (with some difficulty) and readily access an arsenal of weapons. Worms Forts places the worm armies in far-flung reaches of each sprawling stage, so you can't even see another team much less attack it.

To enable your weapons you must first construct towers like some half-assed version of SimCity. This new building element adds no fun whatsoever; just a whole lot of tedium. Navigating your worms around the landscape is a tremendous hardship, partly due to the poor camera which makes it nearly impossible to tell where the hell you are. You'll spend so much time fiddling around with the camera angle that even the worms begin to yawn! The weapon controls are needlessly complicated. Could we at least get a trajectory path?!

The heinous graphics suffer from egregious clipping issues, and being subjected to multiple unwanted replays after each errant shot is pure torture. One time i attempted to shoot an enemy worm in the face with a bazooka from point-blank range... and still missed! When playing with friends we played an entire contest without killing a single worm. Worms Forts goes well beyond trainwreck territory. You just can't "unplay" a game this bad. A wise man once told me "this too shall pass" but he clearly never played Worms Forts. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

X-Men Legends
Grade: C-
Publisher: Activision (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/3/22
Rating: Teen (Blood, violence)

screenshotIt astounds me when I hear this game referred to as an RPG (role playing game), when in fact X-Men Legends plays more like a classic hack-n-slash arcade title. The only RPG elements are the experience points which allow you to "level up". Viewing the action from overhead, up to four players can assume the role of their favorite heroes, engaging in hand-to-hand combat, utilizing special abilities, and even performing "team up" attacks. When less than four players are involved, the CPU controls the others, although you can switch characters on the fly.

You begin the game controlling just Wolverine, and gradually unlock other heroes as you progress. There are 16 playable X-Men in all. The comic-book style, cell-shaded graphics look terrific from a high angle, but far less impressive up close. I was enthralled by the cut scenes, which for once are actually worth watching. The best part of Legends is how your characters can occasionally interact with their environment; for example, Iceman can extinguish a fire in your path with an icy blast.

It sounds like dream-come-true for comic book fans, but Legends doesn't quite deliver on its promise. I played the game with a few friends and although we were enthusiastic at first, the gameplay wore thin after a short period of time. Continuously beating up the same generic thugs becomes tiresome, and the stage designs are monotonous. Too many times we found ourselves going in circles, asking, "haven't we been here before?"

Since the camera is pulled back, there's not much eye candy to enjoy. Also, the save game points are spaced far apart, so dying forces you to revert to your last load and replay a large chunk of the stage - not cool. X-Men Legends does contain some old-school charm, but I'd hardly call it addictive. Casual fans will tire of it quickly, but bump up the grade by one letter if you're a die-hard. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


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