Thursday, May 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 27

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

Indivisible [Nindie Choice!] - Probably one of the things I appreciate most in an indie game is for it to surprise me, and with its unwillingness to be constrained by a clear single genre Indivisible absolutely does that. Blending elements of a platforming adventure, an RPG, and even some Metroidvania exploration, it’s not quite like anything else I’ve played and that’s usually a good thing. Strict traditional turn-based combat tends to be dull to me so in particular it’s the pretty active combat in the game that I came to appreciate the more I played. You’ll certainly get into a consistent rhythm, working attack patterns you find most successful. But, there’s just enough strategy to what could just be a button-mashing mess to make it interesting in terms of who you attack with how, when, and then chaining into someone else. To sweeten the deal further I have to say that I really enjoyed the game’s characters, with the quality of the writing and voice acting their interactions just rang a bit more true than I typically see in an RPG. They’re still pretty traditional in their roles at the core but they have some genuine personality and that was a real driver for me to return and see where the story took things next. While genre purists may look at this as a hodge podge mutt of an experience I appreciate the mix and am hoping to see more in this vein in the future.

Monster Prom XXL [Nindie Choice!] - In the event your days as a teenager in high school weren’t traumatic enough, and you’re looking to recapture some of the unpredictability and excitement of that time (albeit in a monster-fied form) you may find Monster Prom to your liking. Taking control of one of the pretty archetypical leads your goal is to use what time you have wisely to boost your stats, try to make the most of every social situation, and woo one of your classmates to join you for the big event. The road to doing so will likely be far more daunting than you’d expect as, much like in life, figuring out the “best move” in a wide variety of circumstances can be quite tricky, especially since what may work to advance your agenda will often be relative. For your best odds of a positive outcome you’ll likely want to be laser-focused on the monster you’re most interested in hooking up with, not passing up any opportunity to put the pieces in place for success, especially since some missteps are quite likely along the way. I will warn that while I found the game to be quite entertainingly funny it has a willingness to “go there” with some of its humor in ways I didn’t expect at all. I’d consider that to be a pleasant surprise, but if you’re more easily offended you may want to keep looking.

Journey to the Savage Planet - One quality I admire most of this title is that right from the start it leads with a pretty messed up sense of humor. You’ve been sent out to a remote and unexplored planet in search of resources… but since you’re pretty expendable, rather than have the proper gear along for the ride you’ve been given a 3D printer and some canned video to help motivate you. Good luck! As you progress and return to your ship you’ll often find new videos, including some commercials that absolutely cracked me up, these were always a welcome surprise and helped break things up nicely. In terms of exploring the planet, collecting resources, and simply trying not to die? Eh, there’s good and bad. The environment is quite colorful and given the alien surroundings visually there are consistent surprises in store for you. Waypoints and tips for your next objective are often helpful but there can be spots where you’ll feel a bit lost not just in terms of your location but also your current purpose, which can be frustrating since the game is generally very linear in what you’ll need to collect to craft your means to progressing to further areas. What may really ruin the experience for some will be the game’s performance though, as there’s a cost to it generally looking very impressive. Even as a person who will outright ignore minor framerate hitches or visual glitches at times it was hard not to notice frame skips and stutters at times either in expansive areas or when the action got tense. These don’t often interfere with your chances of success but it can happen, and that’s always unfortunate. If you play mostly in handheld mode this is, as is almost always the case, definitely a problem exacerbated in that mode of play versus docked. If you’re a fan of survival titles the first-person perspective, feeling of adventure at times, and peppering in of shooting may make it worthwhile and a lot of fun since the genre typically hasn’t been handled this way on Switch. If you’re not a fan of performance issues or were looking for something favoring shooting and action over exploration and crafting you’ll likely want to look elsewhere though.

Turmoil - Games that were made for the mobile/tablet space coming over to Switch can often be a dicey proposition. Gameplay that works for touchscreens and often more casual players doesn’t always translate as well on dedicated gaming hardware. In the case of Turmoil, though, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, with it delivering a pretty smart strategy and resource management experience in a relatively humble package. You’ll take control of a tycoon-to-be, invest in a plot of land, and then work with the resources available to you to try to strike it rich. Finding the oil can be a challenge in itself sometimes, especially trying to do it efficiently and with an eye on cost effectiveness since drilling costs time and money… something you may overlook though if your initial wells have run dry. Not only do you need to focus on trying to keep your wells pumping, you’ll also want and need to keep an eye on the prices refineries are willing to pay, considering whether to store your oil and wait out better prices or deciding to take what you can in the event prices will continue to go down. There’s certainly some luck at play in your success in terms of how much oil is in any given plot but the real trick is in making the most of what you’re given. Overall, a smart and unique experience on the system.

Missile Command: Recharged - As someone who played a ton of the original Missile Command in the arcades and at home (originally on the Atari 5200 and more recently on my MAME cabinet with a trackball controller) I was actually quite excited to see this classic get an upgrade of sorts. Unfortunately, while I suppose Recharged visually does look more modern, but still with a decidedly minimalist aesthetic, I think in the competition between the old and new school the modern version falls decidedly flat by comparison. I’m not sure I ever feel like games turning into mobile-esque grinds where you’re constantly trying to gain currency to upgrade your stats to play longer is a good move, but knowing the vintage experience so well in this case it’s a particularly painful change. You’ll still ultimately want to put your primary effort into protecting your missile bases but the lack of complete control over which you’re firing any given missile from is a terrible concession to touchscreen play when you’ve got someone playing with a controller. The addition of power-ups in theory could spice things up but for me instead they just add a random element to your success rather than it being more a measure of your skills like it was in the arcade original. I’m ecstatic that Atari has been revisiting the archives to make modern takes on some of its vintage library but to this point the results have been disappointing at best. They really need to get people who are in tune with what made the originals iconic rather than seemingly believing they’re just ideas in need of modern trappings.

