Tuesday, March 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 19

Top 10 / Best Fighting Indie Games on Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight Crab [Calappa Games] - OK, so I definitely consider a title like this a love/hate proposition. Giant crustaceans of all types and sizes duking it out in a variety of environments from cities to dinner tables who can grab whatever is available to whack at each other until one combatant is flipped and loses? Since I love games that are a bit off-center it makes me giggle and dig in but I can understand how someone could reductively look at it as a game of wild flailing and button mashing. To some degree they wouldn’t be 100% incorrect. I found that technique can still be effective and win the day but spam can work well, but that’s also true of most fighting games out there to be fair. The thing is, underneath the chaos and admitted lack of nuance in the controls as a whole, there is a degree of technique in positioning and knowing when to engage and when to back off that does elevate the strategy component a bit. Unlocks for playing include all manner of hard-shelled sea critters as well as a barrage of increasingly-preposterous weapons you can wield. This absolutely won’t be a game for everyone but there can be a degree of joy in laying some smack down with some ridiculous weapon in one hand while trying to hold your opponent in place with the other. It’s weird and a bit crazy, but it’s also undeniably unique.

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

Thursday, March 18

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

Signs of the Sojourner [Echodog Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s just something about this game that feels so brilliant and yet there’s also something unassuming about its nature that makes me worry people will skip over it without a thought… and that would be a shame. Mixing diverse and pretty interesting characters, a story that slowly plays itself out and likely would take multiple playthroughs to completely appreciate, and a brilliant take on deck building strategy used as a representation of human interaction it’s absolutely unique. Starting out from your hometown, choosing to either follow a trade caravan or venture out on your own in search of goods for a store you’ve inherited, you’ll encounter all manner of people in different areas who, at first, you may struggle to be on the same page with. Your conversation is either successful or a failure based on the strength of your limited deck, but even if you struggle early on with each conversation you’re able to inherit one card played by your partner but you’ll have to sacrifice one of your own in the process. As you progress it really all gets to be about the added attributes some cards can carry that are critical, sometimes allowing you to survive a tough conversation with someone you aren’t necessarily vibing with… but there’s just something about the entire construction of the game, its mechanics, and its story that are fascinating and kept me wanting to visit “just one more town” and make it easy to recommend.

Pinkman+ [Ratalaika Games] (Nindie Choice!) - While there are an abundance of challenging retro minimalist action platformers out there I don’t find that I often recommend them. Whether too picky, too dull, or just lacking a certain charm more often than not they feel like a vehicle for getting something out on the eShop on the cheap without imbuing the experience with some essential fun. Pinkman+ stands out for me as something more though, offering the right mix of solid controls, a steady progression of new elements to keep the challenge level up, and tough but not lazily brutal difficulty that more often than not feels fair even while kicking your butt on some stages. The fact that it has such a rock-bottom price really makes it a superb deal for people who don’t mind a Super Atari or maybe C64-esque minimalist look but a terrific feel that seems more modern.

Myths of Orion: Light from the North [Cateia Games] - Taking a more casual game base of a hidden object title and trying to elevate it to another level takes some guts, and that’s obviously the goal for the people behind Myths of Orion. Injecting far more story elements than the norm and adding in a layer of point-and-click adventure-type play does manage to set it apart from its brethren, though whether that would be enough to broaden its appeal may be a fair question. While I can’t fault the effort it can be a bit janky at times in its implementation both in terms of the mechanics and storytelling. However, considering its budget-friendly price the total package still feels like a pretty good deal for people looking for something with a more casual feel that has greater than typical ambitions.

