Thursday, August 6

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

Sentinels of Freedom [Nindie Choice!] - While the Switch has been enjoying a fair selection of quality turn-based strategy games more recently, there’s nothing out there quite like Sentinels of Freedom. Most obviously the fact that it involves you controlling a group of superheroes who are determined to defeat evildoers big and small is thematically different, but the fact that you’re able to construct your own custom hero in terms of aesthetics and powers really ups the ante and stands apart from most of the competition in the space. Now, I may have a weakness for the title since it makes me nostalgic for a very similar game from years ago on PC called Freedom Force, but I think the effort here is sufficient that this game can stand proudly on its own merits, something that doesn’t always happen. What makes it fun is the comic book style of art, some of the silliness that comes along with the heroes versus villains cheesy dialogue, and the variety offered by how you construct your hero. With experimentation comes an element of the unexpected, and I don’t doubt that some combinations will work better than others, but being able to put your own stamp on a hero for me is a great creative touch that easily got me invested. In terms of downsides I’d say the typical mission can be a bit overlong, with the game simply throwing waves of enemies at you at times, paired with the fact that sometimes the specifics of what you need to do aren’t maybe as clear as they should be. Still, even with its faults there’s an energy and spirit to the game I appreciate and if you’re patient with its shortcomings there’s a lot of fun to be had with it.


Cruel Bands Career - Talk about a surprise of a game I’d never heard of and that plays in a way I never would have quite expected. Cruel Bands Career is, at the core, a puzzle action game but between its presentation, characters, and general feel it comes across as utterly unique. Your goal is to face groupies, angry dads, and a small collection of additional special characters with a variety of rules around them as your band performs. All of the action is lane-based, and at the point a character gets to the stage they’ll interact positively or negatively with whichever rocker is in that lane at the time. The rules start out somewhat simply, with you needing to shift everyone’s position in order to keep everyone’s health up, but the challenge ramps up quickly with more special characters and rules that make the action get pretty hectic. Special abilities, items, keeping track of different status effects and what they mean, with the rate the crowd just keeps coming it gets to be a bit crazy. Depending on your level of determination and love for games that are just a bit off-center and challenging this could absolutely be a home run, but I see this being one of those love/hate sort of titles that isn’t for everyone. Still, I appreciate its creativity and willingness to just do its own weird thing.


Skully - Maybe it’s just me but this just feels like the year of the skeleton game with a few that have already come out and a few more on the horizon. One positive is that I can’t say any of the others I’ve seen or played are quite like Skully. While not all of the action revolves around you rolling your skull around while trying to avoid falling in the water that will constitute a fair amount of the initial action, and if you want to see the point where things get more fun you’ll need to just get through it. As you progress you’ll have the ability to inhabit a few different forms temporarily that will help you get through obstacles and then eventually puzzles, expanding the game from more simple general platforming to a more satisfying mix of puzzle-solving and jumping that is far more engaging. I’d note the fact that in places the game’s camera can be another obstacle to enjoyment, getting stuck or just not really offering a great view of what you need to do in certain circumstances but with platformers that’s not always much of a surprise, even in bigger titles. All in all if you’ve been looking for a different sort of almost retro-feeling 3D platformer Skully should satisfy, just be ready for periodic spots where it comes up short.


Instant Sports Summer Games - OK, so I’m a huge fan of multi-event Olympic-style titles, I have been since the classic days of the Epyx Summer Games series that spanned multiple platforms and had all sorts of funky iterations. In the case of the Instant Sports take on those classics the idea is pretty much to marry those types of varied events with waggle-riffic motion controls ala Wii Sports. The result is a bit all over the place, with some events like Archery at least being interesting and track events that are sometimes the bane of my existence are handled with some care. Other events like Kayaking are a bit on the wonky side, like Baseball are downright too simplistic, and like the Javelin throw just mechanically aren’t very well explained and take some work to appreciate. Put it all together with a menu system and interface that are clunky to say the least and while I’ve certainly played worse compilations of this kind it’s not going to give any Triple-A titles a run for their money and you should exercise caution in getting your hopes up for this being a roaring success for you and your friends to enjoy.


Frontline Zed - There was a time, long ago, when budget games with somewhat iffy gameplay could enjoy some success with people taking a chance on a bargain. Back then titles like Frontline Zed may have deserved some modest success. Now though? Truly, even if on a week-to-week basis terrific new budget titles may not be showing up there’s a substantial backlog of games for under $10 (even before sales) that just about any gamer should enjoy and get some quality play out of. Frontline Zed dangles the carrot of shooting zombies, but it’s honestly in about the least accurate and engaging way possible. You’re defending a modest barrier against successive waves of zombies, initially alone and armed with a pretty crappy pistol but with success you’ll be able to move to new areas as well as explore the existing ones in hopes of finding other survivors (who are generally just shy of worthless IMHO) or some better weaponry. Now lather, rinse, and repeat. There’s some modest room for strategy, trying to angle your shots so you have more than one potential target in your bullet’s path, but in general it’s a dull slog that isn’t likely to engage you for very long if much at all.

Tuesday, August 4

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


Nowhere Prophet [Nindie Choice!] - In the last generation I’ve been surprised to see the deck-building strategy genre not only move from the fringes into the mainstream on the back of titles like Slay the Spire or the more casual SteamWorld Quest, but also continue to find ways to crank up their associated degree of challenge. While the frustration that tends to come hand in hand with that is sure to turn a portion of the audience away, for everyone else it tends to lead to deeper and more satisfying play. That’s what has happened with Nowhere Prophet, a roguelike strategy deck-builder that stacks more potential for failure onto you than normal as an additional layer of risk and reward comes into play. Your units who fall will still be able to be used, as a bonus even at a lower action point cost, but if they fall a second time they’re gone for good. This absolutely throws a wrench into your plans at times, but when the planets align it also opens the door to decisive wins if you can capitalize on hurt units while minimizing your opponent’s ability to punish you for it. As always there will undoubtedly be quite a bit of initial grinding as you get accustomed to the nuances of the game’s strategy, and its sometimes devastating consequences, but since you’ll be earning new cards you’ll need as you go your progress tends to turn around pretty quickly once everything clicks. Sure, you’ll curse the RNG gods at times for their cruelty, but that makes the satisfaction of success all the more sweet.


Home Sheep Home [Nindie Choice] - OK, so charming and clever puzzle games that work as well solo as when playing with others are covered pretty well on the Switch, as are cute and fun multiplayer mini game collections… but usually games don’t necessarily do both well. Home Sheep Home, with its very cute Aardman Animations drawn characters, may be a budget title but has a degree of care and polish that feels like a real bargain. In the game’s main puzzle-solving mode you’ll be in control of 3 sheep, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to control together with friends or cycling through them on your own to solve a series of clever puzzles. While some core mechanics are always in play, usually centering on making the most of their individual abilities, the variety in these brain teasers really keeps the experience from falling into any sort of rut, and it really makes the experience fun to pick up and put down while giving you a compelling reason to return for more. Though perhaps the additional multiplayer mini games aren’t a revolution but considering they’re just icing on the cake I was surprised to find them more enjoyable than the typical Switch local multiplayer fare as well. Overall, for the very reasonable price of admission, this is a well-made and refined combo of a game that should provide plenty of entertainment for its modest price tag.


