Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Serial Cleaner [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


Have you been looking for something a bit weird and different on the Switch? Something that has sort of hybrid gameplay and that doesn’t generally let you get too comfortable? Perhaps you are looking for a load of distinctive style as well, both in terms of visuals and music? How about a dash of morbid and weird humor to spice things up? If you answered yes to those questions I’ll gladly tell you that Serial Cleaner is very likely for you!


You play the game as the guy who the mob (or some other interesting people and organizations, it turns out) calls when things get a bit “messy” in a criminal sense. Your job is to remove evidence, some bodies, and a fair amount of blood from what are often extremely active crime scenes, having to evade the detection of cops in the process. This results in a very cat and mouse style of gameplay and makes it a hybrid of a puzzle game and a stealth action game. Of course you won’t want to take it too seriously (in general, it doesn’t) when somehow things like evading the cops at the last second by hiding in a cardboard box are effective. Hey, it’s a game, you’re here to have some fun!

The essential gameplay loop is that you’ll get a call for a job, roll out to the scene in your wood-paneled station wagon, and then work to clean things up. To do this you’ll make use of your pulled out “Cleaner Vision” that will stop the action and show you where everything of relevance to the current level are. This would include bodies, pieces of evidence, places to hide (make very good note of those!), things that can be moved, and the cops as well. You’ll need to very carefully then make your way around the level to clean up blood, snag evidence, and pick up bodies to put back in your car. The fact that levels aren’t always the same layout (particularly the further you go), some cops have somewhat roving patrols, and you can’t manipulate objects or hide with a corpse on your back help to provide some structure and challenge to things and while getting caught is always frustrating I very much appreciate the level of effort dedicated to levels not having a static solution and forcing you to keep your head in the game at all times. A further nice touch is the hints at what’s happening in the world between missions and the elements you slowly learn about your character over the course of the game. They’re hardly a revelation but again, it is a nice touch.


In terms of shortcomings there are some things that sometimes feel quirky or at least inconsistent. More than once I was caught because I had a difficult time triggering a door or some other object in the environment to open or close. The zone of activation can be a bit odd sometimes and it would have been nice to have it be a little more forgiving for those situations where you’re trying to evade capture. While I would consider it less of a fault than a casualty that comes along with the style of play as the game progresses and levels get larger and more complex the all-or-nothing style can be more aggravating, though that also lends some excitement and feeling of relief and achievement when you do finally beat them. Just understand that your worst enemy in the game is yourself and your own patience. Not pushing your luck to get by 2 cops in a row without hiding may take an extra minute but the 10 minutes it may save you not having to start over again could be well worth it.

In the end Serial Cleaner, by its style, won’t be a game for everyone but for the right people I think it will be very engaging. It’s clever in the right places, a bit funny at times to keep things light, and it will challenge your planning as well as your patience. If you enjoy stealth or creative spins on puzzle games it is a refreshing hybrid that delivers a solid challenge for the cost of admission.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • The layouts of levels and some seemingly random officer patrol routes at times don’t allow you to get lazy in clearing the crime scenes
  • Mixing elements of stealth games with what amount to puzzles makes for some fresh gameplay
  • A terrific visual style that works well
  • Though the hiding system can be silly you’ll also be glad that it works the way it does
Cons:
  • Be ready for aggravation when you blow it trying to move your last body into your car
  • Sometimes things like doors don’t trigger when they feel like they should, usually at very inconvenient times
  • Relatively early on mechanically the missions all involve the same actions, they just become more elaborate


Review: Portal Knights [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


The game of Minecraft is a phenomenon. Having started from very humble beginnings, and in many ways sticking to what made it successful and not changing much over the years, it has single-handedly created and defined a genre since its beginnings. There have been attempts made before in a variety of ways and from a variety of developers, from big to small, to replicate that success or try to improve upon it but few have managed to be familiar but different and then also successful. While it isn’t without its quirks I’d say Portal Knights is the most accessible and enjoyable Minecraft variant I’ve played to date and it also well-suited to the Nintendo Switch.


Starting from the beginning Portal Knights plays like an attempt to take the crafting and progression systems from Minecraft as a base framework but then applies several changes, the majority of which I’m quite fond of. First, it lets you create an avatar to play with that doesn’t look like complete garbage. The tools are pretty simple still but the options to create your base character allow for some personality and variety and the result is a somewhat LEGO-esque looking character to build on. Over the course of the game you’ll be able to outfit your character as well but what’s great is that what you’re wearing in terms of armor can be overridden by something you aesthetically prefer. So that great helmet you found to wear doesn’t need to ruin your outfit to get its benefits. Second, it takes a stab at making the combat more dynamic and interesting. You’ll get to choose between a Warrior, a Ranger, or a Mage and it goes without saying that their styles are different. Within each class you’ll also be able to choose your weapon of choice and though this doesn’t change things too much it helps to differentiate things a wee bit at least. In all cases once you lock on to an enemy you’ll then be able to evade attacks with a press of the A button. This isn’t perfect but makes the combat active and provides a nice challenge. Last, rather than creating a single massive landscape the game’s portals each lead to a new land and ecosystem that then has its own elements and monsters. I find the more segmented nature of things, in addition to the ability to easily move between worlds you’ve visited, makes hunting down something you’re missing quite easy and painless.


Going over the highlights of what works well in the game combat and monster diversity aren’t perfect but they’re at least strong. There are quite a number of big boss battles you’ll face over the course of the game and, in general, combat is engaging and fair. The lock on and dodge mechanics make it possible to bring down enemies much tougher than you if you have patience, you’ll just need to learn that the dodge has some lead time on it. Crafting works well and the tools you can craft pretty early on to help make mining more efficient are appreciated (you want the drill) to keep things light and fun. The fact that you can slowly accumulate experience for mining is also great for people who aren’t quite as into combat. Another key in being able to minimize combat is that sometimes portal fragments also come from mining. Each world has at least one portal that will take you to another land, but in order to open it you’ll need to construct special blocks and the quickest way to accumulate the materials you’ll need is through combat, the fact that the game allows you to progress without so much combat is a nice touch though. I also appreciate the fact that while there are more monsters when the game turns to night that, in general, they stick to their zones and don’t seek you out. Between this and the ability to cheaply buy deeds that will unlock empty zones for you there’s no great need for dedicated survival and creative modes, the main mode simply works well for both.


