Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review: Bridge Constructor Portal [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Games with an element of creativity, where you’re given a set of rules and some limited materials to work with to solve a problem, can be tough to get right. Physics-based bridge construction games have been around for awhile now, having cut their teeth in the mobile space and moved out to PC and consoles. While they have a certain appeal to them, and can have elements of goofy fun, the risk they run is in becoming too repetitive and stale if they focus too much on real-world problems. In order to solve that particular issue in a smart way the people behind Bridge Constructor Portal made an excellent move in securing the Portal license, bringing along not just the voice (and wonderfully dry wit) of its best character, GLaDOS, but all of the varied goodies it has to offer as well.


Right from the opening questionnaire, before you’ve even begun building, the signature humor from the series is in full effect. This immediately put a grin on my face and from there things generally remain consistently enjoyable whether it is the clinical description each challenge, GLaDOS ridiculing you in a variety of ways when you fail, or simply how the workers on various pieces of transport equipment can fall to their deaths. Aside from the game being legitimately challenging it is damned funny. If you’re already a fan of the Portal series I’m happy to say they’ve pretty well nailed everything about it authentically rather than simply going through the motions. If you’re not familiar I would hope you’ll appreciate its very off-center nature and will encourage you to check out 2 of my favorite games ever made if you have the chance.

Of course no matter how entertaining the game may be, if this is a bridge building game that failed to deliver on its self-stated core experience it wouldn’t much matter. The great news is that, moreso than any game of its type before, it is both challenging and rewarding. First, unlike the case with Polybridge’s woeful attempt at pointer controls when in docked mode BCP uses the analog controls to excellent and precise effect. There aren’t too many buttons, you don’t feel like you can’t get the level of granular control you want, just overall it works perfectly. In handheld mode touchscreen controls are possible but honestly since the analog controls work well I preferred still using them rather than having to zoom in, move the screen over, etc. One thing that I really appreciate is that though the game keeps track of how much you’re “spending” (and I have no doubt a comment will be made at some point) you aren’t given budget limits, your focus is just on trying to succeed at all. Especially if you want to complete the level by allowing a convoy of vehicles to go over your creation you’re going to need some serious reinforcement, though watching half of the people crash and burn is usually part of the fun!


In terms of criticisms I actually don’t find there’s much to object to outside of some minor quibbles. While it wouldn’t be a minor issue if you’re colorblind since matching the proper portals is so key in the later levels where there can be quite a few of them I could see there being potential for issues. As new elements are layered in I’ll warn that the necessary solutions will begin to get creative and often somewhat unorthodox, so keep that in mind if you begin to feel stuck. Traditional solutions aren’t always practical or even possible, use of your vehicles as a weapon is allowed and possibly encouraged in certain situations.

Overall I had a blast with Bridge Constructor Portal and because of its very effective, and full, use of a terrific license it really goes to the next level for me. Using practically every element possible from those games it successfully manages not to be stale or predictable, instead there’s generally a new surprise around every corner. Married with controls that are spot-on perfect whether in docked or handheld mode, a sense of humor, and an unlimited budget I’m not positive how it could have been much better. Highly recommended!


Score: 9

Pros:
  • 60 diverse and challenging levels of fun
  • Excellent and full utilization of the Portal license
  • Impeccable controls whether in docked or handheld mode
  • No budgets!

Cons:
  • Lack of a colorblind mode could pose issues in later levels where there are numerous portals
  • Even with the humor and creativity this may still be too niche a genre for everyone to enjoy


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review: Toki Tori 2+ [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Obviously platformers are a staple of Nintendo systems, so doing things in a way that is new and different tends to be a challenge. To make things a little more difficult is the problem that new and different doesn’t always equate to accessible or great, so innovation is a bit like rocket science. A great example of this dynamic comes in the form of Toki Tori 2+, featuring your somewhat oversized chick who isn’t terribly versatile but who, with a little ingenuity, can do just enough to make its way through a host of increasingly-challenging levels.


Unlike many traditional platformers where your character has a pretty impressive set of moves, here you start out with a humble whistle and a stomp. On the one hand this is a bit on the limiting side but on the other it means that your time will be spent more on puzzle-solving and managing the various animals and bugs that are around you rather than using your acrobatic prowess directly to get by. The tricky part is that the game has very little in the way of training wheels so you’ll often need to experiment a bit and perhaps have a few leaps of faith in order to progress, even in relatively early levels.

In order to help alleviate some of the frustrations with repetition, and realizing you’ve done something wrong that requires the level to be reset, the game has a pretty brilliant system involving specific songs you can sing that are learned early on. Using one of these you can essentially roll back to the last checkpoint, but the ability to set your own can be a real lifesaver in particular. The reason the game needs these is that herding your “cats” (in this case birds, frogs, bugs, etc) at times can be a bit of a chore and you’ll need to work quickly and carefully to be sure everything happens in the right sequence with the right timing to get through certain puzzles. With this game, more than most, patience really is a virtue and you’ll find that slow and steady execution will typically win over simply trying to rush to get things done.


That does play into what may be the dividing line of who will enjoy the game and who won’t. If you’re patient and careful, willing to see the pieces of the plan in front of you and then meticulously execute it this may be your cup of tea. If you’re a bit more impatient, seeing roughly what the solution would be, but then are just trying to get it over with I’m inclined to think you’re more likely to find it plodding and aggravating. To it’s credit the game requires you to slowly evolve your thinking and to experiment to divine solutions to your problems without being explicitly prompted. For people who like a challenge this is a huge plus, just once you understand the solution at hand the game can sometimes get bogged down in the execution, which is a bit of a shame.

Thoughtful types who enjoy a good head-scratcher and can take their time to execute will likely find Toki Tori 2+ to be a delight. It’s bright, cheery, colorful, and chock full of its own unique flavor of puzzle platforming that’s not for the faint of heart. People who err on the side of action will more likely want to consider giving it a pass though since you’re more of a facilitator than an action start in this adventure. All that said it’s a unique offering on the Switch and will provide hours of puzzle-solving enjoyment with a formula I haven’t seen before.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Bright, cheery, polished, and positive
  • Does quite a lot with its deliberately minimal moveset
  • Since its original release refinements have been made to improve accessibility

Cons:
  • While the lack of training wheels spelling out techniques is appreciated at times it stinks to find yourself stuck and unsure what you’re supposed to be doing
  • When you understand what needs to be done but mess up the execution resetting and trying again can sap time


Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: Twin Robots - Ultimate Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Platforming games on Nintendo systems are a staple and somewhat expected fare, though with such a rich history the genre can carry some high expectations. That said, there’s a case to be made for titles that aren’t quite as oppressively challenging as some of the more extreme fare the system has seen and that’s where something like Twin Robots: Ultimate Edition comes in. While not terribly challenging it is also far more co-op and even family friendly than most games on the system so if you’re looking for something that starts out a bit more basic and then slowly turns up the dial on difficulty it may be a good fit.


