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Found 125 results

  1. Eliwood8

    Mario Tennis Aces Review

    It wouldn't be a Nintendo system with a Mario sports title, now would it? Mario Tennis Aces leads the sports spin-offs on the Switch with all of our Mushroom Kingdom favorites taking to the court for a friendly match or two. Aces comes with the standard bells and whistles of local and online multiplayer, as well as a variety of new features to liven up the game and a return to single-player story mode. This game has a lot to prove after the rather disappointingly bare-boned Ultra Smash on the Wii U, but thankfully Nintendo and Camelot managed to avoid a double fault of Mario tennis games. Aces brings an adventure mode back to a Mario sports game, something we haven't seen for quite a few games now. The story involves an ancient powerful tennis racket taking over Luigi's body, so Mario has to collect the five infinity stones power stones before the possessed Luigi gets them and regains the full power of the legendary racket. It's not a super original story and even by Mario game standards feels pretty flat, but adventure mode does offer a nice single-player option that is perfect for training. In addition to normal matches adventure mode has several optional challenges that are essentially tutorials for practicing aim and the new zone mechanics in Aces. Plus there are boss battles which, while a little tedious at times with some of their hazards, offer plenty of practice for blocking powerful zone shots. Even if the story is super short, these challenges offer a nice bit of practice before you dive into a tournament or an online match. Obviously Aces is, at its core, a classic tennis game, with a decent variety of characters (each with their own styles) and courts (each with their own hazards). The big additions to Aces revolve around the new energy meter, which charges as you play. When a star appears on the court you can spend some of your energy to activate a powerful zone shot to aim at a specific spot on the court. These extra-fast shots are particularly difficult to return, but the defending player can use their own energy to activate zone speed to slow down time, making it easier to reach the ball. It might take a few matches to really get a handle on how to use these abilities effectively but they're a wonderfully balanced way of adding challenge without overwhelming one player since, even if your opponent uses a lot of zone shots, you can always rely on your own zone speed to keep up. And it's nice to have these new abilities that aren't wildly out of character for tennis—essentially they just power up your offensive and defensive abilities. With a fully charged meter you can also execute an even more powerful special shot, the main advantage of which is breaking your opponent's racket. Rackets have a limited durability in Aces; if a player fails to block a zone shot the racket takes partial damage while a special shot will fully break the racket—if all of a player's rackets break it's an instant loss. Although it's neat to have another way to win and another aspect to consider as you play, the concept of breaking rackets feels a little out of place, especially when practiced players can learn to block damage from these powerful shots anyway. In a way it just feels like it's punishing new players rather than adding a deep or rewarding twist to the gameplay. Another new feature that is tricky to master—and may be a little discouraging for new players—is trick shots, which allow you to quickly dash toward the ball to return it. The catch here is that you really have to be precise with your timing to use trick shots effectively, often to the point of reading your opponent before the ball is even over the net, so it can be a risky maneuver. However, the reward for using trick shots is significant. Not only can it help you reach out-of-the-way shots, you'll gain energy for well-timed trick shots, making them feel like a more unbalanced feature than zone shots or speed—it's just not fun at all to play against someone that constantly uses trick shots. As a side mode Aces also includes a motion-controlled option called Swing mode. Anyone that played Wii Sports Tennis should remember the basic mechanics here, and although swinging the Joy-Con around like a racket is a fun novelty, Swing mode might be best used as a party mode with friends that don't play as much rather than a mode with much real depth. Naturally the multiplayer options are a big part of Aces, and you can play locally or online to face off with tennis players near and far. In addition to simple quick matches against random opponents, Aces offers a tournament mode that lets you compete for points and the glory of earning high marks each month. The concept is great, and perhaps this is more of a problem with the size or variety of the online community but you'll most likely find some wildly inconsistent match-ups as you play, swinging back and forth between opponents that you easily crush and others that you can't seem to score a single point on. On the bright side I never waited long for an opponent, but the balancing of skill levels left me rather disinterested in taking tournaments seriously. The visuals and audio have all of the colorful, familiar Mario and friends design you'd expect out of a Mario sports game. There's little that will surprise you if you've played virtually any other Mario sports title but even so, Aces looks great on the Switch, both on the TV and handheld. And even if the music rarely has a chance to shine through during intense rallies, there are some fun compositions here as well. Mario Tennis Aces adds some fun new features to the familiar tennis rally, as well as some more advanced techniques that are a bit obnoxious unless you put in the time to fully master their effects, which is only made more difficult by the inconsistent matchmaking while playing online. Still, Aces offers all the standard tennis gameplay for fans to enjoy, and if you do put in the effort to learn all of the more advanced aspects of the game there's a decent amount of depth to enjoy here. Rating: 7 out of 10 Rackets
  2. Eliwood8

