Sunday, August 30

Mini Reviews: August 31st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Spiritfarer [Nindie Choice!] - While many gamers enjoy blowing away enemies, racing through hairpin turns, or guiding their team to victory there’s a growing contingent of gamers who either prefer or enjoy more soothing experiences. While there are a few notable titles in this space already on Switch none are quite like Spiritfarer, which combines exploration at sea with a variety of building and cultivation elements, a wide assortment of charming characters, and a generally gentle hand providing direction but placing no urgent demands on how you wish to play. You’ve been tasked with taking the responsibility of ferrying the dead to the afterlife from Charon himself, and most of your adventure will involve you putting together a ship worthy of the important task of making the final journey of the souls you help as pleasant as possible. Doing that will require quite an investment in crafting, cultivation, trading, and building relationships with the people you meet. It’s interesting how many of your activities are turned into sort of mini games, helping to at least give some of your repetitive tasks a little flavor and keeping you engaged throughout. While over the course of the pretty long journey there’s a tendency to fall into quite a bit of repetition if you’ve been looking for a meaningful journey without the pressures of your typical title this is likely an ideal fit.

Windbound [Nindie Choice!] - Starting out with an admission I’ll say that, in general, I’m not typically an automatic fan of survival games. Too often their crafting systems, to me, feel clumsy or contrived to waste your time searching for particular resources and it can bog the experience down. Where I find Windbound to be a pleasant surprise is that for whatever reason this world, and what you need to do to survive, feels relatively intuitive and even natural. You’ll struggle with scarcity in places but for the most part the challenge is in crafting your primitive weapons and materials and understanding that in order to progress you’ll need to be ambitious and use some smarts to take down native animals in order to then be able to craft better materials and so on. This makes for tense moments, to be sure, and it’s precisely those very moments when you’re facing down a hulking beast or braving a new island with potential challenges that you feel like you’re truly in a fight to survive. The mix of exploration, discovery, and fighting to survive can require some patience, experimentation, and perseverance but in general I found the payoffs along the way to be well worth it. The result I find to be somewhere between the classic Legend of Zelda Wind Waker and a survival game, and while the balance may not be for everyone I think it is a solid effort worth checking out.

Street Power Soccer - The NBA franchise is among my favorite in sports and I’m not alone in that opinion. Since it has been quite some time since there’s been a new release of it (and there’s no way to play it on Switch) other players have had to step up to the challenge and while there have been a few games that have tried (and unfortunately generally failed), nobody seems to have been able to capture the essence that made it so special. Street Power Soccer, in principle, is an attempt to adopt that style of play to the sport of soccer, which is an interesting idea, but it struggles with its kitchen sink approach and unfortunately commits a stylish own goal. Working with and capturing the impressive moves of a very wide variety of notable athletes from around the world does provide a visually-impressive foundation to work with. This is best seen in the Freestyle mode, which plays a bit like a rhythm game with you initiating moves and then executing the associated beats or balancing to pull them off. While it’s a creative approach the issue is really how muddy the control feels here compared to the game’s desired precision in simply choosing your next move. The result is just cumbersome and a bit off-putting. The Trick Shot mode is next up with a sports variation on the old physics games where you control the angle and power of your kick and try to hit various objects. This works well enough but there are sometimes objectives to be met that the game explains very poorly, resulting in confusion over what precisely you’re supposed to be doing. There are multiple modes then that capture more of the NBA Jam experience and ideally this would be what drives it all home, replacing the basketball action with soccer… and having each player’s many impressive moves bringing home the flair. Unfortunately, if anything these matches are a bit too light on strategy and meaningful defense so while it looks pretty cool for a bit it doesn’t do well in terms of longevity. If you’re a massive soccer fan and some of the talent who helped with the game’s motion capture are your heroes it’s probably worth picking up to enjoy for that aspect of things but if you’re just a straight-up sports fan looking for a Jam-like experience this just doesn’t quite deliver on that promise.

Best Friend Forever - Since both dating sims and pet sims can be a little light in overall gameplay the concept of combining them makes quite a bit of sense. The pets help make things a bit more cute and provide ongoing distractions and mini games, and the dating aspect helps to make the experience more engaging as you encounter a variety of different people and get to know both them and their stories. Probably the greatest strength Best Friend Forever has is that personality, and the fact that the people you’re meeting are definitely the most diverse and likely the most “real” I’ve ever run into. Rather than it being a bunch of archetypal one-dimensional personalities wrapped in the bodies of supermodels the people you meet here are quirky, have their flaws, and exhibit a wide variety of body types which really helps them feel more like people. Now, granted, the day to day tasks and care for your pup get to be a grind that doesn’t feel rewarding as you go on but hey, of your pup is a great ice breaker and helps you meet people and have an occasional excuse as you interact with them they at least play the part of your wingman (or woman) well.

Alphaset by POWGI - This new entry in the collection of fresh (though minimalist) word puzzle games visually implies one thing but plays very differently. With the appearance of a crossword puzzle you could rightly assume there being some element of that traditional game at play, but you’d be wrong. The words and their connections are only incidental and for aesthetics really, your challenge is to methodically fill in the proper letters to complete each word. Where it gets tricky is that your pool of letters only allows you to use each one once, so if you want to avoid ripping out your hair you’ll want a solid process for working through more complex and specific words and leaving ones with many possibilities alone for as long as possible. This undoubtedly will make you flex your on-demand vocabulary as you ponder all possibilities so if you’re a real word puzzle buff this may be a welcome challenge.

