Wednesday, June 30

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

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 [Vicarious Visions] (AAA Choice!) -
When you play remasters or faithful remakes of games you considered classic back in the day there’s always an element of worry. So many titles and their success are a product of their time but don’t necessarily hold up well on a modern console due to changes in sensibilities or tastes. Whatever concern I had for whether the original 2 Tony Hawk titles would still shine was quickly shattered though, and these new enhanced versions have allowed me to reconnect to a truly addictive loop of challenges and fun that so many developers since have been unable to even come close to touching. It isn’t just the tricks, it isn’t just the attitude, and it isn’t just some sort of flashiness that grabs you but fades as you settle in. The stage layout in these titles is absolutely superb, and each newly-unlocked locale will challenge you to explore, work out routes, and then sometimes painfully work to execute in order to grab every carefully-placed object in the stage. Nothing is by accident, everything is by painstaking design. Truly, if you were a fan back in the day you won’t be disappointed, and if you’ve never partaken of the experience before this is a terrific opportunity to become acquainted with two of the absolute best sports titles ever made.

Destroy All Humans [Black Forest Games] - This is one of those titles from the XBox generation that I’ve always heard talked about with some reverence but had never previously had a chance to partake in. Undeniably weird, and consisting of a pretty fair variety of tasks from mind control, to some stealth, to all-out blowing stuff up and more I was also pleasantly surprised with how it remained pretty fresh throughout for the most part… though perhaps its pacing and reliance on connective cut-scenes that each need to load feels pretty dated as well. In terms of looks and performance I’d say it’s pretty consistent with many refreshed updates from previous generations, with everything having a certain unrefined look and some performance quirks at times that typically run a bit more pronounced when playing in handheld mode. All in all I can understand why people enjoyed Destroy All Humans in its original outing, and putting myself into the time when it was released I can even see how it would have fared well among its brethren, if nothing else by just being an atypical animal in the herd. If you’re feeling nostalgic and would like to recapture some of that fun it will likely deliver the goods, but if you don’t have that connection it’s up in the air for a recommendation… and would really depend on whether your love for games that feel off-center and different with abundant humor is more important than more compelling and consistent action and excitement.

Worms Rumble [Team17] - Having been a follower and fan of the Worms series since it’s humble beginnings I’ve come to expect every title to have the franchise’s well-known humor and strategy. With Rumble the folks at Team17 have made some changes... and I’d imagine they’ll be the source of some controversy for some but a positive step for others. Moving to a more active multiplayer platform shooter, complete with cross-platform (a crucial move to give its online-only nature a chance) support, the crazy guns and occasional comments as you play are both there but the feel of play is obviously radically different. Whether or not people will enjoy this style will vary from person to person but rather than dwell on my middling feelings over the result (the weapons are pretty unbalanced, the learning curve to get better while people already in the groove blow you away is a challenge, and the scale of things doesn’t make this a great handheld play candidate) I will state one major concern: Trying to fight stagnation and always releasing the same thing is a worthwhile battle, no doubt, just this move has taken the Worms franchise from a space it pretty well singularly owned to one chock full of competition. Granted, it has much more style and polish than the majority of its new competitors, but I also think the move diminishes what always made the series unique.

Onirike [DevilishGames] - Games like this are always a bit of a struggle to be fair to, ones that are extremely accessible to people of all skills and ages due to their overall simplicity. On the one hand the eShop can use these to help broaden the appeal of the system to budding or more casual gamers, but on the other they don’t tend to aim very high and can thus be pretty repetitive and dull. Certainly the art style and story are unique, and over the course of your adventure you’ll at least learn a few skills to try to help spice things up, but at the end of the day this is a friendly but pretty ho-hum platformer with a pleasant story and unusual characters but not a whole lot to keep things interesting.

Just Die Already [DoubleMoose Games] - Whether you call them weirdo physics games, chaos sandboxes, or just a crazy time, games in the vein of the somewhat infamous Goat Simulator and its ilk are kind of hard to put a finger on. Deliberately sloppy and silly, the entertainment value you can derive from them will tend to vary pretty wildly, but that isn’t to say you can’t clearly judge some better than others. In principle, Just Die Already has a good core idea… putting senior citizens into the place of the protagonists to let them wreak Early Bird havok on the streets. In execution in this specific case though? Eh, it has its moments but too often it feels like the burden of making it more fun is put on the player without as many terrifically ripe opportunities for silliness just waiting for you to find when compared to its competition in the eShop. Sure, there are some amusing cheap shots and zingers here but it wears thin a bit quicker than the average for the genre so you’ll need to consider it carefully even if you’re normally a fan.

Friday, June 25

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

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights [Live Wire] (Nindie Choice!) -
When you’ve played enough indie titles over time it’s hard not to get a bit cynical when you see certain elements in games. For whatever reason the more hand-drawn black and white style that Ender Lilies uses is one that I’ve been burned on before so I approached it with some hesitation. I’m happy to say that it pretty quickly shattered my concerns with well-worn platforming and slashing, some smart level design, and a story that caught my attention a bit more than usual. Throw in progression with new weapon choices, skills, and growth and it’s much more than a pretty face. Even the games enemy bosses, which often can end up feeling generic or unfair or flawed in some way and bring games like this down feel well-designed and tough but beatable, giving the game a great middle-of-the-road difficulty rather than trending in the direction many have chosen of late of shooting for a “Souls-like” experience by setting up a damage sponge with lackluster design and calling it a day. Mixing together a unique and generally gorgeous art style, classic Metroidvania play, and a story that manages to at least be a bit of a surprise, Ender Lilies arrived on the Switch without much fanfare to announce it, but leaves you with a memorable experience.

