Monday, February 17

Mini Reviews: February 17th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

7th Sector - Maybe I’m just a bit of a sucker for games where their core premise deviates from the norm of their genre but I enjoy an experience that doesn’t feel like it’s all on well-trodden ground. With that fact in mind 7th Sector scratches the itch for something different, offering up what’s ultimately a puzzle game but that has you operating initially from the unexpected perspective of a spark of electricity. Progress is your consistent goal and that will involve jumping between cables when you have the opportunity, manipulating junction boxes and other elements that stand in your way, and pretty regularly needing to face new obstacles or things to physically control to be conquered. Of course as you do this there’s a sort of story playing out around you, the usual sort of dystopian future where things have gone quite wrong, but this is all more for atmosphere than conveying a clear narrative. While there are times where the puzzles or the controls can get a bit funky and frustrating to get through as a whole this is a smart and engaging puzzler that overall manages to at least be different, which is appreciated.

0000 - I can really appreciate the target 0000 appears to be aiming for, providing a sort of throwback style of tight and simple platforming… but one that’s also in no way simple. You’ll repeatedly enter a level, need to orient yourself on the obstacles between you and a doorway somewhere on the screen, and then get to it and back without dying. Quickly you’ll find this is often much tougher than you’d expect. The thing is while there are stages that feel like they hit the sweet spot of being a decent challenge there are others where it feels a bit more cheap. Controls that are just a bit too loose, the large lethal area on elements like spikes that you simply need to understand are there since the game has only 2 colors, and some initial confusion as the game really gives you zero direction are frustrations. Regardless, if you like a challenge on a budget it should have some appeal.

Tools Up! - If you’re a fan of the Overcooked series, taking on somewhat simple actions while under the gun, either playing solo or with some help, Tools Up is looking to capitalize on your appreciation for that style of play. Rethemed to instead deal in the home renovation and construction vein, the gameplay has a familiarity to it but is different enough that it isn’t completely derivative either. What’s nice is that your challenges in things like cleaning things up, and trying not to make mistakes that create more hassles in that space, generally feel fresh. The question is whether the way this plays out mechanically is able to live up to or even surpass the series that obviously played a part in inspiring it. Without being able to speak for the tastes of everyone I’d say for myself it doesn’t feel quite as varied, fun, or necessarily well-balanced in terms of the design and execution of the action. Still, if you’re looking for a decent alternative to chopping and cooking you may enjoy instead laying tile, painting walls, and making sure to clean up after yourself.

Rise of Insanity - Walking simulators as horror are always a bit weird, but I can understand why some people appreciate them. In the case of Rise of Insanity what will make or break the experience is how engaged you manage to be in what forms its story, and beat by beat getting more insight to what happened as you also try to determine the nature of your character’s obvious issues. Periodic moments of suspense, “did I just see...?”, and a few jump scares await but on the whole this is still a rudimentary first-person puzzle game that offers challenges here and there but whose overall design can lack in polish at times. While it may not be the best of its type on the Switch it at least still manages to distance itself from the weaker games on the spectrum.

Tower of Babel No Mercy - There’s something to be said for the power of pick-up-and-play simplicity in multiplayer games. If you’re booting something up with some friends nobody wants to spend a lot of time looking through a tutorial and trying to pick up nuance, they just want to play and have some laughs. Tower of Babel No Mercy does accomplish this feat pretty handily, dispatching with complexity and making it, at the core, all about timing the drop of your current building block to ideally place it at the center of the current stack, keeping things stable. The idea is that you’re in a contest with your competitors to stack high and accurate, either simply outlasting them or perhaps taking advantage of your character’s power-ups to throw them off their game and make their tower topple. The issue becomes longevity and perhaps the uneven value of power-ups from character to character. It’s easy to pick up, for sure, but staying power isn’t likely a strength and this is pretty well an exclusively multiplayer affair.

Wednesday, February 12

Mini Reviews: February 12th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Glass Masquerade 2: Illusions [Nindie Choice] - While there are a pretty impressive number of puzzle games in the Switch eShop, including many that are worth your time, I can say with confidence that none of them is quite like the Glass Masquerade series. The hook is that you’re essentially reconstructing a typically beautiful piece of stained glass artwork and given the unusual shapes and patterns you’ll usually be dealing with this can be challenging. Once you get used to things I’d suggest amping up the difficulty which will require that you rotate the pieces rather than just figuring out where to place them but the option to choose is a plus. About my only qualm is that due to the scaling of your active piece versus the puzzle it can sometimes appear that your piece won’t have room to fit in a given spot but once you’re used to this it isn’t generally a big problem. With its great artwork, seriously chilled out soundtrack, and unique challenges this sequel doesn’t deviate much from the first entry in the series but once again should prove to be compelling for puzzle fans.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo - Pretty hot on the heels of Shooting Stars Alpha, Psikyo has another release full of classic shmup goodness for you… plus one notable (and IMHO pretty awesome exception). Starting with the shooters there are 3 titles from the Samurai Aces series and from game to game these show pretty surprising variety in their unusual cast of characters (each with their own shot patterns), moving between vertical and horizontal shooting, and simply changing up their feel each time. Whether or not those alterations are ultimately successful is a fair question but I appreciate their not settling on repeatedly offering more of the same. The other franchise in this collection, Gunbird, is more traditional with its first two titles featuring very classic vertically-scrolling play but I’ll admit the oddball characters and some of their attacks crack me up. That brings us to the collection’s final title, the surprise that is Gunbarich which plays more like the classic brick breaker Arkanoid, but that has a style all its own. As with Alpha be warned that this collection delivers on pretty solid content but it’s a no-frills experience with nothing like rewind or save states to sweeten the pot. Still, if you’re a shmup fan there’s some real quirky fun to be had here.

Code Shifter - With an overall story setup that is similar to my beloved TRON Code Shifter got off to a good start for me, featuring a young programmer who has written a security routine named Sera who you’ll play as to actively destroy bugs and viruses in the system. To sweeten the pot the side-scrolling action features a pretty wide variety of characters from other Arc System Works titles that you’ll be able to change into, whether just for whooping some ass or in order to use their special abilities to advance or get hidden areas. Where the issues unfortunately mount is in the game’s core control mechanics, with a generally floaty and imprecise feel that’s hard to ever fully shake. Too often you’ll miss a jump or landing or end up taking a hit because everything is just a bit too loose, something you really don’t want to see in any sort of platforming experience. Throw in that perhaps the story elements are a bit too drawn out and do more to detract from the fun rather than enhance the experience and Code Shifter has its positives but it’s hard to overlook its problems nonetheless.

EQQO - With reasonably good overall production values that include a serene soundtrack and great voice acting, EQQO has some positives. Unfortunately, the game was obviously created for play in VR and that can make the experience clunky on the Switch. Fixed camera positions that often put the action farther away than you’d likely prefer are among the frustrations that get in the way of enjoyment. If the camera were capable of following your character life would have been far simpler and better, but that wasn’t how it was designed so you’ll instead need to learn to live within the game’s limitations. If you’re willing to work within the awkward control and view constraints there’s some great storytelling paired with a nice point-and-click adventure here, just be aware of the limits that its VR implementation put on the overall experience.