Friday, August 28

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

Nexomon: Extinction [Nindie Choice] - While there have been a few stabs at taking on Game Freak and the Big N’s mega-franchise they’ve tended to be at the higher-dollar level with other big companies trying to jumpstart their own franchises-to-be with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. I’d say some have fared better than others in that space but none has had anywhere near the sheer longevity of Pokemon. Finally, with Nexomon: Extinction, we’re seeing an upstart indie take it on and deliver it to market at a very modest $20 price point. How does it stack up? Well, if you’re expecting the bells and whistles to make it more akin to the current generation games you’ll find it lacking, but if perhaps you’re a lapsed fan who has walked away for a few years or just prefer the classic era of Poke-titles I’d say you’re in for a real treat. Granted, there’s no mistaking the degree the overall concept, progression, and feel of the combat are heavily borrowed but to its credit Nexomon at least flexes its muscles in enough places that it distinguishes itself. In particular I really enjoyed the curveballs in the story, the often highly self-aware sense of humor, and just the general flow and feel of the dialogue that makes up the connective tissue between battling, capturing, and cultivating your team. If you’ve ever been a Poke-fan or perhaps were always nervous to spend the cash to take the plunge for the first time, Nexomon is a satisfying and well-made indie-fied version of the franchise that’s worth checking out.

Jenny LeClue: Detectivu [Nindie Choice] - One of the more overall neglected flavors on the Switch has been single-player experiences I would consider to be both appropriate for people of all ages as well as accessible. In addition, while female leads have become far more common in the past decade young women are generally more neglected. Enter the bright, quick-witted, and sassy Jenny LeClue, a young detective who it seems can turn just about any situation into an opportunity to investigate. The conceit of the story is that she’s a literary character who has had her time in the limelight but whose author is being pressured to do something radical with, in order to boost flagging interest. What follows is a wonderful, and sometimes unpredictable, adventure that you’ll have periodic opportunities to at least influence a little while solving a variety of puzzles. It’s smart, has a terrific lead character, and should be a good time for all ages.

Through the Darkest of Times [Nindie Choice] - While games are a great vehicle for departing from reality and enjoying an escape they’ve increasingly been used as a means to put players in sometimes uncomfortable situations in order to convey ideas and foster greater understanding. Through the Darkest of Times does just that, putting you in the position of leading a group of rebels during the rise of Nazi Germany, challenging you to handle both the minutia of everyday tasks but then also often making the tougher calls involving who you choose to trust and what courses you may choose to pursue, and they often can have grave consequences. The difficulty is that as you play you’ll learn that simply trying to avoid risk won’t tend to be sustainable as you’ll lose the morale of your team and the safety net of your supporters, this means that caution always needs to be balanced by a degree of aggression, though choosing your battles and areas of focus is always worthwhile. In particular each member of your team has their own background, strengths, and weaknesses, and as you get into tougher situations you’ll need to be mindful of who you’re sending where in order to maximize your results. Of course all of the missions are interspersed with personal stories from your team members as well as encounters you’ll have yourself that will challenge your morality and whether you may need to endure one bad outcome in the name of preserving your overall mission. It’s a very unique experience and one that will leave you to ponder life in that place in that time… and hopefully provide perspective on how things have changed as well as how some remain disturbingly the same.

Gleamlight - Gleamlight is one of those titles that visually sucks you in pretty easily. The sort of stained glass quality to elements of the environment mixed with the whimsical nature of your character and many of the creatures is easy to get into. That said, lacking in a story or much direction the enjoyment sort of stays at that surface level, with little to keep you engaged. Sure, the action platforming action is at least adequate (if a little wonky in spots and generic) for getting some enjoyment but there’s just nothing here that jumps out as particularly special. If you enjoy the visuals and are just looking for a decent platformer with a minimal move set (which doesn’t help with it only feeling average) it may not be a bad choice but there are plenty of arguably better platformers of all price ranges on the system already.

Niche - While I always love and appreciate the efforts of developers that experiment in generally unexplored experiences there’s no mistaking the risks involved with doing so. In principle Niche sounds quite interesting, a survival title where you’re tasked with guiding the actions and ideally the successful generational progress of a species. Since I was a fan of somewhat similar titles like Spore and Creatures in the past this drew me in a bit, but unfortunately with the more strategic and turn-based nature of the game instead of something with a little more action and interaction the critters you’re in control of here lack the personality and then ultimately the connection that could make the aforementioned titles pretty special. You’ll just be trying your best to leverage what you have working for you while compensating for weaknesses, either in the form of using the right members of your pack for the job (when you’re able to) or trying your best to guide the development of the species through the mutations you have some control over in successive generations. It’s an interesting idea but it will likely only appeal to hardcore fans who don’t mind the slow pace and somewhat inherent repetition of trying to survive.

Wednesday, August 26

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

Evergate [Nindie Choice] -
I’d consider Evergate one of those sneaky indies that has a look that gives one impression but whose level of challenge and action move in a very different direction. Your reasonably cute character won’t be casually exploring and completing stages at their leisure, this is a strap in and get ready to push yourself experience pretty well from the get-go that will have you gritting your teeth and working on your timing and accuracy just to complete some levels, let alone grab every spirit orb or manage to also complete the course very quickly. To its credit, in each successive area you unlock new wrinkles will be added to the mix to increase the complexity of your runs and force you to experiment to uncover the optimum path in each stage, the trick will then be executing that plan. Layering on top of that as you collect more orbs and progress you’ll also unlock access to new perks and abilities that will range from convenient to outright crucial in choosing which ones to use on more challenging stages. While the controls make sense and do work I can’t say they feel particularly natural, you more just get used to them with practice. It’s not a killer of a problem, but the scheme did strike me as unusual and perhaps even a bit awkward given the intensity of play… you just hate to feel like you messed up because your fingers were in knots. If you’re a fan of challenging platforming this will hook you up nicely.

No Straight Roads - Brash, rebellious, and certainly a bit silly, the two members of the band Bunk Bed Junction you take control of in No Straight Roads, Mayday and Zuke, are die hard rock musicians determined to help it come back to prominence in a world dominated by EDM and the crushing control of NSR and its collective of superstars. When you’re taking on one of those stars in the game’s many boss battles is when the game shines brightest, emphasizing their very different personalities and requiring fresh approaches to success. It’s unfortunately the connective zones where the sometimes-wonky platforming as you explore the city or take on more generic mobs will likely chip away at your enthusiasm. Between the camera that you’re unable to get to a high enough angle to assist in effective platforming and too frequent problems with clipping or simply having strange issues in some areas with making what would seem to be simple jumps it makes for a bit of a roller coaster ride. Another oddity is that while music is certainly central to the game in the early going it feels like it wants rhythm to be a core part of the experience but when you’re in the thick of things more generic enemies may adhere to a beat but not in a way that feels carefully planned. It doesn’t detract greatly from the experience but it does seem like an area of neglect. Once you’ve gotten to the latest boss the game’s personality and sense of fun take the wheel and offer up challenging fun, but there’s no denying that most everything else feels like it could have used more polish and refinement. 

