Tuesday, April 27

Mini Reviews: April 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Smelter [X Plus] (Nindie Choice!) -
Appropriately named, as it combines elements of multiple styles of gaming, Smelter is a game that defies a simple explanation. One moment having you tackle enemies as a side-scrolling adventure, the next having you take on tough precision platforming levels (that are optional, but who can turn down a challenge), and then finally challenging you to engage in some real-time strategic combat in the initial going it can be a lot to take in. While I wouldn’t say all aspects are firing on all cylinders, for me the strategic element felt more bolted on than polished enough to stand on its own when compared to the other areas, it does make for an engaging experience that keeps things interested and a bit unpredictable at times. While I’d still say the thrilling opening anime sequence overshadows the in-game excitement a bit (it’s pretty damned cool and taps into my child of the 80s brain heavily) even with as many titles as I’ve played through on the Switch this stands out as being its own thing, and pretty confidently so, making it notable and worth a look.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers [Twilight Frontier] - While fighting games have been around for quite some time, and each franchise certainly has its own signature feel, there are certain constants gamers have come to expect. Then, every once in a while, someone new comes along and shakes things up… though whether that is good, bad, or somewhere in between is typically in the eye of the beholder. I’d say Touhou Hyouibana falls somewhere squarely in the middle, absolutely innovating and possessing a unique multi-level style that, in many ways, feels like a blend of a fighter and a bullet hell shooter. Add to that the fact that its look is distinct and quite gorgeous and I don’t doubt the game will have fans. That said, while the move sets per fighter have their own sort of flow and style you can slowly get accustomed to the lack of guidance in how the moves and mechanics work feels like something out of a few decades ago where people would get a strategy guide to help progress. Regardless, there’s no doubt it’s a unique fighter worth giving a look if you’ve been looking for something to break the traditional mold.

Buildings Have Feelings Too! [Blackstaff Games] - Featuring anthropomorphic buildings who have many of the same quirks, cliques, and pet peeves that their human occupants do, there’s no doubt Buildings Have Feelings Too is a bit odd. Playing out somewhere between a building sim, strategy title, and a puzzle game your key to success is in understanding how to look at what each building wants and needs and then reorganizing and developing what you have to work with into a smashing success. The tricky part is trying to divine what you need to do at times, navigating through the various screens that can feel a bit cumbersome with the controller to determine a course of action. Where it feels like it falls down a bit is where it feels like the road to success is often a predetermined one, not one you’ll have the option to work out with a style all your own. Even so, the charm and personality of the game’s writing and quirky style help to at least make it a reasonably entertaining title for strategy fans who are looking for something a bit off the beaten path.

Mystic Fate [JanduSoft] - At first glance the voxel-based dungeons (though perhaps a bit sparse on detail) and puzzle-like elements of working your way through in Mystic Date are at least interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take too long before it all feels a bit too bare bones to the point where it almost seems more like an Early Access title working out the basics before fleshing everything out for a final release. Getting accustomed to the mechanics of your coin attack and how and when you’re able to retrieve them at times feels a bit too much like guesswork, and issues like trying to get consistency with aiming as you try to shoot them out is a bit too shaky for its own good. There’s potential for enjoyment here, just you need to be willing to make some serious compromises to get there.

EQI [Hyperstrange] - When you’re working in the budget gaming space it can be tricky to define a fair basis for expectations, but while a lower asking price can make room for being more forgiving you can still sense when things have sort of run off the rails. With a very unusual look, first-person puzzling play, and reasonably cool soundtrack EQI is a bit much to take in at first, especially since you’re given precious little in the way of real guidance on effective play. In the end it’s a 3D puzzle platformer that allows you to rotate the level, but the way this works can be off-putting since there’s a fixed way it rotates rather than it being relative to your perspective so this can, at times, be quite aggravating when you get turned around and aren’t sure what will happen when you trigger it. Throw in not too many levels overall, a dreadful decision to map running to pressing down on one of the analog sticks (making the attempt of running jumps uncomfortable), and just a generally unrefined experience and it has some significant issues.

Friday, April 23

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

Picross S6 [Jupiter Corporation] (Nindie Choice!) -
The Picross series has been around for so long at some point that it has become a sort of puzzle game staple, but that can also make people a bit numb to it. While it is true that S6 is more along the lines of a new set of levels released on the same engine that isn’t to say the experience is in any way disappointing. On top of traditional Picross, doing it’s 2-color pixel art thing you have the more challenging (and possibly divisive) Mega Picross which does add a new layer of consideration to up the difficulty. Color Picross, added to the series a few iterations ago, is also a great challenge, though I’d still say I’ve seen multi-color interfaces implemented in a slightly better way overall. For me the real meat is in Clip Picross and the Bonus puzzles though, as they get quite a bit tougher still, and appropriately you’ll need to do the work cutting your teeth on the easier stuff to then unlock the bigger and more complex challenges. If you’re a big puzzle fan, and particularly if you’ve taken a break from the Picross series for a little while, this is a rock solid place to pick it back up and enjoy its polished play and steadily-increasing challenge level.

