Friday, August 17, 2018

Review: Manual Samuel [Nintendo Switch eShop]


You may have played weird games before, you may have played physics games before, you may have played weird physics games before… but I’m not positive just about anything could prepare you for Manual Samuel. It seems that this wealthy douchebag in life has come to the afterlife with an abundance of Hell’s currency, which catches the attention of Death, who is apparently a gnarly skater dude. In order to earn a chance to go back to the land of the living Samuel makes a deal to try to survive 24 hours with an impediment of Death’s choosing, putting his precious shreds of life on the line. Of course he didn’t anticipate that Death would have a nasty one in mind, that Samuel would need to live his live quite literally in a manual fashion, and that’s where you come in.


Being clear, you’ll either be amused by the very funky control challenges this game presents you for performing the most mundane of tasks (including breathing, I kid you not) or you’ll want to curse whatever horrible people put it out on the eShop. This takes the normal physics game model and really pushes the limits a bit. Trying to coordinate a variety of button presses, taps of the joystick, and moving between shoulder buttons absolutely gets confusing… but it’s also a kind of silly fun if you’re open to the experience.


What story there is over the handful of hours you’ll play tends to be odd as well, but the strange characters and the ever-present narrator commentating on what you’re doing (complete with celebratory hashtags for mundane achievements like taking a leak) do a good job of rewarding your continued efforts. If you can see the amusement of nearly killing yourself while simply trying to drink some water or narrowly avoiding running over little old ladies while struggling to control your car (of course complete with a manual transmission) the experience has its silly rewards. Given the likely polarizing nature of the game’s controls Manual Samuel gets a highly conditional recommendation. If you’re willing to roll with the punches, there’s definitely a unique good time to be had here, just be very aware of its intent to make controlling just about anything more challenging than you’d ever imagine.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Even among its physics games peers this takes weird controls to the next level
  • The characters and narrator consistently make your successes and failures a bit more amusing
  • Only sticks around long enough to take you through a variety of silly situations and generally avoids the action becoming redundant

Cons:
  • The controls are undeniably, and intentionally, confusing and can be frustrating
  • Not everyone will “get” this style of play or the strange sense of humor


Review: Polygod [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to roguelikes, their popularity, and their inherent replayability without the need to necessarily create a ton of traditional content, it’s easy to understand their appeal from the development side. When all of the right elements are plugged into the formula it can also make for a lot of extended fun on the player side, so when everything really clicks it can be a good time. That said, getting things right can be challenging and just because something is procedurally generated and plays differently every time doesn’t make it inherently fun. This, for me, is the trap Polygod falls into.


Starting with the positive mechanically it’s a fairly competent, if decidedly low-tech in appearance, shooter. Movement is generally fluid, aiming works well enough considering you’re using a controller, and when you get fully into your shooter groove it can feel good. For every new run you’ll start out roughly weak as a kitten, work to get some kills, and then take the souls you gain to altars that will give you random choices for how to spend those souls to become more powerful. Once you’ve exhausted each world’s opening area you’ll then take a portal to take on its boss, who will offer a more difficult challenge. Defeat the boss and you’ll move onto the next of the 7 worlds with everything getting decidedly harder the further you get.


If you dig first-person shooters and don’t mind the difficulty curve mixed with a fair amount of stock circle strafing and shooting things on the move this may be appealing. Unfortunately, after repeated play the cracks in the experience begin to show pretty easily. For all of the randomness that procedural generation can bring to the table from run to run the differences you’ll see aren’t honestly that major in terms of your experience. Yes, the layout, placement of altars, and enhancements you’ll choose from (assuming you continue to try new seeds) can vary pretty wildly and that does change the experience. That doesn’t necessarily make it feel like less of a grind and more fun though. The fact that nothing at all persists or progresses aside from your own knowledge and skills between runs contributes to this as well, so you lose that hook of knowing in the next run you’ll be more powerful in some way.


Contributing to frustrations the degree of difficulty isn’t so much of a uniform slope as it is a jagged mountain of relative inconsistency. Certainly better and worse upgrade options or combinations play into this feeling but there’s not too often a feeling of “just right” compared to too easy or too hard. Environments play into this, with some that are wide open and others that are heavily constrained to the point they feel a bit unfair, offering you insufficient room to evade fire very well. This can encourage a degree of being cheap and trying to test the limits of how far off you can be and still hit enemies. Some enemies also have a tendency to be hard to differentiate from the scenery, leading to frustrations where sometimes you’re being hit or will even be killed without being able to figure out what’s even shooting you.


If you’re willing to roll with the punches and the things it doesn’t quite get right Polygod does offer up a different take on first-person shooting, and the more familiar you become with its quirks the more successful you’ll be. As with all roguelikes it isn’t so much about the destination (beyond the goal to eventually beat it all), it’s about enjoying the repeated attempts and feeling that you’re getting wiser and better as you go. Some progression across runs would have helped to add more oomph to push you to do “just one more run” but at least with a wide variety of power-up options from the get-go you never know what you may be working with.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • If you’re looking for a first-person shooting challenge it will deliver
  • Has a clean overall look and controls well
  • There is a great deal of variability per run, though not in all areas

Cons:
  • There is no progression outside of the current run, something that’s become off-trend
  • Some levels feel constrained and a bit cheap, limiting your maneuverability
  • There will be cases where you can’t tell what is shooting you before you’ll die


Review: Behind the Screen [Nintendo Switch eShop]


It’s always fascinating to play games that come from foreign developers that appear to have been originally intended for their native markets. We all have cultural norms and shared appreciation for symbolism in specific things tied to where we grew up, and when you then take something from a place that’s very different that foundation is removed, by default making the experience a bit odd. Behind The Screen has elements that feel like they probably have contextual meaning but even beyond that it has an odd and sad story, yet sucked me in completely and compelled me to finish it just to see where the ride would ultimately lead.


