Thursday, October 29

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

Pinball FX3: Williams Pinball Volume 6 -
Once again it’s time for old school pinball fanatics to rejoice as a new pack of conversions from the classic collection of Williams tables has arrived. The top billing obviously goes to the revered classic Funhouse, whose animated ventriloquist dummy head Rudy absolutely steals the show! In a great sign of respect for the quality of the original even in enhanced mode the head is left the same, you can’t improve on a classic! That said, the animated full-bodied Rudy to the right doesn’t particularly add much to the experience. Still, this is absolutely a table every pinball fan should want to have ready access to. Next up there’s Space Station, a much more simplistic table with a spread out layout that feels and plays completely differently. A bit older, so it’s lacking in bells and whistles, the enhanced elements for this one I also was inclined to leave off since at best the floating asteroids and all were distracting and only there for ambiance really, never doing much more than float there. Finally, there’s a table with perhaps too much personality, depending on your tastes, Doctor Dude. This has always seemed like a somewhat polarizing table among my friends, but I personally have a weak spot for it and all of its silliness since I got a ton of time with it in my local arcade back in the day. Again, the enhancements in this case don’t play much of a role in enhancing the experience, especially since the animated Dude simply looks a bit weird, even for him. I was at least entertained when his outfit would change with an upgrade because of your success in making him more cool, sometimes it’s small things that can count the most. While I’d say on the whole most of the other packs have more overall star power, Funhouse would be worth the price of admission on its own. Even not being the best Williams Pack available there’s no doubt you could sink a significant amount of time (and, thankfully, at least no quarters) into these well-constructed and recreated tables.

My Universe: Fashion Boutique - So going completely off the board and reaching out to an unusual demographic among my normal review fare we have My Universe: Fashion Boutique. Granted, it’s likely targeted to younger girls (or anyone who loves a fashion game I suppose) but even as an adult male who hasn’t exactly plumbed the depths of the fashion game genre I’ll say I walked away pleasantly surprised by the experience. What I like is the attempt to really get you a bit more involved in things, not merely trying to match people up with their ideal outfits but also designing and then doing some of the worth to bring new fashions to life. Mini games will have you tracing your patterns, cutting out your fabric, and then sewing it together, trying to be as accurate as possible to increase your score. In the beginning you’ll only have a few articles to work with helping out in your aunt’s store but as you find success you’ll be able to unlock new styles, patterns, and accessories that will really allow your creativity in creating a look to shine. Perhaps the pacing is a bit on the slow side in terms of advancing the story along but as games for the younger set go I was pretty impressed and I think my older daughter would have been thrilled with it a few years ago (she does like it now, just before it would have been her present, not a title she was consulting me on).

Clea - Appropriately for this time of year we have Clea, a game where you’ll come in a bit cold wondering what the heck is going on with the hopes that perseverance will pay off with some suspense and scares. This falls into the category of having general adventure game mechanics, needing to explore and find inventory items to advance the story while being careful and sometimes needing to run in order to evade a bloodthirsty stalker. The bulk of the appeal is that knot in your stomach as you approach a new door, trying to be quiet as you move around and being sure to run for cover if you’re discovered. The thing is, if that hook isn’t enough on its own to motivate you, without that somewhat constant concern this becomes a very simple linear game for the most part. While it can provide a thrill and the story is appropriately a bit twisted even among some other titles in the same space like the Coma games this feels a bit outclassed overall.

Angry Video Game Nerd 1 & 2 Deluxe - While I’ve heard people throw praise at these two throwback platformers I’ve never had the chance to check them out until now. Very similar to one another as a whole, with the sequel simply adding a few more elements to improve on the overall quality of the experience, these are pretty straightforward tough platformers that will demand your full attention. I take some issue with the fact that too often some of your obstacles to progress feel like they’re on the cheap side, but that’s all a matter of taste and what you’re looking for I suppose. While perhaps this can make me seem like an old prude I’d actually say I found the game’s dialogue to be a bit on the juvenile and lazy side, throwing around profanity needlessly for its own sake, and in a way that makes it feel like it’s attempting to be cool and “edgy” somehow. Just in general I’d say these weren’t my cup of tea, whether it was shaking my head at some other cheap curse-laden joke being made or a particular section that simply seems to be designed to be brutal without also really having those that are actually fun.