Escape Game Fort Boyard - Mini-game collections tend to be a hot or cold affair, with titles falling somewhere in the middle being the rarity. Every once in a while there’ll be a breakout title like (some of) the Mario Party series or a few others but mostly the genre is filled with what amounts to little more than shovelware quickly disposable fare. While it is hardly without faults Escape Game actually manages to get some things right though, and if you’re able to be patient with it you and a group of your friends or family may get some enjoyment out of it. What I appreciate most about it is the concept behind its format, you visiting fort in search of treasure and trying to avoid some peril as well by managing success in a series of mini games. I don’t know, after enduring too many bad board games or no connective tissue between games at all it’s a nice change of pace. What doesn’t work so well are the delays in the action as the game continues to take time to load cutscenes that don’t offer too much value for the time they burn, especially for people playing for more than the first time. What is firmly in the middle is the quality of the mini games themselves, some of which can be some fun and require some skill and others that don’t control well, are poorly defined, or just aren’t very fun to participate in. The result is an experience that has some downsides but offers up enough bright spots that if you’re looking for something to enjoy with friends or family it may be enough to satisfy everyone for a little while.


Nicole - If you’ve read my reviews before you’ll likely know that visual novels tend to tax my patience after a short while when I feel like there’s no “game” to be had, just scrolling through text with some art and being bored. Nicole, to its credit, does manage to mix in a bit of time management to make things a bit more engaging and give the person playing it some agency, so that at least makes a positive impression. The fact that you’re able to slowly attempt to move yourself in a variety of directions, investigating, just partying I suppose, or trying to cultivate relationships in the midst of an on-campus string of violence also allows for the stakes to be raised a little bit and provide a backdrop to make you look at any potential people you meet with a hint of skepticism as they could potentially be up to no good. While it isn’t quite engrossing I’ll give Nicole credit as being more “game” than the majority of its contemporaries, at least making it somewhat notable.


Clan N - With so much variety out there on the Switch at this point it’s hard to make a splash with games that are, at best, pebbles when you’ve got other folks dropping boulders. Clan N is most definitely a victim of this, offering a very pulled back sort of beat-em-up that gets repetitive quickly and lacks most anything to feel enthusiastic about when the genre has so many titles that are far better, even in the budget price range. You can pick one of 4 characters who themselves offer a little variety between them but aside from a few combos you can experiment with once you lock into your choice you’ll just be doing the same things a lot, granted needing to deal with a modest amount of enemy variety to switch up your tactics, and just grinding your way through. There’s just really nothing that makes a compelling argument for your eShop bucks in this package.

Friday, July 31

Mini Reviews: July 31st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Dodo Peak [Nindie Choice!] - There’s nothing I enjoy more with indies than games that defy expectation. At first glance Dodo Peak looks like a pretty straight-forward action puzzle game that’s just going to be cute and somewhat benign. Oh, but how deceptive it is. While not everyone may be as much of an arcade nerd as I am what I appreciate the most about the game is its mix of elements from a few different games. While everyone I’ve seen has been keen to mention Q*Bert, which you can absolutely see bits of, the deep cut here is a less-known game called Flicky. The fact that the eggs you collect trail you and you’ll need to be mindful of them (even as there get to be more and more of them) when they’re in danger really cranks up the challenge and planning that will be required. You can’t just squeak yourself through a tough spot, you’ll need every member of your brood in tow to make it as well so that’s where planning will need to come in as well. While in the early going your ideal route is relatively simple, and possibly even outright dictated, the further you go the more things open up and you’ll need to contemplate how best to proceed. While it is by no means a massive game the budget price, polished presentation, and mix of multiple arcade classics as well as modern sensibilities really make it stand out from the crowd in the eShop.


Kingdom Rush [Nindie Choice!] - While one of the sequels in the series has already been released on the system (Frontiers), the OG Kingdom Rush has now arrived on the Switch. For the uninitiated, this is really what I’d consider to be one of the best examples of great games to emerge from mobile platforms, pretty well defining how to make an engaging tower defense game that’s smart, challenging, and even throws in some humor. The stages are generally well-designed, the enemy units you’ll face are varied, and you’ll be pushed to develop strategies to address specific units and bosses that will show up on some levels, forcing you to often abandon your well-worn default plans or at least play enough to upgrade those tower types so they’ll be more effective. While I’d still consider touchscreen play to be your best bet, the console controls in docked mode are still generally effective, just when things get tense you may struggle to highlight the proper spot at times. For the budget price this game delivers a truckload of great content that’s battle-worn and has been refined over time, making it an easy choice for strategy fans if you’ve not already picked it up on other platforms already.


Fairy Tail - It’s always both fascinating and a bit head scratch-inducing for me to play titles based on existing anime properties. Especially with its tendency towards visual flair, wild personalities, and pretty obvious depth of lore being thrown around even in the early stages of this JRPG newcomers are likely to feel a bit lost if understanding what’s going on is the goal. However, if you’re either an existing fan or simply go limp and determine yourself to enjoy the ride Fairy Tale delivers pretty handsomely in terms of action and excitement. Battles have a very cinematic quality, helping to liven up what for me can too often get to be a chore over time. While it doesn’t have a heavy tactics edge to it there is definitely an element of strategy in how you approach combat, develop your characters, and refine your party… so it should please people looking for some depth while not overwhelming those who are just in it for some fun. Overall, the experience is quite polished and shows a lot of care, just depending on your exposure to the anime or openness to just running with all of the craziness you may or may not find it’s for you.


Lost Wing - Feeling somewhere between a racing game and an endless runner, Lost Wing is at least unique. Your objective is to race through corridors, avoid obstacles and traps, try to keep things together when the game decides you’ve been doing too well and turns everything upside down, and make it to the finish line. Success will bring you access to some different craft and cosmetics but mostly new tracks and variant challenges that do tweak what you’ll specifically be focused on, but generally maintaining an emphasis on speed and your ability to jump, dodge, and weave your way to victory. If you’re a fan of arcade-like challenges that will keep pushing you to persevere in the face of repeated failures you may find the experience to your liking, but if you were thinking this would either be a racer ala WipeOut or one of its contemporaries you will likely be sorely disappointed.


Tiny Racer - If someone to ask which genre on the Switch has been plagued with the most misfires and general mediocrity I’d unfortunately need to say it is racers. Sure, there are some highpoints like Mario Kart and even a few indies that are notable like Horizon Chase Turbo, but there are many piled up to the side of the road in a broken heap of lackluster play. While fans of the old Micro Machines titles may have had their hopes up for Tiny Racer capturing some of that same spirit I’m here to bring the bad news that it comes up substantially short of that mark. Plagued by loose controls, uninspired play, and an inexplicable lack of support for Pro Controllers (at this point in the system’s lifecycle that’s very unusual) Tiny Racer does allow you to race around some tracks against other vehicles but there’s just not much to love anywhere to be found.

Thursday, July 30

Mini Reviews: July 30th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Crysis Remastered - While I wouldn’t say that Crysis is at the absolute upper echelon of FPS titles it certainly has its adherents. In particular, at the time it was released it was notable for its ambition and resource-draining outdoor environments that were a major departure from the typical enclosed corridors people were used to. The fact that the remastered version of it is up and running on the Switch, and quite well mind you, is absolutely an impressive technical achievement and even in handheld mode when we’ve come to expect some stuttering and sputtering this port manages to be respectable even if not particularly ideal. Probably my biggest struggle with the game is visibility, an issue I even had playing when docked but at times making for misery when played portably. One downside of foliage everywhere is that there’s plenty of cover to hide your enemies, most of which are wearing uniforms that themselves lend to helping people disappear in the distance, and sometimes even when they’re practically on top of you. Contrast that with it often feeling like every enemy has the eyes of a hawk and will spot you and begin shooting even while you’re struggling to isolate their position and there are passages that can be very frustrating indeed. Still, once you’ve become accustomed to your power suit, and how it can amp up your armor or stealth abilities, you’ll probably find it more often than not makes for an experience that’s just plain different (for better or worse) than your average shooter and that’s capable of satisfying a wider audience than mere FPS genre fans.


