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.