Friday, January 31

Mini Reviews: January 31st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Willy Jetman: Astromonkey’s Revenge [Nindie Choice!] - With so many retro indie titles that have replicated the feel and experience of such a wide variety of classic genres and styles it’s always a bit surprising when you stumble onto one that still feels somewhat unique. Willy Jetman is a surprise budget-friendly platforming shooter that does just that, making you work with your jetpack and a variety of weapons as you progress to complete stages in an alien landscape. Hidden and tough-to-reach areas are quite plentiful, but don’t be surprised when you’ll find some of them pretty challenging to survive as well. Thankfully, for the most part save points are plentiful and well-spaced enough that it generally doesn’t feel unfair, but if you’re determined to find and grab everything in the game be ready for a pleasantly consistent challenge. Whether avoiding a variety of types of traps or taking on some tough creatures, some of which may require a little experimentation and strategy to take down, you should find plenty of opportunity to work for your progress. All in all this is one of those pleasant surprise titles that I didn’t find out about until it arrived in my inbox and I’m glad I decided to take it for a spin, it’s a very retro-feeling treat that should please people looking for a fair challenge!

Bookbound Brigade - As an English major and classical literature nerd of sorts the setup for Bookbound Brigade easily piqued my interest. Work through a Metroidvania by controlling a group of characters from a pretty wide variety of classics and periodically encounter even more characters as you level up, gain new abilities and formations you can work with, and work to solve puzzles and defeat enemies as you go? Early on when running into Don Quixote I was encouraged even further on my nerd side with a great character reference. Unfortunately, in terms of the gameplay itself, it’s more of a mixed bag. The variety in what your crew becomes capable of actually gets to be a bit of an impediment as remembering all of the controls and being able to effectively use them quickly and precisely at times can get to be a bit of a chore. I like a good challenge but when it feels like the game’s own mechanics are one of your obstacles to getting into a groove and enjoying yourself it can be aggravating. There’s no doubt it has some good and original ideas, just I’m not sure it’s consistent enough in quality to get a firm recommendation.

Speaking Simulator - This is one of those titles that is likely to divide people firmly between the lovers and the haters, without a whole lot in between. As the game’s name implies the focus of the majority of the gameplay is in manipulating the mouth of your character, a robot, in order to get it to not just speak but also exhibit some other characteristics within your interactions that would make you seem human. The humor ensues as you go through a number of social situations where you’re trying your best to remain composed as you struggle to get your words out and eventually begin to show visible signs of wear and tear. The question will be whether the novelty of the experience can keep its grip on you as more elements slowly get added, making your undertaking increasingly challenging or hopeless depending on how you see it. It’s a tricky balancing act and it will likely vary from person to person where the needle moves, whether in the direction of frustrating or quirky and entertaining.

Sisters Royale - When it comes to shooters of all types from traditional to modern, bullet hell to roguelike, the Switch has you covered. Unfortunately for developers that also means that in order to make a mark and stand out you’ve got your work cut out for you. In the case of Sisters Royale there are certainly elements, in particular its oddball (though some would say annoying) story beats and overall art style, that make it stand out but whether or not they’ll satisfy will likely heavily boil down to taste. Each of the title sisters does have both unique shot patterns and specials, and attacking the game’s 5 stages with each of them does feel quite different. Stage theming is in some cases more than superficial, though in particular whether you appreciate the slightly slippery nature of the icy level in a game of this sort of title may be a fair question. In the end this game becomes all about high score chasing, which is made a bit more thrilling since an aspect of your score is driven by how close you’re able to get to enemy fire. That may be a big plus for hardcore bullet hell fans, but I wouldn’t say this is any better implemented by its contemporaries with the same mechanics. With a wide variety of both vintage and new wave shmups available on the Switch aside from style and flair I find Sisters Royale struggles to clearly assert itself as a top contender. Some may appreciate its push to be different, a move I can respect, but under the hood without those flourishes it still just feels a bit ordinary.

Not Tonight - The strength of the size of the indie gaming space out there is that you never know what you may run into, and that with some creativity you can game-ify just about anything… even something as mundane as checking people’s IDs at the door of various venues. In the case of Not Tonight there’s more to it than just your menial (though, as things progress, surprisingly challenging) work though, with a world caught up in political turmoil care of Brexit (in this case having already occurred, though now the real world may be catching up) working as the backdrop to your everyday existence. For Americans this may be a bit harder to parse, and for people with greater connections to Brexit (depending on your political leanings) you may enjoy its strident picture of a country gone wrong or find it irritating. Regardless, in terms of gameplay while it stays simple in principle and never really evolves a great deal it presents a solid mental challenge as you try to quickly keep the line moving while juggling an ever-growing list of concerns for who you should turn away.