You’ll play the game alternating control between two robots, or sharing the screen and effort with a friend. In every level the first objective is to free your friend by finding the large red button in the level, and from there your primary goal is to find the exit and escape but most likely you’ll want to seek out the powered floor titles and then find the battery hidden in the level. The progression curve along all 40 of the game’s levels is relatively slow and steady, making it about as accessible a platformer as I’ve seen on the system, even if it is also a tad generic. Some effort to hide some secrets and fun can be found if you’re thorough and explore each nook and cranny and these add to the fun as well.


Overall the only gripe may be the somewhat sedated pace of everything, at least for an impatient and twitchy gamer like myself. It’s fine, just sometimes when you’re waiting for an elevator it can feel like it takes an eternity. I’d say that as much effort was put into your power gauge, which you can share with your counterpart when they’re low on energy, it seems unusual that most of the obstacles tend to be insta-death. None of the levels are so long that this is a major issue, just in some cases these incidents feel as though they should have been survivable. The only other element that feels a bit off is the controls which can feel a little muddy at times, though thankfully for the most part pixel precision isn’t necessary for beating the game’s puzzles.


Overall Twin Robots: Ultimate Edition is a well-made platformer that could easily serve as an introduction to the genre. Whether playing with a friend or by yourself the relatively gentle slope of challenge does end up hitting its stride, getting a bit harder as you get to the end, but it does take a while if you’re a platforming veteran before pulling out some more challenging scenarios. The result isn’t a thrilling game but that one should work well for the proper audience.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Supports local co-op
  • Has a relatively slow and progressive difficulty curve
  • Some fun secrets for those who like to explore

Cons:
  • Probably too slow to get rolling for veterans
  • Controls can feel a little floaty in some situations


Review: The Final Station [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Usually when facing the potential of the world coming to an end in a game you tend to think of a heroic figure at the forefront of battle, giving their blood, sweat, and tears to save all of humanity. In truth I would imagine it would play out a bit more like The Final Station where you play the role of a mere train conductor fighting to transport vital supplies, and some passengers as well, while staving off death at the hands of enemies you don’t fully understand. Though you remain steadfast to your mission the various and conversations you encounter on the way serve to make you question what’s really going on, and unfortunately as of the game’s upsetting conclusion I’m not 100% positive that I know the answers still.


The action in the game is divided between the operation of the train, which is relatively simple and consists of what are essentially a few mini games to keep things in order and your passengers healthy. Keeping as many people alive as possible will yield money and sometimes some extra bonuses so you should make every attempt to do what it takes to save them, but as your supplies begin to dry up you may need to make some value judgements along the way. At every stop you’ll move into the other phase of the game which involves navigating the buildings and underground passages of the places you’ll visit. With limited health packs and ammo for your gun you’ll need to carefully consider how best to take out each opponent you face, choosing between wasting precious bullets (always go for the head) or risking injury by letting them get close enough for you to punch them. The varied enemy types you’ll encounter will force you to reconsider your tactics often depending on where they are, how they may be grouped, and what objects may be laying around.

The slow trickle of information is a major part of what will drive you to continue, once I got to about the midpoint of the game I couldn’t stop playing because I wanted to know how it would end. While clarity unfortunately isn’t what is ultimately delivered, the elements that can be understood are both aggravating and intriguing. That’s where the additional content in the game comes in, a second mode with a different man in charge who is moving around independently from the main story in a muscle car. His journey is actually a bit more challenging, including several new and decidedly more lethal enemy types to contend with. As a whole I’d say that unfortunately this second take may open more cans of worms than it helps close but the continued fleshing out of the politics and players behind everything going on in the original game remains pretty intriguing and it appears that there are people happy to die to protect their cause. You’ll continue to explore each building, working to find supplies and materials you’ll be able to craft with to help you survive. Since it can be relatively easy to die at times the pretty generous autosave spots overall in the game are very much appreciated and used often.


Turning a more critical eye to Station I’d say the likely primary complaints will revolve around the relative repetition of the gameplay at a high level and the nature of the story being told. Especially with regards to the added campaign if you’ve tired of the explore, kill, and scavenge gameplay loop it will generally just offer more of the same, though it’s admittedly a bit more challenging. With regards to the story there’s an element of Lost to it where a lot of bits of information and ideas are thrown around but it is very hard to tell what is speculation or outright deception and what’s real. Nevertheless a glance at online forums for the game (something you should wait to do AFTER you complete it yourself) easily demonstrates that there’s a great number of people interested in this very topic to discuss it with if you are looking for ideas on what all happens.

The Final Station was a surprise of a game that absolutely snuck up on me and that’s primarily thanks to the story. The action is engaging and can be a challenge but with every new note you find or comment you hear a survivor make the desire to understand this world, what has happened in the past, and what is happening now grows. With a runtime that is just about in the sweet spot for this experience at a handful of hours (though quite a few more if you play the add-on story) The Final Station is a pretty satisfying bite of indie goodness on Switch.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • An intriguing story told near the end of the world, or is it?
  • Autosave points are pretty frequent to help minimize the pain of failure
  • The add-on content provides an added perspective on what is happening and changes up your enemies for added challenge

Cons:
  • If you want clarity in a story you may walk away a bit aggravated
  • The action, overall, doesn’t evolve a great deal over the course of its runtime


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: Radiation Island [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While the survival genre has been around for quite awhile now, and tends to be very popular, to be honest it generally has never had much appeal for me. Whether too bogged down by an abundance of crafting menus and needs, resource scarcity, or too slow a progression curve I just never have seen the appeal. On the Switch there are a few options in the vein of Minecraft but Radiation Island is more of a purist experience, more focused on combat and lacking in the creative components. Is it worth a look? Surprisingly, even as a non-genre fan I’d say yes.


