Thursday, March 31

Mini Reviews: March 31st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dysmantle [10Tons] (Nindie Choice!) - While I’ve been able to be objective about survival games in order to attempt to give them an appropriately fair shake reviewing them I’ll freely admit that in general I’m typically not a fan of them. Leave it to the folks at 10Tons, who’ve normally satiated my taste for great twin-stick shooting, to deliver an experience that has definitely changed my mind with Dysmantle. Sure, having the game set on a massive island after the zombie apocalypse has had some time to rage for a few years sounds like the start of a good time, but finding a balance in the genre has always seemed to be a walk on a tightrope. In my mind, the blend they’ve found of exploration and discovery, satisfying combat that continues to evolve, a smart crafting system, and quite a lot of unexpected surprises really hits the spot. While there really isn’t a formal story being told you do slowly find bits and pieces that give you an idea of what happened, though the game is really about the experience more than the narrative. If there’s a criticism it may be the staggering scale of the map. At the 12 hour point, after a major achievement, I was gobsmacked to see the amount of total area I had covered was maybe 1/5th of the map if I was lucky. If you’re looking for an honestly pretty modest investment that will keep you engaged, challenged, and always on the lookout for the next surprise Dysmantle has managed to give survival some real mainstream appeal and is well worth a look.

WRC 10 [KT Racing] (Nindie Choice!) - Having always been more of an arcade and combat racing kind of gamer, titles that are more simmy have always been a challenge. Though I’ve been able to appreciate the work and depth of the WRC series it’s always been a bit of a struggle to feel like I was really getting a solid grasp of the racing mechanics, in particular struggling with oversteer. With WRC 10, whether because I’ve suddenly evolved a bit, or more likely some minor tweaks have been made to improve accessibility in the intermediate skill level, it has finally begun to click though. The thing is, as it has always been with this series the races themselves are only a portion of the picture. Effective team management, setting yourself up with success by choosing the proper events, training, or even rest periods on the calendar for your team to reduce some fatigue also have a role to play. Throw in enough content to keep you occupied for quite some time, including revisiting historic championship races (and getting to drive some very unique cars), and though things look a bit muddy in handheld mode (not a surprise, honestly) this is an excellent pick up for sim racing fans.

Catie in Meowmeowland [ARTillery] - As a lover of games that take their own path that leads in the direction of Weirdville the name of this title alone had my attention. Mixing a theme and story that adheres roughly to Alice in Wonderland with a load of cats, this point-and-click puzzler simply has a look and feel all its own. Though not really a point-and-click adventure, and not really a hidden object game, the overall feel of play borrows quite a bit from those styles. You’ll move from scene to scene and through quite a bit of trial and error simply clicking on different characters or objects you’ll trigger things to happen. From there it’s a matter of figuring out how to make those pieces work together in order to solve the problem at hand. Depending on your tastes this may or may not seem appealing, but when a game swings for a very specific fence that isn’t unusual, and everything in the game seems to meet the intended goals with an undeniably funky sense of flair.

Imp of the Sun [Sunwolf Entertainment] - If you’re a fan of platformers, whether more casual, challenging, or somewhere up the middle the Switch has you covered. Flying in somewhere between challenging and the middle we have Imp of the Sun, a pretty attractive platformer with a unique look, feel, and story. While thankfully not too over-encumbered with complexity the one thing that, for me, holds it back a bit has to do with the somewhat loose precision of the jumping, specifically the movement on the double jump. Whether it’s the animation frames or simply the feel of things it just didn’t feel as crisp and precise as I’d prefer in a game like this. Another concern is that though I enjoy the fact that games like this will sometimes let me wander off the intended path a bit in this case it resulted in me getting a bit stuck, and not always with a viable means of getting myself out of the trouble I put myself in. Still, overall it’s a decent platformer with a great sense of style, it just may be a bit on the finicky side.

Devastator [2Awesome Studio] - This is a tough one for me, as I don’t like to review games for what they aren’t, but while there’s so much on Devastator’s side when it comes to the look and general feel of its twin-stick shooting somehow it doesn’t quite seem to live up to its potential. Any veteran gamer is likely to immediately begin thinking about the classic shooter franchise Geometry Wars when seeing the game’s very similar and stripped down look, and the unfortunate thing is that Devastator, by comparison, struggles to capture what made those games so special. While it has a few different modes to choose from, one problem is that none of them grab you by the collar and demand to be played… they’re just decent. Another issue is that what you’re doing, what you’re trying to shoot, and what you are meant to interact with isn’t always intuitive and it can require some trial and error. That can make for an experience that’s a bit intense and fun but still a bit confusing so you can’t really dig in. Mix this all together and you have a decent twin-stick shooter that offers up some fun, but when you pit it against a strong set of competitors in the eShop it just doesn’t sell itself well against its peers.

Tuesday, March 29

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

Agent Intercept [PikPok] (Nindie Choice!) - Looking back at my days in the arcade games there were a few titles that were legendary in their coolness and reputation, but honestly never quite felt fully realized either. No matter how much I happened to love Spy Hunter, and would still play it often, there’s no doubt in my mind that it always felt kind of stuck in not being everything it aspired to be. Undeniably cool, but not necessarily deserving of the hype it’s always had. What really excites me about Agent Intercept is that in so many ways it feels like the formula Spy Hunter was shooting for has finally been more fully realized, and I’m here for it. The thing is, depending on what you think you’re getting into, it may disappoint you. This really isn’t a racing game at all, it is an arcade action game that features a very versatile spy car that has more forms than you can shake a stick at and whose story is James Bond-level over-the-top in its action and villainy. The best way to think about it is that it’s roughly a driving equivalent of Star Fox, where for the most part you’re on rails but how you perform within the space you’re given makes all the difference. Once you complete the bonkers campaign you can then try to meet all of the stage objectives which will then unlock more content with side missions, timed challenges, and leaderboard chasing as well. This was an absolute blast to play through and revisit quite a bit, learning how to best work technique, hitting all of the cool jumps, and blowing up a ton of stuff while having a blast. Absolutely recommended for arcade or Star Fox fans who should feel right at home with it.

A Memoir Blue [Cloisters] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ve been impressed so far this year that story-driven games on the Switch have continued to show up in force, but most of all that we’ve had a few that have been so touching without the need for any dialogue at all. In the case of A Memoir Blue it’s a powerful story about the relationship and bond between a mother and daughter, played out through all sorts of unusual but quite beautiful imagery. In order to keep you engaged there are some pretty mild but generally well-implemented puzzles, though on occasion it can be hard to understand initially what you may be expected to do in some circumstances. Regardless, the beauty and serenity the game offers up are a terrific and calming change of pace amidst an eShop awash in much more action-oriented fare.

Thunder Kid [Renegade Sector Games] - When you’re dealing with budget games it can be difficult to set a fair bar for what to expect when you put them up against more polished, but also more expensive, fare. I’ll certainly concede that visually Thunder Kid isn’t going to wow anyone, and one of the difficulties it has with its perspective is the challenge of trying to have a proper sense of depth when dealing with incoming bullets or trying to do some platform jumping in spots. All that said, there’s still something here that made a positive impression on me for simply doing something a bit novel, changing the perspective of a traditional run ‘n gun shooter into a more 3D experience. Things certainly get more dicey when you face immediate death for making a mistake and hitting something like spikes, but then there are moments like some boss battles where the funky nature of this pretty unique arcade-style shooter comes together and feels like a diamond in the rough in a crowded eShop.

