Saturday, May 25

Review: Skelly Selest [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to pixel art roguelike arcade action titles you can normally absolutely count me in pretty well automatically. Anything that helps put me back in that classic arcade mindset is usually a thrill to play, bringing me back to simpler days of pumping quarters into some great machines. That said, there can be things that break you out of the experience, little flaws and shortcomings that make some titles tougher to love. That’s the case for me with Skelly Selest, a game that looks great and plays well… but that has some fundamental flaws that don’t kill the experience but make it suffer next to some of its contemporaries.


Starting with the positive, one of the distinguishing features of the game is its somewhat unique blend of beat-em-up and shooter mechanics. At the core there’s what should be a pretty solid experience here, you can slash with your axe and shoot enemies as well, making your combat a bit tactical as you need to figure out what’s better to take out from a distance and when you’re able to maneuver enemies into a cluster to swipe them all at once. You’ll need to alternate your attacks as your ammo is limited and killing enemies with your axe replenishes. Not a bad start.


Next there’s a ton of variety here both within the game and in general. You can attack the game in a few variant modes, even including a sort of card game. You’ll unlock different heads and even characters to play with that will switch up some core mechanics for variety. A variety of different perks and curses will present themselves in-game and between stages as you progress that have a surprising diversity of effects that are all over the spectrum. You’ll encounter new areas and bosses with some regularity that look pretty amazing and amp up the challenge. Truly, there’s a ton here to like.


All of which makes the aggravating nature of its gameplay so frustrating. The biggest problem the game has concerns its most crucial element, the controls. The default setting is to make this a single-stick game, something I absolutely wouldn't recommend. When you're having to engage groups of enemies to thin them out having to turn towards them to attack, then try to get out of the way as some survivors keep coming, doesn't work well. Going into options you can enable twin-stick controls (I prefer aim mode) and that does help thing greatly but there's still a somewhat stilted quality to things at time. In particular, your axe swipe holds you in place for a solid second and most of my deaths tended to be from being left vulnerable by this small break in time. Throw on problems with visual muddiness in some screens where they’re trying to do some lighting tricks and the fact that on the move the icons for power-ups are very hard to differentiate so you’re never quite sure what you’re picking up and it can be a bit maddening on the whole.


This may be one of the more aggravating games I’ve reviewed for the site, where a small number of critical issues have chipped away at an otherwise impressive game. Visually, the game looks great when it isn’t managing to make itself muddy with visual tricks that detract more than they add. The main issue generally ends up being the controls though. Granted, the availability of a twin-stick option, and in how it works, helps a lot. However, there's a lack of fluidity overall that moves the gameplay from being intense to being somewhat stilted with the long axe swipe animation. Then throw on the challenge in understanding what perks or curses you're picking up and their effect and it can be a bit confusing to follow. Skelly Selest has many elements in its corner that help it approach greatness but somehow manages to trip itself up a bit on the way there.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • The core gameplay is pretty sound
  • Visually the art style is distinctive and looks terrific with some great large set pieces and bosses
  • A pretty wide variety of perks and curses in-game, then modes and unlocks at a higher level as well

Cons:
  • Mechanically the movement simply isn't quite as fluid as with some contemporaries with things like the delay on your axe attack and the aim not quite feeling 100%
  • In some areas there are some attempts at light effects that are more trouble than they’re worth and just muddy things up
  • You end up getting perks on the run you can’t identify, making it hard sometimes to know what you’ve gotten yourself into

Review: Back In 1995 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With indie games first impressions can be everything, the hook that pulls you in and gets you invested in the experience as quickly as possible. Sadly, not all games seem to have a great understanding of this, or perhaps count on some sort of nostalgia for past titles that they’re emulating to carry your interest. That’s very much the case for Back In 1995, a title that’s obviously looking to tap into the love people feel for the likes of the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or perhaps Alone in the Dark titles. The problem is, the lack of personality, problems that were once technical limitations but now just feel like lazy design, and overall awfulness just permeate the experience.


You’ll play as Kent, who is trying to reach a radio tower that’s somewhat far away in a post-apocalyptic city. To get there you’ll need to do some exploring, kill some monsters, manage your inventory, and more often than not be a bit bored and frustrated. In the classic Resident Evil you were a bit on edge and I don’t think anyone will forget the early game when jump scares and sudden surprises effectively got you engaged. Here, you’ll start by meandering around non-descript corridors of pretty well empty rooms where you’ll run into what I can only describe as floating turd monsters. It doesn’t exactly strike fear into your heart so much as make you perhaps let out a surprised laugh.


