Thursday, June 20

Review: Perchang [Nintendo Switch eShop]

In the puzzle space given the number of options on the Switch it takes some effort to come up with something novel and engaging. How about a game where you mix of simple machinery, a steady drip of balls you’re trying to help get to their destination, and a variety of contraptions you’ll need to master to do so? Perchang manages to cobble these together and be original, engaging, and challenging both to your sense of planning and careful execution.

Starting out by roughly introducing you to an element at a time you’ll master control of tilting platforms, fans, and a few other mechanisms. Whether perfecting your timing to flick a ball at just the right angle or feathering your fan to keep your balls aloft but not shot off the screen its the fundamentals tied to each thing you control that establish your foundation. Once you have that the game will then place different combinations of those elements before you with the goal of ensuring balls will move from Point A to Point B with your help.

The first challenge is understanding how you’ll use the tools you’ve been given. Early on it tends to be pretty straightforward but as you progress you’ll find that there can be a variety of ways to get through the challenge, though sometimes only after having banged your head against a wall with a harder way first. Once you’ve got your plan you’ll then need to work on making it work. The limited controls, allowing you to assign each element a color (red or blue) that corresponds to one of your two means of interaction are often the first obstacle as you’ll often need to toggle more than one mechanism with the same trigger. The second is just then finding the sweet spot for timing and concentrate on execution as you get each ball through the gauntlet the best you can.

While Perchang isn’t terribly long I’d say it manages to deliver a unique experience that puzzle fans should really appreciate. There are times when it feels like the difficulty is a bit all over the place with spikes and then valleys as you work through everything but different people may struggle with some challenges more than others. Though Perchang may be relatively simple at its core the execution, variety, and overall creativity it demonstrates help it to stand out even in the crowded puzzle genre on the system.

Score: 8.5

  • The controls are simple but demand your attention for proper execution
  • Each new level offers up a new challenge to plan out your path to success and then execute it

  • The difficulty from level to level can be a bit all over the place
  • If you’re unable to master some fundamentals like feathering the throttle on a fan you may be in for quite a bit of frustration as these skills are essential to success

Review: My Friend Pedro [Nintendo Switch eShop]

One of the interesting things about the power of Nintendo Directs, and their limitations, is that they’re able to get you excited about games that are coming down the pike but with a very limited taste of only perhaps a few moments of footage you actually know very little about them. Granted, things that look spectacular often have a tendency to back that up with solid gameplay but not always, and when you throw in issues like length, diversity, and controls things get more complicated. My Friend Pedro has been an interesting journey for me within this context, sucking me in initially with what looks like bonkers gameplay, concerning me when only given a brief chance to demo it at PAX, but then ultimately delivering the goods as I got more time with it.

In terms of action the best comparison I can make to describe Pedro’s gameplay is as a side-scrolling Max Payne. When everything clicks and you’re in the zone the ballet of violence and gunplay is brilliant, with you jumping, spinning, shooting people in multiple directions, and rolling along on top of a barrel. Enemies aren’t particularly bright but if you don’t execute your end of the bargain their numbers will result in your getting pretty chewed up if you’re not on top of your game. While you’ll have unlimited pistol ammo you’ll want to conserve your more powerful weaponry for the right moments when possible because when things get more intense you’ll want everything on your side possible.

The welcome surprise is that though the action clearly takes center stage the diversity of what you’ll be doing as the game progresses keeps things fresh as well. Some puzzle-like elements show up at times, you’ll hit the roads on a motorcycle, and some new weapons and gear to work with don’t allow for repetition to set in easily. Granted, if you’re not playing for the gun violence first and foremost perhaps it won’t be enough to hook you but the effort to keep you consistently engaged is impossible to miss and appreciate.

