Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: Beholder - Complete Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

As always an interesting part of playing games in the indie space is the ability to try out something new and different. In the case of Beholder: Complete Edition, for me at least, both boxes are definitely checked as you’ll be playing as a sort of cog in the surveillance state as a landlord of an apartment building who has been tasked with keeping tabs on his tenants by the scary people at the top. How scary? I’ll just note that as you’re walked into this new building you get to observe the former person with your job being carted out by the police. Considering you have a family to support it seems that you’d best do as they wish.

What follows is an unusual mix of stealth, social engineering, and moral dilemmas as you try to balance the needs of your tenants (many of whom are likable), your family, and the demands of the state. You’ll want and need to surveil and collect information on pretty well everyone by setting up cameras in their rooms, snooping through their things in search of the latest contraband, or even watching them through their door keyhole when things get desperate. Of course getting caught doing so will be a problem so you’ll need to get used to their daily routine, be sure they went out on the bus instead of just to the basement for a while, and keep an eye out for when the bus makes a stop out front in the event they’re about to come home.

Ultimately there’ll be some tougher decisions to make that could test your moral compass a bit depending on how you feel about things. You’ve been told someone needs to be evicted? By carefully keeping an eye out for evidence or going through their things you may be able to collect the evidence you need to have them taken care of, or you could opt for more nefarious means as well as long as you’re not caught.

While not everything quite comes together as likely intended the game experience is, without a doubt, unique and will challenge you in a few different directions. I would have appreciated a little more in-game direction as getting started and being sure what you need to do can be perplexing. Once you get into the routine of taking communication from “The Ministry” and working out what needs to be done it can provide few a few playthroughs (the included DLC adds an alternative situation as well) of something very different.

Score: 7

  • A unique gameplay loop
  • Some moral ambiguity and testing of your moral compass (even in a game) can be a healthy thing
  • Sometimes the option to be a little bad is fun

  • Working out what you need to be doing initially is a bit confusing
  • While there’s an emphasis on you making choices you never have the reassurance of complete control over things… though that may well be intended
  • The pacing can be a bit on the slow side

Review: Hello Neighbor - Hide and Seek [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When games come along that I struggle mightily with on multiple levels it puts me in a difficult spot. On the one hand I’d like to be able to give some benefit of doubt to the developers behind titles and be sure their efforts aren’t being ignored or going unappreciated. Even titles that can seem awful to some find an audience with some niche somewhere. However, given my responsibility to gamers looking to spend their money wisely when I run into things that aren’t fun to play even when I’m looking for silver linings I can’t gloss that over. I was frustrated with Hello Neighbor and its ambiguity in what you were supposed to be doing the majority of the time, its pretty iffy physics implementation, and just its general state not feeling well thought out. With the promise that we’d find out the secret behind the Neighbor’s angry and odd demeanor with the prequel, Hide and Seek, I was hoping somehow a new direction would improve things. If anything I’d say this result is even more aggravating than the original.

While I chose the video above to show a little bit of progression at the very beginning I won’t lie, I spent a solid 20 minutes before what you see there simply poking around the inside of the house trying to get reacquainted with the controls and exploring possibilities in the few rooms that are there because I couldn’t figure out how to open the one unlocked door you need to go through. There’s no tutorial, nothing to introduce the controls or the concept behind the game. You see the little cut scene, the brother begins counting, and now are you supposed to try to hide? Quickly? I actually put stacked some boxes to try to get up high but that was a mess, so I then closed myself behind some near the father hoping that would work. Nothing. He just keeps counting and still no prompt. I then tried all of the doors and this time went right through, though I still stopped to check on the one room before opening the second one which just happened to be what the game wanted me to do so I could proceed. The ambiguity from that point doesn’t get any less perplexing, if anything it gets worse.

So this title has really taken the same flawed and funky physics system where the concept of gently putting down an object is only possible on a somewhat random basis, you otherwise throw it as hard as you can even when you just tap the button. Where the first game at least was generally in an enclosed space where you could see different elements and try to make some weird sense of what you may want to do instead in the first scene you’ll walk into a weirdly proportioned space where you seem very small. As always there’s no direction of what your goal is, what you should be trying to do, you’re just apparently trying to hide from your roaming brother and do something to progress. Should you be picking up objects? Actually trying to find a hiding place somewhere? Why can he see you in tall grass or underwater? Even if I knew what I was doing I think I’d find it all clunky but while I might be able to look up a walkthrough or something to tell me what to do I want to stick with the game experience just as it is and after a few hours I just threw up my hands.

