Thursday, November 26

Mini Reviews: November 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The Alto Collection [Nindie Choice!] -
Conversions from the mobile space are always a bit of a tricky thing to review on a full-fledged gaming console like the Switch, too often lacking the depth of play to justify not just getting and enjoying them on your phone. Alto’s Adventure is actually a title I originally enjoyed quite a lot on my phone, delivering a somewhat arcade-like experience where you’re alone on your snowboard trying to avoid rocks and obstacles while making smart jumps, pulling off a flip here or there, and working to make your runs last as long as you can. In this Collection it is joined by the sequel, Alto’s Odyssey, which is no doubt similar, changing out snow for sand, but manages to throw in enough new elements like hot air balloons that it stands on its own. One thing I’ve come to truly appreciate in game design is the task of making one-button play accessible, engaging, and even challenging and very few pull it off well. The people behind this collection have nailed it though, so while it may not be well-suited to long play sessions and lacks in true depth it’s perfect for taking your mind away from the world for a little while and maybe making you grit your teeth a little in spots. The fact that it does so for a very budget-friendly price is just icing on the cake.


Maid of Sker [Nindie Choice!] - Survival horror may be one of the most tricky genres I’ve seen to really make a quality game in. Whether the issue is too much repetition, too thin an overall story, or too much focus on cheap jump scares over building genuine tension many more games get it all wrong rather than right. I’ll admit that there are some elements of Maid of Sker that still irk me a bit, mostly the environment being chock full of objects you can see but not interact with and even a plentiful number of objects to pick up that serve no purpose other than to rotate them and appreciate how well they were modeled. Perhaps it isn’t a fair criticism but it is a pet peeve, though I’ll admit the areas all being bare of any detail would be a worse option, I just do wish there could be a balance in the middle. Regardless, while the game does have its jump scares I feel like for the most part they’re earned and not necessarily cheap. In the beginning you’re quite unsure of what’s happening and there’s a nice build up of tension before it begins throwing the scares at you. Another strength is in level design, the areas you’ll explore feel like they strike a great balance between not being too elaborate and confusing but also not feeling like you’re always moving directly from A to B to C with no room to make choices. Throw in some unique elements like needing to clamp down your own mouth in order to not make noises (careful or you may pass out from a lack of oxygen though) and this feels like a pretty well-planned horror adventure and certainly shows more effort than the majority of its contemporaries.


Star Renegades - I can’t ever get enough roguelike games in my life it seems, and I’m always intrigued to see how it can be used as a catalyst for changing up expectations for new genres and break ground. Star Renegades feels like a fresh take on the formula for the most part, mixing the procedural generation of the areas you’ll fight through and the enemies you’ll face with a pretty complex turn-based strategic combat component that will force you to carefully plan your attacks and defenses based on the strengths and weaknesses of the foes you’ll face. Granted, as a result the difficulty on any given run can feel a bit on the brutal side at first as you try to get accustomed to how and when to make the best use of each of your characters’ attacks and skills in order to find success. An unfortunate area where the game also gets brought down a notch is in the degree of polish currently, as performance and stability feel inconsistent at times and while it functions in handheld mode it feels pretty clear that it was in no way optimized for it, though unlike the performance issues I’m not sure that can be patched realistically so unless you play docked this may not be a great match.


More Dark - OK, so no-frills budget puzzle platformers… they’re a thing on Switch and More Dark jumps right into that pile unapologetically with no remorse. There’s a demonic sort of theme going on in the art but honestly nothing in the gameplay reinforces that in any meaningful way so it feels arbitrary at best aside from hoping the look would somehow sell some extra copies. You’ll need to jump to avoid obstacles or on top of enemies while trying to be mindful of how the level is laid out to be sure you don’t paint yourself into a corner. Difficulty from level to level is inconsistent and even a bit odd at times, where there will be stages that require you to show some timing and skill so it takes a few attempts followed up by 5 stages you’ll feel were simply trivial to complete. If it’s on sale and you’re hard up for a decent-ish challenge it may work out but in general I’d say there are simply too many other better titles in the space to make it worth much attention.


Electro Ride - OK, so since I’m a huge fan of the TRON universe and movies at first the neon-lit look of this game had my attention. Even half-way into the first race any excitement I had completely evaporated unfortunately as it committed a pretty horrific sin in the world of racing games… its controls are over-sensitive and pretty outright terrible. Whether you try to play with the analog stick (sorry, no analog control and your car will turn pretty hard with even a small nudge of the stick) or the D-pad the situation isn’t a good one and while you can try to feather the throttle or employ the handbrake nothing really makes it better. I hoped that maybe there’d be a slider for the sensitivity in the options but unfortunately those hopes were dashed quickly when there proved to be no way to adjust anything like that so I was stuck. Outside of the horrendous controls perhaps the racing is middling, borrowing the color-changing and boosting concept from the likes of Fast RMX and some others, but generally just having a very no-frills presentation and quality of gameplay. Among the racers I’ve played on the Switch there have been some real stinkers but while this may look a bit better than some on the list the control issues really nullify any reason to be excited about this one.

Wednesday, November 25

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


Monster Truck Championship -
Having never really seen the appeal of packing into an arena to witness the over-the-top smashing, bashing, and ear-splitting volume of monster truck madness games trying to bring the experience home have typically fallen flat for me. While Monster Truck Championship isn’t by any means a great racing game in a traditional sense, it does a good enough job with what it has to work with to make it consistent and reasonably challenging though. One advantage Championship has over the competition is that it works with 3 different event types in its circuits to diversify its challenges and which also allow you to struggle in some types if you’re strong in others. Racing is interesting and can also be a real challenge as managing the way a truck like this turns at high speed is tricky and in particular you’re prone to oversteer. Freestyle events are more in line with what most titles have focused on before, with you trying to stunt your way to a high score by flipping, rolling, and then smashing anything that gets in your way. Chaining combos is what it’s all about here, which can be rough if you blow a stunt, but it can be fun when you’re on a roll. Somewhere in the middle is then the last event, a sort of monster truck drag race where a solid start, careful turning, and keeping focused on a clean run gives you the win. Throw in full ride customization, sponsors who’ll pay you if you can complete specific goals, and a management layer where you can customize your team to try to help give you a boost here or compensate for a weakness there, and it is a solid attempt at an appealing total package… even if it overall remains a niche-y experience.


