Tuesday, August 29

Review: League of Evil [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Reflecting on the time I’ve had playing League of Evil has made me somewhat philosophical. There’s an old proverb everyone should be familiar with: “If a tree falls in the forest and noone is there to hear it does it make a sound?” As I ponder this game, its mechanics, its many levels, and its promise of theoretically unlimited levels due to the inclusion of a level editor and community upload capabilities I am left with a new question. “If a game with aggravatingly poor controls offers an unlimited stream of content to me does it somehow make the experience worthwhile?” Unfortunately, at least for me, I’d still say my answer is no.

Starting at the beginning League of Evil is a Switch port of a relatively well-known mobile game of the same name. Contemplating it as a mobile game, where generally I’d say poor controls go hand-in-hand with the typical experience, I can actually understand its popularity there. It is quick to pick up and play, it isn’t terribly complex, it can be challenging, and I suppose you could find it satisfying in bursts. The graphics aren’t anything astounding but are adequate and, in general, the pumping beats of the soundtrack are at least satisfying. Overall, in terms of the Switch experience it is probably better suited to handheld mode and being played more like a mobile game for many reasons. At that scale it looks better and when you play the game only a level or two at a time, in general, it feels like it works a bit better.

However, when you begin to play in longer play sessions and approach it with a more critical eye the issues begin to stand out pretty quickly. The biggest issue among them, and the one that really crippled my ability to enjoy the game, is the control. When you release an action/platforming game on a Nintendo system there’s an understandably high bar that has been set by a long line of classics that serve as the foundation for the genre, pretty well regardless of the franchise you choose to contrast with. Let’s be blunt, while you’re obviously able to use the Switch’s physical controls to play the game the underlying control mechanics are still sloppy. To make matters worse a platforming title that wasn’t even made by Nintendo was recently released and control was one of the things that absolutely made it shine, so if you’d think the bar of Mario is unfair League of Evil comes up short against another indie game as well. The acceleration and movement are overly rapid, there is very limited nuance and fine control when jumping, and when you combine this with a game where levels commonly require you to be precise it makes for a bad combination. To be clear, that isn’t to say conquering the levels with the lackluster controls is impossible, only that it is far harder than it should need to be. As an added note of bewilderment I’ll say that the stars/briefcases associated with each level really don’t make much sense to me. They are considered independently of one another for one but second, overall, I don’t get the impression that they count for pretty much anything… so much so that I stopped being concerned with getting them entirely, instead just slogging through the levels. I suppose they’re there to add an element of challenge to things but since I could find no clear incentive for getting them I relegated them to something worry over much later.

Moving on to the feature that the developers spent some additional time on for the port to the Switch there’s a level editor. For some creative types I don’t doubt that this could be a big plus. If you enjoy planning out something creative, testing it, perfecting it, and then sharing it with your friends and fellow gamers perhaps this feature could easily justify the cost of purchase. Myself, being honest, I find level editors to be merely a novelty and something I’ll dabble with for a while, no matter how great, and then move on to playing rather than creating a level block by block. While I’m sure what’s available now is mostly limited to the relatively few people who already have the game it doesn’t take much effort to remind anyone reading that even robust and thriving communities like the ones for Mario Maker or  Little Big Planet offer far more garbage than quality. If the collection is somehow curated and pruned perhaps it will be reasonably easy to pick up some really great levels but that will remain to be seen and even those robust communities often struggled with that very issue. Compared to level editors I’ve used before I’d say this one lands in the middle. At least you can control it in multiple ways so you can find the method that best suits you if you’re so inclined.

The bottom line is that even if the level editor was incredible, and the community was well-maintained and regularly delivering terrific new stages, as long as the issues with the controls remain I can’t generate much excitement for League of Evil when there are so many better games already on the system. Even without a classic Nintendo platformer in the mix the action/platforming genre has strong competition and the list of known titles coming to the Switch just this year will bring even more. I wouldn’t say that League of Evil is impossible to enjoy, different things appeal to different people. However, since the control on the Switch continues to feel as loose and imprecise as a mobile game I’d say if you’re interested in the game you should first invest in it in that space since it is so inexpensive there. If you really can’t get enough of it, want more, and would like to try your hand at creating your own levels then by all means pick it up on the Switch to further explore and expand your experience. League of Evil isn’t without merit but in this case it hasn’t shaken off enough of its mobile roots to clearly make it worth recommending on the Switch specifically.

Score: 6

  • The soundtrack is a reasonably good one and manages to not be too repetitive overall
  • The level editor, if you’re into them, is a great value add
  • The ability to get levels from the community and share them back is an uncommon feature, though how that plays out fully will remain to be seen

  • The controls and how they affect your gameplay experience essentially makes it the most crucial element in the game, and I personally found it lacking, especially on a Nintendo-made system
  • Even among pixel art and other mobile games on the system the look of the game is pretty dated
  • Unless you’re really into the level editor or outright adore the game you’ll probably be more wise to try it out on a mobile device first

Monday, August 28

Review: Jackbox Party Pack 2 [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Released in parallel with the original Jackbox Party Pack and after Jackbox Party Pack 3 it may seem like Jackbox Games is competing with themselves a bit on the Switch. With so many of their games available now how is someone to pick which one suits them the best? Surely, you may also think, with so many of their games offered there must be some serious overlap in what’s offered? Well, if you’d thought that I’m happy to say you’d be wrong. Though the overall format of the Jackbox party games remains roughly the same, and there are two titles in Party Pack 2 that are versions of those found in other packs (Fibbage 2 is the sequel to Fibbage XL in Party Pack 1, Quiplash XL is the prequel to Quiplash 2 in Party Pack 3), there’s plenty of originality to be found in Jackbox Party Pack 2 that makes it unique among its peers.

I’ll start out with what I’d consider to be the weakest of the bunch and that would be Bidiots. Essentially filling the space of this Pack’s game that involves drawing I’d say after a few playthroughs it is the one I’ve enjoyed the least overall, though there are some great elements of humor in it. The idea is that each player will receive hints for creating 2 different pictures. In my case one time I was given a man wearing over-sized sunglasses and a flash mob. Once everyone is done drawing the main game will begin where everyone will start with a set amount of money and will look to bid on different pieces of art. Some art carries higher values and some is pretty well worthless. To help clue people in each person will receive the actual value of multiple art pieces. One complication is that it isn’t unusual, because of the low quality of the art people can quickly put together, for pictures to potentially represent more than one description… making the advice you receive only as helpful as how well you’re able to confirm what the art represents. Another is that you only have a set amount of money to bid with and if you want some more you’ll need to get a loan… but it will cost you $500 interest on a $1000 loan that you’ll need to pay at the end of the game. So the bidding ends up being a mix of people who are informed, people who may think something is valuable incorrectly, and people who are simply trying to fake out everyone else to get them bidding on something they know is worthless. It can be a relatively good time, and in particular some of the comments and ads for the loan company are a lot of fun, but the limited quality of what you’re able to draw and the somewhat convoluted way things can play out made it the least popular of the pack for my group.