In a scenario that isn’t terribly original but obviously works you’ll find yourself on the shore of a mysterious island, generally starting out your adventure with nothing. A quick scan of the beach and going through a nearby abandoned building will get you started with some materials and with some in-game prompts you’ll learn how to begin on the road to success through crafting. A helpful journal essentially prompts you with things you want to accomplish and once you make something new the game does a pretty good job of filling you in on how to use it. You’ll want to spend quite a bit of time in the vicinity of that opening space, at least being sure to return there around nightfall until you’ve amassed clothes, some varied weaponry, and plenty of food because the next phase is much more difficult.

It isn’t enough to merely exist, you’ll want to explore and learn more about the island you’re on and, of course, how to get off of it. That’s a bit of a taller order and if you’re not careful in your exploration it can quickly get downright lethal. While early weapons and gear will help you deal with a random wolf or even a regular zombie (did I not mention there are zombies?!?!? Yeah, and some crazy lethal ones too!) you’re going to have to spend some time upgrading (or lucking into finding) better tools for chopping down trees and mining and then refining various materials so you can stock up on essentials like arrows or even bullets. Always be sure, before going into a new area or building, to check your supply of ammunition. While you can get out of a pinch with your melee weapon of choice when there are multiple enemies, or a particularly tough one, you’re going to want to keep everything at a distance to avoid getting hit or, worse, infected. The circle of life on Radiation Island can be cruel if you’re not careful.


Keeping in mind that the game has a very budget-friendly price the somewhat simplistic graphics and overall presentation I’m generally willing to give a pass. They’re adequate, they generally perform well, and while quirky you get the hang of things pretty quickly and easily. While the in-game help tries to get you rolling there are some topics and specifics it isn’t so great at conveying so, though a bit tedious, it is a good idea to go to the details option for any new material you pick up so you can be sure to get a handle on what can be done with it. Sometimes crafted items can have surprising components to them so always assume you want and need to have everything for some odd reason and use things like crates to your advantage to store crafting materials you may not need until later. Certainly combat is a bit on the primitive side but then again it works reasonably well, the aim assist is appreciated when things get a bit hectic, and while the combat is part of the game it is also a secondary concern to crafting and exploration.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how engaging Radiation Island is, especially as someone who typically doesn’t find the genre interesting. It seems to have a very accessible and friendly crafting system, isn’t too hard or easy, and allows you to take your own pace whether that’s suicidally aggressive or simply taking your time. If you’re not familiar with the genre or are a fan who is willing to perhaps pull back on your expectations Radiation Island is worth the trip.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Not overly difficult until you move out of the opening zone
  • A fair number of lethal surprises await
  • For the price the amount of space to explore is surprising

Cons:
  • The look and feel, overall, is a bit unrefined
  • Though the in-game guides try to be helpful some game systems can be a struggle to understand


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Review: Layers of Fear - Legacy [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While horror games are generally a pretty popular genre to date their representation on the Switch to date, at least from the indie perspective, has been spotty at best. While there have been some varied attempts at getting it right nothing has delivered legitimate scares paired with technically sound gameplay mechanics. The newest entry to the field, Layers of Fear: Legacy, manages to break ahead of the pack pretty substantially in the fright department but be warned that its somewhat passive style of play may still leave you cold if you were hoping for thrills to match.


Playing out more as an experience than a game per se Legacy is interactive in the sense that you will be walking through a house and looking at or using objects but it also lacks any direct conflict. That isn’t to say that the game lacks in a sense of menace and suspense, on the contrary it managed to get me into knots far more than any other indie game on the system to date. It does this through a slowly-revealed story that is appropriately dark and quite grisly that’s told through imagery, a variety of disturbing visions, and bits of letters and notes you’ll find around the house. Over the course of its handful of hours I was consistently eager to keep going and to uncover (quite literally, the game’s use of a painting as symbolism is inspired) more about this tragic and often disturbing tale of a man, his wife, and his daughter.


What complements and reinforces the scares in the game is the ever-changing environment you’ll find yourself in. Serving both as a means to disorient you and keep you off-balance the environment is almost constantly playing tricks on you, with rooms and objects changing the moment you take your eyes off of them. Many times this is just a function of creeping you out a bit but in specific instances this results in puzzles you’ll need to work out in order to proceed. While some of the solutions were more aggravating than others to get just right, in general the solutions are available to you. It’s just a matter of being patient, observant, and perhaps engaging in a bit of trial and error. These scenarios do help a great deal in breaking up the otherwise passive nature of your interaction with the house and they’re an appreciated extra effort. Once you complete the story the add-on content allowing you to experience a little more through a different perspective is also a nice value add.


All said if you’ve been looking for something on the scarier side for your Switch, Layers of Fear: Legacy serves up a grim story with some disturbing images and jump scares along the way. While it gets off to a very slow start once things begin to change and the truth of what has happened begins to reveal itself in general it’s a fun ride from that point on. In general terms the sense of dread and the feeling you get while walking through the house reminded me most of the classic Eternal Darkness, to the point that I was waiting for a bust to turn and watch me as I went by. While it’s certainly lacking in action the quality of the presentation helps to compensate nicely. There’s currently nothing else as chilling on the Switch.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Wonderfully grisly details abound
  • Ever-changing rooms keep you off-balance
  • The puzzles are well-integrated
  • The creepiest indie game on the Switch

Cons:
  • Lacking in action
  • Price to runtime ratio is a little steep


Review: A Normal Lost Phone [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Before getting rolling with the rest of the review I want to note two things. First, if you have an aversion of some kind with the frank discussion of peoples’ sexuality (though the game is in no way graphic) as well as intolerant views with regards to personal lifestyles this will be a game to avoid. Second, since I’m already concerned that the sharing of the first item could be saying too much the balance of this review will concern the method of storytelling and next to nothing more of the story itself since I don’t wish to ruin what makes the game so interesting.

As many ways as I’ve experienced a rich story in games on any platform this is the first instance of one I’ve, conceptually, played entirely through a smartphone. The premise of A Normal Lost Phone is that you’ve found someone’s phone and presumably are trying to get some basic information so you can help get it back to them. Instead, through exploring their history of texts, emails, and a few other apps you get to see this person through a wide variety of lenses framed by their interactions with others and gain an unusually clear perspective on this individual and their true story in the process.


While every message isn’t vital to the core story to be discovered, and there are hints to at least of the nature of the outcome peppered throughout as you go. What struck me in the various texts shared with family and friends from various circles was the authenticity of it all, the slight (or even sometimes significant) shifts in tone and topics with each person who belongs to a different circle. Your school chums get one face, your parents another, and then with people you’re close to there can be someone very different… yet even then it may turn out that isn’t truly “you” either. This format actually does an amazingly good job at concisely exploring all facets of someone’s personality at once rather than having to use plot devices or changing circumstances to force them out with gameplay.

