Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Wulverblade


It has taken some time but I’m here to tell you that Wulverblade is the real deal. While it is most certainly a game inspired by many classic games of both the beat-em-up and slash-em-up eras the likes of Final Fight and Golden Axe it is very much its own game. Better yet, it is a wake-up call to the genre, a slap in the face for it to wake up, modernize, and work harder to make the itself into something more. With its gorgeously gory artwork, its historically-inspired settings, and its absolutely brutal and challenging gameplay Wulverblade is a best of genre treat to be savored.


In the game you’ll take control (along with one friend if you’d like) of one of the members of the Wulver clan. There’s Caradoc, the middle-of-the road warrior who plays with a balance of speed and strength, his sister Guinevere who is a bit more agile but isn’t as powerful, and Brennus who is more of a grappling mountain of a character but who appropriately moves more slowly. The differences between them aren’t just cosmetic, they each have the same general moveset but execute key moves quite differently in subtle ways. The moveset for Wulverblade is absolutely massive, using all 4 face buttons and mixing in directional double-taps as well to give you a staggering number of options with which to slay your foes.


Given the level of challenge in the game, particularly in some of its boss battles, you will absolutely need to learn to make use of as many of these skills as possible and when it is appropriate to use them. What sets Wulverblade apart from its brethren is that you won’t be button mashing your way through to the end, satisfied to keep continuing. You will need to learn how best to deal with every type of foe you face, whether ranged, shielded, or armed with spears or swords, in order to be effective. Your enemies are smart and will out-maneuver you if you’ll let them. To survive you’ll need to use everything the game offers you for help, whether it be weapons (or enemy body parts) on the ground you can throw, heavy weapons you can use to supplement your offensive capabilities, your rage meter that will put you into a frenzy that will help you kill many foes but also recover health, or even things like spikes or fire in the environment that will help you make quick work of waves of enemies. The boss fights are where you’ll be put to an even greater test as they often have both formidable attacks and health. You’ll need to watch for their telegraphed attacks and either dodge or even counter them properly with one of your specific attacks in order to defeat them. While very little in the game is easy the first time around if you’re observant and develop appropriate strategies for dealing with your various opponents you will find yourself cutting through the forces of your enemy in no time.


Presentation is really an area where Wulverblade shines, with high-quality artwork, character design, almost cinematic action sequences that play in silhouettes, and more. You’ve never seen a game in this genre look this stunning and you may not see another anytime soon. It isn’t only skin-deep either, another fascinating aspect of the game is the attention to detail given to the history that inspired it and, in many cases, the video and pictures that help you make a deeper connection to the game. Seeing many of the ruins that inspired locations used in the game it’s hard not to be struck by the love not just for this genre but also the rich history of Britain itself.

None of this is to say there aren’t concerns. Foremost is that the challenge in the game isn’t for the easily frustrated or discouraged. You won’t be able to muddle through this, but once you accept that fact and begin to make use of the moves and opportunities that the game presents you’ll be astonished with how much more easily you’ll be able to cut down your enemies. One issue tied to the game’s excellent art, particularly in the foreground, is that it sometimes will obstruct objects on the ground, including key ones like health, so you’ll have a tendency to run across the bottom of the screen at times to be sure you didn’t miss anything. Tied to the difficulty for me the spike was in the third Level that has a tough-as-nails boss that you’ll need to work out a plan to defeat. Even once I knew what I needed to do the window of opportunity closes pretty quickly and I struggled with it. From that point on until the game’s aggravatingly-challenging final boss I found that I was often able to get to each level’s mid-way checkpoint (which you can then start from) often and work out a way to defeat them in a few attempts.


Overall Wulverblade is an absolute masterpiece of a game and for people who have been bemoaning the lack of quality beat-em-ups available it should provide many hours of meaty combat and carnage. To enjoy it you’ll need to overcome falling into old and sloppy habits and learn to work with all of the moves and nuance made available to you. Your reward will be a very viscerally satisfying and overall bloody good time, with some crazy surprises you won’t want to miss out on!

Score: 9

Pros:
  • A major step forward for a genre that has mostly remained unchanged for decades
  • Rich, deep, and engaging gameplay that will demand your attention
  • Stunning artwork and almost cinematic sequences of gameplay in places
  • Includes an awesome array of weaponry and historical information


Cons:
  • The challenge will likely scare away casual players who simply want to button-mash their way through their beat-em-ups
  • There are issues with the foreground art obscuring power-ups and health in places
  • Even for determined players there will likely be challenges where the difficulty will spike that you’ll need to grit through


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: UNBOX - Newbie's Adventure


When I encounter a game like UNBOX - Newbie’s Adventure it can be a difficult process to figure out how to review it. Right from the get-go it just felt like something wasn’t quite right with it so I spent the next few hours playing it trying to get my arms around the problems I was seeing. There’s a rough and almost unfinished quality to it, though no doubt the partial defense of this would be “but you’re controlling a box” and I suppose that’s valid to a degree but I’m also not positive the best defense to bad mechanics is to treat it as if they’re by design. There are some redeeming qualities that the game has but in order to enjoy them you’re going to have to buckle up and accept and even embrace the, at times, wonky nature of it all.

Starting with how the game looks there’s just something off about it. Strangely I’d say that the game looks best in handheld mode as the scale helps to hide the shifting quality of the textures around you that are very visible in spots. In docked mode it is almost impossible to miss the lines where the quality of the textures go from good in your immediate vicinity to degraded a few feet away and sometimes you can see further lines as well. I note this mainly because it’s something I’ve not seen in games in over a generation in general so it’s almost impossible to miss and immediately gives UNBOX a somewhat half-baked quality. In general there’s just a last-gen feeling to the title in terms of graphics like it was up-ported but isn’t really taking advantage of the Switch’s power.


If my roblems with the game stopped there it would perhaps wouldn’t be so bad but I have real issues with the control in the game. I get it, you’re controlling a box. If you literally rolled a box around it would move somewhat unevenly as it went over its edges and in the gaps you wouldn’t have contact or grip. Yes, that’s interesting as an idea and perhaps a bit humorous but it sucks in a platforming game where you need precision. What’s worse is that when you’re in the air the precision isn’t quite there either, movement is pretty unwieldy as well, especially when you use your “unbox” ability to perform additional jumps. It just seems that rather than setting up well-designed levels with jumping puzzles that would test your precision and execution the answer was to set up mostly mundane jumping puzzles that combined with the dodgy controls would simply test your patience. This isn’t to say that it can’t be overcome, it will only take a few attempts most of the time to get through things. Just unfortunately when you’re fighting the wonky controls accomplishing these tasks doesn’t often feel rewarding as much as just a relief, which isn’t nearly as great a sensation.

