Sunday, March 31

PAX East 2019 Day 3 Impressions


Though my final day at PAX East was a bit shorter than the rest there were plenty of great games to discover and enjoy along the way. Here’s a look at this last batch of indies that will all hopefully make their way to the Switch at some point.

Summoner’s Fate - While it currently isn’t slated for the Switch this smart and pretty funny turn-based strategy RPG would be right at home. The deck-based combat mechanics look like they’ll offer quite a lot of choice and variety as you’ll need to choose which new cards you take carefully to keep everything in balance. The squirrel and killer rabbit-based attacks, among other things, are what really gives is personality.


Rez Plz - While I’m not positive it is quite official that this clever and funny co-op platformer is coming to Switch it would certainly be right at home. You’ll control two wizards in training who simply aren’t very good at their jobs, but who will be able to cooperate and make smart use of resurrection stones to get through a wide variety of lethal traps and challenges. Part of the fun is in watching the many gruesome ways they can meet their ends, and sometimes this is absolutely necessary, with one sacrificing themselves for the other to advance. Smart and silly this looks to be a terrific game to enjoy with a friend… just don’t take it too personally if it is you that gets sacrificed.


El Hijo - Playing as a small boy who will need to use his cunning and the shadows to his advantage, El Hijo has a terrific art style and was very easy to understand. You’ll need to exercise some patience and do some experimenting to solve its puzzles but it just has a unique sort of flavor that helped it make a positive impression.


Through the Darkest of Times - Games that take place against a historic backdrop can be interesting and instructive, and Through the Darkest of Times looks to fit that bill by throwing you into Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. Working with some friends to form a resistance movement you’ll need to try to enlist help and funding while trying not to get caught. Interspersed with events where you’ll need to make decisions that will test your moral compass and survival instincts this looks to be a very different kind of experience.


Buildings Have Feelings Too - Taking the city management sim in a very different sort of direction, Buildings Have Feelings Too has you controlling and managing buildings as if they were people. You’ll need to balance the demand for housing, industry, and commercial needs while also being sure to be mindful of inter-building preferences and squabbles to keep them all happy and thriving. As you advance into new eras the needs of your city will continue to change, the challenge will be in repurposing and changing your buildings to keep pace.


Deponia - The first part of a “trilogy of four titles”, this revered point-and-click adventure is finally coming to Switch. Mechanically it’s what you’d expect, with plenty of inventory-based puzzles to work through as you explore, search, and combine items to solve problems. The terrific animation and humorous dialogue then helps bring it all together.


The Long Journey Home - A roguelike space exploration game, The Long Journey home has you managing a crew of 4 who embark on a journey to the stars but then, after an accident, find themselves far away from Earth. Your initial choices for your crew and ship will play a large role in your success, though you won’t be able to predict what specific challenges you’ll face. You’ll need to carefully explore different planets and galaxies in search of raw materials, care for your ships and crew, and work through challenges as you meet alien races to survive.


Silence - Set in some pretty grim real-world circumstances, the game has you playing the part of a young boy named Noah who must work to find his sister in the fantasy world of Silence. Using adventure gaming mechanics that aren’t as complex as the traditional point-and-click variety, you’re able to more easily work through puzzles and enjoy the game’s amazing graphical style that blends 3D with hand-drawn art pretty effortlessly.


Felix The Reaper - Featuring possibly one of the cutest reapers you could ever imagine, Felix is in love and he’s not afraid to show it as he dances around solving puzzles. You’ll need to work only in the shadows, so manipulating the angle of the stage you’re on in relation to the sun will dictate your movement. You’ll then need to be clever and move things around in order to clear yourself a path to work with and progress towards his beloved Betty the Maiden of Light.


One Finger Death Punch 2 - It takes some real talent to make games with a limited number of inputs work, and One Finger Death Punch 2 absolutely wrecks the budget brawler space with its 2-button insanity. Limited inputs in no way equate to limited variation and action, and once you’ve up to speed with all of the game’s core elements it starts throwing it all at you. Extremely well-suited to quick and bloody play sessions, this game had a smile on my face within the first minute that never went away.


Skull Girls Second Encore - Obviously made my a team of people who are absolutely passionate about classic 2D fighters, Skull Girls Second Encore is dripping with style but also extremely sound technically. For the most part the impressive set of moves each fighter possesses will immediately click with Street Fighter vets, and the absolutely ridiculous number of single and multiplayer modes, extensive tutorials, and online support will make this a must-own for fighting fans once it arrives on Switch later this year.


Out of Space - While at a quick glance this looks a bit like Overcooked in space, Out of Space changes things up a bit and plays quite differently. Working solo or with up to 4 players, your goal is to outfit your spaceship with furniture and niceties to make it a home. The challenge comes in the form of needing to manage your exhaustion, hunger, and steadily-encroaching alien goo before it ends up taking over. Teamwork and communication are absolutely essential as you try to keep each other alive and deal with the problems that arise pretty quickly. Keep an eye out for it if you like local multiplayer and have been wanting a new sort of challenge.


Collapsus - While visually it may just look like another sort of brick-breaking variant, Collapsus allows you to shake things up, quite literally. The game-changer here is the ability to rotate the playfield, which will make blocks slide in different directions as you break them. It’s a very tactile experience that may not translate so well onto video, but if you give it a try you’ll find it’s a pretty cerebral puzzle experience and it has a ridiculous number of modes and variations to keep it interesting as well.


SteamWorld Quest - There’s no doubt the pressure is on (Hah!) for the folks at Image and Form (well, now I suppose Thunderful) as they roll out another new entry in the SteamWorld series and yet again have chosen a new genre to change things up. Though this RPG experience be quite different it’s easy to feel elements of the terrific SteamWorld Quest’s strategic turn-based play have carried over. Beautiful, charming, and smart, the gameplay I got to enjoy seemed very consistent with the series’ strong track record of care and quality.


The Takeover - While I didn’t get the chance to give it a spin, there’s no doubt that The Takeover is absolutely an eye-catching brawler that demands your attention. Channeling classics like Final Fight and many others this is a core old-school brawler but aside from its appearance it also has a pace and some other enhancements to give it more modern flair.


Helvetti - While likely still pretty far from release this roguelike side-scrolling slasher has a terrific look and visually distinctive enemies. The emphasis is on combo action, and the challenge will be in figuring out how to take down specific enemies using a combination of evasion and techniques .


Batbarian - This 2D pixel art Metroidvania will take you exploring through an underground cave system in search of loot and power-ups. You’ll need to take on a variety of enemies along the way as well as solve some tricky puzzles to progress and get new gear, and then work your way back to spaces you couldn’t get to before in search of additional secrets.


