Friday, December 4

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

Phogs! [Nindie Choice!] -
While I love great challenging roguelikes and other titles geared towards the hardcore set I’ll fladly admit that well-made family-friendly fare always puts a smile on my face. I originally got to play Phogs at PAX East 2 years ago and just in that 20 minute demo I got excited about the game’s potential with its super-cute look, characters, and style. Now, with it finally making its way to Switch, I’m thrilled with the final result. It’s smart, intuitive, adorable, and I think (most critically) highly accessible without necessarily feeling “easy” either… something that’s a rare combination even among the more than a thousand indie games I’ve played on the system. At the base you’re controlling a two-headed dog, with either you controlling them in parallel solo (doing that left/right brain thing) or with you and a friend each controlling one end. There generally aren’t many controls to learn, you’ll be concerned with movement, grabbing things with your mouth, and stretching when necessary. What’s great, though, is how creatively the game works within those general limitations to create different puzzle opportunities. If one head grabs a lightbulb the other can shine light on things, if the one end grabs a water source the other can control the flow of water like a hose. These variations keep levels generally feeling fresh with new scenarios, but the dynamic where one person’s job is to grab and hold something is also a great way to take some pressure off of a less experienced gamer in the pair, leaving the tougher or more nuanced controls to the more capable one. Of course, if you’re equally paired you can always alternate who does what as well. All in all there’s much more to this game than its cute factor (though that’s undeniable) that deserves recognition, Phogs is a smart and highly-accessible co-op puzzle experience that delivers all-ages fun and some great creative variety.

Absolute Drift - While we’ve slowly accumulated racing titles on the Switch over the years diversity has continued to be an area of struggle. Helping to broaden genre horizons we now have Absolute Drift, a top-down racer dedicated to the art of preserving momentum through precision control of turning. If my description feels a bit on the overly-complex side that’s fine, it actually runs roughly in parallel with the game’s pretty tricky control scheme. I wouldn’t argue if someone said the drifting games I’ve played to date may have been too simple with their control schemes but this one really threw me for a loop for a while, mostly trying to get used to the feel of how and when best to use the handbrake and maintain a good drift once I got it rolling. If you put in the time and effort to get the hang of that feel there are challenges there progressively get more complex as you go, but with the exception of some objectives where you’ll need to do a jump or something the bulk of the experience stays firmly in the drifting camp only. If you’re looking for a different sort of challenge that may be appealing but if you’re not looking for something a little less laser focused there are some other candidates in the eShop.

Gunpig - Switch users really have been blessed by having a terrific variety of top-notch twin-stick shooters on the eShop, most of which I’ve played and enjoyed. Now coming to the table we have Gunpig, and there are many things it gets right on paper. It does have a satisfying number of diverse weapons (all based on foods, I suppose sticking with the pig theme) that you’ll want to experiment with and occasionally change out to better suit your situation. Learning the ropes for proper use of your alt weapons can sometimes take a moment but in general they’re varied and useful as well. Some secrets hiding here and there also sweeten the deal. My main problem though? There’s just something in the game’s essence for me that’s missing. It doesn’t have the driving intensity and score chasing of a more classic arcade title, it’s not a roguelike with meta progression and accompanying difficulty, you just sort of keep proceeding until you die and then start again. There’s just not that “it factor” driving a “just one more run” feeling that I get playing so many shooters in the space, so it honestly leaves me a bit bewildered. It does pretty well everything right, and is engaging enough in the moment, but I just don’t walk away truly satisfied and compelled to play more somehow.

Death Tales - Certainly the side-scrolling slashing adventure has been around for quite some time, with some great examples of reference on the Switch. Death Tales, though having quite an interesting and unique artistic look that sets itself apart unfortunately falters a bit when put up against the competition in terms of the gameplay itself. You’ll play as a reaper (you can choose to be accompanied by a friend as well if you’d like) who’ll work their way through a variety of platforming puzzles and enemies, accumulating new gear and an occasional skill along the way. The issue in general is the combat though, which too often feels imprecise and muddy rather than fluid and engaging… possibly in part a casualty of the art being more ambitious than the norm. Throw in what often feel like generic level layouts and it makes for a playable but less rewarding experience than many of its contemporaries on the eShop.

Pretty Princess Party - While there are many games and genres out there I thoroughly enjoy and seek out there are others I take on in order to help inform underserved audiences. Among those are games clearly intended for younger gamers and you can surmise by the name that this game is clearly in that category. After rolling through your somewhat limited abilities to customize the look of your princess (skin tone is thankfully reasonably represented, though the hair styles feel constrained) it takes a bit to get to the actual action and I’m not positive what story there is necessarily warranted the time spent. However, once you get started you’ll move between a smattering of modes ranging from designing rooms to a variety of mini games. What’s interesting is that there are spirits of former princesses in the castle who’ll play the games with you, giving it the feel of a multiplayer game to a degree, though in general they don’t put up much fight. If you have a budding gamer princess in your family who is still early in their journey this should be engaging and even helpful with its variety exposing them to different feels even if its challenge is quite limited.

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