Out of the many computers that fought for control of the market in the 1980's, only two survived.  One was Apple's Macintosh.  The other was an office machine that found new life as a home computer.  Technicians often call it the...  
X86 PC  


(under construction)


(under construction)




Now THIS is the way shareware should be designed. Owen Thomas' Astro Fire is a shining example of what can be done with a PC when in the hands of a talented programmer with a little common sense. You want computer rendered graphics? They're here, in 256 beautiful colors. You want sound card support? You've got it. You want power-ups, devious enemies, a wide variety of options, voice, and play mechanics with just a hint of heartwarming nostalgia? This is your game. In fact, this is just about ANYONE'S game, since it runs just as quickly on a 386 as it does a Pentium. No, really! I'm serious! And to top things off (rather nicely, I might add), the first episode, jam packed with 25 challenging rounds, is absolutely positively free. The second and third episodes do cost an additional $30, but if they're anything like the first, you'd better believe that it's worth the investment. The only thing I can really complain about is the game's name... Astro Fire? Gee, that's kind of underwhelming, especially since the game itself is so good. Owen should have considered christening it with one of the considerably cooler episode titles, like Heart of the Storm or Into the Fire... oh well. Generic name aside, this is without a doubt the best Asteroids derivitive I've played on my PC. Kurt Dekker could learn a few things from this guy.



I've always had a place in my heart for Bubble Bobble... it drew me in right from the beginning with its adorable characters and devilishly addictive blend of action and strategy, and I'm not ashamed to admit that it's still one of my all-time favorite NES games. I wasn't sure just how Novalogic's PC translation of the coin-op sleeper would stack up to the NES Bubble Bobble, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that the game was an even better arcade conversion, with cleaner graphics and a more complex soundtrack (with a sound card, of course, which as luck would have it is my 386's ONLY luxury. Without it, you'll be forced to either hum the Bubble Bobble tune to yourself or allow the PC's internal speaker to take over, which is highly unrecommended if you wish to preserve your sanity). All of the classic Bubble Bobble subtleties and play mechanics have been ported perfectly to the PC format, including all the enemies, rounds, and of course, the many, MANY power-ups and bonus items (boots, bombs, crosses, candy, sushi, rainbows, burgers, flowers, fruits... you name it, it's in here). It's a damned near perfect translation, which could be its only flaw since the NES and arcade versions of Bubble Bobble became incredibly frustrating after the 15th round, and the PC version adds to this aggravation by allowing the player just nine continues. Most players won't be able to claw their way through half the game with this annoying restriction, leading me to think that there may be hidden codes for level selection and/or unlimited lives. If there's not, it's rather obvious that Novalogic seriously overestimated the skill of its target audience, adding a little tarnish to what's otherwise a sterling translation of an absolutely brilliant arcade game.


And as a sort of companion to Bubble Bobble, we have Dynablaster, another great PC port of a game with a sizable cult following. Don't let the cheesy title fool you... this is an almost exact conversion of the first Bomberman game released for the TurboGrafx16 ("The Turbo what?" Don't you remember... oh, forget it. It's not really that important). Basically, that means that the plot and play mechanics are pretty barebones in comparison to the Genesis and SNES versions of the game, but the execution is still up to your typical Hudson Soft standards. Dynablaster looks, sounds, and plays very much like software for a dedicated game console, and the fact that you don't need a Pentium for this kind of performance makes it that much more appealing. And of course, the ever-popular battle mode is included (it even supports up to four players, although I suspect two must share a keyboard), so it's definately a complete Bomberman game. True Bomberphiles will snatch this up in a second (if just for the novelty of playing a truly good version of the game on their PCs), and to the uninitiated, well, this is as good a place as any to get acquainted with the series. Check it out.


Oh, happy day... it's another miserable shareware port of an arcade classic, designed especially to annoy owners of older PCs with its ludicrous hardware requirements. Nice going, Dekker. I mean, really, Astro Fire creator Owen Thomas designed a terrific Asteroids clone with computer rendered graphics and Soundblaster support that runs like a dream whether you're using a mighty Pentium or a lowly 386... so why can't the lead game designer for an industry giant like Interplay pull off a similar feat with a Galaxian clone that for all intents and purposes is inferior to the same game on the ColecoVision? It's pathetic! OK, so it's a little ridiculous for me to expect the guy to program software for a minority of computer users (although there are a LOT more 386-based PCs floating around than one would expect...), but there's no excuse for wasting needless amounts of RAM and processor speed on a clone of a game that was popular in the late 70's. Anyone who runs DOS games from Windows can tell you that.

RAM and Megahertz wastage aside, I can tell you that Galaxi plays fairly well on a 486 or better, and does outperform other shareware games in the genre, like ChamProgramming's port of the 5200 translation of Galaxian (buuut not their most recent conversion, which is surprisingly good) and the utterly terrible German release Galaga '94. It's inferior to the Gameboy, NES, and ColecoVision versions of Galaxian, however, mostly due to inaccuracies in its audiovisual presentation. The explosions aren't right, the sidebar (already a turnoff in games of this type) is cluttered with a unattractive metallic mess that detracts from the overall look, and Kurt committed the ultimate sin by adding heavy metal music that plays at the beginning of each round. The tune sounds fine (on a fully equipped machine... on a PC with 640K of memory, it stutters like Porky Pig on crystal meth), but it seems like a rather shameless attempt to draw moronic headbangers into what's fundamentally a generic, cheaply produced game. I can almost see it now...

"Huh, huh. Like, this game sucks, or something."
"Hey, wait! It's playing, like, rock music!"
"Yeahyeahyeah! But it sounds like every other heavy metal song known to man!"
"Like, shut up, assmunch!"
"Oooooow! OK, it's cool, it's cool! Hee hee hee hee..."
"Yeah, like, without heavy metal music, the game sucks. But with it, it's, like, cool or something. Huh huh."
"Yeah! Yeahyeahyeah! Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee..."

You get the point. Anyways, I guess the game's worth downloading, but I sure as hell wouldn't order the registered version. If you want Galaxian, look to Namco, the company responsible for the original game as well as several sterling conversions for the NES and Gameboy.


This was a title which looked promising enough. I mean, with a tactical assassination sim from a well-established company like Eidos how could you go wrong? Well, unfortunately, as with books, TV, movies, or any other form of entertainment, a solid premise and reputable creator do not guarantee an outstanding final product.  Not that Hitman is an awful title, mind you. It’s just not nearly as good as it should be, which is a shame.

The game’s opening starts off cheesy as hell, with your title character awakening in some sort of psychiatric hospital which conveniently houses a training facility for the use of knives, piano wire, and firearms. All the while a benevolent and omniscient off-screen narrator (or perhaps hallucinatory voice) gives encouragement to our protagonist, a dapper, lean, rather non-descript bald man with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head. Our operative must now break out of the institution and begin his arduous career against whomever the agency deems fit for extermination. Ah, the life of a video game action star!

Each mission requires careful plotting of the terrain, choice of weapon(s) and equipment, and usually a lot of trial and error before the successful execution(s) can be executed. A silenced 9mm Beretta is ideal for completing one mission, but a .45, Desert Eagle, sniper rifle, or garrote may be a better choice for another.  Whatever you choose to bring along will cost you money, which is credited to your account upon completion of each assignment.  Credits are deducted for police and unnecessary civilian casualties. Screw up your job, kill too many innocents, or get killed before arriving at your rendezvous and it’s back to the drawing board.

Locales in Hitman include such destinations as Hong Kong, Bucharest, Columbia, and Rotterdam. Graphics are well done throughout the whole game. Gone are the days in which polygonal humans looked as if they were made out of Lego building blocks. Buildings, characters, backgrounds, and items all look very impressive. Sounds are nicely done as well, but the voice acting and dialog are often campy or downright ludicrous. But then, every game utilizing voice actors is guilty of this, so I shouldn’t be so critical.

Gameplay, however, is not as polished. Not too much stuff is interactive. Usually only the bare minimum of what is required to complete a level. For example, almost any item or character that seems to be out of place will inevitably play an important part in the overall picture. Well… usually. I say usually because one positive aspect of Hitman is that there is often more than one way to carry out an assignment. Enemy A.I. is uneven in that some enemies know right away something’s wrong while others seem to take forever to catch on. Dressing in your enemies’ clothes will instantly make you pass for whatever character you’ve just iced, regardless of your resemblance (or lack thereof) to that person. Fortunately, 90% of the characters you whack wear your size and nobody seems to think it’s fishy that a bald, white man is attempting to pass himself off as a Chinese Triad or Columbian soldier. And controls involving such rudimentary actions as pressing an elevator button or descending a ladder could DEFINITELY be more user friendly. Most missions are extremely complicated, and it’s more than a little frustrating that you cannot save during a game, but must start over from the beginning or a predetermined area within the level.

