Thursday, September 30

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

Steel Assault [Zenovia] (Nindie Choice!) -
Run-and-gun shooters were absolutely a consistent staple in the arcades and on consoles back in the day, and that puts a certain amount of pressure on developers in the current day to do anything that feels new and exciting. What’s great is that sometimes just small things can really make a difference and the grapple in Steel Assault quickly became the star of the show for me. Giving the game a feeling that sits somewhere between a classic shooter like Contra and the beloved Bionic Commando, there’s just something refreshing about the flow of this game that’s very satisfying. That’s not to say that, by any means, it’ll be an easy run. You can expect to crash and burn quite a bit, with the expectation being that you’re really on top of how best to use your grapple quickly and effectively even while under fire, and that can sometimes require some diligence to get through tough spots. I think the challenge is also exacerbated a little by checkpoints that sometimes feel a little spread out, though conceptually they usually make sense and some areas are simply bigger and tougher than others. While in terms of raw content the game technically isn’t a very long one, getting to the point where you’ve got the skill and experience to be able to blow through it all will take some time, making this a great challenge for classic arcade fans.

A Juggler’s Tale [Kaleidoscube] (Nindie Choice!) - With its marionette characters and associated string-based challenges, rhyming narration, and a healthy dose of charm A Juggler’s Tale is certainly unique. Playing out as a sort of puzzle adventure you’ll continue to be presented with scenarios where you’ll need to work out how to survive or escape from what’s usually some calamitous set of circumstances. As you could expect from moment to moment the results can thus vary, and at times if you’ve missed some visual cue you may find yourself feeling a bit stuck, though thankfully the answer is always somewhere nearby at least. There are times where the controls can feel a bit on the dodge side, sometimes resulting in failure even when you know what you want to do, but for the most part you do get accustomed to some of the quirks and learn to work with them. While the adventure only lasts a few hours it is at least memorable, in particular because of the narrator who makes everything you’ve done feel just a bit more grand.

Centipede: Recharged [SneakyBox] (Nindie Choice!) - Taking classic arcade titles and trying to give them new life in the modern era tends to be a challenge, and I’ve definitely seen both great successes and utter failures to date on the Switch. While Centipede may not be near the top of my list of favorites from the early arcade era, I did spend a significant amount of time playing it both in the arcades and on my trusty Atari 5200 back in the day. Recharged absolutely makes the right moves to honor the basics of the game and give it a push towards being more modern with a pretty wide array of power-ups that absolutely change up your strategy depending on what you happen to get. Scorpions and fleas absolutely remain your worst enemies, poisoning mushrooms that will send any centipede hurtling down towards you and continually spamming new mushrooms onto the screen respectively. In addition to the enhanced classic arcade mode there are a number of challenges as well that build specific scenarios to survive, which is a nice touch. About my only complaint is that the soundscape of the game is so ordinary and honestly pretty quiet, the sounds of the various enemies in the original title were outright iconic and were essential to building the classic arcade wall of cacophony. The lack of their inclusion, or even at least subtle nods to them, is a disappointment as they would tip you off to what was coming. A minor criticism perhaps, but it’s one critical area that should have been honored to put a cherry on top of this otherwise rock solid arcade update.

Crisis Wing [Pieslice Productions] - Back in the days of arcades and even earlier consoles vertical shmups were in their heyday, and while not all of them were necessarily special they could be counted on to at least be consistently engaging. Crisis Wing feels like it’s right out of that time, and that’s both a good and a not-so-great thing. It manages to quickly feel comfortable and familiar with its enemies attacking in formation, big bosses, bomb attacks, and periodic colored power-ups each corresponding to a slightly different pattern for your firepower. However, if you were hoping that something would stand out as a modern touch, or even something notable to differentiate it from countless other titles of its kind, you’d end up feeling a bit let down. For its budget price it is absolutely serviceable, and if you simply love seeing different takes on the genre and working to complete them all it will provide some satisfaction. Just compared to numerous efforts already on the eShop that go a little further to stand out it can’t keep up.

Shadows of Kurgansk [Gaijin Distribution] - One of the game styles that has been plagued by the most inconsistencies on the Switch has been survival horror, and the causes of the core issues have varied from game to game. To Kurgansk’s credit, it’s at least a step above what inevitably feels like a common walking simulator with some jump scares thrown in to try to spice things up. There’s no doubt it has a first-person survival vibe first and foremost, with the horror creeping in surrounding the need to try to survive in what can be a hostile environment, the savage people you’ll encounter periodically, and the haunted essence of many of the places you’ll encounter. The problem is that the gameplay runs a bit threadbare, the controls have a tendency to be a bit wonky in places, and the vital interface for managing your resources and crafting things would generously be called clunky. If you don’t mind the budget stripped down nature of many aspects of the game there’s at least some content to explore here, just keep your expectations in check.

Tuesday, September 28

Mini Reviews: September 28th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

UnMetal [@unepic_fran] (Nindie Choice!) -
While we hardcore types love our games, that isn’t to say that when confronted with examples of the silliness we regularly accept without question we can’t have a good laugh. It’s in that spirit that UnMetal has been forged, aping the style, story, and tropiness of many classic games and movies only to then crap all over much of it… and if you’re like me that’s when hilarity ensues! The action plays out to match the story your raspy-voiced anti-hero is sharing with his interrogator, trying to explain the events that led to his current incarceration. This setup is really the critical component in the game’s humor, with the interrogator regularly stopping everything to ask an obvious question or make a pointed observation about the ridiculousness of everything that just happened or was said. Obviously having its sights set primarily on the classic Metal Gear series, the gameplay is generally very retro and arcade-y in nature but just decent, it’s really the sense of humor and the game giving you room to be outrageous that elevates it all to a different level. Perhaps if you don’t have room to laugh at the forms of entertainment you enjoy this will be a wing and a miss, as may be the case if you’re unwilling to giggle at some of the more crass humor that the game revels in. That said, if your goal is to play along and be entertained, UnMetal stands out as a game filled with laughs that will keep you playing along just to set up the next joke.

Dandy Ace [Mad Mimic] (Nindie Choice!) - While I’ve been a fan of roguelikes for quite some time it’s only been in the past few years with top-tier titles the likes of Dead Cells, Hades, and more that they’ve really been catapulted into more mainstream gaming circles. That, of course, invites games looking to capitalize, but matching the high standards of stand-outs like those is a real challenge. While Dandy Ace isn’t quite as polished and impressive as Hades in multiple areas, I’ll at least give it credit for its visual and stylistic flair as well as hearty degree of challenge and (eventual) variety. As is the case with pretty well all roguelikes that have meta progression the early running will tend to be more repetitive and rough, as you won’t have access to much variety or power in the cards you’ll use to power your attacks. That said, if you’re willing to experiment with what you have you’ll find the game’s enhancement system, allowing for stacking cards to add secondary abilities to your attacks, quite versatile if you’re willing to take some chances and learn what overall style of play works best for you. If you’re a roguelike fan and have been searching for your next fix that will keep you on your toes this is a great option.

