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.

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.

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.

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

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

WRC 9 [KT Racing] (Nindie Choice!) -
While simmy racing and I don’t often get along I can at least appreciate titles that are meant to appeal to folks looking for a tougher challenge. In the past the WRC series has always felt to me like it was on the edge of having the entire package put together but this iteration seems to have really found the right balance quality in all of its aspects to be worthy of attention. Rally racing here will be a challenge to get used to as you’re not just dealing with windy and usually narrow tracks that have no shoulder, but then throwing in weather and surface type considerations as well. Getting the feel of how to make optimum turns will take some investment and early on my tendency to oversteer was also hard to get over. Behind the racing there’s then an entire team management component as well, adding another layer to the experience as you’ll need to be savvy about your personnel in the hopes of making your life progressively easier with new sponsors and refinements in your racing performance. Granted, there’s really no competition in this space right now but if you’re bored with the relatively simplicity of the platforms many more arcade-oriented racers WRC 9 has proven to be worthy of your time.

Sir Lovelot [pixel.games] (Nindie Choice!) - Challenging retro-style platforming on a budget often isn’t pretty, with many titles simply showing poor overall design and hiding that behind the guise of deliberate difficulty. Refreshingly Sir Lovelot, while being rough around some edges, manages to deliver more than its price would imply with thoughtful level design full of hidden secrets, reasonably-good controls, and even a bit of cute charm to boot. While at first finding everything on your initial run through a level will be common but pretty quickly if you want to find it all you’ll need to take a critical look at everything and even take some risks to check on your hunches. It’s not necessarily a deep or lengthy experience but among many contemporaries that don’t often show much effort or polish it’s a stand out in the budget space for putting in some genuine effort.

Beach Buggy Racing 2: Island Adventure [Vector Unit] - When you load up a kart racing game on any system, let alone the Switch, the biggest challenge is to try to enjoy the game on its own merits and not merely compare it to Mario Kart. Even trying to clear your mind and be open to only what has been put in front of you though, while Beach Buggy Racing 2 has some variety in its racing types and power-ups there’s no mistaking the feel of its more mobile-based roots. There just isn’t much nuance or room for advanced technique with the driving, so many of the power-ups are practically instant hit by nature and can’t really be avoided by their target, and in the end this all makes the experience a bit more fast food in its overall feel. That said, the asking price is far cheaper and the lack of nuance also may make it far more approachable to a casual crowd whose expectations aren’t set to the Mario Kart standard.

Bishoujo Battle Cyber Panic [EastAsiaSoft] - While it’s possible that this style of arcade action puzzling this title represents may bring to mind more seedy offerings from Japan my first introduction to it was in the classic arcade game Qix. You’ll control a pointer and your goal is to slowly chip away at an open space while avoiding enemies, trying to uncover the majority of the play field before moving on. For obvious reasons this applied well to games that would expose more inappropriate material bit by bit but beneath it all the gameplay never lost its element of strategy and challenge as you’d try to uncover the board. With experience you’ll find certain tactics can be very effective to help clear large areas safely, but the trick is always having some patience to go with a smart plan. In this case the anime characters being revealed are much more clothed and generally appropriate, possibly disappointing some, but that leaves what’s actually some respectable arcade-style play as the main draw.

GraviFire [Sometimes You] - Of all the typical puzzle game variations I think the one I get bored by the most quickly tends to be the box pusher, partially due to its simplicity but then also because it has been so thoroughly done that it’s unusual to find anything creative or really different offered with it. To its credit, GraviFire does manage to add a wrinkle to keep its box pushing from being completely generic, with a gravity manipulation mechanic, and that does add a layer of strategy to things. However, I didn’t find its rules completely intuitive and there’s no real explanation so it gets off to a rocky start. Even once you’re on board though even the layer it adds just can’t really keep this from feeling like a run-of-the-mill puzzler.

Thursday, March 11

Mini Reviews: March 11th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dreaming Sarah [Asteristic Game Studio] -
Having played so many indie platformers with pixel graphics, a relatively light feel, and an early hint at a story that at least develops as you play I think I’ve sadly gotten a bit jaded with the formula. Dreaming Sarah, especially for its asking price, isn’t a bad bit of puzzle platforming and has a very pleasant feel to it overall, so it isn’t without appeal. That said, there’s also a somewhat familiar blandness to it all with it failing to do anything terribly creative or inspired on the gameplay, artistic, or even story-telling fronts. It may well be that I’ve just become a bit numb to these sorts of experiences through the sheer repetition of the overall style, but if you’ve played your fair share of them you may well feel the same apathy. However, if you’re looking for a decent play for a humble price it’s a pleasant enough game to take for a spin, just don’t expect your mind to be blown by any means.

