Tuesday, October 29

Mini Reviews: October 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Skullgirls 2nd Encore [Nindie Choice!] - While I’ve consistently heard nothing but great things about Skullgirls from my friends who are massive fighting fans up until PAX this year I’d never gotten to check it out myself. Watching the game being played it’s hard not to be impressed by the diverse and beautifully-animated characters, some of which have some of the craziest moves and specials I think I’ve seen. It’s also very apparent that this is a pretty technical fighter, which was where my one real concern with the game cropped up. What’s a bit shocking though is that in general for someone like me who has played a fair number of fighters for the most part the moves that trigger the on-screen chaos feel natural and mostly intuitive. Simply experimenting on the fly moves and even combos seemed to come to me pretty easily. From there it’s all about the flow of gameplay and the best word to describe it is intense. Solo players should appreciate the story mode that provides some background for the very odd menagerie of fighters, but everyone should appreciate the choice to go 1-on-1 or up to 3-on-3, providing for plenty of opportunities for changing tactics and generally catering the matches to your liking. Available online play is definitely appreciated, though it’s important to note that even great indie titles on Switch don’t tend to have online communities that survive for long. While there have been very good indie fighters on the Switch I actually think this one is the best.

Tangle Tower [Nindie Choice!] - When there are so many point-and-click style adventures available on the Switch it pays to try to stand out. Smart puzzles, some quirky characters, and a sense of humor have pretty well become standard features so the bar has become pretty high if you want to stand out from the generally very enjoyable pack. Where Tangle Tower manages to get an edge is with well-delivered voice acting, some particularly weird characters you’ll interact with, and even some surprises in terms of puzzle variety and creativity. Throw this all together with a compelling mystery and the average puzzle fan should find plenty to enjoy over the course of a handful of hours with this one.

Vortex Attack EX - As a huge fan of arcade classics from many genres I’ve played more than my share of space shooters. As such, Vortex Attack EX very much feels targeted at someone like me specifically who can not only take on the challenge but appreciate the pretty wide variety of influences on its play mechanics. Your goal is simple, shoot enemies, avoid being hit, collect power-ups and gems that fall, and try to survive. As you progress and get more effective the game rewards you with each new mothership you defeat with a new ship variant to choose from as you start each game. These are really the game’s overall saving grace as each of them plays quite differently and provide both an incentive to play another run to try them out and new styles of play to master as you work to discover which works best for you. While it may not quite reach the heights of some of the other retro shooters on the system its budget price and variety in play styles still make it worthwhile for classic arcade shooter fans.

Dark Devotion - Take a somewhat gothic setting with various lethal monsters, traps, and perils, then add in a variety of weapons and power-ups you can slowly grind to acquire and you have Dark Devotion. In a vacuum while this wouldn’t necessarily be considered a great title overall it would likely garner some attention. The challenge, though, is the availability of titles that are very similar but have an overall edge in terms of depth and quality. On the one hand the grinding and weapons have a fair amount in common with Dead Cells, on the other the setting, style, and difficulty are reminiscent of Blasphemous. While I think Dark Devotion works and is worthwhile for the proper audience the comparisons are impossible not to make, and unfortunately in those match-ups I’d consider this title to be lacking by comparison. Still, if you want to get your gothic grind on it’s challenging and has its moments.

Ultra Off-Road 2019: Alaska - Having never gone off-roading, let alone been to Alaska, I’m unable to comment on the authenticity of the experience offered by this title. In my mind, however, I’ll assume the experience is less like trying to maneuver a brick on wheels through an odd mess of a landscape then this. The challenge with a title like this is trying to figure out who it is ultimately for, and what the target experience is supposed to be. I suppose it was shooting for a simulation akin to a game like Spintires, but if so the lack of any real depth or a sense of quality make it come up far short of that mark. From the unusual need to pick up and eat food to there seeming to only be one standard clunk sound no matter what you make contact with this off-road experience stalls out before it even gets started.

Monday, October 28

Mini Reviews: October 28th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Roof Rage [Nindie Choice!] - OK, Smash fans, hear me out. When it comes to fast-paced and somewhat crazy fighting Smash tends to be in a class all its own. That said, I’m here to tell you that someone has managed to capture a fair amount of that energy and surprising depth and put it into a budget pixel fighter. Roof Rage may just have a stable of pretty familiar and generic fighters overall by appearance but its fighting action is a pleasant surprise, especially when combining the pretty diverse combatants with the numerous stage layouts you’ll contend with. In general fighters feel responsive, their individual attacks have enough variety to encourage experimentation, and for the most part the game exceeds what I would have expected from a title at this pretty humble price point. If you’ve been looking for something with the spirit of Smash to enjoy with some friends and can live without the wild and wacky power-ups Roof Rage may be a great choice for your next throwdown.

Anthill - If you’re a fan of strategy gaming that skews a little more to the casual side, cutting your teeth on things like tower defense titles, Anthill may be a perfect experience for you. Given the responsibility of managing your small colony of ants you’ll need to create paths for your various unit types to follow to maximize efficiency collecting resources, defending your hive, and ensuring that old supply lines are pruned to avoid waste. You’ll need to decide how many of each unit to work with to tackle the challenges you face, a draught of workers will slow your growth but what use are they if they’re being lost to enemies of various kinds? Played exclusively in handheld mode the controls are intuitive and the action is pretty bite-sized and fun if you’ve been looking for a new variation on somewhat casual strategy gaming.

Baldur’s Gate / Baldur’s Gate II - If you’re a “vintage gamer” like myself who has been in the PC space you’ve definitely heard of, and likely played, one or both of these pen and paper inspired RPG classics. While visually there’s no doubt they’re limited and the controls are obviously a conversion from their native PC roots if you feel like modern RPGs too often lack diversity and depth in their character building you should really appreciate the degree to which you’re able to cater to your preferences in these two epic adventures. While some of the oddball characters and their dialogue, for me, are among the more memorable elements of the series there’s a good reason these titles are held in high regard so if you’re willing to overlook the experience being a bit creaky in places it’s worth getting to know for the first time or perhaps revisit to enjoy the nostalgia.

Remothered: Tormented Fathers - With it being that time of year where people are looking for an experience that’ll get them on edge and throw in some scares with a game like Remothered checks multiple boxes. The stage is set with a creepy mansion and an old man who is thoroughly creepy, where it goes from there is for you to discover. Like many other survival horror games your character isn’t able to be much of an aggressor, you’re generally going to be focused on evading detection and trying to hide while putting together what’s going on and trying to make your escape. Mechanically setting small traps and trying to defend yourself is possible but it’s also a bit clunky, so while there’s some great tension if you’re receptive to the experience others may find it repetitive and frustrating. With more than one option on the system in this same vein I don’t think any aspect of Remothered makes it the clear winner, for the most part I think it ultimately would come down to tastes in how graphic or intense you want your experience, and under that criteria this is pretty middle of the road overall.

