Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: InnerSpace [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The feeling of wonder when you play a great exploration game is hard to match. Having new worlds and exotic landscapes revealed before you and then trying to find its secrets can be a very mellowing experience, helping all of your day’s problems melt away. To date only the first-person space explorer Morphite has delivered this general kind of play, though its focus was very different as you travelled the universe’s procedurally-generated worlds. InnerSpace, by contrast, is about exploring intricately-designed spaces contained roughly within large spheres, and instead of exploring on foot you’ll do so while flying through the air (or cutting through the water).

You’ll play through the game as the Cartographer, created through the use of ancient technology by someone named the Architect, to help navigate the dormant spaces of the Inverse in search of the secrets of a dead race. You’ll generally be trying to find the powerful demigods that remain in these spaces and to then harness their energy to open portals to other spaces. Doing this is far from an exact science, especially as you progress into the later spaces it can be a bit overwhelming just deciding what to try to do first. In almost every direction there are orbs to be collected, openings to be explored, and strange objects to be interacted with. The joy is in choosing your own path and taking this at your own pace.

To aid you in this being an enjoyable experience the controls for your means of flight are generally intuitive and will have you soaring pretty quickly. Your left stick will help you turn in any direction while your right stick will help you control your speed and rotation. With a little practice this works well enough, though since you’re always in motion sometimes lining up to hit or grab something can still be tricky. Thankfully the game is very forgiving of crashes, allowing you to simply bump off of things, though if you really manage to wedge yourself into the space it will sometimes be a bit painful to get extracted.

What will absolutely thrill some people and aggravate others is that aside from some very general help provided by the Architect at times you’re really left to figure out what to do on your own. Certainly you will learn that any ropes that you see suspending things should be cut, orbs should be collected, and every space you see should be explored. The game provides some help in finding relics by making use of the HD rumble as you get close to them but aside from those generalities the rest is really up to you. Only at one point, unfortunately somewhat early on, did I find it to be a problem in terms of how to properly deal with the first demigod. I actually had made what I needed to do far harder than it was so my advice for the game’s puzzles as well as for finding everything you need to activate and discover is to use perspective. Give some distance, observe from a different angle, and typically with patience what you seek will be revealed. Some fine philosophy and fitting in that it mirrors much of what you’ll encounter over the course of the game.

InnerSpace absolutely won’t be a game that everyone will enjoy. People seeking action and intensity will be sorely disappointed by this relatively “boring” experience that reveals itself with a slow and deliberate pace. If you are someone who feels a need for a constant beacon guiding you to your next task you will also likely find the freedom the game affords aggravating. If you’re someone who expects perfect performance it is worth noting that at times these large open spaces and details can make the framerate drag a bit. If, however, you are looking for something completely different, gorgeous, and full of a certain sense of calm and serenity there’s absolutely nothing like it on the platform.

Score: 8

  • Serenity Now!
  • The worlds are intricate and gorgeous
  • Flight controls are responsive and crashes are forgiving
  • A unique experience on the console

  • The lack of direction can be aggravating at times
  • The intricate large spaces make it prone to performance slowdown at times
  • Not an experience for those seeking action and excitement

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Nuclien [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When it comes to somewhat unusual games that work differently the Brain Age series quickly comes to mind. Filled with often relatively simple ideas and mechanics that tested your ability to quickly comprehend what is in front of you and then act, they may not have been a scientifically-proven means to guarantee mental acuity as you age but they were certainly challenging and could be fun. I see the new budget title called Nuclien very much in that vein, taking some very basic gameplay elements and then adding variety and time pressures to turn it into something I thoroughly enjoyed playing through its conclusion.

Conceptually there’s not too much to describe, the game is about touching the numbers that appear on the screen to make them disappear. These numbers are always between 0 and 9 and in the very beginning it will just feel like a reflex test, simply making you tap the numbers as they appear on the screen. As you progress you’ll begin to learn variations on things, like that when you see numbers in a circle that means you want to tap them in descending order while numbers in squares you want to tap in ascending order. Variations include larger blocks that will break into up to 4 small ones that will now force you to pause and recognize whether that next number you were counting on touching will instead wait behind one that is newly-revealed.

While the levels progressively get more challenging in the 4 initial areas where the game really kicked in the challenge that made it satisfying for me was in the last area that isn’t unlocked until you’ve completed every level in the others. In the final zone the game’s last trick is revealed and it can really begin to strain your concentration and ability to think quickly. Now alternating screens will introduce the white background color to the mix and the rules you’ve been getting used to up to this point are inverted. That wouldn’t be as hard to deal with if each screen didn’t then shift between the two rule sets, with the game constantly challenging you to keep a hectic pace while not losing track of what order you need to tap things in. There’s also a Time Trial mode but since I didn’t even try it out until I’d completed the rest of the game at that point I found it quite easy, though you could always try to improve your times.

There’s no question that the game’s presentation is pretty thin, and that with the simplicity of the concept this will either be something you’ll latch on to like I did or completely disregard as boring. I’d say people acquainted with the Brain Age games would probably be more inclined to enjoy it while people who never really understood why people played them should likely just assume it won’t be for them. There is an opportunity to upgrade yourself with coins you accumulate as you go but aside from trying to help people who are struggling get a bit of help I’m not positive how big an impact they had on things aside from ensuring you keep pace with the slowly-increasing level of difficulty.

While the road to the game becoming more challenging was a bit tedious my brain found the rapid pattern recognition and rule application of Nuclien very satisfying over the course of the few hours it took to complete everything. This is in no way a high-concept game, it is simply the full exploration of a relatively simple idea. If you’re looking for something a bit different that will test your ability to quickly recognize numbers and patterns it can be quite an engrossing activity while it lasts.

Score: 7.5

  • Feels like a stand-alone game from the Brain Age series
  • A great mental exercise
  • An extremely budget-friendly price

  • While each area has its own rule set and gets progressively harder this is not a very high-concept title
  • The sight of numbers everywhere may be both overwhelming and underwhelming to people

Interview with Jonathan Deutsch of DUFGAMES About Black Hole

Already in the Switch’s somewhat short lifespan it has been blessed by a number of twin-stick arcade-style shooters. The first Switch title by DUFGAMES, Black Hole, should be added to the list soon. I recently got to spend some time picking the brain of one of DUFGAMES’ co-founders, Jonathan Deutsch, about the upcoming title, their company, and life as an indie developer for the Switch.

True to tradition we'll open with the classic elevator pitch question. How would you describe Black Hole to help get people excited about it?