G-Darius HD [Taito Corporation] (Nindie Choice!) - It’s always a bit tough to evaluate re-releases of classic arcade-style shooters coming to the system. Even being remastered or improved in some way they’re obviously not particularly new, and familiar franchise gameplay can also tend to fall flat at times. Even with those sentiments in mind G-Darius HD exceeded my expectations, being an iteration of the classic Darius games I’d never played and, aside from making some use of decidedly early polygonal graphics for its bosses, its style of play and flow is a nice change of pace for me. Rather than merely having the traditional screen-clearing “bomb” attack common to traditional shooters you instead have the ability to try to enlist an enemy craft to your aid, adding a layer of challenge, risk, and sometimes excitement to the mix when you’re able to wrangle something a bit more powerful to your side. Add in the classic branching path structure and a fairly high degree of challenge and the replayability if you’re a shooting fan will also likely be well-fed. After a string of decent arcade-style shooter translations that have been more for nostalgic value than consistent fun G-Darius HD feels like a solid choice all-around.

Antonball Deluxe [Summitsphere] - As someone who has a deep love for classic arcade titles and loves games that mix things up, in principle I’m in the target audience for Antonball Deluxe. With its oddball style and characters it comes to the table with a fun attitude, and I do respect the daring risk it takes remixing two classic arcade titles, but at the same time I’m not sure the result is any improvements in the original experiences. I think that Punchball is the stronger option of the two, changing up the classic original Mario Bros with the need to grab a ball to knock out enemies before kicking them out. It does work, and presents its own challenge, but I don’t think anyone would argue it’s a better version of the original idea either. Antonball is the more ambitious idea of the two, essentially setting up a game of Breakout where your character is the paddle. More often than not this was simply frustrating as you’d need to jump between platforms to try to get yourself into position to deflect the ball at all to keep it in play, but the real problem then is putting English on the ball to get it to go where you need it to and knock out blocks is effectively pushed out of the picture. There’s also then a Vs. mode where you can play Antonball against a friend but this game ultimately comes down to whether you’ll enjoy these remixed experiences, delighting in their alterations of well-worn play, or whether they come up short.

Fisti-Fluffs [Playfellow Studio] - There’s nothing wrong with taking what would traditionally be a more hardcore genre, adding cats and some silliness, and running with it… but the problem with Fisti-Fluffs is once the initial hit of catnip passes, it lacks in staying power. When you start up you’ll choose your feline variety, your fabulous hat, which of the game’s few modes you’d like, your locale, and then you’re off and running. The primary modes consist of a straight-up brawl, a mode where everyone fights to keep a crown on their head the longest, and then one bent on destruction with everyone battling to knock over and break everything in sight and tally the most damage. To a degree these are pretty simple affairs and in the short-term have some novel fun to offer, but ultimately the game’s problem is a lack of real technique or depth tied to the simplistic and very loose control scheme. With a limited set of moves to work with, and a deliberately “wacky” unpredictability to how your cat will perform (random massive jumps will surprise you) everything pretty quickly devolves into a form of button-mashing, even for people who’d traditionally at least try to show some form and technique. Not bad for some throw-away laughs with like-minded friends, but it loses its charm pretty quickly no matter how many cute new hats you may unlock as you go.

Monday, September 27

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

Suzerain [Torpor Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
If you’ve ever pondered what it would be like to take control of the reigns of government, or perhaps that being in charge is all upside and basking in the adoration of your country, Suzerain is here to give you an education. After a pretty lengthy opening set of questions that help you establish your perspectives and the events that will help shape the leader you’ll be at the point your take control, you’ll be in charge and the challenges of being the one calling the shots is pretty immediately apparent. With limited resources and what could be fleeting support of your staff or people if you make unpopular decisions, the game does an effective job of keeping you feeling like you’re constantly being pulled in both directions. Will you favor the good of the people or the elite? Focus on short-term investments that can be measured as progress and provide more immediate dividends or in longer-term projects that could be more transformative? Armchair quarterbacking governmental leadership is much easier when you don’t need to concern yourself with both the intended and likely unintended consequences of your combined decisions but here you’ll get a taste of how difficult threading that needle effectively can be. Consistently well-written and quite replayable as you try to correct for mistakes you made in previous runs, Suzerain is an engaging and thought-provoking experience that illustrates the diverse challenges of being the person in charge.

Super Arcade Football [OutOfTheBit] (Nindie Choice!) - With the general lack of options for sporting experiences on the Switch, it’s always great to see a new contender enter the ring. In the case of Super Arcade Football, definitely with an emphasis on the word Arcade, people looking for depth will likely be disappointed, but if you’re just looking for a good time that keeps things simple (but still challenging) it can be surprisingly engaging. Forgoing the use of multiple buttons for different moves or actions here you’ll stick to one button for passing, shooting, and tackling… and once you get used to things you’ll find you’re able to put at least a little bit of a curve on the ball as well to at least introduce some nuance to things. Matches are short, changing weather conditions at times are a nice touch but don’t fundamentally mess with things too much, and starred objectives that change for each match add an element of challenge to the mix to keep everything from running together completely. Throw in the ability to play with someone else (locally, or online if you’re lucky) and though this isn’t a full-blown sim by any means it’s surprisingly engaging and delivers some fun for a budget price.

Fighting Fantasy Legends [Nomad Games] - Digital conversions of traditional desktop gaming experiences have a tendency to be hit or miss. Legends, with its great storytelling but generally discouraging dice-rolling mechanics in particular, effectively straddles the line with its implementation. You can get glimpses of the classic experience in certain elements of play, the game’s text describing your adventure, in particular, is consistently compelling and well-written. The problem tends to be most everything else, from the pretty minimal use of artwork that may have helped add some flesh to the game’s bones to the dice rolls that feel like they favor your demise more often than not. For role playing fans this still may be a bit of fun, but for everyone else I’d take a hard look at video and the impressions of others before taking the plunge.

Haustoria [RedDeerGames] - Credit to developers who do things that are just a bit different out there, but when the experience stumbles pretty consistently no amount of originality will necessarily redeem gameplay struggles. With its hand-drawn look and its use of thumbtacks as a mechanism for controlling elements on-screen, holding them in place or allowing them to move until they’re where you need them, Haustoria simply does its own thing, which I can respect. That said, the tendency to move from loading screen to loading screen very quickly in places robs the game of its momentum regularly and the somewhat janky nature of how you and the environment or objects can interact drags things down. Chalking it up to being uneven at best, if you love hand-made games that go by their own rules it could be a win, but otherwise you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.