Getting into the complaints there aren’t too many but some things don’t work quite a well as others. While the game’s UI is certainly workable, and there’s no doubt there are many things you need to be able to manage, it’s also a bit cumbersome. Though both local 2-player split-screen and 4-player multi-player are available at a high level the online infrastructure for playing with other people is far more limited than what people accustomed to Minecraft may expect. You’ll be fine to actively play with your friends who have the game but there’s not infrastructure for contributing to a specific world collaboratively. Just a warning for people who are considering coming over to try it out that some things you’ve taken for granted aren’t available here, and with what it offers instead I think it’s a fair trade. The last note is that procedurally-generated worlds are always a mixed bag and Portal Knights does a fair job at it but there can be quirks. Sometimes quests can end up being a bit odd or even buggy because of how things were created and you can also find structures, at times, somewhat buried because of how things got generated. It’s hardly a crippling problem, but just something to keep in mind as a sacrifice made in order to have the worlds feel more unique.


Overall Portal Knights is a game that gets far more right than wrong and, truth be told, I actually think its more active combat and RPG progression (among other things) make it more fun than the games that helped inspire it. There are some sacrifices that come with those differences, but this feels more like an adventure most of the time instead of just strictly a sandbox. If you’re grown accustomed to a vast online infrastructure you’ll likely be disappointed but playing with some friends is still satisfying and works well. In particular if you’re looking for a game to play with the family where everyone can have some fun I think Portal Knights may be among your best choices on the Switch.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • The combat is both reasonably engaging and accessible to all skill levels
  • A wide variety of smaller worlds you can easily move between rather than a massive landscape to traverse
  • RPG progression and structured periodic challenges like boss battles help differentiate it from its competition
Cons:
  • Procedural generation is generally good but can have quirky results
  • The UI can be cumbersome to deal with, and you’ll need to spend quite a lot of time in it
  • Less overall online infrastructure for multiplayer options than the competition


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: Green Game - Timeswapper [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


In the area of budget games that are brought over from mobile the Switch has a mixed bag. Some mobile conversions have terrible controls, some just aren’t as well suited to the Switch’s larger screen, and some work out pretty well. Unfortunately, Green Game: Timeswapper is one that hasn’t worked out well, though it would be within the developer’s power to improve the situation with a patch so all hope may not be lost.

Starting with what’s good we have the game’s overall aesthetics and sound. While it isn’t a very complicated look with foreground elements in black over the incredibly green background (thus the game’s name) there is certainly a sense of style to it all. I’d also say that while the soundtrack can get repetitive after awhile I also dig the music that further reinforces that sense of style, seemingly setting the stage for good things.


The idea of the game is pretty basic, you use the touchscreen as a sort of throttle or dial, moving it to the right or the left to affect the various implements on the screen. This starts out with just some machines that puff air but as you go along things get more complicated as you begin to control the angle of some elements, their movement, and so on. You’re doing all of this in order to move your odd-looking bird through the level safely, picking up as many little cogs as you can (there are 3 per level) if you’re feeling daring but ultimately getting it safely from the is starts from to a new enclosure at the end.

Unfortunately regardless of the merits of the gameplay style and its overall presentation as of Level 7 there are enough control issues with the game that I’d consider it not worth playing. The bad signs actually begin with the main menu. I actually spent the first minute or two trying to figure out how to get rolling. There was no button saying “Go” and when I touched the cog near the Number 1, which I took to be for the level, the cogs shifted so I could see the cogs for later levels. I finally figured out the issue was that the area you need to hit for the Level is actually very precise and if you’re off at all it instead will move the cogs. I thought it was just me but then when another person I know said they couldn’t figure out how to start the game that reinforced that it is a problem. Once I got past that things were fine for the first few levels since those are mostly on/off in nature, requiring that you alternate which blowers are activated to push your bird around to where it needs to go. Once you begin needing nuance, though, the touchscreen controls are roughly a nightmare as they aren’t precise. You’ll move the dial, stop, and then the controls will slowly continue to creep in either direction. I can’t imagine this is in any way intended as the result is you fighting with the controls rather than focusing on the puzzle-based gameplay.


Even at the very modest price being asked on the Switch eShop for this game right now I can’t recommend it. I like its looks and sounds, and the puzzle mechanic seems novel enough to occupy yourself with for a few hours. Unfortunately the forced touchscreen controls are implemented so wonkily that it gives you nothing but aggravation once nuance is called for pretty early on in the game. If the game is patched and this is changed, with the controls being precise, I hope to give it a more thorough review but for now I’d avoid it.

Score: 2.5

Pros:
  • A great aesthetic look
  • Some nice music to match
  • A decent gameplay concept for as much as you can sample
Cons:
  • Touchscreen controls only
  • Once the controls stop being on/off they’re too unreliable to be used


Review: Worms W.M.D. [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


Being old, I recall a game that I enjoyed playing with my friends in college that was pretty well on every machine in the computer lab called Scorched Earth. You’d be in your tank and would try to shoot your enemies on the map by changing up your angle and power. You could play it straight-up but the best way was to allow all weapons and then fire something that would wipe out half the screen, hoping you’d manage to wipe them out without also destroying yourself. The mix of strategy and certainly silliness in that game is always what I’ve appreciated about the Worms series, which has absolutely been in that very same vein over the years. While you can try to play it more straight-forward with guns and grenades it’s the risk of mutually-assured destruction when you begin using much crazier weapons that makes it so satisfying, even when you only manage to kill yourself in the process.


Starting with what has generally always worked well Worms W.M.D. is great to play locally with friends or online. You’ll have the choice of 1 on 1 play as well as against multiple people and the matches remain as unpredictable as ever as people jockey for position in the high ground and try to survive each other’s attacks. Items like the Ninja Rope and the Jetpack can be vital to aid in getting yourself into position so that you can then mount your best attack. From there, as always, the more traditional weapons will be available as well as the more ridiculous, including old stand-bys like the sheep and other more over-the-top munitions.

What’s new, and that changes up the strategic element of the game quite a bit are vehicles including a tank, helicopter, and even a mech suit. These provide not only new opportunities to kill one another but also often a new means of moving around the map in some cases so securing them can be vital. Another element that’s been introduced is crafting, which generally has a positive effect of staving off more powerful attacks and weaponry until a little later in the game as people try to either get elements from crates or dismantling other weapons and then choose what to make out of them. This adds a new layer of strategy to the game and can encourage people to give up their great strategic position in hopes of either getting supplies to work with or simply deny them from everyone else.