Crystar [FuRyu] - Crystar is firmly in that class of games that I’m interested to play and experience, but that in terms of their storytelling have me pretty well lost from go. There is a story here, but I’m afraid that aside from the most base of summaries I’d struggle to really articulate its depth and nuance. Thankfully, there’s still quite a bit to this stylish action RPG that can probably make you less concerned if perhaps the story and everything that’s happening is a bit on the odd and convoluted side. I think where it loses a step or two in demanding my attention is that mechanically it feels a bit sloppy in execution, which makes the combat a little more underwhelming than I’d prefer. All that said, if you’re into the game’s look and characters, and can perhaps follow everything a bit better than I can, perhaps those shortcomings won’t seem as pronounced and you can have a good time with it.

Ikai [Endflame] - Joining a number of other titles that have put themselves into the psychological horror category on Switch, Ikai is at least consistent with many of them in terms of overall quality. Unfortunately, to my mind, that doesn’t come off as a compliment. When you put anything resembling the word “horror” into the description of a game, while you certainly don’t want the game to throw everything at you too quickly, the worst thing that can happen is that you spend quite a lot of time up-front with nary a scare in sight. Instead, for me the opening of Ikai involved quite a bit of wandering, not quite sure where things were, and honestly being a bit bored. Even if you’re not being confronted and chased right away, most titles in the space at least throw you a bone with the music or something that lends to giving everything an ominous feel. Throw in some puzzles to slow you down a bit and there just doesn’t seem to be a sufficient sense of urgency to things either, further throwing a wet blanket on whatever hope of creeping dread and uneasiness there could have been. If you stick with it, things do get more interesting, but without giving some appealing hints at excitement that’s coming soon the road to the scares in this case just feels bland.

Friday, March 25

Mini Reviews: March 25th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Andro Dunos 2 [Picorinne Soft] (Nindie Choice!) - The Switch has undoubtedly been blessed with a wide variety of retro shooters since release, pretty well representing all eras, tastes, and styles. The one issue that creates is for newcomers trying to make a splash when the competition has already been thoroughly established. Having never played this or the original Andro Dunos I come to it without any particular dog in the sight and for the most part my takeaway with it is that it plays a bit better than average, but perhaps lacks the flourishes that some of its contemporaries have manages to throw in. Most notably I do like the ability to switch freely between shooting modes, with your control even then extending to which mode you then want to juice up when power-ups arrive. There’s a degree of experimentation and perhaps even a bit of strategizing that this adds to the experience that I found a bit overwhelming initially but came to appreciate as I got into a groove with how each of them felt in different situations. For retro fans I think it’s distinctive enough to be worth picking up, but for more casual shooting fans who are taking a look at your retro options it may not be as exciting as some of your other options in the general space.

Ultreia [Olivier De Rop] - Pairing a grieving robot who starts out in search of revenge for the loss of his father but may instead find enlightenment with a pretty traditional point-and-click adventure makes for a bit of an odd mix but that’s what you get in Ultreia. While there’s still some humor to be found, the emphasis really is more on a moral journey and concepts of forgiveness rather than the fun, certainly making it a refreshing standout even if risking being a bit heavy-handed. The puzzles themselves I’d say are a bit better than average, more often requiring a degree of patience in finding what you need through exploration than situations where you have everything in hand but can’t figure out what combination of things you’ll need to do when and where to progress. Pretty well swerving into its own lane in the adventure space it has novelty on its side but whether or not you’ll dig the tone would be a fair question.

Kraken Academy!! [Happy Broccoli Games] - There’s no doubt that quirky locales, characters, and stories help to make games better, something particularly true in the classical sort of adventure genre. Kraken Academy undoubtedly nails this aspect of things, with an oddball cast of characters you’ll be interacting with at this pretty rundown school you’ve found yourself at. It turns out there’s something foul afoot there and your job is to try to race time to resolve it, though thankfully you’re armed with a be-tentacled device that will allow you to roll things back should you need to (and you will). The sometimes unusual puzzles you’ll need to solve don’t tend to be too outlandish, and the use of mini game events periodically does help break things up, but in general there just felt like a lot of dead time and a fair amount of feeling a bit unsure of where to go and what to do next along the way. If you’re down for a cavalcade of oddity it can be a fun time though.

BouncyBoi in Puzzle Land [Twin-Stick] - With a preponderance of puzzlers populating the eShop, people who are passionate about their pastime may be perplexed when perusing the pile of potential titles to pick up. Coming in with its large, colorful, and very portable-friendly characters you now have BouncyBoi as an option, though perhaps as only a middling and somewhat generic one. Your objective is to get from your starting point to the goal space, and you’ll be facing a wide variety of obstacles and enemies to get there. For the most part the solutions to each stage will require a bit of patience and raw trial and error to work through, though the very limited abilities your purple glob of slime possesses tends to leave little room for interpretation at least where it concerns the general idea of what you may want or need to do to get through. For me the frustration tended to look towards what feels like the very trial and nature element of how you’ll simply need to try things out, fail, and start over (since it is keeping track of your number of moves for scoring you) as you piece together what it will take to get everything in the right place in the right sequence so you can move on. The formula does work, but be warned that it doesn’t necessarily inspire much passion as you grind through each stage.

Wordbreaker by POWGI [Lightwood Games] - OK, so if you’ve heard of the craze that is sweeping (or, when considering how quickly things come and go, at this point perhaps “had swept”) the Facebook set called Wordle… here’s a version you can play on Switch, you just won’t have to wait a day for a new one. Essentially a word game variation on the classic logic puzzle Mastermind, your goal is to determine a 5-letter word within 6 turns. You’ll guess your word and then the game will give you feedback on whether any given letter is in the word, with some that are part of it but not in the right place and others that have successfully hit the spot. Using those clues and tapping into your own vocabulary you’ll then either find success or failure. In the end, as a game on a dedicated gaming system, it’s a very simple implementation, though at least to the developer’s credit the interface is clean and snappy. The biggest driver here is likely whether you’re part of the Wordle craze and thirsting for a chance to engage with that sort of puzzle far more than once a day, or you’re just someone who enjoys the pacing it provides already or who simply doesn’t know what the excitement is all about in the first place.

Wednesday, March 23

Mini Reviews: March 23rd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Tempest 4000 [Llamasoft] (Nindie Choice!) - Though I wouldn’t say that it was among my favorite arcade games back in the day, there’s no question that the original Tempest is an absolute classic. With its distinctive dial controller, vector-based graphics, absolutely iconic sound (that could be heard in the background in just about every arcade), and level of challenge that got rolling quicker than most of its peers it’s in a league of its own. Tempest 4000, for better or worse, definitely takes that particular ball and runs with it, delivering an experience that looks like a vector-based fever dream, full of intense colors and what I’d pretty much call visual cacophony. I don’t doubt that aspect could turn some folks away on its own but if you’re willing to muscle through the crazy, any retro arcade fan will probably get sucked in by the chaotic challenge it offers. This is an example of a game being unapologetically itself, taking the original title and turning everything possible up to 11. It may not be for everyone, but it made this retro fan pretty happy to see a worthy successor to a classic that swings for the fences.

