Friday, February 28

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

Kingdom Rush Frontiers [Nindie Choice!] - If you’re going to bring a tower defense title over from the mobile space the Kingdom Rush series is absolutely the one to go with. No matter how many games in this genre I’ve played none has quite had the simplicity, the replayability, the quirkiness, and the outright quality from start to finish that Kingdom Rush has in spades. Each map has its own entry and exit points to consider, with some even throwing in an unexpected additional path just to screw with your plans. Each hero you can choose (most need to be unlocked) has their own strengths and weaknesses in general, so you can be sure to pick one that suits your play style, and your choices in how you enhance your heroes and base unit types throws on yet another layer of customization I appreciate. Even better is that depending on the enemy units and situations you face no matter how hard you try there’s not often a single strategy you’ll be able to use if you want to truly prevail. Planning is important but so is adaptability, and being able to understand what buildings upgraded to what degree will turn the tide in either stopping or at least slowing down some difficult combinations of foes. While it’s easy to become jaded with the genre it’s always easy for me to get sucked in whenever a new Rush title comes out, something I’m glad to say has now continued onto the Switch as well.

Depixtion [Nindie Choice!] - While for many years the Picross series has sat safely at the top of its own puzzle kingdom, seeing threats from other comers but never really breaking a sweat to match or surpass them, the times they are a-changin. Rather than strictly copy the formula that has been so consistently satisfying some smart competitors have changed things up, trying new things, and some have found success. One such title is Depixtion, which on a general level follows the same playbook, but if you’ve been feeling like the typical Picross title trends a little too much towards being easy, you’ll want to give this one a look. The big difference comes from the way colors are handled. Breaking the spectrum up into 6 colors (Blue, Yellow, and Red… plus light and dark for each) on 3 distinct boards that are overlapped to produce the final colors the challenge here is pretty real. Where most titles will allow for a degree of “smart guessing” once you’ve filled in a fair portion of the puzzle, that method here would make any such attempts risky at best. If you’ve been thirsting for some tougher challenges in your Picross puzzling Depixtion has you covered.

Heaven Dust - I’ll admit, I haven’t to this point seen a sort of zombie survival adventure title on Switch so it’s nice to have Heaven Dust filling in that block on my indie Bingo card. While not really suspenseful, the zombies are more there for occasional fun and to force you to keep on the lookout for ammo, the overall theme and story here help the game feel unique. In terms of the puzzles you’ll need to be on the lookout for any information you find and make a few well-informed leaps of faith in order to progress, which is nice and keeps you on your toes. While the experience may be a bit too bland for zombie survival fans if you enjoy a decent point and click puzzle adventure the change of theme and pace here may help it stand out in a pack of similar titles vying for your attention on the Switch eShop.

BE-A Walker - Ever since Return of the Jedi who hasn’t contemplated taking the role of an AT-ST pilot and ramping through some Ewok villages, shooting and stomping the little buggers while laughing maniacally? Or is it just me? Wisely side-stepping the inevitable lawsuits that making such a game outright would inspire the people behind BE-A Walker take the basics of that experience and let you roll with it. It seems you aren’t welcome by the natives on a distant planet and it’s up to you to shoot and stomp them into submission, perhaps opting for an occasional side mission where it can play a bit differently, sometimes delivering medical supplies and desperately trying not to stomp on your own clueless people. Considering the budget price the fact that it’s a bit of a limited experience in terms of scope and the controls can sometimes be a bit fiddly (like when trying not to step on workers who can’t stop randomly walking and checking their phones while you’re trying to make your way through) is excusable, just don’t expect much more than having some laughs mixed with some challenge as you try to continue to progress, upgrading your rig along the way.

Spartan Fist - Taking risks and seeing if new ideas will pay off is all part of the indie development process. When I played Spartan Fist at PAX 2 years ago it was still pretty early on but the concept of a first-person brawler seemed sound, and the overall gameplay was fun enough as a demo. Now, with its final release on the Switch it hasn’t shown a great deal of growth or evolution from that time and unfortunately that makes its level of excitement and fun go down pretty quickly. The abundance of traps that, in first-person view, aren’t always easy to spot as you try to brawl with opponents are one piece of the problem but another is that despite the ability to get new fists that give the game more pizazz it just isn’t quite enough to make it fun for very long. At its core it isn’t a bad idea, it just needs some additional oomph to take it to the next level of engagement.

Thursday, February 27

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

One Finger Death Punch 2  [Nindie Choice!] - Ever since the early days of the genre I’ve been a big fan of a good beat-em-up. While most people immediately think of the likes of Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or any number of other classics from the late 80s into the early 90s, I look back farther with a fondness to the likes of Kung-Fu Master. Rolling with that inspiration in mind, I first got the chance to play One Finger Death Punch 2 at PAX last year and to look at it, yes, at its core it is just a two-button stick figure fighting game. However, give it a few minutes and get into the rhythm and you’ll find that it’s so much more. Yes, you have only two buttons to concern yourself with, your left and right attacks, but what’s amazing is how much the developers have managed to eke out of that system. A wide variety of enemy types (including those who’ll take multiple hits in different directions) will challenge you to be precise, essentially planning out each attack so you don’t miss and leave yourself open to taking a hit. Some will throw or shoot weapons at you that you’ll be able to avoid, block, or even grab, and keeping track of which it will be will then influence your planning for attacks since a projectile can knock out multi-hit enemies with one shot. All of this makes the game one that demands your full attention, to some degree constantly doing the math to keep track of your hits to either side. The reward for your diligence is then one of the most silly, insane, and consistently visually surprising brawls you could imagine, with crazy weapons and over-the-top special attacks of all kinds that generally left a smile on my face. If there’s a criticism it’s with the somewhat clunky overworld map that’s a pain to navigate at times, but outside of that if you love a good brawl with a surprising level of variety this is absolutely a game you should be checking out!