Where the concern does creep in a bit is that while learning to walk gum and chew gum at the same time isn’t too tough, throwing another 2 or 3 skills into the mix on top of that to master doing all at once is quite a bit trickier. I won’t blame it on the controls necessarily, there are only so many buttons to work with on a controller and given everything you can pull off the layout does mostly make sense (though I’m never a great fan of using the analog stick as a button overall). Just be aware that while watching footage of the game in action is exciting that there’s an investment you’ll need to make up front to even begin to get there. Jumping, slowing time, dual aiming, spinning, they’re all things that are important to do but getting yourself trained to work them all in parallel takes some doing. The good thing is that you’ll be able to move through the game pretty well without mastering it all, just you won’t be doing it in nearly as much style until you get into that groove and tackle competing for high scores.

All in all My Friend Pedro handily delivers what it promises, and I’d even say exceeds expectations in terms of diversity over the handful of hours it takes to work through it. It would have still been a blast to play even with less variety, the care put into upping the stakes and providing even more insane situations over its runtime is therefore very much appreciated. Be aware that the struggle to succeed while looking cool can be very real, you’ll need to take things one step at a time and develop your repertoire for slow-motion violence before it all moves to another level of fun but the investment is well worth your while.

Score: 8.5

  • Absolutely some of the craziest gunplay sequences you’ll ever play through
  • Mastery of the moves isn’t necessary to get through the game, keeping it fun and incentivizing you to return again for higher scores once you’ve got it all under control
  • The diversity of how things play out is higher than expected and appreciated

  • If you’re not chomping at the bit for over-the-top crazy gun violence stay away
  • Initially you’re going to feel very lame as you try to get a handle on everything you need to control and some people may find that it never fully clicks for them

Monday, June 17

Review: Neon Junctions [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Always having been a huge fan of the TRON franchise if you throw anything with a neon-lit grid at me and I’m eager to check it out. Of course, looks aren’t everything and when dealing in games you’re going to need some rock-solid play to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, while Neon Junctions does a good job of catching your attention with its looks its gameplay and some performance issues don’t do a great job of keeping it.

The basic principles of the game are simple enough overall, you’ll be picking up objects (mostly blocks) that you’ll need to move from one spot to another in order to complete circuits or satisfy triggers of sorts. While the further in you get this adds in some extra elements that complicate your efforts a bit I’d consider it all to be pretty linear and even dull though, never prompting me to have a satisfying “Aha” moment where I had to use some real ingenuity. It really ends up being a lot of picking up all of the blocks you see, laying them down in the right spots to flow energy to the next spot, maybe working out some new mechanic once in a while, and that’s about it.

The unfortunate note to go with this is that the performance of the game on the Switch, even in docked mode, is choppy at best. While normally frame rates don’t get me down the problems here were consistent enough that I couldn’t help but notice it and though the gameplay is pretty simple and these issues don’t interfere with your execution it’s still annoying. Throw it all together and though Neon Junctions may be pretty it really comes up short beyond that.

Score: 4

  • A great neon-lit look
  • Probably just about anyone could solve the game’s puzzles

  • Limited variety, challenge, and creativity
  • Consistent performance issues

Review: Hue [Nintendo Switch eShop]

With an abundance of puzzlers available on the Switch it is taking more and more effort to come up with ways to stand out from the crowd. Going with the puzzle adventure subgenre of sorts helps to whittle down the competition but there’s still a need to make things interesting. Thankfully, while it may not be terribly long, Hue manages to give itself a boost with a smart use of colors that not only makes it visually distinct but also full of clever puzzles that will make you think and coordinate your way through some satisfying sequences.

Throughout the game you’ll slowly accumulate colors that will help you manipulate the appearance of the dull and grey world around you. Whether revealing doorways and blocks for you to manipulate or to make obstacles disappear this color-changing mechanic proves to have an impressive number of applications as you progress. Once you acquire a more substantial number of them in your palette the game also takes on a second level of challenge as you’ll have to deal with platforming challenges as well, requiring that you progress through a specific series of colors to enable you to safely jump, change colors while you’re in mid-air (the game slows to help make this less insane than that sounds), and then land safely. This does require some degree of dexterity but making your way through these sorts of sequences tends to be quite satisfying.

