Friday, July 30

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

Unbound: Worlds Apart [Alien Pixel Studios] (Nindie Choice!) -
While they weren’t initially very well-represented on the Switch, in the past 2 years the Metroidvania genre has been thriving thanks to a wide variety of indie titles. With that in mind, doing things a little differently would likely be a good idea, and that’s where Unbound makes a case for its potential success, by leaning a bit in the opposite direction most titles choose. While exploration and rewards for persistence are building blocks all titles in the space should have, and that are represented well here, rather than placing an emphasis on combat as most games do within the space, Unbound leans into the puzzles instead. Through the creative use of portals and a variety of powers you’ll wield as the game moves on you’ll be able to navigate through some tough challenges that vary in style and difficulty, making for an experience that never is quite able to get dull and that will put you to the test in some cases to work through how to properly make your way through some intricate maze-like level design. While perhaps not as ideal for the action-oriented set I found the more cerebral approach in this case to be satisfyingly refreshing compared to the norm.

Eldest Souls [Fallen Flag Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - For me, Eldest Souls is a bit of a pleasant surprise. You see, whenever I see any game that’s tough and is in any way implied to be a bit like Dark Souls, my interest level immediately drops. I can respect games that are inherently meant to be hard and, done properly, a solid boss rush title can be exhilarating and maddening all at once. More often than not, though, I’ve found games in this category to be hard for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s over-complicated or shoddy controls, sluggish movement or simply enemies who feel like damage sponges who bring little to no fun to the table, I often find games in the space to be sloppy and tedious. Eldest Souls, however, pretty quickly got its hooks in me and made me pretty happy. The much larger bosses you face are absolutely intimidating, and you won’t likely have a very easy time dispatching them, but the elements are all in place where almost every time you walk away knowing your loss was on you and your lack of execution. Throw in plenty of opportunities to upgrade your hero on different paths to help the play better suit your style and this is a title worth boss rushing to if you like a challenge.

Ayo the Clown [Cloud M1] - While Nintendo has traditionally felt like it has cornered the market on cute and family-friendly fare other developers have, on occasion, come along and at least attempted to steal some of that thunder. With its very cutesy art style, clown main character, and a variety of appropriately-themed elements to match Ayo the Clown certainly captures the look of an all-ages platforming affair. The surprise may be that it’s perhaps a little tougher than you may expect, purely based on the aesthetics, but that isn’t to say less experienced gamers wouldn’t be able to work through things with a bit of persistence. Perhaps my biggest complaint may come down to “clown shoes” if I was looking to make an excuse, but there’s just a certain looseness to the precision in movement and the necessary placement when you try to stomp some enemies, resulting in what feels like it should have been a good hit making you take some damage. It may be a little nitpicky but, overall, outside of that and perhaps that some of the overall design feels a bit safer and more traditional instead of innovative and fun it’s minimally a solid platforming title, just not quite able to reach the high bar set by some of its more accomplished competition in the eShop.

Arcade Space Shooter 2 in 1 [QUByte Interactive] - With so much already out there in the eShop I would imagine making a good low-budget retro-styled shooter that manages to distinguish itself can be a challenge. With 2 games in one package Arcade Space Shooter is off to a good enough start, attempting to deliver some value through quantity. To their credit, each is loosely similar to classic arcade shooters like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but thankfully just for the base idea. In both cases these revised versions of the classics show some love and care to help them be a bit more interesting without losing sight of the basics that made them work. Beyond that though, I don’t think either would likely occupy the typical retro gamer’s obsession for more than a short while as they lack the personality or excitement that coerce you into spending just a bit more time with them. For the price they’ll work in a pinch, but at best they’d only be filler while you warm up for more satisfying fare.

Horror Tales: The Wine [Carlos Coronado] - Games that are effectively walking simulators that double as a sort of horror experience have somehow become quite a consistent thing in the Switch eShop and I’m never quite sure how to feel about them. If there’s an element The Wine does best at its probably in creating a pretty cohesive and pretty moody overall atmosphere. The streets, alleyways, and corridors you’ll travel through are pretty well empty, but with a crippling disease ravaging the region it’s not hard to imagine why. Posted notices and other papers you discover along the way relate a piecemeal story where you’re able to see the local government asserting control to get a handle on the situation and you can imagine entire families stricken by disease or simply mistrusted by their paranoid neighbors in this environment. An occasional jump scare or bit of startling movement seem out of the corner of your eye help to keep you engaged and on your toes but overall there’s not much to the “game” element mechanically as you walk through an array of set pieces, solve an occasional puzzle, and perhaps have something give you a fright once in a while. There are absolutely worse games in the space out there but without a bit more meat invested in the overall story it’s tougher to really get engaged with the game aside from hoping for that next jolt of excitement.

