Thursday, July 9

Mini Reviews: July 9th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

CrossCode - There’s always a risk with games that get hyped up in advance of you getting to experience them. CrossCode is a title I’ve been hearing about for quite some time from friends and in the gaming press, and the general consensus has been unanimously positive. With that in mind, and with a bit of nostalgia for the original Secret of Mana in tow, I set out to discover what I hoped would be a new undisputed indie champion. While there’s no denying that the game’s artwork evokes that classic 16-bit Square feel and the general combat shares some of the same beats, from experience I’d say if you’re going to take the CrossCode plunge it’s best to not reflect too heavily on the classic titles the game is trying to emulate for fear of some disappointment.

Where CrossCode excels is in its scope and ambition. The game world is large, relatively varied, and absolutely crawling with people moving around (the game world is set in an MMO so this makes perfect sense) so it all feels pretty alive. Combat is roughly in the middle of the road, certainly delivering on some intensity and the option to focus on ranged or melee combat, but on the whole lacking in real variety even as you play with your Circuit points and try different builds. Puzzles are also a mix of good and bad, and in effect they’re everywhere. The ones involving crystals you’ll need to hit are smart and a bit reminiscent of Zelda, so those are generally positive. Less endearing are any that involve making jumps between platforms of different heights. It being a 2D game and there being a very poor sense of depth in many cases these segments, more often than not, felt like a real waste of time as too often you’ll need to work them out by trial and error since visually things can be ambiguous at best. When it comes to the economy, equipment, and trading, honestly the less I say the better because truly it is an over-cumbersome hot mess and a waste of time. Going from vendor to vendor to convert A and B to C, which you can then combine with F from combining D and E from another vendor, to finally create G… it quickly gets annoying. The sheer volume of quests you can go on, but that generally aren’t in any way distinct or interesting aside from kill this or get that (with very little veneer of purpose to go along with them), also fall a bit into the “kitchen sink” category for me. If your goal is to get the most game out of your investment, CrossCode absolutely delivers in that regard, but I’d say the more people hold it up against the 16-bit classics it was obviously inspired by the worse it plays out by comparison.

A physical boxed version of the game can be ordered as well at:

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town - When you’re making a new iteration of a revered and classic series I don’t doubt the greatest concern lies in how great a risk you’re willing to take in changing things. The wider the audience and probably the more casual the series happens to be the higher the stakes are if you make some tweak that doesn’t end up working out. I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons demonstrates where generally keeping things the same, but then making a few key changes for the better, both plays it safe and innovates effectively. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, feels like it chose the easier and “safer” path. Generally serving up precisely what its fans expect, complete with a great (and cute) visual overhaul, Friends of Mineral Town is undoubtedly a terrific farm/cultivation RPG… but there’s no mistaking that the experience is also extremely familiar, perhaps to the point of detriment depending on your tastes. You’ll be able to farm, fish, mine, explore, attend special events, and develop relationships with your fellow townsfolk… but aside from the obvious improvement in visuals the game also feels a bit stuck in a time warp. Fans of the series, and even converts from other titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, will likely find plenty to enjoy here if you’re looking for the repetition and relaxing pace of the farming sim life. Just where I think the aforementioned games generally feel a bit more modern and refined this feels incredibly safe, for better or worse.

Keen: One Girl Army - With a cute overall look and a lead character who is full of attitude and spunk, Keen works to stand out as more than a generic puzzle game, and in general in that area it succeeds. There’s a degree of polish and care in the presentation and genuine sense of humor it has that are endearing. Of course, being a puzzle game, the question is then how well it executes in that crucial area. On the whole the news here is good as well, the mechanics are ones we’ve seen before where you’ll move in a given direction until you either hit a wall or an enemy, and this sets up a need to plan out your path in order to get to the exits or to try to find hidden secrets. In a bit of a twist the overworld map has a similar puzzle element to it as well, with you needing to navigate to different exits and sometimes revisiting the same room more than once from different starting points in order to get to everything. I do wish that there weren’t situations where no matter what I do I will take a hit and lose some health, there’s just something in principle about that I’m not a fan of, but in general once you get used to the rules for how and when you’ll be attacked and when you won’t they do make sense. Against the few titles with similar mechanics already on Switch I still think I’d give Slayaway Camp the edge overall but this is still worthy of attention for puzzle fans.

Superliminal - With a pretty fresh take on first-person puzzling Superliminal definitely has its moments where the perspective and size shifting mechanics that serve as its core shine. Creativity and the ability to see an opportunity and then run with it are essential to success here, though sometimes simple observation and taking the time to see everything in the environment before rushing to solve the problem are an underappreciated necessity. Where the game loses its footing at times are some puzzles where either the lighting or general layout of the area can make depth perception and understanding where the object in your focus is (helping to make you understand whether it is close and large or far and smaller) difficult, and certainly the controls are a bit cumbersome when it comes to manipulating them to get them arranged how you need them to solve a given puzzle. A treat that it has to help compensate for its shortcomings is an essence of making you feel like you’re subverting the design at times, finding areas or solutions that aren’t intended, but looking too hard for those can also burn time on nothing if you’re looking too hard for those opportunities. Overall, it’s a clever idea implemented well enough to be engaging, but not without some flaws.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise - The original Deadly Premonition was a polarizing title to say the least, some people really loved the quirk and utter weirdness of the characters and overall design (willing to overlook its technical shortcomings) but if you weren’t in that camp there was generally negativity instead. I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise that this sequel leans heavily in the same direction in all regards, some of them unfortunate, but the second time around what felt freshly weird also now doesn’t have the same charm, sinking the experience a bit. Right away I’d say devoting roughly the first hour to a slow dialogue-heavy interrogation that does somewhat get people up to speed with what’s going on, but could have been accomplished with a 5 - 10 minute montage felt incredibly indulgent and quickly drove my enthusiasm down. But once you’re finally able to explore things don’t get too much better, the environments feel sparse, underpopulated, and empty even compared to the original. Worse, the performance issues and jank have also seemed to come along for the ride. If you’re a fan of the original or have a tolerance for technical shortcomings in the hopes of a and funky wild ride perhaps it may be worthwhile, but for everyone else it’ll be a pretty firm pass.

Monday, July 6

Mini Reviews: July 6th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Ghost Grab 3000 [Nindie Choice] - While I have a great appreciation for epic games that feature massive worlds and complex storylines for me to discover over many hours since I grew up in the arcades I also appreciate a tight experience that challenges me and is fun in bursts. With its relatively-simple ghost chaining mechanics and simple-but-smart controls Ghost Grab 3000 does a great job of scratching that retro itch and making me say “Just one more round”. Your goal is to catch ghosts bouncing around the screen in your beam and then zap them. Sure, you could do this one at a time but first it wouldn’t be very fun and second you’d get a sad and paltry score for that effort. The way to rack up points is to chain as many together as possible before you collect but that ends up making for a very crowded and chaotic screen full of roving enemies and their many bullets. Thankfully you have a trusty dash that makes you temporarily invulnerable and a limited number of EMP blasts at your disposal which can be used to get yourself out of jams and rack up as high a score as possible. It’s all just about the leaderboards and scoring as high as you can in the end but if you’re looking for a quick and challenging fix it’s an excellent choice at a very low price.

The Almost Gone - Sometimes games can be an interesting means of helping to convey powerful messages in a different way. In the case of The Almost Gone the theme is tied to the lasting trauma and effects of familial abuse, and it is layered onto a clever though sometimes perhaps a bit obtuse puzzler with a distinctive look. You’ll work your way through rooms in a house, shifting perspective in search of clues and potential triggers that will help you progress. The puzzles range in their methods as well as their difficulty and this can be a bit frustrating at times as there’s really no in-game means of assistance, but given that the experience only lasts a few hours the challenges can be overcome. If you’ve been a victim of some sort of abuse it may be a bit too heavy and open wounds but for those who haven’t experienced it first-hand it may help to lend perspective. It won’t be an experience for everyone but it distinguishes itself in its style and themes even in the crowded Switch library.

