Friday, April 29

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

Bugsnax [Young Horses, Inc] (Nindie Choice!) - As long-time followers of mine will undoubtedly know, I’m a lover of games that qualify as being weird. With that in mind, I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m a pretty big fan of the odd creatures, personalities you’ll encounter, and the generally family-friendly total experience that is Bugsnax. Called to a remote location in search of a good story to prop up your flagging career as a journalist, you’re quickly introduced to the odd mix of observation, strategy, and sometimes just a bit of luck that’s involved in trying to capture these strange, often elusive, and apparently tasty beasts that roam the island. Generally keeping things approachable and light, this won’t be a game that taxes your brain power or even your reflexes for the most part. However, that isn’t to say that the sense of accomplishment the first time you manage to snag any given creature isn’t there either though, and with quite a menagerie to discover and hunt as you move through different locales there are many opportunities to feel like a master Bugsnax tracker. At times it can be a bit rough around the edges for sure, but given that there’s nothing quite like it out there and it exudes a genuine sense of joy and fun it’s still well worth your time as long as your expectations have been properly established.

Samurai Bringer [ALPHAWING Inc] - I always appreciate indie games that dare to do things their own way, especially on a budget, so despite the fact that I wouldn’t consider Samurai Bringer a grand slam home run I’ll at least give it a solid triple on an unforced error. Very arcade-y at its core, this is a game focused on often intense beat-em-up/slashing action but it has more to offer as well. What sets it apart is the ability to pretty well customize your fighter in many ways, taking both more basic foundational skills and more powerful attributes you can assign to them to create your own take on a combo-executing master… or at least that’s the plan. Actually understanding some of the rules behind the limitations for how some can be assigned and what may be most effective takes a bit of time, frustration, and certainly will require some trial and error. In addition, and somewhat oddly, even as you customize your fighter I wouldn’t necessarily call the combat over the long haul all that varied or distinctive. Yes, some enemies will throw you for a loop (some, literally) but for the most part you’ll be exploring areas in search of hidden power-ups and knocking people around. It’s one of those experiences where I’d love to see a sequel, where the developers had a little more time to let the idea marinate and evolve, but for the price this is still a pretty cool and unique brawler nonetheless.

Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight [Orbital Express] - When I read reviews for games like Tasomachi I often tend to wonder why smaller-market and indie games in general tend to get reviewed as if they’re competing with blockbusters from genres with a much wider audience. I don’t think there’s any doubt in any reasonable person’s mind that this isn’t a title meant for the masses, not even for the hardcore set… it’s a simpler, more laid back, and generally more contemplative 3D platformer that’s meant to be enjoyed as you relax. Now, that doesn’t excuse some of its shortcomings with controls that can feel floaty, especially when mixed with hitboxes on some objects that feel a bit off. I wish it would have implemented those aspects better. That said, this isn’t a game trying to be Mario or some other more precision-based platformer… it’s more focused on the joy of exploration, discovering new areas and collectables, and generally pushing skill just enough to keep it all from getting too repetitive. While it isn’t something I’d argue anyone simply has to go out and get I’d say that people simply looking for a pleasant and modestly-challenging experience may want to give it a look.

P.3 [DevJgame] - When it comes to game design, I’m all about how simplicity is often the best overall goal when starting something new, especially on a budget. Taking this concept a bit to the extreme, P.3 limits you to essentially ping-ponging yourself back and forth within the sometimes cramped vertical shooter space you’re afforded to dodge enemies, shoot back, and try to power yourself up effectively as you go in order to survive the games steadily-increasing difficulty level. On a general level it works well, though at times in the boss fights in particular things could get to be a bit of a mess visually, making it a challenge in a bit more of an unfair way than I’d prefer. Overall, for a low price it offers quite a bit of game… though I’d argue the similar Switch ‘N Shoot does a better overall job in the same vein.

Dandy & Randy DX [Ratalaika Games] - In general I have nothing against a reasonably-good and pleasant little puzzle adventure that you can either run solo or share with a friend. My problem has become that the Switch is getting to the point where it’s somewhat awash in mediocre to middling ones that may seem harmless in a sense, but that are also just not very good and jam up the eShop without providing much of a return for the trouble. Dandy & Randy DX falls firmly into this camp for me, though admittedly it isn’t necessarily “bad” for any reason, it just really fails to make a case for being anything more than “Meh”. Explore, take out bad guys that aren’t particularly intimidating, backtrack when you find a key, move on, lather, rinse, and repeat. It may be a little budget filler for you and maybe a friend to gobble up, but it won’t even begin to satisfy.

Thursday, April 28

Mini Reviews: April 28th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Revita [BenStar] (Nindie Choice!) - To this point when I reflect on the best roguelike shooters I’ve played on Switch the tendency is to be reminded of long and satisfying runs that can easily hit the hour mark. While that can make for deep and satisfying play, it’s not always practical, especially when you’re playing on the go. Moving in a bit of a different direction, Revita at least makes some attempts to keep the average run at a more compact and practical time frame… in many ways giving it more of an “arcade-like” feel than many of its brethren. That, of course, is even if you can manage to get very far at all. With less time padding your run that means less opportunity to upgrade, and in full-tilt risk and reward mode Revita can be positively brutal on some runs when you decide to roll the dice and risk a serious chunk of your health in the hopes of something good and to have it then come up short. Such is the appeal and the curse of the roguelike mentality, but if you put in the time and build up your core skills for dodging fire and healing yourself, Revita will throw in some upgrades and equipment to help make it worth your investment. One word of advice, if you initially find some of the control scheme options to be a bit awkward (I did), be sure to remap them to something more comfortable and practical. Not every game allows for this, and I’m generally more pleased that the option is available to you than let down that it may feel necessary. If you’ve been looking for a challenge that fits more easily into breaks and downtime rather than demanding a more substantial time commitment, Revita should help you fill those gaps.

Rogue Lords [Cyanide] (Nindie Choice!) - Roguelike deckbuilding games have been quite the rage for the past few years, but not everything in the space strategy space has adhered to that hot trend. Going with a more traditional setup that feels like an RPG in many ways that’s been stripped of everything but turn-based combat, party management, and the ability to refine your crew, Rogue Lords has both a classic flavor and a bit of innovative spice that makes it dance on the gaming palate. First, there’s no question that the roster of team members you’ll work with, (though most need to be unlocked) is formidable and a bit of fun to begin with. Second, the game’s art style makes the most of this stylish and generally violent bunch, featuring some great animations in particular. Last, and most critically, it’s the ability to draw upon the powers of the Devil himself (or, in this case, I suppose it’s yourself) to skew battles and outcomes in your favor. Though the game is unquestionably quite challenging it is discovering how best to harness this power, in particular, that tends to make all the difference in you carving out successes for yourself. While perhaps the degree of difficulty may make it intimidating there’s no question that this is a well composed and pretty daring package well worth a look for any strategy fan.

My Brother Ate My Pudding! [Hap] - It seems that the portable gaming addicted little boy who battled his mother in the previous two My Mom Hid My Game titles has yet another vice, and it’s his sister’s forbidden (but oh so delicious) pudding. Unfortunately, she has discovered your dessert thieving and is now on the warpath. What’s a kid to do?!? Well, in this case every stage will present you with precisely that problem, demanding that you make the most of every situation to come up with a way to evade your sister and live to steal her pudding another day. Much like in the aforementioned previous titles these levels are all quite simple and compact, and typically the enjoyment lies in the simple weirdness of its many novel puzzles. While sometimes the solutions will be obvious there are plenty of periodic wild pitch stages where only some trial and error will get you through, though admittedly many of these more silly or elaborate solutions tend to at least be entertaining. All of that said, there’s getting to be little to set any of these titles apart, with not only the core concept but most of the art assets being reused as well. The result is still amusing, but without much ability to differentiate in any meaningful way from the previous games in the series it’s getting tougher to make a case for taking the plunge if you’re already familiar with the series.

