Friday, March 27

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


Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday [Nindie Choice!] - What can I say, if you didn’t check out the original iteration of the game on Switch and love Picross-styled puzzles you’ve really been missing out. While I’ll agree that the naming, the art style, and some aspects of the presentation scream dated and have a feel of something you’d find people playing on a tablet don’t allow those elements to get in the way of what I’d consider the most challenging and well-implemented Picross title out there. The puzzles are large, generally involve the use of more colors than the competition, and the power-up system is smart and at times absolutely vital if you want to clear challenges without any mistakes. Carrying a very fair price and hours of satisfying puzzling these titles are an absolute steal so be sure to give them a try, once the gameplay gets you hooked the rest of it all tends to just fall away.


DOOM 64 - While I’ve played many iterations of DOOM over the years going back to the original shareware the N64 incarnation of it was one that I’d missed out on. I’d always heard that it was solid and did things a little bit in its own way and having played it I’d tend to agree. Something about the level layouts feels a bit more intricate (though you could also call them confusing, to be fair) than what I associate with the original DOOM iterations, and the quasi-3D look is at least interesting which at the time I’m sure it helped the game to stand out nicely. While there’s no doubt going back to the earlier style of FPS play feels a bit odd I’d say among the throwback titles in the genre I’ve played this is the most successful and accessible of the bunch, managing to avoid being utterly painful as many tend to be by being about as highly evolved as the genre got before moving on to the fully 3D world of Quake and many others. Recommended for those seeking a look back at the genre’s earlier days that has the best hopes of not shattering any rose-colored memories of how great shooters used to be.


Bug Academy - One of the great things about indie games is that they can sneak up on you and defy expectations. While it isn’t always fair to judge a book by its cover the effect that a game’s eShop logo has on your impression of it is unmistakable. A look at the one for Bug Academy unfortunately doesn’t inspire confidence, at best it gives the impression of something thoroughly generic. However, though it no means offers much more than simple pleasures as a goofy flying physics game where you’ll enlist as many flies as you can to pick up and move items around in a variety of scenarios it is different and satisfying for its modest budget price. If you’re looking for something like, a bit silly, and certainly family-friendly it isn’t a bad idea for wasting away some hours with.


Thunder Paw - OK, so here we have an indie platform shooter with a reasonably good look, somewhat cute main character, and what seems like some promise out of the gate. Only when you keep playing it for a few stages the lack of inspiration in the level design, a complete lack of explanation of what benefit there is to collecting blue gems or the hidden packs on each level, and enemies that are rock stupid and repeat the same weak sauce attacks quickly dash any hopes for a satisfying experience. In truth the game feels unfinished in a way, like there were intended additional game systems they laid the foundation for and then just released without them being completed.


Pooplers - I’m all for weird and wacky games, especially when you’re getting a group of people together for some laughs and fun. In principle, Pooplers and its scatalogical gameplay offers such an opportunity with each player controlling a baby who you’re to navigate through the stage trying to “cover” as much territory as possible. To jazz things up a bit you’re trying to avoid being detected or then caught by Mom and there are some power-ups to try to grab that will give you a variety of benefits to get the edge on your competition. The problem is that it’s really a one-note experience without a whole lot of nuance and whose theme and various fart noises simply can’t cover up the stench of ho-humness that permeates the action.

Tuesday, March 24

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


Sky Racket [Nindie Choice!] - This is one of those games where with the elevator pitch alone I was revved up and ready to go. A retro-styled mash up of shmup bullet dodging and breakout? Where do I sign up? Fortunately, though granted the experience isn’t necessarily a long one (and I’d say it’s a mistake not to have online leaderboards to encourage people to replay stages to compete on scores), Sky Racket’s execution justifies the excitement. Not only does it look like a long lost title from the 16-bit era, there’s just a whimsical quality to it that lines up with that time as well, making it feel like a bit of a lost classic. I’d say the experience is equally good solo or with a friend, though paired you’ll probably want to be sure your skills are at least comparable to keep some frustrations at bay. If you’ve been bemoaning there simply not being enough innovation in the market you owe it to yourself to partake of this great and unique indie gem.


Exit the Gungeon - While I’m not as massive a fan of Enter the Gungeon as some are (given the choice I’d typically pick Nuclear Throne, but I get why Gungeon is popular) I have a great deal of respect for it and easily count it as one of the top roguelike shooters in the indie space. When I heard the word that it would be getting a sequel I’ll admit I was pretty stoked to see how that great base formula had been iterated on. Unfortunately, though Exit will no doubt have its fans I’d find it hard not to consider it a step backwards though. No doubt in part motivated not to simply run with more of the same where Enter was a top-down shooter, Exit is instead more of a platform shooter and that shift makes major fundamental changes in play. Even if it is obvious that there was an attempt to keep as much the same, in particular the bullet-avoiding dodging and constant flow of weirdo guns, for me the action simply isn’t as ripe with possibility and surprise. From run to run far too many details are pretty close to identical this time around, and that lowered degree of the unexpected really dials back the potential for fun… especially when coupled with the fact that so many of the crazy guns and enemies have lost their edge of originality after the original being out there for years now. If you’re eager to take on the Gungeon with a new sense of purpose don’t let my negativity slow you down, just keep your expectations in check for this outing.


Wanderlust Travel Stories - I’ll be the first to admit that interactive novels as games don’t typically do it for me, they too often either lack in richness I expect in a well-written narrative or I just don’t find there’s enough for me to do other than click along to advance to the next block of text. While I’m not sure Waderlust Travel Stories will necessarily bring new people into the genre I do respect that it manages to walk the tightrope of my own expectations telling unexpected stories that are rich in their characterization, allow for choices that I’m not sure cause the ultimate outcome to shift too significantly but that feel like they matter, and then periodic images that convey the beauty of the places being visited. It certainly doesn’t have any action to speak of but if I’m going to read a bunch of text while on my Switch I’m thankful there are options like this one that are actually worth reading through.


Poly Puzzle - Having seen and played a pretty wide variety of puzzle games on Switch, ranging from predictable to creative, Poly Puzzle is definitely pointing towards the innovative and different end of the scale. The concept is pretty simple, rotating almost what I’d call a cloud of polygonal shards until they form into an image of a figure when you get them to just the right angle. For the most part this tends to go almost too quickly to wanting to rip your hair out trying to hit the sweet spot every few puzzles. While it can be satisfying to see the details fall into place to make some pretty wild figures if you don’t pace yourself you’ll blow through it pretty quickly overall.


NecroWorm - There’s something to be said for some decent theming and presentation compensating for or even elevating somewhat lackluster play. In general I’d say that’s roughly where NecroWorm lands, with its sensibilities in terms of action trending towards the classic Snake but with some additional strategy thrown in with traps and other considerations to take into account. Your goal is to simply eat everything you can without hitting anything you shouldn’t or essentially taking a bite out of yourself first. That makes it very straightforward, and perhaps perfect for quick play sessions, but it does wear on you a bit if you’re playing continuously.

Thursday, March 19

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


Roundguard [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to casual games from the previous generation or so that I remember with great fondness, the unique Peggle is one that easily stands out in my mind. Now imagine taking the base mechanics of carefully dropping your ball in the hopes that it will bounce in your favor and instead make that your character, adding a mix of roguelike and RPG elements on top of that for progression… and you’ll get Roundguard. While I wish there were more classes and spell diversity overall, what you’ll find here is a very clever title that packs a surprising degree of strategy and challenge. Randomly-dropped equipment in one run can match your preferred play style perfectly and give you the buffs you need to go deeper while on the next the RNG gods may forsake you, leaving you to bite it before you even get to the first boss. If you’re seeking something that’s sort of a casual plus experience, maintaining a base easygoing feel but with elements that spice things up quite a bit, you will definitely want to give Roundguard a hard look.


