One-minute reviews

If you are wondering whether such brief reviews are a good idea, read this. Also, note that games we've reviewed at length are distinguished by a thin white border around the corresponding images. Guess what happens when you click on them.


starstarstarstarstar ActRaiser

Super Famicom - Enix - Quintet - 1990

ActRaiser successfully combined side-scrolling action with town simulation segments, creating a mixture that to this day remains original and unique. It was developed by Quintet (founded by some of the top names in Falcom after they left the company) and set a template that many of their later games would follow. Great graphics (though not so much in the town mode), and an atmospheric soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro that showed just how far the system's sound capabilities could be pushed. The action is wrapped up in a narrative that has you taking the role of God in a fight against Satan.


ActRaiser 2 ~Chinmoku he no Seisen~

starstarstarstar ActRaiser 2 ~Chinmoku he no Seisen~

Super Famicom - Enix - Quintet - 1993

ActRaiser 2 ditches the town segments, focusing entirely on side-scrolling action. Most people tend to ignore it for that fact alone, which is a shame because this is a great platformer in its own right. It boasts more complex fighting and platforming mechanics and even more impressive graphics than before, representing some of the finest pixel work around. Unfortunately, the soundtrack, again by Yuzo Koshiro, is a huge step back, with most of the tracks being quite bland. Storywise there's more commentary on humanity and so forth, and far more Biblical and religious references.


Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer

starstarstarstar Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer

Mega Drive - NCS Masaya - 1992

"Stick to it and believe in your power!" -- or at least that's what I think the Emperor Palpatine-like voice says at the start of the first stage. Only hardly any power is necessary, since this otherwise cool-looking hori shooter is a cakewalk. Hell, you don't even have to press fire if you don't want to: simply go into the options and switch the Shot setting to 'Auto'. Regardless, I still enjoyed blasting my way through this. It feels fast-paced despite all the dead time, and some of the music is inspired -- the stage 2 track is the definition of 16-bit synthpop epicness.


Alien Soldier

starstarstarstarstar Alien Soldier

Mega Drive - Sega - Treasure - 1995

Almost entirely made up of boss fights, Treasure's second side-scroller has you dashing across the screen, hovering in the air, running on ceilings headfirst, repelling enemy shots and blasting right through them as an extremely damaging ball of fire. Your arsenal of moves allows a lot of liberty in your playstyle, and once you're comfortable with the controls it plays like a 2D action wet dream. The pumping, sinister soundtrack and the return of the shapeshifting nightmare known as Seven Force can only mean one thing: NOW IS THE TIME TO THE 68000 HEART ON FIRE!


Arcana Heart

starstarstarstarstar Arcana Heart

Arcade/Custom - Atrativa - Yuki - 2006

Many people look down on this game because of its flagrant moe pandering, but give it a few years and it will be remembered as one of the best 2D fighters ever -- especially if it doesn't get many sequels (highly unlikely). Where to begin... The arcana system is genius; homing and guard cancels keep the action fluid; the playing field is humongous; the dashing is so evolved it almost becomes flying -- in the hands of expert players matches look like 2D manifestations of some of the coolest anime fights you've ever dreamed.


Arrow Flash

starstar Arrow Flash

Mega Drive - Sega - 1990

Sub-mediocre horizontal shooter by Sega in which you guide a blue-haired anime chick's transforming spaceship/robot thingy through a bunch of boring stages. In ship mode the so-called 'arrow flash' (your special weapon) is a six-way laser beam, while in robot mode it grants you invincibility for a short amount of time. Go into the options menu and change the arrow flash from the default 'stock' setting (need to pick up items to use it) to 'charge' (unlimited flashes but you charge them up à la R-Type) for an easy 1CC. Or, better yet, don't even play this game.


ASH -Archaic Sealed Heat-

starstar ASH -Archaic Sealed Heat-

DS - Nintendo - Mistwalker/Racjin - 2007

A blend of SRPG and JRPG conventions that was a bad idea to start with is only made worse by its wholly incompetent execution. You move the units of each team around a battle map individually, but when one of them engages the enemy the rest join in, while everyone else on the battlefield pulls up a chair and watches the fun and fireworks. A totally inane system that almost defeats the whole purpose of having grid-based tactical combat in the first place. The wonderful illustrations should have been saved for a better game.


