Wednesday, December 1

Mini Reviews: December 1st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Archvale [Idoz, idoz & phops] (Nindie Choice!) -
This is just one of those titles that’s hard to describe in a way that gives it justice, a sort of retro-looking twin-stick slasher/shooter adventure that has some RPG elements, and will involve you needing to periodically do some intense dodging. See, I told you it was tough, I think it’s one of those games that’s easier to describe simply watching it. Your gear is vital to your success, whether purchased or crafted, and the meandering layout of the map will definitely have you regularly warping back and forth between points as you go since it isn’t unusual to find yourself heavily outclassed at the end of a given path or within a dungeon. At times I do wish the game did a better job at providing some guidance, as early on I found myself wondering what I was supposed to be doing or where I was supposed to go, but once you accept there’s not going to be much direction you just roll with it. While perhaps the experience could use some polish to bring it all together a bit more, the reasonably-low price of admission does fit well with its no-frills approach, delivering satisfying twin-stick combat where you can use some pretty diverse and powerful weapons, and generally maintaining a tough-but-fair degree of challenge throughout. A nice change of pace and bit of fun marrying some classic adventure elements with more rigorous and intense shooter-like combat.

Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! [Mr. Nutz Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - While the genre struggled in the early days on the Switch, the beat-em-up has proven to be alive and well on the Switch, including some titles I’d consider genre-defining that have arrived over the last 2 years. Asterix and Obelix, taken from the French comic, are characters I’m not at all familiar with so I can’t comment on their use here, though I will note their personalities as well as the unusual characters they interact with in the story, do provide a decent basis for light humor. Gameplay-wise you’ll be dealing with the contrast between the smaller and more precise Asterix and the much larger and brawling Obelix, though since the controls are the same for each at a high level they perform similarly. The play tends to be pretty traditional, though perhaps a bit light on overall strategy compared to some more accomplished titles, but I do appreciate the inclusion of some secret spots on the periphery you can find and that help to encourage exploring the space. Playable solo or with a buddy what strikes me most is that within the genre this may be the most stripped down but still enjoyable titles I’ve played in the space, and with the co-op I could see this being a great title to play with a younger or less experienced gamer, helping to bring them into the fold a bit more gently. It isn’t the most complex or satisfying brawler out there by a fair margin, but there’s something to be said for its sense of humor and accessibility that many of its brethren lack.

Armed to the Gears [Deonn Software ltd] - Who doesn’t like a game where you’re in control of a mech, armed with guns and missiles capable of tearing some stuff up? Well, before getting too excited you’ll want to know this particular title is in need of some parts and maybe an overhaul in places. My first challenge was just simply aiming using the right stick, since I assumed it was just a twin-stick shooter setup… something I could immediately rock with. Nope, you’re instead controlling a free-moving reticle that I suppose works better for aiming your artillery but is more often than not an annoyance when trying to aim your guns accurately. In theory the target lock-on would help but in practice I found it more trouble than it was worth. Once you’ve got a handle on that it becomes a matter of coming to terms with this being a hybrid of shooting action and tower defense, meaning you’ll need to split your time between setting up things like gun turrets or missile launchers, perhaps repairing them as well, before supplementing with your own direct firepower. I suppose once I had a grasp on what I needed to do (noting that the in-game information is limited, making this tougher than it had to be) the game did become more approachable, and had its moments, but the mix just never delivered a sense of destructive satisfaction I was hoping for, more just some challenges to pass the time.

Real Boxing 2 [Vivid Games] - The sheer lack of fighting games on the Switch, let alone games representing boxing specifically, certainly opens the door to opportunity for developers determined to give it a shot. While Real Boxing 2 does a decent job of getting some of the basics down, delivering the jabs, wraps, and uppercuts you’d expect in a boxer (complete with a little room for flair as well) it also struggles a bit in some key areas, keeping it from being a go-to game even with a lack of competition in the space. The main issue, overall, is that everything feels unpolished and rough. The controls take some getting used to, especially since they generally feel overly complicated using both joysticks as well as some face buttons to deliver punches, but it is easy for this to end up feeling muddled when you’re in the thick of things. The mini games for training to get your fighter into better shape are also a bit of a mess, with one stand-out issue being indicators for buttons you’re supposed to quickly press using different colors at times, some of which makes them hard to read against the background of the environment. If you’re hard up for a boxer, with some effort you’ll probably get some enjoyment from it, but be warned it doesn’t feel like a real contender.

Crazy Trucks [Marionette Games] - Before beginning this review I’ll note that, in principle, there’s nothing wrong with an arcade-style racer whose controls are a bit loose and wild… in fact, they can sometimes be fun. With that in mind I’ll note that Crazy Trucks, unfortunately, pushes well past the fun line and into the baffling with its inconsistent physics, somewhat plentiful modes that span too many re-used environments, and struggles to inspire fun. At the core of any racing experience is what it feels like to control your vehicle and the worst sin here is that your monster truck feels almost floaty in the air, turns poorly on most any weirdly-frictioned surface, and can somehow lose a battle in a collision with something as insignificant as a traffic cone. Sure, there can be some liberties with “arcade” racing but it’s the inconsistency here that’s aggravating, and it brings everything down with it. Sure, with some friends there can be some fun since everyone is on the same page, flailing around a track to collect something, knock a ball around, or simply suffer in parallel, but there’s not much to redeem this no-frills experience.

