Thursday, October 17

Mini Reviews: October 17th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Little Town Hero [Nindie Choice!] - When you’re a game studio responsible for what may be arguably one of the biggest and most successful franchises in the world it must be challenging to break away and do something very different. They’ve proven themselves in the past by making some smaller titles like the excellent HarmoKnight in particular, and in the case of Little Town Hero they’ve again plotted out a pretty unique direction and made something worthwhile. The emphasis in the game is on strategic turn-based combat against some pretty intimidating monsters who mean to do your town and friends harm. The hook is that while elements of the battle system may feel familiar and similar to concepts in some tactical RPGs or even deck-building games there’s nothing I’ve ever played quite like this. Getting up to speed with this takes time, as do the battles themselves which tend to be a pretty drawn out affair, but the result tends to be quite rewarding if you have patience and the right mind for it. Layer in a pretty light-hearted story with fun characters, a great art style, and plenty of charming polish and this is absolutely a unique title that stands out on its own and should be rewarding for the right audience.

Kine [Nindie Choice!] - Cutting right to the chase the Switch has a massive library of puzzle games of all types and levels of polish. That said, on pretty well every level it doesn’t have anything that quite compares to Kine. The core challenge of the game is its 3D puzzling, featuring 3 distinctive characters who each have their own unique ways of moving around and being manipulated. What you’ll find is that in order to get through each stage you’ll need to very precisely work out how to navigate its challenges, and it’s going to take some serious thought power to do so as the game moves on and continues to raise the bar in terms of the intricacy of its levels. Throw in the game’s terrific art style, easygoing jazz soundtrack, and periodic insightful and fun comments and it’s a compelling package for puzzle fans in search of a change of pace on the system.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors - While it got off to a little bit of a slow start the Switch has been blessed with a ton of great beat-em-ups to choose from, and especially for fans of the original arcade title Ninja Saviors is a strong addition to the list. You’ll pick your ninja, each of which has their own variation in play style, and then take on a load of challenging side-scrolling slashing action. Especially for retro fans showing respect for the original game is critical, and there’s no doubt that Saviors does this, absolutely delivering what feels like an authentic sequel to the arcade classic original. Depending on how you approach the game this could be viewed either as a strength or a weakness. The game’s strictly side-to-side movement and combat are authentic, and I’m sure there’s a crowd thirsting for the simultaneous simplicity and challenge it brings, but even moreso than games where you have more ability to move around it does make much of the “filler” combat while you progress to the challenging boss fights feel generic. If you’re playing co-op with a friend this can still make for a lot of fun, and if you enjoy this more classic style you’ll likely be in heaven, but the more modern your tastes are it may feel a bit limited.

Sublevel Zero Redux - Way back when there was an underground 3D shooter that shook things up nicely called Descent. Though it wasn’t for everyone it was a unique title that challenged you to think about complex 3 dimensional spaces and navigate them all while engaging in combat with enemies. Sublevel Zero Redux in many regards feels like a spiritual successor to that title, bringing labyrinthian 3D spaces, a variety of weapons systems, and an added wrinkle of challenge in the fact that it’s a roguelike game which brings along its own challenges, unpredictability, and variety. While conceptually and in terms of general play I dig it there are also some elements that feel like they bog things down a bit. Mainly the concern with ammunition and resources and the need to manage your weapons and support systems a bit. For me they just interfere with keeping the action going and detract from the fun, but if you can live with what may be somewhat minor gripes it’s a unique and engaging shooter that may feel very new to many people on Switch.

Stranded Sails - Survival games and cultivation simulators are somewhat of a niche, but with periodic stand out titles like Stardew Valley that manage to get the formula right in a way that can break out into the mainstream they can make a big splash if done right. Stranded Sails aims high and attempts to use a shipwreck as the basis for your needing to start things up from scratch to build a thriving village from limited resources, and to a degree it is successful. Once you get the lay of the land and understand the systems you’ll be able to cultivate, collect, and craft your way to success. Where it struggles is in helping to compensate for the inevitable grind that you get stuck in for titles like these. Where some titles use engaging stories, a little more variety in game systems, or even fair doses of humor to smooth things over Stranded Sails feels a bit too rote and generic, lacking that polish of charm. Still, if you’ve got the itch for building things up and getting your ship’s crew back on its feet it can be satisfying.

Tuesday, October 15

Mini Reviews: October 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair [Nindie Choice!] - 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.

Felix the Reaper - If there’s one thing that Felix the Reaper isn’t lacking in it’s quirky personality. The rotund but surprisingly agile main character shuffles and dances his way through every stage with an exuberant energy that’s admirable, but I suppose that’s the effect his being in love has on him. Humor is abundant here, and as you work your way through a variety of weird puzzle sequences in order to orchestrate the elaborate demise of your given target, the mix of dialogue, some elements, and Felix’s constant strutting it’s hard not to be charmed. Mechanically the puzzle elements are pretty smart, the goal is to remain in the shadows as you manipulate the angle of light and will need to divine the sequence of moves and interactions with objects to get you to your goal. Where it can struggle initially is that there are times when it’s unclear while you’re still learning what it wants you to do, and as you get further in underneath the presentation the actual puzzles can feel a bit generic. Still, if you like a good puzzle game and enjoy a good laugh or perhaps a quirky love story this will probably entertain you for a few hours.

