Wednesday, December 11

Mini Reviews: November 21st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Children of Morta [Nindie Choice!] - While I have played (and generally enjoyed) a ton of roguelikes of all flavors on the Switch I can’t say any of them has been quite like Children of Morta. Played from a top-down perspective and with a serious dungeon crawling style it’s challenging, has an absolutely fantastic art style, and features multiple character classes to play that are each viable and have distinctive feels. The run-to-run progression, opportunities that represent risk and/or reward, and unpredictability of precisely what you may face are all on point as well but what pushes the game the extra mile for me are the quick but poignant story threads you’ll slowly encounter as you get further in. At its core this is a game with family themes and beats and for me it really amplified the connection I have to both the game and its characters. That extra degree of care is uncommon in the genre and it really elevates it to the top tier of roguelikes. If you’re down to grit your teeth a bit and eat it on one run and then find success by the skin of your teeth the next Children of Morta is a terrific example of what roguelikes are capable of in talented hands.

Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game [Nindie Choice!] - While deck building and card battling games have made their appearance on the Switch in a few different forms, none of them has been quite like this. A common approach is for these titles to go the “freemium” route with things like loot boxes, random drops, and incentives to invest some money to improve your chances. Instead, LotRACG opts for an up-front price where you’ll have access to everything and will be able to build your deck strategically as you progress rather than having to figure out how best to work with that new hot drop you got that doesn’t fit well into any of your decks. Of course, the other massive leg up this title has is the benefit of grounding in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with characters, races, creatures, and stories both familiar and new. If the slow burn of deck building and strategy are in your wheelhouse you’ll want to give this title a look as it shows both polish and care, opening the door to plenty of challenging and rewarding play.

Bee Simulator - Blending together elements of flying games, exploration, some mini game action, and perhaps a bit of overly-aggressive environmentalist themes Bee Simulator is a unique experience. Working as a single member of a greater hive you’ll get a feel for the life bees live from the inside, working to collect nectar, rumble with competing insects every once in awhile, and engage in an occasional dance perhaps to share the location of some premium flowers. For the most part it’s a light affair, though I’ll note that quite often race sequences seem strangely out of balance in their difficulty compared to other tasks and younger or less experienced gamers may well find them frustrating. I’m noting that challenge disparity primarily because outside of those race sequences this is an easily accessible and friendly title whose attempts to educate and enlighten (while I’d argue perhaps heavy-handed) are appreciated. While it may not ultimately have a great deal of variety, and its story doesn’t last terribly long, it’s most certainly a unique title unlike just about anything else on the system.

World Rally Championship 8 - Racing games are a bit of an uncommon sight on the Switch eShop and something even further into the niche realm, in the form of rally racing, are truly a rarity. If you’re a fan of more simulation in your racing WRC8 tries to satisfy, and many of the hallmarks of the rally racing genre are here with a multitude of tracks, racing conditions, and off-the-track elements that will let you try to tune your racer to suit you. If you’re planning to play it docked while it works admirably to keep the framerate steady without a ton of compromises there can be rough edges at times, which are often unfortunate as those moments tend to be where you need to be in control to avoid losing precious seconds. If you’re hoping to play it primarily on the go in handheld mode things deteriorate quite a bit though and it gets into a mess of blurred textures and pop-up as the system struggles to keep things moving the best it can but falters. Unfortunately if you’re itching for a rally racing fix on Switch this will likely be your best (since it’s almost the only) option, but there’s no denying it has some serious potholes you’ll need to be ready to deal with.

Rocket Wars - Games like Rocket Wars are honestly getting hard to review without a bit of a jaded tone. I’m thrilled that this modern era and indie developers have helped to revive local multiplayer into being more fun with a variety of options to choose from but at the same time having played so many it’s hard not to note so many of them have become hard to differentiate. While Rocket Wars plays well and at least features a few more interesting modes like one where you’ll work to defend your goal while destroying the ones belonging to your competitors there’s just not a lot otherwise setting it apart. You’ll fly, try to collect power-ups, attempt to work some technique to conquer your foes… and then see who the winner is, and that’s nice, but there’s really nothing else fresh that it offers that will give it longevity. The price is at least right, just if you’re in the market for a game like this be sure to review your options since there are several out there in the same general space.

Tuesday, December 10

Mini Reviews: December 10th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dead End Job [Nindie Choice!] - As a huge fan of twin-stick roguelike shooters, and with plenty of excellent ones already on the Switch, my interest is always piqued by a new contender in this space. Coming to the table with an art style and sense of humor that reminds me of classic Ren & Stimpy was a strong opener, but if it didn’t have solid gameplay to back it up I was ready to drop the hammer. The result is a surprising one, and even with what I’d consider a crowded space of solid roguelike shooters on Switch I’ll argue Dead End Job has managed to carve out a space somewhat of its own. Progression is a bit different here, working almost like a roguelike RPG, as you’ll accumulate experience when you collect ghosts (you can even get perks where you’ll get bonus experience for capturing them quickly together, highly recommended) which will level you up and give you access to 3 random (and thus the roguelike element) perks. Until you die you’ll continue to hold on to every perk you’ve accumulated, which first places a heavy incentive on staying alive but also making the experience more accessible than the competition. If you’re looking for a lighter and more friendly shooter that’s a bit silly, weird, and ultimately quite approachable even for less experienced gamers, Dead End Job is a good time with a style all its own.

