Monday, December 11, 2017

Interview with Victor Gyorei from Zen Studios About Pinball FX 3


As a long-time fan of everything pinball, and having played many of the Pinball FX tables on my PC, PS Vita, and Android tablet I'm thrilled that Pinball FX 3 is finally making its way to the Switch! To help celebrate, Viktor Gyorei, the Head of Zen Studios was gracious enough to give me some of his time to answer questions about the evolution of Pinball FX, what new features and enhancements it has to offer, and what further surprises are still in store... apparently including another surprise yet to come this year!

Though it has the genre identified very clearly in its name we always start with the classic "elevator pitch" question. Since we obviously know it involves pinball perhaps focus on what Pinball FX 3 is bringing to the table to make it stand out? 

VG: If we are talking specifically about pinball and videogames, there is really nothing like Pinball FX3 available on any other game device. Pinball FX3 has turned pinball into a community-driven game with lots of competition and fun. The game has also turned pinball into an RPG of sorts, allowing players to level up and gain XP for their gameplay. Lastly, Pinball FX3 is a pinball service, so we are always updating the game with new content and features. When you take all of this into account, I think Pinball FX3 does a really good job of standing out among pinball games.


For people who have played tables from previous incarnations of the FX series what would you say has changed in the move to 3 that should help bring them back? 

VG: We focused on developing a brand-new framework with tons of features that apply to each table including new single-player modes and challenges, matchup and league play, and of course user-generated tournaments. Each of these elements bring a whole new value to past table purchases and give you many new reasons to play them again. On top of that, all the tables in Pinball FX3 have received graphical updates including dynamic shadows and lighting – so they look better than ever.
Are there any specific table gameplay enhancements that have been made possible with the new engine and the increased power of these newer-generation systems?

Although the changes introduced with the new engine are mostly visual that don’t affect gameplay directly, they offer more options for designers on how to approach their tables’ game mechanics, too. The use of dynamic lights and shadows or some special post-effects can now be considered active elements for table design, and I look forward to seeing them utilized more and more going forward.


While there had been existing functionality like support for online leaderboards and people being able to track their friends high scores, it looks like there have been additional features added in FX3 for helping to foster some competition between friends and to help you enjoy "leveling up" within the game in certain ways. What kinds of things will happen as people play more and pass these level milestones? 

VG: Leveling up does not affect the multiplayer experience in Pinball FX3 just yet. This could change in the future. For now, the biggest way to progress in multiplayer is to participate in League Play via the multiplayer matchup mode. If you can manage to get in the top 20% of the league for the week, you progress to the next league and keep moving up. Eventually you can make your way to the platinum league with all the best, most competitive players battling each week to stay at the top. If for some reason you do not end up in the top 80%, you will get kicked back to a lower level league.


Just to give some reference, what would you say ended up being the typical level of effort to update the existing tables from previous engines to work on the FX3 engine?

VG: Bringing over existing tables to FX3 certainly posed its own challenges. There were two major areas we intended to touch up: the visuals, including the in-game assets, effects and table/environment lighting, and the game logic to include all the new features – perks, wizard powers, challenges. Needless to say, these adjustments required the involvement of all the expertise we usually need to deliver a final table – art, design, and several test passes from the QA team. Considering the implementation and the test-and-fix cycles, updating any one table took around two man-weeks.


Over time you've made multiple tables for a number of major properties from the likes of Star Wars and Marvel, but you've also created both standalone licensed tables and some that are unique creations as well. As you move forward, are there plans in the works for partnering with new licenses, more original creations, more tables tied to partnerships you've already made, or you'll continue to pursue a blend of each? 

VG: There are tables in production right now from previous partners, brand new partners, and Zen Original tables. We like to maintain a nice balance of licensed versus original designs. Of course, we have some dream brands we would love to work with, and hopefully someday we can make them happen.

Considering that the regular releases you make are quite different from other studios, in that you're releasing new content for an established and stable engine, what would you say is the typical level of effort in time and resources to bring one new FX table to the market? 

VG: The level of effort is always high on our part. We never reskin a table or reuse assets. Every table is always developed from the ground up with new ideas and something that sets it apart from the other tables in our library. On average, it takes one of our pinball teams eight months from start to finish, and then another few weeks for the publishing effort before it is finally released. Sometimes it is much longer, as you can imagine working with some of the big brands in our portfolio can offer various challenges – but it’s always worthwhile since we end up with great tables every time.


I take it that the licensed tables likely take more time since they'd require approvals and coordination with the owners of those properties, what portion of the typical development cycle on a new table would you say is devoted just to that aspect of the work? 

VG: Licensed content always takes longer, no doubt. You have to understand that licensors know their characters and stories better than you ever will, and they always have ideas that you did not think of. This is a good thing! But yes, this does result in longer production periods. We try to identify all of the changes to our own design very early in the development cycle so that we are not making big changes well into development. Of course, things can always change, but it’s much easier to change cosmetics or colors than a 3D interactive model.

As with previous releases on other platforms will Sorcerer's Lair be a free download for people to check out how it performs and what the general action on the new FX3 engine is like on the Switch? 

VG: Pinball FX3 is a free download, and Sorcerer’s Lair does come for free. You can check out all of the new game modes with Sorcerer’s Lair to get a real idea of the depth of the game.


Aside from the excellent tables already available and the new Universal ones that include JAWS and Back to the Future do you all have any exciting things in the mix you can discuss that are on the way? 

VG: We will have one more pinball content release this year, which will launch with Pinball FX3 on Nintendo Switch. There will be some really great surprises with this release, so keep in touch with Zen to hear this news! There will be several huge pinball releases next year – I can’t wait to share the news with you!

A wonderful trick that is possible with tablets is that you can play pinball tables in vertical mode rather than having to pick a perspective shot at a specific angle. Will this be supported with the Switch since it would be so much better with dedicated physical controls instead of having your thumbs blocking part of your screen? 

VG: Vertical orientation is supported on Nintendo Switch! You can even play with just on Joy-Con attached, so the Switch is much better balanced in your hands. You can then play with either buttons or touchscreen – we think touchscreen is much better in this case. To our knowledge, we are the only game using this type of functionality with the Switch. Add HD Rumble for all the clicks and clanks of a real pinball table, and you have a really awesome portable pinball experience!

Since the game is already on so many other platforms were there any special challenges or surprises with how much easier or difficult getting some aspects of the engine running on the Switch went overall? 

VG: Development on Nintendo Switch was really smooth. There were no crazy challenges or anything we were not able to achieve. It’s been a great experience!