JD: Black Hole is a short and challenging twin-stick shooter in space. Fly through themed black holes, collect boosts and gold while defeating the many enemies coming at you trying to destroy you. Upgrade your ship with meaningful and rewarding upgrades, unleash your hyper attack on anything coming into view and defeat the mighty bosses at the end of each world.

Looking over footage of the game I'm getting feels for a twin-stick shooter meets Asteroids but with boss fights thrown in as well. What games would you say were an inspiration to your efforts?

JD: I played a lot of Crimsonland and Super Stardust HD and they are my personal favourite in that genre. While they didn't come up as goals for the development I thought about them a lot and they probably had some influence on the ideas for Black Hole, even if only subconsciously. Super Stardust HD is probably closer to the final game with the asteroid destroying parts in it.

What would you say was the target level of difficulty you were aiming for with the game? 

JD: The game is targeted at people that already know their way around in the twin-stick genre. While the first few levels are fairly easy and there are multiple difficulty modes, it picks up rather quick, giving the players more of a challenge. It may not be hard as nails, but it will take the players some time to learn the mechanics and enemies and how to best beat a level. I used myself and my skill level as a measuring tool. I can barely beat the game on hard mode myself but that's fine as I think it will provide many fun hours trying to beat fully the game.

With arcade-style games there's always an expectation that there's not necessarily an end but with 40 levels listed I'm assuming it is possible to "beat" it? Or from that point does it just repeat or crank up the difficulty until you die?

JD: I'm no fan of never-ending arcade games. While many players enjoy the possibility of endless increasing difficulty and skill I find it more appealing to give the player a certain goal to play towards.

That's why I prefer games like Crimsonland and Stardust to something like Geometry wars.
So yes, there will be 40 levels after which you will have beat the game, but there are three different ships and multiple difficulty modes to keep you coming back for at least a few times. Also achievements.

How big a role in success would you say the upgrade system is? Do you think it's better for tuning for each individual player and their style or weaknesses or would you say there's a more set path to success?

JD: I like player progression of any kind in any game. Towards the end of Black Hole you should be able to max out every upgrade so you can't deviate too much from the "path to success" and you will need almost all the upgrades to beat the game. There aren't many different "builds" if you want, but you can decide where to put your points. And it feels like you earned that particular upgrade. It is more important to gather up more points than which upgrade you choose exactly. I have my own upgrade path I usually like to stick to, though. :) But all others are viable as well.

I noticed in your feature list for the Switch version you list both motion and IR controls? Do these play out more like a "nice to have" so people have options or do you think they're viable for people who want to get their best scores and times?

JD: I don't think any control scheme other than using both sticks will be better for this type of genre because of the precision and speed it provides. So both are more "nice to have". With motion controls it's definitely possible to play through the game, especially if you use both Joy-Cons separately: Tilt left for moving, tilt right for aiming. It'd be cool to see people playing that way and it is one heck of a fun to share the Joy with a second player. :)

IR controls are really just there because we can. Almost nobody else uses this feature and I thought it was a shame and wanted to put it to good use. Sadly it is rather difficult to control the ship reliably but it is still fun to do and try out. Bravo to those hardcore players who will beat the game that way.

Aside from the fact that it is now noted to be the fastest selling console in its first year what drew you to bringing your game to the Switch?

JD: I think the philosophy of the console is something that fits the game rather well. Who really has the time to play 2-3+ hours in one session? (Ok, lots of gamers probably) But the game is designed to be beat in about an hour and you can suspend the game after every level. It is really fast to pick it up and play only for a couple minutes if that's all the time you got.

Also the low price of entry for the dev console was really compelling and who DOESN'T want to release their game on a Nintendo console? With the lower dev price Nintendo seemed to cater more to the Indie developers than they have in the past.

What resources and level of support have you had from Nintendo along your journey?

JD: I can't tell you any specifics but the overall experience has been very positive and the resources and help they provide will make anyone be able to get their game on the system if you put in enough effort. If I didn't find the information I needed myself I could always find someone to ask and get answers.

What has the path been for this company to get to this point?

JD: Both of us are gamers at heart but also creators so making our own game was something we always wanted to do. But it's difficult to start from zero AND sustain yourself. So our company does something completely different. (Websites mostly) In our free time we always built prototypes and tried new ideas. But never really finished anything. Even if we would have, we aren't a super indie studio that pushes out a smash hit. So one big problem was visibility.

When the OUYA was announced it provided a really cheap point of entry for console development and, if timed right, you were one among only hundreds and not thousands or tens of thousands. Unless you take three years longer than planned with development. Then you missed that window. Still, we completed the game and released it for the OUYA and as soon as the Switch was announced (with a low priced dev console) we immediately tried to get our game on it as soon as possible.

You've seemed to dabble in a number of different styles for your projects, what drew you to a twin-stick space shooter?

JD: We never really were genre bound. We always worked on stuff that thought was fun for us at the time. Side scrollers, platformers, RPGs, browser games. We kinda just stuck with this one and it's something that works really well on consoles. The original idea was somewhat different. The working title was "Space Dodger" and had you only dodging various colored discs coming at you with different movement patterns. When we fleshed out that prototype some more it was became clear really early that only dodging wasn't as fun as shooting back.

How would you characterize the independent game development scene where you are in Germany?

JD: Oh, well... I have neither met or even heard of many German indie developers. The only one that comes to mind is Lanze Games in Hamburg, working on their game Pixel Princess Blitz. I backed them on kickstarter and it seems a very ambitious game but I have a feeling they will see it through. For me right now the scene seems kind of hidden. Just like most movies "usually" are made in the US, I have the feeling most games "usually" are made there as well. Maybe if we develop more in the future we will get to know more people.

Are there any more seasoned indie developers out there who inspire you?

JD: Although only being a two man team ourselves I'm amazed by other one or two man teams working on totally awesome games like Braid, Celeste or Axiom Verge. They are so much bigger than what we have created and yet they finished these beautiful pieces of art almost all by themselves. I wish I had the means (read: time) and dedication to make something that great.

What are your plans moving forward?

JD: We will watch how well Black Hole is going to be received and depending on feedback add more to the game, work on a possible Black Hole 2 or try a totally different game. We already have some new ideas.

We will also try to get Black Hole on more platforms like Steam, Xbox, iOS, Android. It would be great to be recognised as an indie game studio and produce many games in the future.

Anything else you’d like to share?

