Monday, October 15, 2018

Review: The Missing [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While I’ve played my fair share of titles on the Switch that have caught me by surprise with new ideas or unusual mechanics nothing quite prepared me for The Missing. It’s main character, J.J., goes through a surreal mix of nightmarish dreams mixed with memories as she reflects on themes of friendship, love, and sexuality as well as darker paths, making it only appropriate for an older audience. While it may not be perfect, with some control mechanics reminiscent of the likes of the original Prince of Persia (that’s not a compliment), if you’re looking for something unusual this fits that bill completely.


The story starts out in a bit of a confusing manner, leaving you a bit disoriented as to what’s happening and why, but that seems to be by design. It isn’t until you die in a manner that’s a bit out of your control and then come back through an unusual sort of ritual that it begins to more heavily sink in that you’re not really alive. In fact, very soon after that incident the real mechanics of the game begin to emerge and you’ll find that in order to progress you’ll need to burn, dismember, and decapitate yourself in order to progress. Whether you’re using your own burning body to ignite walls of thorns or throwing a cut off limb of yours to trigger a weight-sensitive trap you’ll in fact need to get quite creative with this somewhat grisly twist on things.


This would all seem far more callous and even a bit disturbing if there weren’t so many attempts to justify your character’s odd journey that you’ll slowly learn primarily through messages she gets on her phone. Whether from the object of her journey, Emily, her mother, her professor, or even her somewhat odd stuffed animal you’ll begin to understand many more mundane aspects of this character, though buried in those ordinary interactions there are insights into who your character is that tended to make getting new messages interesting and somewhat exciting. How this all will culminate will leave you guessing but it’s the character story that’s the game’s true driver.


As strong as the story and unusual puzzle aspects are it’s impossible not to mention how stilted the controls can be with regards to your movement. With a control scheme and locked in animations reminiscent of games from far too long ago you’re able to work through the game but it’s only in spite of the control, which is a shame. Some refinement and nuance would both speed things up and eliminate a lot of needless frustration. In particular, if you’re trying to capture all of the collectible donuts that are about you’ll need to show some patience and persistence.


I suppose the greatest compliment I could pay The Missing is that I’ve never quite played anything like it in terms of its story, tone, and mechanics. The use of the character’s phone as a means to convey their story and reveal their personality through interactions with others is similar to the Lost Phone titles and it’s a very modern and smart way to create sort of personal lore in a way that feels very natural. Throw in the need to kill yourself in all sort of ways as a means of progression and there’s no questioning it is following its own path. If you’re ready to deal with some pretty mature issues and can deal with both the less-than-great controls and repeated screams of agony as do your character harm in the name of progress The Missing is likely not a game you’ll forget.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Interesting and complex characters revealed slowly through text messages and snippets of story
  • A unique puzzle mechanic that literally requires killing your character in a number of ways and using her burning or broken body to solve unique puzzles
  • Story beats and interactions that can be heavy and mature, if you’re the right audience for that

Cons:
  • The controls are very stilted, reminiscent of those you’d find in far older titles
  • You’ll need to work out some puzzles on your own through trial and error as sometimes what is possible or needs to be done isn’t quickly apparent
  • A few glitches with in-game objects required going back to the beginning of the chapter


Review: Mark of the Ninja Remastered [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s something about the trend towards remasters, especially with the Switch, that’s fascinating to watch. While obviously every game getting this treatment will come out the other side graphically updated and sounding as good as ever there are simply games that immediately show their age, through either tone deaf story beats and dialogue or through their gameplay or controls simply not standing up well to the test of time. In the case of Mark of the Ninja Remastered, it’s in a class that stands apart. While some improvements to the resolution were in order to ensure it would look crisp as possible its animated visuals were never much of a concern, what makes it a stand-out is that even after so many years the stealthy gameplay it offers is still among the best ever and it will absolutely go toe to toe with any current title without flinching.


While the story itself may stray a little towards silly, with its mystic tats that give you power but will slowly corrupt your body and mind, there’s never any doubt that its gameplay is all business. Against well-armed personnel your job will be to infiltrate various strongholds and get things done while relying on the shadows for protection. You may be lethal with your sword at close range but you’re not bulletproof so stealthy killing will be your key to success… and then being sure to try to hide the body somewhere to help avoid being detected. Once you’re up close on your adversary you’ll need to quickly watch for the direction to press while hitting Y, failing to execute this properly will end up allowing the guard to make some noise and potentially alert others to your presence. Fortunately their attention spans are extraordinarily short and within a short time everyone will resume their normal patterns but since only a few bullets will take you down keeping things quiet and yourself out of the light are always a priority.