For me the biggest surprise in W.M.D. is the volume of worthwhile single-player content. It may be that I’ve been away from the series for a while but I’d mostly remembered single-player fare in the Worms series essentially being the same as multi-player against bots. For this go-around there are multiple training modes, a substantial number of campaign missions with both primary and secondary objectives that help you refine your game, and then additional modes that include a very challenging D-Day style invasion of sorts that made for terrific fun! Of course as you play you’ll then unlock additional gear, voices, and victory dances, and more for you to customize your crew when you play online as well.

In the end I must say that I’m extremely impressed with the level of care and effort that has been put into making Worms W.M.D. worthwhile. With a series like this it seems like it can be easy to get comfortable and to phone in a new iteration with better graphics and sound but Team 17 has really shown an investment in this title that’s inspiring. By adding to the game in pretty well all directions they’ve managed to take an already-fun series and make it compelling for just about anyone to check out!


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Looks great in all of its silly glory
  • The new vehicles and crafting system are terrific additions to the series and add greatly to strategy
  • The single-player campaign includes some legitimately challenging levels that require both strategy and execution (as well as a bit of luck)
Cons:
  • Sometimes some speck of something is close by when you fire a weapon and will make you blast yourself in the face
  • Use of the analog stick isn’t recommended as move movement and aim are tied to the same control and it can be aggravating as it shifts between them if you’re not straight in a given direction
  • In general the shift between players can feel a little long as matches draw out


Review: Mantis Burn Racing [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


For the most part when people think about racing games today something along the lines of either hardcore racers like Forza or lighter fare like Need For Speed come to mind. If you go much further back, though, there’s another style of racing that even has nostalgic value for old school fans of series like Micro Machines and that’s the top-down racer. Mantis Burn Racing is now here on the Nintendo Switch and it makes a strong case that this style of racing is far from dead.


If you’re a big fan of controlled drifting you’ll be in love because more than anything that’s at the core of the gameplay here. As you move through the ranks of different circuits you’ll work on refining your skills, thrown into races that will sometimes demand that you use a specific vehicle (including ones that feel like controlling a brick on wheels) and sometimes getting to choose. Completing races and performing well will gain you experience, cogs, and upgrades that you can then use to improve specific characteristics of your vehicles. The progression is pretty important as mastering the turns in each style of vehicle and on each road surface can be tricky even when the speeds are slower, and when you get to the high end and far faster vehicles that don’t even have wheels it gets a bit insane.

Noting that it is crucial to develop your skills little by little my biggest concern for the game is actually the pacing of progressing through the Career Mode and how repetitive it can feel at times. You’ll have a variety of race types thrown at you, from time trials, to normal races, to eliminations, but in the early going you’ll also find yourself typically on the same tracks over and over. The shame is that since the Switch version of the game has all of the DLC packs in the game that they weren’t peppered into the career mode in some way, even if just swapping out some of the tracks in the early going. I just worry that for some people keeping interested through the early slog is more challenging than it should need to be given the total content in this iteration of the game. Switching to playing in online races definitely helps to break things up but there are real benefits to completing the Career mode so it would have been nice to have that shaken up a bit.


What absolutely redeems the game for me, and actually what I’d love to see in a sequel, is the Battle Mode that was introduced in one of the DLC packs. More of this please, there’s just something enormously satisfying about wrecking your opponents or narrowly avoiding being destroyed by managing to get to a repair spot while your vehicle is on fire from taking so much damage. Racing purists will no doubt be more attracted to the high-speed insanity of the anti-gravity vehicles that were introduced in a different DLC pack and make absolute precision absolutely a necessity. As I’d said before my only wish is that somehow the entirety of the game’s content could be remixed so that the Career mode would take full advantage of everything the DLC packs added to the game in order to make the early progression far more in line with all the game has to offer.

All said Mantis Burn Racing plays brilliantly on the Switch whether in docked or handheld mode. Control is smooth, the drifting is satisfying, and in general it looks great. You can enjoy playing against the AI but it is far better to play with friends locally or online and in general I didn’t have issues finding people to play against since it is cross-platform to boot. If you’re willing to grind through the Career Mode in order to learn the nuances of the controls and unlock everything the game has to offer it does deliver a satisfying payoff, I just wish tastes of it came sooner.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Drifting feels smooth and satisfying
  • Racing on different surfaces and incline changes help make the tracks more interesting
  • Battle Mode is a whole lot of fun that takes me back to classic gaming from the past
Cons:
  • Career Mode can be a real slog at times, and feels repetitive
  • The DLC included added terrific content to make the game more interesting but it isn’t integrated into the Career Mode, which is a missed opportunity


Review: Azure Striker Gunvolt - Striker Pack [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


Classic 2D platforming shooters have long been a staple of Nintendo systems. While most people associate this genre with the likes of the MegaMan series since Capcom hasn’t made a new one in quite some time some other companies have looked to step in to fill the void. One such company is Inti Creates, who has made other contributions to the genre, but in this case we’re focused squarely on the contents of the Striker Pack, Azure Striker Gunvolt, and its sequel, both originally released on the 3DS.


If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the gameplay hook is a bit different than your usual fare. Rather than you sporting a powerful weapon that you’ll upgrade and then use to take out bad guys your weapon is quite weak. The quills it shoots, however, can then be used to deliver electricity from the field that you can create around you that will do the bulk of the damage. This makes for a far more “stick and move” style of play where you’ll need to get a clear shot to stick your enemy (up to 3 times for best effect) and then electrocute them as you try to stay clear of their attacks. It’s a nice and refreshing change.

In many ways playing the original and the sequel back to back feels like a nice overall progression as the second picks up not long after the end of the first. Many of the base enemies and the general feel is roughly the same but there’s more refinement in the level design and, in particular, the boss battles continue to escalate nicely in challenge and overall craziness. The general format in a level of working on a variety of jumping and environmental puzzles while taking out bad guys, looking for special items that can be used to power yourself up further, and then facing off with a boss is familiar and satisfying.



Keeping in mind these are two titles having been ported from the 3DS it’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand it is nice that the cutscene elements and overlays have generally been redone with HD art so the presentation is excellent and attractive. On the other the core engine for the gameplay itself still shows its roots from a lower-resolution system so things can be blocky but at least these were extremely attractive games on the 3DS so you’re hardly slumming by any means. Characters are big, detailed, and generally look great, you’ll just still feel like you’re playing a ported game.

