Welcome to the eleventh installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement. It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash and getting a gem of a game at the same time.
The titles covered below can usually be found online or in any shop with a selection of used or discount games, most often for $20.00 or less! Please keep in mind that because the selections in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, it's assumed that the graphics aren't bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating that takes this into account, and does not compare them to today's visual standards—gameplay is what we're talking about here.
Happy hunting, and more importantly Happy Gaming!
Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots Arena
Developer: Paradox Development
Publisher: Mattel Interactive
ERSB: Teen (13+) Animated Violence
Release Date: 2000
Ignore the title, and put aside thoughts of those ancient dusty boxing 'bots you've seen in your uncle Morty's attic. Underneath the cheesy package design and the fact that it's published by Mattel, Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots Arena is a shockingly well-realized, fully 3D fighting game. It's doubly impressive considering it runs on the original PlayStation hardware and that it comes from a developer nobody's ever heard of.
Starring a cast of quasi-cartoonish robots, the hook is that each character can rearrange and exchange their body parts to customize their attributes. You can procure new limbs in a shop, or use any you can salvage from downed opponents. The thing that really impressed me was that each individual limb has its own move set, not just one designated function. In theory, you could use different bits and pieces to completely change the way your character plays right down to their special abilities and controller inputs.
The facile skill Paradox displays with regard to the free-movement arenas also surprised me, being reminiscent of its fellow PlayStation brethren Tobal No. 1 or Ehrgeiz. In general, the game is quite solid, though it's true that the A.I. leans towards the cheap side with occasional bouts of brutal ruthlessness once you get past the beginning pushover opponents. I never would have guessed it at first glance, but taking my DinoVenger robot into the winner's circle on a quiet afternoon was a lot more fun that I expected. Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Developer: Techno Soleil/Hamster
Release Date: August 2003
There were a surprisingly plentiful number of cheap-o puzzlers that hit the PlayStation now that its glory days have gone by, all looking to cash in without offering much that you can't find for free online or on a mobile phone. Amongst the chaff, there are still a few gems trickling down into the rapidly-shrinking PlayStation shelves, though. One of them, Tall: Infinity can best be vaguely described as a mix between groundbreaking classic Tetris and overlooked rarity Intelligent Qube.
The game takes place entirely on a circular stone tower made up of square blocks. Each block has differently-colored sides, and you are in control of a small character that moves and jumps atop the pile, rotating and dropping them into their correct positions. The goal is to get enough like sides to touch, thereby creating a continuous line around the tower's perimeter and creating another story to its height.
I love the aesthetic of a single, far-reaching column stretching towards the heavens, and the action itself is just as good as the concept. Things can get quite hectic as you race to increase your altitude, calling for fast thinking and even faster fingers. Tall: Infinity does not fail to bring a challenge. My only gripe is that there isn't a save function included for when you get to the advanced levels of play, but that's a very minor point, really.
Offering a puzzle mode that will have you racking your brain in addition to the standard "build it up" main game, there's a lot here for a small amount of green. Fans of this sort of action really can't go wrong. (And if you manage to complete the disc, send me an email and let me know so I can idolize you.) Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Bio Hazard Battle
Plaftorm: Sega Genesis
Release Date: 1992
If you've been mashing buttons since the old days, you've probably got a soft spot in your heart for shooters, like me. If you're newer to the hobby, you probably wonder what the attraction was. For both crowds, I can heartily recommend Bio Hazard Battle. Borrowing liberally from Irem's seminal R-Type, this game basically has everything you could want in a shooter. All you need is a working Genesis and a friend, and you're good to go.
Choosing from four different biological "ships" based on designs that look like a classic blend of sea life and insects, you blast off in this horizontal twitchfest to save the universe and parts unknown. The graphics are a bit sparse by Genesis standards, but they get the job done. Where Bio Hazard Battle shines is the gameplay.
Using the "option" mechanic of a sidekick unit acting as backup gunner and shield adds a good layer of depth to the skirmishes, especially evident in the two-player mode. When one player maneuvers to intercept bullets while the covered player blasts enemies, you know you're into something good. The system of switching between four different types of weapons works well, the large boss battles are a lot of fun, and with the co-op simultaneous play thrown in, you've got just about every element that represents the genre's heyday back in the 16-bit era. Bio Hazard Battle is a great starting point for prospective retro gamers , and with the price of Genesis systems being so dirt cheap, it's a pretty painless way to travel back in time. Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny
Plaftorm: PlayStation 2
ERSB: Mature (17+) Blood & Gore, Violence
Release Date: August 2002
Finally, to wrap it up this month (and jumping ahead ten years), I'd like to recommend Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny. This may come as a surprise considering that I completely panned the first game, but the second installment is markedly better and reminds me of another Capcom disc, Dino Crisis 2. With both of these series, the first iterations are basically Resident Evil with a twist. However, each sequel was slimmed-down to reduce the Raccoon City influence and push the action. Dino Crisis 2 did it better, but the effort in Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny isn't bad.
First things first: Onimusha 2 still uses the outdated, clunky "R/C" control setup that Capcom can't ever seem to quit, and also has the same "cinematic" camera angles that make it hard to spot items, exits, and approaching enemies. (Can you say "cheap hits"? I knew you could.) That said, the improvements override the annoyances.
For example, the first half or so of the game moves a hell of a lot faster than Onimusha: Warlords ever did due to the reduced number of locked doors and item-based puzzles. With fewer barriers, your weapons no longer need to pull double duty as keys. That change eliminates lot of time spent leveling up, hunting down doodads, and backtracking in general.
The previous installment's story was another big gripe of mine, and Onimusha 2 partially addresses that, too. The hero's "out for revenge" motivation is tired, but the four additional characters and (brief) time spent in a semi-peaceful local town give it life. You can talk to potential teammates in the local tavern and give them gifts you think match their desires. Choose your presents wisely and you'll alter what story branch the plot takes, or who will team up with you during difficult areas. There's no way you'll mistake it for an RPG, but this little bit goes a long way towards spicing up what otherwise be Survival Horror in a kimono.
Sadly, the development team completely drops these juicy improvements at the halfway mark. Past a certain point, the keyfetching and backtracking I despise so much came back, and in full effect. I don't know what happened, but the result is that Onimusha 2's gripping first half feels quite different from the been-there, done-that, tired-of-it tail end. If they had been able to maintain the fresher parts of the design for the game's duration, it would have been spectacular.
However, despite the places where it stumbles, I ended up enjoying Onimusha 2 a great deal more than I thought possible. The beginning is close to what I think an action game should feel like in terms of structure, and it doesn't hurt that the graphics and art design are still downright amazing in some parts. ROBOT studios turns out some stunning CG cutscenes as well. Put all those things together, and there's enough spark here to keep you playing until the end.
For those who like to squeeze every last bit of gameplay out of their purchases, there are also a bunch of minigames and bonus materials available after completion, not to mention the challenge of trying to open every story branch. Onimusha 2 may not be as great as it could have been, but it's clearly improved and worth your attention if the idea of samurai hacking up demons from hell sounds good to you. It sure does to me. Rating: 8.0 out of 10