Faircroft's Antiques: Home For Christmas Collector's Edition [Ocean Media Games] - When you play multiple titles in the same casual series there’s no doubt that there’s often a baked-in consistency that’s both good and bad. On the one hand consistent quality and a guaranteed degree of satisfaction if you enjoy their play is reassuring, but you then do risk it becoming more dull even if the content is changed up. In the case of this Christmas edition hidden object game there’s no doubt that everything about it is consistent with the other release in the series, however in this particular case there’s something about the “home for the holidays” vibe and interactions with family that gives it the edge for me. If I’m going to dip my toe in the casual pool a little family happiness and positivity of the season are a plus. It won’t offer much if you’re not a fan of hidden objects and mild puzzles but if you want to relax and enjoy family interactions ala The Hallmark Channel it’s a feel-good package.

Cyanide & Happiness: Freakpocalypse [Serenity Forge] - Games that come from an existing property I’m not familiar with are always a bit tougher to score, and this title in particular (based on a popular comic) falls squarely into that space. With the general format of a point-and-click adventure it’s full of humor without a doubt, but I’d say the hit to miss ratio will likely vary wildly depending on who is playing. I have no doubt people already familiar with this world will delight in it but as an outsider I’d say the tendency is to come up short rather than knocking it out of the park. Throw in a relatively short length and while I’d say it is likely terrific fan service and an appealing package for its community everyone else should likely take in what’s out there to see of it to decide if its humor is a good match for you or not.

Wednesday, March 17

Top 10 / Best Simulation Indie Games on Nintendo Switch

There's no doubt that simulation-style games are typically more common (and even often better suited) on the PC platform where you'd have access to a mouse and keyboard, opening the door to control options unavailable to a simpler console-style controller. Nevertheless, there are titles of a "simmy" nature that are either sufficiently simple by their nature, or have received careful conversion to make them palatable and fun on the Switch. Here's a list of the best that I've encountered on the system so far.

Two Point Hospital [Two Point Studios] - Sharing a thought, in many ways I still have a real beef with EA and the fact that they absorbed and pretty well ruined at least two classic studios that were dear to me. One was Origin, and the other was Bullfrog. One of my favorite titles Bullfrog made, that I’ve found myself returning to repeatedly over the years, was their sim classic Theme Hospital. If you’re familiar with the game all I should have to say is that Two Point Hospital is pretty well an enhanced remake of that classic to make the sale, it even has the same PA announcer voice (creepy fact but it provides glorious flashbacks). For people unfamiliar with that title it’s essentially a very goofy hospital simulator where you can explore your OCD tendencies, setting up rooms and providing proper benches, bins, and snack machines to keep people happy. Oh, and you’ll also want adequate treatment rooms, doctors, and nurses as well. The further into the game you get, the more it slowly diverges from its inspirations though many of the basic details remain the same. If you’re a sim fan the Switch has had a tough run to date, with too many games that have failed to be interesting, were hampered by terrible interfaces, or some combination of both. Thankfully, Two Point Hospital addresses all of those normal issues with smart and silly play, a highly usable (and generally unencumbered) interface, and plenty of details you’ll want to focus on to have the best hospitals in the business.