Dead or School - On several levels this game seems to be incredibly set for success. Zombie apocalypse… check. A mix of melee weapons, guns, and more heavy duty weaponry for clearing out the undead… check. A somewhat amusingly weird storyline where the main character dons her grandmother’s schoolgirl outfit determined to fight her way to the surface so she can start a school, and finds people along her journey excited to join her… Uh… OK. Periodic somewhat pervy/busty shots of characters and a dramatic ripping of the main character’s uniform when she gets hurt… Uh, yeah, it’s in there. Total credit for the game embracing what it wants to be without looking back, and I have no doubt that it will scratch an itch for many people looking for some weirdo action-packed fun. That said, aside from it perhaps being more of an acquired taste it’s worth noting that the action can feel a bit stilted, the upgrade system is needlessly complex and menu heavy, and in general the experience can feel a bit on the repetitive side. Still, if you want a fun junk food zombie killing experience it’ll serve that up pretty nicely, and with a distinctive style to boot.


Mystic Vale - Deck-building games are always a bit tough to judge since on the one hand you don’t want them to all be variations on the same theme but on the other if they veer a bit too far off in their own direction they can be tough to learn and fully appreciate. Mystic Vale definitely changes up the formula I’ve gotten accustomed to, and that’s a good thing since we don’t need more of the same, but where it falls down a bit is in how it tries to walk you through understanding its different way of doing things. To its credit, it does make a valiant attempt to help you make sense of the fundamentals but the road to applying smart strategies and planning to be consistently successful is a bit of a hurdle. If you enjoy deck building and have gotten bored with too much of the same concepts this may be worth your time if you’re ready and willing to dig in and explore, but for more casual fans just looking for some fun this may have too long a learning curve to provide gratification quickly.


Neon City Riders - When I got the chance to check this beat-em-up adventure of sorts of PAX East this year I walked away from the demo thinking it was visually interesting but structured poorly for making a good quick impression. The hope had been that what I saw there was just cobbled together to give people an idea of the different powers and puzzles you could use over the course of the game. Unfortunately, it’s actually how the game opens, making the experience a bit confusing and tough to really enjoy from the get-go. If you feel like too often games hold your hand to get you going you may appreciate how Riders just drops you into the deep end with minimal direction, leaving you to wander, likely die, and work out the order you need to move through the initial areas to get your abilities and progress. However, in an indie ecosystem full of games that handle the entirety of the gaming experience in a much more careful and constructive way Neon City Riders starts out failing to make a very positive impression and never really recovers with a clear payoff for that initial investment.


Talisman - As the Switch library has grown the experiences available to it have also diversified pretty considerably. One byproduct of a more varied field of games is people working on bringing perhaps less obvious options to the table, and in the case of Talisman it’s in the form of almost literally a digital version of that classic 80s board game. While folks who are familiar with it and see an opportunity to enjoy some nostalgic play with friends and family may be thrilled, its very straightforward presentation that lacks pretty well any bells and whistles can feel a bit flat. Perhaps its online play will help buoy it in some way but given what we’ve seen to date with the Switch indie online ecosystem I’d be doubtful it will be able to sustain itself for long. Throw in a DLC pricing structure for people wishing to unlock the full complement of the game’s classes and this really feels like a misstep to me.

Friday, March 13

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


Hidden Through Time [Nindie Choice!] - If you’ve ever had kids or were a kid at some point you may recall the Where’s Waldo books. Given a densely drawn page full of detail your challenge was to spot the striped hat and shirt of the bespectacled nerd who seemed to have a talent for seeking out other people or places that would distract your eyes from finding him. Taking that same sort of idea visually and running with a more general hidden object theme we now have Hidden Through Time, a puzzler full of charm and personality that will consistently make you feel like a fool for missing an object after repeatedly checking the same area and swearing it isn’t there. What really helps the game stand out is the quality, charm, and entertaining small details hidden everywhere in the large scenes you have to look over. It may be simple conceptually but it’s the care put into the endeavor that really sold me on this one. If you’re looking for a great title to casually kick back and enjoy this comes highly recommended.


inbento - With so many reasonably good puzzle titles on the Switch, and with many of them being budget-friendly to boot, it can take some effort to make a splash in the space. With copious amounts of cuteness, charm, simplicity, and variety I have to admit that inbento still managed to make a jaded reviewer smile. Though it has over 100 puzzles if you’re a puzzle vet you’ll still likely work your way through them with some speed, even if to its credit it continues to layer on new elements of complexity to help slow you down the further you get. While perhaps the nature of the puzzles, needing to layer or manipulate pieces in a certain order or way to match your target bento box design, can feel familiar I credit a low asking price and effective presentation with still making it a title worth picking up for either fans of puzzle or just casual games in general.


Stela - There’s no doubt that among the many influential indie games made over time Limbo is pretty high up there. With a very attractive art style, some solid puzzle and action platforming mechanics, and a dark and pretty compelling story there was a lot to like and it was pretty unique. Since that time there have been quite a few attempts to replicate that sort of formula but aside from Inside, another title made by the same team, there hasn’t been anything else to capture all of the same elements in such a compelling way. There’s no doubt that Stela has a fair number of the pieces of that puzzle in its favor: it’s visually appealing, is mostly mechanically sound, and it has some smart action puzzles, but it’s also lacking in a compelling narrative to really bring it all together. If you don’t mind that component missing there’s enough here to keep you busy for a few hours and aside from some spots where it can be hard to tell where you’re able to go or what you can interact with and how aside from through trial and error it is generally an enjoyable time.


Half Past Fate - Titles with a focus on story-telling first have become quite popular in recent years and the Switch has amassed quite a library of differently-styled adventures to explore in that vein. The newest onto the scene plays out a bit like a rom-com movie, though not necessarily told in order, as you explore the lives of several characters in search of love across 12 chapters. For the most part mechanically this is a typical adventure, with you needing to explore, talk to people, and then work out puzzles in order to progress. While not always the case what struck me as odd in the case of Half Past Fate is that moreso than usual its puzzles feel focused on the minutia of life, with its puzzles not dealing directly with the game’s story or themes, instead concerned with arbitrary obstacles you need to overcome to proceed. I don’t know that it heavily detracts from an overall lovely set of stories but for me those tasks could sometimes take me out of the game a bit too much since they could feel tedious and without narrative consequence.


Overpass - When you think of a racing game, thoughts normally center on head-to-head contests between multiple contestants, but there are other styles and Overpass slots into one of those alternate categories. With a focus on extreme off-roading this is a title focused on time and execution as you push your 4-wheeled vehicles to perform over a wide variety of terrain and obstacles. There is a fair degree of nuance and difficulty to this since the focus is on you tackling the course by yourself and you’ll need to hone your techniques for specific sections if you want to get the best times. Already occupying a more niche corner of the racing genre the overall experience has performance hitches and issues with pop-in or weird geometry in places that can be a distraction, but given the lack of many alternatives on the system if you love the challenge of off-roading it’s still a decent choice.

Thursday, March 12

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


Afterparty [Nindie Choice!] - The indie scene, in general, has seemed to fully embrace the concept of a “story-driven adventure”, less focused on action and more interested in interaction. Whether this takes the form of a visual novel or something that’s at least a little more game-like in presentation varies but for people on the outside looking in the genre may have a lack of appeal. Moreso than many of its contemporaries Afterparty attempts to use an unusual plot involving two friends who’ve crossed into Hell, copious amounts of hilarious dialogue choices, and what ends up being a surprising number of potential paths to go down narratively to suck you in and even encourage further playthroughs. While those looking for a bit more action in their gaming may find the sparse mini games and focus on conversation a deterrent if you’re down for being entertained by being able to indulge your worst impulses to see where things go Afterparty can be a ton of surprising fun.