Hitchhiker: A Mystery Game [Mad About Pandas] (Nindie Choice!) - As the definition of what’s a game has continued to evolve and diversify over the years we’ve seen increasingly creative titles enter the space. In the case of Hitchhiker: A Mystery Game you have more of a semi-interactive experience than game, with you hopping a ride with a few very different people with whom you’ll have some very different conversations and experiences with… and with some point-and-click adventure-esque elements strewn about in between to keep you a little more engaged than simply clicking to advance the dialogue. The result is odd, at times unnerving, and certainly a bit unexpected. As would be the case in real life this won’t be a ride for everyone, for sure, but if you’re game for something different it will get you to that destination.

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion [Snoozy Kazoo] - Just from its pretty unusual title you could guess this will be a bit of an oddball ride, and though its length and depth are a little lacking there’s no doubt that Turnip Boy and his many associates bring a unique flavor to mostly traditional play. Playing mostly along the lines of an action RPG adventure you’ll be talking to your fellow plant life beings and working to find and then bring back the items they demand in order to advance the story. The combat isn’t particularly challenging, the puzzles aren’t often terribly inspired, and the humor is nice for flavor but is typically more quirky than laugh out loud funny. The result is suitably pleasant for a little while, but unless you’re really into the look and sense of humor it exudes you can probably hold off until it’s on sale.

Little Mouse’s Encyclopedia [Circus Atos] - Titles that target younger gamers are always a bit of a challenge to evaluate. Traditionally educational games have generally rightfully gotten a bad rap, as I grew up with some pretty awful examples of developers trying to make school-type subjects “fun”. Little Mouse’s Encyclopedia smartly aims at more of a semi-interactive experience, and that does further complicate evaluating it against intended games. All that said, there’s a simple charm and pleasant quality to the experience you’ll have exploring the small areas Little Mouse can get through, observing various flora and fauna and then being able to look up a variety of factoids on each of them. There may not be a gaming hook to it but the fact that it is pretty engaging and informative at once at least makes it pretty appealing as a form of edutainment.

The Skylia Prophecy [Ezekiel Rage] - Making throwback games has got to be a difficult proposition, especially when trying to find a balance between classic and modern sensibilities. The Skylia Prophecy certainly has some old school appeal if you like getting knocked around and a bit frustrated, and I don’t have an issue with games that are inherently challenging, especially when there’s some sort of reward for your perseverance. Another issue that crops up here though is that I’m not a big fan of controls and systems where it feels like you have artificially crippled controls to make things that hard for the sake of being hard, the way you trigger explosions being a great bad example. It’s not a bad game, and it is certainly easy on the budget, but there’s just a lack of overall polish that grates a bit in critical places.

Wednesday, April 21

Mini Reviews: April 21st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension [Draw Me A Pixel] (Nindie Choice!) -
OK, so typically when you see games coming over in some form from the mobile space I tend to put on my skeptic hat and play “Did we really need this on a dedicated gaming console?” In the case of Wrong Dimension, though, I’ll skip right to the chase and bluntly tell you: YES! Dripping with creativity, humor, and often unexpected and unorthodox solutions to problems (OK, so you may need to make use of the in-game hint system or a FAQ in some cases when you get stuck), this is probably one of the most weirdly inventive titles I’ve played in a while. Across a few very different chapters you’ll often be at odds with the narrator, circumventing his attempts to hold you back and convince you that the title’s statement is true. There’s obvious love but valid mocking humor here for classic adventure games, a beloved Nintendo series featuring a certain warrior in time, and everyone’s not favorite, free-to-play games… and on the whole the jokes (including a few running gags) are amusing fun. While you’re able to play using the controller in docked mode it isn’t much surprise that the best way to enjoy it is in handheld mode with the touchscreen. If you’re in the mood to laugh and work through some very unique puzzles this is absolutely a title you should be checking out!

