Wednesday, June 29

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

Capcom Fighting Collection [Capcom] (AAA Choice!) - Considering the fact that I originally bought my SNES expressly to play Street Fighter II at home against my friends (yeah, Super Mario World and the like were games I’d “get to”), Capcom’s fighters over the years have consumed a fair amount of my time and robbed me of a fortune in quarters. With that in mind it was a delight to crack open this collection of games I know well, some I know more peripherally, and a few that were just an utter surprise.

Starting with the better-known stuff, if you’re a fan of the Darkstalkers franchise, by god this game absolutely has you covered, with literally every incarnation of it, including two releases that were only seen in Japan. Add to that the truly deep and impressive Hyper Street Fighter II Anniversary Edition, which essentially lets you dial up any fighter from any version of that classic and rock out with them, and you’re starting to feel the party. Now throw the pretty damned odd but awesome puzzler Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo and you’ve even got some nice diversity building up to make it a more complete collection.

Diving then into the surprises, at least for me, and it’s more of a mixed bag. Probably my least favorite of the bunch is Cyberbots, which attempted to go for more of a Rock Em Sock Em Robots style fighter, where you’ll jump into a variety of mechs to duke it out. It could absolutely be worse, but with so many other great fighting options in the collection it doesn’t really connect. Going with an amusing look and style there’s also the somewhat odd play of Super Gem Fighter: Mini Mix, which will have you collecting gems which will enable different abilities you can use to attack your opponent. It takes some getting used to, for sure, but it’s cute and catchy in a surprisingly-compelling way with its very left field approach. Then, finally, there’s the very unusual and unique Red Earth, which still has very fighting-oriented mechanics but blends that with a more RPG-like story, collecting pick-ups, building experience, and more of a challenging boss rush format. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a pretty fascinating look at an attempt to pivot and create something new… something I can at least admire.

When you take all of this and then wrap it up into one pretty consistently-presented package, complete with all sorts of game art, promo materials, and original soundtracks, it makes a noble attempt to absolutely give you your money’s worth. While ultimately how long and how consistently people remain engaged with the game’s online play will always be a fair question, the pretty rudimentary but very playable remote play is a welcome option… but I’d say that’s more icing on the cake than a critical feature. If you’re a tried and true fighting fan it’s hard to find any substantial faults with this surprisingly diverse and well-composed package, and it easily qualifies for “must-buy” status.



Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! [No Gravity Games] (Nindie Choice!) - While I may be prone to complaining when titles put me to sleep with their droning stories and dry lore, when the quality of writing is top-notch I’m completely there for it. Whatever misgivings you could have with the “game” side of its implementation, the rich and challenging choose-your-own-adventure style storytelling absolutely shines and makes it a standout on the system. Be prepared to make some pretty awful decisions and doom your adventure more than once, it’s a staple of this style, but when the prose is so imaginatively worded it’s hard to really complain and instead just try to grit it out in the hopes you can turn things around. The game’s combat, which is pretty essential to at least get reasonably skilled at, takes some getting used to and is passable but also forgettable… but aside from disappointments in how it can throw a wrench in your adventure it does at least add a little more “active” flavor to the mix and helps break things up a bit. If you’re a fan of narrative high adventure, and don’t mind regularly needing to regroup and tackle making better decisions on your next run, this is absolutely one of the top games in this style to enjoy on the system.


Pocky & Rocky Reshrined [NATSUME ATARI Inc] - Coming to the Reshrined experience without any dog in the fight, Pocky & Rocky is an SNES classic I’ve heard quite a bit about but haven’t experienced for myself. Keeping that in mind, I have no nostalgia for it and its very different take on a top-down run-n-gun variety shooter. My first impression is simply that its style is quite different than usual, with an emphasis not only on shooting your enemies, but then also learning to get down the timing of deflecting their bullets. Given that there’s no instruction to help out novices and, weirdly, the game’s Easy mode must be unlocked with in-game currency (making for one of the most baffling game unlocks ever), expect a rough start if you’re new to the franchise. That said, once you get into the swing of things it does give everything a different feel than the usual which is refreshing. The fact that from stage to stage you’ll play as different characters, which then changes up the style of play a little as well, also adds to the game’s charm and keeps you from getting too comfortable. Absolutely a unique experience, it’s probably most ideal for fans with nostalgia for its more classic incarnation but if you can be patient and like a new sort of challenge it also makes a pretty good case for giving it a shot.

Hot tip: you can get the game in a boxed edition as well at: https://gamesrocket.com/us/Pocky-Rocky-Reshrined/



REDO! [Robson Paiva] - This is one of those titles I struggle with, where despite what may ultimately be its merits it gets off to an extremely rocky start. Without any general starting guidance, how the controls work, no map of any kind, and almost no clue what you’re supposed to be doing… you just start meandering around. You’ll run into some types of obstacles you’ll be able to clear but others you can’t, encounter enemies that can pretty quickly be lethal that you’re meant to combat with pretty meager abilities (and with a numeric stat system that still doesn’t make much sense to me), and try to carefully save to minimize your losses as you try to find something to actually reward your time adventuring… but for me there’s just no clear hook since there’s not even enough established story to compel you to press on. I have no doubt there’ll be people who don’t mind the investment to begin reaping even some minor reward but the game’s design, focused so heavily on stick and almost no carrot at all, I found to be hard to get past when there’s so much out there to play.


Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition [Night Dive Studios] - Whenever I see re-releases of games with a descriptor like “Enhanced Edition” I tend to be a bit nervous about what that may mean. In the case of Blade Runner, I feel like that concern is particularly warranted. Hailing from a much earlier time of pretty bad CGI video and very rough visuals in general, there’s no doubt that the game’s looks weren’t given any of the attention, and initially I found it tough to dial back my expectations that far. Worse than the general muddy nature of the game’s “as-is” visuals, though, are some poorly-handled transitions and generalized hiccups that feel like they could have been smoothed over in the conversion. If you’re able to get past the obstacle of the dated experience, a pretty bare bones classic adventure-style game set in the sci-fi world of “the future” (we’re now well past the projected future date it takes place in) awaits and in this area the game really struggles to make a compelling case for being brought back from the dead as many areas have very little to interact with and this makes for a more dry, linear, and generally dull experience. If you have fond memories of those bygone days the nostalgia may be enough to make it worth your time, but otherwise you’d be better off looking elsewhere.