The Serpent Rogue [Sengi Games] - This is one of those games that’s frustrating because while you can see what direction it wants to head in, and the experience it is trying to deliver, it can’t help but get in its own way more often than not. In particular, The Serpent Rogue does such a poor job of helping you get off to a decent start that I wonder how many people will simply give up on it before they’ve even gotten out of the starting blocks. With so many titles out there, and many people having backlogs waiting for them, to fail to respect gamers’ time and suck them in quickly and effectively is a critical error, and one I feel The Serpent Rogue is guilty of. Now, if you’re willing to take the time to find, research, and discover new alchemical creations that you will then need in order to power and support your journey it may work out. Just be warned that this world tends to be pretty difficult and cruel, and while some could try to label it somehow as “Souls-like” I’d put the problem more at the feet of the combat being implemented poorly than it possessing a skill-based challenge. There’s potential here, and the experience has an ambiance that feels unique, but it also feels quite unpolished and perhaps a bit incomplete. Hopefully the issues can be patched and it can get into a more player-friendly state.

Bit Orchard: Animal Valley [2Boone Games] - This is one of those games that, on paper, actually sounds quaint and ideal for more of a bite-sized farm sim experience. In practice though? Woof, it’s a slow grind with far too much time spent doing far too little. Starting out your orchard with a mere single apple tree and some pluck, your goal will be to slowly (and, unfortunately, I do mean SLOWLY) turn things around and get everything flourishing and back on track. My issue is that in terms of the scope of what you can accomplish and spend your time doing there’s less here than in many mobile games out there. Killing time while you wait for your seeds to flourish is agonizing since you’re working a mere postage stamp of a farm and once you water each spot and periodically cut down some weeds you’re pretty well left to sit there or call it a day and go to bed early just in the interests of trying to reduce the timesink of the pointless grind. This really doesn’t feel like a game that respects the time of its players, and I understand the goal is to stretch out what content you have to ensure a reasonable amount of total playtime but when the result is so much hollow tedium you’re inviting players to simply give up before they see any of it anyway.

Wednesday, April 27

Mini Reviews: April 27th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Zombie Army 4: Dead War [Rebellion] (Nindie Choice!) - The Sniper Elite series has been a pretty consistent source of stealthy Nazi body count accumulation on the Switch, and now that same base engine has been pointed a significantly more deadly version of that same classic threat… in the form of zombies! Now, in truth the majority of what’s here is just a reskin of the other series, but the fact is that it still works pretty damned well and plays very differently. More often than not the goal in Sniper Elite is to work on the periphery, carefully taking shots and then moving to another position to avoid detection, only getting more up-close and dirty when absolutely necessary. With waves of zombies, and with them often coming at you from all sides, the dynamics are very different and will require you to much more often cycle through your weapons and make use of them as efficiently as possible, making things like grenades and mines pretty vital when things start to get more crowded. I’d say my one objection is that I wish there were a better way to get to know the different weapons in each class before making a commitment on upgrades. While at the base many of them have similarities their enhancements tend to make their paths diverge quite a bit but without making an investment it’s hard to determine which may work best for you. That said, if you’ve been looking for a rock solid meeting place of survival horror and shooting this is one of your best (and only) options on the Switch.

Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles [Luminawesome Games Ltd] (Nindie Choice!) - Puzzle platformers on the Switch have taken on all sorts of appearances on the Switch, but nothing has been quite like Lumote. Working with pretty minimal direction, though thankfully not much is needed, you’ll flop your little blobby dude around with the objective to spread your vibrant colors to each stage’s exit, opening the way to the next challenge. How you do that can vary a little when it comes to specifics, but in general what you’re contending with is how to get to specific areas, how to activate spots, and how to use whatever tools you have available to you to accomplish this. It’s also important to look out for small collectables that can be pretty well hidden in crevices and can be tricky at times to grab if you want to get the most out of the challenge. Rather than being focused on a deep challenge the objective here seems to be on a very pleasant, moderately relaxing, and color-filled experience that will help you unwind between meatier endeavors. If you’re looking for something to simply enjoy, making you think just enough to be engaging, but not so much as to be taxing, this is a great option.

Roguebook [Abrakam SA] - While we’re to the point where there are quite a number of roguelike deckbuilders on the Switch, it’s nice to see that newcomers to the space like Roguebook have still tried to keep introducing new elements to the mix. With its overworld set up in a hex-based grid, with the majority of it hidden from you, careful and smart exploration play a definite role in your success… and as always a bit of luck can’t hurt either. Using a variety of types of inks you find along the way you’ll have the ability to reveal hidden parts of the map, with the hopes of finding currency or some other special tiles to help yourself out… though new opportunities for combat are often necessary to help battle harden your crew with new cards before trying to tackle the area boss. One definite complaint is with the current font choice and size that fail to be terribly legible if you prefer handheld play, my hope is that could be addressed with a patch, but given the text being tied in many cases to art on the cards themselves it may not be able to happen, or at least any time soon. Among its peers in the space it lands roughly in the middle overall, showing merit with some elements that change up the basic formula, but also falling short of distinguishing itself in a way that places it with its betters at the top.

Metal Tales: Overkill [Zerouno Games] - I’ll admit that the prospect of some heavy metal looks and sounds paired with intense twin-stick shooting sounded really appealing when I first saw news of this title. The shame of it is that if you remove that look, attitude, and style you’re simply left with a mediocre roguelike shooter that really doesn’t even crack into the mid-tier space among its contemporaries in the eShop. I actually spent a fair amount of time with it in the hopes that some awesomeness befitting its theme would take the stage and make an appearance, but no matter how much sound and fury it threw at me the experience came up like so much remixed elevator music. A great idea for a game that fails to deliver, sadly.

Rolling Car [SimpleSoft] - OK, so budget games… they’re meant to be relatively simple, cheap, and typically provide a more narrow version of fun for the price. In the case of Rolling Car it gets just about all of the above right, though the “fun” aspect may be the shortest in supply. The concept is pretty basic, you’ll try to move your big-wheeled car around a scrolling track with a limited footprint, grabbing screws and bolts and perhaps a star if you can swing it. The problem is, not much of this really matters since the controls would, at best, be considered “touchy” but then veer easily into maddening. A central problem is with small platforms that you need to jump onto and work with, matched with your vehicle’s seeming inability to stay still. You could decide it’s still worth taking for a spin, but you were warned.

Friday, April 22

PAX East 2022 Day 2 Impressions

Depths of Sanity [Bomb Shelter Games] - This is actually a game that I checked out at PAX 2 years ago, though obviously at that time it was in a much earlier state. On a general level the added time looks good on it, too. Best described as a submarine metroidvania, with you plumbing the dangers of the ocean depths, and facing a variety of challenges from both creatures and in the forms of obstacles you’ll need to figure out how to get past. I played it portably on a Switch unit, and one great thing to confirm is that the on-screen text and even your little sub pilot who can get out and explore out in the sea are both pretty easily visible even on the small screen. Looking like a pretty unique challenge Metroidvania fans should definitely keep an eye out for it.

Orbitals [Alleyway Games] - While 4-player close-quarters competitive shooters have been done in a variety of ways, Orbital stands out with a feel all its own. Given your ability to jump and then use localized gravity to pull yourself to a new surface, quick and smart traversal under fire is a critical component to gameplay. Multiple characters who each have unique weapons and talents, a number of maps that have their own specific challenges, and plenty of quick-moving and intense play are the order of the day here and there’s at least a fresh feel to it to help it stand out from its crowded segment on the eShop.

Power Chord [Big Blue Bubble] - While it doesn’t seem that long ago that roguelike deckbuilders were pretty fresh and new, in the wake of the success of Slay the Spire and some others the genre has gotten pretty crowded in a hurry. Jumping into the fray with a look, sound, and even a bit of a feel that’s just a bit different, the bombastic Power Chord is here to show that there are still a variety of ways to spice things up. Commanding your hand-picked team of bandmates who each have a role (and cards) to play in battle you’ll have to decide how you want to proceed as you acquire new cards, perhaps opting to keep a balance to things or even going all-in on one or two members in the hopes of surviving. The almost Borderlands-style art and rocking soundtrack give everything life, and what I was able to play gave the impression of the cards having plenty of nuance and variety for you to explore and look for your preferred style of play with.

TMNT: Shredder's Revenge [Tribute Games/DotEmu] - Of all the games at PAX I was most excited to check out, this was it, and judging by the crowds and the enthusiasm around the booth every time I walked by I was hardly alone. DotEmu has again partnered with a capable studio, this time in the form of the pixel-art masters at Tribute Games to do a remarkable job of 100% honoring the essential look and style of the arcade classic while adding critical details, plenty of new moves, and wonderfully tight controls. As you’d expect, playing with 4 people is absolutely bonkers, especially when everyone is on top of how best to utilize their special attacks and even synergy with teammates. As amazing as Streets of Rage 4 is, DotEmu has helped to bring yet another contender for the greatest beat-em-up of all time to the market. This can’t be released quickly enough!