JD: I'm a video game music enthusiast and while it will probably be overlooked by the average gamer I think that our original soundtrack for the game is one of it's strongest points. To this day I still find we did a fantastic job and haven't gotten sick of it at all after all these years.

I wanted to take a moment to thank Jonathan for taking the time to share his thoughts and observations as well as Ryan Williford for coordinating! No final date has yet been set for Black Hole but it should be coming to the Switch soon!

Review: World to the West [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Those with an adventurous spirit and a taste for indie titles have have some reasonably good successes so far on the Switch. The stand-out titles Ittle Dew 2+ and Blossom Tales have each provided very different takes on the Link to the Past top-down adventure formula. Rain Games’ World to the West is now throwing its own hat into the ring, providing another variation with 4 characters to control and each with their own unique set of skills. Conceptually playing as a sort of hybrid of a classic Zelda title and Lost Vikings, it will challenge you with a variety of puzzles over its runtime that require coordinated cooperation.

On this journey you’ll alternative take command of Lumina the Teslamancer (as a Teslagrad fan this was a cool touch) with the power to teleport and shock, the diminutive Knaus who can burrow under things and skate over ice among other things, the mind-controlling Teri who can command animals and traverse gaps with her whip-like scarf, and Lord Clonington the strongman who bash foes and climb certain walls. Over roughly the first half of the game you’ll be slowly introduced to each of them and roughly taken through the paces to ensure you have a grasp of their abilities and their use. The game then transitions into a space where you’ll need to make careful use of each character in turn as they make their way through the adventure.

Though there’s certainly some action in the game for the most part it is focused on both exploration and puzzle-solving. That’s why being oriented with each character is so important in the beginning so that you’ll immediately be able to identify which characters will be suited to getting by certain scenarios and obstacles. One part of the challenge will typically be moving each character through the landscape and to a totem pole in the vicinity of the challenge. These are used to quickly change characters and to move around the map, but characters can only access totem poles they’ve already visited. Thankfully to help minimize the pain of covering the same ground a few times there are often opportunities in the landscape suited to the skills of individual party members.

Aside from the sometimes tedious task of moving each of your characters into position there are times where you may feel like you can accomplish a given task with the wrong character. For the most part it is clear who is best suited to getting into a certain area but in particular when what you need is a chain of characters’ actions to successfully solve a puzzle you’ll need to be sure to work through things carefully to avoid needless backtracking to switch around. Totem poles are generally placed well to avoid this but with so many means of moving around per character it sometimes isn’t hard to get a bit lost and the map is too zoomed out to be much help when this happens. A small point but worth noting since they can be aggravating.

Overall while its pacing can and excitement can wane at times World to the West is an engaging and creative take on the top-down adventure. There are some very unique and inventive puzzles to solve, light combat sequences peppered about, and plain satisfying gameplay when it all comes together. If you’ve been looking for your next adventure fix World to the West is a trip worth taking.

Score: 7.5

  • Four characters of varied abilities keep things fresh
  • Some satisfying puzzles that require coordination to solve
  • A colorful art style
  • There are times where what you need to do next isn't necessarily clear
  • Covering the same ground multiple times can get tedious while trying to get everyone in place

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review: Gunhouse [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While there aren’t many outright casual games on the Switch I would say that those on the system generally represent some diversity. Whether tile-matching, straight puzzles of some sort, or a variety of other flavors we’ve been fortunate to have a fair spread of variety and reasonable quality. The latest addition to the mix is the out-of-left-field Gunhouse which simply plays by its own rules. Combining elements of a puzzle game with a sort of tower defense it’s a refreshing take on things, can get challenging as it rolls along, and has a really funky art style to boot!

In terms of the puzzle component you’ll want to create large blocks out of matching smaller ones, and this works in a similar manner to games like Puzzle Fighter. There’s definitely some technique you’ll need to refine to move your rows left and right to let one or more of the blocks from the row above fall down and then make your matches. As you go you’ll need to keep improving your strategy and timing to survive. Once you have larger blocks, you’ll then want to move them to the left if you want to arm up your weapons or right if you want to amp up your special attacks. These will stack in power and whichever block type was last pushed into position will end up being the attack type it will use. There are 3 slots on each side and the vertical position on the screen will dictate which slot(s) your block will fill. It’s a bit overwhelming and odd at first but after a few rounds it tends to make more sense.

Adding to the strategy you’ll want to keep an eye on the top of the screen where the currently preferred blocks are shown. If you use your guns or specials for this type they’ll have some added oomph so if you’re able to prioritize specific blocks for matching that may improve your changes. In addition as you go you’ll accumulate money as you clear levels which you’ll then be able to use to purchase upgrades to your health and weapons in the shop. These improve your baseline odds for survival and you can spread them out to all components or specialize if you’d like. On top of that there are standing objectives to keep track of that reward you with some great bonuses on completion. These will require you to upgrade certain attributes like your health, fire a specific weapon a certain number of times in a round, or make a certain number of blocks with specific dimensions. In general they’re encouraging you to play more effectively anyway and the cash infusion from them, as well as the fact that then new ones take the place of ones you complete, also makes them worth keeping track of.

Once the attack begins you’ll need to use your defenses to destroy your attackers, they’re quite a strange bunch, especially before they’re able to make off with the people in your base. While a guns and power-ups blazing approach can work spacing out your attacks to maximize their damage on as many enemies as possible is a wise plan to follow. As each Day ends you’ll finally be attacked by a larger and more formidable boss so be ready to sling out some damage in order to take them down.

Overall I’ve found it difficult to score Gunhouse. One the one hand I really like its unusual art style and appreciate the fact that it is doing something very different. On the other though I do enjoy playing it I don’t personally quite find it as addictive as I would have hoped either. I’m not positive what about the game isn’t clicking for me but having spoken to other people giving it a shot it seems there’s a mix of folks who adore it and those like me who can’t find fault but also aren’t sucked in by it. All games have an element of an acquired taste to them and in this case I find myself roughly in the middle of the road. It offers a unique challenge and its implemented quite well, but at the same time the price may be a tad high and the puzzle mechanic will have to click for you to ultimately be successful. If you’re a puzzle game fan looking for something different I’d say give a variety of reviews and videos of the game a look and try to size up the situation for yourself.

