Thursday, September 16

Mini Reviews: September 16th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Flynn: Son of Crimson [Studio Thunderhorse] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s something to be said for games that know what they want to be, even if not necessarily revolutionary in any particular way, and are then executed with a high degree of care and quality. For me Flynn is one such game, adhering closely to the classic 16-bit action platforming template and in general then simply staying the course with a steady stream of new weapons and abilities to keep things interesting through its handful of hours of playtime. Through the use of your weapon-based attacks and magic you’ll work your way through puzzles and a fair amount of combat, with the periodic changes to new zones changing up the enemies and obstacles you’ll face nicely. In terms of the bigger picture, both in terms of the narrative and overall design, perhaps the more paint-by-SNES-era-numbers essence of the game holds it back from being a truly inspired stand-out title. However, if you’re a fan of the era it undoubtedly emulates some of the best it had to offer and feels both retro and just a bit satisfyingly modern at the same time on Switch, making the odds of it being a hit with genre fans pretty solid.


Cruis’n Blast [Raw Thrills] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to over-the-top, crazy, and almost excessively arcade-style racing I’m not sure anything out there can quite match the classic Cruis’n series. Cruis’n Blast, rather than looking to make strides to evolve or reinvent itself in any remote way, comes to the Switch fully embracing everything (and I do mean this in the best complimentary way) stupidly ridiculous about its lineage and puts it right in your lap whether you love or hate it. For anyone more remotely interested in realism or tight control mechanics you can just keep moving, this won’t be an experience for you. However, if the thought of racing with your neon-lit and juiced-up triceratops as you plow through your opponents, doing backflips and barrel rolls over ramps along the way, sounds plain AWESOME this will be your jam. The adherence to even goofy-ass things from yesteryear like every car surface being highly reflective, something nobody would ever do now but that was all the rage back in the day, is a sign that this port was made with respect and love. Will it deliver hours of entertainment? That would depend on you and whether your goal is just to “beat the game”, which could take only a few hours, or whether you plan to enjoy unlocking and tricking out everything, sucking in the goofiness of it all either solo or with some friends. While not for everyone, I absolutely respect the love and care put in by the developers to honor the essence of Cruis’n, no matter how ridiculous some of it may be to more modern (or simply more “hardcore”) gamers.


CRASH: Autodrive [Studio Nightcap] - As always with titles on Switch that lean more into storytelling and less into gameplay Crash is challenging to really review. There’s an essence of murder mystery to it as you try to suss out a motive and potential killer among a group of what seems to be a random group of passengers in a self-driving car that runs over someone. You’ll quickly find that isn’t that case, with everyone having a connection to the deceased, and that’s where the more adventure-like interactions (though generally very simplified) come in. By checking carefully for clues, participating in a few simple mini games of sorts, and working through various dialogue choices you’ll be challenged to discover Whodunnit. In general it’s not too bad, though the relative lack of refinement in some of the aspects of the experience also make it tough to recommend with enthusiasm. Somewhat unique: Yes. Has an interesting general story (though suspicions on what happened set in early for me results may vary): Sure. If you’re working on a budget and are looking for something to entertain you for a few hours it may work for you though.


SkateBIRD [Glass Bottom Games] - With the exception of the Tony Hawk redux that came to the system earlier this year, the skating scene on Switch has been on the slim side. To date, none of them has come to the table with nearly as much quirk as SkateBIRD, and I’d say that with its 3D gameplay rather than sticking to the simpler 2D plane it’s also more ambitious than most of its competition. That said, while it’s kind of weird and funny to take on half pipes and other skating challenges with some species of bird that is decked out in an outfit you get to choose, the game does have some rough edges in multiple places. The one that stands out foremost in my mind is the double-edged sword of your environment being seen from the perspective of a small creature in a human-sized world. Yes, it makes everything novel, but when you mix some of the areas and the large drops off of things like a table with the missions you’ll be trying to complete on the clock it can make things very frustrating. Falling off an edge while you’re trying to make things happen will often sink your entire attempt, and when you throw in the sometimes-dodgy controls that are a bit on the loose side it’s more commonly a problem than I’d prefer. However, if you’re looking for something just a bit different and enjoy skating games given the lack of options on Switch it may be worth a look.


Boulder Dash Deluxe [BBG Entertainment GmbH] - As a “veteran” gamer it has been neat to see some truly old school classics stand the test of time and continue to get modern incarnations. One I’ve seen get this treatment over the years that has perhaps perplexed me a bit has been the Boulder Dash series. Sure, it’s an action puzzler that has been around since the days of primitive graphics, but is the style and depth of play so great that so many decades later it continues to hold up for anyone outside fans of the OG versions? This “Deluxe” version I would say makes a relatively poor case. Sure, it has quite a bit of content in the form of stages as well as things to unlock for refining the flavor of the game more to your liking, but conceptually really nothing has evolved in any measurable way that makes the experience more compelling and the last-last-last gen visuals do it no favors either. With the exception of true fans who want that slice of nostalgia maybe it delivers those goods, but I have a hard time seeing where a case is made well for more modern gamers to overlook plenty of more compelling and complex puzzlers out there for this dated experience.

