Monday 27 May 2002
Virtua Fighter 4
Beat-'em ups have their cult followings, but occasionally there are some that are good enough to pull in the mainstream punters – the Soul Calibur is the best recent example. Virtua Fighter 4 just about manages to achieve that vaunted status and is a worthy adversary to Dead or Alive 3 on the Xbox. The graphics are as rich and creamy as you'd expect from the fourth outing of a Sega franchise, and the sheer number of special moves means it will hold the attention for a good long stretch. The game would score more highly if it weren't for two obvious flaws. The first is that the basic Dual-shock controller is a little fiddly when it comes to mastering the moves – you might want to get an arcade-style joypad. A bigger issue is the considerable imbalance between the characters – it's fun to play with all of them, but some are demonstrably stronger than the others.
NBA Courtside 2002
Sports simulations are usually only fun if you care about the game in real life. Unfortunately, NBA Courtside 2002 probably won't even appeal to die-hard basketball fans. The game is Nintendo's attempt to redress the lack of sports titles on the N64, and it's a nasty misfire. The build-up to each game is nice and flashy, but it soon falls apart. The controls are easy to master but the gameplay is depressingly repetitive. That would be bad enough, but the whole thing is performed to a crushingly awful commentary and dreadful music. There is no doubt that the GameCube is capable of running a good sports game, but this emphatically isn't it.
Super Smash Bros Mêlée
What made Mario Kart such a hit? Simple: a quirky arena where lots of players can knock seven bells out of each other. Super Smash Bros translates that into a straight fighting game and takes the formula to glorious heights. Unlike other fighting games, the characters, drawn from Nintendo's past games, are entirely different to each other – a punch from Donkey Kong looks nothing like a similar move from Princess Toadstool. The game works well in single-player mode (there is a built-in adventure game), but comes into its own in multiplayer – the mayhem is wonderful. If you tire of the main game, there are around 12 special modes, too. Perfect.
The Xbox is establishing itself as the destination of choice for extreme sports sims. Amped is a graphically rich and slick snowboarding game that makes good use of the hard drive. As with other snowboard games, you have jumps and stunts to perform, points to score and special modes. The controls are a bit of a fiddle, but in general it handles nicely. One complaint is that Amped is surprisingly hard – progression through the "world rankings" becomes a chore after about halfway. What makes the game special is that you can load your CDs into the hard drive and have the machine play them at random instead of the game's own (rather good) soundtrack.
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