Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: Tesla Vs. Lovecraft [Nintendo Switch eShop]

I’ve made absolutely no secret of the fact that I love arcade-style twin-stick shooters. Give me intensity, variation, crazy enemies, and even crazier weapons and I’m all over it. When it comes to this specific genre on the Switch the folks at 10 Tons have pretty well owned the majority of the spectrum. In order to keep it interesting they’ve melded the shooting with other genre feels or objective-based play but with their newest title, Tesla Vs. Lovecraft they’ve gone back to purely insane shooting. The great thing is, they’ve made that core gameplay better on pretty well all counts by applying everything they’ve learned to date.

While there’s no doubt this sort of game doesn’t have a need for a story or theme whoever came up with the idea of pitting the technology of Tesla up against the nightmarish horrors of Lovecraft deserves a freaking award. In the early going of the campaign you’ll slowly begin to accumulate the pieces of your eventual arsenal, generally being introduced to each weapon, special attack, and perk along the way. Oh, and then there’s the teleport ability, the thing that takes the game from merely great to inspired. It will bail you out of trouble, let you jump gaps, and with the proper perk it can even be an effective weapon. If you want to be effective you’ll need to become familiar with it all, and know how to mix and match your perks and weapons to the greatest effect, if you want to survive through all 3 difficulty levels of the campaign. I’ve beaten the game on the Eldritch plane and come out the other side alive, but you’re going to have to work for it.

In terms of the look and quality of play the game looks plain incredible on the Switch and performs like a champ. When you really get things rolling with a multi-barrel ball lightning gun and get fire bullets you’re gonna see some serious action on-screen and it doesn’t slow down one bit. Screenshots and even watching video doesn’t really do the game justice though, playing it just feels great with smooth and responsive controls and often a blistering pace. Your choice in perks as you level up will be random (though with time you can try to influence this to your favor a bit), but you’ll have to make what you have work. It’s important to consider the layout of the level, the abundance of walls, what types of enemies you’re facing, etc so while you may have preferences there are times where you’ll need to go a different route. Oh, and did I mention that you’ll constantly want to be picking up the pieces of your mech suit of death so you can rain destruction on your enemies? The game has got it going on!

That isn’t to say everything is quite perfect. I’ve run into a random bug here and there where I’m unable to pick up weapons for an extended stretch for some reason that comes and goes. It can be a tad annoying but wasn’t a regular occurrence. Hopefully this can be found and remedied. Another area that could use a little more work would be the Survival Mode. This is where I spent a substantial amount of time playing Crimsonland and was what I was really looking forward to. As it is implemented now I think it could be one option but I’d like to see more maps, including maps with different flow and perhaps a slower difficulty ramp up as well. I lived on Crimsonland’s brutal Blitz Survival mode and thrived but even as tough as that could get there always felt like a way to break through. The way this one curves up and gets tough within a mere 5 minutes it goes from challenging to death in a hurry. Where the game feels the best is when you’re really going to town and edging out death, throwing out damage and getting juiced up. With the current implementation Survival Mode feels like it is killing you off just as you may be starting to make things interesting. Like I said, this version has its place but with so many great maps and by playing with some sliders I think there could be a few more than would really let you stretch out and do some substantial damage.

All said, Tesla Vs. Lovecraft is probably the best 10 Tons game I’ve played to date from concept to execution. It puts everything they have on the table, looks incredible, plays smoothly, and is simply a hell of a lot of fun. I’m hoping to see just a little more come to the table to make the experience even better but if you’ve got a soft spot for some intense twin-stick shooting action you (and a friend if you’d like) really need to put this at the top of your list.