Alder’s Blood - Though it can be a bit reductionist, sometimes the easiest way to convey the essence of a game is to give you an elevator pitch to help out. In the case of Alder’s Blood the best I can come up with is that it’s the love child of X-Com style tactical combat and the grim sensibilities and challenge of Darkest Dungeon. If that gives you the idea that it can be a serious challenge and carries some dire consequences for failure to keep your priorities in balance you’d be right. Battle is enhanced through its focus on stealth and even, at times, avoidance of enemies but the added concern of the scent of your party members being carried in the winds which may allow beasties to sniff them out layers on even more tension and sometimes frustration than usual. While it may not appeal to a wider audience because of its pretty serious degree of challenge, strategy fans who’ve been looking for something to dig into may find it’s just what they’ve been looking for.


MX Nitro: Unleashed - With a somewhat limited repertoire of racing/sports games on Switch when a new one comes to the scene there can be some pretty intense interest in how well it performs. In the case of MX Nitro: Unleashed there’s good news and bad news. If you’re down for an experience that combines pulling stunts as you go, building up a nitro boost gauge that you can use to jump higher and further (either to clear obstacles or pull off crazier stunts) or simply blaze ahead of your rivals it does a fair job of that. The list of tricks you can pull off may be pretty standard but their execution is generally smooth and accessible. In general the difficulty is middle of the road, generally forgiving but weirdly hard at times as your AI opponents will blow you out of the water on occasion. Still, if you’ve been looking for a motocross stunting fix this is a decent arcade-style implementation of that.


Rack n’ Ruin - Blending styles and doing something a bit different than the norm is common in the indie space and it’s a calculated risk. The desire is no doubt to deliver an experience that feels fresh and new, but then there are times when the effort falls flat. At least for me that’s where Rack n’ Ruin falls, with an action RPG kind of vibe but what felt like some roguelike shooter sensibilities thrown in as well. What is disappointing is that as crucial as accuracy can be when facing down a ton of enemies I found myself opting for a melee weapon whenever possible since I found the shooting is aggravatingly imprecise. Couple that with items and other elements you acquire not being explained well in any way and requiring experimentation to try to understand and the experience loses some of its luster as you periodically flounder. The elements of a solid game are all here with a reasonably funky story and lead character plus a solid art style but I just couldn’t get fully behind the experience.


Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet - OK, so maybe visual novels in general aren’t my type of game but there have been cases where the strength of the story and characters have still managed to suck me in. By contrast, Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet leans too heavily on creepiness and attempted innuendo right out of the gate, making understanding or caring about the characters pretty well impossible. The result is a pretty brisk playthrough where you’ll have a few branching choices to make without really understanding enough about the players involved beyond superficial dialogue to do more than follow your hunches. I suppose people may enjoy the art style or attempts at humor but because of brevity and the shallowness of the characters I consider it one to pass over as there are games in this style out there with far more creativity and substance.

Friday, March 6

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


Wunderling [Nindie Choice!] - Who ever said that puzzle games had to be for casual gamers? Oh sure, Wunderling could likely be enjoyed by just about anyone with its relatively simple one-button mechanic where you’re only able to control your character jumping… but to simply complete each level would be setting aside my favorite aspect of the game. The secrets, oh the secrets that this game has. Whether we’re talking about chests which will give you all sorts of silly gear to customize your character’s look, cassettes that will let you play music from the game’s soundtrack, or even an occasional hidden warp pipe that will take you to truly diabolical levels it’s the “hidden” challenges that accompany the standard game that have me hooked. Oh, and did I mention that the game’s premise and winks in the direction of Nintendo’s premiere franchise made me giggle and reconsider (only for a moment, mind you) my cruelty to the lowly Goombas out there? I love a game that works for everyone but then has an aspect daring the hard core folks out there to step up to the plate!


UnderHero - From the story, to the general action, to the fact that its combat is turn-based with timing-based bonuses akin to the likes of Super Mario RPG and others, UnderHero is plain different. As a goon working for the big bad of this game world who accidentally kills the hero (and a few of his fellow underlings), you make for an unlikely protagonist but that’s part of what makes the experience unexpected and fun. The pacing struggles at times and in general there’s a certain lack of polish compared to the game’s inspirations, but on the while this is an enjoyable experience with some refreshing silliness and fun. Just be sure to keep your overall expectations in check.


Kemono Heroes - Playing this was a bit odd for me, as in many ways it feels like a game I somehow played before in the SNES era but I can’t quite put a finger on its name. While this can be a fast food sort of retro action platforming experience to be enjoyed solo or with friends I wouldn’t really call it filling or memorable. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded and the game was made for less experienced gamers or to be enjoyed with the whole family but there’s a vanilla ease to so much of the action that it’s a bit of a bummer. The characters and art look great, and I really do think the game has managed to capture the essence of the SNES era, but I just wouldn’t consider the experience to be memorable and that’s a bit of a shame.


AvoCuddle - Who knew that avocados could be so cute and somehow anthropomorphizeable? Playing the part of one half of a pair of avocados in love, you’re risking being reduced to guacamole in the name of being reunited with you beau who has been kidnapped by aliens. Unfortunately, while the premise and setup could seem novel and fun the actual gameplay itself is far more generic. You’ll work through action platforming elements that do have some diversity across the levels but are lacking in a creative spark as well as refined control for the most part. Since it is mostly budget friendly it may not be a bad filler for a little while, just don’t expect for a lot you haven’t seen before.


Syder Reloaded - As a huge fan of classic arcade shooters, retro-styled shmups, and pretty well anything shooter in general the Switch has really come through with a ton of variety and options. Syder Reloaded, I’ll admit, doesn’t play quite like anything else on the system from on a game flow level, with levels that will challenge you with enemies coming from both sides, adding an element of unpredictability to the conflict. That said, there’s just something about the way things are set up that doesn’t quite work for me. It doesn’t do a very good job of explaining basic play, power-ups, or how its style of play is unique. I can jump into any classic arcade shooter and know what I’m doing without a word, but with a new formula it’s weird and detracts from the fun. If you’re looking for a fresh take it may be worth checking out, just be warned that different isn’t always a net positive.

Thursday, March 5

Mini Reviews: March 5th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Two Point Hospital [Nindie Choice!] - Sharing a thought, in many ways I still have a real beef with EA and the fact that they absorbed and pretty well ruined at least two classic studios that were dear to me. One was Origin, and the other was Bullfrog. One of my favorite titles Bullfrog made, that I’ve found myself returning to repeatedly over the years, was their sim classic Theme Hospital. If you’re familiar with the game all I should have to say is that Two Point Hospital is pretty well an enhanced remake of that classic to make the sale, it even has the same PA announcer voice (creepy fact but it provides glorious flashbacks). For people unfamiliar with that title it’s essentially a very goofy hospital simulator where you can explore your OCD tendencies, setting up rooms and providing proper benches, bins, and snack machines to keep people happy. Oh, and you’ll also want adequate treatment rooms, doctors, and nurses as well. The further into the game you get, the more it slowly diverges from its inspirations though many of the basic details remain the same. If you’re a sim fan the Switch has had a tough run to date, with too many games that have failed to be interesting, were hampered by terrible interfaces, or some combination of both. Thankfully, Two Point Hospital addresses all of those normal issues with smart and silly play, a highly usable (and generally unencumbered) interface, and plenty of details you’ll want to focus on to have the best hospitals in the business.


Baron: Fur Is Gonna Fly - Local multiplayer games on Switch pretty well span every flavor and level of quality, making the task of bringing a new one to the eShop and get recognized a challenge. In the case of Baron: Fur is Gonna Fly first and foremost I’m happy it isn’t yet another straight up platform shooter or brawler/slasher. Instead, it is a side view dogfighting game where you’ll need to dive, loop, and maneuver your way to victory, shooting down your enemies while trying to keep your own aircraft aloft. While the controls aren’t terribly complex I’ll give credit that with the small number of moves you have at your disposal there’s room for nuance and certainly the varied special attacks you can use are generally unique and often humorous. Going the extra mile there are even some single-player modes to explore, helping to add some extra longevity. Weirdly enough my major shout out for the game, though, is for its original soundtrack which has an era appropriate sound but features songs about the game’s characters. It’s sometimes the small things, but the music was consistently funny and demonstrates the care the development team took in going all in on making the game the best it could be.


