Friday, August 19

Mini Reviews: August 19th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Cult of the Lamb [Massive Monster] (Nindie Choice!) - The moment I even saw the art for this title I had a feeling I would be in love. Relatively adorable cartoon animals led by a charismatic lamb who channels the unholy power of a trapped god?!?! What’s there not to like? Thankfully, if you’re a fan of often tense top-down slashing and dodging action you shouldn’t be terribly disappointed, though the game undoubtedly doesn’t break much ground in that arena with its melee weapons that make you choose between speed and power and a hodgepodge of supplemental powers. What does set it apart though, and where it may lose some people, is that managing your cult members is actually where a substantial amount of your time and efforts will need to be focused as well if you want to make headway. Now, making the normal after-run meta progression into its own sort of game absolutely gives the game far more quirk, charm, and even challenge, but the question will be whether any given player is looking for that value add or just wants to keep slashing. Depending on where you lie on that spectrum will likely determine whether it’s for you.

RPG Time: The Legend of Wright [Aniplex Inc] (Nindie Choice!) - If there’s one thing I tend to respect most in indie titles that are the passion projects of either a lone developer or a very small group is ambition, and a willingness to put it all creatively on the line. The moment you load this title up, that sense of it being made by someone who is swinging for the fences, making a game that is in all ways distinctly theirs, is impossible to miss. Dabbling in a number of genre feels, from action to adventure to puzzling to RPG elements, the game is a bit all over the place but if you’re patient with it I think more often than not the uniqueness of the experience pays off. This is one of those titles where a look at gameplay will be the only way to grasp what the game is about, still screenshots don’t do it justice and I’m not sure there are adequate words to describe the strange adventure it takes you on. However, if you’re a fan of childhood creativity and fantasy mixed with some great observations of classic gaming tropes it’s a solid and quite family-friendly time, for sure.

We Are OFK [Team OFK] - I’ll admit, visual novels and their ilk are something I still haven’t developed a deep appreciation for, and while it has its charm I don’t think We Are OFK was able to move the needle in a more positive direction, though to its credit it also does nothing clearly wrong. The story and characters feel somewhere between a sitcom and a reality show featuring an odd collection of flawed 20-somethings. That means there’s definitely something authentic about the majority of the unusual players, but for the most part for you to get the most out of the experience that really needs to be enough for you. Interactivity is pretty limited, and in general the consequences to your decisions seem to be limited to the current conversation, but watching people struggle with their lives and challenges can at least be engaging if you’re looking for an experience headed in that direction.

Voyage [Venturous] - Over time I’ve found that much like when meeting new people, indie games in particular don’t have a second chance to make a first impression. Without any guidance on what you’re supposed to do, how the limited controls work, and then some quirks with the objects I need to move around getting stuck somehow, Voyage got off to a very rocky start for me. Thankfully perhaps not everyone may be as aggravated getting things moving, and once it got some steam in its sails things improved a bit. Taking in plenty of terrific visuals as your pair of characters try to find their way forward, if you’re down for an adventure filled with puzzles that range from mind-numbingly simple to head-scratching at times (it’s oddly inconsistent in this way), there’s a handful of hours of enjoyment here. Just be warned that it’s not a journey without “quirks”.

Little League World Series Baseball 2022 [IguanaBee] - With the distinct lack of just about any sports titles on the Switch in the indie space, without even considering the pretty meager number of baseball games, I don’t doubt fans of the sport perk up a bit whenever something new comes to the table. Unfortunately, in the case of LLWSB2022 (sorry, it’s a mouthful) you’ll want to keep your expectations pretty heavily in check if you’re hoping to have some fun with it. There’s no question that legitimate attempts have been made to make the presentation a bit showy, from the sometimes elaborate moves batters make as they come to the box (which you’ll unfortunately begin skipping endlessly since they just keep doing it for every at-bat) to an occasional Quicktime-like action sequence when trying to field a ball. The problem is simply the inconsistencies, areas that need work, and sometimes baffling AI brain farts on display by your team when setting up to field the ball. Maybe the goal was to make it more “realistic”, with kids being more imperfect in their decision-making than their professional counterparts,but too many times you’ll be left simply scratching your head at their inexplicable behaviors. Throw in batting where depth perception for where the ball is feels overly tricky, struggles to understand how and when to make your team’s special ability gauge useful (even though your opponents often seem to use theirs like it’s going out of style), and pitching against the AI batters being aggravating even when being determined to throw only absolute garbage, and as a package this game seems like its doomed to be mired in mediocrity… but at least with some style.