Time Blazer [Dynamic Voltage Games] - Among classic arcade titles that have seen many variations on their general style pop up over the years Asteroids has seen quite a number made in its likeness. That said, what’s pretty cool about Time Blazer is that while it has some of that general DNA in it the gameplay style is simply something very different, and also quite arcade-y at the same time. Your focus on each stage is to destroy asteroids in order to collect energy from them. Once you’ve then collected enough energy things will shift and you’ll instead be looking to maximize how much money you collect, which then in turn will be used to power up your guns and make you even better at then going back to collect energy and the pattern repeats. It gets very tricky in a hurry though as there are generally more space rocks floating around than you’ll be able to keep up with easily with your guns and dropped mines, so your goal when it goes into money-making mode is two-fold, to try to get as much as possible but also strategically create, maintain, or expand your pocket of safety to work in while the time slows down while you’re in the zone. It makes for an interesting dynamic and while you can have some general strategy the unpredictable nature of every phase makes for something different. It may struggle with longevity due to its arcade-ish simplicity, but it’s a pretty solid idea and plays well.

Dark Deity [Sword & Axe LLC] - This is a bit of an unusual tactical RPG that excels in some areas but makes some strange decisions in others. The result is a bit of an odd duck, with Dark Deity having a solid art style, some interesting characters, and a pretty decent (though perhaps a bit traditional) story but struggles a bit with its interface and whose combat feels a bit “kitchen sink”-y in its implementation. The fact that the game does nothing to introduce its combat system seems to be a critical error, because while I appreciate the added layer of strategy where you’re not just concerned with your unit type match-ups but even which weapons you may be using the fact that it’s just dropped in your lap to figure out is quite sloppy. In particular, the letter grading system and some of the other critical attributes you can look through seem to be instructive and interesting, but without really understanding their nuance other than through observation and inference as you go it can be a little frustrating. Even moving your units into place and attacking feels awkward at times, demonstrating there are simply some rough spots in the control scheme, though some of these concerns could probably have been addressed with a small tutorial or even just some on-screen help when you were getting started. There are some positives here, to be sure, but there are definitely a number of RPGs ahead of the line on this one in the road to greatness.

The Ramp [Hyperparadise] - This is actually a really difficult one to review, as going in the stated purpose of The Ramp is to make more of a skateboarding “toy” than a game, and for someone who is geared to evaluate games that’s a bit tough to wrap your head around when it comes to trying to score it. I suppose if you find objectives and leaderboards simply too stressful the ability to enjoy some solid gameplay without all of those concerns could be nice. At the same time though, without them once you’ve hit your combinations and done some cool tricks in a handful of different locations I’m not sure what’s supposed to be bringing you back. If nothing else, in truth the trick system is pretty basic, and given the limited number of places you can skate in that are all very small and essentially single-screen there’s also not very much space to get into a groove with either. With the self-imposed limitations and the budget price you could make an argument that it isn’t a bad deal, but I’m torn about praising something for executing its ambitions reasonably well when it feels more like a polished tech demo or a mechanics proof of concept than a full-fledged experience.

Broken Pipe [DillyFrame] - When you take a classic and well-known game and make some changes to it the biggest risk you take is that you lose something in translation. That’s certainly the case with Broken Pipe, which puts a more modern and 3D rendered spin on the classic puzzler Pipes (and its many variants). Your goal in this case is to control the flow of power, ensuring that by plugging your different modules in at the right node spots the right juice gets to the right spot. Aside from just some general oddity with how the levels are just strewn about in general areas, with there literally needing to be arrows on the ground to try to help you understand where you’re supposed to go in spots, the problem I have is with how needlessly cumbersome everything is. Picking up and moving nodes manually is clunky and inefficient, and it only seems to serve dragging things out rather than having the focus be squarely on the puzzles themselves. The concept does work, and if you have patience I suppose it can work out for you, but there’s no doubt this evolution hasn’t made for a better experience.

Friday, March 18

Mini Reviews: March 18th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Royal Frontier [Woblyware] - Ah, roguelikes… I generally can’t get enough of them. What I love is that rather than being a set genre it’s more of a flavor enhancer that smart developers have managed to mix into their more traditional genre concoctions to make something tastier. One genre I haven’t seen too much juiced up with roguelike spice has been RPGs, so all the better this budget offering manages to do it quite well, though perhaps in a bit of a no-frills manner. You’ll need to measure your comfort with risks and potential rewards as you plot your path to the eventual boss, trying to capitalize on rest or money-making opportunities, avoiding nasty conflicts that can sap your party HP levels, and maybe rolling the dice on an unknown spot where your fortunes can go either way. In general the play is tight, the turn-based battles are quite traditional, and in general it is satisfying for the most part if you just want to get down to business without watching cut-scenes for half of your play time. All that said, though appropriate for its price point it does feel a bit bare bones and there’s definitely a grindiness to it as you’ll need to take some losses to get yourself powered up to properly take on the challenge of keeping your party healed as multiple battles without decent healing opportunities definitely take their toll as you close in on the boss battles. A decent challenge with a fair price, but it isn’t without a few warts to go with those positives.

Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? [Wales Interactive] - Full-Motion Video games are very much back on the scene, and while there’s no question that the quality of the production value and general game designs have improved since they originally cropped up decades ago there’s no getting around their pretty hit-or-miss nature. Uncle Marcus is dying (well, or so he says) after having been poisoned by a member of your family and while periodically having conversations with him your goal is to participate in a video chat game party with a handful of your other relatives to suss out whodunnit! A FMV take on a murder mystery of sorts isn’t a bad premise, and functionally the way the game goes about you trying to carefully pry details out of everyone little by little makes enough sense, though I’d argue the degree of decisions you’re able to make feels a bit on the thin side. What I think will be the major deciding factor for the typical players’ enjoyment though will be how much of a stomach you have for your in-game relatives. Woof! Imagine having almost everyone in your family being their own distinct and pretty unsavory sort of narcissistic asshat and you’ll probably have a good idea what you’re dealing with. I’m not positive whether the moments I found annoying or grating are a function of the story or the people who are embodying these people, but I’d wager it’s a bit of both. If you love your Real Housewives or other reality shows this may feel like a home run, but if you find those sorts of shows similar to fingernails on a chalkboard you’ll likely want to steer clear.

The Mooseman [Vladimir Beletsky] - When reviewing things that are less “games” in the sense you’d normally think of them, and that focus more on ambiance or storytelling, it’s always a bit of a challenge. The value in The Mooseman isn’t its gameplay, which more often than not comes off as a bit wonky honestly, but instead on its distinctive art style and its ability to relate cultural folklore to you in a way that has you interacting with symbols and mythical creatures rather than statically reading about them on a page. How well this works will be heavily open to interpretation though, and is mostly a function of what you’re looking to get out of it. Purely in terms of gameplay it has puzzle elements that function but that generally aren’t terribly satisfying, but if you instead look at it through the lens of helping you understand and appreciate another culture you were likely unaware of? Well, then it’s a one-of-a-kind experience.

