Thursday, September 16

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

Flynn: Son of Crimson [Studio Thunderhorse] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s something to be said for games that know what they want to be, even if not necessarily revolutionary in any particular way, and are then executed with a high degree of care and quality. For me Flynn is one such game, adhering closely to the classic 16-bit action platforming template and in general then simply staying the course with a steady stream of new weapons and abilities to keep things interesting through its handful of hours of playtime. Through the use of your weapon-based attacks and magic you’ll work your way through puzzles and a fair amount of combat, with the periodic changes to new zones changing up the enemies and obstacles you’ll face nicely. In terms of the bigger picture, both in terms of the narrative and overall design, perhaps the more paint-by-SNES-era-numbers essence of the game holds it back from being a truly inspired stand-out title. However, if you’re a fan of the era it undoubtedly emulates some of the best it had to offer and feels both retro and just a bit satisfyingly modern at the same time on Switch, making the odds of it being a hit with genre fans pretty solid.

Cruis’n Blast [Raw Thrills] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to over-the-top, crazy, and almost excessively arcade-style racing I’m not sure anything out there can quite match the classic Cruis’n series. Cruis’n Blast, rather than looking to make strides to evolve or reinvent itself in any remote way, comes to the Switch fully embracing everything (and I do mean this in the best complimentary way) stupidly ridiculous about its lineage and puts it right in your lap whether you love or hate it. For anyone more remotely interested in realism or tight control mechanics you can just keep moving, this won’t be an experience for you. However, if the thought of racing with your neon-lit and juiced-up triceratops as you plow through your opponents, doing backflips and barrel rolls over ramps along the way, sounds plain AWESOME this will be your jam. The adherence to even goofy-ass things from yesteryear like every car surface being highly reflective, something nobody would ever do now but that was all the rage back in the day, is a sign that this port was made with respect and love. Will it deliver hours of entertainment? That would depend on you and whether your goal is just to “beat the game”, which could take only a few hours, or whether you plan to enjoy unlocking and tricking out everything, sucking in the goofiness of it all either solo or with some friends. While not for everyone, I absolutely respect the love and care put in by the developers to honor the essence of Cruis’n, no matter how ridiculous some of it may be to more modern (or simply more “hardcore”) gamers.

CRASH: Autodrive [Studio Nightcap] - As always with titles on Switch that lean more into storytelling and less into gameplay Crash is challenging to really review. There’s an essence of murder mystery to it as you try to suss out a motive and potential killer among a group of what seems to be a random group of passengers in a self-driving car that runs over someone. You’ll quickly find that isn’t that case, with everyone having a connection to the deceased, and that’s where the more adventure-like interactions (though generally very simplified) come in. By checking carefully for clues, participating in a few simple mini games of sorts, and working through various dialogue choices you’ll be challenged to discover Whodunnit. In general it’s not too bad, though the relative lack of refinement in some of the aspects of the experience also make it tough to recommend with enthusiasm. Somewhat unique: Yes. Has an interesting general story (though suspicions on what happened set in early for me results may vary): Sure. If you’re working on a budget and are looking for something to entertain you for a few hours it may work for you though.

SkateBIRD [Glass Bottom Games] - With the exception of the Tony Hawk redux that came to the system earlier this year, the skating scene on Switch has been on the slim side. To date, none of them has come to the table with nearly as much quirk as SkateBIRD, and I’d say that with its 3D gameplay rather than sticking to the simpler 2D plane it’s also more ambitious than most of its competition. That said, while it’s kind of weird and funny to take on half pipes and other skating challenges with some species of bird that is decked out in an outfit you get to choose, the game does have some rough edges in multiple places. The one that stands out foremost in my mind is the double-edged sword of your environment being seen from the perspective of a small creature in a human-sized world. Yes, it makes everything novel, but when you mix some of the areas and the large drops off of things like a table with the missions you’ll be trying to complete on the clock it can make things very frustrating. Falling off an edge while you’re trying to make things happen will often sink your entire attempt, and when you throw in the sometimes-dodgy controls that are a bit on the loose side it’s more commonly a problem than I’d prefer. However, if you’re looking for something just a bit different and enjoy skating games given the lack of options on Switch it may be worth a look.

Boulder Dash Deluxe [BBG Entertainment GmbH] - As a “veteran” gamer it has been neat to see some truly old school classics stand the test of time and continue to get modern incarnations. One I’ve seen get this treatment over the years that has perhaps perplexed me a bit has been the Boulder Dash series. Sure, it’s an action puzzler that has been around since the days of primitive graphics, but is the style and depth of play so great that so many decades later it continues to hold up for anyone outside fans of the OG versions? This “Deluxe” version I would say makes a relatively poor case. Sure, it has quite a bit of content in the form of stages as well as things to unlock for refining the flavor of the game more to your liking, but conceptually really nothing has evolved in any measurable way that makes the experience more compelling and the last-last-last gen visuals do it no favors either. With the exception of true fans who want that slice of nostalgia maybe it delivers those goods, but I have a hard time seeing where a case is made well for more modern gamers to overlook plenty of more compelling and complex puzzlers out there for this dated experience.

Tuesday, September 14

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

TOEM [Something We Made] (Nindie Choice!) -
I don’t know whether it was triggered by a pandemic that had everyone stuck in their houses and wishing for a chance to appreciate the world around us but this year has produced a string of pretty amazing exploratory adventures, with TOEM being the latest to join the club. Formerly featured in one of Nintendo’s Indie World Directs, this somewhat quirky and very calming title sports a distinctive black and white hand-drawn art style and encourages you to see everything in the world around you, down to the little things like hidden bugs or the occasional shy monster. It will likely only take most people around 4 hours to finish, a little more or less depending on how determined you are to work out every quest available to you, but if you’re looking to enjoy a consistent stream of odd surprises and interactions mixed with what are generally pretty sensible puzzles it really scratches that itch well. Among its recent brethren it’s perhaps a little longer and more varied in where you’ll go and what you’ll do, but with the photo taking there can be times where you’ll know what you need to do, but doing it in a way that the game recognizes can be tricky too. While it isn’t perfect, and may well be too sedate for some folks, I found it to be an enjoyable journey that helped me relax and feel great for a few engaging hours.

Ultra Age [Visual Dart] (Nindie Choice!) - Especially given the continued “unknown date” status of Bayonetta 3, Switch fans looking to beat or slash things up with some intense combat may be feeling a little twitchy. Ultra Age is here to help you work out some of those frustrations, featuring some good ideas married with a reasonable level of challenge. I will admit that as it opened and the focus was a bit more on the game’s story, featuring some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in quite some time, I had my doubts. However, once everything opened up and I could begin moving between blade types, searching for extra crystals for gear, and tweaking my skills to better suit my slashing style my opinion turned around pretty quickly. I’m hoping not to trigger some Breath of the Wild players but your blades will degrade with use, though the fact that’s put to good use and allows you to do some nasty damage shattering them against your enemies should help make up for it. It absolutely isn’t as refined or polished as the likes of Bayonetta or the Devil May Cry series, but at half the asking price I think this comes out to a fair compromise. Given the fact that, especially in terms of indies, the pickings in this area are pretty slim Ultra Age is an appreciated effort and since there’s a demo being able to take it for a spin beforehand is a great bonus.