You've already released Infinite Minigolf on the Switch as well. How many teams do you currently have working on projects that are outside of table or engine design for Pinball FX? 

VG: Zen currently has four internal teams working on various original games, and we have the newly announced ‘Port & Publish’ team that is working on bringing great games from PC to consoles. The first of these is Out of Ammo for PlayStation VR – but we’re definitely thinking of Switch for this initiative as well!


I'd like to thank Victor for taking the time to answer my questions and am looking forward to what Zen Studios still has in store for us in the coming year! Pinball FX 3 will make its debut on the Nintendo Switch December 12!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Vostok Inc


As popular as some of the games are on mobile platforms (as well as the PC) I’m a bit surprised that the “clicker” (also known as incremental in some circles) genre hasn’t yet made its way to the Nintendo Switch. For those unfamiliar these games usually revolve around collecting money to build resources that help you generate more money even faster so that you can then purchase more gear or equipment that will then allow you to go even faster than that, etc. That all has changed, at least somewhat, with the release of Vostok Inc but the good news is that it has embraced some of the elements of that genre and blended them with a space shooter (replacing what was often the “clicking”), to make something unique and better in the process.


The name of the game in Vostok is money… a whole lot of it, and to make money you’re going to have to slowly make your way through every planet in every galaxy to plant your flag of capitalism. The more you build, the more money you make, the more you unlock... it’s a pretty straight-forward system. Or it would be, if it weren’t for either pesky space pirates or, eventually, the locals who may not be appreciative of your determination to spread your financial empire into every corner of the universe. That’s where the shooting typically comes in, and while it may not feel all that elaborate or challenging early on I’ve continued to be surprised at how things kept evolving the further I got.

The tug of war in the game ends up revolving mostly around upgrading your ship (and then which elements to upgrade first) and developing resources on the planets. In order to unlock everything and progress you need to do a combination of both, but the more I’ve played I’ve tended to work on maximizing the ship’s capabilities first and would recommend getting a second weapon slot going with the laser weapon to take control of the Particle Beam Refractor. While some other weapon combinations that open up like the Love Gun can be useful and fun I’ve found that cutting through asteroids and enemies alike goes a lot faster with that bad boy (though then there’s the freaking crazy unicorn-shooting gun when you get all 3 slots going). In general the game tries to guide you early on to some good decisions and I’d definitely recommend paying attention to them. I didn’t buy the Manager Detector as early on as I should have and my money-making was far slower than it needed to be because of it. In general you’ll want to spread out, colonize everywhere you can, buy the add-on that allows you to collect your money without returning to the planet constantly, and then have some fun.


In terms of the downsides there’s no getting around the fact that elements of the game are repetitive on a general level since even when you go to different galaxies there tend to be similarities in the alien opposition you’ll face. That said, each new area does tend to introduce a new unit or two to the mix and many of them can prove to be challenging, especially the bosses. It’s not so much the challenge that will continue to bring you back it is more the reward loop and discovery of new things. In some spaces if you’re not necessarily working the optimum path for making money the game can drag as well though. Specifically for people familiar with this genre you’ll also want to be aware that while the game isn’t running you aren’t accumulating wealth as you do in many games from the genre. While you can accumulate money by leaving the game on (and I’ve done this) what you’ll discover is that if you properly upgrade your ship you’ll be capable of making money far faster if you just go out and blow things up.

While Vostok Inc isn’t a terribly complicated game there’s an element to it that can get its hooks into you. I’d say in a way that’s very similar to something like Stardew Valley you can get into a pattern of habits that are somewhat relaxing. Blow up asteroids, upgrade planets, get in some fights, upgrade your ship, take out a boss, move onto the next galaxy and repeat. The addition of the game’s very strange sense of humor at times as you’ll interact with the representatives from each galaxy helps keep things light as well and many of the game’s seemingly infinite achievements are laced with comedic undertones as well. I started playing Vostok Inc expecting to have some silly fun, the fact that it turned out to have some depth and hidden surprises throughout was just icing on the cake.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A satisfying sense of progress as your empire grows along with your bank account
  • A nice variety of weapons you’ll acquire from the creative to the downright silly but devastating
  • Boss fights and bigger conflicts can have a bullet hell edge to them at times, keeping you on your toes

Cons:
  • If you don’t get sucked in by the reward loop the game falls apart as a somewhat lacking space shooter
  • Some may find the nature of moving to planets and setting up resources tedious
  • If you don’t balance your spending correctly the game can hit dull points as you try to accumulate money


Review: Phantom Breaker - Battle Grounds Overdrive


The classic beat-em-up genre has its ups and downs over the years but in most regards it hasn’t changed substantially, probably because for the most part it has a certain satisfyingly basic appeal. Get into the thick of things, mash some buttons, try to apply some degree of strategy, lather, rinse, and repeat. We’ve already had a more ambitious brawler that also incorporated elements of weapon-based hack and slash into the mix with Wulverblade and now we have Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive which plots a more traditional path overall but incorporates its own complexity into things.


While you can get some help trying to understand the full complexity of the controls from the How to Play menu option the main thing to know is that though the action on screen appears to be relatively simple there’s a ton of potential that you’re likely missing if you don’t try to invest in some understanding. Sporting a total package moveset and all sorts of things to know the core of the game has more in common with a fighting game than a beat-em-up but most of the time you won’t really feel it since the masses of generic enemies you generally face don’t require too much investment to knock out. In general, with the exception of the boss fights, you can get by pretty well sticking with a few key moves and combos and the challenge is less technical than simply trying to get through the hordes that continue to be thrown at you.


One nice element of the game is that the various fighters you have to choose from vary pretty wildly in style so there should be an opportunity to find something to suit most tastes. Some use weapons but others are more strictly hand-to-hand. I can’t say that all of them felt particularly viable but at the same time since I’m not fully down with all the fighting system has to offer there could easily be something I’m missing with a few fighters as well. No doubt having someone along to help can be fun and the good news is that up to 4 players can try to make their way through the masses together, which can help liven things up a bit. There is a battle mode as well but since it seems some people are generally better than others, and not all of the fighters themselves seem balanced, it doesn’t really seem that viable as a mode to go back to long-term.