Help Me Doctor - While there’s room on the Switch eShop for games of all types, meant to appeal to players across a broad spectrum, there are sometimes ones that really aren’t putting in a remotely fair effort. Help Me Doctor falls into that category and my diagnosis is sadly that it’s a terminal problem. It’s sense of humor that I appreciate, seemingly inspired by the classic Theme Hospital, is about its only positive but the odd conditions people have are extremely limited and truthfully not even terribly clever. Its gameplay, which isn’t explained in the least so it will take you a few minutes to piece together precisely what you’re supposed to be doing, only consists of looking at the few symptoms people report and matching it to a diagnosis… and sometimes there are discrepancies you’re expected to catch. That’s it. There’s nothing else. While a title like Papers Please or the recent Not Tonight can make this sort of formula work with a sense of urgency and importance based on context Help Me Doctor just blandly shambles on and gets tiresome quickly.

Tuesday, February 11

Mini Reviews: February 11th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Knights and Bikes [Nindie Choice] - Memories from my childhood, while often involving playing games on a variety of systems or in arcades, involve a pretty heavy dose of riding my bike and trying to find ways to make exploring fun. Knights and Bikes absolutely taps into that idea, pairing the somewhat unlikely friends Demelza and Nessa on the somewhat secluded island of Penfurzy. Aside from being a bit of an odd bird you’ll find that Demelza is struggling with being raised by only her father after the death of her mother. To help cope with that the answer is a grand adventure in the spirit of the likes of The Goonies, searching for a fabled treasure while trying to thwart an ancient threat possessing the people of the island. What the game does well is blend together some novel and fun combat with a hefty dose of exploration, as well as move effectively between lighthearted silliness and more reflective emotional moments. The result is an experience that sticks with you, which with so many titles out there vying for your attention can be tough to accomplish. While it’s playable as a solo experience it really does shine in co-op, though I’ll admit a few of the puzzles can require tricky leaps of faith that can be a challenge either way. That minor gripe aside this is a game with a load of laughs, childlike wonder, and heartfelt moments that’s absolutely worth your time.

Milo’s Quest - Budget puzzle and adventure games are pretty much a dime a dozen on the Switch but what about a budget title that sort of mashes those two together? While Milo’s Quest isn’t terribly challenging it does effectively blend some box pushing, relatively simple combat, and a fair amount of exploration together in a cute package that works. For the most part this is a low-stress affair and I think the combination of elements keeps it from being as generic and dull as its contemporaries that lack the same variety. It may not have much appeal for hardened gamers but younger or more casual gamers may find it cute and charming.

Crash Drive 2 - I appreciate budget games that set out to deliver a specific sort of experience, even if not terribly ambitious, and generally hit it. The fact that the Switch is generally starved for racing games just adds to the mix, making Crash Drive a bit on the shallow side, but still fun to kick around with for a while. In general this is a sandbox stunt racer where you can roll around, do some flips, participate in some quick challenges against other players online, and generally have some simple fun. The physics are loose, the environments don’t necessarily have too much variety, and at some point you’re just working to unlock new vehicles that aren’t generally that different from one another… but it’s still a decent low-budget no frills good time if you just like goofing off for a bit.

Marooners - Taking on the local multiplayer space on the Switch is no small feat. With Mario Party sitting at the top and a host of indie competitors swarming for attention it takes some effort to distance yourself from the pack. Marooners, in principle, manages to do something fresh which I applaud. Sort of taking the ADHD route to setup rather than needing to go through the slow and perhaps more boring structure of a game board or participating in single events it shotguns you through a series of them, that you’re able to even effectively randomize, and if a specific sequence is taking too long it won’t hesitate to put that on pause, move to another, and come back to resume where it left off later. Of course you can opt to make things a little more structured and predictable but the option to keep things chaotic is something unique that I appreciate. While I like the overall structure I’m less enthused on a case by case basis with the mini games themselves. Quite simply there isn’t enough depth or variety to them, too often they devolve into people running around trying to grab coins, avoid obstacles, and perhaps knock each other out so they can grab a pot of coins by surviving to the end. If Marooners was able to lean a little more into variety and unpredictable gameplay, forcing everyone to adapt, it could have taken on a sort of multiplayer WarioWare quality but, alas, as it stands it’s just decent but not particularly great.

Please The Gods - There’s certainly something to be said for games going out on a limb and trying out ideas and systems that are different, however in the case of Please the Gods I’m not sure how well it works out. Combining survival elements where you’ll need to concern yourself with resources, turn-based combat, and a dose of strategy, the experience has quite a bit going on. That said, whether much of it is sufficiently explained to aid in making your early playthroughs more encouraging than frustrating is a different matter. The combat mechanics where you’ll roll the dice and then need to make decisions on which of your attack and defense options to work with is interesting. Using strategy to try to mitigate risk or capitalize on opportunities, depending on which way the RNG winds may be blowing, is interesting but after a short while it also tends to get a bit tedious since the on-screen action is pretty static and too often reminiscent of generations gone by. If you’re itching for a different take on things and don’t mind the plodding pace it may be worth a look but otherwise you’ll likely be best steering clear.

Monday, February 10

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

Kunai [Nindie Choice!] - Kunai was a title that left me excited but a bit uncertain from its PAX demo last year. I loved the look, and the ability to use your kunai on each side essentially as grappling hooks to aid in traversal and even combat seemed ripe with potential, but it was hard to see whether or not it would all come together in a way that would help it break through to being something special. I’m happy to report that having played through the final product there’s nothing I can think of that feels missed. The gameplay is challenging but fair, its traversal elements are well-designed and feel great, and its mix of smart design and fun combat help it to push its way to standing among the best Metroidvanias the system has to offer. Admittedly, there were times where the combination of backtracking and not being 100% sure where to go next could be aggravating. Though, in general, the game’s map tries to help there were situations where it didn’t have quite enough detail to lead the way. Small quibbles like that aside, Kunai absolutely delivers the goods and with its unique grapple mechanics stands tall even in the somewhat crowded Switch Metroidvania space as one of the best on the system.

It Came From Space and Ate Our Brains - At the very beginning I’ll admit my excitement was pretty high for this twin-stick shooter. The unique look, the game’s use of darkness, and the base feel were all working for me. The more I played, though, the more I became a bit underwhelmed with it all. Though there are some different zones that have varying layouts, they’re consistently populated with the same pretty generic mobs to deal with. Though there is some variety in the weapons, and each one can be upgraded with a little investment, there wasn’t anything that stood out as being terribly unique or exciting to use. Usually when you’re excited about something your feeling is you want more of it, but in this case I’d change the statement to me feeling like I want more _from_ it. There’s a solid base here, there just isn’t enough compelling flesh on its bones to make it stand out when there are simply so many terrific shooters to be played on Switch.

Reknum - Clearly looking to tap into people’s retro platforming affections, Reknum at least switches things up with a female protagonist. With relatively chunky character sprites you’ll guide your character, armed with both a bow and a sword through 6 pretty distinctive and reasonably large areas, dispatching enemies as you go. With a relatively low-budget price perhaps the expectations for it should be kept on the lower side, but the controls being a bit on the loose side and some of the overall feel being a bit wonky pretty quickly put a hit on my overall enthusiasm for the adventure. If you’re open to the challenge and can overlook some warts it’s not a bad package, just even within the same price range I would say there are multiple retro titles in this vein that are more worthwhile.

