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.

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