Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Her Majesty's SPIFFING [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s something about the classic PC-style adventure game that always manages to put a smile on my face. With a blend of unusual circumstances, slightly off-center characters, oddball puzzles, and typically laced with quite a bit of humor they’re not usually very deep but they are at least consistently entertaining. Seeing little more than just the opening cutscene to Her Majesty’s SPIFFING it looked like pretty well all boxes would be checked, and while the adventure isn’t a very long one, it does manage to provide a few hours of quirky adventure fun.


You’ll be playing as one of the pilots of a very curious-looking spacecraft launched by the Queen Mother herself to expand the breadth of the Empire once again, just this time in space. The path to doing so will require that you resolve some unusual problems in typically weird adventure game ways, engage in some silly dialogue full of self-deprecating humor, and essentially “click” on anything and everything you see that will allow it. Thankfully when you walk near anything you can interact with it will automatically be highlighted (eliminating the dreaded pixel-hunting that occurs in many games) and the straight-forward action wheel that pops up when you decide to check something out makes this a breeze. You can typically look at, talk about, analyze, any of these objects you’re able to interact with and the actions are also always context-sensitive. Even if you think you know what you’re doing there’s almost always something cheeky your character will have to say so in general I’d say it is well worth always exhausting your options, if nothing else for the giggles.

The humor is really what manages to keep things afloat, whether it is in the interactions between you and your co-pilot, your character simply talking to themselves, or some of the silly solutions you’ll need to find for the problems you’re presented with. In general the normal Adventure game rules apply, you’ll want to thoroughly explore every space, leave no object unchecked, and always give anything you pick up a good look as well for measure. As the game goes on there are several situations you’ll need to attack in a few layers so you’ll want to take note of just about anything your character says as there may be a hint thrown in. While one typical issue with the genre is that solutions will tend to get convoluted I wouldn’t say that there are any horrible offenders in SPIFFING. No doubt understanding what you should do may take some trial and error and head scratching but I’d consider the vast majority of solutions in the game to be quite sensible, and the fact that your inventory doesn’t get filled with junk and red herring objects put in place to help lead you astray helps greatly.



In terms of the issues I’d say first and foremost would be that the length feels slightly short, and the end a bit abrupt, it just seemed like the game had fully hit its stride and then the credits rolled. Now, for the pretty budget-friendly price I would say it is a fair trade, I just would have wished to have a little more to do so the end of the game didn’t feel so sudden. Outside of the length I actually have very few concerns to speak of though as the interface is generally intuitive, the dialogue is uniformly funny (though perhaps people less familiar with British culture and humor could find it less amusing), and everything generally runs very smoothly.

Overall Her Majesty’s SPIFFING was a pleasant surprise, full of cracking humor and some suitably absurd puzzle-solving. It may feel a bit on the short side but given its price the length is fair and I would prefer it over too soon rather than overstaying its welcome. For people searching for a game that is light, not terribly demanding, and can just be enjoyed for quite a few hours it’s pretty easy to recommend.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Some cheeky British humor
  • A generally easygoing experience with a helpful interface
  • Most puzzles make sense overall

Cons:
  • Ends a bit too quickly after it feels like it hit its full stride
  • As always the humor may not work for everyone
  • A thoroughly classic adventure game, nothing more


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Fantasy Hero ~unsigned legacy~ [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ever since the classic Secret of Mana I’ve been a big fan of the action RPG genre, and later games like Diablo and others really helped to continue to keep making it more engaging and diverse. While there have been some Zelda-like games on the Switch, overall alternative action RPG representation has been kind of thin. Enter Fantasy Hero ~unsigned legacy~, a port from the Vita trying to fill in the space and make a splash. Unfortunately, due to numerous struggles it is still not very easy to recommend.


In Fantasy Hero you’ll initially need to choose which of 4 classes you’re looking to play as. You can choose between two more traditionally melee-oriented fighters, one a swordsman and one a wrestler, a girl who controls a robot for some variety, or a straight-up gunslinger. The story you find yourself in, and it really takes a bit to going at first (though it is pretty basic), involves humanity having been somewhat run underground by a group called the Decoders (who oddly are all humanoid animals of various types) and your group of heroes trying to turn the tide. There are some additional elements of intrigue with a mysterious person fighting on the side of the Decoders, but in general terms there are bad guys and your group is looking to change their fates battle by battle.

What should be the selling point of the game is the action but honestly, for the most part, it is pretty bland. Sure, you can accumulate experience which you can then use to improve your stats and choose core skills but for the most part that’s fluff, your bread and butter in combat is still a very stick-and-move kind of style overall. This makes for good news and bad news. The good news is that once you get the hang of things you can quickly accumulate experience by taking on missions at maximum difficulty, giving you better experience and opportunities for gear. The bad news is if you do this and set yourself up properly after a while you can really just decimate almost anyone you face, just being careful to retreat and heal if you get a little low on health. Some classes have a worse time of this than others but overall I didn’t find myself worried about being subtle, I just tended to get into a combat groove and then work that through to victory. I’m not sure if the failing is my settling for sticking with what worked or the game for not making a case for changing things up but for the most part as long as you’re careful to attack and then time your dodging correctly, following up with yet more attacks, you can get the job done without much call for variety.