Thursday, June 23

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

Wreckfest [Bugbear] (Nindie Choice!) - Oh man, where do I begin to properly convey my total love for this title? First and foremost I’ll start with the game’s performance and controls, which are absolutely spot-on perfect and show no signs of compromises. In particular turning simply feels great, with the game clearly distinguishing its surfaces as you move between asphalt and dirt, each clearly handling in their own unique ways. Then there’s simply the joy of vehicular carnage, trading paint, lining up to t-bone some poor sap, and kicking things into reverse when your front-end has taken too much damage in the Demolition Derby. It’s so much more than that though, offering up races from the traditional oval to turn-filled hilly courses to the bonkers fun of Figure 8 racing. It also won’t just be competing with your garage of cars that have various builds, there’s even some fun silliness with the likes of lawnmower, couch, combine, schoolbus (and more!) challenges to add a bit more fun to the mix. Playing solo locally you’ll have plenty of circuits to work your way through with a generous number of skill settings to tune the degree of challenge up and down. Online you can try to meet up with like-minded down-and-dirty racing fans to extend the fun. As an added bonus you can continue to play through the Tournament mode that offers up seasonal, weekly, and multiple daily challenges to keep the fun alive! For me, this is the racing experience I’ve been waiting for on Switch (though I’d still love to see FlatOut make an appearance as well), delivering something with well-implemented controls that celebrates the rougher and less nuanced side of races I grew up catching at the local speedway.


ElecHead [NamaTakahashi] (Nindie Choice!) - It’s always cool to see a new and inventive take on a puzzle platformer, and ElecHead certainly accomplishes that goal with a sense of minimalist style. Your little robot has the ability to charge any surface he touches, and in the dungeon-esque areas you’ll be exploring that can lead to any number of results. Whether it’s elevators, moving platforms, lasers that will zap you, and more, the challenge is in understanding the chain of events that sometimes need to occur for you to proceed. Not far into the game you’ll gain the ability to throw your head, which will by itself activate electrical things, and for the most part it’s those simple base abilities that will drive the experience forward. Now, be warned, you’ll always need to be mindful of every visual detail and inconsistency in what you see, as there are many times where the way to progress isn’t immediately apparent. Carefully going back, experimenting with ideas, and being mindful of everything you’ve learned along the way is often the key to success… or perhaps just hitting up a hint page somewhere to give you the nudge you need. Though relatively brief in its runtime there's no question it is absolutely unique, smartly crafted, and a nice bit of inventive fun on the Switch.


Blackguards 2 [Daedalic Entertainment] - I’ll admit that the opening cinematic for this game immediately started me out on a bad foot, as [trigger warning for pet lovers] for whatever reason a kitten is cruelly thrown to its death… and for the life of me I can’t even understand what that has to do with anything at all. As I said, not a great start. Perhaps appropriately, the ‘tutorial’-eque early going also got off to a slow start that made the game’s tactical style feel a bit weird, linear, and generic all at once as you try to get your main character out of a dungeon. Ultimately, once you get rolling, you’ll manage a party of various classes that you’ll manage and engage in battle, making the game feel like it’s trying to straddle being an RPG in one case, and a tactical strategy title in another. Given the result, I think I would have preferred either taking the lead, as the quality of the combat never really shines and neither does the game’s story, though there’s certainly plenty of content to play through and character attributes to manage for people who dig it.


Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX [Dejima] - I hate titles where I feel so torn about their uniqueness and promise crashing up against the reality of their implementation, at least for launch. In principle, this is a fresh take on a platforming shooter, where you’re playing a young woman who has apparently followed in the footsteps of her deceased father to protect the people and property of her city from a series of decidedly unusual fires. You’ll jump into action with your hose, using your water as both the means to deal with fires and enemies, as well as for propelling you across fiery gaps or up to higher levels. Mechanically it doesn’t take much to get into the swing of things, and overall it can be satisfying when everything works. That said, there are just issues that make it feel less polished than it should. Inexplicable stutters are entirely too common, I’ve had it lock or crash a few times, and the difficulty of keeping moving and clearing missions just seems to vary pretty wildly. Certainly limitations to the breadth of activity are present, though new scenarios and adversaries do come into play, along with a bit of an odd plot that unfolds. The shame is I love the idea, and when everything clicks it can be fun, but it struggles just enough often enough that it makes it a tough one to recommend, at least without a really good patch or two.


Why Pizza? [Marginal act] - While I try not to be negative about games I’ve been given to review, when someone lobs a slow pitch over the plate you have to crack it out of the park. With that in mind my simplified editorial comment on the game would be they could have just left the word Pizza out of the title and it would have fit the experience perfectly. This is an odd and generally very simplistic platformer where the challenges don’t come from smart level design but instead from your characters weird over-sized head which can sometimes be used to do things like catch ledges for whatever reason and you stumbling around, trying to either find hidden spots or simply the exit in order to keep things moving and get to the end. It does not feel like a game made to be enjoyed, but instead to simply be endured.


Wednesday, June 22

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

TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge [Tribute Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Having played the game already at PAX East this year where I was blown away, this review was a bit of a foregone conclusion before I got more time to put it through the paces on my own. Simultaneously a love letter to the beloved arcade beat-em-up and a pretty major overhaul in terms of both the visuals and the depth of the moves and controls, Tribute Games has really outdone themselves with this retro update. If you’re looking for one of the best games to break out with some friends when they come over, you need look no further. Supporting up to 6(!) players at once there’s no doubt that co-op is absolutely the best way to play this game, without question, and if you don’t have anyone over locally you can pick up some assistance from folks online with connections generally being smooth and easy to pick up (though since I’m not positive this is cross-platform, for how long may not be easy to know). If you’re just looking to play solo, you can do that as well, whether with the more quest-like Story mode where you can find various hidden characters, challenges, and goodies to add to the fun, or just hitting the game old-school with Arcade mode. There’s no doubt that this absolutely belongs at the very top of the beat-em-up pile, probably even being the best overall in class for co-op play. For the overall I’d still give the edge to Streets of Rage 4, but it’s certainly a close call depending on the feel you’re looking for, they’re both fantastic representations of the genre.