Where you may struggle with the game is that there’s an expectation that you’re keeping mental note of things here and there, and that you’ll be able to make some leaps of faith as the game progresses and you’ll need to take some limited action to keep getting new information. Places, key dates, and information that can be cleaned from pictures are all things you’ll want to be aware of if you want to complete the game without assistance. Within the context of this being how you may need to determine someone’s password if you truly found their phone it makes sense but poring through a bunch of information looking for something that you can use to get through to the next layer can be aggravating.


Overall, if you’re receptive to what I would consider a very honest and genuine study of someone going through a difficult period in their lives and being faced with challenging decisions I’d say it is a worthwhile experience. It explores relationships both good and bad, the pain and burden of feeling guilty for decisions you make, and the process of personal discovery. Add in that it is done through an ingeniously clever mechanism of someone’s lost phone and it is a narrative treat unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • A story and characters that feel almost eerily authentic
  • The conceit of the entirety of the game happening through a smartphone
  • A reasonably-low price

Cons:
  • The progressive themes may rub some people the wrong way, you’ve been warned
  • Trying to make progress through divining what information to use as a passcode can be cumbersome
  • The relatively short runtime and fact that it is unlikely you’d want or need to play it more than once


Review: Hollow [Nintendo Switch eShop]


To this point the Switch hasn’t had any indie horror titles that have delivered a very positive experience. Either technically flawed or failing to deliver more than some light thrills and chills it has been tough being an indie horror fan on the system. Now we have Hollow, a game that made serious waves at its announcement, but then got a somewhat tepid response on PC even though it was visually quite impressive. Playing it now on the Switch, while it may be the most visceral and action-oriented survival horror title on the system that isn’t to say it isn’t without its flaws.


You’ll start out in the game docking with a space station in serious distress without too much of an idea of what’s going on. In the early phase, as you begin to orient yourself and find stray notes to lead you on your way, there is a pretty delicious level of suspense that then culminates with the reveal of the game’s first monster. This progression is well managed and it does inspire a nice feeling of dread. While there’s an attempt to maintain that same level of suspense and unease throughout, and in some sections it’s hard not to feel some degree of anxiety over what you may run into next, unfortunately repetition of the same very limited number of enemies does erode your interest level. As a warning there’s a degree of nudity in the game in the form of both the game’s distorted creatures as well as random pictures, and I believe those are no accident and relate to the game’s overall story, but it seemed appropriate to note.

In terms of the action at the core Hollow is a shooter, though this is more of a detail and means to survive than a precision-based feature. Movement on all front in the game is a bit sluggish. Whether this is connected to performance concerns with the game engine, a deliberate mechanism to slightly extend playing time, or even as a matter of taste I can’t say but it is impossible to ignore. It is this slow rate of speed that pretty well necessitates that you kill the enemies you’ll face, generally requiring a headshot to do more than knock them down, because evading them simply isn’t practical. The weapons you pick up thankfully have ample ammo distributed throughout the game, be sure to look for the yellow boxes they can be in or sometimes littered around on the floor. One key feature that will help you find what can be picked up is the map, which will display most items you can grab to help ensure you don’t miss any. As you encounter new situations there are some cases where you’ll absolutely need to sneak around but thankfully this isn’t very often. Some puzzles that are peppered in here and there range from basic in the case of turning on power stations to a bit obscure in the case of a password in one specific case to get through a door.


When I played the game on PC I was actually unsure how it would make it over to the Switch at all due to how detailed it was an how it played with dynamic lighting. While the conversion definitely required sacrifices in terms of clarity and detail, overall I was surprised that I only had issues with noticeable slowdown when the action got intense with multiple enemies on-screen at once. Unfortunately, due to the fact that everything is a bit dark to begin with, but then as your sanity starts to go visuals degrade further (reflecting your state of mind) I would say playing it in handheld mode is not recommended. At times it was workable but I would then hit sections where I simply couldn’t tell what was going on well enough to make it work. While I mentioned before that I’d consider the nudity a reflection on the nature of the overall story for the most part I wouldn’t say there’s much of a connection to who you’re controlling, the situation you find yourself in, or your goal. Perhaps it is in the nature of the notes early on that relay that this is all some sort of “game”, the redundant creatures you face, or even the opening lines in the game, but it’s tough to connect or care about what you’re doing.

While it is obvious the effort behind Hollow is there the net result, for the most part, comes up short. Without question people who are thirsting for a horror title that at least has some action and gore will probably find it worthwhile, willing to overlook its various flaws, but from a more mainstream perspective it’s a tough sell. The game’s conclusion promising more in the form of a sequel can hopefully point to a sophomore effort that’s a bit more varied and refined but this first outing is unfortunately tough to love.


Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • The best action-oriented horror title on Switch… though it has next to no competition
  • Some creepy visuals and tense moments
  • Visually ambitious

Cons:
  • Overall, whether from performance or choice the pacing of movement is undoubtedly slow
  • The dark lighting and muddiness of the visuals as your sanity wanes makes it tough to play in handheld mode
  • The repetition of backtracking and too little variety in enemies makes it drag
  • Hard to be engaged with your character and their situation


Friday, February 23, 2018

Review: Payday 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


After a long wait since the original announcement that Payday 2 would be coming to the Switch, it is finally here. Absolutely unique to the system with its mix of theft and mayhem, if you’ve got a taste for the criminal life this will be your best bet. Even better, rather than slowly seeing new content and unlockables stream into the game (or having to pay extra for them) a massive amount of DLC content is coming to the system baked in already. That isn’t to say, however, that this is something everyone will enjoy. Payday 2 will be a title best enjoyed by people who will either have a regular reliable crew of people to play with (preferably while using voice chat of some kind) or by people who have a great deal of patience and can adapt to the roulette wheel of being assigned to random groups. Lacking one of those two things, you’ve been warned that it will be a bumpy experience.


Starting with the positive when you get into your criminal groove and are working with a decent crew the game can shine. Whether you’re working a quick smash and grab, hitting a military facility, or raiding the workshop of a very bad “Santa” and his “elves” there’s quite a variety in the specifics of the missions you’ll encounter. Ranging from “quiet” missions you could possibly stealth your way through if you’re extremely careful and patient all the way up to “loud” missions where you’ll need to strap on your ballistic kevlar and simply look to mow down anyone or anything that gets in your way there’s room for some variety. Get yourself into place, disable alarms, quietly try to take out and bag some guards, and work to get at the mission’s “loot” in question. Of course, being realistic, I won’t lie… the majority of the time no matter what the mission is things will go south and then the waves of cops or other various opposition figures will begin to converge on you like locusts.