Cake Bash - There’s always something a bit entertaining about games that mix cuteness with a little bit of mean brutality and that core silliness seems to be part of the driving force behind Cake Bash. Everyone will play as a cheery little confectionery in a bakery window, with seemingly not a care in the world, until it’s announced that someone is coming and will only buy the cake with the most gummies on it… and from that point it’s a free-for-all. Whether playing locally with friends, subbing in some bots, or trying to see if anyone is out there to play online the game tries its best to have you covered for competition, and while there aren’t loads of different play modes there’s an earnest attempt to make them each distinct while maintaining a culinary theme of some sort. These range from events that feel a bit like mini games from the likes of Mario Party to arena brawlers with different variations to try to keep the play from getting stale too quickly. The mix overall seems to do a fair job of mixing skill-based challenges with an element of luck, hopefully opening the door to everyone having a pretty fair chance of winning. With the space being so full of very similar multiplayer brawlers and shooters Cake Bash does enough right to sweeten the deal and warrant a look.


Captain Sabertooth and the Magic Diamond - The classic side-scrolling platformer is a cornerstone of gaming, and obviously on a console that’s home to Mario Nintendo fans are well acquainted with some of the best titles in the genre out there. The risk for developers, especially smaller indie houses, making games in the same space is that comparisons are inevitable and usually not terrible flattering. Captain Sabertooth at least makes a reasonably good impression, and does have some variation and even periodic surprises that change play up and help to break things up a bit. That said, in terms of the control mechanics and “feel” things aren’t as tight and precise as they could be and there are many sections where the level design and what you’re doing simply feels a bit too much like generic filler. Thankfully when you need to backtrack (which is relatively often) at least there are often quicker alternative paths to avoid some Metroidvania-esque nightmares of retreading multiple screens to get around once you’ve cleared a specific area. If you’re a genre fan it should entertain you for a bit but for people who haven’t already exhausted the available games in the space there are more polished candidates.


BFF Or Die - Tis the season for getting people together to play games (well, with Covid perhaps less so, but roll with it) so co-op fans are no doubt looking for something just a bit different to enjoy with friends or family. In terms of being different the good news is that BFF Or Die has you covered, with it being a sort of a cooperative action game mixing bits of Pac-Man, a claw machine, and a few other oddball gadgets to make something thoroughly different. Each person will have a distinct role to play and coordination is the key to success, though everyone having the ability to adapt is definitely helpful since the action keeps on moving, not waiting for you to catch up. Whether the play is well-balanced, all roles are engaging equally for everyone, or raucous fun I would imagine will vary greatly per audience though. There’s no denying it’s simply different in its execution but it’s by no means a guaranteed hit for everyone.


Dune Sea - Not all games have to be action-packed thrill rides, and the Switch has had quite a number of excellent titles that have proven to be more calm and contemplative but still very much worthwhile. Dune Sea no doubt aims for that as a goal, with you playing as a bird who has been separated from its flock and must get a move on to try to catch up. The resulting side-scrolling “flying” is mostly about avoiding obstacles and then occasionally picking up companions who’ll enable you to fly through some rings to trigger an event that knocks out some weird tentacled monster that shows up periodically. If that sounds odd, and perhaps even vague, it is. None of these elements are explained in any way, you just sort of encounter them and work it out even if it doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense. Maybe if the mechanical flying were more fluid and responsive there could be more fun but there’s a clunkiness in how you fly, turn, and maneuver that makes it a bit too inconsistent to truly allow you to dig in and just experience the sense of flight. The result is just a decent but pretty empty experience.

Wednesday, November 18

Mini Reviews: November 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Pure Pool [Nindie Choice!] -
While I’ve never been super serious about playing pool it is a sport I’ve enjoyed in quite a number of pool halls and friends’ homes over time. There have certainly been pool simulators that have come and gone over the years, but while there were some good ones I can’t say it ever quite felt like they properly captured the entirety of the experience for me. That changed with Pure Pool, as in just about every regard it has managed to pull me in. Whether it’s the crisp and detailed visuals, the accurate and tight controls, or the helpful but not too helpful visual assists for working out the angles of your shots I’m not sure how much more you could ask from a simulator for the sport. Then, going the extra mile beyond the mere mechanics of the experience on the table, there are a lot of new avenues that will force you to improve and broaden your game here beyond mere 8-ball, 9-ball, and snooker. Special challenges will force you to maximize your efficiency, carefully set up your next shot, and then execute as you try to do things like clear the table in a short amount of time. Throw in support for taking on challengers locally or online with cross-platform support and billiard fans should have a great opportunity here to bring the pool hall experience home with them or anywhere they go.


Serious Sam Collection [Nindie Choice!] - As time has gone on the first-person shooter genre has gone through quite a lot of changes and evolution, generally moving from simply being all about blowing through hordes of enemies and trying to add in either story elements or genre mixes to help it become a bit more elevated. Then there are titles like the Serious Sam series that are pretty well determined to stay in place and revel in the simplicity of carnage and crazy-ass enemies to blow apart… and as this collection proves that can still work when it’s handled correctly. You’ll be able to enjoy all 3 titles in the Sam trilogy as well as the DLC add-ons for the last of the series and follow Sam from his beginnings killing in the desert, then to more tropical locales, then to wrecked cities, and more while dispatching a host of weird and generally unique foes using an arsenal ranging from the more ordinary to the ridiculous. Granted, at times Sam feels like he’s trying a bit too hard to imitate Duke Nukem in terms of his one-liners and bits of dialogue but for the most part the style and feel of the action is at least distinctive. Yes, there are more evolved shooters on the platform without a doubt, as well as some AAA shooters that appropriately carry a higher price tag, but if you’re just down to blow stuff up on a budget it’s hard to argue there’s a better overall value on the system.