The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny - The conversions from the Neo Geo Pocket are always interesting from the standpoint of seeing what could be pulled off on such a relatively limited portable, but their quality and staying power tends to vary wildly. In the case of The Last Blade it’s a weapon-based series I’m not familiar with so that added to the learning curve, though with some repetition I was able to start to understand the core moves. Granted, among the few modes there’s a Training Mode option but with it being a 2-button fighter I figured it should be relatively easy to pick up cold as at least a casual-ish fighting game vet of sorts. Surprisingly, no, but checking things out afterwards it mostly made sense. A bit like the Samurai Shodown 2 pocket conversion there’s a more strategic element to the fights here rather than blunt action so blocking and countering tends to be more effective than outright aggression. The character roster is a bit thinner than some of the other SNK fighters from the portable so unless you’re a fan of the series this may not be the fighter you’re looking for.

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

Carto [Nindie Choice!] -
Having played so many of them, unfortunately the first thing I assume I’ll see when approaching any sort of puzzle game is that it will be something I’ve seen before. What’s so wonderful is when a title takes that assumption and utterly blows it out of the water, something Carto does with heart and just very smart design. Long story, but you play as Carto and you have the ability to manipulate the world to rearrange it. Cool, yes, but where things get clever is combining this with puzzles that vary in how they’re constructed as you advance the story. Talking to various villagers you encounter you’ll find that what you’ve laid down will need some rearranging, sometimes just to make sure the edges of the various tiles work together but often in order to ensure elements like roads or foliage are placed relative to each other as they’re meant to be. Throw in some great characters you’ll encounter along the way and it’s a cheery, creative, and unexpected treasure of a puzzle adventure well worth your time.

Crimzon Clover: World EXplosion - If you’re a fan of arcade-style shmups you’ve been pretty well served on the Switch as the library of classic and new titles has gotten to be impressive. In the case of Crimzon Clover you can add yet another to the list. Featuring intense screens absolutely full of chaos representing your own substantial firepower and that of your enemies it will put your bullet-dodging to the test without it being an outright bullet hell title. The 3 initial ships, as the additional one that can be unlocked, aren’t majorly different from one another but they are each worth trying in order to find the feel that suits you best. The key to success very much seems to be using your lock-on and bombs consistently and often in order to keep replenishing your break meter, which allows you to unleash hell on your enemies. I was impressed by how well the game performed, never really slowing down no matter how many enemies, bullets, and stars were filling the screen at once. I’d say the wonky and inefficient way you need to access the online leaderboards is the most disappointing aspect of the game, why those can’t be front and center moreso I’m not sure and it does knock down the motivation to continue to play a bit. However, if you’re a big fan of arcade shooting grab your Flip Grip (to play in vertical mode, of course), sit back, and enjoy!

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm - When you set your sights on trying to capture the essence of games in the mold of the Zelda series it has to be a daunting challenge. After the success of the original Oceanhorn which sported a more classic 16-bit look the developers apparently decided to go all in on moving to a full 3D world, an ambitious move without a doubt. The result, while generally pretty attractive, does manage to capture many aspects of the experience but also has some notable weaknesses that keep it from reaching its potential. Probably the weakest area overall is the game’s combat, mostly noticeable since it plays quite a large part in the overall experience. The lack of a means of locking onto enemies is part of it but there simply not being enough variety to it over time makes it into a sort of necessary slog. I do appreciate attempts to break up the action, with elements like a hoverbike sequence pretty early on, but them merely existing doesn’t make for a net positive when it’s obvious the mechanics and quality are a bit lacking. I don’t mean to be overly sour, for the price of admission this is a reasonably good adventure that has its moments. I just hope in their next effort they’re able to focus on diversifying and improving the depth and quality of core elements like combat that can keep a long adventure feeling fresh when well-implemented.

