Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase


In a market full of puzzle gamers who have cut their teeth on Tetris for all of these years, and who are slowly warming up to Puyo Puyo after its being around off and on for years a new entrant in the puzzle gaming field has an uphill battle ahead of it. The challenge is obviously to possess some of the same addictive qualities of the others without also being accused of copying them or being derivative. While it took me a little while to really understand the way Soldam works, after having spent some time with it I’m pleased to say that it distinguishes itself from its competitors and offers a pretty deep strategic challenge as you get to higher levels.

In Soldam you will take control of falling pieces that consist of 4 colored orbs. Depending on the skill level you’re playing at the potential colors for these orbs will vary but ultimately your goal is to complete horizontal lines with all orbs being the same color. Where things get tricky is that when you put your piece in place the game will look to change the color of the orbs that are already in place based on a set of rules. It is easiest to think of it in terms of end points. If the piece you laid down has 2 red orbs on the bottom, those will turn orbs of any other color to red as long as there’s a red orb on the other side of them. The caveat to this rule of thumb is that it won’t do this going to the right, but that’s where it takes getting used to.


Getting the full hang of this system and these rules took me a while because the strategy behind how you’ll want to deal with certain types of pieces takes some time to grasp. In general what it boils down to is that once your baseline color is set (when you complete a line that color becomes the bottom line on the screen, automatically the easiest color to match generally) you’ll want to focus on completing lines in that color. Certainly as the game progresses and things get hectic you may need to switch colors because of the pieces you’re getting or the situation but this can be tricky. Juggling your priorities, making key decisions like this on what color you’re focusing on, and learning how to reflexively place pieces when they begin dropping more quickly is where the game really shines.

In addition to the standard and easy modes there’s also a pretty deep Challenge mode to push your skills with. These puzzles are actually a great indirect training for becoming better at the game as a whole so spending some time trying to figure out how to complete them is a great idea. While it starts out pretty easy the challenge ramps up in a hurry as you’ll need to work out how to complete more than 4 lines at once, requiring you to be careful not to complete lines too early but to instead set the stage for a massive line completion. Getting the hang of this can be tricky but, as I said, this is also very instructive if you’re looking to up your game and begin to see the bigger opportunities that are in front of you as you play the standard modes.


Finally there is a Versus mode that will allow you to match up with a friend locally or another player online. Each player gets their own color they’re going to use (red on the left, blue on the right) and though only 2 colors are involved it gets crazy much quicker than you’d think.. In general Versus play is what you’d expect though, with you and another player competing to stay alive while also trying to complicate the situation for each other. With the mechanics in this game the potential for completing many lines at once remains a constant threat so it can make for a very up and down, exciting experience with 2 experienced players. What really makes the mode work, though, is the fact that the next piece available will show in the middle… BUT… it goes to either player depending on who needs a piece next. This adds a major level of strategy, frustration, and fun to the way things work. You’ll want to avoid the pieces that have the other player’s color if you can, but strategically denying them pieces with all four orbs their color could foul up their plans to clean up their board. In many ways this mode is the highlight for the game! Unfortunately I can’t fully speak to the online experience as either the infrastructure for it isn’t yet in place or there simply aren’t enough people trying to play it at this stage but as long as the matchmaking and connections are decent it seems like it would help you find some competition to enjoy this mode if you don’t have anyone local to play with.

Soldam has really surprised me over the time I’ve played it for review. While I’d started out somewhat skeptical of its very different mechanics once I passed a certain point (assisted by the Challenge mode) I began to more clearly see what it was doing and am fairly impressed by the way it all works. Old puzzle gaming habits are difficult to break and in order to be successful in Soldam you’ll need to develop an entirely new set of tactics for how best to contend with things like garbage pieces specifically. The high-pressure moments as your stacks get closer to the top are where the game shines, and you’ll need to think quickly, adapt, and perhaps have a little luck on your side to get out of it. The good news is that with the color-changing mechanic it is very possible you’ll be able to complete many lines in quick succession with only a few pieces, meaning that you’re never truly sunk unless you just give up. With its very different approach, terrific Versus mode, and fresh strategic challenges Soldam is a worthy contender for puzzle fans!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Forces you to throw out many things you thought you knew about all puzzle games
  • The Challenge mode is very helpful in forcing you to grasp the higher-level concepts for success
  • Availability of both local and online Versus modes are a nice bonus