Singled Out - This is an example of a game that runs with an extremely simple premise, being given a few facial characteristics to match a criminal and then identifying them in a slowly-growing crowd, and runs with it as far as it can. On the one hand I’d say that its simplicity makes it a terrific casual game that anyone can play, but on the other I’d note that its difficulty ramps up pretty quickly so that isn’t to say it can’t be challenging. Your enemy is always the clock and you’ll feel the seconds ticking away as you try to quickly eliminate the faces that obviously aren’t a match but since the traits you’re given will vary you can’t count on getting into any real groove and will have to be mentally agile to keep up. Given its budget price, pretty quick play session time, and accessibility to just about anyone, it may lack in complexity but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good value and fun.

Infini - There are games that merely dabble in weird but then there are also those titles that set up camp in crazyville, unpack their things, and get cozy. That’s how Infini felt to me playing it, shifting between action puzzles that are simplistic in principle but that can be challenging to visually comprehend and then execute to success on the one hand and then a pretty bizarre time-travelling story that seems to be trying to make a philosophical point or 100 but generally left me doing the confused dog head tilt looking at the screen. The great news is that it very much breaks away from the norm, so if you’re looking for an experience that’s a bit out there and can overlook its simplistic visuals you may find it to your liking. If that doesn’t describe what you’re seeking you’ll want to steer clear though.

Clash Force - There’s nothing wrong with a decent budget side-scrolling retro romp and if you’re looking only for that Clash Force offers it up. Does it do anything terribly inventive? Not really, you’re just running and gunning while running right and jumping and you’ll have an assortment of pick-ups that will change up your firepower to suit either your style or the current situation best. An unusual aspect I found it to have is a difficulty level which fluctuated a bit wildly up and down at times, feeling far too simply but then suddenly jumping into the deep end without an easing transition and then back again. That unrefined quality and a look that won’t wow keep it from being noteworthy but it isn’t without its charm for a low price.

Thursday, July 2

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

Biped [Nindie Choice!] - I first encountered Biped at PAX East, repeatedly walking by the booth on the way to other appointments and seeing small crowds forming and having a great time. Later, when I finally got to take it for a spin with one of the reps on-hand at the booth I could see why. For a game featuring two robots as the protagonists there’s somehow something very cute and endearing about their look, mannerisms, and the way they scoot around. By contrast, at least in the time I got with the title, I was a bit taken aback by how tricky the experience could be. Now, having played the final product the good news is that some of what I’d faced was from later in the experience and though there’s no doubt Biped won’t be a cakewalk for anyone it consistently manages to be surprising with smart level design, generally superb controls, and just enough variety in its relatively short duration to keep you engaged. I think the best feature it has is that while typically co-op games struggle to provide a solid experience if you have to play them solo, in general Biped does such a great job at it that you could assume it isn’t necessarily meant to be a co-op game. There’s no doubt that in some circumstances the controls, where you use each joystick to carefully move either leg, can be a bit touchy but with so much precision required in some puzzles you’ll work through that’s not necessarily a surprise. Regardless, whether solo or co-op Biped is easily one of the best action puzzlers of the year on the Switch… just be ready for some challenges (which is a good thing).

Night Call - Games that hang their hats on their narratives more than “play” in a traditional sense are an interesting lot. Ranging from outright visual novels to experiences with varying degrees of interactivity, at their base they can vary quite a bit of variety. Of course, the topics and themes of these games also then run the gamut from outright silly to strange to traditional to perhaps a bit on the pervy side. One aspect of Night Call that works is that its setting and storyline are quite distinct, with you playing the part of a cab driver in Paris who (with some urgency) is attempting to help stop a serial killer… mainly because you narrowly avoided death at their hands already and don’t want to somehow have the authorities decide you’re the killer instead. What follows is a bit of an interesting journey, with you deciding which fares to pick up and then working your gift for gab to try to tease out info from your fares in the hope of helping in your investigation. For the most part the stories are interesting and vary, but where things fall apart is how picky the game is about how you decide on and handle your fares. While it does make sense in the context of the game that this system would be in place it really detracts from simply engaging in the conversations and getting the info you’ll need bit by bit. The result is a collection of stories I found engaging but they’re a bit obscured by a time management system that holds the game back more than elevating it.

Grimshade - Now that the Switch has really put together quite an impressive line-up of RPGs, whether AAA or indie, traditional turn-based or tactical, making a big splash in the space is getting tough. With an introduction that tries to walk you through its various systems, introduce you to the world, and entertain at the same time Grimshade feels unsteady even out of the gate and never quite hits its stride. The balance of keeping combat from dragging, making battles often enough without being too frequent, and moving the story along at a pace that keeps you engaged just isn’t quite there and it just drags in spots. While it has a nice look, a reasonably good story, and a battle system with some tactics but not going overboard either in light of its competition it just can’t seem to break out of its somewhat generic box.

Indiecalypse - Moreso than most games I’ve played on the Switch I see Indiecalypse as a love/hate proposition. On the one hand you could view it as a walk through a pretty ridiculous and sometimes gross and/or profane story complete with a number of mini game sequences that celebrate a pretty wide number of classic video games. On the other you could view it as a somewhat crass and juvenile story propped up by some poorly-implemented mini games that are just enough like classics that the hope is your sense of nostalgia will help you overlook their shortcomings. Sadly, even if you’re determined to give it the benefit of the doubt the truth is the mini games are hit and miss and some made me  struggle mightily to want to keep going. Throw in an issue where it only saves at each new chapter and not after you complete each mini game (with no provision for a manual save) and you may find yourself forced retread content that wasn’t great the first time again due to a pretty horrendous design flaw. The art and attitude of Indiecalypse were fun and at first it sucked me in, but the more poorly implemented  games that had the likeness of a classic game slapped onto them that I encountered the more my attitude towards the experience cooled.

The Otterman Empire - There’s a weird sort of effect where when you see a promo for a game you envision a certain type of play, and when the style doesn’t fit your concept it can be disappointing. When I first saw the news for The Otterman Empire I envisioned a sort of jetpack-driven shooter adventure with plenty of cute but challenging enemies to take on. Well, it really isn’t that, it is instead ideally a multiplayer game where you and friends will take each other in a variety of scenarios, some more geared towards straight shooting and others with a bit of a more strategic bent. Playing solo you can manage, and you’ll be able to unlock new characters and cosmetics, but the main event is group play. Unfortunately, whether it’s the controls that can feel a little unresponsive (the double-tap to roll requires a very fast tap, surprisingly so against the norm) or just what feels like a lack of chemistry in the big picture of the gameplay it just never quite feels like it comes together to be compelling. To its credit there really aren’t games of this kind that would make for competition on the eShop, but unless you’re truly looking for this sort of experience (and maybe playing as a family since that could diminish the expectations for something more exciting) it probably won’t satisfy.

Monday, June 29

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

KLAUS [Nindie Choice] - While puzzle platformers are represented in abundance in the indie space, there are definitely ones that put in some extra effort to stand out. While it may lack some of the bells and whistles the titles at the top tier possess, KLAUS has a lot more going on within it than its initially straightforward presentation suggests. Steadily alternating the focus from pretty smart puzzles, to challenging platforming, to stages with a blend of both the great thing about this title is that it doesn’t settle into a pattern of simply dishing out more of the same but tweaked to be slightly harder. Hidden secrets, some boss fights, and some stages that will simply have to be seen to be understood await, and at a very reasonable price as well. Throw in a story that reveals itself slowly as you play and it’s an overall package that should exceed just about any reasonable expectations you may have.

Yes, Your Grace - Shakespeare, long ago, may have penned “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, but it isn’t until you contemplate being in that position that you begin to understand it. In this title you’ll find yourself at the helm of your kingdom and trying to manage your various affairs of state, difficult relationships with your allies and/or adversaries, and possibly most crucially the challenging spot where these two concerns can intersect. While the rock solid Reigns titles offer a quick-swiping and condensed version of kingdom management in this case you’re a bit more put upon as your family dynamics can greatly complicate the picture as you need to weird their needs against those of your people. Though it isn’t a terribly long play that isn’t to say it can’t be a challenge as you try your best to do the right thing, and most critically who it is that may disagree with you.