Thursday, January 30

Mini Reviews: January 30th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Skellboy [Nindie Choice] - When it comes to action adventure titles it is no doubt a challenge to do something that somehow feels fresh and new. With an ability to switch out your body parts to take on new abilities, sometimes paired with some humorous circumstances, Skellboy at a minimum manages to have elements that are all its own. Granted, the exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat tend more towards the traditional, but since these areas are all handled well that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the pre-release version of the game has some stutters and pauses on area transitions a forthcoming patch has that issue in its sights so hopefully they’ll soon be a non-issue, though thankfully even when I ran into the issue it never managed to interfere with the action. Overall, while Skellboy may skew more towards a family-friendly degree of challenge than some may be looking for it’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. I wish the body part changing dynamics had been explored a bit more thoroughly, making for some tougher or more creative choices of combinations to shake things up a bit further, but regardless this is an easy title to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure just about anyone can enjoy.

Heroland - Full of quirky and unusual characters, and built on a somewhat unusual premise of there being a hero amusement park of sorts where people go to get their dungeon crawl on, Heroland is most definitely different. You’ll play the part of a “tour guide” of sorts, managing a party of varying tourists and general oddballs through a progression of increasingly-challenging dungeons. While the combat plays out as a traditional turn-based RPG your ability to command your group is limited on a cooldown so you’ll need to take action strategically to influence tactics or use an item but otherwise watch and hope your group can pull it together. Between battles you’ll work through an often silly story, work to cultivate friendships with your party in order to improve performance, and experiment with ways to improve your group effectiveness. While, for me, the action takes a bit too much of a backseat to dialogue early on I appreciate the fact that this has a very different feel from your typical JRPG and is worthwhile as an option because of that.

Coffee Talk - As the games industry continues to grow and evolve it opens the door to some very different modes of play, including those one the more casual end of the spectrum. Coffee Talk, first and foremost, is about the people (well, all manner of mythical beings in this case) you’ll meet and their stories as you manage your small open-all-night coffee joint. The more active aspect of the game is where you’ll need to size up new customers and try to find their perfect drink from a growing line-up of caffeinated goodness. This is even complete with some opportunities to hone your foamy art skills, and can be a fun diversion if you’re so inclined. The rest of the experience involves some limited interaction but generally taking in some interesting and very diverse characters, all of whom have their own problems and challenges you may not be able to remedy but at least give some passive advice about. All in all it’s a very chill and interesting experience, just be sure you’re aware of its nature before giving it a try if you prefer more excitement.

HYPERCHARGE Unboxed - With its Small Soldiers vibe, setting a mix of tower defense-esque strategy and shooting at a toy-like scale, Unboxed seemed full of potential. The ability to play with others locally or online (though, as always I’ll point out online support in titles like this tends to not have much staying power, unfortunately) help to sweeten the pot as well, following the philosophy of the more the merrier. That makes this a somewhat surprising overall miss for me, as the action just tends to be too slow, the upgrades that try to spice things up too spaced out, and the balancing in multiplayer too poorly accounted for. Running around in the set-up phase you’ll want to search for currency in its various forms and put up some defenses in pre-defined locations. Once the action begins there’ll be a slow onslaught of enemies to contend with who’ll get tripped up by your planning to a degree but that you’ll need to tend to, gunning them down and perhaps repairing things that are damaged if you get the chance. There are some variations on the theme but in the end at the core this feels like a slow-moving shooter with a strategic element that adds flavor but was also never enough to get my blood pumping. There’ll be an audience for this, just be sure it will suit your style and preferred pace of play.

Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry - Considering the era we live in Leisure Suit Larry still being around at all is a bit of a surprise. Having played the original games one major benefit this incarnation has is that it isn’t even partially text-based so guessing what nouns and verbs you need to use to prompt action is long gone. Also, thankfully, the more cringy frat-boy tone of more recent titles has been dropped, with Larry returning (as if through a time warp) to his vintage awkward aged virgin self. What didn’t work so well for me was the emphasis on bad social media humor, there’s not just a smidgen of it instead it’s almost constant. Granted, in the #metoo era perhaps a proper Leisure Suit Larry outing wouldn’t work, but if that’s the case don’t use the franchise at all. This likely only serve to disappoint people actually familiar with the series and looking to reminisce with its awkward PG-13 sexual humor and at the same time just prompt eye rolling from people less familiar groaning at far too pained jokes about apps that fail to be terribly funny.

Monday, January 27

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

SpeedRunners [Nindie Choice!] - This is one of those popular indie titles that seemed like a natural fit for the Switch so it’s odd that it took so long to get here but I’m glad it has arrived. If you’re ready to tackle some extremely hectic running, traversal, and typically more than a few elements of the unexpected you’ll likely have a great time with this one. You’ll choose your character and hit the course with your double jump, slide, and grapple moves always available for quickly wall jumping or avoiding obstacles. In addition, you have a dash which can be recharged (and can be crucial to losing the competition or saving yourself when you’re behind) and a variety of random power-ups you can pick up that add a nice layer of strategy at times if you’re able to use them wisely. The goal is simply to lose your competition and when you’re in the lead that gives you a slight disadvantage as your view will become more limited, meaning you’ll want to try your best to memorize the courses at least roughly as you go so you won’t end up running into traps blindly. There is a single-player story mode that will help you get up to speed as well as unlock some characters, tracks, and other goodies. However, it’s absolutely best enjoyed with some friends, though online play is supported but indie fans should always keep in mind that sustained availability of randoms to play with is always a concern. I do think the inclusion of paid cosmetic content at this in the game’s lifecycle feels disappointing, but I suppose it’s fine in the interest of fairness to the people who’ve bought it on other platforms.

Goodbye Deponia - With adventure game series like this it is somewhat difficult to think of them or review them as stand-alones when, in order to really appreciate them, they’re meant to be played as a series. This final (? you never know) chapter once again finds its protagonist Rufus beset by an assortment of situations both oddball and in this entry sometimes more dark, where he’ll need to get out of a jam through a mix of smart dialogue and some inventive puzzling. If you’re a fan of the classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures this is probably the series that gets closest to replicating that formula overall since the dialogue consistently manages to be unexpected and generally entertaining. If you’ve enjoyed the rest of the series this should be an easy buy, but if you’re just hearing about it now I’d recommend starting with the original Deponia and working your way through.

Mosaic - Do you ever walk through life feeling like it’s mostly full of mundane repetition and tasks that lack in fulfillment? In Mosaic your main character is trapped in such a situation, moving through his day surrounded by grey blandness. However, each new day he begins to see glimmers of beauty, color, and sometimes just outright trippy stuff that helps make it clear that there’s more out there if you’re willing to look at it. Less an actively engaging game and more of a semi-interactive experience Mosaic is creative and perhaps thought-provoking depending on how much you want to consider its message. I would imagine it’s a title where people will move firmly in one direction or another in terms of opinion, so be sure where you stand on the “games as experience first” concept before pulling the trigger.

Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest - As a huge fan of Civilization, and 4X strategy games like it, I’m always intrigued by new titles being released in that general vein. However, as I found with this particular new kid in the space, creating a balanced and excellent title in this genre is tough to get right. Starting with the game’s tutorial that leaves out far too much detail and proper explanation I didn’t feel well equipped for my first outing and in-game I found it hard to get much direction that was helpful. Perhaps worse, when it came to combat there would be cases where it would give me the impression I was sure to win but then would promptly get my ass handed to me, that really leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I suppose if I wanted to tackle combat manually I would have done better but honestly the interface and experience of that were clunky in a way that made that prospect unappealing. If you’re hard-up for a new strategy experience and are either willing to either ignore the quirks of the game, or read up on-line to get better guidance on how to navigate what feels like a title with some depth, but for me it failed to excite more than frustrate.

FoxyLand 2 - Budget platformers have become somewhat a dime a dozen out there on the Switch, but when you’re in a pinch and looking for some time they aren’t always a bad option. The previous iteration of FoxyLand debuted on the Switch not very long ago at all, and proved to be a decent, if somewhat generic, game in terms of mechanics and challenge. This sequel has quite a lot in common, in particular in terms of the overall aesthetic, but at least in my mind in the big picture it changed in a way I’m less fond of. When you include hidden coins or collectables in your levels they tend to be tied to alternative paths or challenge spots typically. Too often in this case though they tended just to be in unusual places you had to guess at and often plain die trying to find since their openings are situation at the edge of spike pits or other lethal places. This didn’t make me feel skilled or clever finding them, more often than not it just felt cheap. Otherwise it’s fine I suppose but of the two I’d say the first, overall, left a better impression with me.

