Wednesday, December 4

Mini Reviews: December 4th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


EarthNight [Nindie Choice!] - When you see or hear the words endless runner the typical reaction is to go straight into eye-rolling mode. More often than not the genre’s staple status on mobile phones has earned that reaction but every once in a while you’ll see an exception to the typical rules and get a game that manages to stand out from the crowd as something more. With a great look, engaging roguelike elements that keep runs a bit more fresh, steady unlocks that slowly give you additional abilities and longevity, and simple but surprisingly deep play EarthNight is one such anomaly. Make no mistake, in terms of overall complexity while there’s certainly nuance to everything I wouldn’t quite say there’s real depth here, but if the arcade-like experience of trying your best, failing, and then taking it all on again hoping to improve on your last run has some appeal for you this is probably one of the best options within the genre.


Simulacra - Mixing what has become its own subgenre of puzzle games in the form of the “found a lost phone” experience with some FMV and voice acting that attempt to raise the dramatic bar with some elements of horror and mystery Simulacra demonstrates some ambition. That said, mechanically these games have become a bit predictable as you’ll move between apps mining for data, talk to people in the hopes for clues and insights, and then slowly try to peel away the layers of security and confusion to uncover what exactly is going on. Whether you consider this the best example of a title in this subgenre will likely hinge on whether you find the acting to be an improvement over simply reading texts and emails from people but the attempt to raise the bar of expectation for this sort of experience is at least appreciated.


Monster Jam: Steel Titans - The overall representation of the racing genre on the Switch outside of the likes of Mario Kart and its clones remains poor, but at least for the sake of variety games like Monster Jam are at least making an appearance. Granted, with this game being all about trying to drive a monster truck the concepts of precision steering and control are completely out the window. To the game’s credit I found it more consistently enjoyable than its predecessor, though it does at least somewhat share some of its faults. One pity is that the phenomenon of kicking off a monster truck breakdance of sorts is still present, but I will note that the tendency for the game’s physics to plain give up and allow you to be launched into the stratosphere after hitting some bump or ramp the wrong way has been dealt with well, though on occasion I’d get an incident involving that issue. This will in no way make up for the lack of Gran Turismo or Need for Speed but I can understand the thrill the right audience may have getting into the cab of one of these behemoths. Just keep your expectations in check and it should be good for some fun, though you should probably wait for a sale first.


Pine - There’s no doubt that when it was shown briefly in an Indie-focused Direct Pine got the attention of a ton of people. With its unique look and what appeared to be perhaps some Zelda-ish adventure DNA, what wasn’t there to like? Unfortunately, somewhat like trailers that do a good job of teasing interest while omitting the landmines in the actual movie, the finished (that may be too strong a word) product here just doesn’t work so well. The most glaring issues are technical and general user experience ones. I’ll give credit, a Day 1 patch helped to sand down some rough visual edges and improve things but load times are still pretty miserable and the pop-in of in-game objects is impossible to miss… and at times it happens practically right in front of you. Even getting away from the technical side though elements like the many factions you’ll need to contend with often feel like length extenders to impede progress more than meaningful additions that make for a better experience. Whether you can choose to overlook its problems or if a later patch tightens things up there’s an adventure here that does things differently, no doubt, but with so many better experiences out there it’s hard to get behind this one.


Story of a Gladiator - With visions of controlling a video game form of Russell Crowe and slashing my way through arenas full of enemies, dispatching my foes in creative ways, I embarked on this game’s journey. Unfortunately, what I didn’t anticipate is that it would feel a bit more like a mobile grind-fest where little by little I’d hack through some enemies in order to slowly accumulate even basic attack and defense moves… eventually perhaps getting to the point where it would be compelling. With so many great beat-em-ups on the Switch, and even ones with slashing elements that blow this away (cough, Wulverblade), the unfortunate story of this gladiator is one you shouldn’t feel bad for missing.

Tuesday, December 3

Top 20 Indie Action Games on Nintendo Switch


When it comes to approachable mainstream gaming the “action” genre paints with a broad brush but, in general, tends towards offering something enjoyable for just about everyone. The focus tends to be on keeping things in motion, some degree of skill (sometimes quite a lot of it), and a good deal of excitement. Including classic subgenres like platforming or Metroidvania, more modern roguelike hybrids, and more, this is a collection of indies that are sure to keep you pumped.