For the pretty budget price what you get out of Phantom Break: Battle Grounds Overdrive is a beat-em-up with more depth than you’d expect but that I doubt most people are capable of fully extracting either. I think for an average gamer they’ll be able to latch onto enough that it can a fun distraction but with the way the challenge ramps up with bosses a few levels in it may be aggravating as well since the game doesn’t slowly ramp you up into fully realizing the skills available to you. If you’re up for a challenge and think a somewhat complex fighting system in a beat-em-up sounds appealing it may be right for you though.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A nice variety of characters with different fighting styles to choose from
  • The difficulty doesn’t tend to feel as high when you play with your friends
  • For fans of deeper fighting systems this one is more complex than normal

Cons:
  • Levels tend towards stomping hordes of enemies repetitively and then facing off against a far more challenging boss with not too much in between
  • The instructions on how to take full advantage of the capabilities available to you only help so much, in-game methods of reinforcing core skills and techniques would have helped


Review: Nine Parchments


The action RPG genre is a popular one that hasn’t, overall, been very well-represented on the Nintendo Switch to date. With the Diablo series standing out as one of the standard-bearers people have come to expect a combination of intense battles, varied classes and play styles, and copious amounts of loot. Fronzenbyte’s Nine Parchments is coming to the table with its own take on this, playing with the formula in ways that are effective in some cases and a disappointment in others. Overall it makes for an often challenging experience with memorable battles and a gorgeous art style, it just comes up short in terms of loot and has some technical concerns for the moment holding it back.


Unsurprisingly, given the studio’s previous titles, the emphasis from top to bottom ends up being on strategy. Unlike the comparatively simple fights you’ll have with large but generic mobs in typical games in this genre almost everything you’ll fight here will require careful spell selection. This is because elemental immunities, resistances, and buffs are pretty well a constant and over the course of the game the combinations you’ll encounter will force you to diversify your arsenal of spells to include a little bit of every type of magic so you don’t end up having an Achilles heel against certain monsters. Even beyond the elemental concerns the types of monsters you face will also dictate style as they may have a shield of some sort, forcing you to flank them in order to get in a shot. When you then sometimes add healers to the mix it can then get even more crazy. This makes every fight into a sort of tactical puzzle to be solved and turns what is normally pretty rote action into something that is consistently challenging. That’s also all before even getting into the boss fights which are typically both creative and fairly difficult compared to the normal genre fare.


In the interests of potentially making your life easier the game features support for up to 4 players, whether local or online, to help. In practice how this works out is a mixed bag at best though. On the positive side online play opens the door to people playing more specialized roles, something that is very tempting with the more elementally-focused advanced wizards. As powerful as they can be with their preferred area of expertise since they start out the game with only 1 spell that isn’t for that element they can also be challenging to get going with initially. However, if you’re in a group with varied wizards this is obviously less of an issue. I’d say that local multiplayer would be the preference in order to promote more effective cooperation but if you’re able to find a good group online this can happen organically if people demonstrate some common sense. With Friendly Fire in effect the wrong group can make for a spammy, and lethal, mess though.


Getting into the game’s challenges probably the most substantial one, given the expectations tied to the genre, is the loot system. Calling it limited would be generous. In effect the only “loot” in the game comes in the form of different hats and staves. These are ultimately important for more than aesthetics as they open the door to unlocking new wizards (though for many that will then require you to complete a challenge) but hats are only for appearance and while different staves have varied buffs there’s not much else to it. Tied to this the often “hide and seek” nature of chest placement can be annoying at times, especially since the game’s art is so elaborate and they often blend in. Since what each chest will drop appears to be random finding one that is well-hidden is often anti-climatic though as the majority of the time nothing at all will come from them, just a little boost of experience. The much more serious issue with the game, for the moment (the developer has said they will patch this in January), is that while the experience and core skills you acquire tied to a specific wizard and always retained you can only have progress in 1 game at a time, period. That’s in single-player, multiplayer, whatever. If you have an active game in 1 space and participate in any other game where you were formerly is lost. This can be aggravatingly limiting and discourages people from experimenting so, for the moment, this may be a red flag for some people depending on how they may have planned to play.


All said there are many things I really like about Nine Parchments. I found that combat was far more engaging and difficult than the genre normally offers. Each skirmish, especially once you amp up the difficulty to Hard, will test both your planning and your skills as you try to pick apart the combination of enemies thrown at you. That said, for the most part getting through these challenges tends to be very weakly rewarded as the game’s loot system doesn’t ultimately have much to offer. As a whole I’d consider my experience with multiplayer to be a draw with the downsides of joining a group of people, and the chaos it can add, roughly coming out even with the upsides. Playing it solo is most definitely different than with a group though and I can see where people could settle on either as their preference. In the end it all makes for a game that is both compelling and, at times, frustrating but also very unique in its play style.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Challenging and engaging combat with a tactical edge
  • A pretty diverse set of play styles are possible once all wizards are unlocked and powered up
  • Both local and online play are supported and can work well with the right group of people


Cons:
  • Group play can get very confusing and lethal depending on the skill level, and restraint, of your teammates
  • Solo play is demanding and may too aggravating for some people
  • The loot system, or at least the fact that many times you’re only rewarded with experience, is underwhelming
  • For now the lack of ability to play more than 1 active game may be disqualifying for some people, though a patch is in the works and planned for January


Review: Dimension Drive


We’ve been blessed by a wide variety of shooters on the Switch to date, ranging from straight arcade-style scrollers to twin-stick and various things in between. In order to stand out, though, you sometimes need to try something new get noticed. That’s where Dimension Drive comes in, bringing something very different and new to the table, playing out as a hybrid of a left-right brain puzzle game and vertically-scrolling shooter. If you’re willing to spend some time to get used to its style it definitely shakes things up quite a bit and provides a substantial challenge.


With a storyline that plays out with comic-book-style cutscenes you’ll play as Jack, pilot of the dimension-shifting Manticore battle cruiser, and would-be savior of the universe. In order to succeed you’ll need to fly through the game’s multiple worlds and 13 levels, working to not only shoot down enemy fighters but also very carefully work to collect data cubes and power-ups while hopefully managing to stay alive. While it starts out more simply you’ll very quickly learn the challenge of keeping track of the action, and more importantly obstacles, on the two sides of your screen at once. Warping from one side to the other can be important tactically, but if you’re not giving both sides a fair amount of attention at once it will often end up with you warping into solid objects or at least a bad situation under fire.

As you acquire new maneuvers for your craft the puzzle-like element of the game becomes more pronounced, requiring you to warp from side to side to avoid obstacles, trigger doors to open, and evade sticky situations. In particular boss sequences will typically take a few tries as you get the full picture of what you’ll need to do in order to succeed. The key to all of this working is control and, for the most part, everything is responsive and intuitive. At times I would get my functions confused when the action got intense but that’s more likely on me than the scheme used necessarily.