Thursday, July 29

Mini Reviews: July 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Night Book [Wales Interactive] (Nindie Choice!) -
I’ve continued to be impressed with the strides the FMV game genre has made since its more humble CD-based beginnings. In the last generation, in particular, the ability to create what often appears to be seamless video through a mix of the underlying technology and smart editing has resulted in experiences that approach interactive movies. More often than not what has ended up defining the quality of the experience has then been the story itself, and how well-acted it all is, rather than whether it stumbles on the technical side. In the case of Night Book I was impressed by how it manages to pull you into the situation and build a sense for suspense, then progressively letting things unravel from the point your character utters some translated words in an Evil Dead-esque nod, and seeing where it all ends. You do have some decision points and they can have enough consequence to make going back to see how things can turn out differently worthwhile but as a whole the story and how well everything is acted make this a solid bit of semi-interactive horror if you don’t mind the general format it is presented through.

B.ARK [TicToc Games] (Nindie Choice!) - What can I say, when you throw some cute pups into a game you’ve got my attention. B.ARK, as pained as that acronym seemed to have been to construct, is a side-scrolling shooter with classic arcade roots but certainly some modern flair as well. Whether playing solo (which is a bit tougher) or with some friends, it’s colorful, has some great enemy and boss designs, and tends to keep you busy dodging bullets and being careful about how and when to deploy your charged shots and power-ups. My one warning would be that to look at it parents could be thinking it’s so cute and may be a fun match for younger gamers. You could go that route, but this is a legitimately challenging shooter even by default so unless they’re the type that grits their teeth and is determined to “git gud” this may not be as solid a match as you could think based on its colorful look and cute characters. If you’re into shooters and appreciate games that are willing to deviate from the old-school and plain spaceship formula to have a little more fun though it’s a great match.

Piczle Puzzle & Watch Collection [Score Studios] - As someone who grew up in the original days of the Game & Watch devices there’s absolutely a sense of warm nostalgia that comes with the sights and sounds they produce. Taking a cue from Nintendo, who has produced modern console experiences around the classic games of their own, the people behind the Piczle series have taken a crack at that style themselves with this collection of 3 puzzle games presented in the stripped down classic LED look and feel. Probably my favorite is Piczle Cross, an implementation of a Picross-style puzzle game, though I’ll admit it felt like the buttons were backwards and I kept using the wrong one (but that could just be me). The other two are Piczle Loops, which is somewhat of a variation on Minesweeper that took me a moment to get and Piczle Pattern, which is more of a traditional game where you’re trying to fully fill the area using a single shape that can change colors off and on. For people who are puzzle fans and who are nostalgic for the Game & Watch experience this may be a great fit. For people less enthused with either of those elements you’ll probably be better of finding something else on the eShop.

Paint the Town Red [South East Games] - First-person perspective absolutely brings you into the action, so when it’s applied to genres that haven’t usually been played that way the results can sometimes be exciting. In the case of Paint the Town Red the perspective has been mixed with the classic beat-em-up, resulting in a brawler that obviously then has its own unique feel. Mechanically, once you get used to the charged attacks, the power of picked up weapons, and just the flow of things, it may not be an ideal marriage but it works pretty nicely. I’d say the bigger problem is that the game has taken a kitchen sink approach to what style of game it wants to be, allowing you to simply straight-up brawl in different settings, engage in what’s roughly a roguelike dungeon crawler, or take on a gladiator-style arena setup. This gives all of the modes more of an unpolished feel that makes the end result seem novel but a bit rudderless as a whole.

The Long Gate [Inductance] - There’s no doubt that at this point taking things in new directions or presenting them in uncommon ways is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded eShop. The risk you take is whether or not the path your tread has been to-this-point avoided due to the difficulty of making the experience work. The Long Gate suffers a bit from this problem, having opted to mix the first-person perspective for play with what amounts to a programming game of sorts, where you need to observe and work out logical problems to essentially create circuits. It’s certainly novel but having to walk around to size up the big picture of what you’re working with and what you’ve set ends up encumbering the user experience in a way that doesn’t feel positive. Different, for sure. Fun? For most, aside from a pretty small audience, I’m thinking probably not.

Tuesday, July 27

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

Samurai Warriors 5 [Koei Tecmo Games] (AAA Choice!) -
As a relative newcomer to the musou style of play, where you’ll often feel like you wield almost god-like power slicing through entire squads of enemy fighters with repeated swipes of your sword, I’m by no means a ride or die proponent of it. However, as skeptical as I once was that the subgenre could appeal to my tastes, thinking it would be too goofy and repetitive in some fashion, a simple revelation has made it grow on me. With SW5 specifically I hit a point in my repeated combos, enjoying my meter getting more and more ridiculously high, and then unleashing my fury on a level boss… that there was a reason it appealed to my inner primal gamer. It’s just a different way of playing great games in one of my old-school favorite genres, the beat-em-up. Maybe I’m late to the party, and this is something well-known, but for me it was an easier way to access this world and helped make it click. With that core play out of the way, which can be extremely satisfying when you’re in the zone (though, watching it played back, it looks far more dull than it is in the moment), you can then take in everything else about this specific title that clicks quite nicely. It looks fantastic, full of color and detail, and the story (though perhaps a bit of a soap opera in many regards) is actually fun to watch play out with its twists and turns. I can’t speak to how this shapes up to its predecessors, what tweaks may or may not have been made to its formula, but I feel I can speak to the reluctant gamers out there who’ve never given the series a try. If you have any love for classic beat-em-ups in your heart you should absolutely have a great time with this revisionist take on the formula. The action is intense, if you want to find success you’ll need to be precise and make full use of the formidable powers each character wields, and once you’re in the flow of things it all comes together to be quite satisfying.

