Friday, October 23

Mini Reviews: October 23rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Pumpkin Jack [Nindie Choice!] -
Ah, tis the season for games that deliver at least a spooky feel, even though I’ll acknowledge more often than not Halloween season games tend to be a bit lacking in overall quality and simply hoping to capitalize on peoples’ urges. While by no means a horror game Pumpkin Jack may be one of the best games I’ve played that leans into the Halloween-y spirit with a timely release, delivering high-quality platforming plus a fair amount of variety with a reasonable degree of value. You obviously play as the Jack-o-Lantern headed Jack, jumping, dodging, and slashing your way through a variety of well-constructed stages that consistently change up what you need to do and have plenty of secrets to find without going overboard. In particular I appreciate that the camera tends to do a great job of giving you the right perspective pretty naturally and I rarely had issues with depth perception when making tough jumps to small platforms which usually plague lesser 3D platformers. Where I think the game shines the brightest though are the action-driven sequences in between the platforming sections, including a fast-moving escape from a burning barn, wild horseback rides, a riff on the classic minecart sequence in a few places, and more. Throw in boss fights that have some smart variety to them and while visually it may be a bit rough around the edges at times (though there’s no denying its aesthetic style is perfect for this time of year) Jack and his crow companion absolutely deliver a treat of an experience a mere week before Halloween.

GoNNER 2 [Nindie Choice!] - I absolutely adore the original GoNNER but I won’t deny that it’s a love that wasn’t easy to develop in the early going. The fact that the sequel is so similar in its approach to the gameplay experience shouldn’t be a surprise but also somewhat inherently makes it a tough sell for more than a niche-y crowd no matter how much fun it can be once it gets rolling. The GoNNER experience initially is all about exploration, experimentation, discovery, and probably hitting up boards and FAQs as you try to find the game’s various heads, weapons, and additional gear or at least a reasonable explanation of what some of them do. The reason for this is there’s no help text or guidance of any kind in the game, and if you walked into the experience without at least knowing that a reasonable percentage of gamers would possibly just stop playing out of frustration. So, OK, you’ve got some heads, weapons, and gear so next you’ll play with combinations to figure out which work best for you. To the sequel’s credit there’s some new crazier stuff to find as well as a new-ish perk system so more than ever I think the “ideal build” will be more of an open question. Now, once you’re at least feeling set and geared up, as well as armed with a knowledge of what the heck you’re doing at times, you’re ready to work on getting that multiplier up, making the game go a bit crazy, and basking in the chaos of it all. Much like the original there are just things that make GoNNER 2 a challenge to love, but for those who do stick with it through the substantial initial difficulty curve it’s just a quirky and unique platform shooting roguelike experience like no other.

Supraland - Right off the bat I’ll say to Supraland’s credit I can’t say I’ve played anything structured quite like it. Initially it almost feels a bit sandbox-y as you’ll have a main quest with an objective but you won’t be able to get there anytime soon without some upgrades first. What’s a bit odd is that the game really leaves you to simply explore and work out how to get coins and upgrades on your own, providing you little direction aside from some barriers until you acquire a necessary skill. While it’s a little disorienting at first not being given specific direction, the freedom to explore and discover on your own is actually nice. While mechanically the platforming can be tricky with the camera and your perspective in spots, and the combat tends towards a one-note jam the button to just slash your enemies into oblivion strategy, it’s not bad necessarily as much as simplistic. That said, there’s something charming about the experience as a whole and it feels fresh somehow. Likely accessible to gamers of just about any age, it would work well for a light challenge for veterans to simply enjoy or likely be a nice and reasonably friendly starting point for younger gamers learning the ropes. It may not be amazing but it’s thoroughly pleasant and friendly, and there’s something to be said for that.

9 Monkeys of Shaolin - As a life-long fan of the beat-em-up genre there’s just something simple and satisfying about a good brawler, letting you blow off some steam kicking ass and taking names. 9 Monkeys of Shaolin mostly delivers on that promise, going with its own take and pace, and especially as you unlock abilities begins to have a decent flow. That said, it feels about a half-step on the slow side, and I couldn’t always tell if that was deliberate or in order to cover for the game having a potential for performance issues. The overall look is an unusual one since it certainly has artistic flair but at the same time its characters just look and animate a bit oddly. The fact that you can join up with a friend locally or perhaps online (always a tricky prospect for availability with indie games especially) may help to sweeten the pot for some people but at the same time it can’t really address the pretty repetitive play that lacks enough variety to firmly keep your attention. It isn’t a bad title by any means, but there are definitely stronger brawlers out there in the eShop.

Outbreak: Epidemic - It’s most definitely that time of year when gamers are inclined to go looking for something a bit more horror-focused in order to enhance the Halloween Spirit. On its surface Outbreak: Epidemic looks like it has potential, sporting some zombies, some guns, and a bit of blasty-blasty action. Sure, the general look may be a bit last-gen (or earlier), but if it’s a good time most people would still be game. Unfortunately my experience with the game hasn’t at all been a positive one though, with an abundance of fog everywhere, mechanics that are sloppy at best when trying to dispatch zombies coming your way, and even a ridiculous struggle to perform mundane tasks like reloading. Somehow it feels like the inspiration for gameplay is more akin to the ancient versions of the Resident Evil series when it comes to your inventory and trying to use items, both not seemingly aware that was consistently one of the series worst problems early on and unable to even remotely capture the suspense and general dread that title evoked. The result? An experience that’s scary for all of the worst reasons and far more trick than treat.

Thursday, October 22

Mini Reviews: October 22nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Horace [Nindie Choice!] -
Horace is an odd title in that much like the title character robot of the same name it is quite unassuming and humble but there’s so much more to it. In terms of the gameplay it’s mostly a smart puzzle platformer that puts up some challenge but is never too over-the-top taxing either. What makes it special though is the story of Horace and his “family”, which evolves from him being a curious sort of family “pet” to a meaningful and important member of it. There are so many magical moments of joy and sadness that feel unusual paired with the gameplay and yet given the quality of both there’s no room for complaint. Top that all off with mini games and a wide variety of surprises and though there’s not much outwardly sexy about the game’s name or main character to pull you in, rest assured it’s a real gem of an experience if you give it a shot.

The Red Lantern - Typically when you hear about roguelikes your mind conjures up images of action-oriented and intense play, whether slashing, jumping, or shooting. In the case of The Red Lantern there’s none of that though, with the roguelike essence revolving instead around your character who is looking for direction and meaning in life being able to try repeatedly to successfully reach a remote cabin in Alaska with her budding team of sled dogs. Make no mistake, there’s no question that you’ll fail, and depending on your luck or skill that may only be a handful of times or many more. But really the game is less about you reaching your goal and more about the many experiences and hardships you’ll face along the way. Scarcity of resources tends to be the earliest killer, your limited meat, bullets, and means to create fires make your chances remote at best. Thankfully you and your dogs never really die, when you fail you’ll just find yourself back at your van and ready to take on the challenge once more, hopefully with some new perks you gained from your previous run. I’d say if you’re just out for a game to complete the experience will probably not be a satisfying one, the joy in the game is the storytelling and your character’s interactions with her dogs and nature with smart writing and a message about learning to find yourself and learn to survive no matter what the odds.

Disc Room - As a self-avowed lover of the classic days of arcade games a title like Disc Room makes almost perfect sense to me, though I’ll admit not everyone may be as eager to latch on to its unusual concept. Your goal is simply survival while trying to unlock new rooms in a remote base near the planet Jupiter. Your obstacle? A wide variety of absolutely lethal bladed discs of all sorts of shapes and sizes that will cut you in half on contact. Lacking a means to simply shoot or punch your way out of this situation all you’re really left with is running like hell and leveraging those dormant crazy dodging skills you’ve been building up through all of your years of gaming. In order to progress you’ll need to complete all sorts of objectives, starting with obvious things like surviving for a certain amount of time, but then including more unusual ones that reward failure like dying to as many different types of discs as possible. Thankfully as you get further you’ll also gain some new abilities that will make things a little bit easier but that won’t change the fact that to be successful you’ll need to be a dodging prodigy. That may not make it for everyone but for action junkies it’s a good time.

