Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase


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

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


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

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


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

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


Score: 8

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


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


Review: Quest of Dungeons


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

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


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

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


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

Score: 8

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


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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Robonauts


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

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


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

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


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

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


Score: 6

Pros:

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


Cons:

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


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: Kingdom: New Lands


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


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




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


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



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


Score: 8


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


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

Review: Semispheres


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

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


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


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

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


Score: 7.5

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


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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: 36 Fragmnents of Midnight


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

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


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

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


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

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


Score: 3

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

Review: Beach Buggy Racing


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

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


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

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


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

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


Score: 6

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


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


Monday, September 11, 2017

Interview with Radu Muresan of Vivid Helix on Semispheres


In Semispeheres you will take control of two spheres, one blue and one orange, to undertake a cooperative puzzle adventure of sorts. Using the relatively simple tools at your disposal you’ll need to figure out how they can help themselves and each other progress through each of the game’s levels that continue to get more intricate and challenging. I was able to arrange an interview with the game’s lone wolf developer, Radu Muresan, as he is preparing for the game’s debut on the Nintendo Switch this week.

Starting with the staple question that everyone gets, you're at a conference and you've been asked to give a quick summary describing your game, looking to pump up the crowd. What do you say?

RM: Normally I'd just say "It's a puzzle game, that's all you need to know". I found this approach worked best to maximize the element of surprise. For more demanding players, I'd say it's a "meditative parallel puzzle game", that's enough to at least make them curious. 

What games would you say most influenced or inspired the design and concepts behind Semispheres?

RM: Mechanically the game was initially inspired by "Brothers - Tale Of Two Sons". In terms of progression and level layout, I looked up to games where the whole game is one big tutorial.


Reviewing the game's website you have listed some awards that the game has won. How gratifying is it to have your work recognized in these sorts of ways among the work of your peers?

RM: It's really satisfying of course, but I really enjoyed just seeing people play the game at all the events I showcased it.  

The left/right brain parallel control thing has cropped up a bit in the past year or so in a handful of titles, and I generally don't remember it being explored before then. Where did the inspiration to go with this style of play come from for you?

RM: As mentioned above, "Brothers" was the initial inspiration. However, the control scheme is secondary to the duality of the worlds. Coupled with the slower pacing, I don't think I've seen any similar games that use this kind of control scheme - as most of them focus on the mechanical aspect first.


While the puzzles continually get more challenging the overall look, sounds, and vibe of the game is always extremely mellow. Was there a specific objective behind this or is it just a style that seemed to suit the game you you wanted to make?

RM: Thinking in two separate, yet identical spaces can be very taxing so the whole look and feel of the game was designed to get you immersed and focused on the game. Anything that moves is very subtle, music is also great but just at the threshold of calling attention to it. I noticed a huge improvement in play style once I started showcasing the game with headphones - as it is the kind of game that you can't play while you do something else. 

Where in the process did the "boy and his robot" interlude story get introduced to the mix? Is there a specific way that it ultimately relates to the gameplay itself?

RM: We're getting into spoiler territory, but the story is indeed connected to the gameplay. It's all revealed later in the game. 



What inspired you to decide you wanted to become a game developer?

RM: I've always wanted to make games, but do so on my own terms. I started making games (again) in 2010 focusing on mobile and slowly transitioned into the PC/console space.

As, for the most part, a lone developer what would you say are the biggest pluses and minuses of working on a game by yourself?

RM: I really enjoy it, but it can get lonely. Fortunately, there are lots of great communities (online and in most bigger cities) and when there aren't, they're easy to start. I'm getting close to 3 years of running two different events locally that help a lot with getting the social interaction "fix" I need.

Having already been released on the PlayStation 4 to some pretty positive reviews would you say you're happy with how the game has been received to this point?

RM: I'm really happy with the outcome. There were lots of lessons learned, so I'm looking forward to my next title.

What has the process been like, as a lone coder, preparing the game to run on the Switch?

RM: Overall I'd say it's one of the easier ones. There are still things to improve, but considering how early in the Switch's lifecycle this is, I'm fairly impressed. 


What would you say is the biggest positive you've seen while preparing to release Semispheres on the Switch?