Portal Dogs - With an abundance of puzzle games on the Switch making an impression is a challenge. Portal Dogs comes to the table with a pretty cute art style and at least somewhat unique ideas, making a valiant attempt at distinguishing itself. You’ll play as the “top dog” of sorts, with the task of finding any of your fellow mutts on the level, working through whatever obstacles are in your way to get them to their own portals, and then make your exit. There are 3 objectives on each level, and you don’t need to initially get them all, so depending on how you like to attack things, getting it all before you move on or attack things in layers is up to you. There are times when the controls aren’t quite as tight as I’d prefer, and in the end regardless of the cute characters much of the gameplay is something puzzle fans have likely done before, but for a budget-friendly price it isn’t a bad distraction.


Speedway Racing - There’s no doubt that the racing genre is among the least represented on the Switch, and if you’re a big NASCAR fan looking for a title on the system to date the well has been dry. Enter Speedway Racing, with the promise to put a smile on your face by featuring stock car ovals and excitement… though only if your standards aren’t terribly high. Set up to be an arcade-style light and fun racing experience, and not a sim, there’s room for things being a bit unrealistic and “fun” with pretty loose and generally forgiving physics and quite a lot of contact and crashes. The problem is more that “loose” and “forgiving” aren’t quite the same as “wacky”. The ability of cars to catch air and exhibit weird behaviors from contact makes every encounter feel like it’s at the whim of a wildly inconsistent random number generator behind the scenes with recovery possible at times and you completely going out of control in others. Then I’ve hit unusual bugs like suddenly not being able to get out of first gear in an automatic car even though no matter what cars go through there’s not a concept of taking damage. I wouldn’t suggest you can’t have fun with or enjoy Speedway Racing but if you’re looking for any real quality in your racing I’d warn you’re likely to be disappointed in some way by this offering.


Ski Sniper - I actually debated reviewing this game because it irritates me so much. Being clear, my objection isn’t even so much that the game’s premise is offensive. It is, shooting people participating in ski jumps with a sniper rifle is pretty sick. However, what grinds my gears is how sloppy and lackluster the gameplay happens to be. If you’re going to get people to pay for a skier sniping game you should truly earn their dollars. I want more fluidity, more detail as the bullet smashes into their tissue, and I want to hear and feel their bones break as they make contact with the ground and then ragdoll lifeless down the slope. Nobody should make a game that hopes to get people to buy it on shock value but then fails to truly deliver on that promise. If you’re going to bother to try to offend, don’t cheapen the overall market with schlock. That’s what really makes the industry look bad.

Wednesday, March 4

Top 20 Indie Games at PAX East 2020


It's that time once more to try to narrow down my list of games that impressed me the most at PAX East this year. With over 70 games to choose from getting it down to a tight 20 was a challenge but for the most part I'm happy with the result. Please bear in mind the way I do this isn't to choose my personal favorite games or the 20 that were absolutely most impressive. With the indie game making and playing communities being so diverse my goal is to try to come up with a list that is representative of as much of the spectrum as possible where all of the games represent the best that I saw offered at the show. With that, I present you my top 20 in a somewhat ranked order (though since they're all over the spectrum it's all relative).

Pumpkin Jack [Headup Games] - Looking at everything I checked out at PAX this year I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any title that was as exciting as Pumpkin Jack. Put together by a single developer (let me pick my jaw back up off the floor) this 3D action platformer, to me, has an essence to it that reminds me of Rare classics like Banjo-Kazooie. Not only are the various worlds you'll be moving through visually impressive and diverse, the inclusion of some surprises like an excellent throwback mine cart sequence are absolutely sure to bring a smile to just about any face. Planned for a launch around Halloween this may be the perfect title to enjoy this Fall.


Spin Rhythm XD [Super Spin Division] - I'll just come out and say it, in terms of the games from PAX East that I would immediately and gladly go back to play more of this is probably at the top of my list. Visually it is impressive, mixing concepts and looks from Guitar Hero and some other series. While I want to go back and understand how everything plays on an analog controller I've got to admit using a DJ turntable controller they had there was incredibly cool. What surprised me is that even as crazy as things could look on screen the controls were intuitive and worked very well, of course having a great soundtrack to compliment the action was icing on the cake. If you're a rhythm game fan this is absolutely a game to be on the look out for!


Streets of Rage 4 [DotEmu] - What I got to sample last year already looked and played spectacularly but this year's demo seemed to be highly polished and absolutely ready for prime time. The stations for this were pretty consistently packed with people eager to enjoy some retro play or just watch the gloriously animated action. Throw in the new character just announced last week and this is shaping up to be the beat-em-up to beat this year.


Raji: An Ancient Epic [Nodding Heads Games] - If you want a great example of what can happen when you continue to bring new cultures and traditions into the gaming mix, Raji should be at the top of the list. Visually stunning and steeped in symbolism and religious figures from Indian culture, there's a unique essence to it that's refreshing. To top it off the movement and combat are surprisingly fluid and in many ways unique, with a variety of creative opportunities being offered for people to change up typical fights with opportunistic use of the environment. If you've been looking for a title that can throw you some curveballs to defy your normal expectations the looks, sounds, and feel of Raji should already deliver, the fact that the action also feels fresh makes it a pretty compelling package.


Hindsight 20/20 [Triple-I Games] - Conceptually this may have been the most fascinating game I played at PAX this year, though that's in no way meant to imply the gameplay isn't rock-solid as well. Moreso than pretty well any other game I've played, Hindsight is focused on forcing you to make decisions. That's not just in cut-scenes where you choose your path though, even in combat you have a choice to make, either choosing bloodshed or simply stunning your opponents. One way this increased the effort in development is that both fighting styles have their own feel and flow, effectively doubling the game's combat and upgrade systems and both felt solid and distinct from one another. Put this together and pretty well every choice will have consequences on the flow of the story, and as I played both ways it became clear that there is no "right" answer. The characters in this world aren't cookie cutter archetypes who are clearly black and white, making it feel like repeated playthroughs would present you with very different outcomes depending on the paths you take.


Liberated [Atomic Wolf] - There are some games you just glance at and know they're likely going to sell and this is one of them. With a hand-drawn comic book noir vibe, a story involving a dystopian near-future, and some gritty stealth and shooting action it sucks you in pretty easily. The test will be seeing where it all ends up going. Regardless, based on my time with it and the response of pretty well anyone I saw giving it a go this will be a title to keep an eye out for later this year.


Fuser [Harmonix] - When you have a pedigree of the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises in your portfolio there's a mix of security in knowing how to make great games but no doubt also some unease when you venture into new territory. Fuser has some very general DNA from other music titles out there but I can't say that I've ever seen a title that handles music tracks and experimenting with combining them in quite this way before. Using a very eclectic library of music from many genres and eras you'll need to mix tracks in new and exciting ways to create new music, and in the demo I played I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the results. Ultimately, I think Fuser's success is going to rest heavily on the final library of songs they're able to allow you to work with, as variety and not being allowed to fall into comfortable patterns will be what makes or breaks the longevity of the game experience. That said, I can't wait to get back into it to again play with music in a way I've never been able to before.


Rainbow Billy: The Curse of Leviathan [ManaVoid Entertainment] - With visual elements reminiscent of the likes of Cuphead and moving from black and white to almost painfully colorful and cheery, Rainbow Billy makes a strong impression. The gameplay itself is an unusual combination of platform puzzling, mini games, and strategic turn-based combat with shades of Pokemon. My main thought is that though I was able to sort out how to be successful in the battles it definitely could use some clarification. That's especially the case since the game's visuals and style look like they'll attract a potentially wide audience. It has the elements that could make it a break-out star, it will be fascinating to see where the full experience lands on launch.