If you’re still hanging on at this point the style of the game is a platforming adventure at the high level but it’s also a bit of a collect-a-thon set in very open spaces. The lack of a set and specific path I suppose is nice but the game design seems to acknowledge the problem that lack of direction created by setting up controls to find where to even get your quests to accumulate the stamps you need to progress. Without these I think you could probably go quite a while and not stumble onto them since the areas are quite large. Quests will generally involve platforming tasks and a few will blend in the inclusion of your use of the fireworks that are used in the game’s fun but overall forgettable multiplayer mode. Once you gather enough of the stamps you’ll get into a boss fight and move on to the next stage to repeat the process again in a new environment. In the first boss battle I was surprised to see a timer and that when I got knocked off the tower we were fighting on I would just respawn without seeming to have lost any progress. This made it seem like an admission that the whole thing is a bit off but with so much time and little consequence to failure defeating him could probably happen without the person even knowing what they were doing, especially given the fact that the boss harmed himself at least twice for me without me doing anything special at all.


What’s strange with UNBOX is that with the somewhat unfinished feel of some elements of the game I often wondered if it was intended to be a “physics game” along the lines of Goat Simulator and others where the intent is to have a weird feel to everything. If that were the case, though, the other essential part of that genre is a degree of humor and over-the-top ridiculousness to help compensate for the many shortcomings the game has otherwise. Since it is pretty well played straight throughout (random bad jokes involving boxes not counting) I don’t think that was the intent here so it brings me back to feeling like the game combined a not-great concept for making a viable and fun platformer with too little time spent to make the game the best it could, smoothing the rough edges that would come with a game where you’re moving a box around and trying to make precision jumps with it.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • The multiplayer mode is fun to kick around with for a little bit but it is an add-on and not the main feature
  • You can see some of the design and thoughts trying to break through in places

Cons:
  • Some visual issues at times make it feel like a last-gen game
  • The control is a consistent annoyance when paired with precision jumping
  • Tasks like freeing caged boxes don’t often give any reward whatsoever, even their tips for how to defeat your enemies they promise are often pointless. This feels like a partial concept that was never finished
  • From appearance to control to overall gameplay experience it feels more like an Early Access game than a finished retail product
  • The MSRP when considering all of the above is far too high, physical release or not


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: 88 Heroes


A game like 88 Heroes is pretty difficult to put a simple label on since to a pretty wild degree it is obviously determined to play by its own rules. The game’s story of impending doom with a whole lot of 88s involved may not be too odd but the eclectic crew of “heroes” you’ll take control of in order to save the world certainly are. Playing out half like a running gag and half as a relatively basic platformer I would certainly say I’ve never played anything quite like it, and there are both positives and negatives to go with that sentiment.


Visually 88 Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, though I’d say it has clearly been designed to look the way it does and can respect the follow through. In the foreground you’ll see the alien coming to destroy us all lording over a video screen as members of his crew mill around and generally act as periodic distractions. It’s all a bit weird but it does lend to flavor. In terms of the game space itself the graphics actually look a bit like some older arcade titles I played back in the day. They’re generally simple and the spaces are a bit sparse but there’s some variety and flavor as you move around all the same. From hero to hero there’s a visual consistency to some degree but at the same time many of the them are essentially caricatures of characters from other games or popular culture so they take some liberties in some cases. For as many heroes as there are I have to give credit, they’re all well-drawn and animated for their somewhat limited move sets so I appreciate the dedication to doing as much as possible to make the game work visually while keeping a pretty simple art style.

In terms of gameplay it’s a really mixed bag for the most part, and to some degree I think the entire conceit of the heroes and their varying (and sometimes worthless) abilities is constructed merely to paint over the shortcomings and issues of the core gameplay. The levels themselves aren’t generally all that complex, they have combinations of jumping puzzles, traps, and enemies that will all kill your hero in one hit. Even some simple things like being under a platform and being touched by it will result in your exploding into pieces so things like that can be a bit aggravating at times. Jumping, in general, works well but overall how jumping is handled mechanically from hero to hero will vary a bit and this can also result in unnecessary deaths simply because you just started out but didn’t have a hang of the way they move or jump. Some heroes also have powers to shoot or attack but since this varies wildly in terms of if they shoot, how many shots they have, if their power is just cosmetic or does damage, and what range their attacks may have it’s a real crapshoot. Most of the time the level is simple enough to navigate and get through but it isn’t the level you’re fighting with, it is the random hero you’ve been assigned.


What will make or break the overall experience is the heroes and whether you enjoy the humor and antics associated with them or are aggravated by them. I absolutely laughed out loud at some of the ridiculous heroes and their powers that are often useful, but in some cases the gags involving heroes’ powers can get the best of you for negative outcomes. I worry potentially in ways that could be almost game-breaking if you did the wrong things. Some heroes have the ability to destroy walls or even the floor and in a critical spot I’d wonder if it would be possible to essentially make a portion of the map unpassable, at least for the majority of your heroes. Then there’s the problem of heroes that simply aren’t particularly well-suited to survival in the platforming scenarios they’re thrown into, with some of them I’d wager likely unable to get out of a paper bag. It’s a difficult line to walk between the absurdist humor of a hero who’s a mime who can only do the “pretending to be in a box” thing and the fact that for the most part his purpose is to be funny cannon fodder to die and not be seen again. In theory you could persevere and be successful even with poorly-matched heroes, and that can be cool, but at the same time a significant portion of your roster is there for laughs first and gaming success last and that can bite you a bit at times.

Ultimately 88 Heroes is a title that lives and dies by its humor, and that statement has meaning on several levels. It isn’t only that many of the heroes aren’t very useful, a compounding problem is that since almost all of them are unique in some way as a player you often have very little basis for how this character “works”. There’s no real opportunity to “git gud” with them or understand their nuances, you’re just going to run at your problems head-on and hope that your luck and reflexes will help you win the day. Granted, as you play through the game there’s no doubt you’d begin to work some of these things out but since the gameplay is relatively shallow once the surprises and jokes wear thin I’m not so positive the action itself holds up on its own to keep you compelled. I enjoyed my time with the game to a degree and some of the referential humor is a lot of fun but once you contemplate your third or fourth run and you’re looking to really play and beat the game as your priority nothing is going to stop some of the problems from seeping in.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • There are some great characters and jokes around popular movies and games that are entertaining
  • If you’re looking for something to just play and enjoy and you aren’t necessarily hyper-focused on success the game’s problems won’t bother you as much
  • Credit to the developers for having their concept and sticking with it, it is well-executed on the whole

Cons:
  • If the jokes fail to connect for you or quickly wear thin the game beneath it all isn’t terribly compelling
  • All of your heroes are quite fragile and you’ll often die due to your lack of familiarity with the hero you’re using since their abilities and movements vary pretty wildly
  • There are some serious problems you can get into with some heroes powers and their ability to ruin the level, opening the door to accidentally making parts of them problematic for many heroes
  • Given the overall content the MSRP feels a bit high, even if it does have a physical release


Review: Squareboy Vs. Bullies - Arena Edition


In terms of genre representation on the Switch the classic beat-em-up hasn’t really gotten much love to this point. That changes this week with the release of Squareboy Vs. Bullies - Arena Edition. Working with a pretty basic control scheme you’ll try to get Squareboy through a variety of tough situations with progressively more challenging foes as he works to defend himself and then find his sensei.

Visually there’s not a whole lot going on, it is a pretty basic 8-bit style game in appearance and though it isn’t burning up the world there’s nothing terribly wrong with it either. Enemies are, at the core, very similar looking for the most part but they do have varying hair, hats, or other fine details so you’ll be able to tell them apart. For the most part they vary in appearance in order to tip you off to the type of weapons they may use or special attacks they may have so all of this works reasonably well.