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

Megaquarium [Auroch Digital] - Simulation/building games have always been a genre I think of the PC for in general, and indeed many have their roots there. While they can be ported over to consoles, more often than not the PC-based core tends to be very noticeable and a mix of clunky menus and controls hamper the experience with a controller. Megaquarium exhibits practially none of those issues, is both intuitive and controller-friendly as a whole, and if you’ve been itching to get your build on it may be just what you’ve been looking for. The goal is to take on an aquarium that’s either new or in need of help, get your tanks and gear to support them set up, manage the aquatic and vegetative life in each, and then oversee the expansion and maintenance of it all to keep it growing and thriving. While perhaps lacking in the extra thrill you can get from something like Rollercoaster Tycoon this is still a very competent and rewarding sim, and it scratches an itch I’ve had on the system for a while now nicely.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw [Double Damage Games] - As an old school fan of the Wing Commander series I’m always excited to take on any new space sim promising dogfights, exploration, and excitement. Typically new attempts at the genre have a tendency to be incomplete in some way, lacking in their combat, coming up short in terms of an overarching story, or just not putting together all of the pieces in a thoroughly satisfying way. While not without its faults in a few areas I’d say anyone looking for that nostalgic sort of experience with Wing Commander vibes (well, specifically Privateer), or simply someone who enjoys a well-made space sim with RPG-like elements and some actual story will likely dig the hell out of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Starting out from extremely humble beginnings, flying what essentially looks like a space garbage truck, you’ll take on missions that offer some variety from hauling cargo to clearing out bogeys to perhaps going on the shadier side of the law. What you choose will carry some consequences in terms of where you’ll be able to fly or land so don’t take that decision lightly. One of the game’s downsides is that it can get to be a grind, working simpler missions to buy new ships or gear, and that can make for some repetition. Don’t worry, if you try to tackle anything outside of what you’re capable of the game will quickly and almost rudely tell you so as you’ll get blown to bits. Combat can be intense, but I think the left shoulder button which essentially allows you to let your ship fly itself to pursue a target is the key to it all remaining fun. You’ll often be taking on numerous enemies at once, so letting the ship keep pace while periodically dodging and fine-tuning your aiming to maximize damage is more practical than trying to do it all yourself. Feel free to try to do it all yourself but pretty quickly I found its use invaluable to staying alive. With a great deal of freedom, choice, and trouble to get into Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is probably the best overall package of a space sim on the system, delivering both rewarding combat and a story with characters that helps to knit everything together. 

FUZE [FUZE Technologies] - Have you ever wondered how games are developed and what it takes behind the scenes mechanically to make it happen? Have an interest in learning how to code with the motivation being to make your first game? If so, this will be of interest to you. Sporting a library of assets, tutorials walking you from baby steps to more advanced concepts, a variety of examples that you can tinker with to see how things are done, and full keyboard support (thank god), FUZE4 is a lot to take in. There’s a great deal of opportunity at your fingertips if you’re willing to invest the time and effort, and unlike books or online courses that have you learn in a vacuum the advantage here is the ability to more immediately appreciate the fruits of your labor.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 [Frontier Developments] - Ever since the original title in the series way back in the day I’ve been a big RCT fan. While management games like this aren’t always very creative or fun (looking at a variety of theme park managers over the years, including a few duds on Switch), for the most part the proper titles in this franchise (not the terrible mobile-ized ruined ones) have been a treat. Everything about the game on the PC is here, including laying out and tweaking every detail of your rides and attractions, plotting out your research plans, managing your personnel, monitoring your guests to see what’s working and not, laying down scenery and theming to make things special, and best of all creating some truly wild and outstanding rollercoasters. The one big issue is that there’s no getting around doing all of that is pretty cumbersome with console controls. To the credit of the development team the radial menus and control scheme in general works well, though it does have a bit of an initial learning curve. Just competing against a mouse and especially a keyboard altering things like names or getting into deeper menus just takes far more time. Throw in the need to fight a bit too much with the camera in critical spots like during coaster construction and it’s hard to ignore some of the shortcomings in the control implementation. If you don’t have access to a PC that can play the game be assured, the depth of play here is 100% intact and absolutely worthwhile, just be ready to work for it a bit harder than you would where the game was designed to work first.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town [Marvelous Inc] - When you’re making a new iteration of a revered and classic series I don’t doubt the greatest concern lies in how great a risk you’re willing to take in changing things. The wider the audience and probably the more casual the series happens to be the higher the stakes are if you make some tweak that doesn’t end up working out. I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons demonstrates where generally keeping things the same, but then making a few key changes for the better, both plays it safe and innovates effectively. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, feels like it chose the easier and “safer” path. Generally serving up precisely what its fans expect, complete with a great (and cute) visual overhaul, Friends of Mineral Town is undoubtedly a terrific farm/cultivation RPG… but there’s no mistaking that the experience is also extremely familiar, perhaps to the point of detriment depending on your tastes. You’ll be able to farm, fish, mine, explore, attend special events, and develop relationships with your fellow townsfolk… but aside from the obvious improvement in visuals the game also feels a bit stuck in a time warp. Fans of the series, and even converts from other titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, will likely find plenty to enjoy here if you’re looking for the repetition and relaxing pace of the farming sim life. Just where I think the aforementioned games generally feel a bit more modern and refined this feels incredibly safe, for better or worse.