If the only issue was the game’s generally lackluster combat a case could be made that everything comes down to tastes but unfortunately the problems don’t really stop there. Inventory management is a weird pain as you want to collect a bunch of random crap here and there so you can upgrade your gear in a variety of ways. You end up needing to move those elements into storage while keeping items you can use with you, why you must manage this yourself I’m not sure. Upgrades are a trial and error endeavor for the most part, you’ll just stumble through some screens trying things and you’ll figure out how it all works. Not ideal. This is mostly because the menus, as a rule, are cumbersome and awkward. For some reason they don’t allow you to use the joystick and you need to use the buttons on the left instead. It works but it is just very odd. Worse, the menus are a bit of a sloppy mess with elements overlapping one another in some of the sub-menus in ways that make following what you’re supposed to be trying to do more of a challenge than it should be. Many missions are also run in the same general area, even using the same map. Just in a wide variety of ways this ends up feeling like a last-gen title, or older, and it hasn’t aged well.

All things considered it is pretty difficult to recommend Fantasy Hero to anyone outside of seriously die-hard action RPG fans who’ll simply take what they can get and work with it. The story is generic, the action is quite dull and repetitive as a rule, the interface is a mess, and from top to bottom it really doesn’t feel like a Switch game in terms of quality at all. Granted, if you latch onto one of the classes and don’t simply exploit the fact that you can use the same tactics through most of the game to succeed perhaps you’ll get more enjoyment out of it than I did, but I’d consider that requiring you to be quite determined. The game is certainly functional, it just fails to make much of a positive impression… making it challenging to recommend.


Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • It’s general style is pretty unique within the current Switch line-up
  • Some classes play a bit better than others

Cons:
  • Combat can generally be reduced to effective stick and move to succeed
  • A mostly-generic story
  • Last-gen (or earlier) look, feel, and function


Review: Dustoff Heli Rescue 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While there are many classic games that are commonly copied in the modern era there are some that are less often brought back to life. One such title is the classic Choplifter, which lived on many home computer and console systems before even having an arcade iteration created. The style of play was a bit different than the normal shooter fare with your primary objective being the safe rescue of troops in hostile territory, though you certainly had to do a fair amount of maneuvering to take out enemy vehicles and guns. Dustoff Heli Rescue 2 has come to the Switch with a pretty unique look and delivering that same sort of core play with some variations thrown in as well.


Missions in the game will alternate in their focus between cargo/rescue missions and attack/escort missions, each requiring you to fly a different class of helicopter. While both feature some level of combat in general the added challenge in the cargo-style missions is that you’ll need to fly a bit more carefully and land a few more times, almost always adding a small degree of risk to things since the terrain can be uneven, certain trees or buildings can wreak havoc on your chopper, and if you’re running with heavy damage even coming down a little too hard can result in you exploding. Escort missions, in particular, will require that you somewhat stay in the vicinity of the units you’re protecting as waves of enemies will continue to arrive near them, sometimes making for tough decisions of when to try to sneak back to a base to repair. Early on things remain pretty basic overall but within a few levels you’ll quickly find that you need to take more care and will need to consider using the save system mid-mission as well as opportunities to repair or load up your guns at your main base or one of the mobile ones available around the levels.

For the most part your tasks are straight-forward for success and your performance will earn you up to 3 stars. The trickiest one is typically coming in under a certain time limit but in general you’ll unlock better craft as you progress and newer choppers will tend to make quick work of past missions. Another factor to distract you from getting all 3 stars on the first try in missions are the 5 dogtags peppered through each level. These are optional but once you gather enough of them they’ll give you the opportunity to use more insane craft including a lunar lander and even a UFO. After spending a fair amount of time trying to control the lander its extra speed is pretty insane but trying to perform even a marginally soft landing is seriously tricky, especially on jagged terrain. Putting all of these factors and variations together it tends to keep things from getting too dull and in general you’ll find that patience and some careful flying will go a long way to keeping yourself alive.


In terms of frustrations I think foremost the lack of clarity in what is and isn’t in the foreground or background and will foul you up was the most consistent, though not constant, problem. In general these were lessons learned the hard way when you’d be swooping down and suddenly things would go wrong. Most times there’s nothing in your way but in certain situations, bam, you’ve hit something. Overall the controls are basic and can work for evading incoming fire by pulsing or using other simple techniques but in general I wish the controls had been a little more nuanced, especially for the insane special craft you can unlock with the dogtags. Granted, I suppose you wouldn’t want them to be blatantly OP since it would ruin the game but wonky doesn’t fully describe trying to use them either. As a closing note some of the load times can be unusually long.

Overall I think the style of play will either be something that appeals to you and sounds fun or may not be quite what you’re looking for. The more familiarity you have with classic games like Choplifter and some others the more nostalgia will likely help keep your interest, but without that kind of pull I could see the missions getting a bit repetitive after a while. Among the many shooters now on the Switch it has a play style all its own, you’ll just need to determine if it is a good fit for you.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • An overall unique style of play on the Switch
  • Fans of arcade shooters and the classic Choplifter should get nostalgic feels from it
  • Surprisingly challenging as you progress

Cons:
  • Though the various mission types try to keep gameplay fresh it can start to feel repetitive
  • Problems with identifying what you may collide with and what is in the background/foreground at times
  • The controls sometimes feel like they could have used more nuance
  • Some long load times in places


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Review: Space Dave! [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As someone who pretty much grew up spending far too much time in arcades and on now-vintage home consoles, whether at my own house or some friend’s, I love me some classic space shooting action. Whether it’s simpler fare like Space Invaders or Asteroids, or slightly more complex play like from the Galaga series I’ve put in some serious time. Throw in some more off-center classics like Gorf and Satan’s Hollow and you’ve really got my interest. Somewhat throw all of those into a blender to come up with something with modern control but classic sensibilities and you essentially have Space Dave!