Cons:
  • It can take some time to transition into the rules for how color-changing works and its nuance
  • It being different and a bit challenging to learn may scare some people off before they come to appreciate it
  • Compared on price to its competition it offers less variety and overall content


Review: Quest of Dungeons


While there are many “roguelike” games out on the Switch, and this game type has really taken the entire industry by storm in recent years, I’d wager many people don’t know much about their origin. I’ve heard comments that liken old arcade or even puzzle games to them since they have a concept of permadeath when you die and you then need to start all over. The thing is, permadeath is only one feature of roguelikes, and there quite a few others. Part of their essence is randomness, from the layout of the levels to the monsters you’ll face, to the gear you’ll receive. Another essential piece is an element of risk and reward, being tempted with the possibility of a payoff but accepting it could easily doom you as well. Quest of Dungeons has all of these elements and is probably the most pure roguelike I’ve ever played, really feeling like a graphical version of the classic Rogue, that delivers the highs and lows of playing in a true world of chance.

I have no doubt that the simple look of the game will scare some people off. It certainly isn’t pushing the graphical power of the Switch but the game isn’t really about appearances. What is there works effectively, with a variety of monsters, traps, weapons, armors, and other assorted goodies that you’ll encounter in your adventure. You’ll absolutely need to keep your eyes glued to your map, which thankfully can be enlarged when you’re playing in handheld mode, so you can comb each level in its entirety for gear and treasure... in general you’ll need it. You’ll quickly come to recognize boss monsters (they’re generally a little bigger and some are visually unique as well) and the goldish-hued quest monsters as well, mainly because they’ll typically be the things that kill you. So while the looks won’t knock your socks off they are at least very functional and clear.


What will make or break the experience for people is the gameplay, and if you’re up for a pretty stiff challenge along the way you’ll very much find it here. The opening dungeon is an appropriate appetizer, the second dungeon will give even seasoned players at least a decent challenge, and the third dungeon… well, it’s quite a slice of hell to complete, and that’s a good thing. In addition you’ll find an option to put together your own custom-defined dungeon, choosing your sizing preference as well as the number of levels you’d like. All in all on the content front, given that everything is dynamically-generated, you could beat the game as many times as you like and it will still be a different challenge each time. While the Easy and Normal (the first 2 dungeons, the third is tougher no matter what skill level) dungeons can be beaten through more brute force means once you reach a certain point you’ll need to use skill, guile, and have some degree of plain luck to beat the bosses and the quest monsters specifically. Often I’d resort to luring them out, trying to do some damage, and then jumping into a teleport spot or going up or down stairs to fend them off and then come back to the room a different way to get in some easier hits. If you’d just like to put them off closing a door on them is also effective, but in general you’ll need to return as the experience and gear from defeating them is necessary to survive what awaits on the next level as things consistently get tougher as you go.

To help you in your fight you’ll initially have 4 classes to choose from: Warrior, Wizard, Assassin, and Shaman. There is at least one additional class that unlocks as well that’s a really nice surprise from a like-minded indie title as well. Each class has their own style and concerns and each can be viable once you figure out how to use them well. For ranged classes you’ll always want to carefully proceed so you can maximize your opportunities to sap monsters’ health before they can get in range, for the up-close you’ll want to very carefully keep an eye on your health, and for the magic-users you’ll additionally need to mind your mana reserves. Each class will begin with a base skill but will be able to randomly acquire additional skills over the course of the run. Some skills are more useful than others and you’ll need to experiment to determine which ones are most effective in which circumstances. Perhaps the most important thing to note here is that though skills all have cooldowns and require a turn to use once you use one skill you are free to switch to another and use it as well. A simple note but it makes a big difference if you aren’t aware of it.


