Thursday, April 30

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


Streets of Rage 4 [Nindie Choice!] - Right out of the gate I had an admission to make, when it comes to the beat-em-up genre I’m firmly a Final Fight guy, always have been. With that out of the way I’ll quickly make a bold (but having played the game quite a bit, very simple) declaration… even with no allegiance to the Streets of Rage franchise this is hands down the best overall beat-em-up I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. It looks amazing, each of the characters have similar but distinctive moves you’ll need to really dial into to be effective, it supports both local and online multiplayer, it’s tough but not often cheap, and it has a truckload of content to explore and unlock. Not only does it manage this laundry list all in the same package, in pretty well every area I’d say it outclasses the competition (sometimes handily) across the board as well. For fans of the genre this is your Holy Grail, and for anyone who has ever wondered why people enjoy beat-em-ups this is the best example of what it has to offer, though it may spoil you if you decide you like what you see since it stands a fair distance above its competition. If ever there was a brawler that could justify a perfect score it’s this one.


Moving Out [Nindie Choice!] - While the Overcooked series is famously (or is it infamously?) known to many fans of local multiplayer I’ll admit that I consider one of its weaknesses to be broad approachability. There are just enough mechanics and features in it that manage to frustrate more than they generally entertain that after the first few levels I struggled to keep my family and friends on board. Working with some ideas roughly in the same vein, and certainly sharing some aesthetic qualities on a general level, Moving Out can be challenging but I also consider it to be more fair and thus more likely to be fun with a larger audience. In it you and your friends will play as movers who must get all manner of furniture and knick knacks out of a house and onto your truck. No surprise, it quickly can get more complicated as you’ll need to work together to get larger and more awkward pieces out. The good news is that if you’re willing to perhaps forgo a bonus and offend your customers you can also have a ton of fun busting up the place in the process, breaking windows and disregarding best practices in the name of shaving off seconds. Throw in bonus objectives that range from mildly challenging to silly that vary from stage to stage, and while people could get a little more tense early on as everyone learned the ropes for the most part it was a room full of smiles as everyone locked into their niches and got things done. Highly recommended for approachable family fun!


Dread Nautical - While there are a few solid survival games on the Switch they’re a pretty eclectic bunch, ranging from more action-oriented to more strategic and each with their own degree of challenge and some other unique qualities. Dread Nautical continues in that tradition, having you play as one of a handful of different survivors who each have their own strengths and weaknesses with the goal of surviving on a cruise ship full of various zombies. While at first you’ll need to play cautiously solo you’ll get the opportunity to add to your team quickly enough, and as you progress and you’ll need to begin managing what people you encounter that are worth wasting resources on to get help from and who aren’t as helpful. The game’s mystery is also what keeps its pacing pretty light and ideal for portable play, as you work your way through each level of the ship you’ll reach a control room and sound the horn, which promptly knocks you out putting you back where you began, just still with the resources you managed to collect. Does it make a lot of sense? Perhaps not, but like I said it helps define your runs and can prevent you from being overwhelmed if you’re careful in your exploring and smart in how you tactically use doorways and stealth to your advantage in turn-based combat. While it isn’t perfect and can start to feel a bit repetitive over time I appreciate this different take on survival and strategy and would recommend it to people who are fans of the concept of a point where those two genres collide.


Tani Nani - Put simply, there are a load of puzzlers of all shapes, sizes, and even budgets on the Switch. That can make getting eyes on any given one a challenge, especially ones that aren’t in a well-known subgenre like Picross or Tetris-alikes. Tani Nani makes a pretty easy initial good impression with a budget-friendly price point, cute characters who are just looking for love, and gameplay that I may have seen before in some fashion but for me feels more approachable than some of the competition by keeping it simple-ish. Your goal is to select squares on the screen and rearrange them in a way that will allow your characters to first (ideally) grab a crystal somewhere on one of the pieces and then ultimately unite for a cute and loving embrace. While at first this can be pretty simple the challenge is ratcheted up consistently by new mechanics that arrive periodically and by a variety of additional stage challenges that will call on you to work more quickly, efficiently, or in some other specific way on top of simply getting to the primary goal. It’s not a revolution by any means but for a cheap impulse buy it stands up pretty nicely.


Damaged in Transit - Sometimes it’s the games that, on paper, seem the simplest that turn out to be pretty damned challenging as you dig into them. That’s certainly the case for this puzzler, which starts out pretty simply with you changing the direction being pointed to on paths that will instruct your robots on which way to go. Getting you up to speed pretty smoothly you’ll quickly get the hang of things, but then a few levels later the trickiness begins to come into play. Whether needing to quickly shift your focus from one robot to the other to trigger their arrows alternatively between each other or conquering some trick timing segments to suppress spikes or other hazards while getting them on track at times there can almost be a rhythm game and muscle memory thing going on if you get stuck and need to keep repeating things until you get it all right. While it won’t be an experience for everyone if you’re down for a challenge that will force you to keeping multiple plates up and spinning at once it may not be a bad minor investment of your gaming budget.

Wednesday, April 29

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


ITTA - Indie games, with their smaller budgets and lower price tags, have the luxury of being able to do things that are unexpected, combining styles of play and elements that don’t necessarily make sense on paper. In the case of ITTA the bold move is to roughly make a core game experience that’s an, at times, unforgiving twin-stick shmup boss rush game. That’s a bit of a mouthful and I don’t think I’ve ever played anything quite like it but it’s the best description I can muster. That much I can respect, and as someone who has played a fair number of shooters in my time my dodging was generally up to the challenge but considering there’s pretty well no ramp up and you’re thrown into the deep end less seasoned gamers may find it quite intimidating. Stringing these bursts of intense action together is a slowly-evolving story, quite a bit of wandering exploration wondering where you’re supposed to be going, and a fair bit of philosophy thrown in as well. The experience can feel a big inconsistent and maybe slightly unpolished but to its credit what’s there is challenging and I had enough fun with it to stick it out for a while.


