Wednesday, February 27

Review: ToeJam & Earl - Back in the Groove [Nintendo Switch eShop]

I’m a big fan of games that dare to be themselves, and even if that can make them hard to play without saying “WTF?” with some regularity I can respect having a vision and sticking to it. While I never owned a Genesis, and thus missed out on the original ToeJam & Earl way back when, I’m well aware the game has a serious fan base and have always understood it was determined to be unique. Not quite sure what to expect with this new successor to that original, Back in the Groove, I think I’m still trying to fully process what it was I was playing, but I can also understand what people find appealing about it.

Trying to specifically describe in words how Back in the Groove plays would be a challenge, mainly because while it has elements that may feel familiar in places it is all joined together with random silliness and perhaps a touch of chemically-induced inspiration. Calling it weird would be an understatement. Your base goal is to explore a series of levels, many of which have unique themes, in search of parts to your spaceship. Along the way you’ll be checking a lot of bushes, trying to avoid a wide variety of odd characters, and picking up and then opening gifts that won’t always be helpful. Trial and error thus plays a pretty substantial part in things as until you discover what certain NPCs or gifts do you won’t know how to deal with them.

Playing as either of the title characters, either in their newfangled or classic looks, or one of their gal pals you (and up to 3 friends as well if you’d like for some truly chaotic gameplay) will notice some differences in each of them though once you’ve leveled up a few times they end up being more about your personal taste. Hidden areas and secret levels are peppered all about, as well as odd mini games like when you have a dance challenge with someone you’ll meet along the way. There’s a distinct lack of a strict structure and the emphasis is far more on exploring and having fun than strictly executing some plan to perfection.

This is very much a title where you’ll either choose to embrace the funkiness and odd pacing for how unique they are or you’ll probably have strong negative feelings about it. It’s not quite like anything else you’ve likely played but at the same time there may be a good reason for that since it can feel very random at times, focused more on its gags and weirdness than on compelling gameplay. I actually am finding it very difficult to score as where there’s normally some sort of standard to evaluate against with this title it’s just so far out there that it defies comparison. If you’re a fan of the original it’s absolutely worth checking out, beyond that you’ll just need to take a look at the gameplay and see if the game’s pacing and sense of humor suit you.

Score: 7.5

  • Absolutely a unique experience
  • Full of oddities and humor
  • Every time you play things will be a bit different

  • The focus isn’t so much on objectives and being challenging and is instead on being quirky and often silly
  • There’s a lot of trial and error as not much is explained, though most of the time things end up being intuitive
  • Though the gags and specifics may change it doesn’t take too long before things begin to feel very similar throughout

Review: Ape Out [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When reviewing so many indie titles every week one of the greatest rewards is when you stumble onto a game that blows your mind. You may never have really heard much about it, seen it in action, or been fed a constant stream of info in anticipation of release… it just shows and when you begin playing it you realize you’re seeing something special. While initially Ape Out concerned me, thinking that perhaps though it looked and sounded amazing it would be over far too soon, having completed the vast majority of what it has to offer I have no doubts that it’s easily one of the best games I’ve played all year.

Perhaps what fascinates me most about the game is how simple it is in many respects, and yet it makes what’s there work so well. While its gameplay is completely different (the closest comparison I can think of would be GoNNER, where the game is already visually brilliant but then pairs itself with amazing music (in this case jazz) that evolves and adapts to represent the on-screen action. Paired with the frantic nature of the gameplay as you scramble to escape captivity, the music builds into a sort of frenzy, amplifying the action and it all genuinely would often make my heart race as I tried to get to the end of the stage.

Speaking of the gameplay, I suppose it’s worth going over the basics. You’re pretty limited in what you can do, so execution ends up usually being quite vital. Basically you can shove and grab, and that’s it. Who or what you grab is thus pretty important, you’ll want to prioritize people with body armor (working as more than a single-hit shield) or semi-automatic weapons (as they fire wildly you can hope they take out some of their buddies). I’d warn against people carrying explosives as their friends won’t hesitate to shoot at them to hit you and that will end badly. Across all 4 of the game’s stages (represented by albums) you’ll be thrown into a variety of areas, starting in a lab but then moving on to a skyscraper (complete with windows to throw people out of), a jungle war zone, and then even a ship. Each has their own challenges and opportunities, and as the game goes on it continues to get tougher. The main game then culminates with a great zoo break out that’s a terrific way to cap it all off, but then an additional and even tougher single stage will unlock and I won’t ruin its surprise.