Friday, August 12

Mini Reviews: August 12th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Hindsight [Joel McDonald] (Nindie Choice!) - There’s just something about playing the right story-driven game that speaks to some aspect of your own life or trials that’s difficult to quantify but unmistakably powerful when it hits you. Connections to your parents, childhood, good memories and bad… perhaps I’m just at the right target age for this sort of experience but Hindsight spoke to me in a way few games have managed. That said, depending on where you are in your life and what your experiences may have been, I have no doubt that this won’t be universally true, or at least possibly not to the same depth for everyone. What helps the game further is its relatively simple but very effective presentation, with everything rendered in a 3D space you can rotate around the camera on and take in the full moment with rather than just seeing experiences through static pictures. The means of navigation through memories is tied to this ability, as you’ll need to look around for the specific object or spot that will allow the story to move forward, and I’ll admit that sometimes this method works better than others. Regardless, if you enjoy being taken on emotional journeys and appreciate a healthy hit of nostalgia and rediscovering memories from the distant past this is a terrific title to go on that road with.

Before We Leave [Balancing Monkey Games] (Nindie Choice!) - City-building strategy titles in the indie space have proven to be a difficult target, it seems, based on what usually seem to be middling results bogged down by an over-abundance of menus and interface struggles. More than anything else what I appreciate about Before We Leave is that it bucks that trend, generally keeping its interface clean, relatively simple, and in general focused more on providing an enjoyable experience rather than some crazy challenge. The pretty cool thing though is that it also scales upward pretty nicely, providing added drill-down information for those who wish to seek it out and bask more in the raw numbers of it all… and while I wouldn’t think it would provide a deep challenge it seems capable of satisfying the more casual to at least moderately experienced city-building vets. While I hit a bump or two in the tutorial with being able to apply what it was throwing at me, and perhaps getting in a little trouble playing with some toggles that I didn’t really understand, the majority of the concepts for expanding your empire make sense. You’ll need to steadily increase your different building types, seek out the means of accumulating more resources, and then work to tune everything to make it as efficient as possible. While perhaps it won’t be for everyone the fact that folks at different skill levels should be able to reasonably grasp what it will take to find success, implement it at least mostly properly, and then sit back and watch your people thrive makes it worth a look for strategy/sim fans.

Arcade Paradise [Nosebleed Interactive] - Oh, the feels this game gives me… and it’s one of those things where it triggers something that makes me worry that I can’t be objective about the experience. As a devout disciple of the local arcades in my youth the hook of the title, where you’ll inherit a laundromat to manage that you then invest some elbow grease and effort into in order to turn it into an arcade, really speaks to me. Just as I’m sure you’d find managing a real-life arcade to be less than a dream job at any given moment though, Paradise has you spending a fair amount of time on “busy work” tasks, meaning if you want to be a success you can’t just sit around. If you want to rake in the cash as quickly as possible being on top of the laundry biz, at least in the early stages, is absolutely crucial, and that can get monotonous as you work from day to day putting things in the washer, then the dryer, then getting them out the door as fast as possible to make every dollar you can. Cleaning is at least general some fun since pretty well every task has been “game-ified” in some way, though once you’ve cleaned the toilet a few times it loses some charm. The one critical area where I’d say the game let me down is in its loose adaptations of over 30 arcade machines ranging from more recognizable to generalized in some way. Playing the games effectively and tracking the daily to-do list yields rewards and unfortunately that, at times, will mean playing some of the lesser in-game titles. However, if you’re looking to get your Zen on, working on something you love, and playing some odd arcade games to fill in some time, it’s still a bit of dream fulfillment for the generation that grew up loving these magical places.