Lonely Mountains: Downhill [Megagon Industries] - Having played and loved this one quite a bit on the PC before even picking this up I was already a fan, but happy to report that it plays very well on the Switch as well. For those unfamiliar this is a title focused on riding your bike down treacherous mountain trails in search of short cuts that are just about everywhere... if you've got the skills and patience to pull off taking them. Challenging, gorgeous with its somewhat tilt shift visual look, and absolutely unlike just about anything on the Switch, this is a sports title well worth picking up when it arrives on the system later this year.


Drake Hollow [The Molasses Flood] - At a glance there's no doubt many gamers will immediately get heavy Fortnite vibes, though that's the original intended core game of Fortnite and not the Battle Royale flavor that took over the gaming landscape. You, and potentially your fellow players, have been put on a series of small islands, and your goal is to find and then protect some very cute little dudes. To do so you'll need to explore, collect resources, and then craft barriers and other elements around your central camp. You'll need to work quickly though as periodically some nasty customers are going to be on the attack, and while you'll want to show up and help fight them off there will be many more of them then you so whatever edge you can get through what you build will be a great help. While the quick demo didn't leave much time to appreciate all aspects of the gameplay it looks gorgeous, has online multiplayer support, and seems set to entertain when it launches later this year.


Panzer Paladin [Tribute Games] - For fans of the swashbuckling roguelike Flinthook (hand raised, and if you're not familiar with it you should check it out) this latest from the folks at Tribute Games may look like a step back as they've decided to go 8-bit with their new title. The thing is, even though the level of fine detail is obviously lower that doesn't make the look any less impressive, they visually own the look of the era so I can respect that. In terms of the gameplay itself it's also a bit of a throwback to slashing platformers that weren't uncommon in the day, but again in the demo I played they really own it. A variety of weapons you can find and pick up to help you out (ranging from impressive to outright silly), spots where you'll want to exit your armor to complete side objectives a bit more exposed, and some tough boss battles are all along for the ride here, making it a retro title to absolutely keep an eye out for.


Bake N' Switch [Streamline Games] - A quick look at the trailer for most people will immediately leave the impression that this is some sort of clone or distant cousin of Overcooked. While to some degree there are similarities, spending some time playing it proved that theory is generally false, and in terms of mechanics Bake 'N Switch is quite different and perhaps more accessible as well. Rather than collecting and preparing a variety of ingredients to make dishes to serve to customers, here you'll need to deal with little dough-based creatures. Working together to combine and then bake them, you're trying to please a grumpy island God who, if not satiated by your baked goods quickly enough, will consume the world instead. This change in focus makes the action pretty different, and in many ways I think helps ease cooperation amongst your team since people are more able to take charge of roles that suit their skills. Since most of the activities are so involved in terms of action, single-player may be challenging to implement well unless it is set to allow for more of a zone defense approach with AI multi-tasking a bit on its own. Thankfully the plans for online multiplayer should help to make sure you have a fair chance of someone having your back even if there's nobody to play with locally.


A Fold Apart [Lightning Rod Games] - Pairing up smart and engaging puzzles with a touching narrative has evolved into being a rock solid strategy, and some of my favorite Switch titles have had that pairing. What I was able to play of A Fold Apart was very encouraging in that regard, telling the tale of 2 people (that you're able to choose their respective genders at the start is a great inclusive touch) in love but with physical distance between them. The puzzle-based hook is the manipulation of the paper-like environments, whether flipping them over, folding, or otherwise changing them in a way that completes your path to continue your progress. Even in the short demo you could see how this could lead to creative solutions and the loving nature of the story playing out with your success was just the icing on the cake.


Helheim Hassle [Perfectly Paranormal] - As the second part of an intended trilogy of quirky games, Helheim Hassle takes a pretty different gameplay direction from its cousin Manual Samuel but shares its odd sense of humor. The gimmick here is that it may be a puzzle platformer, but what quickly sets it apart is your character's ability to drop limbs from his body, which you'll need to do in order to deal with the varied challenges the game throws your way. Combinations like a single leg, arm, and your head hopping along make for some very silly visuals and there seems to be a reasonable potential for finding more than one solution to some puzzles which helps it to feel creative. If you enjoy off-center experiences this is absolutely one to look out for.


Sky Racket [Double Dash Studios] - Elevator pitch time... what do you get when you combine Breakout mechanics with a shoot-em-up? It turns out a unique, clever, and legitimately challenging (at times) experience you'll even be able to enjoy with a friend. Don't let the somewhat Saturday Morning cartoon look fool you, minding bullets and the projectiles you need to use to knock out blocks (or bosses) can get quite involved. A very fresh idea that has been well-implemented.


Disc Room [Devolver Digital] - The pick up and play nature of the Switch seems perfectly suited to the sort of intense, challenging, and deliciously bloody action Disc Room brings to the table. Appropriately billed as a "dodge-em-up" you don't have much choice but to work to avoid a wide variety of lethal blades and some tough bosses as they ricochet around the room. Whether you're just down for the challenge of beating the game, completing all of the room-based challenges, or working to survive longer than anyone else on the leaderboards it may be a relatively simple concept but it's tough and it works well.


The Red Lantern [Kowloon Nights] - This is one of those demos where you can see the potential all laid out but it feels like the scope of the variety has been held back so it could go either way. As much as the dog sledding meets survival meets roguelike unpredictability is the obvious hook, what made me audibly laugh several times was the game's dialogue and how some of the choices you can make will play out at times. Encountering a small flock of birds there was an option to let the dogs loose on them and they proceeded to catch and eat them all... which made me laugh, but in practical terms it was great because they now had more full bellies to keep us moving. There was also an extended exchange where I was talking to an owl that had some great dialogue options so I'm hoping there are things like that peppered throughout. At the core is the hard reality that this is a survival game and since you start out with limited ammo you'll need to carefully consider when best to use it, but perhaps the RNG gods on any given run will make it tougher on you too so you may need to take the opportunities you get and try to make the most of them. There's no doubt this is a very different game that has a great look and some charm but I'm very curious to see the whole package to better understand its total depth.


Wunderling [Retroid] - While Wunderling has the appearance of a cute and innocent casual sort of experience don't believe its LIES! Playing as a former evil game boss who has been given a new lease on life by a witch you'll look to complete a long series of puzzle platforming levels to exact your revenge on the protagonist who stomped on you so callously. The real evil is in all of the game's secrets though, and the lengths you'll need to go to testing both your mind and dexterous abilities to get it all. Loads of cosmetic upgrades help incentivize you to try to get them all but be prepared to be challenged. When a game gets the "simple controls in a tough game" formula right it can be aggravatingly glorious and Wunderling seems to have nailed the landing when it comes to that goal.


Neon Abyss [Team 17] - A stylish and pretty challenging roguelike platform shooter, Neon Abyss had personality, insanity, and visual flair to spare. While I've played a load of top-down twin-stick shooters moving to a side-scrolling platform shooter really changes things up, and in many ways presents new challenges. Loads of weapons, cosmetics, and power-ups in some ways reminded me of the Binding of Isaac approach where what you're going to work with on any given run is highly unpredictable and that pretty well immediately makes me a fan. Offering up a hot look and fresh perspective on challenging roguelike shooting this is one I'm very much looking forward to seeing on the Switch.


Swimsanity [Decoy Games] - I'd gotten the opportunity to check out this colorful multiplayer game at last year's show, but only the Deathmatch mode. This year I also got to sample the cooperative adventure mode and that has raised my level of excitement for the title since it helps to further differentiate the game from a crowded pack of generally average multiplayer shooters on the system. There's no doubt that the pretty silly nature of over-the-top attacks like the summonable Shark will help make this a hit with families and with a fair amount of variety in the game's modes it should prove to have far more longevity than the average competition in this space currently on Switch. Throw in online multiplayer with hopes for multi-platform support and this may be a big winner when it gets released later this year.


Tuesday, March 3

PAX East 2020 Day 3 Impressions [Nintendo Switch]


Closing out things on Day 3 was a bit of a roller coaster ride as my long drive home makes it a battle to try to keep it at only a half day but inevitably there are games not on my list I end up checking out before departing. A note, while most of these games have been confirmed for the Switch there are also games that are either earlier on in their development or that may or may not come to the system for whatever reason. None should be incapable of being on Switch, but I also have no intention of implying that everything on this list will necessarily be on the system.

