Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Hexologic [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The classic puzzle game Sudoku took the world by storm for a very good reason, it offered a straightforward set of rules that you could apply to puzzles both big and small and presented a legitimate challenge. Taking some rough concepts that are in that vein, but providing an experience very much all its own, is Hexologic. Its challenge revolves filling in your hex-based board with pieces representing the values 1 - 3 and starts out simple but consistently layers on new rules throughout its 70+ total levels to continue to step up the challenge.


On each level you’ll start with a grid that is empty, only providing you with numbers that you need to match in various directions. In each space you can place a tile that represents either 1, 2, or 3, and the key to solving each puzzle is having your tiles in each line add up to all totals. While this isn’t terrible complicated at first, every 15 levels the game will introduce a new element that steps up the difficulty further, whether in the form of filled in pieces you can’t change or spaces that share the same total in more than one location.


Along the way through the base 60 levels you’ll additionally unlock 3 additional stages per area and these tend to be quite a bit larger and thus more complicated. Strategically, consistent with games like Sudoku, success is best assured by targeting lines that can only be solved in one way, which at least limits the amount of guesswork and will set a foundation you can build on. In particular the spaces that share the same number in multiple locations can be confounding if you don’t work out their correct number early since late changes to them will significantly set you back.


That leads to my biggest criticism for the game, though it’s not crippling, the fact that you’re unable to lock spaces in that you’re positive are correct. Especially in the larger puzzles towards the end it could be a challenge to remember which lines I’d determined absolutely had to be filled in a certain way. Though I doubt I lost much time to this when everything else about the game is so spot-on it stands out as really my only disappointment aside from simply wanting more.


Given the extremely budget-friendly pricing Hexologic is a satisfying way to spend a few hours if you’re a big puzzle fan. I enjoyed the fact that there were multiple methods to make the puzzles more challenging used in different cases. Certainly sheer scale can be intimidating but having the grid broken into multiple pieces and more than one set of shared spaces kept things from feeling too repetitive throughout. I’d love to see even more variations and further substantial puzzles in the future, if the ability to lock space/lines were added I’d be all the happier. Highly recommended for puzzle fans!

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Clean design
  • Great concept with some variety introduced as you go
  • An appropriate budget price

Cons:

  • Left me wanting more and even bigger puzzles
  • The ability to lock in lines or spaces would have been a great value add


Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Songbringer [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s no doubt that the Legend of Zelda series has had an enormous influence on video games, so when you release a game that seems to universally get compared to it there’s a mixed blessing attached. Certainly being put in the same breath is a bit of an honor, but at the same time being evaluated against such a revered classic has to make you nervous over the comparison. Songbringer has a slashing style and a fair amount in common with the iconic series, but very much breaks off into its own style along the way.


In terms of the fundamentals of combat and the game world itself there are abundant notes that feel familiar and yet at the same time it’s impossible not to quickly notice the differences. Where the adventure in the Legend of Zelda series is meticulously designed and typically either intended or hard wired for you to go through the game in a specific order, Songbringer’s world and dungeons are procedurally generated. While there are weapons and abilities like bombs or your top hat you throw and can grab things with like the classic boomerang, once you get rolling you’ll have the opportunity to combine gear and create some of your own versions of things that can have a variety of effects, allowing you to forge your own path on all levels.


Certainly the option to play it in a roguelike permadeath mode also differentiates it significantly, but until you’ve played it quite a bit and learned the ropes that absolutely wouldn’t be the recommended path to take. In another touch that reminds me of the original Legend of Zelda there’s not a whole lot in the game that is explained to you, for the most part you’ll need to wing it and learn as you go. Know that both secrets and death are around just about every corner and you’ll have the basic gist, but in particular some of the things you’ll find lethal can be surprising at first. This is simply because there’s quite a lot that will will you and not all of it is imposing and obvious, it’s often the little things that can wear you down.


Another piece of the puzzle that requires some time to work out, and not entirely for good reasons, is that the challenge isn’t just a procedurally-generated map but also trying to read it. The map is helpful to a degree but in particular when you’re in dungeons trying to navigate is tough enough, not understanding what the various symbols and markings on the map mean can add to your woes. This same screen includes another area that’s not ideal and that’s your item management interface. Switching out which items are equipped in which slots is workable but very cumbersome and not terribly intuitive. It isn’t hard to accidentally move from your inventory and back to the mini map without meaning to do so. This is something that you can get used to but it is certainly a rough spot.


