Friday, October 29

Mini Reviews: October 29th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Legend of Tian Ding [Neon Doctrine] (Nindie Choice!) -
While there have been quite a number of side-scrolling action/brawlers this year, for the most part they’ve been coming up short in one area or another. If you’ve been itching for something particularly compelling in the space, the great news is this is a game that should absolutely scratch it. What I like most about it is the overall flow of combat and how capable you are with your base abilities but can opt to grab enemy weapons to use as well, and there’s quite a variety to choose from. This sort of setup lends itself to very few extended battles playing out similarly since you’ll need to work with what opportunities you’re given without much time for planning. Throw in the many rooms you’ll encounter that will challenge you to make full use of your arsenal of traversal skills effectively and there’s plenty to be satisfied with on the platforming side as well. Put them together with a tale of a modern hero that has some colorful characters and odd humor and the package comes together to make for a terrific choice for action fans on the Switch.

Happy Game [Amanita Design] (Nindie Choice!) - Like a moth to a flame I tend to be easily drawn to the oddball titles on Switch, and there’s no doubt that Happy Game qualifies for that distinction in spades. Very deceptively titled, unless nightmare fuel puts you in a happy mood I suppose (yes, I know there’s plenty of you out there), while the experience only lasts a few hours it’s one helluva trippy ride. In terms of gameplay style it mostly plays out with puzzles, but not with any set sort of consistent rules. More often than not you’ll just need to move your pointer around the screen and click or drag on objects (or nightmare monsters) in order to change or trigger them, working out what must be done. The rewards for your efforts are typically some very weird or somewhat terrifying visuals that will either make you laugh (if you’re a bit twisted, like me) or perhaps regret ever deciding to play the game. An absolutely appropriate treat for this time of year, Happy Game may be on the short side but there’s not much question that time is at least memorable.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water [Koei Tecmo Games] - Fatal Frame is one of those series I’ve heard about on the wind that always sounded interesting, but I’ve never had the opportunity to check out. While having seen that this port of a WiiU exclusive isn’t particularly revered amongst its peers as someone without a point of reference I’ll admit that I’m pretty impressed with it overall. Absolutely creepy and haunting, it’s a great “play in the dark with the headphones on” sort of experience that’s perfect for this time of year and the game does a great job of letting you periodically see things in the periphery that’ll catch your attention. Now, when it comes to play, I’ll admit it’s a bit of an oddball as for once handheld play is likely the ideal way to go. Combat will have you trying to keep your enemies in frame to defeat them, and this is far more easily accomplished being able to tilt your Switch in-hand (which makes sense since this comes from the WiiU) so you can freely tilt it as quickly or slowly as you like as opposed to trying to do it with the digital shoulder buttons playing in docked mode. I can’t speak to how it compares to its brethren but if you’re going into this weekend wanting to be creeped out (though not necessarily scared) this will do a great job of putting you in that mood.

Panorama Cotton [ININ Games] - Having never partaken of the Cotton series I was pleasantly surprised by its intense take on the traditional side-scrolling arcade shooter, so I was intrigued to see a very different take on it with Panorama. With its quasi-3D feel that immediately brings back memories of my enjoyment of the arcade classic Space Harrier I’ll absolutely say that out of the gate I was completely on board. Perhaps just a bit too similar to that arcade title I spent an enormous amount of time with back in the day, I was a bit let down that unlike the last title I played this iteration was lacking in originality. The other big issue is how quickly the second stage jumped up in difficulty, but more in a cheap-ish way with a lot of enemies coming from behind, really requiring more rote memorization than being in the flow of things. The port is absolutely spot-on though, with pixels flying by smoothly and without even a stutter. I would say this firmly lives in the shadow of the likes of Space Harrier but if you’re a fan of that style of play and would enjoy some time in that unusual experience it offers it does deliver some fun.

Lyrica2: Stars Align [Cosen] - When it comes to music and rhythm games the Switch library has been a real mixed bag, both in terms of gameplay styles and musical selections. Lyrica2 falls into the more traditional touch-based camp, and will require pretty dexterous use of two fingers, but is at least playable (though hardly ideal) with a controller. In terms of the music, since it is all in Chinese you may take that into consideration (though, honestly, it isn’t unusual for people not to know the words to their favorite music in English either), but to the game’s credit the tracks do vary in genre quite a bit from ballads to jazz to lighter pop-like fare. Visually, while it’s pretty simple, there’s a beauty to how its indicators float across the screen in synch with the music as well. Whether it’s a fit for any particular gamer would likely vary wildly depending on tastes but I can see a more generally mellow audience enjoying and being at least mildly challenged by it.

Thursday, October 28

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

Dusk [New Blood Interactive] (Nindie Choice!) -
When I played just a demo of this well over a year ago at PAX East on the Switch hardware I knew it had massive potential, and playing the release version all I can say is “Bravo!” to the folks at New Blood for their efforts. Don’t let the old school low-poly look fool you, beneath that is a silky smooth FPS experience with level designs that feel both retro and modern somehow, and best of all that will throw some genuine surprises at you that help to get the blood pumping. The recent remaster of Quake was great for the opportunity to revisit a true classic, but I’m also happy to have it fresh in my mind to be confident in saying Dusk manages to run some laps around it that reflect far more capable modern hardware and some evolving gaming sensibilities. Whether playing in handheld or in docked mode this is a dual-wielding (dual shotguns are a rush) shooter that is insane in all the best ways, chock full of more secrets than you could throw a decapitated head at, priced perfectly, and even comes with a little throwback extra goodie demake, Dust ‘82, that plays well in its own right.

Gas Guzzlers Extreme [GS2 Games] - Though my natural tendency is to giggle at the use of EXTREME in any title, and I won’t try to argue that the game’s presentation doesn’t inspire confidence, I’ll admit that I’ve had much more fun with this combat racer than I would have assumed. Starting from the back of the pack with a busted-ass vehicle and weak weapons, with some determination, racing skill, and a dose of killer instincts, you’ll move up in the world, get some sponsors, and have some fun blowing up your competitors along the way. With combat racers being sadly under-represented in the past generation or two I’ll at least credit GGE not phoning it in where gameplay is concerned, the feel is good and it is satisfying to take on all comers, including a surprise team deathmatch sort of mode it took some time to get to, but that was appreciated. Now, the asking price does feel on the high side given how unrefined the games looks are (for instance, understanding what power-ups are on the track is a challenge until you’re right on top of them), the repetitive (and somewhat lame) short list of one-liners being thrown around, and just a general lack of polish… but if you’ve been in the mood for some driving action and it hits a decent sale it’s well worth a look.

