Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: Sausage Sports Club [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When you’re having a good time, particularly in the company of friends, its interesting how easily you can forgive sins in video games. Whether it’s graphics that aren’t all that great, that there isn’t a ton of variety, or whatever the reason may be, as the fun factor rises the importance of other elements tends to get pushed down. To a degree Sausage Sports Club is able to pull this off with its weird and quirky sausage-like characters that move around in an odd way and family-friendly competitive play, but it’s also hard to not acknowledge that it simply doesn’t have all that much content.


Starting with the Adventure mode, which is based around a multi-day reality show, you’ll be able to slowly go through the paces of each of the mini games under the guise of helping out your friends. The various problems they need help with tend to be odd and silly, with the outcome of anything you do inevitably leading to some sort of competition. The less you try to think about any of it, the better, and what this mode does well is to let you get to know the island, the various funky animals that are around, and the feel of each mini game. Oh, and you’ll be able to unlock new characters, skins, and all-important hats for multiplayer mode!


While you can continue to play through the Adventure multiple times for giggles, what really helps SSC shine is the multiplayer mode. Scaling up to 8 players if you’ve got the joycons to work with each of the five events has its own flair, and when mixed with the handful of environments that each have their own obstacles and flair these can be chaotic fun. Paint Ball will have both sides trying to splatter their colors everywhere to control more territory, Sumo will have you simply trying to knock your opponents off the screen or into traps, Coinz will have you trying to bump people and then steal their dropped bootie, and you can probably guess how both Soccer and Capture the Flag would work.


You’ll quickly discover the part of the charm with the game, if you choose to view it that way, is that the controls are quirky and more relative than precise. I’d say that when you play with others, and everyone is relatively in the same boat, this helps add to the fun and gives everyone a shot at success. When playing solo it’s not quite as fun, at least if you’re competitive and don’t like feeling like you’ve lost because you can’t quite make things work the way you’d like. I primarily had this feeling when playing Sumo since its nature is more straightforward than the others so the flaws were more easily felt. Once you get a ball or more complexity involved the relative nature of the controls hides far better, though again you can choose to overlook it in the name of just having fun.


Overall, I’d say this is a title where it’s essential for you to be sure what you’re looking for. If some silly competition with friends who laugh and roll with the punches is the plan Sausage Sports Club delivers that very well. If you’ll usually be playing alone the repetitive nature of the limited number of events won’t be buoyed for long with just the promise of your character being able to wear a different skin or hat. Fun in bursts, but probably not for sustained play.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Support for up to 8 players
  • Probably an ideal choice for families as its characters and hats are all very cute
  • Lightly competitive multiplayer fun with arenas than change up how things play out quite a bit

Cons:
  • Playing solo will only be fun for so long before it loses its charm
  • If you’re looking for precise controls you won’t find them here


Review: Void Space Racing [Nintendo Switch eShop]


On a general level, especially with indies, different tends to be good. New experiences and variations on what is familiar can lead to surprising innovation and enjoyment. That said, the mere act of creating something that stands out from the crowd, the “hook”, needs to be backed up by attention to detail and other content that makes it worth exploring. Fail to do that and patience can wear thin quickly. That’s about the best way I can describe my experience with Void Space Racing, a game that has an interesting idea for racing but that never really gets out of the starting gate.



The idea is to provide a space-based zero-g racing experience without a “track” per se, instead the course is plotted through a series of checkpoints. Whether playing with a friend, racing against competitors solo, or simply working the course in Time Trial mode those checkpoints are your focus. VSR very much expects precision in getting through them if you don’t want to incur a penalty. What will absolutely make or break the game for anyone that plays it is the controls, which in themselves aren’t necessarily flawed, mixed with the experience of trying to race without walls, gravity, or even friction to assist you in the ways you’re used to.


Putting it bluntly getting the hang of racing in this game is brutal. Your constant enemy, more than even the other people on the track, is momentum. Keeping in mind basic physics in space without forces like gravity, friction, or a nice solid wall help you once you’re moving quickly in a given direction stopping or turning becomes interesting. The ideal result is that you develop a technique akin to a power slide to make turns but doing this is extremely hard to get any good at and unfortunately the game provides minimal guidance or instruction to help you through this process. Aside from a bare bones tutorial to establish the basics you’re on your own. There's an on-screen indicator of where your momentum is taking you, and that's a big part of the key to success, but some guidance in making the most of what it can offer would have helped rather than being left to experiment while mostly falling on your face.


To make matters worse you’re essentially given an immediate choice to suck it up and grind through understanding the game’s mechanics or quit. When you begin there’s only one course and to unlock anything else you’ll need to win and doing so while you’re trying to come to terms with the controls strains the patience. With minimal ramp up and no real carrot dangled to entice you, aside from new locales to struggle to stay on course in, the value proposition for your time is very unclear here. If you’re itching for something very different that will make you dig in and embrace new challenges I suppose Void Space Racing may be an option for you, but if your goal with games is to get something in return for your time and investment relatively quickly I can’t recommend it at all.