If you’ve ever wondered what a procedurally-generated roguelike Zelda could look like Songbringer takes a fair shot at it, just be warned that it can be a little rough around the edges. The option to up the stakes and play in Permadeath mode is an interesting one but should only be undertaken once you’ve taken some time to get used to how things work. Your ability to explore and get into areas that are a bit beyond your capabilities is exciting but could also make for frustration if death means having to start all over again before you’ve really gotten your feet wet. That said, it has a gift for the unexpected and you truly never know what you may encounter next,

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Some classic gaming beats reminiscent of classics like The Legend of Zelda
  • Plenty of personality and ideas of its own, like an ability to combine items/skills for new effects
  • Permadeath and the ability to share your game seed with others are great options to have

Cons:
  • There’s a learning curve for how things work and what is lethal, with the game providing limited guidance
  • The mini map and inventory system are a bit clunky
  • In terms of difficulty be aware it trends above average as a whole, though that may be a product of the procedural generation so it may very well vary from seed to seed


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: Shaq Fu - A Legend Reborn [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Putting together a sequel to possibly one of the most mocked titles in video game history isn’t for developers lacking in ambition or guts. While perhaps delivering something that’s at least better than the original shouldn’t be too difficult it’s an effort that also carries some baggage with it. Certainly Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn makes a smart move by ditching the weak fighting game setup of the original, opting for a brawler / beat-em-up instead. Unfortunately, on the whole, for each step forward it makes it also takes at least a half step back with issues of its own creation.


Through a set of circumstances I’ll leave for you to discover (wouldn’t want to give away the story, for what it is) in this game world Shaq has grown up an orphan in China who has been bullied for being too big. Sympathetic to his plight an elder master, Ye-Ye, decided to take him under his wing and teach him the ways of Wu Zing. But, since Shaq has a particular mark on his neck, it turns out he’s the Chosen One from a prophecy and that means conflict must ensue. Deciding to take the fight to the people who are after him this sets Shaq on the path to his destiny, and through a truckload of stereotypes and juvenile humor.


Before getting to that detail we’ll review the action itself, which for the most part is adequate if a bit on the button-mashy side. In general throughout you’ll be working with a basic attack that builds up a meter that allows you to use a strong attack featuring Shaq’s massive feet or a powerful ground punch that knocks out anything in the immediate area. The Z shoulder buttons can sometimes be used for a counter, a finisher, or to pick up weapons when they’re available. The regular shoulder buttons enable a dash. If you’re using the joysticks (though I wouldn’t recommend this since at key moments it can be inconsistent at best) the right joystick will have you do a roll vertically on the screen but if you’re using the D-Pad you can just double-tap. As a whole the controls are relatively good aside from the occasional issues with the joystick when trying to break a stun by some characters which requires you move back and forth. Sometimes the joystick will work, but sometimes it just won’t register well and you’ll die for nothing.


Getting into the areas of concern I want to address the weak tea defense I’ve seen for what passes as humor in the game. It’s not “politically incorrect”, it is sophomoric, shallow, and lazy. Some things that start semi-humorous like the blatant advertising for Icy Hot and Gold Bond are run into the ground and get tired through sheer repetition. Then there’s the “fun with stereotypes” humor that’s run into the ground with Asians and homosexuals as the primary targets that feels at least a decade out of place. Throw in some pretty sad “celebrity” bosses like someone meant to be Kim Kardashian who, I kid you not, turns into a giant thong-wearing butt that harms you with flatulence and you get the impression some teenage boys were in charge of providing their “best material” for this effort. Don’t forget a whale that looks like Michael Moore. Get it? He’s fat… so he’s a whale! Oh, how they really skewer these celebs with that biting commentary!


What you’re left with, in the end, is an adequate brawler that tends to vary between too easy (while the enhanced Big Diesel and Shaq-tus modes are cute they’re not very challenging) to tough for the wrong reasons (control issues breaking out of stuns). Through each of the areas you visit enemies can be cosmetically different, and have some nuance, but they’re still a bit cookie cutter and all come from roughly the same 5 core types. This makes for finding patterns you’ll follow to success and, for the most part, there’s not much of a need for more than some basic strategies to stay alive until you get to the boss and need to figure out their patterns. The result is just a run-of-the-mill beat-em-up that seems to be using its “humor” to compensate. If that all sounds great to you, enjoy.

A copy of the game was provided by Saber Interactive and Big Deez Productions for coverage purposes

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • The choice in genre this go-around is a better fit
  • There are moments that break out of the generic beat-em-up groove the are fun, though usually not terribly tough
  • If your sense of humor aligns with teenage boys (or you are one) perhaps it’ll be funny

Cons:
  • Peddling in cultural stereotypes and kiddie-pool-depth “caricatures” of celebrities feels woefully out of date and gets very tired quickly
  • Some of the boss fights mistake being cheap with upping the challenge
  • Once you remove all of the trappings it mostly plays as a merely generic beat-em-up


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I’ve been shocked at the fact that the Switch has been seeing a real resurgence of FMV games, and generally ones that have some degree of gimmickry to them but have also been surprisingly good. Between the general quality of the production values, the solid acting, and the lack of delay in everything loading the experiences have managed to tell a compelling story without the technology getting in the way. While the same things generally remain true in the case of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, this time around the main thrust of the story gets a bit lost in the weeds... making for a challenging game to evaluate.


