Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Review: State of Anarchy - Master of Mayhem [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Part of the charm of the indie market is the spirit of people working with the resources they have to make the best game they can. While this is inspirational, that doesn’t excuse small-scale titles from needing to be interesting and exciting though. Twin-stick shooting is a genre the Switch has very good representation in, with a variety of budget titles that are typically well-made. This already made for quite a hill for State of Anarchy to climb in order to make a serious impression, but given its issues with pacing and a general lack of variety it comes out as more novel than noteworthy.


Since there’s not really a story or plot to speak of what little you’ll need to know is that you’ll be shooting from a top-down view on foot, in a few vehicles, and in space ships, whether in a town, a bank, or on alien planets. Almost all levels will end with you taking on at least a marginally more formidable for, and there will be some boss battles along the way as well. For the most part the action is completely straightforward, you’ll have your primary gun and your secondary gun, and that’s it. Every level one of these weapons will be switched out for something new, and while they’ll generally get more powerful that isn’t to say newer is better.


The challenge of making due with what you get (there’s no ability to change weapons aside from alternating from the 2 you currently possess) I suppose helps to keep up some variety. However, once you’ve gone through the first 10 levels or so you’ve seen roughly all of the major variations there are available… details and degree of difficulty will just keep rising. The same can be said for changing from Normal difficulty to Hard, it’s all roughly the same, just you’ll have to work a little harder.


Aside from there not really being much sustained variety your movement really feels sluggish. You’ll be able to choose to upgrade your speed but everything in the game simply feels a bit slow. Since the majority of spaces are pretty wide open and the AI is pretty well devoid of any instinct other than to converge and attack there’s also very little use for strategy or tactics, simply strafing and keeping on the move will solve almost any problem. This isn’t to say its outright easy, at some point you will end up dying, just there really isn’t any spark of excitement here. It’s all very run-of-the-mill at best.


While the art style, quirky self-made sound effects, and bits of weirdness I suppose give it a little bit of odd charm for the title being State of Anarchy it’s a pretty vanilla and methodical experience. Given the fact that the Switch is hardly starved for exciting games, including ones at a comparable price, in this genre the flaws with this title are difficult not to be painfully aware of. If you’ve burned through the other options on the console already perhaps it would be worth picking up but on the whole a more appropriate subtitle for this game would be Master of “Meh”.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • New guns every level at least force a difference in play between levels
  • Vehicles and flying a spaceship periodically change things up, though over time even the variations all feel the same
  • The sketch-like art style and most sound effects being made by a person’s mouth give it a quirky charm

Cons:
  • Once you’ve cycled through the first 10 levels or so you’ve seen pretty well everything there is, just you’ll face slightly different and tougher enemies
  • Being locked into using a specific primary and secondary gun per level, with no pick-ups or ability to choose which ones you prefer, just isn’t very fun depending on what you’re stuck with
  • This is a genre space already crowded with far better titles on Switch


Review: Code of Princess EX [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Of all the genres that are out there to try to find a great balance in when making a game I think the classic beat-em-up may be the toughest to get right. By their nature there’s going to be a certain amount of repetition, so the struggle is to figure out how to keep things feeling fresh and different as people progress. In the case of Code of Princess EX they’ve gone with a solution I’ve not seen before, at least not to this degree, by simply giving you an abundance of playable characters to experiment with over the course of the game. This can be exciting but ultimately has its pros and cons as well.


Sporting an anime style and voice acting only in Japanese, the story is weird and silly but does attempt to provide the rationale for the action and all of the characters you’ll unlock to play with. There’s a pretty quick cadence of relatively short action scenarios followed by some story, and then back to the action that makes the game well-suited to gaming on the go that has an appeal though. Unlike some games in the genre where you’ll freely move around the screen here there’s a 3-lane system that locks you in but given the nature of some of the characters’ attack abilities this does make sense.


The main attraction is definitely the diversity of playable characters you’ll accumulate over the course of your adventure, so many that it takes a while just to try them all out. With some experimentation you should be able to get a decent few combos going with most of them, and their play styles do differ quite radically. This is both good and bad. Especially if you’re going to play with up to 3 other friends having an abundance of choices is always a positive. However, I also wouldn’t consider all of them to be distinctive in style and I’d consider it likely most people would gravitate to a much more limited core of the most effective fighters.