Bushido Blade

starstarstarstar Bushido Blade

PlayStation - Square - Light Weight - 1997

The most interesting aspect of this 3D weapons fighter is the absence of health meters -- a single well-placed slash will be the end of an opponent. A quite realistic touch that really defines the game, as combat ends up involving careful maneuvering in order to penetrate a foe's guard and strike the killing blow. Either that or run around the stage like a madman, hacking wildly. Sometimes that works as well.


Captain Lang

starstar Captain Lang

Mega Drive - Data East - 1994

It's games like this one that really make me appreciate the Sonic series, reminding me that it takes more than speed and green hills to make a fun, absorbing platformer. Apart from the pirate world setting, Lang has a close resemblance to Sonic in everything it attempts including concept, stage layout and even an anthropomorphic lead character. The difference? Let's just say there's a good reason Lang never made it onto the Happy Meal boxes. Dull or cheap are descriptions that apply to just about everything in the game. It's playable, but just not worth it.


Crying: Asia Seimei Sensou

starstarstarstar Crying: Asia Seimei Sensou

Mega Drive - Sega - 1992

Organic-themed shooter that's so darn good it should have switched titles with the arcade version of Insector X (which is so boring it makes you cry, get it?). Weak main shot, so use your charge-up blast and option. Powering-up works like Raiden, and when you die you power-down one level. This is the way to do power-downs -- not the non-sensical Psykio way, nor the Gradius style which effectively forces you to one-life the game. Moves lighting fast at times, with lots of huge sprites on screen and little to no slowdown -- technically impressive, though not exactly beautiful.


Culdcept Saga

starstarstarstar Culdcept Saga

Xbox 360 - Bandai Namco - Omiya Soft - 2006

Culdcept makes its 3D high definition debut, while losing none of its charm in the process. What it gains is the robust online mode that the game has been screaming for ever since it was invented, as well as a few rule changes and a limited character-customization aspect. It can still be infuriating when you lose because of bad luck, but just approach this as you would any other board game and you'll be playing for years. The preteen-level story and full-English voice acting suck hard, but Kenji Ito saves the day with yet another excellent orchestral soundtrack.



star Curse

Mega Drive - Micronet - 1989

Early Mega Drive horizontal shooter with lifebar and instant respawns that's only worth getting for the cover art and stage 4 BGM. And it's not just the ultra jerky scrolling, flickering, poor hit detection or boring graphics that make this a waste of 1s and 0s -- it's the fact that if you don't reach the last stage after a few tries you're so hopeless you might as well give up on games and go back to... I don't know, watching movies or some shit. The final stage is a bit harder (no instant respawns, for one thing), but by that point I didn't really care.


Cyborg Justice

starstar Cyborg Justice

Genesis - Sega - Novotrade - 1993

Side-scrolling fighter from the creators of Ecco the Dolphin. Construct a cyborg body and duke it out in simple stages with up to two enemies at a time. Sounds easy, but with the control scheme acting as your most formidable opponent it can become quite an undertaking. The game tries to be more technical by emulating versus fighters, but in execution it's just a more elaborate mess with redundant moves. Considering there are plenty of beat 'em ups that take this approach and follow through on the design much better, it's best leaving Cyborg Justice alone.


Dahna: Megami Tanjou

starstar Dahna: Megami Tanjou

Mega Drive - IGS - 1991

Rastan-style action title starring a sword-slinging blonde whose white gown remains miraculously unstained despite the gallons of blood spilled all around her. I'd say this abnormality plus the ogre/horse/griffon-riding segments are the only things worth noting here. Not that they are well-done or anything -- in fact they feel even clunkier than the regular stages -- but at least you can't call them boring, like the rest of the game. Unresponsive controls and a barely useful moveset make this harder than you'd think, and a complete lack of inspiration permeates everything.


Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban

starstarstarstarstar Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban

Super Famicom - Sunsoft - 1995

Very much inspired by the SFC versions of Kiki Kaikai, only with more emphasis on melee combat, this is one of the crazier titles on the system. Choosing between a "Japanese idiot" or a "Western idiot", you go through a series of very creative stages filled with countless unique enemies and situations, as well as numerous bosses and mini-bosses. You can also transform into a gigantic "muscle man", which allows you to flex your muscles in a number of different ways -- pointless, but very funny. Remaining fresh and exciting throughout, Deae Tonosama in many ways even outdoes Kiki Kaikai.


Divine Sealing

star Divine Sealing

Mega Drive - C.Y.X. - Studio Fazzy - 1991

To be this bad takes a random company called C.Y.X. Console-exclusive shooters don't get any worse than this -- even unlicensed ones. Ugly, tasteless 8-bit graphics and sound, and a first stage that should come with a special epilepsy warning. There are no power-ups whatsoever, though I have to admit you don't really need them. Only thing that keeps it from being completely unplayable are the tiny hitboxes. In fact, you can pass right through bosses without getting harmed. And yes, there are girls stripping after every stage, complete with odd nipple colors and no vaginas.


Dynamite Headdy

starstarstarstarstar Dynamite Headdy

Mega Drive - Sega - Treasure - 1994

Underappreciated action platformer by Treasure starring a puppet with the ability to smash his dismembered head into enemies. Wacky Japanese humor and presentation are key features here, but the varied and fast-paced action does a good job supporting these elements, and compares well to many of the best examples in the genre, Ristar included. In the end, however, it is essentially its show-offish technical wizardry and superb aesthetics that truly bring Dynamite Headdy to life, with a peculiar yet immensely captivating atmosphere and careful attention to every detail.


Eliminate Down

starstarstarstar Eliminate Down

Mega Drive - Soft Vision - 1993

With such amateurish cover art and bearing the logo of some unknown company called Soft Vision, you'd be excused for passing up on this hori memorizer in a secondhand game shop. Don't. Just don't. It's cream of the crop MD shooting, with some of the most frantic action outside of the Thunder Force series. It just keeps throwing increasingly bigger and scarier alien hardware at you non-stop, while cranking the speed up and filling the air with awesome tunes. Not to mention it's very pretty and gets harder by the third stage than most other MD shooters ever get.



starstarstarstar Ex-Ranza

Mega Drive - Sega - Gau Entertainment - 1993

Best looking game on the system, and probably the most detailed one, not just graphically but also concerning laws of light, energy, physics and so on. Being a mecha shooter, this kind of realism really adds to the experience, and it almost feels like playing a simulator at times. I hate to tell you, but there are a few undeniable issues too, the biggest one being defensive strategies that can be exploited if you have the patience. These strategies slow down the pace considerably and do away with most of the challenge. Shame! Still, this is one of the most ambitious games I've ever played.


Golden Axe II

starstarstar Golden Axe II

Mega Drive - Sega - 1991

The engine and graphics of this straight-to-console sequel seem to have been lifted from the MD port of the original, which is disappointing since it could have been so much more. The only substantial improvements are the abilty to select the power level of your magic attacks using a charge bar, as well as altered back-attacks which have been downgraded so that they can no longer be exploited. This alone increases the challenge, as you're forced to use complicated maneuvering instead, such as the "death-jab" for power strikes, which is harder to time.



starstarstarstar Gunforce

Arcade/Custom - Irem - 1991

Irem introduces us to a methodical brand of action shooting that would pave the way for another classic: Metal Slug. Gunforce creates this with a large speed disparity between the player and bullets, limited ammo, and lack of cues that something is about to kick your ass. Needless to say, playing this like Contra will only lead to a hasty Game Over. Also notable is the amount of vehicles available to seize for an added attack or mobility advantage. Sure, the game starts as abuse, but can become one of the finest shooting experiences around -- for dedicated players that is.