Unfortunately, characterizing your enemies as relatively instinctive creatures that demonstrate little intelligence past swarming in and trying to kill you isn’t too far off. Being generous the AI in the game is often remedial in how it responds. Granted, if the cops stormed into the building with precision the game might be a bit less fun since they’d more effectively take you out. That said, firefights tend to just be a free-for-all with nobody really bothering to look for cover and just gunning it up, hoping to connect with some headshots along the way to speed things up. While this can be fun, too often it is what is happening in the bulk of too many missions, with you trying to cover your drill, the server, or the building’s circuit breaker before you can get down to your criminal business and then get the hell out of Dodge. Where this falls a few further rungs down the ladder is when you try to play the game solo, paired with AI bots who unfortunately may exhibit more aggravatingly one-dimensional AI than their counterparts. Your AI companions, sadly, are only good for being bullet sponges, reviving you, and hopefully standing somewhere they can shoot at things. They can’t and won’t carry bags of loot so you’ll need to do all of those trips to the van yourself. They’ll generally stick with you to provide cover but when you have to make 3 trips to every 1 you could have made if each person took a bag there’s no doubt it can be aggravating.


The fact that they aren’t very good at following directions, and that there’s no means of trying to communicate with any nuance what you need to them, leads into the challenge of playing effectively with other people as well. On other platforms, and most specifically on PC, even without voice chat there’s always a means to communicate with people, whether for good or ill. Assuming people are on their best behavior this can be very constructive as a teammate who is struggling to contribute can directly be told what they’re doing wrong or how they could improve. Lacking keyboard support, voice support, or even a limited set of simple commands for communication this makes for a tricky situation specific to the Switch. With this challenge in mind if you want to enjoy playing the game and not drag down your team I’d very much suggest investing some time in reading up on general tactics for playing the game more effectively and perhaps even get some pointers on specific missions, particularly the longer and more complex ones since when you’re over 30 minutes into a mission you really don’t want to see it fail because can't coordinate what to do or where to go next effectively.

After dragging through some negativity that brings it back to how to ensure the game works its best for you, and a key component to that is knowing what to do. Whether it is fundamentals like always being sure to take and try to roughly manage your hostages, or perhaps tips for specific missions on simply what it is you may be looking for or trying to do in more than bullet point explanations your best bet in the game is to either lead by positive example or to have the sense to follow the lead of whoever seems to have a good idea of what to do. Knowing when to stick together, when to split up, and how to effectively break the mission up into simultaneous pieces whenever possible immediately makes the game both more fun and more challenging than everyone crowding into a choke point and mowing down waves of enemies.


Moreso than almost any title I’ve played on the Switch Payday 2 is absolutely only as good as you and the people you’re playing with make it. Stripped to its base experience it isn’t hard to see the issues creep up, and they can be a bit of a bummer. That said, if you and your crew are committed to playing things smart, making effective use of your time, and working together to complete the phases of the mission it can really be a blast and offers an experience like nothing else on the system.

This was written based on a copy of the game provided by the developer for review purposes.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • A unique experience on the Switch
  • Includes loads of stuff to customize yourself and your gear
  • When your crew is in the groove it can be a lot of fun

Cons:
  • The game is only as fun as you and the people you play with make it
  • Lacking a way to communicate with teammates makes for a brutal learning curve
  • As a whole the AI is extremely limited


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: Pinball FX3 [Jurassic Park Table Pack] [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s no question that Jurassic Park is a monumental classic piece of cinema and that its reboot with Jurassic World helped fully rejuvenate thoughts of a world with dinosaurs. While there have been a few attempts to bring the movie to life via physical pinball tables I’ll say that honestly I’m not much of a fan of either the classic Data East or the more recent Sega tables. Entering the fray is now the folks from Zen Studios, looking to do the franchise justice with their new Jurassic Park Pack for Pinball FX3!


Beginning with the most straight-up traditional table in the pack there’s Jurassic Park. Its layout is extremely ramp-heavy and has a third flipper on the right for making a specific ramp shot. The skill shot is particularly tricky, trying to drop the ball like an egg into a moving nest, but with some practice it can be pulled off for a nice bonus. Of course there are modes based on the movie and it features a lot of great sound and voice as well (though not the iconic music). Overall it feels like a throwback table in the spirit of a table that may well have been created at the time. About my only quibble would be with the left trapdoor that I fruitlessly hit often except when Video Mode would enable but then almost immediately disappear. A few things like this and the Locks tended to have an expectation of you immediately making the shot rather than standing, but I suppose that’s a design decision.


The second table, Jurassic Park Pinball Mayhem, is far less traditional with a large set piece of a TRex fighting a Stegosaurus to the upper left. Them being there creates a very non-symmetrical design which you may or may not enjoy depending on your tastes. I found that the center shot targets weren’t as useful or interesting as I would have liked but generally the action feels good. Of more interest is how heavily action-oriented the table is, clearly featuring many things that could never be done with a traditional table. These include day and night cycles with some weather effects, the dinos on the field that are consistently moving, and a rescue helicopter that will fly in and then be attacked by the TRex among other things. Probably my favorite table for making the most of the Pinball FX3 engine, it is one of their more unique tables I’ve played.


The last table, based off the most entry in the franchise, Jurassic World, may have the most theming and things going on but it’s also probably my least favorite in the pack. It’s layout is pretty classic with a few ramps, one slightly off-center and one to the right, but then some more unusual features like a loop around the center ramp you can sometimes find yourself in a streak with. Though the table art and the ball save graphic feature Chris Pratt unfortunately the most commonly-heard voice is of the kids at the beginning of each ball, particularly a whiny “I don’t wanna wait anymore”. Once you get some of the modes going things get a bit more interesting, and things like the raptors look quite impressive, but for me there was generally a bit too much dead time with the table without enough happening when compared to the others.