Knights & Guns [Baltoro Games] - Back in the arcades, Pang (or Buster Bros) was one of the more interesting shooters out there that did things its own way and layered puzzling sensibilities into the mix. Firing only vertically the challenge was to shoot enemies, often breaking them up into smaller ones, and knocking them all out through a combination of skill and some very useful periodic power-ups. Knights & Guns was absolutely conceived in this mold while bringing some of its own style to the table, with a well-defined art style, an overworld where you’ll choose where to go and that opens the door to side quests, and a variety of stage types that will keep you on your toes. Even though some of the innovations are appreciated, and help K&G stand out from the pack, there are still some problems that hold it back. First and foremost would be the lack of tight precision in movement, and perhaps that your character is on the chonky side. Getting hit unintentionally due to either of those factors is in itself annoying but then given the precision associated with this style of shooter it further frustrates matters. While I appreciate the idea of changing things up the scaling changing from level to level, with the action either being zoomed in or out and some levels having quite a bit of verticality, in practice it makes the experience feel uneven and conceptually all over the place. I don’t doubt it will find an audience with some shooter fans, but within this sub-genre there are definitely better options already out there in the eShop.

BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites [WayForward] - Having roughly followed the long and usually pretty torturous movie and gaming “career” of this leather-clad vamp I’ll admit I was intrigued to see if she could finally turn things around this time. To its credit, when you’re fighting the mechanics may not necessarily be ideal but they’re certainly different and interesting in both good and bad ways… and at least they’re not generic and boring. Where things struggle and left me scratching my head at times was the game’s wildly inconsistent platforming and occasional difficulty spikes. To some degree a straight side-scrolling slasher/beat-em-up would have worked pretty well by simply adding abilities and changing some things up as you go, but there are frequently sections where you’re guessing where to go or how to get there and visually the elements of the level often don’t make themselves clear, making the overall stage design a frequent weakness rather than a strength. However, that aside, if you’ve been thirsting for some vampiric violence this can deliver some fun, just be ready for a challenge and bumpy ride in some areas.

RICO London [Ground Shatter Ltd] - Whenever you see a sequel to a title that showed promise but just didn’t quite put everything together the first time there’s a mix of excitement and dread. Will lessons have been learned? Will old problems get replaced with new ones? What I don’t typically expect is for a sequel to roughly be stuck in time, repeating pretty well every mistake from before while failing to deliver anything of tangible substance in return, yet that’s how this RICO sequel plays for me. OK, so it’s a first-person door-busting shooter that will have you breaking in, shooting every bad guy in sight, and perhaps taking names later… but now it’s in a location where people have different accents and you can pick up more customized named guns? I guess it’s counting on people wanting to play co-op locally or online to somehow save everything, that feeling of working together giving some sort of rush, but much like the first time it takes very little time for you to start looking at your watch when you’ve repeated the same room layout for the fifth time in the same run. Worse, the original at least provided a bit of instruction to introduce you to the controls and mechanics but this one seems to be banking on everyone having played the first one or inherently assuming there’ll be a slide mechanic or just play with the buttons to work it out on their own. If you want to check the series, save some bucks and play the original, this feels more like a re-skin than a sequel.

Friday, September 10

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

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build [Draknek & Friends] -
Polished budget puzzlers that come over from the mobile space are always a bit hard to judge critically and fairly when they arrive on Switch. In the case of Snowman there’s no doubt it’s a smart, well-designed, and challenging experience despite what, on the surface, would seem to be a simple premise. Yeah, you just need to get the torso on top of the base and get the head on top of that, but the trick is that every move needs to often be carefully planned, whether to just get each element in place or to use the snow on the ground to make one part bigger to be able to use it. The first very fair critique would be whether or not there’s anything about this being on the Switch, taking on the ability to play on your television and use physical controls, and the answer is not really… this would seem to work just fine without either option whether on your phone or a tablet. The second quibble concerns the overall difficulty, which kicks in pretty quickly. It isn’t impossible by any means, but there’s a risk of getting stuck and without any means for assistance that could be a bummer too. If you like a challenge, clean graphics, and a budget-friendly price it’s a good option, but it may just be more convenient on your mobile device in the end as well.

Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa [Triple-I Games] - There’s something both exciting and sometimes heart-breaking when you get to play early versions of games and get filled in on what they want to be and then see them finally released some time later. Hindsight 20/20 is such a game for me, one I thought had terrific potential when I saw it at PAX East last year. The concept of needing to make choices both in the story and in how you fight your foes changing the world around you, and even altering the outcomes you can reach, is a smart one that somewhat connects. Where the cracks begin to show is in the game’s combat, though both the more noble blue and deadly red skill sets you can use do have their merits and potential for visual flair. The issue is just that for me there was nothing pulling me to play things one way or another in combat, leaving me to be satisfied fighting in either style that suited me and not terribly compelled to risk anything switching to the other. Even the story beats where you can make a choice of consequence felt a bit flat as I never really felt invested in the game world or the people I’d be affecting. Lay in combat that doesn’t look too bad but gets repetitious relatively quickly and there are absolutely some glimpses at what could be great here, but nonetheless a general feeling of missed potential as well.

Residual [OrangePixel] - While they got off to a bit of a slow start on the Switch, over the years survival games have become more common and some excellent examples of the genre have made their way to the system. Residual, with its “crash landed on another planet and trying to collect the means to survive” vibe, lands somewhere towards the middle of the pack, honestly feeling a bit generic in many respects. That’s not to say that if you’re a fan of the genre you won’t appreciate some of its quirks that give it a little flavor. However, if you’re new to survival games the lack of better guidance to help get you accustomed to the controls, and the way things need to be done, put it much further down the list of titles to take for an initial spin.

Rustler [Jutsu Games] - Billing itself as a medieval Grand Theft Auto (this is GTA2, mind you, don’t get too excited), Rustler is obviously trying to grab itself some attention, but that unfortunately also puts some expectations on it to try to meet. Sure, you’ll tool around either on foot or horseback doing jobs that are generally more on the unsavory or even downright weird side at times… but aside from frequent potty jokes how does it deliver on being an exciting or compelling experience? “Eh” is probably the most appropriate and honest response I can muster. Perhaps it is the really weird Renn Fair cosplay opening of its own action that threw me off from the get-go but for me it all feels a bit off and from another time, and that’s talking in game eras and not history. Maybe a decade or two ago it would all feel a bit more fresh and you could overlook its shortcomings but unless you’re really thirsting for a throwback to simpler (and perhaps a bit more juvenile) times this just doesn’t seem to have the energy to make more than a middling impression at best.

Virtuous Western [Ratalaika Games] - At first glance I was really hoping this would somehow be something cool like a simplified budget game in the vein of Sunset Riders, but alas, it is merely a pretty simple puzzle game at the end of the day. The Western sheriff theme does at least make a little sense with the mechanic generally being that you need to pick up each bullet to either directly or indirectly deal with bad guys, and every few levels or so at least new elements or challenges do get thrown in to keep it from getting too monotonous too quickly. What feels a little surprising, and perhaps may be a bit of a misstep is that it’s not a pure puzzle game. At some point you will need to demonstrate some timing, whether hitting or coming off a ladder, or more critically jumping bullets. That may throw the traditional puzzle crowd off, so if you don’t think of yourself as being good at timing jumps it may not be for you. In the end it is at least a little different, but it really doesn’t do anything to make itself stand out in the heavily-occupied budget puzzler space, at least not in a way that’s guaranteed to be a positive. 