Palindrome Syndrome: Escape Room [mc2games] - With escape rooms having been a pretty popular group activity over the past decade or so (with the exception of the past year, obviously) it’s not a surprise to see a puzzle title adopt that format for play. Dealing in a wide variety of brain teasers that will challenge everything from your simple powers of observation to much more complicated multi-step deduction many aspects of Syndrome feel authentic to the experience as well, though perhaps lacking in the frustrations of interpersonal communication and teamwork unless you’re playing with someone looking over your shoulder. There are a few spots and puzzles that can be a bit rockier than others, and overall the length of the experience is perhaps on the brief-ish side, but if you’re looking to hone your puzzle room solving skills or want a taste of the general challenges they often offer this isn’t a bad choice.

World Splitter [NeoBird GmbH & Co. KG] - When you start talking about twin-stick controls the shooter maniac in me instantly thinks of shooting but in World Splitter my favorite control scheme is put through new paces with a puzzle platformer instead. While the notion of working through puzzles where you need to move between two different planes isn’t a new in this title the degree of challenge is amped up a bit as you’re able to freely manipulate both the placement and rotation of the line between them, and with that control comes power… but it also can make it tough to get the hang of initially. In the early going I found myself fixated on either moving the line around or rotating but not typically thinking about both at once and yet to make the most of things you really need to get your brain into that space. It makes for a very different sort of play, which is refreshing, but be sure you’re down for a challenge if you’re looking to check this out.

Emily Archer and the Curse of Tutankhamun [Ocean Media] - If you’re a fan of hidden object and puzzle games there has been a rash of releases of late so you’ll have plenty of options, for sure. While relative degrees of polish and refinement between titles can be minimal, another area to consider may be the theming. In this case you’ll be off to Egypt to look into the mysterious death of someone tied to the effort to uncover, of course with excuses to find a variety of objects in the background of numerous locales as well as tackle a different sort of puzzle altogether on occasion. It may not be a game that will change the world but for a relatively modest price it will suck you in if you’re a fan of the genre.

War of Stealth: Assassin [LLC KURENTER] - In my mind stealth-type games are tough to truly get right but when they come together the right way they offer up a very satisfying mix of strategy, tension, and even some action. War of Stealth may aspire to greatness but in all honesty it feels a bit unfinished in its current state. Certainly a variety of bad translations don’t help it get an air of polish, but that could perhaps be discounted if the action were compelling. The thing is, at best it feels like an effort from a few generations ago, even if that. Animations can be dodgy (though the elastic nature of people you’re trying to pull at times can lead to unintentional laughs), the action is a bit too stale and one note, and just mechanically there’s an unrefined quality to most everything. In a pinch perhaps you could give it a try but if you’re a fan of the genre aside from execution issues this simply brings nothing of note to the table.

Tuesday, April 20

Mini Reviews: April 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Fez [Polytron Corp] (Nindie Choice!) -
This far into the Switch lifespan the list of outstanding top-notch indie titles that haven’t yet made it to the platform is dwindling. There’s absolutely no doubt that Fez is one such title that has taken too long to get here and is incredibly welcome. In screen shots it may just appear to be a solid pixel platformer, but that would be woefully underselling it since in reality it’s a hybrid of sorts, allowing and even necessitating your rotating the levels in 3D space in order to reveal hidden secrets, surprises, and challenges that you’ll continue to face in a purely 2D plane in terms of the action. This results in a feel that’s somewhere between an action platformer and a puzzle game at times, and in many ways I’m shocked that as long as the game has taken to get to Switch someone else hadn’t already beaten it to the punch with a similar feel, but nobody really has. Clever, full of heart, and genuinely unique in its gameplay mechanics, Fez may be long overdue on the platform but hasn’t lost any of its very genuine appeal.

Heal [Jesse Makkonen] - Certainly the puzzle genre, in general, has been quite well-represented on the Switch. With its friendliness to mobile conversions, the availability of the touchscreen for play, and general focus on portability it’s a natural. The challenge, then, is trying to make something that will stand out from the crowd. Heal, which conveys only a little bit of the essence of its story at a time, has you starting out without much guidance in the form of an old man who is presented with a pretty wide variety of puzzles to solve in order to progress. As you complete them you’ll move to new areas and more challenges, with a pretty slow drip of info on your character and situation but it falls short of being a compelling story-driven game to the degree of many better examples on the system. The result is then mostly a series of pretty distinctive and sometimes challenging puzzles somewhat loosely connected to a story. If you’re looking for some variety on a pretty humble budget it’s at least not a bad option.