As you progress you’ll accumulate new gear that will help you out, whether by taking out lights, distracting the guards with noise, or making use of some other ninja skills. Fortunately you’re very nimble and able to climb walls, grapple to new spots, and even move along the ceiling in places so you’ve got the tools to avoid detection, the trick is in using them correctly. If you’re really up to the challenge and plan your route carefully you’ll even be capable of playing things as a pacifist, sparing guards instead of dispatching them, but that would rob you of the pretty satisfying animations of you taking them down in a bloody fashion. All of this would fall apart if it weren’t for the spot-on controls, which respond well and help make you feel powerful when you use them effectively. In handheld mode some of the smaller details can be tougher to make out but performance on the go remains solid and look great, though I found I needed to adjust my gamma levels pretty significantly to see well.


If you’ve played and enjoyed Mark of the Ninja before, rest assured, it’s just as great as it was then and if anything it’s now easier to appreciate how well-made it was by the fact that nothing has really surpassed it since. If you’re new to it and enjoy either some challenging stealthy combat or even going the extra mile to elude all detection nothing really does it better. Where other titles succumb to a variety of pressures and collapse in their old age Mark of the Ninja has aged like a fine wine.


Score: 9

Pros:
  • Remains a true reference on stealth gameplay done right
  • Tight and responsive controls put the pressure on your skills rather than your patience
  • Once you get rolling you’ll have several options to consider when either avoiding or dispatching your foes, adding to the enjoyment

Cons:
  • The enemy AI isn’t anything special, and this may be the only area where expectations may have evolved since the time of its original release
  • In handheld mode some of the fine details are tougher to make out, making it a bit less ideal as an option


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review: Shift Happens [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ever since the terrific Portal 2 introduced me to the furthest reaches of what was possible in coop puzzle games I’ve been a fan. When presented with situations that can only be solved through some mental savvy, a degree of precision in execution, and often a heap of patience on the part of both participants there’s definitely consistent fun to be had. In the case of Shift Happens I’m pleased to report that if you have someone of comparable smarts and skill to play with it’s terrific, but if you’d have to play solo it probably will tip too heavily on the aggravating side.


In the game you play as Bismo and Plom, two lab experiments who’re trying to work their way through a gauntlet of challenges by helping one another out. Mechanically there’s not much to learn in terms of strict controls, you’ll be able to jump, move items, and pick up and throw your partner if you’re the “big one”. Where the strategy comes in is that you’re able to shift your mass between them, so one is always big and the other is small. Of course being small you’ll be more nimble, able to make longer and higher jumps, but your survivability in things like deeper water will be lacking. This means you’ll need to be clever and almost constantly shift mass between each other as the situation dictates.


Where it gets tricky is that though the game does a pretty good job of throwing you an instructional bone when it’s time to learn new concepts once you’re given the basics to work with you’ll be expected to apply them yourself. For two reasons this is why it’s best to play with a friend. First, with two of you the odds of figuring out what to do improve as you can collaborate. Perhaps more critically second some of the things you’ll need to do to progress require careful control and having your teammate catch you will be easier than trying to execute a jump with one character and then time the catch with the other on your own. That’s not to say it isn’t doable, but it can be challenging and even aggravating, especially since it gets easy to confuse who you’re controlling and what you’re trying to do. I almost think in situations like these for single-player there should be a catch assist of sorts so you could more easily pull it off rather than requiring precision, but if you’re up for a challenge it will certainly provide one.


Across the game’s 40 base levels in 4 different environments you’ll be challenged to get to the exit but the real fun and difficulty comes in with hidden areas and extra items that will pose additional tests to your brains and teamwork. If you want to unlock the 8 bonus levels you’ll need to work diligently to get everything you can, just expect to test your patience to get them all as even coordinating some sequences with 2 people will take some repetition and aggravation. While there have been a number of cooperative puzzlers to arrive on the system Switch Happens stands among the better ones.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • A smart mix of creative puzzle designs and action platforming
  • Simply completing the levels tends not to be too hard but to get everything you’ll need to put in some work
  • The single-player and co-op levels each have their own variances and exclusive bonus levels

Cons:
  • The game can be minimally instructive in places and will expect you to apply your learned skills and smarts in new ways with some regularity
  • Single-player can be a bit too cumbersome and aggravating as you try to manage both characters in some crucial exchanges
  • In general the mechanics of the grab are too picky and can make for needless aggravation when you’re well aware of what you’re trying to do and stumble with execution


Review: Armello [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Typically when I think of digital board games familiar gameplay styles and mechanics that I’ve come to associate with classic family titles come to mind. However, buoyed by the huge resurgence of new physical game ideas as well as fully embracing what’s possible in a virtual space games like Armello are changing expectations. If you’re looking for a strategic game ripe with possibilities and paths to victory, this won’t be a title you’ll want to overlook as more of the same.


