Thursday, July 28

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

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium [Capcom] (AAA Choice!) - When I saw the roster in this massive arcade compendium I was already pretty impressed, but having jumped into the Arcade 2nd Stadium experience for myself I’m now truly a fan. You can review the list of titles ranging from top-notch fighters (including the Street Fighter Alpha titles that weren’t in the Fighting Game compilation) to old-school classics (Magic Sword and Hyper Dyne Side Arms come to mind) to Japan-Only goodies (I love 1943 Kai) to some decidedly more obscure titles to see what suits your taste, but stepping back to give it a look I can’t help but be pleased and impressed. The real kicker, though, is a feature I didn’t even give much thought to before starting it up, and that’s how it does an amazingly-effective job at directly capturing the experience of being in an arcade, better than any other compilation I’ve played. You’ll move through the line of available titles in their cabinets, and then once you choose your game you’ll not only see the game presented in a cabinet-like presentation, complete with it being angled slightly and being able to see the what’s on the machines next to you in the top corners. Perhaps younger generations than mine won’t connect the way I did with it, but it really hit me in the feels and made me an even bigger fan of the effort this team put in on the title. If the more “realistic” presentation isn’t your bag you can alter the settings in a variety of ways (including playing it in vertical orientation if you’re so inclined [or maybe rotated]) as well as make a wide variety of visuals tweaks to either add classic scanlines and noise or remove them entirely. With the option to buy them all in bulk for a pretty reasonable price or go ala carte to just get what you want, I really appreciate what Capcom has put together here and look forward to more releases from their classic library (like where’s a collection with Marvel Vs. Capcom?!?!).

Lord Winklebottom Investigates [Cave Monsters] - Who doesn’t like a solid classic point-and-click adventure with a sense of humor? Given that the characters in Lord Winklebottom are all animals, and the two leads are obviously based on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (played by a giraffe and a hippopotamus respectively), I’d say this is a game that qualifies for the latter feature quite well. In terms of the adventure itself, and in particular the progression you’ll need to follow in order to unravel and solve puzzles? Perhaps not so much when compared to some of its peers. The dialogue trees with people you interrogate don’t tend to be very deep, so finding bits and pieces of information doesn’t tend to require too much time or effort, but it also detracts from the fun a bit. While the voice acting is pretty good it’s also a bit odd how quickly it tends to be rattled off much of the time, almost like the people delivering it were in a race. Hoping to get a life line when stuck with the hint feature I was also woefully let down (at least in one case) by a common sense general suggestion that was no real help at all, another polishing opportunity misfire. Despite its odd quirks there is some charm here, no doubt, just I’d say the characters and presentation are trying to carry merely average to possibly a bit below average adventuring play when contrasted with some great competition already in the space.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 [Black Isle Studios] - Having played the original classic RPG Baldur’s Gate but then falling off of the series from that point (it has been a looong time) I didn’t know what to expect from Dark Alliance 2. Of all the things I could have expected it being what I’d consider to be a sub-standard Diablo clone wasn’t one of them. Oh, and in spots it is so freaking dark, which can make navigating through stages a bit of a pain, that it boggles the mind a bit that someone thought this was good design outside of helping to hide what a visual mess this all is, especially now. I have no doubt people who played it when it originally released may be thrilled to see it on Switch but as a first-timer in this day and age it’s hard not to first be struck by the fact that on pretty well every level it hasn’t aged gracefully and then by how incredibly generic its gameplay feels, especially when the game is priced around the same level as better and far more modern titles. If you’re game to give it your time it will at least return some dividends with quite an elaborate story, which does help show why the game is still well regarded, but in my mind sometimes it’s better not to meet your heroes since then you’re able to see all of their flaws plainly that are missed with the distance of time.

Farm Manager 2022 [Ultimate Games] - It has really been a bit of a surprise to me how many farm management sims there have been on the Switch, though to the credit of most of them they’ve at least been all over the map in terms of their style. In the case of Farm Manager 2022 you’ll want to be sure to be clear on what it delivers, which isn’t a more active form ala the likes of Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, it’s instead a far more detached style where you’ll be making the crucial decisions on how to proceed, and then staffing up and buying equipment, but then letting it all get handled non-interactively. The thing is, when you’ve played quite a few of these and the tutorial is still feeling a bit too “deep end” too quickly with a lot of interface screens and details like the specific equipment you may want to buy, where to store it, etc… I wouldn’t consider it a good sign for generally more casual players. If you really know your stuff perhaps this would be speaking your language but I’d then wonder why someone skilled enough to be an actual farmer would be playing this instead. Oh, and did I forget to say that it is simply glitchy with things like vehicles clipping through buildings or each other and other anomalies just in the gated tutorial? If you’re really looking for this more involved version of farm management I’d say checking out the others first would be a better choice overall.

Puzzle Galaxy [] - This review falls under the challenging category of games that you can download and try out with some limited content for free, but that require the purchase of DLC packs for more. To exacerbate things, though, it’s really merely a jigsaw puzzle simulation where you’re able to pick how many pieces you’d like an image to be broken down into and then work through reassembling them. As these sorts of games go it actually does a pretty good job on all fronts but there’s no mistaking that this also has an exceedingly simple design that’s targeting a pretty small niche of either people who love puzzles but not in a tactile form or for simply younger gamers who are learning the ropes. With that in mind it delivers what it promises but it’s also quite a minimal effort.