Neon White [Angel Matrix] (Nindie Choice!) - Right out of the gate, the highest compliment I can pay Neon White is how quickly its tight controls and smart design can make stages that initially look utterly impossible become satisfyingly complete. I won’t even try to explain the story which involves a group of angels enlisting the aid of lost souls to slay demons with the hopes of gaining (temporary) access to a much happier afterlife… just suffice it to say that it’s a bit odd. That said, the game is really all about speed, tight execution, precise shooting, and optimizing your path. The game’s unique card system is central to it all working so well, and while at first it can take a few beats to get used to, once you’re in tune with it there’s no question that it’s a great idea that’s very well implemented. Each card has an attack associated with a weapon of some kind, though you’ll need to be careful not to take too many stray shots since their use is limited. Where the craziness typically kicks in is with the discard power each has though, which will provide you the means to launch yourself in various ways to get yourself through each stage. Speedrunners should love the opportunity to match their times against the world, but even just trying to knock out your friend’s best time can be fun. If you’re really looking for a challenge though, you’ll want to locate and figure out how to grab gifts that are hidden on each level since they’ll allow you to both advance the story with other characters and unlock hidden side quest stages that REALLY amp up the difficulty, typically by altering the normal formula in some way while asking you to get through what often feel like insanely-hard level designs. The thing is, with persistence and some patience it’s all possible due to the game’s impeccable controls and performance. Even if you’re not a challenge hound this is absolutely a fantastic game well worth a look.


Horgihugh and Friends [PIXEL Games & Entertainment] - Ah, retro-styled arcade shooters. It’s a joy to have such an embarrassment of riches on the Switch, but it no doubt makes the task of cracking into the upper echelon of them on the system a challenge. Horgihugh, for me, is a bit of a mystery wrapped in a conundrum. Visually it’s very bright and cute, but in terms of play it’s decidedly more in the hard core direction. I don’t mind tough shooters, but it’s the feeling of how it gets there that I have some qualms with, a few of which seem unnecessarily cheap. The first is that your “free” power-ups are dropped off to you in what feels like an enormously inconsistent way. It feels like the positioning of your courier is meant to somehow be relative to your position but in execution it can be maddening watching them get flung into spots that you either can’t get to or that are covered in a flurry of enemy fire. Add to that how you’re incredibly fragile, exploding on any hit and losing whatever you have, and it feels a bit too stacked against you, but in a more aggravating manner. That leaves me a bit uncertain what to make of it, finding it hard but not in a high-concept (see Ikaruga) or high-intensity (see most any crazy bullet hell title) way, so conquering it doesn’t carry as much of a sense of accomplishment. It’s by no means terrible, and it certainly has appeal on a few levels, but some key design and balancing choices just leave me feeling cold on it.


Autonauts [Denki] - As someone who enjoys creative sim games as well as programming (I’d hope I enjoy it, it’s how I spend my days) in theory Autonauts would be a home run for me. I absolutely love its charming look and cute characters, and I do appreciate what really feels like an earnest attempt to make programming concepts accessible through immediate “real world” application and a pretty basic core interface. Where the problems really cripple the experience though is in trying to wrestle with the controls, in particular with simply managing to contextually keep up with the user interface. The shame is that I have no doubt that on a PC with a mouse and keyboard you’d likely be in pretty good shape, and it could even be intuitive. With a controller though? Ugh. In particular needing to constantly shift between the D-Pad and the left joystick moving into and then back out of other modes, for me sucked the life out of the experience as I’d get sort of “stuck” without being able to tell what was going wrong or what to do since visually there weren’t any clear cues helping me out. If you have the patience, this serves as a pretty light and fun mix of a survival sim combined with some automation, just be warned that it’s no an ideal experience on Switch.


Oxide Room 104 [Wildsphere] - Oh, horror games on the Switch, how you can be so frustrating at times. With Oxide Room 104 there’s good news and bad news. The good news (perhaps great news, considering how often games in this space have been very constrained when it comes to any actual violence and grossness) is that if you’re looking for something that delivers some gnarly violence and genuine WTF moments, this game has you covered. The less great news is that, admittedly consistent with many of its peers, the mechanical gameplay of it all is pretty generic and consists of you simply needing to check every object, nook, and cranny of every room you go into in order to find what you need to proceed. Sure, this isn’t so unusual to find in pretty much any adventure, but being in a first-person perspective and using a pretty sensitive pointer to aim at anything you want to activate can be more tedious and aggravating than it should need to be. All said, the experience isn’t terribly long (very dependent on where and how many times you may get yourself stuck) but if you’re feeling the need for something a little more ghastly as we move into summer, with Halloween so far away, it may be just what you need to get that vibe going early this year.


Friday, June 17

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

The Big Con: Grift of the Year Edition [Mighty Yell] (Nindie Choice!) - Maybe it’s the 80s kid and 90s twenty-something in me, but I’ll admit that when a game features a slice of life from my own heyday, made clear by your character working in their mom’s video rental store, it can quickly get my attention. With your mom backed into the wall by a mafioso lon shark you decide it’s time to hit the pavement to gather up enough money to save the day… the only issue is that it’s going to take a boatload of cash to do so. With no simple solutions in mind, when you run into a slippery fellow in town, a new plan is hatched… to hit the road with him and get the cash through less savory, but undoubtedly effective, means. What follows is a mix of road trip fun, weird characters, and generally upbeat and fun classic adventure play. Sure, you’ll be periodically going around and picking pockets (via a pretty simple mini game, though the more you’re trying to grab the tougher it gets), but for the most part otherwise you’ll spend your time talking to people, resolving issues, and exploring every nook and cranny at every stop you make to look for your means to success. Clocking in a very reasonable handful of hours of playtime it’s a very colorful, generally light-hearted, and undoubtedly odd adventure that’s worth a look.