Set in a kingdom in peril as its ruler descends into madness, there’s opportunity in the air for the ambitious. By choosing your anthropomorphic character you’re hypothetically buying into your likely path of victory, whether that’s by storming the castle to kill the King by force, accumulating influence to assume the crown when he succumbs by proxy, and more. A nice touch is that while each character you can choose has strengths that point to their ideal course of action if you find yourself in the right position you can choose another, perhaps leading to choosing someone in the hopes of denying a likely means to victory to someone else.


Starting out with a pretty thorough and helpful tutorial you’ll have the core understanding you’ll need to get started but this is definitely an experience that reveals itself to you in waves. The sheer number of cards and smart ways to apply tactics go far beyond what the game could hope to explain to you directly so while your first few games may be a struggle the lessons you learn for your next attempt will typically be pretty invaluable. Controlling more areas of the board and being able to influence the King’s daily decisions (usually with the intent of screwing over your enemies) is certainly a temptation but you may find your energies are better spent elsewhere depending on your intended path to victory. You may be unable to control the outcome of the somewhat fickle random nature of the combat that plays out with a roll of the dice, but you can certainly put together a strategy to strengthen your odds and use your deck to impede your enemies.


While it may be a surprise that you can only opt for solo or online play, with no option for local multiplayer, the fact that everyone would be able to see each other’s cards and positioning on the board would ruin that experience so it’s understandable. Building up your deck plays a central role in your success and will inform your choices for how best to proceed. If everyone knew what you were holding or where you were trying to hide it would seriously compromise any element of surprise you could hope for, so the options are no accident. Aside from this there are times when the pacing can drag a bit, especially playing against others online, but nothing that would be inconsistent with what you’d expect for a strategic game of this kind. It’s also worth noting that due to the information-heavy nature of the game handheld play isn’t likely optimum.


If you’re a fan of strategy gaming or the current board game renaissance Armello will likely be right up your alley. With its multiple paths to victory and deep deck it’s a great test for your ability to adapt and make what you’re given work against the odds. Since not all paths are ones that play out as dramatically for all to see the fact that you can somewhat stealthily plot your way through is fun. While you won’t be able to share it with friends locally Armello stands out in the current Switch lineup as unique and refreshing for the right crowd.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Multiple paths to victory
  • Deep strategic play and possibilities
  • Online play offers even more opportunity for challenge

Cons:
  • No cross-platform online play could limit your opportunity to find competitors depending on the sustained interest in the game
  • Handheld play is a bit cramped and tougher to read with scaling
  • While understandable, no local multiplayer is a bummer

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review: Pinball FX3 - Williams Pinball Volume 1 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While the Pinball FX3 engine is, without a doubt, has the best overall engine on the Switch for pinball until this point appreciating that fact was a bit more apples and oranges in terms of trying to make comparisons. The fantastic and physically-impossible elements of their virtual tables were always interesting but as a classic pinball fan I was always curious what the power of that engine would bring to bear on the physical tables I’ve loved over the years. Since Zen Studios has now licensed the treasure trove of Williams tables, which are for me hands down the best ever made, we’ll get to see how well they do but with this initial offering they’re off to one hell of a start.


In order to add a personal touch each of these tables has been enhanced with side art (which I love across the board), and then new elements, many of which are somewhat interactive. For purists these can be disabled, which is very much appreciated. One of the nicest features remains the fact that the Switch allows you to play the tables in vertical mode while undocked, giving a great view of the table and unlike playing similarly on a tablet you can use a controller so your fingers aren’t obscuring anything from using a touchscreen. Performance may show an occasional brief stutter but even with the enhanced extras outside of crazier things like intense multiball action there don’t tend to be many issues.


Starting with the table anyone can get and sample for free we have a popular table that I spent some time but never resonated with me, Fish Tales. This is a well-themed table with some nice ramps spaced around the table and plenty of bells and whistles. A fisherman trying to reel in a catch is a nice touch and he isn’t typically too distracting. It’s an excellent appetizer compared to the 3 tables in the first pack which are generally a bit more complex.


Junk Yard is a table with a pretty wide open center area that has multiple targets and a wrecking ball towards the top, complemented by some ramps on either side. It tends to be a pretty satisfying table as it’s not too challenging to get multiball going and you’re generally able to rack up some decent scores quickly when you get on a run. At the high end you’ll be working to collect and combine components so there’s much deeper play as well most certainly. Most of the enhancements here are more minor than in the other tables but in general it’s a more pulled out view so that works out fine.


One of my personal favorites that’s included, The Getaway, has always been a bit of a bastard in terms of its degree of challenge to get rolling. Getting multiball can take some work, and then your Jackpot is tied to first getting a ball in the central Supercharger and then making the skill shot to bring things home. With the extended time I’ve played on this table the quality of the conversion is very apparent as quirks in the behavior of it are very well-preserved. A great example of this is the kickback’s inconsistency in where it will send you, even if you wish it would always set you up with your shot on the top right flipper. In past conversions of the table the satisfying growl of the audio from shifting gears has been a bit muted but I’m very satisfied with the audio for this version. The enhancements here are just middling as the officer with the radar gun is just sort of there and I actually don’t like how it goes overhead when you make the Supercharger shot. I’d swear the speed on the ball on the left lane coming off the ramp is just a bit on the fast side, and it throws me off, but I may be accustomed to tables with a little more wear perhaps.