Swords and Sandals: Spartacus - While I love an indie title that manages to do something new and unexpected, throw a catalyst like roguelike concepts into the mix, or merge together genres in a way I never imagined, there’s also nothing wrong with executing something familiar well for a reasonable price. Feeling like a long lost slashing action platformer from the 16-bit era Spartacus is all about avoiding traps, hacking at bad guys, freeing your fellow slaves, and trying to find the abundant number of secrets that will aid you in your quest. Once you get rolling the action tends to come at you pretty consistently and the degree of challenge will test you. While in spots the jumping in relation to some trap types can feel a little stilted in general this is a solid throwback to bygone days.

Towaga: Among Shadows - This is one of those titles where I’m a bit torn on how to feel about it. If you simply take a look at it there’s quite a bit to like. The artwork looks great, the shooting action has some variation by blending twin-stick action with single-stick aiming modes as well, and at least initially it seems intent on offering up a challenge. The more you play though, you’ll either deal with its very grindy nature and shrug at the skill walls you’ll tend to hit until you can get upgraded, or you’ll get annoyed by that. Count me in the irritated camp, and with my arcade and roguelike adoration I’d hope it’s understandable. This game’s play style, being honest, is suited to a mobile gaming mentality and I understand it. When you move to a gaming-specific console dedicated controls though I’m really not sure that’s good enough if you want success. Rather than progressing only by playing the game more and being able to afford some upgrades as you go with a simple or a full-blown upgrade system. Keep it straightforward, make it roguelike, but most of all make how long you last first and foremost a function of player skills, not of your patience in dying until you can afford some help.

A Summer with the Shiba Inu - If you’ve read some of my reviews on interactive novel-styled “games” before you’ll know I tend to be in the unenthusiastic crowd, though there have been some exceptional that have trended into the more interactive and user agency focused side that have been rock solid. While it has some cute doggo characters, even refreshing the artwork regularly to reflect some moment-appropriate faces that can be entertaining, aside from the dogs I found it quite disappointing. In particular it’s one thing for the majority of the experience to be a hard-coded script that I’m simply paging through but typically most of the content is the meat of a story. The amount of time this game wastes on uninteresting minutiae that isn’t even relevant to the story is bewildering. No matter how cute it can be this just feels phoned in.

Friday, June 26

Mini Reviews: June 26th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Ultracore - Quite literally a blast from the past, Ultracore is a product of love, having been restored from an originally unreleased Mega Drive title by the well-known developer Digital Illusions (now known as DICE). Having played some of its contemporaries back in the day on Amiga if you’re familiar with games from that era it will feel just like coming home, featuring a look that was quite common at the time and pretty intense play. Bearing in mind that its throwback authenticity is its selling point, be warned that modern sensibilities aren’t in any way present, this is a platform shooter that expects you to hit the ground running, learn as you go, and perhaps struggle at times as you try to develop your plan of action. Probably its most interesting feature, how you’re able to angle your aim differently as you’re running while only using a single joystick, is both its best and worst point. When it works well you can appreciate how smart an idea it is, but there’s a certain degree of frustration you’ll hit at times when it can feel inconsistent in its behavior. Regardless, if you’re a fan of shooters from that era this is a bona fide contender from that era that even many genre fans likely missed out on at the time.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom [Rehydrated] - Remasters are always a tricky affair, and topping that potential problem with a licensed game is likely all the more risky. Feeling like a middle-of-the-road 3D platformer of its time though, as a base Battle for Bikini Bottom isn’t too bad, featuring play as multiple characters who have different skills, plenty of SpongeBob silliness, and reasonable controls. As you may be able to predict some of its biggest issues that haven’t been revisited are its sometimes finicky camera, poorly-defined environmental boundaries with abundant invisible walls, and some issues with perceiving depth that can make precision jumping a pain. Putting aside the issues there’s a pretty good degree of polish here, and as a game for kids or the nostalgic young at heart who remember playing it themselves when it was released, it may be a pretty solid choice. Just bear in mind that even the average modern 3D platformer will likely provide a better experience overall.

Super Soccer Blast - Having already done a reasonably good job of knocking out two very playable indie sports titles in the Blast series the folks at Unfinished Pixel have stepped it up a notch to take on a bigger team sport, soccer. Rather than shooting for the more stripped down arcade experience with a limited team Super Soccer Blast features full-sized rosters and that will generally mean you’ll need to try to come to grips with ball movement for success rather than sticking with a core ball-handler. While the controls are relatively simple and work pretty well I’ll admit that your teammate AI is perhaps a little unreliable, often making effective passes tricky but more critically not typically being in good positions to capitalize when you’re trying to set up to score. All that said, I’d say that on average I wouldn’t consider its shortcomings a killer, you can still compensate and find success. Just bear in mind that this isn’t a big-budget outing and in general that its degree of polish and refinement are roughly in line with its budget-friendly price tag.

Ploid Saga - Featuring two platforming shooters and one vertically-scrolling shmup (with a fourth game option planned to come with a free update in the near future) Ploid Saga attempts to deliver quite a lot of gaming content for a very reasonable price. The risk with this sort of package is that the overall quality can get diluted and particularly in the case of the shmup title that’s the case. While it’s a bit unfair to pit it against some of the excellent indie titles already on the Switch there are so many better-implemented options available at pretty well all price points that you need to recognize its unrefined and honestly pretty clunky look and feel of play. The two platformers are at least a bit better, featuring different overall styles of play depending on which of the two characters you choose, but again when compared to comparable offerings on the system it plays more generically than average and just doesn’t inspire a need to return for more every chance you get. To its credit, if you’re on a budget and are just looking to stretch the gaming content to enjoy it’s not a bad deal, but particularly if you’ve been spoiled by the terrific indie platformers and shooters already on Switch this title comes up a bit short on that score.

Infliction: Extended Cut - Horror adventure / walking simulation games have seemed to be quite abundant on the Switch but unfortunately they’ve all been pretty middle of the road without any clearly stepping up and achieving something great. Infliction blends in pretty well with the rest of the pack in many ways, featuring plenty of tension and some scares, which can be fun, but in terms of presentation and overall feel just not being very refined. To its credit, I’d consider its story, twists, and turns to be above average among its peers… just sort of going down its own little road by making you question what is happening, has happened, and may or may not be real. Clocking in at a solid handful of hours it’s at least not over too quickly but also doesn’t overstay its welcome, and if you’re just in the mood to get that tickle in the pit of your stomach as you search slowly just waiting for whatever may come next it’s not a bad package.

Wednesday, June 24

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

Tower of Time [Nindie Choice!] - Genre-blending is one of the things I appreciate most in the indie space, at least when it is well-executed. In the RPG space there have been multiple takes on turn-based tactical action, many with traditional strictly-defined grid and some allowing for more freeform movement around the field. I’m not sure any have set themselves up quite like Tower of Time though, taking on more of a straight-up RTS feel in many ways. If you’re a strategy fan this will likely be a huge win, and an opportunity to enjoy a better story and general structure than you’d normally get. If you’re an RPG fan hopefully you’ll like taking combat elements that can often feel stale and overdone and replace them with something that should provide a new challenge. Throw in some well-defined characters, ample rewards for taking the time to wander around an explore, and some challenging battles as you try to optimize your skills against varied foes, and it is a package with its own distinct flavor, trying to set itself apart from its competition… and finding success for better or worse depending on how traditional your tastes may be.

Railway Empire - As simulations of this sort are a rarity on the Switch first I’ll say kudos to the developer and everyone involved for bringing this experience to the platform. In general, this sort of game is always an odd fit on consoles conceptually but the portability factor of the platform really makes the ability to take a more hardcore sim on the go exciting (always keeping in mind that reading the text in handheld can be hard on the eyes). That said, depending on the amount of minutia you’re looking to manage, I’d imagine there will be varying degrees of enthusiasm from person to person with the experience. Throw in controls that are honestly a bit clunky in their transition from the PC, and perhaps some gaps in the early explanations of the tutorials and it can have a bumpy start as well. Once you muscle through that and have your trains running though it works nicely, and for people who love micromanaging every aspect of the operation it will likely be a masterpiece. For people who just love trains and their operation, and perhaps aren’t as invested in having to define every detail to eke out efficiency, it may be a bit too much though.

