Thursday, November 29, 2018

Review: I Am The Hero [Nintendo Switch eShop]


In a brutal week full of games to review, and not as many bright spots as I would have liked, I’ll admit when I first booted up I Am The Hero I wasn’t feeling much excitement. Sort of coming out of nowhere while it looked like it could be interesting in screen shots I didn’t have much faith. While it isn’t the end-all-be-all of side-scrolling brawlers though it really hooked me in pretty quickly. I’m happy to say that yet again an unheralded indie title has come to Switch and especially for genre fans it is absolutely worth a look.


The first thing that helps I Am The Hero be successful is that its moveset is surprisingly complex and varied, allowing you to experiment and find what works for you. Whether you’re going for a dash, a combo you start by jumping in, or even managing to juggle an enemy into the air and then knock them back down to the ground there’s plenty to work with here. Considering the variety of enemies to contend with you’ll need to work out which methods are best for each of them.


The next thing I really like, even though I don’t know that any of the alternatives are better than your starting hero, is that an option as you finish each level is to be able to enlist the aid of one of your enemies. Each of them has their own feel and style and this further encourages experimentation as you play, switching between both characters and trying to figure out how best to use their pretty different attacks to your advantage. Of course you can just opt for new special attacks, which can also be fun, but I really enjoyed exploring each new character’s moves and seeing how I could use them effectively.


While the experience will likely only last you a few hours I think the style of the game and the options to enlist enemy grunts or new powers after each level (but not both) help make a case for its replayability. While some of the enemy types can be a bit more frustrating (looking at you, weird rappers with your words that attack) and the bosses can be a challenge for the most part because of the depth of the moves you have available to you it feels really good to play… and can be even more with a friend BTW. Even with as many great brawlers as there have been on the system this year it seems there’s room for yet another that’s notable and has a style (both in terms of visuals and gameplay) of its own.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Has a great and unique look
  • The combo system and your options for combat give you an abundance of options
  • Choosing between a new attack or to enlist the aid of an enemy after each level helps the game to continue to move forward while also providing an incentive to play through more than once

Cons:
  • A few enemies have interrupt attacks that can be annoying and break up your flow
  • Some jitters and performance problems came up once in a while, but it wasn’t too bad
  • One enemy character specifically is a bit of a stereotype and may offend some people


Review: Harvest Life [Nintendo Switch eShop]


They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. That may be true but in a creative industry it only works when the final product ends up being a good one. Stardew Valley was no doubt inspired by the Harvest Moon series and did an excellent job of using some of its mechanics (and those from other games as well) into something pretty exceptional. That way works. In the case of Harvest Life, unfortunately, going through the motions and in some cases shamelessly copying elements of better games, but doing so in a clearly inferior manner, does no service to anyone.



I’m trying to find a good way to say that Harvest Life plays like a mobile game but in many regards I’d consider that pretty unfair to what mobile games are capable of accomplishing. So much of this game feels ripped out of Stardew Valley, in some cases directly, but sort of a poor man’s version. The most egregious is the fishing mini game, my god it is pretty well precisely the same and yet there’s also no variety in what you catch and it’s kind of janky to boot. Just everything you do seems weirdly limited and odd. The menus are clunky, there’s not a lot of help for understanding how to do some things, and in general it just feels like a weird collection of basic mini games thrown together in a basic farming sim body.


I hate having to compare Harvest Life to Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon or any other game of this type because I feel like it harms them by association. While I rarely get on a tear about games because I worry about being unfair, Harvest Life just offends me because the games that inspired this one are just so much better by both ambition and execution than this. Nobody should be settling for a game like this in a library of choices as vast and full of quality as there is on the Switch. Even if you’ve burned through Stardew and other games like it already and are thirsting for that next fix, this game simply isn’t worth your money or your time.


Score: 3.5

Pros:

  • If you’re truly looking to scratch that Stardew itch, yes, there are some similarities
  • There are a few types of tasks to work on daily for some minor variety and choice


Cons:

  • On a general level menus and many actions are simply clunky in their execution
  • All said there’s just not a lot of meaningful variety here, you’re mostly going through the motions
  • A far less ambitious title than those it is looking to emulate, and even then it isn’t executed very well


Review: Escape Doodland [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While endless runner-style games are typically mobile fare they can work out on consoles as well if they fit your tastes. Of course, you’d hope that with a bigger screen, and potentially being played on a television, that the developer would make use of the space. While Escape Doodland does a fair job of at least using a bunch of funky hand-drawn characters and elements everywhere to make it visually interesting, unfortunately while its levels can be challenging the gameplay isn’t terribly complex, so it may at best be an acquired taste.