Hitman is a game I disliked at first, then grew to find somewhat entertaining. It certainly involves more problem solving elements than one might expect. This aspect, like the game itself, is both good and bad. Perhaps the sequel will rectify some of the areas in which the original is lacking. Until then, I have to give this one a moderately less than favorable assessment.



Pros: "Bullet Time," graphic novel-style cinemas, "winking" references towards the end, excellent plot, never gets too frustrating
Cons: Prologues to parts 2 and 3 seem too labyrinthine.

Every once in a while, a game comes along that revolutionizes gaming as a whole. Max Payne was one of those games. With its "Bullet Time" feature, dynamic difficulty, gripping plot and perfect blend of realism, right down to individual modeling of bullets (as opposed to the classic "hit-scan" method of light-speed bullets), the game was hailed by just about everybody. Many have looked at it as the inspiration for Namco's game "Dead to Rights" for home consoles, which I guess qualifies as "praise from Caesar" for this game.

At the risk of simply saying what everybody else is (and this is probably the first "really big" game I've reviewed on this site), I'd like to give my $0.02. First, I'll start off with the basic plot, which seems to be the "circular" style of beginning with the end and then skipping right back to the start.

In the start, Max is standing atop the building of Aesir Corporation, a powerful pharmaceutical firm, gun in hand, as seemingly every cop in New York comes to apprehend him. In this moment, he reflects back on the events that brought him to this point, starting three years prior...

Max was in the NYPD, with a loving wife and baby daughter across the bridge in New Jersey. However, one day, all that was taken from him by a bunch of drug-addled psychopaths. The word "Valkyr" was graffitied on the inside of his house. The next day, he joined the Drug Enforcement Agency, eventually going undercover in one of the seediest mob families in the city, to find and destroy the source of this "Valkyr."

As he progresses through his quest, he finds himself on the wrong end of a city-wide manhunt, both by the NYPD and the mob. The plot has everything from the worst blizzard in history to crooked cops to secret societies to massive corporations continuing cancelled government projects while using mob ties to keep their business secure. And all the while, the action is seen through real-time cinemas and graphic novel-style cutscenes.

The gameplay is much like any third-person game, with the action being seen from right behind your character. However, the biggest innovation is bullet time. Like the Matrix's crucial scenes, one can slow the action to a crawl at critical moments, allowing you to better focus. The feature was actually well-implemented, neither being "gimmicky and useless" nor "game-breaking and overpowerful," as you only use it for a limited time, and you can refill it by killing enemies.

The game is just realistic enough--if you make a big commotion, you'll be swarmed by enemies, bullets travel in real time, and being next to a big explosion will kill you in short order. However, the game seems to have some of its "rules" governed by action films--certain characters can take more gunfire than others, and the action pauses when a sniper rifle is fired in zoom mode, as the bullet takes flight into its destination.

The sound is excellent in this game. From the voice acting to the ambience of televisions and radios, the audio atmosphere in this game is rich and well-done. The music is quite understated, which is just as well, since while you're going through an area, you don't want music blaring through your ears.

Finally, the names are actually pretty good in this game. From the main character's name to the names of many of the characters, there are numerous puns and references to Norse mythology to keep some folks amused.

Also, if you beat the game, you can unlock higher difficulties and a special mode where you have to get through the level in a set amount of time, gaining time as you kill enemies.

The only complaint I have about the game is the nature of the prologues of the last two parts. They seemed too maze-like, twisting and turning with no end in sight at times.

In short, this is one of those great games that come up far too seldomly.


Look... if you're a discriminating fan of this wildly successful sequal to Pac-Man, you've got two choices. You can either plunk a quarter into a Ms. Pac-Man machine and enjoy the game for a whopping fifteen minutes, or invest that quarter in a floppy disk, take it down to a PC clone connected to the Internet, and download Ms. Pac-Pc, a freeware game you can keep for the rest of your life. This game is a PERFECT translation of the Namco coin-op, period. Aside from new patterns and a somewhat ugly banana (by the way, is it just a coincidence that it's the most valuable target in a game with a female star? I don't think so...), I don't think there's a single thing about the game that even the legendary Ken Uston could fault. I'm not terribly fond of the rather extravagant system requirements (I'm sorry, but a 386 should be more than enough to handle a Pac-Man clone, no matter how good that clone may be), but if you own a 486 or better with a 16-bit sound card, there's no reason this shouldn't take up permanent residence on your hard drive. It's so sinfully good that I wouldn't be surprised if the CEO of Namco beat a path to James' door with a copy of Ms. Pac-PC in one hand and a subpeona in the other...

[Editor's Note: If you or someone you know owns a Super Pac-Man machine, uh, my condolences. It just so happens that I recently found an SPM coin-op, and after three plays it became abundantly clear that it didn't do my childhood memories of the game justice ("Then why did you waste your time designing 'Super Pac-Mon'?" Would you be quiet!? Geez...). So don't bother James for an exact translation, 'cuz he's got better things to do, like Jr. Pac-PC (we can only hope...)]


It's hard to say for sure what I think about this shareware shooter.  You're certainly not out anything by downloading it, and it's got a really innovative power up system along with beautiful polygonal graphics.  However, it's got a handful of flaws, which surprisingly enough include the weapon system and graphics.

Let me explain.  VSys Gaiden has one of the most unique power up systems you'll ever find in a shooter, but the designers tried so hard to differentiate it from other games in the genre that they wound up making it much too complicated.  The game's manual, written in Japanese, doesn't help matters much... you'll end up having to figure things out through trial and error, and it will probably take a few games before everything starts to fall into place.

Your ship is given a power gauge like the one in Gradius, but there are a lot of additional factors that make things a lot more confusing than necessary.  Try to follow this... you've got two meters that work in tandem with the power gauge.  The first is raised by collecting power-ups, but the second fills on its own, if you can resist the temptation to fire.  Firing lowers the second meter, which prevents you from powering up your ship.  You can adjust the power of your shots, but the more powerful you make them, the more quickly the second meter drains.  Another button activates the power ups, but you can only get them once both meters are sufficiently charged.  Pressing the power up button also fires a series of heat-seeking lasers which destroy enemies on contact.  Believe it or not, it gets even more complex from there... filling your meters to the top allows you to evolve your ship, giving you an entirely new selection of power ups.  Feel free to scratch your head and mutter, "Wha...?" at this point. I know I did.

Powering up your ship may be ludicrously complicated, but the graphics are anything but.  Don't get me wrong... they're quite pretty, but all those vibrant explosions and transparent clouds don't hide the fact that the backgrounds are rather plain and nondescript.  You'll skim over the endless surface of an ocean for the entire duration of the game, and there's not a single island or heavily armed battleship to break up the monotony.  Even the enemies are repetitive... you'll face off against fleets of tiny ships and what appear to be large jet engines.  The vast majority of these foes fly onscreen, fire a couple of bullets at you, and retreat.  This continues for eight rounds until you meet the first (and only) boss in Vsys Gaiden, a flame spirit which covers the screen with blazing streams of fire.  It's a challenging battle, but once it's over, the game just ends.  Maybe it's unfinished, and maybe this is a demo, but neither the game itself or the manual (what little I can understand of it) confirm this.

Vsys Gaiden is really quite impressive for a game designed by a hobbyist, but there are even better shareware titles out there... Rally Raid in particular looks almost as nice and is much more logically designed.  Still, it can't hurt to download both titles.  You can find them, and a whole lot of other shooters, at Emudek....



Realizing that video games were a lucrative market, Microsoft finally abandoned its notion that computers would replace game consoles and made one of its own.  This system, based on X86 hardware, became known as the...  


HALO: A stylistic art design not involving giant boobs (a rarity among American first person shooters as of late), characters and a story you'll care about, the best controls ever for a console FPS, and the insane ability to destroy the game's physics engine makes it a must buy for anybody.
DEATHROW: A great Speedball clone with lots of swearing and a wealth of gameplay options. One of the biggest surprises on Xbox so far.
O-TO-GI: Arguably the best game for the system right now (which will be out here in September thanks to Sega). It's an epic, beautiful mix of Devil May Cry, Onimusha, and Gun Valkyrie's play mechanics.
AMPED: Super amazing snowboading game. I'm not kidding. It’s a snowboarding game in the fashion of the overlooked Sega Saturn classic, Steep Slope Sliders.
JET SET RADIO FUTURE: Smilebit thankfully simplifies some of Jet Grind Radio's play mechanics (specifically the graffiti) and delivers a faster paced, bigger experience that still stands as the most Japanese experience on Xbox.