Bloodroots [Nindie Choice!] - This is a title that got me excited the first time I saw it in a Nindie Direct and that I was even more thrilled with when I got to play it some last year at PAX. The silly and almost arcade-like kinetic action as you sweep through levels like a tornado of destruction, using whatever implements are available, to dispatch your numerous enemies is a thrill. I was concerned that it would somehow burn itself out, running out of ideas and somehow losing its edge but those worries were unfounded. New challenges, weapons, and scenarios continue to challenge you throughout, moving between more free-form destruction levels and those that require precision and smart use of what’s made available to you. If there’s one concern I have with the game I’d say that it may be a bit tougher than the average person would like, and one of the reasons for that is that there are times it feels overly picky. Sometimes this is a simpler thing like you being close but apparently not just close enough to grab a weapon as you blow by but then there are stages where you’ll need to jump from a moving barrel to another but nuance isn’t one of the game’s strengths and without nailing the jump you’ll repeatedly die. If the game were only slightly more forgiving, leaning further into the fun energy and high-score-chasing chaos than being so picky about precision I’d consider it just about perfect for anyone. As it is, everything is still a load of fun, just be ready for some rough spots where you may need to walk away for a bit to let your rage subside.

Soul Axiom Rebooted - Featuring some cool aesthetics, whether large set piece environments, neon-lit landscapes, or the reality-altering powers you get to wield, Soul Axiom Rebooted has its merits. A first-person sort of puzzle adventure, you’ll spend the majority of your time wandering through a variety of environments trying to figure out what it is you need to do to proceed. The fact that there’s literally a button you can press at any time to get a waypoint to tell you where to go next is pretty well an acknowledgement that perhaps the level design can be lacking in terms of clarity. A big piece of this problem stems from how large and yet barren its landscapes can be, no doubt tied to the era the original title was released in. If you enjoy puzzles, and can be a bit patient with some warts, there’s an often beautiful world here for you to explore at your own pace. Just be sure to enter into it with your expectations in check or you may be disappointed.

Served - When it comes to local multiplayer party games variety is always a good thing, especially since you may be playing with non-gamers, people of any age, or skill level before even accounting for personal tastes. Taking one of the roads less travelled in the eShop for titles of this kind we now have Served, which pits 4 waitstaff pros of various persuasions against each other in a race through a variety of crowded areas. Getting a taste for which you prefer may be best based on each person’s unique special, but all characters are able to benefit from (or get tripped up by) various environmental hazards and timely use of your boost. Since the asking price is low it may be worthwhile, but overall there’s not a whole lot going on here and while the single-player story mode is a nice addition it doesn’t add much of substance to the recipe.

Bucket Knight - There’s nothing wrong with a decent throwback budget platforming shooter when they manage to recapture the excitement of years past. Unfortunately, overall I wouldn’t consider Bucket Knight to have stuck the quality landing, making it a bit more disappointing. The look and music are there, but the general controls and even the level design are lacking. Even with very little in the way for you to do, essentially just jumping and shooting, the jump in particular feels a bit sluggish and even, at times, almost unreliable. Throw in sometimes meandering levels that don’t seem particularly inspired and it’s a struggle to recommend this title when there are so many better budget offerings out there.

Wednesday, February 26

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

Metro Last Light Redux  [Nindie Choice!] - Released at the same time as Metro 2033 Redux, the original chapter of the series (you can get them together on the Metro Redux physical cart at retail), Last Light picks up where the original left off. Without spoiling the revelations of the conclusion of the first game I’ll say that while the focus in the original was generally on The Dark Ones and the threat of mutants, Last Light shifts to the monstrous nature of humanity itself as factions have overtaken the landscape and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a different kind of struggle. As with the first you’ll have the choice to play the game in more of a survival-oriented vein where you’ll need to carefully manage and conserve your resources, or in an action-forward way that more closely resembles traditional FPS play. The strength of the game is the combination of atmosphere and tension it creates, and what amounts to a karma system which will affect the ultimate outcome of the narrative depending on how you handle certain situations throughout your campaign.

Broken Lines [Nindie Choice!] - Let’s face it, while there have been quite a few titles out there that have decided to try to take on the likes of X-Com and its well-regarded tactical strategy combat, none have really come close. Either wisely looking to sidestep the issues others have had, or simply wanting to innovate and come up with something similar but unique, the developers behind Broken Lines use tactics in a similar way but with the action playing out more dynamically once you’ve set it up. Now, this made the tutorial a little rough around the edges at first (at least for me) as understanding how movement and actions are managed, as well as mechanically how you need to specify them as you intend requires some orientation. Once it clicked though I was really impressed with the result. While it may not be perfect, your units each have different roles and appropriate skills to match. You’ll need to learn how to use them each effectively and appropriately, moving carefully to be sure the right people are in the right places once you’ve made visual contact with the enemy. The end product is refreshing and new, generally feels fair, and makes combat feel quite dynamic. If you’ve been disappointed by the lack of X-Com on Switch and that to date no indie titles have really come close to the mark it has set you should give Broken Lines a look. It goes in a new direction, but in general it feels like a good one, and I’d love to see it explored further in the future.