Super Slime Arena - Yet another multiplayer game with a reasonably cute graphical style, Super Slime Arena may look easy to dismiss at first, but just a few minutes of play will likely help change your mind. The trick is that every time you die you’ll come back as a different random slime, and though each of them have only a jump and an attack button to work with they’re all completely different. With attacks ranging from straight up punches to all manner of strange weapons this makes the action quite unpredictable. Likely supporting more than 4 players locally, and even more online, the bonkers nature of battles may not have the same degree of technique as something like Smash but that doesn’t mean it won’t be chaotic fun.


Renaine - Taking the classic 8-bit platforming adventure and infusing it with all sorts of colors and charm, Renaine has you taking control of Aine, the Phoenix Knight. While you may have your primary quest in mind there are an abundance of quests to engage in along the way as well to help people out and then earn emblems that will allow you to upgrade your skills. Paired with the instantly-cute Chompy, a companion who’ll eagerly attack anything put in front of him, the game has a definite sense of personality and should feel right at home on the Switch for gamers of almost any age.


Minoria - Created by the same team who made the challenging and yet very stylish Momodora, Minoria has many similarities to that title but pushes forward with a great distinctive look and more refined gameplay. You’ll need to make quick and effective use of your dodge, parry, and slashing skills to work through opponents and bosses to find success, but the reward can be pretty satisfying.


Astalon: Tears of the Earth - With a very classic 8-bit art style and elements that feel reminiscent of the Monster Boy titles, Astalon does a great job of channeling that retro experience. With 3 distinct characters that you can choose from to take on the game’s evil tower, you’re able to take on the game’s enemies in a variety of ways as you explore the tower’s many rooms and seek out its secrets with elements of modern sensibilities throughout.


Super Cane Magic Zero - Boasting quirky hand-drawn art, an odd assortment of weapons and power-ups, and a fair amount of silliness, Super Cane Magic Zero immediately looks inviting if you enjoy some weirdness in your games. While I didn't get a chance to play it I'm eager to see more of it and am looking forward to getting to know if it offers as much goofy fun as it appears it will.


A final thanks here to all of the indie devs and PR folks who made this PAX such a great experience!


PAX East 2019 Day 2 Impressions


Day 2 was chock full of surprises and excitement, as I finally got to check out games I’d had an eye on for some time as well as some that I’d never heard of that blew me away. As always a thank you to the developers and PR folks who took the time out of their hectic days to talk to me and give the lowdown on these upcoming titles.

Skellboy - With a cool voxel graphics style you’ll start out as a skeleton and then piece by piece replace your head, body, legs, and weapon as you go and slay your enemies. While some upgrades will be necessary to progress, others will boil down to a matter of taste so you can choose which suit your style. Overall this has a pretty classic feel but features a great look and some fun comedic sensibilities as well.


Darksburg - With a somewhat ambitious goal of trying to blend team and enemy dynamics from Left 4 Dead with elements of a MOBAs and Diablo, Darksburg is still relatively early but looks great and feels pretty good. With a plan to support around 7 different characters when it finally gets to full launch the 4-player action should have plenty of room for variety depending on which characters people choose. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out but the unique feel and blend of ideas very much shows potential.


Overland - A turn-based strategic, roguelike, survival game, Overland is all about making choices and living with them. Your resources are limited, there are alien creatures about putting on the pressure, and you’ll need to be smart if you want to survive. Enlisting allies may be helpful but you’ll then need to take greater care to maintain your resources, keeping it a challenging game full of second guessing. The controls were a bit tricky to get used to at first but made sense once over the hump.


Freedom Finger - Among the most bonkers games I’ve played in some time this shooter is absolutely a show-stopper. You’ll control a giant hand with a certain finger extended shooting up, punching, and even grabbing enemies to use their weaponry for yourself. The soundtrack is going for a Tony Hawk-esque vibe, featuring tracks from a load of contemporary artists, and best of all each level’s art, flow, and even rhythm are a reflection of their respective tunes. This is absolutely a game to keep an eye on.


The Messenger DLC - The Messenger is on his way back with new stages in a free DLC pack that features him in an island paradise, changing things up so even the beloved Shopkeeper has it lei on to get in the spirit. To get to the island you’ll first need to surf your way there, with a stage that reminded me a lot of the classic Battletoads hoverbike level (though not nearly as brutal), which is a great new diversion before getting down to that vintage gameplay that made The Messenger one of my favorite games last year, complete with new time-switching goodness. It makes an excellent case for returning to this top-tier title.


Creature in the Well - You know if a game features pinball mechanics I’m already on board, but this unique title really feels like it’s firing on all cylinders even in a moderate-length demo. You’ll be slashing your sword to deflect or collect and then fire energy at targets, and those shots can then ricochet which gives it the pinball feel. The unique mix of action and the Mike Mignola-esque art style absolutely make this a stand-out title coming to the Switch later this year.


Bloodroots - Wow… just wow. Oh, the creative violence this game inspires. You can pretty well grab anything at all and turn it into a lethal weapon as you slash, barrel roll, carrot bash, fish slap, and more through levels full of enemies. With the abundance of ways you can dispatch people the initial focus would be survival but levels are well worth returning on to see if you can master them, keeping your chain of carnage going to improve your score. A bloody good time and I can’t wait to play more of it.


Hamsterdam - Abundantly cute and yet kicking some serious ass, Hamsterdam is a unique mix of brawling mechanics and almost Quicktime-event sequences as you cut your way through a variety of street thugs who think they’re tough. Highly accessible to everyone, you can use touch, motion controls, or a traditional controller to fight. While it may not be a hardcore challenge this should be a great game that anyone in the family could enjoy.


What the Golf? - Oh, the puns and game reference-based jokes in this game. The mechanics are generally pretty simple as you’ll pick a direction, build energy, and then depending on the level move take a context-appropriate action. With references to games as diverse as Flappy Bird, Superhot, and a certain jumping and block-breaking hero the levels are clever, funny, and full of surprises. While it currently isn’t slotted to go to Switch it seems like it would be a natural match and a great playthrough for anyone who wants a good laugh and some fun and varied play.


Duck Game - While I’ll admit that I’ve become pretty jaded when it comes to local multiplayer games, since it has generally gotten tough to differentiate many of them, Duck Game absolutely stands out from the rest of the flock. The absolutely ridiculous number of weapons and means to cook each other’s gooses, mixed with an abundance of stages, pretty well guarantees you’ll be unable to settle in and get into a predictable rut. Things like grenades that, once the pin is pulled, represent as much of an unpredictable threat to you as everyone else make it fun, especially when in small levels where perhaps those are the only option. Variety and an almost disturbing attention to nuance and details make the game as simple as you could want but deep for people looking to master every weapon and technique in the game. Supporting online multiplayer, a level editor, and of course a dedicated quack button, this the breakout multiplayer experience you’ve been waiting for.