Hypnospace Outlaw - Games like this one are a challenge to review since they’re so consumed with satisfying a central hook that they risk your enjoyment on whether it may appeal to any given gamer. If you’re like me and grew up in the frontier days of the web, listening to the screeches of your modem connecting and waiting a few minutes at times just to download a simple image, you’re squarely in Outlaw’s sights as a potential fan. The game’s very authentically recreated backdrop of the early web, complete with the under construction signs, dead ends, and bad music and stock images, is what will either drive you to keep going or roll your eyes right out of the gate. Your goal is to work as a sort of virtual deputy, scouring the many pages of the mundane, silly, and outright weird for violations of various kinds in pursuit of advancing the general story. As has always been the case, most of what’s out there are rabbit holes, and if you’re less interested in reaching the finish line than just basking in the absurdity of what the old school internet had to offer you’re far more likely to enjoy yourself. Since there’s a demo available I’d definitely recommend giving it a spin first to see if you’re in on the joke or not. I can’t help but see it as being a very polarizing experience dependent on your exposure to and love for those early days.

Giraffe and Annika -There’s nothing quite like a good exploration / adventure title for a few hours of enjoyment and discovery, and for the most part that’s where Giraffe and Annika delivers. With its great art style and pretty laid back characters and atmosphere though initially you may struggle to orient yourself and figure out what exactly you should be doing once you get rolling things come together. Where the game is a bit odd is when you encounter periodic boss battles of sorts and the game, pretty well out of nowhere, shifts to having a rhythm sort of mini game you’ll need to complete to defeat them. I’m all for a good rhythm game and certainly livening things up over the normally non-combative and more exploratory play where your focus is on avoiding enemies it’s appreciated. Just I wish since this element was included that it wasn’t quite so ho-hum and perhaps a little wonky. The result is a lot of exploration and discovery mixed with battles that kind of fizzle. It’s still a reasonably good experience but it’s hard to recommend with enthusiasm.

One Line Coloring - There’s something great about game titles that pretty well sum up their experience clearly with their title. One Line Coloring absolutely delivers on that promise, though this isn’t a casual game for the kiddos so much as a puzzle game with simple aesthetics and the challenge of completing each line segment continuously with a single line without ever “picking up your pen”. Even on normal puzzles at times this can be tougher than it sounds and when you add in special challenges layered in like one-way segments the difficulty can be a bit all over the place but it’s a generally pleasant and satisfying way to spend some time if you enjoy these sorts of puzzles.

Sunday, August 23

Mini Reviews: August 24th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Manifold Garden - Part of my love for indies is that the best of them dare to be different and then unapologetically deliver something new that challenges and defies your normal expectations. Mixing together puzzles, platforming, a fascinating limited color art palette with mostly plain environments accented by splashes of color, and a somewhat mind-bending mix of reorienting gravity as well as environments that are infinite… it’s a lot to take in. One issue I’ll warn people of, as it took me a little while to get over it, is a potential for feeling a little sick playing as you stand on the edge of what feels like long falls but then sometimes jump off in order to fall and land on a platform a little further away. I got more used to it as I went but at first it was tough on my senses. If that doesn’t phase you I think then enjoyment will hinge on your love for the unexpected in terms of overall audio and visual experience versus the unexpected in terms of gameplay. The real winners here are the games sights and sounds, and really your completion of the sometimes outright tricky puzzle elements is going to be driven by seeing what’s next, not so much looking forward to having to complete more puzzles that are similarly constructed. There’s no doubt it’ll be a game many people talk about with reverence, but I think from person to person enjoyment will be about what you’re personally looking for in your game, I’m not sure the appeal of Manifold Garden will be universal.

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time - Boy are licensed games a tough one, especially when the attempt to bring solid production values to them is there with the right voice cast and a desire to honor the essence of the original material. Though perhaps the move from 2D animation to 3D isn’t quite ideal in all cases Battle Through Time does seem to have an essence of the cartoon about it, especially since this is a hacking and slashing action adventure of sorts… it would seem to be a home run. Well, yes and no. It does deliver a good time and the variety in the boss battles, in particular, typically delivers the goods. To a fair degree there are sections of the connective platforming and mowing through mobs in between that also have a good feel to them, but unfortunately it falls into being a bit stale and repetitive the further you go. Yes, you can customize your skills and go with what weapons and combat style suits you, which is a nice touch, but outside of the boss battles it tends to get a bit mechanical as you move around, hit a spot where you’re attacked, defeat a bunch of foes that only have a handful of varieties, and then lather, rinse, and repeat until the next big fight. It’s not a bad game by any means but the premium cost of the license may bump it out of being a great buy for anyone beyond hardcore fans, for everyone else it would probably be a better game to grab on sale.

Even the Ocean - This is one of those titles where I’m torn. It’s pretty easy on the budget and though it has a pretty simple overall pixel art look it’s still attractive, has a reasonable amount of length to it, and has conceptually interesting puzzle platforming. You’ll do some exploring, visit some unexpected environs, and there’s an attempt at character development that may not fully work but you can sense some effort. That said, I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about it either particularly, it’s just a pretty good puzzle platforming adventure that throws in some added value to show ambition and a desire to stand out from the crowd. If this sounds like something you’re game to explore you should at least have a reasonably good time with it.

