Thursday, May 23

Review: Skelly Selest [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When it comes to pixel art roguelike arcade action titles you can normally absolutely count me in pretty well automatically. Anything that helps put me back in that classic arcade mindset is usually a thrill to play, bringing me back to simpler days of pumping quarters into some great machines. That said, there can be things that break you out of the experience, little flaws and shortcomings that make some titles tougher to love. That’s the case for me with Skelly Selest, a game that looks great and plays well… but that has some fundamental flaws that don’t kill the experience but make it suffer next to some of its contemporaries.

Starting with the positive, one of the distinguishing features of the game is its somewhat unique blend of beat-em-up and shooter mechanics. At the core there’s what should be a pretty solid experience here, you can slash with your axe and shoot enemies as well, making your combat a bit tactical as you need to figure out what’s better to take out from a distance and when you’re able to maneuver enemies into a cluster to swipe them all at once. You’ll need to alternate your attacks as your ammo is limited and killing enemies with your axe replenishes. Not a bad start.

Next there’s a ton of variety here both within the game and in general. You can attack the game in a few variant modes, even including a sort of card game. You’ll unlock different heads and even characters to play with that will switch up some core mechanics for variety. A variety of different perks and curses will present themselves in-game and between stages as you progress that have a surprising diversity of effects that are all over the spectrum. You’ll encounter new areas and bosses with some regularity that look pretty amazing and amp up the challenge. Truly, there’s a ton here to like.

All of which makes the aggravating nature of its gameplay so frustrating. The biggest problem the game has concerns its most crucial element, the controls. If only this were a twin-stick affair I think my opinion would change almost immediately, but alas it isn’t. The fact that the direction of your attacks is bound to the same stick as your movement is pretty crippling and turns fluid and satisfying combat into stilted and awkward swiping and generally missing far too much. Your enemies, and in particular bosses, will demand that you keep on the move. This makes needing to turn back and either swipe or shoot and then run some more extremely frustrating and far too inaccurate. Worse, your axe swipe holds you in place for a solid second and most of my deaths tended to be from being left vulnerable by this small break in time. Then throw on problems with visual muddiness in some screens where they’re trying to do some lighting tricks and the fact that on the move the icons for power-ups are very hard to differentiate so you’re never quite sure what you’re picking up and it can be a bit maddening on the whole.

This may be one of the more aggravating games I’ve reviewed for the site, where a small number of critical design choices have absolutely crippled an otherwise impressive game. Visually the game looks great when it isn’t managing to make itself muddy with visual tricks that detract more than they add. However, the core mistake is really with the controls and the insistence on it being a single-stick experience. The price you pay for that in accuracy and fluidity makes what could have been an impressive overall experience into a frustratingly mediocre one. Skelly Selest has many elements in its corner that help it approach greatness but somehow manages to trip itself up on the way there.

Score: 5.5

  • The core gameplay, when you remove the controls, is pretty sound
  • Visually the art style is distinctive and looks terrific with some great large set pieces and bosses
  • A pretty wide variety of perks and curses in-game, then modes and unlocks at a higher level as well

  • The fact that this isn’t a twin-stick game is a tremendous shame, the single-stick controls really cripple the experience mechanically
  • In some areas there are some attempts at light effects that are more trouble than they’re worth and just muddy things up
  • You end up getting perks on the run you can’t identify, making it hard sometimes to know what you’ve gotten yourself into

Wednesday, May 22

Review: Redout [Nintendo Switch eShop]

After being delayed for quite some time, and for a while seemingly never to come to the Switch, Redout has finally sped its way onto the system. Without a first-party high-speed racing game on the system like F-Zero or an established franchise like WipeOut or even Extreme-G that has left the field wide open for an indie to find an audience. With Fast RMX releasing at launch and the more combat-oriented GRIP having come in the last year there have been some decent choices, each with their own feel, and I’d say Redout similarly does things its own way. In this case the promise is in an impressive feeling of speed and some pretty roller coaster-like tracks. However, while it may appeal to racing purists if you were hoping for a little bit of action along the way you may be disappointed.