The goals and controls for Doodland are generally pretty simple. You’ll constantly be running away from a giant dragon monster-looking thing that will chomp down and eat you if you fall of your pace. A wide variety of obstacles will be thrown in your way to either slow you down or make you fall to your doom. In general you’ll only be armed with a double-jump and the power of directional farting as your means of movement. Yes, using match-lit farts you can propel yourself forward, upward, or even stink out the monster temporarily to run away. It’s kind of like a hand-drawn version of Bit.Trip Runner but with flatulence in place of musical beats.


Progression is earned through trying to be sure to pick up as many green beans during your runs as you can, the more you’re able to get the more golden beans you’re awarded when you complete the level. These golden beans will give you access to new levels and the green ones can be used as currency in the shop to unlock new character skins and small upgrades to try to help out. Not all levels are precisely the same, so there’s a little variety, but on a general level the gameplay is straightforward and you can choose to enjoy it or pass.


While it likely won’t win any awards Escape Doodland seems to accomplish what it set out to do, provide a somewhat challenging runner that includes some silliness and a lot of weird characters and settings. There are some sections and situations where the hitboxes of your character and elements on the screen can be a bit too large, which is annoying, but for the most part success is all on you getting your execution down and letting your muscle memory get you through tough sections with a little repetition. Since there aren’t too many titles like it on Switch perhaps it’ll satisfy your need for precision jumping, with a bit of weirdness thrown in.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Weird hand-drawn art gives the game a distinct style
  • In general the layouts of the levels are challenging and fun
  • With so few controls it all comes down to execution, which is sometimes nice


Cons:
  • On a general level it gets a bit repetitive even if different looks on each stage try to make them seem fresh
  • There are some issues in some areas where the hitboxes on your character and the environment seem a bit screwy
  • There just isn’t much depth here to explore


Review: Coffee Crisis [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ever since the old days in the arcade I’ve always been down for a good beat-em-up. Knocking around various baddies, picking up a weapon to really put down a beating, and bashing my way through, expecting a bit of a grind, is old hat. Unfortunately in the case of Coffee Crisis, despite its cool retro looks and pretty rockin’ metal soundtrack, it’s not a good beat-em-up. Among its competition on the Switch, I’d actually say it’s pretty mediocre at best and perhaps just not very fun.


In the game you’ll take control of one of two baristas whose job is apparently to try to help save the world from an alien invasion of some kind. Plot really isn’t an important factor in this genre so that’s all fine. Aside from a small variety of aliens, including the usual greys and a few other bigger varieties, it appears that the aliens have mentally taken control of not only some sensible young toughs but also a bunch of little old ladies with walkers and geezers as well. So be ready to kick some geriatric ass along your journey.


I suppose this is funny for a few moments but the joke wears pretty thin as on top of throwing just masses of enemies at you pretty consistently they’re heavily repeated. Worse, among the other beat-em-ups on the Switch, Coffee Crisis may have the most limited moveset of them all. You have a basic attack, a strong attack, jump, and a panic attack that costs you a little health but that’s pretty much it so expect to be repeating a lot of the same moves, there really aren’t combos to pull of per se… just move in and attack, lather, rinse, and repeat.


In order to try to make things more interesting there are some pick-ups, modifiers that change some of the way things work for better or worse, and things like a brief CRT mode but they’re randomly placed and a bit baffling in their real value. I’d recommend playing with a friend as trying to go through the game solo feels very unbalanced. Throw a bunch of enemies with ranged attacks as well as some with melee and you can expect to get overwhelmed with your underwhelming moveset pretty quickly on your own. To make it worse your health gauge isn’t where you’ll think it is and since there’s nothing helping you keep track of where your health is as it gets low you’ll just tend to suddenly die.


At best Coffee Crisis has a severe case of style and flash over substance. It generally looks terrific, giving serious retro-modern vibes and displays a sense of humor. That said, as a beat-em-up it’s a bare bones affair and pretty well devoid of serious strategy or opportunities for much enjoyment. With so many quality brawlers on the Switch there’s no reason to have to settle for less, I’d recommend the majority of other genre titles available over this one.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • Really looks like it was made in the SNES/Genesis era
  • Has a funky sense of humor, like getting to beat up on the elderly
  • Rocking metal soundtrack

Cons:
  • Generally unbalanced in its difficulty
  • A severely limited moveset, making for pretty unsatisfying play even if you’re successful
  • There are simply too many better titles on Switch in this genre


Review: Bendy and the Ink Machine [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Bendy and the Ink Machine is a game that answers the question I don’t think anyone has ever asked: How creepy, weird, and at times a bit scary can a game involving vintage cartoon characters coming to life be? It turns out, it can work pretty damned well. Invited back to your former animation studio it doesn’t take long before the feeling of things being a little off creeps its way in. The game generally does a good job of very subtly introducing elements bit by bit to keep the sense of unease building before hitting its first very sudden crescendo shortly before the end of the game’s first chapter.