Star Seeker in: the Secret of the Sorcerous Standoff [Benedict Ide] - Before saying much about this game I’ll put a core fact out there to open, that this is a game with a very focused and limited scope that you’ll likely complete in just a few hours. Pretty much as the name of the game implies everything is focused on this one particular case, with you walking in, getting the skinny from the people on the scene, and then working through clues and deductive reasoning to work everything to a resolution. Fortunately, this plays out a bit better than I’m describing it since there’s also a fair amount of personality and humor thrown in as well to keep things more entertaining. It’s by no means a meal, but as a light bit of fun between bigger fare it would make a perfectly reasonable snack.

Super Bullet Break [BeXide] - Mixing together a few elements like deckbuilding strategy, roguelike challenge, gacha game-like collect-em-all feels, and plenty of provocative anime gals posing, there’s no doubt that Super Bullet Break has a style all its own. A fair question would be whether all of that makes for a superior experience, and though I’m sure there’ll be people who find it to their liking (probably mostly because they find the game art agreeable), on the average I’d say it’s a no. Granted, with time and building a better core deck it’s not just possible but more probable that you could cobble together a deck to match a character where you find your groove and can do some serious damage. For me, when comparing this to the competition, it just felt that outright randomness played too big a role early on with too many cards that lacked synergy and thus what seemed to be a bit too much grinding to get to a reasonable point where you feel you have decent footing. Unique but a bit unwieldy.

Wednesday, August 10

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

Lost in Play [HappyJuice Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Given the abundance of titles inspired by the classic point-and-click adventure genre on the Switch it has undoubtedly gotten difficult to do something fresh in the space. That said, I feel that Lost in Play has done just that, sort of streamlining everything to make quicker puzzles the focus, stripping out a reliance on dialogue, and rewarding your progress with consistent charm and humor. It doesn’t hurt that visually the very contemporary cartoon-like look of everything is polished and often amusing in its own right. Put that all together with increasingly-fantastic and unexpected environments and situations that the game’s brother and sister find themselves in and it’s a really odd and quirky adventure indeed that just about anyone should be able to appreciate.

Logic Pic [] - Given how much I’ve tended to enjoy Picross-style puzzle games over the years I suppose the fact that there have been multiple takes on that base idea on the Switch from different developers shouldn’t be a surprise. Well, hold onto your hats Picross fans, now there’s yet another one! Logic Pic doesn’t necessarily have a great deal of ambition, for the most part by the standards set by most of its competitors it’s lacking the variety of tackling different puzzle types, whether with different colors, differently-sized blocks, or large composites made up of multiple puzzles. This is just old-school vanilla Picross, with you trying to fill in the proper spots and mark what should be the empty spaces to try to avoid making mistakes. If you don’t like being penalized or called out for your “oopsies” you may appreciate the fact that Logic Pic does acknowledge your flub, but makes nothing much of it and keeps going at least. To the game’s credit, where it delivers the value for your dollar is with a pretty impressive number of puzzles spanning many different themes, with even more available via DLC packs if you felt inclined to just keep going. It’s not going to compete at the front of the line, but it does deliver a good value for people who just enjoy classic Picross.