Score: 7.5

  • A unique blend of puzzle game and tower defense
  • Progressively-growing challenge
  • Unique enemies and bosses that all have an unusual art style

  • Perhaps a little more than most, since it is unique, it is a hit or miss proposition
  • If the puzzle style doesn’t click for you it will likely be a disaster
  • Priced a little aggressively

Review: Puzzle Box Maker [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Games that are family-friendly and accessible to people who skew lower on the age scale, even on the Switch, are pretty sparse. Most are traditional games that support a simplified mode or provide a means of parents assisting their kids. There are a few games like Minecraft or Portal Knights that provide a creative outlet, and they’re great, but aside from that there are few options. Enter Puzzle Box Maker, a curious game that is hard to put a finger on.

The hook here is that the game’s underlying engine is able to take a pixel art picture and repurpose it for a number of game variants. These vary in style and quality but the principle is an interesting one, turning art into games that can be played. There are more action-oriented games like Bomb (you can rotate your art to be blown apart by various bombs), Kubi (you make your little block dude jump around to catch flies, feed your puppy, and avoid getting hit), Run (sensibly, in the style of an endless runner), and Claw (where you grab keys with a claw and move them to a designated area). In addition there are 2 more creative modes, both Classic (you’ll try to paint each pixel correctly while the picture scrolls by), and Copycat (paint the picture pixel by pixel as quickly as you can).

How well this all works varies with the art and how good a job the algorithm does in converting it. The results vary from charming to a disaster at times but it is still all creative fun for the right audience. A nice touch is that for younger (or possibly less skilled) gamers there’s then an ability to make it a little easier so the interest here is in providing maximum accessibility and it is appreciated. You’ll have a massive amount of pre-made art to choose from, and additional pictures have already been added from the community, but the real fun is in giving it a whirl and trying it out for yourself. The pixel art editor is very straight-forward and works nicely. Then, once you’re happy with your creation you can see how well it plays and possibly choose to share it with others. In particular this feature seems very well-geared for families where kids and parents can create levels and try them out together.

In terms of the issues certainly this is not a game for everyone, it is intended either for people who enjoy exploring their creative side or who have younger kids who perhaps aren’t quite ready for mainstream titles and have been dabbling in simpler mobile games. Additionally, not all games work well in all cases. With the pro controller I found Bomb relatively impossible to do well with given the poor response of the motion controls. It fared a little better in handheld mode but was a bit shaky. I also had some glitches with Claw sometimes, with the claw getting stuck, but in general the control for it takes getting used to. The rest of the issues generally rest on how the game’s algorithm decides to interpret your pixel art and the results will absolutely vary.

Taking in the big pixelated picture Puzzle Box Maker is a niche title that’s important to have available as an option in the Switch library. There’s absolutely nothing quite like it on the system and that makes it both a major risk and refreshing to see. Conceivably there’s a never-ending amount of content possible with it, you just need to be very aware of the limits of what is capable of. If you’d like to explore your creative side and be able to experience your art in a unique way, or particularly if you’re raising a younger gamer who still isn’t quite ready for prime time, this could be a great title to explore.

Score: 7

  • Technically limitless content is possible with it
  • Strong developer and community support
  • Highly accessible for gamers of any skill level

  • Not all games work well
  • The quality of gameplay associated with any given piece of art will vary
  • Likely not for experienced gamers at all

Review: Super Meat Boy [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The game’s name has become somewhat the stuff of legend at this point, infamous for delivering one of the most difficult and yet addictive experiences in gaming. It’s somewhat the Dark Souls of platforming, forcing you to to grit your teeth and try “just one more time” until you finally complete certain levels. It is Super Meat Boy, and if you consider yourself a hardcore gamer but haven’t at least played it yet you can turn in your membership card until you do.

For the uninitiated Super Meat Boy is pretty well the originator of the hardcore platforming genre that now has added numerous titles to its ranks after it showed the way. Part of why the game can be so hard, and yet still be widely revered, is that its controls are simple, consistent, and exacting. You run, you jump, you wall jump, you wall slide. You certainly will need to get used to the nuances of his acceleration, the specifics of how he jumps and stops, and the amount he will stick to a wall when he slides down it, but once you do it’s all about applying that knowledge to conquer what may at first seem like insane or impossible levels. With the more difficult levels what you’ll find is that you form a sort of muscle memory through repetition and that’s a big part of its formula. What can be entertaining is to then watch a replay when you’ve succeeded after a long string of failures to see all of your various runs played back at once as your screen runs red with all of the versions of Meat Boy who didn’t make it, it’s a fabulous touch.

If the name of the game was simply making your way through some levels and then calling it a day that would be nice, but the other dimension that Super Meat Boy absolutely shines in has to do with all of its added content. There’s so much hidden in the game its insane. First, if you thought the normal levels were challenging be sure to complete them quickly enough and you’ll get an A+ rating. If you really want to feel intimidated you’ll then have the ability to play the Dark World variant of that level, just be ready for your jaw to drop. You’ll also see bandages either carefully hidden or in some cases in plain sight near certain death. That’s where the other wonderful addition to the game comes in, the hidden and unlockable characters. Some characters you’ll be able to unlock using bandages but others you’ll have to get by finding their warp zones which only stay open for a set amount of time. Once there you’ll be challenged to complete stages inspired by that character’s game and if you can get through those levels you’ll then be able to play any level as them. Finding and unlocking Captain Video from the Runner series early on can really help you out if you’d prefer being a little more floaty and these variations in style all working on the same levels so well is a testament to the strength of the design… aside from really adding greatly to the fun.

In terms of caveats there’s no other way to say it than the game is notorious for a reason, it will absolutely make you want to do terrible things when you’ve splattered Meat Boy for the umpteenth time on the same buzzsaw. That said, finally getting past such obstacles is then all the more rewarding so if you’re interested in pushing your comfort zone it’s a great game to expand your skill set with. About my only other issue is that some of the levels are a bit dark on my Switch in handheld mode at my normal brightness level but that was easily compensated for.

As someone who originally played Super Meat Boy years ago, and has played games that have iterated on it since, I can say there’s still nothing that quite captures everything it does right. It feels fabulous on the Switch, it’s still as tough as ever, and the rewarding feeling when you conquer a tough-as-balls level never fails to put a smile on my face. If you’ve never indulged this may be the best platform to play it on as you can take it anywhere, and if you’ve played it before it’s well worth taking a return trip to Paintown, population: You.