The game uses a pretty basic 2-button scheme with one for attack and one for jump. They’re used for relatively good effect for variety with double-tap directional attacks (dash, spinning leg sweep, spinning uppercut) though those do feel a little unreliable at times. You’ll also be able to do some relatively stock beat-em-up moves like grabbing someone and then either punching or throwing them, and what would a beat-em-up be without a stock jump kick.

There’s both the main Story mode as well as an Arena mode, and you can play those by yourself or with a friend, but overall there’s not much differentiation between them. Being blunt for the most part while there’s a challenge to be had none of it is terribly thrilling. You’ll need to keep yourself from getting trapped from both sides, keep an eye on anyone with a ranged attack, and make the most of whatever pick-ups you’re able to find along the way but it is textbook fare overall. Arena mode is really just fighting a series of foes that will allow you to unlock new locales to fight in. Story Mode does walk you through a pretty simply narrative of you and your sensei but while the themed enemies do change with location the repetition still sets in pretty hard.


Functionally I can’t really fault Squareboy with any major concerns but perhaps that isn’t the most ringing endorsement either. Though it is admirably put together and works perfectly well it is lacking in excitement and even I’d say in some heart. Having finished played it for hours I’m still really indifferent on the overall experience. It isn’t bad but it isn’t memorable. If you’re searching for something simple that is inexpensive and will consume some of your time with a generally moderate challenge, and are just a fan of the genre in its many forms, perhaps it could be worth your time though.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • Enemies are varied and will get you in trouble if you don’t maneuver yourself well
  • It can at least be a little more fun if you are able to play with a friend

Cons:
  • Not terribly memorable in any way
  • The double-tap attacks don’t always come off reliably
  • Arena mode is really just the same overall experience with a counter


Review: Neon Chrome


There was once a game made by Origin (before EA acquired and ruined them) called Crusader: No Remorse and I absolutely loved the insane action paces that it would put you through. Facing hordes of enemies, you alone were on a mission to survive using your weapons, your tactics, and often your ability to improvise. For me, playing Neon Chrome is like a window back to those same feelings with it’s sometimes completely insane firefights, ample opportunities to use the environment to your advantage, and need for tactics in order to be successful. While the level of challenge can be intimidating at first your ability to improve your stats and unlock new abilities and weapons as you progress will ensure that the more time you put in the better you’ll be able to do.


In the spirit of its roguelike nature every time you make your way into Neon Chrome to attempt to take down the Overseer you’ll be given a choice between three classes with varying advantages. Over the course of each run you’ll also be able to choose between weapons you’ll find, potentially change out your grenades, and choose among a variety of abilities. All of these will help you cater the game as much as possible to your style and to compensate for your weaknesses. Initially these abilities will mostly involve adding health or to your ammo capacity but as you have more success you’ll begin to unlock some much more powerful and often sinister abilities that will encourage you to experiment with your builds quite a bit more. Weapon and grenade selection isn’t merely about raw power as some have better accuracy, some will have a broad area of effect, and some will even catch your enemies on fire. It is your power of choice, when used effectively, that will make the difference between making it only a few stages in and getting much deeper. Best of all, if you find it to be a bit overwhelming and have friends available they can join in for the fun as well!

Moving through the floors that take you to the top to face your final battle the game is segmented with a few levels at a time before you’ll face off against a challenging boss. These battles will test your skills, your load out, and your tenacity as the first time you’ll generally face them, without having had the opportunity to bolster your stats, you’re likely to feel a bit out of your league. That said, if you’re able to keep your head and are quick these fights are possible to win, you just may not be able to recover well enough from the fight to last much longer. Opportunities to heal do show up, but they’re rarely going to do more then renew a portion of your health. It is a game that’s meant to challenge and not coddle you, and in order to get further into the game you’re likely going to have to die quite a bit. The longer you’re able to survive the more money you’ll be able to accumulate and the more stations you’re likely to encounter that will permanently unlock new abilities and weaponry. Even when you die you’re still then always making progress.


Between runs you’ll have the opportunity to invest that money in improving your core stats or opening up additional slots for skills. I’d tend to recommend the slots since as time goes on and you have the more powerful options available to you they can be game-changers. In addition you’ll have the option to spend some money in order to guarantee which gun, grenades, and skill you’ll start your run with. This can be a wise investment, particularly where the grenades and abilities are concerned, since having to deal with ones that don’t suit you will tend to put you at risk. The gun can be tempting but realize that you’ll likely be wooed regularly with more powerful weapons and at some point, even if it is a less ideal choice for you, you’ll likely switch things up. The point is, no matter how much you may struggle on a given run, the further you go you’ll be able to feed your success into further success.


I’ve actually been enjoying Neon Chrome for quite some time on the PC and am thrilled that it has finally made its way to the Switch, even moreso that it has come over quite flawlessly. Beating the Overseer is no easy feat but what I love the most about the game is that it continues to scale itself up even past that initial victory and you’ll be able to continue to test your skills and your load outs against consistently formidable resistance. In some ways it is when all of the skill options are finally available to you that the game most comes to life, throwing exciting challenges at you and demanding that you give it your full attention to persevere. While I’ve played many roguelike shooters and enjoy them all I hold Neon Chrome up as one of my absolute favorites for multiple reasons.

Score: 9

Pros:
  • Intense and varied shooting action
  • Each run presents new challenges and opportunities
  • Your efforts are never wasted, every time you die there are chances to improve your odds on subsequent runs
  • Even more chaotic and fun with a friend!

Cons:
  • There’s no getting around the fact that the game was meant to be difficult initially, though in theory as you upgrade yourself the game could become accessible to anyone with time
  • In handheld mode everything is still easily visible but the scale can be less ideal at times

Review: Tiny Barbarian DX


While the majority of retro pixel art games I’ve seen come out in recent years have sported 16-bit stylings there’s also been a smaller portion of the market that has gone for a more 8-bit style. That isn’t to say the games aren’t attractive, at the resolution they’re able to run at even 8-bit games can have a very attractive look. Tiny Barbarian DX is one of these titles that is looking to hit those nostalgic beats from the NES era but it does so with excellent control, some modern sensibilities, and pretty challenging and compelling gameplay.


You’ll be taking control of this barbarian as he makes his way through a variety of worlds slaying foes, moving between platforms, riding beasts, defeating challenging bosses, and sometimes even taking a moment to flex for the ladies. Enemy variety as you progress is high enough that you’ll need to regularly adjust your strategies a bit and their overlapping attack patterns at times will force you to either react quickly or formulate a battle plan. The boss battles tend to be varied and even quite creative, you won’t simply be hacking and slashing to try to take them down. This is one particular area where I’d say the developers did an excellent job of injecting some modern flair into things, surpassing expectations set by the games it is emulating in many regards.