The following XBox lists were written by Phil Estes, a regular contributor to The Gameroom Blitz.


WRECKLESS: It looks grand, but Bunkasha's Super Runabout clone is atrocious to play and a total headache. Pray to the video game gods that Maximum Chase comes out here (it's much better).
GUN METAL: It's Circus Peanut bad. A lousy robot/jet transforming game with poor mission design and terrible graphics.
STAKE: Hysterically bad. If you have $30 to burn I'd almost recommend getting this extremely lousy blend of Power Stone and deathmatch garbage (it plays like a fighting game but records "frags" and features respawns). This is, easily, the worst game on Xbox.
CRAZY TAXI 3: Hitmaker's latest is extremely lazy: the game sports insanely hard crazy box games, poor level design, and awful Dreamcast quality graphics.
PULSE RACER: So bad it makes baby Jesus, Buddha, and L. Ron Hubbard cry. A futuristic cart racing game whose hook is that your driver gets a heart attack... IF HE DRIVES TOO FAST. Lord.
NIGHTCASTER 2: EQUINOX: Nightcaster is bad, but NightCaster 2 is worse. It's ugly, it has dumb techno music, and it’s the sequel to a game that never needed a sequel, let alone be made in the first place.




Sometimes, you can't know how truly wretched a game is until you experience the trauma of playing it firsthand.  Such is the case with 50 Cent: Bulletproof, the wrongheaded third-person shooter starring cow-eyed, pudgy-faced rapper Curtis Jackson.  You can read reviews of Bulletproof for the rest of your life and it still won't prepare you for the horror of playing it!

The nightmare begins with the storyline, a paranoid fantasy with 50 Cent and his partners in thuggery getting swarmed by every jack-booted thug in the state of New York.  If this is some kind of c-o-n-spiracy as the instructions suggest, the villains, dressed in SWAT gear and armed with the loudest and largest guns this side of Ted Nugent's house, aren't doing a very good job of keeping it a secret!  Anyway, as 50 Cent unravels the tightly knotted string of broken Christmas tree lights that passes for a story in this game, he meets a drug-pushing doctor, Eminem (who really should know better), and the mastermind behind the sinister plot against him... Charles Nelson Reilly!  He hasn't seen a paycheck in thirty years, and he's pissed!

Well, the lead villain kind of looks like Charles Nelson Reilly, but with the graphics as dark as they are, who could tell?  We're not talking about the kind of dark that sets an effective mood, either... no, playing this game is like experiencing the onset of blindness.  Everything is either pitch black or rendered in hues outside the visible color spectrum, bringing back haunting memories of the original, light-deprived Game Boy Advance.  The only difference is that you can't set Bulletproof directly under a flourescent lamp to brighten up the characters and their inner-city environment.  You'll just have to be thankful for the few things you CAN see, even if they're not as attractive as they are in other, better, Xbox games.

While on his illin', chillin', and 40 ounce swillin' adventures, 50 Cent coughs up a random assortment of canned, profanity-laden catchphrases, hoping against hope that one of them will stick.  The music is similarly persistent and twice as obnoxious, with four or five different sound bites from the rapper's albums played ad nauseum.  Did the designers of Bulletproof loop together fifteen second clips from a small handful of songs to preserve space on the disc, or is 50 Cent's work really this monotonous?  Whatever's the case, it won't be long before you start to feel like the test subject in a sadistic mind-control experiment conducted by the RIAA.

Of the many crimes against humanity that 50 Cent: Bulletproof commits, none are as atrocious as the gameplay.  You'd need a naughty list the size of Santa's to cover all the mistakes the developers made when creating this game.  On the rare occasion that they actually do something right, they manage to screw it up with another dumb design flaw or unnecessary play mechanic.  Take the melee attacks, for instance.  Cowboy Curtis never runs out of ways to bury his combat knife into an enemy, making the instantly fatal blows the most entertaining part of the game.  Of course, since it's so much fun to dispatch soldiers at close range, the developers included a sluggish stamina meter to make sure you can't use the knife more than once every thirty seconds.  Brilliant!

Wait, it gets better!  Say you're standing near a door or next to a corner when you pull off the knife attack.  While you're bissecting that gun-toting agent, another goon will jump behind you and stick an Uzi in your back.  The moment the counterkill animation ends, you're pumped full of lead and forced to start the stage from the beginning.  You're not given a chance to defend yourself, because you've used your knife attack for the week and the game's clumsy manual targeting makes it impossible to aim for that soldier hiding in your blind spot.  If you're thinking your posse's got your back, think again... they're as dumb as a sack of rizzocks, and are all too happy to watch as you get gunned down by foes you couldn't see.

Situations like this are why you'll be seeing a lot of the game over screen, with 50 Cent holding out his arms like a 21st century messiah.  The only way you'll keep him off the cross and in the action is to activate all of the game's many cheats, including invulnerability, unlimited ammo, unlimited weapons, and most importantly, unlimited patience.  Once you've switched on all these safeguards, the game becomes almost playable... but "almost" just isn't good enough when you consider the many, many third-person shooters on the Xbox that are better than this one.  With an abundance of flaws so contrary to the point of gaming that they have to be intentional acts of sadism, Bulletproof truly is worse than any review could hope to express.



In the 1990's, Electronic Arts released Road Rash.  This intense arcade-quality racing game pushed both the limits of the consoles available at the time and stretched the boundaries of its genre with action that was evenly split between dodging traffic and trading punches with rival bikers.  For many years, Road Rash was the last word in warfare on wheels.  However, this was not to last.  Many lost interest in the games when the controversial Road Rash 3D was released, and the few fans that remained finally gave up on the series after playing its terrible follow-up Road Rash: Jailbreak.  

The Road Rash series may be gone forever, but if Burnout 3: Takedown is any indication, its playfully rebellious spirit will be around for many years to come.  Burnout 3 may not seem like it has much in common with Electronic Arts' first successful racing game... you won't find a single motorcycle here, and none of the characters roll down their windows to whack each other with lead pipes as they race down the highway.  However, the similarities will become more obvious after you've spent some time with the game.  Like Road Rash, Burnout 3 is as much about forcing your opponents off the road as it is racing past them.  You'll use your car as a battering ram, shoving the other racers into oncoming traffic, concrete dividers, and other road hazards to bring them to a violent halt and steal their position in the race.

Burnout 3 takes much of its inspiration from the Road Rash series, but you could also draw parallels to another once great racing title, Sega's Crazy Taxi.  That game encouraged you to not only take your passengers to their destinations in the fastest possible time, but to keep them entertained on the way there with leaps over ramps and close shaves with other vehicles.  Instead of using high scores as an incentive to perform these hair-raising stunts, Burnout 3 rewards you with "boost", a limited supply of supercharged fuel that increases your speed and adds ferocity to your attacks.

All this is enough to make Burnout 3's races sadistically entertaining, but there's more to the game than just fighting for the finish line.  There's a lot more variety here than you're likely to find in the average driving game... in addition to the expected races, there are especially demanding one-on-one competitions, endurance contests stretched across several races, and my personal favorites, the road rage and crash modes.  These modes make the most of Burnout 3's destructive tendencies, challenging the player to lay waste to aggressive computer opponents and streets packed with unsuspecting drivers.

The Burnout franchise and its creators, Criterion Entertainment, were recently purchased by Electronic Arts.  The effects of this acquisition are obvious when you compare Burnout 3: Takedown to its predecessors, released by the now defunct Acclaim.  The rough edges in the first two games have been sanded out thanks to an increased production budget... crashes in particular are even more stunning than before thanks to more complex damage modeling and busier streets.  In Burnout 2: Point of Impact, a dozen car pile-up was the best you could hope for... in the sequel, you can get double that amount with a little effort.

More importantly, the promising but simplistic play mechanics in the Burnout series have finally reached their full potential in this third installment.  The takedowns give the gameplay more variety, and give the player an outlet for their frustration when an opponent zips past them or pushes them off the highway.  You no longer have to sit there and take it when the computer steals your lead... you can fight back, and make it really hurt!  The crash mode (unquestionably the star attraction of the previous game) has been enhanced as well, with two new features... aftertouch steering gives you limited control of your vehicle after it collides with other cars, and the crashpoint acts as a detonator, letting you take out what's left of your car and anyone unfortunate enough to be near it in a fiery explosion.  Crashes have also been integrated into the game's other modes, elevating them from a fun extra to an important element of the gameplay.

