Thursday, September 24

Mini Reviews: September 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Hades [Nindie Choice!] -
OK, so I’ll admit the folks at Supergiant Games (behind the favorites Bastion and Transistor in particular) had me with the fact that they decided to make a roguelike to begin with. But, pedigree doesn’t always mean a home run (sadly, looking at you Exit the Gungeon) so I’ll admit that despite how great this game looked I was nervous as it loaded up. Given that the bar for roguelike excellence is Dead Cells, with all of its amazing action and variety, making a big splash in this territory takes some real skill. Damn, as if their past titles weren’t clear enough, Hades locks Supergiant Games in as a real force to be reckoned with, and that’s all the way up to the AAA developers. Hades is smart and stylish, fast and fluid, tough and tense… and in general among roguelikes the surprise is that I’d also consider it very approachable, even from the get-go, for anyone with some familiarity with action titles. Where it really takes things to the next level is that it starts with the rock-solid core of several well-designed weapons, each with their own base style, but then through divine enhancements and other means of modification you unlock as you go each run can feel radically different. You can enhance each skill a little or go deep in one discipline, both approaches are valid and can give you a lot of power if you can keep moving and alive. What I love is that while the range of ways you can play is reminiscent of the likes of Dead Cells the systems in this game still feel very fresh and unique. Throw in stellar voice work, more mythological figures than you can shake a stick at, and a truckload of inherent replayability that comes with any good roguelike and this is one of the top games on the system.

Embracelet [Nindie Choice!] - This, for me, is one of those titles where it’s hard to articulate why I’m so taken in by it. With its low-poly look, its somewhat sparse landscapes (though perhaps such an island would be roughly that way, granted), and its riff on traditional point-and-click adventuring on paper it could just seem nice, but perhaps not great either. However, throw in a story that I found unusual and engaging, and it works better than the sum of those parts may imply. Early on you inherit a relic from your grandfather with the power to control objects, and learn that there was an accident at his hands when he was younger using it, causing him a degree of pain and regret. Your journey ends up being to go back to the island he grew up on, learn more about him and his past, and perhaps to understand where the relic came from and what should be done with it. There are quite a number of deeply emotional adventures on the Switch already, many of which are excellent in their own right, but there’s a different tugging I found this journey to have on me with different themes and a different approach. Mix in the fact that many of the puzzles felt pretty natural and yet unusual in some cases and I enjoyed this unassuming adventure title thoroughly.

Lost Ember - Games that dare to be different are always a bit of a risk. With its focus on beauty and serenity, leaving you to take everything in and explore rather than driving you towards hard objectives, Lost Ember definitely falls into that space. The best element of this game is its aspect of discovery as you move from creature to creature periodically in order to help progress, explore the environment more fully, or even hunt down collectibles. There’s a certain thrill and joy at times when you see a new species you’re able to inhabit, knowing that means you’ll get to see and interact with the world in a new way. The story that compliments this exploration is at least interesting, and also helps to preserve your interest to keep pushing on. While I don’t doubt there’ll be an audience for this, looking for a more quiet sort of adventure, I’d note that aside from the collectibles that you can hunt down (which really don’t add anything to the experience aside from being there to grab) it’s a pretty slight overall experience, lacking the richness of some similarly visually-impressive narratives in the same vein. If you’re looking to relax and unwind a bit with nature it may be a great fit though.

Great Conqueror: Rome - City-building games, where you’ll work to conquer the world through a mix of smart growth and careful management of your resources, are a staple of the strategy genre. Taking many elements from that, but wrapping everything up with much more of an overall battle-driven focus, you have Great Conqueror: Rome. If you’re expecting an experience like you’re used to you’ll likely be a bit thrown by it, the depth of your options is limited here, with everything ultimately revolving around the support of your armies. The return on what you lose in exchange is a wider variety of options for units and how they can be supported, and combining that with the many factions and the tendency for the map to be in pretty regular disarray with combat taking place can make for some excitement. I’d say the biggest letdown is just that there seems to be an expectation that you’ll just understand what needs to be done amid the chaos when you’re given objectives. You can work out what needs to be done through trial and error, exploring your options for development and then learning (often the hard way) which combinations of units are suited to which types of warfare. If you’re willing to invest some time and effort into the intricacy this should be a reasonably good time, but if a slow burn for enjoyment doesn’t sound like a great idea you’ll likely want to pass on this one.

