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.

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