Five Dates - With the global pandemic just now reaching a full year since it was first discovered Five Dates is a bit of a quick turnaround marvel, looking to capitalize on an opportunity to make a rom-com-styled game in the days of Covid. With you taking control of the decisions of Vinny, a somewhat everyman kind of person who is being egged on by his best friend to hit the virtual dating scene, you’ll get the chance to look for love in a very timely manner… 100% over video chat. Among the first 5 women you’re able to choose from you’ll pick 3 to go on dates with, then having a follow-up date with 2 that you choose, and then hopefully finding a match with one of them to close it out. The thing is, while most dating games like this tend to skeeve me out a bit or feel like my choices are only a bunch of predictable and unrealistic stereotypes, Five Dates really feels like you’re talking to normal people. You absolutely won’t connect with all of them but that’s OK, they’re generally all quirky enough with their eclectic likes and dislikes that you may not find any of them are a great match. The thing is, the conversations feel pretty honest, can be funny, and were generally quite engaging. Would I repeatedly go back and change my answers and choices to explore a relationship with everyone in the game? That’s unlikely, but I will say that this was a pleasant surprise filled with people who, for once, felt genuine… and that’s something in itself.


Mars Horizon - Memorialized in books, movies, and television shows, the space race is one of the most significant triumphs of both science and human will ever. Mars Horizon is a strategy title that attempts to put you in the middle of it, at least from a high level planning standpoint. Starting with a fledgling space agency under a flag of your choosing (each choice has its own perks) you’ll endeavor to out plan, fund-raise, research, and achieve your competition to be first to the stars and immortality. There’s some nuance and process to learn in order to maximize success, but in general this is a game spent in multiple screens of options and information where you’ll be presented with decisions to make and the potential for disaster at any point, particularly if you’re unable to balance your thirst to be first with the practical realities of developing new and experimental technologies. While the concept of playing through the space race can be a compelling one the pretty detached nature of everything in this title makes it tougher to connect with. It’s absolutely interesting to see and gain an understanding of the challenges these scientists and decision-makers faced but it also may have a somewhat narrow appeal at the end of the day as a game.


Bridge Constructor: The Walking Dead - Bridge construction games have become a subgenre of the physics puzzle game persuasion that has had an interesting degree of staying power. The thing is, once the developers behind these games got all of the proper mechanics down and refined they sort of ran out of fresh material to keep the exercise compelling. Enter titles like this one and a previous riff on the genre that used the humor and creativity of the Portal franchise to change things up and provide new physics-based challenges in a different context. While I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead comics, TV series, and narrative adventure titles here I’ve had a difficult time not feeling like it’s a pretty big stretch. Survivors, with the aid of Eugene and some other franchise characters, will need to work together to concoct the means to block off, crush, and avoid walkers while saving themselves. Some new character-specific actions and commands help to give the game more complexity and need for both planning and execution, but perhaps its the over-the-top silliness and fun of the Portal edition that, by comparison, make this feel more like a slow-shambling amalgam of ideas that just isn’t as engaging.

Tuesday, November 17

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


Sniper Elite 4 [Nindie Choice!] -
The Sniper Elite series has always been an interesting red-headed step-child off to the side of the FPS genre. There’s no doubt its cornerstone element is the art of sniping, as well as the slow-mo kill cam shots of bullets ripping through your enemies, but to this point outside of that the games have been a bit clunky. The mechanics were always decent but the limiting factor was often the level design since the areas were simply too confined so conceptually it wouldn’t take your enemies much effort to figure out where you were positioned with so few options available to you. This entry completely blows that criticism out of the water, replacing overly constrained areas with large and wonderfully varied environments that absolutely encourage exploration and experimentation. Not only will you find random hidden stashes here and there, you’re really given the freedom to choose your personal path to success whether that’s storming in a straight line for your threat, or taking the long way to flank and utilize an element of surprise to devastating effect. This really is the leap in quality of level design I’ve been waiting for with the series, moving it away from being more of a niche bit of fun and making it a legitimate contender with the more successful series out there. Sure, you’re always going to want to set up those great long shots and enjoy the thrill of ripping a slow-mo shot through someone’s lungs, but now the connective tissue between those moments feels stealthier, smarter, and more engaging than ever. Throw in online multiplayer modes that also offer some pleasant surprises and this series finally feels like it has earned the elite in its name.


Swimsanity! - Multiplayer games on Switch have really just about become a challenge for me to review in many regards. Due to their abundance and a general lack of any serious differentiation at a core level between many of them it’s hard to generate enthusiasm for new ones that come along. To be sure that’s where Swimsanity’s greatest strength lies, whether you’ll fall in love with all of its modes and variations is a fair question, but there’s no denying that aside from being underwater the developers have gone to some efforts to give it a unique and distinctive feel. Probably the greatest strength it has is playing one of its competitive multiplayer modes, most of which can be played as a free-for-all or in teams. The controls are generally easy to pick up and understand, the action tends to be pretty quick, and the power-ups generally find the balance of being able to turn the momentum around when well utilized without being a guarantee of success. The co-op modes are also worth noting since they’re pretty far outside of the norm you’ll find in indie multiplayer titles, but even with that in mind they’re comparatively not able to sustain much excitement past a few rounds generally. It’s great that you’re able to take on some of this solo, but aside from it being a good way to master the controls and some nuance nobody should be looking to buy it if they’d mostly be playing alone. While online matchmaking does work I’d say the interface could/should be refined a bit more for accessibility and consistency since it can be cumbersome and isn’t what I’d consider inherently intuitive either. If you’re strapped to find a reasonably traditional and better-than-average multiplayer game to enjoy with friends it’s a fair bet, just temper your expectations from getting too high and you shouldn’t be disappointed.


