Friday, November 15

Mini Reviews: November 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Monkey Barrels - While run and gun shooters tend to be a side-scrolling affair Monkey Barrels proves it’s a formula that works well from a top-down perspective with twin-stick controls as well. Whereas most games with this scheme on Switch have been arcade or roguelike in nature in this case you’re on a mission to save your friend, making a bit more of an adventure. You’ll move along shooting up enemies, dealing with bosses, and powering up your armaments to ensure you’re able to keep pace with your enemies. Just to add to the fun you can take on the game solo or with some friends as well.

Woven - Most modern games tend to feature protagonists who are ready for action and tough as nails. Moving in precisely the opposite direction we have Woven, and it’s plush main character Stuffy who ambles along with a consistently innocent and pleasant demeanor. Pairing up with a mechanical friend they set out to discover what has happened to their land and to turn things back around. The game is mostly about exploration, with some relatively simple puzzle solving and hidden textures all about to update Stuffy’s look with. While this won’t be a title that will appeal to hardcore gamers in the least with its cute characters, colorful scenery, and generally slow-paced adventure, Woven is a kid-friendly treat.

Mad Games Tycoon - Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start a game company and work your way from your garage to the top of the industry? Mad Games Tycoon will provide a simplified and sometimes silly view of that process, with you working to manage your personnel, workspace, and critical decisions like research to ensure your company not only keeps up with the competition but is able to blaze a path to dominance. While it plays well enough I’ll note that aside from its sense of humor and general approach in minor areas there are other options out there, including on mobile, that are roughly similar. Just something to consider if you’re looking for your game company management fix.

Vektor Wars - Looking at times like a neon-lit fever dream after playing too many hours of the classic arcade title Battlezone, Vektor Wars delivers intensity. You’re sort of dropped into things without much direction but in general there’s not much to know. Movement is pretty straight-forward, you’ll want to shoot just about anything that’s coming at you, and you’ll need to learn what small objects and icons strewn around represent, whether power-ups or humans to save. While there’s some fun to be had here it somehow has too much going on to enjoy as a pure arcade game but lacks enough depth to be much more. Either way, I can’t say that I was hooked by anything enough to keep me wanting to return to it for long.

Blindy - This is the kind of game, characterizing itself as challenging or souls-like in some way, that gets a bit under my skin. Very simply the core of the game is a platformer where your goal is to survive an assortment of lethal traps on your way to the goal. The trick though, one I’ll note has been done before (and IMHO better), is that you can’t see very far around your character so you’ll be doing a lot of random trying and failing to figure out where the gaps and traps are. While your blood will temporarily give you an idea of where things are the fact that it goes away really leads to the experience being even less fun in the end. If you like the idea, more power to you, but it leaning hard on a gimmick to cover for just so-so level designs you’ve likely seen many times before makes it tough to recommend.

Thursday, November 14

Top 20 Indie Family Games on Nintendo Switch

With loads of content out there on Switch it can be difficult to find great games that are also family friendly. Here's my list of the 20 best titles that are ideal for playing with kids or should at least be fine to have them watch you play.

New Super Lucky’s Tale - For me New Super Lucky’s Tale marks a bit of an exciting time on the Switch, and as a fan of classic platforming. While there are many games that have aimed for hitting the mark of the likes of the classic Mario franchises like Super Mario 64 nothing has really proven up to the task. While some may consider it blasphemous I’m here to say this title has absolutely hit the mark, and done so with its own sense of humor and style rather than being derivative. Smart and varied level design, a mix of 2D and 3D platforming which are both very successful, and some nods that absolutely put a smile on my make for more than a handful of hours of family-friendly enjoyment.

Heave Ho - While having played so many indie games on the Switch is interesting and exposes you to all sorts of takes on multiple genres one admitted downside is that it can also make you a bit jaded. When it comes to my family, who are often asked to partake in helping me evaluate multiplayer games, I’d say the rate of that happening is far more accelerated. Conceptually Heave Ho may be simple, working solo or with up to 3 friends to simply grab and swing your way from the start to the finish line without falling, hitting spikes, or meeting your splattery demise in some other way. However, there’s a certain charm to it that pretty well immediately made everyone laugh and have a good time. Even after repeatedly getting frustrated in certain spots, especially when trying to keep from dropping costume-unlocking coins that can up the challenge significantly at times, the fun cut through the difficulties for everyone. Solo does work, and is great for honing your skills, but the game is absolutely meant to be played with friends, the more the better. Overall, this may be the best and most accessible multiplayer co-op game on the system.