Knightin’+ - Certainly one of the elements of the classic Zelda series that everyone loves is its dungeons. Mixing a degree of combat with some puzzle solving these areas were always typically challenging and rewarding. Taking a page directly from that book is Knightin’, which essentially spends all of its time in that space directly, with you working to avoid traps, dispatch enemies, work out puzzles, and find loot. If only its challenges and gear were more diverse like you’d find in other games, let alone the Zelda franchise, perhaps this would be a more meaty undertaking but unfortunately there’s simply not enough variety to elevate the overall experience. If you’re jonesing for some budget dungeon puzzling it may work in a pinch, but otherwise it probably won’t provide enough varied content or challenge to stay of interest for long.

Otherworldly - In theory surviving with limited resources in an environment full of threats where you’re not sure where any given turn may lead you can be exciting. There are titles like the Dark Descent series and others where the formula works, building up tension and leaving you defenseless so you have no choice but to run and try to avoid detection. In the case of Otherworldly this has all been watered down to the point where there’s not much left but pop-up scares when you run into a variety of pretty unintimidating models, hoping to somehow lose them without running into something else, hoping to find matches and lockpicks to help you survive longer, and then typically dying. I suppose if you like a sudden jolt from running into something and it audibly screeching at you maybe this could stay fun, but otherwise I don’t imagine most people would give it more than a few run throughs before giving up from overall boredom.

Fishing Adventure - Truth in advertising in game naming is one of those things I consider pretty important, nobody likes to walk into an experience with an expectation that ends up not being fulfilled. In the case of Fishing Adventure I’m still wondering when the adventure will kick in. You’re plunked into a location that you can walk around or perhaps take a boat in where you’ll use whatever gear you’ve earned through experience and purchased to then catch fish. I’m not sure what “adventure” is in that but then again with the lack of nuance, variety, and even fun in the fishing itself perhaps including that word in the title oversells the experience as well. Really, you’ll enjoy playing a fishing mini game in many titles just as much if not more most likely, I can’t see why this budget title would appeal to just about anyone.

Tuesday, February 25

Mini Reviews: February 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Metro 2033 Redux [Nindie Choice] - Set in a post-Apocalyptic Russia, primarily taking place in the labyrinth of subway tunnels and other areas below the surface, Metro 2033 Redux is an atmospheric and pretty gritty first-person experience. Under threat by various mutated creatures and the intimidating threat of the Dark ones you’ll find yourself struggling to survive and persevere. What makes it even more great, in my mind, is that you’re able to choose the leaner and tougher original experience that forced you to play it more sparingly as a survival game, trying desperately to conserve your resources, and a more shooter-like action game. Honestly, I found both to be viable and challenging in their own right, and the atmosphere and tense action are something the Switch, to this point, has been needing.

Rune Factory 4 Special [Nindie Choice] - With a bit of a window remaining until the release of Animal Crossing, if you’ve been looking for something relaxing and structured to occupy your attention you’ll be in luck with Rune Factory. This more fantasy-inspired spin-off Harvest Moon series certainly has an unusual premise, with you literally falling into acting as a Prince and put in charge of a small town and its people. Through taking on errands, planting and cultivating your fields, tackling combat to ward off different threats, and more, you’ll gain new opportunities to enhance your character, encourage more tourists to come to your town, and develop relationships with your citizens. As with all titles of this kind the core experiences tend to get repetitive but that doesn’t detract from them being enjoyable and relaxing all the same. If you’re a fan of the likes of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing but have never dipped your toe into this series it seems like the perfect opportunity to do so.

Ganbare! Super Strikers [Nindie Choice] - This is one of those titles that I like to imagine back to its initial elevator pitch: “OK, so you really love sports, right, and soccer (or football, depending) is a worldwide phenomenon game. So you take soccer, and you combine it with turn-based tactical strategy like you may see in those X-Com games you love. Won’t that be awesome?” You know what, I have to admit it is weird but in many ways it really is unique and quite a bit of fun! You’ll set up your players in the formation you prefer, hit the pitch, and methodically move your players and ball around the field trying to score. You’ll have to keep an eye on your players stats, not relying on anyone too constantly so that when their chance comes they won’t falter in the numbers game play plays out for whether your player manages to evade their opponent or even control a tough pass someone made to them. As things move on you’ll then additionally concern yourself with equipment that can provide stat boosts but also can essentially give players special attacks and defensive moves as well, layering on even more variety and opportunities for smart management of resources. While this may not be a combination everyone will appreciate it’s a smart hybrid I wouldn’t have anticipated that works far better than I would have expected.

