Friday, November 26

Mini Reviews: November 26th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Neurodeck [Tavrox Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
While the fact that we’ve been inundated with roguelike deckbuilders over roughly the last two years can make new entries easy to be frustrated with, when they come to the table with a novel approach it can still be exciting. I wouldn’t say that in terms of mechanics Neurodeck does anything all that unique, the setup is pretty standard with you starting out with a set and standard deck, trying to be smart about how you leverage what you have in order to win matches and then add to or enhance your deck for future challenges. What makes the game unique is how the majority of cards you use are related to mental health coping strategies or supports, while the foes you’re up against are phobias or other mental obstacles you are looking to overcome. As someone with family members possessing a wide variety of these issues there’s something really wonderful about the attempt to either educate people who are unaware of all of these issues and treatments, or perhaps just provide some positive reinforcement or understanding for those who are afflicted themselves or have loved ones who may be. I do wish there was some more complete storytelling here to further flesh out the characters you play as, and the troubles they may face, but I respect any attempt to help people better understand mental health issues, especially if they can be challenged and entertained at the same time.

Little Bug [Buddy System] - Possibly one of the more unusual titles I’ve played in quite some time, Little Bug mixes together sometimes-tricky platforming, some physics-based elements where you’re slinging yourself around, and an unusual story involving a girl trying to track down the elusive cat spirit she encounters and calls Roadkill. It takes a little while to get into full swing, first having you simply work on jumping and some puzzles, then having you develop the skills needed to sling yourself around. When it hits its full stride and allows you to control both Nyah and her friend the light source who acts as the tether point for her to sling around with the more satisfying play takes effect, maximizing both the versatility and the challenge as you try to optimize the positioning of both characters to try to ensure you’re going to fling yourself in the proper direction with sufficient force. It’s certainly a novel experience, you’ll just need to have some patience working out the controls and nuance of everything since the game doesn’t give you much help up-front to get you going. Worth at least giving a look if you like physics-based challenges in particular.

Night Lights [Ratalaika Games] - This is simply one of the more unusual puzzle-oriented games I’ve played in quite some time, and that’s both a good and bad thing. Making use of a variety of devices and, more critically, different sorts of light sources, I can’t say I’ve played anything quite like it. It can be fun to have periodic “Aha!” moments as you see the solution you’ve been missing that will allow you to proceed, but there are some frustrating obstacles here to enjoyment as well. Probably the most pronounced problem, though some could see it as a plus, is that it tends to be quite unclear what your ultimate goal is on any given screen. Rarely will you be trying to grab or activate everything in the first pass, more often you’ll get to a particular section and then move somewhere else, to then eventually come back to address other parts of the current stage. This makes assessing progress or knowing what you absolutely won’t be able to get a question mark and it can be aggravating at times. Throw in it periodically being difficult to tell which surfaces will go away when light is shone on them versus ones that will remain and there are some interesting ideas at play, but enough stumbles that I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone.

My Universe: Puppies and Kittens [Microids] - Ahh, ever since Nintendo released their Nintendogs series, which eventually also included feline friends, there has been a real thirst for another game to come along and pick up that mantle since Nintendo themselves don’t seem to be interesting in doing so themselves. My Universe: Puppies and Kittens gets some details right, including a variety of cute breeds, some toys that can be fun, and experiences that revolve around some key elements of animal care. Now, for people who simply like animals and who’ve never played Nintendogs specifically this may all measure up reasonably well, it’s at least comparable to its other broad competition in the space. Unfortunately, if you’re seeking the Holy Grail of a successor to that well-respected franchise you’ll find yet another title that comes up woefully short in terms of depth and variety in activities. This can be fun as a kick around pet care title but if you were hoping for more it really doesn’t come together as something you’ll likely enjoy past a few hours as you simply get a taste for the different breeds of cats and dogs available to adopt.

Poker Club [Ripstone] - While gambling-oriented games, whether straight cards of some kind or casino, are generally pretty niche I will admit that every once in a while one will stand out and catch my attention. Certainly the look of Poker Club is more interesting, opting to ignore the typical 2D approach and shoot instead for a more “realistic-ish” look. This does lend a sense of personalization to things, with you getting some limited options to give your potential poker champ their own distinctive flair, but the main question is how is the poker playing itself? There are certainly a fair variety of styles of Texas Hold‘em here to engage with, allowing you to at least flex slightly different strategies, as well as ways to play solo or even with others online. While I suppose you could consider the matches more immersive, looking a bit more like real life than your typical presentation, I’m not sure it works in the game’s favor. Ignoring what “Uncanny Valley” vibes you could potentially get, the real problem comes down to the pacing that comes with even minimal animations of people throwing down chips or cards or even reacting. If you don’t mind taking your time and just want to soak it all in, this may be fine, but if you’re just out to get down to business, win or lose, it may be more frustrating than fun.

Wednesday, November 24

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

Death’s Door [Acid Nerve] (Nindie Choice!) -
Opening with a pretty minimal understanding of what’s going on, Death’s Door gets off to a bit of a rocky start. Once you give it a bit where you understand its relatively simple but effective controls, and you make a bit of progress, the picture does get clearer and that allows a sense of satisfaction to settle in nicely. Playing out as a sort of slasher adventure with a satisfying number of puzzles, as well as an abundance of secrets, Death’s Door isn’t for beginners but for the most part is never unfair either in its degree of difficulty. You’ll need to be quick, make periodic upgrades that suit your style of play, and always try to be a bit curious about every possible way you can go to be sure you don’t miss anything to get the most out of it. In particular the formidable bosses you’ll face can require a mix of skill, patience, and a fair amount of luck… but that’s what makes getting through them all the more satisfying. Smart and stylish, if you were a fan of Hyper Light Drifter or games like it, Death’s Door fits perfectly into that same space, finding the balance between adventure and challenging-but-satisfying combat.