Guard Duty - While the genre had pretty much died before the indie revolution brought it back from the brink the Switch has been blessed with a pretty wide variety of middling to excellent point-and-click adventures. In the case of Guard Duty its primary selling point is really its budget price, because without considering that in general it is a pretty generic affair with fair humor and relatively sound but not terribly inspired puzzle solving. In light of the price the package as a whole won’t be bad to knock out in a few hours for some charm and laughs, just if you’re a big fan of the genre keep your expectations in check in relation to the pricetag, we’ve been a bit spoiled with some excellent genre offerings and in that light the game suffers quite a bit.


The Fox Awaits Me - If you’re into anime and visual novels that have a bit more going on under the surface than you’d first assume The Fox Awaits Me may be your jam. Waking up with amnesia in a bamboo forest the start is a bit disorienting and since you only have interactions with other characters to go by piecing together the picture of everything is a challenge, especially since you’ll find that nobody is really very trustworthy. The dialogue can generally be light and even teasingly playful at times but for the most part that seems to be the sweet exterior of what can get to be a pretty grim set of circumstances if you’re not vigilant and most outcomes will actually leave you stone dead. In general if you’re an anime fan I’d say this is a come for the art and stay for the surprises experience, though for everyone else there’s probably not much here that will tempt you.


Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition - I’m going to put one of my heavy biases out there right in front to better explain how I feel about Sunless Sea and games like it. As I only have so much time to dedicate to individual games one of the first sins an indie title can commit is making me feel like it’s wasting my time. While I don’t doubt that at some point there’s a pot of something decent at the end of this game’s rainbow when I’ve already sunk about an hour into it and still have no idea what is really going on while still feeling a bit bored it’s a really bad sign. The game throws an abundance of text at you quickly, trying to establish some sort of general feel and perhaps a sense of lore, but since this was provided in lieu of clear guidance on what you should be doing it just felt like a text wall I didn’t know enough yet to even remotely care about. Mechanically sailing was pretty basic, even boring, and again without a sense of real purpose it felt like I was floating around in search of a point. Perhaps it just hit me the wrong way and with a bit more time the game would make more sense but with the massive number of eShop titles to play out there if a game is unable to engage me or make it clear what it has to offer within the first hour it’s a bit of a lost cause in my eyes.


Make War - When it comes to indie strategy games on the Switch there aren’t too many to choose from, and for the most part they tend to be in the tactical turn-based combat direction in some way. Since Make War takes a detour onto its own path that does help to distinguish it, though its unusual setup and slightly too loose level of precision may not be enough to justify a long look for most. Playing as a neutral third party of aliens who decide to get into the middle of warring factions, you’ll have varying objectives to meet in order to proceed, whether just to gain new units, a greater number of units, or in order to proceed onto new challenges. That you have no ultimate goal other than just keep chipping away at goals really robs the game of having real stakes or purpose and the relatively imprecise controls and general unpredictability of the way enemy units or even your own work requires a bit of trial and error that can then also be frustrating. Credit to it for being different, but it doesn’t quite feel like a complete idea.

Wednesday, April 22

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


12 Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull - Games that come over from the mobile space are always tricky to evaluate on the Switch, especially when they favor touchscreen heavily over traditional controls. 12 Labours of Hercules is such a title, and there’s no mistaking that this is a casual strategy game that’s a bit wonky to play well in docked mode but works nicely in handheld. That said? For it being light it’s actually not too bad and I can see why the series has stuck around and done well, mixing elements of strategy and time management with a nice theme and keeping you moving. If you’ve been looking for something to grind while you watch TV it isn’t a bad option, though you could certainly pick it up and enjoy it on other platforms just as easily.


Purrs in Heaven - Ah, games with a cat theme… as an entire segment of the Switch audience perks up at the mere suggestion. In the case of Purrs in Heaven what you have is a puzzle game with what feels like a pretty novel mechanic, you’re able to essentially clone yourself a specific number of times, which will leave a sort of statue in the spot you jumped from that you can then jump on. On a general level this is fun and works well, though if you’re on the more casual end of the spectrum I would warn you that there are times when it can feel a bit picky as well about timing or the levels are set up in a way that can lead to easy accidental deaths which can be frustrating. Still, if you’re into the cat thing, like a smart puzzle game, and are willing to deal with some frustrations it’s a cute and fun enough experience to enjoy.


Save Your Nuts - I apologize in advance for being a bit jaded with local multiplayer games on the system, partially because of their abundance but really more due to the lacking level of fun and quality many exhibit. While the art style and general feel of Save Your Nuts is fun and family-friendly, I can’t say the overall action does much to turn my (and my family’s) pretty sour opinion. The elements are there, with you being able to control one of a few different critters that each have their own general strength. The inclusion of some power-ups that you can grab to give you different boosts is also nice. Unfortunately, regardless of the variety those things could bring to the table, nuance isn’t the game’s strength and in the end button-mashing in the mob to move the pile becomes the effective strategy du jour, not because it’s fun but because it is so damned effective. If you have people run off to get power-ups and the other team just goes for the nut they can get such a jump on you that they’ll win the point, too often the effect of the power-ups fall too far short to make them worth the effort. With younger kids the style and lack of depth may be fine but for even moderately seasoned gamers this ends up being a snooze.


Blind Men - Visual novels and games of this sort, I’ll admit, aren’t my bag in general, so while I try to be fair when checking them out I can’t ignore things I see as weaknesses. Accounting for taste and what you’re looking for, just like if you were reading a book or seeing a movie, is a big piece of the puzzle with these sorts of experiences, and that I don’t take issue with. In fact, the story revolving around a young man who aspires to become a supervillain isn’t so bad a concept, though the elements of some same-sex flirting and romance I’m not sure add to that story so much as take it off into a niche tangent. Regardless, what I actually take issue with is that though the artwork is fine enough compared to others in the genre there’s simply not enough of it, so a great deal of the time you’re just scrolling text on the same static moment, and that gets a bit dull. Perhaps more unfortunate in my mind is that there is also very little in the way of opportunity for you to make any choices or influence things, you’re really just reading, and reading, and reading. Just for me if you’re going to use this visual and interactive artform take advantage of it, otherwise just make it a straight up story.


