Thursday, June 24

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

LEGO Builder’s Journey [Light Brick] (Nindie Choice!) -
The first thought people tend to have with a LEGO title is an action-oriented romp you can casually enjoy on your own or, even better, with a friend. Builder’s Journey isn’t in that same vein though, instead taking a very different path to provide a slower and more contemplative puzzle experience that, of course, centers on the creative use of LEGO pieces to get you through. What really made the greatest impression on me from the game though isn’t the smart use of the pieces in a very sensible context but instead the story that it tells. Without dialogue or narration of any kind the story of a parent and their child starting out on a journey together, with some sidetracks that separate them along the way, is what pulled me in the most. Completing the puzzle on each screen would give me a taste of what happens next and that tended to be my biggest driver, though I absolutely appreciated the unique challenge of making use of the trademark pieces to solve problems brought. It isn’t without flaws, with running time and occasional issues where knowing what piece you want to put where can be encumbered by the camera not cooperating well topping the list, but on the whole I still found the experience very satisfying. There’s just something special to me about the whole package of what this game offers, and given its highly accessible nature for gamers of all skill levels it’s easy to recommend… even if I wish the experience could have lasted a bit longer.

Cyber Hook [Blazing Stick] (Nindie Choice!) - Having originally checked it out at PAX East last year, Cyber Hook was a title I was pretty eagerly waiting to see in its final form. A neon-lit parkour title with a mix of running, jumping, some shooting, grappling, and a fair amount of crashing and burning it’s just a very different experience altogether. I’m happy to see that the final product does seem more polished and diverse in its level designs, though that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have an occasional rough edge you’ll encounter. The main thing I love about it is the almost Spider-Man like flow you’ll need to get into in order to sling yourself around the course. Now, getting to the point where you can execute that can take some work, execution is everything and jumping from your grapple line can be tricky to get the hang of pulling off consistently… but when it clicks it can be very satisfying. While the likes of speedrunners will, no doubt, hone their runs to perfection what I enjoy most is the improv of it all. Your plan will tend to go south quickly and often and the fun is in recovering and pulling it off anyway, in many ways reminding me of the same sort of thrill I got from the under-rated ClusterTruck. This won’t be a game that will work for everyone, but it’s different, challenging, plays well in quick bursts, and can be just as entertaining, if not more, when runs go wrong as when they go right.

Super Magbot [Astral Pixel] - With as many puzzle platformers as I’ve seen on the Switch it’s always cool to run across one that does things a bit differently, and there’s no doubt that Super Magbot manages that. Your right and left arms have polarities of red and blue and the layout of each level features panels of those same colors, the trick being to use your powers of attraction and propulsion to skillfully fling yourself around and make what are sometimes tough sequences work. It’s a cool idea, and for the most part everything is implemented well, but for me there’s just a hitch in it having a flow to the motions of it all, but perhaps I just never got fully into the zone. I could get the patterns down and execute them to make it through the level but I never got to the point where it felt like second nature somehow. If you’re looking for a unique challenge in the puzzle platform space it is recommended, just it may not click for everyone.

Cross The Moon [Patrick Rainville] - If you’re a fan of visual novels and vampires, but not necessarily of being given choices to make, Cross the Moon may pull you in. Set in a world where humans and vampires are at least making an attempt at co-existence, and set up to give you a sense of foreboding dread, it at least does a solid job of setting the stage for intrigue to keep you reading. From there it will be a matter of whether the handful of characters and their motivations and interactions are appealing to you. Myself, I tend to struggle when there’s really no opportunity for choice in how things proceed, but if you don’t mind just working through a story in digital form the setting and themes may suck you in.

