Tuesday, September 29

Mini Reviews: September 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw [Nindie Choice!] -
As an old school fan of the Wing Commander series I’m always excited to take on any new space sim promising dogfights, exploration, and excitement. Typically new attempts at the genre have a tendency to be incomplete in some way, lacking in their combat, coming up short in terms of an overarching story, or just not putting together all of the pieces in a thoroughly satisfying way. While not without its faults in a few areas I’d say anyone looking for that nostalgic sort of experience with Wing Commander vibes (well, specifically Privateer), or simply someone who enjoys a well-made space sim with RPG-like elements and some actual story will likely dig the hell out of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Starting out from extremely humble beginnings, flying what essentially looks like a space garbage truck, you’ll take on missions that offer some variety from hauling cargo to clearing out bogeys to perhaps going on the shadier side of the law. What you choose will carry some consequences in terms of where you’ll be able to fly or land so don’t take that decision lightly. One of the game’s downsides is that it can get to be a grind, working simpler missions to buy new ships or gear, and that can make for some repetition. Don’t worry, if you try to tackle anything outside of what you’re capable of the game will quickly and almost rudely tell you so as you’ll get blown to bits. Combat can be intense, but I think the left shoulder button which essentially allows you to let your ship fly itself to pursue a target is the key to it all remaining fun. You’ll often be taking on numerous enemies at once, so letting the ship keep pace while periodically dodging and fine-tuning your aiming to maximize damage is more practical than trying to do it all yourself. Feel free to try to do it all yourself but pretty quickly I found its use invaluable to staying alive. With a great deal of freedom, choice, and trouble to get into Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is probably the best overall package of a space sim on the system, delivering both rewarding combat and a story with characters that helps to knit everything together.

Jet Set Knights - This is absolutely one of those titles that sort of shows up out of the woodwork and gives you a pleasant surprise… at least if you’re an old-school arcade aficionado like I am and can appreciate the simple but effective gameplay. Your goal is simply to protect the queen (princess?) who is at the bottom center of the on-screen castle using whatever means are available to you. Starting only with a trusty sword you’ll get the opportunity to use several weapons and abilities, some of which are even very powerful, in order to hold off a steady flow of enemies who would do her harm. I do wish there was at least some more minimal instruction initially as item icons and some other aspects require some trial and error to understand for their proper use, but since there’s simply not that much to it I suppose it doesn’t take that long to get the hang of things. Since what you get varies each time through you’ll need to simply be ready to improvise and do your best to survive through wave after wave. It’s not going to change the world but it honestly feels like it could have been a contemporary of some classic arcade games back in the day, which is admirable.

CastleStorm 2 - While the original CastleStorm had an old school sort of appeal the best thing about the sequel is the increased ambition to provide a more varied experience. Whether or not it worked out and made the game more enjoyable is probably arguable unfortunately, as the new strategic territorial control aspects of the game could be argued to simply detract from the action focus while not clearly adding tangible benefit. The thing is, I could see people going either way appreciating the changes or disliking them so perhaps that’s a wash. What I would say though, regardless, is that the added need to move through screens and options which require you to use a cursor you move around the screen rather than having the experience optimized more for consoles, is a bummer. The new strategic aspects unfortunately require hitting these screens quite often and not only are the controls for this simply cumbersome, I’d say the interface can be a little tricky conceptually in places as well. It certainly still has a fighting spirit, and setting up your defenses and then tackling foes in a variety of ways made available to you can be fun, but whether or not it’s a major improvement over the original would be a fair question.

Unrailed! - While new and different ways to play are always an exciting thing in principle, how they work out in practice isn’t always quite so great. I’d consider Unrailed a pretty good example of this, working out as a sort of railroad survival game in a way, with you needing to clear ground and build the elements of a track to keep a train moving and from blowing up. Since everything is done pretty well manually, with you needing to chop down trees or mine in order to get the resources you need to build materials like track, there’s a mix of planning and time management that needs to come into play to be successful. If you’re able to play it with some other folks, whether locally or online, this can work out reasonably enough with people falling into roles and working collectively towards success. Solo? Not so much. You do have the ability to dictate tasks to a helper robot who is actually pretty quick and efficient at doing work. The problem is you’ll need to focus on keeping it busy often to the point where you don’t do much more, which then sort of detracts from the satisfaction of collecting materials and doing work. It’s not a bad game necessarily, but it isn’t going to be for everyone by any means.

Worm Jazz - There’s nothing wrong with a decent casual-ish game to provide some challenge while also letting you unwind. In the case of Worm Jazz the soothing background music sets that stage, and it’s good that it’s there since the challenge here is more than you’d expect. While in principle its base is the classic Snake game, new mechanics continue to be added that make it far more tricky and contemplative if you’re determined to get all 3 stars on every stage. I’m not sure whether there’s a significant crowd looking for this kind of experience but if you’re looking for a puzzler that will throw some new and unusual challenges at you while soothing jazz plays on in the background it’ll fit the bill nicely.

Thursday, September 24

Mini Reviews: September 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Hades [Nindie Choice!] -
OK, so I’ll admit the folks at Supergiant Games (behind the favorites Bastion and Transistor in particular) had me with the fact that they decided to make a roguelike to begin with. But, pedigree doesn’t always mean a home run (sadly, looking at you Exit the Gungeon) so I’ll admit that despite how great this game looked I was nervous as it loaded up. Given that the bar for roguelike excellence is Dead Cells, with all of its amazing action and variety, making a big splash in this territory takes some real skill. Damn, as if their past titles weren’t clear enough, Hades locks Supergiant Games in as a real force to be reckoned with, and that’s all the way up to the AAA developers. Hades is smart and stylish, fast and fluid, tough and tense… and in general among roguelikes the surprise is that I’d also consider it very approachable, even from the get-go, for anyone with some familiarity with action titles. Where it really takes things to the next level is that it starts with the rock-solid core of several well-designed weapons, each with their own base style, but then through divine enhancements and other means of modification you unlock as you go each run can feel radically different. You can enhance each skill a little or go deep in one discipline, both approaches are valid and can give you a lot of power if you can keep moving and alive. What I love is that while the range of ways you can play is reminiscent of the likes of Dead Cells the systems in this game still feel very fresh and unique. Throw in stellar voice work, more mythological figures than you can shake a stick at, and a truckload of inherent replayability that comes with any good roguelike and this is one of the top games on the system.

Embracelet [Nindie Choice!] - This, for me, is one of those titles where it’s hard to articulate why I’m so taken in by it. With its low-poly look, its somewhat sparse landscapes (though perhaps such an island would be roughly that way, granted), and its riff on traditional point-and-click adventuring on paper it could just seem nice, but perhaps not great either. However, throw in a story that I found unusual and engaging, and it works better than the sum of those parts may imply. Early on you inherit a relic from your grandfather with the power to control objects, and learn that there was an accident at his hands when he was younger using it, causing him a degree of pain and regret. Your journey ends up being to go back to the island he grew up on, learn more about him and his past, and perhaps to understand where the relic came from and what should be done with it. There are quite a number of deeply emotional adventures on the Switch already, many of which are excellent in their own right, but there’s a different tugging I found this journey to have on me with different themes and a different approach. Mix in the fact that many of the puzzles felt pretty natural and yet unusual in some cases and I enjoyed this unassuming adventure title thoroughly.

Lost Ember - Games that dare to be different are always a bit of a risk. With its focus on beauty and serenity, leaving you to take everything in and explore rather than driving you towards hard objectives, Lost Ember definitely falls into that space. The best element of this game is its aspect of discovery as you move from creature to creature periodically in order to help progress, explore the environment more fully, or even hunt down collectibles. There’s a certain thrill and joy at times when you see a new species you’re able to inhabit, knowing that means you’ll get to see and interact with the world in a new way. The story that compliments this exploration is at least interesting, and also helps to preserve your interest to keep pushing on. While I don’t doubt there’ll be an audience for this, looking for a more quiet sort of adventure, I’d note that aside from the collectibles that you can hunt down (which really don’t add anything to the experience aside from being there to grab) it’s a pretty slight overall experience, lacking the richness of some similarly visually-impressive narratives in the same vein. If you’re looking to relax and unwind a bit with nature it may be a great fit though.