Freakout: Calamity TV Show - One of my absolute favorite arcade titles back in the day, and one that continues to be a sort of bar to measure arcade-style twin-stick shooters against was Smash TV. Silly, hyper-violent, and full of bloody action as well as over-the-top bosses it was always a blast even if it was certainly a quarter pumper and a half. Seeing the name and style of Freakout my hopes were raised as I thought there may be some solid elements from that classic to be seen in a new form. Unfortunately, those hopes were unfounded and fell pretty hard. The first problem the game has is a general lack of variety, the mobs you face are just full of too many of the same characters. Shoot, even some palette swapping or something to break it up would be nice. The second is just that the pacing is on the slow side and the attempts to have you move through a story as you’re trying to break out just don’t work very well in the end. Most critically though is that as the action continues to intensify the game’s performance has noticeable issues. I’m no frame rate snob, and things can happen, but the problems here were consistent and annoying enough with some enemy types that are very evasive it really harmed the experience. There are just too many great shooters on the system to recommend this one.

Monday, April 20

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


Zhed - Getting right down to business the Switch has a ton of puzzle games, and while many of them fall into well-established categories there are also occasional black sheep that do something differently. Zhed is such a game, and while at first it can be tough to catch on to all of the applications of its style I’ll give it credit for doing something new (for me, at least). Your goal is to get to the exit of each level and to get there you’ll need to go to numbered spots on the grid which will let you create a line with a certain number of segments in one direction. Where the challenge comes in is that to complete the level you’ll need to carefully plot out which lines you put in place and in what sequence since where the lines cross you’ll effectively gain a segment on your current line for each spot you cross. It makes for a pretty different challenge and the solutions aren’t always obvious, especially as the game tries to introduce new concepts to you in the puzzle itself, not with an actual explanation. It’s different, and a unique challenge, so I’ll give it props for that.


Galaxy Warfighter - As a big fan of shooters of all flavors the Switch has indeed been very good to me. Now, the unfortunate edge to that is that if you’re a developer trying to put your creation out there you’re going to be hard-pressed to make a big splash in the space. Galaxy Warfighter is coming in as a budget title, which always helps, but while it wouldn’t be fair to expect something in that price range to have enormous depth it does feel like repetition sets in pretty quickly considering it you can just keep playing and incrementally making yourself more powerful. In each mission you’ll initially face waves of a variety of craft, wanting to focus on both blowing them away and collecting all of the coins you can. You’ll then face off against a boss, though unfortunately the game only has a handful, so once you’ve seen them all it takes some wind out of the game’s sails. There was a point where I had to grind a bit in order to progress but with the upgrades once you figure out what is most effective you can pretty well curb stomp bosses and make your way through with ease. It’s not bad for the price but with so many great shooters out there, even on a budget, it’s hard to generate a ton of enthusiasm for it.


Soul Searching - Minimalism in games is always a bit of a wild card, sometimes having some surprises in store and sometimes making for a ho hum experience. In Soul Searching visually it is certainly old school, rocking a very pixelated look. With it being a survival game the emphasis is on exploration, discovery, and a bit of taking risks in order to make it. The issue, for me at least, is that it’s really slow to get rolling or feel like you’re accomplishing anything of note. With at least a handful of quality survival titles on the system there’s a sort of pace of expectation that has been established and Soul Searching being a comparatively slow walk really put a strain on my interest. If you don’t mind taking your time and are intrigued by a new world to be discovered though you may find it to your liking.


Can Androids Pray: Blue - As the game’s name implies this is an experience with a sort of philosophical bent. Trapped in your own wrecked battle mechs, you and a comrade at arms are looking at an upcoming grim demise and communicating back and forth things start to get serious. While a playthrough isn’t terribly long there are some dialogue choices you can select from, though it isn’t as if they have the power to substantially alter the ultimate grim outcome. I suppose it could be interesting to some but the experience has a very unrefined feel and there’s simply not a lot of content so I’d recommend it on a sale at best.


Theme Park Simulator - OK, so being an old school gamer when I saw the name of this game it brought back fond memories of the likes of Rollercoaster Tycoon, the classic Theme Park, or even the somewhat lackluster Sim Theme Park. If you were doing the same I’ll just stop you right there. This is a simulator in a different sense. It isn’t a management game with a creative bent, no, it is not really even a game per se, but an actual simulator of several rides. That’s it. Worse, you can really only play in handheld mode and while there are icons on the screen and you can work out how to do things with experimentation pretty well nothing is explained or even terribly intuitive. As you may have gathered I struggled to find the enjoyment in this one.

Sunday, April 19

Top 20 Indie Budget Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 4/19/20] This collection represents a diverse set of titles that all have a normal price of $10 or less and are worth your time. I’t actually surprising how many solid titles I’ve featured that fit this criteria so with this list I’ve tried to focus on making sure as many genres and feels as possible are represented, and it’s going to be a tough one to curate as time goes on.

FRAMED Collection - While its comic book-style presentation is clean and outstanding it’s the unusual gameplay in both Framed and its sequel that helped it stand out on Switch. Through a mix of experimentation and ingenuity you'll need to figure out how to rearrange the panels to help your agent avoid capture and perils. While neither game is terribly long the experience is a memorable and creative one.


Travel Mosaics: A Paris Tour - Even as consistently as indie titles have managed to surprise me, there are times when I’m almost taken aback by a title out of left field. If you’re a puzzle game fan you’re probably familiar with the Picross franchise, and the satisfying gameplay it offers. There have been some challengers in the same sort of space but to this point nobody has been able to break free of the pack in terms of innovation and polish. For me, Travel Mosaics is the total crasher of that party and not only packs in wonderfully polished presentation quality for a budget price, but knocks it out of the park with large and challenging puzzles, a smart power-up system, and a smooth overall control experience even as you toggle between colors. Puzzle fans, you won’t want to miss this one.