If you’ve never indulged in the series until now this pack would be an excellent opportunity to do so. They definitely represent a change of pace on the system and have core gameplay unlike just about anything I’ve played. The action is fast and pretty frantic and taking down some of the games’ bosses can take some real effort. If you’ve been craving a platforming shooter the Striker Pack is worth a look!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • The unique attack style makes for a different feel in a platforming shooter
  • As a ported game from the 3DS it is probably as attractive an example as you’ll find
  • Big and satisfying boss fights and an upgrade system that encourages replay

Cons:
  • It looks good but still is obviously a port
  • Some of the level design and asset re-use can make for a redundant feel in places
  • The initial asking price may be a tad high, at least for buying digitally


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review: Dead Synchronicity [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


While the Switch isn’t dominated by a classic Nintendo “kiddie” games that rival fanboys tend to cling to its games are generally, on a tonal level, not terribly dark or grim either. Even shooters like DOOM, with all of their sound and fury, are generally just violent but that isn’t the same as being disturbing. The closest I’ve seen to this point was This is the Police but even that story, with all of its corruption and seedy elements was still pretty familiar to anyone who has watched some crime movies or television shows. Dead Synchronicity is the first title on the Switch I’ve played that has gone into tougher territory, and though it doesn’t provide a satisfying ending (or, perhaps any ending at all) it does make for an unsettling journey.

You’ll play the game as Michael, an amnesiac who has awoken to a world that has been altered by a catastrophic event called the “Great Wave”. Having been found and saved by a man named Rod, early on you’ll begin to get your bearings as you move around to find that you’re living in a refugee camp full of a variety of people who are either unsavory or in some way trying to maintain some level of dignity. You’ll soon find that Rod’s son has become infected and risks becoming discovered as one of “The Dissolved”, facing a horrific death either by the disease of when the cleaning squads discover and capture him. In order to help the man that saved your life you’ll then venture into the city to try to find a cure as well as to discover more about who you were.


The adventure elements in the game that are driving the narrative come with what I’d consider the normal risks. The expectation is that in order to progress you’ll find certain items by searching every nook and cranny to then figure out how to make use of them. Over the course of playing most of the puzzles made general sense once I’d figured them out but sometimes there were obstacles to progress that felt a bit contrived or artificial as well. One thing that helps greatly is that if you hold down the shoulder button all of the “hot spots” in the area will light up, allowing you to at least know what can be either looked at or directly interacted with. Honestly without this I’m not positive I would have just randomly clicked in specific spots that looked a bit nondescript so it is an important feature.

Overall there are a few oddities with the game worth noting. Perhaps most unusual of all is that the touchscreen isn’t used at all (even in menus), instead you’ll be moving around a cursor with the analog stick. This generally works just fine but it certainly feels like an opportunity missed with the Switch, taking away what would probably be the ideal way to play. Much more concerning, and perhaps being a disqualifier for some, is the fact that the more invested you are in the story and what’s happening the more aggravating it is when it abruptly ends, providing no satisfaction or resolution. Especially for a game with such a grim tone there being some positive to walk away with would have been nice, instead you just end up having more questions.


Overall Dead Synchronicity is a solid point-and-click style adventure. The story is something unique, the setting is certainly unfamiliar, and the imagery and tone aren’t likely to be quickly forgotten. While the voice acting isn’t uniformly excellent for the most part it manages to help pull you into the world rather than being distracted by it and for this sort of game that’s a plus. Unfortunately the warning to people intrigued by the game’s premise cannot be overstated, even though the game is interesting be aware of what you’re buying into and that the story is very much unfinished. If you can overlook that and just want to enjoy the ride credit to the developers it does deliver something unique.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • A bleak and post-apocalyptic world to explore
  • The voice acting generally helps pull you into the world
  • While some puzzles can still be baffling the inclusion of a button that reveals hot spots is much appreciated

Cons:
  • The game essentially lacks a proper Third Act
  • Some puzzles and roadblocks to progress can be a bit odd or baffling at times
  • Lack of touchscreen support is a missed opportunity


Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: Ginger - Beyond the Crystal [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


There’s no doubt that releasing a platformer, specifically a 3D platformer, on a Nintendo system is a bit of a nerve-wracking thought. Competing against the likes of Mario and other classic franchises that have graced Nintendo systems over the years generally isn’t going to be pretty. Ginger: Beyond the Crystal has sought to make a mark on the Switch but even without Mario Odyssey present it stumbles a bit in execution. Never quite sure whether it wants to be a hand-holding friendly-for-all-ages title or something a bit more challenging I could never quite figure out who it is targeting.


Starting with the basics there’s some lore about the world you find yourself in and why you’re on your quest to restore the blue crystals. I appreciate the effort but honestly its attempts like these that make me reflect on the fact that perhaps Mario always trying to save the Princess from Bowser may be just fine even if predictable, it allows you to just get to the action. Once you get through the training wheel stage you’ll be off to the hub world of sorts and then on to the action. The way things work, I’ll admit, is a little odd. In the overworld itself you’ll generally work to try to restore the ruined places you encounter. You’ll do this with various supplies you can find around the world but also by completing small quests. These are generally pretty basic and involve retrieving items or defeating a few bad guys. As combat is extremely basic (you’ll either combo punch, dash punch, or do a strangely slow jump attack punch) this isn’t often challenging. By restoring buildings you’ll make progress in making everyone happy and if you build specific variations of the dwellings you’ll unlock little customized appearance pieces in the shop.

Getting to the business of action you’ll unlock opportunities to go into portals that will give you a somewhat 2.5D action platforming level to complete. Within these levels there will be a mix of enemies, traps, timed challenges, and some simple problems to solve. Exploration is pretty limited, though there are sometimes opportunities to find some hidden supplies behind objects or on top of things if you keep an eye out. There will also often be elements tied to a specific suit you’ll need to find in the game, like a mouse suit that will make you shrink or a lizard suit that will let you work with fire. This helps to encourage you to return to the levels later and tries to keep things a bit more interesting but aside from these sorts of obstacles strewn about the suits don’t have a further role to play. Once you complete these 2.5D platforming levels a red crystal will appear for you to jump in and then you’ll work to complete a more complex 3D platforming level with rotating platforms and other trappings as well.


While you can see the ideas that the game is shooting for it’s in the execution that things can get sketchy. One moment it feels like the game is guiding you by hand and the next you’ll hit things like minecarts or other contraptions that are unusually tricky to get moving during a timed challenge. While there’s an overworld with various things to do it all feels pretty thin and underdeveloped on the whole, making me wish more time had just been into making the platforming action a bit more compelling. In the 3D levels I also had a few cases where I clipped through the platforms and died, which was also a bit disappointing. None of this utterly cripples the game, it just makes a bit harder to appreciate fully.