Moving on to what will probably be the most contentious game in the bunch in terms of people likely loving it or hating it we have a rare cooperative Jackbox game in the form of Bomb Corp. Playing out completely differently than every other Party Pack game that I’ve played you and your friends will take on the role of interns in a pretty incompetent company that apparently, with regularity, produces unstable bombs which will need to be deactivated in order to prevent everyone from suffering an explosive death. The solution that will save everyone? A combination of patience, deductive reasoning, and communication. Undoubtedly, we’re all doomed then. Early on one person will typically be in charge of cutting wires while each of the other players will receive a vital clue painting a piece of the picture for which wires should be cut. Each instruction will need to be considered carefully, especially as things progress, because the rules will continue to get more complex. It will eventually even get to the point where the order the clues are read in will be vital and there will be rules that will begin to contradict others. As a change of pace there are sometimes other exercises requiring people to work together such as everyone working together to file a list of people’s names in alphabetical order. All in all it can be pretty fun but the degree to which people want to continue playing it after a few attempts will likely vary.

The last unique game to the pack is also one of the more clever and enjoyable ones in the Jackbox line-up that hasn’t yet gotten a sequel, and it is called Earwax. In this game, every round, one player will be the judge who’ll get to choose the topic. These are varied and often quite silly themselves, but the fun begins when the people competing for the judge’s vote look over the list of random sounds they have to work with. I will warn you, there is a significant emphasis placed on potty humor, but then again since the game is all about sounds it can be hard not to find creative ways to make use of bodily noises. Once each player has chosen 2 of the sounds they were given (each player has their own that are randomly assigned) all of the entries are reviewed one by one. From there the judge will pick their favorite and scores are tallied. The first person to get 3 points wins. In many ways this plays out almost like an audio Cards Against Humanity and the fact that you choose 2 sounds that are then played in that order can sometimes make a major difference in the way your answer is interpreted. My family had a great time with this one through multiple playthroughs and I anticipate we’ll be eager to break it out at a party to generate a lot of laughs. Would love to see a refined sequel to this one specifically!

Getting to the first title that is shared with another pack there’s Fibbage 2, the sequel to the Fibbage XL that was included in Party Pack 1. While the changes to the game are, overall, pretty minor with visual presentation, people getting to pick their own sounds when they sign in, and the addition, per player, of a one-time option to eliminate all but 2 answers on the board the game is mostly unchanged. Ultimately it is a trivia game that tends to skew towards the strange and obscure. Each person will then get to give their own answer to the prompt, though aiming for what may make sense is rarely as strong a strategy as trying to throw everyone else off so they’ll choose your answer instead of the correct one. Points are then tallied, per round, for how many people you may have fooled and for how many people got the right answer. Overall it is generally a lot of fun and it takes quite some time before you’ll begin to see repeats. Unfortunately those eventually are problematic though since you get more points for finding the truth than deceiving people so if anyone knows the answers it can skew the intent of the game quickly. There’s a lot of fun to be had with it though before that should happen.

Last, but very much not least, there’s the original (well, the XL version) iteration of my favorite Jackbox game, Quiplash. At a party my friends and I played both this and the revered Cards Against Humanity and Quiplash is a superior game in almost every way, hands down. How it works is that everyone playing is given 2 different prompts. These are generally all over the place and many open avenues for strange or twisted responses. The great thing about playing the game with the right people is that ALL prompts, no matter how benign, provide opportunities for laughs. Once everyone has put in their responses (or have blanked and chosen to use one of the random auto answers) players will then vote on which of the 2 collected answers is the best. If someone manages to get all votes they’ll be awarded a Quiplash and a substantial bonus! Aside from the great prompts in the game that, in themselves, are often funny what I most love about the game is that even if you would eventually see a repeat (note: as much as I’ve played this and the sequel over time I don’t recall ever seeing one) since all answers are player-provided nobody gets much of an advantage. Even your answer that was killer last time may not play as well to a different crowd, or at a different time, as often current events or even inside jokes among the people present can come into play. By far I’d consider this the cornerstone of this or any Party Pack Jackbox makes and it is why I inherently consider both Party Pack 2 and 3 to be stronger than the original for its inclusion.

While all of the Party Packs have been a load of fun I’d say it is truly a close horse race between Party Packs 2 and 3 for the title of best overall. While I’d thought I’d have given Party Pack 3 the edge before I’d played the entire collection in 2 I’m now thinking that Party Pack 2 may be the best by a nose. While tastes will vary depending on who you are or who you play with I don’t really think there are any outright clunkers in this Pack, though perhaps Bidiots isn’t as fun as I would have liked and Bomb Corp. won’t be a winner for all groups. In the end I’m actually very impressed with them all, would recommend each one of them, and think you’ll need to carefully review the specifics about the games included in each Pack to make the best determination for yourself and your group.

Score: 9

  • The inclusion of Quiplash alone, for me, makes the pack worth buying if you don’t already have a copy
  • Earwax is a little different, often funny (if you don’t mind potty humor), and unique among Jackbox’s other games
  • Fibbage 2 is an even better version of the original and a great overall format for a trivia game that doesn’t necessarily favor people who can regurgitate obscure facts

  • Bomb Corp. is a nice change of pace but, depending on your crowd, it may not be what you’re looking for since it isn’t so much about the laughs and is cooperative instead of competitive
  • If you’re really into drawing games Bidiots is probably the weakest among the ones Jackbox has made, both Drawful and Tee-KO are generally more fun
  • Doesn’t have enough things to pick on to fill out a third con…

Thursday, August 24

Review: Piczle Lines DX [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Piczle Lines DX is a great example of a title that you can get the idea of, and appreciate to a degree, from some screen shots or video but that you don’t fully grasp until you play it. You can see the colors and numbers that are used to help you properly color in the pixel puzzle put before you, you can understand that there could be some complexity in larger puzzles to do it all correctly, but when you go to do it yourself you’ll quickly find the exercise can be much trickier than you’d think. It is the simultaneously casual and yet contemplative aspect of Piczle Lines DX that really makes it shine on the Nintendo Switch and it has a truckload of content so I’ll be enjoying it for quite a while.

The games that it reminds me the most of, for reference, are the Picross titles I’ve always enjoyed on my DS systems. The mechanic here is obviously different, with the grid and process of elimination being replaced by numbered end points that you’ll need to connect in a given number of moves, but in the end the challenge and process is very similar. In the early stages it tends to be pretty straightforward as you get your legs but once it begins to hit its groove you’ll quickly find yourself having to backtrack and experiment to determine which lines are “keys” that absolutely have to be drawn a certain way and then using those to help determine how to draw the rest. I suppose there may be some people who could find this aggravating but I would assume they’re not likely puzzle fans anyway, for me I found it all very satisfying once I figured it out.

One of the concerns I’ve seen brought up is with the fact that this game can be obtained for “free” on the mobile side, though I think that’s missing the point to a fair degree. The base is free, and if you only wanted to get a taste of the game and stop playing that may be your best bet. However, if you’re really into it, the mobile game will charge you a comparable amount in order to unlock additional puzzles, the same ones that come with the version on the Switch. When we’re talking about a base 100 puzzles just in Story Mode, more than another 100 already in Puzzle Mode, and the developer intends to add more puzzles moving forward that will remain free for Switch users while paid DLC on mobile and you get the idea.

