Friday, May 31

Review: Super Cane Magic Zero [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to indie games one of the things I tend to enjoy most are titles that play by their own rules and break into the weird zone. Marrying mechanics and play that are traditional with some dashes of originality and funkiness can be risky but when it clicks it can make for invigorating play. There’s no doubt from the moment you load up Super Cane Magic Zero that diving deep into the pool of the unusual is in order from its super-colorful and somewhat off-kilter hand-drawn art style, to its very current and quirky sense of humor, and then just its generally bizarre nature. The question then becomes whether or not all of that craziness is paired with solid and engaging gameplay. While it may not be perfect, it’s still hard not to be charmed by the insanity of it all.


Starting with character selection you (and up to 3 friends) will get to make what’s essentially your class choice, dictating some attributes and specifically your starter special. While this has influence on some things I’d say everyone plays roughly the same so if you want to pick someone based on their looks it shouldn’t be a massive deal. That’s mainly because the majority of combat in the game really comes down to using your weapon, whether melee or ranged, picking things up, and throwing them. Whether you’re picking up food or items to eat, an explosive donut to lob as a firebomb, or even picking up a stunned enemy to throw at another to finish them both off at once combat moves pretty quickly and remains fairly simple, though it can get hectic at times.


Getting into the adventure itself the story is unusual, though the structure of things is pretty traditional. Follow instructions to go in a direction, find a location, and complete your objective. In order to make it fun silly characters, environments, objects, gear, and weapons are all around you. A huge part of the experience is simply picking up and trying to eat everything you find. Some items will heal you, some will give you buffs, some will mildly harm you, and others will plain knock you on your ass. If it is helpful you’ll learn to eat it, if it’s harmful you’ll learn to throw it. It’s an odd trial and error system but it at least makes for variety and a degree of unpredictable fun at times.


As a downside all of the silliness and general lack of strict structure and rules can sometimes make it hard to tell where you’re really trying to go. Even with a mini map, without much guidance beyond some vague directions you can sometimes get a bit lost and stuck in a loop of sorts. Movement and aiming your attacks also take some getting used to and aren’t ideal. It feels like you generally move a bit too slow but there’s an odd acceleration where it takes a few steps for you to warm up to a quicker pace. Failing to have it be consistent is odd and I’m not sure what benefit there is to the change. Aiming with the right stick is also wonky and it can be hard to connect with what you’re swinging or shooting at every now and again. There’s a rough pointer in the colored circle below your character but the issue is again one of fluidity. You simply aren’t immediately aimed where you’re pointing and it can take some getting used to. In terms of pick-up-and-play ease and accessibility, especially if you’re looking to play with friends, this is a bit of a stumbling block.


Though it’s not an experience everyone will enjoy Super Cane Magic Zero does more right than wrong and is simply a game that does its own thing without apologies, something I can respect. Mechanically it may be a bit sloppy and there can be a lack of coherence at times, but there’s just an energetic and weird enthusiasm to everything that makes it easier to overlook faults. If you’re looking to laugh and enjoy yourself exploring a weird and colorful world and experimenting with everything there is to do it’s definitely worth checking out.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • The game is completely determined to do its own thing in its own way, something I can respect
  • While the combat is simple and easy to pick up you do have some options that allow for some personal flair
  • A sense of humor permeates everything from the dialogue to items and their descriptions to even the loading screen hints

Cons:
  • All of the free-wheeling silliness can make it tough to understand what you’re trying to do or where you’re trying to go next
  • Mechanically the movement has a weird sort of acceleration to it and aiming is more cumbersome and slow than it should be
  • With its sense of humor and odd style I’d anticipate this would generally be a “love it or hate it” type of game for most people

Thursday, May 30

Review: Gato Roboto [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While there’s certainly an abundance of Metroidvania titles on the Switch, to date Nintendo’s premiere ass-kicking heroine Samus Aran has yet to appear on the system. Of course, this opens the door to indies with some ambition and daring to try to fill the gap, though then understanding they’ll likely be measured against Samus and company, which is likely a bit intimidating. Of course, one way to aim for that experience while sidestepping some of the expectations is to pay homage to the Metroid series, but do just enough differently that you’re able to avoid some comparisons. With its distinctive color-constrained hand-drawn art style and somewhat silly premise (you’ll control Kiki the kitty, making use of robot suits and other craft along your journey), Gato Roboto does just that and Metroid fans will undoubtedly want to give it a look.


Having crashed on an alien planet, and with your master unfortunately stuck, you’ll need to control Kiki and work to save the day. Thankfully it doesn’t take long before you’ve found a powered suit you’re able to control that will allow you to get things done… pretty adorably. The suit isn’t all you’ll be able to take control of, which was a nice surprise, but probably the trickiest thing about the game is that at times you’ll see passageways where you’ll need to squeeze through with nothing but your agility and skill to save you. When you’re out of the suit you won’t be able to attack and are vulnerable to one-hit kills, but you are at least able to scale walls. These segments do a great job of changing up the gameplay, and can present a challenge in some cases, so they’re among my favorite in the game.