Friday, July 22

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

Coromon [TRAGsoft] (Nindie Choice!) - The distance between honoring a game (trying to build on what made people love it and hoping to create something a little better) and merely ripping it off somehow can be tough to judge sometimes without actually digging in and playing. On the surface, and even as you first start out on the very Pokemon-esque journey that is Coromon, you could mistake it as merely being a facsimile of the popular series and be quick to dismiss it. I think that’s a mistake though, at least if you really enjoy this training RPG sub-genre, as it’s very obvious the people behind this title have invested real time and effort into honoring many aspects of the series while tweaking them to add some richness to the experience as well. If you’re not a Poke-fan this absolutely won’t change your mind, and if you are one but aren’t open to another developer doing a cover band tribute that remixes some elements of what you love it may well also leave you cold. That said, if you’re more about the subgenre and enjoy building and cultivating your team there’s enough differentiation and care here to make it worthwhile to check out, tapping into your nostalgia but also giving you a new and slightly different world and menagerie to discover.

Bright Memory: Infinite [FYQD-Studio] - I’ll give the people behind Bright Memory credit for coming out of the gate swinging big, serving up a FPS experience that has some Crysis-like tech-driven vibes but then mixes in very viable slashing combat as well more reminiscent of the likes of Ninja Gaiden. Toss in a pretty odd story that involves near-Earth black holes, ancient warriors, and a hodge podge of other elements, set the power up to high, and blend it all together and you have a game that almost gives you whiplash with how quickly it is over but nonetheless makes for a heck of a ride. While perhaps playing through multiple times may not be something everyone will want to do, given the pretty insane variety in the ability trees you can go down in this case I’d wager the flow of each playthrough could end up feeling quite different. Want to shoot everything up? You have multiple options from alternative ammunition for your weapons that can do nasty damage to simply improving your overall performance on that side. Want to go melee? There are a variety of options to make yourself more lethal there as well. Throw in a force pull like ability and some other flourishes that provide their own flavor and the world of violence here really is your oyster… at least while it lasts.

Severed Steel [Greylock Studio] - Sometimes you run into games where you can’t help but feel they’re a bit of a victim of the timing of their release, in particular when they hover around games that have a similar feel but are simply executed better. For me that’s the case of Severed Steel, which absolutely delivers an intense mix of parkour-like movement with blazing guns action all in a visually-distinctive environment. A year ago I think my reaction to it would have been more enthusiastic (though I’d still argue that its controls are a bit more herky jerky than I’d prefer), but since this is arriving only a month after the similar but much more polished and impressive Neon White it’s hard not to shake the comparison. Now, if you’d prefer a greater focus on combat and less on traversal, that relationship is better represented by Severed Steel, without a doubt. The fact that the stages are designed more as a sandbox for you to experiment with, trying different paths for efficiently blowing through your enemies, would also be a plus. The problem for me is more in the quality and polish of the controls, with the precision of Neon White so thoroughly blowing away the more chaotic “try your best and good luck” feel in Steel. All that said, if you enjoy the idea of movement and shooting with a high twitch factor married with the ability to improvise you may find that it’s completely up your alley.

Redout 2 [34BigThings] - Coming back to the Switch with its high-speed futuristic racing that features some truly rollercoaster-like tracks, Redout 2 is quick to make an intense impression. You won’t just jump into this game and find success, learning the tracks and coming to grips with how to utilize every trick you have at your disposal to stay off the walls, stay on the track (beware catching air!), and eke out every advantage you can against your opponents is key. What makes it a bit rougher a ride is that though the game does an adequate base level job of getting you up to speed with the controls and fundamentals, in its Career mode it comes up short in trying to help explain critical concepts for success, in particular in the boosting training. Even after repeated attempts where each time I was better at navigating the track I came up quite short of the point targets I needed to progress and the game provided zero guidance on what I was doing wrong. Whether the point thresholds were set too high, the game is just doing an abysmal job of explaining specifically what goes into the scoring and how to get points most effectively, or possibly both this gets new racers off to a needlessly terrible start. Hitting the circuits against the CPU AI doesn’t make things any easier, as until you are really confident that you know the layout and nuances of any given track you’ll struggle a bit since it’s all coming at you so quickly. This is absolutely a racing experience that will take some time and dedication to get your arms around, complicated a bit by what often feels like a somewhat overcomplicated control scheme that has you constantly worrying over your right stick, almost as much as your left. If all of that sounds like something you’re ready to sink your teeth into, great, but for more casual racers this is more likely to result in a number of frustrations.

Fallen Angel [Matrioshka Games] - This is a bit of an odd title to review in some ways, as having spent time with it I could see people going in two very different directions with it in terms of opinion. The more familiar you happen to be with more notable top-down adventures in the space that focus well on action, the more likely you are to see similarities and the cracks in what Fallen Angel has produced. The less familiar you are with the competition though, not understanding that much of what here looks and feels more generic than many of its peers, it may come off feeling like a pretty solid deal. There’s nothing necessarily wrong here, it provides some spikes of challenging slashing combat as you explore areas and advance the somewhat odd story, it just doesn’t end up amounting to anything I’d consider notable or memorable. For the price it’s not bad, just for slightly more (or if they’re on sale, possibly the same or less) you could tap into a deeper and more satisfying experience.

