Friday, April 9

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

Say No! More [Fizbin] (Nindie Choice!) -
The thing about “weird games” is that they can be very hard to define or describe by typical genre rules or through comparison. Say No! More may be best understood simply by checking out some gameplay or being told by someone like me that it’s strange, made me laugh, and at times even felt cathartic to play. It’s clear that the people behind the game aren’t big fans of traditional “corporate culture”, so in particular if you’ve been in an office and totally get and love the jokes in the movie Office Space, you may really dig this. After being encouraged to discover and unleash your inner contrarian stage by stage you’ll develop a nuanced set of ways to respond in the negative, armed as well with some great trolly expressions like a slow clap to further drive your enemies mad. Rather than being focused on specific strategies or tactics the game is more about you choosing how to express your own style and simply enjoying yourself, perhaps finally letting go a lifetime of pent up frustrations with people you’ve reported to who’ve been insufferable asshats. Unleash your inner “No!” and, even if only for a moment, live a life without fear of repercussions with a smile on your face.

What the Dub? [Wide Right Games] (Nindie Choice!) - There are absolutely some amazing party games out there on the Switch to enjoy with friends, but if you’re on a tight budget perhaps the general need to buy them in bigger, and thus more expensive, packs makes them feel like a risk. Going ala carte is more convenient but unfortunately there aren’t that many inexpensive and funny options out there. Thankfully you can now get What the Dub and have a blast, all for less than $10. Granted, there’s only style of play but fortunately it’s a good one sure to spark creativity and laughs. Everyone will be shown the same incomplete brief clip with the dialogue for typically just one actor omitted. Your goal is to come up with something funny for them to say that will win you votes and the admiration of your peers. Depending on how quick thinking you and your friends are the results most certainly could vary, but the sound of the automated speech person reciting your line in its typically stilted fashion can sometimes add yet another element to enjoy. 

Breathedge [HypeTrain Digital] - Breathedge is one of those titles where I’m not quite sure how to feel about it. One the one hand I absolutely appreciate its weird (though sometimes juvenile) sense of humor, and that’s really the element of the game that makes it something more special. On the other, playing as someone a bit stranded in space with limited resources after an accident, if you’re looking for action and excitement this likely won’t have much appeal. Little by little by venturing out into space with your limited oxygen supply you’ll collect bits and pieces here and there that will allow you to craft equipment which will then let you go out longer and collect different items… and if you’re familiar with the survival genre this will all seem quite familiar. If you don’t enjoy the quirk I could actually see it being an active liability, but if you like survival titles with perhaps only moderate pressure and difficulty, and like to laugh along the way, you may find it to be a relaxing and sometimes entertaining endeavor.

Star Wars Republic Commando [Aspyr] - The Switch, now that it has been thoroughly established, has really become a sort of window into the state of games from previous generations, having the advantage of being able to play them on the go. I actually missed Republic Commando the first time through, so perhaps my view is a bit more critical without any twinge of nostalgia for it, but while it’s absolutely a unique shooter it suffers from its age for sure. Aside from it being visually long in the tooth (though in handheld it does look pretty good) the most unusual thing I found with the game is a sense of sympathy for the hard-working Stormtroopers out there who get a bad rap for being horrible shots. That’s definitely a piece of the experience that comes through, even trying my best to aim the rate of fire and lack of precision in the average blast rifle make it a crapshoot for sure. Thankfully you’ll be leading a crack squad of commandos who’ll follow your orders so you aren’t trying to lone wolf things, and the mild strategy element does at least help it come through as a unique Star Wars experience.

The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [Ocean Media Games] - As a fan of literary classics I must say that seeing the names Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gave me an initial thrill. A mystery adventure where you were trying to discover the truth behind some gruesome murders could have been fun. Well, except it’s just a shell for a hidden object puzzle game, which isn’t quite as exciting. The thing is, to its credit they really try to find a balance and make use of the story with plenty of dialogue and a story to follow with a brief but detailed bit of prose to read at pretty well every step. Sure, the look is a bit dated, the objects aren’t always well integrated with the scenery, and most of the puzzles are on the simplistic side, but if you enjoy the genre and want a little mystery to go with it it’s not a bad combo.