In terms of criticisms I’d say the risk Dimension Drive takes is in mixing two pretty different genres together that typically can have separate audiences. By giving the game such a strong sort of puzzle component shooter fans will likely be frustrated by how little importance the shooting itself can have in places, often being less vital than the dance of which side you want to be on at any given time. Conversely people who will enjoy the left-right brain challenge aspects of the game may struggle with the intensity of the shooting when that comes to the forefront. Some areas can get so tight with needing to very carefully move back and forth that they can get quite aggravating as well. Since the representation of your ship on the side you aren’t currently on is just a red dot, in tight spaces the need to quickly and accurately approximate your ship’s dimensions and placement can be troublesome and result in what can feel like cheap deaths. With repetition this can be gotten through but at times it seems the game loses sight of its nature of being a shooter and gets bogged down too much in the precision of moving from left to right and back.

Overall Dimension Drive isn’t a bad game but its split focus on shooting, precision maneuvering, and to a degree solving puzzles puts it at risk for being a jack of all trades but master of none. When the shooting intensity steps up the focus on shifting settles more into the background and then it can sometimes get into a nice groove but, overall, the game seems determined to keep you shifting. Between the element of challenge and it being split down the middle in terms of its genre focus I’d consider it more of an acquired taste but probably compelling for the right audience.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A very different overall play experience than I’ve previously had
  • Requires you to constantly stay engaged on what is happening on both sides of your screen
  • Many boss sequences play out in unique ways due to the shifting dynamic

Cons:
  • In some sections it can be hard to pick out what’s in the background and foreground when you need think quickly, resulting in warping into solid objects
  • The red dot indicator can be deceptive in very tight sections
  • While it is a shooter it very rarely lets you get into a satisfying shooting groove


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: Plantera


Sometimes the hustle and bustle of a long day calls for some shooting people in the face but there are also times when it’s nice to settle back and play something to help soothe your nerves. Stardew Valley and the likes of Farming Simulator have their appeal in this space but even those have larger objectives and strategies at play, sometimes it is nice to veg out a little while having some fun. That’s roughly where Plantera comes into the mix, bringing a simple combination of farming, a basic life sim, and a dash of whack-a-mole (or bird or rabbit or fox) to the mix as well.


There’s no real story or overarching theme, to start you’ll just have one little blue dude who is your helper and the ability to plant some carrots. From that humble start you’ll be looking to slowly cultivate and expand, adding land, unlocking new plants and animals, filling in your mini garden empire and furiously trying to defend it from pests who would steal your food or livestock. You can interact with things, and in the interests of making money quicker you may want to pick your plants since at some point your little guys simply aren’t going to be able to easily keep up! Aside from the progression system of unlocks tied to your overall level and both collecting coins and spending them along the way to pay for new upgrades or expansion that’s the majority of what you’ll need to know.


Plantera is simple, generally serene, has steady progression, and provides some simple satisfaction of watching your little sort of farm grow from nothing into something more elaborate. It lacks any sort of complexity but that’s also a big part of its charm for the right audience. If you’re looking for something to just help you relax, or perhaps want to get a game that could probably be played and enjoyed by people of just about any age, Plantera is a chilled out match.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • A dose of relatively stress-free serenity
  • Cute and simple

Cons:
  • Nothing more than what it is, and that ultimately isn’t very much
  • Even moderately hardcore gamers will likely hate it within seconds


Review: Tennis in the Face


When the folks at 10 Tons aren’t making new titles where you can mow people down in a hail of gunfire they’re steadily releasing more casual fare for a different kind of audience as well. Using what appears to be the same general engine as their somewhat similar title King Odball, we now have Tennis in the Face. While it similarly isn’t going to change the gaming world if you enjoy a somewhat silly physics-based puzzle game along the lines of Angry Birds you may find it is a good fit!


The hook here is that you’re a former tennis pro who has been through the wringer and you’re looking to stop an evil soda company from using their product to somehow take over the world… or something. Here’s the deal: You’ll be using tennis balls, or sometimes soda cans, to aim and try to either knock out your enemies or hit them with other objects (or people) using some crazy Rube Goldberg-type chain reactions. As you go on to different city blocks of stages the nature of your enemies and the levels’ associated challenges will change a bit with extra objects, people that require more than one hit, etc. Within some areas you’ll then also unlock additional bonus challenges that change things up in some way, whether with new enemies, trying to collect coins, etc. It’s all just variations on a general theme, and can be tricky and clever, but it all revolves around whether you enjoy the base mechanic. Personally, I prefer the relative accuracy of this over the added layer of timing complexity King Oddball introduced to the mix since I like the way you’re forced to work with angles here, but that’s down to taste.


What it boils down to is whether you’re looking for something light, silly, and generally pressure-free to enjoy for a reasonably low price. If this all looks and sounds like something of interest I’d say it is wonderfully varied and probably has more content than you’ll complete anytime soon. If you like applied geometry and physics, some tricky puzzle scenarios, and a dose of silliness Tennis in the Face isn’t a grand slam but it plays a respectable game nonetheless.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • New enemy types with varied associated challenges keep changing up the formula
  • Bonus crowns on each level require a combination of skill, planning, and luck for added challenge
  • Unlocked bonus modes add even more content and variety

Cons:
  • If the mechanics sound boring or repetitive that’s all the game has to offer so it would be a pass
  • While new elements help shake things up it can get repetitive overall nonetheless
  • Some bonus crowns for levels can seem to require as much luck as skill


Review: Slain - Back From Hell



Independent games have really opened up all sorts of avenues for people who enjoy “old school” games of all kinds. Many times the throwbacks aren’t just visual, they incorporate a degree of difficulty much more reminiscent of classic NES era games, though with modern flourishes. Slain: Back From Hell is a great example of this in action combining a classic, yet generally gorgeous, 16-bit-ish style with challenging and sometimes punishing gameplay that will demand you work for every bit of progress you get.


Brought back from your peaceful slumber of death the gods have work for you to do, namely to make your way through a series of dungeons and kill everything in your path… and it’s going to be a bloody time all the way! The most notable aspect of Slain is the mix of oozing blood and and creepiness everywhere paired with an absolutely intense heavy metal musical backdrop. This all definitely compliments the action on the screen which is generally brutal with you cutting your way through skeletons, demons, and all sorts of monstrosities.

What is absolutely vital to survival in the game is mastering your timed block and counter as your stock attack combo generally makes you vulnerable and simply doesn’t do enough damage to be your only means of success. The timing can be very tricky and you’ll pretty well need to get a feel for when to block for each specific type of enemy you’ll face since they all have their own means of attack. For the many projectiles lobbed at you the timing to swing your sword to knock them back is also crucial but this also has a bit of nuance in terms of getting the timing just right. If you hadn’t guessed by now the game has a pretty punishing difficulty and the most effective way you will have to survive is consistent precision.