Monomals [Rogue Games] - One thing I typically appreciate in indie games is their willingness to simply be themselves, damn the consequences, and how that can result in novel play. In many respects Monomals accomplishes this, resulting in an unusual mix of fishing, platforming, and a music sandbox of sorts if that makes sense. Paired with its colorful characters and presentation it has some appeal for people seeking out something off the beaten path, without a doubt, but that isn’t to say it isn’t without its warts. If you simply play along and do your best, mechanically the controls for getting some boost-y thrust to move around in the air specifically in the action levels works well enough, but if your goal is to be more effective and meet goals trying to truly understand how they work becomes more of a mystery. I won’t lie, they feel odd, and it was almost as if the more I tried to understand them the less they made sense, so I settled on simply being patient and getting where I wanted to go eventually instead. Check it out if it grabs you, just beware that different doesn’t always work.

DEEEER Simulator [Gibier Games] - Weirdo physics games are definitely their own thing, probably best championed by the reigning king of the genre, the Goat Simulator series. Perhaps obviously from the title, DEEEER Simulator has its sights set in that same direction and to its credit while there are similarities between the two this has a flavor all its own. It does take a little experimentation and trial and error to get rolling, as the game doesn’t really explain the extent of what you can do so you’ll want to be observant, explore, and try things out, building knowledge as you go. I wouldn’t consider the gameplay to be deep, but it certainly can be satisfying in its silliness, pulling in elements of Grand Theft Auto to some degree, giant mech combat, and other surprises for those who stick with it and are open to the experience. It may not be art, but it does have its goofy charms.

Date Night Bowling [Serenity Forge] - Conceptually this is simply a cool idea, offering a mix of a traditional bowling game with a sort of a stripped-down dating game. In execution though, it doesn’t all quite come together. The bowling itself is pretty rock solid, using a pretty traditional gauge system to control the ball’s positioning, spin, and power, with all of that then combining with your choice of your preferred ball weight and even the degree of oil on the lane. Unfortunately, the more novel side with the dating piece feels a bit more like an afterthought than something given full attention. In between frames you’ll participate in a variety of mini games that range from decent to not so hot, with the goal being to find success and slowly build up interest with your date. Between the mini games and the interactions this side of the experience simply doesn’t feel very fleshed out, and at the end of the date even when finding some success it all seemed to end abruptly with a few pleasantries. It works well as a novelty game, and could be fun to play with a romantic partner for a little competitive fun, but I’m left wishing it had a little more ambition to realize its potential more fully.

Wax Museum [Crisp App Studio] - When you’re dealing with relatively well-known game styles, especially in the casual space, I’m certain it gets more challenging to set yourself apart. In the case of Wax Museum the challenge is to try to spruce up the hidden object game with some extra oomph, and to a degree there’s some success in the setting and an attempt to infuse a bit more story than usual into things. All of that said, having played so many of these games over time the “feel” of play and how the items are integrated into things tends to define the experience more than anything else and in this regard, for me, while it does far from the worst job in the space it didn’t quite click for me as being the best either. If you love the genre, it’s absolutely worth checking out for being different, but I think its novelty is stronger than its core play elements.

Friday, November 19

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

The Wild At Heart [Moonlight Kids] (Nindie Choice!) -
Sometimes all you need to get excited about a title are a few evocative words, commonly referred to as an “elevator pitch”. In the case of The Wild At Heart it can simply be summed up with the words: Pikmin Adventure. While I do wish the load times were a bit less onerous, the crafting system and health were a bit more well-implemented, and that it didn’t feel like nightfall (and peril) were baked in to interrupting your exploration and puzzle solving in some areas… I’ve gotta admit, this game absolutely has me hooked. There’s a major focus on exploration and often experimentation, the dungeon-like nature of some areas and their puzzles that is an appreciated challenge, and the story and themes of the game definitely pull you in the further you go. This all combines to make for one of my favorite indie titles of the year, despite some of my quibbles with some specifics, and it should be capable of appealing to a very broad audience with its general play style and obvious influences.

Klang 2 [Tinimations] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to music and rhythm games there are those titles that take a familiar road, often mapping buttons to specific spots you’ll need to hit in rhythm, and then those that veer off to do things their own way. In the case of Klang 2 on the one hand the controls are much simpler, not making you worry over multiple buttons, but on the other the focus on needing to aim directionally at different types of targets takes the challenge to a different level. Throw in its neon-like visuals matching up well with its often EDM-style tracks and it’s an energetic assault on your senses that can be quite thrilling. The one concern is the degree of challenge once you get over the first handful of stages, sometimes with difficulty spikes suddenly taking your current great performance and wrecking it quickly with patterns that are visually hard to discern, sometimes requiring a few passes just to be positive what sequence of things you’ll need to do in order to get through them. While it may not appeal to all rhythm game fans, people with a taste for more modern music and who enjoy something with a different sense of style than what the genre traditionally provides will want to pick this one up.