Glitch’s Trip - While this may look like a cute and relatively straight-forward puzzle platformer Glitch’s Trip wastes little time before smacking you around and letting you know it’s here to kick your ass and chew bubble gum, and it’s all out of bubble gum. Who’d have expected there to be a shooting element to a game like this, and when you combine some enemies, switches, and traps of various kinds that cute platformer becomes a lot more grueling and at times almost cruel when you blow it late in a given stage. I’ll give it credit, the mix of elements and degree of difficulty make it pretty unique on the Switch, just I’m not sure that means the right audience will have an easy time finding it unfortunately.

Double Pug Switch - While certainly sporting a cute set of characters and overall look there’s not too much easygoing once you dig in for a few stages in this endless runner of sorts. The general play isn’t too complicated, you’re able to jump as well as switch between dimensions really quickly which will change your obstacles and traps ahead of you. While initially this isn’t too tough pretty quickly you’ll need to be going back and forth in a rapid-fire manner and it gets more tense. If your first objective is merely surviving by the skin of your teeth you’ll be challenged but it’s more manageable. If, however, you’re a completionist who can’t just leave well enough alone the temptation to try to figure out how to get to every special purple coin and still survive will stack the odds against your moreso. It’s not rocket science but if you’re looking for a challenging puzzle action game it may be a good fit.

Wednesday, October 21

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

Jackbox Party Pack 7 [Nindie Choice!] -
My family and I have become massive fans of the Jackbox games over time, having played through each party pack at some point. The unique format, where you’ll be using your phones (or a tablet, or a laptop) as controllers is what makes it a very versatile game at parties as pretty well everyone should already be ready to play. Most games are geared for a minimum of 3 people (though I’d say most you need a minimum of 4 to be remotely fun) up to usually 8 but the provision to allow additional people into the game as the audience is a great feature that can get loads of extra people along to enjoy the ride and vote for their favorites. With what in mind I’ll cover the specific games in this pack.

Quiplash 3 is I think, technically, the fourth entry in the series since there was an XL in there at one point. It’s probably my favorite periodic mini game they’ve made (the original can now also be purchased as a stand-alone on Switch BTW) and at parties it has had people roaring. At one party we played it and Cards Against Humanity back to back and the pretty well unanimous vote was that the open-ended nature of Quiplash made it the better game. This third entry does little to change the formula, though it has taken on a Claymation look. Aside from that the third round has been restructured into a multi-prompt challenge, and I think we prefer it to previous formats. 

The Devil is in the Details is an interesting and pretty new concept in gameplay for them, forcing everyone to try to work together towards success but doing plenty to encourage people to game things in their own favor as well. You’ll quickly all need to review tasks, some of which can be done solo, some you’ll need to communicate and collaborate on, and it can get noisy and hectic for sure. Champ’d Up is really the drawing game of the bunch with everyone making and naming their own heroes and then trying to get them to be chosen when given weird awards to work with. Depending on the group this can be a hit or a miss and I’ll note that currently it’s a bit buggy with the drawings not always being represented properly on the main screen (though on phones drawings always appeared correctly somehow). The big surprise hit for my family was Talking Points, a game where each person will essentially take a turn giving a PowerPoint presentation on a weird topic, but someone else is in charge of the slides. It’s a real improvisational challenge but yielded side-splitting results for us so everyone just wanted to keep playing. Truly a great time even among people who are usually on the introverted side but I could see results varying. 

Last, there’s Blather Round where you’re trying to get everyone else in the room to identify a specific person or thing (you’re given a list which includes easier and tougher ones to choose from) but you have very limited means to help them, with basic prompts with a variety of random words and then the ability to respond to guesses others have made. This was interesting and pretty fun but currently it was also buggy, losing a fair number of choices we’d made and showing them as “Blank”. We luckily just worked around this by telling people what the blanks represented but hopefully it can be resolved soon. Truly this may be the most diverse pack of the bunch and while there may not be a clear best game the change from the norm is it is hard to identify the one or two that are clearly the worst. Can’t wait for the next one!

Röki [Nindie Choice!] - When you’re young your imagination can truly be a powerful (and sometimes scary) thing. Being fed by your parents, the media, or your friends it can be unusual what you can not only believe but also conceive around you. In the case of Röki it just so happens that the legendary stories and creatures young Tove’s mother had told her happen to be real. After an initial encounter with a huge troll she’s forced to abandon her father in order to make an escape with her younger brother. What follows is an adventure that explores the gorgeous and distinctly-drawn Nodic landscape as well as quite a number of its mythical creatures, both good and not so much. In general the puzzles here feel sensible, requiring some experimentation at times, but never really moving into the trap of being obtuse like many adventure titles struggle with. What really drives the game though is the emotional experience, seeing it all through Tove’s eyes as she struggles with the challenges around her. It’s well worth taking the time to enjoy for anyone looking for a genuine and unique story.

Supermarket Shriek - Ah, I do appreciate a weirdo title and Supermarket Shriek is more than happy to deliver. Played either solo or with a friend the controls and concept of the gameplay are pretty basic. You’ll use the shoulder triggers on each side to control the propulsive scream of either the man or tha goat sitting on either side of the cart, providing forward (or is it backwards?) momentum if both are screaming and allowing you to turn with only one doing it. You’ll then pair that with what are usually like obstacle courses in various stores that will challenge you to try to be precise and get them through it while working against the clock. With all of the varied traps, obstacles, jumps to be cleared, and simple limits of how accurately you’ll be able to steer it can be a real challenge. While the style of play likely won’t be for everyone I do appreciate the silliness and the attempt to make another approachable oddball game for the system.

HyperBrawl Tournament - This futuristic sports title boasts a mix of 2-on-2 goal-scoring action with brawling and varied arenas. You’ll choose your teammates, choose their special weapons of choice, and then try to use smart play to defeat the enemy team. While it has promise, and can be fun for a bit, ultimately as a single-player experience it can be frustrating and just gets too repetitive as in order to win you’re more likely to stick with strategies that work even if they may be a bit cheap. Another issue is just a general lack of fluidity, your players move pretty slowly and making contact with the other team is lacking in excitement, it’s more of a means to an end. At least with some friends some smack talking and more aggressive play can liven things up. It’s not terrible but at the same time it never really got its hooks into me compelling me to keep returning to it.

Death Ray Manta SE - There’s nothing wrong with a very arcade-like twin-stick shooting experience with a little flavor of Robotron and some others, I love the classics and still load up Robotron with some regularity. That said, while Death Ray Manta SE throws some funky voice samples, sounds, and a kaleidoscope of colors at you it comes up a bit short if you’re looking for staying power. I get it, there’s an onslaught of things coming at you, shooting at you, and you need to shoot, dodge, and destroy. The thing is, even compared to the likes of the original Robotron there just doesn’t feel like there’s much to the visual cacophony other than chaos for its own sake. Sure, there’s a gem on each screen you can try to quickly grab and there’s a mild variety of enemies but there’s just some gameplay magic and nuance that I feel like it’s missing to make it stand out in the crowd.