MathLand - When people typically think of educational games they do so with a bit of a groan. I know while I was growing up that while valiant attempts were made to make things more interesting in subjects like math the tendency was for not only the games being somewhere between lame and even non-existent but for the math problems themselves to be too static to be very effective themselves. Mathland takes a smarter path and not only has a reasonably good (though generally simple) action game serving as a base that features math at only distinct times but also throws variations in problems at you that will likely keep you more engaged and require players’ brains to change things up with some regularity. I think the best feature the game has is simply turning some of its problems into simple algebra, whether the user knows it or not, asking for the missing factor in a problem and not always just the solution. This manages to turn what is labeled as an addition problem into one of subtraction, etc and for me it helps elevate this into probably being the best overall educational game I’ve ever played (though, granted, I can’t say there’s been much viable competition).

Nerved - Survival horror, as a genre, has grown and diversified quite a bit since its introduction by the likes of the Resident Evil series. Whether tilted slightly more towards action or less in the direction of outright scares and leveraging more of a feeling of foreboding and dread, the genre is varied. In the indie space a somewhat popular way to attack the genre has been to go with more of a walking simulator feel, having you navigate a landscape, or sometimes a single house, while discovering dark details and sometimes eluding horrors of some kind. Nerved is definitely in that vibe but cranking the visual quality down to perhaps a decade ago with not just many relatively primitive models but a lot of spaces that simply feel empty and offer very limited opportunities for interaction. There are threats out in the world, and if you’re not cautious they will find you, but in the end they aren’t enough to make the wandering you spend so much time doing feel more interesting or rewarding and the pretty threadbare story with very few beats isn’t enough to be terribly compelling either.

Friday, February 21

Mini Reviews: February 21st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Vitamin Connection [Nindie Choice] - One thing that’s certainly interesting about the Switch is that somehow it has managed to inspire new types of gameplay at times with its portability, easy-to-share design, and built-in motion controls. Now, granted, the results of the experiments that seem to have stemmed from these features have varied pretty wildly, but when it all comes together it can be pretty exciting. In general that’s how it feels in the case of Vitamin Connection, a title that has an upbeat and cheery color scheme (of a familiar pairing of colors, mind you), soundtrack, and gameplay that blends careful maneuvering, rotating your ship, some shooting, and a few other touches that together make the game not quite like anything else I’ve played. The fact that you can choose to tackle it solo or with a friend is also a terrific feature, and in either case you’ll be presented with challenges, albeit generally different ones in terms of the controls and what you’ll need to have under control. In the case of solo play the challenge will be a degree of left/right brain thinking, managing to have steady control of your ship and to not allow yourself to get distracted. With co-op the challenge will very much be to either somehow be in synch with one another or to use a fair amount of precise and hopefully constructive language to coordinate. With a satisfying story mode (which includes a New Game+ variation) that sports a weido silly story and a gameplay mix of puzzle, action, and even shooting elements, and then add co-op and mini games where you can revisit key parts of the story with unique variations and this is a full fledged experience that should be highly accessible for just about anyone who likes to have fun and laugh while being challenged

Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle - This is one of those collections where you either know and love some of the games in the collection so you’re stoked to pick it up or you’re the type of gamer who likes to explore classics and try to understand what made some games so popular. I’d consider the highlight of the bundle the Double Dragon trilogy included from their NES incarnations. I played them all and have particularly fond memories of playing through Double Dragon 2 in particular. It’s tough to go back, and I was again reminded that something about 3 just doesn’t work for me, but it is surprising how different each of them play while being generally the same. I’d say that sentiment is true for everything in the bundle, almost all of the games being some form of variation of one another, even many of the sports titles, yet from the art to even the tightness of the controls and the general feel of the game for the most part they’re all distinct. I’m sure most people will only focus on a handful of the titles included, depending on tastes, but it is fascinating to play through everything and get a window into games from the era and how they were evolving even then from iteration to iteration.

Ego Protocol: Remastered - When you’re trying to catch people’s attention in a genre as crowded as puzzlers on the Switch it pays to do something a bit different. Ego Protocol certainly does that, offering up gameplay that mixes strategy with some quick reactions for action once everything has been set into motion. Starting with a somewhat painful tutorial to try to help you get used to what I’d consider to be controls that are more complex than they should need to be it can be a shaky start. From there though, as you get used to the means of changing the level or controlling your character, it does start to feel a bit less awkward. Especially if you’re determined to grab everything the level has to offer without dying and within the allotted time you’re going to have your work cut out for you. It won’t be enough to configure the rooms in a way that gets you on the right path, once you’ve the action into motion you’ll need to be on top of changing levels and either making you character jump, pause, or shoot to keep them moving and out of trouble. Even if you had it plotted out it can be trickier than you’d think and it is here that the lack of intuitivity in the controls can sometimes make you stumble a bit as well. Still, though an acquired taste, there’s a solid and smart challenge here for puzzle fans who can handle the pressure to enjoy.

Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator - Simulations, by their nature, can be a varied and sometimes interesting bunch. In the case of Ciel Fledge, though the game’s claim is that it’s a daughter raising simulator, being honest it is mostly just a repackaged time management sim at its core. So, you’re in the post-Apocalyptic future and you’re put in charge of raising a somewhat mysterious 10-year-old girl. How precisely does that work? Much like in real life it involves a lot of planning… looking at a list of tasks and assigning them out to her for the week. From there she’ll go through the motions, whether hitting the books, perhaps doing some shopping, or engaging in some vital combat training (this is a very different world). About the only real action in the game comes in the form of a variation on Match-3 play which you’ll use to determine how a variety of scenarios break out. The reward will then be a periodic cut-scene where you’ll get the chance to understand more about this world and get some glimpses concerning the fruits of the decisions you’ve been making to help her grow. Overall, this is a slow burn kind of game that the right crowd may appreciate, running through a playthrough or two to help get on top of how different decision points affect the outcome, and coming to terms with how best to balance the fleeting time, money, and other factors that initially are hard not to struggle with. For anyone not interested in that level of investment, though, it’s probably a pass.