Super Tennis - With the lack of sports titles on the Switch you may have seen this game’s name and felt your pulse race a little bit. Even thinking back to the NES days of Tennis there can be fun in even simplistic representations of the action. Unfortunately, in the case of Super Tennis there isn’t any action to speak of, at least none in the way you’d assume. Rather that control your player, moving around the court and setting up your shots, in Super Tennis you’ll participate in what feels like a series of Quicktime events… except they’re ones that are even less thrilling. You will need to get attuned to all of the buttons on your controller though as you’ll have a pretty brief amount of time once your opponent sends the ball your way to press a random series of buttons… and that’s it. You will slowly gain new unlocked character elements to make your tennis pro look different or sillier, but there’s really nothing else going on here.

Motorcycle Mechanic Simulator - Wow, OK, this is one of those titles where, being honest, it pained me to try to play it. While I’ve come to have pretty low expectations for games of this type (I don’t typically see why they’d be interesting or fun since they’re very repetitive) the muddled way you need to use your controls in this particular one sets it apart with its being miserable to play. Considering I got stuck in just the tutorial, repeatedly reading the instructions on the screen and then failing to understand what it was I needed to do, it didn’t get off to a great start. Even once getting past that taking in bikes and moving around to different parts to improve or replace them is a cumbersome experience at best, but then the rewards for success are so uninspiring I can’t see any compelling incentive to suffer through the experience.

Thursday, February 6

Top 20 Indie RPG Games on Nintendo Switch

While there are a few very high profile major RPG titles now on Switch there has been a steady flow of great indie titles in the space as well, though not all of them are cut from the same cloth by any means. From action to turn-based, traditional to more unique these indies have you covered for options.

Stardew Valley - Possibly one of the most successful indie games ever made by a single developer Stardew Valley is wonderfully calming and varied. After inheriting your grandfather's farm you'll need to rebuild it, whether focusing on crops, livestock, or some combination of both. If you're more inclined to spend your time fishing or hitting the mines for loot and glory you can also enjoy those tasks to keep things from getting stale. Rounded out with a pleasant collection of characters, seasonal events, and a whole lot of charm Stardew Valley is very easy to sink hours into once it gets its "Just one more day" hooks in you.

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

Bastion - While people with access to other systems may well have played Bastion before since it's been around for a number of years, it still is absolutely a great title that doesn't feel at all dated on the Switch. Very much an action-oriented RPG similar to a classic like Secret of Mana, in Bastion you'll slowly accumulate a variety of weapons that you can then upgrade and customize your combat with as they each make the game play pretty differently. While the art is fantastic its the solid gameplay and the ever-present narrator, telling the game's story in real time, that make it a memorable title.

Pillars of Eternity - Damn RPG lovers, the Switch has been a terrific return to Nintendo fully delivering a variety of options in this genre. Pillars of Eternity further solidifies that statement, providing a deep, satisfying, and even challenging experience depending on how you set things up. What makes it stand out is that this isn’t another JRPG, it’s a conversion of a more classic PC RPG, with a different perspective and feel, going with an isometric view and pausable real-time combat. The struggle to make the interface friendly for console moving from mouse and keyboard is real, getting the hang of navigating menus and hitting every possible screen you’ll need to manage your characters and gear can take some time. Once you settle in though it’s a very satisfying experience that should appeal to a pretty wide audience.

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns - While fans of the old school original game likely won’t even need to read this review, it’s worth noting that though some elements of this classic from the DS may be a little behind the current curve you can still easily see how it blazed a trail for the concept of a Match-3 Battle RPG genre. While perhaps the story would best be considered serviceable by RPG standards it does manage to throw a pretty wide variety of enemies and challenges at you, requiring you not only to be smart with your puzzle matching but also show some strategy in how you use the class skills you’ll acquire over the course of the game and dictated by a variety of choices you’ll make. Once you’ve unlocked all of the buildings the game has to offer you’ll have the choice to grind and acquire new skills and perks, all while changing up the puzzle formula just enough to keep things from feeling too redundant. Throw in multiple base classes that give you an incentive to play through the game multiple times with different strategies and the game offers hours of smart and satisfying strategic play for puzzle fans.

The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse - While when I got the chance to play The Swords of Ditto at PAX East I was impressed by its visuals and weird weapons, I didn’t get enough time with it to appreciate how terrific the overall experience was. Based on what I understand Switch owners got a bit lucky as the game with the expansion seems to be an improvement on all fronts in terms of accessibility and variety, giving us the best experience right out of the gate. While the DNA of Zelda games is obviously present, Ditto is thoroughly its own game, standing apart from that series not only visually but with plenty of its own ideas as well. If you’re looking for a world to explore full of discovery, some unusual characters, and plenty of surprises it’s easy to recommend, just be patient with it as you’re getting started.

Transistor - As the follow-up to Bastion, Transistor has some of the same base elements as an action-oriented RPG but they're very different games with very different play styles. In Transistor you'll gain enhancements you can then manage and combine in a variety of ways to produce very different effects. The ability to stop time and plot out the attacks that you'll then execute also gives the game a far more tactical feel to help differentiate it. Also featuring terrific art, it is this time paired with some exceptional music to complement the on-screen action.

Super Daryl Deluxe - For me there's something really funny about such an unassuming (and honestly dumb-looking) burnout of a kid looking to save the day. Sort of working as a side-scrolling action RPG you'll need to carefully choose which of Daryl's many ridiculous powers to use for success. Facing off against a menagerie of enemies that are almost as unusual as Daryl himself this is an oddball title with a ton of content that doesn't skimp on the challenge.

Golf Story - While perhaps the hype train for Golf Story got a little too far ahead of itself pre-launch Golf Story still ended up being a very charming and somewhat goofy RPG. While its golf mechanics aren't quite up to the standards of the best the Mario Golf series had to offer they do a fine job of giving you the control you'll need to conquer the game's diverse set of courses. Not surprisingly most problems here are solved with your clubs generally but some of the more creative and silly sequences try to keep it from getting too repetitive and predictable. A thoroughly enjoyable RPG all around.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar - While this RPG is turn-based and has more of a classic JRPG feel to it, there's no question that its comic book art inspired look and style are thoroughly Western. You'll need to choose which party members work best for you as you level them up and make them more powerful. The visuals easily help it to stand out as the game has a great sense of flair to keep the journey engaging and exciting.

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

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows - In terms of downsides I’d say there aren’t many with the primary concern being whether you’re looking for something that’s heavily story and lore-driven or not. The story is absolutely the star here, with the visual presentation, lore, and voice acting working together to deliver an experience that feels pretty fresh. That said, if you were hoping for a bit more action it’s a mixed bag, not being particularly bad but definitely taking a back seat in terms of quality to the elements of storytelling. Load times can be a nuisance, especially when you’ll sometimes move through areas that seem to serve no purpose other than to connect areas visually, but they aren’t so awful that it brings the experience down. If you’ve been seeking out an RPG that looks great but breaks away from the pack in terms of its storytelling and general feel, Masquerada is absolutely a game worth checking out.