It feels like this game is looking to emulate the general look of the time and took every shortcut that offered (tank controls, low poly objects, muddy and awful textures, fixed camera angles) but then didn’t invest in making it at all compelling. Resident Evil and other classics were pushing the limits of their technology to tell a story so they made the most of what they had, this is instead aiming down visually and then has no real signs of passion or care to make the experience scary, fun, or remotely interesting. If you’re jonesing for the old days break out a classic system or perhaps an emulator and immerse yourself in those titles you loved directly, this is just a shell that looks like those experiences but is pretty hollow inside.


Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • If you love tank controls, this has them!
  • Feeling like modern games with all of their details stink? Take a time warp back to earlier low-poly days

Cons:
  • Visually this captures all of the limitations of some classic survival horror titles but none of their charms
  • “Monsters” that exhibit weak AI and aren’t scary in any way

Friday, May 24

Review: American Fugitive [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Way back in the days of the original top-down Grand Theft Auto a new genre was roughly born, one that put an emphasis on a little crime, chaos, and fun along the way. While that series has obviously gone on to much more elaborate lengths and found great success indies have been trying to mine that same sense of naughty fun in recent years, but with mixed success. Not that when you play the original GTA titles it did anything terribly extraordinary, but with it now being so many years later while games have visually stepped things up the gameplay continues to be a bit stuck in the past.


That’s certainly the case with American Fugitive, a game that looks good and does some things well. One thing it offers which goes above and beyond the norm is what I’d consider more of an attempt at a story that makes your “hero” a bit more sympathetic. While he may be on the run from the law, the situation in isn’t of his doing, and that both builds a little more intrigue into things and makes him more than a random thug or hardened criminal. At least in theory you can tell yourself that breaking into people’s houses, stealing cars, and engaging in some shadier activities are a product of the situation he finds himself in. While the story may not be deep I can at least appreciate the attempt.


The other area that plays a bit differently, though you could argue about whether its implementation is as exciting as you’d like, would be breaking into houses. In order to best assure success you’ll want to size the place up, looking through windows and trying to ensure you’re less likely to be caught. Once you break in don’t be surprised if you trigger an alarm, but you’ll then see a countdown until the cops show up so you’ll need to prioritize your time hitting rooms in search of some cash, gear, or an objective. You’ll just essentially choose a room to search in a top-down blueprint of each room so the action isn’t visual but depending on what (or who) you may find there can be some variety where you’ll test your luck a bit at times.


Aside from those aspects most things play out roughly the same as you’d expect from other titles of this kind… though I’d say on the whole it’s a bit more tricky than most. While how well you can control a car will vary by vehicle driving around isn’t a very precise science. What makes this a bit of a pain is that your range of vision isn’t all that great and it’s super-easy to run into cars and other items or people which will tend to immediately piss of the hair-trigger cops in town. Most of the time you’ll be able to lose them but in this more rural setting overall the pursuits don’t tend to have much of an edge to them. Get some distance, switch cars, maybe grab a change of clothes, or perhaps just lose them long enough to forget about you. It lacks in intensity and in general you don’t have the ordinance to make taking on the cops as much chaotic fun as you see elsewhere.


On the whole American Fugitive does a decent job of being a bit different but that doesn’t equate to easy fun either. If you’re determined to destroy everything in sight and chaos it up this definitely won’t work for you, the action is simply more realistic and a bit sedated. Perhaps if your goal isn’t to engage in so much fantasy as have a bit more of a twinge of the reality of trying to be on the run, with the expectation that any small mistake will get the cops on to you, it will make more sense. That said, more realistic doesn’t necessarily equate to more fun so whether this title or another in this genre is a better choice will come down heavily to taste.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • There’s an attempt to make your character a bit more sympathetic than usual, which is a nice touch
  • The breaking and entering aspect may not be exciting visually but it does a good job of introducing some tension and is simply a bit different than the norm

Cons:
  • Working against the norm the emphasis in the game isn’t so much about raising hell, so its more subdued nature may make it less exciting to certain crowds
  • Dealing with the hair-trigger police who’ll get into hot pursuit over just about anything, when coupled with the somewhat wonky driving, can make it frustrating at times

Wednesday, May 22

Review: Redout [Nintendo Switch eShop]


After being delayed for quite some time, and for a while seemingly never to come to the Switch, Redout has finally sped its way onto the system. Without a first-party high-speed racing game on the system like F-Zero or an established franchise like WipeOut or even Extreme-G that has left the field wide open for an indie to find an audience. With Fast RMX releasing at launch and the more combat-oriented GRIP having come in the last year there have been some decent choices, each with their own feel, and I’d say Redout similarly does things its own way. In this case the promise is in an impressive feeling of speed and some pretty roller coaster-like tracks. However, while it may appeal to racing purists if you were hoping for a little bit of action along the way you may be disappointed.