The Messenger - Possibly one of the best retro console titles I've ever played, The Messenger actually feels like a collection of multiple terrific and challenging titles. Starting out as a more straight-up action platformer after many levels and challenging bosses you'll feel like you're done but then, BAM, the game expands into an epic and even more challenging Metroidvania. It blends classic sensibilities with outstanding level designs, a Shopkeeper who absolutely cracks me up throughout the game, and some of the most satisfying action I enjoyed all year.


Katata Zero - Katana Zero was absolutely one of the best games of 2019 and I’d be shocked it if didn’t end up in my Top 10 (and those of many others as well) for the year. While it is perhaps a bit too heavy to be a wide mainstream title, its constant focus on changing up the formula and never letting you get very comfortable is quite an accomplishment. Throw on a narrative begging to be revisited in search of greater understanding of all of the story beats and it also has a surprising degree of replayability on that front as well. As a whole it is an experience without a peer on the system and serves up a handful of intense and creative insanity well worth experiencing.


New Super Lucky’s Tale - For me New Super Lucky’s Tale marks a bit of an exciting time on the Switch, and as a fan of classic platforming. While there are many games that have aimed for hitting the mark of the likes of the classic Mario franchises like Super Mario 64 nothing has really proven up to the task. While some may consider it blasphemous I’m here to say this title has absolutely hit the mark, and done so with its own sense of humor and style rather than being derivative. Smart and varied level design, a mix of 2D and 3D platforming which are both very successful, and some nods that absolutely put a smile on my make for more than a handful of hours of family-friendly enjoyment.


Guacamelee 2 - While I really enjoyed the original Guacamelee I actually thought it got a bit more hype than it deserved overall. Whatever qualms I had with it got absolutely body slammed into oblivion in its outstanding sequel though. I initially got the bug playing it with 3 strangers at PAX East and having an absolute blast. Whether going it solo or with some friends it's just an outstanding Metroidvania brawler full of challenging fights, great upgrades, tons of silliness (I love beating people up as a chicken), and some of the most brutal puzzle platforming level design as I've seen if you want to grab every power-up and secret. Just an all around top tier title.


Mark of the Ninja Remastered - While it may be a port of an older title I can't say that I've played any other game that has nailed making stealthy play as fun for me as this one. Smart, tense, and full of both opportunity and options for how to approach completing levels Mark of the Ninja is just one hell of an action experience not quite like anything else.


Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition - Oddly up until the Switch I'd only consistently heard good things about Shantae but I'd never had the chance to indulge for myself. Well, now I'm a bit disappointed that I've missed out on it up until this point. Some smart level design, a great bright and colorful art style, and varied action and options for play all make this a pretty deep well of gameplay choices for you to explore for quite some time.


Teslagrad - Revealing too much about Teslagrad would ruin some of the fun of discovery and growth in it but suffice it to say that from start to finish it is a creative and engaging action puzzler. Over the course of its runtime you'll slowly have your powers revealed to you and you'll then be pushed bit by bit to apply those powers in new and increasingly creative ways. Very much worth checking out, it leaves you to explore and discover things in your own way, only ever giving visual prompts but never explicit direction.


Pinball FX3 - While the base game hit the eShop in 2017, the periodic release of new table packs has kept this retro gaming engine very relevant ever since. In particular the acquisition of the rights to produce tables based on the classic pinballs from Williams should make every retro gaming fan very happy. Already having released a handful of packs from that agreement, as well as a few notable original packs of their own, Pinball FX3 will likely handily stay on yearly lists for quite some time.


Flat Heroes - While it may look visually pretty simple, featuring geometric shapes for the most part and a very clean design, the gameplay is surprisingly versatile and challenging. You'll quickly find your little cube has a nimbleness and flow akin to Super Meat Boy and all of those moves will get put to the test over the lengthy campaign. You can then take those skills to Survival mode to put them to the ultimate test or take on your friends in some surprisingly varied local multiplayer modes as well.


Bombslinger - Asking the question perhaps nobody answered: How do you finally give the tight gameplay of the classic Bomberman series a single-player implementation that works, Bombslinger may not be terribly refined in places but it delivers the action where it counts. A roguelike structure, some power-ups that give you creative powers of destruction, and challenging boss battles really demonstrate what the classic Konami series has been missing the boat on all along. While local multiplayer is supported it doesn't hold up as well as single-player but it's worth noting it's available as well to add value.


Flinthook - The exciting and dangerous life of a swashbuckling bounty hunter is the focus in Flinthook, and the mix of shooting, swinging, and dodging enemies and traps gives it a distinctive feel. With a pretty wide variety of upgrade paths as you progress you'll need to learn from your mistakes and to a degree simply "git gud" to track down and then defeat the nefarious criminals you'll be presented with.