The great news is that while you’re adventuring through the control is spot-on and pretty well flawless. Movement is fluid, you’re able to jump, climb, grab onto ledges (bonus points), and attack with tight control that is always there with you, helping you realize that when you die the problem was only you, and not the game. With only a classic NES 2-button scheme it is actually pretty amazing the variety of attacks and moves you’re able to make and when you add in the fact that your sword swipes are able to deflect most projectiles you typically have a wide variety of ways you can choose to take down foes in different situations. This helps keep things changing up and interesting and it never really feels like you’re just going through the motions and slashing your way through everything the way this genre can sometimes feel.


One thing that helps greatly with not feeling like there’s much repetition is that from stage to stage you’re often doing very different things or even moving in different directions. You’ll go through levels that are very combat-focused followed by ones that will require some tricky platforming and then some levels will also throw something like a beast for you to ride into the mix. This all keeps the game engaging and fights away the doldrums of repetition. What you’ll find is that you will also thank your lucky stars that when you die (and you will likely do so quite a lot) you’ll only be taken to the beginning of each screen so progress is saved on an ongoing basis and you just need to focus on getting to that next screen, even if you only have a sliver of health left. It is worth noting that if you find solo adventuring too difficult you can bring on a friend to help but with games like this that always presents its own challenges.

All said Tiny Barbarian DX is an excellent throwback-style title that celebrates what was great from that era without being satisfied to hide behind it. It builds on the style of play of many classic games and turns it all into something better, all while maintaining that signature difficulty that was so common in that era. What’s great, though, is that the challenge comes from well-crafted levels and not from wonky or inconsistent control. If you’re itching for something that will make you nostalgic or just want something to suck up a fair number of hours with varied side-scrolling hack-and-slash gameplay Tiny Barbarian DX delivers!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Terrific art and an energetic chiptune soundtrack
  • Control is king and your Tiny Barbarian’s movement is fluid and responsive
  • There are surprises sprinkled throughout in terms of level and enemy design that make it stand out
Cons:
  • From screen to screen the challenge will inevitably vary, there are absolutely some mixed platforming levels that will make you work hard to get through
  • While the game is perfectly playable in handheld mode the scale is a bit small just as an FYI
  • The pricing may be a little high, though some people will no doubt jump at a physical release

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Yono and the Celestial Elephants


Note: This game doesn't currently support the Pro Controller, just so you're not surprised!

When people first saw footage of Yono and the Celestial Elephants there was a certain amount of instant joy to go around. An adorable little pachyderm in an adventure that looked similar to the exploits of a certain silent warrior… Yono picked up an unofficial nickname in some circles as “Cute Elephant Zelda”. Having played through the entirety of the final product there’s a mix of good news and not quite as good news. The nickname is mostly an accurate one as the overall style of Yono’s journey shares roots with everyone’s favorite defender of Hyrule. That said if you’re expecting a meaty challenge in terms of combat and dungeon puzzle solving you’ll need to pull back your expectations quite substantially to avoid being terribly disappointed.


Yono is the latest in a lineage of elephants who have come to help save the world and set the course of things back to the way they’re meant to be ever thousand years. While through the course of the game you’ll learn that his ancestors have faced some significant and dangerous challenges it seems that being just a young and small elephant, the scale of the problems Yono has come to help resolve, at least for the moment, are of an appropriately adjusted scale as well. There is some turmoil among the multiple kingdoms of the lands he has come to and if something isn’t done there will be a war. It’s up to Yono to help intervene and return these kingdoms to peace.

In order to do this he’ll need to indulge in some battles, solve some puzzles, and persevere through a few big boss battles… just perhaps ones appropriate to his relative age and scale. Combat in the game is generally light, not requiring a great deal of strategy, though it is always possible for you to get yourself in trouble if you’re not being cautious. For the most part his charge is all you’ll need to keep enemies at bay and then take them out. For the first half of the game the puzzles, likewise, are generally quite quick and easy to solve. To the game’s credit finding the solutions in the final areas will require some thought to get through, and that’s terrific, just be warned not to expect to challenge your brain too greatly in the early going. The boss fights in the game do have an appropriate level of challenge to them, both to figure out what you’ll need to do and then in being able to execute that plan. There aren’t really any prompts telling you what to do anywhere so you’ll need to use your intuition and perhaps a little trial and error to succeed so these are certainly a high point to the game in terms of making you work to get through them.


To be properly prepared for these boss battles you’ll want to complete a pretty wide variety of mini-quests you’ll encounter in your travels. Whether it involves helping people with a problem, seeing a random doorway somewhere off to the side you’ll need to find the way to, or working to solve a tricky puzzle you’ll randomly encounter Yono does a fairly good job of finding different ways for you to earn heart tokens. For every 4 you find you’ll be able to add a heart to your bar and since the boss battles aren’t crazy difficult but can sap your health in trying to get through them getting all the hearts you can isn’t a bad idea. Besides, it is through many of these mini quests that you’ll see the game’s charm in the interactions with the inhabitants of various towns and in some of the silly things you’ll do to help people out. Many involve moving an object from A to B but even then some of the stories people have to go with these items can be cute. You’ll also be collecting letters that can be used to restore parts of the stories of your ancestors and pieces of currency you’ll want to find in order to indulge in one of the cutest elements of the game, the many different ways you can change Yono’s appearance at the barbershops in each of the towns. With looks that range from artistic to themed to an appropriate nod to a classic Nintendo franchise these are a nice way to customize the look of your game a little and add to the “Awww” factor quite a bit as well.


I think the main thing for experienced gamers who are interested in Yono to reflect on before buying it is whether being challenged is essential or not. The harder you’re hoping to have to work to make your way through the game the more you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you manage your expectations and simply enjoy it for what it is Yono is a great and fun adventure while it lasts. A group I would certainly point the game out to would be parents of younger gamers. Since the starting point is very friendly to less-experienced players, the ramping up of challenge is very gradual and smooth, and towards the end it will raise the bar enough to motivate them to figure out a way to win it would be an excellent primer to more ambitious fare like proper Zelda games. Something of this nature, in that regard, is a rarity and helps raise the bar of my respect for it a little higher. What I’m hoping is that we’ll be able to see a sequel with a slightly older Yono who will then continue to face progressively more difficult challenges and perhaps a newer generation of gamers will be able to grow older and more experienced with him.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Seen through the lens of being a game that is accessible to all gamers, that will slowly raise the bar of challenge throughout, it does an excellent job
  • The art direction and varied looks of the locales you’ll visit are colorful and distinctive
  • I appreciated the at-times sly and odd sense of humor the game has in its dialogue, and the juxtaposition of philosophy and the cute style is amusing


Cons:
  • An unfortunate side effect of anything reminding people of Zelda is the expectations that will come with it. Yono is a good game in that vein but is not as challenging, polished, or refined as a Zelda title
  • Being an elephant navigation in some cases is more complicated or at least visually him going over edges or going up and down steps can look a bit clunky
  • Though I suppose the idea is that Yono’s journey has just begun the ending was a bit underwhelming


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Ninja Shodown


While the Switch already has a number of excellent games for you to enjoy with your friends they unfortunately can’t all be winners. Whether the issues are lack of replayability, shortcomings with control, or that the gameplay simply isn’t terribly compelling there are a variety of things that can bring them down. While Ninja Shodown has some entertainingly silly old school flair, with quick and crazy deaths punctuated by an announcer egging you on, it’s hard to see past its shortcomings well enough to get to enjoying it.