Demon Throttle [Devolver Digital] - This is a game I walked into not knowing a thing about it, and after playing it I’ll admit my brain is still reeling a bit. With a very old-school 8-bit sort of look, you’ll control what appears to be a wizard and his vampiric female acquaintance, trying to shoot your way through stages full of hidden power-ups, secrets, and even some hidden stages to challenge yourself with. The dynamics of play are just plain bonkers, with a look that feels classic fantasy adventure but play mechanics that are absolutely old-school shooter. With it being so hard to put a finger on it may be targeting a more narrow audience but there’s no doubt that its unique style has some appeal nonetheless.

McPixel 3 [Devolver Digital] - After playing this demo I’m actually most upset that I’ve apparently not only missed out on McPixel all this time but had somehow never heard of it as well. Undeniably weird, with its very simple and yet comically-effective low-fi pixel art look at a glance you could choose to dismiss it. However, you’d be making a mistake to do so as you’d miss out on a laugh out loud experience that encourages experimentation, cartoonish violence, and often tackling problems in the most strange way you could possibly imagine. Reminding me a bit of absurdist and silly games like My Mom Hid My Game, I was consistently surprised and amused with both the situations and their many ridiculous outcomes. While not announced for Switch yet, it would obviously fit on the console completely, so I'm very much hoping this will be coming at some point.

Dice Legacy - Corrupted Fates DLC [Prime Matter] - While my issues with the Switch version of Dice Legacy and its serious control struggles were well-noted in my review, I would agree that the strategy game on a general level was still unique and posed a pretty serious challenge. Quick recap, in order to further throw chance into the mix your resources in the game are controlled by dice, which you're able to re-roll if they're not satisfactory to you, but doing so still provides no guarantee of outcome and a bad run of luck can be costly. The DLC really doubles down on this difficulty factor by adding a new faction and type of dice tied to cultists, the additional challenge being that these differently-colored dice can't be paired with your normal ones, raising the stakes of risks with something else to concern yourself with strategically. The DLC campaign is definitely geared for people hopping in steeped in how to play effectively, and if you don't quickly make investments in creating more resource dice to work with you'll end up failing pretty spectacularly, which I can confirm from experience. If you enjoyed the original, and find yourself yelling to the game "Yes sir, can I have another?" this DLC will likely be just what you're looking for.

Writer's Block [Tic Toc] - Ever since PopCap’s timeless Bookworm I’ve been a fan of smartly-designed word games. The thing is, after playing that classic I was sort of ruined for everything else as nothing since has captured that same brilliant blend of simplicity and smart design. I’m very pleased to say that I believe Writer’s Block has managed to pull that off. It appears that the critical missing element, which this game has discovered, is adding a bit of roguelike flair to the mix. In order to keep the emphasis away from merely looking for the longest words in your collection of letters, your battles will involve some of them being highlighted with a variety of properties, generally forcing you to deal with them in order to prevent yourself from taking damage. In addition you’ll have opportunities to take on special abilities that will reward you for using specific combinations of letters and other things to further spice things up and incentivize smart play. Casual word puzzler fans will want to keep a look out for this one, it’s a challenging and fresh take on a space that sorely needed it.

Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories [XSEED Games] - While there are many games that I’ve played for Switch that have the look of an old-school Gameboy title I can’t say to this point that there has been one that has given me flashbacks to actually playing them far too long ago. Melon Journey is a pretty simple and heavily dialogue-driven adventure that keeps things simple, low-pressure, and thoroughly pleasant. You’ll pretty quickly be thrown into a situation with some intrigue, and where you go and what you’ll need to do aren’t always clear. That makes for simply taking your time to explore, talk to people, and take things at your own pace and in your own way. While perhaps its pacing will feel slow for many modern gamers, more casual players or those desperate for a return to simpler times will likely embrace the game’s charming style.

Deadcraft [XSEED Games] - I recently reviewed the zombie survival game Dysmantle, which I found to be far more engaging and enjoyable than the typical genre fare. Too often (for me) feeling bogged down by repetition and focused on mundane tasks, that game’s focus on exploration while keeping elements like crafting intact felt refreshing. I was very pleased to find that Deadcraft takes a similar route, trying to retain many aspects of survival games but tamping down what I’d consider to be the more dull ones. Where it differs, and I didn’t find this to be an issue at all, is that its emphasis is far more focused on plenty of zombie-killing action. A look at the skill and crafting trees showed a variety of very different tantalizing melee options that should be gloriously violent indeed, and your ability to raise a small mob of zombies to accompany you and work as your personal muscle demonstrate that there should be a variety of options to help you survive in the post-Apocalyptic world. Definitely working forward to exploring more of this title and unleashing bloody ruin on anyone or anything that would get in my way. Oh, and try not to kill innocent civilians around town… they apparently take it very personally, I say this from experience.

Spiderheck [TinyBuild] - Here I thought I’d seen just about every take on local competitive multiplayer madness possible, but apparently the team behind Spiderheck decided to show how mistaken I was. Controlling your fast-scurrying arachnid around the stage you’ll arm yourself with all sorts of crazy weapons to try to slice, squish, or simply blow up everyone else before they manage to get you. The challenge is the fact that more often than not the weapons you’ll be working with are just as easily lethal to you as everyone else between their often explosive nature and massive recoil that can send you flying. What will save you is often your ability to throw a sticky web line that will allow you to pull yourself back down. Over the course of about 20 rounds against my competitors we were quickly thrown into a pretty wide variety of stages, each often with their own challenges, whether in the form of moving platforms, boxes that can be knocked over, and tricky layouts that increase your odds of you being your own worst enemy when using more lethal weapons. In the end the key is really the physics of it all, which will demand that you take a moment to consider what you’re about to do, perhaps saving yourself from yet another embarrassing self-own in front of your friends.

Justice Sucks [TinyBuild] - Who knew that a simple robotic vacuum sweeper could be such an effective (and even bloodily lethal) home protector. That’s the central hook to Justice Sucks, where you’ll control this cute little guy, working to dispatch a variety of intruders making clever use of many traps in the house or perhaps taking a more direct role of bludgeoning them to death with a variety of objects you can throw at them. Once each wave has completed you’ll then need to work quickly to try to eliminate any evidence of your bloody deeds, being sure to suck up and footprints, bloody messes, and those pesky corpses as well before your people discover what’s been going on. Undoubtedly cute, weird, and violently creative, the question will be how well this premise holds up as you continue to move forward, either keeping things feeling fresh and fun, or falling into predictable patterns and losing steam.

Rhythm Sprout [TinyBuild] - Only just recently announced, this action-oriented rhythm game has a very cute look but once you begin playing you’ll find that it can be quite tricky and demanding. The 4 stages I was able to check out got progressively more challenging, with the last cranking up the speed and difficulty pretty substantially. With all of the chaotic noise on the show floor it was a little tougher to keep up with some of the tricky combinations you’ll need to pull off, but at least keeping to only 3 buttons made it a bit more manageable. That said, the blue “notes” that will have you dodging enemy attacks can be a bit tricky to pull off when quickly paired with the normal ones. The core experience appears to be in place, and the few tracks I heard were perfectly matched to this sort of play, but it also feels like it still needs some more time to refine its controls (or at least allow the controls to be remapped) and add some polish before release.

Dome Keeper [Bippinbits] - Feeling a bit like a mix of tower defense concepts, digging for resources ala SteamWorld Dig and some others, and a heaping helping of roguelike difficulty, Dome Keeper isn’t quite like anything else out there… at least on Switch. Undoubtedly challenging, you’ll need to rely on a mix of dumb luck finding critical resources quickly, careful and likely balanced choices in the tech tree, and being quick to respond to any attacks on your dome base, it isn’t hard to see how every run will likely feel quite different. No matter what you’ll want to move quickly, as aliens are definitely coming, and if you aren’t prepared they’re going to bring your run to an end quickly.

