Friday, August 27

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

Orbibot [PSGames] -
As an old school arcade fan I’ll just plain admit I’m a sucker for any game that remotely resembles the classic Marble Madness. I can’t help it, rolling a ball around, and the unique challenges that can present, just always has some appeal to me. Orbibot, stripped down to its roots, is built on a mix of focused and careful control and what can often be clever action puzzles you’ll need to work out solutions for and then execute. While its low-budget price gives it a reasonable degree of latitude for lacking in polish there are times where a bit of jankiness in the controls can be an obstacle, most often tied to the fact that the camera must be managed constantly, and in some areas of some maps that can present some challenges, especially when precision is often required to keep yourself on the track. Then there are just small details like the hidden items (that look kind of like tiny piƱatas) that are both not explained but then also not reflected in the main menu interface so you’re then unable to know whether you may have even gotten them all in a given level. For what you’ll pay it’s not a bad deal or experience, it’s just in that space where it’s merely good and you just wish a little more effort had been expended to get it another rung or two higher on the ladder of success.

Where’s Samantha [Respect Studios Ltd] - Broadly agreeable and family-friendly titles aren’t always easy to find, so when you come across one like Where’s Samantha it’s typically a nice change of pace from the more demanding fare on the eShop. With its cute little cloth-based characters, color-changing mechanic that will let you either grow or split yourself up, and its generally smart but quickly quite repetitive platforming it has some appeal for a more casual crowd, it’s just important to keep your expectations in check as you begin digging a little deeper as many levels will tend to blur together with their overall similarities as it’s not unusual to feel a sense of deja vu as you work your way through the game.For people just looking for some light entertainment that won’t be too taxing it may be a good game to unwind with, but if you’re looking for something more creative and fun there’s simply not much here to sustain that feeling for very long.

King’s Bounty II [1C Entertainment] - This is one of those titles that, when you see a well-cut trailer for it, jumps out as having some real potential. While hardly perfect it’s attractive enough, and there’s a somewhat cinematic quality to the storytelling that has some appeal to draw you in. It’s when you spend some time with it that issues begin to creep in and tarnish the experience. Movement and getting to objectives can be ploddingly slow, even on a horse, and aside from simply having you wander to eat up time there never feels like there’s a purpose to justify the time wasted on such a simple thing. Then quirks in the game’s interface begin to show up, with some turning to annoyances in how sluggish or poorly-conceived they can be in terms of intuitiveness and efficiency. It’s when you get into the tactical combat that this feels like the issues come to a head though, where even with some instruction performing what are normally simple tasks like switching between units as you plot out your strategy have been handled poorly, or simply understanding why some actions can’t be performed contextually as you try to get through battles. Perhaps with patching this title could better reach its potential but there’s no ignoring that in its current state it’s asking for a lot of patience for only middling enjoyment as a reward in return.

A Night at the Races [Mushy Jukebox] - This is one of those titles you run into periodically that’s simply hard to wrap your head around. The majority of the time playing it you’ll be jumping and dashing around in a pretty fast-moving retro platformer that’s admittedly a challenge, especially due to its breakneck speed. Sitting in a layer on top of that is a slowly-developing story in the “real world” that’s pushing you to git gud in a hurry at said game in the hopes of winning a tournament that will get you out of the financial bind you’re in. It’s strange, will challenge your reactions, and can be a tad glitchy in places, but if you enjoy playing games that seem to be teed up for the speedrunning community it may have some appeal.

Thea 2: The Shattering [MuHa Games] - While I considered the original Thea to be more of a middling hybrid deckbuilder and strategy game (though with a fair amount of story to go with it as a plus), hearing that it had a sequel coming I had hoped things would turn around. Unfortunately, for me it feels like if anything the developers doubled down on the pretty oppressive complexity, trying to stuff even more ideas into the game, rather than taking a step back to create something a bit more smooth. If you’re a fan of having many areas to try to focus on in parallel, perhaps reducing the level of rote repetition, this may be just fine for you. However, the crippling blow really comes with the game’s awkward and cumbersome console controls mixed with an abundance of screens for you to trudge through and wrap your head around. The result ends up being a bit of a plodding bore with a combat interface in particular that never really clicks and certainly lacks even an ounce of excitement. If you have any interest I’d be inclined to start with the original and see how that goes before taking this one on.

Thursday, August 26

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

Lamentum [Obscure Tales] (Nindie Choice!) -
I’m sad to say that more often than not, on the Switch, games pushing “horror” in some way have struggled and failed in the department of delivering compelling play. Creepy? Yeah, to a degree in some cases. Able to deliver a few jump scares? Sure, though many times you can see them coming, which can make them less effective. The thing is, far too many lean too hard on those elements justifying you playing the game rather than having them accentuate what’s already an interesting or compelling experience to begin with. Lamentum, with its simple start of you getting involved with a mysterious man in the hopes of saving your wife from a terrible disease, does a good job of setting the initial hook and then slowly but surely revealing itself bit by bit as things continue to devolve and go wrong. With its pixel art presentation the tendency is more towards establishing an ambiance and a creeping sense of dread than visceral scares, but the somewhat adventure-esque nature of play serves as a great glue to keep you exploring and periodically getting a little jump here and there. While perhaps not enough to make you afraid to play it in the dark, the grim and gothic tone of Lamentum at least helps it stand out early as we approach the Halloween season.

Hoa [Skrollcat Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - Ah, the struggle to properly evaluate games that aren’t really made for you personally as the target audience. Hoa is a naturalistic puzzle platformer with a simply incredible and vibrant art style first and foremost. At that point I don’t doubt quite a large number of people are on board. Where the game may lose people is with the fact that it is also absolutely clear it was made to be “family-friendly” which, for many, can be translated to “not very difficult”. For people with gamers-in-training out there it’s absolutely well worth a look, as it does a fair job at working the mind as well as the reflexes, though in general with a gentle touch. For people who can enjoy games as they’re intended, who also appreciate outstanding game art, it’s also probably going to be a real treat. If you’re not so much in that direction and get bored with well-worn play that is often very gentle with the player it’s likely to, instead, be a bit aggravating no matter how great it may look. All that said, I absolutely appreciate the clear love and earnest effort behind Hoa, and would recommend it to anyone who won’t be disappointed by its relative ease.

Garden Paws [Bitten Toast Games] - While I don’t want to show any undue bias against games unfairly, I’ll admit that I’ve slowly become skeptical of games that seem to lean on the “cute factor” as a primary selling point. Garden Paws will let you choose from a variety of animals for your character avatar and customize them a bit to your liking, allowing you to either play offline on your own or attempting to join up with others online (keeping in mind most indies struggle for even short-term viability with their online communities). Once you’re playing the style is somewhere between a dumbed down farm sim in the vein of Stardew or Harvest Moon and almost an adventure RPG, depending on what tasks you decide to undertake. Exploration is certainly a focus, though the space you live in is certainly quite finite, and whether you’re out gathering, helping townsfolk, or taking on a dungeon for a little while there are some novel things to do. The problem is that though there’s obviously quite a bit of overall content for people who stick it out it’s all quite shallow and in many cases not even implemented very well. Quite regularly there’s just a janky quality to the experience, whether with its tendency to feel very imprecise with its controls, abundant pop-in, strange behaviors of other characters you’ll interact with, or just generally walking around. So many features feel like they were implemented against a checklist, and indeed they are present, but they’re fulfilling a bare minimum rather than providing for depth of enjoyment. I don’t doubt “the cutes” may be enough for some people to stick with this title for a while but for more seasoned gamers there are too many other titles on the eShop that do things better than to stick it out with this.