Score: 9

  • Looks incredible and performs pretty well flawlessly
  • The perk and weapon combinations make for an endless variety of ways you can slaughter the nightmare hordes
  • Teleportation mixed with the mech suit power-up crank the insanity and fun up to 11

  • Some bugs with weapon pick-ups every here and there
  • The current implementation of Survival mode could use some further fleshing out and tuning to allow it to be more fun

Review: Castle of Heart [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The traditional side-scrolling action/adventure genre has been kicking around since roughly the arcade days. Classics like Ghouls and Ghosts morphed into the more sophisticated likes of Castlevania and many others over the ages, but the roots are pretty consistent: Expect to be hacking and slashing your way through foes and then trying desperately to avoid the many traps and obstacles set in your way. As a brand new title the Switch-exclusive Castle of Heart enters the fray, looking to put its own spin on things and no doubt establish some roots.

The story ties heavily into the gameplay mechanics, where you’re a knight who is trying to find and defeat an evil sorcerer who has cursed the kingdom and you as well. Turned to stone, you’re barely managing to keep alive and throughout the game you’ll have to collect orbs to stave off death. Taking damage or simply taking too long will cause your life gauge to diminish. As you approach death you’ll lose an arm, leaving you unable to use any secondary weapons, and if then if you’re unable to get to the next checkpoint quickly you’ll crumble to pieces.

Your journey will take you through 4 pretty distinct chapters, each with their own aesthetics, traps, and action sequences. Gameplay tends to alternate between combat, platforming sequences, and then more signature stretches of action that change things up quite a bit. It’s probably these moments that are the most interesting, intense, and notable but they can also be a bit unforgiving. At the conclusion of each chapter you’ll then face a major battle, requiring you to put the skills (and hopefully some secondary weapons like bombs) you’ve accumulated to the test.

What unfortunately overshadows all of the positives in the game are the muddy controls and some serious inconsistencies in behavior. There’s either a bit of control lag or at least some clumsiness in the movement animations in the game. Everything feels kind of accurate but not really tight, and given all of the sequences where you need to be precise this can be grating. While checkpoints are meant to help break things up, and they do to a degree, there are stretches that play out almost cruelly, making you slog through combat and then try to go through a sequence of jumps or traps. While the constant loss of your life force is an interesting mechanic it also actively discourages you from wanting to explore as the rewards for getting sidetracked are generally not worth the risk. Similarly the pretty clunky combat wastes time and I found I was often more successful only fighting when I needed to and avoiding it whenever possible. Possibly the thing that irritated me the most, though, was the major inconsistencies with dropped secondary weapons. A ranged weapon can be crucial and yet they were inconsistently dropped by enemies from run to run. Throw in the fact that on most deaths you wouldn’t then have the secondary weapon you’d had when you got to the checkpoint and this really makes some runs feel doomed before they start.

Put it all together and though there are a lot of ideas and interesting sequences in Castle of Heart, the execution is lacking in polish in key areas and that often makes the game more aggravating than fun unfortunately. It’s not outright broken, but it falls into the trap of getting in its own way with ideas that are actively fighting with the mechanics. Throw in control that’s not very tight and while the game does have a lot of heart, trying to do its best, it’s difficult to recommend heartily.

Score: 6

  • Some well-conceived action sequences
  • Interesting ideas, some of which work well
  • Distinctive art and elements in each Chapter

  • Controls are muddy and lack the precision a game like this needs
  • Combat is very limited and clunky, better avoided if possible
  • Secondary weapon drops are inconsistent for the same enemies on different runs and yet they’re quite crucial to success
  • There’s little incentive to do anything other than try to run the levels quickly because of the health mechanic and stingy rewards for getting sidetracked to find orbs

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Slayaway Camp [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When you’ve historically played an absolutely massive number of games it, unfortunately, tends to make you a little jaded. You begin to see familiar patterns, start identifying where elements of games were borrowed or refined from… it can be interesting but also a bit depressing as it’s a challenge to be surprised. That said, when something manages to take the familiar and do something crazy with it you end up being very impressed. Slayaway Camp is such a title, managing to take what could have been a pretty solid puzzle game and elevating it to a higher level through the use of humor, a boatload of horror pop culture references, and copious amounts of voxel-based gore.

