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.

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