Quest of Dungeons, for many people, will initially live or die upon its looks unfortunately and if you enjoy a challenge that plays very well in handheld mode I encourage you to give the gameplay a look. Underneath the old school pixel graphics is a rewarding and challenging roguelike experience, one that will probably bring you closer to the original Rogue than anything else you’ll play. The RNG (Random Number Generator) Gods are strong with this title, and though they are often quite cruel when things roll on your side it can be a great feeling. What’s great is there is ample room for strategy and success (as well as humiliating failure, granted) as you encounter the biggest challenges in the game. Why settle for your fate when you have an opportunity to change it by being a tricky bastard? Quest of Dungeons has consistently surprised me with its adherence to the core roguelike formula, with all of its randomness, while also maintaining a consistent degree of challenge.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • It is a great game to play in handheld mode
  • At higher levels you will need to play cautiously and intelligently to win
  • The classes play quite differently from one another and provide many excuses to keep playing
  • In many regards, if you enjoy the gameplay, this provides for an extreme amount of replayability


Cons:
  • Its looks are on the simpler side and the game has been on many platforms
  • The button scheme in some interfaces still feels weird to me, oddly
  • Roguelikes are a love/hate game type, this being a more pure interpretation would only likely amplify that

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Robonauts


As you may have gathered in my reviews I’m a big fan of challenging games like roguelikes and I absolutely love intense arcade-like challenges. Based on that when I saw footage of Robonauts I was pretty excited, it looked like it had the elements of what I love and that I could spend some serious time racking up high scores and kicking butt. Out of the gate it felt like that would be true. Then, a number of worlds in something changed for me and it started to feel a lot less fun. The problem wasn’t really the challenge so much as it just wasn’t compelling me to get back in and play more, I just did it to play it more. While the game looks and sounds great it makes me sad to say that overall I really haven’t enjoyed it.

Starting with the positives the game absolutely looks great both in handheld mode and blown up in docked mode. It is colorful, the environments are detailed, there’s a Mario Galaxy-esque vibe to the mini planets you’ll be able to jump to, and the enemies are distinctive. Similarly the music is pretty upbeat and catchy, though perhaps not 100% fitting the action on screen. There’s no doubt that a lot of time and care was put into making these aspects of the game positive ones, and in fact many people may decide to take the plunge based just on these factors.


Where things begin to go downhill for me is in the area of control, one of my biggest pet peeve concerns. The problem here isn’t with dodgy jumping (or double-jumps, you games know who you are), it is with the auto-aim. Essentially you’re able to use the left joystick to move side to side and the right joystick is unused… with no option to change this. As a result, especially when either on the small planets or anywhere in proximity to a planet that is close by for you to jump to, you’ll often find yourself aiming everywhere but where you want to be aiming. Enemies will come at you from all sides, and ultimately you’ll want to take them all out, but there are enemies that are far more lethal than others as well as spawn points for new foes to emerge from. Too often you’ll end up aiming at something weaker while a tougher monster is wrecking you and you’ll have no control over the situation. It’s one thing when your reactions and skills are what’s holding you back but being mostly helpless in any given situation to improve your odds is infuriating. It’s even worse when the second joystick is readily available, meaning this could have been avoided. Another note in this area is that the availability and usefulness of power-ups is erratic. Your base weapons will do some damage but to really be effective you'll want one of the various gun or bomb upgrades. Unfortunately they show up unpredictably and you can't save them for later so you'll too often end up wasting them on lesser enemies. Another way there could have been a little more strategy put into the mix to help enable people to have more success that was missed.

