Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: Beholder - Complete Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As always an interesting part of playing games in the indie space is the ability to try out something new and different. In the case of Beholder: Complete Edition, for me at least, both boxes are definitely checked as you’ll be playing as a sort of cog in the surveillance state as a landlord of an apartment building who has been tasked with keeping tabs on his tenants by the scary people at the top. How scary? I’ll just note that as you’re walked into this new building you get to observe the former person with your job being carted out by the police. Considering you have a family to support it seems that you’d best do as they wish.


What follows is an unusual mix of stealth, social engineering, and moral dilemmas as you try to balance the needs of your tenants (many of whom are likable), your family, and the demands of the state. You’ll want and need to surveil and collect information on pretty well everyone by setting up cameras in their rooms, snooping through their things in search of the latest contraband, or even watching them through their door keyhole when things get desperate. Of course getting caught doing so will be a problem so you’ll need to get used to their daily routine, be sure they went out on the bus instead of just to the basement for a while, and keep an eye out for when the bus makes a stop out front in the event they’re about to come home.


Ultimately there’ll be some tougher decisions to make that could test your moral compass a bit depending on how you feel about things. You’ve been told someone needs to be evicted? By carefully keeping an eye out for evidence or going through their things you may be able to collect the evidence you need to have them taken care of, or you could opt for more nefarious means as well as long as you’re not caught.


While not everything quite comes together as likely intended the game experience is, without a doubt, unique and will challenge you in a few different directions. I would have appreciated a little more in-game direction as getting started and being sure what you need to do can be perplexing. Once you get into the routine of taking communication from “The Ministry” and working out what needs to be done it can provide few a few playthroughs (the included DLC adds an alternative situation as well) of something very different.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • A unique gameplay loop
  • Some moral ambiguity and testing of your moral compass (even in a game) can be a healthy thing
  • Sometimes the option to be a little bad is fun

Cons:
  • Working out what you need to be doing initially is a bit confusing
  • While there’s an emphasis on you making choices you never have the reassurance of complete control over things… though that may well be intended
  • The pacing can be a bit on the slow side


Review: Hello Neighbor - Hide and Seek [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When games come along that I struggle mightily with on multiple levels it puts me in a difficult spot. On the one hand I’d like to be able to give some benefit of doubt to the developers behind titles and be sure their efforts aren’t being ignored or going unappreciated. Even titles that can seem awful to some find an audience with some niche somewhere. However, given my responsibility to gamers looking to spend their money wisely when I run into things that aren’t fun to play even when I’m looking for silver linings I can’t gloss that over. I was frustrated with Hello Neighbor and its ambiguity in what you were supposed to be doing the majority of the time, its pretty iffy physics implementation, and just its general state not feeling well thought out. With the promise that we’d find out the secret behind the Neighbor’s angry and odd demeanor with the prequel, Hide and Seek, I was hoping somehow a new direction would improve things. If anything I’d say this result is even more aggravating than the original.



While I chose the video above to show a little bit of progression at the very beginning I won’t lie, I spent a solid 20 minutes before what you see there simply poking around the inside of the house trying to get reacquainted with the controls and exploring possibilities in the few rooms that are there because I couldn’t figure out how to open the one unlocked door you need to go through. There’s no tutorial, nothing to introduce the controls or the concept behind the game. You see the little cut scene, the brother begins counting, and now are you supposed to try to hide? Quickly? I actually put stacked some boxes to try to get up high but that was a mess, so I then closed myself behind some near the father hoping that would work. Nothing. He just keeps counting and still no prompt. I then tried all of the doors and this time went right through, though I still stopped to check on the one room before opening the second one which just happened to be what the game wanted me to do so I could proceed. The ambiguity from that point doesn’t get any less perplexing, if anything it gets worse.


So this title has really taken the same flawed and funky physics system where the concept of gently putting down an object is only possible on a somewhat random basis, you otherwise throw it as hard as you can even when you just tap the button. Where the first game at least was generally in an enclosed space where you could see different elements and try to make some weird sense of what you may want to do instead in the first scene you’ll walk into a weirdly proportioned space where you seem very small. As always there’s no direction of what your goal is, what you should be trying to do, you’re just apparently trying to hide from your roaming brother and do something to progress. Should you be picking up objects? Actually trying to find a hiding place somewhere? Why can he see you in tall grass or underwater? Even if I knew what I was doing I think I’d find it all clunky but while I might be able to look up a walkthrough or something to tell me what to do I want to stick with the game experience just as it is and after a few hours I just threw up my hands.


I really hope that the Hello Neighbor franchise, at this point, can be put to pasture. Yes, the visual style of things and the look of the Neighbor himself is sort of unusual and he’s creepy. I get it. However, while that may work for marketing purposes these aren’t so much meticulously planned games as collections of 3D assets thrown into an environment without having much concern with an enjoyable or meaningful experience. Perhaps they’re hoping people could have fun despite the shortcomings of the product but I’m here to tell you there are too many great games on Switch to be spending your time playing this.