Probably the most notable table for pinball enthusiasts I’ve saved for last, and that’s Medieval Madness. I enjoy the table but since I only played on it physically a few times I don’t have the connection to the physical version the way I do to the others. It has a very ramp-heavy design, there are simply tons of ways to trigger a variety of multiball scenarios and the action is extremely satisfying. Zen Studios really pulled out all of the enhancement stops with this one as well as the dragon is quite active and will fly around the table and blow fire at some points. It can be a little distracting but the theme blends together so well that it feels right. Flaming trails on the balls are also satisfying and make more sense here than on Getaway, it just all feels really good.


I must say that this pack has me very excited to see what the next collection of tables will be. Williams made some of the most iconic tables of all-time and I actually helped back the Kickstarter campaigns for “the competition” to help them get over some serious licensing hurdles to convert some of their top tables like Twilight Zone and The Addams Family. Even without those tougher nuts to crack there are simply tons of great tables I’d love to see from older classics like Haunted House or Funhouse, to the incredible Monsters of Rock or Theater of Magic, or even table I have a personal weakness for like RollerGames. Zen has gotten off to an extremely strong start, proving they can not only bring the authentic table experience to consoles but even enhance them in the process (though with varying results). It’s an exciting time to be a virtual pinball fan!

Score: 9

Pros:
  • A pack of 3 very diverse and exciting tables, with Fish Tales thrown in as a freebie!
  • Some incredible nuanced play that absolutely reminds me of the physical tables
  • While the enhancements aren’t all winners some of them absolutely elevate already great pinball experiences to another level

Cons:
  • There can be some performance hiccups as the intensity goes up, though they’re forgivable
  • The dragon enhancement on Medieval Madness, where they went all-in, was a great touch. The more superficial on-table characters are more “just there”
  • While super-specific the left lane to the flipper feels like it can be too fast at times, throwing my muscle memory from the table off


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Tricky Towers [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s nothing quite like a solid competitive game to play against a friend that will test your skills while providing ample opportunity to troll and screw each other over along the way. The first game I remember having that thrill playing was Tetris back on my GameBoy so I perhaps have a bit of added enthusiasm for Tricky Towers. Using Tetris and its iconic pieces as a sort of base, but then throwing a tower building and balancing element into the mix as well as some spells that will help you out or screw over your opponent it is a real breath of fresh air and a lot of fun on Switch.


Where Tetris is all about precision, you’ll quickly find in Tricky Towers that your goals are a bit less rigidly defined. While you could opt, at least for a short time, to build your towers with every piece locking into the other perfectly, through creativity or necessity you’ll quickly begin to learn how best to position pieces in creative ways to maximize height while trying to to completely ruin stability. You’re able to maneuver your pieces in half steps, creating gaps, but also allowing you to have pieces lean on others in various ways if you want to. Manage things well and you’re a mad genius, fail and you may be having to roughly start all over again.


Getting to the spells your little wizard character who I suppose is your avatar in control of your efforts has options at their disposal to either make your life easier or your enemy’s life tougher. Whether you’re making your pieces a bit more magnetically sticky or zapping troublesome pieces there can be critical benefits to keeping focused on what you’ve got going on. However, the temptation to annoy your opponent with balloons to slow their progress or super-sizing one of their pieces (which can royally screw up their day, depending on your timing) is often powerful and certainly these more aggressive moves tend to prompt the most memorable moments as well.


Of course it’s crucial that you’re able to enjoy puzzles games like this both alone and with others and the variety of options you have here is appreciated. Solo you can opt for challenges that will reinforce your skills for playing against others, whether racing to make your tower a specific height on a limit set of time or using a given number of pieces without making your tower too high. In endless mode you’ll instead be looking to keep building your tower higher without someone trying to mess you up, but instead having a combination of a creeping minimum height requirement and gravity as your enemies. Online play is supported as well, but unfortunately pre-release I haven’t been able to get anything rolling and ultimately whether the community is there to make it a sustained source of fun or it ends up being spotty will remain to be seen.