Tuesday, October 20

Mini Reviews: October 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

ScourgeBringer [Nindie Choice!] -
There’s something about ScourgeBringer that deep down brings back my nostalgia for being in an arcade, pumping quarters into a game that consistently kicks my butt yet still puts a smile on my face. Be warned, ScourgeBringer is a tough and intense slashing and shooting experience with runs that will often end too quickly as you just couldn’t get in the groove. What makes it so worth it are those runs where you break out and get on a tear though, getting the right combination of perks and some luck on your side to smash some bosses and prove to yourself that it can be done. Of course meta progression is also a key part of you building success and overall I’d say the pacing of gaining currency to unlock some absolutely vital abilities feels about right, with you at least gaining 1 coin if you can defeat the first sub-boss. It can sometimes take a run or two to then feel comfortable making use of your newfound power but things like your heavy hit deflecting bullets or knocking enemies into each other are incredibly important to have when you’re in the heat of things. None of the above would matter if the game’s engine wasn’t up to the job but in terms of performance, fluidity, and mechanics I really can’t find any flaws with it. If anything some people may find the action too fast, and watching it can be a bit crazy, but when you’re in the moment it’s extremely satisfying how responsive your character is as you dash around the screen slashing, deflecting, stunning, and smashing. ScourgeBringer is yet another roguelike that stands alone with a pretty unique hook and overall flow while delivering a satisfying degree of intensity and challenge that the hardcore set should find compelling.

Fracter - There’s something to be said for some visual flair to add to the gameplay experience as a whole and when the aesthetics can be used in alignment with improving the action itself that’s always a bonus. Fracter has a great black and white look and really leans into the use of light as part of what you’re looking to do, whether acting as a barrier, a means to activating the environment, or even taking out some enemies. Trial and error does play a part a bit as there’s no real explanation for what needs to be done, and once you’re introduced to new ideas you’ll be expected to apply that to new scenarios. While I wouldn’t consider it to be terribly difficult as a whole, the way the stages play out is at least pretty novel and as you go further you’ll need to work a bit harder to be successful. All in all it’s a pretty unique action puzzle adventure that sets itself apart not just with its look but also the style of its play, not a bad thing when the eShop is full of titles that don’t do as good a job of differentiating themselves.

Alpaca Ball: All-Stars - Watching a game of soccer who can honestly say they haven't taken a moment to contemplate how different the game would look if played as a 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 match between alpacas? I know I have. Whether or not you’ve ever been so inclined that’s what this game is all about and for being a wacky and weird sports game without too incredible an amount going on it actually works quite well. This is definitely a case where the controls being a bit on the loose and imprecise side is intended, though you can certainly learn to be effective, but the matches are more about craziness and fun than serious scoring. You can jump, hit the ball, make a power shot, and do a back kick and there’s more to being successful than it would seem, accuracy does count. Playing through the campaign solo is fine but this is definitely a title more geared towards playing with family or perhaps some friends with everyone a bit tipsy for maximum hilarity.

Terror Squid - There’s nothing wrong with sometimes playing a game that has one core idea in place and just asks you to run with it. That’s all Terror Squid is, and the idea in this case is that you’re moving around a sphere, projected forward seemingly by the bullets in various patterns your ship is putting out. You can only steer, do a quick dash which can be useful in a pinch only, or detonate which will hopefully set off a large chain reaction, destroying the majority of the bullets around. The problem is every time you use the detonate your ship will move on to its next bullet pattern and each new version tends to further complicate things, adding to whatever previous bullets remain. It’s all about simply surviving as long as you can, which to get a high score generally means holding out on your detonations but to do a great job of that you really need to have and execute a plan. There’s not much to it, and unless you love pushing to eke out a few extra seconds it won’t likely appeal to you, but for high score chasers there’s a global leaderboard as well as daily leaderboards to test yourself against.

Cloudpunk - With an interesting steampunk / futuristic look with huge skyscrapers and vehicles flying through the clouds people were excited by early looks at Cloudpunk. When I played it at PAX I was honestly a bit taken aback thinking it still had a while to go since there were some performance issues and in the time I had with it simply not much was happening. Fast forward a few months and here we are, and it’s out, and unfortunately not a whole lot has changed since last I saw it. While flying around the city skylines is at least novel, it’s also where you’ll spend far too much time simply ferrying from Point A to Point B. Sure, there’s often some conversation along the way from your dispatch as you go over the details of the city and your various sketchy activities you’re not to ask too many questions about but the story really can’t buoy what’s a generally dull and performance-challenged experience in places.

Monday, October 19

Mini Reviews: October 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Crown Trick [Nindie Choice!] -
Among the many genres and subgenres roguelikes have managed to infiltrate I can’t say that a tactical turn-based adventure-ish RPG is one I’ve run across to this point. If there can be more compelling examples along the lines of Crown Trick I’ll just say now I’m all for it. This is a title I originally saw at PAX East and left me feeling iffy about the affair. Whether that was just that the demo wasn’t structured quite right, or the time allowed didn’t really allow me to dig in I don’t know, but the more time I’ve spent with it the more it has impressed me. There’s absolutely a learning curve for understanding what makes the game tick, especially when it comes to fighting bosses. It’s amazing how survivable encounters with tough enemies can be if you’re patient, observe the environment and your opportunities there well, and make effective use of multiple spells and abilities you’re able to have at your disposal. Attack, move, set up Spell A, blink (your ability to teleport away or out of trouble), Spell B, attack, attack, move, and repeat is similar to how many of my battles played out. Elemental damage plays a huge role in things and that’s where the environment comes in. I found I tended to have my battles play out in only a subset of my environment and if I’d moved further in even more opportunities would have presented themselves so don’t hesitate to move around and see what you have at your disposal if your enemies look too formidable. Summed up Crown Trick looks fantastic, plays very smart, has a fair amount of great risk and reward opportunity, and presents a roguelike challenge that feels fresh and addictive. It’s definitely worth a look.

Barbarian: Testament of the Primordials [Nindie Choice!] - What’s interesting with indie games is their consistent ability to seem familiar at first but then consistently surprise you by defying expectations. Barbarian is one such title, having the look and initial feel of an old school Metroidvania from the 16-bit era but then upping the typical game in the areas of puzzles and the number of secrets to be found. I was pretty well amazed in just the first few hours how many secrets were just hinted at that I gave a shot, thinking like it is in many games that it was just me being too eager to find something cool, but then finding my instincts had been right. For me there’s just something highly satisfying about that and I found myself spending as much time trying to find secrets as worrying about progress. As can be the case with the genre, getting lost can be an issue as you try to squeeze out everything there is to find and then get back on the main track. However I didn’t generally find myself backtracking too far in most cases and that kept the game from dragging as you need to get around as some games do. While perhaps it may not quite be a must-have experience I’d expect genre fans will find it to be a consistently pleasant surprise.

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout - Having grown up with the Joes through the comic books and the cartoons I’m undoubtedly in the sweet spot for the love of the organization and their eternal fight with Cobra. With third-person action feeling somewhere between an arcade gun game and a shooter (from perhaps a generation or so ago) the experience isn’t a bad one, but there’s no denying it’s also lacking in polish. I do appreciate the main storyline moving you between sides and character choices, ensuring you can’t get too comfortable with any particular skill set and that the overall fun can be drawn out as much as possible. If you’re able to play with a friend I’d consider that the optimum experience as in solo mode you’ll have a companion along for the ride but their usefulness being called “minimal” would be more than generous. The story is pure classically-ridiculous cheese, the action is unrefined but can be satisfying, and the roster of Cobra and Joe characters includes the major players as well as a few amusingly obscure ones somehow. It may not be art, but it’s not a bad time for some grindy, generally mindless fun (and challenge in spots).

Inside Grass: Little Adventure - Approaching Inside Grass the most important thing to keep in mind is that not all games are meant for all audiences… and that in the case of this adventure the target is likely kids. Quite obviously converted over from being a tablet game, it does work well enough on a controller and in some spots like when you’re button-mashing attacks it’s possible it may be a bit easier. This is a pretty light and not terribly challenging RPG/adventure where you’ll tackle opponents with some quick taps, and break through barriers by executing reasonably-well in a variety of mini game-esque sequences. If you have any gaming experience at all it’s probably beneath you but for budding gamers out there it’s quite accessible, so appreciated.