Score: 3.5

Pros:

  • Still that signature off-kilter look and the slightly less creepy pre-angry Neighbor
  • If you’re truly fascinated with how the Neighbor got to the point he was at in the first game this is supposed to tell you, or you could just save some frustration and look it up


Cons:

  • A total lack of direction on what you’re trying to do from the original game is even worse here without the constraints of more enclosed spaces
  • The same funky and janky physics from the first game where manipulating objects with any care or subtlety is almost an impossibility
  • Just in general the controls and doing everything is a matter of trial and error and the gameplay design is an utter mess



Review: Gear Club Unlimited 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


If there’s a genre on the Switch that’s pretty underrepresented among the ones that are more popular in a mainstream sense racing may be the most obvious answer. While obviously you have the likes of Mario Kart and some other lighter multiplayer-focused titles out there and we’ve recently gotten an excellent arcade-style racer with Horizon Chase Turbo fans of more realistic racing have had next to no choices. About the only title I’d known of before was Gear Club Unlimited, which I didn’t get the opportunity to check out, but now we have the sequel and though I can’t comment on what has changed from the original I can say that while it’s generally a competent racer with some nice tracks and a good feel it also has some shortcomings.


With a nice selection of real-world cars from quite a number of auto manufacturers and representing a reasonable spectrum of styles and speeds at least when it comes to well-known vehicles this title has you covered. While customization isn’t as extensive as you can find in some other series there are at least some cosmetic changes you can make and decals you can apply to pimp out your ride a bit, and there are multiple systems in the car you’ll be able to improve from the engine to the tires to the body weight and other areas that are pretty well the norm in these titles. Your money will be earned through winning races, obviously, and the Campaign mode will walk you through from your humble beginnings in a Cooper Mini up through classes that include cars you’d see on the streets and up through some exotics as well. While Online Support is forthcoming it currently isn’t available so it’s hard to comment on, but you are currently able to form and join Clubs that appear to be geared towards building a community and the planned racing you’ll do against other players is intended to be asynchronous as you compete for the best times. There doesn’t appear to be a date for this but it is intended to be “soon”.


In terms of the racing itself it’s a bit of a mixed bag overall but there are areas that work. In the beginning with humbler vehicles it tends to be a bit on the easy side, especially with the default driving assist options in effect. You’re able to tune these up or down and the areas are segregated to while you may not want help with speed or turning you may find help with skids beneficial for instance. The tracks are actually pretty nice, with quite a bit of variance in their turns and sections overall. Even if you’re in spaces that visually are similar you can count on each race throwing something a little different at you so you can’t just coast and assume you know what’s around the next bend. As you get into higher-end vehicles the racing gets a bit more challenging as not only does each car handle a bit differently but more power generally means taking turns and hitting the gas increases your odds of skidding and losing control so as turn-intensive as many tracks are you’ll really need to nail that feel to be successful. There are rally races you’ll run as well, and this does alter the tracks a bit, but it is almost purely that the tracks feel and look a little different so don’t get too excited.


There are a few issues that stand out and are worth noting if you’re considering a purchase, though depending on how badly you want a more realistic driving experience than the rest of what’s on the system they may be acceptable. First is that performance, in places, can struggle a bit, and that seems to be a bit more true in handheld mode. I’m not normally a big performance stickler but it isn’t all smooth sailing, though I can’t say it made me play any less effectively. As generally nice as the environments and cars look it also needs to be noted that you’re always driving in a very sterile environment. Aside from the track and other cars there’s nothing else out there, no other traffic, the city streets are completely empty, it’s fine but also a little creepy in a way. The last issue is that, in general, it’s all not terribly hard for a more veteran racing fan. Very early on it’s a bit more even as you try to get used to how things feel but once I had the hang of things and started getting better cars that I then upgraded in general every race was mine to lose because I was wrecking the AI that tended to stay on racing lines and aside from the top racer or two controlled by the CPU the rest seemed to generally be on a Sunday drive comparatively.