Marsupilami: Hoobadventure [Ocellus Studio] - While for a little while the introduction of 3D platforming was seen as the path to gaming irrelevance for its 2D side-scrolling brethren, traditional platformers aren’t only still around, they’re still kicking ass and taking names. Well, some of them are. The thing is, in many regards Marsupilami is a solid title. Though perhaps control responsiveness and overall pacing are a tad on the sluggish side, everything feels pretty smart and accessible. You’re free to simply run and jump along, keeping your head in the game to simply complete the level, or take the time and effort to seek out meatier challenges and secrets that will require you to demonstrate some additional gamer cred to complete. This all somehow gives it both a family-friendly and tough-but-fair degree of difficulty that should help it appeal to a pretty wide audience. I do wish it had a little more to offer in terms of variety, to better match up against some of its stronger competition on the platform, but if you’re just out for a good time it may be a winner depending on what you’re looking for.

Grow: Song of the Evertree [Prideful Sloth] - With so much stress out there in the world right now I’ve been enjoying the bevy of great titles over the last year that have focused more on passive or relaxing themes and moments over more traditional tendency towards just action and intensity of some kind. To its credit, Grow does do a good job of putting you into a sort of sandbox situation with basic tools that you’ll be able to use to help everyone out, work the land, and simply seek out activities that suit you, whether catching bugs, fishing, farming, or maybe a little bit of everything. My problem is just that the bar for quality in many of these activities is relatively low, robbing them of a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction when they require so little skill. Couple that with the lack of drive in the game towards more meaningful goals and more often than not while you certainly have the freedom to do what you like without real direction it ends up feeling a bit aimless and dull. If you’re just out for some peaceful activities it may suffice, but there are other titles out there with similar beats but that are still much more satisfying without being terribly stressful either.

American Hero [Empty Clip Studios] - Games that have been brought back from the dead are always going to be a risky proposition, especially ones that were never completed. Now throw in American Hero being a FMV game from the 90s originally intended for the Atari Jaguar that trends towards being a reflection of much less respectful attitudes towards women in particular and it starts to get a bit dicey. I’ll give the developer credit, before you begin playing they lay down a very clear picture of the situation, the challenges in making the game happen, its limitations, and its generally problematic nature put up against modern attitudes. The thing is, if the gameplay was somehow a revelation in some way it could have all been worth the lead up, but the end product is simply pretty bad all around, and not even in a cheesy B-movie charm sort of way. The story, thin as it seems to be, is actually pretty hard to follow depending on your choices, the acting is spotty at best, and aside from wanting to see the train wreck to the end I can’t say there’s really much to make it compelling aside from perhaps as a time capsule of sorts and a sign of how so many things have changed completely since it was originally conceived.

Wednesday, November 17

Mini Reviews: November 17th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

My Singing Monsters Playground [Big Blue Bubble Inc] (Nindie Choice!)
- With release timing that isn’t ideal in such close proximity to the latest Mario Party, and having been let down by many titles attempting to steal even a sliver of its oxygen, Playground is actually a pleasant surprise. If you’re looking for the full boardgame conceit that does add some strategy and flavor to the proceedings, this will sadly disappoint. However, if you or your family trends towards impatience and just want to get down to the action, this is a game that will absolutely have everyone covered. Tackling a series of mini games which get actively chosen by the person in last place (a nice touch), you and your friends will compete in a surprising variety of free-for-all, 2-on-2, and 3-on-1 events, trying to earn gems that will help determine the final winner. For the most part you can consider it Mario Party without any of the board aspects and you’d have the right general idea. The mini games themselves tend to be the star here, and having seen so many games try to compete in this space and fail miserably it’s terrific to see one that’s trying its hardest to mix together enough variety, simplicity, fun, and complexity all at once to justify participation by people of pretty well any skill level. In the end Mario and company don’t really need to fear this title if you’re a fan and are willing to pay up for the fun. If, however, you’re looking to get a taste of that action at a lower price point and are willing to sacrifice some polish and nuance this is a great option to be aware is out there.

Beyond Blue [E-Line Media] (Nindie Choice!) - Perhaps it’s the pandemic or the challenges of parenthood talking, but as much as I enjoy blowing things up or slashing them to pieces there’s real power in games that help you calm things down and find some inner peace. There’s no doubt that the ocean is a great environment for inspiring a sense of calm, and Beyond Blue makes pretty effective use of it. You’ll always tend to have an objective to complete but while the environment is hardly limitless, some curiosity and a willingness to explore often yields satisfying results, encouraging you to frequently pause for a moment to take the wonder around you in as fully as possible. All manner of sea life, great and small, surrounds you, and you’ll be encouraged to scan them all to collect and review data about a pretty wide array of creatures. Granted, perhaps what story there is may not necessarily inspire you, but for me the effort went into the right direction, emphasizing the beauty and wonder of the seas. If you’re just looking for a great way to appreciate the natural world and unwind this is a terrific option for doing just that.

Squabble [Atomic Realm] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ve stated before that when it comes to local multiplayer games my family has become pretty jaded over time, too often having been burned by all-too-familiar mechanics or just bland play that gets repetitive far too quickly. To pretty well everyone’s surprise Squabble took a well-worn general format and made it come to life though, leveraging a pretty diverse set of weapons you can grab, but then further sweetening the deal by having both a primary and secondary use for each item to spice things up and introduce a bit of strategy. There’s no question that the play is hectic, but if you’re smart and make effective use of what you’re given there’s no need to button mash and panic. The additional Capture the Flag mode also works well, using a layout that has more than one path and which sets the stage for tense match-ups. There may be a question of longevity potentially, as alternative stages that get unlocked can only add so much to the mix, but I’d imagine if you stick to bursts of play a competitive group of friends should be able to continue to have fun with this one for quite some time.