Great Conqueror: Rome - City-building games, where you’ll work to conquer the world through a mix of smart growth and careful management of your resources, are a staple of the strategy genre. Taking many elements from that, but wrapping everything up with much more of an overall battle-driven focus, you have Great Conqueror: Rome. If you’re expecting an experience like you’re used to you’ll likely be a bit thrown by it, the depth of your options is limited here, with everything ultimately revolving around the support of your armies. The return on what you lose in exchange is a wider variety of options for units and how they can be supported, and combining that with the many factions and the tendency for the map to be in pretty regular disarray with combat taking place can make for some excitement. I’d say the biggest letdown is just that there seems to be an expectation that you’ll just understand what needs to be done amid the chaos when you’re given objectives. You can work out what needs to be done through trial and error, exploring your options for development and then learning (often the hard way) which combinations of units are suited to which types of warfare. If you’re willing to invest some time and effort into the intricacy this should be a reasonably good time, but if a slow burn for enjoyment doesn’t sound like a great idea you’ll likely want to pass on this one.

GORSD - This is one of those titles where it’s hard to put together your thoughts in a way people who haven’t played it will quite understand. First of all, its visuals and overall style would best be characterized as bizarre or unique… I’m not sure what the developers were tripping on but it must be pretty good. That aspect made me laugh a bit and it helps make the game a bit memorable. When it comes to gameplay I’d say it’s a very take-it-or-leave-it proposition, but for most it likely won’t linger in people’s minds as long as the unusual visuals in the single-player mode. Borrowing mechanics similar to arcade classics like Qix and others your goal is to fill in the various interconnected lines on the screen with your color, controlling all of it in order to win. Depending on the mode your challenge will either be dealing with opponents, the clock, or a few variations. You’re armed with a single bullet, which you can make go around corners to help, and mastery of the mechanics around this are crucial to success and can be tricky to get used to as you try to control it while continuing to move yourself. Multiplayer matches have a tendency to be quick and intense. It’s a neat overall idea, wrapped in an odd package, but its simplicity and challenge will make for a more limited audience who’ll enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 23

Mini Reviews: September 23rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Ori and the Will of the Wisps [Nindie Choice!] -
When reviewing games in general I try to carefully avoid hyperbole and excessive exuberance whenever possible. To that end, even with well over 1,500 reviews under my belt and so many terrific titles played, I’ve only awarded 2 perfect scores among them for Stardew Valley and Dead Cells. In the case of Ori and the Will of the Wisps I’m going to be adding to that very exclusive list with pretty well no reservations. With its nimble movement, massive scale, gorgeous environments, and combination of so many elements that feel like they’ve been carefully refined to be their most engaging it’s likely the best Metroidvania title I’ve ever played. I will warn that the platforming is probably a little more challenging than the average, requiring patience and precision, but for the most part success rests solely on your skills as the controls are spot-on and well-implemented. With there being so much ground to cover and spots you’ll want and need to return to, as you acquire the necessary skills or changes to environments to give you access, I do wish there were a few more waypoints scattered about but that’s about my only real criticism (OK, and it has crashed on me twice, but thankfully with no real loss of progress in either case). There’s a very good reason Microsoft backed this horse, and it is a gift that has been shared with Switch owners that is absolutely worth your time and effort.

Going Under [Nindie Choice!] - As an enormous fan of anything roguelike Going Under has been on my radar since I first saw it announced, billing itself as a sort of insane 3D beat-em-up where you can pick up just about anything to use as a weapon. When I got the chance to check it out at PAX East this year I could see the promise of the fun in it, and I began to see the humor that actually serves as one of the game’s surprising areas of appeal, but there was just also something that didn’t quite click for me. With the full release now available to me I still feel like something’s missing in the formula that somehow keeps it from true greatness but that isn’t to say it can’t be fun to take for a spin of challenging and often chaotic combat. Since you’re able to use so many sorts of objects you find laying about, and in a pinch you won’t always have ideal choices around you, it does have a rough early learning curve. Weapon durability, range, effectiveness… you’ll generally just need to experiment to get a feel for these things. The same can be said for many perks and items you’ll have to work with, the brief descriptions aren’t always as instructive as they could be so it can be a bit of a mess until you sort it out. The skewering of corporate culture is spot on and often hilarious if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle farm, so that helps bring the experience up but it may be offset by meta progression that, compared to its competition, doesn’t feel quite as helpful as normal… perhaps making the grind to success feel a little less rewarding on the way. I have mixed feelings about it in the end, really appreciating the silly tone and its addressing a flavor of roguelikes I haven’t seen much of to this point but at the same time missing the spark in it that drives my enthusiasm to recommend it with more than somewhat above average force. Roguelike and beat-em-up fans should appreciate and enjoy a change of pace, but everyone else will probably be fine missing it.

Raji: An Ancient Epic - While this statement may inspire some eye-rolling for some people out there as a life-long gamer I deeply appreciate attempts to expand inclusiveness in video games. By this point western gamers are generally quite well-steeped in the mythology of the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian persuasions, with the gods of those pantheons providing a great foundation for many narratives. In the case of Raji I’m happy to see a completely different set of fresh deities and stories of legend coming from ancient India, and with representative architecture and musical accompaniment as well. The result is a pretty rich and unique storytelling experience that’s worthy of attention. Thankfully the gameplay also, in general, has a fresh feel with the very nimble Raji on a quest to save her brother which features quite a number of well-implemented traversal moves and plenty of options to keep combat interesting. Where it unfortunately falters noticeably is in maintaining its pacing, with combat often feeling over-encumbered and sluggish when too many enemies are on-screen. Granted, the varied moves and weapon options help to compensate for this since it makes for engaging and varied combat, but it feels like though the Switch didn’t need to skimp too much on the beauty of the visuals a price was paid in speed. While it’s over a bit quickly the rish storytelling and culture of Raji still make it a stand out worth giving a look.

Breakpoint - When I saw shots of this gloriously old-school retro arcade title I was instantly drawn in with visions of Geometry Wars-style twin-stick shooting coming to mind. Oh, how wrong I was, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Breakpoint would best be described as a twin-stick beat-em-up if that makes sense, giving you the fluid movement and enemy patterns that would feel right at home in a shooter but that you’ll instead be taking out exclusively melee-style with a wide variety of both blunt and bladed weapons. You’ll definitely develop a taste for specific weapons too, as depending on your style you may prefer the rapid-fire stabbing of the spear, the quick swiping of the dagger, or perhaps the devastating swing of a battle axe with the risky delay that comes along with it. In the end this will only appeal to people who appreciate the feeling of placing just a bit higher on the online leaderboard and who are determined to scratch and claw your way to improving your multiplier and technique. It won’t be for everyone but that isn’t to say it won’t be addictive for the gamer who is properly inclined.

Tamiku - I have a great reverence for classic arcade games (as you may have gathered by now) so from the get-go seeing Tamiku open with a classic ROM boot-up screen of sorts hit me right in the nostalgia bone. From there the story is unfortunately a bit more of a mixed bag. Yes, the balloon popping mechanic, level design, and enemies are reminiscent of a number of classic titles. The problem I have is that as you progress so little really changes and it just feels like the game is in need of an injection of a fun and surprising element or three that would elevate play rather than just throwing out new enemy types and maze layouts. This is a game in need of a power pellet, an enemy-wrecking hammer, or just something to introduce a layer of added strategy and interest to the mix… like the blast from popping the red balloons destroying enemies close by for added points as an example. It’s not necessarily bad but Tamiku just ends up being too flat and uninteresting arcade experience.

