Thursday, October 14

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

Ruin Raiders [OverPowered Team] -
When people think of tactical strategy titles, the gold standard set by the likes of the X-Com series and some refined tactical RPGs come to mind. The thing they usually have in common is that more grandiose and story-driven experience with quite a bit going on besides just the combat. Ruin Raiders moves in roughly the exact opposite direction, strippping out the content and pretty much replacing it with a roguelike dungeon crawler, bringing in an element of the unknown to help sweeten the deal. It will have you moving your squad around in search of gear, an occasional puzzle to solve, and generally satisfying tactical combat, all with a focus more on action than higher-level strategy and story-telling. The result can feel a bit bare bones, perhaps predictably, but I appreciate the attempt to change things up a bit and throw a bone to people who enjoy tactics but are on a tighter schedule. I do wish the gear and all didn’t feel quite so generic, to help throw some extra spice into the formula, but it is all certainly serviceable tactical strategy title that should have some appeal to genre fans who don’t mind a few less bells and whistles in service to tighter runs.

Lone McLonegan [Flynn's Arcade] - There’s no doubt that indies have more than brought the classic point-and-click adventure genre back from the dead, many adhering to the classic LucasArts-type formula and others going their own route to varying results. Lone McLonegan certainly has its own quirky sense of humor, hovering often between more biting humor and goofy dad jokery, and if you’re a fan of getting some laughs that way it can be fun on a budget. As for the adventure aspects it’s not quite as interesting or refined as you may have come to expect, more often simply being functional and on occasion requiring some desperate trial and error to get by. Interface-wise I appreciate that it works in a pretty streamlined fashion, at least not getting bogged down with an encumbered and over-complicated UI, keeping things relatively light and quick aside from when you can’t figure out what you need to do next. For the price it’s not a bad deal, and should provide some entertainment to genre fans, you just can’t expect a terribly polished production for that price.

Bonito Days [Studio Somewhere] - This is an odd one that initially filled me with hope, but then had enough small disappointments pile up that it slowly lost its luster. What interested me is that this plays very similarly to an included mini game in the Monkey Ball series called Monkey Target. You’ll jump off a ramp (or, in this case, sometimes something else), take flight, work to perhaps collect some items while you're gliding in the air, and then usually attempt to hit a targeted landing zone, trying to earn as many points as possible. In some stages, and in some moments, Bonito Days recaptured what I enjoyed about this game that my wife and I used to play against each other quite a bit. The thing is, there are also stages and elements it decides to improvise and do things differently that don’t work very well, and at times made me wonder if there was a clear design vision for making the game. Stages where you can roll around a bit quickly demonstrate issues with the fixed camera and what you’re supposed to do for success immediately becomes less clear. Small things like nothing, aside from your character wobbling, giving you a clear idea of how much momentum you have in flight, also creep in and detract from enjoyment. It’s an odd title, and there’s a chance for it to be a net positive for people who dig its chill look and vibe and are willing to give it some patience, but it also has a tendency to get in its own way unfortunately.

Bouncy Bullets 2 [Petite Games] - Mixing together elements of a shooter, 3D platformer, and perhaps to some degree a puzzler, Bouncy Bullets 2 is a bit of an oddity. You’ll move around its very colorful and modestly-rendered 3D stages while on the clock, pushing you to keep on the move and at least a little aggressive in taking on foes when you encounter them, though typically a little sidestepping and shooting is all you’ll need to do to take out foes. The thing is, most of the time the shooting feels a bit like an add-on, and not really the main event, as your real goal is navigating the level in order to reach the exit portal in time, perhaps finding the hidden nut along the way. What ends up being a bit aggravating is that the “puzzles” in the stages are usually far more about rote trial and error than using your smarts, so more often than not you’re just spending time poking around to figure out where to go and what to do. The result feels like a mix of elements where none of them feels particularly rewarding and more like you’re going through the motions.

Nira [Baseline Games] - I’ll freely admit that survival games don’t tend to be one of my favorite genres, but having played several that even I have found compelling and agreeable (for a number of reasons) I wouldn’t say I have an inherent bias against them either. In the case of Nira, which really heavily pushes on the minimalist button in terms of its look and structure, in many ways my play time with it left me gobsmacked. Thinking its talking totem pole was plain weird, struggling to identify what many objects around me (including those that could kill me) were, having difficulties with the controls needed to complete a quest… they led to some moments that actually left me laughing, but more in frustration and being baffled than being amused. Trying to trade with what I assume was a lady, since there wasn’t feedback for success, I kept trying different R buttons, which ended up having me attack and kill her. Not long after that a different humanoid-looking thing arrived and promptly attacked, making me kill it too, it was all a weird bit of chaos. I think this may be a game where going too far into the retro vibe really hurt it. Yes, with time and some repetition you’ll understand what different things are, but in the early going it really saps enthusiasm, and with the general style of play being very ordinary and rote at best it’s hard then not to reflect on the fact that there are better representatives of the genre out there you could be playing instead.