Where the game manages to go a bit to the next level is with its overall presentation, sporting both a wonderful soundtrack and a surprising amount of story for what seems like a pretty simple title. Quality voice acting helps to give what could have just been some text to read on the screen a greater degree of polish and helps the entire experience shine as a whole. Some people may complain about the relatively short length of the game, lasting a mere handful of hours at best, but given its budget price and the obvious effort behind it on all levels and I consider it a pretty fair and appealing package worth your time if you’re looking for a satisfying challenge mixing puzzles with platforming.

Score: 8

  • Smart puzzle designs using colors
  • Some challenging platforming that will make you think and execute
  • A high degree of polish and a focus on the overall experience

  • Not a terribly long game
  • If your coordination isn’t the best some sequences may prove frustrating

Monday, June 10

Review: Refunct [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While simplicity can work well in games, the results aren’t always for everyone. Granted, there are more than enough titles out there that can feel like a slog as you work through tutorials and introductions that seem to last forever, but going in completely the opposite direction and dropping you into gameplay with no instruction whatsoever can be jarring too. That’s where you’ll find yourself in the serene but very short Refunct.

The emphasis in the game is on pretty basic 3D platforming, jumping from place to place and grabbing ledges to get yourself to new spots. Looking for beacons of red light in this collection of stone pillars of various heights over water you’ll work to get to each one, which will then reveal another for you to find and so on. For the most part, that’s it. There’s no fear of death, fall damage, you won’t drown, just figure out how to use what’s available to you in the environment to get to each new place and then do the same with the next one.

What bugs me a little bit though is that there are also little cubes strewn about as well that you can collect, seemingly as an added challenge. While I appreciate their presence, and would try to find them and figure out how to get them as well, their presence with no explanation or clear purpose actually annoyed me a bit. With there being so little to the game as a whole tying it all together even a little bit would have been nice. I don’t need an elaborate narrative but even some simple sense of purpose would have been nice to make the experience a bit more fulfilling.

What you have in the end is an experience that’s pleasant and pretty mellow but ultimately quite short and hollow. With titles like Abzu and others the lack of much gameplay is compensated for by a pretty amazing overall experience that delights the senses. With Refunct that seems like the sort of thing it is aspiring to but there’s just not that degree of creativity, diversity, or inspiration, it’s just nice but flat on pretty well every front. While Refunct is fine for what it seemed to have set out to do the lack of ambition and meat on its bones make it tough to recommend with much enthusiasm.

Score: 6

  • A low-budget price
  • In general it’s a pleasant and serene experience

  • Extremely short
  • Not terribly challenging
  • Lacking in substance and inspiration, it just sort of “is”

Review: Selma and the Wisp [Nintendo Switch eShop]

With an abundance of puzzle games of all varieties out there, and in particular on the Switch, there’s a challenge to find new ways to change things up to stand out. In the case of Selma and the Wisp you have a sort of puzzle adventure where you indirectly control the main character by guiding her around with the wisp you control, offering guidance and some help with your ability to trigger a small burst to knock over or trigger things. While it may not be terribly long, and your lack of direct control can at times be aggravating, it’s at least a bit different and sports a unique look as well as some smart puzzles along the way.

There’s not much to know to get rolling. Selma and her welfare are your primary concern and aside from trying to avoid having her get crushed, impaled, or meeting some other grim end she can only survive a short time without you close by. So in each scenario you’ll need to try to carefully size things up, anticipate potential traps, and then guide her carefully through, carefully telling her where to stop or move to keep her out of trouble. Your means of interacting with the environment consists only of a burst which you’ll need to use carefully since it will diminish your energy and could eventually cause you to fade away, which will then also kill Selma.

