Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Hexologic [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The classic puzzle game Sudoku took the world by storm for a very good reason, it offered a straightforward set of rules that you could apply to puzzles both big and small and presented a legitimate challenge. Taking some rough concepts that are in that vein, but providing an experience very much all its own, is Hexologic. Its challenge revolves filling in your hex-based board with pieces representing the values 1 - 3 and starts out simple but consistently layers on new rules throughout its 70+ total levels to continue to step up the challenge.

On each level you’ll start with a grid that is empty, only providing you with numbers that you need to match in various directions. In each space you can place a tile that represents either 1, 2, or 3, and the key to solving each puzzle is having your tiles in each line add up to all totals. While this isn’t terrible complicated at first, every 15 levels the game will introduce a new element that steps up the difficulty further, whether in the form of filled in pieces you can’t change or spaces that share the same total in more than one location.

Along the way through the base 60 levels you’ll additionally unlock 3 additional stages per area and these tend to be quite a bit larger and thus more complicated. Strategically, consistent with games like Sudoku, success is best assured by targeting lines that can only be solved in one way, which at least limits the amount of guesswork and will set a foundation you can build on. In particular the spaces that share the same number in multiple locations can be confounding if you don’t work out their correct number early since late changes to them will significantly set you back.

That leads to my biggest criticism for the game, though it’s not crippling, the fact that you’re unable to lock spaces in that you’re positive are correct. Especially in the larger puzzles towards the end it could be a challenge to remember which lines I’d determined absolutely had to be filled in a certain way. Though I doubt I lost much time to this when everything else about the game is so spot-on it stands out as really my only disappointment aside from simply wanting more.

Given the extremely budget-friendly pricing Hexologic is a satisfying way to spend a few hours if you’re a big puzzle fan. I enjoyed the fact that there were multiple methods to make the puzzles more challenging used in different cases. Certainly sheer scale can be intimidating but having the grid broken into multiple pieces and more than one set of shared spaces kept things from feeling too repetitive throughout. I’d love to see even more variations and further substantial puzzles in the future, if the ability to lock space/lines were added I’d be all the happier. Highly recommended for puzzle fans!

Score: 8.5

  • Clean design
  • Great concept with some variety introduced as you go
  • An appropriate budget price


  • Left me wanting more and even bigger puzzles
  • The ability to lock in lines or spaces would have been a great value add

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Songbringer [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There’s no doubt that the Legend of Zelda series has had an enormous influence on video games, so when you release a game that seems to universally get compared to it there’s a mixed blessing attached. Certainly being put in the same breath is a bit of an honor, but at the same time being evaluated against such a revered classic has to make you nervous over the comparison. Songbringer has a slashing style and a fair amount in common with the iconic series, but very much breaks off into its own style along the way.

In terms of the fundamentals of combat and the game world itself there are abundant notes that feel familiar and yet at the same time it’s impossible not to quickly notice the differences. Where the adventure in the Legend of Zelda series is meticulously designed and typically either intended or hard wired for you to go through the game in a specific order, Songbringer’s world and dungeons are procedurally generated. While there are weapons and abilities like bombs or your top hat you throw and can grab things with like the classic boomerang, once you get rolling you’ll have the opportunity to combine gear and create some of your own versions of things that can have a variety of effects, allowing you to forge your own path on all levels.

Certainly the option to play it in a roguelike permadeath mode also differentiates it significantly, but until you’ve played it quite a bit and learned the ropes that absolutely wouldn’t be the recommended path to take. In another touch that reminds me of the original Legend of Zelda there’s not a whole lot in the game that is explained to you, for the most part you’ll need to wing it and learn as you go. Know that both secrets and death are around just about every corner and you’ll have the basic gist, but in particular some of the things you’ll find lethal can be surprising at first. This is simply because there’s quite a lot that will will you and not all of it is imposing and obvious, it’s often the little things that can wear you down.

Another piece of the puzzle that requires some time to work out, and not entirely for good reasons, is that the challenge isn’t just a procedurally-generated map but also trying to read it. The map is helpful to a degree but in particular when you’re in dungeons trying to navigate is tough enough, not understanding what the various symbols and markings on the map mean can add to your woes. This same screen includes another area that’s not ideal and that’s your item management interface. Switching out which items are equipped in which slots is workable but very cumbersome and not terribly intuitive. It isn’t hard to accidentally move from your inventory and back to the mini map without meaning to do so. This is something that you can get used to but it is certainly a rough spot.