Friday, September 18

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

Journey of the Broken Circle [Nindie Choice!] -
Who knew that an incomplete circle (who looks suspiciously like a certain gaming icon) and an oddball mix of plants and normally inanimate objects would have so much to offer in the way of philosophy? Circle, who feels incomplete, is in search of feeling whole and wants to explore the world. Along the way you’ll encounter others who may have different goals but who may be willing to join you, at least for a time, which will conveniently give you that varied abilities you’ll need to progress through what are generally pretty lenient platforming challenges. Though there are times where it gets a little more difficult I’d consider the challenge mild enough on the whole to be accessible to anyone and if you’re able to find enough hidden mushrooms along the way you’ll open further hidden levels to enjoy as well. On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed the game’s sense of humor, heart, and just enough philosophy to allow for some reflection without it feeling lecturing. It’s an unusual title, and probably too mild for the hard core crowd, but the game has a spirit that makes it notable and I appreciate its presence in the eShop.

Super Punch Patrol - With its hand-drawn art style there’s no doubt that Super Punch Patrol catches the eye and that gives the game a distinctive feel to be sure. Aesthetics aside, make no mistake though, this is a thoroughly classic retro beat-em-up and that isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Aside titles that have pushed the edges of the genre to include different styles of play, incorporate new mechanics, or downright take it to the next level Super Punch Patrol sadly feels a bit primitive with its look being its defining feature and not so much its play. If you’re looking for a new chance to throw down solo or with some friends and beat your way through a series of punks and bosses it will probably do the trick for an appropriately low price, but if you’re looking for something more evolved this isn’t going to make that cut.

Bomber Fox - Have you been thirsting for a neon-lit version of the classic Bomberman series? In principle that’s what you have here, though let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Certainly Bomber Fox has cribbed many gameplay elements from the classic series, though some of its enemies and environmental elements are at least a bit more unique. Where the game struggles for me though is with the pacing. Your default movement speed is positively glacial, and while that can be helpful as you plot out how to get out of dodge and avoid getting “blowed up” it can also be frustrating, especially when you need to restart a level and go through the motions all over again. You can play co-op through levels with a friend or against some as well in versus mode, and there are two pretty different main campaigns to play through, one with more of a puzzle-solving feel and another making you dig down and take out a bunch of enemies… which is at least nice for variety and total content to consume. It’s not going to be coming for the “Bomber” title crown by any means but for the budget price it’s at least something a little different.

Georifters - While Georifters has an unusual look and dialogue between characters who are fixated on candy (it’s a bit weird) in the end this is really a puzzle platforming game, and for the most part a generic one at that. You have the ability to knock out and move blocks, which you’ll need to do in order to collect crystals in each level. As you go new enemies and traps will complicate matters, and there may be some trial and error required to get the hang of what you may need to do in order to get to some of your goals, but for the most part it is a logical and fair challenge all around. That said, there’s not much that strikes me as unique in terms of the gameplay and to go with the game’s somewhat odd overall look there’s some clunkiness in the controls and how you interact with certain elements at times. It’s not a bad experience, it just feels lacking in a degree of polish that some of its competition has tightened up better overall.

Moero Crystal H - OK, so given the pretty uncomfortable nature of just the trailer for this title I hesitated to cover it at all. I understand there’s a market for scantily-clad anime chicks in various forms and have worked through a number of titles that have varied in their ability to justify their gameplay as the focus and not the high perv factor. In the case of this one I think I’ve somewhat reached my limit though, between what just feels like the general younger appearance than normal of many female characters in the game and then some of the language used to describe them as well that feels like it’s from a different time. Throw in that the story as it stands is pretty boilerplate (and really, honestly, dull) and the dungeon crawling offers nothing unique aside from various aesthetic “flourishes” that may catch people’s fancy and I can’t say there’s a lot here beyond the spectacle that you couldn’t get anywhere else, and probably better. If you’re into it, good on you, enjoy, just in this case don’t tell yourself it’s about the stellar gameplay and story.

Thursday, September 17

Mini Reviews: September 17th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Kingdom Rush Origins [Nindie Choice!] -
Finally the last unreleased version of the Kingdom Rush franchise is on the Switch, and Origins also happens to be my personal favorite of the bunch. While you could argue that there aren’t too many major differences in the core play between each entry there are enough elements that were introduced with the more fantasy-focused Origins that it stands apart from its peers with differences deeper than mere aesthetics. The big difference is the much more active environments you’ll find yourself in, featuring details that range from mere distractions in the background to flowers you’re able to activate to do a little extra damage to enemies, to your foes being able to surprise you by either creating or finding alternative paths mid-stage to throw off your plans a bit and perhaps require regrouping. As always once you get into the groove with a few heroes to choose from and the ability to max out your upgrades for each element of defense you construct you can really come up with an interesting variety of strategies for surviving the onslaught of your enemies. Since the game has such a wide menagerie of creatures to work with from stage to stage you’ll find the same strategy that got you through a few levels before won’t necessarily work once the enemy turns the screws on a later one. This mix of planning, careful use of your adhoc abilities, and figuring out when and how to adapt to the varied waves the game will throw at you is a consistent challenge and almost always satisfying when you’re able to pull it off. Highly approachable, best played with the touchscreen but workable with a controller, and full of small touches that show a genuine care in engaging your attention fully through some tough stages I’d say any of the games in this trilogy are worthwhile, which one you prefer will likely just be a matter of taste.

Mini Motor Racing X - When it comes to racers the Switch has definitely been in need of some help since launch. Sure, you have Mario Kart and a few decent titles of various flavors peppered around but it’s hardly been flush with options. Thankfully this year has recently brought us two very different quality racers with different feels that have avoided kart racing, smartly leaving Nintendo’s juggernaut to continue to dominate completely. Mini Motor Racing X is another port from the mobile platform where Mario Kart isn’t an option, and within that crowd I would even imagine it would be considered a fair racer. There’s certainly a nice degree of visual polish and effort to make things interesting, even an option to playing with or without power-ups depending on how you roll. That said, there’s no getting around the pretty stiff steering and controls that lack in nuance and do feel better suited to the phone and tablet players than gamers on a dedicated game console with analog controllers. While it is a step above the average mobile port racer (most of them are between dreadful and middling at best), X comes out of the gate strong enough to blow out that pack but quickly gets lapped by console-focused racers out there.

Vampire’s Fall: Origins - This is one of those titles that leaves me on the fence. For its pretty budget-friendly price it isn’t a bad RPG-ish experience full of vampiric elements and theming. Character progression manages to give you enough options on how to allocate your accumulated experience and skill points that it feels like you can approach combat however you may like and there’s plenty of exploring to do in search of quests and anything to help you progress through the story and get yourself nice and powerful for taking on the steadily increasing challenge of your foes. That said, the general interfaces and the combat really don’t do the overall experience much of a favor, feeling generally repetitive and bland once you get into your groove, and not really pushing you to get out of your comfort zone often beyond trying out your new skills to see if you have a new best strategy for getting through things. For the price it offers a fair amount of reasonably-good content, just don’t come to the table expecting high production values or depth.

FuzzBall - One unfortunate side effect of checking out so many multiplayer indie titles on the console is that a large portion of them honestly begin to blend together in a variety of ways, perhaps visually distinguishable in some fashion but sharing enough DNA that they instantly feel all too familiar. Unfortunately FuzzBall falls into this category, with base gameplay revolving around you controlling your cute animal who can ball up and then dodge and attack their enemies in a few different ways in hopes of knocking out the opposition. While the specifics may be unique in some way to the game the principles are overused and with the controls being on the loose side this title suffers a bit with comparison. It tries to compensate by adding in some variations like mini games that can interrupt the action but these aren’t often much more than minor variations or will use a challenge like jumping between platforms which, with the camera’s fixed position and angle, proves to be pretty excruciating if you’re hoping to be accurate. There’s no doubt room for enjoyment, especially if you’re pairing up with younger or less experienced players, but there’s a solid handful of other similar titles to choose from so it’s a crapshoot which you may prefer based on tastes and perhaps the aesthetics you like the best.

