Monday, December 31, 2018

Review: Tiny Metal [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Advance Wars is a series that Nintendo fans have been clamoring to see on Switch pretty well since it launched and with no official mention of any projects in progress turn-based tactical strategy fans have been somewhat in a lurch. Enter Tiny Metal, a game that has a great deal in common with that series but with some flavor and enhancements of its own. While it took a hit on initial release for being a little light on content and including only a “Coming Soon” tease for online play now that it has received the online multiplayer patch a game that had a solid foundation now has added longer-term playability.


Most of the mechanics of the game, and even elements of its visual presentation, will immediately bring to mind the classic Nintendo strategy series. You’ll be working from a top-down perspective, trying to position your troops for tactical advantage, taking buildings, and trying to keep the upper hand against your enemy. New tactical choices like Assault, which force you to take a hit initially but shove the enemy unit back a space, are nice though and open the door to interesting setups. The campaign works as an extended tutorial, walking you through the essentials of the game from the uses of various units to some elements of strategy, and you can also get in some practice with specific scenarios and rules you set against the somewhat iffy computer AI as well.


The game changer is the inclusion of the multiplayer patch that will allow you to play against someone online, though as always how major an impact this will have for you is highly dependent on whether the community comes back to the game to support it. The lobby system is highly bare bones, with you either finding a game someone has opened to play with or creating your own lobby and waiting for someone to show up. While I had success in finding matches two out of the four times I tried the patch is fresh so whether it improves or gets worse will remain to be seen. While the rules can be reconfigured a bit the pressure of having to execute your turn in 30 seconds keeps the match rolling and forces you to prioritize your time and focus. Just whether or not playing random people (there are no provisions I see for ranking or matchmaking) will result in finished matches or people bailing when it is clear they’ll lose no doubt will also be an issue.


It seems like with the release of the Multiplayer patch Tiny Metal is finally meeting its potential, though to be clear the support isn’t terribly robust by any means. The core gameplay is certainly there, and should please strategy fans, but the Campaign’s story isn’t terribly interesting and the computer AI won’t likely impress strategy veterans. Assuming you’re able to coordinate with someone online to set up a lobby and match up the multiplayer patch should make for a great additional feature, but if you’re just looking for a random match-up keep in mind your enjoyment will be subject to some luck both in terms of finding a match and it being satisfying.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • In terms of the strategic gameplay it provides a nice Advance Wars fix
  • A few additional tactical options help it differentiate itself
  • The Multiplayer patch will now allow you to play against others online

Cons:
  • Aside from acting as a tutorial the Campaign is lacking in personality and depth with regards to the story
  • For more experienced players the AI will likely fail to be much competition
  • While online support is nice if you’re not coordinating to play with someone you know your experience is likely to vary wildly, either not being able to find someone to play with or being frustrated by the lack of matchmaking support


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Review: Uncanny Valley [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The nature of horror can be interesting, as it’s not all about blood, guts, and gore or jump scares. The essence of horror is really that feeling in the pit of your stomach, a sense of unease that you can’t shake and that unnerves you. Of course there are some risks to trying to make games that work on these feelings, as first not everyone will react the same way to the same stimulus but more critically tensions building over the unknown can be powerful but then failing to deliver something that fully capitalizes on all of that suspense can be a real bummer. This is the tightrope Uncanny Valley tries to walk and though I can see where some people will find it compelling and interesting others simply won’t see what the fuss is about.


Rather than try to relate any of the details of the story and take anything away from the experience the basics are that you’re playing as Tom, a man who is obviously troubled and has some demons. Taking a job out in the middle of nowhere as a security guard his hope seems to be to make some money, try to relax, and find some peace. Unfortunately, as you make your way around the building on patrol you’ll inevitably begin to bump into information, whether in the form of emails or audio tapes, that begin to reveal that something weird is going on.

As the strangeness comes to a peak, with you trying to gather as much information as you can in your shift before going to sleep and facing terrible nightmares, the tension gets to be pretty delicious. Where it then goes in the latter half is then open to interpretation though, largely dependent on the choices you’ve made, how you’ve gone about your investigation, and maybe a little luck as well. In order to really see the picture you’ll likely need to go through several runthroughs of the game, learning what to do and what to avoid in the hopes of making sense of it all.