Starting out in the Career Mode you’ll pick your first vehicle, trying to find the balance of attributes that suit you best, and set off. What makes the controls a bit unique here is the use of the right stick for your pitch, whether that be side to side or up and down. It takes a little getting used to but it’s essential that you get on top of things. Not only will running into the walls slow you down, it will also begin to damage your craft and obviously blowing up is going to be an issue, even moreso when in events where once you blow up you’re done. As you compete and win you’ll gain more money, which you can then use to buy new vehicles or some active and passive upgrades. These do play a role in things but they’re not so much combat-oriented as annoyances to other drivers or assists to help you succeed.


In general while the sense of speed is pretty impressive there are some casualties that come with the territory. The first is that visually in order to represent everything whipping by the game takes on an unusual overall look as you get flying down the track. Your ship will retain its detail but the track and your surroundings can look outright weird in a way that’s hard to describe. Granted, the sensation of speed is crucial above all but it won’t be for everyone. The other casualty can be fun. Even with other people on the track, whether against the CPU, online (when you can find people consistently… eek), for the most part races are a lonely experience where you ultimately feel like you’re just racing against yourself for time. There are situations where racers can disrupt each other but they’re the exception by far rather than the rule. If you want to dig into something that will challenge you to do your best it works, but if you were hoping for some excitement as you take on other racers more directly you’ll be disappointed.


Overall, Redout is a pretty impressive racing experience that does a great job of conveying speed. Depending on your tastes, what is sacrificed to maintain that feeling of screaming down the track will lead to very different impressions. Without the color-coded boosting of Fast RMX or the consistent combat of GRIP Redout stands on its own as the most pure racer of the bunch, just understand that even though there’s a fair amount of content and plenty of tracks none of it will matter if the game doesn’t fulfill what it is you’re looking for in your racing title.


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • The sensation of speed is absolutely there
  • Controlling the pitch of your vehicle while racing, forcing you to use both the left and right sticks, gives the game a unique and more purist feel
  • A fair number of winding tracks and variants that can be pretty crazy

Cons:
  • People who enjoy a little more variety to go with the core racing won’t find much here
  • Even when racing against opponents for the most part you’re really racing against yourself
  • While there is online support the community doesn’t seem to be very big and indie games in general don’t tend to retain their numbers for long

Tuesday, May 21

Review: Octogeddon [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When you’re checking out new indie games you can never be sure what you’ll run into next. Certainly a game with an easily-angered octopus who is determined to destroy anyone or anything they’re insulted by while grafting all manner of creatures onto their tentacles isn’t something you run into every day. That’s precisely the core of Octogeddon though, and while you might assume this is a mobile port of some kind it actually isn’t, and even though its controls and core play may be simple the game has a crafty element of progression and sustained challenge that make it interesting.


Pretty much all you need to know is that you’re an angry cephalopod who starts out with a mere two plain tentacles but who progressively is able to add more and customize them as well. You’ll be attacked from all sides by all manner of weapons and craft ranging from conventional to sometimes silly, and to defend yourself the controls simply consist of you being able to rotate left and right with either the joystick or shoulder buttons. Staying alive is merely a matter of lining up with something attacking you and then letting your tentacle or whatever may be on the end of it deal with them.


Though for the first run or two there doesn’t tend to be too much to get excited about as you go and collect shells specifically you’ll gain the ability to unlock some much more potent animal attachments for your appendages. Whether these have powerful melee attacks, shoot poison, or even grab and fling enemies around you’ll need to carefully determine not only which to use but where to place them. Rather than thinking a bit randomly putting some skills near each other can be a very wise move and you’ll only know things like this for sure through experimentation. Adding to the challenge is the fact that once you’ve unlocked a few permanent choices you’ll still be subject to some randomness in which options you’ll have to add between rounds.


