With the release of EA Sports' heir apparent to the wildly successful Knockout Kings series, it looks like we've entered into videogame history's first golden age of boxing titles. What started out as ripples with underdog titles like Victorious Boxers and Rocky, now looks like a full on tidal wave with EA Sports Fight Night 2004 entering into the fray. However, what separates Fight Night from the pack is the backing of the largest third-party publisher in the world, EA Sports and its vast network of resources. The former mentioned titles lacked flashy production values, added value content, licenses with real-life boxers and marketing hype. Fight Night far outclasses its peers in these areas. Whether the final results sink or swim, this is unmistakably a triple "A" production at heart.

Fight Night follows the recent trend of Electronic Arts titles having equal substance in its gameplay to match its glitzy style. Building on the analog sensitive controls of Victorious Boxers, Fight Night makes its own bold contribution to the genre by using the right analog thumb sticks on controllers to launch a majority of its punches (buttons are used for signature punches, taunts and illegal moves). Making upward one-quarter or one-third circle motions to the left or right will throw respective left and right hooks and uppercuts. Pushing the stick in straight upward motions will throw jabs and cross punches. Defensive bobbing and weaving is accomplished similarly by moving the left analog stick while holding down the left shoulder trigger. Blocks are achieved by moving the right analog stick while holding the right shoulder trigger. This control setup may sound awkward, but in application, is a thing of beauty. It's nearly impossible to imagine a better control setup once becoming accustomed to it.

Just about every feature in Fight Night lives up to the hype and feels right, if not outstanding. The computer opponents box with challenging styles and distinct personalities. Matches produce dynamic in-ring drama and KOs look soul-cleansing and gut wrenchingly painful at the same time. The career modes and custom create-a-boxer modes are light-years behind the top WWE wrestling games, but still far above average. The option to earn fight purses and purchase addition things like trunks, gloves, shoes, signature punches, entrance pyrotechnics and even groupies, also help to make the game more engaging.

If I had to pick holes in what is otherwise a fine title, there are two. One is its surprisingly weaker-than-expected roster of boxers. While containing 32 licensed boxers—many legends and current stars across all the weight classes (kudos for getting Roy Jones Jr., Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward), the game is still missing many key figures. At this point, you don't expect to see the likes of George Foreman (despite his face being on every As-Seen-On-TV product) and Mike Tyson (who's in the will-do-anything-for-cash phase of his boxing career), but where's Oscar De La Hoya, the Klitschko Brothers, Riddick Bowe, Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez and Tommy Hearns? Without some of the key figures in boxing's recent history, Fight Night takes a shot in credibility department.

The second hole is its lack of international flair. Distilled through EA Sports unparalleled content licensing philosophy, Fight Night presents only an urban American Hip Hop interpretation of the sweet science and fails to capture the true nationalistic spirit and honor of the competition. Forget about the racial overtones of Cooney versus Holmes or the nationalistic fervor over De La Hoya versus Trinidad. Instead of acting with dignified pride, fighters taunt and pose like egomaniacal NFL rejects, which feels grossly out of place in the sport of boxing with the exception of Mayorga.

These complaints are relatively minor compared to its rich accomplishments in presentation and boxing gameplay, but they do keep Fight Night from achieving legendary status. To be a legend, you have to beat a legend. Fight Night takes the best-boxing title simply because there aren't any challengers. Fight Night isn't quite the undisputed champion of the world, but it is the start of a promising new era. Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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I’m getting pumped about Fight Night Champion (considering doing a User Submission), and I read this review for the first time. This is a really good review of the Fight Night series, and I’m glad you highlighted the lack of undertones which accompany the major fights, aside from the hip-hop culture. To me, the rich history and national association is what makes boxing so special. Glad to know that my favorite review site picked up on it.