Wednesday, September 8

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

Spelunky 2 [Mossmouth] (Nindie Choice!) -
It’s always a bit tricky to release both an original game and its sequel at the same time, but in the case of Spelunky 2 and its OG brutally-tough roguelike predecessor it works out reasonably well and either (or, even better, both) are worthy of a shot if you’re down for a challenge. Picking up as more of an entree to follow up on the original’s appetizer round, Spelunky 2 essentially takes everything into account, does quite a bit of refining, makes some cuts when necessary, and then adds some appreciated depth to what worked best. As you’d expect the list of deadly enemies and traps has expanded substantially, and you’ll quickly go through the trial and error of understanding all of the new and unique ways you’re able to die in the caves you’ll explore. That said, there are also some great treasures, surprises, and moments of elation that await you as well… if you’ve got the skills and patience to tackle the undertaking ahead of you. The result isn’t any sort of reinvention, but more of a perfecting of the formula of Spelunky. Whether you opt to tackle the challenge alone, or viably play with other intrepid explorers online, this is a polished product as deserving of “classic roguelike” status as the original.

One-Eyed Lee and the Dinner Party [Ratalaika Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ve tended to be pretty clear in my distaste for pure visual novels and their lack of interactivity, and when I started this title I had some concerns it was headed in that direction with quite a bit of (often clever) dialogue to get it rolling. Thankfully, while it has a focus on story-telling and character interactions this plays out more like the love child of a visual novel and a classic adventure title, borrowing elements from both and trying to make the most of it. The adventure elements have been stripped down and streamlined, for sure, but that makes it a more frustration-free affair, leaving you unconcerned with obtuse puzzles or mucking around with 10 different combinations of items in your inventory in the hopes you’ll land where the developers wanted you to. On the story-telling side both the main characters and the interesting “people” they encounter and need to work with (and against) provide for a fair amount of humor which can also be at least partially directed by your choices along the way. While the whole affair only lasts a few hours there’s enough quirk and charm here to at least entertain with a taste of something just a bit different, which is always refreshing.

Sokobond [Draknek & Friends] - Even when you’re talking about games that are budget-priced and for a somewhat more casual audience there can be some stiff competition on the Switch. Between crossover mobile games and established franchises in the console space breaking in with something that can grab attention takes a bit of creativity. While visually quite simplistic, consisting primarily of mere colored circles and lines defining the boundaries of the space you have to work with, Sokobond leaning on chemistry helps to give it some unique flair while also making for a consistent challenge. Working to combine individual elements into more complex molecules by carefully taking into account the number of bonds each atom has can take a moment to grasp fully but once you’ve got the idea you should be off to the races. It’s the configuration of the spaces you have to work within and the slow progression of new elements that can combine, split, or otherwise manipulate your creations that keeps the challenge coming and from allowing it to get too stale. Considering its budget asking price it provides for a few hours (or more) of puzzling and, best of all, its ideas feel unique enough to help it stand apart from its competition.

Cosmic Express [Draknek & Friends] - Budget puzzlers that, at their core, feel quite familiar in some way are a bit difficult to score. There’s no question that Cosmic Express has a budget-priced blend of being smart, looking very cute, and steadily upping the challenge with new elements periodically across its many levels. I would say it’s better suited to puzzle veterans since the expectation is that you’ll work out and understand the increasing complexity through mere observation, and if you get stuck on some of its sometimes steep jumps in difficulty there’s really nothing that’s going to assist you. Still, the tougher the challenge the greater the reward, so for people who love a challenge that is still somehow generally quite relaxing this may be a train worth jumping on.

Guts ‘N Goals [CodeManu] - When I first saw this title and a hint of the gameplay I was excited by the potential promise of a return of some good old combat sports. Whether the Mutant League titles (can we at least get a port?!?! PLEASE!), the likes of Blades of Steel, or even in the direction of games like NBA Jam and its ilk, I’m generally down for some skills mixed in with some brutality for flavor. Unfortunately, perhaps being so in tune with so many titles that really swung for the fences to try to make gameplay lively, Guts ‘N Goals may have the general basics down, but the lack of variety and nuance on both sides of the combat sports coin makes for a pretty shallow overall experience. If you’re planning to play with some friends locally, perhaps simply whacking each other into submission and trying to get the ball into the goal (there are some other modes, but they don’t fundamentally change enough to really set themselves apart as unique) can be great fun with some drinks, but if you’re looking for more depth you’re going to be hard-pressed to find it here.

Friday, September 3

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

Spelunky [Mossmouth] (Nindie Choice!) -
One of the last OG indie titles to finally come to Switch, Spelunky promptly gave me a nice slap in the face to remind me of just how quickly I could utterly fail in a game. As one of the earliest and most staggeringly popular tough-as-nails roguelikes out there this is a game chock full of things that will gladly kill you, and in the early going most of your runs will be capped off with a “Oh, I’m not supposed to do that” moment as you meet some new enemy or trap type and aren’t quite prepared for the pain it is set to bring. All that said, when you get to a new level or zone for the first time there’s nothing quite like that thrill… right before you discover something new again and in many cases promptly die once more, just to start all over again. While there’s no doubt roguelikes have lunged ahead with newer ideas, to a degree leaving Spelunky feeling a bit dated and perhaps more on the sadistic side than the average, the fact that it’s very easy on the pocketbook at a mere $10 and still has a fair amount of charm to go with its brutality make it a must-own for anyone who loves roguelikes and may never have had the chance to take it on.

KeyWe [Stonewheat & Sons] (Nindie Choice!) - Cooperative games that rely on a mix of careful communication and a fair degree of control dexterity have really come into fashion, when done well, on the Switch. KeyWe may be one of the most unusual ones to date, with you and a friend each taking control of one of these odd birds as they try to use their limited abilities to help keep a local post office up and running. With a handful of mailroom tasks that vary in their details, as well as a number of more offbeat and silly overtime activities to participate in there’s quite a bit more variety than you’d assume to the game since your little kiwi buddies are severely limited in their inherent capabilities. While the game can be played solo, to a degree, that really does rob the game of the majority of its charm, with the goal being to either bring friends together or rip them apart as they struggle to both plan and adapt on the fly in order to keep efficiency up and everything delivered on time. If various forms of food prep have become a bit stale and you and a buddy are looking for a new challenge this provides ample opportunity for some fun and frustration as well.

The Magister [Nerdook Productions] - Pushing the boundaries to further enhance or make existing genres tends to be what indie titles do well, and The Magister definitely falls into that category for better or worse. When you define it as a “murder mystery RPG deckbuilder roguelike with tactical combat” it’s quite a mouthfull, but that would be accurate, and with so much going on it should be easier to understand the challenge of making it all work cohesively. Your first few runs will likely be rough as you come to terms with how things work. You’ll choose among a handful of candidates to play as each time, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that may or may not pay off or doom you in any given run depending. In many situations you’ll have the choice between a purely card-driven challenge using “tactical diplomacy” to calm the situation as a solution or to go for blood which pairs your deck with pretty tense tactical combat. Success and enjoyment, as is the case with many roguelikes, is about having the interest and endurance to weather early frustrations that will help you better understand how to succeed. If you stick it out there’s nothing quite like it out there and it’s a solid challenge, but if you frustrate more easily you’ll want to move on.