Aside from it feeling like it may take its sweet time to hit its stride Octogeddon works in a satisfying manner both in terms of being an action and a strategy game. Success isn’t only about execution or planning, you’ll really need a solid combination of both (and perhaps a little luck) to weather some of the scenarios and boss fights you’ll be put up against. Somehow feeling both complex and simple at the same time this budget title entertains with its sense of humor, some truly surprising weapons, and a smooth ramp up in difficulty that will challenge you without necessarily being overwhelming. Recommended for budget game lovers for sure.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Simple but smart, challenging but fair
  • Deeper unlocks between runs that allow you to spend shells can provide some great options in weaponry
  • A generally light-hearted tone and sense of humor
  • The launch price of $8.88 is a great touch, and a fair deal

Cons:
  • Can feel a bit mobile-y
  • The overall challenge is likely a bit mild for experienced gamers

Sunday, May 19

Review: Project Nimbus - Complete Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Fans of classic animes in particular are likely very familiar with giant robot mechs battling it out in intense flurries of laser fire and missiles. Conceptually the desire to get into the middle of that action is strong, with people hoping to find a satisfying mix of quick-thinking strategy and action. In execution it’s a bit tougher a hill to climb though, finding a way to provide action that’s both fluid and varied, not ending up too basic but having a control scheme that’s accessible. While Project Nimbus: Complete Edition does get elements of the picture right, it’s not quite polished enough to stand out even with a general lack of competitors on the Switch at the moment.


Over the course of the game’s missions you’ll take control of a number of mechs, each having a little variety in their weaponry but not necessarily feeling completely different in terms of the action either. The majority of the time the action ends up taking place in large environments, with you needing to destroy waves of incoming enemies using whatever means you have at your disposal. Since pretty well all of your weapons have cooldowns this will mean cycling between weapons quickly and doing your best to aim at enemies, typically getting some sort of lock on them, and letting loose. When combat is working this can be pretty satisfying, intense, and a challenge as you try to take it all in.


Missions are a bit odd in their order and can feel a bit disjointed at times with you hopping around between scenarios and mechs, and the demands of the situation forcing you to focus on particular strategies. This does succeed in keeping it from being an endless series of open-space battles but with restrictions put on you some of these missions can drag out a bit as you try to figure out how best to adapt to the situation. Typically as you’re figuring things out this involves a whole lot of dodging and firing counter-measures to avoid getting blown to bits by incoming missiles, but I’ll give some credit for an attempt to make things a bit more varied.


I think the two areas where the game struggles a bit are with the controls and in how satisfying sustained play tends to be. The initial learning curve with the controls was a bit tough, as I don’t think everything is typically explained as clearly as it could be. With some experimentation I caught on after some time but the scheme is a bit funky and taking into consideration how much you’ll need to cycle between weapons I’d also consider the means of doing that to be awkward at best as you need to move between the left analog stick and left buttons frequently. While the missions try to change things up, unfortunately I still think the open-air battles still end up being so much more compelling than the other varieties that they’re just not very satisfying. The fact that you can load up a survival mode and just battle things out is a nice touch as well but it just feels like more could have been done to make that experience more engaging for repeat play as well.


While Project Nimbus has some faults for a reasonably-priced title it has its moments and fans of big robots may find it satisfying. I’ve certainly reviewed worse games involving mechs than this, and the space doesn’t have much representation so that all points to this being worth considering. Just walk in expecting there to be some hiccups in the experience and you should find it having its charms despite its flaws.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • Giant robots blowing things up
  • As chaotic as the action can get the general performance is solid
  • When everything clicks it can be quite a lot of fun

Cons:
  • There are attempts at providing variety but many of these aren’t as compelling as open battles
  • The controls are a bit on the cumbersome side and the tutorial trying to get you up to speed with them isn’t very clear in places
  • Overall there’s less variety across the board than I’d hoped for

Review: Chicken Rider [Nintendo Switch eShop]


It’s hard not to have mixed feelings with transplants from the mobile space sometimes. While there are great games that play well on a tablet or phone that also then translate wonderfully to the Switch and justify their presence there are others who don’t. Whether it’s a function of them playing poorly with a physical controller (some not at all) or that there’s just not enough meat on their bones to feel like they belong on a dedicated game system it just doesn’t always work out.


With one-button play that allows you to double jump and in general no real fine control Chicken Rider is an endless runner where you’re looking to collect coins while avoiding hazards of various kinds. The route is randomly generated every time with different layouts, enemies, and power-ups available on the way. In order to incentivize you there are various objectives that give rewards and coins littered about trying to encourage you to try different routes or perhaps more dangerous jumps. Aside from the aesthetics there’s little to differentiate it from a slew of pretty generic runners like it out there in that space.


Chicken Rider is a great example of how not to make a good impression when bringing something over from mobile. It’s especially tricky, I would imagine, to translate what looks like a free-to-play game that had in-app purchases into a budget paid game on Switch. That said, this isn’t the way to do it. You’re inundated with one-time upgrades and crap to buy, as well as aesthetics and skins that you’d have to grind far too long to earn (pushing you to instead buy them). This is a lazy direct port with no care applied to recontextualizing itself as a game people have paid for on a platform dedicated to games and that has plenty of high-quality platformers to choose from. If you’re interested in it, get it on mobile where it belongs.