Angry Alligator [GS2 Games] - One of the things I try to do when playing some indie games on the Switch is to identify with what I assume is the target audience and try to view the game through that lens as much as possible. Angry Alligator, in the vein of titles like Hungry Shark or other “eat to evolve” titles over the years, isn’t made for the hardcore set, it’s style and tone are more geared toward either younger or more casual gamers just looking to enjoy some silly chomping fun, exploration, and maybe some laughs as you bloodlessly take down an occasional human. I really, really hope that at some point Pro Controller support is put in place as my drifting joycons being required for play made the camera much more of a struggle than it likely should have been, but that may be more of a personal beef. An issue I did have with the overall design though was a lack of concrete structure and maybe even some boundaries to help guide your progression. I may just be a maverick gamer who’ll exploit any opportunity given to me, though you could argue a random youngster would be roughly the same, but once I set out in the bigger world (complete with elements I couldn’t use yet) I’m not sure I could have even found my way back to where I should have stayed early on. Granted, randomly attacking things for health and food, and participating in some odd mini games on occasion, was fun enough but the experience did feel lacking in structure.

Okinawa Rush [Storybird] - What’s a shame to me with Okinawa Rush is that beyond some flaws that are frustratingly hard to ignore there can be pretty intense moments of side-scrolling brawler fun where it does work pretty well. It starts with a small thing but the mapping of the menu button to advance is B instead of A, but then an all-too-steady drip of other irritants continue to emerge as well ranging from aggravating level design to difficulty identifying objects in the foreground versus the background (with lethal results) and an abundance of cheap death traps peppered about that break up the fun with aggravation. While perhaps a bit on the spammy side at times when you’re brawling with enemies the fun does emerge though, and though you may be inclined towards button mashing there are some moves you can use that will make your life much simpler and look quite cool. The result puts my feelings a bit in limbo, enjoying the good times, but having a hard time simply ignoring the bad ones. Give it a look and see where you may fall on the spectrum if you’re a fan of classic brawlers.

Hexceed [ToastieLabs] - Are you a fan of Minesweeper, where the goal is to methodically clear the board of hidden spots by using logic to determine where mines are based on the numbers on the tiles touching them? Progressively throwing a little extra challenge into the mix with walls and other tricks, aside from using a hex-based board instead of using squares, Hexceed is pretty much exactly what you’d think was being promised if you’re a fan of that Windows classic. It’s simple but it demonstrates an improvement over a game I long ago pretty well forgot about, and I can respect it. If you’re a puzzle fan at least it’s a different flavor that, to this point, I don’t think I’ve encountered on the Switch eShop.

Wednesday, October 27

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

Crysis 3 Remastered [Crytek] (AAA Choice!) - Just call me a black sheep, but until I played this third entry in the Crysis series it never really clicked for me. While the stealth tech was cool and there was fun to be had in specific moments, for me the balance and feel of the action was always just a bit off. However, with the third entry throwing in a bow and seemingly tweaking how long you can maintain stealth just a little to make it more accommodating to silent killer types? Count me as being on board. Right out of the gate the flow simply felt more in tune with my preferred style of play, and I instantly went from appreciating the game’s merit to actively enjoying it. Now, having talked to fans of the series as a whole, the common comment on this third entry is that it’s a shorter overall campaign than its predecessors, so that’s something to take into consideration if you’re buying ala carte versus the package deal of the Crysis Remastered Trilogy. With its feel and flow being more closely aligned with the likes of the Far Cry series overall I really did have a blast with this third chapter. If you’re on the fence about the series though I’d say read up from as many sources as possible, as I can see significant room for disagreement on which title is the best in the series.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix [Moss] (Nindie Choice!) - With an abundance of retro shooters on the Switch it can be a challenge to differentiate them, but for old school arcade fans the Raiden name should be enough to grab some attention alone. Fully bringing a well-made, intense, and gorgeous arcade shooter to Switch is thankfully within the capabilities of the developers and the system and, though tastes in shooter styles may vary, this remix brings great gameplay as well as some variety in spades across its varied modes. Granted, if you were expecting any sort of deviation from the core classic series in terms of power-ups or style you’d be disappointed, but if you’re looking to recapture some great feels of the classic arcade get yourself a Switch Grip (so you can play it vertically, as the universe intended), load this up, and jump into the craziness.

Crysis 2 Remastered [Crytek] - The second in the released Crysis Remastered Trilogy, for me this sequel plays very similarly to the original, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. The change in general scenery does make for some changes in tactics and your approach, trading the tropical jungle for urban cityscape, so if you were a fan of the original flow and mix of stealth and gunfights from the original Crysis you’ll likely dig the hell out of this one as well. Once again, it’s pretty impressive what they’ve managed to pull off in terms of visuals and performance on the humble Switch, considering the Crysis engine is still commonly used to benchmark high-performance PCs with how punishing it can be. Docked play is preferable, as handheld (aside from generally being less comfortable for the intensity of FPS play) still shows more signs of issues, but it is still certainly playable and looks fine. While I (seemingly against the tide) prefer the third chapter in the series, the second one has plenty of content to look through and exciting moments to savor.

Hermitage: Strange Case Files [Arrowiz] - In general terms I’m very open about the fact that I struggle with “playing” games that trend in the direction of being visual novels, and that should be kept in mind with my thoughts on this title accordingly. To the game’s credit, it does manage to throw out some interesting threads to pursue narratively, and allows for at least some periodic activity. That said, there are stretches where it feels like you're being washed over by a tsunami of text to wade through, and while it can build some intrigue its sheer volume can at times also be exhausting as you wait to actually do something other than just advance to another wall of text. If that sounds like your jam, and you want to read more than act, there’s plenty of oddity to explore here, albeit quite slowly. However, if you were just looking for something to amp up the creep factor in the spirit of the season to enjoy more lightly you’ll find it requires much more investment to get a return than a more traditional game would.

Flaskoman [Flying Islands Team] - Budget puzzle platforming feels like one of the toughest general genres to have a breakout hit in on the Switch, and a big contributor to that is the sheer force in numbers already available. The good news for Flaskoman is that it at least manages to carefully walk the tightrope between being agonizingly tough and too overly simple, slowly ramping up the difficulty to make you think and demonstrate some dexterous skills, but never reaching the point where it feels punishing either. The result may actually be able to draw a reasonable cross-section of the audience, with the more casual folks enjoying a little challenge, and the tougher folks digging into something that’s satisfying without being as aggravating as their normal fare.

Friday, October 22

Mini Reviews: October 22nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

YouTubers Life 2 [U-Play Online] (Nindie Choice!) -
While the original YouTubers Life was certainly novel there was just something about it that felt more one-dimensional to me overall so it didn’t quite click for me. With this second crack at what’s essentially a life sim mixed with trying to find success as a social media icon I think they found a better and more satisfying balance in things. One part learning the ropes of how best to manage your time and finances, and the other exploring how to start from nothing and leverage every trick and technique possible to get eyes on you and build a following it may be a bit repetitive in some of the tasks you’ll need to repeat quite a lot, but that doesn’t mean you can simply go through the motions and gain a following without learning some strategy and tricks of the trade. While some may want to play the game to get a taste of the lifestyle of a social media icon, if anything I found that it reinforced the things I would imagine would make it miserable after a while. Constantly trying to find ways to mine trends and maintain an appearance of being happy and affable must be truly exhausting and when trying to caption and hashtag my 50th or so post that really began to settle in. Still, this offers an experience that’s pretty unique so if you’ve ever had aspirations to being a social media star it will likely have more to offer you than yet another farming sim for sure.