Battle Brothers [Overhype Studios] - The description of “roguelike tactical strategy RPG” that comes with Battle Brothers should clearly communicate one of the most critical things to know about the title… it’s damned hard. The learning curve, even if you start out on the easiest setting and use the game’s “tutorial” to get help, is absolutely brutal here and it’s a game where you’ll simply need to endure getting your ass handed to you repeatedly to slowly learn how best to address numerous concerns including the composition of your team, how to best utilize the attack skills associated with certain equipment, and also how to try to plan but then be ready for sometimes random tragedy along the way. Unfortunately, I found that the second real struggle tends to be with the game’s interface, with it feeling very much like a converted PC title with some quirks in behavior that take getting used to. This is definitely one of those titles that’s a mix of good and bad, and will likely have each person playing it walking away with a unique impression… but no matter what be ready for needing to put in some time to get the most out of it.

Doodle Devil: 3volution [JoyBits] - The Doodle God series has been around for a while and in the casual space it has always seemed like a popular staple for people who enjoy the discovery tied to iterative experimentation. Now with the focus being shifted away from the divine and into the space of the infernal not much has changed in terms of mechanics, you’ll just be trying to focus on creations of evil instead of good. I think the style of play is a bit divisive though, and could be viewed equally through 2 lenses. You could either focus on how grindy it can end up being, combining everything you have at your disposal in hopes of success or you could choose to enjoy the surprise of having planned or stumbled your way into a new creation, often then opening the door to further experimentation. For me the further you get the more random success can feel but I know people like my oldest daughter love the thrill of the hunt, results will vary.

Duel on Board [indienova] - Games that are implemented to be very simple by design are a bit of a struggle to review since, by their nature, there’s not likely to be much depth to them. Duel on Board would best be enjoyed in bursts with a friend, in many ways tapping into that sort of classic Pong space of a game anyone could understand and play quickly but also has enough nuance to potentially have legs. While I wouldn’t say the button scheme is ideal, your limited controls to jump, dash, shoot, or block allow for more choices in approach than you’d think tactically, and each of the game’s modes emphasize different skills as well. It may not have broad appeal but if you’ve got a competitive friend you love taking on head-to-head it may be a great diversion for a while.

NoReload Heroes Enhanced Edition [Teatime Holdings] - Fans of shooter titles are blessed with an abundance of terrific choices on the Switch, which unfortunately then has raised the bar substantially for making any sort of impression in the space for new titles. NoReload Heroes has a colorful look and probably more family-safe tone as things go in the genre, which could perhaps be a positive depending on what you’re looking for. The problem is that the twin-stick shooting itself is remarkably bland overall. There’s at least some variety to the weapons, and you’ll certainly need to experiment to find which ones suit your style. This is even more critical if you’re combining weapons among friends, working to find a balance of power and speed that can suit any sort of situation. The issue is just that too much time is spent with too few bland enemies and walking around until things begin to ramp up. In such an adrenaline-filled genre this is a title that just can’t get moving fast or intense enough, relegating it perhaps best to beginners.

Tuesday, March 9

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

PAKO Caravan [Tree Men Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Taking something old and juicing it up to help make it feel new again can be tricky business. Having seen quite a few indie titles tackle the challenge of improving on the simple-but-addictive play of the classic Snake without an obvious success, that fact has been thoroughly proven. PAKO Caravan, thankfully, manages to pull off the magic trick with a simple-but-effective visual style, some key enhancements to make things a little more interesting and challenging, and forcing you to continue to adapt to slightly different vehicular behaviors as you progress to keep you from feeling too comfortable. There are no brakes, you’re trying to avoid obstacles and your own caravan as you continuously add to it, and additional objectives like knocking down cones or collecting letters incentivize some risk-taking to claim stars that will continue to unlock new scenarios. I do wish the turning controls weren’t quite so consistently on the loose side, as your momentum can be hard to counteract when you often are spending time along an edge or dodging obstructions, but as a refined version of a classic it does its legacy proud.

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.

