Sunday, July 14

Mini Reviews: July 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With quite a lot going on at the moment I’ve had to pull back the time I’ve been putting into playing and evaluating all of the games that come my way. I’ll always post gameplay of the titles I get but while I don’t feel comfortable committing to full reviews for titles I do want to at least summarize my thoughts on them. So these are the quick summaries on my thoughts on games I’ve played, highlighting the ones that are stand-outs when appropriate.

Blazing Chrome [Nindie Choice!] - As a huge fan of the classic arcade run n’ gun shooters I hold Contra in very high regard, so it’s always a thrill when someone manages to put out a title that can give it a run for its money. While there have been some titles that have nailed the retro look of this iconic series most have come up a bit short in the feel department, never quite capturing the level of difficulty, variety, and hard core gunning action that made it legendary. Armed with a variety of weapons and crucial power-ups you’ll be hard pressed to get through to the end as you’ll need to overcome swarms of enemies, some tricky traversals, and tough bosses. However, if you’ve been thirsting for something that kicks you down and makes you keep coming back for more this title absolutely delivers.


Streets of Rogue - This is a title I’ve had my eye on since it initially hit early access on PC where I struggled to find the fun and had put it down in the hopes that on final release it would all come together. While I enjoy roguelikes there’s just something about Streets that just doesn’t work for me, the more open-ended structure may be liberating for the right crowd and encourage experimentation, but more often than not I just found it tedious... and I don’t think the combat mechanics do it any favors either. Definitely one to read up and watch some video for, I have no doubt it will have fans with its very different feel but I’d consider it an acquired taste for sure.


Professor Lupo and His Horrible Pets - With an abundance of puzzle games of all styles and flavors it is undoubtedly hard to make yourself stand out. This is the area where Professor Lupo is the strongest, providing a funky enough story mixed with wonderfully animated characters and appropriately described “pets” who’ll gladly help you meet your demise. I’d even say that in concept the puzzles tends to be pretty smart once you get rolling and provide a fair challenge. The challenge for me, though, on a consistent basis was the glacial pace of character movement and the somewhat wonky nature of the controls, especially when trying to play with a controller. The fun is there in the core experience, you’ll just need to get used to things and try to let the game’s humor compensate for its quirks.


Paradox Soul - Among the genres with no lack of stellar representation on the Switch, Metroidvanias are pretty high on the list. Coming at the genre from more of the budget edge of the spectrum we now also have Paradox Soul, a game that unfortunately demonstrates its lack of polish in most areas. If it were only the pretty mundane and lackluster looks holding it back perhaps it could generate some enthusiasm, but unfortunately your death-prone character who simply doesn’t have many abilities to work with never delivers much in the way of excitement. Sure, clearing areas and getting past boss fights will require some commitment and grit but the combat more often than not involves taking cover, pausing, and firing back… and that approach is pretty well mandatory given your lacking health bar. Throw in having to backtrack through dull rooms that often begin to blend together and this is a hard one to recommend with so many better examples of the genre out there to choose from.


Bouncy Bullets - Without a doubt 3D platforming has a tendency to be a train wreck when implemented poorly. The inability to easily see your feet in relation to the ground can make them notoriously challenging for all of the wrong reasons though obviously some titles are able to pull it off better than others. Bouncy Bullets, unfortunately, isn’t one of those games that flourishes under the pressure with twitchy controls exacerbating an already tough control situation. Throw in lackluster level design and pretty uninspired shooting elements and even with its budget price this is a bit of a clunker.


Senran Kagura Peach Ball - Having been previously introduced to the, shall I say “jiggly”, nature of the Senran Kagura series a while back when a new title featuring pinball-style gameplay was announced it made me laugh and I knew I’d have to check it out. Pretty well coming in expecting a train wreck, I’ll say instead that I was pleasantly surprised by the gameplay Peach Ball manages to provide to try to justify the somewhat cringeworthy visual aspects that I have no doubt have their fans. While the table complexity and variety aren’t that high, and the flippers on the amusement park table feel a bit slow and chunky, I’ll admit that there was enough here to satisfy the pinball fan in me, even if perhaps not for long. Throw some truly bizarre dialogue and events that constitute the story and while this absolutely won’t be a mainstream game I’ll give it credit for showing enough ambition and quality to justify itself as more than a mere cash-in on its more mature elements.

Monday, July 8

Mini Reviews: July 8th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With quite a lot going on at the moment I’ve had to pull back the time I’ve been putting into playing and evaluating all of the games that come my way. I’ll always post gameplay of the titles I get but while I don’t feel comfortable committing to full reviews for titles I do want to at least summarize my thoughts on them. So these are the quick summaries on my thoughts on games I’ve played, highlighting the ones that are stand-outs when appropriate.

Slay the Spire [Nindie Choice!] - While deck building games would usually fall into the category of titles I’d file under “an acquired taste” the Switch now has 2 rock solid titles with that style of play that have proven mainstream friendly this year. While SteamWorld Quest went more story-driven and static though, Slay the Spire very much embraces a roguelike approach instead that keeps it challenging and surprising across many attempts you’ll make with its heroes that each have a very different style. There’s definitely a learning curve here, as you’ll need to experiment with different combinations of cards to work out which synergize the most effectively together and which you’re better off without. For true roguelike or strategy fans this is absolutely a title you won’t want to miss out on, it easily lives up to the positive buzz it has been receiving.


War Tech Fighters [Nindie Choice!] - While there have been a few big robots battling in space games on Switch to date none of them have quite clicked for me. Though War Tech Fighters takes a little getting used to it’s the first that has put the overall package together in a way that’s compelling, if perhaps a bit repetitive. Strangely one of the elements that made me a believer is the use of the somewhat cinematic finishers that you can use to dispatch your enemies once their health is sufficiently low. You have a small boost to incentivize you doing them and thankfully the wealth of ways your mech will finish off enemies manages to make it fun, even if it ends up stilting the flow of gameplay. While it may lean more heavily on popcorn fun than some may prefer, a bevvy of upgrade options and a sense of flair help it to climb to the top of the genre heap on Switch.