Consistent with the Metroid series you’ll be able to find additional health, missiles, and some other familiar skills as you progress. There are a few spots along the way to explore to get some added help if you keep an eye out for them, and some extra health is always welcome when up against some of the game’s boss fights which may take a few attempts to get through. Some hidden areas will instead hold cartridges that will allow you to alter the game’s color scheme, some of which even have added nostalgic value so they’re worth seeking out. In general the degree of challenge in the game feels just about right, pushing you to be smart and develop some skills with your abilities but generally keeping save points close enough together to prevent the penalty for failure too high.


Probably the game’s biggest flaw is just that it’s over in roughly a handful of hours, though its budget-friendly price is very appropriate for the quality and duration of the experience. Even if you’re not pulled in by the cute premise, there’s no question this is a title that is laser-focused on packing your time with the game with variety, some challenge, and fun. Its limited runtime makes it tough to say whether it really approaches the quality of Nintendo’s own franchise, but it is by no means in its shadow, just bear in mind it borrows very liberally from the series and aside from the art style and silliness of its main character it does little to change the formula. But if you’ve been waiting to enjoy the adventures of Samus on the Switch this may be the closest you’ll get to that feeling on the console and it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Sooooo cute and silly
  • Reasonably varied and challenging
  • I love the segments where you’re suitless and exposed for a challenge
  • A very fair budget price

Cons:
  • Does little to break from the mold of the games that inspired it
  • Lasts only a handful of hours

Wednesday, May 29

Review: Unruly Heroes [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While the Switch has done plenty to help popularize the return of local co-op gaming, and there are many strong examples to be found in the indie space, the tendency has been towards puzzlers specifically for the most part. While this is a pretty smart choice by developers since it allows for a pretty big disparity between the two participants, a less experienced gamer can likely get by pretty well with some help, it has lead to the offerings being a little too much alike at times. While not forgoing puzzles entirely by any means Unruly Heroes has staked out a territory with much more of a platforming focus, perhaps most targeting the likes of some more recent Rayman titles, and while the result isn’t perfect it’s at least a refreshing more action-oriented choice in the Switch eShop without a ton of accomplished competition.


The first thing that jumps out about the game is simply how gorgeous is looks, with very detailed characters and environments which help the game pop. You’ll be working with a team of 4 said heroes, each with their own quirks, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses and working through a mix of careful platforming, some fun and sometimes intense combat, and a fair number of action puzzles to boot. For the most part it’s all pretty light and fun, throwing you some challenges here and there with some boss fights, and giving you just enough hidden items to encourage you to check out weird things you see in the scenery without it becoming a burden.


Mechanically you’ll have the choice of taking on the game by yourself, able to cycle through your heroes pretty quickly when necessary, or with up to 3 of your friends if you’d like so there’s some versatility. That said the sweet spot is probably 2 people, just enough to make quicker work of some puzzles and combat but not so many people that things get a bit chaotic and the action muddled as everyone is trying to do their own thing. The controls are nice and consistent in their execution between heroes though obviously their attacks and movements have some unique nuances to get used to so switching never feels disorienting, you’ll just tend to gravitate towards specific characters when the choice doesn’t make much difference. There are times where you may be in a pinch since you’ve lost someone that you then realize you need to get by an obstacle their attack will remove but in general you won’t need to fret since a bubble will soon show up with your fallen comrade in it. This may not always show up in a convenient spot but to the developer’s credit at least you’re not having to restart from a checkpoint whenever you lose someone.


The only criticisms I have for the game are actually pretty general and will come down to taste. The first is that at times the controls just felt a bit too sluggish for their own good and let me down. I wouldn’t say it was a consistent problem but in certain situations it just didn’t feel like everything was working as well as it could. The other is that though the game is certainly playable solo there’s an element to the game that feels like it has a multiplayer bias at times. I suppose in either direction this would have been a problem potentially but since not every aspect of the game feels like it has this issue there are just some sections that seem to be more versatile either way than others. Of course, if that’s being noted as a criticism, and it’s relatively minor, I suppose that’s a good indicator for the level of quality it brings to the table.