Dreamo - Going back quite some time the FPS puzzle adventure has seen a variety of takes over the years. From the original titles like Myst on through successes like The Witness each has had its own general approach to their narratives and puzzle styles. In the case of Dreamo you’ll find yourself in a simulation, feeling disoriented but being tethered to the outside by a seemingly friendly female voice who attempts to fill you in and help you on your journey. Your stepping stones towards progress are increasingly-complex puzzles which consist of cubes that continue to layer more elements onto them which require you to learn, adapt, and experiment to complete. While there’s no doubt that the depth of challenge to the puzzles is consistently satisfying I would say that the lack of greater variety as a whole left a twinge of disappointment. That said, in general the story helps to compensate for any misgivings, continuing to dangle the carrot in your face to keep you motivated to persevere and work things through. I understand the desire to give the space you inhabit a more dreamy and unusual visual quality but there were times it bordered a bit too much on being outright blurry, but on the whole this is a well constructed and simply different puzzle title that deserves an audience.


Ghostrunner - I’ve continued to be pleasantly surprised or even a bit amazed at the types of titles that developers have gotten running on Switch, especially when they’re pretty ambitious visually. Ghostrunner is such a title, featuring fast-moving dashing and slashing ninja action as you parkour your way through environments while dispatching enemies violently. The challenge is that no matter how lethal your sword may be you’re also extremely fragile, with a single hit bringing you down so you’ll need to really work to survive in some areas. I’d say my one challenge with the game, regardless of the platform (I also played it on my high-end PC) is managing where you’re looking at any given time, with your wall jump and run not working if angled incorrectly and it being easy to struggle to keep your enemies in view as you move around quickly from one to another. The problem with this port though, no matter how admirable a job the developers may have done to get it running remarkably well on Switch overall, is that there were some major sacrifices made to make it happen. Visually the game is washed out and detail can be wonky at times, but even with those sacrifices that doesn’t always prevent performance issues from cropping up. Given the title is focused on speed and fluidity as part of its draw the Switch port may be serviceable but if you have any other platforms as an option I’d recommend playing this title on another one to maximize your enjoyment of the experience.


Apparition - Indie horror titles have a tendency vary wildly in their quality, often being built with a focus on jump scares over playability or a cohesive game experience. While I don’t doubt there will be people patient enough to get some mileage out of Apparition there’s no missing that it’s lacking in a number of areas. The most obvious is a lack of overall direction on how to even try to be successful, either relying on people grinding until they work it out for themselves or getting a walkthrough perhaps. What you’re doing, how to use your equipment properly, and how to be successful are open questions as you wander around a pretty sparse environment. You’ll find random materials and scraps of paper that will help you use a ouija board to try to communicate but again, the why and how of it all is vague at best, as is the equipment you’ll buy as you play more and accumulate currency for future runs. It honestly feels unfinished in this state and again, while persistence or some research may uncover a reasonable game that’s not a great foundation for success and player enjoyment.

Monday, November 16

Mini Reviews: November 16th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Vera Blanc: Full Moon -
As you may know by now if you’ve read quite a few reviews I generally find narrative games to be less-than-stellar more often than not. I’m happy to say in the case of Vera Blanc, though, there’s just enough to its odd psychic investigator on the track of a werewolf storyline to make it stand out. Reading someone’s mind is akin to a game of hangman, with you having little opportunity for error but most of the time you can lock in on the thoughts pretty well, but even if you don’t use that ability there’s room for intrigue. It plays out a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure, with you needing to make choices on what to do or who to focus on, and bad choices will then appropriately lead to a dire ending of some kind, but the journey is at least reasonably well-written and sucks you in to try again with your mistakes in mind. I do wish there were more illustrated panels to help keep the game more visually interesting but what’s there is adequate, just a bit limited. All in all if you’re looking for a bit of a mystery with a decent overall hook Vera Blanc is worth a look though.


My Universe: Cooking Star Restaurant - Once again the My Universe series delivers a more casual and kid-friendly take on games, this time with a restaurant experience that falls somewhere between Diner Dash and Cooking Mama, though in general without the associated pressure. You’ve opened a new dining spot where, in order to get off to a great start, you’ll be doing most of the work. Whether getting people to their seat, taking their orders, cleaning up tables, or making each meal you’ll at least be kept busy and thankfully your customers are generally very patient and understanding compared to anything else in the genre. Initially you’ll be making American fare, but then with consistent success new chefs will arrive, each bringing new cuisine and variety to your food establishment. Food prep breaks down into multiple steps, each with a relatively simple task whether chopping veggies, mixing batters, or flipping burgers and pancakes. None of these steps are typically terribly challenging so veteran gamers will want to steer clear but novices and younger kids will likely find this to be a great beginner experience to enjoy.


Unhatched - It’s always nice to see new takes on trending genres, and Unhatched has jumped into the fray with its own flavor variation on a deck-building strategy game. Throwing in elements that make the overall experience feel a bit more like an RPG adventure, with a sprinkling of a puzzler, it’s at least distinct in that regard and tends to keep changing things up. However, for really serious fans of the genre this isn’t likely to satisfy for long since the feel is more often puzzle rather than strategy for how to get through certain tasks. Coming over from the mobile space this makes sense though, with everything having a bit more of a casual feel from the challenge through to the presentation. More of a kick around as you are doing something else kind of experience it’s different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better.


Beat Me! - Multiplayer brawlers, no doubt inspired in part by the tremendous success of Smash Bros, are pretty well a dime a dozen out there including on the Switch, driven mostly by indie offerings both ambitious and humble. Beat Me, though having an interesting look and some stages that offer various obstacles and looks, comes in at the mid-to-low end of the spectrum unfortunately. Aside from a general lack of substance in the number and variety of character choices, each class playing distinctly but lacking in flair, there simply isn’t a whole lot of depth to things. Whether it’s the lack of overall attack options or even the somewhat paltry number of power-ups to be grabbed that results in matches feeling redundant pretty quickly as you settle into which class you prefer. Online play is available but given the somewhat lackluster action I would imagine it will be hard to enjoy this one with anyone who isn’t in the same room as you.