Graveyard Keeper - Ever since the release and massive success of Stardew Valley I’ve been waiting to see what games it would inspire. Surprisingly, there really haven’t been many to date but now we have Graveyard Keeper stepping up to the plate. Certainly the elevator pitch for the game would be “Stardew Valley but with a morbid sense of humor” and that would be an accurate assessment on the surface. Dig a little deeper and spend some time with it though and there are some clear differences beyond just the gallows humor. Functionally many of the tasks and general routines are very similar, with you needing to explore, learn skills, acquire equipment through purchase or crafting, and make friends. Where Keeper comes up short is that it isn’t as structured and well crafted. Progress is slow, quest goals tend to string together too many tasks, and on a general level the game feels a bit more like a refined rough draft than a carefully composed and polished masterpiece. There’s no doubt fun to be had here, it can just be a lot of squeeze at times for not quite enough juice.


Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered - If you’re seeking third-person shooting action with a healthy dose of destructions peppered in while this title may show its overall age it can still offer up some fun. Since it includes all of the game’s original DLC there’s a plentiful amount of content to work your way through, the question is whether what often feels like generic gunplay will sustain your interest throughout. Your missions will keep things moving with the best often being those that demand you wreck buildings using a number of means but repetition will still slowly set in. In part you can blame that on the sparse martian environments you’ll be working through which lack in distinction so mentally it all begins to meld together. Still, it has just enough to set itself aside as a unique experience on the Switch that it has some merit.


Q-YO Blaster - Let’s face it, there are simply a ton of shmups on the Switch and they come in all shapes and sizes. In terms of personality Q-YO Blaster does at least distinguish itself, with an odd sort of pixel art style that packs style and no lack of ambition. Indeed, some of the bosses almost look inspired by the likes of Cuphead in their scale and loving details, though in more of a 16-bit form. Where things are a bit more shaky is in the gameplay itself which more often than not feels a bit generic unfortunately, and the difficulty doesn’t help here with stretches that feel a bit too easy punctuated with sudden jumps. That said, if you enjoy the likes of classics like the Parodius series and want something a bit more unorthodox it makes for a great choice.


Redneck Skeet Shooting - Ugh, there are just some games that you can’t understand being released on Switch. Sure, there are mobile ports of all kinds that have made it over, undoubtedly with varying degrees of value and success. In the case of Redneck Skeet Shooting the extremely limited play, dull grinding, and very little genuine content would make it an iffy prospect even on a mobile device. Aside from looking for some sort of lowbrow humor (which there really isn’t any, I just struggle to identify the appeal beyond that) this budget title just has so very little to offer that I can’t recommend it.

Sunday, July 7

Mini Reviews: June 24th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With quite a lot going on at the moment I’ve had to pull back the time I’ve been putting into playing and evaluating all of the games that come my way. I’ll always post gameplay of the titles I get but while I don’t feel comfortable committing to full reviews for titles I do want to at least summarize my thoughts on them. So these are the quick summaries on my thoughts on games I’ve played, highlighting the ones that are stand-outs when appropriate.

Battle Worlds: Kronos - Big picture turn-based strategy titles where you need to move your units around to outflank and outsmart the enemy aren’t heavily represented on Switch so fans of the genre will likely be interested in Kronos. Lacking the flash of the likes of Wargroove and with a more punishingly heavy consequence for failing to exercise caution and care in your every move, Kronos distinguishes itself though there’s no denying its pace is a bit plodding. However, if you’re up for a sustained challenge the unit variety, demand for making proper use of every opportunity, and smarts of this strategy fest should overcome its somewhat bland presentation.


Timespinner - With some great pixel art and a story that takes you through a variety of eras to change things up, Timespinner has its strengths. That said, given the competition in the Metroidvania space on the Switch the combat, exploration, and upgrades you’re able to obtain over the course of the game may be novel but they also fail to thrill. While the time-stopping mechanic, in theory, could have really helped set the game apart aside from some telegraphed spots where it can be useful or in boss fights it doesn’t really go anywhere. While by no means a bad game it struggles to make its case to be among the top tier of games available in the genre.


Phantom Doctrine - When it comes to turn-based tactical strategy there’s no doubt that emulating the X-Com mold from the PC space is a smart way to go. That said, the various attempts (short of Mario and the Rabbids) to make this sort of experience work on the Switch have been a bit half-baked. Coming in somewhere in the middle to the bottom of the pile we have Phantom Doctrine, which tries to build some intrigue with its cloak and dagger feel. While what is going on outside of the missions themselves can be interesting (though perhaps a bit confusing as you try to get your bearings) when you’re in the action the interface and mechanics feel pretty clunky and detract from the experience.


Mainlining - Starting with the positive Mainlining comes to the table as a pretty unique experience on the Switch, with you working to use your computer and hacking skills to catch cyber criminals. If you like the challenge of not having a game hold your hand there’s an additional plus as you’ll be left to work with the information you have access to and will have to  follow every lead at your disposal in order to progress. Where it takes a major hit is with the controls though, as this is obviously a game that was made for the PC with a keyboard and mouse and while the attempt to make it work with a controller isn’t a horrible stab it really makes for a cumbersome experience.

Monday, July 1

Mini Reviews; July 1st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With quite a lot going on at the moment I’ve had to pull back the time I’ve been putting into playing and evaluating all of the games that come my way. I’ll always post gameplay of the titles I get but while I don’t feel comfortable committing to full reviews for titles I do want to at least summarize my thoughts on them. So these are the quick summaries on my thoughts on games I’ve played, highlighting the ones that are stand-outs when appropriate.

Duke of Defense - Given that the tower defense style strategy genre is pretty well-represrented already on the Switch in terms of numbers Duke of Defense is a bit of a tough sell. Granted, it plays a little differently than some of its contemporaries but its look and overall experience still feel quite generic unfortunately. Granted, outside of exceptions like X-Morph Defense and OTTTD that clearly break away from the pack Duke of Defense isn’t any worse than any of the rest, it just lacks that spark of excitement and originality I look for in this overdone genre.


