Friday, April 16

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

The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark [Spooky Doorway] (Nindie Choice!) -
The classic point-and-click adventure Renaissance is really quite a thing to witness, and it is quirky and funny titles that The Darkside Detective that help not just to keep that spirit alive by existing, but by being a genuinely good time as well. While the overall length of time you’ll be playing may not be as extensive as in some titles, there’s something satisfying about the broken out 6 case structure… sort of breaking things down into 6 satisfying bites of maybe an hour and change or less (depending on your process and whether you savor every item’s descriptions) depending. If you miss the silly adventures of yesteryear or simply would like a good laugh (or 10) this is an easy title to recommend.

Knight Squad 2 [Chainsawesome Games] - The original Knight Squad was a pleasant surprise, delivering pretty easy-to-grasp local multiplayer game that worked well whether people worked in teams or went free-for-all across a variety of modes. Matching that with a pretty reasonable price and it was a refreshing mix of action and some strategy that stood apart from many of its contemporaries. Enter the sequel, which refines pretty well everything just a bit, adding some spit, polish, and new options… but for people who already have the original it’s not clear there’s quite enough here to warrant picking it up. So it’s an odd situation. There’s no doubt this is an improved version of the original, so it’s the version to pick up given the choice, but it may not have big enough changes to warrant a purchase from fans of the original.

Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition [Chibig] - There’s a challenge in the indie space, since top-quality and deep titles don’t typically carry a premium price, so even games that are more modestly priced don’t get much of a shield when it comes to quality and polish. While Deiland is certainly pleasant and cute enough, having you take care of and modestly develop your little planetoid by planting and cultivating crops, attending to quests, and dealing with occasional threats. The problem is simply that with so many incredible life sims already on the Switch there’s ultimately little here to make a case for it standing out as it lacks in the depth, variety, and even personality of many of its peers. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap fix it may do, just keep your expectations in check.

Stitchy in Tooki Trouble [Polygoat] - It’s always great to see colorful and pretty family-friendly fare appear on the Switch, and in those regards Stitchy in Tooki Trouble fits the bill pretty well. With large characters and a general look that scales nicely down into handheld mode even it works pretty well on a high level. Where it struggles a bit is with originality and variety, sticking mostly to the classic formula and not doing much to really flex in any way. That said, for younger or less seasoned gamers who aren’t quite so jaded it may not seem as generic and the somewhat slower general pace of play and movement might work out nicely, so if your target is accessibility it may be a great match.

Godstrike [Freedom Games] - Billed as a tough-as-nails boss rush shooter essentially, that description is absolutely accurate. The problem, to me, is that even in the "Tutorial" while you're trying to get an understanding of what's going on the game is determined to destroy you with enthusiasm. This approach of "all stick and no carrot" might have an appeal to a subset of the audience but mixed with the limited power-ups that also then chip away from your time (once you run out of time any hit means it’s game over), not even yet understanding the big picture, it’s a perplexing choice. Mix that with the shooting action and visuals actually being a bit on the dull side (just designed to be hard, but not exciting) aside from the need to conquer something hard for its own sake this is a tough sell as there are many more rewarding and still super-tough shooters out there on the system already.

Wednesday, April 14

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

Rain on Your Parade [Unbound Creations] (Nindie Choice!) -
While most people spend so much of their lives consciously trying to be kind and courteous with others that isn’t to say they can’t have a mean streak in them. Since even in games I tend to stay the noble course I do personally enjoy those that take being nice off the table… requiring that you unleash your inner jerk that has been so starved for air. Much like Untitled Goose Game before it, Rain on Your Parade is all about letting you not only let your asshole flag fly but also to typically revel in it. Let yourself cackle as you send people running, ruin special events, and generally run amok… it’s liberating. What helps elevate it further is simple creativity and variety in the scenarios and what you’ll need to try to do, keeping the experience from being one note. There are some cases where mechanically working out the nuance of what you need to do and how can be frustrating at first, but for the most part you’ll be too busy enjoying the chaos of it all to be bothered if you’ve got virtual karma points you’ve been saving up to burn all at once.

Astro Aqua Kitty [Tikipod Limited] (Nindie Choice!) - I like it when games manage to surprise me a little bit, especially when they’re in genres where I feel like I’ve seen just about everything. Even as much as I love retro-styled shooters, and have played a ton of them, there’s just something about Astro Aqua Kitty that feels a bit different. With large spaces and multi-step missions, there’s almost an Adventure-like quality to play here, though make no mistake you’ll need to do plenty of shooting and in spots it can get challenging. Managing your upgrades and perks is essential as you progress, and finding the right synergy of weapons that don’t have you too quickly running on empty with your power can be tricky but the freedom of choice you have is quite welcome and not typical for the genre. Leveraging plenty of cute kitty-ness and some very classic arcade shooting, Astro Aqua Kitty delivers a surprisingly satisfying experience for a budget-friendly offering. 

Cannon Brawl [Temple Gates Games] - While there’s no doubt that people will be quick to see Cannon Brawl sharing some gameplay similarities with the Worms series I’ll go even older school and say that initially it reminded me greatly of the vintage Scorched Earth (though everyone I knew just called it Scorch). Lobbing attacks at each other of various degrees of lethality, trying to perfect that feel of power and angle to make a precision shot, and plenty of swearing at your friends when they manage to pull it off quicker than you do. The thing is, there’s more here than either of those series as, in my mind, Brawl throws in an element more akin to tower defense where strategy demands more work from you, establishing your area of control, trying to gather and protect resources, and needing to constantly shift your concerns as you must mind your defenses as much, if not more, as you attacks. While staying power may be an issue with keeping you interested I’ll at least credit the effort in coming up with some smart revisions to a well-worn formula.

Gravity Heroes [PQube] - With so many shooters of all kinds on the Switch it takes some effort to set yourself apart. To its credit, Gravity Heroes does manage to do this, throwing the element of gravity (in 4 directions, mind you) into the mix which gives it an almost puzzle-like element at times. In practice though, I’m not as positive it makes for a highly-compelling experience. Tackling it solo just ended up feeling a bit slow and bland, and while throwing some friends into the mix with multiplayer did add some interest, the feeling of it all coming together never quite hit. If you’re looking for something different it’s worth a try, but I worry the shooting lacks a very satisfying feel and hook so the experience suffers with that quite a bit.

Poison Control [Nippon Ichi Software] - It’s wild how such oddball and quirky titles continue to come from Eastern developers, and if you’re willing to lean into the experience they can be a bit of unexpected fun. That’s definitely the case for Poison Control, whose story I don’t think I could begin to have the space to try to explain apart from it being unusual. That pairs well with the gameplay, which sort of mixes a rudimentary third-person shooter with an action puzzle game. Though the game’s dialogue and stories revolving around the various hells you’ll be looking to clear continue to pull you along and are interesting, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the gameplay, which never really takes off or has its parts feel particularly integrated with one another. If you’re into this style it may be fun, but otherwise you may find it falls a bit flat the further you go.

