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.

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