Super Meat Boy - One of the original poster children of brutally challenging platforming is now on the Switch and he's as tough as ever. While simply surviving and getting through the levels can be tricky, overachievers will no doubt want to find and unlock all of the game's secret characters which often even require you to play with distinct mechanics to find success with. While it's super-challenging it's also typically not cruel, and its controls are super-tight, putting the pressure on you to execute with precision.


Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair - Retro games or those that attempt to recapture a certain vintage feel can be a tricky business and there’s no doubt that in such an oversaturated market with abundant choices hitting just the right notes must be tough. The original Yooka-Laylee absolutely nailed the presentation and even many gameplay mechanics of the Banjo-Kazooie series but perhaps was a bit too dated and sometimes empty or sterile to excite in this modern era. With Impossible Lair the target seems to have been instead set on the classic side-scrolling platforming of the likes of Donkey Kong Country and this time it all just feels like it comes together to make an experience dense with smartly hidden secrets and a wide variety of classic platforming challenges that just feel right. While perhaps the endgame may not rub everyone the right way as a whole Impossible Lair put a smile on my face, both making me nostalgic for the games that served as an inspiration and impressing me with a great deal of care in making the experience distinctive in its own right.


Velocity 2X - Making games that feature multiple play styles is always a bit of a risk, as getting either of them wrong can really sour the experience. However, when a game like Velocity 2X comes along and does a great job in both areas, in this case space shooting and running and gunning platforming, it does make them far more memorable. You'll move between both styles pretty often, starting out in the more traditional space shooting mode but then needing to go on foot to unlock or disable defenses getting in your way. Full of upgrades and a steadily increasing degree of challenge this was a great addition to the Switch lineup this year.


Splasher - While anyone and everyone looking at it saw a 2D Splatoon of some kind the kinetic and deep gameplay give Splasher a flair all its own. You'll acquire the ability to paint surfaces with different types of goo that will help you make your way up walls and bouncing through difficult passages. The gameplay is fast and frantic and once you beat the levels for an added challenge speed running them is quite a challenging thrill as well.


Aegis Defenders - Mixing together action platforming with tower defense, Aegis Defenders has a style all its own. While the game works well as a single-player experience sharing the responsibilities with a friend ends up making things much more manageable and fun. Work together to set up a sturdy defense and conquer the game's challenges together.


Mechstermination Force - Mechstermination Force is a pretty tight and enjoyable retro sci-fi robot stomping party… though it will typically take a few attempts to keep the robots from stomping you instead. While you’re always fighting some sort of robot and the general rules for all of them is roughly the same I’ll give credit to the developer for continuing to change things up and keep it fresh through to the end. A couple of them were super-aggravating to deal with but aside from my mobility complaints in general I can’t fault the design. If you’ve been looking for pretty intense action that’s super-light on filler Mechstermination Force will be one to consider picking up.


Clustertruck - While endless runners have become a pretty popular genre you'll find that they're almost always in 2 dimensions. This is very much for a reason it seems as typically attempts at 3D runners have been a bit of a disaster. The challenge is typically tied to the fact that you can't see your feet so "feeling" where you are can be tricky. Clustertruck is an unusual title that works hard to nail getting a 3D runner right and while it's not without its quirks for the most part it gets it right. Throw in the increasingly bonkers scenarios you'll be trying to run through, jumping on the tops of moving semi trucks as they crash into all manner of things (including each other), and it's a silly challenge worthy of your best efforts.


Olli Olli: Switch Stance - While lacking the variety and skateboarding craziness of something like the Tony Hawk series both the original and sequel included in this pack are more well-made than your typical stunt-focused title. In many regards, even after all these years, I’d say Olli Olli remains the gold standard for the stand-alone stunt game. If offers enough flexibility to reduce the feeling of a repetitive grind that tends to set in with the genre but at its core there’s just something fun about the way everything flows when you get a great run going, even when you then bail on your landing and have to start over again. If you’re in the mood to get your stunts on this is probably your best bet on the Switch.


MagiCat - It's a tough business releasing a platforming title on a system that Mario helped build, Nintendo gamers generally have a pretty high expectation for quality within that space. Finding success in this space where numerous pricier games have failed MagiCat offers surprisingly satisfying and smart gameplay. While its hardly pushing the hardware this is a great example where quality wins, even at the low end of the pricing spectrum.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!