Pups & Purrs Animal Hospital [Nippon Columbia] - This is a bit of an interesting one. Typically pet care type games have been geared more towards kids, sucking them in with the ability to work with cute animals and take care of them through a variety of relatively simple mini games. Pups & Purrs is very similar to those titles in most regards, but instead of keeping things very simple it opts for more of an RPG feel. Depending on what you’re looking for this could be a plus, but I’d also warn parents who think it could be good for their kids that the Japanese speech means that you’ll need to be sure they’re able to read sufficiently to keep up with instructions and the story. I appreciate the attempt to give this sort of experience a bit more depth but in general the pacing feels a bit sluggish, though at least when you do play the 20 or so mini games that have you treating your patients they’re, for the most part, well-implemented and do try to scale up as you progress. It’s not perfect, but if pet care meets some story progression sounds like a match it’s the only game in town that fits that criteria.

Hoplegs [Limit Break] - While it may be hard to believe, there’s a dedicated subset of the gaming community that takes great enjoyment in the challenge of completing or (even crazier) trying to speedrun titles that are deliberately difficult. I’m not talking in a “Souls-like” or Super Meatboy kind of way either, these have control schemes that on their surface are devilishly simple, it’s just that execution with them can be a nightmare. Joining the likes of titles like QWOP, Hoplegs uses the 4 buttons to trigger an appendage in each representative direction. Your goal is to use those in combination with an ability to build circular momentum to conquer what would be quite ordinary and even sometimes simple platforming challenges… and it can be infuriating to say the least. If you and some friends like to suffer together you can up the chaos significantly. Absolutely not for everyone, but for the right person it may be a perfect challenge.

Friday, November 12

Mini Reviews: November 12th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic [BioWare] (AAA Choice!) -
It’s always a bit tougher with revered classics to return to them long after they were originally made, worried about whether they’ll continue to retain their classic qualities that made them shine when they were released. The great thing about KOTOR is that despite the fact that it looks a bit rough, and some of the voice acting isn’t that great, the lore and storytelling were always the game’s greatest strengths so what is most vital absolutely still holds up. The story takes place very much in its own time and place, helping to distance itself from the associated baggage of the Skywalker saga while still capitalizing on peoples’ fascination with the Jedi and the Sith, who this confirms have been locking horns for quite some time. Whether you’re eager to jump back into a world you enjoyed inhabiting quite some time ago or are simply intrigued to see what all of the accolades have been about this Switch release is a great way to enjoy the game whether on your couch or on the go.

Epic Chef [Infinigon Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ll freely admit to having a bit of a weakness for weird and quirky games, so I’d keep that in mind with my thoughts on Epic Chef. To be clear, while I think it’s entertaining, has some great humor, and does enough to make it worth your while if you enjoy a good laugh, I’d also never claim it’s without its faults. It really gets off to a slow start, especially if you’re a farm sim veteran, and initially just getting around can be frustratingly time consuming as you get from point to point. To the game’s credit that gets addressed pretty quickly, but I’d say the game does a poor job of getting off to a strong start. The thing is, once it does manage to get into its groove with you cooking and competing for culinary dominance it has some good ideas that are generally well executed and is happy to throw some weird curveballs at you periodically to keep you amused. While perhaps a bit grindy (though it could be argued farm sims all struggle with this to some degree) and it could use some refinement in its pace up front to ensure everyone is invested to enjoy the rest, Epic Quest has a unique quality to it and delivers on its promise well enough to be worth a look, especially if you’d like to see a more light-hearted take on the farm sim genre.

Gynoug [Masaya] - The Switch has really seen a strong run of more obscure retro console shooters of late, and while the gameplay of Gynoug may be a bit more generic than its brethren there’s no doubt that its general looks, enemies, and vibe is in a class all its own. Forgoing the futuristic sci-fi aesthetics most shooters aim for, the very organic and sometimes a bit grotesque sights you’ll encounter here are both distinctive and memorable. Unfortunately the general flow of things isn’t quite as unique, but I’d say the more middle of the road than average difficulty may also help make it more approachable then, though getting no real direction on what the power-ups are can make runs early on feel more trial and error than it probably should be. Still, if you’re a big fan of retro shooters or are simply eager to see a game that pointed in a very non-traditional direction and decided to go all in on making the most of itself this is definitely worth a look.

The Prince of Landis [Ratalaika Games] - Bullied and frustrated in his somewhat rural town, a young boy encounters an alien and decides to help it, resulting in him getting some quite different lessons on how to get things done in the process. Playing out as a sort of point-to-point adventure, with you needing to find specific items or determine how to get at them (and sometimes, when) is the general focus, intermingled with a lot of walking around. The trial and error of walking back and forth, even when you’re pretty sure you know what you need, is probably the game’s greatest weakness, though the wildcard of what may happen next or what your alien “friend” will say or do does at least serve as an effective hook. I’ll give it credit for its story and events simply being different, so if you’re in search of some surprises it may be worth a look.