SuperEpic: The Entertainment War - A somewhat cute and funky visual style? Check. Some silly commentary on the general games and entertainment industry? Check. Metroidvania-like exploration and progression? Check. Compelling and fresh gameplay to challenge you? Eh, so maybe that’s where it’s a bit more on the weak side. SuperEpic should absolutely delight the proper audience who is looking for some meta-level entertainment to go with their action. That said, on the gameplay front the overall experience is more of a generic one when compared to the standard-bearers on the platform. That makes the value proposition it offers a bit of a wild card and highly dependent on what you’re looking for.

Big Pharma - These management simulation style games certainly have their place, and since they aren’t well-represented on the Switch I have no doubts Big Pharma will be enticing to the right crowd that has been starved for this sort of experience. That said, as is what I’d consider typical for the genre, console controls simply aren’t ideal for quickly moving through multiple screens of details and if you like to play on the go you’re going to likely have some issues with scaling as well. Your goal here is to understand the market, research new chemicals and elements that in the proper combinations will satisfy the needs of your consumers, and optimize your production lines in the space you have to work with to produce the right drugs. The challenge is in getting your arms around it all, contending with windows of information sometimes getting in your way, and living with some quirkiness like equipment being inconsistently named and using a controller to take the place of a mouse and keyboard. If you’re starved for this sort of play and are determined to enjoy it on the Switch Big Pharma should satisfy, you’ll just need to clear some hurdles to get there.

Defenders of Ekron - This is one of those titles where I’m torn on how to feel about it. On the one hand I like and tend to champion games that dare to do things differently, but on the other defying expectations makes for a tough road and not all new ideas work out. Conceptually Ekron is a bit all over the place, with one part arcade shooter with unique mechanics, one part puzzle solving dungeon exploration, and a story that I don’t think really does well in tying it all together. The result is kind of odd and I’m not really sure what audience the game is for. If you’re a shooter fan you’ll likely find it too slow and dull in the early going, probably giving up before even gets interesting. However, if you’re not a shooter fan as the game progresses and the challenge ramps up you may easily find it overwhelming. If you’re patient and give it time there’s a pretty different experience awaiting you, just the road to it clicking and feeling worthwhile is too slow for its own good.

Breathing Fear - It seems like minimalist adventures with limited mechanics and not much in the way of narrative substance, relying on a mix of trial and error, some limited creepiness, and abundant patience on the part of the player are a thing. It’s hard to ignore the bare bones nature of Breathing Fear, the lack of much narrative or direction, wondering how things like your stress level work, and then getting irritated with the somewhat cheap way you’ll likely die as you stumble through discovering the necessary sequence of events for success. The thing is there’s just no real reward for your accomplishment, making it a pretty hollow exercise.

Monday, December 9

Top 20 Indie Roguelike Games on Nintendo Switch

While not everyone may love the roguelike format for me the challenge and “yes sir, may I have another” nature of them scratches an old school arcade itch many times. One terrific thing about them is that since they aren’t a proper genre, more of what I’d consider a catalyst that enhances them, there’s an amazing variety of titles you can enjoy this way. These are the absolute best roguelikes (and roguelites if we’re getting technical) that the Switch has to offer. As always keep in mind this list is attempting to represent variety, not necessarily the strict highest-scoring games out there.

Dead Cells - This was probably my favorite game of 2018, though since it's also a very challenging title it won't be for everyone. I played a ton of it on PC in Early Access but in its final form on the Switch everything I liked about it solidified completely with rock-solid and satisfying gameplay. The fact that you can be effective with a variety of builds, its multiple paths you can follow, and satisfying progression as you make repeated attempts make this the gold standard in roguelikes for me, and it proves out what they're capable of.

Slay the Spire - 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.

Nuclear Throne - Though it’s pretty clear in places that Nuclear Throne has aged a bit since its original release, its unapologetic degree of challenge and a wide variety of builds still make it one of the best twin-stick shooters on the Switch. This isn’t a game you’ll really ever master per se, you’ll just have deep runs where things click and you’ll find success. With some great unlockable characters, each with their own style of play, Throne has no shortage of personality and continues to push you with a “just one more run” mentality to work to get further. If you’re ready for a challenge, and can deal with its visuals having aged a bit, Nuclear Throne absolutely delivers one of the best roguelike shooting experiences on the system without question.

