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.

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