Without much introduction you’re roughly thrown right into the thick of things, apparently having taken over a psychiatric practice for the title Doctor Dekker, who was very recently found murdered. Through your interactions with several of his patients your general goal is to try to unravel precisely what’s happening and who murdered Doctor Dekker, all while struggling to come to terms with a whole lot of weirdness going on. Ancient gods, the fringes of theoretical science, and a roster of patients who believe they have various powers are all thrown at you. What’s a doctor to do?


It turns out for the most part you’ll muddle through the experience likely primarily using the question prompts provided for you. These will mostly prompt video sequences where the person you’re interacting with will reveal some piece of their story, information about the former Doctor, and just about everything you can imagine. To be clear, in general the acting on the part of pretty well all of the patients is very good, and it’s easy to find yourself going a bit down the rabbit hole with some of the lines of questions. How far you go or which specific turns you decide to take is up to you to some minor degree but in general there’s a lot to process and you’ll only get most of the story, to get some added nuggets you’ll need to come up with some questions yourself.


This is kind of where the game falls down a bit, as it very much falls into the classic text adventure traps of expecting users to universally know what turns of phrase, specific keywords, and questions will tease out what you may want to know. The game tries to be helpful by giving you hints through a notepad, italicizing some key words in the subtitled text, and sometimes trying to be pretty obvious about something you should ask but the combination of entering the text being cumbersome and a few repeated failures to get results are hard not to be disheartened by. Beyond this perhaps the game’s biggest problem is that honestly the tangents and individual characters are more interesting than trying to figure out who the murderer is.


It’s actually been a struggle to figure out how to score this game because in general it has left me conflicted. On the one hand the acting is very good, the individual patients have some fascinating elements to their stories, and it turns out there’s even some solid motivation to play through more than once. One the other your main purpose, finding the murderer, may be one of the least interesting things to the experience and you can find yourself in a weird place where the prompts can almost make you feel like you’re on rails but at the same time trying to pose your own questions is often aggravating. If you’re down for a weird experience with some strange people, opportunities to explore some possibilities, and quite a bit of the unexpected it may be worth a shot. If not, I’d say the likes of The Bunker and Late Shift are better at being more traditional experiences.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Uniformly well-acted
  • Interesting and strange characters
  • Has a unique way to make replaying the game viable

Cons:
  • The rabbit holes are generally more interesting than the main plot
  • Trying to make your own questions can be aggravating
  • Could make some people uncomfortable in a variety of ways


Review: One Strike [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s a case to be made, in this age of games with massive budgets and controller schemes that can sometimes make your hand cramp, for simplicity in games. Even if only to act as a palette-cleansing break between meatier material, or perhaps to help lure in someone new with less complexity, simple doesn’t have to equal bad. Unfortunately, it really is a tightrope walk as well, and there’s such a thing as reducing complexity to the degree that something becomes a bit pointless and dull. One Strike is a fighting game that simplifies to what feels like the lowest point possible, but unfortunately sucks anything enjoyable about the experience out with it.


You’ll begin by choosing from the roster of 6 warriors, each having their own signature weapon and general style. To its credit, One Strike does end up with what feels like a diverse roster, it’s just everything downhill from there isn’t so good. Each fighter has an attack, a defense position, and a forward and backward dash. Don’t misunderstand, there is only one button for each but it’s more than that, there are no variations of high/mid/low… you only have your warrior’s one attack and defense pose. They do vary in how they’re implemented per warrior, with some first getting into a position with the first tap and then striking with the second, striking from a distance, or closing the gap to strike up-close, but getting to know each warrior ends up taking very little time because there’s next to nothing to know.


Now throw in the fact that, true to its name, a single connecting strike will end the round and the result ends up being pretty one-dimensional. You can certainly feint and position yourself, both opponents locked in a game of mental chess, trying to anticipate and strike at a vital moment… or you can just move in for the kill and hope for the best. It’s the combination of an extremely limited moveset and the one-hit kills that absolutely suck the life out of the experience. Aside from hoping to make your opponent blink first there’s not much room for a metagame, comebacks, or deep technique… just hope you connect first and start over again. You can choose the mode where you put together 3 fighters who you’ll use in sequence as each one dies but, again, with there being no depth they’re just bodies you have lined up, you can’t dramatically switch to rally, you just hope with one of them you’ll find the odds more in your favor.


This is absolutely one of those games where I have to question who the target audience was meant to be. There’s no doubt it is friendly to newcomers since there’s very little to understand, but as an introduction to the fighting game genre it would also seem amazingly boring. It could be argued hardcore fighting fans could get a kick out of it, finding ways to eke out every bit of technique possible… but with no ability to be down and turn the tide or anything else exciting that is normally associated with competitive fighting games I can’t see that being likely either. Moreso than almost any other title I’ve reviewed One Strike simply is what it is… and that’s a one-dimensional, bare bones fighting game that offers little to thoroughly enjoy.