If there's anything wrong with Burnout 3, it's Electronic Arts' stubborn insistence on merging it with their other product lines.  Advertisements for other EA titles are scattered throughout each track (great, now I can see Tiger Woods' constipated grimace in yet ANOTHER game...), and the effective instrumental soundtrack from Burnout 2: Point of Impact has been replaced with second-rate heavy metal from Electronic Arts' EA Trax library.  Sure, you get a pretty cool song by hard rock rebels The Ramones along with music by such instantly forgettable bands as The Von Bondies (isn't that what they call Married... With Children in Germany?) and Fall Out Boy ("Look out! Radioactive Man!"), but frankly, The Ramones sound a whole lot better in Tony Hawk's games

Also, what's with that DJ?  It's amusing that the designers created a radio station devoted to a sport so extreme nobody could possibly survive it, but Striker's flip attitude and repetitive comments become so grating that you'll start to wish that he was along for the ride when you send your car hurtling into the side of a gas tanker.  If the enhanced graphics and more stable online support weren't reason enough to buy the XBox version, the ability to select your own, non-crappy soundtrack almost certainly will be.

The default soundtrack and Striker's obnoxious chatter may not win any awards, but the rest of Burnout 3 definitely has a few coming.  One that immediately comes to mind is "Most fun racing game since the glory days of Road Rash."



"Oh wow... Capcom High.  I haven't been here in over fifteen years!  I love what they've done with the place, though... sure looks a lot nicer than when I was taking classes!"

"Wings?  Legendary Wings?"

"Hey, MERCS!  You're looking great!  It's like you haven't aged a day!"

"Thanks!  So what have you been up to lately, girl?  I always wondered what happened to you!"

"Oh, me?  I'm a housewife now.  Remember Section Z?  We were dating for a while, but then I met his little brother.  He's a little complicated sometimes, but a whole lot deeper.  We got married... we've got three kids now!"

"It's hard to picture you as a mom, you know that?  You were always the wild child here at school... bombing monsters, collecting treasures, and flying into all those bearded stone faces..."

"Yep, those were fun days.  Hey, can you believe the turnout?  Just about everyone's here!"

"Well, not Black Tiger.  He's on a business trip with Magic Sword and Strider.  You know them... they're probably riding around in a fancy black limosine or something.  They're supposed to be back in town soon, though... maybe we'll see them at the next reunion."

"Hello, Mr. MERCS.  Hello, Ms. Wings.  Did you sign the guestbook?  I recommend you take a look at it.  It's really quite nice... we even have pictures of all the students from back in the day."

"Yes, Principal Vulgus, we've signed the book."

"Yeesh, old Vulgus is still around?  He was sooooo boring!  And weird, too!"

"Heh, some things never change.  So, would you like to meet my cousin, Forgotten Worlds?"

"Oh, yeah!  I remember you!  You were such a stud, but man, that metal dial was SO tacky!"

"Where have you been? I ditched that old thing a LONG time ago.  I've got analog sticks now... they're a whole lot cooler!"

"Good choice!  I wonder if Higemaru is around.  I always had a bit of a crush on him..."

"Er, Wings, didn't you didn't hear?  Let's just put it this way... they don't call him He-gay-maru for nothing.  That's him, hanging out with Exed Exes and that annoying foriegn exchange student Son Son."

"I see what you mean.  He always did seem find of flamboyant, huh?  And I see Son Son is just as obnoxious as ever.  She just goes on and on... isn't there any way to shut her up?"

"There's all the usual cliques... the 1942s in the corner, and the Ghosts 'n Goblins standing around the punchbowl.  Talk about a rough crowd... they still scare me, and I served in the military!"

"I always wondered why 1943 and Kai keep hanging around with 1942.  They can do better than that."

"Hey, Wings, isn't that Street Fighter II?  He's the one behind Gun.Smoke."

"Geez, I can't see ANYTHING behind that giant cowboy hat!  Hey, Gun.Smoke, take off the ten gallon!  This isn't a Travis Tritt concert!  There we go... ooh, ouch.  Wow, MERCS, he looks so old!"

"Yeah, he was working fourteen hours a day the moment he got out of high school.  They just never gave the poor guy a vacation.  It really took a toll on him."

"Hey, Wings!  MERCS!  Long time no see!  Remember that time that... uh, um... oh yeah.  You remember when we stuffed the hall monitor in his locker?"

"Yeah, poor Bionic Commando.  Nice seeing you again, Street Fighter II."

"Wow, MERCS, he's so..."

"Yeah, he suffers from memory lapses.  Takes him way too long to bring up anything now.  One time, it took him a couple of seconds before he could even think of his own name."

"That's sad.  At least his cousin is still looking pretty good..."

"Final Fight?  Yeah, we still work out together.  We've always been pretty close."

"That's cool, but I hope you're not still hanging out with Trojan!  All that guy ever did was make condom jokes and brag about the size of his sword..."

"That was kind of amusing for a while, but yeah, it got old eventually.  I think he's here, but you can always ignore him."

"Oh wow, look at the time!  It was really nice catching up with you, MERCS!  We should do it again sometime!"

"Yeah, definitely!"



It's been a while since I've written a really nasty and vindictive review, but boy does this game ever deserve one.  Take a dozen of Capcom's least appealing characters, throw in an inept newbie with a thirst for blood matched only by Strawberry Shortcake, then roll it all in a lumpy batter of lackluster Shinkorou artwork and imitation Guilty Gear guitar riffs.  What you get is a crispy fried turd of a game that would be lucky to find its way on the left hand side of an evolutionary chart.

Capcom Fighting Evolution is Capcom's half-hearted attempt to keep its once great fighting game franchises alive... or at least, in a persistent vegatative state.  Street Fighter II, Darkstalkers, and Street Fighter Alpha are all represented here, along with the less impressive Street Fighter III and Red Earth. 

All of the characters appearing in Capcom Fighting Evolution play exactly like they did in their original series, which would be perfectly fine if not for two serious problems.  The first is that Capcom chose fighters that have either been milked dry in the past, or duds that nobody in their right minds would want to play... IF they had any other options available.  Mammoth mummy Anakaris hasn't gotten any less awkward to use, and Urien is still a toned down clone of Street Fighter III's Gill, quite possibly the worst fighting game boss ever.

At least they're marginally useful.  That's a claim you can't make about the heroes of Red Earth, a side-scrolling beat 'em up released exclusively in Japan.  None of the four characters from Red Earth make the transition to a versus fighting game especially well... they were designed to carve through dozens of mindless foes, not engage in strategic combat with a single opponent. 

As a result, they're ill-equipped to fight the rest of the stars of Capcom Fighting Evolution.  Some, like the bug-eyed nautilus Hydron and dinosaur/ram/chicken hybrid Hawzer, are so gigantic that they're easy targets for the more nimble characters' fists and feet.  The others just don't have the arsenal of special moves necessary to put up much of a fight against tenacious fireball chuckers like Ryu and Guile.

The terrible character selection alone breaks Capcom Fighting Evolution in half.  Sure, the game has that same responsive control you've come to expect from Capcom (you know, back when the company actually gave a damn about the Street Fighter and Darkstalker series), along with new backgrounds and a soundtrack that's pleasant enough, even if it is hopelessly derivitive of what you've already heard in the Guilty Gear X series.

Sadly, you can only go so far with a solid game engine and competant audiovisuals.  Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has both of those.  So does Capcom vs. SNK 2, and Darkstalkers Chronicles on the PSP. The difference is that all these other games were designed with special care, and a love for the genre that Capcom has long since lost.

Just when did Capcom's enthusiasm for fighting games vanish?  Maybe it was the day the Dreamcast died.  Perhaps its programmers just need a break after fifteen years of Street Fighter II rehashes.  Whatever's the case, Capcom Fighting Evolution will leave players every bit as indifferent as the people who were forced to make it.



Not so much controversial as eagerly discussed, Team Ninja's (who with this release solidifies itself as the Russ Meyer of the video game industry)  Dead Or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball finally creeps its vaguely prepubescent backside onto the Xbox... and proves to be a surprisingly solid arcade-style volleyball game coated with a light simulation glaze (no pun intended, I swear to God...).

DOAXVB's "story" involves Zack winning the Dead Or Alive 3 tournament, then using the earnings to hold an all-girl volleyball tournament on a paradise island, sans the obligatory dwarf. Much to chagrin of the girls, the tournament never actually happens. So all involved proceed to hang around the island for fourteen days, playing volleyball and doing "other things." You know, like hopping around in their teeny weeny bikinis.

You start out by selecting a girl and heading for the island. You'll initially meet up with the newly introduced Lisa, who will show you around the island, then proceed to join with you to play against the other girls in two on two volleyball matches.