Golf Club Wasteland [Demagog Studio] - This is one of those titles where the name of the game may lead you astray, though I will admit that it is generally accurate. Less of a sports title and more of a forward reflection of our world’s demise you’ll play as a sort of tourist visiting the ruins of civilization of Earth to shoot some holes. The majority of the entertainment and opportunities to understand the state of the world come in the form of the local radio station that both plays some tunes and recounts tidbits about what went wrong. The golfing itself is a bit on the simplistic side, though to do well you will need to learn what nuances there are. Thankfully you can opt for one of three modes that will dictate how well you’ll need to do to proceed so if you want to just be along for the ride that’ll work, and if you opt for the toughest mode be ready for some frustrations for sure. Coming in with a budget asking price it’s absolutely a unique experience, just be sure you understand what you’re in for before plunking down to pick it up on the eShop.

Stranded Deep [Beam Team Games] - I’ve pretty much always had a love/hate relationship with the survival genre, though it may not be what you think. I just don’t tend to see many as being “somewhere in the middle”, most typically I really enjoy how they’re implemented or they drive me nuts. In the case of Stranded Deep I won’t discount the fact that it has some deep crafting trees and shows signs of there being quite a lot to do in it for the people who are diligent and dedicated. My issue is that I don’t find much of anything about it to be very unique or inspired and truly the console controls for it are clunky and cumbersome at best. If you’re somehow who is a genre fan and always looking for the next challenge, there may be plenty here to enjoy, but for newcomers or more middling genre fans there are absolutely stronger and more polished examples of the genre on the system.

Thursday, September 2

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

Kitaria Fables [Twin Hearts] (Nindie Choice!) -
Family-friendly action adventure titles have a fair amount of representation on the system, but with its cute characters and pretty basic overall controls, Kitaria Fables manages to pretty easily establish itself as a great option. While the story, for the most part, runs along familiar lines, keeping it simple seems to work nicely for the title, giving you reasons to keep moving around to discover new areas and challenges, but also never bogging things down. A dash of crafting and cultivation help to add some meat to the game’s bones once you get rolling, and some weapon choices help to give you some nice combat options to work with as you face a variety of foes. Further, throw in the ability to play along with someone else co-op style and it positions itself very nicely for a parent or older sibling to play along with a less experienced gamer-in-training as well. While by no means as polished or deep as the top-tier titles in the genre the general accessibility, friendly characters and tone, and plain cute charm or Fables should be perfect for people who just want to just take their time and enjoy themselves, no matter what their age.

Big Rumble Boxing: Creed Champions [Survios] - While the Switch has finally managed to get some fighting games rolling in the more recent years, sports titles in general have been woefully few and far between. Looking to pick up the practically unclaimed boxing crown we now have Big Rumble Boxing, which brings along a fair amount of swagger as well as characters from the Rocky-verse which is a fair bonus for fans of the franchise. The first word of caution for people taking a look is to walk into the affair thinking of it as a fighting game that features a boxing feel, this isn’t remotely a relative of the likes of Punch-Out or other 3D boxers. With that said, though it feels more like a 2D fighting game overall (though you do have the ability to dodge 3-dimensionally) the typical mass of special moves and nuanced combos don’t come along for the ride, with each general fighting style having their own flow but in general the repertoire of attacks staying limited. Depending on what you’re looking for, the result being more of a Chess-like strategic affair where you’ll be trying to work with what you have to wear down and/or psyche out your opponent to then capitalize will either seem ideal or a bit dull and repetitive. 

Super Animal Royale [Pixile] - Whenever you run into a free-to-play title it’s always a bit of a challenge to rake them over the coals when people could literally try them out and make their own decision for free. Still, since peoples’ time is also a premium, I suppose sharing some critical thoughts and compliments, when appropriate, is also in order. If you’ve played any battle royale titles (but especially Fortnite), just about every general aspect of the game should be familiar here. A standard map that a release craft will fly over, allowing people to pepper themselves about in search of gear and ammo, some urgency to keep moving since the safe area will continue to shrink with time, and everyone trying to survive. The only major differentiator happens to be the perspective, in this case adopting more of a top-down perspective rather than sticking to the first-person perspective, and that change moves the feel into being more of a twin-stick shooter. In principle I’d be a fan of this sort of change, since twin-stick arcade shooters are among my favorites out there, but for me the aim and all just feels a little off somehow. I can’t put my finger on it, and I’m sure with some time I could get used to it, but I was surprised with how inaccurate my shooting typically felt, and with as much as I play them that’s a bit disappointing. The result still gives you the tension and excitement for free, which is a plus, but at least for me the controls just don’t click in a way that would make it addictive enough to stick with for more than a few random rounds once in a while.

Instant Sports Paradise [BreakFirst Games] - While multi-event titles inspired by the likes of Olympic sports have been around for quite some time, Wii Sports helped to establish that people of all ages could enjoy even more leisurely activities together with properly simplified control schemes. Instant Sports Paradise is absolutely a game experience aspiring to that model, featuring a pretty wide variety of well-known leisure activities like Mini Golf or Bowling as well as more daring ones like Wakeboarding or flying with a Wingsuit. Not that it’s a surprise, but while I appreciate the desire to generally keep the controls basic from event to event there can be varying issues. In the case of Bowling it feels far too simplistic, especially in light of so many arcade-style bowling games in the past that added depth but were still accessible, but then for something like Mini Golf the way you manage the power of your shots feels unwieldy. While I have no doubt with some repetition people would be able to adapt to some of the more unusual control schemes, the greater issue is then whether there’s enough nuance and depth to keep them interesting… and for anyone beyond casual players loss of interest will become a problem quickly. The added non-event activities, items you can customize your character with, and exploring the island are nice value adds, but for people who are a bit more experienced as gamers there’s not much that will occupy you for long.

Weapon of Choice DX [Mommy's Best Games] - While in the early days there weren’t many options for run and gun shooter fans on Switch, thankfully in the years since release the offerings have filled in nicely. Weapon of Choice DX jumps into that pool with a fair amount of attitude and confidence, and to a degree it deserves to have a bit of swagger. In terms of the funky weapons, some of the mechanics of each character’s powers, and the degree of intensity it absolutely sets itself apart. Where it gets tricky is whether or not that will necessarily make up for its somewhat unusual level designs and periodic frustrations with the situations you can find yourself in. With a little more refinement and better focus on clear objectives for play it could use its unique elements more effectively, but as it is it feels like it has some good ideas that are held back by some of the ways they’re implemented.

Wednesday, September 1

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

Inked: A Tale of Love [Somnium Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
The thing that will obviously grab you with this title is its unique (and quite lovely) art style. From there, though, it’s the thoughtful story and simple but pleasing puzzles that will (hopefully) keep you. With a runtime of only a few hours, the experience doesn’t last long, but I enjoyed the game’s consistent small surprises, quirky moments, and loving story beats that were all handled with a fair amount of care. In some cases there could be a small frustration with a puzzle where you know what needs to be done in principle but then working out precisely how to align things to get it to happen is another matter but for the most part the design is sound. Perhaps the tendency for these story-driven titles to end in more sad ways is a bit of a bummer, but the joy you feel along the way tends to carry the experience and help them still end up being quite satisfying. It’s a relatively short, but creative and well-crafted, treat of puzzle and story mixed together.

Townscaper [Oskar Stalberg] - Not so much a game as an interactive toy, Townscaper is just a different sort of experience that people will likely either adore or hate. Your tools to work with are pretty minimalistic, able to lay down small building blocks in the color you choose or remove them, but as you continue to combine more and more together your creation continues to react and change in what are often small but pleasing ways. It’s really all about trying new things and the discovery of the results, driving you to experiment further as you slowly fill up the space with your distinct creation. While I do wish there was a way to step back and see some virtual people interact with the labyrinthian 3D towns in some way, there’s still something soothing and satisfying in taking the time to build both precise and uniform (to a degree, the grid’s tendency to bend in places will thwart you at some point) as well as unorthodox and perhaps completely impractical structures. It’s absolutely unique, and in its own way satisfying, but also clearly not for everyone.