Score: 4

Pros:
  • A roster of 6 fighters who are legitimately different from one another
  • A few different modes to toy with

Cons:
  • So much simplicity it becomes shallow
  • One-strike kills mixed with single-round matches = no room for comebacks or excitement
  • No idea who this game is really intended for


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle


While I’ve certainly dabbled in classic fighting games over the years, mostly focused on Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or the World Heroes series, it’s been awhile since I’ve put my toe into another pool. Most of my experiences with other series have been mixed at best, with 3D fighters generally putting me off and the level of technique needed in many other 2D fighters feeling like too much of a commitment. One series I hadn’t yet tried out at all to this point was BlazBlue, though I’d heard good things. After spending some time with Cross Tag Battle on Switch they can definitely count me as a new fan though.


The first thing to like is that the presentation is pretty outstanding. For the most part characters have very diverse looks, the stages you’ll battle in are full of cool details, and in general the combat is a feast for the eyes. It does take some getting used to since all of this visual flourish cooks on by at a brisk pace but soon enough even moderately-experienced fighting game fans should start to feel at home with the pretty simple overall button scheme. I would suggest spending some time working on some technique before going online if you’re inexperienced since, as always, there are many ass-kickings to be had out there, but with some practice, training, and experimentation you should be able to get a strong base to work from.


A great way to sort of sample a little bit of everything is to play through the pretty extensive Episode mode, where you’ll get a look at pretty well the entire roster of characters represented in the game and get some enjoyment out of the somewhat oddball story. Characters from the BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth and RWBY series have been brought together by mysterious circumstances, summoned to battle it out with the eventual winner supposedly getting the power to return home with the others from their world. Not being familiar with almost any of the characters or their motivations it was all merely entertaining to me as various people had their verbal dust-ups but I have no doubt hard core fans of the series will find how things shake out more fascinating. From there you can match up with the CPU in Versus mode or, better yet, play with a friend, getting your tag-team fighting on and developing your technique.


Aside from generally feeling over-matched in Online mode I’d say most of my concerns with the game are pretty simple and focus on the interfaces. You get to choose an avatar and can move around to do what you want, whether it is to go to the shop or navigate through one of the virtual lobbies for meeting up with people to fight against. I suppose this method is novel but in the end I just generally found it more cumbersome than I’d have liked, getting into some quick menus and skipping moving around would have appealed more to my sense of efficiency. I suppose depending on tastes people could quibble over the style and feel of the fighting controls themselves but even as a novice I was please with how sensible and yet obviously deep they were through my experimentation.


In the end I’d consider BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle a pretty impressive fighting game that will easily fill the void left by a lack of a Marvel Vs. Capcom action. If you’re looking to get your fight on and want something full of energy and excitement it handily delivers the goods, has an impressive roster, and is generally as n00b-friendly a fighter as I think I’ve ever played. I’d consider it a must-play for Switch fighting fans!

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • An impressive roster of characters from 4 different series
  • Accessible fighting controls, even for novices
  • Online play is consistently stable

Cons:
  • Navigation via avatar is novel but needlessly cumbersome
  • If you’re not steeped in the lore of these series a lot of the fan service is likely to go over your head


Review: Happy Birthdays [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The “god game” genre is one that quite some time ago was popular but that hasn’t seen much representation in more recent years. The principle is usually that you’re given the power to shape and nudge the natural environment through indirect means to then observe its progress in some way. That’s very much the case in Happy Birthdays, where you start with only a relatively small section of land to work with, generally trying to create an environment that isn’t just habitable to various forms of life but where they can also thrive.


Through the pretty lengthy tutorial (it is needed) you’ll be shown the ropes for what it takes to cultivate this space. In general, everything you do will have an effect. Lowering the land, on the whole, will progressively raise temperatures while making mountains will help lower them. In order to cultivate a wide variety of both flora and fauna species you’ll want to try to carve out some space for a variety of critters, though later as you’re able to expand the scope of what you’re caring for perhaps you’ll decide to have dedicated zones that are a bit more segregated rather than right on top of each other. One of the beauties of the experience is that with its sandbox nature there’s really no set answer on how to get from where you start to some of the game’s goals like setting the stage for the evolution of humans… you’ll need to experiment and flounder a bit along the way but with perseverance you can get there.


What can make the game exciting, but is also its greatest weakness, is its sheer complexity and how with so much going on it can be hard to tell what to do or be effective without simply trying and failing. For people who want to embrace the sandbox experimentation it’s likely going to be interesting and full of possibilities but for anyone looking for things to reveal themselves a bit more easily I’d imagine it will be confounding. Further exacerbating the issues are the dense (and generally difficult to navigate) menus full of information that can be a challenge to easily break down and work with, as well as the controls that can be equally awkward whether in docked or handheld mode.