Her Majesty’s Ship - Strategy games heavy on strategy and the management of resources have been gaining ground and taking a variety of forms over the years. While many times the focus is on things like production lines or working facilities of some kind, in this case you’re trying to command the crew on a ship, attempting to balance steady work with keeping morale high and your stores stocked the best you can. After a pretty painfully lengthy tutorial that gives you a lot of information, unfortunately the mix of pretty poor overall console controls and a general lack of practical application of the things you learned leads to some pretty horrible growing pains as you try to get much of anything going in your favor. Trying to activate the stations or gear that you even know you want to focus on can be frustrating, and your first few attempts will likely be a disaster as you fight with what you’ve been told and how to hope to apply it. Even once you’ve overcome this initial aggravation your control simply feels detached particularly with elements like combat that could have helped to pull in interest, leaving the whole experience a bit of a tedious mess.

Tuesday, September 15

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

Golf Zero [Nindie Choice!] -
Who knew that a game that initially confused me quite a bit in terms of what you were supposed to be doing (it should probably be more clear in the initial stages how you should be playing) could end up making me a fan. This is absolutely one of the more unusual games I’ve played this year really mixing up a puzzle platformer with golf to make something completely new and different. You see, you’re able to make your shots while in the air, which you’ll absolutely need to do the majority of the time, and while you can’t control your shot strength (in the end, probably a blessing) time will slow when you initiate your shot, making your focus aiming one or more shots in the hopes of finding success. Where it really can get diabolical is when you then layer the objectives that need to be met for a gold medal into the mix, forcing you to go the extra mile and prove your skills further. If you’re easily frustrated this probably won’t be a good fit for you but as a lover of quirky games that take a big chance on swimming upstream I have to give credit where it is due, this is a smart and pretty challenging budget title that deserves some attention.

Fight Crab - OK, so I definitely consider a title like this a love/hate proposition. Giant crustaceans of all types and sizes duking it out in a variety of environments from cities to dinner tables who can grab whatever is available to whack at each other until one combatant is flipped and loses? Since I love games that are a bit off-center it makes me giggle and dig in but I can understand how someone could reductively look at it as a game of wild flailing and button mashing. To some degree they wouldn’t be 100% incorrect. I found that technique can still be effective and win the day but spam can work well, but that’s also true of most fighting games out there to be fair. The thing is, underneath the chaos and admitted lack of nuance in the controls as a whole, there is a degree of technique in positioning and knowing when to engage and when to back off that does elevate the strategy component a bit. Unlocks for playing include all manner of hard-shelled sea critters as well as a barrage of increasingly-preposterous weapons you can wield. This absolutely won’t be a game for everyone but there can be a degree of joy in laying some smack down with some ridiculous weapon in one hand while trying to hold your opponent in place with the other. It’s weird and a bit crazy, but it’s also undeniably unique.

Space Robinson - As a huge fan of roguelike shooters Space Robinson has me a bit perplexed in trying to figure out where I stand on it. Its retro look is clean and pretty clear, its various weapons are varied and can give you pause as you try to figure out which will suit you best, and the challenge is certainly there... and that’s all for a budget-friendly price. Where it loses its luster though are with perks that are inconsistent in their usefulness, a lack of better meta-progression that helps the game evolve, and for the most part no real elements of risk/reward. The result is a mildly-satisfying shooter that has many roguelike trappings but that just feels like it comes up short when there are so many noteworthy and better structured titles in the genre on the system. I repeatedly went back to the game in the hopes that it would just suddenly click with me and my opinion would turn more positive but unfortunately I think the more I played the more I was frustrated by it not quite getting to the level of too many of its peers.

Othercide - Tactical combat simulations have always been a genre I’ve had interest in since the early X-Com days but over the years that bar has proven to be a very high one to expect other games, especially indies to reach let alone surpass. Othercide takes a similar but slightly altered path overall, always a smart move to avoid too much direct comparison. It’s a strange mix of good and bad though. There’s no question that the aesthetic style it brings to the table is distinctive and quite attractive, and the various skills and attacks you’ll be able to cultivate in your warriors can be tactically varied enough to find a mix that suits your style. That said, there’s no getting around the fact that the UI is cumbersome at best and the console controls come off as clunky, and since there’s no escaping those elements as you interact with them constantly you can only learn to tolerate them. If you don’t mind the fact that in many ways periodically losing is the only way to ultimately succeed and are drawn in by the dark story you may find it worth your while but in general there are better strategy fixes available on the eShop.

Tin & Kuna - When it comes to platforming fun the Switch generally has you covered from the AAA level all the way down through budget indies so it can be a tough genre to make a splash in. Tin & Kuna takes a fair shot at it, working with more of a rolling mechanic for controls that does feel a bit fresh and different, but that isn’t to say it always works to the game’s benefit. In particular trying to move a big ball around accurately with a smaller ball can be imprecise at best and since getting through levels relies on doing that specifically you can expect to become used to close but no cigar moments where you’ll need to go back and give it another try. The fact that the camera tends to want to come at you from a high angle also really needlessly complicates situations where you need to jump to platforms a bit above you, and sometimes that will require leaps of faith where you believe the platform is but may rudely find out otherwise. It’s not a terrible experience by any means, and the variety it offers is a perk, but I’d consider it to be mid to low on the Switch platformer bang for your buck scale.

Friday, September 11

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

MO:Astray [Nindie Choice!] -
You'd think at this point in the history of gaming, given the popularity and abundance of platformers of all types, the genre would be just about out of new tricks to keep things interesting. MO:Astray is here to prove you wrong. While just the mechanics with you sliding your little slimeball around, working on your jump angles and trajectories to get yourself around, would probably suffice for most titles it takes things even further. You see, you’re also capable of taking control of creatures of a variety of types by jumping on their faces, and this can be useful for a variety of reasons over the course of the game… in fact it’s a key mechanic usually involved in the game’s multiple boss battles. While it may not look terribly intimidating in the early going, give it some time and you’ll be sucked in with challenges where you understand what must be done but you’ll be challenged to put together the precision to do it successfully. Taking on a variety of new and pretty substantial upgrades in abilities as you go you’re also never quite able to get comfortable. Just when you feel like you’ve got it all down you’ll need to incorporate a new skill with new accompanying challenges to boot. While it may edge a little further into being tough than most the included provisions for softening the difficulty a bit are available as well, making this puzzle-platforming mind-controlling adventure worth putting near the top of your list.

Bake ‘n Switch [Nindie Choice!] - While there’s no doubt that the Overcooked franchise has been wildly successful, and can be an absolute blast to play with friends or family, in terms of accessibility I’d say it’s a mixed bag. Not only does the chaos and switching between many tasks require some level of coordination and cooperation, there’s a certain degree of pressure and challenge to it that may be too much for less experienced gamers. I think that’s where Bake ‘n Switch comes in and delivers an alternative that can be similar, and still gets to be more and more challenging as it goes, but feels a bit more friendly since it helps reduce the individual chaos a bit by making it easier for each person to lock into set roles. The character you choose isn’t just cosmetic, that decision also defines (to a degree) what you’re best at, with your special ability even further reinforcing that. Now, if people get hung up on picking a character they like visually but are uninterested in which role they should then play (fighting off mold, combining breads, baking, etc) that may backfire a bit but if you’re looking to optimize your potential for success everyone should do their best to stay roughly within the roles and run with it. One notable thing the game doesn’t have is an ability to play it solo, though. You’ll need to have someone to play with locally or a friend you know you can hook up with online (sorry, currently there’s no matchmaking) and for some this may be a dealbreaker so it’s important to note. However, if you’re looking for something to meet up and play with friends periodically online or have people over for some fun playing together this may be a more broadly accessible answer to cooperative (or competitive if you like) kitchen cookery.