Ageless - New and smart ideas on how to juice up all-to-familiar core gameplay are a mainstay of the indie gaming movement. Ageless, while its presentation is a bit on the simple and pixelated side, manages to stand out primarily because of its smart time manipulation hook, and that helps to elevate what otherwise would have felt like a generic puzzle platformer into something more worthy of your attention and praise. Granted, though I appreciate the obvious effort to create a great game experience, I would be remiss not to note that it also has some shortcomings. Though the controls work well enough there’s also something cumbersome about the combinations of buttons you’ll find yourself needing to use, and I can’t say they ever quite felt natural. Even a minor hesitation or fumbling over buttons too often results in areas and puzzles where you’ll know what you want and need to do but will find it’s hard to put it together. In others, especially as you’re still learning how best to utilize some of your abilities, the problem can be with leaps of faith the game is thinking you’ll make in terms of using what you have at your disposal in new ways in order to proceed. The concept and some of the puzzles are a great challenge, and the game has plenty going for it, but there’s just a lack of polish and refinement that’s hard to miss and may keep it from reaching the more mainstream success of some of its contemporaries.


Heroes of Hammerwatch - This is a title that has me feeling a bit torn. On the plus side anyone familiar with the likes of the classic Gauntlet series will no doubt immediately grasp the play experience, which is a very arcade-y action RPG core, with you hunting through dungeons and trying to grab all the loot you can before meeting your demise at the hands of varied monsters and lethal traps. On a positive note this edition also has a major leg up on its predecessor since it offers a load of content, which should lead to many more hours of enjoyment either solo, or hooking up with others online (for now there's no local option). Your class options do have some diversity to them, especially depending on the upgrade paths you choose, and that should also provide more incentive to attack the game more than once. All of that said, to me there’s something a bit encumbered about the experience and pacing when you get back to town and I wish it could have been a bit more streamlined to get me into the action quicker and staying in it a bit longer. If you’re down for steady-but-grindy level-building fun this is a great and fairly-priced option in terms of content, but given the competitors in the space I’m not sure it clearly stands out at the top of the pack either since it doesn’t really embrace either classic arcade simplicity or satisfyingly-deep systems, instead scouting out a more muddled and generic middle ground.


Cubers: Arena - While there are plenty of twin-stick shooters and beat-em-ups on the system I can’t say that there are many that work as a sort of hybrid of the two. With top-down 360 degree slashing action there’s a certain simple-but-satisfying feel to the arena fights of Cubers. As you progress your foes and the traps you’ll face will get trickier to deal with, but the good news is that a steady stream of new equipment and upgrades will also provide you with some options on how to play, whether favoring all-out aggressive offense, block-and-counter strategy, or some other variant in between. As you progress in the campaign more and more goodies like additional multiplayer modes will unlock, affording you more opportunities for challenges and fun with your friends as well. While it doesn’t quite get to the level of being amazing, to its credit the action it does offer up is fun in a grindy sort of way and regular upgrades help entice you to play another round or two to find out what may be next and how it could shake up your strategy and play to keep things a bit more fresh.


Cubicity - Puzzle games are a dime a dozen (or perhaps even more than that) on the Switch, so it’s important to offer up something distinct to bubble up when people go hunting for some fun. While Cubicity absolutely nails the cute factor, making it sure to grab some eyes that way, in terms of gameplay it may be a bit too familiar in many ways, essentially working as a box-pushing game even if the presentation tries to give it a different feel. In general it’s a fine experience, though I will say that the white indicator arrow helping you track which “boximal” you’re looking to work on is really damned hard to make out when it happens to be laying over a cloud and that happens more than I wish it would. This isn’t a complete killer problem but along with some other quibbles the game feels like it could use more polish as a whole. Overall it’s fine, and may tickle your fancy, but it’s not breaking any new ground by any means.

Tuesday, July 28

Mini Reviews: July 28th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Quiplash [Nindie Choice!] - I’m so pleased that Jackbox Games has decided to release my absolute favorite game of theirs as a stand-alone title now on Switch. I’ve been a huge fan of this series (it has already gotten one sequel, and a third will be a part of their next Party Pack as well) since the get-go, mainly because it’s a game ripe with opportunity for hilarity. Players will be paired with one another randomly and given 2 prompts in each round, with the goal being to come up with the best answer that will make people laugh and vote for you. The more votes you get, the higher you’ll score, with a bonus if you’re able to snag all votes for yourself in a given round. On the adult end of the scale I’ve played this with groups back to back with Cards Against Humanity and even as notorious as that game is for laughs (only in card form, there’s currently no digital version on Switch) everyone agreed that Quiplash did a more consistent job of delivering the goods, and that’s likely because there are no limits on what your answer can be, aside from the level of taste the people you’re playing with may have. Current hot topics, known group history, even details from the current party or game may all come into play, it’s all a matter of how quickly you can pull together a clever answer that’s better than your opponent’s. With a very fair price, I’d consider the absolute best value of a party game on the eShop by far.


Fibbage XL - The third stand-alone title released by Jackbox Games outside of its Party Pack series (the first was Drawful, a while back, and the second was Quiplash), while Fibbage may not be my personal favorite party game series they’ve produced it’s still easy to see why its popular all-around. Mixing together funky trivia factoids with a test to see how convincingly you and your friends are able to deceive each other the goal is to come up with an answer to the question that’s plausible enough to draw suckers (I mean, votes) to your answer instead of the right one. If you’re able to then choose the correct answer without getting distracted by one of your opponents you can then rack up even more points. While lovers of obscure trivia may enjoy a bit of an unfair advantage this game can be a lot of fun, the only limitation it has is that eventually the facts will begin to repeat themselves more and more so long-term play with the same group will become less viable over time.



Aeolis Tournament - This is a title I originally got to try out at PAX and even after having the chance to play it more I’m still a bit torn on it. On the one hand I’d say that in general terms it fails to really pull away from a substantial pack of multiplayer games on Switch that support different competitive and co-op modes, this is ignoring the specifics of the pretty consistent and unique mechanics the game has though. That leads into what I’d consider a great strength it does have though, and that’s the ability to be enjoyed by gamers of just about any skill level and age. Granted, in very mixed company you’d want to stick to team games, but the collective effort to try to work together to knock a ball or puck into your opponents’ goal and score can really get people fired up. So depending on the audience I see this being a very different game. For anyone looking for action-packed intensity and skilled gaming it will be a bust, but for families looking for something anyone can feel like they’re contributing to for some fun it’s a great option that few titles on the Switch can match.


Epic Word Search Collection 2 - This is one of those titles that’s hard to judge well. It is precisely what it says it is, a collection of truly massive word searches that fall into a few different themes. The puzzles are so large you’ll be spending a fair amount of time just scrolling around, which will actually take you through multiple distinct puzzles. The one thing that’s absolutely smart about the game is that the word list dynamically updates as you move around, so as to keep you in tune with what you’re likely to see and keep you from trying to find a word and not realize you’ve scrolled it out of the screen. Probably the worst problem I had though was getting locked onto looking for one word and then getting distracted trying to find another and so on, then coming back to my senses I’d find a rash of words I’d been missing in the area. Still, if you want a time-wasting casual puzzler this has plenty of content.


Ubermosh: Black - Ooof, this one hits me right in the irritated for some reason. You’d think with it being a twin-stick arcade-style shooter with an additional ability to slash I’d be all about it but there’s no getting around how rough this overall experience is. The worst sin is that honestly the camera is too close to the action so you’re put at a significant disadvantage when trying to have any semblance of a plan as you roam around the arena trying to stay alive. Throw in there simply not being much to it and even the low-budget price fails to really save the experience… especially when the very similar and also budget-friendly Akane does everything so much better.