That leads into what I think is another advantage on the Switch, sheer versatility. I would consider the optimal way to play the game to be in handheld mode, the touch controls help you move and zoom efficiently, and obviously tracking with your finger to draw in lines is very basic. However, I will say that playing with the JoyCon in docked mode isn’t terribly far behind in ease and though sometimes the cursor control will zig when you meant to zag that's no big deal, you just backtrack and correct. Additionally, you could certainly run into the same issue using your fingers, so I like having both viable options for control available to me.

In the end Piczle Lines DX is one of those games where, with the nature of its puzzle challenge, you’re either already interested in it or likely haven’t even bothered to read this far into a review because it doesn’t seem appealing. For puzzle fans there’s very little I can cite as a downside, the challenge ramps up pretty quickly, and you’ll have to use your deductive reasoning to come up with strategies to attack puzzles efficiently and with a solid plan to be successful. Add in the sheer volume of content and you’ll be able to enjoy it for quite some time. Puzzle fans rejoice, the game may be “simple” but it is a winner!

Score: 8.5

  • An extremely satisfying degree of challenge as the puzzles progressively get bigger and tougher
  • Very well-suited to playing casually while you do something else or while on-the-go
  • Well over 200 puzzles already with more promised to be added in the future (for free!)
  • If you're not into puzzle games why are you even reading this far?
  • If I'm being picky maybe some of the load screen times seem long

Wednesday, August 23

Review: forma.8 [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Early on in the Nintendo Switch lifecycle there has been quite a lot of variety in its library, but there are certainly some gaps. One crucial flavor pretty well currently missing from the Switch mix is what’s called the “Metroidvania” genre, something blending action, exploration, and upgrades in a spirit similar to the iconic games used to create the name. Depending on what you’re looking for forma.8 will scratch most of the itches for that genre, and it throws in a pretty fabulous minimalist art style and soundscape to boot. However, it is best to understand that slow and thoughtful exploration will rule the day here and while the other elements of the genre are present they definitely take a back seat.

Boiling it all down to the essence of things you’ll be controlling a small craft that starts with only the ability to move around in a somewhat floaty way via propulsion. Very quickly you’ll acquire a simple Energy Burst and a sort of Bomb skill, which you’ll need in order to survive against the inhabitants of this strange world you’ve landed on. The combat action is present in the game, and can be challenging, but for the most part you’ll be able to avoid enemies if you’d like to unless you think you can kill a few to pick up energy to recharge your battery or they’re directly tied to your progression. Once you lose all of your energy you’ll “die” but thankfully you’ll simply return either to the entrance of the area you’re in or to a checkpoint when things get a little more expansive.

Truly the greatest quality to be found here is a ton of spaces to explore, keep in mind for later, and work to find every nook and cranny in. Almost everywhere you go there are alternative paths and hidden or blocked entrances that you’ll have to either work to find or sometimes just stumble into. In the tradition of many games don’t be surprised if you see locations you’re unable to unlock or get to just yet, just make a mental note of where you are and what your obstacle seemed to be so you can return to it later. In order to help you out, at least a little bit, there is a very general map you can refer to, though it will only show a general square for each space. Thankfully it will give you an idea of how many exits there are, and where they’re positioned on a very crude level, but without anything more detailed or methods for marking certain areas for later this can make some backtracking in the game a bit aimless at times.

That sentiment leads into the double-edged sword that will probably define whether or not you’ll enjoy the game or not the most. To be clear, there’s little to no direction or guidance in forma.8. While, for the most part, you’ll find the things you need along the way to progress that can also vary a bit with the decisions and paths you may take. In some areas it can be easy to lose track of the primary path as you try to explore and, depending on the order you do things in, it can be possible to get to points where you’re uncertain of what you need to do or where you need to go next. This issue can also arise as you work to defeat some of the bosses in the game. Ultimately the method to defeat them is available to you, but there are no training wheels or highlighted body parts to help guide the way. On a general level the answer almost always involves damage inflicted in a less direct manner. If what you’re doing just doesn’t seem to be working you’ll need to assume it isn’t and try something else. For people seeking a challenge to their skills and, to some degree, puzzle-solving abilities, this is no doubt great news. To people who are seeking something more straight-forward perhaps less so.

In summary, I’ve really been enchanted by forma.8 and the slow-paced tranquility it has offered me. In particular with craziness of a variety of types everywhere the ability to zone out, listen to the soothing ambient sounds and music, and progress through the gorgeous alien landscapes has been welcome. For me the need to keep track of everything I’ve seen and then try to recall where they were to backtrack to them later, leading to some aimless wandering at times, got a bit trying at times but it’s not much different than many other games of this type either. If you’re looking for something to enjoy at a slow and deliberate pace, while providing you periodic bursts of challenges for both your mind and your action reflexes, forma.8 is a perfect fit.

Score: 8

  • Helps fill the Metroidvania void in the Switch library
  • A mix of soothing environments and sounds with periodic challenging action
  • Requires you to explore, observe, and think to conquer its obstacles and enemies

  • A lot of backtracking is required
  • Indications of what is working and what isn’t against some bosses can waste time
  • The action, while sometimes intense, is overall light for people seeking thrills

Monday, August 21

Review: The Jackbox Party Pack [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Having already released 3 Party Packs, and approaching the release of a fourth this year, the Jackbox Party Packs have been quite a success on multiple platforms, and now they’re finally on the Switch. Pioneering what is pretty well now the established norm for how best to implement local multiplayer party games the original Jackbox Party Pack has valuable roots, even if not all of the games it includes are as polished as some of their newer offerings. For those unfamiliar, in brief, as long as you have an internet connection for your Switch (without one you won’t be able to play anything other than single-player You Don’t Know Jack) you have everything you need to get a game going, even with a large group of people (most games cap out at 8 direct participants). The reason for this is that people will be able to use their smartphones, tablets, or even computers to connect to the Jackbox website, join a specific room, and then play the game with that device. Your Switch will still act as the central source of score keeping and entertaining commentary, but aside from navigating the main menu no controllers are needed.

Moving into the individual games we’ll start with the simplest in the pack that are also, generally, the weakest. First up is Word Spud, a game where someone will be given a partial prompt, like “strip____”, put in their answer, and then be evaluated by the other players on whether they like it or not. Depending on the answer, like “club” versus “ping out of my clothes” the next prompt will be derived from the previous answer and so on. This can lead to some laughs, certainly, but in terms of it being competitive since it is always clear who is providing the answer to be scored it can be easy for people to sway the outcome based on the person. 

Next would be Lie Swatter, which boils down to a true or false trivia game with each participant independently giving their answer and then scores being tallied based on who gets it right. There’s a bonus for deciding quickly as the first person with the correct answer will get extra points, but that’s really all there is to the game. Of everything offered this is, by far, the most scalable with this design. It says it can support up to 100 players, so that could be a plus. That said, otherwise, the game is ultimately just about trivia and there’s only a limited opportunity for laughs which is what I’m generally looking for from the Jackbox titles.