Beast Quest - When you aspire to match up to the likes of the Legend of Zelda series and its ilk, taking on a grand adventure in a 3D world, you’ve got quite an endeavor ahead of you. There’s no doubt some of this desire lies at the core of Beast Quest, as your main character is a young man charged with setting out to save the kingdom provided with a sword, shield, some armor, and sage words from an old wizard. Along the way you’ll enlist some help you can call on periodically to get out of a pinch but for the most part you’ll explore the world solo, generally following a very linear path with only minor puzzles to work through. Perhaps if the game’s combat were engaging and exciting some other areas coming up lacking would be more forgivable but unfortunately as much time as you’ll spend fighting various beasts and bandit fighting is stunted and awkward all around. There are simply better options, even on a budget, for this sort of play on the system so it’s hard to recommend Beast Quest for just about anyone.

Sunday, October 27

Mini Reviews: October 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Pig Eat Ball [Nindie Choice!] - When a game comes along that has classic arcade-style sensibilities and it is just plain weird it is pretty well sure to get my attention. On both fronts Pig Eat Ball delivers, with an oddball experience and a ton of levels that are reminiscent of classics like Pac-Man but with a weirdo take and a bit more strategy involved. You see, the issue is that as you consume more balls you’ll continue to get more rotund, which can then restrict you from getting around. The solution? Throw them back up, of course. This makes for some entertainment as well as quite a bit of strategy as you try to complete the level objectives as quickly as possible yet for the most part your available skills are limited. Where the fun really kicks into gear is with the game’s sheer variety of settings and variations of levels, you really never can know quite what to expect, and that’s what really put the experience over the top for me.

Day and Night [Nindie Choice!] - Action puzzlers are a challenge to get right as they need to have their own sense of personality to differentiate from the pack but don’t want to risk going too far afield with their core gameplay for fear of alienating people. Day and Night walks that tightrope pretty effectively, offering up what feels like a mix of concepts from multiple familiar classics and then throwing in a variety of elements that complicate matters in ways that make sense but are generally new. The main hook revolves around both a day and night, as well as a seasonal cycle, setting the foundation for you never being able to truly be comfortable and needing to be mindful of what will happen when things shift. Dormant blocks belonging to another cycle will activate as the time of day changes and if you or your opponent were able to do some decent planning amidst the chaos of blocks falling that can quickly turn things around. In addition the game’s power-ups can be very effective and often provide a choice of slamming them down to use immediately or letting them fall slowly to sit dormant until triggered, providing even more room for strategy. Throw in both a story mode and challenges for people to play through solo and this is a puzzler chock full of challenges and fun.

Cat Quest II - Meow let me tell you about a purrfect game for fans of furry cuteness and action RPG action. While perhaps it isn’t a very radical shift from the original title it does bring more content, cat punnery, and the ability to play with a friend to the table (or at least shift between two characters who can be geared up to combat different situations). Much like the first one this is a game that revolves heavily on a stick and move strategy, with combat mostly consisting of you getting up close with melee and then dodge rolling out of the way when your enemies attack. You’re also able to work with ranged magic though and depending on the foe you face you’ll want and need to change things up. It’s a pretty light and fun experience, though a bit grindy for sure, but it should make for fun if cute action is what you’re seeking.

Jackbox Party Pack 6 - The Jackbox games have pretty well become a staple at my house for fun when we have people over. In the case of this sixth party pack while there’s fun to be had, for sure, and none of the games are redundant (which is a good thing), compared to previous outings this one just doesn’t have quite the star power of some of its predecessors. The only sequel in the pack, Trivia Murder Party 2, is a lot of fun just like the original. The mix of trivia, morbid mini games, and plenty of gallows humor works nicely and it serves as a great start. Following that up there’s Role Models which isn’t so much a competitive game as a fun way to have some laughs as you and your friends categorize one another with forced prompts so you can all discover which Classic Movie Hero you believe each of you could be. After that you have Joke Boat, a mix of Mad Libs and trying to come up with the best punchlines to complete what aren’t always helpful prompts that result for head to head joke-offs. Next there’s Dictatorium, which has a core that feels like some of their great classic titles with an emphasis on everyone trying to be funny in working with made up words. Weirdly this one is over very quickly and never feels like it gets a chance to get a proper rhythm going and it falls short of its contemporaries. Finally, there’s the alien-discovering Push the Button, where in a round robin fashion you and your friends will be put through some paces to discover who among you is the human and who is the alien. Though playable with only 4 people this one is far more effective with a larger group and has a lot of potential for varied and unpredictable fun. While it isn’t among their best packs the games are still all entertaining and have their own sense of style.

Billy Bomber - Budget titles are always interesting to check out, if you can look past their often more simplistic appearance some creative gameplay can lay within. To a degree this is true of Billy Bomber, which challenges you to use a somewhat limited set of elements to guide/propel Billy to the goal in each level, trying to bump into stars along the way. It’s a decent exercise in applying the rules of momentum, some planning, and a sense of timing as you try to use bombs to knock him around. While it’s pretty simplistic from head to toe for the price it’s at least a fun way to experiment with some creative applied physics puzzles.

Thursday, October 24

Mini Reviews: October 24th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Overwatch [AAA Choice!] - While I don’t think most people likely need to be told, Overwatch is a pretty thoroughly impressive game. But what’s most shocking is how well it plays on the Switch. This is a title that people had serious doubt about in terms of how it would perform, and even moreso than some of the other impressively ported top-tier games that have come to the console Overwatch stands almost a head above everyone else. While it may be trimmed and pulled back in ways people who’ve played it on other systems may notice, it looks great and generally performs incredibly well, including little but vital things like gyro aiming that are spot on.

Where people may be divided is in the gameplay itself, which is heavily geared towards teamwork, at times in almost an oppressive way. Unlike its competition which generally will let teams roll however they like, even when sometimes laughably unbalanced, Overwatch wants a set number of people to fall into each key role, though at least there are enough characters in each that you can move the dial around a little bit. The result is what in many ways feels like a blending of the FPS and MOBA genres, full of quick action but perhaps a bit more stiff and structured than some run and gunners may appreciate. While perhaps it may be more ideal to play it on another system from a big picture perspective, to be honest the Switch version feels minimally compromised and plays incredibly well.