All games in this genre struggle to varying degrees with “the grind”, and throwing out a bunch of options of who to fight with was definitely the focus in this title. Unfortunately, outside of your abundance of fighters to choose from most of the combat is pretty ordinary, and gets repetitive after a while. If you take the opportunity to play with every new character that comes along you won’t notice this problem as quickly since you’ll have new techniques and combos to learn. If, however, you feel like you’ve got your ideal character and tend to stick with them don’t be surprised if you find it all getting pretty repetitive. No matter how many bonus levels or added content you unlock if you’re not taking advantage of this specific title’s method of keeping things fresh you’re more likely to be disappointed.


Overall, I appreciate the very different path Code of Princess EX has taken to try to set itself apart. The key to enjoyment very much seems to go hand in hand with how much you embrace the diversity of playable characters and are willing to explore using them. Fighting styles vary pretty wildly between them all and even playing through the same stage over and over again can be unpredictable when you’re working with someone new. Especially if you’re able to pair up with some friends and enjoy the challenge of finding success with a wide variety of characters Code of Princess delivers a unique brawler experience.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • A staggering number of unlockable characters to play with
  • Can be a lot of fun with friends, especially if everyone goes with very different characters
  • A weird anime-style story, if you’re into that

Cons:
  • The less you’re willing to experiment with most of the new characters as you unlock them the quicker the gameplay will begin to feel stale
  • Not all of the assets in all areas have been remastered, making for some weird periodic visual inconsistencies
  • The overall style of everything probably won’t be for everyone


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Review: Crossing Souls [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As someone whose teen years pretty well completely intersected the 80s I have a great deal of nostalgia for the decade. The fact that it has been in vogue for quite a while now in media such as television, movies, and even some games has been great for reminiscing here and there over those days now long past. The problem with paying homage to another time is that it’s a bit of a tightrope walk, optimally sharing a love for something without ever leaning too hard on it. While I appreciate the fact that Crossing Souls is absolutely bursting at the seams with love for the 80s, it struggles to really do anything original for itself, resulting in an experience that too often feels schizophrenic as it jumps from one reference to another.


You’ll start your adventure with a group that reminds me most of the kids from It, primarily consisting of the semi-popular Chris, nerdy Matt, burly pal “Big Joe”, and lone female Charlie. Alternatively using each of their unique attacks and core skills you’ll be taken on an adventure that mechanically works a lot like a top-down Zelda title most of the time. Both while exploring and crucially in combat you’ll find the need to cycle between each of them, either because their skills are suited to the situation or because the character you’re using is running low on health. Typically Chris’s ability to jump and Matt’s boosting jetpack are the most useful while adventuring, especially for getting to hidden secret collectibles that have a vintage 80s flair.


Combat can be challenging, and even frustrating at times, and you’ll need to carefully make sure you don’t get taken to zero health with anyone since one of your characters die means you’ll need to go back to your last save. There are pretty cool sequences in a few places that borrow from key 80s movies and video games that help to break things up, and provide an added special touch, but for the most part it sticks to the formula of explore, fight, and then explore some more.


The glue that would ideally hold this experience together is a thorough understanding and love of 80s pop culture, though there are some scattered modern references to be had as well. The issue is that after a while these references almost begin to feel like they’re just items on a Top 50 things to be sure to reference if you love the decade. The constant references also either interfere with or possibly even replace the game having much of a compelling story of its own, something that’s usually an element people are seeking in this sort of game. It bears keeping in mind as well that some of the dialogue and characters in the game are perhaps a bit too 80s for their own good, representing attitudes that have long gone out of style. While these don’t come up often some of the sensibilities may grate on some people.


