Tuesday, July 14

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

Neon Abyss [Nindie Choice!] - While it’s still what I’d consider a niche genre overall roguelike shooters are one of those that I practically consider sacred. While I’ve played and enjoyed a great number of them there are probably only 3 I’d say are pillars of sorts in the genre: The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and Enter the Gungeon. While all of them play differently the one thing they have in common is their top-down perspective. I’ve seen attempts at side-scrolling roguelikes before, but none of them has really stepped up to the level of the greats… until now. Neon Abyss is the game-changing and genre-defining side-scrolling roguelike shooter you’ve been waiting for, it’s simple as that. For comparison purposes I’d say the game it shares the most with conceptually would be Isaac, and that’s because it pushes much more heavily into the potential for craziness and diversity in every single run. Rather than the focus being on weapons, though it certainly has some very creative ones, Abyss is much more about the absolutely dizzying number of items and how putting them together in different combinations can produce some radically-different results. While there are opportunities to make some choices, for the most part every time you enter the Abyss you’re on a runaway train of craziness and your only choice is to try to make the most of it. One run may be pet-heavy, in another you’ll be able to fly, some will give you devastating firepower, but no matter how geared up you may feel the fickle RNG gods can still take it away.

Moreso than any game in the genre outside of Isaac risk versus reward is a constant battle here. You’ll generally have a limited number of coins, grenades, keys, eggs, pets, hearts, and shields and depending on your run any of them could be more scarce or vital to your success. All of these variables can certainly make for some frustration, but the great news is that aside from there being an ability to go with Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty as you play more and have more successes you’ll also be able to unlock even more gear, characters, special rooms, and even more that will help to keep the experience evolving and getting even more unpredictable. Now, at least for launch I would be remiss not to mention the game can have problems with some bosses and circumstances with slowdown, and when it kicks in it can be a slideshow. The good news is that even with as much insanity on the screen as there can be on an ongoing basis these stutters are only temporary in nature, so hopefully a patch will help clean them up. Even with these issues though, Neon Abyss is an absolute blast to play. You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, you’ll cackle with glee as you put together an arsenal that melts an entire room of enemies in seconds. If you’re a fan of shooters I consider this an absolute must-play (and hey, there’s a demo too), but even for more mainstream gamers if you’ve ever considered trying out a roguelike shooter this is absolutely one of the best options out there.

#Funtime [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to arcade-style twin-stick shooters one name pretty well everyone is familiar with is Geometry Wars (how is there STILL no version of it on Switch?!?!). While there have no doubt been a variety of games that have aped its visual style in some way to varying degrees none have managed to capture the speed, intensity, and quality of its core gameplay. Finally, in the case of the aptly-named #Funtime someone has managed to not only create a play experience worthy of the comparison, but it does it using its own sense of flair and rules that distinguish itself. Orienting yourself with some of the game’s mechanics, specifically its effective but (at first) hard to master color-changing system, is best done in Challenge Mode where you’ll be put through a gauntlet of scenarios that will test different skills and gradually pressing you to do and understand more. From there you can generally tackle whatever suits you best, whether going for straight-up Arcade play, Survival, a challenging Escape variant, or the signature #Funtime mode where they pull out all the stops at once for an intense challenge. I’m torn on the progressive upgrades you can get, mainly because they undermine my classic arcade high score purist sensibilities, but if you’ve been itching for arcade intensity mixed with some great new ideas #Funtime fully lives up to its name.

Void Terrarium - As bleak as the core premise may be in Void Terrarium, with you playing as a small robot trying to save a lone human girl in what appears to be the post-Apocalypse, you can’t help but be charmed by how darned cute it is. The game is an odd bird, no doubt, mixing the pretty soft and cute main art style with what can be pretty punishing roguelike dungeon crawling play as the game progresses. Your goal is to go out on runs to collect supplies and upgrade yourself as you try to get everything you need to restore this girl to health. As is often the case with roguelikes and Mystery Dungeon-style crawling there’s quite a bit of repetition and grinding here as you go on, though careful play and some luck can help you get through more quickly. I’d say moreso than the gameplay loop, which can be satisfying for people don’t mind the grind, the real driver here is the story revolving around the girl you’re trying to save and the slow rebuilding of some hope for the decimated world you find yourself exploring.