Sporting a very retro 8-bit art kind of vibe and a synthesized voice that shot me through a time warp to simpler times of playing classic games like Track and Field (really, that voice makes me want to cry it is so perfect) the style of play is very eclectic. You’ll be moving back and forth across the ground firing at waves of enemies and if you don’t do some work the game can feel very ordinary. It’s once you start making smart use of the power-ups and begin to understand some of the nuances of the game that things take off. When you get the Space power-up you’ll absolutely want to try to save it to drop and capture as many enemies as possible ala Gaplus to amass quite an accumulation of firepower, even if it is often short-lived. To really rack up your points a key will be to deny aliens from descending to ruin the ground, exposing lava. This both reduces your bonus points but also makes moving around more difficult as you’ll need to hover over the lava spaces. Put all of this together with some challenging boss battles, support for local 2-player co-op, and you have a pretty addictive arcade-style shooter that is doing its own thing.


Tack on a budget-friendly price and people who are looking for something to pick up and then put down in spurts may want to give it a look. Older gamers who appreciate the classics will probably award it some additional points for the many small touches that trigger nostalgic feelings for games from yesteryear. Space Dave may not be a very complex game but for its target audience it will likely prove to be just the thing for blowing away some time here and there trying to get to the next boss or improve their high score.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • An amalgamation of rock-solid arcade play from multiple classics
  • Random power-ups can be game-changers and keep things interesting
  • Perfect for a quick bite-sized break and serious hits of nostalgia

Cons:
  • The less familiarity you have with arcade classics the less it will likely appeal to you
  • Without reading up on some of the hints you might be playing the game wrong. For example: DON’T EVER USE AUTO-FIRE!


Review: Super One More Jump [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the great things that the mobile space brought back to gaming was the concept of simplicity in control and how it can still make for challenging and compelling games. In particular the one-button control scheme, on its face, can seem quite basic or even boring, but when paired with the right game mechanics and level designs it can lead to some inventive fun. Super One More Jump manages to eke out a significant amount of mileage built around only being able to jump, and does so through smart use of a few key elements combined with some challenging stage layouts.


The basic idea is that you control your avatar by tapping any of the buttons on the controller (though oddly the triggers don’t work) to hop your way between platforms, over gaps, and through obstacles. You could be content to merely manage to survive to the exit point of each stage but that would be missing out on the fun! Each level also has 3 gems on it, placed in spots where you’ll often have to flex your timing skills in order to capture them. Get them all and you’ll have mastered the level in Classic mode, opening things up to complete in the other 3 modes, though this is optional and I couldn’t see any particular benefit to doing other than for your own satisfaction. These gems will also serve as a sort of currency for changing up the look of the game or your character, owing to some cool community-created art, and unlocking additional modes to extend your fun. While the alternative art can be great for helping to make the game more personalized you should note that in some sets critical elements are sometimes assigned confusing or hard-to-see icons, potentially making them a liability in some cases. Still, it is a great value-added feature.


While in the early going the game will feel almost painfully simple for each new group of levels you unlock new concepts will be introduced and the degree of challenge will typically make a considerable jump. You’ll soon find yourself moving from laughing the game off as too easy to questioning your core gaming abilities when you’ve managed to die about 10 times in a row just trying to perfect the timing to grab that one gem without then dying. Best played in short bursts it is a great pick-up-and-play title with a load of charm, over 100 core levels, and unlockable content that will put your reflexes and sanity to the test. To boot if you can find some friends who dig the core gameplay it has multiplayer modes to offer up as well. It’s a pleasant surprise of a gem in an overall unassuming package.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Manages to be challenging despite its one-button nature
  • A wide array of art styles help you personalize your game experience
  • An abundance of levels, additional unlockable modes, and even multiplayer support give this budget title serious legs if you buy into the core gameplay

Cons:
  • Not everyone will get sucked into the basic style of gameplay
  • Some of the art styles can have confusing or muddled elements in them, making them harder to enjoy
  • Though there are 3 additional modes you can conquer levels in I couldn’t see any compelling reason offered to bother


Review: Darkest Dungeon [Nintendo Switch eShop]


It seems that no matter what genre you’re a fan of the roguelike distinction is capable of coming in with new ideas to not only typically make the games tougher but also a hell of a lot more interesting. While there have been many shooters and platforming adventures to take on my favorite game-modifying enhancement I can’t say that I’ve played any turn-based RPGs that have embraced the dark side to date. To say that Darkest Dungeon is quick to make up for the lost time would be an understatement, in fact I’m not sure that the name is sufficiently grim considering the turmoils that await within.