Sparklite - Since I’m a huge fan of roguelikes and their ability to revitalize and alter how you play more classic genres I’ve always wondered how it would pair with the Legend of Zelda. Sparklite takes quite a traditional track, working with weapons and mechanics reminiscent of the Zelda series but keeping the world a bit more compact, generally making for quicker runs if nothing else. Once you get your bearings and understand how elements like badges work you’ll be off to face a pretty stiff challenge, especially in the early going. Just be ready, until you’re sufficiently geared up to take on the bosses (especially early on), you’re likely to get a bit frustrated. Some quibbles over the somewhat clunky menu, no provision for a more easily available mini map, and other nuisances can creep in at times but there’s no doubt that this is a high-quality adventure that’s challenging, inventive, and rewarding.

Neon Chrome - I'd originally fallen in love with Neon Chrome on PC where I beat the game 4 times and it kept getting more intense and fun each time. Having to start out from nothing on the Switch I came to appreciate how much I had learned to lean on some of the game's most potent enhancements but I was more than happy to make it work with whatever I had and make my way to the Overseer all over again. It's challenging, exciting, and you'll need to work with what you're given but if you love twin-stick shooting it is among the most satisfying of the games of this type I've played.

Enter the Gungeon - At the time of its announcement as one of the most anticipated roguelike shooters for the Switch among the people "in the know", Enter the Gungeon is as preposterous as it is bullet-laden. Full of personality, bizarre enemies, over-the-top bosses, and some truly ridiculous weapons you'll never quite be sure what to expect each time you go down into the Gungeon. If you're up for the challenge it delivers its own flavor of bullet hell with a distinct sense of flair.

Hell is Other Demons - All things considered, Hell is Other Demons is a very good platforming shooter that plays smart, is challenging, and ultimately will support a wide variety of styles through its varied weapons and upgrades. While in docked mode the characters may look a bit chunky that means in handheld mode everything is very easy to see and helps make play on the go all the more viable. Each increasingly-powerful weapon you get to work with tends to encourage different styles of play and that keeps things consistently interesting and exciting. This is yet another shooter deserving of your time and attention and it deserves a place among the top tier of titles in the genre on Switch.

A Robot Named Fight - If Nintendo were to decide to turn the Metroid series into a roguelike it would likely end up looking quite a bit like A Robot Named Fight, though probably a lot more polished. Your goal is to survive and that can be quite a challenge. On each run you'll encounter new ship layouts, make use of different weapons and power-ups, and likely have very different experiences, some good and some more brutal. It adds up to a compelling challenge that continues to stay fresh for quite some time as long as you don't decide to give up in frustration too quickly.

Tumbleseed - I consider Tumbleseed to be one of the best games on the system that very few people gave a chance. In part because it is something completely different and then due to its initial difficulty level it made itself a bit of a tough sell. With its Four Peaks patch it significantly improved on its accessibility and set things up in a way that would both be more friendly to more casual players and not punish people quite so much with unexpected issues like auras that would attack you the same as they would your enemies. Quirky, unique, and full of charm it is well worth taking the time to know and appreciate.

Steredenn: Binary Stars - Moving in a very different direction Steredenn is a bullet hell roguelike space shooter that has some truly bonkers weapons and challenges. While you'll have more traditional options in your arsenal the inclusion of some crazy melee-based weapons changes the formula around a bit and encourage experimentation to find the weapons that suit your play style and the variety of scenarios you'll need to be able to survive.

Moonlighter - One part Zelda-esque combat and dungeon exploration and another part shop simulator Moonlighter is a title that looks great and plays in a truly unique way. By night you'll go into dungeons in search of adventure and loot that you'll then need to carefully price to sell for the best price possible in your shop by day. You can then use your money to improve your shop, attract new vendors to town (including a blacksmith and armorer you'll very much need), and upgrade your gear to let you take on progressively tougher challenges.

Flinthook - The exciting and dangerous life of a swashbuckling bounty hunter is the focus in Flinthook, and the mix of shooting, swinging, and dodging enemies and traps gives it a distinctive feel. With a pretty wide variety of upgrade paths as you progress you'll need to learn from your mistakes and to a degree simply "git gud" to track down and then defeat the nefarious criminals you'll be presented with.

Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings - This is a game that splices together twin-stick shooting, careful exploration, and crafting, but then throwing in roguelike procedurally-generated levels as well. The result is unique and quite challenging, but also very smart when it comes to technique, making it a truly memorable journey. It’s gorgeous, at times serene, and then knows how to get down to business with plenty of shooting action and nuance if you’re willing to take the time to get skilled at using your harpoon. It’s very much the crazy mix of exploration, “fishing”, shooting, crafting, and a number of situations that will catch you by surprise and challenge you. While perhaps a little rough around some edges, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Juicy Realm - When it comes to roguelike shooters I’m both a tremendous fan and often a picky critic. We’ve been absolutely spoiled on this system with some incredibly varied top-tier titles that range from having a quick hit arcade feel to ones that are a slower burn and almost adventure-like. That makes it tough for new titles to break in, needing to throw down something pretty impressive to crack through and compete. Juicy Realm is absolutely a game that does just that, using its somewhat unusual art style and characters to suck you in, but then making you work hard to survive while working with some bizarre weapons and a fair amount of risk and reward as you try to go the distance. Varied initial characters are complemented by even more that can be unlocked, and while the random nature of the weapons you may encounter tends to make them a little more alike each person’s special skills can make a massive difference depending on how you prefer to play. Small complaints like the exits sometimes being far harder to spot than they should be are there but the core gameplay makes it easy to ignore completely so you can just keep playing. Throw in progressive powering up, new weapon unlocks, and ways to increase your burden for more rewards and this could easily become your go-to shooter on the system for quite some time.

Hand of Fate 2 - Part card-based game of chance, part classic D&D-esque dungeon exploration, and part action game Hand of Fate 2 has a style all its own. I thoroughly enjoyed the original and was pleased with the refinements they threw into the sequel, mainly in the form of making the action much more varied and challenging. There are runs where it will feel like the Dealer's cards are simply not on your side but when you can then get on a good tear with some luck and decent equipment it can be a thrill as well. Just a unique title worth checking out.

I Hate Running Backwards - Though I initially struggled with it, wanting it to be a twin-stick shooter, once I got into the unique rhythm of I Hate Running Backwards I became a big fan. Here you'll need to stay focused on eliminating your lethal enemies while also spinning to destroy things in the environment to accumulate experience for upgrades. Roguelike in nature you won't be able to predict what choices you'll get in what order so each run can feel very different, though it's always challenging. Throw in multiple characters, including ones that can be unlocked, that can play very differently and it's a pretty deep game if you give it some time and attention.

Downwell - If you’re looking for something that’s quick to pick up and put down (you know, a great mobile experience) Downwell is a great and challenging option. You’ll continue to push further and further in as you get more used to the nature of the challenges at each level but don’t be surprised if you still manage to bite it in the first zone, there are spots where things simply will snowball on you and you’ll end up dead in a hurry. Getting comfortable on which perks and weapons work best for you is key, and you’ll need to find the balance between taking it slow and knowing when to just try to fall to avoid a nasty situation. As an old-school arcade fan its classic sensibilities make me very happy.

Lost Castle - As a huge fan of both beat-em-ups and roguelikes this game is a bit like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup game for me, mixing things up to create a challenging and surprisingly varied package. While its art style may not appeal to everyone with its simplicity and in the early going you’re going to die quite a bit as you grind to unlock better weapons and upgrade yourself, if you’re patient and give it some time you’ll continue to get more formidable and smarter in how you proceed. How you gear up and make the most of your skills and items you pick up along the way really becomes the key to success as not all weapons are created equal and whether you prefer ranged weapons, close-up melee, or something that gives you the ability to do both you’ll often get many opportunities to change things up over the course of your run. If you’re a fan of both styles of play this is a great marriage of them both and worth checking out.

Quest of Dungeons -  If you're familiar with the original Rogue that the roguelike game style derived from you'll never find quite as true a modern take on it as Quest of Dungeons. Much more bare bones in both complexity and presentation than flashier flare Quest makes up for that in satisfying challenge true to the original Rogue and well-suited to more casual play on the cough. That isn't to say it is easy, in particular defeating the last Dungeon is a supreme challenge to your skill and your patience.

Caveblazers - On the whole Caveblazers is a ton of challenging fun and currently has no direct competition on the Switch. If you can get over and live with the difficulty hump it gets marginally easier with experience and possibly as you get new perks but every run will throw new choices and challenges at you, never letting you get too comfortable and making subsequent runs swing between getting destroyed in the first minute or two to rolling through a few bosses before getting taken down. If you’ve been looking for a new kind of challenge, and can deal with its quirks, it’s a solid choice.

This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!

Friday, December 6

Mini Reviews: December 6th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Immortal Planet - While the label “Souls-like” has gotten to be a bit overused and trite, there’s certainly a market out there for people looking for games with challenging and engaging combat. Taking that style to an isometric view and with a general core feel of a classic action RPG, Immortal Planet works that tough formula pretty well, setting the table with your fundamentals and then demanding that you leverage them effectively to survive. As you’d expect for this kind of experience the emphasis is on knowing your enemies’ attacks, moving into position to get them to strike, getting out of the way, and then countering. It’s the boss battles that will really make you grit your teeth though, making use of anything and everything you have to chip away at them while avoiding their attacks that are quickly fatal. If you’re down for some intense encounters, though perhaps not a ton of variety, this will deliver.