Boyfriend Dungeon - The indie scene has been doing a terrific job of merging genres together, including ones that are unlikely, and Boyfriend Dungeon very much occupies that space. Part dungeon-exploring action RPG and part dating sim, it may sound unusual but in practice it weirdly seems to make perfect sense. As you work through dialogue and build a stronger relationship with various people they’ll then represent more powerful weapons you’ll make use of in the dungeons themselves as you fight through enemies and seek out loot and new “weapons”. Very different and fun, it’s well worth a look.


Graveyard Keeper - With the elevator pitch of Stardew Valley but with corpses and abundantly more morbid, Graveyard Keeper has a strange style all its own. Of course this was underlined by the demo at PAX East having you play it while laying in a coffin, but given the gallows humor in the game it makes perfect sense. The game will definitely test your personal sense of ethics and sickness but that's all part of the fun.


Ministry of Broadcast - Very much looking to bring back the classic play of titles like the original Prince of Persia, Ministry of Broadcast is all about execution as you try to work your way through a series of action puzzles. While much of this will involve careful platforming and jumping to solve puzzles it also has quite a morbid streak when you sometimes needing to sacrifice some fellow prisoners in order to get through tough situations.


Get to the Orange Door - With neon-lit environments, wall running, and an abundance of crazy weapons, Get to the Orange Door is the injection of adrenaline first-person shooters have been needing on Switch. While the demo was only for a single set area the room for creatively traversing and shooting your way through the area was clear. Get ready for some fast-paced fun with this one.


Rashlander - While gamers who aren’t quite as “vintage” as I am may not remember Lunar Lander and it’s physics-based style of challenge Rashlander is looking to change that, but with a roguelike twist. You’ll be working to move through space as quickly as possible, dodging debris and asteroids, carefully conserving your fuel, and then trying to land carefully on a platform without blowing yourself up. As you progress you’ll get 3 options to help you out as you venture further and the challenge continues to ramp up. A great example of retro arcade style meeting modern sensibilities.


Tonight We Riot - It’s time to take your protest to the streets, build your numbers, and stir up some anti-authority mayhem in this multiplayer variation on a beat-em-up. Your attacks are relatively basic but once you’re armed with bricks, molotov cocktails, and much nastier weapons as you progress you’ll be able to take on increasingly tough enemies and situations. Your goal is to be in control of the chaos and keep as much of your mob alive as possible as you continue to face increasingly tough and well-equipped resistance.


Dusk - Plain and simple this is old school FPS action done right. The level design flows well, there’s a fair amount of verticality, and the weapons are precisely what you’d expect with some fun new additions as well. I particularly like the dual melee sickles that can be quite satisfying to use. There’s been a recent rush of games looking to recapture that old FPS spirit, and Dusk absolutely looks to be the one at the front of the line.


Sparklite - With a great 16-bit style and a mix of elements that are reminiscent of titles including Zelda, Secret of Mana, and others, Sparklite looks and feels great… and throws in a roguelike element to change things up. While your mission won’t change, when you die the layout or the world will be altered to keep things interesting. On the more forgiving side you’ll always retain what you’ve collected so your currency, upgrades, and crafted materials will continue to stay with you, helping you continue to get stronger to better tackle the challenges in store for you.


Monster Sanctuary - The elevator pitch for this one immediately grabs your attention: Mix a Metroidvania side-scrolling style with Pokemon-esque monster collector elements. Starting out with one of 4 spirit animals who’ll be your primary companion you’ll engage in turn-based combat with enemies, sometimes then collecting eggs as part of your reward, which you’ll then be able to hatch to add new companions to your party. Unlike Pokemon, as your creatures level up you’ll be able to manage their skill tree to help create an effective team that suits your personal style in combat as well. The core concept is a smart one, taking established and proven core ideas but then changing things up to even look to improve on them.


Cyber Shadow - There’s no doubt that this side-scrolling ninja action title has a feel that jives well with the folks at Yacht Club’s own Shovel Knight. The stages I played didn’t quite get to the level of craziness shown in their trailer, so it’s hard to say just yet how the intensity and flow will feel, but what’s there worked well. That said, since I went back to the world of The Messenger only a few hours before there’s no question it has its work cut out for it in terms of the big picture, here’s to hoping its a viable competitor in a very similar space.


Quench - An interesting sort of “god game” where you’ll be attempting to help a herd of animals survive and thrive. You’ll need to use the elemental powers under your control to create rain, summon wind, cause earthquakes, and more to clear a path of convert arid land back into being fertile to assist your herd in survival. With a style and feel very different from the norm it offers a refreshing change of pace.


Will be trying to get the last day of games up as soon as I can as well

Friday, March 29

PAX East 2019 Day 1 Impressions


What a day! Nothing like hitting the ground not just running, but seemingly sprinting for PAX East Day 1. Tallied up I saw and played 31 games today, and so many of them were promising or outright exciting! Here’s the hot take rundowns on all of them. Many thanks to the developers and PR people who were all very helpful and accomodating!

Demon’s Tilt - While it currently isn’t slated for the Switch, this was a game I’d seen video for a few weeks back and absolutely had to check out. Played out on one giant continuous playfield that you’ll scroll up and down as you go it looks amazing, sounds great, and gets the feel of pinball right while peppering in all sorts of action with bosses and various enemies moving about. The developers even confirmed it can be played in vertical mode so it would be perfect on the Switch with a Flip Grip!


Super Crush KO - The people behind the unique indie shooter Graceful Explosion Machine are back and applying many of those same sensibilities now to a side-scrolling brawler. While what I played was a focused demo and there’s still a long way to go filling the game up with more content and nuances it felt good and you could really see that GEM flair alive and well with the game encouraging you to use different techniques and combos in a variety of ways to get the highest scores.


Super Chrome - While there’s still more to fill in this retro shooter has some decent roots, trying to find a balance between classic arcade action and bullet hell to keep you challenged without necessarily turning into an exercise of memorizing patterns. With a quick boost for trying to keep out of trouble, multiple power-ups you can use to get out of a jam, and a variety of tough bosses even at this point it looks like good retro fun.


Cuphead - Plain and simple I can’t believe this game is on Switch after playing the hell out of it on PC. Challenging and visually brilliant it’s hard to believe that this is a real-time game responding to your every command and not just a vintage cartoon.


Stranger Things 3: The Game - While it was a contained demo to allow you to get into the gameplay and feel the style without spoiling anything about the upcoming season I walked away impressed. Played solo or with a friend you’ll be able to take control of characters from the show, using their special abilities to solve puzzles, craft gear from parts you’re able to scavenge, and beat up on baddies.


Vambrace: Cold Soul - A very narrative-driven roguelike, the developer behind Vambrace said he drew a lot of inspiration from FTL, and overall some of the game’s structure reminded me of Has-Been Heroes as well. You’ll put together a party to help you move through each chapter, having to find a balance between their prowess in battle but possibly more critically outside of combat. There are elements of risk and reward pretty well everywhere as you’ll have options on what paths you take, and can choose to turn back if necessary, but doing so will also slowly build a gauge guaranteeing tougher conflict will find you once it gets high enough. It looked fabulous and seemed like something for fans of a challenge to dig their teeth into.