Bus Driver Simulator - Oh man, I do try to be open minded about games for all audiences and at all budgets even but when you hit a game like this it’s hard not to hear the record scratch sound in your head. OK, so I’ve played more mundane simulators before and at times there can be ones that will work due to variety or some weirdness factor, but driving a public transportation bus? Thrill to the excitement of maintaining your stop schedule! Nail-biting suspense as you wait for a red light! Taste the drama as you accidentally sideswipe a pedestrian that merely makes contact but nothing happens! Ponder over the weird appearance of many of your passengers as they come in like what appears to be a lady with a porn stache! If you’re down for this, more power to you, but in no way would I recommend it, even for irony’s sake.

Friday, November 13

Mini Reviews: November 13th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Linelight -
Puzzle action games can and have come in many forms, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen any go to the degree of simplicity seen in Linelight. For all of its minimalism though, what’s quite remarkable is how clearly it’s able to convey what you need to know in order to succeed. Your small light moving along interconnected lines, tripping switches, and working to avoid red lights are all very easy to understand and follow, and the designs of the various levels even have a certain beauty to them in many cases. If you’ve been looking for a puzzler that will demand your attention as well as some patience as you work out how to get through each area, and don’t mind the aesthetics being unusually austere, this may be well worth your consideration.


Metaverse Keeper - This is one of those titles where I’m a bit torn because this roguelike beat-em-up has many elements that I like but it’s impossible not to reflect on some of its weaknesses, especially given the tremendous strength of roguelike representation on the Switch at this point. After choosing your character, each having their own base weapon and general characteristics that make them play in a unique way, you’ll be out to survive and do some damage along the way. While most characters start with a melee weapon of some sort (each having a primary attack as well as a special on a cooldown) one of the game’s strengths is the variety of weaponry you’ll encounter as you go, with some being ranged as well as some which work in unusual ways but that can pack a wallop if you’re patient with them. In general roguelike staples are here with procedurally-generated areas, some unpredictability in the room types you’ll encounter, a helping of risk and reward to force some potential tough decisions, and just a reasonable degree of challenge (though you can choose to tone things down or crank them up with difficulty). Where some of the weaknesses creep in first is with meta progression, most of it being hard to quantify on how much positive effect it has, or even any at all. The tendency is for it to be buried in your stats in some fashion, so it’s not as easily measurable as in some games, but in general it’s hard to feel like you’re powering up much with your choices when compared to the competition. In addition, mechanically there’s just not quite the fluidity I was hoping for in your movement, especially when combined with your dash (and periodic performance hiccups). Then your character auto-aiming their weapon when shooting rather than going full twin-stick shooter is a bummer since I’d prefer the choice of targets since then I can always be leading where I want to be going rather than worrying about it the aiming AI is going to be cooperative or not. On the whole it has some polish and works adequately, but I wouldn’t consider it a top tier title by any means in what’s become a highly competitive genre on Switch.


Replica - Games like Replica, where the entire game experience roughly revolves around you working with someone else’s phone are interesting as a different and very modern form of a puzzle game. Trying to work with whatever information you can find to unlock their secrets has a certain voyeuristic quality but the downside is also that at times it can get tedious as you try to mine valuable information hidden like a needle in a mundane haystack of everyday interactions. To its credit the narrative hook here is a little different and your motivation is a bit more survival focused, so that’s at least a positive, but I’d consider games using this form of digital sleuthing more of an acquired taste and perhaps more suited to being enjoyed on a mobile device as well rather than a dedicated game-playing system.


Speed 3: Grand Prix - So, though the racing genre has slowly become better represented on the Switch there are still some obvious gaps in the portfolio. One such area that could use some fleshing out would be the high-speed thrills of Formula 1 racing. In theory Speed 3 is here to deliver you those said thrills, but unfortunately in practice there’s a whole lot keeping it from even getting out of the pits, let alone qualify. The first and most noticeable issue is the game’s look and visual performance. Given the speed these cars move at frame rate would obviously be a concern so perhaps a drop in visual quality would be in order to keep things smooth. Well, if the game was optimized on the visual front I couldn’t tell you what was emphasized because truthfully it’s all pretty dreadful. Periodic performance hiccups are bad enough but then the muddy textures really compound things, especially on tracks where the conditions like rain or the dark already negatively affect visibility. On a few of the tracks I struggled to make out turns, which really is a bit of a bummer. To make matters worse, even though I’m not a racing sim guy and would prefer arcade action the path Speed 3 has taken is bizarre at best. While your car is still predictably fragile you’re rewarded to a degree for wrecking your competition and the penalty for wiping out is relatively minimal Bizarre resulting things like driving the bulk of a race missing a wheel unfortunately come along for the ride and just in general this approach feels like they ran out of time so just left it the way it is, a somewhat baffling mess where aggression can pay off far more than driving effectively if you’re lucky. It’s undoubtedly a unique racer but there’s no denying it has problems from top to bottom without delivering much in the way of fun.


Crazy BMX World - So, sure, mobile conversions of one-button games can work reasonably well and be entertaining, even on the dedicated hardware of the Switch. There’s no need for snobbery just because of a game’s roots, it should be measured on its quality. Well, in the case of Crazy BMX World there’s a playable game there to be sure, just even though it’s a budget title and there are plenty of levels and little costumes to unlock there’s no ignoring its super-simple nature. You’ll be able to speed up a bit or slow down but your real focus will be on jumping, timing them correctly and perhaps throwing in a double jump or more when needed. The action is all side-scrolling and pretty basic, your only goal is really to survive and try to complete the limited stage objectives. A few power-ups peppered around throw in a little more interest but this is a pretty bare bones offering only for people who have limited resources and no access to a cell phone which would play something this simple just as well if not possibly better.