On the whole Crossing Souls has some charm going for it and if you’re a big fan of the 80s it may help you wax nostalgic with many bits of pop culture from the decade. Unfortunately the less love you hold for jelly bracelets and big bangs the less you’ll likely appreciate the game right out of the gate. Throw in the fact that it struggles to have much of an identity of its own and though Crossing Souls has some decent gameplay it’s overshadowed by its need to cram as many references as it can into the mix.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • If you enjoy identifying pop culture references from the 80s this game is rife with them
  • Toggling between characters and their abilities takes some strategy and an ability to change tactics quickly
  • Some of the exploration puzzles require some planning and execution

Cons:
  • At some point, even as a fan of the decade, the almost non-stop stream of callbacks and references started feeling too much like a checklist
  • The borrowing of characters and situations from a multitude of sources and inspirations results in minimal engagement with the characters and their story
  • Some of the characters and attitudes in the game are a bit too 80s for their own good


Review: 1979 Revolution - Black Friday [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While games are a great form of entertainment there are case where they make a compelling case for being capable of more, including for the purpose of education. In particular in the case of history a well-made experience can help people to get a sense of what was happening at a far deeper level than merely reading words on a page or even watching a movie. Your investment in your character and the people you’re interacting with helps it all feel more personal and potentially not just inform you but also prompt you to think about how you would react in some extreme situations. That definitely seems to be the goal of 1979 Revolution, which puts you in the shoes of Reza, a photographer who ends up finding himself tied to the uprising against the Shah in Iran in the late 70s.


Over the course of the game’s roughly 20 chapters you’ll move back and forth between the present, where you’re being interrogated and the past chronicling the days leading up to the Black Friday massacre when soldiers shot down dozens of protestors. Your initial responses to questioning are likely more revealing about your own tendencies since you don’t yet have very much to go on, but as you move through the story you’ll be introduced to all of the players and begin to better understand the situation you’ve gotten yourself into. Not surprisingly, in tumultuous times like those the game is set in there are many factions and people with competing ideas, what you’ll need to do is try to put yourself into the situation and try to work through how you would decide to respond.


Aside from being put in the position of making some hard choices, though how much consequence they carry you wouldn’t find out without additional playthroughs, there are some more game-like sequences to break things up. Some of these are quicktime event-esque, where you’ll need to move in a specific direction or tap a button in order to fulfill an action. While these are a bit on the clunky side I think their goal, to help immerse you in the confusion and tension of things, is a good one. The most effective moments are ones that will have you almost literally walking through history, prompted to take pictures in certain areas that the game will then literally line up with historic photos of the events themselves. How the pictures inform and structure of the game itself and are then used to help immerse you in real situations is pretty fascinating and very different. One of the chapters that’s interesting in an unexpected way will have you searching your father’s study for a camera, where you’ll find real photos and home movies of Reza. Helping you connect to the fact that these are real people makes some of the decisions you’ll face even more complicated and more compelling.


If your goal when playing 1979 Revolution is escape and fun you’ll be sorely disappointed, but not all experiences have to have that purpose. Using games as a vehicle to educate and give people perspective is a noble goal and one Black Friday absolutely accomplishes. While I have some understanding of the Shah’s regime and its overthrow seeing it more through the perspective of someone on the ground and embroiled in the conflict directly was quite fascinating. This won’t be an experience that will satisfy everyone but if you’re in search of something a bit different that will help you explore history in a very different way it’s worth checking out.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Why simply read about historic events when you can experience them?
  • The choices you’re given, and who you decide to side with, can be revealing about your own inclinations and character
  • Your character being in the moment and connecting the photos you take to the actual historic pictures of these events is a great hook

Cons:
  • If looked at purely for its game elements it’s not a very good one
  • Unsurprisingly, since this is history, there’s only so much carried consequence to your decisions
  • Though you could work through it again and make different choices for the sake of seeing what influence they could have it doesn’t have a very high replayabilty factor


Review: Hello Neighbor [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s an oddity out there with a generation of people connected to YouTube and Twitch who enjoy games vicariously rather than playing them. It’s not something I understand, whether I’m awful or not I’d much rather play a game myself rather than watch, but it certainly is a “thing”. One effect this can have is to elevate exposure and interest in games rather quickly, and some of them are great games to play as well, but others I think have merits for viewing moreso than playing. The first game that comes to mind to go that route was Five Nights at Freddie’s, where I think the reactions to the jump scares it prompted were more entertaining than it’s gameplay. After having watched, read about, and now played Hello Neighbor I feel it falls into the same sort of category.