King Lucas - Puzzle platformers have been a staple genre since even the early days of gaming, but it has only been in more recent years with indie and mobile games that they’ve made a real resurgence. King Lucas fits firmly into that mold, blending some simplistic combat with a variety of traps to avoid and some maze-like rooms that will demand you work out the means of progress, often through a fair amount of trial-and-error exploration. In general there are too many complaints I have with it, aside from particularly weak and unexciting combat where you’ll use your short-range swipe to flail at and kill your enemies. The issue is more that though it has a decent look and offers a reasonable challenge it’s just thoroughly vanilla all around, and I’d say there have been better examples of the genre even in the budget indie space.

Tuesday, February 18

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

AO Tennis 2 - Let’s face it, when it comes to sports titles, let alone more serious sports sims, the Switch library is a bit of a wasteland. While tennis may not be the sport you’d have at the top of your list to see on the system AO Tennis 2, for some of its technical issues, delivers solid play matched with what are often broadcast-like presentation elements to give sports sim fans something to smile about. Weirdly one recommendation I’d have is to pretty well skip the training as I found it a bit clumsy and even aggravating as even though it puts you through the paces of how different shots and your shot gauge work it actively made me question whether the game was an over-complicated mess somehow. Once I abandoned the training and simply dove into match play my concerns quickly subsided though, as a grasp of general smart play and tactics on the court made it easy to understand how to at least get on the road to success. Some performance hitches and periodic missed shots tied to the timing that is demanded for some of your shots cropped up once in a while but on the whole I was more often impressed by the quality of the game than I was disappointed. With some small tweaks or a degree of understanding by the player, being willing to overlook some mild to moderate shortcomings, AO Tennis 2 is a well-implemented tennis sim that allows for technique but also feels like it was built to still be fun if you just want to get your lobs and backhands on.

Reed Remastered - While there are quite a number of budget puzzle platformers on the system, depending on your tastes or preferred method of play they’re not all created equal. Aside from many in the space not being terribly original or inspired, scaling on the Switch in handheld mode can make playing a number of them less than ideal. If you’ve been looking for a platformer suited to on-the-go play both in terms of its bite-sized levels and chunky large sprites Reed Remastered looks and plays far better than most of its competition.

Speed Dating for Ghosts - These days indie developers have created sort of a Wild Wild West atmosphere for what you can expect in games, and certainly with a title like Speed Dating for Ghosts it’s hard not to be a bit puzzled wondering what it’s all about. While the general premise is just what the title says, you talking to 3 different ghosts in the context of speed dating sessions, it’s really a game about the stories they have to tell. Ranging from humorous, to awkward, to somewhat sad and touching, in a pretty brief amount of time and through generally casual conversations it’s surprising how much you can learn from these ghosts across from you and even connect with them a bit depending on your own life story. Each playthrough, where you’ll meet 3 ghosts, talk to them a bit, and then decide whose story you want to see concluded to a degree, is relatively short but if you enjoy meeting unusual characters with varied and interesting stories that you may need to follow the right branching dialogue paths to tell it may be satisfying to you.

3000th Duel - Finding the right balance and focusing your attention on the right details can no doubt be very tricky things in designing games. You want your game to offer room for player agency, letting people make some choices and feel invested in their characters as they progress. Overall, 3000th Duel does this, with multiple elements and upgrades you’ll get to help you change up how you play a bit and to help address what you believe your greatest needs are. The issue I ended up having is that I would have sacrificed almost all of that, choices that honestly overwhelmed me at first as there kept being some new thing to read about as it became available and menu screens to navigate and understand, in exchange for your character’s core move set to be more versatile and exciting. While you do take on some powers and skills that give you variety, so much time in the game is spent with you sticking with the stock attack of the weapon you choose. Pair that with the overall feel that lacks in a satisfying flow of action, your jumping and attacks always feel a bit stilted, and while 3000th Duel has its merits there’s a ho-hum quality to its core play that is hard to shake.

Tilt Pack - With some games it’s all about matching them to the right context. In the case of Tilt Pack it is an ideal sort of game to break out when you’ve got a bunch of people together at a party of some sort. It’s a bit loud and perhaps you’re dealing with people of varying skill levels or degrees of inebriation. What you need is something that people can understand generally without instruction and that has controls that are simple to pick up but tough to really master in any way. Tilt Pack can be your go-to in that sort of circumstance, keeping things simple in that you move your character right and left and you can rotate them. Your goal is to knock your opponents out while managing to avoid the same fate yourself. While I wish there were more arenas and power-ups to change the gameplay up even further the game has personality, is easy to understand, and the content it does offer feels nicely polished.