L.O.L. Surprise! Movie Night [Nighthawk Interactive] - Ah, licensed properties for kids being turned into video games. Anyone who has been around should know what a roll of the dice that can be. Surprises like the recent Smurf game can and do sometimes show up to help redeem the sub-genre, but unfortunately then titles like this one show up to restore the balance in the other direction. For true fans of the toys, the younger the better, the ability to have your own character, establish their look, and then follow their journey to stardom may be enough to satisfy. For anyone who is more adept at games (at all) the personalization angle won’t likely be enough to make up for the repetitive and sometimes almost insulting mini games that you’ll need to grind through in order to keep things advancing. With basic skills ranging from memory to randomly placing appropriate items in a scene to simply changing lanes to collect coins there’s a real lack of ambition and faith in the player shown in the nature and starting point of these mini games. Yes, as you do them more and the level of difficulty slowly rises they can pose a slightly higher challenge but the basic nature of the underlying game never improves from being horribly simplistic. Throw in dialogue full of hashtagging and pop culture phrases that were culled from a decade ago and the attempts to seem #OnTrend more often feel outright #cringe and #basic. It’s an odd title where I can’t really identify the target age group aside from gamers just starting out, but I’m curious how well that overlaps the people buying these dolls that look like a more current version of Bratz, just with smaller cherub-like bodies and anime-style big eyes. I suppose if your kids love them this will be a demand no matter what, but just remember that you’ve been #warned!

Thursday, November 11

Mini Reviews: November 11th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Super Mombo Quest [Orube Game Studio] (Nindie Choice!) -
There’s nothing quite as satisfying in the indie games space than to stumble onto something that immediately feels pretty special that you’d previously never seen or heard of. For me that’s precisely what happened with Super Mombo Quest, and within just a few minutes I was really able to start grooving with its fast-moving platforming action and precision that is demanding but never unfair. Progression in the form of unlocking new skills and perks, as well as entirely new forms and abilities, keeps things interesting and never dull and I don’t know if I’ve ever been held in suspense keeping an eye on my combo meter as much as I have with this game, desperate to earn my Mombo Combo on every stage. If you’re a fan of platforming with personality and depth this is an absolute must-own title!

Retro Highway [Gearhead Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ll admit the first thing that completely drew me in with this game was the look of the road racing itself, completely putting me in the classic OutRun space. What was terrific though was how it delivers a pretty unique but compelling (and often challenging) arcade-like experience, having to weave through traffic, hit jumps, grab power-ups, and simply do whatever you can to avoid crashing and burning. In a very mobile-esque sort of twist a variety of objectives will encourage you to challenge yourself with avoiding coins, some near-misses, and more which helps to keep each run from being overly predictable. Throw in different bikes and locales that play quite differently and this has plenty of fuel in the tank for satisfying play to go with its budget-friendly price tag.

Treasures of the Aegean [Numskull Games] - Treasures is a pleasant surprise of a game, to some degree delivering an experience that’s familiar with its platforming style, but then throwing in a serious twist with its unusual story and time reset mechanic. The goal every time you start out is really to cover ground, find relics, solve some puzzles, and continue to unlock more and more mysteries in the hopes of averting catastrophe. There’s no doubt that the platforming action is the star, for me to a degree evoking a feel of a faster and far more modern Pitfall, but the story also helps set it apart. What may be the critical difference for people is how you feel about a lot of covering the same ground, trying to grab or decipher what you may have seen but missed on previous runs. It’s absolutely unique and noteworthy, but I’d guess reactions will be mixed on the total picture of play.

Airborne Kingdom [The Wandering Band LLC] - The number of city-building sims on the Switch is admittedly quite thin, so when a new one comes along, particularly one with a unique hook, it’s sure to raise eyebrows. Airborne Kingdom, as its name implies, changes up the normal formula by moving everything upward, which introduces mobility to the table where resource gathering in particular is concerned, and then unique problems like being sure that you don’t develop things in a way that could make your city float in a lopsided fashion, spelling disaster or at the very least a perturbed citizenry. What complicates things is that the UI and controls aren’t ideal, feeling far more geared towards play on a PC and even when you settle in with them continuing to feel cumbersome for common functions. If you’re patient and in need of something new in the space at least the pretty extensive lore and storytelling help to keep you incentivized to continue to progress, even if perhaps the overall play tends to be a bit limited in scope compared to typical empire-building sims.

A Pretty Odd Bunny [AJ Ordaz Games] - As a fan of games with a weird look or premise, certainly A Pretty Odd Bunny scratches that itch a bit with its red-eyed, carnivorous consumer of cute piggies. That said, I’m not sure what I expected in terms of gameplay, but with it roughly working out to be a puzzle game with a bit of stealth involved I’m sure that wasn’t on my prospective list. In the end, then, what started out as quirky and kind of cute in a twisted way lost its charm pretty quickly by simply failing to really go anywhere with its core concept. It’s by no means a bad game, it just feels like a cool and funky skin on an otherwise pretty ordinary budget action puzzler with some stealth thrown in.

Wednesday, November 10

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

Instant Sports: Winter Games [Merge Games] -
Multiplayer multi-event sports compilations will always tend to be hit or miss, especially when trying to find the sweet spot where gameplay is just nuanced enough for better gamers but can still be picked up by anyone. The Instant Sports series has been a bit all over the place with its collections, with some events working but others being pretty miserable, and some attempts at elements like an overworld you can explore have been interesting but not necessarily compelling. While skewing a bit towards easy and accessible and not every event is a hit, Winter Games does just enough right to be a reasonably-good pick for families, offering a choice of more precise button controls or more loose (but perhaps fun for some) motion controls as well. In particular the Alpine Skiing, SlopeStyle, Ski Jump, and IceCross do an admirable job of being approachable while leaving room for people who are more skilled to shine. That’s not to say that Bobsleigh, Curling, and Snowball Fight are bad, I’d just say each of those falls down for one reason or another in terms of consistent challenge. Granted, the number of mini games offered is dwarfed by AAA collections, but if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly for the family to enjoy together this shows some promise.