Thursday, July 21

Mini Reviews: July 21st Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Endling - Extinction Is Forever [Herobeat Studios] (Nindie Choice!) - When you’ve been playing 10 - 20 games a week for the last 4 years it can get to be a challenge for games to really stand out. While there are simply top-tier experiences that blow the doors off, I’m really more interested in the games that do something different, surprise me, or tug at the heart strings in some way. Endling delivers such an experience, and though my being a parent to 2 children (all grown now, pshew!) may make me particularly susceptible to its story of a mother fox struggling to keep her few cubs alive in a harsh and sometimes cruel world, I think anyone should be able to connect with it. To be clear, the focus here is more on the wordless story and the quest for survival, not necessarily on what can at times be the pretty mundane steps needed to do so. You’ll cover the same territory every night, scouting for small prey, trying to be sure to avoid traps, and preferably keeping away from situations that would put your cubs at risk. Perhaps as you’d expect there are moments where reality can come crashing in, pointing out the harsh realities wild creatures must contend with, and depending on how hard you make take those perilous circumstances the game may actually be a bit too intense and cruel for your tastes. Nevertheless, this is a pretty unique experience and more compelling than a few other indie titles that have had similar themes and structure, but simply weren’t executed as effectively. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it stands out as a touching reminder of the many perils we humans have unleashed on the world, both directly and indirectly.

Time on Frog Island [Half Past Yellow] - Sometimes it’s nice to play games where the focus is less on a clearly-defined destination and more on the journey. Time on Frog Island falls into this camp, and though it can be a bit aggravating at times criss-crossing the island to work through what you’re supposed to be trying to do to advance your cause, if you’re able to be chill and enjoy the ride it can also work nicely. Without dialogue to help you out you’ll need to interpret symbols and solve puzzles sometimes through a mix of luck and persistence, but once you’re familiar with the landscape you’ll begin to have a bit less trouble at least. One weakness it has compared to some others of its kind already in the eShop is the lack of even a bare bones story to throw on a layer of interest, but if you’re looking to explore, discover, and solve some puzzles as you help people out it should still be satisfying.

Mojito the Cat [GTZAStudio] - When you’re looking to relax or unwind there’s nothing wrong with some light to moderate challenges presented in a very pleasantly cute package. If that’s what you’re seeking, Mojito the Cat should do a solid job of providing it. While the controls are pretty simple, with you being able to rotate the platforms you’re on when you’re on special blocks, as you progress the degree of challenge it presents will continue to ramp up. It never adds a great deal of complexity to things, with the primary focus being on efficiently grabbing every pick-up in the smallest number of moves, but there’s nothing wrong with going basic for a budget-friendly puzzler that packs a bit of charm as well.

Formula Bit Racing DX [2Awesome Studio] - I’m always eager to check out new racers, and have an old-school love for the classic top-down style. Unfortunately, though DX has a solid overall look in that classic vein more often than not I found its play frustrating. Certainly your choice of vehicle matters in terms of how you’re able to control them, but across the board trying to decelerate or pull off sliding turns is a general mess as the tracks more often than not feel like they’re made of ice. Compound this with the hard-cornered 90-degree turns and no wiggle room for cutting corners and it feels unnecessarily frustrating in a few areas. Throw in the lack of any sort of career or proper circuit structure, you’re just always simply picking singular races to participate in before being thrown back into the main menu, and this feels like an oddly stripped down experience that gets some points for presentation but that lacks in engaging play.

Superola Champion Edition [Undercoders] - OK, so making games that aren’t terribly ambitious or great in terms of gameplay happens, and when I come upon one like Superola Champion Edition I see ways to go glass half empty or glass half full with it. Perhaps the injection of some meme facsimiles and goofiness is meant to try to add some value to the mix and that’s a good thing, but instead I’m walking away feeling like the focus on those elements was to try to get people to think “Hey, that looks like…” and buy it, only then realizing how bland the play is no matter what they’ve put in. You’ll run through levels jumping over enemies, traps, and gaps, trying to collect burgers (for whatever reason), and employing the use of your temporary laser attack as you wish, though it has limits to its use. Enemies can look vaguely like things you may recognize, but as you continue to go by them their presence does little to distract from the blandness of the experience.

Wednesday, July 20

Mini Reviews: July 20th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Harlow [Arman Nobari] (Nindie Choice!) - While mechanically and functionally a different animal Harlow has a core simplicity that marries with smart design that reminds me of a favorite of mine from the past, Badland. Keeping things pretty basic, your only means of control is an ability to choose the angle that you jump at and a few jumps you’ll be able to use before needing to touch a surface to get refreshed. While this may feel a bit dumbed down in principle, in execution when you pair it with pretty smart level designs that will have you dodging various traps and moving around blocks to complete puzzles it works satisfyingly well. The result is an experience that’s accessible to more casual players willing to push themselves but that also has enough nuance to appeal to more veteran gamers who just want something more mild to cool down with between more intense sessions.

HunterX [ORANGE POPCORN] - While there could always be more, there’s quite a variety of side-scrolling slasher action games on the Switch which range from the more linear and traditional, to Metroidvania style, to sometimes a bit more odd. In the case of HunterX the chosen path trends towards the Metroidvania side (I’d argue to its detriment in terms of some of the overall execution), and on the whole that helps to narrow its direct competition. This is a game of ups and downs when it comes to design and implementation. It has some solid ideas and unlocks to tap into the further you go, which does help to raise the excitement bar, but the stage layouts, often non-descript environments (which make losing track of where you wanted to go next or once you acquired a specific skill more of a challenge), and sometimes just ill-planned save points make for what feels like at times excessive backtracking, being a bit bored, and more needless frustrations than should be necessary. Couple that with general fighting action, whether against more generic foes or the “decent but not amazing” bosses, and it's a very mixed bag, far from the worst of its kind out there, but a measurable distance from the top as well.