Galacide - Daring to blend genres that typically haven’t been mashed together can be a risky business, but the upside is that when it is done right there can be a substantial reward for your effort. I have no doubt the people behind Galacide had that in mind when they designed a game that combines a classic side-scrolling shmup with an action puzzle game. An ambitious idea, to be sure, but in terms of how effective and engaging it is? Well, that may be a rougher road. It is, no doubt, novel and it can be satisfying if you’re able to get into a groove. Grabbing colored gems from destroyed enemies, your goal is to complete groups of same-colored barriers that stand in your way to clear them and gain a helpful power-up in the process. The main problems I ended up having, though, are that overall that core experience never really seemed to evolve as you went along and that you’d get so occupied trying to complete the puzzle that the shmup elements (aside from the obligatory boss battles) were just background noise to an extent. Given that there are many fans of either of the game’s genres who don’t appreciate the other, the compromises made to satisfy the concept may make it hard to find an audience for.

Umihara Kawase BaZooKa - Credit where it is due, I can’t say I’ve ever played anything quite like this game. Mixing elements of an action platformer, a bit of an odd shooter, and I suppose ideally a fighting game it actually took a little while to take it all in. If you’re playing solo you’re likely going to hit the Challenge mode, which mostly consists of you trying your best to “hook” an enemy with your fishing reel, get them pulled in, and then knock out as many of their friends as possible by using that former enemy (or object) as your bazooka shot. Of course, some enemies aren’t as easy to deal with, it was ones you needed to do a “jump attack” to knock out that I found annoying though since you couldn’t simply jump and land on them, you’d instead double jump close enough to them and your character would then attack them that way. Weird and didn’t work very well. With some friends around, or if you’re thinking you’ll find someone to play with online (no dig on this title specifically, online communities for indie games are typically short-lived at best), you can also hit the game’s battle mode which really ends up being an odd and far more limited version of a game like Smash. I suppose if you’ve got a connection to this license the roster of 22 characters (who, in my eyes, mostly look only minorly different) may be exciting but if you’re someone like me just seeing a bunch of anime characters in an unusual action game it may be tougher to generate much enthusiasm.

Wednesday, October 28

Top 20 Indie Racing / Flying Games on Nintendo Switch

Given that both the racing and flying genres on the Nintendo Switch haven't been the best represented it seemed like a good idea to make a list that puts them together to improve the chances that these top-tier titles will get the attention they deserve.

Horizon Chase Turbo - Oh, to go back to the arcades, hearing the sound of quarters being dispensed from the bill changer, and diving into some classic gaming fun. Horizon Chase Turbo is a love letter to arcade racing greats like OutRun (a personal favorite) but it delivers so much more than that. With its smart pick-ups on the tracks, some great hidden unlocked cars, and more content than I ever would have imagined it's not a nostalgia cash-in, it's a celebration of classic arcade racing that will have you entertained and challenged for many hours if you want to find it all. One of my Top 10 Indie Games of 2018, this is a retro racing gem!

Everspace: Stellar Edition - As a massive fan of the classic Wing Commander series this is a title that easily caught my eye while it was on PC. There's absolutely no doubt that it nails the space combat aspect very well, offering up variability with its roguelike structure, multiple ships you can experiment with and a variety of weapons as well. While it doesn't quite have something akin to the space opera I always enjoyed it absolutely delivers with its solid and challenging gameplay.