Score: 3.5

Pros:
  • If you’re willing to grind on the same general gameplay you can unlock stuff

Cons:
  • A shameless mobile port that hasn’t been reinvented as a game people are paying for on a dedicated gaming console
  • The lack of nuance in jumping makes its play limited and pretty annoying on a system with an abundance of higher-quality platformers

Saturday, May 18

Review: Blades of Time [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With game series like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, God of War, and more out there raking in consistent cash it’s easy to see why people would try to tackle the hack-and-slash adventure genre. With a foundation built on crazy combos, some over-the-top weaponry, and enemies aplenty to dispatch with your personal brand of chaotic carnage they can be fun. However, as a game like Blades of Time points out, they’re also tricky to implement well.


Working with your impractically-armored heroine Ayumi, you’ll set out to some exotic locales in search of fortune and glory, meeting up with some unusual monsters along the way. Early on you’ll consistently get introduced to new techniques and game systems, many of which should be pretty familiar in some way to people who’ve played this type of game before. You’ll get to make choices as you upgrade, trying to choose which skills seem to suit your style best, and in general success seems to be possible no matter what path you choose.


Where the game tries to set itself apart a bit and do something different is with its time manipulation mechanics. Most of the time this is done to get by rudimentary puzzles, getting into place on a switch, reversing time to essentially clone yourself, and then hitting another to get by. It’s odd and can be a bit clunky but you get used to it. In combat things can get a bit confusing as well when you need to take on some enemies from more than one angle, but with some work you can get the hang of things and at least it’s different and shows some ambition on the part of the developers.


Even if all of the above worked flawlessly (it really doesn’t) the elephant in the room with regards to the Switch version of the game is performance. Even as de-sensitized as I tend to be in terms of framerates the frame drops in this game are frequent, jarring, and a serious problem. Within the first 5 minutes of play you can’t miss the issues and unfortunately nothing from that point really gets better. Worse, there are then sections where enemies would be almost bizarrely amped up and moving around really fast. It’s weird and really saps enthusiasm quickly. Throw in reports of a save file corrupting but people have run into and it’s not good.


Perhaps a patch can help improve things but even removing the rough performance edges and save corruption issues what’s left would be a middling game at best. There are moments when it shines, and getting into the groove with your combos can be fun but there are flaws and areas where the game hasn’t aged well that are really hard to miss. In its current state it’s not a game I can recommend, and even with some patching it would still be a tough sell on the whole.

Score: 4

Pros:
  • The combo system does allow you to get into a good rhythm and has some variety
  • There are ideas here that help set it apart, just they’re not that well executed

Cons:
  • Serious performance issues are impossible to miss
  • At launch there’s a save file corrupting bug people have run into
  • Even with the performance and save file issues addressed the game is ambitious but generally flawed

Review: Devious Dungeon 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s always a tricky element in sequels when you understand that they’re relatively more of the same, just with some minor changes. One the one hand you kind of wish there was more ambition but at the same time if the original formula is pretty strong it’s hard to knock it for playing things safe and not risking messing anything up. I’d say this would be even more true for games coming from mobile roots since honestly for a reasonably low price what are you expecting? While Devious Dungeon 2 has 3 classes now, that introduce some minor bits of variety on a general level, nothing much has changed.


For the most part the idea is simple, you’ll fight through dynamically-generated platforming levels with the difficulty slowly ramping up and periodic boss fights. Jump, fight, buy new equipment, die, try again. The big benefit over playing this on mobile is that the physical controls work nicely and are generally tight, though in some circumstances when performing consecutive jumps either my timing was off or it felt like the window you needed to stay on the ground before jumping again was a little longer than expected.


The big change is really only the addition of 2 new classes that play slightly differently, and for the most part give you greater mobility with one having a double jump and another having the ability to float. The small but very helpful additional range of the Mage’s attack probably makes him the most newbie friendly but as a whole once you get upgraded and deeper into the game all classes will have a sufficient degree of challenge and some grinding to get better gear to improve your survivability may be a bit inevitable.