All in all Tricky Towers is a very refreshing take on what you’d have thought was a pretty locked in formula. The introduction of gravity, off-kilter piece placement, and power-ups really make the experience unique, and each of the modes tweak your priorities and goals just enough that they play out a bit differently as well. While it can be challenging and fun solo it’s really playing against someone else that takes it to the next level. No doubt the online option will be nice to have, but it’s really having someone right there next to you shouting obscenities at you that will make it the most satisfying so if you’ve got someone to play with locally you’ll have your best chances to fully enjoy the experience. Get ready to enjoy Tetrominoes in an entirely new way!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A fresh take on the use of the iconic Tetrominoes
  • Each of the modes offers a different priority and that opens the door to there being something just about any puzzle game fan should enjoy
  • Rewarding and challenging play for when you go solo as well

Cons:
  • While online play is a great addition keep in mind not having the person in the room isn’t quite as fun and there being a wide community of people to play against is no guarantee
  • For people who can’t get a feel for the physics of trying to manage an ever-increasingly wobbly tower it may just prove frustrating


Review: Joggernauts [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Party games, whether they’re competitive or cooperative, have really gotten new life in the last year on a general level, and the Switch no doubt has contributed to that trend. Most of the time the goal is to blow people’s faces off or prove which of you is the best (this time). Taking a very different direction is Joggernauts, a game that blends elements of runners like the Bit.Trip series with a heaping helping of need to coordinate and communicate with each other. While it can scale all the way down to being a very different kind of single-player experience this is best tackled with a party of 4 for maximum aggravation and (hopefully) fun.


As a party game your job will be to coordinate as you’re trying to get your aliens through a gauntlet of differently-colored monsters/gates that correspond to the colors of your team. Your goal is to switch that member to the front so they’re the one that hits the gate, otherwise they’ll die and remove a heart from your collective pool for the level. Simply surviving can be a challenge in itself but you’ll also be trying to grab colored jewels along the way that can be used for vital things like checkpoints as well as the trophies that are floating about. As the levels progress the challenge will increase with alternative paths, trophies that will require some technique-based warp-jumping, and ever-more rapid-fire color changing. You’re able to play with less than 4, and things still work, it’s just more scaled back. Whether this makes things easier or harder probably has more to fo with the people playing than the game, just everyone needs to be on the same page and communicating clearly or things tend to go downhill in a hurry.


If you opt to play it solo the game becomes something else entirely. Here you’ll be given the imposing challenge of making your left and right brain and hands to cooperate instead. In general, being methodical and getting into a rhythm becomes the key here but since you won’t have anyone else to yell at and blame for your failings it can be a bit tougher. Certainly the fact that you lose the smack talking and increasing panic amongst your friends as you try to make it through also detracts a bit… well, and the fact that once you get several levels in it’s plain tough.


While the 20-ish levels the game offers across 3 worlds doesn’t seem like much getting through many of them will take some serious coordination and perhaps even planning. Especially if you want to grab both trophies and all of the goodies along the way to help unlock new characters and some fun you’ll need to work for it. While you’ll probably be best off playing with a group that’s at least roughly in the same class in terms of core skills with time probably just about anyone can get the hang of the relatively simple controls as long as everyone works together. Or, just for giggles, it can be fun to sometimes royally screw people up as well.

Score: 8

Pros:

  • A unique twist on the cooperative party game
  • You’re never able to get comfortable for long, and will need to develop and even master new techniques as you go
  • Works as a very different single-player game, though losing the group aspect robs that of much of the potential for fun


Cons:

  • Especially if you’re not trying to at least grab both trophies on all levels it may feel a bit short, depending on the skill level of your group
  • If you’re just going to rock the game solo or with one friend it may not be as fun in the end


Review: Battle Group 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The Switch’s touchscreen certainly adds to the system’s versatility and opens the door to some experiences coming over from the mobile and tablet space. Depending on your tastes and preferences this can be a good or bad thing but while many games that come over can be lacking there are sometimes diamonds in the rough. In the case of Battle Group 2 there are elements of it that work, and in many ways it reminds me of the arcade classic Missile Command as you’ll need to precisely knock your enemies and their missiles out of the sky. However, as happens with many games that were formerly powered by in-app currency, at some point it just gets to be a bit too grindy and one-note for its own good.


In the game you command your primary and secondary naval vessels as they move through enemy waters. Your mission is generally focused on mere survival but there are times when civilian aircraft will be in the area and you’ll need to be mindful not to hit them. Enemy planes, helicopters, and aquatic craft of all shapes, sizes, and health will appear and you’ll want to destroy them. Depending on their rate of movement and heading you’ll need to be careful to lead them as your missiles take time to get to their spot. Beware of their own missiles as well, which you’ll need to destroy before they hit your ship, depleting your health. In terms of control you can opt to use the controller but it’s pretty cumbersome, the game is very much meant to be played with the touchscreen, which works well.


On a general level that’s the majority of what there is to know. You’ll slowly accumulate barrels of oil which can be used to purchase new ships with new capabilities and strenghts as well as buy upgrades to do critical things like reduce your reload time (which is always your enemy). Your secondary ship’s function is to provide you with a secondary attack which has its own recharge and you’ll generally need to use wisely. Power-ups also become available but tend to carry a high price so they need to be used sparingly.