One part physics action, one part stealth, and one part Rube Goldberg-esque puzzle, in the game you’ll find yourself in the role of the nosey kid who sees something suspicious going on with his neighbor. In the tradition of the movies, rather than call the authorities it appears that you’re instead going to investigate and try to get to the bottom of things yourself through the game’s three distinct acts. Of course this won’t be easy, especially as you’ll need to keep away from him as he roams about… and he’ll show flourishes of diabolical brilliance if you keep following the same patterns and he catches on, which is a nice touch.


Where the problems begin is that within the confines of the game itself there’s pretty well no direction, hints, or clues to what it is you’ll need to do. A traditional adventure or puzzle game would pepper notes or hints about to try to give you a sense of direction. Instead you’ll find that you’ll need to trial and error your way through things, experimenting with ideas and typically failing, or you’ll simply resort to using an online guide. There being only these two choices in front of you is vexing and it has the effect of making the gameplay tedious and aggravating if you go without help but ultimately unrewarding if you decide to get some. I really found this irksome because these extremes lacking any real middle ground are a purposely imposed problem, and that feels foolish.

Aside from the puzzles the other primary frustration is the decidedly wonky physics of the objects and the environment. Even when you’ve got a good idea of what you need to do executing the plan can be needlessly difficult. With some physics games this can be weirdly charming but here, when piling it on top of the aggravations of the puzzles themselves, it just doubles down on the pain a bit too much. While I don’t want to kick the game further while it’s down I’ll also note that the Switch version of this game is visibly a step back in terms of visual quality, it look like the resolution was dropped and the result isn’t nearly as polished, detracting from the charm its quirky appearance had.


Looking for the silver lining with Hello Neighbor is a bit of a challenge. Underneath it all there’s an ambitious idea with goals I can appreciate but as a whole the execution is simply a mess. To make matters worse the conversion over to the Switch was a bit of an ugly one, doing gameplay that was already in serious trouble no favors. While perhaps the suspense of small moments in the game, trying to hide or evade capture, could give a thrill here and there more often than not frustration will be most people’s primary emotion while playing it. At best I would call this a divisive title. I can imagine there are people who do and will enjoy it, but it’s likely anyone else will greatly dislike it.

Score: 4

Pros:
  • In concept it sounds like it could be an interesting idea
  • Occasional splashes of smarts on the part of the AI
  • If you like the concept of games being solved through communal effort and work with some friends without cheating perhaps there can be some appeal

Cons:
  • In execution there’s really nothing that works well
  • The in-game physics prove to be frustrating at all the wrong times
  • While typical adventure game puzzles can be called “obtuse”, this takes obscure solutions to problems to a completely different level


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Review: Titan Quest [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ahh, Titan Quest, how I remember the well. While not my favorite contemporary of the mighty Diablo series (that would go to Torchlight… please someone bring it over) Titan Quest was a pretty reasonable clone of Diablo II with a mythological theme I could sink my teeth into. After playing through it solo I actually ended up enjoying it with my daughters as well, its generally accessible style and build diversity (for the time) providing a decent motivation for repeat runthroughs. For reference that was a decade or more ago on PC, this review unfortunately is focused on today and how it has been implemented for the Switch.


Starting with the good news, if you were also a fan of the game back in the day (or even more recently) pretty much everything you liked about Titan Quest is here. You’ll be able to pursue a number of skill trees that offer a pretty wide variety of play styles and areas of focus. Combat is still a pretty straightforward affair and generally manages to keep a decent balance of difficulty, though you’ll hit spikes here and there to keep you on your toes. Exploration is still a considerable piece of the puzzle as side quests and areas off the beaten path offer added experience and the potential for game-changing loot. You’ll have the option of either local split-screen multiplayer or online play, though who knows how large or sustained the community will be around the game, that will only be known in time. While it really isn’t in the league of the Diablo series it still manages to bring many of the components that fuel its success to the Switch and there’s simply nothing else on the console (currently) that’s like it.


Unfortunately, I would be remiss not to detail the numerous issues this port of the game has, and some of them are a real bummer. Probably the most irksome shortcoming is with the method of auto-targeting. In the majority of situations it works “well enough” and will lock on to your closest enemy. Since this isn’t a twin-stick shooter this does make sense to a degree, but the concern is with the implementation and its wonky nature as you get yourself into numerous scenarios. You’ll first notice situations where for whatever reason you’ll target an enemy further away, forcing you to either retreat or work through a bit of a beating from enemies right on top of you until you kill your target so your focus can shift to something else. Where this gets to be a significant problem is when there’s a larger and more powerful enemy with a mob nearby and your character is insistent on targeting the little guys while their boss is delivering an ass-whooping. I’m sorry, but no ability to control or toggle between targets quickly and easily plain sucks.