To the average male gamer, one of life's greatest conundrums is the potentially cataclysmic struggle between a man's videogames and his not-interested-in-games woman. The girlfriend/spouse of a gamer sees the console as her main competitor. Every hour spent gripping a game pad is one less hour of coddling time with the honey. Since a majority of videogames can take any where from 20 to 40 hours a week to complete, you can see why the old lady is threatening to throw the PlayStation 2 out the window. The last thing she wants to be is an "Everquest Widow".

So what's the solution? Give up one love for another? Nah. That's not an option to most diehard gamers. Is it possible to have your cake and eat it too? Absolutely. The answer lies in being able to convert your mate into a gamer (or at least someone who likes to play games on occasion). That way she will no longer see your console as competition. Instead, videogames would be something you share together. What was once a hindrance to the growth of your relationship is now considered quality time. Of course this is something of an impossible Holy Grail to most gamers, but fear not, because good old Chi Kong Lui has the secret formula for you right here (now aren't you glad you sacrificed your privacy and registered with us?).

Step #1: While on a date, play the arcade coin-op version of House Of The Dead 2 together.

Ever wonder why year after year, light gun games never disappear despite having zero innovation and replay value? For someone who doesn't play videogames, there's nothing more alienating than foreign concepts like the quarter-circle fireball motion or the sight of stout S.D. (super deformed) role-playing game characters. Gun games, on the other hand, are different. Almost anyone can pick up a light gun, be instantly comfortable with the goals of the game and start blasting away. Thank God for Hollywood and the N.R.A.

Why does it need to be the arcade coin-op version? Gamers have been stigmatized with the unflattering image of vegging out on the couch without showering for days and being unproductive while the rest of the world passes by. Good luck trying to get your girl to even stay in the room while your Xbox is running. Arcades are different in that there's a sense of going out and doing something, which makes the whole environment more socially acceptable (never mind that the games at home and at the arcades are near identical). Your girl will be much more open to trying her hand at a game under these conditions. Another viable option is while on a movie date, before or after the show, hunt down a House Of The Dead 2 machine at the theater. I don't know if this is true for the rest of the U.S., but in New York City, almost every theater has one.

Aside from the familiarity of the gun-based gameplay, what also makes House Of The Dead 2 an ideal choice is that its a co-operative game. Nothing will turn your girl off faster to videogames than you repeatedly whipping her butt in a competitive game like Street Fighter II (rubbing it in afterwards will also ensure you wont be getting any nookie later also). In a co-operative game, not only does she feel like your partner (feel those positive relationship vibes tingling?), but you also can cover her sorry green ass and make up for her terrible aim without being obviously overbearing or condescending.

Another positive about House Of The Dead 2 is the subject matter. If by chance your girlfriend happens to be a feminist intellectual who gets turned off by the gender-bias nature of videogames or doesn't like the morale undertones of assassinating law enforcement type figures, House Of The Dead 2 offers up politically safe yet still threatening zombies for crosshair fodder. Everyone hates zombies and she won't feel any guilt for killing them since they are already dead.

Step #2: Suggest Buying The Home Console Version

Assuming your girlfriend had a ton of fun playing and you didn't do anything stupid to put yourself in the dog house like being cheap or suggest something sexually inappropriate during the course of the date, casually mention that House Of The Dead 2 and many other fine games like it are available on home consoles. If all goes well, she should respond in glee at the possibility of having the same kind of zombie exterminating fun from the comfort of home and urge you to purchase the game.

Step #3: Purchase Vampire Nightand an additional Guncon or Guncon 2.

Since House Of The Dead 2 is no longer readily available on home consoles (it was last seen on the defunct Dreamcast system), your next best option is Vampire Nightf or the PlayStation 2. While the main premise of the game revolves around vampires rather than zombies, the groaner B-movie voice acting of the characters and core of the gameplay remain pretty much unchanged and your girlfriend probably wont even miss a beat. This is still a classic light gun game with alternating rail paths, but without any complicated ducking feature, a la Time Crisis. Hordes and hordes of varying demonic and grotesque monsters still wait to meet the wrong end of you and your girlfriends flashing light gun barrel.