From there, Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball becomes a strange beast of a game. In order to keep your partner, or get new ones, you have to travel the tropical sunny island via static menus to purchase swim suits, accesories (hats, sunglasses, goggles, different colored balls, bracelets, hair clips, flowers etc.), and items (things that would relate to the interest of each character, like Prototype Xboxes, Aromatherapy things, and, er, cherry pie...). Each girl has a hobby, color, and favorite food, and you must figure out who likes what in order to get them as a partner, keep them happy, and eventually get them to wiggle themselves into some of the game's more revealing (read: skanky) swimsuits. Money, referred to as "Zack Bucks", is earned from the volleyball matches and a couple of mini-games.  This in turn is spent on swim suits, accessories and items to please your partner and butter up future partners.  And if you're really nice, they'll be really nice and will give you swim suits, accessories, and items. It all plays out like Sim-Girl lite. Or Girl Crossing. Or Theme Sex chick. Or Front Office amauter scantly clad girl volleybally (I got a million of these...).

Besides volleyball, the aforementioned money earning mini-games consist of a poolside "hopping" game, roulette, a few slot machines, and casino poker and blackjack with Dead Or Alive girl-themed playing cards offered at Zack's island casino. The hopping game can be played when you go poolside and serves as a calibration tool for your analog buttons (if you choose to use analog buttons in game). You apply pressure to either the B or A buttons to successfully hop along pads laid across the pool while trying to keep your balance. Doing it fluidly and within a certain time will lead to more Zack Bucks. The casino games are fairly straightforward, with the slot machines each having a theme associated with each girl.  An apparent "trick" to the slot machines floating around is that if you and your teammate win several matches, and if she's happy, you can go to her slot machine and rack up some big money.  However, I have yet to get that to happen.

The actual volleyball, the supposed meat of the game (once again no pun intended), is fairly well executed. The right analog stick puts your teammate in various defensive postions (move her toward the net, move her back to set up a spike etc), while the B and A buttons handle receiving and attacks (if using the analog setup, it's just B and A with different pressure applied for light and heavy attacks, and receiving while using the digital mode just assigns light and heavy to each of the Y, X , B and A buttons). You can "place" the ball where you want by mixing the attacks and receiving with the analog stick, which will either place the ball in a spot the opposing team doesn't anticipate, or in the case of strong attacks, hits a player so hard that she can't respond fast enough. Scoring and traditional volleyball rules are tinkered with: there are no lines for the court like in Sega's Beach Spikers and single player mode has matches going to 7 points in order to keep things snappy and fast paced.

AI is marveously handled. Games are greatly affected by how well you and your teammate are getting along, and how your oppenents are getting along. If your teammate is "enthusiastic" you can usually dominate matches. She'll knowingly block shots, deliver ace serves and set up spikes or volleys. If they're rated at "usual" they'll cooperate but not act on their own nearly as much, and if they're "unwilling" they will, quite literally, stand around and play with their hair or suit, or mess up serves, volleys, and spikes. The allowance of the right analog stick for formations cuts down a little on the iritation of having an unwilling teammate, but, unless you're REALLY, REALLY good, you're usually screwed going into the match. However, you'll typically know how they're feeling, and how your opponents are feeling before you go into a match.

When considered as a volleyball game with a lot of sim-lite stuff thrown in, DOA Xtreme Volleyball is pretty good. When you throw in all the bizarre, and often questionable, sexual inneundo DOAXVB becomes a disturbing and even embarrasing experience (depending on what kind of person you are, of course). There are several locations in the game (poolside, private beach, jungle, beachside and a few others) where you can just watch the girls lay around, ride bikes, run into the water and "bounce" around or sit in a patio chair stretching and moving around. You can not only watch them do this, but you can rotate the camera with the analog stick and zoom in with the triggers. Granted it isn't as weird as, say, the amazing stuff you can do in hentai games like Battle Raper, but it leaves the sane mind wondering what other players are doing while "playing" through these scenes. The standard Dead or Alive innuendo comes full force in the game: boobs jiggle quite often, the girls hop around excitedly shouting in cute Japanese voices after making points, or pout and sit on the ground when they mess up. They also scream violently when you smack them in the face with the ball during play. One of my friends got really excited about this, and not just because he received a thousand Zack Bucks when he creamed them.  Er, sorry again for the pun.

The game supports custom soundtracks and itself sports a lot of licensed music, from Bob Marley to Reel Big Fish. The soundtrack selection is, arguably, one of the best in any Xbox game to date that actually supports the darned thing, though it doesn't randomize tracks. That said, you can easily skip tracks you don't wish to hear. The game, as briefly mentioned before, supports analog buttons but, from personal experience, you may want to use the digital button option. It made more sense, to me at least, and you may get a better feeling of the types of moves you're going to pull off.

The graphics are, as usual for Team Ninja, excellent. Everything is bright, clean, and smooth, and the plastic doll-quality of the game's cast is better than what was found in Dead or Alive 3. Animation is fluid and nicely done, and rarely gets in the way of the actual gameplay. The only complaint is that the computer rendered full-motion video, much like DOA 3's, is pretty blah (though that complaint shouldn't be lodged against Team Ninja since the CG was outsourced, just like it was in DOA3).

On a side note, some of the items buried in the game are pretty neat and alone almost make the game worth playing. The "she kicks high" DOA 3 ad is hidden, as well as a pretty funny ad for the European launch of the game. Also included are E3 movies of Ninja Gaiden, the original opening for the first Dead or Alive, and tech demos for DOA 2 that are pretty interesting.

Dead or Alive Volleyball is recommended... but just barely. It's better than I expected on many levels, especially the volleyball game itself.  It turned out much better than the other much highly publicized sex game of 2002, Acclaim's dreadful BMX XXX. That said, it's not for everyone. The interaction is done through static menus, the casino games aren't nearly as interesting as they should be, and while the volleyball is well handled and deep on some levels, it does take a more arcade-like approach, and there doesn't seem to be "enough" of it. No tournaments, no 4 player options, no system link. There are issues with the camera in the volleyball game too. The camera stays on one plane the entire time, following the ball, and without a character indicator of any kind you may find yourself offscreen from time to time. ALSO, it would've been nice if they threw the guys in. Not just for the gays, but for a more varied experience (plus it would've been funny to see Leon pout after screwing up a spike).

That said, if you've been following this game since E3, and were obsessed with buying it and seeing Kasumi in a pink bikini since last May, and you really don't care how shallow the game is, add three rating points to my review and go to town. If you want a quality sports title of this ilk and own multiple consoles, however, don't bother. Go get Beach Spikers.


Dead to Rights, Namco’s entry into the dark, gritty (and increasingly oversaturated) crime action genre, is a mixed bag of hits and misses.

Dead to Rights is best described as a ho-hum Max Payne clone, but the game is not entirely without merit.  In addition to mindlessly running around, ducking, jumping, and firing at more enemies than in a Hong Kong action flick, there are a few features in DtR that most action games are lacking.  Disarming bombs requires careful manipulation of a marble a'la "The Irritating Maze"”.  Lock picking must be performed by pressing the button at different intervals in just the right time.  Controlling your character’s stripper girlfriend to distract thugs and your canine partner to sniff out bombs gives the player a nice break from the monotony of gunplay and fisticuffs. 

However, it somehow still beccomes redundant.  This is probably because the gunplay and fist fights are quite tough.  You will often find yourself ALMOST completing the level, only to die right before your goal.  Even if you do succeed, the next portion of the game begins with the stamina and armor you had left after your last bloodbath.  So after fighting past dozens of adversaries, you will find yourself facing a whole new level of bad guys with almost no health. Thankfully, health and armor are almost always lying around, but even so, most (if not ALL) of the levels are very unfair and require a fair deal of luck no matter how skillful you may be.

The graphics in the opening sequence are stunning.  I wonder why the actual game’s visuals are so bland.  Ditto for sounds, as the gunshots, taunts, grunts, growls, screams, etc. are nothing too impressive.  I've never played the other console's incarnation of this game, but I just know the Xbox is capable of better than this.  Dead to Rights is an only passable action game.


Before they aborted it, Genki announced, and Lightweight began work on, an Xbox port of the superlative fighting game Kengo.  The Xbox version was to be the game that everyone wanted on the Playstation 2.  One-hit kills, female characters, cleaner, less Playstation-like modeling, and more multiplayer options were the order of the day.  Alas, a few months after Genki's announcement, the game vanished off the radar and emerged as Kabuki Warriors, a much more arcade-y brawler that closely resembles Samurai Shodown 2 despite the lack of any real special moves. 