Don’t Touch This Button! [9 Eyes Game Studio] - When games are relatively simple, both visually and in terms of play, they really need to knock it out of the park with execution or things can go downhill quickly. While you can see some effort with this particular title, what surprised me was how quickly the puzzle element receded into the background while the game leaned heavily on you needing to perform what I’d call a jump-away push move in order to trigger the button required without getting hit by the spikes that come up when you do so. Perhaps this wouldn’t necessarily be too bad, but even when you know what you want to do mechanically the game’s controls just aren’t very well up to the task of making this move consistent as they’re a bit on the sloppy side. If you don’t mind periodic frustration with this there are other varieties of puzzles that are less of an issue but overall this game ran out of steam pretty quickly.

Friday, September 24

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

Dojoran [Nautlander Studio] (Nindie Choice!) -
It’s always great to run into humble and inexpensive indies on the eShop, and if you’re into precision platforming that’s handled surprisingly well for being a budget title Dojoran is an unexpected treat. You’ll play as a simple frog in this black-and-white jaunt, avoiding spikes, splatting slugs, and trying to grab special items along the way. Outside of that simple assessment, granted, there’s not much more than that going on, but this seems to be a great example of a developer having a concise vision for what they want to make and then executing it very well. It’s by no means a revolution, and against the top-tier titles in the space it’s certainly quite humble, but there’s no denying it gets the job done and is a pretty fun and challenging ride while it lasts.

Embr [Muse Games] - As people who’ve been following the site for quite some time should be well aware, if there’s an oddball game out there to play I’m generally down for it. With just the basic pitch in Embr being a sort of virtual firefighter game it would already grab peoples’ attention, but thankfully it goes the extra mile to make things more interesting. First, throw in some unexpected wackiness in the controls and equipment, then open it up for local multiplayer confusion and competition, then add in alternative escape or heist-like missions into the mix, and there’s a lot more to meat on the game’s bones than you may expect. That said, its off-center nature may be fun but it can also be frustrating, and it’s possible that the honeymoon period where the wackiness keeps things fun and exciting may not sustain itself for long. If you’re a fan of weirdness, learning tricks as you go, perhaps playing with some friends, and keeping things loose this can be a great time, but if you’re into more traditional experiences results are more likely to vary.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot + A New Power Awakens Set [CyberConnect2] - While I’ve never been much of a Dragon Ball Z fan, I had some interest in this title after playing the excellent fighting game that graced the Switch a while ago. Playing Kakarot, the main thing that struck me quickly was the kitchen-sink sort of approach to the gameplay elements, and unfortunately that isn’t a compliment. Weirdly, as well as the fighting worked in the previous title, the dodgier take on combat in this iteration is bit baffling but then a melange of other varied what would best be called mini games serve as filling as you move through the story as well. Sure, as you go you’ll continue to take on more characters from the series and follow some side stories, which is cool, but so many of the gameplay beats range from ordinary to "Meh" that it feels like the story should have been paired with a reduced number of activities that were better fleshed out than they are in this somewhat unusual outing. There’s a fair amount of content here for franchise fans to take in (especially since almost all of the original title's DLC is included) if you don’t mind some stumbles, but I’d say the best bet would be to walk into this experience with your expectations in check to help minimize disappointment with a somewhat uneven experience.

Staxel [Plukit] - Playing Staxel you can see the thought process that produced it all around. Take the general visual style of Minecraft, though in this case a bit more refined with voxels, and mix it with some flavor from the farm sim camp ala games like Stardew to make a game that would be akin to a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of family-friendly goodness. That was, no doubt, the idea. In execution though? It’s nice and actually looks pretty good, but there just isn’t much of a “soul” to any of it and nothing that really makes it stand out. Also, being honest, farming activities are simply clunky in a 3D space and the need to be precise can be a bit of a drag, so that Zen-like satisfaction loop you get in the typical top-down cultivation sims also suffers a bit even if you enjoy them. While there’s no doubt it manages to present the familiar in a different form, so there may be people who’ll enjoy the ride, the lack of anything of substance that’s new and exciting makes it easy to pass on.

Street Outlaws 2: Winner Takes All [Team6 Game Studios] - More peripheral “racing” titles always tend to be a pretty mixed bag when their focus is on much more streamlined action than the racing people would normally think of. By title alone Street Outlaws 2 might inspire visions of Need For Speed: Underground or titles in that more traditional space, but instead this is more in the vein of The Fast and the Furious with a focus on drag racing technique and tuning. While, to a degree, I can appreciate the attempt to add some elements to increase the challenge like warming up your tires or bumping to the line before the race, once it settles in that fundamentally very little changes in the core grind as you progress it’s hard not to feel the potential for excitement fizzle out pretty quickly. Sure, new equipment and tuning will adjust shift timing and things of that nature, and you can change out your crew for different perks and buffs… but it all quickly begins to glom together in your mind very quickly when there’s so little to the overall experience to latch onto for some variety or excitement.

Thursday, September 23

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

Tails of Iron [Odd Bug Studio] (Nindie Choice!) -
This is a title that hit me a bit out of nowhere, took my lunch money, and is now making me earn it back one challenging battle at a time… and for the most part you can count me impressed. While I’ll admit getting started my interest was a little shaky, just because I prefer titles to get down to business a little quicker, once I was set up with my basic gear and understood the flow of combat I was fully on board. I’m not sure I can emphasize enough that if you’re not down for a challenge this may rub you the wrong way, as though there’s not much to the combat in terms of moves, the expectation is that you’re on top of every dodge, parry, and counter in order to survive. Normally I tend to turn up my nose at anyone implying “Souls-like” combat, since in most cases the challenge comes from poor or frustrating controls, but in the case of Tails I’d say it would be well applied, at least for the big battles that will tend to hold you up for a while as you perfect your strategy. Mixing together an interesting art style, a somewhat unusual story of you trying to regain your rat kingdom from frogs and other villains, and tough-as-nails combat, Tails of Iron is worth a shot if you believe yourself worthy of hard-fought glory.

Nexomon [VEWO Interactive Inc] - Series like Nexomon have always had a bit of a Herculean task before them, trying to tap into the market that the Pokemon series helped build and define without being accused of simply being a clone. Last year’s Nexomon: Extinction I thought did a reasonably good job of walking that tightrope, having a style and tone of its own while obviously avoiding getting too far away from a successful formula. Having never played the original to check it out now, after already having seen Extinction, makes this original iteration harder to appreciate. While it obviously has different monsters and story beats (but only to a degree) this version makes it much harder to draw a clear dividing line between it and the series that inspired it. I have no doubt that people who played the original should appreciate a chance to revisit it, but for people who are more familiar with the more recent incarnations of any of the monster hunting series, who don’t have nostalgia for this original, it’s probably better to give it a pass.