In the end there are some positives to be taken from Happy Birthdays but you really need to be in love with the concept and the core gameplay enough to dedicate yourself to getting over the hurdles it generally throws in its own way. In many ways the game feels unrefined and not quite fully-realized, more of a hodge podge of ideas thrown together and put on a shelf. Truthfully this does put it firmly with many other efforts in this genre, high-concept games that collapse a bit under their own ambition. While there’s enough here to be worthwhile it’s absolutely not going to be something just anyone will be compelled to thrown a ton of hours into.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • Some creative ideas
  • An enormous number of potential species for you to discover
  • Has a demo on the eShop you can try first

Cons:
  • Even with a lengthy tutorial there’s still so much that is unclear
  • The controls and interfaces are cumbersome at best
  • Discovery is generally haphazard and almost random most of the time
  • In general, feels unfinished


Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: Just Shapes & Beats [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Music and rhythm games have always been a favorite of mine… at least when they’re good. A solid selection of funky tunes can really get me into the zone. I remember seeing Just Shapes and Beats in the Nindie Showcase video and then at PAX and not being quite sure what to make of it. The minimalistic graphics looked pretty cool, the music certainly pumped out with intensity, but watching the gameplay was a bit of a puzzle.


The reason for the confusion is tied to the fact that Just Shapes and Beats isn’t quite like anything you’ve played, at least not with this combination of elements. There’s no doubt that the music is vital and a central part of the overall gameplay experience. It absolutely drives the action and the generally trippy / unique visuals. That said this isn’t a rhythm game, though perhaps you’ll find yourself using your dodge on the beat it’s not terribly necessary. That’s because down at its core this is a bullet-hell dodging game, just without you being able to shoot back at anything. The result is something both familiar and new with style for days.


Initially you’ll most likely want to play through the Story Mode, which walks you through a sort of semi-interactive experience moving through an overworld-like map. Most of the time you’re just moving onto the next challenge but there are also action sequences tied to the map screen you’ll need to work through that add some flavor. Most levels have multiple checkpoints, a sort of visual theme to compliment the music, and will challenge you to keep out of colored areas or hit by anything that isn’t the background color. Fortunately most of the time zones that are about to light up will turn to a washed out shade before becoming fully activated but as things get crazier it won’t feel like much time at all. You can simply move with the joystick, tap the button while in-place to move over slightly, or press the button while moving in a direction to leap further. Nothing terribly complex, just a need to stay alive. Online and local multiplayer are also supported and considering the challenge the game throws at you it may be your best bet to learn, unlock some tunes, and get some command of effective strategies. The best part is that in multiplayer it’s a cooperative affair as players who lose health and get knocked out can be revived by anyone simply touching them. Scoring is individualized but if anyone on your team makes it through everyone at least gets some points.


If there’s a concern for the game it would be whether people who don’t usually play shooters will be able to get the hang of evading so many things so quickly. Playing in Story mode the pretty brutal boss battles early on may warrant a look at turning on Casual Mode if you’re finding them too demanding. This does nothing to make it inherently easier, you’ll just find your hit points are doubles. Though this is hardly any guarantee for success it does at least up your odds. A nice feature is that even if you turn on Casual Mode to get by a tough board you’ll always have the option to then turn it back off.


Overall, it’s extremely hard for me not to smile while playing Just Shapes and Beats, even when some of the boss battles are absolutely kicking my butt. With some experience under your belt or simply some practice through remembering the major patterns in general all levels can be conquered, just some are definitely harder than others. An absolutely game-changing revelation I had while playing in Online mode, and would watch players who were obviously much more experience than I was, is that in many cases life can be easier simply staying still if you know the right spot in the right map. If done successfully this can mean simply hitting the button to dodge periodically rather than trying to move and keep track of everything going on around you. It takes some practice and discipline but there’s no arguing with the results they got. If you enjoy great music, a load of surprises, and just a bit of craziness Just Shapes and Beats is a unique and very worthwhile experience on Switch!

Score: 9

Pros:
  • An absolutely outstanding soundtrack
  • Both online and local multiplayer are cooperative and can be a fun challenge to be the best
  • A unique blend of bullet-hell dodging and often mesmerizing on-screen graphics
  • Casual mode, rather than giving anything away, doesn’t really penalize you but also doesn’t remove the challenging gameplay… it just doubles your health

Cons:
  • Some people won’t be bullet-hell fans or may find it all overwhelming
  • There are definitely some steep hills and valleys in the overall challenge from level to level in places


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review: Milanoir [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Even this early into the Switch’s lifespan it is getting tougher to do something really unique in the indie space. Not only are most genres covered, but we also have pockets in certain genres that are very well-represented already. Trying to break out of the normal mold and do something a bit different is the shooting and action game Milanoir, that walks you through the life of a hitman working his way through some tough times and taking down some hard targets.