Hotshot Racing - With its low-poly look coming straight out of classic Sega arcade titles like Daytona Racing we have Hotshot Racing, and while it may not have incredible depth or nuance damn if it isn’t a whole lotta fun. There’s nothing too complicated, you’ll choose from an assortment of international racers who each have their own flair (I love my boy Viktor), choose which of their cars you prefer, which each are tuned a little differently for variety, and hit the tracks. This is full-on arcade racing, with plenty of bumping and jockeying for position to put your opponents into the wall on turns and then conserving your boost to be sure you can fly across the finish line. The boost-building mechanic, which has you either power-sliding around turns or drafting your opponents who are ahead of you puts just enough technique in the picture to make you work for it and provides a little room for skill and strategy as well. For kicks aside from the main championships the Arcade one-off races can be switched to a cops and robbers mode as well as elimination, helping to provide some variety as well. It’s an absolutely outstanding old-school, fun, and great-looking arcade racer.

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

Inertial Drift - While some people prefer their racing to be a bit rough around the edges, banging around turns and defying any sense of realism, others prefer to go the other direction and focus on nuance. That’s certainly the case for the aptly-named Inertial Drift, which won’t give you the arcade-like thrills of bumping into your competitors (when you do race against a single opponent you don’t make contact with them, they’re always effectively ghosts), but instead focuses on skilled drifting, which offers great fun and challenge in its own right. The big differentiator here is that the right stick controls the angle of your drift, which is a brilliant idea, and really allows you to have fabulously-precise control of your car through turns, and as you get better your understanding of how best to turn versus drift continues to evolve. There’s no doubt the degree of challenge is also higher here, but if you find yourself struggling initially I’d very much recommend choosing a different racer and car. Every vehicle has its own associated technique with it in terms of how you approach turns, whether just letting off the throttle, braking, or whatever it may be. Each feels very distinct and I could see where different people could prefer each particular style of racer. To top it off the hand-drawn sort of art style looks pretty amazing, so if you prefer nuance to trading paint this may be the racer for you.

Riptide GP: Renegade - While it has far more in common with traditional racing games than my beloved Wave Race this mobile conversion looks great and is generally very satisfying on the Switch. It has a pretty solid variety in tracks that range from being very closed courses to a few that get into open water a bit and this helps keep it interesting. The alternative stunt mode may be a little hit or miss in some regards but the slalom mode is an excellent test of your water-based racing skills. Online play is included as well but for the price of admission I found the pretty challenging single-player mode to be pretty thoroughly satisfying.

War Tech Fighters - While there have been a few big robots battling in space games on Switch to date none of them have quite clicked for me. Though War Tech Fighters takes a little getting used to it’s the first that has put the overall package together in a way that’s compelling, if perhaps a bit repetitive. Strangely one of the elements that made me a believer is the use of the somewhat cinematic finishers that you can use to dispatch your enemies once their health is sufficiently low. You have a small boost to incentivize you doing them and thankfully the wealth of ways your mech will finish off enemies manages to make it fun, even if it ends up stilting the flow of gameplay. While it may lean more heavily on popcorn fun than some may prefer, a bevvy of upgrade options and a sense of flair help it to climb to the top of the genre heap on Switch.

Meow Motors - Though there’s no question that this is a “budget racer” that can’t compete with a premium genre-defining title, Meow Motors holds its own very respectably. In pretty well every area it addresses the failings of its competition, providing racing that’s varied, nuanced, and satisfying. It looks very respectable, runs smoothly, and sucked me in pretty easily with engaging play I’ve been missing in this space for quite some time. If you’ve been itching for a viable alternative to Mario Kart for a price that won’t hurt your wallet, Meow Motors is absolutely the indie racer to go with.

Manticore: Galaxy on Fire - As a total package if you enjoy space combat there’s quite a lot to like about Manticore as long as you reign in expectations you may have from other series. It looks great, plays smoothly, and throws enough variety and surprises at you that it’s quite satisfying. However, if the goal is to try to take on the best in the genre there’s no questioning it has room to improve. I look forward to seeing more of the series and hope they continue to flesh out more ambitious missions against even larger-scale targets (rather than just flying around them for the most part) and make the pilots on your wing more dynamic, interesting, and even varied.