Your main character, Yu Ming Wang, is obviously a troubled soul and what’s somewhat fascinating as you go is the disconnect between his somewhat fantastical perceptions and “reality”. I put that in quotes because through news footage and reflections of people around him you do get different versions of events, but because of elements of your experience seen through Wang’s eyes you get the sense that their versions aren’t very accurate either.


In terms of the gameplay itself story beats are broken up by a variety of minigames, some of which are puzzles or involve stealth early on but further in typically involve fights of some kind. No two mini games are quite alike, with each throwing in some variation to keep things from feeling redundant. As a warning, there are a few fights that border on feeling unfair, the one towards the middle of the game almost putting me off completely. Thankfully, persistence will generally see you through as you’ll come to see attack patterns or simply luck out with the combination of attacks it happens to throw at you.


From start to finish Behind the Screen had me had me off-balance and trying to reconcile the truth between Wang’s perceptions and the reality other characters or news reports were relaying. I’ll warn that the translations aren’t always great, so there are spelling and grammatical errors throughout, but in general it never felt like this was an impediment to understanding what’s going on. If you’re open to something odd, that’s somewhat light on gameplay but just thoroughly different, it’s worth a look.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • A strange and pretty tragic story seen through multiple lenses
  • Had a quality that demanded I finish the game, just to see where things ended up
  • The variations between the mini games, even between genres, helped keep things more interesting

Cons:
  • Some mini games are far harder than others, and random changes per attempt sometimes help but other times make them tougher
  • If you’re looking for a game that’s light and relaxing this is 100% in the opposite direction
  • Lack of cultural context and some poor translations can make understanding some moments difficult


Review: The Inner World and The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk [Nintendo Switch eShop]



There’s always a bit of a challenge when reviewing games that are distinct in their release but that are obviously related. Such is the case with both The Inner World and it’s sequel, The Last Wind Monk. While I’ll be sure to give space to the strengths and flaws of both individual titles, but since they share quite a bit in common it seemed less redundant to cover them in the same space, though ultimately this will be two scored reviews in one.


The short summary is that both of them share a charming hand drawn art style and feature colorful characters that have often witty dialogue that is fun to simply experiment with. Rather than being heavily driven by purpose, solutions here are more of a meandering sort, where you’ll start out with high-level objectives and then run into weirdness and fun along the way. Of course, finding items and then often combining them to find typically unorthodox solutions to the problems and puzzles you’re presented with comes with the territory, but for the most part the humor helps greatly in minimizing the frustrations along the way. To help you chisel your way through some of the impossibly hard to crack item puzzles the game thankfully provides an easy access hint system that attempts to dole out a clue at a time to first nudge you along but if need be it will pretty well spell out what you need to do. The shame is this is pretty well necessary, and often, but considering this is pretty well a typical issue for this genre the baked in solution is a nice way of helping to compensate.


The original title plays out more as a fish out of water story, where you’ll control the sheltered and somewhat meek Robert, who has been raised by the powerful and somewhat dickish Conroy. When things go awry with an incident involving a pigeon Robert chases him down a pipe and finds himself out in the world, a bit confused and bewildered but with a purpose. Over the course of the game he comes to understand the truth about his world, himself, and the person he’s been serving all this time. The biggest issue with the original, especially in contrast with its sequel is that it lacks touchscreen support and that makes the controls quite cumbersome. You can thankfully cycle through on-screen hot spots and then choose actions for them but this isn’t an ideal way to play and it does sometimes make what should be simple strings of actions unnecessarily hard.


The sequel, and I’ll try to remain vague so as not to ruin the story, continues three years after the conclusion of the original. While there’s still certainly humor to be found, the innocent out in the world theme of the first title is replaced with darker and more sinister threads that even risk getting a bit too close to our own reality for people who enjoy the pure escape of games. Persecution, ignorance, and hatred of “others” are a big part of the story and the less innocent but still pretty humble Robert will need to show more growth, with the help of his friends Laura and Peck (yes, the pigeon from the first game *SPOILER*). What’s most notable about this sequel, though, is that it was obviously written with touchscreens in mind and not only are touch controls supported but even the scaling of critical elements have been made a bit bigger with small screens in mind versus likely having been designed primarily for PCs. The other big change that improves the experience quite a bit is that you’re able to toggle between characters, allowing each to bring their own skills to bear. In theory this could make the puzzles more confusing but instead for me it helped make at least some of them more sensible.


Overall, if you’re a fan of the genre, appreciate clever writing with unusual characters, and have a degree of tolerance for some good old convoluted puzzle solutions both Inner World titles deliver. My apologies if you were hoping to know more about the stories, I tend to stick more to generalities in these reviews because that’s always a crucial piece of the experience, and ruined surprises simply aren’t as fun. If you’re not ready to fully dive in with both titles but want to check out what the series has to offer you’ll clearly want to opt for the sequel, especially on the Switch, given the touchscreen support and optimization even if the story is a bit more heavy.