Wednesday, October 13

Mini Reviews: October 13th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Lightbringer [Rock Square Thunder] (Nindie Choice!) -
Certainly there are plenty of 3D action platformers on the Switch, and they take a variety of forms from intense to more casual. The Lightbringer sort of splits the middle, offering opportunities for challenges if you want to be a completionist but keeping things light if you’re just along for the journey. What’s interesting is how streamlined this experience is, feeling more like a 2D platformer moving in straight lines rather than an open adventure where the goal is exploration. Secrets will be hidden along the way, making you detour a little or double back a bit perhaps, but in general you’re always moving in the direction you want to and in many regards that’s a refreshing change of pace. Some poetic voice acting helps to advance the story, which just gives things a different feel overall as well. While by no means as epic an adventure as you’d normally see in a 3D action platformer, The Lightbringer feels like a solid, steady, and enjoyable adventure that respects your time and delivers generally no-filler thrills… something I can definitely respect.

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl [Fair Play Labs] - This is one of those titles you walk into with at least a twinge of dread as a reviewer. Not only is it a licensed game, but it is seemingly attempting to at least tangentially take on Smash Bros on its own home turf?!? The thing is, if you don’t spend all of your time picking it apart, and if you really love some of these classic Nickelodeon characters, you can still have a reasonably good button-mashing time with it. I think the biggest weaknesses for me are the lack of items to keep the middling fighting from being so easily apparent and the problems with glitchiness I ran into, which can be really aggravating in some specific stages in particular. That said, my daughter, who grew up with many of these characters, still had a blast and laughed as she’d beat me up with random animated characters in their various color-splashed cartoon levels. Depending on the crowd, things like roster depths and long-standing Nintendo lore don’t have as much pull, nostalgia and familiarity can win. For those people, this will likely be a bit of fun, just be realistic about its limitations going in.

Gleylancer [Ratalaika Games] - Even having played a ton of arcade shooters over time I’m still fascinated periodically when I run across ones that I’d somehow missed over the years. Gleylancer is one such title I must have missed (no surprise since it was only released on the Mega Drive it appears), and while there’s no doubt it’s a port of a game from over 20 years ago… I was shocked that it impressed me a bit. Central to my enthusiasm was a really smart setup I don’t recall having seen many times where you get to choose the behavior of your drones ahead of time. Granted, experimenting with them was a bit frustrating as you’d learn what they were good and bad for, but I really appreciate this smart and generally well-implemented feature. As for criticisms, the amount of debris you have to weave through in places can make the screen pretty chaotic visually at times, with you needing to keep track of what's a ship, what's trash you can't blow up, and where the bullets are. All in all though, this gem from the past at least feels well worth a look for die hard shooter enthusiasts.

Astria Ascending [Artisan Studios] - Astria Ascending is a bit of an odd bird to me. In many regards when you see its art style, it looks something like the old school manual art of classic 16-bit era titles from the likes of Square. Ornate and generally stunning, it feels like a wonderful homage to what RPG fans used to dream their games would look like one day. The trouble is in most other areas though, which either aren’t reaching for, or are at least failing to meet the high standards set by the game’s looks. Turn-based combat looks cool but plays pretty traditionally (see: somewhat dull), character development is elaborate for sure but the interface and the way it is handled I’d consider difficult to approach and odd. The storytelling, though earnest, feels a bit on the traditional side but I wouldn’t say is done any favors by the voice acting trying to sell it. For genre fans there’s plenty here that may excite you, but for people who only decide to pick up a JRPG once in a blue moon there are some more compelling choices out there for you on the eShop.

Starlight Alliance [origamihero games] - On a general level, though things have begun to change in this generation, it can be tough to get people who’ve only enjoyed AAA titles over the years to take a chance on an indie title. Whatever their biases may be, whether looks, polish, depth, or any number of other potential complaints, making headway to change minds can be tough. While Starlight Alliance shows some effort, there are aspects of it that I think fall in line with some of those stereotypes though, so I would hope the first chance someone takes on an indie wouldn’t be with this game. The controls are a bit funky, collision detection is spotty at best in places can be frustrating, and there are simply some design choices in how the game should play that feel odd, possibly tied to limitations in what either the creative or development teams could pull off. For the patient who have scaled-back expectations there’s a mix of platforming, puzzling, and some light combat here to enjoy… but it can be hard to overlook some of the warts you’ll see along the way.