Tuesday, May 26

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

Piczle Cross Adventure - Having been a huge fan of the Picross series as well as a number of its competitors I’ve come to be pretty excited by titles in the space offering up a new take of some kind. In concept Adventure is a solid idea, take the now-familiar puzzling gameplay and mix it up with a wacky-ish story complete with some RPG progression. In practice, while I appreciate the effort to go the extra mile to do something different (complete with a fine sense of humor, mind you) for me the puzzles themselves when paired with the quality of life around the interface are what holds it back. Having played several takes on how to mechanically make the interface more helpful and intuitive I’ve just gotten accustomed to a few different way things are done to make the experience more efficient while also making it more challenging. Working in only one color (in this case that is part of the hook of the villain, which is silly and I appreciate it, but it does make things more dull) and just the overall flow of things works fine but if you’re been shopping around it unfortunately just feels dated overall. Still, if you’ve been feeling like you want some connective tissue to bring the experience together rather than just solve random puzzles this is a nice change of pace.

Golf With Your Friends - Over the years there have been a variety of takes on the game of mini golf, ranging from pretty great to lacking. Throwing a load of creativity and unexpected surprise elements into the mix, helping to move the game beyond just the normal confines you’d find on a physical course, this title does manage to differentiate itself on the core level. In addition, if you’re able to find people to play with online (note, it supports up to a crazy 12), things kick in pretty nicely (if a bit chaotically) as everyone is free to swing at will. With the Switch being so local co-op focused and in general the prospects for long-term availability of competition online being so poor what, for me, drags the experience down is the lacking degree of effort put into playing in-person with your friends or family. Hotseat play is a terrific option if you’re playing clustered together and can easily pass the controller around, and is appreciated for potentially being a cost-conscious choice as well, but to not have support for multiple controllers? In addition, just simple touches like changing the order of who shoots first at each hole or having who shoots next be based on distance from the hold and not merely round robin… getting these simple things wrong really took the wind out of my family’s sails. The good news is that these could, in theory, be addressed, but as it is I think whether you’re interested in the game should vary with how you intend to play it and with whom.

Aqua Lungers - When it comes to local multiplayer games I absolutely respect an approach that shoots for simplicity. When you have people over to play they don’t want to get oriented for a long time while you’re whooping up on them having already mastered the mechanics. With its scheme really only revolving around a few actions, a limited number of effective power-ups you can grab, and easy-to-explain gameplay Aqua Lungers does well in this area. The problem, and the real challenge for games of these kinds that Lungers comes up short on is in keeping things simple but also having nuance and depth that will keep pulling you back in. It’s here that the game doesn’t fare as well, just unable to bring enough longevity and variety to the picture with its “grab the gold and stay alive” mentality that works for a bit but wears out pretty quickly even as the game continues to throw new traps and monsters at you… just after a while none of it feels very fresh and the game loses its hook.

Crypto by POWGI - With certain types of word-based puzzles presentation isn’t particularly a major concern, it’s really just about an accessible and unencumbered experience. Consistent with its brethren from Lightwood Games there’s absolutely a no-frills quality to Crypto, but as is usually the case I can’t say there’s anything missing either. You’re given a quote by someone famous and your job is to work out which letters substitute for which in order to decipher it, and that’s pretty much all there is to know. Your only interface is a collection of the letters in the puzzle and once you select your target letter all of the positions that letter’s in within the quote become highlighted and you can choose the replacement letter. If you enjoy this sort of puzzle in the newspaper or in puzzle books it does a fine job of implementing it easily to enjoy in a digital form for a budget-friendly price.

Concept Destruction - While admittedly getting the experience right has always tended to be a challenge I’m actually a big fan of destruction derby-style racing. Trading paint, trying to line up a solid hit, and then trying to hobble around and stay alive can be quite a lot of fun if it is implemented well. Perhaps fittingly in relation to the cars and arenas in the game being made from cardboard I’d consider the gameplay here flimsy at best. Rather than one of the ways to disable an opponent being to take out the engine here the target is the battery, though its position towards the middle of the car can unfortunately make it a real challenge to get at very well. The physics and driving can feel a bit loose and funky, even before your tires get all wonked up, and in general you just don’t feel the impact of a hard hit, generally robbing you of one of the greatest thrills of the sport. Throw in that driving in reverse (a classic tactic to protect your engine) can be done but doesn’t feel purposely supported as a strategy and it just ends up being a somewhat limp experience unfortunately.

Thursday, May 21

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

What the Golf? [Nindie Choice!] - Bless the indie devs that are determined to just completely go off in left field and do something unique. What the Golf is not really a sports game, or necessarily a puzzle game as much as it is a constant string of new riffs on the theme of golf, horrendous puns, and a wide variety of pop culture homages. While not all gamers may get every reference, which range from certain infamous mobile games to a super hot indie shooter that had unique mechanics to even a few concerning a certain mustachioed plumber, since it doesn’t dwell on any theme for long it won’t slow you down or limit your enjoyment. For people who just want to blow on through it may not take terribly long to “beat” if you just go to each hole and then keep going, but the additional par and starred challenges sometimes significantly (perhaps a bit inconsistently) ramp up the difficulty by adding new rules or even veering off to an entirely different kind of challenge altogether. Much like one of my favorites from a previous year, Pool Panic, What the Golf? is a collection of discovery and fun that just about anyone should enjoy.

Red Wings: Aces of the Sky - If you’re looking for airborne thrills on the Switch the list is a pretty short one, so for fans of aerial domination should be excited for the arrival of Red Wings on the system. With a pretty lengthy set of missions and unlocks for playing as either the Germans or the French there’s a fair degree of content to keep you busy, and though for the most part it sticks with straight-up vanilla dogfighting some mission variants and complications will pop up to give you new strategy elements to consider and nuance to figure out in terms of your approach. Upgradeable skills allow for just enough tuning to feel like you’re able to customize your experience and should help you address any areas you think you’re struggling in while the special ability to just plain pull out a gun and shoot one of your enemies adds a little bit of unexpected fun, and with perk upgrades it can really help you out of a jam with added benefits. While I wouldn’t say it’s an outright winner in the contest to dominate in this subgenre, the Switch already has some other comparable games set both in space and in the skies, it’s at least a contender and should satisfy fans of this sort of experience.