112 Operator [Jutsu Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Simulations can be a tricky business on consoles since they typically feature more complex controls better suited to the PC, but the ones that get it right are sometimes a real treat. While it won’t be a flavor everyone will love, 112 Operator fits this mold well, though part of its success has to do with the relatively simple controls you’ll quickly become accustomed to. With the means of control out of the way you’ll be able to enjoy a surprisingly intense game that, perhaps at a distance, seems simplistic or dull, but when you’re immersed in the moment can be heartwarming or tragic at times. Your work as an emergency switchboard operator will put you right in the thick of things, monitoring incident reports and dispatching the proper personnel to handle a variety of scenarios. Where the game truly shines is in the calls you take, which will put you right on the spot to make sometimes very difficult decisions on the fly… which can lead to happy successes or absolute tragedy. It’s the unexpected that can really make 112 Operator compelling, and I understand that as you play it more and more the novelty of certain calls may diminish, but I’ll absolutely admit that having someone on the other end of the line relying on me to help them through a very tough situation is unique and quite compelling indeed.

Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX + [Taito Corporation] - The Darius series has been one of the consistently challenging and impressive arcade classics that has evolved while retaining its core charms over the years. The collections released previously in the year point to this legacy both from the arcades and home consoles, so the Switch has gotten a great taste of what it has had to offer over the years. This much newer iteration is impressive in its own right but perhaps not as well-suited to the Switch as you’d hope. Certainly it has a great overall look and plays faithfully to the series, but the screen scaling coming over from the arcades is simply an issue even when playing in docked mode but I’d almost consider it unplayable in handheld as the details just end up being too small to see well. The play is there, including the branching paths and some other elements, but in this case perhaps faithfulness to the source material is more of an impediment than a strength, though fans of the arcade unit will no doubt disagree.

Gaps by POWGI [Lightwood Games] - As always the folks at Lightwood Games have managed to find a different way to stimulate word puzzle fans’ brains while keeping within the confines of their minimalist but consistently functional framework. In this case you’ll be given a list of words, each with a single missing letter, and aside from filling each in the challenge is being sure that those filled-in letters, when combined, form a valid new word as well. Aside from this basic set-up all the rest there is would be the dad jokes that inevitably come with every revealed new word. Whether or not this will go the distance will just depend on what it is you’re looking for.

Foodtruck Arena [Cat-astrophe Games] - As a massive Rocket League fan the thought of another title offering up some vehicular multiplayer mayhem sounded like a blast. Unfortunately, even super modest expectations when compared to that title would still have left me disappointed with this bland foodtruck version of roughly soccer, though to be fair you don’t so much “kick” the ball as scooch it around for the most part. The one bit of flavor is a power-up that’s unique to each of the trucks, but really, there’s just not enough here to generate any excitement, whether you’re playing with friends or against the bots as monotony sets in from essentially endlessly eating the same dissatisfying meal over and over again.

Monday, July 26

Mini Reviews: July 26th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Last Stop [Variable State] (Nindie Choice!) -
With visual novel-type titles that limit your interactivity and the ability to greatly alter the outcome of the story I think people are always going to have differences of opinion. On a general level I’ve tended to be pretty tough on these sorts of games, as player agency is quite important to me… but then there are sometimes games with characters that feel so rich that, for whatever reason, that concern sort of goes out the window. That’s what happened to me with Last Stop. With its mix of quite ordinary characters, in some cases leading pretty mundane lives, and the unexpected it managed to capture me on both ends of the spectrum. There’s just something genuine about these people and their interactions more often than not that entertained me, and the choices you are able to make, even if perhaps superficial, often felt authentic to me. That each of the game’s stories bends to match up in unexpected ways was a treat, and while not everyone may enjoy the ride this is a rare primarily story-driven game that managed to get me fully engaged in the characters and what is happening with them.

Timothy Vs. the Aliens [Wild Sphere S.L.] - Mobsters fighting an alien invasion? Sure, OK. That premise somewhat explains this title in a nutshell, and while it’s at least novel as a concept I’m not sure there’s a great advantage taken of it to make for a fulfilling result. Played as a third-person shooter with a fair amount of exploration you’ll move between areas and objectives, shooting up any aliens you see, do some 3D platforming which is sometimes trickier than it should be as you contend with the camera, and a few other elements like driving as well. On paper perhaps it sounds like it could have promise but the execution is haphazard at best. The city feels empty, the models all look like they’re from a previous generation, and the play itself ranges from dodgy to adequate at its best. Just with there being so many titles in the eShop that clearly play better than this, it’s hard to recommend with any enthusiasm.

Guild of Darksteel [Igor Sandman] - This retro adventure is a bit of an oddity, on the one hand seemingly wanting to evoke a feeling of of the likes of the classics Prince of Persia and company but on the other trying to produce a more complex combat system to spice things up. Honestly the issue is that neither attempt really works out that well with your movements and platforming capabilities simply being too simple to be interesting and the combat being limited by far too few enemy types and loads of dull and repetitive fights. Really it feels like it needs a few patches to spruce things up and make things more interesting, in the current state there’s just nothing terribly memorable to say about it to make it a worthwhile experience.

