Friday, January 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 23

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

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

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

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

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

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