Overall, Uncanny Valley is a bit of a gamble, banking on drawing you in with the initial weirdness and sense of unease, and that being enough to then sustain your interest as you continue to attack the game from different angles in search of a better outcome. I have no doubt some people will enjoy the mystery and the investigation of it all, exploring choices in the hopes of better seeing the big picture. For everyone else, though, either interest will wane before the first runthrough is completed or when it becomes clear that a fair amount of repetition will be in order to understand what exactly is going on.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • Creepiness permeates the early game as you try to understand what’s going on
  • Whether you realize it or not there’s a fair amount of player choice driving the outcome of events

Cons:
  • The game gambles on you being willing to play through it multiple times, hooked on making different choices and piecing together the puzzle it puts in front of you
  • Whether or not the payoff is worth the investment will be a matter of opinion


Review: Super Treasure Arena [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While local multiplayer is very much alive and well on the Switch, a side effect of that fact is that the eShop is simply overwhelmed by them and, being honest, a lot of what’s out there is a bit generic. Whether there’s not enough variety, strategy, or depth, too many of the titles either feel very similar or perhaps only like an expanded mini game of sorts and unable to stand on their own very well. Some also either have no bot support or the AI is a mess so there’s no viable solo option that’s any fun, which may not be critical but can also be a bummer. Super Treasure Arena comes into this with a great pixel art style and some clever mechanics, that do help it stand out, but also just understand that its content is pretty limited overall as well.


Working with one of 5 playable classes, each of which have their own distinct abilities, your general goal is to match up with 3 of your friends, bots, or some combination thereof. You’ll be looking to pick up power-ups, health, and, of course, lots of treasure. You’ll be able to gain this by breaking open chests that will show up periodically, taking out the random enemies that are moving about, or targeting some of your fellow competitors and taking them out. Each of the 6 arenas, aside from having their own look and feel, is also laid out a bit differently so the flow of battle tends to differ as well.


While the above is all fine and good it would also roughly describe a number of similar titles out there. Where Super Treasure Arena manages to go the extra mile and differentiate itself a bit is that it provides for some smart strategic play based on the arena layouts and the rules. In some of the arenas you can absolutely try to hold out, relying on a bit of a bottleneck into an area with a consistent power-up drop and maybe even a chest. Combine elements like this with the fact that when you die you lose all of your coins and they only remain for a limited time on the ground and you’ll start to see strategies emerge. No matter how many coins you have if you die in the closing moments you’re screwed so it can get frantic, especially if everyone decides to team up on you. Once that target is out of the way though it can then turn into a free-for-all with the survivors killing each other for the loot.


While its 5 classes, 6 arenas, and 2 modes won’t equate to endless and terribly diverse fun, credit goes to the developers for being smart with how they set the stage to go with all of that. If it weren’t for the rules, some smart layouts, and the potential those bring for some smart and strategic play Super Treasure Arena would blend in with the rest of the crowd. Instead, it manages to break away from the pack a bit with a very reasonable price and potential for smart gameplay.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Well-conceived rules and layout variety make for smart play rather than mindless conflict
  • The AI support is good enough in a pinch to keep it fun for ensuring you stay at 4 players
  • A very fair budget price of admission

Cons:
  • Even though it has good roots there’s not a ton of overall content so mileage will vary
  • While it’s a step up from generic local multiplayer fare it’s not revolutionary either


Review: Omega Strike [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Tapping into retro feels is always a good way to get the attention of vintage gamers, but it can be a tricky business in balancing classic simplicity with enough modern sensibilities that the experience is engaging. With a Metroidvania-esque feel, in Omega Strike you’ll be working with a team of 3 slightly varied heroes rather than managing a ton of abilities in the same character. While early on you’ll end up needing to rescue 2 of your team, providing the equivalent of gaining your initial upgrades that allow you to get into new areas, from there you’ll be working to clear areas, find hidden golden skulls to feed your desires to upgrade, and taking out periodic bosses.


While the character switching can make for some relatively simple puzzle elements (one character can roll through small spaces, another can push heavy objects, another can double-jump) and there are specific circumstances where you’ll want to use their specific guns, you’ll probably settle into a preferred character most of the time. Since you’re unable to shoot diagonally lining up to take out some enemies will take some timing to avoid their fire and take them out but this works reasonably well. Boss battles don’t typically take too much effort to sort out, you’ll need to be mindful of their attacks but generally you just need to keep firing to chew through their health rather than needing to be precise.