I really hope that the Hello Neighbor franchise, at this point, can be put to pasture. Yes, the visual style of things and the look of the Neighbor himself is sort of unusual and he’s creepy. I get it. However, while that may work for marketing purposes these aren’t so much meticulously planned games as collections of 3D assets thrown into an environment without having much concern with an enjoyable or meaningful experience. Perhaps they’re hoping people could have fun despite the shortcomings of the product but I’m here to tell you there are too many great games on Switch to be spending your time playing this.

Score: 3.5


  • Still that signature off-kilter look and the slightly less creepy pre-angry Neighbor
  • If you’re truly fascinated with how the Neighbor got to the point he was at in the first game this is supposed to tell you, or you could just save some frustration and look it up


  • A total lack of direction on what you’re trying to do from the original game is even worse here without the constraints of more enclosed spaces
  • The same funky and janky physics from the first game where manipulating objects with any care or subtlety is almost an impossibility
  • Just in general the controls and doing everything is a matter of trial and error and the gameplay design is an utter mess

Review: Gear Club Unlimited 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]

If there’s a genre on the Switch that’s pretty underrepresented among the ones that are more popular in a mainstream sense racing may be the most obvious answer. While obviously you have the likes of Mario Kart and some other lighter multiplayer-focused titles out there and we’ve recently gotten an excellent arcade-style racer with Horizon Chase Turbo fans of more realistic racing have had next to no choices. About the only title I’d known of before was Gear Club Unlimited, which I didn’t get the opportunity to check out, but now we have the sequel and though I can’t comment on what has changed from the original I can say that while it’s generally a competent racer with some nice tracks and a good feel it also has some shortcomings.

With a nice selection of real-world cars from quite a number of auto manufacturers and representing a reasonable spectrum of styles and speeds at least when it comes to well-known vehicles this title has you covered. While customization isn’t as extensive as you can find in some other series there are at least some cosmetic changes you can make and decals you can apply to pimp out your ride a bit, and there are multiple systems in the car you’ll be able to improve from the engine to the tires to the body weight and other areas that are pretty well the norm in these titles. Your money will be earned through winning races, obviously, and the Campaign mode will walk you through from your humble beginnings in a Cooper Mini up through classes that include cars you’d see on the streets and up through some exotics as well. While Online Support is forthcoming it currently isn’t available so it’s hard to comment on, but you are currently able to form and join Clubs that appear to be geared towards building a community and the planned racing you’ll do against other players is intended to be asynchronous as you compete for the best times. There doesn’t appear to be a date for this but it is intended to be “soon”.

In terms of the racing itself it’s a bit of a mixed bag overall but there are areas that work. In the beginning with humbler vehicles it tends to be a bit on the easy side, especially with the default driving assist options in effect. You’re able to tune these up or down and the areas are segregated to while you may not want help with speed or turning you may find help with skids beneficial for instance. The tracks are actually pretty nice, with quite a bit of variance in their turns and sections overall. Even if you’re in spaces that visually are similar you can count on each race throwing something a little different at you so you can’t just coast and assume you know what’s around the next bend. As you get into higher-end vehicles the racing gets a bit more challenging as not only does each car handle a bit differently but more power generally means taking turns and hitting the gas increases your odds of skidding and losing control so as turn-intensive as many tracks are you’ll really need to nail that feel to be successful. There are rally races you’ll run as well, and this does alter the tracks a bit, but it is almost purely that the tracks feel and look a little different so don’t get too excited.

There are a few issues that stand out and are worth noting if you’re considering a purchase, though depending on how badly you want a more realistic driving experience than the rest of what’s on the system they may be acceptable. First is that performance, in places, can struggle a bit, and that seems to be a bit more true in handheld mode. I’m not normally a big performance stickler but it isn’t all smooth sailing, though I can’t say it made me play any less effectively. As generally nice as the environments and cars look it also needs to be noted that you’re always driving in a very sterile environment. Aside from the track and other cars there’s nothing else out there, no other traffic, the city streets are completely empty, it’s fine but also a little creepy in a way. The last issue is that, in general, it’s all not terribly hard for a more veteran racing fan. Very early on it’s a bit more even as you try to get used to how things feel but once I had the hang of things and started getting better cars that I then upgraded in general every race was mine to lose because I was wrecking the AI that tended to stay on racing lines and aside from the top racer or two controlled by the CPU the rest seemed to generally be on a Sunday drive comparatively.

At the end of the day while Gear Club Unlimited 2 isn’t necessarily a great racing game I can at least respect the effort behind it. There’s certainly nothing to compete with it on the Switch, so it has that on its side, but this is hardly an experience that would do anything but get lapped by the more prestigious racers on other platforms. It is moving in the right direction and it has a feel that’s a bit more refined than a purely arcade experience but I wouldn’t quite say its in simulation territory yet, which actually helps me like it a bit more since sims usually bore me. If you’re feeling the need to hit the road it may not be a bad option, just you’ll need to be realistic with your expectations.