Mothmen 1966 [LCB Game Studio] - If you’ve got a love for storytelling, retro graphics (in this case VERY retro, complete with a very limited color scheme), and some elements of intrigue that would feel at home in an X-Files adventure you may get a kick out of Mothmen 1966. Over the course of the story, taking on the role of multiple people you’ll experience some intrigue, some folklore and cryptid fun, a variety of puzzles (some of which work better than others), and quite a lot of reading. While the interface isn’t always terribly efficient that isn’t unusual for this sort of title so it’s at least no worse than the average. With future releases in this same vein in the works this shows some promise for people who are looking for something that feels a bit weird and pulpy to sit back with for a few hours, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

XEL [Tiny Roar] - This review is a rough one for me, as there are aspects of XEL that make me wish I could be more positive in my ultimate opinion of it. While implying in any way that the action-adventure you embark upon in the game is Zelda-esque would be heavily exaggerated, the exploration, simple and mostly tight combat, and eventual gadgets you’ll accumulate to work with to help get to new areas do show glimmers in that direction. The problem is that in the game’s current state it is an absolute mess on the technical front, and I’m not sure all of its issues can even be patched. Stutters in the action, the action pausing with regularity to again tell me what known item I’ve picked up, and truly embarrassing pop-in aren’t bugs when they show up this often, they feel like features. While I’m usually someone who will let some wonkiness slide when it’s mild, for this game it absolutely isn’t. Throw in design choices like the very pulled out camera that can make details suffer, and a lack of control of the camera mixed with elements in the environment that can obscure combat (that I doubt will be altered) and even if the performance side gets to where it needs to be the experience will likely still suffer as a whole. It has a great deal of promise, and I’d love to be proven wrong as the developers (hopefully) get some patches going, but this is absolutely not how you want to make your first impression for early adopters in the eShop.

Beasties [rokaplay] - While I don’t often use the word shameless to describe games that crib quite a bit of their content nakedly from bigger and more popular titles, in the case of Beasties I’d say that the lack of a lasting quality experience beneath the 3-Match Pokemon veneer somewhat earns the distinction. The thing is, conceptually, it’s not a bad idea… tapping into the Puzzle RPG flair of the likes of the classic Puzzle Quest series while also adding some enjoyment for fans of combat between cute little animals. The problem is that the story is extremely short, bland, and lacking in interest, the designs of the scant number of title beasties are painfully derivative, and aside from going through the motions there’s no spark of life and creativity to be found here in less than a handful of hours of play. It just smacks a bit of a bait and switch for people desperate for more of that Pokemon vibe.

Friday, July 15

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

LOUD [Hyperstrange] (Nindie Choice!) - Oh how I love it when great music and rhythm games show up pretty well unannounced to blow me away. While I do wish there was a bit more story and a few more songs to enjoy in LOUD, there’s so much that it gets right that it’s hard to hold much against it. I think its best feature is the very challenging but incredibly effective control scheme that will have you using 3 buttons (well, positions on the D-Pad if you’re using a Pro Controller… which if you haven’t applied the hack to make it less sensitive will likely frustrate you in this game) on either side of the controller, then using the sticks on either side as a whammy bar when playing held notes for some extra style points. You’ll really need to be deliberate and crisp as you move between buttons and tap out increasingly quick and sometimes tough rhythm combinations, but it is so satisfying when you get through a tough passage and that’s the rush these sorts of games do such a great job of delivering. You’ll be able to roll the credits just getting through the easiest skill level with each song, but the fun really begins to kick in at the mid-level and then once you’re really in the swing of things you’ll want to get S ranks in each of the lower levels to unlock the toughest one which will really test your ability to see the notes coming on either side and keep up. The soundtrack, for not being licensed, is varied and terrific and many tunes actually feel quite familiar, which is a smart but nice way to be engaging but keep prices down. This is absolutely a satisfying title that deserves to be cranked up to 11 to enjoy fully.

Spidersaurs [WayForward] (Nindie Choice!) - Going back to the glory days of the classic Contra, both at home and in the arcades, the run ‘n gun shooter has always provided for quite a lot of fun when done right. With about as many misses as there have been hits on the Switch over its lifespan there have been no guarantees, but it’s been nice that those that have shined have at least tended to each have their own flavor. In that vein Spidersaurs, with its very classic 80s/90s Saturday Morning Cartoon opening sequence vibe, certainly has a kooky story to work with and that at least makes for some notable skills, weaponry, and enemies for you to blow to bits solo or with a friend. Each of your heroes has their own feel with the weapons they have available to them so you’ll want to be sure to try both to see which suits you better, for sure not all powered up weapons are equal, and that means if you’ve got a pair that really work for you you’ll want to be careful to avoid pick-ups so as not to ruin your flow. I do wish there were a few more stages, as it feels like it runs its course a bit quickly, but to its credit for the most part what you get to play through is memorable. It may not be the top-tier gunner I may have been hoping for, but especially for genre fans it will feel both familiar and new, and provide for a few hours of fun. Which, in the end, isn’t too bad a deal.