Especially considering it’s pretty modest price Unruly Heroes is a rock-solid platformer that looks phenomenal and plays well whether you’re taking it on by your lonesome or with some friends. The degree of difficulty generally feels well-balanced, the gameplay has a number of surprising variations along the way, and there’s a sense of style that permeates it and helps it be memorable. While perhaps not quite a flawless title it’s certainly worth a good look if you’ve been searching for a worthwhile platformer.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • It’s wonderfully detailed and looks terrific
  • The gameplay manages to explore some different styles from level to level to help keep things from feeling stale
  • Works reasonably well as a single-player or multi-player title, something not all games manage to pull off well

Cons:
  • There are situations where the controls don’t feel as responsive as I’d like
  • While solo play is doable there are times where it seems situations were set up more with multiple players in mind

Review: Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons [Nintendo Switch eShop]


At this point in the Switch’s lifespan cooperative puzzle games have become pretty common, though I can’t say I’ve played anything quite like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to this point. Originally designed to be a single-player experience, with co-op only newly-added, the nature of the puzzles is a little different and where trying to tackle controlling two characters at once is normally the afterthought here if anything having two players may remove a little bit of its challenge and charm. That said, though the journey they’ll embark upon won’t take you more than a handful of hours it’s a pretty touching one that I found engaging.


Motivated by the need to obtain the ingredients necessary to save their sick father (and a bit traumatized by already witnessing their mother drowning) the title brothers are on a mission. In their way are obstacles in the form of humans, animals, and some tricky terrain. Though there are challenges here, and you’ll need to work out how the two need to work together in each situation to progress, the puzzles in general feel both diverse and pretty natural in their solutions. For sure you’ll use certain techniques more than once in some cases, but where many of these games take place in more sterile or set environments the fact this all takes place out in the world makes for a nice change of pace.


Taking further advantage of being out in the world, there are actually quite a lot of small touches in the game that I love. When encountering other people or certain situations, separate from the puzzles and solutions, there are opportunities to interact and each brother will typically do so in a different way. In particular, I enjoyed finding benches because it would reward me with a moment to take in the beauty of the environment within the game and pause for a moment to reflect. I think it’s elements like this, especially when you can then choose to pair the game experience with a Director’s commentary as well, that set the game apart and make it clear how much care was put into the overall experience, not just the mechanics.


In terms of downsides there’s no question that some elements of the visuals can look a bit dated, in particular details like shadows which can look a bit clunky. In no way does this detract from the experience, it just definitely shows its age in places. In terms of mechanics for the most part the simplicity of things, using each stick and the appropriate trigger to control the brothers, works well. That said, there are instances where things would feel a bit rough and you might miss grabbing something and die. Fortunately the bite-sized design of each area you work through minimizes any pain from this. There’s definitely an emphasis on experimentation so it isn’t always clear what you need to do right away, but again the scope of the world is always pretty limited in any situation so it typically doesn’t take long to work out what you’ll need to do to progress.


Whether played solo or with a friend Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons makes for a thoughtful and generally satisfying puzzle adventure. The world and its characters are generally endearing, the puzzles simply have a different and more organic feel than much of the competition, and though it may not be a long journey it also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Throw in a fair amount of heart all along the way and it’s well worth enjoying on Switch.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Simply has a different overall feel than the majority of its competition, bringing more heart and story to the table on top of more real-world puzzles
  • Originally designed as a single-player experience solo play is a little less aggravating than you can find with other multiplayer-first titles
  • There are many small moments of joy in the interactions the brothers have with their world that encourage you to simply enjoy the experience

Cons:
  • Some aspects of the visuals certainly look dated
  • There are times when the simple controls will feel like they’re betrayed you, though thankfully you’ll never lose too much progress
  • Perhaps as a co-op game it may feel a bit too easy

Tuesday, May 28

Review: TerraTech [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Sandbox simulators are always tough to review. Rather than providing a fully-realized experience where you can jump in and begin to have fun they’re always more of a slow burn. Throw in the complications with finding ways to make an interface where you can construct things for your world in a 3 dimensional space and you’re going to have to make an investment of time and likely some frustration to get to the fun. That’s very much the case for TerraTech, a title that has a ton of promise, allowing you to construct vehicles that you can drive or even fly with to race, collect resources, or simply blow some stuff up. However, the road to get to the fun can be a tricky one and then controlling your creations can be an equal challenge.


To start I applaud the game’s ambition. When you load up the game you’ll get a glimpse of what it can offer once you get rolling. The craft you can construct are impressive and can even be formidable (within limits in terms of scale though), just understand that nothing will happen quickly and there’s quite a learning curve to get over on the way to awesomeness. To start you’re given the option of learning as you go in the Campaign, diving right into simply building in Creative mode, or taking on targeted time challenges in Gauntlet.


Overall everything in the game is roughly a trial by fire. You’re given some prompts and nudges but in general most of the things you need to know will be learned through a degree of experimentation mixed with frustration. While some parts have clear purposes and functions others you may need to ponder over a bit to understand what they do. Granted, when building you can always add blocks so you can amass more doodads to help yourself out, but being bulky can make control even more unwieldy and tough to maneuver so you’ll need to work on finding a balance of needs, and it will help to keep in mind your focus. If you’re playing with enemies roaming about you’ll need to be able to take some damage and deal out your own, but you can also opt to play in some cases without that distraction and simply enjoy experimentation and exploration. It’s really up to you how you go about things and you can always switch between modes or start over to find what style suits you best.