As is the case with almost any game where you lack direct control over the main character there’s a certain inevitable degree of frustration at some unintended deaths and moments where you just can’t seem to get Selma to do what you want. You’ll just need to periodically grit through these, potentially needing to start the stage over, and try again. Thankfully you’ll never lose too much progress, and more often than not deaths are your own fault as you figure out the nuances of the space, but Selma can be quite dense and incapable at times… and that can be frustrating.

All said while Selma and the Wisp can at times be aggravating it at least has a slightly different flavor than most titles on the Switch. Mixing elements of a puzzler with some action with maybe a twinge of horror considering the grim ways poor Selma can meet her demise it’s not a terribly long game but it is at least somewhat unique. If you’ve got some patience, appreciate its unique low-poly but colorful visuals, and are looking for something a little off the beaten path you may find it to your liking.

Score: 6

  • A unique visual style
  • Some of the puzzles have a clever design element to them

  • Only being able to indirectly control Selma can, at times, be aggravating
  • Some stages feel a bit too similar to one another in their execution, detracting from variety
  • There are times where you'll know what you want to do but can't figure out how to make it happen easily

Monday, June 3

Review: Kotodama - The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Where to start with Kotodama, a game that somehow pairs an unusual visual novel where you’re afforded little opportunity to make decisions with a puzzle game where you literally strip the clothes off your opponent. There’s no doubt that puzzle game element will attract people’s attention, whether good or bad, but weirdly the majority of the time you’ll spend playing the game isn’t in pursuit of seeing your female (and male) associates in their underwear. The result is a title where I’m outright baffled who it’s for, as the mix of activities in the game seem so incredibly far apart from one another.

Starting with the narrative side you’re a newly-arrived student who’ll be quickly introduced to the fact that there are 7 mysteries, sort of urban myths, that you’re going to try to help solve. Investigating these takes a variety of forms, one in particular involving the “white wolf” gets particularly dark and a bit disturbing, but I suppose it’s at least trying to surprise you. The thing is, there are long stretches where you’re going to just be reading dialogue with little opportunity to interact or contribute to things, but then when you do get to make a decision those can be disappointing. It’s a sort of on rails narrative experience and though your choices will affect whether you get the true ending or not it’s not terribly satisfying.

Sitting at the polar opposite end of the game you then have a puzzle element that is roughly explained in the game as you psychically entering the person’s mind and trying to find the truth… or something like that. This involves a pretty basic action puzzle game where you’re trying to efficiently clear blocks which will affect the character who you’ve focused on. As you strip away their resolve to resist your powers you’ll literally remove their clothing and your reward for breaking all the way through is… seeing absolutely no nudity at all actually, and I wouldn't even consider any of it terribly sexy in any way at all. I won’t say I consider that to be a huge disappointment personally but it’s one of those things where if you’re going to start down a certain road it seems weird to then stop short rather than just embrace it.

If you’re really a fan of seeing characters in their underwear once you’ve psychically stripped any character you’ll then be free to hit a different mode and do that to your heart’s content, eventually also earning the opportunity to have them wear different underwear. On the story side the culmination of your decisions will typically be that you’ve not make a correct decision somewhere along the way so you’ll get to start everything over again, and generally without the benefit of insight into what you may have specifically done wrong.

Put this all together and it’s a bit of a hot (yet, somehow not in a sexy way) mess. I find that the visual novel and titillating puzzle game segments don’t make any sense paired together. I’m simultaneously a bit horrified by the weirdo aspect of the stripping mini game while baffled by the fact that if it’s going to be included that it stops short of what the audience looking for that sort of content is looking for in the first place. If this combination of strange and sometimes dark story elements with minimal interaction and some teasing nudity blended with a pretty generic puzzle game sound like a perfect marriage more power to you.