Evertried [Dan Domingues] - Strategy hasn’t tended to be a very common flavor for roguelikes on the Switch (well, at least ones that aren’t deck-builders) so when they appear it’s always a bit refreshing. Elevator pitch wise probably the easiest way to set expectations for how Evertried plays is to think in the vein of Crypt of the Necrodancer, just removing the rhythmic element and throwing in some unique skills that you’ll choose from to spend your in-game currency on within the run to best suit your style. It’s nice that because of the element where enemies only make their move when you do you can throttle the speed of things to be quicker if you’re in the zone or slower if you want to be more contemplative. There’s no doubt it can be challenging, especially as learning how best to deal with individual enemies can be a trial and error affair at times but as you work out core strategies to deal with each you continue to feel more effective the more times you jump back in. I would say that some of the controls weren’t necessarily as intuitive or as well explained as I would have preferred but ultimately that’s a temporary problem so not a killer by any means.

Tandem: A Tale of Shadows [Monochrome Paris] - There’s no doubt that, especially at this time of year, the darker and more funky art style of Tandem is able to catch the eye. Fortunately, beneath that look is at least a pretty decent puzzle game which will have you transitioning between the young girl Emma, who will generally be moving around freely, and either trying to block or cast light to create shadows, which then when you switch to Fenton the teddy bear you’ll be able to use as platforms to move around. Between the two you’ll need to work out increasingly complex puzzles, sometimes requiring some trial and error but typically just asking you to take a moment to think about the elements in front of you to devise your plan of attack. One complaint is that the camera isn’t always helpful, and on occasion feels like it’s actively trying to make it tougher to see simple cues in the environment like somewhat hidden passages you’ll need to enter to solve the room’s puzzles. Throw in that while the game’s visual style is pretty unique the nature of the puzzles themselves can feel a bit on the generic side and depending on your level of puzzle game exposure you may find it all a bit on the familiar side.

Black Widow: Recharged [Atari] - As someone who, oddly, never actually played Black Widow back in the day, I want to be up front that unlike many classic arcade refreshes in this case I have no potential for rose-colored feelings over this redux. In some ways that’s a shame, since I think it’s at more of a disadvantage than its Recharged brethren, but since it’s ultimately a twin-stick shooter I’ve still obviously got thoughts. I like the use of the theme, with you playing the part of a spider in her web, and you’re shooting at various assorted bugs who pose a few different threats to you which you’ll have to quickly recognize and react to accordingly to stay alive. The randomness of the power-ups you’ll be able to leverage really crank up the arcade unpredictability factor, sometimes bailing you out when you need a save, and other times not so much. The addition of the challenge stages, consistent with the Recharged series, also adds nicely to variety and longevity as it will throw different objectives at you to conquer. In the end, for a budget price, it’s reasonably good, but I would be remiss not to note the preponderance of great twin-stick shooters out there on the eShop and though this has a novel theme I wouldn’t say it breaks away to distinguish itself among its competitors. One comment I will make is the one-life style of it makes for some frustratingly brief runs where you have no opportunity to bounce back, a bad break lingering near the edge without helpful power-ups you may just end up needing to start over.

B.A.T.S.: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad [The Media Indie Exchange] - A side-scrolling action platformer where you play as a member of a squad of vampires, ripping through stages and enemies on the way to tough boss fights? It makes for quite the elevator pitch. In execution though? Eh… it depends on your love for the theme overcoming the pronounced hump of stage designs far too often revolving around cheap deaths. I can respect games being challenging, but let that be about me mastering the mechanics and nuance of things, not remembering all of the purposely placed traps and enemies that will, far too easily, end your run. What somewhat doubles down on the dissatisfaction is how easily you’re generally able to kill your enemies when you do get to them, outside of the bosses which can require some endurance to knock out. Sure, unlocking new members of your crew, which generally changes the style of play a bit is a nice carrot to dangle, but in general the investment of effort to reward and satisfaction ratio here feels askew.

Thursday, October 21

Mini Reviews: October 21st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Skul: The Hero Slayer [SouthPAW Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
As a die hard fan of roguelikes perhaps it isn’t surprising that I’ve found Skul to be a great challenge and a good bit of fun. In general, it keeps things simple: You don’t have a ton of skills to leverage, the head you use dictates the nature of the attacks you do have to work with, and the meta progression you get outside each run is actually pretty scant when compared to many titles out there. The result feels like a classic challenging side-scrolling slasher one run, and in another a brawler, it’s really a crapshoot depending on what head you get… but also on what mini bosses you may face early on and how your head matches up to their attack patterns. Yes, that can make it frustrating, especially in the early going as you make mistakes that you’ll end your run for… but in the roguelike spirit you learn, improve your skills, and keep fighting until what were once obstacles become more routine and you move on in search of new heads, perks, temptations, and teeth-gritting challenges.

Jars [Mousetrap Games] - With a visual style somewhere between Tim Burton and the characters in Don’t Starve, there’s a timeliness to the creepy general vibes Jars gives off. While getting the hang of how best to make use of your limited resources for the most strategic benefit can take a few tries in some cases, this works out to be an odd and faster-paced variation on tower defense in many regards. In each scenario you’ll have items you’ll need to protect, and then vials you’ll need to break, which can contain your creatures and items you’ll use or various types of critters who’ll be trying to wreck the things you’re trying to protect. From stage to stage the degree of difficulty and intensity can vary a bit wildly, so you’ll need to be ready for anything, but with quick thinking and action you’ll always ultimately have the means to succeed at your disposal, you’ll just need to work quickly and effectively, and sometimes have a very sound plan ready to go. I will say that the interface for managing your critters and their perks, which is absolutely necessary for your success, can be a bit clunky with console controls, but aside from that and what your tastes are in challenges, this at least stands out as a very different flavor of strategy on multiple levels in the eShop and that alone may make it worth a glance for genre fans.

The Sundew [2054 Games] - The renewed popularity in recent years of point-and-click adventures has been great to see, though certainly people who’ve hoped to see games that have a more serious tone have likely been a bit disappointed. More often than not (aside from some “horror-ish” attempts) the classic LucasArts template making liberal use of humor has been the the path people have chosen, which can certainly be fun, but too much of a good thing can tend to make everything blend together a bit. The Sundew instead opts for a more sci-fi cyberpunk-y vibe and a generally more serious tone overall, helping to differentiate it from the majority of its brethren on the system. That said, there are times when this adventure starts to lose its luster and feel a bit plodding as you’re trying to discern what it is you need to do in order to proceed. The tendency for given sections, puzzles, and items to be troublesome isn’t an unusual one, for sure, but without having that layer of humor to grease the wheels and distract from periodic issues it’s easier to pick on the game’s faults when they appear.