Mini Reviews: April 22nd Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The Last Friend [Stonebot Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - Doing a fantastic job of mixing classic tower defense with satisfying beat-em-up action and plenty of furry friends that will allow you to play through stages whichever way you’d like, The Last Friend absolutely deserves some love to be heaped on it. First and foremost in my mind is the fact that it has managed to bolt together two genres that can both be fun but have a tendency to get repetitive on their own. Better yet, as you go depending on what you choose to upgrade and which pups you use for the battle levels, the game can begin to have very different feels that you can cater to your tastes. My tendency is to go a bit down the middle, favoring raw offensive might from gunner and water throwers then backed up by my smart but a little more cautious beat-em-up play but I could see a case being made for any number of other builds as well, ultimately making the gameplay feel pretty personal to the user in the process as they’re called upon to upgrade with a plan in mind. While perhaps the challenge trends more in the direction of easier from the middle ground I actually dig that since most strategy titles in the space tend to trend towards being tougher. The end result is a pretty family-friendly and smart hybrid of strategy and action that packs in plenty of adorable pups, keeps the challenges from your various foes coming in different forms that will sometimes require you to deviate from your tactical comfort zone, and is simply a lot of fun to experience in general.

Super Mega Zero [Silkworm] - There’s something to be said for indie games that, at a glance, may feel like they’re taking shortcuts, but ultimately prove they’re merely employing smart design that they’re able to execute effectively. As you may have guessed I’d consider Super Mega Zero to be in that class, utilizing a variety of numbers and mathematical symbols as characters, power-ups, and other elements that you’ll need to work with in order to clear some clever and increasingly-challenging platforming levels. While, at first, your character turning into various numbers you move over may seem odd or arbitrary but once you understand that then represents the number of moves you have to work with like your jump or your directed dash everything becomes pretty clear. While early on there’s some wiggle room for not making the most of every move you have to work with it doesn’t take long before every mistake will cost you, but thankfully the wait before you get to start again is pretty well non-existent so you won’t lose any of your energy or momentum waiting on load screens. What I consider to truly be the icing on the cake are the periodic old-school shooter interludes that show off a bit, showing an ability to create just as compelling an arcade shooter experience as a classic platforming on. Carrying a budget price this is a smart and well-designed title well worth taking a moment to consider as you look past its somewhat simplistic overall visual design.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed [Krome Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - It has been pretty wild to return to many of the classic Star Wars titles on the Switch, and consistent with their original outings the results for each have varied in both general quality and in continued playability. Among my favorites of the bunch from back in the day, the Force Unleashed titles were always a bit of Star Wars fantasy fulfillment, arming you with all of the power, and optionally few of the responsibilities for using them responsibly. While there’s a bit of a learning curve through the early tutorial that drags on a little too long, once you’re let off the chain the fun really does begin in earnest. What’s terrific here is that you have far more capabilities than you may even choose to take advantage of, and what that opens the door to is quite a bit of improvisation as you wreck everyone and everything in your way with gusto. While I wouldn’t say all aspects of combat, particularly in the “boss battles”, are the cleanest and most satisfying when compared to contemporary efforts it’s hard not to love just about everything else, simply going ham on entire squads and wrecking them all. I consider this one of the strongest classic Star Wars titles out there that has aged reasonably well if you look past the visuals to appreciate a good time to be had, especially if you’ve got a mean streak and some creativity in you.

Anuchard [stellarNull] - With a very solid retro pixel art look and a style of combat that is distinctive, though over time generally fails to keep from feeling a bit too limited, Anuchard is a mixed bag. You’ve played action adventures in this vein before, generally adhering at some level to the Zelda-esque formula, so if you’re truly a fan of that style, even though I wouldn’t say the experience felt notable or memorable, it’s still at least a good time. I think one struggle for me was with the story, which can be a great means of pulling an experience together and motivating you to keep things moving but in this case it just didn’t make a connection with me. In the end it all feels a bit on the generic side, and while there are undoubtedly worse games of this sort out on the eShop failing to make a big splash with consistently satisfying combat or an engrossing reason for the adventure relegates you to merely the middle of the pack.

Lila’s Sky Ark [Monolith of Minds] - With its cute pixel art, unusual characters, and sense of adventure I find Lila’s Sky Ark a bit of a challenge to describe. Equal parts trippy, charming, and sometimes throwing some challenges your way it just has a vibe to it that you’ll either really love or perhaps struggle to get in tune with. I will say that it felt like I was doing a fair amount of aimless wandering, so perhaps a bit more direction in places would have been appreciated, but I could see where others would find its pacing and style to be relaxing. For the most part the puzzles you need to work out are reasonably well-designed, though trial and error did seem to come into play more than I normally like when simply trying to understand what your obstacles are and how you’re supposed to deal with them. All in all I found it to be pretty thoroughly pleasant, and even enchanting with its calm feelings and music, but in terms of play I can’t say it’s particularly memorable either in an eShop bursting with other quirky adventures to embark on.

PAX East 2022 Day 1 Impressions

Dwerve [Half Human Games] - This was a good opener for the day, delivering a bit of what I love with indie games. Smart variations on things I already know and have enjoyed, but in this case also delivering some new challenges. With the look of an old-school pixel art action/adventure the straight-up Zelda-esque or turn-based combat is instead handled with a bit of a tower defense flair, with you needing to use your pretty limited gem resources to build different defenses or traps and then being careful to position everything (including yourself) in the best place to be able to draw your enemies into your trap. Refreshingly different, and certainly throwing you some challenges, this was a welcome change of pace from the norm, it’s especially nice to see tower defense games not just getting some love but being enhanced to become more than they’ve traditionally been known for.

Below the Stone [Strollart Studio / Apogee Entertainment] - Feeling like a bit of a spiritual mix of the mining in Stardew Valley and the varied biomes, crafting, and challenges of something like Terraria, Below the Stone is here to give you a roguelike take on the exploration and potential dangers of mining deep under the ground. While Undermine theoretically tackled the mining roguelike concept it was far more level constrained and bound to action, where this is all about hitting the mine, deciding what direction you want to move in, and then knocking through the ground in search of loot and likely some trouble as well. The ability to take it slow and be sure you’re properly equipped to proceed against the deeper realms or to throw caution to the wind and hope for a big payout if you can survive should help this appeal to be bit more of a broad audience.

Dead Fury [Apogee Entertainment] - Definitely on the earlier side, and really focused on only a portion of what its ambitions point to, Dead Fury was rough around the edges but you could see some potential in it. Particularly since there’s nothing that comes to mind already on the Switch that fills the space this is aiming at, it could grab some attention. With more time to flesh it out further there’ll be a wait and see though on how it can pan out.

Elements [Apogee Entertainment] - Another title that is definitely early still, this one has its sights set on trying to mimic many of the aspects people loved in Breath of the Wild. Now, that may be an ambitious target to tie yourself to, but while the game’s look is obviously quite a bit less refined you could see the essence of BotW in the game. Considering that I can’t say I’ve really seen anyone else tackle this sort of monumental effort to try to replicate elements of one of the best games ever made I’m at least intrigued to see how it turns out, though without that massive development team and the resources Nintendo had to throw at it where it lands on the relative scale could probably be just about anywhere.

No Place for Bravery [Ysbryd Games] - If you’re looking for a bit more of a high-stakes combat slasher that could be described as “Souls-like” (but in a good way since the controls are tight and that makes you responsible for your own fate), you may have a real interest in No Place for Bravery. With pretty impressive pixel art (the look, and even the movement, reminds me of the great Children of Morta) supplemented with great background art, and what looks like the foundation of a solid narrative to drive the experience, this shows a lot of potential to be great for people who enjoy both a challenge and a compelling story.

Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising [505 Games] - What will likely grab you is the game’s overall look, with attractive rendered backgrounds that sit behind the side-scrolling action. What will make you want to stay is the interesting mix of more RPG-esque characters and story with action-based combat in place of the traditional turn-based combat. Acquiring new party members will allow you to switch between them in combat, bringing each of their attack styles (and health bars) to bear as you try to strategically make your way through tougher enemies.

Rogue Spirit [505 Games] - I’ll admit that the moment I saw the trailer for this very dynamic roguelike action title my interest was piqued. Having now played the game, rapidly kicking ass and then possessing the bodies of my fallen foes in order to take on their powers, I’m here to tell anyone who’ll listen that this is a game to watch. The combat styles are nicely varied, the ability and sometimes necessity to change forms gives the game a unique feel, and while I couldn’t see the bigger picture for the game past the action I’m more than willing to extend some faith that it will make what already appears to be a solid title even more compelling.