The Inner World Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • A pretty light-hearted and fun affair, full of clever dialogue and unusual characters
  • Terrific hand-drawn art style
  • A nice tiered hint system that tries to dole out only as much information you need, just you’ll unfortunately use it a lot most likely

Cons:
  • No touchscreen support
  • Navigation is doable but is also quite cumbersome
  • Some truly strange solutions to puzzles that not even the hint system can always adequately spell out

The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk Score: 8

Pros:
  • Touchscreen controls and optimization for a smaller screen make it far more approachable on Switch
  • The dynamic of switching between characters opens new possibilities with puzzles and added fun
  • A nice tiered hint system that tries to dole out only as much information you need, just you’ll unfortunately use it a lot most likely

Cons:
  • While there’s humor the much more serious tone of some of its themes may be a bit too closely aligned with the real world for some
  • Some truly strange solutions to puzzles that not even the hint system can always adequately spell out


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: Tetra's Escape [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Puzzle fans have got to be among the happiest people owning a Switch, the platform has attracted a great variety of titles and many of them have been excellent. Happily, coming along for the ride have been titles that may be lacking in polish but that have managed to deliver a creative and distinct experience. That’s roughly where Tetra’s Escape comes into the picture, bringing a somewhat humble appearance and ideas to the table but delivering some nice challenges along the way.


On any given stage you’ll have a number of little blocky characters to work with. Most of these will have the ability to transform themselves into tetronimous shapes (get it, Tetra’s Escape?). Using this base ability and then new enhancements you gain with each world (rotating, mirroring, etc) you’ll then need to work with what you have to get to the portal that represents the exit, trying to pick up as many stars as you can along the way. While this starts out relatively simple, with the flow of the level pretty well dictating placements, the further in you get the more open things will be, stepping up the challenge.


Each stage has an added bonus trophy that will only appear when all stars have been collected that can throw an interesting twist into your planning as well if you’re a completionist like me. This will often require that you to replay the level to be sure you not only get to each star but then leave a way to get the trophy once it is revealed. Sometimes this will mean you need to be sure you’re in the right position not to be cut off and others you may need to put a piece in a spot that takes a bit more manipulation to secure.


For the most part that defines the game from top to bottom, and aside from the unusually-long load time when you first boot up the game there really isn’t anything that stands out as a negative aside from its pretty humble presentation. Tetra’s Escape slowly but surely manages to introduce new elements throughout that progressively remove the training wheels and result in some legitimately tough puzzles as it moves along. Especially if you’re insistent on getting each level’s trophy you’ll need to engage your brain and make a plan, making for a different and satisfying overall experience.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A relatively simple concept that’s well executed
  • Later levels open up, forcing you to really think through your approach
  • Trophy placements can be tricky and layer on an added challenge

Cons:
  • The initial load time is unusually long and for what reason I’m not sure
  • Not a terribly long experience


Review: Galak-Z Variant S [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When I initially heard that Galak-Z was coming to Switch I was tremendously excited as it is an indie title I loved playing on the PC. When I heard the initial name followed by the words “Variant S” I got a bit of a chill and began worrying over what that distinction meant. Though I would imagine the Switch would be capable of running a port of the original title we were instead “blessed” with a port of the mobile version of the game. Though it does retain the amazing art and some of the gameplay elements of the original title, it being overrun with mobile-ness in the form of timed unlock content and an abundance of attempts to convince you to partake of its microtransactions heavily cripple the original experience.


Though the story is pretty significantly pared back in this version you’ll still be playing as the brash A-Tak, and the events of this game actually follow the conclusion of the original where he ended up in the Void. For the most part none of this amounts to much more than some chit chat once in a while, the emphasis is really on the action. Probably the most notable change in terms of the gameplay from the original title to this mobile incarnation is that they’ve taken away the ability for your ship to transform between its fighter and mech modes. Instead when you set out on your mission you’ll be choosing one or the other as separate crafts, each with their own set of enhancements you can manage through upgrades you’ll earn and bots that you can associate to boost specific attributes.


The primary gameplay experience is broken into major zones which each have multiple missions, some of which will allow you to play in either of your craft and some that will dictate one or the other. As you complete these the story will slowly advance and in most missions there’s an opportunity to take on a tougher ship in order to score a relic. Relics are the first place the mobile emphasis shows its head as you’ll need to either wait for them to unlock (while initially this is only takes 10 minutes as you get higher value relics the time will extend to an hour) or use one of a handful of type of in-game currency to unlock them faster. The more powerful the upgrades get the more times you’ll need to collect them in order to be able to make use of them, leading to the need to grind the same missions repeatedly to get upgrades and then either be forced to regularly check in every hour or so to unlock another, waste what little currency you’ll earn as you go, or spend real money to purchase currency to then use to unlock them. The thing is, as you move on in zones you’ll absolutely need these upgrades to be able to stay with the difficulty curve so expect quite a bit of repetition.


