Monday, July 6

Mini Reviews: July 6th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Ghost Grab 3000 [Nindie Choice] - While I have a great appreciation for epic games that feature massive worlds and complex storylines for me to discover over many hours since I grew up in the arcades I also appreciate a tight experience that challenges me and is fun in bursts. With its relatively-simple ghost chaining mechanics and simple-but-smart controls Ghost Grab 3000 does a great job of scratching that retro itch and making me say “Just one more round”. Your goal is to catch ghosts bouncing around the screen in your beam and then zap them. Sure, you could do this one at a time but first it wouldn’t be very fun and second you’d get a sad and paltry score for that effort. The way to rack up points is to chain as many together as possible before you collect but that ends up making for a very crowded and chaotic screen full of roving enemies and their many bullets. Thankfully you have a trusty dash that makes you temporarily invulnerable and a limited number of EMP blasts at your disposal which can be used to get yourself out of jams and rack up as high a score as possible. It’s all just about the leaderboards and scoring as high as you can in the end but if you’re looking for a quick and challenging fix it’s an excellent choice at a very low price.

The Almost Gone - Sometimes games can be an interesting means of helping to convey powerful messages in a different way. In the case of The Almost Gone the theme is tied to the lasting trauma and effects of familial abuse, and it is layered onto a clever though sometimes perhaps a bit obtuse puzzler with a distinctive look. You’ll work your way through rooms in a house, shifting perspective in search of clues and potential triggers that will help you progress. The puzzles range in their methods as well as their difficulty and this can be a bit frustrating at times as there’s really no in-game means of assistance, but given that the experience only lasts a few hours the challenges can be overcome. If you’ve been a victim of some sort of abuse it may be a bit too heavy and open wounds but for those who haven’t experienced it first-hand it may help to lend perspective. It won’t be an experience for everyone but it distinguishes itself in its style and themes even in the crowded Switch library.

Singled Out - This is an example of a game that runs with an extremely simple premise, being given a few facial characteristics to match a criminal and then identifying them in a slowly-growing crowd, and runs with it as far as it can. On the one hand I’d say that its simplicity makes it a terrific casual game that anyone can play, but on the other I’d note that its difficulty ramps up pretty quickly so that isn’t to say it can’t be challenging. Your enemy is always the clock and you’ll feel the seconds ticking away as you try to quickly eliminate the faces that obviously aren’t a match but since the traits you’re given will vary you can’t count on getting into any real groove and will have to be mentally agile to keep up. Given its budget price, pretty quick play session time, and accessibility to just about anyone, it may lack in complexity but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good value and fun.

Infini - There are games that merely dabble in weird but then there are also those titles that set up camp in crazyville, unpack their things, and get cozy. That’s how Infini felt to me playing it, shifting between action puzzles that are simplistic in principle but that can be challenging to visually comprehend and then execute to success on the one hand and then a pretty bizarre time-travelling story that seems to be trying to make a philosophical point or 100 but generally left me doing the confused dog head tilt looking at the screen. The great news is that it very much breaks away from the norm, so if you’re looking for an experience that’s a bit out there and can overlook its simplistic visuals you may find it to your liking. If that doesn’t describe what you’re seeking you’ll want to steer clear though.

Clash Force - There’s nothing wrong with a decent budget side-scrolling retro romp and if you’re looking only for that Clash Force offers it up. Does it do anything terribly inventive? Not really, you’re just running and gunning while running right and jumping and you’ll have an assortment of pick-ups that will change up your firepower to suit either your style or the current situation best. An unusual aspect I found it to have is a difficulty level which fluctuated a bit wildly up and down at times, feeling far too simply but then suddenly jumping into the deep end without an easing transition and then back again. That unrefined quality and a look that won’t wow keep it from being noteworthy but it isn’t without its charm for a low price.