For the most part this all works out fine but there’s also quite a bit of tedium along the way. The biggest issue is probably just that everything feels pretty safe and familiar, aside from the general repetition with in the game itself on a system crowded with shooters of all types this just feels a bit lacking in personality. The fact that it perpetually feels like you’re needing to backtrack to get to a spot you couldn’t before or may have missed, and this simply takes a bit of time, doesn’t help. The platforming and shooting is just challenging enough that you can’t phone it in but not engaging enough that you’re on the edge of your seat.


If you’re looking for a decent run and gun experience with a hint of puzzling thrown in Omega Strike isn’t a bad option, just don’t expect many surprises along the way. It has no major flaws to speak of, is designed reasonably well, and puts up a bit of a challenge in spots, especially when save points get a bit spread out. There are definitely more ambitious titles already on the eShop but in a pinch this makes for some decent variety, especially if you are looking for something a bit old school.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Solid mechanically and plays well
  • The variety between the heroes, their abilities, and their weapons makes for situational uses and minor puzzles
  • Has a nice classic but modern pixel art look

Cons:
  • Less exciting and inspired than some other titles in the eShop in the same genre
  • Backtracking can get a bit tedious
  • Just feels a bit too safe and simple overall


Friday, December 28, 2018

Review: Odium to the Core [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When I was a bit down on the Wii U and searching for games that would hold my interest I explored the Android space for a time, playing games on my nVidia Shield tablet. While a ton of titles in this space were a real disappointment, failing to make much of an impression for someone who has played a ton of games, there was one particular title that left a last impression on me called Badland. Sporting a single-button gameplay style, terrific art, and full of challenges and surprises, it’s still a game I remember fondly. Odium to the Core has many elements in common with that title so I was excited to check it out, but while it stands alone and is certainly challenging it’s not quite as diverse or charming, so while it’s pretty unique on Switch it’s not without its issues.


In the game you’ll control Odium, a small ball-like entity who you’re only able to control to a degree. Pressing the screen or button will alter your path to rise, if you let go you’ll slowly begin to fall. Your goal is really just to survive, avoiding hitting anything on the sides or things that will try to get in your way or push you around. Very quickly you’ll learn that a steady tap of sorts will keep you mostly going straight and the game will try to caution you to avoid doing this as it won’t let you score as high. Perhaps that would be relevant once you beat the game and want to maximize your score, but pretty early on merely surviving will need to be your priority as dying happens quickly and frequently and checkpoints, for the most part, are pretty scarce.


While I love the art style and the music that accompanies the levels I actually think the attempt to tie the action to the music to be one of its weaknesses at times. As the tempo can fluctuate in places so will your speed and in some spots this can be a bit annoying as it takes away consistency to your controls, sometimes in critical spots. While there are orbs to collect and even some hidden areas peppered about I don’t think the incentive to try to get everything is terribly strong and most people will just be happy to complete the levels at all. Maneuvering or compromising your run by flying too close to the sun to grab everything makes the game a bit of a consistent bummer and as far as I can tell there’s only marginal motivation to punish yourself to go that extra mile.


This is absolutely a title for people who enjoy some pretty extreme challenges and can deal with the frustrations that come along for the ride. It’s not terribly expensive, has a fantastic look, and sports a pretty killer soundtrack. Just to go with its control simplicity is a fair amount of aggravation so it isn’t something I could recommend to just anyone without providing a fair amount of warning.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Looks great and carries a budget-friendly price
  • The controls are “easy” to pick up but a challenge to truly master
  • A steady flow of new elements and ideas over the game’s 15 levels never lets up on the challenge

Cons:
  • The difficulty will have you aggravated very early on
  • Simply not enough motivation to stretch to grab all of the orbs or find secret areas, making those elements feel a bit wasted
  • The pacing changing up to match the music in places can be an added annoyance


Monday, December 24, 2018

Review: Pipe Push Paradise [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the more interesting things about indie games is you can run into titles that could scare people a bit visually but that have something interesting to offer once you give them a chance. Pipe Push Paradise falls squarely into that category, sporting an art style I’d consider a bit minimalist and odd, but that does do a good job of conveying what’s going on nonetheless. As you may have guessed from the title, your goal will be to push some pipes around to complete a puzzle… the trick is that very quickly this gets to be quite challenging.