We. The Revolution - Definite points for being daring enough to do things differently and to help put people into the mindset of a very different and tumultuous time in history but this is very much an acquired taste. Sorting through the evidence and trying to make the right decisions from the bench while managing your personal and political livelihood as well isn’t something you do often so it’s interesting but it isn’t without its issues. I suppose part of the point is being forced to decide between what you’d choose to do morally and what you may need to do pragmatically to stay alive but it can also be aggravating when it comes to gameplay.


Cybarian: The Time Traveling Warrior - This is one of those titles where very quickly I struggled to find the compelling fun. While your warrior character may look cool his extremely limited moveset for attacks quickly makes for dull gameplay. With so many side-scrolling games already on Switch that both look amazing and have exciting gameplay to boot this really comes up short.


SCRAP - With a mix of endless runner, platforming, and a bit of puzzling in its gameplay SCRAP isn’t too bad as a budget title to play anywhere but it’s just nice... not thrilling, but nice. It plays smoothly, you’ll be challenged to grab everything on every stage the first time through, and at times you may need a few attempts to get your timing down. Not bad for the price though, I suppose.


Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love - I think it may be possible that the classic adventure genre may be among the toughest to have a break out hit with. This is in part because, as a whole, the majority of titles I’ve played in the space have a pretty consistent level of quality and polish, delivering some laughs with smart puzzles of all types. Irony Curtain has a slightly different sense of humor than many of the others but the lovable but misunderstood weirdo main character thing has obviously been done to death so it’s hard to get super excited. Still, if you enjoy the genre and getting in some giggles it’s a good choice.


Scrap Rush - While you try hard not to be overly reductive when evaluating games when there’s an unmistakable inspiration involve you have to note it. While Scrap Rush does offer up a bit of a variation on the method of dealing with obstacles and dispatching your enemies there’s no missing its similarities to the Bomberman franchise. To its credit its single-player mode at least has a different feel to it, even if it isn’t terribly exciting, and it does a decent job of helping you understand what you’re capable of. Then, whether against bots or friends, you’ll be working to shove blocks of scrap at each other and trying to squish everyone else while not allowing them to do the same to you. It doesn’t do a lot to clearly stand on its own but it’s not a bad alternative if you and your friends could enjoy a variation on a familiar theme.

Azuran Tales: Trials - It has a bit of an old school feel to it, and once you get rolling Azuran Tales isn’t too bad but there’s no denying its quite rough around the edges. Awkward animations, some bugginess (falling through the floor), and mechanics that aren’t quite up to modern standards hold it back but if you’re patient with it there’s some challenging gameplay to be found here that may appeal to people looking for something to dig their teeth into.


Attack of the Toy Tanks - I’m a bit torn on this one as I have fond memories of playing Combat way back on my Atari 2600. For what it lacked in complexity and attractiveness it made up for with fun with crazy ricochet shots and variety. While Tank Toys may look much better the core experience isn’t terribly different, you’ll move around trying to shoot your enemies while using cover to your advantage. Just whether playing against the CPU or someone else it just doesn’t do much to make itself exciting.

Thursday, June 20

Review: Perchang [Nintendo Switch eShop]


In the puzzle space given the number of options on the Switch it takes some effort to come up with something novel and engaging. How about a game where you mix of simple machinery, a steady drip of balls you’re trying to help get to their destination, and a variety of contraptions you’ll need to master to do so? Perchang manages to cobble these together and be original, engaging, and challenging both to your sense of planning and careful execution.


Starting out by roughly introducing you to an element at a time you’ll master control of tilting platforms, fans, and a few other mechanisms. Whether perfecting your timing to flick a ball at just the right angle or feathering your fan to keep your balls aloft but not shot off the screen its the fundamentals tied to each thing you control that establish your foundation. Once you have that the game will then place different combinations of those elements before you with the goal of ensuring balls will move from Point A to Point B with your help.


The first challenge is understanding how you’ll use the tools you’ve been given. Early on it tends to be pretty straightforward but as you progress you’ll find that there can be a variety of ways to get through the challenge, though sometimes only after having banged your head against a wall with a harder way first. Once you’ve got your plan you’ll then need to work on making it work. The limited controls, allowing you to assign each element a color (red or blue) that corresponds to one of your two means of interaction are often the first obstacle as you’ll often need to toggle more than one mechanism with the same trigger. The second is just then finding the sweet spot for timing and concentrate on execution as you get each ball through the gauntlet the best you can.


While Perchang isn’t terribly long I’d say it manages to deliver a unique experience that puzzle fans should really appreciate. There are times when it feels like the difficulty is a bit all over the place with spikes and then valleys as you work through everything but different people may struggle with some challenges more than others. Though Perchang may be relatively simple at its core the execution, variety, and overall creativity it demonstrates help it to stand out even in the crowded puzzle genre on the system.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The controls are simple but demand your attention for proper execution
  • Each new level offers up a new challenge to plan out your path to success and then execute it

Cons:
  • The difficulty from level to level can be a bit all over the place
  • If you’re unable to master some fundamentals like feathering the throttle on a fan you may be in for quite a bit of frustration as these skills are essential to success

Review: My Friend Pedro [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the interesting things about the power of Nintendo Directs, and their limitations, is that they’re able to get you excited about games that are coming down the pike but with a very limited taste of only perhaps a few moments of footage you actually know very little about them. Granted, things that look spectacular often have a tendency to back that up with solid gameplay but not always, and when you throw in issues like length, diversity, and controls things get more complicated. My Friend Pedro has been an interesting journey for me within this context, sucking me in initially with what looks like bonkers gameplay, concerning me when only given a brief chance to demo it at PAX, but then ultimately delivering the goods as I got more time with it.