Score: 5

Pros:

  • Looks fairly good
  • Generally well-implemented


Cons:

  • No ramp up before hitting the wall of “git gud”
  • The on-screen guide for where your momentum will take you is very helpful but isn't really explained fully to make quick and effective use of its help
  • With nothing but the one track to race on until you win a race many people may never see more than that


Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Pool Panic [Nintendo Switch eShop]


In the traditional video game market “different” is equated to risk so for the most part big publishers, to a degree rightfully so, avoid it. If there’s anything to appreciate the indie market for it is the willingness to thoroughly, and sometimes painfully, explore gameplay and ideas that would give executives in the old school market nightmares. That’s most definitely where an utterly unique creation like Pool Panic comes in, which may be best described as a fever dream of over 100 different scenarios loosely tied together with the idea of applying the game of pool to them somehow.


The first challenge in reviewing the game is simply trying to put a firm description on its genre. The best I can come up with is that it’s an action adventure that typically involves a puzzle to be solved, but whose goal is to knock enough balls into holes that you’re then able to sink the 8-ball to complete the level. Now just conceptually apply that idea to a trip to the circus, fighting against a biker gang, skiing, being attacked by bears, riding a roller coaster, attending a wedding, and countless other completely off-the-wall situations and you begin to get the idea. Confused? To a degree that seems to very much be the goal, the essence of enjoyment in the game is to simply kick back and enjoy the madness of it all.


The main attraction is definitely Story Mode, where you’ll navigate a sprawling overworld in search of individual levels. Curiously, the main map has quite a few of its own puzzles that will require you to find special balls hidden in some of the levels that will then open the way to getting to new areas or hidden stages. With the sheer scale of this map the inclusion of some unlockable railways that quickly take you far across the world are appreciated, though you can expect to be challenged at times to make progress. In general if you’re stuck the lesson is to simply go in another direction as many places have more than one way to get to them. As you complete stages the area in the middle of the map will continue to rise up, revealing some special rooms and even new modes.


After completing a fair number of modes you’ll unlock Panic Mode, which plays out a bit like a pool roguelike with random balls on a table you must sink while a clock is ticking down. Sinking balls will reward you with added time, and if you can sink a tricky bonus ball that will appear you’ll go to a Plinko-esque bonus board that offers a chance to get extra time. Once you’ve completed the lion’s share of the levels in Story Mode you’ll eventually unlock the game’s Hard Mode. Here you’ll be playing through the 100+ levels again but with an evil spirit that will slowly chase you around the stages, great complicating the process of completing them. To top it off there’s a Vs Arena mode that’s full of weird variants inspired by stages in the Story mode. In truth if you enjoy bonkers multiplayer games with some real variety Pool Panic delivers here yet again, taking what would normally be an afterthought inclusion and filling it with loads of quirky charm and fun as well.


While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my trip through the somewhat mad minds of the developers I’ll admit that I can see where not everyone may appreciate it. If your approach to the game is to try to master it, insisting on trying to get all of the trophies on each level for completing them quickly, making no mistakes, using a minimal number of shots, and clearing the table you’ll likely want to throw your controller. While pool is generally a game of precision in Pool Panic everything is relative, mainly because you’ll need to make many shots on the move. Throw in balls that will avoid you, throw you around, attack you, or that have a short window of time where you can hit them and if you’re seeking perfection you’ll inevitably be disappointed. The good news is that in order for the level to count as complete you don’t need any of those trophies, simply working out the main puzzle and sinking most of the balls will let you then knock in the 8-ball and move on. In a sea of titles that are laser focused on the destination, Pool Panic is refreshingly instead all about the simple joy of the journey itself. Strap yourself in, load it up, and let the madness wash over you… there’s simply nothing else out there quite like it.


Score: 9

Pros:
  • An absolutely unique game experience chock full of moments that will make you laugh and wonder what the heck is going on
  • There are clearly stages with unique mechanics that were implemented only for that one gag, demonstrating a commendable level of commitment on the part of the developers
  • The Vs Arena multiplayer modes make terrific reuse of some of the more entertaining ideas from the main campaign and are notable in their own right
  • As a whole the music fits incredibly well and some stages had terrific throwbacks that made me smile like the classic “Hello Muddah” on the camp levels

Cons:
  • If you can’t appreciate the fun, getting stuck on some of the more wonky elements of control in some game systems, it likely won’t be a title for you
  • People insistent on trying to trophy hunt as a priority will likely get frustrated quickly
  • Though I appreciate the roguelike spin of Panic Mode the removal of the theming and fun reveals some of the cracks in the general control picture


Review: Spheroids [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the more interesting aspects of the indie game market is seeing ideas mixed together from different genres or series, often creating an experience that feels new in the process. There are times when this is a revelation, with the combination of the two styles feeling very organic, but then there are also times when the result simply feels like the two were bolted together without any cohesion. That ends up being the case with Spheroids, which attempts to marry together action platforming with the arcade classic Pang! (or Buster Bros, depending on where you played it) but it never really comes together fully.


If you’re unfamiliar with Pang! the gameplay is relatively straightforward. There are balls that are bouncing around that you try to shoot with a spear that you fire upwards. If you hit the ball it will pop, and depending on the type and size of the ball it may split into 2 smaller ones. Throw in some platforms, floors that will be destroyed when they’re shot, and a couple of power-ups that include slowing or stopping time, dynamite, or being able to shoot more spears at once and you have the bulk of that classic game. In the case of Spheroids that formula isn’t deviated from much, but in order to stand out there are sections of platforming that have been added. As you progress you’ll get a grappling hook, gravity boots, and more to keep layering on new challenges but for the most part it all remains pretty light and not terribly inspired.


