Friday, January 29

Mini Reviews: January 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Olija [Skeleton Crew Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - With it’s very retro pixelated look you could walk into Olija expecting a similarly old-school experience, but you’d be wrong. That isn’t to say there isn’t some vintage essence to be found, the way the somewhat limited narrative is presented feels reminiscent of older times, as does the level design that will require careful exploration and perhaps some leaps of faith at times. You’ll be pushed to experiment and work out platforming puzzles but this is rarely a stumbling block, more often it’s just a great excuse to take advantage of its pretty solid mechanics and fluid style. Olija is an unusual title that somewhat defies simple explanations, effectively mixing the feel of old school cinematic adventure with sometimes tense combat and plenty of smart platforming as well. The result is a refreshing oasis in the typical doldrums of the early part of the year.

The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav [Daedalic Entertainment] - While most people first think of LucasArts classics when waxing nostalgic over the days of point-and-click adventures past, the foundations of the genre were typically focused more on fantasy and adventure than plentiful silliness. Chains of Satinav, though not completely humorless, is cut more from that traditional cloth in line with the likes of King’s Quest, providing a pretty authentic (in both good ways and bad) window into the vintage point and click adventure experience. While you may end up needing to consult a walkthrough or guide to work through more solutions than the usual these days you’ll at least be rewarded with some quality art and a different flavor than the typical adventures found in the eShop.

The Dark Eye: Memoria [Daedalic Entertainment] - In the follow-up to Chains of Satinav the Dark Eye series takes a bit of a different path, or in this case multiple paths, when it comes to the story being told. Moving between the current day hero from the first adventure, Geron, and Sadja, a princess from a much earlier period, the game manages to feel a bit more fresh since it isn’t simply married to one storyline. In addition I think more often than in the first title the puzzles here feel a bit more refined and take less periodic leaps of faith that could be frustrating. While typically you’d want to start stories from the beginning of a series, Memoria feels like a reasonably enough starting point for the story as well, so if you’re thinking you may only want to spring for one classic adventure there’s no reason to be obligated to choose Chains of Satinav over this one.

Heaven’s Vault [inkle] - Regardless of how I feel about the game’s overall funky mechanics and technical quirks at times, Heaven’s Vault deserves credit for putting effort into building a bit of a different world that you’ll need to endeavor to explore and understand. That does absolutely make it interesting and pretty unique. The problem for me is that in so many situations it felt like I was watching or playing a sequel, or hit the game somewhere in the second act. Without understanding my character’s motivations or anything about the reasons behind her attitude towards robots and other characters being prompted to complete her dialogue simply felt strange. You are able to understand more about her and some other characters as you go, but by then you’ve already made decisions which you’d hope wouldn’t negatively impact the outcome of the story just because you didn’t have enough context at the time. Trying to translate symbols falls into the same space, where you’re asked to interpret things but have no basis to work from initially, it’s just a bit odd. Throw in inconsistent pacing and just some technical weirdness at times and it’s an attractive and different sort of package but you can’t help but be baffled by some of its missteps.

Balancelot [Ratalaika Games] - OK, so there are just games out there plain determined to run a singular idea into the ground and for me Balancelot falls right into that category. You’ll play as a wannabe knight astride his unicycle while carrying his lance and shield, ready to take on tough enemies… or, more often than not, crates and hills which often prove to be the more lethal foes. Trying to manage your forward or backward momentum, needing to stop or jump, and then being sure not to fall over become the entire focus of play for the most part. Using your lance to attack an enemy or knock something over will periodically come into play as well, but more often than not your lack of fine control over its positioning will make it yet another one of your enemies as it plain gets in the way as you try to make jumps or get through some tougher spots. If you love a challenge that features pretty heavy repetition and frustration it may be a winner for you, otherwise you’ll want to pass.