Friday, January 24

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

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath - The Oddworld series has finally managed to come to Switch! Well, sort of, since this FPS-like offshoot from the main series is quite a different animal. The first thing to note is that with this being a remaster of an older game there are definitely elements of it that feel aged in terms of gameplay and mechanics. The experience can be a bit rough around the edges, and even at the time it was released I would imagine it got some criticism. That said, the quirky aspect of your creature-based weaponry, the strategic nature of how you approach your missions, and the aspect of the unexpected the alien Oddworld brings to the table help it feel fresh and different to the point that some of the issues can be overlooked. If you’re looking for hard-hitting action you’ll be disappointed but if you’re open to something a bit different this can be fun.

Sega Ages: Shinobi - The arcade ninja classic is back! Shinobi is a title I spent a fair amount of time playing at the arcades back in the day and, in general, it’s just as tough as I remembered it. That first boss where you need to be on top of throwing your shuriken below the peak of your jump is a classic who tended to quickly knock out less experienced players and it was fun to meet up with him and some of the other weirdo characters like the spider dudes as well. Now, what you get is pretty well purely the original game, though you can choose an alternative mode that gives you a little better start powered up and you have the option to be able to rewind as well. I’m not sure if people who don’t have nostalgia for this classic will get as much enjoyment out of it as veterans but for fans of the game this is an easy win.

Witch & Hero 2 - Though it may look pretty simplistic, and is in terms of mechanics, there’s something deceptive about the light action in Witch & Hero 2. The basics are that you’re in command of a knight who by bumping into enemies can chip away at their health and kill them, though he’ll be more effective if he’s able to attack from behind. Since he loses health in these bump battles you’ll also need to control a witch who’s a bit slower and who is able to revive him when he falls. When she gets enough blood from fallen enemies, which she collects from the hero, she’s then able to cast pretty powerful spells. The trickiest part, unless you’re able to play co-op with a friend, is trying to control them both at once, especially as the screen begins to fill up and get hectic. It’s surprisingly fun and challenging even with its simple and somewhat grindy nature. If you’re looking for a change of pace on a budget it’s not a bad choice.

Lumini - Lumini is one of those titles that’s a bit like a roller coaster ride to play. One moment you’re in the zone, pulled into its serenity, calming music, and colorful environments… but the next you’re aggravated by the somewhat loosey goosey nature of the controls and persistent issues with performance and slowdown it hits. Nothing is really explained here, and in general you don’t really need much guidance, but the gist of it is you’ll manage a growing flock of creatures of different colors through a series of caverns and passageways trying to collect crystals of some kind that will aid you in growing your brood and trying to either avoid or eliminate enemies you’ll run into along the way. In general, it’s a pretty serene experience, with most of its emphasis on exploration and mild puzzle solving. You do run into enemies, and some you’ll need to deal with, but there are also times where avoidance is an option and may be the better course since there’s not really anything to gain by taking things out unless they’re an immediate threat. If it weren’t for the frequency of the performance problems it would be easier to recommend as an almost meditative and calming experience but as it is currently that makes it tougher to enjoy.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf - On paper I think the idea behind the mechanics for Space Wolf could be interesting. It takes on part tactical strategy combat ala X-Com and combines it with card-based deck-building to dictate your movement and attack options. I don’t think it’s impossible for this combination to work effectively but in terms of the implementation here I’m just not feeling it. Combat ends up feeling a bit clunky, though part of this perception may be how you’re just sort of dropped into things without much explanation. Even early on having enemies spawn in odd and inconvenient places, but pretty much all being one-dimensional grunts who are cannon fodder just there to wear you down, also left something to be desired. While I love X-Com and have found deck builders that have been very engaging the way they’ve been bolted together in this case for me feels like they’ve moved backwards in some way, not enhancing either side but somehow being brought down by the combining of the two. I don’t doubt that there may be some Warhammer or hardcore strategy fans who may find it works for them but this just didn’t work for me.