Where Vampire Night differs is the slightly slower paced action on screen. Rather than having enemies clutter the screen and overwhelm players, Vampire Night has a more calculated flow and enemies tend to exhibit more physical reactions and gestures than one might expect from this type of game. Even the act of rescuing hostages/innocent bystanders (a common gameplay device in light gun games) has a unique twist. Players need to blast off a small leech like creature off the human without harming the hostage in the process. The slower pace makes for a more manageable difficultly level, but that's a good thing if you don't want to frustrate your girlfriend with cheesy unavoidable hits and constant level restarts.

Another significant bonus to Vampire Night is the Special and Training Modes. The Special Mode is plays out essentially the same as the standard Arcade Mode, but there are two differences. One change is the inclusions of little side-missions that involve assisting villagers recover, rescue or locate various items, persons or paths. The second addition involves obtaining money while trekking through the levels and buying items from the store at the start of each new game. Items can range from special shotgun bullets to extra credits for continues. While this isn't a terrible innovative feature, it does provide a welcome hook and increases the replay value tremendously. The Training mode, which is a series of fun mini-shooting games, also provides a soothing break from the main vampire blasting gameplay.

Just remember that it takes two to tango. So don't forget to purchase an additional Guncon 2 or dig out the original PlayStation Guncon (which is also compatible with Vampire Night). If this solution actually worked and your girlfriend/spouse is now a gamer, color me surprised and CONGRATULATIONS! Now you'll have to deal with the other unexpected conundrum that most male gamers face, "fighting over the control pad with your woman." Solution to that problem is still pending. Rating: 7 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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I'll never forget the first episode I saw of the HBO prison-drama Oz. I was up late one night channel surfing through cableland and decided to finally catch a rerun of the show. At the time, Oz was generating a considerable amount of buzz for its shocking content. This particular episode that introduced me to the series more than lived up to the hype. In the final scene of the hour-long show, inmate Tobias Beecher is emotionally wrought as he reminisces over the long emotional and sexual domination that he endured from fellow inmate and Neo-Nazi, Vern Schillinger. In order to redeem his sense of manhood, Beecher exacts his revenge by ambushing Schillinger in the weight room and knocking him unconscious to floor with a dumbbell. What would happen next left me speechless and paralyzed in front of my television. Beecher punctuated his revenge by defecating into Schillinger's mouth. No need to do a double take on that last sentence folks. One man used another mans mouth for a toilet. I kid you not when I say that I couldn't sleep that night.

The reason I cite this horribly graphic scene for my review of Namco's Dead To Rights, is because the game also features several prominent levels that take place within a prison. During the course of trying to track down the murderer of his father, the player controlled protagonist, Jack Slate, a K-9 police officer is framed for another murder and incarcerated while he awaits execution by electric chair. While a majority of the game is not set in a prison, I felt the prison stages were representative overall of Dead To Rights poorly conceived form and untapped potential in challenging players beyond a higher difficulty level.

While having sequences set in a prison and being visually fashioned somewhat convincingly so, I found no instances in Dead To Rights that were anywhere near as emotionally disturbing as the above described scene in Oz. Granted oral defecation is an extreme example, but you would think that any type of a fiction involving a prison might touch upon or perhaps explore other issues like the social and moral implications of the death penalty; the racial disparity among inmates; the anguish and inhumanity a prisoner might feel from solitary confinement; or the despair and brutality a prisoner endures from being gang raped (the same subjects dealt with on a ongoing basis on Oz). Take your pick. Any one will do.

Despite being rated mature (meaning this game is supposedly for adults), Dead To Rights has no such experience or ambition. It is a mere sheep in wolves clothing that uses only the most socially timid and comfortable clichés like cigarettes-for-trade and prison escape maps to paint a PG-rated teen-friendly novelty amusement park interpretation of prison life. Players don't freely immerse themselves in the dangers and social complexities of a prison environment. Instead, players are ushered from one clearly defined station to next where a silly mini-game or drab fistfight awaits their gratification. Where as a good videogame will cleverly disguise its gameplay interactions and boundaries to heighten the sense of disbelief for the player, Dead To Rights unabashedly reveals in limited archaic conventions.