The Longing [Studio Seufz] - Before getting a bit more negative I wanted to be clear I absolutely have respect for developers who dare to tackle the challenge of coming up with something unique. The Longing, aside from its signature hand-drawn look is inherently meditative and calm in its nature, and we don’t always need yet another high-octane experience to get our adrenaline pumping. In fact, with the timeframe you’re given of 400 days until your slumbering king is to awaken, the game itself poses little to no urgency on you. While I’m sure there’s a message here of the need to relish the smaller things in life and to not be so constantly beholden to the clock there are some elements in The Longing that I think push a bit too far. Most of all what’s so aggravating is the snail’s pace your character moves at during initial exploration. Granted, once you set a marker to a spot you’ve been to it is pretty quick and easy to get there but the kingdom you’re in is labyrinthine and mapping out where everything is gets positively brutal if you value your time in the least. The thing is, I absolutely could see how this experience would work quite well on a mobile device, with you setting some things into motion and then leaving for a few hours until they complete in some way. On a dedicated gaming device where you’re unable to swipe between running programs though? It’s a big too much of a slog, and that’s purely a design choice, even if there are some great moments in store in this experience for people with more patience and time they’re willing to eat up simply waiting on things to happen.

Geminose: Animal Popstars [Midnight City] - Usually focusing on more hardcore or even the semi-sophisticated casual market, developers don’t always put much care into trying to appeal to the next generation of gamers. Enter the super-cute Geminose cavalcade of creatures of various shapes and sizes that you’ll be able to befriend, get to join your band, and play with through a fair variety of mini games. Whether working more of a rhythm game feel or performing a series of small tasks to prepare a dish or helping your budding stars decorate their rooms this is thoroughly casual in nature and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Skewing to the pretty young set or simply people who still yearn for more motion-based gaming and don’t mind everything being a bit simplistic this super-cute game fills a need on Switch, just most people won’t dig the return of motion controls and pretty simple mini game play that was so common in the Wii era.

Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire [EastAsiaSoft] - Ah, gotta love those niche specialty titles from overseas that bring a little flavor to the eShop. Or, you may be a bit repulsed or disgusted by them, somewhat thinly offering cheesecake anime women in various states outfits and states of at least partial undress under the auspices of a game. To its credit, the solitaire Mahjong it offers is pretty demanding and will keep you looking and sometimes carefully choosing which pairs to remove and when. In addition the game’s tile set, while not particularly amazing, is at least attractive and generally easy to distinguish even with some characters that can get pretty close to being the same. Is it art? Not really. But for a budget price if this type of content floats your boat it is at least included in a reasonably good shell of legitimate gameplay.

Friday, April 16

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

The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark [Spooky Doorway] (Nindie Choice!) -
The classic point-and-click adventure Renaissance is really quite a thing to witness, and it is quirky and funny titles that The Darkside Detective that help not just to keep that spirit alive by existing, but by being a genuinely good time as well. While the overall length of time you’ll be playing may not be as extensive as in some titles, there’s something satisfying about the broken out 6 case structure… sort of breaking things down into 6 satisfying bites of maybe an hour and change or less (depending on your process and whether you savor every item’s descriptions) depending. If you miss the silly adventures of yesteryear or simply would like a good laugh (or 10) this is an easy title to recommend.

Knight Squad 2 [Chainsawesome Games] - The original Knight Squad was a pleasant surprise, delivering pretty easy-to-grasp local multiplayer game that worked well whether people worked in teams or went free-for-all across a variety of modes. Matching that with a pretty reasonable price and it was a refreshing mix of action and some strategy that stood apart from many of its contemporaries. Enter the sequel, which refines pretty well everything just a bit, adding some spit, polish, and new options… but for people who already have the original it’s not clear there’s quite enough here to warrant picking it up. So it’s an odd situation. There’s no doubt this is an improved version of the original, so it’s the version to pick up given the choice, but it may not have big enough changes to warrant a purchase from fans of the original.

Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition [Chibig] - There’s a challenge in the indie space, since top-quality and deep titles don’t typically carry a premium price, so even games that are more modestly priced don’t get much of a shield when it comes to quality and polish. While Deiland is certainly pleasant and cute enough, having you take care of and modestly develop your little planetoid by planting and cultivating crops, attending to quests, and dealing with occasional threats. The problem is simply that with so many incredible life sims already on the Switch there’s ultimately little here to make a case for it standing out as it lacks in the depth, variety, and even personality of many of its peers. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap fix it may do, just keep your expectations in check.

Stitchy in Tooki Trouble [Polygoat] - It’s always great to see colorful and pretty family-friendly fare appear on the Switch, and in those regards Stitchy in Tooki Trouble fits the bill pretty well. With large characters and a general look that scales nicely down into handheld mode even it works pretty well on a high level. Where it struggles a bit is with originality and variety, sticking mostly to the classic formula and not doing much to really flex in any way. That said, for younger or less seasoned gamers who aren’t quite so jaded it may not seem as generic and the somewhat slower general pace of play and movement might work out nicely, so if your target is accessibility it may be a great match.