In terms of action the best comparison I can make to describe Pedro’s gameplay is as a side-scrolling Max Payne. When everything clicks and you’re in the zone the ballet of violence and gunplay is brilliant, with you jumping, spinning, shooting people in multiple directions, and rolling along on top of a barrel. Enemies aren’t particularly bright but if you don’t execute your end of the bargain their numbers will result in your getting pretty chewed up if you’re not on top of your game. While you’ll have unlimited pistol ammo you’ll want to conserve your more powerful weaponry for the right moments when possible because when things get more intense you’ll want everything on your side possible.


The welcome surprise is that though the action clearly takes center stage the diversity of what you’ll be doing as the game progresses keeps things fresh as well. Some puzzle-like elements show up at times, you’ll hit the roads on a motorcycle, and some new weapons and gear to work with don’t allow for repetition to set in easily. Granted, if you’re not playing for the gun violence first and foremost perhaps it won’t be enough to hook you but the effort to keep you consistently engaged is impossible to miss and appreciate.


Where the concern does creep in a bit is that while learning to walk gum and chew gum at the same time isn’t too tough, throwing another 2 or 3 skills into the mix on top of that to master doing all at once is quite a bit trickier. I won’t blame it on the controls necessarily, there are only so many buttons to work with on a controller and given everything you can pull off the layout does mostly make sense (though I’m never a great fan of using the analog stick as a button overall). Just be aware that while watching footage of the game in action is exciting that there’s an investment you’ll need to make up front to even begin to get there. Jumping, slowing time, dual aiming, spinning, they’re all things that are important to do but getting yourself trained to work them all in parallel takes some doing. The good thing is that you’ll be able to move through the game pretty well without mastering it all, just you won’t be doing it in nearly as much style until you get into that groove and tackle competing for high scores.


All in all My Friend Pedro handily delivers what it promises, and I’d even say exceeds expectations in terms of diversity over the handful of hours it takes to work through it. It would have still been a blast to play even with less variety, the care put into upping the stakes and providing even more insane situations over its runtime is therefore very much appreciated. Be aware that the struggle to succeed while looking cool can be very real, you’ll need to take things one step at a time and develop your repertoire for slow-motion violence before it all moves to another level of fun but the investment is well worth your while.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Absolutely some of the craziest gunplay sequences you’ll ever play through
  • Mastery of the moves isn’t necessary to get through the game, keeping it fun and incentivizing you to return again for higher scores once you’ve got it all under control
  • The diversity of how things play out is higher than expected and appreciated

Cons:
  • If you’re not chomping at the bit for over-the-top crazy gun violence stay away
  • Initially you’re going to feel very lame as you try to get a handle on everything you need to control and some people may find that it never fully clicks for them

Monday, June 17

Review: Neon Junctions [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Always having been a huge fan of the TRON franchise if you throw anything with a neon-lit grid at me and I’m eager to check it out. Of course, looks aren’t everything and when dealing in games you’re going to need some rock-solid play to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, while Neon Junctions does a good job of catching your attention with its looks its gameplay and some performance issues don’t do a great job of keeping it.


The basic principles of the game are simple enough overall, you’ll be picking up objects (mostly blocks) that you’ll need to move from one spot to another in order to complete circuits or satisfy triggers of sorts. While the further in you get this adds in some extra elements that complicate your efforts a bit I’d consider it all to be pretty linear and even dull though, never prompting me to have a satisfying “Aha” moment where I had to use some real ingenuity. It really ends up being a lot of picking up all of the blocks you see, laying them down in the right spots to flow energy to the next spot, maybe working out some new mechanic once in a while, and that’s about it.


The unfortunate note to go with this is that the performance of the game on the Switch, even in docked mode, is choppy at best. While normally frame rates don’t get me down the problems here were consistent enough that I couldn’t help but notice it and though the gameplay is pretty simple and these issues don’t interfere with your execution it’s still annoying. Throw it all together and though Neon Junctions may be pretty it really comes up short beyond that.


Score: 4

Pros:
  • A great neon-lit look
  • Probably just about anyone could solve the game’s puzzles

Cons:
  • Limited variety, challenge, and creativity
  • Consistent performance issues

Review: Hue [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With an abundance of puzzlers available on the Switch it is taking more and more effort to come up with ways to stand out from the crowd. Going with the puzzle adventure subgenre of sorts helps to whittle down the competition but there’s still a need to make things interesting. Thankfully, while it may not be terribly long, Hue manages to give itself a boost with a smart use of colors that not only makes it visually distinct but also full of clever puzzles that will make you think and coordinate your way through some satisfying sequences.


Throughout the game you’ll slowly accumulate colors that will help you manipulate the appearance of the dull and grey world around you. Whether revealing doorways and blocks for you to manipulate or to make obstacles disappear this color-changing mechanic proves to have an impressive number of applications as you progress. Once you acquire a more substantial number of them in your palette the game also takes on a second level of challenge as you’ll have to deal with platforming challenges as well, requiring that you progress through a specific series of colors to enable you to safely jump, change colors while you’re in mid-air (the game slows to help make this less insane than that sounds), and then land safely. This does require some degree of dexterity but making your way through these sorts of sequences tends to be quite satisfying.


Where the game manages to go a bit to the next level is with its overall presentation, sporting both a wonderful soundtrack and a surprising amount of story for what seems like a pretty simple title. Quality voice acting helps to give what could have just been some text to read on the screen a greater degree of polish and helps the entire experience shine as a whole. Some people may complain about the relatively short length of the game, lasting a mere handful of hours at best, but given its budget price and the obvious effort behind it on all levels and I consider it a pretty fair and appealing package worth your time if you’re looking for a satisfying challenge mixing puzzles with platforming.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Smart puzzle designs using colors
  • Some challenging platforming that will make you think and execute
  • A high degree of polish and a focus on the overall experience

Cons:
  • Not a terribly long game
  • If your coordination isn’t the best some sequences may prove frustrating

Monday, June 10

Review: Refunct [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While simplicity can work well in games, the results aren’t always for everyone. Granted, there are more than enough titles out there that can feel like a slog as you work through tutorials and introductions that seem to last forever, but going in completely the opposite direction and dropping you into gameplay with no instruction whatsoever can be jarring too. That’s where you’ll find yourself in the serene but very short Refunct.