Friday, April 9

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

Say No! More [Fizbin] (Nindie Choice!) -
The thing about “weird games” is that they can be very hard to define or describe by typical genre rules or through comparison. Say No! More may be best understood simply by checking out some gameplay or being told by someone like me that it’s strange, made me laugh, and at times even felt cathartic to play. It’s clear that the people behind the game aren’t big fans of traditional “corporate culture”, so in particular if you’ve been in an office and totally get and love the jokes in the movie Office Space, you may really dig this. After being encouraged to discover and unleash your inner contrarian stage by stage you’ll develop a nuanced set of ways to respond in the negative, armed as well with some great trolly expressions like a slow clap to further drive your enemies mad. Rather than being focused on specific strategies or tactics the game is more about you choosing how to express your own style and simply enjoying yourself, perhaps finally letting go a lifetime of pent up frustrations with people you’ve reported to who’ve been insufferable asshats. Unleash your inner “No!” and, even if only for a moment, live a life without fear of repercussions with a smile on your face.

What the Dub? [Wide Right Games] (Nindie Choice!) - There are absolutely some amazing party games out there on the Switch to enjoy with friends, but if you’re on a tight budget perhaps the general need to buy them in bigger, and thus more expensive, packs makes them feel like a risk. Going ala carte is more convenient but unfortunately there aren’t that many inexpensive and funny options out there. Thankfully you can now get What the Dub and have a blast, all for less than $10. Granted, there’s only style of play but fortunately it’s a good one sure to spark creativity and laughs. Everyone will be shown the same incomplete brief clip with the dialogue for typically just one actor omitted. Your goal is to come up with something funny for them to say that will win you votes and the admiration of your peers. Depending on how quick thinking you and your friends are the results most certainly could vary, but the sound of the automated speech person reciting your line in its typically stilted fashion can sometimes add yet another element to enjoy. 

Breathedge [HypeTrain Digital] - Breathedge is one of those titles where I’m not quite sure how to feel about it. One the one hand I absolutely appreciate its weird (though sometimes juvenile) sense of humor, and that’s really the element of the game that makes it something more special. On the other, playing as someone a bit stranded in space with limited resources after an accident, if you’re looking for action and excitement this likely won’t have much appeal. Little by little by venturing out into space with your limited oxygen supply you’ll collect bits and pieces here and there that will allow you to craft equipment which will then let you go out longer and collect different items… and if you’re familiar with the survival genre this will all seem quite familiar. If you don’t enjoy the quirk I could actually see it being an active liability, but if you like survival titles with perhaps only moderate pressure and difficulty, and like to laugh along the way, you may find it to be a relaxing and sometimes entertaining endeavor.

Star Wars Republic Commando [Aspyr] - The Switch, now that it has been thoroughly established, has really become a sort of window into the state of games from previous generations, having the advantage of being able to play them on the go. I actually missed Republic Commando the first time through, so perhaps my view is a bit more critical without any twinge of nostalgia for it, but while it’s absolutely a unique shooter it suffers from its age for sure. Aside from it being visually long in the tooth (though in handheld it does look pretty good) the most unusual thing I found with the game is a sense of sympathy for the hard-working Stormtroopers out there who get a bad rap for being horrible shots. That’s definitely a piece of the experience that comes through, even trying my best to aim the rate of fire and lack of precision in the average blast rifle make it a crapshoot for sure. Thankfully you’ll be leading a crack squad of commandos who’ll follow your orders so you aren’t trying to lone wolf things, and the mild strategy element does at least help it come through as a unique Star Wars experience.

The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [Ocean Media Games] - As a fan of literary classics I must say that seeing the names Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gave me an initial thrill. A mystery adventure where you were trying to discover the truth behind some gruesome murders could have been fun. Well, except it’s just a shell for a hidden object puzzle game, which isn’t quite as exciting. The thing is, to its credit they really try to find a balance and make use of the story with plenty of dialogue and a story to follow with a brief but detailed bit of prose to read at pretty well every step. Sure, the look is a bit dated, the objects aren’t always well integrated with the scenery, and most of the puzzles are on the simplistic side, but if you enjoy the genre and want a little mystery to go with it it’s not a bad combo.

Wednesday, April 7

Mini Reviews: April 7th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Cozy Grove [Spry Fox] (Nindie Choice!) - While bludgeoning or blowing away bad guys can always be good fun, everyone should have some time in their lives to slow things down. With a laid back tone, cute and friendly characters, and a small variety of activities to complete Cozy Grove seems great for settling in with on a daily basis to help bring the positive feels. While not as full-featured as Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing the price tag here is also far more budget-friendly and the characters you’ll meet and stories they’ll share are also much more fulfilling for the most part. If you’ve been looking for an experience that will help wash your cares away as you tend to the needs of some souls in need of help, and who will be grateful for it, Cozy Grove is a warm fuzzy of an experience that will gladly help you in that goal.

Stick Fight: The Game [LandFall] (Nindie Choice!) - Oh how perilous the eShop is in the budget category, filled with games that look like they could be promising but with many letting you down. On the flipside of that  you have Stick Fight, a title that’s very unassuming in its appearance but that uses that formula to heavily under-promise and over-deliver on the experience. There’s not much to know about playing this multiplayer brawler (which works wonderfully locally but also online… we’ll see how long it can last though, as is always the issue with small games with online play), you’re able to jump and attack and that’s really all you generally need. Sure, you can grab a variety of weapons to then do some serious damage with (careful, some of them can be lethal to you as well), but if you’re quick and determined some flailing and luck can be a highly effective strategy no matter what weapon your opponents may have. Where the game gets to the next level though is really with its loads of arenas and settings that really change things up. In some cases the environment itself is outright lethal and simple survival will be necessary, in others the best strategy may be to destroy the environment and hope you can leave yourself somewhere to land. Heck, there are also times simply standing still and letting your opponents get themselves killed is a legit strategy. Considering the budget price this title carries it absolutely delivers a superb multiplayer experience that’ll have you and some friends fighting to wear the crown. If only it would do some stat collection to see a breakdown of who won, by how much, and a bunch of fun additional facts about the chaos!

Lost Words: Beyond the Page [Sketchbook Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ll admit that this is a title that got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, with me essentially wondering what to do at first. The distraction of the pointer that you do end up using for some tasks kept me from realizing I was also sometimes supposed to move my character independently as well. Once that was understood though what followed was unique and extremely worthwhile. Not quite a game in any normal sense, Lost Words is more of a creative interactive bit of storytelling with plenty of varied and beautiful forms. From page to page what you’ll need to do may vary, sometimes consisting of some simple platforming and other times feeling like a bit of a mild puzzle. The attraction though is a heartfelt and sometimes sad story that really manages to grab you, a bit moreso as you’re heavily involved in helping it unfold visually. It won’t be for anyone looking for a challenge or even puzzle fans, this is really for people looking for something unique and beautiful to touch their hearts, and the level of quality with which it is executed I can get behind.