Godstrike [Freedom Games] - Billed as a tough-as-nails boss rush shooter essentially, that description is absolutely accurate. The problem, to me, is that even in the "Tutorial" while you're trying to get an understanding of what's going on the game is determined to destroy you with enthusiasm. This approach of "all stick and no carrot" might have an appeal to a subset of the audience but mixed with the limited power-ups that also then chip away from your time (once you run out of time any hit means it’s game over), not even yet understanding the big picture, it’s a perplexing choice. Mix that with the shooting action and visuals actually being a bit on the dull side (just designed to be hard, but not exciting) aside from the need to conquer something hard for its own sake this is a tough sell as there are many more rewarding and still super-tough shooters out there on the system already.

Wednesday, April 14

Mini Reviews: April 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Rain on Your Parade [Unbound Creations] (Nindie Choice!) -
While most people spend so much of their lives consciously trying to be kind and courteous with others that isn’t to say they can’t have a mean streak in them. Since even in games I tend to stay the noble course I do personally enjoy those that take being nice off the table… requiring that you unleash your inner jerk that has been so starved for air. Much like Untitled Goose Game before it, Rain on Your Parade is all about letting you not only let your asshole flag fly but also to typically revel in it. Let yourself cackle as you send people running, ruin special events, and generally run amok… it’s liberating. What helps elevate it further is simple creativity and variety in the scenarios and what you’ll need to try to do, keeping the experience from being one note. There are some cases where mechanically working out the nuance of what you need to do and how can be frustrating at first, but for the most part you’ll be too busy enjoying the chaos of it all to be bothered if you’ve got virtual karma points you’ve been saving up to burn all at once.

Astro Aqua Kitty [Tikipod Limited] (Nindie Choice!) - I like it when games manage to surprise me a little bit, especially when they’re in genres where I feel like I’ve seen just about everything. Even as much as I love retro-styled shooters, and have played a ton of them, there’s just something about Astro Aqua Kitty that feels a bit different. With large spaces and multi-step missions, there’s almost an Adventure-like quality to play here, though make no mistake you’ll need to do plenty of shooting and in spots it can get challenging. Managing your upgrades and perks is essential as you progress, and finding the right synergy of weapons that don’t have you too quickly running on empty with your power can be tricky but the freedom of choice you have is quite welcome and not typical for the genre. Leveraging plenty of cute kitty-ness and some very classic arcade shooting, Astro Aqua Kitty delivers a surprisingly satisfying experience for a budget-friendly offering. 

Cannon Brawl [Temple Gates Games] - While there’s no doubt that people will be quick to see Cannon Brawl sharing some gameplay similarities with the Worms series I’ll go even older school and say that initially it reminded me greatly of the vintage Scorched Earth (though everyone I knew just called it Scorch). Lobbing attacks at each other of various degrees of lethality, trying to perfect that feel of power and angle to make a precision shot, and plenty of swearing at your friends when they manage to pull it off quicker than you do. The thing is, there’s more here than either of those series as, in my mind, Brawl throws in an element more akin to tower defense where strategy demands more work from you, establishing your area of control, trying to gather and protect resources, and needing to constantly shift your concerns as you must mind your defenses as much, if not more, as you attacks. While staying power may be an issue with keeping you interested I’ll at least credit the effort in coming up with some smart revisions to a well-worn formula.

Gravity Heroes [PQube] - With so many shooters of all kinds on the Switch it takes some effort to set yourself apart. To its credit, Gravity Heroes does manage to do this, throwing the element of gravity (in 4 directions, mind you) into the mix which gives it an almost puzzle-like element at times. In practice though, I’m not as positive it makes for a highly-compelling experience. Tackling it solo just ended up feeling a bit slow and bland, and while throwing some friends into the mix with multiplayer did add some interest, the feeling of it all coming together never quite hit. If you’re looking for something different it’s worth a try, but I worry the shooting lacks a very satisfying feel and hook so the experience suffers with that quite a bit.

Poison Control [Nippon Ichi Software] - It’s wild how such oddball and quirky titles continue to come from Eastern developers, and if you’re willing to lean into the experience they can be a bit of unexpected fun. That’s definitely the case for Poison Control, whose story I don’t think I could begin to have the space to try to explain apart from it being unusual. That pairs well with the gameplay, which sort of mixes a rudimentary third-person shooter with an action puzzle game. Though the game’s dialogue and stories revolving around the various hells you’ll be looking to clear continue to pull you along and are interesting, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the gameplay, which never really takes off or has its parts feel particularly integrated with one another. If you’re into this style it may be fun, but otherwise you may find it falls a bit flat the further you go.

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.