The emphasis in the game is on pretty basic 3D platforming, jumping from place to place and grabbing ledges to get yourself to new spots. Looking for beacons of red light in this collection of stone pillars of various heights over water you’ll work to get to each one, which will then reveal another for you to find and so on. For the most part, that’s it. There’s no fear of death, fall damage, you won’t drown, just figure out how to use what’s available to you in the environment to get to each new place and then do the same with the next one.


What bugs me a little bit though is that there are also little cubes strewn about as well that you can collect, seemingly as an added challenge. While I appreciate their presence, and would try to find them and figure out how to get them as well, their presence with no explanation or clear purpose actually annoyed me a bit. With there being so little to the game as a whole tying it all together even a little bit would have been nice. I don’t need an elaborate narrative but even some simple sense of purpose would have been nice to make the experience a bit more fulfilling.


What you have in the end is an experience that’s pleasant and pretty mellow but ultimately quite short and hollow. With titles like Abzu and others the lack of much gameplay is compensated for by a pretty amazing overall experience that delights the senses. With Refunct that seems like the sort of thing it is aspiring to but there’s just not that degree of creativity, diversity, or inspiration, it’s just nice but flat on pretty well every front. While Refunct is fine for what it seemed to have set out to do the lack of ambition and meat on its bones make it tough to recommend with much enthusiasm.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A low-budget price
  • In general it’s a pleasant and serene experience

Cons:
  • Extremely short
  • Not terribly challenging
  • Lacking in substance and inspiration, it just sort of “is”

Review: Selma and the Wisp [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With an abundance of puzzle games of all varieties out there, and in particular on the Switch, there’s a challenge to find new ways to change things up to stand out. In the case of Selma and the Wisp you have a sort of puzzle adventure where you indirectly control the main character by guiding her around with the wisp you control, offering guidance and some help with your ability to trigger a small burst to knock over or trigger things. While it may not be terribly long, and your lack of direct control can at times be aggravating, it’s at least a bit different and sports a unique look as well as some smart puzzles along the way.

There’s not much to know to get rolling. Selma and her welfare are your primary concern and aside from trying to avoid having her get crushed, impaled, or meeting some other grim end she can only survive a short time without you close by. So in each scenario you’ll need to try to carefully size things up, anticipate potential traps, and then guide her carefully through, carefully telling her where to stop or move to keep her out of trouble. Your means of interacting with the environment consists only of a burst which you’ll need to use carefully since it will diminish your energy and could eventually cause you to fade away, which will then also kill Selma.


As is the case with almost any game where you lack direct control over the main character there’s a certain inevitable degree of frustration at some unintended deaths and moments where you just can’t seem to get Selma to do what you want. You’ll just need to periodically grit through these, potentially needing to start the stage over, and try again. Thankfully you’ll never lose too much progress, and more often than not deaths are your own fault as you figure out the nuances of the space, but Selma can be quite dense and incapable at times… and that can be frustrating.


All said while Selma and the Wisp can at times be aggravating it at least has a slightly different flavor than most titles on the Switch. Mixing elements of a puzzler with some action with maybe a twinge of horror considering the grim ways poor Selma can meet her demise it’s not a terribly long game but it is at least somewhat unique. If you’ve got some patience, appreciate its unique low-poly but colorful visuals, and are looking for something a little off the beaten path you may find it to your liking.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A unique visual style
  • Some of the puzzles have a clever design element to them

Cons:
  • Only being able to indirectly control Selma can, at times, be aggravating
  • Some stages feel a bit too similar to one another in their execution, detracting from variety
  • There are times where you'll know what you want to do but can't figure out how to make it happen easily

Monday, June 3

Review: Kotodama - The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Where to start with Kotodama, a game that somehow pairs an unusual visual novel where you’re afforded little opportunity to make decisions with a puzzle game where you literally strip the clothes off your opponent. There’s no doubt that puzzle game element will attract people’s attention, whether good or bad, but weirdly the majority of the time you’ll spend playing the game isn’t in pursuit of seeing your female (and male) associates in their underwear. The result is a title where I’m outright baffled who it’s for, as the mix of activities in the game seem so incredibly far apart from one another.


Starting with the narrative side you’re a newly-arrived student who’ll be quickly introduced to the fact that there are 7 mysteries, sort of urban myths, that you’re going to try to help solve. Investigating these takes a variety of forms, one in particular involving the “white wolf” gets particularly dark and a bit disturbing, but I suppose it’s at least trying to surprise you. The thing is, there are long stretches where you’re going to just be reading dialogue with little opportunity to interact or contribute to things, but then when you do get to make a decision those can be disappointing. It’s a sort of on rails narrative experience and though your choices will affect whether you get the true ending or not it’s not terribly satisfying.


Sitting at the polar opposite end of the game you then have a puzzle element that is roughly explained in the game as you psychically entering the person’s mind and trying to find the truth… or something like that. This involves a pretty basic action puzzle game where you’re trying to efficiently clear blocks which will affect the character who you’ve focused on. As you strip away their resolve to resist your powers you’ll literally remove their clothing and your reward for breaking all the way through is… seeing absolutely no nudity at all actually, and I wouldn't even consider any of it terribly sexy in any way at all. I won’t say I consider that to be a huge disappointment personally but it’s one of those things where if you’re going to start down a certain road it seems weird to then stop short rather than just embrace it.


If you’re really a fan of seeing characters in their underwear once you’ve psychically stripped any character you’ll then be free to hit a different mode and do that to your heart’s content, eventually also earning the opportunity to have them wear different underwear. On the story side the culmination of your decisions will typically be that you’ve not make a correct decision somewhere along the way so you’ll get to start everything over again, and generally without the benefit of insight into what you may have specifically done wrong.