One Finger Death Punch 2 - 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!


Semblance - This is a title I got to check out at PAX East that definitely left me wanting more and the final product was no disappointment. Its core mechanic is that you have the ability to distort the landscape and a consistent stream of new tricks and techniques get introduced to you over the course of the game adding further layers of challenge. Smart, creative, and challenging, Semblance offers a unique style of play over its runtime unlike anything else on the system.


Iron Crypticle - Who said you couldn’t have a great time with a budget retro arcade shooter? Iron Crypticle has a smart but classic arcade style of play that will challenge you solo, or you can join up with 3 friends as well. Working your way through a map in the main mode you’ll be able to work your way into special rooms that offer greater risks as well as rewards. The action is all about keeping your multiplier up, which means you’ll be rushing to pick up items that are dropped by enemies to maximize your score. Throw in online leaderboards and it offers up some great shooting action for its very reasonable price.

Streets of Red: Devil's Dare Deluxe - With a distinctive art style, multiple characters that play quite differently, and a slew of pop culture nods Streets of Red is a very self-aware beat-em-up. While it isn't a terribly long game there's enough challenge and variety offered up by its numerous characters (some of which need to be unlocked) and crazy bosses that it can be fun to return to periodically, especially if you have some friends to enjoy it with.


Minit - Perhaps one of the most oddball concepts that absolutely worked well came to the Switch this year in the form of Minit. With only a very limited amount of time every day to go out, explore, and try to figure out what you need to do to progress it plays out quite differently than anything else you've ever played. In some spots you'll simply need to map out and keep track of which areas are where and in others you'll need to apply that knowledge to rush around and try to complete a critical task before time runs out. With a quirky sense of humor and just a very different play style it's a refreshing experience.


Piczle Lines DX 500 More Puzzles - While it may be available on mobile I consider the Switch to be the best way to experience this great puzzle game that is both less and more challenging that it appears. You'll need to use your powers of deduction to work out how each of the lines can be completed in the specified number of spaces without conflicting with any others to complete these pixel art pictures. Smaller puzzles can go pretty quickly but as you get into the larger-scale puzzles this can get to be quite an undertaking. With an absolute avalanche of puzzle goodness packed into this title you’ll be working through it for quite some time.


Grand Brix Shooter - While I’m a big fan of arcade-style shooters of all types I’ll admit that generating excitement for them is getting tougher on Switch as there have gotten to be so many of them. Thankfully their styles tend to be a bit varied, and many have something smart and distinct to offer to help them stand apart. That’s very much the case for Grand Brix Shooter, a title that I initially just thought was good but then as I played it more began to truly appreciate. I love the very different classes of ships that you’ll unlock and that are made available unpredictably in missions, I’m consistently challenged by some of the tricky bosses, and I think the need to regularly switch to a new ship (losing your built up experience and added power) in order to get back to full health and improve your chances of surviving is brilliant. The weirdo story you get that generally feels completely disconnected? A mystery, but there’s no denying the shooting is great!


The Adventures of Elena Temple - Retro games can be really challenging to get "just right", somehow toeing the line between being true to vintage gameplay and being trapped by it. With platforming action that took me back to my Atari 5200 and Commodore 64 days Elena Temple managed to be a nostalgic rush but also, aside from its pixel graphics looks, managed to feel at home as a modern game as well. With a bite-sized length to match its budget price this is a game any retro fan should thoroughly enjoy.


MagiCat - It's a tough business releasing a platforming title on a system that Mario helped build, Nintendo gamers generally have a pretty high expectation for quality within that space. Finding success in this space where numerous pricier games have failed MagiCat offers surprisingly satisfying and smart gameplay. While its hardly pushing the hardware this is a great example where quality wins, even at the low end of the pricing spectrum.


Downwell - If you’re looking for something that’s quick to pick up and put down (you know, a great mobile experience) Downwell is a great and challenging option. You’ll continue to push further and further in as you get more used to the nature of the challenges at each level but don’t be surprised if you still manage to bite it in the first zone, there are spots where things simply will snowball on you and you’ll end up dead in a hurry. Getting comfortable on which perks and weapons work best for you is key, and you’ll need to find the balance between taking it slow and knowing when to just try to fall to avoid a nasty situation. As an old-school arcade fan its classic sensibilities make me very happy.


The Bug Butcher - This is another title I hadn't heard too much about and almost missed that I'm very glad I go to check out this year. Essentially playing out like a faster and more intense version of the classic Pang (Buster Bros), The Bug Butcher is a load of arcade shooting fun and while it can get pretty tough I couldn't stop playing it until I beat the game. Great stuff and well worth checking out if you love classic arcade shooters.


True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 - Who knew that having played a number of horror-esque games on the Switch that the one that would be the most consistent and compelling to play would really be a casual title. Another elevated hidden object game, True Fear managed to be a bit creepy and weird throughout but never lost focus on providing great gameplay first and foremost. I'm hoping to see Part 2 come to Switch as well to see where things go as this puzzler didn't disappoint.


Reigns: Kings and Queens - Borrowing its left/right swiping interface from the likes of apps like Tinder, Reigns is all about making choices and then living (though more accurately in this case, dying) with the consequences. While it's been said "It's good to be the King" you'll also find that trying to keep everyone happy amidst the everyday chaos of royal life is enormously difficult. As you get further and further in you'll gain new cards to help manage the madness (and sometimes add to it as well), providing this game with a fair amount of longevity and variety as well.


