Wednesday, September 23

Mini Reviews: September 23rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Ori and the Will of the Wisps [Nindie Choice!] -
When reviewing games in general I try to carefully avoid hyperbole and excessive exuberance whenever possible. To that end, even with well over 1,500 reviews under my belt and so many terrific titles played, I’ve only awarded 2 perfect scores among them for Stardew Valley and Dead Cells. In the case of Ori and the Will of the Wisps I’m going to be adding to that very exclusive list with pretty well no reservations. With its nimble movement, massive scale, gorgeous environments, and combination of so many elements that feel like they’ve been carefully refined to be their most engaging it’s likely the best Metroidvania title I’ve ever played. I will warn that the platforming is probably a little more challenging than the average, requiring patience and precision, but for the most part success rests solely on your skills as the controls are spot-on and well-implemented. With there being so much ground to cover and spots you’ll want and need to return to, as you acquire the necessary skills or changes to environments to give you access, I do wish there were a few more waypoints scattered about but that’s about my only real criticism (OK, and it has crashed on me twice, but thankfully with no real loss of progress in either case). There’s a very good reason Microsoft backed this horse, and it is a gift that has been shared with Switch owners that is absolutely worth your time and effort.

Going Under [Nindie Choice!] - As an enormous fan of anything roguelike Going Under has been on my radar since I first saw it announced, billing itself as a sort of insane 3D beat-em-up where you can pick up just about anything to use as a weapon. When I got the chance to check it out at PAX East this year I could see the promise of the fun in it, and I began to see the humor that actually serves as one of the game’s surprising areas of appeal, but there was just also something that didn’t quite click for me. With the full release now available to me I still feel like something’s missing in the formula that somehow keeps it from true greatness but that isn’t to say it can’t be fun to take for a spin of challenging and often chaotic combat. Since you’re able to use so many sorts of objects you find laying about, and in a pinch you won’t always have ideal choices around you, it does have a rough early learning curve. Weapon durability, range, effectiveness… you’ll generally just need to experiment to get a feel for these things. The same can be said for many perks and items you’ll have to work with, the brief descriptions aren’t always as instructive as they could be so it can be a bit of a mess until you sort it out. The skewering of corporate culture is spot on and often hilarious if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle farm, so that helps bring the experience up but it may be offset by meta progression that, compared to its competition, doesn’t feel quite as helpful as normal… perhaps making the grind to success feel a little less rewarding on the way. I have mixed feelings about it in the end, really appreciating the silly tone and its addressing a flavor of roguelikes I haven’t seen much of to this point but at the same time missing the spark in it that drives my enthusiasm to recommend it with more than somewhat above average force. Roguelike and beat-em-up fans should appreciate and enjoy a change of pace, but everyone else will probably be fine missing it.

Raji: An Ancient Epic - While this statement may inspire some eye-rolling for some people out there as a life-long gamer I deeply appreciate attempts to expand inclusiveness in video games. By this point western gamers are generally quite well-steeped in the mythology of the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian persuasions, with the gods of those pantheons providing a great foundation for many narratives. In the case of Raji I’m happy to see a completely different set of fresh deities and stories of legend coming from ancient India, and with representative architecture and musical accompaniment as well. The result is a pretty rich and unique storytelling experience that’s worthy of attention. Thankfully the gameplay also, in general, has a fresh feel with the very nimble Raji on a quest to save her brother which features quite a number of well-implemented traversal moves and plenty of options to keep combat interesting. Where it unfortunately falters noticeably is in maintaining its pacing, with combat often feeling over-encumbered and sluggish when too many enemies are on-screen. Granted, the varied moves and weapon options help to compensate for this since it makes for engaging and varied combat, but it feels like though the Switch didn’t need to skimp too much on the beauty of the visuals a price was paid in speed. While it’s over a bit quickly the rish storytelling and culture of Raji still make it a stand out worth giving a look.

Breakpoint - When I saw shots of this gloriously old-school retro arcade title I was instantly drawn in with visions of Geometry Wars-style twin-stick shooting coming to mind. Oh, how wrong I was, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Breakpoint would best be described as a twin-stick beat-em-up if that makes sense, giving you the fluid movement and enemy patterns that would feel right at home in a shooter but that you’ll instead be taking out exclusively melee-style with a wide variety of both blunt and bladed weapons. You’ll definitely develop a taste for specific weapons too, as depending on your style you may prefer the rapid-fire stabbing of the spear, the quick swiping of the dagger, or perhaps the devastating swing of a battle axe with the risky delay that comes along with it. In the end this will only appeal to people who appreciate the feeling of placing just a bit higher on the online leaderboard and who are determined to scratch and claw your way to improving your multiplier and technique. It won’t be for everyone but that isn’t to say it won’t be addictive for the gamer who is properly inclined.