Lambs on the Road: The Beginning [Flynn's Arcade] - This is one of those titles where I end up having mixed feelings but unfortunately most of it trends towards the negative in this case. I love the post-Apocalyptic setting, that always makes for something more dire, and there are some set piece moments that get a bit grisly within the confines of the more limited art style. The problem is just that the experience trends heavily towards clunky more often than not. It seems to be going for a style ala the likes of Prince of Persia or Out of This World but where those titles may have been frustrating in places you could feel much more polish. There’s a trial and error messiness to this that doesn’t always feel intuitive and it sort of pulls you out of the moment, undermining the tension and suspense. Throw in occasional deaths that feel dumb and frustrations over it not being clear that the game wants you to try to do and there are more satisfying games in the Apocalypse out there.

Tuesday, June 22

Mini Reviews: June 22nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 [Sega] (AAA Choice) -
While the games were delayed by the global pandemic, now that the summer games are coming (well, perhaps not given the situation in Japan, but stick with me) there must be an inevitable video game form of the events. Having been a fan of such compilations since waaay back in the olden days of playing the original Summer Games and all of its sequels on the Commodore 64 I always look forward to these, even if the results (even within the same collection) have a tendency to vary wildly. While this video game vision of the Summer Games in Tokyo may not be perfect by any means the first, and most vital, thing I’ll say is that my highly-competitive daughter and I had a yelling-and-laughter-filled super long play session running everything through the paces.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this iteration of an event compilation is its ambition with regards to the breadth of events, many of which I’m not sure have been featured in such a collection before. While staples like track and field events or swimming are present, newer and more exotic events like rock climbing, BMX racing, and even rugby are also present. There’s a lot of game here, and given the differences in events there’s also plenty to attempt to master, though in some cases a healthy dose of luck can help… but this is also consistent with the genre.

My first disappointment with the game is that you can’t enjoy it with 4 players locally, you’ll only be able to take on a friend. I’d like to think this could be patched, but I wouldn’t count on it. Local play for multiple devices (assuming multiple copies) and online play are supported, but I’d hoped to get everyone around the TV enjoying it. The only other major thing I’d say that stood out as troublesome would be the generally wonky behavior of your AI teammates and general implementation strategy in team-based events. Granted, yelling about this tends to add to the fun in some regards, but it can be super frustrating how you can’t manually switch players and are left to the unusual whims of the game, deciding who should be your active defender in particular. Some elements like batting in baseball I would consider over-complicated to the point they were a struggle to enjoy, but here’s to hoping some observations in data coming back about how games are played could compel them to come up with a less onerous scheme. A last fleeting gripe would be the lack of an option to simply tackle all events in one massive run, but maybe that’s just something I was looking for.

Moving on to the good, on a general level there’s a lot to have fun with here, even if that can sometimes be tinged with frustration… but when playing with a friend this again can work out as comedic fodder for sure. As a whole the track and field and swimming events, being the most traditional, are also the best executed in terms of the controls and I was surprised at the number of small control tweaks that are in place for timing or execution to eke out slightly better times than mere quick button mashing. Even events that aren’t as well-implemented at least have a tendency to have similar control schemes, making simply getting used to the specifics of the event crucial but not necessarily needing to reinvent the wheel for everything either. For people who enjoy player customization it is supported, though you’ll need to keep your overall expectations in check. The ability to customize your outfit per event is an entertaining feature, and mismatches of equipment to the sport being played can at least be fun for a little bit.

All in all, while it is by no means perfect, this summer games collection should be accessible and reasonably fun to people of all ages and skill levels. A combination of mashing, some technique, luck, and certainly some skillful strategy is required to be successful and particularly if you’re able to enjoy the experience locally with a friend it can be quite entertaining (cue up the tennis matches, my family decided that the sound of the shoes on the court sounded a bit too much like a bodily function and from there things devolved quickly every time we played it). If you’re going to go it solo there is support for online competitions but even though it’s implemented well enough we’ve seen the spotty track record of games maintaining a community past a few weeks from launch so I wouldn’t rest my hopes on that being its savior. While perhaps Mario Vs Sonic may have more star power and perks of its own going for it I’d say this collection has its own strengths as well with a surprisingly diverse roster of events that are fun to explore and try to get better at.