Skeletal Avenger [10Tons] - As a die hard roguelike fan I’m always eager to check out something new in the space, and Skeletal Avenger has some merits that help it at least get off to a reasonably good start. While not visually terribly diverse or exciting, what it does offer up is an approachability you don’t normally find in roguelikes, skewing a little more towards letting you feel powerful before cranking up the difficulty and smacking you down. While there aren’t a tremendous number and variety of weapons and items to work with you can usually get equipped with gear that suits you on an average run, but depending on the whims of the RNG gods you’ll definitely get some runs where it just never comes together. The real issue here tends to be longevity and that’s tied to a comparative lack of real variety as you grind away. Granted, the competition in this space is pretty tough to match, but in the end this just comes to the table as a serviceable roguelike dungeon crawler, not necessarily a great one.

Blue Reflection: Second Light [Gust] - OK, a very quick admission here that I don’t know much about the world of anime and that can make “getting” games like this one more of a challenge I think. The premise is definitely a bit unusual, with you playing the part of a young woman who has become stranded in a mysterious and isolated place with a few other young women, and the goal of the game is then to explore, develop relationships, craft helpful items, and occasionally battle some unusual monsters while trying to uncover what the hell is going on. Combat here is more “functional” than exciting, only occasionally feeling like a strategy is really required for success, so if you’re looking for satisfying battles to break up everything else you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you’re of the mind that the journey and relationships you build along the way are a bit more vital than the destination you may enjoy the slow progression as the characters get to know more about themselves and each other as they struggle in these unusual circumstances. Probably best matched for people already in this headspace, and not necessarily for a random gamer just looking for a cool RPG experience, it’s an acquired taste for sure but likely appealing to the right audience.

Om Nom: Run [ZeptoLab UK] - Oh, endless runner games that would work perfectly fine on mobile devices, how you tend to baffle me on the Switch. The thing is, I won’t make any attempt to even imply that Run isn’t well-made for what it does, or that you can’t have fun with it. It looks good, what controls it has are well-implemented, and I suppose if you have a ton of patience on your side the unlockable characters and extra goodies may be fun to grind for. Just… it’s also hard not to reflect on this sort of game having been out there for ages now, and you can play variations on the same gameplay and concepts for free on your phone or tablet. To its credit, this is priced to be an easy sell, even moreso if it ends up on sale at some point, so if you’re so inclined or you have younger gamers around who may love something simple but engaging, this’ll do nicely and looks darned cute with it’s Cut The Rope mascot character doing the running (and eating along the way).

Pixel Heroes: Mega Byte & Magic [Headup Games] - This was a weird one for me, bringing back all sorts of memories with it’s retro graphic presentation, it’s overall simplicity, and its very oddball sense of humor. I’d say the writing is absolutely what works best for this throwback RPG, everything from the dialogue to the character descriptions are full of wit, weirdness, and fun. Unfortunately, aside from that strong suit most of the rest is markedly weaker. The turn-based combat is a bit on the dry and dull side to begin with but what really takes the wind out of your sails is the poorly-implemented UI which does work but is cumbersome to say the least. I suppose if you take a look at some gameplay and find that the overall sense of humor makes you laugh that aspect could help the overall experience at least be entertaining but otherwise there are definitely better options on the system than this.

Friday, November 5

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

Where Cards Fall [Snowman] (Nindie Choice!) -
Considering the abundance of puzzle games on the casual-friendly Switch, including many from the mobile/tablet space it’s getting tougher to find something that feels new and unique. That’s precisely the case with Where Cards Fall though, which debuted in the mobile space first, but doesn’t show too many of the usual signs of bumpiness in getting it converted for console enjoyment. I will admit that the controls did take a little getting accustomed to, and perhaps aren’t perfect, but once you have the relatively short list of things you can do down, from there it’s all just about working your way through over 50 puzzles that keep layering in new tricks and degrees of complexity. Throw in visuals that help it to clearly stand apart from its competition and some great tunes and it’s a treat. I do wish the coming of age story that advances as you progress provided a little more clarity on everything that’s going on though, just because what you’re able to see feels good and not knowing a little more detail does make it feel like you’re missing out on something that could have helped take the game to the next level.

Circa Infinity [Kenny Sun] (Nindie Choice!) - Simplicity in games is always a bit of a double-edged sword. Making something easy to pick up and play is great, but that can oftentimes make it hard to provide depth or a significant challenge. Somehow Circa Infinity manages to thread the needle on a high level though, keeping things simple with just left/right controls and a jump, while also continuing to up the ante level after level in terms of its challenge. The simple goal is to continue to jump in order to land on the next ring, continuing to do so until you get to the center. The challenge comes in the form of a small variety of foes who you’ll deal with in different combinations as they test your timing and skills. I’ll admit at first I was thrown off trying to control my character thinking in relative terms, but once I got my brain to lock in to it just being right and left I got right into the game. Great for kicking around only a handful of minutes at a time, this is a nice and challenging arcade-style retro romp.

The Smurfs: Mission Vileaf [OSome Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - Whenever approaching a licensed property, especially one associated more with kids, veteran gamers are going to come to the table with a healthy amount of earned skepticism. The Smurfs, in particular, have been featured in many games through many generations over the years, but I’d say few have been notable. Mission Vileaf, for me, is a pretty refreshing break from the mold, offering up a great opportunity to explore their three-apple-high world and save the day. The family-friendly 3D platforming is broken up by reasonably simple combat and use of your ever evolving Smurfy gear, clearing the infected vegetation and dispatching corrupted critters. Difficulty is thankfully defined up-front to allow for a wider range of skill levels, and the ability for someone to join in co-op style to lend assistance makes it a terrific option for gamers in training. It may be lacking in overall complexity, and it won’t go toe to toe with the best the genre has to offer on the system, but it’s still a Smurfy good time if you’re open to the experience.