Score: 8.5

  • Even all these years later it is still the best overall challenging platformer out there
  • Dark World variants take the original and crank up the difficulty further
  • Controls that are easy to pick up paired with levels that will demand their mastery
  • Hidden characters and levels let you change things up a little and add greatly to variety and motivation

  • This is absolutely not a game for people who anger easily
  • Some levels are a bit dark in handheld mode, though you obviously can adjust your brightness

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: Brawl [Nintendo Switch eShop]

One of the initial launch titles for the Switch was one I had high hopes for. I’ve been a fan of Bomberman ever since the SNES days playing it with friends on my Multitap so with great anticipation I purchased Super Bomberman R, hoping it would recapture some of those classic feels. Unfortunately, it initially did a number of things wrong and it was a disappointment, though they’ve since been trying to make amends. When I saw the first video of Brawl that left me with high hopes, that there would finally be a great Bomberman-style party game on Switch, and at a Nindie-fied more budget price. Unfortunately, while it has some merits Brawl has for the most part managed to have a lot of style but it doesn’t back that up with nearly as much substance.

Instead of simply playing as a palette-swapped clones of one another Brawl attempts to give itself some personality. Dipping into the Twisted Metal vaults and maybe sprinkling in a little bit of random nightmare juice Brawl has a menagerie of creepy characters. There’s the weirdo clown, the living mannequin, the blind girl with a knife-wielding teddy bear… I’ll give credit for effort, though for the most part these are concepts you’ve seen before. In the single-player Story mode you’ll have the opportunity to essentially take each one for a spin, getting to hear a little bit of back story on them care of a suitably creepy narrator. Each as their own special abilities that you’ll very quickly be walked through and then forced to use in order to survive and advance. At the conclusion of each story you’ll then be pitted against one of the other characters. While conceptually this isn’t a bad idea for the most part I found it played out a bit tedious and perhaps a bit unnecessarily hard. In some cases there were elements I found a bit random and confusing, just in general I found myself waiting for it to be over.

Undoubtedly multiplayer is where the game is meant to shine and it does fare better than single-player but that isn’t to say there aren’t issues. A hat tip to the developers for having the sense to include a Classic mode that generally eliminates the complication of people concerning themselves with the individual character abilities, generally aping the Bomberman formula more directly. There are variations with Sumo and Color Splash modes but while they hold up for a few rounds neither inspired a great deal of interest from the family. If you’re feeling that something more cooperative could be your speed you can always tackle the Challenge modes with a friend, with both Horde and Sheep modes. These again add some variety and strengthen the package, but they’re only as good as the foundation they’re built on allows.

That’s where the more grim end of things comes into play. Stutters and slowdowns became pretty commonplace during our group play session, generally during the worst times when play was getting more intense with a fair number of bombs on the screen. Much as was the case in the early days with Super Bomberman R these performance issues can be brutal when you’re trying to be precise to place your bombs or quickly get behind a wall to avoid a blast and this really took a lot of steam out of the game experience quickly. Bear in mind, as well, that this is a local multiplayer affair only, though given the performance issues already online would have liken been foolish to tackle anyway. Depending on the map there were also issues on some of them with clear visibility due to the theming. While I can appreciate the desire to create a certain mood when it ends up interfering a bit with people clearly understanding what’s going on at all times that also tends to stink.

In the end Brawl isn’t necessarily a bad game, it’s just a hodge podge of ideas that individually may work but somehow when they’re mashed together it doesn’t seem to congeal. There’s obviously been effort to inject some personality into things but at the same time what makes each character distinct ends up detracting a bit from the ease of handing someone a controller and having some fun. With the voice work it’s also obvious that the single-player story mode had some investment but the glorified tutorials with somewhat bland play and wonky AI failed to leave a very positive impression. Just from top to bottom the overall effort plays out as pretty average, though its stuttering periodic performance issues make it more difficult to redeem.

Score: 6

  • Has most of the components that should make it interesting and successful
  • A variety of competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes
  • An assortment of characters, each with distinct abilities, that for the right group could help keep multiplayer more interesting

  • While they’re sporadic the stutters in multiplayer can really take the air out of things quickly
  • For all of the effort invested in the various characters and skills for the most part my family and I stuck with the Classic mode mostly that removed them
  • Local multiplayer only

Review: Furi [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When it comes to epic fights against tough opponents most games only provide them in limited supply. Even then a valid complaint in the past few generations is that in many cases boss fights have become a bit stale, with too many familiar patterns and tropes that diminish their impact. If you’ve ever felt that way Furi may have an answer to your problem, though if you’re not patient and your skills aren’t sharp enough you may find that they’ve dialed it a bit too far in the other direction.

It seems that you’re a prisoner, and all that stands between you are a host of jailers, other convicts… and a weird dude with a furry bunny head/mask thing who tends to wax philosophically. The story, as it unfolds, is a bit on the weird side but it actually entertained me a bit just wondering what in the world was going on. Regardless of how you may feel about it the good news is that, in general, you’ll be too busy clashing with a motley bunch of enemies… and often getting your ass handed to you.

In many ways the fighting reminds me of Punch-Out in that each enemy is a series of puzzles. At each phase their attacks must be dodged, parried, countered, and sometimes simply survived. You have some formidable abilities of your own, able to both shoot twin-stick style and slash, though most up-close fighting will usually involve parrying your opponents attacks first in order to get in your best strikes. Make no mistake, even on the game’s easiest level this will be a challenge, and the game does a fabulous job of pointing this out as you simply face your first jailer during the “tutorial”. You won’t have to worry about being bored as you grind through a long orientation, instead you’re given your skills long enough to try them out and then you’d better be ready to start switching them up. Overall the game does a pretty great job of forcing you to observe, experiment, and adapt as each enemy requires a different set of tactics to take down.

Aside from the action potentially being a bit too intense for the average gamer there are some other issues and quirks to be aware of. Probably the most unnecessarily annoying thing with the game are the over-long cut-scenes where you’ll slowly walk to your next opponent. This is broken up by dialogue from the aforementioned dude with a bunny head but it could easily have tightened things up to not have so much downtime. On top of that as the camera shifts perspective the direction you’ll need to move your joystick in will end up being almost nonsensical and weird at times. Perhaps a minor issue, but it is odd. Next to that the biggest complaint would be that you have no control over the camera and with some of the boss fights this can be a problem and lead to the action being obstructed at times. With every attack needing to be precisely dealt with this can lead to some unnecessary deaths so be sure to keep yourself in a space you can see whenever possible.

All said Furi could have easily coasted with its looks while delivering far less. Its presentation is outstanding and its combat is much more challenging, and yet generally fair, than anything I’ve played in a long while. If you’ve been feeling that games are too easy and repetitive Furi does an admirable job of breaking the typical mold, and it is an experience quite unlike anything else available on the Switch. Just be ready for some frustration, it doesn’t hold back.