Freddy Spaghetti 2 [Playful Pasta] - While I genuinely tend to love games that are weird and funky physics games, at times, can be a blast there are times when those unusual charms just aren’t enough. Coming back for seconds, Freddy Spaghetti two retains its floppy noodle of a protagonist and has you working your way through a very oddball series of scenarios, doing your best to work within the limited confines of his starchy capabilities. In order to help provide more room for humor the game taps into some love for The Office and has Freddy trying to work in a “real job” of sorts. I suppose the premise has promise but the execution just doesn’t seem to do much with it. The tasks you’ll need to perform are haphazard at best, and most of the time you’ll simply be left to flagellate around and determine what it is you’re actually supposed to do. This could result in stages lasting anywhere from a few minutes to just a handful of seconds and while I suppose you can’t get into a rut with everything changing it also feels quite uneven. If you’re just looking for something goofy it may suffice but with a load of great weirdo Switch titles that can make a meal this feels like an appetizer at best.

Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed [Acquire] - This is a title I find quite difficult to describe in traditional terms since I’ve played few games like it. Focused primarily on the narrative aspects and almost what I’d call a “slice of life” feel for being on the busy streets of Akihabara, but mixed with some vampires and serious perviness, Akiba’s Trip is at least unique. It’s interesting to walk around and get sidetracked by some shops or other distractions (though some of the mini games are also a bit gross, unless you’re into it) but it also doesn’t feel like enough time and effort were put into vital elements like the game’s lackluster combat… unless you’re really into the fact that clothes are shed along the way. The result is absolutely an experience unlike anything I’ve played, to be sure, but it is very much not going to be for the mainstream crowd.

Friday, July 23

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

Clone Drone in the Danger Zone [Doborog Games] (Nindie Choice!) - One genre that’s lacking in depth and variety on the Switch has definitely been fighters. Sure, there are both some AAA and indie efforts that will let you throw down in the traditional 2D sphere, whether more serious or a bit casual, but there aren’t many games that dare to break the mold. Clone Drone is a title that does just that, moving play into 3D voxel-based arenas where you’ll play as a sort of robotic gladiator, taking on foes and various lethal traps in mortal combat where your goal is to take out the opposition using whatever weapons you have available to you. Even if you’re unable to get an instant killing blow the good news is that partial damage like hacked away limbs will still help make your job easier but those same vulnerabilities can work against your own surprisingly fragile bot as well. The roguelike format is challenging and can be fun, at least for a little while, but it’s the multiplayer options that include both cooperative and competitive that show the extra effort and give the title additional distinction. I doubt it will appeal to everyone, and learning to hone your technique with the somewhat limited core attacks and weapons can be tough when there’s not a ton to work with, but there’s just something unique about being in an arena with some other people trying to survive, with both excitement and sometimes silliness playing out in the process.

Cris Tales [Dreams Uncorporated] - This is one of those titles where I feel a bit torn on where I land with it. On the one hand there’s no denying that the overall production value, including the great stylized artwork, voice work, and general story are great… and the hook with being able to manipulate time in order to solve problems and sometimes force decisions is a smart one. On the other hand, if you’re looking for some excitement it’s slow to deliver on that promise and the abundance of time lost to load screens which feel almost constant can absolutely be maddening. Enjoyment will likely end up being a function of what you’re looking for, whether a well-told story with a variety of interesting characters and great aesthetics, or a turn-based RPG with smart and engaging combat and satisfying character building. If the story and characters are your focus it should be a solid match, if your preference is the combat and excitement this will probably be better to pass on though, at least unless you have quite a lot of patience to wait for those moments when they arrive.

Terra Lander [Funbox Media] - While it was a very early arcade-style game, and thus had a relatively simple premise, Lunar Lander at the time was pretty challenging and interesting. Taking the core gameplay from that classic, where the challenge is using your thrusters to counter the effects of gravity to navigate and land your capsule, Terra Lander then tries to throw in some added elements to make it a bit more appropriate for modern gamers. Enemy guns and some tricky landscapes, as well as a need to make efficient use of your fuel, are what will continue to add some challenge to things but there’s no getting around the general repetition that will set in pretty quickly with this simple premise.

Terra Lander 2: Rockslide Rescue [Funbox Media] - Building on the core gameplay of the first Terra Lander, the sequel tries to up the ante by adding some new elements. The ability to grab boulders to try to move them out of the way (complete with some challenges with the fact they obey gravity), multiple landing points where you’ll collect survivors, and some much more challenging landscapes with tight areas you’ll need to carefully maneuver in add interest but at the same time I’m torn on whether this enhanced version if clearly superior to the simpler original. Ultimately it’s likely only true retro fans will find this series satisfying as they’re very arcade-style in nature and while they get tougher as you go they aren’t intended to evolve much as you play.

Terra Bomber [Funbox Media] - There are many games I’m nostalgic for from the early days of arcades and then others that I acknowledge but, for whatever reason, never really appealed to me much. Taking inspiration from games like the classic Scramble, Terra Bomber has a pretty basic overall premise, flying over scrolling land with peaks and valleys and trying to shoot up pretty much all opposition in the form of gas tanks, rockets, and other enemies with your bombs and guns. While difficulty and complexity do increase as you go, the repetition, overly long stages, and generally uninspired play leave something to be desired unless you’re a huge fan of this style of play.