Jackbox Party Pack 8 [Jackbox Games, Inc] - Having generally been a fan of the Jackbox games, and this series, since the start it’s always interesting to see how each new pack ends up playing out. In general, this time it seems fresh ideas and more of a focus on drawing as a whole are in play, and that also generally makes it more likely results will vary with tastes. Both Drawful Animate and Weapons Drawn represent the artistic (well, as much as you can be with your finger, a time limit, and very few tools) side of things and I think enjoyment is heavily tied to how much you and your friends like to get their Pictionary-esque sides flowing with their different spins on how to make use of your talents. The Poll Mine seems to be the biggest swing of the bunch, trying to make people assess the consensus rankings to prompts among their friends, an interesting idea, but I’m not sure the fun comes through with its more sluggish pacing. Trivia fans will likely be drawn to The Wheel of Enormous Proportions, which will give you lists of potential answers to properly associate with a given prompt or topic, with accurate answers being tied to better odds for winning on a big wheel that opens the door to potentially anyone coming out on top with a little luck. Finally, there’s my family’s favorite of the bunch, Job Job, which simply had the best sense of humor overall and we loved the concept of having to take the answers other players gave to prompts to construct our own answers to new ones. It made for a consistently silly challenge, and it always seems the Jackbox crew does best when having players focused on words and language. I wouldn’t consider it to be one of their best packs overall (they have some tough company), but again it may be one of their more wholly unique ones, which may have appeal on those grounds alone for series fans.

Aloof [ButtonX] - When you tread into the puzzle space with anything that remotely looks Tetris-ish you’re unfortunately going to invite some level of comparison to it. To Aloof’s credit, it at least has pretty little in common with that well-known franchise, though visually the impression is hard to shake in defining your expectations at first. It’s instead a much more slowly-paced and cerebral affair, with you being able to take your time to contemplate what’s already in place and how best to make use of the latest pieces you have to work with. The result is simply something different, which can be a good thing for the right crowd, but without that urgency and need for quick thinking the excitement tends to get sapped from things pretty quickly too. If you’re looking for a change of pace, and something you could potentially play with someone else for some fun, Aloof is a bit off the beaten path and may be worth a look.

Tuesday, October 19

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

Inspector Waffles [Goloso Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
Maybe I’m just a sucker for a regular stream of puns when they’re dangled in front of me often, but having played quite a number of point-and-click adventures on Switch that started strong but then lost steam, Inspector Waffles managed to be an entertaining treat. Sure, the silly version of detective noir has been done, and plenty of cat and dog humor has been done as well even, but there’s some charm here mixed with a well-implemented interface that really works. You’ll pick up the flow of how things work pretty quickly, be asked to collect a reasonable number of items from the environment, and then work out various puzzles requiring either straight or combined use to progress… and, for the most part, in general it’s pretty smooth sailing while keeping you amused throughout. The low-res pixel style does have it suffer at times for clarity in what you may be picking up or interacting with, but as a whole this is a well-designed adventure that feels quite at home on the Switch.

A Little Golf Journey [Okidokico] (Nindie Choice!) - Part golf game, part puzzler, A Little Golf Journey is hard to put in a pre-defined box. Rather than being dominated with a sliding power gauge and then concerns like trying to get your hook or slice just right, the golf side of things is decidedly stripped down here. The focus, instead, being more on planning out your path to the hole, and perhaps taking up a special challenge along the way if you keep an eye out for opportunities. Of course, the fact that a bit of a clever narrative plays out as you progress just further adds flavor and just underlines the title’s distinctive charm. If you allow yourself to get bogged down by the lack of a traditional golfing feel, or perhaps the camera that isn’t always cooperative, it may lose some of its luster, but there’s no doubt this overall experience is the only one of its kind on the Switch… and that makes it worth a look.

Gang Beasts [Boneloaf] - Both “wacky physics” and local multiplayer games have a tendency to suffer from people having extremely positive or negative views of them, either embracing and “getting” the style of play or likely despising it. The fact that Gang Beasts mashes them both together in one pretty silly package is a credit to having some confidence or just plain nerve, and while nuanced fighting fans will likely find playing it akin to fingernails on a chalkboard, if you’re able to take a step back and embrace the button-mashy goofiness of it there’s still just enough strategy in flailing and taking down enemies to give it some appeal. A few modes help flesh it out further (including one co-op) with some variety, and you could hope the potential for some online play would throw some challenges your way periodically, but the joy here is really about in-person play, laughing, smack talking, and making a ruckus as the on-screen action plays itself out. If you’re looking for a good time with some friends who maybe aren’t the most able gamers, Gang Beasts has a lot going for it.

Aeon Must Die! [Limestone Games] - It’s always interesting to see developers take some pretty big swings for the fences, trying out new variations in play style to forge a path of their own. The downside is that when such swings fail to connect the results can be a bit painful. I can’t fault the ambitious idea behind Aeon Must Die, trying to mix the feel of a side-scrolling beat-em-up with more of a technical fighting mentality, and on that level the result is actually interesting. In order to discourage you from just locking into the same attack pattern that works against all comers, as can sometimes happen with the genre, Aeon has a heat gauge that you’ll need to constantly keep an eye on and manage through the use of different attacks and defensive moves. This added layer of complexity, aside from simply trying not to get beaten up, does create some tension and initially it helps the gameplay feel pretty fresh. Sadly, it doesn’t take long before you’ll still inevitably lock into some pretty set patterns, simply responding to your status gauge position on a consistent basis to keep it in check. Add to that some problems where performance can feel inconsistent and a bit jerky at times and the overall experience ends up feeling like it has potential, it just can’t figure out how to make it all more compelling to keep coming back to.

Super Chicken Catchers [White Smoke Games] - This is one of those situations where marketing can backfire a bit explosively when citing the wrong popular title for comparison. Originally reading that it has been compared in any way to Rocket League, as a massive fan of that game (1000+ hours on PC and still playing often) my interest was piqued. Sadly, having valiantly attempted to play Super Chicken Catchers with my daughter, the comparison simply doesn’t make much sense, and I’d call the general gameplay concepts at play in the title most similar to a more complicated game of “keep away” than anything else. Most ideally played with two human teams of 2 people a piece, the goal is to find, grab, and then keep a hold of the chicken in question, using a mix of strategy, quick moves, and perhaps a bit of luck as the other team tries to hunt you down and knock the prized chicken from your hands. The problem is just that while I don’t doubt there’s strategic potential for how to play smart offense or defense, there’s only so much variety you’ll eke out of the arena and its pretty simple layout. Throw in what appears to be a pretty consistently dead online community (even when games like this gave some mild success they still don’t tend to last very long), and unless you’ve got some friends to play with who enjoy this odd multiplayer “sports” title you won’t be able to extract much fun with this one.

Thursday, October 14

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

Ruin Raiders [OverPowered Team] -
When people think of tactical strategy titles, the gold standard set by the likes of the X-Com series and some refined tactical RPGs come to mind. The thing they usually have in common is that more grandiose and story-driven experience with quite a bit going on besides just the combat. Ruin Raiders moves in roughly the exact opposite direction, strippping out the content and pretty much replacing it with a roguelike dungeon crawler, bringing in an element of the unknown to help sweeten the deal. It will have you moving your squad around in search of gear, an occasional puzzle to solve, and generally satisfying tactical combat, all with a focus more on action than higher-level strategy and story-telling. The result can feel a bit bare bones, perhaps predictably, but I appreciate the attempt to change things up a bit and throw a bone to people who enjoy tactics but are on a tighter schedule. I do wish the gear and all didn’t feel quite so generic, to help throw some extra spice into the formula, but it is all certainly serviceable tactical strategy title that should have some appeal to genre fans who don’t mind a few less bells and whistles in service to tighter runs.