Barn Finders [MD GAMES] (Nindie Choice!) - It’s always a pleasant surprise when a game that looks and feels in line with titles you’ve struggled to enjoy in the past breaks through by delivering the goods in some way, and that’s the best way to sum up how I feel about Barn Finders. First-person repair sims, walking sims, and mundane activity sims just have never cut it for me, getting too monotonous or hyper-focused on minutia for me to find any joy in them. The first move I think works with Barn Finders is that it dabbles a little bit in all of these sorts of areas but generally tries not to linger in them too long. You’ll find things that need to be cleaned and some that need to be repaired, but you won’t burn much time on those duties. To be certain you’ll be doing a fair amount of walking around different environments in search of hidden treasures, but there’s just enough variety in the places you’ll visit, and the puzzles you’ll need to work out when you get there, that it comes together pretty nicely in that area as well. Oh, and I forgot to mention the best part, the game is just freaking oddball and at times inappropriate, serving up aliens, bodily functions, MIB-style G-Men, and all sorts of plain oddities you’ll gather to resell to people after trying to haggle the price up. By no means is it rocket science, and saying the controls can at times be wonky is absolutely a valid complaint, but for the very first time I felt it important to note that this sort of game has managed to chip through my wall of cynicism (well, and actual negative experiences) to prove there can be flavors of these oddball sorts of sims out there that even I could appreciate as worthwhile for a diversion.


Taqoban [Ratalaika Games] - Ah, the classic box pushing puzzler, a flavor I’ve become quite familiar with over the years but, and not always for good reasons. The good news in the case of Taqoban is that it appears to be determined to add a bit more to the mix than average, combining in a few other aspects like the ability to shift parts of the stage around as well as a number of elements that can have varying effects you’ll need to take into account. It will certainly give you pause at times and make you think, perhaps experimenting a little bit as well. About my only major complaint about it is that it appears to require you to get all stars on each stage in a group before the next one is made available, or at least it doesn’t indicate how many you need to move on. Getting a “perfect run“ in some cases can be a bit of a pain, especially since the controls can feel a little loose with some interactions, and there’s no room for error if you want/need to ace them all. That said, if you like the intellectual challenge, and don’t mind perhaps needing to work a little harder to move on, it may not be a big deal.


Spacewing War [Pneuma Games] - While there are plenty of retro arcade shooters out there, many of them quite good even, I’ll at least give Spacewing War credit for going in a direction that sort of sidesteps the competition by going full-on Gameboy with its look and feel. As a proud OG Gameboy owner back in the day I was actually reminded more than once of how many games looked and felt on the system by little touches in terms of the visuals and how things played out. There’s pretty limited screen real estate to work with, and sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s a barrier and what isn’t as you try to navigate through some tighter spaces, but for the most part it works and the built-in ability to shift between a few shooting styles to match your current needs really helps the game feel nicely tuned. It’s not terribly diverse in what it offers and its deep cut retro style may not appeal to everyone, but it’s a great option for retro shooter fans to pick up in order to give their collections some real variety.


Cloud Gardens [Noio] - This is one of those titles where it’s a bit of a struggle to know how to feel about it. Less intended to be a formal game, but instead a sort of interactive toy or simulation, its focus is on a sort of emergent art when nature overgrows our material world. You’ll place seeds as well as various objects and watch as vegetation overtakes those things you’ve laid down, budding to create new seeds and so on. It’s pretty Zen and can be relaxing but, oddly, what I didn’t like was that I couldn’t get to a consistent understanding of its underlying “rules”, and would repeatedly get close to the score I needed to complete a level before everything would fall apart… without really understanding why. I understand the intent is to sit back and relax as you take in the beauty, but when frustration arises because the game’s mechanics aren’t more clear it sort of hits a wall in its own intended design.


Wednesday, June 15

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

Ampersat [Gaterooze, Ink] - I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for any game that describes itself, even in part, as a twin-stick roguelike, but being very aware of how accomplished the competition in the space is on Switch it can also make me tough to impress. To its credit, Ampersat simply has its own feel, harkening back a bit to the earlier days of simpler dungeon crawling, hacking, and slashing so retro gamers will likely feel very much at home. For more modern players the very simplistic look, with all game characters being various glyphs/symbols that each represent a unique sort of creature, may be a tougher sell though. True to its retro-rooted presentation as well, the exploration through its over 50 stages/dungeons is simple but generally pleasurable, peppered with secret spots to help encourage you to search every nook and cranny if you’re so inclined. Doing so will typically yield a better chance at finding more premium gear, which may somewhat quickly feel a bit overpowered, but not everything out there needs to kick your ass either. Considering its budget price it actually features quite a fair amount of content per dollar, so if you don’t mind its back-to-the-basics approach it has something pretty unique to offer.


Freshly Frosted [The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild] - At first glance, Freshly Frosted actually gave me a start since I was worried it would be some sort of factory automation and optimization sim… and was then so pleased when it was clear that it is merely a smart mostly casual puzzler. I wouldn’t say it necessarily breaks much new ground, as there are other variations on the formula of needing to carefully create either a single or multiple routes around themselves and/or each other in order to assemble the proper tasty glazed treats. The thing is, I don’t recall any of them being as effective at feeling just challenging enough without pushing too far and too fast, making its pacing encouraging and rewarding at the same time… at least in my experience. Be ready to spend some time staring carefully at the screen and perhaps experimenting a bit as you work out exactly how to snake your production line expertly through your increasingly challenging and limited space, but if you’re a fan of well-made puzzlers it should be a sweet treat of a title.