Cardpocalypse - While deck building and battling games were never something I got into physically, I’ll admit that in the digital space they’ve managed to get me pretty hooked. While we’re still somehow waiting on the well-known Hearthstone to make its way to Switch (I hope), with smart titles like Cardpocalypse available it hasn’t been too painful to wait. What makes the title notable is the schoolyard RPG aspect of it, where you’ll play the new kid in town trying to make friends and build a solid deck along the way. If you’re just looking to get down to business you’ll have the option to do that as well to a degree, but the joy here is in navigating Jess through the travails of Elementary School clique politics with some smart deck building and opportunities for customization along the way.

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf - Very much the dark horse on this list Joe Dever's Lone Wolf is just a thoroughly different kind of experience. Playing out like a mix of a Choose Your Own Adventure story and mixing choices you make in the story with action sequences you'll then fight out connected to the story beats it's thoroughly unique. The combat itself also takes some getting used to but once it clicks I also found it to be pretty engaging. While it won't be for everyone I appreciate its attempt to strike out on a path of its own and would be thrilled to see a sequel with some refinements.

Darkest Dungeon - Fans of tough games have no doubt already heard plenty about this dark and difficult RPG experience with a roguelike unpredictable twist. In Darkest Dungeon the act of completing the dungeon doesn't simply return everyone in your party to normal, the toll of the adventure can have serious and debilitating effects on the people you're trying to work with. Try not to get too attached to anyone, while you can invest in keeping them sane you won't be able to save them all. Managing your party's sanity here can be just as challenging as the monsters in the dungeons themselves.

YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG - As a whole while I found YIIK thoroughly different and quirky a fun way I can also see where those traits likely make it a love / hate proposition for people. If you’re really hoping for a more traditional experience you’ll likely be frustrated with the entire package, story, combat, and all. If, however, you have the indie spirit and appreciate experiments that may not always pan out but that are at least fresh this could really click for you as well. At least being able to somewhat relate to and understand the attitudes of some characters and the game’s approach I found it to be fun and I’d be fascinated to see what will come next from this developer having been provided feedback on this this title and running with that to try out something in a similar vein.

Windscape - Though I may have felt a bit conflicted on how to score Windscape, I like its concept, most of its simple but workable design, and how much of it slows as a whole. At the same time there are sections where it drags a bit and details that don’t quite work as well as you’d hope, and these collectively add up. I’d say the more interested you are in a casual adventure that isn’t often demanding, and that you can just enjoy for the sake of the experience, the better a fit it will be for you. If you’re in search of stellar presentation and an abundance of thrills though you’ll end up being sorely disappointed. Windscape is hardly perfect, but it does enough right to be fun over a pretty impressive overall length if you’re in the right mindset for it.

Heroland - Full of quirky and unusual characters, and built on a somewhat unusual premise of there being a hero amusement park of sorts where people go to get their dungeon crawl on, Heroland is most definitely different. You’ll play the part of a “tour guide” of sorts, managing a party of varying tourists and general oddballs through a progression of increasingly-challenging dungeons. While the combat plays out as a traditional turn-based RPG your ability to command your group is limited on a cooldown so you’ll need to take action strategically to influence tactics or use an item but otherwise watch and hope your group can pull it together. Between battles you’ll work through an often silly story, work to cultivate friendships with your party in order to improve performance, and experiment with ways to improve your group effectiveness. While, for me, the action takes a bit too much of a backseat to dialogue early on I appreciate the fact that this has a very different feel from your typical JRPG and is worthwhile as an option because of that.

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

Shadows of Adam - If you’ve been looking for a game to hit you right in the feels as a lover of the 16-bit RPG era Shadows of Adam does a solid job of delivering that. Since it isn’t a sprawling epic running into 40+ hours of play it lacks the depth, variety, and player agency of many of those games, but it does offer up a more bite-sized portion that covers many of the key touchpoints you’d be looking for. It looks and sounds great, its characters and their interactions have that same sort of at times quirky familiar feel, and the turn-based combat is less complex but still generally satisfying. If you’ve been looking to recapture that feel and are looking for something you haven’t already played at some point, it does a good job of filling out the Switch line-up.

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

Friday, January 31

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

Willy Jetman: Astromonkey’s Revenge [Nindie Choice!] - With so many retro indie titles that have replicated the feel and experience of such a wide variety of classic genres and styles it’s always a bit surprising when you stumble onto one that still feels somewhat unique. Willy Jetman is a surprise budget-friendly platforming shooter that does just that, making you work with your jetpack and a variety of weapons as you progress to complete stages in an alien landscape. Hidden and tough-to-reach areas are quite plentiful, but don’t be surprised when you’ll find some of them pretty challenging to survive as well. Thankfully, for the most part save points are plentiful and well-spaced enough that it generally doesn’t feel unfair, but if you’re determined to find and grab everything in the game be ready for a pleasantly consistent challenge. Whether avoiding a variety of types of traps or taking on some tough creatures, some of which may require a little experimentation and strategy to take down, you should find plenty of opportunity to work for your progress. All in all this is one of those pleasant surprise titles that I didn’t find out about until it arrived in my inbox and I’m glad I decided to take it for a spin, it’s a very retro-feeling treat that should please people looking for a fair challenge!

Bookbound Brigade - As an English major and classical literature nerd of sorts the setup for Bookbound Brigade easily piqued my interest. Work through a Metroidvania by controlling a group of characters from a pretty wide variety of classics and periodically encounter even more characters as you level up, gain new abilities and formations you can work with, and work to solve puzzles and defeat enemies as you go? Early on when running into Don Quixote I was encouraged even further on my nerd side with a great character reference. Unfortunately, in terms of the gameplay itself, it’s more of a mixed bag. The variety in what your crew becomes capable of actually gets to be a bit of an impediment as remembering all of the controls and being able to effectively use them quickly and precisely at times can get to be a bit of a chore. I like a good challenge but when it feels like the game’s own mechanics are one of your obstacles to getting into a groove and enjoying yourself it can be aggravating. There’s no doubt it has some good and original ideas, just I’m not sure it’s consistent enough in quality to get a firm recommendation.

Speaking Simulator - This is one of those titles that is likely to divide people firmly between the lovers and the haters, without a whole lot in between. As the game’s name implies the focus of the majority of the gameplay is in manipulating the mouth of your character, a robot, in order to get it to not just speak but also exhibit some other characteristics within your interactions that would make you seem human. The humor ensues as you go through a number of social situations where you’re trying your best to remain composed as you struggle to get your words out and eventually begin to show visible signs of wear and tear. The question will be whether the novelty of the experience can keep its grip on you as more elements slowly get added, making your undertaking increasingly challenging or hopeless depending on how you see it. It’s a tricky balancing act and it will likely vary from person to person where the needle moves, whether in the direction of frustrating or quirky and entertaining.