Love Colors [QubicGames] - When it comes to the Switch, I’m not sure I’ve played a title on the console more thoroughly casual than Love Colors. It is literally a digital paint by numbers app (calling it a game seems generous), take it or leave it. It’s certainly for the budget-minded as well, so at least it’s making no attempt to overreach, but it does beg the question of whether you need to play it on your dedicated gaming console as opposed to a mobile device. That said, it’s comfortable with what it is, accuracy will help but isn’t absolutely necessary, and there are a variety of pictures for you to veg out and relax while coloring in if you are so inclined.

Between Time: Escape Room [mc2games] - I will admit that I have been pretty impressed by this series of titles as they do reasonably approximate the sorts of eclectic challenges you’ll typically find in a real escape room… it’s just missing the social component of noisy and dumb people taking you down rabbit holes. Between Time is at least a little interesting since thematically things get changed up more than has been typical, but whether this entry is any stronger than the others will likely come down to whether you believe its specific puzzles were more challenging and engaging than with the others. As for myself, I’d consider this my least favorite when it comes to the way some of the puzzles are handled, but while I might recommend another in the series for giving things a shot if you’re a fan I’m sure you’ll still find this to be consistently satisfying.

LoveChoice [Ratalaika Games] - I’m typically pretty indifferent to lightly interactive visual novels but there’s definitely a divide between those that make an honest effort to build a rich and robust narrative and those that don’t. While it does offer 3 different general stories where you’ll be trying to find love, and they at least differ a bit, it’s hard to miss the minimal variety and generally  frustrating lack of options you’ll have. It wasn’t unusual to feel that neither of the choices presented were good ones, so more often than not I simply chose the least bad one. Combined with the brevity of each story the linearity of it all pretty quickly comes to light, making for a pretty dissatisfying experience on the whole unless your expectations are quite low.

Thursday, September 16

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

Flynn: Son of Crimson [Studio Thunderhorse] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s something to be said for games that know what they want to be, even if not necessarily revolutionary in any particular way, and are then executed with a high degree of care and quality. For me Flynn is one such game, adhering closely to the classic 16-bit action platforming template and in general then simply staying the course with a steady stream of new weapons and abilities to keep things interesting through its handful of hours of playtime. Through the use of your weapon-based attacks and magic you’ll work your way through puzzles and a fair amount of combat, with the periodic changes to new zones changing up the enemies and obstacles you’ll face nicely. In terms of the bigger picture, both in terms of the narrative and overall design, perhaps the more paint-by-SNES-era-numbers essence of the game holds it back from being a truly inspired stand-out title. However, if you’re a fan of the era it undoubtedly emulates some of the best it had to offer and feels both retro and just a bit satisfyingly modern at the same time on Switch, making the odds of it being a hit with genre fans pretty solid.

Cruis’n Blast [Raw Thrills] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to over-the-top, crazy, and almost excessively arcade-style racing I’m not sure anything out there can quite match the classic Cruis’n series. Cruis’n Blast, rather than looking to make strides to evolve or reinvent itself in any remote way, comes to the Switch fully embracing everything (and I do mean this in the best complimentary way) stupidly ridiculous about its lineage and puts it right in your lap whether you love or hate it. For anyone more remotely interested in realism or tight control mechanics you can just keep moving, this won’t be an experience for you. However, if the thought of racing with your neon-lit and juiced-up triceratops as you plow through your opponents, doing backflips and barrel rolls over ramps along the way, sounds plain AWESOME this will be your jam. The adherence to even goofy-ass things from yesteryear like every car surface being highly reflective, something nobody would ever do now but that was all the rage back in the day, is a sign that this port was made with respect and love. Will it deliver hours of entertainment? That would depend on you and whether your goal is just to “beat the game”, which could take only a few hours, or whether you plan to enjoy unlocking and tricking out everything, sucking in the goofiness of it all either solo or with some friends. While not for everyone, I absolutely respect the love and care put in by the developers to honor the essence of Cruis’n, no matter how ridiculous some of it may be to more modern (or simply more “hardcore”) gamers.

CRASH: Autodrive [Studio Nightcap] - As always with titles on Switch that lean more into storytelling and less into gameplay Crash is challenging to really review. There’s an essence of murder mystery to it as you try to suss out a motive and potential killer among a group of what seems to be a random group of passengers in a self-driving car that runs over someone. You’ll quickly find that isn’t that case, with everyone having a connection to the deceased, and that’s where the more adventure-like interactions (though generally very simplified) come in. By checking carefully for clues, participating in a few simple mini games of sorts, and working through various dialogue choices you’ll be challenged to discover Whodunnit. In general it’s not too bad, though the relative lack of refinement in some of the aspects of the experience also make it tough to recommend with enthusiasm. Somewhat unique: Yes. Has an interesting general story (though suspicions on what happened set in early for me results may vary): Sure. If you’re working on a budget and are looking for something to entertain you for a few hours it may work for you though.

SkateBIRD [Glass Bottom Games] - With the exception of the Tony Hawk redux that came to the system earlier this year, the skating scene on Switch has been on the slim side. To date, none of them has come to the table with nearly as much quirk as SkateBIRD, and I’d say that with its 3D gameplay rather than sticking to the simpler 2D plane it’s also more ambitious than most of its competition. That said, while it’s kind of weird and funny to take on half pipes and other skating challenges with some species of bird that is decked out in an outfit you get to choose, the game does have some rough edges in multiple places. The one that stands out foremost in my mind is the double-edged sword of your environment being seen from the perspective of a small creature in a human-sized world. Yes, it makes everything novel, but when you mix some of the areas and the large drops off of things like a table with the missions you’ll be trying to complete on the clock it can make things very frustrating. Falling off an edge while you’re trying to make things happen will often sink your entire attempt, and when you throw in the sometimes-dodgy controls that are a bit on the loose side it’s more commonly a problem than I’d prefer. However, if you’re looking for something just a bit different and enjoy skating games given the lack of options on Switch it may be worth a look.

Boulder Dash Deluxe [BBG Entertainment GmbH] - As a “veteran” gamer it has been neat to see some truly old school classics stand the test of time and continue to get modern incarnations. One I’ve seen get this treatment over the years that has perhaps perplexed me a bit has been the Boulder Dash series. Sure, it’s an action puzzler that has been around since the days of primitive graphics, but is the style and depth of play so great that so many decades later it continues to hold up for anyone outside fans of the OG versions? This “Deluxe” version I would say makes a relatively poor case. Sure, it has quite a bit of content in the form of stages as well as things to unlock for refining the flavor of the game more to your liking, but conceptually really nothing has evolved in any measurable way that makes the experience more compelling and the last-last-last gen visuals do it no favors either. With the exception of true fans who want that slice of nostalgia maybe it delivers those goods, but I have a hard time seeing where a case is made well for more modern gamers to overlook plenty of more compelling and complex puzzlers out there for this dated experience.