When it comes to flaws as a whole aside from its difficulty and perhaps it simplicity the list is pretty brief. For me this harkens back to old arcade games that would throw a ton of action at you repeatedly, but modern gamers may not find it as exciting. To keep things interesting the levels are all procedurally generated, so you truly can never know what to expect though so that helps keep things fresh. All told there are only a little more than a handful of enemy types you’ll slowly get introduced to over the course of the game, but I’d also say they all feel well used and each have their own tactical considerations when you see them coming after you. My biggest complaint is actually one that will hopefully be patched, and that’s just that I wish the Arcade Mode that unlocks once you complete each album had global leaderboards. It isn’t necessarily a killer but I think it’s a massive missed opportunity that would help provide legs to a core game you can probably get through in a handful of hours, depending on your level of skill.

As someone who loves playing things that are different and a bit daring, Ape Out has easily shot out as one of the games I’ve enjoyed playing the most on Switch. Its level of difficulty isn’t to be underestimated but the fortunate thing is that everything resets pretty quickly so you’ll be right back in the action to give it another try. Though it may seem simple there are definitely strategies to learn, or at least ways to help you cope with the insanity. Much like the great dynamic jazz that backs up the gameplay Ape Out is really all about improvisation, taking in the situation you’re giving and making it work. Similarly that will mean not everyone will “get it”, but I have a load of respect for the vision and rock solid execution all of the people behind this title were able to realize.

Score: 9

  • In terms of both the visuals and the dynamic accompanying music the game is absolutely unique
  • Though the core gameplay mechanics may be simple the action remains unpredictable, frantic, and exciting throughout
  • The game’s final stage and the added epilogue level are a fitting and wonderful way to cap off some terrific gameplay

  • There’s no doubt some stages can be difficult and it may frustrate people who tend more towards casual games
  • Though the specifics of the gameplay continue to evolve throughout overall there aren’t that many types of enemies you’ll face
  • The lack of global leaderboards for Arcade mode is disappointing and absolutely should be addressed to help add more longevity for people who enjoy the game

Tuesday, February 26

Review: Hell Warders [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Recently the Switch has seemed to have an influx of tower defense-style titles, but thankfully since there’s been some variety in them they haven’t felt very redundant. Going for a hack-and-slash meets tower defense style we now have Hell Warders. In it you’ll choose a class, each of which looks sort of like a Diablo second or third stringer, try to position some defenses, and then let the onslaught begin.

Only through a mix of some smart defensive planning, supplemented with your ability to move around the battlefield and fill in when necessary will you survive, and this is especially true if you try to go it solo. In the planning phase before each wave you’ll get to examine the entry points and flow of your enemies towards the orb you’re defending and then place a growing variety of units to help slow and destroy the attackers outright. You have both a monetary and unit hard limit to consider so you’ll need to carefully consider where and what you’re placing, often wanting or needing to focus your initial and most critical defenses near the end rather than risk getting caught by surprise as some enemies manage to trickle through your front-line defenses.

Once you allow the current wave to proceed the game will throw hordes of enemies at you and you’ll get to see how well you planned. No matter how well you’ve done there’ll inevitably be some surges that will overcome your units, meaning you’ll have to get involved. Depending on whether you go with melee or a ranged character will somewhat alter your tactics but in general you have a base attack and then some special attacks on a cooldown. Being smart and trying to focus your efforts on taking out enemies at bottlenecks tends to take the direct pressure off of you more and it may also save some of your units so you won’t need to expend currency to replace them.

There are a few issues really holding the game back though. The first is that the performance of the game on Switch is noticeably janky. Stutters and issues crop up with some regularity as enemies pour onto the screen, enough so that even as a person who doesn’t get too bent out of shape about a few hitches is taking the trouble to mention it. Paired with the lacking performance is pretty dull and highly repetitive action. Each class sort of has their own tactics that end up being the most effective and unfortunately once you get into a groove with them you’re unlikely to bother with trying anything else, you’ll just stick to what works and it gets boring. Then throw in the fact that solo play doesn’t feel very well balanced. This spreads you out a bit too much while having at least 2 people makes things considerably easier as you can address issues on multiple fronts then far more easily. Last, though this is a smaller complaint the game just sort of drops you into things without much direction so it takes some trial and error to understand how to position your troops in the first place.

Overall, Hell Warders is a title that has a great look and some Diablo-esque qualities but that just doesn’t feel quite finished. Repetition sets in pretty quickly and the combat is far more of a slog than it should be if they’re going to bother to allow you to be an active participant. Top that with the very noticeable performance issues and it’s hard to recommend with any energy against its competition in the eShop.