1993 Shenandoah - As a huge shooter fan in general I’m pleased that the Switch has a true abundance of riches when it comes to the genre. What it means for anyone with a game trying to break in for some success in the eShop though is that it’s an uphill battle. Coming in from the old school on a budget angle, 1993 Shenandoah doesn’t break much ground, but I’ll at least give it credit for implementing its upgrades in a different way that helps it to feel a little different than its competitors. The shooting itself is traditional and perhaps even generic for the most part, but as you accumulate money you’ll be able to spice things up and make yourself more survivable by hand-choosing your gear and even your ship. Once you move up to the better tier of craft having 4 slots to work with means you can set up a pretty dominating ship, decked out with anything from split shots, homing missiles, bombs, and just about any kind of power-up you can imagine represented. It’s really the customization that makes the game notable, even if the challenges you’ll face aren’t quite as interesting considering your host of options on the system.

Creepy Tale - When LIMBO made its debut on the indie gaming scene it really made a splash, not just with its dark themes and creepy art, but also its take on an adventure full of pretty creative and challenging puzzling. Of course success is certain to breed imitation and loading up Creepy Tale, though its art style is quite different, you immediately get that feeling of the macabre as you try to make progress through a variety of perilous environments. Through trial and error and some creativity most puzzles can be solved, though in some cases I hit the scenario where I’d think I had the proper solution (it wasn’t) but because it seemed like I was close to correct I’d keep trying variations on that scheme before finally giving up and trying something else. Moreso than usual I’d say the required accurate is high while at times your actions feel a bit fiddly and imprecise. If you have patience you’ll be rewarded but I wouldn’t say this game does much to distinguish itself from its competition on the platform.

Thursday, July 9

Mini Reviews: July 9th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

CrossCode - There’s always a risk with games that get hyped up in advance of you getting to experience them. CrossCode is a title I’ve been hearing about for quite some time from friends and in the gaming press, and the general consensus has been unanimously positive. With that in mind, and with a bit of nostalgia for the original Secret of Mana in tow, I set out to discover what I hoped would be a new undisputed indie champion. While there’s no denying that the game’s artwork evokes that classic 16-bit Square feel and the general combat shares some of the same beats, from experience I’d say if you’re going to take the CrossCode plunge it’s best to not reflect too heavily on the classic titles the game is trying to emulate for fear of some disappointment.

Where CrossCode excels is in its scope and ambition. The game world is large, relatively varied, and absolutely crawling with people moving around (the game world is set in an MMO so this makes perfect sense) so it all feels pretty alive. Combat is roughly in the middle of the road, certainly delivering on some intensity and the option to focus on ranged or melee combat, but on the whole lacking in real variety even as you play with your Circuit points and try different builds. Puzzles are also a mix of good and bad, and in effect they’re everywhere. The ones involving crystals you’ll need to hit are smart and a bit reminiscent of Zelda, so those are generally positive. Less endearing are any that involve making jumps between platforms of different heights. It being a 2D game and there being a very poor sense of depth in many cases these segments, more often than not, felt like a real waste of time as too often you’ll need to work them out by trial and error since visually things can be ambiguous at best. When it comes to the economy, equipment, and trading, honestly the less I say the better because truly it is an over-cumbersome hot mess and a waste of time. Going from vendor to vendor to convert A and B to C, which you can then combine with F from combining D and E from another vendor, to finally create G… it quickly gets annoying. The sheer volume of quests you can go on, but that generally aren’t in any way distinct or interesting aside from kill this or get that (with very little veneer of purpose to go along with them), also fall a bit into the “kitchen sink” category for me. If your goal is to get the most game out of your investment, CrossCode absolutely delivers in that regard, but I’d say the more people hold it up against the 16-bit classics it was obviously inspired by the worse it plays out by comparison.