This is really where the problem of the grind comes in as it moved over from being about getting people to plunk down real currency to move things along. Lacking such a provision we’re instead left with what is too much grinding for too little overall diversity in content as a reward. Yes, there’s a certain level of methodical fun to be had if you want something to kick around with as you watch TV or something. That said there’s just not enough meat on the bones of what the game ultimately offers to justify the repetition of it all.


Score: 5

Pros:
  • Not bad as a game to kick around in spurts if you don’t mind the grind
  • Has a general feel similar to the arcade classic Missile Command that I can appreciate
  • Works well in handheld mode on the touchscreen

Cons:
  • There’s just not enough diversity in play offered
  • Docked play with a controller is sluggish and a bit clumsy
  • There are too many game systems and remnants of in-app purchases without proper re-tweaking, leading to entirely too much grinding


Review: Feral Fury [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While the rate of releases hasn’t been as intense as it was in the first year the Switch has a ton of very solid top-down twin-stick shooters, whether of the roguelike or more traditional varieties. What’s great is that within that broad category there are a bunch of different takes on what the action should feel like, whether fast-paced, filled with insane power-ups, or simply unpredictable and exciting. The latest to arrive on the scene, Feral Fury, actually has elements that remind me of those I’ve seen in several other great shooters, but though it provides a sound experience it doesn’t really excel in any of them and ends up just being a good shooter rather than a great one.


Starting out you’ll be playing as an armed panda-esque soldier determined to blow some things up real good. In order to do this you’ll start with your standard-issue pistol, complete with unlimited ammo, a few explosives that go off on a timer, and a dodge roll. Since this is a roguelike you can expect to work your way through a randomized map that’s quite different with every run but the good news is that as you collect orbs from the enemies you’ve dispatched you’ll get the opportunity to unlock enhancements and perks that will apply to your future runs, so the game tends to get incrementally easier the more you play it. As you complete certain level requirements you’ll also unlock new animals to play as for variety.


While all of this works out well enough, and there’s no doubt that there’s room for having fun, held up against shooters already available on the system it struggles to shine in any particular area. One issue is definitely mobility as your character simply feels a little sluggish. Whether this is a design choice or simply how things shook out is hard to say but while the roll can help the pacing pulls back the intensity and there are times when you’ll take a hit simply because you are moving just a little too slow. This slowness comes into play in the alternative driving sections in particular, with your vehicle feeling about like trying to steer a Zamboni on the road. Another issue is that the upgrades and power-ups feel a bit too subdued and pulled back. The action never really gets too crazy and with ammo never being a guarantee (especially when not on Easy) it’s hard to want to go to your more powerful weaponry. Oh, and you’re only able to carry one alternative weapon at a time as well.


While there’s nothing clearly wrong with Feral Fury, unlike the best the console and genre has to offer there’s also nothing that reaches out through the screen and grabs you, demanding your attention. Its design, enemies, and weapons are too generic on the whole, its action is just a little too ploddingly slow to get your adrenaline pumping, and while you’ll continue to get further as you go nothing ever gets too crazy. If you’re looking for a shooting experience that’s good enough, but not particularly great, it’ll fit the bill but if you haven’t yet burned through the many great shooters on Switch already I’d say to shop around a bit before making your decision.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Slow progression between runs is always a good thing
  • Generally well-implemented with unlocks and some secrets hidden about
  • Three skill levels that can tone things down or crank them up in order to account for varying levels of player abilities

Cons:
  • In most areas it feels a bit on the generic side, lacking the flair or intensity to go toe to toe with the better shooters already on the system
  • Movement is a bit on the sluggish side
  • Beyond Easy difficulty the availability of Health and Ammo pick-ups tends to be a little too thin, encouraging more subdued play overall


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review: Party Crashers [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Obviously fans of local multiplayer gaming have been given a blessing with the Switch, a system designed to make playing with others as accessible as possible. What we’ve seen since launch has been a wide array of choices for play, ranging from traditional to daring, and cerebral to twitchy. One of the more clever local multiplayer titles from last year was Party Golf, which had some basic and fun mechanics at its base but then layered on a load of options for reconfiguring the rules and obstacles, providing for a staggering variety of potential ways to play. The people from Giant Margarita behind that raucous title have now returned with Party Crashers, which sports many of the same concepts applied top-down-ish racing. While the spirit and fun are present to a degree, it unfortunately carries some complications from added complexity that keep it from rising to the level of its predecessor.


One great holdover from their first title is the visual aesthetic that borrows a bit from the likes of TRON, giving the game a somewhat futuristic look. The trademark weird humor has also come along for the ride, with some pretty standard vehicles to work with but then less practical ones as well including a giant brick and their signature banana car. While at the base there are four basic race types (you can opt to slowly unlock things or just jump the gun and unlock everything at once): Elimination, Race, Time Trial, and Battle, you’ll then be able to refine your experience on a high level with multiple available modes and then go crazy and customize further if you like with a slew of mutators as well to further tune your experience.