Have a Blast [Firenut] - While I’d like to be able to claim myself and my family are not victims of local multiplayer fatigue on Switch, it’s tough to deny it’s a thing. While there are absolutely some stand-out titles out there that break from the pack to do something novel, exciting, or simply far better than everything else out there the majority are solidly stuck in the middle and Have a Blast feels very much at home there. On a simple level it’s a shooter where you’re trying to eliminate your enemies in successive rounds to become the eventual winner, though thankfully there are a few ship variants that each have a special attack, quite a variety of levels, and a few modes as well. So there’s some effort here, without a doubt, but the results do have a tendency to vary from level to level in particular. For instance, the Asteroid-laden stage has a tendency to get very busy visually, making it very hard for everyone to keep track of where their ships are as things get intense. It’s just small things that tug the game down, but the main issue is just that it feels very traditional, safe, and kind of generic to begin with, ultimately making it forgettable in a very competitive space.

Wildbus [Wildbus Studio] - Sometimes there are just games that start out hitting you the wrong way the moment you begin playing and just can’t seem to recover. For me, Wildbus is one such title. Billed as a retro beat-em-up, but with a vehicle, I’ll admit the basics sounded like they’d be up my alley, but right away the game does itself no favors by really failing to help you get started at all. The thing is, the beat-em-up formula is one everyone pretty well knows, it shouldn’t have to be rocket science, but somehow it takes little time before you’re needing to experiment to understand the many ways you can die, that your bus can inexplicably climb ladders, and just how to engage in combat. The result feels like a mashed together sort of mess where the expectation seems to be that the person who has bought the game, who was likely looking for some quick and satisfying action, should dig in and spend time understanding the nuances of everything. Considering there are so many titles on the eShop that do a better job of delivering challenges, fun, and excitement right off the bat this feels like a bad investment of time and finances.

Wednesday, August 25

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

Dodgeball Academia [Pocket Trap] (Nindie Choice!) -
While I’ll admit that when you mention a game with the name “dodgeball” right in the title you already have my attention, bear in mind that doesn’t make me an easy guarantee for positive feelings about the result. In fact, I’ll admit to some trepidation with this “Dodgeball RPG” and whether it would manage to make both ends of the equation well, since so many titles that try to go non-traditional routes have a tendency to get one piece of the puzzle right but come up short on the other. I’m here to reassure you that Dodgeball Academia does no such thing. It plays great as an RPG, with a ton of great and unusual characters, a number of bad guys to deal with, and some crucial decisions when it comes to equipment and where you put your focus for your pretty limited character upgrades. At the same time it plays incredibly well, indeed blowing away my expectations, when it comes to the action-oriented dodgeball play. Who’d have thought, the gameplay isn’t just engaging and full of technique… it’s also damned hard at times and you’ll need to make clever use of the strengths of each member of your team and their powerful Balltimate abilities when the chips are down. While I don’t mind a great RPG every once in a while it has been a long time since I’ve been this genuinely excited to return to one every time I load it up. Absolutely recommended!

Quake Remastered [MachineGames] (Nindie Choice!) - OK, so I don’t think anyone needs to tell you that Quake is one of the most influential first-person shooters of all-time. Sure, id and 3D Realms originated the genre with the likes of DOOM and Duke Nukem but Quake brought the genre screaming into the full 3D space for the first time full of intensity, a killer soundtrack, revolutionary multiplayer, and quality level design that even holds up reasonably well today. As for the port itself to Switch I’ve never really played the game looking and feeling better. Visually it’s crisp and clean, the action is fluid and pretty well flawless, and aiming using the dual sticks feels almost as accurate as my old school preferred mouse (well, in my case a trackball) and keyboard. My one complaint may just be that I wish the music was more raucously loud to help fully transport me back in time, but that’s obviously incredibly minor. I did debate whether or not this could even remotely be considered an “indie” title but with it being thoroughly and lovingly retro and showing up on the eShop at all of $10 full-price I’ve made that call and will stand by it. If you consider yourself a FPS nut, or even have a modest interest in the preservation of cornerstone titles in the history of video games this is absolutely worth owning and appreciating.

Monster Train First Class [Gambitious] (Nindie Choice!) - While I’ll admit to having a bit of deckbuilding strategy fatigue, there have been a number of titles on Switch in the past 2 years that have kept the quality of incoming titles in that vein hard to ignore. Aside from having a clean and attractive overall appearance, what First Class absolutely does right is to offer up a small, but smart, wrinkle into the normal summoning routine while peppering in a healthy dose of roguelike choice and unpredictability as you chug your way along the track. You see, your train’s core is on the top level, and with your enemies coming in on the bottom, that means you’ll be able to lay units on different levels to try to take them out as they make their way up. As you can only fit 2 units on each level, and the deck includes cards that can allow you to move units up or down after they’ve been placed, the planning here is absolutely vital as you take on higher and higher-level foes who are awash with HP. It can be easy to get jaded when yet another title in a genre having its moment comes along, but as long as developers keep making an earnest effort to keep them from all being mind-numbingly similar it’s great to periodically stumble into ones that are getting things right.

Murder Mystery Machine [Blazing Griffin] - Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Arrive at the crime scene, look for clues and evidence, interrogate witnesses, and then use your powers of deduction in order to solve the crime. It’s a well-worn formula that works. For the most part Murder Mystery Machine tries to honor this process, and the real focus of the game is on a board where all of the current information you’ve gathered is on display, with the goal being to start making associations to solve the case and help justify your conclusion. While I think the system itself is a smart one conceptually, in execution more often than not it left me feeling bewildered on what specific tidbits the game wanted me to put together, even when I felt like I had a good idea of what happened. Without pairing the precisely correct items with one another entire dialogue trees aren’t available to you, creating loops where you’ll be at a dead stop, with no actions you can take, so you’ll just inevitably begin pairing clues in the hopes that you stumble onto the magic combination that’s being sought at the time. It’s at that point where the illusion of you working though the process is shattered for the most part and the very linear nature of the underpinnings reveal themselves. It can still be a good bit of fun, but the rigidity of how you associate specific items with one another (even when it feels like other pairing with items in the same groups makes sense) can make it a frustrating experience at times.

