Friday, May 20

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

Galacticon [Radin Games] (Nindie Choice!) - As a big fan of retro arcade games, and someone who has sunk innumerable hours to continuing to enjoy them over the years, I’m always very curious about new titles that attempt to capture their feel and make a modern game that plays like one of their contemporaries. Having played quite a few that simply haven’t made the cut I’ve also become quite aware of how much of a challenge that must be. In the case of Galacticon, though, they make it almost look easy… in this case blending elements of the classics Joust, Defender, and a variety of others to create an experience that truly looks and feels like a title I pumped far too many quarters into back in the day. Now, keep in mind, much like many classic arcade titles there are only a few phases to the game, and once you complete them all you’ll be starting right back over… just always a bit harder. That said, with a variety of tantalizing (but more risky) ways to grab more points as well as some hidden secrets you’ll need to uncover to further up your score, that isn’t to say it’s a shallow experience either. I’m not quite sure why they didn’t implement an in-game global leaderboard, though when you get a high score you’ll be able to use a QR code that will let you see where you’ve placed in the greater pantheon beyond your own console… as well as often picking up new hot tips on how to play the game more effectively. It may not be terribly deep but it has an authentic look and feel, a budget-friendly price, and if you’re an old-school arcade fan it’s absolutely likely to put a smile on your face.

Deadcraft [Marvelous Inc] - I think among the genres of games I’ve generally not found to agree with my tastes, pure survival games rank pretty high on the list. While I don’t mind the challenge, or even crafting systems, too often I find the experience a bit too repetitive, tedious, and lacking in excitement… though there are exceptions of various kinds on the Switch. Deadcraft is an interesting one, and since it’s set in a zombie-filled post-Apocalyptic world I tend to find myself comparing it to Dysmantle which came out earlier this year which has a few similarities but plays very differently. The biggest difference, and one of my quibbles with Deadcraft is that the map in Dysmantle is truly massive, leaving you a pretty big world to explore and discover. By contrast, Deadcraft plays more in a fishbowl, and you’ll find yourself mostly treading in the same spaces for hours upon end. However, the strength here is in the action and crafting, in particular with an exploration of unique abilities imbued on your character by his half-zombie nature. While I’m not sure the system is perfectly implemented, by consuming different foods and/or drinks you’ll swing which nature your body is favoring. More zombie-like and you’ll have access to some powerful abilities and added health, but that comes at the cost of interacting with the people around you comfortably. Being more human leaves you less powerful, but the game compensates with some gnarly weapons you can use to cut (in most cases, literally) through the competition. If you like farming, not only will you get to grow some staple crops, you’ll also become a zombie farmer, taking corpses to then raise them into zombie units you can use in a variety of ways to augment your power. A little more variety in the setting and quests you go on would have gone a long way to make the experience more broadly accessible, but if you’re a true survival fan and have been looking for a fresh take on the genre it should certainly be satisfying.

Source of Madness [Carry Castle] - While I’ve played quite a number of roguelike shooters and slashers on the Switch, I’ll gladly admit that there’s nothing I’ve encountered on the system quite like Source of Madness. Inspired by Lovecraftian lore and imagery, the monstrosities you’ll face down in the game don’t look or act quite like anything you’ve likely seen, constructed of odd limbs, tentacles, and teeth, shambling and flinging themselves at you menacingly. As a wizard from one of several classes (most of which you’ll need to work to unlock before they’re available to you) your goal will be to venture into hostile and procedurally-generated territories in search of items, new and powerful spells, then once you succumb to the forces of evil going back to power yourself up to hopefully do better the next time, choosing from a pretty massive set of upgrade options that will help you unlock new skills that will best suit your style. Combat tends to be best done on your heels, hurling spells at your enemies and keeping your distance, but a quick dash and jump is often necessary to get by them and move in the other direction before they’re able to corner you. I particularly like the fact that I could dive into some more dangerous areas with imposing monsters, nimbly dashing over and by them to steal their treasures before going over them again to escape (hopefully) unscathed. The visuals and feel of play are absolutely unique but I’d also consider that to be the game’s Achilles heel, as the very detailed art style doesn’t always lend itself well to clarity for where you’re meant to go in particular. For those gamers who mostly play on the go these issues could be particularly pronounced, making it a poorer choice for portable fans. Still, if you enjoy roguelikes and have a taste for something different this will absolutely fit that bill.