Wednesday, April 7

Mini Reviews: April 7th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Cozy Grove [Spry Fox] (Nindie Choice!) - While bludgeoning or blowing away bad guys can always be good fun, everyone should have some time in their lives to slow things down. With a laid back tone, cute and friendly characters, and a small variety of activities to complete Cozy Grove seems great for settling in with on a daily basis to help bring the positive feels. While not as full-featured as Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing the price tag here is also far more budget-friendly and the characters you’ll meet and stories they’ll share are also much more fulfilling for the most part. If you’ve been looking for an experience that will help wash your cares away as you tend to the needs of some souls in need of help, and who will be grateful for it, Cozy Grove is a warm fuzzy of an experience that will gladly help you in that goal.

Stick Fight: The Game [LandFall] (Nindie Choice!) - Oh how perilous the eShop is in the budget category, filled with games that look like they could be promising but with many letting you down. On the flipside of that  you have Stick Fight, a title that’s very unassuming in its appearance but that uses that formula to heavily under-promise and over-deliver on the experience. There’s not much to know about playing this multiplayer brawler (which works wonderfully locally but also online… we’ll see how long it can last though, as is always the issue with small games with online play), you’re able to jump and attack and that’s really all you generally need. Sure, you can grab a variety of weapons to then do some serious damage with (careful, some of them can be lethal to you as well), but if you’re quick and determined some flailing and luck can be a highly effective strategy no matter what weapon your opponents may have. Where the game gets to the next level though is really with its loads of arenas and settings that really change things up. In some cases the environment itself is outright lethal and simple survival will be necessary, in others the best strategy may be to destroy the environment and hope you can leave yourself somewhere to land. Heck, there are also times simply standing still and letting your opponents get themselves killed is a legit strategy. Considering the budget price this title carries it absolutely delivers a superb multiplayer experience that’ll have you and some friends fighting to wear the crown. If only it would do some stat collection to see a breakdown of who won, by how much, and a bunch of fun additional facts about the chaos!

Lost Words: Beyond the Page [Sketchbook Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ll admit that this is a title that got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, with me essentially wondering what to do at first. The distraction of the pointer that you do end up using for some tasks kept me from realizing I was also sometimes supposed to move my character independently as well. Once that was understood though what followed was unique and extremely worthwhile. Not quite a game in any normal sense, Lost Words is more of a creative interactive bit of storytelling with plenty of varied and beautiful forms. From page to page what you’ll need to do may vary, sometimes consisting of some simple platforming and other times feeling like a bit of a mild puzzle. The attraction though is a heartfelt and sometimes sad story that really manages to grab you, a bit moreso as you’re heavily involved in helping it unfold visually. It won’t be for anyone looking for a challenge or even puzzle fans, this is really for people looking for something unique and beautiful to touch their hearts, and the level of quality with which it is executed I can get behind.

Sturmfront: The Mutant War [Andrade Games] - There’s nothing wrong with an old-school shooter, where your goal is simple to run, gun, and make a bloody mess out of your enemies along the way. Sturmfront absolutely captures some of that classic arcade vibe with plenty to grab and blow up, and it even offers a fair challenge to boot. If you were looking for a game that takes the classic ball and runs with it though you may not be as enthused since overall I’d say classics from those older days still have an edge on the overall experience here. Sturmfront has a good look, and apes almost all of the old motions quite well, so there’s some satisfaction there, it just hits a wall at trying to do it better, or perhaps even quite as good, so it’s a mixed bag as an overall experience.

Press “A” to Party [BoomBit Games] - Multiplayer games looking to pull in gamers of all ages and skill levels have a tough challenge. How to create gameplay that is quick and relatively easy to pick up, but then somehow offers enough cooperative or competitive oomph to give the experience some staying power. There’s no doubt that Press shoots to hit the target with the overall simplicity, adopting a one-button play mechanic across its 6 mini games, but there’s a bit of an unusual learning curve in the case of some of them since there’s really no conceptual explanation, you’re just thrown in to figure it out. This makes early matches a bit of a fustercluck as people struggle to tackle the nuance of holding down the button in some cases and carefully pressing in others. The thing is, once everyone is on the same page, the lifespan of interest seems to likely be limited just because aside from unlocking new avatars and going for bragging rights there’s just not much to explore and simple games don’t necessarily make for satisfying ones.