In the game you’ll play the role of Piero, a hitman extraordinaire who may be a little too aware of his prowess. As is often the case in these sorts of stories when someone shows a bit too much hubris the universe has a tendency to throw bad situations and humbling circumstances them. Incarcerated, alone, and beset upon by both the guards and his fellow inmates, Piero survives his multi-year ordeal and returns to the streets to exact his revenge.


One thing it does a decent job at is to throw a pretty wide variety of action sequences at you. There’s shooting on foot, in vehicles, in a boat, and then some crazy sequences where you’ll be without your gun and forced to use stealth or a knife to get the job done. Among the more inventive ways the game allows for creativity and will help you get out of a jam is that signs will ricochet your bullets, something that isn’t just handy but often vital as well. This is an experience that revels in its M rating, even with pixel graphics, so be aware that there’s some pretty grim stuff going on a Piero is hardly a hero. If you’re finding the action a bit too tough you can also have a friend join in to try to help, there are certainly sequences where you’ll likely need it.


That leads into probably the game’s biggest problem and that’s the pretty crazy up and down with its difficulty. Some sequences will feel a bit too easy, some will be fairly middle of the road, and then there are those you’re going to get stuck on… and the reasons don’t always feel terribly fair. At times a contributing factor to frustration is that it isn’t always perfectly clear what you need to do so it isn’t unusual to die a number of times in some sequences while you try to figure out what the hell is going on. While you can certainly roll with the punches repeating some of the overlong sequences when it feels a bit unfairly stacked against you can be aggravating.


While Milanoir offers up something very different on Switch, and manages to avoid repeating itself too much, the overall unevenness of the experience can be hard not to be frustrated by. Some sequences play well, and will give you some push back, but others can prove to be maddening and seem to only get cleared through an element of luck on top of your skills. If you’re determined to you’ll get through it but for mere casual fans without a patch it will probably aggravate more than entertain.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • A pretty wide variety of action sequences with different styles and techniques
  • The bullet ricochet mechanic is creative and makes for some added strategy
  • When things click and the challenge isn’t too excessive it feels good

Cons:
  • The pendulum of difficulty swings too wide and too often
  • Some sequences aren’t terribly intuitive in terms of what to do or where to go
  • There’s some heavy and grim stuff going on in the game as a warning


Review: ICEY [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One trend that has been in the PC indie space for awhile, but that I hadn’t yet seen on the Switch to date, is games that include some sort of meta commentary on games themselves. Similar to how Deadpool notoriously breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge he’s in a comic book (or movie) and talk to the audience directly this can be quite effective and can make you think. In the case of the action slasher ICEY through the role of the narrator, who in this case seems to be the developer himself, you’ll end up gaining insights and likely entertain yourself by circumventing his expectations whenever possible.


Starting with the basics at its heart this is a side-scrolling slasher game, where you’ll be wielding your blade to hack your way through a pretty wide array of enemies with style. While you begin with a relatively small set of moves as you get upgrade opportunities you can add a significant number of additional ones, or choose to spend your points in making your current set more lethal. There gets to be a rhythm to combat after you get into the groove and you’ll certainly learn that some enemies are more lethal than others, so you’ll be forced to try to prioritize. Bosses can be particularly hard nuts to crack and using your dashes to evade their strikes and try to attack them from behind becomes a sensible common strategy.


What helps it apart, though not everyone may appreciate this aspect, is that once you’ve gotten your feet wet and get going the game will add a narrator. Without going into too much detail and ruining some of the humor and surprises it’s at this point that following your impulses rather than the road that is intended often leads to fun and some degree of rewards. The question these sorts of games inevitably leave you with is whether not doing as you’re told is truly an act of defiance or whether, since the game is designed for you to do that, you going against the grain is actually what’s intended.


If there’s a failing probably the foremost thought is whether without the meta component ICEY does a great deal to differentiate itself. In truth, probably not too much. As a whole while there’s nothing wrong with the slashing action there’s really not a great deal about it that would qualify as inspired either. The action is quick, you have an impressive move set at your disposal, and the enemies can be challenging. That said, by its nature there’s an element of repetition to it all and that is very much where the injection of the narrator and elements he introduces keep your interest. If nothing else the question is what you may find out next and that can be compelling.