Jessika [Tritrie Games] - Running with the concept of the “found phone” puzzle sub-genre, Jessika changes some of the more typical details and adds some decently-acted media to the mix, but still adheres to the same general idea. The general goal in these games is for you to rummage through a person’s data, texts, emails, and even media in order to advance your way through different layers of security and additional info that advances the story. Where the game struggles a bit is with the controls in the interface, which do function reasonably well but I wouldn’t consider ideal in all cases either. As is typical with this type of game there will inevitably be lulls where you’re unable to find the next tidbit you need to keep things advancing, often requiring backtracking to comb through things in the hopes you’ll find whatever it was you missed to keep you going. It has its moments, but this isn’t a game style likely for everyone.

Friday, August 20

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

Space Scavenger [Red Cabin Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s absolutely no denying that fans of twin-stick roguelike shooters, like myself, have an embarrassment of riches on the system. Great news for fans, less great news for developers trying to stand out from the formidable pack. In the case of Space Scavenger the hook is customization, in this case literally getting configure the build of your ship, LEGO-style, assembling parts the best you can within the rules to suit your style, but more often than not make lemonade out of lemons with as you improvise your way to success. While the first area acts as a decent primer to get you started, don’t fool yourself to think it stays that easy for long. You will absolutely be challenged to cobble your way to success, making the most of what you have on hand, and then strategically selling and then buying gear in periodic shops to try to put yourself in a position to succeed. Whether streamlined or bulked up, depending on your gear different strategies for configuring your ship may be in order, opening the door to a pretty smart learning process as you determine what works best for you and what pitfalls to avoid based on experience. In terms of the pure shooting action of things it may lack the intensity of some of its peers but as a total package there’s no denying it has some appeal with the hook of patching together a spaceship that’s all yours.

Risk of Rain 2 [Hopoo Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Having played both the original Risk of Rain and the Early Access version of this sequel on PC I’m pretty well-acquainted with both the level of challenge it provides, and of how chaotic the combat can tend to get in a hurry if you don’t keep up with the spawn rate of your enemies in spots. In many ways they aren’t very nuanced, your objective is to move through environments as quickly as you can, killing enemies along the way, in search of the teleportation shrine that will move you to the next area. Every moment you waste essentially powers up your enemies but that can also be a positive as blowing through a horde or two will give you some loot to spend at randomly-placed boxes, kiosks, 3D printers, and equipment like healing drones or defensive guns. Each stage then culminates in a challenging blow out boss fight. A load of classes, including a new one added in the latest patch, and the ability to team up online all make for plenty of ways to engage in great action… just be warned that if you’re seeking context, story, or nuance that isn’t what this game is about. It’s much more of a throwback conceptually to the days of arcades where the onslaught needed no explanation, you just needed to be ready to do as much damage as you can to get as far as you can before dying… and then starting all over again.

Pile Up! [Seed by Seed] - While Nintendo systems have been notoriously accused of being “for kids” for ages now, with the Switch mostly being no exception, in truth if you’re looking for a great game to directly play with your kids it can be a bit of a challenge to find much in the way of variety. That’s where a title like Pile Up can be easy to appreciate, as while more veteran gamers may find its puzzle platforming elements to be a bit simplistic, people who are less seasoned may really latch onto the overall approachability of the experience. That it is perfectly viable (though at times a bit tougher) as a solo game or can work nicely with a team of up to 4 people is then just sort of icing on the cake. The game looks colorful, its cardboard cutout figures inspire creative thoughts, and while not everything you see is a gimme, for the most part gamers of any skill level should be able to find success with it. While it isn’t without its flaws, if you’ve got a younger gamer-in-training around, or simply someone who normally feels overwhelmed by more intense experiences, it’s a great and generally simple title people should consider.

Arietta of Spirits [Third Spirit] - This is one of those tough ones where I can’t outright fault the key elements of the game design, but I also can say some of the choices in implementation brought it down a bit for me. Working in the mold of a classic 16-bit adventure, you’ll play as a young girl who gets caught up as someone able to operate in both the everyday and spirit worlds. I do appreciate the attempt to flesh out a story tied to her grandmother who had passed a year before, but the story to gameplay ratio in the first hour or so is pretty brutal and it just felt like the same objectives could be accomplished with a tighter script. Throw in movement from objective to objective often being multiple screens where you face the same repeated enemies and there don’t feel like many, if any, rewards for taking the time to explore anything or even engaging in combat and it has a tendency to drag a bit between major battles and beats. Arietta isn’t necessarily a bad title, it has plenty going for it, just up against much more engaging titles on the system it comes up a bit short.

Barry the Bunny [lightUp] - Ahh, another cute budget platformer with a cuddly wuddly little hero hopping his way through level to save the day… *record scratch sound* Yeah, though you may think Barry could be a cute bunny, past the first handful of levels make no mistake that the kid gloves get thrown off and you’ll be slowed down a bit by crushing disappointment as you die pretty quickly and easily. This tends to be a very “no mistakes” sort of experience. Though you can get some armor of sorts to make your survivability a tad higher the tendency is that on tough levels they’re only so much help and that’s where the problems set in a bit. My main complaint is that there are elements of the control and some objects in the game like ladders that just feel over-sensitive and result in pretty cheap deaths. Give me a challenge to my skills any day, but when sequences are implemented in a way where death awaits any execution error, even when in principle you know what needs to be done, patience can begin to wear thin. If you’re a fan of frustration this will deliver, I just wish that so often deaths didn’t feel like they had some element tied to implementation decisions contributing to the problem.

Thursday, August 19

Mini Reviews: August 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Curious Expedition 2 [Maschinen-Mensch] (Nindie Choice!) -
For me Curious Expedition 2 is everything I look for in a sequel outing. It delivers a bit more quirk and color in its characters, locations, and things to discover. It has made some small refinements to the dice-based combat and feels a bit more common sense this time around (though that could have to do with familiarity now, but originally in the first it felt like rougher going early on). It gives you plenty of opportunity to make both good and bad moves from start to finish, whether it’s in the composition of your team, taking a chance on a roll in a specific event, or taking a detour to check out a potential landmark along your route and risking your team running out of provisions as a result. There’s no question that the RNG gods can be cruel at times here, but on some runs they can also randomly save your ass so it feels fair. As strategy roguelike combinations go I believe this is one of the strongest, not just providing satisfying play but also throwing in a generous dose of personality and humor to keep you further engaged and entertained.

Mayhem Brawler [Hero Concept] (Nindie Choice!) - When I originally saw the art for this game I’ll have to admit I was a bit put off by its blatant similarities to the recent (and outright excellent) Streets of Rage 4, fearing this would feel like a derivative sort of cut and paste job. I’m happy to say that though it has much in common with that recent remake (though its general depth in the moves department is a fair distance behind), that isn’t to say that it doesn’t take some pains to set itself apart. You’ll choose one of 3 characters to start with, each of them playing pretty differently with a more agile fighter, a brawler, and someone pretty well smack dab in the middle to round it out. Your objective, in general terms, is just to steamroll your way through the underworld, beating down anyone in your way, searching for answers to what’s going down in your city. I will credit the developers with the smart move of setting up decisions at the end of most chapters which give you choices on how to proceed. At a minimum the fact that this gives you an excellent reason to return for multiple runs to see how things work out differently when you make alternative options is a smart move. Status conditions and some great unexpected villain types also raise the game above the likes of the established norm to throw in some unexpected challenges in places, requiring a bit more nuance in your fighting. It may not quite have reliable mainstream appeal, but for genre fans it’s definitely worthy of a look

Necrobarista: Final Pour [Coconut Island Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I realize that more often than not I’m a sort of wet blanket in the area of visual novels, especially those that allow little to no room for player agency. I may just be stubborn but I do struggle with “games” that feel like you’re merely being pulled along for the ride rather than having a part to play with some participation. All that said, there’s something about the tone, characters, and general vibe of Necrobarista that at least sets it pretty far apart from the likes of its general competition… and I respect that. Don’t walk into it expecting to be able to change the course of events it sets into motion, but if you’re willing to sit back and enjoy the ride it at least has an interesting point of view to express in the area of life and death.

