Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: The Office Quest [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Classic “point-and-click” adventures truly have seen a resurgence in the indie space and that has lead to the genre being well-represented on the Switch. For anyone familiar with these titles there’s some degree of predictability to them. You’ll need to search for items, solve puzzles, typically talk to some people for a dash of humor, and periodically consult a FAQ or walkthrough of some kind to get through some convoluted section. The Office Quest only goes with a few items on that list, having no real dialogue, and working in a somewhat more linear fashion where items you’ll need tend to be used immediately, but its quirky sense of humor and weirdness, combined with its overall simplicity, do make it a fun variation.


Fascinated by a reddish flying ball of some kind you play as a costumed (everyone wears them, the fact this is never explained actually makes it more weird and funny) office-worker trying to track it down. Your progress will be thwarted by both physical obstacles as well as boss types who’ll yell a thought bubble to get back to work at you. That means that in each area you’ll need to solve a series of puzzles, which can be quite diverse, to set off some sequence of events that allow you to proceed. This is all typically pretty weird and a bit convoluted but also often entertaining.


Probably the biggest obstacle is simply that nothing is explained aside from possibly a visual prompt here or there. Initially this means you’ll need to work out how to move and interact with items in your inventory, but it all generally makes sense once you experiment a little. Later on there was a puzzle that required use of the left buttons/D-Pad that threw me at first, but these are just small bumps. Working out what you need to do in each area can be a methodical challenge but thankfully for the most part you can only interact with or grab useful things, so there aren’t any red herrings about to throw you off or get you down the wrong path. The fact that many solutions are a bit unorthodox can make them tough to figure out but the reward is often a humorous result at least.


While in some regards The Office Quest is a bit bare bones, lacking in any concrete story or character development, it compensates well by simply being weird. As with all titles in the genre frustration can, at times, set in as you try to figure out what you need to do but the relatively small areas you’ll be in helps to ensure there’s not too many options for what to do so stumbling onto solutions tends to happen at a decent pace. If you’re looking for something a bit goofy and fun, with some nice brain-teasing traditional puzzles thrown in along the way, The Office Quest can be a lot of silly fun.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Some great traditional puzzles mixed with adventure
  • Full of weird and silly humor
  • Areas tend to be small enough that when you get stuck it doesn’t tend to take too long to stumble onto a solution

Cons:
  • No solid guidance on how to play is just a bit odd
  • The quality of the puzzle challenges varies a bit
  • A few sections like a maze just slow things down without much reward


Review: Elli [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the great things about the size of the Switch library is that it offers a better guarantee there’s something out there for everyone. While there are a lot of more hardcore gamers out there (and plenty of games that will suit them), people in search of something a bit lighter and enjoyable continue to see a steady stream of content as well. Elli very much falls into that category, never getting too terribly difficult with a blend of platforming and puzzle-solving that’s generally satisfying and just challenging enough without ever pushing too hard.


There’s a sort of story where some crystals have been stolen and you’ll need to retrieve them but the focus is really just on coming into areas and figuring out what you need to do. Early on the focus tends to just be on doing some 3D platforming, which can get mildly challenging with small platforms that will disappear, but more often than not those are for getting some extra in-game currency for unlocking some cosmetic gear. Once it gets to full steam it typically all becomes about puzzles and figuring out what sequence of events you’ll need to trigger to progress.


The most typical puzzles will tend to be of the variety where you’ll need to pick up a box and place it on a pedestal. Usually in order to get this box you’ll need to find a wizard who’ll then summon one for you to use. There are also timed sections where you’ll trigger an orb and then need to rush to a door that will only stay open for a brief period of time. These tend to be a bit more hectic and in some cases you’ll need to complete some other puzzle to give you an optimum route so if one of these sequences seems impossible it very well may be without setting the stage properly. The most complex (and initially difficult to understand) puzzles involve platforms that have 4 gems on them. You’ll need to pay attention to which gems are lit on them as this will tell you how to activate them, usually so they’ll raise to give you access somewhere. Typically the challenge is finding and then collecting them all, normally needing to get them in a specific order.


Aside from the degree of challenge not necessarily being too high, possibly making it a bit easy depending on your tastes, the remaining issues with Elli mostly revolve around the degree of polish. While everything works mechanically well enough it’s all a bit rough around the edges. The story and interacting with characters feels like an afterthought, the camera isn’t always your friend, and there are a limited number of cases where the level design is wonky. In one specific area there’s a pretty serious issue that got me sidetracked a bit where a spot you’re meant to move through freely has what acts like a hidden barrier in the way. I literally needed to practice jumping somewhat diagonally around it, careful not to fall in a pit that’s right under the space you needed to jump through, because there’s a timed door in the area. Hopefully this can get patched because it really took the wind out of my sails in a hurry.