Score: 8

  • All boss fights, all the time
  • Each foe has their own style and will require you to work in order to win
  • Dripping with style, it looks great on the Switch

  • Even at its easiest level the challenge can be substantial with certain bosses
  • The “long walk” cutscenes are a bummer and they didn’t need to be so drawn out
  • There’s no doubt that in some situations the camera becomes a secondary enemy

Review: Azkend 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The folks at 10 Tons have been consistently providing the Switch eShop with 2 things: Terrific shooters, and some well-polished casual games. It has actually surprised me that we’ve not seen a wider variety of casual games yet on the platform and 10 Tons seems more than happy to capitalize. Their latest, Azkend 2, is their take on a tile-matching game, and I’ll just come out and say that I’ve been shocked with how much it has hooked me.

In an odd twist the game has a story and is narrated in cutscenes with you playing the part of Jules, a young woman whose ship is pulled into a maelstrom at sea and then finds herself trying to make her way out from the center of the Earth. This provides the opportunity to create some stunning artwork for the backdrops that represent your journey back.

The greatest strength the game has is the diversity of variations it throws at you, with new wrinkles and variations in almost every level. On top of the normal locking or frozen pieces there are levels with bugs that move around that you’ll need to keep from getting away, blocks that are on fire that you’ll need to extinguish, and some others as well. These keep you on your toes and manage to keep things from bogging down, though it does add quite a bit to the level of challenge. To help compensate you’ll slowly unlock both active and passive upgrades that you can use to give yourself a customized edge in making it through. You’ll want to experiment with the different upgrades to find which ones suit you best or you may choose to change them in response to the specific level.

Once you’ve managed to complete the game’s 60 core Story levels you’ll then be able to move on to both a Timed Challenge mode and a Medals Challenge where you’ll be pushed to complete the original story levels more efficiently. A word of caution would go out to true casual players, you’ll likely find this a bit more challenging and diverse than your typical match game, though overall I’d personally consider that a big plus. Careful attention needs to be paid to the game’s core rules as there’s quite a lot going on and keeping up your charge specifically is crucial to success.

Overall I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by Azkend 2. It manages to break out of the mold of the typical match game and do some things that kept it consistently engaging. True, its approach may be a bit “throw the everything at you” in general, but I’ll take that over it being predictable. Throw on high quality production values and a budget price and I’d say if you’re in the market for a great casual, but not too casual, match game it is highly recommended.

Score: 8.5

  • Works fabulously in handheld mode on the touchscreen
  • Variety is the name of the game here and many of the levels have something to help them stand out
  • Power-ups play a vital and often transformative role in your success

  • There’s an aspect of “everything but the kitchen sink” to it all at times
  • For true casual gamers it is possible this might skew towards difficult at times

Review: Energy Cycle [Nintendo Switch eShop]

At the low end of the eShop, in terms of price, the budget titles are a bit of an odd assortment of choices, but in general you can count on a fair portion of them being puzzle games of some sort. Typically requiring less assets and able to be compelling with just a great core rule set that’s well implemented this makes logical sense. Energy Cycle falls into that general category, giving you a variety of color-changing puzzles that you’ll need to carefully manipulate in order to make all of your blobs match.

Capable of being played with the joycon, but generally much easier using the touchscreen, when you activate a blob it will cycle through its colors. Any blob that’s in the immediate vicinity will also cycle their colors and this is where the nature of the puzzle game comes in. You’ll need to determine how to cycle each blob to the same color and because of there being multiple intersections this requires some planning.

Though there are 3 modes: Puzzle, Time Attack, and Infinite Play it’s all really variations on the same theme in terms of play. Puzzle screens are pre-set, Time Attack will just force you to try to keep ahead of the clock, and Infinite Play will just continue to create random scenarios for you. The effort behind all of this is pretty lean but the music is at least a little different and interesting and, for what it is, the game works as promised.

If you’re a fan of this style of gameplay since it has a very affordable asking price it may not be a bad match. Simply understand it is what it is, nothing less and nothing more. If this type of puzzle isn’t your thing it absolutely will do nothing to change your mind. It works, but it is a pretty dull affair all around… just at a budget price.

Score: 4

  • The music is a bit unexpected but different, which is at least refreshing
  • Though the gameplay is simple it is at least executed well
  • A budget-friendly price

  • Though it has 3 modes the basics don’t change, at the core it is all the same thing
  • While it hits its apparent target it is pretty dull overall
  • The menus and interface are a tad clunky

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: The Escapists 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Escape from Alcatraz. Papillon. The Shawshank Redemption. Stir Crazy. Ernest Goes to Jail. Each of these movies, some more classic than others, have instilled a sort of romantic view of the bold prison escape. While some were more elaborate in execution than others there’s a sense of a meticulous plan being set into motion and if everything goes right the prisoner(s) will find their way to freedom. Conceptually this is what I had in mind while beginning to play The Escapists 2, and while there are some elements for a grand plan available to you in the game in general terms, the solutions to your problems are typically a bit simpler.

At the start of every level you’ll find yourself thrown into a new prison scenario and the nature of what you’ll need to do will vary by venue. The transport-style prisons will generally create a much more active puzzle-solving situation where you’ll have a limited amount of time to find the elements you’ll need to put together an escape. You’ll need to keep moving, evading the guards, hiding where you can when they see you, and looking for the elements you’ll need to craft your means of exit. These levels are about quickly finding spots that look promising for a getaway and then going through your crafting menu to find something that will help you towards that end. With every prison there are methods of escape specific to single and multiplayer sessions and trying to coordinate with other people can add an extra thrill, though it also adds complications if not everyone is on the same page. Given the timeframe and more streamlined play these transport levels are an ideal starting point to trying out multiplayer though.

On the other end of the spectrum you’ll have full-on prisons and a very different style of play overall, though in the end there are more similarities than you may think. With these scenarios you’re going to have to conform to the daily routine, showing up for daily roll calls, meals, exercise time, etc. Failure to do so will raise the alert level so you’ll need to figure out how to quickly fulfill your minimum obligation and then get back to your plan. You’ll generally need to work on raising your intellect (the higher it gets the more you can craft) as well as your fitness and strength (good for when you get into fights and for getting different jobs). In order to find materials to craft various weapons or gear with you’ll need to be sneaky and search desks anywhere you see one (just be sure not to be seen) or you’ll need to earn money to outright buy supplies from one of the other prisoners. You’ll slowly gain money through working your prison job but more often you’ll want to offer to complete tasks for other inmates. Aside from earning some scratch these often provide an opportunity to look for things of use as you go, making them doubly beneficial.