Megaquarium [Nindie Choice!] - Simulation/building games have always been a genre I think of the PC for in general, and indeed many have their roots there. While they can be ported over to consoles, more often than not the PC-based core tends to be very noticeable and a mix of clunky menus and controls hamper the experience with a controller. Megaquarium exhibits practially none of those issues, is both intuitive and controller-friendly as a whole, and if you’ve been itching to get your build on it may be just what you’ve been looking for. The goal is to take on an aquarium that’s either new or in need of help, get your tanks and gear to support them set up, manage the aquatic and vegetative life in each, and then oversee the expansion and maintenance of it all to keep it growing and thriving. While perhaps lacking in the extra thrill you can get from something like Rollercoaster Tycoon this is still a very competent and rewarding sim, and it scratches an itch I’ve had on the system for a while now nicely.

Starblox Inc [Nindie Choice!] - With iconic titles like Tetris, Puyo Puyo, Lumines, and others out there in the action puzzle genre it can be a tricky business to establish yourself. Too often games fall into the trap of seeming to start with a base mimicking one of these classics and then settling for being a variation on that theme. Starblox Inc tackles originality by blending genres, in this case by pairing with fighting, and the result may not be for everyone but it’s at least fresh and different. You and your opponent will each have your own puzzle to work on and will try to grab pieces that are falling and then quickly arrange them to complete matches. Where the challenge comes in is that instead of working on the puzzles in isolation and then triggering attacks on each other you’ll be attacking each other directly as you try to vie for pieces. In many ways it’s a subtle change but the resultant gameplay is pretty different in an often aggressive way. Granted, this is either a mechanic you’ll embrace or be less enthused with, but you’ve got to give credit for shaking up the norm.

Sea Salt - Real-time strategy at one time was an absolutely huge genre in the gaming community, with the likes of the Command and Conquer and Warcraft/StarCraft leading the pack, but that has been mostly dormant for quite some time. I traditionally think of it as a PC genre as well, but for the most part thankfully using a controller usually doesn’t seem like a major impediment. In the case of Sea Salt while you won’t be worrying over resource collection (a positive in my book), you will be managing a pack of dark minions of various types trying to exact punishment as a vengeful sea god who has seen their followers betray them. The resulting gameplay is a mixture of strategy, tension, and sometimes amusement as you’ll need to be smart about how you manage and add to your flock to avoid a variety of traps, characters with special attacks, and what are typically tricky boss battles. While I wouldn’t say it jumps out as an experience that anyone will enjoy this genre isn’t widely represented on the console and among them this may be the most satisfying of its brethren, though I may be biased as I like the dark carnage this offers up as your minions rip through the unfaithful.

Just Ignore Them - Unfortunately this ends up being yet another title in what feels like a pattern of games with scary and/or creepy themes that delivers stale and uninspired gameplay. This ultimately plays out as a point and click adventure, where you’ll be trying to keep your character alive and progressing in order to advance what story there is. The issue is that the scares are limited, the progression is painfully linear, and the experience as a whole is incredibly bland. If you’re willing to gut it out you may find there to be some worthwhile reward to the experience but with such a large library of superior games calling it’s hard to justify bothering with this one.

Tuesday, October 22

Mini Reviews: October 22nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

A Hat in Time [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to 3D platformers and you’re looking to release on the console that Mario helped make you’d better be ready to deliver. A Hat in Time has a cute look and certainly some strange situations and characters which helps to serve as a solid base. Where platforming is concerned while it doesn’t quite reach the level of polish (and in places, performance) that Nintendo’s mascot mustachioed plumber hits there’s no doubt that it is swinging for the fences at every step. This includes some control mechanics and level designs that deviate from what you’ve come to expect and in particular that aspect is one I appreciate about the title. The density of secrets and things to collect on any given level can be a bit overwhelming, and early on I wasn’t always sure when I was supposed to be trying to collect them (it adheres to the Mario 64 template of focused missions to complete per run), but more often than not the experience left me with a smile on my face to be playing a new platformer with a different style and sense of humor that felt rewarding. While a patch to file down some rough spots would be ideal I’m glad I’ve finally played a new platformer series that gets more right than wrong and am hoping to see more of it in the future.

Battle Planet: Judgement Day - As a huge arcade-style twin-stick roguelike shooter fan this is a title planted firmly in my wheelhouse. Feeling a bit like arcade shooter meets Super Mario Galaxy, the space for fighting enemies and disarming bombs is always a bit limited so you’ll need to quickly get your bearings and keep on the move, taking advantage of the terrain whenever you can or at least trying to avoid areas with things like lava to try to keep yourself out of trouble. Progression across runs is supported, thankfully, so there can be a bit of a grind until you feel like you’re more in control of things but that’s par for the roguelike course. Each of the 3 characters does play a bit differently so you’ll likely settle into a favorite and then work to max them out, and if you’re able to play with a friend you can really eat up the competition working to complement each other strategically. While there’s nothing in particular that absolutely drives this to the top of my list for the genre (keeping in mind there are quite a number of amazing titles that serve as competition) I love Battle Planet’s change of pace and style and would happily recommend it if you think it looks like it would suit your tastes.

Into The Dead 2 - This is one of those titles where you generate quite a bit of excitement and anticipation going in (“Zombie game! Bring it”) and then manage to enjoy yourself a bit while grumbling a bit in disappointment nonetheless. With a too-high price point and mobile roots while this endless run-and-gun zombie shooter can be fun the contained, on-rails, and grindy nature of it all doesn’t feel very good on a dedicated gaming console to be honest. I have no doubt the physical controls may make playing the game more comfortable but in particular playing this on a large screen feels weird and unnecessary, the core gameplay simply isn’t very complex and for multiple reasons (overall ease, quick runs, limited gameplay scope) if I’m looking for this sort of experience I think playing on my phone would be more ideal… and likely cheaper in the end since it wouldn’t take too long to get my fill. It is worth noting that if you're into the gameplay and love movie nostalgia there are also Ghostbusters and Night of the Living DLC available to enhance the game as well for an additional price.

ZikSquare - New ideas and ways to approach gameplay are always welcome but there’s no doubt they’re a bit of a risky proposition. You can see the effort and desire behind ZikSquare, to build a dynamic platforming experience with a direct tie to accompanying music. The attempt is an admirable one but the resulting gameplay is unfortunately a bit on the shaky side. Visually there's certainly a lack of polish but more critically though the number of moves you have to work with is relatively limited there's just a bit of roughness to it as well that can at times be frustrating. If you're a creative type who would enjoy the prospect of creating your own levels and music the added mode that allows you to do just that may be enough to make it worthwhile, but if you're just in it for the platforming you'll likely end up being disappointed.