The other issue I have is with the implementation of the menu systems, which I would most politely call cumbersome. No doubt this is a bit of a casualty of a game being converted to being console friendly while it began life on PC but there really isn’t much sign that any of this was given much thought or care. Over the course of the campaign in this game you can reasonably expect to be able to measure the time you spend managing your inventory in hours more easily than minutes. It’s hard to specify what you want to pick up in a cluster of drops and if your inventory is running high you’ll need to be sure to drop things some distance away to avoid potentially having those items added to the confusion. Of course you could hope that given the Switch’s touchscreen there could have been an easy solution to some of these problems but unfortunately there is no support for it.


Taking everything into account, including its surprisingly high asking price, and considering the title’s age, Titan Quest on the Switch is simply not a very good deal. I’m trying not to be cynical but given the lack of anything from this general genre on the console this feels like little more than an attempt to capitalize on Diablo fans starved for a shot at even a facsimile of that play in a portable form before something less dated (and hopefully showing more care) arrives. Despite my misgivings with the care and quality of the port this is still a very playable game that offers a reasonably good experience considering there currently are no alternatives. Regardless, given at least one other competitive title that’s planned for Switch in the coming months I’d be more inclined to advocate a “wait and see” attitude and hold out little longer before taking the plunge.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • Support for local split-screen and online mutliplayer
  • A reasonably good diversity of builds made possible by the skill trees
  • Nothing else quite like it currently on the system

Cons:
  • The auto-targeting is terrible overall and there’s no good way to remedy its shortcomings
  • Menus and inventory management are painfully cumbersome
  • Overall a sloppy port of a known flawed port to other consoles from the PC version, critically failing to take advantage of the Switch’s touchscreen which could have helped to at least address the issues with the interface


Review: Iro Hero [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When you’re looking to develop a new shmup there are far worse things you could do than to choose the revered Ikaruga as an inspiration. That said, when you opt for a well-known and successful game to emulate you need to be sure that even if you can’t surpass it that you at least do its formula justice. This is the problem for the pixel art shooter Iro Hero, which has some of the same elements of the iconic shmup but simply doesn’t do anything new or exciting with them.


While there are a few mode variants it all boils down to the same gameplay and stages, you can just play through it as a story, an arcade mode, or with a single life if you’re really being daring. In all cases you’ll be playing through the same 9 challenging stages with the same enemy layouts. The most obvious element that Iro borrows from Ikaruga is the concept of controlling your polarity back and forth, in this case between red and blue, so that you can take out oppositely-colored enemies. There are, on occasion, power-ups you can get but sadly these don’t last long and are few and far between. This makes for a lot of stretches that simply aren’t terribly exciting or interesting, they’re just there to be beaten.


Make no mistake, this is a challenging shmup title and you won’t beat it easily or quickly, just where the best titles in the genre keep you on your toes and are relentless Iro feels like some really tough sequences mixed with a whole lot of dull filler. Your ship is a bit on the big and beefy side, rare power-ups mean that much of the time you honestly don’t feel that powerful (there’s something to be said for bells and whistles in presentation, especially in this genre), and the polarity switching works but generally isn’t as inspired in its implementation as the title it’s trying to ride the coattails of. Throw in the fact that it’s a vertical shooter but doesn’t support a rotated screen to make the most of that fact and it’s just lacking on multiple fronts.