Put this all together and it’s a bit of a hot (yet, somehow not in a sexy way) mess. I find that the visual novel and titillating puzzle game segments don’t make any sense paired together. I’m simultaneously a bit horrified by the weirdo aspect of the stripping mini game while baffled by the fact that if it’s going to be included that it stops short of what the audience looking for that sort of content is looking for in the first place. If this combination of strange and sometimes dark story elements with minimal interaction and some teasing nudity blended with a pretty generic puzzle game sound like a perfect marriage more power to you.

Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • If you’re looking for weird it delivers
  • I suppose if the prospects of seeing some anime chicks and dudes in their underwear is exciting for you it’ll deliver that

Cons:
  • The narrative and stripping puzzle game elements don’t feel like they belong together at all
  • As visual novels go this seems to afford few opportunities to interact, which can make it a bit dull
  • If you’re going to sell a game on stripping, courting controversy in the process, why then stop short in delivering what the likely audience you’ll attract is looking for?

Review: Golem Gates [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While strategy games have gotten a fair amount of representation on the Switch there’s still quite obviously room for people to shake things up. Real-time strategy fans have a few options out there, but there hasn’t been a break out star to this point necessarily. With its own take on this genre Golem Gates impresses with pretty cool-looking graphics and a blend of real-time action with a deck building component. That does help it stand out but there are definitely some caveats you’ll need to concern yourself with before you take the plunge.


In the game you control the Harbinger, a powerful being with some heavenly backing who is trying to destroy the Golem Gates and regain control of a series of regions… or something like that. What you need to know is that there are areas with resources you want to control, and opposing forces that will stand in your way, requiring that you use some strategy to grow your zone of control and dominate in order to continue on your campaign. Of course beyond the core campaign you’ll then have the option to engage in other modes that include specific challenge scenarios, a survival mode you can tackle solo or with a friend, and even online multiplayer.


On paper the mix of deck building, choosing your units, buildings, and various supports, and real-time strategy is interesting. Rather than being part of a faction with a set collection of units to work with you can custom tailor your own over time as you acquire new cards. If you’re patient and work through things little by little this can work out nicely, and you’ll certainly have different ways you can choose to go, but you’re going to have to get through what ends up being some pretty muddy play along the way.


While the game does work on Switch it’s obvious that the interface and experience were tuned around the use of a mouse and keyboard on PC and not a controller. Navigating the menus and controlling your units quickly can be done but using both joysticks and the buttons on both sides of the controller is hardly ideal. Another problem has to do with the visual design of the units, which honestly look far too similar making their management at a strategic level challenging. Even their cards, which do look a bit different and each has the unit name tied to them, don’t end up typically being much help when you’re trying to quickly set up an offensive or some defense, you’re just going to put units on the ground quickly and hope for the best. Throw in pretty consistent performance issues even with the game’s somewhat muddy appearance overall and it’s a bit of a mess.


In the end, though Golem Gates has ambition it simply has some issues and its performance overall isn’t helping anything. I’m sure it likely looks pretty decent at full resolution on the PC but on the Switch it’s obvious compromises had to be made, yet it still runs into problems at times. It has a promising idea, blending two different types of strategy games into one, but the lack of adequate differentiation of your units on the battlefield will typically just have you resorting to amassing a mob and moving it around trying to conquer checkpoints and ultimately your enemy. If you’re a big strategy fan it may be worth checking out but otherwise you’ll want to steer clear.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • A novel mix of two strategy styles into one
  • In terms of content if you enjoy the core gameplay you’ll have a fair amount to work your way through

Cons:
  • Visually everything is quite muddy, making differentiation of your units difficult at best
  • Even with the compromises performance can be a real issue at times
  • As much as the game may be trying to be different the result still feels pretty generic

Review: Little Friends - Dogs and Cats [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While Nintendo has released some interesting games at different points in their history that have generally met with success there’s been a degree of disappointment for some fans who’ve held out hope to see them return but remain unannounced. Certainly this has opened the door to savvy indie developers to look for ways to fill the gaps and these efforts have been met with varying degrees of success. One such franchise that I know is beloved by a fair number of people is Nintendogs, a first-party pet simulator that made excellent use of the Nintendo DS touchscreen to give the experience a uniqiue tactile feel. Heeding the call we now have Little Friends: Dogs and Cats, which practically feels like criminal carbon copy of that title. The question is whether its cuteness and novel pet interactions are enough to make it worth your time.


Starting with the positive there’s no doubt the game nails it in the looks department. Your pets look quite wonderful and furry, and are even pretty expressive for the most part. The array of clothing and accessories you’re able to unlock in the game with some time and effort is also impressive and allow you to give your pooches and felines a variety of signature looks. For fans of the original games there’s also a strong sense of nostalgia to the experience, as the general care for your pet is very familiar. A few things like walking your dog have even gotten a bit of an upgrade, with you walking a path and trying to guide them towards balloons that point out goodie boxes that have rewards in them.


Unfortunately there are also some serious caveats to go with that initial excitement. Some elements that helped give Nintendogs its quirky charm and extended playability are completely gone. Obviously since the Switch lacks a microphone or even a camera the means for giving your pet commands have been crippled a bit, making an obedience trial an impossibility. The omission that made me even more sad is that there’s no agility trial, possibly tied to the complications of needing to figure out how to support that both with a touchscreen and controller support. Whatever the reasons bigger fans of the franchise will quickly begin to feel the pain of how much was left on the cutting room floor while also likely noticing that there’s nothing of substance that has been added in its place. It seems the hook to keep you playing is just the ability to unlock new outfits and accessories after a while but that’s not a great motivator for extended investment.