To start out in the game you’ll initially be playing the part of Skullface, a homicidal maniac determined to slaughter the innocent, or pretty well anyone else who gets in his way. Though the theming is heavily on the horror side below it all the game is actually a pretty traditional puzzler, where you’ll slide in a direction until something stops you. Whether that’s a victim, a wall, a barrier, or whatever else this rule is what creates the challenge as you’ll find to complete levels you’ll need to trigger a very specific chain of events. What elevates the puzzle play here are the various elements thrown in that make it more challenging. Once you slay your victims you need to be able to get to the exit, doing something wrong will trap you even though you’ve fulfilled your bloody mission. Getting near victims will scare them away, potentially running into a fire, perhaps getting into a better position, or maybe just forcing you to start over. In addition there are bookcases to be toppled, phones to be rung, and many more elements that get thrown in to complicate matters of force you to carefully plan out your delicious murders.

While the puzzles themselves are actually excellent and surprisingly varied, it’s really the theming that helps bring it all home. As someone who grew up in the 80s and spent far too many weekends watching horror movies that I got from the video store this game really speaks to me on a personal level. Each collection of levels is part of a movie, and as you finish one it will unlock more. In general for each new movie you unlock you’ll add a new killer to your menagerie of death, but as you accumulate in-game coins you’ll have an option to randomly unlock new ones as well. Each killer tends to have their own signature kill, but there are both general ones and those that you can unlock as well. These play out as sorts of cutscenes when you get a kill, with some that are interactive and some that aren’t. If you see a gauge pop up you’ll need to time your strike properly or you’ll fail to get your kill… just tell yourself they must have been a virgin I suppose. You may not want to spend all of your in-game currency though as if you’re in a tough spot and stuck with a puzzle you can buy a hint or even the solution itself if you just can’t figure it out.

In terms of criticism I actually don’t see much to find fault with aside from not appreciating the theme or being familiar enough with the 80s movies they’re having fun with. If you find the gore a bit too excessive (since it is all so blocky I personally find it all hysterical) there is an option to tone it down a bit, so all is not lost if you prefer things a little less bloody. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what a VCR is or have never had the joy of watching many cheesy horror classics there’s no remedy for that. You may still find the antics amusing abstractly but it probably won’t speak to you as much.

In the end I had an absolute blast with Slayaway Camp and would heartily recommend it to anyone who is either a fan of great puzzle games or 80s horror movies… if you like both you’re truly in for a treat. The violence in voxel form is utterly comical, the callbacks to horror icons and some of their great kills are wonderful, and the puzzles themselves are thoroughly challenging. Since it also includes every bit of content released for the game to date, all in one, on every level it is a killer deal.

Score: 9


  • Pure 80s horror film fun and fan service
  • Over 300 challenging puzzles with a wide variety of elements to keep things fresh
  • If you’re entertained by chunky pixel death you’re in for a treat!


  • If you’re put off by gore, you can tone it down, but it still may be too much for you
  • A lack of pop culture knowledge and appreciation for 80s horror will diminish the fun

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: Swim Out [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When dealing with a well-known genre and mechanics that aren’t revolutionary the key to success can be effective theming. Presentation can help to take the ordinary and elevate it, helping gloss over the familiar a bit. In the case of Swim Out the idea is to transport you to a sunny locale to take a hearty swim, trying to generally get from one side of a body of water to the other without bumping into any of your fellow aquatic adventurers and dodging an occasional obstacle. The result is a solid, though perhaps a bit generic, puzzler.

Since it’s a puzzle game, and your goal is to merely get from here to there, the challenge is created by what’s in your way through 7 chapters and over 100 levels. By using the varying patterns of a wide variety swimmers, an eventual collection of aquatic creatures, a random kayaker and more, your objective is to figure out how to weave through everything without colliding with anyone. For variety there are sometimes additional objectives to lure you out to a different area and increase difficulty or an odd beach ball, goggles, or floatie (among other objects) you can then use to your advantage (or sometimes to your forced disadvantage) to create an opportunity for yourself.