After Wave: Downfall [7 Raven Studios] - Always happy to give credit when it is due, there’s no doubt that After Wave: Downfall simply has its own visual and then play style, moving away from the classic pixel-based graphics and tackling the shmup genre with more of a low-ish poly look. That difference, and the angle of the view and perspective on the action, so help the game to stand out. Unfortunately, that same visual style has a tendency to get very messy visually as the screen gets more and more crowded with enemies as well as bullets, and it can get to be a challenge just to make out what’s happening at all, let alone whether anything may be making contact with you. Throwing in different characters who play a bit differently (including a few more than are unlockable) does help to give the game more longevity as you’ll be able to hopefully find someone who suits your style, or even come back for more with someone else for a challenge. What I think it really boils down to is the issue with the lack of visual clarity, and whether you decide that you can accept and live with it or whether or not that’s a deal breaker. It really does play quite differently from the competition, and that’s a plus, but it’s impossible to ignore areas where the implementation didn’t work out as well as likely planned.

Yuoni [Tricore Inc] - If you’ve been following my reviews of the slow drip of indie horror games over the past few years you’ll find that I generally haven’t been too enamored with them. One trend has been to create what are essentially walking simulators where you wander around and wait for weird, freaky, or jump-scare sort of things to happen. The other is the one that Yuoni falls into and that’s the “sneak around and try not to get caught” type which, granted, does get your blood pressure up if you embrace the experience, but tends to get pretty repetitive in a hurry. The thing is, I do like the urban legend hook and the small bit of narrative up front, it does feel like the developers are taking a genuine stab at elevating the experience, but unfortunately all to soon it falls into the pit of trying to move quietly, hiding, trying not to make noise, and hoping you can evade capture… or you’ll be going back again to start over. It can create suspenseful moments but it’s not much of a meal of an experience, rather kind of junk food-y and you’ll be hungry again in an hour.

Fightro [Weakfish Studio] - Considering the generally thin representation of the fighting genre on the Switch from the indie side of the house (though there are some superb ones, to be sure) it’s always great to see a new contender come into the ring. Keeping things decidedly simple, Fightro isn’t much like any fighting games you’re likely thinking of, keeping the action on the ground, focusing on limited attacks, combo use, and a block-and-counter strategy rather than the typically flashy style in the genre. I suppose there’s something to be said for the more strategic take but there simply isn’t enough content here to sustain pretty well anyone’s interest for more than a handful of brief sitdowns if that. The competitor AI is a bit cheap with its attacks but simply being patient enough to block and counter efficiently encompasses the majority of the tactics you’ll need to employ. Match that with the fact that after 3 rounds you’ll simply go back to the menu, win or lose, and it actually feels more like a demo than a completed title.

Friday, August 5

Mini Reviews: August 5th Edition [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Digimon Survive [Bandai Namco Games] (Nindie Choice!) - When you’ve got an established franchise with a recognizable name, making the decision to swim against the current and make something very different within that same world takes some guts. Generally forgoing the critter cultivating and fighting that is normally associated with Digimon (though it still does play a role, just very much in the back seat), Survive is instead dedicated to the attempt to deliver a compelling visual novel experience, complete with the drama and need to make decisions along the way that tends to come with the territory. Aside from the mix of solid storytelling and periodic tactical battles, what's most notable about the game is simply how gorgeous it is for the most part, bringing the various beasties to life with often vibrant colors and great details. If you’re not open to a mostly story-driven experience you’ll likely walk away disappointed by this offshoot effort, but if your interest is in occupying this world and experiencing it in a very new and different way you’ll likely find it quite agreeable.

South of the Circle [State of Play Games] (Nindie Choice!) - Telling stories that intertwine with history isn’t something you normally see much of, but in the case of South of the Circle the use of real world events as a backdrop to a fraught love story helps make it more notable. Your somewhat limited level of interaction at decision points can take some getting used to, and certainly demonstrates the limits of how differently you’d be able to play things out, but it also keeps things moving and works well enough. You’ll need to remember what sort of response/decision each symbol and color represent in order to exert as much control as you’re able to influence how things play out, though in truth most of the time it feels like there’s only so much you’re able to do to change the course of events as fate has laid out. Whether this all leads to a satisfying conclusion may also be a fair question or possible complaint, but credit to the developer for giving the game a distinctive look, generally using solid voice acting, and trying to do something a bit different in the space.