Two Parsecs From Earth - As you may assume with a Nintendo system platformers are roughly a dime a dozen and though Metroidvanias aren’t as abundant their average quality has been impressive. With this in mind, a title like Two Parsecs From Earth, though sporting a budget price, is tough to get enthused about. Though it’s novel, one issue is that you start out completely neutered and your skill acquisitions are almost entirely things you’d start out with in an average title. This makes the early game a bit of a drag and/or frustrating as you walk by loads of spots you simply can’t get to. Then, as you slowly build up your skills the other issue sets in, that mechanically your robot is just a bit more awkward and clumsy than would be ideal. Throw in the need to re-explore the same areas as you get the skills you were lacking the last time and it’s just a bit too much of a slog in the end.

Thursday, October 15

Mini Reviews: October 16th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Along the Edge [Nindie Choice!] - On a general level interactive fiction titles haven’t been my cup of tea. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate that such an experience could be game-like, having grown up reading Choose Your Own Adventure titles I appreciate a smart branching narrative, I’ve just not found that the level of quality in the writing and total package has been enough to get me fully engaged. With its story involving the mysterious legacy of your family that you’ve never really known, inheriting a small estate in a small town in the country, Along the Edge very much breaks that mold for me and did a phenomenal job of sucking me in. With high quality writing, characters that read as being complex and nuanced in their motivations and interactions, and terrific artwork that changes almost constantly it’s very visibly a project built with love and care. Sure, perhaps the generalized storyline isn’t so unique, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective and with many decisions that feel like they carry consequences there’s plenty of motivation to go back and try things out differently once you’re done. While it won’t deliver a shot of excitement you’d find with an action-oriented game if you’re a fan of smart fiction this should be well worth spending some time with.

Ring of Pain - With a variety of titles proving that the tight and challenging strategy of a roguelike can make for compelling play it’s not hard to see some of Ring of Pain’s influences. Much moreso than I think any other game of its kind I can think of, I certainly credit it with having a quick and pretty no-frills flow that is focused on keeping you moving… though at times it’ll feel like your current run was over before it started as a result too I suppose. What’s most intriguing is the way all of the cards on the current level are present and, with some strategy and luck, how they can interact with each other to both your benefit and detriment. This does make for a brutal learning curve at times, and perhaps some experimentation, but it’s also an element that helps set it apart from the more generic pack. If you’re willing to stick it out through the initial beatdowns and get a hang of how best to handle your various choices and risk/reward prospects there’s a solid game here, just expect a fair amount of frustration to come along for the ride, it’s not called Ring of Pain by accident.

Shoot 1UP DX - We’ve been blessed with quite a variety of shmups on the Switch, and with such diversity it can sometimes be easy to assume you’ve seen it all. Enter Shoot 1UP DX. While in a normal shooter you’d grab orbs to power up or gain an extra life here the focus is instead on building your armada right now, with the new ship simply being added to your current crowd. Depending on the situation you’ll want to spread your ships out to maximize your firepower or pull them in to try to dodge your way through tight situations. In addition, as you accumulate more you’ll eventually have ships that fire in each direction, which as you get to later waves you’ll really need in order to survive some tight boss battles. Just to throw in another wrinkle there’s also the ability to choose branching paths at multiple points, either generally keeping things vertical and “normal” or taking on something more involved like moving to side-scrolling, reversing direction, or even throwing yourself into the challenging free flight mode. There’s not a ton of content here, and arcade shooter veterans will likely only get a significant challenge on the toughest difficulty level, but I do appreciate a title that does things its own way so I can respect it for that at a minimum.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge - Director’s Cut - Having been introduced to the Shantae series on the Switch and enjoyed the hell out of each entry thus far a throwback title sounded interesting. Risky’s Revenge, as someone who was only introduced to the franchise after the big leaps since it was made, I think ends up being more of a historical artifact than something I was drawn to continually put time into. I’m glad that some updates were made to make the presentation a little better overall but most of all there’s no denying that this is a much simpler and less satisfying experience than what we’ve been spoiled with since the release of the Switch. If you’re looking for some nostalgia or just are thirsting for something a bit simpler to work your way through it may be a match but otherwise I’d definitely check out one of the more modern entries.

Postal Redux - One of the original scandalous and exploitatively violent games on the PC an eon ago, the name Postal has a certain degree of deserved reverence. This modestly-updated version is a chance for people who played the original to remember it and for new fans to see what all of the fuss was about. Sadly, as one of those people who remembered playing it way back when and at least being amused by it allowing and encouraging you to rampage and kill everyone in sight with a variety of weapons I’d say it hasn’t aged well. A function of how violent media and games have been since the original Postal was released is that honestly it all feels a bit silly and certainly overblown. Yes, you can gun down or catch innocent civilians on fire and watch them run around screaming but by today’s standards that’s kids stuff. Then, if you remove that shock factor and glee of doing “bad things” you’re left with a game that’s technically not very good. Aiming is wonky, you’re going to get shot from off-screen quite a lot, and in order to progress plain chaos won’t work in your favor, you’ll instead work on tactics that you’ll repeat that work but aren’t necessarily fun. As a historical artifact it’s important that it exists, and some people may appreciate the chance to check it out, but as a game it’s pretty weak by modern standards.

Wednesday, October 14

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

Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 [Nindie Choice!] -
Following up the previous delectable outing on Switch, CSD3 is back with a new somewhat silly story with your empire having been reduced to rubble and starting over in a food truck. Aside from that, and how it has some influence on the presentation and how you’re able to customize it’s more of the same tense and quick action, new recipes, and more fun. As was the case before, this is a title I’d hesitate to say is great in docked mode because using a controller for the action is workable but can leave your fingers in knots whenever things get a bit crazy (which happens often). Playing using the touchscreen is far easier, though sometimes the on-screen buttons you’ll need to press can feel a bit small I’ll admit when you’re trying to be precise. Regardless, for fans of food prepping games I’d consider this series one of the best I’ve played, offering a fair challenge but also to a degree letting you pick your poison since you control your menu and the meals you’re looking to repeatedly prepare quickly. It’s a challenging food-frenzied blast if you can keep up.

Dustoff Z - Somewhat of following the general concept that anything can be reinvigorated and possibly improved with the inclusion of zombies we have Dustoff Z, which reaches back to the likes of the classic Choplifter for inspiration while throwing in modern progression and conveniences as well. You’ll initially control what is literally a cobbled together chopper, taking on missions where you’ll need to rescue civilians, grab some essential supplies, and occasionally take on some massive monstrosities. As you go you’ll unlock better gear, gain access to different human companions who can act as gunners or provide other necessary help, and pimp out your ride a little bit if you’d like. In spots success can require some grinding to get a crucial upgrade or two but while the idea remains relatively simple the zombies and levels themselves tend to have surprises every once in a while that prompt a giggle or perhaps even a yell. If you enjoy old school arcade-like challenges with a few modern touches thrown in you’ll likely have a good time with this one.

Seers Isle - More often than not I find that I’m not much of a fan of “interactive novels” on the Switch. It’s not so much that they can’t be a valid entertainment as they’re too often lacking in quality. Whether it’s predictable stories, tepid writing, too few meaningful choices, or a lack of immersion they just don’t typically deliver on their promise. To its credit, Seers Isle pretty well addresses every complaint I have about the genre. Its art style is distinctive and new shots of characters and the current action are constantly showing up to pull you in. Its multiple characters have some mystery and intrigue about them, generally being drawn outside of traditional archetypes and more like real people, and wow are there a lot of choices to be had ranging from those that feel small to ones that obviously have great consequence. The result is a pretty engaging story that works, though perhaps the abundance of characters and options are its Achilles heel in this case since with so many branching paths the end tends to come a bit too quickly. That said, repeat runs for different outcomes are typically rewarding due to the quality of the writing and characters so I’d say if you’re a fan of the genre this is one worth checking out.

Vigil: The Longest Night - While the Metroidvania genre had at one point been thinly represented on the Switch we’re now at the point where there are enough top-tier titles available that making a big splash is getting tougher. I think Vigil is a casualty of that reality, bringing a darker tone and some decent (if somewhat generic) action to the table with a fair amount of choice and variety, but struggling to distance itself from several titles at roughly the same level. Mechanically the action is a bit on the stilted side and feeling more from a previous generation despite its more attractive overall look. Level design, too, feels a bit like it’s from another time, managing variety but little that fuels a sense of excitement. If you’re in love with the look and theme it’s a decent romp but there are several better examples of the genre with different looks already available on the eShop.