In the end if you’ve not experienced a game that plays with concepts like these ICEY has some added value. Being prompted to think about the game and how you interact with it differently is always a bit of fun and thought provoking. Of course if you don’t have a taste for the slashing action there will be other opportunities as well. If you enjoy the genre, and appreciate a little something extra to wrap your head around, ICEY is worth your time though.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Intense slashing action
  • A variety of available moves to work with
  • Meta commentary through the narrator/developer adds a layer of fun

Cons:
  • While the action is challenging and can be fun it’s hardly revolution
  • The meta commentary aspect is hit or miss in terms of value depending on whether you appreciate the gimmick of it
  • Without the meta commentary in place the experience would likely feel pretty generic overall


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Review: Shift Quantum [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One thing is certain, there has been a great diversity of puzzle games that have hit the Switch to this point. We’ve had ones that play better in handheld mode care of the touchscreen, thought-provoking ones, action-oriented ones, and pretty well a little of everything. When you have a pretty wide variety within a single genre on the platform it can be tough to set yourself apart. Shift Quantum, just looking at some screen shots, looks incredibly straightforward and perhaps a bit boring. However, give it some time and it throws in some surprises with a bit of intrigue that works as a basic story of sorts and some very clever puzzle design.


Across the over 100 levels that make up the main campaign you’ll primarily be working to make your way from the entrance of the level to the exit. You’ll learn that you can jump and grab ledges to pull yourself up but not too much more than that physically. What sets the game apart, though, is your ability to shift through the floor and essentially invert the colors of the black and white world. In the negative version of the world everything is inverted and this makes more possibilities for getting around available to you. It’s pretty simple but even only about 10 levels in it begins to show some creativity. Just to entice you to work a little harder many levels additionally have a collectible somewhere. The majority aren’t too difficult to get to but for people like me it does make you work a bit harder to figure out how to get them all.


Where the design really begins to excel is when, of all things, movable boxes are introduced to the mix. Obviously you can use them to make a jump possible or to cover a switch that will allow you to pass but it’s when the colors are inverted that their creative use comes into play. When the box is inverted it essentially creates a neutral block in what would otherwise be an inverted space. You can use this to move through what would otherwise be solid platforms and the planning required as you move along gets to be fun as you plot out your moves to be made in both spaces, with the block movement sometimes feeling very much like a dance as you get to your exit.


While just the core puzzles would be enough the other factors in the game’s favor are the surprising, though simple, “story” that is revealed pretty early on and kept me interested. Though it’s not very much there is more to the game than just the puzzles and both the effort and the execution are an appreciated extra touch of care from the developer. As if that weren’t enough there’s also an included level editor as well as a way for you to share your levels and discover them from others. This additional value add, again, is terrific to see and really helps extend the potential life of the game even further as long as people maintain an interest.


Shift Quantum was a very pleasant surprise of a quality puzzle game, and it delivered quite a bit more than its modest presentation would imply. More than just a collection of pretty rote puzzles, which is something that happens a bit too often in this genre, Shift Quantum has some great ideas and it makes the most of exploring the challenges that can be concocted around them. If you’re a puzzle fan who has been looking for something that veers off the normal path a bit and throws in some intrigue to boot it’s a quality choice.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • More than 100 core levels that are creative and challenging
  • Not just a detached collection of puzzles, it also delivers a relatively simple story that catches your attention
  • A level editor that includes community support

Cons:
  • Some may find the presentation a bit too simplistic
  • I suppose it is possible people could eventually find some of the later levels a bit too difficult


Review: Samurai Defender - Ninja Warfare [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There are games that start out in the mobile space and convert over to the Switch pretty successfully, either filling a void of some kind or carrying along enough personality and gameplay to seem worthwhile. Then there are those that, for whichever reason, really make you wonder who thought this was a great idea. Unfortunately Samura Defender: Ninja Warfare falls into the latter category, offering gameplay that isn’t necessarily inherently horrible, but at a minimum retains far too many of its brethren’s excessive grinding before anything gets interesting.


To start you’ll have a castle you’ll defend with a lone archer. In a semi-active way you’ll be able to aim where he’ll shoot his arrows at a relatively slow rate to pick off enemies that move from the right of the screen and are looking to storm the walls. At the close of each round your coins will be tallied, copper tied to the points you accumulate and typically one gold as well, and you’ll have the opportunity to purchase upgrades. With copper you can enhance your archer stats to deal more damage or fire faster, but you’ll also have options to increase your castle’s HP, your collective MP, or for a more substantial cost add another archer. As you level up the gold coins can be used for adding or enhancing secondary defenders of various types or even units that will repair you walls when they’ve been damaged.


Every 10 levels you’ll then face a more formidable foe, and they’ll have unique attacks for you to deal with. There’s also a slow trickle of new types of enemy units over the course of the game, though many of them are simply stronger variants of those you’ve already faced. The trick is to try to take out as many as you can with arrows but then make judicious use of your secondary attackers since you have limited MP resources and they all have their own cooldowns as well. In general you should be able to coast for a while through the levels without stopping but once you begin to struggle bear in mind that grinding previous levels will still give you rewards.