In terms of problems I’d say the biggest misunderstanding I had with the game, and it took a while before it sank in, is in terms of scope and what you really need to do. Since the sandbox is quite large and there’s so much to be distracted by you can pretty easily meander and make very little productive progress. While it does provide you a reasonable tutorial that helps walk you through the game’s various systems and tasks it doesn’t really give you much insight into what your process to determine how to escape should be. Make no mistake, for each prison there are only a finite number of ways you’ll be getting out, some that are for single-player and some that are for multiplayer. Essentially anything you’re doing that isn’t advancing you to towards that goal can be fun for a while, and add to the experience, but is still wasted time. The game systems are there to make it immersive, not necessarily because you’re supposed to sink a ton of time into them. In general I found meticulously going through your crafting options to familiarize yourself with what is possible to be the key, you’ll usually find something that stands out and would seem to provide you with an opportunity. Armed with that knowledge it then provides a clear direction and things you’ll need to gather to then work out how best to use them. That or, if all else fails, you could always look for tips online as well.

I think one of the keys to enjoying The Escapists 2 is understanding both what it is and isn’t. If you approach it like a sandbox game you’ll be able to have some fun for a while simply going through the daily prison routine, and it can be interesting for a while, but that won’t generally advance you towards escape. It all revolves around looking for anything unusual in the circumstances you find yourself in that will provide an opportunity, scanning your crafting list for anything that stands out, and then putting together your means of escape through trial and error. If the game would organically provide tips on what you’ll want or need to do through the grapevine, or as a reward for turning in favors (or even money) it may not have always been quite as aggravating. Without a doubt it is a unique title and for people who enjoy challenging themselves with something different it should deliver, you just may want to look at a strategy guide if you’re feeling lost.

Score: 7

  • So many things to craft for both escape and survival
  • Transport prisons shake up the formula nicely and provide variety
  • The difficulty of crafting your means of escape ramps up slowly per prison (once you know what you need to do)

  • You can easily drop a lot of time without making any meaningful progress if you can’t figure out what you need to do
  • There seem to be no in-game systems for helping you determine a method of escape
  • While there are many items that can be crafted there are precious few you typically need to bother with

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Black the Fall [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Going back to the classic Out of This World I’ve been a fan of the “cinematic action-platformer”. Thrown into a situation that you don’t fully understand, hostile enemies all about who will grab or kill you if detected, left to survive with only your wits and some quick reactions. Black the Fall replaces an alien landscape with one that represents a version of our own world, though dramatized a bit with an Orwellian flair. Set against a backdrop of an oppressive, but crumbling, regime it delivers a handful of hours worth of challenges for your brain and sometimes your patience.

Since there’s no dialogue or narration it’s hard to say what the specific circumstances are that you find yourself in, but it seems that you’re a person who is set on escape. To that end you’ll need to run, jump, climb, sneak, and interact with a wide variety of objects (as well as a helpful and obedient robot at times) in order to make progress towards freedom without dying in any number of ways. In general the guards and automated systems you’ll run into will be on high alert so a mix of redirection, evasion, and some creativity will be necessary to divert them so you can get by. Of course you’ll make many mistakes, and those almost always end in death, but thankfully the game has an extremely granular automatic checkpoint system that more often than not keeps you from having to repeat difficult sections or even subsections of your greater tasks.

What’s nice is that over the course of the game you’ll venture through new locales and that greatly changes up the situations you’ll find yourself in. Dark corridors make their way to industrial areas and then progress into more of an urban setting and these changes help you sense your progress. Through the game’s conclusion I was consistently engaged in things and on the hook to see and to understand more. To that end one thing I appreciated was the inclusion of several “off the beaten path” areas that weren’t there to help you progress but to see people and the general state of things. Reminding me a bit of the hidden spots you could encounter in Portal (though not as rewarding) these were a great touch and helped me immerse myself more in the plight of the people in this world.

The name of the game is most definitely trial and error and while some solutions are intuitive there are some that you’ll either need to get a little lucky with through experimentation or perhaps get a little nudge from a walkthrough. Of course after the fact all solutions seem to make a fair amount of sense but there were definitely some cases where the “leap of faith” seemed a bit insane, but then again results will likely vary per person. Some of this is tied to the nature of the solution and other times, even when you know what you need to do, the controls can feel a bit cumbersome, though that can all be conquered with some work. All of this being about puzzle solving there’s also no escaping the fact that this is a one-time trip and once you know how to get through certain sections you won’t likely feel a want or need to return again.

Overall, Black the Fall is a pretty good ride with a bit of a story to tell, though without words and dialogue the interpretation of that story falls on you. Throughout the few hours I played it I was consistently challenged and periodically take aback by some of the clever solutions that could be reached through a bit of experimentation. Cognizant of how difficult the game is and how often you’ll die the fact that you rarely get backtracked much is a relief and much appreciated. If you’re looking for something a bit different, and maybe a little aggravating, it will provide several hours of head-scratching entertainment.

Score: 7

  • Some inventive puzzles that will make you think
  • A generous checkpoint system minimizes the pain of your repeated deaths
  • Some hidden areas along the way that try to help you get more in tune with the situation

  • Some solutions to puzzles are a bit of a guessing game
  • At times when you need to be precise the controls can get in the way a bit
  • This isn’t a journey you’ll likely repeat once you’ve beaten the game

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Moorhuhn Knights & Castles [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Slowly but surely as the Switch is catching on with everyone we’re seeing a migration of ports from the mobile space. These range in quality and appropriateness for a dedicated gaming console but they do offer variety to the system and address casual gamers who may otherwise feel left out. Moorhuhn Knights & Castles is very much in this vein, offering a pretty straight-forward port of a game already available on mobile platforms that’s of reasonable quality.

There are two essential elements to the game, and the first is building up your castle and defenses. As you level up you’ll be able to continue to add more elements to it, as well as strengthen them, but in general you’ll be looking to create a defensive shell for your throne room and perhaps for your weapon emplacements to make them more difficult to take out. The other element has to do with combat and making use of your cannons, catapults, and eventually more sophisticated options. Very reminiscent of games like Angry Birds you’ll be choosing the angle and velocity of your shots and the goal is to try to either take out the enemy throne room or render them defenseless by taking out each of their offensive weapons.