For the most part the game plays out mechanically as a first-person adventure and puzzle game but with elements of survival horror intertwined into the mix. You’ll need to explore, work out solutions to problems that usually involve scouring the area for items or things to trigger, and uncover the general story by playing the audio from cassette players laying about. At times you’ll be able to arm yourself with a weapon of some kind, making you capable of handling some of the monstrosities you’ll face but there’ll also be ones you’ll have no choice but to run from.


Whether you enjoy the excitement of the chase, trying to either outright get to your destination through the force of your memory of the level layout, or choosing to hide and let the danger pass you by temporarily, will likely define your ultimate enjoyment of the game. For some people that thrill of a quick scare and then the suspense of trying to get away is a major rush, but for others it simply doesn’t generate as much excitement. It’s the weird theming and nature of what you’ll face with Bendy and his associates that serve as the added hook though, so at least everything feels a bit different and fresh with the game’s coating of creepy ink.


Since there haven’t been a ton of games in this vein on the Switch to date if you’re a fan of some scares and a sense of unease Bendy and the Ink Machine delivers nicely and should scratch that itch. The fact that it’s not bloody or over the top could work as a pro or a con depending on what you’re looking for but I like how effectively the setting and strange characters created a real sense of unease throughout. While it may not be for everyone Bendy and his friends make for a very strange and enjoyable experience.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • The look, style, and originality of the characters really help it stand out
  • Very good at doing small things to help build unease early on
  • Delivers some great jump scare moments and a bizarre story

Cons:
  • Whether you buy into the scare elements and the thrill of being chased or not will heavily dictate your enjoyment
  • The lack of visual distinctions because of the art style can make navigating the hallways challenging at times


Review: 99Vidas - Definitive Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Arcade brawlers, slashers, and beat-em-ups have really come out of their shell over the past year on Switch, with some exceptional titles boasting some very different core gameplay built on the classic genre. Some have gone for sheer intensity, some for racking up your score using insane combos, some have mixed with other genres to create an experience that feels new, but what many of them have had in common is a desire to extend the classic arcade experience into something more. Then there are titles like 99Vidas which has some merit and plays particularly well if you’re able to get a group together, but also perhaps feels a bit too comfortable sticking to the tried and true formula.


In the game you’ll choose from an eventual roster of 11 different fighters that have a variety of attributes and elemental powers. You can choose one of a variety of modes but for the most part they just recycle the same content in different orders and ways so that may be a bit of a letdown if you were expecting each to have something unique to offer for playthrough. For the most part the action follows the classic formula. You have punch and kick attacks, a jump that you can combine with either, a grab you perform by getting up-close to an enemy, a dash move (though the dash felt a little dodgy to execute consistently), a panic special move to get you out of a bind that costs you some health, and a special. There are some ways to combine these into light combos, which works, though you’ll likely get into a rhythm of using only a few of them as you go. All of these moves are unique per character but to be clear for the most part they’re just visual differences and fundamentally work in pretty well identical ways.


Where 99Vidas tries to differentiate itself a bit is first with an assortment of some unusual bosses and boss fights. Yeah, some of them are a bit crazy or silly and will make you take some time to work out how to beat them. That’s cool. Second, it has a sort of light RPG element of upgrading your characters, which is nice but creates its own problem I’ll get to shortly. Last, it has some incentive to play through more than once if you want to not just unlock new characters but take them for a spin as well, though whether there’s enough different about the experience to make it worthwhile would be a fair question.


Aside from being very comfortable with the classic tropes of the genre and throwing in some nods that are at least momentarily fun it has some issues. For one, the upgrades are nice and help you feel a bit more powerful, and that’s a plus. However, as you get one of your attacks more juiced up than others you’ll also find yourself using it more as a crutch since it’s more effective and that also makes the experience even more one-dimensional in many ways. It boasts online play, which is great, but with a few attempts I have yet to find anyone playing. That’s not an uncommon problem for smaller titles so it’s not a major dig, just noting that having online functionality is only a benefit if you have a community strong enough to support it.