RM: Just holding the game in my hands felt really good. Taking the joycons out and playing like that was really interesting too. I also switched (ha!) the colors around just for the Switch release so they match the default placement of the neon blue/red joycons. 

Assuming you continue to find success for Semispheres have you begun work or planning for your next title? If so, any small hints?

RM: I'm not finished with Semispheres yet, there are still a few more platforms I want to hit. I have a few ideas for my next title, the top of my list sounds too ambitious to mention just yet. Soon, most probably early next year! 

Many thanks to Radu for taking the time to answer my questions as he anxiously awaits the Semispheres launch on the Switch, and thanks as well to Christopher for coordinating. Semispheres will be available on the eShop Thursday, September 14th!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Interview with Tanya X. Short of Kitfox Games on Moon Hunters


Moon Hunters has action / RPG roots without question but does things a little differently than you may be accustomed to. While there are additional classes you can unlock to play as and more typical fare the game is less about simply completing it (which can be done in a sitting if you’re in your groove) and far more about exploring the game world, running into various random encounters, and experimenting with how you deal with them. These choices will affect your character’s stats and how they’re perceived in the world. Depending on the choices you make and the people you’ve encounter different opportunities and possible endings will present themselves. The game’s designer, and co-founder of Kitfox Studios, Tanya X. Short was gracious enough to take the time to answer some of my questions about the game and its inspirations.

While there are elements of the game that hint at other series I'd consider most of the overall experience in the game different than I'm accustomed to. There's a richness and depth to the overall story and the elements of the game that took me by surprise. What were the influences for Moon Hunters, whether in terms of other games or forms of culture?

TS: All over the place! I love games, and you can see traces of games like Secret of Mana or 80 Days or Princess Maker 2, but I also love films, books, graphic novels, and ancient history. We tried to draw specifically from ancient Assyrian and Sumerian myths, clothing, and cultural events.


What strikes me about Moon Hunters is that it is a game of several layers. At the core it is an action RPG and offers up several classes that have varied styles of play. Even just at that "simple" level in a given playthrough you will only get the opportunity to make use of a portion of all potential power-ups for the class. Depending on the locations you seek out, the encounters you have, and the choices you make your attributes can also vary substantially, even with the same class. How challenging was all of this to implement and balance so that players are compelled to continue to discover instead of frustrated or discouraged?

TS: It took more time than we thought, for sure! Even though we were building on a quite-old prototype (check out Dungeons of Fayte if you want to see the initial "seed" of the game idea), it took many tries to build up the right level of metagame, to try to make it full of surprising discoveries.

Having played through the game a few times now there's still a ton to unlock, things to experience, encounters to understand, and simply trying to get the "good" ending. How many run-throughs would you estimate it would take someone who isn't using a guide to discover the majority of the best content in the game?

TS: It depends on the person, of course, but we find most people are satisfied after 4-6 hours with the game, so 5-8 playthroughs.

Aside from the wonderful retro pixel graphics style the game has it's hard not to have the game's evocative music get in your head and create an often somewhat melancholy mood. Is this all part of the hook to help compel people to continue to work through the challenge of determining how to change the course of events and get the "good" ending? 

TS: Definitely shout-out to Halina Heron and Ryan Roth, who were seriously fantastic. Ryan did the audio on our previous game (Shattered Planet) and both he and Halina are great musicians, so it was awesome that they would collaborate on Moon Hunters -- their only other game soundtrack collaboration was The Yawhg (a game also inspired by that prototype I mentioned, Dungeons of Fayte), so if you like the Moon Hunters feel, definitely give that game a try too.


Looking at your studio's stated goals and the catalog of titles you've made to this point you appear to be determined to make rich narrative experiences, regardless of the genre the given game may be in. What would you say is driving that desire when, overall, there's so much boilerplate narrative out there?

TS: You're so flattering! Thank you! I was an English major before I was a game designer, I love reading, and I still write some short fiction for magazine publication. I guess you could say that I have a taste for storytelling as a unique human joy and art, rather than just words in a linear sequence.

Playing the game with other people isn't necessary but there's support for parties of up to 4. How does the game adapt the challenge level and encounters to accommodate multiple people?