My biggest issue with the game is that its pacing and setup still feel like a free-to-play game, only in the case of the Switch you don’t have an option to purchase a bunch of coins with real money so you’re instead left with what people trying to grind it out would be doing. The pace of gameplay is absolutely glacial, overall the degree of accuracy you’re capable of isn’t very good, and while eventually things no doubt do get a bit more interesting the path to get there is terribly dull. To boot (at least playing in docked mode) precisely what you’re supposed to be doing or how isn’t conveyed at all by the game, you’re more left with loading screen hints and an expectation that you’ll work it out.


While there’s an edge of unique gameplay here it’s hard to find anything specifically redeeming about Samurai Defender’s place on the Switch. If things had been restructured more significantly and you got to the meatier part of the gameplay more quickly perhaps it wouldn’t be so boring. Unfortunately, it takes far too long for anything of real interest to get rolling and even then the style of gameplay as a whole lacks real excitement, even if it has a budget-friendly price. If you’re seeking the experience it offers I’m failing to see the case for doing so on the Switch.

Score: 4

Pros:
  • Once you get far enough there can be some more interesting strategies involved
  • If you get stuck you can always grind levels to power yourself up further

Cons:
  • It plays like a free-to-play mobile port without an ability to purchase in-game currency so you’re simply left to grind for everything
  • Your degree of control isn’t terribly good
  • It takes far too long before anything remotely interesting happens
  • Very little guidance as you begin the game, though over time you’ll see enough load screen hints to piece everything together


Friday, June 1, 2018

Review: Enigmatis 2 - The Mists of Ravenwood [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Probably one of my favorite types of games that I’ve played on tablets are hidden object games. The thing is, over the past handful of years the genre has really evolved into something much more, and that’s been what has made me a fan. Morphing over time into a sort of mix of hidden objects, point-and-click adventure, and a handful of inventive puzzles they deliver a far more varied experience than you’d expect if you haven’t dabbled in the better ones for a while. Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood does an excellent job of representing what the genre is capable of being, and for people seeking a casual experience on Switch it is an excellent choice.


In no time at all you’ll be thrown into the action, arriving at the scene of what appears to be either a crash or some sort of attack. Even if you’re new to these games the opening sequences do an excellent job of demonstrating many of the elements and styles of play you’ll encounter through the course of solving the mysteries involved in this place. You find a young girl who is scared and has lost her parents, but in order to get her to come out you’ll need to find something to help her calm down. Looking around you’ll see a teddy bear that’s gotten pretty beaten up but once you find some essential tools for repairing and cleaning him up you’re able to get her to come out of hiding. Unfortunately, just as you begin to earn her trust everything goes to hell.


Unlike the older games in the genre where you’d simply go between very static screens of artwork and look for a variety of items over time these games have turned it into a somewhat more dynamic experience. While there will still be some straight up objects to find there are often sequences involving a combination of elements you’ll need to discover in order to trigger others. This helps to change up the formula and keeps things a bit more fresh. The more traditional adventure elements usually involve needing to investigate anything that’s suspicious (you’re often aided by key spots glittering every once in a while and the hint system is very helpful, almost too much so at times), collecting items, and then looking for the appropriate ways to make use of them. There are times where what seems to be a simple solution to a problem with an object should be possible, but you’ll instead have to attack it more elaborately, though for the most part things are at least intuitive. Then there are the pretty varied puzzles you’ll need to solve, which are usually my favorite part of the game. They’re rarely terribly hard but for the most part I’ve always found them satisfying and different.


In terms of what doesn’t work as well though the production values behind the attempts to push the narrative in these games has improved over time they’re still a bit on the dated side. Brief video sequences help convey the action but with it trying to remain consistent with the static art style some of it can look a bit sloppy. That said the art as a whole throughout is excellent and generally clear whether in docked or handheld mode, with elements usually colorful and having a fair amount of contrast so they’re easier to make out. There are times when it isn’t quite clear what you’re missing or should do next and that’s where the generous help system kicks in. Unfortunately it doesn’t so much give you hints as outright tell you where to go or roughly what to do next but your hints recharge pretty quickly so when you’re at a loss for what to do it tends to be very helpful.


If you’re a fan of this type of game Enigmatis 2 is a pretty fantastic playthrough, full of some mystery, great puzzles, and interesting enough characters. If you’ve never really dabbled in this genre before but either enjoy casual puzzlers or a good adventure I’d also wager you should have a great time with it if you give it a chance to get rolling so you’ll see how it all works together. This has me very much looking forward to more from this genre showing up on the Switch, it should give me a chance to catch back up with a genre I’d thought I’d given up when I left my tablet behind for gaming. I’d consider it just shy of a must-play for puzzle fans of any flavor.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Uniformly excellent puzzles
  • A compelling mystery to solve
  • Whenever you get stuck the hint system is very helpful

Cons:
  • Some of the production values feel a bit dated
  • As with most adventure games what you need to do or combine to progress isn’t always clear