Score: 6

  • In general the variety of flow in the tracks is a plus
  • A fair representation of licensed cars from more common to some exotics
  • The feel of racing is somewhere between arcade and sim and works, especially since the levels of assistance can be changed

  • General performance always remains playable but can struggle at times,especially in handheld mode
  • In general the racing against AI competitors isn’t very challenging
  • Racing in very sterile and empty environments is kind of weird

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Review: Rock Boshers DX - Director's Cut [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Since I’ve played games on systems dating back to Pong and some random things I loaded off of cassette tapes on my TRS-80 games looking to recreate a more vintage feel intrigue me. On the one hand they can be a cool window into the past, helping to revive forgotten styles of play, but it can be a sort of risky business too. Sometimes if more than just the aesthetics are retro and some of the limitations of what could be done in the past limit play in key ways it can be frustrating. At least for me that’s a bit of the case with Rock Boshers DX, which has a great early-era look and style of play but also some of its frustration tied to it’s more classic and chunky visuals.

I think the main thing I actually enjoy about Boshers is that in many ways it reminds me of the classic arcade game Cloak and Dagger, playing as a twin-stick shooter where you need to do some digging, killing of enemies, and solving of some puzzles. When it acts a bit more as an action game at times it can be some fun, but as you move on in levels the degree of challenge rises a bit and between turrets and some enemies you can’t kill and will instead need to avoid it can take on more of a puzzle feel at times. You’ll need to be nimble and clever, carefully choosing your path at times, to throw off missiles or simply being eaten. You’ll generally want to be thorough as you explore though, keeping on the lookout for hidden goodies like tea or some jammy scones since they’ll allow you to unlock a few mini arcade games that are a nice bonus.

Where I think things go a bit wrong is with how at the relatively small and blocky scale things are at it can be a bit clunky. Enemies and missiles seem to hit you a little too easily since you’re a somewhat slow block of a target and especially when trying to lead missiles to destroy barriers you’ll feel like you should be out of the way but manage to get hit. When you’re trying to make your way into some corridors or areas with corners monsters can be very hard to hit as well since your bullets are quite chunky as well. It makes sense in its own way and may even be a bit authentic but it makes the game more aggravating than it should need to be when you know what you want to do but the mechanics get in the way.

For retro fans Rock Boshers may not be a bad trip down memory way, it certainly captures the look and even the spirit of games from that era. That said, I’ve played some other retro games on Switch that have done a better job of capturing the feel and nostalgic aspects of that time without necessarily being as beholden to them. There’s some fun and challenge to be had, just be aware of the aspects that add more of a barrier to enjoyment possibly.

Score: 6

  • A very vintage look, complete with an entertaining boot up sequence in PC mode
  • Feels much like games from that era in structure and challenge
  • Unlockable arcade mini games are a nice touch

  • The chunky graphical style makes for blocky hitboxes as well which, which can be frustrating
  • It simply isn’t likely to be something for everyone

Review: Demetrios - The Big Cynical Adventure [Nintendo Switch eShop]

With the classic point-and-click-style adventure genre absolutely booming on the Switch you really need to do something unusual to stand out. Certainly in that specific regard Demetrios has carved out a spot for itself, sporting a hand-drawn art style, some unusual characters and situations, and a brand of humor that can stray towards the gross-out variety. While for the most part the ups and downs of its experience are typical for the genre it’s likely that your core enjoyment or distaste for it will be driven by that unique sense of humor.

You’ll play through the adventure as Bjorn, a somewhat unusual slacker who deals in antiques and leads a bachelor’s lifestyle. Through a stroke of luck he apparently managed to acquire an unusual-looking piece that included a stone tablet of some value. After being assaulted while returning home one night in a stupor he discovers it is missing and sets out on a mission to find it, after some prodding accompanied by his neighbor Sandra and her daughter Caroline. From there you’ll be on a tour of multiple locales in search of answers and cookies that are hidden everywhere and that come in handy when you find yourself a bit lost.

While the typical genre trappings are all here: searching for objects, talking to people, and solving puzzles using your inventory items in sometimes unusual and unexpected ways, it’s consistently the game’s humor that strays from the norm. Whether in the form of Bjorn’s simple comments on items he encounters, the dialogue he gets into with others, or some of the things you can do to kill (you’ll come right back to where you left off, why not find out what happens?) or entertain yourself this really is what makes or breaks the game. Can it venture into the more juvenile, sure, but there’s no doubt an audience that get a kick out of it. Aside from that it’s a mostly generic experience but I’ll give it credit for choosing a lane and sticking with it, providing something a little different in the process.