Growbot [Wabisabi Games] - It’s always a shame when you run into a title that has obviously put a great deal of effort into looking and feeling a bit different, making it feel noteworthy, but then drops the ball in some way. I walked away from Growbot with this sort of feeling, and it was a bit of a surprise since I usually appreciate games that are a bit odd and choose to go their own way. In this case though I guess it jumped past simply being odd or quirky and entered the realm of perplexing with its story, style of point-and-click puzzles, and what felt like quite a bit of weird jargon you’re expected to read and absorb to understand what the game was expecting you to do. Quite a few times success came not from confidently solving the problems being presented, but by merely persisting long enough to succeed by brute force. I suppose that’s an accomplishment and progress, but honestly so much of the in-game text to go with the experience felt like weirdo sci-fi gibberish, which then also took me out of the experience. If you adore style, and aren’t concerned that perhaps not-so-hot substance is paired with it, this may have appeal since it has a unique look and feel to it, just otherwise you’ll find less perplexing fare in abundance in the eShop.

Super UFO Fighter [VV-LABO] - This is one of those titles where I can respect the apparent decision to latch on to a core element of gameplay and then stick with it till the bitter end, but I’d also point out that it makes for a game you’ll grow bored by very quickly most likely. Whether in the campaign or playing against someone locally or online, your goal is to break whatever may drop from the top and then fight to grab the current item du jour in your tractor beam to claim it before your opponent. Sounds simple? Yeah, almost all of the time it really is… and that gets to be a real problem. Sure, you can get above your enemy and stun them temporarily or you can try to knock the item down the drain to then hope it falls in a better position for you next, but since there’s really nothing else you can do given your limited capabilities it tends to get very tedious in a hurry. I could see where perhaps it would be fun for younger or newer players to engage with since it’s very bright and cute while being super easy to pick up and understand, but for everyone else I can’t see what would keep you playing for very long.

Krut: The Mythic Wings [RSU Horizon] - I definitely ended up with some feelings with this one, and unfortunately for the most part they aren’t flattering. I first take issue with how long it took to even get to the action since I wasn’t walking into this expecting some sprawling story, and though I give props to the developers for trying to give some flavor to the experience it took too long to get me playing and that’s not a great move. Sadly, the other primary problem was that once I was able to start playing things didn’t improve. While you can tell that effort went into trying to give the game a unique look and I suppose feel, the control mechanics are not ideal. In particular, trying to take down enemies that are in the air is extremely aggravating as your hero feels very incapable with his jump attack. I found it so aggravating that I actually began simply running by them… which weirdly the game had nothing in place to stop you from doing. Repeatedly it turns out if you’d like. The one positive was that the boss fights can be interesting, and present a challenge, but so many elements of this just don’t shine through as great, or even average, and there’s so much better out there to spend your money and time on.

Wednesday, July 13

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

Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak DLC [Capcom] (AAA Choice!) - So, what do you do when you’ve already successfully made a new and impressive entry of the vaunted Monster Hunter series that absolutely does wondrously well on the humble Switch?!? Why, you make it bigger, badder, more varied, and even more compelling to play whether you’re taking it on solo or with a group of friends. Make no mistake, for the most part this is an expansion primarily designed for the people who have already made a significant investment of the game, at least if you want to see and get access to everything it offers, but given the added challenge new monsters and variants bring to the table this seems like a very appropriate way to handle the added content. To go with the new challenges some new equipment possibilities (though things like the Talismans will require you complete the story before you’ll get to use them), as well as refinements to expand your options for how you engage in combat, something that’s always appreciated given the need to deal some more formidable foes being added onto the already tough roster of monsters from the original. This is just one of those great examples of DLC that show a great respect and appreciation for a loyal fanbase who has been chomping at the bit for more endgame content to provide new excuses to keep throwing more time into a fantastic title. If you’re a Monster Hunter fan it really is a no-brainer.

Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series [Bandai Namco Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Having never played or even really heard much about the Klonoa series, I was pretty eager to check it out when I heard this packaged together remasters of its original two titles. While I’m not positive the very unique style of play they offer will be for everyone I do have to give the folks behind them for daring to be different, obviously trying to be as family-friendly and accessible as possible, and adding an endearingly cute and pleasant hero to the mix. This is a quasi-3D platformer whose take on classic side-scrolling platforming gets supplemented by items and secrets in the foreground and background which you can throw enemies at, as well as paths that will pivot and rotate in 3D as you move along them. This all gives the game a very unique look and feel, and affords the developers some cool opportunities to flex a bit and create stages that are simply unique. Add to that opportunities not just to tone down the difficulty, but then to also have a friend join in as a second player who is able to support and help the primary player jump higher to reach tough spots and it’s also a great title to share with young (or old, I suppose) gamers in training to help them get into the game without too much frustration. For people who have fond memories of these games I would imagine this will be a great way to cultivate a new appreciation for them once more, and for everyone else if you’re willing to adopt a style of play that’s just a bit different than you’re used to it’s a very pleasant and sometimes surprising trip as well.

Gamedec [Anshar Studios] - While perhaps they aren’t for everyone, I do find that a cool cyberpunk experience, exploring more digitally dialed-in worlds, can make for a good time. While perhaps people hoping for a little more action or some combat may find Gamedec’s very classic adventure and dialogue-heavy approach a bit dull, for people who are keen to hop on and enjoy the ride it should deliver the goods. Perhaps not surprisingly spending some time on the seedier side of things as you try to work through your assignments, there’s no lack of “colorful” characters and some situations to run into depending on how you decide to play things. Providing some variety is a perk system where you’ll accumulate attributes tied to different types of decisions which you’re then able to spend to unlock skills that could come in handy as you try to work people over. Whether you go for intimidating, silver-tongued, or a mix of a little bit of everything, some of these quite different aspects each have their uses and that at least helps all decisions feel like they carry some consequence and are worth carefully considering once in a while, perhaps if only not to be predictable. Its pacing can suffer in spots and some of its content as you work different areas may not be for everyone, but I’ll give the game credit for obviously having a target plan in mind and seemingly executing it.