Peaky Blinders: Mastermind - While I’ve heard of the series I’ve never seen Peaky Blinders, and in general it seems like a curious choice for a license since I know maybe only one or two people familiar with it. Still, I suppose the period setting in the past has a certain appeal. So, in terms of gameplay this is an interesting riff on a real-time strategy game, where you’ll control multiple characters in parallel… but only sort of. The way it works is you’ll be able to move one character at a time, switch to another, and then rewind time in order to coordinate movements and actions person by person. It’s an interesting dynamic that affords you some flexibility and room for being efficient, I just wish mechanically it felt a little more smooth at times, there are just some quirks with controlling things in the environment you need to get used to in order to be effective. At the core it really is all about time management, being efficient in your paths, and trying to keep people working in parallel as much as possible whenever you’re afforded the opportunity. I suppose for fans of the show the characters could add a little flair but in general I don’t think the license is used more deeply than some names and cosmetics, which I suppose keeps the unfamiliar from being lost but also makes it strange to go with one in the first place.

Runestone Keeper - OK, so there are a ton of roguelikes on Switch these days and they’re across a broad swath of game types, whether you’re into shooters, survival, or role-playing. So, in general the system has you covered if you enjoy the variety and challenge of this type of gaming. The pitfall, then, is when you bring a new offering to the system you really need to at least be bringing your B+ game to shine. Runestone Keeper, unfortunately, fails to do so and even on small fundamentals like Pro Controller support it disappointingly falls short. Even beyond that the fact that it is geared heavily toward mobile touchscreen play is telegraphed, not just in its functional feel but also its exceeding simplicity. If somehow you’re into casual-ish roguelikes that aren’t very complex or involved I suppose it could appeal to you but in general it just doesn’t feel like it can stand next to the majority of the Switch library in the same vein.

Thursday, August 20

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

Helheim Hassle [Nindie Choice!] - Where weird games are concerned I may be one of the subgenre’s biggest fans. Granted, the style of play in them varies wildly but if you’re bringing some laughs, plenty of WTF moments, and gameplay that deviates from the norm I’m typically down for it. Helheim Hassle really nails all of those critical areas with gusto, and the result is one of the most bizarre and creative action platformers I’ve ever played. You see, the hook in the game is that your character Bjørn is able to remove his limbs and as you gain the ability to completely disassemble yourself the weirdness and unique challenges of reconfiguring your various body parts to gain different benefits becomes clear. However, it isn’t just the silliness of moving around as two arms and a head or any number of other combinations that works, it’s the planning and execution behind the puzzles that will test you with the need to pick the right limbs for the right reasons. You may need to trigger a lever that’s hidden away but you’ll need to trigger a platform, make a quick jump, be able to talk to someone, and then be sure once you get there that you still have an arm to work with. Doing that can actually get to be a bit of an undertaking in places and experimentation is definitely the key to success. Pair those smart and creative mechanics with an absolutely bizarre sense of humor, and legitimately funny characters and dialogue I’d say are only rivaled by the likes of the (former) folks at Zoink Games, and you have one of my favorite games of a year where a good laugh is very much appreciated.

Cecconoid - Hey hey, I know there’s nothing quite as exciting as a great deal of a budget game so if that’s your bag you’ll want to get the scoop on Cocconoid. The first detail you’ll want to know is that it actually includes 2 very different games built on the same overall black and white aesthetic looks. The first is an interesting and challenging adventure shooter of sorts where you’ll need to solve puzzles, avoid destruction, and make your way carefully through a labyrinth of dangerous rooms. The second is a pretty blatant, but powerup-enabled, straight rip-off of the classic arcade Robotron, but it works so well you’re likely going to have a blast with it like I did. My biggest complaint is probably that what appears to be the single-pixel size of your projectiles, which makes them incredibly hard to see even in docked mode so sometimes it can be a challenge to really know where you’re shooting. That means in handheld mode you’d have to just tell by where things are blowing up, and that’s not ideal. The other is just that in the main game some of the rooms are pretty cheap with instant attacks in certain spots so you’ll need to remember them and endure having to start over at times for a pretty cheap reason, something I’m never really a fan of, but aside from those issues it’s a budget-friendly retro blast.

My Baby - Granted, this review is getting into the weeds of my likely audience but since I’m a believer in the Switch indie library making for a big tent I’ve taken on what’s essentially a baby version of a pet simulator like Nintendogs called, appropriately, My Baby. Now, being mindful that even the pretty well made and received series from Nintendo got into being repetitive relatively quickly you’ll need to walk into this expecting roughly the same sort of deal. You’ll be tasked with general care of your baby, providing food, a change, or some sort of stimulating excitement when it gets fussy. Mini games will allow you to interact with them in a variety of ways and being effective at them will also then help them developmentally and open up even more games and perks to explore. Certainly buying new outfits with money from the grandparents and dressing them up will likely be a hit as well. The game isn’t terribly deep but as a father of two daughters I’ll actually give it quite a bit of credit for getting many small details correct and actually being slyly informative in a way. Wiping from front to back is absolutely a must and the game makes sure you’ll take that sort of care. Your baby’s progress is even charted and shown on what looks like the standard growth chart, another nice touch. Yes, this is absolutely a niche title targeted at young girls but since I’ve watched my kids play some real stinkers over time it’s worth pointing out one that does an admirable job in a genre where people would likely buy the game regardless of its quality.

The Eternal Castle: Remastered - Working as a throwback to games from a much earlier era that were the first to dabble in a cinematic adventure experience The Eternal Castle will probably feel quite familiar to fans of the likes of Out of this World or even earlier fare like Prince of Persia. While for the sake of authenticity the game’s look is great the limited color palette, shading, and general design of some areas will unfortunately make determining what’s happening a bit of a muddy mess visually. To the game’s credit while the general adventuring beats feel very similar to other classics with a trial and error nature stacked on executing jumps and pivots effectively this also throws in what you’d consider to be boss battles every once in a while… though again making out the fine details of what’s happening and what you may need to do can be tricky and a bit aggravating. I appreciate titles like this that demonstrate what the industry has come from, and authenticity in that case is important, but at the same time a muddy sense of the action has only become more irritating over the years so this one can be hard to love.

