Friday, July 30

Mini Reviews: July 30th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Unbound: Worlds Apart [Alien Pixel Studios] (Nindie Choice!) -
While they weren’t initially very well-represented on the Switch, in the past 2 years the Metroidvania genre has been thriving thanks to a wide variety of indie titles. With that in mind, doing things a little differently would likely be a good idea, and that’s where Unbound makes a case for its potential success, by leaning a bit in the opposite direction most titles choose. While exploration and rewards for persistence are building blocks all titles in the space should have, and that are represented well here, rather than placing an emphasis on combat as most games do within the space, Unbound leans into the puzzles instead. Through the creative use of portals and a variety of powers you’ll wield as the game moves on you’ll be able to navigate through some tough challenges that vary in style and difficulty, making for an experience that never is quite able to get dull and that will put you to the test in some cases to work through how to properly make your way through some intricate maze-like level design. While perhaps not as ideal for the action-oriented set I found the more cerebral approach in this case to be satisfyingly refreshing compared to the norm.

Eldest Souls [Fallen Flag Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - For me, Eldest Souls is a bit of a pleasant surprise. You see, whenever I see any game that’s tough and is in any way implied to be a bit like Dark Souls, my interest level immediately drops. I can respect games that are inherently meant to be hard and, done properly, a solid boss rush title can be exhilarating and maddening all at once. More often than not, though, I’ve found games in this category to be hard for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s over-complicated or shoddy controls, sluggish movement or simply enemies who feel like damage sponges who bring little to no fun to the table, I often find games in the space to be sloppy and tedious. Eldest Souls, however, pretty quickly got its hooks in me and made me pretty happy. The much larger bosses you face are absolutely intimidating, and you won’t likely have a very easy time dispatching them, but the elements are all in place where almost every time you walk away knowing your loss was on you and your lack of execution. Throw in plenty of opportunities to upgrade your hero on different paths to help the play better suit your style and this is a title worth boss rushing to if you like a challenge.

Ayo the Clown [Cloud M1] - While Nintendo has traditionally felt like it has cornered the market on cute and family-friendly fare other developers have, on occasion, come along and at least attempted to steal some of that thunder. With its very cutesy art style, clown main character, and a variety of appropriately-themed elements to match Ayo the Clown certainly captures the look of an all-ages platforming affair. The surprise may be that it’s perhaps a little tougher than you may expect, purely based on the aesthetics, but that isn’t to say less experienced gamers wouldn’t be able to work through things with a bit of persistence. Perhaps my biggest complaint may come down to “clown shoes” if I was looking to make an excuse, but there’s just a certain looseness to the precision in movement and the necessary placement when you try to stomp some enemies, resulting in what feels like it should have been a good hit making you take some damage. It may be a little nitpicky but, overall, outside of that and perhaps that some of the overall design feels a bit safer and more traditional instead of innovative and fun it’s minimally a solid platforming title, just not quite able to reach the high bar set by some of its more accomplished competition in the eShop.

Arcade Space Shooter 2 in 1 [QUByte Interactive] - With so much already out there in the eShop I would imagine making a good low-budget retro-styled shooter that manages to distinguish itself can be a challenge. With 2 games in one package Arcade Space Shooter is off to a good enough start, attempting to deliver some value through quantity. To their credit, each is loosely similar to classic arcade shooters like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but thankfully just for the base idea. In both cases these revised versions of the classics show some love and care to help them be a bit more interesting without losing sight of the basics that made them work. Beyond that though, I don’t think either would likely occupy the typical retro gamer’s obsession for more than a short while as they lack the personality or excitement that coerce you into spending just a bit more time with them. For the price they’ll work in a pinch, but at best they’d only be filler while you warm up for more satisfying fare.

Horror Tales: The Wine [Carlos Coronado] - Games that are effectively walking simulators that double as a sort of horror experience have somehow become quite a consistent thing in the Switch eShop and I’m never quite sure how to feel about them. If there’s an element The Wine does best at its probably in creating a pretty cohesive and pretty moody overall atmosphere. The streets, alleyways, and corridors you’ll travel through are pretty well empty, but with a crippling disease ravaging the region it’s not hard to imagine why. Posted notices and other papers you discover along the way relate a piecemeal story where you’re able to see the local government asserting control to get a handle on the situation and you can imagine entire families stricken by disease or simply mistrusted by their paranoid neighbors in this environment. An occasional jump scare or bit of startling movement seem out of the corner of your eye help to keep you engaged and on your toes but overall there’s not much to the “game” element mechanically as you walk through an array of set pieces, solve an occasional puzzle, and perhaps have something give you a fright once in a while. There are absolutely worse games in the space out there but without a bit more meat invested in the overall story it’s tougher to really get engaged with the game aside from hoping for that next jolt of excitement.