Gravity Rider Zero - The Trials series has always stood out to me as a smart and creative alternate take on a racing game, moving the focus on turns and managing speed more to technique and managing your angles of attack. Taking a watered down element of that gameplay, throwing in some pretty wild stunt and trap sections, and settling in somewhere between an action game and a racer we have Gravity Rider Zero. It’s sort of an odd game to play in some regards, seeming like it should be more technical but more often taking on an almost casual feel. So much of what you see almost ends up being automatic as you twist through tight curves, things like that are all a matter of the camera moving to show the action, but really your gameplay remains in two dimensions throughout. There are times when this can make it hard to see what’s coming but more often than not the controls are forgiving enough that you can make things work out anyway. Even in stages where you have competitors on the track with you progress isn’t defined by your ability to defeat them, your objectives and success are based more on your time and performance metrics, they’re just sort of there to motivate you to do better, also an odd approach but one that makes the game extremely accessible. If you think you’d enjoy an experience that feels somewhere between racing and action, with some wild roller coaster-like track design, it isn’t a bad game to check out.

80s Overdrive - 80s arcade throwback racing is absolutely a genre I can get behind, as someone who was playing them before I could get behind a wheel for real I spend a lot of time with them. While the likes of Outrun and some of its contemporaries have a very specific look and feel to them there was also a pretty simple but effective design to their tracks and format as well. In the case of 80s Overdrive there’s no doubt the developers were inspired by these titles, and they absolutely nail some aspects of it, though they struggle in some others. When it comes to visuals there’s no doubt they took great care in getting it right, and through a variety of environments and conditions their effort shows. It has that classic look but enhances it quite a bit in a few areas and their diligence is admirable. Where things struggle a bit has more to do with the stages themselves, the flow of racing, and your rivals. The track layouts can just be odd, perhaps a bit over-long, and tend to have stretches that are just a bit dull. As you progress the move to tighter roads ups the ante a bit but there’s not that classic sort of flow with normal turns and then that one or two big turns you had to be ready for kicking into low gear for. Then there’s the cars on the road. The other cars often aren’t in lanes, inexplicably change multiple lanes at random, and just don’t make a ton of sense. Perhaps nothing makes this more clear than trying to get started where it isn’t unusual for your competitors to bump into each other and get stopped right in front of you when the race starts. Whether by accident or design things like this really detract from the fun and hold back the nostalgic experience from being complete.

Arrest of a Stone Buddha - Much like the previous title from this game’s developer, Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, Arrest of a Stone Buddha may be better defined as a gaming experiment than a traditional game. Slowly and somewhat sparsely leaving breadcrumbs of a story along the way you’ll tend to move between intense (but ultimately pretty repetitive) gunfighting and being left to somewhat aimlessly wander town in search of whatever it is the developer is trying to convey. The combat can be pretty tricky as attackers will come at you from both sides, with some coming in close (which you’ll want to disarm for their gun, then break their arm to be done with), and others stopping to take a shot at you. Your need to get people in close to be sure you don’t run dry on ammo makes this into a bit of a dance at times, carefully avoiding shooting a few people to allow them to get near you so you can disarm them, but with mobs of enemies coming at you they can get layered on top of each other at times, making it very difficult to avoid getting taken down. These sequences at first have a very old school arcade feel to them I appreciated but over time don’t really evolve at all so they then can get a bit aggravating to endure. The issue is that then there’s just not enough narrative payoff to persisting, making the experience more frustrating than engaging.

Tuesday, May 19

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

Huntdown [Nindie Choice!] - As a fan of old school shooters and beat-em-ups of all persuasions perhaps it was inevitable I’d be a Huntdown fan. Thrown into an effort to bring down various gang factions in your futuristic city you’ll take control of one of three different officers in an attempt to bring down the bad guys. Hoo boy, and as it goes on will you need to work for it. I think it got off to a rocky start for me, not quite feeling as fluid in the controls and versatility for aiming as I’d like but growing on me with its tone and general style. Things are going to get tough, gritty, and downright bloody as you try to shoot and beat your way through enemies. Capped off with a battle against one of the sector bosses, the general length of stages hits a nice sweet spot, giving you time to get your groove on without generally overstaying its welcome. Bosses are quite varied, and at times this can mean they don’t get tougher on a consistent curve so much as be unpredictably easy or tough, but at least they pose a challenge. Borrowing both visual and gameplay elements and beats from diverse arcade titles of the past, Huntdown feels both familiar and fresh, I just would wish for the initial curve to be a bit less steep to allow a wider audience to not hit a likely wall quite so early.

Travel Mosaics 3: Tokyo Animated [Nindie Choice!] - OK, so perhaps I’m a bit of a broken record, but if you’re a fan of Picross but wish it would throw a greater degree of challenge at you this is really the series you should be checking out. Now, right off the bat, this is the same structure and setup as both of the previous outings, just with a boatload of new puzzles, but I can respect that since the gameplay is so rock-solid. If you’re not sure which one to buy you can cover your eyes and pick one at random, aside from the accompanying art style there’s no real difference, just multicolor puzzles with massive grids, a great power-up system (which you often need at some point), and a very intuitive and easy-to-use interface whether you’re playing with the touchscreen or a controller. It may have an aesthetic people would consider mobile-y or disappointing in some way but you can’t argue with the gameplay.

Star Horizon - Ever since the days of the classic Wing Commander series I’ve been a huge fan of space dogfighting mixed with a bit of operatic drama. While the story in Star Horizon can’t compare to the epic sort you’d find in those classics what started out feeling a bit more generic at least quickly gets your attention as things go pretty wrong, leaving you not quite sure what’s going on. Similarly, the lack of full free movement and having someone on your wing to coordinate make the combat less rich, but despite being on rails for the most part you can make the most of the combat and have a bit of fun once you begin making weapon upgrades and tuning things to your own style. For a reasonable price Star Horizon ends up being satisfactory, just against some of the competition on the system it’s not quite as ambitious or fun.

TT Isle of Man 2 - Given the general lack of racers on the Switch with every release of a title in the genre there are sure to be people who are curious about it. In the case of this title what you have is a pretty heavily “simmy” motorcycle racing game that, likely appropriately, seemed to choose to emphasize performance as much as possible. At times this can lead to things not looking so hot, and there are still times when the framerate runs into the ground (particularly in handheld mode), but for the most part it stays fluid and looks good enough. For me the make or break proposition here is really how the bikes handle, which is decidedly in the punishingly picky camp, with it feeling like just about anything can throw you off your bike. In particular, that will mean memorizing the tracks and their turns can be essential, though it is entirely possible that’s as intended. All in all if  you’re more inclined to realism you may find it is one of your better bets, though keeping in mind there’s simply not much competition on the system.