Iro Hero isn’t a particularly bad shmup, it’s just a thoroughly uninspiring one. Given the abundance of classic Neo Geo shooters, Ikaruga itself, and a hodge podge of others on the Switch already it really doesn’t distinguish itself. If you’re a genre fan you’ll no doubt be able to get some hours out of trying to get through its increasingly-challenging stages. Unfortunately, for anyone who isn’t intent on proving their chops on every shooter possible there’s no compelling reason to recommend Iro Hero over its competition.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • Modeled in a similar vein to the play in the iconic Ikaruga
  • A stiff challenge for shooter fans who want to conquer everything on the console

Cons:
  • Overall it’s tough, but there are too many stretches of uninspired, or even dull, play along the way
  • Fails to distinguish itself as being as intense, diverse, or interesting as the abundant number of shmups already available on the Switch
  • Lack of vertical support


Review: Star Story - The Horizon Escape [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With so many games coming out on the Switch so quickly the challenge isn’t just to make a decent game, it’s also to be noteworthy in some way that makes it easy to notice. Even with the competition being tough at the very top there seems to be enough oomph in the Nindie space (at least for now) to propel games that are at least moderately good to some success. No doubt trying to get a piece of that Switch pie is Star Story: The Horizon Escape, an adventure game that offers an abundance of choices but that nonetheless struggles a bit to be interesting.


In the game you’ll take on the role of a space explorer of sorts who ends up finding himself stranded on an alien planet, with relatively limited resources. Given this situation you’ll need to do what you can as you explore to try to put yourself into a better position. The attempt to make things interesting, and encourage replay, lies in the fact that in almost every situation there are often choices you can make. Do you play it aggressively? With some ingenuity? Do you try to charm your way through things? Maybe a little bit of each? There’s no clear roadmap to success so you’ll need to try to trust your instincts and see where those take you.


As you accrue decisions in each column you’ll get opportunities for crafting gear that’s appropriate to the style you’ve chosen, whether geared towards weaponry, gadgets, or things like healing. You’ll discover blueprints through your travels as well, and you’ll need to put together a plan for what gear you’ll need to best suit your plans. Even if you try to be more pacifistic you’ll still get into combat, which is somewhat turn-based as your attacks and weapons will have cooldowns you’ll need to be aware of. Though it’s not terribly thrilling there are benefits to being mindful of your enemies’ weaknesses to try to work through them as efficiently as possible, hopefully conserving gear in more limited supply for when you may really need it.


Overall, I wouldn’t say there’s anything terribly flawed about Star Story but at the same time, especially in light of the strength of the Switch lineup, it’s just not terribly notable. People searching for action won’t find it here, its role playing elements are pretty limited, and the variety offered with your choices simply doesn’t carry enough consequence or interest to be compelling. There are worse offenses, certainly, than being a bit dull, but there’s just nothing here than stands out to generate any enthusiasm over.


Score: 5

Pros:
  • A degree of replayability offered by trying out different paths/choices
  • Generally uncomplicated, straightforward play

Cons:
  • Nothing is noteworthy or terribly memorable about it
  • For a game that would seemingly lean hard on story elements it’s all pretty ordinary


Review: Piczle Lines DX - 500 More Puzzles [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Writing a review for this is a bit challenging in terms of making it distinct since I reviewed the original release here, loved it, and this package is effectively just more of the same goodness. The nature of the puzzles in unchanged, you’ll see numbers arranged around the puzzle space that show the endpoints of differently colored lines you’ll need to then draw to specific lengths to fill things in. While this starts out being pretty easy as you get into larger puzzles or ones that sometimes have large areas of the same color you’ll ultimately end up needing to methodically use deductive reasoning to work out how each set of lines needs to be plotted out in order for everything to fit. The result is a game that plays most ideally in handheld mode, simply for the sake of ease and speed, but that works well enough docked with the joycon that either method of control is viable.


For anyone who’d choose to try to throw shade for this being a release that does nothing more than drop more puzzles into a new package rather than simply adding more puzzles to the existing release that would be unfair, as they’d already released multiple updates for the original game and when you’re dealing in a number like 500 new puzzles (the original initially came with 200 and has had at least 4 or 5 updates since that time). Throw in the fact that this stand-alone package of puzzles (this is not an expansion, you don’t need the original to buy this) comes at a very budget-friendly price and runs the gamut from smaller and easier up to much larger and challenging ones and if you enjoy puzzles this represents hours upon hours of enjoyment.