Tuesday, September 14

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

TOEM [Something We Made] (Nindie Choice!) -
I don’t know whether it was triggered by a pandemic that had everyone stuck in their houses and wishing for a chance to appreciate the world around us but this year has produced a string of pretty amazing exploratory adventures, with TOEM being the latest to join the club. Formerly featured in one of Nintendo’s Indie World Directs, this somewhat quirky and very calming title sports a distinctive black and white hand-drawn art style and encourages you to see everything in the world around you, down to the little things like hidden bugs or the occasional shy monster. It will likely only take most people around 4 hours to finish, a little more or less depending on how determined you are to work out every quest available to you, but if you’re looking to enjoy a consistent stream of odd surprises and interactions mixed with what are generally pretty sensible puzzles it really scratches that itch well. Among its recent brethren it’s perhaps a little longer and more varied in where you’ll go and what you’ll do, but with the photo taking there can be times where you’ll know what you need to do, but doing it in a way that the game recognizes can be tricky too. While it isn’t perfect, and may well be too sedate for some folks, I found it to be an enjoyable journey that helped me relax and feel great for a few engaging hours.

Ultra Age [Visual Dart] (Nindie Choice!) - Especially given the continued “unknown date” status of Bayonetta 3, Switch fans looking to beat or slash things up with some intense combat may be feeling a little twitchy. Ultra Age is here to help you work out some of those frustrations, featuring some good ideas married with a reasonable level of challenge. I will admit that as it opened and the focus was a bit more on the game’s story, featuring some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in quite some time, I had my doubts. However, once everything opened up and I could begin moving between blade types, searching for extra crystals for gear, and tweaking my skills to better suit my slashing style my opinion turned around pretty quickly. I’m hoping not to trigger some Breath of the Wild players but your blades will degrade with use, though the fact that’s put to good use and allows you to do some nasty damage shattering them against your enemies should help make up for it. It absolutely isn’t as refined or polished as the likes of Bayonetta or the Devil May Cry series, but at half the asking price I think this comes out to a fair compromise. Given the fact that, especially in terms of indies, the pickings in this area are pretty slim Ultra Age is an appreciated effort and since there’s a demo being able to take it for a spin beforehand is a great bonus.

Knights & Guns [Baltoro Games] - Back in the arcades, Pang (or Buster Bros) was one of the more interesting shooters out there that did things its own way and layered puzzling sensibilities into the mix. Firing only vertically the challenge was to shoot enemies, often breaking them up into smaller ones, and knocking them all out through a combination of skill and some very useful periodic power-ups. Knights & Guns was absolutely conceived in this mold while bringing some of its own style to the table, with a well-defined art style, an overworld where you’ll choose where to go and that opens the door to side quests, and a variety of stage types that will keep you on your toes. Even though some of the innovations are appreciated, and help K&G stand out from the pack, there are still some problems that hold it back. First and foremost would be the lack of tight precision in movement, and perhaps that your character is on the chonky side. Getting hit unintentionally due to either of those factors is in itself annoying but then given the precision associated with this style of shooter it further frustrates matters. While I appreciate the idea of changing things up the scaling changing from level to level, with the action either being zoomed in or out and some levels having quite a bit of verticality, in practice it makes the experience feel uneven and conceptually all over the place. I don’t doubt it will find an audience with some shooter fans, but within this sub-genre there are definitely better options already out there in the eShop.

BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites [WayForward] - Having roughly followed the long and usually pretty torturous movie and gaming “career” of this leather-clad vamp I’ll admit I was intrigued to see if she could finally turn things around this time. To its credit, when you’re fighting the mechanics may not necessarily be ideal but they’re certainly different and interesting in both good and bad ways… and at least they’re not generic and boring. Where things struggle and left me scratching my head at times was the game’s wildly inconsistent platforming and occasional difficulty spikes. To some degree a straight side-scrolling slasher/beat-em-up would have worked pretty well by simply adding abilities and changing some things up as you go, but there are frequently sections where you’re guessing where to go or how to get there and visually the elements of the level often don’t make themselves clear, making the overall stage design a frequent weakness rather than a strength. However, that aside, if you’ve been thirsting for some vampiric violence this can deliver some fun, just be ready for a challenge and bumpy ride in some areas.

RICO London [Ground Shatter Ltd] - Whenever you see a sequel to a title that showed promise but just didn’t quite put everything together the first time there’s a mix of excitement and dread. Will lessons have been learned? Will old problems get replaced with new ones? What I don’t typically expect is for a sequel to roughly be stuck in time, repeating pretty well every mistake from before while failing to deliver anything of tangible substance in return, yet that’s how this RICO sequel plays for me. OK, so it’s a first-person door-busting shooter that will have you breaking in, shooting every bad guy in sight, and perhaps taking names later… but now it’s in a location where people have different accents and you can pick up more customized named guns? I guess it’s counting on people wanting to play co-op locally or online to somehow save everything, that feeling of working together giving some sort of rush, but much like the first time it takes very little time for you to start looking at your watch when you’ve repeated the same room layout for the fifth time in the same run. Worse, the original at least provided a bit of instruction to introduce you to the controls and mechanics but this one seems to be banking on everyone having played the first one or inherently assuming there’ll be a slide mechanic or just play with the buttons to work it out on their own. If you want to check the series, save some bucks and play the original, this feels more like a re-skin than a sequel.

Friday, September 10

Mini Reviews: September 10th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build [Draknek & Friends] -
Polished budget puzzlers that come over from the mobile space are always a bit hard to judge critically and fairly when they arrive on Switch. In the case of Snowman there’s no doubt it’s a smart, well-designed, and challenging experience despite what, on the surface, would seem to be a simple premise. Yeah, you just need to get the torso on top of the base and get the head on top of that, but the trick is that every move needs to often be carefully planned, whether to just get each element in place or to use the snow on the ground to make one part bigger to be able to use it. The first very fair critique would be whether or not there’s anything about this being on the Switch, taking on the ability to play on your television and use physical controls, and the answer is not really… this would seem to work just fine without either option whether on your phone or a tablet. The second quibble concerns the overall difficulty, which kicks in pretty quickly. It isn’t impossible by any means, but there’s a risk of getting stuck and without any means for assistance that could be a bummer too. If you like a challenge, clean graphics, and a budget-friendly price it’s a good option, but it may just be more convenient on your mobile device in the end as well.

Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa [Triple-I Games] - There’s something both exciting and sometimes heart-breaking when you get to play early versions of games and get filled in on what they want to be and then see them finally released some time later. Hindsight 20/20 is such a game for me, one I thought had terrific potential when I saw it at PAX East last year. The concept of needing to make choices both in the story and in how you fight your foes changing the world around you, and even altering the outcomes you can reach, is a smart one that somewhat connects. Where the cracks begin to show is in the game’s combat, though both the more noble blue and deadly red skill sets you can use do have their merits and potential for visual flair. The issue is just that for me there was nothing pulling me to play things one way or another in combat, leaving me to be satisfied fighting in either style that suited me and not terribly compelled to risk anything switching to the other. Even the story beats where you can make a choice of consequence felt a bit flat as I never really felt invested in the game world or the people I’d be affecting. Lay in combat that doesn’t look too bad but gets repetitious relatively quickly and there are absolutely some glimpses at what could be great here, but nonetheless a general feeling of missed potential as well.