Smack in the middle of the road is the 2015 edition of the classic You Don’t Know Jack formula, complete with traditional featured modes like Dis or Dat and the always-entertaining commentary of Cookie Masterson. Keeping in mind the production values and care with presentation the drawback of these specific games is that once you’ve exhausted the questions you’ll be done with it but the ride is always an entertaining one and doing so would take a while. Topics are as varied and often unusual as ever to keep things from getting too predictable, and it is often the comments surrounding the questions and your answers that provide the most enjoyment. True to the original this can also be played solo if you’d just like to test your trivia knowledge, but it is a lot more fun to enjoy the comments and features like screwing one of your enemies over to give the game some extra flavor.

Moving to the games that are most successful in the Pack we’ll start with Fibbage XL. The premise here is that there’s a bizarre trivia question associated with a chosen topic. Each person playing will provide an answer but the focus isn’t necessarily to be right in this case but to deceive your friends into choosing your answer as the correct one. Points are awarded for how many friends you’re able to fool, but then also for the people who do manage to find the right answer among all of the fake ones. Due to this element, where people who know the answers are awarded points quite handsomely, once topics eventually begin to repeat (this would take quite a lot of playing, mind you) anyone who has seen the answer before would get a major advantage, but until that time there’s a lot of potential for fun and arguing over who had the best answer. 

Last, but not least, there’s Drawful, one of my favorite Jackbox titles (that has received a sequel as well) and capable of delivering significant laughs. The first advantage it has for fun is that it relies on people’s artistic skills (or lack thereof), the second is that you only have one color to work with and no eraser as you try to draw on your smartphone or tablet, and the last is that the prompts you get are often concepts or phrases that aren’t well-suited to being drawn in these conditions in only a few minutes. Each person gets their own prompt, draws their picture, and then everyone else gets to provide an answer for what they think the original prompt was. Again, the goal at this phase is less to be right than to concoct the most plausible answer to draw in the suckers, I mean your friends. Once all answers are in people will choose which they think is the real answer and points are awarded to those who have managed to lure people in, people who get it correct, and some are thrown in for the person drawing if people get it right. Overall, I’d consider this the stand-out of this Pack, though how much you or the people you play with may enjoy it will likely vary with the group.

Reviewing the original Jackbox Party Pack at this point, when the 2 later packs that were released are also available, is a bit of a challenge. My hope is that by going over each of the individual games in the pack, with their strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to determine for yourself which games may best suit the preferences you, or the people you’ll play with, may have. On the whole, of the three packs available I’d consider the original Party Pack the weakest of the bunch, but that’s also likely because I very heavily favor Quiplash as the best overall game Jackbox has made to date. That said, if you enjoyed the classic You Don’t Know Jack titles, have friends who will enjoy laughing at each other’s awful art skills, and dig the idea of creative fabrication there are still many hours of group fun to be had in this pack. 

Score: 8

  • The art of deceiving others in Fibbage XL can be both very creative and entertaining as the real answers are often more strange than the ones you’ll make up
  • The limited time and tools to draw effectively in Drawful mixed with some very high-concept prompts make for some great pictures and matching conversations
  • For fans of You Don’t Know Jack the 2015 edition is a lot of fun and true to the series

  • Word Spud, while it can entertain, isn’t well-structured to be competitive and may be too minimalist for its own good
  • Lie Swatter, compared to many of Jackbox’s games, has a pretty slight yes-or-no focus so there’s limited opportunity for greater fun
  • As the only available Pack lacking Quiplash I’d consider it currently the weakest overall

Friday, August 18

Interview with David Amador of Upfall Studios on Quest of Dungeons [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Quest of Dungeons is a roguelike unlike one most gamers have encountered to this point, namely it is looking to closely emulate the actual original Rogue and not just borrow a few concepts from the formula. I got the opportunity to interview the game’s lone developer, David Amador, about the game, the genre as a whole, and his perspective as an independent developer who has worked on a wide variety of platforms.

So you're coming into a room of people who are getting ready to check out Quest of Dungeons for the first time and perhaps we'll say they're not all hardcore gamers. What's your quick pitch for the game to try to help set their expectations and suck them in?

DA: That's a good question and kind of the main point of Quest of Dungeons existing, I wanted to create a roguelike that was easy enough for people to play even with no previous roguelike contact, but still had most of the traditional mechanics, so the game is easy to pick and learn most of the mechanisms but still has depth and strategy. Even being turn-based was on purpose but I wanted to give it a more "modern" approach so that's why it's so fast to play, a lot of people don't realize right away it's not real-time. Most of the time I define it as a "fast paced turn based roguelike that is easy to pick but can still be quite a challenge". Someone once said this to me as I explained the game "So a roguelike with training wheels that get removed?"

I've gotten pretty deep into the fourth floor of but met my demise at the hands of a boss that did some pretty crazy damage and caught me being conservative with my healing. How many floors are in the game proper and what would you say is your impression of the overall average run time people have in the game?

DA: There are 3 mansions, first two have 7 floors, the other one 6. There is also a custom game mode where you can choose the size of the dungeons between 5 and 10. It varies from person but usually between 1h30 to 2h by run is probably the average.

What would you say is your favorite class to play as in the game and why?

DA: The Shaman, probably because it was the one class I didn't had to guide much by the usual class standards. The Warriors needs to be strong and have more health, Wizards less powerful but using Magic, it would be weird any other way. But with the Shaman I just merge some characteristics from several classes and tweaked it to what I thought would be cool.

When you originally set out to make the game what was the goal you'd set for yourself in terms of what you were looking to accomplish? Did you envision that you'd have it ported to so many platforms?

DA: The original goal was to make a tablet/smartphone roguelike that could be played while commuting to work, because I wanted one, it needed to be fast, pause at anytime and continue later. For the first couple months that was all it was, eventually during beta tests I noticed players liked the tablet version a lot, because of the bigger screen, and I saw potential for a PC version, with mouse replacing the "touch". When the opportunity for making it to a console showed up I knew I had to remake a lot of stuff, so I spent a full year remaking most things to be controller friendly instead of "touch". Had I thought the game would make it's way to consoles I would probably planned some things better, I had to come up with solutions along the way as new platforms showed up. On the other hand had I planned for so much stuff the game initial version would have probably take a lot more time to make, this way I made versions as each one was profitable or not.

Before we get into the next group of questions what would you consider to be the essential core of something being a roguelike with any legitimacy to the claim? Do you bother to distinguish between "roguelikes" and "roguelites" or do you consider it to be splitting hairs?

DA: I never bother much correcting anyone, but I think it's important to have both so developers can clearly state what their game is about, so that players know what to expect, if trying to be a more traditional roguelike or just influenced by some things. For me, and this is just my personal opinion, not the definition, I like roguelikes to have permadeath, procedural content, turn-based preferentially and or/some sort of rpg elements or dungeon crawling, that is what I think about when thinking about roguelikes.

Having produced a pretty true-to-the-source roguelike what are your thoughts on the surge in popularity of this type of game, especially in the indie space?