Not unique to just the prison stages, every real world environment and situation is distilled into a discernable objective that gawks pretentiously like a neon sign on a highway. Later stages set in locales like a nudie bar, dance club, massage parlor, city street and office building, offer possible dialogue on sex, prostitution, drugs, crime and corruption. But every opportunity is reduced to shooting-gallery or brawl and issues go uncharted in any convincing or meaningful fashion. Dead To Rights is depressingly regressive in its gameplay and treatment of topics the storyline affords.

What could be considered truly horrific in Dead To Rights is the equally regressive graphics. While character animations are adequate, the models lack convincing detail and texture. Motionless lips during dialogue and frighteningly bulbous fist-shaped hands only exacerbate the visual deficiencies. Later levels look unpolished or unfinished, which gives the game a rather uneven progression for stage to stage. While making its debut on all-powerful Xbox, Dead To Rights looks more suited for the original PlayStation.

The one thing that does work in Dead To Rights is the John Woo-inspired bullet ballet gunfights that comprise a good portion of the gameplay. While using a familiar third-person perspective, Dead To Rights excels past similar formulas in this one area by fusing a slick player-controlled slow-motion 'bullet-time' feature and a smooth auto-targeting system that will have players bringing down multiple enemies in a room with Chow Yun Fat-like grace. Options like being able to use an enemy as a hostage/shield and being able to disarm enemies with fiendishly sadistic choreographed martial arts moves also keep the mechanics lively during these gun battle sequences.

There are rare moments in Dead To Rights where the gameplay, design structure and environments come together nicely and during those instances, my sense of self is transposed into the game. The gun battle sequence in the graveyard (reminiscent of the scenes in the John Woo's film Hard Target) and on the pier comes to mind. However, none of these moments are sustained. Dead To Rights is all too eager to remind you that you playing a very poorly planned and weakly scripted videogame. The wonderful shoot'em up mechanics is wasted because the game has no ambition to elevate itself beyond the tried-and-true formulaic composition of game design and narrative focus. My greatest grievance is how Dead To Rights squanders potentially invigorating situations and possibilities that could raise the level of discourse in videogames. Dead To Rights as well as a myriad of other recent ultra-violent games expose game developers as conceptually unsophisticated craftsman unable to rise artistically to the occasion. Good art will often shock a viewers emotional and intellectual foundation. It will change a persons value system and alter the way a person looks at the world. The original HBO cable show Oz achieves this on a weekly basis. Dead To Rights is mere child's play in comparison. Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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Dynasty Warriors 2 Art
I'm a hypocrite. That's what I realized after I finished one of my marathon sessions playing Dynasty Warriors 3, a no-holds barred slugfest meets the historical mythology of China's Three Kingdom saga, from Koei for the PlayStation 2. I had just lead an army of hundreds into the frontlines of a battle, unleashed hell on my enemy's stronghold, and personally introduced over 600 soldiers to their maker courtesy of my blade. Keep in mind thats 600 in one battle! And what makes me a hypocrite is that I loved every moment of it.

I criticized the violent crime-spree laden Grand Theft Auto 3 as being trashy and decried the upcoming riot-in-a-box State Of Emergency as being vile, but I couldn't deny the pleasure I took charging into a crowd of dozens and executing a earth shattering Musuo attack (think Soul Calibur-like combos on steroids) in Dynasty Warriors 3.

Am I being hasty in condemning myself? Perhaps a little more examination of both the game and the subject of violence in videogames are warranted.

Dynasty Warriors 3 is, at its core, what many old-school gamers call a beat-em-up. In the tradition of coin-op classics like Double Dragon and Final Fight, a beat-'em-ups most distinguishing characteristic is usually the endless hordes of computer opponents a player must combat (usually with fists, weapons and anything else a player can get his hands on) and the repetitive nature of the gameplay which is usually tantamount to a wholelotta button-mashing. However, there are several qualities that distinguish Dynasty Warriors 3 from its ancestors.