The bots I mentioned are completely tied to the in-game currency and come from crates that you can open using two different types. These are very loot box-y in nature and give you a random bot to work with, which can range in quality from common to elite and will have a variety of attributes. Bots have a variety of purposes, depending on which you get. They can be associated with your ships to provide perk boosts, one can be used to help incrementally unlock relics faster, and they also contribute to the passive PvP battle mode you can participate in. This mode is another mobile staple, which will allow you to define which bots you’ll use to defend yourself against other players (you’ll want to keep an eye on which craft are associated with the bot and how powerful they are to know which to choose) and then you can choose to attack players as well to help slowly build experience to upgrade your bots and make them more powerful. In addition there are rewards you can earn periodically tied to your ranking based on how well you perform and how often you participate. Here there’s another transaction lure as well, you’ll only be able to participate in 3 battles before you’ll get hit with a cooldown timer, but you’ll have the option to spend some currency to get by this again.


In terms of the total picture, aside from its persistent attempts to try to get you to spend real money to progress a little quicker, I’d say that while it’s initially some fun the more you play it the more the grind sets in. If you don’t mind the mobile format of a game you load up every few hours to play for 15 minutes and then go do something else perhaps it will suit you well but otherwise it may be grating. Of special note is that if you’re on the go and aren’t connected to wi-fi you won’t be able to do this either, so be sure your plans revolve around having internet access or you’re out of luck. To the developer’s credit special events appear to periodically show up but if you’re not too powered up yet you’ll probably struggle to take advantage of the opportunities it gives you for special event-specific gear. My worst problem with the title is that it’s a mere shadow of the original that I adored, and I’d rather have spent the money to buy that outright rather than play this neutered version for free.


Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • Retains the great look and most of the elements of core gameplay from the original title
  • If you’re willing to live with the grind, very mobile-like timers, and regular bursts of play you may not mind it
  • Special events provide some incentive for people who enjoy the game to return periodically

Cons:
  • This version of Galak-Z is absolutely a neutered and less fun one overall
  • Has blatant attempts to get you to spend money pretty well everywhere, though if you’re patient you need not spend anything
  • Even if you spend some coin to speed things up there’s no escaping the grind
  • Cannot be played without internet access, seriously harming its portability


Review: CastleStorm [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One trait I always like to see in games is when they provide players the opportunity to mostly choose their own course and style to find success. While along the way in its pretty beefy campaign there will be times where you’ll need to conform to a specific strategy or style, Zen Studios CastleStorm for the most part leaves you to decide which of its 3 styles you want to focus on during play, whether you prefer to aim and shoot, manage troops, or get involved more directly for some brawling fun. Of course the best strategy will generally be to do a little bit of each, but the fact that you can dictate your own personal upgrade path to best suit your strengths and weaknesses gets it off to a great start.


While there are some variant mode choices that will let you play against a friend, get right into a fight against the computer, or work to hold back waves of enemies focusing on strategy or action, the meat of the game is its Campaign mode. Here you’ll advance through 3 different campaigns composed of over 25 stages apiece, consistently working to defend your castle from enemies while trying to take them down. There are some periodic variations to the formula, whether sometimes involving a boss or doing things like require you to protect special units, but for the most part it’s all-out war and you’ll need to keep a steady and sustained attack while making sure nothing is sneaking by your defenses to steal your flag or destroy your castle.


To accomplish your goals there are multiple styles of gameplay to shift between: Aiming and firing your ballista at incoming enemies, setting up what can become a pretty wide array of units to either defend or attack, taking an active role using spells on the battlefield, or taking control of your hero, Sir Gareth, to go brawler-style and cut through enemy units more directly. As you complete missions and objectives you’ll earn gold which you can use to flesh out your overall strategy, allowing you to focus heavily on specific gear, units, or spells or to diversify and cover all bases. Since there will be missions that will have primary or secondary objectives that will challenge you to play with or without using certain methods you’ll want to leave some room for success using different means. However, for the most part you’ll be free to go with what suits you, which is nice since it’s easier to overlook the repetitive nature of some missions when you’re doing it all your own way.


In terms of criticisms aside from the fact that ultimately many of the missions play out very similarly, though they’ll have different primary and secondary objectives to throw in some variation, there’s not much to find fault with. The challenge to earn all 5 stars in all missions isn’t necessary for you to pursue but to get them you’ll need to work pretty hard in some cases, and work to flesh out your skills in all disciplines. I would say that the scaling of the aim assist line for your ballista in handheld mode gets a bit too hard to see to be of much help, but that won’t cripple your ability to beat missions, it just may harm your accuracy score if you’re unable to compensate. As long as you keep in mind this is mostly intended to be a casual game, and gear your expectations accordingly, it does a fine job of providing a balanced and fun experience.