Thursday, January 28

Mini Reviews: January 28th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

TOHU [The Irregular Corporation] (Nindie Choice!) - Right out of the gate I was honestly a bit nervous with the look and feel of TOHU, concerned that it would go firmly down the cute and quirky road but come up short in terms of variety and challenge. I’m happy to say that for the most part that impression was completely wrong though. Quirky as it may be, this is a puzzle-filled adventure that has a pleasing degree of variety, at times is even a bit challenging, and leaves you with a sense of satisfaction as you progress for the most part. I do wish the story were a bit better defined in order to help you better understand and appreciate the world and its characters, but if you’re simply looking for a rock-solid point-and-click adventure that delivers more and better puzzles than its average competition you should be satisfied with the experience.

Hitman 3: Cloud Version [IO Interactive] - This being my first foray into a AAA title ported to the Switch that’s only playable streaming from the cloud, Hitman 3 definitely leaves me with mixed feelings. There’s no doubt it’s an interesting and engaging title, promising a satisfying mix of stealth, situational creativity, and even some improvisation when everything doesn’t quite go to plan. I can’t say that anything I’ve played on the system has quite the same feel or level of polish, so that part is all good. The issue is more the quirkiness of streaming play. Quite a number of years ago I was able to enjoy full-blown games on my nVidia Shield, but there was always a need to be mindful that at any time you could get hiccups or issues depending on your connection. The Switch cloud experience feels much the same, and in terms of the desire for a rock-solid connection perhaps a bit more picky. Some evenings the bandwidth just wasn’t there so I actually ended up playing it more early in the day when there was less contention for resources. Your experience, depending on where you live and a number of intangible factors, will vary but as long as you’re mindful of that going in you’ll hopefully be able to evaluate whether it may be a good match for you. A great game awaits, just be aware of the issues that may interfere with your enjoyment as you consider a purchase.

Redout: Space Assault  [34BigThings] - A glimpse at the trailer for Redout: Space Assault certainly shows promise, delivering some solid space shooting visuals and a great sense of scale as well. There was a moment where it made me long for a moment for the long lost likes of the Wing Commander series. Alas, in terms of gameplay unfortunately there isn’t as much ambition as behind the visuals and instead of it being a space simulation full of exciting dogfights it’s more of an on-rails arcade shooter that’s reasonably good but not without its issues. Fans of the Star Fox series hoping for glimpses of well-designed shooter action will be a bit let down as well as both the excitement and difficulty tend to fluctuate up and down from moment to moment, again with the play never reaching the same level as the game’s great visuals. Especially for its budget price it provides a reasonably good return, just no matter what type of experience you were hoping for it likely won’t live up to more than merely modest expectations.

Turrican Flashback  [Factor 5] - I have no doubt that fans of the classic Turrican franchise will be thrilled with the opportunity to play all 4 of the original titles on their Switch. As is always the case when you return to games from a few decades ago though, you may be surprised or even disappointed with what you find. There’s no doubt that the varied power-ups and run and gun action have their moments, but I’d also say that level design and general stage layouts feel sloppy even put up against some of the series contemporaries. Granted, there are 4 titles included here, but throw in a relatively high cost and you’ll need to evaluate the nostalgia factor over picking up one possibly more contemporary titles for the same price of admission. 

Ziggy the Chaser [Ultimate Games] - There’s not necessarily anything wrong with more casual and newbie-friendly games that are lacking in complexity. Where Ziggy the Chaser goes a bit more wrong, beyond its looks that make it resemble a title from a couple of generations ago, is that its level designs and structure just feel very haphazard. You’ll control your elephant while trying to collect gems, moving through an environment full of traps, stairs, power-ups, and a few enemies to boot. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of things after some trial and error, but there’s just nothing that makes the overall experience memorable or deep, it’s just all very bland in the end.