MADiSON [BLOODIOUS GAMES] - Oh, horror games, how mixed my feelings tend to be about you on the Switch. I will admit that at least MADiSON seems to have helped me break out of what was feeling like a depressing streak of titles that had little more to offer than periodic jump scares injected into dull walking simulators. That said, it would be incorrect to say that it doesn’t have any warts. First, while you can thankfully adjust the brightness and contrast I’m never a fan of games that don’t get that addressed up front as by default it’s damned near impossible to see anything. I understand that you want it to be dark to help with the atmosphere, but when you can’t make out much of anything very well it’s also annoying. Second, though granted this may be a “me” issue for the life of me I couldn’t understand what I was supposed to do to rotate an object in a puzzle right at the start. The on-screen help symbol actually confused me quite a bit, and since it felt like there were plenty of available buttons to use, the decision to make you use the D-Pad felt bizarre as it was literally the last option I would have assumed would have been chosen. If you can get over those issues and survive what are sometimes vague puzzles that will require you to scrounge around in the hopes of stumbling onto a solution by accident there’s no doubt the experience features a solid creep and scare factor, something its competition doesn’t always deliver, just be aware it’s not all positives.

Kokoro Clover Season 1 [Hikoteru] - Credit to the team behind this unusual title, it has a style all its own and an almost saccharine positivity that wants to win you over. Feeling almost as determined to entertain with its quirky story cutscenes, commercials, and colorful characters as with gameplay though that’s where some cracks do show. Finding the right level of difficulty for your game is no doubt a serious development challenge, but while the relative ease seems to suit the generally kid-friendly vibes the game exudes from every pore there’s no mistaking that most of the action is quite simplistic. Weirdly you do have quite a number of abilities, cards, and helper characters you’re able to leverage, which lends a feel of personalization and variety, but given the lack of creativity and variety in the stage design and so much of the action being pretty basic those skills don’t feel very necessary. Throw in the problem that if you’re really here for consistent action the presentation-heavy nature of everything may ice your enthusiasm from stage to stage. It’s absolutely its own thing, and that’s something I appreciate in a title, but I’m also not entirely sure who the target audience necessarily is given its generally dull gameplay.

LootLite [Isoca Games] - Budget-friendly games that deliver a decent experience are always appreciated but figuring out at what point the base expectations for them feel sufficient is a tricky proposition. In principle LootLite shows some promise, with a pretty classic arcade feel as you move around different zones taking out bad guys, trying to get lucky with some decent upgrades, and last as long as you can with a variety of classes you’ll slowly unlock. In execution though the lack of more differentiation in how the game plays with these other classes feels a bit more minimal than hoped and repeated runs don’t themselves inspire a deep need to keep pushing further. If you’re hurting for that classic play style and keep your expectations in check it may suffice, but there are so many better roguelike actioners out there that periodically go on sale and make a far better value proposition than this.

Wednesday, August 3

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

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 [Inti Creates] (Nindie Choice!) - While to date the Azure Striker Gunvolt series has always made a strong impression with its impressive visuals and generally unique style of play it has never truly clicked with me overall, usually feeling a bit too limited in its combat style to command my interest. While in general it absolutely stays true to those roots, the addition of some new elements and a fresh splash of variety propel the third title in the series ahead into much more rarified action gaming air. While Gunvolt remains just as powerful (and full of visual flair) as ever, it’s the introduction of Kirin who has some similarities in her play style but is different enough that takes things to a more varied and exciting place. The visuals in the series have always been over-the-top and gorgeous in their representation of electricity-filled chaos and certainly this entry doesn’t disappoint, if nothing else offering up a new set of visuals to go with new moves and attacks. Putting together frantic and pretty crazy combat and often pretty smart traversal puzzles that will challenge you to execute the right moves with the right timing to grab extra goodies, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 delivers the goods that should satisfy fans of the series as well as people looking for something unique to take for a spin.