Sturmfront: The Mutant War [Andrade Games] - There’s nothing wrong with an old-school shooter, where your goal is simple to run, gun, and make a bloody mess out of your enemies along the way. Sturmfront absolutely captures some of that classic arcade vibe with plenty to grab and blow up, and it even offers a fair challenge to boot. If you were looking for a game that takes the classic ball and runs with it though you may not be as enthused since overall I’d say classics from those older days still have an edge on the overall experience here. Sturmfront has a good look, and apes almost all of the old motions quite well, so there’s some satisfaction there, it just hits a wall at trying to do it better, or perhaps even quite as good, so it’s a mixed bag as an overall experience.

Press “A” to Party [BoomBit Games] - Multiplayer games looking to pull in gamers of all ages and skill levels have a tough challenge. How to create gameplay that is quick and relatively easy to pick up, but then somehow offers enough cooperative or competitive oomph to give the experience some staying power. There’s no doubt that Press shoots to hit the target with the overall simplicity, adopting a one-button play mechanic across its 6 mini games, but there’s a bit of an unusual learning curve in the case of some of them since there’s really no conceptual explanation, you’re just thrown in to figure it out. This makes early matches a bit of a fustercluck as people struggle to tackle the nuance of holding down the button in some cases and carefully pressing in others. The thing is, once everyone is on the same page, the lifespan of interest seems to likely be limited just because aside from unlocking new avatars and going for bragging rights there’s just not much to explore and simple games don’t necessarily make for satisfying ones.

Friday, April 2

Mini Reviews: April 2nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Luckslinger [Duckbridge] (Nindie Choice!) -
As a fan of games that subvert expectations and are determined to simply be a bit weird, Luckslinger puts a smile on my face. At its base it’s a retro-styled side-scrolling Western gunslinger that has you shooting, reloading, jumping, and rolling as you make your way through levels and take out your foes. If it were only that the game would just be middling. But add in an attack duck, a luck mechanic that can help or hinder you, a cavalcade of weird characters and humor including a minister who spits some great rhymes, and cut-scenes that randomly throw in modern musical beat drops or other incongruous elements and it just becomes something unique. There’s no doubt the play, especially in the shootouts with bosses, can get tough and will demand that you work out how best to use what luck you have to your advantage. That said, the promise for what weirdness may come next, sometimes prompting a laugh, is a pretty great motivation to figure it out. Tack on a budget-friendly price and this is just a welcome detour from the typical that I thoroughly enjoyed.

A Long Way Down [Seenapsis Studio] - The roguelike deck-builder has certainly seemed to be en vogue for the past few years but at least we’ve gotten some well-conceived and executed games out of the trend. The problem for anyone pushing a new one into the arena at this point is that the competition is pretty fierce so you really need to come with your A game and preferably a new idea or two. A Long Way Down thankfully does bring something new to the table in the form of an added strategic layer in each level you find yourself on, having you and an adversary place tiles to connect different platforms in space, some which have critical areas you’ll want to get to and others with enemies you’ll need to contend with. This does make for some difficult choices at times as healing campfires and the ability to equip new gear in the armory can be critical to success but could represent a risky detour. Unfortunately, the turn-based card-driven combat is a bit too generic and the general control mechanics a bit too clumsy to maintain the promise of that signature feature. The result is a generally good deck-builder, but one that falls short of the high bar its contemporaries have set in place.

What Comes After [Flynn's Arcade] - It’s always a bit of a challenge for me to review games that really aren’t games, whether interactive novels or in this case semi-interactive and fixed narrative experiences of a sort. If you’re looking to wax a bit philosophical and ponder life, it’s value, and how different people perceive it on a number of levels this could serve as a great meditation on the subject as you’ll play as a young woman simply moving between people on a subway of souls on their way to the afterlife who all have something to share. I’ll give it credit for being interesting and having some perspectives worth sharing, but at the same time it’s just a very slight experience that makes next to no use of the format it’s being presented in. Throw in the pretty brief amount of time you’ll spend with it and it’s potential audience will likely be a bit limited.

Ghost: Elisa Cameron [Ocean Media] - Having recently played quite a few more refined modern takes on the hidden item casual genre Ghost is a bit of a trip through a wayback machine for me. With absolutely primitive cutscene production values, far less variety, and far more obvious items strewn about the areas you’ll explore, this title is a pretty accurate picture of the genre from roughly a decade ago. The thing is, while that’s a little disappointing perhaps there’s also a familiarity to it that made me a little nostalgic I suppose. If you’re looking for the most current and highest quality casual games in this space you’ll want to check out some other options but if you’re an old school fan of the genre and want to get your vintage hidden item groove on this hits the spot.

Afterpulse [Digital Legends] - Mobile games making the transition to a dedicated gaming console are always a bit of a tricky proposition on multiple fronts. While typically control and quality are the core drivers that determine success, Afterpulse helps to point out other critical pitfalls. First, there’s the problem of the price, with it being a free-to-play on mobile but carrying a $20 asking price on Switch. Aside from the infamous “Switch tax” concerns there’s another big problem this creates since rightfully the developers bless you with some solid starting gear to go with that price of admission… but that then turns it into a bit of a pay-to-win proposition as you plow through people for a bit with your overpowered gear. Second, while it isn’t a free-to-play on Switch the game retains all sorts of systems and in-game currencies that still make it a part of that world, and it’s a bit cumbersome and annoying to deal with rather than having been rethought for paying customers. Last, though there are other issues I’m leaving out, it’s hitting the eShop against free-to-play titles that are far more polished, generally have massive player bases, and simply offer up superior gameplay. If this had launched within the first year when Switch gamers were starved for shooter content it could have fared well most likely, but this late in the game it’s really bringing a butter knife to a bazooka fight.

Thursday, April 1

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

Overcooked All You Can Eat [Ghost Town Games Ltd] (Nindie Choice!) -
Possibly one of the best games to challenge and entertain determined groups either locally or online in this generation, Overcooked started strong and at this point where they’ve brought everything together into one package it’s tough not to be impressed. With the original, the sequel, and all associated DLC packed in there’s a whole menagerie of characters to choose from, a ton of locales and challenges to tackle, and a host of options both local and online for matching up to cooperate or compete with others. What I truly appreciate is how the challenge is still very much there for more seasoned groups but there’s also a terrific assist mode that will change everything into being much more casual and family-friendly as well, opening the door to anyone being able to enjoy plenty of prepping, chopping, cooking, cleaning, and serving. If you’ve already got both games this may be unnecessary but if you’ve been waiting to dive in or only have one of the titles this is a terrific excuse to get a great amount of content at a bargain price all in one.

El Hijo [Honig Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - Stealth games, in general, usually aren’t my bag for whatever reason but while El Hijo heavily involves that mechanic there’s enough charm and variety that it works for me. Initially trying to escape from the monastery he’s been dropped off at and then in search of the people who wronged his family there’s not a lot of story but it’s easy to understand and relate to so that works. As you’re introduced to new spots to hide in or even move through there can be a learning curve at times so it’s critical to check out anything that looks like it has potential or you could waste time trying to get through a spot using a far tougher plan than is necessary but I also appreciate that it seems in places there’s not only 1 way to get through. It won’t be a match for everyone but its cute style and clever variety keep it enjoyable, interesting, and sometimes challenging throughout.