Visually Shodown isn’t terribly impressive, probably more closely resembling a Flash game than anything. There’s no doubt some degree of this is for the sake of fitting the aesthetics of the games from the era they’re trying to emulate but all the same there’s simply not a lot to be excited about. All of the player characters are merely palette-swapped versions of the same ninja, and though you can name your ninja that doesn’t change the fact that more differentiation would help distinguish the frantic action a bit better. There are some varying locales to choose from, and that does change the trappings, but the overall experience just doesn’t make much of an impression somehow either.


If only the visuals were the biggest issue you could probably look past them but when you combine the less-than-stellar looks with the way the game plays it simply exacerbates the problem. The most fundamental issue is with the control and the pretty insane rate of movement. You dart around incredibly quickly and the lack of refinement and nuance leads to everything being sloppy and a bit aggravating. Due to the imprecision you’ll tend to either spam your slashing attack as you approach an enemy or gravitate towards using your throwing stars or special pick-ups to try to take them out randomly from a distance. It’s difficult to feel much satisfaction when you often resort to what feels a bit cheap to try to get the upper hand, and in general in the rounds my family played this was the consensus issue everyone had.

In terms of gameplay modes there are a few to choose from but really they’re just variations on the same theme at the end of the day. Whether you’re playing to a number of kills, for a given amount of time, for the sake of accumulating coins, or for possession of a crown it’s all ultimately the same experience repackaged slightly. There are also single-player  and unlimited modes but again the rate of movement and touchy/spammy controls tend to make it all hard to get engrossed in. The biggest problem is the fact that mere contact with your enemies will result in your immediate death. Since this continues to be true even when it takes multiple hits to down some opponents and it too often becomes an exercise in frustration.


All said Ninja Shodown may be trying its best but it simply isn’t very much fun to play. The control issues are very difficult to get around and they rob you of the opportunity to really enjoy the gameplay. There are a number of modes to choose from that do vary up the details but at the end of the day there’s no escaping the fact that the core experience is pretty flawed. This all makes it very hard to recommend for anyone but the twitchiest of gamers.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • The style and announcer try hard to give that classic 90s feel
  • There are numerous modes and settings for you to tweak to find something that works for you


Cons:
  • The high rate of movement cripples the opportunity for both nuance and fun
  • Winning all-too-often is the result of spamming attacks and hoping for the best
  • Single-player is too quickly an exercise in frustration from dying at mere contact with an enemy


Review: Stardew Valley


Among the independent games out in the world it seems like Stardew Valley is one that it would almost be impossible not to have heard mentioned at this point. Propelled not by marketing budgets and hype but instead on the power of word of mouth and the enthusiasm of the people who have played it this game made by a single developer has blossomed into something nobody could have anticipated. While there are elements of games that have come before it present, the Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing series in particular, Stardew Valley manages to combine the good while removing elements of the bad from them to create a game experience that, for me, is like putting on your favorite shirt. Even if it may not be in absolutely perfect shape it is all about how you feel when you play it.


Starting out in the game you’ll find that you’ve inherited a somewhat rundown farm from your grandfather, and starting out you’ll have nothing but some basic tools and a pack of seeds with which to rebuild the farm into something great. As you venture out into the town you’ll discover that in many regards it too has become less than it once was, with its former community center sitting in ruins. As you talk to people you’ll find that many of them have problems ranging from simple to more serious as well. What makes Stardew Valley both interesting and special is that there is nothing telling you which of these problems you should be looking to solve, how to do so, or on what timeline or in what order to do them. It lays down a foundation of things for you to look at and deal with but everything else is up to you.

In terms of improving yourself and your farm you’ll have some serious work to do! To simply clear out all of the rocks, errant trees and weeds on your property will take you days and even some upgraded equipment in some cases. You not only have to concern yourself with the clock but also with your endurance, which can get tapped out pretty quickly if you’re working too hard too fast. You can always forage or eventually make food that will help deal with this, but your endurance bar is always something you’ll need to be aware of so you don’t end up passing out and needing to be taken to the doctor. Fortunately as you work on specific tasks and find materials to make better equipment you’ll gain experience and work will slowly become easier. Aside from straight farming of crops you’ll also be able to build a barn to house various animals which will allow you to cultivate things like eggs, milk, wool, and truffles from but those animals will need tending too just as your crops do. Once you progress to a certain point you’ll find there are upgrades you can make to reduce your daily workload in caring for your plants and animals but you’ll still need to collect the fruits of your labors periodically. Beyond farming there’s also fishing to do as well as mining once certain events occur. The interface for fishing in pretty simple but catching tougher fish can be challenging and mining can be tricky business if you push yourself too far or lose track of the time of day but the rewards you get for materials are worth working for.


About the most guidance the game will give you will come through your attempts to revive its community center. There are specific objectives and things you’ll need to either grow, find, catch, or even win in order to restore parts of it to its former glory. As each portion of the center is revitalized that will in turn trigger a change in the game, whether giving you access to a new area or providing a means to move around town more quickly. In that regard you’ll definitely want to undertake these tasks in order to experience as much as possible in the game but at the same time how or whether you choose to do them, and in what order, is left to you. The tasks tend to be broken down by a type of activity whether to do with farming, or fishing, or interacting with people but some are also broken down by the season so you’ll only be able to find the items you’d need at that specific time of year. If you want to restore the community center you’ll very much want to keep a mental list of the things you’ll need as many of them are relatively ordinary, meaning you may simply sell them and not realize they could have helped you make progress. Another avenue to getting new things is by donating artifacts at the library. There are massive amounts of items and things to find in the game and as you donate them to the library you’ll be given rewards there as well. At an even simpler level between the bulletin board in town and simply talking to people you’ll find smaller-scale quests to do there as well. There’s no end to the things you have to choose from to do every day, the decision is yours in how you want to proceed.

On top of all of this choice, opportunity, and freedom it is really the extra special things that make the game shine. Every season there will be a special festival or event in and around town to bring people together and provide opportunities for special prizes or items to buy. If you’re able to cultivate a relationship with someone special you may choose to ask them to marry you and have children with them. If you keep pressing through to the end of the mine you’ll be rewarded but you’ll be even more excited when you reach a new area eventually with a newer and much more challenging mine. By completing a special series of tasks you’ll be able to get a special weapon to use when facing enemies down below. You’ll be able to catch special fish in specific areas you reach if you’re skilled and patient. The number of things hidden away in the game for you to find (or to simply look up if you’re impatient) is staggering!


Stardew Valley is a game I came to adore on the PC and I’m thrilled that it is now on the Switch so it can be played anywhere. Within my family there’s so much love for this game that my oldest daughter specifically bought her Switch for this very reason. Though she has “finished” the game at least 3 times already, and is a walking encyclopedia of Stardew factoids, she still keeps playing. That’s the power of this game, and the sense of serenity that’s so easy to have when playing it, and it is why I’m giving it the first 10 I’ve ever awarded for this site. It truly is a modern classic, blending elements multiple games have touched on before and combining them in just the right ways to make something truly special.