Friday, July 24

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


Dex - Harkening back to an earlier time, Dex is a side-scrolling cyberpunk RPG adventure that, at a minimum, feels refreshingly different on the system. With attractive art, a generally well-written script, and even reasonably-good voice acting it definitely tends to show the work that has been put in at least. Where the game suffers a bit is in the combat and hacking elements that at first feel novel but turn stale through sheer repetition without much evolution and what I’d consider a rough start where it felt like you are generally left to fend for yourself and fail a bit in order to learn the ropes. I’d consider the experience likely to satisfy someone looking for a cyberpunk-style fix or wanting a reasonably-good RPG with a more active battle system and some tough choices as you contemplate your upgrade paths. However, if your hope was for some engaging combat or real excitement it’s not quite up to that standard, and you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.


Max and the Book of Chaos - This is one of those titles that screams being up my alley, featuring some relatively arcade-style shooting action and excitement. Taking inspiration and even some visual flair from a variety of sources the oddity of Max right off the bat is that it doesn’t make a firm commitment to being a platform shooter (where you’re running and gunning sideways), a variant of the likes of Buster Brothers / Pang (where you exclusively shoot up), or perhaps what would have made the most sense as a twin-stick shooter. Instead it chooses its own hodge podge mix of it all and doesn’t work well because of that. Due to this fact the result really irked me honestly as the controls feel like they’re holding you back and so much of the time you’re being hurt or killed by what feel like cheap attacks paired with poor mechanics. In particular, enemies that will fall and unleash an attack that goes the length of the screen get tiresome, especially with the regularity with which they show up as you progress and how quickly lone ones will appear and fall. Throw in power-ups whose availability is too inconsistent and it makes the mistake of thinking that just making itself really hard is sufficient, failing to differentiate between gameplay that is challenging fun and just being joyless by merely being difficult for its own sake. With so many varied shooters on the Switch (including tough ones) that do a far better job this is definitely a miss.


Colloc - There’s nothing wrong with a decent and clever puzzle game that gets your mental gears working and to Colloc’s credit it is at least a little bit different than any other genre game I’ve played on Switch. The rules and their nuance take a bit of getting used to but once they click they do make sense and simply solving the puzzles then generally isn’t too difficult. What the game is really about is tackling each puzzle as efficiently as possible and completing them in the minimum number of moves. This may seem like a relatively simple matter but it is the fact that when more than one piece is present that your moves affect both in parallel that inevitably complicates things. It’s not a bad experience, though perhaps it feels wasted on dedicated gaming hardware, and if you’re not interested in pursuing perfection you’ll likely blow through it relatively quickly.


Jisei: The First Case - As has been the case with several other recent mildly-interactive visual novel outings on the Switch, Jisei will probably appeal to a thin audience that is pulled in by the overall story, but most people will want to keep moving. In this case the story involves a young man with a curious ability to experience the last moments of a person’s life and the trouble he finds himself in after encountering a woman murdered in a coffee shop bathroom. There’s a certain level of intrigue and quirk to the characters that may draw you in but just don’t expect much in the way of real depth or backstory to fill in some blanks on who this person is and what they’re about. My biggest issue is the simple lack of much to do other than read the text on screen and look at the art changing periodically as you mostly talk to the other characters and move the story along. Relatively short, the lack of many choices also means it won’t take too much to burn it out after a few tries if it would even happen to take that many. If you really want a story, it may suffice, but otherwise you’ll want to pass.


Waifu Uncovered - Whenever there is any doubt about whether or not Nintendo has really changed its ways over the years, a quick reflection on the presence of the likes of Waifu Uncovered is all you need to consider. With your goal being to “save” a collection of 8 different gals from clothing that has been infected by a deadly alien virus, it is obviously of utmost importance that every fiber of covering them must be obliterated. Aren’t you such a great guy to be so concerned with their lives that you’d undertake such a grave task? To its credit, though its arcade shooting action is a bit loose and on the generic side I’ve certainly played worse on the system, and the inclusion of all sorts of bizarre aliens and memes to shoot at adds an element of humor. Is it great? No. Will people on your friends list raise an eyebrow when they see you clocking serious time into it? Probably. But hey, if it sounds like a good time to you that’s your business.

Thursday, July 23

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


Carrion [Nindie Choice!] - While it’s great to play games or watch movies cheering on the brave heroes who fight and persevere against horrible monstrosities, admit it: Given the chance it would be a ton of fun to spend some time on the other side of the equation. Carrion offers up just that, the opportunity to take control (well, with its swarming and morphing form perhaps it should be “control”) of a horrible mutation of a creature who enjoys chomping down on some human flesh and ragdolling them around the room for laughs… and if you have a twisted streak like I do you’ll likely do a bit of that yourself as you splatter blood all over the walls. That core bit of fun was very present at PAX, as were some puzzle-solving aspects, but in the demo you couldn’t get a solid look at how the game would challenge you. The good news is that there are some clever puzzle elements offered up that will force you to consider the situation in front of you and make smart decisions. Armed guards with a variety of weapons won’t get taken out so easily, so some degree of stealth and using alternative paths may be in order, or perhaps throwing a crate (or better yet, a body) to distract them and allow you to strike from behind. Since the experience is so unique and quite engrossing it feels like it is over a bit too quickly, but I suppose I’d rather that happen than it wearing out its welcome. This is absolutely one of the most unique games I’ve played in quite some time and is highly recommended if you’ve ever dreamed of fully unleashing your dark side.


Starlit Adventures: Golden Stars [Nindie Choice!] - I love it when indie titles show up that I’ve never seen or heard of and they end up being a pleasant surprise. That’s precisely the case with Starlit Adventures, a game that looks almost too cute for its own good but quickly demonstrates it packs in some fun arcade-style play in akin to the likes of the classic Dig-Dug or Mr. Driller… but with some of its own flair as well. The gameplay is a mixture of puzzle and action as you dig your way down, trying to grab keys, coins, and stars as they appear as well as taking out enemies when necessary. While this as a base is pretty enjoyable what then livens things up a bit is that there’s also a pretty wide variety of gear you can choose to run levels in, giving you some quite a number of different perks that can be critical if your goal is to grab every star on every level. The mixture of classic play, some smart puzzling, a variety of fun surprises along the way, and a great (though perhaps a bit sickeningly cute) art style really made this game sneak up on me and made me a fan!


Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break - There’s nothing wrong with a little weirdness and quirk and I’ve been very pleased that the Switch has delivered quite a bit in that vein over its lifespan. One of the more successful funky series in terms of its longevity has been Rock Of Ages, historically featuring an unusual sort of first-person pinball / destruction derby experience all while serving up various bits of silliness to sweeten the deal. This third iteration comes to Switch packing in even more variety, as well as provisions for community-based fun, whether grabbing levels created by others, contributing yourself, or if you’re lucky maybe taking on some opponents head to head. The main campaign uses it’s humorous storyline to serve up all of the variety the game has to offer, moving between what are roughly races, more classic levels bent on destruction, and now even a tower defense variant. The variety is actually where the game stumbles a bit, as not only is the tower defense poorly explained, in general these stages just aren’t very interesting or fun by comparison, and the controls don’t really feel up to snuff either. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll likely have good reason to invest in another round but if you’re new to the series and may not be intrigued by the potential for community-made levels the previous iteration may be more appealing as a starting point at a more humble price.


Mittelborg: City of Mages - Games coming over from the mobile space and intended to be played on tablets with a touchscreen are often a bit hard to evaluate. While Mittelborg makes the attempt to allow for docked play using a control I’ll just cut to the chase, what was set up is cumbersome and pretty awful, as much as I don’t like using the controller to move a cursor I think it may have been better than this mix of using both sticks in different contexts mixed with buttons. You can figure it out but it’s pretty miserable. Once you get into the game itself I’m actually a bit surprised how little there is to it underneath the attractive and pretty grand presentation. You’ll need to decide where to allocate your very limited resources for every phase of colored “waves” your city will face. The goal is to use what you know about the waves, or even use some power to get clued in to know where best to use your wizards to try to weather attacks or capitalize on what opportunities you get. There’s something about the nature of it always feeling like a losing battle (you’re not stopping damage generally, just reducing the amount done) that really took the wind out of the experience for me. I suppose for strategy fans it may be a fresh approach but the lack of depth or more meaningful engagement on top of the poor controls in docked mode make it tough to get excited about.


