Thursday, July 2

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

Biped [Nindie Choice!] - I first encountered Biped at PAX East, repeatedly walking by the booth on the way to other appointments and seeing small crowds forming and having a great time. Later, when I finally got to take it for a spin with one of the reps on-hand at the booth I could see why. For a game featuring two robots as the protagonists there’s somehow something very cute and endearing about their look, mannerisms, and the way they scoot around. By contrast, at least in the time I got with the title, I was a bit taken aback by how tricky the experience could be. Now, having played the final product the good news is that some of what I’d faced was from later in the experience and though there’s no doubt Biped won’t be a cakewalk for anyone it consistently manages to be surprising with smart level design, generally superb controls, and just enough variety in its relatively short duration to keep you engaged. I think the best feature it has is that while typically co-op games struggle to provide a solid experience if you have to play them solo, in general Biped does such a great job at it that you could assume it isn’t necessarily meant to be a co-op game. There’s no doubt that in some circumstances the controls, where you use each joystick to carefully move either leg, can be a bit touchy but with so much precision required in some puzzles you’ll work through that’s not necessarily a surprise. Regardless, whether solo or co-op Biped is easily one of the best action puzzlers of the year on the Switch… just be ready for some challenges (which is a good thing).

Night Call - Games that hang their hats on their narratives more than “play” in a traditional sense are an interesting lot. Ranging from outright visual novels to experiences with varying degrees of interactivity, at their base they can vary quite a bit of variety. Of course, the topics and themes of these games also then run the gamut from outright silly to strange to traditional to perhaps a bit on the pervy side. One aspect of Night Call that works is that its setting and storyline are quite distinct, with you playing the part of a cab driver in Paris who (with some urgency) is attempting to help stop a serial killer… mainly because you narrowly avoided death at their hands already and don’t want to somehow have the authorities decide you’re the killer instead. What follows is a bit of an interesting journey, with you deciding which fares to pick up and then working your gift for gab to try to tease out info from your fares in the hope of helping in your investigation. For the most part the stories are interesting and vary, but where things fall apart is how picky the game is about how you decide on and handle your fares. While it does make sense in the context of the game that this system would be in place it really detracts from simply engaging in the conversations and getting the info you’ll need bit by bit. The result is a collection of stories I found engaging but they’re a bit obscured by a time management system that holds the game back more than elevating it.

Grimshade - Now that the Switch has really put together quite an impressive line-up of RPGs, whether AAA or indie, traditional turn-based or tactical, making a big splash in the space is getting tough. With an introduction that tries to walk you through its various systems, introduce you to the world, and entertain at the same time Grimshade feels unsteady even out of the gate and never quite hits its stride. The balance of keeping combat from dragging, making battles often enough without being too frequent, and moving the story along at a pace that keeps you engaged just isn’t quite there and it just drags in spots. While it has a nice look, a reasonably good story, and a battle system with some tactics but not going overboard either in light of its competition it just can’t seem to break out of its somewhat generic box.

Indiecalypse - Moreso than most games I’ve played on the Switch I see Indiecalypse as a love/hate proposition. On the one hand you could view it as a walk through a pretty ridiculous and sometimes gross and/or profane story complete with a number of mini game sequences that celebrate a pretty wide number of classic video games. On the other you could view it as a somewhat crass and juvenile story propped up by some poorly-implemented mini games that are just enough like classics that the hope is your sense of nostalgia will help you overlook their shortcomings. Sadly, even if you’re determined to give it the benefit of the doubt the truth is the mini games are hit and miss and some made me  struggle mightily to want to keep going. Throw in an issue where it only saves at each new chapter and not after you complete each mini game (with no provision for a manual save) and you may find yourself forced retread content that wasn’t great the first time again due to a pretty horrendous design flaw. The art and attitude of Indiecalypse were fun and at first it sucked me in, but the more poorly implemented  games that had the likeness of a classic game slapped onto them that I encountered the more my attitude towards the experience cooled.

The Otterman Empire - There’s a weird sort of effect where when you see a promo for a game you envision a certain type of play, and when the style doesn’t fit your concept it can be disappointing. When I first saw the news for The Otterman Empire I envisioned a sort of jetpack-driven shooter adventure with plenty of cute but challenging enemies to take on. Well, it really isn’t that, it is instead ideally a multiplayer game where you and friends will take each other in a variety of scenarios, some more geared towards straight shooting and others with a bit of a more strategic bent. Playing solo you can manage, and you’ll be able to unlock new characters and cosmetics, but the main event is group play. Unfortunately, whether it’s the controls that can feel a little unresponsive (the double-tap to roll requires a very fast tap, surprisingly so against the norm) or just what feels like a lack of chemistry in the big picture of the gameplay it just never quite feels like it comes together to be compelling. To its credit there really aren’t games of this kind that would make for competition on the eShop, but unless you’re truly looking for this sort of experience (and maybe playing as a family since that could diminish the expectations for something more exciting) it probably won’t satisfy.