Gunstar Super Heroes

starstarstar Gunstar Super Heroes

Game Boy Advance - Sega - Treasure - 2005

The sequel to Gunstar Heroes from the supposedly sequel-averse Treasure sets the GBA on fire, with extensive use of rotation and scaling, giant bosses, crisp sound effects and stirring music, but is severely lacking in challenge, with some bosses hardly fighting back at all. It also switches between references to older games far too often: one part is an After Burner-like airborne battle followed by a stage that quotes the old Sega game Flicky. These segments are too short and sometimes feel forced and random, resulting in a pretty broken flow. Still, enjoyable while it lasts and quite a technical feat.



starstarstarstarstar Hagane

Super Famicom - Hudson Soft - CA Production/Red - 1994

Amazing side-scrolling action game by Hudson and Red. Very much inspired by Strider, but with plenty of original elements, Hagane is set in a futuristic Japan and has some incredible art design that is easily its best aspect. Think of sci-fi cityscapes mixed with feudal Japanese elements -- it's been done a million times before but rarely this good, and the music is a similar fusion of styles that perfectly suits it all. Stage and boss designs are top notch and the entire game just feels extremely polished.


Herzog Zwei

starstarstarstarstar Herzog Zwei

Mega Drive - Tecno Soft - 1989

Few games can claim to have started a genre, but this one did. Strategy and unit management were combined with frenetic action for the first time in this largely unknown title by Tecno Soft. Despite being a first-gen game the graphics are solid, and the soundtrack exceptional. As one of the eponymous two dukes, you are asked to purchase and direct an army composed of eight different unit types in a quest to annihilate your opponent's base. The true fun comes when you play against a friend -- you'll be up late.


Holy Striker

starstarstar Holy Striker

Super Famicom - Hect - Axes Art Amuse - 1993

Original take on the Breakout style of game where you move a character around the field in eight directions while hitting the ball to break through to the next area. There are however monsters on the field that can attack and damage you, so this is kind of a cross between Breakout and a standard scrolling action game. You can tackle the story mode together with a friend, and there is also a multiplayer-focused mode where up to four players can complete against each other in a "sport" that resembles soccer. Fairly lengthy, and with nice graphics and good variety.



star HyperZone

Super Famicom - Halken - 1991

HAL Laboratory (aka Halken in Japan for some of their early titles) tries their best to show off the impressiveness of Mode 7 graphics in this forgettable rail shooter. Lazily fend off waves of uninspired alien creatures and boring boss encounters over the course of eight stages worth of pretty visual effects. The few thrills come from momentarily forgetting that what you're playing isn't F-Zero.


I Love Mickey Mouse: Fushigi no Oshiro Daibouken

starstarstar I Love Mickey Mouse: Fushigi no Oshiro Daibouken

Mega Drive - Sega - 1990

Charming platformer with great graphics and sound design. It packs in a whole bunch of nice ideas, though none of them are made use of to the extent which they could have been (the stage 2 screen-flipping segment was later borrowed and further developed by Treasure in Dynamite Headdy, for example, and needless to say it turned out awesome!). Though not very hard, it features some pretty shoddy boss attacks that can be quite frustrating and little fun to learn. Overall a competent game, but far too basic unless you're like six years old.


I Love Donald Duck: Georgia Ou no Hihou

starstarstar I Love Donald Duck: Georgia Ou no Hihou

Mega Drive - Sega - 1991

A straightforward platformer in the same vein as I Love Mickey Mouse. It has you seeking treasures and other items back and forth across the globe, all of which are needed to get past a certain door, wall, ravine or whatever. Nice try, but it really doesn't do much for the game, which feels just as linear as if the stages were in fixed succession. Individual stage designs however have been given some extra thought, which is why this feels so much more varied and fair than Mickey's adventure. Now if only there was some kind of challenge to it...


I Love Mickey to Donald: Fushigina Magic Box

starstarstar I Love Mickey to Donald: Fushigina Magic Box

Mega Drive - Sega - 1992

No matter how much you may love these characters, and no matter how gorgeous the presentation may be, there's no denying this series of Disney platformers by Emirin is missing something essential -- challenge. In the third and last episode this is more obvious than ever, and I guess that's what Walt (well, his successors) must have wanted. On the other hand, the rest of the game is well done (especially the two-player mode!), full of surprises that are cute and fun, but still only mildly creative. I think I might be saving this cart for my future children.