Wednesday, November 11

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


Fuser [Nindie Choice!] -
The rise and fall of music titles and their mainstream popularity has always been a bit interesting to watch. Certainly the peak came with the smashing success of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but games like Dance Central and its ilk as well as other subgenres have continued to slowly pump out engaging content for the fans. With the release of Fuser, Harmonix has once again taken a crack at making a title with true mainstream appeal, not just delivering an insane and diverse library of tunes to utilize but also working out a way to make the job of a DJ mixing the beats accessible and pretty engaging for a wide audience. You’ll spend time early on in the Campaign mode, with each new challenge introducing you to new tricks of the trade as you go. At the base of it all you’ll have 4 turntables to drop tracks onto, typically corresponding to the core beat, the bass line, the higher accompaniment, and then the vocals. At the basic level you’re able to do plenty with just this, timing your drops either at the measure or taking a cue for where it will seamlessly pick up from the previous track. From there you’ll be run through the paces, working with fades, altering tempos, creating custom loops of your own, and more. If you’re fascinated by music and doing a great job of manipulating it the well is a pretty deep one but if you’re looking merely for a game to “beat” in some regard it may not be a great match. Moving past the Campaign a number of community features allow you to collaborate, learn, and share but the value of those added opportunities is tied to what you’re looking for. Fuser lacks the party game sort of energy and show-off factor that some of the other major Harmonix titles has in its library but for fans of all music this is a pretty fascinating opportunity to play with it in an absolutely new and fascinating way.


Chicken Police: Paint it Red [Nindie Choice!] - While it has been a pretty long time since the genre was even remotely in style I’ve always been a fan of the hard-boiled noir detective story. The visual style, the mandatory tone of the narrator, dated terms like “dames”, and a certain verbosity to the lush description of every element of the story. Well, Chicken Police delivers precisely that world… but with all of the characters being anthropomorphized animals from all over the spectrum. Yeah, there’s something a bit silly about that, and there’s plenty of punnery in the game that is happy to help play with that fact, but the thing is the core noir experience is still there, feels authentic, and is quite entertaining for its novelty. The challenge here is often trying to figure out what to focus on in order to reveal your next lead and advance the story, you’ll need to be careful in your dialogue and pore over your notes looking for clues to help drive your line of questions in the right direction. While this won’t likely appeal to anyone looking for some action, this is still a classic adventure title at its heart, the abundance of style and personality of Chicken Police helps to distinguish it as not just another “poultry” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) offering in the eShop.


Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin - There are sometimes games you run into that can be a bit perplexing, that take a chance to combine genres or elements into a new experience that has merit but at the same time you can’t help but question who it’s really for. Sakuna is one of those titles for me, and while there’s no doubt that its characters and story are amusingly quirky and weird, and that in general all of the gameplay works and is reasonably satisfying, it still just doesn’t quite leap out as being cohesive to me. The disconnect is between the major cultivation element to the game which is contrasted by segments where you’ll be doing some side-scrolling ass-kicking. The stronger of the two is the farming component, where you’ll need to collect different elements that can be composted together to make great fertilizer, which you’ll then use to grow a healthy crop of rice. This turns out to be surprisingly deep (and pretty interesting) as you work out the techniques and tricks of effective crop management that goes well beyond the normal plant seeds, water, and cultivate model. In between tending to your crops and interacting with the other characters you’ll then also need to go out and give out some beatdowns, with that gameplay being a bit more generic in the end, though there are some fun flourishes of action at least. The result is definitely an interesting and weird combination, but one I’m not sure everyone would enjoy since time needs to be spent in both parts to have success, and their respective genres (and often fans) are so far away from each other on the spectrum.


My Universe: School Teacher - Exploring some more of the titles that are geared more toward either a general casual or a younger audience My Universe now has a charming teacher sim to enjoy. It’s all pretty simple, with you teaching a few different subjects each day, each having their own distinctive mini games, and then working to quickly assist students as they have questions by performing various actions with the controller. As you progress you’ll have the opportunity to unlock new customizations for your teacher, classroom, and school as well, all while never straying away from providing a consistent and pleasant experience all around. If you are looking for something casual to kick around with or have an aspiring young teacher in the house it may be a great fit.


Life of Boris: Super Slav - Well, there are sometimes pleasant surprises in the depths of the eShop release list, with quirky titles that make you forget about other issues. Unfortunately, while I’ll credit Life of Boris for being quite different than anything I’ve played I can’t really count that as much of a compliment. The first thing to know is that it’s a touchscreen-only title, which may scare off a sizable audience to begin with. Once you’re past that hurdle the issue is the game’s relative simplicity, with the action centered around a series of story panels that each have different “endings” depending on what you click on, with the mystery being how to click on what in which order to trigger each one. The thing is, while some of these are amusing it’s all pretty shallow stuff. Aside from that you have some weird mini games to play that make use of different controls in different ways for variety, and these can be amusing to a degree, but that’s about all there is… take it or leave it.

Tuesday, November 10

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


Battle Hunters -
It’s always interesting to run into indie games that are a bit of a surprise and while it is by no means perfect or likely a game for everyone Battle Hunters was precisely that for me. With a somewhat humble look that betrays its mobile roots some may dismiss it outright, and for the more hardcore set that would probably be appropriate anyway. The game’s mix of RPG and real-time combat elements don’t make for much overall challenge, but nonetheless I did find the gameplay reasonably unique and enjoyable. I think where it shines is in the pretty substantial number of party members you accumulate, each with their own core and then special attacks you’ll want to make effective use of. Strategically it would have been more satisfying if it felt like there were really parties you could put together that complimented each other, encouraging experimentation to discover which are most devastating. Unfortunately, switching members out becomes more of a tactic for healing members while they’re inactive than mattering much who is paired with who. I’d say it’s most ideal for more casual gamers or those looking for a good kick around game to have that doesn’t necessarily require your full attention to enjoy. 