Fromto - The quickest description would be Ultimate Chicken Horse meets kids’ drawings meets racing. Hand-drawn elements for things like ramps, boosts, and a variety of traps can be placed in a stage that you’ll then compete against your friends trying to race to the goal. Whether you decide to work together to make it a matter of who simply executes better or throw down a gauntlet of pain is up to you.


Dead End Job - Pretty appropriately described as The Binding of Isaac meets Ghostbusters this roguelike shooter is full of personality and some great pop culture references as well (I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to kill Clippy) with a great art style. Move from room, take out enemies, level up and choose from 3 random upgrades, lather, rinse, and repeat. It looks fantastic and plays nicely, can’t wait to spend more time with it.


Heave Ho - Just announced at the show, this cooperative physics-based ball of fun consistently and easily drew crowds with its goofy energy. You and up to 4 friends will take control of your silly character and can only grab onto things with each hand. Whether that’s a surface or each other you’ll then need to work together to move between platforms to get to a goal. Once you throw needing to swing each other over larger distances and it gets to be pretty tense, silly, and fun.


Katana ZERO - The blend of violence, slowdown mechanics, and intensity makes Katana ZERO easily stand out visually but the character interactions and story it tells along the way are also fascinating. Depending on how you respond to people in your dialogue choices you may find yourself taking on additional challenges to be overcome or unexpected help at a time you may really need it. Definintely one to keep an eye on.


Riftbreaker - While still early, the team behind X-Morph: Defense is taking some of those same core concepts with strategy blending with action to create something different. This time around you’ll be working with a mech suit instead of a ship so the action ends up  being reminiscent of Diablo. So as you explore planetary areas and mine their resources you’ll be able to upgrade your passive units and defenses or put the effort into yourself, making you a more efficient killing machine… or something in between. Quite a ways off but I like where the idea is headed.


Mistover - Looks great, is tough, and offers up some vibes of the likes of Darkest Dungeon but with more active strategy and roguelike elements as you try to move through the mist in search of the exit while trying to avoid traps. You’ll have to carefully cycle through your party members, using their abilities to do things like slow down time to put distance between you and monsters you’ll encounter, or perhaps just hide in a bush and hope they didn’t see you. Definitely one to look for later this year.


Roterra - While it’s not currently slated for Switch this puzzler has a visual style that really caught my eye and has some smart play as you try to navigate your character through increasingly complex environments. One set of stages had a visual style reminiscent of an M.C. Escher drawing in particular, and it looks like it would be a great addition to the Switch lineup for puzzle fans.


Moving Out - One of the easiest elevator pitches I’ve played at the show. Think Overcooked but with moving! That’s not to say the play is at all derivative, there’s some great fun to be had busting through windows and moving quickly to load up your truck with the specified items, some of which you’ll need to work together to get out of the house.


SiNKR2 - An intuitive puzzler where you’ll need to use your hook to move elements into place in the proper sequence to progress its visually quite simple but smart. I don’t believe it’s currently lined up for Switch but would be a good fit for people looking for a different kind of challenge.


Atomicrops - If the elevator pitch doesn’t sound like fun I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Think Stardew Valley meets a twin-stick shooter. Work frantically to try to plant and cultivate your crops which fighting off all manner of enemies and dreaded weeds to build your farm and your arsenal. Weird, tough, and full of chaotic fun this game may just be weird enough to work.


Castle Crashers - The multi-player classic feels absolutely at home on the Switch and played great in handheld mode. Since the Switch release will include all DLC it will be chock full of action with the trademark weirdo sense of humor the title is revered for.


Windjammers 2 - As the developer told me as we checked out this visually-overhauled sequel to the arcade classic “You don’t mess with perfection”. With new characters and some great new moves like a jumping throw the game continues to 100% retain the feel of the original with the additions simply complimenting and further enhancing the gameplay.


Streets of Rage 4 - Looking fabulous and playing very smoothly this return to the classic beat-em-up franchise felt great to play through with another character. Each having their own moves, the feel of the core play was absolutely authentic and tight. Retro arcade action fans should have a great time reliving the classics with style when this title arrives later this year.


Kunai - While the demo for Kunai wasn’t terribly long what it offered felt pretty great. Working with your sword to dispatch enemies and your 2 kunai for grappling and pulling yourself around the action felt very fluid and intuitive. Eager to see more once the game is released.


My Friend Pedro - Undoubtedly one of the titles that has had my eye since the first video for it was released, Pedro is as weird and violent as promised. That said, the almost ballet-like grace you see in the footage, while obviously possible, is a lot harder to pull off when you’re the one at the controls. Graceful death and destruction will await, but there’s definitely a learning curve.


Gato Roboto - Black and white Metroid meets Kiki the cat pretty much says it all. Smart level designs and certainly some humor from the overall situation should make this title a lot of fun to play when it’s released later this year.


Dead Cells DLC - The new areas, enemies, and boss with the Dead Cells DLC just continue to make what was already an outstanding game even better and more challenging. I only got a pretty quick run so I couldn’t explore all of the new goodness but more Dead Cells and any excuse to return to its satisfying play are always welcome. The DLC is mostly ready to go for Switch, it should just be a matter of working through the process, so hopefully fans won’t have too much longer to wait for it.


Alt-Frequencies - From the makers of both of the unique Lost Phone titles comes a new angle that uses the radio to throw the challenge at you. You’ll need to scan around the dial to understand the situation and then record and play back snippets from one station to play in another to move the narrative along. Creative and very different, looking forward to catching more of this once it gets on Switch.


Little Friends Dogs and Cats - OK, Nintendogs fans… though Nintendo has left you feeling neglected like a sad puppy in the corner the folks behind this abundantly cute title are here to help. You’ll be able to care for, dress up, and play with your puppies and kittens in most of the ways you’ll remember from the original, with some differences in interpretation changing things up in spots. Utterly adorable it should be a hit for its target audience when it arrives on Switch.


Radical Rabbit Stew - Though this was more of a proof of concept with multiple levels and a boss fight that shows promise, this puzzler is still likely quite a ways off from release. While the rabbits you’re knocking into pots for stew with your weaponized wooden spoon may look cute when the first one bites and kills you you’ll learn to be careful around them. This cute and creative puzzler should be coming likely sometime in 2020.


Double Kick Heroes - Just like when I played it last year, the game is rocking, just now on Switch hardware. Motion controls still haven’t been implemented, so I couldn’t check that out. Since the rhythms are pretty tough people will have an option to use the analog stick for notes, though I like to be precise and that was a bit too inaccurate for my tastes. Setting it up to use the buttons is a big improvement and the plan is to have some versatility with multiple control profiles supported so you’re able to rock out as you please.