Even my oldest daughter, who adored Nintendogs and was eager to see what would come of this title ended up being disappointed with this outing and lost interest within the first few hours. Though the voice commands were always wonky they still gave the game some interactive charm. While mastering the mini game-esque events like the agility trial didn’t take a Herculean effort it was still cute and fun, but not only is it gone but there’s nothing offered to take its place either. Perhaps the demographic that should most likely avoid this title will be the very people you’d think it is intended for. Fans of the original game who’ll likely be let down by everything this title isn’t rather than focusing on the simple joys it offers. Still, I could see where a new younger generation could have a good time with this since they wouldn’t have any built-in expectations to come up short with.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • There’s no doubt the game’s pets are cute
  • For fans of the original there’s a rush of nostalgia at first
  • Younger gamers may still enjoy the game’s simplicity and virtual pet care elements

Cons:
  • Can’t offer key elements of the original experience and, worse, doesn’t offer anything of substance in their place
  • The gap in time from the original game’s release has seen expectations for interactivity and originality evolve and this is stuck in the past straight-up emulating the original title pretty much
  • There’s simply nothing compelling to keep you coming back unless you really like unlocking new clothing and accessories
  • All things considered the initial asking price is far too high

Review: Vectronom [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the things that indie titles tends to excel at is finding ways to punch up gameplay that can be familiar at its base with some elements that are unexpected. Combining genres and styles makes for more variety but also isn’t a guarantee of success. Landing somewhere in the middle we have Vectronom, a platformer of sorts whose simple but colorful presentation gets a lift from a pumping soundtrack that ties back to the gameplay nicely.


You’re quite simply a cube whose objective is to cross a level to get to the goal. Simple enough in principle but in Vectronom you’ll need to navigate disappearing platforms, spikes, and some other hazards to get there. To help you out the beat in the music corresponds to the movement and/or change in the elements of the level, meaning if you’re able to become one with the beat you’ll be better set for success.


The other component tends to be internalizing the pattern of the platforms and to figure out when you need to move and where you’ll need to pause, which can be tricky but it’s part of what gives the title some flavor. One thing to note is that the game will absolutely have you dying repeatedly, and sometimes pretty quickly even, but thankfully you’re always right back in the action quickly so there’s no frustration waiting for things to reset.


Overall, Vectronom delivers an interesting mix of a music game, puzzler, and throws in a little action to boot. It may not be long on content but it does offer some variety, great music, and a kaleidoscope of colors to enjoy as you go. It may not be amazing but it’s at least something a little different.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Though visually simple it’s quite colorful
  • Gameplay is generally easy to understand
  • A unique mix of elements in gameplay

Cons:
  • It will likely be a love it or hate it proposition for most
  • While each level is different there’s an element of repeated ideas
  • Trying to memorize and work with some level patterns can become tedious

Friday, May 31

Review: Super Cane Magic Zero [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to indie games one of the things I tend to enjoy most are titles that play by their own rules and break into the weird zone. Marrying mechanics and play that are traditional with some dashes of originality and funkiness can be risky but when it clicks it can make for invigorating play. There’s no doubt from the moment you load up Super Cane Magic Zero that diving deep into the pool of the unusual is in order from its super-colorful and somewhat off-kilter hand-drawn art style, to its very current and quirky sense of humor, and then just its generally bizarre nature. The question then becomes whether or not all of that craziness is paired with solid and engaging gameplay. While it may not be perfect, it’s still hard not to be charmed by the insanity of it all.


Starting with character selection you (and up to 3 friends) will get to make what’s essentially your class choice, dictating some attributes and specifically your starter special. While this has influence on some things I’d say everyone plays roughly the same so if you want to pick someone based on their looks it shouldn’t be a massive deal. That’s mainly because the majority of combat in the game really comes down to using your weapon, whether melee or ranged, picking things up, and throwing them. Whether you’re picking up food or items to eat, an explosive donut to lob as a firebomb, or even picking up a stunned enemy to throw at another to finish them both off at once combat moves pretty quickly and remains fairly simple, though it can get hectic at times.


Getting into the adventure itself the story is unusual, though the structure of things is pretty traditional. Follow instructions to go in a direction, find a location, and complete your objective. In order to make it fun silly characters, environments, objects, gear, and weapons are all around you. A huge part of the experience is simply picking up and trying to eat everything you find. Some items will heal you, some will give you buffs, some will mildly harm you, and others will plain knock you on your ass. If it is helpful you’ll learn to eat it, if it’s harmful you’ll learn to throw it. It’s an odd trial and error system but it at least makes for variety and a degree of unpredictable fun at times.


As a downside all of the silliness and general lack of strict structure and rules can sometimes make it hard to tell where you’re really trying to go. Even with a mini map, without much guidance beyond some vague directions you can sometimes get a bit lost and stuck in a loop of sorts. Movement and aiming your attacks also take some getting used to and aren’t ideal. It feels like you generally move a bit too slow but there’s an odd acceleration where it takes a few steps for you to warm up to a quicker pace. Failing to have it be consistent is odd and I’m not sure what benefit there is to the change. Aiming with the right stick is also wonky and it can be hard to connect with what you’re swinging or shooting at every now and again. There’s a rough pointer in the colored circle below your character but the issue is again one of fluidity. You simply aren’t immediately aimed where you’re pointing and it can take some getting used to. In terms of pick-up-and-play ease and accessibility, especially if you’re looking to play with friends, this is a bit of a stumbling block.


Though it’s not an experience everyone will enjoy Super Cane Magic Zero does more right than wrong and is simply a game that does its own thing without apologies, something I can respect. Mechanically it may be a bit sloppy and there can be a lack of coherence at times, but there’s just an energetic and weird enthusiasm to everything that makes it easier to overlook faults. If you’re looking to laugh and enjoy yourself exploring a weird and colorful world and experimenting with everything there is to do it’s definitely worth checking out.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • The game is completely determined to do its own thing in its own way, something I can respect
  • While the combat is simple and easy to pick up you do have some options that allow for some personal flair
  • A sense of humor permeates everything from the dialogue to items and their descriptions to even the loading screen hints

Cons:
  • All of the free-wheeling silliness can make it tough to understand what you’re trying to do or where you’re trying to go next
  • Mechanically the movement has a weird sort of acceleration to it and aiming is more cumbersome and slow than it should be
  • With its sense of humor and odd style I’d anticipate this would generally be a “love it or hate it” type of game for most people

Thursday, May 30

Review: Gato Roboto [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While there’s certainly an abundance of Metroidvania titles on the Switch, to date Nintendo’s premiere ass-kicking heroine Samus Aran has yet to appear on the system. Of course, this opens the door to indies with some ambition and daring to try to fill the gap, though then understanding they’ll likely be measured against Samus and company, which is likely a bit intimidating. Of course, one way to aim for that experience while sidestepping some of the expectations is to pay homage to the Metroid series, but do just enough differently that you’re able to avoid some comparisons. With its distinctive color-constrained hand-drawn art style and somewhat silly premise (you’ll control Kiki the kitty, making use of robot suits and other craft along your journey), Gato Roboto does just that and Metroid fans will undoubtedly want to give it a look.