For the most part that’s Spheroids biggest problem, it faithfully takes some ideas from a variety of influences (including foreground/background action that specifically feels straight out of Mutant Mudds) but it really doesn’t do anything new with them. The platforming never really feels satisfying or inspired, it just breaks up the arcade Pang! action. Unfortunately, the majority of play inspired by that arcade classic also stays safely within the lines, never really breaking out and doing anything of note to stand out in that area either. While Spheroids offers up a reasonably good experience it never does anything to get out from the shadow of the games that inspired it.


Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • Combines two styles of play that have never traditionally been put together
  • Its choice of games to try to crib from was well-chosen

Cons:
  • While it reasonably copies what made the other games successful it does nothing to elevate the play or merge them together completely
  • Much of the gameplay feels far too familiar but typically isn’t implemented quite as well as the originals
  • Checkpoints are too close together in some spaces but too far in others


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review: Bomb Chicken [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One way to easily get my attention is to present me with a challenge where you set the table for a genre game but then immediately change one of its core rules. An puzzle platforming game where you’re unable to jump? I’m listening... That’s precisely what sits at the core of Bomb Chicken, which ends up being a great mix of platforming action and puzzle elements complete with a very funny and rotund main character.


It seems that as the main character you’ve been imbued with the power to lay unlimited bombs in place of eggs. These remain stable for a few seconds before exploding but what’s crucial is that if you lay them continuously they make a sort of tower which you’re then able to use to get yourself up to high places. Who needs to jump when you can create a stack of bombs that will kill you if you don’t keep moving? Throw in the ability to kick bombs in order to hit enemies or trigger switches and you pretty well know the full repertoire of moves you’ll have available to you.


Where things get interesting is in how fully the game explores making clever use of these tools at your disposal. Whether the challenges are environmental, to do with a variety of enemies, or in teasing you with gems you can collect to try to gain yourself extra lives that you’ll need to figure out how to get to there’s a surprising amount of variety and challenge to be had over the game’s relatively humble runtime. Death is quick, only requiring one hit from pretty well anything, and will initially send you back to the beginning of your current screen but once you lose all current lives will set you back to the last checkpoint. That’s where the gems come into play, as if you’ve collected enough of them (and they’re all over the place and hidden in some tough spots) you’ll be able to give yourself a little more buffer for making mistakes before being set back a bit. To get the most out of the game it’s worth hunting them all down and getting it all, but be warned that it won’t be easy.


I absolutely had a blast playing Bomb Chicken and had a number of laugh out loud moments in the time I had with it, simply amused by the absurdity of it all mixed with the great animations it uses. You’ll laugh, you’ll (probably) cry, you’ll be challenged to think and react quickly… it pretty much nails everything I’m looking for in a puzzle platformer but even goes the extra mile to be a completely unique experience. Recommended.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A unique take on puzzle platforming
  • Tough but never cheap
  • The art style and animations can be very entertaining in themselves

Cons:
  • The degree of challenge is static, no adjustable levels
  • Leaves you wishing for more


Review: Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Before saying almost anything I want to be clear that I’m completely unfamiliar with the Tohou series, Mystery Dungeon games, or practically anything else that would make Tohou Genso Wanderer Reloaded stand out to their fans on the eShop. The reason I’d had an interest in it was purely for the fact that it was billed as a roguelike, and the opportunity to check out a different take on a formula I generally like is always welcome. Having explained where I’m coming from I’ll then cut to the chase: As someone who doesn’t already have an opinion on the series or this style of play I struggled to understand its appeal and was simply overwhelmed by loads of dialogue and game systems that got in the way of playing and trying to enjoy the experience.


It isn’t terribly surprising that the storyline is plain bizarre and that the motivations and behaviors of pretty well all of the characters are hard to follow for a newcomer. I’m sure if I jumped into the middle of interactions between characters in properties I love I would be a bit lost as well. It’s a bit more than that though, for as much time and effort was spent on the dialogue in the game at no point did it really become any more clearly comprehensible to me in terms of what was really going on.


No matter how strange the characters and dialogue may be, some stellar gameplay in a genre I love could certainly have helped compensate but unless you’ve played Mystery Dungeon-style games before and are a big fan the implementation of this will also likely be a disappointment. Without any significant action to participate in you’ll spend most of your time wandering around, bumping into enemies, typically killing them pretty easily, picking up and then managing items… and that’s typically it. There are some spells you can use, you’ll need to manage your inventory to get the most out of it, and there will be times where you’ll want to exercise caution, but most combat is extremely simplistic and almost non-interactive in some ways. Given the pretty consistent expectations for what roguelikes typically involve on the Switch this feels like a substantial step backwards and though it has some elements in common with this popular play style the gameplay is often simply dull and overrun with status messages and things that simply aren’t very exciting.


Based on the experience I’ve had with the title I can only assume its target audience is people who are familiar with the series and the style of play, who are then eager to check out anything tied to it. Familiarity and the hope of understanding more about a property you love can go a long way towards ironing out issues people less versed can find a bit unbearable. Unfortunately, for people with no ties to the series and who are simply roguelike fans looking to try something new I can’t see where this would likely be a satisfying purchase.

Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • Fans of the property will likely be the only ones who this will appeal to
  • Familiarity with the style of play could also help smooth out the rough edges

Cons:
  • If you lack an appreciation for the main property or Mystery Dungeon series it could very well fall flat completely
  • Near-constant walls of pretty inane dialogue that detracts from what action there is
  • There’s not much to enjoy in terms of combat


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: Mugsters [Nintendo Switch eShop]


If you like to laugh, and perhaps curse under your breath a bit, physics games are always a bit of a treat. Though this has proven to be a popular style on other platforms and even mobile devices I’ve been surprised it hasn’t yet come to the Switch in force. That makes the cross-platform arrival of Mugsters a joy, as we get to experience its odd mix of puzzles, action, and a bit of insanity in parallel with everyone else.


Though there’s not a story per se it appears that aliens have taken over and it’s your job to try to do what you can to stop them and save your fellow humans along the way. Working from your hub world you’ll gain access to a multitude of different islands. On each you’ll be charged with a primary mission but then for completion you’ll need to grab all of the crystals and aid some humans in escaping as well. At the start this is pretty easy as the early islands in many ways act as a tutorial, setting the stage for you to discover how this world works and what you can do within it. Whether it is picking up rocks to break the glass containers humans are being kept in, driving a vehicle through a wall, or learning how to make effective use of explosives the things you learn early on will be tested once you get rolling.


Once you’re several levels in you’ll begin to get a better sense of how elaborate the puzzles can be. Completing the primary objective and perhaps one of the secondary ones as well isn’t usually too tough as you work your way through but if you want to tackle everything in one go you’ll need to make smart use of every resource available to you. In particular specific vehicles can be vital to your success so in cases where you may need to sacrifice one you’ll want to choose wisely. Considerations like how best to keep the humans who you may have in tow alive can be tricky, as they’re not terribly bright, so some degree of planning will often be in order. One terrific feature is that you won’t need to play through the game alone, a co-op mode is also baked in, restructuring things a little to make the game fun for two as well.


As with all physics games there’s a fair amount of quirk to how things work and it’s not always the fun kind. The humans you’re trying to save are probably the most aggravating thing as they not only insist on trying to follow you, even when there’s a risk they’ll be blown up, but they can also get stuck at times on the environment and that can be super-aggravating when you’re half-way through the stage. Vehicles can also be extremely hard to get to a full stop and this seems like a mostly unnecessary problem to have. More than a few times I thought I’d completely stopped a vehicle when I got out only to find that it crept off the edge of a cliff moving at a snail’s pace. If you’re familiar with the genre none of this is terribly surprising as it often comes with the territory, but you can always wish for a little less aggravation.


Overall, I found Mugsters to be a fresh breath of fun, both solo and in co-op mode. Certainly adding another person to the mix amps up the fun, but it also opens the door to more complications as control in these sorts of games is always a bit relative. If you’re patient, take in the challenges before you, and are willing to experiment to find the best way to deal with your problems it can be a rewardingly silly experience.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • An unusual mix of physics, action, and puzzles
  • Plenty of opportunities for mayhem and destruction
  • Optimum runs can take some planning and are rewarding to execute
  • Fun solo or with a friend

Cons:
  • Saving the humans can be harder than it should be at times
  • Vehicles can have a mind of their own once you get out of them
  • Quirky controls and behaviors overall can sometimes be aggravating


Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: Hand of Fate 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As a huge fan of roguelikes and games that simply play differently than anything else on the market I really appreciated the mix of deck building and action offered by the original Hand of Fate. While you could have some bad runs of luck the fact that you had the power to define your deck in a way that played to your strengths to help maximize your chances provided some balance and fun. I’m thrilled that, much like any great sequel, the return of the enigmatic Dealer has brought those some great mechanics and thrown in a ton of new features and variety to boot.


For those unfamiliar with the original the core conceit in Hand of Fate is that you’ll have a dungeon of sorts generated for you with a combination of cards you choose and ones tied to each encounter you work through. Each card corresponds to a specific event, location, or set of foes you’ll face and typically some sort of gamble tends to be involved in a way that can either help or harm your chances. While the original was mostly limited to a card-shuffling sort of 3-card Monty the sequel adds rolls of the dice, a wheel of cards, and even a tricky pendulum to keep you off balance and never really let you get comfortable. The theme of gambling extends far past these events though as everything you do is a sort of calculated risk. This is because simply completing each scenario isn’t everything, specific cards carry special bonus tokens that you can earn by completing them in a specific way. Your incentive to do so is pretty strong since completing them will earn you new cards for your deck, whether providing a new event or new equipment you’ll be able to use in your campaign.


Walking away from the deck-building side the other main attraction is the combat, which this time is generally more varied but can still fall into patterns. Thankfully the addition of Companions and a far wider variety of enemies generally keeps things fresh, and overall the combat has remained challenging. Once you get accustomed to the patterns of your enemies and get into a rhythm there’s something very satisfying about dismantling a large group of foes one by one. Combat has a very visceral and brutal feel, and you’ll need to earn your hits through carefully isolating singular foes so you can hack away at them while minimizing the chances of being attacked from the side. Whether you choose to parry and counter or hit and dodge the choice of 2-handed weapons, sword and shield, or dual-wielding each has its own style and everyone should be able to find a style that suits them. The addition of artifacts that you can use for a variety of effects from damage to even setting your enemies against each other is also a great touch and further diversifies your strategic choices for combat as you get further into the campaign.