Swimsanity - Though the only demo I got to play was for local 4-player and that has some power-up based fun what I’m looking forward to are the other multiple modes including some that are cooperative to see this game stretch its legs. It has a great and polished look, and offers up quite a number of ways to enjoy it, but will have to wait and see what all it has in store when it hits later this year.


Super Crate Box - The original Vlambeer (the people behind the hot roguelike shooter Nuclear Throne) title, Super Crate Box is both very simple and incredibly tough. This shooting platformer challenges you to collect as many crates as you can while holding off enemies and trying not to die. What’s tricky is that each time you get a crate you’ll be assigned a new random weapon, with all of them having different pros and cons and some of them like the disc gun potentially being lethal to you as well. An addictive quick pick up and play game for people who want a challenge and some silly fun.


Ultra Bugs - Another simple and yet challenging game from Vlambeer, this will be the first entry in their Vlambeer Arcade series that was announced last week at GDC. With relatively simple controls you’ll try to survive as long as you can while destroying bugs that continue to multiply. Different ships have different strengths and weaknesses and to get further you’ll need to destroy explosive bugs near you to wipe out increasingly intense enemy fire. Playthoughs are quick and fun, it’ll be fascinating to see where they go with these titles as they move forward.

Will be working to get up my thoughts on Day 2 soon as well!

Wednesday, March 27

Review: Cel Damage HD [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While it’s great the the Switch has helped to rejuvenate the local multiplayer scene it has also lead to there being quite a lot of titles that do little to differentiate themselves in the space. Whether somewhat sloppy shooters or barely bearable beat-em-ups and brawlers there’s quite a large pack of games that feature multiplayer play but fail to do it terribly well or with much originality. While some may bemoan that many of these titles lack online multiplayer support, having played numerous indie titles that do support it and audibly hearing the crickets chirping within maybe 2 weeks of launch that also isn’t often a realistic solution to the problem. More often than not the game just needs to be willing to break out of the mold and do something differently to make it stand out. While it may not have tremendous depth and the controls are certainly on the loose side overall, Cel Damage HD is just the kind of bonkers destruction derby-esque action that I needed to snap out of my local multiplayer rut of late.


With a decent selection of silly characters, a bevy of over-the-top cartoon-style weapons, and 3 modes that should help satisfy a variety of tastes, the game gets off to a pretty strong start. Whether collecting and then trying to return flags to a designated spot, speeding through gated checkpoints, or plain duking it out in a chaotic vehicular free-for-all the action comes at you pretty fast and you’ll need to be ready to get wrecked by your fellow competitors as well as by hazards speckled all about. With a total of 13 tracks that have a handful of themes and styles, for the most part there’s also a fair amount of variety rather than feeling like they came from the same cookie cutter, which can sometimes be a problem.


Where the animated rubber hits the road is in the action though, and overall I’d consider myself a fan. While obviously not as violent, at times the vehicle-to-vehicle mayhem reminded me of the classic Carmageddon, where once you get the right power-up you can do some real damage… just be ready for your opponents to do the same. Standard pick-ups, unmarked specials, and health are scattered about and many tracks have shortcuts as well so there are plenty of things to distract you and tempt you away from your racing lines in the interests of surviving the combat aspect but it’s all good for the most part and comebacks are always a possibility when you’ve got a gatling gun or a zapping laser equipped, among many other things.


I’d say the primary complaint would be that when you need subtlety in the controls the game will let you down a bit. Trying to stay on a narrow strip of track with a slight turn can be far trickier than it probably should be, but since evasive moves are more the focus when you’re under fire perhaps this can be forgiven. While there are multiple characters and vehicles the differences between them are pretty well cosmetic only but if the goal is to find a character that suits your style visually rather than in terms of performance I can respect that. The issue it shares with all multiplayer games in this space is certainly that without a bunch of friends coming over with some regularity there are limits to the fun. With an investment of a couple of hours you should be able to unlock everything there is in terms of weapons, characters, and tracks and while the AI isn’t outright terrible it won’t typically give you much of a fight either once you’ve gotten the hang of everything. As I said, some will choose to point to a lack of online support but I’ve become a pragmatist in this area and would consider that a wash as those games that do support it functionally tend to have mostly empty lobbies all too quickly anyway.


So, the question is will you enjoy Cel Damage HD? If your focus is more on frantic action and less on racing, blowing up your friend with an explosive sheep only to have them come back and slice you up with a buzzsaw, the answer is likely yes. If you’re only ever going to play the game solo the value proposition drops substantially, though at least play against bots is supported and you can kick them around for a few hours while you unlock everything. However, in an eShop full of local multiplayer titles that tend to be hard to separate from one another within a week or two of playing them, Cel Damage HD absolutely stands out both visually and in terms of gameplay from the pack and that makes it noteworthy.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Full of vehicular mayhem when played with some friends
  • A wide variety of weapons from normal to outright insane
  • 3 modes of play and a fair amount of tracks offer up some variety of choice

Cons:
  • No online play, though experience says that even when online is offered for games like this lobbies tend to be ghost towns all too soon anyway
  • The controls work well for crazy vehicle to vehicle combat, not as much for precision driving when it’s necessary
  • Once you’ve unlocked everything within a couple of hours there’s not too much worth returning to as a solo-only experience

Tuesday, March 26

Review: Lyrica [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the more interesting things that games can do is expose you to elements of other cultures through the enjoyment of play. While most of the time this exposure comes through a game’s story, in the case of Lyrica the window into Chinese culture is mostly through music. Blending a mix of musical styles from classical to rock to jazz with Chinese poetry and elements of folklore the more typical rhythm and music game is given a twist.


With the gameplay completely touchscreen-based the focus is on tapping and dragging your fingers to match specific beats and patterns, sometimes one at a time and sometimes paired. Especially as you take on more challenging songs and levels you can find yourself contorting in various ways to keep on top of things as you need to move across the screen from one side to the other and then begin another pattern in the opposite direction but this adds to the challenge and fun. Aesthetically what’s going on beneath your fingers tends to be pretty simple but occasional shapes, character glyphs, and flourishes can hold some surprises as well.


There are a few modes to choose from, starting with a Story mode that will allow you to follow some narrative while you unlock pieces of artwork, new songs, and eventually another character whose story you can then play through as well. Once you’ve unlocked songs you’ll then be able to return to them at your leisure to try to get a better score or just enjoy the ones you prefer. A Challenge mode is also available and will give you a variety of objectives to complete, ranging from getting a high score to getting a certain percentage of perfect notes.