Score: 5.5

  • In principle its mix of tower defense and action seems appealing
  • Played with some friends the game is more balanced and fun

  • The game’s performance issues are impossible to miss
  • In terms of core gameplay there’s just not much to get excited about
  • When it comes to solo play the game doesn’t feel very well balanced

Review: Car Mechanic Simulator [Nintendo Switch eShop]

OK, so while diversity is a good thing and there should be games on the eShop that can appeal to every corner of the gaming audience there are sometimes titles that give me pause. Car Mechanic Simulator is one such title. I’m not a mechanic, I’m not terribly mechanically inclined, and the prospect of being one in a virtual sense lacks in excitement. Undeterred, I decided to check this out and I’d imagine even for people who think this could sound interesting the news isn’t so good.

In terms of what I think the game does well it’s best feature is likely the way it displays the individual parts that make up the drivetrain and major mechanical systems. The fact that you can essentially explode the view to see each individual part is pretty fascinating and probably the game’s best feature. The goal is to purchase busted cars, remove their bad parts, replace those with new ones, and then sell the fixed car for a profit to then later, rinse, and repeat with a slow progression of nicer cars.

The theory isn’t a bad one, but the execution is certainly questionable. First, whether playing docked or in handheld mode the controls are a bit wonky and are poorly explained. You sort of jump in, meeting Person X who’ll help you with some aspect, you get a quick runthrough, and then they drop you into the interface to now have success. Only, navigating the menus and specifically getting the stars to align so that you can toggle between parts to remove or then add them is cumbersome. Sadly, this is even true in handheld mode where you pretty well need to continue to use physical controls for some functions.

From there it’s worth noting the lack of quality of life shortcuts in the game, as very honestly you waste far too much time accomplishing too little that’s far too repetitive. You’ll be fixing the same janky low-budget class of cars for the first 10 repairs before the next tier and you can expect more of the same on the following one. This might not have been so bad if when you fix up the body the work needed wasn’t almost always in the same spots and if at any point you could simply select “all” to perform an action. You’ll remove and place every part one by one (and this takes a few seconds per part to fill a gauge), and you’ll play a mini memory game as you also have to buy each one, also lacking the ability to buy in quantity. Need 4 brake pads, you’ll be taking the time to select them one at a time. Multiply all of this across all of the parts you need for every car and the majority of time playing the game will be spent in the menus doing the same thing over and over.

Perhaps people aspiring to be mechanics or who enjoy cars can find some enjoyment here but if you’re looking for any sort of “gameplay” there’s a bare minimum to be found. I actually think this would serve itself better as a sort of instructional tool or even just to let people go through a gallery of cars and appreciate seeing them disassembled over what’s offered. In the end it just falls flat and collapses under the weight of its own repetition.

Score: 4.5

  • The view of the mechanical system of a car broken apart is quite fascinating and a great feature
  • If you’re an aspiring mechanic or just love cars perhaps this could have some appeal

  • The interface for adding and removing parts is awkward, cumbersome, and feels like it is wasting your time
  • A need for quality of life “quick” options to bulk purchase parts or at least let you buy more than one at a time, as implemented it wastes an enormous amount of time on tedium
  • Honestly there’s very little “game” to be had here

Review: Daggerhood [Nintendo Switch eShop]

More than ever games that are meant to be challenging are engaged in what seems to be a real tightrope walk. You have games like Super Meatboy that demand precision and control nearly flawlessly and others like Celeste where a very different route was taken, throwing serious challenges at players but then offering Assist mode options to make them accessible to everyone. While their approaches may be different, the emphasis is roughly the same. If titles are able to find a great balance of frustration and thrills they can be exhilarating, but if they rely on cheap deaths or don’t leave the player feeling fully in control of their fate they can go downhill in a hurry. Unfortunately, for me, Daggerhood falls into the latter category, with far too many deaths that feel cheap holding back what seems to be a reasonably good core gameplay hook.

The controls in the game are fairly simple, you’ll have the ability to wall jump, double jump, and then throw a dagger. Not only will the dagger help you dispatch foes, it’s also a means of teleportation, and that’s the hook that helps set the game apart. The levels are laid out in ways that will continuously test your skills of execution, though you have a degree of control over how you want to play them. In general you can count on them being relatively brief, and this does make the game work well on the go, but the length of time they take depends on what you’re shooting for.