Friday, April 2

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

Luckslinger [Duckbridge] (Nindie Choice!) -
As a fan of games that subvert expectations and are determined to simply be a bit weird, Luckslinger puts a smile on my face. At its base it’s a retro-styled side-scrolling Western gunslinger that has you shooting, reloading, jumping, and rolling as you make your way through levels and take out your foes. If it were only that the game would just be middling. But add in an attack duck, a luck mechanic that can help or hinder you, a cavalcade of weird characters and humor including a minister who spits some great rhymes, and cut-scenes that randomly throw in modern musical beat drops or other incongruous elements and it just becomes something unique. There’s no doubt the play, especially in the shootouts with bosses, can get tough and will demand that you work out how best to use what luck you have to your advantage. That said, the promise for what weirdness may come next, sometimes prompting a laugh, is a pretty great motivation to figure it out. Tack on a budget-friendly price and this is just a welcome detour from the typical that I thoroughly enjoyed.

A Long Way Down [Seenapsis Studio] - The roguelike deck-builder has certainly seemed to be en vogue for the past few years but at least we’ve gotten some well-conceived and executed games out of the trend. The problem for anyone pushing a new one into the arena at this point is that the competition is pretty fierce so you really need to come with your A game and preferably a new idea or two. A Long Way Down thankfully does bring something new to the table in the form of an added strategic layer in each level you find yourself on, having you and an adversary place tiles to connect different platforms in space, some which have critical areas you’ll want to get to and others with enemies you’ll need to contend with. This does make for some difficult choices at times as healing campfires and the ability to equip new gear in the armory can be critical to success but could represent a risky detour. Unfortunately, the turn-based card-driven combat is a bit too generic and the general control mechanics a bit too clumsy to maintain the promise of that signature feature. The result is a generally good deck-builder, but one that falls short of the high bar its contemporaries have set in place.

What Comes After [Flynn's Arcade] - It’s always a bit of a challenge for me to review games that really aren’t games, whether interactive novels or in this case semi-interactive and fixed narrative experiences of a sort. If you’re looking to wax a bit philosophical and ponder life, it’s value, and how different people perceive it on a number of levels this could serve as a great meditation on the subject as you’ll play as a young woman simply moving between people on a subway of souls on their way to the afterlife who all have something to share. I’ll give it credit for being interesting and having some perspectives worth sharing, but at the same time it’s just a very slight experience that makes next to no use of the format it’s being presented in. Throw in the pretty brief amount of time you’ll spend with it and it’s potential audience will likely be a bit limited.

Ghost: Elisa Cameron [Ocean Media] - Having recently played quite a few more refined modern takes on the hidden item casual genre Ghost is a bit of a trip through a wayback machine for me. With absolutely primitive cutscene production values, far less variety, and far more obvious items strewn about the areas you’ll explore, this title is a pretty accurate picture of the genre from roughly a decade ago. The thing is, while that’s a little disappointing perhaps there’s also a familiarity to it that made me a little nostalgic I suppose. If you’re looking for the most current and highest quality casual games in this space you’ll want to check out some other options but if you’re an old school fan of the genre and want to get your vintage hidden item groove on this hits the spot.

Afterpulse [Digital Legends] - Mobile games making the transition to a dedicated gaming console are always a bit of a tricky proposition on multiple fronts. While typically control and quality are the core drivers that determine success, Afterpulse helps to point out other critical pitfalls. First, there’s the problem of the price, with it being a free-to-play on mobile but carrying a $20 asking price on Switch. Aside from the infamous “Switch tax” concerns there’s another big problem this creates since rightfully the developers bless you with some solid starting gear to go with that price of admission… but that then turns it into a bit of a pay-to-win proposition as you plow through people for a bit with your overpowered gear. Second, while it isn’t a free-to-play on Switch the game retains all sorts of systems and in-game currencies that still make it a part of that world, and it’s a bit cumbersome and annoying to deal with rather than having been rethought for paying customers. Last, though there are other issues I’m leaving out, it’s hitting the eShop against free-to-play titles that are far more polished, generally have massive player bases, and simply offer up superior gameplay. If this had launched within the first year when Switch gamers were starved for shooter content it could have fared well most likely, but this late in the game it’s really bringing a butter knife to a bazooka fight.

