Friday, February 11

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

Rise of the Third Power [DANGEN Entertainment] (Nindie Choice!) - There’s no doubt that for many the 16-bit era was where JRPGs really exploded into the mainstream, so titles that bring back and celebrate that style are pretty welcome to see on the Switch after a slow-ish start for the genre. Rise of the Third Power certainly deals in the general turn-based combat mechanics, terrific visuals, and quirky character and situations departments in line with the classics. That said, it also brings some more modern concepts to the table with a streamlined equipment and inventory system and some key revisions to how your party works and is managed as well. Whether you’ll appreciate the efforts to improve on the classics or would prefer they remain mostly the same may vary with taste, but the attempts to tweak the format are appreciated. Finally, while the story may have some familiar elements to it, for me it was the characters and their interactions that managed to make it memorable for the most part, providing an above average total experience in the genre on the system.

Castle Morihisa [Smokingbear Studio] - This is one of those more unusual titles where on the one hand the core gameplay is pretty solid and works well, but on the other it feels a bit unpolished as it kind of drops you into the deep end with next to no direction. Roguelike deckbuilders have really become quite a thing, no doubt thanks to titles like Slay the Spire that really helped to establish the subgenre on the map with widely-praised and solid strategic gameplay. Of course, now with that title being pretty far in the rear view mirror the expectation isn’t just to approach that standard and differentiate yourself, the goal should be to do something to shake things up further. Unfortunately, though the different hero styles, powers, and cards you’re able to accumulate do make for very different challenges that are compelling, I can’t say there’s anything here I haven’t seen in some form before, even if the art style is an interesting one. Throw in the fact that it’s going to be a tougher game to get into with its lack of insight beyond trial and error for understanding all of the game systems and attributes you can build and then make use of and though it makes a decent impression its accessibility could use some work.

Breakout: Recharged [Adamvision Studios] - Among the Atari retro reduxes I’ll admit that Breakout was one of the titles I was most excited to see enhanced. In particular, as a big fan of the Arkanoid titles, I was interested to see how well the experience would stack up against those arcade titles that are now themselves many decades old. Unfortunately, for me the answer is that it feels a bit like a swing and a miss, though the result is certainly still very playable. As with the other Recharged titles the main changes are the very vector-like art style, the addition of power-ups of various kinds, a smattering of Challenges that help extend interest, and the (to me, odd) insistence of it being a one-life affair before you see the Game Over screen. I do appreciate the added option to play the game Co-Op with a friend, and that does put a little more juice in the tank, but though aren’t other amazing brick breakers on the Switch as competition I can’t help but feel like the bar established by Arkanoid has not been surpassed, or maybe even met if you’re a discerning veteran gamer.

Letters: A Written Adventure - I’ve been fascinated to see the variety of ways developers have tackled handling interactive story-telling, helping to take complex or emotional characters and events and use gameplay to suck people in further. While the general format Letters has taken isn’t new (having your character interact with the words in the story) and has been done in some other titles like Lost Words: Beyond the Page, the story itself is more unique and there’s more of a puzzle-like quality to the experience that helps differentiate. Aside from words that are already highlighted that you can use to interact with illustrated characters within the story, you’ll also need to interact with bigger words on the page to sometimes break them down to create new words to make use of. One of the challenges is that this design can leave you a bit stuck, and the fact that there are times where you’ve got multiple characters and pages visible at once can make for less fun as you platform around moving back and forth to get a word you’ll need to progress. If you’re a fan of storytelling there’s some appeal here, but the gameplay can sometimes be more of a distraction than a means to enhance the experience.

Draw a Stickman: EPIC [Hitcents] - There’s something to be said for games driven by a novel design, and sometimes they can be breakout hits, but more often than not the novelty can feel like a crutch. For me that’s the case with Draw a Stickman, even though I’ll admit that at times interacting with the world through drawing with your specialized pens to trigger events can lead to some fun. More often than not though I found myself reflecting on what the game would be like if you simply removed the novelty of drawing things. Would the puzzles in this adventure hold up well? The answer is generally not really. Throw in the lack of feedback for whether your given attempts are simply aimed poorly, completely wrong, or perhaps ill-timed and it can be aggravating for what’s so often a pretty light and simple experience.

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