Gori: Cuddly Carnage [Wired Entertainment] - With a look that appears to be deliberately a bit rough-around-the-edges it’s the hoverboarding and enemy slicing action in Gori that will keep you entertained. The mix of traversal elements, boost jumping and grinding your way on energy rails to get around, and pretty ridiculous (but somewhat cartoonish) violence against all manner of mutated unicorns and other creatures definitely give the game a feel that’s pretty unique. Throw in some attitude and it can be a weird good time, and it will be interesting to see where it goes past the scope of the demo.

KAO the Kangaroo [Limited Run Games] - Having already been more than sold on this throwback mascot platformer after playing the Steam Next Fest demo I was thrilled to have the chance to play yet another stage on the show floor. While many windows into the past for this genre aren’t always flattering the mix of smart platforming, plentitude of secrets to get sidetracked with, and plain fun thrill of knocking out your enemies should make this an excellent and very mainstream-friendly offering once it arrives on Switch.

Chants of Sennaar [Focus Entertainment] - - When I first saw this the visuals made me think of the classic mobile title Monument Valley, with very clean and well-defined lines as well as vibrant colors. The gameplay isn’t quite in that same vein, though ultimately puzzle-solving is at the core of the experience. What changes things up a bit is that you’ll be in a land unfamiliar to you, whose denizens use a language foreign to you and that you’ll try to decipher as you go based on the challenges you face and the help they appear to be trying to give you. It makes for an odd mix, and one that in the limited time and scope of the demo is tough to project on how it will hold up in a larger experience. Its look and feel do make it notable though, and it should please puzzle fans looking for something that simply feels different.

Dordogne [Focus Entertainment] - With its hand-painted art style I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous this game is right off the bat. Working as a sort of adventure, your character goes about her day collecting the sights, sounds, and even words that describe what she encounters. Then, at the day’s conclusion you’ll spend the time to record it in her journal, with the words being used to form a haiku you’ll take part in constructing and paired with your favorite picture and sounds you’ve captured to sum them up. A very relaxing title with an emphasis on personal expression that I can’t wait to see more of, though it sounds like that may not be until next year.

LEGO Bricktales [Thunderful] - Taking a very different course than previous LEGO titles, Bricktales is a physics-based builder where you’ll be given a task, an assortment of bricks that may or may not all be ideal for the task, and then work on constructing a solution to your problem. The best comparison is definitely with bridge construction games, but in this case the structures and even machines you’ll be tasked with making will be far more elaborate and sometimes complex. The challenge for some will be managing the interface for doing so since everything is three-dimensional, so you’ll need to carefully use your camera to see everything at the proper angle while you take your pieces one by one to make your masterpiece. Definitely an ideal game for budding or armchair engineers, this is an ambitious title that takes the virtual LEGO experience in a new and exciting direction.

Cursed to Golf [Thunderful] - This was a title that I knew I would likely love the moment I saw the trailer for it, and having played through the game’s tutorial and first hole its hold on me only managed to get stronger. At its core are old-school arcade golf mechanics, where you don’t have fine control over your shot or angle, only traditional moving gauges, forcing a nice and classic skill component on things. On top of that are the “courses” themselves, which are a bit of a maze of multi-level areas complete with hazards, and different elements like fans that can also be of critical help. Add to that random cards you’ll be able to use to your benefit in a variety of ways, and that can even be exploited if you’re smart, and bosses that you’ll encounter every handful of holes on your way to the elusive 18 and this is the roguelike sports hybrid you didn’t know you’ve been waiting for.

Paper Cut Mansion [Thunderful] - There’s no question that the “everything made of cardboard” aesthetic this game has makes it pretty unique, but its style of play is an unexpected mix as well. For the most part the feel is like an adventure, with you going room to room in order to discover puzzles, items you’ll need to solve them, and a number of coins as well. Where it veers off into an unexpected direction is when you understand that this is a roguelike and what you’re facing isn’t set in stone, but instead dynamic, and that you can face ghosts and other potentially lethal confrontations that can end your run. Different areas will also bring different play styles, shifting from old-school adventure to ones where you’ll be engaged in combat as well. It makes for an interesting package, and one that will be interesting to revisit when it is released to see how it all plays out.

Togges [Thunderful] - Working out as a pretty chill, and unusual, puzzle game, it took me a moment to warm up to Togges. Your objective is to essentially spread out your blocky critters out in order to stack them and try to get to small items or fruits that will be needed to help your critters take on new properties and gain access to new areas. It’s definitely one of those things you probably need to play to fully understand, but I found it to be quite a bit of fun once I got the hang of it. A very different, and worthwhile, for fans of puzzlers who are willing to take a chance on something new.

Wednesday, April 20

Mini Reviews: April 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch Edition]

Blast Brigade Vs. the Evil Legion of Dr. Cread [Allods Team Arcade] (Nindie Choice!) - When I typically think of Metroidvanias I’ve been conditioned a bit to the point that I assume the balance is usually more on the Castlevania influences in terms of style of play. I’m not sure why but slashing and/or more ground-based attacks just seem to be the norm, so it feels a bit refreshing to see titles geared more to Metroid-esque shooting instead. Blast Brigade, as I’ll call it here (I just don’t have the energy to type the rest of it again), just feels determined to stand alone as its own experience, and I can respect that. It’s characters and dialogue trend towards the silly, its limited upgrade system will make you carefully consider which ones you’ll enable for general exploration versus taking on bosses, and more often than not it feels like you’ll face your most formidable foes at a slight disadvantage, so be prepared to suck it up and tough it out as you get the specifics of their attack patterns down. This, of course, delivers some terrific highs when you manage to overcome some tough battles, but it may mean that this ride is a bit too tough if your gamer skills don’t get quite high enough on the skill chart. Thankfully for me it always felt like I was on the edge of potential success rather than getting completely blown out so it made it very compelling to return. About my only quasi complaint is that I had a hard time getting comfortable with my button layout, and opted to edit my setup rather than use either of the 2 provided options. The challenge was the need to accurately aim with the right stick while also needing to jump, making the default configuration problematic. Moving it to the left Z-trigger helped greatly but unfortunately I decided to do this after already getting used to the controls so it took some time to get used to again. Just wanted to share that as a thought, but overall this is a quality game that feels refreshingly unique in the Switch library.

Ganryu 2: Hakuma Kojiro [Storybird] (Nindie Choice!) - Among many classic games I was always drawn to in the arcades, Shinobi just seemed to scratch an itch for a certain sort of action and challenge. Tough but for the most part fair, the need for precision, avoiding hits to keep yourself powered up, and holding out to use your special attacks at the most opportune times were vital to longevity. While Ganryu doesn’t have quite the same feel and flow, for the most part encouraging you to take things a bit faster as an example, the reliance on precision, understanding your enemies and then how best to dispatch them is again a key. Your slash works wonders but has limited range, your thrown shuriken are effective for a variety of uses but also finite, and your running attacks are quite formidable if you know the level well enough to work through it quickly and efficiently. Throw in some tough bosses, a few stages that really change things up and pose very different challenges, and you’ve got yourself a game that feels delightfully old-school but with some modern speed and flair added into the mix to make for a satisfying and action-filled time.

Z-Warp [Panda Indie Studio] - Z-Warp is a decidedly old-school looking vertical shooter that packs a challenge and some real fun, but if you’re like me there’s also a warm-up period to it as you try to force yourself into its style of play. While many decades of conditioning have taught me that my bombs/specials are to be treated with respect and conserved, in Z-Warp you’re not only encouraged to, but as a function of surviving you’ll need to use them quickly, decisively, and often. Rather than a screen-clearing super-weapon it’s more of a utility at times, not just wiping out enemies but also great for grabbing tough-to-reach power-ups. You’ll need to hold onto it for at least a little while to get its damage radius big enough, and care should be taken when the more bullet hell style phases arrive since the blast will cancel bullets and that will absolutely save your ass. Granted, the package as a whole is a bit no-frills but there’s no need to apologize for something that’s easy on the wallet, delivers a solid and at times intense challenge, and simply has a flow and feel all its own to offer.