Thursday, April 1

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

Overcooked All You Can Eat [Ghost Town Games Ltd] (Nindie Choice!) -
Possibly one of the best games to challenge and entertain determined groups either locally or online in this generation, Overcooked started strong and at this point where they’ve brought everything together into one package it’s tough not to be impressed. With the original, the sequel, and all associated DLC packed in there’s a whole menagerie of characters to choose from, a ton of locales and challenges to tackle, and a host of options both local and online for matching up to cooperate or compete with others. What I truly appreciate is how the challenge is still very much there for more seasoned groups but there’s also a terrific assist mode that will change everything into being much more casual and family-friendly as well, opening the door to anyone being able to enjoy plenty of prepping, chopping, cooking, cleaning, and serving. If you’ve already got both games this may be unnecessary but if you’ve been waiting to dive in or only have one of the titles this is a terrific excuse to get a great amount of content at a bargain price all in one.

El Hijo [Honig Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - Stealth games, in general, usually aren’t my bag for whatever reason but while El Hijo heavily involves that mechanic there’s enough charm and variety that it works for me. Initially trying to escape from the monastery he’s been dropped off at and then in search of the people who wronged his family there’s not a lot of story but it’s easy to understand and relate to so that works. As you’re introduced to new spots to hide in or even move through there can be a learning curve at times so it’s critical to check out anything that looks like it has potential or you could waste time trying to get through a spot using a far tougher plan than is necessary but I also appreciate that it seems in places there’s not only 1 way to get through. It won’t be a match for everyone but its cute style and clever variety keep it enjoyable, interesting, and sometimes challenging throughout.

Faircroft’s Antiques: The Heir of Glen Kinnoch [Ocean Media] - Since this is both a casual hidden-item-mixed-with-various-puzzles game and part of a series of other games that are all roughly the same this review is a toughie in a way. Compared to the OG hidden object games these are better made and offer more variety, with objects being much tougher to spot as they’re often well-integrated into the scene and they’re also not a one-trick pony by any means. Stitched together with a light Hallmark Channel movie kind of wholesome feel they’re easy on the nerves and, if you’re looking for something soothing to relax with, aren’t a bad investment of a relatively modest asking price.

Gallic Wars: Battle Simulator [MadGamesmith] - Budget games are always a bit of a gamble, as there are definitely titles that surpass expectations and then there also are those that you wonder whether they were ready for prime time in the first place. Unfortunately, I’d say Gallic Wars, with its overly simplistic scenarios, limited controls, and simple lack of much content of note falls into the less happy category. Sure, the presentation being lacking and there being limits in the complexity of this strategy title would be understood at this price point, but throw pretty clunky controls and simply little fun to be had onto the pile and there’s simply not much redeeming here to note.

I Saw Black Clouds [Ghost Dog Films] - While back in the day I was never much of a fan of the FMV game fad that accompanied the explosion of access to CD drives back in the day I’ve actually been a moderate fan of the recent resurgence of the genre in this generation. When handled properly, and backed by the right story and acting, it can work almost seamlessly and provides a sort of interactive movie feel that’s unique. I Saw Black Clouds, regrettably, I wasn’t so enamored with, a few major problems in particular standing out. For one thing, the illusion of seamless transitions is shattered not just by what feels like longer delays than usual but by poor decision-making in composing the cuts that are meant to be assembled. Background music and other issues that have poor prospects of lining up well really wreck the experience by feeling disjointed, making it feel more like those old days. More critically, though this criticism is more personal as a parent of two children with different challenges and one of whom has had struggles with suicidal ideation, is that its use of suicide and people with impairments feels cheap and reductive. In particular, pretty well opening with a depiction of suicide smacks of “shock value” when the story and overall arc of things could easily have been handled after the fact without it needing to be seen. On multiple fronts it comes through as a clumsy effort and the payoff of enduring it all isn’t enough reward to excuse some lazy characterizations that got you there.