Monday, February 17

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

7th Sector - Maybe I’m just a bit of a sucker for games where their core premise deviates from the norm of their genre but I enjoy an experience that doesn’t feel like it’s all on well-trodden ground. With that fact in mind 7th Sector scratches the itch for something different, offering up what’s ultimately a puzzle game but that has you operating initially from the unexpected perspective of a spark of electricity. Progress is your consistent goal and that will involve jumping between cables when you have the opportunity, manipulating junction boxes and other elements that stand in your way, and pretty regularly needing to face new obstacles or things to physically control to be conquered. Of course as you do this there’s a sort of story playing out around you, the usual sort of dystopian future where things have gone quite wrong, but this is all more for atmosphere than conveying a clear narrative. While there are times where the puzzles or the controls can get a bit funky and frustrating to get through as a whole this is a smart and engaging puzzler that overall manages to at least be different, which is appreciated.

0000 - I can really appreciate the target 0000 appears to be aiming for, providing a sort of throwback style of tight and simple platforming… but one that’s also in no way simple. You’ll repeatedly enter a level, need to orient yourself on the obstacles between you and a doorway somewhere on the screen, and then get to it and back without dying. Quickly you’ll find this is often much tougher than you’d expect. The thing is while there are stages that feel like they hit the sweet spot of being a decent challenge there are others where it feels a bit more cheap. Controls that are just a bit too loose, the large lethal area on elements like spikes that you simply need to understand are there since the game has only 2 colors, and some initial confusion as the game really gives you zero direction are frustrations. Regardless, if you like a challenge on a budget it should have some appeal.

Tools Up! - If you’re a fan of the Overcooked series, taking on somewhat simple actions while under the gun, either playing solo or with some help, Tools Up is looking to capitalize on your appreciation for that style of play. Rethemed to instead deal in the home renovation and construction vein, the gameplay has a familiarity to it but is different enough that it isn’t completely derivative either. What’s nice is that your challenges in things like cleaning things up, and trying not to make mistakes that create more hassles in that space, generally feel fresh. The question is whether the way this plays out mechanically is able to live up to or even surpass the series that obviously played a part in inspiring it. Without being able to speak for the tastes of everyone I’d say for myself it doesn’t feel quite as varied, fun, or necessarily well-balanced in terms of the design and execution of the action. Still, if you’re looking for a decent alternative to chopping and cooking you may enjoy instead laying tile, painting walls, and making sure to clean up after yourself.

Rise of Insanity - Walking simulators as horror are always a bit weird, but I can understand why some people appreciate them. In the case of Rise of Insanity what will make or break the experience is how engaged you manage to be in what forms its story, and beat by beat getting more insight to what happened as you also try to determine the nature of your character’s obvious issues. Periodic moments of suspense, “did I just see...?”, and a few jump scares await but on the whole this is still a rudimentary first-person puzzle game that offers challenges here and there but whose overall design can lack in polish at times. While it may not be the best of its type on the Switch it at least still manages to distance itself from the weaker games on the spectrum.

Tower of Babel No Mercy - There’s something to be said for the power of pick-up-and-play simplicity in multiplayer games. If you’re booting something up with some friends nobody wants to spend a lot of time looking through a tutorial and trying to pick up nuance, they just want to play and have some laughs. Tower of Babel No Mercy does accomplish this feat pretty handily, dispatching with complexity and making it, at the core, all about timing the drop of your current building block to ideally place it at the center of the current stack, keeping things stable. The idea is that you’re in a contest with your competitors to stack high and accurate, either simply outlasting them or perhaps taking advantage of your character’s power-ups to throw them off their game and make their tower topple. The issue becomes longevity and perhaps the uneven value of power-ups from character to character. It’s easy to pick up, for sure, but staying power isn’t likely a strength and this is pretty well an exclusively multiplayer affair.

Wednesday, February 12

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

Glass Masquerade 2: Illusions [Nindie Choice] - While there are a pretty impressive number of puzzle games in the Switch eShop, including many that are worth your time, I can say with confidence that none of them is quite like the Glass Masquerade series. The hook is that you’re essentially reconstructing a typically beautiful piece of stained glass artwork and given the unusual shapes and patterns you’ll usually be dealing with this can be challenging. Once you get used to things I’d suggest amping up the difficulty which will require that you rotate the pieces rather than just figuring out where to place them but the option to choose is a plus. About my only qualm is that due to the scaling of your active piece versus the puzzle it can sometimes appear that your piece won’t have room to fit in a given spot but once you’re used to this it isn’t generally a big problem. With its great artwork, seriously chilled out soundtrack, and unique challenges this sequel doesn’t deviate much from the first entry in the series but once again should prove to be compelling for puzzle fans.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo - Pretty hot on the heels of Shooting Stars Alpha, Psikyo has another release full of classic shmup goodness for you… plus one notable (and IMHO pretty awesome exception). Starting with the shooters there are 3 titles from the Samurai Aces series and from game to game these show pretty surprising variety in their unusual cast of characters (each with their own shot patterns), moving between vertical and horizontal shooting, and simply changing up their feel each time. Whether or not those alterations are ultimately successful is a fair question but I appreciate their not settling on repeatedly offering more of the same. The other franchise in this collection, Gunbird, is more traditional with its first two titles featuring very classic vertically-scrolling play but I’ll admit the oddball characters and some of their attacks crack me up. That brings us to the collection’s final title, the surprise that is Gunbarich which plays more like the classic brick breaker Arkanoid, but that has a style all its own. As with Alpha be warned that this collection delivers on pretty solid content but it’s a no-frills experience with nothing like rewind or save states to sweeten the pot. Still, if you’re a shmup fan there’s some real quirky fun to be had here.