Score: 10

Pros:
  • An amazing variety of things to do but all at your pace and discretion
  • It is generally very relaxing to play and lose hours in
  • More secrets and things to discover than you’d ever guess


Cons:
  • If you want thrills and action there are opportunities for it, but that isn’t the focus of the game
  • Placing items on the ground can be finnicky and I would suggest turning on the option for assistance to reduce frustration
  • The habits and likes of individual people are quite elaborate and you may want to just look up a guide if you’re hoping to woo or make friends with someone specific


Review: Earth Atlantis


There has been a global catastrophe, leaving the vast majority of the world submerged and apparently the oceans are now inhabited by mechanized versions of sea life that are bent on your destruction… or something like that. Welcome to the world of Earth Atlantis where your quest is to pilot your submarine through the labyrinthian wreckage of the former surface world and to slay the lethal and formidable boss monsters that prowl these depths. If you’re up for a challenge, and can endure some (for now) seemingly needless grinding when you’ll inevitably fall to one of these creatures, Earth Atlantis delivers boss battling bliss (and a bit of hell as well).


The first thing anyone would notice about the game is its art style, which is stunning. There’s a hand-drawn look to everything and overall it works well to convey the action as well as lending a certain amount of added menace to the creatures you’ll find yourself in battle with. Moreso than what is happening in the foreground with the action I think it is the background scrolling by, allowing you to see the wrecked cityscapes and some massive creatures swimming in the distance that are truly remarkable to look at whenever you get a chance to take a break from the action, though that won’t happen often or for long.

The ocean is swarming with creatures and the rate they spawn at can be quite aggressive. You may think you’ve cleared the space behind you but it isn’t unusual for you to suddenly see a missile or bolt of electricity go by from behind. The lack of a safe space to retreat to helps encourage you to just constantly be aggressive and it keeps the pacing of the game quite brisk. Thankfully for the most part if you’re able to dodge and weave through your enemies and their various forms of projectiles health is dropped at a reasonable rate to help you stay alive. Power-ups for your primary weapon will also drop with some regularity and you’ll need that firepower in addition to one of the secondary weapons available at random drop points peppered around the map. Each one of them, whether the electricity, homing missile, dumb missile, or bombs can be very effective and as you play you’ll likely find that different bosses have vulnerabilities to certain ones, or that there are some bosses that have defenses of their own that will do things like nullify the value of the electricity because they have a similar attack themselves. You’ll only have one specific sub as a choice early on but as you get much deeper into the game you’ll get the opportunity to unlock additional powerful subs once you’re able to defeat them in a battle, which is often quite hectic and potentially lethal if you’re not one top of your game.


The boss battles in the game, and there are 35(!) of them, vary quite a bit and the majority of them will test your skills and as well as sometimes you patience. While you may feel like you’ve got an arsenal going and that nothing can stop you a sudden one-hit kill death delivered by one of several bosses who have attacks that do precisely that will put that theory to bed in a hurry. All bosses are ultimately able to be beaten, but you’ll need your reflexes, the right power-ups, and a heaping helping of luck at times to take these things out. You’ll find that your sub is only so fast in some situations so you’ll need to get very observant and look for the patterns of attack so you can anticipate and begin avoiding them a little early to be safe. This takes time and practice, as many bosses have multiple mathods of attack you may need to account for.

The difficulty of the bosses does lead to a problem, though my objection isn’t really about the one-hit kill bosses or that several of them are simply brutal to successfully take down. Give me hard boss battles all day, I’ll figure the pattern out at some point and get by, the issue is the time-consuming process you’ll often encounter after dying of trying to get yourself into battle-ready shape. When you continue your kills will all still count but you’ll be reduced back to your original pea shooter single-shot weapon and you’ll need to build yourself back up again. If this was just challenging (and it often is, depending on where you spawn) it wouldn’t be so bad but most of the time the game almost seems to go out of its way to place the secondary weapon drops as far away from where you’re starting out as possible. When you mix this with the very confusing maze of the destroyed structures and caves you’ll need to maneuver through it does create some legitimate frustrations. Fortunately the developer is already at work on a patch that will help address some early concerns and where the power-ups spawn in relation to your last checkpoint is said to be getting a tweak. I think this change alone will make the game far more accessible and result in far fewer people throwing their hands up the third or fourth time they die after taking a solid 15 minutes (or more) to prep for the fight.


Overall, especially once the grinding issue is properly addressed, I believe that Earth Atlantis has a place and is actually pretty unique among shooters I’ve played. The game is literally swimming with challenging boss battles, and while there are some that are easier than others the false sense of security the game lulls you into having will just make it sweeter when you take the bait and get surprised when one of them puts up a formidable challenge and kills you in an instant. For the moment I’d recommend starting in Easy Mode and getting the lay of the land, spending time backtracking is difficult enough with the way everything is laid out, you may as well take the opportunity to learn where things are, how the map flows, and roughly how the different boss monsters attack and behave so you can be more successful even before you hit the ground running on Normal difficulty. While Earth Atlantis can be frustrating at times it is also a well-executed shooter with loads of challenging content. If you’re not afraid to die quite a bit on the way to your ultimate victory I’d say it is worth giving a try.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • 35 boss monsters who are generally diverse in their attack strategies
  • 3 unlockable ships that each play very differently than the base sub
  • Has a very distinctive art style and the depth of the backgrounds you’re playing on is amazing


Cons:
  • The game abruptly lets you know when you’re facing a boss with a one-hit kill attack when you’re killed very suddenly by it… and that can be jarring
  • The grind to get your gear back up to snuff is far too long and forces players to spend worthless time not enjoying themselves (though a patch is on the way to address this)
  • A combination of the mini-map, which provides very limited details, and confusing foreground art, can make it hard to find or remember the location of specific passageways at times. This leads to needless meandering as you learn the layout of things

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Volgarr the Viking


If you’re like me and you yearn for the classic days of walking up to a machine, putting in your quarter, and proceeding to get your ass handed to you in a way that modern games rarely dare to even hint at you’re going to want to check out Volgarr the Viking. Right off the bat you won’t be able to miss an opening level scheme reminiscent of the arcade classic Rastan and, much like the classic it is emulating, it is designed to be challenging through and through.


As you may have gathered Volgarr is a classic side-scrolling arcade action game not just in appearance but in attitude and difficulty as well. It can very much be beaten and mastered but to get there you’re simply going to have to put in the time first. As you repeatedly die at the hands of the many enemies and traps you’ll face you will inevitably build up a sort of pattern for how best to do things. This isn’t a game you’re going to start up and be done with a few hours later. Volgarr requires a certain level of investment if you’re even going to get to the first boss and defeat it, let alone get through the additional 6 worlds and multiple endings beyond it.

In order to survive you’ll need to fully master the nuances of everything Volgarr is capable of in terms of his attacks and movements. As invulnerable as he looks Volgarr has a serious case of glass jaw as everything he faces will harm or kill you if you’re not on top of the situation at all times. Swinging your sword or throwing your spear to kill an enemy is pretty simple business but even things like enemies managing to jump at you can mean death if you’re not quick to react with the right movements or counters. Dart and other traps are also peppered everywhere and will take you down a stage if they hit you. Much like the classic Ghouls n’ Ghosts you’ll start out being able to take 2 hits, with the first hit removing your shield and the second meaning death. You’ll be able to get to chests periodically that will help you power up but if you take a hit it will immediately take you down again to being more vulnerable. The easy moral of this story? Don’t get hit!