Green Hell - My history with survival games has always been hot and cold. Whether it’s from cumbersome collecting and crafting or being put off by punishing play for me finding the right balance in the genre is tricky. In the case of Green Hell there’s actually quite a few positives. Though I’m not generally a fan of the first-person perspective with the game’s setting and story it does make sense in this case and can help to make the experience more immersive. It’s also nice to have a bit more story backing the action than normal and your goal of not just living to see another day but to rescue your wife also helps pull you in. That said, the interface and controls are really quite awful, especially when it comes to crafting and then trying to use the tools you construct in some cases. This can make many essential tasks into a chore and pulls you out of the moment often, killing any momentum you’ve built up. If you’re willing to overcome those issues there’s a solid experience to be had but you’ve been warned.

Monday, October 12

Mini Reviews: October 13th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Space Crew [Nindie Choice!] -
When it comes to strategy games we’re finally to the point where the Switch has a fair amount of diversity. One of the more unusual entries in the genre was Bomber Crew, a strategic simulation where you’d take control of a flight crew on a bomber, trying to manage your people as well as the plane to successfully fly missions through what were usually quite hostile situations. Space Crew is the sequel to that outing and the move to the final frontier not only benefits the challenge and excitement with new aesthetics, it also brings quite a lot of variety to the missions and threats you’ll need to contend with… resulting in far more surprises and overall depth in the process. Probably the game’s biggest weakness is in the control scheme, which is admirably mapped to the controller (still sadly no touchscreen support) rather than a mouse and keyboard, but has a learning curve to it and when things get hectic. This can unfortunately add to the chaos as you try to move your crew around and keep your ship from being blown to bits, but carefully slowing the action down and trying to take a breath can help you keep it together. Since it deviates significantly from the rest of the strategy pack on the console and offers up plenty of customization options both in your gear and in aesthetics if you’re so inclined it makes for a compelling challenge if you’ve tired of X-Com clones.

Foregone [Nindie Choice!] - One glance at Foregone and many video game fans are likely to mistake it for the incredible Dead Cells… and given that the game’s art and animations were created through a very similar process that’s not a coincidence. It’s the similarities in the two titles that actually make Foregone very tough to review, there’s no denying similarities but they’re also quite different in their construction and goals. Taking on a more traditional Metroidvania style reminiscent of classics from the 16-bit era you won’t have many of the roguelike trappings that both made Dead Cells more varied and challenging. That means the most of all the level designs and flow are dialed in and you won’t have as diverse of options in customizing your build by far (though the melee and shooting weapon variety is appreciated). However, it also means there’s more of a story, overall the learning curve for success isn’t quite as severe, and more traditional gamers will likely find it easier to get into due to its more familiar nature. The game’s most critical component, the execution of combat, works very well here and you’ll likely need to master the use of your dodge and the timing of your attacks to be ready to contend with the game’s various enemies effectively. I did sometimes run into performance hiccups, but in general I’d say they never felt like they interfered greatly with my success either. While the shadow of Dead Cells does loom over many aspects of Foregone, if you’re looking for a rock-solid Metroidvania that mixes melee and projectile weapons in combat effectively and feels great to play more often than not it’s well worth a look.

Juiced! - Old-school retro budget platformers, the Switch has got quite a lot of them… but it would be hard to find another quite as cheery and outright colorful as Juiced. It sports big character sprites, pretty classic play, and a relatively moderate degree of challenge that just about anyone should find accessible, consistent with games from the 8 and 16-bit eras for the most part. That said, there’s not much that helps set it apart from the competition either, so this is one of those titles where you’ll want to give it and other games like it a look and then determine which one is the best fit for what you’re looking for.

This is the Zodiac Speaking - While I’ve generally found first-person exploration adventure-type games like this to be a drag in their pacing I do appreciate that in this case the game has taken on a quasi-historic element of a member of the press chasing down the Zodiac killer to add interest. That said, since the game shares many of my complaints about the genre like too many random 3D modeled objects to pick up and look at for no reason whatsoever, generally very linear construction where you need to do everything in the order prescribed, and how that leads to little more than looking around for an object to advance the story, finding it, returning, and then learning what to do next. If you’re really into serial killers the weakly-utilized Zodiac killer’s presence and involvement may be enough to get you on the hook but honestly even as a huge true crime fan it didn’t add any allure at all. There’s some tension to be had, I can dig the appropriate 70’s style aesthetics, and it tries pretty hard to suck you in, but in general it’s just too spread out with an abundance of tedium in between.

Reflection of Mine - For me, somewhat fittingly given the mirrored nature of the puzzles in the game, I’m of two minds about Reflection of Mine. On the one hand it’s a challenging and pretty clever puzzle game, forcing you to think about what’s happening with your main and mirrored character and how to successfully navigate them through their environments without dying. This can be a plodding experience when you manage to get yourself stuck but for the right crowd it could be a fun challenge. On the other, as a parent of a child who has had mental health issues I found its portrayal of the main character’s multiple personality disorder to be reductive and almost offensive. I suppose as a plot device in a lazy way it makes sense in relation to the gameplay but there’s more than enough entertainment out there that mischaracterizes an issue many people cope with that there need not be more when the game offers nothing to learn, it’s just a device for justifying the style of play.

Friday, October 9

Mini Reviews: October 9th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Survivalists [Nindie Choice!] -
As I have noted a few times before, in general survival games haven’t tended to be a favorite of mine in the past. That said, as the genre has diversified and mixed in different elements to make the experience more accessible (and sometimes actually a bit fun), I’ve slowly become more of a fan. The Survivalists is one such genre game that breaks down some barriers to do things its own way and the combination of crafting, resource management, monkey management, exploration, and experimentation often managed to put a smile on my face. While I’d hardly consider this a hard core challenge that isn’t to say you won’t find the island to be dangerous as you first get started or if you insist on pushing ahead beyond what your gear will handle well. As always, the early game then is about collecting resources, crafting, and putting together more and more reliable and functional gear. Where this is usually a pretty cumbersome grind a great feature of this title is the ability to train some monkeys to do some grunt work for you. I’ll admit that initially I didn’t consider their management too intuitive, even with instructions, but once I got the hang of it I could rely on them just clearing every tree, rock, or other resource in the immediate area, saving me a load of time and tedium. The help in the reduction of plain grinding, a pretty smart and well-designed crafting tree, and a consistent flow of surprises really made this one of my favorite survival games to date. Though, keep in mind since I’m not a traditional fan of the genre you’ll have to take my tastes into account when considering the purchase.

Flipon [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to action puzzle games the tendency is to think of the big and well-established guns when looking for some quality play. That said, every once in a while a new title storms out of the eShop with a budget price and some quality play to make a strong impression. Flipon, while not necessarily terribly original in its mechanics, offers up a whole lot of variety and fun whether you’re playing through its campaign and various modes solo or with up to 4 friends. While perhaps I’d say the action is a bit too close, somewhat discouraging more strategic accumulation of blocks to try to pull off larger chains of combos that does make for a fair degree of intensity. Your goal is to shift pairs of block to set up straight lines of the same colored block, but there’s some strategy to be had as you get the hang of things and both the campaign and other modes do a good job of trying to help you refine some of those techniques even if you don’t consider yourself to be a pro. For such a modest asking price Flipon really brings together great presentation and production values and then pairs that with a load of content and variety (well, for this sort of game) to keep you busy puzzling for quite some time.