Another, perhaps more critical, area is tied to the difficulty curve moving up pretty dramatically and yet aside from merely completing the levels to do it I didn’t get any sense of motivation going to do so. There’s really no story, my score is tracked but it’s mostly an afterthought, there aren’t any leaderboards, and there really aren’t objectives to think about. As you’ll play you’ll get some random achievements that will show up, and I suppose that’s nice, but with the lack of aim control and the aliens that are able to damage you pretty quickly if you’re not paying attention there’s a lot of stick in the game but I didn’t see any carrot to go with it.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game does support both 2 player co-op and head-to-head modes. I’m not sure that co-op does much more than spread out the misery in the end but the head-to-head mode at least shakes things up and provides some diverting entertainment for you and a friend if you’re both the in the mood. Since I don’t think of it as a game primarily geared towards the head-to-head play while it is a nice add-on, though, I’m not positive how much it can redeem the issues with the single-player campaign.

Summing things up Robonauts has a ton of things going for it in terms of presentation but when it comes to the control and the big picture of content it falls down pretty hard. Perhaps if there had been an advanced control option where I could take on the task of aiming myself I wouldn’t be as disillusioned and I’d spend more time being frustrated with myself not being up to the challenge rather than cursing where the game is choosing to aim at any given time. While the first few levels work and feel great once things get more crowded and chaotic it falls apart. I can appreciate a game that is difficult, challenging you to come back and perform better. When it is asking you to do so with one hand tied behind your back I find it much harder to find my enthusiasm.


Score: 6

Pros:

  • Looks great whether in handheld or docked mode
  • The music, while not a perfect match for the action, is great
  • The head-to-head mode goes with a different direction of things and can be fun


Cons:

  • The auto-aim, with no option to aim for yourself, makes things a real mess mid-way through the campaign
  • The difficulty slope is quite steep, though the control issue exacerbates this
  • Power-up availability is erratic and they're easy to waste as you can't hold them or switch them out
  • Even if you enjoy the game and get through the campaign the lack of an arcade/endless mode with leaderboards is an opportunity missed


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: Kingdom: New Lands


Kingdom: New lands is a game quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before and if it were just described for me I’m not sure it would sound all that impressive. The proof is in the playing, though, and while the level of what you can directly control is minimal that doesn’t detract from the compelling challenge the game offers. In it you take the role of either a king or queen who will need to slowly work to build their Kingdom while fighting off the threat of darkness. If you’re able to manage your people and resources well enough you’ll be able to destroy the dark portal that spawns the creatures that attack you at night, rebuild your boat, and move to a new land to try to continue building your empire.


The look of the game, with its pixel art style, is actually quite impressive in terms of how well it conveys everything you need to know and there’s even a bit of flair thrown in. Citizens of different types are clearly distinct from one another and that will be important as you ride by on your steed to be able to get an idea of how many of each you have. Your available funds are also visually displayed with your bag of money represented up in the corner of the screen. It will slowly fill with coins as you collect them and deplete as you use them, even overflowing at some point when you’ve collected too much. As with many things in the game it is sometimes the small details like this that are the most pleasing when you encounter them.




These aesthetics match well with the very limited control you have in the game as you move through your kingdom. You’re only able to move left or right, press a button to compel your horse to gallop a little faster (though you’d need to be careful to keep it from getting tired or you’ll be stuck moving slowly for a while), or press another button to drop coins that are used to either recruit commoners or instruct your people to take some action. Though you’re the ruler of this land you have very limited ability to directly do much of anything beyond making preparations and trying to prompt some very specific behaviors. You’re unable to directly do work, defend yourself, or pretty well anything. Your fate very much lies with the people you’re trying to direct and their fate is dependent upon your ability to make the right strategic decisions in the right amounts at the right times.


If you notice I’m being a bit vague on the details that’s doing you a favor if you have an interest in the game. In some ways it is best to think of the kingdom and your people as somewhat of a puzzle that’s a little different every time you play, though the base elements are the same. To solve this puzzle you’ll need to be efficient, not needlessly wasting your moves, and like most puzzles there are tricks to becoming really good at it. The joy in Kingdom is this process of discovery. Every small step you take in understanding what a certain element in the landscape does, or what effect doing some combination of things will have on your people and your chances of succeeding is a thrill. Unfortunately, as you get to the point that you’re not only sure of what you need to do but are confident in implementing an effective strategy you’ll have pretty much burned the game out and it probably won’t be very much fun to play anymore aside from simply trying to find success faster.