Gal*Gun: Double Peace [Inti Creates] - Ah, the weirdo on-rails shooter series that gives you the opportunity to ogle what would be school girls, hurriedly look for true love in the most bizarre way possible, and then throws in a fair amount of abuse implying “you” in the game (and, by extension, maybe outside as well) are a bit of a loser. This absolutely isn’t a series for everyone, and on a general level I’d imagine you’re either inherently interested in it or there’s no chance you’d ever buy it so reviewing it is always tricky. From a gaming perspective, removing the content, it’s what it has always been, which is a decent enough on-rails shooter that to a degree is only as challenging as you want it to be, something aided with a choice at the beginning to either take it easier or a little harder. The story, characters, and dialogue is usually what I find the most amusing when it isn’t busy being a bit disturbing. It’s just pure weirdness involving an apprentice cupid, a rival apprentice demon, your childhood friends who happen to be demon hunters, and you caught up in trying to decide who you’re in love with while everyone of a female persuasion around you is acting like you’re a member of a boy band or something. Don’t hurt yourself trying to make sense of it, that’s just how the series rolls. I suppose to the game’s credit, you can try not to be inappropriate in how you play, but you’re still inevitably going to feel a bit lecherous with how things are set up so being a bit uncomfortable with the content may be inevitable unless it’s specifically what you’ve signed up for. Purely as a game the series has always been middling at best, and this entry continues on that trajectory, but as a bizarre and sometimes amusing (whether intentionally or not) overall experience it certainly appears to fully understand what it wants to be and who its audience is.

Frightence [Playstige Interactive] - Games that are designed to give people a scare remain quite popular as a whole, but more often than not (at least on the Switch) it feels like developers exploit that audience rather than reward them, with Frightence being a somewhat sad example of this joining many others. In terms of what you actually do most of the time working out far more as a walking simulator than anything else, Frightence leans heavily on what’s implied to be a dark and creepy atmosphere while pretty much ignoring simple game design fundamentals and structure. You’ll wander, try to open everything you can, wander some more, see things that may be clues or simply dead ends, wander some more, and then eventually a minor number of weird and at-best unsettling things begin to happen before it ends. What “game” there is ends up simply being in service of stretching out your “play time” before delivering what you came for, but even then it doesn’t feel like the juice was worth the squeeze. As I said, this title isn’t alone in over-promising and under-delivering on the promise of a satisfyingly scary time, but that doesn’t forgive the general disappointment in what it brings to the table.

Wednesday, March 16

Mini Reviews: March 16th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Phantom Breaker: Omnia [GameLoop] - With colorful and stylish anime characters, a few dollops of funky personalities, and a host of modes to try to give you as much bang for your buck as possible, Phantom Breaker: Omnia deserves some credit for throwing as much into the package as it can. Having never played it before I was able to pick up and play it reasonably well within a few rounds, with pretty common sweeping movements triggering specials and combos coming together with a little trial and error work. The problem in the indie fighting game space tends to apply here though, that while there’s some meat here to enjoy there’s also nothing so exciting or incredible jumping out about it that demands the attention from anything more than fans of the genre who simply feel like they must play everything there is to offer, that is unless the anime style catches your eye to the point that becomes the hook instead. It’s a solid and serviceable fighter, it just joins the ranks with probably 3 or more others that are all occupying the same general space with none of them able to clearly break away from the pack.

Ashwalkers: A Survival Journey [Nameless XIII] - Ashwalkers is an odd one, first and foremost deserving some credit for being distinctive with its narrative-driven approach to survival rather than being action-oriented. While any given playthrough may not be more than a few hours long (assuming you survive that long), if you’re a fan of its style there are plenty of different ways to approach this post-Apocalyptic world and surprises to discover. The problem is that it’s undeniably a bit glitchy too, with numerous visual problems with pop-in, edge artifacts, and other elements that detract from the experience as well as inexplicable slowdown at times given the pretty sedate pacing and relative simplicity of its visuals. If you’re willing to be patient and don’t mind the very text-heavy approach, there’s something unique here to enjoy and be challenged by, but if you were hoping for a more active and action-filled walk through the wasteland you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Inukari: Chase of Deception [EinzelartigGames] - Platformers are well-represented on the Switch without a doubt, so if you’re going to bring one to the Switch you’d better make the most of it. While Inukari looks decent enough, and the movement is pretty satisfying (though certainly on the floaty side), its issue is simply a lack of variety, creativity, and ultimately content. What I also found a bit wonky was generally how casual it all felt until hitting a boss, where suddenly there’s a lot going on that the game has generally failed to prepare you and build your skills up for. Perhaps in a more limited ecosystem the issues wouldn’t be as pronounced, but even removing first-party titles from the list there are simply so many more interesting examples in the genre on the system that show more care and polish in their design, making them more satisfying.

Splash Cars [Craneballs s.r.o.] - Even when they may not be racing titles I’m always down to check out a game involving cars, especially since in general they’re under-represented on the Switch eShop. Splash Cars at least looked like it had some promise at a glance, with you working your way around a small town trying to essentially paint it with color while trying not to hit walls, get caught by a police car, and a few other complications. The problem is that, perhaps not surprising given its mobile origins, there’s just not much here to keep your attention and the continual mobile-esque reminders and currency grinding gets old in a hurry when you’ve paid your price of admission.

Bus Driver Simulator Countryside [Ultimate Games] - Have you ever been kept up at night pondering what it would be like to do incredible things in places filled with wonder and excitement? Surely if you have, one of those fever dreams has been contemplating becoming a public transportation bus driver in some remote semi-rural community somewhere in Russia… I know it’s been one I’ve had for years. The great news is that if you’re someone who has been on pins and needles waiting for a chance to live your dream job vicariously in pretty embarrassingly shoddy video game form that moment has come. SEE the practically barren countryside… SEE the inexplicable pop-in of objects even though there’s generally not much on-screen the majority of the time… LISTEN to the sounds of the same nature track on repeat forever… FEEL the thrill of having your hulking and massive bus bounce back when hitting a simple road sign instead of plowing right through it. Um, yeah, the best thing to do is simply watch a few minutes of the video and you’ll get the idea. It’s pretty bad, even if you’re just loading it up for giggles.

Tuesday, March 15

Mini Reviews: March 15th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dawn of the Monsters [13AM Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Well damn, who knew that within a two week span I’d play two very different titles on Switch that have the beat-em-up genre deep within their DNA but are so completely different and are also both fantastic for their own reasons. Dawn of the Monsters, which could have easily grabbed attention and a solid player base by simply being a giant kaiju and robot-filled brawler, instead checks off the easy boxes and then immediately goes and reaches for much more. No only is it satisfying to the kid in me who simply enjoys actively participating in battles between epic beasts amidst the ruin of cities, it also satisfies the more seasoned gamer in me who is looking to explore the nuances and possibilities of each character you have to work with (2 kaiju, and 2 robots, each with pretty distinctive moves, strengths, and weaknesses) while toying with cards you can use to compliment your preferred style of play. While the first campaign may be on the lighter side as you get the feel for the pretty deep set of moves, combos, and rage powers available to you as you keep going the game really demands that you have a cohesive plan and then are able to execute it well to do more than simply skirt by. Going back to previous levels to up your rating is well-rewarded with a more diverse and powerful set of cards to work with, and switching out sets when you’re dealing with the normal mobs or the powerful bosses is sometimes essential depending on your style. This is so much more than monsters wrecking stuff and looking cool, it’s also a deep and satisfying representation of how to use new concepts to strengthen the somewhat stagnant beat-em-up genre.

Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure - Pinball FX3 [Zen Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - Ever since the Pinball FX3 team took over the Williams pinball license there has been a steady stream of quality tables coming from them, but with the release of the Indiana Jones table in particular it feels like they’ve really underlined their commitment to making the most of their opportunities. First, the conversion of the table itself in its original form is spot-on accurate, bringing with it all of the great sights, sounds, and even the trickier extras like the custom mini field in the back left corner. Where this conversion really shines though is with its enhanced mode, something I’ve not always felt has integrated well with every given table but in this case absolutely enhances the experience pretty brilliantly. The figure of Indiana Jones cracking his whip and swinging around periodically, as well as some of the other on-table props, work well and generally compliment play but it’s the new mini video area that opens for some modes that really impressed me. The round portrait of Indie in the front center of the table opens up to play what’s usually a relatively simple video but the way this blends in with the whole experience feels natural and like something someone would have tried to do if they had the technology at the time, with it feeling like a very enhanced take on little clips you would have traditionally seen in the LCD score area in modern traditional tables. It all makes for a great retro experience that feels wonderfully contemporary as well, and a proper celebration of a deserving classic.

One Gun Guy [Ritual Games] - Ahh, the classic run and gun… it’s a timeless arcade-style staple that has been around forever. So the challenge when making one in the modern day is how to make it stand out and feel different, with many titles not opting to do too much to buck the system and simply going with something a bit more flashy or adding a few minor bells and whistles. For all of its minimalism in its look and general style of play, One Gun Guy actually makes a fair effort to be different, opting for a path that involves a little more platforming than the norm, plenty of secrets, no broken down levels (you just keep going… though this isn’t necessarily a plus), and a power-up system that doubles as your health that heavily incentivizes you not to get hit. While it isn’t perfect by any means the result is just something that feels both familiar and a bit different at the same time, especially when you’re all juiced up and pulling in coins with your magnet and kicking ass a little easier. As you take hits and continue to lose gear and powers you quickly begin to miss what you’d had, and at the bottom rung you can feel some desperation as you simply try to hold on with only the bare bones move set to work with. While it may lack a bit in polish it’s a better-than-expected budget experience.

Beat Souls [Zoo Corporation] - This is a bit of an odd one in my mind, as it is obvious by the game’s name and general feel that it’s supposed to be a music and rhythm game. Yes, the action is complemented by music that is playing, and yes your movements will roughly time out to the beats… but there’s just something really lacking that makes it feel like more of an action-forward game than a music one, and that’s a bit of a disappointment. The thing is, the elements are pretty well all here for a decent toe-tapping experience. You don’t have a massive number of moves available to you to concern yourself with, but once you need to begin dodging left and right, jumping, and then working with the spheres on either side of you it can get tricky in a hurry. All of that feels reasonably good, so then what’s the problem? Utterly forgettable and generic music to go with it, that instead of enhancing the gameplay simply lays there sort of dead and limping along with the action. That isn’t to say there’s nothing here to enjoy, it just feels like an incomplete thought and is tough to appreciate when you can see the potential for it being more engaging having been missed.

Ancient Islands [Avernus Software] - While real-time strategy games emerged from the PC ecosystem, the tower defense sub-genre within that space is one I’ve come to more often associated with mobile devices since their scope can be manageable even on smaller screens. Ancient Islands, to me, swims upstream a bit with its style, looking to add back in some complexity with resource management in order to make for a more challenging experience as a whole. While I’d agree that trying to manage your various structures and spells as you fight off foes is a bit more difficult when having to consider more types of resources than normal and the buildings that produce them, I didn’t necessarily feel a sense of reward or accomplishment to go with the added frustrations that would help the effort feel justified. Instead, for me it just felt like a distraction that would sap my attention and an added source of sitting and waiting to get everything needed for the next unit or upgrade. In addition, it’s very much worth noting that if you’re planning to play this on-the-go on the small Switch screen it could be a bit of a challenge as some of the much smaller units will be much tougher to spot even though they’re quite capable of chipping away at your gate (and generally being obstructed while they do so as it is). If you’re a real genre fan give it a try, but if you’re just looking for a solid tower defense game in general there are more polished options out there.

Friday, March 11

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

Time Loader [Flazm] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to puzzle platformers the Switch has them in pretty well every shape, size, and form. That said, I can’t say that before this I’ve had the chance to play as a remote controlled wheeled cart with an arm on it moving through time in the hopes of preventing a terrible incident from happening for a specific young man. Of course, making even small changes can create ripples with the potential to turn into waves so simple modifications can have unintended consequences, and who’s to say that even preventing one accident may prevent another anyway? While perhaps I’m asking more strictly philosophical questions than the game is seeking to answer it’s the proper mindset to take into this physics-based puzzler that will make you curse clutter as you find yourself trying to navigate through messy rooms, bypassing and sometimes even using a variety of objects to help you achieve your varied goals. While not likely to last more than a few hours, depending on what you may struggle with, the game has some real charm, in general conquering its challenges feels rewarding, and it can be interesting to see the question of “What could possibly go wrong?” answered in a variety of ways.

Republique: Anniversary Edition [Camouflaj, LLC] - When it comes to game experiences that deliver a strong story I’ve been fascinated to see the diversity in the offerings the Switch has had to offer. Coming in strong with a story where you’re involved in a plot to subvert a totalitarian state, Republique certainly does deliver something pretty fresh and unique in terms of the story you’ll be occupying. With a pretty heavy reliance on stealth and careful hacking throughout that also naturally builds in a pretty consistent tension that helps to keep things interesting, even if ultimately a bit on the repetitive side over the course of this episodic story. Where things fall down a bit more is in terms of the gameplay and some of the mechanics. What starts out as pretty fresh and different as you’re able to sort of move around through cameras to better see where your character should go and when, as well as find equipment you’re able to hack or utilize in some way, unfortunately becomes a bit more tired the more you use it or when you find yourself in situations where it can feel outright cumbersome. Having an omniscient sort of view can be convenient as a means to make the game unique but I also found that it increased my detachment from the narrative in a way, working things remotely sort of lowered my perceived skin in the game. All in all the strength in Republique is that it’s quite unique, and despite some shortcomings I’d say that if story is one of your strongest drivers in what games you’re interested in this is very much worth your consideration.

LIT: Bend the Light [Copperglass] - One thing I do appreciate about quite a number of indie titles is that even if they aren’t groundbreaking in their conception, it is clear they had a specific design and set of objectives for play in mind and then executed them all admirably. LIT fits into that category nicely, keeping the focus on the goal of getting a beam of light to the specified spot, using whatever means are made available in the given stage to do so. Whether that’s as simple as finding the sweet spot for the origin point and angle of the beam, getting it to ricochet just right off of the proper surface, or eventually having to manipulate a great number of different mirrors and implements in the stage in order to set up an sometimes pretty elaborate paths for the light to follow to success. What I do appreciate is that on many stages there’s more than one solution and the game lets you know this, then even keeping score to some degree if you’re able to work out a solution in multiple ways. It may not be incredibly ambitious, but it’s a well-implemented design of a simple idea that works well for its budget price.