The final piece of the puzzle that sets the sequel apart is the impressive diversity in your challenges and objectives in each individual campaign. Early on you’ll have to continue to change up your strategy, deck, and tactics as you get a taste of multiple mission styles, some focused on combat, and others that will require you to maximize your resources like food or gold. In general this doesn’t allow you to get too comfortable and will continue to test you pretty deep into the game. While some luck and consistency in combat help greatly the deck you choose, especially once you’ve accumulated a great number of cards, plays an enormous role in either your success or failure. While you can let the game choose your deck for you, and that can be a good idea for building a base, it always seemed to be a good idea to review and refine to make sure it better suits your tastes on top of being aligned with the requirements of the campaign itself.


In pretty well every way Hand of Fate 2 has run with everything that made the original work and has made it better. The scenarios all test you in unique ways, the number of unique event cards has greatly expanded which allows for far more versatility as the game progresses, and the trials in both combat and gambling have diversified greatly. The result is a very challenging and thus satisfying package that blends a degree of chance, skill in building and effectively using your deck, and becoming proficient in the game’s combat. It’s a combination that is really without an equal on the console and is highly recommended if you’re looking for a sustained challenge on the Switch.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A unique mix of deck building, combat, and chance
  • Each encounter has its own objectives, requiring that you constantly shift your strategies for success
  • Both the combat and gambling elements of the original have been refined and diversified from the original

Cons:
  • The degree of challenge may be too aggravating for some gamers and there’s no ability to adjust it up or down
  • There will absolutely be runs where you’ll feel like the game has it out for you in terms of luck, or lack thereof
  • Combat can start to feel repetitive, though the various companion and gear choices as well as more diverse enemies help keep that to a minimum


Review: Super Destronaut DX [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Being a major fan of classic arcade genres that I grew up with Super Destronaut DX immediately got my attention. At a glance you have a rough idea of what to expect in terms of gameplay, delivering a take on the Space Invaders formula but with a terrific sense of visual flair. Throw in multiple modes of play, online leaderboards, and even support for playing with a friend and it has a nice package going on.


In terms of the gameplay specifics there isn’t much to know, but it is obviously more complex than anything you would have played in the arcades. Each enemy ship has its own characteristics, most critically including the number of hits it will take to bring down and the behavior of the shots it fires. Ships with low point values will be more traditional with straight shots and only take 1 hit but some will fire multiple bullets or ones that will follow curved paths and one type even shoots homing missiles. In order to help you take on this craziness if the wave has an orange ship once you destroy it you’ll be given one of a handful of power-ups that will last a short time. To complicate things a little some ships will turn grey and fall slowly, and somehow there’s also a steady flow of grey ships simply flying in from the background to pretty cheaply hit you unless you’re paying attention to them on top of the main action.


The unpredictability of what any given wave will bring is both a great feature and, at times, its Achilles heel. The unreliability of whether or not an orange ship will appear on any given level doesn’t necessarily make all high scores equal but to a degree that’s forgivable… though it does mean that not all high scores are created equally. Where it becomes a significant, and annoying, issue is in the later stages of the Challenge mode. Due to the tight time frames of the late objectives you literally can’t complete many of them unless you happen to be blessed with multiple waves with orange ships in a row. If your first wave doesn’t have one, and especially if your first 2 don’t, you may as well start over because when you have a minute or less to pull of crazy scores or multipliers you’re simply not going to do it without power-ups. The lack of consistency when the objectives are so demanding simply doesn’t respect the player’s time and that’s a serious problem.


In the end I’m very torn on Super Destronaut DX because so much about it works very well but given its simplicity just a few major problems really drag it down. It looks and sounds great, is pretty well ideal for play in handheld mode, and the multiple modes and online leaderboards are great touches. However, the constant stream of incoming grey ships that you can’t shoot and must keep track of to dodge on top of the main action just feels a bit cheap as a distraction. The worst is really the lack of consistency in the otherwise excellent Challenge mode when you get down to the last handful of stages. But if you’re a big fan of arcade action, even with these issues it is still probably well worth picking up.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Solid arcade gameplay
  • Online leaderboard support
  • Looks great, is colorful, and is pretty well ideal for play in handheld mode

Cons:
  • Random waves keep things unpredictable but in particular in late Challenge mode timed stages can make power-up availability more of a factor in success than skill
  • Not a fan of the steady flow of grey ships across the bottom of the screen, they feel cheap


Review: Super Volley Blast [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As hard as it can sometimes be to believe that there are sports games on Nintendo consoles that Mario isn’t a part of they do happen, they just don’t tend to be as popular. One particular sport the mustachioed plumber hasn’t tackled with his friends to date has been 2-on-2 volleyball. Looking to close that gap and deliver a pretty solid representation of the sport of Super Volley Blast, which features very competent play and some nice options to toy with if you have some friends over.


Starting with the gameplay as arcade-style representations of the sport go SVB delivers the majority of what you’d be looking for. You’ll see a target representing where the ball is about to go, you can get into position (including diving) to try to hit it back or set it up for your partner, and then if you’re able to line things up you’ll be able to jump up and spike it. You have a relative ability to direct the ball to try to find the gaps in your opponents’ defense, and about the only thing that is perhaps a bit too finicky is your ability to block spikes at the net.