Thursday, January 23

Mini Reviews: January 23rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

198X [Nindie Choice!] - As a child of the 70s and 80s who spent an enormous amount of time in the arcades there’s no doubt 198X was made for me. I’m just getting my bias out of the way so you can take into account how it may color my generally positive perception of the game. In essence the game is a blend of the beginnings of the story (it is meant to be the first chapter in a bigger narrative) of Kid, a teenager approaching life’s crossroads and feeling the limits of the town they’re living in. With the discovery of a local arcade, and through the exploration of 5 different retro-styled games, that perspective begins to shift, providing confidence and vision of new possibilities. While perhaps it’s a bit frustrating how briefly you’ll be able to enjoy the title’s loving recreation of multiple classics and genres there are moments I had playing through them that helped me reconnect with the wonder of the experience of the arcade, not just as a collection of games to play but as a physical place that was somehow special. I’m absolutely looking forward to what is yet to come in future chapters and I would imagine anyone with a long-standing connection and affection for games will enjoy this celebration of arcade culture.

Stories Untold - Though I’m old enough to recall, with some fondness even, the days of playing purely text-based adventure games the likes of Zork and others I can’t say I was initially thrilled at the prospect of returning to that style of play. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for Stories Untold to reveal itself as being much more, whether with some odd meta moments, strange visions of aliens and/or monsters, etc. While mechanically some people may find the gameplay itself to be a bit of a drag, checking through manuals and operating varied equipment as the situations demand, the mystery of what’s happening managed to suck me in completely and hold my attention through the completion of the game’s fourth and final chapter a few hours later which brought everything together in an unexpected way. Perhaps it’s more of an overall experience more than a thrilling game but Stories Untold did manage to deliver the unexpected, and that has some merit in a crowded eShop.

Robots Under Attack - Budget puzzlers may be a bit of a dime a dozen on the Switch but it’s always nice to see ones that offer up something different. Robots Under Attack fits that bill, with a nice hand-drawn art style and quite a number of physics puzzles that will challenge both your brains and your dexterity. For the most part your means of interacting with the robots and other elements in each stage will be a bow which you can fire a variety of arrows from. Depending on your obstacles you’ll need to carefully choose the right type for each job but that’s only half of your challenge. In addition, you’ll then need to carefully fire your arrows from the designated space to hit your targets, sometimes within a time limit, so combining those two elements it stacks up to a decent challenge that keeps you thinking and on your toes. While it may be lacking in bells and whistles and a great deal of variety, for a low price it will keep you occupied for a few hours and stands apart from most of its peers in the eShop so that’s something.

Lydia - Over the past few years in particular there has been a movement towards using games as a vehicle for telling semi-interactive stories as opposed to using more traditional forms of media. The power of doing this can be a stronger connection to the game’s protagonist, which then can enhance the experience and make the message more powerful. Lydia, in its admittedly brief runtime, tells a real-life story involving a little girl, her party-hard parents, and the fantasy world she tries to escape to in order to insulate her from the awful situations she finds herself in. The strengths of the game are its unusual hand-drawn art and the challenging arc of the story, while the weakness is what constitutes “gameplay” and perhaps the heavily-repeated baby sounds that are used for dialogue. However, if you’re down for putting yourself in the shoes of a child in challenging circumstances you may find it enlightening.

Red Bow - With a visual pixel art style that does have a creep factor but has elements reminiscent of the developer’s previous release, My Big Sister, I found it hard not to have a bit of deja vu playing this title. Unfortunately, another thing it has in common is the very rote path you’ll move through the game in, exploring and solving puzzles without much interest or challenge while simply advancing the story. I suppose if you like the base art and are intrigued by the creepy base nature of the folklore-driven story it could satisfy but as an adventure it’s quite shallow.