Sisters Royale - When it comes to shooters of all types from traditional to modern, bullet hell to roguelike, the Switch has you covered. Unfortunately for developers that also means that in order to make a mark and stand out you’ve got your work cut out for you. In the case of Sisters Royale there are certainly elements, in particular its oddball (though some would say annoying) story beats and overall art style, that make it stand out but whether or not they’ll satisfy will likely heavily boil down to taste. Each of the title sisters does have both unique shot patterns and specials, and attacking the game’s 5 stages with each of them does feel quite different. Stage theming is in some cases more than superficial, though in particular whether you appreciate the slightly slippery nature of the icy level in a game of this sort of title may be a fair question. In the end this game becomes all about high score chasing, which is made a bit more thrilling since an aspect of your score is driven by how close you’re able to get to enemy fire. That may be a big plus for hardcore bullet hell fans, but I wouldn’t say this is any better implemented by its contemporaries with the same mechanics. With a wide variety of both vintage and new wave shmups available on the Switch aside from style and flair I find Sisters Royale struggles to clearly assert itself as a top contender. Some may appreciate its push to be different, a move I can respect, but under the hood without those flourishes it still just feels a bit ordinary.

Not Tonight - The strength of the size of the indie gaming space out there is that you never know what you may run into, and that with some creativity you can game-ify just about anything… even something as mundane as checking people’s IDs at the door of various venues. In the case of Not Tonight there’s more to it than just your menial (though, as things progress, surprisingly challenging) work though, with a world caught up in political turmoil care of Brexit (in this case having already occurred, though now the real world may be catching up) working as the backdrop to your everyday existence. For Americans this may be a bit harder to parse, and for people with greater connections to Brexit (depending on your political leanings) you may enjoy its strident picture of a country gone wrong or find it irritating. Regardless, in terms of gameplay while it stays simple in principle and never really evolves a great deal it presents a solid mental challenge as you try to quickly keep the line moving while juggling an ever-growing list of concerns for who you should turn away.

Thursday, January 30

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

Skellboy [Nindie Choice] - When it comes to action adventure titles it is no doubt a challenge to do something that somehow feels fresh and new. With an ability to switch out your body parts to take on new abilities, sometimes paired with some humorous circumstances, Skellboy at a minimum manages to have elements that are all its own. Granted, the exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat tend more towards the traditional, but since these areas are all handled well that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the pre-release version of the game has some stutters and pauses on area transitions a forthcoming patch has that issue in its sights so hopefully they’ll soon be a non-issue, though thankfully even when I ran into the issue it never managed to interfere with the action. Overall, while Skellboy may skew more towards a family-friendly degree of challenge than some may be looking for it’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. I wish the body part changing dynamics had been explored a bit more thoroughly, making for some tougher or more creative choices of combinations to shake things up a bit further, but regardless this is an easy title to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure just about anyone can enjoy.

Heroland - Full of quirky and unusual characters, and built on a somewhat unusual premise of there being a hero amusement park of sorts where people go to get their dungeon crawl on, Heroland is most definitely different. You’ll play the part of a “tour guide” of sorts, managing a party of varying tourists and general oddballs through a progression of increasingly-challenging dungeons. While the combat plays out as a traditional turn-based RPG your ability to command your group is limited on a cooldown so you’ll need to take action strategically to influence tactics or use an item but otherwise watch and hope your group can pull it together. Between battles you’ll work through an often silly story, work to cultivate friendships with your party in order to improve performance, and experiment with ways to improve your group effectiveness. While, for me, the action takes a bit too much of a backseat to dialogue early on I appreciate the fact that this has a very different feel from your typical JRPG and is worthwhile as an option because of that.

Coffee Talk - As the games industry continues to grow and evolve it opens the door to some very different modes of play, including those one the more casual end of the spectrum. Coffee Talk, first and foremost, is about the people (well, all manner of mythical beings in this case) you’ll meet and their stories as you manage your small open-all-night coffee joint. The more active aspect of the game is where you’ll need to size up new customers and try to find their perfect drink from a growing line-up of caffeinated goodness. This is even complete with some opportunities to hone your foamy art skills, and can be a fun diversion if you’re so inclined. The rest of the experience involves some limited interaction but generally taking in some interesting and very diverse characters, all of whom have their own problems and challenges you may not be able to remedy but at least give some passive advice about. All in all it’s a very chill and interesting experience, just be sure you’re aware of its nature before giving it a try if you prefer more excitement.

HYPERCHARGE Unboxed - With its Small Soldiers vibe, setting a mix of tower defense-esque strategy and shooting at a toy-like scale, Unboxed seemed full of potential. The ability to play with others locally or online (though, as always I’ll point out online support in titles like this tends to not have much staying power, unfortunately) help to sweeten the pot as well, following the philosophy of the more the merrier. That makes this a somewhat surprising overall miss for me, as the action just tends to be too slow, the upgrades that try to spice things up too spaced out, and the balancing in multiplayer too poorly accounted for. Running around in the set-up phase you’ll want to search for currency in its various forms and put up some defenses in pre-defined locations. Once the action begins there’ll be a slow onslaught of enemies to contend with who’ll get tripped up by your planning to a degree but that you’ll need to tend to, gunning them down and perhaps repairing things that are damaged if you get the chance. There are some variations on the theme but in the end at the core this feels like a slow-moving shooter with a strategic element that adds flavor but was also never enough to get my blood pumping. There’ll be an audience for this, just be sure it will suit your style and preferred pace of play.

Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry - Considering the era we live in Leisure Suit Larry still being around at all is a bit of a surprise. Having played the original games one major benefit this incarnation has is that it isn’t even partially text-based so guessing what nouns and verbs you need to use to prompt action is long gone. Also, thankfully, the more cringy frat-boy tone of more recent titles has been dropped, with Larry returning (as if through a time warp) to his vintage awkward aged virgin self. What didn’t work so well for me was the emphasis on bad social media humor, there’s not just a smidgen of it instead it’s almost constant. Granted, in the #metoo era perhaps a proper Leisure Suit Larry outing wouldn’t work, but if that’s the case don’t use the franchise at all. This likely only serve to disappoint people actually familiar with the series and looking to reminisce with its awkward PG-13 sexual humor and at the same time just prompt eye rolling from people less familiar groaning at far too pained jokes about apps that fail to be terribly funny.

Monday, January 27

Mini Reviews: January 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

SpeedRunners [Nindie Choice!] - This is one of those popular indie titles that seemed like a natural fit for the Switch so it’s odd that it took so long to get here but I’m glad it has arrived. If you’re ready to tackle some extremely hectic running, traversal, and typically more than a few elements of the unexpected you’ll likely have a great time with this one. You’ll choose your character and hit the course with your double jump, slide, and grapple moves always available for quickly wall jumping or avoiding obstacles. In addition, you have a dash which can be recharged (and can be crucial to losing the competition or saving yourself when you’re behind) and a variety of random power-ups you can pick up that add a nice layer of strategy at times if you’re able to use them wisely. The goal is simply to lose your competition and when you’re in the lead that gives you a slight disadvantage as your view will become more limited, meaning you’ll want to try your best to memorize the courses at least roughly as you go so you won’t end up running into traps blindly. There is a single-player story mode that will help you get up to speed as well as unlock some characters, tracks, and other goodies. However, it’s absolutely best enjoyed with some friends, though online play is supported but indie fans should always keep in mind that sustained availability of randoms to play with is always a concern. I do think the inclusion of paid cosmetic content at this in the game’s lifecycle feels disappointing, but I suppose it’s fine in the interest of fairness to the people who’ve bought it on other platforms.