The Hand of Merlin [Room C Games] - Feeling like a mix of the spirit of a very narratively-driven table top experience and some tactical turn-based combat, The Hand of Merlin will likely have some appeal for the proper crowd since that’s a bit of a unique combination on the system. Really its story spinning feels like the best part of the game, though if you’re someone who just wants to get on with the action that may instead give you pause. I think my main concern, and what holds it back, is the battlefield view, controls (to a lesser degree) and flow of the game’s tactical combat. There are actually quite a number of titles in this space at this point, and having played many of them I could feel a quality gap between this title and many of its peers. In particular it’s the overall viewing angle and art style that just didn’t have quite the level of clarity and polish of its competitors, and giving your commands through the interface generally felt just a bit more cumbersome as well. That said, if you’re a fan of prose-driven adventuring it may have enough charm to be worth a look.


Mr. Prepper [Ultimate Games] - Survival games are always a bit of a mixed bag for me, sometimes getting too hyper-focused on the mundane act of staying alive, other times simply too brutally tough to easily enjoy. In the case of Mr. Prepper you’d be excused if, at first glance, you’d think it plays a bit like Fallout Shelter, that was certainly what crossed my mind, but the good news and bad news is that it’s a completely different animal. You play as a survivalist with some issues with “the man” who is trying to do whatever it takes to get the hell out of his creepy Suburban hellscape populated with bland neighbors and distrustful law enforcement who are perpetually trying to catch your subversive ass. To a degree, if the game could run with this sort of theme and match it with some decent gameplay, perhaps it would have been a success… but sadly there’s no getting around the fact that the controls are clumsy if I’m being generous and really make even simple actions miserable. As if the normal time constraints in a day weren’t enough, the need to try to cover up and hide anything that the po-po may deem subversive pretty much turns into a fustercluck of frustration every time as you struggle to find and remedy everything before they get impatient at your doorstep. Perhaps on a PC it would be more accessible but if you’re playing this on a console with a controller there’s not nearly enough sweet juice coming from the considerable squeeze.


Square Keeper [KanakStudio] - Simplicity in games can certainly be a good thing, especially when you’re coming off of a bigger and likely a bit more exhausting title that has consumed your interest. I think Square Keeper takes it a bit too far though, and with its limited use of the Switch’s screen paired with its overly simplistic strategy play, I found it hard to get satisfaction when clearing its levels. The main hook is that your goal is always to escape a small grid-based room that is often filled with enemies, traps, and/or obstacles that you must deal with using your limited number of action cards. Whether movement, an attack, or what have you, each card also has a number associated with it that you’ll need to pay close attention to. If you overshoot, you die. If you don’t land precisely on the exit when your moves are through you die. The thing is, once you understand this the puzzles aren’t always terribly challenging, for me they almost felt like they could fall into patterns, and it always felt more to me like an exercise or chore to get to the next level more than a reward. If, however, you’re looking for a bare bones puzzler that’ll make you think a bit it will deliver that much.


Friday, June 10

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

Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords [Aspyr] - This is one of those cases where I’m a bit conflicted on how to score a release since on the one hand the actual game is generally excellent (though certainly now feeling dated) but the port is obviously a bit unstable (a few crashes) and buggy in spots. This RPG and its predecessor are widely considered to be among the best in class for both Star Wars games and the genre but if it has been quite a long time since you’ve played them there’s no question that there’s a bit of a shock returning to a game world that’s feeling it’s age, not just visually but with how plodding and methodical it can be at times. If you’re not already familiar just be warned that this is in no way a remaster, it is merely a port of a great title from an earlier era so set your expectations accordingly before taking the plunge. That said, there’s no question that if you’re a big Star Wars fan the game’s characters and lore hailing from a very different and distinct age in its history can be fascinating. Would definitely recommend playing the original first in order to see the full picture, but as long as you can be patient with some creakiness and serious graying at the temples this provides a solid (though, at the moment, a bit buggy) experience.


Delivery from the Pain [indienova] - It’s been an interesting year if you’re a fan of post-Apocalyptic zombie survival games, as now we’ve seen three very different approaches to the genre so hopefully at least one of them will make a connection for folks. Delivery from the Pain is the least action-oriented of the bunch and probably the most in-tune with classic survival play, with an emphasis on careful time management (you don’t want to be in the open after dark), research, crafting, and making sometimes tough choices as you explore. That said, there is an action component that stays much simpler than its Switch brethren but at least still provides some nice tension as you try to sneak up on zombies to kill them quickly, using cover and being careful about making too much noise to maintain stealth whenever possible. The result is a far more paced experience where in general you’ll need to be patient as you slowly expand your area of comfortable operation, continue to seek key materials to help towards crafting breakthroughs, and simply take care not to push too far too fast at the risk of it all falling apart. It’s not a perfect experience but it does have a unique feel that I don’t doubt survival and even general zombie game fans should appreciate.


Metal Max Xeno Reborn [Kadokawa] - I know that whenever I’ve contemplated survival in the desolate wastes of a post-Apocalyptic world I’ve thought, “You know what would be really handy right now, a frickin’ tank!” If you’ve ever had the same thought, good news, because that’s precisely how this game rolls! The thing is, how well it all works is a bit of a tougher call. You’ll rove around killing giant bugs, sand sharks, metal monstrosities and other surprises, encounter a cute pup to help make the world a little better, work on upgrading your hardware to make it even more intimidating, and be compelled to explore areas on foot in order to find various hidden goodies. It has its charm, but it also feels like it plays everything quite safe and simple, which can make it feel a bit dull as you go on. Its combat is a little too action-oriented to really be strategically interesting, but it isn’t action-y enough that it gets exciting. There’s no doubt that it’s unique and has some appeal precisely for that reason, but that said it lacks the ambition to really make the most of its premise, so it isn’t the home run it could have been.


My Lovely Wife [GameChanger Studio] - Talk about a game driven by its unusual story, characters, and art style. While the title may sound more innocent and endearing, once you understand that your goal will be to enlist the aid of summoned succubi in order to collect the energy needed to bring back your dead wife you’ll either get fully engaged or decide to tune things out. Certainly the weirdness of it all, and seeing where things go is the appeal, in terms of gameplay it’s much more of a pretty traditional (and even a bit dull) time management sim where you’re spending most of your time trying to decide where to invest your resources and time to meet your goals more quickly and effectively. It’s undoubtedly a niche title but it seems to know its desired audience, and I’m sure if you have a more morbid streak you’ll likely have some fun with it.