Mickey Storm and the Cursed Mask [Orange One] - This aquatically-based platformer, which you can play either solo or co-op, is a bit of an odd bird. For the most part the emphasis here is on exploration and trying to use what techniques you have at your disposal to get to a variety of items you’ll want to grab while keeping an eye on the time. Some stages will change up the focus, having you work more against the clock (or perhaps a boss), but most of the time you’ll be in the classic collect-a-thon mindset where every detour or hint at another way to do can lead to new challenges. The main problem, though, is that the execution of the controls and some of the collision detection and behaviors are just a bit on the wonky side. There’s no doubt you can brute force overcome these issues through some grit and determination at times, but there are some moments that are aggravating for all the wrong reasons that are tough to push aside when reflecting on the experience as a whole. It has its moments where things come together and it shines, but it also has a tendency to get in its own way unfortunately.

The Magnificent Trufflepigs [Thunkd] - This is one of those titles that’s very difficult to explain in a way that establishes a decent value proposition for purchasing it but here goes: Only lasting a couple of hours, the “action” is you methodically using a metal detector on the ground of an old farm in search of something. These efforts are then broken up by the real focus, which is an ongoing conversation between two old friends who at one point had some romantic entanglement and are slowly revisiting the topic of what happened and perhaps how they can move forward. Your interest and enjoyment likely will hinge on whether such an exploration sounds interesting, and the dialogue and nature of the relationship is at least handled well and in a way that feels pretty realistic as well. Obviously it won’t be for everyone, but that isn’t to say it isn’t a unique and compelling experience in its own right.

Secret Neighbor [Hologryph] - The creepy Neighbor is apparently back, yet again, to give off his weird vibes and entice people to plunk down some money to join in his latest endeavor… in this case an asymmetric multiplayer experience with a group of kids trying to best him. In theory this can sound like a good time, but, as has usually been the case with this series, in execution it’s a hot mess. The fact that it is a dedicated multiplayer game is the first red flag, as even popular indie titles tend to struggle to maintain their communities, making the sell-by date on this title any time now in all likelihood. But what about the quality of the experience? Does it make a case to keep people playing? In a word: No. Consistent with the entire series it has a problem of having a cool and unique look but offering very little to pair with it in terms of depth, quality of play, and general coherence, but enlisting some random people to try to somehow work together in some way with as well? It doesn’t end well, and it doesn’t feel like it was balanced or thought through sufficiently to have made that a possibility either.

Friday, August 27

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

Orbibot [PSGames] -
As an old school arcade fan I’ll just plain admit I’m a sucker for any game that remotely resembles the classic Marble Madness. I can’t help it, rolling a ball around, and the unique challenges that can present, just always has some appeal to me. Orbibot, stripped down to its roots, is built on a mix of focused and careful control and what can often be clever action puzzles you’ll need to work out solutions for and then execute. While its low-budget price gives it a reasonable degree of latitude for lacking in polish there are times where a bit of jankiness in the controls can be an obstacle, most often tied to the fact that the camera must be managed constantly, and in some areas of some maps that can present some challenges, especially when precision is often required to keep yourself on the track. Then there are just small details like the hidden items (that look kind of like tiny piƱatas) that are both not explained but then also not reflected in the main menu interface so you’re then unable to know whether you may have even gotten them all in a given level. For what you’ll pay it’s not a bad deal or experience, it’s just in that space where it’s merely good and you just wish a little more effort had been expended to get it another rung or two higher on the ladder of success.

Where’s Samantha [Respect Studios Ltd] - Broadly agreeable and family-friendly titles aren’t always easy to find, so when you come across one like Where’s Samantha it’s typically a nice change of pace from the more demanding fare on the eShop. With its cute little cloth-based characters, color-changing mechanic that will let you either grow or split yourself up, and its generally smart but quickly quite repetitive platforming it has some appeal for a more casual crowd, it’s just important to keep your expectations in check as you begin digging a little deeper as many levels will tend to blur together with their overall similarities as it’s not unusual to feel a sense of deja vu as you work your way through the game.For people just looking for some light entertainment that won’t be too taxing it may be a good game to unwind with, but if you’re looking for something more creative and fun there’s simply not much here to sustain that feeling for very long.

King’s Bounty II [1C Entertainment] - This is one of those titles that, when you see a well-cut trailer for it, jumps out as having some real potential. While hardly perfect it’s attractive enough, and there’s a somewhat cinematic quality to the storytelling that has some appeal to draw you in. It’s when you spend some time with it that issues begin to creep in and tarnish the experience. Movement and getting to objectives can be ploddingly slow, even on a horse, and aside from simply having you wander to eat up time there never feels like there’s a purpose to justify the time wasted on such a simple thing. Then quirks in the game’s interface begin to show up, with some turning to annoyances in how sluggish or poorly-conceived they can be in terms of intuitiveness and efficiency. It’s when you get into the tactical combat that this feels like the issues come to a head though, where even with some instruction performing what are normally simple tasks like switching between units as you plot out your strategy have been handled poorly, or simply understanding why some actions can’t be performed contextually as you try to get through battles. Perhaps with patching this title could better reach its potential but there’s no ignoring that in its current state it’s asking for a lot of patience for only middling enjoyment as a reward in return.

A Night at the Races [Mushy Jukebox] - This is one of those titles you run into periodically that’s simply hard to wrap your head around. The majority of the time playing it you’ll be jumping and dashing around in a pretty fast-moving retro platformer that’s admittedly a challenge, especially due to its breakneck speed. Sitting in a layer on top of that is a slowly-developing story in the “real world” that’s pushing you to git gud in a hurry at said game in the hopes of winning a tournament that will get you out of the financial bind you’re in. It’s strange, will challenge your reactions, and can be a tad glitchy in places, but if you enjoy playing games that seem to be teed up for the speedrunning community it may have some appeal.

Thea 2: The Shattering [MuHa Games] - While I considered the original Thea to be more of a middling hybrid deckbuilder and strategy game (though with a fair amount of story to go with it as a plus), hearing that it had a sequel coming I had hoped things would turn around. Unfortunately, for me it feels like if anything the developers doubled down on the pretty oppressive complexity, trying to stuff even more ideas into the game, rather than taking a step back to create something a bit more smooth. If you’re a fan of having many areas to try to focus on in parallel, perhaps reducing the level of rote repetition, this may be just fine for you. However, the crippling blow really comes with the game’s awkward and cumbersome console controls mixed with an abundance of screens for you to trudge through and wrap your head around. The result ends up being a bit of a plodding bore with a combat interface in particular that never really clicks and certainly lacks even an ounce of excitement. If you have any interest I’d be inclined to start with the original and see how that goes before taking this one on.

Thursday, August 26

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

Lamentum [Obscure Tales] (Nindie Choice!) -
I’m sad to say that more often than not, on the Switch, games pushing “horror” in some way have struggled and failed in the department of delivering compelling play. Creepy? Yeah, to a degree in some cases. Able to deliver a few jump scares? Sure, though many times you can see them coming, which can make them less effective. The thing is, far too many lean too hard on those elements justifying you playing the game rather than having them accentuate what’s already an interesting or compelling experience to begin with. Lamentum, with its simple start of you getting involved with a mysterious man in the hopes of saving your wife from a terrible disease, does a good job of setting the initial hook and then slowly but surely revealing itself bit by bit as things continue to devolve and go wrong. With its pixel art presentation the tendency is more towards establishing an ambiance and a creeping sense of dread than visceral scares, but the somewhat adventure-esque nature of play serves as a great glue to keep you exploring and periodically getting a little jump here and there. While perhaps not enough to make you afraid to play it in the dark, the grim and gothic tone of Lamentum at least helps it stand out early as we approach the Halloween season.