While the game can feel a bit too slow at times there are also moments where you’ll feel like the days are never long enough. If you find yourself getting stuck be cautious with guides and tips as they may give away more than you needed to know and rob you of some of that delicious feeling of discovery. While Kingdom: New Lands is hardly a perfect game the experience you get to undertake playing it is fresh and new, blending elements of tower defense with real-time strategy and resource management. As long as you understand the limits of what you can do and you’re willing to explore, experiment, and initially fail quite a lot it offers something unique and challenging to the Switch lineup.


Score: 8


Pros:
  • A combination of genres I’ve never encountered before
  • As you go through discovery most elements of the game make intuitive sense once you reveal their nature and use
  • Until you work out the formula the game can be quite challenging


Cons:
  • Your abilities are sometimes too stripped down. For instance the ability to cancel an action that hasn’t yet begun to be implemented would be greatly useful
  • Patrolling the breadth of your kingdom as it expands can get a bit tedious
  • Once you’ve watched the magic trick enough times to learn its secrets it likely will no longer be of much interest

Review: Semispheres


In a world full of aggravation and stress it is sometimes nice to have the means to help you unwind and find your personal place of calm. There are times when the answer to that problem is popping some headshots in a shooter or pwning some fools in a fighting game, but sometimes you really need the opposite. With its very simple-yet-gorgeous art style, its interesting right/left brain cooperative style, and its soothing ambient music Semispheres manages to be a pleasingly challenging but relaxing prescription for curing what ails you… at least for a little while.

The first thing that captivated me in Semispheres was the vibrant yet pleasing look for the whole experience. Subscribing to the school of thought that less is more, and making it work in its favor, I’m not positive the game is pushing the hardware necessarily. However, I’m also not positive what more you could do to make it look better short of scrapping the art style entirely. All elements in the game are visually distinct and at no time did I find myself confused over what something did once it was quickly introduced to me.


That leads well into the way the game progresses and adds elements chapter by chapter. There’s very limited direct instruction in the game beyond it cluing you into what buttons you’ll want to use. Aside from that the assumption is that you’ll use the level layouts and your creativity to decide how to solve the problems presented to you. The right/left dynamic is used well throughout the game, with a mix of each side needing to help the other as well as times where they need to complete part of the levels on their own. This can require some extra time to ponder and try some strategies out until you work out the flow, particularly in the cases where you sometimes need to work back and forth in a sequence. That said, I found that there were also times where I was simply making the levels harder than they are every once in awhile. Sometimes the easiest answer is best, but also the one you jump to last.


There is somewhat of a story to the game, though throughout most of the time it is a bit of a mystery how it relates to the action on screen. All will be revealed over the course of the game and I suppose it is a nice touch that compelled me to hop back in to help figure a little more of it out and to test my theories. That said for the most part the story and the puzzles are pretty disconnected and that’s fine, the nature of the puzzles is pretty compelling without the additional trappings. The use of the holes, warps, and other techniques revealed over the course of the game generally keep it interesting as each chapter is only a handful of levels a piece. Just as you’re fully getting in control of a new technique it will shift you to a newer chapter where you’ll usually be learning yet another element and being asked to use it as well as the ones before it typically. While it may not be earth-shattering I at least found the nature of the puzzles to be fresh and not as run-of-the-mill as some puzzle games can get at times.

Whether or not you decide to take the plunge with Semispheres will really come down to whether you’re in search of a relatively humble but enjoyable collection of puzzles that will occupy most people for several hours depending on your relative skills. Even as a puzzle game fan at no point did it feel like a “been there, done that” situation that can commonly happen with games that have little ambition. In the case of Semispheres it all began with a great base idea and that expanded into something charming and fun that you can enjoy for a while.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A great art style
  • Soothing music that helped me mellow out while playing
  • A great right / left brain mechanic that is well-implemented for the most part


Cons:
  • Overall not a terribly long experience
  • The open-ended “figure it out yourself” style may not be for everyone
  • Not everyone will likely appreciate the left / right brain tasks and control scheme


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: 36 Fragmnents of Midnight


There’s something to be said for simplicity in game design. A great core idea, when implemented with a very high standard, can make for a terrific game, regardless of how simple it is. The puzzle genre is probably the most ripe space for these success stories since it typically isn’t very demanding in terms of graphics and power. Look at successes like Tetris, Picross, or even Pushmo and you have strong design ruling the day and making for a compelling game even if the bells and whistles aren’t necessarily all there.