Reed 2 - New iterations of existing games, especially when they come out with shorter proximity to one another, can be weird sometimes. I swear when I started playing Reed 2 I had to literally go back and check out Reed Remastered once more just to be positive I wasn’t playing an encore release of the same game or something. No, this is definitely its own version of the budget platforming action game, just this time I think they moved the “picky” slider all the way to 11. I don’t mind games that are challenging, but there can be a point where either because of level design, some weakness in the control execution, or some combination of both it feels excessive. While perhaps I was somehow more easily frustrated with this title than others may be, some of the sequences of jumps and moves you’re trying to make seem designed to be aggravating in their ability to get you killed by minutia and being just a hair off. I have no doubt the game will have its fans but this is one of those games where there’s just something about it where the degree of challenge feels a bit unearned because of a cheap factor to the overall design.

Monday, May 18

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

Dungeon of the Endless [Nindie Choice!] - I’ll admit that when I first started playing this title it was a struggle since there’s a distinct lack of explanation to much of what you need to do. That said, with experimentation (and quite a bit of failure) I slowly was able to understand what I was playing and it started to grow on me. Mixing together elements of dungeon crawling with tower defense, and topped off with what can sometimes be a crushing roguelike mentality, I can’t say I’ve played anything like it and that really makes it interesting. Your goal is to slowly proceed through each level of the random ship you’ve found yourself crashed into, carefully scoping out each individual room and clearing them out. Using what resources you find and power available to you you’ll be able to enhance rooms you clear, either setting them to help build resources or have various defensive properties to help for what comes next. The tricky part is that once you find the way to the next floor one of your party will need to move the core, leaving them vulnerable, while you hope your created defenses or other crewmembers help keep them alive. The indirect control you have over your crew takes some getting used to, especially when things get tense, but once you’ve got a handle on it all this can be a unique and challenging experience.

A Fold Apart [Nindie Choice!] - When looking at an eShop full of puzzlers and story-based experiences it can be difficult to separate the merely average from the exceptional. Smart puzzles are great, if they can have unique mechanics that’s always a plus, and in terms of story there’s the question of whether it is relatable and told with care. What’s great about A Fold Apart is that it not only checks all of those boxes but it does so in a way that seems pretty effortless. The base mechanics revolve around the environments your characters are in being able to be manipulated like paper, with the puzzle being how to fold, bend, flip, or mutilate the environment to allow you to either proceed or grab a star. This, in itself, is a great base as it feels original and well-implemented (though at times there can be a hitch in performance… but really, this is a puzzle game, is that a major concern?). What seals the deal, at least for me, is that on top of that is the story of a couple (in a nod to people of all persuasions you get to choose their respective genders, a nice touch) trying to manage the emotional strain of a long-distance relationship, making it all come together symbolically with a great emotional core. While it’s not a long experience I still found it to be an impactful one and it should be perfect for people looking for a touching story mixed with clever puzzling.

Thy Sword - Throwback-style games are always a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I appreciate their relative simplicity and the way they remind me of titles I played in the past. On the other, there’s a risk that same simplicity now can leave the experience feeling a bit shallow and/or incomplete without at least some small sense of modern flair. That’s about where I landed with Thy Sword, which very much reminds me of some games I played back in the day where you’d need to jump to different platforms and slash your way through enemies until you’ve cleared them all, then being free to move to the next stage. In terms of enemy variety, though there aren’t too many overall there are more than you usually would see when considering the relatively short runtime, so that’s a plus. Similarly the bosses put up a challenge and feel pretty good. I guess my main disappointment is just the lack of meaningful differentiation in the hero classes. I’d almost have rather just seen one character with a little more versatility or more varied options, the ones you have to choose from are too similar and vanilla and that keeps the experience from being terribly memorable unfortunately.

Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee - Remasters of games that are getting pretty old, especially when they’re from the earlier days of 3D adventures, are tough to evaluate. One the one hand there are no doubt people who grew up with them and have fond memories of enjoying them, on the other the style of play and expectations for these sorts of games have evolved so much since the dawn of the age that it can be a bit painful to look back. To the credit of the people and effort involved when you’re in-game everything probably looks about as good as you could hope in terms of the visuals for a game of this age, though as always new textures and smoothing can’t cover up how barren environments always end up being. The real dividing line though, where I think either you remember and love the game or you’re just checking it out now, is the pretty repetitive and generally weak gameplay which mostly just involves roaming around from A to B collecting orbs, enlisting help, or occasional bright spots with something unexpected. The limitations here are just a function of the time the game came from, and aren’t unique to it, just if you’re looking to invest in it you should probably take a long look and think it over first whether the nostalgia can likely carry the price of admission for you.

Cooking Simulator - While I’ve played quite a number of cooking games over the years ranging from the likes of Cooking Mama to mobile games to Overcooked I can’t say I’ve played anything quite like Cooking Simulator. Normally working on dishes is the focus, with you needing to perform specific motions, button combinations, or executing timing tasks in order to succeed. Instead taking a pretty literal approach, and thus heavily focusing on the minutia in between, in this game you’ll find yourself moving around in a full environment of a kitchen, having to go pick up every utensil, pot, and ingredient one by one to get them together on a work table and prepare them. The degree to which you’re in the “real world” as you move around to complete your tasks is illustrated well by the fact that if you run into the edge of an object while carrying something you’ll drop it, perhaps breaking it. If you come at the game from the angle that doing things this way is different and can be kind of wacky you may find it amusing, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it deep. However, if you’re looking for a more familiar and fast-paced experience the drawn out process of simply assembling your ingredients, let alone preparing them while you may manage to drop your knife somewhere because the controls can be a bit wonky and cumbersome when you’re in a hurry, may not make it terribly appetizing.