Out of Line [Nerd Monkeys] - The great artwork and general puzzle-y adventure beats of Out of Line (as well as a timely multiversal sort of twist to things) almost immediately brought to mind the likes of Limbo, Inside, and some others. One the one hand that’s a compliment for the company its look and feel inspire, but on the other the comparison falls flat a bit in terms of the variety and scope of the story to be told since Out of Line’s overall run time is a mere couple of hours. The construction of the puzzles is smart enough, with you needing to make careful and accurate use of your power javelin in a number of ways, but in terms of the sheer variety of what you’ll face it can also feel a bit more on the one note side. If you’re down for this sort of title and don’t mind the relatively short run time and a lacking overarching story it still has its charms though.

Space Invaders Invincible Collection [Taito Corporation] - As an old-school arcade kid my familiarity with Space Invaders and its iterations over time is quite high. As always with these retro collections the archival aspect of them, allowing you to return to a true representation of what was (no matter how dated these days) is always valuable. What’s more, there are a few oddballs in this collection like Space Cyclone that I can’t recall having ever seen, adding to the level of intrigue seeing things that are even new. It’s a little disappointing not to see added materials like vintage artwork or ads found in other collections of this type, helping to paint the full picture of the times and where they came from but I understand not everyone is interested in anything more than the games themselves. For retro fans it may be a tough choice though, between this edition having the full lineage of games in the series and the cheaper Space Invaders Forever what may lacking most of the older titles, but does include the more engaging modern incarnations which are excellent, Space Invaders Extreme in particular. Of course, for people not as enamored with vintage games or their progeny, it may well be a total miss.

Wednesday, August 18

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

A Short Hike [adamgryu] (Nindie Choice!) -
We’ve truly been blessed over the past 6 months or so with a strong run of generally bite-sized exploratory adventures that focus far more on the wonder of nature and discovery than the normal more action-oriented fare typically out there. A Short Hike, though only lasting a few hours, seems to have that perfect ratio to keep everything tight and satisfying, never having to wander too far before you see something to be found, someone to interact with, or a hint at something you may be able to discover later with the right equipment. Moving around the scenic park you’ll encounter a variety of people, some there to help you and some in need of some quick help which typically won’t have you tromping around to find what they’re looking for. It may not have loads of depth or character development but honestly you’re likely to be so enchanted with the beauty of your surroundings and the clean simplicity of the overall experience that it won’t matter a bit. A definite recommendation for people looking to relax or younger gamers with parents trying to find them something appropriate for just about any skill level.

Garden Story [Picogram] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to relatively chill adventures in more of a classic style the Switch has pretty great representation already and can now add Garden Story to the list. Playing as the little grape Concord, you’ll take on the mantle of your area’s Guardian, doing a bit of learning on the job as you try to complete various tasks to keep the residents happy as well as give the beatdown to the encroaching threat of The Rot. There’s a satisfying and generally more action-oriented vibe to your daily activities as you do what you can to help people to gain perks and support as well as upgrade your abilities. While it’s not terribly elaborate in its world and storytelling it’s a relatively familiar sort of gameplay loop that has that sort of “one more day” pull as you hope to see what comes next. Recommended for fans of games in the vein of Stardew Valley and some other farm simulators that are itching for just a bit more combat to spice things up.

Fort Triumph [Fort Triumph LTD] - Let’s be honest, though many games have attempted to capture some element of the X-Com style of tactical strategy combat, very few have done a decent job of it. What I like about Fort Triumph is that it borrows some great general features from that franchise but then adds in some new tweaks and smart abilities that are a bit different and fresh. This means you’ll at least need to change up some of your typical planning to take the best advantage of the opportunities they afford you. Though the view of the field tries to be helpful with a free camera there are situations where it can still be hard to see precisely what you want to, and it can lead to some unusual shots as well of the action as it unfolds. What may win or lose the day will be the fantasy setting and the more contemporary sense of humor to things, for some pulling it away from being stuffy and serious but for others it could perhaps be a bit grating. A solid effort with strategy appeal, but perhaps not groundbreaking either to pull in new people to the fold.

Faraday Protocol [Red Koi Box] - With a first-person puzzling style that is quite different from, but at times reminded me of, Portal in some ways with its construction and dialogue Faraday Protocol at least caught my attention. Certainly the comparison isn’t a fair one, pitting anything against a pretty well iconic classic, but compared to some other attempts with this view in puzzle games I at least think this comes through fairly well, even if at times it has a bit more of a trial and error than a deductive one when it comes to working out how to proceed. It’s all about managing your limited energy resources in each room (or group of rooms) effectively, setting yourself up for success by working out the proper progression to things. It’s nothing revolutionary, but if you’re looking for a different perspective in your puzzling it’s a fair choice.

Heart Chain Kitty [origamihero games] - While I have nostalgia for old-school looks and experiences I have found that while a return to classic pixel art tends to be met with a sense of fondness early-gen 3D games can be tougher to swallow. While I tried to keep an open mind the muddiness, blurriness, and oversaturated colors in Heart Chain Kitty unfortunately did get in the way of enjoyment. The somewhat primitive nature of the action, while making it more family-friendly perhaps, didn’t do it any favors either. In so many ways this feels like a release from another time, even moreso than the myriad remasters I’ve seen. That’s not to say there can’t be an audience that will enjoy it, just it’s a tough sell in this day and age on multiple levels.

Monday, August 16

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

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure [ustwo] (Nindie Choice!) - It’s weird how at times in certain genres when it rains, it pours, and exploration-based discovery titles are currently out in force. Alba may not be a very long or meaty game, but its wholesome characters, super-chill wandering and discovering, and even inclusion of the element of getting great snaps of the local wildlife at least makes it a joy. Feeling incredibly well-suited to the Switch, a joy whether in handheld mode or docked, I appreciate its slightly more distinctive sense of style and tone even among its other laid back contemporaries. If you’re looking for something to take a few hours to enjoy, simply taking in nature and a bit of wonder along the way, this is a great option for you on the eShop.