Monday, January 20

Mini Reviews: January 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Deponia Doomsday - If you’re a big fan of the bygone heyday of the point and click adventure games the Deponia trilogy is well worth checking out. This second chapter in the series takes a pretty different path, one that throws time travel into the mix with generally humorous results. The dialogue tree options remain as unexpected and often silly as the classic LucasArts games, encouraging you to sometimes shoot from the hip just to see what can happen, which is fun. If there’s a complaint I’d say that getting “lost” is a bit more likely in this middle chapter as the areas you have access to can get quite large and the elements you’ll need are then spread out. It does keep things from feeling too linear but it also makes it likely you’ll be checking a guide at some point to get your bearings.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha - There’s no doubt the Switch has become the ideal platform for retro and throwback titles of all kinds. Not only is portability a plus but for the modest investment needed to pick up a FlipGrip the ability to enjoy vertically-oriented arcade titles as they were intended is pretty satisfying. In the case of this collection of 6 titles you’ve got an odd blend of diversity and more of the same. Half of the pack’s 6 games are from the Strikers 1945 trilogy and represent the classic shooter experience. Each of the other 3 are pretty wildly different, with 2 titles (Sol Divide and Dragon Blaze) experimenting with alternative styles of play that are definitely a mixed bag. The last, Zero Gunner 2, is the only title played in a horizontal orientation and charts its own path with enemies coming from all directions and sporting unusual controls where you’ll essentially use one button to set a pivot point so you can shoot in a circle. It’s different, for sure, but seemingly would have been so much easier and better as a twin-stick shooter. If you’re a fan of classic vertically-scrolling arcade shooter goodness, and perhaps if you’ve got a bit of an open mind for weird variations on the formula, this should at least satisfy with some surprises.

Jump Gunners - Local multiplayer shooters are a bit of a dime a dozen on the Switch so it can be hard to make an impression and stand out in the space. Jump Gunners does at least manage to do that, featuring a number of weapons, an additional layer of challenge and strategy with the benefits and downsides of recoil, and even a few single-player modes. Where it runs into some problems are the inconsistencies in the experience, with some stages working better than others and a tendency to be hard to follow at times as it tries to zoom in and out on the action. Also, while the single-player modes are a nice value add, the one even prompting a smile with elements of Duck Hunt, they’re also not likely to provide much in the long term. As a package it has its place, and plays better than the more generic fare in the space, but its mileage will vary depending on your tastes.

Self - It’s always interesting to see games used as a medium for storytelling and in the case of Self rather than working through a pre-destined story to reach a static conclusion you’ll find that it has many branching paths to encourage replay to discover its different outcomes. Alternating between text-driven story beats where you’ll have to make some key decisions and simplistic mini game sequences that feel inspired by Undertale the experience is a bit of a mixed bag. What’s a bit frustrating is that the minimalist game sequences, which generally just consist of you trying to dodge different themed elements, really just end up feeling like filler and if anything pulled me out of the story which is compelling. If you’re up for something a bit off-center with the text-based story driving the experience rather than the action it may be of interest.

Demolish & Build - Oof. I dislike being outright negative about titles since there can be an audience for just about anything but when the overall package and experience are this janky it’s hard to pull the punches. Poor visuals can be overcome with great gameplay but the title looking like something from the N64/PS1 era with abundant fog, clipping, and pop-in does not get it off to a great start. The fact that your tasks aren’t terribly thrilling, knocking down walls or breaking things up with a sledgehammer loses its appeal quickly, and the in-game direction on what it is wanting you to do is generally poor just locks in the bad taste generally. Sometimes budget titles can be a pleasant surprise but this isn’t one of those times.

Thursday, January 16

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

Super Crush KO [Nindie Choice!] - Early in the Switch lifespan, when the pickings were sometimes a bit more thin, there were some core Nindie titles that helped occupy my time. Among my favorites was the very distinct high-score-chasing space shooter Graceful Explosion Machine which encouraged repeated play as I’d try to get top ranks and a few rungs higher on the leaderboards for every stage. Who knew the same core concepts of multiple attack styles, a sense of flair, and a scoring system that pushes you to keep changing things up would work so well in a beat-em-up? Apparently the folks at Vertex Pop did! Very similarly to GEM I love the flow of things, and how you need to continually improvise not only to keep out of harm’s way but also in order to chain more and more attacks into your combo. It can be almost meditative when you’re in the zone, dodging, dashing through bullets, throwing uppercuts, and even shooting. In terms of raw stages, much like GEM there aren’t a ton to get through, but the joy here is in revisiting and climbing the online leaderboards, and for that this game crushes it.

THOTH - When it comes to shooters minimalist looks can work nicely, but with quite a number of budget shooters already in that vein on Switch it can be hard to make an impression. While THOTH may not do a great job of getting you up to speed or easing you into things, once you get over your initial confusion you’ll find it offers an interesting mix of twin stick shooting and an almost puzzle-like feel. Every few levels new ideas or elements will be introduced that you’ll then need to contend with while destroying enemy blocks, clearing the stage and moving you on. While it isn’t a terribly long game for the price it seems fair and if you’ve been looking for a shooter that keeps you on your toes this is a solid choice.