Epistory: Typing Chronicles [Fishing Cactus] (Nindie Choice!) - Forgive me, but I’m an absolute sucker for games that do things differently… in fact, I tend to seek them out. One of the least represented styles of games out there is the typing game genre. With the only truly memorable title I can recall in the space being Typing of the Dead (which needs to be on Switch, BTW), it’s simply a rarity out there. So when something like Epistory comes along with that style of play as the hook and then pairs it with a unique art style and a very pleasant fantasy story it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll be smitten.So, yeah, making sure you have the proper setup to play this could be a challenge. You’ll need to hook up a keyboard via the USB port in your dock and then, depending on the length of your cord and how your Switch is situated, there may be some challenges. If you can overcome that though, what awaits is just a taste of something different, and if you’re not pretty nimble typing you may find it’s a bit too tough for you when things get more intense. What strikes me as a bit odd is a criticism that the more you play the more many enemies and words will begin to repeat themselves… as if this isn’t a reality in all games of all types, and for some of the trickier things in the game’s vocabulary you’ll be wishing the well wasn’t quite so deep since things like more scientific terms you’re less likely to know on sight so they can be a challenge. For me the game is chock full of enchantment and is simply a breath of fresh air, so if you’re able to manage a way to get it set up in a way that playing it is viable I’m happy to recommend it.

Loopindex [Ratalaika Games] - Combining a few different pretty stock puzzler styles into one I’ll at least give Loopindex credit for not being completely basic. In the game you’ll alternate control over two robots, and your objective is to get them safely to the elevator to the next level. To do so you’ll need to typically do some box pushing, activate buttons, carefully send them into zones where they’ll be controlled by arrows on the floor that you’ll need to control with your other robot, and a few other variations. None of it is a revolution but, to its credit, the familiar elements it stacks on top of one another do make for a more engaging experience than the average. As long as you’re simply down for a solid budget puzzler that will keep you occupied and not bored for a while this will generally satisfy.

BeeFense BeeMastered [ByteRockers' Games] - Since tower defense games are represented quite well on the Switch at this point, both in terms of quantity and quality, breaking into the space to make a splash can be a challenge. BeeFense’s plan of attack seems mostly to endear itself with a bit of cuteness with its bees versus hornets story. To a degree I suppose that works, the characters look nice and the goofy narrative puts in more effort than pretty much any of its competition in the space. Outside of that though, getting into the gameplay, it’s a mixed bag. If you’re playing with touch controls I’d say the game’s stock rises a bit, but if you’ll be playing it with a controller it takes a hit due to a comparatively unintuitive and clunky scheme for selecting and then controlling your drones. For the most part the units and upgrading them is in-line with what’s typical for the genre, though the wrinkle of needing to man your defenses with a unit is more unusual and adds a layer of complexity that’s nice. Just among its peers in the genre space for me BeeFense has a tendency to zig when it feels like it should have zagged, making for a decent enough game but failing to establish itself higher on the food chain in the eShop.

Farm For Your Life [Secret Item Games] - Having played a ton of farming sims over time I will give FFYL credit for one thing, I don’t believe that I’ve ever played one that included zombies. Unfortunately, the positive distinctions from that point on, especially when you contrast it with its competition, thin out pretty quickly. What’s a bit flabbergasting is that so many of the problems I had with the title are so small or fundamental and simply feel like sloppy problems to have. Possibly the most irksome of the bunch is simply when you initiate an action, where it will take place. Is it the square you think you’re on, or the one you’re facing? Since there’s not a highlight or guide to help clue you in much of the time this feels a bit random, and when you’re dealing with a genre where people are setting up rows of crops or are trying to be precise in some way this is maddening. The second major issue is with bugs or inconsistencies, and though many were smaller I kept running into them. Messages or highlights that wouldn’t go away, quirks in menus, text that in places is simply too small (playing in handheld mode likely won’t be viable with some of the text the way it is displayed in the game). It’s just a situation where the lack of polish and care really made it hard to focus on anything but the culmination of problems, and since this genre runs pretty deep with excellence in the eShop the game’s novelty isn’t enough to warrant your time in this state.

Thursday, June 24

Mini Reviews: June 24th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

LEGO Builder’s Journey [Light Brick] (Nindie Choice!) -
The first thought people tend to have with a LEGO title is an action-oriented romp you can casually enjoy on your own or, even better, with a friend. Builder’s Journey isn’t in that same vein though, instead taking a very different path to provide a slower and more contemplative puzzle experience that, of course, centers on the creative use of LEGO pieces to get you through. What really made the greatest impression on me from the game though isn’t the smart use of the pieces in a very sensible context but instead the story that it tells. Without dialogue or narration of any kind the story of a parent and their child starting out on a journey together, with some sidetracks that separate them along the way, is what pulled me in the most. Completing the puzzle on each screen would give me a taste of what happens next and that tended to be my biggest driver, though I absolutely appreciated the unique challenge of making use of the trademark pieces to solve problems brought. It isn’t without flaws, with running time and occasional issues where knowing what piece you want to put where can be encumbered by the camera not cooperating well topping the list, but on the whole I still found the experience very satisfying. There’s just something special to me about the whole package of what this game offers, and given its highly accessible nature for gamers of all skill levels it’s easy to recommend… even if I wish the experience could have lasted a bit longer.

Cyber Hook [Blazing Stick] (Nindie Choice!) - Having originally checked it out at PAX East last year, Cyber Hook was a title I was pretty eagerly waiting to see in its final form. A neon-lit parkour title with a mix of running, jumping, some shooting, grappling, and a fair amount of crashing and burning it’s just a very different experience altogether. I’m happy to see that the final product does seem more polished and diverse in its level designs, though that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have an occasional rough edge you’ll encounter. The main thing I love about it is the almost Spider-Man like flow you’ll need to get into in order to sling yourself around the course. Now, getting to the point where you can execute that can take some work, execution is everything and jumping from your grapple line can be tricky to get the hang of pulling off consistently… but when it clicks it can be very satisfying. While the likes of speedrunners will, no doubt, hone their runs to perfection what I enjoy most is the improv of it all. Your plan will tend to go south quickly and often and the fun is in recovering and pulling it off anyway, in many ways reminding me of the same sort of thrill I got from the under-rated ClusterTruck. This won’t be a game that will work for everyone, but it’s different, challenging, plays well in quick bursts, and can be just as entertaining, if not more, when runs go wrong as when they go right.