Deleveled - Minimalism in game design is always a bit interesting. There’s no doubt a time savings benefit to stripping away complex visuals and their associated complications, but it also then places all focus on the fundamentals of the gameplay and controls only without a net. Deleveled stands up to this scrutiny well, delivering a tight puzzle platformer that packs in much more challenge than you may expect, and much of it with a flair for physics to some degree. You have control of two dots on either side of a line that will move as mirror images of each other, at least until one of them encounters an obstacle. The ability to move one while holding up the other is only one layer though, if one falls to its relative ground where the other is resting on the other side it will launch the other dot into the air with the same force it came down with. However, that’s only the beginning. As new mechanics get introduced periodically there’s definitely a trial and error phase you’ll go through, making sure you understand the rules and all of their implications. But then within just a few stages you’ll be pushed to then demonstrate your mastery of those rules by working out the tricks for getting each of your pixel dots to one of their appropriate spots. If you’ve been looking for an action puzzler that will push your ability to plan and execute (as well as you patience at times, no doubt) Deleveled has more to offer than you may assume at first glance.

Doodle Derby - When I saw this back at PAX it was called Fromto but this very creative hand-drawn title is perhaps now better known by the moniker Doodle Derby. Naming aside the core concepts remain, you’ll be looking to race your pretty basic car on different surfaces and objects, trying to get through checkpoints (if there are any) and to the finish line as quickly as possible. Well, or if playing with a friend your goal is to get there first. The racing is dodgy at best, but it’s the means you have of testing out your changes and enhancements to the track. You see, you’ll be able to either acquire parts outright in supply drops of buy them at the shop in order to construct jumps or even using contraptions to assist yourself in getting to the finish. It’s unusual, and can be wonky at times without a doubt, but people with a creative bent who like to experiment may enjoy the process and the applied physics enough to overcome the shortcomings of the driving itself and have a decent time with it.

Bounty Battle - There’s no doubt that making a game that’s meant to compete with the likes of a juggernaut title from Nintendo is always going to be tough, and the likely results aren’t going to live up against the massive team and budget the Big N put together. That’s always been true for anyone taking on Mario Kart and, though there are less contenders for the crazy fighting game crown, it has been true for Smash as well. Conceptually, Bounty Battle sounds like a dream for me, especially when you consider it’s intention was to bring together characters from a wide swath of indie titles, many of which I absolutely love. You can assume that it wouldn’t likely live up to Smash, but the real problem is that it doesn’t just come up short, it’s sadly a hot mess. Visually, making characters from so many franchises make sense together would have been a challenge, but there’s a really weird quality to combatants you’ll play with and against where they somehow feel lacking in substance somehow, and though they look true to their characters there’s almost a flash game quality to their animations and movements. Similarly, the controls don’t feel tight and responsive, typically the bare minimum for a high-quality fighter or even just a fun one, and that makes everything happening on-screen muddled at best. While the roster alone would normally be enough to make me want to recommend a true indie community fighter Bounty Battle just doesn’t honestly feel done, and if you’re looking for an indie fighter fix I’d unfortunately recommend looking elsewhere.

Thursday, September 10

Mini Reviews: September 10th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Avicii Invector [Nindie Choice!] - While there have been quite a few great rhythm games on the Switch, it seems that room will now need to be made for another rock solid musically-based experience. Playing as a bit of a counterpoint to the excellent but almost nightmarish and grim Thumper, Avicii Invector is hardly a walk in the park but there’s just something about its style of play and its often-amazing visuals that is quite inspiring. I have no doubt that given the music being the product of the game’s namesake, who unfortunately took his own life after struggles with medical problems and depression, the search for inspiration and the positives in the world were a part of his journey that unfortunately ended too early for such an obviously-talented person. The play feels like a mixture of an endless racer and rhythm game, with periodic sections where you’ll fly through rings instead. Whenever you’re having success the tempo will progressively speed up, so it isn’t unusual to hit rough patches where your multiplier will tumble, but at least the game will again slow itself down and let you get your bearings once more. About my only complaints are how the game will sometimes have odd sections where the difficulty will go up very quickly and then almost as suddenly return to a more manageable degree periodically as well as the left trigger beats that visually hit later than my brain would prefer, resulting in periodic early beats that were close but not quite close enough for the picky mechanics on that particular element. If you enjoy playing games to a terrific and pretty varied soundtrack this is one well worth checking out.

Wintermoor Tactics Club [Nindie Choice!] - When you think of the tactical RPG genre the words “accessible” don’t normally come to mind but Wintermoor Tactics Club is just that sort of surprise. Not only does it offer up a pretty friendly and well-crafted introduction to many traditional tactics concepts, it does so with a roughly relatable (well, to a degree at least) core crew of nerds who just want to be able to keep their role-playing club going. Having a challenge thrown at their feet with the need to defeat all rival clubs at head-to-head battles (relax, it’s just some snowball fighting) the group initially despairs but then realizes that the strategic lessons they’ve learned dungeon-crawling could pay off in real life if they treat it as one of their gaming sessions. With great (and some weird) characters, a steady but fair progression in concepts and difficulty, and some pretty smart overall battles to be won along the way this is a great introductory tactics game that just about anyone should be able to follow and perhaps develop an initial love for the genre with. For veterans, yeah, it may be a bit too simple for your tastes, but even then there’s still the enjoyable story of people you may well find something in common with who are worth rooting for.

Adventures of Pip - While there are loads of reasonably-good platformers on the Switch many of them typically have a difficult time to stand out from the rest with new worthwhile ideas. In the case of Adventures of Pip, its mechanics that will have you starting out as a lowly single pixel who is able to periodically power up and take on more refined forms that have new capabilities is relatively fresh and works well. If you’re a completionist there are secrets and challenging spots all around you begging to be found, explored, and mastered, but even if you’re not inclined to track everything down you’ll need to flex your smarts periodically to figure out how to get through a tough spot. Typically the answer is to revert to a lower resolution form in order to take on capabilities that those possess to get by a particular obstacle. This leads to a need for being precise, observant, and creative as you need to figure out how to get to specific spots and collect everything on each level… sometimes leading to some genuinely challenging sections you’ll need to flex your old school platforming muscles with to get by. Cute, creative, and quite secret-laden this was a surprisingly good time for a pretty humble package.

Party Hard 2 - When the original Party Hard hit it was a shock to the system, an odd mix of puzzle game, crowd simulator, and virtual serial killer experience. Morbid, to be sure, but also gruesomely fun as you got to understand the different elements of death available to you and how best to use them with some trial and error to work out optimum strategies. The sequel hasn’t changed anything of the core experience really, just fleshed it out with bigger spaces, more implements of death, and some different choices of character who each have their strengths and weaknesses. It can be an agonizing experience at times when you’re able to pull off some great kills, and be most of the way to completing your objectives when suddenly you get a little careless, someone sees you, and now you’re trying to deal with the cops. With experience and some savvy you’ll learn ways to avoid or dodge the cops but any time you complete a stage there’s likely to be some close calls at the hands of someone along the way. It won’t be a game for everyone but if you’ve got a bit of a sick streak in you it’s a great way to indulge in bumping off some people in violent and creative ways… which can be quite satisfying sometimes.

The Snake King - I’m sure pretty well just about everyone is familiar with the classic game of Snake. In my case, my earliest memories of a game in that vein was the Intellivision classic Snafu that I loved to play against my best friend but I digress. There have been variations on the theme over the years but the core play, with you simply growing longer as either time goes by or you eat and then trying to maneuver yourself in a way that you don’t end up being trapped by your own body. Though The Snake King does at least update the presentation a wee bit from the old school monochrome look you may have enjoyed on your early phone unfortunately it has done little else, so this will either be a throwback with new visuals you’ll enjoy for the nostalgia (or perhaps to suck in a younger gamer who appreciates the simplicity) or you’ll quickly be looking to move on to something more complex.