Score: 6

  • Some nice hand-drawn art if you don’t mind the style
  • Loads of odd dialogue and objects you’ll encounter along the way
  • Some unexpected distractions like mini games peppered about

  • The game’s humor is both its selling point and possibly what will drive people away
  • Suffers from some of the same odd ways to solve problems that the genre struggles with in general
  • Aside from its humor nothing about it is terribly memorable

Review: Stardust Galaxy Warriors - Stellar Climax [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Being a pretty core genre it can be difficult to run into surprises when it comes to arcade shooters, though there are occasionally games that break the mold. Going back to Galaga there has been some precedent, throwing some things that were unexpected into the mix and helping to add to variety and excitement. Coming to the Switch pretty well unheralded Stardust Galaxy Warriors looked pretty cool in screen shots but it wasn’t until I played it that I got to understand how much it does differently, and has managed to nab a place in contention for the top spot among the best shooters on Switch both this year and in general.

While I think most often people associate the shmup and bullet hell genres with vertical scrolling Stardust has opted for the classic side-scrolling style, which I’m fine with since these days gaming is done on a wider screen. The vertical look may be classic but that tends to lead to bars on either side, though the excellent Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron does vertical in widescreen it’s not the norm. In this case with the variety of enemy types and pretty tough bosses you really end up needing the space at times, and if you pair up with up to 3 friends you’ll want every pixel of space you can get to help manage the abundant action. Whether you opt for the story-driven Campaign, the more classic arcade Gauntlet, the more exciting Strike, or the aptly-named Challenge mode you’ll be taking on the same pool of environments, enemy types, bosses, upgrades, and configuration choices, how you mix and match them to suit your tastes is a big part of what distinguishes Stardust from its competition.

While you can play it more like a classic arcade shooter in Gauntlet mode even that features choice right at the beginning and it’s truly a game changer. First you’ll choose your base mech and that’s more than a matter of cosmetics since it will determine both your special move and and your distortion technique, which varying between very defensive and offensive capabilities. Next you’ll get to choose both your primary and secondary weapons and each class has access to the same wide variety of choices which range from spread to rapid-fire to even an up-close flamethrower in your primaries and then grenades, homing missiles, mutli-shot needles and more for secondary. This makes for a stunning number of potential base combinations that allow you to experiment and fine tune your loadout. The great news is that in most modes you can then make upgrades that extend that even further, being able to enhance your stats and even save up for additional ammo types and more. While you could choose to play it the same way each time variety here is truly the spice of life and you’ll find that especially in the Campaign mode or in the many Challenge scenarios it can pay to go for more focused fire in some cases and spread in others depending on the enemies you face. If you’re playing with friends you could all go a similar route or diversify fully, considering there’s even support for going melee-focused if you’re truly daring and more interested in utilizing your sword slash with regularity you could easily each fulfill a different role and clean up a bit.

Stardust Galaxy Warriors describes itself as combining shmup and brawler gameplay elements and as unusual a claim as that may be on its face it’s oddly accurate. Between the way the waves of enemies progress and just the overall variety in what you’ll face this doesn’t have a an almost puzzle-like bullet hell feel, though especially in the Campaign’s latter stages you’ll be doing plenty of careful dodging if you expect to complete it. Instead, you’ll tend to open up with a number of waves of enemies (ones that vary wildly by stage, often requiring different approaches to take down), a mid phase where it’s not unusual to face some more formidable enemies, and then a third where you’ll face one of the game’s pretty diverse bosses. Overall, Stardust Galaxy Warriors is just a huge breath of fresh air and easily one of the top shooters on the system. If you’re looking for variety in your challenge, something you can enjoy with some friends, and an ability to configure both your challenges and your gear to suit your mood there’s really no better choice on the Switch.

Score: 9

  • This game absolutely proves that variety is the spice of life
  • Whether you like playing defensively, offensively, a little crazy with melee, or any combination of the above the game lets you start out in that direction and then even further specialize your configuration to suit your taste
  • Plenty of bullet hell challenge but in no way limited by that feel

  • Not quite as flashy as some other titles out there
  • Perhaps side-scrolling isn’t normally your preference?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review: Toki [Nintendo Switch eShop]

As an older gamer who spent way too many hours in the arcades as a kid I’m always excited to see classic games getting the modern upgrade treatment. Oddly enough in the case of Toki it’s not a game I have fond memories of, or even many memories at all. It looked familiar but before playing it I was unable to tell whether I’d ever invested much time into it. Now having played the remake there are some familiar things about it but so I think it’s something I ran into and played at some point, but with some of its quirks I can also make some assumptions about why it wasn’t something I would have invested a ton of quarters in at the time.