Hidden Through Time - If you’ve ever had kids or were a kid at some point you may recall the Where’s Waldo books. Given a densely drawn page full of detail your challenge was to spot the striped hat and shirt of the bespectacled nerd who seemed to have a talent for seeking out other people or places that would distract your eyes from finding him. Taking that same sort of idea visually and running with a more general hidden object theme we now have Hidden Through Time, a puzzler full of charm and personality that will consistently make you feel like a fool for missing an object after repeatedly checking the same area and swearing it isn’t there. What really helps the game stand out is the quality, charm, and entertaining small details hidden everywhere in the large scenes you have to look over. It may be simple conceptually but it’s the care put into the endeavor that really sold me on this one. If you’re looking for a great title to casually kick back and enjoy this comes highly recommended.


OTTTD - Tower defense titles are extremely common in the mobile space (for good reason, they’re well-suited to touchscreen controls), and have found success, but can sometimes be lacking on the more dedicated Switch. OTTTD, or Over-the-Top Tower Defense, is an aptly named title that tries to use a little personality, multiple controllable units, and more varied strategic choices than usual in order to get some attention. Where many more generic titles in the genre fall flat and feel predictable, OTTTD likes to throw periodic surprises at you and ends up being pretty entertaining in the process.


Akane - If you appreciate great pick-up-and-put-down play sessions that are intense and keep you coming back for more Akane may be a great match. For the most part the objectives feel like they’re in a sweet spot where they’ll push you to complete them but they also aren’t unobtainable by any means. While I wouldn’t call this a roguelike there are some similar principles at play that I appreciate, with the ability to change up your gear in order to alter how the game plays in small but meaningful ways. For the right audience this is absolutely a budget title you won’t want to miss.


Horizon Shift '81 - While this retro arcade shooter absolutely looks, and in many ways feels, like a title from the good old days of the arcades it’s a very modern amalgam of multiple games blended to make a crazy and challenging experience. Grab upgrades, jump over enemies, dash to either side to plow through enemies that have landed on the ground, and much more as you go through phase after phase of new challenges. Borrowing styles and enemy types from multiple games this is a retro roller coaster and the tweaks you can make to its speed and challenge are a welcome modern touch that very much make it worth checking out.


Cat Girl Without Salad - When it comes to weird games I’m a bit of a connoisseur on the Switch, I’ve even set aside an entire category for them specifically. Whether it’s a quirky sense of humor, unexpected gameplay elements, or just developers daring to be different I appreciate the risk of putting something left of center out there. In the case of Cat Girl Without Salad the folks at WayForward have managed to scratch pretty well every itch I could have with regards to entertainment, though I’ll very much note that befitting the budget price on the game this is a light snack of enjoyment and in no way a meal. With that in mind the strange and often hysterically funny running dialogue doesn’t get the opportunity to get tiresome, if you were going to have to repeat each level dozens of times I’m sure it would get old. But with a relatively mild degree of difficulty (though the third mission is a legit challenge) on the whole it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing is, aside from the great humor and unusual characters the surprise is that as a shmup it stands pretty well on its own as well, even throwing in unique weapons inspired by classic video games that generally blew me away with their creativity. While you may not love them all I’d wager at least a few of them will suit your tastes and they really elevate the shooting experience beyond the ordinary as well. For being a game inspired by an April Fools joke this is a title that shows far more love and craft than you’d expect, and as long as you don’t mind it being over too soon it’s highly recommended.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!

Friday, April 17

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


Gunbrick: Reloaded [Nindie Choice] - Puzzle platformers are generally pretty common on the Switch, so it can take some effort to stand apart from the pack in some way. Starting with its great visual style Gunbrick manages that, looking satisfyingly colorful and even cartoony. Of course that wouldn’t be enough to compensate if the gameplay itself weren’t satisfying so the good news is that though perhaps the game hasn’t invented anything particularly new it has managed to take classic mechanics and mix them in a smart enough way that they’re still satisfying. Having to be mindful of which of your sides are facing which way, and needing to engage in a variety of means to ensure you’re facing the right direction in the right spot, may often be methodical but it can also be satisfying. While it doesn’t deliver a blow out of originality the overall package is still a pleasing one for puzzle platforming fans looking for a new fix.


Tharsis - When it comes to strategy games there are crowds with pretty different tastes out there. Some prefer to have only a milder challenge, enjoying some strategy mechanics but not averse to erring on the side of easier to simply enjoy the overall experience. There are others, though, who like a bit more of a crapshoot approach, where in order to be successful you’ll not only need to bring your “A” game but a truckload of luck in the eyes of the RNG gods as well. As a whole the sci-fi space strategy title Tharsis falls heavily into the second camp, and at least for my tastes perhaps turning the frustration dial up a little too far. There’s a difference between feeling challenged, either just scraping through some adversity or even losing outright but walking away with some insight on how to do better the next time, and essentially getting curb stomped by change and feeling helpless. Making tough choices, and even being pushed to bend some moral boundaries to survive is at least interesting, but given that the outcome was usually complete failure anyway the choice to sacrifice humanity along the way felt generally pointless. Perhaps I’m just not the target audience for the experience but I just wish it didn’t feel so geared towards failure from the get-go pretty well every time.


Convoy - This is one of those somewhat aggravating titles where you can see some potential, and for the right crowd it can be a positive experience, but there are just enough obstacles to enjoyment that it’s tougher to recommend. The biggest issue I have with the game is that it was obviously designed with a mouse in mind for controlling your vehicles, in particular for keeping them from hitting things or outright getting destroyed in one hit by more substantial things that’ll get into their path. Yes, you’ll get a warning with skull alerts going off but as the action gets more involved I’m sorry but the use of the controller is clearly more cumbersome than using a mouse would be, and since there isn’t touchscreen support (which would have worked well as an alternative) the balancing and overall design of the game’s action hits the woodchipper. Even ignoring that the issue really gets to be depth, as after a few runs most of your experience will start feeling very familiar. Throw in the fact that I didn’t find the explanations of the game’s systems and in-game help on how to use some equipment “convoyed” very well and it just ends up being an uneven experience that may be better played on a PC if you have that as an option.