Overall, Elli is a mild and enjoyable puzzle platformer with a very pleasant look. For the most part the lower level of intensity should allow it to appeal to gamers of all types, it just may take some repetition in some sections if you want to be able to grab everything. There’s not much in the way of story driving you forward, it’s just a series of rooms to be conquered for the most part, but it works. With the exception of the one stage with that serious problem with a hidden wall I had to work around it’s a pretty good time.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • For people seeking puzzle platforming that offers a mild challenge, with optional spots that are tougher, this is a good match
  • In general the puzzles are well-designed, though not necessarily amazing either
  • A somewhat simple but colorful and pleasing look

Cons:
  • One particular stage that needs to be patched
  • Not much going on in terms of story
  • The cosmetic items you can buy with gems you’ll need to generally work for aren’t much of a reward


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: YIIK - A Post-Modern RPG [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to more traditional turn-based RPGs while there are quite a few on the Switch as a whole in the indie space it hasn’t been as thoroughly represented as some of the other genres. While this has generally kept the relative quality of the ones that have come to the table stronger, it has also made the quirkiness of some of them harder to miss. YIIK definitely falls into that quirky category, possessing many of the elements of a classic turn-based combat JRPG but doing almost everything with such an unusual style and sense of humor that I would guess it will be met by genre fans with absolute love or hate.


The game’s main character, Alex, is a pretty major departure from a typical hero in the genre, a generally reluctant hipster of sorts, who has come back home from college. On the way out to the store with a list of things to get the store for his mom he encounters a very unusual-looking cat who takes the list and that starts him down a path full of full-stop WTF moments, unusual characters, and a blend of story beats that are both telegraphed and unexpected.


Aside from the unusual people he’ll meet and party up with for combat he’ll also acquire a small number of critical items that can be used as you walk around that help solve a variety of puzzles, like slinging a cat named Dali around to trigger switches and make progress. Honestly aside from the first hour of footage I’m sharing and confirming it continues down the bizarre and trippy path that establishes the groundwork for the more I’d try to explain the more questions you’d have. Suffice it to say that the sensibilities it has are unusual, whether that is a big plus or a major minus will no doubt vary from person to person.


In addition to the story and characters not necessarily being for everyone I’d say the game’s biggest weakness is just the time lost to loading screens and how those can disrupt the game’s flow in annoying ways at times with their regularity and duration. I normally don’t pay things like that much mind when they’re mostly benign but there were enough occasions where I began getting distracted reading something while I waited that it seemed noteworthy. On top of that while I enjoyed the oddity of the means of attacking and defending with various characters I suppose people who can’t get the knack of the mini-games that drive combat could get a bit frustrated. Thankfully I wouldn’t say the gap in damage between being very effective and just moderately effective is too substantial so I generally viewed these tasks as a means to keep me engaged so that worked for me.


As a whole while I found YIIK thoroughly different and quirky a fun way I can also see where those traits likely make it a love / hate proposition for people. If you’re really hoping for a more traditional experience you’ll likely be frustrated with the entire package, story, combat, and all. If, however, you have the indie spirit and appreciate experiments that may not always pan out but that are at least fresh this could really click for you as well. At least being able to somewhat relate to and understand the attitudes of some characters and the game’s approach I found it to be fun and I’d be fascinated to see what will come next from this developer having been provided feedback on this this title and running with that to try out something in a similar vein.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Absolutely different on many levels
  • Oddball characters, story beats, and general sense of aesthetics and humor
  • Takes chances and does even some simple things differently, great for a change of pace

Cons:
  • The theming and style absolutely won’t appeal to everyone
  • Load times break things up a bit more than usual, taking you out of the flow at times
  • The combat could be aggravating to both people who don’t “get it” and those who do and realize they’re only able to do marginally better than those that don’t


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review: Stellar Interface [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Love them or hate them, roguelikes of all flavors are here to stay and already well-represented on the Switch. In the case of shooters they come in various forms, from the twin-stick variety with Neon Chrome to more traditional arcade shooters like Steredenn: Binary Stars. Stellar Interface brings a bit of a twist to things, offering the opportunity to choose your ship and your weaponry (though some ships are better suited to specific options), and then challenging you with some tough bullet hell boss fights, temptations, and the likelihood that your final build will rarely be quite the same even if you start from the same base.


Starting out with only 2 ship options and some basic instructions from the tutorial you’ll set out on your first run and early on there’s no doubt it can be rough. Becoming accustomed to what different power-up options will give you (their names tend to give you a hint but how that works out, especially with drones, can be surprising), coming to understand that in this universe no corner of the screen is consistently safe, and getting used to making smart use of your ship’s dash are all essentials early on but don’t be upset if there’s a fair amount of being blown up involved. Your ultimate goal on any given run is to reach the zone’s Overlord, which will always be a boss battle that will likely take a few attempts to defeat unless you’re a bit lucky and have a great combination of power-ups on your ship. You’ll quickly learn to pay attention to the details of each node you have as a choice to go to at every step of the way. Merchants obviously provide an opportunity to switch up weapons, factories can be a serious challenge if you’re ill-equipped but provide an opportunity to unlock new and more powerful ships, and beware hitting a Lost Lord before you’ve gotten powered up a bit as that’s where former Overlords dwell.