Probably just about everyone has played the puzzle games where you’ll need to rotate or even move segments around in order to complete a circuit. This takes that concept and turns the simple into something far more challenging in a hurry. Yes, you will move some pipes around normally and will need to focus on not getting a pipe stuck against a wall where you can’t move it away… that you may have done. The wrinkle you likely haven’t encountered, and what makes some of these puzzles truly next level challenging, is that when you push pipes with a curve on them in the right spot they’ll flip up vertically and then flop over facing the opposite direction.


If you can’t visualize in your head how this greatly complicates things, take my word for it, this leads to some seriously brain bending stuff in places, especially when you then need to start working a bit 3 dimensionally. Throw in special tiles on the ground and even some magnetic pipes and the challenge continues to push you harder and harder to figure things out. While eventually you may get stuck on a specific puzzle blocking your progress in general terms there are tiers or puzzles that you’ll gain access to all at once so initially if you’re getting aggravated by one puzzle you’ll be able to hop to a different one for a change of pace.


Overall, if you’re a huge fan of challenging yourself with difficult puzzles this game will serve you quite well. It may have somewhat humble looks but there’s no questioning that it delivers some fresh challenges you likely haven’t encountered before. In some ways I wish it would have introduced some more introductory levels to pad out its total that is just shy of 50 levels to make the transitions into tougher concepts a bit more gradual but I suppose it’s better to have plenty of tough stuff rather than it feeling like you blew through it all in an hour or two as happens with some puzzle titles. If you’re up to the challenge get ready to think!


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Some absolutely brutal puzzles for you to take on
  • Smart puzzle design, the flipping of the pipes makes sense and immediately opens the door to new challenges

Cons:
  • While visually everything makes sense and works it isn’t the prettiest game
  • There aren’t too many freebies here before it gets into tougher challenges


Review: RAZED [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Endless runners aren’t a genre for everyone, and typically games that tackle this sort of action in 3D tend to be an utter disaster. Trying to effectively jump between platforms in 3D simply adds an element of challenge that can be frustrating, having to get precision control down in a third dimension while managing where the camera is pointing, etc. For the most part RAZED ends up doing an admirable job of taking on this challenge, resulting in some pretty high-speed and crazy action. That said, if you don’t handle frustration well you’ll definitely want to steer clear of it since you’ll be making the same runs repeatedly as you try to get your timing and technique down, and that’s just to survive, getting a decent score is an entirely different matter.


The basics of the game boil down to the fact that you’ll need to keep running and collecting crystals along the way in order to stay alive. Run out of energy and you’ll blow up (the game explains it, it’s silly). Little by little as the levels progress you’ll acquire new skills that you’ll quickly be expected to make use of effectively, whether that’s a dash, a stomp, or more. While the moves are roughly explained and make sense mechanically getting the hang of their optimum timing for use can be tricky at times but that statement really applies to the game in general as well… it’s downright brutally hard at times and not always for the right reasons.


Even in 2 dimensions these sorts of games can be brutal but in 3 it adds just a little more frustration to the mix. I actually spent an extended amount of time in one early level really trying to “get” the run button, as based on how by hands were trying to play the game I really wanted the “throttle” to be tied to up and down on the same stick I was using to move right and left. I think my greatest objection in the game is how muddy the throttle is when you’re trying to moderate your speed a bit. It’s simply not very responsive which feels out of place in a game that’s so focused on precision. I get that the goal would be to never pull up and try to slow down at all but then that would beg the question of why there’s a control for trying to manage speed at all in the first place.


If you don’t mind the aggravation and can get into the zone there’s plenty to do, especially given how many upgrade elements as there are hidden even in the earliest levels. You won’t be able to get at them initially, you’ll lack the unlocked power-ups to do so, but if you want to always be putting your best foot forward you’ll need to seek these out a little off the beaten and obvious path or even in some cases hiding in plain sight. It’s absolutely a challenge and is full of colorful visual flair, but it’s also not as polished as the best runners on the system, making it recommended for the right audience but with some caution.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Visually it’s full of color and flair, though also a bit sparse at times
  • Pulls off a runner in 3D as best as I’ve seen

Cons:
  • Can be aggravatingly challenging even when it isn’t meant to be
  • The control over your speed isn’t nearly as precise as I would have preferred
  • Needing to go back and revisit levels to find upgrades can get tedious


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Review: Viviette [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When you’re trying to stand out in the already-crowded Switch eShop doing something a bit differently than everyone else can be a fine path to success. One way to do this is to combine genres and styles together to try to create an experience nobody else has offered. In the case of Viviette there’s an admirable stab at combining terrific 16-bit art with a blend of puzzles, adventure, and a dose of horror in as well.