Super Magbot [Astral Pixel] - With as many puzzle platformers as I’ve seen on the Switch it’s always cool to run across one that does things a bit differently, and there’s no doubt that Super Magbot manages that. Your right and left arms have polarities of red and blue and the layout of each level features panels of those same colors, the trick being to use your powers of attraction and propulsion to skillfully fling yourself around and make what are sometimes tough sequences work. It’s a cool idea, and for the most part everything is implemented well, but for me there’s just a hitch in it having a flow to the motions of it all, but perhaps I just never got fully into the zone. I could get the patterns down and execute them to make it through the level but I never got to the point where it felt like second nature somehow. If you’re looking for a unique challenge in the puzzle platform space it is recommended, just it may not click for everyone.

Cross The Moon [Patrick Rainville] - If you’re a fan of visual novels and vampires, but not necessarily of being given choices to make, Cross the Moon may pull you in. Set in a world where humans and vampires are at least making an attempt at co-existence, and set up to give you a sense of foreboding dread, it at least does a solid job of setting the stage for intrigue to keep you reading. From there it will be a matter of whether the handful of characters and their motivations and interactions are appealing to you. Myself, I tend to struggle when there’s really no opportunity for choice in how things proceed, but if you don’t mind just working through a story in digital form the setting and themes may suck you in.

Lambs on the Road: The Beginning [Flynn's Arcade] - This is one of those titles where I end up having mixed feelings but unfortunately most of it trends towards the negative in this case. I love the post-Apocalyptic setting, that always makes for something more dire, and there are some set piece moments that get a bit grisly within the confines of the more limited art style. The problem is just that the experience trends heavily towards clunky more often than not. It seems to be going for a style ala the likes of Prince of Persia or Out of This World but where those titles may have been frustrating in places you could feel much more polish. There’s a trial and error messiness to this that doesn’t always feel intuitive and it sort of pulls you out of the moment, undermining the tension and suspense. Throw in occasional deaths that feel dumb and frustrations over it not being clear that the game wants you to try to do and there are more satisfying games in the Apocalypse out there.

Tuesday, June 22

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

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 [Sega] (AAA Choice) -
While the games were delayed by the global pandemic, now that the summer games are coming (well, perhaps not given the situation in Japan, but stick with me) there must be an inevitable video game form of the events. Having been a fan of such compilations since waaay back in the olden days of playing the original Summer Games and all of its sequels on the Commodore 64 I always look forward to these, even if the results (even within the same collection) have a tendency to vary wildly. While this video game vision of the Summer Games in Tokyo may not be perfect by any means the first, and most vital, thing I’ll say is that my highly-competitive daughter and I had a yelling-and-laughter-filled super long play session running everything through the paces.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this iteration of an event compilation is its ambition with regards to the breadth of events, many of which I’m not sure have been featured in such a collection before. While staples like track and field events or swimming are present, newer and more exotic events like rock climbing, BMX racing, and even rugby are also present. There’s a lot of game here, and given the differences in events there’s also plenty to attempt to master, though in some cases a healthy dose of luck can help… but this is also consistent with the genre.

My first disappointment with the game is that you can’t enjoy it with 4 players locally, you’ll only be able to take on a friend. I’d like to think this could be patched, but I wouldn’t count on it. Local play for multiple devices (assuming multiple copies) and online play are supported, but I’d hoped to get everyone around the TV enjoying it. The only other major thing I’d say that stood out as troublesome would be the generally wonky behavior of your AI teammates and general implementation strategy in team-based events. Granted, yelling about this tends to add to the fun in some regards, but it can be super frustrating how you can’t manually switch players and are left to the unusual whims of the game, deciding who should be your active defender in particular. Some elements like batting in baseball I would consider over-complicated to the point they were a struggle to enjoy, but here’s to hoping some observations in data coming back about how games are played could compel them to come up with a less onerous scheme. A last fleeting gripe would be the lack of an option to simply tackle all events in one massive run, but maybe that’s just something I was looking for.

Moving on to the good, on a general level there’s a lot to have fun with here, even if that can sometimes be tinged with frustration… but when playing with a friend this again can work out as comedic fodder for sure. As a whole the track and field and swimming events, being the most traditional, are also the best executed in terms of the controls and I was surprised at the number of small control tweaks that are in place for timing or execution to eke out slightly better times than mere quick button mashing. Even events that aren’t as well-implemented at least have a tendency to have similar control schemes, making simply getting used to the specifics of the event crucial but not necessarily needing to reinvent the wheel for everything either. For people who enjoy player customization it is supported, though you’ll need to keep your overall expectations in check. The ability to customize your outfit per event is an entertaining feature, and mismatches of equipment to the sport being played can at least be fun for a little bit.

All in all, while it is by no means perfect, this summer games collection should be accessible and reasonably fun to people of all ages and skill levels. A combination of mashing, some technique, luck, and certainly some skillful strategy is required to be successful and particularly if you’re able to enjoy the experience locally with a friend it can be quite entertaining (cue up the tennis matches, my family decided that the sound of the shoes on the court sounded a bit too much like a bodily function and from there things devolved quickly every time we played it). If you’re going to go it solo there is support for online competitions but even though it’s implemented well enough we’ve seen the spotty track record of games maintaining a community past a few weeks from launch so I wouldn’t rest my hopes on that being its savior. While perhaps Mario Vs Sonic may have more star power and perks of its own going for it I’d say this collection has its own strengths as well with a surprisingly diverse roster of events that are fun to explore and try to get better at.

Mushihimesama [Cave] (Nindie Choice!) - While there are certainly more modern takes on bullet hell shmups from the past it’s always interesting to see an OG classic come to the system and show people how it's done. While I hadn’t previously had the pleasure to play Mushihimesama its a title whose reputation preceeds it, and I’m inclined to agree with the accolades I’ve seen for it after spending some time with it. For the most part there aren’t overly complicated systems to learn or techniques to master, it’s purely a matter of being effective at dodging everything coming your way, maximizing your power-up opportunities, and blowing up everything in sight. As you’d hope or perhaps expect you’re also able to play it vertically so people with a FlipGrip or other means can moreso enjoy the experience as it was meant to be played in full, though I’ll note that without manually setting a zoom it still doesn’t utilize the full screen which was a bit of a disappointing detail. For people who aren’t full-blown fans of the genre it will probably seem insanely tough, but for people with a deep-seated muscle memory for dodging it’s a terrific old-school taste of insanity.