Faircroft’s Antiques: The Heir of Glen Kinnoch [Ocean Media] - Since this is both a casual hidden-item-mixed-with-various-puzzles game and part of a series of other games that are all roughly the same this review is a toughie in a way. Compared to the OG hidden object games these are better made and offer more variety, with objects being much tougher to spot as they’re often well-integrated into the scene and they’re also not a one-trick pony by any means. Stitched together with a light Hallmark Channel movie kind of wholesome feel they’re easy on the nerves and, if you’re looking for something soothing to relax with, aren’t a bad investment of a relatively modest asking price.

Gallic Wars: Battle Simulator [MadGamesmith] - Budget games are always a bit of a gamble, as there are definitely titles that surpass expectations and then there also are those that you wonder whether they were ready for prime time in the first place. Unfortunately, I’d say Gallic Wars, with its overly simplistic scenarios, limited controls, and simple lack of much content of note falls into the less happy category. Sure, the presentation being lacking and there being limits in the complexity of this strategy title would be understood at this price point, but throw pretty clunky controls and simply little fun to be had onto the pile and there’s simply not much redeeming here to note.

I Saw Black Clouds [Ghost Dog Films] - While back in the day I was never much of a fan of the FMV game fad that accompanied the explosion of access to CD drives back in the day I’ve actually been a moderate fan of the recent resurgence of the genre in this generation. When handled properly, and backed by the right story and acting, it can work almost seamlessly and provides a sort of interactive movie feel that’s unique. I Saw Black Clouds, regrettably, I wasn’t so enamored with, a few major problems in particular standing out. For one thing, the illusion of seamless transitions is shattered not just by what feels like longer delays than usual but by poor decision-making in composing the cuts that are meant to be assembled. Background music and other issues that have poor prospects of lining up well really wreck the experience by feeling disjointed, making it feel more like those old days. More critically, though this criticism is more personal as a parent of two children with different challenges and one of whom has had struggles with suicidal ideation, is that its use of suicide and people with impairments feels cheap and reductive. In particular, pretty well opening with a depiction of suicide smacks of “shock value” when the story and overall arc of things could easily have been handled after the fact without it needing to be seen. On multiple fronts it comes through as a clumsy effort and the payoff of enduring it all isn’t enough reward to excuse some lazy characterizations that got you there.

Tuesday, March 30

Mini Reviews: March 30th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Narita Boy [Studio Koba] (Nindie Choice!) -
With an old school cinematic action adventure feel and dripping with neon-lit nostalgic ooze I have no doubt that Narita Boy is targeted squarely at people like me who practically grew up in the arcades. While this isn’t a terribly long adventure, I’ll give it credit for generally keeping a steady flow of new things to experience as you go, never giving itself much time to feel stale… which is very much appreciated since side-scrolling slashers like this can tend to get repetitive quickly. The thing is, even with all of the formidable charm it brings to the table I can’t put a finger on what made it a good time but not necessarily a great one in my eyes, even knowing it would seem on paper to be made for people like me. Certainly any time there was platforming involved the floaty jumping and somewhat loose overall controls were a bit of a bummer, followed up by what I’d say was a lack of clarity at times for where you were meant to be going or what you were meant to be doing. Overall these are pretty small complaints, and don’t manage to knock the game out of being worthwhile, but I’d say they’re worth considering as you get drawn in by its lush and stylized visuals.

The Game of Life 2 [Marmalade Game Studio] - OK, so The Game of Life… you know, that board game probably everyone has played a bunch. Do you really need an electronic version of it to enjoy on the TV? Well, that would depend on what you’re looking for. In terms of gameplay it’s a streamlined and generally quick version of the classic, though it doesn’t skimp on any critical areas you’ve come to expect… just some of the rules have been played with a bit in the interests of having more modern sensibilities. While the pricing on things like the Season Pass you can get to go with it feel a bit steep I was still pleased that the base package includes more than just the plain vanilla skin and characters so at least you can appreciate what different themes can bring to the table to help keep things feeling fresh. While I don’t think my family will stop periodically playing on our Haunted Mansion edition board that we love when we’re on the road or don’t feel like getting everything out or fighting over who’ll be the banker this is a great alternative option that captures the essence of the classic game in a way that people of any age can enjoy locally or even online.

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace [LuckyHammers] - With a popular board game series serving as the base, it’s easy to instantly see the lore this title brings to the table simply reading through the background bios of each of the characters you’ll be able to begin your adventure with. Mixing together a bit of mystery, intuition and interrogation, strategic combat, and combating the forces of evil this is an odd amalgam of flavors. It’s an odd mix as there always feels like there’s quite a bit going on and depth to explore but at the same time you’re usually able to be successful without feeling the full weight of consequence for your mistakes and/or missteps either. Who you choose to work with and how usually seems to be more cosmetic in many areas more than critically important, and decisions you’ll need to make, which depending on whether they’re the right or wrong ones, can carry a penalty for choosing incorrectly but often feel arbitrarily chosen rather than driven by educated guesses. The presentation and overall narrative have a good feel but it’s an odd hodge podge of an experience I’m not entirely sure what audience it’s really meant for.

One Escape [BUG-Studio] - While the general premise is that you’ll eventually play as each of a crew of 3 criminals who got busted trying to bring in their big score all you really need to know is that this is a pretty decent puzzle platformer on a budget. Mixing together some action platforming with a pinch of stealth here and puzzle-solving of various kinds there I’d say that for the price of admission it’s a pretty good deal. Just keep in mind that ultimately this would, at best, just be a sort of snack in between bigger titles, it’s not very long or deep but it gets the job done without breaking the bank.

Danger Scavenger [Piotr Wolk] - Having transitioned from being a mere fan of the roguelike shooting genre to a seasoned veteran over the course of the Switch’s lifespan I’ve seen a ton of amazing games as well as those that fall short. Perhaps if it were released a earlier on Danger Scavenger’s budget take could have gotten a bit more traction, but with top-notch titles in the space well into the double digits looking at it with a critical eye does it no favors. Meta progression and weapons are varied but ultimately not inspired and the rooftop setting for your firefights is at least different but I’m not sure it works out to a net positive, but I think the biggest weakness is just the loose feel to the controls overall. While the issue is only a slight one the fact that it’s elevated by the constrained areas you’ll be working in exacerbates the problem. All in all it has its charm for a reasonable price but the leap to much better gameplay is typically a nominal amount more so the temptation is to give this a pass until you’ve exhausted quite a number of stronger titles in the space.

Friday, March 26

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

Dicey Dungeons [Terry Cavanagh] (Nindie Choice!) -
OK, so perhaps at this point the concept of a deck-building strategy roguelike has been played out a bit… but what if you added an additional layer of RNG madness with dice just to spice things up? That’s precisely what Dicey Dungeons does and, damn, if that doesn’t reinvigorate things a bit and further increase the challenge and fun of tackling classical turn-based combat. Depending on which of the game’s classes you choose, which in themselves will often shake up your approach, the game is really about making a commitment to your strategy based on the cards you have and then learning how to take whatever rolls you may get and turn them into success. Of course, if the RNG gods are really determined to piss on your parade, disaster may still be coming for you… but that’s really the nature of roguelikes and inherent in risk versus reward concepts it plays with. There’s no doubt that the game’s presentation errs on the simpler side but if you’re a strategy fan such details fall away when you’re so hyper-focused on the battle of the moment and turning what would seem to be a random garbage roll into a winning combination. This is a game that has very much earned its high marks with a great concept that has been executed incredibly well, taking what has become familiar and raising the stakes even further.