Borrowing multiple elements from other titles into one pretty crazy experience Toki is a title that refuses to be categorized easily. A mixture of platforming, shooting, surviving a variety of monsters and traps, and then taking down some big bosses it has a somewhat kitchen sink approach. While each of its 6 stages vary in their design, enemies, and challenges you can count on there being periodic power-ups that will help you out, some traps and puzzles that you’ll likely end up conquering through some trial and error deaths initially, and quite a bit of plain weirdness. Thankfully they’ve added variable difficulty levels that control how many continues you’ll get as this isn’t likely a title you’ll just jump in and dominate, there’s very much a need to understand some of the mechanics and tricks in a variety of areas to be successful.

The standout quality of this remake is absolutely its presentation. The hand-drawn characters are full of detail and personality, the environments are varied visually and quite gorgeous, and the music is pretty well spot-on for the experience. Having said that the visuals are also one of the game’s challenges. As well integrated as everything is visually there are spots where it can be tough to tell what’s in the foreground versus the background, and that can lead to some mistakes and frustration in places. One element common with the original title is also that since Toki is such a large character on-screen dodging incoming projectiles with him can be a challenge as while he may be nimble he’s not terribly fast. It’s all part of the experience, and the character size and movement are consistent with the original, but it’s one of those things worth noting nonetheless.

If you’re a fan of the original Toki, or at least classic arcade-style games, this gorgeous remaster is pretty easy to recommend as long as you keep in mind that it’s a visual overhaul on an old game, flaws and all. A few new wrinkles of issues with differentiating foreground from background have been added in places but otherwise this game looks outstanding and plays faithfully to the original at the same time. As long as you keep your expectations in check and appreciate older arcade quarter-sucking sensibilities it can be a good time, for a little while at least.

Score: 7.5

  • Looks amazing and the music is terrific
  • An odd mixture of multiple styles, combining shooting and platforming in a unique way
  • Some memorable and enemies and boss battles

  • Old school sensibilities can be aggravating at times, like sections that you’ll need to die a few times to understand what you need to do, making it a bit cheap in places
  • While challenging it’s also a bit on the short side, leaving you to just try a higher difficulty and top your high score
  • The great art can make it hard to tell foreground from background at times

Review: ARK - Survival Evolved [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Oh ARK, if ever there were a game that was simultaneously awesome with promise but aggravating in execution it’s you. This is a title I’ve kept an eye on through the eyes of my daughter on PC since it was in Early Access. I’d tried way back when to play it with her but its somewhat wonky nature and quirks were enough to put me off in the hopes once it hit full release things would be better, though she still sticks with it to this day and enjoys what is unique about it… namely surviving in a world of dinosaurs and there being a means to eventually taming them to use as mounts and other prehistoric fun. Since its performance has never been stable even on PC when I heard it was coming to Switch I was a bit surprised, but now it’s here with the promise of taking the dino survival experience on the go… but if you’re looking to dive in you need to be aware of a number of caveats or you’ll likely be very disappointed.

Starting with what the game does well there’s no doubt that at the elevator pitch level it absolutely has a ton of appeal. Played in a first-person perspective you’ll be trying to survive as a human starting with pretty much nothing (thankfully not completely naked like a certain title in the space) while adding dinosaurs to your list of normal things to be concerned with. As you begin collecting and crafting you’ll gain experience that you can then use to unlock new crafting abilities and slowly build up your stats. With better gear you’ll be able to take on more ambitious goals like both taking down increasingly tough prey or working through the challenge of stunning, caring for, and taming various beasts instead.

Don’t get ahead of yourself though, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the game it can be a real challenge to get going. Being clear there’s simply not very much in-game help or guidance for how to do almost anything. You’re really thrown into the situation and expected to experiment to figure out what you need to do. If you’re new to the game I’d very much suggest watching some videos or reading up, there are some cool things you can do as you progress but I’m not sure that without said methods of getting help most people would have much success. This isn’t a well-tuned experience, it’s a collection of cool ideas that you can make work but that don’t always make intuitive sense either. All that said, I will tell you that my daughter loves having her dodo and dino “pets” that she has managed to tame so if that aspect appeals to you and you have patience there can be rewards to it all.