You play the game as Jules, a young man who went to check out a creepy abandoned mansion with some friends and his sister, Felice. When everyone is ready to leave you notice Felice is missing and go back in to find her. Very soon it becomes clear that she’s become possessed and means to do some serious harm.


The game actually gets off to a pretty promising start, with a promise of some suspense, smart puzzles, and exploration. Unfortunately, as it wears on the horror gets to be more of just an annoyance as the puzzles have you doing far too much walking around to meet objectives. The early puzzles are pretty smart and everything is roughly in the same area, requiring that you explore, remain observant, and do some experimenting. You’ll need to be careful to try to lure your sister away and keep out of sight, but it works pretty well.


As you make some progress though you’ll find yourself needing to leg it out far more, and it’s at this point it begins to feel like Felice is more of a device to prolong the game than to enhance it as you need to deal with her quite a bit and for the most part your methods and her actions never evolve. Mix this with your clues and the details of what you need to accomplish getting a bit more involved and there can be quite a bit of aimless wandering as you try to get your bearings and figure out where you need to go and what you need to do. To make matters worse some of the mechanics of the puzzles themselves, even when you know the solution can be a bit wonky a hit or miss as you try to work them out, again making the process a little more frustrating at times than rewarding.


If you’re down for a challenge and some frustrations, and enjoy the thought of turning out the lights and enjoying some creepiness, it’s not a bad experience. You may find the puzzles to be intriguing but also don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing to hit a walkthrough to figure something out, though that’s not unusual for adventure titles in general I suppose. I just wish its use of horror and suspense lived up to its initial promise, rather than just being something you need to deal with in roughly the same way throughout.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • Terrific pixel art style
  • It initially shows great promise, mixing some smart puzzles with elements of horror and suspense
  • Some may enjoy the overall creepy vibe the game has

Cons:
  • There gets to be more aimless walking around trying to get your bearings than is fun
  • Guidance on what you need to do where and how can be tough to find
  • As the game wears on the amount of walking around and continuing to need to deal with your sister in roughly the same way just feels like padding the length more than anything


Review: Mana Spark [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Roguelikes are definitely here to stay and the beauty of them is their variety. While Mana Spark is one of the more humble ones I’ve played on the Switch, with its pixel art style, relatively small stages, and slower-paced style of play it’s also a solid challenge with a feel all its own. Starting out with your archer you’ll set out through the woods and then into a dungeon, searching for coins, runes, and power-ups. Certain death tends to await as well, a genre staple, but you’ll slowly be able to amass some support in the form of vendors back at camp, 2 additional classes you’ll be able to unlock (a weaker but quicker crossbow-wielding warrior and a healthy swordsman), and making the most of what you have to work with.


The procedurally-generated dungeons keep things interesting, never letting you count on pretty well anything at all. The traps you’ll deal with, enemies you’ll face, and special rooms that will afford you added opportunities will vary between runs, sometimes wildly. In particular I love how true to the roguelike concept of risk and reward the game can be, with special rooms that provide an opportunity to get an extra perk for defeating a tougher opponent or one where you’ll need to take yourself down to a single heart of health and face a series of enemies to gain the ability to start every game with a standing perk. When you’re feeling like you’re on a roll taking these chances could sink you but the benefit can often be well worth it if you’re confident in your skills.


Aside from your primary weapon and secondary item most you’ll find the greatest success when you’re able to use the environment and even other enemies to your advantage. Taking on a room of multiple monsters gets to be more manageable if you’re able to position yourself behind some cover and get a few enemies to shoot each other or get a few of them to walk through some poison. The combat in the game is probably the most satisfying aspect for this reason, playing out more tactically than normal due to its pacing and the variety of enemies who can make smart use of shields and will try to flank you to sneak up behind you if you’re not careful.