Urban Trial Tricky - Stunt games such as these are always a bit of a challenge to review since I think expectations of how they should play will vary greatly from person to person. At the top of the food chain you have games like the Tony Hawk series that pretty well defined the genre, depending on your taste you’d have the Trials series off to the side which emphasizes technique, but then with just about everything else it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Tricky lives up to its name at least, putting an emphasis on providing you the opportunity to chain together what ultimately becomes a pretty impressive number of generally satisfying moves. Depending on the course you’re on the general goal and side objectives will vary (and these side objectives are a nice distraction, to be clear) but on a broad level in some cases your goal with be to quickly complete the course, and the rest of the time there’ll be a trick emphasis, whether more guided or freestyle in nature. While I appreciate that a problem I sometimes hit, where a course will be set up in a way that makes you stumble on technique and bring the fun down with a degree of pickiness, the general low-gravity and “floaty” feel of the game brings its own frustrations. There’s just a certain lack of crispness in how your moves and button pressed map to the action on the screen and trying to chain together moves can get visually muddy at times but worse the controls can feel that way as well. If you’re just looking for a budget stunt-focused game it may satisfy, just keep your expectations a bit grounded.

Working Zombies - Really working as a mini game collection you can play alone or with some friends, Working Zombies is a bit of an odd bird. With 3 games that are essentially time-management games in the vein of the likes of Diner Dash (one with you as a stewardess, another as a babysitter, and the last as a hairdresser) and another that’s a slightly more complex variant of games involving routing water through pipes, it has a fair amount of content, even if conceptually some of it is a bit redundant. One area where it can struggle a bit is in terms of control precision, something the likes of Diner Dash avoided with its mouse click-driven style. Here, since you’re moving around with the controller and then hitting your button to take action in some spaces with elements close enough together you can accidentally trigger the wrong thing. It’s not a major issue but the difference in control style does sometimes frustrate when you’re trying to save every second you can. That points to the other issue, the tuning of difficulty. With this type of game ideally geared to the casual crowd playing solo and scoring all 3 stars for your rating is generally pretty brutal, and that’s even from the get-go. Oddly, throwing in a friend or three, aside from adding a bit to the chaos, then tends to make things too inherently easy. Given the fact that there aren’t really casual games of this specific flavor on the Switch it could be appealing, just be ready to truly need to earn those perfect ratings.

Seeds of Resilience - While the survival genre has never necessarily been a favorite of mine I’ve found it quite fascinating to see the variety of what’s possible for it on the Switch. Varying from more action-oriented and casual to hardcore and somewhat strategic there have been incremental options all along the spectrum to choose from. Seeds of Resilience falls sort of in the middle, though immediately a certain bland sterility to the experience is pretty apparent. Lacking in an engaging story or characters of note, or even a sense of mystery, the game slumps out of the gate and unfortunately never manages to redeem itself with its other aspects. Feeling better suited to play on a PC the controls feel clumsy and a general lack of helpful instruction doesn’t help either. There are elements of a survival experience to be found here, but among its genre peers it struggles.

Friday, June 19

Mini Reviews: June 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Colt Canyon [Nindie Choice!] - Whenever a new roguelike shooter arrives on the scene you know I’m there with a degree of eagerness to see how it has turned out. The thing is, the hill to climb for roguelike shooter greatness has continued to get tougher over the years, honestly the Switch has been blessed with so many great ones of all types that claiming a prime spot on the pile is a challenge. Enter Colt Canyon, a game I’ve checked out at PAX before but aside from having a pretty simple and old-school pixelated look never made a huge impression on me. Whether it has been tweaked since those demos I’ve played or whether in the rush through appointments didn’t allow me enough time to truly get engaged with it I’ll admit my impressions were pretty far off the mark. Taking into account the variety in the heroes you can choose (they need to be unlocked but honestly this wasn’t hard to do), the weapons you’ll encounter, and the various perks you’ll have to choose from if you take the time to find people who have been held captive, the result is pretty challenging and satisfying. Moreso than most roguelike shooters the emphasis here is on using your dash and melee attacks as much as possible. Ammo isn’t necessarily scarce but your carry capacity limitations can deplete your rounds pretty quickly in a big firefight, guns are noisy and attract attention so stealthily chipping away at bad guys can be preferred, and for many guns the reload time can make them a liability when things get crazy. Put together this all makes for a shooter that has a very different flow than its competition, and paired with a pretty modest price I consider it to be worth a look if you’re itching for some pretty challenging shooter action.

Darius Cozmic Collection (Console Edition) - Playing the console versions of the Darius series back-to-back with their arcade counterparts was pretty fascinating and even enlightening, as was playing essentially the same title in a few cases on different historic hardware. Even outside of the often satisfying classic side-scrolling shmup play I think that’s the sort of perspective that makes collections like this worthwhile for fans of gaming who are interested in some of the history as well. Seeing how well (or, in some cases, maybe not so well) the limitations of different hardware were dealt with to maintain a consistent experience associated with the Darius franchise can be fascinating. In addition to seeing different iterations of the same roughly 6 titles spanning consoles including the Sega Master System, SNES, Genesis, and PC Engine you’re also able to see in many cases how the same basic title could sometimes have differences depending on the region it was released in. Of the two collections if you’re just generally a fan of shmups I’d consider the degree of difficulty in the console titles to be more approachable, even if visually some of these games obviously won’t have the same terrific art their arcade counterparts had. Whether your interest is in nostalgia or appreciating history though, this collection has plenty of gameplay to work through and enjoy.

The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters - The survival horror adventure sub-genre hasn’t had too many entries in it on Switch, but given the overall lack of horror games on the system I know many people have been tempted by them. With the original Coma title, while I appreciated the creepy atmosphere and feeling of dread, probably my biggest complaint about it is that the regularity with which you’d need to escape a gruesome death and hide was too high, so high that it virtually ruined the delicious sense of suspense… you just got to the point that being chased was a chore instead of a thrill. In the case of this Coma sequel pretty much everything on the whole is the same, but I’m enormously grateful that for this installment the being chased element has been toned down a great deal. This allows you to get in more efficient exploration, prevent the game from dragging so much, and makes the anticipation of what may be around the corner much more of a thrill. If you’re looking for some great periodic horrific imagery, a creeping sense of dread, and otherwise just a solid adventure with a decent story be sure to check this out!

Darius Cozmic Collection (Arcade Edition) - While I was a pretty big arcade shooter fan in the arcades the Darius series is one I don’t remember playing very much. I couldn’t miss the arcade unit for the original, with its really crazy widescreen cabinet that was unlike any of its peers (which, by the way, is absolutely represented here, just by shrinking the game vertically a bit to make room) but revisiting the series in this collection helped remind me a bit why I may not have sunk many quarters into it. I’d say when compared to its shmup contemporaries Darius is a bit of an oddball, having shooter DNA in common with the likes of the classic Scramble but with some expected shmup power-ups and bosses thrown into the mix for good measure. The branching paths you’d have to choose from, assuming you’re able to survive, are also a pretty cool feature of the games (though not all versions have this) and demonstrate just how much total content is packed into them. While ultimately this collection only has 4 full-fledged titles to choose from (Darius, Darius 2, SAGAIA, and the quite different Darius Gaiden) with some variants if you’re up for the challenge it’s a series that simply has its own unique take on the genre and is well worth appreciating.

Radio Squid - Anyone who has been following me for a while knows that when it comes to weird games I’m a bit of a connoisseur, and when you throw some shooting into the mix it usually just adds to my excitement. Alas, in the case of Radio Squid the combination doesn’t prove to be enough to save some really funky mechanics and a style of play that never really appealed to me at all. The game does itself no real favors in the early going, not really explaining or illustrating how the game is ideally to be played in the first place, making the early going a bit painful as you may wonder if you’re even doing it right. At least as far as I can tell from trying my best to take it in for longer than it really deserved, yeah, you’re probably playing the game correctly… it just is kind of a bummer, funky in a not-so-great way, and just isn’t much fun.