Bladed Fury [NExT Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - While side-scrolling slashers have been around for quite some time, and tend to show up in some abundance, I’ve more often than not been disappointed by them historically. Too often settling in too early with locked-in attacks and combos and facing too many enemies that work as decent fodder but fail to really satisfy, setting up and experience that sucks you in and then keeps you engaged is obviously a challenge. Enter Bladed Fury, a very stylized and sexy slasher visually, but also one with a well-told story, a strong set of core moves, and enough variety in enemies and upgrades to remain engaging throughout… though it does feel like it ends a bit quicker than it could. While mechanically the timing and feel of some attacks can take time to learn, and this can make countering some enemies and their attacks tricky, in the end it feels fair and helps compel you to hone your skills rather than just mash away at buttons. If you’re up for a pretty decent challenge, some great visuals, and love to mix things up and make things bloody this is a great choice.

Little Kite [Anate Studio] - While I typically consider games a form of entertainment for pulling your mind away from the harsher realities of life, there are those that instead dive into the ugliness with both feet that definitely have their place. With a point-and-click adventure format that’s pretty straightforward the groundwork in Little Kite is familiar and set, but the sense of loss, dread, and fear experienced by the main character, a mother of a young boy who has remarried into an abusive relationship after losing her husband to tragedy, is anything but ordinary. My one complaint would be that some of the puzzles and how progression is implemented are a little sloppy, partially not helped by you staying in the same space for quite a while discovering items that will be useful for future puzzles but adding to some confusion on what you should be doing for the moment. That aside, there’s a logic to most of them that’s refreshing and sometimes creative. Whether or not you are drawn to the game will likely hang on the subject matter and whether or not something a bit “too real” is something you’d prefer to avoid or instead embrace and understand.

BodyQuest [Artax Games] - When I was growing up “educational games” had two big problems as I see it. First, they were typically aiming pretty low in terms of their audience, looking to teach very basic math skills or other fundamentals that were targeted very young and were easy to master. Second, while they often would use a familiar character or setup to draw you in as a gamer they were pretty well always a complete bore, so saying you were “playing” them was generous at best. BodyQuest, while still not by any means a game you’d likely seek out if you weren’t trying to learn something, tries its damndest to address both of these issues, and really does an admirable job of it. Where its educational content is concerned it very much aims high, with the focus being on the various systems that our bodies are made from, quizzing on bones, muscle groups, major organs, and other anatomical topics. Sure, you may not know the right answers initially, but it will always reveal the correct answer in its multiple choice format and incentivize you to return to get it right the next time by tying progress to your scores. Second, rather than the learning be integrated directly into gameplay it’s concentrated into stops you’ll make along the way, with a relatively simple Flash-esque action game in the middle. Whether or not the quality or nature of the gameplay hit the target for the target audience may be up to date but among games of this type I’ve played over the years I’ll credit this with putting in the most effort on all fronts to deliver on its promise and goals effectively.

Rip Them Off [Lozange Lab] - There’s something to be said for venturing into uncharted territory when making games, but the results may not always be what you were hoping for. I think that’s the case for Rip Them Off, a strategic puzzle game of sorts with both a unique look and a pretty different hook. Your goal is to optimize stores of various types and sizes along routes your citizenry walk along in the hopes of maximizing profits, taking them for as much money and as efficiently as possible. In principle this isn’t such a bad idea, and certainly aesthetically it all has a certain flair as you progress to see the well-oiled machine of your capitalism take in customers and drain them of every penny like an assembly line. The problem, for me, just ended up being the often very trial and error method of understanding how best to extract those dollars, requiring an attempt, a failure, and then a restart to try a new combination. At times it can be intuitive but other times you’ll even have everything nailed in the first phase but then fall apart the next, making you wonder if your whole strategy needs rethinking. For strategy and optimization fans this could be a great match but for others the tedium may drag it down.

Thursday, March 25

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

Tesla Force [10Tons] (Nindie Choice!) -
My feelings on this title swung around a bit since, at first blush, Tesla Force has a ton in common with 10Tons previous release of Tesla Vs Lovecraft, changing out a more arcade-like roguelike shooter for a more traditional roguelike style. However, once I invested some time and began unlocking new playable characters, perks, and weapons, everything quickly came together. In particular playing as Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft, who both differ in feel from the original Tesla quite a bit, kicked my enjoyment into overdrive. Navigating the map in each zone is also a great addition, as it forces you to do some planning to be take advantage of potential perks in some areas along the way, while being mindful that lingering too long will allow the doom clock to tick away another hour, making all of your enemies more formidable. Yet again 10Tons has proven that they’re kings of making great twin-stick shooters, now I’m just hoping they can revisit another earlier favorite of mine and revisit Neon Chrome to give it an update.

DARQ: Complete Edition [Unfold Games] - With a dark and strange look that feels like it comes from the mind of either Tim Burton, or at least one of his contemporaries, there’s no doubt that DARQ easily catches the eye. Throw in the often mind-bending and gravity-defying nature of some of its puzzles and it, at a minimum, offers up something different and unusual. As things progress, however, it isn’t all happy thoughts. Some sections demand a more stealthy approach along your journey and these don’t work quite as swimmingly as the puzzle sections. In addition, it gets off to a rocky start not really explaining anything at all about the controls or establishing a baseline for what you’re doing, leaving the player to simply doing some trail-and-error experimentation to get started. Neither issue are crippling but they demonstrate a certain lack of overall polish and consistency that hold it back from its potential.

Sumatra: Fate of Yandi [Cloak and Dagger Games] - Harkening back to the classic early pixel art point-and-click adventure, Sumatra: Fate of Yandi has some elements that are satisfying. For one, it has a pretty unique story of survival that just feels different. Rather than focus on humor the tendency is towards a sort of human story of someone trying to get back to their life and family, and that’s cool. In general the puzzles and experimentation then also feel a bit different, more grounded in practicality than what’s typical, and that’s nice as well. That said, the tendency is pretty often towards very linear puzzles and solutions, limiting your creativity and problem-solving quite a bit since once you find given items there’s only so much you can do with them. Regardless, on a budget this should satisfy adventure fans looking for a change of pace.

Black Legend [Warcave] - Tactical strategy titles have begun to show up more often overall on Switch since launch but the consistency of quality in the genre has been spotty. While Black Legend has an interesting premise, with you leading a team of mercenaries into a cursed city with the hopes of buying your freedom and redemption, there’s just something a bit clunky in the execution. The turn-based combat, followed closely by the careful management of your squad and its resources, is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time and while it works the interface could be better and more intuitive. Advanced tactics involving color-based synergies between certain attacks are also a nice touch to try to build in some more complexity but since they’re not explained well and don’t work out in a 100% intuitive manner they’re also a challenge to effectively embrace for a while. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort there’s some worthwhile strategy to be had, but the overall package is a bumpy ride in getting there.