Miles & Kilo - While sharing quite a bit of DNA with the cute retro runner Kid Tripp, Miles & Kilo really refined and nailed things down to produce a satisfying experience worthy of inclusion on this list. Cute, challenging, and well-paced the alternating between the more traditional platforming when playing as Miles and the then it becoming a runner when Kilo is pulling him along keeps things fresh and fun throughout its relatively modest runtime.

Marble It Up! - I'm a massive fan of the arcade classic Marble Madness as well as a fan of Sega's Monkey Ball games so Marble It Up! was a lot of fun to check out this year. While it may not have loads of content the degree of challenge will probably keep less hardcore gamers from conquering it all too quickly. Throw in some diabolical hidden secrets that take some serious work to obtain and it's a very unusual type of game that controls well and is a lot of fun to play.<

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles - On a general level if you were to make a game with a spirit similar to that of the Zelda series and then remove the combat you'd have Yonder. Where some may find the lack of conflict a bit bland the emphasis on exploration, some creativity, and questing in Yonder made it refreshing to relax and simply enjoy.

The Adventure Pals - With a look and quirky sense of humor that feels like it came from a Cartoon Network show, The Adventure Pals is a silly platforming adventure full of surprises and some smart gameplay. The fact that the challenge generally remains pretty modest and the abundance of weird characters and situations consistently brought a smile to my face made it an easy game to consider for this category.

Figment - This is probably the most action-oriented and challenging game in this small list but it also has a somewhat sad family-oriented story that and small moments that touched me as a parent. Trapped in the subconscious and trying to repair the damage done by a horrible accident this action puzzler will make you think more than fight and is full of original creative songs and hand drawn art at every turn.

Wandersong - Another adventure game that takes its own path when it comes to resolving conflicts in this title you'll play as a bard who ends up using his vocal talents to try to help save the day. Colorful, creative, and full of positivity for the most part Wandersong keeps the difficulty manageable and emphasizes the joy of exploring and using music to solve a variety of puzzles.

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech - Despite my feeling that it lost some steam towards the conclusion, SteamWorld Quest is easy to count among the most polished and engaging games on the system. Similarly to Heist it has managed to take a style of play that may not be as familiar to people and that may seem intimidating at first and make it highly accessible. There’s just so much potential in the decks you can put together that with some determination not to repeat yourself you could easily replay the game and have it feel very different due to your change in tactics. Yet again Image and Form have managed to take their SteamWorld universe to another very different place and yet deliver the same sort of high quality experience people have come to expect from the series.

Forager - When footage of this game was originally shown as part of one of the Nindie Directs any fan of Stardew Valley would have been challenged not to be intrigued with what appeared to be a familiar look mixed with some silliness. To be clear, Forager has little in common with that beloved indie since it isn’t as deep or varied and lacks the entire social component. The thing is, if what you loved was collecting and cultivating resources and slowly building things up Forager can quickly make you forget about all of that. The initial hour or so while you get established are definitely a bit of a grind but once you begin leveling up, investing in new skills and technologies, and expanding your footprint of islands you own there are a ton of great surprises in store for you. New exciting buildings and equipment mean some vastly improved gear and then when you begin to encounter dungeons it’s surprising how this game just keeps going. One negative, though it will hopefully get a patch, is that in at least one of the dungeons (the Crystal Caves) performance took a substantial hit with everything slowing down (though it at least remained playable). Aside from that issue though it’s an addictive loop, unlocking new technologies, finding new surprises, and working on your plan as you expand your skill tree.

Yono and the Celestial Elephants - Nicknamed "cute elephant Zelda" by many fans on Twitter Yono doesn't exactly start out the game with a tunic that is oddly familiar but it is one of the many themed outfits he'll have an opportunity to buy and wear over the course of his adventure. For seasoned gamers the early going will probably be a bit on the easy side, and combat never gets too complex, but for younger or less experienced gamers I would highly recommend its gentle progression from easier to more complicated puzzles as you reach the game's conclusion.

de Blob - Playing through the game as, you guessed it, a blob who is able to take on colored paint, your task is to return vibrant color to your now mostly drab and monochromatic. Invaders have taken over, robbing the city of its personality and culture, and your job is to revitalize it all once more. This is best done by following the pretty simple mission structure which you can activate by going to well-marked checkpoints. Some involve coloring certain areas specific colors, others will feel like a checkpointed race of sorts, and some require you to use a specific color in quantity to restore major landmarks back to their former glory. You’ll need to be careful to be on the lookout for pools of ink or the few types of enemies that are lurking about but in general as long as you remain in tune with where a water source is (to cleanse yourself of the murky ink) you’ll be able to recover when you make a mistake once in a while. Light, fun, and generally quite accessible for all ages this is a terrific title for the whole family.