Super Metboy! [Rebuild Games] - Making games that are relatively simple but challenging  in their action and then incentive you in some way to keep you playing over and over again can be a tricky business without a doubt. In the old days the high score screen was the usual driver, and certainly there are now online leaderboards, but sometimes just a solid provision for local competition and some sort of meta progression where you unlock new characters or abilities these days as well… something Metboy does admirably with plenty of upgrades and varied core characters. With you simply trying to bounce, shoot, and spin your way around the screen, taking out enemies, Super Metboy additionally doesn’t inundate you with things to learn so that also makes it quick to pick up and play, a feature that also lends itself to its simple but fun multiplayer appeal. You and up to 3 friends can work cooperatively while vying for high scores since it doesn’t take long to get the hang of the mechanics. It’s not a revolution by any means but it’s quick to pick up and enjoy, and there’s something to be said for that.

Wind Peaks [Actoon Studio] - Hidden item games are certainly one of the early staples of the tablet and mobile gaming revolution, but to date have only been marginally represented on the Switch. Working to add some value to the proposition, Wind Peaks tries to change up the formula with a few variations in your typical basic activities and looks great as well, sporting visuals reminiscent of the likes of the cartoon Gravity Falls. One definite issue is that while it is fun while it lasts the experience in this case seems to come to an end more quickly than expected, clocking in only at a couple of hours, so put up against a few contemporaries with a bit more content and not wildly different experiences it falls down a peg on that distinction.

Bob Help Them [No Gravity Games] - I’ll be the first to say that it’s a good thing that not all games are made for everyone, in fact there are niche genres and offerings that are a godsend to smaller segments out there looking for specific types of content. That said, there are also games that for whatever reason don’t seem well-suited to particularly anyone either because of their themes or other issues. Bob Help Them falls into this sort of black hole in my eyes, essentially boiling down to a crafting game where you’ll collect or combine certain items within a limited amount of time to satisfy various people you’ll meet. The thing is, that’s pretty much all there is… and very quickly it gets to be quite repetitive even if the specifics of what you need to collect and combine may vary. Perhaps it would work as a game for younger gamers who are trying to improve their memory skills, remembering recipes for certain things, and then where people and resources may be but that’s about it for this overly simple offering.

Thursday, March 4

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

Mail Mole [Talpa Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s no doubt that releasing a 3D platformer on a console that Mario built (and currently has quite a few titles out on as well) takes some guts, and while Mail Mole can’t be considered up on the high tier that franchise occupies it also has some charm and mass appeal that help it to be at least notable. Your goal will be to burrow your way through a variety of themed stages, jumping when necessary, throwing in some dashes, and collecting carrots and turnips before delivering the mail in each locale. While this isn’t too difficult early on the further you get there’s a steady increase in challenge but in general it’s a pretty smooth ride so even younger players should be able to do well with it. I do think that the button hold and release style jump and just the general layout of the buttons is lacking (it would be nice to be able to map them or have alternatives) but since there are at least only a few controls so it isn’t so bad. There are times where the fixed camera can be troublesome for seeing the action as well but on the whole it usually does a fine job and removes a layer of concern less veteran gamers can have trying to keep track of the direction they’re moving in while trying to pan the camera at the same time. If you’re looking for a slightly different flavor in your Switch platforming be sure to check this one out, you just may dig it.

3 Out Of 10: Season 1 [Terrible Posture Games] - Since I’m a big fan of games that bring the funny and their take on play is a bit on the quirky side I’m a bit torn on this title. Featuring all sorts of gaming industry humor ranging from sloppy developers to consumer culture and more there’s plenty to be entertained by here. For me it’s when the filler in the form of an oddball assortment of mini games begin to pepper themselves into the picture that things take a turn for the worse. It would be super meta if the goal was to have them be of middling to marginal quality as a form of satirizing the industry being out of ideas but that would be an awfully bold move and I would hope for heavy winking to clue you into that fact. Stay for the laughs, enjoy the handful of reasonably decent mini games, and simply endure the rest over the few hours the game has to offer.

Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 [Feld Entertainment] - There’s nothing quite like the monster truck game to change up the general play style of the typical racer. Featuring events that are more in the vein of traditional racing (though while trying to keep the very inertially-affected massive trucks from oversteering more often than not) as well as ones obviously unique to this sort of vehicle one of the game’s greatest strengths is its general variety. Some may prefer the more typical arena-style events but for me the fun begins when you get outside with some room to operate working things like the checkpoint race or sillier fare like the challenge to maintain your multiplier while destroying most anything in sight. The hub overworld made finding events and getting started a little slower than it should have. I do appreciate the attempt to do things a bit differently but without much in the way of prompting to get you started I felt a bit lost until I poked around and understood what they were going for. By no means a perfect monster truck title but it’s certainly better than most on the system.