One benefit is that once you get a pattern rolling if you can execute it consistently you can practically get into a muscle memory situation as many streamers have done to conduct speed runs.The game doesn’t demand perfection but it does seem that your best best is to get into a rhythm of repetition and continue to refine it until you’re able to clear things more easily. Be sure, as you try to stay alive, to be on the lookout for anything suspicious or opportunities to use a spear in a wall to jump somewhere out of the way though because there are secrets and alternate paths around you, but you may need to check out a walkthrough to find some of them as they’re often tricky!

All told a game like Volgarr the Viking will either immediately appeal to your gaming sensibilities and desire to be challenged or it won’t. This isn’t likely the type of game that will convert anyone unless you’ve been searching for an excuse to “git gud” at something that puts the bar pretty high up and won’t be compromising for the sake of your feelings. If you do take the plunge after playing for a little bit I would recommend hitting videos of the people speed-running it so get an idea of not only where some secrets are but to get some hints on how to get a flow going. They’re going to make it all look far easier than it is but it is likely you’ll learn that being aggressive can work out if you’ve got the timing down and understand how best to use the attacks and skills you have available to you. If you miss the old school days where you needed to make a real investment to conquer a game and love that feeling of accomplishment when you finally pull it off Volgarr is absolutely a great choice, for everyone else it’s probably going to be a pass.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A well-executed homage to challenging arcade games past
  • Challenging gameplay and some very cool (but often brutal) boss fights
  • If you’re not scared off by its difficulty it is very rewarding when you make progress


Cons:
  • Not mainstream-friendly in the least in terms of overall difficulty
  • Jumping controls in places can be fidgety
  • As in classic arcade games any hit, big or small, is going to hurt you just the same


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Review: Binaries



Binaries is an action puzzler that has an interesting mix of several concepts that have become pretty popular these days. Within only its first few levels where you’ll learn the basic concepts of how things work it is absolutely going to slap you in the face with difficulty. That’s never to say it can’t be beaten, you can persevere and get that sweet taste of satisfaction if you’re willing to dig in and challenge yourself, but this game isn’t for anyone lacking in patience and Zen-like calm. Blending an often punishing level difficulty with heavy left/right brain concentration and humor, Binaries is a game that you’ll either love for the challenge or hate for its cruelty.


While I’ve had several reviews for indies on the Switch where I’ve talked about them featuring left/right brain gameplay in this case it is slightly different. You’ll be in control of both a red and a blue ball, and they’ll each have their own goal area they need to get to. Unlike the games where you need to control them independently with the left and right joysticks, in Binaries you’ll be controlling them both in parallel whether it is movement or jumping. This is the basis for all of the puzzles in the game and very quickly you’ll find that you need to absolutely be on top of what consequences there are for every movement you get wrong. Don’t worry, whenever you make a mistake you’ll just die and start over again, and again, and probably again a number of times.

In many regards there are elements of this gameplay that are reminiscent of another puzzler on the Switch, I and Me, but in this case the game mechanics are put through far more diverse and challenging paces. Just a few levels in there isn’t a great deal of opportunity to feel like you’ve mastered certain concepts and are ready to coast through a few stages. New elements are added with regularity, existing elements are reshuffled, and even new concepts like stages where your balls will be able to move into each others’ areas where they’re unaffected by traps are all brought into play in new and challenging ways. To get through many of these stages you’ll need to channel your calm, have cat-like reflexes, and be able to see the underlying strategy you’ll need to be successful all in parallel, it can be quite daunting! A great feature worth mentioning is that there’s not a set progression through the game’s many stages. If you get aggravated with one specific level you’re able to back out to the map and choose at least one other that you’ll then unlock new paths from. This ability to not go all-or-nothing on particular levels that you may get stuck on is one of the game’s better features.


Another signature element to the experience is the humor… though whether or not you find it funny or mean will depend on how thick your skin is. At the beginning you’ll see some comments pop up on screen as a form of instruction but as you progress through the levels they take the form more of commentary, and you’re often the subject of them. The game consistently seems to find amusement in your struggles and will amplify your frustrations if you’re not capable of taking some pot shots from the peanut gallery the 20th (or often many more) time you’ve tried to get through the same spot. It most definitely adds flavor to the experience and I think it is one of the game’s better qualities but I could see where it could grate on people’s nerves and take it personally.

Putting it all together Binaries is a very well-made and presented action puzzler that, overall, sits pretty high on the challenging scale. If you enjoy some punishment in your games it delivers that handily and throws in some laughs to boot! If you’re not as hardcore about your gaming it would be a tough call as there’s no missing the difficulty of the game, though the humor and ability to choose different paths to avoid specific levels that give you pain do help make it at least a little more friendly to a wider audience.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Challenging action puzzle gameplay
  • Left / right brain coordination challenges aplenty
  • Humor, often at the player’s expense


Cons:
  • Challenging action puzzle gameplay
  • Left / right brain coordination challenges aplenty
  • Humor, often at the player’s expense

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: Tumblestone


Making headway in the puzzle gaming market is a tough business. With perennial favorites out there the likes of Tetris and Puyo Puyo (let alone when they join forces!) the question usually arises whether there’s a need or at least an opportunity for a new action puzzle game to make some headway. When I first began playing Tumblestone I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I initially thought it may be a little too simple. I’m delighted to tell you how wrong I was and that not only did I quickly find myself sucked in with the single-player mode but also enjoying the mutli-player mode with my entire family as well.

Tumblestone ends up having less in common with the aforementioned games than another action puzzle classic Bust-a-Move, but even then it is quite a bit different. You’ll be faced with a board full of stones of different colors and your goal is to remove them. Instead of manipulating new pieces and trying to make matches your goal is to simply choose 3 stones of the same color that aren’t blocked by any other stones. Child’s play you’ll say as you start out, and initially it is pretty simple. Oh, but how quickly things change! Between some very diabolical stone layouts and then eventually some special blocks that will change up the rules a bit for when and how you can clear specific stones you won’t simply be able to stumble your way through these levels. The problem is once you’re trapped from making a mistake you’ll either take a penalty in competitive games or need to start the puzzle over again in modes like the single-player story mode. You see, while other games place the emphasis more on action Tumblestone is really all about the puzzles first, it’s just often pushing you to figure them out more quickly than would initially seem possible if you were watching someone play it.


As you play your focus will end up needing to be on blocks of the same color within the same stack as they’re usually the ones that will lead to your demise if you don’t manage them carefully. Just to be really cruel and sneaky the design of periodic levels will force you to dig deep first rather than try to keep the stacks in parallel, which you’re naturally prone to doing when you’re not forced to do otherwise. Typically no matter how many pieces are in front of you the key will be to focus on how you’ll be able to ensure that when you get towards the bottom you won’t have one of the pieces you need for a match of 3 stuck under another one. Since the game will force you to start the puzzle over when you make a mistake the tricky part is even if you make progress on one attempt you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten what you’d done and will do even worse on a subsequent attempt. Your mind’s desire to seek out the simplest matches has to be fought off constantly on puzzles like these and it can be quite a mental exercise to figure some of these out!