Wednesday, July 21

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

A Plague Tale: Innocence - Cloud Version [Asobo Studio] (AAA Choice!) -
While I've been having a bit of a struggle trying to sort out whether I consider this a true indie game or a AAA title, also taking into account the fact that it is played in the cloud and those complications, I will say that regardless of those questions this is quite an engrossing title to play through. You'll control a duo of an older sister and her younger brother who has a secret, and your goal is simply to survive through a variety of threats posed by both humans and other elements in your way. The mix of tense stealth and puzzles will keep you on your toes, and the quality of the voice acting and storytelling make it a winner.

Cotton Reboot! [Sangatu Usagi no Mori] (Nindie Choice!) - If you like your older-school arcade shooting challenging, a bit on the cute side, and with an undeniable weird streak this refresh may catch your eye. While it generally looks and feels like it follows the normal arcade shooter rules, the places where it deviates will force you to play things a bit more aggressively and dangerously than the norm. In general, though it's probably a better match for shooter veterans, the quirkiness of the experience may also appeal to people who simply love imported titles and their unique flavor you simply don't get from the mainstream American market.

Curved Space [Only By Midnight] - Taking familiar gameplay and changing things up to take some risks has always been a core component of my love for indie titles... but different can often come with a cost. Curved Space essentially asks the question of "What would it be like to play a twin-stick shooter on a donut or other irregular 3-Dimensional object?" at its core and then throws in a few additional ideas like an energy lash for good measure. The result is absolutely a challenge and experience you've never had before, but whether or not it will be appreciated will be another matter. The play field designs can get pretty funky at times, and aside from there being some frustration in tracking down enemies on these irregular shapes I actually got a bit of motion sickness at times (something that never happens to me with games) on certain edges where everything would shift very quickly. I'm torn because I absolutely appreciate the ideas Curved Space brings to the table, but at the same time not everything works in harmony so it's a toss-up in terms of a recommendation and likely only for hard core shooting fans eager to cut their teeth on something different.

MouseBot: Escape From CatLab [Vector Unit] - Casual games that have come over from the mobile space are always a bit of a mixed bag. Even if they’re relatively fun and playable appropriateness on a dedicated gaming platform and whether they can properly strip out free-to-play annoyances when you’re a paying customer ranking high on the list of common issues. MouseBot is roughly riding the middle in this case, having enough cuteness and charm to go with its simple but somewhat satisfying puzzle action play, but then falling down a bit with grinding in-game currency in runs for unlocks, clearly reminding you this was originally free on phones and tablets. The result isn’t necessarily bad, but honestly given the large items and characters on the screen and relatively light action of play I can’t see a compelling reason to purchase this on the Switch when you could grab it for free in the mobile space.

WizODD [JanduSoft] - With a preponderance of twin-stick shooters out there, even ones that are budget-friendly, breaking in with a hit is a tough ask on the Switch eShop. WizODD puts in a bit of an admirable attempt, going with a basic old school look, a challenge level that ramps up pretty quickly, and relatively quick play sessions to work through. The thing is, even if you don’t mind its quirks there’s no getting around the fact that there’s not enough here to keep you engaged for long. You’ll either burn through what it has to offer or simply stop having the itch for another run, and against a ton of competition where the urge for “just one more run” can be extremely strong it just doesn’t put up much of a fight.

Friday, July 16

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

Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective [Darjeeling] (Nindie Choice!) -
As much as I've tended to see people bemoan the "kiddie" nature of Nintendo systems over the years, it can actually be a challenge to find games on Switch that are easy to recommend for green, younger gamers who may not have their coordination together yet. Fittingly based on a best-selling children's book, Labyrinth City has so much going for it for the young, or at least the young at heart. Each new location is jam-packed with visual details, corners to explore, secrets to find, and what I'd simply call magical moments as different elements from the page come to life. Though it unfortunately won't take long to get through all the game has to offer, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of discovery I had with it, rekindling those feelings of being a wide-eyed kid looking over pages ripe with detail from my childhood.

Induction [Bryan Gale] - With a preponderance of perplexing puzzlers populating the Switch eShop I don’t doubt that trying to come up with something original is a challenge. While Induction has elements that are pretty commonly found in its brethren that include box pushing and controlling multiple “characters” to get through problems its visual style and the specifics of how it feels does at least manage to set it apart a bit. That said, I didn’t find that it did a great job of conveying concepts it wants you to apply as you take on new challenges, and this would lead to some stages where you’re somewhat pointlessly experimenting to stumble into whatever technique or simply needing to showing a fair amount of patience in order to get through. It’s challenging, and it can feel pretty distinctive in places, but I’m not sure the more casual set will find it as accessible as you’d normally find. If you don’t mind stepping up to the plate and working things out a bit though, you may find it to your liking.