Thunderflash [SEEP] - One way to get some easy interest with retro-inspired games is to simply mimic specifics from classic games, the degree of success being a matter of finding a balance between borrowing elements and concepts and plain shamelessly ripping them off. Thunderflash skirts the very edge of the latter unfortunately, pulling heavily from the classic Commando as well as some elements of other run and gun shooters of the day. One problem the game runs into is that honestly though this is a brand spanking new game on modern hardware it still comes up short against the more refined classics it is imitating, never a particularly good look. If you’re really itching for something with a classic enough feel, are working with a small budget, and don’t mind some shortcomings it’s not a bad, if very derivative, offering.

Blastful [Playstige Interactive] - Having played so many games on the Switch it’s always important to be mindful of the fact that there are many flavors of games for many different types of gamers. That said, aside from having gotten pretty well versed in the best and worst out there, on occasion there are games with a formula that simply doesn’t seem capable of pleasing anyone. Blastful unfortunately falls somewhere into that category delivering a space shooter so generally bland, slow-moving, and without any excitement that I’m not even sure it would qualify as a good match for beginner shooting fans. You’ll be freely moving about the screen, able to fire roughly in every direction twin-stick style, though really only in the classic 8 directions specifically. There’s hardly any enemy variety, enemy missiles and fire streak painfully slowly around the screen (letting you casually dodge and weave through them), there are scarce power-ups with most being either pointlessly temporary shields or health that isn’t generally needed, and the boss is always the same palette swapped big ship that generally just sits there waiting for you to put it out of its misery after you take out its minimal defenses, and sadly this takes a hot minute of just burning through its abundant shields as it sits there unmoving and hardly putting up resistance. I don’t like beating up on games when I know people have put work into them but this one is particularly bad and should be avoided.

Tuesday, March 2

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

Kill It With Fire [Casey Donnellan Games LLC] (Nindie Choice!) -
While possibly not an ideal game for arachnophobes, Kill It With Fire is what I’d consider a “wacky physics type game” done right, as long as you have patience with its quirks. Each stage consists of multiple rooms full of objects that you’ll want to pick up and sometimes inspect, eventually finding a hidden creepy crawly that you’ll want to squish. While initially you’ll need to use the clipboard that displays your objectives early on you’ll find some hairspray that, when paired with a lighter, will let you have a bit more fun, just be careful to conserve your “ammo” and try not to light the whole place on fire in the process. As you go you’ll find new gear to help you be more effective and have fun, and with patience you’ll often find hidden rooms and goodies to reward your diligence. As is the case with many games with this sort of feel it is by no means perfect, but usually it’s the quirk and oddity that help add to the fun… and there’s nothing quite as satisfying and lighting a red spider who’ll spawn spiderlings on fire, then having them all come out flaming while running around causing general chaos. An odd treat.

Glam [Three Legged Egg] - Challenging platforming is most definitely a thing, with titles like Celeste and Super Meat Boy leading the way in defining how to do “brutally tough but generally fair” with terrific core mechanics and smart level design. While Glam doesn’t quite reach those same lofty heights, I’ll give credit to it getting at least part of the way there by working a few unique control elements like swinging from your glorious hair into the mix. In terms of the layout of the various stages I’d say it leans a bit further into the cheap side with its abundant spikes in some cases making the area you have to work with a bit lean, especially when trying to judge the momentum and angle coming off of a swing. It includes a multiplayer mode as well that amps up the challenge by adding someone who’ll hopefully pair well with your timing and skills if you’re down for group frustration and success. While it doesn’t quite reach the top tier of games of its kind it’s at least a solid effort and worthwhile for people who don’t mind a bit of gritting their teeth.

Forward to the Sky [AnimuGame] - This is one of those games that feels odd to play since it’s almost like it transports you back to another era in gaming, in this case the earlier days of 3D platforming and adventuring. There’s no doubt that Forward to the Sky aspires to push verticality in its design, with you generally ascending stairs or riding a variety of lifts and platforms to reach each stage’s exit, taking out enemies, finding secrets, and trying to collect crystals as you go that will continue to unlock more of the story. The thing is, it all feels very last-gen at best and likely earlier than that, even if visually it has a more contemporary appearance, even if simplified. Perhaps most inexplicably, the price of admission for this game feels extremely high in relation to what it offers, baffling me and making it all the tougher to recommend on its gameplay merits.