Adventures of Chris - I’ll give credit where it is due, while action platforming doesn’t often change things up too much Adventures of Chris creatively throws some curveballs at you in order to try to keep things a little more fresh. The somewhat unassuming and pudgy Chris, through a series of weird events, finds himself imbued with the power to float initially (how gets weird, you’ll just need to check it out for yourself) and from that base is determined to go on an epic adventure and turn himself into a full-fledged hero. The game really does try to keep changing up the style of play, sometimes favoring more action and other times some creative puzzles and platforming, so that’s a plus. Even so, at times I felt like the enemy was more the not-quite-tight-enough controls which are just muddy enough that intense situations feel a little tougher than they should be. Throw in what feels like a lot of pretty juvenile humor about Chris’s weight that feels at least a decade out of place and it’s a mixed bag. This adventure has its ups and downs (with plenty of inverted action to prove it) but if you’re looking for a unique challenge it may be a good fit for you.

Falcon Age - Novelty in games is always a good thing, new experiences are welcome and you never know what may become a break out hit or revelatory gameplay experience. Falcon Age is unfortunately neither but if you’re looking for a reasonably good story, play mechanics that are simply a bit different as you become more adept at guiding and using your fledgling falcon companion’s skills, and don’t mind the pace being more on the slow side it can be a refreshingly good time. I found the game’s sense of humor often provided me with an amusing response to in-game prompts, a small detail but one I appreciated nonetheless. You can tell it was designed with VR in mind and if you were fully immersed in the game world perhaps it wouldn’t feel so plain and empty. Not to say there’s not some beauty here, just the level of detail feels a generation or so ago. Give it a glance and if the style of play looks appealing it’s certainly worth a look.

WarriOrb - Billed as the “Dark Souls” of 2D jump and run action, WarriOrb set itself on a pedestal daring comparison. Unfortunately while there’s some novelty in the experience I can’t say that it’s a flattering match-up. What’s striking in many ways is just how plain the experience is in many regards, with a pretty bare bones feel in terms of action, a general blandness in design, and a surprisingly plodding pace. Then there are weird quirks like rather than make transitions or animations for some actions like ladder climbing or switching perspective the game sort of magically ports you from one point to another which may be practical but it does often seem sloppy. In general it’s just an odd experience and with so many worthy action platformers out there it’s easy to pass this one up.

Thursday, October 8

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

Puddle Knights -
There’s nothing wrong with a puzzle game that knows what mechanics its going for and then works them for all they’re worth, something Puddle Knights does pretty well. The goal is to get the more dignified person in your group from Point A to Point B without needing to traipse through the mud. Luckily your knight(s) have no such concerns and with some effort they’ll be able to escort their charge around the screen safely without even a speck of grime on their clothes. I appreciate that the emphasis here is on the discovery and figuring out the puzzles, not on constantly reminding you that completing the stage could have been done quicker. Take your time, think it through, and carefully maneuver yourself in the right direction and just the right way and you’ll be good. Later stages add new mechanics like ripping your capes in segments which add new layers of challenge and keep everything from getting too stale. It’s not a complex game but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying if you appreciate unique puzzle experiences.

Shmubedi Boo - Probably one of the most unusually-named titles I’ve played on the system, this is one of those where I’ve needed to look up the spelling every time to make sure I’ve got it right. For the effort of keeping track thankfully to a degree the game makes it worthwhile, though it has a degree of quirk you’ll need to get used to and simply accept. This is pretty straightforward challenging platforming and trying your best to grab all of the apples you can on each stage. What isn’t quite so ideal is that part of the challenge comes from the somewhat loose controls for it being a platformer, there’s not a crisp response like you’d find for top-tier titles, instead you’ll just sort of work with what you’ve got and do your best. If you’ve got a fellow gamer around and you’d like to tackle the game together you’ll be able to do so, though if you’re not well-matched in skill that can be an exercise in frustration typically so take that idea with a grain of salt. I’ve certainly played worse platformers on the system, this one just falls somewhere in the middle with some unique aspects but controls that come up short.

Prinny 1: Can I Really Be The Hero? / Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! - While these are technically two individual games it’s appropriate to review them together since they’re practically identical in most ways you’d measure. Heck, they’re even packed in together in a physical release so all the more fitting. Using the weirdo/silly Prinny characters from the DISGAEA universe, you’ll take command of one such creature to take on the “highly important” tasks in each game you’ve been charged with… grabbing a fabled “ultra desert” or retrieving your master’s pilfered pair of panties respectively. Silly, yes, but pretty well par for the course for that series. In general this is like a throwback title visually and (unfortunately) in the case of the controls, generally rocking colorful and terrific art but with controls feeling pretty unforgiving from a modern perspective. You’ll really need to lock in your jump distances in particular since once you’re in motion you won’t be making fine adjustments like you’d generally expect these days (well, and typically in those days too). I’d say if you love the sense of humor and the look you may get some mileage out of this pair, but if you’re looking to test the water rather than dive right in with neither clearly superior to the other you’re safe either way.

Birthday of Midnight - OK, being real this is the third Midnight game and the fact that the gameplay, music, and art are pretty well identical in them all is a bummer. The somewhat unusual golf-like power and angle controls used to knock your character around to get them past a variety of traps and issues and put them in the hole was OK but kind of “Meh” the first time, but clocking in a third title with more of the same is just a bit baffling. Definitely only pick up one of the titles (any one of them will do, they’re practically the same) if you think it looks interesting and go from there but keep your expectations pretty low.

Tuesday, October 6

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

Ys Origin -
As a long-time fan of action RPGs from the Secret of Mana to the infamous Diablo I must admit that if the combat is compelling I’m game for consistent action over turn-based strategy. Fitting right into that mold we have Ys Origin, a port of an offshoot of the revered RPG series which may lack in a variety of locales and overall depth but still delivers some surprises and fun. Your choice of character at the beginning carries more consequence than their mere genders as each have different abilities that will make the experience play out a bit differently. From there it is perhaps a little too limited overall in terms of build variety to compete with some roguelikes or a title like Diablo but what you are given to work with is generally tight and responsive at least. As can typically be the case for this sort of title you can expect a fair amount of grinding in spots to ensure you’re powered up well enough to overcome some periodic difficulty spikes but all in all the experience is at least a solid one.

Little Big Workshop - At first glance I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Little Big Workshop, with its somewhat cute little characters tackling the task of turning resources into product. However, given a little time and experience I came to understand some of my confusion laid with the fact that I’ve simply never played anything quite like it. More casual than a typical production strategy title but with more of a puzzle-like element than your typical sim, Little Big Workshop just sort of does its own thing in between and can be refreshing. With a little time management here, a little production line optimization there, and some sprinkles of inspiration you’ll be cranking out increasingly impressive products in no time, and without many of the overhead headaches and financial pitfalls you’d typically find in this sort of simulation. If you like to lay out plans and then watch them executed to fruition this may be one to check out!

Warsaw - There’s an added level of interest and thrill to engage in games with at least some rough historical basis. That’s very much the case with Warsaw, with you commanding a ragtag Resistance group trying to navigate survival while being caught in the middle of a city torn by war. With a mix of events with some historical basis and random encounters there’s a story to be told but not quite a linear one, and surprises can be helpful as well as detrimental to your cause so you’ll always want to exercise some caution approaching every engagement. Combat, in particular the effective use of and dealing with cover, I found to be a bit more difficult to understand, even having played numerous turn-based tactical combat games before. You’ll probably just need to experiment a bit to grasp how best to deal with it, I don’t consider it generally intuitive and the explanations in-game felt incomplete. Still, if you’re willing to dig in and are looking for a challenge intermixed with some historical basis it’s an interesting and even enlightening experience.

MindSeize - While for quite some time on the Switch Metroidvania offerings were a bit scarce in total number and variety a few years down the line things have changed and the bar raised. While the light sci-fi story trappings and unique creatures you’ll contend with in MindSeize are notable to a degree there’s just an essence to the experience that feels dated, and whether that’s because the goal was to deliver a more retro feel or just a function of the overall level design and gameplay I can’t say for sure. There’s a lack of fluidity and versatility in your main character, with everything feeling a bit too stilted among much more dynamic and precise titles that are out there in a comparable space. If the look and feel of a previous time appeal to you it’s possible the throwback overall feel could be a selling point though.