Overall, CastleStorm offers a nice variety of action that most anyone could enjoy in a well-presented package. The ability to shift your focus between methods of play on the fly not only helps you address specific problems you may run into during a mission but it also lets you develop your own personal style for success. The upgrade system is very open-ended, allowing you to go wide and shallow or narrow and deep or anywhere in between, so while specializing heavily may pose a problem in some specific missions with some grinding you could always likely compensate and make your strategy work through sheer force. The potential for variety in approach is probably CastleStorm’s greatest asset and helps to maximize the audience that should be able to enjoy it.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • For the most part there’s no single path to success as smart upgrades can emphasize your strengths or compensate for your weaknesses
  • There are multiple ways to play, each of them offering its own flavor of fun and requiring different core skills
  • Secondary objectives and periodic variations in missions try to make things a bit less repetitive

Cons:
  • While there will be different objectives thrown at you for variety overall the majority of gameplay is ultimately similar
  • Some minor scaling issues in handheld mode
  • At some point there will likely be grinding


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review: Sleep Tight [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The idea behind Sleep Tight is a relatively simple one that looks fantastic on paper. Combine childhood nostalgia for things like pillow forts and sleepovers with equal parts tower defense and twin-stick shooter, then mix with some strategy and Pixar-esque monsters. In execution the package is a pretty good one, providing for some great opportunities and outright encouragement to play in a variety of different ways. That said, a lack in the variety of environments and overall play experience between runs outside of your specific approach can make its longevity more of a question mark.


To open you’ll start with your default middle-of-the-road kid and the tutorial does a fairly good job of walking you through the basics of your stations, how to research new skills and perks, and how to use defenses. It will also walk you through the general format where every night you’ll have to survive an increasingly-lethal onslaught of monsters with every tenth night being a tougher blood moon. Initially success with general survival or meeting pretty simple objectives will unlock new and different kids, with those on the first tier starting with a different default weapon and those on the second having pretty specific play styles and that are typically unlocked by meeting very specific objectives that involve playing the game in a way that suits their style. Whether this involves surviving many nights without firing a single shot, making heavy investments in research, or firing every weapon at least once these take some work but if you enjoy that style your unlocked kids will generally make it worth your while. There are third tier unlocks which have much more radical effects on the game, like changing the style of play entirely, but those are generally earned more through repeated play in general than specific objectives and serve more as a fun reward for your time invested.


While, in theory, you could opt to go down the middle with moderate investments in both defenses and weaponry for the most part, especially taking into account the various bonuses of the second-tier characters, you’re far better off investing in one direction or another. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, though when the degree of challenge as you get along in nights increases pretty suddenly there may be benefits to going lean and mean, investing mostly in yourself. On that end of the spectrum you can choose to throw your effort into upgrading your weapon of choice fully, with options ranging from a fast-firing gatling gun to a splash damage spewing water balloon gun. You’ll probably also want to invest in keeping yourself perked up with performance boosts, which can give you shields, let you deal more damage, or get extra pick-ups from monsters among other things. Going the opposite direction your goal would be to invest in your defenses, building up walls and a formation of turrets to slow and then dispatch of the monsters for you. If you’re careful to be sure they’re repaired and upgraded as you get the opportunity you can set yourself up with a pretty beefy and formidable defense.


That is until somewhere after the 30th night or so where the degree of challenge pretty quickly goes up and especially if you’ve gone the defensive route you’ll quickly find all of those defenses shredded pretty quickly. Even with research into making the walls stronger and your guns more lethal there’s simply a point where the monsters will overtake it all in pretty short order, generally then being able to remove your defenses faster than you can afford to replenish them. Further making the for building strategy less desirable is the haphazard way things can be placed, creating situations where you’ll then essentially trap yourself or have difficulty placing further defenses. With no ability to move a defensive item once it has been placed, and with you only being able to lay down defenses relative to how you’re holding them out from your character physically, this makes for a real mess as you try to further fortify your defenses. You’ll create bottlenecks and find that walls you placed early on can’t be replaced because the defenses around them will no longer let you position in a way that you can replace them. All of this pretty heavily favors investing in yourself as the weapon, if nothing else in order to simplify, but the challenge surve shifts very rapidly on this end as well, with monsters suddenly getting much tougher and more easily overwhelming you.


Overall there’s quite a bit to like about Sleep Tight, which manages to take a great core idea and do some interesting things with it. That said, it can be a slow burn getting to the point where it can be a serious challenge but then sort of jumps into being too hard too quickly once it decides to step things up. With a sustained campaign easily lasting more than an hour this can make for a bit more dead time getting going than I’d prefer, and the fact that there’s only one bedroom layout then contributes to things feeling too similar too often after a while. With some tweaks I think the experience could be quite a bit better, and I’d love to see a more refined sequel that places greater emphasis on changing things up, with kids all having different bedrooms to help make things a bit more interesting and an improved method of laying out your defenses.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A terrific concept, allowing for a mix of tower defense and twin-stick shooting
  • Very nice visuals
  • Unlockable characters push you to try different styles and then give you perks to encourage you to specialize and experiment further

Cons:
  • In general it is a bit of a slow burn before it gets interesting but then quickly gets overwhelming, could use a better balance
  • For building being such an emphasis once the monster curve ramps up it quickly begins to fail you faster than you can rebuild
  • With haphazard element placement, no ability to move placed defenses, and irregular shapes and sizes building formidable defenses can have unintended challenges and even trap you
  • No variety in your room or the general flow between runs puts it on you to make each game interesting rather than drawing you in with the potential for the unexpected


Review: Crush Your Enemies [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Real-time strategy is always a genre I’ve associated more with the PC crowd, aided greatly by the precision of a mouse, but that’s not to say there haven’t been some successes in moving the genre to consoles. Perhaps most greatly aided by the Switch’s inclusion of a touchscreen, strategy titles that keep things relatively simple can work out well on the console. One such case is the somewhat silly Crush Your Enemies, which attempts to spice up its relatively straightforward play with a massive dose of locker room humor and inappropriateness.