Tuesday, September 14

Mini Reviews: September 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


TOEM [Something We Made] (Nindie Choice!) -
I don’t know whether it was triggered by a pandemic that had everyone stuck in their houses and wishing for a chance to appreciate the world around us but this year has produced a string of pretty amazing exploratory adventures, with TOEM being the latest to join the club. Formerly featured in one of Nintendo’s Indie World Directs, this somewhat quirky and very calming title sports a distinctive black and white hand-drawn art style and encourages you to see everything in the world around you, down to the little things like hidden bugs or the occasional shy monster. It will likely only take most people around 4 hours to finish, a little more or less depending on how determined you are to work out every quest available to you, but if you’re looking to enjoy a consistent stream of odd surprises and interactions mixed with what are generally pretty sensible puzzles it really scratches that itch well. Among its recent brethren it’s perhaps a little longer and more varied in where you’ll go and what you’ll do, but with the photo taking there can be times where you’ll know what you need to do, but doing it in a way that the game recognizes can be tricky too. While it isn’t perfect, and may well be too sedate for some folks, I found it to be an enjoyable journey that helped me relax and feel great for a few engaging hours.


Ultra Age [Visual Dart] (Nindie Choice!) - Especially given the continued “unknown date” status of Bayonetta 3, Switch fans looking to beat or slash things up with some intense combat may be feeling a little twitchy. Ultra Age is here to help you work out some of those frustrations, featuring some good ideas married with a reasonable level of challenge. I will admit that as it opened and the focus was a bit more on the game’s story, featuring some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in quite some time, I had my doubts. However, once everything opened up and I could begin moving between blade types, searching for extra crystals for gear, and tweaking my skills to better suit my slashing style my opinion turned around pretty quickly. I’m hoping not to trigger some Breath of the Wild players but your blades will degrade with use, though the fact that’s put to good use and allows you to do some nasty damage shattering them against your enemies should help make up for it. It absolutely isn’t as refined or polished as the likes of Bayonetta or the Devil May Cry series, but at half the asking price I think this comes out to a fair compromise. Given the fact that, especially in terms of indies, the pickings in this area are pretty slim Ultra Age is an appreciated effort and since there’s a demo being able to take it for a spin beforehand is a great bonus.


Knights & Guns [Baltoro Games] - Back in the arcades, Pang (or Buster Bros) was one of the more interesting shooters out there that did things its own way and layered puzzling sensibilities into the mix. Firing only vertically the challenge was to shoot enemies, often breaking them up into smaller ones, and knocking them all out through a combination of skill and some very useful periodic power-ups. Knights & Guns was absolutely conceived in this mold while bringing some of its own style to the table, with a well-defined art style, an overworld where you’ll choose where to go and that opens the door to side quests, and a variety of stage types that will keep you on your toes. Even though some of the innovations are appreciated, and help K&G stand out from the pack, there are still some problems that hold it back. First and foremost would be the lack of tight precision in movement, and perhaps that your character is on the chonky side. Getting hit unintentionally due to either of those factors is in itself annoying but then given the precision associated with this style of shooter it further frustrates matters. While I appreciate the idea of changing things up the scaling changing from level to level, with the action either being zoomed in or out and some levels having quite a bit of verticality, in practice it makes the experience feel uneven and conceptually all over the place. I don’t doubt it will find an audience with some shooter fans, but within this sub-genre there are definitely better options already out there in the eShop.


BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites [WayForward] - Having roughly followed the long and usually pretty torturous movie and gaming “career” of this leather-clad vamp I’ll admit I was intrigued to see if she could finally turn things around this time. To its credit, when you’re fighting the mechanics may not necessarily be ideal but they’re certainly different and interesting in both good and bad ways… and at least they’re not generic and boring. Where things struggle and left me scratching my head at times was the game’s wildly inconsistent platforming and occasional difficulty spikes. To some degree a straight side-scrolling slasher/beat-em-up would have worked pretty well by simply adding abilities and changing some things up as you go, but there are frequently sections where you’re guessing where to go or how to get there and visually the elements of the level often don’t make themselves clear, making the overall stage design a frequent weakness rather than a strength. However, that aside, if you’ve been thirsting for some vampiric violence this can deliver some fun, just be ready for a challenge and bumpy ride in some areas.


RICO London [Ground Shatter Ltd] - Whenever you see a sequel to a title that showed promise but just didn’t quite put everything together the first time there’s a mix of excitement and dread. Will lessons have been learned? Will old problems get replaced with new ones? What I don’t typically expect is for a sequel to roughly be stuck in time, repeating pretty well every mistake from before while failing to deliver anything of tangible substance in return, yet that’s how this RICO sequel plays for me. OK, so it’s a first-person door-busting shooter that will have you breaking in, shooting every bad guy in sight, and perhaps taking names later… but now it’s in a location where people have different accents and you can pick up more customized named guns? I guess it’s counting on people wanting to play co-op locally or online to somehow save everything, that feeling of working together giving some sort of rush, but much like the first time it takes very little time for you to start looking at your watch when you’ve repeated the same room layout for the fifth time in the same run. Worse, the original at least provided a bit of instruction to introduce you to the controls and mechanics but this one seems to be banking on everyone having played the first one or inherently assuming there’ll be a slide mechanic or just play with the buttons to work it out on their own. If you want to check the series, save some bucks and play the original, this feels more like a re-skin than a sequel.