Warborn - Given the perpetual call for the return of the Advance Wars series and the general excitement people have for games involving hulking mechs in theory Warborn is a solid combination of elements for success. In practice, unfortunately, while it has some of the looks and presentation down it’s sorely lacking when it comes to innovation, excitement, or compelling reasons to slog it out through its 40-ish missions. It all just ultimately feels very generic and plain, from your units to your combat options to, most of all, the quickly repetitive and dull combat animations. While none of the other Advance Wars contenders on the Switch have necessarily been perfect I’d consider the rest of the pack a step ahead of this one.

Thursday, October 1

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

Projection: First Light  [Nindie Choice!]
- I’ll admit that simply seeing this game for the first time I pretty well fell in love, completely digging the unusual aesthetics and the promise of creative puzzle platforming it showed. In execution, for the most part, Projection really delivers on its potential and represents a unique experience as a result. Wrapped in a story that’s honestly a bit odd, and yet entertaining, you play as quite the troublemaker who is drawn to a special butterfly and after a series of pretty silly but calamitous events finds herself in an old shadow theater and in the presence of some strange people in wonderfully ornate dress. Since there’s no dialogue of any kind these folks did often seem odd, but I ran with it nonetheless. The mechanics you’ll be playing with generally involve your ability to independently control a light source with the right stick, with the goal usually being to cast shadows using objects in the environment your character can stand on to use to get where she needs to go. While there are easier obvious ways to go with some effort, and perhaps using an object put in the right spot, what I loved was an ability to reach new out of the way places, really challenging me to experiment and often use more advanced techniques with some precision. Due to the extremely dynamic nature of the light and shadow things can at times get a little wonky and feel inconsistent, but since you’re in control of a light source that can be put anywhere I don’t see how this could have been avoided either. It’s absolutely one of the most creative puzzle platformers I’ve played in quite some time, making a beautiful title also a refreshingly unique one.

Alwa’s Legacy [Nindie Choice!] - Games that aspire to capture the look and feel of earlier eras can be a mixed bag, but when executed well can be quite a treat. Alwa’s Awakening was a rock solid entry in that vein, providing a challenge and plenty of great puzzles and boss fights with a vintage 8-bit look. With Legacy we’ve now moved into the 16-bit era and an overall look that’s appropriately far more vibrant and genuinely beautiful in places. With a small collection of spells you’ll acquire relatively quickly the game will challenge you to make smart use of them, both for conquering what can sometimes be tricky puzzles and platforming challenges (especially if you want to grab everything) and taking on some tough bosses as well. I would say more often than in most games I got into dead ends where I needed to more quickly understand I wasn’t meant to try to complete that area just yet, but some of that is due to a style of defying the obvious path. While sharing a whole lot of DNA functionally with its predecessor Alwa’s Awakening, Legacy ups the ante with a terrific 16-bit makeover and some new and worthy challenges.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 - Ever since the original title in the series way back in the day I’ve been a big RCT fan. While management games like this aren’t always very creative or fun (looking at a variety of theme park managers over the years, including a few duds on Switch), for the most part the proper titles in this franchise (not the terrible mobile-ized ruined ones) have been a treat. Everything about the game on the PC is here, including laying out and tweaking every detail of your rides and attractions, plotting out your research plans, managing your personnel, monitoring your guests to see what’s working and not, laying down scenery and theming to make things special, and best of all creating some truly wild and outstanding rollercoasters. The one big issue is that there’s no getting around doing all of that is pretty cumbersome with console controls. To the credit of the development team the radial menus and control scheme in general works well, though it does have a bit of an initial learning curve. Just competing against a mouse and especially a keyboard altering things like names or getting into deeper menus just takes far more time. Throw in the need to fight a bit too much with the camera in critical spots like during coaster construction and it’s hard to ignore some of the shortcomings in the control implementation. If you don’t have access to a PC that can play the game be assured, the depth of play here is 100% intact and absolutely worthwhile, just be ready to work for it a bit harder than you would where the game was designed to work first.

Hot Shot Burn - Promising some “hot” multiplayer shooting action, to its credit Burn doesn’t lack in personality. With a handful of characters to choose from (quite a few requiring an unlock) that differ not just in their look but also weapon and special it also manages to do a better job of differentiating characters than most that just go with aesthetics. Play is in relatively small and simple arenas, though they do have some variety and special attributes in some cases to make things interesting. Where it comes to control I was really hoping for a twin-stick setup to make aiming independent of movement but unfortunately (probably to make single joycon play viable) it’s single stick, which has that tendency to make the action a bit janky at times as you’re trying to evade and shoot somehow at the same time. As this type of game goes I’d say it’s at least above average but while you can go it solo against bots this is simply a multiplayer game through and through, and its longevity is dependent on what you and your friends (or, if you’re lucky and able to scare up some random competition on online) may be looking for.

Nubarron: The Adventure of an Unlucky Gnome - Trying to make a puzzle platformer a success on the Switch has become a bit of a challenge given the thick library already available in the genre. Nubarron takes a decent stab at making a splash with a cute character, lush setting, and some decent (though perhaps uninspired) puzzle action. However, not far into the game I started noticing a general sluggishness in the controls and gameplay, despite there honestly not being much to the game visually. It unfortunately got worse with my jump sometimes not responding at all, and being mindful of the fact I regularly play super-quick action games where precision is everything I can confirm it is in no way related to my trusty Pro controller. Closing the game down and returning seemed to improve matters briefly but once I was sensitive to the issue responsiveness continued to be a persistent problem and concern. Perhaps a patch can remedy this issue but in its current state I can’t recommend the game.

Tuesday, September 29

Mini Reviews: September 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw [Nindie Choice!] -
As an old school fan of the Wing Commander series I’m always excited to take on any new space sim promising dogfights, exploration, and excitement. Typically new attempts at the genre have a tendency to be incomplete in some way, lacking in their combat, coming up short in terms of an overarching story, or just not putting together all of the pieces in a thoroughly satisfying way. While not without its faults in a few areas I’d say anyone looking for that nostalgic sort of experience with Wing Commander vibes (well, specifically Privateer), or simply someone who enjoys a well-made space sim with RPG-like elements and some actual story will likely dig the hell out of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Starting out from extremely humble beginnings, flying what essentially looks like a space garbage truck, you’ll take on missions that offer some variety from hauling cargo to clearing out bogeys to perhaps going on the shadier side of the law. What you choose will carry some consequences in terms of where you’ll be able to fly or land so don’t take that decision lightly. One of the game’s downsides is that it can get to be a grind, working simpler missions to buy new ships or gear, and that can make for some repetition. Don’t worry, if you try to tackle anything outside of what you’re capable of the game will quickly and almost rudely tell you so as you’ll get blown to bits. Combat can be intense, but I think the left shoulder button which essentially allows you to let your ship fly itself to pursue a target is the key to it all remaining fun. You’ll often be taking on numerous enemies at once, so letting the ship keep pace while periodically dodging and fine-tuning your aiming to maximize damage is more practical than trying to do it all yourself. Feel free to try to do it all yourself but pretty quickly I found its use invaluable to staying alive. With a great deal of freedom, choice, and trouble to get into Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is probably the best overall package of a space sim on the system, delivering both rewarding combat and a story with characters that helps to knit everything together.

Jet Set Knights - This is absolutely one of those titles that sort of shows up out of the woodwork and gives you a pleasant surprise… at least if you’re an old-school arcade aficionado like I am and can appreciate the simple but effective gameplay. Your goal is simply to protect the queen (princess?) who is at the bottom center of the on-screen castle using whatever means are available to you. Starting only with a trusty sword you’ll get the opportunity to use several weapons and abilities, some of which are even very powerful, in order to hold off a steady flow of enemies who would do her harm. I do wish there was at least some more minimal instruction initially as item icons and some other aspects require some trial and error to understand for their proper use, but since there’s simply not that much to it I suppose it doesn’t take that long to get the hang of things. Since what you get varies each time through you’ll need to simply be ready to improvise and do your best to survive through wave after wave. It’s not going to change the world but it honestly feels like it could have been a contemporary of some classic arcade games back in the day, which is admirable.