Finally getting into what’s just plain ugly we’ll focus on the worst offenders, one with the game as a whole and two that are more specific to Switch. As a general note there is online play available but be aware that at least on PC it became a pretty notoriously toxic space with tribes that would dominate servers and pretty well ruin the game for others. Hopefully things have improved and with Switch it can be different but that may take time to see how it plays out. Playing with others can be great and it can be miserable, you’ve been warned. Speaking to the Switch with performance and visual quality… there’s not a lot of great news. Being frank the game’s overall visuals always seemed to be both trapped in the PS2 era with bad textures and the like yet also janky, especially if there gets to be a lot going on at once on-screen. On the Switch’s more limited hardware these issues are magnified, especially in handheld mode. Performance is a bit all over the place, textures will sort of morph in front of you as things load into memory… you can gut it out and choose to accept this but bearing in mind performance has always been a question with this title as a whole even if it is patched and improved I wouldn’t count on it ever even being “good” most likely. Finally it is well worth noting that the controls for the menus and the interface as a whole are awful and even unintuitive at times. This is definitely an interface that was designed for PC and its implementation for consoles just isn’t very good. This is something that can be lived with but it needs to be noted that it’s particularly sloppy as a whole.

Scoring ARK: Survival Evolved is tough because while it has a substantial number of strikes against it I’m well aware that the unique experience it has to offer can help some people overlook its issues. There really is no game out there quite like it, and I do applaud the ambition the developers had in this undertaking to both initially create and then stick with trying to step by step get this title closer to being all it set out to be. All that said at the same time there’s no denying that the Switch implementation of this game has some very serious flaws and issues, and based on observing this game’s development over time there’s absolutely no guarantee that all or even any of it may be addressed satisfactorily. If you’re in love with the premise and have pretty abundant patience there’s no doubt it’s the only game of its kind, and I wish you luck with it. For everyone else though it just has too many issues from the fundamentals to the specifics of the Switch implementation to recommend with any enthusiasm.

Score: 5.5

  • The only survival game with dinosaurs out there
  • If you’re able to get rolling and begin taming bigger beasts it can have cool moments

  • Notoriously a bit janky even on more powerful platforms on Switch it’s a hot mess, especially in handheld mode
  • In-game help and support is very limited, meaning you’ll either need to go through a ton of trial and error or look up tutorials to understand some even basic things
  • The menus are obviously designed for PC and on console they’re generally cumbersome and unintuitive
  • Some of the load times are plain crazy

Review: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom [Nintendo Switch eShop]

It may be a bit confusing to people but Monster Boy has come to the Switch… again. This time from a completely different crew and instead of remaking a console classic with wonderfully updated graphics Cursed Kingdom falls more under the “inspired by” banner. That works out to be both a good and a bad thing at times but my gosh does this title look incredible with hand drawn characters, big and often creative boss fights, and plenty of smart level design. All that said, I will warn you, it also has a bit of a mean streak and there are some difficulty spikes that could be enough to get more casual gamers to quit in frustration, including some pretty early on.

Starting with the positive this is absolutely a very smart and more modern take on the Monster Boy formula. You’ll start out a bit overpowered in human form, getting introduced to some classic mechanics and gear, but then misfortune hits and you’ll be transformed into a pig. Your goal is then to recover some special stones hidden about in a number of areas to restore normalcy to the world and over the course of recovering these you’ll gain the ability to switch into different animal forms, some that are more humanoid than others. These will each give you new abilities to use in fighting and in helping to solve tons of puzzles you’ll encounter along the way.

Speaking to the basic game experience everything is implemented pretty brilliantly. The level designs are catered towards you mastering all of the nuances of each form you take, initially throwing you softballs to get the basic mechanics down but then pretty quickly challenging you to use what you know and have available to you to work your way through things. When you’re in your snake form you can climb walls but can’t use anything but your venom attack, as a pig you’re not terribly capable but you do have full access to the traditional Monster Boy special attacks like the fireball, whirlwind, lightning strike and more, you’ll be able to use equipment in the frogman form which you’ll need to get through certain areas, and so on. Equipment plays an interesting role the further in you get as you find power gems and get to choose which gear you want to enhance for which effects. It all layers on to create a pretty engaging experience that will challenge both your mind and your skills of execution.

Taking all of that into account this is also a title that really could use some tuning or at least a difficulty slider in places. Perhaps a bit too much like the classic era games that inspired it this is a game with some pretty mean mood swings in places. Everything is going well, you’re enjoying yourself, things aren’t easy but after a few attempts you figure out the trick and move on… but then one area or room will hit you like a ton of bricks. Early on in your pig form and before you really have any powers to help yourself out there’s a section that includes those little bastard clouds (who I could have done without, or at least this early on) that I was able to get through but that made me concerned. If someone who plays just a ton of games and who has gotten through some crazy tough challenges over time gets this aggravated and feels like there a challenge is extreme and out of place that may not bode well for less experienced players. Some spots come down to unusually difficult challenge but others are even more benign and may just tie to making a weirdly-timed jump. People should be able to overcome these obstacles with persistence but in an era where even intentionally-challenging games are taking steps to be more accessible to everyone Cursed Sword seems, even if not on purpose, to be quite a few steps behind.