Thursday, June 18

Mini Reviews: June 18th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Ruiner [Nindie Choice!] - With its visual flair, dystopian world, and what appeared to be a penchant for tense and violent action, Ruiner has been on my radar for quite some time. When it was released on other platforms my heart sunk a bit though, as it seemed to be pretty widely criticized for cranking up the difficulty too far and coming up short on fun. Count this as an instance where the delay in the game coming to Switch was absolutely a blessing. You’re a man on a mission, though revelations over the course of the story continue to make you question who you’re working for and whether everyone may simply be out to manipulate you for their own bloody purposes. The good news is that towards those bloody ends you’ll have access to quite a diverse arsenal of both projectile and melee weapons, though in general you won’t be able to use any of them for very long before needing to pick up another. This dynamic, mixed with a diverse perk system, makes every battle improvisational, requiring you to keep on the move and on the lookout for any opportunities that may present themselves. The most useful (and fun) thing to keep track of are enemies who are on the edge of death that you can dispatch with a finisher, with the incentive not just being a cool kill but often some crucial health or energy that can help keep you from being overwhelmed. Sure, there can be skirmishes that seem less well-balanced than others, and in the end I found the time wandering around town to be wasted effort, but overall these are small criticisms. While Ruiner may not be perfect, it was a title I couldn’t stop playing until the credits rolled. Intense, violent, surprisingly varied, and I’d argue quite replayable due to the wide variety of perks you can invest skill points in, its mix of shooting and slashing feels quite distinct and it’s one of the most satisfying games I’ve played this year.

Destrobots [Nindie Choice!] - With loads of local multiplayer titles out there on Switch it’s a tough business to find a way to stand out in the crowd. In the case of Destrobots, for me, the fact that it feels like it takes a page from the Bomberman series, while playing in a completely different way, helps it pretty effectively towards that goal. Taking control of your bot you’ll have the ability to shoot twin-stick style (though not with precise analog aiming, instead with strictly 8 directions possible) or use a spin move to try to deflect incoming fire or at a melee attack. A variety of offensive and defensive power-ups will continue to appear around the arena, helping to incentivize everyone to stay on the move rather than trying to hold any given position for long. Aside from the power-ups it’s the game’s stages, with many featuring special elements that make play both more strategic and unpredictable, that give me some Bomberman vibes and help to give the game more longevity than its average competing title. Add in the fact that it sports a very fair budget price makes it worthwhile for anyone looking for a game to enjoy with some friends.

Summer in Mara - This is one of those titles that can be frustrating as it has so many pieces of the puzzle that work towards it being a great experience, but it can’t quite put them together in the right way. Mixing cultivation, crafting, and some exploration there’s a nucleus here reminiscent of the likes of something like the Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, but with a greater degree of adventure as you journey out into a greater world. The issue, unfortunately, first is that no aspect of the game feels fully fleshed out. Farming is peculiar and a bit clumsy in its implementation, with there not being much room for growing things so more often than not you’ll use it as an element in some fetch quest. Fishing is present as an option but since it requires supplies you may need for other purposes generally isn’t practical to do much. If exploring the world wasn’t such an on-rails experience, and you weren’t having to spend much of your time going back and forth to grow or craft something to then come back again to progress things perhaps that aspect could have made up for those noted weaknesses but it can also be more of a chore than a joy. Throw in elements like your hunger and need to sleep that are present as concerns but serve more as an inconvenience than anything and a cohesive picture never quite comes together, even if there are many elements of the game that are charming enough that it may earn an audience.

Masky - The more indie titles I play and review for Switch the more I find it requires some effort to throw something at me I don’t feel I’ve seen in some way before. When it comes to Masky I’ll tip my hat to the developer for at least managing that accomplishment, though with the game’s simplicity and often over-sensitive controls that accomplishment doesn’t necessarily elevate its staying power much. This is a game all about balance, with your character dancing by themselves initially, but who’ll get anyone they bump into to join them. As your group grows the specifics of who you’ve acquired and in what combination will begin to come into play more and more. If you’ve loaded up on only the right or left, or if on one side you’ve picked up larger dancers but on the other side they’re all smaller, you’ll find the group will have a tendency to pull harder and harder to the heavier side. Adding to the other side to even things out will help but that’s where the perils of power-ups come into play. These can range from mildly helpful to pretty catastrophically bad and often manage to make a challenging situation even more tense. While this formula can be mildly fun with its simplicity the fact that there are times where the analog controls just seem a bit too sensitive, resulting in you seemingly doing fine but then suddenly falling over… and this can be aggravating. If you’re looking for something pretty simple that can be fun in handheld mode as you use the accelerometer to maintain balance Masky is at least its own experience, just not necessarily a terribly deep one.

Polandball: Can Into Space - An essential part of reviewing games in the indie space is trying to take a step back to see who a given title was made for and understanding it through that lens. In the case of Polandball I’ll admit that’s a bit of a challenge, as its simplicity and we’ll say quirk launch it into the territory of the unknown, though with a grindy mobile sort of feel. Your goal is to propel your initially pretty sad-looking rocket into space, getting as far as you can. Considering there are enemies around up there, as well as things like extra fuel or money, you’ll find that altering your trajectory a bit as you go will be necessary, though care will need to be taken to not deviate too much from course and ruining your overall progress. Between runs upgrades of various types will improve key stats and help you get further but there’s not enough meat here to warrant spending too much time with it before it runs out of fuel.

Tuesday, June 16

Mini Reviews: June 16th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Rigid Force Redux [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to shmups on Switch the tendency is to see either games that tap firmly into nostalgia, adopting classic looks and play styles, or those that innovate and do things their own way. What I think makes Rigid Force Redux notable is that moreso than any other shooter I’ve played on Switch it feels like it manages to carefully walk the tightrope smack dab in the middle of those concepts. While it has primary and secondary weapon pick-ups as well as a general structure with elements reminiscent of the classics, the ability to reconfigure the position of your drones tightly forward, in a wider spread, or then behind you opens up new challenges and some surprises to help make things feel fresh. Granted, though not unusual for shooters of these types, when it comes to overall length the campaign is over faster than you’ll want it to be, and while you can then chase high scores afterwards it’s the breaking of new ground and the unexpected that provides more of the thrills, the rest can be fun but lacks that same spark. If you’re a fan of the genre you should find this to be a smart and fun experience, and more importantly for more casual fans who find the likes of bullet hells to be too intimidating the degree of challenge here is more mild and accessible, making it an appealing all-around package for just about anyone.

Pixboy [Nindie Choice!] - As I saw someone note on Twitter the other day, responding to my post about this game: It seems almost impossible to believe that, on a far more powerful modern console, there are people thirsting to return to a game that looks and plays like it is from the original Gameboy hardware. Perhaps it seems like an unusual thought, and yet here we are. But hey, if the games can all be so easy on your bank account, convey a classic sense of gameplay the likes of Super Mario Land and some others, and also throw in a fairly high degree of challenge in places that will make you grit your teeth a bit... bring it on. Pixboy may not have the novelty of various means of getting around in order to vary the style of play, but what it does have are some fun and tricky stages with plenty of jumping, hidden areas, and some real nuance as you master not just your jumps but the art of falling, compliments of your parachute. What it lacks in overall length it makes up for in pretty rock solid stage design, crisp controls, secret nooks and crannies aplenty, and authentic old-school platforming play.