With over 50 distinct songs offered up there’s plenty of content here to enjoy, just keep in mind that while some of the music is wonderful unless you know Chinese you won’t understand the lyrics. Even so, pretty quickly I heard a number of tracks that I found quite enjoyable and that were complimented very well by the on-screen play. If you dig music games and don’t mind the lack of popular music you already know (and with lyrics you may not be able to understand) Lyrica is quite an enjoyable experience blending culture and well-executed gameplay to create a unique overall experience on the Switch.

Score: 7.5

Pros:

  • A solid variety of musical styles
  • The touch controls are well-implemented and the action often fits the music very effectively
  • Offers a window into Chinese culture


Cons:

  • If you’re looking to play with music you know or may at least be familiar this will likely disappoint
  • While the play is solid it’s not clearly superior to that offered by other titles on the eShop

Review: Windscape [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When you’re an indie developer, making games inspired by iconic AAA titles is always a risky proposition. Especially on a budget, and with a miniscule fraction of the resources of companies like Nintendo, you can’t possibly compete with the big guns. What you can do, with some luck, charm, and an abundance of heart, is create a similar experience on some level but then ensure it is infused with a spirit of its own. The first-person adventure Windscape has obviously been influenced by games like The Legend of Zelda and even Skyrim (insert arrow in the knee joke here), but having been created by a solo developer it’s obviously a much less elaborate affair. That said, if you’ve been looking for a more casual adventure to simply relax with and enjoy the ride with it’s well worth knowing more about.


Taking control of a young girl named Ida, you’ll embark on a journey that will take you into crypts and dungeons, riding in an airship to new lands, and engaging in pretty basic combat along the way. Similar in multiple ways to the combat-free adventure Yonder that came out last year, the emphasis in the game is more on exploration and discovery than fighting. The story isn’t terribly complex, and your journey is very linear, but I’ll freely admit that its simple charms sucked me in.


While you’ll encounter some puzzles along the way, they often aren’t terribly complex, and can be worked through pretty quickly as a whole. Gathering materials is definitely important, since pretty well all of your weapons and armor are ones you’ll craft, and for the most part the resources are pretty abundant once you get to the right area. For the most part combat is a circle-strafing affair, though you’ll need to experiment to get to know which weapons work best on which enemies. While they have indicators that will clue you in on which weapons to use against them I generally learned that if something is taking too long to die to change things up. Whether that means a sword, arrows, or some nasty magic you should get comfortable using each since eventually that versatility will come in handy when you actually hit a more challenging enemy like a boss.


Even though I found the game charming I’ll readily admit it has its weaknesses. In particular, I found the desert stage dragged on a bit too long for its own good, with you needing to frequently cover a lot of ground that was mostly empty. While there aren’t too many platforming sections there are a few, and one in the crypt where you need to stay with an orb lighting your way was particularly annoying. Jumping around and landing reliably isn’t too challenging for the most part once you get the hang of it, but there’s also no denying it’s a bit awkward judging your landing at times. Finally, and this is another thing it has in common with Yonder, the economy is quickly shown to be broken as you’ll be walking around maxed out at 99 coins with absolutely nothing to spend it on pretty early on in the adventure. It doesn’t outright harm the game in any way, but it’s just one of those things that sticks out as an unfortunate flaw in what’s overall a solid experience.


In the end I feel a bit conflicted on how to score Windscape. I like its concept, most of its simple but workable design, and how much of it plays as a whole. At the same time there are sections where it drags a bit and details that don’t quite work as well as you’d hope, and these collectively add up. I’d say the more interested you are in a casual adventure that isn’t too demanding, and that you can just enjoy for the sake of the experience, the better a fit it will be for you. If you’re in search of stellar presentation and an abundance of thrills though you’ll end up being sorely disappointed. Windscape is hardly perfect, but it does enough right to be fun over a pretty impressive overall length if you’re in the right mindset for it.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • A charming and more casual adventure in a Zelda-esque style
  • While there are some tougher battles in general combat is basic enough to make the game very accessible to younger or less experienced gamers
  • Overall the world is quite a bit bigger than I would have assumed

Cons:
  • The in-game economy is set up pretty poorly and you’ll quickly have no real used for money at all
  • In some larger sections (the desert) and smaller sections (the crypt where you follow the lit orb) the pacing issues and quirks of the game become more apparent
  • Combat is serviceable but lacking in technique, especially when some enemies will simply get stuck clipped into a door or structure

Review: The World Next Door [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Indie games tend to be fun to review because you never really know what to expect, their tendency to blend genres and styles can be risky but can often result in unexpected fun as well. A great title that fits into that mold is The World Next Door, which is very story and character-driven, at times having a sort of RPG feel, but whose combat is more of a puzzle game. Putting together terrific art, some memorable characters, and consistently challenging puzzle battles it’s not quite like anything I’ve played on Switch and that in itself is an accomplishment.


You’ll play the game as Jun, the winner of a yearly lottery that gets to visit the magical parallel world of Emrys for one day. Eager to finally meet one of her best friends on the other side, Liza, she dons a mask to help her blend in a little better and sets off for adventure. Once there she gets to meet an eclectic bunch of characters who are Liza’s friends (and one frenemy) and hang out with them. That night, when they decide to visit a temple to hang out, things go wrong and Jun ends up missing the window for getting back to Earth. Trapped, and understanding that humans can’t survive for long in this world, Jun will have to fight to earn herself a way back home.


While the story and character interactions have their part of play, probably the most interesting aspect of the game is its puzzle-based combat. Arenas will have different layouts but there will always be a variety of glyphs on the floor, representing the means for a variety of spells you’re able to cast against your enemies or to heal yourself. The system isn’t too hard to pick up, finding or making matches of 3 or more of the same glyph touching one another to cast each spell. You’re also able to move one glyph at a time to change their positions and create more powerful attacks. As the game progresses you’ll want to group 4 or more to take advantage of different special attacks offered by each of your allies when combining special glyphs in a specific configuration. Combat can get pretty hectic, especially when facing multiple enemies at once and when you’ll run into foes that can trigger glyphs on the floor as well, often complicating your ability to plan ahead.


With all of the investment in the characters, and providing you with multiple options for how you respond to certain situations and interactions, perhaps the biggest disappointment I had is that the story didn’t end with more of a flourish. There’s one major decision I made along the way that would compel me to return for another playthrough (taking a solid handful of hours), to see if things would play out differently, but though as the plot points play out decisions feel like they’d carry consequence it’s not clear to me whether that’s true. There are a number of special puzzles and smaller side tasks you can complete, helping various peripheral people at the school, but it’s also unclear whether they ended up having any net effect on the story or game. While these notes don’t necessarily detract from the game they also feel like missed opportunities, or perhaps it would just help if more clarity was provided about the consequences of your actions.