All in all if you’re a big dinosaur fan who loves Jurassic Park and pinball this pack delivers great varied examples of what the Pinball FX3 engine has to offer. The table layouts should probably guarantee that there’s at least one table that tickles your fancy and, in general the theming looks and sounds terrific. While I’d say it can’t quite match the outstanding Universal Pack (though, truthfully, it’s not much can) it is still well worth checking out.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Three completely different tables that feature varied flow and play
  • All 3 tables look great and make full use of what the FX3 engine can do
  • Great dino sounds and many often-relevant voice samples

Cons:
  • While licensing costs no doubt played a role tough not to hear the iconic Jurassic Park score while playing
  • Some quibbles with specific elements on various tables
  • The kids whiny voice on the Jurassic World table… *shiver*


Review: Ace of Seafood [Nintendo Switch eShop]


To be clear, we haven't quite hit a year with the Switch and in that span of time I've played an absolutely ridiculous number of diverse indie games. You'd think at over 200 of them, and with a big chunk of them being shooters, that it would get tough to run into a game that defies all previous experience and expectations. A few minutes with Ace of Seafood showed, very quickly, that there's still ample room for "different". Whether or not it will be a title you'll want to experience for yourself will be a fair question though.


I'll begin by simply stating what may already be obvious, this game is freaking weird. You'll begin your conquest of the sea, one reef at a time, as one of five somewhat humble species of aquatic life. Choosing between 3 fish and 2 crustaceans you'll need to start out by very carefully targeting even lesser organisms like sponge or clams to begin collecting material you'll need to help you and your school of partners grow. Little by little you can then take on slightly bigger targets in the hope you'll defeat them, collect their genetic material, and then hopefully have enough to be able to breed those species for yourself. If you're patient and smart you'll be able to accumulate quite a formidable force, eventually even somehow including warships (turn off your brain, just enjoy the silliness).

The other essential piece of this mechanic is the acquisition of new reefs. The more reefs your control the bigger the pool of points you'll have for making your school more formidable. Early on this will just be a matter of exploration. A new reef will show up on your map, typically with an arrow trying to guide you on-screen, and you'll just need to swim to it in order to add it to your list. It won't be long until they'll be defended by a squad of rival fish, or on the more lethal end even a small fleet of war ships, so you'll need to always be sure to pay attention to what's swimming around in the area to give you an idea of what you may face to take it. Once you get rolling the dynamic works fairly well. You take a new reef, you kill fish to collect their genes and material, you'll breed and upgrade your school, lather, rinse, and repeat.


In terms of issues the main things you'll need to enjoy Ace of Seafood will be an open mind and outright patience. There's simply a lot going on at all times in the game whether it is trying to grasp the most effective ways to wage combat, working out effective combinations of creatures for your school, or simply in trying to understand everything going on in the interface. The game's tutorial tries to give you a solid foundation to work with but there's simply a great deal of trial and error flailing you'll need to do in order to understand some aspects of the game. Just as a for instance even though my school eventually even included a war ship my tendency was to directly control the Mackerel I had started with. Its mix of attacks and maneuverability simply allowed me to be more effective in controlling the combat, mostly leaving the damage to be done by my school. It should be noted that you'll gain experience with the fish you control, eventually unlocking another attack, so given some time you could uncover an ability in another species that could make them more viable for your direct use.

With all of its quirks, completely gonzo gameplay, and ability to defy easy (or possibly sensible) description Ace of Seafood is absolutely an acquired taste for the Switch. That said, as I came to terms with everything it was throwing at me on-screen by taking time to slowly set up a foundation to work with it grew on me. There's absolutely some fun to be had with it if you can embrace the insanity and silliness of it all, you just have to be open to its very non-traditional experience in order to get there.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • The feeling of taking out a submarine, which you can then make use of, with a school of fish
  • A completely different kind of game experience
  • Each species has specific strengths and weaknesses you’ll need to understand to maximize your effectiveness, whether they’re an enemy or an ally

Cons:
  • The initial learning curve
  • Interface can be extremely busy and chaotic
  • This is absolutely not a game for everyone


Review: TypoMan [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Puzzle platformers have been a staple genre for quite some time. Blending some tricky jumps with various elements that will test your mental mettle they’re generally a mainstream-friendly treat. No matter how many you’ve played to this point I would wager you’ve never seen anything quite like TypoMan. With its protagonist’s body literally formed from the word “HERO” you’ll find it to be a creative romp through a world made literally from words.


It seems that the forces of “EVIL” (in this game, quite literally) have taken hold of this world and through a series of levels you’ll need to overcome challenges to save it. You’re no ordinary hero though, your weapons in this fight will be formed from words you create from the letters you have around you. This begins pretty simply by forming commands like “OPEN” or “RAISE” that affect mechanisms around you but as the game goes on you’ll be forced to be a bit more creative. In particular I liked the manipulation that is possible by forming a “LIE” that will then turn words into their opposite in order to turn the tide in your favor in places. This word mechanic is quite literally everywhere in the game, including in the background you can’t influence, and it put creative effect. Throw in some freebie unnecessary words that still have fun cosmetic effects like “HAT” and it is obvious the developers had some fun while creating the game.

Since this is the Revised edition of TypoMan the main campaign has some extra spots to find quotation marks that will complement the action at the time. In addition, once you’ve completed the relatively modest (though price-appropriate) main campaign two additional modes do become available to extend your play enjoyment. First, there’s Antonymizer which makes brilliant use of the game’s “LIE” mechanic to challenge you to help you put together the letters you’ll need to form a word… but to get the letters you’ll need you need to form an initial word and turn it into its opposite. The other is more traditional, Word Hunt, and plays out more like normal word games where your challenge is to find as many words as you can quickly.


In general I can’t say I found many issues worth noting, aside from nitpicks here and there. Sometimes the action sequences can be a bit picky with regards to timing, requiring more repetition to get through them as you work to find every minor stumbling spot or quirk with movement to avoid dying. While many random words are acknowledged, and some even have an effect, I also sometimes formed words that contextually seemed to have a valid use but that didn’t do anything at all. Since I had been somewhat hoping to see alternative solutions this was a minor disappointment but I could see where there’s a limit to how much effort can be put into this from development and on through testing.

Overall, especially as an English major and true fan of fonts, I found TypoMan to be a creative delight. What it lacks in polish in places it more than makes up for with sheer creativity and doing clever or unexpected things. About the only major disappointment is that it is over all too quickly, but I hope there’s some possibility that we could see more in the future by my exerting one last trick from the game: “SEQUEL”.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • An overall experience you’ve never had before
  • Makes creative, and generally accessible, use of words to drive and enhance play
  • The added mini games are a nice value-added touch

Cons:
  • Though satisfying, overall it is over too quickly
  • In a few cases the necessary timing of actions was touchy


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: Old Man's Journey [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the evolving genres in the industry is the “walking game”, where the emphasis on the play mechanics takes a back seat to the desire to tell a worthwhile story. While there is gameplay, and it can be evaluated, the reason to play these games is to either be entertained, horrified, touched, or perhaps a little bit of all of the above. Old Man’s Journey would probably be described as a puzzler based on its gameplay but that isn’t what makes it special. It is instead an emotional journey told through the vignettes of a man’s memories, played out as he revisits locations and specific phases of his life.