Poi - Somewhat of a love letter to Super Mario 64 and the era of 3D platforming it inspired Poi is a bit of a throwback. You'll open each level with an objective in mind and will need to work out the specifics in many cases of what you'll need to do as you go. The pleasant surprise is the general variety in tasks and challenges that will crop up in the form of secret levels and alternative tasks a little more off the beaten path. While it lacks the polish of AAA titles it has an earnest charm that I found endearing.

Portal Knights - Much more than the mere Minecraft-alike that people may presume I found the refined action focus and zones, each with its own monsters and supplies, to be preferable. Throw in some multiple bosses you'll need to face, three distinct classes with their own feel, and the ability to play with friends locally and online and it can be a lot of fun to enjoy with others. An accessible and engaging game suitable for the whole family.

Pikuniku - Pikuniku is generally over too quickly, both solo and in co-op, and it may be too simplistic or silly for some folks but for me it was a joy pretty well the entire time. Focused on discovery, some creativity, and filled with strange surprises and quirks, it absolutely feels at home on the Switch and would probably work for people of any age or skill level if they simply have some patience. I’d love to see a sequel with even more funky fun, and am hoping to see more easygoing titles like it on Switch in the coming year.

Putty Pals - I don't recall ever playing a game that was quite as family-friendly while also as cooperatively-focused and challenging as Putty Pals. You'll need to work together either controlling each pal independently yourself (this gets challenging as you get deeper into the game) or with the help of a friend. Making clever use of a relatively restricted set of moves you'll be jumping, swinging, and bouncing together through each level and if you're up for a challenge unlocked zones and speed run modes crank up the difficulty for more experienced pairs as well.

Gelly Break - If I were to tell you that there was a game this year that managed to blend together elements of smart 3D platforming with twin-stick shooting I probably would have laughed. If you then told me that two people working as a team, each controlling one aspect of that pairing of genre feels, could have a great time doing it I would have been amazed. Gelly Break is an odd bird and mixes a colorful and light feel with some clever and challenging play, the fact that it can appeal to 2 gamers that have different preferences in play makes it a treat.

Sleep Tight - The idea behind Sleep Tight is a relatively simple one that looks fantastic on paper. Combine childhood nostalgia for things like pillow forts and sleepovers with equal parts tower defense and twin-stick shooter, then mix with some strategy and Pixar-esque monsters. In execution the package is a pretty good one, providing for some great opportunities and outright encouragement to play in a variety of different ways. That said, a lack in the variety of environments and overall play experience between runs outside of your specific approach can make its longevity more of a question mark.

Anthill - If you’re a fan of strategy gaming that skews a little more to the casual side, cutting your teeth on things like tower defense titles, Anthill may be a perfect experience for you. Given the responsibility of managing your small colony of ants you’ll need to create paths for your various unit types to follow to maximize efficiency collecting resources, defending your hive, and ensuring that old supply lines are pruned to avoid waste. You’ll need to decide how many of each unit to work with to tackle the challenges you face, a draught of workers will slow your growth but what use are they if they’re being lost to enemies of various kinds? Played exclusively in handheld mode the controls are intuitive and the action is pretty bite-sized and fun if you’ve been looking for a new variation on somewhat casual strategy gaming.

Cake Laboratory - Though by score this may be the lowest on this list, it's absolutely the best game on the system for younger children to enjoy. With a single-button mechanic used to drop cakes on top of one another its controls are easy to understand. The goal is simply to stack a set number on top of each other without allowing them to topple. Periodic opportunities to design your own cake add a nice creative flourish and small details like the slight sway the stack shows as it gets taller add a touch of suspense for extra fun. Great for budding gamers-to-be to dig into.

This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!

