Thursday, July 9

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

CrossCode - There’s always a risk with games that get hyped up in advance of you getting to experience them. CrossCode is a title I’ve been hearing about for quite some time from friends and in the gaming press, and the general consensus has been unanimously positive. With that in mind, and with a bit of nostalgia for the original Secret of Mana in tow, I set out to discover what I hoped would be a new undisputed indie champion. While there’s no denying that the game’s artwork evokes that classic 16-bit Square feel and the general combat shares some of the same beats, from experience I’d say if you’re going to take the CrossCode plunge it’s best to not reflect too heavily on the classic titles the game is trying to emulate for fear of some disappointment.

Where CrossCode excels is in its scope and ambition. The game world is large, relatively varied, and absolutely crawling with people moving around (the game world is set in an MMO so this makes perfect sense) so it all feels pretty alive. Combat is roughly in the middle of the road, certainly delivering on some intensity and the option to focus on ranged or melee combat, but on the whole lacking in real variety even as you play with your Circuit points and try different builds. Puzzles are also a mix of good and bad, and in effect they’re everywhere. The ones involving crystals you’ll need to hit are smart and a bit reminiscent of Zelda, so those are generally positive. Less endearing are any that involve making jumps between platforms of different heights. It being a 2D game and there being a very poor sense of depth in many cases these segments, more often than not, felt like a real waste of time as too often you’ll need to work them out by trial and error since visually things can be ambiguous at best. When it comes to the economy, equipment, and trading, honestly the less I say the better because truly it is an over-cumbersome hot mess and a waste of time. Going from vendor to vendor to convert A and B to C, which you can then combine with F from combining D and E from another vendor, to finally create G… it quickly gets annoying. The sheer volume of quests you can go on, but that generally aren’t in any way distinct or interesting aside from kill this or get that (with very little veneer of purpose to go along with them), also fall a bit into the “kitchen sink” category for me. If your goal is to get the most game out of your investment, CrossCode absolutely delivers in that regard, but I’d say the more people hold it up against the 16-bit classics it was obviously inspired by the worse it plays out by comparison.

A physical boxed version of the game can be ordered as well at:

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town - When you’re making a new iteration of a revered and classic series I don’t doubt the greatest concern lies in how great a risk you’re willing to take in changing things. The wider the audience and probably the more casual the series happens to be the higher the stakes are if you make some tweak that doesn’t end up working out. I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons demonstrates where generally keeping things the same, but then making a few key changes for the better, both plays it safe and innovates effectively. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, feels like it chose the easier and “safer” path. Generally serving up precisely what its fans expect, complete with a great (and cute) visual overhaul, Friends of Mineral Town is undoubtedly a terrific farm/cultivation RPG… but there’s no mistaking that the experience is also extremely familiar, perhaps to the point of detriment depending on your tastes. You’ll be able to farm, fish, mine, explore, attend special events, and develop relationships with your fellow townsfolk… but aside from the obvious improvement in visuals the game also feels a bit stuck in a time warp. Fans of the series, and even converts from other titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, will likely find plenty to enjoy here if you’re looking for the repetition and relaxing pace of the farming sim life. Just where I think the aforementioned games generally feel a bit more modern and refined this feels incredibly safe, for better or worse.

Keen: One Girl Army - With a cute overall look and a lead character who is full of attitude and spunk, Keen works to stand out as more than a generic puzzle game, and in general in that area it succeeds. There’s a degree of polish and care in the presentation and genuine sense of humor it has that are endearing. Of course, being a puzzle game, the question is then how well it executes in that crucial area. On the whole the news here is good as well, the mechanics are ones we’ve seen before where you’ll move in a given direction until you either hit a wall or an enemy, and this sets up a need to plan out your path in order to get to the exits or to try to find hidden secrets. In a bit of a twist the overworld map has a similar puzzle element to it as well, with you needing to navigate to different exits and sometimes revisiting the same room more than once from different starting points in order to get to everything. I do wish that there weren’t situations where no matter what I do I will take a hit and lose some health, there’s just something in principle about that I’m not a fan of, but in general once you get used to the rules for how and when you’ll be attacked and when you won’t they do make sense. Against the few titles with similar mechanics already on Switch I still think I’d give Slayaway Camp the edge overall but this is still worthy of attention for puzzle fans.

Superliminal - With a pretty fresh take on first-person puzzling Superliminal definitely has its moments where the perspective and size shifting mechanics that serve as its core shine. Creativity and the ability to see an opportunity and then run with it are essential to success here, though sometimes simple observation and taking the time to see everything in the environment before rushing to solve the problem are an underappreciated necessity. Where the game loses its footing at times are some puzzles where either the lighting or general layout of the area can make depth perception and understanding where the object in your focus is (helping to make you understand whether it is close and large or far and smaller) difficult, and certainly the controls are a bit cumbersome when it comes to manipulating them to get them arranged how you need them to solve a given puzzle. A treat that it has to help compensate for its shortcomings is an essence of making you feel like you’re subverting the design at times, finding areas or solutions that aren’t intended, but looking too hard for those can also burn time on nothing if you’re looking too hard for those opportunities. Overall, it’s a clever idea implemented well enough to be engaging, but not without some flaws.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise - The original Deadly Premonition was a polarizing title to say the least, some people really loved the quirk and utter weirdness of the characters and overall design (willing to overlook its technical shortcomings) but if you weren’t in that camp there was generally negativity instead. I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise that this sequel leans heavily in the same direction in all regards, some of them unfortunate, but the second time around what felt freshly weird also now doesn’t have the same charm, sinking the experience a bit. Right away I’d say devoting roughly the first hour to a slow dialogue-heavy interrogation that does somewhat get people up to speed with what’s going on, but could have been accomplished with a 5 - 10 minute montage felt incredibly indulgent and quickly drove my enthusiasm down. But once you’re finally able to explore things don’t get too much better, the environments feel sparse, underpopulated, and empty even compared to the original. Worse, the performance issues and jank have also seemed to come along for the ride. If you’re a fan of the original or have a tolerance for technical shortcomings in the hopes of a and funky wild ride perhaps it may be worthwhile, but for everyone else it’ll be a pretty firm pass.