At the end of the day while Gear Club Unlimited 2 isn’t necessarily a great racing game I can at least respect the effort behind it. There’s certainly nothing to compete with it on the Switch, so it has that on its side, but this is hardly an experience that would do anything but get lapped by the more prestigious racers on other platforms. It is moving in the right direction and it has a feel that’s a bit more refined than a purely arcade experience but I wouldn’t quite say its in simulation territory yet, which actually helps me like it a bit more since sims usually bore me. If you’re feeling the need to hit the road it may not be a bad option, just you’ll need to be realistic with your expectations.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • In general the variety of flow in the tracks is a plus
  • A fair representation of licensed cars from more common to some exotics
  • The feel of racing is somewhere between arcade and sim and works, especially since the levels of assistance can be changed

Cons:
  • General performance always remains playable but can struggle at times,especially in handheld mode
  • In general the racing against AI competitors isn’t very challenging
  • Racing in very sterile and empty environments is kind of weird


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Review: Rock Boshers DX - Director's Cut [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Since I’ve played games on systems dating back to Pong and some random things I loaded off of cassette tapes on my TRS-80 games looking to recreate a more vintage feel intrigue me. On the one hand they can be a cool window into the past, helping to revive forgotten styles of play, but it can be a sort of risky business too. Sometimes if more than just the aesthetics are retro and some of the limitations of what could be done in the past limit play in key ways it can be frustrating. At least for me that’s a bit of the case with Rock Boshers DX, which has a great early-era look and style of play but also some of its frustration tied to it’s more classic and chunky visuals.


I think the main thing I actually enjoy about Boshers is that in many ways it reminds me of the classic arcade game Cloak and Dagger, playing as a twin-stick shooter where you need to do some digging, killing of enemies, and solving of some puzzles. When it acts a bit more as an action game at times it can be some fun, but as you move on in levels the degree of challenge rises a bit and between turrets and some enemies you can’t kill and will instead need to avoid it can take on more of a puzzle feel at times. You’ll need to be nimble and clever, carefully choosing your path at times, to throw off missiles or simply being eaten. You’ll generally want to be thorough as you explore though, keeping on the lookout for hidden goodies like tea or some jammy scones since they’ll allow you to unlock a few mini arcade games that are a nice bonus.


Where I think things go a bit wrong is with how at the relatively small and blocky scale things are at it can be a bit clunky. Enemies and missiles seem to hit you a little too easily since you’re a somewhat slow block of a target and especially when trying to lead missiles to destroy barriers you’ll feel like you should be out of the way but manage to get hit. When you’re trying to make your way into some corridors or areas with corners monsters can be very hard to hit as well since your bullets are quite chunky as well. It makes sense in its own way and may even be a bit authentic but it makes the game more aggravating than it should need to be when you know what you want to do but the mechanics get in the way.


For retro fans Rock Boshers may not be a bad trip down memory way, it certainly captures the look and even the spirit of games from that era. That said, I’ve played some other retro games on Switch that have done a better job of capturing the feel and nostalgic aspects of that time without necessarily being as beholden to them. There’s some fun and challenge to be had, just be aware of the aspects that add more of a barrier to enjoyment possibly.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • A very vintage look, complete with an entertaining boot up sequence in PC mode
  • Feels much like games from that era in structure and challenge
  • Unlockable arcade mini games are a nice touch

Cons:
  • The chunky graphical style makes for blocky hitboxes as well which, which can be frustrating
  • It simply isn’t likely to be something for everyone


Review: Demetrios - The Big Cynical Adventure [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With the classic point-and-click-style adventure genre absolutely booming on the Switch you really need to do something unusual to stand out. Certainly in that specific regard Demetrios has carved out a spot for itself, sporting a hand-drawn art style, some unusual characters and situations, and a brand of humor that can stray towards the gross-out variety. While for the most part the ups and downs of its experience are typical for the genre it’s likely that your core enjoyment or distaste for it will be driven by that unique sense of humor.


You’ll play through the adventure as Bjorn, a somewhat unusual slacker who deals in antiques and leads a bachelor’s lifestyle. Through a stroke of luck he apparently managed to acquire an unusual-looking piece that included a stone tablet of some value. After being assaulted while returning home one night in a stupor he discovers it is missing and sets out on a mission to find it, after some prodding accompanied by his neighbor Sandra and her daughter Caroline. From there you’ll be on a tour of multiple locales in search of answers and cookies that are hidden everywhere and that come in handy when you find yourself a bit lost.


While the typical genre trappings are all here: searching for objects, talking to people, and solving puzzles using your inventory items in sometimes unusual and unexpected ways, it’s consistently the game’s humor that strays from the norm. Whether in the form of Bjorn’s simple comments on items he encounters, the dialogue he gets into with others, or some of the things you can do to kill (you’ll come right back to where you left off, why not find out what happens?) or entertain yourself this really is what makes or breaks the game. Can it venture into the more juvenile, sure, but there’s no doubt an audience that get a kick out of it. Aside from that it’s a mostly generic experience but I’ll give it credit for choosing a lane and sticking with it, providing something a little different in the process.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • Some nice hand-drawn art if you don’t mind the style
  • Loads of odd dialogue and objects you’ll encounter along the way
  • Some unexpected distractions like mini games peppered about

Cons:
  • The game’s humor is both its selling point and possibly what will drive people away
  • Suffers from some of the same odd ways to solve problems that the genre struggles with in general
  • Aside from its humor nothing about it is terribly memorable