Ginger: Beyond the Crystal isn’t necessarily a bad game, it just struggles to work very well in most areas. In general it is all light-hearted and fun, it just feels like it needed a bit more time and expertise to help fully realize its potential. If you come in understanding its shortcomings it should be a reasonably enjoyable experience though.



Score: 6

Pros:
  • Some good, though generally not terribly original, ideas
  • Generally decent level design
  • A distinctive art style

Cons:
  • Some technical issues with clipping in 3D platforming levels
  • The overworld elements are under-developed
  • Some odd difficulty spikes at times usually tied to finnicky control mechanics
  • Load screens and times can be annoying


Review: Kid Tripp [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


There’s something to be said for simplicity at times, allowing you to just plug in and play something that is challenging without taxing your brain. Repetition, getting into a rhythm, and feeling the flow of a level until you get it just right. This is the central allure of a game like Kid Tripp. While you could certainly get lucky and get through one of its levels the first time you see it, the more likely case is that you’ll spend some time getting to know a bit of frustration before finally feeling the elation of getting it all right!


If I were to characterize the game I’d say it is a mix of an endless runner (in the sense that you can’t control your forward movement) and a platformer. You’ll only be able to jump and throw rocks and what you’ll need to do is make the most of that in order to make your way through the various levels and worlds. You’ll be able to stop yourself on stepped platforms but in general there’s no pause button, you’ve moving and you need to try to keep yourself alive.

What keeps things interesting is that in each of the game’s 4 worlds there is a theme and that will lead to some variations in your enemies as well as some of the things you’ll need to do. In particular I loved World 2’s minecart sequence even as it managed to kill me quite a bit. There are certainly bound to be sections you’ll struggle with but at the same time it never feels particularly unfair since the issue is just how you execute your jumps and figure out what patterns you need to get into.


The only control issue I had with the game at times was that I didn’t have a great feel for where the edge of platforms were, and would tend to be just slightly behind when trying to make a big jump. Something you can adjust to, it just didn’t quite click for me initially. The other inevitable issue is likely that there’s not a great deal of content in the game. Once you knock out the 20 levels in the game you’re pretty well done, though you could certainly try to improve your runs or try to get all of the coins in every level for a challenge. All that said, the very low price of the game seems to make it all fair, just be aware that this won’t be something you’ll likely play forever by any means.

Kid Tripp isn’t a game that will likely stick with you for long but that isn’t to say it can’t be a fun and light distraction for a reasonable price of admission. Its light style and classic gameplay are a welcome departure from much more serious fare on the Switch and yet once you get into the groove it tends to suck you in while it has you with a “I know I can get it on the next run” hook. As long as you understand the game’s limits it is a solid bargain of a budget title on the eShop.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A light style
  • “Just one more run” kind of hook
  • Pure platforming challenge

Cons:
  • Only 20 levels across 4 Worlds
  • Over too soon

Review: Crimsonland [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


If you’ve been following the saga of 10 Tons shooters you’ll be quite familiar with the level of quality they bring to the table. There’s no mistaking it, they know how to make a quality twin-stick shooter. While the other 3 already available on the Switch have tended to change things up a bit by incorporating roguelike elements, mission-based play, and time-distortion mechanics now get ready for something decidedly more old school. Eschewing the trappings of genre-blending and higher-minded play Crimsonland delivers an adrenaline shot of pure twin-stick shooting carnage… and it is glorious!


To start things out you’ll want to work your way through the Quest Mode, which will allow you to unlock everything in the game and generally walk you through the various weapons and perks step by step. This is important because the game has a staggering number of both and you’ll want to know which ones best suit your style and will help you survive over the long haul. Guns with a lot of flash can be fun but elements like reload times and how they do their damage need to be taken into account. Similarly with perks you’ll only be given a few to choose from at a time and which ones you run with are vital to your survival.

Once you’ve completed the the initial gauntlet of levels and have unlocked everything the game has to offer you can then get down to business properly in Survival Mode. The reason you’ll want to complete Quest mode first is that you can only use what you’ve unlocked there and some of the late perks and weapons are well worth your time. Though there are several flavors available my attention was generally drawn to the vanilla Survival and Blitz modes. To be complete Rush gives you only an Assault Rifle to try to survive with (Ha!), Weapon Picker essentially gives you just one clip of ammo per weapon so you’ll need to quickly get to anything you can to stay alive, and Nukefism gives you no weapons at all, just an ability to run and hope to get to the next power-up to eke out a few more moments before your inevitable demise. Those are decent variants but the focus should generally be on Survival and Blitz. They’re generally the same but in Blitz things simply escalate far more quickly. Both are pure twin-stick shooting goodness though, challenging you to take what you’re given and to stay alive as long as you can. You’ll get a choice of perks every time you level up and you’ll want to get to know them well because the right combination will give you far more staying power, even if there’s no end aside from death.


In terms of criticisms most of my issues arose in handheld mode and are a matter of scale and perhaps tastes. Some of the weapon icons at that size are hard to differentiate from one another but the bigger issue I had was with the aiming reticle that also gives you information on how much ammo you have left. I’d have loved an option to either minimize it or perhaps make it more transparent, in handheld mode when things got intense I often found it a bit too distracting. Aside from those small thoughts the game is just a monster at what it does though.

While it won’t win points for its complex and challenging story or trying to push boundaries Crimsonland is a thoroughly satisfying arcade-style twin-stick shooter that I will likely return to periodically for quite some time. While it isn’t graphically very impressive and the sound is relatively limited there’s no denying the power of its gameplay. It is adrenaline-fueled, brutally challenging, over-the-top, and should be considered a must-have for shooter fans!


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Great solo, even more insane with up to 3 friends!
  • A preposterous array of insane weaponry
  • An extensive list of perks makes for some nice variety

Cons:
  • If you’re not looking for something only setting out to be a pure arcade-style shooter it isn’t for you
  • The presentation, overall, is a bit dated
  • In handheld mode scale presents some minor limited issues


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review: Stick it to the Man! [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


With so many games available everywhere, and even early on with the Switch, it can be hard to differentiate yourself. Some do it with graphics, some with novel gameplay concepts, some with a dash of insanity… and then there are some that manage to do all of the above. While the core game experience is mostly a platforming adventure Stick it to the Man is perhaps one of the funniest and most unusual games I’ve played to date on the Switch, or just about anywhere.