Without revealing too much about the story, aside from saying it is the product of someone who has lived a life with both joys and regrets, I would say that in order to get the most out of it you should probably be a bit older. While even younger gamers could likely relate to some of the themes the more experiences you’ve had in life the more likely elements of the story will make a greater impact on you. Nobody lives a perfect life and makes no mistakes along the way, and decisions that make sense to you at the time can lead down lonely paths. Learning the man’s story along the way and carrying things through to the end will carry different weight for different people, but there are themes that just about everyone should understand.


The gameplay over the pretty brisk 2 - 3 hours is interesting, mainly because of the beautiful hand-drawn landscapes that are featured. You’ll need to manipulate the environment, raising and lowering hills most of the time, in order to move from place to place. The rules are generally quite simple and are each introduced to you organically before becoming mildly more challenging as you go. You can’t move the ground you’re standing on, you’ll fall down when crossing waterfalls, sheep will move when you bump them but not very far, and down the stretch to get through walls you’ll need to roll what I assume are barrels through them. For the most part everything is straightforward, and even if you get a little stuck the good news is that there are only so many ways you can manipulate the limited number of elements on the screen. Overall the puzzles are satisfying but then again there’s not a great deal of opportunity to apply some of the skills you acquire since the experience is on the short side.


I’d say the moral of Old Man’s Journey relates well in a somewhat tangential way to my review thoughts. Your time is precious, so be sure to make the most of it and try not to give yourself things to regret. The further along in your own life and experiences you are the easier it is to recommend it wholeheartedly as its story will likely hit you quite a few ways right in the feels. The younger you are it is probably harder to justify since that shifts more responsibility to the adequate-but-not-incredble puzzle aspects of it. Old Man’s Journey fits well into the Switch library with its own distinct story to tell complemented by outstanding art and satisfying puzzles.

Score: 8

Pros:
  1. Fantastic hand-drawn art
  2. A compelling story to tell, especially for people with more life experiences
  3. Puzzles that work well and generally complement the story’s journey

Cons:
  • A quick 2 - 3 hour runtime
  • Will be harder for younger players to relate to and get as much out of
  • Generally introduces and then makes little use of new mechanics


Review: Puzzle Puppers [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the genres more quietly represented very well on the Switch thus far is puzzle games. With degrees of challenge from the ultra-casual to the downright hardcore (looking at you, Death Squared) there’s a little something for everyone available. What we haven’t had yet though is an example of a puzzle game that is ultra-cute and yet still will make you work damned hard to get your hearts and move to the next level. That’s all been changed now with the release of Puzzle Puppers.


You have a job to do, and that’s to guide your pup through a grid-based level to collect hams (each one giving you a heart) and then end up at their color-coded food bowl without being blocked by another pup. Sounds cute and easy, right? Once you get through the first 20 of 80 levels check back in and we’ll see if you still think it’s lacking in challenge. Using a combination of multiple pups, holes that move you around the board, and tricky conveyor belts you’ll be forced to twist, turn, and plot your way around the board. While getting each pup to their bowl isn’t always a complicated feat you’ll only unlock special levels when you get all 3 hams on each level in a group… and to get them all will continue to take more skill. Conveyor belts, in particular, end up creating an order of operations problem, requiring both certain pups to make their moves in sequence and even partial moves that will block to get a pup in the right spot before backing away to make another move. It’s not a revolution but it can be clever and it undoubtedly cute.

In general the game is best played in touchscreen mode, though you can opt to guide your pups with the controller as well so you can play it in docked mode. You’ll need to fumble in the dark a little bit at first to be sure you understand what few controls are necessary with the controller as there aren’t any prompts, though they are pretty intuitive using 2 buttons to advance and retreat and the shoulder buttons to alternate which dog you’re currently controlling.


If you’re not a puzzle fanatic you can work your way through without getting all of the hearts as you learn the ropes and then return later for the challenge of unlocking the bonus levels so you can see and complete everything. If you consider yourself a world-class puzzle fan see how many you can figure out within a few minutes with no help… somewhere along the way you’ll struggle, but that’s part of the fun. All said this is a title that’s friendly to your pocketbook, full of simple charm, and can probably be enjoyed by just about everyone.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • A very reasonable price
  • Friendly to puzzle fans of all skill levels
  • Unlocking every level will take some serious work and planning

Cons:
  • No matter how cute it is, if you find puzzle games stale this likely won’t excite
  • The style of puzzle is familiar, even if the trappings aren’t
  • Required enormous self control to write a review without dog puns

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review: TorqueL - Physics Modified Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I can always appreciate a game with a nice and novel hook that manages to shake up my expectations and deliver a new experience. That’s no doubt what the people behind TorqueL had in mind, putting together an action puzzle game that has relatively simple control mechanics but that uses physics to liven things up a bit. Whether or not you’ll be inclined to take the plunge will depend heavily on whether this concept sounds like fun but then also whether it sounds like something that can sustain your interest on its novelty alone.


In TorqueL you’ll take control of a little guy in a box, trying to move him over obstacles, around traps, and though areas that pose different control challenges. You see, using the 4 buttons on your controller you’ll also be able to extend colored bars (the colors help greatly as you try to figure out which one to disable in particular) from your box that you can use in a variety of ways to help you, Whether this is to propel you up, help brace yourself from falling into a pit, or to simply hold yourself in place while you get your bearings these bars are crucial to your survival and success. What you’ll find is that as you add rotation to the mix when these bars are extended it will affect your movement, and this is usually in a way that makes sense in terms of physics… thus the game establishes its hook.

That said, while it does add elements, some branching path options (which I suppose lend themselves to replayability but I think this is overplaying the strength of the hook), and layouts once you’ve hit the first quarter of the game’s 50 total levels (accounting for all potential paths) it doesn’t feel like it rewards sustained efforts with much more than simply more levels. Granted, in its own way every level is unique and will require a different combination of skills and planning to complete but it starts to feel a bit “one note” after a while. Throw in that the physics implementation, at times, takes on a “wacky physics game” feel with unpredictable behaviors and it can diminish the appeal.