DA: Personally I think is great, and for me the most interesting thing is what is happening with games that are trying not to constrict by all roguelike rules and apply them to other genres and mechanics. That leads to some really good games that may have never existed if roguelike wasn't as popular as it is.

Do you think the roguelike "brand" is being watered down by its being crossed with so many other genres or do you think the use of core elements that define roguelikes in a variety of genres and styles is exposing the value this set of concepts brings to the table?

DA: Having variety is good, there is nothing wrong with wanting to break from the roguelike formula and do something different, inspired by it, but I think we should try to keep the roguelike concept intact as much as possible, that's why it's important to distinguish between "roguelikes" and "roguelites".

What got you started as a game developer and what skills towards that end did you bring to the table when you first started out?

DA: I always wanted to be a game developer so when I was in high school I took the opportunity to join a game studio before even graduating in order to pay some bills. That was my first contact, my skills shifted a bit, I started wanting to be an artist, doing 3D modeling, even took a couple courses, but eventually I realized I was maybe better at programming than arts so I shifted my focus to that.

What would you say is the greatest benefit of being a "lone wolf" developer and, for you, the biggest downside?

DA: Some things are surely more agile in the decision process making, also costs are lower than keeping an entire team, which I couldn't afford. The big downsize is wearing multiple hats, from coding to marketing to social and business side, all of that consumes time and I'm not very good at some.

Having ported Quest of Dungeons to so many platforms did you do a good job of writing your initial code to make moving it around as easy as possible or was that not necessarily a part of the original plan and you've gone to some trouble to get it working everywhere?

DA: I have a clear distinction between the engine code and the actual game code, as far as the engine code goes, I made it flexible enough to support adding the other platforms, and never got into much trouble. I would say the Nintendo 3DS version was the most problematic one but mostly due to the hardware specs. The other ones were relatively smooth.

As for the game code, well that was a bit more "nightmarish", as I mentioned before I initially thought the game as touch only, that meant all UI had to be remade, but I still needed to support game controller and touch because of existing platforms. I realized that what made the mouse/touch work wasn't exactly ideal for controller and vice versa. I spent nearly a year rewriting a lot of stuff and adding a bunch more content to the console release, and now it's much better but it's still something I feel like I planned poorly. But after that it's not relatively simpler to make a port. I got the Switch version running in less than 2 weeks (not optimized or 100%), I just spent the rest of the time optimizing, tweaking and adding more content.

Having released the game previously on other Nintendo platforms would you say you've seen anything different in Nintendo's approach with the Switch overall with you as an indie developer? What are your thoughts on the tools and mechanisms for developing on the Switch in general in comparison to the DS and Wii U platforms?

DA: Yes, I think having worked with Nintendo helped as I could skip the introductions step and I already knew the process. I'm very impressed with the tools they are making available for devs, from early stages they are already better then Wii U and 3DS, I can't get into details but let me tell you there is a big difference, and I'm not just saying this to sound good.

For your next project are you again planning to go multi-platform? Any general word on a genre direction? Something in the same vein or breaking the mold and trying something wildly different?

DA: I try to always have multi-platform in consideration, but that on how the game is received as each port costs money, so yes I want to, if it happens or not it will depend on the quality of the game and how well it does. I have a couple ideas of things that I want do in the RPG top-down genre but I need a break from that after 4 years, so for the next project I've been exploring new genres to see what it might turn out.

I’d like to thank David for taking the time to answer my questions and provide a window into his thoughts on the topic of roguelikes in particular, since I’m a huge fan. Quest of Dungeons is currently available for the Nintendo Switch in the Japanese eShop and a date for the other regions should be forthcoming.

Sunday, August 13

Nindie Preview: Lost Castle

In many ways on the surface Lost Castle looks like a relatively simple game, and when playing through it on a given run, it can feel like one too. The classic beat-em-up elements are all there for the most part: Your basic and strong attacks, a special attack on cooldown, and hordes of normal enemies to beat through followed by tougher bosses at the end of each level. What Lost Castle most critically adds to this formula, among other things, is choice and progression over time through the addition of roguelike elements.

Every time you begin a run in Lost Castle you have merely the weapon you've been assigned by the RNG gods. Sometimes it will be a weapon you favor, sometimes it will just be junk. Where you go from there, and what you do with it, will be subject to your skills, your luck, and what you've invested your hard-earned souls on between runs to enhance your situation. Whether you're giving yourself a boost in your overall picture, giving yourself more initial choices of weapons you'll have to start the game, or looking to minimize the negative effects of the bad potions you'll likely pick up there are a number of things you can influence.

A big part of what feels so good in the game and makes it work well is the variety of weapons available and the play styles these enable. Ranged weapons can be effective but take more time, up-close weapons are effective but can make you vulnerable when you miss, and hybrid weapons will sometimes show up that will allow you to shift between these two modes which can be very nice. While they may all look somewhat alike you'll want to pick up every weapon you encounter and check what its strong and special attacks are in particular before passing on them. As you get deeper into the game it is the special attacks that will often determine what you choose to keep as some of them can do substantial damage or be effective at keeping you alive.

The other aspect of the game that can keep things interesting are the items, potions, and passives you'll be able to pick up from chests or killing bosses. There are simple items like food, a wide variety of objects that can enhance you in a variety of ways, and then a number of concoctions you'll be able to drink... but most of the time you won't know what they'll do until you drink them. They could give you healing, poison you, give you temporary powers, or enhance one of your stats for the rest of the game. The problem is, not knowing which it will be, complicates when best to give them a try. You could easily kill yourself deciding to drink one in the heat of battle, and having it cut your health down before you even take a hit. If you're over-cautious and decide to use one out of battle you may find it would have powered you up significantly and that you've wasted it. This element of chance can make for some difficult and risky decisions as you make your way through the 5 worlds but adds to the fun!

The big highlight of the game is certainly its very colorful, and often difficult, bosses. With each receiving their own intro of sorts the bosses have a real sense of personality to them and that makes having to kill them, or at least trying to, all the more fun. It is usually in these battles where you need to have made good choices or gotten lucky with your weapons and their special attacks as those often make all the difference in whether you're successful in these sometimes drawn out fights. In any case Lost Castle is full of both old-school arcade charm and modern challenge so it will be a great addition to the Switch line-up.

This preview is based off of the PC version of the title but should be representative of both the overall look, feel, and gameplay that will be transitioned onto the Switch. There is currently not a known release date for this title.

Nindie Preview: Time Recoil

Reminiscent in feel and flow to a mix of the brawler Mr. Shifty and the classic original Max Payne (though in this case in a top-down view) in many ways, Time Recoil is the third twin-stick shooter that developer 10 Tons will be bringing to the Nintendo Switch. Though it shares some assets with its other two shooters 10 Tons has done a fabulous job of differentiating its gameplay completely. Whereas Neon Chrome sports large levels and is a roguelike, and JYDGE is an objective and enhancement-focused action/puzzle game in some respects, Time Recoil is all about precision shooting, thinking quickly, and time.