Your main character in this adventure is Ray, a relatively unassuming and ordinary man who gets involved in some extraordinary circumstances. A freak accident causes a container to be dropped from the sky and it embeds what he calls a pink “spaghetti arm” in his head. He quickly finds that it can both be used to manipulate the environment around him and even read people’s minds. Unfortunately it seems that secret agent types are also aware of this accident and are keen to capture him, setting up your 10 Chapter adventure.

The gameplay, overall, is actually pretty simple in principle. You’ll enter an area, explore, read the minds of the people and things that are around, look for clues and hidden spaces, and then work to figure out how to progress by essentially satisfying a chain of events. To resolve Situation A you’ll first need to help with Situation B, but to do that you’ll need to get involved with Situation C. What makes the entire experience worth it, though, is how much crazy fun it is to get involved with some of these very unusual characters. The thoughts of most of the people you run into are positively weird and often practically laugh out loud funny. There are strange cultural references, shots fired at video games, and all sorts of random things going on with people. This extends quite a bit into the solutions you’ll end up finding to most problems as well and these also can be quite funny, though at times they can be unorthodox to the point they’re not immediately obvious either.


In order to drive the humor and quirky style the game’s production values are absolutely superb. The visual style has a sort of cardboard cut-out appearance and each character is drawn in a somewhat Tim Burton-esque style as well. Layer on some great music and top-notch voice acting and the adventure is very easy to get engrossed in as you work your way through this motley collection of weirdos and often bizarre situations. This all generally works well both play mode though I did find some details like the curled edges of the scenery you need to pull on to reveal hidden areas hard to make out at times without scanning through a second time more thoroughly while in handheld mode.

If you’re looking for something very different to just dive into for a great time and some laughs for several hours there’s nothing on the platform that delivers quite like Stick it to the Man. Full of quirky charm, unexpected situations, and truly bizarre characters it’s just a breath of fresh air and not quite like anything I’ve played in quite some time. While the puzzles generally aren’t very complex they do show a great deal of creativity and can have you chuckling along the way, it is definitely a game far more about the experience than the solutions and accomplishes what it set out to do superbly.



Score: 8

Pros:
  • Visually polished and distinctive
  • Superb voice acting
  • Full of strange situations and even more bizarre characters

Cons:
  • Though satisfying the overall runtime isn’t terribly long, depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles in the game’s 10 chapters
  • Since the solutions are often a bit unusual some can be tough to work through (usually meaning you need to keep searching for something you haven’t found yet)


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Interview with Christopher Kassulke of HandyGames on Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


For anyone who hasn't already read my review of the new vertically-scrolling shooter Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron I went from knowing next to nothing about it to a major fan in the span of the first 30 minutes. It is the first title released on the Switch by HandyGames and hopefully a strong indicator of what's to come! I was able to get some time from the company's Founder, and CEO, Christopher Kassulke to discuss the game, the industry, and their future plans for the platform.

Tradition demands that we start with the basics. What is your "elevator pitch" for Squadron?

CK: Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is a classic Shoot'em Up with a fantastic co-op Multiplayer mode for a very fair price which we released exclusively on Nintendo Switch. We believe that this game fills a gap for Shmup fans who want to enjoy something new with a crazy action, full voice over, and fantastic sound.


There was previously an Aces of the Luftwaffe, is the distinction of Squadron that it supports co-op gameplay for up to 4 people or were there other significant changes as well?

CK: Aces of the Luftwaffe is a game back from the days of Feature Phones. We later developed a new version for Smartphone which we also ported to PC and Consoles. Two years ago we started developing Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron as a sequel to that game around the time Nintendo started talking about the Switch. We totally fell in love with the Switch and we wanted to release this game first and exclusive on that platform as we saw a need for cool multiplayer action.

On Smartphones you cannot offer such an experience that you can and will play with up to four players offline. As we are no more limited to the Smartphone platform we could implement way more like total voice over which brings, for sure, something in the game you do not expect for that price point. Besides that we also implement completely new graphics. The layer system we use is totally new. In total it feels and plays totally different the the old version. If someone say it is just a port I can say they are complete wrong.

While my personal favorite vertically-scrolling shooter was 1943, what classic shooters would your team say they derived inspiration for in making the game?

CK: I think we all grew up with good shooters like Galaga, Gradius, Star Goose, R-Type, and 1943 but the key for us was not to have another one we wanted to bring back the experience to play together. The best experience for a lot of gamers were the times when you played a game together with friends, families and worked together to beat a hard game. The current games we see are so easy with no challenges anymore. In Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron you will fail, you will fail a lot and you will still have the "just one more time" or "just one more level" feeling. We really invested and we will still invest a lot of money in the game itself.


What impresses me most with the game is its variety. Rather than simply throwing waves of fighters at you, pretty well every level has a variation to keep things interesting whether it is one of squad members having issues, the type of mission you're engaged in, or a combination of both at times. I take it this was a central goal from the design phase?

CK: You are one of the few editors who realized the small details. We wanted to tell a story and implement different kind of side missions. My favorite ones are to protect the planes with refugees, rescue soldiers, sneak thru the night without getting spotted, or when you have to support your troops on the ground. The issues with the characters was a crazy idea from our game designer and you will like it by playing multiplayer as you will protect your comrades or be happy when your wingmen gets crazy and kill every enemy by no damage so the hinderance can be a plus sometimes.

An element that throws additional variety into the mix is the upgrade system. There are far more upgrades than you're likely ever going to be able to amass credit for (unless you're simply playing the game past beating it to try to do precisely that). I take it this was also a design goal, to force people into making some decisions on whether to go with offense, defense, buffs, etc?

CK: You can change your skills during the game of course and again it is about team play. If you think you only have to upgrade the main character it will not be good at all. You have to push your team in total thats why you are the Squadron. For example the repair skills are extremely important as this will save you a lot of extra lifes in the end. We're planning some additional DLC in the future as well and I am sure you will love what else will come.


I really like that as you go we along you're able to unlock new aircraft and then change up which fighters in your group, and are even able to assign 2 members to the same craft. This adds yet another layer of customization and choice. Even having beaten the game I still haven't unlocked 2 of the craft though, what must I do to get it all?!?

CK: The different Airplanes have different skills so you need to find out how to use them best or partly change the Planes after a Mission to beat an Ace even easier. How to get them all? Do you think I will tell you this? Never! Find it out and share it if you want ;)

The art design and voice acting in the game really help to give all of the characters a sense of personality, but then with the bosses their ships are also all very unique. What was the process your creative team went through to try to ensure everything would have its own signature look and feel?