Hunting Simulator 2 - A quick and appropriate admission, I’m absolutely not someone who does or likely ever would enjoy hunting. The thought of killing much of anything, short of it being absolutely necessary to my immediate survival, is pretty abhorrent to me. That said, since I currently live in a rural area where the schools let kids off for the first day of hunting season it’s something I have a fair appreciation for at least indirectly. Without the ability to evaluate authenticity directly with Hunting Simulator 2 I’ll keep it simpler and relay the experience of playing it, letting you then decide whether that meets what you may be looking for. At the beginning things are definitely a bit slow as you become accustomed to how best do things like track animals and set yourself up with the proper equipment and technique to maximize your chances for success. Your trusty initial hound may be eager to succeed but simply trusting in his nose early on can be a mistake so you’ll want to get good at looking for the visual cues that indicate you’ve heard animal sounds in the distance or simply seeing the glint of the tracks on the ground. This needing to get oriented will initially burn some time, but that will also allow you to explore your hunting ground, finding places to make camp, elevated blinds to perch in, or setting markers where you find animal tracks to return to later. As I would imagine true hunting would be as well, patience is absolutely a big part of being successful so you’ll want and need to take your time, periodically stop to take things in, and then try to set up a good position to shoot from when you sight an animal rather than simply begin trying to shoot the moment you see an animal. It is by no means perfect, and you can do quite a lot of aimless meandering around the woods with little to nothing to show for it, but at the same time there’s a relaxing quality even to exploring the virtual landscape while taking on the challenge of bagging one of quite an impressive number of animals featured in the game.


World Tour Tennis 2 - When it comes to sports titles there’s a tightrope to be walked between making the experience accessible and making it deep, with play ranging from pick-up-and-play arcade simplicity all the way up to a more complex and almost simulation-like feel. Whereas tennis has typically, especially on Nintendo consoles, erred on the side of super-accessible appeal to all ages and skill levels, World Tour Tennis 2 has its sights set very much on the other end of the spectrum. Now, to help complement that more serious take a lot of care has obviously been put into getting the televised match quality of presentation feel to everything, down to the camera angles, cuts to judges, or slow motion replays when appropriate. However, more casual sports fans looking to dive right in will find there’s a bit of a learning curve that represents a tough initial set of speed bumps to get over before you’ll feel competent on the court. Timing your stroke and then directing the ball are absolutely critical to success but aside from some brief tutorial training and simple repetition of getting it wrong a whole lot new players may feel a bit hung out to dry while they struggle. That struggle makes the inclusion of so many extraneous elements like cards you can use to boost your play in specific areas through careful deck management a bit baffling, as honestly the cards seem to add very little and that time could perhaps have been better spent on helping people come to terms with how to play effectively. If you’re looking for something to dive into with some passion and patience the journey to a tennis championship should be a rewarding one. If, however, you were just looking for a quick game of tennis to enjoy without a fair amount of investment you’ll likely find it a bit aggravating and picky instead.


Descenders - On a general level I’m a huge fan of procedurally-generated content. Done properly it’s able to re-use the same core pieces and assets and create endless variety to enjoy, possibly sacrificing the intricacy or care of the content you’re enjoying since it was created dynamically, but potentially making for endless variation. Descenders tries to apply this formula to a mountain bike racer, and to a degree there’s some success, but unfortunately as a solo experience it quickly dulls and even competing against others there’s just not enough variation to remix to keep it feeling fresh for long. There are some other cracks in the formula with mechanics that are relatively tight but never quite feel properly fluid and comfortable and then things like added objectives that at times, because they’re random, don’t actually make much sense given the generated track you’re working with. It’s decent, but it struggles to prove itself as much more than that.


Ord. - I’m all for games that provide a solid experience regardless of how minimalist a way it may be pulling that off. That is, perhaps in all cases I can imagine except for Ord. There’s something novel about it, essentially consisting of simple short stories with a choose-your-own-adventure style. The thing is it is so minimalist, between the descriptions and your choices simply being one word and there being no presentation that helps to enhance the experience, that there’s no reason for it to be a game to buy. You could accomplish pretty well the entirety of the game experience on a webpage somewhere and blow through everything in the space of one sitting, especially since there simply aren’t that many stories or branches within them to begin with. I generally applaud games looking to be different and change the perception of what games can be but this is simply a bridge too far. 

Friday, November 6

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


Mad Rat Dead - With an eShop full of titles it can pay to be different, but with the variety that’s out there even that has become a challenge. Enter Mad Rat Dead, a game with a bit of an attitude and an unusual mix of rhythm game and platformer that delivers on a unique feel. With a pretty unusual story you’ll find that your character, who has been killed in the course of some lab experiment, is on a mission. Brought back to life by the Rat God and given a chance to relive its final day, rather than revel in simple pleasures they're set upon revenge on the scientist instead. This helps propel the story, and makes for some humor, but the main attraction is the unusual action of the game. You'll have the normal sort of platforming moves available to you, the trick is that in order for them to work you'll need to try to do it all on the beat. When you get in the zone this works pretty well, and you can really feel like you're grooving away, but boy when you lose the beat or your core moves fail to chain well enough to put you in the right position it can be tricky to lock back in under duress. It's unusual and not always perfect in its execution but the mix of oddball humor in the story and distinctive action does help to differentiate it from the pack.


Iris and the Giant - It's quite remarkable how deck-building roguelikes have become quite a force to be reckoned with in the past year or so, but given the strategic challenge and pick up and play friendliness of them it's not hard to understand. Iris and the Giant, though on a general level similar to its brethren, does things just differently enough to stand out a bit. In addition to its watercolor-esque visual style and the overall simplistic nature of its look it also has a focus on efficiency and care in how you wage your campaign due to the scarcity of your cards. Typically you'd work your way through your deck and then reshuffle to take your chances on their order again, but in this case every extra moment you linger to try to grab something on a given level risks you running out of cards (or at least useful ones) the further you go. This does add to what you'll need to consider, managing not just your health but also the depth of your deck, and it helps the title stand out. That said, the degree of variety in the decks you'll build is more limited than the competition, making it a good change of pace to consider but perhaps lacking in relative depth.