A Knight’s Quest - Possessing a strong sense of adventure, many nods to the Zelda series and some other titles, and reasonably open world to explore and discover things in A Knight’s Quest has a fair amount working in its favor. You’ll explore, work through some smart puzzles, gain abilities, look for opportunities to exploit those abilities, find secrets, and generally enjoy a solid adventure. Knocking it down a notch are its aping mechanics and abilities found elsewhere a bit too much, and critically lacking some of their nuances. Almost every element of the game gets a passing grade but there are rough patches with wonky geometry, some reported progression bugs, and simply a lack of polish in spots that keep it from reaching the next level. For the price it’s a solid bit of fun, just temper your expectations and be ready for perhaps a little too much familiarity overall.

The Eyes of Ara - With tablets and smartphones having opened the door to more casual gamers the puzzle genre has been in a terrific renaissance as a whole. The lone wolf developer behind The Eyes of Ara didn’t shoot for simply making a quick time-waster though, he seems to have set his sights on a much more ambitious target for inspiration… the PC classic Myst. While The Room series has tackled blending great visuals with intricate puzzles, the generally confined spaces it occupies doesn’t lend itself to as much variety as you get when you’re able to explore and move through a number of environments. Ara provides this diversity, mixing together some hidden object style elements, trial and error, experimenting with the environment, and working with a variety of items to keep you on your toes. This can, however, make the experience feel a bit uneven at times as well as inevitably there’ll be puzzles you enjoy more than others, and without a hint system there can be some frustrations and perplexing leaps of faith. Still, it makes for an engaging challenge and stands apart from pretty well anything else on Switch. One important note is that though there’s support for playing this docked it uses the pointer controls which, as always, are simply awful and frustrating due to the constant need to recalibrate. If you’re not planning to play this mostly in handheld mode you’ve been warned.

Super Box Land Demake - While perhaps I’m a bit jaded having played so many indie puzzle games over the past few years but while its presentation may be nice enough, Demake’s gameplay is what I’d consider painfully average. Perhaps if you haven’t played many box pushers in your life it may feel fresh but there’s so much bland filler as you get started it’s really tough to want to stick with it even if you’re assuming things will get better. Just there are so many more interesting and creative puzzlers on Switch than this so it’s hard to recommend.

Monday, October 14

Mini Reviews: October 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Valfaris [Nindie Choice!] - If you’ve been looking for an experience on Switch that takes some of the core shooting mechanics of games the likes of Contra, then bolts the ability to hack and slash, and tops it all off with some cranking metal tunes and loads of intensity… Valfaris is going to be your new jam. Made by the same team who brought the platform Slan: Back From Hell, Valfaris varies up the action and tones down the frustration factor a little bit, though not much. This is a grit your teeth, laugh as you turn enemies into a bloody mess, and enjoy the thrills kind of experience that sets itself apart from the current pack on the Switch nicely. Be sure you’re ready to take a bit of a beating at times, but from start to finish this is a top-notch shooter/slasher with personality and adrenaline to spare, a great game for cranking up the volume and letting it all hang out for a while.

Mistover - Fans of challenging and highly strategic turn-based play have had a number of quality picks on the system to choose from, and though Mistover has a lot on its side with great art and an interesting setup its random elements may make it a bit too unpredictable at times. There’s no doubt that when you have a pretty well-balanced party you can do some serious damage by positioning your characters correctly and making use of key skills to try to wipe out your enemies with great efficiency. The problem is that since in Mistover permadeath is very much a thing once you move past that starter party and its complementary characters you’re at the mercy of fate, and it can indeed be cruel, potentially giving you a team that’s doomed to fail before it even gets out of the starting gate. It’s one thing to need to roll with the punches and have your strategy remain fluid, it’s another when your lack of an ability to buff your team effectively or perhaps target enemy rows begins to make it feel a bit too lopsided against you. The main problem tends to be how much it feels like everything seems to fall apart at once on you, even when you’re playing as effectively as you can. If you like to grit your teeth and dig in this may be precisely what you’re looking for, but for anyone even moderately casual this may be a hair-puller.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered - If you’ve ever thought it would be cool to strap on a proton pack and join the likes of Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston to bust some ghosts this may be a thrill for you. Working as a team you’ll be taken on as a new member of the squad and together you’ll move to different locations taking on all manner of spirits with various attacks and defenses to be aware of. In terms of presentation and ideas it’s all pretty solid, just be ready for the gameplay itself to be a bit on the clumsy side. As you may imagine fine control isn’t the strength of this technology and that can make for some pretty chaotic and confusing battles as you try to wear down, capture, and then contain ghosts while trying not to get incapacitated by ghostly counter-attacks. If you’re into the license this may be a really good time, but if you’re less enamored with it your mileage may not be as good.

Aeternoblade II - Side-scrolling slashers are pretty well-represented on the Switch, though none of them have game mechanics quite like Aeternoblade. Early on the ability you acquire to capture your actions in time and then replay them, effectively either doubling your attacks or allowing for you to trigger switches remotely, adds a nice wrinkle of puzzle-solving to the mix. The action itself can struggle a bit, especially as it switches perspectives at times and the mechanics that work just fine (though a bit spammy) in two dimensions can get a bit wonky when introducing a camera and trying to manage enemies in more open 3D spaces. Still, it has some original elements so that may attract some interest for people in love with the art style or are looking for something a little different.

Community Inc - If you’re looking for a community building game where you’ll create and define every element piece by piece, setting up your workers, assigning their roles, and cultivating their well-being Community Inc may be of interest to you. However, at least in its current state it’s hard not to notice quite a lot of rough edges to the interface and even the experience itself. While using the controller is workable it’s hardly ideal, the game feels much more like it was designed for a PC with a mouse and keyboard and getting through the many menus can be a bit arduous. Throw in wonky animations, workers who seem to get lost or have difficulties executing your commands, and just random periodic issues and you’ll need to keep an open mind and show patience as on the whole the game doesn’t seem to be finished or at least polished in its current state.