CK: Developing games is fun! The team came up with the ideas, of course, and the first Boss fight is what you expect but later when you play against the Lokführer or the Captain you will say "WTF!" and when you hear them talking you will have a big smile on your face. Ok, perhaps the team had too much beer as well ;) For example we did all the voice recording in-house and it was extreme funny. Even I had a role in the game and it was damn frustrating for me to fly against "my" boss several times and it took me over two hours to beat him. ;)


If Squadron finds success on the Switch would you say there's a possibility of them taking to the air again? As is noted as you finish the campaign evil never dies... From the looks of your company's overall catalog you've got a lot going on in a variety of directions including mobile, the other consoles, and even some VR. What has drawn your attention to the Switch specifically?

CK: The evil never die sounds like the story goes on. We believe the game is a console game so perhaps we will bring it to other consoles or even the PC later. Will mobile be an option? Not as it is for sure as multiplayer will not work like that. The game is too big the game is a premium game and on mobile everyone expect F2P games... So lets see what will come next.

In terms of structure are you more a publisher or a development company or a strong combination of both?

CK: We are one of the biggest Indies out there. We develop our own games internally with our own money and publish them on our own. HandyGames is 18 yrs old that's a lot and if we would develop bad games we would not be around anymore!

With the developers you deal with what would you say is the buzz on Switch specifically and do you see a lot of them trying to shift to developing on the platform over others?

CK: You have to develop games that fit on each platform. We believe the Switch have potential and specific genres are still missing content there. EA announced they will no longer invest in the Switch. In my opinion thats a failure. But using games from PC or other consoles and squeeze them into the Switch is harder. For us it is awesome as our core platform was mobile before and now we have more freedom and we can build stuff we could not before. The Switch is a new platform so it is the new Wild Wild West. Some devs think its a new Goldrush but every new platform is a long-term investment. Developing a game like Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron cost a lot.


Recent announcements are showing you all making a substantial investment in moving games to the Switch in the next year from a variety of genres. Do you have any that are coming soon you wanted to give a little extra info on?

CK: We announced we will bring some of our brands and IPs over to the Switch. Saying that some religious anti-mobile guys think we will do a dirty quick and easy port. I can tell you this will not happen as it will not work. Our next release will be Townsmen for the Nintendo Switch and this is a great building up strategy game. We are currently implementing a completely new UI, new HD graphics, and a lot of feature changes so the game fit to the Switch perfectly. We also do not plan to release any AAA games or charge 60 bucks for it but we want to develop awesome and funny games that players can enjoy on this very unique platform and as we announced we love to bring co-op multiplayer to the platform.

I wanted to thank Christopher for his time, his thoughts, and his candor. Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is currently available in the Nintendo Switch eShop and is highly recommended if you love classic shooters. Be on the lookout for more from HandyGames as well in the future!

Review: Letter Quest Remastered [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


While the hardcore audience has been getting treated to some great indie variety the Switch is a platform built to support many tastes, casual gamers included. Many of the best games in this space were either created or refined by the folks at PopCap and one of their titles I enjoyed the most was called Bookworm. Letter Quest Remastered reminds me of that title in many regards, and actually shares quite a lot in common with another title that recently released called Spellspire. Though they are very similar there are some nuances to how they play and that may be crucial to which is better suited to your tastes.


Starting with the basics Remastered is a word game / RPG hybrid where you’ll be trying to flex your vocabulary in order to defeat monsters that get in your way. As you progress you’ll be able to go to the shop and choose from what ends up being a pretty impressive, if not a little overwhelming, variety of gear. These include new weapons, books, tile sets, and all sorts of things that will help you change the game’s appearance, enhance specific abilities, or give you special bonuses for using specific letters or combinations of letters.

For variety, aside from being able to repeat the same stages at higher difficulty, there are boss levels, special stages that are a bit like classic Hangman that will give you a mid-level bonus, and monsters that will create a pretty wide variety of status effects on your board to complicate matters. In addition random letters will sometimes crystallize to entice you to figure out how to get them in a word since they’ll give you a variety of buffs that could be the difference in whether you survive or not. These all keep the sense of the grind to more of a minimum and also can require some tough decisions and strategy along the way.


Contrasting it with the other game in the eShop that is in the same vein, Spellspire, while they’re both well-made and share many ideas there are a few critical differences. The first big difference is in how the challenge is applied. Where Spellspire uses a timer to keep you thinking quickly and on your toes Letter Quest may have a pretty lenient timer for completing challenges but won’t have you scrambling to complete words before your enemy’s next attack. Instead the status effects on the letters on your board, or even bosses that will have conditions like only words beginning in vowels causing them damage are where you need to be focused. This makes everything play out more strategically where Spellspire is more tied to action. Reinforcing that sentiment further is the fact that the upgrades, specifically the books, in Letter Quest get pretty specific in giving you bonuses for things like using the letter E, using double letters, and more. While the bonuses aren’t necessarily substantial they do influence how you may play and can give you the edge you need to be win sometimes. Due to removal of the timer’s urgency I also think Letter Quest is better suited to people who anticipate playing the game more in docked mode as well just because it is slower to use a controller than the touchscreen in these sorts of games.

With all of this in mind I’m pleased to say that Letter Quest Remastered does a pretty fine job of carving out a place for itself in the lineup of Switch gamers looking for something more casual. If you like to get out your thesaurus and flex your vocabulary while having to contend with the obstacles your enemies love to throw in your path it does a fine job. What helps distinguish it is the level of strategy you’ll be able to employ while doing so.


Score: 8

Pros:

  • Layers of strategic components help enhance the vocabulary challenge
  • Lacking the urgency of an attack timer it is well-suited to play in docked mode
  • Some creative higher-level challenges with some monsters and bosses to further ensure you’ll need to work for some victories


Cons:

  • For some, the upgrade choices and variety could be a bit overwhelming
  • The UI can be a bit cumbersome in spots
  • Pricier than the comparable Spellspire


Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: Battle Chef Brigade [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


While I obviously enjoy a ton of much more intense genres in my gaming I’ll admit to a weakness for the simple joys of quality Match-3 play. What has been thrilling over the years is to see that base gameplay used in new and creative ways with the likes of the Puzzle Quest titles and more recently the superb Ironcast. Battle Chef Brigade has now managed to again raise the bar for what a Match-3 can do, blending it with light action, a solid RPG storyline, and ample opportunities for strategy as well.