Lone McLonegan [Flynn's Arcade] - There’s no doubt that indies have more than brought the classic point-and-click adventure genre back from the dead, many adhering to the classic LucasArts-type formula and others going their own route to varying results. Lone McLonegan certainly has its own quirky sense of humor, hovering often between more biting humor and goofy dad jokery, and if you’re a fan of getting some laughs that way it can be fun on a budget. As for the adventure aspects it’s not quite as interesting or refined as you may have come to expect, more often simply being functional and on occasion requiring some desperate trial and error to get by. Interface-wise I appreciate that it works in a pretty streamlined fashion, at least not getting bogged down with an encumbered and over-complicated UI, keeping things relatively light and quick aside from when you can’t figure out what you need to do next. For the price it’s not a bad deal, and should provide some entertainment to genre fans, you just can’t expect a terribly polished production for that price.

Bonito Days [Studio Somewhere] - This is an odd one that initially filled me with hope, but then had enough small disappointments pile up that it slowly lost its luster. What interested me is that this plays very similarly to an included mini game in the Monkey Ball series called Monkey Target. You’ll jump off a ramp (or, in this case, sometimes something else), take flight, work to perhaps collect some items while you're gliding in the air, and then usually attempt to hit a targeted landing zone, trying to earn as many points as possible. In some stages, and in some moments, Bonito Days recaptured what I enjoyed about this game that my wife and I used to play against each other quite a bit. The thing is, there are also stages and elements it decides to improvise and do things differently that don’t work very well, and at times made me wonder if there was a clear design vision for making the game. Stages where you can roll around a bit quickly demonstrate issues with the fixed camera and what you’re supposed to do for success immediately becomes less clear. Small things like nothing, aside from your character wobbling, giving you a clear idea of how much momentum you have in flight, also creep in and detract from enjoyment. It’s an odd title, and there’s a chance for it to be a net positive for people who dig its chill look and vibe and are willing to give it some patience, but it also has a tendency to get in its own way unfortunately.

Bouncy Bullets 2 [Petite Games] - Mixing together elements of a shooter, 3D platformer, and perhaps to some degree a puzzler, Bouncy Bullets 2 is a bit of an oddity. You’ll move around its very colorful and modestly-rendered 3D stages while on the clock, pushing you to keep on the move and at least a little aggressive in taking on foes when you encounter them, though typically a little sidestepping and shooting is all you’ll need to do to take out foes. The thing is, most of the time the shooting feels a bit like an add-on, and not really the main event, as your real goal is navigating the level in order to reach the exit portal in time, perhaps finding the hidden nut along the way. What ends up being a bit aggravating is that the “puzzles” in the stages are usually far more about rote trial and error than using your smarts, so more often than not you’re just spending time poking around to figure out where to go and what to do. The result feels like a mix of elements where none of them feels particularly rewarding and more like you’re going through the motions.

Nira [Baseline Games] - I’ll freely admit that survival games don’t tend to be one of my favorite genres, but having played several that even I have found compelling and agreeable (for a number of reasons) I wouldn’t say I have an inherent bias against them either. In the case of Nira, which really heavily pushes on the minimalist button in terms of its look and structure, in many ways my play time with it left me gobsmacked. Thinking its talking totem pole was plain weird, struggling to identify what many objects around me (including those that could kill me) were, having difficulties with the controls needed to complete a quest… they led to some moments that actually left me laughing, but more in frustration and being baffled than being amused. Trying to trade with what I assume was a lady, since there wasn’t feedback for success, I kept trying different R buttons, which ended up having me attack and kill her. Not long after that a different humanoid-looking thing arrived and promptly attacked, making me kill it too, it was all a weird bit of chaos. I think this may be a game where going too far into the retro vibe really hurt it. Yes, with time and some repetition you’ll understand what different things are, but in the early going it really saps enthusiasm, and with the general style of play being very ordinary and rote at best it’s hard then not to reflect on the fact that there are better representatives of the genre out there you could be playing instead.

Wednesday, October 13

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

The Lightbringer [Rock Square Thunder] (Nindie Choice!) -
Certainly there are plenty of 3D action platformers on the Switch, and they take a variety of forms from intense to more casual. The Lightbringer sort of splits the middle, offering opportunities for challenges if you want to be a completionist but keeping things light if you’re just along for the journey. What’s interesting is how streamlined this experience is, feeling more like a 2D platformer moving in straight lines rather than an open adventure where the goal is exploration. Secrets will be hidden along the way, making you detour a little or double back a bit perhaps, but in general you’re always moving in the direction you want to and in many regards that’s a refreshing change of pace. Some poetic voice acting helps to advance the story, which just gives things a different feel overall as well. While by no means as epic an adventure as you’d normally see in a 3D action platformer, The Lightbringer feels like a solid, steady, and enjoyable adventure that respects your time and delivers generally no-filler thrills… something I can definitely respect.

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl [Fair Play Labs] - This is one of those titles you walk into with at least a twinge of dread as a reviewer. Not only is it a licensed game, but it is seemingly attempting to at least tangentially take on Smash Bros on its own home turf?!? The thing is, if you don’t spend all of your time picking it apart, and if you really love some of these classic Nickelodeon characters, you can still have a reasonably good button-mashing time with it. I think the biggest weaknesses for me are the lack of items to keep the middling fighting from being so easily apparent and the problems with glitchiness I ran into, which can be really aggravating in some specific stages in particular. That said, my daughter, who grew up with many of these characters, still had a blast and laughed as she’d beat me up with random animated characters in their various color-splashed cartoon levels. Depending on the crowd, things like roster depths and long-standing Nintendo lore don’t have as much pull, nostalgia and familiarity can win. For those people, this will likely be a bit of fun, just be realistic about its limitations going in.

Gleylancer [Ratalaika Games] - Even having played a ton of arcade shooters over time I’m still fascinated periodically when I run across ones that I’d somehow missed over the years. Gleylancer is one such title I must have missed (no surprise since it was only released on the Mega Drive it appears), and while there’s no doubt it’s a port of a game from over 20 years ago… I was shocked that it impressed me a bit. Central to my enthusiasm was a really smart setup I don’t recall having seen many times where you get to choose the behavior of your drones ahead of time. Granted, experimenting with them was a bit frustrating as you’d learn what they were good and bad for, but I really appreciate this smart and generally well-implemented feature. As for criticisms, the amount of debris you have to weave through in places can make the screen pretty chaotic visually at times, with you needing to keep track of what's a ship, what's trash you can't blow up, and where the bullets are. All in all though, this gem from the past at least feels well worth a look for die hard shooter enthusiasts.