As the survivor of an experiment gone wrong you have been given unique abilities. Your objective will be to stop the madman Mr. Time who is set on changing history and destroying society as we know it… or something like that. In order to stop him you’ll need to jump through the past to different key points to collect intel, kill specific targets, and capture key people. Over the course of your mission you’ll need to move quickly, taking out any resistance you meet and generally trying to string together as many kills as quickly as you can. Getting a kill will begin to slow time in general for a few moments but as you progress you’ll also unlock special skills that you can use either offensively or sometimes to complete complex objectives in mere seconds by practically stopping time.

Depending on which skill level you play on between Normal, Hardcore, and Murderous you’ll have varying degrees of challenge as the guards you face will become more responsive and your ammo will begin to drop less. This will force you to not only be accurate but to essentially begin to plan out your levels, alternating between shooting to make kills and often then dashing through walls and making kills through force. Precision is vital to your survival as you not only will want to conserve your ammunition but you’ll also want to keep you timer from kills active so your chances of evading bullets and gaining access to more powerful enhancements remains in place. Once time goes back to normal you’ll often find yourself vulnerable and exposed.

In addition to the story mode you’ll have an opportunity to fine tune your skills and show what you’ve learned in the Mission Archives. Here you’ll have an opportunity to speedrun your way through the levels, trying to get the best time possible and often looking to clear the whole level in about 3 seconds of “real time”. Here it becomes almost a sort of ballet with you needing to determine your best plan of attack and then work to execute it perfectly since every minor moment will count.

This preview is based off of the PC version of the game but it should be identical in overall feel and flow when ported to the Switch. There is no current official timeline for its release.

Nindie Preview: Thimbleweed Park

If you happen to be a fan of old-school point-and-click adventures on the PC, you’re in luck as they seem to be in re-emergence. While the genre was always quite popular it was many of the LucasArts classics like Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series that made them special with their blend of unusual characters, witty dialogue, and amusing puzzles. Thimbleweed Park is a throwback to those games, and was created by some of the leads from those same projects.

If you’re unfamiliar with the style you’ll navigate the environment, and then interact with objects and people within it by choosing among multiple verbs provided on-screen like Open, Use, Look At, and others. What you’ll quickly find is that in some way almost everything has a part to play, even if it is just for some quick laughs, so no stone should be left unturned. In particular playing out all of your dialogue options when talking to people tends to make for the best fun as you never know what the topic will shift to or what silly things people may say.

You’ll work through the game in third-person perspective, controlling a variety of people but mostly focused on Agents Ray and Reyes, who’ve come to this small town trying to solve a murder. What they find is a sleepy town full of oddballs, many of whom have secrets, but so do these agents who’ve come to the scene. In all honesty the narrative itself takes a back seat to the humor and the enjoyment mostly comes from exploring your many dialogue options and solving sometimes unorthodox puzzles.

The game has been received with relatively universal accolades and it should be well-suited to mobile play on the touchscreen-enabled Switch. With the ability to simply put the Switch to sleep at the press of a button and then resume with ease it should make for an excellent game to play on the move, stopping and starting back up without missing a beat.

This preview is based on the PC version of the game, though the version on the Switch should be identical in both features and appearance. No final date has been announced but it should be coming to the platform soon.

Nindie Preview: Quest of Dungeons

Though the Switch has many roguelikes, the game type that seems to be quite en vogue at the moment, before the arrival of Quest of Dungeons it had none that were close to the authentic root that name refers to. Rogue is actually a very old game, whose graphics were originally only ASCII characters, where you’d move through a randomized dungeon seeking out adventure, loot, and monsters. While modern roguelikes will borrow pieces of this formula, usually permadeath, aspects of risk/reward, and perhaps random layouts, Quest of Dungeons is an attempt to provide an authentic experience but with an improved look and feel.

At the beginning of each quest you’ll have a choice of four character classes: A warrior, an assassin, a wizard, or a shaman. Each plays very differently so you’ll want to carefully consider your choice. Do you prefer to get up-close and personal, fire on enemies from afar, leverage ranged spells and keep an eye on your mana, or keep your options open by going down the middle? In addition you’ll be able to choose your level of difficulty to help you either breeze through the experience or to get slapped around a bit.

On each floor you’ll generally find a variety of rooms, monsters, and quests, always with a vendor and perhaps a few bosses thrown in as well. Combat is very basic, you’ll either run up to your enemy and fight them in a turn-based fashion (visually just generally bumping into them, not with elaborate JRPG-esque flourish) or you’ll target them and attack from afar. As you gain experience and loot you’ll find improved gear, collect tomes that will give you new skills or spells to make use of, and for some classes have opportunities to learn to wield other weapons which can provide better attacks.

For people looking for a light experience, something to play on the go or to passively play as you watch television, Quest of Dungeons could be a good choice. In general it isn’t very demanding or taxing to play but that also isn’t to imply that it’s easy. If you’re not paying careful attention to your health, especially when fighting bosses, you’ll quickly find yourself dead. In addition at times scarcity of healing can be an issue so you may need to choose to evade your attackers or at least develop tactics to help ensure they can’t attack you en masse. It’s refreshing to see an example that very closely resembles the roots of this now very popular game type. Even if what is at the core of modern roguelikes is actually quite simple the reason for its popularity is that the formula works.

This preview is based on the PC version of the game though the appearance and gameplay on the Switch should be identical. It is currently available on the Japanese eShop and is awaiting a final date of release in other regions.

Nindie Preview: Snow Moto Racing Freedom

Racing in snow-covered landscapes is coming to the Switch in the form of Snow Moto Racing Freedom! As a sequel to an already-successful title there is apparently quite a demand for this genre, so fans should be thrilled with this mix of open-course checkpoint racing in Sprint League, closed-course carnage in Snocross mode, and then the more advanced challenges of Freedom League.

 For the most part the mechanics of racing are pretty simple. You’ll be able to accelerate, brake, there’s a way to get some boost at the press of a button, and you’ll have a number of options for stunting if you feel so inclined or are looking to get some added oomph in your boosts. Turning becomes the most crucial thing to master, especially when your turns are sharp, as the feel for this is a bit different than you’d be used to playing different types of racing games. It all makes sense but it is an adjustment.

In the time I played I enjoyed the open landscapes of Sprint League the most, as they were the most interesting to try to navigate and find shortcuts in to get a leg up on the AI and their mostly set path. In addition the elevation changes in several places on these course afforded easy stunt opportunities so they helped get me out of my shell a bit. The mini map is helpful for ensuring you keep track of things, most crucially which direction you’ll want to go through the checkpoint in, but you’ll need to plan your own path overall. Snocross mode, with its set tracks and hairpin turns, I found to be much more challenging as you’ll really need to be on top of your control game to succeed and there’s little margin for error.

 Aside from the variety in tracks Freedom will also throw different times of day and conditions like fog into the mix to keep things from getting too stale. Racing in these less ideal conditions can be tricky since you’ll have a tendency to get yourself into trouble more easily if you stray from the intended path. Visually you’re able to switch your camera from being close behind, further behind, and the pretty-intense first-person view. I tended to go with the further behind camera since I like to have the full picture of where other racers and obstacles are in relation to me, and it helped me improve my technique, but first-person did have its allure.