Where it really shows the extra effort is in trying to give you as much to work with as possible on top of the well-implemented gameplay. A pretty impressive character customizer (which can feel very familiar in places) is included that will let you refine what you and pretty well anyone you want to create looks like. You’ll be able to play through the game’s story mode, which will begin unlocking some pretty wild characters once you get deeper in. As you’d expect you can get right into the action with a quick match. Probably the nicest feature if you happen to have a big group is the ability to set up either 8 or 16-player tournaments.


If you’re looking for an entertaining way to play some arcade volleyball Super Volley Blast does a pretty good job of delivering the goods. While it isn’t souped up with special attacks, meters, and the like it covers the bases of actual play pretty well, with the only major omission being the ability to block at the net. Throw in a Story mode that will make you work to unlock some increasingly silly and strange characters and if you’re a fan of the sport it sets you up pretty nicely for some fun.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Not a sport typically getting the video game treatment
  • The flow of play feels good
  • Tournament mode and customization support are nice value adds

Cons:
  • Blocking at the net is a bit tricky
  • It’s just the sport itself represented, with no additional layers of strategy
  • Without friends to play with it isn’t very exciting after a little while


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Review: The Lion's Song [Nintendo Switch eShop]


What is inspiration? Where does it come from? Is greatness achieved through single-minded persistence and focus or does it sometimes come from the world and interactions around us? This seems to be a central question and guiding theme in The Lion’s Song which, through the lens of multiple characters that lightly intersect and connect, creates a compelling total experience over its 4 chapters taking place somewhere around the turn of the 20th century.


In each of the first 3 chapters you’ll be working with a different character. In the first it will be the budding composer and violinist Wilma, who is trying to find her muse in an isolated cabin, but who randomly discovers friendship with a man who calls her randomly on the phone. In the second you’ll help guide the aspiring artist Franz, who is trying to refine his eye while approaching his subjects as complex and layered. The third features a driven young woman, Emma, who aspires to prove herself as a capable mathematician but must grapple with the fact that society doesn’t believe females capable of higher-order thinking.


Each of them has their struggles and desperately want to prove themselves, but their inspiration typically proves to be organic, triggered by the sounds and sights around them, or by interacting with others. Even before the final chapter looks to then bring everything together to a conclusion there are terrific overlaps and intersections of these character’s lives that is satisfying. Mechanically playing the game most resembles a point-and-click adventure but it also plays out like an interactive story in the Telltale vein. There’s no inventory management or proper puzzles to solve, it’s usually more of a matter of exploring what’s around you, deciding how to interact with other characters, and then following each chapter’s story to its conclusion.


The main criticism for The Lion’s Song is that, depending on what you’re looking for, it is more of a meditative experience than a game per se, but it easily got its hooks into my interest nonetheless. Whether your goal is art or a more intellectual enterprise singular focus can only yield so much, true inspiration often comes to you when you least expect it. The recognition and exploration of this is something I found fascinating and compelling to see through the eyes of each character. In particular I found Emma’s story the most compelling as her journey to seek legitimacy in a male-dominated field ended up having much in common with the solution problem she was trying to solve. A wonderful added note is that at the conclusion of each Chapter you’re able to see the major decision points, reflect on the path you chose and how it matched up with other people who’ve played the game, and then have the choice to see how making a different choice at that point would have changed things. While the overarching narrative doesn’t change much seeing alternative outcomes can be interesting.


Overall I was entranced by the stories in The Lion’s Song and their themes. The interconnected nature of the characters, both in terms of how they find their inspirations and even intersect in small ways with one another is well-planned and executed to help deliver its point. Though it doesn’t have much gameplay to speak of for its price it offers a unique and introspective experience on the Switch I was glad to have the opportunity to enjoy.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Thoroughly different in terms of style and spirit
  • Introduces 3 very different characters who have similar problems
  • I enjoyed the connected nature of the Chapters and their ultimate conclusion

Cons:
  • Doesn’t have traditional gameplay
  • A relatively short experience overall


Review: Fill-a-Pix: Phil's Epic Adventure [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Pixel art puzzle games have come in quite a few forms on the Switch to date, and each has had its own spin on how they work mechanically to reach a similar end. While there are examples of titles that have pushed you towards larger puzzles as you ramp up the difficulty for the most part the scale of your challenge has tended to begin humbly. That isn’t the case with Fill-a-Pix, a game that starts you out in the deep end and stays there, adopting a mechanic similar to the classic Minesweeper to help you fill in the dots. The resulting gameplay requires meticulous work and may be just what puzzle fans who’ve become bored with smaller-scale challenges are looking for.


Getting started can be a bit overwhelming but thankfully the in-game tutorial does a pretty good job of walking you through what will become your process. As with any other title like this you’ll look to begin with your gimmes, in this case 0s (meaning all 9 spaces around the 0 are empty) and 9s (meaning all spaces are filled in), or things like 6s on the edges or 4s on the corners. From that somewhat humble start you’ll need to begin to fill in your masterpiece and you can do this pixel by pixel (probably not recommended if you want to retain your sanity) or by looking to leverage the spaces you’ve filled in correctly and using a 9-pixel zone to auto-fill areas where it is clear how remaining spaces need to be filled.