Prehistoric Dude - OK, so here we have yet another budget platformer… there are a ton of them. What does Prehistoric Dude do in order to draw your eyes to it instead of the competition? Well, not all that much that truly excites. Sure, if you’re down with the overall cave man thing it could sound cool but your enemies aren’t hulking dinos or even modestly-sized ones. Instead you’ll mostly be dealing with (much) smaller scourges like bees and snails! OH MY GOD! Worse, you’re not able to even jump on them, you’ll need to waste thrown weapons on them, and since they’ll show up pretty randomly in brush it can be aggravating when your goal is to clear a room of enemies and stocking up is working against you. Throw in a pretty large map that you’ll spend a lot of time backtracking around to figure out where you can go next and it’s not a very exciting affair.

Monday, August 17

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

Volta-X - One of the most challenging types of indie games I run across are the ones I really admire for being daring, combining styles of play in unanticipated ways, and being unapologetic in their approach… but it doesn’t quite all come together. That’s very much the case with Volta-X, which mixes giant robots, some real-time-ish strategy, team and relationship building, base and resource management… a veritable kitchen sink of concepts, but then pairs them with some interfaces and menus that make them more difficult to navigate and keep up with than it should be. You’ll need to pretty carefully work out how best to utilize your team, upgrade their skills, keep working on new parts for your robot, keep an eye during battles on which areas need help and which of your crew may be on their last legs, work out how they’re spending their time back at base, be sure to navigate through the story screens to be sure you’ve gotten rewards and all tips for missions… do you get the idea that the game is simply a lot? Yeah, it is, and that’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand it really tries to give you a lot of bang and depth for your buck, you can chart a crazy number of paths to success and do things pretty well your way… but all of that flexibility can make decisions a bit bewildering to begin with, and then when you regularly notice you had some opportunity buried in a screen you could have pursued or made use of a battle or two ago it can be frustrating. If you’re up to the challenge and are out to enjoy a pretty wild ride of light strategy and resource building mixed with some tropey story beats and giant robot battles it can be a great time, just you may need to be patient with it and excuse its warts in a number of places.

Metamorphosis - One thing indie titles have excelled at is providing gamers with very new, and sometimes very weird, experiences… perhaps perfectly epitomized with something like Metamorphosis. Taking a page from Kafka, while the adventure seems to start out normally enough you’ll find your character quickly transformed into a bug, with you then needing to see through your relatively short journey from a far different perspective. Having played quite a number of titles from a small scale I’ll say that much of the time I don’t find it works terribly well but in this case I was actually pretty impressed with the relative scale of everything seeming to be consistent, the action platforming puzzles being pretty well-integrated, and the general experience being appropriately surreal if a bit silly in some ways. If you’re a platforming fan and would like to play a game that shakes things up quite a bit it should be well worth checking out.

King of Fighters R-2: Pocket Edition - While I wouldn’t consider the King of Fighters series one of my favorite (if nothing else it was hard to keep up with all of them) I have always appreciated its tight play, pretty vast roster, and overall great look. I was pleasantly surprised to then find that though obviously many compromises had to be made to compact the essence of its arcade experience into a handheld system with a limited color palette and a mere 2 buttons, somehow the people behind this port managed to do it quite well. It takes some getting used to how the characters' moves have been trimmed and adapted to this scheme but with a little experimentation I was able to feel quite comfortable playing through with multiple characters and each continued to feel distinctive. While there are other fighting games out there for Switch that may not be as compromised as this one since they weren’t originally made for a much less capable system fighting fans may still get a kick out of this one.

Bite the Bullet - Before I begin I’d like to thank and acknowledge all indie developers that take risks and provide us with new and unique challenges that don’t fit into any traditional molds. While these attempts don’t always work (at least the first time), they keep even the most established of genres fresh with new angles of attack and perspectives. Bite the Bullet absolutely drives home this spirit, throwing the ability to eat many of your enemies and a bunch of resulting new and unusual game mechanics into the tried and true run-n-gun style of play. Throw in skill trees that will give you bonuses and penalties for focusing your hunger on specific types of food, some risk and reward of having an overly fatty diet, and all sorts of strange food-related quirks and it can be varied fun. The problem, unfortunately, is that not all of the ideas are conveyed very well to the player, the core engine itself doesn’t feel quite as smooth and refined as you may expect, and the overall design feels limited with too much time spent in too many areas with enemies and design elements repeating themselves. It’s a valiant effort, and I applaud the attempt to shake up an aged genre in need of new ideas, but it may be hard for even genre fans to swallow.

Samurai Shodown! 2: Pocket Edition - The Samurai Shodown series has always been a bit of an outlier in the fighting game space, possessing a certain aesthetic and control style that set itself apart. Trying to compact everything about it into a handheld system, in this case originally the Neo-Geo Pocket, constrained to a limited screen, color palette, and only 2 buttons really demonstrates how much is lost in translation. The rich colors and visual style are muted and muddy, the controls can be worked out but end up losing their nuance and technique, and the result is just a shade of its proper self. Neo-Geo lovers or people who revere the series in all of its incarnations may want to take a look but otherwise this is a title that will likely disappoint.

Thursday, August 13

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

Faeria [Nindie Choice!] - Truth be told only recently have I been able to play deck-building games of any kind that I’ve found interesting. Usually the inclusion of roguelike elements is what hooks me but as some other strategy card games have come along they’ve begun deviating more and more from the traditional mold and that has made them more interesting. Faeria falls into that “more interesting” category for me by throwing an element of strategy into the mix with land management that adds a layer of complexity to the more traditional aspects of these card battlers. Now you can not only defeat your enemies through sheer force with a better deck (or perhaps some luck), you can outmaneuver them by controlling energy points and with some patience and planning even dodge or divide some of their defensive resources, leaving their hero vulnerable. My main complaint is that the console controls take some getting used to, and though they do ultimately make sense I do think they could have been handled more thoughtfully or at least initially explained better since the right trigger use in particular threw me off initially a few times. If you’re a deck building fan or just appreciate smartly-designed strategy games Faeria is absolutely worth a look and rises above the norm with some new ideas that really add depth to play.