Speaking Simulator [Affable Games] - This is one of those titles that is likely to divide people firmly between the lovers and the haters, without a whole lot in between. As the game’s name implies the focus of the majority of the gameplay is in manipulating the mouth of your character, a robot, in order to get it to not just speak but also exhibit some other characteristics within your interactions that would make you seem human. The humor ensues as you go through a number of social situations where you’re trying your best to remain composed as you struggle to get your words out and eventually begin to show visible signs of wear and tear. The question will be whether the novelty of the experience can keep its grip on you as more elements slowly get added, making your undertaking increasingly challenging or hopeless depending on how you see it. It’s a tricky balancing act and it will likely vary from person to person where the needle moves, whether in the direction of frustrating or quirky and entertaining.

Bee Simulator [Varsav Game Studios] - Blending together elements of flying games, exploration, some mini game action, and perhaps a bit of overly-aggressive environmentalist themes Bee Simulator is a unique experience. Working as a single member of a greater hive you’ll get a feel for the life bees live from the inside, working to collect nectar, rumble with competing insects every once in awhile, and engage in an occasional dance perhaps to share the location of some premium flowers. For the most part it’s a light affair, though I’ll note that quite often race sequences seem strangely out of balance in their difficulty compared to other tasks and younger or less experienced gamers may well find them frustrating. I’m noting that challenge disparity primarily because outside of those race sequences this is an easily accessible and friendly title whose attempts to educate and enlighten (while I’d argue perhaps heavy-handed) are appreciated. While it may not ultimately have a great deal of variety, and its story doesn’t last terribly long, it’s most certainly a unique title unlike just about anything else on the system.

Big Pharma [Twice Circled] - These management simulation style games certainly have their place, and since they aren’t well-represented on the Switch I have no doubts Big Pharma will be enticing to the right crowd that has been starved for this sort of experience. That said, as is what I’d consider typical for the genre, console controls simply aren’t ideal for quickly moving through multiple screens of details and if you like to play on the go you’re going to likely have some issues with scaling as well. Your goal here is to understand the market, research new chemicals and elements that in the proper combinations will satisfy the needs of your consumers, and optimize your production lines in the space you have to work with to produce the right drugs. The challenge is in getting your arms around it all, contending with windows of information sometimes getting in your way, and living with some quirkiness like equipment being inconsistently named and using a controller to take the place of a mouse and keyboard. If you’re starved for this sort of play and are determined to enjoy it on the Switch Big Pharma should satisfy, you’ll just need to clear some hurdles to get there.

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

Tuesday, March 16

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

Space Otter Charlie [Wayward Distractions] (Nindie Choice!) -
It’s always a joy to play a new indie title that you’ve never heard of or seen that immediately grabs you, and for me Space Otter Charlie did precisely that. Cute, charming, extremely approachable for all ages in both its content and degree of challenge it’s a terrific title that really feels at home on the Switch. You’ll play as a spacefaring otter who needs to explore ships in search of salvage materials ranging from fuel and energy cells to a hodgepodge of random parts you’ll need to craft equipment both critical to your mission and sometimes just a bit silly and fun. I think it’s the balance of legitimately solid play where you’ll need to carefully boost around and shoot enemies and debris mixed with endearing characters, some silly costumes, and an abundance of otter factoids that just make it a joy to play. Perhaps it won’t be tough enough for hardcore folks to get deeply engaged in, but if your goal is to enjoy a well-designed game while having a perpetual smile on your face this is a terrific hidden gem on the Switch.