Boyfriend Dungeon [Kitfox Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Elevator pitch time… so what if the goal was to make a game that fully embraces and meshes together intense slashing roguelike combat and… a dating sim?!? Yeah, I know, right… these things just seem to naturally belong together, for sure. Despite the clash in styles, and though not without some flaws, I have to throw my hat off to the folks at Kitfox Games for putting earnest effort into getting both right in parallel, not obviously neglecting the quality of one for the other and making their genre-bending only a half-hearted effort. The definite risk is that while it does a good job on both ends of the spectrum it wouldn’t necessarily stand up to the best in the genre on either side. Particularly on the roguelike action side since the combat, though decent, isn’t as fluid and varied per weapon to the level that other games in the eShop have set the bar to, but it’s certainly enough to keep you entertained. The only other criticism I would have is that conceptually wanting to have the best weapon for you in dungeons can put you on a very different path from who you want to get to work with romantically, so when this is in conflict it can make things a bit weird, even if the dialogue generally allows you to keep the tone and mood under control to a degree. It’s a weird one, for sure, but it works surprisingly well on the whole.

Foreclosed [Antab] - While perhaps the results aren’t always as great as developers may hope for, I do have a great appreciation for games that take some risks in their design. With its somewhat kitchen sink-ish melange of gameplay styles including stealth, outright shooting, puzzle solving, and various action-y sequences stuffed into a very cyberpunk comic book look, Foreclosed has no lack of ambition. In execution? OK, so perhaps it can be a bit uneven in both the general quality and certainly the balance in the difficulty as you proceed. That said, I like the setting the look, and on the whole the pretty unique mix of gameplay this title has to offer. If you’re looking for more of an eclectic game that will throw some surprises and challenges at you, Foreclosed may be a bit unrefined but it can also be a pretty good time.

Art of Rally [Funselektor Labs Inc] - Though the Switch has proven quite capable of bringing exciting experiences over from the other consoles or the PC space that doesn’t mean all conversions are a success. In the case of Art of Rally, without some serious patching and tuning it’s fair to say that things have been lost in the move that are unfortunate, making it a tough sell even if you’re a fan of challenging and more technical racing. Aside from having lost some of its visual luster the real problem is even with the downgraded visuals the frame rate can still suffer and stutter at times. While I tend to be pretty forgiving with this sort of thing the issue is that with the racing being more challenging the up and down nature of the artificially ups the challenge with what feels like inconsistency. Hopefully it can be patched to minimize these issues but for now it’s a tough sell.

Tetragon [Cafundo Estudio Criativo Eireli] - Starting out with Tetragon it felt like it had some potential promise. A generally nice art style, a story of a father looking to find his lost daughter… there are some elements that work well in it. That said, the puzzling itself too often ends up being a bit slow and tedious… at least with console controls. The design of the game very much adheres to the mobile touchscreen experience and it hasn’t translated very well to the dedicated game console of the Switch, at least if you’re not planning to play it in handheld mode. That’s where you get into the active question of whether you’d just be best sticking to the mobile version, and in this case I’d say there’s a good case for that being your better option as it just seems encumbered by the controls and the art looks better at the smaller scale.

Friday, August 13

Mini Reviews: August 13th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Greak: Memories of Azur [Navegante Entertainment] (Nindie Choice!) -
When you’re this far into a system’s lifespan, making a splash with a game that not only has a distinctive look but that’s in a way that still feels fresh can take some work. I’d seen Greak last year at PAX with an early-ish build and already there was no question that a great look was already established but in my time I was only able to see the potential in the character-swapping mechanics. I’m happy to say that on release the final version works nicely, still possessing a great simple-but-attractive look, smart puzzle elements with each character having their own feel and usefulness, and even relatively simple but satisfying platforming and combat to work as the connective tissue between everything. While I wouldn’t put it at the very top tier within the overall puzzle platforming genre, I’d say there are some better stories told or titles with more diverse and compelling action, I do have to tip my hat to it being a well-made and engaging title genre fans absolutely should check out.

Badland: Game of the Year Edition [Frogmind] (Nindie Choice!) - While this is a title that has been around for quite some time at this point, I’m surprised by how well it has held up both in terms of its great funky art style and its simple-but-challenging play. For the most part this is a one-button game, which you’ll use to control the flapping of your little furry creature(s) to keep as many as you can alive through all sorts of obstacles and death traps, remembering that in the end you only need one to survive to move in. It’s worth noting that you’ll just want to hold down the button for the amount of oomph you need, tapping the button will end up being a dead end for you quickly. The real price here, though, is just the sheer amount of levels and content that come along for the ride for the budget price, even including local co-op and competitive multiplayer levels as well. If you’ve never picked this up, and your down for a deceptively-tricky action game that has much more polish than its budget price would imply, it’s definitely worth the plunge.

Islanders: Console Edition [GrizzlyGames] - This budget title, at first glance, looked like it may be a sim of sorts… but if that’s what got you excited, be warned, that isn’t what you’ll find here. Instead, it’s more of a puzzle strategy game where you’ll need to very carefully place buildings of different types all around the randomly-generated island you’ve been assigned, trying to maximize your points so you can continue to move on and eventually make your way to a new island to begin the process again. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially since so many buildings derive bonuses or penalties from the right and wrong buildings or resources in their immediate area. Early on, as you’re getting accustomed to the rules, this can make things a bit aggravating, as you’ll paint yourself into corners in some ways with poor early placements. However, with some time you’ll tend to do better planning and set yourself up for success. The added Sandbox mode ends up being more of a novelty just to make visually-pleasing towns, but not much more since there’s not a sim element here to give it more consequence to what you set up.

Zengeon [IndieLeague Studio] - Starting Zengeon up there’s a feel of real promise with a great animated opener, distinctive characters, and everything exuding a sense of style. However, once you start playing the veneer of polish quickly chips away and things trend more towards generic and perhaps almost unfinished. After selecting your character you’ll battle enemies and grab items around the procedurally-generated maps on each level but after the game’s opener showing so much attitude the gameplay itself is comparatively bland and the controls a bit on the stilted side, never really allowing you to get into an exciting flow, more often just sticking to what works. I suppose if the art and overall style of game appeal to you it may be worth a look, just within this action-oriented roguelike/RPG space on Switch there are simply better options by a fair margin, making it tough to recommend.

Bone Marrow [Ratalaika Games] - Taking the basic premise of mobile puzzlers like 2048 or Threes, Bone Marrow tries to throw in a little value-added RPG-ish feels to spice things up. Rather than just combining elements simply to make space for yourself and max out your score there are two elements that come into play. The first is a night and day mechanic where at night you’ll be busy in the normal mode of trying to combine like elements (whether food, weapons, or armor), while during the day you’ll have the opportunity to consume them and buff up your character. The second wrinkle, adding in enemies that you’ll need to dispatch as well, further complicates matters, especially since when you move things around you can power them up as well if you’re not careful. It is a bit interesting and different, at least for a little while, but it doesn’t demand your attention for long. Still, if you’re a fan of that style of play this new flavor may be to your liking.