If you’ve ever wondered what a procedurally-generated roguelike Zelda could look like Songbringer takes a fair shot at it, just be warned that it can be a little rough around the edges. The option to up the stakes and play in Permadeath mode is an interesting one but should only be undertaken once you’ve taken some time to get used to how things work. Your ability to explore and get into areas that are a bit beyond your capabilities is exciting but could also make for frustration if death means having to start all over again before you’ve really gotten your feet wet. That said, it has a gift for the unexpected and you truly never know what you may encounter next,

Score: 7.5

  • Some classic gaming beats reminiscent of classics like The Legend of Zelda
  • Plenty of personality and ideas of its own, like an ability to combine items/skills for new effects
  • Permadeath and the ability to share your game seed with others are great options to have

  • There’s a learning curve for how things work and what is lethal, with the game providing limited guidance
  • The mini map and inventory system are a bit clunky
  • In terms of difficulty be aware it trends above average as a whole, though that may be a product of the procedural generation so it may very well vary from seed to seed

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: Shaq Fu - A Legend Reborn [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Putting together a sequel to possibly one of the most mocked titles in video game history isn’t for developers lacking in ambition or guts. While perhaps delivering something that’s at least better than the original shouldn’t be too difficult it’s an effort that also carries some baggage with it. Certainly Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn makes a smart move by ditching the weak fighting game setup of the original, opting for a brawler / beat-em-up instead. Unfortunately, on the whole, for each step forward it makes it also takes at least a half step back with issues of its own creation.

Through a set of circumstances I’ll leave for you to discover (wouldn’t want to give away the story, for what it is) in this game world Shaq has grown up an orphan in China who has been bullied for being too big. Sympathetic to his plight an elder master, Ye-Ye, decided to take him under his wing and teach him the ways of Wu Zing. But, since Shaq has a particular mark on his neck, it turns out he’s the Chosen One from a prophecy and that means conflict must ensue. Deciding to take the fight to the people who are after him this sets Shaq on the path to his destiny, and through a truckload of stereotypes and juvenile humor.

Before getting to that detail we’ll review the action itself, which for the most part is adequate if a bit on the button-mashy side. In general throughout you’ll be working with a basic attack that builds up a meter that allows you to use a strong attack featuring Shaq’s massive feet or a powerful ground punch that knocks out anything in the immediate area. The Z shoulder buttons can sometimes be used for a counter, a finisher, or to pick up weapons when they’re available. The regular shoulder buttons enable a dash. If you’re using the joysticks (though I wouldn’t recommend this since at key moments it can be inconsistent at best) the right joystick will have you do a roll vertically on the screen but if you’re using the D-Pad you can just double-tap. As a whole the controls are relatively good aside from the occasional issues with the joystick when trying to break a stun by some characters which requires you move back and forth. Sometimes the joystick will work, but sometimes it just won’t register well and you’ll die for nothing.

Getting into the areas of concern I want to address the weak tea defense I’ve seen for what passes as humor in the game. It’s not “politically incorrect”, it is sophomoric, shallow, and lazy. Some things that start semi-humorous like the blatant advertising for Icy Hot and Gold Bond are run into the ground and get tired through sheer repetition. Then there’s the “fun with stereotypes” humor that’s run into the ground with Asians and homosexuals as the primary targets that feels at least a decade out of place. Throw in some pretty sad “celebrity” bosses like someone meant to be Kim Kardashian who, I kid you not, turns into a giant thong-wearing butt that harms you with flatulence and you get the impression some teenage boys were in charge of providing their “best material” for this effort. Don’t forget a whale that looks like Michael Moore. Get it? He’s fat… so he’s a whale! Oh, how they really skewer these celebs with that biting commentary!

What you’re left with, in the end, is an adequate brawler that tends to vary between too easy (while the enhanced Big Diesel and Shaq-tus modes are cute they’re not very challenging) to tough for the wrong reasons (control issues breaking out of stuns). Through each of the areas you visit enemies can be cosmetically different, and have some nuance, but they’re still a bit cookie cutter and all come from roughly the same 5 core types. This makes for finding patterns you’ll follow to success and, for the most part, there’s not much of a need for more than some basic strategies to stay alive until you get to the boss and need to figure out their patterns. The result is just a run-of-the-mill beat-em-up that seems to be using its “humor” to compensate. If that all sounds great to you, enjoy.

A copy of the game was provided by Saber Interactive and Big Deez Productions for coverage purposes

Score: 5.5

  • The choice in genre this go-around is a better fit
  • There are moments that break out of the generic beat-em-up groove the are fun, though usually not terribly tough
  • If your sense of humor aligns with teenage boys (or you are one) perhaps it’ll be funny

  • Peddling in cultural stereotypes and kiddie-pool-depth “caricatures” of celebrities feels woefully out of date and gets very tired quickly
  • Some of the boss fights mistake being cheap with upping the challenge
  • Once you remove all of the trappings it mostly plays as a merely generic beat-em-up

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker [Nintendo Switch eShop]

I’ve been shocked at the fact that the Switch has been seeing a real resurgence of FMV games, and generally ones that have some degree of gimmickry to them but have also been surprisingly good. Between the general quality of the production values, the solid acting, and the lack of delay in everything loading the experiences have managed to tell a compelling story without the technology getting in the way. While the same things generally remain true in the case of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, this time around the main thrust of the story gets a bit lost in the weeds... making for a challenging game to evaluate.