Dynasty Warriors 3 is a beat-em-up in which every facet is richly decorated with layers of ancient Chinese culture and history. The characters in the game are entirely derived from the legendary cast of iconoclastic heroes, villains, warriors, politicians, scholars, leaders and lovers from the "Romance of the Three Kingdom" annals. All the costuming of the 3D models is ethnically authentic and beautifully lavished. The story backdrops and scripted mission designs are also rooted in the text of the novels. Its an artistically rich and fulfilling tapestry from which the developers successfully draw their inspirations.

The gameplay also manages to evolve past its precursors in a number of ways. Dynasty Warriors 3s most obvious and compelling attraction is its concept of putting players right smack dab in the frontlines of a battlefield from a third-person perspective. In what seems like a minor technical miracle, each stage consists of literally hundreds of soldiers partaking in massive battle (most of which progresses off-screen) while dozens upon dozens of soldiers can flood into the players perspective at any given time. The overall feeling is incredibly vicarious, and leading a foothill charge of soldiers into conflict is wonderfully cathartic. The battles are indeed long and challenging, but also deeply rewarding.

The mindlessness of mowing down opponent after opponent in a typical beat-em-up fashion has also been invigorated in Dynasty Warriors 3 because players are treated as active pawns in a grander scheme. Theres a sense of liveliness and dynamic tension to the game world. Depending on the character a player assumes, responsibilities and objectives are shifted to the unique perspective of that particular character. Players can react and influence the tide of a battle by making strategic choices as to whether or not they should follow their assignments or freelance where assistance might be needed. To make things even more interesting, all the combat and strategy can be played through co-operatively with a human ally by way of a split-screen setup. For console gaming, camaraderie between two gamers is elevated to new plateaus.

To top off the gameplay, theres also an intentionally arduous, yet still dangerously addictive system for character development and weapons upgrades. The system of finding treasures and power-ups in the midst of the battlefield is less than inspired, but the net result is still effective in that it diversifies the gameplay and a player can easily lose a greater part of a days time trying collect these little attention-arousing devices.

Dynasty Warriors 3 Screenshot

However inspired most of Dynasty Warriors 3 is, the game is not without any fallacies. While the game can be technically astounding, the game engine has its limitations. When pushed to the max, massive slow-down in the gameplay occurs and 3D models have a nasty habit of magically disappearing and reappearing in order to compensate. In the two-player co-operative and versus modes, these problems are exasperatedly twofold.

So in closing of my analysis, is there a difference between Dynasty Warriors 3 and State Of Emergency or any other game that personifies violence?

I could argue that Dynasty Warriors 3 sits on higher ground because its treatment of the subject matter is more cultured and not eagerly exploitative (unlike most of Rockstar Games franchises). I could also say that Dynasty Warriors 3s main focus is on ancient war and history; not violence. The violence is an inherent characteristic to the subject matter.

So does that means violence is acceptable and perhaps even justifiable if dressed up properly and portrayed in the appropriate context? That reads cheap even as I write it. After all, who deems what is acceptable and what is appropriate? Religion and society can set the morale standards, but what if one chooses not to believe in God and whose cultural society are we talking about?

What does not escape me is that I enjoyed the violence in Dynasty Warriors 3. However dignified the games treatment of its subject may be, I was neither appalled nor enlightened by the violence. I was thrilled by it. Videogames make players active participants. Unlike films or books about war and violence, one cannot separate ones self from the content and look at the subject objectively. Therein lies the conflicting duality of videogames that makes it difficult for developers to convey intelligent and artful ideas through the medium. In order for videogames to be engaging, they need to be entertaining. What happens when a subject matter or an idea for a videogame may not be inherently entertaining? Is it the duty of developers to increase the fun factor at the expense of integrity? Are developers ultimately forced to channel their visions through more marketable criteria in order for it to be consumable?