Laraan - Sometimes there are games out there on Switch where you load them up and from the time you start playing your face takes on a sort of perplexed “Whaaa?” look until you stop. That’s where I land with Laraan, a title where there are obviously some attempts at lore around you but generally sticks to you running around in large spaces wondering where you’re going, why, and how this was necessarily intended to be “fun”. Sure, its low-poly look has some charm and the music gives everything a sort of epic feel but there’s simply not a lot to do or get excited about. Then, even when it throws you a bone with something a bit different the issues with the pretty wonky controls kick in, throwing water even on variety being fun. In the end this feels a bit like a class project that demonstrates a game can be made but there’s just nothing to make it compelling to play.

Wednesday, July 22

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


Panzer Paladin [Nindie Choice!] - While I have a great deal of nostalgia for the 8-bit era since I played a ton of games back in those days, going back can be a bit rough. While there’s an undeniable essence to many classics of that generation their gameplay typically hasn’t aged well. Indie titles looking to recapture that time often seem to struggle to find the balance, working to incorporate many vintage elements while marrying them with modern sensibilities… and the results have varied pretty wildly in all directions. Panzer Paladin, for me, stands out from this crowd quite a bit, not even loosely based on any firm precedent from the era I can think of and thus unburdened by expectations. The result is a game that absolutely respects the looks, sound, and many staples of 8-bit gaming and yet feels contemporary most critically in terms of its weapon variety and challenges. One element retro fans of the likes of the Blaster Master series will recognize is the smart inclusion of an ability to jump out of your mech and work on foot, leaving you vulnerable but still very capable (as I learned completing some boss fights with my mech ruined but determined with my whip to finish the job). The hunt for secret areas, weapons, and boosts is rewarded with a fair degree of consistency and in some stages you’ll find you may need the help, especially in terms of being geared up for the game’s generally tough boss battles. In terms of games celebrating the 8-bit era I’m quite confident in declaring Panzer Paladin the king of the retro hill as it somehow feels both old school and modern in the same breath, coming up with a mix of elements that keep the action consistently engaging with no real fat to be trimmed. It’s a high-quality effort from top to bottom.


Rainswept - If you’re looking for something with a slower pace and a story with some somber notes and rough spots a good murder mystery may be your jam. Set in a bit of an odd small town where everyone seems to have an eye on each other’s business, Rainswept digs a bit deeper than just the mystery at hand. You’ll be digging around in the closets of quite a few of the townsfolk who have a variety of skeletons and bits of trauma to uncover along the way, giving the experience some real flavor. Outside of the storytelling, which is compelling, the gameplay itself is a bit on the minimalist and lacking side, sprinkling in some verbal jousting and a few puzzles but mostly involving a fair amount of wandering around in search of your next encounter. If you keep your expectations in check and are looking for something a bit more mentally stimulating than exciting this gloomy murder mystery may be a good match.


Goosebumps Dead of Night - This one is a challenge for me to review as there’s good news and bad news. On the one hand I truly appreciate the effort being put in here, providing a family-friendly and sometimes entertaining spin on the survival horror genre featuring a cavalcade of characters from the pages of R.L. Stine’s body of books geared to provide age-appropriate chills. On the other hand, though there’s nothing else quite like it in the Switch eShop there’s no denying that the license (and no doubt the great voice work) has come with a price tag attached that feels steep for the relatively short overall adventure. Though you could say that the game mechanics aren’t the greatest in reality they’re as good as or in some cases better than many comparable genre titles in the space. Being honest, there are a lot of plain walking simulator horror games that may have a more mature edge visually but that lack this game’s charm, various monsters, and polish. If you or your kids are big fans there’s no doubt you’ll likely enjoy seeing many of his most notable members of his menagerie running about (mostly consistent with the movies in terms of their selection), just bear in mind that the asking price is a bit steep for the core experience if you removed the license from the mix.


Ultra Hat Dimension - Finding a puzzle game in the Switch eShop is about as easy as hitting a fish in a barrel exclusively filled with fish… they’re everywhere and at all price points. Ultra Hat Dimension at least tries to do a decent job of selling itself with a weirdo introduction involving weird globby characters being influenced by an evil hat-wielding member of their species, and your job is to progress through a long series of rooms, progressively using more complex puzzle-solving skills to grab a key and get to the exit. The result is somewhere between a box pusher and being able to visually work out how to move to where you need to go based on the creatures in your way, what means you have to move or distract them, or simply how to use the ways they may push you to your advantage. It at least can make you feel smart, but the overall experience is a lot more of the same. At least it is relatively inexpensive.


SpyHack - When I see gameplay that takes a different approach and offers a different sort of experience it immediately appeals to me, and that’s an essential part of the indie spirit. That said, taking the road not yet travelled also obviously carries some risks with mechanics that and play tuning that need to be worked out to come up with an engaging and enjoyable experience. While SpyHack has the somewhat futuristic cyberpunk hacker aesthetics, some lingo, and elements that work, the problem is that there’s no question the experience is on the clunky side. You’re really working as spy support for the likes of characters you’re used to playing the active role for, hacking doors and systems to help clear the way for your agent’s success. While in theory this could be exciting it’s unfortunately quite a bit more redundant than you’d likely hope and just honestly too much of a struggle to enjoy. New and different can be good, but this feels a few iterations away from being ready for prime time.

Friday, July 17

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


Radical Rabbit Stew [Nindie Choice!] -
If you’re looking to make a splash on the Switch eShop who can resist some cute killer bunnies mixed with very accessible puzzle action… and boss battles! There’s just a spirit to Radical Rabbit Stew that makes it generally fly by. Perhaps the nature of the puzzling isn’t necessarily original, but there’s a flair in the execution that simply made me laugh. In order to save your friends you’ll need to take on these carnivorous cottontails, smacking them around to ricochet into pots for stew. Of course you’ll want to also figure out how to get the special coin on each stage just to prove who’s boss. New mechanics are introduced at a pretty steady pace and they’re either given a simple explanation or you’ll discover them on your own through a set scenario in-game, a function of clever design that I appreciate. Throw in some boss battles (something you normally don’t find in puzzlers) and this is a clever and fun package of a game that should be enjoyable for all ages.


Rez Plz - This is a title I originally saw at PAX and that impressed me with its morbid sense of humor and somewhat clever puzzling. I say clever mainly because a central mechanic in the game is sacrificing one of the two brothers you control in order to progress. Whether they’re needing to impale themselves on spikes or jump into lava to serve as a platform for the other brother to safely progress the idea, though you’ll then be able to bring them right back (assuming you have enough crystals) and keep going. Of course, there are times where you may lose track of the active need to sacrifice one of your characters, thinking instead you’ll be able to skill your way past an obstacle, but the more you kill each other the less this is likely to happen. It’s probably a game best played and enjoyed with a friend, if nothing else this can make the fight over who gets to die more fun and you can simply better coordinate, though at times when you need to move further apart there can be confusion over who is controlling the screen and having the other player stay still. Going it solo is possible, just at times a bit more tedious, as you won’t have coordination in movements, you’ll need to continue to switch between brothers and position them individually. If you appreciate some humor to go with your puzzle platforming, and are looking for a fun time with someone else, this may be a great match.