Ikari No Yousai

starstarstarstar Ikari No Yousai

Super Famicom - Jaleco - K. K. DCE - 1993

This side-scrolling action title starts out in a fairly standard fashion for the genre, but then it begins to slowly unfold a narrative in a very original and creative way. You must investigate a laboratory that has ceased all communication, and the game succeeds in immersing you in an aura of mystery. There is no text at all; instead, you discover what has happened via flashbacks and video recordings of events that happened just before you arrived. A very intriguing and exciting experience that goes beyond standard 2D action game conventions.


Jet Set Radio

starstarstarstarstar Jet Set Radio

Dreamcast - Sega - Smilebit - 2000

What's the best part of this game? The brilliant art style? The wonderful soundtrack (minus Rob Zombie's "Dragula")? Or the strangely beautiful idea of a bunch of teenage kids grinding and tagging their way around the neon streets of Tokyo to stop an evil corporation bent on destroying freedom? Whatever it is, it works. Paint over a rival gang's tags, take on a fellow Jet Set-er's skate trick challenge, all the while trying to avoid getting caught in the act by Captain Onishima and his crack police force. For the game that pioneered cel-shading, I can't think of a game that's used it better.


Kidou Soukou Dion

starstar Kidou Soukou Dion

Super Famicom - Vic Tokai - 1992

Vertical scrolling shooter from Vic Tokai, inspired by the PC Engine shooter Spriggan. Fairly unremarkable, with long, boring stages and graphics that are decent but nothing that great. The most interesting feature is the levelling system used to increase the power and amount of your weapons, but apart from that it's a fairly sub-mediocre shooting experience.


Kisuishou Densetsu Astal

starstarstar Kisuishou Densetsu Astal

Saturn - Sega - 1995

My expectations of Astal were obviously quite high: a 2D platformer from 1995 by Sega, with huge hand-drawn sprites and a beautiful fantasy setting. In spite of protagonist Astal's many moves (including the cool ability to give your bird friend various commands, like getting you items, or anything else beyond your reach), there's just not enough room for creativity (it never gets clever nor as fast as I would have wanted). If the basic mechanics weren't solid, I would never have bothered with the game.


Kuuga -Operation Code- Vapor Trail

starstar Kuuga -Operation Code- "Vapor Trail"

Arcade/Custom - Data East - 1989

A vertical scrolling shooter that should be recognized for its high speed and manic action, with reasonable hit detection -- quite remarkable for its era. Feels a tad rushed because of all the graphics and music rehashing (there's one, yes one stage song, which is kind of puzzling considering there were six "sound creaters" working on the game). Ultimately, it ends up in the mediocre pile due to some pretty cheap bosses and dull stage design overall later on, not to mention a forced weapon system which adds confusion rather than depth. Cool song though.


Made in Wario

starstarstarstar Made in Wario

Game Boy Advance - Nintendo - 2003

Wario is low on cash and decides the video game industry is where it can be made. Try your hand at his eccentric twist on game design by engaging in a slew of fast-paced microgames: from the mundane to the bizarre, you'll find yourself picking noses, shooting down aliens and revisiting some Nintendo classics, all in the span of about five seconds or less apiece. Very addictive, with plenty of things to unlock, including a full version of Dr. Mario (now relabeled as Dr. Wario, with some changes to match). The only real complaint is that it can be beaten in a few hours. Still, what a few hours they are.


Mawaru Made in Wario

starstarstarstarstar Mawaru Made in Wario

Game Boy Advance - Nintendo - Intelligent Systems - 2004

Yes, you really have to TURN the Game Boy. Reacting to rotation angle and speed, and adding a sensitive rumble feedback, the control scheme feels unusual yet spot-on, and the new microgames employ it in very creative and surprising ways. Ranging from just tipping the GBA a bit up to hectic 360-degree spins, playing this game is intense, retarded-looking fun. A bit more challenging than before and with a ton of mostly pointless but adorable unlockables, this is the most honest-to-goodness childish joy you will ever have with a GBA game.