Friday, May 15

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

Super Mega Baseball 3 [Nindie Choice!] - Getting right down to it there’s just something about the Super Mega Baseball series that taps into what love and nostalgia I have for baseball as a sport, particularly in video game form. While I could see where some sports fans could be irritated by the lack of MLB teams and players for me it takes me back to the days of playing games on the NES or in the arcade against friends, though obviously the degree of complexity on all levels has appropriately increased. What then seals the deal, and what impressed me so much about this title, is how scalable the experience is in terms of depth and difficulty. If you just want to just kick around in some exhibition games, great. A whole season? Sure. Manage a franchise including all of the trades, potentials for injury hardships, and customizing just about anything you can think of? Without the worries of a license it’s all available to you. Throw in the ego system which will allow you to tune the difficulty up or down incrementally as your skills grow and it can remain as easy or tough as you choose. The statement that this is the best baseball title without question on Switch may be easy for lack of any legitimate competition whatsoever but more than that it is one of the best baseball games I’ve ever played, period.

Jet Lancer [Nindie Choice!]With so many high-quality shooters of all types and styles it takes some effort to put something new on the table, particularly something that stands apart from the rest with its own style. Jet Lancer manages to do just that with an intense and very inertia-based flying style, that takes some getting used to, and blends it with arcade-like swarms of enemies and even some terrific boss fights that will put your skills to the test. That isn’t to say it’s perfect. I’ve hit some rough patches when things have gotten intense a few times, hit a crash or two, and there’s no doubt some people won’t either “get” or enjoy the flight style in the game that reminds me most of the well-regarded Luftrausers (still somehow not on Switch!). However, if you’re ready and willing to bring the fight to your foes, keep your combo meter up, and knock enemy ships out of the sky with a mix of guns, barrages of missiles, and some great unlocks that will let you tune your ship to better suit your style Jet Lancer can be a ton of fun.

Ion Fury - Titles that don’t just tap heavily into nostalgia but fully embrace it are always a risky proposition. There’s something magic in playing a game that takes you back to an earlier time through look, feel, and general design… but the question is then whether that same experience can keep you engaged for the long haul. Ion Fury, without a doubt, absolutely recaptures the essence of the original Duke Nukem 3D and its contemporaries with its look, sound, and general style. If you didn’t know any better you could feel like it was a long lost game made with that engine you somehow missed. The thing is that’s both a testament to the reverence the developers of Ion Fury have for that era and, depending on what you’re looking for, where the game’s greatest weakness lies. To have the experience be complete in general terms the level designs and layouts also feel authentic to that era, and in that area I could have used more modern sensibilities. Key cards and hidden areas randomly peppered about that have vital gear you may need are hallmarks of that era but they now feel very antiquated and are harder to embrace, even for the sake of nostalgia. If you’ve never played games from that era this may be the best way to enjoy them in spirit on a modern console, without a doubt. If those games were your jam and you’re willing to deal with elements that have aged poorly it also shouldn’t disappoint. Just be mindful that going back can be a lot of fun for a bit but consider how much fun you’ll think you’ll have once the novelty wears off.

Kholat - Among the genres that are the toughest to evaluate in gaming and may be the most divisive are those that are “walking simulators” at their core. These games are generally focused on deliberate (that’s polite, “slow” may be more accurate) exploration (you could argue meandering in many cases) of an environment as you stumble into areas and situations that advance the story. Now, under the hood Kholat has quite a bit on its side, mostly the legitimately creepy and mysterious story summarized in the game’s opening moments… and that seems to promise some tense frights and craziness, but for the most part you’d unfortunately be mistaken. There’s certainly plenty of atmosphere and tension in the air as you try to orient yourself on the map, between the sounds on the wind and sparse environments you feel very isolated and exposed. If you relish that essence, and are less concerned with the big payoffs you may actually get a kick out of the game, it drips atmosphere, but with everything being so drawn out the experience is also highly dependent on your patience and attention span. If you’re able to stick it out there are some thrills in store for you, but if you were hoping for anything remotely resembling a quick hit of adrenaline you won’t find it here.

Stone - When I run into games like Stone I’m never quite sure what to think. While I’d come into it thinking it would be a sort of point-and-click adventure perhaps pretty quickly it became clear it wasn’t quite that complex. I suppose the best I can figure is that it’s a sort of narrative walking simulator, with there being random things in the environment you can interact with at times just to put them there, a very A to B kind of linear design, and pretty set dialogue options that lack variety or room for much player agency. But hey, there’s a fair amount of profanity, some attempts at giving it a noir feel, and some bits of humor peppered here and there. I suppose there will be people who enjoy Stone’s style and (brief) story but the on-rails nature of the experience make it woefully lacking as a “game” for me.

Tuesday, May 12

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

Fury Unleashed [Nindie Choice!] - With a comic book-inspired look, a pretty wide array of over-the-top weapons, and challenges aplenty Fury Unleashed is a roguelike platform shooter with plenty of personality. You play the role of the somewhat stock 80s-style hero, buffed up and ready to kick ass, and over the course of the game’s major chapters (which each are made to look like their own comic book, each with their own theme and enemies) you’ll be sorely tested. This isn’t a game you’ll come out of the gates tearing through, you’ll need to grind and earn it, slowly customizing your perks, gaining access to better starter gear through challenges, and coming to understand how best to be effective in your runs. In the end it is really about moving quickly and decisively, keeping your combo meter up so that you can earn health “ink”. It may seem counter-intuitive, that in order to try to heal yourself you’ll need to be aggressive, putting yourself at risk to lose more health, but that’s how this experience rolls. The thing is, you’ll have plenty of wild weapons, ranging from simpler guns to grenade launchers, sawblade guns, and more as well as devastating melee weapons, grenades, and even a deadly stomp attack at your disposal. Once you get into a groove and understand how to approach specific enemies you’ll begin to have more success, just look out for some of the game’s tough-as-nails bosses as well. If it weren’t for the variety and personality in the game the level of difficulty could have been more of a bummer but there’s just something about the whole package that kept me wanting to come back for more.

Spirit of the North - When I go to PAX I tend to book my days to the brim with appointments but that doesn’t mean I lose the opportunity to uncover some additional gems along the way. Since Spirit of the North is a far more understated title than most you run into I passed it by a few times before deciding to give it a look, and it felt like time well-spent. If you’re looking for action or quick pick up and put down play you’ll want to steer clear. However, if you want to slow things down, feel a little more meditative, and soak in the beauty of the Northern Lights and an Arctic landscape you’ll likely find this to be wonderfully calming. Your goal is to explore, discover, and simply enjoy the ride, and if you’re inquisitive and want an extra challenge there are a fair number of secrets you’ll encounter along the way as well if you seek them out. While the game lacks in visual intensity the beautiful environments do at times tax the system’s rendering capabilities to the point that things can get choppy but thankfully they don’t interfere with the gameplay in the majority of cases. The real surprise is that among games of this kind built around an experience the runtime is longer than average, more than a handful of hours, so there’s also a fair amount of value in the package. If you’re seeking out something you can just sit back and enjoy while letting the stress of life melt out of you this is a fine candidate.