Thursday, July 2

Mini Reviews: July 2nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Biped [Nindie Choice!] - I first encountered Biped at PAX East, repeatedly walking by the booth on the way to other appointments and seeing small crowds forming and having a great time. Later, when I finally got to take it for a spin with one of the reps on-hand at the booth I could see why. For a game featuring two robots as the protagonists there’s somehow something very cute and endearing about their look, mannerisms, and the way they scoot around. By contrast, at least in the time I got with the title, I was a bit taken aback by how tricky the experience could be. Now, having played the final product the good news is that some of what I’d faced was from later in the experience and though there’s no doubt Biped won’t be a cakewalk for anyone it consistently manages to be surprising with smart level design, generally superb controls, and just enough variety in its relatively short duration to keep you engaged. I think the best feature it has is that while typically co-op games struggle to provide a solid experience if you have to play them solo, in general Biped does such a great job at it that you could assume it isn’t necessarily meant to be a co-op game. There’s no doubt that in some circumstances the controls, where you use each joystick to carefully move either leg, can be a bit touchy but with so much precision required in some puzzles you’ll work through that’s not necessarily a surprise. Regardless, whether solo or co-op Biped is easily one of the best action puzzlers of the year on the Switch… just be ready for some challenges (which is a good thing).

Night Call - Games that hang their hats on their narratives more than “play” in a traditional sense are an interesting lot. Ranging from outright visual novels to experiences with varying degrees of interactivity, at their base they can vary quite a bit of variety. Of course, the topics and themes of these games also then run the gamut from outright silly to strange to traditional to perhaps a bit on the pervy side. One aspect of Night Call that works is that its setting and storyline are quite distinct, with you playing the part of a cab driver in Paris who (with some urgency) is attempting to help stop a serial killer… mainly because you narrowly avoided death at their hands already and don’t want to somehow have the authorities decide you’re the killer instead. What follows is a bit of an interesting journey, with you deciding which fares to pick up and then working your gift for gab to try to tease out info from your fares in the hope of helping in your investigation. For the most part the stories are interesting and vary, but where things fall apart is how picky the game is about how you decide on and handle your fares. While it does make sense in the context of the game that this system would be in place it really detracts from simply engaging in the conversations and getting the info you’ll need bit by bit. The result is a collection of stories I found engaging but they’re a bit obscured by a time management system that holds the game back more than elevating it.

Grimshade - Now that the Switch has really put together quite an impressive line-up of RPGs, whether AAA or indie, traditional turn-based or tactical, making a big splash in the space is getting tough. With an introduction that tries to walk you through its various systems, introduce you to the world, and entertain at the same time Grimshade feels unsteady even out of the gate and never quite hits its stride. The balance of keeping combat from dragging, making battles often enough without being too frequent, and moving the story along at a pace that keeps you engaged just isn’t quite there and it just drags in spots. While it has a nice look, a reasonably good story, and a battle system with some tactics but not going overboard either in light of its competition it just can’t seem to break out of its somewhat generic box.

Indiecalypse - Moreso than most games I’ve played on the Switch I see Indiecalypse as a love/hate proposition. On the one hand you could view it as a walk through a pretty ridiculous and sometimes gross and/or profane story complete with a number of mini game sequences that celebrate a pretty wide number of classic video games. On the other you could view it as a somewhat crass and juvenile story propped up by some poorly-implemented mini games that are just enough like classics that the hope is your sense of nostalgia will help you overlook their shortcomings. Sadly, even if you’re determined to give it the benefit of the doubt the truth is the mini games are hit and miss and some made me  struggle mightily to want to keep going. Throw in an issue where it only saves at each new chapter and not after you complete each mini game (with no provision for a manual save) and you may find yourself forced retread content that wasn’t great the first time again due to a pretty horrendous design flaw. The art and attitude of Indiecalypse were fun and at first it sucked me in, but the more poorly implemented  games that had the likeness of a classic game slapped onto them that I encountered the more my attitude towards the experience cooled.

The Otterman Empire - There’s a weird sort of effect where when you see a promo for a game you envision a certain type of play, and when the style doesn’t fit your concept it can be disappointing. When I first saw the news for The Otterman Empire I envisioned a sort of jetpack-driven shooter adventure with plenty of cute but challenging enemies to take on. Well, it really isn’t that, it is instead ideally a multiplayer game where you and friends will take each other in a variety of scenarios, some more geared towards straight shooting and others with a bit of a more strategic bent. Playing solo you can manage, and you’ll be able to unlock new characters and cosmetics, but the main event is group play. Unfortunately, whether it’s the controls that can feel a little unresponsive (the double-tap to roll requires a very fast tap, surprisingly so against the norm) or just what feels like a lack of chemistry in the big picture of the gameplay it just never quite feels like it comes together to be compelling. To its credit there really aren’t games of this kind that would make for competition on the eShop, but unless you’re truly looking for this sort of experience (and maybe playing as a family since that could diminish the expectations for something more exciting) it probably won’t satisfy.