A temptation dangled in front of you on each run comes in the form of 3 optional objectives that will reward you with a random cartridge you can then use on a future run. While sometimes these are more straightforward like clearing a specific number of levels, defeating the Overlord, or avoiding getting hit on consecutive waves others will encourage you to ram into other ships or do things that can be a bit more risky. A potential gain in the next run can sometimes be worth the risk but if you don’t get a cartridge that suits your plans it may also be a bust. As you play and understand more things will begin to get easier as you’ll gain access to better power-ups, you’ll better understand which ones will be the most benefit to you, and you’ll simply be more accustomed to some of the craziness the game will randomly throw at you at times. For variety playing in Endless Mode will give you a more traditional arcade experience with everything you’ve unlocked to date being available as well as pick-ups as you go.


When it comes to issues there’s no doubt that in the early going progress can feel frustratingly slow, something that isn’t unusual with roguelikes but that can be aggravating if you’re on a run of bad luck. Experimentation is a big part of finding success and that can take some time, but it also ends up demonstrating the abundance of builds the game makes possible, you just need to work to discover which ship and base loadout work for you. A focus on yourself, powering up your weapons, can have its benefits but so can going drone-heavy, depending on what you’re offered. One complication with drones can be how busy the screen gets, with it getting tough to differentiate enemies and their fire from that of your drones, but you can get used to it. I will note that some areas have backgrounds that are busy themselves and can complicate making out critical details as enemy fire comes at you from all sides, but in general it can be managed. These visual clarity issues are compounded when trying to play in handheld mode, with some elements like enemy mines getting tough to see, but on a general level you can typically manage, it’s just a bit tougher to take in all at once.


Providing a unique take on the combination of traditional arcade shooting and roguelike challenge Stellar Interface is a blast to play once you get over the initial hump. The elements of risk and reward are ever-present, every run tends to go very differently even when working with the same ship, and there are a multitude of builds that I was able to find success with. The boss challenges are pretty significant but rewarding, Endless Mode offers a more traditional arcade experience, and overall there’s a surprising amount of great content to be discovered and explored if you’re up to the challenge.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • A great deal of build variety starting with the base ships and loadouts and extending to perks you’ll pick up along the way
  • A true shooting challenge, throwing bullet hell elements at you, sections where you’ll need to learn to use your dodge effectively, and tough boss fights
  • Endless Mode is a great contrast and feels more like a traditional arcade experience using everything you’ve unlocked

Cons:
  • Initially it can all be quite overwhelming, especially since it isn’t always clear what specific power-ups do until you try them
  • Getting those first unlocks to help you progress can be tough
  • Some areas make it tougher to make out enemy fire and some finer details make handheld play more challenging due to scale

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: Momodora - Reverie Under the Moonlight [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Finding a balance in creating a game that’s challenging but not tipping the needle too far too quickly I have no doubt is challenging. There’s absolutely now a community that lives for games that will frustrate them and push them to be better but doing it the “right” way seems a bit elusive, you want people to feel like they just need to execute better not so much that they were robbed. Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is a title that struggles with this, having a lot of positives on its side in terms of visuals but too often feeling a bit cheap or abrupt with its challenges.


Starting with the positive the pixel art and character designs of Momodora are impressive. The environments and many characters are distinctive and have a consistently unexpected look to them. Once the game gets rolling you’ll find that the map opens up a bit and features some solid Metroidvania-esque exploration with puzzles here and there you’ll need to solve to get access to chests and some bonuses that will help you on your journey. You’ll certainly need to be prepared for a challenge when it comes to boss fights as even early on these can be pretty tough. Timing, positioning, and being very comfortable with the dodge roll are all essentials for success.


Where I’d say I saw issues is more when you’re exploring and facing more run-of-the-mill enemies oddly. You really take a lot of damage when you’re hit, almost to the point that a health bar seems like it was the wrong choice, that a 3 heart gauge or something else would be more appropriate. Trying to avoid getting hit can be fine but there are simply also too many enemies that get in cheap hits as well with aimed projectiles or from enemies that will suddenly appear. You can get through this but there’s a lack of joy and fun in this sort of combat, it’s just something to overcome. Something that shows up a bit more in boss fights that I had to adapt to is that your melee attack animation is a bit on the long side and makes you vulnerable if you time things poorly. Again, something you can adapt to but it makes your character feel a bit sluggish.