Outbuddies DX - Metroidvania games have really been in style for a while now, and their representation on Switch, which was once a bit scarce, has now filled in nicely. Of course, with more competition the bar is raised, and especially when considering the variety of flavors we’ve had on Switch (many pushing the genre in their own new directions) it can be tough to break through with something truly new. Rather than going for innovation, OutBuddies DX opts pretty heavily for familiar and comfortable but that’s a mixed bag. Aside from that making it a tougher road for the game to firmly establish its own style and personality, it unfortunately then further opens the food to comparisons with the likes of the Metroid series itself, obviously one of the gold standards for the genre. Perhaps the game’s worse problem, though, is that there’s no getting around the cumbersome nature of the controls. While some games just feel a bit off, in the case of OutBuddies DX they’re notably awkward and can then foul you up when the action amps up, leaving you a bit frustrated to find your traditional muscle memory failing you because the buttons just aren’t mapped very well. The most telling thing to consider here is Metroid itself, a game that managed a lot of variety and versatility with a simple, stock, 2-button NES controller. That the Switch uses a modern controller, complete with many times more buttons, but somehow manages to feel more held back than that classic unfortunately helps to illustrate the shortcomings pretty thoroughly and the overall game experience suffers because of it.

Spacejacked - In the mobile space especially one of the most played out subgenres out there is tower defense. That is in no way to imply that there aren’t some great titles out there, just with so many unless they’re top-notch they tend to blend together in your mind. To its credit, Spacejacked at least manages to avoid that trap, using a space / anti-gravity mechanic as well as a few surprises with traversal and enemy movement to force you to do some adapting. Unfortunately, a general lack of weaponry for you to work with, especially when contrasted with the best the genre has to offer, does some real harm and limits the breadth of strategic options you have. More often than not there tends to feel like a very linear way to address most defenses here, and that limits your feeling of creativity and excitement as you make things work out to a positive outcome on your own terms, using your own personally-preferred strategy. Regardless, for a budget price fans of this subgenre will probably find its originality endearing.

Pack Master - There’s something refreshing about a title summarizing what it is succinctly in its’ name, though perhaps it would be better if there were more meat on its bones. As it implies, this is a game revolving around packing various objects, and to succeed you’ll need to do so with a modest amount of speed and efficiency. Considering your package shapes will vary, and so will the items you’re trying to put in, the challenge tends to go up and down as you go, with some feeling like a complete snooze and others at least making you pause for a moment. It may be that my spatial concepts are above average somehow but I’d say my biggest concern with the game is simply that it isn’t terribly hard. Yes, as you go the demands do go up just a bit, and there can be bonus surprises to throw you an extra challenge, but this is a very casual puzzle game so you should take that into consideration if you’re giving it a look. Puzzle vets may simply blow right through it.

Friday, June 12

Mini Reviews: June 12th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Demon’s Tier+ [Nindie Choice!] - With indies I always find it so thoroughly satisfying when games manage to take me by surprise. What, on the surface, looked like a run-of-the-mill budget action RPG instead turned out to be more of a twin-stick shooter in many regards that has just enough roguelike elements (and fair degree of challenge) to make the grinding you’ll inevitably do to unlock better weapons/character classes/equipment worthwhile. Is it Earth-shatteringly great? No. But all the same, for a modest price I was surprised how compelled I was to return to it until I beat the game at least at the first skill level. Every once in a while the mission I’d need to complete to finish the level would feel a bit unfair, the dungeon a bit too funky in its random layout, but that does tend to come with the territory when you’re trying to keep things fresh. Overall, it’s a satisfying experience on a budget with plenty to unlock and improve your runs with in search of glory.

Evan’s Remains - This is a bit of a tough one as the overall package is an interesting mix, but whether you’ll be game for it will depend heavily on what you’re looking for. On the one end in terms of gameplay mechanics it’s a pretty straight puzzle platformer, and generally a pretty solid one overall. On the other it has a bit of a mystery to tantalize you, with your character searching for someone important who is missing, a cast of characters you’ll slowly begin to see and understand more about as you go, and a few revelations that will likely take you by surprise. It’s an unexpected mix, and while I think that the storytelling may be more of an incentive to play than the puzzling (which is good but not particularly revolutionary either overall), if you’d like to work your way through a general well-written narrative, pausing for puzzle interludes periodically to help break things up, it may be appealing for you.

Ancestors Legacy - When it comes to real-time strategy, representation a bit on the iffy side for Switch, so any new entry in the space is always welcome. Ancestors Legacy delivers pretty well too, sporting a degree of visual polish, multiple nordic armies as well as factions within them to work through, and reasonably good controls for a console implementation of the genre. As is usually the case not all mission types are created equally and, depending on your tastes, the pacing and length of some less violent variants may drag on a bit more slowly than I’d have liked, but the variety is still welcome overall. I did find keeping my unit groups straight in terms of their composition tricky when things got hectic at times, which undoubtedly lost me some men, but for the most part you get into the swing of managing the action and letting your units do their thing once you set them up for success. If you’ve been itching for an RTS while I think this genre always tends to do better with a mouse on PC the overall package here is well-implemented on Switch.

Do Not Feed the Monkeys - If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know I’m a big fan and cheerleader for weird games. Love ‘em. Give me an experience I haven’t had before since there’s an excitement to it with discovery. Do Not Feed the Monkeys certainly checks a number of boxes in the weirdo game category, with a premise unlike pretty much anything I’ve played, mechanics and strategy you’ll need to discern through some experimentation and flailing in the dark, and random bits of humor and even mystery from the news, dialogue with your neighbors, or through the “monkeys” you’re voyeuristically tasked with observing. With new experiences some confusion is to be expected, but for me the balance tips a bit too far into territory where the game simply feels unrefined and not quite clearly complete in terms of its concepts and design. If you’re down for things being a bit bumpy, with some trial and error and struggle there’s an interesting blend of ideas and some humor here that are worthwhile, it just may be an acquired taste overall.

House Flipper - Oh, simulator games, how you can sometimes baffle me for you appeal, allowing people to do some theoretically cool things but then often getting bogged down in drudgery and minutia. If there were a poster child contest for this syndrome House Flipper would be near the front of the line. Yeah, as you build up your construction empire you’ll get more opportunities to do cooler things but the road to success involves a lot of crap work, picking up garbage, cleaning up messes, and slowly pressing the right buttons to install replacement equipment. Sure, there’s an element of vegging out and enjoying yourself with the small details if that’s your bag, but even among its peers this just feels clunky and unrewarding.

Wednesday, June 10

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

The Outer Worlds [Nindie Choice] - Before fully getting into why I think this is an excellent title, and a breath of fresh air I’ve been needing on Switch, we’ll get to the elephant in the room. I have no doubts that like many titles at this degree of polish and high quality that playing it on Switch is the least optimum experience, and perhaps if you have the opportunity to play it elsewhere (assuming portability isn’t primarily what you’re looking for), that would be a better bet. There are absolutely signs of visual quirks and stutters you’ll run into but they didn’t make me enjoy the game less so we’re moving on. One of the series I’ve been aching for on Switch is Fallout. Both 3 and New Vegas are some of my favorite games from PC and after seeing Skyrim work so admirably on Switch it seemed like it would have happened. In lieu of them coming to the platform my desire for their experience has been quite fully sated by The Outer Worlds though. Better yet, while the gameplay is very reminiscent of that series (explore, build your stats in whatever direction you like, slow the action down to maximize your effectiveness) what then sets The Outer World Apart is its tone, world, and writing. Certainly removing the post-Apocalyptic world from the formula makes things a bit lighter but there’s genuine humor and a well-formed set of characters to interact with here that feel special and a bit next-level over what Bethesda has typically delivered. The Switch is by no means the ideal way to experience this title, and though convenient handheld play makes further compromises, but to ignore how well-made and enjoyable this title is through only that lens does this title a great disservice.

Knight Squad [Nindie Choice] - I’ll just put it right out there, while I love the spirit of the movement to bring back local co-op games and the part the Switch has to play in it reviewing the average title in the space can be brutal. With a spotty history of some really lackluster titles that start to feel the same my family has become skeptical at best when I tell them we have a game to play together. That said, when I hit ones that offer up something better-than-average it makes me appreciate them all the more. Where Knight Squad succeeds isn’t necessarily through originality or innovation, though some of its modes are clever in how they’re set up, it instead takes a very kitchen sink approach… and on the whole it works more than it doesn’t. With support for up to 8 players, and with the ability to make as many or few of those bots as you’d like, you’ll have your pick of a surprising number of modes that include playing solo or as teams, a surprising number of power-ups that can quickly turn the tides if used well, and plenty of fun top-down chaos. Given its pretty reasonable price and overall variety I walked away impressed, and given how jaded I can tend to be with this sort of title that’s a bit of an achievement in itself.