For the most part the concepts here are simple: Take your humble troops, claim territory, multiply their numbers, utilize opportunities to upgrade them to better units whenever possible, and overwhelm your enemy. Of course the game will throw a variety of scenarios at you in order to make this a challenge, including often putting you at a disadvantage in terms of numbers and resources, but clever vikings will work through these trials with some smarts and copious use of beer as a motivator when needed.


Probably the most notable thing in the game, aside from the strategic combat, is its humor which is likely to either make or break the experience for most people. Perhaps appropriately with its brusque and manly viking cast it frequently “goes there” in a variety of ways, and this will likely have the right crowd howling with laughs. If you pride yourself on being politically correct in almost any way it instead could really quickly drag it down though unless you can appreciate the intent and enjoy it for its unrestrained qualities.


The result is a satisfying, though perhaps ordinary, strategy game wrapped up in a layer of humor clearly out to make the experience more memorable through sheer force. If going low isn’t something you’re offended by this can all work out well but more sensitive souls could likely find it off-putting instead. Considering the limited number of games in this style on the Switch it at least boldly manages to plant its flag and demand your attention.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Generally satisfying strategic play in an under-represented genre on the system
  • If you enjoy your humor being blunt and inappropriate it absolutely delivers
  • Works well on the Switch touchscreen

Cons:
  • While well-implemented the gameplay is mostly generic for the genre
  • Due to the base nature of the humor the game won’t be for everyone
  • Some levels are abruptly challenging


Review: Battle Supremacy [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Between more general combat games like the Battlefield series and the very specific ones such as World of Tanks there’s obviously a crowd out there who enjoys a gritty war game. Looking to capitalize on this is Battle Supremacy, a title while focuses almost entirely on tank-to-tank warfare but occasionally throws in a variance to try to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, no matter the theater of battle or the betreaded vehicle of destruction you control the experience is likely only going to appeal to those who are so starved for this style of play they’re willing to overlook its shortcomings.


While it boasts online play, which certainly could have been a substantial win, there’s simply not much to it and too often there aren’t very many people playing. You’ll choose to go online, and with no options get thrown into a match… and that’s about it. There are a few modes but with no control over what you’re getting thrown into or where you’re at the mercy of randomness and the fact some maps and modes are better than others. I suppose the lack of options likely relates to what feels like a generally smaller community but lacking even fundamentals like trying to pair with a friend or choosing games by mode or map makes it very minimal in its online support. That leaves the game to lean heavily on its single-player campaigns and while they take a healthy stab at providing some challenge and variety the general play isn’t very exciting.


The first challenge is with maneuvering, especially where any inclines are involved. In general being on a hill ends up translating to being vulnerable, though depending on your combat zone there may be no choice in the matter. As a general rule you’ll learn to always target your enemy’s turrets to maximize your damage being done, and this can be tricky since often your enemies will consistently keep on the move. Aiming, however, is a pretty dumbed down affair with you really just aiming and then being able to count on hitting precisely where you lined up, not really needing to take into account range or things like that. As you progress you’ll unlock new tanks but they don’t vary too greatly beyond their aesthetics, for the most part you’ll just want to stick with something you like and then throw upgrades into it rather than continuing to try out every flavor.


Given that there’s simply nothing quite like it already on the Switch Battle Supremacy at least deserves some attention from the right crowd. That said, lacking fully-featured or thriving online play and with a campaign that moves you around but never gets truly thrilling it doesn’t do much to help it stand out as compelling. Throw in the fact that in some environments the visuals get downright muddy and it’s hard to find the clear positives aside from its lack of competition. If you’re craving the experience it will probably scratch that itch but just don’t expect much more than that.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • There’s simply nothing in this vein already on Switch
  • The game does move you around and throw some slight variations at you in the single-player campaign
  • If you don’t mind the random spin of the roulette wheel and spotty availability of enough players to make it interesting online play has its moments

Cons:
  • Online play is offered but lacks options or control and the overall community feels limited
  • Controls, in general, are a bit on the wonky side as your tanks are very challenged by inclines
  • Ultimately not much variety to be had between tanks and upgrades in terms of the general gameplay experience


Review: UnExplored - Unlocked Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


At this point roguelikes and the Switch are obviously a match made in heaven, but that also means that when something comes along in the genre that doesn’t quite work it becomes all the more apparent. Such is the case with UnExplored, a title that has ambition and is obviously trying to do things in a way that’s interesting, but somewhere along the line lost its connection to being fun. Yes, the dungeons it builds have a sense of flair in the sense that their layouts and composition will vary with every run but across many runs I kept wondering when it would all click and suck me in… and it simply never happened.


Working with a twin-stick style, where your second stick helps your blows connect, the base of the controls are relatively simple and work well enough but beyond that it gets pretty ugly. This is a game that absolutely feels converted from PC when it comes to inventory management, which quickly becomes an awkward chore, requiring you to use the D-pad to navigate in some areas. It’s just a bit of a mess.