All things considered, Momodora is a solid Metroidvania that certainly has visual flair and a solid core gameplay experience. The sensibilities with its challenge are both modern and super old school, putting the pressure on the player to “git gud” to accept and work through some ordeals to find success. While I like a good challenge I’d argue that Momodora’s weakness is a tendency towards cheapness a bit too often, which diminishes the fun a bit in the process. However, if you’re down for pushing yourself to get through this gauntlet of strange enemies and some frustration it’s worth checking out.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A terrific unique art style
  • Having both a melee and ranged attack is appreciated
  • Some clever puzzles and varied platforming challenges keep things interesting

Cons:
  • Combat isn’t often satisfying so much as just something to overcome
  • A tendency towards cheap enemies that do disproportionately high damage
  • The melee attack animation is a bit long, making your character feel “sluggish” at times


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review: Omensight - Definitive Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The Switch has got some great brawler/slashers out there that provide challenging combat but nothing to date has quite had the feel of Omensight. That’s because while the vast majority of games in the genre have been of the more classic 2D side-scrolling variety, while Omensight has opted for playing out in 3D. While this helps to make combat more interesting, and often exciting, it also adds some complications that aren’t all net positives. Mixing up this style of combat with a dash of Groundhog Day and a calamitous world-ending mystery to solve, Omensight manages to stand out as compelling despite its stumbles.


You’ll play the game as the Harbinger, summoned to the world of Urralia on the eve of its destruction. Tasked with fully understanding the chain of events to lead to this event, your goal is to work out the means to save it. This will have you pairing with a handful of key players in the world, accompanying them through their day to gain insights and the power to unlock new areas. What you’ll soon find is that pretty well everyone has secrets and a part to play, and that the events that lead to the world’s destruction weren’t as clear cut as they seem to be initially. Overall, the story is brought together by a fair amount of intrigue and reinforced by some great voice acting. In order to learn everything you may need to repeat a section but one great feature is an option to skip right back to a critical choice you made, a time-saver I really appreciated.


To go along with the pretty compelling story the emphasis on the game is very much combat, which continues to evolve over the course of the game as you acquire new abilities and invest in upgrading them in a variety of ways. For people who’ve played games of this kind before most of the flow should feel familiar, you’ll need to move between enemies, keeping an eye out for people who are about to hit you, dodging, countering, and comboing it up as much as you’re able. Special abilities based on your companion and some powered-up skills can very much turn things around to your favor when it gets intense but in general since you earn more currency towards unlocks for consecutive attacks without being hit in general your focus should be on keeping moving and being smart.


Where things struggle and aren’t quite as positive probably the main complaint would be the load times. While I’ve sat through worse they are very much noticeably long, and especially since they often hit in the middle of a mission they disrupt the flow and groove you may have been in. The camera, at times, can be another complication, it generally does a good job of staying on the action but there are sections and boss fights where it can work against you as well, though at least not so much so that it generally costs you a life. The last note concerns some platforming sections that crop up in a few places. While they compliment the story they’re a bit on the clunky side, though often they’re at least short.


On the whole while I had some concerns with a few picky issues Omensight still manages to be pretty brilliant and well worth checking out. If it were just full of slashing combat it would have been decent but the added layer of an interesting story full of fleshed out characters who aren’t just one-dimensional archetypes really seals the deal. Add in the fact that there aren’t too many titles that have explored this style of play on Switch and it’s worth having on your radar.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • An interesting story that’s well voice acted
  • Great flowing combat that allows you to show some flair and have fun
  • When you need to go back to the same storyline more than once you’ll typically have an option to return directly to a critical decision you need to change

Cons:
  • The load times are a bit of a bummer and take you out of the zone
  • In some situations the camera can be problematic
  • There are some dedicated platforming sections but the action’s a bit clunky in them

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Review: Samsara Deluxe [Nintendo Switch eShop]


At this stage in the Switch’s lifespan it may still feel early but in a number of genres the console already has some deep and quality representation is many genres. Unfortunately this means that competing for eyeballs and dollars continues to get trickier and in order to make a splash it continues to take a bit more effort. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with Samsara Deluxe, a relatively subdued and charming puzzler that will challenge you to think carefully about how you place various blocks to progress, it’s also a pretty vanilla overall experience. If you’re thirsting for a twist of creativity that’s not terribly taxing it may suit you, just there are plenty of other puzzlers that are a bit more interesting out there.


You’ll play the game trying to help a young boy get a portal on every level. To help him get there you’ll need to carefully place blocks of various kinds, most are just steps of of some sort, in the right configuration to help him get there. The trick initially is just that if you place the block below the horizon you’ll put them in a sort of shadow realm and an inverse version of it will be represented in a usable but ghostly form on the top. Further in you’ll also have a shadow version of the boy to manage, as well as various portals, which further complicate the formula though the base mechanic is always roughly the same.