Monday, January 25

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

Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure [Stuck In Attic] (Nindie Choice!) - I’m pretty much always a sucker for the classic noir detective style, and when a game instead chooses to skewer it a bit with humor as well it tends to make me laugh. This point-and-click style adventure is very much in the vein of the classics from the likes of LucasArts, though as always that comes with some baggage in the form of some puzzle moments that will make you seriously consider hitting an online walkthrough. The key here though is definitely the humor that comes through in some clever dialogue and some truly odd situations, and that’s backed up by what’s generally terrific hand-drawn art. If you’re an adventure fan, this title should be satisfying.

Nuts [Noodlecake] - With a focus on the mischievous little woodland creatures, the squirrels, this is a pretty unique adventure you’ll undertake as a wildlife observer of sorts. With pretty well no introduction you’ll need to follow your instincts and meander a bit to find your mobile research station, get everything running, and get caught up with your scientist in charge via phone. At times what you’re expected to do, or precisely how, can be a bit unclear and require a bit of trial and error experimentation to satisfy precisely what the game is looking for in order for you to progress but it typically isn’t an unreasonable effort to work out what you’ve been doing wrong, even if you were pretty much doing the right thing all along. The pacing is pretty slow, but the aesthetics and pretty carefree style of play may be appealing to people looking for something more mellow and periodically amusing, though a wrinkle here and there in the story help deepen the intrigue as well.

The Unexpected Quest [Rionix] - Looking and often feeling like a game made in an earlier and simpler era, The Unexpected Quest would best be characterized as a very simple and watered-down RTS title. The fact that it has come from the mobile space makes that a bit easier to understand though. This is a game all about managing your resources, constantly checking back and clicking to get your workers to pick up supplies of various kinds, constructing buildings, and being sure to have the proper units and upgrades necessary to progress. The thing is, there’s very little strategy at play aside from perhaps being more efficient to save your time, and that makes your successes generally unsurprising and lacking in excitement. Perhaps if you’re a newbie to gaming or at least the real-time strategy genre The Unexpected Quest may be a good way to get your feet wet with the genre, anyone with even a moderate level of experience in the genre in general will likely find this to be a slog though.

Loot Hero DX [VaragtP Studios] - Games aren’t always about high-stress situations and challenges, sometimes you’re just looking for a way to kill some time while not having to expend a great number of brain cells or substantial effort. Loot Hero DX is a game that satisfies that urge. There’s not much to know, you’ll simply continue to move right and left, auto-fighting enemies and generally plowing through them as long as you keep doubling back to amass more loot for upgrades and level your powers up. Unfortunately, that’s really about all there is to it. You’ll only die if you push yourself too fast too soon, but as long as you keep going back and forth every checkpoint or so and keep leveling you’ll always be sure to win even against the game’s sometimes hulking bosses. Don’t expect much and you shouldn’t be too disappointed.

Frodoric the Driver [Projects from Basement] - OK, so in the indie space there’s gotten to be a pretty large gap between experienced but still small teams of developers toiling together and individual and somewhat green developers going solo. Frodoric the Driver is unfortunately very much the product of the latter. I was a bit intrigued by its visual similarities in screen shots to the classic arcade game Spy Hunter but all hope flew straight out the window in the first 30 seconds. This is a very bare bones offering with little in the way of gameplay, polish, or fun and even with a deep cut sale it likely won’t be worth the purchase for anyone.

Friday, January 22

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

Shing! [Mass Creation] (Nindie Choice!) -
When it comes to beat-em-ups the Switch has really fleshed its line-up out since the early days, which generally makes it tougher for new titles to make a strong impression with something new. The people behind Shing have done just that though, offering up an experience that may generally adhere to the gameplay elements you’d expect but that approaches the controls in a completely unique way. While you do have the option to go the traditional button route in order to execute your attacks the new way is to instead use the right stick, whether using simple directions or swiping moves, and that really does give the gameplay a unique sort of flow. To boot, some of the tactics you’ll need to use for specific enemies and most bosses are generally a step above the norm, requiring a bit more care and planning than simply button-mashing your way through all of your problems. Throw in the ability to play with up to 3 friends, or to freely switch between the game’s 4 characters as you play to be sure to tackle enemies with the style that may be most effective in the moment and it’s a challenging and very unique experience for what’s typically a more straightforward genre.