Aside from simply completing stages, which can be challenging in itself, there’s always a fairy present that you’ll need to grab quickly if you want to check them off the list. There are also 5 pieces of treasure to collect if you’re a completionist. Finally, your level time is given a score from 0 to 3 stars depending on how quick you can be. It quickly becomes obvious that if you want to do all of these things it will require multiple runs, especially since if you die you lose credit for the things you’ve grabbed. I suppose this versatility is nice as you can choose your approach, and have reason to return if you’re a completionist, but given the annoyances you often will run into I’m not so positive many will go that route.

I can understand and even enjoy games that are challenging, but there needs to be some genuine element of fun driving you. Whether that’s feeling like you’re in the flow of things, some narrative hook, or the promise of some reward to get to the next level there should be something more than “because it’s there” keeping you engaged. That, and an abundance of cheap deaths from spikes or situations where you have a minimal margin of error chained together, is really where Daggerhood comes up short for me. Somehow it wants you to be fast and precise at the same time but your character feels just a bit too chunky and the tendency to touch spikes that aren’t even pointed in your direction for stupid deaths is infuriating. Speed works when the action flows and the controls feel precise, in Daggerhood the need to change up your timing or make odd throws that are somewhere randomly in the middle of your jump makes everything feel stilted and a bit awkward.

While I have no doubt that there will be a crowd out there who’ll enjoy Daggerhood, despite its issues, I find it hard to recommend. It has some decent ideas and smart level designs but rather than getting into the zone and feeling at one with the game it felt like it was actively working in the opposite direction, pushing me away with too many cheap deaths and quirky elements of design that kept me from getting immersed in it. If you’re down to be tested, it may work for you, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone else.

Score: 6

  • A relatively simple and smart core set of mechanics
  • Well-suited to play on the go
  • A variety of ways to encourage replaying levels

  • Prone to cheap deaths
  • The difficulty is all over the place from stage to stage
  • There’s too often a demand on speed paired with very narrow precision that can be aggravating

Review: RemiLore [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Switch’s library is practically bursting with variety and pretty fair representation in most genres. One of these, a favorite of mine, is the classic brawler or slasher style, where you’ll work your way through waves of enemies kicking ass and having some fun along the way. Of course, one of the things that makes releasing titles on the Switch is also that the size of the library invites comparisons, and in the case of RemiLore, despite its cute anime main character with a penchant for sweets, the experience comes up a bit lacking.

In the game you’ll play as Remi who, through a strange accident involving a talking book named Lore, is transported to the world of Ragnoah-an, which is overrun by mechanical monsters. In order to make her way back home she’ll need to work with Lore to overcome these enemies, arming herself with roughly whatever she can find. Whether that’s an oversized needle, hockey stick, or an array of other weapons both sensible and nonsensical you’ll need to work with what you’re given to slash and bash your way through enemies, periodically enlisting help from Lore in the form of a variety of flashy spells.

All of that said, outside of its cutesy and unusual presentation, this game boils down to being a relatively bare bones slasher where you’re going to generally face a lot of repetition in the end. Played from an isometric perspective, you’ll need to concern yourself with enemies coming from all directions, focusing on chaining together attacks while carefully making use of your dash to avoid attacks whenever possible. Weapons have aesthetic variety but aside from falling into different classes like swords versus hammers mechanically they really all feel the same. What will drive your selection, more often than not, will be the stats oriented with how much damage they do or perhaps which magic spells are associated with them if you come to have a preference. In general, I didn’t find that any particular spell seemed more useful than others and I heavily preferred the quicker swords to the painfully slow hammers.

While the game gets points for presentation and style in terms of raw gameplay it very quickly falls into repetition and struggling to be exciting. The periodic silliness of the dialogue and interaction between Remi and Lore may entertain some, and perhaps the limited story may be of interest, but if you’re playing to bash some heads it sadly falls flat. Billed as a roguelike you’re able to invest in improving skills incrementally or improve your odds of getting a better weapon but even before powering yourself up the overall game isn’t terribly hard and getting through its four acts is more an act of perseverance than skill. Once you beat the game some weird variants become available as well but nothing quite escapes the pull of the core gameplay not being terribly interesting or fun. Anime fans may get a kick of our Remi’s adventure and interactions with Lore but if you’re just interested in great slashing gameplay there are better options in the eShop.