Syndrome [Funbox Media] - It’s not hard to see the inspirations behind Syndrome’s attempt at outer space horror, but the danger when inspiring reflection on the likes of the Dead Space series is that the comparison may leave your game coming up well short of the mark. Having endured 2 entries in the Hollow series, I’ll at least say that Syndrome has some company struggling to make the experience work in general, let alone on the Switch, but that doesn’t do a great deal to soften the blow. Aside from everything being visually murky and looking like it’s from more than a generation ago there’s a muddiness to the gameplay itself that doesn’t inspire a need to immediately load it up every time you turn the system on as well. Initially there’s some nice tension as you’re wondering what’s going on and whether you may be attacked but with a general lack of payoff in the early going that feeling collapses pretty quickly and the tendency is to get a bit bored running around to location after location with “atmosphere” around you but nothing really memorable happening either. Even as things escalate and get legitimately tense at times none of it leaves much of an impression and the feeling is more towards going through the expected motions. A word of warning, there is also no auto-save, even at transitions between areas, so be sure to manually do it often or when you die you’ll be going back to the beginning… not cool. There’s worse in the space on Switch to be certain, but this is still a shaky proposition if you’re looking for something with even moderate quality.

Shipwreck Escape [Raccoons Studio] - I’m always game to try out experiences in games that look a bit new, and as the title should imply, Shipwreck Escape isn’t quite like anything else out there. Part puzzler, part execution speed, you’ll be working through different rooms and levels in search of keys, valves to turn off steam, buttons to disable power, and a variety of other obstacles that are putting you at risk of drowning as the ship slowly but surely continues to sink and water floods into each level. Some stages you’ll try to do solo, trying to quickly see what is needed and determine where to go first and what order you may need to tackle things in. Others you’ll be moving between people, running into a roadblock with one person, moving to another to conquer it, and so on. I suppose there’s some delicious tension to be had as you manage to keep just ahead of the water level but there’s also quite a bit of overall repetition in your tasks and then you begin to hit the wall of realization that in the end you’re going to rely on trial and error (and thus failing) a bit too much and that tends to take the wind out of your sails, or in this case the oxygen out of the lower decks.

Thursday, March 10

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

Young Souls [1P2P] (Nindie Choice!) - With the volume of titles I’m typically reviewing on a weekly basis I’ll admit that anything that calls itself an RPG in any way I tend to be hesitant to check out, worried about the typical timesink of hours and grinding it can take to make the most of them. On the other hand, while I’ve always had a love for beat-em-ups I’ll admit that they can be lacking in the depth department, not always warranting extended play due to their normal fundamental lack of a story or something deeper than the action to keep you engaged. Enter Young Souls, a hybrid beat-em-up RPG that not only attempts to meld these very different directions into a sum greater than its parts, but manages to pull it off quite spectacularly. The critical place where it finds this success is in the combat and the variety of weapons, secondary items, and various armors you can use between your two twins to set yourself up for success. You’ll really need to be smart as well in what you equip since there’s no getting around some of the game’s battles being outright tough, requiring you to fight tooth and nail, making use of everything you have to succeed, though my favorite is the opportune timing of a switch between siblings to deliver a quick and punched up attack. Perhaps RPG traditionalists won’t like the change in pace and more challenging combat but if you’ve got even an ounce of love for beat-em-ups, and especially if you have someone to play with co-op to boot, this is a very successful marriage of the challenging action of beat-em-ups and satisfying depth and choices made available by the RPG genre. It is highly recommended!

Grand Mountain Adventure: Wonderlands [Toppluva AB] (Nindie Choice!) - While in general there’s been a lack of diverse sports games on the Switch, despite the past popularity of skiing and snowboarding games on Nintendo systems winter sports have been particularly under-represesented. Helping to fill the gap, at least to some degree, Grand Mountain Adventure isn’t an ambitious over-the-top third-person action title with an emphasis on big air and tricks… instead it may be best compared to arcade classics like Alpine Ski, though greatly upgraded in terms of complexity and variety, of course. You’ll have the ability to freely switch between skis and a snowboard, and depending on your task at hand each have their strengths. While you will have the chance to catch air and do some stunts, that isn’t as often the focus as simply carving up the slopes to slalom between gates, avoid obstacles, and try to minimize your time in order to unlock new challenges and entire mountains to explore. The real joy here though is simply exploring the various mountain ranges in search of medals, some of which are a serious challenge to grab, and enjoying the opportunity to do things at your own pace and simply enjoy the experience. It will do nothing to make the pain of waiting for a new 1080 Snowboarding, SSX Tricky, or even Snowboard Kids subside, but it is still a great mix of challenge and chill that’s worth a look.

The Last Cube [Improx Games] - With the abundance of puzzle games out there in the eShop I would imagine it’s a true challenge to do anything that feels fresh and different. The Last Cube does itself a favor in this department by at least going with a 3D look and feel, and then pairs it with a style of play that can be a little tricky to fully wrap your head around at first, but that naturally walks you through a progression of puzzles that help you understand how best to leverage your multiple abilities. The key to everything revolves around stamping different runes onto the sides of your cube, with the goal of then matching that rune to a spot on the ground. This can be tricky at times, but given that with the press of the button the game will often provide you help with how to do it there’s almost always help available to you if you choose to take it. As you progress new runes mean new powers but then also new complications in the form of obstacles that will mess you up and will require planning to get around. While it may not be something everyone will enjoy, there are some smart ideas in play here and if you’re in search of a take on a puzzler that’s off the beaten path this may be worth a look.

Aztech Forgotten Gods [Lienzo] - As a fan of Lienzo’s earlier title Mulaka, which may have had its faults but compensated with a distinctive sense of style and flavor, walking in I had high hopes for Aztech. Again, admirably diverging from the norm to emphasize non-traditional culture and inspirations, this tale is told as if the city of Tenochtitlan had continued to grow and flourish into a quasi-futuristic time you see in the game where technology and the power of legends somewhat intersect. Circumstances have put your character in possession of the powerful Lightbringer, which you’ll use to do battle with foes, some of which will be truly formidable in size. The thing is, in principle all of this is cool and has real potential. The issue is in the execution. In terms of both its appearance and general feel of play the game really feels like a resurrected N64-era title, and unfortunately that’s not a compliment. Even if you don’t mind the visuals there’s a real problem with the combat, which is muddled to say the least and in some regards feels almost Quicktime-like in execution, except you’re not even rewarded with cool cinematic action to reward your efforts. There’s obviously heart and style on display here, but there’s just a very rough and, in places, almost unfinished quality to the experience that is rather disappointing.

