Thursday, November 26

Mini Reviews: November 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Alto Collection [Nindie Choice!] -
Conversions from the mobile space are always a bit of a tricky thing to review on a full-fledged gaming console like the Switch, too often lacking the depth of play to justify not just getting and enjoying them on your phone. Alto’s Adventure is actually a title I originally enjoyed quite a lot on my phone, delivering a somewhat arcade-like experience where you’re alone on your snowboard trying to avoid rocks and obstacles while making smart jumps, pulling off a flip here or there, and working to make your runs last as long as you can. In this Collection it is joined by the sequel, Alto’s Odyssey, which is no doubt similar, changing out snow for sand, but manages to throw in enough new elements like hot air balloons that it stands on its own. One thing I’ve come to truly appreciate in game design is the task of making one-button play accessible, engaging, and even challenging and very few pull it off well. The people behind this collection have nailed it though, so while it may not be well-suited to long play sessions and lacks in true depth it’s perfect for taking your mind away from the world for a little while and maybe making you grit your teeth a little in spots. The fact that it does so for a very budget-friendly price is just icing on the cake.

Maid of Sker [Nindie Choice!] - Survival horror may be one of the most tricky genres I’ve seen to really make a quality game in. Whether the issue is too much repetition, too thin an overall story, or too much focus on cheap jump scares over building genuine tension many more games get it all wrong rather than right. I’ll admit that there are some elements of Maid of Sker that still irk me a bit, mostly the environment being chock full of objects you can see but not interact with and even a plentiful number of objects to pick up that serve no purpose other than to rotate them and appreciate how well they were modeled. Perhaps it isn’t a fair criticism but it is a pet peeve, though I’ll admit the areas all being bare of any detail would be a worse option, I just do wish there could be a balance in the middle. Regardless, while the game does have its jump scares I feel like for the most part they’re earned and not necessarily cheap. In the beginning you’re quite unsure of what’s happening and there’s a nice build up of tension before it begins throwing the scares at you. Another strength is in level design, the areas you’ll explore feel like they strike a great balance between not being too elaborate and confusing but also not feeling like you’re always moving directly from A to B to C with no room to make choices. Throw in some unique elements like needing to clamp down your own mouth in order to not make noises (careful or you may pass out from a lack of oxygen though) and this feels like a pretty well-planned horror adventure and certainly shows more effort than the majority of its contemporaries.

Star Renegades - I can’t ever get enough roguelike games in my life it seems, and I’m always intrigued to see how it can be used as a catalyst for changing up expectations for new genres and break ground. Star Renegades feels like a fresh take on the formula for the most part, mixing the procedural generation of the areas you’ll fight through and the enemies you’ll face with a pretty complex turn-based strategic combat component that will force you to carefully plan your attacks and defenses based on the strengths and weaknesses of the foes you’ll face. Granted, as a result the difficulty on any given run can feel a bit on the brutal side at first as you try to get accustomed to how and when to make the best use of each of your characters’ attacks and skills in order to find success. An unfortunate area where the game also gets brought down a notch is in the degree of polish currently, as performance and stability feel inconsistent at times and while it functions in handheld mode it feels pretty clear that it was in no way optimized for it, though unlike the performance issues I’m not sure that can be patched realistically so unless you play docked this may not be a great match.

More Dark - OK, so no-frills budget puzzle platformers… they’re a thing on Switch and More Dark jumps right into that pile unapologetically with no remorse. There’s a demonic sort of theme going on in the art but honestly nothing in the gameplay reinforces that in any meaningful way so it feels arbitrary at best aside from hoping the look would somehow sell some extra copies. You’ll need to jump to avoid obstacles or on top of enemies while trying to be mindful of how the level is laid out to be sure you don’t paint yourself into a corner. Difficulty from level to level is inconsistent and even a bit odd at times, where there will be stages that require you to show some timing and skill so it takes a few attempts followed up by 5 stages you’ll feel were simply trivial to complete. If it’s on sale and you’re hard up for a decent-ish challenge it may work out but in general I’d say there are simply too many other better titles in the space to make it worth much attention.

Electro Ride - OK, so since I’m a huge fan of the TRON universe and movies at first the neon-lit look of this game had my attention. Even half-way into the first race any excitement I had completely evaporated unfortunately as it committed a pretty horrific sin in the world of racing games… its controls are over-sensitive and pretty outright terrible. Whether you try to play with the analog stick (sorry, no analog control and your car will turn pretty hard with even a small nudge of the stick) or the D-pad the situation isn’t a good one and while you can try to feather the throttle or employ the handbrake nothing really makes it better. I hoped that maybe there’d be a slider for the sensitivity in the options but unfortunately those hopes were dashed quickly when there proved to be no way to adjust anything like that so I was stuck. Outside of the horrendous controls perhaps the racing is middling, borrowing the color-changing and boosting concept from the likes of Fast RMX and some others, but generally just having a very no-frills presentation and quality of gameplay. Among the racers I’ve played on the Switch there have been some real stinkers but while this may look a bit better than some on the list the control issues really nullify any reason to be excited about this one.