Striking out each time from the hamlet that serves as the game’s hub one half of the key to success in the game is making judicious use of the resources you gather to slowly improve your key buildings, try to mend your heroes’ fragile psyches, or to at least give them a little entertainment with some drink or paid companions. As we’ll soon discuss questing in the game is a rough business and you’re not going to be able to simply dive into dungeons, grab loot, buy new gear, and make a return trip for more. Consider that familiar comfort zone shattered, here you’ll need to keep an eye out at the stagecoach looking for the fresh mea… I mean recruits to your cause, because in this world death is quite literally around every corner and for some of the sorry bastards you’ll try not to get attached to in your parties it would actually be preferred.

It turns out here that, in a much more realistic touch, the mind is a fragile thing and on top of the normal roguelike concerns with the RNG Gods turning their backs on you by allowing a random critical attack to decimate your favorite hero Darkest Dungeon takes things a step further. You see, while your heroes’ bodies may manage not to be broken if they endure enough stress (and they will) it is their minds that you’ll need to be concerned with. First, if you fail to properly gear your party up with the appropriate supplies you can expect there to be a toll. Hunger, roaming in the darkness, or being exposed to a number of different scenarios without the proper equipment will immediately put your party of four on edge. Now, throw in a bad turn of events, whether your fault or through the cruelty of fate and things can quickly go to hell in a hurry. Once one of your party reaches a high enough stress level they will take on an affliction. As a general rule these tend to be negative but perhaps worst of all is how this incident can then throw your entire team into chaos if you’re not careful (or just lucky). In true roguelike fashion there are times when this event will be a net positive and you’ll have someone rise to the challenge, just don’t expect that to be often. Random encounters with traps and objects tantalize with the classic risk/reward proposition, sometimes harming people, sometimes providing direct rewards, and sometimes adding permanent traits to the character to further flesh them out, hopefully they’ll be positive ones.


Outside of the game’s notorious difficulty there are some concerns worth noting. First, there’s simply a lot going on and more things to know than the in-game help is very good at helping you process. With that in mind I would recommend at least reading a starter guide for the game that won’t give everything away but will at least arm you with some solid fundamentals so the early game isn’t quite as perplexing. Second, the controls are a mixed bag overall. Coming from the PC space with a mouse using the touchscreen in handheld mode would obviously be the most ideal way to control the game, and it works very well using a hybrid of physical controls and touchscreen. If you don’t have great eyesight or are playing in a spot that isn’t quite dark enough the type can get pretty small and hard to read though. Move to docked mode and using only the controller is simply clunky though, as moving through all of the screens and elements can be done but can be cumbersome and confusing in places. You’ll likely want to settle on handheld mode and that helps reinforce that getting help outside the game may be best rather than trying to read everything on-screen if you’re having problems.

In the end it’s the difficulty and unpredictability at the core of the game that will either make it incredibly appealing to you or rightfully scare you away. There’s no glory without challenge and sacrifice and when you manage even small victories in Darkest Dungeon they can feel terrific. Sadly, even when you carefully manage your resources and try to keep your accumulated rotation of characters in good shape you’ll need to accept that any happy thoughts and feelings are often fleeting. One particularly bad mission can cripple even your AAA team if enough manages to go wrong and while you can pay to remedy afflictions the cost will make you think it over very carefully. It’s both thrilling and depressing and captures the essence of what makes roguelikes so interesting all at once. If you’re a fan of this style of play it is an easy recommendation but if you’ve not dipped your toe in the pool yet this may be a bit deeper an end to jump into than most so you’ve been warned.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A harrowing challenge and no character is safe!
  • Absolutely unique in its style and tone
  • Works best overall in handheld mode with a combination of touch and physical controls

Cons:
  • A harrowing challenge and no character is safe…
  • There’s a lot to digest here with information, menus, and game systems and the in-game help isn’t always so clear… an online guide is recommended
  • Playing docked means no touch controls and some clunky menu navigation, handheld mode means text that gets pretty small and hard to read


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review: Nightmare Boy [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While there are many well-represented genres already on the Switch the classic Metroidvania numbers are currently a bit thin. That isn’t to say that the titles available, most notably Steamworld Dig 2 and Axiom Verge, are an issue as both are excellent and each has their own distinct take on the genre. We now have Nightmare Boy throwing its hat into the ring as well, with its own distinct visual style and gameplay, though it unfortunately suffers when compared to those aforementioned titles.


In the game you’ll play as Billy, a young boy who has been sucked into a sort of nightmare world and becomes embroiled in some sort of conflict… but honestly it all kind of went over my head pretty quickly. You’re there and you’ll slowly come along a variety of funky beings who will help you along, though some of their motivations and actions do make it challenging to tell what’s going on at any given time. The moral of the story will be to wander and find your boss conflicts, defeat them, and then accept the rewards they give you so you can find your next fight and then use your newfound ability to progress further.

The somewhat uneven story matches up pretty well with the nature of the action you’ll be playing through. While your enemies are undoubtedly varied in their appearance and methods of attack things can be a bit muddled and confusing as well. In particular the benign little puffball beings scattered everywhere aren’t necessarily meant to be killed, and with one particular power-up you can use to get a warrior helper you’ll actually take some damage when you kill them. Unfortunately they’re very good at getting in the middle of fights so that entire aspect of things is just frankly weird. To the game’s credit, the boss fights are often with unusual-looking nightmarish creatures who then sometimes have some surprises in store for you, but at times sticking with the game got tough.