Where the Bees Make Honey - Art is inherently in the eye of the beholder and that certainly carries over into interpretation of game design. Not all games are meant to appeal to everyone, and ideally there should be an audience out there for just about every possible kind of experience. In the case of this title, though, I'm struggling to identify who that would be. Inconsistent, quite short, too often clunky, and with a layer of what can feel like pretension trying to act like there's some grand point it is trying to make this is a weird kitchen sink experience of a game. If somehow that sounds interesting to you be sure to check out the gameplay video to give it a look, this is one of the more odd (and not in a good way) titles I've explored on the console.

Thursday, October 17

Mini Reviews: October 17th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Little Town Hero [Nindie Choice!] - When you’re a game studio responsible for what may be arguably one of the biggest and most successful franchises in the world it must be challenging to break away and do something very different. They’ve proven themselves in the past by making some smaller titles like the excellent HarmoKnight in particular, and in the case of Little Town Hero they’ve again plotted out a pretty unique direction and made something worthwhile. The emphasis in the game is on strategic turn-based combat against some pretty intimidating monsters who mean to do your town and friends harm. The hook is that while elements of the battle system may feel familiar and similar to concepts in some tactical RPGs or even deck-building games there’s nothing I’ve ever played quite like this. Getting up to speed with this takes time, as do the battles themselves which tend to be a pretty drawn out affair, but the result tends to be quite rewarding if you have patience and the right mind for it. Layer in a pretty light-hearted story with fun characters, a great art style, and plenty of charming polish and this is absolutely a unique title that stands out on its own and should be rewarding for the right audience.

Kine [Nindie Choice!] - Cutting right to the chase the Switch has a massive library of puzzle games of all types and levels of polish. That said, on pretty well every level it doesn’t have anything that quite compares to Kine. The core challenge of the game is its 3D puzzling, featuring 3 distinctive characters who each have their own unique ways of moving around and being manipulated. What you’ll find is that in order to get through each stage you’ll need to very precisely work out how to navigate its challenges, and it’s going to take some serious thought power to do so as the game moves on and continues to raise the bar in terms of the intricacy of its levels. Throw in the game’s terrific art style, easygoing jazz soundtrack, and periodic insightful and fun comments and it’s a compelling package for puzzle fans in search of a change of pace on the system.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors - While it got off to a little bit of a slow start the Switch has been blessed with a ton of great beat-em-ups to choose from, and especially for fans of the original arcade title Ninja Saviors is a strong addition to the list. You’ll pick your ninja, each of which has their own variation in play style, and then take on a load of challenging side-scrolling slashing action. Especially for retro fans showing respect for the original game is critical, and there’s no doubt that Saviors does this, absolutely delivering what feels like an authentic sequel to the arcade classic original. Depending on how you approach the game this could be viewed either as a strength or a weakness. The game’s strictly side-to-side movement and combat are authentic, and I’m sure there’s a crowd thirsting for the simultaneous simplicity and challenge it brings, but even moreso than games where you have more ability to move around it does make much of the “filler” combat while you progress to the challenging boss fights feel generic. If you’re playing co-op with a friend this can still make for a lot of fun, and if you enjoy this more classic style you’ll likely be in heaven, but the more modern your tastes are it may feel a bit limited.

Sublevel Zero Redux - Way back when there was an underground 3D shooter that shook things up nicely called Descent. Though it wasn’t for everyone it was a unique title that challenged you to think about complex 3 dimensional spaces and navigate them all while engaging in combat with enemies. Sublevel Zero Redux in many regards feels like a spiritual successor to that title, bringing labyrinthian 3D spaces, a variety of weapons systems, and an added wrinkle of challenge in the fact that it’s a roguelike game which brings along its own challenges, unpredictability, and variety. While conceptually and in terms of general play I dig it there are also some elements that feel like they bog things down a bit. Mainly the concern with ammunition and resources and the need to manage your weapons and support systems a bit. For me they just interfere with keeping the action going and detract from the fun, but if you can live with what may be somewhat minor gripes it’s a unique and engaging shooter that may feel very new to many people on Switch.

Stranded Sails - Survival games and cultivation simulators are somewhat of a niche, but with periodic stand out titles like Stardew Valley that manage to get the formula right in a way that can break out into the mainstream they can make a big splash if done right. Stranded Sails aims high and attempts to use a shipwreck as the basis for your needing to start things up from scratch to build a thriving village from limited resources, and to a degree it is successful. Once you get the lay of the land and understand the systems you’ll be able to cultivate, collect, and craft your way to success. Where it struggles is in helping to compensate for the inevitable grind that you get stuck in for titles like these. Where some titles use engaging stories, a little more variety in game systems, or even fair doses of humor to smooth things over Stranded Sails feels a bit too rote and generic, lacking that polish of charm. Still, if you’ve got the itch for building things up and getting your ship’s crew back on its feet it can be satisfying.

Tuesday, October 15

Mini Reviews: October 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair [Nindie Choice!] - Retro games or those that attempt to recapture a certain vintage feel can be a tricky business and there’s no doubt that in such an oversaturated market with abundant choices hitting just the right notes must be tough. The original Yooka-Laylee absolutely nailed the presentation and even many gameplay mechanics of the Banjo-Kazooie series but perhaps was a bit too dated and sometimes empty or sterile to excite in this modern era. With Impossible Lair the target seems to have been instead set on the classic side-scrolling platforming of the likes of Donkey Kong Country and this time it all just feels like it comes together to make an experience dense with smartly hidden secrets and a wide variety of classic platforming challenges that just feel right. While perhaps the endgame may not rub everyone the right way as a whole Impossible Lair put a smile on my face, both making me nostalgic for the games that served as an inspiration and impressing me with a great deal of care in making the experience distinctive in its own right.

Felix the Reaper - If there’s one thing that Felix the Reaper isn’t lacking in it’s quirky personality. The rotund but surprisingly agile main character shuffles and dances his way through every stage with an exuberant energy that’s admirable, but I suppose that’s the effect his being in love has on him. Humor is abundant here, and as you work your way through a variety of weird puzzle sequences in order to orchestrate the elaborate demise of your given target, the mix of dialogue, some elements, and Felix’s constant strutting it’s hard not to be charmed. Mechanically the puzzle elements are pretty smart, the goal is to remain in the shadows as you manipulate the angle of light and will need to divine the sequence of moves and interactions with objects to get you to your goal. Where it can struggle initially is that there are times when it’s unclear while you’re still learning what it wants you to do, and as you get further in underneath the presentation the actual puzzles can feel a bit generic. Still, if you like a good puzzle game and enjoy a good laugh or perhaps a quirky love story this will probably entertain you for a few hours.