Helheim Hassle [Perfectly Paranormal] - As the second part of an intended trilogy of quirky games, Helheim Hassle takes a pretty different gameplay direction from its cousin Manual Samuel but shares its odd sense of humor. The gimmick here is that it may be a puzzle platformer, but what quickly sets it apart is your character's ability to drop limbs from his body, which you'll need to do in order to deal with the varied challenges the game throws your way. Combinations like a single leg, arm, and your head hopping along make for some very silly visuals and there seems to be a reasonable potential for finding more than one solution which helps it to feel creative. If you enjoy off-center experiences this is absolutely one to look out for.


Klang 2 [Tinimations] - With an impressive music and rhythm game in each of my previous days I didn't expect that I'd run into yet another one on Day 3. Klang 2 has perhaps taken the least traditional path of the 3, playing out like a slashing action title on-screen but with the combat being driven by hitting the beats successfully and in the correct way. There are times while you're getting up to speed and when things get intense that it can be hard to keep track of which direction you need to be pointing in since they need to be relative to your character, not the position on the screen, but there are at least some cues trying to help you with that if you can keep up. Looking forward to seeing the full story and experience when it is released.



Spirit of the North [Infuse Studio] - Playing out as a sort of spiritual and experiential animal walking simulator Spirit of the North has a unique and quite gorgeous look all its own. You'll play as a fox who'll need to make its way through a number of beautiful outdoor environments, and sometimes avoid its perils. There's a serenity to the mix of strong visuals and soothing sounds that makes playing it almost relaxing, and the portion I played seemed to indicate it's intended for gamers of just about any skill level.


Relic Hunters Zero: Remix [Akupara Games] - While the other Relic Hunters title, Legends, is being developed as a sort of upgraded sequel to the original this is a version coming to consoles that's a conversion of the original Steam hit. While visually it's pretty old school and basic, the quick and tight top-down roguelike shooting gameplay is a blast, especially if you're able to play with a friend. Multiple viable classes with a variety of skins, abilities, and a load of weapons make this title a lot of fun to just drop into and play quickly while also rewarding people who spend more time with it with plenty of content to unlock and enjoy.


Rainbow Billy: The Curse of Leviathan [ManaVoid Entertainment] - With visual elements reminiscent of the likes of Cuphead and moving from black and white to almost painfully colorful and cheery, Rainbow Billy makes a strong impression. The gameplay itself is an unusual combination of platform puzzling, mini games, and strategic turn-based combat with shades of Pokemon. My main thought is that though I was able to sort out how to be successful in the battles it definitely could use some clarification. That's especially the case since the game's visuals and style look like they'll attract a potentially wide audience. It has the elements that could make it a break-out star, it will be fascinating to see where the full experience lands on launch.



Gone Viral [Skullbot Games] - Possibly the funniest thing about this title is that a piece of its elevator pitch inspirational games list was Smash TV and the moment it was mentioned my response was: "I'm already down". This top-down roguelike shooter has quite a lot going on, and in its current state the level of importance of how you fight and play in response to desires of the viewing mob in the arena and at home isn't as clear as it should be. Essentially on each run the fickle audience will want you to change up your style, whether wanting you to be quick, be brutal, focus on specific types of kills, etc. Court their favor and they'll reward you with extra perks, defy them and they may send you a nastygram. With a lot of extremely strong competition in this space on Switch already it was great to check out a title with some new and smart ideas, I'm excited to see how it all plays out and will take on the likes of Nuclear Throne, Enter the Gungeon, and The Binding of Isaac on its release.



Drake Hollow [The Molasses Flood] - At a glance there's no doubt many gamers will immediately get heavy Fortnite vibes, though that's the original intended core game of Fortnite and not the Battle Royale flavor that took over the gaming landscape. You and potentially your fellow players, have been put on a series of small islands, and your goal is to find and then protect some very cute little dudes. To do so you'll need to explore, collect resources, and then craft barriers and other elements around your central camp. You'll need to work quickly though as periodically some nasty customers are going to be on the attack, and while you'll want to show up and help fight them off there will be many more of them so whatever edge you can get through what you build will be a great help. While the quick demo didn't leave much time to appreciate all aspects of the gameplay it looks gorgeous, has online multiplayer support, and seems set to entertain when it launches later this year.



Later Daters [Bloom Digital Media] - While I wasn't able to get time playing this retiree relationship simulator, spending some time watching someone else play through it certainly allowed me to take in the game's "quirky" (sorry to the dev who seemed bummed at my use of the word, but I do mean it as a compliment) humor. Having played several games in this style from the predictable teen era through even the afterlife, moving the timeline to the elderly seems ripe for unique situations, laughs, and even some more somber reflections at times. Whether you want to play the game just looking for friends or trying to woo your way into something more is up to you, the game seems to be geared up for pursuing relationships of all types and flavors. If the genre has seemed stale with school-aged romances dominating the scene this may be your chance to break out into territory that's more unexpected and likely far more entertaining as well.



A Fold Apart [Lightning Rod Games] - Pairing up smart and engaging puzzles with a touching narrative has evolved into being a rock solid strategy, and some of my favorite Switch titles have had that pairing. What I was able to play of A Fold Apart was very encouraging in that regard, telling the tale of 2 people (that you're able to choose their respective genders at the start is a great inclusive touch) in love but with physical distance between them. The puzzle-based hook is the manipulation of the paper-like environments, whether flipping them over, folding, or otherwise changing them in a way that completes your path to continue your progress. Even in the short demo you could see how this could lead to creative solutions and the loving nature of the story playing out with your success was just the icing on the cake.


Foregone [Big Blue Bubble Inc] - With a look and a high-level feel that almost immediately screamed Dead Cells to me I'll admit I stepped up to the Foregone plate with a nervous feeling. What's quickly obvious getting time to play it is that thankfully though it has some visual and feel elements in common it is very much its own animal in terms of the experience. Rather than go the roguelike route this is more of a traditional side-scrolling action adventure with plenty of combat. A mix of melee and ranged attacks are available, providing you with options in combat for your approach which can then be further refined through an upgrade system. Take that base and throw in some big bosses who look very cool and crank up the challenge and I'm ready for more when this gets released later this year.



The Wild At Heart [Moonlight Kids] - Blending a unique hand-drawn look with a puzzle adventure and a dash of Pikmin, The Wild at Heart feels like it has a lot of positives going for it. The demo was great at illustrating what you could expect in terms of the overall style of play but I'll be curious to see how everything else falls into place and what unique gameplay challenges it is able to muster with that solid foundational formula. With no Pikmin titles on the horizon currently from the Big N this has the potential to be a sleeper hit in the making if it can pull everything together the right way.


Bite the Bullet [Mega Cat Studios] - Possibly one of the most unusual titles I was able to sample at PAX this year, Bite the Bullet has a familiar run and gun core but then throws on a layer of unexpected weirdness. It's more than a mere shoot-em-up, it's a shoot-and-eat-em-up, and how this change influences your gameplay is bizarre, a bit gross at times, and certainly amusing. Since you are what you eat if you're not careful, and chomp down on too many meaty enemies, you can expect to put on some extra pounds and this will predictably slow you down. How the dynamics of the added layer of strategy will play out fully in the final product will remain to be seen but credit to the weirdos behind this title for throwing a hand grenade into a familiar genre style.


Get to the Orange Door [Hitcents] - What I got to check out of this title last year looked really cool and seemed to play pretty well in the sandbox it was in but this year the demo appeared to be a bit more fleshed out with more of an emphasis on traversal than outright gunplay. The intention for the game is to have a story mode to work through and in addition to provide opportunities for speed runners to work out optimum routes to pull off some impressive times. It will be interesting to see how the final product tackles finding the balance in movement, gunplay, and substance, at least for now it remains very exciting to jump into or even just watch.