Wednesday, November 25

Mini Reviews: November 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Monster Truck Championship -
Having never really seen the appeal of packing into an arena to witness the over-the-top smashing, bashing, and ear-splitting volume of monster truck madness games trying to bring the experience home have typically fallen flat for me. While Monster Truck Championship isn’t by any means a great racing game in a traditional sense, it does a good enough job with what it has to work with to make it consistent and reasonably challenging though. One advantage Championship has over the competition is that it works with 3 different event types in its circuits to diversify its challenges and which also allow you to struggle in some types if you’re strong in others. Racing is interesting and can also be a real challenge as managing the way a truck like this turns at high speed is tricky and in particular you’re prone to oversteer. Freestyle events are more in line with what most titles have focused on before, with you trying to stunt your way to a high score by flipping, rolling, and then smashing anything that gets in your way. Chaining combos is what it’s all about here, which can be rough if you blow a stunt, but it can be fun when you’re on a roll. Somewhere in the middle is then the last event, a sort of monster truck drag race where a solid start, careful turning, and keeping focused on a clean run gives you the win. Throw in full ride customization, sponsors who’ll pay you if you can complete specific goals, and a management layer where you can customize your team to try to help give you a boost here or compensate for a weakness there, and it is a solid attempt at an appealing total package… even if it overall remains a niche-y experience.

Cake Bash - There’s always something a bit entertaining about games that mix cuteness with a little bit of mean brutality and that core silliness seems to be part of the driving force behind Cake Bash. Everyone will play as a cheery little confectionery in a bakery window, with seemingly not a care in the world, until it’s announced that someone is coming and will only buy the cake with the most gummies on it… and from that point it’s a free-for-all. Whether playing locally with friends, subbing in some bots, or trying to see if anyone is out there to play online the game tries its best to have you covered for competition, and while there aren’t loads of different play modes there’s an earnest attempt to make them each distinct while maintaining a culinary theme of some sort. These range from events that feel a bit like mini games from the likes of Mario Party to arena brawlers with different variations to try to keep the play from getting stale too quickly. The mix overall seems to do a fair job of mixing skill-based challenges with an element of luck, hopefully opening the door to everyone having a pretty fair chance of winning. With the space being so full of very similar multiplayer brawlers and shooters Cake Bash does enough right to sweeten the deal and warrant a look.

Captain Sabertooth and the Magic Diamond - The classic side-scrolling platformer is a cornerstone of gaming, and obviously on a console that’s home to Mario Nintendo fans are well acquainted with some of the best titles in the genre out there. The risk for developers, especially smaller indie houses, making games in the same space is that comparisons are inevitable and usually not terrible flattering. Captain Sabertooth at least makes a reasonably good impression, and does have some variation and even periodic surprises that change play up and help to break things up a bit. That said, in terms of the control mechanics and “feel” things aren’t as tight and precise as they could be and there are many sections where the level design and what you’re doing simply feels a bit too much like generic filler. Thankfully when you need to backtrack (which is relatively often) at least there are often quicker alternative paths to avoid some Metroidvania-esque nightmares of retreading multiple screens to get around once you’ve cleared a specific area. If you’re a genre fan it should entertain you for a bit but for people who haven’t already exhausted the available games in the space there are more polished candidates.

BFF Or Die - Tis the season for getting people together to play games (well, with Covid perhaps less so, but roll with it) so co-op fans are no doubt looking for something just a bit different to enjoy with friends or family. In terms of being different the good news is that BFF Or Die has you covered, with it being a sort of a cooperative action game mixing bits of Pac-Man, a claw machine, and a few other oddball gadgets to make something thoroughly different. Each person will have a distinct role to play and coordination is the key to success, though everyone having the ability to adapt is definitely helpful since the action keeps on moving, not waiting for you to catch up. Whether the play is well-balanced, all roles are engaging equally for everyone, or raucous fun I would imagine will vary greatly per audience though. There’s no denying it’s simply different in its execution but it’s by no means a guaranteed hit for everyone.

Dune Sea - Not all games have to be action-packed thrill rides, and the Switch has had quite a number of excellent titles that have proven to be more calm and contemplative but still very much worthwhile. Dune Sea no doubt aims for that as a goal, with you playing as a bird who has been separated from its flock and must get a move on to try to catch up. The resulting side-scrolling “flying” is mostly about avoiding obstacles and then occasionally picking up companions who’ll enable you to fly through some rings to trigger an event that knocks out some weird tentacled monster that shows up periodically. If that sounds odd, and perhaps even vague, it is. None of these elements are explained in any way, you just sort of encounter them and work it out even if it doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense. Maybe if the mechanical flying were more fluid and responsive there could be more fun but there’s a clunkiness in how you fly, turn, and maneuver that makes it a bit too inconsistent to truly allow you to dig in and just experience the sense of flight. The result is just a decent but pretty empty experience.