Mantis Burn Racing -If you're a fan of tight controls, drifting, and top-down racing ala Micro Machines and the like Mantis Burn Racing is a game you'll want to check out. While the original campaign mode can get a bit dry and repetitive in spots the DLC pack snow, hover, and battle packs really even out the whole package to provide a little something for all tastes. I personally preferred the carnage of the battle mode but high-speed thrills were also exciting and challenging in the others. The addition of well-implemented online play is the icing on the cake.

Skies of Fury DX - While we'll overlook the fact that for the most part it utterly ignores gravity as you loop through the air, Skies of Fury DX is an excellent and often exciting dogfighting game. Playable in pretty quick bursts, with each mission only taking a few minutes in general, it is well suited to picking up for a few minutes and then putting back down. New planes and loads of different cosmetic unlocks continue to keep things fresh and fun throughout.

Pilot Sports - Fans of the classic PilotWings have no doubt been upset that Nintendo really hasn't returned to the series now in quite some time. While Pilot Sports doesn't quite have the polish of those titles it does do an excellent job of delivering many of the same sorts of core gameplay experiences it's famous for. Flying a plane, working with a tricky jetpack, and a few other experiences are represented here in a way that's fun but can also get to be quite challenging as you progress.

The Next Penelope - As a whole The Next Penelope looks like a racer but plays out in a way that blends in elements of adventure and relies on strategy in a variety of ways. If you’re struggling in a particular level the issue will usually revolve around over-use of your powers and running too low on energy so judicious use of both should always be on your mind. While it may not be an experience for everyone if you’ve been looking for something different to throw several hours of unexpected challenges at you The Next Penelope delivers.

Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers - Anyone who had a NES back in the day should probably remember RC Pro-Am and the great racing it offered up. While not completely the same by any means Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers is probably the only game I've played since those days to give me that vibe. While it likely won't take you long to get through all of its circuits and the Party modes are cute but not terribly deep the somewhat unusual control style it uses works like a charm and it can be fun to unlock new vehicles while it lasts. 

GRIP Combat Racing - Combat racing has always been something I've enjoyed and it's also a style of play that's challenging to get right. While its not without its flaws GRIP absolutely puts in the work to make for a thrilling and crazy bit of racing carnage. Its gravity-defying tracks set the base stage well but it's definitely the fun weapons and intense moments you get while under fire that make it fun. 

Snowboarding: The Next Phase - For the price the level of polish on this title is impressive and if you set your expectations within its limits it’s a pretty strong experience with quite a lot of content. Unfortunately, if you’ve got nostalgia for the more complete titles of years past this likely will only tease you with glimpses of those experiences but never really reaching those heights from a lack of ambition. I hope to see a new title in this series return that tackles those challenges. Pretty well all the pieces are there, they just need to now be taken to the next level.

Redout - Redout is a pretty impressive racing experience that does a great job of conveying speed. Depending on your tastes, what is sacrificed to maintain that feeling of screaming down the track will lead to very different impressions. Without the color-coded boosting of Fast RMX or the consistent combat of GRIP Redout stands on its own as the most pure racer of the bunch, just understand that even though there’s a fair amount of content and plenty of tracks none of it will matter if the game doesn’t fulfill what it is you’re looking for in your racing title.

Zombie Driver - It can be a bit of a challenge to rate games that have simply been around for a while when they arrive on Switch. Even for a title I’m familiar with, like Zombie Driver, that I enjoy since the magic of initial discovery is pretty far back in the rear view mirror it’s hard to get in touch with that old excitement. That said, within a few missions, hitting the streets in a classic top-down fashion, running over zombies, picking up power-ups, and blowing things to bits it’s pretty easy to get back into the groove. This isn’t a very complex or deep game by any means, it’s an arcade-y celebration of mindless violence, blowing stuff up, and power-sliding through hordes of undead walkers. If you are mindful of its limits and don’t waste time focusing on the fact that it shows its age in a few different ways it’s a budget-friendly means to letting off some steam with some fun.

Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing - More than anything else the positive of Bow to Blood is that it’s thoroughly unique, offering up an experience I can’t say I’ve ever had. The mix of controlling the ship, managing your crew, engaging in some combat, and then trying to plot to get as far in the competition as possible will keep you on your toes, though after awhile the missions will begin to blend together a bit in you mind as they don’t tend to play out that radically differently. If you’ve been aching for something that’ll offer a new challenge and a dose of negotiative intrigue it’s worth a look and should satisfy at least for a little while.

Rise: Race to the Future - Since there’s a general lack of racing games on Switch, in particular those that aren’t cart racers of some kind, it’s always good to see another option available. With its very attractive and polished looks Rise gets quite a bit right, pulling you in with its visuals while also including some solid track variety to keep things more interesting. Unfortunately, without any elements of combat on one side or a greater degree of nuance as a technical racer on the other, after a while the excitement starts to wane which leaves the game somewhat in the middle of the overall pack, certainly not without merit but feeling a bit too vanilla to make it a must buy. 

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!

Tuesday, October 27

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

Oddworld: New n Tasty [Nindie Choice!] -
While the Switch has had some entries from the Oddworld series that have dabbled in a variety of styles of play, most of them at best only moderately successful, New n Tasty marks their return to the original… though thankfully in gussied up redux form. You’ll control Abe as he desperately tries to escape and share the truth (reminiscent of Soylent Green) with his brethren. Mechanically true to the original the controls take some getting used to since this isn’t a straight action platformer but instead a puzzle platformer with some movement and controls that are more like Abe’s following your commands on a broad level, perhaps even after taking a few drinks. There are places where this can absolutely be frustrating but the style harkens back to earlier times and classics like Prince of Persia or Out of This World among others so it is an understood style of control, just one that perhaps now feels more dated than ever. Regardless there’s some craft and charm in the polished look and silliness of the whole affair and it does do a good job of justifying how the original was able to start up a franchise with its weirdo charm.

Torchlight 3 - Oh, Torchlight 3, what to do with you? I’m a massive fan of Diablo and the many titles it inspired, with the Torchlight series probably being my favorite of the bunch. I had a great time with the first two titles and it was even a great gateway to get my daughters into the style of play without all of the more graphic elements of the Diablo series when they were younger. I’d heard that the third title had a rocky time through its development process, at one point looking to go more of an MMO route and even considering being a free-to-play, so it’s understandable those plans and a lack of consistent direction would have had a negative effect on the final product. I’m just sad to see the depth of the problem, particularly on the Switch.

Starting with the positive I will give some credit for the creative assortment of initial characters you have to choose from, mostly appearing to fit into the typical genre archetypes but showing some surprising core variety. You can tank it up with a shooting locomotive in tow, amp up your pet game with your archer, or viably go with melee for your mage among other things. The downside to that is there just feels like there’s quite a bit of filler in the skills area and the actual build diversity you can achieve falls short of the potential you could hope for.

The disappointments don’t quite stop there though, in pretty well every area there are shortcomings. The camera is quite pulled out, likely showing the MMO influence, making the action harder to appreciate and handheld play a bit of a challenge. There are elements like bounties that really feel tacked on and more like daily free-to-play grind tasks. When the enemy mobs get bigger the performance can start to chug and get choppy. 

Just in terms of the big picture of the overall experience Torchlight 3 has sort of a Frankensteined-together feel, lacking in cohesion and polish. Given the presence of not only Diablo on the platform, but other strong contenders like Victor Vran that deliver a more exciting experience unfortunately this Torchlight entry just fizzles out a bit.

They Bleed Pixels - When it comes to challenging platformers of all types the Switch has gotten to the point where it has you covered and then some. Coming in on perhaps a bit more of the brutal end of the equation we have They Bleed Pixels, a platformer full of deadly traps where traversal is as much of a challenge as the enemies you’ll be trying to slash into submission. One oddity for me is that even though your character has a relatively small arsenal of moves I struggled to keep some of them straight contextually since most were about hitting a direction while performing a button press rather than making more use of the buttons available. Perhaps it’s a small thing but as tense as things can get when you’re trying to be sure to take open opportunities and make the most of them fumbling with the wrong attack can be aggravating. In addition there’s not a whole lot of ramp up overall for the various wall jumping and general nimbleness challenges, you’re just going to have to die until you git gud in many cases. For the right crowd who wants to dig in and master tough levels this could be a real treat, but for anyone remotely on the casual end of the spectrum it will be one to avoid most likely.