Score: 6

  • It absolutely looks great
  • Initially the odd variety of weapons you’ll use can at least be amusing
  • Anime fans may enjoy the antics between the two main characters

  • In terms of gameplay excitement there’s not much meat on these bones
  • Though there are visually many types of weapons they largely play the same aside from between different classes
  • Roguelike progression is there but just makes the game a bit easier even though the base game itself isn’t terribly challenging overall

Sunday, February 24

Review: Strikey Sisters [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Over time it’s pretty incredible that one of the earliest games I remember playing, Breakout, has managed to in some way remain relevant. Most notable among the descendents of that classic was the game Arkanoid, which managed to add great looks, smart power-ups, and new challenges to the mix. Many years later we now have Strikey Sisters, which adds both co-op capabilities and some tricks of its own to the mix.

The first thing you’ll notice is that rather than having a bar you’ll control along the bottom of the screen you’ll have one of two warrior sisters to control. While the ball can bounce off of them for best results you’ll want to slash your sword to hit it since that will make you a bit “wider” in a pinch and it will offer a better chance of influencing its trajectory to what you want it to be. You’re able to power-up your shots as well to do quicker damage but just be aware the ball will move faster as well so if you have any obstacles close by it may be tough not to lose your ball once it bounces off of them. You’ll want to knock out all blocks to clear each stage but look out for a pretty wide variety of monsters to complicate matters by getting in the way and counter-attacking you as well. Each time you lose your ball or get hit by certain attacks you’ll lose a heart, and when you’re out you’ll need to start the stage over.

One thing to note is that this title definitely has a bit of a learning curve as not much at all is explained and the specific ways to make the best use of the game’s many power-ups take time to grasp. For instance, there are multiple power-ups that enable you to shoot but each of them has their own properties. Some only affect enemies while some can also break blocks. This is a vital distinction and will greatly influence how you may choose to use them. The game also has boss fights and working out the nuances of battling them and how to just do damage to them can also take a little time and experimentation. This makes getting up to speed take a little while as you get accustomed to things, so early on in particular the game can feel pretty challenging and even frustrating.

There’s no doubt that the degree of difficulty in the game is modeled more after older school arcades than more modern and often toned down sensibilities. You’re going to need to work for your successes and there are times when everything can go to hell in a hurry off of a series of cases of bad luck or carelessness. Most typically the problem comes down to your character not being terribly fast and it being hard to keep the ball in play since your “paddle” is so small. Learning when you have enough time to go for a power-up and when you don’t is vital since there will be plenty of temptation to grab something only to find you then can’t get into position in time.

For people who are willing to get over the initial hump of getting used to Strikey Sisters there’s plenty of challenging stages and bosses to conquer. In general, there aren’t many titles emulating the classic Breakout, and among the ones I’ve played this is probably the most unique and interesting, but it’s also probably the toughest as well. While it won’t be for everyone it’s a fresh and unique offering in the Switch eShop.

Score: 8

  • A fresh and challenging take on the classic Breakout formula
  • Boss fights and a pretty wide variety of enemies keep it exciting
  • Plenty of power-ups to learn to use effectively

  • There’s definitely an initial learning curve that can be frustrating
  • Character movement is a bit more cumbersome than I’d prefer
  • If the core Breakout game style doesn’t suit you the changes won’t likely be enough to change your mind

Review: Devil Engine [Nintendo Switch eShop]

If you’re a massive fan of shooters, the Switch has been an incredible console to own thanks to a wide variety of indie developers. With options that run the gamut from more accessible to brutal, roguelike to bullet hell, and pretty well every combination you can imagine there has also been a great deal of variety. Falling into the school of a very challenging bullet hell side-scrolling space shooter we now have Devil Engine, a title that looks amazing, has tight controls, and may just make you want to cry.

Mechanically the controls are pretty simple. You’ll be able to shoot, set your rate of speed between 3 levels, use one of your “bombs”, or trigger a burst. The burst is probably the most notable feature as it ties to your score multiplier and has an element of risk/reward to it. When you’re in a jam using the burst will negate enemy fire within its radius. However, if you don’t manage to absorb enough enemy bullets at once you’ll end up depleting your multiplier which will also make the radius of your burst slightly smaller.

In general, by grabbing power-ups you can change your moed of firing between spread, laser, and homing fire, and these can make you want to change your approach. Specifically when using the laser, which is obviously very powerful against anything directly in front of you, it may be a good idea to keep things slow since you’ll need to maneuver near walls and won’t want quick movements in that case. Where the other firing modes have their bombs act more as missiles with the laser this will also just temporarily give you more firepower, so getting to know how everything works and feels tends to be important up front.

As you play you’ll unlock “very easy” mode (most deceptively-named mode ever) and a variety of fun visual tweaks that you can enable in the Extras menu for some fun. In general the degree of challenge is unrelenting, which is fine, but there are some spots where it can move into the territory of being a bit unfair. In some boss fights and general situations you can be destroyed by debris aside from bullets but it’s not always clear what may be lethal to you. There are additional appropriately-named Challenge modes you’ll slowly unlock and these will definitely put your skills to the test, but in a variety of more unique ways.