Mushihimesama [Cave] (Nindie Choice!) - While there are certainly more modern takes on bullet hell shmups from the past it’s always interesting to see an OG classic come to the system and show people how it's done. While I hadn’t previously had the pleasure to play Mushihimesama its a title whose reputation preceeds it, and I’m inclined to agree with the accolades I’ve seen for it after spending some time with it. For the most part there aren’t overly complicated systems to learn or techniques to master, it’s purely a matter of being effective at dodging everything coming your way, maximizing your power-up opportunities, and blowing up everything in sight. As you’d hope or perhaps expect you’re also able to play it vertically so people with a FlipGrip or other means can moreso enjoy the experience as it was meant to be played in full, though I’ll note that without manually setting a zoom it still doesn’t utilize the full screen which was a bit of a disappointing detail. For people who aren’t full-blown fans of the genre it will probably seem insanely tough, but for people with a deep-seated muscle memory for dodging it’s a terrific old-school taste of insanity.

Strange Brigade [Rebellion] (Nindie Choice!) - Having played through the full campaign of Strange Brigade with my daughter on PC, and having a terrific time with it, I was overjoyed to see this announced for Switch. While there’s no doubt that graphically things have been pulled back a bit from my top-notch graphics card I was impressed with the look and performance of the Switch version… though as always portably the sacrifices are a bit more pronounced. Whether solo or with others online or locally you’ll be tackling some old-school mummified enemies of various kinds, looking for secrets, working out puzzles, and generally being a badass in the classic Indiana Jones-esque sort of manner. While this is a shooter without a doubt the pacing is much slower than you’d normally find, with a focus on accuracy, making use of a wide variety of traps that are pretty well everywhere, and your occasional special skill that can get you out of a jam. On top of the action a highlight for me is the running commentary from the classically styled narrator who reinforces the older period things are taking place in and injecting all sorts of funny commentary on different going on throughout. If you’re looking for a shooter that’s simply in a class of its own I’d definitely recommend joining up with the Strange Brigade.

7 Years From Now [hiraya-space] - If you’ve followed my reviews for any particular amount of time you’ll know that I don’t tend to be much of a fan of linear visual novels, even when they may tell a reasonably good story. In the case of 7 Years From Now I think it’s the voxel art style that makes it even more problematic than usual though, as it makes it tougher to make a connection with the characters and even the environment when there are so few details to latch onto. That said, the mystery of your character’s past and this promise he made nearly 7 years ago that he only partially remembers details about makes for a decent hook at least. I’d recommend getting a taste of the style and story before making a decision on whether this seems to be a good match for your tastes even if you aren’t as much of a snob about stories being told where you have no agency on a dedicated gaming system versus something like your mobile phone or tablet.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX [Jankenteam] - Oh my do these retro reduxes give me mixed feelings. First, there’s no mistaking that the hand drawn animated look of the game is wonderful and does a fabulous job of making the classic Sega Master System game look like it belongs on a modern system. Of course you’ll have the option to switch between the classic look and the new, depending on your tastes, and this sort of feature is always a bit fascinating as you ponder over what the process looks like to reskin such an old game so thoroughly. Unfortunately, while perhaps fans of the original game may appreciate the diligence in this modern redux completely buying into the original, warts and all, as someone who wasn’t a fan of it back in the day there’s no mistaking that the gameplay is troublesome at best. Alex, for all of his punching and sometimes powered-up fury, unfortunately has a horrible glass jaw and it feels like he dies if he’s even sneezed on. Mix this with some rules that you’ll simply need to accept for how things work in general, and while I’ll credit the series with absolutely having its own take on how to handle a platform action game I’m not a fan. The result is a game I felt more like I was meant to endure than enjoy and I’d warn you to be careful when considering this title unless you’re a massive fan of the original. Even then you may still be disappointed on your return to it.