Cotton Fantasy [Studio Saizensen] - There’s no doubt that the Switch has been a system blessed with some very strong retro representation, and a specific genre that has seen a lot of great titles come out of the woodwork has been shooters. Cotton Fantasy, which will feel very familiar to gamers who checked out the successful Cotton Reboot, is a title that walks the line between the older and newer eras of shooting, offering up a pretty classic play style but steeped in colorful and pretty gorgeous visuals, bringing the best of both worlds to the table. In particular one thing I liked about Fantasy was the variety of characters to choose from whose shooting styles tend to differ quite a bit, and though most are in line with typical old school shooters, there’s more at play here than just the firing pattern so you can really feel the pro and con in each character for the most part. While I’d say the asking price is a bit on the aggressive side, if you have an appreciation for well-made arcade shooting action there’s quite a bit of goodness to enjoy in this package.

Gibbon: Among the Trees [Broken Rules] - There’s definitely something to be said for games that have their own unique style and point of view, and in those areas Gibbon does itself pretty proud. Helping to relay the plight of species whose habitats are being encroached on and threatened by industry, there’s no doubt that the title helps to foster a level of understanding with what they face. In terms of gameplay, for what there is, I’ll credit it for trying to get the most out of its somewhat limited means as it can. It takes a little effort and experimentation to get to be a master of momentum and swinging effectively through the trees, but for the most part outside of integrating small touches like a boosting backflip there’s not too much to gameplay, the experience tends to be more about seeing the gorgeous scenery as you swing around. If you appreciate the environment and the conservation movement this game has its charm, just be fully aware of its limitations walking in.

Wednesday, May 18

Mini Reviews: May 18th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Monster Hunter Rise [Capcom] (AAA Choice!) - It’s best to open with honesty, and in this case I’ll admit that to this point the Monster Hunter series has always intimidated me. I’ve dabbled in trying it out a few times in the past, but the sheer volume of what people would tell me about it mixed with what you’d read about the various aspects to manage on the way to being a successful hunter always tended to leave me feeling overwhelmed. Now having devoted quite a few hours to Monster Hunter Rise I definitely have some thoughts. First, though I understand that this has been characterized by people more familiar with the series as the most accessible Monster Hunter to date, I’ll still tell you that it’s a bit of a hill to climb. Watching a few YouTube videos to get yourself as ready as you can be definitely seems to be the best plan for success. Though there is in-game instruction I wouldn’t consider much of it helpful in a practical way, videos breaking things down is a tremendous improvement. That said, give it some time and as elements start to come together it isn’t hard to see why so many people really dig this franchise.

Finding the weapon that best suits you, and then understanding some nuance around how best to make use of it, is what I’d consider the foremost predictor of enjoyment. Weapons that don’t fit your play style can tend to be painful, but when you get a handle on one and start taking down formidable beasts (even if slowly as you’re trying to get over the pretty substantial learning curve) there’s absolutely a thrill to be had that I haven’t felt in many other games, especially ones on the Switch. Now, tackling these beasts solo does work, but there’s also not much doubt that working as a team, even if only one other person, is where the game really shines. You’ll certainly need to be on the same page, being sure to stay out of each other’s way, but especially if you each have a distinctive weapon and you’re both using them effectively each hunt can be a pretty unique thrill. This is a big, brash, and unapologetic game that is obviously not terribly interested in dumbing itself down for you (well, perhaps some of the simplifications Rise has implemented). The expectation is that you’ll know its pedigree and will invest the time and effort to “git gud” and meet the reasonably high bar it has set for you. As someone who has finally muscled up to the bar and invested that critical time I must say that it’s hard not to walk away impressed, and would encourage people who’ve been like me on the fence to this point to seriously consider taking the plunge… the water’s fine once you get over the initial shock.