Cross Krush - Triggered by the traffic outside their house in Cross Krush you’ll play as one member of an elderly couple who is determined to destroy any and all cars on the road to get some peace and quiet. Once you get the hang of the different vehicle types, which you should spare, and what effects destroying them can have it takes on a pretty straightforward puzzle style, just presented in a weird and humorous way. Effective planning and execution will net you the best results, with multi-car combos often being a central part of your plans. Perhaps the controls for executing your vision of destruction are a bit on the slow and cumbersome side since you’ll need to walk your retiree of choice around a bit but a fair taste of destruction and humor make it at least a memorable puzzle choice among more normal fare on the eShop.

Rusty Spout Rescue Adventure - OK, so there’s a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, though in entertainment media when you copy something a bit too much it can be weird. In the case of Rusty Spout Rescue Adventure with the exception of some aesthetics, the story and characters being different, and perhaps some nuance with powers and problems you’ll run into there’s no mistaking this is copied heavily from the Bust-a-Move series. The weird thing is, it is but it isn’t, there are just some small things that are different and one in particular is for the worse. There’s a good reason many games of this kind use an arrow of some kind on the base you fire balloons from, it helps you visualize where you’re aiming even when the guides are missing. Since this game instead features a cannon there’s no such help and you’re left trying to quickly eyeball it, often leading to issues. While seemingly a small detail it harms the game pretty substantially and is a big mistake for an overall pretty simple game.

Saturday, October 24

Top 15 Indie Metroidvania Games on Nintendo Switch

Mixing a sense of adventure, plenty of action, upgrades, and likely a bit of backtracking Metroidvanias are finally getting better representation on the Switch in terms of abundance and quality after it being sorely lacking in the earlier days. These are the best out there. As a note, though I didn't review them a shout out to obvious strong indie Metroidvanias Hollow Knight and Axiom Verge.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps - When reviewing games in general I try to carefully avoid hyperbole and excessive exuberance whenever possible. To that end, even with well over 1,500 reviews under my belt and so many terrific titles played, I’ve only awarded 2 perfect scores among them for Stardew Valley and Dead Cells. In the case of Ori and the Will of the Wisps I’m going to be adding to that very exclusive list with pretty well no reservations. With its nimble movement, massive scale, gorgeous environments, and combination of so many elements that feel like they’ve been carefully refined to be their most engaging it’s likely the best Metroidvania title I’ve ever played. I will warn that the platforming is probably a little more challenging than the average, requiring patience and precision, but for the most part success rests solely on your skills as the controls are spot-on and well-implemented. With there being so much ground to cover and spots you’ll want and need to return to, as you acquire the necessary skills or changes to environments to give you access, I do wish there were a few more waypoints scattered about but that’s about my only real criticism (OK, and it has crashed on me twice, but thankfully with no real loss of progress in either case). There’s a very good reason Microsoft backed this horse, and it is a gift that has been shared with Switch owners that is absolutely worth your time and effort. 

Steamworld Dig 2 - Widely, and quite deservedly, regarded as the best one of the best early indie games on the Switch (though perhaps Stardew Valley would have something to say about that) Dig 2 essentially took everything that already worked well with the original and improved upon it. Far more hand-crafted, full of humor, and exemplifying the "just one more run" treasure hunting loop it is very satisfying but also challenging to both your mind and reflexes. To get everything you'll need to work through some tough trials but it is a very rewarding ride. 

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

Kunai - 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.