A Knight’s Quest - Possessing a strong sense of adventure, many nods to the Zelda series and some other titles, and reasonably open world to explore and discover things in A Knight’s Quest has a fair amount working in its favor. You’ll explore, work through some smart puzzles, gain abilities, look for opportunities to exploit those abilities, find secrets, and generally enjoy a solid adventure. Knocking it down a notch are its aping mechanics and abilities found elsewhere a bit too much, and critically lacking some of their nuances. Almost every element of the game gets a passing grade but there are rough patches with wonky geometry, some reported progression bugs, and simply a lack of polish in spots that keep it from reaching the next level. For the price it’s a solid bit of fun, just temper your expectations and be ready for perhaps a little too much familiarity overall.

The Eyes of Ara - With tablets and smartphones having opened the door to more casual gamers the puzzle genre has been in a terrific renaissance as a whole. The lone wolf developer behind The Eyes of Ara didn’t shoot for simply making a quick time-waster though, he seems to have set his sights on a much more ambitious target for inspiration… the PC classic Myst. While The Room series has tackled blending great visuals with intricate puzzles, the generally confined spaces it occupies doesn’t lend itself to as much variety as you get when you’re able to explore and move through a number of environments. Ara provides this diversity, mixing together some hidden object style elements, trial and error, experimenting with the environment, and working with a variety of items to keep you on your toes. This can, however, make the experience feel a bit uneven at times as well as inevitably there’ll be puzzles you enjoy more than others, and without a hint system there can be some frustrations and perplexing leaps of faith. Still, it makes for an engaging challenge and stands apart from pretty well anything else on Switch. One important note is that though there’s support for playing this docked it uses the pointer controls which, as always, are simply awful and frustrating due to the constant need to recalibrate. If you’re not planning to play this mostly in handheld mode you’ve been warned.

Super Box Land Demake - While perhaps I’m a bit jaded having played so many indie puzzle games over the past few years but while its presentation may be nice enough, Demake’s gameplay is what I’d consider painfully average. Perhaps if you haven’t played many box pushers in your life it may feel fresh but there’s so much bland filler as you get started it’s really tough to want to stick with it even if you’re assuming things will get better. Just there are so many more interesting and creative puzzlers on Switch than this so it’s hard to recommend.

Monday, October 14

Mini Reviews: October 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Valfaris [Nindie Choice!] - If you’ve been looking for an experience on Switch that takes some of the core shooting mechanics of games the likes of Contra, then bolts the ability to hack and slash, and tops it all off with some cranking metal tunes and loads of intensity… Valfaris is going to be your new jam. Made by the same team who brought the platform Slan: Back From Hell, Valfaris varies up the action and tones down the frustration factor a little bit, though not much. This is a grit your teeth, laugh as you turn enemies into a bloody mess, and enjoy the thrills kind of experience that sets itself apart from the current pack on the Switch nicely. Be sure you’re ready to take a bit of a beating at times, but from start to finish this is a top-notch shooter/slasher with personality and adrenaline to spare, a great game for cranking up the volume and letting it all hang out for a while.

Mistover - Fans of challenging and highly strategic turn-based play have had a number of quality picks on the system to choose from, and though Mistover has a lot on its side with great art and an interesting setup its random elements may make it a bit too unpredictable at times. There’s no doubt that when you have a pretty well-balanced party you can do some serious damage by positioning your characters correctly and making use of key skills to try to wipe out your enemies with great efficiency. The problem is that since in Mistover permadeath is very much a thing once you move past that starter party and its complementary characters you’re at the mercy of fate, and it can indeed be cruel, potentially giving you a team that’s doomed to fail before it even gets out of the starting gate. It’s one thing to need to roll with the punches and have your strategy remain fluid, it’s another when your lack of an ability to buff your team effectively or perhaps target enemy rows begins to make it feel a bit too lopsided against you. The main problem tends to be how much it feels like everything seems to fall apart at once on you, even when you’re playing as effectively as you can. If you like to grit your teeth and dig in this may be precisely what you’re looking for, but for anyone even moderately casual this may be a hair-puller.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered - If you’ve ever thought it would be cool to strap on a proton pack and join the likes of Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston to bust some ghosts this may be a thrill for you. Working as a team you’ll be taken on as a new member of the squad and together you’ll move to different locations taking on all manner of spirits with various attacks and defenses to be aware of. In terms of presentation and ideas it’s all pretty solid, just be ready for the gameplay itself to be a bit on the clumsy side. As you may imagine fine control isn’t the strength of this technology and that can make for some pretty chaotic and confusing battles as you try to wear down, capture, and then contain ghosts while trying not to get incapacitated by ghostly counter-attacks. If you’re into the license this may be a really good time, but if you’re less enamored with it your mileage may not be as good.

Aeternoblade II - Side-scrolling slashers are pretty well-represented on the Switch, though none of them have game mechanics quite like Aeternoblade. Early on the ability you acquire to capture your actions in time and then replay them, effectively either doubling your attacks or allowing for you to trigger switches remotely, adds a nice wrinkle of puzzle-solving to the mix. The action itself can struggle a bit, especially as it switches perspectives at times and the mechanics that work just fine (though a bit spammy) in two dimensions can get a bit wonky when introducing a camera and trying to manage enemies in more open 3D spaces. Still, it has some original elements so that may attract some interest for people in love with the art style or are looking for something a little different.

Community Inc - If you’re looking for a community building game where you’ll create and define every element piece by piece, setting up your workers, assigning their roles, and cultivating their well-being Community Inc may be of interest to you. However, at least in its current state it’s hard not to notice quite a lot of rough edges to the interface and even the experience itself. While using the controller is workable it’s hardly ideal, the game feels much more like it was designed for a PC with a mouse and keyboard and getting through the many menus can be a bit arduous. Throw in wonky animations, workers who seem to get lost or have difficulties executing your commands, and just random periodic issues and you’ll need to keep an open mind and show patience as on the whole the game doesn’t seem to be finished or at least polished in its current state.

Thursday, October 10

Mini Reviews: October 11th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Killer Queen Black [Nindie Choice!] - After having heard so much about this killer multiplayer arcade title I was interested to see what the fuss was all about. While the core of the game is ultimately reliant on playing with as many as 7 other people (4 to a side) in this case the developers have gone the extra mile to ensure it can be played across platforms so availability shouldn’t be as much of an issue as we sometimes see with Switch-exclusive multiplayer titles. One note is that there’s definitely a learning curve, and thankfully there are a multitude of offline tutorials that try to break everything down from the multiple paths to victory, to what roles people can play, to simply learning how to follow what’s going on since things tend to get hectic. While it may feel a bit on the simpler side, depending on your taste, this is a game that just about anyone should be able to pick up and get in to and it absolutely offers up a both a co-op and competitive multiplayer experience that nothing out there can rival.