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse [Aspyr] - When games from previous generations make a return it’s always interesting to see whether unusual ideas that met with some success then can hold up now. In the case of Stubbs the Zombie it’s a mixed bag at best. There’s no doubt that the oddity of the gameplay, mixing zombie attack action with some elements of strategy at times, is both amusing to a degree and utterly unique. That said, once the rose-colored glasses of novelty wear off, which doesn’t take long, the issues it shares with many titles from its generation come into view. There’s a weird emptiness and sloppiness to environments in many cases, no doubt easier to notice due to the very repetitive nature of general play. Special sequences try to break things up but some can also tend to be a bit wonky in how they control or were perhaps even conceived in some cases. Credit for it being different, just not sure that’s enough to justify the investment of your money and time.

Wednesday, March 24

Top 10 / Best Music/Rhythm Indie Games on Nintendo Switch

Definitely one of the more thinly-represented genres out there aside from explosive fads ala the likes of the Guitar Hero or Just Dance type franchises, music titles have a load of potential for creative play and engaging play. Among those that I've played on the Switch these represent a pretty wide spectrum of gameplay types but in general they all feature top notch music. One honorable mention for this list is Avicii Invector, which has a challenging almost endless runner sort of play but unfortunately due to the copyrights around the music I'm unable to include it in my list since video of it gets blocked... but if you're looking for yet another great choice it's worth noting.
Just Shapes and Beats [Berzerk Studio] - Possibly one of the more bizarre titles I played in 2018, Just Shapes and Beats pretty well gives away its secret in the title. While that may sound very simple and it's gameplay mostly emphasizes merely trying to avoid getting hit, there's no denying that doing it all with so much style makes for a lot of fun. Playable with friends locally or others online there's also an element of teamwork you'll find as players are able to save each other when someone gets knocked out. Full of some great tracks, colorful designs, and a ton of personality this is an outstanding title deserving of attention.

Fuser [Harmonix Music Systems] - 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.

Thumper [Drool] - As has been the case with quite a number of games I’ve enjoyed on the Switch to date I would gladly recommend Thumper to anyone, but would throw out two caveats as well. First, while I don’t think being good at rhythm games is necessarily essential to you being successful in the game, there’s no getting around the fact that being able to feel and anticipate the beats will help you immensely. The second is that this game gets to be extremely challenging, playing it has maxed out my personal intensity to the point that my thumb hurts from me mashing down the A button with apparently all of the force my hand can exert. I would expect that it is a game many people who decide to buy it won’t ever finish just because at some point the bar feels just a bit too high. Regardless, if you like its aesthetics, its pounding beats, and a stiff challenge, there’s really nothing holding me back from recommending it whole-heartedly.

Superbeat: XONiC [Nurijoy] - Sporting a large and diverse set of tracks that has continued to grow (for free) with additional DLC post launch Superbeat: XONiC is an excellent and often quite challenging music and rhythm game best played in handheld mode. You'll have to tap and swipe your screen to match the beat and patterns that the game throws at you for music ranging from J-Pop (OK, there's a lot of J-Pop, but most of it is quite catchy) to some curve balls like Speed Metal. From song to song what you'll need to do to score will vary a bit wildly but just like classic games like Guitar Hero with a little familiarity and practice it is amazing what you'll be able to pull off.

Super Beat Sports [Harmonix Music Systems] - Somewhat reminiscent of the Nintendo Rhythm Heaven franchise in places Super Beat Sports consists of 5 pretty different music and rhythm mini games. While all 5 are fun (whether alone or with friends, though games are generally always more fun with friends) for me the highlight is the game that blends air hockey, tennis, pinball, and I suppose breakout, Buddy Ball. In a head-to-head affair you'll try to out-score your opponent but what you'll need to do so changes regularly and it can be quite unpredictable. Well worth your time if you're looking for something with some musical flair to play with your friends.

Runner 3 [Choice Provisions] - Taking it all in, scoring this game for a general audience is a challenge. On the one hand it has a ton of very cool content, with a terrific funky design, creative levels, exciting new elements, surprising unlocks, and a soundtrack that sticks with you. On the other it’s not hard to see where mainstream audiences are likely to get too frustrated with the game to bother to see a lot of it. Score-chasers and speedrunners will no doubt revel in the challenge, but the thing is that regardless of whether the game was made more mainstream-balanced those elements would still be strong. With a patch to tone things down I could easily see the game jumping up a point as it became more inviting, just right now it’s much more of an acquired taste and that’s a shame.

Everhood [Foreign Gnomes] - As a huge fan of music of all kinds any games that manage to incorporate music and rhythm into the mix tend to catch my attention. Everhood is a bit of an oddball, looking and in some areas feeling like an understated quirky RPG ala Undertale but veering off on its own path with regards to its approach for battles. Rather than engage in turn-based combat or any of the expected modes Everhood will have you working your reflexes, often memory (as you try to memorize attack patterns), and your sense of rhythm as you try to jump and dodge your way through each foe’s onslaught. While you can opt to alter your skill level, really just getting more lenient as you go down by allowing you to recover health quicker, from even just the tutorial you’re going to get challenged more quickly than the normal curve, and depending on your comfort level this could be a problem discouraging players before they’ve even become invested in the story that early on. It’s absolutely unique, and that has merit, but its minimalism, early degree of difficulty, and story that pays off as you get further in but just seems odd at first make it hard to say will be for everyone.

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

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

Mad Rat Dead [Nippon Ichi Software] - 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.

This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!

Tuesday, March 23

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

NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 [SNK Corporation] (Nindie Choice!) - While I used to have nearly every Nintendo handheld system and enjoyed both of the ones from Sony as well I was never inclined to take a chance on the Neo Geo Pocket. Now, many years later and getting to check out some of its prime titles on the Switch, I’m finding that I may have really missed out. This collection is busting at the seams with great and honestly quite diverse fighting games first and foremost, including my favorite from the system, the roster-heavy SNK Vs Capcom: The Match of the Millenium. Joining it are titles from the Fatal Fury, The Last Blade, King of Fighters, Gals’ Fighters, and Samurai Shodown series as well, making for a fighting fans nirvana of sorts as you’ll be shocked at how well the controls and game feels were translated onto a 2-button system. As if that weren’t enough then pile on the somewhat unusual Dark Arms, a solid golf title, AND 2 Metal Slug games and it’s simply an incredible collection of content that demonstrates the system featured some truly amazing software.

Get-a-Grip Chip [Redstart] (Nindie Choice!) - It’s always terrific when you stumble onto a game that offers a flavor that’s a little new but somehow vaguely familiar in its mechanics all the same. Get-A-Grip Chip is one such title, having you focus almost entirely on the smart and effective use of your character’s handy grapple. It will allow you to climb, swing over hazards, and slingshot yourself into secret areas peppered throughout its 30 levels across 5 increasingly-challenging worlds. This is one of those titles that feels like it gets the challenge just right for mainstream audiences, pushing its charm and accessibility throughout while still offering up carrots to more determined gamers to try to refine their technique to speed run levels and compete in the online leaderboards. While not quite in the category of what I’d consider a pure budget title at a mere $15 it still feels very appropriately priced and delivers a great experience gamers of any age should be able to enjoy.