Pro Gymnast Simulator [RedDeerGames] - Ah, weirdo physics games. Undoubtedly an acquired taste, they do have their moments of laughter and some challenges to offer but it’s one of those subgenres where you really need to be invested in the gag for it to have staying power. In that regard going with something more practical and real-world like gymnastics can cut both ways. It helps that your customized athlete is placed in more ridiculous environments all the time, but there’s a grounded nature to most of what you’re doing, really focusing on trying to do things like coordinate the use of your limbs to increase or decrease momentum that helps it stand apart. That said, by not embracing the more ridiculous like many of its ilk it isn’t as capable of continually pivoting and keeping you more actively entertained with craziness, which is normally helpful (or even vital) to keep you coming back for more to see what’s next. Still, it accomplishes what it set out to do and can have its moments.


Wednesday, June 8

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

TEN [Ratalaika Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Ah, challenging games… they’re a love them or hate them affair depending on how much you like having a compulsion to launch your controller across the room. While Ten doesn’t have the sort of depth and polish of more notable (or is that notorious?) titles in the space, for a very budget-friendly price it delivers plenty to gnash your teeth at and yell about with a presentation that may be simple but conveys the action perfectly. Whether simply trying to dodge projectiles, avoid sawblades from both above and below, or grab a bunch of timebombs before they’re able to explode, the stage setups on a general level are quite simple but effective in keeping you working hard to survive. Of course it wouldn’t be as fun if the game didn’t additionally dangle something to try to grab and collect along the way, so often inconveniently-placed coins are also peppered about to give the completionist in you fits and challenge your nerve to risk everything to grab them. Now, one area where I do think things are perhaps a bit unfair is how many stages can often be strung together before essentially hitting your next “safe” point to return to when you inevitably lose all of your lives, but outside of that for the price it’s hard to find too many faults for the challenge hounds keeping an eye on the budget out there.


Pinku Kult: Hex Mortis [Valorware] - Sometimes one of the most effective ways to break out from the pack with a tried and true formula like turn-based RPG action is simply to break out some weirdness and Pinku Kult does just that. Tapping into some urban Japanese mythology, a distinctive villain, and a unique art style at least helps to generate a little interest in what’s going on, even if the mechanics behind it all are still very traditional and lack any real flair of their own. If you’re the type who can get sucked in by a story involving some mystery and weirdness you’ll be far more likely to be down for the ride, but if you’re looking for some fresh gameplay or excitement you’ll definitely want to look elsewhere.


Moonrise Fall [Made From Strings] - This is one of those games that left me feeling a bit bewildered in terms of how I felt and what to say about it. I can appreciate a “less is more” approach when it is handled well, never knowing where things are headed and hopefully being able to enjoy the disorientation of everything as a part of the overall experience. Here, though, more often than not the lack of clear direction, and plain funky game mechanics that didn’t always make much sense, had a tendency to be an irritation rather than a benefit. Perhaps my overall situation with time makes me too impatient, but I’m really not a fan of games that feel like they’re wasting the hours I have without giving me enough incentive and a vision of a payoff to make it worth my while. If you’re the type who doesn’t mind taking things more slowly and has a bit more patience, Moonrise Fall may work for you, but for me it just left me feeling that the experience was simply sloppier than it should have been.


Samurai Riot [Wako Factory] - While earlier on the Switch struggled to get its beat-em-up groove on, the past few years have at least been kind to the system, though genre fans would likely argue more would always be better. Given some of the higher-profile combatants in the arena this more modest budget brawler may not make a big splash, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its place. I do wish there were more up-front instructions to help you get the most out of your moves and the controls earlier on, instead I found that I just had to keep experimenting and making mental notes of what I was pulling off, but I suppose it’s all pretty easy to put together with a little time and determination. Certainly old-school genre issues like a lack of much enemy variety and the tendency to simply stick to what works rather than being compelled to push yourself are there but if you’ve blown through everything out there for a reasonable price this deals up some workable action.


Surface Rush [DrimTiGames] - Ah, mobile game conversions, gotta love em… or not. Probably more appropriately played with a touchscreen (though certainly workable with a controller), Surface Rush keeps things light and simple for the most part. You’ll determine the direction and force you want to use to propel yourself forward, and the goal is to collect stars and coins without running into anything that will be lethal. The addition of gates, directional arrows, and other complications that continue to be added the further you go along keep it all from looking far too much the same, but throughout this remains pretty accessible any-age fun. Now, whether it’s worth even its budget price on the Switch eShop instead of on your phone or tablet (I’ll note that it isn’t free their either, making it a bit more fair) which would still work great and likely be more practically portable could be another question.


Friday, June 3

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

Card Shark [Nerial] (Nindie Choice!) - Bless the indie developers who are determined to take ideas that may sound a bit crazy in concept and run with them, revealing potential new avenues of play to enjoy! Card Shark is just such a game. In principle it’s a game revolving around gambling and cards, but how you play works in a completely different direction than you’d expect for the most part. In terms of play, the best thing to describe it as is a memory game, oddly enough. Learning numerous tricks and techniques as you try to stay a few steps ahead of suspicious aristocrats, this is a game where you’ll need every ounce of intense focus and concentration to quickly assess and understand the hand or hands on the table and then properly convey that information to your accomplice, ensuring underhanded victory. While at first this may not seem to be too taxing, the further you move along the more demanding it becomes, always raising the stakes and effort higher, giving you that thrill of being on both the edge of wild success and utter failure. It absolutely won’t be a guaranteed success for everyone, but if you’re thirsting for something that dares to be different it’s absolutely worth your time to check out!


Behind the Frame [Silver Lining Studio] (Nindie Choice!) - While I love blasting off faces and racing to the finish line, there’s absolutely something to be said for slowing down and taking in the beauty of the world. Behind the Frame absolutely encourages that mentality, focusing on a mix of the routine, observing and appreciating the world around you, and solving some rather simple but often quite wonderful puzzles as you go. Creativity exhibits itself a few different ways, and given its more mobile-esque roots there’s no surprise that it’s tendency is towards touchscreen-friendly play, though that translates just fine to a controller as well if you want to play it on a big screen. There’s no doubt that it was over quicker than I would have liked, clocking in only at a scant few hours, but there’s also no question that it’s a wonderful ride while you’re on it.