I would love to say that 36 Fragments of Midnight had even begun to reach the lofty heights of excellence these other titles have achieved but unfortunately it hasn’t. The problems for the game involve more than that though as, in general, I don’t even see very much ambition in it either. Ultimately playing out more like a very good and refined student project than a multi-platform console release 36 Fragments of Midnight has a deceptively good look in screenshots and video but once you begin to spend time playing with it the serious problems it has under the hood quickly begin to reveal themselves.


Aside from starting out every game with the mission to gather all of the fragments back together to bring to the black fuzzballs that sit there unmoving there’s no story or plot to speak of. You’ll have to venture out with only the ability to move left or right and to jump and double-jump trying to avoid obstacles and traps to collect glowing fragments. After many playthroughs it appears all of the fragments belong to a set layout with specific elements around them. These pieces of levels are then assembled together in somewhat random order every time you play. So you won’t know where everything is from run to run, you’ll just see familiar elements in new places.

Visually there’s actually not much bad to say about the game, for the most part it looks fine with a neat layered mist thing going on in most places. That said none of it is terribly ambitious so the points here come with a caveat that making things look nice and clean when they’re this relatively simple isn’t typically impressive. Similarly the minimal sounds in the game are just there, mostly blending into the background. While this is preferable to it being annoying or grating again, the lack of ambition in it all is hard to miss.


What cripples the game the most, and makes it very tough to give any recommendation for without a patch, ties to the transition when the screen has to move up. For the most part you’ll stay on the same vertical level for extended chunks of play. Ultimately, though, you’ll run out of spaces to explore so typically you’ll need to find a spot to move up. While conceptually this should be a pretty routine thing to do the way this transition is handled graphically and in terms of control is quite disappointing. First, the shift is pretty abrupt and doesn’t look very good to begin with. Second, I’ve run into instances where until the screen shifted up I had no idea what was above me and there’s a chance it could be spikes. No matter how well you’ve been doing the fact that you could blindly double jump to then hit spikes is just poor design, especially when the stakes of every death are so high since you’ll need to start over. The last issue is probably the worst though, and that’s the fact that the controls to double-jump when the screen shifts I’ve found to be quite inconsistent and unreliable. A potentially deadly situation you can’t avoid over the course of a long run and potentially crippling to your enjoyment of the game the further you’d manage to get. My hope is that this could be addressed with a patch, to improve the odds that you’ll be able to consistently make the double-jump on transitions in the first place.

In its current state I really can’t recommend 36 Fragments of Midnight at all. When it is an endurance game and there’s any control-oriented inconsistency or obstacle all I can imagine is people sinking their time into something that they can’t ultimately control their own success in. With some patching to improve the situation it would at least move the game up a bit, but still nothing would stop it from being merely mediocre. In the end it is what it is and you could spend some quick bursts of time on it and have a little fun, just even in that area there are generally more compelling titles than this one on the Switch.