I think my biggest issue with the game was simply having a grasp on where I was supposed to be going or what I was supposed to be doing. The thing is, there’s plenty of content overall in terms of things to find, children to rescue, and bosses to fight. Why there’s not then a better overall way to tell where to go next is baffling. There’s a map which is good on a general level at revealing where you’ve been and somewhat hinting at possible places to go but I found myself wandering and backtracking far more than I’d prefer. On a general level the controls are a bit on the loose side so jumping and attacking can take a little getting used to. For the moment it is also worth noting that the Pro Controller isn’t supported so you’ll just want to be aware or on the lookout for any announcement for when support is in place.

In the end Nightmare Boy offers up something thoroughly different from a visual standpoint and it can be quite challenging, just not always for the right reasons either. If you give it some time it does pick up momentum and you can get into a groove but when you hit the spots where you’re not sure where you’re going things understandably drag quite a bit. Probably only recommended for the most die-hard Metroidvania fans who have blown through what’s already available on the system, show patience with Nightmare Boy and some fun can be had with it.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A distinct visual style with bizarre monsters and bosses to fight
  • Generally challenging play with boss fights showing quite a bit of variety

Cons:
  • The story is a bit of a mess and I honestly got impatient with it in the early going, just wanting to play
  • Control isn’t quite as tight as I’d like with movement, jumping, and attacks, but you can adjust to it
  • There are times I simply got lost and couldn’t tell where I was supposed to go next, which needlessly lead to wasted time


Friday, January 26, 2018

Review: Tachyon Project [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Probably one of the most impressive arcade shooting series of the past decade, without a doubt, would be Geometry Wars. Mixing gorgeous minimalist aesthetics, well-defined and diverse enemies, and a high degree of difficulty it deserves its reputation. Tachyon Project, at first glance, appears to have much in common with Geometry Wars but while there are some similar concepts and elements it very much charts a path all its own.


First and foremost, Tachyon Project aims to have a story, though overall how much this enhances the experience is hard to say. For the most part sticking with some high-tech hacker tropes, with a pinch of double-crossing peppered in, you will take control of a rogue program trying to break into computer systems in search of information. Regardless of how you feel about the narrative what this does manage to do is provide structure to the proceedings, and it does give the levels and bosses a bit of a different feel. It may be my soft spot for the Disney classic TRON but I did like the idea at play here.

The other, perhaps more notable, element that stands out in the game is its difficulty. Even as a hardened twin-stick shooter fan who has made it through some serious challenges to date on the Switch several of the title’s roughly 60 total waves over 10 chapters threw me for a loop. Defeat comes swiftly and with force due to the tendency of enemy waves to collect together. This can make them easier to take out if you have enough space to get them all but it also means when you can’t keep up they hit you like a steamroller. The amount of time I spent desperately trying to evade enemies while firing back at them to whittle down their numbers is substantial. To help with this as you progress you’ll have upgrade options for your primary and secondary weapons as well as additional enhancements. Expect to spend some time exploring your options as they’re generally very well-balanced and on certain levels there are definitely optimum choices that will differ. Once you complete the primary Story Mode a Story+ Mode will open up offering a chance to start over with higher difficulty but with all of your upgrades already available to make things more fair. Of course there’s also more traditional arcade excitement in the Challenge Modes for score as well once you’ve exhausted your interest or patience in the story modes, complete with leaderboards. Also, if you enjoy chaos the game supports up to 4 players.


While there’s a lot to like in the game it isn’t without its rough edges either. The most noticeable issue is that as the number of enemies and particles on the screen increases so does the slowdown. That isn’t to say it detracts from how enjoyable things are, it’s the sheer force of volume that make the game what it is. As mentioned before the tendency of enemies to form into clusters can, at times, get a bit irritating as these groups can very easily overwhelm you at times, especially since it can be difficult to judge just how many are clustered together when the action gets intense. Finally, while I appreciate the stealth enemy types, and they truly help give the game a different kind of feel, they do make playing the game in handheld mode a bit challenging at times. In a nice dark room things tend to be fine but with any amount of glare even at maximum brightness some of the quick-moving enemies can be hard to see. Not a killer but well worth noting if you generally find yourself trying to play games on the go in bright places or outside.

Even with as many twin-stick shooters there already are on the Switch Tachyon Project manages to distinguish itself both with its story mode structure and its level of challenge. For the most part this is a great thing for shooter fans but if you tend to only dabble perhaps you may find yourself in over your head after a few levels. Throw in the many upgrade combinations you can choose to play with to refine your ship’s style to suit your preferences and it is a great addition to any shooting fans’ Switch library.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • The Story Mode gives it a structure that is refreshing
  • A multitude of upgrade options provide ample opportunity to change things up to suit your style or the situation
  • Tough-as-nails gameplay will force you to work for your victories

Cons:
  • Even with the various mode types they all ultimately play out roughly the same… shoot while evading and try to stay alive
  • Things do begin to slow down as the action intensifies
  • The degree of difficulty in some levels may be too much for all but the most hardcore shooting fans


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review: ChromaGun [Nintendo Switch eShop]



Finding yourself in a somewhat sterile clinical environment you’re tasked with solving puzzles to make your way through a series of rooms. Given direction and some prompting to act by a sometimes-humorous omniscient voice who tracks your progress you will need to make smart and careful use of a high-tech sort of gun you’ve been provided to help manipulate the environment. For anyone familiar with the Portal series ChromaGun pretty nakedly aims to recreate some of the touches that helped make it special. Unfortunately in this case comparison only serves to harm the game a bit, reinforcing its mostly generic overall feel.