In Rays of the Light [Sergey Noskov] - In general my history with walking simulators has been mixed, at best. On the one hand there can be a sense of zen tranquility and/or eeriness to them, and that’s actually an area where In Rays of the Light manages to capture both sides of that coin. With no direct narrative, just what you’re able to gather as you explore, it’s a very different sort of experience in this desolate space which feels post-Apocalyptic but you’re not quite sure. While it’s not a very long game, likely wrapping up in just a couple of hours, it’s at least somewhat interesting and feels a bit better thought out than the majority of its contemporaries. If you’re down to explore and do some sleuthing to discover what has happened it could be a good match for you.

Explosionade DX [Mommy's Best Games] - Since my list of top shooters on the system is at 50 now there’s no question that the system has both a wide and deep representation of quality titles. On the good side the platform-ish shooting of Explosionade DX is not typical in its arcade feel, with you needing to maneuver levels, weave through certain areas, and even show some skill with a shield jump to get to tough areas. Add in what’s overall a moderate challenge and it sort of hits the skill sweet spot as well, neither too challenging or simple. The issue, though, is that it’s just a bit of a mess from the lackluster presentation, the overall lack of real variety to keep itself feeling fresh the further you get, and just a lack of any “it” factor that makes it stand out in a genre that’s not only crowded, but also pretty chock full of terrific titles.

Must Dash Amigos [Minibeast LLC] - With a feel that’s a bit like tackling Mario Kart, but with a bit of a slower pace, “wacky racers” like Must Dash Amigos have a tough road to hoe. Without the excitement of speed on their side the idea is typically that they’ll compensate with some sort of wild theming, truly insane power-ups, or something to try to juice things up and make the experience stand out. Unfortunately, Must Dash is really on the bland end of things, lacking in both variety and potency of power-ups, having only a smattering of pretty ordinary tracks, and not even having theming that brings a smile to your face. The result is a racer to enjoy with some friends (there’s a supported solo mode, but it wouldn’t keep your attention for long) perhaps but that likely has very limited legs in terms of enjoyment.

Monday, March 22

Mini Reviews: March 22nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Plants Vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville [PopCap] (AAA Choice!) - While one has to wonder at the overlong reluctance EA had to bringing this seemingly perfectly-matched family-friendly shooting franchise to the Switch, Plants Vs. Zombies is finally here… and it really does feel perfectly at home. While its level of detail has been pulled back a little bit that has a minimal effect on the cartoony graphics and even when there gets to be a lot of chaos on the screen the framerate thankfully keeps up swimmingly in all but the most frantic situations. Since this title has arrived so far into its overall lifespan there’s a fair question of whether or not its online play will remain robustly supported but the great news is that the single-player local content is quite fleshed out and serves as a terrific means of kicking the tires of multiple classes, unlocking some goodies, and just killing some time no matter where you are. If you’re unfamiliar with the franchise you’re in for a bit of a treat as the general classes represented on both sides of the conflict are well-balanced and generally quite diverse, with each one having special abilities that provide some tactical flavor when used wisely. Whether you’re into being a grunt, a sniper, someone who fights up close, or someone who likes to work in more of a support role there’s a place for you on the team, though in single-player you’ll likely want to be more offensively focused for the sake of ease. It was a long time coming, which is a shame, since now you have a bunch of titles including high-profile free-to-plays acting as competition, but if you’ve been looking for a friendly and fun way to get into the FPS genre this has always been a great series that all ages can enjoy.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning [Kaiko] (Nindie Choice!) - Remasters of past games, even ones that are at least somewhat revered, can be a tricky business. Giving everything a visual overhaul but leaving the majority of the guts as they were can have a tendency to clearly demonstrate changes in tastes over time even if the resultant titles can have a more modern look and feel. This is the case of Re-Reckoning, and where you land on the spectrum from thinking it’s great and merely decent will depend a bit on your level of reverence for the original or at least on your ability to tolerate some elements that by modern standards are lacking or annoying. While the character creation, class choices, and skill trees were more impressive in their time they at least still hold up relatively well, as does the general feel of combat. The one killer, which is one you’ll deal with pretty much constantly throughout your adventure, is the lack of locking a target, which unfortunately makes some battles a chore to manage as you fight your foe and the camera in parallel trying not to lose the thread of the action. However, if you’re willing to take that issue in stride, and overlook a few quirks of lesser consequence, this remains a very playable action RPG of sorts that will entertain if you’ve been craving that sort of fix of late.

Magic Twins [Flying Beast Labs] - It’s always nice to see new ideas for cooperative play pop up on the Switch, and in the case of Magic Twins it’s in the form of a color-matching action puzzler that certainly feels different. Precisely what you’re supposed to be doing I found took some doing, as I didn’t find the in-game instructions quite made it clear how the pieces fit together of collecting colored globs in the right sequence and then casting the spell in order to complete the level, I was just thinking I was supposed to survive, but oh well. Once you’ve got the concept down each player will take a side, with enemies spawning between you in 4 rows, and you’ll need to work together to shoot them with the proper color and then if they drop a glob of color carefully be sure to get them in the right order to cast a spell to meet the stage objective. It’s different and can work, but it can make for some tedious and frustrating play at times. In single-player you’ll pretty quickly get overwhelmed trying to manage which side you’re on, picking the right color, and keeping up. In coop it’s just easy for either of you to make a mistake in the glob sequence for the spell, making you reset and start collecting again. Unique, yes, for everyone, probably not.

Can’t Drive This [Pixel Maniacs] - I’ll give the developers behind this credit for one thing, it is certainly a very different sort of idea: Having one person constructing a track out of a variety of tiles while the other players try to stay alive and meet objectives without stopping or flying off. Where the rubber meets the road of actually playing the game? That’s where the problems start. First, the game is absolutely not worth your time in single-player with no question and since only half of the modes are available when you have less than 4 players that’s also a caution for potential buyers. The thing is, even with 4 people, once the novelty of the game’s concept wears off in general the repetition and general mess of the overall experience begins to set in. The builder is perpetually trying to make the most of the situation but given the random nature of the order of tiles they’re given dead ends, useless areas, or regions with the same repeated title over and over become common while the drivers are trying to find stretches that work or simply driving in circles trying to buy the builder time. The mode variations change things up a little but since it’s all built on the same fragile house of cards they can’t compensate for the problems. The sad thing is, if you could carefully construct tracks with a more robust editor and save them for people to drive on ala Mario Maker there could be real potential here, just as implemented it's a bit of a mess.