Rush Rover - The good news is that once you get rolling this isn’t a bad twin-stick shooting game on a budget, and can offer up some challenge to a degree. The bad news is that getting started is a bit rocky as there’s limited explanation of what you’re doing, what different upgrade stations represent, and how best to play effectively. If you don’t mind the trial and error period and give it some time it’s not a bad experience but at best I’d consider the action and intensity on the average side, with your character movement not quite being nimble enough and the variety in guns and action not quite reaching the level of such a well-represented genre on the system.


Jigsaw Abundance - Since this is a touchscreen-only title I wasn’t able to capture video myself but in general what the game offers is basic enough that the title’s simple trailer conveys all you need to know. The game is very bare bones, without any general structure, it just gives you some simple options for your background, the theme for the image you’d like to make a puzzle from, multiple pictures, and then a choice of how many pieces you’d like. From there you’ll have a puzzle to solve, but it is handled pretty weakly, just allowing you to swap the positions of pieces. All things considered this is among the weaker jigsaw games I’ve played on Switch, lacking the potential for challenge and beauty seen in other titles.

Thursday, April 9

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


Ibb and Obb [Nindie Choice!] - Local co-op games are obviously pretty well-represented on the Switch, and they range from light and silly to pretty involved at times. The bulk I’d wager somewhere on the easier end of the spectrum, whether in terms of their puzzles or at least mechanically, benefitting people who are perhaps playing with a less seasoned gamer. Ibb and Obb is by no means inaccessible to the more casual crowd but it doesn’t take long before it is clear that both players are going to need to be able to think through their puzzles and then be able to execute as well to proceed. While the stronger player can usually opt to take the “tougher road” to move things forward here the game uses colored gates to essentially force both players to tackle challenging spots evenly, a move I appreciate. For such a visually simple title that provides little in the way of direct guidance it’s also surprisingly intuitive, typically doing a great job of easing you into new concepts like the need to use momentum and then expecting you to be able to apply that to more complicated situations. While best suited to local co-op play there’s an option to hook up with someone online as well, which is a nice touch but undoubtedly will make things tougher without direct communication as you’ll need to work together almost constantly. While it may be on the harder side if you’re playing with a more casual friend this is one of the better co-op titles on the system.


Grimvalor - While mobile games being converted to console tend to get a bad rap there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. For the most part that’s the story with Grimvalor, a title that’s understandably pretty hot stuff in a space lacking in overall quality hack and slash action. However, that isn’t to say the experience isn’t without its shortcomings. This isn’t the Switch landscape of the early days or even a year ago, and in that light the loose controls and overall lack of variety in particular stand out. That isn’t to say that for the price of admission Grimvalor can’t be a good time, just the drop off from the top tier titles to the level it’s on is a bit steep. Still, if you’ve been thirsty for a pretty entertaining hack-and-slash platformer with a few surprises up its sleeve it will provide.


In Other Waters - One casualty of doing video capture for every game I play is that titles that are much better suited to touchscreen play take a beating in terms of my opinion early on. Of course, since there’s a substantial audience that wants to play the Switch on their TV (or, in my case, monitor) it’s still an area of concern. Starting with the positive if you’re looking for a sci-fi narrative involving the exploration of the unknown, encountering new creatures and working through puzzles in order to progress, the game is very different and fascinating. That said, getting the hang of the controls, in particular when playing docked, is tougher than it should need to be, and even with touch controls it feels unnecessarily clunky. For me I’d say it was to the point where it distracted me from the story for quite some time. Scanning, movement, grabbing specimens, and then working with them shouldn’t need to be this difficult, especially in a game meant to be casual. If you’re down for what the game offers, and are willing to muscle through the initial control learning curve, there’s a unique experience here, it’s just behind a bafflingly over-complicated control scheme.


Random Heroes - While I’m a moderate fan of mobile conversions that have a simple look but satisfyingly accessible play when the experience is phoned in I won’t hesitate to say so. Unfortunately, in the case of Random Heroes we have a title that looks reasonably decent, though obviously originally intended for mobile devices, but whose gameplay is thoroughly uninteresting and uninspired. Truly, the bar on Switch for platform shooters is pretty high as there are numerous titles at reasonable price points that will throw excitement and challenge at you from the get-go. Not only doesn’t Random Heroes even get within 100 miles of that ballpark, I’d wager I could go back to the NES days and find an abundance of genre titles from that era that are more thoughtfully designed and exciting. This sort of game is what gives budget mobile conversions a bad name, it’s unfortunately just a grindy snooze.


Thief Town - While I can try to remain objective and maintain a positive outlook to see the silver linings in everything indie there are games like this that just exhaust me. Granted, the family has become a bit jaded with local multiplayer games, too often failing to provide much original fun, but Thief Town had particular scorn heaped upon it. Even something as simple as setting up your character’s names and figuring out what to do to get the game started is needlessly confusing and poorly implemented. While your goal is to blend in and then stab your enemies the bit of controller lag often made it difficult for everyone to figure out who they even were on the screen. I’m not sure there’s any stand-out single thing that brings it down, but in just about any area you could choose there’s a flaw and when added up it’s just a mess.

Friday, April 3

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


Cat Girl Without Salad [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to weird games I’m a bit of a connoisseur on the Switch, I’ve even set aside an entire category for them specifically. Whether it’s a quirky sense of humor, unexpected gameplay elements, or just developers daring to be different I appreciate the risk of putting something left of center out there. In the case of Cat Girl Without Salad the folks at WayForward have managed to scratch pretty well every itch I could have with regards to entertainment, though I’ll very much note that befitting the budget price on the game this is a light snack of enjoyment and in no way a meal. With that in mind the strange and often hysterically funny running dialogue doesn’t get the opportunity to get tiresome, if you were going to have to repeat each level dozens of times I’m sure it would get old. But with a relatively mild degree of difficulty (though the third mission is a legit challenge) on the whole it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing is, aside from the great humor and unusual characters the surprise is that as a shmup it stands pretty well on its own as well, even throwing in unique weapons inspired by classic video games that generally blew me away with their creativity. While you may not love them all I’d wager at least a few of them will suit your tastes and they really elevate the shooting experience beyond the ordinary as well. For being a game inspired by an April Fools joke this is a title that shows far more love and craft than you’d expect, and as long as you don’t mind it being over too soon it’s highly recommended.