In general, as you progress through levels and try to gain stars for completing them quickly, none of this is terribly difficult and roughly plays out to a formula. You’ll play through a group of levels, not really concerning yourself with your “score”, trying to hit bonus money that is often around the level and survive. Once you level up a bit you can then upgrade your weapons and defenses and then go back to previous levels to often wreck them completely and get your 3 stars since your weapons now punch a lot harder. Certainly as you get further into the game you may need to change the configuration of your castle to reinforce for bombardment coming more from above or below but in general the above formula is a reasonable guarantee of success, you just may need to grind a bit to get more gold and experience to accomplish your goals.

Getting into the flaws I’d say the main one is that though I may not have played a game to this point with this specific combination of elements it all feels extremely familiar and even a bit dull to a degree. There is certainly an element of strategy to how you lay out your defenses and weapons and to be efficient in knocking out the other castle you’ll need a degree of skill but in general there’s nothing that absolutely stands out here as revolutionary. Though the controller is supported for docked mode I wouldn’t recommend it, the buttons you’ll need to use are a bit on the confusing side for navigating the menus and making choices, handheld mode and use of the touchscreen are obviously a far better and more intuitive choice. With all of this in mind the real crippler for this game on the Switch is its initial asking price. Even removing the fact that roughly the same game is available on mobile platforms for a far lower price just in general for the game you’re getting on Switch it’s simply too high. That makes recommending it more complicated on launch.

All said Moorhuhn Knights & Castles isn’t so much bad as it is a bit vanilla and it further hurts itself with its initial price of $30 on the eShop. If you enjoy casual games like Angry Birds there’s an added dimension it brings to the table which is worthwhile and it is certainly unique on the Switch. There is a promise of multiplayer support being added, and perhaps that will help further justify a purchase, but I think that would better address its cost than suddenly make it a more compelling buy for the average Switch fan. It does a fine job of executing what it is, how interesting that may be to you will be your own call.

Score: 5.5

  • A mix of strategy and physics-based shooting
  • A campaign of 36 progressively more challenging scenarios to fight and survive in
  • Promised multiplayer support sounds promising, and could further justify the asking price

  • For now only single-player
  • Considering the game in its current state the asking price is high
  • Though it does add some variations in general the gameplay is a bit bland, though multiplayer could certainly help address that

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: Energy Invasion [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While I’ve played some pretty flawed games on the Switch thus far one redeeming quality many of them have had is that they’re at least targeted on a clear audience. For whatever failings a game may have in its execution for people who are fans of the genre there can be hope that people can overlook its flaws and find enjoyment. Energy Invasion, unfortunately, is a game that I can’t quite identify a target audience for. Too complex and aggravating for casual players and too basic and wonky for the more hardcore, it is a strange combination of Breakout and a twin-stick shooter that plain doesn’t work.

While I tend to like more complex games I’ve also always had a weak spot for the arcade classic Arkanoid and some of the clones that were made of it over time. When I first saw Energy Invasion I’d thought that perhaps it would be in that vein. Instead it takes a strange turn and has made the ball you are trying to keep from getting by you into a vehicle for shooting at the blocks. As odd as it is in a game with this style the ball itself actually won’t damage the blocks in place at all, only the “bullets” that it fires. Different, weird, but giving it a shot I stuck with it.

Unfortunately, there’s just so much going on that is actively wrong with the game I would end up calling my time with it excruciating. Probably worst of all is that you need to use the analog stick (no touch controls, because you then couldn’t shoot) but it only works as digital control, making the task of keeping your ball aloft far more difficult than it should ever need to be. There seem to be power-ups in the game, but they simply trigger randomly and without me seemingly doing anything… just suddenly my “paddle” is wider or there’s a barrier in place. Your shots fluctuate in their speed and will just sort of stop for some reason. The ball will inexplicably change directions while not having hit anything. The game just seems to have weird and unexplained decisions and behaviors around every turn.

Ultimately I’m struggling to think of anyone at all I could even try to recommend Energy Invasion for as, on top of its myriad problems, it doesn’t even belong to any clear genre. Part casual Breakout variant, part twin-stick shooter, and all bugginess and aggravation, it is probably my least favorite game on the platform to date. Even with its extremely budget price I can’t find any redeeming qualities to recommend.

Score: 1.5

  • “Box Art” that appropriately reminds me of the Atari 2600 days...

  • Forced use of analog stick but stiff digital controls
  • Multiple game systems and behaviors that are unclear and seemingly random
  • No clear audience

Review: Rock 'N Racing Grand Prix [Nintendo Switch eShop]

As a huge top-down arcade racing fan who enjoyed classics like Super Sprint way back in the day the concept of Rock ‘N Racing Grand Prix immediately has my attention. I was a bit wary of how things would play out, given the lackluster quality of its off-road sibling, but was hoping that the lack of hills in this style of racing would let it shine. Unfortunately I’m here to tell you that, if anything, I found Grand Prix even more miserable to play and I find it next to impossible to recommend to anyone.

Where this review ultimately begins and ends is with the state of the controls. They’re absolutely abysmal. Trying to turn your car with even a modest amount of speed feels like you’re trying to turn a city bus. I literally spent some time trying to be sure that I wasn’t misunderstanding things and the steering was somehow relative to my car on screen or something it is generally so unresponsive. I get that you can’t simply turn a car going at high speeds on a dime, the fact that it feels more like your steering wheel is locked and won’t turn at all isn’t the way it works though. I’d thought that maybe the upgrade system would be the way to improve things but it made no substantial difference, and since steering is a critical part of racing this is simply crippling.

To be clear the issues its sibling had with driver AI inexplicably crashing and taking themselves out of races remains. Making any contact whatsoever with any other vehicle is still an absolute trainwreck. The various surfaces you end up driving on have unusual friction and even on the track at times your car will behave like it is on an oil slick. In addition, the physics of the vehicles when they get hit and go airborne are simply bizarre. On top of that the performance is a bit sketchy with a sort of stutter as the camera moves with your car. The engine below both games needs some serious tweaking and refinement, the behaviors of the vehicles in many cases is just wonky at best.

As you may have gathered I’m not at all a fan of Rock ‘N Racing Grand Prix and I absolutely cannot recommend it to anyone as it gets the fundamentals of a racing game so wrong. On pretty well every critical level the game is lacking, provoking more frustration than anything else when trying to play it. This is a game that probably wouldn’t even be fit to be scrapped for parts.

Score: 2.5

  • There are cars in it...

  • AI opponents that wreck themselves and can’t recover
  • Turning is an absolute disaster
  • Making contact with anything at all is going to cripple your race
  • Overall jittery performance even as humble as the game’s appearance may be