Wednesday, September 9

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

Hotshot Racing [Nindie Choice!] - With its low-poly look coming straight out of classic Sega arcade titles like Daytona Racing we have Hotshot Racing, and while it may not have incredible depth or nuance damn if it isn’t a whole lotta fun. There’s nothing too complicated, you’ll choose from an assortment of international racers who each have their own flair (I love my boy Viktor), choose which of their cars you prefer, which each are tuned a little differently for variety, and hit the tracks. This is full-on arcade racing, with plenty of bumping and jockeying for position to put your opponents into the wall on turns and then conserving your boost to be sure you can fly across the finish line. The boost-building mechanic, which has you either power-sliding around turns or drafting your opponents who are ahead of you puts just enough technique in the picture to make you work for it and provides a little room for skill and strategy as well. For kicks aside from the main championships the Arcade one-off races can be switched to a cops and robbers mode as well as elimination, helping to provide some variety as well. It’s an absolutely outstanding old-school, fun, and great-looking arcade racer.

Inertial Drift [Nindie Choice!] - While some people prefer their racing to be a bit rough around the edges, banging around turns and defying any sense of realism, others prefer to go the other direction and focus on nuance. That’s certainly the case for the aptly-named Inertial Drift, which won’t give you the arcade-like thrills of bumping into your competitors (when you do race against a single opponent you don’t make contact with them, they’re always effectively ghosts), but instead focuses on skilled drifting, which offers great fun and challenge in its own right. The big differentiator here is that the right stick controls the angle of your drift, which is a brilliant idea, and really allows you to have fabulously-precise control of your car through turns, and as you get better your understanding of how best to turn versus drift continues to evolve. There’s no doubt the degree of challenge is also higher here, but if you find yourself struggling initially I’d very much recommend choosing a different racer and car. Every vehicle has its own associated technique with it in terms of how you approach turns, whether just letting off the throttle, braking, or whatever it may be. Each feels very distinct and I could see where different people could prefer each particular style of racer. To top it off the hand-drawn sort of art style looks pretty amazing, so if you prefer nuance to trading paint this may be the racer for you.

Circuit Dude - Even with as many varieties of puzzle games as I’ve played on the Switch I’m happy to say that none of them have been quite like Circuit Dude. Similar in many regards to a traditional box pusher, I don’t know if it’s the theming that’s simply good at disguising traditional elements or just that its approach is a bit different so it feels like a fresh take. You’ll progressively be introduced to different components that would go on a circuit board that will act as obstacles to you filling in the proper slots. While initially the order or path you may take to do so won’t make much difference it doesn’t take long for every move to have a serious consequence as you’ll find there’s only one path that’s going to successfully allow you to complete the board and get to the exit without getting trapped. If you like puzzles that are focused on process and the order you do things in, trying to break them down in order to plot an optimum route this provides that, but with a very friendly theme as well overall.

OkunoKA Madness - Fast-moving platforming with a focus on precision is what it all ends up being about on OkunoKA Madness, and the fact that this title has been geared towards speedrunners is thus no surprise. With a feel reminiscent of the likes of Super Meat Boy where it comes to the need for accuracy in order to complete certain sections or grab extra bonuses fans of that style should feel at home, but I’ll warn you that I’d say the controls don’t feel quite as tight and responsive somehow, so you’ll need to just get used to the game’s mechanics. At least since you may find yourself spending a fair amount of time on single levels, trying to perfect your jumps and timing, it’s very whimsical and pretty to look at. While the characters themselves may have a more Flash-game type of look to them the environments are often quite gorgeous. It’s probably going to be an acquired taste geared more towards the hardcore crowd but if you’re been looking to scratch that twitchy platformer itch this should satisfy.

Batu Ta Batu - Let’s face it, there are a ton of puzzle games out there on Switch, most of them in the budget-friendly space. That said, since there’s so much variety in what those games offer you won’t know if you’ve found something perfect for you until you see it. Mechanically Batu Ta Batu is pretty straight-forward, you want to combine smaller colored blocks to create bigger ones and then move them to the side where you can remove them for points. Smaller pieces can’t move larger ones so which piece you’re trying to manipulate is always a consideration, and given the risk that longer pieces in different directions can cause a log jam you do need to consider your strategy as you’re quickly moving at least a bit. I do wish that the investment to unlock additional modes wasn’t so high, seeing more variety quicker would probably help hook people further rather than having them potentially miss out because they don’t want to grind it out. It’s good to have it added for variety but I’m not sure it has anything that makes it a clear winner in a crowded space.

Tuesday, September 8

Mini Reviews: September 8th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Spellbreak [Nindie Choice!] - Have you been feeling like Fortnite has become a bit played out? I have… though I think I felt that way pretty early since I always considered the quick-build types complete BS but I digress. Spellbreak is hoping that whatever your grievances may be with that mega-successful free-to-play juggernaut that you’ll give it a look, and considering the price of admission being nothing I think they’ve put together a total package that justifies taking the time. There are absolutely elements in the match structure and gameplay that are the same, dropped onto a large island, there’s a storm that will continue to encroach in order to force players to fight each other within a reasonable time frame, and options to run solo or with others. Where the game veers off into its own territory is where I really appreciate the differences though. In place of weapons everyone is desperate to grab to have any shot of survival Spellbreak instead goes with a magical base, with you choosing which element you want as your core and then allowing you to pick up a secondary gauntlet for another elemental power to compliment. Where the creativity comes in is how you can make combined use of these powers in some situations, opening the door to some more interesting tactical choices when you’re attacking or even evading enemies. Fortnite veterans who aren’t put off by the differences should quickly feel right at home, but even people new to these sorts of games should find the learning curve reasonably accessible. Since it’s cross-platform in theory there shouldn’t be an issue in finding opponents, so get out there and get some spellcasting on!

MX vs. ATV: All Out - When it comes to racing titles on Switch there’s definitely a fair amount of room at the top for competent titles to fill in the generally empty space. I’d say that in particular the off-road racing scene has been dodgy at best to this point. When it comes to MX vs. ATV I’d say there’s a mixture of good news and bad. Starting with the bad news visually the game is sufficient but not terribly impressive either. Though the game has a pretty nice variety of overall environments the textures and sparse nature of them look a bit dated, and some of the physics can look and act a bit oddly at times every once in a while. That said, for its flaws I think there’s enough total content and options you have in the game that off-road racing fans should still be able to eke a fair amount of enjoyment out of it. Whether you like racing on tight tracks in an arena, moving through checkpoints in wildly varying terrain without any strictly-defined tracks at all, or tricking it up for a little fun this has you covered. Sure, the feel is very arcade-y, but that also means it’s a pretty fun time as well. Even with its flaws I’d say this is the best overall off-road racing title I’ve played on the system to date.

Roommates - Given my history of not usually being a fan of visual novels and games that are roughly in that orbit I’ll admit that Roommates surprised me a little bit. You play as a college freshman, hitting campus and staying in what I assume is a very small dorm space with a few very different characters who are both male and female. Perhaps I just didn’t get the right college experience but I can’t tell you how many things in that previous sentence make no sense at all… but we continue. I’d say that the characters in the game are pretty heavily on the predictable side, though most at least have some nuance you’ll learn to appreciate as you go, and that’s a credit to the writing. Whether it’s the nerdy shy girl, the party girl, or any of the other characters in the cast as you interact with them you do get to see more behind them which I appreciated, In terms of the overall picture and your level of agency I’ll credit the game with providing you with plenty of time management options that will affect your stats and which then will influence who you’re able to interact with and how. Whether all of that makes it worthwhile long-term I can’t say, but within this style of game I credit Roommates for putting in an honest effort.

Paradise Killer - This is one of those games where you just sort of need to be well-hydrated, strap in, and get ready for quite a bit of “Huh?” weirdness. It isn’t that the game’s exploration, clue finding, and mystery solving themselves are weird but you’re very much entering an unusual world with its own mythology, unusual characters, and situations. You play as Lady Love Dies, an investigator of the highest order who has been exiled for a ridiculously long time, brought back to find out who is behind the murder of the Council. Really, trying to describe the unusual circumstances and story isn’t something you can do in a sentence or two… it’s bizarre but you go with it. You’ll find yourself doing quite a bit of wandering the island, interacting with some strange folks, and looking for items and clues that can help you unravel what has happened. There can be a sense of aimless wandering at times, with portions of the island that are a bit barren, and you’re not given a great deal of specific direction, but the periodic oddity of it all can help make interactions as you try to understand it all interesting at least.