Distraint 2 - Sharing nearly everything in common mechanically with the original Distraint, working as a story-driven journey, this sequel stands apart because of its themes and exploration of the main character’s pretty complex emotions. The adventure aspects work well enough but are generally very linear, with most everything involving some minimal exploration, discovery of a key item, taking that to where it needs to be used, solving a puzzle, and then moving on to the next chunk of story to then lather, rinse, and repeat. The most notable aspects of the game would be its dark themes and bits of suspense that pop up from time to time but unfortunately the gameplay itself ends up being quite unremarkable. If you’re looking for an exploration of the human mind and emotions it may have a hook there though.


Elden: Path of the Forgotten - Elden is really an experience where you can see the bits and pieces of influences from other games in the look and feel of the action, but at best it struggles to really come together well. This is the sort of adventure where you’ll need to do some dodging, slashing, and spell casting to knock out enemies, find items, and solve some pretty simple environmental puzzles, but I find it hard to say that it’s satisfying. One issue is certainly the lack of a clear story or even much direction of any kind, from the start you’ll just venture out and begin trying to survive, trying each of the buttons to work out what you have to work with along with a few occasional but limited pointers from the game. The use of the second stick for aiming your spells does make sense in practice but feels awkward overall in its only occasional use, and on the whole combat is then a mix of casting spells that are a bit wonky in terms of hitting enemies, careful dodging, and slashing… but it’s all pretty generic. Perhaps if the somewhat vintage and unique art style draws you in the experience may connect but there are just better games in this vein out there to spend your money and time on.


Never Breakup - Family-friendly experiences on the Switch do exist but can be hard to find, in particular accessible and “good” ones. Never Breakup throws its hat into the ring with a pretty cute look, promising some fun platforming action to enjoy together (as well as some mini games, though they’re generally forgettable). While it somewhat hits the mark in this regard, with you wanting to collect coins as well as a hidden item in each level, the controls and mechanics are a bit on the wonky side. If you try to tackle the game solo this is particularly hard to miss, and there will be times when you’ll be hard-pressed to progress simply because trying to set one character up, then switch, and manage everything one character at a time gets to be a bit painful. With 2 people it improves a bit, but then the other issue I have rears its head and that’s control that’s overly loose and that’s a bummer when platforming is the main thing on the table. In order to do precision platform jumping you’ll actually want to latch onto the ground when you land, otherwise your character will sometimes just wander a little bit and that risks falling off. As you move through the air things aren’t always smooth either, though I’m not quite sure what’s up with that. In the end, it’s not necessarily bad as an experience but it may be a bit too generic for more serious gamers but finicky for the less experienced or coordinated gamers out there.

Tuesday, July 14

Mini Reviews: July 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Neon Abyss [Nindie Choice!] - While it’s still what I’d consider a niche genre overall roguelike shooters are one of those that I practically consider sacred. While I’ve played and enjoyed a great number of them there are probably only 3 I’d say are pillars of sorts in the genre: The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and Enter the Gungeon. While all of them play differently the one thing they have in common is their top-down perspective. I’ve seen attempts at side-scrolling roguelikes before, but none of them has really stepped up to the level of the greats… until now. Neon Abyss is the game-changing and genre-defining side-scrolling roguelike shooter you’ve been waiting for, it’s simple as that. For comparison purposes I’d say the game it shares the most with conceptually would be Isaac, and that’s because it pushes much more heavily into the potential for craziness and diversity in every single run. Rather than the focus being on weapons, though it certainly has some very creative ones, Abyss is much more about the absolutely dizzying number of items and how putting them together in different combinations can produce some radically-different results. While there are opportunities to make some choices, for the most part every time you enter the Abyss you’re on a runaway train of craziness and your only choice is to try to make the most of it. One run may be pet-heavy, in another you’ll be able to fly, some will give you devastating firepower, but no matter how geared up you may feel the fickle RNG gods can still take it away.

Moreso than any game in the genre outside of Isaac risk versus reward is a constant battle here. You’ll generally have a limited number of coins, grenades, keys, eggs, pets, hearts, and shields and depending on your run any of them could be more scarce or vital to your success. All of these variables can certainly make for some frustration, but the great news is that aside from there being an ability to go with Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty as you play more and have more successes you’ll also be able to unlock even more gear, characters, special rooms, and even more that will help to keep the experience evolving and getting even more unpredictable. Now, at least for launch I would be remiss not to mention the game can have problems with some bosses and circumstances with slowdown, and when it kicks in it can be a slideshow. The good news is that even with as much insanity on the screen as there can be on an ongoing basis these stutters are only temporary in nature, so hopefully a patch will help clean them up. Even with these issues though, Neon Abyss is an absolute blast to play. You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, you’ll cackle with glee as you put together an arsenal that melts an entire room of enemies in seconds. If you’re a fan of shooters I consider this an absolute must-play (and hey, there’s a demo too), but even for more mainstream gamers if you’ve ever considered trying out a roguelike shooter this is absolutely one of the best options out there.


#Funtime [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to arcade-style twin-stick shooters one name pretty well everyone is familiar with is Geometry Wars (how is there STILL no version of it on Switch?!?!). While there have no doubt been a variety of games that have aped its visual style in some way to varying degrees none have managed to capture the speed, intensity, and quality of its core gameplay. Finally, in the case of the aptly-named #Funtime someone has managed to not only create a play experience worthy of the comparison, but it does it using its own sense of flair and rules that distinguish itself. Orienting yourself with some of the game’s mechanics, specifically its effective but (at first) hard to master color-changing system, is best done in Challenge Mode where you’ll be put through a gauntlet of scenarios that will test different skills and gradually pressing you to do and understand more. From there you can generally tackle whatever suits you best, whether going for straight-up Arcade play, Survival, a challenging Escape variant, or the signature #Funtime mode where they pull out all the stops at once for an intense challenge. I’m torn on the progressive upgrades you can get, mainly because they undermine my classic arcade high score purist sensibilities, but if you’ve been itching for arcade intensity mixed with some great new ideas #Funtime fully lives up to its name.


Void Terrarium - As bleak as the core premise may be in Void Terrarium, with you playing as a small robot trying to save a lone human girl in what appears to be the post-Apocalypse, you can’t help but be charmed by how darned cute it is. The game is an odd bird, no doubt, mixing the pretty soft and cute main art style with what can be pretty punishing roguelike dungeon crawling play as the game progresses. Your goal is to go out on runs to collect supplies and upgrade yourself as you try to get everything you need to restore this girl to health. As is often the case with roguelikes and Mystery Dungeon-style crawling there’s quite a bit of repetition and grinding here as you go on, though careful play and some luck can help you get through more quickly. I’d say moreso than the gameplay loop, which can be satisfying for people don’t mind the grind, the real driver here is the story revolving around the girl you’re trying to save and the slow rebuilding of some hope for the decimated world you find yourself exploring.


1993 Shenandoah - As a huge shooter fan in general I’m pleased that the Switch has a true abundance of riches when it comes to the genre. What it means for anyone with a game trying to break in for some success in the eShop though is that it’s an uphill battle. Coming in from the old school on a budget angle, 1993 Shenandoah doesn’t break much ground, but I’ll at least give it credit for implementing its upgrades in a different way that helps it to feel a little different than its competitors. The shooting itself is traditional and perhaps even generic for the most part, but as you accumulate money you’ll be able to spice things up and make yourself more survivable by hand-choosing your gear and even your ship. Once you move up to the better tier of craft having 4 slots to work with means you can set up a pretty dominating ship, decked out with anything from split shots, homing missiles, bombs, and just about any kind of power-up you can imagine represented. It’s really the customization that makes the game notable, even if the challenges you’ll face aren’t quite as interesting considering your host of options on the system.