Overall, this is in no way a game for casual shooting fans, it is for hardcore shmup fans who are thirsting for their next serious challenge. If you’re willing to invest the time in understanding the nuances of the game, where it’s best to use what firepower, and how to deal with the game’s difficult bosses there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are plenty of alternatives available on the eShop.

Score: 7.5

  • Has an incredibly cool look
  • Absolutely delivers a serious challenge for veteran shmup fans to dig into
  • As you play more new aesthetic features and more will unlock

  • In general the only options for difficulty are Brutal and Brutal-er
  • There are times when it can be frustrating because you can’t tell what you’re being destroyed by
  • It’s really only going to appeal to hardcore shooting fans

Review: Degrees of Separation [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Switch has truly heralded in a return to local co-op gaming and when paired with a definite indie movement to do the same it has resulted in an eShop full of options. While there have been a variety of genres from action to shooting represented it seems the most common type has been puzzlers of some sort, which makes sense since they aren’t typically as demanding if you’re pairing with someone who may not possess a great deal of skill or experience. Degrees of Separation is one such co-op puzzler that seems to embrace that philosophy, delivering a very low-key and generally relaxing collection of environmental puzzles that you’ll use to help bring together two characters from very different worlds by utilizing their unique powers.

In the game you’ll play as Ember and Rime, young woman and man who each hail from kingdoms representing elemental extremes, ember from a world of warmth and Rime from a world of cold. Separated by a barrier, the world around them changes depending on whose side it is on. This generally defines the base nature of many of the puzzles as you’ll need to determine how to make use of these changes to make it through obstacles. Whether that’s turning water to ice to act as a platform, creating large snowballs to make use of, or causing explosions you’ll need to experiment and apply a variety of techniques to progress.

The majority of the time success comes down to carefully positioning each character and then carefully working through a sequence to solve each puzzle. This obviously works best with 2 people each controlling a character independently but for the most part playing the game solo and alternating between them is perfectly fine, just perhaps a bit slower and more cumbersome. In general the the challenge is in understanding what you need to do and not so much on precision execution, which I do appreciate since it also makes the experience more accessible than what I’ve typically played in this space, though that may also make it feel too easy for more experienced partners.

As a whole Degrees of Separation is a gorgeous game, with a smart hook, that does a great job of exploring the possibilities of its premise fully. Erring on the side of being approachable to gamers of all skill levels its puzzles are more about planning than execution, but it’s possible that could also make it feel easier than the norm depending on your tastes. Whether solo or with a friend it has some clever ideas and is a pleasant experience throughout.

Score: 7

  • Looks great
  • The focus is more on planning than execution, making it very approachable
  • Works best with a friend but playing solo also works fine

  • Depending on tastes the level of challenge may feel a bit low
  • Sometimes it’s not very clear where you’re supposed to be going

Saturday, February 23

Review: X-Morph - Defense [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While I’ve had some good times over the years playing tower defense games there’s no denying that the genre has stagnated quite a bit. Rarely have there been any real innovations made aside from perhaps some new tower variant, so most games in the genre have begun feeling by the numbers. X-Morph: Defense is here to show everyone how you give a genre a serious kick in the right, and far more exciting, direction.

Setting up towers and then sitting back to watch how things play out getting stale? No problem, they’ve thrown in your ship not only being able to set up defenses but also having an active role to play with twin-stick shooting action! The progression is generally too limited and predictable? How about making you choose between new and more powerful tower types or souping up your ship to enable you to do more damage yourself? Too often there’s an endless array of enemies you can build up clusters of defenses to deal with in any configuration as you watch it play out dull wave after wave? Get ready to have to adjust both the positioning and configuration of your defenses as new waves will come at you from different points and the paths your enemies take can be altered by toppled skyscrapers or blown bridges. Oh, and did I just see a gigantic mechanized spider coming my way?!?!

Suffice it to say the people behind X-Morph have paid attention to the failings of the tower defense genre and done just about everything in their power to not only address those problems, but do so with a high degree of visual flair as well. The production values and way things play out often feels a bit like an alien invasion / disaster movie, and I like that, especially since you’re playing the part of the invading alien bastards set on taking over the world. The fact that both you or the human defense forces may choose to destroy the landscape to gain advantage at times is something I enjoyed as well,. While their decisions may mostly be static, the fact that blocking off a path early on may work to your advantage but then bite you in the ass later if they make changes of their own feels great.