Perhaps if you’re a big fan of action puzzles and don’t mind its minimalistic looks you’ll find enough fun in TorqueL to fully explore its branches, discover the key to its secret path, and exhaust everything it has to offer. For everyone else I would imagine it will serve as a nice temporary distraction and then results will vary in terms of how quickly the novelty and interest wears thin. TorqueL takes a good stab at providing variety but different isn’t always exciting in and of itself.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • A novel control scheme
  • The use of physics can make for some unique gameplay
  • Multiple paths to explore

Cons:
  • A sense of sameness begins to set in after a while, despite levels being unique
  • Some strange and quirky behaviors can occur and lead to frustrations
  • The branching paths are a nice effort but presume much of the game’s level of replayability


Review: WanderjahR [Nintendo Switch eShop]


On a system already crowded with quite a number of quality titles it has already proven difficult to differentiate yourself on the Switch. There are certainly some genres with less representation than others but sometimes to stand out the answer is to do things a bit differently. Falling into that space the game with a mouthful of a name, WanderjahR, has come to the system with a mix of real-time strategy and RPG mechanics, though the result probably won’t suit everyone.


As you move through the levels in the game, fighting all manner of strange enemies and bosses, you’ll be working to manage your growing roster of characters. Each has its own class and since you can only have 4 active in battle at one time you’ll need to learn to quickly adapt to any situation you face, being sure to have out your best units to counter and survive against distinct foes. Whether that means going attack-heavy, defensive, or even buff-heavy you’ll need to learn each unit’s benefits, each enemy’s weaknesses, and then keep an eye on your lineup as the situation evolves to keep your best team in play. The ability to specify which enemy should be focused on is also essential as not all enemies are created equal and as you remove certain types from the field you can and should then typically adjust your lineup accordingly.

The other crucial component to your success will come with preparation between rounds, whether upgrading your units with acquired experience, restocking on supplies to ensure you can provide aid in a pinch, or doing things like managing your team’s active buff. As play wore on I tended to lock into a more core group I was likely to use and then more peripheral characters who could be useful but I generally didn’t bother with. Switching out units works well enough but at the same time it is a tad cumbersome, shortcuts to switch between favorite line-ups or something else expedited would have been nice as combat continues to occur as you’re managing things. I have no doubt this is intention but in particular in the boss fights I found it to be a bit annoying.


Aside from my qualms with the interface I’d say the primary concern I have is that in some ways it isn’t very engaging. You will undoubtedly have to stay on top of what’s happening on-screen to survive, whether changing out heroes, using items, or collecting jewels, but having no more direct ability to engage in the action can feel limiting. To some degree the lack of an ability to act more directly makes it all feel more turn-based in practice and what’s on screen is just more elaborate and continuous animation. Throw in the fact that as you gain access to more characters the interface becomes more burdened and cumbersome as you try to manage your live roster and some occasional difficulty spikes and while I see an audience for this style of play it can also be a bit tough to love.

Appreciating the fact that variety is the spice of life WanderjahR has a place on the system and may even find an audience with its novelty. That said, after a while the repetition of it all can begin to set in and your limits of control can become aggravating. If you’re eager to find a new take on strategy RPG gaming it may well be worth a shot, but for most gamers I’d anticipate this will be a pass.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A style of play unique on the Switch
  • What eventually becomes a significant number of hero classes you will need to manage and combine to deal with a variety of circumstances

Cons:
  • Unit management, especially as your roster grows, can be cumbersome
  • A lack of active control can make the gameplay harder to be engaged in
  • Gameplay can feel repetitive 


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Aqua Kitty UDX [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As a kid of the 80s I pretty well grew up in the arcades. The sights and sounds (we won’t get into the smells) that defined the experience of entering the arcade are still burned into my mind. Having wasted so much of my life, and quarters, playing arcade classics it fills me with joy to see indie developers embracing some of the greats from that era, giving them a bit of polish, and sharing them with a new generation. Aqua Kitty UDX may have a furry and cute aesthetic but its gameplay quickly shows that it has legit old school claws.


The game will allow you to toggle between 4 distinct modes, each with a different inspiration, across 3 skill levels. The first mode, Classic, is based around the arcade classic Defender and its variants. Your focus is on destroying all of the enemy waves but you’ll have milk miners that you’ll also want to specifically keep an eye on as they can be captured by specific enemy craft. You have a window of time to save them as they’re moved up the screen (and the game helps alert you to this by turning your map red and having the miner let out a distinct cry) before they’re lost but that covers most of what there is to know. The next mode, Arcade, is more of a variant on the classic Gradius and its contemporaries layered on top of the Classic mode. As you destroy waves of enemies you’ll be able to collect crystals that you can use to repair or upgrade your ship, and this mode is for keeps as when you die you’ll have to start from the beginning again. Dreadnought changes things up pretty significantly with you attacking a mothership of sorts. You’ll need to chip away at its defenses before taking on its core, all the while avoiding a consistent stream of enemies and waves of depth charges. Finally there’s Infinite mode that dispenses with nuance and simply challenges you to survive a constant progression of enemies.


Honoring the mechanics of the classics your control style allows you to move around freely to shoot, and bumping the shoulder buttons will make you turn to face the opposite direction. You’ll need to be careful to note that movement in the opposite direction you’re facing will be a bit slower, so you’ll need to carefully manage which side you’re facing if you need to evade anything. Providing some modern flair the burst fire you’re able to make use of is a convenient feature to help you take out tough enemies quicker. In addition, what amounts to a combo meter you’ll want to keep up by consistently killing enemies provides some motivation to remain on the attack to maximize your score. Throw in some challenging boss fights, support to play cooperatively with a friend, and online leaderboards and you have a fine intersection of the classic and contemporary.


Overall I only have positive things to say about Aqua Kitty UDX. It has a focus on a specific experience, delivers it effectively, and provides a reasonable progression of challenge across its diverse modes. While it won’t likely have much appeal outside of people who are arcade-style shooting fans it is also probably more friendly for acting as an introduction to the genre than other more hardcore choices on the Switch. Well worth checking out and it has a very reasonable price to boot!

Score: 8

Pros:
  • 4 distinct modes, each with their own challenges
  • An intersection of classic play with some modern enhancements
  • Friendly even to less hard core shooter fans

Cons:
  • The theming may not appeal to everyone
  • If chasing high scores isn’t your thing it may not have much staying power