Hoa [Skrollcat Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - Ah, the struggle to properly evaluate games that aren’t really made for you personally as the target audience. Hoa is a naturalistic puzzle platformer with a simply incredible and vibrant art style first and foremost. At that point I don’t doubt quite a large number of people are on board. Where the game may lose people is with the fact that it is also absolutely clear it was made to be “family-friendly” which, for many, can be translated to “not very difficult”. For people with gamers-in-training out there it’s absolutely well worth a look, as it does a fair job at working the mind as well as the reflexes, though in general with a gentle touch. For people who can enjoy games as they’re intended, who also appreciate outstanding game art, it’s also probably going to be a real treat. If you’re not so much in that direction and get bored with well-worn play that is often very gentle with the player it’s likely to, instead, be a bit aggravating no matter how great it may look. All that said, I absolutely appreciate the clear love and earnest effort behind Hoa, and would recommend it to anyone who won’t be disappointed by its relative ease.

Garden Paws [Bitten Toast Games] - While I don’t want to show any undue bias against games unfairly, I’ll admit that I’ve slowly become skeptical of games that seem to lean on the “cute factor” as a primary selling point. Garden Paws will let you choose from a variety of animals for your character avatar and customize them a bit to your liking, allowing you to either play offline on your own or attempting to join up with others online (keeping in mind most indies struggle for even short-term viability with their online communities). Once you’re playing the style is somewhere between a dumbed down farm sim in the vein of Stardew or Harvest Moon and almost an adventure RPG, depending on what tasks you decide to undertake. Exploration is certainly a focus, though the space you live in is certainly quite finite, and whether you’re out gathering, helping townsfolk, or taking on a dungeon for a little while there are some novel things to do. The problem is that though there’s obviously quite a bit of overall content for people who stick it out it’s all quite shallow and in many cases not even implemented very well. Quite regularly there’s just a janky quality to the experience, whether with its tendency to feel very imprecise with its controls, abundant pop-in, strange behaviors of other characters you’ll interact with, or just generally walking around. So many features feel like they were implemented against a checklist, and indeed they are present, but they’re fulfilling a bare minimum rather than providing for depth of enjoyment. I don’t doubt “the cutes” may be enough for some people to stick with this title for a while but for more seasoned gamers there are too many other titles on the eShop that do things better than to stick it out with this.

Have a Blast [Firenut] - While I’d like to be able to claim myself and my family are not victims of local multiplayer fatigue on Switch, it’s tough to deny it’s a thing. While there are absolutely some stand-out titles out there that break from the pack to do something novel, exciting, or simply far better than everything else out there the majority are solidly stuck in the middle and Have a Blast feels very much at home there. On a simple level it’s a shooter where you’re trying to eliminate your enemies in successive rounds to become the eventual winner, though thankfully there are a few ship variants that each have a special attack, quite a variety of levels, and a few modes as well. So there’s some effort here, without a doubt, but the results do have a tendency to vary from level to level in particular. For instance, the Asteroid-laden stage has a tendency to get very busy visually, making it very hard for everyone to keep track of where their ships are as things get intense. It’s just small things that tug the game down, but the main issue is just that it feels very traditional, safe, and kind of generic to begin with, ultimately making it forgettable in a very competitive space.

Wildbus [Wildbus Studio] - Sometimes there are just games that start out hitting you the wrong way the moment you begin playing and just can’t seem to recover. For me, Wildbus is one such title. Billed as a retro beat-em-up, but with a vehicle, I’ll admit the basics sounded like they’d be up my alley, but right away the game does itself no favors by really failing to help you get started at all. The thing is, the beat-em-up formula is one everyone pretty well knows, it shouldn’t have to be rocket science, but somehow it takes little time before you’re needing to experiment to understand the many ways you can die, that your bus can inexplicably climb ladders, and just how to engage in combat. The result feels like a mashed together sort of mess where the expectation seems to be that the person who has bought the game, who was likely looking for some quick and satisfying action, should dig in and spend time understanding the nuances of everything. Considering there are so many titles on the eShop that do a better job of delivering challenges, fun, and excitement right off the bat this feels like a bad investment of time and finances.

Wednesday, August 25

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

Dodgeball Academia [Pocket Trap] (Nindie Choice!) -
While I’ll admit that when you mention a game with the name “dodgeball” right in the title you already have my attention, bear in mind that doesn’t make me an easy guarantee for positive feelings about the result. In fact, I’ll admit to some trepidation with this “Dodgeball RPG” and whether it would manage to make both ends of the equation well, since so many titles that try to go non-traditional routes have a tendency to get one piece of the puzzle right but come up short on the other. I’m here to reassure you that Dodgeball Academia does no such thing. It plays great as an RPG, with a ton of great and unusual characters, a number of bad guys to deal with, and some crucial decisions when it comes to equipment and where you put your focus for your pretty limited character upgrades. At the same time it plays incredibly well, indeed blowing away my expectations, when it comes to the action-oriented dodgeball play. Who’d have thought, the gameplay isn’t just engaging and full of technique… it’s also damned hard at times and you’ll need to make clever use of the strengths of each member of your team and their powerful Balltimate abilities when the chips are down. While I don’t mind a great RPG every once in a while it has been a long time since I’ve been this genuinely excited to return to one every time I load it up. Absolutely recommended!

Quake Remastered [MachineGames] (Nindie Choice!) - OK, so I don’t think anyone needs to tell you that Quake is one of the most influential first-person shooters of all-time. Sure, id and 3D Realms originated the genre with the likes of DOOM and Duke Nukem but Quake brought the genre screaming into the full 3D space for the first time full of intensity, a killer soundtrack, revolutionary multiplayer, and quality level design that even holds up reasonably well today. As for the port itself to Switch I’ve never really played the game looking and feeling better. Visually it’s crisp and clean, the action is fluid and pretty well flawless, and aiming using the dual sticks feels almost as accurate as my old school preferred mouse (well, in my case a trackball) and keyboard. My one complaint may just be that I wish the music was more raucously loud to help fully transport me back in time, but that’s obviously incredibly minor. I did debate whether or not this could even remotely be considered an “indie” title but with it being thoroughly and lovingly retro and showing up on the eShop at all of $10 full-price I’ve made that call and will stand by it. If you consider yourself a FPS nut, or even have a modest interest in the preservation of cornerstone titles in the history of video games this is absolutely worth owning and appreciating.

Monster Train First Class [Gambitious] (Nindie Choice!) - While I’ll admit to having a bit of deckbuilding strategy fatigue, there have been a number of titles on Switch in the past 2 years that have kept the quality of incoming titles in that vein hard to ignore. Aside from having a clean and attractive overall appearance, what First Class absolutely does right is to offer up a small, but smart, wrinkle into the normal summoning routine while peppering in a healthy dose of roguelike choice and unpredictability as you chug your way along the track. You see, your train’s core is on the top level, and with your enemies coming in on the bottom, that means you’ll be able to lay units on different levels to try to take them out as they make their way up. As you can only fit 2 units on each level, and the deck includes cards that can allow you to move units up or down after they’ve been placed, the planning here is absolutely vital as you take on higher and higher-level foes who are awash with HP. It can be easy to get jaded when yet another title in a genre having its moment comes along, but as long as developers keep making an earnest effort to keep them from all being mind-numbingly similar it’s great to periodically stumble into ones that are getting things right.