Goodbye Deponia - With adventure game series like this it is somewhat difficult to think of them or review them as stand-alones when, in order to really appreciate them, they’re meant to be played as a series. This final (? you never know) chapter once again finds its protagonist Rufus beset by an assortment of situations both oddball and in this entry sometimes more dark, where he’ll need to get out of a jam through a mix of smart dialogue and some inventive puzzling. If you’re a fan of the classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures this is probably the series that gets closest to replicating that formula overall since the dialogue consistently manages to be unexpected and generally entertaining. If you’ve enjoyed the rest of the series this should be an easy buy, but if you’re just hearing about it now I’d recommend starting with the original Deponia and working your way through.

Mosaic - Do you ever walk through life feeling like it’s mostly full of mundane repetition and tasks that lack in fulfillment? In Mosaic your main character is trapped in such a situation, moving through his day surrounded by grey blandness. However, each new day he begins to see glimmers of beauty, color, and sometimes just outright trippy stuff that helps make it clear that there’s more out there if you’re willing to look at it. Less an actively engaging game and more of a semi-interactive experience Mosaic is creative and perhaps thought-provoking depending on how much you want to consider its message. I would imagine it’s a title where people will move firmly in one direction or another in terms of opinion, so be sure where you stand on the “games as experience first” concept before pulling the trigger.

Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest - As a huge fan of Civilization, and 4X strategy games like it, I’m always intrigued by new titles being released in that general vein. However, as I found with this particular new kid in the space, creating a balanced and excellent title in this genre is tough to get right. Starting with the game’s tutorial that leaves out far too much detail and proper explanation I didn’t feel well equipped for my first outing and in-game I found it hard to get much direction that was helpful. Perhaps worse, when it came to combat there would be cases where it would give me the impression I was sure to win but then would promptly get my ass handed to me, that really leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I suppose if I wanted to tackle combat manually I would have done better but honestly the interface and experience of that were clunky in a way that made that prospect unappealing. If you’re hard-up for a new strategy experience and are either willing to either ignore the quirks of the game, or read up on-line to get better guidance on how to navigate what feels like a title with some depth, but for me it failed to excite more than frustrate.

FoxyLand 2 - Budget platformers have become somewhat a dime a dozen out there on the Switch, but when you’re in a pinch and looking for some time they aren’t always a bad option. The previous iteration of FoxyLand debuted on the Switch not very long ago at all, and proved to be a decent, if somewhat generic, game in terms of mechanics and challenge. This sequel has quite a lot in common, in particular in terms of the overall aesthetic, but at least in my mind in the big picture it changed in a way I’m less fond of. When you include hidden coins or collectables in your levels they tend to be tied to alternative paths or challenge spots typically. Too often in this case though they tended just to be in unusual places you had to guess at and often plain die trying to find since their openings are situation at the edge of spike pits or other lethal places. This didn’t make me feel skilled or clever finding them, more often than not it just felt cheap. Otherwise it’s fine I suppose but of the two I’d say the first, overall, left a better impression with me.

Friday, January 24

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

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath - The Oddworld series has finally managed to come to Switch! Well, sort of, since this FPS-like offshoot from the main series is quite a different animal. The first thing to note is that with this being a remaster of an older game there are definitely elements of it that feel aged in terms of gameplay and mechanics. The experience can be a bit rough around the edges, and even at the time it was released I would imagine it got some criticism. That said, the quirky aspect of your creature-based weaponry, the strategic nature of how you approach your missions, and the aspect of the unexpected the alien Oddworld brings to the table help it feel fresh and different to the point that some of the issues can be overlooked. If you’re looking for hard-hitting action you’ll be disappointed but if you’re open to something a bit different this can be fun.

Sega Ages: Shinobi - The arcade ninja classic is back! Shinobi is a title I spent a fair amount of time playing at the arcades back in the day and, in general, it’s just as tough as I remembered it. That first boss where you need to be on top of throwing your shuriken below the peak of your jump is a classic who tended to quickly knock out less experienced players and it was fun to meet up with him and some of the other weirdo characters like the spider dudes as well. Now, what you get is pretty well purely the original game, though you can choose an alternative mode that gives you a little better start powered up and you have the option to be able to rewind as well. I’m not sure if people who don’t have nostalgia for this classic will get as much enjoyment out of it as veterans but for fans of the game this is an easy win.

Witch & Hero 2 - Though it may look pretty simplistic, and is in terms of mechanics, there’s something deceptive about the light action in Witch & Hero 2. The basics are that you’re in command of a knight who by bumping into enemies can chip away at their health and kill them, though he’ll be more effective if he’s able to attack from behind. Since he loses health in these bump battles you’ll also need to control a witch who’s a bit slower and who is able to revive him when he falls. When she gets enough blood from fallen enemies, which she collects from the hero, she’s then able to cast pretty powerful spells. The trickiest part, unless you’re able to play co-op with a friend, is trying to control them both at once, especially as the screen begins to fill up and get hectic. It’s surprisingly fun and challenging even with its simple and somewhat grindy nature. If you’re looking for a change of pace on a budget it’s not a bad choice.

Lumini - Lumini is one of those titles that’s a bit like a roller coaster ride to play. One moment you’re in the zone, pulled into its serenity, calming music, and colorful environments… but the next you’re aggravated by the somewhat loosey goosey nature of the controls and persistent issues with performance and slowdown it hits. Nothing is really explained here, and in general you don’t really need much guidance, but the gist of it is you’ll manage a growing flock of creatures of different colors through a series of caverns and passageways trying to collect crystals of some kind that will aid you in growing your brood and trying to either avoid or eliminate enemies you’ll run into along the way. In general, it’s a pretty serene experience, with most of its emphasis on exploration and mild puzzle solving. You do run into enemies, and some you’ll need to deal with, but there are also times where avoidance is an option and may be the better course since there’s not really anything to gain by taking things out unless they’re an immediate threat. If it weren’t for the frequency of the performance problems it would be easier to recommend as an almost meditative and calming experience but as it is currently that makes it tougher to enjoy.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf - On paper I think the idea behind the mechanics for Space Wolf could be interesting. It takes on part tactical strategy combat ala X-Com and combines it with card-based deck-building to dictate your movement and attack options. I don’t think it’s impossible for this combination to work effectively but in terms of the implementation here I’m just not feeling it. Combat ends up feeling a bit clunky, though part of this perception may be how you’re just sort of dropped into things without much explanation. Even early on having enemies spawn in odd and inconvenient places, but pretty much all being one-dimensional grunts who are cannon fodder just there to wear you down, also left something to be desired. While I love X-Com and have found deck builders that have been very engaging the way they’ve been bolted together in this case for me feels like they’ve moved backwards in some way, not enhancing either side but somehow being brought down by the combining of the two. I don’t doubt that there may be some Warhammer or hardcore strategy fans who may find it works for them but this just didn’t work for me.