Kabuki Warriors became synonymous with crap at the Xbox's launch.  It was the one game no one seemed to want until it dropped to $10.  Even then Kabuki Warriors was still considered garbage, but that's an entirely unfair assessment.  While fellow Xbox titles like New Legends, Shrek, Azurik, and Night Caster were lifeless graphically challenged blah, Kabuki Warriors is lifeless graphically challenged blah that is both mindlessly entertaining and dripping with a strange bit of personality and a lot of playability.  This is mostly because you can share the game with other players via a generic (I'd like to refer to it as "straightforward") Vs. mode. 

The premise is that you lead a troupe of ne'er do well actors across theaters in Japan "performing" (a euphemism for fighting) with other troupes.  You are given a team of three actors initially and are sent off to compete in theaters.  As you progress, you accumulate money which is usually spent on traveling from theater to theater... the farther away it is, the more you'll spend.  You begin the game with just one character- the hapless Shinto Priest-donning Shiroko.  As you progress and defeat troupes in best of three matches you're allowed to trade off players and gain new ones.  At the onset you'll find yourself constantly switching out actors until you find just the right troupe.  Eventually you'll run into the same actors as you get farther: there's dozens of theaters to travel to and only twelve real actors (with twelve more pallete swaps).  The goal is to get to Edo and do battle with the three best actors in all of Japan. 

Moves are incredibly easy to pull off and don't consist of anything beyond left, right, up, and down movements coupled with the attack button, allowing for obligatory slash combos and jump attacks.  The game's controls are much more suited for other genres than a fighting game:  A attacks, X blocks, B jumps, and Y executes a roll which makes up for the game's limited super moves.  Super moves consist of a single meter, shared by both thespians, and a single button assigned to performing the attacks. 

Since you ARE an actor and you have to earn money to progress, you must to attempt to win the diminutive, non-existent crowd's favor.  You can gain money by pulling off an amazing move, or by tapping the white button which makes your character "dance"- posing for the audience to earn money and attempt to take over the power meter.  When you've done enough dancing (which WILL make you vulnerable to opponent attacks) your meter will begin to flash, giving you the que to unleash a Kabuki Swollen Monkey Ninja Bowels move.  Or just a super move.  Each of the game's players has just one and each vary widely.  Gender bending Kikunosuke plunks down smoke bombs with delayed release.  The blonde maned Ukon, who most closely resembles the Western idea of a Kabuki actor, turns invisible and gains back health.  Other attacks consist of breaths of fire (the portly Goro), tornados (Tadanboru), and helicopter spinning blade attacks dubbed the "Corkscrew Heaven" (the vaguely western looking Gonroku).  The moves are easily defendable with the possible exception of Ukon's which is just absolutely broken.  You can achieve perfect victories with him once his meter fills up, because his super makes him almost impossible to hit.  The twelve other "versions" of the characters all have different names but the exact same moves.  This really makes the number of fighters twelve, even if they all have snazzy alternate costumes and names. 

Outside of the single player mode (the acting tour stuff), Kabuki Warriors features a Vs. mode and a time attack mode.  Vs.  mode is exactly that: you simply do battle with another player and have at it in a variety of levels.  Time attack is pretty lazily designed: it simply records how many people you've defeated and in what time before you finally lose a match. 

Kabuki Warriors, despite its name and gameplay, treats its subject matter with respect.  Levels resemble actual Kabuki stages, menus and in game graphics give the air of a theater, and the characters are realistic.  Kikunosuke is really a young man dressed as a woman in binding.  Goro looks like the type of crowd pleasing sideshow character that would breath fire and get money thrown at him.  Sukeroku, Tadanobu, Sadakuro, Kuroko, Danjo, and Hanjo all look like the old Kabuki actors that would carry some important role such as a patriarch.  Ukon and Kagekiyo resemble the high-minded flamboyant actors we've all come to think of when we see Kabuki, and Gonroku looks like a grizzled tough guy.  The atmosphere all works and the graphics and animation stick close to the theme.  In fact, an imperial Kabuki troupe is listed in the credits for doing all of the motion capture model work.  The stages are less than interesting, consisting of simple wood textures and high res bitmaps.   Also, some of the player models are sort of uneven.  A lot of time seems have been put into Ukon, Kagekiyo, and some of the more colorful characters, while others like Kuroko and Hanjo are less impressive.  However, it's nothing too noticable.  In the end, Kabuki Warriors works.  Its simple play and strange style gives it the feeling of a baby project for a bunch of low level Lightweight/Genki staffers, rather than a simple contractual obligiation to Microsoft.  At $10-20, its current going price, it's definately worth a shot.



Jaleco's return to the US market, thanks to money found in new owner PCCW, is already off to a bumpy start with the bad, although slightly improved, sequel to Night Caster. Playing like Gauntlet with Diablo aspirations, you pick either a strong armed tough gal or the same little wizard that cleverly aged in every level in the first game.

Night Caster II puts a much greater focus on magic spells than melee attacks via an elaborate, and somewhat poorly implemented, magic system. The system is based on four elements: light, dark, fire and water (yellow, black, red, and blue). Every enemy you'll encounter in Night Caster II will carry one elemental type, depending on their color. You fend off these foes by casting the opposite magic of their color (yellow vs. black or red vs. blue).

This proves incredibly problematic. First the hives, or generators, that spawn the monsters are not based on specific elements themselves. They will, almost in every instance, spew red, blue, yellow and black enemies at the same time. This leads to the second issue: every spell used on the enemies will do some sort of damage. Don't have blue magic handy for a red spike shelled bug? Lobbing fireballs or using lightning or a Dark-based toxic gas spell will work on the enemy just as efficiently. The only indication that you cast an opposite spell on a foe is by some sort of "neat" effect applied to the enemy and a few extra hit points shaven off. The "neat" effect, the only remotely attractive thing found in Night Caster II, is little more than an explosion. Throw water on a fire enemy and he drowns. Hit a tree creature  with fire magic and he'll catch fire and slowly burn a cinder. Hit a dark enemy with light and he fries (sort of...).  Finally, hit a light enemy with dark magic and he'll be enveloped in dark clouds.

Gameplay is boring and too simplistic. Levels are wide open and semi-free form. You're thrown somewhere on the map, you're given a vague objective (reach the tree, reach the village, get through the "alternate dream world"), and then you're allowed to "go to town." The level are suitably large and you'll encounter a lot of foes and generators but it ultimately comes off as a hollow experience. The environments, plentiful in shrubbery, houses, trees, and rock, are static 3-D polygon models with NO interaction whatsoever. You can massacre about a million spiked ladybugs, little ghouls riding red and blue dinosaur-like lizard creatures, and crazy orc things, and the grass will stay green, the shrubbery remains in place, and the trees stay petrified in the terrible, terrible world of Night Caster II. On top of all that, there's no in-game map- merely a miniscule compass- making exploration difficult and leading to numerous frustrating deaths when you run into four or five generators.  A few poorly implemented role play elements figure into the gameplay... kill about a billion creatures and you'll eventually gain a level. Also, there are a few useless items, such as armor, weapons, and magic laying about the expansive levels. Weapons and armor are practically useless because the melee combat is tacked on as an afterthought. Actual hand to hand combat is suicidal as the brainless enemies start ganging up, quickly killing you off. The game focuses too much on magic, and ultimately leads you to run like hell all over the level away from hordes of enemies while blindly cycling through and using the incorrect magic.

The graphics are for the most part awful. The modeling is simplistic and chunky. Enemies are entirely generic and simplistic (the orc-like foes seem to mimic Halo's grunts in their screams and one-liners) and are easy targets for your magic. The music is horribly inappropriate, consisting of techno-rave sounding junk that picks up tempo as the screen fills with enemies. Ghastly. The only thing really going for the game is the Gaelic accented narrator who does her damndest to seriously tell the game's nonsensical story... something to do with alternate worlds and humans and magic and bad things.

With Gauntlet: Dark Legacy and Hunter the Reckoning out and the promise of Blackstone and THQ's budget-priced Evil Dead licensed Hunter clone on the way, there's no real reason to buy this game. Really, there's no reason to buy this game regardless of genre. Morrowind is a better a Gauntlet clone with Diablo elements than Night Caster II is. For that matter, so is Mad Dash Racing. While I applaud the new Jaleco for attempting to do more in the US market then just release Japanese-flavored garbage, buying the scorched wreckage of the original game's developer (VR-1) and letting them make the same mistake all over again leads me to question their sanity. Why couldn't we have gotten a new Pop Flamer instead? Or a sequel to Astyanax? Or City Connection? Sigh... 