Starting out in the Career Mode you’ll pick your first vehicle, trying to find the balance of attributes that suit you best, and set off. What makes the controls a bit unique here is the use of the right stick for your pitch, whether that be side to side or up and down. It takes a little getting used to but it’s essential that you get on top of things. Not only will running into the walls slow you down, it will also begin to damage your craft and obviously blowing up is going to be an issue, even moreso when in events where once you blow up you’re done. As you compete and win you’ll gain more money, which you can then use to buy new vehicles or some active and passive upgrades. These do play a role in things but they’re not so much combat-oriented as annoyances to other drivers or assists to help you succeed.

In general while the sense of speed is pretty impressive there are some casualties that come with the territory. The first is that visually in order to represent everything whipping by the game takes on an unusual overall look as you get flying down the track. Your ship will retain its detail but the track and your surroundings can look outright weird in a way that’s hard to describe. Granted, the sensation of speed is crucial above all but it won’t be for everyone. The other casualty can be fun. Even with other people on the track, whether against the CPU, online (when you can find people consistently… eek), for the most part races are a lonely experience where you ultimately feel like you’re just racing against yourself for time. There are situations where racers can disrupt each other but they’re the exception by far rather than the rule. If you want to dig into something that will challenge you to do your best it works, but if you were hoping for some excitement as you take on other racers more directly you’ll be disappointed.

Overall, Redout is a pretty impressive racing experience that does a great job of conveying speed. Depending on your tastes, what is sacrificed to maintain that feeling of screaming down the track will lead to very different impressions. Without the color-coded boosting of Fast RMX or the consistent combat of GRIP Redout stands on its own as the most pure racer of the bunch, just understand that even though there’s a fair amount of content and plenty of tracks none of it will matter if the game doesn’t fulfill what it is you’re looking for in your racing title.

Score: 7.5

  • The sensation of speed is absolutely there
  • Controlling the pitch of your vehicle while racing, forcing you to use both the left and right sticks, gives the game a unique and more purist feel
  • A fair number of winding tracks and variants that can be pretty crazy

  • People who enjoy a little more variety to go with the core racing won’t find much here
  • Even when racing against opponents for the most part you’re really racing against yourself
  • While there is online support the community doesn’t seem to be very big and indie games in general don’t tend to retain their numbers for long

Tuesday, May 21

Review: Octogeddon [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When you’re checking out new indie games you can never be sure what you’ll run into next. Certainly a game with an easily-angered octopus who is determined to destroy anyone or anything they’re insulted by while grafting all manner of creatures onto their tentacles isn’t something you run into every day. That’s precisely the core of Octogeddon though, and while you might assume this is a mobile port of some kind it actually isn’t, and even though its controls and core play may be simple the game has a crafty element of progression and sustained challenge that make it interesting.

Pretty much all you need to know is that you’re an angry cephalopod who starts out with a mere two plain tentacles but who progressively is able to add more and customize them as well. You’ll be attacked from all sides by all manner of weapons and craft ranging from conventional to sometimes silly, and to defend yourself the controls simply consist of you being able to rotate left and right with either the joystick or shoulder buttons. Staying alive is merely a matter of lining up with something attacking you and then letting your tentacle or whatever may be on the end of it deal with them.

Though for the first run or two there doesn’t tend to be too much to get excited about as you go and collect shells specifically you’ll gain the ability to unlock some much more potent animal attachments for your appendages. Whether these have powerful melee attacks, shoot poison, or even grab and fling enemies around you’ll need to carefully determine not only which to use but where to place them. Rather than thinking a bit randomly putting some skills near each other can be a very wise move and you’ll only know things like this for sure through experimentation. Adding to the challenge is the fact that once you’ve unlocked a few permanent choices you’ll still be subject to some randomness in which options you’ll have to add between rounds.

Aside from it feeling like it may take its sweet time to hit its stride Octogeddon works in a satisfying manner both in terms of being an action and a strategy game. Success isn’t only about execution or planning, you’ll really need a solid combination of both (and perhaps a little luck) to weather some of the scenarios and boss fights you’ll be put up against. Somehow feeling both complex and simple at the same time this budget title entertains with its sense of humor, some truly surprising weapons, and a smooth ramp up in difficulty that will challenge you without necessarily being overwhelming. Recommended for budget game lovers for sure.

Score: 8.5

  • Simple but smart, challenging but fair
  • Deeper unlocks between runs that allow you to spend shells can provide some great options in weaponry
  • A generally light-hearted tone and sense of humor
  • The launch price of $8.88 is a great touch, and a fair deal

  • Can feel a bit mobile-y
  • The overall challenge is likely a bit mild for experienced gamers