Raiders of the Lost Island [Last Tales] - Local multiplayer games, whether cooperative or competitive, have certainly become a Switch staple, but the challenge is now for developers to come up with new flavors to try to stand out. In principle Raiders of the Lost Island has a decent idea, a game that mixes a little bit of both, with each person trying to grab as much loot as possible on their own but working together to construct a boat that will ensure their survival as the water levels rise. It makes for a different sort of dynamic, and that’s a positive, but in the implementation there are some issues. The isometric view and landscape don’t always get along, with people falling into holes or having issues due to them being hard to see because they’re obstructed or simply don’t stand out. Additionally, seeing the island well to know where to explore is an issue as the camera tries to keep everyone in view no matter which corner of the island they’re on. Throw in that play isn’t remotely worth it in single-player (no bots) and that until you have at least 3 the play just isn’t very good and it’s a tough one to recommend.

Friday, March 19

Top 10 / Best Fighting Indie Games on Nintendo Switch

Skullgirls 2nd Encore [Lab Zero Games] - While I’ve consistently heard nothing but great things about Skullgirls from my friends who are massive fighting fans up until PAX this year I’d never gotten to check it out myself. Watching the game being played it’s hard not to be impressed by the diverse and beautifully-animated characters, some of which have some of the craziest moves and specials I think I’ve seen. It’s also very apparent that this is a pretty technical fighter, which was where my one real concern with the game cropped up. What’s a bit shocking though is that in general for someone like me who has played a fair number of fighters for the most part the moves that trigger the on-screen chaos feel natural and mostly intuitive. Simply experimenting on the fly moves and even combos seemed to come to me pretty easily. From there it’s all about the flow of gameplay and the best word to describe it is intense. Solo players should appreciate the story mode that provides some background for the very odd menagerie of fighters, but everyone should appreciate the choice to go 1-on-1 or up to 3-on-3, providing for plenty of opportunities for changing tactics and generally catering the matches to your liking. Available online play is definitely appreciated, though it’s important to note that even great indie titles on Switch don’t tend to have online communities that survive for long. While there have been very good indie fighters on the Switch I actually think this one is the best.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction [Arc System Works] - If you’re looking for a rock solid fighting game experience that’s quite approachable and has a large roster of characters that isn’t Smash, BlazBlue is very much worth checking out. The more you’d appreciate the various storylines and narrative silliness the more the package has to offer, but the best case scenario would obviously be having someone local to play with to get the most out of it. If you have last year’s Cross Tag Battle it’s a tougher call. There are some nice new characters and nuances to the fighting but I’d say unless you’re interested in the narrative content it may be a stretch. Regardless, it’s a high quality and approachable fighting game that’s a great alternative to the more well-known series out there.

Blade Strangers [Studio Saizensen] - Without a doubt the biggest surprise for me was this title from the folks at Nicalis, starting out with a new fighter combining characters from a number of properties. The inclusion of as unlikely of fighting characters as Shovel Knight and even more oddly Isaac could have been a throw-away move but they all played surprisingly well in their own ways. Throw in a definite sense of style with powerful metered combos and it was a lot of fun.

Roof Rage [Early Melon] - OK, Smash fans, hear me out. When it comes to fast-paced and somewhat crazy fighting Smash tends to be in a class all its own. That said, I’m here to tell you that someone has managed to capture a fair amount of that energy and surprising depth and put it into a budget pixel fighter. Roof Rage may just have a stable of pretty familiar and generic fighters overall by appearance but its fighting action is a pleasant surprise, especially when combining the pretty diverse combatants with the numerous stage layouts you’ll contend with. In general fighters feel responsive, their individual attacks have enough variety to encourage experimentation, and for the most part the game exceeds what I would have expected from a title at this pretty humble price point. If you’ve been looking for something with the spirit of Smash to enjoy with some friends and can live without the wild and wacky power-ups Roof Rage may be a great choice for your next throwdown.

Pocket Rumble [Cardboard Robot Games] - As a whole Pocket Rumble stands up very well as an extremely budget-friendly fighter that has few frills but delivers what is most crucial. Looking and playing great whether in docked or handheld mode it’s light, easy to get into, and has a surprisingly-diverse roster with some very unusual characters. Throw in Online support that even competitive games with higher prices have been known to lack or implement with higher instability and it very much delivers a fair value for its humble price tag.

Fate/EXTELLA Link [Marvelous Inc] - While there’s quite a lot to understand about Fate/EXTELLA Link in the end your enjoyment is likely to hinge on the frantic and crazy combat. The number of characters and how their style of combat differs is pretty impressive and made the game far more interesting than I’d expected based on how this style of play has been portrayed. If you just take the time to experiment and work through all of the game’s hero characters, getting a feel for how they each play differently, there’s already a ton of content to enjoy. Throw in the odd story and its branching choices, extra missions that are a bit more challenging, and options for multiplayer and if you like cutting through waves of enemies with style this should provide for hours of fun.

SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millenium [SNK Corporation] - While there has been a whole series of conversions of the fighting games from the Neo Geo Pocket, and many have been decent, until this point none of them quite felt worthy of more broad support than folks looking for some nostalgia. While there’s no getting around the limitations of it being tied to that much older hardware, with the reduced screen area for gameplay and 2 buttons for control most notably, as a fan of fighting games from both companies the representation in this specific title makes it noteworthy. With a mix of characters from multiple series on both the Capcom and SNK sides, as well as options to play with a singular fighter, paired up for a tag team, or in a team of 3, there’s ample opportunity to choose the style that suits your preference. In addition, don’t let the 2-button set-up fool you, it’s truly impressive how many moves they were able to cram in for each fighter, all with a feel of flow that’s easy to get into hitting signature moves and executing satisfying combos. While obviously there are more technical and visually-impressive fighters on the system this budget-friendly and surprisingly deep fighter shouldn’t be counted out, it’s a winner.

Nidhogg 2 [Messhof] - Nidhogg 2 is a really tricky game to score because it seems like such a hit or miss, love it or hate it, kind of experience. If you don’t have anyone to play with I’d caution you on considering the purchase as there’s really no meaningful solo play and even if you do find online matches there’s something lost in the experience even if you’re able to get into some nice and tense matches. Even if you’ve got some friends to play with I’d say the odds are equal that you could really get a kick out of the experience or have it fall flat. Credit to the developer, it’s some of the very small touches like being able to reflect shots that give what seems to be a very shallow game surprising depth, it all comes down to the experience you’re looking for though.

Fantasy Strike [Sirlin Games] - While I’m pretty enthusiastic, overall, about this new fighting game the first thing I’d say is that with its controls I’d consider it to absolutely be an acquired taste. Having played many fighting games over the years, first there are those classics with their own distinctive styles ala Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and their ilk. More recently, newer fighting games have instead tended towards sweeping movements and less complicated or character-specific moves, making them more accessible. Fantasy Strike is sort of in the middle in my mind, with more simplified controls that are accessible yet that somehow feel awkward to me nonetheless with a feel that’s different from even the other more simple titles out there. They’re not bad, they just take getting used to. There’s no doubt the game’s characters look fabulous, though their styles tend towards familiar in many regards. I’d like to recommend it whole-heartedly but I also can’t convince myself that it’s sure to appeal to as wide an audience as some other indie fighters on the system. I see this being a divisive title in the end, though I’d imagine its fans will be quite passionately in love with it since it does dare to be a bit different.

Fight Crab [Calappa Games] - 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.

This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!