If you had the original and are reading this review I doubt you’ll need much encouragement to take the plunge, this massive expansion is just a whole lot more of what made the original enjoyable. If you’re a puzzle fan who missed the initial this is probably an ideal starting point since getting up to speed won’t take much effort and this is a larger collection than the original, making it an even better value. Puzzle fans have truly been blessed on the Switch, with a system capable of showing great versatility in terms of control with the genre. Having the option to play on the big screen is always nice but it’s in handheld mode where titles like this truly shine, with the touchscreen in handheld mode always offering a quicker and easier way to play. If you love a good puzzle challenge Piczle Lines DX is neck and neck with the likes of Picross for quality and offers a unique style worthy of your time.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A massive number of puzzles that will take you many hours to complete
  • While ideally played in handheld mode using the touchscreen, docked with a controller works fine
  • Not sold an an expansion, the budget price represents a terrific point of entry to people new to the game

Cons:
  • If you weren’t a fan of the original there’s nothing new here that will compel you

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Review: Semblance [Nintendo Switch eShop]


In order to make a strong impression in the indie space, especially with the Switch library practically bursting at the seams already, you need to start with a pretty good hook. Whether it’s related to genre mixing, the artwork or graphics, a quirky sense of style, or any number of other intangibles, without something at the core fueling what makes your title stand out from the rest it’s hard to get noticed. What then makes a game something special is when it’s able to make the most of that and experiment with it, not simply riding it to success but working hard to iterate or expand what they player can do with it throughout. Taking the base idea of a puzzle platformer in a world where you can deform the environment, the people behind Semblance absolutely have gone the extra mile to continually add new layers to the experience up through its satisfying conclusion. The result is an exceptional title that is worthy of everyone’s attention.


There’s no story to go by directly, though you’ll see hints in the form of drawings on the walls you’ll find every once in a while, but obviously your little blob of a character is set upon removing a corruption from his world. To do that he’ll need to clear 4 major areas, each having a number of trees in them, which are then broken down into multiple puzzles apiece. The typical pattern in these worlds is that you’ll initially be introduced to a new mechanic or idea, which you’ll then get a level or two to get the basic hang of, but from that point on you’ll be expected to iterate on it. Given that your controls are pretty limited, consisting of basic movement, a jump, a dash, and the ability to reset any deformed surfaces the ingenuity demonstrated to keep things from getting too repetitive is impressive.


As you progress what you’ll find is that the environment itself almost serves as your secondary character, as the only way to get through the levels is to cleverly manipulate it to provide your means to success. When things start out it’s pretty simple to see where you can raise or move a platform into place but things quickly get more complex and interesting. Lasers need to be diverted, beams that reset any platforms they touch sometimes need to be avoided but can also be your key to success, even the classic concept of wall jumping changes when it’s only possible when you deform the wall itself to do it. Just when it seems that you may have exhausted what you can do to conform the environment to your needs you’ll then find it’s your own character that will need to change in order to progress. Semblance does an exceptionally good job of giving your just enough time to play with a concept to feel you’ve fully mastered it, but then transitioning you to new ideas before they get stale.


Of course with a game that relies on you somewhat molding the environment yourself in order to be successful there can be frustrations at times. Whether you just can’t quite get something to deform the way you’d like or you even manage to get yourself stuck in a deformed wall somehow there are some occasional rough edges. Fortunately, pausing and gives you an option to desquish and free yourself, and you can always choose to reset your deformations in a specific area and start again so it isn’t as if dealing with these challenges is ever a serious impediment. Specifically when you’ve flattened yourself horizontally your expanded surface area can make it tricky to avoid traps and death but thankfully this was only an issue in a small number of places.


Overall, the handful of hours I spent getting to Semblance’s conclusion were rewarding and well-spent. Having played so many indie titles on both the PC and Switch I’m always taken aback when I run into something so fresh and new, and from its terrific visuals and music to its continuously evolving challenge this game manages to check just about every box I can think of. When you throw in its extremely reasonable price I consider Semblance to be an absolute steal and a title anyone who enjoys puzzle platforming should be looking to pick up.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The hook of platforming with a deformable environment is an interesting one
  • Rather than settle for getting off to a great start and then coasting you’ll need to acquire and master new techniques throughout the game
  • Looks and sounds great, whether docked or in handheld mode

Cons:
  • In some spots it can be difficult to get the environment to behave precisely as you’d like it to
  • It’s possible to get stuck, and this will happen on occasion, but there’s an easy menu option that will free you
  • The journey to get to the end is rewarding, but without a real story driving things you just sort of complete everything and then you’re done


Review: Candle - The Power of Flame [Nintendo Switch eShop]


If there’s one thing the indie library on Switch has no shortage of (other than shooters and roguelikes), it is adventure games. While most of the ones I’m thinking of fall into the point-and-click variety action adventure games like Limbo and some others have also been released. Aiming somewhere in the middle ground between these two ends of the adventure genre is Candle: The Power of Flame which boasts some outstanding background artwork that’s more commonly in point-and-click adventures but that attempts to play a bit more in the direction of action, but has mixed results doing so.