Tamiku - I have a great reverence for classic arcade games (as you may have gathered by now) so from the get-go seeing Tamiku open with a classic ROM boot-up screen of sorts hit me right in the nostalgia bone. From there the story is unfortunately a bit more of a mixed bag. Yes, the balloon popping mechanic, level design, and enemies are reminiscent of a number of classic titles. The problem I have is that as you progress so little really changes and it just feels like the game is in need of an injection of a fun and surprising element or three that would elevate play rather than just throwing out new enemy types and maze layouts. This is a game in need of a power pellet, an enemy-wrecking hammer, or just something to introduce a layer of added strategy and interest to the mix… like the blast from popping the red balloons destroying enemies close by for added points as an example. It’s not necessarily bad but Tamiku just ends up being too flat and uninteresting arcade experience.

Friday, September 18

Mini Reviews: September 18th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Journey of the Broken Circle [Nindie Choice!] -
Who knew that an incomplete circle (who looks suspiciously like a certain gaming icon) and an oddball mix of plants and normally inanimate objects would have so much to offer in the way of philosophy? Circle, who feels incomplete, is in search of feeling whole and wants to explore the world. Along the way you’ll encounter others who may have different goals but who may be willing to join you, at least for a time, which will conveniently give you that varied abilities you’ll need to progress through what are generally pretty lenient platforming challenges. Though there are times where it gets a little more difficult I’d consider the challenge mild enough on the whole to be accessible to anyone and if you’re able to find enough hidden mushrooms along the way you’ll open further hidden levels to enjoy as well. On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed the game’s sense of humor, heart, and just enough philosophy to allow for some reflection without it feeling lecturing. It’s an unusual title, and probably too mild for the hard core crowd, but the game has a spirit that makes it notable and I appreciate its presence in the eShop.

Super Punch Patrol - With its hand-drawn art style there’s no doubt that Super Punch Patrol catches the eye and that gives the game a distinctive feel to be sure. Aesthetics aside, make no mistake though, this is a thoroughly classic retro beat-em-up and that isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Aside titles that have pushed the edges of the genre to include different styles of play, incorporate new mechanics, or downright take it to the next level Super Punch Patrol sadly feels a bit primitive with its look being its defining feature and not so much its play. If you’re looking for a new chance to throw down solo or with some friends and beat your way through a series of punks and bosses it will probably do the trick for an appropriately low price, but if you’re looking for something more evolved this isn’t going to make that cut.

Bomber Fox - Have you been thirsting for a neon-lit version of the classic Bomberman series? In principle that’s what you have here, though let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Certainly Bomber Fox has cribbed many gameplay elements from the classic series, though some of its enemies and environmental elements are at least a bit more unique. Where the game struggles for me though is with the pacing. Your default movement speed is positively glacial, and while that can be helpful as you plot out how to get out of dodge and avoid getting “blowed up” it can also be frustrating, especially when you need to restart a level and go through the motions all over again. You can play co-op through levels with a friend or against some as well in versus mode, and there are two pretty different main campaigns to play through, one with more of a puzzle-solving feel and another making you dig down and take out a bunch of enemies… which is at least nice for variety and total content to consume. It’s not going to be coming for the “Bomber” title crown by any means but for the budget price it’s at least something a little different.

Georifters - While Georifters has an unusual look and dialogue between characters who are fixated on candy (it’s a bit weird) in the end this is really a puzzle platforming game, and for the most part a generic one at that. You have the ability to knock out and move blocks, which you’ll need to do in order to collect crystals in each level. As you go new enemies and traps will complicate matters, and there may be some trial and error required to get the hang of what you may need to do in order to get to some of your goals, but for the most part it is a logical and fair challenge all around. That said, there’s not much that strikes me as unique in terms of the gameplay and to go with the game’s somewhat odd overall look there’s some clunkiness in the controls and how you interact with certain elements at times. It’s not a bad experience, it just feels lacking in a degree of polish that some of its competition has tightened up better overall.

Moero Crystal H - OK, so given the pretty uncomfortable nature of just the trailer for this title I hesitated to cover it at all. I understand there’s a market for scantily-clad anime chicks in various forms and have worked through a number of titles that have varied in their ability to justify their gameplay as the focus and not the high perv factor. In the case of this one I think I’ve somewhat reached my limit though, between what just feels like the general younger appearance than normal of many female characters in the game and then some of the language used to describe them as well that feels like it’s from a different time. Throw in that the story as it stands is pretty boilerplate (and really, honestly, dull) and the dungeon crawling offers nothing unique aside from various aesthetic “flourishes” that may catch people’s fancy and I can’t say there’s a lot here beyond the spectacle that you couldn’t get anywhere else, and probably better. If you’re into it, good on you, enjoy, just in this case don’t tell yourself it’s about the stellar gameplay and story.