Depth of Extinction - Given that I’m a fan of X-Com-style tactical strategy and the variety that making things into roguelikes tends to bring I was excited to check this title out. The good news is that for the pretty low price point it succeeds pretty well at having the right overall feel in combat, proper opportunities to customize your squad in their skills and equipment, and overall have elements of both risk and surprise as you try to progress. That said, while at their core while roguelikes tend to re-use the same base enemies or looks and reconfigure them to not play the same way every time if you’re starved for variety in that base things start to feel repetitive all the same. There’s a trap here that you’re going through the same types of areas and facing the same types of enemies too often and with too little distinction from one another so the overall experience starts to feel redundant somehow. If you love this style of play and are looking for a fix on the cheap this may scratch that itch, just walk in aware that in terms of variety the game is lacking more than I’d usually expect in even budget roguelike titles.

Potata: Fairy Flower - In terms of its characters and overall construction there are some things to appreciate with Potata. While perhaps not terribly inspired or original its periodic puzzles and platforming are at least enjoyable. What really holds it back for me though is the sluggishness of the controls and jumping specifically. Whether by choice, tied to animations in some way, or whatever if I’m playing a platforming game at the core I want precise and crisp action with the jumps or my enjoyment goes down in a hurry. While you can undoubtedly get over it and find success regardless since there are so many platforming titles out there, including those that are budget-friendly, that get it more right than this I’m not going to ignore that fact. While I like its overall look and spunky spirit the action itself just doesn’t quite get up to the right standard for me.

Jump King - OK, so here we get down to the bare bones basics. Your job is to “save the babe” and to do that you’ll need to conquer a long series of platforms that stand between you. The only tool in your arsenal is jumping, and your only foe is the pull of gravity that at any point may have you plummeting back down to the beginning if you’re unlucky enough to fall in the worst possible way. Single-gimmick and simplistic games aren’t inherently bad, and I’ve played a few that were implemented in a way that made them engaging and charming. For me though, in this case, while I get that the intent is to make something difficult to challenge yourself to overcome I don’t find the carrot to be anywhere near appealing enough to consume time on it. The biggest issue I have is that your jumping is touchy and timing-based, the longer you hold on the higher your jump, but the timing is very quick so even with practice being 100% when you see the gap you want to cover and try your best to nail the right amount of time it takes to jump there isn’t likely to happen. So the result is a lot of trail with even more error to slowly develop a muscle memory for each jump along the way, allowing you eventual success if you stick with it. When there are so many great titles on Switch to play, sticking with this for a few hours just feels like wasted time given the paltry reward unless you’re a gamer who just likes to beat things that are tough for the sake of doing it.

Wednesday, June 3

Mini Reviews: June 3rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Liberated [Nindie Choice] - This is a title that easily caught my eye the first time I saw footage of it, the black-and-white comic book style and cinematic qualities of its action are absolutely eye-catching. Getting time to check out only some of the gameplay at PAX East I was a bit concerned that in terms of play it could be a mixed bag. The result is somewhat consistent with that worry, the puzzling and shooting over the four issues and approximately as many hours of play are decent but wouldn’t justify a purchase on their own. Put plainly at times there are just some really funky and awkward animations as well as what feels like initial ideas like quicktime-esque early on that get abandoned as the game progresses, making the action get quite repetitive unfortunately. In theory you have the option to try to go with being stealthy but honestly it’s simply not very effective, once you’re able to aim your gun consistently at head level you’ll find that works far too well to abandon. What redeems those shortcomings and brings the experience together though is the story, which features a dystopian society in the midst of an upheaval, with you spending time in each Issue seeing things through a different set of eyes. If you’re seeking great action you’ll likely be disappointed, but if you’re willing to let a great story with some twists pull you through a reasonably good experience you should find it quite satisfying.

The Takeover [Nindie Choice] - Up until this year while the beat-em-up was pretty well-represented on Switch there wasn’t a clear front-runner in the genre. That really all changed with the release of Streets of Rage 4, and now that really is the bar any other genre title must be measured against. With that in mind The Takeover certainly has a distinctive look, some flair, and some mechanics that set it apart… but it isn’t without its issues. There’s just something in the movement and flow that feels a bit stilted, holding back the action a bit. The somewhat shiny rendered look I think likely fares better on the PC or more powerful consoles, on the Switch it just can have a somewhat odd quality. At the end of the day it is a satisfying brawler and worth your time if you’re a genre fan, competing well against the second-tier titles available, just in the competition to be the best it doesn’t hold up so well.

Super Holobunnies: Pause CafĂ© - While indie devs may think that releasing a game with some variety can broaden the appeal and return on the gamer’s investment it can be a problem when things don’t come together well. Unfortunately, in my eyes, that’s the problem for Super Holobunnies, a mix of a pretty ho-hum multiplayer brawler mode, a boss rush mode that lacks context or opportunity to familiarize yourself with the rules of engagement, and a somewhat cumbersome endless runner. With so many multiplayer experiences on Switch it’s hard to get enthusiastic about this one, so the other modes are at least an admirable attempt to provide more content, but they’re difficult to really enjoy as both feel quite picky with their controls. If you’re game for some variety perhaps you’ll find it worthwhile, but the scattershot collection doesn’t really come together.

Strawberry Vinegar - OK, so I’m still not quite sure how I feel about visual novel experiences on dedicated gaming hardware and Strawberry Vinegar, though certainly having a novel premise, is further down that path than most. Lacking much opportunity to make choices or interact you’re really just going to sit through a lot of text, and much of it doesn’t even pair with unique art to help make it feel like there was a real effort behind it. Weird demon here to collect your young girl character’s soul, you’ll need to appease her hunger, your parents are obtuse and clueless… if that really sounds great then more power to you but the lack of player agency and consistent solid visuals to complement the story make it a bit of a bummer even against its visual novel brethren.

WildTrax Racing - So, yeah, when it comes to racing titles the Switch is definitely hurting. Between disappointing mobile conversions and not-so-hot Mario Kart clone attempts there are a few solid indie racers but there’s definitely room for a real contender to come in and shake things up. Unfortunately, with its wildly funky physics, off-road style feeling like an excuse to not really put together tracks and driver AI so much as general environments and driver meandering, and simply a lack of much content WildTrax Racing isn’t that title. Being brutal, it isn’t that title at all. I can work with funky and fun physics and don’t mind there being far more arcade than sim to a game but above all the races in this title are just pretty boring, and without power-ups or anything to liven things up you’re just trying not to slow yourself down in any way or you risk missing the checkpoint. Just it’s a bit of a mess.

Tuesday, June 2

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

Undead & Beyond - If there’s one thing I love about checking out indie games it’s the out-of-the-blue surprises, games I’ve never heard of that look unassuming but deliver far more than I’d ever expect. Though it’s hardly perfect that’s very much the case with Undead & Beyond, a budget title whose looks may be a bit on the clunky side, but whose style of play is just unique (and maybe a bit twisted) enough to make for a good time. You play the part of a mad scientist who has concocted a formula to essentially create zombies. Perhaps understandably the powers that be aren’t amused so they’re coming for you. Your goal? Escape each level you find yourself in by turning anyone you encounter, giving events a nudge when you can with some gear you’ll find, and generally trying to promote chaos and carnage to allow you to escape. It may not be terribly complex or varied as you go along, but I’ll admit that watching my zombie horde meander into a room and kill a unit of soldiers in a flurry of explosions and pixelated bloodshed at least would give me a giggle. Sometimes it just feels good to be evil.