Zotrix Starglider [Ocean Media Games] - As a big shooter fan who has a fondness for twin-stick shooters but also a soft spot for the classic space shooter Zotrix Starglider, to a degree, is a taste of the best of both worlds. It may feel like an old school space shooter, and in many ways it is, but the fact that it has twin-stick mechanics does help set itself apart. Memorizing attack placements per wave is a bit tougher when you have the run of the screen and can shoot in every direction, just be sure to keep in mind that the screen borders aren’t ever necessarily a safe place to sit. All that said it perhaps is just more of a novelty than a groundbreaking title as its power-ups and sense of flair are understated at best, and even as you unlock ships there’s just not enough variety and differentiation to compel coming back for more over the long run.

Faircroft's Antiques: Treasures Of Treffenburg [Ocean Media Games] - If you’re familiar with the hidden item puzzle genre the Faircroft’s Antiques titles should feel a bit like a warm and comfortable blanket of familiarity. Of course, that can be both a good and a bad thing depending on what you’re looking for. If the goal is just to relax with some calming music while finding a wide variety of generally well-hidden items or solving a few random puzzles it should deliver. If you were somehow hoping for the form to be elevated in some way to inject a little more excitement or intrigue there are other titles that are more successful at that though. It’s a polished, if predictable, easygoing and casual experience through and through.

Root Film [Kadokawa] - Overall I’ve had a rocky relationship with games that lean heavily on the visual novel feel, though right off the bat I’ll say that Root Film manages to far exceed the norm in the space. Undoubtedly creepy, but with a flair for some humor at times as well, you’ll be working to uncover the truth about what appears to be a cursed film and production from a number of years ago. Narratively it does do a solid job of sucking you in, of that there is no doubt. Where it is a bit more weak is in the area of player agency. It’s hardly an on-rails experience, something you can often find in the space, and overall it has a bit more of an adventure feel than most, though that can have its downsides depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re down for a solid story and don’t mind having only limited control over the road to the game’s conclusion it should satisfy though.

1912 Titanic Mystery [Ocean Media Games] - When it comes to more casual fare like hidden object puzzle games differentiating one from another can be tricky since in essence aside from theming or the framing of story they’re going to be inherently similar. In the case of 1912 Titanic Mystery it has the elements in place to at least be engaging, at least as far as a genre game could be concerned, but moreso than others I’ve seen in the space this one just feels more dated in terms of visuals and overall feel so it struggles a bit more to impress. The plot involving a bomb on the Titanic II could potentially be a hook but in a somewhat thinly differentiated space this title is just lacking some polish.

Monday, March 15

Top 20 / Best Indie Casual Games on Nintendo Switch

[Last Updated: 3/15/21] While most people buying a physical console like a Switch are looking for tougher and deeper experiences there’s a pretty wide audience for more casual fare as well. Whether these are worthy mobile conversions or simply games with basic mechanics that are highly approachable the casual category has a surprising degree of variety. Whether they’re puzzle games that are great to work on while relaxing or simpler action games that don’t require mastery of a controller these are the best titles in this category on the Switch.

Spiritfarer [Thunder Lotus Games] - While many gamers enjoy blowing away enemies, racing through hairpin turns, or guiding their team to victory there’s a growing contingent of gamers who either prefer or enjoy more soothing experiences. While there are a few notable titles in this space already on Switch none are quite like Spiritfarer, which combines exploration at sea with a variety of building and cultivation elements, a wide assortment of charming characters, and a generally gentle hand providing direction but placing no urgent demands on how you wish to play. You’ve been tasked with taking the responsibility of ferrying the dead to the afterlife from Charon himself, and most of your adventure will involve you putting together a ship worthy of the important task of making the final journey of the souls you help as pleasant as possible. Doing that will require quite an investment in crafting, cultivation, trading, and building relationships with the people you meet. It’s interesting how many of your activities are turned into sort of mini games, helping to at least give some of your repetitive tasks a little flavor and keeping you engaged throughout. While over the course of the pretty long journey there’s a tendency to fall into quite a bit of repetition if you’ve been looking for a meaningful journey without the pressures of your typical title this is likely an ideal fit.