World War Z [Saber Interactive] - Since it has been quite some time since Left 4 Dead and its sequel were released way back when, people like me have been jonesing for something more modern that could attempt to scratch that itch. Given that the Switch shooter ecosystem is limited to begin with, up to this point people without access to a PC or another console have really had few choices available to them. Finally, World War Z (yes, based on the world from the movie) has shown up to try to satisfy the need to blow away the flesh-eating undead and… it’s OK. Since I’ve played hundreds of hours of Left 4 Dead and its sequel on PC and now Back 4 Blood as well, cutting back my expectations to look at a more humble attempt on the far less powerful Switch has been a challenge. There’s no denying that visually everything is a bit pixelated and muddy, which is disappointing, but I’ll at least note that for the most part the frame rate at least feels pretty decent, even if the general pace of the game being slower to begin with probably helps in this regard. My biggest complaint is just the lack of oomph to things, especially when it comes to the weapons and their sounds. The sounds of explosions and super-powerful weapons are plain anemic and I didn’t understand how much that adds to the experience before playing this compared to the other franchises I’ve enjoyed. That said, if the Switch is your only gaming option, and you’ve got some friends who are ready to join in on the fun, it’s a very tight race between this and Earthfall: Alien Horde (each having their own merits) for which is the best on the console.

Stilstand [Niila Games] - Life is hard, there’s no question. While usually games are a terrific escape to help you forget your problems, Stilstand instead steers right into the slide to share a vision of someone who is hopefully having a tougher time than you are but can likely sympathize with. Suffering from a mix of anxiety, depression, and what feels like an inherently self-destructive nature, you’ll follow the main character’s struggles through a few different social situations and try desperately to help steer her away from trouble as much as you can. Her periodic discussions with her inner self are often insightful and interesting, but given the pretty brief runtime (likely less than an hour for most people) unfortunately it’s all over right as you’re getting invested in her struggles. Absolutely unique, and for some people possibly quite relatable, it’s an interesting but brief slice of life with someone saddled with real issues.

Thursday, November 4

Mini Reviews: November 4th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Unpacking [Witch Beam] (Nindie Choice!) -
Usually when you think of casual games puzzles and the like are usually what comes to mind, or perhaps something akin to a visual novel. With Unpacking it’s clear there are other avenues to tap though, at least when the game is laser-focused on a very specific objective… in this case something as simple as unpacking some boxes and carefully organizing their contents. These activity-based games tied to tasks most people abhor doing in the real world are a bit of a mystery. What makes it so satisfying to organize and perfect a virtual world while more often than not the mess you’re sitting within playing it remains untouched? I don’t think this game has the answers to that conundrum but there’s no mistaking the sense of satisfaction in devising the perfect drawer for putting your socks in, perhaps taking the extra step to also organize them by type or color as you go… just to make them perfect. As you progress through the game the scale of your effort continues to grow to multiple rooms as your character’s life progresses to new stages. That’s where the other magic in the title lies, the reflection on how we grow and change, and to see what special items continue to endure while so many others prove to be disposable. The result is absolutely wonderful if you’re looking to calm your mind and simply take joy in a productive task.

Bloodshore [Wales Interactive] - It has been fascinating in the last generation or so to watch the FMV genre not only return to the fold, but really make a stab at legitimacy as well. The trick with them tends to be whether or not you’re down with the story, and given the recent success of Squid Game the reality show Battle Royale format feels at least somewhat timely. One thing I do appreciate is the satirical lens the game views society and the entertainment industry through, actually reminding me a little of RoboCop’s tone at times. The acting, for the most part, is reasonably good throughout. If anything, the somewhat extreme cliches people have been asked to represent are more the source of some cringe, and I can respect most of the people simply going for it. Among the other recent titles in this vein I’ve played I’d say the transitions in video at decision points aren’t as seamlessly smooth, breaking the illusion a little more than usual, but I’m not sure that’s a technology problem as much as perhaps the editing. If you’re down for a lightly interactive deathmatch game show experience this will manage to entertain, and there are enough decisions you’ll need to make that replaying should at least provide some variety. It’s not best in class, but it’s at least a reasonably good time.

Demon Turf [Fabraz] - Sometimes you play games where you can’t help but be frustrated by their missed potential. On many levels Demon Turf has things going for it ranging from its visual style to its solid dialogue and voice acting to its cool soundtrack. The shame is that at the end of the day this is a 3D platformer at its core, and in that particular area it struggles, as you can gather pretty quickly by an oddly lengthy tutorial that mostly covers areas stronger games can take for granted as almost intuitive. In particular, the ability to drop a mobile checkpoint flag that you can return to in the level feels like an admission that mechanically the platforming can be problematic. I don’t doubt a part of the issue is the use of 2D figures moving on 3D backgrounds, something that gives the game a unique look but that greatly complicates depth perception, putting a round shadow on the ground below you or not. Whether reflecting on Mario titles or even indie contemporaries the platforming here is comparatively troublesome and the combat is generally underwhelming. I have no doubt that determined gamers who’ve exhausted their other options will adapt and plow through, likely enjoying themselves in the process, but if you’re less versed and looking for a rock solid indie 3D platformer there are several that I would consider stronger overall already out in the eShop.