Cannibal Cuisine - With the astounding success of the Overcooked series it was inevitable that a bunch of other teams would take on culinary local co-op, and one result of those efforts is Cannibal Cuisine. With a bit more of a twisted bent you’ll play as islanders who, in order to appease their angry gods, must chop tourists into steaks and ribs to cook up in tasty dishes. This is all very silly in nature, so there’s no real need to take offense, it’s just a way to differentiate the game by theme. The other big difference it offers is a small number of power-ups you can choose from for your native. Using these what you’re really doing is locking each member of your team into their role, whether the person who is on the attack wanting extra damage or healing, the runner getting a dash, or the cook getting handy fire breath for speeding things up. That aspect of the game is pretty smart and an appreciated enhancement. Where things can go wrong is that even early on the experience can be frustratingly picky. Relatively small barrels you’ll need to walk over to cross the water result in too many instances of people falling in the water, often with meals or materials now lost. Cooking stations are just close enough together that it can be annoyingly easy to accidentally put a banana or pepper on the wrong spit, ruining that meal. The experience can be sort of goofy fun, and leaning into people being role players is smart, but trying to minimize the frustration factor for a group of people of varying levels of gamer savvy may be a real challenge with this one.

The Copper Canyon Dixie Dash - Somewhat blending the feel of an old arcade-style gun game with some elements that are a bit more like an FPS Dixie Dash is an odd bird. You’ll be able to maneuver around a pretty limited environment at every stage, sort of able to take cover from enemies who’ll spawn in and who are trying to take you down. Equipped with a few different guns, the first thing that jumped out at me was that switching between them generally felt like a waste. I could pretty effectively use my pistol at range, nullifying the somewhat slow-to-use sniper rifle, and it was lethal enough that when an enemy was getting in close the time to switch to the shotgun and shoot wasn’t worth the risk when I could just unload with the pistol. Admittedly, there aren’t too many games out there in this style, so depending on what you’re hoping for it could work out, but be warned the experience is pretty bare bones overall.

Castle Pals - I can appreciate pretty simplistic budget platformers that have a more classic retro feel but to be competitive in the Switch eShop you really need to throw people a bone, some glimmer of inspiration that helps make the experience at least a little bit special. On pretty well all fronts Castle Pals, featuring two characters you’ll alternate playing as who each have their own style of play, can’t muster up any real fun or excitement. The controls are on the “touchy” side, the level design is pretty uninspired all around, and in general there just wasn’t a lot of joy to be found working through it. With so many decent to pretty great budget options out there Castle Pals struggles to justify a purchase.

Hill Climbing Mania - There are mobile genres and conversions that come to Switch and redeem themselves and then there are those that fall pretty flat. Unfortunately, Hill Climbing Mania is definitely in the second category, delivering an experience I’d say even comes up short against other mobile games of its type even. Control is bare bones and basic, lacking in nuance, and perhaps worst of all there has been no real effort to remove or even de-emphasize the mobile grind model that may be OK in a “freemium” game but really isn’t acceptable in a title people are paying for. If you must play a hill climber, randomly choose one for your phone and you’ll likely be unable to do worse.

Thursday, May 28

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

Atomicrops [Nindie Choice!] - For me Atomicrops is a story of early frustration, followed by a slow warming up, which eventually became a pretty deep and addictive love. Among the many roguelike shooters on Switch it absolutely stands apart, and getting the hang of how everything works is thus an unfamiliar challenge. Are you supposed to tend your crops? Go running out into the areas to the north, south, east, and west to find seeds and supplies? Focus on making money? Make sure to plant and cultivate roses as quickly as possible since they’re an alternative and powerful currency as well? The answer to all of it pretty much turns out to be “Yes”. I don’t think there’s only one strategy or set of tactics that will make you successful but since the game provides you with very little overall guidance and there are simply a staggering number of power-ups and pieces of equipment you may encounter you’re going to need to try and fail quite a bit before you’ll have some “Aha!” moments and feel like you’ve got your feet under you. The thing is, once I turned that corner and finally began to know just enough to pick the power-ups that best suited the situation in my current run, wisely choosing how and when to invest and in what, I got hooked and had to keep playing until I finally completed Year 1. Outside of a lack of much helpful guidance, which really can make the early game a bit of a bummer, my only other major complaint is that as the screen gets full of stuff happening at night and there’s chaos everywhere, at times you’ll swear you’re taking damage but can’t tell from what. It happening only once in a while you can write it off as you just missing something but the more it happened (once every few runs) the harder I would look and there were times I legitimately had no idea what killed me, never a good thing, but obviously not something so common I couldn’t be successful. If you’ve been feeling like roguelike shooters have been feeling too much alike and in need of an evolution be sure to give Atomicrops a shot, I think it’ll “grow” on you.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens [Nindie Choice!] - While I’m a relatively recent fan of the Shantae series, having just been introduced to it in the collection release on Switch a while ago, I’m definitely getting into the groove and enjoying what feels like its consistency. Some great characters, perhaps a bit on the silly and dramatic side, backed up by rock-solid action platforming and more often than not varied and exciting boss fights. Clocking in completing my first full runthrough of this edition in a bit under 8 hours for the most part I’d consider it satisfying, though I will offer some nitpicks. While I won’t fault the game for generally being highly accessible with plentiful healing and opportunities to collect coins to be used for upgrades, that does diminish the excitement of big battles that don’t revolve around some puzzling and pattern solving. Especially in the fights against Risky Boots I sort of gave up on trying to be subtle and would just full-on blitz her with attacks until she was done, usually only needing to heal twice at most before it was done. Certainly that was my choice but at the same time her battles tended to be highly repetitive and only iteratively harder each time so my indifference felt earned. While some trappings like the enemy card system that would give you up to 3 incremental improvements to a particular skill or attack were nice they, along with the majority of the magic system attacks, felt a little under-utilized. Nice to have, but mostly non-essential so a bit wasted. Bear in mind, I’m being a bit picky only because I think the game was terrific and I just want to see it refined further and get better. While I wouldn’t call it perfect I think it’s a terrific title that gamers of just about any age or skill level could likely enjoy. There may be a few sections that will push you, and there are spots where figuring out where to go next can be a challenge, but its upbeat tone, polished presentation, and accessible fun are hard not to enjoy.

Ailment - There’s nothing wrong with a straightforward budget title that sets its sights on a goal and gets there, even if it may not feel terribly flashy or ambitious. For me that’s Ailment in a nutshell, with you playing as a crewmember who wakes up on his ship and discovers that something has gone very wrong… with an abundant use of weaponry being the best solution to that problem. You’ll do some exploring, accumulate an impressive arsenal, work only moderately hard to conserve your “big guns” for the threats that require them, and methodically work your way through the equally well-armed people you’ll run into. It lacks the edge and flair that the stronger shooters in this space have but for the very reasonable price of admission it’s also a good time for genre fans.

Despotism 3k - In terms of overall look, bleak theme, and the humor in its many odd random events complete with pop culture references and other unexpected surprises Despotism 3k comes out of the gate feeling like it has promise. Some repeated playthroughs where it all boils down to time and resource management with a lot of repetition and making small tweaks to be more efficient for better success start to chip away at that element of fun unfortunately. This is all about experimenting to figure out what combination of upgrades, managing your people to focus on which resources and when, and generally just how best to respond to events you can’t control are needed to survive. If you’re interested in that sort of challenge you may find it appealing, but the lack of real variety outside of that diminishes what initially feels fresh.

Fly Punch Boom! - I don’t doubt that coming up with new ways to make competitive fighters/brawlers have a personality all their own and not be accused of being an also-ran clone of an existing property can be difficult, especially if you’re aiming for a more mainstream appeal. To its credit, Fly Punch Boom carves out a niche for itself that feels unique, blending some mechanics of rock paper scissors with specific or timed button presses you can use to either get an edge when things get tight or to help you recover with a tough save. The problem, though, is that in practice it feels like a bit of a mess, sometimes feeling pretty random, and other times leaving you not 100% sure when you should be pressing what so prompts can be missed just over confusion over when they may appear. Weirdly it feels like it is supposed to be a quick-to-pick-up-and-play game but at the same time there’s an edge to it that cuts against that grain. If you’re looking for something different, this will deliver, but that doesn’t mean it all gels together either.