Astria Ascending [Artisan Studios] - Astria Ascending is a bit of an odd bird to me. In many regards when you see its art style, it looks something like the old school manual art of classic 16-bit era titles from the likes of Square. Ornate and generally stunning, it feels like a wonderful homage to what RPG fans used to dream their games would look like one day. The trouble is in most other areas though, which either aren’t reaching for, or are at least failing to meet the high standards set by the game’s looks. Turn-based combat looks cool but plays pretty traditionally (see: somewhat dull), character development is elaborate for sure but the interface and the way it is handled I’d consider difficult to approach and odd. The storytelling, though earnest, feels a bit on the traditional side but I wouldn’t say is done any favors by the voice acting trying to sell it. For genre fans there’s plenty here that may excite you, but for people who only decide to pick up a JRPG once in a blue moon there are some more compelling choices out there for you on the eShop.

Starlight Alliance [origamihero games] - On a general level, though things have begun to change in this generation, it can be tough to get people who’ve only enjoyed AAA titles over the years to take a chance on an indie title. Whatever their biases may be, whether looks, polish, depth, or any number of other potential complaints, making headway to change minds can be tough. While Starlight Alliance shows some effort, there are aspects of it that I think fall in line with some of those stereotypes though, so I would hope the first chance someone takes on an indie wouldn’t be with this game. The controls are a bit funky, collision detection is spotty at best in places can be frustrating, and there are simply some design choices in how the game should play that feel odd, possibly tied to limitations in what either the creative or development teams could pull off. For the patient who have scaled-back expectations there’s a mix of platforming, puzzling, and some light combat here to enjoy… but it can be hard to overlook some of the warts you’ll see along the way.

Friday, October 8

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

Lost in Random [Zoink!] (Nindie Choice!) -
Full disclosure, up front I’ll admit that I’ve always tended to be fond of games from the Zoink crew, in particular finding their off-beat sense of humor to be great fun. In the case of Lost in Random I really think they’ve stepped it up though. Taking on an ambitious visual design that borders on being Burton-esque in many ways and mixing it with a terrifically dark and distinctive story would already have made me quite happy. However, what really won my heart was the game’s fabulous melding of strategic deck-building and brawling action, resulting in an overall feel of combat that I found utterly unique and that I can only hope to see occur in even more games down the road. I’ll admit that my enthusiasm for those battles, getting to test out my carefully-selected combination of cards, tended to make the more story-driven adventure beats in between feel a bit more bland in comparison, but that’s also where the developer’s trademark humor and quirky characters tended to help keep me happy even as I lusted for more combat. Undeniably distinctive, even if not always perfect, this felt like a perfect compliment to the coming holiday season with its darker tone, and I’d hope that even people who have come to dread seeing the term “deck-builder” would see how its pairing with consistent action makes all the difference.

Jack Axe [Keybol Games] - Tough-as-nails platformers have legitimately become a thing over the years, and in my experience with a few exceptions that break through to more mainstream success (looking at you Celeste and Super Meat Boy, in particular) people’s appreciation of them tends to vary pretty wildly. Jack Axe is sort of a no-frills take on things, locking things in pretty quickly with your somewhat limited jumping abilities mixed with a capable axe that you can throw and then dash to grab. Basically everything in the game then leans on how well you’re able to execute on those abilities, making tough jumps and surviving a gauntlet of consecutive sections as you try to reach the next checkpoint to save. What’s really odd about it though, aside from not really having any story to speak of, is that once you get started there’s really very little giving you direction, you’ll just sort of wander around to find new areas in search of gems and coins that you can then use to unlock other new areas, sometimes encountering a boss fight to conquer as well. It isn’t bad, though getting to the point where you “master” the diagonal throw consistently can be troublesome, it just feels weirdly incomplete somehow, bringing the ideas and action together in some way to give it a sense of direction, or at least personality, to take it to the next level.

No Longer Home [Humble Grove] - Contemplative games are always a bit tough to review as I’ve found that where you are in life and what challenges you’re currently facing (or have faced in the past) tend to drive the appreciation of the stories and ideas they’re trying to share. No Longer Home definitely falls firmly into this category, on the surface being a point-and-click adventure, but really being far more about two friends at a crossroads in their lives on multiple levels. The more you identify with their struggles and their thoughts as the story unfolds, the more you’re likely to appreciate the whole experience. However, if you remove that affinity from the equation, and don’t identify with their fears as they try to figure out how to move to the next stage of their lives, the more the picky and somewhat unsatisfying trial and error clicking about trying to advance the story will be. This is definitely a better story-driven experience with a message as a whole than a game, so the degree to which you’ll appreciate or enjoy it will likely vary wildly from person to person.

Creepy Tale 2 [No Gravity Games] - There’s no doubt that with the month of October upon us interest goes up in games that are a bit on the darker and spookier side. Obviously, based on the game’s name, Creepy Tale 2 is here to capitalize on that sort of interest having been released when it was. In terms of living up to expectations though? Not so much? There are a few more threatening things you’ll encounter and situations you’ll work through but the majority of your point-and-click adventure tends to be concerned with far more mundane things like hunting and pecking for the specific item or interaction that will allow you to try to keep the slogging pace of the game moving. If you were a fan of the original or enjoy simpler indie adventures it may have some appeal, but it unfortunately lacks in things to excitedly share about.

Takorita Meets Fries [Ratalaika Games] - OK, so on the one hand I’ll at least admit this visual novel is at least weird enough to maybe be of some mild interest. That said, it runs in a straight line from its start to its end and you’re merely along for the ride. You’ll perhaps giggle at some of the odd culinary jokes, the mocking of Takorita’s poor guard, and some literal fish out of water humor… but you could just as easily decide it’s a bit low-brow and easy for the most part. Even amidst other titles in this non-game genre I generally don’t dig, I’d consider this to be one of the lower points of those I’ve perused.

Thursday, October 7

Mini Reviews: October 7th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Metallic Child [Studio HG] (Nindie Choice!) -
OK, so to start I’ll admit that just on paper I was already rooting for Metallic Child a bit. An anime-style roguelike beat-em-up brawler? Yes, please! OK, so the story feels a bit to filler-y and getting down to business took longer than I would have preferred. Add to that the fact that the style is more grindy than technique-driven and the tendency to get down to button mashing in places feels a bit inevitable. To boot, I’ll admit that in order to maintain the hectic pacing of things I didn’t usually do much thinking when encountering power cores and upgrades, rolling with my gut and letting the chips fall as they may. The thing is, even with those observations and criticisms it’s still a damned fun time and will keep you challenged to refine your techniques with the different weapons and equipment you can find to stay alive and keep going. It may be a bit on the chaotic side, even among its brethren in the roguelike action space, but it still delivers some intense fun if you’re game for it.

Regency Solitaire [Grey Alien Games] (Nindie Choice!) - You’ve got to respect a development team that takes on a well-known casual card game and decides to swing for the fences to make as feature-rich a version of it as possible. That’s very much the case for Regency Solitaire, which likely won’t be able to suddenly win over hardcore types with its Jane Austen trappings and story of a young woman getting pressured by her family to go for money rather than love, but absolutely sets itself apart from most anything else in the same space. While all of the special cards, rules, and how best to utilize things like your wild cards or perks to maximize your points may take some time and trial and error, the almost roguelike progression where you’ll be able to unlock improvements or rechargeable abilities (which you’ll need to strategically manage) absolutely adds flavor and some appreciated personalization to the mix. All then set against the literary backdrop, this is a casual game that screams maximum effort and is worthy of a look if you’re hoping to unwind a bit with something more relaxing but still well-made.