Thursday, August 12

Mini Reviews: August 12th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Skydrift Infinity [Digital Reality] (Nindie Choice!) - One of the subgenres I’ll say I’m most disappointed having seen ride off into the sunset in recent generations is combat racing. It seems that the Mario Kart series has pretty well dominated that general space for quite some time and aside from people trying to replicate that formula (and generally failing) there hasn’t been much to choose from. That changes with Skydrift Infinity, which doesn’t just entertain with some great competitive combat, but also throws in the fact that you’re trying to do this in the air, adding to the challenge. You’ll work through a variety of events raging from being focused on speed, to combat as everyone fights to end up in first, to elimination races where you’ll be in a constant struggle to keep yourself out of last. Not everything is perfect, I do wish there were more tracks available (though at least they make full use of what they have with reverse races) and in some cases it can be pretty easy to lose track of where you’re supposed to go and where the boundaries are for you to race in, but the thrill of maneuvering through tight spaces, dodging buildings, and then blowing up your enemies helps to make up for it. If you’ve been feeling the need to race and blow some stuff up this will do a fair job of scratching that specific itch.

Project AETHER: First Contact [Sleepy Spider Studios] - As I’ve stated many times I’m a big fan of classic arcade shooting so when titles take that style of play and run with it, trying to add in some new spice, I’m always down to check it out. In the case of First Contact they really throw in at least two additional components rather than just one, with both the fact that you can use twin sticks to aim as you move around the screen and the ability with some weapons to charge up enemies and then detonate them in the hopes of blowing up or at least damaging other enemy ships. On top of that there’s a pretty satisfying variety in weapons you’ll be able to choose between, and you’ll be able to alternate between two of them as you go so you can get pretty strategic with how you approach your loadouts. All that said, in the end the general play just feels a bit bland. That isn’t to say it’s easy, you’ll have to be careful not to be overwhelmed in spots, but at the same time with so much strong competition on the system this shooter, for all of its attempts to make itself feel fresh, just doesn’t make much of a lasting impression in order to take a place in the higher echelon. 

Fire Tonight [Reptoid Games] - Working with a mix of a story of young love, where any distance apart can feel like agony, and some reasonably creative puzzle-solving Fire Tonight at least has a fresh general feel. That said, if the love story component isn’t something you’re craving, perhaps the essence of the puzzles, navigating through the city as you try to avoid fires (thus the game’s title) and the authorities, may not have enough flavor to sustain the experience. It’s not meant to be long or terribly deep, more of a light snack of story and some exploration that completes itself rather quickly. Not bad, but not terribly inspiring either.

Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four [Elder Games] - With a preponderance of deckbuilders on the Switch it has gotten increasingly difficult to distinguish anything but the most unique or well-crafted experiences. To its credit, Cardaclysm does things just a bit differently with how you manage your resources that allow you to summon creatures or use skills, and I found cards that would allow you to steal resources with attacks to be of particular use strategically. Choosing what to upgrade, upping the cost but also utility, is also a challenge that has to be managed carefully, so the care in trying to add complexity is appreciated. That said, the combat itself, which is an essential piece of the puzzle, still generally feels on the generic side here as a whole and lacking in pizzazz that keeps you on your toes, there can be a going through the motions element to it I don’t always find in the genre. If you’re a fan of deckbuilders the slightly different flavor to the strategic component may be enough to make it worth checking out though.

Smashroom [Forever Entertainment] - As you’d expect on a Nintendo system, there are loads of side-scrolling platformers of all styles and levels of quality. Obviously then, trying to stand out in a crowded eShop with so much competition is a challenge. Smashroom at least manages to distinguish itself a little bit with its somewhat unusual combat mechanics with a lack of a typical forward attack, and requiring that you work a little harder to dispatch enemies with what skills you do have, primarily your explosive ability which is also key to breaking up obstacles and propelling yourself around. I’ll give credit for it being different, but in this case I wouldn’t argue necessarily better as you often end up feeling very fragile and that often slows you down without adding much in the way of excitement. If you’re in the mood for a change of pace and style it may suit you though.

Wednesday, August 11

Mini Reviews: August 11th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

A Monster's Expedition [Draknek] (Nindie Choice!) -
One thing I’ve learned over the years as someone both on the programming end of software and on the consumer end is that creating experiences that are “simple” by nature is often anything but. With that in mind, there’s a certain effortless quality to the clean and well-planned rule progression and puzzles in Expedition that I really appreciate and admire. With minimal direction and some simple experimentation you’ll pretty understand each new element added to the rule mix as you simply try to make your way around a series of islands, enjoying some unusual artifacts with amusing descriptions along the way. It’s light but still challenging, for the most part establishing and then carefully following a slow and steady progression in complexity and difficulty the further you get. A great example of work invested to convert what could just be a puzzle game into more of an enjoyable puzzle experience worth checking out.

Button City [Subliminal] (Nindie Choice!) - With its somewhat simple polygonal art, abundance of color, and undeniable cute factor, Button City is a moderately laid back adventure focused on you playing as a new kid in town who quickly befriends a small group of video game warriors at the local arcade. What it lacks in dramatic depth and narrative complexity it makes up for with quirk, charm, somewhat innocent fun, and a certain positivity that I really enjoyed in a landscape dominated more by post-Apocalyptic hellscapes and conflict. In order to break things up a bit you'll be tackling a number of arcade mini games that may not all be winners but at least help to add some needed variety to things, and give the overall experience some added flavor. I'd consider it ideal for families with younger gamers or simply people who are looking for an fun adventure with colorful characters and a generally more mild than average challenge. It won't be a perfect fit for just anyone but it's a welcome ray of positivity on the eShop that I appreciate.

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened [Chromatic Games] - In order to liven up the classic tower defense-style strategy game, a number of developers have taken a crack at adding an active combat component to things. In the case of the Dungeon Defenders series this has been done in a first-person perspective with you taking on a hero from one of a handful of classes, either solo or with your friends, to set up defenses and then work to protect your dungeon core while masses of enemies attack. I've played this, and some of its competition before on PC where everything works pretty well but this was my first foray on a console. While I don't doubt you could undoubtedly get used to the control scheme and interfaces for managing your defenses, progressing your character, switching out your equipment, and battling enemies effectively there are come control choices here that strike me as both unusual and cumbersome. That some of these things aren't explained well (or, in some cases, at all) as you get ramped up and used to everything then additionally adds a layer of early frustration that doesn't help the game make a great case for being worth the effort. Throw in general play that was, at one point, more novel but now feels like it has become more stagnant in terms of creativity and excitement and while people playing with friends may get a kick out of the collective experience people tackling it solo may not find it to be as compelling.

Banners of Ruin [MonteBearo] - Having originally checked this out in Early Access on PC, and being impressed by many facets of the game from its look to its roguelike sensibilities, I was thrilled to see it arriving on Switch. Unfortunately, what feels like a rushed, sloppy, and ill-conceived port has sapped pretty much all enthusiasm I had for it. When the title screen is still showing "Early Access" it serves as a canary in the coal mine for how little attention and love was put into porting this to Switch. Aside from the text in many cases being completely impractical for portable play the real crime here is how simply horrible the implemented console controls are. Awkward use of both sticks and the triggers never feels intuitive or logical, and it encumbers the game horribly in a way I've never seen with any other deckbuilder on the system. This pains me to say but while I really love the base play of Ruin and how it meshes deckbuilding, smart tactical combat, and roguelike chance together on the Switch I can't recommend it in its current state.