Layering on top of that there were too many things happening that weren’t well explained and resulted in me meeting my demise, but that I was unable to learn from due to a lack of context. There were times I couldn’t tell whether I’d been poisoned, cursed, hit a bug, or what… just that I ended up crippled and dying. Throw in the load times as you wait for the dungeon to be generated initially, and then periodic long pauses even as you’re in the middle of adventuring, and it all ends up being a bit of a bummer.


While I have no doubts that the right crowd could be attracted to the theoretical endless potential for variation and the unexpected, when put up against a long list of very strong roguelikes on the system it’s hard to find enthusiasm for UnExplored. It may not even be the hardest of the bunch so much as it is the most aggravatingly vague, and between the load times and the struggle with simple things like managing your inventory efficiently there was consistent time being lost that never seemed to pay off with compelling play to justify it. Only likely for the most hardcore roguelike fans who are looking for something with a different feel.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • A unique approach to dynamically-generated dungeons
  • It has a clean look

Cons:
  • Leaves too much of what’s happening inadequately explained, making it hard to learn from mistakes
  • Inventory management is awful
  • Load times become annoying and there’s not a clear payoff to their interruptions in the middle of levels specifically


Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Minit [Nintendo Switch eShop]


How many people do you figure love the classic The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask? The feeling of urgency the imminent destruction of Termina gave you was a great motivator and somewhat changed up the traditional nature of play in the series. Now, imagine that you took that sense of urgency and compressed it down to a mere 60 seconds. If that thought intrigues you then Minit may be worth checking out, offering up a similar change of perspective on top-down action adventuring by constraining you to doing things a minute at a time.


Going with visuals that are very simple and reminiscent of the likes of Undertale (another indie darling), pretty well the first thing your cute and somewhat Q-Bert-looking dude will do is pick up a sword. Unfortunately, it turns out this curses him to die every 60 seconds. Determined to stop anyone else from sharing this fate you’ll set out to stop the factory from producing any more of these. What follows is a mix of puzzle game and adventure, challenging you to venture out, see things, talk to people, and try to determine what you need to do to progress, only time’s not on your side. Thankfully your progress is cumulative, and as you complete certain puzzles you will progress by effectively changing your spawn point to new locales with new things to encounter and figure out. This really is the essence of the game over its relatively short, though satisfying, runtime.


Discovery is really the driving force and fun in the game as you try to initially see everything around you and then race against the limited clock to make something meaningful happen in each run. The adventure it holds is an unusual mix of the familiar, but with some twists in places that can toy with your expectations and add nicely to the fun. Throw in an added Game+ mode that cranks things up another level and it ends up being a refreshingly different and satisfying package for people who thought they’ve seen everything action adventures have to offer.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • With its short-run format it is highly suited to gaming on the go
  • A refreshing take on the action adventure genre, often playing with your expectations

Cons:
  • Not a terribly long experience
  • If you manage to miss a detail and get stuck it can be aggravating

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review: Overcooked 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Couch co-op is a trend I’ve been very happy to see on the rise, especially given how easily it can be supported on the Switch. While in principle it can be an experience that brings people together, it can also be disastrous and make people stop talking to each other… such is its power and promise, and I find that entertaining. One of the titles that tapped into this style early in the Switch’s life was Overcooked, tasking people (and ideally some of their friends) with preparing a variety of dishes in situations and settings that became increasingly bizarre and problematic. Now its sequel is here, complete with online play, with some new recipes, insane situations, and refinements to make it a more consistently fun experience.


Starting with the basics you’ll be playing the part of a chef who is trying to prepare what becomes a variety of dishes for hungry customers. Depending on the recipe this could range from being as simple as chopping up a few ingredients, putting them on a plate, and then sending them out to preparing more complex things like sushi. Each kitchen will be properly equipped for the tasks in question, whether that involves having cutting boards, stoves, an oven, or whatever. You’ll need to grab your ingredients, get them to the proper station, set their prep or cooking in motion, and then assemble each dish and get it out. Sounds easy, right!?!? If it were, this wouldn’t be Overcooked!


You see, time isn’t on your side, and as you progress you’ll often find that your kitchens increasingly won’t be either. Whether it’s in the form of unusual layouts, conveyor belts, or environmental hazards, there’s much more to contend with than merely preparing food. With this in mind, in order to be successful you’ll need to multi-task and adapt to whatever situation the game throws at you. When playing Solo this will mean you’ll need to switch back and forth between two cooks, setting a task into motion with one, and then going to another to do something else. If you’re playing with up to a total of 4 people, whether locally or online, the nature of the challenge changes substantially and becomes more about coordination. With people in the same room this is all about communicating and making sure everyone understands what they’re all doing and what help people may need. Online you’ll lose the ability to communicate so instead everyone will need to be adaptive, looking for the most immediate needs and working to address them. This actually makes the game feel and play very differently depending on how you play it and even who you play it with, even when playing in the same kitchens.


I think the most critical difference between this sequel and the original, for me, is that they’ve minimized some of the frustrations I had with the environments. I don’t mind there being obstacles to your success but there were too many level designs and situations in the original where you’d slip or fall off the edge… and it got annoying. In the sequel the nature of the environmental problems you face and how they force you to adapt feel a bit more diverse and are smarter. Your ability to deal with adversity has also been expanded with the critical ability to throw ingredients. Granted, some kitchens are set up to essentially force you to do this, but it can be a significant time-saver and source of efficiency if you’re willing to make use of it. Most of the success in the game is really about optimizing your time, performing repetitive tasks in as efficient manner as you can, and cutting whatever corners you can. It’s aggravating, maddening, but also exhilarating when you manage to overcome all of the chaos to be successful.