Lumberhill [2BIGO Studio] - While local co-op games have been around in various forms in the past it really seems like Overcooked signaled the turn from them being merely out there to taking more of a turn towards mainstream popularity. Since then many games have tried variations on that same general base theme to varying success, but it still feels like the simplest shorthand for describing their play is in terms of the Overcooked experience as you ideally try to coordinate and tackle individual tasks in the name of efficiency. Taking this concept more in the direction of the great outdoors, Lumberhill will have you (and perhaps up to 3 of your friends) tackling farm or ranch hand sorts of tasks whether collecting lumber, herding some sheep, or a number of other similar activities. There are some tricks to effectiveness, like trying to corral animals rather than picking them up, but for the most part everything is simple enough to get the hang of. The thing is, there just doesn’t seem to be enough depth here to provide a rich experience, it all feels more surface level. While there’s certainly some fun to be had as locations and the creatures you interact with get more exotic and/or outlandish but the core play never really feels elevated, making it merely a decent game, and not really worthy of sitting in a higher teer of quality with a number of its contemporaries.

Car Mechanic Simulator Pocket Edition 2 [Red Dot Games] - While I’ll freely admit that to this point I’ve struggled to find positive things to say about the majority of these mechanic simulators in the past there’s just something about Pocket Edition 2 that feels like it hit a new low for me. Having always had a bit of a learning curve for how to navigate through the various screens simply required to isolate and work on a task, it isn’t unreasonable to expect there to be some form of tutorial that will help you get your feet wet. Well, this has one but it provides next to zero direction, and certainly none that was valuable. In order to take my car to the test track I had to change the oil, and who knew it would be such a challenge to work out how to get at it. Opened the hood, looked around where I expected it to be and it didn’t highlight, put it on the lift and got the same, moved over the drain in the event that was needed but wasn’t, removed the filter and a few other pieces… nada. I finally clicked on the “suspension” and then was able to see more parts I hadn’t been able to before, including the infamous cap for filling the oil. OK, so I then took my initial car to the test track and completed that… so ready to go. Back to my now empty garage… and now I don’t know what to do. Can’t leave to go anywhere (which may be a bug with the buttons since when I tried to go somewhere it wanted me to buy some equipment for some random reason), can’t look online for buying a junker… and at that point my patience wore thin. At best these titles have tended to be extremely repetitive and tedious but when so little care has been put into ensuring people new (or even old) to the games are able to get started it makes it impossible to recommend in any fashion.

Friday, April 15

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

Toodee and Topdee [dietzribi] (Nindie Choice!) - What I love about indie games is their ability to make sometimes relatively small tweaks on or hybrids of well-known game styles to make something new and compelling. If I’m being honest, among puzzle games I’ve grown the most jaded about tend to be box pushers, on a general level I just feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see with them. In comes Toodee and Topdee to shatter that illusion, at least partially. What makes the game special is that its two characters (which you can control solo or pair up with a friend locally for help) are each on a different plane, with one carrying the load of pulling off some solid precision platforming challenges along the way, and the other working from more of a top-down perspective, pushing crates into place for their companion to use as platforms. Ah, but the challenge is that in order to cross gaps you’ll also need to use one of your precious crates up, and in general that’s where the challenge of the game lies. Inventive, challenging, and demanding but not to the point of being unfair, this is a smart and well-implemented puzzle platformer that breaks from the pack with a good idea and runs with it.

Tormented Souls [Dual Effect] (Nindie Choice!) - In general I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit frustrated by games from the indie space on Switch who describe themselves as having horror elements. More often than not leaning into a creepy atmosphere and perhaps some jump scares to prop up what’s otherwise a lackluster experience, it’s actually made me a bit cynical when new ones show up. I’m happy to say that Tormented Souls has broken that streak, delivering a pretty wild ride full of “WTF is that?” horrors and nasty surprises that bring back memories of the OG Resident Evil games. Now, I will say that going with that style can be both a blessing and a curse, as the game’s use of fixed camera angles leads to old frustrations at times that I don’t miss, but I’ll admit that method also leads to more cinematic moments in places that do help heighten the tension like when being pursued by some unholy abomination that you can see hot on your heels. I’m at least truly thankful that the dreaded tank controls have been avoided, lending at least one very bright spot for me as I always found that style to be maddening. Though your modern expectations will need to make some concessions since the game’s style is decidedly old-school, Tormented Souls is a refreshing survival horror title that finally feels like it delivers what it has promised and serves as a reminder of why some of the classics it honors made such a splash back in the day.

Sockventure [Versus Evil] - While the emphasis in platformers in the past generation, especially when they’ve been 2D, has more often than not been on difficulty it’s nice to see a game like Sockventure throw itself into the ring. While I’m not saying that there’s a complete lack of challenges to be had in it, for the most part you are able to pick your battles in the game and that means that less experienced players are much more likely to have some successes, gain some confidence, and simply enjoy themselves more with this than a typical outing in the genre. There’s no doubt it has a sort of odd style to it, with you periodically finding new socks to wear and look silly in. I wouldn’t say that the stages are necessarily easy but on a general level they do tend to be fair, in part by never seeming to run on too long and more often than not the challenge comes from having the proper plan to succeed rather than it always coming down to quick fingers or crazy luck. If you’re a somewhat less skilled platforming fan or have been looking for something reasonably accessible for your kids Sockventure has a great and polished modern (though simple) look and demands a level of skill more in line with classic 2D platformers from older generations. Even the more hard core set should find it enjoyable since there are many optional challenges that crank up the difficulty a bit, but on the whole this should be a platformer just about anyone could have reasonable success with.

RUN: The World In-Between [Team Run] - If you’re a fan of challenging platformers this generation has been a particularly good one thanks to games coming from the indie space. Whether the revered challenges of Celeste or the likes of more brutal fare like Super Meat Boy the Switch has plenty of solid options. That said, I’m not sure there’s anything to date that feels quite like RUN, and while its design choices may not satisfy everyone it makes for a nice change of pace within the space. The most critical distinction between RUN and its peers is the length of the stages and the general pacing. While not all of its competitors have terribly lengthy stages to survive, they’re all generally quite a bit longer than what you’ll face in RUN. The advantage here is that it’s very easy to pick up and then put down again, knocking out a few stages while you’re on a short break, and also reducing some of the frustrations that hit when you’ve cleared a particularly troublesome spot and then subsequently die before you can get to the end. Helping to make these short-but-sweet stages from being too easy, the other trick up its sleeve is that each level is dynamically generated, though it’s more a matter of mixing and matching a collection of pre-made sections than reinventing the wheel each time. This balance of keeping things quick but never really letting you essentially practice your way to success repeatedly gives it a different sort of feel and while it may lack in the deeper satisfaction that can come from its peers it’s still worth a look for platforming fans.

Robo Wars [Simplicity Games] - Hoo boy, there are some games that come to Switch that obviously have mobile roots in their design and make you question why they’ve come to a dedicated gaming platform, at least without having made some revisions to their gameplay to up the ante. As you may have guessed, Robo Wars is one of those titles I’d put in those crosshairs as whether you play it solo or against someone there’s really very little here to call compelling play, mainly because the experience has been watered down to the point of making everything dull. You’ll be pitted in an arena against another bot and by maneuvering around, using your jetpack carefully, trying to grab power-ups when they’re available, and trying to shoot in their direction enough you can succeed. I say “in their direction” because the most bizarre element of the control here is that you’re unable to aim, you’ll be relying on the computer auto-aiming at your enemy for you, completely nullifying much strategy or skill since you’re unable to lead your target, unable to shoot hazards near where they’re about to land as a for instance, and the result is just two robots jumping around and not doing a great job of hitting each other. Worse, a crate system and multiple forms of currency being used with a choice of timed unlocks or “paying now” with your in-game gold destroys any illusion that this isn’t intended to be a mobile game, all coming together to render this as a poor option on Switch.