Train Valley: Console Edition [Flazm] (Nindie Choice!) - Who knew that a train management game could quickly get to be so tricky and compelling?!? I know I didn’t! When you first start out it feels a bit like a cute little sandbox simulator, with you working to connect stations and making sure to manage the switches on the track to get the right trains to the proper destinations. But oh how quickly it gets to be so much more and, honestly, quite addicting. Part puzzler, part strategy, part management sim you’ll be pressed to be smart about how you lay out your track, where you create your junctions, and very often how you manage the timing of different departing trains (while you’re still able to control them) to maximize your efficiency and profits while avoiding any nastiness like collisions. While giving off much more innocent overall vibes this is a pretty serious challenge of a game that took me by surprise!

Bright Paw [Radical Forge] - For me this is just a thoroughly odd title. Partly telling the story of a cat and the quest to understand what has happened to his owners who’ve apparently been hiding some massive secrets, partly presenting you with bite-sized stages that will at least mildly challenge your puzzle skills to move through each one safely, and partly a “find the things to click on in every room” hunt and seek it’s an odd bird. Truly, the switching to using pointer controls to find what are almost always random and generally worthless objects that simply have basic descriptions and typically do nothing to improve your situation or provide added insight into the story are a mystery to me. Well, aside from just being a feature to check off a list, but the way it’s implemented this feels like a massive missed opportunity for adding depth. That leaves you with the mix of the story which is odd but moves quite slowly, and what are (more often than not) pretty simple puzzles with you determining how to use a series of specific movements in the right order to get from the entrance to the exit. The result isn’t bad but doesn’t really rise to being great either, two puzzle pieces that you can sort of force together but that never really feel cohesive either. Just an odd bird, though there’s some quality here if you don’t mind the disconnect.

Avenging Spirit [Ratalaika Games] - Considering the fact that I love retro throwbacks AND games that have something unusual or creative about the way they play, the character-possessing run-n-gun-ish platforming of Avenging Spirit would seem to be a great fit for me. I love the challenge of understanding which enemy types are the best to possess and why under what circumstances, and I love the “this is what I’ve got, and I’m going to have to make it work” nature of how much of the game is played where you can’t control when you’re going to need to possess someone new. All that said, there’s something about the general construction of the levels and many of their elements which doesn’t match up to the quality of the idea itself so the play experience comes out as undoubtedly novel but not necessarily compelling for any length of time. If you’re game for something that simply does things its own way this is a great title to give a look as it undoubtedly forges its own path, just be warned that there’s an unpolished quality to the experience that is a bit of a letdown.

Animal Rivals: Up in the Air [Console Labs] - One of the titles in the extended Nintendo stable that I wish would make a return is PilotWings. The Switch really hasn’t had any real alternatives that deliver that feel well, and in truth there’s only a small handful you could even say lean in its direction in the first place. When I took an initial look at Animal Rivals I was getting a little bit of that vibe and had some hopes, though understanding that this is ultimately an aerial racing game, I was just hoping there could be some of that polished flight play that was at the intersection of fun and skill. Unfortunately, Up in the Air really struggles to get off the ground in multiple areas. The layout of the tracks, which are dictated by rings that are suspended in the air, is almost immediately a noticeable problem right off the bat. Struggling to understand where you’re supposed to be flying is a consistent early problem, and the relatively close proximity of the rings exacerbates the problem considerably. The next problem is simply in the disappointing controls and general feel, most notably the fact that it seems that gravity is practically non-existent in the game, with you decelerating your plane generally lacking the expected pull of gravity to complicate you simply “hitting the brakes” as you try to make tight turns. Last is just the all-over-the-place feel of the various power-ups that range from simply difficult to use, to overpowered, to simply uninspired in general. Your best hope of getting something out of it would be playing with friends, but even then this game is a low-budget mess overall.