Without much introduction you’re roughly thrown right into the thick of things, apparently having taken over a psychiatric practice for the title Doctor Dekker, who was very recently found murdered. Through your interactions with several of his patients your general goal is to try to unravel precisely what’s happening and who murdered Doctor Dekker, all while struggling to come to terms with a whole lot of weirdness going on. Ancient gods, the fringes of theoretical science, and a roster of patients who believe they have various powers are all thrown at you. What’s a doctor to do?

It turns out for the most part you’ll muddle through the experience likely primarily using the question prompts provided for you. These will mostly prompt video sequences where the person you’re interacting with will reveal some piece of their story, information about the former Doctor, and just about everything you can imagine. To be clear, in general the acting on the part of pretty well all of the patients is very good, and it’s easy to find yourself going a bit down the rabbit hole with some of the lines of questions. How far you go or which specific turns you decide to take is up to you to some minor degree but in general there’s a lot to process and you’ll only get most of the story, to get some added nuggets you’ll need to come up with some questions yourself.

This is kind of where the game falls down a bit, as it very much falls into the classic text adventure traps of expecting users to universally know what turns of phrase, specific keywords, and questions will tease out what you may want to know. The game tries to be helpful by giving you hints through a notepad, italicizing some key words in the subtitled text, and sometimes trying to be pretty obvious about something you should ask but the combination of entering the text being cumbersome and a few repeated failures to get results are hard not to be disheartened by. Beyond this perhaps the game’s biggest problem is that honestly the tangents and individual characters are more interesting than trying to figure out who the murderer is.

It’s actually been a struggle to figure out how to score this game because in general it has left me conflicted. On the one hand the acting is very good, the individual patients have some fascinating elements to their stories, and it turns out there’s even some solid motivation to play through more than once. One the other your main purpose, finding the murderer, may be one of the least interesting things to the experience and you can find yourself in a weird place where the prompts can almost make you feel like you’re on rails but at the same time trying to pose your own questions is often aggravating. If you’re down for a weird experience with some strange people, opportunities to explore some possibilities, and quite a bit of the unexpected it may be worth a shot. If not, I’d say the likes of The Bunker and Late Shift are better at being more traditional experiences.

Score: 7

  • Uniformly well-acted
  • Interesting and strange characters
  • Has a unique way to make replaying the game viable

  • The rabbit holes are generally more interesting than the main plot
  • Trying to make your own questions can be aggravating
  • Could make some people uncomfortable in a variety of ways

Review: One Strike [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There’s a case to be made, in this age of games with massive budgets and controller schemes that can sometimes make your hand cramp, for simplicity in games. Even if only to act as a palette-cleansing break between meatier material, or perhaps to help lure in someone new with less complexity, simple doesn’t have to equal bad. Unfortunately, it really is a tightrope walk as well, and there’s such a thing as reducing complexity to the degree that something becomes a bit pointless and dull. One Strike is a fighting game that simplifies to what feels like the lowest point possible, but unfortunately sucks anything enjoyable about the experience out with it.

You’ll begin by choosing from the roster of 6 warriors, each having their own signature weapon and general style. To its credit, One Strike does end up with what feels like a diverse roster, it’s just everything downhill from there isn’t so good. Each fighter has an attack, a defense position, and a forward and backward dash. Don’t misunderstand, there is only one button for each but it’s more than that, there are no variations of high/mid/low… you only have your warrior’s one attack and defense pose. They do vary in how they’re implemented per warrior, with some first getting into a position with the first tap and then striking with the second, striking from a distance, or closing the gap to strike up-close, but getting to know each warrior ends up taking very little time because there’s next to nothing to know.

Now throw in the fact that, true to its name, a single connecting strike will end the round and the result ends up being pretty one-dimensional. You can certainly feint and position yourself, both opponents locked in a game of mental chess, trying to anticipate and strike at a vital moment… or you can just move in for the kill and hope for the best. It’s the combination of an extremely limited moveset and the one-hit kills that absolutely suck the life out of the experience. Aside from hoping to make your opponent blink first there’s not much room for a metagame, comebacks, or deep technique… just hope you connect first and start over again. You can choose the mode where you put together 3 fighters who you’ll use in sequence as each one dies but, again, with there being no depth they’re just bodies you have lined up, you can’t dramatically switch to rally, you just hope with one of them you’ll find the odds more in your favor.

This is absolutely one of those games where I have to question who the target audience was meant to be. There’s no doubt it is friendly to newcomers since there’s very little to understand, but as an introduction to the fighting game genre it would also seem amazingly boring. It could be argued hardcore fighting fans could get a kick out of it, finding ways to eke out every bit of technique possible… but with no ability to be down and turn the tide or anything else exciting that is normally associated with competitive fighting games I can’t see that being likely either. Moreso than almost any other title I’ve reviewed One Strike simply is what it is… and that’s a one-dimensional, bare bones fighting game that offers little to thoroughly enjoy.

Score: 4

  • A roster of 6 fighters who are legitimately different from one another
  • A few different modes to toy with

  • So much simplicity it becomes shallow
  • One-strike kills mixed with single-round matches = no room for comebacks or excitement
  • No idea who this game is really intended for