What you’ll find is that you’ll need to shift between the 2, going quickly to fill in some spaces but then working one at a time to plot out certain areas. Thankfully the numbers themselves will give you cues, turning grey white when the right number of spaces are filled, grey when the entire block is full and correct, or red when you’ve filled in too much. If you’re frustrated or lost it will try to guide you to another promising area by using a hint or will even correct your mistakes if you find yourself unable to reconcile an area with quite a few numbers that you’re just not able to balance. Taking a small step back and considering patterns that are forming can often help, though if you’re not sure what you’re trying to recreate these can also be deceiving if you’re not careful.

Since Fill-a-Pix carves out its own path that feels similar but has many differences I would anticipate mixed reactions from puzzle fans. The scale is most likely going to be the point of contention with some people absolutely loving the added challenge which, across 120 puzzles, will keep you working for quite some time but others possibly drowning in the scale you immediately begin to work at without much ramp up. Since the puzzles are so large part of the struggle is learning how best to use the shortcut tools the game provides and then not feeling like it’s cheating. Using the 9-space grid to autofill spaces that are filled enough to know their full pattern requires that you did the work, and working with so many pixels using that ability as much as possible is more practical, it just takes some getting used to for how to approach it efficiently.


Props to the folks at Lightwood Games for putting together something both familiar and different with Fill-a-Pix, it’s absolutely something different and the scale of the puzzles is pretty incredible… though at times intimidating as well. The implementation of the tools and helpers is both thoughtful and impressive, and really helps you keep from completely drowning as you contemplate the substantial grid of numbers and spaces everywhere. Help is always there if you need it, but if you’re insistent on doing it yourself you can always opt not to use it. If you love pixel puzzles and are up for a new challenge it’s well worth checking out.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • 120 puzzles that will take you quite some time to complete
  • A unique marriage of Minesweeper and pixel puzzles
  • Help is available in the forms of hints and visual cues that make the scale more manageable

Cons:
  • Some will find the scale overwhelming
  • Finding the balance between it being too easy (constantly using hints) and too hard can be tricky as the hints are very tempting


Review: Pato Box [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The Nintendo arcade classic Punch-Out (and its various further incarnations), in many regards, was always an odd bird. Yes, it is a boxing game, but mechanically in many ways it’s also a puzzle game. Recognizing specific patterns, your job is to dodge or counter them so you can methodically take down your opponent. Pato Box firmly embraces the essence of this classic series, and takes the ‘odd bird’ comment quite literally as your title character is a duck-headed former boxing champion who was betrayed and is searching for his redemption. The fact that this all takes place in a black-and-white stylized world that reminds me of the Wii cult classic MadWorld artistically is just icing on the cake.


There are two vital components to discuss, and we’ll start with the game’s Adventure mode. While it isn’t terribly elaborate or inspired I appreciate the attempt to add some more content to a game of this style, and the fact that it reveals the greater story and all of its weirdness is appreciated. Determined to redeem himself and take down the evil Deathflock organization that betrayed and left him for dead, Primo (Pato Box’s real name) must take out each of the company’s major goons before he’ll have to access he needs to take on its boss and finish the job. Nothing here is terribly great, you’ll mostly be exploring, punching things, and meeting a variety of objectives, but aside from the lore a nice touch is finding hints for how to deal with each of the game’s bosses. Sure, you’d figure it all out through some trial and error in the ring, but when you hunt everything down it still gives a feeling of reward.


Whether as the final battle in each stage of the Adventure mode or simply taking them on directly in Arcade mode the main attraction in the game is no doubt the Punch-Out style boss fights. If you’ve been itching to be challenged these certainly won’t disappoint. Your enemies are quick, a bit unpredictable when it comes to how they work their repertoire of moves, and generally unforgiving. You’ll need to become well-versed in each of their tells and learn, often through defeat, how best to then capitalize on the openings they give you. One major difference between Pato Box and the series that inspired it is that there are no easy Glass Joe-esque opponents for you to beat up on initially, right from the start it’s tough and it generally just gets tougher from there. While for some it may be a bit too aggravating (a way to change up the difficulty wouldn’t be a bad idea for a patch) if you’re a fan of the challenging final handful of fights in Punch-Out starting at that point may be a selling point. The added dimension Pato Box brings to the table is that there’s much more going on than straight-up boxing. Weapons, robots, and all manner of craziness will be thrown at you that are just there to soften you up without necessarily wearing down your opponent. Just be ready to dig in and fight back.


Aside from the difficulty potentially being a bit much, though not necessarily inconsistent with the toughest foes you’d face in the Punch-Out series, there aren’t too many concerns. Traditional controls are generally pretty tight, responding quickly so you can try to keep yourself alive, and there’s also an option to go with motion controls that do work but I don’t generally favor. They seem to be about as well implemented as those in ARMS, meaning some people may find them effective but I always seem to contort myself trying to play that way so shied away from their use. The Adventure mode has its moments but, for the most part, is just ordinary with a lot of moving around to get to what you need to do with some minor puzzles along the way. I think the weirdo story beats and insights make it worth exploring, but it’s just there with the fighting obviously being the major emphasis.