The biggest disappointment is that in general terms outside of the new classes you wouldn’t probably know this is a different game since the enemies and general flow of play are nearly if not entirely identical. Keeping in mind the budget price and the fact that there are variations in play with the new classes fans of the original then have a decision to make on double-dipping but if you haven’t played the original the added options make this clearly the one to get. In the end if you were a fan of the original, or have the urge to do some satisfying side-scrolling dungeon crawling, this isn’t a bad option, it’s just perhaps a bit familiar.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • While most mobile conversions offer little benefit on Switch the physical controls make it less frustrating
  • Differences between classes may not be massive but they do add some variety
  • The ramp up in difficulty is pretty gradual and if you find yourself behind the curve grinding a little to get better gear will get you back on track

Cons:
  • While this sequel is clearly a better choice if you didn’t buy the original, so much is the same here that double dipping may not be worthwhile
  • There are circumstances where the jump isn’t as quick and responsive as it should be

Friday, May 17

Review: Undead Horde [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Usually when I think of the folks from 10Tons I immediately dial into blissful feelings revolving around shooting things up top-down arcade style. That said, sometimes you want to break out of your comfort zone and try something else to play and the same is likely true of developers as well. With that we come to Undead Horde, a sort of strategy title where you’ll command minions with different attributes and skills tied to their former living selves to overtake enemies, find loot, and continue to build your powers further.


After a relatively quick tutorial (in which I managed not to pick up on the fact that you have an attack of your own, my bad to anyone watching the first 20 minutes of the video) you’ll be off to the races and in general there’s not much to understand here. Fundamentally you’ll want to summon up an army, preferably with a bit of a balance of skills or matching up with your mission, and then command them to victory. Most of the time that’s just a matter of engaging in some open combat, needing to balance killing foes, wrecking their spawn points (or they’ll keep coming forever), and raising more undead as you go to replenish the units you’ve lost.


As you move along there are some variations to this, and you’ll certainly need to be smart about your selection of undead units to deal with specific circumstances, but your role is as a ringleader. You’ll gather your units together, send them in a direction (on occasion through a sort of minefield which requires some careful guidance at times), and support them by slashing away yourself, casting support spells, and summoning more units. If you find yourself all alone it will make you pretty vulnerable but you’re always able to run back to your home base of operations and summon more dead.


Some customization comes into play the further you get through the selection of the units you prefer (always take along a bear or two, they’re great damage sponges though a little expensive), which weapons you choose and the perks associated with them, your spell of choice (there are both offensive and defensive options), and secondary gear that will boost certain traits. In general I’d consider it a pretty light affair, and not necessarily highly strategic, but the emphasis seems to be on chaotic fun and experimenting.


While I wouldn’t say Undead Horde is a revelation of any kind it does scratch a middle-of-the-road strategy itch and there aren’t many titles on the Switch like it. Accessible, having relatively quick skirmishes, and offering you numerous ways to do battle it can be satisfying as long as you don’t put too many lofty expectations on it. If you’ve always dreamed of commanding a growing army of zombies that include all manner of units, with some chickens thrown in for some good and silly measure, it’s worth checking out.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Has strategic elements but keeps things light
  • A variety of weapons, spells, and gear that will help you cater play to your liking
  • Plenty of quests, secrets, and side missions to complete for more loot and gear

Cons:
  • If you were hoping for real depth there’s not much here
  • Aside from switching up your gear and picking different sets of units to fight with there’s not an incredible amount of variety to things

Thursday, May 16

Review: Akane [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As I’ve said many times before, having pretty well grown up in the arcades I’m a huge fan of games that are intense and can be played in bite-sized sessions. I don’t always need a complex story, deep characters, and all sorts of extended content, some quick and even frustrating sessions of a few minutes are a terrific palette cleanser. Removing those value added elements though means what remains needs to be tight, smart, and challenging without feeling unfair. For a low-budget asking price Akane pretty well ticks all of these boxes in the form of a smart top-down slasher, and it may not have a ton of content but it features gameplay I would easily have pumped more quarters into than its asking price back in the day.


Though mechanically everything is pretty simple you’ll need to hit the Tutorial to get the full rundown, especially for doing things like deflecting bullets and using your charged abilities effectively. After running through that pretty quickly you’re armed with everything you’ll need to know and can get down to the business of killing. You’re able to slash or deflect bullets with your katana, dash, shoot your gun which has limited ammo, and perform either a straight-line slash with a minor power bar or a screen-clearing slashing attack if you’re working with a full bar.


If that’s all there was you could probably enjoy trying to get as far as possible old school style, but what steps things up nicely are the objectives you’ll be pushed to complete. These vary quite a bit but tend to be hyper-focused on how well you use a specific skill or attack. They involve killing a certain number of enemies with your katana without any misses, shooting a large number of enemies, or getting your combo meter up to a certain number among other things. By completing these in between games you’ll gain new options for gear you can wear, which then will grant you some variations on your original gear and unlock a new objective then allowing you to get more. These don’t radically change the core play but they affect just enough to give the game a different flow with each new skill and total combination.