Bezier: Second Edition [Thalamus Digital] - As a huge fan of arcade twin-stick shooting action I feel like I’m generally hard to surprise when it comes to new releases in the genre. Then I played Bezier and I was forced to reconsider that thought. While the elements of the action aren’t necessarily unique in and of themselves, flying around blowing things up, needing to focus on “mini bosses” that may require different tactics, building your power-ups, and taking on a boss… it’s just the game’s weirdo visual style and audio for the boss in particular that will catch you by surprise. First, everything is quite colorful, but in addition most enemies just have a level of visual complexity to them in their varied shapes and even movement that are distinctive. Now, one issue these unique visuals have is that they can substantially muddy up the screen, making it difficult to differentiate harmless debris from slain enemies from enemy projectiles or even small enemies. This does tend to make you feel like you’re taking unfair hits periodically as your eyes attempt to process the colorful visual soup in front of you. It may not be perfect, and at first you may struggle to understand what few rules the game has for success since the overall feel is pretty unique, but it at least has the guts to do its own thing which you can choose to dig or reject, and I can respect that.

Red Colony [RunicCodes] - If you’re ever wondered what kind of game you’d get if you put a zombie survival adventure in a blender with a healthy serving of soap opera-ish tropes and perhaps a sexy cheesecake calendar and hit puree you’d likely end up with something resembling Red Colony. Depending on what you’re looking for this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as in a campy way it can be quite entertaining, especially since it’s quite easy on the wallet. I wouldn’t say that the game is too heavy on the scares, but you will need to concern yourself with efficiency since typical of this genre resource scarcity can be a concern if you’re not careful. Really, it is the pretty ridiculous story, full of “good friends”, sex, betrayal, and just general weirdness that keeps things going more than the horror, in many regards the zombies play a crucial but supporting role as your enemies but the pull is to see how this mess of complicated relationships plays out. Clocking in at around a handful of hours if you’re in the mood for some blood, reality TV-esque rocky relationships, some jiggle-age and maybe a laughably uncomfortable sexy pose (looking at you, the Nanny) it’s at least entertaining for a reasonable price.

Solar Blast [Ultimate Games] - Just because a game comes to Switch with the distinct feeling of a mobile-friendly title doesn’t necessarily doom it to mediocrity. A common problem, though, is when the core gameplay is perhaps a bit too simple and fails to take any real advantage of the Switch’s power or even screen size, which is the case with Solar Blast. It’s not a bad casual action-y game, you’ll need to move your somewhat limited shield around the orbit of your sun in order to protect it from a variety of threats. These start out as simple and straightforward but as you progress it does at least get a bit trickier and offer power-ups that change up your approach nicely. The thing is, there’s no denying it’s also incredibly simple and doesn’t have a great need for detail so it would likely work just as well, if not better, on a phone. For people who play mostly docked and prefer a Pro Controller, fair warning, you’ll need to use the JoyCon since for now Pro Controller support isn’t present. In theory touchscreen play may be best, though then you do risk your finger obscuring some details of what action there is to see. It’s not a bad game, but its presence on Switch feels more forced than most.

Otti: The House Keeper [Maksym Vostruhin] - Games that are expressly made for tablets and are suited to casual players are always tough to review fairly for a dedicated console like the Switch. Throw in a premise and style of play that is pretty overly simplistic and very trial and error and you’ve got a sense of the Otti experience. Your job is to set up traps inside a house in order to dissuade burglars from stealing the gold. This wouldn’t have to be bad but you’re so heavily constrained in what traps you have available and even where you can place them that it simply doesn’t end up being very engaging or fun since you never feel like you’ve got much in the way of choice to work with. Throw in a very simple (though I suppose cute) art style and this is really only for people seeking out basic casual play and little more.