Road to Gaungdong - Though I consider the concept of giving a delayed payoff for a slow burn type of game a big risk, I’ve learned to give indie games, in particular, a fair deal of latitude. Not everything has to have a clear reward within the first hour, and some games that ultimately end up being pretty great simply take time to get developed and demonstrate what makes them worthwhile. I was rooting for Road to Guangdong as that sort of title, one that would reward your patience with some sort of rich story of family. Considering the pretty glacial pace and requirement of pretty slowly driving across the country, and trying to keep an old car running without blowing your budget, in search of inspiration and new recipes for your restaurant with your grandmother along for the ride, I expected something truly revelatory or at least deeply touching. Sadly, much like you meandering somewhat aimlessly across the country the game itself feels like it’s in too great of need for maintenance and assistance to run and you quickly consider moving on to something a bit more reliable… or at least fun in some way.

Thursday, September 3

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

Spinch - When I was in kindergarten I saw the movie The Yellow Submarine, and though I was far too young to really process what was in front of me it certainly left an impression. Very quickly, Spinch managed to give me flashbacks to that experience with its vibrant colors, weirdo enemies, and generally cheery overall feel. Oh, but this game is a very tricksy Hobbit indeed, as once you get a few levels in the surprises and challenges start to kick in. While it looks pretty innocent (though thoroughly weird) to get through some levels in this game you’re going to have to grit your teeth, dig in, and make an investment with your patience. There aren’t very many controls to master, just a jump and a dash, but their timing and combination together have more nuance than you’d assume and you’ll need to be on top of that nuance if you want to get through periodic tough spots. Having far more variety and depth than its trippy visuals would imply, this is a surprising (and pretty affordable) treat for platforming fans willing to take a chance on it.

Here Be Dragons - What do you get when you combine the randomness of the roll of the dice with a rule system that may be simple but has ample room for strategy (and mistakes) and a pretty sly sense of humor (though, as with all humor, it may not work for you)? Aside from a pretty good time if you’re into strategy the answer would be Here Be Dragons. It’s a bit of a sneaky one, really. What I do appreciate is that the many tutorial levels really do try to walk you through the full spectrum of ways to exploit the core rule set, most critically when to make what appear to be bad moves on the current turn in order to attempt to take more control and vanquish your foes on the next one. Depending on the affinities of your foes every roll of the dice is ripe with strategic opportunity and if you want to be able to strike and do damage you’ll need to choose higher numbers, but the problem is that doing so could give first pick of the dice to your foes on the following turn if they use the lower numbers. This, layered in with other rules, really does make for a challenge, even if at some point that ultimately leads to quite a bit of repetition over the long run. I give it credit for feeling a bit different and well-crafted, though I could see people going either way on their opinions of it.

Lair of the Clockwork God - This is one of those titles where I’m incredibly torn on where to put it. Starting with the concept, mixing together elements of a platformer (favored by Dan) and a classic point-and-click adventure (favored by Ben) is smart right out of the gate. This keeps the engagement a bit higher as you solve platforming and action puzzles interspersed with some more cerebral challenges as you’ll need to use inventory items and solve some tougher puzzles in another style. The main benefit to this mix though is that there’s plenty of opportunity for the two of them to interact, argue, and get into a humorous banter at times… tapping into those old school LucasArts kind of feels. Pretty much everything works really well until you get to the controls for interacting with objects and the environment… which are unintuitive, a bit awkward, and sadly quite terrible. Without being given any real direction on how they worked I ended up simply experimenting to work it out and conceptually what they went for was so odd I hesitated to even try it since I couldn’t believe that’s what they’d choose. I suppose that could be a casualty of mixing the styles together but it’s really hard to ignore or dismiss as a concern. The result is what’s generally a great game brought down a few points by the fact that you’re almost constantly using clunky controls that never get comfortable.

Ary and the Secret of Seasons - Taking on the task of making a game that feels like it’s intended to occupy the same space as the likes of the Legend of Zelda series, even removing Breath of the Wild from the table, is a rough road few manage to make significant headway in. Though Ary as a character I like, with her working through some very Mulan-esque issues in dealing with her family and culture, and some of the things she’s able to do over the course of her adventure inspire some wonder the experience just has too many faults to make a substantially positive impression. Though I’m usually not one to ding games for performance issues, I’m no framerate snob, the game’s obvious struggles in this case at key times like boss battles were hard to push aside. Throw in this Switch version feeling taxed with expansive environments, in places heralding in the return of the dreaded foggy look from previous generations, and this port feels a bit hamstrung. Even removing that from the picture while the game’s world is quite large once you begin exploring it also shares a degree of that earlier gen problem of feeling effectively empty, with stretches with little to nothing going on so your interest tends to wane. While Ary and her various elemental powers are cool in principle and execution when you’re able to make use of them, and it has some moments that pop, the heavy weight of too many areas where the gameplay is ho-hum at best unfortunately leave the biggest impression. Hopefully the upcoming patch will help address at least some of these issues for people who take the plunge.

Good Pizza, Great Pizza - As a former employee of a pizza place for a number of years I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for slinging pies. That also, unfortunately, tends to make me perhaps a bit more critical than the average person as well. In terms of the positives the general feel of laying down toppings and working the critical prep and cutting stations feels pretty right, though I’ll say the game seems incredibly lenient with messy sauce and cheese placement, even when it leaves little to no crust in spots so that was a disappointment since it’s critical in the biz. Since trying to be as quick and accurate as possible is important I do like how the game will tend to throw you curveballs, with your clientele realistically asking for unusual things like an uncut pizza (some people like to save them to reheat later and cut fresh I found), going half and half, or even making it vegan (meaning you’ll need to leave off the cheese any any meat). Already that gave me some concern since people would ask different ways for the same things, but perhaps not everyone will be up on the lingo. You can get some help with a translation but I’m not positive that always clarifies things sufficiently depending on someone’s exposure. Then someone asked me for a dark pizza and I hadn’t been told how to do that… which would be to somehow either slow it down through the oven or even put it through twice, but I couldn’t then figure it out intuitively either. It’s small missteps like these that added to the sense of there just not being enough variety in what you’re trying to do or achieve that make its appeal more limited. Though it’s intended to just be some casual fun it’s hard to feel there being much staying power to keep you engaged for more than a short while given the competition food-making space.

Mini Reviews: September 3rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Witcheye - There’s no doubt that Witcheye has a certain odd charm to it, with you literally controlling an eyeball that’s inclined to move in straight lines until it rebounds or it stopped or redirected by you directly. I found I tended to be a continuously-redirecting fool, perhaps making it tougher than it should have been, but the mid-air stop just didn’t appeal to me so I think I took the tougher path, at least with a controller in docked mode. This definitely feels like a title more intended for handheld play using the touchscreen and going that route it certainly feels more intuitive. The name of the game here is simply making your way through a series of traps and enemies, being careful to avoid taking damage and lining yourself up to make it through tough spots and take out enemies. If you’re a completionist you may not always like the need to burn time randomly poking around stages in search of hidden gems. They’re a bit all over the place in terms of ease to find from level to level but it’s not a huge deal. In the end Witcheye is an enjoyable and accessible title, without a doubt, just it may skew a bit too far to the simplistic (and thus maybe a bit dull) side the more of a gaming veteran that you are.