Mini Motorways [Dinosaur Polo Club] (Nindie Choice!) - Whoever out there would say that simple games, or at least ones that at a glance could be “casual”, are always trash has obviously never played the likes of Mini Motorways. Undeniably basic in its presentation, don’t let that fool you. Below that beats the heart of a diabolical and cruel game determined to steal your minutes, hours, and possibly at some point your sanity as you attempt to manage the highway infrastructure of a steadily-growing metropolis. There’s absolutely a learning curve here, and if you’re not experimenting with different layouts and methods of using each of the infrastructure tools offered to you there won’t be much progress. The fact that each time you load up the same city the layout and circumstances will be different prevents you from getting lazy and having a pre-set formula for success, and more often than not it’s right when you think you’ve got it all worked out that the game will throw a new mall at you that’s currently inaccessible and you’ll begin to scramble to figure out how to get people there before everything goes to crap. Simple but spectacular, frustrating but fantastic, Mini Motorways is a top-notch timesink that beyond the core diverse cities continues to provides new challenges daily and weekly to push yourself with, and it’s absolutely worth checking out.

Soundfall [Drastic Games] - As a fan of both multiplayer twin-stick shooters and rhythm games, a title that tries to find the sweet spot where the two intersect is, in principle, a great idea. In practice, I’d say it’s a bit more of a complicated answer. First of all, before saying anything else, I wanted to be sure to compliment the amazing variety and superb quality of the game’s musical tracks. From jazz to classical to pop to metal, the game’s music really is a major part of what makes it engaging and fun. How well the gameplay holds up is more of a mixed bag. Before doing anything else, I’d say that calibration is an essential piece of getting the most out of the experience. As sensitive as the timing for the beat can be, (though there are some in-game options to help alleviate that a bit) and as vital as being on rhythm is to success, don’t risk fighting with the game because you’re fundamentally out of synth with it to begin with. The weapons can get pretty diverse as you get further in, and new characters also help to open the door to everyone being able to find a style of play they like, whether using more short-range weapons complimented by some melee or keeping a distance and going for devastating precision. With the damage you inflict being doubled for being on the beat though, the effort to keep in the groove is vital… just there’s no question that it can be quite a challenge as concentrations of enemies make for a massive distraction. At the end of the day I think this ends up being more of a niche novelty than a break-out experience because of its commitment to trying to stay at the intersection of both styles rather than more clearly favoring one over the other. How you’d tweak the formula differently would be a fair question, but it’s not hard to imagine average gamers being quite frustrated, rather than excited, with the experience it ultimately offers.

Rifftrax: The Game [Wide Right Interactive] - Having enjoyed quite a number of games in this general vein with the family on Switch, I want to be clear that this is a pretty competitive space as a whole with a fair number of options to choose from. With that in mind, differentiation is a challenge between this, Use Your Words (which has additional game options), and What the Dub (by the same developer) aside from the addition of the Rifftrax name and some entertainingly-read options you’ll have to work with. Everything here revolves around some very short clips taken from a variety of (generally bad or weird) movies, with your job being (depending on which mode you choose) to either choose a pre-made line (similar to Cards Against Humanity) or fabricate your own to go with the scene. After a vote, points are awarded for whoever manages to be the funniest in the bunch, and this proceeds for a few rounds before an overall winner is declared. Games are generally quick, entertaining, and potentially side-splittingly funny… but I’d say much of that hinges on who is playing. While the pre-made prompts can be fun for how they’re read, nobody in my family really liked that mode since you’re so constrained by what random phrases you happened to draw, being put on the spot to try to turn on the funny was much more engaging. Overall, this is still a very reasonably-priced option, and if you love the Rifftrax folks that’s undoubtedly a value-added bonus. That said, whether having become more jaded with the formula or for any number of other reasons, this just didn’t stick with my family as hard or as long as some of its peers in the space.

Best Month Ever! [Warsaw Film School Video Game & Film Production Studio] - Choosing the gaming medium in order to tell complex, and in the case of Best Month Ever, some pretty gnarly stories is definitely a double-edged sword. If your interest is in exploring a story with complex and some seriously broken characters, being forced to make decisions along the way that will carry a variety of consequences, there’s no question this delivers on that promise. I think where the issues arise is in the extremely inconsistent gameplay aspects throughout, which often left me wondering if streamlining to simply provide options and see them play out would have been preferable. I wouldn’t want to ruin anything more about how screwed up things get beyond the video but I’ll give the people behind this credit for tackling some dark material, something more of a rarity on the Switch. I just wish as a whole package it worked more cleanly and consistently.