PONG Quest - As a “vintage gamer” who remembers playing Pong and many variants of it, whether at home or at friends’ houses, this was a title that got my attention when it was announced. With a sort of goofy stab at turning the classic electronic tennis game into an RPG there seemed to be ample opportunity for what could at least be a fun and nostalgic romp of sorts, both celebrating and poking fun at classic video game tropes from over the years. To a certain degree Quest does this, and in the early going while it still feels fresh it can even be a bit of fun, but at some point the repetition of the game’s “combat” begins to grate on you. Of course in a PONG quest the battles take place on the digital battlefield as you play the classic game against your foe and try to wear them down until you’re victorious. In the interests of there being at least some variety, to the game’s credit there are a pretty wide variety of ball types you can use as well as RPG-style character progression that will allow you to upgrade your character and make some choices about how you want to play. The problem is that at some point no matter what you’ve chosen or even which power-ups you decide to use you end up spending far too much time stuck in battles where you’re just continually doing the same thing. For an added personal quibble, having played a fair amount of Pong and Pong-like games in my life, I was also let down a bit by the lack of nuance when it comes to trying to put English on the ball. Most of the time I missed the ball it was because I continued to try to move while hitting it or try to hit it at different positions on my paddle in the hopes to at least make things more interesting. Unfortunately, though there may be some mild effect to this it is minimal, ultimately making even the Pong itself more lackluster than it may have needed to be. Combine this all and it’s a good novelty laugh for older gamers but lacks the depth to really be something more than that. Perhaps if the game had tried to pull in more nods or styles of play from other Atari classics from the era (granted, taking away the Pong focus) to keep things consistently fresh it could have been a bigger success but as it is at best it's a novelty that loses its luster too quickly.

Supermash - Featured in one of the Indie World Directs, Supermash seemed like one of those titles that could go either way. Conceptually taking two genres and creating games that are a mash-up of them both sounds incredibly cool. But if you spend a few minutes trying to contemplate how this would be done effectively, and in a way that’s fun, you can quickly realize it would be quite an undertaking to get things right in even a few, let alone all, of the potential combinations the game supports. To a degree the experiences being hit or miss could likely be expected, just in the time I spent playing it the main issue was that I can’t say I ever played a combination that represented that “Eureka!” moment where it came together. Whether the issue was a lack of clarity in what you’re supposed to even be doing, objectives that were either too easy or in some cases even impossible to meet, or controls that are just a bit too awkward or sluggish it just never seems to come together convincingl. The result is a string of generally flawed or half-baked gameplay you’ll more often endure than enjoy, patiently waiting to see it pay off, but I can’t say I ever got a taste of that desired outcome. There’s no doubt the game bit off more than it could chew, but reflecting on the challenge it put itself up to I actually question whether it was doomed to struggle from the concept itself. By deconstructing and then cobbling back together elements from different genres in a haphazard way you seem to inherently force yourself into, at best, being a jack of all trades but master of none and if there’s no clear combination that delivers a superior experience it seems to defeat the purpose of even trying.

Megabyte Punch - Since there are quite a lot of local multiplayer titles on the Switch in all honesty from my perspective the majority of them have begun to blend together into a blob of generic play and mediocrity. On a system that has the likes of Smash and a few other solid multiplayer brawlers available, even if they’re more costly, coming to the table with a fighter that feels too slow and clunky brings things down on that front. A saving grace to some titles in this sort of jam has been the inclusion of a way to enjoy the experience in single-player, which can sometimes be incentivized with the promise of skins or gear you can get by working your way through it. When I saw the trailer and info on Megabyte Punch I had hope that the game’s adventure mode would do a good job in that area, helping to prop things up and make it all worthwhile. Unfortunately, through a combination of general blandness and bad control decisions pretty well all of the above fails to inspire continuing to return to it. It just feels too clunky and run-of-the-mill for its own good, even if some of the robot customizations can help liven things up once you unlock them.

Monday, May 11

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

Void Bastards [Nindie Choice] - While I’ve seen a few titles try to step up to the plate to establish a solid roguelike FPS to date nobody has really nailed the entire formula. Whether because the roguelike elements were out of balance or shooting itself just wasn’t well-implemented, that has left room for someone to come onto the scene and show how it can be done right. Finally, with the release of Void Bastards, it seems like someone is squarely on the right track, just be ready to struggle a bit as you get the hang of things. You control what are essentially disposable criminals, each with different quirks (ala Rogue Legacy), and through perseverance you’ll begin to make your way further and further along in your mission, shooting, crafting, and sometimes simply running away in order to survive a variety of enemy encounters in space. Initially it can be a bit overwhelming as you learn the ropes, knowing which ships to try to hit for what supplies, how to deal with different threats, which shipboard systems are best to try to utilize and how, and also just when to know you need to panic and get the hell off a ship before you die. Perhaps unsurprisingly this can lead to there being a bit of a hump to get over, equipped with just enough crafted gear and earned experience to help yourself get further along. If you’re a major fan of roguelikes or have been hoping to see a new formula in your FPS gameplay this is absolutely going to be worth checking out.

Fledgling Heroes [Nindie Choice] - There’s no doubt a good reason for people to debate whether games like Fledgling Heroes “need” to be on Switch. With a one-button mechanic for play, controlling when your various bird characters flap their wings, yes this is a game that you could enjoy on a mobile device without the need for physical controls even. That said, the colorful and appealing art style, variety of ways the different birds you’ll unlock play through their levels, customization options (if you’re into them they’re a plus, if you’re not I’m not considering them essential to positive feelings though), and even reasonable challenges you’ll hit in order to get through the loads of stages impressed me. With different objectives and critical skills required in many cases I often found myself adjusting in my seat, digging in, and forcing myself to take it seriously to get to the next level. Even with quite a number of other titles to get to last week I also found it easy to return to this title because it was challenging but not necessarily taxing, and so easy to just pick up for a few minutes and put down. It may not be pushing the hardware to its limits by any means but if you enjoy playing something lighter and more relaxing that will still make you work this definitely fits the bill.