The slow and steady progression in difficulty is managed well and typically new swimmer or obstacle types are introduced in a less threatening manner at first so you understand them before the challenges involving them are dialed up. Some levels involve multiple areas, and eventually you may need to move back a few pools to collect an item you’ll need to advance. In general patience and a willingness to accept what isn’t working and trying a different path or approach is effective to resolving issues.

In most respects there’s nothing really holding things back aside from perhaps it being a bit too safe and traditional. While many variations are thrown at you in the end it all boils down to seeing the patterns in front of you and breaking down how to either conform to or disrupt them to the point that you can get through. That’s not to say some levels aren’t demanding but the whole experience plays it a bit safe. If you love a good puzzle game and the theme appeals to you while the air is frigid outside it delivers a good value just keep your expectations in check and you should have a good time with it.

Score: 7.5

  • A fair amount of variety and steadily-increasing challenge spanning over 100 levels
  • New elements every few stages helps to keep things a little more interesting
  • Well-themed and presented attractively

  • Perhaps a bit too traditional and safe for its own good
  • The majority of challenges you face will likely feel familiar on a general level

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: Last Day of June [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Every once in a while there are games that hit you in a way you don’t expect, even if you can perhaps see their end coming. Whether it is the unexpected or the plainly obvious when you invest time and effort into understanding and embracing your character’s world the resolution to an adventure can leave a lasting mark. The last game that hit me hard was Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Season 1. It’s been years since then and while I’ve played compelling games nothing has quite had that power. That changed playing Last Day of June.

Starting with the look and feel of the game the art style, looking like a hybrid of clay figures and an animated painting, it is amazing. The colors are fully saturated, the environments are lush, and the characters (though they lack eyes) convey a surprising amount of emotion. To add to that the music is evocative and helps reinforce the emotions of everything you see. A fair criticism is that the load times are often a bit exorbitant, and that does sometimes interfere with things, but I’d say that given the aesthetics it isn’t too hard to excuse.

In order to reveal next to nothing at all of the overall narrative, for fear of ruining pretty well anything, I’ll leave you with the fact that it does an excellent job of telling stories beyond just the main characters. Through the course of the game you’ll inhabit multiple people and understand their role to play in this world as well as the nature of their challenges. I encourage you to seek out the orbs that belong to each of them, revealing elements of their story, because they reveal the depth of the storytelling at play and how everyone has their own sorrows and regrets.

In general terms this plays out like an action adventure game, with you trying to work out the solutions to puzzles that present themselves to each character. Through a dynamic that reveals itself in the game you’ll find that there’s a sort of puzzle to be worked out, and you’ll both see the same events through different sets of eyes as well as have the opportunity to change how events unfold. While this can get a bit repetitive at times it all serves the ultimate story, helping to explain how things end up the way they do.

I’m sorry if this review is somewhat evasive but I don’t wish to do anything to ruin the outstanding story in the game concerning love, loss, and even sacrifice for the sake of others. There’s no getting around the somewhat repetitive nature of the core gameplay as you relive the same events multiple times and try to affect different outcomes. There were also a few times where I wasn’t 100% sure what I was expected to do but the thing is, if you are a sucker for a great story, Last Day of June will absolutely suck you in and help prove that games have an amazing power to connect you to a meaningful story.

Score: 8.5

  • An amazing look
  • Music that helps reinforce the power of the narrative
  • Multiple worthwhile stories to tell
  • Grab your tissues and buckle up for quite a ride

  • The load times can get a bit long
  • A fair degree of repetition as events play out multiple times through the eyes of different people
  • At certain points it isn’t necessarily clear what you need to do to progress