If videogames are ultimately doomed to be subjective and void of objective thinking, perhaps the much industry applauded and heralded advocate of videogames, Dr. Henry Jenkins of M.I.T., is correct in saying that the attraction behind videogames is that it allows us to explore our darker impulses without consequence. Perhaps its inescapable that videogames can only be about escapist violent fantasies. This would inevitably explain the great success that Grand Theft Auto 3 has achieved, and I could sleep better at night knowing that Im not a hypocrite for slaying 600 virtual soldiers and loving every second of it. Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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When many gamers saw the first PlayStation 2 commercials touting the future fantasy-like exploits of the PS9, they lost it. It was the final straw. Those over-exaggerated commercials represented the culmination of hype and bravado that Sony had been brandishing for months prior to the release of the system as if it could do no wrong. But that arrogance soon shifted to humility after Sony failed to make good on its promises and public opinion started to turn on them faster than Kelly turned on Sue. The proof would be in the pudding, and unfortunately, the pudding was mostly made up of forgettable shovelware like Gungriffon Blaze; a giant robot game that is not only lacking in innovation, but also fundamental principles that have guided winning titles since the days of the 8-bit NES system.

There are so many things wrong with Gungriffon Blaze, I barely know where I should begin. It's like a laundry list of how not to make a next-generation title.

For conveniences sake, let me start with the graphics. Gungriffon Blaze looks so unremarkable that I questioned why it was even developed for the PlayStation 2 and not on an older console. There aren't any significant new special effects on display, which is usually the norm for first-generation titles. Explosions and weapons animations are industrially mundane. 3D models of robots, vehicles and landscapes aren't particularly detailed or interesting in any manner, and on the whole, everything looks and animates unconvincingly. That of course is the first cardinal sin when it comes to making a good giant robot game. In order for the outrageous premise of hulking mechanical foot soldiers to work, players must need to believe that it's possible, and when a game looks as chintzy as this one, it's hard to suspend your own taste, let alone belief.

Spotting glaring holes in the gameplay was equally as obvious as the pitiful graphics. When not bothered by the grammatical errors and the poor type spacing in the text, I was befuddled by a control scheme that just didn't seem to want to cooperate, despite making sense on paper. Chalk it up to poor execution.

The controls were far from the only thing lacking, either. Unbelievably, there are only five scarce missions to the entire game, and the game makes minimal effort to tie the missions together in some form, story arc or continuity. Add to the fact that each mission can be replayed at higher difficulty levels only makes this a pill tougher to swallow. Not only is the advanced difficulty level gesture a poor substitute for lacking content, but it's also an insult to any consumer's intelligence.

Amazingly, the worst is still yet to come. The problem that plagues Gungriffon Blaze the most is that it never makes up its mind as to what kind of giant robot game it wants to be. On one hand, it tries to be an fast-paced action title with power-ups littering the landscape. On the other hand, it wants to be a serious simulator, with complex controls and mission objectives. The game never quite finds a good balance between the two styles, and the confusion is evident everywhere. The gameplay is too tough to be a fun action game, and there aren't enough standard-issue sim features — like customizations, radars and tracking devices — to deal with the complex and realistic elements. Gungriffon Blaze is sort of like the other Voltron made up of 15 vehicles; a confusing amalgamation.