Residual [OrangePixel] - While they got off to a bit of a slow start on the Switch, over the years survival games have become more common and some excellent examples of the genre have made their way to the system. Residual, with its “crash landed on another planet and trying to collect the means to survive” vibe, lands somewhere towards the middle of the pack, honestly feeling a bit generic in many respects. That’s not to say that if you’re a fan of the genre you won’t appreciate some of its quirks that give it a little flavor. However, if you’re new to survival games the lack of better guidance to help get you accustomed to the controls, and the way things need to be done, put it much further down the list of titles to take for an initial spin.

Rustler [Jutsu Games] - Billing itself as a medieval Grand Theft Auto (this is GTA2, mind you, don’t get too excited), Rustler is obviously trying to grab itself some attention, but that unfortunately also puts some expectations on it to try to meet. Sure, you’ll tool around either on foot or horseback doing jobs that are generally more on the unsavory or even downright weird side at times… but aside from frequent potty jokes how does it deliver on being an exciting or compelling experience? “Eh” is probably the most appropriate and honest response I can muster. Perhaps it is the really weird Renn Fair cosplay opening of its own action that threw me off from the get-go but for me it all feels a bit off and from another time, and that’s talking in game eras and not history. Maybe a decade or two ago it would all feel a bit more fresh and you could overlook its shortcomings but unless you’re really thirsting for a throwback to simpler (and perhaps a bit more juvenile) times this just doesn’t seem to have the energy to make more than a middling impression at best.

Virtuous Western [Ratalaika Games] - At first glance I was really hoping this would somehow be something cool like a simplified budget game in the vein of Sunset Riders, but alas, it is merely a pretty simple puzzle game at the end of the day. The Western sheriff theme does at least make a little sense with the mechanic generally being that you need to pick up each bullet to either directly or indirectly deal with bad guys, and every few levels or so at least new elements or challenges do get thrown in to keep it from getting too monotonous too quickly. What feels a little surprising, and perhaps may be a bit of a misstep is that it’s not a pure puzzle game. At some point you will need to demonstrate some timing, whether hitting or coming off a ladder, or more critically jumping bullets. That may throw the traditional puzzle crowd off, so if you don’t think of yourself as being good at timing jumps it may not be for you. In the end it is at least a little different, but it really doesn’t do anything to make itself stand out in the heavily-occupied budget puzzler space, at least not in a way that’s guaranteed to be a positive. 

Wednesday, September 8

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

Spelunky 2 [Mossmouth] (Nindie Choice!) -
It’s always a bit tricky to release both an original game and its sequel at the same time, but in the case of Spelunky 2 and its OG brutally-tough roguelike predecessor it works out reasonably well and either (or, even better, both) are worthy of a shot if you’re down for a challenge. Picking up as more of an entree to follow up on the original’s appetizer round, Spelunky 2 essentially takes everything into account, does quite a bit of refining, makes some cuts when necessary, and then adds some appreciated depth to what worked best. As you’d expect the list of deadly enemies and traps has expanded substantially, and you’ll quickly go through the trial and error of understanding all of the new and unique ways you’re able to die in the caves you’ll explore. That said, there are also some great treasures, surprises, and moments of elation that await you as well… if you’ve got the skills and patience to tackle the undertaking ahead of you. The result isn’t any sort of reinvention, but more of a perfecting of the formula of Spelunky. Whether you opt to tackle the challenge alone, or viably play with other intrepid explorers online, this is a polished product as deserving of “classic roguelike” status as the original.

One-Eyed Lee and the Dinner Party [Ratalaika Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ve tended to be pretty clear in my distaste for pure visual novels and their lack of interactivity, and when I started this title I had some concerns it was headed in that direction with quite a bit of (often clever) dialogue to get it rolling. Thankfully, while it has a focus on story-telling and character interactions this plays out more like the love child of a visual novel and a classic adventure title, borrowing elements from both and trying to make the most of it. The adventure elements have been stripped down and streamlined, for sure, but that makes it a more frustration-free affair, leaving you unconcerned with obtuse puzzles or mucking around with 10 different combinations of items in your inventory in the hopes you’ll land where the developers wanted you to. On the story-telling side both the main characters and the interesting “people” they encounter and need to work with (and against) provide for a fair amount of humor which can also be at least partially directed by your choices along the way. While the whole affair only lasts a few hours there’s enough quirk and charm here to at least entertain with a taste of something just a bit different, which is always refreshing.

Sokobond [Draknek & Friends] - Even when you’re talking about games that are budget-priced and for a somewhat more casual audience there can be some stiff competition on the Switch. Between crossover mobile games and established franchises in the console space breaking in with something that can grab attention takes a bit of creativity. While visually quite simplistic, consisting primarily of mere colored circles and lines defining the boundaries of the space you have to work with, Sokobond leaning on chemistry helps to give it some unique flair while also making for a consistent challenge. Working to combine individual elements into more complex molecules by carefully taking into account the number of bonds each atom has can take a moment to grasp fully but once you’ve got the idea you should be off to the races. It’s the configuration of the spaces you have to work within and the slow progression of new elements that can combine, split, or otherwise manipulate your creations that keeps the challenge coming and from allowing it to get too stale. Considering its budget asking price it provides for a few hours (or more) of puzzling and, best of all, its ideas feel unique enough to help it stand apart from its competition.

Cosmic Express [Draknek & Friends] - Budget puzzlers that, at their core, feel quite familiar in some way are a bit difficult to score. There’s no question that Cosmic Express has a budget-priced blend of being smart, looking very cute, and steadily upping the challenge with new elements periodically across its many levels. I would say it’s better suited to puzzle veterans since the expectation is that you’ll work out and understand the increasing complexity through mere observation, and if you get stuck on some of its sometimes steep jumps in difficulty there’s really nothing that’s going to assist you. Still, the tougher the challenge the greater the reward, so for people who love a challenge that is still somehow generally quite relaxing this may be a train worth jumping on.

Guts ‘N Goals [CodeManu] - When I first saw this title and a hint of the gameplay I was excited by the potential promise of a return of some good old combat sports. Whether the Mutant League titles (can we at least get a port?!?! PLEASE!), the likes of Blades of Steel, or even in the direction of games like NBA Jam and its ilk, I’m generally down for some skills mixed in with some brutality for flavor. Unfortunately, perhaps being so in tune with so many titles that really swung for the fences to try to make gameplay lively, Guts ‘N Goals may have the general basics down, but the lack of variety and nuance on both sides of the combat sports coin makes for a pretty shallow overall experience. If you’re planning to play with some friends locally, perhaps simply whacking each other into submission and trying to get the ball into the goal (there are some other modes, but they don’t fundamentally change enough to really set themselves apart as unique) can be great fun with some drinks, but if you’re looking for more depth you’re going to be hard-pressed to find it here.