In the game you’ll take the role of Mina, “The Iron Stomach”, as she decides to run away from home and pursue her dreams of becoming a member of the Brigade, a group of elite hunter/chefs who slay monsters and create culinary masterpieces from them. What starts as a seemingly straight-forward story of her journey to becoming an elite chef very nicely takes some turns along the way though, and even when you’ve earned your place in the Brigade you’ll only be ⅔ of the way through the story. Even better, it is the elements of the overall story that keep adding dimensions to the gameplay to make this so much more than just a Match-3 title, with layers of strategy that make it memorable and challenging.

What the main story does is to constantly walk you through each element of the game step by step so what could otherwise seem overwhelming makes sense. You’ll learn how to use a variety of pans and equipment that can help you cook certain dishes faster, deal with flawed ingredients, or cut out undesirable elements. The strategic component of the game then comes in with the fact that you can only use 3 pieces of said equipment when you get to a cooking challenge and that means you’ll need to find the balance of equipment that works for you and you won’t be able to have everything you could want to make life simpler. This makes the already-great story an excellent vehicle for additionally giving you a number of choices along the way, helping you understand and refine all aspects of your game from hunting to preparing food, and introducing you to a cast of some quirky characters like the owner of the inn who continues to mistake you for an orc boy for some reason.


The focus of all of that preparation and training is to put you on the path to success when you hit the cooking challenges and they’re pretty much all I’d hoped for when the game was announced. In matches that are obviously inspired by the Iron Chef format you will face off against another competitor looking to impress the judges, all with their own personal preferences in tastes, with your mastery of cooking while incorporating the match’s secret ingredient. Early on this will tend to be a fruit or vegetable (though some you’ll need to look for carefully) but the further into the game you get the more challenging things will get as you need to get ingredients like Hydra or Dragon. This is where the action-oriented elements of the game come into play and it can be challenging, though again you’ll have your pick of many options in how you enhance yourself in these modes. Will you load up on different attacks or stat boosters, or can you afford to make room for improving the size of your bag for collecting ingredients so you don’t need to run back to stock your pantry as often? Getting taken down by these beasts thankfully just results in you dropping your ingredients and losing time but you’ll need a strategy for taking out some of these tougher beasts and will likely want and need to show some patience to be successful as well. I should note that there are additional modes outside of the main quest that will help you continue playing with Challenges for matching and marksmanship as well as a Daily Challenge that will pit you against an opponent while giving you a different random set of equipment every day (all with leaderboards). So even when you complete the pretty beefy main story (or simply need a break from it) there’s still a reason to come back and get your cook on for quite some time.

While I had high hopes for Battle Chef Brigade what stands out for me is how much they’ve exceeded my expectations on pretty well every level. I came in hoping for something in a true indie spirit that was fresh, quirky, and utterly unique. What I got was a lengthy and well-made story complete with some great characters, challenging and varied gameplay, and a strategic component that forces you to make some tough decisions in how you want to approach your battles. If you either have any affinity at all for great Match-3 play or have an open mind to trying something completely odd but that works very very well in execution I have few reservations with recommending it.


Score: 9.5

Pros:
  • Masterfully blends elements of Match-3, action, and strategy
  • A great story full of some odd and entertaining characters that sets up the challenging elements of Match-3 play
  • The Daily Challenge serves as a great reason to continue to fire it up to compete for scores on the leaderboard
  • Shows many signs of a developer not content to ride a great idea to success but instead that is instead swinging for the fences

Cons:
  • Some of the Challenge modes aren’t likely to be played very much


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


While there have been quite a number of shooters on the Switch of several varieties, as well as obviously the classic Neo Geo shooters brought to the system by Hamster, there hasn’t yet been a modern take on the classic arcade shooter… that is, until now. Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is here to fill that void and has done so with tons of both charm and style. Rather than simply filling in a gap in the line-up Squadron has absolutely thrown down a gauntlet on how to modernize this classic arcade genre in the best ways possible.


Starting with the basics you’ll find yourself in an alternative version of history where at the conclusion of World War 2 a top secret German squad, The Aces of the Luftwaffe, has counter-attacked the mainland USA. Together with your ragtag squad on your wings you’ll need to work to stop them one by one and save our country. While it’s all a bit silly I’ll give credit to Squadron for keeping things interesting. Each member of your squad has certain problems and limitations that will arise over the course of the game’s 25 stages and these lend some base variety. When you throw in the game’s 5 bosses who are filled to the brim with personality and very different attack styles it gets even better. Finally, when you have missions with a variety of objectives that include escorting other ships, refueling runs, and a creative stealth operation pretty well every stage has something fresh to offer.

What helps to further amp up the challenge and fun are the varying paths you can choose to follow when upgrading your units. Each pilot has special abilities you can unlock by using upgrades you earn when leveling up, completing secondary mission objectives, or generally by clearing the majority of enemies since there’s a hidden credit associated with a random unit in each level. Since the latter stages of the game can get quite challenging you’ll probably want to return to previous missions to grind a bit for these upgrades since they can substantially change how you play. Essentially all of them have something tempting about them so you’ll simply have to pick a course and hope for the best but as you unlock more abilities you can begin to feel quite powerful. This is further helped along through the ability to additionally unlock different planes and you can then change up which aircraft you and your crew fly in order to improve your bullet spread, survivability, or even maneuverability depending on how you configure things. If you have some friends to play with locally they can even take the role of your wingmen as well so up to 4 people can play cooperatively at once to really kick some Nazi butt.


While I would normally devote this point in the review to downsides there are actually very few that come to mind. Some of the load times can be a bit long, and the lack of an ability to skip all types of cutscenes would have been nice but these are pretty small concerns considering how incredible the game is otherwise. In particular I absolutely love the game’s boss characters for being so weird, wacky, and full of distinct personalities. The voice acting for each of them actually helped pull me in even further and it all makes the level of polish on the game impressive, greatly overshadowing any nitpicks.

I am absolutely in love with this game even though until I reviewed it I had heard almost nothing about it and that’s simply criminal. While I’ve played quite a number of modern arcade-style shooters I don’t think as a total package any of them have impressed me as much as Squadron has. Every aspect of the game feels like it was put in place with both skill and love and I’d say if you have ever enjoyed arcade shooters at all Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is well worth picking up! I think it has earned its place at the top of the genre and serves as the bar other arcade-style shooters will be measured by.


Score: 9.5

Pros:
  • Outstanding varied play from stage to stage
  • Challenging but also doesn’t overdo it since with some grinding your team abilities will begin to help you conquer things you previously found too difficult
  • Absolutely terrific production values from the art to the stage music to the voice acting

Cons:
  • Some of the load times can feel a little long
  • There are some sequences you can’t skip even if you’ve seen them before
  • You’ll likely need to level grind some to get to the end