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

Blasphemous - From first glance during a Direct there was no question that Blasphemous, visually, was something pretty special. With a dark and gothic tone all its own, this is certainly a stand-out in the Switch library. What may be divisive for the average gamer will be the degree of difficulty that comes along for the ride. Owing much to the likes of Castlevania in its overall style and feel, with you slashing your way through enemies, finding power-ups and secrets all about in a non-linear way, the old school sensibilities of those original games is also in full effect here. This is an unforgivingly tough game, one that will prompt controllers leaving peoples’ hands, whether being put down or even thrown. If that sounds like your jam I’d say the experience is pretty easy to recommend, though perhaps it doesn’t do a great deal to stand out from its inspirations in terms of innovative gameplay. If you’re not a seasoned gamer and aren’t looking for a title to kick you down and coldly tell you to “git gud” repeatedly you’ll likely be better off taking on something a bit less ambitious though.

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

Gato Roboto - Probably the game’s biggest flaw is just that it’s over in roughly a handful of hours, though its budget-friendly price is very appropriate for the quality and duration of the experience. Even if you’re not pulled in by the cute premise, there’s no question this is a title that is laser-focused on packing your time with the game with variety, some challenge, and fun. Its limited runtime makes it tough to say whether it really approaches the quality of Nintendo’s own franchise, but it is by no means in its shadow, just bear in mind it borrows very liberally from the series and aside from the art style and silliness of its main character it does little to change the formula. But if you’ve been waiting to enjoy the adventures of Samus on the Switch this may be the closest you’ll get to that feeling on the console and it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.

Sundered: Eldritch Edition - Coming from the same team that worked on the boss fight-centric Jotun, Sundered has the same signature gorgeous hand-drawn art and impressively-scaled bosses to fight but this time went with a Metroidvania feel and it works. Even on easy this game can be challenging at times as you'll get rushed by enemies periodically but the action feels great, power-ups come with some regularity, and some of the level design is quite clever. The procedural map in places and degree of challenge may frustrate some but the overall experience is well worth checking out.

forma.8 - I was enchanted by forma.8 and the slow-paced tranquility it has offered me. In particular with craziness of a variety of types everywhere the ability to zone out, listen to the soothing ambient sounds and music, and progress through the gorgeous alien landscapes has been welcome. For me the need to keep track of everything I’ve seen and then try to recall where they were to backtrack to them later, leading to some aimless wandering at times, got a bit trying at times but it’s not much different than many other games of this type either. If you’re looking for something to enjoy at a slow and deliberate pace, while providing you periodic bursts of challenges for both your mind and your action reflexes, forma.8 is a perfect fit. 

Dandara - This is another title that immediately caught everyone's attention when it was shown in a Nindie Direct. While the unusual fact that you don't run around so much as wall jump everywhere may not work for everyone there's no doubt that element added a degree of challenge and differentiation from just about anything else you may have ever played in the genre. Throw in a very unique overall aesthetic and unusual enemies and it's a memorable experience. 

Timespinner - With some great pixel art and a story that takes you through a variety of eras to change things up, Timespinner has its strengths. That said, given the competition in the Metroidvania space on the Switch the combat, exploration, and upgrades you’re able to obtain over the course of the game may be novel but they also fail to thrill. While the time-stopping mechanic, in theory, could have really helped set the game apart aside from some telegraphed spots where it can be useful or in boss fights it doesn’t really go anywhere. While by no means a bad game it struggles to make its case to be among the top tier of games available in the genre.

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.

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

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight - All things considered, Momodora is a solid Metroidvania that certainly has visual flair and a solid core gameplay experience. The sensibilities with its challenge are both modern and super old school, putting the pressure on the player to “git gud” to accept and work through some ordeals to find success. While I like a good challenge I’d argue that Momodora’s weakness is a tendency towards cheapness a bit too often, which diminishes the fun a bit in the process. However, if you’re down for pushing yourself to get through this gauntlet of strange enemies and some frustration it’s worth checking out.

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, October 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19

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

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

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

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

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

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