Boomerang Fu - OK, so yeah, it’s another local multiplayer game. Normally that means my jaded family will take some time to check the game out but ultimately find that it doesn’t inspire much fun or excitement. While I wish overall there was more to Boomerang Fu in terms of content I can’t fault what it has going for it though. While it may seem like a very simple distinction (it is), the choice of everyone’s base weapon of choice being a boomerang turns out to make all the difference. While most local multiplayer titles end up with everyone either slashing or shooting each other the boomerang allows for both and since there’s only one throwing it can be a very strategic decision. Will you be able to quickly get it back if you miss? Even if you may kill your opponent will it being out of your hands leave you vulnerable to someone close by who may capitalize on you being distracted? Aside from the weaponry another aspect I appreciate is the variety in the arenas you’ll find yourself in, with some having elements you can trigger to cause some chaos and others having elements like ice to change things up. Throw in options for team play or everyone for themselves as well as a few rule tweak provisions and while there may not be a ton here to enjoy what there is turns out to be quite a bit of fun.

The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines - This is one of those titles that has me a bit torn. On the one hand the action adventure sort of style works, and since you continue to acquire weapons that work a little differently at a reasonable enough pace it keeps you from getting into too much of a rut overall. In addition, the time mechanic is useful and lends itself to smart use against bosses and tougher enemies. That said, there just feels like a lot of meandering around, facing enemies (which do vary from area to area a bit but are pretty generic-feeling), and hacking your way through in general. The weirdest thing is the sort of feast or famine nature of your health and healing. One moment you’ll be maxed out on health and meat for regenerating hearts and then very quickly the tides will turn and you can find yourself dead. If the majority of the game were somehow at a more optimum degree of challenge, not getting quite so dull, and then not spiking to challenging quite so suddenly, it may have been a more consistent experience.

Linn: Path of Orchards - Starting out with Linn was a bit of a challenge because based on its looks and other titles that I thought had a similar look I assumed it would be an active action puzzler with free control. Once I was able to break myself of the habit of trying to constantly control my character and instead bought into the need to be very contemplative with every move and action I took, I did come to appreciate this sort of distinctive puzzler. Each level has 3 objectives that, once you get rolling, you aren’t meant to complete all in one run. Focusing on grabbing all gems, keeping your moves to an absolute minimum, or grabbing the always-tricky elder shard (as well as a few more variations) each requires a different approach so if you like the variations it can provide some challenging longevity. This is a title that caught me a bit by surprise, and while I’m not sure its very specific play style will suit a wide audience for people who enjoy challenging action puzzles where you need to experiment to find success this could be a real winner.

WE ARE DOOMED - This earlier sibling from the developer behind Graceful Explosion and Super Crush KO is a twin-stick shooter that certainly distinguishes itself from its competitors with its very specific visual style. It’s not hard to see some similarities in the enemy types between the games, which is somewhat fun, but where GEM has an enormously sort of clean visual style Doomed goes in pretty well precisely the opposite direction. While there’s a certain flair to everything being blown to bits around you the two words that keep entering my mind when reflecting on the play experience are “visual cacophony”. I can respect the design choice this perhaps may have been but where I object to it is based around the fact that it makes surviving in the game tougher than it should need to be for the wrong reason. The colorful explosions, enemy fire, all manner of enemies… it just tends to overload the senses a bit or outright obstruct your view of your ship for just enough time to get you in trouble and take a hit. Perhaps if there weren’t so many varied and great twin-stick arcade shooters already on Switch this could have made a stronger impression but at this point it’s more of an interesting novelty.

Tuesday, August 11

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


Double Kick Heroes - As a big fan of metal, rhythm games, and zombies this is a title that has been firmly on my radar since I first played it at PAX East 2 years ago. So starting with the positive there’s a lot to love here if you’re into all of the above. Tunes covering the gamut of metal styles are represented, once you get into the swing of things you’ll often find the rhythm element satisfying and challenging, and in terms of zombies there are all manner of them to be seen here ranging from generic to be-hooded to even massive dinosaur varieties. The Story mode is a bit weird and silly as you go along and while some of the character likenesses and jokes can be fun I could see where some could see it as an obstacle to the action. Arcade mode will be for those who want to trim the fat and just get to tunes. Hellgate is for enjoying some tracks that weren’t part of the original lineup from some different bands. Finally there’s Fury Road which provides a bit of a roguelike spin on things but using the same basic original content. All of it is pretty solid and engaging. But then there’s the main issue… trying to figure out an ideal control scheme with the Switch joycon or controllers, and it’s a bit of a doozy. The default scheme I simply don’t consider viable, mapping the low and high toms (which are mostly what you deal with) to face buttons. You can hang for a bit but when you get tough rhythms your thumbs aren’t likely to keep up. Thankfully there’s quite a bit of versatility and you can use motion controls (they’re decent but probably not for people looking for accuracy, more for fun) or remap to whatever you like. I think moving the high and low toms to the triggers is the best bet, and works much better, but then there are songs where the snare (which you’ll map to the face buttons) will get an intense rapid succession of beats as well and then you’re right back into the same issue. Sadly, on PC a keyboard is really the ideal as your fingers hitting keys can simply be so much faster with less issue than trying to do the same thing while holding a controller. It’s a really fun game if you’ll stick through the control issue but it’s also a glaring problem that holds it back from greatness unfortunately.

Spitlings - This is a title that has me a bit torn since it’s just a bit of an oddball. Visually it’s pretty cute, featuring little squared characters with all sorts of faces and sorts of mini personalities those faces imply. That makes it feel like it will be a light and sort of fun family affair. Well, but it really isn’t, and that’s both good and bad. What’s great is that when you go through the Story mode you’ll find there are all sorts of challenging stages to complete, overall featuring an odd mix of platforming, Pang-like vertical shooting that can involve splitting enemies, and a variety of other surprises. Completing these stages will slowly allow you to continue to grow your menagerie of unlocked characters to play with and open the door to even more levels with more Spitlings to unlock. You can then also opt for Party mode where you can play levels that vary from pretty basic to outright challenging with some friends. I’ll say that given my own arcade roots I actually enjoy what can be difficult stages you’ll hit along the way, though admittedly they vary a bit wildly up and down as you go. As I noted though the game’s aesthetics may turn away people who like tougher games, mistaking it for being easy, and people who are more casual may pick it up and be disappointed that it’s too tough. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into and take a look at it to decide whether it’s a fit for you.