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

Sparklite [Nindie Choice!] - Since I’m a huge fan of roguelikes and their ability to revitalize and alter how you play more classic genres I’ve always wondered how it would pair with the Legend of Zelda series. One successful crack at it was Swords of Ditto, which featured of classic elements and smart ideas but to me was a little more long form and determined to be a bit weird in how it implemented some elements like combat. Sparklite takes a far more traditional track, working with weapons and mechanics much more directly reminiscent of the Zelda series and keeping the world a bit more compact, generally making for quicker runs if nothing else. Once you get your bearings and understand how elements like badges work (letting you dictate which tweaks and enhancements you want to use to help you out, they’re varied and extremely vital to your success) you’ll be off to face a pretty stiff challenge, especially in the early going.

Exploration and getting into a groove for understanding what you should prioritize on your runs is crucial to cutting down on time wasted. Mini dungeons where you’re assured a new badge or a fair reward of Sparklite should take priority, you should develop a sixth sense for which boulders may have a cave hidden under them, and acquiring new blueprints to craft new gadgets should always take priority. From there it will be a matter of your tastes and your level of skill. Just be ready, until you’re sufficiently geared up to take on the bosses (especially early on), you’re likely to get a bit frustrated. Some quibbles over the somewhat clunky menu, no provision for a more easily available mini map, and other nuisances can creep in at times but there’s no doubt that this is a high-quality adventure that’s challenging, inventive, and rewarding.

Dead By Daylight - Conceptually I’m a big fan of asymmetric multiplayer, and am always eager to see how another team has tried to tackle this tricky formula. Taking on the role of either the killer or one of the “potential survivors” in a horror movie-like setting is a smart twist and obviously one everyone can already relate to. In the case of Dead By Daylight the execution is a bit on the simpler side that the previously released Friday the 13th which operated similarly but locked into using Jason Voorhees in his many incarnations as the killer. Here instead you’ll have an assortment of killer templates to choose from as well as some licensed options if you’re willing to pay for them like Ghostface or Michael Myers as examples. As the killer you’ll be looking to leverage your core and special skills (which vary) to help find and dispatch wayward teens. As one of the pursued your focus will be on evasion, trying to keep each other alive, and fixing generators that will eventually provide for an exit to your torment. To throw in a little extra challenge there can be timed button press skill tests to keep it from being just a matter of waiting but once you’re used to them they don’t add too much to the mix. Since this game is 100% reliant on the online Switch community to keep alive you’ll need to carefully consider whether it is likely to sustain itself unless you have a group of reliable friends to play with though.

Planescape: Torment / Icewind Dale - Much like the pairing of Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, released at the same time as this pack, the most likely audience for these titles will be veteran gamers who remember playing these on PC back in the day. In the case of Planescape: Torment the format is quite different, with everything happening in a much different place and the action being more character-centric rather than party. Icewind Dale, on the other hand, is far more similar to the likes of Baldur’s Gate in its execution and play. While the attempt to adapt these titles for play on the consoles is admirable there’s no missing the clunkiness of the control systems and some of the graphics. Scaling can be odd, text in particular isn’t very crisp (I wouldn’t recommend it played in handheld mode unless your lighting and eyesight are pretty great), and there are obviously more smooth modern experiences. That said, if you’re itching to revisit these classics or are curious to see why they’re so revered the content is still there to make them worthwhile.

Haunted Halloween 86 - This title and Creepy Brawlers are interesting, games made now for the NES directly that are playable on the Switch. Working within the constraints of what is possible we now have games that are throwbacks both technologically and in terms of style but that have a few modern sensibilities thrown in. That modern twist, in the case of Haunted Halloween 86, is a more elaborate move set that you have available, with you additionally being able to dictate which moves you want to make available to yourself to help you in your side-scrolling adventure. From there this is a pretty straight up old school platformer, offering up a variety of creepy environments and an assortment of challenges. If you’re a huge fan of that era in many regards this feels like it fits right in and should be a treat.

Football Game - Being honest I’m starting to tire of games like Football Game that try to gloss over being designed in a very limited and linear fashion with some anticipated promise of a payoff down the line. Very quickly it’s clear that things aren’t quite right with your character’s mental state and that things have happened. That thread is supposed to entice you to continue to pull and unravel the full story. Unfortunately, the point and click adventure elements to get you there are so dull and by the numbers you’ll need to carefully consider whether any payoff will really be worth your wasted time with subpar play.