With viable options to play alone, with friends locally, or with people online this version of Overcooked is ripe with opportunities for fun. Better yet, the feeling of the experience and the challenge in each case tends to be wildly different, even when replaying the same levels. While the result may still be a bit too overwhelming for people looking to games more to de-stress rather than inspire even more, it can be a ton of chaotic fun if you’re willing to embrace the challenge.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Viable and fun to play alone, with friends locally, or online
  • Once things get rolling there’s a wide variety of crazy problems you’ll have in your kitchens
  • Tweaks and refinements made from the original are appreciated and help to diminish cheap frustrations

Cons:
  • Solo play can be fun but robs you of the chaos of dealing with other people
  • Online play, as always, is unpredictable in terms of who you may be paired with, beware the food prep trolls!
  • The style of play and the stress it can cause may not be what everyone is looking for


Review: Flipping Death [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The classic PC adventure genre is one that is near and dear to my heart, but that isn’t to say that it’s not without its flaws. For all of the positives of things like their humor and aha moments where things click there are all-too-familiar problems like a tendency for you to get lost, needing to click everywhere to find items, and solutions using your inventory in odd ways that aren’t intuitive. Stepping into this problem with a bit of a different take, and perhaps a brilliant solution to many issues, is Flipping Death. With its thoroughly quirky and entertaining characters, lack of inventory management, and a hint system that nudges you in the right direction without always giving everything away it does a fabulous job of mining the positives of the genre while doing away with many of its problems.


In the game you play as Penny, an adventurous young woman who meets an untimely demise and through an accident of timing inherits the job of being the grim reaper from Death, who is in need of a long-put-off vacation. If that seems weird, buckle up folks, that’s just what happens in the first few minutes and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In this new role Penny has a few very useful powers. She can throw her scythe in the air and then teleport to it, which is very useful for platforming around. In addition, if she collects the 3 different types of souls she’ll find through exploring (and sometimes completing small challenges) she’s able to take control of people still in the living world, with each person she possesses having a specific skill or tool that she’ll need to advance the story. Using these abilities and “flipping” (the mechanic of moving between the living and dead worlds literally flips the screen the other way, much like a mirror) between the worlds of the living and the dead you’ll have to try to help various dead characters and then eventually work to stop someone who has taken control of your own dead body.


Very much building on the foundation they’d established with Stick it to the Man, Zoink has maintained and even improved upon the best elements it had to offer starting with its humor. It’s been quite some time since a game made me laugh out loud this frequently. Taking possession of someone or something in the living world allows you to not only control them and make use of some ability they have, it will also allow you to mentally communicate with them. These bits of dialogue and how each person or animal reacts to being controlled like a puppet are both varied and hilarious. Whether it’s the cleverly-named Poke-Man, the dive-bombing pidgeon, or the brace-faced little girl who just wants to find something to go full Chompzilla on the voice acting for these characters is plain brilliant and as well-produced as you’d find in any AAA title or movie. The major area where it has stepped away from Stick it to the Man and other adventures is that it really has done away with an inventory and needing to find things. Instead the act of possession will put you in control of someone or something that already has an item or skill you need, greatly reducing complexity and giving you an excellent excuse to go out and possess everyone to help yourself understand the part they may play in things.


Aside from finding a clever way to avoid the issues with inventories and items another thing Flipping Death does very well is provide you with just enough help when you get stuck. In general the key to all levels is to first explore, gather souls, and possess everyone you can. This will fill you in on the situation, give you a feel for what everyone has to offer you, and hopefully give you a starting point for what you need to do. Each level is almost like a Rube Goldberg machine when it comes to resolving their ultimate issues, it requires a sequence of events to take place, and on the surface most of these would seem to be unconnected. Since it can be a stretch at times to see where you need to go next opening up the menu will give you access to hints. Rather than directly point you somewhere or give you a long explanation these hints are instead just a single picture, typically giving a few crucial pieces of info: Who you need to be in control of, what they need to do, and sometimes where they need to do it. This is usually just enough information to give you a direction but it doesn’t typically give away everything you need to do to get to that point either. Most of the time when I used it I found it to be just the nudge I needed without telling me too much and I appreciated the care they used in their method and delivery.


Overall, Flipping Death is an outstanding title that is among the most outright entertaining games I’ve played. Rather than use its humor as a crutch to prop up some convoluted puzzles and messy gameplay elements it instead tackles those issues with care and what I think is a great new direction others should look to emulate. If you like a good laugh, even if Adventure games typically don’t work for you, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Score: 9

Pros:
  • Amazingly funny and impeccable voice acted across the board
  • An inventive mechanic allows you to take control of people and their skills to solve puzzles
  • A map that is very useful for pointing elevators and ways to get around
  • Has a hint system that gives you a nudge in the right direction without completely spelling out what you need to do

Cons:
  • The puzzles can still be quite convoluted at times, and there will be situations where you’ll think a certain solution to a problem would work but won’t be the one they’re looking for
  • The platforming elements are weirdly under-used on the whole
  • Hint overuse and abuse... don't do it!