File Gungriffon Blaze under "What were they thinking?" Game Arts is company that has been producing quality titles that date back to '80s, but Gungriffon Blaze is a horrible misstep for them. It's an embarrassment to their brand and another reminder that the PlayStation 2 isn't the end all of video game consoles that everyone was anticipating. Rating: 4 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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Fair criticism usually benefits from having extensive experience in the particular subject leading to a more knowledgeable (and less emotional) perspective. But every now and then, something like Pokémon Snap comes along that so defies normal conventions (of the videogame world) that it leaves critics baffled as to how to justifiably critique it. Comparing such a game to the likes of violence-riddled, first-person shooters or management-intensive, real-time strategy games is much like the unenlightening experience of comparing proverbial apples to proverbial oranges. I could try harder and describe Pokémon Snap as something like a light-gun shooter equipped with a camera rather than a firearm, except that such a statement doesn't delve into the game's distinct mechanics. So rather than trying to put Pokémon Snap in a lineup with all the usual suspects, Dale and I searched elsewhere for new and more appropriate criteria by which to judge the game. Now where does one go to find an experience comparable to Pokémon Snap, whose premise revolves around shooting and collecting photographs of Pokémon in the wild? Well, here in New York City, the only place that's got more animals than the streets is the Bronx Zoo. So with each of us armed with a trusty 35mm camera and a roll of film, we took at trip to the zoo, "snapping" shots of all kinds of animals. All in hope of gaining better insight and giving the game a more fair review.

So how does a virtual trip to Pokémon Island stack up against a real trip to the Bronx Zoo? Quite well actually. Make no mistake, the developers of Pokémon Snap have tapped into a very unique National Geographic, safari-type experience with a journalistic focus on the photography portion of the game. Pokémon Snap soars higher than a bald eagle in the presentation department. Despite being restricted to a set path of movement, the explored environments feel wondrously expansive and retain a good sense of the surrounding natural elements. Pokémon littered throughout the stages are modeled beautifully and animate smoothly; conveying an appropriately organic feel. I was quick to notice that the Pokémon tended to be far more lively and exaggerated in their actions than their real, living animal brethren (who were usually sedate and lazily lounging about) were. The Bronx Zoo monorail was also nowhere near as sweet a ride as Pokémon Snap's Zero-One transportation unit! Pokémon Snap does tend to feel like amusement park-like ride at times, but neither this nor any of the aforementioned larger-than-life videogame antics detract from the overall ambience and serenity that comes naturally comes from photographing, whether the subjects are Pokémon or animals.

One thing that Pokémon Snap does capture remarkably well is the sense of wonderment and excitement one gets from shooting photos and not being able to examine the results until later. The satisfaction of finally seeing prints is far more immediate in Pokémon Snap, and therefore less gratifying and magical than in actuality, where one has to take the time to either develop the film oneself or walk it over to the local photo lab. Still, that feeling has never before been explored by a videogame in a meaningful way and Pokémon Snap deserves much credit for being able to capture a fraction of what makes photography so joyful. The developers were also wise to focus on a more journalistic (not artistic) approach to photography. Because although Professor Oak's simulated photo-critiquing standards are fine for a newspaper or scientific style of composition, they are far too stringent for artistic aesthetics.

Trekking through the Bronx Zoo, all of the above-mentioned things became apparent, but nothing stood out more than this: Pokémon-mania has captured the hearts of children and the attention of parents (at least in NYC). The presence of Pokémon was so apparent that it seemed as if the Bronx Zoo had a promotional tie-in (in actuality, there wasn't) with Nintendo Game Boys with Pokémon carts inserted could be spotted with pubescent teens, while younger kids paraded around, proudly brandishing their Pokémon T-shirts. It was simply amazing the amount of conversations overheard about Pokémon and not only with kids, but surprisingly also with parents. I even overheard how a mother got her child to come to the zoo by telling him he'd see real-life Pokémon there!

That last image sticks in my mind because despite videogames being the most popular form of entertainment among children, I still saw plenty of kids having fun at the zoo. And even if they were "tricked" into going to the zoo, they nonetheless had fun once there and it serves as a reminder to me that there were ways for kids to amuse themselves long before videogames came into our collective conscious. We have fun and are entertained because physical, real-world experiences can evoke pleasant feelings and emotions about ourselves, and Pokémon Snap serves as a reminder that videogames aren't necessarily fun onto themselves, but fun because they virtually simulate some of those real-world experiences. So playing Pokémon Snap is good, but if it inspires you to take up photography, visit a zoo, or go on a real wild safari (not that phony Disney stuff), the experience would be far richer. Rating: 9 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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