Picross S5 [Jupiter Corporation] - The contemplative puzzle series is back and more polished than ever with this new iteration of Picross. Whether you’re looking to work on the classic single-color pixel puzzles, the tougher version of those in Mega Picross that changes up the rules a bit, challenging color puzzles, or then multi-piece pictures made from a variety of individual pieces of all shapes and sizes this version will have you covered. It may be that I’ve been away for a version of two but what struck me most with this latest title is the quality of its tutorials for each of the modes. While I’ve played them all before between this and other franchises, the subtle hint system and explanations offered for how to play each mode effectively and in the smartest way possible was handled very well. I felt like this time around I’ve developed a much better understanding of the nuances of Mega Picross with the game’s guidance, though it could just be I’ve done it enough times now that I’ve come to understand it through brute force instead. With a pretty diverse set of challenges and plenty of puzzles across each mode Picross maintains its big picture lead on the competition with this outing, offering plenty of modes with nuanced but still significant differences which each help push your puzzle skills to new heights. 

Embracelet [machineboy] - This, for me, is one of those titles where it’s hard to articulate why I’m so taken in by it. With its low-poly look, its somewhat sparse landscapes (though perhaps such an island would be roughly that way, granted), and its riff on traditional point-and-click adventuring on paper it could just seem nice, but perhaps not great either. However, throw in a story that I found unusual and engaging, and it works better than the sum of those parts may imply. Early on you inherit a relic from your grandfather with the power to control objects, and learn that there was an accident at his hands when he was younger using it, causing him a degree of pain and regret. Your journey ends up being to go back to the island he grew up on, learn more about him and his past, and perhaps to understand where the relic came from and what should be done with it. There are quite a number of deeply emotional adventures on the Switch already, many of which are excellent in their own right, but there’s a different tugging I found this journey to have on me with different themes and a different approach. Mix in the fact that many of the puzzles felt pretty natural and yet unusual in some cases and I enjoyed this unassuming adventure title thoroughly.

Along the Edge [Nova-box] - On a general level interactive fiction titles haven’t been my cup of tea. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate that such an experience could be game-like, having grown up reading Choose Your Own Adventure titles I appreciate a smart branching narrative, I’ve just not found that the level of quality in the writing and total package has been enough to get me fully engaged. With its story involving the mysterious legacy of your family that you’ve never really known, inheriting a small estate in a small town in the country, Along the Edge very much breaks that mold for me and did a phenomenal job of sucking me in. With high quality writing, characters that read as being complex and nuanced in their motivations and interactions, and terrific artwork that changes almost constantly it’s very visibly a project built with love and care. Sure, perhaps the generalized storyline isn’t so unique, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective and with many decisions that feel like they carry consequences there’s plenty of motivation to go back and try things out differently once you’re done. While it won’t deliver a shot of excitement you’d find with an action-oriented game if you’re a fan of smart fiction this should be well worth spending some time with.

Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood [Artifex Mundi] - The classic hidden item puzzle game genre has made some real strides over the past few years. Throwing in a story, some cinematics (though a bit dated), and a pretty wide variety of puzzles it's far more than just looking for small baubles hiding in what appears to be a hoarder's stash at every turn. Enigmatis 2 impressed me with its puzzles, its ease of play, and its smart help system that focuses on keeping you making progress over doing the work for you.