I Love Finding Pups [Ocean Media] - I suppose since a little while ago I reviewed a puzzle collection covering a variety of styles hyper-focused on domesticated animals of the feline variety; it is only fair that one celebrating the canine persuasion is available as well. While not the most elaborate or well-made of casual puzzlers out there it is also hardly the least, meaning that it hasn’t chosen to lean so hard on the novelty of cute puppies being ever-present everywhere merely to cover up its host of other shortcomings. I’d say this collection definitely errs far more on the breezy casual side, with the majority of puzzles being focused on image finding and though it can be tricky with its descriptors or methods of blending items into the scene it’s ample availability of help makes it only as tough as you want it to be. So if you feel so inclined load this up with a pooch on your lap and simply relax, enjoying the cuteness of it all.

Wednesday, March 9

Mini Reviews: March 9th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Will You Snail? [Jonas Tyroller] (Nindie Choice!) - A worthy discussion that has come up in recent years has to do with accessibility and whether games that are inherently hard should have a way to play them at a more approachable degree of difficulty. Conversely, the more hardcore set will occasionally note a game that is mechanically a lot of fun, but disappointing because they never feel sufficiently challenged, or perhaps only at the latest stages of the game. Will You Snail, whether specifically intending to address these concerns or simply as a function of diabolically evil design, has a pretty unique flavor of platforming hell for you to experience… one that is inherently scalable, and whether you’re working with more core fundamental platforming skills or blow through them in your sleep you may have equal chances of having a good time with it. Wrapping all of the analysis of you skills (or lack thereof) in humor, your smiling pixelated host will keep you company on a pretty consistent basis, whether ridiculing your latest fail, getting irritated with you when you manage to breeze through a level, or eventually choosing to crank the level of difficulty up or down as your performance seems to demand, though this can be done by you manually as well. This is done by layering additional traps, spikes, and distractions into the stock levels which can already be tricky but then can get outright nasty when trying to contend with spikes that won’t allow you to take a breather mid-level when you’ve cleared a tough section. In the end, while it still probably trends towards being tougher-than-average this is a slimmed down but very smart and well-implemented platformer that will consistently challenge you and then happily troll you for your failure… and can thus be good for a laugh if you’re not busy rage quitting.

What Lies in the Multiverse [IguanaBee] (Nindie Choice!) - This is a case where you have a game with a very cool sense of style, a compelling set of main characters who have some great interactions, and a sometimes pitch-black sense of humor… mixed with puzzle platforming that ranges from inspired to merely ordinary. The bulk of your journey will be spent visiting different times and places, and usually being able to warp between two realities which will tend to be very different indeed. Somewhat normal in one version, post-Apocalyptic horror show in another as a for-instance. The nature of the puzzles will tend to require some degree of ingenuity and sometimes dexterity to allow you to make progress as you quickly change which you're in, adding or removing platforms, walls, or other impediments. In my mind the big decider may be the game’s sometimes pretty morbid sense of humor, letting the people or places you encounter tell their own stories on either side of reality as you’re merely trying to pass through and progress. The more you’re inclined to stop, take it all in, and have a laugh at some of the twisted things they’ve put in place, the more mileage you’re likely to get out of the experience.

The Cruel King and the Great Hero [Nippon Ichi Software] - It’s great that this far into the Switch’s lifespan there are enough RPGs that even genre fans don’t necessarily have to be upset that every title coming in the space isn’t something they’d dig. Sure, there are people who prefer Action versus Tactical versus full-blown traditional… but it’s great when you see something a little off the beaten path every once in a while. I see that being the case for The Cruel King and the Great Hero, as to my mind it is an RPG for the sake of game mechanics, but its real goal is to tell a truly touching story and suck people in with its signature art style. No matter what I’ll say that in the early stages getting things moving is particularly slow, and even a bit painful, but once it picks up steam it’s at least not too bad… though you will probably tire of the random encounters and combat that is absolutely quite bland no matter how adorable many of your foes may be in some fashion. It’s a case of story and style over substance if you’re a real genre stalwart, but if you don’t mind things being dumbed down quite a bit there’s still a compelling story and some fabulous storybook-style art to be enjoyed.

Under the Jolly Roger [HeroCraft] - Whenever a new game arrives that offers swashbuckling adventure on the high seas I’m always pretty immediately interested. The desire to play a modern incarnation of the classic Sid Meier’s Pirates is strong, but while many have tried, none have really managed to pull it off. While it can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition, as there are many things to do in the game (especially since with the newly-released DLC you can additionally manage your own Pirate Haven), the problem is more often with the interface and controls you’ll need to use to try to manage everything. While perhaps on a PC using a mouse and keyboard all of the management tasks you’ll need to engage in pretty regularly aren’t quite so cumbersome but I could tell even as I was being walked through the tutorials for things like managing the buying and selling of cargo that it was going to be a bit ugly. Certainly elements like ship-to-ship combat and trying to board enemy ships to take them by force are highlights, but then while elements like the inclusion of mighty threats from the deep may sound cool in practice they seem to just show up to wreck your progress as you struggle to figure out what to do. If you’re a real fan of pirate titles it’s well worth a try, just be warned that while there are bright spots there are also some areas that you’ll likely dread needing to work through as well.

Buck Bradley: Comic Adventure [WERDERA SRL] - While I’ve seen quite a variety of takes on the classic adventure formula that has enjoyed a rejuvenation in this last generation with indie developers I’ve not seen something quite like Buck Bradley. Adopting a comic book style in presentation the net effect is something that feels somewhere between the classic adventure and an interactive graphic novel, albeit with a colorful and pretty goofy overall style. The issue I have is more with the somewhat cookie cutter nature of the challenges you’ll face and the story and dialogue that may be reasonably humorous but that fails to inspire a need to see what happens next. If you’re not a genre veteran it all may feel a bit less generic but for people who’ve played their fair share in the genre it will probably come off as being a bit flat.

Friday, March 4

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

FAR: Changing Tides [Okomotive] (Nindie Choice!) - Picking up roughly where the original FAR left off, and generally offering up a very similar (though longer and refined) experience, Changing Tides doesn’t reinvent the post-Apocalyptic wheel but it also didn’t need to. Alone, you’ll have to work through some inventive puzzles in some truly immense structures at times, to continue to remove impediments from and make upgrades to your mechanical beast that helps you make your way over the seas with the hope of finding any other signs of human life out there. There’s simply a feeling when you’ve activated some massive structure or machine that’s hard to describe. An improvement I appreciate is that you spend less time fiddling with repairs and maintaining your craft, though if you aren’t careful to drop your sails or make critical mistakes you will need to put your exploration on hold to patch things up. Probably both the best and worst thing about the game, depending on your perspective, is that it is full of reflective moments spanning multiple minutes at times for you to simply take in the ruined world around you. Sometimes a bit sad, sometimes hopeful, but typically leaving me feeling reflective in some way, impatient people will likely find the quiet moments maddening. It won’t be for everyone but if you’re in the mood for something unique and often calming it’s well worth checking out.