More than anything Freedom represents an option on the menu that normally isn’t present and for that it gets some respect. Variety is the spice of life and for snowmobile enthusiasts an option for racing something familiar and dear should be fun. As someone unfamiliar I’m unable to comment on the authenticity of the handling and feel of this racing experience but I can at least appreciate its novelty.

This preview is based off of the PC version of the game but should be representative of the final gameplay. There currently isn't a known release date for this title.

Friday, August 11

Interview with Jonas Byrresen of Bedtime Digital Games on Figment [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Figment, a surreal and imaginative adventure through a very hand-drawn world, is on its way and it should represent a very different kind of game experience than has been seen on the Switch to this point. I was able to get some of the time of the game's Creative Director, Jonas Byrresen, to discuss the game, the indie marketplace, and the appreciation of games as culture.

To start things off: You're at a conference and someone comes up and is asking you to describe Figment to them. What would you give as an answer to that?

JB: The short on the floor version would go something like this: Figment is a isometric adventure game where the player must journey through the different areas of the mind, on a quest to help it overcome fear and trauma. It is a game that mixes exploration and puzzles, with a unique art style and music.

If I have more time, I would also add that that it is story driven game with many layers. A story about overcoming fear and how experiences shape our mind. The story have a broad appeal, but also have a detailed layer for the players who like to look for it.

Looking over your past games you've come up through the mobile-leaning path, paired with the PC space with Steam and Humble, gotten into consoles through Sony, and now seem to be working to stay in the PC/console space. This seems to be very common for indie developers, and conceptually it makes sense. What are your thoughts on the journey you've had along the way and to now also be targeting the Nintendo Switch?

JB: That does seem to be a normal road for many indie developers to have taken over the years. We actually launched our first game on both Steam and mobile very closely, but focused mostly on mobile. This was due to the nature and design of the game, that we felt would work very well on the platform, and with mobile gamers. I think this is why many indies have started on that platform. The mechanics and designs that fit on it, are often an easy and good place to start for a small indie team.

Though I would say that things are changing. Mobile is far from an easy market to make a success on for many reasons, so more and more indies just jump straight to PC, where audience is willing to pay and many look for new creative games.

For us it was a natural journey, mostly determined by the nature of the games we worked on, moving on the the platforms that we felt worked best. As the team expanded and we gained more experience, we wanted to do more advanced games. With deeper settings and narratives, while keeping our creativeness from the first game. This, for us, means focusing on PC and consoles, such as the Switch, and the potentially looking a mobile later on. I think it is best to always think of the game first, before the platform deciding platform, and chose the one that fits the game best.

Along those same lines you've now seen at least 4 major marketplaces between the 2 mobile, Steam, and Sony. What do you see as the benefits and challenges of each of those and what are you hoping to get out of the Switch eShop marketplace by comparison? Do you think the odds of being seen, with the current library being smaller and there being less releases currently per week than elsewhere will help offset the much smaller current installed base?

JB: Console and PC have the the best attention around release, mostly due to the many of the games sites and YouTubers focusing on these platforms. Players and press on these platforms are constantly looking for next big thing, and they therefore often rewards both creativity and solid quality. Though it must be said that PC market is good deal more crowded than console, so marketing is a must to break through.

The mobile marketplace is not a good place to start for an indie company. It is dominated too much by the big guys in our experience. That being said, if one can get a break through, it does have a very long longevity compared to other platforms, with a constant flow of new player discovering your games over a long time. We also find it interesting a platform to port games to. Games that have had success on PC and console can often get attention on tablets.

Regarding the Switch, we of course see a good deal of potential in being on a platform with less games, but we also feel of our new game, Figment, will fit the platform and its audience well. For us it is a platform with sense of something new and adventures, with quality-minded users. Just what we want to aim for.

Looking at and, maybe moreso, listening to the music from the game I'm struck by how unafraid it all is to be what it is. A little strange, a little silly, and just utterly distinct. First, this is a major part of what I love about the indie game movement, so thank you. But second I can't make a blanket statement of truth but in general my impression is that it is the European development studios who are leading the charge with these very distinctive and daring games where the art styles, music, and even gameplay are concerned. Am I crazy?

JB: Not at all. It it something we have discussed before in both the office and with other devs at events. European games have a tendency to look at more varied themes when developing games and find inspiration in varied sources. Not saying other devs can’t do that around the world, but I think the tendency is there for sure. From our understanding, the primary reason for this is that you can get cultural funding for games many places in Europe. Games are seen as both something commercial and something artistic, and games can get some funding with a good artistic and cultural angle. Figment is a game that have gotten cultural funding from both a Danish culture fund and the Nordic Game culture support. This system can allow for more experimentation when it comes to developing games.

In relations to this subject, I often have an easy time spotting other Scandinavian games, as they often have a special vibe to them, unique to our part of the world. Often a good deal of dark gallows humour, maybe some caricatures and deeper meaning ones you gets past the surface. I think the point is that a devs culture often will shine through, and that can sometimes create a unique game experience if embraced properly. Would be interesting to see what kind of games could emerge if more parts of the world did cultural funding for games.

Aside from perhaps obvious inspirations like Escher or Dali on the visual front are there other influences? What about for music?

JB: Another major influence have been the Miyazaki movies. They often mix the common with the the supernatural to create something new, and this have inspired us a lot in creating our game world. Besides that, we have looked a good deal at different ideas for how the subconsciousness is structures to get more ideas for our game world.

Regarding the music, there have been several sources, some famous, such as Tom Waits, but mostly more outlier genres. Not something you normally hear on a standard radio station. This means music that is great at conveying some of the negative feeling that our enemies represent, but also types of music that could capture the unique and surreal moods in the game world. Luckily for us, our sound guy Niels, aka. Stöj Snak, is a massive talent when it comes to mixing up genres, does a lot of music himself and have a great network of local musicians for us to use. Having him at the centre of our audio design have been a great boon.

One piece of the modern game development process, at least it seems where indies are concerned, is to open up aspects of the design process through blog posts or social media. What are your thoughts on that, do you think this is just a piece of the indie puzzle and people are excited to share their work, or do you think studios feel obligated to do it and it is more of a necessary evil? Somewhere in-between?

JB: For us, sharing your progress and doing blogs posts, is something that is of use, both as a marketing tool, but it can also be good for the developers on a personal level.

First off, It is important to keep showing your game to the players out there, so they don’t forget you and is looking forward to your game. There are so many games out there, so it is a must to build a following and keep putting your name out there.

As a bonus, it can also help motivate the developers on the team. We often work to long periods on our games, so it can be helpful, almost therapeutic, to show and tell about your work. It can put into perspective how much progress you have had and how much you have learned. At the same time, nothing is more motivating than experiencing other people reacting positively to something you have worked on for a long time.

I will add though, that inexperienced devs should be aware of not spending more time on blog posts than actually making their game, as it does take time, and also to remember that most people don’t understand the timeframe of game development. Be smart and learn from what others have done.

As you all finish out your work on Figment, and hopefully are met with great success, do you have anyone looking at where you'll be heading next?