In the first Oddworld titles for PSX, Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus, we were given a glimpse into a fantastic alien world with an intricately complex series of adventures allegorically representing class struggles, corporate takeovers, exploitation of the environment, and other modern problems plaguing our own society. None of these messages were so overt as to detract from enjoyment of the games, however, and Oddworld Inhabitants produced two of the finest 2-D puzzle/platform/action/adventure titles ever to grace a home console. Their Xbox-exclusive follow up, Munch’s Oddysee, while not entirely unenjoyable, did not make the smoothest transition into the 3-D realm. Now they’ve thrown everybody a curve by ditching the most popular characters and turning the next chapter into a first-person shooter and third-person exploration hybrid.

The protagonist this time around, a tough, mysterious bounty hunter known simply as "the stranger," must capture or kill enough outlaws to afford an unspecified operation. Where he’s from, where he’s going, why he needs the procedure, and his true identity unfolds beautifully in a storyline that is actually engaging and worthwhile - something of a rarity these days, especially for this type of game.

Using a double-barreled crossbow, you may utilize two different types of creatures as "live ammunition" from a first-person view, or use your fists and head as weapons in the third. Each animal has its own unique attributes. Animals resembling spiders, wasps, bats, skunks, and chipmunks are launched toward enemies or may be strategically placed as traps. Some sting, entangle, lure, or otherwise immobilize enemies.  You'll need to kill these foes or bring them in alive... the latter is more difficult, but brings in higher monetary rewards. The first-person action is definitely more polished, yet both are very well done, and both must be used together to complete every level. Save points in each stage are well-placed, and most of the bosses, or bounties if you will, provide a reasonable challenge. The gameplay's difficulty is sometimes a little uneven, but the fact that both strategy and twitch reflexes play an integral role in playing Stranger's Wrath makes the game a cut above the rest.

As with the other offerings in the series, the graphics are nothing short of stunning. Our hero encounters gorgeously rendered desert, forest, mountain, and fortress terrain, and the cutscenes are just as impressive as the actual gameplay. Many new species are introduced, and it’s obvious that a lot of effort has been put into the appearances and animation of each.

As for the negatives, your radar is far from perfect, perhaps deliberately so to add to the challenge. Sometimes the perspective switching can get confusing, and the camera is still not perfect (but then again, it never is in any game, and likely never will be). For all the work put into the visuals, the voices, while humorous, colorful, and entertaining, do get repetitive and even downright annoying at times. The third person fighting could have been better, too. However, the biggest gripe is that the game is fairly short, and there appears to be no way to obtain alternate endings for "good" or "bad" behavior during gameplay as was the case in the previous titles.

Still, the bottom line is that Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is one hell of a good game. It’ll be fascinating to see how this will tie into the previous games, once the quintology is complete. Chalk up another winner for Oddworld Inhabitants.


Part Shinobi, part Gun Valkyrie, part god knows what, From Software's second offering for the Xbox (one of a seemingly long line of announced titles being subsidized by huge piles of Armored Core money) is arguably the best game of the year in any country.  Otogi is a spectacular, epic hack-and-slash adventure that manages to transcend its strong Japanese flavor so well that even the most ardent Amercian, Funcoland-going gamer will shout out the currently popular catch phrase when they see it running on an Xbox hooked up to a 12 year old TV with a shitty RF unit at their local video game establishment ("boss", "bomb", or "bling bling muther fucker" come to mind...). 

Otogi is roughly translated as "Faery" or "Faery Tale" and it seems to suit the game's setting. The story is fairly traditional video game genre stuff: a young warrior must traverse a dangerous world and save whatever (humanity, princess etc) from giant evil whatevers (demons, animals etc). In the case of Otogi, it's Raiko, a young, apparently dead Samurai who must free scores of souls from a variety of demons and other recognizable beasts of Japanese mythology. 

The gameplay is a mixture of Sega's Gun Valkyrie and Sega's recent Shinobi redux. As Raiko uses vertical and horizontal slashes to string together combos, he gains lift, allowing him to float and dash about (much like Gun Valkyrie).  This comes in handy when attacking the persistent hordes of enemies surrounding him as he locks on to butcher mad red Tengu, small floating skeleton heads and magic weilding Fu dogs (much like Shinobi). 

Unlike either Sega game, however, Otogi sports huge destructible environments (the game's "hook" outside of its rudimentary RPG elements).  Most levels are large and wide open and littered with trees, Japanese houses, castles, lanterns, stone statues, and other vestages of medival Japanese architectual design.  Practically all of it can be destroyed, either to free trapped souls (littered about each level and represented as percentages at the end of the level) or as a weapon in in battle.  Smashing a building or a fortified wall can lead to the rubble or debris to collapse on pursuing enemies.  The use of the environments against foes works particularly well when the level is set inside a building:  hitting a case of stairs or wooden support beams will cause them to explode into scores of nasty splintered shrapnel that will either spray out or rain down on surrounding enemies.  Destroying a beam could also bring down an entire second floor.  Smacking the beams with the flung body of a dead Tengu can have the same effect: slam the beast into the beam, beam becomes kindling, the second floor comes crashing down.

Level objectives vary.  Most consist of roaming around the game's wide open, often gorgeous, environments killing specific enemies (like roaming Tengu or spewing skulls) and finding trapped souls.  Others may call for Raiko to destroy a cursed tree to restore a forest, knock down a huge stone castle by destroying its pillars, fight a water nymph, crustify a nasty six armed insect monstrosity that's attempting to break its chains, and (in one case) escort a woodland spirit. 

At the end of the level variables are "looked over" and experience is alotted based on the time a level is compeleted, the amount of destruction inflicted in a level (typically the higher the number the better),  total enemies killed, and secrets uncovered.  As Raiko gains levels, his attack and manueverability will improve, making it easier to jump, dash and stay afloat.

The level gaining in the game is as far as the "role play" elements go.  Using his experience, Raiko can unlock and purchase new and widely varying weapons, magic and accessories.  The variety of weapons nearly make the game.  Many can be bought from the shop between levels while the cooler ones have to be discovered in certain levels.  They vary wildly from traditional samurai swords, to kamas, to javelins, to hammers, to broadswords.  Each weapon can only sustain so much damage before it's required to repair them.  None ever break though... the meter seems to be stuck in to simply prevent a player from spending too much time wailing on the interactive environment.    

Magic is simplistic and is based on four elements, running three levels deep: fire, ice, lightning, and a generic spirit element.  Each spell affects weapons in different ways: spirit sends lasers at a locked on opponent, lightning hits surrounding enemies, fire throws fireballs, and ice hits nearby enemies.  Figuring out how effective certain spells are is simply a trial and error process.

Accessories consist of different items, bracelets, medallions and the like, that strengthen attack or defense.  They're fairly abitrary, and while there are a lot of them, they don't play much of a role in the game. 

The game's graphics and art design are among the best ever seen in a console game from this generation, let alone on the Xbox.  Enemies and environments are beautifully crafted and sport a woodblock painting vibe.  Raiko himself is a site to behold.  His gold armor and slim physique speak volumes, and his animation is superlative without being utterly obnoxious. His keyframed animation never conflicts with the environment, enemies, or movement in closed spaces (like they do in other games like Mark of Kri or Shinobi...).  Heat wave effects, falling cherry blosoms, and the kicked up smoke of crumbling buildings or exploding wooden beams are fantastic without the slightest bit of slow down. 

Replay value is potentially high thanks to the ability to revisit levels (either the way you left them or fresh and clean), the numerous weapons to unlock, and a "2nd Play" mode that becomes available at the end of the game which bumps up the difficulty while throwing in more weapons and secret items.

The game is lengthy, consisting of some 29 levels that, altogether, can take around 15-20 hours to complete.  While many of the levels are fantastic, Otogi does tend to drag about two thirds of the way through, as environments get recycled and less inspired pallete swapped foes occasionally show up.  Still, the pacing of the levels is fresh and upbeat enough that they never feel too long, unlike the more western-flavored Xbox offerings, mainly New Legends and Enclave. 

Otogi is highly recommended.  The language barrier doesn't get in the way of the gameplay, as all the options are in English and the game's faery tale plot is fairly straightforward and easy to follow thanks to the snappy cutscenes.  The graphics are amazing, and the gameplay is very easy to get into.  From Software has put together another phenomenal title that easily stands as one of the best Xbox games of the year.  Now if only it would sell in its own region and get published here... 



Xbox's Japanese lineup was arguably the best games never to sell.  Dead or Alive 3, Project Gotham, Jet Set Radio Future, Gun Valkyrie, and the oddly compelling Nezmix and Metal Dungeon all sold next to nothing as people continued to snatch up cheap Dreamcasts and expensive, but more popular PS2s.  Xbox sales figures showed just that.  DOA3 sold 30,000 copies,  nearly a one-to-one ratio with Xboxes, and Gun Valkyrie scraped together 12,000 sales before being discontinued by Sega. 