Fledgling Heroes [Subtle Boom] - There’s no doubt a good reason for people to debate whether games like Fledgling Heroes “need” to be on Switch. With a one-button mechanic for play, controlling when your various bird characters flap their wings, yes this is a game that you could enjoy on a mobile device without the need for physical controls even. That said, the colorful and appealing art style, variety of ways the different birds you’ll unlock play through their levels, customization options (if you’re into them they’re a plus, if you’re not I’m not considering them essential to positive feelings though), and even reasonable challenges you’ll hit in order to get through the loads of stages impressed me. With different objectives and critical skills required in many cases I often found myself adjusting in my seat, digging in, and forcing myself to take it seriously to get to the next level. Even with quite a number of other titles to get to last week I also found it easy to return to this title because it was challenging but not necessarily taxing, and so easy to just pick up for a few minutes and put down. It may not be pushing the hardware to its limits by any means but if you enjoy playing something lighter and more relaxing that will still make you work this definitely fits the bill.

80 Days [inkle] - Though the act of traversing the world is no longer such a grand feat in the time of Jules Verne, when he wrote Around the World in 80 Days, it was by no means a simple feat. 80 Days puts you in the driver’s seat (well, not literally, you’re generally a passenger) and tasks you with pulling off the title feat, using a mix of smarts, luck, and careful management of your time and money to pull it off yourself. If you’re not a fan of reading a lot of text this won’t be the game for you, but it is essential to fleshing out your adventure, winding in some intrigue and plenty of details to mine for hints on your best bets for getting around quickly and minding your budget. With so many potential routes to choose from there’s actually ample room for replay as well, by making a few different choices early on you can embark on very different journeys to not only try to do better but simply enjoy more of this richly written world.

True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 [Goblinz] - Who knew that having played a number of horror-esque games on the Switch that the one that would be the most consistent and compelling to play would really be a casual title. Another elevated hidden object game, True Fear managed to be a bit creepy and weird throughout but never lost focus on providing great gameplay first and foremost. I'm hoping to see Part 2 come to Switch as well to see where things go as this puzzler didn't disappoint.

A Fold Apart [Lightning Rod Games] - When looking at an eShop full of puzzlers and story-based experiences it can be difficult to separate the merely average from the exceptional. Smart puzzles are great, if they can have unique mechanics that’s always a plus, and in terms of story there’s the question of whether it is relatable and told with care. What’s great about A Fold Apart is that it not only checks all of those boxes but it does so in a way that seems pretty effortless. The base mechanics revolve around the environments your characters are in being able to be manipulated like paper, with the puzzle being how to fold, bend, flip, or mutilate the environment to allow you to either proceed or grab a star. This, in itself, is a great base as it feels original and well-implemented (though at times there can be a hitch in performance… but really, this is a puzzle game, is that a major concern?). What seals the deal, at least for me, is that on top of that is the story of a couple (in a nod to people of all persuasions you get to choose their respective genders, a nice touch) trying to manage the emotional strain of a long-distance relationship, making it all come together symbolically with a great emotional core. While it’s not a long experience I still found it to be an impactful one and it should be perfect for people looking for a touching story mixed with clever puzzling.

Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 [Vertigo Games] - Following up the previous delectable outing on Switch, CSD3 is back with a new somewhat silly story with your empire having been reduced to rubble and starting over in a food truck. Aside from that, and how it has some influence on the presentation and how you’re able to customize it’s more of the same tense and quick action, new recipes, and more fun. As was the case before, this is a title I’d hesitate to say is great in docked mode because using a controller for the action is workable but can leave your fingers in knots whenever things get a bit crazy (which happens often). Playing using the touchscreen is far easier, though sometimes the on-screen buttons you’ll need to press can feel a bit small I’ll admit when you’re trying to be precise. Regardless, for fans of food prepping games I’d consider this series one of the best I’ve played, offering a fair challenge but also to a degree letting you pick your poison since you control your menu and the meals you’re looking to repeatedly prepare quickly. It’s a challenging food-frenzied blast if you can keep up.