APICO [TNgineers] - When you need to unwind after a long day, or get lost in the Zen-like calm of caring for your in-game world farming sims are a great distraction. With its focus on bee keeping, APICO has its own take on things, and if you’re someone who is concerned with their real-world plight I have no doubt that this would have some added interest for you. As a game though, when taking into account the competition, while it does have an edge with novelty for sure, it also falls a bit flat in terms of diversity in your activities. Without that interesting community of people to interact with and understand that there’s something more to be found in their experiences, or variety that will keep you occupied with a larger collection of tasks to be completed, it just fails to stand out as much more than a merely good game with some different ideas that may have some appeal for that reason, but fails to aim higher to help it further set itself apart from the pack.

Quintus and the Absent Truth [Wreck Tangle Games] - When it comes to walking simulator-type games that mix in some horror to help try to liven up the blandness of walking through mostly sterile environments in first-person perspective it turns out I’m not much of a fan. Quintus and the Absent Truth I was hoping could break my streak of being uniformly unimpressed, mixing in moments where you can make use of your clever rat pal to help you out at times, but unfortunately he just serves as an occasional gimmick. In particular there’s a weird bugginess to this title in spots, most easily seen when you pick up pretty much anything and struggle to see any details due to the really weirdly implemented lighting system that ends up leaving almost everything dark. Whatever moments you’ll get being startled or thrown off by an occasional jump are lost in a sea of aimless walking around and being pretty bored.

Friday, July 8

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

Cuphead in the Delicious Last Course DLC [Studio MDHR] (Nindie Choice!) - Oh man was it brutal, but still a thrill, to come back to the visually-stunning and tough-as-nails world of Cuphead. This new DLC adds not just more amazing bosses and a number of tough challenge stages to test your patience, but also the ability to play as Ms. Chalice, who may end up being your go-to character with her very helpful abilities to help you stay alive. There’s a great consistency to everything here with the main game, with each boss having a distinctive feel while managing to find a careful balance between pushing you hard without necessarily making them too hard (or at least not usually resorting to outright being cheap as you sometimes can see). If you were a fan of the more classic run-n-gun style action stages you will be disappointed here, as the focus is far more in the direction of epic battles, but the challenge stages care of the King of Games do at least break things up and present some tough flavor of their own. In the end, if you enjoyed the original game this is an absolute must-have follow-up that maintains the original’s outstanding level of quality and that’s really quite an accomplishment.

The Jackbox Party Starter [Jackbox Games, Inc] (Nindie Choice!) - While there aren’t any new games included in this pack, you could definitely consider it a bit of an All-Star package of three very diverse games together for the first time and a perfect starting point for anyone who hasn’t yet been made a fan of Jackbox’s goodness. Trivia Murder Party 2 is absolutely a family favorite, with it’s core style being a throwback to the classic You Don’t Know Jack series, but throwing in a creepy narrator and loads of odd mini games to spice up the trivia. Quiplash 3 is from what is probably my overall favorite series from Jackbox, working by giving everyone prompts to riff off of and then having everyone vote on who had the best responses. At a party we literally put this up against Cards Against Humanity and without the constraints of pre-made answers this won easily for which prompted the most laughs. Finally there’s Tee K.O. moving in a different direction by including people making drawings, but then adding in captions and having people try to choose the best combinations to make the best shirts. Each of them are great fun, inspire creativity, can be scaled even to larger groups with the Audience feature (once more than 8 people join the remainder become the audience who can’t play but can still vote to participate), and can even be enjoyed by people of any age… use the family setting to tone down the prompts. If you already have some or all of them already, obviously this won’t be a necessary purchase, but if you aren’t already a Jackbox fan or have been looking for the perfect point to jump on the bandwagon this is absolutely what you’ve been waiting for.

Dark Minute: Kira’s Adventure [Feardemic] - If you’re a fan of platformers, whether of the puzzle or more action-oriented variety, the Switch has you well-covered, and with its budget price and solid play you can add Dark Minute to the list as well. While I wouldn’t say it breaks any new ground, on the whole the action is reasonably satisfying, even if sometimes I wish it didn’t feel like I was getting stuck on corners sometimes when trying to keep moving quickly and smoothly through a level. What I’m less convinced with is the whole darkness angle, and you trying to clear each stage before the lights turn off. Aside from the fact that you have a light for local illumination (to the developers’ credit, the lighting effects are at least novel) and given the layouts of many stages where you wouldn’t know how to make it through everything cleanly the first time, I couldn’t wrap my head around what that aspect was meant to add to the experience. Am I supposed to try to go back to get better times and reduce the tabulated total time in the dark that’s apparently being tracked? It just feels like a bit of a throwaway element that may give the game some visual flair but it falls short of the flavor or suspense that seems to be implied. For the price though it’s still a solid, if a bit generic, experience.

Yurukill: The Calumniation Games [G.Rev] - Definitely an exceedingly odd bird we have here. Take a decent-ish though very under-utilized shoot-em-up, mix it with a decent (but quite wordy) story that feels very YA fiction involving pairs of pretty bad/screwed up people who are trying to survive a theme park designed to ultimately leave only one alive, and then throw in point-and-click puzzle room-esque sequences as well and you have the odd stew that is Yurukill. In theory, the odd combination could make for an unexpected overall experience, which it does to a degree, so kudos for thinking outside the box. The problem is that the genre flavors are so heavily in different directions that it may be tough to find people who will dig on each of them and not be sitting there simply enduring the portions they don’t enjoy to get back to the ones they do. Top it off with suffering a bit from the “jack of all trades, master of none” problem and you get a lukewarm mix which may excite a subset of the audience with its audacious plan, but will likely leave everyone else a bit bewildered and possibly bored.