Murder Mystery Machine [Blazing Griffin] - Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Arrive at the crime scene, look for clues and evidence, interrogate witnesses, and then use your powers of deduction in order to solve the crime. It’s a well-worn formula that works. For the most part Murder Mystery Machine tries to honor this process, and the real focus of the game is on a board where all of the current information you’ve gathered is on display, with the goal being to start making associations to solve the case and help justify your conclusion. While I think the system itself is a smart one conceptually, in execution more often than not it left me feeling bewildered on what specific tidbits the game wanted me to put together, even when I felt like I had a good idea of what happened. Without pairing the precisely correct items with one another entire dialogue trees aren’t available to you, creating loops where you’ll be at a dead stop, with no actions you can take, so you’ll just inevitably begin pairing clues in the hopes that you stumble onto the magic combination that’s being sought at the time. It’s at that point where the illusion of you working though the process is shattered for the most part and the very linear nature of the underpinnings reveal themselves. It can still be a good bit of fun, but the rigidity of how you associate specific items with one another (even when it feels like other pairing with items in the same groups makes sense) can make it a frustrating experience at times.

Jessika [Tritrie Games] - Running with the concept of the “found phone” puzzle sub-genre, Jessika changes some of the more typical details and adds some decently-acted media to the mix, but still adheres to the same general idea. The general goal in these games is for you to rummage through a person’s data, texts, emails, and even media in order to advance your way through different layers of security and additional info that advances the story. Where the game struggles a bit is with the controls in the interface, which do function reasonably well but I wouldn’t consider ideal in all cases either. As is typical with this type of game there will inevitably be lulls where you’re unable to find the next tidbit you need to keep things advancing, often requiring backtracking to comb through things in the hopes you’ll find whatever it was you missed to keep you going. It has its moments, but this isn’t a game style likely for everyone.

Friday, August 20

Mini Reviews: August 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Space Scavenger [Red Cabin Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s absolutely no denying that fans of twin-stick roguelike shooters, like myself, have an embarrassment of riches on the system. Great news for fans, less great news for developers trying to stand out from the formidable pack. In the case of Space Scavenger the hook is customization, in this case literally getting configure the build of your ship, LEGO-style, assembling parts the best you can within the rules to suit your style, but more often than not make lemonade out of lemons with as you improvise your way to success. While the first area acts as a decent primer to get you started, don’t fool yourself to think it stays that easy for long. You will absolutely be challenged to cobble your way to success, making the most of what you have on hand, and then strategically selling and then buying gear in periodic shops to try to put yourself in a position to succeed. Whether streamlined or bulked up, depending on your gear different strategies for configuring your ship may be in order, opening the door to a pretty smart learning process as you determine what works best for you and what pitfalls to avoid based on experience. In terms of the pure shooting action of things it may lack the intensity of some of its peers but as a total package there’s no denying it has some appeal with the hook of patching together a spaceship that’s all yours.

Risk of Rain 2 [Hopoo Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Having played both the original Risk of Rain and the Early Access version of this sequel on PC I’m pretty well-acquainted with both the level of challenge it provides, and of how chaotic the combat can tend to get in a hurry if you don’t keep up with the spawn rate of your enemies in spots. In many ways they aren’t very nuanced, your objective is to move through environments as quickly as you can, killing enemies along the way, in search of the teleportation shrine that will move you to the next area. Every moment you waste essentially powers up your enemies but that can also be a positive as blowing through a horde or two will give you some loot to spend at randomly-placed boxes, kiosks, 3D printers, and equipment like healing drones or defensive guns. Each stage then culminates in a challenging blow out boss fight. A load of classes, including a new one added in the latest patch, and the ability to team up online all make for plenty of ways to engage in great action… just be warned that if you’re seeking context, story, or nuance that isn’t what this game is about. It’s much more of a throwback conceptually to the days of arcades where the onslaught needed no explanation, you just needed to be ready to do as much damage as you can to get as far as you can before dying… and then starting all over again.

Pile Up! [Seed by Seed] - While Nintendo systems have been notoriously accused of being “for kids” for ages now, with the Switch mostly being no exception, in truth if you’re looking for a great game to directly play with your kids it can be a bit of a challenge to find much in the way of variety. That’s where a title like Pile Up can be easy to appreciate, as while more veteran gamers may find its puzzle platforming elements to be a bit simplistic, people who are less seasoned may really latch onto the overall approachability of the experience. That it is perfectly viable (though at times a bit tougher) as a solo game or can work nicely with a team of up to 4 people is then just sort of icing on the cake. The game looks colorful, its cardboard cutout figures inspire creative thoughts, and while not everything you see is a gimme, for the most part gamers of any skill level should be able to find success with it. While it isn’t without its flaws, if you’ve got a younger gamer-in-training around, or simply someone who normally feels overwhelmed by more intense experiences, it’s a great and generally simple title people should consider.

Arietta of Spirits [Third Spirit] - This is one of those tough ones where I can’t outright fault the key elements of the game design, but I also can say some of the choices in implementation brought it down a bit for me. Working in the mold of a classic 16-bit adventure, you’ll play as a young girl who gets caught up as someone able to operate in both the everyday and spirit worlds. I do appreciate the attempt to flesh out a story tied to her grandmother who had passed a year before, but the story to gameplay ratio in the first hour or so is pretty brutal and it just felt like the same objectives could be accomplished with a tighter script. Throw in movement from objective to objective often being multiple screens where you face the same repeated enemies and there don’t feel like many, if any, rewards for taking the time to explore anything or even engaging in combat and it has a tendency to drag a bit between major battles and beats. Arietta isn’t necessarily a bad title, it has plenty going for it, just up against much more engaging titles on the system it comes up a bit short.

Barry the Bunny [lightUp] - Ahh, another cute budget platformer with a cuddly wuddly little hero hopping his way through level to save the day… *record scratch sound* Yeah, though you may think Barry could be a cute bunny, past the first handful of levels make no mistake that the kid gloves get thrown off and you’ll be slowed down a bit by crushing disappointment as you die pretty quickly and easily. This tends to be a very “no mistakes” sort of experience. Though you can get some armor of sorts to make your survivability a tad higher the tendency is that on tough levels they’re only so much help and that’s where the problems set in a bit. My main complaint is that there are elements of the control and some objects in the game like ladders that just feel over-sensitive and result in pretty cheap deaths. Give me a challenge to my skills any day, but when sequences are implemented in a way where death awaits any execution error, even when in principle you know what needs to be done, patience can begin to wear thin. If you’re a fan of frustration this will deliver, I just wish that so often deaths didn’t feel like they had some element tied to implementation decisions contributing to the problem.

Thursday, August 19

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

Curious Expedition 2 [Maschinen-Mensch] (Nindie Choice!) -
For me Curious Expedition 2 is everything I look for in a sequel outing. It delivers a bit more quirk and color in its characters, locations, and things to discover. It has made some small refinements to the dice-based combat and feels a bit more common sense this time around (though that could have to do with familiarity now, but originally in the first it felt like rougher going early on). It gives you plenty of opportunity to make both good and bad moves from start to finish, whether it’s in the composition of your team, taking a chance on a roll in a specific event, or taking a detour to check out a potential landmark along your route and risking your team running out of provisions as a result. There’s no question that the RNG gods can be cruel at times here, but on some runs they can also randomly save your ass so it feels fair. As strategy roguelike combinations go I believe this is one of the strongest, not just providing satisfying play but also throwing in a generous dose of personality and humor to keep you further engaged and entertained.