While the action plays a big role in helping to make the game more interesting make no mistake, the critical component of strategy is very much present. Especially early on if you don’t invest in setting up fences to force enemy units to take a longer route and leave yourself exposed somehow even if you’re throwing everything your ship has at them you’ll get overwhelmed. The consistent need to course correct to try to keep out of the path of enemy bombers or transitioning towers from being focused on dealing with ground units to air and back can also be critical, as can simply moving defenses around as your enemy adapts. Finding the right balance of defenses and then using your ship to help supplement here and there as needed is a thrill, just keep in mind you can’t engage in combat for too long most of the time since that means you’re not out there making adjustments. Of course if you have a friend who can join in this gets a bit easier so props for the co-op option as well.

Overall, I’m really impressed by everything the folks behind this game have put together. The campaign is challenging and at a satisfying length, and if you really want more there’s already additional DLC content available as well. The mix of strategy and action it offers is pretty unique and in general the presentation of the destruction and carnage really helps make it all exciting. You’ll need to make some tough choices at times, and if you get too distracted by the action your defenses can really fall apart, but that all adds to the challenge and fun. If you’ve ever had any affection for tower defense games you owe it to yourself to see this example of the genre being taken to a new and more exciting level.

Score: 8.5

  • Revitalizes the generally stale tower defense genre
  • Blends tower defense strategy with twin-stick shooting action to create a new kind of experience
  • Challenging play coupled with the excitement of mechs, destructible cities, and things blowing up real good

  • The controls and getting tower placements right can be tricky at times
  • To some degree the core play can get repetitive in principle

Review: OlliOlli Switch Stance [Nintendo Switch eShop]

I remember first playing the original OlliOlli on the Vita and it making a pretty strong impression on me. Now, many years later, I’ll admit it was a pretty happy reunion, as it remains a great game to pick up and play on the go and provides a challenge without losing its core accessibility. The fact that you’re able to play it on Switch, whether in docked or portable mode, and can then enjoy its more refined sequel as well is exciting.

Common to both games is a focus on precision and trying to switch things up in order to maximize your score. Whether performing simple tricks, edge grinding, or trying to chain together and then land a serious combo for the most part the game encourages you to be ambitious and have some fun as well. Each stage has a number of objectives that you can optionally complete that help push you to experiment and master different aspects of play, in particular in the early going these will help you build your base skills that you’ll then continue to leverage as you move further and take on the higher skill levels that unlock as you complete them.

There’s no doubt that the controls are the biggest obstacle you’ll tend to face, especially in getting started. While they’re not necessarily flawed they can be tricky to get accustomed to at first as you try to get down the timing and dexterity needed to stunt, spin, grind, and land a series of moves. That is one area in particular where the sequel really made a great move in introducing manuals to your arsenal of moves as these enable you to much more easily extend your combo chains, just keep in mind that the more ambitious you are with these the more you have to lose with a mistake.

As is always the case with games of this sort the key is really what you’re looking for. These titles lack the variety and craziness of something like the Tony Hawk series but are also far more fun and well-made than your typical stunt-focused title as well. In many regards, even after all these years, I’d say OlliOlli remains the gold standard for the stand-alone stunt game. If offers enough flexibility to reduce the feeling of a repetitive grind that tends to set in with the genre but at its core there’s just something fun about the way everything flows when you get a great run going, even when you then bail on your landing and have to start over again. If you’re in the mood to get your stunts on this is probably your best bet on the Switch.

Score: 8.5

  • Fun and challenging play that works very well in portable mode
  • While the controls can be tricky to get the hang of at first once you’ve got them down they feel pretty good
  • Among its peers in the stunt-focused genre it remains at the top of the heap overall

  • Visually it’s showing its age
  • If you’re hoping for something more along the lines of Tony Hawk you’ll be disappointed, this is less ambitious and has a simpler stunt focus

Review: Aragami - Shadow Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Right out of the gate I have something to confess, for the most part I’m not a huge “stealth game” fan, as my tendencies are towards making a ruckus and intensity, not showing patience and picking the perfect time to strike. That said, racking up some stealthy kills while people on patrol are nearby none the wiser can offer up some fun when done right. While Aragami: Shadow Edition does provide the opportunity for some of these thrills it also has enough quirks and slow spots that it’s probably best left for true fans of the genre.