Score: 4.5

  • If you’re looking for weird it delivers
  • I suppose if the prospects of seeing some anime chicks and dudes in their underwear is exciting for you it’ll deliver that

  • The narrative and stripping puzzle game elements don’t feel like they belong together at all
  • As visual novels go this seems to afford few opportunities to interact, which can make it a bit dull
  • If you’re going to sell a game on stripping, courting controversy in the process, why then stop short in delivering what the likely audience you’ll attract is looking for?

Review: Golem Gates [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While strategy games have gotten a fair amount of representation on the Switch there’s still quite obviously room for people to shake things up. Real-time strategy fans have a few options out there, but there hasn’t been a break out star to this point necessarily. With its own take on this genre Golem Gates impresses with pretty cool-looking graphics and a blend of real-time action with a deck building component. That does help it stand out but there are definitely some caveats you’ll need to concern yourself with before you take the plunge.

In the game you control the Harbinger, a powerful being with some heavenly backing who is trying to destroy the Golem Gates and regain control of a series of regions… or something like that. What you need to know is that there are areas with resources you want to control, and opposing forces that will stand in your way, requiring that you use some strategy to grow your zone of control and dominate in order to continue on your campaign. Of course beyond the core campaign you’ll then have the option to engage in other modes that include specific challenge scenarios, a survival mode you can tackle solo or with a friend, and even online multiplayer.

On paper the mix of deck building, choosing your units, buildings, and various supports, and real-time strategy is interesting. Rather than being part of a faction with a set collection of units to work with you can custom tailor your own over time as you acquire new cards. If you’re patient and work through things little by little this can work out nicely, and you’ll certainly have different ways you can choose to go, but you’re going to have to get through what ends up being some pretty muddy play along the way.

While the game does work on Switch it’s obvious that the interface and experience were tuned around the use of a mouse and keyboard on PC and not a controller. Navigating the menus and controlling your units quickly can be done but using both joysticks and the buttons on both sides of the controller is hardly ideal. Another problem has to do with the visual design of the units, which honestly look far too similar making their management at a strategic level challenging. Even their cards, which do look a bit different and each has the unit name tied to them, don’t end up typically being much help when you’re trying to quickly set up an offensive or some defense, you’re just going to put units on the ground quickly and hope for the best. Throw in pretty consistent performance issues even with the game’s somewhat muddy appearance overall and it’s a bit of a mess.

In the end, though Golem Gates has ambition it simply has some issues and its performance overall isn’t helping anything. I’m sure it likely looks pretty decent at full resolution on the PC but on the Switch it’s obvious compromises had to be made, yet it still runs into problems at times. It has a promising idea, blending two different types of strategy games into one, but the lack of adequate differentiation of your units on the battlefield will typically just have you resorting to amassing a mob and moving it around trying to conquer checkpoints and ultimately your enemy. If you’re a big strategy fan it may be worth checking out but otherwise you’ll want to steer clear.

Score: 5

  • A novel mix of two strategy styles into one
  • In terms of content if you enjoy the core gameplay you’ll have a fair amount to work your way through

  • Visually everything is quite muddy, making differentiation of your units difficult at best
  • Even with the compromises performance can be a real issue at times
  • As much as the game may be trying to be different the result still feels pretty generic

Review: Little Friends - Dogs and Cats [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While Nintendo has released some interesting games at different points in their history that have generally met with success there’s been a degree of disappointment for some fans who’ve held out hope to see them return but remain unannounced. Certainly this has opened the door to savvy indie developers to look for ways to fill the gaps and these efforts have been met with varying degrees of success. One such franchise that I know is beloved by a fair number of people is Nintendogs, a first-party pet simulator that made excellent use of the Nintendo DS touchscreen to give the experience a uniqiue tactile feel. Heeding the call we now have Little Friends: Dogs and Cats, which practically feels like criminal carbon copy of that title. The question is whether its cuteness and novel pet interactions are enough to make it worth your time.