What will absolutely make or break the game for you will be the challenge of coming to terms with the cumbersome controls, both when in creation mode and when piloting your vehicles. The interface for building things may have worked well on the PC, but while you can get the hang of it using the controller it’s not very intuitive or efficient. While perhaps if touch controls were supported things could have been more smooth, in general handheld play is also not terribly viable as the text gets to be quite small at that scale, so it’s not terribly accessible that way either. Even once you’ve gone through the process of toggling between styles and parts, cobbling together your creation, trying to drive or even crazier fly them isn’t going to be a smooth experience. The camera can be a bit of a wild card with its behavior (and often needs adjusting) and you’ll find when trying to race to complete a time trial quickly that it can just be pretty easy to get off course.


TerraTech is a great idea that almost feels like a situation where you are making your classic LEGO toys come to life in playable form. The issue is all in the execution and how patient you can be with how it’s all implemented. Putting everything together isn’t quick or easy and the interface definitely doesn’t feel optimized for consoles. While touch controls, in theory, could have helped they aren’t present and honestly the scale of the text in the game is small to the point where handheld play may not have been a great idea anyway. If you’re willing to invest some time and patience there’s plenty of potential for enjoyment here but just understand that by the game’s sandbox nature the fun is very much what you choose to make of it.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • Allows for the creation of some pretty impressive vehicles that you can drive or even fly
  • Modes range from purely creative to exploration and combat to time trial racing for some variety

Cons:
  • The interface for creation is cumbersome and not terribly intuitive
  • Handheld play doesn’t offer the benefit of touch controls and the scaling of the text makes it impractical as a whole
  • Controlling your creations also presents issues, detracting from the enjoyment of making them come to life

Review: Crystal Crisis [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Head-to-head competition in puzzlers can always be fun and a challenge. Rather than just trying to play through an endurance match and stay alive against random chance having someone working their own board and throwing garbage blocks at you keeps things interesting. Now take those elements and throw in some personality, a variety of indie darling characters from quite a number of different series, and all sorts of visual flair and you have Crystal Crisis.


If you’re familiar with the classic Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo this will feel familiar but in case you aren’t the basics are this. You’ll be puzzling against an opponent, dealing with pairs of blocks that will fall from the top. The goal is to create chains of the same color blocks, and it’s even better if you’re able to form rectangles with them to form clusters that are worth even more. Periodically colored crystals will then fall as well which you can use to destroy everything in a chain with that matching color. Less often an even more powerful crystal variant will fall that will destroy any block matching the color you choose on the screen, shaking things up significantly.


What Crystal Crisis then does to set itself apart from the likes of Puyo Puyo is throw in characters that lend everything some personality and an added layer of strategy. As you break blocks you’ll fill your character’s gauge, and once you have enough power you can choose to use it to either attack your opponent or for defence. In order to make things more interesting each character has their own flair with this both visually and mechanically. Strategically you’ll need to find which character’s attack and counter suit you best and one big difference between combatants is that with some your gauge is broken into thirds, allowing you some versatility to use your power incrementally, which with others you’ll have to have a full gauge to make use of it. There’s one additional small but substantial change from the norm and that’s the fact that you’re able to wrap your blocks around from one side to the other, increasing your options when dealing with the problem of where to put things.


Where the game absolutely shines is in the amount of content it delivers for a pretty reasonable price. While the core gameplay remains the same across the board there’s the Story Mode which is the key to unlocking some powerful characters and which will force you to choose which characters you’ll work with through a moderately long campaign. This can be challenging since you’ll need to experiment with their special attacks as you go but it allows you to see what multiple characters bring to the table pretty quickly. There’s also an Arcade mode where you’ll work with a single character trying to defeat all comers, a Tag Team mode where you’ll pick a duo to work with that you’re able to swap between on the fly, and a Versus mode for playing against an opponent locally. Online play is also available, supporting ranked and unranked play, plus the ability to set up custom rules or host a private lobby to play against friends.


Probably the biggest complaint I can find is simply that the load times between stages seems unusually long, and that always stinks since it interrupts your flow. Hopefully this is something that can be addressed with a patch. It isn’t so bad that you can go grab a snack while you wait but considering the relative simplicity of the game’s presentation it feels longer than it should be. Getting the hang of how some characters specials can take some work, though some more than others, since in some cases there’s an interactive element to them and it may not be intuitively clear what you’re trying to do. Of course you could hit the Training mode to get better acquainted but if you’re playing in the Story mode this can be a challenge. Perhaps if you’re stretching you could argue the gameplay is roughly always the same but if you’re a fan of this style of puzzle game that comes with the territory and predictability lends itself to building your base of strategies you’ll use to defeat your opponents.