Relic Hunters Zero: Remix - With the abundance of twin-stick roguelike shooters on the Switch it makes for tough competition if you want to make a big splash in the space with a new title. Featuring a decidedly retro look, on one level there’s a simplicity to Relic Hunters Zero that works well. You’ll dive into areas, shoot everything down, grab gear and ammo, and dig for relics and other loot to help your metagame progression. While you only start with 2 classes to choose from, the game has quite a few more to unlock, some of which even have pretty different perks that can make them fun to take for a spin. The issue? The grind to get going, get access to those different characters, and really feel like the game meets its potential takes quite a bit of time and grinding, and unfortunately the formula begins to get stale at a rate faster than you’ll unlock things. Granted, this can be overcome through diligence, but a system where the game would throw you a bone or two more quickly so you get a taste of what’s to come with more work may have been a better plan. Limited to only the starting characters and gear, and not being given any real direction on what to do or when you’ll get access to more, stumbling through different modes that feel too similar starts to feel unrewarding.

Infinite: Beyond the Mind - When I got to check this out at PAX East last year I walked away happy with how it played, it taps into an old school arcade fighting platformer vibe nicely, but wondered if it would step things up. Having played more of it the answer is both yes and no. If you’re a fan of classic action platforming that doesn’t get too complex and keeps things light and fun it is a pretty nice bite-sized experience, clocking in at a few hours. That said, for being a modern game I can’t say there’s anything about it that stands out as a clear improvement over the traditional formula, and with this being a somewhat crowded space that knocks the experience down a few pegs. It’s quick, can be played with a friend, and has some cool boss fights to enjoy, but fails to inspire much passion along the way.

Cloudbase Prime - The first thing that actually jumps out at me about playing this is an unfortunate, and perhaps a bit unfair thing. For whatever reason the voice work at the opening of the game really got me off to a bad start, not necessarily that it was bad but it just didn’t create a feeling of confidence. The early stages of playing the game unfortunately didn’t do too much to improve things, it felt like I was sort of wandering around, trying to shoot at some robots, launching them into the air, and going from point to point. It just wasn’t clicking. Fortunately, it does get over a bit of a hump once you get further in and more elements get added, but all the same it just never quite feels like a completed thought to me, more of an experiment in progress that you can try out and may enjoy. To its credit it is pretty different, just not terribly compelling in the end.

Wednesday, May 6

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

Kingdom: Two Crowns [Nindie Choice] - Since I was already a pretty big fan of the first installment of the Kingdom series (New Lands) that arrived on the system I suppose it’s not a great surprise I’m an even bigger fan of its more refined and content-laden follow-up. I somehow missed it when it arrived on the eShop but now with the release of the free Dead Lands DLC I’ve finally gotten the chance to see how much the title has grown while retaining pretty well everything I appreciated about the original. This remains a very subdued, at times a bit slow, but also somewhat tranquil and often outright beautiful title filled with discovery, experimentation, and a fair amount of failure as you try to maintain a critical balance of your human and monetary resources, as always trying to expand, build, and survive in what can often be a hostile world. All of the different flavors you can choose from, each with not only their own art style but also variety in what you’ll encounter and need to work out how to utilize properly for success, really take the core gameplay that was already solid and satisfying to a new level. If you enjoy slow burn strategy where you’ll need to work out how best to proceed without much direction this should absolutely be your jam.

Ministry of Broadcast [Nindie Choice] - Harkening back to earlier days with a gameplay style reminiscent of the likes of classics like Prince of Persia, Ministry of Broadcast is a throwback I can really appreciate. While that meticulous style matching up action with precision may result in quite a bit of trial and error death at times within a few attempts in general all action puzzles are conquerable and that makes figuring them out and getting it right quite rewarding. The fact that the game takes on a sort of 1984-meets-The-Running-Man approach where it comes to the story helps make the sequences flow together to a degree and can be pretty entertainingly morbid and twisted at times, further reinforcing the experience. As an English major I’ll admit that some of the in-game text can get clunky, and that made me cringe a bit, but perhaps it also adds some layer of unrefined charm for the right folks as well so it may just be me. Having played a few remade titles from that earlier era on Switch it’s also refreshing to now see modern stabs at that same style of play, and I hope to see more in this vein if they can be executed as effectively.

Slayin 2 - Since I’ve always been a big fan of classic arcade-style gaming there’s something about the simplicity meets challenge of Slayin 2 that really speaks to me. While on the surface it looks a bit casual perhaps, once you dig in and spend some time with it the challenge kicks in and if you’re like me you may well get hooked. Certainly unlocking the various classes, their respective weapons, and throwing in some upgrades makes for perhaps a bit too much grinding just to slowly discover which heroes and builds suit you but the variety really impressed me so I’ll take some of that frustration over being stuck with only a few overly similar heroes to work with any day. Your hero will work on 2 different planes, able to jump between them, trying to survive all manner of enemies who’ll attack both on the ground and in the air. Each class has their strengths and weaknesses depending on the situation, something even more true when tackling some of the game’s challenging bosses that some builds are just going to struggle with. That means to progress you’ll need to explore more than one build and continue to work to overcome what can get to be pretty intense action as you get further into the game. Far more deep and enjoyable than its somewhat simpler presentation may imply if you’re looking for some budget intense action Slayin 2 is surprisingly solid.

Book of Demons - Ever since Diablo hit the scene dungeon-crawling action RPG action has never been the same. Though there have been imitators of various kinds, some with a reasonable degree of success, it generally remains the king of the space. For indie developers trying to make a game in the same space the best bet seems to be to create something with similar concepts but that distinguishes itself in its gameplay in order to avoid comparisons to the big-budget juggernaut. In that regard Book of Demons is a pleasant surprise, sporting an interesting art style and more subdued set of combat mechanics. Rather than trying to match the intensity and chaos of mobs of creatures coming at you Book of Demons favors more methodical and cautious combat, making it a bit more casual-friendly most likely as well. You’re better off carefully approaching enemies and chipping away at them rather than getting into the mix and as long as you don’t mind the slower pacing it works nicely. One complaint is that the method of control can be a bit weird using a cursor pointer, pointing out that perhaps it is better suited to play on a PC using a mouse, but I didn’t find it to be enough of a problem to interfere with enjoyment.