Starting with the positive there’s no doubt the game nails it in the looks department. Your pets look quite wonderful and furry, and are even pretty expressive for the most part. The array of clothing and accessories you’re able to unlock in the game with some time and effort is also impressive and allow you to give your pooches and felines a variety of signature looks. For fans of the original games there’s also a strong sense of nostalgia to the experience, as the general care for your pet is very familiar. A few things like walking your dog have even gotten a bit of an upgrade, with you walking a path and trying to guide them towards balloons that point out goodie boxes that have rewards in them.

Unfortunately there are also some serious caveats to go with that initial excitement. Some elements that helped give Nintendogs its quirky charm and extended playability are completely gone. Obviously since the Switch lacks a microphone or even a camera the means for giving your pet commands have been crippled a bit, making an obedience trial an impossibility. The omission that made me even more sad is that there’s no agility trial, possibly tied to the complications of needing to figure out how to support that both with a touchscreen and controller support. Whatever the reasons bigger fans of the franchise will quickly begin to feel the pain of how much was left on the cutting room floor while also likely noticing that there’s nothing of substance that has been added in its place. It seems the hook to keep you playing is just the ability to unlock new outfits and accessories after a while but that’s not a great motivator for extended investment.

Even my oldest daughter, who adored Nintendogs and was eager to see what would come of this title ended up being disappointed with this outing and lost interest within the first few hours. Though the voice commands were always wonky they still gave the game some interactive charm. While mastering the mini game-esque events like the agility trial didn’t take a Herculean effort it was still cute and fun, but not only is it gone but there’s nothing offered to take its place either. Perhaps the demographic that should most likely avoid this title will be the very people you’d think it is intended for. Fans of the original game who’ll likely be let down by everything this title isn’t rather than focusing on the simple joys it offers. Still, I could see where a new younger generation could have a good time with this since they wouldn’t have any built-in expectations to come up short with.

Score: 5.5

  • There’s no doubt the game’s pets are cute
  • For fans of the original there’s a rush of nostalgia at first
  • Younger gamers may still enjoy the game’s simplicity and virtual pet care elements

  • Can’t offer key elements of the original experience and, worse, doesn’t offer anything of substance in their place
  • The gap in time from the original game’s release has seen expectations for interactivity and originality evolve and this is stuck in the past straight-up emulating the original title pretty much
  • There’s simply nothing compelling to keep you coming back unless you really like unlocking new clothing and accessories
  • All things considered the initial asking price is far too high

Review: Vectronom [Nintendo Switch eShop]

One of the things that indie titles tends to excel at is finding ways to punch up gameplay that can be familiar at its base with some elements that are unexpected. Combining genres and styles makes for more variety but also isn’t a guarantee of success. Landing somewhere in the middle we have Vectronom, a platformer of sorts whose simple but colorful presentation gets a lift from a pumping soundtrack that ties back to the gameplay nicely.

You’re quite simply a cube whose objective is to cross a level to get to the goal. Simple enough in principle but in Vectronom you’ll need to navigate disappearing platforms, spikes, and some other hazards to get there. To help you out the beat in the music corresponds to the movement and/or change in the elements of the level, meaning if you’re able to become one with the beat you’ll be better set for success.

The other component tends to be internalizing the pattern of the platforms and to figure out when you need to move and where you’ll need to pause, which can be tricky but it’s part of what gives the title some flavor. One thing to note is that the game will absolutely have you dying repeatedly, and sometimes pretty quickly even, but thankfully you’re always right back in the action quickly so there’s no frustration waiting for things to reset.

Overall, Vectronom delivers an interesting mix of a music game, puzzler, and throws in a little action to boot. It may not be long on content but it does offer some variety, great music, and a kaleidoscope of colors to enjoy as you go. It may not be amazing but it’s at least something a little different.

Score: 6.5

  • Though visually simple it’s quite colorful
  • Gameplay is generally easy to understand
  • A unique mix of elements in gameplay

  • It will likely be a love it or hate it proposition for most
  • While each level is different there’s an element of repeated ideas
  • Trying to memorize and work with some level patterns can become tedious