JB: Yes we do. We have already started working on future projects. Our company is very focused on the idea of utilizing our developers, so we can keep making more games and not sitting still. This means both new games and maybe also looking at where we can take Figment in the future, but I can’t say in more details at this point.

I wanted to thank Jonas for taking the time to answer my questions with some great details and Emilie for helping to coordinate the interview. Figment is planned for release on all major platforms, including the Switch, in the coming months!

Thursday, August 10

Review: Phantom Trigger [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

In Phantom Trigger you play as Outsider, a sword-wielding, scarf-wearing warrior fighting through some very strange environments that look like they’re alien but perhaps they’re something unexpected. As you progress through the 4+ Worlds in the game you’ll periodically shift into the real world where you’ll see the story in progress of Stan, a man with a terminal disease who is having strange and sometimes nightmarish visions connected to elements of his childhood. One of the hooks in the game early on is to try to understand what’s happening and how this all interconnects. The choices you make in some key areas will influence the outcome of the game as there are 4 potential endings, so you never know if a choice you’re making may come back to bite you or not. Using this as a foundation the often-intense hack and slash gameplay is given a bit of a purpose and the effort to encourage replay is appreciated.

The central focus here is certainly on intense action, but you’ll need to be both wise and a bit crafty to be successful, especially as the challenge ramps up. When faced with a combination of enemies in a given space you’ll need to quickly size up a strategy and then execute it, often carefully. You won’t simply be able to storm in and slash everything in sight, not by a long shot. As you gain experience you’ll learn new combos and you’ll need to figure out how and when to use them. You’ll need to rush in and then pull back often. You’ll need to prioritize specific enemies that are capable of hitting you from long range. Finally, and sometimes most vitally, when everything falls apart you’ll need to develop a sort of combo and dash strategy that works and hope to wear down the mob before you die. Over the course of the game, especially if you’re daring and go after the Hard difficulty, you will have to restart quite a bit, and in some places often. Aggravation and keeping yourself going on the edge of death were consistent themes along the way in the game, but since I like a challenge I never let it get me down… at least not for long.

Probably the biggest standout element of the game’s action challenge is the boss fights. Each one will require some level of observation and experimentation, and in most cases I had to fight and lose a few battles just to figure out how to do damage to the them. All I’ll say is that you’ll need to be very observant of even seemingly small details when you get into these fights and you may want to reflect on anything they say if you’re stumped. There are clues and prompts you’ll see in their worlds teaching you about the its nature, ultimately its boss, and sometimes the means to defeat them but it can all be pretty subtle. Very little in the game that you run across doesn’t somehow relate to teaching you a new strategy or tactic and that includes some elements, and the opportunities they present, in the environment.

Beyond the raw action there’s very much a need to explore in Phantom Trigger if you want to get the most out of it and the narrative. There are items you’ll be able to give to certain characters to affect the story’s outcome strewn about as well as obelisks that will enhance your powers (which will give you quicker access to more combos), and they’ll require some extra work and looking around to find them all. In the classic gaming tradition the path to them will often be off to the side somewhere when you see the checkpoint ahead. Depending on how much of a completionist you are and how determined you are to get the most out of the story will dictate whether or not the added time and trouble are worthwhile. One note is that since the game doesn’t offer a map you’ll need to be quite thorough to find everything as even though I was trying to do so my first time through I missed a few things along the way. Be willing to backtrack and explore if you want to find everything, there are a surprising number of nooks and crannies in the level layouts.

The mention of no map also leads a bit into some of the challenges in the game. Without a map if you’re looking to find everything it is honestly pretty easy to get lost and then be challenged getting back on track in places. On a general level areas you’ve cleared will remain strewn only with corpses but the fact is in some spaces new enemies will spawn again. This can lend to confusion over whether you’ve been back through that area already. In addition some checkpoints will try to be helpful by offering directions but those are tied to progressing through the level normally, which will require you to follow a longer path at times, so when you revisit these guideposts they’re not always pointing the right way. The game does attempt to be helpful in some places, as it will include an icon and a direction to get to the level’s boss or main objective, but it wasn’t always available when I sometimes needed it. This can be overcome but you could lose some time to it over confusion. While the controls are generally responsive I do wish in some specific cases I could halt their execution or change things up. You’ll need to learn to carefully use some of your moves, especially when around certain enemies, since you’ll be vulnerable when you finish them out in some scenarios and until you figure this out you’ll likely lose quite a bit of health to this. I also ran into a few quirks with some specific enemies but only in one odd case did it require me to restart from my last checkpoint so overall I had very few technical issues with the game. The last issue I’ve encountered, moreso in Hard mode with the added enemies, is some slowdown at times, though I’ve found it can be managed.

When it comes to extended play there are opportunities for it but whether people choose to take them may be another matter. I assure you that if you choose to take on Hard difficulty (assuming you initially beat the game on Normal) you will be challenged. While I was able to get through the first three worlds, riding on my experience from before, once I got to the fourth world I really had to work to make progress, which is a challenge in the labyrinthian layout that you’ll find there. Once you’ve beaten the game the Arena mode will also become unlocked and the few times I’ve tried it have been pretty crazy. It is essentially an endurance mode that will put you in a large room with one of the game’s puzzles to work out. As you knock down pillars enemies will be released that you’ll need to deal with. Once you’re able to solve the puzzle (being careful not to hit any wrong pillars accidentally while you’re dispatching your enemies) you’ll then move on to battle that world’s boss once again. Defeat the boss and move on to the next world’s set-up only this time it seems the puzzle has only gotten more complex. It’s a stiff challenge, but I’ll need to play it quite a bit more to fully understand it. I will note that the game does offer drop-in co-op play but since you’ll be sharing a health bar whether that’s a help or a hinderance may remain to be seen. Still, a nice value add if you want to try to tackle the game with a friend and you can both be careful as you make your way through.

I found Phantom Trigger to be a challenging and distinct experience, mixing up some elements I appreciate in multiple titles with the action and nature of the boss battles, and giving me something to chew on for a while. While I normally don’t go right back through to attack a game I just finished on a harder difficulty setting I did that here and the game hasn’t disappointed. As I’d said I felt pretty good about myself being capable of facing everything the game could throw at me, but then hit World 4 and now I’m carefully trying to survive and progress… it’s a tough one. The Arena mode seems to have potential but for the most part it also doesn’t strike me as something everyone will want to replay once the main game has concluded. Since one of the things I’d wished for was for such a mode to exist to extend my play of Mr. Shifty I do greatly appreciate the added effort and opportunity to get some more out of the game now that I’ve mostly mastered the mechanics. While not everything in Phantom Trigger is perfect I’d say people looking for a meaty action challenge won’t be disappointed given the difficulty it brings with both its varied enemies and creative bosses. The fact that it tells an interesting story along the way is just icing on the cake.

Score: 8

  • Challenging action with powerful combos
  • Distinctive boss fights
  • A story that sucked me in more than I expected

  • Exploration can lead to getting lost
  • The challenge may be too high for some
  • Occasional issues with glitches and slowdown