Mamono Hunter Yohko: Dai 7 no Keishou

starstar Mamono Hunter Yohko: Dai 7 no Keishou

Mega Drive - NCS Masaya - 1991

Take any random sword-slinging femme fatale anime chick and give her a flawed platform engine and some dark, lifeless artwork; you'll either have Telenet's Valis series or this piece of trash! Yohko's sword can be charged up to create a protective force field around her, which can then be aimed and fired away for some strategic bullet-cancelling action. This great idea makes it all the more unfortunate that controls and stage designs are a complete mess. But who cares when you have heaps of lifebar, checkpoints and credits -- right?!


Mario Kart DS

starstarstarstarstar Mario Kart DS

DS - Nintendo - Nintendo EAD - 2005

This game is one hell of a package. It improves the somewhat floaty Double Dash handling, includes massive fan service with a staggering amount of drivers, kart variations and lovingly recreated tracks, adds solid Wi-Fi multiplayer, refrains from touch-screen nonsense -- it even has time trial staff ghosts. They just did everything right here. One of the most refined Nintendo titles ever -- and that, my friends, is saying something.


Metal Gear Solid

starstarstarstarstar Metal Gear Solid

PlayStation - Konami - KECJ - 1998

Legendary special operative Solid Snake returns on a mission to infiltrate a nuclear weapons disposal facility in Alaska's Fox Archipelago. Emphasis is again on the sneaking, with unheard-of 3D stealth mechanics for the time (barring Tenchu), though even more impressive is the extensive plot, a well-layered conspiracy featuring everything from the truth about Gulf War syndrome (experimental genome testing to create the perfect soldier) to revealing that infamous Watergate informant "Deep Throat" was in fact a cybernetic ninja.


Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

starstarstar Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

Mega Drive - Sega - 1990

As the King of Pop, rummage through music-video-themed stages for kidnapped children while fending off gangsters, zombies and spiders with your magic moves, or a lethal dance number at the cost of some vitality. Features nicely rendered versions of MJ's most popular tracks from Thriller and Bad. Despite it's kusogee premise, it's actually very well done, although short-lived and not too compelling after your first completion. And the final battle is extremely anticlimactic, looking and playing something like an interactive screensaver.


New Super Mario Bros.

star New Super Mario Bros.

DS - Nintendo - 2006

The first 2D Mario platformer in nearly fourteen years isn't about anything "New" -- it's essentially a calculated cash-in on nostalgic feelings. Basic polygons instead of sprites, generic stage designs, useless and outright pointless new power-ups hurt the most, and even including the not-so-secret worlds this is a very easy and short affair. Worst of all, besides perhaps the meaningless "giant Mario" incidents, nothing stands out as being memorable.


Oneechanbara Vortex ~Imichi wo Tsugumonotachi~

star Oneechanbara Vortex ~Imichi wo Tsugumonotachi~

Xbox 360 - D3 Publisher - Tamsoft - 2006

Another completely worthless Oneechan game, only this one costs nearly as much as all the previous ones combined. Aya and Saki get a few new moves and are joined by the babe-cop Anna, whose guns provide some much-needed variety to the action, but the stages are still nothing more than glorified keyhunts, and the enemies never compel you to do more than mash a simple combo over and over again. Even the new co-op mode didn't manage to hold my interest for more than a couple of hours, which says it all really.


Ougon no Taiyou: Hirakareshi Fuuin

starstar Ougon no Taiyou: Hirakareshi Fuuin

Game Boy Advance - Nintendo - Camelot - 2001

This by-the-numbers JRPG is a tired exercise in un-originality. Four generic adventurers set off on a forgettable fetch quest, with tedious dialogue and level grinding following all the while. Of note however is the Djinn system, which allows you to switch possession of the twenty-eight different Djinn to be found in the game between party characters, resulting in different skill sets depending on the set-up. The graphics are admittedly impressive, but that alone is not enough to make the experience worthwhile.