TS: There's more enemies, more enemy health, and more myths that generate at the end, for more players. More players is also more fun, since you can vote on what to do during dialogue choices.

Now that you've released a few titles what would you say is the greatest bit of wisdom you would give yourself when you were getting started or perhaps that you wish gamers would understand about the challenges indie developers face?

TS: You need to approach each game as if it will sell 0 copies, and somehow find a way to make it and survive anyway. There's almost always a second source of funds besides game sales, at least in the first few years. Usually this takes the form of contracts with bigger companies (making games for them secretly), but it could also be loans or grants. Making a living as an indie developer is really hard!

I’d like to, again, thank Tanya for taking the time to field my questions about the game and give a shout out to Victoria as well for coordinating this. Moon Hunters is planned for a release on the Switch in the near future, though it currently doesn’t yet have an announced date. For more information and video of the gameplay be sure to check out our preview.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: NeuroVoider


As a huge fan of both roguelikes and twin-stick shooters NeuroVoider very quickly and easily captured my attention when it was announced for the Switch. The promise of some intense arcade-like action, loot collection, weapon variety, and putting together the robot that worked to suit your style was very appealing. Thankfully the final game has delivered on the majority of its promises, making for a pretty intense and memorable experience (one that can be even more fun with up to 3 friends). Oh, and if you plan on beating the game you’d better buckle up, because that’s not going to happen without some skill and a generous helping of luck as well.

You’ll start out every game in NeuroVoider the same way, choosing the base body for your robot between 3 general styles that amount to light and quick, heavy and hard-hitting, or somewhere in the middle. Each has its merits and I’ve often switched between them in the hopes of finding an ideal balance depending on the gear I’ve picked up over the course of a game. The second choice you make, and this can be a real game-changer, is what enhancement you want to roll with. Your options will include both active and passive skills that have a wide variety of offensive and defensive benefits but there are also ones that will affect the gear you’ll find. There’s no easy answer for what the best choice is, you’ll have to experiment to figure out which suits your style and focus best.



You’ll always start out with class-representative weapons but the great thing is that once you complete the first level all weapons are always on the table to all classes. Unlike the other elements of your bot that are tied to a specific body type, weapons are a free-for-all. So if you want to load up a bulky nuke and flame thrower on your light unit or go with a pea shooter and a melee weapon on your heavy hitter that’s up to you. Weapon selection is an area you’ll spend a lot of time and effort on, trying to figure out what combination of choices will work best for you. Even if you think you have a great weapon that works for you now within a few levels it will inevitably be obsolete and you’ll need to upgrade. On top of this you’ll need to keep a careful eye on at all times is your weapons’ rates of energy consumption. Almost more than other factor in the game that is the greatest challenge you’ll face in NeuroVoider. Sure, you’ll have hordes of enemies and brutal bosses to contend with but having the right mix of weapons that you can use to deal massive damage that won’t also be constantly overheating and leaving you vulnerable is the true key to the game.

To help you manage all of this you’ll constantly be picking up random drops of loot from your slain foes but you’ll also be able to gamble your scrap to forge new gear and hope for the best. You’ll need to reflect carefully on the choices you make for your components. While your hit points are obviously important both your energy points and the rate that your energy replenishes are also vital to take into account. The more energy and the faster it recharges will mean more sustained usage of more powerful weapons. In addition you’ll want to keep an eye on the various bonuses that can be carried with the right types of gear, adding to your mobility, or even more importantly reducing your overall energy consumption. As much as you’ll want to get right back into the action, gearing up properly is vital to your survival so hit the forge, spend some scrap, and then carefully review your options between every level.