Despite the concerns and some frustrations Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a very well-designed and gorgeous title as a whole. When you’re in the groove it feels absolutely brilliant and up to a point I appreciate the fact that you won’t be able to get through many sections on the first try as you may need to experiment a bit. The boss battles are challenging but often pretty smart and really none of them play out in the same way or even as you may expect due to their creativity. While I would have rated it higher if it either outright toned down its spikes in challenge or added a means to alter or skip them I’d recommend it without reservations. If you’re willing to either gut it out or assume that the game could get patched at some point to help out you’re in for a treat, just be aware that it can have a mean streak in places.

Score: 8

  • Amazing visuals
  • Some very smart level and boss designs
  • Tons of small puzzles to solve along the way, forcing you to leverage your various forms in many cases

  • There are sections that aren’t very well balanced or tuned and that could be too much for less seasoned or determined gamers
  • In some places the hand drawn style and wide characters can be tricky when trying to figure out jumps and just how far you can stand over the edge before falling
  • In the interests of reaching a broader audience it would be great to see a means of reducing the difficulty or have an option to skip a room after X failed attempts as has been done in other titles

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review: Storm Boy [Nintendo Switch eShop]

I’m actually not terribly sure how to say much about Storm Boy without essentially ruining the entirety of the experience. Less a game and more of an mildly interactive story it tells the tale of a young boy who ends up bonding with a pelican and some things happen. The artwork and the sentiment of it all is quite nice but I’m not sure that the desired result is fully met.

In order to not make it just a story with nothing to do there are essentially a few pretty basic mini games for you to engage in as you go through the story. These are as simple as throwing a ball to play catch with Mr. Percival (that’s the pelican’s name) or sliding down a sand dune on a piece of cardboard. None of them is really designed to challenge or test you, their intent is to further pull you into the story. To a degree some of them do this, but it’s all very slight and over far more quickly than I would have imagined. An issue is that the contextual buttons to back out / continue aren’t always the same and it’s not always clear what you need to do but I can appreciate the effort to try to include something to help immerse you in the story a bit more.

Ultimately the target audience for this may be people who know the story so they already have more of a connection with it perhaps. For me the issue is that it’s all over so quickly while I obviously understand the story and feel some of its gravity I also never had much of a fair chance to connect with the characters to have it be more gripping. Storm Boy is a lovely story with some great art and music to accompany everything. That said, if you’re looking for either a proper game or even an experience of more than an hour or so you’ll probably be better off finding something else.

Score: 6

  • Terrific artwork and music
  • A generally touching story
  • Some attempt to help you immerse yourself with mini games that are tied to what happens

  • Extremely short
  • While the mini games are nice they’re also not implemented too clearly and are generally very limited
  • If you’re not familiar with the source material you’re not as likely to be connected to the story

Review: Nidhogg 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Within the indie space the original Nidhogg is somewhat of a legend, though I never got the chance to play it. A game laser-focused on one-on-one combat with limited but tight controls and a tendency to have a furious back and forth as each person tries to successively defeat their foe for the glory of being eaten by a giant worm monster? It may sound a bit daft but the formula works, and with its sequel on the Switch I think the added weapons and refinements that have been made make it a pretty wild title, though it’s audience appeal may be a bit on the narrow side.

As stated before your goal in Nidhogg 2 is to face off against a fellow warrior. You’ll begin in the middle of a series of connected rooms and your goal is to get all of the way to the end where you’ll have the honor of being consumed by the Nidhogg (from Norse mythology). To accomplish that goal you’ll need to make use of one of a variety of weapons you’ll be given each time you spawn. Slashing, stabbing, skewering, impaling, or plain stomping your foe’s head into a pulp repeatedly will be necessary to get to your goal, though if you’re wily you may be able to jump over them and make a run for it as well… just beware their ability to throw their weapon after you.

Since the moves used in combat are mechanically not that diverse, and the weapons have differences but only provide so much variety, what Nidhogg is really about is winning a sort of mental game of rock/paper/scissors against your foe. This is what makes the single-player arcade mode a bit of a waste, though it’s nice to have as an option I suppose. The next best way to enjoy the game is going online and hoping to match up with someone. If you’re well matched this can make for a pretty intense and sometimes prolonged battle, but it also lacks the spice of local smack talking. The best way to experience it is definitely with a friend or maybe up to 7 of them so you can get into a tournament. The ability to verbally abuse and egg on someone right next to in the hopes of getting them to flinch or make a mistake is truly where this game is the best. Whether or not it stays fresh for you and can sustain itself for more than a short time will likely vary, possibly wildly.