While 99Vidas puts some effort into the proceedings it’s also trapped in being a bit too ordinary among multiple titles that manage to be more ambitious and deliver more of a value-added experience. With some friends it would make a great game for everyone to enjoy for a playthrough or two but in particular as a solo experience it’s impossible to ignore that it doesn’t do much to break away from the same games it has so much reverence for. Throwbacks can be fun but 99Vidas just seems to be an amalgam of elements from well-known games that fails to put the pieces together to make something more. It’s not a bad romp, but its staying power is questionable.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Mechanically and in terms of gameplay it is very reminiscent of beat-em-ups from the late 80s and 90s
  • Nods to classic tropes can be cute and funny for a little while
  • Loaded up with 4 players it feels more like it hits its stride than as a single-player experience

Cons:
  • In terms of making a big splash in a very competitive genre on the system it feels a bit ordinary
  • Though it has many modes they’re not much more than a shuffling of content and a few details
  • While in principle online support is terrific for the moment it feels like a ghost town and whether this game could sustain a community for any length of time would be a fair question


Review: Cattails [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While it was inspired by classics like the Harvest Moon series, Stardew Valley made a huge splash with a pretty broad spectrum of people so when you hear about a game being labelled as “Stardew Valley with cats” it tends to get your attention. After a quick, and pretty sad, introduction where you’re essentially abandoned out in the wilderness by your now-former owners, you’ll meet Coco, who gets you started and shows you the ropes. Once you decide on a tribe to align with (cats are a territorial bunch) you’ll have your new home and will be able to set out on your journey.


While there ends up being a central shrine that provides some structured challenges and objectives similar to the Community Center in Stardew (which will allow you to establish your own colony) for the most part the fun in Cattails is exploring and immersing yourself in the experience of being a feral cat. You’ll need to establish a bit of a daily routine with exploration of the pretty substantial map playing a central role in things. While care will need to be taken when you’re moving into the territory of the other factions there are secrets and things to discover peppered about that you won’t be guided to, you’ll just need to explore and discover them.


The primary upgrade systems in the game revolve around hunting, fighting, swimming, and foraging and in general you’re able to choose your own path in how you play… though you’ll need to at least be a decent hunter. By getting into a crouch you’ll move a bit more slowly but once you spot some prey you can then close in, wait for your focus meter to be full, and then try to pounce to make your kill. It can take some getting used to in terms of the range you want to be at and overall technique but once you’ve got a handle on it (perhaps throwing some EXP into improving your skills) you should be good. You’ll need this prey for food, trading at the shop for mews (the in-game currency), and for wooing other cats you fancy. Plying another cat with gifts will slowly help build a relationship and can eventually result in kittens, which is a nice touch.


While in general you’ll want to have some base combat skills for the most part you can go a passive route, if nothing else you can tone down the challenge pretty easily, and choose to simply experience the game the way you want to. The loop of exploring, finding new areas and items, acquiring new skills, and doing things like upgrading your den should seem very familiar and for the most part it’s wonderfully laid back. Seasonal events and a changing landscape help provide some extra charm and variation but in the end this game is all about making the most of being a cat and finding the experience you’re looking for, whether through domination, making friends, or just being the scourge of the bird and rodent communities. While Cattails won’t be for everyone, it offers a light and relaxing experience that’s full of charm and just plain feels a bit different.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A generally serene experience you can take at your own pace and enjoy playing the way you want to
  • Plenty of places to explore and secrets to find
  • The core mechanics of things like hunting take some getting used to but are generally well-implemented

Cons:
  • If the hook of living the life of a cat doesn’t sound interesting you may be better off looking elsewhere
  • The general lack of structure may not appeal to everyone
  • Not as big or diverse an experience as its contemporaries


Review: Mars - Chaos Menace [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Making games that are hard is a tough business. Somehow you need to make things challenging, and even aggravating, but all the while you need to suck people in and entice them to want to keep playing. This can be a real tightrope walk but there are obviously games that do it well and then are generally well-regarded. The thing is that there are plenty of titles out there that don’t get it quite right, and while you could say they’re challenging there’s not enough that feels right to keep you wanting to persist. This is very much the trap Mars: Chaos Menace falls into, not just proving to be a bit too hard but in general, but more critically for reasons that don’t make it terribly endearing.