Spelunker HD Deluxe [Tozai Games] - While I had heard tales of the infamous Spelunker games and their inexplicably bad controls, until now I had never had the opportunity to experience them for myself. Now, I have also heard the praises of the titles as being challenging and rewarding for those with the temerity to learn to live with the game's many quirks. Taking it all in and reviewing the points both sides of the issue claim I'm firmly in the camp of bafflement of why anyone at this point, taking the time to give the game a new look, would deliberately continue down the path of terrible game mechanics. You could call it "hard", but I'd counter instead that it's "cheap" or "lazy" when death awaits for failing to leave a ladder wrong, falling into a small ditch, or any number of ways that defy logic. I love games that challenge my skill, but not simply my patience to endure bad design. Not recommended unless you're a die hard fan already.

Friday, August 6

Mini Reviews: August 6th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Black Book [Morteshka] (Nindie Choice!) -
Whenever you see new titles show up in a genre that seems to be currently having its moment you end up taking a moment to see what it has done to differentiate itself from the pack. In the case of Black Book it doesn’t take too much effort to see how it is determined not to be considered an also-ran in the deckbuilding pack as it taps pretty heavily into Slavic lore while telling its story of your character as a young witch, finding her way as she learns to tap into the dark powers at her command in order to be reunited with her lost husband-to-be. There’s a bit of a learning curve simply getting into some of the language of it, and understanding how best to use the cards you accumulate in battle, but for me the combat was what you’d somewhat come to expect but I found the story and characters themselves to be pretty fascinating. It may be a little over-encumbered with things to concern yourself with, managing various demons and who they terrorize rather than turning their ire towards you may have been a game system that wasn’t needed, but I’ll credit it with adding flavor to the whole endeavor. If you’re seeking something different with much darker twinges in its storytelling than you’d normally find, this will deliver.

Picross S Genesis & Master System Edition [Jupiter Corporation] (Nindie Choice!) - If you’re a puzzle gaming fan, you’re probably well-acquainted with the Picross franchise. While the S series on the Switch has made strides to add to and refine the formula from time to time, there’s no doubt getting to be a limit on what new can be introduced to the recipe at this point, as is illustrated with its competition which, aesthetics aside, has roughly landed in the same general space. Throw in classic Sega art and music though, and if you’re a classic gaming fan like I am and this edition easily makes a case for the modest fee of admission just to enjoy being basked in some nostalgia. While I wish more tracks were included it was honestly the music that immediately sucked me in. Given that there are many puzzles that are smaller in scale some of the art elements you’ll reveal can be a bit underwhelming but that’s fine, as you get to bigger puzzles you’ll reveal some great reminders of games from years past that, for fans, are sure to put smiles on faces. If it has become tougher to innovate with new modes I think collaborations like this are a great path for Jupiter to take as they provide value-added content for puzzle fans and celebrate developers and franchises that people hold dear at the same time.

Doomsday Vault [Flightless] - Hopefully not accurately depicting our future, in Doomsday Vault you’re tasked with working to recover precious unique plants and their seeds in order to help preserve them and to hopefully turn things around. You’ll be dropped into a variety of environments, and will need to use care and some smarts to make your way through their various puzzling scenarios to recover the seeds themselves and then hidden nutrients as well along the way. You can tell that it has come over from the tablet space, as the console controls do work fine but also take getting used to with things being oriented more diagonally with the isometric view. In terms of the puzzles and experience overall I’d say it’s all pretty middle of the road, neither mind-blowingly creative nor mind-numbingly simple and if you dig the pro-environment vibe and a chance to help save the planet that’s likely a nice bonus as well.

The Last Survey [Nicholas O'Brien] - Interactive stories, especially ones that are artistically basic, are tough to score and evaluate fairly. To its credit, despite its simplicity, The Last Survey did manage to suck me in with its story that provides a sort of picture into corporate greed and excess and how it has managed to imperil our planet. Sure, if you happen to find yourself on the side of industry over the “tree huggers” this likely won’t do much more than make your blood boil, but for most people I’d wager the game’s goal of trying to carefully and diplomatically do your part to try to help steer your employer in a more positive direction to be an interesting one. As someone who has worked in the cold space of corporate America I was actually amused and impressed by the accuracy of the depiction of the executive environment and what it feels like to contemplate career suicide in the name of making positive change. If you accept the game’s theme and minimalist nature there’s no question that the quality of the writing and the unique nature of the premise make for an engaging combination that’s worth seeing through. Just there’s also no doubt the game would be considered niche with its simplicity in how it is presented.

Apple Slash [Agelvik] - With its minimalist art and color scheme, Apple Slash certainly does look distinctive. For the most part the game’s action falls into the same space, with you exploring, slashing away or throwing things at enemies, and working out puzzles as you try to reach new areas whether using acquired skills or through being careful and thorough enough to recall spots you may have not been able to get to initially. For the budget price it’s not a bad time, but it’s also not the sort of game that inspires much enthusiasm. There did seem to be periodic performance hiccups, which were at times a bit annoying, but at least they were temporary. It’s a title that has a formula that’s sufficient, and it seems to have mostly met its goals… there’s just not that much to it either.

Thursday, August 5

Mini Reviews: August 5th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Haven Park [Fabien Weibel] (Nindie Choice!) -
As much of an action and shooting game junkie as I am, looking for games that challenge me and provide thrills, a great game that moves in the precisely opposite direction can very much grab me. Whether something like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, or other titles out there, sometimes slowing everything down to enjoy some Zen-like calm can be very appealing. For me, Haven Park absolutely nailed the sweet spot for about 5 hours of my time and once I had started I simply had to see it through to the end, which can be difficult to do with as many games as I tend to play and review on a weekly basis. Your goal is a pretty simple one, to restore, improve, and find the many hidden secrets of this park you’ve inherited the responsibility for from your grandmother. This is an experience focused on exploration, the joy of discovery, a bit of puzzle solving, and taking the time to follow every path, check out every hunch, and simply enjoy yourself. I would say that towards the end of the game I did wish for an ability to set something up to allow myself to port around the map more quickly as I shored everything up but it’s a relatively small quibble, if you enjoy games that help you slow down and unwind this comes highly recommended.