Probably the biggest issues it runs into are at the fundamental level, with slippery controls and a camera that can struggle in some modes to maintain viable angles at the top of the list. There’s something that very good racing games manage to pull off, somehow conveying a consistent sense of friction on the road to you which allows you to roughly feel the turns your making. This being a more stripped down experience placing an emphasis on wacky fun the fact that steering, and your degree of friction, in turns feels inconsistent may not be a huge surprise. It tends to feel good until it doesn’t, and at times for little discernible reason you’ll feel like you’re driving on the somewhat glossy glass-like surface the game’s visuals resemble. The decision to keep everything on a single screen was probably a good one but given the chaotic nature of the racing the camera very much struggles to keep an ideal angle for everyone involved. Even with only 2 racers it can sometimes be a bit brutal when you’re in the lead because the camera won’t always give you a great view of the track ahead. Given everything the game can and will support expectations for these systems certainly need to be tempered but they are worth giving a fair warning about so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised. While perhaps going without saying some combinations of modes and mutators can also make the game perform poorly or even simply end up unplayable in some way, but given the open-ended nature of how the game is set up this shouldn’t be a surprise.


Sticking to what the game is trying to accomplish, most of these concepts work well if you have a group of friends over to play with. There’s an enormous amount of variety even when exploring modes within each game type and making a critical tweak with the right mutators can then further diversify the experience. Everyone being on a level playing field in terms of expectations and experience also helps as some of the issues with control and the camera are at least shared, so nobody gets a particular advantage and it opens the door to just about anyone being the winner potentially. While Party Crashers has some issues with its fundamental underpinnings it can be a blast to enjoy with others, just be mindful that the endless variety offered doesn’t necessarily correspond to everything being playable or consistently fun. However, if you’re diligent you’re likely to find quite a few variations that deliver the unexpected, and that can be tough to find these days.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A variety of high-level styles of play ranging from aggressive eliminations to tough races to numerous battle mode match-ups
  • When played with friends the odds of having a good time screwing each other over are pretty good
  • The many modes and mutator options open the door to all sorts of experimentation to find the right mix for you and your friends

Cons:
  • In terms of the fundamentals the somewhat inconsistent slippery track and struggles with the camera can be frustrating
  • Not really recommended as a single-player experience at all, the quirks of the game are far more forgivable when everyone is dealing with them in parallel
  • Mixing the wrong mutators will definitely bog down system performance as well as result in the modes roughly being unplayable


Review: Kemono Friends Picross [Nintendo Switch eShop]


If you’ve ever played a Picross game you’re well aware that it’s probably one of the most satisfying puzzle styles out there, blending your powers of deduction with some nice pixel art. For this iteration the base formula remains the same, with the same Standard and Mega modes featured in Picross S as well as the satisfying Clip mode introduced in Picross S2. As you work through the standard puzzles this mode will allow you to composite a larger image from several pieces. It’s not a major change but I like the surprise of slowly unlocking a larger puzzle and image.


The major difference is the theming, this time working with anime characters from Kemono Friends. To some degree this is just giving a more consistent direction to the object of the majority of puzzles but since these are based on pixel art of faces typically it also can make working out solutions a bit more challenging than usual. With puzzles focused on simple objects you can usually throw in a guess in places once a pattern starts emerging. With these puzzles that can happen but facial features can also be a bit unpredictable, making you work a little harder at least.


If you’re a big Picross fan you’ll no doubt enjoy more of the trademark puzzle gaming it offers, but if you’re not someone who usually buys these titles you’ll need to make your decision based on whether you love anime or are looking for something a bit more generic. While the art you unlock won’t be different I’ll note you can opt for a more chibi character style for the various menus and trappings around puzzles. As a whole everything about the series remains as relevant as ever, you’ll just need to decide whether the art in this version is something you’re interested in.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Same solid gameplay as ever
  • If you’re a fan of anime characters and art this may be a perfect fit
  • I remain a big fan of the Clip Picross mode but not as big a fan in Mega Picross

Cons:
  • Aside from the theming there’s nothing different in terms of gameplay in this iteration
  • Not everyone may enjoy the anime characters and art


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: True Fear - Forsaken Souls Part 1 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


It’s officially that time of year when gamers begin to look around for something that’ll throw a little something extra spooky, creepy, or worse at them. Last year the pickings weren’t all that great on the Switch but I’d hoped this year would compensate. Unfortunately, to this point it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting much. However, I’m glad to report that while True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 may not provide the gaming experience or terror some may be hoping for, it’s a well-made puzzle adventure experience whose story is just creepy enough to keep from disappointing.