FoxyLand - Budget platformers have gotten to be pretty common on the Switch so making a splash can be a challenge. FoxyLand manages to at least warrant being on the radar by delivering reasonably challenging levels that are bite-sized in a way that makes pick-up-and-play enjoyment pretty easy. While perhaps the moves are a bit on the loose side, and the level designs sometimes require a bit more trial and error with cheap traps than I’d prefer, the experience is at least passable. If you’re looking for a cheap and quick platforming fix it might be a decent one to pick up maybe on a sale.

Space Pioneer - As a huge shooter fan it also tends to make me a tough critic. In the case of Space Pioneer there are elements of it that I actually like and appreciate at the core. The thought of taking on missions that can be completed within a few minutes, slowly getting more variety and options in terms of what gear to use or what to enhance, is pretty appealing. The shame is the execution of what happens outside of blasting away when you’re down on an alien planet. The mobile roots here are impossible to miss, with far too much noise in the interface, unlock tiers, and pretty clear remnants of “freemium” grind. If I’m paying for the game outright that’s incredibly unappealing and matched with the inconsistencies and what becomes general repetition as you’re required to grind the further you go drag the experience down.

Strike Force Kitty - Conceptually Space Force Kitty has merit and combines elements of different gameplay into something new with potential. With your squad of kitties you’ll go on missions where you have limited control to jump basically. On each level there are a variety of enemies, treasures, and plenty of fish to collect. Different obstacles you encounter will require you to specialize one of your squad with the proper ability to deal with them, and as you progress and grow the pool of what’s available to choose from you’ll have to choose how to invest your upgrades to suit your own style and the challenges ahead. Where it falls down pretty hard is that it does an awful job of helping you get started or oriented, and the cumbersome and somewhat confusing interface pours gasoline on that fire to boot. If you persist and simply accept the clunky interface there’s something different here that mixes strategy with some action and even an element of puzzles, but getting over that hump when there are so many great games out there is a tough one, hopefully a patch can help refine things further.

Jigsaw Solace - If you’re down to enjoy jigsaw puzzles digitally that has become a thing so you’re in luck. With Jigsaw Solace the format is a bit different, and you’ll need to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing. Rather than being given a series of progressively tougher puzzles to complete, with each success unlocking a new one, here you’re sort of put in the driver’s seat and will simply dictate what you want to tackle next. Given the options of images from a variety of themes you’ll pick your picture, the complexity you’re looking for, and even the color of the screen background and that will dictate your next puzzle. In mechanical terms while some other titles use a cursor that allows you to drag and drop pieces here you’ll use your D-Pad to choose a piece in the grid and then choose the piece you’d like to swap it with. It’s a little awkward at first but I could see where some may prefer this method as well. This won’t be a game that likely will last you too long without repeating but for a modest price it could be something nice to unwind with.

Wednesday, December 4

Mini Reviews: December 4th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

EarthNight [Nindie Choice!] - When you see or hear the words endless runner the typical reaction is to go straight into eye-rolling mode. More often than not the genre’s staple status on mobile phones has earned that reaction but every once in a while you’ll see an exception to the typical rules and get a game that manages to stand out from the crowd as something more. With a great look, engaging roguelike elements that keep runs a bit more fresh, steady unlocks that slowly give you additional abilities and longevity, and simple but surprisingly deep play EarthNight is one such anomaly. Make no mistake, in terms of overall complexity while there’s certainly nuance to everything I wouldn’t quite say there’s real depth here, but if the arcade-like experience of trying your best, failing, and then taking it all on again hoping to improve on your last run has some appeal for you this is probably one of the best options within the genre.

Simulacra - Mixing what has become its own subgenre of puzzle games in the form of the “found a lost phone” experience with some FMV and voice acting that attempt to raise the dramatic bar with some elements of horror and mystery Simulacra demonstrates some ambition. That said, mechanically these games have become a bit predictable as you’ll move between apps mining for data, talk to people in the hopes for clues and insights, and then slowly try to peel away the layers of security and confusion to uncover what exactly is going on. Whether you consider this the best example of a title in this subgenre will likely hinge on whether you find the acting to be an improvement over simply reading texts and emails from people but the attempt to raise the bar of expectation for this sort of experience is at least appreciated.

Monster Jam: Steel Titans - The overall representation of the racing genre on the Switch outside of the likes of Mario Kart and its clones remains poor, but at least for the sake of variety games like Monster Jam are at least making an appearance. Granted, with this game being all about trying to drive a monster truck the concepts of precision steering and control are completely out the window. To the game’s credit I found it more consistently enjoyable than its predecessor, though it does at least somewhat share some of its faults. One pity is that the phenomenon of kicking off a monster truck breakdance of sorts is still present, but I will note that the tendency for the game’s physics to plain give up and allow you to be launched into the stratosphere after hitting some bump or ramp the wrong way has been dealt with well, though on occasion I’d get an incident involving that issue. This will in no way make up for the lack of Gran Turismo or Need for Speed but I can understand the thrill the right audience may have getting into the cab of one of these behemoths. Just keep your expectations in check and it should be good for some fun, though you should probably wait for a sale first.