As the final credits rolled The World Next Door felt like a satisfying experience on the whole but I was also left with questions. I suppose that could be the goal, to encourage people to play through again making different decisions and see what would happen, but given minimal feedback from the game on the effect of what you chose to do or say it’s hard to be confident enough would change to make it worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure the game took me on, and the characters I got to interact with along the way, I just wish the story’s conclusion was more clearly a culmination of my choices, good and bad, somehow.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Terrific art and a variety of colorful characters
  • A puzzle game acting as the combat mechanic in the game is interesting and can be challenging fun
  • Some opportunities with responses to let your personality through, not always just offering stock predictable responses
Cons:
  • After so much build up the ending feels a bit anticlimactic, and without clarity on how choices you made may have affected the outcome
  • It’s unclear what effect items you gain through completing special side quests with people at the school or special puzzles in some of the dungeons have

Monday, March 25

Review: Neon Caves [Nintendo Switch eShop]


A while back I reviewed an odd convert from the mobile space called Toast Time: Smash Up which had some issues with it having been designed for a vertical screen, but it had play mechanics that were at least a bit different. Now, having taken some of the core pieces from that title and given them new direction (and in widescreen), we have Neon Caves. This new entry is better focused overall as a strictly arcade-style title and is certainly challenging, but it may have bitten off a little more complexity than what typical gamers are willing to chew.


Gameplay is focused on shooting enemies flying and floating around within a cave, but you’ll also need to concern yourself with the potential for falling rocks that will damage you as well. Periodically power-ups will appear, offering you invincibility, rapid fire, or bombs to help you out briefly. Getting ready to move on to a new level will trigger a quake, and when that happens you’ll see 4 yellow indicators on the screen which you’ll only have a relatively brief opportunity to destroy before it’s an automatic game over.


The central gimmick, carried over from Toast Time, is that it’s not simply a twin-stick shooter, where you’ll use the left stick to move and the right stick to aim. Instead, your movement is a function of recoil from shooting your weapon. What you end up needing to do is to alternate between shooting to move, and then planting yourself in place to take aim and shoot things up. The result is certainly different, and opens up a new sort of challenge, but it can also be frustrating and a bit disorienting.


Perhaps if moving or being stationary were 100% at your discretion it wouldn’t be as bad, but since you can’t stay in one place for very long before you’ll lose your hold you’re constantly shifting your focus. You basically have a brief window to get set, scope out enemies, shoot at them, and then return focus to your ship to plot out where you’re going next. The mobility issue becomes an even greater problem once you get to level 6 and the space you’re occupying grows larger than your screen. At that point when you’re trying to rush to shoot or run into the 4 targets that can be pretty spread out the task can begin to feel a bit cruel. Add to that stability problems that crashed my game a solid third of the time I got to that point and it’s hard not to walk away aggravated.


In the end I’m not positive why the rules for the game are set this way, or at least there aren’t variant modes that simply change things up a bit. As configured, even where classic arcade games are inherently stacked against you Neon Caves ends up being too much too soon. For there not being much to it in terms of fundamentals, it sort of stumbles on itself when it comes to trying to be fun and even as someone who lives on roguelikes the very random nature of luck often seems more in control of your fate than skill. If you’re up for something different it may be worth a look, but expect some aggravation to go with it.

Score: 5.5

Pros:
  • Definitely forges its own path and is unique
  • If you can get used to the recoil movement method it poses new challenges

Cons:
  • There seem to be instability issues with the launch build (While reviewing it crashed about 6 times)
  • Once you get to Stage 6 and the space gets bigger than what you can see, random luck positioning the targets you need to quickly destroy takes over
  • The action either happens in small bursts as you try to stick and move, or you risk not seeing where you’ll be going when you lose your grip holding you in place

Sunday, March 24

Review: Brawlout [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When Brawlout was initially released it came at a very opportune time for both the developers and Smash-starved Switch fans, offering up a taste of the franchise’s signature chaotic gameplay while people eagerly awaited Nintendo’s new offering. At the time some common complaints revolved around online performance inconsistencies and a lack of fulfilling single-player content. Fast forward to now and the landscape has changed in many ways, with Smash obviously being available and with the release of a 2.0 patch to Brawlout that not only added a new indie darling character (the hero from Dead Cells), but also a new Trials mode as well. Given the new patch and the availability of Smash on Switch, how does Brawlout now stand up?


Starting with the core gameplay it’s clearly inspired by Smash from a concept and controls standpoint but there’s no doubt it targeted a more competitive play experience than a casual one. The first thing any Smash fan will notice about Brawlout is the lack of game-changing items during matches, which will either heighten or dampen spirits depending on where you are on the spectrum of opinion on those. If there’s a criticism to be had with excluding items it’s that without them the multi-tiered and more complex level layouts don’t make as much sense without them. The various looks in Smash stages are geared towards people moving around and often chasing pickups, and typically if people choose to treat it as a straight fighter the dispense with all of that in favor of a standard battleground. I think the flow of play in Brawlout, with the unusual layouts but missing the enticing items, ends up occupying an unusual space and may potentially encourage cheap strategies.


As a single-player experience I think the addition of the Trials mode is a good one, as playing through the old-school MK-style Arcade mode towers tended to get pretty stale. Trials instead throws you through a gauntlet of varying challenges, whether fighting in teams, facing off against multiple opponents, trying to complete skill challenges, or facing off against bosses who’ll knock you out hard if you’re not on top of your dodge game. To add some flavor and incentive to the skill challenges if you complete them you’ll have a choice of 3 one-use perks to help you out in a specific match. In particular against the bosses you’ll need the help but if you fall before you use them they’ll be lost. If there’s a complaint with Trials mode it’s that I think it’s missing an opportunity by being seemingly being locked in for its progression. As a roguelike fan I’d love to see it be a bit different every time, but I think it would be smart to go with a daily, or at least a weekly or monthly, switch-up of how it plays out. That could at least give people an incentive to return, resetting leaderboards and perhaps dangling something new and fun to entice people further.


In terms of multiplayer and online play it’s hard to speak to whether stability has improved, since I can’t contrast it directly with how it was at launch, but in a post-Smash world I think it has a different problem. Hitting up the online lobbies in the evening and at some other times of day availability was extremely limited, especially for the newly-supported unranked play, which made the dodgy experience when I played hard to quantify since I wasn’t even always to find a match-up within my own region. Consider, Smash itself has been criticized for its online play inconsistencies with lag, but a lack of a large enough pool of people to play with can be even more crippling. Local multiplayer is thus a much better option if you have people around, and for the most part the performance stays on top of the action, though when it’s crowded there would on occasion be some struggles to keep up, though they weren’t terrible.