The Falconeer [Tomas Sala] (Nindie Choice!) - Games where dogfighting takes a central sort of role have been around for quite some time, and while there are some stand-out excellent titles like Everspace out there that can give you that fix on Switch they still feel few and far between. Many titles have taken the approach of stripping down story to focus on combat, or some have been pretty in some way but relatively shallow overall, leaving genre fans without an abundance of choices. While its setting is more on the fantastical side, with you commanding a fighting falcon as your steed, rather than set in space or in some sort of aircraft, The Falconeer makes a serious attempt at providing both engaging combat and an overarching story to add intrigue. While it doesn’t venture into the grand territory of the likes of a Wing Commander title (though, sadly, nothing really ever has) this is a well-made game with satisfying and somewhat unique combat, a sense of flight that feels pretty good (though I’m thankful for the ability to warp ahead rather than glide along for a few minutes between objectives), and a story that may have some familiar beats but provides some color to the action and some incentive to see things through to the end. It isn’t perfect, but if you’re starved for this sort of experience it’s among the short list of better options available on the eShop.

Dreamscaper [Afterburner Studios] - As a bit of a roguelike action/shooter junkie I’m always fascinated to see new titles come into the fold that are determined to do things their own unique way. As you may have guessed, Dreamscaper does just that, and it does so on numerous levels which include its dreamy and ethereal look, and its surprising attempts to build more of a world than the norm with some rich character development. This all helps to set it apart, for sure, but unfortunately I’d say not always in positive ways. The visual style of the stages is really cool, no doubt, but too often I found that the sparkly nature of things was confusing. Is that something I’m supposed to pick up, a visual cue for something I should be concerned about, or just random sparkles? Far too often, and even after playing the game for a bit, I found myself wondering that and, wasting time on nothing, being sure to try to check anything sparkling out. While the character interactions provide flavor, and I’d think games like Hades would inspire this approach, getting around feels slower and more cumbersome, the conversations not as engaging, and the fruits for your time spent less rewarding. There are glimpses of greatness here, and if you’re a sucker for a cool visual style you’ll likely have fun with it, but it’s not as easy to recommend as some of its peers, though with some tightening up and patching it could get closer to the mark.

Castle of Pixel Skulls [2ksomnis] - Low-budget fare can always be tough to score since there’s always a question of where to put the bar. In the case of Castle you could argue it’s just meant to be a retro platforming romp, keeping things simple for a reasonable price. The issue may just be how simple and how it stacks up with its peers on the system. One note I would make is that the timing intervals of platforms and moving (or disappearing) elements don’t appear to be synched, so I’d imagine it would be speed runner kryptonite to some degree as well, and can result in some long pauses as you wait for things to line up a bit more in your favor. This has actually become a pretty crowded space and unfortunately I’d say on roughly all sides it gets trumped in quality. It isn’t the toughest, the prettiest, the most creative, the most fun… it’s just decent but entirely forgettable.

Corpse Killer: 25th Anniversary Edition [Screaming Villains] - When bringing back any game from the past for another look the prospects will always tend to be dicey, at best. Bringing back a FMV game that was featured on the Sega CD? That’s a whole different level of ballsy for a multitude of reasons. So now that we have Corpse Killer on Switch we can really take a moment to appreciate the nuanced performances of the actors involved… kidding, the acting here is approximately 10 miles below the bottom of the barrel. The crisp remastered video at least looks great… KIDDING even more, the artifacts and outright tearing of the video make this look like a shot-on-video horror show that simply can’t be made to look better. But at least the overlaid shooting gameplay is engaging and exciting… sorry, I keep doing this. Wow, it is pretty unresponsive and laughably funky. Aside from pure masochistic nostalgia I can’t imagine any reason to pick this up, it’s just a mess on so many levels.

Wednesday, August 4

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

Trigger Witch [Rainbite] (Nindie Choice!) -
OK, so I’ll admit it, games that do something weird to combine elements I know and love tend to catch me by surprise and can make me inflate my scoring to go with that feeling. While I suspect that’s the case for Trigger Witch, a game I’ll readily admit is by no means perfect, I’m still on board for the idea and the majority of its execution. Imagine a Zelda-esque top-down adventure but rather than using your sword, or perhaps sensibly magic since your character is a witch, you’ll instead be packing some heat and shooting things up twin-stick style. Since this is the first title I’ve played in this vein the novelty really works for me, though I think the next one I would tackle I’d have some higher expectations for in terms of refinement. The characters and dialogue are quirky, the shooting action may not be as intense and tough as I prefer but I found it to be fun, and I think Trigger Witch makes an excellent case for more developers to get ambitious and take on making this style of play an official thing… because I’m definitely down for more.

Blaster Master Zero 3 [Inti Creates] (Nindie Choice!) - One of the surprise redux hits in this generation has been the return of the Blaster Master series with the Zero titles, which have managed to carefully respect the essence of the original game while fleshing elements that were less notable out further. Considering the very reasonable price point, this is a pretty great retro action adventure with varied challenges… though also maybe feeling a little redundant in terms of play at this point. However, this title completes a sort of trilogy story arc in a satisfying fashion if you’ve been following the previous two titles, and continues to ramp up the relative level of difficulty from the other two titles as well. But for people new to the series it may be more ideal to go back to the first, see how it goes, and then work from there rather than jumping in on this last chapter since otherwise you may be a little lost in terms of the story and mechanics that are a bit taken for granted as understood at this point. 

10 Second Ninja X [Thalamus Digital Publishing Ltd] - This minimalist, and quite challenging, platformer will absolutely make you a bit crazy if your goal isn’t just to complete tough levels but also do so in an insanely limited amount of time. Sure, within a few attempts you’ll likely be able to tackle some of these tough precision stages but in order to truly conquer each level with the best time you’ll have to throw out any and all hesitation and execute every move to perfection. To its credit the controls are crisp and precise, and when you die or realize you’ve been going too slow each reset is pretty well instantaneous so you won’t waste any time waiting for your next run. Just with its simplicity and budget price don’t expect anything more than the challenges themselves, and if you like the personality the likes of titles like Super Meat Boy or the heart of Celeste you’ll find them non-existent here… so it’s take it or leave it.

Bustafellows [eXtend] - Right out of the gate I’ll admit I’m a bit lost in trying to summarize the Bustafellows experience, but regardless I won’t deny it has style and attitude to burn. Mixing together a somewhat motley (but I’m sure intended to be quite cute) crew of criminals with your main character who is a female journalist in search of a big story (but who has an ability move back time just a bit and inhabit others), it opens the door to fleshing out the game’s characters and motivations in unexpected and unique ways. With your choices feeling like they have greater consequence than the average visual novel the level of engagement is pretty impressive, but ultimately whether it’s a game for you really rests on how much you like the unusual premise and whether it sounds like an experience you can just enjoy the ride with or whether it may be a bit too odd for your tastes.

OS Omega [RockGame] - With the world of OS Omega being within the computer realm, somewhat reminding me of one of my all-time favorite movies, TRON, OS Omega had my interest on a core level. Your goal, as Binary Boy, is to save your home from a nasty virus set to wreck your digital existence. Boasting a wide array of weapons, on paper this twin-stick RPG adventure can seem to have promise, but in execution it really falls apart pretty quickly. Sluggish and muddy controls are a central problem that immediately hits you and the somewhat wonky state of things just continues to hit you here and there on a consistent basis, sapping energy and excitement from what could be by the rough state of what is instead. Feeling quite desperately in need of patching I currently would currently consider it a pass.