Creepy Tale - When LIMBO made its debut on the indie gaming scene it really made a splash, not just with its dark themes and creepy art, but also its take on an adventure full of pretty creative and challenging puzzling. Of course success is certain to breed imitation and loading up Creepy Tale, though its art style is quite different, you immediately get that feeling of the macabre as you try to make progress through a variety of perilous environments. Through trial and error and some creativity most puzzles can be solved, though in some cases I hit the scenario where I’d think I had the proper solution (it wasn’t) but because it seemed like I was close to correct I’d keep trying variations on that scheme before finally giving up and trying something else. Moreso than usual I’d say the required accurate is high while at times your actions feel a bit fiddly and imprecise. If you have patience you’ll be rewarded but I wouldn’t say this game does much to distinguish itself from its competition on the platform.

Thursday, July 9

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


CrossCode - There’s always a risk with games that get hyped up in advance of you getting to experience them. CrossCode is a title I’ve been hearing about for quite some time from friends and in the gaming press, and the general consensus has been unanimously positive. With that in mind, and with a bit of nostalgia for the original Secret of Mana in tow, I set out to discover what I hoped would be a new undisputed indie champion. While there’s no denying that the game’s artwork evokes that classic 16-bit Square feel and the general combat shares some of the same beats, from experience I’d say if you’re going to take the CrossCode plunge it’s best to not reflect too heavily on the classic titles the game is trying to emulate for fear of some disappointment.

Where CrossCode excels is in its scope and ambition. The game world is large, relatively varied, and absolutely crawling with people moving around (the game world is set in an MMO so this makes perfect sense) so it all feels pretty alive. Combat is roughly in the middle of the road, certainly delivering on some intensity and the option to focus on ranged or melee combat, but on the whole lacking in real variety even as you play with your Circuit points and try different builds. Puzzles are also a mix of good and bad, and in effect they’re everywhere. The ones involving crystals you’ll need to hit are smart and a bit reminiscent of Zelda, so those are generally positive. Less endearing are any that involve making jumps between platforms of different heights. It being a 2D game and there being a very poor sense of depth in many cases these segments, more often than not, felt like a real waste of time as too often you’ll need to work them out by trial and error since visually things can be ambiguous at best. When it comes to the economy, equipment, and trading, honestly the less I say the better because truly it is an over-cumbersome hot mess and a waste of time. Going from vendor to vendor to convert A and B to C, which you can then combine with F from combining D and E from another vendor, to finally create G… it quickly gets annoying. The sheer volume of quests you can go on, but that generally aren’t in any way distinct or interesting aside from kill this or get that (with very little veneer of purpose to go along with them), also fall a bit into the “kitchen sink” category for me. If your goal is to get the most game out of your investment, CrossCode absolutely delivers in that regard, but I’d say the more people hold it up against the 16-bit classics it was obviously inspired by the worse it plays out by comparison.

A physical boxed version of the game can be ordered as well at: https://crosscode.inin.games/


Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town - When you’re making a new iteration of a revered and classic series I don’t doubt the greatest concern lies in how great a risk you’re willing to take in changing things. The wider the audience and probably the more casual the series happens to be the higher the stakes are if you make some tweak that doesn’t end up working out. I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons demonstrates where generally keeping things the same, but then making a few key changes for the better, both plays it safe and innovates effectively. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, feels like it chose the easier and “safer” path. Generally serving up precisely what its fans expect, complete with a great (and cute) visual overhaul, Friends of Mineral Town is undoubtedly a terrific farm/cultivation RPG… but there’s no mistaking that the experience is also extremely familiar, perhaps to the point of detriment depending on your tastes. You’ll be able to farm, fish, mine, explore, attend special events, and develop relationships with your fellow townsfolk… but aside from the obvious improvement in visuals the game also feels a bit stuck in a time warp. Fans of the series, and even converts from other titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, will likely find plenty to enjoy here if you’re looking for the repetition and relaxing pace of the farming sim life. Just where I think the aforementioned games generally feel a bit more modern and refined this feels incredibly safe, for better or worse.


Keen: One Girl Army - With a cute overall look and a lead character who is full of attitude and spunk, Keen works to stand out as more than a generic puzzle game, and in general in that area it succeeds. There’s a degree of polish and care in the presentation and genuine sense of humor it has that are endearing. Of course, being a puzzle game, the question is then how well it executes in that crucial area. On the whole the news here is good as well, the mechanics are ones we’ve seen before where you’ll move in a given direction until you either hit a wall or an enemy, and this sets up a need to plan out your path in order to get to the exits or to try to find hidden secrets. In a bit of a twist the overworld map has a similar puzzle element to it as well, with you needing to navigate to different exits and sometimes revisiting the same room more than once from different starting points in order to get to everything. I do wish that there weren’t situations where no matter what I do I will take a hit and lose some health, there’s just something in principle about that I’m not a fan of, but in general once you get used to the rules for how and when you’ll be attacked and when you won’t they do make sense. Against the few titles with similar mechanics already on Switch I still think I’d give Slayaway Camp the edge overall but this is still worthy of attention for puzzle fans.


Superliminal - With a pretty fresh take on first-person puzzling Superliminal definitely has its moments where the perspective and size shifting mechanics that serve as its core shine. Creativity and the ability to see an opportunity and then run with it are essential to success here, though sometimes simple observation and taking the time to see everything in the environment before rushing to solve the problem are an underappreciated necessity. Where the game loses its footing at times are some puzzles where either the lighting or general layout of the area can make depth perception and understanding where the object in your focus is (helping to make you understand whether it is close and large or far and smaller) difficult, and certainly the controls are a bit cumbersome when it comes to manipulating them to get them arranged how you need them to solve a given puzzle. A treat that it has to help compensate for its shortcomings is an essence of making you feel like you’re subverting the design at times, finding areas or solutions that aren’t intended, but looking too hard for those can also burn time on nothing if you’re looking too hard for those opportunities. Overall, it’s a clever idea implemented well enough to be engaging, but not without some flaws.


Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise - The original Deadly Premonition was a polarizing title to say the least, some people really loved the quirk and utter weirdness of the characters and overall design (willing to overlook its technical shortcomings) but if you weren’t in that camp there was generally negativity instead. I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise that this sequel leans heavily in the same direction in all regards, some of them unfortunate, but the second time around what felt freshly weird also now doesn’t have the same charm, sinking the experience a bit. Right away I’d say devoting roughly the first hour to a slow dialogue-heavy interrogation that does somewhat get people up to speed with what’s going on, but could have been accomplished with a 5 - 10 minute montage felt incredibly indulgent and quickly drove my enthusiasm down. But once you’re finally able to explore things don’t get too much better, the environments feel sparse, underpopulated, and empty even compared to the original. Worse, the performance issues and jank have also seemed to come along for the ride. If you’re a fan of the original or have a tolerance for technical shortcomings in the hopes of a and funky wild ride perhaps it may be worthwhile, but for everyone else it’ll be a pretty firm pass.

Monday, July 6

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


Ghost Grab 3000 [Nindie Choice] - While I have a great appreciation for epic games that feature massive worlds and complex storylines for me to discover over many hours since I grew up in the arcades I also appreciate a tight experience that challenges me and is fun in bursts. With its relatively-simple ghost chaining mechanics and simple-but-smart controls Ghost Grab 3000 does a great job of scratching that retro itch and making me say “Just one more round”. Your goal is to catch ghosts bouncing around the screen in your beam and then zap them. Sure, you could do this one at a time but first it wouldn’t be very fun and second you’d get a sad and paltry score for that effort. The way to rack up points is to chain as many together as possible before you collect but that ends up making for a very crowded and chaotic screen full of roving enemies and their many bullets. Thankfully you have a trusty dash that makes you temporarily invulnerable and a limited number of EMP blasts at your disposal which can be used to get yourself out of jams and rack up as high a score as possible. It’s all just about the leaderboards and scoring as high as you can in the end but if you’re looking for a quick and challenging fix it’s an excellent choice at a very low price.