Thursday, July 29

Mini Reviews: July 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Night Book [Wales Interactive] (Nindie Choice!) -
I’ve continued to be impressed with the strides the FMV game genre has made since its more humble CD-based beginnings. In the last generation, in particular, the ability to create what often appears to be seamless video through a mix of the underlying technology and smart editing has resulted in experiences that approach interactive movies. More often than not what has ended up defining the quality of the experience has then been the story itself, and how well-acted it all is, rather than whether it stumbles on the technical side. In the case of Night Book I was impressed by how it manages to pull you into the situation and build a sense for suspense, then progressively letting things unravel from the point your character utters some translated words in an Evil Dead-esque nod, and seeing where it all ends. You do have some decision points and they can have enough consequence to make going back to see how things can turn out differently worthwhile but as a whole the story and how well everything is acted make this a solid bit of semi-interactive horror if you don’t mind the general format it is presented through.

B.ARK [TicToc Games] (Nindie Choice!) - What can I say, when you throw some cute pups into a game you’ve got my attention. B.ARK, as pained as that acronym seemed to have been to construct, is a side-scrolling shooter with classic arcade roots but certainly some modern flair as well. Whether playing solo (which is a bit tougher) or with some friends, it’s colorful, has some great enemy and boss designs, and tends to keep you busy dodging bullets and being careful about how and when to deploy your charged shots and power-ups. My one warning would be that to look at it parents could be thinking it’s so cute and may be a fun match for younger gamers. You could go that route, but this is a legitimately challenging shooter even by default so unless they’re the type that grits their teeth and is determined to “git gud” this may not be as solid a match as you could think based on its colorful look and cute characters. If you’re into shooters and appreciate games that are willing to deviate from the old-school and plain spaceship formula to have a little more fun though it’s a great match.

Piczle Puzzle & Watch Collection [Score Studios] - As someone who grew up in the original days of the Game & Watch devices there’s absolutely a sense of warm nostalgia that comes with the sights and sounds they produce. Taking a cue from Nintendo, who has produced modern console experiences around the classic games of their own, the people behind the Piczle series have taken a crack at that style themselves with this collection of 3 puzzle games presented in the stripped down classic LED look and feel. Probably my favorite is Piczle Cross, an implementation of a Picross-style puzzle game, though I’ll admit it felt like the buttons were backwards and I kept using the wrong one (but that could just be me). The other two are Piczle Loops, which is somewhat of a variation on Minesweeper that took me a moment to get and Piczle Pattern, which is more of a traditional game where you’re trying to fully fill the area using a single shape that can change colors off and on. For people who are puzzle fans and who are nostalgic for the Game & Watch experience this may be a great fit. For people less enthused with either of those elements you’ll probably be better of finding something else on the eShop.

Paint the Town Red [South East Games] - First-person perspective absolutely brings you into the action, so when it’s applied to genres that haven’t usually been played that way the results can sometimes be exciting. In the case of Paint the Town Red the perspective has been mixed with the classic beat-em-up, resulting in a brawler that obviously then has its own unique feel. Mechanically, once you get used to the charged attacks, the power of picked up weapons, and just the flow of things, it may not be an ideal marriage but it works pretty nicely. I’d say the bigger problem is that the game has taken a kitchen sink approach to what style of game it wants to be, allowing you to simply straight-up brawl in different settings, engage in what’s roughly a roguelike dungeon crawler, or take on a gladiator-style arena setup. This gives all of the modes more of an unpolished feel that makes the end result seem novel but a bit rudderless as a whole.

The Long Gate [Inductance] - There’s no doubt that at this point taking things in new directions or presenting them in uncommon ways is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded eShop. The risk you take is whether or not the path your tread has been to-this-point avoided due to the difficulty of making the experience work. The Long Gate suffers a bit from this problem, having opted to mix the first-person perspective for play with what amounts to a programming game of sorts, where you need to observe and work out logical problems to essentially create circuits. It’s certainly novel but having to walk around to size up the big picture of what you’re working with and what you’ve set ends up encumbering the user experience in a way that doesn’t feel positive. Different, for sure. Fun? For most, aside from a pretty small audience, I’m thinking probably not.