What's odd is, the 6th largest selling Xbox game to date is Shikigami no Shiro, a straightforward shooter and a straight port of a Taito G-Net arcade game.  Shikigami lets you select one of six different characters, each attempting to fend off demon hordes attacking Tokyo in the year 2006.  The cast is your typical motely crue of shooter characters, without the Psikyo-style of unintentional silliness (well, sort of).  Koutaro Kuga is a twelve year old boy protected by a strange ghost woman named Zasae-san.  Sayo Yuuki is a plucky priestess who throws talismans (those obligatory Japanese prayers written on slips of paper) on demon's heads.  Gennojo Hayuga is a cigarette smoking Trigun-esque badass that turns into a wolfman.  Fumiko O.V. is a pink haired witch who targets foes, and Kin De Jon weilds a guitar case that doubles as a duel-bladed sword. 

Gameplay is pretty simple.  You blast through three-tiered levels, battling hordes of no-A.I. cannon fodder and mini-bosses before battling a major boss.  You have a regular shot button, and bomb, and a charge shot.  Holding down the standard fire button allows you to create a charged shot that will be different for each character.  Some lock onto bosses, others attack everything onscreen, and still others are close range attacks.  Koutaro's, for instance, consists of Zasae-san frantically attacking any and all who come close to him.  Kim De Jon's has a dual plasma lance jump out of his case which is rotatable by spinning the analog stick (or pulling rotation moves on the joypad).  Enemies leave behind coins, like in Giga Wing.  Hitting enemies with just bullets will let you collect some of the coins, but using the charge attacks gurantees you all of them.  Gaining so many coins boosts both your charge and bullet attacks.

There are only five levels, each incredibly short and increasingly hellish, with many a foe and bullet coming at you.   Bosses are designed as characters in the storyline.  Miyoko Aku, the first level's, is a possesed girl.  Fujishima Shu is a WWII era officer obviously disgusted by modern-day Japan.  The most interesting boss is in level three...  Hiroshi Aku is a salaryman who witnessed the demons rape his wife before killing him, so he takes his vengeance out on everyone.  The last boss is comparatively lackluster: its a naked girl named Shojo that evolves into an oddly sexual mutant spider.  Woo-hoo.  Giving the characters, particularly the bosses, some sort of back story is a nice touch, though it would've been nice if there were more approaches to beating each boss rather than just blowing them up.

The game sports a two player mode and a gallery mode but little else.  It takes a total of twenty minutes or so to complete in two player mode and maybe another fifteen minutes more with one player.  The only real reason to play through it more than once is to play as each of the characters, which admittedly all vary greatly, but outside of that the game DOESN'T have a whole lot to offer.  That said, Shikigami IS a worthwhile title mostly for its style:  the game comes with a small art pamphlet tucked behind its gorgeous full colored manual, containing a variety of character sketches.  The bosses and selectable characters are fairly appealing, unlike Psikyo's goofball nuns and space pirates, and the game does sport a slick old-school style.



Shrek reminds me a lot of Super Mario 64, except it doesn't star Mario, and it's not really super, either.  It does look like it was designed for the Nintendo 64, though.  Anyways, Shrek was designed with assistance from Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, which is a good indication of its quality even before you open the box.

But let's say you ignore the Todd McFarlane warning and play the game anyway.  What you'll get is a 3D platformer heavily inspired by Super Mario 64... except the mission based gameplay that worked reasonably well in SM64 is frustrating and repetitive in Shrek.  There are several reasons for this, and the first is that some of the "good deeds" you'll attempt in each stage are timed... you'll switch the scene to midnight by literally punching a clock, then search for enemies to beat up, or items to collect, or cows to fart on (yes, really) before the sun comes up about a minute later.  The only problem is, it's a lot tougher to find what you're looking far in the inky blackness of night, and by the time Shrek has finally discovered the last soldier he needs to clobber, the roosters will be crowing and you'll have to repeat the whole process from the beginning.  Another annoyance is that some enemies will do whatever they can to obstruct your missions, like stealing the sheep you've placed in a pen for Bo Peep while searching for the last lamb in the flock, or guarding a half dozen diapered eggs that need to be returned to Mother Goose.  It's frustrating to have your hard work unraveled, and it's not much better to have an indestructable enemy stuck to your backside, taking swats at you until you finally collapse just short of finishing a mission.  Sure, you can defend yourself by farting and belching and all that other fun stuff Shrek is known for, but this only stuns your opponents briefly... after the air clears, they'll come back and keep pestering you until you stop and give them another blast of not-so-fresh air.  It'd be a lot more fun to just concentrate on the current task rather than having to turn around and deal with a persistent bad guy every ten seconds.  Worse yet, attacking the more friendly characters will convince them to start pursuing you as well.  After a while you'll start to wonder if you've got anyone on your side!

As I mentioned before, the graphics don't exactly reflect the XBox's abilities.  I guess the designers wanted to add a cynical touch to the game's classic fairy tale settings, but making everything green, brown, and blurry doesn't help the game's appeal.  The levels are plainly designed in comparison to Super Mario 64 as well... you get some hills, ponds, and house rooftops, but nothing that offers the player a legitimate challenge or entices them to find hidden areas.  This makes the game as a whole feel kind of aimless... you'll spend a lot of time running around, trying to dodge bothersome enemies while figuring out which good deeds you should perform next (hint: the first should be to turn the sound down so nobody else in the house has to listen to the obnoxious music).

There were plenty of good reasons to bring Shrek to the XBox... just think about it.  Shrek is big, green, ugly, and smelly.  The XBox is big, ugly, has a green gem on the top, and a lot of gamers think it stinks.  We're talking about a match made in heaven here!  Unfortunately, TDK's attempt to turn Shrek into the system's spokesogre didn't pan out, mostly because he refused to share center stage with it.  Floating onions and silly medievel characters obviously were more important to the developers than demonstrating the XBox's abilities, reducing Shrek to another cliche'd 3D platformer riding on the all but forgotten success of Super Mario 64. 




Your view of this game will depend almost entirely on your opinion of The Simpsons.  Yes, there are actually a few people who don't like the show and never have.  To those folks, The Simpsons: Road Rage is going to seem like a desperate clone of Crazy Taxi with the characters from an inexplicably popular television show stapled to it.  However, the many, many Simpsons fans out there will probably consider Road Rage one of the best and certainly the most faithful game based on their favorite sitcom.

I'm not even going to bother recommending this to anyone who doesn't like The Simpsons.  If you guys already have Crazy Taxi, you're not missing a thing.  Road Rage's cars look and feel like remote controlled toys thanks to the primitive graphics and a new control scheme which lacks Crazy Taxi's realism and impact.  Furthermore, even though the game has more characters, more levels, and more voice than the game that inspired it, none of these things will be relevant to you.  I dare say that you'll consider this a painful experience, with the Simpsons characters only salting the wound.

However... however.  If you enjoy The Simpsons, or in my case, used to enjoy it, you'll think of Road Rage as the first episode you can actually play.  The first few Simpsons games concentrated primarily on Bart and his "hilarious" catchphrases ("Here's one you better learn for your adult years... 'Hey, buddy?  Got a QUARTER?!?'"), but Road Rage is much more diverse, giving most of the show's cast a chance to speak up.  Some of their quotes are right out of the show, but others were recorded specifically for Road Rage, which means you'll hear conversations between friends and family members.  There's even an introduction that accurately captures the humor of the show... after Hans Moleman is poisoned by one of Mr. Burns' atomic buses, he begs to be killed... and Marge helpfully offers, "That poor man.  Someone SHOULD kill him!"

What's really surprising about Road Rage is that there are a lot of characters, and a lot of locations... significantly more than Crazy Taxi or even Crazy Taxi 2.  Sure, it gives the game more variety, but more importantly, you get to listen to more Simpsons stars and fully explore the town of Springfield.  It's just some kind of crazy rush to actually drive past all the places you remember from the show, even if they aren't always in the right places (c'mon, guys, everyone knows the world's largest toilet was set in a flat field, not a forest!).  Listening to all of the characters' comments is great, too... they can get repetitive, but fortunately, the game tends to surprise you with a new quote every once in a while.  The only way they could make the Road Rage experience any better is to offer a celebrity edition featuring the voices of Jon Lovitz, "Oh no!" Bette Midler, and a cast of dozens.  The possibilities would be endless... and best of all, it would give players the chance to run over Alec Baldwin!  Repeatedly.

Well, Simpsons fans, you've been waiting almost a decade for a truly good Simpsons video game, and at last, your ship has come in.  It's not just any ship, either... it's Knight Boat, the crime-solving boat!