Understand [Artless Games] - Man oh man am I not quite sure what to say on this one. In principle I like what they were apparently going for, using games like Baba Is You and some others for inspiration in making a puzzle game that’s challenging and requires you to think differently. In practice, at least for me, the result was a pretty painful experience. Without any direct instruction of any kind with very basic puzzles, and even elements in the interface that are simply shapes, there’s simply nothing to get your bearings with. I understand the idea being that with every puzzle there are new rules, and that it should require you to continually change how to you approach each one, but with nothing but some shapes to work with, and no feeling of continuity between each puzzle, the end game feels like a series of random guesses until you get it right. They can claim it requires trial and error deduction, but for me they give you so little to work with that it just amounts to bad design.

Wednesday, July 6

Mini Reviews: July 6th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Little Noah: Scion of Paradise [Cygames] (Nindie Choice!) - As a long-time fan of roguelikes of all shapes and sizes I suppose it is natural that I’d be attracted to the pretty unusual challenge Little Noah poses. Working with a small group of warrior assistants, each of whom tend to have pretty unique attack characteristics, you’ll work your way through different areas trying to survive each room, some generic and others that pose special challenges that can yield greater rewards. The thing is, as you encounter more varied warriors, you’ll generally find that the more powerful they are the more their abilities come with potentials for complication… or perhaps that’s potential for opportunity if you’re willing to take some time to experiment and see how placing their attacks in different orders can produce far more effective results. Consistent with other roguelikes there will be a variety of means for improving your survivability, with most of them taking place outside the playing game back in town, with plenty of options for improving you stats, gaining new perks or abilities, and improving your relationships with specific heroes that will then benefit you when they’re added to your team as you go. While there’s no doubt that the pretty chaotic action can sometimes make it difficult for you to avoid damage yourself from enemy attacks, when you play the game with some wisdom you can set yourself up for success nicely, making for a formula I really appreciate and that distinguishes Little Noah from its roguelike brethren.

My Universe: Green Adventure - Farmer’s Friends [Microids] - Mixed feelings on this one, as despite its relative overall simplicity and not doing anything terribly original, I actually got hooked enough to finish it in a handful of hours. I’d say that it’s a bit of a slow start, but once you get rolling and keep an eye on completing the objectives to get everything fixed and flourishing the upgrades and improvements keep things feeling mostly fresh. While I do wonder why there’s some inconsistency with fulfilling your animal care, with mini games for some and just simple actions for others, on the whole I didn’t mind. What bugs me, and really points to a need for the game to be patched, is that after not having problems with instability in the game for the majority of my play time the last hour or so of play found it crashing 4 times. Worse, it felt like the credits rolled just as I’d really hit my stride with properly getting my fields and animals set up, and that there seems to be no real plan or proper support for an end game experience in the game. What could have been a nice and relatively relaxing set of tasks to complete each day just sort of fizzled, which feels like a missed opportunity. Surprisingly solid for the asking price, but I do hope these two unfortunate issues can be addressed.

Sixty Words by POWGI [Lightwood Games] - Games of this type are always a bit of a challenge to evaluate in the overall scheme of things. Really just amounting to a digital word search, you’ll be working with the specific puzzle’s theme in order to determine what words you’re looking for, and as the game’s name implies they’re everywhere. I’d say the key feature that makes it stand out as more carefully made than normal is how when you find words the letters that are still parts of other words will stay in bold, which is essential to helping you find everything since there’s no key of the words to find included. With every letter in the puzzle eventually being used in what seems to be every case this is a casual game that shows a bit more effort than average and that’s worthy of at least some appreciation.

Squish [Grave Rave Games] - I’ve found over the course of the Switch’s lifespan that while it’s great it has helped lead to a resurgence in relatively simple local multiplayer there simply don’t seem to be many new and solid ideas out there to help many of them to be compelling. Falling somewhere in the middle of things is Squish, a game that doesn’t involve shooting or pummeling your foes, itself at least a change of pace from the norm, but that still can’t provide for enough variety to make it jump out as something everyone should try out. With a couple of different modes that do thankfully change up the rules (or at least how things play out), you’ll be working to defeat your enemies indirectly by shoving around falling blocks in the hopes of squishing or at least somehow trapping foes. It isn’t bad to goof around with, but playing with my family there didn’t seem to be much staying power to the experience either. I would warn you that the lone single-player friendly mode isn’t going to sustain your interest, and though it does offer online play (which seems to work adequately) given the history of indie games and their online communities I wouldn’t assume it would last very long at all.

Parasite Pack [Ratalaika Games] - At this point being more than 3,000 indie games in on the Switch I’ve seen a load of variety and differing degrees in quality and execution in titles across the entire spectrum. While games being made by lone or very small teams of developers aren’t inherently more deserving of praise for that fact alone I do have some perspective and respect for the effort it took to transform an idea into a playable product. All that said, then there are games like the two bare bones basic ones in Parasite Pack. Simplistic to a fault, and really devoid of any hint of flavor that could make them worthwhile, they feel more like reskinned and expanded “You too can make video games” tutorials, not lovingly crafted efforts that are meant to stand shoulder to shoulder with bigger titles. I genuinely worry that it’s titles like this that could give less knowledgeable gamers a bad impression of indie games as a whole if they had the misfortune of running into them.