Pine - There’s no doubt that when it was shown briefly in an Indie-focused Direct Pine got the attention of a ton of people. With its unique look and what appeared to be perhaps some Zelda-ish adventure DNA, what wasn’t there to like? Unfortunately, somewhat like trailers that do a good job of teasing interest while omitting the landmines in the actual movie, the finished (that may be too strong a word) product here just doesn’t work so well. The most glaring issues are technical and general user experience ones. I’ll give credit, a Day 1 patch helped to sand down some rough visual edges and improve things but load times are still pretty miserable and the pop-in of in-game objects is impossible to miss… and at times it happens practically right in front of you. Even getting away from the technical side though elements like the many factions you’ll need to contend with often feel like length extenders to impede progress more than meaningful additions that make for a better experience. Whether you can choose to overlook its problems or if a later patch tightens things up there’s an adventure here that does things differently, no doubt, but with so many better experiences out there it’s hard to get behind this one.

Story of a Gladiator - With visions of controlling a video game form of Russell Crowe and slashing my way through arenas full of enemies, dispatching my foes in creative ways, I embarked on this game’s journey. Unfortunately, what I didn’t anticipate is that it would feel a bit more like a mobile grind-fest where little by little I’d hack through some enemies in order to slowly accumulate even basic attack and defense moves… eventually perhaps getting to the point where it would be compelling. With so many great beat-em-ups on the Switch, and even ones with slashing elements that blow this away (cough, Wulverblade), the unfortunate story of this gladiator is one you shouldn’t feel bad for missing.

Tuesday, December 3

Top 20 Indie Action Games on Nintendo Switch

When it comes to approachable mainstream gaming the “action” genre paints with a broad brush but, in general, tends towards offering something enjoyable for just about everyone. The focus tends to be on keeping things in motion, some degree of skill (sometimes quite a lot of it), and a good deal of excitement. Including classic subgenres like platforming or Metroidvania, more modern roguelike hybrids, and more, this is a collection of indies that are sure to keep you pumped.

The Messenger - Possibly one of the best retro console titles I've ever played, The Messenger actually feels like a collection of multiple terrific and challenging titles. Starting out as a more straight-up action platformer after many levels and challenging bosses you'll feel like you're done but then, BAM, the game expands into an epic and even more challenging Metroidvania. It blends classic sensibilities with outstanding level designs, a Shopkeeper who absolutely cracks me up throughout the game, and some of the most satisfying action I enjoyed all year.

Katata Zero - Katana Zero was absolutely one of the best games of 2019 and I’d be shocked it if didn’t end up in my Top 10 (and those of many others as well) for the year. While it is perhaps a bit too heavy to be a wide mainstream title, its constant focus on changing up the formula and never letting you get very comfortable is quite an accomplishment. Throw on a narrative begging to be revisited in search of greater understanding of all of the story beats and it also has a surprising degree of replayability on that front as well. As a whole it is an experience without a peer on the system and serves up a handful of intense and creative insanity well worth experiencing.

New Super Lucky’s Tale - For me New Super Lucky’s Tale marks a bit of an exciting time on the Switch, and as a fan of classic platforming. While there are many games that have aimed for hitting the mark of the likes of the classic Mario franchises like Super Mario 64 nothing has really proven up to the task. While some may consider it blasphemous I’m here to say this title has absolutely hit the mark, and done so with its own sense of humor and style rather than being derivative. Smart and varied level design, a mix of 2D and 3D platforming which are both very successful, and some nods that absolutely put a smile on my make for more than a handful of hours of family-friendly enjoyment.

Guacamelee 2 - While I really enjoyed the original Guacamelee I actually thought it got a bit more hype than it deserved overall. Whatever qualms I had with it got absolutely body slammed into oblivion in its outstanding sequel though. I initially got the bug playing it with 3 strangers at PAX East and having an absolute blast. Whether going it solo or with some friends it's just an outstanding Metroidvania brawler full of challenging fights, great upgrades, tons of silliness (I love beating people up as a chicken), and some of the most brutal puzzle platforming level design as I've seen if you want to grab every power-up and secret. Just an all around top tier title.

Mark of the Ninja Remastered - While it may be a port of an older title I can't say that I've played any other game that has nailed making stealthy play as fun for me as this one. Smart, tense, and full of both opportunity and options for how to approach completing levels Mark of the Ninja is just one hell of an action experience not quite like anything else.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition - Oddly up until the Switch I'd only consistently heard good things about Shantae but I'd never had the chance to indulge for myself. Well, now I'm a bit disappointed that I've missed out on it up until this point. Some smart level design, a great bright and colorful art style, and varied action and options for play all make this a pretty deep well of gameplay choices for you to explore for quite some time.