Tuesday, January 19

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

Rhythm Fighter (Echo Games) -
I’m always a fan of titles that try out new combinations of genre styles, so when I heard about a rhythm-based beat-em-up roguelike I was immediately intrigued. Out of the gate while the style of play takes some getting used to there’s quite a bit of promise. The art style and characters are a bit on the silly side, helping to add to the fun. The soundtrack in general fits well to the action, and you’ll progressively unlock new characters that have different feels and that can be upgraded to better help suit your style. Where the problems set in for me revolves around the overall execution. The control scheme, though you get used to it, feels a bit on the clunky side overall which really comes to light when the game gets more intense and you’re trying to keep moving to stay alive. Nailing your hits on the beat precisely is absolutely a key to success but doing this consistently is more of a challenge than the game’s contemporaries. Whether this is a matter of the success window being brief or some issue in the timing (you can play with the latency in increments, though I didn’t find that this helped), but more often than not even while trying to be on the beat it wasn’t happening and honestly when I did get it right it “felt” wrong in terms of the timing. I think the thing that hurts it the most though is that when more difficult enemies are stacked in the same space or when the pretty bonkers boss fights hit everything gets so overwhelming that concerns like keeping the beat tend to go out the window completely. The bosses, in particular, are so generally all over the place with their attacks and speed that it feels like the core rhythm play gets betrayed a bit. Granted, the roguelike element and your ability to upgrade your character will help to counter this as you play but whether the core hook is sufficient to keep you grinding to get to that point may be a fair question from person to person.

Dead Ground (ShotX Studio) - Since the Switch works very much like a tablet when in handheld mode it’s not a surprise that a great number of tower defense games (ranging from great to meh) have come to the platform. With that in mind trying to carve out a place for yourself anywhere near the top of the list in the genre is a challenge. Dead Ground makes a valiant, if pretty no-frills, attempt at making an impression but there’s no doubt that it lacks refinement. Survival in a zombie apocalypse is the name of the game, and initially you’ll need to focus on setting up your limited defenses while taking a very active role in helping to shoot down zombies while staying alive, which can be tricky if you’re not careful. Once you have some money you’ll then need to decide what to invest in, providing some opportunities to do things your own way, though not knowing what all buildings or abilities you can use do, that can be very trial and error. It’s certainly a bit different than its competition in theme and style of play, more actively favoring you taking a role in combat than most, but the lack of polish and refinement compared to its contemporaries in the space is hard to miss and holds it back.

Epitaph (Everook) - There’s no doubt that in order to make an impression in a very crowded Switch eShop it takes being daring and making your own rules. I think Epitaph is a great example where taking such a step has certainly made it unique, but not necessarily in good ways. Best described as a tactical strategy fighting game, there’s no doubt that with its combat featuring head-to-head teams of 3 reapers apiece (and with a roster of 13 distinct characters this makes for a staggering amount of strategic possibilities) there’s nothing quite like it. That said, in order to get the most out of it you’ll need to invest some time to grasp its mechanics… and unfortunately an equally-committed friend to play with as well since there’s no single-player versus mode. The solo puzzle mode is very enlightening, helping you understand the strategy involved by having you work through 150 different scenarios that will hone your skills, but from there you’ll need someone to play with. Combine that limitation with the heavy up-front investment versus very conditional reward and it may struggle to find a satisfied audience.

Four In A Row (LudosLabs) - Converting classic family games from the physical space to the digital tends to lead to mixed results. In the case of Four In A Row, to its credit, at least it is able to do something the classic clearly doesn’t, which is allow you to add your chips from any of the four directions, adding a pretty substantial amount of strategy you may find yourself struggling with at first. If you’re able to find a friend or family member to play against this may offer at least some mild entertainment for a little while, though you’ll be able to play through puzzle scenarios or take on the AI head-to-head when going it solo that really doesn’t bring enough energy and excitement to the table to make it worthwhile for long.