Starting with the positive it has a visual style that’s a bit different, going for a somewhat pixelated but semi-realistic kind of look rather than the typically more cartoony or space-based style. You’ll be flying over natural landscapes of various kinds from lush forests and rivers to things like active volcanoes. You’ll have 2 base units to work with, a blue robot who has a rapid-firing gun that shoots forwards and a green robot who has more of a spread cannon. These colors roughly correspond to the effects of power-up orbs you’ll be able to pick up as well and which will accumulate, at least for a brief time, to help you keep adequate firepower to stay alive.


In terms of the troubles for me in spots they began with the visuals. Especially when it comes to a screen being crowded by enemy fire anomalous elements like leaves flying through the screen or other non-lethal elements are actually a nuisance as they throw off my peripheral dodging vision. The size of your robot on-screen doesn’t do much to help, its body is a bit on the big side even though its hitbox is smaller than that but again, this complicates how you navigate through bullets when things get hectic and tight. You have both a limited laser and force field but in particular the shield seemed both inconsistent and wonky, pretty well to the point where I hesitated to rely on it, roughly defeating its purpose.


The lack of visual cues also contributes to problems when you respawn after dying. Aside from the period you’re invulnerable feeling like it’s over very quickly, once you’re well into the level you can typically forget having much hope for recovering. By the time you’re back in action enemy fire and the enemies themselves can pile up significantly. Though there are multiple skill levels to choose from very honestly I found the differences between the first 2 mostly negligible. Throw in the fact that you’re unable to continue at the point you die, needing to always start the current stage over again (even on Easy), and that takes away the chance to at least check out what’s to come and try to get a feel for things.


Overall, while perhaps the hardcore bullet hell fans may be drawn to the challenge of Mars: Chaos Menace I found it lacking in fun and even irritating. The inconsistency of the shield, the fact that it doesn’t feel like there’s hardly and warmup at all, and just an accumulation of small problems really drag it down. If you’ve burned through the current library and are thirsting for a challenge it may be worthwhile, but if you’re a genre fan who hasn’t yet partaken of the many great titles that are out there I’d take most of that list ahead of this specific title.

Score: 6

Pros:

  • There’s no doubt it’s challenging, though not always for the right reasons
  • The option to go with straight and fast fire or a slightly slower spread as your default gives some choice at the core


Cons:

  • The landscapes you’re flying over can be a bit busy and distracting with so much you need to dodge around
  • The hitbox is only a portion of your character’s size but this makes judging placement more challenging than it needs to be
  • The shield/force field let me down too many times, even right after I began using it, to the point I started to avoid it
  • Not much of a feel in difference between the challenge of Easy versus Normal


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review: Gelly Break [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I’m always fascinated by games that surprise me, especially when there’s such a consistent flow of content on Switch. Taking risks and standing out from the pack takes some guts and when I first saw footage of Gelly Break I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Platforming and twin-stick shooting together? And you can play it co-op just to make things a bit more challenging and potentially confusing? Sign me up!


Don’t let its somewhat cutesy appearance fool you, Gelly Break is going to challenge you. It starts out pretty simple, letting you first get the hang of the platforming and then peppering in some shooting, slowly at first but then picking things up. In each level you can collect little orange fruits that will give you a new life every 100 you get, and you’ll want to also be on the lookout for special containers that you can break that will give you one of 3 special gelly dudes hidden in each level which you’ll want to find to unlock the harder level track but that can be tough to find and sometimes even tougher to get.


The platforming mechanics aren’t terribly complex but offer up a challenge. You’ll need to focus on whether you’re green or orange as that will affect which platforms and elements you can interact with or use. This will make for some nice sections where you’ll need to get a rhythm for changing between colors to complete a series of differently-colored platforms or perhaps using a succession of springboards. This can be tricky in spots in 3D with some angles making it hard to judge depth but thankfully falling off of platforms just penalizes you a little health rather than something like a life, so you’re really encouraged to go for it most of the time. For the most part the shooting isn’t particularly tough, you’ll just need to be strategic. However, if you’re not playing single-player you’ll need to communicate a bit about which way you’re trying to move if you want to keep some masses of enemies at bay.