Strange Brigade [Rebellion] (Nindie Choice!) - Having played through the full campaign of Strange Brigade with my daughter on PC, and having a terrific time with it, I was overjoyed to see this announced for Switch. While there’s no doubt that graphically things have been pulled back a bit from my top-notch graphics card I was impressed with the look and performance of the Switch version… though as always portably the sacrifices are a bit more pronounced. Whether solo or with others online or locally you’ll be tackling some old-school mummified enemies of various kinds, looking for secrets, working out puzzles, and generally being a badass in the classic Indiana Jones-esque sort of manner. While this is a shooter without a doubt the pacing is much slower than you’d normally find, with a focus on accuracy, making use of a wide variety of traps that are pretty well everywhere, and your occasional special skill that can get you out of a jam. On top of the action a highlight for me is the running commentary from the classically styled narrator who reinforces the older period things are taking place in and injecting all sorts of funny commentary on different going on throughout. If you’re looking for a shooter that’s simply in a class of its own I’d definitely recommend joining up with the Strange Brigade.

7 Years From Now [hiraya-space] - If you’ve followed my reviews for any particular amount of time you’ll know that I don’t tend to be much of a fan of linear visual novels, even when they may tell a reasonably good story. In the case of 7 Years From Now I think it’s the voxel art style that makes it even more problematic than usual though, as it makes it tougher to make a connection with the characters and even the environment when there are so few details to latch onto. That said, the mystery of your character’s past and this promise he made nearly 7 years ago that he only partially remembers details about makes for a decent hook at least. I’d recommend getting a taste of the style and story before making a decision on whether this seems to be a good match for your tastes even if you aren’t as much of a snob about stories being told where you have no agency on a dedicated gaming system versus something like your mobile phone or tablet.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX [Jankenteam] - Oh my do these retro reduxes give me mixed feelings. First, there’s no mistaking that the hand drawn animated look of the game is wonderful and does a fabulous job of making the classic Sega Master System game look like it belongs on a modern system. Of course you’ll have the option to switch between the classic look and the new, depending on your tastes, and this sort of feature is always a bit fascinating as you ponder over what the process looks like to reskin such an old game so thoroughly. Unfortunately, while perhaps fans of the original game may appreciate the diligence in this modern redux completely buying into the original, warts and all, as someone who wasn’t a fan of it back in the day there’s no mistaking that the gameplay is troublesome at best. Alex, for all of his punching and sometimes powered-up fury, unfortunately has a horrible glass jaw and it feels like he dies if he’s even sneezed on. Mix this with some rules that you’ll simply need to accept for how things work in general, and while I’ll credit the series with absolutely having its own take on how to handle a platform action game I’m not a fan. The result is a game I felt more like I was meant to endure than enjoy and I’d warn you to be careful when considering this title unless you’re a massive fan of the original. Even then you may still be disappointed on your return to it.

Friday, June 18

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

Metal Unit [Neowiz] -
Out of the gate, while perhaps holding me back from the action a tad too long, I’ll at least give Metal Unit credit for going all in on trying to get its story going. It’s undoubtedly on the tropey side and familiar on a high level, but I’ll admit that it helped suck me in. In the early stages that’s a bit of a help as well, since until you get a bit deeper into the game you’re in the growth stages of your power and the action tends towards being more generic. The good news is that if you give it some time, while the action doesn’t necessarily become transcendent by any means it does get more varied and interesting since you’re really able to customize your overall build to your liking. Now, while the weapon and skill variety are helpful to pull the game above some of its competition, that isn’t to say it approaches the games in the space that have a much better and more intense flow. Mechanically it just plays a bit too set and simple, and perhaps the enemies are on the simplistic side, but while Metal Unit offers a good retro challenge it fails to carve out a space for itself in parallel with its more polished contemporaries.

Wave Break [Funktronic Labs] - As a fan of Wave Race, the Tony Hawk series, and multiplayer shooting, in theory all of the building blocks going into Wave Break should make it a sort of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of a hybrid game for me. There’s no doubt it has the attitude, the style, and the ambition to break out as a new bit of crazy fun but a few hours in I just couldn’t generate much enthusiasm for the end product unfortunately. In a variety of ways I think its biggest problem is plain trying to do too much and be too much. When you try to tackle this many gameplay elements, you really need to make sure none of them hold you back or you’ll be judged by your weakest link. The problem is I’m not sure anything really connects fully. The water is handled pretty poorly, almost like it was put in place to justify the very floaty feel to everything. Just with general controls that can be troublesome but when trick execution is also pretty sloppy the problem compounds itself. For me the multiplayer aspect is really a mystery as it’s the weakest and most unusual element that simply fits into the big picture poorly. That adding it also added a need for currency and a shop for buying things makes it feel even more like a boondoggle. The result has some potential for fun if you’re willing to be patient with it but there’s no mistaking the fact that it has some serious flaws in its DNA.

Trenga Unlimited [Flux Games] - When I first saw Trenga Unlimited I got a sort of old school Tetrisphere vibe, though unfortunately that may have been setting me up for some disappointment for sure. With pretty unique mechanics, using a variety of pieces that you’ll need to place on a 3D rotating structure to fill in gaps, I’ll at least give it credit for aiming to do its own thing. Where it falls down a bit is that the controls aren’t very friendly to getting into the flow, always feeling just a bit stilted and just a bit awkward even a ways in. Playing with friends is a nice option, and it’s at least some fun for a little bit, but time is the game’s other enemy as everything feels just a bit too basic in the end. Since there aren’t many special blocks in the game, and even the few included don’t have a great interactive fun factor when you drop them on your enemies, there’s not a personal “I got you” factor to help drive up the excitement. Instead, it just ends up feeling like an exercise in plain survival, which isn’t quite as satisfying. With a bit more diversity and polish the base formula could work, but as is there doesn’t seem to be quite enough ambition for Trenga to break out as another puzzle action franchise.