Hundred Days: Winemaking Simulator [Broken Arms Games] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ll just open with the fact that I truly despise pretty well all forms of alcohol, so in theory I’m a tough sell for a game heavily concerned with the intricacies of making wine since I have no built-in love for it. That said, between the quirks of the characters you’ll interact with, the unique and almost Tetris-like way that major tasks and how you allocate your time are dealt with, and the careful tightrope walk the game makes to give it depth without making it overwhelming helped make me a fan. As is the case with many strategy games and sims you can expect things to go pretty badly as you try to grasp the proper way to handle things, most critically your finances in this case. Researching and purchasing the right critical upgrades is the key to early success, and understanding the best approach unfortunately takes falling on your face a bit. All that said, the pacing is pretty brisk so you won’t be stuck for long knowing you’re more likely to be making vinegar than high-quality product in any given year. Probably best for serious genre fans or wine-lovers, it is rough around some edges like in managing the interface and getting up to speed in the beginning, but the overall experience is still a positive one.

Dexter Stardust: Adventures in Outer Space [Sea Monster Media] - At this point in some regards it is tough to make a meaningful splash running with a humorous classic adventure title simply because there’s a ton of competition out there on the Switch to compare with. On the bright side, Dexter Stardust trends more towards the easygoing rather than the over-complicated with a streamlined interface and puzzles that aren’t quite as often as obtuse as some out there. Where it struggles a bit is in the presentation. While the visual art style may be a bit on the generic side for me the struggle was with some of the voice acting. As so much of the game is voiced, consistent issues with it simply not being very polished really detracted from the experience, especially again considering some of the superbly-voiced games out there vying for your attention. If you’re a true genre fan, it’s a fun pick-up… however, if you’re still exploring the genre’s funnier side there are stronger picks in the eShop.

Primordia [Wormwood Studios] - Breaking from the trend towards more strange and silly point-and-click styled adventures on the Switch, Primordia instead strikes a more serious tone with both its more brooding art and sci-fi environs. While you’re paired with a pithy companion who tries to give the game some levity the story is more geared towards intrigue and conspiracies to be uncovered. In terms of the puzzles the good thing is that they don’t tend to get as aggravatingly obtuse as you can often find, making you curse your inventory, but they also trend towards perhaps being a bit too bland and lacking in creative sparks that makes completing them feel rewarding. If you’re a fan of epics like Beyond a Steel Sky there are certainly elements of that DNA here to enjoy, just don’t expect it to really cross into that class of quality and polish very often.

35MM [Sometimes You] - There has always been something intriguing with exploring a post-Apocalyptic wasteland, whether it being the sense of isolation, how it can make you reflect on your own current life, or any number of other reasons. The use of the setting in games has been a mixed bag, whether in terms of the genres it has been applied to or in terms of how engaging those same titles have managed to be. In terms of establishing the environment and overall feel of things 35MM actually does a decent job, the wilderness setting paired with overcast skies and a murky color palette do create a mood. It’s where this being a game and not simply a walking simulator comes into play where the feel is less favorable. Aside from the world being depopulated by some sort of terrible plague too often this game world feels empty in a way that leans towards boring. Aimless walking, generally fruitless attempts not to simply stick to the path, just a general wonkiness to everything, and puzzles to work through that aren’t typically very interesting dominate the experience. If the look grabs you, perhaps you’ll find it engrossing, just if you’re looking for a good game there are many more inspired ones out there to be discovered.

Wednesday, March 2

Mini Reviews: March 2nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

A Musical Story [Glee-Cheese Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - I’ve truly enjoyed the diverse set of indie titles that have come to the Switch under the category of rhythm and music. There have been nail-biting challenges like Thumper, track-mixing and more creative games like Fuser, frantic dodging to the great tunes of Just Shapes and Beats, and more… a plain cornucopia of delightful tastes and styles. I’m happy to say A Musical Story continues that trend, going completely in its own direction with a surprisingly deep collection of rhythms you’ll need to replicate that favor constantly-changing patterns and styles over tying your fingers up in knots since you’ll only need to use your 2 trigger buttons to play along. Also worth noting is that if the game sees you struggling, it will progressively lend you some help as well. As sensational as the music is though, the real feature here is the incredible wordless story the game’s unique art tells, paired only with the game’s music to convey a deep and at times dark story that really sucked me in. Artistically stunning, filled with emotion, and approachable but also challenging, it’s a memorable journey on the Switch.

Conan Chop Chop [Mighty Kingdom] (Nindie Choice!) - Having always been a fan of beat-em-ups, despite their tendency to get bogged down to some degree with repetition, I’ve been thrilled to see new ideas brought to the table. In the case of Conan Chop Chop, aside from having 4 different characters to choose from who are tuned for slightly different styles of play, it’s the addition of roguelike elements that do a decent job of keeping each run a bit fresh. The sheer volume of potential bits of gear, in particular those that grant your perks, pets, or other varied enhancements, really make for each run feeling a bit different depending on what you’re able to buy or pick up… and since you’ll steadily continue to unlock more the depth in that area just continues to grow. While it’s certainly playable solo that’s a bit of a tough road, so the inclusion of support for both local and online co-op for up to 4 total players is absolutely essential for getting the most out of it possible. While not as deep or visually-impressive as some of the top-tier games in the space its approachable nature and reasonably-cheap pricetag make it a great option for co-op and beat-em-up fans alike.

Quest for Infamy [Infamous Quests] - I definitely think this is one of those titles that will have pretty heavy-duty pendulum swings in the range of opinion from the people who play it. For folks like me who grew up playing older PC adventures and RPGs there’s an unmistakable essence of those games here in both the looks and general feel… and it can be pretty inviting. Whether you’re nostalgic for retro-styled adventure is certainly one area where there’ll be a divide but the bigger area is likely to be the game’s often irreverent, but also sometimes leaping over into crass, sense of humor. It’s definitely a matter of taste, and in my younger years I probably would have been a bit more on board and entertained by it, but maybe I’m just old now and it feels like there are more misses than hits, though I’ll credit the game for continuing to swing away. Outside of those major factors that will either grab you or turn you away there’s the issue with elements like combat that lack real energy or oomph, unfortunately feeling a bit bland and dated. If you check out some video and the game’s sense of humor tickles your funny bone though, it will likely entertain.

Mages and Treasures [lightUp] - Just because games have a simpler look and a budget price, that doesn’t mean they have to be less compelling. Mages and Treasures seems to have a decent enough base, looking to provide a reasonably easygoing mix of puzzles and light shooting action as you navigate through screens of mazes and enemies, working out how to proceed. Another game it reminds me of, Milo’s Quest, actually did a fairly good job of having just enough charm and variety to keep the experience engaging. In the case of this one though? Not so much. It isn’t necessarily a bad experience, it just gives off a very “been there, done that” overall feel and is lacking in the personality to compensate for what’s otherwise a pretty generic and by the numbers essence of gameplay.

Pudding Monsters [ZeptoLab] - OK, so let’s get down to the case of mobile game conversions on the Switch. Sure, there can be solid games coming over, and some have proven to even be “top list” worthy even… but then there are those that come over but show limited effort getting the console controls right for playing docked or that aren’t a great fit. Pudding Monsters is a pretty odd one because it skips right over any attempt at all to be docking station friendly or working on console controls, it simply treats your Switch as a big phone or a tablet, playing vertically with the touchscreen. In terms of the play itself it is a visually-polished sliding puzzler that requires some smart planning and will make you do some work, which is appreciated, but it’s almost impossible not to stare at the pricetag in the eShop and then check the price on the iOS or Android store and wonder why you’re essentially paying for a low-to-no-effort port when it would work just as well on a mobile device.