Code Shifter - With an overall story setup that is similar to my beloved TRON Code Shifter got off to a good start for me, featuring a young programmer who has written a security routine named Sera who you’ll play as to actively destroy bugs and viruses in the system. To sweeten the pot the side-scrolling action features a pretty wide variety of characters from other Arc System Works titles that you’ll be able to change into, whether just for whooping some ass or in order to use their special abilities to advance or get hidden areas. Where the issues unfortunately mount is in the game’s core control mechanics, with a generally floaty and imprecise feel that’s hard to ever fully shake. Too often you’ll miss a jump or landing or end up taking a hit because everything is just a bit too loose, something you really don’t want to see in any sort of platforming experience. Throw in that perhaps the story elements are a bit too drawn out and do more to detract from the fun rather than enhance the experience and Code Shifter has its positives but it’s hard to overlook its problems nonetheless.

EQQO - With reasonably good overall production values that include a serene soundtrack and great voice acting, EQQO has some positives. Unfortunately, the game was obviously created for play in VR and that can make the experience clunky on the Switch. Fixed camera positions that often put the action farther away than you’d likely prefer are among the frustrations that get in the way of enjoyment. If the camera were capable of following your character life would have been far simpler and better, but that wasn’t how it was designed so you’ll instead need to learn to live within the game’s limitations. If you’re willing to work within the awkward control and view constraints there’s some great storytelling paired with a nice point-and-click adventure here, just be aware of the limits that its VR implementation put on the overall experience.

Help Me Doctor - While there’s room on the Switch eShop for games of all types, meant to appeal to players across a broad spectrum, there are sometimes ones that really aren’t putting in a remotely fair effort. Help Me Doctor falls into that category and my diagnosis is sadly that it’s a terminal problem. It’s sense of humor that I appreciate, seemingly inspired by the classic Theme Hospital, is about its only positive but the odd conditions people have are extremely limited and truthfully not even terribly clever. Its gameplay, which isn’t explained in the least so it will take you a few minutes to piece together precisely what you’re supposed to be doing, only consists of looking at the few symptoms people report and matching it to a diagnosis… and sometimes there are discrepancies you’re expected to catch. That’s it. There’s nothing else. While a title like Papers Please or the recent Not Tonight can make this sort of formula work with a sense of urgency and importance based on context Help Me Doctor just blandly shambles on and gets tiresome quickly.

Tuesday, February 11

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

Knights and Bikes [Nindie Choice] - Memories from my childhood, while often involving playing games on a variety of systems or in arcades, involve a pretty heavy dose of riding my bike and trying to find ways to make exploring fun. Knights and Bikes absolutely taps into that idea, pairing the somewhat unlikely friends Demelza and Nessa on the somewhat secluded island of Penfurzy. Aside from being a bit of an odd bird you’ll find that Demelza is struggling with being raised by only her father after the death of her mother. To help cope with that the answer is a grand adventure in the spirit of the likes of The Goonies, searching for a fabled treasure while trying to thwart an ancient threat possessing the people of the island. What the game does well is blend together some novel and fun combat with a hefty dose of exploration, as well as move effectively between lighthearted silliness and more reflective emotional moments. The result is an experience that sticks with you, which with so many titles out there vying for your attention can be tough to accomplish. While it’s playable as a solo experience it really does shine in co-op, though I’ll admit a few of the puzzles can require tricky leaps of faith that can be a challenge either way. That minor gripe aside this is a game with a load of laughs, childlike wonder, and heartfelt moments that’s absolutely worth your time.

Milo’s Quest - Budget puzzle and adventure games are pretty much a dime a dozen on the Switch but what about a budget title that sort of mashes those two together? While Milo’s Quest isn’t terribly challenging it does effectively blend some box pushing, relatively simple combat, and a fair amount of exploration together in a cute package that works. For the most part this is a low-stress affair and I think the combination of elements keeps it from being as generic and dull as its contemporaries that lack the same variety. It may not have much appeal for hardened gamers but younger or more casual gamers may find it cute and charming.

Crash Drive 2 - I appreciate budget games that set out to deliver a specific sort of experience, even if not terribly ambitious, and generally hit it. The fact that the Switch is generally starved for racing games just adds to the mix, making Crash Drive a bit on the shallow side, but still fun to kick around with for a while. In general this is a sandbox stunt racer where you can roll around, do some flips, participate in some quick challenges against other players online, and generally have some simple fun. The physics are loose, the environments don’t necessarily have too much variety, and at some point you’re just working to unlock new vehicles that aren’t generally that different from one another… but it’s still a decent low-budget no frills good time if you just like goofing off for a bit.