Darksiders II - While the first game tackled the journey of the Horseman War, this time around you’ll be taking control of his “brother” Death. Though there’s quite a lot that feels familiar about this new Darksiders outing I’ll give credit for the nuanced differences in the core combat and traversal mechanics that give your character a different sort of heft and movement that keeps the game from seeming too redundant. As before this is a game focused on epic battles, cranking up your combo meter, searching every nook and cranny for hidden goodies, and generally having a good time throughout. Though it isn’t by any means a “new” game it looks and performs great on the system and serves up plenty of satisfying action for the price tag.

Family Tree - Taking aim at the budget-friendly, colorful, and approachable casual game category we have Family Tree. Your goal in each stage is pretty simple, collect everything as quickly as you can by aiming and shooting yourself around or showing a sense of time when dealing with traps and obstacles. It’s hardly rocket science but overall the play is pretty satisfying if you’re just looking for something to relax with. It stays on the edge of giving you a challenge without generally pushing too hard and is a nice change of pace on the system.

Spooky Ghosts Dot Com - As long as you keep this title’s low price in mind what appears to be a somewhat bare bones Metroidvania title turns out to be a pretty challenging, though not terribly long, romp that should help satisfy for a little while at least. Explore, gather loot, find lost cats, and learn the patterns of some reasonably tough bosses if you want to survive. It may be a bit chunky visually, but redeems itself with solid play and more fun than you may assume at a glance.

Dreaming Canvas - Intended as a casual and newbie-friendly title, whether you’re young or just not a veteran gamer, Dreaming Canvas lets you walk through several environments and take in their pretty wonderfully soothing atmosphere. Explore and you’ll find paint brushes that include quotes about art as well as easels that you’ll be able to take some part in designing a painting for. There’s not a load of content, there’s really no story, and it will likely feel pretty bare bones if you know your games, but for the target audience there may be some low-stress enjoyment to be had and to help introduce them to movement in a 3D space that’s at least attractive.

Mini Reviews: October 10th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince [Nindie Choice!] - A quick admission, while I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the Trine series overall I was just never much of a fan of the overall experience. Through some alchemy, or maybe my tastes as a gamer have evolved, that makes my experience with Trine 4 a wonderful surprise. Smart, absolutely stacked with puzzles, and though somewhat repetitive continually changing things up in small ways I appreciate it is an action puzzling dream, and all the better if you can enjoy it with a friend. As always, each of your 3 core characters have specific abilities that you’ll need to use in concert with one another to chip away at obstacles and discover hidden goodies that seem to be present every few steps. Though I’ll admit the combat, when it happens, is clunky, this is a game first and foremost about challenging your mind and it absolutely manages to do that on a pretty well continuous basis throughout. Far more than just resting on being a pretty game (my typical feeling about the rest of the series), this is one of the most satisfying titles I’ve played this year.

Super Crate Box [Nindie Choice!] - It’s always very cool to encounter games that have simple designs and very few rules but then manage to be so well-implemented that they suck up your time. Super Crate Box is such a game, one that I was introduced to at PAX and that I was eager to spend more time with on release. At its core this is an arcade platform shooter where your goal is to survive and beat your highest score, the trick is that shooting enemies doesn’t move that needle, only picking up new crates advances your score. The hitch? You never know what weapon that will give you. It could be relatively weak sauce weapons you’ll struggle to hold enemies at bay with, it could be something powerful that you may want to keep long enough to help get the situation under control, or it could be a weapon like the Disc Gun that represents as much of a threat to you as your enemies. Throw in an endless flow of bad guys and a relentless pace and this is one of the best pick-up-and-put-down budget titles on the Switch, offering you a quick hit of action that consistently delivers a challenge that feels great for a single playthrough or perhaps a string of an hour or more if you’re determined to get further than you have before.

Neo Cab - When it comes to cyberpunk stories/adventures who knew that the Switch would slowly end up with a collection of them of sorts? I suppose the neon-tinged visuals and semi-futuristic settings that are then possible allow for exploring slightly different narrative territory, and that’s something that Neo Cab does well. Moving to a big city with some emotional baggage, but hoping to rekindle love, you character Lina is a cab driver just trying to make a living. Throw in the complications of your love life, an overarching theme of trying to fight back against the tidal wave of automation replacing human workers, and an eclectic mix of characters you’ll encounter as your fares and Neo Cab creates an interesting world to inhabit for a little while. The degree of agency you have in making choices also sets the stage for replayability, letting people who are curious explore a variety of outcomes and get the most out of the title.

Candleman - When trying to set your title apart in a crowded Switch eShop having a unique visual hook is a good starting point. That’s something Candleman very much delivers on, set in dark halls which your character is able to illuminate, but only for short bursts since doing so will slowly make you melt. While this mechanic, exploring somewhat in the dark and trying to find your way to light other candles along the way, can make for a challenge and even some suspense, it also is a convenient way to cover for what are often pretty generic level layouts. On the plus side Candleman has a great visual hook, is approachable, and can be fun, just be sure to keep your overall expectations in check since it’s just very average beyond that.

One Night Stand - While I can’t say I’ve ever had a one night stand in my life, and that could perhaps make me unable to review this with authority, there’s an honesty and sincerity to this title I found appealing. Waking up next to someone you don’t know, and who it becomes pretty clear isn’t remembering you very well either, this is a game about small decisions and watching how things play out depending on what you choose. Given a moment when she walks out of the room do you rifle through her stuff to get something to work with or just observe? When talking to her do you pursue a particular line of discussion to satisfy your interest or see where she wants to take it? Are you looking to just get out of Dodge or make the most of the situation? With multiple endings depending on your choices you can explore all of them if you’d like and though each playthrough is relatively short I consistently found the dialogue to be honest and engaging. While it isn’t an amazing game, as a study of people and how they react to perhaps somewhat embarrassing circumstances it can be fun to explore.

Tuesday, October 8

Mini Reviews: October 8th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

80 Days [Nindie Choice!] - Though the act of traversing the world is no longer such a grand feat in the time of Jules Verne, when he wrote Around the World in 80 Days, it was by no means a simple feat. 80 Days puts you in the driver’s seat (well, not literally, you’re generally a passenger) and tasks you with pulling off the title feat, using a mix of smarts, luck, and careful management of your time and money to pull it off yourself. If you’re not a fan of reading a lot of text this won’t be the game for you, but it is essential to fleshing out your adventure, winding in some intrigue and plenty of details to mine for hints on your best bets for getting around quickly and minding your budget. With so many potential routes to choose from there’s actually ample room for replay as well, by making a few different choices early on you can embark on very different journeys to not only try to do better but simply enjoy more of this richly written world.