If you’re a massive Punch-Out fan who enjoys the thrill of figuring out your opponent’s moves and taking them out there’s no question Pato Box is for you. Every bout is unique, varied, challenging… and some could even say brutal. Timing and recognizing each fighter’s various tells is essential to victory. The touch of getting your meter back once you’re at critical health, if you can avoid taking a hit for a few seconds, is essential and really what saves package as a whole. If you’ve been looking for something that’s both challenging and very different from just about anything in the Switch’s line-up Pato Box absolutely delivers a knock-out punch.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Challenging play
  • The bosses are diverse, unique, and full of surprises
  • The Adventure Mode offers insights to Primo’s past and tips on taking down each boss


Cons:
  • Challenging play
  • In a bit of a cheat many things you’re looking to survive are only there to wear you down and have removed your ability to counter the boss
  • For its insights and quirk Adventure mode has spaces that feel very filler


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Bomber Crew [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When I first heard about Bomber Crew, a game that revolves around managing a squad of crew members flying a World War II bomber, I actually had thought it was going to be a cooperative multiplayer game. The fact that it is actually a single-player strategy game complete with some roguelike tendencies made it a bit more interesting but also intimidating. What would a typical mission look and feel like? Would the control be more direct or indirect? The final product is a challenging and heavily unique experience, requiring a fair degree of planning, a dose of good fortune, and an ability to handle quite a lot of chaos that will be thrown at you while you try to keep your plane in the air and your crew from Death’s door.


There are essentially two major aspects to the game, flying missions and then managing the upgrades for your crew and your plane. Getting the hang of executing a successful mission is more complicated than you may expect, as you end up needing to be pretty hands-on with your 7-member crew if you want to be victorious. Each member will have their own screen you can quickly toggle through with options relative to their role and abilities. For the pilot this will consist of raising and lowering your landing gear as well as managing your altitude, while in the case of the bomber you’ll get into place to take aerial photos or bomb targets. Your Navigation and Gunner roles mostly consist of you locking onto waypoints or enemy craft to initiate action, and you’ll be able to move crew between guns in the event you can get better coverage or have taken damage at a particular position. Probably the most essential role is for your mechanic who will need to quickly address random issues with your major systems, as failure to handle them quickly enough will often result in mission failure. There tends to be a critical point in most missions where everything goes to chaos and will require you to carefully cut through the noise and prioritize. You’re able to slow the action (taking a relatively small scoring penalty) in order to help reign it all in but missions get to be a pretty stressful affair as you try to keep everyone alive and your plane from crashing to the ground.


In order to help yourself out, between missions you’ll need to carefully manage and upgrade your crew and your plane. Each mission completed will unlock new upgrades but you’ll never be able to afford them all so it will require some careful decision-making. Upgrading your ship’s armor obviously makes sense but do you really need it everywhere? If there a specific gunner position you favor that’s worth upgrading more than the others? Does your whole crew need oxygen packs and gear that helps at higher altitudes or have you had the good fortune to have some members who have attributes that make them heartier than others? These are all decisions you’ll need to fight with as you try to make every penny you earn count and as your crew members advance in levels with experience they’ll unlock new skills and even the ability to perform in more than one role, so you’ll have a vested interest in protecting some more than others. Of course a nice added feature is the ability to customize your crew and plane with color schemes, decals, and other cosmetics, which can also help you create more of a bond with your crew.


While missions have some variations, and you can never be sure quite what specifically to expect as they progress, in terms of patterns of play they tend to feel mostly the same. Whether bombing, performing reconnaissance, dropping supplies, etc you’ll need to keep on top of your course, target enemy planes as soon as possible to help guide your gunners, and micromanage repairs and contingency plans when things begin to get crazy. When it comes to being consistently successful there are some things you’ll simply need to learn by failing at them first, losing a plane or a few members of your crew in the process. It’s a game that demands your undivided attention, even when managing what can sometimes be the more tedious elements and minutia like raising your landing gear to minimize drag and unnecessary fuel consumption. While the control scheme does ultimately work, there are also times when under pressure you can lose precious seconds not quite lining things up the way you'd like as quickly as you'd like. I'd thought handheld play with the touchscreen would make life easier but there's no support for it. The result is control that you can live with but that would be hard not to at least consider awkward at times.


Bomber Crew is absolutely not going to be a game for everyone, as it swings away from direct action and into more passive strategy and people management of sorts. Its learning curve can be rough, and the path to success will likely be established over the wreck of a few planes and bodies of the unfortunate crew you weren’t yet capable of saving. The result is an engaging challenge and when you somehow manage to complete your mission with your plane shot to hell and barely remaining in the air it can be quite a thrill. If you’re looking for something completely different than anything you’ve likely played before and enjoy testing your people and situation management skills Bomber Crew could be a great fit.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Challenging gameplay makes success a more significant reward
  • Many potential paths of upgrades to pursue to maximize your chances of success
  • Crew and plane customization options are a great touch

Cons:
  • Ultimately most missions play out similarly in terms of it being about managing the chaos when things go wrong more than the objectives
  • A somewhat surprising lack of touchscreen support and while the controls can be managed they can also be finicky at times
  • Pretty substantial roguelike penalties of losing your entire crew with a plane crash (though you can buy gear to save them) or losing a key crew member, needing to level someone new up to replace them