Thursday, January 23

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

198X [Nindie Choice!] - As a child of the 70s and 80s who spent an enormous amount of time in the arcades there’s no doubt 198X was made for me. I’m just getting my bias out of the way so you can take into account how it may color my generally positive perception of the game. In essence the game is a blend of the beginnings of the story (it is meant to be the first chapter in a bigger narrative) of Kid, a teenager approaching life’s crossroads and feeling the limits of the town they’re living in. With the discovery of a local arcade, and through the exploration of 5 different retro-styled games, that perspective begins to shift, providing confidence and vision of new possibilities. While perhaps it’s a bit frustrating how briefly you’ll be able to enjoy the title’s loving recreation of multiple classics and genres there are moments I had playing through them that helped me reconnect with the wonder of the experience of the arcade, not just as a collection of games to play but as a physical place that was somehow special. I’m absolutely looking forward to what is yet to come in future chapters and I would imagine anyone with a long-standing connection and affection for games will enjoy this celebration of arcade culture.

Stories Untold - Though I’m old enough to recall, with some fondness even, the days of playing purely text-based adventure games the likes of Zork and others I can’t say I was initially thrilled at the prospect of returning to that style of play. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for Stories Untold to reveal itself as being much more, whether with some odd meta moments, strange visions of aliens and/or monsters, etc. While mechanically some people may find the gameplay itself to be a bit of a drag, checking through manuals and operating varied equipment as the situations demand, the mystery of what’s happening managed to suck me in completely and hold my attention through the completion of the game’s fourth and final chapter a few hours later which brought everything together in an unexpected way. Perhaps it’s more of an overall experience more than a thrilling game but Stories Untold did manage to deliver the unexpected, and that has some merit in a crowded eShop.

Robots Under Attack - Budget puzzlers may be a bit of a dime a dozen on the Switch but it’s always nice to see ones that offer up something different. Robots Under Attack fits that bill, with a nice hand-drawn art style and quite a number of physics puzzles that will challenge both your brains and your dexterity. For the most part your means of interacting with the robots and other elements in each stage will be a bow which you can fire a variety of arrows from. Depending on your obstacles you’ll need to carefully choose the right type for each job but that’s only half of your challenge. In addition, you’ll then need to carefully fire your arrows from the designated space to hit your targets, sometimes within a time limit, so combining those two elements it stacks up to a decent challenge that keeps you thinking and on your toes. While it may be lacking in bells and whistles and a great deal of variety, for a low price it will keep you occupied for a few hours and stands apart from most of its peers in the eShop so that’s something.

Lydia - Over the past few years in particular there has been a movement towards using games as a vehicle for telling semi-interactive stories as opposed to using more traditional forms of media. The power of doing this can be a stronger connection to the game’s protagonist, which then can enhance the experience and make the message more powerful. Lydia, in its admittedly brief runtime, tells a real-life story involving a little girl, her party-hard parents, and the fantasy world she tries to escape to in order to insulate her from the awful situations she finds herself in. The strengths of the game are its unusual hand-drawn art and the challenging arc of the story, while the weakness is what constitutes “gameplay” and perhaps the heavily-repeated baby sounds that are used for dialogue. However, if you’re down for putting yourself in the shoes of a child in challenging circumstances you may find it enlightening.

Red Bow - With a visual pixel art style that does have a creep factor but has elements reminiscent of the developer’s previous release, My Big Sister, I found it hard not to have a bit of deja vu playing this title. Unfortunately, another thing it has in common is the very rote path you’ll move through the game in, exploring and solving puzzles without much interest or challenge while simply advancing the story. I suppose if you like the base art and are intrigued by the creepy base nature of the folklore-driven story it could satisfy but as an adventure it’s quite shallow.

Tuesday, January 21

Top 15 Indie Beat-Em-Up Games on Nintendo Switch

The classic arcade beat-em-up is a staple for many older gamers, though through the years the genre hasn't tended to be as well represented as it used to be. Buoyed by the rise of indie developers looking to tap into the passion of genre fans it has really come back into its own on the Switch though.

Wulverblade - Full of technique, nuance, and some very challenging boss fights Wulverblade has established a new gold standard in what beat-em-ups should aspire to both in terms of story and general gameplay. A patch to pull back the challenge and make it more accessible to less skilled players was welcome and there's one particular surprise as you near the game's conclusion that you absolutely won't want to miss! The end is only the beginning!

Ape Out - As someone who loves playing things that are different and a bit daring, Ape Out has easily shot out as one of the games I’ve enjoyed playing the most on Switch. Its level of difficulty isn’t to be underestimated but the fortunate thing is that everything resets pretty quickly so you’ll be right back in the action to give it another try. Though it may seem simple there are definitely strategies to learn, or at least ways to help you cope with the insanity. Much like the great dynamic jazz that backs up the gameplay Ape Out is really all about improvisation, taking in the situation you’re giving and making it work. Similarly that will mean not everyone will “get it”, but I have a load of respect for the vision and rock solid execution all of the people behind this title were able to realize.

River City Girls - While the beat-em-up genre was absolutely a staple of both the arcades and the early console days more recently titles have been few and far between. The great news is that if you’ve been aching for a new excuse to dust off your brawler skills and smack some bad guys around River City Girls is easily among the best offerings available on the Switch. In general reminding me of the excellent Scott Pilgrim beat-em-up from a number of years ago there’s a quality to the presentation, action, and obvious love for the genre here that’s unmistakable and it’s a blast to play solo or with a friend. Of course if you’re someone who’ll simply settle into what combos work and fail to make full use of your attacks the that continue to unlock as you progress it will probably feel repetitive but that’s simply the nature of the beast and it won’t have been for the game’s lack of trying to give you new moves to work with as you level up.

Super Crush KO - Early in the Switch lifespan, when the pickings were sometimes a bit more thin, there were some core Nindie titles that helped occupy my time. Among my favorites was the very distinct high-score-chasing space shooter Graceful Explosion Machine which encouraged repeated play as I’d try to get top ranks and a few rungs higher on the leaderboards for every stage. Who knew the same core concepts of multiple attack styles, a sense of flair, and a scoring system that pushes you to keep changing things up would work so well in a beat-em-up? Apparently the folks at Vertex Pop did! Very similarly to GEM I love the flow of things, and how you need to continually improvise not only to keep out of harm’s way but also in order to chain more and more attacks into your combo. It can be almost meditative when you’re in the zone, dodging, dashing through bullets, throwing uppercuts, and even shooting. In terms of raw stages, much like GEM there aren’t a ton to get through, but the joy here is in revisiting and climbing the online leaderboards, and for that this game crushes it.

Ninjin: Clash of Carrots - This is another title changing up the classic formula, combining elements of a runner with the mechanics of a brawler. Positioning on the screen, smart use of your attacks, and choosing the right weapon from an array of all sorts of silly choices are the keys to your success. Silly, light, and simply a lot of fun (though still certainly challenging), Ninjin is breath of fresh air for the genre.

Streets of Red: Devil's Dare Deluxe - With a distinctive art style, multiple characters that play quite differently, and a slew of pop culture nods Streets of Red is a very self-aware beat-em-up. While it isn't a terribly long game there's enough challenge and variety offered up by its numerous characters (some of which need to be unlocked) and crazy bosses that it can be fun to return to periodically, especially if you have some friends to enjoy it with.