The Tiny Bang Story - Having played through and enjoyed quite a number of hidden object and puzzle games over the years there’s a comfort zone that The Tiny Bang Story occupies pretty well, at least for a little while. With whimsical art and a very relaxed overall feel there’s some merit here, but in terms of there being something more than just the raw puzzles or some real variety this falls short. The best examples of this genre have generally had some underlying story or mystery to help drive you forward and often include far more diverse and challenging puzzles to ponder over as well. While this may satisfy if you’re looking for a mild distraction for a few hours there are definitely better examples of the genre on the system already.

Scheming Through the Zombie Apocalypse - Though at times not feeling like much of a game Scheming Through the Zombie Apocalypse at least manages to deliver an experience that includes some laughs. Working as a pair of misfit friends you’ll need to work together to try to survive not just the undead but also the real threats of other survivors as resources become scarce and precious. There are some choices to make and variations in what you’re doing but much of the experience feels a bit like it’s on rails as well, so you’ll want to plan your trip to this vision of the end of the world accordingly. If you’re just down for some sarcasm and laughs first though it may be a strong and unique match in the Switch library.

Tic-Tac-Letters - Taking on the puzzle likes of Sudoku and the Picross series we now have Tic-Tac-Letters, which in some regards feels similar but whose rules are unique and present their own challenge. Similar to the game’s namesake one underlying rule has to do with 3 of the same letter in a row, except in this case you don’t want that to happen. Helping you with another piece of information you’ll have numbers on each row and column tied to how many more of a given letter there are left. Using the combination of these core rules you’ll be able to use the process of elimination to divine which letters go where. While this makes for a unique challenge visually it all gets a bit boring and even maybe annoying depending on the letters being used on any of the game’s 120 puzzles. Lacking visual variety or the satisfaction of a piece of pixel art you’re trying to complete this challenge may be unique but doesn’t necessarily feel as diverse or rewarding as its well-known competition.

Petoons Party - When making a family-friendly party game for a Nintendo system there’s good news and bad news. Obviously there’s an audience for such a title, especially with the Switch’s emphasis on local multiplayer. However, you’ve also got to be incredibly aware of the 800 pound gorilla named Mario Party looming over you as competition. Granted, you can still make a good or even a great game that stands apart from that title but the comparisons will be inevitable. Unfortunately for Petoons Party, even without taking the plumber and his friends into account, the pacing and overall quality of this collection would still be pretty lacking. Perhaps the goal was to make it accessible for younger gamers but many of the mini games here are utterly lacking in excitement and their controls are often a bit wonky. Worse, the simple act of getting through everyone's turns can feel like an eternity as the game just has a very slow and deliberate pace, again seemingly not being in tune with highly distractible kids who would in theory be their target audience. You can see what it’s trying to do in places but unfortunately a variety of problems make it a tough one to recommend.

Monday, October 7

Mini Reviews: October 7th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Fight’N Rage [Nindie Choice!] - After many years where the classic beat-em-up wasn’t getting much representation indie developers have really begun to rejuvenate the genre. While there have been a variety of takes on things, adhering almost too much to the old formula to shaking things up significantly, Fight’N Rage shows a great deal of reverence for the classic feel of titles like Final Fight without copying it too much, and throws in some great combos and variety that helps keep the fighting feel a bit less stale. That’s already a pretty tempting package for brawler fans but then, best of all, it comes in at a very fair price, has multiple characters who each have their own feel, and features loads of unlocks to help you refine the aesthetics for a little more fun. A great beat-em-up well worth your time!

Cyber Protocol [Nindie Choice!] - Helping to prove that there can be far more to a game than what it looks like Cyber Protocol was a title that seemed simple at a glimpse but once I got going with it quickly got me hooked. While its appearance is akin to retro arcade classics like Pac-Man and its various clones, this is a puzzle action game and it quickly gets you up to speed and then begins throwing you some serious challenges to both your planning and reflexes. Periodic checkpoints give you some respite but in order to grab all of the bonuses you’ll often need to go out on a limb and execute a series of moves to nab everything and then get to the exit without being destroyed. Since there’s simply nothing else like it on the system it is worthy of your attention if you like a challenge and can get past its simple appearance.

Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX - The Gunvolt games are absolutely unique with their blend of intense action and style, but I also think they’re a bit of an acquired taste. Some people truly love them and can’t get enough while they leave others cold. This new entry in the series proudly continues to push the trademark flair and over-the-topness further, but ultimately is just a better-made Gunvolt game. Fans of the series should be thrilled, but for everyone else perhaps it would be better to try out on sale.

Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate Edition - While Sniper Elite 2 had a certain visceral thrill to it the way its missions were set up and the fact that when you weren’t looking through your scope you felt very vulnerable held it back a bit. With this new entry in the series I’m happy to report that many of those concerns have been addressed, and the game doesn’t seem as determined to leave you feeling so often like you’re getting the short end of the stick and expected to gut things out. That isn’t to say there aren’t still challenges, both intended and probably not, but overall the balance here seems better… and there’s still nothing quite like watching enemy body parts get shredded by a well-placed sniper bullet in slow motion.

BurgerTime Party! - As a huge fan of the original arcade title I’m happy to report that this nostalgic trip is a pretty great one, maintaining the integrity and experience of the main game while giving both the visuals and the core gameplay itself an upgrade. Aside from being able to tackle stages with or against friends (thus the party part of the name) there are quite a number of power-ups that can have some unexpected results and add to the fun. With tons of levels to play through, many of which pose a pretty good challenge, this remake may be a bit pricey but it’s a polished and fun retro arcade experience nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 2

Mini Reviews: October 2nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns [Nindie Choice!] - While fans of the old school original game likely won’t even need to read this review, it’s worth noting that though some elements of this classic from the DS may be a little behind the current curve you can still easily see how it blazed a trail for the concept of a Match-3 Battle RPG genre. While perhaps the story would best be considered serviceable by RPG standards it does manage to throw a pretty wide variety of enemies and challenges at you, requiring you not only to be smart with your puzzle matching but also show some strategy in how you use the class skills you’ll acquire over the course of the game and dictated by a variety of choices you’ll make. Once you’ve unlocked all of the buildings the game has to offer you’ll have the choice to grind and acquire new skills and perks, all while changing up the puzzle formula just enough to keep things from feeling too redundant. Throw in multiple base classes that give you an incentive to play through the game multiple times with different strategies and the game offers hours of smart and satisfying strategic play for puzzle fans.