So, all things considered, where does this admitted Smash clone stand up now that the series that inspired it is readily available as well? As is the case with kart racing titles trying to compete on the same system as Mario Kart it’s a tough business to compete with a game that’s clearly at the top of the food chain… though also at a much more premium price. If your heart is set on online multiplayer match-ups, I’d say that given availability even on the heels of a new patch the long-term prospects aren’t good, even if you can consistently get stable performance. Perhaps seeing this and simply wanting to address single-player concerns the patch adding Trials mode was a smart move and definitely helps shore up value, giving you more variety as you try to earn new fighters, skins, and other cosmetic goodies. Brawlout is by no means a bad game, but there’s no denying that it sits squarely in the shadow of its inspiration that’s now also its competitor.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • For people seeking the technical side of Smash without any items Brawlout may have core appeal
  • The new Trials mode helps punch up and add variety to the single-player experience
  • Some refinements to online support are appreciated and ideally would help people find what they’re looking for

Cons:
  • Availability of online matches is spotty at best, and has questionable long-term viability
  • The multi-leveled stages can play oddly (and possibly cheaply) without items being involved
  • If the Trials are to remain static as-is there’s a missed opportunity for pulling people back to the game periodically

Review: Assault on Metaltron [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to strategy sub-niches tower defense is pretty well-represented on the Switch in terms of quality even if not in numbers. You have a title like X-Morph: Defense that manages to blend aspects of a shooter into the mix, both Swords & Soldiers titles that are infused with loads of personality, and even Defense Grid 2 that is more traditional but incorporates an ability to divert your enemies into into your strategic opportunities. Standing next to these titles we now have Assault on Metaltron whose main innovation is… dancing to upgrade units?


Most of the formula behind the game is straightforward to people familiar with the genre. Enemies will originate from one or more spawn points, moving towards the thing you’re defending, in this case a collection of crystals. Your goal is to set up units along the pre-defined path they’ll follow (though as you move on there will be multiple routes to account for) to try to destroy them all before those crystals are all captured. The assortment of defensive units you’ll have to choose from are pretty well standard, including guns, flamethrowers, mortars, something to slow things down, and other weapons that are meant to help eliminate the different enemies you’ll need to deal with, whether fast, armored, flying, etc.


The two areas where the game diverts from what’s typical are in some supplemental support units and an added means to help give you something to do as things play out. There are some special units that aren’t all your typical fare, some providing another way to generate money (aside from knocking units or starting the next wave ahead of the curve) and others offering further support functions. The other change from the norm is the ability for the robot you control to dance next to a unit in order to upgrade it for “free”. By changing which dance it does you’re able to increase damage, range, or frequency without needing to pay. This does manage to at least create a new strategic choice where normally you’d sit and watch things play out once you’ve set up and are being hit by an enemy wave.


In terms of issues there are definitely some oddities. First is that the game’s tutorial is minimal and though you can get info on what each of your units do through an option on the main menu some of them take experimentation to understand well. This familiarization is usually done in the first few levels, providing an insight into their use. No direction for some units like the expensive Ultima Tower feels sloppy. Second, the places you are able to set up units is often just weird. There will be smart spots near turns but sometimes the distance from the track is far to the point that most units you put there have little hope of having an effect. This makes placing supporting units like those that slow difficult at best and often is frustratingly limiting for getting set up the way you’d prefer. Last, between the weird placements and special units the game can feel more like a puzzle at times, where success is more a matter of divining what the developers may have had in mind on a specific level than setting up a more sensible solution. I suppose that may be intended to force adaptation, but you constantly feel like you’re playing with one hand tied behind your back.


Overall, Assault on Metaltron is a pretty frustrating and unusual tower defense game. It somehow manages to be both pretty generic and aggravatingly weird at the same time. It’s almost like it zigs when it should have zagged and vice versa. With both traditional and more innovative play in this subgenre represented well in other titles on the eShop it manages to stand apart from the crowd, but generally not in the direction it intended.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • If you like being forced to work with compromised strategic options it may be appealing as a challenge
  • You can dance to improve your units!

Cons:
  • Run-of-the mill unit selections in terms of weaponry
  • Where you can place units is often just bizarre and makes setting up layered choke points difficult if not impossible in many cases
  • A cursory tutorial and some short descriptions in a main menu Encyclopedia fail to convey intended use of some of the units and their shortcomings, requiring trial and error experimentation in-game

Saturday, March 23

Review: Pinball FX3 - Williams Pinball Pack 3 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Great news silverball fans, the folks behind Pinball FX3 have lovingly converted another trio of classic Williams tables for you to enjoy. This time we have the high-scoring of Theater of Magic, the rigorous training and brawling of Championship Pub, and the very different Safe Cracker to check out. How does this collection stand up to the outstanding entries before it?


Starting from the top we have Theater of Magic, a table that shouldn’t need any introduction. This mode-heavy table is well-regarded for its fun, generally high-scoring, and accessible play for good reason. Getting your locks and triggering multiball continues to be fun in digital form and each of the modes demanding you nail specific shots helps to provide an element of challenge as well. While I initially liked the added enhancements it wasn’t until I turned them off for a round that I came to really appreciate how well everything flows and works when they’re on, sort of bringing the action together a little more fully. It’s absolutely a terrific conversion of a classic table that should be fun for everyone.


Moving over to a sweaty gym we have the boxing and brawling pin, Championship Pub. Here the central focus is alternatively a heavy bag and a boxer representing the opponents you will face as you try to climb the rankings. While the look of the enhanced boxer initially doesn’t seem to be so different than the well-made prop on the original table the added movements and personality that have been imbued in him really help the table come to life. A focused view on the jump rope and speed bag mini-games also greatly improve the experience while in enhanced mode, all making it easy to see as a preferred way to play. While not as flashy as Theater of Magic it is certainly fun.


The last piece of the puzzle for this edition is Safe Cracker, the table I’m least familiar with but thanks to the enhancements quickly won me over. The playfield is a bit smaller and less elaborate but it’s the board game-esque break in element that sets the game apart. As you try to carefully make your way into the bank you’ll try not to trip the alarms while staying ahead of the guard in pursuit. Even better, once you collect some tokens you’ll then be able to play the game in the multi-ball-only Assault on the Vault mode where you’ll work against the clock to score as many points as you can. Among the more unique offshoot style pinballs I’ve played, it’s really quite a lot of fun.


While none of the tables may quite be at the same hype level as the likes of the marquee tables from the previous packs I’d argue that the overall value proposition with its 3 strong offerings more than makes up for that. While I wouldn’t say any of the previous packs have had outright “bad” tables I don’t think to this point any pack has felt as balanced in overall quality, diversity of play, and fun as this one. Come for Theater of Magic, but stay for the other 2 lesser-known but still great tables.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • All 3 of the packs entries have distinct style and play
  • Across the board the enhancements for the tables provide more than just visual flourish, they improve the play experience
  • I love the unique Assault on the Vault mode in Safe Cracker

Cons:
  • While all of the tables are great Theater of Magic doesn’t have quite the star power of Attack on Mars or Medieval Madness
  • An occasional performance hitch when things get intense