ChromaGun is all about using your tri-color enabled weapon to shoot unshielded panels of walls or spherical robots (some more dangerous than others) to change their color and help you make your way through levels. Typically this will be done by making their colors match, which will attract the robot in the direction of any wall segment with a matching color. There are times when this can create an interesting sort of tug-of-war situation with multiple segments all pulling a robot at once, though you can easily change things by simply changing the color of those segments. There’s an unfortunate side to the way this works with all colors being additive, as once you over-paint a crucial wall segment or spherical robot they’ll be permanently black. Since there’s no undo or clear color option this will result in a few level resets.


Perhaps worse, though, is that you can see why the developers tried to emulate Portal. Aside from offering a first-person perspective for solving these puzzles it doesn’t really do much to make a lasting impression. There are some clever puzzles to be completed, no doubt, but the gameplay is generally as sterile as the environments you’ll be working in. Unfortunately, though some of the trappings of Portal are present absolutely none of the intrigue or heart come along for the ride. While you’ll see some cracked or missing panels in some of the rooms there’s nothing deeper or subversive going on behind the scenes to match the meta-narrative that made it special. In addition there’s simply not enough creative variety possible with your paint gun by comparison so on most levels inviting people to contrast the two titles may have been a misstep.


In the end ChromaGun is an interesting perspective (quite literally) on a puzzle game and offers a series of clever challenges that will test your planning and patience. If you’re able to appreciate the details of presentation for what they are rather than perhaps what they were aimed to be that will also help greatly. While it isn’t quite on target, for puzzle fans looking for some variety it delivers something unique on the Switch.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • A different perspective on puzzle games
  • Some clever mechanics and puzzles provide a challenge

Cons:
  • Ultimately not a lot of variety in the nature of the puzzles, just complexity
  • Inviting comparisons to Portal without delivering comparable heart and laughs was a misstep
  • No color reset option requires a few more level resets than feel necessary


Review: Oh Sir... The Hollywood Roast [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Have you ever watched one of the celebrity roasts on Comedy Central and sort of wished you could participate and get some cracks in of your own? While Oh Sir… the Hollywood Roast won’t quite provide that opportunity it will allow you to sling some arrows at a fellow quasi-celebrity for some quick giggles. Coming out at the same time as the game that it’s based on, The Hollywood Roast is a shot at marginally improving on the basics of the original Insult Simulator while changing up the theming to keep it fresh and fun.


Taking the place of the somewhat more generic characters and settings offered up by its sibling, Hollywood Roast provides you with some almost celebrities as well as a few options based on popular movie characters. As before, the name of the game is trying to construct some silly but devastating insults to take out your opponent, whether another person or the CPU, before they manage to do the same to you. On a basic level you’ll need to be careful to construct a grammatically-correct barb, trying to extend it as far as you’re able to in order to score additional points. Of course if you’re not careful and your opponent is able to take the option that you were hoping to use yourself that could all backfire on you. You do have 2 choices reserved to only yourself, and you’re able to cycle them once per round, but since everything is pretty random you’ll have to be careful to plan things out if you want to devastate your opponent. One misstep is makes is the inclusion of a cultural caricature of a character that feels quite a while past its expiration date, but whether that’s a disqualifier or somewhere else on the scale would be a matter of taste.


The theming and phrases having a more entertainment-oriented vibe does differentiate the two games a bit and adds personality to the proceedings but there’s still no getting around that, like the original, this isn’t likely a long-term game. What’s great is that it is priced accordingly so if you keep your play sessions from getting too long and space out play a little bit you can probably keep it from feeling quite so repetitive longer. The fact that this is a pretty unique game experience also helps to add to the giggles and low price to make it worth considering for some budget-friendly entertainment.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • The Hollywood vibe gives it a distinct feel
  • A surprising amount of strategy to be applied, especially against a friend

Cons:
  • One particular character is a dated cultural caricature that is a bit grating
  • It doesn’t take too much time to feel as though you’ve exhausted the majority of phrases
  • If you’ll only be playing solo it has less to offer


Review: Oh Sir... The Insult Simulator [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While there are a wide variety of games and genres represented on the Switch, I can’t say to this point there’s been anything quite like Oh Sir… The Insult Simulator. Playing out with a combination of silliness and mild strategy it provides an experience unlike anything else out there. Match this up with the budget-friendly price and although it lacks substantial depth it should provide for a fine diversion if you’re looking for something a little different.


Very obviously inspired by classic Monty Python sketches, with one location being a pet shop complete with a deceased bird of a specific species and multiple insult elements inspired by the likes of the French Taunter from Holy Grail, the game has a very specific sense of humor. Whether against a friend or the CPU you’ll be tasked with stringing together a series of words and phrases to construct an insult to wound your opponent’s pride. Aside from the basic rules mostly revolving around using proper grammar and sentence structure there are also ways to reuse specific phrases to get combos bonuses, exploit your opponent’s weak spots to gain added style points, and a few other nuances as well. In particular since each player takes turns grabbing phrases there’s a bit of care and planning that you need to use in making your insult work while trying to potentially derail the one your opponent is cooking up.