Fight 'N Rage - After many years where the classic beat-em-up wasn’t getting much representation indie developers have really begun to rejuvenate the genre. While there have been a variety of takes on things, adhering almost too much to the old formula to shaking things up significantly, Fight’N Rage shows a great deal of reverence for the classic feel of titles like Final Fight without copying it too much, and throws in some great combos and variety that helps keep the fighting feel a bit less stale. That’s already a pretty tempting package for brawler fans but then, best of all, it comes in at a very fair price, has multiple characters who each have their own feel, and features loads of unlocks to help you refine the aesthetics for a little more fun. A great beat-em-up well worth your time!

Speed Brawl - Taking the genre to a slightly different destination with its focus on combos and keeping things moving Speed Brawl can be a lot of challenging fun. Upgrades, some tricky enemy designs, and the ability to tag out one of your fighters for another give it a controlled chaos kind of feel at times. The fact that each brawler you acquire plays differently makes determining which two you go with on any given level a serious choice to consider, and generally prevents the gameplay from getting stale.

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

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

I Am The Hero - This surprisingly-good side-scrolling brawler has more than a cool look going for it. The core moveset you begin with is already pretty deep but the fact that you're then able to unlock former enemies to take control of as well, each with their own unique styles themselves, keeps things pretty diverse and interesting. While many of this kind descend into button mashing the various ways you need to deal with enemies and a push to keep your combo meter up help elevate this budget title to being worth of your time.

Mother Russia Bleeds - All in all I’d say that Mother Russia Bleeds is likely a game best left to genre fans due to its level of violence and difficulty. In general just about anything else will be a milder experience, or at least not as excessive. That said, if you’re someone who loves a tough beat-em-up experience I’d say this is pretty well a must-buy for doing the genre proud with challenging gameplay and quite a number of surprises along the way. If you’ve been bemoaning the same old same old in brawlers get ready for a kick in the teeth with Mother Russia Bleeds, it’s hardly ordinary.

Furi - This was a tough title to find a genre for since it isn't so much of a strict beat-em-up as a tough-as-nails boss rush title that will test your abilities and your patience. Just getting through the game's tutorial will take some work as you're walked through your myriad abilities which you'll then be expected to apply with great effectiveness against a string of increasingly-tough opponents which each will require a different combination of tactics to defeat. Though it won't be a game for everyone there's simply nothing else quite like it on the Switch.

Omensight - On the whole while I had some concerns with a few picky issues Omensight still manages to be pretty brilliant and well worth checking out. If it were just full of slashing combat it would have been decent but the added layer of an interesting story full of fleshed out characters who aren’t just one-dimensional archetypes really seals the deal. Add in the fact that there aren’t too many titles that have explored this style of play on Switch and it’s worth having on your radar.

Raging Justice - If you're a massive fan of the classic beat-em-ups of the 80s there may not be a game that's more of a love letter to those titles than Raging Justice. Full of winks and nods to titles like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Pit Fighter, and more this combo-focused brawler will have you trying to reclaim the streets using one of 3 characters that each have their own unique strengths and play styles.

Way of the Passive Fist - While I wouldn’t recommend the game to everyone due to its overall difficulty and what ends up being a fair amount of repetition, ultimately for brawler fans seeking out a challenge it delivers something both tough and fresh. Learning every enemy attack, getting a feel for their timing, and being on top of anticipating their moves so you’re able to block, dodge, or get in a special attack can be very satisfying. If you’re up to taking a bit of a beating as you absorb the game’s nuances it can be a rewarding overall experience.

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

Monday, January 20

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

Deponia Doomsday - If you’re a big fan of the bygone heyday of the point and click adventure games the Deponia trilogy is well worth checking out. This second chapter in the series takes a pretty different path, one that throws time travel into the mix with generally humorous results. The dialogue tree options remain as unexpected and often silly as the classic LucasArts games, encouraging you to sometimes shoot from the hip just to see what can happen, which is fun. If there’s a complaint I’d say that getting “lost” is a bit more likely in this middle chapter as the areas you have access to can get quite large and the elements you’ll need are then spread out. It does keep things from feeling too linear but it also makes it likely you’ll be checking a guide at some point to get your bearings.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha - There’s no doubt the Switch has become the ideal platform for retro and throwback titles of all kinds. Not only is portability a plus but for the modest investment needed to pick up a FlipGrip the ability to enjoy vertically-oriented arcade titles as they were intended is pretty satisfying. In the case of this collection of 6 titles you’ve got an odd blend of diversity and more of the same. Half of the pack’s 6 games are from the Strikers 1945 trilogy and represent the classic shooter experience. Each of the other 3 are pretty wildly different, with 2 titles (Sol Divide and Dragon Blaze) experimenting with alternative styles of play that are definitely a mixed bag. The last, Zero Gunner 2, is the only title played in a horizontal orientation and charts its own path with enemies coming from all directions and sporting unusual controls where you’ll essentially use one button to set a pivot point so you can shoot in a circle. It’s different, for sure, but seemingly would have been so much easier and better as a twin-stick shooter. If you’re a fan of classic vertically-scrolling arcade shooter goodness, and perhaps if you’ve got a bit of an open mind for weird variations on the formula, this should at least satisfy with some surprises.

Jump Gunners - Local multiplayer shooters are a bit of a dime a dozen on the Switch so it can be hard to make an impression and stand out in the space. Jump Gunners does at least manage to do that, featuring a number of weapons, an additional layer of challenge and strategy with the benefits and downsides of recoil, and even a few single-player modes. Where it runs into some problems are the inconsistencies in the experience, with some stages working better than others and a tendency to be hard to follow at times as it tries to zoom in and out on the action. Also, while the single-player modes are a nice value add, the one even prompting a smile with elements of Duck Hunt, they’re also not likely to provide much in the long term. As a package it has its place, and plays better than the more generic fare in the space, but its mileage will vary depending on your tastes.

Self - It’s always interesting to see games used as a medium for storytelling and in the case of Self rather than working through a pre-destined story to reach a static conclusion you’ll find that it has many branching paths to encourage replay to discover its different outcomes. Alternating between text-driven story beats where you’ll have to make some key decisions and simplistic mini game sequences that feel inspired by Undertale the experience is a bit of a mixed bag. What’s a bit frustrating is that the minimalist game sequences, which generally just consist of you trying to dodge different themed elements, really just end up feeling like filler and if anything pulled me out of the story which is compelling. If you’re up for something a bit off-center with the text-based story driving the experience rather than the action it may be of interest.

Demolish & Build - Oof. I dislike being outright negative about titles since there can be an audience for just about anything but when the overall package and experience are this janky it’s hard to pull the punches. Poor visuals can be overcome with great gameplay but the title looking like something from the N64/PS1 era with abundant fog, clipping, and pop-in does not get it off to a great start. The fact that your tasks aren’t terribly thrilling, knocking down walls or breaking things up with a sledgehammer loses its appeal quickly, and the in-game direction on what it is wanting you to do is generally poor just locks in the bad taste generally. Sometimes budget titles can be a pleasant surprise but this isn’t one of those times.