Tuesday, July 14

Mini Reviews: July 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Neon Abyss [Nindie Choice!] - While it’s still what I’d consider a niche genre overall roguelike shooters are one of those that I practically consider sacred. While I’ve played and enjoyed a great number of them there are probably only 3 I’d say are pillars of sorts in the genre: The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and Enter the Gungeon. While all of them play differently the one thing they have in common is their top-down perspective. I’ve seen attempts at side-scrolling roguelikes before, but none of them has really stepped up to the level of the greats… until now. Neon Abyss is the game-changing and genre-defining side-scrolling roguelike shooter you’ve been waiting for, it’s simple as that. For comparison purposes I’d say the game it shares the most with conceptually would be Isaac, and that’s because it pushes much more heavily into the potential for craziness and diversity in every single run. Rather than the focus being on weapons, though it certainly has some very creative ones, Abyss is much more about the absolutely dizzying number of items and how putting them together in different combinations can produce some radically-different results. While there are opportunities to make some choices, for the most part every time you enter the Abyss you’re on a runaway train of craziness and your only choice is to try to make the most of it. One run may be pet-heavy, in another you’ll be able to fly, some will give you devastating firepower, but no matter how geared up you may feel the fickle RNG gods can still take it away.

Moreso than any game in the genre outside of Isaac risk versus reward is a constant battle here. You’ll generally have a limited number of coins, grenades, keys, eggs, pets, hearts, and shields and depending on your run any of them could be more scarce or vital to your success. All of these variables can certainly make for some frustration, but the great news is that aside from there being an ability to go with Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty as you play more and have more successes you’ll also be able to unlock even more gear, characters, special rooms, and even more that will help to keep the experience evolving and getting even more unpredictable. Now, at least for launch I would be remiss not to mention the game can have problems with some bosses and circumstances with slowdown, and when it kicks in it can be a slideshow. The good news is that even with as much insanity on the screen as there can be on an ongoing basis these stutters are only temporary in nature, so hopefully a patch will help clean them up. Even with these issues though, Neon Abyss is an absolute blast to play. You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, you’ll cackle with glee as you put together an arsenal that melts an entire room of enemies in seconds. If you’re a fan of shooters I consider this an absolute must-play (and hey, there’s a demo too), but even for more mainstream gamers if you’ve ever considered trying out a roguelike shooter this is absolutely one of the best options out there.

#Funtime [Nindie Choice!] - When it comes to arcade-style twin-stick shooters one name pretty well everyone is familiar with is Geometry Wars (how is there STILL no version of it on Switch?!?!). While there have no doubt been a variety of games that have aped its visual style in some way to varying degrees none have managed to capture the speed, intensity, and quality of its core gameplay. Finally, in the case of the aptly-named #Funtime someone has managed to not only create a play experience worthy of the comparison, but it does it using its own sense of flair and rules that distinguish itself. Orienting yourself with some of the game’s mechanics, specifically its effective but (at first) hard to master color-changing system, is best done in Challenge Mode where you’ll be put through a gauntlet of scenarios that will test different skills and gradually pressing you to do and understand more. From there you can generally tackle whatever suits you best, whether going for straight-up Arcade play, Survival, a challenging Escape variant, or the signature #Funtime mode where they pull out all the stops at once for an intense challenge. I’m torn on the progressive upgrades you can get, mainly because they undermine my classic arcade high score purist sensibilities, but if you’ve been itching for arcade intensity mixed with some great new ideas #Funtime fully lives up to its name.

Void Terrarium - As bleak as the core premise may be in Void Terrarium, with you playing as a small robot trying to save a lone human girl in what appears to be the post-Apocalypse, you can’t help but be charmed by how darned cute it is. The game is an odd bird, no doubt, mixing the pretty soft and cute main art style with what can be pretty punishing roguelike dungeon crawling play as the game progresses. Your goal is to go out on runs to collect supplies and upgrade yourself as you try to get everything you need to restore this girl to health. As is often the case with roguelikes and Mystery Dungeon-style crawling there’s quite a bit of repetition and grinding here as you go on, though careful play and some luck can help you get through more quickly. I’d say moreso than the gameplay loop, which can be satisfying for people don’t mind the grind, the real driver here is the story revolving around the girl you’re trying to save and the slow rebuilding of some hope for the decimated world you find yourself exploring.

1993 Shenandoah - As a huge shooter fan in general I’m pleased that the Switch has a true abundance of riches when it comes to the genre. What it means for anyone with a game trying to break in for some success in the eShop though is that it’s an uphill battle. Coming in from the old school on a budget angle, 1993 Shenandoah doesn’t break much ground, but I’ll at least give it credit for implementing its upgrades in a different way that helps it to feel a little different than its competitors. The shooting itself is traditional and perhaps even generic for the most part, but as you accumulate money you’ll be able to spice things up and make yourself more survivable by hand-choosing your gear and even your ship. Once you move up to the better tier of craft having 4 slots to work with means you can set up a pretty dominating ship, decked out with anything from split shots, homing missiles, bombs, and just about any kind of power-up you can imagine represented. It’s really the customization that makes the game notable, even if the challenges you’ll face aren’t quite as interesting considering your host of options on the system.

Creepy Tale - When LIMBO made its debut on the indie gaming scene it really made a splash, not just with its dark themes and creepy art, but also its take on an adventure full of pretty creative and challenging puzzling. Of course success is certain to breed imitation and loading up Creepy Tale, though its art style is quite different, you immediately get that feeling of the macabre as you try to make progress through a variety of perilous environments. Through trial and error and some creativity most puzzles can be solved, though in some cases I hit the scenario where I’d think I had the proper solution (it wasn’t) but because it seemed like I was close to correct I’d keep trying variations on that scheme before finally giving up and trying something else. Moreso than usual I’d say the required accurate is high while at times your actions feel a bit fiddly and imprecise. If you have patience you’ll be rewarded but I wouldn’t say this game does much to distinguish itself from its competition on the platform.