Hellpoint [Cradle Games] - I’ve never hidden my general disdain for the rise of the “Souls-like” sub-genre and for me Hellpoint is a terrific illustration of the types of games that have taken on that moniker. It’s one of those experiences that somehow feels both familiar and weird in how it is set up. You can see the influences around in the designs of the stages but then it’s prone to veering wildly towards its own ideas and implementation in places, and unfortunately I’d consider few of those new directions to be a success. It’s upgrade and inventory system menus are odd and unnecessarily complicated since areas like the effects of updating some of your stats are completely unexplained. Unusual animations and game behaviors are also regularly on display and quickly undermine confidence in this being a fully tested and finished product at times. Throw in the fact that a game such as this tends to be very combat-centric and the clunky and generally loose feel of the fighting system ends up generally being the straw that broke the camel’s back. It obviously was made with some aspirations but feels like it has come up short.

The Lost Cube [JanduSoft] - OK, so there’s no doubt an audience out there for games that are challenging, that won’t apologize for frustrating you and pushing you to execute flawlessly in order to progress. That said, there are very different kinds of “challenging” ranging from titles that are mechanically on point but complex and demand your commitment to those that are sloppy in their controls or designs and aggravate mostly due to these shortcomings. The Lost Cube, in my eyes, is unfortunately the latter with overly-sensitive controls on top of an abundance of slippery surfaces that will have you teetering on the edge of the platform you just landed on only to slide off while preparing for your next jump. In the end the stage design is pretty limited in creativity and variety and the setup instead seems to be intended to merely hamper player execution as much as possible to make the play time stretch for the wrong reasons.

Monday, March 1

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

Horned Knight [Josep Monzonis Hernandez] -
If you thirst for the good old days of dodging traps, knocking out monsters, and more often that not doing quite a bit of dying along your adventure when you fail, Horned Knight may be just what you’re looking for. With a simple pixel art style and not too many controls to fuss with it’s a game purely focused on timing and precision, and even in the early going you can expect to do some serious dying. From stage to stage some of the designs I’d say can feel a bit more cheap than others, but in general that’s consistent with most other titles that set out to challenge you. While only the more determined set who enjoy the ups and downs of working to conquer difficult dungeons need apply, for the price it delivers a reasonably good experience.

Under Leaves [RedDeerGames] - It’s always difficult to review titles made with the intention of reaching a more casual and mild audience. Under Leaves is very much in that vein, in no way bringing intensity or action and instead focused on soothing sounds and colors in its artistic locales from all over the world. In each location you’ll be charged with finding multiples of a specific shape, moving between multiple screens to try to track them all down. In some cases it can require more effort than others and if you get stuck there’s a provision for help if you need it. By no means would this likely be for more mainstream gamers but if you’re a parent with gamers-to-be or simply someone who enjoys taking some time to unwind with something simpler it accomplishes what it set out to do quite effectively.

Castle Kong [Drowning Monkeys LLC] - Fans of a certain mustachioed carpenter (at the time) taking on a large and equally-famous gorilla will, no doubt, quickly notice some similarities here. Pretty shamelessly cribbing off of not just the general mechanics of that Nintendo classic but even, for the most part, the stage designs it would be a stretch to call Castle Kong original in pretty well any way. That said, while it lacks the nuance and charm of this famous arcade inspiration it’s at least a decent enough knock-off that you can throw some time into. Some added incentive for a little while after launch is an official contest with some cash prizes for those who go the extra mile and push to be the best on the leaderboards. If you’d like an opportunity to show your old-school arcade cred it may be a good opportunity and it will throw some challenges in your way trying to do so.

Spooky Chase [Burning Goat Studio] - Simplicity can work in either direction for budget games, either getting what it manages just right so it's a success or not quite putting the pieces together so it's only middling at best. Spooky Chase does at least have a novel approach, working as a platformer where you're able to change directions and jump as you try to get to flags placed around multiple platforms in the stage. What sets it apart is that you'll need to do this on multiple passes, with the challenge being that you're able to run into the previous versions of yourself. As you can imagine, once you're on the fifth run and above things can get crowded. This does remain challenging, and at least at first feels fresh, but unfortunately the further along you go the more the novelty wears off and without much outside of that central hook to distinguish it even with a budget price the game quickly becomes forgettable.

Void Gore [Panda Indie Studio] - While arcade-style shooters don’t necessarily need to have a great deal of variety in order to be interesting I’d say the rule would be the simpler your game systems are the more flavor you’ll need to include in order to sustain interest. Void Gore has the simplistic systems down, featuring a vanilla shooting attack, a small variety of potential power-ups, and a zone shield that works on a cooldown and will both wipe out enemy fire and damage enemies within its slowly-growing area. Unfortunately, for the most part, the game from there is all about trying to eke out more points and survive longer while facing pretty well the “same general enemies but harder” until you stop. It’s not terrible but it also really fails to do much to distinguish itself, even at its low-budget price.