RiMS Racing [RaceWard Studio] - Oh, the challenges of being a racing fan on the Switch. While there have been some pretty solid titles over the years it’s definitely one of the genres with pretty thin overall representation and variety on the system. Bearing in mind some reasonably-good recent arcade-style racers RiMS Racing is a title in a completely different direction, going for a pretty hardcore simulation style that is about far more than just the action on the track… and whose overall difficulty level on it won’t be for the patience challenged. You won’t just be doing the normal team and equipment management, there’s a really hands-on aspect to the maintenance of your ride, having you actively participate in a mini-game-like way breaking down or assembling your bike components and even jumping into the role of a member of your own pit crew. It’s a big swing sort of move that I’d imagine people will either love or hate but I respect the choice that’s been made to run with the simulation angle at full speed with no hesitation. If you’re on board with the heavy management and participatory elements the only other warning is that the racing controls can be very fussy, in particular with the lack of analog triggers for acceleration and braking making for a challenge in feathering them both to avoid throwing yourself off your bike. If you’ve grown bored of arcade racers this moves as far in the other direction as you could ask. It may not be as accessible as perhaps would have been wise, smoothing out its rougher edges, but it’s unapologetically committed to doing things its own way.

TRIOS: lofi beats / numbers to chill to [Samurai Punk] - Who knew that games that are heavily centered around working out math problems could at least be a bit interesting? While the initial levels of TRIOS remain very simple, they are effective at warming you up to what’s coming when more and more elements are added with every group of levels to amp things up. The principle, no matter how many elements are involved, remains consistent: Your goal is to arrive at the number shown in the background using all of the numbers and operators you’ve been given. Working on two numbers and a key operator at a time you’ll need to work your way through to get to the desired result… which does take some planning as things go on in particular. Much more cerebral and exciting, it’s at least a fresh take on what you’d normally consider an educational title, and its presentation and great tracks at least make for a pleasant experience as you progressively get more frustrated with the challenges put before you.

Spacebase Startopia [Realmforge Studios] - When it comes to management simulations there’s no question that the pickings on the Switch are pretty slim, indeed, so when any new ones come along I have no doubt genre fans are immediately curious for details. While you can see the effort to try to make SS approachable, humorous, and perhaps at least a little challenging with its multiple levels and unique concepts, unfortunately it’s plagued by more troubles than it has successes. Without a doubt the killer issues are the clumsy and cumbersome controls and the interface scheme that I have no doubt worked reasonably well on PC but have not been given the proper attention and care being converted over to a console experience. While it’s undoubtedly not an easy nut to crack, the fact is there are other conversions in the space already on the eShop that don’t just do it better, but do it better to an enormous degree. Beyond that it also just feels like the experience is lacking in distinctive personality, something its competition (not to name names but specifically Two Point Hospital and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3) gets far more right. The result is a bit frustrating. Perhaps engaging play could have compensated for lacking controls or vice versa, but in this case unless you’re really starved for something just a little different there are better options out there to consider.

Wednesday, October 6

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

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan [ManaVoid Entertainment Inc] (Nindie Choice!) -
Having spent far more time with Rainbow Billy than I would have expected, I’ve become a big fan of its unique mix of adventure, platforming, relationship building, and mini-game driven combat. At a glance anyone can see that it has a very family-friendly look and feel, in particular with a key element of combat being talking to your opponent and trying to always accentuate the positive. Inevitably the majority of the time you don’t so much defeat them as wear down the emotional walls they’ve put up to enlist their aid to help restore color to the world that has been made a dreary black and white by the evil Leviathan. While that makes the combat sound a bit simple, in execution there’s quite a bit you have to consider from a tactical point of view as well. The first character you put into any lane will use their special ability (if you’ve helped develop a friendship with them), and these become critical as the game goes on and foes get tougher, and the more characters you put in a lane the tougher the mini game you’ll need to play gets. The result can lead to a surprising degree of strategy being needed at times, especially since some opponents will really throw you for a loop with special rules you’ll need to figure out and get around to be successful. Aside from being a bit on the saccharine side for the hardcore set the one fault I’d give the game is that its dialogue really tends to go on, to the point that I’ve just begun to skip a great deal of it, since it isn’t hard to glean what’s important in the conversation without needing to go through it all. Perhaps the goal was to deepen the feel for characters and their connections, but for me it more often derailed the momentum of enjoying the gameplay itself. It absolutely won’t appeal to everyone but if you love games that dare to be different and wear their heart on their sleeve I’d consider it a must-have to add to your collection.

Hot Wheels Unleashed [Milestone S.r.l] (Nindie Choice!) - Having spent a fair portion of my childhood playing with the cars, tracks, and quite a few playsets there’s absolutely an element of nostalgia in Hot Wheels Unleashed that comes in waves and puts a smile on my face. I can only imagine what weight this collective love for the property, and the associated expectations it comes with, put on the shoulders of everyone working on this project. For the most part the great news is that the resulting game is quite a lot of fun even without leaning entirely on the many iconic cars and playsets the franchise brings to the table. Perhaps I’d prefer an element like combat to spice things up a bit more, but going the “toy-sized track within a full-sized environment” route does manage to help compensate to a degree for the missing ability to blow up your competitors. It doesn’t completely lack in technique either, as you’ll need to work on your drift turns (which also then fill your boost gauge) and carefully manage any situation where you may catch air or encounter transitions between a real-world surface and the track since those can quickly lead to disaster if you’re not careful. In terms of things that hold it back the almost mobile-esque unboxing system and the seemingly ever-present hard sell efforts for you to buy DLC for the game that just released can rub the wrong way. That said, the main “local play” mode that switches up scenarios for you to unlock gear, online multiplayer, and a track editor all help to compensate with plenty of opportunities to explore, expand your virtual car collection, and bask in the glory of this iconic franchise.

Darksiders III [Gunfire Games] - The Darksiders latest entry has finally meandered its way to Switch to join its brothers, and the results in this case are more mixed than its predecessors. Carrying on the story as the third of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this time around you’ll be taking on the role of Fury, adding a little distinction for being the lone female of the bunch. More agile than her brother War from the original in the series, and having a different flow of combat from her brother Death in the sequel, traversal using her whip to swing around and more technique-driven combat are what drives this entry. Unfortunately, also moreso than its predecessors, this iteration feels like it is pushing the limitations of the Switch a bit harder, showing some cracks visually and in terms of performance at times, though if you’re game they’re not so bad that they can’t be worked with. While I do appreciate the level design, feeling absolutely full of nooks and crannies to distract yourself with some exploration, the lack of a map is also both odd and, at times, aggravating as it is easy to get lost and burn time simply moving around. It’s a bit of an uneven entry, but for fans of the series it should at least prove to be a good enough time, assuming you don’t have the opportunity to enjoy it on another platform.