The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters [Devespresso Games] - While the survival horror visual novel adventure has certainly become a niche thing, it hasn't always been a favorite flavor of mine. Though I could appreciate the appeal of the original Coma title I felt like the being pursued gimmick was leaned into a bit too heavily and just ended up being more of an annoyance than a thrill as the game went on. This new chapter in the series feels like it has a better balance, managing to use the same disturbing imagery and general feeling of creep as you enter every new room but not allowing itself to feel like it's going to the "cheap scares" well too often. The result I think should make for a more accessible experience, hopefully luring in classic adventure fans who may not mind a dash of horror thrown into their mix as long as it isn't overbearing.


Lonely Mountains: Downhill [Megagon Industries] - Having played and loved this one quite a bit on the PC before even picking this up I was already a fan, but happy to report that it plays very well on the Switch as well. For those unfamiliar this is a title focused on riding your bike down treacherous mountain trails in search of short cuts that are just about everywhere... if you've got the skills and patience to pull of taking them. Challenging, gorgeous with its somewhat tilt shift visual look, and absolutely unlike just about anything on the system this is a sports title well worth picking up when it arrives on the system later this year.


Curious Expedition [Thunderful] - While I didn't get much time to really dive into the complexity of the experience this game offers, what I walked away with was an impression that it should appeal to an audience looking for a different sort of strategy RPG experience than the Switch currently offers. Setting out with one of many explorers you'll ultimately have to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, your goal is to embark on a journey of discovery. On any given trip you won't be able to predict what riches or perils may await and that's part of the joy in the experience. While it may not be exciting enough for a broad audience people who enjoy the potential promise of the unexpected should keep it in mind.


Wunderling [Retroid] - While Wunderling has the appearance of a cute and innocent casual sort of experience don't believe its LIES! Playing as a former evil game boss who has been given a new lease on life by a witch you'll look to complete a long series of puzzle platforming levels to exact your revenge on the protagonist who stomped on you so callously. The real evil is in all of the game's secrets though, and the lengths you'll need to go to testing both your mind and dexterous abilities to get it all. Loads of cosmetic upgrades help incentivize you to try to get them all but be prepared to be challenged. When a game gets the "simple controls in a tough game" formula right it can be aggravatingly glorious and Wunderling seems to have nailed the landing when it comes to that goal.


MisBits [3BlackDot] - This somewhat unusual budget-friendly title is one of those ripe with potential but that is very hard to predict in terms of how it will be received. The trick here is that the bulk of the effort in development for the game has been put into making accessible tools to allow the community to make its own games from that people can then play with other people online. Intended to launch with 4 pre-made modes which vary pretty wildly the basics of action are controlling your head, plunking it onto a body that you're able to find, and then working towards the objective whether that's shooting a ball into a goal ala soccer, simply pummeling your opponents into submission, or perhaps a mix of all the above. If the community embraces the pretty friendly tools and is able to come up with some unexpected surprises it could be a hit, but if creativity or discovery in the opening weeks have issues it risks having interest pass quickly.


Fuser [Harmonix] - When you have a pedigree of the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises in your portfolio there's a mix of security in knowing how to make great games but no doubt also some unease when you venture into new territory. Fuser has some very general DNA from other music titles out there but I can't say that I've ever seen a title that handles music tracks and experimenting with combining them in quite this way before. Using a very eclectic library of music from many genres and eras you'll need to mix tracks in new and exciting ways to create new music and in the demo I played I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the results. Ultimately I think Fuser's success is going to rest heavily on the final library of songs they're able to allow you to work with as variety and not being allowed to fall into comfortable patterns will be what makes or breaks the longevity of the game experience. That said, I can't wait to get back into it to again play with music in a way I've never been able to before.

Monday, March 2

PAX East 2020 Day 2 Impressions [Nintendo Switch]


Day 2 was a bit less insane so I was able to slow my pace and dig in to enjoy some of these titles a bit more fully. A note, while most of these games have been confirmed for the Switch there are also games that are either earlier on in their development or that may or may not come to the system for whatever reason. None should be incapable of being on Switch, but I also have no intention of implying that everything on this list will necessarily be on the system.

Danger Scavenger [Star Drifters] - This year I ended up seeing quite a lot of roguelike shooting action of various kinds (not a problem for me) and though this was one of the more straightforward and slower-paced titles I checked out I liked it. You'll be moving floor by floor up a skyscraper, facing robotic foes of various kinds at every stage. What keeps changing is the type of weaponry you'll be dealing with, whether lasers, grenades, or a number of other types. When you're sometimes given an option on which area to go to this puts the power in your hands to either avoid a potentially more lethal area or decide to go all in with the hopes that you'll be able to pick up an appropriately-themed weapon to match the area. It all then culminates in a boss area and battle that brings together everything you've faced at once. Would need to see how diverse runs end up being in the final product and what the ongoing hook is but this was a pretty smart and well-implemented shooter.


Liberated [Atomic Wolf] - There are some games you just glance at and know they're likely going to sell and this is one of them. With a hand-drawn comic book noir vibe, a story involving a dystopian near-future, and some gritty stealth and shoot action it sucks you in pretty easily. The test will be seeing where it all ends up going. Regardless, based on my time with it and the response of pretty well anyone I saw giving it a go this will be a title to keep an eye out for later this year.


Biped [NExT/Tencent] - This was such an incredibly odd title, but not necessarily for the reason you think. First, it is super cute... the two robot main characters walk awkwardly (you control each of their legs independently with the analog sticks) and can also scoot around quickly (though this often got me into trouble) in beautiful and pretty detailed areas. It's a game absolutely made to be played with a friend, and there will no doubt be a fair amount of laughing and shared fun to be had with it. The surprise though? It's actually almost diabolically hard at times... though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you don't mind some potential swearing and aggravation this game will require 2 people with both patience and a fair amount of skill to be successful in, but if you're both ready to dig in and do some work it may be one of the best co-op titles out there with that in mind.


Crown Trick [NExT/Tencent] - Since the build I played was still a bit on the early side it's hard to say a great deal about Crown Trick but watering it down I'd say it plays quite a bit like Crypt of the Necrodancer if you removed the music and rhythm element and then added smart use of the environment to help in battle. You and your enemies will move turn by turn over a grid, with your goal being to outmaneuver them, get into position, and do some damage. You'll need to keep an eye out for things like oil on certain floor tiles as well, which may give you an opportunity to use a fire spell to cook and entire group of enemies with one attack. It certainly has potential as well as a nice art style, looking forward to seeing more of it as it progresses.


World of Horror [Ysbryd Games] - While the game itself is absolutely unique and creepy as hell the story behind it is fascinating. Created by a single developer who by day is a dentist, and with art apparently all created in MS Paint, it's among the more crazy indie dev stories I've heard. The game, aside from sporting some crazy spooky art and a number of creepy stories to explore, is all about survival, a little bit of luck, and making smart use of the items you're able to collect. I will say the combat and inventory systems still feel like they need some work towards clarity but there's no doubt this is absolutely a one-of-a-kind horror experience if you've been thirsting for a chill on Switch.


POSTAL 4: No Regrets [Running With Scissors] - Ah, so Postal is back... everyone get excited. Having played the original (reviewing games even way back when) I'll admit it at least amused me at times, in particular when I was able to attack a marching band and then had them come after me and beat me to death with their instruments (truth!). Much as it has always been, this new incarnation is about not just ignoring the reasonable limits of any form of taste, but running by them, stabbing them in the back, and then desecrating their corpses perhaps. The demo played more like a sandbox for showing off a variety of silly and/or offensive means of killing people, and an opportunity to give into your base impulses can be fun sometimes just to see what happens... but once you've done it a few times the question is whether it can remain entertaining. I'm hoping it's early or will get tuned because in particular after pouring gasoline all over a store and the lighting it all on fire the frame rate (this was running on what I'd imagine is a gaming-tuned laptop) dropped to a slide show. I respect that there can and should be games for every audience but at least in the demo all I saw was an emphasis on getting attention, not on keeping it.