Marooners - Taking on the local multiplayer space on the Switch is no small feat. With Mario Party sitting at the top and a host of indie competitors swarming for attention it takes some effort to distance yourself from the pack. Marooners, in principle, manages to do something fresh which I applaud. Sort of taking the ADHD route to setup rather than needing to go through the slow and perhaps more boring structure of a game board or participating in single events it shotguns you through a series of them, that you’re able to even effectively randomize, and if a specific sequence is taking too long it won’t hesitate to put that on pause, move to another, and come back to resume where it left off later. Of course you can opt to make things a little more structured and predictable but the option to keep things chaotic is something unique that I appreciate. While I like the overall structure I’m less enthused on a case by case basis with the mini games themselves. Quite simply there isn’t enough depth or variety to them, too often they devolve into people running around trying to grab coins, avoid obstacles, and perhaps knock each other out so they can grab a pot of coins by surviving to the end. If Marooners was able to lean a little more into variety and unpredictable gameplay, forcing everyone to adapt, it could have taken on a sort of multiplayer WarioWare quality but, alas, as it stands it’s just decent but not particularly great.

Please The Gods - There’s certainly something to be said for games going out on a limb and trying out ideas and systems that are different, however in the case of Please the Gods I’m not sure how well it works out. Combining survival elements where you’ll need to concern yourself with resources, turn-based combat, and a dose of strategy, the experience has quite a bit going on. That said, whether much of it is sufficiently explained to aid in making your early playthroughs more encouraging than frustrating is a different matter. The combat mechanics where you’ll roll the dice and then need to make decisions on which of your attack and defense options to work with is interesting. Using strategy to try to mitigate risk or capitalize on opportunities, depending on which way the RNG winds may be blowing, is interesting but after a short while it also tends to get a bit tedious since the on-screen action is pretty static and too often reminiscent of generations gone by. If you’re itching for a different take on things and don’t mind the plodding pace it may be worth a look but otherwise you’ll likely be best steering clear.

Monday, February 10

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

Kunai [Nindie Choice!] - Kunai was a title that left me excited but a bit uncertain from its PAX demo last year. I loved the look, and the ability to use your kunai on each side essentially as grappling hooks to aid in traversal and even combat seemed ripe with potential, but it was hard to see whether or not it would all come together in a way that would help it break through to being something special. I’m happy to report that having played through the final product there’s nothing I can think of that feels missed. The gameplay is challenging but fair, its traversal elements are well-designed and feel great, and its mix of smart design and fun combat help it to push its way to standing among the best Metroidvanias the system has to offer. Admittedly, there were times where the combination of backtracking and not being 100% sure where to go next could be aggravating. Though, in general, the game’s map tries to help there were situations where it didn’t have quite enough detail to lead the way. Small quibbles like that aside, Kunai absolutely delivers the goods and with its unique grapple mechanics stands tall even in the somewhat crowded Switch Metroidvania space as one of the best on the system.

It Came From Space and Ate Our Brains - At the very beginning I’ll admit my excitement was pretty high for this twin-stick shooter. The unique look, the game’s use of darkness, and the base feel were all working for me. The more I played, though, the more I became a bit underwhelmed with it all. Though there are some different zones that have varying layouts, they’re consistently populated with the same pretty generic mobs to deal with. Though there is some variety in the weapons, and each one can be upgraded with a little investment, there wasn’t anything that stood out as being terribly unique or exciting to use. Usually when you’re excited about something your feeling is you want more of it, but in this case I’d change the statement to me feeling like I want more _from_ it. There’s a solid base here, there just isn’t enough compelling flesh on its bones to make it stand out when there are simply so many terrific shooters to be played on Switch.

Reknum - Clearly looking to tap into people’s retro platforming affections, Reknum at least switches things up with a female protagonist. With relatively chunky character sprites you’ll guide your character, armed with both a bow and a sword through 6 pretty distinctive and reasonably large areas, dispatching enemies as you go. With a relatively low-budget price perhaps the expectations for it should be kept on the lower side, but the controls being a bit on the loose side and some of the overall feel being a bit wonky pretty quickly put a hit on my overall enthusiasm for the adventure. If you’re open to the challenge and can overlook some warts it’s not a bad package, just even within the same price range I would say there are multiple retro titles in this vein that are more worthwhile.

Super Tennis - With the lack of sports titles on the Switch you may have seen this game’s name and felt your pulse race a little bit. Even thinking back to the NES days of Tennis there can be fun in even simplistic representations of the action. Unfortunately, in the case of Super Tennis there isn’t any action to speak of, at least none in the way you’d assume. Rather that control your player, moving around the court and setting up your shots, in Super Tennis you’ll participate in what feels like a series of Quicktime events… except they’re ones that are even less thrilling. You will need to get attuned to all of the buttons on your controller though as you’ll have a pretty brief amount of time once your opponent sends the ball your way to press a random series of buttons… and that’s it. You will slowly gain new unlocked character elements to make your tennis pro look different or sillier, but there’s really nothing else going on here.

Motorcycle Mechanic Simulator - Wow, OK, this is one of those titles where, being honest, it pained me to try to play it. While I’ve come to have pretty low expectations for games of this type (I don’t typically see why they’d be interesting or fun since they’re very repetitive) the muddled way you need to use your controls in this particular one sets it apart with its being miserable to play. Considering I got stuck in just the tutorial, repeatedly reading the instructions on the screen and then failing to understand what it was I needed to do, it didn’t get off to a great start. Even once getting past that taking in bikes and moving around to different parts to improve or replace them is a cumbersome experience at best, but then the rewards for success are so uninspiring I can’t see any compelling incentive to suffer through the experience.