GORSD - This is one of those titles where it’s hard to put together your thoughts in a way people who haven’t played it will quite understand. First of all, its visuals and overall style would best be characterized as bizarre or unique… I’m not sure what the developers were tripping on but it must be pretty good. That aspect made me laugh a bit and it helps make the game a bit memorable. When it comes to gameplay I’d say it’s a very take-it-or-leave-it proposition, but for most it likely won’t linger in people’s minds as long as the unusual visuals in the single-player mode. Borrowing mechanics similar to arcade classics like Qix and others your goal is to fill in the various interconnected lines on the screen with your color, controlling all of it in order to win. Depending on the mode your challenge will either be dealing with opponents, the clock, or a few variations. You’re armed with a single bullet, which you can make go around corners to help, and mastery of the mechanics around this are crucial to success and can be tricky to get used to as you try to control it while continuing to move yourself. Multiplayer matches have a tendency to be quick and intense. It’s a neat overall idea, wrapped in an odd package, but its simplicity and challenge will make for a more limited audience who’ll enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 23

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

Ori and the Will of the Wisps [Nindie Choice!] -
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.

Going Under [Nindie Choice!] - As an enormous fan of anything roguelike Going Under has been on my radar since I first saw it announced, billing itself as a sort of insane 3D beat-em-up where you can pick up just about anything to use as a weapon. When I got the chance to check it out at PAX East this year I could see the promise of the fun in it, and I began to see the humor that actually serves as one of the game’s surprising areas of appeal, but there was just also something that didn’t quite click for me. With the full release now available to me I still feel like something’s missing in the formula that somehow keeps it from true greatness but that isn’t to say it can’t be fun to take for a spin of challenging and often chaotic combat. Since you’re able to use so many sorts of objects you find laying about, and in a pinch you won’t always have ideal choices around you, it does have a rough early learning curve. Weapon durability, range, effectiveness… you’ll generally just need to experiment to get a feel for these things. The same can be said for many perks and items you’ll have to work with, the brief descriptions aren’t always as instructive as they could be so it can be a bit of a mess until you sort it out. The skewering of corporate culture is spot on and often hilarious if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle farm, so that helps bring the experience up but it may be offset by meta progression that, compared to its competition, doesn’t feel quite as helpful as normal… perhaps making the grind to success feel a little less rewarding on the way. I have mixed feelings about it in the end, really appreciating the silly tone and its addressing a flavor of roguelikes I haven’t seen much of to this point but at the same time missing the spark in it that drives my enthusiasm to recommend it with more than somewhat above average force. Roguelike and beat-em-up fans should appreciate and enjoy a change of pace, but everyone else will probably be fine missing it.

Raji: An Ancient Epic - While this statement may inspire some eye-rolling for some people out there as a life-long gamer I deeply appreciate attempts to expand inclusiveness in video games. By this point western gamers are generally quite well-steeped in the mythology of the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian persuasions, with the gods of those pantheons providing a great foundation for many narratives. In the case of Raji I’m happy to see a completely different set of fresh deities and stories of legend coming from ancient India, and with representative architecture and musical accompaniment as well. The result is a pretty rich and unique storytelling experience that’s worthy of attention. Thankfully the gameplay also, in general, has a fresh feel with the very nimble Raji on a quest to save her brother which features quite a number of well-implemented traversal moves and plenty of options to keep combat interesting. Where it unfortunately falters noticeably is in maintaining its pacing, with combat often feeling over-encumbered and sluggish when too many enemies are on-screen. Granted, the varied moves and weapon options help to compensate for this since it makes for engaging and varied combat, but it feels like though the Switch didn’t need to skimp too much on the beauty of the visuals a price was paid in speed. While it’s over a bit quickly the rish storytelling and culture of Raji still make it a stand out worth giving a look.

Breakpoint - When I saw shots of this gloriously old-school retro arcade title I was instantly drawn in with visions of Geometry Wars-style twin-stick shooting coming to mind. Oh, how wrong I was, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Breakpoint would best be described as a twin-stick beat-em-up if that makes sense, giving you the fluid movement and enemy patterns that would feel right at home in a shooter but that you’ll instead be taking out exclusively melee-style with a wide variety of both blunt and bladed weapons. You’ll definitely develop a taste for specific weapons too, as depending on your style you may prefer the rapid-fire stabbing of the spear, the quick swiping of the dagger, or perhaps the devastating swing of a battle axe with the risky delay that comes along with it. In the end this will only appeal to people who appreciate the feeling of placing just a bit higher on the online leaderboard and who are determined to scratch and claw your way to improving your multiplier and technique. It won’t be for everyone but that isn’t to say it won’t be addictive for the gamer who is properly inclined.

Tamiku - I have a great reverence for classic arcade games (as you may have gathered by now) so from the get-go seeing Tamiku open with a classic ROM boot-up screen of sorts hit me right in the nostalgia bone. From there the story is unfortunately a bit more of a mixed bag. Yes, the balloon popping mechanic, level design, and enemies are reminiscent of a number of classic titles. The problem I have is that as you progress so little really changes and it just feels like the game is in need of an injection of a fun and surprising element or three that would elevate play rather than just throwing out new enemy types and maze layouts. This is a game in need of a power pellet, an enemy-wrecking hammer, or just something to introduce a layer of added strategy and interest to the mix… like the blast from popping the red balloons destroying enemies close by for added points as an example. It’s not necessarily bad but Tamiku just ends up being too flat and uninteresting arcade experience.