SNK Gals’ Fighters - While fighting games have been around for quite some time, and in many iterations, as a whole I’d say my experience with them (prior to Switch) in handheld mode was always dodgy to say the least. Limitations in the numbers of buttons and processing power always made them a bit of a desperate measure for entertainment, mildly filling but rarely providing any kind of satisfaction. That said the Neo-Geo Pocket SNK Gals’ Fighters really caughts me off guard, and is a pretty fine demonstration of what that platform was capable of when matched with a smart development team. For it having 2-button controls I was pleasantly surprised to find a fighter of reasonable depth, one that would even match up well against some weaker indie fighters I’ve played on the platform. Make no mistake, this is a mobile-friendly fighter and still has a limited roster and a scaled down screen to keep it looking like blocky hell on a big screen. That said, if you appreciate solid workmanship and are an SNK fighting fan in particular it may be well worth a look.

Tuesday, May 5

Mini Reviews: May 5th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Lonely Mountains: Downhill [Nindie Choice!] - If there was a major genre on Switch to argue may be the worst represented, whether AAA titles or indies, it could be sports. Given how much diversity that’s possible in the category this is a bit of a surprise but it’s where we find ourselves. When a genre title does then show up there can be a concern that fans on the platform are so starved for a new experience that they’ll jump on anything. In the case of Lonely Mountains: Downhill you shouldn’t have such a concern, at least depending on the type of experience you’re looking for. Part discovery and exploration, part precision, certainly part frustration, and I’ll gladly throw a bit of luck onto the pile as well, it’s an experience not quite like anything I’ve played before. Your goal is pretty simple at first, simply survive the tough ride from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Along that ride, though, you’ll see the hints of what’s in store for you as you then try to shave seconds off your time. You’ll swear you see what could be a trail off to the side, you’ll hit an intersection with a path coming from a completely different direction, or you’ll even see a spot you’re certain must be a jump. What follows is usually a grueling run or two where you’ll basically try to map out what’s possible, typically learning the hard way how not to execute certain sections as your rider plunges to a bloody (and often undoubtedly lethal) fall. No problem, you’ll pop right back to your last checkpoint and try again… and again. As a warning I’ve seen the game stutter at times as it scales in and out of the action, and there are angles where the brilliant tilt shift perspective look works against you with elements blocking your view from the foreground but the unique experience, the open-ended nature of how you tackle your run, and the sheer beauty of the different trails and mountains you’ll encounter make this an outstanding game like no other that’s absolutely worth a look if you don’t mind the challenge.

Arcade Spirits - I’ve always found that visual novels are tough to evaluate for general audiences as either their art style, themes, general background, or characters are typically geared in a niche direction of some sort… making them, by nature, hit or miss depending on your appreciation for that niche. While ultimately the depth of all of the characters involved and the story may not be quite where I was hoping the fact that the story revolves heavily around an arcade, people who love these meccas of gaming entertainment, and a handful of general geek archetypes they checked quite a number of my personal boxes. For me while it isn’t perfect so many of the characters, their attitudes, and the general experience had elements that rang true to my own childhood and passions, making it a snap to relate to on the whole. That said, the less you’re familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of a vintage arcade and appreciate their historic cultural impacts the more you’ll likely find it hard to connect to many of the elements in the game. If you’re a child of the 80s though? I’d gladly give it a recommendation for a solid ride.

Sega Ages: G-LOC Air Battle - Pretty well immediately loading this one up its familiar sounds drew me in, in terms of games that I used to hear amidst the chaos of sound in an arcade G-LOC was one of the most effective at getting your attention. That said, in terms of mechanical play I always had a bit more love for Afterburner between the two. That isn’t to say G-LOC is bad by any means, and I know many “vintage gamers” who hold this near and dear to their hearts. I respect that, and for those people this should be a great hit of nostalgia to enjoy. For anyone unfamiliar or who isn’t a die hard fan? While there’s nothing wrong with the port the game is what it is and there’s not a ton of depth or replayability necessarily, it can just be good to revisit every once in a while.

StarCrossed - I deeply appreciate indie titles that dare to try things that are different and StarCrossed absolutely tackles that challenge head-on. While there are numerous co-op shooters on the system, what you haven’t seen before is one that mechanically works a bit like Pong in terms of the weapon that you and your partner essentially share. You’ll knock a star back and forth between you that will hit and destroy enemies, and this makes the game all about positioning, both of you dodging enemy fire, and trying to be efficient in helping each other out and knocking out enemies. The downside is in battles like the boss fights or even random stages you really are going to need 2 people reasonably matched in terms of ability, your fates are tied together and if one of you isn’t too hot at dodging when it gets into bullet hell territory you’re bound for frustration. These same situations also, unfortunately, make tackling it solo a stretch. You can reasonably survive most waves, perhaps with a continue here or there, on your own doing the left/right thing. However, once the intensity goes up imagine trying to control 2 independent ships and dodge bullets with both at the same time. Maybe if you’re able to double up and keep your focus in the same place you could at least only need to focus on keeping your thumbs in synch but out in space dodging with both effectively? I don’t doubt it can be done but that’s a tough road to go down so the recommendation here is highly dependent on who you’re able to play with or how proficient at dodging you really think you are.

Gun Crazy - I’m all about run-n-gun shooters that play with intensity, and if you can get one on a budget all the better. In principle Gun Crazy has some pieces of the puzzle, with a pretty cute look, some nice weapons to work with, and quite a bit of crazy that gets going. The problem? When it comes to in-game insanity there can be too much of a “good thing” and Gun Crazy has that in spades. It starts out pretty promising as you get your legs under you but once the fecal matter hits the rotating blades it actually starts getting to be hard to follow, and in general not for a good reason even. Specifically I have an issue with how large the coins are that you collect and how they move around before getting to you. I suppose it’s a cool effect perhaps but they outright obscure the action and that just makes little to no sense since you’re collecting them and how visually has no real bearing on things. On a budget it’s not bad but it makes some odd choices and that holds it back.