Sun Wukong Vs Robot [Ratalaika Games] - Throwback budget action platformers are pretty well a dime a dozen on Switch, and of relatively uniform decent quality, so clearly differentiating yourself in the space is a challenge. I suppose in terms of visual style Sun Wukong is at least a bit different, with an old-school pixel look but with smaller characters and details on the screen than would be typical. The problem is just the pretty limited scope of what you’re able to do, which offers little in the way of anything original or exciting and that honestly there were numerous times where I struggled to be sure which flat areas were platforms I could stand on and which were just aesthetics. If its look appeals to you, there’s some game to enjoy for the budget, but it’s hardly a stand out on the system.

Together [The Dust] - Loading up Together, aside from there being an obvious provision for cooperative play I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Unfortunately, having played it both solo and a bit with a friend I can’t say that it inspires a sense of a lasting impression. While it certainly likes to make use of color quite a bit visually the gameplay itself is quite bland, featuring a somewhat mushy jump and generally weak melee attack action. You’ll meander through levels, defeating enemies, picking up assorted power-ups, hopefully discovering a variety of hidden areas, and then truthfully you’ll move on to something else. As a budget offering expectations can’t be incredibly high but there’s just not a lot here to get excited about.

Monday, June 14

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

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection [Team Ninja] (AAA Choice!) -
Having been a fan of the Ninja Gaiden series in its vintage incarnations I’d always heard good things about the modern series but hadn’t ever had the pleasure. With them now available on the Switch I’m happy to say that, for the most part, they live up to the hype and deliver an increasingly intense experience that performs reasonably well… though if you’re without the benefit of a Pro Controller or playing it handheld I wouldn’t consider it as ideal for enjoyment without some frustration. Starting with Sigma the core style of the series gets established and though, at times, I found the level design to be a bit wonky there’s no doubt that the action delivers. Stepping up the heat with the sequel, everything feels like it got an upgrade with more refined play, weapons that feel even more fun to use, and quite a bit more craziness that helps propel it to what I’d consider the best title in the trilogy. While the third title, Razor’s Edge, absolutely goes all in on making everything even more intense I’d say it often falls into the trap of everything getting muddled and the action difficult to follow. The main culprit is the camera, which in all 3 titles can sometimes really be your enemy, but with the on-screen chaos that Razor’s Edge thrives on the problem is more pronounced. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of crazy ninja hacking and slashing it’ll be hard not to have a smile on your face working your way through this collection… just preferably in docked mode with something a bit more robust than the stock JoyCon, which struggles with this sort of intense play.


Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town [imaginarylab] (Nindie Choice!) - The point-and-click adventure has been around since roughly forever and the sort of renaissance the genre has enjoyed over the past few years, care of indie developers, has thoroughly proven it can still have legs. Willy Morgan is a title created in the image of the old LucasArts classics, featuring a fair amount of creativity, quirk, and entertaining dialogue, but I also found it to be well-executed. The challenge, more often than not, in these games is to make puzzles unique without also making them a bit inscrutable. While opinions could vary I’d say that among its brethren I found the problems that needed solving here to be pretty smart and, for the most part, sensible… something that can be hard to say when you spend a fair amount of time hitting strategy guides to make sense of things in many other adventures. Throw in a clean and somewhat unique animation style, deviating from the classic pixel-art look, and adventure fans should consider adding Bone Town to their travel itinerary.

Piczle Cells [Rainy Frog] - It has been interesting to watch how the various players in the puzzle game making space have differentiated themselves. Whether the focus has been on simplicity, polish, or some other intangible quality even titles that essentially play the same way have been able to have a different feel to them. I’ve been a fan of the typical Piczle approach, typically juicing things up with a splash of color and quirk with its Professor and other assorted characters. Cells has at least pieces of the formula in place, and there’s no doubt that the style of combining globs that form bigger globs brings a degree of challenge in a style they haven’t tackled yet, though it’s not an unfamiliar puzzle type either. There’s unfortunately just something about it that feels more sterile and lacking in personality than their typical offering, and perhaps there’s just not a great deal of opportunity to inject it here. Cells will provide a reasonable degree of head scratching if that’s what you’re seeking, it’s just lacking in the flair I typically associate with the franchise.

Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunt [Digital Dreams] - Oh, the mixed feelings when I saw this title. As a life-long fan of dinosaurs the potential for fun screamed out at me, undoubtedly boosted a bit by the suggestive “box art” for the game featuring you standing close to the head of a hulking T-Rex. That said, while I can understand how people can enjoy the challenge of hunting, I’ve never quite found the experience to be terribly thrilling in video game form. Carnivores, for me, is misnamed since in the early going you won’t be hunting apex or even less formidable predators, you’ll instead be working to pick off their herbivorous brethren, and starting out it’s very slow going at that. Try to avoid being downwind, work to get a decent spot after spotting a dino in your tracker, work to line up a shot, and hope you connect and take it down. The thing is, even as hunting simulators go, there’s a sterility to the environment you’re in that fails to immerse you and periodic quirks and bugs further pull you out of “the hunt” with some regularity. The result makes it tough to pull out satisfaction, though at least as you get further improved gear and more ambitious targets at least liven things up a bit. If you’re looking to get more impressive trophies on your virtual hunting lodge this may work for you, but if you’re just looking to capture the sort of excitement the game’s name and art imply you’ll find it lacking.

Hentai Vs. Evil [Axyos Games] - Hoo boy, where to begin with this bit of anime gal cheesecake mixed with what’s ultimately highly generic play. Your goal here is really to stumble through and collect more stuff for your “visual stimulation” but since there are only two additional gals and a handful of new outfits it isn’t much. To unlock said content you’ll need to brave the game’s “ambitious” 2 modes which play almost completely alike in one of 3 pretty generically-themed environments shooting at brainless swarming monsters until you die… then go out again. In theory, the highlight of the game is the ability to make your character run around topless but the joke’s a bit on you if that’s your bag. Since you play in a behind-the-back third person perspective, unless you use the game’s photo mode you wouldn’t be looking at any of it to begin with. Calling this a cynical attempt to string together a bare minimum of listless and unbalanced gameplay then wrap it up in the ability to see virtual boobs, but only sometimes, may seem harsh… yet is accurate.