While it doesn’t take too long before your choices begin to feel like repeats the highly affordable price tag makes it feel like a pretty square deal. Running about the same price as a movie rental an expectation of depth could be unfair, instead it is just a satisfying bite of fun for a while, especially if you have some friends who are game to join in on the experience. Prompting some giggles and demonstrating a bit more strategy than I initially gave it credit for it’s a very niche game that does a good job of providing a very different experience.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A game that’s "completely different" than anything you’ve likely played
  • A variety of characters and environments, including unlocks, provide for some humorous variations
  • A very budget-friendly price

Cons:
  • Has a sense of humor that not everyone may appreciate
  • Probably best played in short bursts to help longevity
  • As a solo exercise it’s much more difficult to enjoy


Monday, January 22, 2018

Review: Shu [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The endless runner has become a pretty serious genre in the mobile space, a mix of platforming and quick planning allowing you to avoid obstacles to keep yourself alive. The more traditional platformer is another animal entirely, utilizing a core set of skills to navigate a space but often without anywhere near the same sense of urgency. Shu represents a somewhat curious combination of the two, moving between more relaxed item collection and platforming puzzles and then segments of pretty intense urgency on a pretty regular basis. Mix this up with a gorgeous visual style and you have a pretty compelling package overall.


Your title character is a somewhat cute but owly sort of creature, who has fled from their village to escape a grim fate at the hand of a malevolent darkness. With only an ability to jump and then sort of go into a controlled float you can’t just do it on your own. So, in the search to stop this darkness you’ll meet up with a variety of other characters, each giving you an additional ability while they’re in your party. While none of them will stick with you for more than a few levels they then return in the game’s final stage where your mettle will be fully tested.

Structurally the game is broken into stages, with each stage consisting of multiple levels. Within those levels is where you’ll run into the contrast in styles, though the overall scheme from level to level can vary a bit in both variety and intensity. For the bulk of your time you’ll simply be platforming around, jumping and using the skills of your companions to try to collect the little fireflies, baby owls, and stone tablets hidden everywhere. Bear in mind that there’s no compelling reason to collect all of these aside from being a completionist, which was a bit disappointing, but it is something to make you stretch and work. Then, usually quite suddenly, the darkness will come for you and things shift into high gear. Where before you were just somewhat messing around to use your party’s skills to move around in this phase you’ll be pushed quite hard to keep a quick pace or you’ll be killed.


This leads into a discussion of the game’s difficulty and the somewhat hard pendulum swing it has from a bit numbingly simple to quite challenging. It’s a bit strange honestly. Especially if you’re not determined to find and collect everything the general platforming portions of the levels are largely vanilla. They do require some skill to find everything but in general you won’t find yourself at risk of losing your 5 lives that reset at every plentiful checkpoint. Once things kick into high gear though expect to have some close calls or even get stuck for a bit while struggle to master the use of your abilities and where you can cut corners to keep ahead of the darkness. Rather than being a consistent challenge it most often goes from being very easy to pretty hard and there’s not much in between. It all works as a whole but it is a pretty big contrast. To go with this the structure of some of the levels can be odd and when you almost slept through the bulk of a level it can then be aggravating to have to repeat it all because you got taken out by the darkness at the end. As an added note the game works far better in docked mode, the scale and darkness in some levels can make it tricky to see critical details in handheld mode at times.

All said Shu is an absolutely gorgeous game that can likely be enjoyed by gamers of all skill levels as long as they’re ready to challenge themselves. The darkness phases can all be beaten if you’re patient and work out how to cut corners to save time, so even if you feel a little overwhelmed at first some commitment should get you through in the end. I do wish the challenge were more evenly distributed and there were tangible rewards for bothering to collect everything but overall Shu is a solid platforming experience.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Attractive hand-drawn art
  • Plenty of collectibles for completionists
  • Overall a pretty mainstream-friendly level of challenge

Cons:
  • Rather than having a consistent level of difficulty it swings between easy and hard
  • The collectibles are just there for flavor and provide no benefits for getting them all
  • Playing in handheld mode can be tricky at smaller scale


Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: Baseball Riot [Nintendo Switch eShop]


After releasing a steady stream of quality content, both shooters and casual games, Baseball Riot marks the point where the folks at 10 Tons have managed to move all of their backlogged titles to the Switch. While typically each of their releases has tended to be a bit more distinct, this one happens to be more of a quasi-sequel. Sharing almost every detail with the previously-released Tennis in the Face, this is another budget title that provides some fun physics-based gameplay to enjoy over a pretty significant number of levels.