All in all Crystal Crisis is a game laser-focused on a specific style of play that absolutely delivers a great value with various modes, characters, and quite a bit of personality as well. While it is always more fun to match up against human competitors the mode variants at least make playing solo feel a bit different as you work to unlock everything. Online play is exciting and works well enough, but the biggest wild card with indie games in this area is whether there’ll be a sustained community past the first month or so. To what degree it’s successful will remain to be seen but the support in this area is always an appreciated plus. If you’re looking to get your puzzle on in style Crystal Crisis serves up an eclectic group of characters to choose from, plenty of visual flair, and all for a reasonable price. Puzzle fans should definitely give it a look.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Plenty of characters, including some surprises, who all have their own specials and personality
  • A variety of modes that change up the rules and flow, including reasonably complete online support as well
  • Smart play that keeps you on your toes with an element of strategy layered on with how you make use of your burst gauge
  • The voice of Optimus Prime as narrator FTW!

Cons:
  • The load times are a bit of a bummer
  • Not all character specials are intuitively clear in terms of mechanics if you’re just trying characters out without hitting the Training mode first
  • As always the caveat for indie game online support is that unless the community provides sustained support, which can vary wildly and unpredictably, it may not be viable in the long-term

Monday, May 27

Review: Hungry Baby - Party Treats [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Party games are definitely something the Switch was made for and there’s already quite a wide variety of titles on the console that are at their best when you’ve got people over. The challenge with the genre tends to be finding the balance of simple to quickly understand and fun, something we’ve seen developers shooting in all directions with to date. In the case of Hungry Baby: Party Treats the needle points towards simplicity pretty much to a fault, resulting in an experience that generally falls somewhere between insultingly basic and mind-numbingly frustrating.


At its core this is really a game focused squarely on trial and error, and that means a lot of dumb luck or simply dying endlessly while you painfully discover which way to go. Your goal is always to get your sweet treat character (you’ll have many deserts to choose from) from one side of the screen to the other. Between you and success is a minefield of hidden traps that you won’t see until they kill you, sending you back to the start. That’s the base essense of the game, lather, rinse, and repeat. Power-ups that can temporarily help are thrown into the mix but for the most part can’t remove the aggravation of the base experience.


Campaign mode, whether tackled solo or with friends is only that frustrating and generally pointless experience, making it almost impossible to recommend. Competitive mode has a few game variants to offer, which consist of a few different ideas, but none of them really stand out as inspired or terribly fun either. After getting off to a bad start to be honest my family practically groaned as we loaded up each of the modes and nothing was able to elicit any interest in pretty well anyone. Also, while perhaps some people may think the main theme is kind of cute the short loop its on and the voice were like fingernails on a chalkboard pretty quickly for me.


Certainly Hungry Baby has the look of a quirky and fun title, just in terms of its gameplay I’m not quite certain who it is meant to appeal to. Even if you somehow weren’t immediately frustrated by the trial and error nature of play I’m not sure how it would have any replay value whatsoever. Though I applaud there being a local multiplayer game that isn’t another relatively dull and repetitive platform shooter or lackluster kart racer I really can’t see any way to recommend Hungry Baby to anyone outside of much younger children who may just think it’s all cute and funny and are blissfully ignorant of how frustrating it is.

Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • Cute
  • Cheap
  • For smaller children I could see the look and “silliness” being enough to make it fun for them

Cons:
  • For the most part the experience is pure trial, error, and frustration
  • The competitive games offer some variation but none stand out as being very fun
  • The title music is repetitive and madness-inducing

Review: Super Tennis Blast [Nintendo Switch eShop]


In general one of the areas that isn’t so well-represented on the Switch is sports. Outside of Nintendo’s first-party offerings and a few random games here and there despite the popularity of family-friendly local multiplayer titles like Wii Sports there just hasn’t been much to choose from on the system thus far. Looking to take advantage of this situation we now have Super Tennis Blast, a budget title where you’ll hit the court and work to dominate the world (or perhaps just your friends) with what amount to some pretty solid core gameplay and a few nice surprises as well.


In terms of core gameplay Blast really hits all of the key notes pretty well. You’re armed with a number of different shot choices, whether just looking to get it back over the net or put something extra on the ball to throw off your opponent. It’s the ability to charge and aim your shot that really makes the game work mechanically though. If you think you’re in a reasonably good position to return a ball charging up will make you move a bit more slowly but it then affords you the chance to really put the ball where you want it and make your opponent work for it. Whether playing singles or doubles, stand-alone matches, in a tournament, or building up your solo player in a world tour the gameplay may end up being somewhat repetitive (by its nature) but it feels pretty good.


In order to throw in some extra fun a few different mini games and gameplay variants are also included. Whether hitting targets, trying to make precise shots between barriers, or a few different flavors the mini games will allow you to practice your accuracy and are a nice distraction. While there are only 2 choices for changing things up in Blast mode, allowing the court to continuously resize itself or having the net randomly change heights in different spots, these do add an element of unpredictability and challenge to things and are implemented pretty well. You’ll really need to work on your lob shots or position carefully to contend with that net in particular. Top it all off with a pretty extensive player editor and everyone can feel like they’re well-represented on the court, which is a nice touch.


