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.