RogueCube - You know what genre I can’t ever get quite enough of? Roguelike shooters, at least when they’re as rock solid as many we’ve had the great fortune to enjoy on the Switch. But hey, if you’ve either burned through all of the top-shelf ones already or are working with limited financial means is there anything out there on the lower end of the spectrum that’s at least somewhat worthwhile? That’s where RogueCube manages to come in, not really delivering anything original or innovative, but for a mere $5 asking price it has more longevity and overall quality than I would have expected… and that’s at least saying something. Granted, it can’t compete with the likes of Isaac or Nuclear Throne or Gungeon or a few others that are pricier (though on a sale you never know) but if you’re just looking for something pretty cheap to kick around with and eke some enjoyment out of (though it can be a bit uneven in places) it’s better than its asking price would infer.

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? - Infinite Combate - When you think of great action RPG dungeon-crawlers a number of titles tend to come to mind, but no matter what your overall tastes are the best in the genre stand out with exciting, deep, and engaging gameplay. Approaching Is It Wrong...? purely from a gameplay standpoint it isn’t even close to that level. Outside of the trappings of the anime license it carries there’s no getting around the fact that its levels and enemies are overly repetitive, the combat is just too lacking in variety or excitement, and in general your greatest motivation for digging in and carrying on is to follow what story is offered between battles. Just boy is it all bland. This is one of those titles that has an existing anime property backing it where I have no doubt that fans will get a kick out of some additional story content with familiar characters but for everyone else it’s just not going to give you much of a return on your investment.

Crowdy Farm Rush - While there’s nothing wrong with casual games I’ll concede for those that aren’t fans that they can sometimes feel out of place on a dedicated gaming device. At least rather than being a very simple and overly-familiar puzzle game of some kind Crowdy Farm Rush has an element of strategy to it, even if basic. Your goal is to provide your animals a route to their barn that avoids obstacles and the paths of other animals. While at first this is exceedingly simple as you get further in new elements are introduced to further complicate your efforts. It isn’t amazing necessarily, and I’ve played variations on this sort of game on tablet that are probably better and more challenging, but if your goal is something cute and approachable it’s at least engaging for what it is.

Thursday, August 6

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

Sentinels of Freedom [Nindie Choice!] - While the Switch has been enjoying a fair selection of quality turn-based strategy games more recently, there’s nothing out there quite like Sentinels of Freedom. Most obviously the fact that it involves you controlling a group of superheroes who are determined to defeat evildoers big and small is thematically different, but the fact that you’re able to construct your own custom hero in terms of aesthetics and powers really ups the ante and stands apart from most of the competition in the space. Now, I may have a weakness for the title since it makes me nostalgic for a very similar game from years ago on PC called Freedom Force, but I think the effort here is sufficient that this game can stand proudly on its own merits, something that doesn’t always happen. What makes it fun is the comic book style of art, some of the silliness that comes along with the heroes versus villains cheesy dialogue, and the variety offered by how you construct your hero. With experimentation comes an element of the unexpected, and I don’t doubt that some combinations will work better than others, but being able to put your own stamp on a hero for me is a great creative touch that easily got me invested. In terms of downsides I’d say the typical mission can be a bit overlong, with the game simply throwing waves of enemies at you at times, paired with the fact that sometimes the specifics of what you need to do aren’t maybe as clear as they should be. Still, even with its faults there’s an energy and spirit to the game I appreciate and if you’re patient with its shortcomings there’s a lot of fun to be had with it.

Cruel Bands Career - Talk about a surprise of a game I’d never heard of and that plays in a way I never would have quite expected. Cruel Bands Career is, at the core, a puzzle action game but between its presentation, characters, and general feel it comes across as utterly unique. Your goal is to face groupies, angry dads, and a small collection of additional special characters with a variety of rules around them as your band performs. All of the action is lane-based, and at the point a character gets to the stage they’ll interact positively or negatively with whichever rocker is in that lane at the time. The rules start out somewhat simply, with you needing to shift everyone’s position in order to keep everyone’s health up, but the challenge ramps up quickly with more special characters and rules that make the action get pretty hectic. Special abilities, items, keeping track of different status effects and what they mean, with the rate the crowd just keeps coming it gets to be a bit crazy. Depending on your level of determination and love for games that are just a bit off-center and challenging this could absolutely be a home run, but I see this being one of those love/hate sort of titles that isn’t for everyone. Still, I appreciate its creativity and willingness to just do its own weird thing.

Skully - Maybe it’s just me but this just feels like the year of the skeleton game with a few that have already come out and a few more on the horizon. One positive is that I can’t say any of the others I’ve seen or played are quite like Skully. While not all of the action revolves around you rolling your skull around while trying to avoid falling in the water that will constitute a fair amount of the initial action, and if you want to see the point where things get more fun you’ll need to just get through it. As you progress you’ll have the ability to inhabit a few different forms temporarily that will help you get through obstacles and then eventually puzzles, expanding the game from more simple general platforming to a more satisfying mix of puzzle-solving and jumping that is far more engaging. I’d note the fact that in places the game’s camera can be another obstacle to enjoyment, getting stuck or just not really offering a great view of what you need to do in certain circumstances but with platformers that’s not always much of a surprise, even in bigger titles. All in all if you’ve been looking for a different sort of almost retro-feeling 3D platformer Skully should satisfy, just be ready for periodic spots where it comes up short.

Instant Sports Summer Games - OK, so I’m a huge fan of multi-event Olympic-style titles, I have been since the classic days of the Epyx Summer Games series that spanned multiple platforms and had all sorts of funky iterations. In the case of the Instant Sports take on those classics the idea is pretty much to marry those types of varied events with waggle-riffic motion controls ala Wii Sports. The result is a bit all over the place, with some events like Archery at least being interesting and track events that are sometimes the bane of my existence are handled with some care. Other events like Kayaking are a bit on the wonky side, like Baseball are downright too simplistic, and like the Javelin throw just mechanically aren’t very well explained and take some work to appreciate. Put it all together with a menu system and interface that are clunky to say the least and while I’ve certainly played worse compilations of this kind it’s not going to give any Triple-A titles a run for their money and you should exercise caution in getting your hopes up for this being a roaring success for you and your friends to enjoy.