You play through this adventure as a young woman who has some dark secrets in her past concerning her mother and sister, searching for answers. Through the game’s 3 Acts (with an additional stage thrown in for good measure) you’ll not only need to solve a myriad of puzzles but you’ll be stalked by visions and spooky encounters as well. Did your mother die carrying a dark secret with her? Is the young girl in these frightening visions real? As the game comes to a close you’ll be left with some revelations but since this is a trilogy there’s still more to be revealed.


In terms of the mechanics this is a generally well-produced puzzle adventure, with elements of hidden object puzzles, countless conundrums to be solved by using your wits, and perhaps some hints along the way. In order to keep things moving and reduce aimless wandering hitting the plus button to bring up a screen showing all rooms, displaying a “!” on whichever ones have something to be done in them, is a terrific enhancement. Aside from keeping yourself from getting lost in the maze of rooms in the large Act 2 map there are simply so many balls that you’ll have in the air at a time that keeping track of which room had which loose end in it can be overwhelming. Instead being able to be guided through and simply enjoy solving the puzzles is a great touch.


The Hint system, depending on which difficulty you choose, is very helpful and in some cases is vital, especially in handheld mode. Some items, even highlighted with sparkles, can be very tough to spot and having the option to hit the hint to show you what you should have been looking for saves a lot of frustration. Truthfully there are multiple hours of content to enjoy here even if you’re moving at top speed so playing on the tougher skill levels (which you can adjust at any time in the menu) serves little purpose, it’s better to have the hints when you need them and simply enjoy yourself since there’s no discernable penalty for doing so. The default bright level also veers a bit too dark, as some details I struggled to make out without brightening it up a bit. Nothing critical is wrong, just these tips should save some unnecessary frustrations.


As a whole package True Fear works reasonably well as a light-ish horror game that builds up some suspense through creepy ambiance and will throw in a mild scare every once in a while. The story was well constructed enough that I was eager to make my way through the puzzles to learn your character’s fate and look forward to her continued journey in the sequels. While some additional refinement in the interface and puzzles would be nice, every game of this kind can get a bit weird with what it wants you to do in order to progress, I actually have few qualms with it overall and would very much recommend it to anyone looking for a casual puzzle experience with some spooky elements thrown in.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Spooky elements and ambiance are all around, delivering just enough suspense to be fun without being terribly scary
  • While the story may not be incredibly original it layers in enough intrigue to make the sequel feel justified and welcome
  • The ability to jump to any room and see which ones have something current to do in them is a terrific time saver and very well designed

Cons:
  • If you’re looking for more hardcore scares or gameplay you’ll be disappointed
  • Some of the items needed to complete certain puzzles can be strange, but that’s no unusual in the genre


Review: Valthirian Arc - Hero School Story [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Having always been a huge fan of the classic Secret of Mana anytime I see a game that hints at that style of combat in an action RPG setting it gets me excited. In the case of Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story, there seemed to be a sort of bonus being brought to the table as well in the form of a building simulator of sorts as you’d be able to manage your school to help yourself on a path to glory. Unfortunately, though there are some rudimentary elements present that satisfy the basic itches you may have for either style of play neither is really fleshed out enough to be terribly satisfying.


Starting with the building and management aspect of the game the biggest issue is that this isn’t any sort of sandbox situation, what you’re ultimately doing is just filling in some blanks as you progress with little room for flair or meaningful decisions beyond a minor focus in your stat modifiers. As your school gains prestige through missions, graduating students, and running errands that satisfy various rulers you do gain more to potentially work with but it’s really an on-rails affair for the most part, which is disappointing. One word of warning is to carefully watch whether you’re signing your student teams up for active missions or errands. If you send everyone out on errands you can expect to need to do nothing for quite some time as that essentially leaves you nothing at all to do. How they didn’t anticipate this and build in a means to accelerate time is beyond me, while you may only make this mistake once it was extremely annoying.


On the action RPG side unfortunately things don’t ultimately fare much better, with the combat ending up pretty middle-of-the-road at best. As you progress and set up the appropriate classrooms and mentors in your school you’ll be able to hone the skills of your students more effectively to stitch together parties of specialists who are more interesting and powerful but the combat itself for the most part is unrewarding and a bit dull truth be told. It can be fun for a while but it never really ramps up to truly get interesting enough to set itself apart from other titles in the space.


In the end Hero School Story ends up being a jack of 2 trades but master of neither. If one element or the other was stronger the state of the lesser of the two would probably have not been as big a deal. Unfortunately, I can’t see any aspect of the game being deep or satisfying enough to provide sustained excitement to real fans of either style of gaming. While I don’t doubt people will be able to make the most of what’s here to eke out some hours of enjoyment this feels like a title that could have been far better with a bit more fleshing out.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • Reasonably attractive art style
  • The action and management aspects are approachable, mostly due to their simplicity

Cons:
  • Combat ultimately lacks in excitement, variety, and depth
  • The building management aspect of things is too constrained and limited, making it pretty disappointing
  • As a whole the experience feels very generic