Fates of Ort [8BitSkull] - Going old school has definitely been a thing in the indie space in the last generation or two, and a return to earlier visual styles and classic play can be both nostalgic and sometimes revelatory when everything comes together. In the case of Fates of Ort it does have a certain degree of appeal with its isometric look and what I’d say is its more classic PC-style action RPG play overall, but it also has a collection of issues that stand in the way of a guaranteed good time. For people who primarily stick to handheld play the game’s font and text aren’t very friendly to scaling and truthfully aren’t the easiest to read even on a bigger screen, though the font certainly has a sense of style I suppose. In-game combat is at least unique I suppose, with a lock-on mechanic where you’ll select an enemy with the right stick and then sloppily slash or fire away at them, but it’s generally inaccurate and underwhelming. If, however, you’re game for a trip that feels trapped in a wayback machine and can look beyond these quirks, it’s has a feel that helps set it apart… for good and for bad.

Within the Blade [Ametist Studio] - The quality and ease-of-use of a game's controls is one of those things you tend to take for granted. That is, until they become an active problem. While the low-res platforming and ninja action of Within the Blade is reasonably good, and has a pretty satisfying old-school feel, unfortunately its needlessly cumbersome control scheme absolutely, and with great regularity, gets in the way. The thing is, this is pretty well-trodden territory, and the wall scaling and various attack and traversal mechanics aren't terribly revolutionary. Fumbling to execute critical moves becoming a headache then becomes all the more painful. When getting through the tutorial means struggling to do things that feel more like simply breathing in other games... it's a bit of a problem.

Red Colony 2 [Shinyuden] - Oh, how the Nintendo eShop gamescape has changed over the years. Gone are the days of censorship and sweat in place of blood, and now we can have games with plenty of tittilating details (with a typical emphasis on that first syllable) included to bring us to a new mature gaming nirvana. Well, or maybe not so much. Sure, there's a certain giggle-worthiness to the lady of the night protagonist mixing it up with zombies and some dinosaurs (just roll with it) as pieces of her clothes fall away as well as a fair amount of "adult talk"... but unfortunately the slow pace, wonky combat, and somewhat simplistic "remember detail here to solve puzzle there" roadblocks make that "mature" edge feel like the game's main selling point (for what it is) instead of the quality of the play itself.

Wednesday, July 14

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

Unavowed [Wadjet Eye Games] (Nindie Choice!) - When you think of the classic point-and-click adventure title visions of classics from LucasArts with their signature sense of humor and weirdness tend to be the first to come to mind. Back in the day there was more representation than this, with adventures featuring everything from police work to medieval fantasy, but within the current indie adventur-aissance there isn’t typically oxygen for titles that don’t embrace humor. The darker and more grim nature of Unavowed is thus pretty refreshing, not necessarily lacking in humor, but certainly having it play a back seat to supernatural characters and circumstances, and sometimes some pretty disturbing circumstances you’ll need to work your way through. I will say that I find the mechanics of the interface to be a bit quirky with a controller, and perhaps it would best be played using the touchscreen but that isn’t to say it’s in any way unplayable, just that there are plenty of competitors that do it better. If you’ve been itching for something that’s a bit different and surprising, but still retains some familiar elements of a classic adventure, Unavowed should definitely be considered for your list.

The Sisters: Party of the Year [Microids] - Let’s face it, when it comes to mini game collections and their quality on Nintendo consoles there have been franchises like Mario Party or WarioWare on one end of the spectrum (though Mario Party has had its troubles, without a doubt) and pretty much everything on the other extreme end that simply don’t work well. While PoTY may be lacking in some of the refinement and features that could make it more capable of contending with those first-party powerhouses for more than a round or two I will say that among the category of “everything else” it shines unusually brightly, especially if you’re looking to play with your family of all ages. Most of the events and challenges are simple enough, and many are also very relatable involving household chores or activities and that helps add to the fun. What also shows some extra effort is a competent single-player adventure version where you’ll play as one of the title sisters, competing all around town to have the honor of throwing the said Party of the Year. While maybe a bit rough around the edges, if you’re a fan of Nintendo’s party titles but are looking for roughly the next best thing out there this may be the strongest secondary choice out there.

Anna’s Quest [Krams Design] - Certainly an adventure game with a bit of a dark and humorous turn on classic fairy tale tropes isn’t bad to work with as a base, and I think that’s the greatest strength of Anna’s Quest. The problem is, especially in light of so many outstanding point-and-click style indie adventures being out there, outside of the story and characters too many elements simply aren’t as polished or fresh. The interface can be a bit cumbersome amongst its brethren, some of its puzzles perhaps a bit too drawn out, and just lacking in that sort of magic touch that brings the game together in a way that inspires exuberance when describing it. Perhaps earlier in the Switch lifespan it could have been more of a force, but at this stage it just falls a bit flat.

Beasts of Maravilla Island [Banana Bird Studios, LLC] - While the original Pokemon Snap wasn’t particularly well executed, the idea it brought to the table was at least a novel one. Perhaps somewhat fittingly released roughly in the same window of time as the newest title in that series, we have a more budget-minded outing in the same vein in the form of Beasts of Maravilla Island. Drawn to this mysterious place by the passing and encouragement in letters from your grandfather your character has set out to explore this magical space and to try to capture its unique flora and fauna on film to share with the world. While I appreciate the fact that this take on this style of play isn’t fully on rails and allows for an element of exploration, for the most part outside of that distinction it just plays as a less polished and compelling version of the Nintendo franchise. If you’re into photography and composing your shots perhaps there’s an angle for enjoyment to be had here but otherwise it’s just a pretty linear walk through the forest photographing everything you can but with no real spark to make it memorable or exciting.

Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies [Ratalaika Games] - I’ve typically been pretty tough on visual novels but my struggle is with them being released on dedicated gaming hardware more than for whether they have a place in gaming in general. There are titles out there that do it better than others, and certainly a fair variety in terms of how interactive things may be, but most of the time I can at least see or understand the narrative hook that should show up very early in the story to help hook you so that you’re compelled to stick through things to the end. This is an area where I find Bai Qu really struggles, as throughout the early time in the game I was plainly bored and unsure what it was that was supposed to make me care about the characters or anything happening. A ton of dialogue without much focus and a struggle to really make a compelling case to give the game hours of your time when so many more clearly engrossing narratives are already out there makes this one especially tough to recommend.

Thursday, July 8

Mini Reviews: July 8th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Boomerang X [DANG!] (Nindie Choice!) -
With indie titles I’m always tickled when I encounter something just a bit different that feels fresh and challenging, and for me Boomerang X (though perhaps a bit on the short side overall) fits nicely into that groove. Quickly acquiring the said boomerang, which I prefer to imagine as the legendary Glaive from the movie Krull (yes, it has one less prong and looks different, but this is my Colwyn fantasy!) you’ll very consistently be given some new move or technique and then a series of trials that will push you to show mastery of that new skill. Once you’re rolling you’ll be dashing, floating in slow-mo, and picking off enemies who get increasingly challenging like a pro… though each new and tougher variant you may need to puzzle over before understanding how to take them out. Perhaps the rough handful of hours you get is appropriate, as it keeps the title from overstaying its welcome, but I still would love to see a few more levels of craziness to really push my skills tacked onto the end just to give the solid design its full and fitting due. If you’re a fan of accurate shooting while on the fly and some quick-moving traversal this should satisfy you pretty much completely.

PiCTOOi [Atooi LLC] (Nindie Choice!) - The Switch has had quite a 3 (or 4, depending on how deep you’re looking to go in the roster) way race in the Picross puzzling space, with each series having their own flair. I would have thought that meant the space was completely full and in need of no further options but now PiCTOOi has arrived to set me straight. The core gameplay is still the same, featuring various pictograph images of varying sizes that you’ll need to use your savvy as you look at the numbered patterns on the horizontal and vertical axes to plot out carefully. Now, to be clear, while some competitors feature multi-color puzzles this is more old school with only one set, so its complexity is lower. This really has more of a purist feel with less focus on trying to provide feedback to help you complete puzzles in the interface, giving it more of a Sudoku feel where you’ll need to grit your teeth and carefully work out which spaces get a colored block and which should be disabled. Somewhat in that vein the other major feature is its Brain Age-esque presentation, complete with a little robot (I reject him being a lightbulb!) who’ll gladly give you supplemental info about each puzzle, and a calendar feature so you can track your consistent play as a mental exercise towards your health. Fans of Mutant Mudds (and some other Atooi franchises) will also likely be tickled by a diorama mode that will reveal a number of game art pieces bit by bit as you complete collections of puzzles. About its only weak point is what feels like a painfully long pause as you close each puzzle to go back to the menu but in general I’d say Picross fans now have 4 legitimate contenders for the crown that will likely see a winner tied more to personal tastes as each has their own distinctive flavor.

Crash Drive 3 [M2H] - While hardly a top-tier racing game this stunt racer, though sharing perhaps a bit too much in common with its predecessor, somehow managed to grab me longer than I would have expected. Whether playing solo or online, which feels more like you’re participating in parallel with other users than with or against them, the focus here is on exploring, performing some stunts, collecting coins for unlockables of various kinds, and participating in a small collection of somewhat random events that will run continually in the background and that you can opt to join in or ignore. It’s not high art by any means, and I’m not particularly a fan of the lagging camera that doesn’t do well with sudden turns or turning around specifically, but even in its simplicity there’s a certain charm to it with its large open spaces with loads of stunting opportunities almost everywhere. If you’re just in the mood to poke around and have some fun for a bit it isn’t a bad option… just keep your expectations in check.

A Tale of Synapse: The Chaos Theories [Souris-Lab] - An utterly odd hodge podge of styles and concepts, Synapse kind of throws ideas out there in relative abundance but the result doesn’t quite come together sadly. You’ll be doing some action platforming, puzzle solving, you can play co-op with someone controlling your helper character (or do it solo with the right stick), slip between realities in order to sometimes get some insights in how to solve puzzles, there are shapes and math in places… it’s a lot. The problem is simply that none of it feels polished or compelling, especially where the action is concerned. There’s no doubt that the look and setting are unique, and it seems to be trying to push its little world as you meet new characters… but in the end the bread and butter gameplay just isn’t enough to maintain a steady interest in continuing on with it.