Super Mega Space Blaster - On paper this is a title that should be a slam dunk for me. A retro-feeling space shooter with elements of Asteroids and others, offering up a variety of modes and ships that change things up and provide for variety and hopefully longevity. While I repeatedly returned to it, hoping the next unlock would help suddenly make it all come together for me it just never quite got there. Weirdly, I think the bones for a great shooter are there, just there are some unusual choices made in implementation that I’m not so much a fan of. Bullet scarcity, no temporary invulnerability when you get hit, movement (in some modes forced) that doesn’t quite feel right, the need to grind to unlock elements you’re hoping will make it work for you but may not… it’s aggravatingly on the edge of working. While I have no doubt some shooter fans looking for something that stands apart and can sort of be custom catered to your own style will enjoy this one in an eShop flush with terrific shooters of all kinds I find this one tough to recommend with enthusiasm.

140 - Minimalist platformers can be fun on a budget, no doubt, but their wide availability on the Switch as well as down to even mobile devices makes them a challenge to get attention with. 140 just sort of throws you into things and lets you figure it out, though thankfully it doesn’t take too much effort or trial and error in general. If it weren’t for the use of the music and some rhythm in helping you time your critical jumps onto shifting and/or disappearing platforms I think the experience would have been more ordinary. If you’re looking for a game to play on the cheap with a great soundtrack that you’ll need to listen to carefully at times to help you make your way through some solid (though perhaps not terribly inspired) action puzzles, 140 isn’t amazing but it seems to have accomplished what it set out to do.

Drunk-Fu: Wasted Masters - When it comes to budget-friendly multiplayer gaming the Switch has quite an assortment of options. Since many of them are somewhat ho-hum shooters of various kinds I’m always a bit more excited to check out any titles offering up something a little different. Putting together brawler elements and ragdoll physics in an unlikely pairing we have Drunk-Fu: Wasted Masters. This is one of those games where criticizing the controls is tricky, the loose and funky nature of them is “part of the fun”, but while you can certainly throw down the ultimately limited moveset does tend to get people falling into patterns that work pretty quickly. With that in mind unless you manage to find someone online to play with or have friends who like to get together, laugh, and maybe have a few drinks to lower your expectations the longevity of Drunk-Fu will likely be pretty limited for most people.

Friday, January 10

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

Blackmoor 2 - When it comes to budget games that have come to Switch there has been a really mixed bag of decent games down to pretty horrible ones. Somewhere near the top of that pile we have Blackmoor 2, a side-scrolling beat-em-up of sorts packing a lot of variety in the form of multiple playable classes. While the moveset of each isn’t terribly elaborate, they are at least distinct from one another and allow for you having what feels like a reasonable degree of choice in how you take on the challenges the game presents. With pretty chunky characters and enemies handheld play isn’t any issue at all but I would say that though the controls work well the scaling of the characters does make you feel like a very large target at times. Regardless, for a budget price Blackmoor 2 has quite a lot to offer, allows for up to 4 players locally, and delivers a pretty solid experience through and through.

Technosphere Reload - Mixing together elements of the likes of either Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball, and throwing in some puzzle mechanics to boot, we have Technosphere Reload. After a surprisingly long tutorial pointing out that there’s quite a lot to be aware of as you play through the game, you’ll be off and trying to roll, jump, and boost your way through a pretty wide variety of action puzzles. Probably the weakest elements of the game are the lighting in places which makes it hard to make out crucial detail and the pretty static camera that you can adjust in 90 degree increments but at times leaves you feeling like there’s just not an optimal direction to view the action from. Still, it presents a pretty unique challenge and ball rolling fans should enjoy the elements that it brings to the table.

Drawngeon: Dungeons of Ink and Paper - Dungeon-crawling RPGs are very much just their own thing, and they’re not for everyone, but for a budget title Drawngeon takes a fair stab at providing a decent experience. While the hand-drawn art helps make the game unique unfortunately its play mechanics are pretty stale and uninspiring. For the most part this ends up being a “going through the motions” kind of experience, not necessarily bad but doing very little to make a case for remaining on your radar for very long once its creative novelty wears off.