To Samsara’s credit you’ll have to be a bit creative with how you apply the rules to get through some puzzles. Steps can work in two different directions and sometimes you just want to use their flat sides. Perhaps the trickiest part is that you drop the pieces in the negative space and they’ll end up in the same horizontal position on the top but perhaps not in the same vertical one. There are some puzzles where I found it to be a bit aggravating that you can’t simply drop down a small level, somehow that will cause the boy to fall through everything and you’ll fail, but you do get over it.


In the end I’d definitely say you should give the video a look to see if the style of play suits you. It’s methodical and can throw you a challenge but between the ordinary presentation and how fundamentally basic the gameplay mechanics are it’s hardly a must-play experience either. In an eShop full of intriguing puzzle games many flavors Samsara Deluxe may be unique but it still struggles with just being very average.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Clean, though simple, presentation
  • Conceptually the style of play is unique on Switch

Cons:
  • There’s nothing about it that screams “must play” in a crowded puzzle genre on the eShop
  • While new elements get introduced over the course of the levels it never really takes off to the next level in terms of interest


Review: Mad Age & This Guy [Nintendo Switch eShop]


What do you get when you combine some puzzle elements, a dash of Bomberman, and some steampunk theming? You get Mad Age & This Guy, an oddly-named game with a pretty cool look that unfortunately for the most part has solid but a bit ordinary play. For puzzle fans thirsting for a little more action than normal it should be a great match but since it’s a bit too tense to be casual and a bit too subdued to get the blood pumping it’s in an odd middle ground for the most part.


The name of the game here is a mix of moving crates, managing enemies, worrying over whether you have enough bombs, and if you’re a completionist getting everything picked up and knocked out before moving onto the next level. While at the beginning this may not be too hard as you progress the demands of each level will increase meaning if you want to cover all 3 objectives you’ll need to stick your neck out a bit. Usually the biggest challenge is managing to kill all of the robots as depending on their model their behaviors differ a bit. Credit to the developer, robot movements can be anticipated to a broad degree but they do tend to be a bit unpredictable, making destroying them all tricky at times. This is definitely where bomb management can be an issue if you’re not careful, so if you can you’ll always want to move boxes or oil drums around to try to manage where they’re going or get them penned up to make them an easy target.


I think the most unusual thing about the game is how it can’t seem to consistently make up its mind what it wants to do or be and that tends to hold it back. There’ll be concepts like moving boxes onto a few buttons to trigger a door that get introduced and then disappear for a while. There are elements in the environment like pipes but you’re unable to make creative use of them. Certainly using the bombs effectively is a key to success but I don’t know that there really gets to be too much creativity or versatility in their use. It really is a mildly action-oriented puzzler that seems to be caught in a tug of war between two very different styles of play and it just never quite gels.


While there’s something refreshingly unique about Mad Age & This Guy, not playing quite like anything else on the Switch, I’d say that determining who it would be a great match for is a bit of a puzzle unfortunately. The pacing and action are a bit too mild to be exciting and the puzzle aspects are a bit too inconsistently implemented and loose to make you really feel clever. Instead it’s a kind of hybrid that manages to set itself apart but that doesn’t inspire enthusiasm.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Has a great steampunk look
  • Offers a unique blend of puzzles and Bomberman-esque action
  • A fair amount of content that will take quite a number of hours to complete

Cons:
  • Too subdued for action fans and perhaps too aggravating for casual puzzle fans
  • A bit haphazard with its consistency and applied concepts
  • Not terribly ambitious in terms of creativity or variety

Review: Snowboarding The Next Phase [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ever since the heyday that snowboarding games had back in the days of 1080 and the likes of SSX Tricky I’ve been a fan of the genre. The satisfying feeling of control cutting turns, taking jumps, and doing some cool acrobatic tricks while in the air is hard to resist. As popular as games like that were at the time they then pretty well disappeared, which I always considered a shame. Now we have Snowboarding The Next Phase, a title that absolutely looks and feels the part, just repetition and a lack of more ambition hold it back from sticking the landing.


Starting with what it gets right there’s no denying that in terms of visuals the game is spot on. Sporting a clean and colorful aesthetic style, your snowboarder and gear very much look the part whether standing still or in action. Tricks are pretty easy to pull off, with a variety of grabs mapped to the face buttons and spins and flips being as easy as moving the joystick in the direction you want to rotate. Landing requires some skill but errs on the side of being approachable, not requiring a ton of technique but if you want to maximize your score you do need to try your best to get yourself into the right position. I will note that at times I would get really odd trajectories off of my jumps, going almost sideways at times and not at all in the direction I wanted to, but it wasn’t so often as to be a major issue. Also, while I normally don’t get into this territory one thing that’s hard to miss is that with as many looks as snowboarders have its hard to miss that they’re all variations of while males, without a female or another complexion in sight… a bit of a misstep.