A physical boxed version of the game can be ordered as well at: https://crosscode.inin.games/

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town - When you’re making a new iteration of a revered and classic series I don’t doubt the greatest concern lies in how great a risk you’re willing to take in changing things. The wider the audience and probably the more casual the series happens to be the higher the stakes are if you make some tweak that doesn’t end up working out. I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons demonstrates where generally keeping things the same, but then making a few key changes for the better, both plays it safe and innovates effectively. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, feels like it chose the easier and “safer” path. Generally serving up precisely what its fans expect, complete with a great (and cute) visual overhaul, Friends of Mineral Town is undoubtedly a terrific farm/cultivation RPG… but there’s no mistaking that the experience is also extremely familiar, perhaps to the point of detriment depending on your tastes. You’ll be able to farm, fish, mine, explore, attend special events, and develop relationships with your fellow townsfolk… but aside from the obvious improvement in visuals the game also feels a bit stuck in a time warp. Fans of the series, and even converts from other titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, will likely find plenty to enjoy here if you’re looking for the repetition and relaxing pace of the farming sim life. Just where I think the aforementioned games generally feel a bit more modern and refined this feels incredibly safe, for better or worse.

Keen: One Girl Army - With a cute overall look and a lead character who is full of attitude and spunk, Keen works to stand out as more than a generic puzzle game, and in general in that area it succeeds. There’s a degree of polish and care in the presentation and genuine sense of humor it has that are endearing. Of course, being a puzzle game, the question is then how well it executes in that crucial area. On the whole the news here is good as well, the mechanics are ones we’ve seen before where you’ll move in a given direction until you either hit a wall or an enemy, and this sets up a need to plan out your path in order to get to the exits or to try to find hidden secrets. In a bit of a twist the overworld map has a similar puzzle element to it as well, with you needing to navigate to different exits and sometimes revisiting the same room more than once from different starting points in order to get to everything. I do wish that there weren’t situations where no matter what I do I will take a hit and lose some health, there’s just something in principle about that I’m not a fan of, but in general once you get used to the rules for how and when you’ll be attacked and when you won’t they do make sense. Against the few titles with similar mechanics already on Switch I still think I’d give Slayaway Camp the edge overall but this is still worthy of attention for puzzle fans.

Superliminal - With a pretty fresh take on first-person puzzling Superliminal definitely has its moments where the perspective and size shifting mechanics that serve as its core shine. Creativity and the ability to see an opportunity and then run with it are essential to success here, though sometimes simple observation and taking the time to see everything in the environment before rushing to solve the problem are an underappreciated necessity. Where the game loses its footing at times are some puzzles where either the lighting or general layout of the area can make depth perception and understanding where the object in your focus is (helping to make you understand whether it is close and large or far and smaller) difficult, and certainly the controls are a bit cumbersome when it comes to manipulating them to get them arranged how you need them to solve a given puzzle. A treat that it has to help compensate for its shortcomings is an essence of making you feel like you’re subverting the design at times, finding areas or solutions that aren’t intended, but looking too hard for those can also burn time on nothing if you’re looking too hard for those opportunities. Overall, it’s a clever idea implemented well enough to be engaging, but not without some flaws.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise - The original Deadly Premonition was a polarizing title to say the least, some people really loved the quirk and utter weirdness of the characters and overall design (willing to overlook its technical shortcomings) but if you weren’t in that camp there was generally negativity instead. I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise that this sequel leans heavily in the same direction in all regards, some of them unfortunate, but the second time around what felt freshly weird also now doesn’t have the same charm, sinking the experience a bit. Right away I’d say devoting roughly the first hour to a slow dialogue-heavy interrogation that does somewhat get people up to speed with what’s going on, but could have been accomplished with a 5 - 10 minute montage felt incredibly indulgent and quickly drove my enthusiasm down. But once you’re finally able to explore things don’t get too much better, the environments feel sparse, underpopulated, and empty even compared to the original. Worse, the performance issues and jank have also seemed to come along for the ride. If you’re a fan of the original or have a tolerance for technical shortcomings in the hopes of a and funky wild ride perhaps it may be worthwhile, but for everyone else it’ll be a pretty firm pass.