CastleStorm 2 - While the original CastleStorm had an old school sort of appeal the best thing about the sequel is the increased ambition to provide a more varied experience. Whether or not it worked out and made the game more enjoyable is probably arguable unfortunately, as the new strategic territorial control aspects of the game could be argued to simply detract from the action focus while not clearly adding tangible benefit. The thing is, I could see people going either way appreciating the changes or disliking them so perhaps that’s a wash. What I would say though, regardless, is that the added need to move through screens and options which require you to use a cursor you move around the screen rather than having the experience optimized more for consoles, is a bummer. The new strategic aspects unfortunately require hitting these screens quite often and not only are the controls for this simply cumbersome, I’d say the interface can be a little tricky conceptually in places as well. It certainly still has a fighting spirit, and setting up your defenses and then tackling foes in a variety of ways made available to you can be fun, but whether or not it’s a major improvement over the original would be a fair question.

Unrailed! - While new and different ways to play are always an exciting thing in principle, how they work out in practice isn’t always quite so great. I’d consider Unrailed a pretty good example of this, working out as a sort of railroad survival game in a way, with you needing to clear ground and build the elements of a track to keep a train moving and from blowing up. Since everything is done pretty well manually, with you needing to chop down trees or mine in order to get the resources you need to build materials like track, there’s a mix of planning and time management that needs to come into play to be successful. If you’re able to play it with some other folks, whether locally or online, this can work out reasonably enough with people falling into roles and working collectively towards success. Solo? Not so much. You do have the ability to dictate tasks to a helper robot who is actually pretty quick and efficient at doing work. The problem is you’ll need to focus on keeping it busy often to the point where you don’t do much more, which then sort of detracts from the satisfaction of collecting materials and doing work. It’s not a bad game necessarily, but it isn’t going to be for everyone by any means.

Worm Jazz - There’s nothing wrong with a decent casual-ish game to provide some challenge while also letting you unwind. In the case of Worm Jazz the soothing background music sets that stage, and it’s good that it’s there since the challenge here is more than you’d expect. While in principle its base is the classic Snake game, new mechanics continue to be added that make it far more tricky and contemplative if you’re determined to get all 3 stars on every stage. I’m not sure whether there’s a significant crowd looking for this kind of experience but if you’re looking for a puzzler that will throw some new and unusual challenges at you while soothing jazz plays on in the background it’ll fit the bill nicely.

Thursday, September 24

Mini Reviews: September 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Hades [Nindie Choice!] -
OK, so I’ll admit the folks at Supergiant Games (behind the favorites Bastion and Transistor in particular) had me with the fact that they decided to make a roguelike to begin with. But, pedigree doesn’t always mean a home run (sadly, looking at you Exit the Gungeon) so I’ll admit that despite how great this game looked I was nervous as it loaded up. Given that the bar for roguelike excellence is Dead Cells, with all of its amazing action and variety, making a big splash in this territory takes some real skill. Damn, as if their past titles weren’t clear enough, Hades locks Supergiant Games in as a real force to be reckoned with, and that’s all the way up to the AAA developers. Hades is smart and stylish, fast and fluid, tough and tense… and in general among roguelikes the surprise is that I’d also consider it very approachable, even from the get-go, for anyone with some familiarity with action titles. Where it really takes things to the next level is that it starts with the rock-solid core of several well-designed weapons, each with their own base style, but then through divine enhancements and other means of modification you unlock as you go each run can feel radically different. You can enhance each skill a little or go deep in one discipline, both approaches are valid and can give you a lot of power if you can keep moving and alive. What I love is that while the range of ways you can play is reminiscent of the likes of Dead Cells the systems in this game still feel very fresh and unique. Throw in stellar voice work, more mythological figures than you can shake a stick at, and a truckload of inherent replayability that comes with any good roguelike and this is one of the top games on the system.

Embracelet [Nindie Choice!] - This, for me, is one of those titles where it’s hard to articulate why I’m so taken in by it. With its low-poly look, its somewhat sparse landscapes (though perhaps such an island would be roughly that way, granted), and its riff on traditional point-and-click adventuring on paper it could just seem nice, but perhaps not great either. However, throw in a story that I found unusual and engaging, and it works better than the sum of those parts may imply. Early on you inherit a relic from your grandfather with the power to control objects, and learn that there was an accident at his hands when he was younger using it, causing him a degree of pain and regret. Your journey ends up being to go back to the island he grew up on, learn more about him and his past, and perhaps to understand where the relic came from and what should be done with it. There are quite a number of deeply emotional adventures on the Switch already, many of which are excellent in their own right, but there’s a different tugging I found this journey to have on me with different themes and a different approach. Mix in the fact that many of the puzzles felt pretty natural and yet unusual in some cases and I enjoyed this unassuming adventure title thoroughly.

Lost Ember - Games that dare to be different are always a bit of a risk. With its focus on beauty and serenity, leaving you to take everything in and explore rather than driving you towards hard objectives, Lost Ember definitely falls into that space. The best element of this game is its aspect of discovery as you move from creature to creature periodically in order to help progress, explore the environment more fully, or even hunt down collectibles. There’s a certain thrill and joy at times when you see a new species you’re able to inhabit, knowing that means you’ll get to see and interact with the world in a new way. The story that compliments this exploration is at least interesting, and also helps to preserve your interest to keep pushing on. While I don’t doubt there’ll be an audience for this, looking for a more quiet sort of adventure, I’d note that aside from the collectibles that you can hunt down (which really don’t add anything to the experience aside from being there to grab) it’s a pretty slight overall experience, lacking the richness of some similarly visually-impressive narratives in the same vein. If you’re looking to relax and unwind a bit with nature it may be a great fit though.

Great Conqueror: Rome - City-building games, where you’ll work to conquer the world through a mix of smart growth and careful management of your resources, are a staple of the strategy genre. Taking many elements from that, but wrapping everything up with much more of an overall battle-driven focus, you have Great Conqueror: Rome. If you’re expecting an experience like you’re used to you’ll likely be a bit thrown by it, the depth of your options is limited here, with everything ultimately revolving around the support of your armies. The return on what you lose in exchange is a wider variety of options for units and how they can be supported, and combining that with the many factions and the tendency for the map to be in pretty regular disarray with combat taking place can make for some excitement. I’d say the biggest letdown is just that there seems to be an expectation that you’ll just understand what needs to be done amid the chaos when you’re given objectives. You can work out what needs to be done through trial and error, exploring your options for development and then learning (often the hard way) which combinations of units are suited to which types of warfare. If you’re willing to invest some time and effort into the intricacy this should be a reasonably good time, but if a slow burn for enjoyment doesn’t sound like a great idea you’ll likely want to pass on this one.

GORSD - This is one of those titles where it’s hard to put together your thoughts in a way people who haven’t played it will quite understand. First of all, its visuals and overall style would best be characterized as bizarre or unique… I’m not sure what the developers were tripping on but it must be pretty good. That aspect made me laugh a bit and it helps make the game a bit memorable. When it comes to gameplay I’d say it’s a very take-it-or-leave-it proposition, but for most it likely won’t linger in people’s minds as long as the unusual visuals in the single-player mode. Borrowing mechanics similar to arcade classics like Qix and others your goal is to fill in the various interconnected lines on the screen with your color, controlling all of it in order to win. Depending on the mode your challenge will either be dealing with opponents, the clock, or a few variations. You’re armed with a single bullet, which you can make go around corners to help, and mastery of the mechanics around this are crucial to success and can be tricky to get used to as you try to control it while continuing to move yourself. Multiplayer matches have a tendency to be quick and intense. It’s a neat overall idea, wrapped in an odd package, but its simplicity and challenge will make for a more limited audience who’ll enjoy it.