You’ll play as Teku, a somewhat curious-looking fellow who is trying to rescue his village’s shaman who has been captured by an aggressive and evil tribe. It would be safe to say that Teku is at best a lover, and certainly not a fighter, so the means to his success will need to come from craftiness and intellect. While this makes for some interesting (if often convoluted) puzzles, his movements are a tad awkward and will frequently end with you meeting your demise. Thankfully checkpoints and save points are relatively plentiful so at least you won’t usually lose too much progress.


Aside from the stilted controls for when you need to do crucial things like jump the baggage of traditional point-and-click adventures comes along as well. There are often clues hidden all around you to help instruct you on what to do but unfortunately a fair amount of necessary backtracking can make it hard to tell when you should do them. Sometimes getting stuck is a matter of trying to do something too early but in other cases small details or finicky controls can make it feel like you’re barking up the wrong tree when you’re actually in the right place but misunderstanding what you need to do.


As a whole the spectacular artwork and satisfying (once you understand and complete them) puzzles do make the game compelling if you don’t mind the pacing and can tolerate some repetition due to struggling with the action and controls. Teku’s story may not be incredibly unique but the journey along the way has its moments. If you’re willing to be patient, are ready to hit a walkthrough when you’re stuck, and don’t mind the quirks of traditional adventure games this should be a decent choice for your library.



Score: 7

Pros:
  • Terrific and detailed artwork
  • Some creative puzzles, even if completing some of them can be maddening
  • A blend of both point-and-click and action adventure, even if it then has a few issues from both styles

Cons:
  • An unfortunate side effect of the ornate artwork is that foreground items can get lost in places
  • The controls, especially when you need to execute a few moves in sequence under pressure, can be aggravatingly wonky at times
  • Quite a bit of backtracking can get tedious and confuse the question of what you need to do or where you need to go next


Monday, July 23, 2018

Review: Frost [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Card games are pretty unique in their strategy and are underrepresented on the Switch. The goal in their design is usually to create something with a strict set of base rules, throw in the means for variety from hand to hand, and then challenge the player to make wise decisions and take critical risks along the path to victory. For the most part Frost is successful in this endeavor, and has an interesting art style to back it up. Unfortunately, it also fails to set itself up well for long-term challenge, it’s better for spending some hours to master and then perhaps only return to on occasion.


The focus here is managing your resources of wood, food, and people in order to survive each of the stages you’ll encounter as you try to stay ahead of a storm. Until you fulfill the resource requirements at each step of the way you can’t proceed, but drawing new cards from your deck will allow the storm to draw closer. This creates a tension and a strong sense of consequence to your choices. Since randomly hoping that you’ll draw the right cards isn’t much of a strategy the key is in carefully investing resources into idea cards that can, with varying degrees of effectiveness, yield other cards to help build your deck and make it more versatile. Success will bring new challenges and scenarios to the table but the core essence of the game never really changes.


Much like in a real game of cards chance plays a massive role in how any given hand will play. The eventual ability to dictate more of how the deck is set up provides opportunities to try to try to extend the play further through customization but either the essence of the core game experience has an appeal to you or it doesn’t. Frost does a fairly good job of providing an opportunity to enjoy an underrepresented genre on the Switch but can’t escape its somewhat limited essence.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Card games like this one are few and far between in the Switch library
  • A typical full game won’t last more than maybe 20 minutes, making it easy to pick up and put down
  • The strategy elements provide for many choices along the way in each hand

Cons:
  • Much like playing a real game of cards chance plays a huge factor in your success
  • Even as new scenarios and rules get introduced the essence of the game doesn’t change very much


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