YesterMorrow - With a great look and, an interesting time-shifting mechanic, YesterMorrow is easy to drum up some interest for. In order to save her village from a dark threat your character, Yui, will need to move back and forth through time in order to deal with threats in the present, as well as move into the past to make her way past obstacles and reveal additional elements of the story. The time shifting definitely has an effect on things, as the younger version of your character will need to rely on precision platforming while your more seasoned combat-ready older self can take on enemies. Overall, in principle, this can make for some solid puzzle platforming play, even if not all of the level designs feel particularly inspired. For now the killer is some inconsistency in performance though, as slowdowns and hiccups can stifle excitement when they happen a bit too often in key moments. It’s has good ideas and reasonably good play but still feels a bit rough around the edges.


Strife - This is one of those titles that probably felt more unique and interesting at the time of its release, but now with the passage of time what may have been novel is now just “Eh”. Mixing a classic first-person shooter look ala the likes of the early days with more of an RPG structure and feel was done to varying degrees back in the day, though I’d say Strife feels more committed to moving the needle further away from being a shooter than the rest. Unfortunately, the result is an experience that feels a bit too slow and plodding, lacking that adrenaline-filled shooting action you’re expecting, and with quite a bit of time just moving around and trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing or where you’re supposed to be going next. If you’re willing to give it some time things will pick up and get more interesting, but aside from people looking to reminisce over a game they enjoyed back in the day or a window into games past there’s not a lot to get excited about contrasting it with a host of other offerings on the console.


Tauronos - With its top-down perspective and pretty minimalist look there’s not much of a foundation for excitement with Tauronos, so ideally the thrills will come with the fight for survival. Working through dungeons full of traps and obstacles, you’ll need to be mindful of small details in your surroundings and any time you waste as the Minotaur in each area will find you if you don’t keep up a decent pace. Given your limited field of view (which does help everything feel more ominous I suppose) some traps are particularly problematic as seeing the detail in the floor showing you the safe path to walk through unscatched can be a challenge, especially when you’re on the run. In the end there can be some thrills to be enjoyed but no matter how much the core elements may be remixed on any particular level there’s just not a lot of true variety to keep a sustained interest with for long.

Wednesday, November 4

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


No More Heroes [Nindie Choice!] -
There’s something to be said for being authentically original, for me that’s especially the case for when the general plan is to be just a bit crazy. No More Heroes is, in many regards, the antithesis of big business design by committee game making. It’s cartoonishly violent, has many over-the-top characters (who you’ll mostly be killing), a storyline that charts a dark and bloody path but is still also consistently silly, and a protagonist who is ridiculous on many levels. Your goal is to literally cut a path through the world’s top assassins to take your place at the top, and on that journey there will be a ton of bloody madness. Sequences where you’re simply plowing through big bads and their minions are broken up by completely bizarre mini games and activities like spending time with your cat to help break things up, which does help to distract from what can, at times, be a bit of a grind. Also, the fact that Travis (your character) is a pretty sexist pig and there are an abundant number of provocative angles taken featuring the female characters may be a bit much for some people to take now, making the game feel a bit dated on a level besides the overall look. While it is by no means a perfect game if you can deal with the flaws it is absolutely a rollercoaster of violence and weirdness that can be quite a lot of fun.


No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle [Nindie Choice!] - It’s a tough thing to make a follow-up title to a game that is revered in part because it breaks the mold. On either side you have the pitfalls of deviating too far from the path of the original’s success and the risk that people will just consider it more of the same. Perhaps it helps when you’re dealing with a title like No More Heroes though, which undoubtedly had a solid helping of craziness integrated into the mix. While this sequel doesn’t make too many major changes at the core, it does work to trim out some unnecessary elements like needing to ride around town to missions (even if your bike was cool) and pretty well doubles down on the helping of over-the-topness that made the original a blast. There were several times this sequel threw some great “WTF?” moments at me an elicited a laugh, the lack of any attempt at having a tether to reality at times could be considered a little too silly by some I suppose but for me it just further enhanced the fun that makes the title a stand-out. Now, again I will warn that Travis and people he deals with are pretty well sexist pigs and the somewhat constant focus on scantily-clad female anatomy can get a bit old and even creepy after a while, but when it comes to the action and strange story elements going along for the ride is full of unexpected fun.


Wallachia: Reign of Dracula - As an old-school fan of arcade challenges Wallachia definitely feels familiar. Quirky in some ways and challenging, sometimes to a fault, this is a buckle up and do your best affair reminiscent of the likes of Shinobi, challenging you to be careful about your health and probably attempt to memorize enemy placements and patterns the best you can as you go to try to better ensure you survive. I’d say the controls can feel a bit stilted by modern standards, though they’re consistent with the games from the time this experience seems to be modeled after. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly great experience but if you’re game for a challenge and like some of those old school arcade games in this general mold it may be a retro treat for you.


Remothered: Broken Porcelain - So the original Remothered was a weird ole suspense-filled adventure of sorts with a crazy story and you trying desperately to escape being locked in an old house with a crazed old man. In this follow-up there are new bizarre elements and people introduced to the pile and on a general level the experience is very similar, except mechanically and in terms of the narrative everything feels a bit messier here. Cutscene dialogue almost doesn’t seem connected in some spots, and I think the weird throttle for the story got broken at some point and it has gone into overdrive. Yet again your time is mostly spent trying to sneak, find and craft items to help you, make smart use of said items in a pinch to save yourself, and keeping track of all potential hiding spots since you’ll need them. I suppose if you’re looking for some tension it could provide a thrill but I’d take the original, see how it goes, and then see if you’re up for the sequel if I had to choose between the two.


The Language of Love - OK, so interactive fiction and I don’t have a great relationship, though I’ve run into some over the time since the Switch has launched that have inspired a change of heart. “Visual novels” though? Where there’s no interactivity or choice and I’m simply scrolling through an endless stream of text? Ooof, yeah, that’s a tough sell. In the case of The Language of Love I’d say it’s worse since at the painfully slow rate the art for the text changes I literally may as well be reading a book, there’s nothing that really enhances the story unless you consider a dull and looping soundtrack in the background to be sufficient to get you hooked in. Worse than that? Wow does this take forever just to get to the point you’ve met the main character you’re interested in and the extended interaction with her daughter actually feels a bit creepy in some regards. Very hard to recommend to anyone.