Of course the game wouldn’t be complete without some boss fights and Gelly Break also does a fine job in this area, giving you a variety of looks and means to defeat them to work through as you make it through the game’s core 6 levels. If you’re able to find all of the hidden goodies you’ll have the Hard variants to deal with that just crank up the intensity a bit but remain manageable. Overall this is a game that snuck up on me, showing up a bit unannounced and with little fanfare but nonetheless delivering a surprisingly satisfying experience. Whether you’re a platforming veteran who doesn’t mind some shooting or a twin-stick shooting fan who could use some platforming to spice things up it’s fun to play, and if you can find a friend it just gets a bit tougher but more rewarding.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A terrific mix of smart platforming and satisfying, though not terribly challenging, twin-stick shooting
  • The 3 hidden gellies in each level can be tricky to find and grab
  • Some great boss fights
  • Plays well and very differently when in single player and co-op modes

Cons:
  • Some of the angles will force you to make tough jumps where judging your depth is a challenge
  • If you’re able to play with someone else and your skills aren’t quite in balance it may be frustrating for both of you
  • Though the content is satisfying overall, another level or two would have been nice for the asking price


Review: Horizon Chase Turbo [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to classic arcade racing there are few titles more revered than Out Run and it’s sequels. I have a particular attachment to Turbo Out Run since I won a local arcade tournament on it, so I’ve clocked some serious arcade racing miles over the years. Unlike the path modern racing has tended to take, focusing on elements like drifting or realistic physics of some kind, the classic arcade titles tended to be about carefully managing your turns and overtaking your opponents, something Out Run just really nailed. While you won’t have the opportunity to steal your rival’s girlfriend in Horizon Chase Turbo, the developers behind the title have gone far above and beyond merely paying respects to the classics, they’ve super-charged them with a great deal of love and a staggering amount of content.


Starting out with the World Tour mode (initially the other modes are locked) you’ll initially be in sunny California to learn the ropes. Accelerate, brake (though potentially rarely used as in many cases easing off the gas works fine), feel your turns, and use your 3 nitro boosts judiciously and you’ll be off to a strong start. However, as you progress and unlock new locales you’ll want and need to step up your game. Want to ace the track and get maximum points for unlocking new cars and areas? Not only will you need to come in first, you’ll also need to collect the shield emblems on the tracks, which can sometimes require you to slow down a bit to maintain your line on them. Get even further and you’ll need to mind the placements of fuel tanks to be sure you’re not going to go bone dry while you’re trying to finish your final lap (though you can use your nitros with no fuel to finish a race if you’re crafty and don’t have too much further to go).


Accumulate points and you’ll unlock new areas, modes, and a variety of cars. A multi-tiered Tournament mode is second to unlock, and once you complete all skill levels of that mode an Endurance mode will unlock as well. Bonus car unlocks await for you placing first in all regional races in a specific locale, special upgrade races will allow you to tune your performance a bit, and in particular some of the special unlocked cars are sure to put a smile on some faces. On top of all of that more stock content there’s then Playground mode, which will provide new remixed races on a periodic basis with different weather, restricted cars, or special rules that keep things interesting. Best of all each of these modes and races are tied to global leaderboards so you can see how you match up against the world, or at least get into a bit of a competition with your friends. If you’ve got some people over you can also hit the track in split-screen mode as well.


When it comes to arcade racing there’s simply nothing out there as impressive or as complete as Horizon Chase Turbo. Not only does it look and perform great, aside from a lack of online multiplayer it really offers up everything you could ask for and more. Incentives to return to unlock new areas, tracks, sweet rides, and upgrades is fair motivation, matching your times against buddies or the world are icing on the cake. While it may offend the sensibilities of more modern racing fans who have a taste for realism, I’m happy to say the spirit of Out Run and its contemporaries is alive and well in this outstanding title that’s chock full of terrific content.


Score: 9

Pros:
  • Has a great visual style that honors the classic arcade look and feel but is refined and modern at the same time
  • Multiple modes, a ton of great cars, a wide variety of tracks, and upgrades to unlock absolutely abound
  • Playground mode offers an opportunity to continue to enjoy new content and challenges even once you burn through the substantial base content

Cons:
  • This is absolutely unapologetic arcade racing at its finest, but that means modern racing sensibilities very much don’t apply in most cases
  • In handheld mode some tracks or times of day in races can make it tough to see


Review: R-Type Dimensions EX [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s a whole slew of “vintage gamers” out there who either grew up in the arcades or have at least gotten a taste of some of the classics as they’ve been released on various platforms over time. One classic arcade shooter series that seems to bring a smile to many faces is R-Type, an admittedly tough-ass shooter but one that had some style, cool power-ups, and though frustrating just kept you coming back for more.


With R-Type Dimensions EX fans of the series should be pretty well ecstatic, because both the original R-Type and its sequel have been brought over with an abundance of options to help you enjoy the game however you like. Want to play it old school in its original aspect ratio in 2D with limited lives so you can crash and burn? Knock yourself out. Want to jazz things up with it in an enhanced 3D mode in widescreen and unlimited lives with a friend? You can roll that way too.