Monday, June 7

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

Overboard! [inkle] (Nindie Choice!) -
While I typically look to games to provide some action and excitement there are sometimes games that come from less hardcore roots that can still be very entertaining. I consider Overboard to be on that list, dropping you off into a story right after the point your character has decided to throw her husband to his death off the side of a cruise ship with your goal being to somehow get away with it. Working as a mystery somewhat in reverse you’ll definitely need to do some research by talking to a variety of characters to suss out opportunities to blur some lines and throw up some smoke but it’s tricky, and it’s going to take you a number of runs to try to work out a viable path for success. What really makes it work is whip smart writing, in particular for your witty main character who has some great observations and choices that certainly just get her into even more trouble with the hopes of somehow using those actions to your advantage in the end. This may be one of my favorite interactive narratives I’ve played on the system.

Stonefly [Flight School Studio] - Over my time playing games on the Switch I’ve become a sort of connoisseur of weird games, enjoying the unexpected journeys they tend to take you on. There’s no doubt Stonefly falls into this category with its story told in a scaled-down world of people piloting bug mechs in the trees in search of a living and perhaps fortunes as well. Where the game will likely either live or die for most people will be with its control mechanics, which there’s no getting around the fact that they’re unusual and initially quite umbersome. The good news is that if you give them a chance and a little time they do grow on you to the point that you’ll get a rhythm down with combat, which typically consists of stunning your enemies and then working to push them off the edge. Slowly maintaining and upgrading your mech you’ll become a bit more formidable and versatile, and the experience of navigating your way through the foliage is absolutely different and refreshing. If you’re willing to give it a chance and show some patience it’s a fresh and enjoyable experience, just be warned that it is by no means perfect.

Donuts'n'Justice [FobTi interactive] - Ah, there’s just something fun about a crazy shooting arcade throwback, and while saying DnJ gave me a few Narc flashbacks in some respects (don’t get too excited)… this doesn’t get to those heights but it has some common DNA at least. The goal is pretty simple: survive while blowing away bad guys who’ll come from either direction, picking up a variety of power-ups, and try really hard not to accidentally gun down civilians. It’s actually reasonably tough, reminding me a bit of classic quarter-pumpers, which I’d imagine will either be a plus or a minus depending on what sort of experience you’re looking for. It’s not art by any means but it’s at least a well-made arcade-style shooter that looks good enough for the price, offers up some challenge and fun whether you want to take it on solo or even with a friend, and may just have bad guys who look a bit like Guy Fieri throwing Molotov Cocktails at you if that makes you giggle.

Justin Danger [Digital Melody] - In the budget space I always like to see developers attempting to do a little more to help juice up the experience, something that I’ll at least give the people behind Justin Danger for attempting. Working up something that’s a mix of an endless runner in some ways with an adventurous feel somewhat reminiscent of the classic Pitfall it doesn’t qualify as a breakout hit by any means, but at least it has a little more personality in general. Where it falls down is its clear mobile roots that haven’t been sufficiently excised, making for a ton of progressive unlocks and other elements you may deal with in free-to-play or ad-laden titles but not so much when you’re paying even a modest sum for. If you don’t mind that aspect it works, but the mobile-esque grind rubbed me the wrong way pretty quickly.

Nature Matters [Digital Melody] - Decent budget puzzlers are pretty common on the Switch so any factor that can differentiate is a boon. In the case of Nature Matters the edge is the polished art style that can look quite beautiful as you rejuvenate the land while making sure not to box yourself in before touching everything. It’s a pretty simple setup, with mild revisions to the strategy as you go getting added, but it’s very much a casual puzzle experience that just happens to look pretty nice. Lending to its more tablet-based roots the touchscreen is probably the ideal way to play. While the controller is serviceable there’s a tendency for it to be a bit touchy so it is easy to overshoot how far you wanted to go on occasion, requiring you to reset. Not a massive issue, just something to keep in mind if you’re contemplating it.

Friday, June 4

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

Mighty Goose [Blastmode] (Nindie Choice!) -
As a classic arcade shooting fan the Metal Slug series has always had a place in my heart for its intensity, variety, and explosive fun. If you take that formula, throw in some modern bells and whistles like selectable upgrades and sidekicks for help, and then make the protagonist a honking hero you get Mighty Goose! Calling it a bit bonkers would be an understatement, as it manages to be silly, chaotic, challenging, and a lot of fun all at once. You can expect a variety of powerful weapons, vehicles that amp up your damage (and the fun), power-ups, and tough boss fights along the way as well as explosions everywhere most of the time. That does, at times, come at the cost of clarity, I’ll admit, as some of the battles fill the screen with so much chaos that staying alive can be a challenge, but there are patterns to pretty well everything and more often than not the key is keeping an eye out for health packs to grab when the time is right to keep yourself in the fight. It’s rare that games that look to emulate the classic Metal Slug series do it justice, but Mighty Goose has managed to do just that and is a honking good time to boot.

Sumire [GameTomo] (Nindie Choice!) - Though I love running and gunning and high-intensity games there’s no denying that games with a compelling and heart-felt story are capable of leaving a serious mark as well. Sumire, with you playing as a young girl who has recently lost her grandmother and is hoping to connect with her spirit, is one such compelling title. In her journey of only one day she’ll interact with a variety of characters and be given choices, most of which will carry a serious consequence in how things play out by day’s end so you’ll need to be mindful in how you choose. With terrific and colorful art, a great mix of the grounded real and the fantastic, and a meaningful story to tell, Sumire is a memorable experience story lovers should be sure to enjoy on Switch.

Sunblaze [Games From Earth] - While there’s no doubt that the likes of Celeste and Super Meat Boy tend to steal the spotlight when it comes to challenging platforming, some smaller titles have managed to make an impression as well. Sunblaze definitely falls into that category, not quite reaching the heights of challenge and polish those titles have but still throwing down a gauntlet of challenge that feels fair since the controls are pretty tight and responsive, and you’ll quickly be right back in the action whenever you die. It doesn’t offer much in the way of bells and whistles but the solid play is there and a periodic dose of Dad jokes also help give it a little bit of personality along the way.