Bake N' Switch [Streamline Games] - A quick look at the trailer for most people will immediately leave the impression that this is some sort of clone or distant cousin of Overcooked. While to some degree there are similarities, spending some time playing it proved that theory is generally false, and in terms of mechanics Bake 'N Switch is quite different and perhaps more accessible as well. Rather than collecting and preparing a variety of ingredients to make dishes to serve to customers here you'll need to deal with little dough-based creatures, working together to combine and then bake them in order to please a grumpy island God who, if not satiated by your baked goods quickly enough, will consume the world instead. This change in focus makes the action pretty different and in many ways I think helps ease cooperation amongst your team since people are more able to take charge of roles that suit their skills. Since most of the activities are so involved in terms of action single-player may be challenging to implement well unless it is set to allow for more of a zone defense approach with AI multi-tasking a bit on its own. Thankfully the plans for online multiplayer should help to make sure you have a fair chance of someone having your back even if there's nobody to play with locally.


Those Who Remain [Wired Productions] - With a base of what's become a bit standard with the walking simulator adventure with creepiness vibe it could be easy to dismiss Those Who Remain but if you give it a little time to reveal all of its mechanics you'll find something new in the mix. Once you gain the ability to effectively shift to a parallel dimension representing the same space (think The Upside Down) the puzzles that would normally walk you through to the next reveal at least become a bit more varied and interesting. The production values are also generally a fair step up from the norm for this subgenre of sorts, so if you enjoy tension and suspense as you try to figure out what to do next over jump scares this may be worth keeping in mind.


AVICII Invector [Wired Productions] - Featuring an absolutely kicking soundtrack with a strong beat Invector also plays quite differently than most any music and rhythm game I've encountered. Mixing up segments that feel more rigidly structured within a triangle and focused on timing with almost Star Fox-like phases where you'll need to fly through gates to more freeform areas with a feel more akin to Guitar Hero it manages to somehow pull it all off. The transitions between modes are generally well-matched to the music, enhancing and reinforcing what you're hearing in a satisfying way. If you're a big music fan this is worth checking out when it launches on Switch.


Aeolis Tournament [Beyond Fun Studios] - Local multiplayer has hit a real resurgence in the indie space, but that has also put the pressure on to find ways to differentiate yourself in the crowded eShop. Aeolis Tournament's take is to throw you and up to 7 friends into a series of some combination of 5 possible events, which are a mix of solo and team efforts, to see who comes out on top. The controls are simple, in every mode you'll only need to concern yourself with a single button which controls an air cannon your character carries with them. Whether in a quick burst or a powered-up blast using this simple skill you'll be trying to knock your enemies out, score goals, or win a snowball fight among other things. As you'd expect there's room for some nuance to reward more serious players but with its simplicity it should be a satisfactory family game that just about anyone could play and enjoy.


Pumpkin Jack [Headup Games] - Looking at everything I checked out on Day 2 at PAX I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any title that was as exciting as Pumpkin Jack. Put together by a single developer (let me pick my jaw back up off the floor) this 3D action platformer, to me, has an essence to it that reminds me of Rare classics like Banjo-Kazooie. Not only are the various worlds you'll be moving through visually impressive and diverse, the inclusion of some surprises like an excellent throwback mine cart sequence are absolutely sure to bring a smile to just about any face. Planned for a launch around Halloween this may be the perfect title to enjoy this Fall.


Rigid Force Redux [com8com1] - If you're a fan of old-school side-scrolling arcade shooters you've likely encountered little-known titles like R-Type or Gradius (among some others) at some point. If those games are your jam you're definitely going to want to check out Rigid Force Redux, which revisits many of those same classic beats while doing plenty of things its own way as well. Aside from looking great, the controls are tight, the action is challenging but fair, and this is a retro love letter arcade shooting fans should eat right up.


Shing! [Mass Creation] - The classic side-scrolling beat-em-up has been a staple genre in the arcades and on home consoles since the early days. In order to stand out from the crowd in such a genre it takes some effort to find some way to change things up. Shing absolutely does that, though perhaps not in the way you'd expect. Rather than using the face buttons on the right to execute your attacks Shing makes use of the right analog controller. While it could feel like a gimmick, in execution I actually found that it worked quite well, and lended a sort of flow to the demo area I played. While you can go it solo seeing it played both ways it looks like one where working with some other people would be preferred, so thankfully online multiplayer support is coming along for the ride.


Depths of Sanity [Bomb Shelter Games] - You don't tend to see many titles set under the sea so when they do pop up they typically offer something that controls and feels a bit different. That's certainly the case with Depths of Sanity, with your first fundamental challenge revolving around simply getting comfortable controlling your mini sub. You're going to need to be sure you've at least got a handle on those controls as the threats you'll face, whether in the form of menacing creatures or falling rocks, will demand some maneuvering if you don't want to end up wrecking your craft. Smart use of light mixing with a variety of puzzles will help compliment the action to hopefully keep this underwater journey an engaging one throughout.


Rising Hell [Toge Productions] - With a play style set vertically, in the easiest way my brain wants to think about Rising Hell as Downwell but played moving up. That's not terribly true but since the hook is pretty unique it was the best I could muster. Depending on the character you pick you'll need to punch, grapple, or shoot your way through enemies while always trying to keep on the move upwards, or the rising lava will consume you. Of course knocking out some enemies on the way will score you more loot, which will be useful when you hit the shop and want to think about upgrades. There's a great feel to the action and the constant threat keeping you on your toes means plenty to consider as you continue moving higher. I liked the challenge and am looking forward to the final version arriving on Switch.


When the Past was Around [Toge Productions] - Though the prologue demo for this wasn't terribly long it was more than able to communicate the creative variety in puzzles, unique artwork, and pleasant overall experience. This is a game meant to take you on a relaxing and meaningful journey, tickling your brain as it goes as you try to work out the nature of and the solutions to the varied puzzles you'll be faced with. In particular I was impressed with the use of music and other themes that kept it engaging and not falling into familiar patterns you often see.


Raji: An Ancient Epic [Nodding Heads Games] - If you want a great example of what can happen when you continue to bring new cultures and traditions into the gaming mix, Raji should be at the top of the list. Visually stunning and steeped in symbolism and religious figures from Indian culture, there's a unique essence to it that's refreshing. To top it off the movement and combat are surprisingly fluid and in many ways unique, with a variety of creative opportunities being offered for people to change up typical fights with opportunistic use of the environment. If you've been looking for a title that can throw you some curveballs to defy your normal expectations the looks, sounds, and feel of Raji should already deliver, the fact that the action also feels fresh makes it a pretty compelling package.


Alkimya: Memories of the Last Alchemist [Bad Minions] - I'm not sure whether the build I saw was a bit early or whether my issues were just a matter of not having enough time to slowly digest what it is trying to do but my impression of the demo I got for Alkimya was a bit of a hot mess. I appreciate the emphasis on alchemy and the wide variety of potions you'll be able to discover through experimentation to help me on my journey. However, at least the way the interfaces are implemented currently, trying to navigate and manage it all was not simple or intuitive. At this point I'm worried the game may be trying to bite off more than it can chew but it will be interesting to see whether the final product is able to resolve my issues before launch.


30XX [Batterystaple Games] - If you're a big fan of the classic Mega Man series or titles like it and haven't yet checked out the roguelike take on those classics in the form of 20XX I'll encourage you go do so now. If, however, you'd like to instead wait for the release of this new iteration on that idea you can certainly choose to do that as well. Based on the build I played it may be a while away still as it sounded like there's plenty more content to be created and tested, but what was there looked great, played well, and offered up solid co-op play that feels very different whether you use the melee-focused Ace or the arm-blasting Nina. Procedurally-generated stages will keep you from getting too comfortable while all sorts of random power-ups you're able to work with should help keep boss fights feeling more fresh. Looking forward to seeing how this upgrade to an already solid title shapes up.