Everything you remember, and things you likely don’t unless you invested some serious coin on extra lives, is here. Some great power-ups, challenging bosses, multiple flavors of chaos across its many levels… for arcade shooting fans this should practically be nirvana. Of course, the less connection you have to the title the more interest may drop off. It’s certainly a bit of an acquired taste and given it was intended to get you to pump quarters into it this isn’t a game that was remotely meant to be beaten on a single quarter, or perhaps even many dollars of quarters.


I really appreciate the love and effort into bringing the R-Type experience to the Switch. While playing it old school has a nostalgic appeal seeing it all gussied up in 3D is a blast. I’d say it’s worth experimenting with the various looks they offer as not all of them may be great or practical, but they can be novel. In particular the 3D Crazy Camera looks really cool, just since it affects your depth perception a bit I don’t know if it’s practical in some sections. All said though it offers up many ways to experience the same terrific core game and fans of classic arcade shooting action should have a great time with it, and quickly become reacquainted with how tough it can be.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Both the original R-Type and its sequel in all of their glory
  • Playable with a variety of looks and feels

Cons:
  • Its somewhat brutal arcade challenge is a reminder of a different mindset
  • People lacking a connection to the original titles may not enjoy its unique feel


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Review: This War of Mine [Nintendo Switch eShop]


It’s been said many times and by many people that “War is Hell”. While most games that involve war concern themselves with the battlefields, either playing in first-person to shoot it out or strategically commanding troops, This War of Mine takes what ends up being a much tougher road in many regards. The people who are trying to survive in the rubble of a war-torn city aren’t out to advance a noble cause of battle for glory, their needs are much more simple and immediate. They’re focused on making it through the days and potentially dangerous nights while struggling for fundamentals like food, medicine, or simple safety.


Combine this somewhat bleak situation with survival game mechanics and you get a very interesting take on the genre, one that places far more emphasis on the real consequences of the course of action you choose to take. You’re not randomly in a wilderness collecting berries or leaves from bushes or crafting a simple weapon for hunting prey, you’re instead trying to scavenge through buildings, some of which are abandoned and others that very much aren’t. Rather than being afraid of random monsters or beasts at night the fear is of other desperate humans who are likely in just as dire a situation as you. This change in theme completely alters the feel of the genre and can be what makes This War of Mine either extremely compelling or cripplingly depressing depending on how you choose to see it.


Whether you play the main mode that’s more random and roguelike or the alternative modes like The Little Ones DLC or the story called The Father’s Promise the same essence of desperation and hard choices is present. What should you prioritize first, what are you willing to trade and what are you most desperate to get, and how much longer can you push your people without proper food, sleep, or medicine before you begin to pay a real price. There are no easy answers or guarantees of success and if you think that arming up and looking to take what you need from others is an answer you’ll find there are real world costs to going that path as well.


This War of Mine encompasses most of the difficulties you’d expect from the survival genre and throws on a pretty grim and depressing layer of reality to boot. The tests here aren’t just of your ability to figure out what the best crafting paths or things to prioritize in gathering may be but also of your ability to manage very human problems as well. There will be many ways the game can frustrate you as you try to figure out how to survive in this bleak situation but it’s the glimmers of hope, small successes, and human stories in this horrible situation that also make it memorable.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Challenging survival game play with multiple scenarios to choose from as well as more free DLC yet to come
  • Provides an often chilling perspective on the ordeal of those not directly involved in war but very much affected by it
  • Forces you to make decisions that can carry heavy consequences

Cons:
  • The interface and interactions can feel a bit delayed and dodgy at times
  • This won’t be an experience for everyone as it can hit some pretty dark situations and choices


Review: Soap Dodgem [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There are games that come over from the mobile space that somehow feel appropriate on the Switch, offering something in the form of the physical controls or experience of potentially playing it on your TV, and those that really don’t. In particular puzzle games that play really well with even a small touchscreen on your phone fall into the latter trap. Soap Dodgem is such a game, having some positives and smart features like a level editor and community levels to check out I also don’t see anything about it that screams “I need to play this on Switch to get the most out of it”.


For the most part it’s a simple premise: You have your bar of soap and your goal is to move in straight lines to wipe out gross dirt. The trick of things is that without running into a wall or a said piece of dirt you’re slippery and will just slide off the side. This means that some planning is in order, especially since knocking them all out doesn’t complete the level, you then need to be able to get to the exit as well. As you unlock more levels and characters there will be new tile types and enemies with varying effects and new rules to take into consideration as well to further stack on the challenge.