The thing that will make or break the experience for most people will be the absolutely punishing overall difficulty. Levels can be conquered but it will be a step by step affair marked with some difficult scenarios, oftentimes cheap insta-death traps, and checkpoints that sometimes seem just a major altercation too far apart. The moveset also feels lacking, something more to break up the proceedings would have been nice to stave off monotony and to perhaps make combat more dynamic.

If you’re a fan of challenging games Slain: Back From Hell is happy to sate your thirst for aggravation, loud music, and pretty copious gore. Progress is always a challenge but there are a few passages specifically where you patience will be tested and you’ll have to gut it out with probably a little luck to make it through. That said, completing some of the levels is enormously satisfying and there are some great surprises along the way to reward your investment and effort if you’re daring.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Gorgeously gory in an over-the-top 16-bit style
  • The soundtrack is absolutely insane and is well-matched to the action on-screen
  • Over the course of the game it continues to change some things up to keep the challenge level high

Cons:
  • Only for fans of aggravation and old school challenge
  • Some checkpoint spans are more cruel than others and instadeath traps in bad spots can be extremely annoying
  • Combat, on the whole, is a bit on the repetitive side


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: ACORN Tactics


In general when I think of tactical turn-based strategy games I’ve traditionally thought of PC as being the platform of choice, even though there have been some games of that genre that have hit the consoles over the years. The series that I have had the most fun with over the years has by far been X-Com, and until Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle arrived on the Switch I don’t think I ever anticipated how well it was possible for that formula to translate over to console. In the somewhat unenviable position of having to follow such a big and ambitious title this week sees the release of the indie strategy title ACORN Tactics, and while it is a much more humble title it isn’t without its charm.


The world you find yourself has apparently been through a rough time and has been covered in water for the last 100 years. Survivors now apparently live on platforms on the water and are fighting to survive the best they can. The problem is, apparently King Blob has set his sights on conquering the watery planet and it will be up to you ACORN to defeat them. OK, so it makes very little sense it but also minimizes the production budget, and for a lone wolf developed project I can respect the decision… and the time he saved may have helped bring the game hats! Sorry, a big Team Fortress 2 fan so a little personality from a viking helmet on my mech makes me smile.

What it boils down to is that you’ll have missions of progressively higher difficulty where you’ll first slowly get to know how the game works, your enemy, and the game systems in general. As you get further in your squad’s diversity of mechs will grow, enemies will get more varied, and you’ll end up working through the sort of chess game that these games require, being sure to position your units appropriately to isolate and eliminate enemies while making sure they can’t focus their damage too greatly on a single unit or something key like your healer mech. To help up the challenge each unit has its own range and limitations, snipers can’t hit anything too close, shotgun units have to literally be on top of their target, you won’t want any units between your machine gunner and its target, etc. Once you get a bit deeper into the game cards that you can utilize once per turn will also show up, introducing some additional strategy as well as an element of luck. Once you get through the 25 mission campaign you’ll then be able to engage in additional randomly-generated missions as well, so the bones of a game you can stick with and enjoy with are present. The question in all of this is whether it will suit you well.


As a long-time X-Com fan who has played a lot of games like this I’ll say that, overall, I think the target audience is bit less experienced. It’s not to say the game is easy but for the most part in missions I always felt I was ahead of the progressive difficulty curve it was shooting for, likely trying not to alienate less experienced players. I was never stretched to pay for any upgrades (though for the most part with the mission structure this seems mostly intentional) and I rarely was at risk for losing units since I went through missions very carefully and methodically. Just as in all games of this kind there can be tense and frustrating moments where your squad can’t seem to hit things at point blank range but rest assured the aliens can be equally imprecise so it works itself out. Protect your damaged or weaker units, set your sniper up in strategic spots, try not to trap anyone in where there are single-unit wide spaces, and be willing to take an extra turn to set up and you should do well.

If you’re a strategy die hard I’d probably say the game isn’t well-suited to you since even if you eventually get to something challenging it will take some time since the pacing of the battles is pretty slow and meticulous. Graphically it isn’t going to win any awards but it is also very clean and shows glimmers of personality nonetheless. Perhaps even moreso than Mario + Rabbids I’d say this is a very accessible tactical strategy game for all ages and for newcomers it is likely a great fit since at least half of the missions take their time to layer on strategic elements piece by piece. While it isn’t blowing the doors off it is at least a reasonably good game for people interested in checking out strategy games on a budget.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A great first strategy game for novices with a generally mild learning curve
  • Extended play past the 25 core missions, though mileage will likely vary
  • A budget price… and HATS!
Cons:
  • For experienced strategy gamers it is likely too slow a burn to get challenging
  • The pacing of the missions could be called “deliberate”
  • The shadow of Kingdom Battle unfortunately looms over it greatly


Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: The End is Nigh


Super Meat Boy ushered in the full-blown explosion of the punishingly-hard platformer. With its mix of absolutely precise controls, demanding level designs that forced you to master said controls, and copious amounts of blood (most of it yours from failed attempts) it set a high bar for all challenging platformers that followed. Now, a number of years later, we have The End is Nigh, a new entry into a very similar space but with some new and different tricks. While it may not have the same manic speed and flow of Meat Boy the threat of death is still very real and near-constant.


In the game you’ll be playing as Ash, a die hard gamer in a post-Apocalyptic hellscape whose favorite game goes on the fritz… or something like that. Your goal is to survive through a variety of levels of steadily-increasing challenge to progress to the end while trying to collect tumors, game cartridges, and the shattered pieces of your personal sense of pride as you’ll consistently prove that failure is always an option. The thing is that in a game like this it isn’t about the destination, it is most certainly about the journey, and if you have a sense of curiosity you’ll begin to find the game’s ample hidden areas and secrets on the way and that’s where the game really shines.

One substantial difference between Ash and Meat Boy, and that in theory makes Nigh at least a little more accessible, is pacing. Lacking legs, Ash appropriately moves at a more deliberate rate and isn’t capable to nimbly performing things like wall jumps. In place of that he instead has the ability to hang off of corners or conveniently-placed hooks in the landscape. In many areas this becomes your primary means of getting around, working out how (and often when) to jump from hook to corner to avoid falling into spikes that are often in every direction. The enticement to linger and tempt death a bit more are the tumors that are on each level, usually in a place that looks impossible to get to. These become a sort of puzzle in many cases and require quite a wide variety of methods to get to initially. Sometimes to get to them elements need to be triggered on a delay, sometimes you’ll need to find hidden openings, and there are even some cases where you’ll need to go to the next level and then find another way to go back and get it. Mix this in with the fact that there are many secret areas that become available to you in similar ways (a hole in the ground is usually worth checking out) through experimentation and the mere completion of the level is very much only the bare minimum of what can be done.