Friday, September 3

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

Spelunky [Mossmouth] (Nindie Choice!) -
One of the last OG indie titles to finally come to Switch, Spelunky promptly gave me a nice slap in the face to remind me of just how quickly I could utterly fail in a game. As one of the earliest and most staggeringly popular tough-as-nails roguelikes out there this is a game chock full of things that will gladly kill you, and in the early going most of your runs will be capped off with a “Oh, I’m not supposed to do that” moment as you meet some new enemy or trap type and aren’t quite prepared for the pain it is set to bring. All that said, when you get to a new level or zone for the first time there’s nothing quite like that thrill… right before you discover something new again and in many cases promptly die once more, just to start all over again. While there’s no doubt roguelikes have lunged ahead with newer ideas, to a degree leaving Spelunky feeling a bit dated and perhaps more on the sadistic side than the average, the fact that it’s very easy on the pocketbook at a mere $10 and still has a fair amount of charm to go with its brutality make it a must-own for anyone who loves roguelikes and may never have had the chance to take it on.

KeyWe [Stonewheat & Sons] (Nindie Choice!) - Cooperative games that rely on a mix of careful communication and a fair degree of control dexterity have really come into fashion, when done well, on the Switch. KeyWe may be one of the most unusual ones to date, with you and a friend each taking control of one of these odd birds as they try to use their limited abilities to help keep a local post office up and running. With a handful of mailroom tasks that vary in their details, as well as a number of more offbeat and silly overtime activities to participate in there’s quite a bit more variety than you’d assume to the game since your little kiwi buddies are severely limited in their inherent capabilities. While the game can be played solo, to a degree, that really does rob the game of the majority of its charm, with the goal being to either bring friends together or rip them apart as they struggle to both plan and adapt on the fly in order to keep efficiency up and everything delivered on time. If various forms of food prep have become a bit stale and you and a buddy are looking for a new challenge this provides ample opportunity for some fun and frustration as well.

The Magister [Nerdook Productions] - Pushing the boundaries to further enhance or make existing genres tends to be what indie titles do well, and The Magister definitely falls into that category for better or worse. When you define it as a “murder mystery RPG deckbuilder roguelike with tactical combat” it’s quite a mouthfull, but that would be accurate, and with so much going on it should be easier to understand the challenge of making it all work cohesively. Your first few runs will likely be rough as you come to terms with how things work. You’ll choose among a handful of candidates to play as each time, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that may or may not pay off or doom you in any given run depending. In many situations you’ll have the choice between a purely card-driven challenge using “tactical diplomacy” to calm the situation as a solution or to go for blood which pairs your deck with pretty tense tactical combat. Success and enjoyment, as is the case with many roguelikes, is about having the interest and endurance to weather early frustrations that will help you better understand how to succeed. If you stick it out there’s nothing quite like it out there and it’s a solid challenge, but if you frustrate more easily you’ll want to move on.

Golf Club: Wasteland [Demagog Studio] - This is one of those titles where the name of the game may lead you astray, though I will admit that it is generally accurate. Less of a sports title and more of a forward reflection of our world’s demise you’ll play as a sort of tourist visiting the ruins of civilization of Earth to shoot some holes. The majority of the entertainment and opportunities to understand the state of the world come in the form of the local radio station that both plays some tunes and recounts tidbits about what went wrong. The golfing itself is a bit on the simplistic side, though to do well you will need to learn what nuances there are. Thankfully you can opt for one of three modes that will dictate how well you’ll need to do to proceed so if you want to just be along for the ride that’ll work, and if you opt for the toughest mode be ready for some frustrations for sure. Coming in with a budget asking price it’s absolutely a unique experience, just be sure you understand what you’re in for before plunking down to pick it up on the eShop.

Stranded Deep [Beam Team Games] - I’ve pretty much always had a love/hate relationship with the survival genre, though it may not be what you think. I just don’t tend to see many as being “somewhere in the middle”, most typically I really enjoy how they’re implemented or they drive me nuts. In the case of Stranded Deep I won’t discount the fact that it has some deep crafting trees and shows signs of there being quite a lot to do in it for the people who are diligent and dedicated. My issue is that I don’t find much of anything about it to be very unique or inspired and truly the console controls for it are clunky and cumbersome at best. If you’re somehow who is a genre fan and always looking for the next challenge, there may be plenty here to enjoy, but for newcomers or more middling genre fans there are absolutely stronger and more polished examples of the genre on the system.

Thursday, September 2

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

Kitaria Fables [Twin Hearts] (Nindie Choice!) -
Family-friendly action adventure titles have a fair amount of representation on the system, but with its cute characters and pretty basic overall controls, Kitaria Fables manages to pretty easily establish itself as a great option. While the story, for the most part, runs along familiar lines, keeping it simple seems to work nicely for the title, giving you reasons to keep moving around to discover new areas and challenges, but also never bogging things down. A dash of crafting and cultivation help to add some meat to the game’s bones once you get rolling, and some weapon choices help to give you some nice combat options to work with as you face a variety of foes. Further, throw in the ability to play along with someone else co-op style and it positions itself very nicely for a parent or older sibling to play along with a less experienced gamer-in-training as well. While by no means as polished or deep as the top-tier titles in the genre the general accessibility, friendly characters and tone, and plain cute charm or Fables should be perfect for people who just want to just take their time and enjoy themselves, no matter what their age.

Big Rumble Boxing: Creed Champions [Survios] - While the Switch has finally managed to get some fighting games rolling in the more recent years, sports titles in general have been woefully few and far between. Looking to pick up the practically unclaimed boxing crown we now have Big Rumble Boxing, which brings along a fair amount of swagger as well as characters from the Rocky-verse which is a fair bonus for fans of the franchise. The first word of caution for people taking a look is to walk into the affair thinking of it as a fighting game that features a boxing feel, this isn’t remotely a relative of the likes of Punch-Out or other 3D boxers. With that said, though it feels more like a 2D fighting game overall (though you do have the ability to dodge 3-dimensionally) the typical mass of special moves and nuanced combos don’t come along for the ride, with each general fighting style having their own flow but in general the repertoire of attacks staying limited. Depending on what you’re looking for, the result being more of a Chess-like strategic affair where you’ll be trying to work with what you have to wear down and/or psyche out your opponent to then capitalize will either seem ideal or a bit dull and repetitive. 