When it comes to single-player content as long as you buy into this core dynamic Tumblestone has you covered for probably a few weeks once you add up all of the modes and levels available to you. You’ll open with the lengthy story mode that spans over 10 Worlds and includes a variety of challenges including boss battles. Aside from the main substantial and challenging Story mode there are also some Arcade modes to help you change things up a little with different styles and speeds to spice things up, as well as a tally of Quests you can try to complete if you like challenging yourself to meet specific objectives as well. I would imagine that all told there’s probably more than 30 hours of single-player content included here easily, and with additional silly characters (though I’m very partial to Sausage King already, props for the Bueller reference!) that can be unlocked for Multiplayer matches tied to the completion of most Worlds you have a great excuse to keep tackling more and more difficult scenarios.


On top of the significant amount of single-player content the game absolutely shines in multi-player. With its simple to pick up but hard to master nature I found that there was a real see-saw to matches and individual rounds within each match between my family and I. Someone would get a pretty substantial lead going but then it would only take making a few rushed mistakes and people were able to overtake them. You’re constantly fighting a battle of wanting to keep up without making foolish mistakes and making your situation even worse. There are a few variants here that switch up the specific way the matches play out but I found all of them to be challenging and enjoyable for everyone. If you’re a person or two (or even three, you’re able to play only against bots too!) short it’s nice that you fill in with CPU bots as well, so if you’re looking for a chance to train a bit against an opponent and you have none around the computer can fill in to turn on a little of that pressure to prepare you for your friends and family.

All said Tumblestone is a very strong contender in the action puzzler space and sets itself apart by not trying to imitate what is successful and instead finds its own way, and it does so quite successfully. The emphasis moreso on puzzle solving is an engaging twist but that’s not to say that the game slows down or is meditative. In mutli-player mode I can assure you it is quite the opposite as the sounds of everyone in my family very rapidly pressing buttons to set up matches was very audible and other than that people generally made no sounds as they were that intensely concentrating on trying to win. As I said the need for precision and seeing patterns so that you don’t trap yourself are both absolutely vital and it makes for compelling gaming sessions. If you really love great puzzle titles Tumblestone is a title you won’t want to miss!


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A more puzzle-focused action puzzle game than you’re used to
  • An absolutely massive amount of single-player content
  • Intense and often very competitive multi-player


Cons:
  • Online multi-player was cut for the Switch version in the interest of getting it to market quicker
  • If you prefer your puzzles slower and more relaxing in general Tumblestone isn’t that
  • Not everyone buy into the fundamental game style


Review: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime


Up until very recent years I don’t recall there being too many games out there that centered on team dynamics and communication to accomplish common goals. Even in the relatively early days of the Switch we now already have two strong examples of them. While Overcooked had you working cooperatively to some degree, depending on how you and your friends would choose to approach things, you could still somewhat get locked into your role and crank things out. With Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime your collective survival is much more often dependent on people being ready and willing to dive into whatever role may be necessary at the time, and the level of unpredictability to everything is higher and that generally makes the game both more exciting and, at times, heartbreaking.


The story is a bit on the odd side, involving the universe in harmony and everything being happy but then something goes wrong and now anti-love is spreading. Of course you and up to 3 of your friends are being called to help prevent this catastrophe by flying your ship around to go collect the innocent little bunnies who have been imprisoned and who are apparently necessary to returning everything back to the way it was. As you can tell the game doesn’t really take itself terribly seriously and the artistic style, awash in color and happiness, helps underline that in case you missed it. Over the course of the game’s 20 levels you will face all manner of enemies but love will prevail!

The gameplay revolves around your ship, which has 8 stations: 4 normal guns, the engine, a moving shield, a map, and a powerful gun that does a great deal of damage but has a bit of a recharge to it. You and your shipmates will have to move between stations in order to meet the challenges you are facing but most critically in the direction you’re facing them in. While you can normally place the shield in a good spot and then try to maneuver your ship around, depending on the situation you find yourself in you may need to get all hands on deck at the guns, you may need someone manning the shield to prevent damage from all directions, or you may need to take a few hits so someone can activate the big gun and hopefully clear things out a bit all at once. While you’ll tend to want the same person in charge of the engines who understands the concept of momentum very well, for the most part all other stations should remain up for grabs for people to coordinate between carefully. In order to improve your ability to survive the later levels you can both find little gift boxes that will upgrade your systems and if you work to find more bunnies on each level than is required you’ll more quickly be able to upgrade to do things like unlock additional slots to make your stations even more effective. The level of risk/reward to this is welcome as taking some chances to find these extras isn’t necessary but if you work hard the increased rate with which you can then enhance your ship makes the return very much worth the effort, and this is especially true the further you get into the game.


Though Spacetime is a lot of fun with 4 local players it was originally designed to be either a single or two-player experience and basically no matter how you choose to play the game dynamics work well and are a lot of fun. Oddly in each configuration the game can feel quite different. With 3 or 4 players the game becomes all about communication and you’re more likely to have people fall into dedicated roles, a bit Star Trek-esque perhaps with someone on engines, someone ready to work the shields and the big gun, and then 2 people mostly dedicated to using the guns and working at the different placements as needed in order to best protect the ship. In 2-player mode one person generally sticks with the engine, with the other one trying to satisfy all of the other roles whenever possible, but when you find yourself in bigger fights you’ll find you need to park the ship and quickly get on the guns to help fight off something perhaps a bit more formidable. Lastly the single-player mode a completely different feel again as you’ll only have your cute little AI pet to help you, with the game feeling more strategic then as you command it to go from station to station in order to get in position for best defending the ship. Thankfully when you go to command them the game roughly stops, giving you time to breathe a little bit so you can plan out what you’ll need to do. In all cases I found playing the game to be enjoyable, it was just almost like the 1-player experience was a different game in many regards from playing with others since you need to actively control so much more.

No matter how you may choose to play it I think Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime has a lot going for it both in terms of challenges and fun. Whether you need to exercise your ability to maintain strong team dynamics or to figure out the best strategies for you and your AI pet to be the most successful there are opportunities for both success and failure everywhere. Whether it is trying to get things right the first time by the seat of your pants or failing, regrouping, and coming back with an even better plan of attack there aren’t pressing stakes to worry about. You’re just trying to have fun with the situation being presented to you and to make the most of it. I think it is the light-hearted nature of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime I like the most and though it probably better realizes its potential the more people you have to play it with there’s still a satisfying experience to be had alone if that’s how you roll as well. Recommended!


Score: 9

Pros:
  • Plays well as a single-player strategic game of sorts
  • Plays even better as a cooperative game with up to 3 friends
  • Throughout the game there are varied surprises with enemies that kept things just a little off-center and pleasantly unpredictable


Cons:
  • The cute overload could be overwhelming for some
  • Without anybody to play with at all locally it loses a major component of what helps it be the best it can be