Friday, July 1

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

The Legend of Bum-bo [Edmund McMillen] - Among the weirdo indies out there that simply have their own style and approach, The Binding of Isaac is practically an icon. With its distinctive look, decidedly gross theming, and very odd characters it simply demands your attention. That made a new game set in that “universe” have some immediate appeal, so I was excited to see what would happen with the very different direction Bum-bo would take. I’ll give the people behind this credit, a roguelike strategy puzzler wasn’t on my Bingo card of expectations… the question is whether it has managed to really make use of that distinctive style to great effect. While I can appreciate the challenge it puts up, and from character to character you’ll really have to take into account their attributes and spells to find an effective plan of attack, I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. Working a bit like a Match-3 at its core you’ll need to carefully alter the board to try to set up matches, the bigger the better, and then hope to pepper in some combos when possible as well. Clearing parts of the board will then award you with mana associated with the pieces you removed, and that will then power a pretty wide potential variety of spells you can use to try to attack your enemies, protect yourself, or alter the board in the hopes of setting yourself up for success and plain survival. After each stage you’ll then get a chance to pick out a new random spell, and these tend to vary pretty wildly, moving until you reach a stage boss, with an opportunity to use coins you’ve grabbed along the way for different perks and power-ups if you’re able to defeat them. As you clear higher stages you’ll have new characters to try to find success with, and their stats and spells will often require a radical shift from your previous strategies, something that’s absolutely a plus. All that said, among its roguelike strategy peers outside of its general sense of style I can’t say it necessarily knocks it out of the originality and addictiveness park, but if you’re a genre fan who loves a pretty good challenge it’s absolutely worth a look.

Hourglass [Secret Item Games] - Starting out with strengths, to its credit Hourglass has a reasonably-good cloning mechanic to it where you’ll be able to create a sort of ghost version of yourself to act within an environment, aiding you in actively then being able to complete it. Now, to be clear I wish the game would have put a little effort into relaying something about that to you the player, but instead you’re just sort of dropped off and expected to experiment to figure it out. Hardly an impossible task but it does lack some polish and risks losing some people before it gets started. Throughout you’ll need to continue to experiment and find new and better ways to make use of the abilities you’ve been given, hitting limitations with time or your precision in making optimum use of your abilities, but in general if you’re determined to keep trying and sticking it out there’s a rewarding feeling awaiting when you finally crack the puzzle. While its looks are pretty humble and it seems content for the most part to leverage a limited number of mechanics it at least does it pretty well, providing a solid action puzzling experience that at least feels a bit different.

Bassmaster Fishing 2022: Super Deluxe Edition [Dovetail Games] - For fans of fishing out there this is a good news / bad news sort of review. Starting with the good news, I can confidently say that among the fishing games I’ve played on the Switch this is clearly the best overall. The bad news is that I can’t say that any of the competition has really even been passably decent, so that may be more of a hollow statement than would be reassuring. There are elements here that do work pretty well, in particular when you do manage to find a decent spot and hook a fish the action is reasonably easy to follow and feels rewarding when you’re able to fight to pull in a higher-value catch, the issue is more that getting to that point can be a real challenge and sometimes feels pretty random with when and where you can find success, despite things like a digital helper that never really seemed reliable for spotting much of anything in a way that was beneficial. Worse, if you’re not an experienced angler, the game really doesn’t do itself any favors with very minimal assistance in the form of direct tutorials or even plain documentation to make the process of finding fish and/or buying/utilizing the proper gear any easier. If you’re a true fishing fan and are willing to roll the dice I’d say this is your best bet out there, but for anyone just looking to jump in for some fishing fun this will likely disappoint.

Gum+ [Elsewhere] - Visual simplicity, when done well, can absolutely work. In the case of Gum+ I wouldn’t say that it necessarily made completing its very classic box pushing puzzles terribly harder, but it also did nothing to distract from the fact that it feels like very thoroughly trod ground without any real flashes to help it stand out. You’ll be grabbing blocks of various shapes and sizes and then carefully moving them as efficiently as possible around obstacles to get them to where you need them, usually dropping them into place to allow you to reach the exit but there are also times where you’ll need to carefully be sure they’re not then in your way. I wouldn’t say it’s really any less thrilling than most of its fellow box pushers, honestly they’ve all become a bit stale at this point, but without at least a flourish of added complexity or some visual reward to keep you engaged it also ends up having too few positives to really try to elevate it at all.

Rainbow Laser Disco Dungeon [Thalamus Digital Publishing Ltd] - On a general level I tend to be a sucker for games that have a great retro arcade feel of some kind since I’m a child of the 80’s. On paper, then, Rainbow Laser Disco Dungeon would seem to have some appeal to me given that on a general level its gameplay reminds me a bit like a cross between Robotron 2084 with its twin-stick shooting and perhaps Berserk or Frenzy with its maze-like stages you explore. The thing is, it all just feels a bit too simple but not very satisfying even with some variety in its weapon pick-ups, and then even a bit sloppy in taking its minimalist approach a bit too far in some cases to the point where clarity of action becomes a problem. Oh, and I didn’t mention that contributing to the clarity issue is the pulsing / cycling colors of everything on-screen which absolutely do give the game a look of its own, but are also pretty taxing on the eyes. More than once after playing for a bit I simply needed to stop as I could feel a headache coming on, and since that’s nothing I can say has ever really happened playing games I’ll chalk that up to just cranking everything up just a bit too far even though it’s still not enough to make a relatively bland experience any more exciting anyway.