In order to get a perfect score you’ll want to discover the secret location of the gold coin on each level, running over their space somewhere along the way to knocking out the dirt and getting to your goal. Getting these on all of the levels does add to the challenge but since you don’t know where they are initially and that could take some random poking about, taking a less optimum path to success and usually complicating things a bit. There is an added sense of accomplishment to getting them but in addition they’ll allow you to unlock new stages with some tougher challenges as well. Throw in a rudimentary level editor and support for playing community-created levels and there’s at least some potential for getting more than your fill of the game.


In the end there’s nothing terribly wrong with Soap Dodgem but knowing how many great puzzle games there are on Switch it’s also hard to get very excited with it. Specifically if you’re drawn to this sort of puzzle game the theming and morbid fun of Slayaway Camp is far more compelling, though obviously lacking the level editor and community support if those appeal to you. The bottom line, though, is even you find all of this appealing I struggle to see where playing it on Switch would be superior to it on your phone or tablet, though to each their own.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A clean design with colorful characters and elements
  • As you progress the puzzles can get challenging, especially if you try to hunt down the gold coins on each level
  • If you’re into creating your own levels you can take a shot at it and also take on levels created by the community

Cons:
  • Nothing clear that screams why playing this on Switch would be superior to playing it on your phone or tablet
  • In terms of pure entertainment value there are other similar titles on Switch that make a better case for console play


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review: Party Hard [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I’m definitely a person who appreciates a good night’s sleep and tend to get a bit testy when noise is keeping me up. I’m not positive that would ever push me to murder but the fact that this seems to have been the impetus to trigger the Party Hard killer starting his killing spree can at least be appreciated on some level. We’ll just skip right to the point, this is a game where you’ll take control of a serial killer whose goal is to wipe out every person in every location you visit. As you may expect, trying to murder roughly 50 people without being caught can be a grim and tricky business, but if you have a twisted streak in you it can also be fun at times.


On a general level I’d say this game tends to play out in phases. Initially you’ll need to simply become accustomed to how the game works in general, and this can take a little while to understand everything. Coming up behind someone to stab them is easy, how to do that anywhere near other partygoers can be a serious challenge. At what range will you be seen, how to observe how people go from room to room, how long it takes you to pick up a body and get it to a place where you can dispose of it… all of these things will require experimentation and often failure to understand. Once the cops are called and they’re after you all isn’t necessarily lost, most stages have a place you can escape them once (before a handyman you can’t kill seals it up), and if you’re crafty you can even kill them as well, but in general playing things patiently will always be your best bet.


Once you’ve got the base down you’ll tend to be thinking about the specifics of the party you’re crashing. You’ll want to explore the room and see what you’re able to interact with. There are traps you can set, fires you can start, food and drinks to poison, and sometimes special objects you can pick up that give you an added weapon in your arsenal. More than anything you’ll want to know your escape routes and places you can dump bodies since they can be what saves you. While it isn’t essential to success there’s something satisfying to coming up with a pretty good plan for the progression of death and mayhem.Trying to get a few people in a room so they’ll all be killed in a blast can be tricky but rewarding so try not to waste any of your means of mass murder.


As kill your way across America you’ll encounter new locations that each have their own layout and challenges, opportunities to work with different killers who can have some unusual traits you’ll need to consider, and plenty of situations that will test your patience. As you get down to fewer and fewer people there’s an odd tension that emerges. You’ll want to finish things up and move on to the next city but understanding that a late mistake can force you to start all over can make offing those last 5 partiers who insist on staying together painful.


Given the theme and morbid action of the game it’s absolutely not something for everyone. With its pixel art looks it never gets terribly graphic but playing a game in the role of a mass murderer won’t be for everyone. The fact that every time you hit a party you can’t count on any specific element being in the same place or present at all is a terrific touch that guarantees there’s no consistent path to success, you’ll just need to improvise sometimes. I’ll give Party Hard credit, it’s a unique and challenging spin on a puzzle game that delivers some fun if you’re on board with its style… and have a fair amount of patience.



Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • There’s no doubt its premise is unique
  • Many strange means of killing people
  • Alternative killers have their own benefits and weaknesses that change play up a bit

Cons:
  • This is not a game for the impatient
  • There’s a degree of quirkiness and inconsistency to how things can play out, which can be aggravating
  • Ultimately the gameplay does become repetitive even if the settings and some details shift from city to city