Motif [YeTa Games] - Very simplistic budget games that come from the mobile space and are designed to use touch controls are sometimes tricky to evaluate fairly, often having working but wonky controls if you want to play the game in docked mode. The good news with Motif is that though its controls aren’t terribly complex, they do require a degree of nuance and sensitivity and thankfully the analog stick approximates the light precision of a touchscreen, helping to make this basic concept work well. The goal is to take a close look at a pattern and then arrange one or more basic pieces into position so that the replicated pattern made with that piece matches the example. At first since there aren’t really any instructions it took a moment to catch on but I was surprised that as it went along the degree of challenge never became substantial but that isn’t to say there wasn’t a sense of accomplishment working things out, particularly when you had to use more than one shape. It won’t take too long to finish and is very minimalist but the fact that it is just different gives it some appeal.

Dungeons of Clay [ShotX Studio] - There’s a difficulty in evaluating games that are budget-friendly that don’t play it safe but don’t quite get everything together. Dungeons of Clay at least looks different and tries to throw an element of unpredictability into otherwise more straightforward platform shooting play. The problem is that there’s a real clumsiness to everything from the aiming to just about any notable aspect of things. It’s certainly playable and different, but not admitting it’s quite rough around the edges would be deceptive.

Thursday, June 3

Mini Reviews: June 3rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Astalon: Tears of the Earth [LABS Works] (Nindie Choice!) -
I tend to have a love/hate relationship with retro throwback games of various kinds. Sure, I have fond memories of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras but I’d be a fool to claim that many of those titles couldn’t be improved upon when viewed through a modern lens and with current hardware. That said, when a developer manages to nail the “feel” of those games of the past without falling into all of the pitfalls true games from that era tend to have, it can be something pretty special. Managing your party of three heroes, each possessing their own style of attack, stats, and special abilities, you’ll explore some pretty large areas consisting of a variety of rooms connected in various ways. What’s also great is that every time you perish (which will happen, possibly a lot) you’ll be able to spend gems you collect in each run that you can then use to upgrade your characters or enable special abilities with. When you mix this all together the result is a retro title with both an authentic and modern feel in parallel, and a pretty great experience for people who appreciate a well-made throwback experience.

Winds of Change [Klace] - While interactive fiction doesn’t tend to suit my tastes most of the time there are instances where I can at least step back and acknowledge when something a bir more special comes along in the space. I’d say that’s the case for Winds of Change, a fantasy story set in a world of anthropomorphized wolves and centered on a conflict at a grand scale that, of course, your unwitting character quickly gets drawn right into the center of. While the production value and polish from the generally solid voice acting cast to the distinctive characters help add value it’s really the quality and depth of the writing and dialogue that help it stand out. With numerous key decisions that can be impactful more than one run may be in order if you really want to explore what all can happen, and the quality of the characters is really what helps make that notion appealing.

Sludge Life [Terri Vellmann & Doseone] - People familiar with my tastes from my many reviews are likely well aware of my love for more unusual fare, so with that in mind I found Sludge Life to be a bit of quirky fun. With a pretty basic focus of getting to all of the spots spread out around multiple areas tagged with your can of spray paint there’s not necessarily much depth in the gameplay, but the reward is definitely meeting and briefly interacting with a pretty wide variety of characters. On more than one occasion the dialogue got me to laugh, which isn’t always an easy thing to do with someone on the jaded side, but it’s the unpredictable nature of some conversations that spice things up. Not terribly complicated, or long, it’s a game mostly concerned with the experience and simply enjoying yourself, and sometimes it’s nice to play something a little off-center for kicks.

Mundaun [Hidden Fields] - Walking simulators that have horror elements are a bit of a mess on the Switch and while Mundaun has a far more interesting art style and general feel than many of the lesser examples of the genre on the system that isn’t to say it doesn’t have issues. The great hand-drawn black-and-white aesthetic fits the pretty empty and bleak space you’ll find yourself in, though the barrenness of the environments doesn’t always feel so stylistic as just lacking in detail. If you’re looking for jump scares and thrills you’ll also want to steer clear as this relies more on tension and a growing sense of dread than pop scares, so just be sure to have an idea of what to realistically expect in terms of play. The exploration and puzzles can be a bit obtuse and leave you meandering about wondering what to do next at times but on the whole the experience is surely a unique one, and that at least has some merit.

A Little Lily Princess [Hanako Games] - A Little Lily Princess is a bit of a different flavor from the typical visual novel I’ve checked out on the Switch, in this case being a bit of a period piece with you playing the part of a young lady trying to make her way in a girls boarding school. There’s a fair degree of decision-making, which is always nice, mostly consisting of either what activities you’ll participate in (which will boost certain stats, though not in a way that’s guaranteed for an element of randomness) or who you’ll spend time with. This will lead you down a few different paths to different endings with different characters. It may be a bit niche, but if the story sounds intriguing you should likely enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 2

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

Earth Defense Force: World Brothers [YUKE] (Nindie Choice!) -
While I’ve generally heard good things about the Earth Defense Force series, to date it’s one that I’ve never had the pleasure to check out. But I’ll tell you what, it pretty quickly and easily turned me into a fan. It’s all about giant bugs and kaiju-sized monsters, the end of the world, and blowing everything in sight up real good… and while perhaps that doesn’t make it terribly nuanced it sure can be a blast (quite literally). While I obviously can’t contrast it with previous entries or comment on how it has either evolved or stagnated in the greater series, viewed as a stand-alone title I’m impressed by the great voxel-based look which works perfectly for maximum destruction, the pretty wide variety of compatriots you’ll rescue along the way to continue to add more diversity into your squad, and the bonkers story that makes no attempt at all to let concepts like reality enter into the mix. Best yet, you can enjoy it with friends or even online, though as always I’ll throw in the caveat that online support for Switch games outside of the massive AAA titles tends to come and go in a hurry. All in all it’s a great and ridiculous distraction from all of the troubles you may have, allowing you to lock in, destroy everything you see, and embrace the controlled chaos of it all.

Pathway [Robotality] (Nindie Choice!) - Elevator pitch time: Set off on an adventure with a party of your choosing with a wide variety of skills. Every step of the way is filled with the potential for fortune or peril, with you sometimes being forced to make tough decisions about how to proceed with the hope it’s the right one. Whenever you’re thrown into combat it’ll be pretty solid (if a bit on the well-worn and generic side) tactical fare, with your needing to carefully manage your people, their cover, and supplies in order to survive. Oh, and Nazis! All in all while I wouldn’t say Pathway does anything that strikes me as revolutionary, I really dug the narrative elements, the diversity of the characters you can set out with (with quite a number to unlock), and the tough but fair challenge I typically faced. 