So yes, in terms of the core fundamentals this title gets it right, it’s just that with so much on the table that works it makes it a shame that it’s generally so repetitive. Calling what you’re going down mountains would be deceptive, as your tracks are pretty well all quite short and somewhat narrow as well. There’s some variety, with different paths you can take and jump off of, but most of the time it feels like just as you were getting into a groove you’re done. For each run you’ll be given 3 objectives, whether grabbing colored geocache markers, doing X number of specific tricks, or getting a target score. At first the works well enough as you get accustomed to things but then you begin to realize that though the objectives will continue to change and get a bit more demanding that’s all there really is. Aside from not having skill challenges like a slalom or something more racing oriented, there’s really not a great opportunity for freestyling very much, especially since the tricks it demands that you do are often far less ambitious than what you’ll quickly be pulling off. Doing 2 forward flip or 360 tricks when you’re doing doubles or 1080 grabs with relative ease feels limiting and like the game’s holding you back.


For the price the level of polish on this title is impressive and if you set your expectations within its limits it’s a pretty strong experience with quite a lot of content. Unfortunately, if you’ve got nostalgia for the more complete titles of years past this likely will only tease you with glimpses of those experiences but never really reaching those heights from a lack of ambition. I hope to see a new title in this series return that tackles those challenges. Pretty well all the pieces are there, they just need to now be taken to the next level.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Looks fantastic
  • In general the feel of control is good
  • Though the courses are short they do have some variety to them

Cons:
  • Generally focused on and limited to stunts, missing opportunities for more varied play
  • Some quirks at times off of jumps, going in odd directions inexplicably
  • In an era where inclusion is important the monochromatic all-male cast is hard to ignore


Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Everything [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Hrm… “experience titles”... they’re an interesting and varied bunch. Much like visual novels I’m still coming to terms with this genre and how they work, or sometimes don’t. That said, I respect that as the gaming industry grows it’s crucial to see diversity of all kinds, even when the “game” aspect can sometimes seem to be an afterthought. That’s where I struggle with Everything, a title that leans hard on a certain kind of experience and takes great pains to try to convey philosophical thoughts but that mechanically isn’t so much played as stumbled through.


This is definitely the sort of experience where it may be better to load up some video to see what happens rather than try to describe it. For me this is an interactive version of listening to someone in high school or college starting to trip out on concepts like the infinite, the universe, and how all things are connected. Mechanically you will take control first of an animal of some sort and then after meandering about you’ll acquire some new skills like attracting creatures like yourself, “talking”, and even “dancing” with your group which will apparently create offspring. Sound odd? That’s the just start of it.


The emphasis in the game is more what you’re able to do next, which is descend or ascend to smaller or larger objects. As you move from animal to plant to cells to atoms and then to the subatomic the game continues to get more and more visually trippy. Ascending you’ll be able to control not just a planet but then a sun and even a galaxy. It’s what you’re able to do next, pushing past the more easily understood limits of scale, where it then gets into the philosophical and as you explore you’ll begin to discover recordings from what seems to be a philosophy lecture that explore the nature of being and how things are connected to one another.


If this sounds fascinating, that’s great, and there’s a certain degree of entertainment in controlling a tree, a segmented fence that behaves a bit like a snake, or even planets. I find philosophy to be interesting and this visual exploration of some concepts is novel at a minimum, but just understand that it’s more of an exercise than a game. It does track what you’ve managed to take control of, and perhaps you’ll want to be sure you be every form of plant in the game but aside from that or simply tracking down all of the different info tidbits or audio clips there’s not much more that it has to offer. If none of the above has scared you off I’d think you’ll find Everything to be enjoyable, it’s just such an unusual experience that I can’t ignore the fact that it won’t be for everyone.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • It can be interesting to take control of the many forms the game offers
  • The audio clips at least attempt to bring together some sense behind the experience

Cons:
  • If you’re looking for any sort of gameplay this won’t be a good match
  • Depending on what you’re looking for there may not be much longevity here once you understand what it’s all about

Review: Hive Jump [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Indie titles, as a whole, tend to be more focused and “smaller” experiences than their more full-blown (and expensive) counterparts. Depending on the genre and the example this can sometimes work out just fine, with the title still being satisfying, but it can also make them feel frustratingly like they come up short or too limited. In the case of Hive Jump I’d say it’s right about in the middle, with a sort of corridor shooting experience that’s satisfying for a while but that ultimately can feel a bit grindy and too similar really get to the next level.


Initially there’s a lot to get accustomed to, and one particular mechanic is unusual but gets to be convenient once you embrace it. What you’ll quickly find is that the “jumper” you control as you move through the hive is expendable. You essentially have an unlimited supply of them that will warp in when the last one dies. The trick is that ability is tied to a backpack that they wear, and if your jumper dies there’ll be a window of time where the backpack is then vulnerable. Once it is destroyed your run is then over. It’s a smart move and does create some moments of tension as well as smart strategy.