While there’s certainly some fun to be had the game isn’t without its quirks and issues though. While the Day 1 patch greatly improved on the load time issues the game has they’re still very present and can be a bit of a bummer, especially as you’re moving between smaller areas and the ratio of waiting to playing gets a bit lopsided. The other major issue I have is with the janky camera as you try to aim. Twin-stick shooters are a particular favorite genre of mine, and none of the others I’ve ever played have tried to move the camera based on where I’m aiming. There’s a good reason for that and Mana Spark illustrates it well. As you try to aim to hit things around you the camera quickly jerking around to keep track can give you some motion sickness vibes and makes things much harder than they need to be.


Despite my complaints I was surprised at how much the loop of Mana Spark got me hooked. There’s some smart tactical combat here that’s challenging in a different sort of way, the need to make use of the environment and your secondary item to lure enemies around as a method to kill them is fun and a bit different. While it is lacking in polish and won’t appeal to people looking for more twitchy shooter-style fun Mana Spark does manage to carve out a place for itself as a solid alternative for people looking for a roguelike with a slower pace and some smart gameplay.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Has an interesting and more tactical take on combat
  • Elements of risk and reward are very present
  • From run to run you can get wildly different builds and challenges

Cons:
  • The load times can really be a bummer and take you out of your flow
  • Some people may consider the issues with the camera a dealbreaker
  • Quirks with hit detection can arise sometimes around traps


Review: Koloro [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to puzzle platformers, the Switch pretty well has you covered, not just with a few titles but with a pretty wide variety of choices and almost sub-genres within that broad category. One flavor that I’ve seen quite a lot of in the indie space is really best described as “jumping a square through spikes and traps”. While it’s not necessarily the most thrilling thing in the world either because of the more modest investment or the level of success these titles have found they keep coming. Koloro is the latest to come to Switch, and while I’ll give it credit for doing a few value-added things like adding boss fights and the ability to play co-op, there’s not much changing the core dynamic that’s very much take it or leave it.


You’ll play the game as Kora, a young girl who is trying to find and save her sister. Once the action begins she’ll just be a pink square though, and your objective will be to collect a series of crystals you’ll need to unlock the exit. Between you and success will eventually get to be a pretty wide variety of traps and obstacles, including anything from spikes, to mechanical doors with switches you’ll need to trigger, and a variety of enemies, all of which you’ll need to avoid. All you have the ability to control in the game is her jump, all movement is automatic and actually pretty quick. To change direction you’ll need to jump onto a wall and then off again. This sets the stage for the puzzles, which require a combination of working out the sequence, coming to master the nuance of how far you’ll move up the wall when you jump, and plain patience since so many traps are relying on you wanting to keep moving.


While I like the curve ball of some boss fights periodically over the game’s 300 levels this is really all about whether you enjoy this sort of puzzle platforming experience. It’s probably the most varied and best implemented of its kind I’ve played, and I appreciate the nuance of the wall jumping and need for precision, but it can also be pretty tedious when you’ve got it figured out, you’ve completed 90% of the stage, but then miss a jump, hit a spike, and need to start the level again from scratch. If you’ve played this sort of thing and enjoy the challenge and somewhat subdued level of action I’d highly recommend it against more lackluster offerings on the system.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • While the core gameplay and look is simple, there’s some nuance to the controls
  • The touch of boss fights being added is a nice one
  • Rather than just being a random collection of 300 levels there’s an attempt to have a story as well

Cons:
  • In particular the black moving spikes tended to annoy me seeming to be gone but apparently just the tip would still be exposed, killing me
  • Longer levels with no checkpoints can be aggravating when you get most of the way through and die on something trivial, needing to then start over again
  • The style of gameplay and simplistic look may not be for everyone


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Review: Clouds & Sheep 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While most people I know who own a Switch are gamers of the more hard core variety there are, no doubt, more casual players who come to the system and are looking for something a bit less intense or something they can enjoy with their younger gamers-in-training. One glance at the colorful and cute Clouds & Sheep 2 would, no doubt, seem to make it look the part for providing such an experience. When it starts out it seems pretty straightforward and even similar to other casual games I’ve played before, working to manage your sheep, keep them fed, and to slowly build up your farm. The surprise is that the game really just keeps going with all sorts of challenges, surprises, and can even risk being a bit overwhelming with your options of what to do next.


At its base this is a resource management game, you’ll want to keep your sheep provided for with ample food and water. You’ll also need to worry about taking care of them if they get cold or even sick as well since, if neglected long enough, they will die (though for a price you’ll be able to resurrect them). Their happiness results in stars that act as one form of currency for building or buying other elements (or sheep), but there end up being several items that you’ll need to try to manage and collect, including yarn, wood, and hearts. The pretty thorough tutorial will walk you through the basics of it all and set you on your way but from there it can be a wild ride at times as you try to meet the various demands of your flock, expand, and keep things from falling apart.