In terms of complaints there aren’t many of note. Though there are a variety of modes if you’re only ever going to play the game solo it’s likely to get stale more quickly. While the enemy AI can be adjusted it’s always hard to find the competitive balance between too easy and soul-crushingly hard but the game does pretty well, forcing you to really make the most of your aimed shots. Playing doubles with an AI second can be pretty frustrating though, as it seems to behave a bit inconsistently at times.


All in all for a budget-friendly price Super Tennis Blast delivers a very solid traditional tennis experience with a bit of extra flavor thrown in to boot. While it obviously lacks the depth and complexity of the likes of Mario and his friends it implements the fundamentals very well and is obviously just a fraction of the price. If you and your family or friends have been looking for a multiplayer sports game to play against each other it’s definitely worth considering.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • In general it controls well and allows for a good deal of nuance on your shots
  • A few mini games and court variant options add some extra flavor
  • Everyone can customize their own player with a pretty solid editor

Cons:
  • If you’re only playing solo it may not remain fun or challenging for long
  • The AI can be a bit inconsistent, especially if you’re paired with a virtual partner in doubles play

Review: Warlock's Tower [Nintendo Switch eShop]


There’s no doubt that retro games have been in vogue for a while now, with games that don’t require a great deal of visual complexity sometimes managing to break away from the pack with a unique visual style. While typically you’d see developers shoot for classic NES or SNES era pixel art there are also those looking to mine nostalgia for another classic platform, the GameBoy. Warlock’s Tower is one such game, sporting visuals that would look right at home on the platform and delivering some decent puzzle mechanics that may make it worth a look.


Your core goal on every level is to get from the entrance to the exit. An easy enough start. However, your movement is constrained by gems that you’ll need to get to and that only allow you a limited number of moves. This means you’ll need to carefully chart out a way to get to a new gem and ultimately end up at one that is sufficiently close to the exit and has enough moves to get you there.


This starts out simply enough but then as you get further in new elements will be introduced to complicate matters. Between enemies who you’ll need to avoid, keys you’ll need to collect, crates you’ll need to move, and more things can get pretty complicated as you progress, but at its core with determination you could also grit your way through trial and error style if nothing else. Overall, the balance of the curve in difficulty feels just right, introducing new elements often enough to keep things from getting too dull but not so quickly that you’re unable to get used to how each new challenge changes things up.


There’s no doubt that Warlock’s Tower isn’t terribly original, this general style of puzzling has been done before ad nauseum, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for a while. I really appreciate the throwback graphics, and titles that go with the GameBoy look don’t always appeal to me, but in this case it just feels pretty authentic and appropriate. If you’re looking for something to kick around for a little bit while basking in some great retro looks this should prove satisfying.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • The ramp up in difficulty seems to be balanced just about right
  • If you yearn for a return to the classic GameBoy days, this should deliver nicely
  • A bite-sized budget experience

Cons:
  • The gameplay isn’t anything you’ve likely not seen before
  • If the visuals don’t charm you it probably will fail to make an impression at all

Review: Darkwood [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Survival games tend to not be for the impatient or faint at heart as it is, so when you start one up and it literally tells you that it won’t hold your hand it’s hard not to be a bit nervous. Darkwood opens with a tutorial that also serves as the game’s prologue, somewhat filling you in on the basics of what’s going on and how things work mechanically. The world (at least where you are within it) has been overrun by a forest, people are going a bit insane, fear the night and darkness specifically, and good luck with that. Heavy on ambiance and a sense of creeping dread it gets the horror right, but its mechanics certainly leave something to be desired.


Your days, for the most part, will involve some exploration, trying to collect what resources you can, perhaps bumping into someone to trade, and trying not to get yourself killed. Preparation for night is essential. You’ll want fuel to power a generator, you’ll need wood and some basic supplies to repair and reinforce points of entry to hold off the darkness and the unknown, and you’ll definitely want to find the means to craft things for healing since it can get rough out there.
Just to throw in some extra challenge even when you manage to level up it’s not all good news, while you are able to gain a new skill or perk you’ll also end up burdened with a new downside as well. This both lends an element of strategy to things and is also a decent way of providing some motivation to take multiple cracks at the game in order to see how your choices can affect the outcome.


Getting back to the no hand holding there are some issues that make the experience a little less compelling. There’s definitely a great deal of trial and error involved in things, and your first forays into the unknown will tend to be frustrating as you discover some of the more touchy aspects of the game where triggering traps and things that will harm you can be entirely too easy. I also didn’t always find the interface to be intuitive, in particular struggling to cut wood into planks at one point and that seemed like a silly problem to have. As crucial as being set up for the night is it was really hard to tell when it was formally coming, which just ended up forcing caution and wasting time. To top it off it’s hard not to point out the load times to get rolling feel unusually long as well.