Taking that element into account most of the action is pretty straightforward. You’ll infiltrate the hive, wreck any bugs you come across (there will be quite a lot in volume, if not variety), destroy the spots they spawn from, and go deeper into the hive until you come to a boss. As you go you’ll collect yellow goo that you will then be able to buy upgrades with. The shop has a variety of guns, grenades, and added equipment that will give you a variety of configurations from ranged to up close and personal. Solo you’ll likely need to go with something versatile but with some friends I’d imagine having a specialist who can do things like heal the others would be a smart strategy. Between missions you’ll manage a pretty basic overworld map where you can build up your strongholds so they can repel hive attacks and initiate taking down their bases by working through your shooting runs. Once you knock them back far enough you’ll then take on a queen in a deeper and tougher hive and that amps up the challenge quite a lot.


As much as I enjoy the core experience, shooting things up, going through special doors with tough sections you’ll need to carefully get through to gain perks, and surviving hive swarms, it was hard to ignore the repetition that will set in. Once you get a gear configuration that works for you and you settle in you’ll discover that there simple isn’t very much variety to the hives. They’re procedurally generated and the layouts will always be different but that doesn’t mean the feel doesn’t get familiar. Part of the issue is likely that there simply aren’t that many types of bugs to destroy and their attack patterns are always the same. What’s initially intimidating loses its edge once it becomes predictable. You can still get overwhelmed in certain situations but it does begin to feel like more of a grind, especially in a longer hive trying to get to the queen. In some ways the modes outside of the campaign reinforce this problem, they provide a different run setup but the elements are all shared so there’s nothing fresh about them.


I really appreciate the core bones of what Hive Jump offers, and for the first few hours while I was still getting into my groove it was quite a bit of fun. Familiarity, once it sets in, really wears on the experience though and while taking down the hive queen is a challenge there’s simply a lot of repetition to be had getting there which ends up feeling a bit pointless and for its own sake. With some support things get a bit chaotic and busy but the ability to have some more diverse builds that compliment each other does change things up a bit so that’s a plus. I’d love to see a more fleshed out sequel with more enemy variety and surprises, the core experience is there and it’s a good one, there’s just no missing the grind once it sets in.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • A variety of weapon and gear choices allow you to find your own style
  • The unlimited jumpers but only one backpack mechanic is a smart one that works well
  • Battling against the bosses and the hive queen can have some challenging thrills

Cons:
  • Once you really get rolling repetition sets in
  • The majority of the time in the hive you’re dealing with a limited variety of enemies who always attack in the same general patterns, making it feel grindy
  • The overworld component lacks in strategy and is a missed opportunity


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review: Double Cross [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Making games that blend elements of genres together can be a tricky business, for every title that manages to blend them brilliantly into a transcendent experience there are a load of them that fall all over the spectrum of success. Mixing together action platforming with some light adventure / RPG elements Double Cross lands somewhere in the middle, with the latter aspects adding flavor and story but not clearly making the game better either. Where it shines is with its platforming action that features a powered grapple, and a pretty wide variety of puzzle elements that are featured in each of the game’s stages.


You’ll be playing as Zahra, an inexperienced agent of an interdimensional team called R.I.F.T. who is looking to prove herself. In order to do that she’s working on tracking down Suspect X, a powerful villain who is a threat to the extraverse. In order to put together the clues that will break the case open she’ll need to travel to 3 levels on 3 unique worlds, making smart use of her grapple beam, battling some aliens, and working out a variety of generally clever action puzzles. While the stages have difficulty ratings to help guide you a bit you’ll have the option of taking them on in the order you like and the nature of the challenges you’ll face can vary wildly.


Whether using a variety of types of goo to coat different surfaces to help you stick or bounce, moving magnets around to allow you to help avoid traps, or simply being on the run and needing to quickly and carefully grapple and dodge through obstacles, there’s a fair amount of variety here. Throw in a boss battle on each world that acts as a cumulative test of what you’ve learned and you’ll need to master your skills to be effective. You’ll want to challenge yourself to grab hidden crystals on each level that will level you up and give you access to a variety of passive additions like new attack options and greater health as well as some perks that you’ll be able to choose from in different combinations to suit the situation you find yourself in. While they’re not essential in some spaces any incremental help you can get is appreciated.


The game does stumble a bit in some areas though, and these do hold it back. While the grapple mechanic generally works well, and feels great when you’re more methodically using it for puzzles, in spots where you’re on the run it can be a bit cumbersome and awkward. Especially in the handful of situations where you’ll be running to the right but then need to aim somewhere behind you to the left you can manage it but it’s clumsy. Another aspect that doesn’t work as well as intended has to do with the adventure and storytelling elements. While they do add some flavor they’re not really meaningful in terms of requiring you to put thought into anything, you just get object X and need to talk to person Y about it, then you move on. In the end progressing the story is just an obstacle that doesn’t clearly make the game more enjoyable, if anything it’s just holding you back from being in the zone and enjoying the action. I just wish something more was done with the story aspects to justify you needing to walk around the HQ so much when, if it’s going to be so linear anyway, they could have just chained the discussions and cutscenes together to keep things rolling. Finally, though combat does work it’s pretty generic, and your unlocked skills are more for visual flourish than effectiveness.