With an ability to outfit your sheep in some cute and silly gear and to customize the multiple settings you’ll gain access to there’s a surprising amount to do and make your own here, far more than I’ve seen in similar casual games. The challenge can also get pretty intense at times if you’re not staying ahead of the curve on taking care of your resources and properly managing things. In particular if you’re not combining clouds to keep up with your flock’s needs for water or turning them into thunderclouds so you can zap poisonous mushrooms on a regular basis you’re going to be in trouble. It can be hectic one moment and then slow to a crawl another if you’re waiting on a specific resource to become available but on the whole there’s far more to this casual game than anyone would suspect. Don’t relegate it to being for the kids, the game is full of surprises and will even pose a challenge to the most hard core gamers in places, making it a really pleasant and fun hidden gem in the eShop.


Score: 8

Pros:

  • Undeniably cute and even silly
  • A surprising variety of things you’ll need to do to tend to your flock
  • Multiple environments and even an over-arching quest provide ample content to enjoy for a while


Cons:

  • It may actually be too tough for younger gamers, who may need some periodic help to get back on track
  • It can be very hectic one moment and then drag the next
  • Recovering once you make some key mistakes can be tough


Review: Pinball FX3 - Williams Pinball Volume 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The announcement that Zen Studios, the people behind Pinball FX3, would be taking over control of the Williams license was terrific news. While up until recently the team behind rival Pinball Arcade had done some fine work converting many classic tables the most recent engines had shown Pinball FX3 had the upper hand, particularly on Switch. With the first pack of tables they released part of their strategy to add interest while preserving the integrity of the original tables was revealed, there would be a toggle to move between a straight representation of the table and an enhanced version. With that first pack the added effects were a bit hit and miss, not necessarily adding much excitement. Now, with the release of Volume 2, it appears they’ve hit their stride a little more effectively, mixing enhancements both subtle and obvious to improve on the core experience of each table.


Starting with Black Rose, a table I don’t recall having played before, I was pleasantly surprised by both the classic feel of the ramp layouts and the inclusion of the cannon gun in the middle of the playfield. The over-the-cannon perspective when aiming to fire it is a great touch that demonstrates the value of playing the table in virtual form. In terms of other enhancements the inclusion of the female captain on the left side isn’t terribly interesting but I do really love the small touch of a splash of sea spray as the ball makes its way around the right ramp. Overall, it has the feel of a traditional table but has some special elements like more than one video mode for more modern flair as well.


Next up is Party Zone, a table I only played a few times but that has a layout and some elements reminiscent of another table, Doctor Dude, that I always enjoyed playing. It includes characters and table elements of two additional tables, Party Animal and Elvira and the Party Monsters as well. This all adds up to a pretty crowded and crazy table with a ton of targets, loop, and ramp shots to get the hang of. In particular, in terms of visuals the rocket-riding host of the table, Captain B. Zarr, easily grabs your attention, replacing his very static and odd head that used to be over the middle drop target. It has a lot going on, though in terms of overall layout and flow it’s probably my least favorite of the 3 tables in the pack.


The absolute star of this volume, and a stand-out table among the best Williams ever made, is Attack From Mars. Between its layout that has a lot in common with the ever-popular Medieval Madness, its weirdo sense of humor, and plenty of ways to rack up some really high scores it was always a favorite of mine in the arcades. Among the tables I’m glad that the enhancements Zen Studios brought to this one specifically are probably the best. While the general off to the left seems mostly passive like some other table characters when things get intense he’ll pull out his sidearm and take some shots himself. In addition, the Martian Attack also gets a nice little boost to help it be a bit more silly, and who wouldn’t love an extra saucer floating around.