War Truck Simulator (Ultimate Games) - Imagine taking to the roads in a war zone, moving between bases and the front lines, supporting the troops while trying to avoid any real action yourself. In principle that would be the optimum experience in War Truck Simulator, but the problem is it doesn’t really even begin to get into the vicinity of that level of excitement, as marginal as it may be. Given the janky nature of the game’s physics, the weirdly uneven surfaces of the “roads” you’ll find yourself on, and the extreme pop-in everywhere you look I’d say it resembles a game from a few generations ago but truthfully that would be insulting to titles from that era. Though it may be a budget title there’s a visible lack of polish on this game that surprises you at every turn with weirdness with trees popping into view and falling over, boulders randomly appearing looking like tumbleweeds with how they move, and numerous other issues.

Friday, January 15

Mini Reviews: January 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest [Different Tales] (Nindie Choice!) - Heavily text-based games are actually pretty well-represented on Switch, though in general I’ll say I’m not typically a fan. While Heart of the Forest keeps its presentation relatively simple, though undoubtedly artistic, it’s of the type of text-based adventure I at least greatly appreciate for investing effort in making the story engaging through providing plenty of options that help to alter the story (making more than one playthrough appealing). Throw in a more somber tone given the dark franchise it has been spawned from (though hardly being held back to merely horror-based fare), and it’s a standout interactive novel experience for fans of interesting characters finding themselves in more unusual circumstances on Switch.

Iris Fall [PM Studios] - If you’re a fan of puzzle adventures with a distinctive look and some unique and unusual puzzles to work out, Iris Fall may be an appealing package. A bit reminiscent of the excellent Shady Part of Me from last year, you’ll be working with shadows and light quite a bit as you contemplate the puzzles that will be put before you. Unfortunately, while there’s a story of sorts being related visually the lack of something more substantial feels like a bit of a weakness comparatively. In terms of the puzzles that are central to the experience they range a bit wildly from being clever and well-constructed at the high end but heavily trial and error-based on the low in places. The artwork remains impressive and imaginative throughout, I just wish all aspects of the experience were as consistently well-conceived and executed.

Down in Bermuda [Yak & Co] - With its very colorful and generally cheery environments and all sorts of elements to poke at Down in Bermuda has its appeal. The mix of exploration of the environment with the experimentation reminiscent of games like The Room or Monument Valley can work nicely together, though I’d note the puzzles often feel more trial and error here than those titles. The biggest obstacle to enjoyment I’d say is the cumbersome controls you’ll need to use to move around, requiring a mix of the analog sticks, the D-Pad, and what feels like every button to rotate, zoom, and position the camera to find orbs and work on puzzles. Still, if you’re looking for a pretty relaxing puzzle experience it will deliver that for a reasonable price.

Charge Kid [Pineapple Works] - If you’re a big fan of getting your butt kicked by a title you may enjoy Charge Kid… though be warned that the challenge isn’t always the kind you may appreciate. The most notable element of this retro platformer is that pretty much from the moment you start playing it starts by pushing your limits before you’ve even had an opportunity to become familiar with the game’s mechanics, let alone master them. This makes for a weirdly masochistic situation where you’ll need to experiment and grit your teeth to figure out how to tackle the section you’re in before repeatedly attempting to execute your plan. It’s just weird to demand so much precision without you even getting your feet wet with a taste of success first to drive you, which I would imagine will make it tough to love even for hard core challenge fans.

Virus: The Outbreak [Forever Entertainment] - There’s something about managing to hit the market when the timing is right, managing to capture the energy of current events. Obviously in the midst of a global pandemic a game involving the high-level management of resources to try to control and hopefully stop it could be capable of garnering interest. In theory if you’re willing to spend the time to grasp the intricacies of Virus’s strategy and overcome the pretty clumsy interface issues, perhaps it could have some morbid appeal of some kind. That said, for the most part you’re so separated from what’s happening and its consequences, on top of understanding all of the game’s rules and quirks, that it’s just not a very captivating experience.