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.