Piffle - Who knew that even after all this time I could get sucked in by a cute game that has elements of Breakout and maybe some Bust a Move and their ilk. Sure, it’s super-casual, sure I didn’t have too tough a time getting all stars on every level for quite some time, but hey, it kept adding in some layers and to its credit I had to get out of a few tough spots (though I horded my power-ups like crazy and probably could have made my life simpler). There’s nothing terribly complicated about Piffle but what there is works like a charm and it offers just enough challenge to get you hooked and keep your interest without likely discouraging anyone too greatly. Will it be for everyone? Not in the least. But aside from it perhaps being a bit pricier than I’d expect for this sort of title (though, to its credit, it is very polished) it’s a really good time and should help you melt away some hours while generally having a relaxed and good time.

Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars - I’ll admit that initially I was pretty excited for this. The game’s gothic art, general tone, and feel all worked pretty nicely for me… so it sucked me in. Working through the tutorial was a bit slow, with some delays being caused by the directions and interface not always being a slam dunk for where to click and how, but I was still ready to go… but then it crashed. Coming back I had more problems so I moved onto the game assuming I could muscle through. Even with as many strategy titles in this general vein as I’ve played, there’s just something about the flow and rules of this that feels odd and a bit over-encumbered. The great thing is that there does seem to be a fair amount of room for choice, deciding how to use what energy and cards you have per turn to set yourself up best for success. However, until you really dig into how everything functions and making the interface work for you, rather than periodically fighting it a bit to get to the screen or action you’re wanting to perform, it can be frustrating. This is probably exacerbated by using console controls versus if you were playing on PC with a mouse and keyboard. The thing is, even removing the controls from the mix there’s something underwhelming here in that aside from some great cosmetics and some appropriate attributes the vampire theme feels a bit wasted and though it could have perhaps livened up the tactical combat it instead just falls pretty flat. If you’re looking for a change of strategic pace it may be an excellent option but if otherwise I think there are numerous better options on the system.

Connection Haunted - OK, so we have a FPS-style horror suspense game… check. Since suspense can be a tricky affair, not looking to give away too much too quickly, you can sometimes expect a slow burn. Alright, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing so I’ll just wander corridors a bit aimlessly while consulting a mini map trying to find 3 flags. Hrm, not running into anything at all… what in the world. Hey, did I just hear a sort of moan? Hey, it looks like someone else connected, though there’s no real clue as to what that really means since I’ve stomped around and captured 2 flags already. I think I just sort of saw something move in the distance, I’ve got whatever gun I have, bring it! OK, so I think I saw an enemy that honestly wasn’t very intimidating looking but I shot it. OK, there’s another and though in theory this is where my heart should start racing a bit if anything I’m a bit bored and shot another one or two. OK, trying to get a better look at my enemy, wondering if they’re even scary or will really attack. Getting closer… and it says the connection has been lost. Yeah, I suppose someone may get sucked into this somehow and want to understand the workings of it all better but really, there’s very little to suck you in here and a lot of “dead air” waiting for things to happen so it’s not for me.

A Hero and a Garden - OK, so these days not all games are meant to be action-filled and there are even subgenres like visual novels where “play” is replaced by sometimes limited interaction to drive the story. A Hero and a Garden is kind of weird because it’s a bit off in its own odd direction, not having enough story depth or giving you enough agency to be a visual novel and yet what there is to play is sporadic at best and reminds me most of a “clicker” type game when you do play. The sad thing is that I actually like the story, with your hero having stormed the area around a castle, looking to save a princess from a witch, but it turns out he was overzealous and wrecked the homes of pretty innocent and decent demons and critters, so now he’s having to work off his destruction by tending to a garden he ruined. Weird, funny, sure, but it’s not enough to sustain an experience where you’re stuck in so much dialogue and when you do get to the action it’s so short-lived and generally dull. Just not sure what to do with this one.

Tuesday, September 1

Mini Reviews: September 1st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

West of Dead [Nindie Choice!] -
While there are many roguelike shooters on the Switch (and quite a few of them are absolutely terrific) none of them plays quite like West of Dead. The biggest change is in the pacing, switching out arcade-style intensity with the more careful action befitting your undead gunslinger. Make no mistake, this game is absolutely a challenge, and in true roguelike fashion it’s not going to compromise it’s level of difficulty for the benefit of your ego in the early going especially. The thing is, once you get over the substantial hump of Chapter 1 (pro hint: unless you like dying don’t take on the Wendigo in the second level, he’s optional) and get your bearings, as well as a few new weapons and items for your arsenal selection, it does let up. Many mechanics for progression and flow take a page from the Dead Cells handbook, a smart move, though unfortunately the build variety and choice in that title isn’t as present here. Though I love the Mignola-esque art style the darkness mixed with funky geometry can sometimes be annoying as you'll get stuck, and the camera that tries to keep a bead on the action can contribute to occasional issues further. Though perhaps this is a title best reserved for the hardcore roguelike fans who know what they’re getting into, the game’s sense of style matched with the voice of Ron Perlman may compel some new blood to the genre as well. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

Neko Navy - This is one bizarre mix of elements to make a game. Intense shmup action: check. Bullets and explosions all about you: check. In place of your ship you’ll be taking control of a cat?? When you’re playing indie games there are no rules! Select one of the 3 felines with somewhat varied bullet patterns, strap in, do your best to dodge, and make regular use of your screen-clearing bombs and this is a pretty good time on a budget. Worth noting as well is that the 3 skill levels do a reasonable job of appropriately changing things up with the lowest probably being about as beginner-friendly as you could have without giving up completely and the highest filling the screen and likely making you struggle to save space. It isn’t going to come close to the top-tier titles in the genre but it is a pretty good bit of fun nonetheless.

World of Tanks: Blitz - Free-to-play games are always a bit of a challenge to formally review, but luckily I’m not in the formal biz so I can just get on to breaking down the situation and leaving it at that. I get the appeal of a highly-accessible title like this, and I’ve played games like it before for a while. If you’re into the ground battle action, trying to blow some people up, and the prospect of waging ground battles while incrementally upgrading or personalizing your rig in some way sounds good, knock yourself out. Just be assured that a price for it being free is dealing with a regular stream of inundation encouraging you to spend some real money to advance a little quicker, or get some cool upgrades. You can still have fun not spending a penny, and in general it takes little time to get connected to a match, but what makes the game so easy to get into initially is also an element of what can work against it in the long term. No matter what tank or gear you get the experience will, at its essence, always be roughly the same and while some skill and tactical understanding can help you do better there’ll still be a point where it’s nature is to be more of the same, no matter what special events or alternative modes you may throw at it. If that’s your thing, it’ll be a lot of fun most likely. If you’re looking for something a bit more involved it’s still worth checking out for free, it just may not sustain your interest for long.

Deadly Days - A post-Apocalyptic world. Roaming hordes of zombies. Two survivors with a simple base, a school bus, and a regular need for supplies. That pretty much establishes the full groundwork for this roguelike strategy title. Choose your daily mission, try your best to move quickly but as safely as possible, making as good of use of your powers like airstrikes on a cooldown to cover your people, and hopefully you’ll not only keep up with your needs for feed but find new weaponry and other goodies to help make survival a little easier. Now sure, roguelikes are what they are, and disappointment leading to utter failure is going to happen, but the challenge here is the very loose nature of your “control” over your people. You can more broadly give them encouragement to do something, and they’re mostly good at complying, but as the screen gets more crowded and sometimes things like buildings partially obstruct everything situations tend to devolve quickly and in a way that can leave you feeling a bit powerless. Mixed with there being a bit too much grind with not enough carrot to make it consistently compelling and it can be fun for a bit but has questionable longevity.

Tank Mechanic Simulator - I’ll just admit it, most simulation games like this simply baffle me in their appeal. Sure, being able to live out a fantasy of doing a job you may not be able to pull off in real life could have some appeal. Hey, and tanks are big and destructive so maybe understanding all of the components go into making them possible can be interesting. But really, is going to a bunch of parts, removing the rust from them, sandblasting them, and then priming and painting them all too slowly and methodically really that fulfilling? Throw in the controls and instructions not being all that hot (disassembling pieces can be tricky when you can’t quite line up on them with your pointer) and if you’re really into tank maintenance more power to you but for anyone else it’ll be a firm pass.