Lost Castle [Nindie Choice!] - As a huge fan of both beat-em-ups and roguelikes this game is a bit like a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup game for me, mixing things up to create a challenging and surprisingly varied package. While its art style may not appeal to everyone with its simplicity and in the early going you’re going to die quite a bit as you grind to unlock better weapons and upgrade yourself, if you’re patient and give it some time you’ll continue to get more formidable and smarter in how you proceed. How you gear up and make the most of your skills and items you pick up along the way really becomes the key to success as not all weapons are created equal and whether you prefer ranged weapons, close-up melee, or something that gives you the ability to do both you’ll often get many opportunities to change things up over the course of your run. If you’re a fan of both styles of play this is a great marriage of them both and worth checking out.

Button Button Up - With the abundance of platforming options on the Switch it can take some effort to stand out from the crowd and make an impression. Though pretty humble in appearance and not without flaws I’ll give Button Button Up credit for managing to do that, offering up an experience you can enjoy solo or with some friends. Throwing in some unique mechanics that offer some unexpected challenges and surprises, what’s great about the game is that it doesn’t simply remind you of every other platformer you’ve played before, something that many indies in this genre are unable to claim. One oddity is that though I’d generally consider it friendly to younger and less experienced gamers the stages are a bit on the long side, a departure from the typically more bite-sized lengths you may be used to. It’s not a killer by any means, but it is strange, but if you’ve been looking for a reasonably solid platformer that at least has a style of its own this is a good option.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - The Dark Forces and Jedi Knight series from yesteryear are often spoken of fondly by vintage gamer enthusiasts, and to a degree you can understand why. Wielding the power of the Force in games has always been a bit of a thrill and having the lightsaber as an option as a weapon was a great way to shake up the traditional FPS formula. With Jedi Outcast at a point far too deep into the game everything does come together and get more exciting, unfortunately the road to getting there is filled with what now feels like some iffy and uninspired level design and pretty bland shooter play. If you’re a die hard Star Wars fan and are looking to either recapture nostalgia or are willing to grit it out to get to the good stuff this may be satisfying but for everyone else in this case it’s probably better to use your imagination and wait for a more modern release to scratch your force powers itch.

Police Stories - Tactical shooters are typically an acquired taste as they require a slow and steady approach over diving in with guns blazing. Police Stories very much falls into that mold, though its top-down perspective really makes you want to think initially that it could just be a more thoughtful variant on Hotline Miami. Having spent some time with it my main comment would be that playing it solo is generally quite aggravating and slow as your AI partner doesn’t respond to a variety of scenarios very well and has a tendency to either get killed or simply not be very responsive. Playing with a friend really seems to be where the game hits its sweet spot if you’re able to communicate and work together, covering either other and being smart. If you’ve got someone to play with and who’ll cover your back this could be a blast, but if you’ll be taking the game on alone it simply takes too much time and effort to make progress… unless that may be what you’re looking for.

Tuesday, October 1

Mini Reviews: October 1st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Freedom Finger [Nindie Choice!] - When I originally caught this title at PAX I was drawn in by its sheer attitude, blending together some great voice acting, an abundance of perhaps crude but entertaining humor, and an absolutely kicking soundtrack. It’s when you play the game though that the nuances of a great arcade shooter emerge and impress further. The mechanics of grabbing and then either throwing enemies or using their weapons rather than power-ups is smart and effective. The fact that every track of the music influences the speed, style, and flow of each stage is then just icing on the cake. In many regards Freedom Finger defies easy traditional characterization, never fully committing to any set arcade style and instead providing a pretty balanced buffet of action and smart level designs. That ultimately help it stand out just as much as its surface-level fun and makes it easy to recommend if you’re up for some giggles and a challenge.

Untitled Goose Game [Nindie Choice!] - Bless indie developers and their ability to come up with weird concepts for gameplay that you probably never considered but upon seeing them are easily attracted to. Untitled Goose Game is such a title, and I was drawn to it the moment I laid eyes on its gameplay in one of the Directs. Maybe I can’t speak for everyone but there’s something really fun about unleashing your inner asshole every once in a while and if that thought appeals to you this game should be high on your list. Given a checklist of objectives, you’ll need to use your pretty limited goosey skills and some smarts to figure out how to complete them to progress. One unfortunate thing is that the game isn’t terribly long, though I suppose it may be better not have it overstay its welcome and lose its creative spark. Still, it’s a unique and entertaining playthrough if you’re in the right mindset.

Amnesia: Collection - If you’re into horror games or at least watching streamers play horror games there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with at least one of the titles in this collection. Including The Dark Descent, A Machine For Pigs, and Justine, though the base gameplay between each is similar each title does manage to distinguish itself with its own creepy ambiance and challenges. The focus here is on exploration, working through some puzzles, and simply trying to hold onto your sense of sanity as you evade things that go bump in the dark. Given how dark everything can be playing this in handheld mode may be a real challenge depending on where you’re able to play, but at least A Machine For Pigs and Justine include the ability to adjust the gamma in-game to try to help ensure you’ll be able to enjoy the experience optimally. If you’re looking for that sense of unease in the pit of your stomach as you carefully explore this collection does a fair job of delivering quite a bit of it.

Paper Dolls Original - This exploration horror title in many regards plays similarly to the Amnesia Collection but has a decidedly more Eastern theme and feel. Starting out trapped in a dark room you’ll need to slowly search through the room for clues, supplies, and the means to escape further into a creepy mansion. The eerie soundtrack helps to establish and maintain a sense of unease as you try to make progress and when the Paper Dolls come for you, you’ll quickly learn to hide or face an abrupt end. Given the time of year this release seems very appropriately timed, and its setting and flavor help to set itself apart from the competition a bit.

Zenith - Billed as an action RPG mixing traditional mechanics with a healthy dose of humor in concept Zenith sounds pretty solid. In execution, though, I quickly found it pretty disappointing. Weirdly, with as many games as I’ve played featuring crude language and humor that I’ve enjoyed there’s a certain spark in Zenith that’s missing for me so it just feels tacked on and even out of place. I can’t put a finger on it but rather than laughing along with the jokes and dialogue I’d find myself sort of shaking my head aghast at it. That said, if you check it out and find it to your liking there may not be an issue there. Where it will likely fall down a bit universally though is that in terms of gameplay it’s a bit of a mess. Taking on the likes of Diablo may be a lot to ask but even against many indie contemporaries in this space the combat is a letdown, feeling stiff, clunky, and not terribly rewarding. It has glimmers of promise in it but given its competition on the platform it’s tough to recommend.