Thursday, April 14

Mini Reviews: April 14th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Nobody Saves the World [DrinkBox Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - One of the things I love most about indie games is their tendency to bring surprises to the table of some kind. DrinkBox Studios has consistently delivered a rock-solid mix of colorful, sometimes silly, and often unique elements of gameplay to the table but with Nobody Saves the World they’ve truly outdone themselves to make something special. Mixing their trademark quirky style with an extensive and brilliantly-executed class system, tons of quests that sometimes require dexterous skill but just as often just need smart planning by using the right class of character with the right perks, and simply an avalanche of content in its substantial world it’s hard to find a fault of much substance here. Did I mention that it’s also a blast to play with a friend, whether locally or even online? Though, I would say it’s possible co-op may make it too easy with a pair of experienced players since you’ll blow through the class and skill unlocks at double the speed and it’s those unlocked skills that can make you truly formidable in battle. Oh, and I would also be remiss not to mention that the game’s later dungeons will require some real thought on how to create a Swiss Army Knife of a build that can address the multiple types of damage types you’ll need to do in order to survive. At the end of the day there’s no specific system or aspect of the game that defines what makes it special though, it’s the way it has all come together in one thoroughly-engaging package to make it, hands down, one of my favorite games on the system.

Defend the Rook [Goblinz Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to tactical strategy the Switch has been blessed with both some variety in takes, ranging from more long-form RPG-oriented fare to much quicker pick-up-and-play roguelike challenges. Coming in somewhere in between those is Defend the Rook, which takes an approach that blends tower defense concepts with more active turn-based strategy to do things a bit differently, then throwing in roguelike unpredictability into the mix as you choose upgrades as you go in each run to try to maximize your chances of success. One of the early challenges is just understanding the rules of the road and what to expect with how most effectively to place your towers, getting the hang of getting the most out of your warriors and their abilities, and then being sure to either hold back enough might, or do a good enough job of keeping your units well-healed, to be ready for the coming of the boss at the end of each scenario. Success brings the opportunity to unlock new units, enhancements for those you have, and then opportunities to remix your team in different ways to try to construct a truly fearsome force. The result feels pretty fresh and rewarding, not claiming the throne of being the toughest amongst its peers in the space, but offering plenty of variety the longer you stick with it and unlock what it has to offer.

Cat Cafe Manager [Roost Games] (Nindie Choice!) - When it comes to things like business sims there’s a tendency, once you’ve played enough, for them to feel a bit indistinct from one another. Going beyond simply creating a sim that includes taking care of some cats, thankfully Cat Cafe Manager distinguishes itself in a variety of ways from its competition while also cranking up the cute with plenty of feline varieties and some townsfolk of different types who can have some fun personalities. While getting started felt a little rough, not really sure how best to try to construct my basic cafe, it didn’t take long to get into the groove of things, understanding that for every type of customer you’ll need to potentially have different things to serve, but they’ll each use their own distinct currency, each of which you’ll need at different points in order to focus on keeping yourself stocked, expanding, buying new equipment, etc. In addition, you’ll need to make some tough choices on what area of “research” you’d like to pursue, and I’d definitely recommend getting the job board so you can hire a little help to reduce the limited pressure you have when you’re trying to serve everyone solo. My one complaint tied to that is that at times it was hard to interact with people I was standing right next to, trying to approach them in different ways, etc, until it finally worked. That’s where added staff really helps, I then didn’t need to sweat that detail. The great thing here is that it doesn’t feel like there’s a set path to success to take, you’re really free to experiment and in general it doesn’t seem like there’s a crushing disappointment ahead when you make mistakes, progress may just be slowed. All in all Cat Cafe Manager’s pretty distinct mix of some routine tasks, planning, discovery, and quite a few furballs made for a charming and even somewhat relaxing time.

Taito Milestones [Taito Corporation] - Talk about a collection of classic arcade titles that go from excellent to “What game is that?” While I very much appreciate what I’d consider to be classics like Elevator Action, Qix, The NinjaWarriors, and Front Line in this collection, more than half of the games included border on the obscure (as in, some I can’t even recall ever having seen in an arcade, let alone played), and while it piqued my curiosity to check some of them out for a few quarters worth of play more often than not I wasn’t inclined to return to them. Whether obvious clones of other more popular (and usually better) titles from other developers, what feel like earlier formulations of Taito classics that weren’t really ready for prime time, or outright inexplicable omissions (Where TF is Zoo Keeper), too many games in this collection left me with more questions than excitement. In addition the lack of extra love and care put into providing additional media and materials surrounding the game and its promotion and release as we’ve seen in other compilations of this sort makes it all feel a bit bare bones. If you really love some of these classics they are emulated and play just fine, but it’s hard to consider this a success.

Bush Hockey League [V7 Entertainment Inc] - While I haven’t really played any hockey games in probably at least 20 years, back in the day I had a great time with some classics including the old-school EA Sports NHL series and going back even further to the terrific Blades of Steel. At first glance, Bush Hockey League captures a bit of that spirit while throwing in some humor that I can appreciate as some of the towns that have teams are in my neck of the woods in the boonies. You’re playing on some rundown small venue teams, and if you choose to play the Story Mode you’ll be pretty well starting from scratch where your goal in any given game early on isn’t even to win, just to meet a variety of objectives that will help you gain opportunities to shape your squad up in specific areas. What I found odd is that neither the simplified retro controls nor the more advanced ones felt very good to me, I was stuck wishing there was something down the middle. The retro controls were simply too stripped down and left you missing a load of capabilities, but the advanced and generally very stick-based controls I couldn’t quite get the hang of to be effective. Then throw in the fact that your team’s movements off the puck can be baffling at times, that the goalies seem streaky both good and bad in odd ways, and that honestly the games “feel” too long in general and it’s kind of a bummer. The pieces are mostly there in some form, it just doesn’t quite seem to come together in a way that helps it be memorable.

Wednesday, April 13

Mini Reviews: April 13th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga [TT Games] (AAA Choice!) - Having always been a big fan of the LEGO series, mainly because they’ve always made for terrific experiences to share with my more gaming-challenged wife, there’s always a crackle of excitement in the air when a new one is around the corner. The fact that it was clear this iteration was not only going to be exhaustively large (you have no idea), but would also be packed with refinements in gameplay, most critically with breaking characters down into defined classes, improved combo-focused brawling, and the terrific ability to pull out and get your shooting game on and it felt like the relatively long wait for it would all be worth it. For the most part, it really does deliver on that promise… and there’s no doubt that Skywalker Saga demonstrates a far more clear commitment to advancing the series than we’ve seen in many years.

For all of the positives, though, I would point out that for my more casually-skilled wife there was an adjustment period where she wasn’t very happy. Where the movement and general control to this point has been very newbie-friendly, with the camera movement being pretty well automatic and adjusting in the direction you faced, this new version has finally latched onto the style pioneered by the likes of Mario 64 in the day, with the camera being explicitly controlled by you with the right stick. Not having ever really joined the modern-day 3D platforming crowd even though my wife has improved, on the whole I’d say for her the frustration in learning this new scheme makes it more of a wash. For me, who has been thirsting for the series being more gamer-focused I’m all about it. Not all of the new ideas necessarily work well, the vagaries of the challenges and following rumors across the galaxy can be aggravating, and if anything the density of secrets in larger areas goes a bit too far, practically cluttering your screen if you unlock the collectible hints perk fully. Oh, and the sadly trademark tendency to periodically crash, lock, freeze, or wonk out in a variety of ways is still there… though perhaps not as prevalent as it has been in the past.

Regardless of its shortcomings in some specific areas there’s no denying that this is the most impressive and ambitious LEGO title to date, covering an obscene amount of narrative ground, absolutely dripping with content and secrets, and pretty well hitting every fan service target you could possibly imagine along the way. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll probably yell at the screen a bit… but whether you tackle it solo or, better yet, with a co-op companion you’ll more often than not thoroughly enjoy a game showing a whole lot of love for the source material and the series fans.

Kombinera [Graphite Lab] (Nindie Choice!) - There’s nothing like a relaxing puzzle game to take a break from the stresses of more action-based and intense games… but if you’re looking for that sort of experience Kombinera likely isn’t going to make you happy since it generally works in the opposite direction. Yes, it’s a relatively simple game in terms of the control mechanics and premise, trying to combine your little balls together after navigating them through some platforming and avoiding traps and threats. Adding in that combining some balls will impart critical things like invulnerability to some threats and there are times when you need to step back and take a moment to really work out the flow of events necessary for success. The thing is, very quickly you’ll find there’s definitely a mean streak to the level designs, especially if you’re tempted to go for the stretch goal pieces on the screens, providing you with an all-or-nothing challenge since any mistake will start the admittedly pretty short stages over again, at least minimizing the pain of failure. I will say that to me the controls can be a bit twitchy and the proximity of peril to your path to victory then a bit too narrow, sometimes swinging a bit too far in the direction of being unfair for cruelty’s sake, especially for the stretch challenges. Certainly what degree of stress and challenge you’re looking for will drive whether this sounds like a hit for you. This title illustrates the fact that overall simplicity in design doesn’t diminish to make for a teeth-gnashing tough time.

