Monday, January 20

Mini Reviews: January 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Deponia Doomsday - If you’re a big fan of the bygone heyday of the point and click adventure games the Deponia trilogy is well worth checking out. This second chapter in the series takes a pretty different path, one that throws time travel into the mix with generally humorous results. The dialogue tree options remain as unexpected and often silly as the classic LucasArts games, encouraging you to sometimes shoot from the hip just to see what can happen, which is fun. If there’s a complaint I’d say that getting “lost” is a bit more likely in this middle chapter as the areas you have access to can get quite large and the elements you’ll need are then spread out. It does keep things from feeling too linear but it also makes it likely you’ll be checking a guide at some point to get your bearings.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha - There’s no doubt the Switch has become the ideal platform for retro and throwback titles of all kinds. Not only is portability a plus but for the modest investment needed to pick up a FlipGrip the ability to enjoy vertically-oriented arcade titles as they were intended is pretty satisfying. In the case of this collection of 6 titles you’ve got an odd blend of diversity and more of the same. Half of the pack’s 6 games are from the Strikers 1945 trilogy and represent the classic shooter experience. Each of the other 3 are pretty wildly different, with 2 titles (Sol Divide and Dragon Blaze) experimenting with alternative styles of play that are definitely a mixed bag. The last, Zero Gunner 2, is the only title played in a horizontal orientation and charts its own path with enemies coming from all directions and sporting unusual controls where you’ll essentially use one button to set a pivot point so you can shoot in a circle. It’s different, for sure, but seemingly would have been so much easier and better as a twin-stick shooter. If you’re a fan of classic vertically-scrolling arcade shooter goodness, and perhaps if you’ve got a bit of an open mind for weird variations on the formula, this should at least satisfy with some surprises.

Jump Gunners - Local multiplayer shooters are a bit of a dime a dozen on the Switch so it can be hard to make an impression and stand out in the space. Jump Gunners does at least manage to do that, featuring a number of weapons, an additional layer of challenge and strategy with the benefits and downsides of recoil, and even a few single-player modes. Where it runs into some problems are the inconsistencies in the experience, with some stages working better than others and a tendency to be hard to follow at times as it tries to zoom in and out on the action. Also, while the single-player modes are a nice value add, the one even prompting a smile with elements of Duck Hunt, they’re also not likely to provide much in the long term. As a package it has its place, and plays better than the more generic fare in the space, but its mileage will vary depending on your tastes.

Self - It’s always interesting to see games used as a medium for storytelling and in the case of Self rather than working through a pre-destined story to reach a static conclusion you’ll find that it has many branching paths to encourage replay to discover its different outcomes. Alternating between text-driven story beats where you’ll have to make some key decisions and simplistic mini game sequences that feel inspired by Undertale the experience is a bit of a mixed bag. What’s a bit frustrating is that the minimalist game sequences, which generally just consist of you trying to dodge different themed elements, really just end up feeling like filler and if anything pulled me out of the story which is compelling. If you’re up for something a bit off-center with the text-based story driving the experience rather than the action it may be of interest.

Demolish & Build - Oof. I dislike being outright negative about titles since there can be an audience for just about anything but when the overall package and experience are this janky it’s hard to pull the punches. Poor visuals can be overcome with great gameplay but the title looking like something from the N64/PS1 era with abundant fog, clipping, and pop-in does not get it off to a great start. The fact that your tasks aren’t terribly thrilling, knocking down walls or breaking things up with a sledgehammer loses its appeal quickly, and the in-game direction on what it is wanting you to do is generally poor just locks in the bad taste generally. Sometimes budget titles can be a pleasant surprise but this isn’t one of those times.

Thursday, January 16

Mini Reviews: January 16th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Super Crush KO [Nindie Choice!] - Early in the Switch lifespan, when the pickings were sometimes a bit more thin, there were some core Nindie titles that helped occupy my time. Among my favorites was the very distinct high-score-chasing space shooter Graceful Explosion Machine which encouraged repeated play as I’d try to get top ranks and a few rungs higher on the leaderboards for every stage. Who knew the same core concepts of multiple attack styles, a sense of flair, and a scoring system that pushes you to keep changing things up would work so well in a beat-em-up? Apparently the folks at Vertex Pop did! Very similarly to GEM I love the flow of things, and how you need to continually improvise not only to keep out of harm’s way but also in order to chain more and more attacks into your combo. It can be almost meditative when you’re in the zone, dodging, dashing through bullets, throwing uppercuts, and even shooting. In terms of raw stages, much like GEM there aren’t a ton to get through, but the joy here is in revisiting and climbing the online leaderboards, and for that this game crushes it.

THOTH - When it comes to shooters minimalist looks can work nicely, but with quite a number of budget shooters already in that vein on Switch it can be hard to make an impression. While THOTH may not do a great job of getting you up to speed or easing you into things, once you get over your initial confusion you’ll find it offers an interesting mix of twin stick shooting and an almost puzzle-like feel. Every few levels new ideas or elements will be introduced that you’ll then need to contend with while destroying enemy blocks, clearing the stage and moving you on. While it isn’t a terribly long game for the price it seems fair and if you’ve been looking for a shooter that keeps you on your toes this is a solid choice.

Super Mega Space Blaster - On paper this is a title that should be a slam dunk for me. A retro-feeling space shooter with elements of Asteroids and others, offering up a variety of modes and ships that change things up and provide for variety and hopefully longevity. While I repeatedly returned to it, hoping the next unlock would help suddenly make it all come together for me it just never quite got there. Weirdly, I think the bones for a great shooter are there, just there are some unusual choices made in implementation that I’m not so much a fan of. Bullet scarcity, no temporary invulnerability when you get hit, movement (in some modes forced) that doesn’t quite feel right, the need to grind to unlock elements you’re hoping will make it work for you but may not… it’s aggravatingly on the edge of working. While I have no doubt some shooter fans looking for something that stands apart and can sort of be custom catered to your own style will enjoy this one in an eShop flush with terrific shooters of all kinds I find this one tough to recommend with enthusiasm.

140 - Minimalist platformers can be fun on a budget, no doubt, but their wide availability on the Switch as well as down to even mobile devices makes them a challenge to get attention with. 140 just sort of throws you into things and lets you figure it out, though thankfully it doesn’t take too much effort or trial and error in general. If it weren’t for the use of the music and some rhythm in helping you time your critical jumps onto shifting and/or disappearing platforms I think the experience would have been more ordinary. If you’re looking for a game to play on the cheap with a great soundtrack that you’ll need to listen to carefully at times to help you make your way through some solid (though perhaps not terribly inspired) action puzzles, 140 isn’t amazing but it seems to have accomplished what it set out to do.

Drunk-Fu: Wasted Masters - When it comes to budget-friendly multiplayer gaming the Switch has quite an assortment of options. Since many of them are somewhat ho-hum shooters of various kinds I’m always a bit more excited to check out any titles offering up something a little different. Putting together brawler elements and ragdoll physics in an unlikely pairing we have Drunk-Fu: Wasted Masters. This is one of those games where criticizing the controls is tricky, the loose and funky nature of them is “part of the fun”, but while you can certainly throw down the ultimately limited moveset does tend to get people falling into patterns that work pretty quickly. With that in mind unless you manage to find someone online to play with or have friends who like to get together, laugh, and maybe have a few drinks to lower your expectations the longevity of Drunk-Fu will likely be pretty limited for most people.