The Plane Effect [Studio Kiku] - This really feels like one of those games where people will walk away with wildly different opinions depending on their tastes. If you happen to appreciate games used as a medium for people to compose visually-distinctive experiences to tell stories I would imagine you’ll end up pretty pleased with it, but if you’re looking more from the angle of expecting well-composed gameplay beats that are satisfying to complete you’ll likely be far less enthusiastic. Starting out your main character seems to simply be a working drone who has completed his work for the day and is all set to journey home. After encountering a few oddities, however, you’ll get the idea the world isn’t necessarily a normal one and then that there’s something much more unusual going on. The story and visual style are absolutely interesting, the problem is that the point-and-click style adventure beats that help you progress are hit and miss at best and can sometimes be frustratingly obtuse in the progression of things you’ll need to do in order to advance that same story. It’s absolutely an interesting journey, I just wish more care had been put into making it as engaging to play as to watch unfold.

Teacup [Smarto Club] - Cute and charming games can always be a pleasant distraction amidst the chaos of more intense action-driven games, but moreso than on any Nintendo system to date their abundance has also made standing out in the space more difficult. Teacup’s art style, laid back pacing, and simplicity as your character is just out and about trying to find sufficient tea for an upcoming party she’s hosting no doubt help make it a relaxing affair, but they also struggle to make it a memorable one. You’ll meander around town, generally being forced to move in a very linear path from person to person, backtracking with some regularity, to open new areas and work through periodic puzzles which serve as a means for you to help your neighbors in some way. Nothing is terribly difficult (though you may get hung up longer than expected on a puzzle, depending, but they do have a hint system to aid if you need it) but I can’t say that aside from it merely being pleasant that it elicited any real emotions for me at all, shoving it down among its brethren in the eShop that helped feel more emotionally significant and satisfying.

Tuesday, October 5

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

Unsighted [Studio Pixel Punk] (Nindie Choice!) -
Unsighted is interesting to me, in part because at just a casual glance, or even just a very short play session, I believe people will severely underestimate its ambition and execution. Its look and play style can certainly feel familiar, but it is the sheer volume of features and surprising elements the game brings to the table that help it stand very much on its own. Mixing a sense of open-world-ish adventure (you can tackle “dungeons” in any order you wish, and even choose your own moral path), challenging and rewarding technical combat (really gotta master the parry and counter), and a ton of ways to enhance your character with perks, gear, and even accessibility options to tone down the difficulty in a variety of ways, there’s no question of the effort that has been put in to making this satisfying for everyone. Once you’re a few hours in, and your true adventure is underway, you’ll find that the phase where you’re comparing it to other titles has passed and you’ll be immersed in this distinct world which is full of surprises and challenges. It’s a wonderful surprise, simultaneously familiar but undoubtedly unique at the same time.

Death’s Gambit: Afterlife [White Rabbit Interactive] (Nindie Choice!) - Beneath the veneer of this very attractive side-scrolling Metroidvania-ish action RPG beats the heart of ambition… though in measuring the results you could argue the degree of success may vary. Right from the get-go the good and bad of the depth of the combat systems presents itself with more than a handful of classes you’ll be able to work with. While you can see some general info on them and do a sort of mini test drive with them this is both great (since it opens the door to multiple playthroughs and tastes in combat) and a bit too much too soon as you have yet to really get a feel for the mechanics of the game that will be paired with it. I think that the thread of the developer working so hard to provide for player choice and variety is woven throughout and how people will respond to that may vary wildly. For the hard core set it will likely be a godsend, and when paired with the generally challenging (please, I hate calling things Souls-like, I usually consider that a bad sign when in marketing material) combat everything will come up roses. For people who were hoping more for a well-structured Metroidvania with rock solid combat, mechanics, and a satisfying and well-defined upgrade path… it can all seem to be a bit much. Whether the game is for you likely rests on that central question. It looks great, is challenging, and while I wouldn’t consider its mechanics “perfect” they’re better than the average… but depending on the investment you want to put into needing to hone your character and experiment there may be less overwhelming options out there that will be a better fit.

Gearshifters [Red Phantom Games] - This is a game that really has me emotionally split in two, making it a challenge to review. On the one hand I absolutely love the idea behind it, and there’s nothing else like it on Switch. Depending on how much of a “seasoned gamer” you are you may see elements of the likes of Spy Hunter, Road Rash, or even just classic arcade shooters this side-scrolling combat racer. You’ll be hitting the road with loads of enemies out there trying to stop you, and your key to survival will be doing quite a lot of failing and then upgrading your ride with the spoils of your runs to add new and better weaponry and support equipment, finding the mix of gear that helps you be your destructive best. The problems? I think the fact that it locks you into a zone once you reach it, not allowing you to fall back and grind where you’ll be more successful, backfires. In a way it feels like it is penalizing you for any early success, then dooming you to short runs where you’re really underpowered and that’s frustrating. Last, while I usually don’t make a comment on the price point, when it seems pretty seriously out of whack it’s hard to ignore it, and the current price feels quite high when considering the regular price of many strong indie titles out there for half the current price (and that generally are far stronger, even if not in the same genre and style). If just these two issues were resolved I’d probably be singing the game’s praises far more, but right now it feels like a “wait for a sale” proposition unfortunately.

Aeon Drive [Critical Reflex] - If you’re a big fan of fast-moving and often intense platforming action Aeon Drive will likely have some appeal for you. With only 30 seconds to finish each stage, though you do have the power to prolong your time limit if you collect enough gems, it definitely has an emphasis on execution. What’s a bit odd, though, is that there are absolutely things to the periphery, encouraging you to experiment with the paths you take, but I’m just not sure the need to explore and take chances is incentivized enough beyond the mere fact that you know things are there to collect. As you progress you’ll absolutely need to work out paths that are more efficient, typically involving some precision throws of your dagger that will allow you to teleport to it once it sticks in a surface, but once you survive aside from returning to shave off some seconds or try to collect things for giggles I’m don’t see a clear big picture incentive to expend the effort. It does make for a twitchy time, I just wish it had taken a step to take it one step further towards greatness.

Bonfire Peaks [Corey Martin] - One genre that has been blessed with a wide variety of great titles from indie developers has been puzzlers. Bonfire Peaks brings a mix of challenge and some charms to the table representing another strong option for genre fans, and for good measure throws in a pretty effective voxel-based look to boot. While I certainly credit it for slowly but surely adding elements to the mix to keep the puzzles feeling fresh as you progress through the 200-ish levels (you don’t need to complete all of them to keep moving forward, a blessing if you find yourself stuck) and maintaining a consistent and relaxing overall tone, there are element of it that I’m less enamored with as well and that could represent roadblocks for some. The most critical, for me, is the pretty persnickety nature of the controls. You’ll have to learn quite a few techniques that involve needing to pivot to control which direction your box is facing when moving and though you can get used to how this is handled at times it can feel like you’re fighting to get the game doing what you intend and it can wear you down. The second is the lack of any sort of net or hint system, which at times really would be helpful since there are times the real core problem is you’re lacking the proper technique to conquer an issue, which could mean you’ll struggle in other levels as well since understanding every tool in your arsenal is essential to success the further you go. If you’re looking for a challenge, it will deliver, just be ready for some potential frustrations, some of which feel self-imposed.