Calm Colors [Naptime Games] - While a great deal of my time playing games on the Switch has been focused on action, excitement, and general craziness of some kind I’ve come to appreciate the games in its library that go in precisely the opposite direction. Calm Colors, befitting its name, is a slow ride on a lazy river of pleasant puzzle solving. Working with what are roughly shards of a low-poly figure of some kind you’ll progressively piece together increasingly large and complex models. The further you go these puzzles will get to the point where you’ll really need to zoom in and out to deal with much larger pieces but then some that get downright tiny as well, and simply won’t be clearly discernible without getting in close. The fact that they’re numbered is very helpful at times, but of course you could always choose to ignore them if you were afraid that would neuter the challenge. That being said, as the puzzles get more elaborate even using the numbers there’s generally no concern with whether or not it can be tough enough. Throw in some pleasant music that thankfully is on an at least slightly longer loop than the average and puzzle fans can play something that’s not quite like its peer on the system outside of maybe the Glass Masquerade titles, making this a refreshing choice for casuals who love their Switch, whether using it docked or portably.

Boreal Tenebrae [Snot Bubbles Productions] - This is one of those games that’s a struggle to review because it shines brightly in some areas but then struggles mightily in others. Add to that the fact that it’s a pretty budget-friendly title and you have a plus, but then that it’s ultimately not a very long one and that positive is countered. Being a bit bewildered and unsure what is going on or what I was doing was a common feeling, and while the overall creepy vibes of the environment and going on seem to compliment that feeling well I’m not so sure it applied well when thinking of the design of the gameplay. Given the confusion, trial and error and methodically trying things rather than having them be intuitive popped in a few times, as did wondering where I was supposed to be going or why I kept seeing something I wanted to go towards but didn’t. The thing is, once you’d hook back up with the oddball assortment of characters and advancing the story you’ll generally be willing to forgive and forget once more… at least until you hit the next obstacle. A very stylish and cool time if you’re willing to dig in and roll with the punches, but if you’re impatient there are weird and deep stories elsewhere that aren’t as aggravating to move through.

Mokoko X [NAISU] - Alright, so the action gameplay type where you carefully try to reveal the majority of a closed space while avoiding various enemies goes waaay back to the likes of Qix in the arcade… but there are many who are aware of the style from less wholesome fare like Gals Panic and others over the years. Mokoko X is a bit of an oddity in my mind, keeping in mind the very different paths this style has seen over the years between benign and more risque. What’s a bit odd is that it carves out a sort of middle ground, featuring young women you’ll reveal in a variety of poses but sort of stopping there and certainly not reaching the point some of its brethren have over the years. The result is honestly odd, still too creepy for arcade purists who just enjoy the style of play but too restrained for the crowd who is out for the “content”. If it sounds like a match for you, great, but its up-the-middle approach doesn’t seem to be an effective strategy in my eyes.

Friday, April 8

Mini Reviews: April 8th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Disco Elysium [ZA/UM] (Nindie Choice!) (Nindie Choice!) - While I’ve played indie games with a pretty wide variety of styles and levels of quality since the launch of the Switch I can’t say any of them has defied easy explanation as much as Disco Elysium for me. When I’d heard it described (almost always with highly flattering platitudes) by others I’d envisioned it as more of an elaborate and odd RPG, but while it has some of that genre’s DNA I think that expectation is really misleading. In my mind it’s much more like a traditional point-and-click adventure in format and style but that then has an extremely deep, rich, and honestly a bit perplexing character definition and leveling system. Doing away with more traditional stats, classes, and even descriptions, the closest comparison I can come up with for how you put together your character would be the Fallout titles, at least in terms of how it burrows down into very specific traits that then can exhibit themselves in unexpected ways in the game. Then, getting to the experience of it all this feels like the most elaborately conceived and written interactive novel ever. The amount of reading you’ll have to do here can honestly almost be exhausting at times and you’ll want to unlearn the classic adventure habit of exploring every conversation tree or you’ll be drowning in very well-written and descriptive prose that can be positively fixated on the smallest minutia depending on your traits and what you’ve got going on in your head. None of this is really to complain, simply to put out the expectation that this is a very different sort of game that, depending on your patience and desire for exciting things to happen, could be engrossing and fascinating or maddeningly slow. [This is now available physically at and at retailers around the globe for $39.99]

The House of the Dead: Remake [MegaPixel Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - Ah, the classic arcade light gun genre, remembered fondly for how bonkers it could be and a bit less positively for how quickly it could drain your supply of quarters. Certainly one of the most well-known and iconic series that hit a bit later in the genre’s heyday, The House of the Dead stood out by being intense, bloody, and thoroughly bonkers at times. For the most part that has all translated to the home experience, and though you lose the tactile experience holding the arcade blasters the controls here (there is a gyro aiming option but I think it’s more trouble than it’s worth) aiming with your joystick is quite accurate and quick, you’ll just need to keep moving and reloading because the action never lets up for long. The ability to play co-op, adjust the level of difficulty, and blow through either the original campaign or an even more intense horde mode also help to provide about as much longevity as you could hope for with this sort of offering. If you’re down for blowing away some zombies it definitely delivers, just expect to be using up those continues.

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter [Frogwares] - The world’s greatest detective (or, at least the most well-known overall) is back on the Switch for another dose of sleuthing, and that’s generally a good thing. Much like the previous entry in the series, The Devil’s Daughter manages to be compelling for armchair detectives who can be patient and wade through some issues with the controls and progression that aren’t always ideal… but certainly remain workable. I suppose in the interests of giving the game a bit of added flavor some pursuit sequences and what amounts to mini games have been added to the formula and I would imagine the reactions to this development would split down the middle. They are a nice distraction, even if either too simplistic or drawn out in some cases, but because of the inconsistent quality I can’t say they’re a net positive addition for the overall experience. However, if you enjoy cracking the case and following the clues to construct an accurate picture of what nefarious deeds have been done this will still probably satisfy.

Chinatown Detective Agency [General Interactive Co] - Having had our share of classically-styled adventures on the Switch that have veered more in the direction of classic LucasArts games with their sense of humor, it’s always nice to hit one that takes things a bit more seriously. Set a decade from now, the world of CDA is both familiar and a little different, and you’ll be taking a bit of a Carmen Sandiego-esque journey following the clues wherever they may take you, focusing on some smaller cases before pulling back to see a bigger-picture threat looming. On a general level the puzzle-solving is pretty straight-forward and perhaps while not always revolutionary it feels consistent and can be satisfying. My one big complaint would be dealing with the library computer, trying to reference a phrase given as a clue to track down its origin. This lead to a very aggravating flash to the “bad old days” where I simply couldn’t figure out what magical version of keywords or fragments was programmed to work, and simply looked it up on my phone finally. This really shattered the illusion of the experience as any modern search engine, let alone one in the future, would easily handle almost anything I’d use to at least provide some results, even if I’d have to hunt for the one I want. Just was baffled by how this got through the process into a final game that way. On the whole though, it’s not a bad jaunt for the price for genre fans who want something a little less silly in their adventuring.

Happy’s Humble Burger Farm [Scythe Dev Team] - When it comes to weird games I have a tendency to give them some latitude to take a big swing in hopes that they’ll connect. I get that this is a game meant to be in an old-school funky and chunky style, and that it’s supposed to be a bit wonky, and that if I’m patient all of the creepy and scary things will happen. The thing is, being honest, I struggle with these sorts of experiences because to me it all reads as poor excuses for padding out play time in order to deliver an idea, a few scares, etc. Moving around an empty “city” to get to work and then to get back home is terrible. The washed out and effects-laden look makes it hard to make out details at times. The exercise of using the controls to assemble orders for customers is excruciatingly painful and slow. Truthfully, this is one of those games that is great for watching other people play it while they complain, yelp as they get scared, or make funny comments as they try to figure out what the hell is going on. To play yourself though? It’s a whole lot of dull squeeze for painfully little juice.