Since the Switch is lacking in survival horror experiences fans of being creeped out are no doubt a bit starved for a compelling experience on the console. Darkwood isn’t by any means a perfect experience but if you’re willing to work with it there are moments where it breaks through and works pretty well. I wish it were a bit more refined and accessible but I also understand that the nature of the genre tends to err on the side of being challenging and typically a bit frustrating anyway. It does at least provide an experience that feels pretty unique, will keep you on edge, and helps flesh out one of the more neglected genres on the platform.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Definitely keeps you on edge and will make you work for your success
  • The element of risk and reward as you level up adds a layer of strategy I appreciate

Cons:
  • There’s not holding your hand and then there’s design that’s not very intuitive, there are aspects of the game that unfortunately just aren’t very well-conceived or executed
  • In particular as critical as being set up for the night is it would have been more wise to make it more clear when it begins, which in itself would have escalated tension. As implemented you’ll tend to stop exploring too early which wastes time and is dull
  • The load times stand out as being a bit on the long side

Saturday, May 25

Review: Skelly Selest [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to pixel art roguelike arcade action titles you can normally absolutely count me in pretty well automatically. Anything that helps put me back in that classic arcade mindset is usually a thrill to play, bringing me back to simpler days of pumping quarters into some great machines. That said, there can be things that break you out of the experience, little flaws and shortcomings that make some titles tougher to love. That’s the case for me with Skelly Selest, a game that looks great and plays well… but that has some fundamental flaws that don’t kill the experience but make it suffer next to some of its contemporaries.


Starting with the positive, one of the distinguishing features of the game is its somewhat unique blend of beat-em-up and shooter mechanics. At the core there’s what should be a pretty solid experience here, you can slash with your axe and shoot enemies as well, making your combat a bit tactical as you need to figure out what’s better to take out from a distance and when you’re able to maneuver enemies into a cluster to swipe them all at once. You’ll need to alternate your attacks as your ammo is limited and killing enemies with your axe replenishes. Not a bad start.


Next there’s a ton of variety here both within the game and in general. You can attack the game in a few variant modes, even including a sort of card game. You’ll unlock different heads and even characters to play with that will switch up some core mechanics for variety. A variety of different perks and curses will present themselves in-game and between stages as you progress that have a surprising diversity of effects that are all over the spectrum. You’ll encounter new areas and bosses with some regularity that look pretty amazing and amp up the challenge. Truly, there’s a ton here to like.


All of which makes the aggravating nature of its gameplay so frustrating. The biggest problem the game has concerns its most crucial element, the controls. The default setting is to make this a single-stick game, something I absolutely wouldn't recommend. When you're having to engage groups of enemies to thin them out having to turn towards them to attack, then try to get out of the way as some survivors keep coming, doesn't work well. Going into options you can enable twin-stick controls (I prefer aim mode) and that does help thing greatly but there's still a somewhat stilted quality to things at time. In particular, your axe swipe holds you in place for a solid second and most of my deaths tended to be from being left vulnerable by this small break in time. Throw on problems with visual muddiness in some screens where they’re trying to do some lighting tricks and the fact that on the move the icons for power-ups are very hard to differentiate so you’re never quite sure what you’re picking up and it can be a bit maddening on the whole.


This may be one of the more aggravating games I’ve reviewed for the site, where a small number of critical issues have chipped away at an otherwise impressive game. Visually, the game looks great when it isn’t managing to make itself muddy with visual tricks that detract more than they add. The main issue generally ends up being the controls though. Granted, the availability of a twin-stick option, and in how it works, helps a lot. However, there's a lack of fluidity overall that moves the gameplay from being intense to being somewhat stilted with the long axe swipe animation. Then throw on the challenge in understanding what perks or curses you're picking up and their effect and it can be a bit confusing to follow. Skelly Selest has many elements in its corner that help it approach greatness but somehow manages to trip itself up a bit on the way there.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • The core gameplay is pretty sound
  • Visually the art style is distinctive and looks terrific with some great large set pieces and bosses
  • A pretty wide variety of perks and curses in-game, then modes and unlocks at a higher level as well

Cons:
  • Mechanically the movement simply isn't quite as fluid as with some contemporaries with things like the delay on your axe attack and the aim not quite feeling 100%
  • In some areas there are some attempts at light effects that are more trouble than they’re worth and just muddy things up
  • You end up getting perks on the run you can’t identify, making it hard sometimes to know what you’ve gotten yourself into

Review: Back In 1995 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With indie games first impressions can be everything, the hook that pulls you in and gets you invested in the experience as quickly as possible. Sadly, not all games seem to have a great understanding of this, or perhaps count on some sort of nostalgia for past titles that they’re emulating to carry your interest. That’s very much the case for Back In 1995, a title that’s obviously looking to tap into the love people feel for the likes of the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or perhaps Alone in the Dark titles. The problem is, the lack of personality, problems that were once technical limitations but now just feel like lazy design, and overall awfulness just permeate the experience.