Teslagrad - Revealing too much about Teslagrad would ruin some of the fun of discovery and growth in it but suffice it to say that from start to finish it is a creative and engaging action puzzler. Over the course of its runtime you'll slowly have your powers revealed to you and you'll then be pushed bit by bit to apply those powers in new and increasingly creative ways. Very much worth checking out, it leaves you to explore and discover things in your own way, only ever giving visual prompts but never explicit direction.

Pinball FX3 - While the base game hit the eShop in 2017, the periodic release of new table packs has kept this retro gaming engine very relevant ever since. In particular the acquisition of the rights to produce tables based on the classic pinballs from Williams should make every retro gaming fan very happy. Already having released a handful of packs from that agreement, as well as a few notable original packs of their own, Pinball FX3 will likely handily stay on yearly lists for quite some time.

Flat Heroes - While it may look visually pretty simple, featuring geometric shapes for the most part and a very clean design, the gameplay is surprisingly versatile and challenging. You'll quickly find your little cube has a nimbleness and flow akin to Super Meat Boy and all of those moves will get put to the test over the lengthy campaign. You can then take those skills to Survival mode to put them to the ultimate test or take on your friends in some surprisingly varied local multiplayer modes as well.

Bombslinger - Asking the question perhaps nobody answered: How do you finally give the tight gameplay of the classic Bomberman series a single-player implementation that works, Bombslinger may not be terribly refined in places but it delivers the action where it counts. A roguelike structure, some power-ups that give you creative powers of destruction, and challenging boss battles really demonstrate what the classic Konami series has been missing the boat on all along. While local multiplayer is supported it doesn't hold up as well as single-player but it's worth noting it's available as well to add value.

Flinthook - The exciting and dangerous life of a swashbuckling bounty hunter is the focus in Flinthook, and the mix of shooting, swinging, and dodging enemies and traps gives it a distinctive feel. With a pretty wide variety of upgrade paths as you progress you'll need to learn from your mistakes and to a degree simply "git gud" to track down and then defeat the nefarious criminals you'll be presented with.

Super Meat Boy - One of the original poster children of brutally challenging platforming is now on the Switch and he's as tough as ever. While simply surviving and getting through the levels can be tricky, overachievers will no doubt want to find and unlock all of the game's secret characters which often even require you to play with distinct mechanics to find success with. While it's super-challenging it's also typically not cruel, and its controls are super-tight, putting the pressure on you to execute with precision.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair - Retro games or those that attempt to recapture a certain vintage feel can be a tricky business and there’s no doubt that in such an oversaturated market with abundant choices hitting just the right notes must be tough. The original Yooka-Laylee absolutely nailed the presentation and even many gameplay mechanics of the Banjo-Kazooie series but perhaps was a bit too dated and sometimes empty or sterile to excite in this modern era. With Impossible Lair the target seems to have been instead set on the classic side-scrolling platforming of the likes of Donkey Kong Country and this time it all just feels like it comes together to make an experience dense with smartly hidden secrets and a wide variety of classic platforming challenges that just feel right. While perhaps the endgame may not rub everyone the right way as a whole Impossible Lair put a smile on my face, both making me nostalgic for the games that served as an inspiration and impressing me with a great deal of care in making the experience distinctive in its own right.

Velocity 2X - Making games that feature multiple play styles is always a bit of a risk, as getting either of them wrong can really sour the experience. However, when a game like Velocity 2X comes along and does a great job in both areas, in this case space shooting and running and gunning platforming, it does make them far more memorable. You'll move between both styles pretty often, starting out in the more traditional space shooting mode but then needing to go on foot to unlock or disable defenses getting in your way. Full of upgrades and a steadily increasing degree of challenge this was a great addition to the Switch lineup this year.

Splasher - While anyone and everyone looking at it saw a 2D Splatoon of some kind the kinetic and deep gameplay give Splasher a flair all its own. You'll acquire the ability to paint surfaces with different types of goo that will help you make your way up walls and bouncing through difficult passages. The gameplay is fast and frantic and once you beat the levels for an added challenge speed running them is quite a challenging thrill as well.

Aegis Defenders - Mixing together action platforming with tower defense, Aegis Defenders has a style all its own. While the game works well as a single-player experience sharing the responsibilities with a friend ends up making things much more manageable and fun. Work together to set up a sturdy defense and conquer the game's challenges together.

Mechstermination Force - Mechstermination Force is a pretty tight and enjoyable retro sci-fi robot stomping party… though it will typically take a few attempts to keep the robots from stomping you instead. While you’re always fighting some sort of robot and the general rules for all of them is roughly the same I’ll give credit to the developer for continuing to change things up and keep it fresh through to the end. A couple of them were super-aggravating to deal with but aside from my mobility complaints in general I can’t fault the design. If you’ve been looking for pretty intense action that’s super-light on filler Mechstermination Force will be one to consider picking up.