Having crashed on an alien planet, and with your master unfortunately stuck, you’ll need to control Kiki and work to save the day. Thankfully it doesn’t take long before you’ve found a powered suit you’re able to control that will allow you to get things done… pretty adorably. The suit isn’t all you’ll be able to take control of, which was a nice surprise, but probably the trickiest thing about the game is that at times you’ll see passageways where you’ll need to squeeze through with nothing but your agility and skill to save you. When you’re out of the suit you won’t be able to attack and are vulnerable to one-hit kills, but you are at least able to scale walls. These segments do a great job of changing up the gameplay, and can present a challenge in some cases, so they’re among my favorite in the game.


Consistent with the Metroid series you’ll be able to find additional health, missiles, and some other familiar skills as you progress. There are a few spots along the way to explore to get some added help if you keep an eye out for them, and some extra health is always welcome when up against some of the game’s boss fights which may take a few attempts to get through. Some hidden areas will instead hold cartridges that will allow you to alter the game’s color scheme, some of which even have added nostalgic value so they’re worth seeking out. In general the degree of challenge in the game feels just about right, pushing you to be smart and develop some skills with your abilities but generally keeping save points close enough together to prevent the penalty for failure too high.


Probably the game’s biggest flaw is just that it’s over in roughly a handful of hours, though its budget-friendly price is very appropriate for the quality and duration of the experience. Even if you’re not pulled in by the cute premise, there’s no question this is a title that is laser-focused on packing your time with the game with variety, some challenge, and fun. Its limited runtime makes it tough to say whether it really approaches the quality of Nintendo’s own franchise, but it is by no means in its shadow, just bear in mind it borrows very liberally from the series and aside from the art style and silliness of its main character it does little to change the formula. But if you’ve been waiting to enjoy the adventures of Samus on the Switch this may be the closest you’ll get to that feeling on the console and it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Sooooo cute and silly
  • Reasonably varied and challenging
  • I love the segments where you’re suitless and exposed for a challenge
  • A very fair budget price

Cons:
  • Does little to break from the mold of the games that inspired it
  • Lasts only a handful of hours

Wednesday, May 29

Review: Unruly Heroes [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While the Switch has done plenty to help popularize the return of local co-op gaming, and there are many strong examples to be found in the indie space, the tendency has been towards puzzlers specifically for the most part. While this is a pretty smart choice by developers since it allows for a pretty big disparity between the two participants, a less experienced gamer can likely get by pretty well with some help, it has lead to the offerings being a little too much alike at times. While not forgoing puzzles entirely by any means Unruly Heroes has staked out a territory with much more of a platforming focus, perhaps most targeting the likes of some more recent Rayman titles, and while the result isn’t perfect it’s at least a refreshing more action-oriented choice in the Switch eShop without a ton of accomplished competition.


The first thing that jumps out about the game is simply how gorgeous is looks, with very detailed characters and environments which help the game pop. You’ll be working with a team of 4 said heroes, each with their own quirks, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses and working through a mix of careful platforming, some fun and sometimes intense combat, and a fair number of action puzzles to boot. For the most part it’s all pretty light and fun, throwing you some challenges here and there with some boss fights, and giving you just enough hidden items to encourage you to check out weird things you see in the scenery without it becoming a burden.


Mechanically you’ll have the choice of taking on the game by yourself, able to cycle through your heroes pretty quickly when necessary, or with up to 3 of your friends if you’d like so there’s some versatility. That said the sweet spot is probably 2 people, just enough to make quicker work of some puzzles and combat but not so many people that things get a bit chaotic and the action muddled as everyone is trying to do their own thing. The controls are nice and consistent in their execution between heroes though obviously their attacks and movements have some unique nuances to get used to so switching never feels disorienting, you’ll just tend to gravitate towards specific characters when the choice doesn’t make much difference. There are times where you may be in a pinch since you’ve lost someone that you then realize you need to get by an obstacle their attack will remove but in general you won’t need to fret since a bubble will soon show up with your fallen comrade in it. This may not always show up in a convenient spot but to the developer’s credit at least you’re not having to restart from a checkpoint whenever you lose someone.


The only criticisms I have for the game are actually pretty general and will come down to taste. The first is that at times the controls just felt a bit too sluggish for their own good and let me down. I wouldn’t say it was a consistent problem but in certain situations it just didn’t feel like everything was working as well as it could. The other is that though the game is certainly playable solo there’s an element to the game that feels like it has a multiplayer bias at times. I suppose in either direction this would have been a problem potentially but since not every aspect of the game feels like it has this issue there are just some sections that seem to be more versatile either way than others. Of course, if that’s being noted as a criticism, and it’s relatively minor, I suppose that’s a good indicator for the level of quality it brings to the table.

Especially considering it’s pretty modest price Unruly Heroes is a rock-solid platformer that looks phenomenal and plays well whether you’re taking it on by your lonesome or with some friends. The degree of difficulty generally feels well-balanced, the gameplay has a number of surprising variations along the way, and there’s a sense of style that permeates it and helps it be memorable. While perhaps not quite a flawless title it’s certainly worth a good look if you’ve been searching for a worthwhile platformer.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • It’s wonderfully detailed and looks terrific
  • The gameplay manages to explore some different styles from level to level to help keep things from feeling stale
  • Works reasonably well as a single-player or multi-player title, something not all games manage to pull off well

Cons:
  • There are situations where the controls don’t feel as responsive as I’d like
  • While solo play is doable there are times where it seems situations were set up more with multiple players in mind