While my assumption is that anyone who isn’t into this sort of hefty challenge hasn’t read this far it can’t be stressed enough that this isn’t a game you’ll casually beat, it is a game that will instead be doing the majority of the beating itself. Precision is the name of the game from your timing, to your maneuvering, to your jumping, and at the end of the day the vast majority of deaths are your own fault. This is just a game that graciously assists you with the means to doing so repeatedly. If you have any rage quitting tendencies that may mean this is a game that belongs to a genre you should avoid as it is meant to be aggravating but the fact is that conquering many of these challenges also ends up being quite rewarding. The biggest downside in the game, though, is that you’re likely to miss quite a lot the first time through. Whether because you didn’t know about a secret exit or you simply decided you’d had it with figuring out how to get a maddeningly-placed tumor if you want to get the most out of the game you’ll likely need to come back again and to do so unfortunately you’ll only be able to warp to the beginning of each block of levels… meaning you’ll find yourself somewhat grinding levels you’ve beaten already to get to the specific stage you want. Granted, you’ll often find what had previously aggravated you to be far easier when you return, especially if you’re only trying to get through and not grab anything along the way. That said, it’s probably the biggest gripe the average person would have with the game as a whole. The thing is, with additional secret worlds you can get to by collecting enough tumors or the promise of retro-style games and levels you can play whenever you find a new cartridge for your collection the temptation to go back is pretty compelling.

All said The End is Nigh isn’t quite as revelatory as Super Meat Boy but then again it also isn’t somewhat single-handedly carving out a new genre. Due to the difficulty it is a bit of an acquired taste but with work and patience the fact is that the game is still very accessible and beatable. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort the amount of hidden and unlocked content in Nigh is truly impressive and while most of it amounts to more challenges of the same nature with some details altered it can still be a lot of fun for the right audience. If you’re a glutton for punishment The End is Nigh is a fitting and satisfying feast.



Score: 8

Pros: 

  • A staggering amount of content once you include all hidden/secret levels
  • A challenging mix of puzzles and execution
  • Relatively simple and yet nuanced controls


Cons:

  • Not for the easily frustrated, at all
  • The degree of required backtracking for missed items is an odd design choice
  • If you don’t buy into the base style of play the amount of content based on it will be immaterial


Review: Teslagrad


Games with no dialogue or explicit instructions to guide the player can be tricky. If you don’t nudge the average player enough they may get frustrated and quit, if you are too heavy-handed it will rob them of the feeling of accomplishment and discovery. Managing to carefully split the middle in this tug of war comes the action platformer/puzzler Teslagrad, where from the start you’ll have very little idea of what’s going on aside from a need to keep moving. Once you’re able to evade your would-be captors and make your way into what appears to be an abandoned castle you’ll begin your adventure of discovery to uncover the secrets of the game’s story and your character’s part to play in it.


The game employs a clever system of progression through its runtime. For every discovery you make you’ll find new abilities that you’ll need to master fully to be a success. As you come upon them you’ll often find a few pictures on the wall that will give you a very basic understanding of what you should now be able to do and then, in general, from that point on you’ll be left to figure out how to effectively apply those abilities in different situations. The rate that you need to do this is generally pretty gentle and I don’t recall any point where it felt unfair. You’ll just see a gap you need to cover or some sort of environmental trap you need to get by and then take the time to work out how you can use your skills to help you conquer it. This, without a doubt, often involves an element of trial and error (and often death) but since your progress is stored every time you move into a new room this rarely feels at all punishing.

What feels great is that once you’ve gotten to a certain point in the game you feel pretty well left to your own devices, choosing which path to take. While it is a relatively small detail the lack of feeling like you’re on rails enhances the sense of discovery and adventure and I appreciated this touch even if ultimately I may have had less choice than I thought. Throughout for each segment of the game I would have to take in the challenges presented to me, poke around and try a few things, and then work to execute everything successfully to progress. Once I got to the next room I was then set and would take on the next set of challenges. This also made it a great game to pick up and play for a little bit, put down, and then return to later, making it perfect for the Switch in handheld mode while on the go.


While no particular puzzle stands out as particularly unfair it is possible that some gamers could struggle a bit with the execution in some situations. Timing can be vital and you’ll pretty commonly be required to chain a few different skills and ideas in a row, with an eye for accuracy. While some of these situations could be aggravating I also don’t consider them in any way unfair. That said, depending on people’s skill levels it could be there are obstacles some will struggle with more than others. Perhaps people who enjoy a very clearly defined story could also find the more implied but never necessarily set in stone nature of the narrative to be a downside but I enjoyed the somewhat creative way elements of the past are peppered on the walls and in events along your journey.

I attempted to keep everything roughly as vague as possible in the review because I think one of the greatest things for me about the game was coming into it having know very little. This allowed the game to feel a little more magical to me rather than as a chain of expected events and tools to be found. If you enjoy creative and sometimes challenging platforming with a bits of puzzles thrown in Teslagrad is a game to be savored, and stands out as something a bit special among its peers.


Score: 9

Pros:
  • The lack of explicit direction makes the process of growth far more rewarding
  • A wide variety of creative and challenging platforming challenges with some puzzle elements thrown in on a regular basis
  • The art design and music are both impeccable

Cons:
  • The lack of a strictly-defined path in places could potentially confuse some people
  • Some of the challenges may push the limits of some people in terms of execution and precision


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: Caveman Warriors


The side-scrolling action platformer is probably one of the oldest and most iconic genres ever on home consoles. That said, in the more recent years the number of titles in that vein have fallen precipitously. With many titles moving to 3D, adopting a more Metroidvania kind of style, or going down the Super Meat Boy rabbit hole with brutal precision the more stock variety inspired by the likes of Wonder Boy, Bonk, or even the sillier Joe and Mac have mostly disappeared. Speaking of prehistoric and somewhat silly adventures that brings us to Caveman Warriors, a game that mixes action elements with a degree of puzzle solving (and even multiplayer if you’ve got some friends available) to challenge you over a surprising variety of levels.