Super Destronaut DX-2 [Petite Games] - Arcade shooters are something I’ve been enjoying since their infancy in the Space Invaders and Asteroids days, and I’ve really enjoyed the modern retro movement in the indie space that has embraced classic looks and play styles and given them some modern flourish. The trick is to take on the look and feel of the classics while bringing something fresh, and perhaps unexpected, and I’ve definitely seen the results vary from title to title. Very much in the same vein as its predecessor, Destronaut DX-2 takes a bit of a kitchen sink approach in terms of the specifics of the rules in each of its modes, as well as bringing some welcome color to the table, but it would be a stretch to consider any of it inspired in any way. There are modes to play with, and some challenges to conquer if you’re so inclined, but it all falls flat and feels too generic to give it more than maybe an hour of your collective time before you’ll be itching for something a bit less bland.

Friday, July 2

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

Doki Doki Literature Club Plus [Team Salvato] (Nindie Choice!) -
First developing quite a notorious reputation as a free title, DDLC has finally made its disturbing way to Switch… and with a few extra bits of content to boot, though they’re just niceties and don’t really move the needle much. To be clear, the warnings shown before you play aren’t to be taken lightly, and this game should be avoided by people who aren’t quite mature or those with depression or mental health problems as this is a title that will very likely trigger you in a serious way. All of that said, while in terms of pacing it isn’t a perfect game it’s also quite unsettling and will leave you with quite a bit to reflect on. That would include personal relationships, the mental health issues that can be around you beneath the surface, and certainly traditional romance games that DDLC starts out in the vein of but then takes an extremely hard and disturbing turn… or two, or three from. As someone who is steadily critical of semi-interactive visual novels you’d have to take this statement with a grain of salt, but by a fair margin this is the most compelling game associated with this genre I’ve ever seen, and its themes, imagery, and characters have a tendency to stick with you, pretty well no matter what specific paths you may choose. You’ll need to be sure to be patient, as signs of trouble don’t appear until maybe an hour in and it’ll take being over 90 minutes in before the rails fall off… but there’ll be no mistaking the point of no return and when it all goes to hell. It is absolutely not an experience appropriate for everyone but, for anyone who shouldn’t be avoiding it for various reasons stated above, I absolutely recommend it if you want a shock to your system and likely something to think about.

Procession to Calvary [Joe Richardson] - As a connoisseur of weirdo games I’ve seen a whole lot of different approaches to taking the ordinary and going in a completely different direction then normal but nothing quite like Procession to Calvary. Mechanically playing as a relatively simple point-and-click adventure, what absolutely sets it apart is its bizarre and somewhat Monty Python-esque visual style and sense of humor. Tapping into the world of public domain to use classic paintings and stock music is a smart move, and doing things with that art that are completely unexpected and silly actually ends up being quite a bit of fun, even though undoubtedly it won’t suit everyones’ tastes. While it may not be a perfect experience, and only clocks in with a few hours of play time, Procession to Calvary is a sweet and weird treat that people who seek out unusual tastes should take the time to savor.

Mythic Ocean [Paralune LLC] - While most of the people I know out there are constantly clamoring for the latest adrenaline-fueled shooter, fighter, or action game of some sort, believe it or not there are people who don’t only enjoy a slower pace, but prefer it. Mythic Ocean is a title aimed directly at that crowd, placing an emphasis on exploration and experimentation in who you talk to and the conversations you have with various gods in a variety of underwater environments. It does struggle a bit in terms of providing you with much direction but as you use your sonar to spot creatures to talk to you’ll work it out quickly enough. With full runs consisting of only a handful of hours the emphasis here is on tackling each time through in a different way in order to affect different outcomes. It won’t be for everyone but if you’re looking for something more serene and thoughtful than average it’s worth a look.

The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk [Artefacts Studio] - When you set out to infuse a more typically staid and serious genre like tactical strategy RPGs with a bit of personality that does make it notable. In the case of Dungeon, though, even as much as I love some fun and silly humor I’ll say it trends more towards being crass in a predictable (and a bit tired) way than I would have preferred. What serves as a bit of a crippling blow, even if you enjoy the game’s humorous sensibilities, is that at least in its launch state the experience has some quirks and bugs that could use work. The interface feels like it was more at home on a PC, and though everything has been mapped to work with a controller the scheme is more awkward than the norm. If you like the genre and don’t mind the humor it may be worth persevering for and getting used to though, as there’s no doubt it’s a rare bird in the space… so it does have merit in that light.

Bitmaster [Sometimes You] - As a massive twin-stick shooting fan, whether in the classic arcade sense or the more modern, I’ve seen quite an impressive number of high-quality indie games in the genre on the Switch. Bitmaster, unfortunately, really isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s pretty easily forgettable aside from, perhaps, it’s low-poly art style that is modestly cool. It all comes down to the gameplay though, and while I suppose the few different weapons and power-ups are reasonably decent to work through and experiment with the bare bones basics of the arena you play in, the enemies, and the overall experience make you feel like you’ve reasonably seen everything of value the game has to offer pretty quickly… and there’s simply not much incentive to continue since everything is so bland and repetitive. Throw in some quirks that are either by design and unexplained or perhaps just bugs and it’s a forgettable budget shooter in a space crowded with far higher quality choices.