Clustertruck - While endless runners have become a pretty popular genre you'll find that they're almost always in 2 dimensions. This is very much for a reason it seems as typically attempts at 3D runners have been a bit of a disaster. The challenge is typically tied to the fact that you can't see your feet so "feeling" where you are can be tricky. Clustertruck is an unusual title that works hard to nail getting a 3D runner right and while it's not without its quirks for the most part it gets it right. Throw in the increasingly bonkers scenarios you'll be trying to run through, jumping on the tops of moving semi trucks as they crash into all manner of things (including each other), and it's a silly challenge worthy of your best efforts.

Olli Olli: Switch Stance - While lacking the variety and skateboarding craziness of something like the Tony Hawk series both the original and sequel included in this pack are more well-made than your typical stunt-focused title. In many regards, even after all these years, I’d say Olli Olli remains the gold standard for the stand-alone stunt game. If offers enough flexibility to reduce the feeling of a repetitive grind that tends to set in with the genre but at its core there’s just something fun about the way everything flows when you get a great run going, even when you then bail on your landing and have to start over again. If you’re in the mood to get your stunts on this is probably your best bet on the Switch.

MagiCat - It's a tough business releasing a platforming title on a system that Mario helped build, Nintendo gamers generally have a pretty high expectation for quality within that space. Finding success in this space where numerous pricier games have failed MagiCat offers surprisingly satisfying and smart gameplay. While its hardly pushing the hardware this is a great example where quality wins, even at the low end of the pricing spectrum.

This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!

Monday, December 2

Mini Reviews: December 2nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 2 - As a big fan of the hidden item and puzzle subgenre for killing some time while relaxing the wrinkle of horror is something I really appreciated in the original title in this series. With the sequel it’s really more of the same on a general level, serving up creepy environs and some suspense with a variety of puzzles of various kinds. If you’re feeling lost or stuck, depending on the skill level you’ve chosen, you’re able to get help not just in the form of puzzle hints but even for where you’re supposed to be going next which can be a big help to get you back on track. While its production values are somewhere between dated and middling they get the job done, making this a good pick-up if you want some mild horror suspense with your brain teasers.

Marblelous Animals - Games making their way over from the mobile space can be a mixed bag on Switch both in terms of appropriateness and quality. What works well on a phone or tablet sometimes simply feels out of place on a dedicated console. In the case of Marbelous Animals what you get though is a reasonably challenging game along the lines of the old school Labyrinth where you’ll be using the gyro controls to roll a variety of animal-themes marbles through hazards and traps to collect coins and get to the hole at the end of the level. It isn’t a revolution by any means but whether using the system in handheld or perhaps a Pro Controller while docked it’s a nice change of pace and may seem to be a purely casual affair but can also be quite challenging at times. Throw a budget price into that mix and it’s not a bad deal.

Munchkin: Quacked Quest - When it comes to local multiplayer games on the Switch there tend to be pretty set patterns in what is available. Unfortunately, this can make it not only difficult to differentiate many titles, it also sort of makes you settle into a feeling that there aren’t many new ideas out there. Aside from its inherent silly nature that’s where Quacked Quest at least puts up a good fight and tries to shake things up with some variability and simply unusual challenges to engage in. Granted, if you’re trying to play this without some friends it’s not very fun, but if you’ve got some fellow gamers around and you’re looking for some hack and slash silliness and action it can be an odd and fun time, and at least feels like something different. Slash, grab, shove, make a madcap run for the chicken… the experience is at least pretty fresh as a whole even if not necessarily always great.

Super Street: Racer - The racing genre is among the most under-represented on the Switch, especially when getting outside of the comfort zone of more casual kart-style racing. Without any serious first or even second-party franchises representing realistic racing and even lacking an entry from a series like Need for Speed Nintendo fans haven’t had many options. Super Street: Racer tries to pretty directly address this gap with a feel somewhere between a simulation and arcade-style racing, and doesn’t necessarily do a bad job, but it also lacks variety and a feel of polish. You’ll race against opponents or the clock on urban-ish routes while collecting money to slowly upgrade your ride. If that much would make you happy you’re in luck, just know that put up against the likes of the titles that would be considered its competition it’s most definitely lacking in depth and excitement.

Nonograms Prophecy - When it comes to making a new title that takes on most of the characteristics of an established and popular franchise there are ways it can work out well, but timing and whether you’re able to expand on what inspired you are often critical factors in success. In the case of Nonograms Prophecy I’d say they’re coming to the Picross-alike party pretty late, and unfortunately aside from its visuals it isn’t really able to differentiate itself much. Granted, in terms of presentation it looks pretty slick with sepia-toned theming, and its low-budget price is a plus, but if you’re already a fan of this style of play there’s really nothing that helps it stand on its own. If you’re a puzzle gaming fan who has somehow missed the Picross (and its ilk) boat this is an affordable way to get a taste for things, just for everyone else it will be very familiar.