You play the game as a spirit who has been summoned to aid a girl named Yamiko, who has tasked you with cutting through the Kaiho, a bunch of light-powered dudes who have captured her. While, in theory, you’d be able to simply move through stages trying to avoid conflict and get to your goal without getting your hands too dirty where would the fun be in that? Going into full ninja killer mode tends to be a bit more fun, but you’ll need to keep in mind that the moment you’re seen you can generally count on needing to go back to your last checkpoint.

Everything in the game revolves around your ability to remain in the shadows and make proper use of your growing arsenal of abilities to move around, dispatch guards, and avoid the light or giving yourself away. In the early going this is a bit tougher, as you’ll only be able to jump between shadows and sneak up for kills with your sword. As things move on you’ll gain some new and very useful abilities like being able to create temporary shadows on surfaces to give you more options for approach, make bodies disappear (since you, for whatever reason, can’t drag them), and some ranged and remotely detonated weapons as well. It’s a bit unfortunate that gaining access to these skills and weapons takes a while as grinding through the earlier stages with just the basics can be a bit tedious.

Aside from it taking a bit too long for you to gain access to all of the goodies that help give you far more options for fun there are some other quirks that stand in the way as well. The controls and where you’re able to jump to can be aggravatingly picky and are a major contributor to the feeling that once you’ve been spotted you can usually just expect to die. The cursor you move around to choose where you want to go will indicate whether or not you can make a hop to a specific area but on some surfaces and in situations where you’re trying to use it quickly it can be inconsistent to say the least. Combine that fact with some areas having checkpoints spread out a bit too far and there’s definitely room for some frustrations and having to repeat yourself.

If you’re really into stealth titles there’s no doubt the Switch comes up short with the genre as a whole. That should make Aragami: Shadow Edition pretty appealing despite its shortcomings. If you’re willing to be patient with it and unlock some of its goodies it gets to be a bit more fun, just don’t be surprised to find some frustrations along the way.

Score: 7

  • Provides a stealth gaming experience that’s sorely missing on the Switch overall
  • You have the option to play in most situations without killing people if you want to take on the challenge that way
  • Once you’ve unlocked all of your abilities and weaponry the game gets more varied and fun

  • The controls can be a bit hit or miss, especially when you’re trying to act quickly
  • In some areas the checkpoints are a bit too widely spaced, which can be frustrating when paired with stupid deaths
  • A bit too much early grinding with more limited abilities creates a hump to get over before you’re able to have more fun later

Review: Q.U.B.E. 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]

First-person physics-based puzzle games have always been of some interest to me. Ever since Portal pretty well laid down the gauntlet for how the genre should be done it seems impossible to avoid comparisons of some kind when any new title in the same general vein arrives. Q.U.B.E. 2, while having some tricks of its own, certainly follows some of those some conventions, throwing you a bit disoriented into a gauntlet of room-based challenges where you’ll need to make smart use of your abilities to proceed.

Rather than being given a gun that shoots portals onto surfaces to work with you’ll instead have your gloves that are able to interact with specific spaces to assign them color-coded properties. Blue spaces will cause things (including you) to bounce away with some force, you can pull out and extend red space, and you’re able to summon small cubes with green. Over the next handful of hours the game will then put you through an increasingly-challenging and clever series of rooms that will test your ability to make effective use of those core abilities while also throwing in a variety of other room-based elements.

While the action can get a bit chuggy in some spots as the system struggles with areas that are a bit too ambitious for the Switch to handle well for the most part the game’s presentation is spot-on and impressive. Though the rooms are relatively sparse they have some great details and irregularities to them that show the developer put some time into keeping everything from feeling sterile and boring. As a whole with a little bit of observation and experimentation the puzzles are well-conceived and rewarding to work through, typically doing a great job of slowly forcing you to evolve simpler concepts into more elaborate ones as you progress. While there is a bit of a story trying to help provide meaning to what you’re doing it’s unfortunately nothing on the order of Portal’s GLaDOS, and merely works well enough to build some intrigue to keep you wanting to see where things go in the end.

As a whole Q.U.B.E. 2 is a satisfying and reasonably challenging first-person physics puzzler. While not offering up quite the mind-bending fun of the Portal series, and lacking its signature humor and quirkiness, it still does a great job of clearly standing on its own and walking you through some very clever puzzles. Given the lack of any better examples of this style of play available on the Switch it’s pretty easy to recommend.

Score: 8

  • Smart and engaging physics puzzles
  • It’s obvious that effort was put into making the rooms have a sense of personality to them rather than being plain and sterile
  • The progression of new elements and challenges is pretty consistent throughout

  • There are some areas where the Switch can struggle a bit
  • The story is serviceable but not very inspired