Mayhem Brawler [Hero Concept] (Nindie Choice!) - When I originally saw the art for this game I’ll have to admit I was a bit put off by its blatant similarities to the recent (and outright excellent) Streets of Rage 4, fearing this would feel like a derivative sort of cut and paste job. I’m happy to say that though it has much in common with that recent remake (though its general depth in the moves department is a fair distance behind), that isn’t to say that it doesn’t take some pains to set itself apart. You’ll choose one of 3 characters to start with, each of them playing pretty differently with a more agile fighter, a brawler, and someone pretty well smack dab in the middle to round it out. Your objective, in general terms, is just to steamroll your way through the underworld, beating down anyone in your way, searching for answers to what’s going down in your city. I will credit the developers with the smart move of setting up decisions at the end of most chapters which give you choices on how to proceed. At a minimum the fact that this gives you an excellent reason to return for multiple runs to see how things work out differently when you make alternative options is a smart move. Status conditions and some great unexpected villain types also raise the game above the likes of the established norm to throw in some unexpected challenges in places, requiring a bit more nuance in your fighting. It may not quite have reliable mainstream appeal, but for genre fans it’s definitely worthy of a look

Necrobarista: Final Pour [Coconut Island Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I realize that more often than not I’m a sort of wet blanket in the area of visual novels, especially those that allow little to no room for player agency. I may just be stubborn but I do struggle with “games” that feel like you’re merely being pulled along for the ride rather than having a part to play with some participation. All that said, there’s something about the tone, characters, and general vibe of Necrobarista that at least sets it pretty far apart from the likes of its general competition… and I respect that. Don’t walk into it expecting to be able to change the course of events it sets into motion, but if you’re willing to sit back and enjoy the ride it at least has an interesting point of view to express in the area of life and death.

Out of Line [Nerd Monkeys] - The great artwork and general puzzle-y adventure beats of Out of Line (as well as a timely multiversal sort of twist to things) almost immediately brought to mind the likes of Limbo, Inside, and some others. One the one hand that’s a compliment for the company its look and feel inspire, but on the other the comparison falls flat a bit in terms of the variety and scope of the story to be told since Out of Line’s overall run time is a mere couple of hours. The construction of the puzzles is smart enough, with you needing to make careful and accurate use of your power javelin in a number of ways, but in terms of the sheer variety of what you’ll face it can also feel a bit more on the one note side. If you’re down for this sort of title and don’t mind the relatively short run time and a lacking overarching story it still has its charms though.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection [Taito Corporation] - As an old-school arcade kid my familiarity with Space Invaders and its iterations over time is quite high. As always with these retro collections the archival aspect of them, allowing you to return to a true representation of what was (no matter how dated these days) is always valuable. What’s more, there are a few oddballs in this collection like Space Cyclone that I can’t recall having ever seen, adding to the level of intrigue seeing things that are even new. It’s a little disappointing not to see added materials like vintage artwork or ads found in other collections of this type, helping to paint the full picture of the times and where they came from but I understand not everyone is interested in anything more than the games themselves. For retro fans it may be a tough choice though, between this edition having the full lineage of games in the series and the cheaper Space Invaders Forever what may lacking most of the older titles, but does include the more engaging modern incarnations which are excellent, Space Invaders Extreme in particular. Of course, for people not as enamored with vintage games or their progeny, it may well be a total miss.

Wednesday, August 18

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

A Short Hike [adamgryu] (Nindie Choice!) -
We’ve truly been blessed over the past 6 months or so with a strong run of generally bite-sized exploratory adventures that focus far more on the wonder of nature and discovery than the normal more action-oriented fare typically out there. A Short Hike, though only lasting a few hours, seems to have that perfect ratio to keep everything tight and satisfying, never having to wander too far before you see something to be found, someone to interact with, or a hint at something you may be able to discover later with the right equipment. Moving around the scenic park you’ll encounter a variety of people, some there to help you and some in need of some quick help which typically won’t have you tromping around to find what they’re looking for. It may not have loads of depth or character development but honestly you’re likely to be so enchanted with the beauty of your surroundings and the clean simplicity of the overall experience that it won’t matter a bit. A definite recommendation for people looking to relax or younger gamers with parents trying to find them something appropriate for just about any skill level.

Garden Story [Picogram] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to relatively chill adventures in more of a classic style the Switch has pretty great representation already and can now add Garden Story to the list. Playing as the little grape Concord, you’ll take on the mantle of your area’s Guardian, doing a bit of learning on the job as you try to complete various tasks to keep the residents happy as well as give the beatdown to the encroaching threat of The Rot. There’s a satisfying and generally more action-oriented vibe to your daily activities as you do what you can to help people to gain perks and support as well as upgrade your abilities. While it’s not terribly elaborate in its world and storytelling it’s a relatively familiar sort of gameplay loop that has that sort of “one more day” pull as you hope to see what comes next. Recommended for fans of games in the vein of Stardew Valley and some other farm simulators that are itching for just a bit more combat to spice things up.

Fort Triumph [Fort Triumph LTD] - Let’s be honest, though many games have attempted to capture some element of the X-Com style of tactical strategy combat, very few have done a decent job of it. What I like about Fort Triumph is that it borrows some great general features from that franchise but then adds in some new tweaks and smart abilities that are a bit different and fresh. This means you’ll at least need to change up some of your typical planning to take the best advantage of the opportunities they afford you. Though the view of the field tries to be helpful with a free camera there are situations where it can still be hard to see precisely what you want to, and it can lead to some unusual shots as well of the action as it unfolds. What may win or lose the day will be the fantasy setting and the more contemporary sense of humor to things, for some pulling it away from being stuffy and serious but for others it could perhaps be a bit grating. A solid effort with strategy appeal, but perhaps not groundbreaking either to pull in new people to the fold.

Faraday Protocol [Red Koi Box] - With a first-person puzzling style that is quite different from, but at times reminded me of, Portal in some ways with its construction and dialogue Faraday Protocol at least caught my attention. Certainly the comparison isn’t a fair one, pitting anything against a pretty well iconic classic, but compared to some other attempts with this view in puzzle games I at least think this comes through fairly well, even if at times it has a bit more of a trial and error than a deductive one when it comes to working out how to proceed. It’s all about managing your limited energy resources in each room (or group of rooms) effectively, setting yourself up for success by working out the proper progression to things. It’s nothing revolutionary, but if you’re looking for a different perspective in your puzzling it’s a fair choice.

Heart Chain Kitty [origamihero games] - While I have nostalgia for old-school looks and experiences I have found that while a return to classic pixel art tends to be met with a sense of fondness early-gen 3D games can be tougher to swallow. While I tried to keep an open mind the muddiness, blurriness, and oversaturated colors in Heart Chain Kitty unfortunately did get in the way of enjoyment. The somewhat primitive nature of the action, while making it more family-friendly perhaps, didn’t do it any favors either. In so many ways this feels like a release from another time, even moreso than the myriad remasters I’ve seen. That’s not to say there can’t be an audience that will enjoy it, just it’s a tough sell in this day and age on multiple levels.