Roundguard [Wonderbelly Games] - When it comes to casual games from the previous generation or so that I remember with great fondness, the unique Peggle is one that easily stands out in my mind. Now imagine taking the base mechanics of carefully dropping your ball in the hopes that it will bounce in your favor and instead make that your character, adding a mix of roguelike and RPG elements on top of that for progression… and you’ll get Roundguard. While I wish there were more classes and spell diversity overall, what you’ll find here is a very clever title that packs a surprising degree of strategy and challenge. Randomly-dropped equipment in one run can match your preferred play style perfectly and give you the buffs you need to go deeper while on the next the RNG gods may forsake you, leaving you to bite it before you even get to the first boss. If you’re seeking something that’s sort of a casual plus experience, maintaining a base easygoing feel but with elements that spice things up quite a bit, you will definitely want to give Roundguard a hard look.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest [Different Tales] - 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.

Build a Bridge! [BoomBit Games] - While Build a Bridge doesn’t manage to match the more inventive and silly fun of something like Bridge Constructor Portal, among the more traditional bridge builders on the system I’d say it’s probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Granted, a lot of that boils down to having the controls working well and without kinks, something the other titles have hopefully patched by now, but first impressions can be vital. I wouldn’t say that Build a Bridge breaks any major ground in evolving the genre but if you’re a fan of physics-based titles and are trying to make a decision I can’t find any reason not to recommend it.

Clouds & Sheep 2 [HandyGames] - While I never got to partake of the original Clouds & Sheep, thankfully the complexities of the storyline didn't hinder my enjoyment of the sequel. Just kidding, this is just a straight-up cute resource management-type game where you'll need to care for your sheep, provide them with water, food, and perhaps an opportunity to find love as well. While it looks simple you'll quickly find yourself sucked in to a greater challenge than you'd expect, combining clouds to cast lightning down to kill poisonous plants and trying to tend to the wishes to your flock to keep them happy and yourself flush with stars that you'll use as currency.

1001 Ultimate Mahjong [NAWIA GAMES] - If you haven’t been eager to play Mahjong on the Switch, I doubt a review that has positive things to say about it will likely change your mind (though that would beg the question of why you’re reading it). However, if you enjoy well-made casual gaming 1001 Ultimate Mahjong is a surprisingly strong choice. With its variety of looks and thoughtful features it may be the best title of its kind I’ve played, and I do enjoy a good game of Mahjong once in a while.

Puzzle Puppers [Cardboard Keep] - With a pretty disgusting level of cuteness Puzzle Puppers manages to make solving some clever puzzles a bit of fun. With a scalable degree of difficulty depending on how efficient you're insisting on being to maximize your score it can also be pretty accessible. Throw in a pretty reasonable price and it's a great casual challenge for all ages.

Piffle [HIPSTER WHALE] - Who knew that even after all this time I could get sucked in by a cute game that has elements of Breakout and maybe some Bust a Move and their ilk. Sure, it’s super-casual, sure I didn’t have too tough a time getting all stars on every level for quite some time, but hey, it kept adding in some layers and to its credit I had to get out of a few tough spots (though I horded my power-ups like crazy and probably could have made my life simpler). There’s nothing terribly complicated about Piffle but what there is works like a charm and it offers just enough challenge to get you hooked and keep your interest without likely discouraging anyone too greatly. Will it be for everyone? Not in the least. But aside from it perhaps being a bit pricier than I’d expect for this sort of title (though, to its credit, it is very polished) it’s a really good time and should help you melt away some hours while generally having a relaxed and good time.

Woven [Alterego Games] - Most modern games tend to feature protagonists who are ready for action and tough as nails. Moving in precisely the opposite direction we have Woven, and it’s plush main character Stuffy who ambles along with a consistently innocent and pleasant demeanor. Pairing up with a mechanical friend they set out to discover what has happened to their land and to turn things back around. The game is mostly about exploration, with some relatively simple puzzle solving and hidden textures all about to update Stuffy’s look with. While this won’t be a title that will appeal to hardcore gamers in the least with its cute characters, colorful scenery, and generally slow-paced adventure, Woven is a kid-friendly treat.

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

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

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