HyperParasite - Having played (and loved) many roguelike twin-stick shooters on the Switch it always piques my attention when a developer brings something new to the table. In the case of HyperParasite you’re an alien lifeform that’s inherently vulnerable to attacks but you possess the ability to inhabit and control enemies that you can then use to help you survive. Of course once they take too much damage you’ll be back to being exposed, forcing you to work to grab another body and so on. On the whole this works pretty well, and can make for some pretty tense play as you try to avoid the attacks of enemies while trying to take over their bodies. The pity is that right out of the gate it feels like a bit too much of a grind, with you needing to grab enough money to unlock new enemy types you’ll be able to control and in the early going you tend to feel pretty inadequate, especially in boss battles that have a tendency to drag on a bit too long. It just feels like you hit the wall in the game before you’re even able to get your legs under you and the solution to that is to grind a bit, exacerbated by money not being terribly plentiful from run to run. If you’re looking for a different kind of challenge this will satisfy, but it may best be left to genre die-hards.


Saints Row IV: Re-Elected - First, I’ll just say that the likes of Rockstar’s GTA series on the Switch I’m thrilled that Saints Row has come to the system to pick up the slack for gaming in that general style. The previous outing on the system established that an open world shooting and chaos simulator can absolutely work on the Switch, even if the performance could take a hit at times, and with this incarnation the developers just seemed to decide to turn up the bonkers dial to 11. In order to at least attempt to make it remotely sensible this time around you’ll be spending your time destroying the city in a virtual space as a Neo-esque unstoppable running and gunning machine. However, the move to a more unhinged and unpredictable format where you’re never quite sure what the hell you may be taking on and how will either be a massive hit or a miss, depending on the experience you’re looking for. Depending on the lens you view it through it can be a thrill ride where you’re never sure what’s around the next turn, or it can be a sort of kitchen sink effort where there’s no such thing as a bad idea and it can feel quite uneven at times. I personally found it fun more often than not but can see where people would split in their opinions on it.


Children of Zodiarcs - With so much variety in the Switch eShop I firmly believe there’s a place for everything and likely an audience that will likely enjoy it all, it’s just tough when I hit a game that doesn’t do it for me. I find the combat mechanics in Zodiarcs to be both its strongest selling point and perhaps its greatest liability all at once. The mix of strategy coming from tactics, dice rolls, and even deck building for good measure are absolutely unique but boy did they slow things down too much for me, which then diminished my enthusiasm for everything else. Perhaps that unique flavor and the story which doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter copy of loads of other games in this vein will make it a great fit for the right crowd, just be sure you’ve got the attention span for it.


Totally Reliable Delivery Service - While I have a deep love for weird and funky games they can be tough to pull off well. Perhaps no variety of weirdo games is tougher to do properly than the janky physics game, a style that Goat Simulator pretty well wrote the roadmap on getting away with. While not quite in the same vein in terms of the variety and mayhem, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is within that same overall space, with your job in theory being to get packages from Point A to Point B within the right amount of time or having not taken on too much damage. While perhaps you’ll start out that way, and could choose to continue to do so, the real fun is just enjoying it as a sandbox to explore and mess around in, which is where playing with more than one person helps a great deal. The problem is that it’s very much a fast food gaming experience that gets a bit bland in a hurry. Without too many random and utterly ridiculous elements to keep the laughs rolling you’re too quickly just left with a vanilla game with weak controls.

Thursday, April 2

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


The Complex [Nindie Choice!] - Having played “interactive movie” style games since way back when CD-ROMs first allowed them to exist with the likes of classics like The 7th Guest and Phantasmagoria (among others) it has been interesting to see the genre progress. While it feels like it nearly died a few years ago, with modern systems and hardware it has become quite astonishing how seamlessly they’re now able to string everything together. Having effectively removed any pauses or distortions as your choices alter the flow of the story it feels like the promise of the genre has finally been realized. That’s even more the case with a title like The Complex, effectively putting you into the middle of a sci-fi thriller, forced to make tough decisions with some significant consequences that will likely prompt you to play through again to improve the ultimate outcome you reach. Keeping in mind this is essentially a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience the level of interactivity is limited but the quality of the production, acting, and writing in general make this about as compelling an example of the genre as you could hope for.


Curious Expedition [Nindie Choice!] - If you were to try to give The Curious Expedition an elevator pitch it would best be described as the love child of classic Civilization and The Oregon Trail in my mind. Your goal is to choose a figure from history, understanding their various perks and weaknesses, and set out on an adventure in search of fortune and glory, but understanding that inevitably bad things are likely to happen as well. In terms of presentation it definitely shows its age, and that may put some people off, but if you put that aside and come to understand things like the game’s unusual approach to combat (you’ll need to hit the tutorial or you may be very confused jumping right in) its charms can sneak up on you. Considering there’s nothing quite like it on the Switch, this budget-friendly exploration title offers plenty of surprises and occasional silliness, testing your strategic decision-making and, no doubt, your luck.


Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories - Never having witnessed the apparent previous disasters having been reported I can’t comment in any way how this edition compares. What I can tell you is that I walked into the game with no expectations and found it consistently surprising and even enjoyable at times, even if it could just as often be frustrating as I tried to understand what I was supposed to be doing. The gameplay is an unusual mix of visual novel storytelling and mild adventure action, and unfortunately the game engine often doesn’t feel like it’s up to the task, getting jittery or showing performance issues despite the overall look feeling like it was from a generation or more ago. That said, the moments where you meet other people in the middle of this disaster and talk to them briefly can be compelling and even sweet at times, bringing a humanity to the experience I didn’t expect. Of course, being a person who likes to try to see what a game will allow me to get away with, the ability to choose to wear a bikini while trying to escape a major catastrophe in the middle of the city simply made me laugh. It will hardly be a game for everyone but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it charmed me despite its issues.