While classic pinball fans probably don’t need much encouragement to check this pack out since it includes Attack From Mars even people less familiar with it should consider checking it out. Yet again Zen has been careful to choose 3 tables that play very differently from one another so as not to deliver too redundant an experience. I’m glad that they seem to be improving their vision for how to do small things to enhance the existing table experience, whether that’s by getting more ambitious with their replacement on-table animated elements or even just subtle touches in the right spots. I can’t wait to see what tables they choose next, the Williams tables are legendary for a reason and there are plenty of worthy candidates I’d love to see.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Attack from Mars is a legendary table well worth having in the first place
  • All 3 tables have a very different flow and elements, keeping the collection diverse
  • The table enhancements have continued to do a better job of enhancing the experience, and can always still be turned off

Cons:
  • With diversity comes a greater chance that not all tables will be winners for everyone
  • Some of the more static and less interactive characters added to tables like for Black Rose show a need to better justify their inclusion


Friday, December 21, 2018

Review: Sundered - Eldritch Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


OK, so there’s this really wild new genre you’ve never heard of… a Metroidvania. I know, you’re thinking “What is this genre of which you speak?” OK, so perhaps only outnumbered by roguelikes there are simply a ton of Metroidvanias (action games with ability upgrades that unlock new areas of the map and lots of cool action ideally) on the Switch. There are even some really great ones I’ve reviewed in the past month (and all year). So why would you want to even consider another one? Let me tell you about Sundered.


Ever since their releasing the gorgeous Jotun, featuring some amazing hand-drawn art and massive bosses, it seems that the folks at TunderLotus have been busy. With Sundered, the same amazing art and taste for preposterously large bosses has stayed in place but in place of the somewhat inconsistent and odd filler in Jotun that didn’t always work so well they’ve put in a procedurally-generated world map with multiple major zones, areas you’ll need specific abilities to reach, and a surprising amount of player choice. While there are core powers you’ll need to gain to progress you’ll also have a huge upgrade tree where you can decide what areas you want extra oomph in, perks that further enhance your powers (sometimes at the cost of another area to keep some roguelike balance), and a choice to embrace dark powers or resist their temptation which will change which final boss you face as well as the game’s ending.


One word of warning, starting out not everything was terribly well-explained in-game so the early going felt a bit aimless. One key thing to understand is that death, though always inconvenient, isn’t a very big deal and is simply likely to happen since even on Easy the challenge can be substantial in spots. In particular both somewhat randomly and especially in some specific rooms where there will be a gong you can strike expect to be swarmed from pretty well all directions by enemies… and in some cases quite a lot of them. These will test your ability to slash, dodge, make smart use of your finishers, and do whatever you can once you’ve lost your shields to try to avoid being hit so they can replenish again.


There’s a real flow to combat you can get into but as you progress and go into new areas how you deal with the swarms will need to vary since enemy attack patterns can be quite different. Dealing with enemies who have ranged weapons and are firing at you from off-screen can be a serious problem in some spots, and aggravating since they’ll continue to respawn for a while until things have passed… though in a few areas rather being a limited time attack you had to survive the goal was to reach a certain area while under attack, in one case even having a need of the swarm of enemies to be able to make your way up to an area your abilities couldn’t possibly get you to. While I was eventually able to tune in to what the game was doing with the sudden swarms, special areas where the objective is to do something active rather than just survive, and making smart use of the map to plan out what areas I could unlock to help make future navigation easier… until that moment I’ll admit I wasn’t too thrilled and could get a bit frustrated by it all. While saying “push through and things will get better” may not be the best thing to see in a review hopefully being armed with some info up front will help you get over the hump more easily at least.


While Sundered may not be as polished or clearly mainstream-friendly as some of the other titles in the genre on Switch for folks looking for a game that plays well, looks great, and has amazing moments to offer those who invest in it there’s also nothing else like it. It’s meant to be a challenging experience, you will likely die more than a few times as you come to terms with various scenarios and the truly incredible bosses, and there are times when the periodic randomly respawning and swarming enemies coming at you will grate on your nerves. That said, if you take the time to fight it out, obtain new perks, and fill out your skill tree you can get quite formidable and the slashing combat can be a blast. Throw in the fact that beating the game isn’t going to be something you’ll accomplish too quickly and Sundered has a lot to offer if you’ll give it a chance to grow on you.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Amazing hand-drawn art
  • Simply incredible bosses that are massive in scale and challenging
  • A great deal of player choice in how you’re powered up, with some choices impacting the final battle and ending which also makes the game more replayable

Cons:
  • The periodic swarms of enemies can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, especially in the early going
  • Not everything about what’s going on or what you need to do is very well explained in-game, making it more challenging than the average to get oriented
  • Lacks an overall polish some of the other titles in the genre on Switch possess