Nidhogg 2 is a really tricky game to score because it seems like such a hit or miss, love it or hate it, kind of experience. If you don’t have anyone to play with I’d caution you on considering the purchase as there’s really no meaningful solo play and even if you do find online matches there’s something lost in the experience even if you’re able to get into some nice and tense matches. Even if you’ve got some friends to play with I’d say the odds are equal that you could really get a kick out of the experience or have it fall flat. Credit to the developer, it’s some of the very small touches like being able to reflect shots that give what seems to be a very shallow game surprising depth, it all comes down to the experience you’re looking for though.

Score: 7.5

  • Simple to get rolling and have fun with but there is surprising nuance and strategy to employ as well
  • Online support could give at least some hope to people without friends to play with regularly
  • Weapon diversity will keep you on your toes as you try to engage your enemy

  • In general this will be a love it or hate it experience for most people
  • If you’re going to generally play solo it’s probably not a great investment
  • Ultimately the game is built on its simplicity so longevity may be an issue

Review: Abzu [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Abzu is a title that has really made me think quite a bit about where the games industry is at and how to evaluate something that is honestly more of an experience than a game. I’m a gamer who loves being challenged, and I like interesting and diverse action. Right off the bat, Abzu offers absolutely nothing in those categories. Nevertheless, having finished the game, it somehow has made a major impression on me and it’s hard not to at least mildly rave about it.

The vast majority of Abzu is played underwater, with your character swimming in lush environments and through some trial and error figuring out what you’re supposed to do in them. You could call the majority of situations you find yourself in puzzles but aside from perhaps at the very end there’s really nothing challenging about them. When you’re not in these sort of sandbox open areas you’re generally just flowing through the water to another destination.

The thing is, it seems the point of the exercise isn’t to share a specific narrative (there’s no dialogue or narration) or even to challenge your skills, it’s simply to experience something. Whether that’s swimming through a school of fish, simply exploring the underwater space to appreciate small details, or catching a ride with a sunfish, a whale, or more Abzu does an incredible job of setting the stage for moments that wordlessly convey meaning through a sense of wonder. One of my favorites was swimming next to a blue whale, and as the camera pulls out appreciating its immense scale and how very small we humans are by comparison.

Even as the credits rolled for Abzu I still couldn’t hope to tell you what it all means. It’s an experience that’s full of wonder, some breathtaking moments, and managed to make me feel a bit more connected with nature. What you may come away with may differ but I’d be a bit shocked if anyone could play it without it hitting them somewhere emotionally. The beauty of it all, the wonderfully fitting musical score, and small moments of the unexpected make Abzu a pretty special experience even if I may question whether it’s necessarily a game. In the end I don’t know that I much care, it’s something that will still stick with me for some time.

Score: 8

  • Gorgeous underwater environments and an abundance of aquatic life for you to swim with
  • While there’s no heavily defined narrative there is a story with an adversary of sorts, and some touching moments along the way
  • The music brilliantly matches the action consistently throughout and gives the experience depth

  • It is absolutely at the fringes of what I’d call a game with limited opportunities for any player agency
  • Only lasts a few hours, though it feels like the right length for the experience it offers

Review: Nairi - Tower of Shirin [Nintendo Switch eShop]

With a load of adventure games already on the Switch, and most of them being pretty good, it takes some effort to make a splash in the genre. Nairi: Tower of Shirin has a smart approach to this, employing some great hand drawn art and a cavalcade of pretty cute animal characters you’ll interact with. Of course those only help on the surface, to help draw you in, but the great news is that possibly moreso than your average point-and-click adventure the puzzles are generally both satisfying and challenging without being quite so hung up on obscure solutions as usual.

Coming from the lap of luxury, one night Nairi is forced to flee her home, leaving as her parents are arrested, and then ends up initially in the company of a pack of cat bandits. After using her wits to escape their lair she manages to gain their respect and spends time with them slowly becoming one of the crew. From there she goes on to meet all sorts of anthropomorphic characters who help provide personality and flavor on the way to the game’s abrupt cliffhanger of a conclusion.

There’s something about Nairi that feels great that I can’t quite explain. The art and personality of its characters is consistently endearing, the puzzles feel mostly organic rather than forced or plain weird (at least by genre standards), and it’s simply satisfying to play. While not all aspects are perfect and there are spots where it can drag it still has managed to carve out a legitimate spot for itself among the many titles in this genre on Switch.

Score: 7.5

  • Terrific hand-drawn characters and art
  • Puzzles that are generally less confusing and obscure than the genre’s norm
  • A well-defined sense of personality with dialogue that’s often amusing

  • Outside of handheld mode the controls can be aggravating at times
  • Some spots where it can get a bit slow
  • The ending isn’t terribly satisfying, though there’s no doubt the intention is to leave you wanting more