Friday, November 26

Mini Reviews: November 26th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Neurodeck [Tavrox Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
While the fact that we’ve been inundated with roguelike deckbuilders over roughly the last two years can make new entries easy to be frustrated with, when they come to the table with a novel approach it can still be exciting. I wouldn’t say that in terms of mechanics Neurodeck does anything all that unique, the setup is pretty standard with you starting out with a set and standard deck, trying to be smart about how you leverage what you have in order to win matches and then add to or enhance your deck for future challenges. What makes the game unique is how the majority of cards you use are related to mental health coping strategies or supports, while the foes you’re up against are phobias or other mental obstacles you are looking to overcome. As someone with family members possessing a wide variety of these issues there’s something really wonderful about the attempt to either educate people who are unaware of all of these issues and treatments, or perhaps just provide some positive reinforcement or understanding for those who are afflicted themselves or have loved ones who may be. I do wish there was some more complete storytelling here to further flesh out the characters you play as, and the troubles they may face, but I respect any attempt to help people better understand mental health issues, especially if they can be challenged and entertained at the same time.

Little Bug [Buddy System] - Possibly one of the more unusual titles I’ve played in quite some time, Little Bug mixes together sometimes-tricky platforming, some physics-based elements where you’re slinging yourself around, and an unusual story involving a girl trying to track down the elusive cat spirit she encounters and calls Roadkill. It takes a little while to get into full swing, first having you simply work on jumping and some puzzles, then having you develop the skills needed to sling yourself around. When it hits its full stride and allows you to control both Nyah and her friend the light source who acts as the tether point for her to sling around with the more satisfying play takes effect, maximizing both the versatility and the challenge as you try to optimize the positioning of both characters to try to ensure you’re going to fling yourself in the proper direction with sufficient force. It’s certainly a novel experience, you’ll just need to have some patience working out the controls and nuance of everything since the game doesn’t give you much help up-front to get you going. Worth at least giving a look if you like physics-based challenges in particular.

Night Lights [Ratalaika Games] - This is simply one of the more unusual puzzle-oriented games I’ve played in quite some time, and that’s both a good and bad thing. Making use of a variety of devices and, more critically, different sorts of light sources, I can’t say I’ve played anything quite like it. It can be fun to have periodic “Aha!” moments as you see the solution you’ve been missing that will allow you to proceed, but there are some frustrating obstacles here to enjoyment as well. Probably the most pronounced problem, though some could see it as a plus, is that it tends to be quite unclear what your ultimate goal is on any given screen. Rarely will you be trying to grab or activate everything in the first pass, more often you’ll get to a particular section and then move somewhere else, to then eventually come back to address other parts of the current stage. This makes assessing progress or knowing what you absolutely won’t be able to get a question mark and it can be aggravating at times. Throw in it periodically being difficult to tell which surfaces will go away when light is shone on them versus ones that will remain and there are some interesting ideas at play, but enough stumbles that I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone.

My Universe: Puppies and Kittens [Microids] - Ahh, ever since Nintendo released their Nintendogs series, which eventually also included feline friends, there has been a real thirst for another game to come along and pick up that mantle since Nintendo themselves don’t seem to be interesting in doing so themselves. My Universe: Puppies and Kittens gets some details right, including a variety of cute breeds, some toys that can be fun, and experiences that revolve around some key elements of animal care. Now, for people who simply like animals and who’ve never played Nintendogs specifically this may all measure up reasonably well, it’s at least comparable to its other broad competition in the space. Unfortunately, if you’re seeking the Holy Grail of a successor to that well-respected franchise you’ll find yet another title that comes up woefully short in terms of depth and variety in activities. This can be fun as a kick around pet care title but if you were hoping for more it really doesn’t come together as something you’ll likely enjoy past a few hours as you simply get a taste for the different breeds of cats and dogs available to adopt.

Poker Club [Ripstone] - While gambling-oriented games, whether straight cards of some kind or casino, are generally pretty niche I will admit that every once in a while one will stand out and catch my attention. Certainly the look of Poker Club is more interesting, opting to ignore the typical 2D approach and shoot instead for a more “realistic-ish” look. This does lend a sense of personalization to things, with you getting some limited options to give your potential poker champ their own distinctive flair, but the main question is how is the poker playing itself? There are certainly a fair variety of styles of Texas Hold‘em here to engage with, allowing you to at least flex slightly different strategies, as well as ways to play solo or even with others online. While I suppose you could consider the matches more immersive, looking a bit more like real life than your typical presentation, I’m not sure it works in the game’s favor. Ignoring what “Uncanny Valley” vibes you could potentially get, the real problem comes down to the pacing that comes with even minimal animations of people throwing down chips or cards or even reacting. If you don’t mind taking your time and just want to soak it all in, this may be fine, but if you’re just out to get down to business, win or lose, it may be more frustrating than fun.