If you’re determined to pick at it the biggest flaw is simply that there’s not much to it in the end. You’re only ever in the one locale, whose basics layout is set in stone. There are only a few types of enemies you’ll ever face, roughly a handful, so you’re not going to see any new surprises on that front after a while. There’s also no global leaderboard for you to compare runs with other people, though given the objective-based play as a focus for once I’m not sure that’s as big a deal since I found trying to unlock new gear more compelling than purely focusing on staying alive for score.


In conclusion if you appreciate great pick-up-and-put-down play sessions that are intense and keep you coming back for more Akane may be a great match. For the most part the objectives feel like they’re in a sweet spot where they’ll push you to complete them but they also aren’t unobtainable by any means. While I wouldn’t call this a roguelike there are some similar principles at play that I appreciate with the ability to change up your gear in order to alter how the game plays in small but meaningful ways. For the right audience this is absolutely a budget title you won’t want to miss.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Smart and tight controls
  • Completing varied objectives will unlock new gear that then alters the way you play
  • Its very low-budget price makes it a steal for old school arcade action fans

Cons:
  • In terms of assets, enemy types, etc the game doesn’t have much content, so the less aligned you are with classic arcade-style games the more unimpressed you may be
  • If you were hoping to match up with friends or strangers and compete on global leaderboards you’ll be disappointed

Wednesday, May 15

Review: Meow Motors [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to racing on Switch, there’s no doubt that Mario Kart is the king. The thing is, that’s not necessarily a strong enough statement. It’s not so much that the mustachioed mascot and his friends sit at the top of the genre, it’s that the competition isn’t even worthy to suck their exhaust fumes. In the indie space this has been almost painful to watch, though being honest for the most part a bunch of generic mobile ports weren’t exactly putting their best foot forward in the first place. Enter Meow Motors, a kitty-filled game that from a distance you’d think would be for kids. Though it won’t threaten Mario Kart for top billing by any means (being fair, nothing really has for multiple generations on any console) it’s a surprisingly satisfying kart racer that thoroughly proves that with care and effort you can make a worthwhile budget-friendly game in this space.


The first and most notable thing to say about the game is that it feels pretty good when it comes to controls. Typically the worst issue in this space is that there’ll be a floaty feel, that there’s insufficient nuance to turning, and even smaller things like there’s no good way to get an initial boost at the start of the race. These are all elements that Meow Motors addresses nicely and right away it’s far easier to appreciate the rest of the game because of it. The controls are generally tight, there’s a nice gauge that you’re trying to keep in the green as you rev up to start racing, and while the handbrake turns in this game aren’t as great as powersliding there’s still some skill to turning, and a reward for doing it well so it feels really good.


The next area where Meow Motors stands out is in its weapons. Again, without completely copying what Mario Kart does figuring out how to handle these well is a challenge but I think they do a great job of showing some creativity and humor in this space to keep the weapons from being boring or one-note. Not only do different weapons behave in a variety of ways, there’s also an incentive not to use them constantly as after a pause they can get charged up and more effective. This introduces a layer of strategy to the mix that I appreciate and shows some care that again sets it apart from the competition.


In terms of variety the 20 tracks, 10 vehicles, and 10 racers who each have a different bonus associated with them work as a great base. 3 different race types will also challenge you a bit: Standard races where you’ll jockey for finishing position with opponents using weapons, Drift events where you’ll be challenged to make the most of every turn to increase your score and multiplier to meet points objectives, and Strike events where you’re racing against others but your objective is to knock as many racers as possible within the time limit. Yet again, even though none of this is on par with the breadth of what Mario Kart offers the fact that it’s a fraction of the price and provides as much as it does is pretty impressive.