Score: 3

Pros:
  • Visually it is simple but looks nice
  • Is set on what it wants to be and executes that, just not with much ambition
Cons:
  • In its current state I’d effectively consider the double-jump controls broken as they’re very inconsistent when trying to jump around a vertical screen transition
  • Aside from the double-jump problem the vertical movement when the screen shifts up is pretty rough and it is very hard to see what’s above you without potentially running into it first
  • About as unambitious a game as I’ve played on the Switch

Review: Beach Buggy Racing


Overall I’d say that Beach Buggy Racing is among the better arcade-style racing games available in the mobile gaming space. Visually it is reasonably attractive, there’s a variety of racers to choose from who each have different skills, and there are numerous vehicles to choose from that can be upgraded and painted to look how you’d like. On the surface it seems decent enough. However, now that it has come to the Switch the bar has been raised and it is open to comparisons with a title that practically defines the arcade racing genre in Mario Kart. Unfortunately, even without exhaustively comparing the two, the move to the Switch has shown the cracks in the veneer of quality in BBR, and while it has some merit it isn’t an ambitious or compelling experience.

Starting with what positives there are the overall appearance and presentation of the game is reasonably good. Not surprisingly, the game looks better the smaller it is in scale so in handheld mode it looks more impressive than when blown up in docked mode. The bigger it gets the more the geometry of everything around you begins to look unrefined and dated but thankfully the game does at least play smoothly without any signs I’ve seen of slowdown.


Moving into the racing and modes, overall there’s a fair selection of tracks to race on that look reasonably detailed and distinctive. Though the tracks have some elements like shortcuts in general I haven’t found many of them terribly useful, at best they’re typically a break-even once you factor in the trouble they present getting to them or using them. There are a few modes to choose from, allowing you to go split screen to play against a friend, go for a quick race on a track of your choice, participate in a Championship series, try out the latest Daily Challenge, or simply try to unlock everything you can in the staple Career mode. To some degree this offers variety but for the most part it is all just repackaging the same things with no major gameplay distinctions between them. The Daily Challenge will vary which driver, car, and challenge you’ll face and will allow you to work towards a multi-day award if you can keep up with the challenges, which is nice. However, both Championship and Career do little to differentiate themselves since you’re ultimately still in traditional races against the same overall AI opponents at the end of the day.

Getting into where things start to go downhill it is a given that most people playing games on their phones don’t have the means for physical controls, so there’s a certain understood loose and floaty quality expected when playing them. Coming over to a system like the Switch, where dedicated physical controls and higher-quality games rule the day, you can’t help but take a very hard look at the gap in control and handling in the game both from the perspective of control and ambition. What you’ll immediately notice is that regardless of the dedicated physical control on the Switch the steering in the game still feels imprecise for the most part. Perhaps more damning, though, is that the only goals at work here are to stay on the track and try to avoid stuff. There’s absolutely zero advanced technique in the game so generally races are won and lost much more commonly based your good or bad fortune related to items, trying to avoid making costly mistakes, and plain luck. In general the majority of racers tend to be in a relatively tight pack throughout races, making your overall margin for error low and potential for frustrations high.


That leads to another complaint, that for all of the items in the game many are cosmetic, effectively redundant, and even limited in their effectiveness most of the time. With the exception of the shield power-up, which only protects you briefly, there aren’t really any defensive provisions like you can employ in Mario Kart. There also aren’t often any warnings before you’re hit to help you make more effective use of something like the shield. Then even with status effect items used against other racers I’ve had instances where they’ve been hit by something and it did little to slow them down. Add in the very specific aggravation I had with races at the end of circuits in Career mode, where you can only use your ability once while your opponent is able to effectively spam it many times throughout the race, and the items and skills are possibly more hindrance than help given the advantage the CPU racers have in utilizing them.

As I said when I began the review I actually have some familiarity with this game from the mobile space and I can respect it within that market as being reasonably good. Unfortunately, especially where control and complexity come into play, what works well there is generally pretty mediocre on the dedicated gaming hardware of the Switch where the competition has set the bar far higher. If you’re truly bored of Mario Kart and looking for something to kick around with off and on for a while, or are less bothered by floaty controls perhaps it will scratch an itch for you. Nonetheless I would have a difficult time recommending it for the majority of gamers out there.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A wide variety of tracks
  • The ability to customize your ride is nice
  • Reasonable attempts to prolong play with multiple modes


Cons:
  • Control quality is poor and there’s no provision for advanced technique
  • Items and skills are generally implemented poorly
  • The generic music in the game annoyed me