LOVE: A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories [Thalamus Digital Publishing Ltd] - Storytelling can take place in a wide variety of forms, and the breadth of games with a focus in that are on the Switch has been quite remarkable. LOVE has an interesting take, and not one that I think I’ve seen to date, with it mechanically being a puzzle game that allows you to manipulate a building a bit like a Rubik’s Cube to reveal vignettes of various people that tell some sort of story. The quality of them varies quite a bit, and not all of them really connected for me, but I will say that some were positively touching even if sometimes also tragic in some way. Unfortunately the puzzle aspect isn’t as strong, and if anything can be perplexing since there’s a lot of trial and error involved even in understanding what you’re supposed to be doing in places. You can figure it out but the needless frustration factor is a bit too high to make it an easy recommendation.

Fishing Fighters [FuRyu] - First of all I want to set the baseline, and that’s the fact that to date all fishing games I’ve played on the Switch have been pretty awful. There may be one I haven’t had the pleasure to review that’s good, and if so to that title I’m sorry, but really the mini games in the likes of Zelda games are often more engaging and fun mechanically than the efforts I’ve seen. That being in mind I’ll say that among the fishing titles I’ve played, Fishing Fighters is at least the best of the lot. However, I’d still say it isn’t without its problems beyond the presentation being relatively pleasant. The action as you try to land your catch is OK but honestly a bit of a bore as it can get overly drawn out at times and simply feel dull and a bit aggravating. Still, if you’re hard up for that flavor among the titles I’ve tried out it’s at least the best by a fair margin (and yes, that’s in indictment of how bad most have been).

CyberHive [Redblack Spade] - OK, so there are games that have an obvious broad appeal as well as those with more narrow niche-y target audiences and in the case of CyberHive I’m feeling the niche vibe. At the end of the day this is very much a tablet-style casual-ish strategy game with you allocating your personnel to keep your ship moving, collecting resources, and warding off threats. Oh, and all of your crew are dishy anime gals decked in bee-themed attire of various kinds. Yeah, if that sounds cool this one will be a match for you.

Tuesday, June 1

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

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground [Gasket Games] -
As turn-based tactical strategy games go on the Switch there’s no doubt that while Storm Ground benefits from the Warhammer license it still struggles in a number of areas. Possibly my biggest gripe is simply the glacial pace it feels like every turn moves at, and since so much of what happens in any given battle is repetitive that can be aggravating. In terms of production values the polished look and at least reasonably-good voice acting do try to help pump things up, as does the incorporation of some roguelike unpredictability, but too often the ground you’re treading throughout feels a bit too familiar nonetheless since no matter how exotic your units may look if they still function in very traditional ways the unique edge gets lost in the process. There are certainly worse strategy titles on the console but this fails to really get into the vicinity of the better genre standard bearers in the eShop.

Beautiful Desolation [THE BROTHERHOOD] - First glances at the pre-rendered backgrounds and plain look and feel of Beautiful Desolation brought a bit of a thrilling feeling to me as a classic PC gamer, making me hope for the likes of classic Fallout or Wasteland… but in this case it happens to be a point-and-click adventure so hopes were dashed but that’s still cool. Unfortunately, right out of the gate there’s just something that feels unpolished and discouraging with very little ramping up to get you comfortable with the game’s style and mechanics flying straight into some purely trial and error puzzles before you’ve even got your legs under you. Sadly it really doesn’t break through to any sense of greatness from there, though I’ll admit the story itself has some promise, but the voice acting and troubles with finding where you can walk or exits in the environment can be an unnecessary annoyance. If you have some patience I’m sure you can enjoy the adventure, but overall it just feels like it struggles with too many issues to be recommended more than half-heartedly.

Fate of the Pharaoh [Cateia Games] - A little casual strategy action isn’t always a bad thing, and if you like to peck out some commands to your workers to collect resources, build structures, and generally keep everyone happy Fate of the Pharaoh may be your jam. While probably a bit quicker to play using the touchscreen, the console controls also work well enough to keep your workers busy as you learn the ropes of civilization building one new building at a time. As you go, a careful balance of making sure you have the proper resources and gold coins is vital if you want to keep all of your bonuses but as a whole this is a decidedly casual experience, so you can feel free to take it at your own pace.

Blink: Rogues [Fox Dive Studio] - Cobbling a few ideas together that have shown up in other shooters on the Switch, Blink: Rogues at least seems to have some ambition going for it. You’ll need to be mindful of special enemy colors to be sure to hit them with the right weapons, you can face your ship either up or down in order to properly take on enemies, and you’ll also need to jump from the left of the screen to the right to avoid trouble and grab special items. All of that at least makes for an experience that isn’t generic, but unfortunately it’s also pretty dull and feels unrefined. You really don’t feel very powerful and the way waves come and go just doesn’t seem to have a well-designed flow you’ll see in the truly great shooters. As something different on a budget Rogues isn’t terrible, but with so many varied and terrific shooters on Switch this is low on the list of titles to recommend nonetheless.

Kontrakt [ShotX Studio] - The moment you start it up there’s not a single doubt that the people behind Kontrakt are fans of the highly-regarded and funky shooter Hotline Miami, but unfortunately that high bar also makes for a very tough act to follow. Granted, Kontrakt is more on the low-budget track, so perhaps you can expect for some lowering of expectations but even in some fundamental areas the play ends up being a bit wonky and lacking. For instance the smaller scale of the view you’re given and the overall look of the game can make busting through doors a challenge and there’s a very clumsy and inaccurate feel when you’re shooting at enemies that quickly gets frustrating. In many areas you can see the effort to replicate aspects of what made Hotline so great but in all of them there’s no mistaking the gap in the quality of the execution. As a budget also-ran perhaps you could have some fun with it but if you’ve played the best games in the space it’s tough to drop down in quality and not be a bit frustrated.