All said, though there’s no question that this is a “budget racer” that can’t compete with a premium genre-defining title, Meow Motors holds its own very respectably. In pretty well every area it addresses the failings of its competition, providing racing that’s varied, nuanced, and satisfying. It looks very respectable, runs smoothly, and sucked me in pretty easily with engaging play I’ve been missing in this space for quite some time. If you’ve been itching for a viable alternative to Mario Kart for a price that won’t hurt your wallet, Meow Motors is absolutely the indie racer to go with.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The racing itself is satisfying, has nuance, and can be challenging for the right reasons across 3 modes that are each unique and fun
  • Weapons in the game include some surprises and are worth holding onto for their charged versions that are more effective in a pinch
  • A budget-friendly price

Cons:
  • It can’t really compete with Mario Kart (nothing does), but taking the far lower price into account it’s absolutely a solid value
  • Maybe the cute kittens and silly shark attacks won’t be for everyone
  • The position guide to the left always seems to imply racers are practically on top of each other, which makes it feel like under the hood there may be some rubber banding going on, though I didn’t notice it otherwise

Tuesday, May 14

Review: Sniper Elite V2 Remastered [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to first-person shooters there’s no denying that the pickings are pretty thin on the whole. At the top end you have Doom and Wolfenstein, and on the indie side you have a few titles like Immortal Redneck that are a good diversion but lack the polish and production values traditional FPS may be looking for. Storming the space somewhere in the middle we now have Sniper Elite V2 Remastered, which when everything clicks can be quite satisfying but is mired with enough issues that it’s hard not to think that waiting for the re-release of its sequel later on the Switch may be a better bet.


You’re playing as a lone wolf sniper, stuck behind enemy lines, looking to carry out some key missions to help bring about the end of World War II. Not surprisingly, given the overall situation, in order to succeed you’re going to need to try to use stealth, sneakiness, and eagle eyes to pick off enemies one by one on the way to success. Where the game shines is when you’re able to focus, look through your scope, control your breathing, and blow away some Nazis. The dramatic slow-mo showing your bullet scream through the air before blowing a hole through an enemy soldier with it going to an X-Ray mode view of their body is fun… but there obviously needs to be more to the game than that.


What you’ll encounter in missions varies, and how enemies react to you swings wildly between clueless and almost psychic. There are times when you’re obviously supposed to be a stealth section, coming up on a soldier slowly, and you’ll be able to pop them off with your silenced pistol. These are a bit rare, but can be fun. At the opposite end of the spectrum even as you crouch and try to stay low you’ll suddenly hear a bullet whiz by you or see an indicator that someone sees you and you’ll have no choice but to pull out your rifle which is by no means stealthy.


Once everyone is on to you is where things can fall apart a bit. Be ready to spend quite a lot of time stuck in a space and trying your best to defend it. Setting up a trip wire or mine at the door can work nicely but these engagements tend to drag on as you try to pick everyone off while avoiding taking fatal damage. You won’t need to heal, just stay hidden for maybe 20 - 30 seconds and you’re back to being able to be somewhat of a bullet sponge again. While you’ve got a submachine gun to work with running and gunning simply isn’t an option. The first problem with is that your ammo is always extremely limited, but the bigger issue is that while you may be a crack shot with a rifle you can’t hit the broad side of a barn with your other weapons. While there are whole franchises built on engaging and tense cover fire this really isn’t one of them. You’re best off just having a wall to stand behind, creep out to see people and pick them off carefully.


To the developers' credit, the inclusion of motion-assisted aiming is a nice addition to the Switch and depending on your overall tastes can be a real benefit over strictly dual-sticking it. Though online multiplayer options weren’t yet live for the review there’s also some hope that their inclusion, as well as local co-op, can additionally provide some value added fun for the right crowd. What it boils down to is whether or not the fundamentals of the gameplay work for you though. The game absolutely has its moments where you can see everything working well, but then that’s usually followed by sections where it’s hard not to be frustrated at how locked in the level design tends to be and how often it devolves into you being under fire for a while as you try to slowly eliminate your opposition in a manner that’s not remotely realistic and sometimes aggravating. My hope is that when its sequel makes its way to the Switch the flow and stealth elements are better implemented, giving the experience a better sense of balance. Sniper Elite V2 has its place, just be aware that it has some issues.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Slow-mo X-Ray shots of your bullet tearing through your enemy, going through their heart, or entering through their eye socket, can be satisfying
  • Motion controls help refine the aiming which needs to be steady and slow to hit people at long range
  • Online multiplayer support is always nice, though not yet available to check out, and always carries the caveat with it that it will only be successful with community support which is always questionable with games that aren’t massively popular

Cons:
  • While conceptually stealth can be a lot of fun it doesn’t tend to be handled well here, either being clumsily awkward since your pistol feels like it only delivers a bee sting or hopeless as enemies sight you from what can seem like a mile away
  • Being more aggressive, taking cover, and working with your submachine gun is almost always a horrible mistake as mechanically this doesn’t work too smoothly, your ammo is limited, and your aim is embarrassingly bad
  • There’s nothing quite as sad as a mid-to-close range exchange of you and a soldier both with sniper rifles, which given your poor aim with anything else happens a bit too often