All in all there’s quite a bit to like about Double Cross, as it manages to provide some challenge without being over the top or cruel. Certainly grabbing all of the crystals on all stages would take some formidable effort, in particular the ones along the way in action-oriented stages require some serious timing, skill, and luck. What’s nice is that though the perks and skills you get as you grab these are helpful they’re also not all 100% necessary either, the most beneficial ones tend to be at the front of the list so only getting a portion of them all should give you most of what’s truly useful. While its characters and story require a little too much pointless walking around they do at least try to give the game a little more depth and interest. Where the game shines most though is with its smart use of the grapple and varied puzzles that keep you thinking and consistently challenged. It stumbles in places but overall it’s a very enjoyable title.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • The power grapple is used pretty well everywhere and generally feels great
  • A wide variety of challenges and action across its 3 worlds and multiple stages
  • Some smart action puzzle design, especially if you’re trying to find crystals

Cons:
  • Though the characters and story add some flavor, it’s not quite enough justify the need to walk around so much burning time between missions
  • When you need to do some consecutive grapples on the run, especially when you need to aim in the opposite direction from where you’re running, the controls get a little clumsy
  • Most of the combat is relatively unrewarding and can be beaten roughly with button mashing


Review: HoPiKo [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Depending on the genre and gameplay controls can pretty well either make or break a game. Especially if you’re playing something where the action is intense and accuracy is critical any small misstep in the scheme can hold back or even cripple the experience. It’s in that area that I struggle with the twitchy action of HoPiKo, a game that mechanically feels a lot like last year’s Dandara but stripped down to just the core experience. While people in search of a challenge that can be enjoyed in quick bursts, outstanding chiptune music, and crazy minimalist graphics may well fall in love with it the pacing and weakness in the aiming controls may scare others away.


Getting down to it HoPiKo is absolutely an intense experience that stimulates the senses. While its look is pretty minimalist overall the color palette swaps can give everything a very different look every few levels and works nicely. As I mentioned the soundtrack is appropriately full of charged up pulsing beats that will help drive you to keep moving through the levels quickly. Your goal is to jump from platform to platform, avoiding a variety of traps and obstacles. On a consistent basis new elements will continue to be introduced that will force you to pay close attention to every detail to understand what sort of platform you’ll be landing on to help plot out your plan. Some platforms are static but others will take your momentum and where you land into account to make cause it to move and even spin irregularly, among other things. This makes planning and precision equally important at times.


Before you get too excited it’s important to take into account where there are some issues. The first and most annoying problem I have is with the aiming controls. While using the right analog stick is fine, and if you’re within close enough range you’ll get a handy reticle that will help you line thing up, the issue I have is with how you initiate shooting yourself in that direction. Rather than use a button press of some kind the developer opted to have it triggered by releasing the joystick. For the most part this isn’t an issue but in particular when you’re trying to adjust your aim as you float around on a rotating platform this can be less than ideal for accuracy, especially as levels progress and the demands for you acting quickly increase. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as aggravating if it weren’t for another related issue and that’s the punishing grouping of levels. Levels are grouped in sets of 5 and any failure along the way makes you start the group over. While I understand the desire to keep things challenging no option to change this up, even just giving you a life or two to work with, may be a bit of a mistake and close off the experience to a segment of people who may love the mechanics but just aren’t up to being that consistent. Some stages where you’re forced to move quickly or you’ll die underline the problem here, especially when mixing back in the control issue I cited.


Overall, I can see where this title could appeal to the right segment of gamers, people who don’t mind some frustration and want something that looks and sounds great and has a focus on quick action. Just be ready for some difficulty spikes in odd places, stages you’ll absolutely need to die on a few times to get the hang of the goal, and an occasional feeling of betrayal at your thumb and the joystick for completely botching up a critical shot at the end of the fifth level, making you start over again. It’s not going to be a mainstream hit but it can deliver some thrills at a reasonable price if that’s what you’re looking for.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Color palette swaps keep the visuals interesting and varied
  • The chiptune soundtrack is great and suits the on-screen action
  • If you’re into quick puzzle action it delivers

Cons:
  • The aiming, where you release the joystick to launch, can be problematic, especially when you’re rotating and you have to be quick
  • No option to tone down the “die and you start from the beginning” nature of the 5 stage groups may turn off a segment of gamers who like a challenge, but not quite so punishing of one
  • Levels where you almost immediately need to get moving feel cheap, especially when they’re towards the end of a group