Lamplight City [Grundislav Games] (Nindie Choice!) - As a fan of both classic adventure titles and games with a unique sense of time and place, Lamplight City is an easy layup for me in some regards. That said, it also makes some choices I could see people going either way with. If what you’re seeking places the emphasis on more traditional point-and-click adventure play, the approach the developers took probably won’t have as much appeal, as it tends to be more straightforward with its approach though what puzzles it does have can be satisfying. If instead what you’re looking for are some engrossing characters and cases that will suck you in and sometimes force you to make tough choices, some of which will lead down quite different paths and to different outcomes, then it’s quite a bit more interesting. While it doesn’t necessarily add greatly to the overall experience I’m a bit fascinated by the effort taken to have somewhat dynamic lighting appear on the pixel art characters, consistent with the title’s name. Mix that with ongoing connection to your former partner and trying to work out the mystery surrounding his demise and it all comes together to provide an appreciated sense of depth. If you don’t mind the less “gamey” focus here, and enjoy the process of working through a case, this game’s approach has some appeal.


TOKOYO: The Tower of Perpetuity [Commentout] - As long-time readers will well know, I’m a fan of novel ideas. The big sell for Tokoyo is that every day the challenge you (and everyone else playing it) will face will be different and new, as the tower you must try to conquer is in flux. You’ll need to choose your character, each having slightly different means of attack and movement, and simply see how far you can go… and as the day goes on you’ll continue to see more and more graves of the fallen along the way who have succumbed to its challenges. It can certainly get tricky, with the primary focus being on precise platforming. You build energy to then perform your attack(s) in one large and extended burst, but once it ends you’ll need to rely on your agility and guile to stay alive until it recharges, and this tends to make any boss encounters particularly tense. It’s absolutely a unique idea, and it has some charm, but I’d also consider it an all or nothing proposition for whether people will dig it. Mechanically and in terms of design it’s more middling, but if you enjoy games with Daily Challenges to return to for a bit on a regular basis this definitely scratches that itch nicely.


EleMetals: Death Metal Death Match [RedDeerGames] - First and foremost I’ll give EleMetals credit for going all in on its head banging style. I’m one of those people who consider pretty well all forms of (good) metal underappreciated, so it warms my heart to see (and hear) games that break it out for some appropriate fun. All of that said, at its core this is still, as its name implies, a game 100% focused on providing an arena for you and some friends (or bots) to laugh and carry on while destroying each other… though in my experience the environments themselves may be the most lethal threats out there. You’ll jump, boost, deflect fire (if you’re willing to risk it), shoot, and try to grab the power-ups when they appear, trying to be the last rocker standing. With some friends it does make for a loud and good time, though I’d certainly question its longevity given its simpler one-note nature and relatively small collection of arenas to fight in.


Thursday, June 2

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

Souldiers [Retro Forge] (Nindie Choice!) - Originally impressed by my time with it when I played the demo for it from Steam Next Fest, Souldiers is a Metroidvania I’ve had my eye on without a doubt. Upon release on the Switch, while I’m still a fan, I won’t lie and say that it isn’t without some concerns and issues. Starting with the good, this is absolutely a solid, attractive, and mostly well-made title, featuring a variety of options to cater the difficulty and play style to your liking. I’ve found that the genre-standard slashing feel of the Scout is the easiest to find success with, followed by the capable Caster whose homing shots can be a big help when dealing with more pesky enemies like the small spiders that come at you all at once. The archer I found to be the trickiest to master, as I didn’t feel like the trouble to accurately aim was rewarded with quite enough damage. That tricky aiming leads to my first concerns, which concern the controls which just feel a bit flaky/touchy somehow, triggering diagonally up or down very easily in a way that could be annoying. Thinking that going to use the D-pad instead would help, I was then disappointed to realize that the joystick is the only option. Hopefully both of these issues can be remedied. A second concern is that a few times it felt like I was able to essentially trap myself into a dead end I couldn’t get out of. Whether because I somehow made a beeline to a place I didn’t yet belong or it involved some sort of action puzzle I didn’t understand, needing to decide to go back to a save point wasn’t a great feeling. Last, particularly when you save but at other random times as well the tendency of the action to stutter periodically was also a bummer. The thing is, even with those concerns (which I’m banking on being remedied), this is still an engaging and solid Metroidvania that provides a challenge, it just feels like it’s stumbling a bit out of the gate.


Silt [Spiral Circus] (Nindie Choice!) - Too often in the indie space I’ve found that games that bill themselves as being horror in some way have generally failed to deliver, or at least deliver in a convincing manner. Silt, on the other hand, may not truly be a horror game and yet its dark mood, sometimes monstrous creatures, and periodically fatal outcomes managed to give me far more thrills than most. Playing out like a puzzle-driven adventure, your goal is to keep moving and defying death through the dark and murky depths. Your main tool for survival is the ability to take possession of some sea creatures, employing their various abilities to get through the obstacles that you’ll find in your path. Careful observation, experimentation, and often some degree of stealthiness are the keys to survival as you never know what may be lurking around any given corner. While not everything about it may be perfectly smooth in execution there’s no doubt that the game’s atmosphere can’t be beat and it’s a terrific change of pace from the usual in the eShop.


Wonder Boy Collection [Bliss Brain] - When it comes to collections of retro classics it’s always a bit hard to know how to score them. Fundamentally older games like these, especially at its origin coming from the classic arcade era, don’t have the technical prowess to make an impression so more often than not nostalgia tends to be the biggest driver for success. In the case of the Wonder Boy series, while I remember playing a few from the franchise I also never remember being terribly enamored with them, and this collection is a reminder of the middling but not necessarily amazing play they offer. To the credit of the people behind it, watching the slow evolution from a much simpler (but at least colorful) arcade action game to something more of an action RPG of sorts over time was cool to see, though I’ll admit that aside from the graphical upgrade the third and fourth entries in the series here don’t differentiate themselves greatly. If you’re a Wonder Boy Fan(boy) this will probably be an easy one to pick up, but outside of that crowd unless you simply appreciate retro games it may be a tougher sell.