Ultimate Racing 2D - As an old school arcade gamer I’m actually an enormous fan of the classic top-down racer. Titles like Championship Sprint and Super Off-Road are revered for a reason, because though they weren’t as visually impressive as 3D racers they had a great feel to them and delivered great action. Granted, the lack of a wheel and an accelerator makes transitioning that experience to a home console like the Switch tougher but in the case of Ultimate 2D Racing the problems are far more fundamental than just the controls. To the game’s credit, the variety in vehicles (most of which have very different feels to them) and the abundance of tracks are impressive. If anything the number of options you’re inundated with in the menus is positively overwhelming. The pity is that so little of it manages to capture the essence of fun. Cars collide with no real regard to inertia, clacking against each other, and the tracks are plainly straightforward with no classic elements like risky shortcuts to make things more interesting. Like it’s 2D visuals unfortunately the gameplay simply falls a bit too flat overall.

Aborigenus - This is just one of those titles where I’m not certain what to say in many regards. Granted, it is a budget title, but the gameplay is so limited, the few levels so generally sparse, and the overall feel so simplistic that it doesn’t really feel ready for prime time. What combat there is lacks in excitement and is honestly plain strange since you’ll generally just wail away, getting hit as well as you’re not terribly nimble, and then you’ll move on. If you’re smart with your upgrades you can then quickly become practically untouchable and that makes little sense as well. Just if you’re itching for a budget pick up there are better options than this out there for you.

Monday, January 6

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

Melbits World - When you’re trying to make an impression in an eShop absolutely swimming with games of all types and degrees of quality, doing something new and/or different is always a plus. Mixing co-op play and super-cute characters with challenging, but in principle “simple”, puzzle and timing elements Melbits World definitely fits that bill. The lack of any option to play solo makes some degree of sense once you’re playing, as your goal is to work together to manipulate a variety of elements in the map to get your characters from the start to the finish, and maybe grab some bonus goodies on the way. Very quickly it becomes clear that doing so is much more challenging than you’d expect, with precision and careful coordination absolutely being essential to success. Its one flaw is the fact that though it has the appearance of being mainstream and family friendly the bar of difficulty may be a bit high for that distinction. If your group is down for a challenge, it should deliver, but if that’s not the case you may want to seek something easier for everyone to enjoy since one weak link could sink the whole thing.

Link-a-Pix Deluxe - This new entry in the budget-friendly puzzle series is the first to feature the seemingly simple but sometimes maddening line mechanic. As is usually the case the execution is solid and the puzzles offer a fair degree of challenge at a reasonable price point. However, while I appreciate a focus on fun over flash there’s no getting around it being a pretty bare bones presentation compared to its peers. Also, bearing in mind that there are a few rock-solid titles already out there in the same space for a comparable price and it’s hard to point to this as a clear must-have pick up, even for puzzle fans.

Funny Bunny Adventures - Mixing together gameplay from a few distinct action puzzle styles Funny Bunny Adventures manages to be unique on Switch but that that doesn’t make for a ringing endorsement either. The primary puzzle mode has you hopping around to do things like plant or grab carrots while avoiding enemies and perhaps getting engaged in a number of mini games while you’re at it. Mechanically while everything is playable at the same time none of it feels particularly polished, and while things do slowly get more challenging for the most part completing levels fails to feel terribly rewarding due to a general blandness of the experience.

Mushroom Quest - At this point in not only the Switch’s lifespan, let alone taking into consideration the whole of modern gaming, a game like Mushroom Quest begs the question “Do we really need another box pushing puzzle game?” There’s a nice retro pixel art vibe, mechanically what little there is to the game works well, and the puzzles offer up a reasonable enough challenge. That said, this is extremely well-trodden ground and I can’t say that there’s anything new it has to offer up that shows innovation or progression from similar games I’ve played on platforms from archaic game systems to mobile phones either. If this is your jam, dig in, just don’t expect to see much of anything new.

Down to Hell - Are elements like artistic flair, heavy metal bombast, and solid narration enough to buoy humdrum gameplay and somewhat clunky mechanics? That’s unfortunately a question to struggle with while playing Down to Hell. While you do have a number of moves to work with, and you’ll increase your power as your journey continues, the experience really falls flat and fails to be satisfying as you repetitively slash and dash your way around through far too many generic mobs.