SnakeyBus - If you’re going to want to make a splash in the eShop sometimes you just need to go for it with an off-center idea and maybe a catchy name. That’s what the people behind SnakeyBus have aimed for, and for the most part in terms of catching your attention initially it’s a success, playing out like a 3D version of Snake where your goal is to keep getting longer while managing to avoid getting stopped by falling into traps or stopping when you run into something (including yourself). There’s an element of amusement to things as in order to grow you’ll need to take on passengers and then deliver them to the next stop, to some degree borrowing a concept from the likes of Crazy Taxi. The issue is more than despite there being a variety of environments, some of them even being pretty creative, aside from just trying to have a better run and unlock new vehicles the experience doesn’t have a ton of staying power once the novelty wears off. It can be fun to pick up and goof off with for a while but unlike some gonzo titles in the same vein the experience just ends up being a bit disposable.


Duck Souls+ - When it comes to budget platformers there’s quite a lot to choose from already on Switch but now we have another, one that at least distinguishes itself by being a bit harder than most. Now, when I say it’s tougher that’s not all good news, for me at least some of the challenge comes with the touchy controls where you need precision, but with persistence everything can be overcome. For the most part there’s not much new here, the pixel art looks fine but pretty generic, you’re trying to avoid certain death, and from stage to stage the difficulty can be a bit all over the place with some going quickly and others being a bit more of a grind. Not bad but quite generic.

Wednesday, April 1

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


Operencia: The Stolen Sun [Nindie Choice] - While there have been quite a number of dungeon crawler RPGs on the Switch none of them has quite convinced me to start enjoying the genre too much. Too often I end up finding them grindy and repetitive without much in the way of payoff for my investment. While many of the core mechanics in Operencia are still in that same genre mold a sense of personality and nice overall presentation really help to elevate it. I did find that the load times can be a bit long and the moving around at times could feel janky but once I got into battle or would get a chance to see my party members interact those concerns were typically pushed down since I was enjoying myself. While it may not inspire converts of people who’ve never been fans of this style of play I’d say that it’s the best example of the genre I’ve seen on the Switch to date and should please people who enjoy some old school RPG exploration and combat.


One Step From Eden - I’m always a big fan of things that are different and that challenge me in ways I didn’t expect. With a very intense pace and challenging learning curve One Step From Eden does just that, but unfortunately for anyone who may not want to get pulverized repeatedly it may ask too much, too soon, and too brutally. Not that I think the end result would be very different since even when you know what you’re doing you’ll be sorely challenged, but it doesn’t take very long to get frustrated since the game does little to help you get your legs under you. Thrown to the wolves it will likely take a few very ineffective attempts before you begin to work things out through trial and error but in general the relentless pace makes it tough to absorb what works and what doesn’t in a constructive way. Perhaps people familiar with Mega Man Battle Network will have enough of a leg up to make the learning curve smoother but while I slowly came around to being compelled to get better at One Step From Eden there’s no mistaking the fact that it will lose many players pretty quickly.


Panzer Dragoon: Remake - Since I was always just a “Nintendo guy”, and never put my toe in the Sega pool, Panzer Dragoon was a game I always heard about as being highly revered but never checked out myself. With its remake arriving on Switch I’ve now had a chance to check it out, and it’s an interesting if dated gameplay experience, but I can’t help but feel like something was either lost in translation or an opportunity was sorely missed when it comes to the control scheme. The lack of any real guidance as you start out is no help at all, with you really just needing to experiment to figure out what you’re meant to be doing (the key is definitely charging your shots to enable highlighting masses of enemies at once), but that’s not quite it. Having to shift your view around with the D-Pad is cumbersome, especially when you’re in the middle of a battle with enemies coming from all sides, and without an ability to invert your Y axis I found aiming to be a challenge since I’d have preferred it set up the opposite way. The result is generally pretty and no doubt nostalgic for fans, but it also feels like it could have been much better with some added care.


Super Destronaut: Land Wars - Without a ton of viable budget first-person shooters out there on Switch, fans of the genre no doubt are curious about anything that shows up in the eShop fitting that bill. I love the neon-lit look of Land Wars, and the feel is pretty fast and loose so that’s a positive, but aside from being a fun sandbox for blowing stuff up for a while it doesn’t have much to offer. You can go through the game’s various challenges to get yourself oriented and to work on shaving off seconds for metals but the real fun is just loading up and trying to survive for a while. The issue there, though, is that in honesty for a vetern it’s just not all that difficult even if you crank up the challenge and since you’re just going to be stomping around the same pretty limited space endlessly I’d be lying if I didn’t say some boredom would even creep in. If you just want to kick around and shoot some stuff for a while it isn’t bad as an arena shooter, and certainly is more consistent and exciting than a few others I’ve played in the space, but don’t get your hopes up for any major meat to be on its bones.


Bohemian Killing - My first admission with this unusual game is that when I spend far too much time up-front waiting for a bunch of story to play out and allow me to really do anything of substance I tend to bore easily. Now, in defense of the game, understanding the case and evidence you’re being charged with for murder is essential. Since your active goal is to work to find opportunities for plausible deniability or outright accusations as you re-enact a new version of events that have already transpired you’ll need to be smart about finding the gaps in the testimony. Once you satisfy elements that aren’t in question you’ll then have to work with whatever you can find to throw the judge off your trail where the record doesn’t have anything official to say. Conceptually it’s an interesting game, and in theory it provides the player with latitude in either helping their case or guaranteeing they’ll be found guilty. That said, in execution everything is a bit on the clunky side, there don’t seem to be that amazing a number of choices you have in practice, and on a general level there just doesn’t seem to be much payback for your diligence and creativity in fabricating compelling testimony to keep yourself from being found guilty of murder.