Buck Bradley 2 [WERDERA SRL] - With its comic book style, big swings at filling its adventure with humor, and some unusual characters and situations, Buck Bradley 2, much like its predecessor, can’t be faulted for not trying. When the jokes connect they work well enough, and it isn’t fair to expect everything to be a winner so I’ll credit the team behind the game for simply going for enough quantity that it generally sustains a fair level of fun. Where the game struggles though is with everything mechanical around the “playing” of the game. With issues ranging from the interface being inconsistent and downright clunky when trying to interact with items in the game, or even when trying to navigate from location to location there tends to be a steady enough stream of seemingly needless frustrations that it really saps the energy out of the experience. Too often I’d know precisely what I believed I needed to do, would then try to do it using an item or simply interacting with an element on the screen, and would end up being a bit baffled what I was supposed to be doing. I think the attempt to “keep things simple” and not use too many buttons actually had the opposite effect as I often found it hard to convey what sort of action I was trying to execute. There’s some fun to be had here, just the level of clarity and polish falls quite a ways behind most of its more refined brethren in the genre.


Biomotor Unitron [SNK Corporation] - It has been pretty fascinating to play a variety of titles from the very apparently mighty retro portable, the Neo Geo Pocket Color. While most of the time these titles have been either some sort of fighter or an arcade-style port of some kind, it’s nice to see some other more unique offerings come along here and there as well. Biomotor Unitron is one such title, and with its solid pixel art and attempts at telling a more grand story it was probably a well-appreciated turn-based RPG that helped flesh out some variety in the platform’s library. That said, thrown into the very crowded waters of the Switch eShop it’s no doubt flailing to keep its head above water, as there’s nothing so unique or distinctive about it that it can overcome the obvious gap in time and technology its experience represents on a modern console. I’d imagine people who originally had it may get a great nostalgic hit from it, and can respect that, but for everyone else it’s likely going to be a pass.


Wednesday, June 1

Mini Reviews: June 1st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Pac-Man Museum+ [Bandai Namco Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Having grown up spending far too much time and money in the arcades of old, the Pac-Man series is near and dear to my heart. The thing is, not only has it had many excellent titles further back in its history, it’s one of the few classic arcade franchises I can think of that has had numerous contemporary classics in its lineage as well. While Pac-Man Musuem+ doesn’t have quite every game classic Pac-Fans would love to see (most notably absent is the iconic Ms. Pac-Man due to licensing complications due to the nature of its origins), it’s still a highly comprehensive collection which demonstrates the full breadth of what one of the world’s most well-known pellet munchers could be. Starting with many arcade originals (some of which I don’t even recall ever having ever seen, let alone played) this collection spans multiple console incarnations as well the very smartly-made mobile Pac-Man 256. With it, you can get your classic fix, some platforming (some better than others), some puzzling, some multiplayer, and even some more unusual variations that demonstrate a consistent drive to keep experimenting and innovating. Capped off by Pac-Man Championship Edition, arguably the best in class with its bright colors, smart design, and intense action, this is a terrific walk through decades of gameplay and is absolutely worth a look for anyone who considers themselves a retro gaming fan.


Jade Order [Tortuga Xel] - Let’s face it, making a mark with a puzzle game in the crowded Switch eShop is a bit of a challenge, and developers need to rely on a creative look, hook, or some X factor to be sure to differentiate themselves. Jade Order somewhat gets things rolling with a stylish pixel art style which continues to evolve little by little the further you go. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the play, which has a focus on you needing to very carefully choose how you proceed through each level, being sure to attack enemies from the sides or the back. Thankfully, more complexity gets added to the mix the further you go, with a variety of powers that you’ll have at your disposal to use wisely in order to advance an enemy unit, allowing you to attack, and some other options as well deeper in. In the end it’s reasonably smart and satisfying, just I’d note that it has a fair amount of pretty similar company out there that it fails to differentiate itself from thoroughly so the choice may come down to price or style preference.


Remote Life [Next Game Level] - It’s safe to say that at this point there’s no shortage of classic shooters on the Switch, which does admittedly make it a challenge for new ones to make a splash. If the focus was merely on looking pretty Remote Life would fare pretty decently, as it has a modern style and some visual polish. Add to that the fact that you’re able to use twin-stick controls to fire and there’s something to enjoy. It’s in terms of overall play and design where things unfortunately fall apart a bit. The best description I’d have for it is inconsistent. Power-ups are haphazardly thrown about, bosses can be a bit jerky in terms of performance and feel overpowered when compared to the other enemies you face, and then things like enemy ships flying through walls and barriers just help further point out a lack of attention to detail. Considering the high level of quality of its competition on the system this simply doesn’t match up.


Coloring Pixels: Collection 1 [ToastieLabs] - Casual gamers have it pretty good on the Switch, its portability and touchscreen capabilities really make it great for on-the-go relaxation. Coloring Pixels is by no means an ambitious title, essentially just offering up the means to interactively do some color-by-numbers, but if that sounds like something you’d enjoy it is at least well-implemented. Starting out with some smaller-scale projects and then quickly jumping up to much larger, and more elaborate, images it manages to strike a nice balance between trying to keep you focused on precision without punishing you for getting a little sloppy, most notably leaving properly-colored blocks alone even when you swipe over them with another color. If you’re looking to unwind it’s not a bad option.


Balloon Flight [Cyberwave] - Sometimes there are games you play on the eShop that give you pause, and that can be for good and bad reasons. In the case of Balloon Flight, sadly, it isn't a positive one. Playing a bit more like a sandbox demo it literally drops you into a space with no meaningful direction and then you’ll simply experiment with what limited means you have to try to take flight and go as far as you can. As a demonstration of some applied physics it can be fun to kick around with for a bit, but for the most part the title’s reliance on the player to generate their own fun without much to work with is a bummer.