You’ll play as Kent, who is trying to reach a radio tower that’s somewhat far away in a post-apocalyptic city. To get there you’ll need to do some exploring, kill some monsters, manage your inventory, and more often than not be a bit bored and frustrated. In the classic Resident Evil you were a bit on edge and I don’t think anyone will forget the early game when jump scares and sudden surprises effectively got you engaged. Here, you’ll start by meandering around non-descript corridors of pretty well empty rooms where you’ll run into what I can only describe as floating turd monsters. It doesn’t exactly strike fear into your heart so much as make you perhaps let out a surprised laugh.


It feels like this game is looking to emulate the general look of the time and took every shortcut that offered (tank controls, low poly objects, muddy and awful textures, fixed camera angles) but then didn’t invest in making it at all compelling. Resident Evil and other classics were pushing the limits of their technology to tell a story so they made the most of what they had, this is instead aiming down visually and then has no real signs of passion or care to make the experience scary, fun, or remotely interesting. If you’re jonesing for the old days break out a classic system or perhaps an emulator and immerse yourself in those titles you loved directly, this is just a shell that looks like those experiences but is pretty hollow inside.


Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • If you love tank controls, this has them!
  • Feeling like modern games with all of their details stink? Take a time warp back to earlier low-poly days

Cons:
  • Visually this captures all of the limitations of some classic survival horror titles but none of their charms
  • “Monsters” that exhibit weak AI and aren’t scary in any way

Friday, May 24

Review: American Fugitive [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Way back in the days of the original top-down Grand Theft Auto a new genre was roughly born, one that put an emphasis on a little crime, chaos, and fun along the way. While that series has obviously gone on to much more elaborate lengths and found great success indies have been trying to mine that same sense of naughty fun in recent years, but with mixed success. Not that when you play the original GTA titles it did anything terribly extraordinary, but with it now being so many years later while games have visually stepped things up the gameplay continues to be a bit stuck in the past.


That’s certainly the case with American Fugitive, a game that looks good and does some things well. One thing it offers which goes above and beyond the norm is what I’d consider more of an attempt at a story that makes your “hero” a bit more sympathetic. While he may be on the run from the law, the situation in isn’t of his doing, and that both builds a little more intrigue into things and makes him more than a random thug or hardened criminal. At least in theory you can tell yourself that breaking into people’s houses, stealing cars, and engaging in some shadier activities are a product of the situation he finds himself in. While the story may not be deep I can at least appreciate the attempt.


The other area that plays a bit differently, though you could argue about whether its implementation is as exciting as you’d like, would be breaking into houses. In order to best assure success you’ll want to size the place up, looking through windows and trying to ensure you’re less likely to be caught. Once you break in don’t be surprised if you trigger an alarm, but you’ll then see a countdown until the cops show up so you’ll need to prioritize your time hitting rooms in search of some cash, gear, or an objective. You’ll just essentially choose a room to search in a top-down blueprint of each room so the action isn’t visual but depending on what (or who) you may find there can be some variety where you’ll test your luck a bit at times.


Aside from those aspects most things play out roughly the same as you’d expect from other titles of this kind… though I’d say on the whole it’s a bit more tricky than most. While how well you can control a car will vary by vehicle driving around isn’t a very precise science. What makes this a bit of a pain is that your range of vision isn’t all that great and it’s super-easy to run into cars and other items or people which will tend to immediately piss of the hair-trigger cops in town. Most of the time you’ll be able to lose them but in this more rural setting overall the pursuits don’t tend to have much of an edge to them. Get some distance, switch cars, maybe grab a change of clothes, or perhaps just lose them long enough to forget about you. It lacks in intensity and in general you don’t have the ordinance to make taking on the cops as much chaotic fun as you see elsewhere.


On the whole American Fugitive does a decent job of being a bit different but that doesn’t equate to easy fun either. If you’re determined to destroy everything in sight and chaos it up this definitely won’t work for you, the action is simply more realistic and a bit sedated. Perhaps if your goal isn’t to engage in so much fantasy as have a bit more of a twinge of the reality of trying to be on the run, with the expectation that any small mistake will get the cops on to you, it will make more sense. That said, more realistic doesn’t necessarily equate to more fun so whether this title or another in this genre is a better choice will come down heavily to taste.

Score: 7

Pros:
  • There’s an attempt to make your character a bit more sympathetic than usual, which is a nice touch
  • The breaking and entering aspect may not be exciting visually but it does a good job of introducing some tension and is simply a bit different than the norm

Cons:
  • Working against the norm the emphasis in the game isn’t so much about raising hell, so its more subdued nature may make it less exciting to certain crowds
  • Dealing with the hair-trigger police who’ll get into hot pursuit over just about anything, when coupled with the somewhat wonky driving, can make it frustrating at times