Careful level selection can also be the difference between life and death depending on how you’re playing and what gear you have. You’ll always have a choice of 3 levels and they’ll be rated for their size, the number of elites they have, and the available level of loot. While you’ll always be tempted to go for the most loot the largest levels, especially when they’re full of elites, can be very dangerous as healing opportunities aren’t always guaranteed within the stages (some enemies will randomly drop packs that will heal you). Sometimes going smaller, even if there’s not as much promised loot, can be the best path. Do that too often, though, and you may not be able to keep your gear at pace with the increasing difficulty as you get deeper into the game. Periodically you’ll also have the option to go to a secret level in the game and how these play out can vary wildly. Sometimes it is a gauntlet of high-powered elites you’ll need to take out but other times it will be a massive swarm of smaller enemies that can in many ways be even more deadly depending on what gear you have (or they have, I’ve encountered swarms with explosive projectiles and that was ugly). In true roguelike fashion you won’t be able to predict what lies in any given level and death can sometimes come very quickly if you make a bad weapon selection and are put up against enemies that are able to overwhelm you in a variety of ways.

As much as I enjoy the game that isn’t to say there aren’t some frustrations. Particularly on larger levels it can be easy to get a bit lost and the lack of a mini map or something to help show where you’ve already been can lead to fruitless backtracking. Compounding this problem is the fact that there are visible spots in levels where you simply won’t be able to go and there are areas that look like walls you can pass through and those that you can’t. While generally there are enemies around to keep you clued in to where to go next once you’ve cleared areas it can then be harder to tell where to go. In addition, while the upgrade menus are functional they can also take some getting used to and feel cumbersome. Since upgrading is so vital to the game anything that could be done to streamline things further and reduce your time spent in menus would be greatly appreciated. Probably the biggest flaw that comes to mind is just that there’s nothing that clues you in on when your health is critically low. The majority of times that I’ve died in the game it has been sudden and without me really knowing I was in serious trouble. The lack of a clear audio or visual cue for this both forces you to try to keep an eye on your health gauge constantly and robs the game of an opportunity to create some tension as you try to hold on to your last slivers of life. Just small things but I think they’d continue to make the game better.


Aside from those very focused bits of nitpicking NeuroVoider is another roguelike I anticipate I’ll be spending a lot of time with on my Switch. Even though I’ve settled into what I believe my preferred weapon combination is I’ve continued to be either enticed or forced into changing it up in relation to the gear I find. Generally I’m not a melee guy but when you pick up a melee weapon with explosive damage you can’t help but give it a whirl every now and again. Weapons vary in range, accuracy, splash damage, and more… the fact that every few levels base weapons will begin to be more powerful than the rares you lucked into before means you’ll need to continue to take a hard look at your loadout in order to survive. From run to run I’ve gotten only a few levels in right after getting through the first few bosses so there’s just no knowing what the game will throw at you. With all of this in mind it is easy to recommend NeuroVoider to anyone looking for some satisfying and challenging action.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A challenging and rewarding shooting action and looting loop
  • More weapon variety that you’ll typically find anywhere
  • The versatility to combine power-ups, body types, and weapons makes for extended and varied play
  • Playing with up to 3 friends can greatly increase the insanity and fun levels

Cons:
  • The lack of a mini-map to keep track of where you’ve been
  • The menus for forging and managing upgrades can be cumbersome for as much time as you’ll need to spend in them
  • The level of challenge may be too high for more casual gamers

Review: Lichtspeer - Double Speer Edition


There’s something to be said for a game design that aims for doing one thing incredibly well and ensuring every opportunity around that element is exhausted. Lichtspeer, with its hyper-focus on the core mechanic of simply aiming and throwing your laser speer, does just that. It tries to inject humor, an interesting art style, some truly bizarre bosses, and outright brutal challenges to help extend the experience but your ability to aim and throw the speer is always at the center of the experience. How much mileage you’re able to get out of the game, then, is dependent on how well you’re able to master your technique and keep yourself entertained with its quirkiness.

Before the game even begins you will be warned to be aware that essentially nothing you see will make much sense, and that’s OK. You’ll start your journey as the chosen Champion called to service of the Lichtgods to go forth and kill and die... for their amusement. Never for a moment is there any doubt, as they mock you while getting you started, that this will be an experience not quite like anything else you’ve played before.