Super Animal Royale [Pixile] - Whenever you run into a free-to-play title it’s always a bit of a challenge to rake them over the coals when people could literally try them out and make their own decision for free. Still, since peoples’ time is also a premium, I suppose sharing some critical thoughts and compliments, when appropriate, is also in order. If you’ve played any battle royale titles (but especially Fortnite), just about every general aspect of the game should be familiar here. A standard map that a release craft will fly over, allowing people to pepper themselves about in search of gear and ammo, some urgency to keep moving since the safe area will continue to shrink with time, and everyone trying to survive. The only major differentiator happens to be the perspective, in this case adopting more of a top-down perspective rather than sticking to the first-person perspective, and that change moves the feel into being more of a twin-stick shooter. In principle I’d be a fan of this sort of change, since twin-stick arcade shooters are among my favorites out there, but for me the aim and all just feels a little off somehow. I can’t put my finger on it, and I’m sure with some time I could get used to it, but I was surprised with how inaccurate my shooting typically felt, and with as much as I play them that’s a bit disappointing. The result still gives you the tension and excitement for free, which is a plus, but at least for me the controls just don’t click in a way that would make it addictive enough to stick with for more than a few random rounds once in a while.

Instant Sports Paradise [BreakFirst Games] - While multi-event titles inspired by the likes of Olympic sports have been around for quite some time, Wii Sports helped to establish that people of all ages could enjoy even more leisurely activities together with properly simplified control schemes. Instant Sports Paradise is absolutely a game experience aspiring to that model, featuring a pretty wide variety of well-known leisure activities like Mini Golf or Bowling as well as more daring ones like Wakeboarding or flying with a Wingsuit. Not that it’s a surprise, but while I appreciate the desire to generally keep the controls basic from event to event there can be varying issues. In the case of Bowling it feels far too simplistic, especially in light of so many arcade-style bowling games in the past that added depth but were still accessible, but then for something like Mini Golf the way you manage the power of your shots feels unwieldy. While I have no doubt with some repetition people would be able to adapt to some of the more unusual control schemes, the greater issue is then whether there’s enough nuance and depth to keep them interesting… and for anyone beyond casual players loss of interest will become a problem quickly. The added non-event activities, items you can customize your character with, and exploring the island are nice value adds, but for people who are a bit more experienced as gamers there’s not much that will occupy you for long.

Weapon of Choice DX [Mommy's Best Games] - While in the early days there weren’t many options for run and gun shooter fans on Switch, thankfully in the years since release the offerings have filled in nicely. Weapon of Choice DX jumps into that pool with a fair amount of attitude and confidence, and to a degree it deserves to have a bit of swagger. In terms of the funky weapons, some of the mechanics of each character’s powers, and the degree of intensity it absolutely sets itself apart. Where it gets tricky is whether or not that will necessarily make up for its somewhat unusual level designs and periodic frustrations with the situations you can find yourself in. With a little more refinement and better focus on clear objectives for play it could use its unique elements more effectively, but as it is it feels like it has some good ideas that are held back by some of the ways they’re implemented.

Wednesday, September 1

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

Inked: A Tale of Love [Somnium Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
The thing that will obviously grab you with this title is its unique (and quite lovely) art style. From there, though, it’s the thoughtful story and simple but pleasing puzzles that will (hopefully) keep you. With a runtime of only a few hours, the experience doesn’t last long, but I enjoyed the game’s consistent small surprises, quirky moments, and loving story beats that were all handled with a fair amount of care. In some cases there could be a small frustration with a puzzle where you know what needs to be done in principle but then working out precisely how to align things to get it to happen is another matter but for the most part the design is sound. Perhaps the tendency for these story-driven titles to end in more sad ways is a bit of a bummer, but the joy you feel along the way tends to carry the experience and help them still end up being quite satisfying. It’s a relatively short, but creative and well-crafted, treat of puzzle and story mixed together.

Townscaper [Oskar Stalberg] - Not so much a game as an interactive toy, Townscaper is just a different sort of experience that people will likely either adore or hate. Your tools to work with are pretty minimalistic, able to lay down small building blocks in the color you choose or remove them, but as you continue to combine more and more together your creation continues to react and change in what are often small but pleasing ways. It’s really all about trying new things and the discovery of the results, driving you to experiment further as you slowly fill up the space with your distinct creation. While I do wish there was a way to step back and see some virtual people interact with the labyrinthian 3D towns in some way, there’s still something soothing and satisfying in taking the time to build both precise and uniform (to a degree, the grid’s tendency to bend in places will thwart you at some point) as well as unorthodox and perhaps completely impractical structures. It’s absolutely unique, and in its own way satisfying, but also clearly not for everyone.

Mickey Storm and the Cursed Mask [Orange One] - This aquatically-based platformer, which you can play either solo or co-op, is a bit of an odd bird. For the most part the emphasis here is on exploration and trying to use what techniques you have at your disposal to get to a variety of items you’ll want to grab while keeping an eye on the time. Some stages will change up the focus, having you work more against the clock (or perhaps a boss), but most of the time you’ll be in the classic collect-a-thon mindset where every detour or hint at another way to do can lead to new challenges. The main problem, though, is that the execution of the controls and some of the collision detection and behaviors are just a bit on the wonky side. There’s no doubt you can brute force overcome these issues through some grit and determination at times, but there are some moments that are aggravating for all the wrong reasons that are tough to push aside when reflecting on the experience as a whole. It has its moments where things come together and it shines, but it also has a tendency to get in its own way unfortunately.

The Magnificent Trufflepigs [Thunkd] - This is one of those titles that’s very difficult to explain in a way that establishes a decent value proposition for purchasing it but here goes: Only lasting a couple of hours, the “action” is you methodically using a metal detector on the ground of an old farm in search of something. These efforts are then broken up by the real focus, which is an ongoing conversation between two old friends who at one point had some romantic entanglement and are slowly revisiting the topic of what happened and perhaps how they can move forward. Your interest and enjoyment likely will hinge on whether such an exploration sounds interesting, and the dialogue and nature of the relationship is at least handled well and in a way that feels pretty realistic as well. Obviously it won’t be for everyone, but that isn’t to say it isn’t a unique and compelling experience in its own right.

Secret Neighbor [Hologryph] - The creepy Neighbor is apparently back, yet again, to give off his weird vibes and entice people to plunk down some money to join in his latest endeavor… in this case an asymmetric multiplayer experience with a group of kids trying to best him. In theory this can sound like a good time, but, as has usually been the case with this series, in execution it’s a hot mess. The fact that it is a dedicated multiplayer game is the first red flag, as even popular indie titles tend to struggle to maintain their communities, making the sell-by date on this title any time now in all likelihood. But what about the quality of the experience? Does it make a case to keep people playing? In a word: No. Consistent with the entire series it has a problem of having a cool and unique look but offering very little to pair with it in terms of depth, quality of play, and general coherence, but enlisting some random people to try to somehow work together in some way with as well? It doesn’t end well, and it doesn’t feel like it was balanced or thought through sufficiently to have made that a possibility either.