While you’ll choose your initial caveman (or woman, there are 2 of each gender) you will quickly discover that you won’t generally play for long as anyone specific. That’s because each of them have 2 special abilities that you’ll need to employ in different combinations at different times to make your way through the levels. Sometimes this will have to do with an obstacle of some kind that you’ll need to overcome (with a well-placed spear for instance) but many times you’ll want to change things up just to take out specific enemies who are too troublesome to try to attack straight-up. Rather than risk getting hit (which will be discussed more at length later) you’ll start to get a feel for scenarios where a specific warrior is the best to be used and will find yourself changing often.

The levels themselves as you progress will at least continue to change things up as well to prevent you from getting too settled in. While the stock enemies you deal with aren’t all that varied the mid-level and final bosses you encounter will often pose an initial challenge as you try to determine what combination of warriors is best suited to the encounter. Sometimes getting to these bosses can be a challenge in itself as there can be a pretty hefty space between checkpoints though. To boot you’ll generally have to move through some space before you even get back to a boss again so be ready to work to win, the game doesn’t make it easy for you.


It’s the degree of challenge that may trip people up the most in the game, though in many ways this is tied to design decisions concerning game mechanics and not in the levels or enemies themselves so much. Two key things stand out. The first is an old stand-by and probably one of my least-missed features in older games of this kind, and that’s being knocked back when you’re hit. Probably a solid third of the times I died (or more) were tied to this alone. In particular anywhere you’re on smaller platforms or near water this feature is an absolute killer, quite literally. The second is a bit more complicated and I assume it has to do with the desire to have people engaged in the puzzle-solving aspect of the game, forcing them to change up their warriors regularly, and that’s the lack of a down attack when you jump. Until I was able to break my traditional habits and stop to do things differently I died quite a bit because I assumed I’d be able to jump in and just slam my opponent. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. I can appreciate the fact that the goal may be to have people switch things up and approach it more conceptually but it really ruins the flow of the game and feels like a highly artificial constraint for its own sake. Especially when you have to repeat sections of levels and you’ve got the chain of who to use where down the tediousness of the exercise comes through when instead you could at least enjoy rolling through and bashing some heads.

If you’re a fan of this classic sort of gameplay, but with a few great modern twists, I would have no reservations in recommending it. It truly feels like a classic genre game brought forward to today. However, if there are some old habits from the genre you could do without or you’re not familiar with the agony often associated with the notorious knockback your patience may wear thin as it is a huge part of the game experience unfortunately. If you can get past that Caveman Warriors is a colorful and generally well-executed side-scrolling romp though.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • A nice blend of warriors with varied special attacks
  • Some great and challenging boss fights
  • Well-hidden collectables offer some extended play and exploration
Cons:
  • Knockback on hit is a feature that should die a painful death, preferably knocked off of a small platform at full health to die
  • The puzzle-like mechanics are used to the point where they interrupt flow and fun
  • With the above problems with easy death some checkpoints feel pretty far apart, sometimes leading to a lot of tedious repetition to get back to where you died


Review: Riptide GP - Renegade


When creating watercraft-based racing games there are two pretty different routes to follow.  First there are ones that are essentially in the vein of the classic Wave Race series built around dynamic waves and technique as you attempt to control your racer through a series of buoys on the water. The rest are much more in line with traditional racing games, having you race on a more guided water-based track. For good or bad Riptide GP: Renegade falls into the second camp, though to its credit it does so with a great deal of polish for a budget title with mobile origins.


For those of you unfamiliar with the series that started in the mobile space the Riptide games are set in a sort of funky, somewhat dystopian future where people gangs of people take to the water rather than the roadways. In this iteration you’re a fallen-from-glory racer who is trying to make their comeback through the ranks to claim your rightful place… or something like that. Along the way you’ll race progressively more impressive craft against more intimidating foes and at more impressive speeds. The majority of races will, as I’d said, play out more like a street race on water but at least Riptide does an excellent sure of not having you mistake it for merely racing on a “blue road”. For the most part you’ll hit waves that are appropriate to the location, with smaller waves in most corridors but then some larger waves and even some jumps in places where you can catch some air to do some stunting. There are a few alternative modes including eliminations, stunt trials, and slalom. My favorite, of course, being the slalom races but unfortunately there are too few of them and they’re just set on the racing courses so they’re not quite all I would hope for.

As a whole the paces the game puts you through are pretty consistently challenging without pushing the limit too much. There are times when you may need to do some grinding to get money for upgrades or experience to level so you can acquire some new skills like better stunts for your repertoire but for the most part if you have some decent aquatic racing chops it shouldn’t get too painful. Upgrading your watercraft pretty evenly is always a good idea, in particular in races against “bosses” I found you would typically need to be pretty well maxed out unless you can catch some breaks somehow, they’re aggressive and don’t generally make many mistakes. Success means new people to play as along with their generally more impressive rides with improved base stats. If you’re looking to play against other humans your best bet will be playing locally with up to 4-player split-screen available as well as online play, though availability will be subject to how many other people are playing.


In terms of criticisms I’d say that thought Renegade has a lot of personality with just a little bit more effort the veneer wouldn’t be quite so thin. Seeing most racers do the same movements in time to prep for the race somewhat shatters the illusion. It’s a small thing but once I noticed it that jumped out at me. The racer customization is pretty nice, if it could just be expanded to a pre-race move and a victory pose it would take it over the top. With stunts for the most part they work within the races pretty well but the stunt courses themselves simply being portions of the existing track really makes it feel tacked on. Giving people some space to change things up and show some creativity would really help the mode out. Speaking of space I understand this is a track-based water racer but there are portions of some track that have some more open water and they’re really great, complete with some nice big waves, I just want more of that! Even if it were just a track or two. Throw in some great slalom courses there, forcing people to judge their waves and use technique to cut through the water and hit their turns and I’d be an extremely happy man. The elements are all in the game, it just needs to be stepped up a bit more.

Overall I’m really impressed with Renegade from top to bottom, especially since (as I’ve noted) this is a game with mobile roots and is being released at a very reasonable price. Not in any way a lazy or lacking port this feels like a game that was meant to be on the Switch from the get-go and does an excellent job of scratching that water racing itch. I look forward to the next incarnation and can only hope that they spend some time pondering over Wave Race and moving things a little further in that direction. They’ve released an excellent speed-based racing game, now I’d just like one that demands a little more technique. Easy to recommend for racing fans of all persuasions.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Some great and varied track designs
  • Different event types place varied demands on you
  • Absolutely zero issues with performance and racing controls

Cons:
  • For the most part this is a “racer on water” and not in the Wave Race vein
  • Has just enough personality to draw attention to where it is a little repetitive
  • Some of the more complex stunts can be troublesome to execute


Review: Star Ghost


The shooter genre is already pretty well-represented on the Nintendo Switch, with a pretty wide variety of options available. While many of them are of the twin-stick variety there are more classic scrolling shooters and a few other oddballs as well. By its appearance Star Ghost looks like just another side-scrolling shooter option and to some degree it is. However, it is its control scheme and roguelike qualities that will either suck you in or aggravate you endlessly.