The gameplay, for the most part, it simple at its base. You’ll be hitting baseballs in order to knock out a variety of enemies on the screen. These vary from weird fans to umpires and other baseball-related people of various kinds. Each enemy type typically has a special consideration you’ll need to take into account, and that will make them increasingly hard to knock out. Most typically the way to get around this is to have a great sense of aim and to work on ricocheting your shots off the walls/ceilings/floors to hit them. Once you’ve hit them all you’ll be done with the level but if you’re interested in chasing scores and bonuses you’ll also want to try to as many of the 3 stars on each level as you can as well. Manage to do it efficiently and you’ll get an additional bonus for each ball you save. In the end unless you’re simply out to challenge yourself there’s no need to try to get everything, at least not on the first pass, but with some time and creativity it can be amazing how many things you can knock out in one shot and that can be fun. Depending on the layout of the level and obstacles you’ll have additional opportunities and challenges but, for the most part, the essence of the game is aiming those shots using some creativity and a strong sense of geometry to plan where the ball should go.


If you’ve not played Tennis in the Face and this sounds like it could be fun for the most part the choice between the two would boil down to taste and theming preferences, they’re both fun and challenging, and most people wouldn’t likely notice many differences. That’s not to say they aren’t fun, they’re both great time-wasters when you’re just looking for a distraction for a little while. If you’ve generally enjoyed simple physics games on your mobile phone like Angry Bird and others it is certainly worth checking out.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • With every new stage you reach a new enemy type is introduced
  • Levels vary from straight up ricochet action to almost Rube Goldberg style chain reactions
  • Well suited to quick pick-up-and-put-down play

Cons:
  • Very much not a hardcore game, it’s intended for more casual fun
  • The core mechanics never evolve despite the fact that you need to apply them differently
  • From level to level the degree of difficulty can vary wildly at times


Review: Of Mice and Sand - Revised [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Resource Management games have been around for quite some time, and have been particularly popular in the mobile space, so it is a bit surprising that the genre is so sparsely represented on the Switch. Of Mice and Sand - Revised has been brought to the system as an update to a previous version created for the 3DS looking to capitalize on that fact. Unfamiliar with the original I won’t be able to comment no the changes that have been made, only on the overall picture of this version… and even for genre fans it may be tough to love.


Since the story isn’t terribly important we’ll strip things down to the very basic to get on with the details. You begin your journey as a team of 2 mice in a minimally-outfitted sandcrawler, venturing out across the desert ultimately in search of the fabled El Dorado but for the moment merely looking to cobble together the means of survival. It’s a tough road ahead of you as you’ll need to go from town to town, in search of raw materials so that you can craft equipment and supplies to either improve your vehicle or complete quests for money. You’ll perpetually need to keep an eye on your fuel and your food supply as running dry on either while in the middle of the desert will result in an attack by a horrible sand worm and losing a lot of progress.

In order to help the game from seeming quite so repetitive along the way you’ll have random encounters, often with a decision to be made. The outcome of these can be unpredictable so you’ll need to decide whether to roll the dice or play it safe, chance can be both kind and cruel so to a limited degree this adds a sort of roguelike feel to the mix as well. As you accumulate money you’ll be able to hear of other rumored settlements to go to and on the road to new places inevitably new materials will then become available for you to work with to further improve your vehicle, provide for more crew, and make more money. The loop is definitely there on a clearly-defined path, but that isn’t to say there aren’t some missteps to getting there.


First, the interface is a bit cumbersome and clumsy no matter how you decide to play. Using the joycon is the least recommended route as the buttons to press to get in and out of the menus works but is a bit odd. It is clearly easier to play in handheld mode with the touchscreen but while the buttons on the screen work pretty well in the menus themselves things are a little tight so while you’ll usually pick the right line it just feels better suited to a stylus than fingers. Second, and this irked me quite a bit, I’m not a fan of tips for playing the game having a cost in the rumor mill. If there must be a cost it should at least be next to nothing. This is very much a game where knowledge is vital and making you expend money to get some help only seems to serve to punish new players or people venturing out their first time. There’s enough in the game to make you fail already, this felt like piling on. If nothing else having tips accompany quest completion could have gated them in a way that required effort but didn’t feel cruel. Last, the early going feels like a serious grind for the most part, with a lot of moving back and forth to get enough going to make some progress. Once you get over the hump things begin to get more varied and interesting but as the game is structured I could see a lot of people losing interest out of boredom or frustration before the game’s better content is even revealed.

Ultimately Revised has its merits and can work but it sort of shoots itself in the foot in places in terms of engaging and hooking new players in for the ride. If you take your time, show patience, and stick with the system you’ll begin to expand and improve your vehicle, add to your crew, and see a number of more interesting things as you progress. Just be warned that the game isn’t so much outright hard in terms of difficulty as it can be a bit tedious in stretches as you try to accumulate what you need to progress, and you’ll always need to keep an eye on your food and fuel or you’ll meet with a nasty fate.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • Once you’re rolling upgrades to your ship help make things more interesting
  • Random encounters keep things unpredictable and lend variety

Cons:
  • The interface, as a whole, is a bit on the clunky side
  • There’s a sort of added penalty for being a new player unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game
  • Pacing early on is a bit too slow and tedious, if people got some early wins before the grind set in it would be easier to love


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: InnerSpace [Nintendo Switch eShop]


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


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

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


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

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


Score: 8

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

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


Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Nuclien [Nintendo Switch eShop]


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


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

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


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

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



Score: 7.5

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

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


Interview with Jonathan Deutsch of DUFGAMES About Black Hole


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What are your plans moving forward?

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

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

Anything else you’d like to share?

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

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