While you’ll always primarily use your trusty speer to take down your enemies that isn’t to say you won’t be able to get some upgrades to periodically get you out of a jam along the way. You’ll start out with access to the Tri-Speer attack, allowing you to press B once you’ve thrown a speer to split it into 3. While it has a pretty long cooldown to start you’ll be able to upgrade to make it quicker. In addition there are numerous other skill choices that will provide additional offensive and defensive options. These can all be slowly purchased with LSD (I kid you not, though it is an acronym), which you’ll accumulate in relation to your score as you progress through stages. The higher you’re able to score, the quicker you’ll be able to upgrade yourself and provide a little room to breathe if your accuracy starts to go south on you, and with the challenges in store that will definitely happen with regularity. Special to the Switch edition of the game you can have a companion drop in to help, and they’ll be able to throw a speer of their own, but that is only so much help unless the person you’re playing with is almost as good at it as you are.

In principle it is all relatively simple. If you see something coming towards you, you’ll want to put a speer through it. While body shots will often kill smaller enemies with one hit in general you’ll quickly learn the benefits of aiming for the head. First, headshots are always one-shot kills, which buys you some time and breathing room when things get tense. Second, you’ll rack up multipliers and bonuses for headshots, even more if you’re able to score them consecutively. Third, there’s something satisfying about seeing a hipster giant taken down or a weird zombie have its head explode with a little geyser of blood erupting from its neck. It’s the little things that can be satisfying. Where the challenge ramps up is when the game begins throwing curveballs at you like enemies above or below you, things like those freaking fish from hell that are small and hard to hit, or enemies that fire projectiles among other things. Throwing upwards or downwards makes for much more challenging angles, especially when you still have other enemies coming at you head-on. That’s where the challenge begins to come into play and you’ll begin to die… a lot.


Even if you’re on a killing spree once you get maybe 2 or 3 misses in a row it all begins to unravel in a hurry. It turns out the Lichtgods don’t look kindly on your repeated failures and will punish you briefly for your inadequacy. You’ll also be stunned if you get hit by an enemy wizard’s projectile. I suppose you can be thankful that’s one of the few things that won’t kill you (just about everything in the game that touches you does), but these various ways you get stunned all set the stage for your rapid failure if you’re not careful. Due to the number of enemies on the screen as you progress, and the rate at which some of them will come at you, you can’t afford to carefully line up every shot. At the same time, though, you can’t just let your speers fly for fear of missing with too many and being stunned. It is your central struggle in the game and that’s where those additional skills come into play, usually giving you a window to breathe and hope you can get your act together. Note that those skills can’t help you against the game’s often-challenging bosses though. I suppose to level the playing field and up the challenge against the game’s bosses you’ll need to figure out what you need to do to kill them and it will often require you to be extremely accurate with your shots while also under heavy pressure. It does make it satisfying when you take them down, but nothing in the game is ever easy.

The question for you when considering Lichtspeer is whether you enjoy being challenged and whether you mind that the game ultimately revolves around getting very good at aiming and firing your speer. If you think you could say yes to both of these items there’s several hours of enjoyment to be had with the game, and you most certainly will be challenged over the course of playing it. If you finish the base stages you’ll be able to go for completing Game+ mode with even more enemies coming your way. If even that isn’t quite enough challenge for you feel free to take on the appropriately-named Rage Quit mode that will forcee you to complete the stages with no checkpoints. I tried and failed spectacularly, there’s always some bastard that breaks through at some point. For the right people I have no doubt Lichtspeer will be a good time, but I also would quickly say it isn’t for everyone.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • The game’s sense of humor and quirkiness help to numb the pain of your failures
  • The art style, though minimal, is pretty cool
  • Some very cool and distinctive boss battles


Cons:
  • After a while the veneer of fun wears thin and there’s simply not a lot to the game
  • Enemies like the fish and the walrus are enormously aggravating at times
  • Sometimes the game crosses the line from just being very hard to feeling unfair


Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: RBI Baseball 17



For many people there’s something special about baseball, the experience of going to the park and rooting for your home team through the ups and downs of the long season. To me baseball games have always been challenged to try to capture the essence of what is most enjoyable about the sport in a virtual form. It seems that the two classic approaches have been to go with a more simulation feel, where you are managing rosters and line-ups and the action is a bit more slow-paced and nuanced, or arcade where the action is the emphasis and traditionally the control has also been simplified. There’s no question that RBI Baseball 17 is on the simulation side of the fence, sporting the MLB license, full rosters, official uniforms, pictures and representations of players, and carefully recreated versions of the major league parks. Unfortunately, even with all of that effort invested, the more essential element of fun is brought down by both overly-simple and typically sluggish controls.