Frontline Zed - There was a time, long ago, when budget games with somewhat iffy gameplay could enjoy some success with people taking a chance on a bargain. Back then titles like Frontline Zed may have deserved some modest success. Now though? Truly, even if on a week-to-week basis terrific new budget titles may not be showing up there’s a substantial backlog of games for under $10 (even before sales) that just about any gamer should enjoy and get some quality play out of. Frontline Zed dangles the carrot of shooting zombies, but it’s honestly in about the least accurate and engaging way possible. You’re defending a modest barrier against successive waves of zombies, initially alone and armed with a pretty crappy pistol but with success you’ll be able to move to new areas as well as explore the existing ones in hopes of finding other survivors (who are generally just shy of worthless IMHO) or some better weaponry. Now lather, rinse, and repeat. There’s some modest room for strategy, trying to angle your shots so you have more than one potential target in your bullet’s path, but in general it’s a dull slog that isn’t likely to engage you for very long if much at all.

Tuesday, August 4

Mini Reviews: August 4th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Nowhere Prophet [Nindie Choice!] - In the last generation I’ve been surprised to see the deck-building strategy genre not only move from the fringes into the mainstream on the back of titles like Slay the Spire or the more casual SteamWorld Quest, but also continue to find ways to crank up their associated degree of challenge. While the frustration that tends to come hand in hand with that is sure to turn a portion of the audience away, for everyone else it tends to lead to deeper and more satisfying play. That’s what has happened with Nowhere Prophet, a roguelike strategy deck-builder that stacks more potential for failure onto you than normal as an additional layer of risk and reward comes into play. Your units who fall will still be able to be used, as a bonus even at a lower action point cost, but if they fall a second time they’re gone for good. This absolutely throws a wrench into your plans at times, but when the planets align it also opens the door to decisive wins if you can capitalize on hurt units while minimizing your opponent’s ability to punish you for it. As always there will undoubtedly be quite a bit of initial grinding as you get accustomed to the nuances of the game’s strategy, and its sometimes devastating consequences, but since you’ll be earning new cards you’ll need as you go your progress tends to turn around pretty quickly once everything clicks. Sure, you’ll curse the RNG gods at times for their cruelty, but that makes the satisfaction of success all the more sweet.

Home Sheep Home [Nindie Choice] - OK, so charming and clever puzzle games that work as well solo as when playing with others are covered pretty well on the Switch, as are cute and fun multiplayer mini game collections… but usually games don’t necessarily do both well. Home Sheep Home, with its very cute Aardman Animations drawn characters, may be a budget title but has a degree of care and polish that feels like a real bargain. In the game’s main puzzle-solving mode you’ll be in control of 3 sheep, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to control together with friends or cycling through them on your own to solve a series of clever puzzles. While some core mechanics are always in play, usually centering on making the most of their individual abilities, the variety in these brain teasers really keeps the experience from falling into any sort of rut, and it really makes the experience fun to pick up and put down while giving you a compelling reason to return for more. Though perhaps the additional multiplayer mini games aren’t a revolution but considering they’re just icing on the cake I was surprised to find them more enjoyable than the typical Switch local multiplayer fare as well. Overall, for the very reasonable price of admission, this is a well-made and refined combo of a game that should provide plenty of entertainment for its modest price tag.

Escape Game Fort Boyard - Mini-game collections tend to be a hot or cold affair, with titles falling somewhere in the middle being the rarity. Every once in a while there’ll be a breakout title like (some of) the Mario Party series or a few others but mostly the genre is filled with what amounts to little more than shovelware quickly disposable fare. While it is hardly without faults Escape Game actually manages to get some things right though, and if you’re able to be patient with it you and a group of your friends or family may get some enjoyment out of it. What I appreciate most about it is the concept behind its format, you visiting fort in search of treasure and trying to avoid some peril as well by managing success in a series of mini games. I don’t know, after enduring too many bad board games or no connective tissue between games at all it’s a nice change of pace. What doesn’t work so well are the delays in the action as the game continues to take time to load cutscenes that don’t offer too much value for the time they burn, especially for people playing for more than the first time. What is firmly in the middle is the quality of the mini games themselves, some of which can be some fun and require some skill and others that don’t control well, are poorly defined, or just aren’t very fun to participate in. The result is an experience that has some downsides but offers up enough bright spots that if you’re looking for something to enjoy with friends or family it may be enough to satisfy everyone for a little while.

Nicole - If you’ve read my reviews before you’ll likely know that visual novels tend to tax my patience after a short while when I feel like there’s no “game” to be had, just scrolling through text with some art and being bored. Nicole, to its credit, does manage to mix in a bit of time management to make things a bit more engaging and give the person playing it some agency, so that at least makes a positive impression. The fact that you’re able to slowly attempt to move yourself in a variety of directions, investigating, just partying I suppose, or trying to cultivate relationships in the midst of an on-campus string of violence also allows for the stakes to be raised a little bit and provide a backdrop to make you look at any potential people you meet with a hint of skepticism as they could potentially be up to no good. While it isn’t quite engrossing I’ll give Nicole credit as being more “game” than the majority of its contemporaries, at least making it somewhat notable.

Clan N - With so much variety out there on the Switch at this point it’s hard to make a splash with games that are, at best, pebbles when you’ve got other folks dropping boulders. Clan N is most definitely a victim of this, offering a very pulled back sort of beat-em-up that gets repetitive quickly and lacks most anything to feel enthusiastic about when the genre has so many titles that are far better, even in the budget price range. You can pick one of 4 characters who themselves offer a little variety between them but aside from a few combos you can experiment with once you lock into your choice you’ll just be doing the same things a lot, granted needing to deal with a modest amount of enemy variety to switch up your tactics, and just grinding your way through. There’s just really nothing that makes a compelling argument for your eShop bucks in this package.