Super Sami Roll [Sonzai Games] - This is an odd one, as on multiple levels it strikes me as a title that isn’t sure what it wants to be. Taking influences from a variety of well-known franchises in its look, feel, and play style it simply feels like a sometimes unwieldy amalgam of them all. From another angle there’s the fact that at first glance it looks colorful and kid-friendly, but then very quickly it becomes clear that it would be far too difficult for those same kids. Is the goal to speed run the levels as quickly as possible (you’re given a score based on time), but then what about the coins and the hidden fruit on each level? It simply feels like a lot of ideas and inspirations thrown into a blender with a hope that in the end it would come out somehow equivalent to the originals but it doesn’t work out that way. There’s no doubt that there’s an effort here, and there are absolutely worse 3D platformers on the system, but for a variety of reasons this one is a bit of a head scratcher.

Bloody Rally Show [Kodo Linija] - Given my love for classic top-down racing, as well as a bit of rough and tumble weapon play and carnage, on paper Bloody Rally Show would be right up my alley. In execution, though, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. The ambition is absolutely there, from the dynamically-generated tracks with a variety of surfaces to contend with, to the unexpected twists in the story while often paired with added race objectives, to the fact that while it takes getting used to the feel of the swervy racing does work. The problem is that with more repetition and play you tend to progressively see more and more cracks. Deciding to try to burn a race and just work on technique for an objective, after wasting a substantial amount of time I was still able to place reasonably well in the race as my opponents somehow never capitalized fully on my being distracted. The weapons end up being very random, and in a few cases hard to even understand their effect is, yet when used against you they feel unusually effective. There’s some merit here to the experience, and the wild unpredictability from race to race at least keeps you on your toes, but even for racing fans it’s hard to recommend with much enthusiasm.

Wednesday, November 3

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

Kathy Rain: Director’s Cut [Clifftop Games] (Nindie Choice!) -
While there have been a great number of LucasArts-esque point-and-click adventure titles on Switch, not all of them have been created equal. While many get the pixel art, quirky dialogue choices, and unorthodox use of items to solve puzzle elements right, it turns out a form of gameplay created on a platform that uses a precision pointing device hasn’t always translated well into using console controls. Among its achievements, I’d actually consider this to be Kathy Rain’s greatest strength, its method of letting you move around and then select highlighted elements to interact with relative to where you’re standing both intuitive and generally effective. Add on a fair amount of attitude, an interesting story, and what are generally sensible puzzle solutions (though you’ll undoubtedly resort to trial and error eventually, most of the time the space you’re working in at least keeps it contained) and this is a definite one to consider for classic adventure fans.

Tunche [LEAP Game Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - With its attractively-animated characters and environments, Tunche absolutely doesn’t look like any other beat-em-up on the system. Throw in the fact that a roguelike spirit beats in its heart and it doesn’t quite play like any other as well, and depending on your perspective that may be a good or a bad thing. For anyone not familiar with roguelikes, what that means is that out of the gate your character’s attacks won’t be quite as varied as you’re used to and certainly not as powerful, leading to some inevitable grinding to be done on your way to success. The positive is that once you’ve locked into your favorite character you can somewhat cater the way they play to your own preferences. One complaint is that you can’t really try out a given character’s style without taking them on a run and that their skill progression, since their styles vary, also doesn’t carry over… meaning if you like to experiment it’s going to be a tough per-character grind to discover what works for you. That said, for the most part the action is quick, your enemies don’t generally fit into the traditional generic molds so much of the experience feels fresh, and the ability to have some friends play along is welcome since you can usually use some help.

Ghosts and Apples [Rough Cyber Humans] (Nindie Choice!) - Just because a puzzle game is pretty simple in its design doesn’t mean it can’t be challenging and even maddening. Ghosts and Apples demonstrates this in spades, with the controls being merely a matter of selecting the top or bottom of the tubes to the left or right of your character to stuff ghosts into. The goal is simple to stack ghosts of the same color to make them disappear. Simple, right? Funny how upping the pace and throwing some additional roadblocks in your way can quickly make it feel anything but. In the end this really isn’t a casual game at all, despite what you may assume looking at it, and can be a frantic challenge, no matter how simple its premise may be.

The Suicide of Rachel Foster [Daedalic Entertainment] - As even the mention of suicide for some people, whether tied to their direct struggles or to those they love, can be problematic, I’m always leery of games that put it right out front. Thankfully, while this title doesn’t shy away from dealing with some creepy and/or disturbing circumstances over your character’s journey the title act seems to be given the gravity it deserves… just understand there are some dark revelations delivered along the way. Playing as a walking simulator, the pacing can be uneven and sometimes a bit frustratingly slow as you are awaiting new revelations to advance what you understand of the underlying story, but if you have the proper patience and tolerance for darkness this isn’t a bad ride.

Reminiscence in the Night [Ratalaika Games] - Blending together elements of a reasonably-good visual novel that ultimately concerns memory and the consequences of our action (even if unintended), and almost a point-and-click adventure, Reminiscence is at least unique every time you undertake one of its surprisingly brief “runs”. The positive is that it does feel like the product of a developer with something to say, the rub is that it’s hard to say whether it is delivered as effectively as it could be. I think, if you’re feeling like you’re down for a brief and thoughtful journey, it’s best taken in as cold as possible as there’s not actually much to know and even small revelations will chip away at the experience. You will need to be a bit patient with some of its choices regarding “gameplay” but its intended message is still an interesting one.