Starting with what the game gets right there’s no mistaking that time has been spent making the most of the MLB licensing. As I started up the game for the first time I was prompted to get the latest update of team rosters (though I can’t comment on how quickly they may be updated), players are reasonably represented on-screen though there isn’t a tremendous amount of detail, the parks look mostly accurate, and details like the various team uniforms being represented do show some care. If you’re a huge baseball fan you should at least be able to enjoy your team being authentic and accurate with regards to presentation, and for a game going the more sim-oriented route this is an important goal to meet.


As you start up you’ll notice that your options are to play an Exhibition, a Season (that can have its length altered to make it more manageable), or Post-Season (that can also have its length shortened). In the end this is just about how you want to approach things, perhaps kicking around with a friend in Exhibition, slogging out a full season to see how you fare, or trying to take your team to the World Series. As has become commonplace you will have the option to take your chances and simulating the results of games if things get a little too lengthy for you and you feel like you have some room to risk some losses. You’ll also have to keep an eye on your roster, being sure to be on the lookout for people who may need to be switched out. It checks the boxes for basic mode and management options you’d expect but nothing more. If you were hoping for something more modern like a mode where you follow the growth and progress of a player you create or something along those lines it isn’t here.

Now getting into the problems we’ll begin with the bare bones nature of the game as it relates to control and precision, and how that seems very at odds with the slow and more simulation style of the game. I’ve always been more of a fan of faster-paced arcade-style baseball overall, it just eats up less of my time. That said, over time I’ve played some excellent more arcade-style baseball games that have given you a great deal of control over pitching and batting specifically, letting you choose your pitching style or even giving you the ability to aim your pitch. Similarly with batting many of the better games will let you choose where to aim your bat, giving you an opportunity to hit the ball lower or higher depending on what kind of hit you’re hoping for. None of that nuance is here. RBI Baseball 17 has taken it back to the likes of the original baseball games, letting you move around in the box while batting or simply moving back and forth on the mound to pitch. From there you’re not even able to dictate your style of pitch beyond pressing in a direction when you throw and roughly hoping you’re getting the type of pitch or placement you were hoping for. Since these are the most crucial elements of any baseball game the fact that it has been released in this day and age with such limited control and nuance in these two areas is pretty well inexcusable.


Unfortunately, once the ball has been hit I’d say things only get worse. Setting up fielding to somehow be intuitive for people without completely taking it over I won’t argue is a challenge. That said, the way RBI Baseball 17 handles it is among the worst I’ve encountered. Beginning with the fielder that the game automatically chooses for you to use things quickly go downhill, especially in the outfield. Once the hit goes up the game has already chosen which outfielder you’ll be taking control of and if you aren’t already having them move in the direction of the ball you won’t likely be anywhere near it when it gets there. One crucial problem with this? It takes time for the camera to pan out to the outfield and you can’t always even be sure of which person you’re in control of depending on how the ball is flying. To make matters worse while I’ve seen computer-controlled players make diving catches and the like I couldn’t consistently get my players to do much anything of real value in the same vein. Across the board and at all phases control feels sluggish and muddy.

While RBI Baseball 17 is the first game of its kind on the system I have substantial reservations with recommending it even to die hard fans. It really feels like all of the love and substantial efforts in the game were geared towards making the most of the license, not on making a game that is fun to play. Perhaps against a friend you could both muddle through games on equally bad footing but in general I struggled to get into any kind of meaningful groove no matter what team I chose. My understanding is that this has been a faltering franchise on the whole, it seems like the best thing to do would be to go back to the drawing board and try to find some passion, the game is really a disappointing mess.


Score: 4

Pros:
  • The full MLB license and all associated elements to go with that
  • The ability to update rosters periodically via the Internet


Cons:
  • The pitching controls are embarrassingly primitive
  • Batting is slow, generally forcing you to choose to swing early to have time to connect
  • Fielding is a complete mess