The Almost Gone - Sometimes games can be an interesting means of helping to convey powerful messages in a different way. In the case of The Almost Gone the theme is tied to the lasting trauma and effects of familial abuse, and it is layered onto a clever though sometimes perhaps a bit obtuse puzzler with a distinctive look. You’ll work your way through rooms in a house, shifting perspective in search of clues and potential triggers that will help you progress. The puzzles range in their methods as well as their difficulty and this can be a bit frustrating at times as there’s really no in-game means of assistance, but given that the experience only lasts a few hours the challenges can be overcome. If you’ve been a victim of some sort of abuse it may be a bit too heavy and open wounds but for those who haven’t experienced it first-hand it may help to lend perspective. It won’t be an experience for everyone but it distinguishes itself in its style and themes even in the crowded Switch library.


Singled Out - This is an example of a game that runs with an extremely simple premise, being given a few facial characteristics to match a criminal and then identifying them in a slowly-growing crowd, and runs with it as far as it can. On the one hand I’d say that its simplicity makes it a terrific casual game that anyone can play, but on the other I’d note that its difficulty ramps up pretty quickly so that isn’t to say it can’t be challenging. Your enemy is always the clock and you’ll feel the seconds ticking away as you try to quickly eliminate the faces that obviously aren’t a match but since the traits you’re given will vary you can’t count on getting into any real groove and will have to be mentally agile to keep up. Given its budget price, pretty quick play session time, and accessibility to just about anyone, it may lack in complexity but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good value and fun.


Infini - There are games that merely dabble in weird but then there are also those titles that set up camp in crazyville, unpack their things, and get cozy. That’s how Infini felt to me playing it, shifting between action puzzles that are simplistic in principle but that can be challenging to visually comprehend and then execute to success on the one hand and then a pretty bizarre time-travelling story that seems to be trying to make a philosophical point or 100 but generally left me doing the confused dog head tilt looking at the screen. The great news is that it very much breaks away from the norm, so if you’re looking for an experience that’s a bit out there and can overlook its simplistic visuals you may find it to your liking. If that doesn’t describe what you’re seeking you’ll want to steer clear though.


Clash Force - There’s nothing wrong with a decent budget side-scrolling retro romp and if you’re looking only for that Clash Force offers it up. Does it do anything terribly inventive? Not really, you’re just running and gunning while running right and jumping and you’ll have an assortment of pick-ups that will change up your firepower to suit either your style or the current situation best. An unusual aspect I found it to have is a difficulty level which fluctuated a bit wildly up and down at times, feeling far too simply but then suddenly jumping into the deep end without an easing transition and then back again. That unrefined quality and a look that won’t wow keep it from being noteworthy but it isn’t without its charm for a low price.

Thursday, July 2

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


Biped [Nindie Choice!] - I first encountered Biped at PAX East, repeatedly walking by the booth on the way to other appointments and seeing small crowds forming and having a great time. Later, when I finally got to take it for a spin with one of the reps on-hand at the booth I could see why. For a game featuring two robots as the protagonists there’s somehow something very cute and endearing about their look, mannerisms, and the way they scoot around. By contrast, at least in the time I got with the title, I was a bit taken aback by how tricky the experience could be. Now, having played the final product the good news is that some of what I’d faced was from later in the experience and though there’s no doubt Biped won’t be a cakewalk for anyone it consistently manages to be surprising with smart level design, generally superb controls, and just enough variety in its relatively short duration to keep you engaged. I think the best feature it has is that while typically co-op games struggle to provide a solid experience if you have to play them solo, in general Biped does such a great job at it that you could assume it isn’t necessarily meant to be a co-op game. There’s no doubt that in some circumstances the controls, where you use each joystick to carefully move either leg, can be a bit touchy but with so much precision required in some puzzles you’ll work through that’s not necessarily a surprise. Regardless, whether solo or co-op Biped is easily one of the best action puzzlers of the year on the Switch… just be ready for some challenges (which is a good thing).


Night Call - Games that hang their hats on their narratives more than “play” in a traditional sense are an interesting lot. Ranging from outright visual novels to experiences with varying degrees of interactivity, at their base they can vary quite a bit of variety. Of course, the topics and themes of these games also then run the gamut from outright silly to strange to traditional to perhaps a bit on the pervy side. One aspect of Night Call that works is that its setting and storyline are quite distinct, with you playing the part of a cab driver in Paris who (with some urgency) is attempting to help stop a serial killer… mainly because you narrowly avoided death at their hands already and don’t want to somehow have the authorities decide you’re the killer instead. What follows is a bit of an interesting journey, with you deciding which fares to pick up and then working your gift for gab to try to tease out info from your fares in the hope of helping in your investigation. For the most part the stories are interesting and vary, but where things fall apart is how picky the game is about how you decide on and handle your fares. While it does make sense in the context of the game that this system would be in place it really detracts from simply engaging in the conversations and getting the info you’ll need bit by bit. The result is a collection of stories I found engaging but they’re a bit obscured by a time management system that holds the game back more than elevating it.


Grimshade - Now that the Switch has really put together quite an impressive line-up of RPGs, whether AAA or indie, traditional turn-based or tactical, making a big splash in the space is getting tough. With an introduction that tries to walk you through its various systems, introduce you to the world, and entertain at the same time Grimshade feels unsteady even out of the gate and never quite hits its stride. The balance of keeping combat from dragging, making battles often enough without being too frequent, and moving the story along at a pace that keeps you engaged just isn’t quite there and it just drags in spots. While it has a nice look, a reasonably good story, and a battle system with some tactics but not going overboard either in light of its competition it just can’t seem to break out of its somewhat generic box.


Indiecalypse - Moreso than most games I’ve played on the Switch I see Indiecalypse as a love/hate proposition. On the one hand you could view it as a walk through a pretty ridiculous and sometimes gross and/or profane story complete with a number of mini game sequences that celebrate a pretty wide number of classic video games. On the other you could view it as a somewhat crass and juvenile story propped up by some poorly-implemented mini games that are just enough like classics that the hope is your sense of nostalgia will help you overlook their shortcomings. Sadly, even if you’re determined to give it the benefit of the doubt the truth is the mini games are hit and miss and some made me  struggle mightily to want to keep going. Throw in an issue where it only saves at each new chapter and not after you complete each mini game (with no provision for a manual save) and you may find yourself forced retread content that wasn’t great the first time again due to a pretty horrendous design flaw. The art and attitude of Indiecalypse were fun and at first it sucked me in, but the more poorly implemented  games that had the likeness of a classic game slapped onto them that I encountered the more my attitude towards the experience cooled.


The Otterman Empire - There’s a weird sort of effect where when you see a promo for a game you envision a certain type of play, and when the style doesn’t fit your concept it can be disappointing. When I first saw the news for The Otterman Empire I envisioned a sort of jetpack-driven shooter adventure with plenty of cute but challenging enemies to take on. Well, it really isn’t that, it is instead ideally a multiplayer game where you and friends will take each other in a variety of scenarios, some more geared towards straight shooting and others with a bit of a more strategic bent. Playing solo you can manage, and you’ll be able to unlock new characters and cosmetics, but the main event is group play. Unfortunately, whether it’s the controls that can feel a little unresponsive (the double-tap to roll requires a very fast tap, surprisingly so against the norm) or just what feels like a lack of chemistry in the big picture of the gameplay it just never quite feels like it comes together to be compelling. To its credit there really aren’t games of this kind that would make for competition on the eShop, but unless you’re truly looking for this sort of experience (and maybe playing as a family since that could diminish the expectations for something more exciting) it probably won’t satisfy.