In many ways the control in Star Ghost feels like it may have been inspired by mobile games at its core because the majority of what you’ll do to maneuver your ship is to press the A button. If you hold it down you’ll go up, and when you let go you’ll go down. While this seems like a pretty simple thing the way it affects how you play the game changes quite radically because of it. You do have the additional ability to direct your weapon fire but that’s only so useful as typically your rate of fire is pretty low and the space between shots make shooting at an angle a little tougher to judge than just trusting the fact you can hit what’s right in front of you. Your tractor beam also plays a role in helping you collect orbs that will come from destroyed enemies and these can serve as either currency or power-ups depending on their color. A great, but nasty, twist is that when you activate your tractor beam you’re unable to shoot and that forms just one part of the game’s major roguelike elements of risk and reward.

What makes this feel more like a roguelike than just an arcade-style game is a healthy dose randomness in the levels you’ll explore per run, the lack of predictability for the power-ups you’ll get, the fact that your power-ups diminish and go away with time, and the cruel temptation the game loves to throw at you to risk your multiplier and shields. While some aspects of the levels are the same the flight patterns of enemies and the way obstacles lay out are often just different enough that you need to pay careful attention to them. Destroying more enemies means more points and more power-up opportunities but if you’re busy shooting you won’t be able to snag that spread power-up that could really help you out since it has dropped back down to its base level. Do you spend your credits to upgrade your firing rate, replenish your shield (it isn’t restored between levels), or perhaps save up so you’ll be able to continue when you die? These decisions need to be made on a continual basis and there are ultimately no right answers, just you trying to stay alive a little longer. It is both exciting and aggravating for all of the right reasons for people who enjoy this sort of challenge.


When it comes to downsides that variability and the fact that from run to run you can have such wild shifts from success to utterly dismal failure probably makes it a tough choice for the average gamer (BTW, whatever you do don't collect the red virus orbs!). Especially for people who are walking into this, looking at the screen shots and video, and are thinking this is an arcade shooter you’ve been warned. It is something different and that can be a good thing but if what you’re looking for is that classic feel Star Ghost absolutely isn’t that. While I find the controls, and the decisions they force you to make, interesting there are some times where they feel unfair when it comes to the tight spaces you’re sometimes forced to fly through. Even with traditional controls these could be tight but with this scheme setups like that feel a bit more cheap. I’m also very surprised that the high scores are local-only, this seems like a game that is begging for online leaderboards and some healthy competition between friends as well.

As a whole I both enjoy Star Ghost and am a big aggravated by it. I love that it set out to do something different, and it has very much accomplished that goal. I like that whether it meant to or not it has some very roguelike elements in its DNA that make it noteworthy and challenging. That said, there are a few elements that may have benefitted from moving the needle a little further back in terms of difficulty to make it more likely accessible to a wider audience. It’s an acquired taste as it stands, and for people seeking out a non-traditional challenge it is a solid value as well.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A healthy dose of unpredictability in every run
  • Multiple layers of risk and reward to tempt you
  • A very polished presentation

Cons:
  • For people looking for a traditional arcade space shooter this absolutely it not one
  • The control scheme is smart and simple but can be aggravating with tight obstacles sometimes
  • No online leaderboards is a shame


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Red Game Without A Great Name


In the space of low-budget Switch games there aren’t too many choices. Enter the appropriately named Red Game Without a Great Name and its pretty slick appearance. Sharing aesthetics with the similarly-named Green Game Timeswapper but not its problematic wandering controls it has a relatively simple mechanic that will challenge you across 60 increasingly-complex levels.


The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that it has a very distinctive, and pretty polished, look. With relatively simple but detailed black foreground elements on a varied red background everything is crisp, clean, and brimming with style. Since the mechanical bird you’ll control is pretty well in constant motion, as is the camera that will force you to keep yourself moving, you won’t get much of an opportunity to take it all in but don’t worry, in many sections you’ll die enough times to the varying traps in the game that you’ll get to know them well with their simple and yet distinctive details quite well.

One thing to be very aware of is that this game is strictly a touchscreen affair, and given that the only control you have is to swipe the bird from one spot to another on the screen it is the only control that would make sense. This does mean that you won’t be able to play it in docked mode, but at least the sacrifice makes sense given the style of the game. While this relatively basic control scheme would seem to make things easy the game does an excellent job of little by little introducing new elements to continue to complicate things. Aside from the various traps that will kill you on contact there are also elements that will cause you to change direction as well so you’ll need to be on top of things at all times if you want to stay alive. As each new element is generally given a quick but instructive bit of on-screen text when it first appears followed by a small space where you’ll somewhat safely be able to see their effects the game also does a good job of helping you stay on top of things for the most part.


In general terms aside from noting how challenging the game can get at times, and in the moment some things can feel a bit unfair, for the price it’s hard to have many actual complaints. There are spaces you’ll need to work in quickly and precisely to avoid death but usually it is only when you’re determined to collect all 3 cogs on every level that you’ll more likely hit a wall in places. In relation to trying to collect all 3 cogs the cruelty can come from the fact that touching them isn’t enough, to collect them you’ll need to grab them and finish the level without dying. This gets particularly treacherous when you’re trying to nab all 3 in one go. While that can make for a steep challenge at times it is also 100% up to you whether you tackle it though.

All said for the price of admission Red Game Without a Great Name has more to offer than its lacking title would imply. With the likely frustration factor as you get further in it seems mostly suited to playing in shorter bursts and the levels are generally very quick to either complete or fail at before it takes you right back into the action again. If you enjoy some challenge and undoubtedly some aggravation in your gaming it’s not a bad budget title to check out.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A great sense of visual style
  • Simple and responsive control
  • The game is only as challenging as you choose to make it as the 3 cogs per level are ultimately optional
  • A budget-friendly price

Cons:
  • Some spaces get pretty tight and can be aggravating given the near-constant movement of the bird and the camera, time is not on your side
  • If you’re insistent on getting all 3 cogs on every level be ready for some serious aggravation in places
  • Only playable in handheld mode with touchscreen controls
  • The style of gameplay may not be engaging for everyone