    Road to Ballhalla Review

    One part Marble Madness, one part rhythm game, and just a pinch of silly humor, Road to Ballhalla from developer Torched Hill and publisher tinyBuild Games manages to combine several disparate elements into one cohesive game, one that is simple enough to be easily accessible but with enough depth to keep more hardcore players engaged. Even if you're looking to play through the campaign once though and not master all of the game's challenges, Road to Ballhalla offers a fun little experience with arcade-style challenges backed up by a killer soundtrack. Road to Ballhalla isn't a story driven game but I have to give special mention to the game's sense of humor. Scattered throughout each level is cheeky commentary, including pointed barbs at the player when you fail and some silly puns/references, and the jokes land far more often than not. It's like having a friend watching you play and giving you a good-natured ribbing, and it's nice to see a developer just having fun with their game. The best part might be the meta humor—be sure to check out the easy mode option in the game's settings. In Road to Ballhalla you control a ball (surprise surprise) and ultimately your goal is to simply reach the end of the stage by rolling past all variety of hazards. The catch here that makes the game a bit more unique is that it's essentially a rhythm game—hazards appear on a rhythmic beat so you want to get into the groove to roll through a level smoothly. Like a lot of rhythmic games it's incredibly satisfying to find that perfect flow. In Ballhalla, every time you reach a new checkpoint feels like a nice accomplishment. It helps that the game isn't incredibly difficult. There are challenges to be sure, and you're sure to die a few times on each level, but maybe it's the focus on rhythmic gameplay that makes the game engaging from one attempt to the next rather than stressful and tense. And Road to Ballhalla definitely takes it easy on the player in a couple of respects. One, not all hazards are instant death, so even if you're a little off the beat and take some damage it's not the end of the world. Granted, not all hazards are so kind, but it's still nice to have that wiggle room. Two, there are generous checkpoints throughout each level, and checkpoints restore your health. Even if you do die you'll never lose too much progress. And finally, rather than featuring a time limit or high score, each level has two requirements for full marks: collect all of the yellow orbs and die five times or fewer. For completionists these add a nice extra challenge but aren't overwhelming—the yellow orbs are generally laid out across the most efficient path anyway and dying isn't so common that five or fewer is an insurmountable challenge. It feels like the game isn't out to punish you needlessly, which is a nice change of pace for an arcade-style action game. The one downside is that there are only 24 levels, short enough that you could conceivably finish the entire game in just one sitting. On the other hand, with a relatively modest number of levels each one can offer unique challenges, so there aren't any pointlessly repeated concepts or hazards. Each level feels new and engaging, and the game's rhythm makes it easy to keep playing one level after another. Plus, if you are a completionist, there are actually quite a few more challenges to tackle. The main levels may not have a time limit but you can also play Rush versions which are time trials: beat the level under a specific amount of time. This is definitely a lot more challenging but given the rhythm-driven gameplay it still feels fairly natural, and even casual players might want to give it a try. Once you've had your fill of that too you can try to tackle the game's special scavenger hunt, which gives you cryptic clues for one hidden exit after another. The downside is you'll need to replay levels to get to them but it's a nice extra touch for players who've mastered everything else. Given the rhythm focus of the gameplay it should be no surprise that the music in Road to Ballhalla is excellent. More than just getting you into the groove, the soundtrack has an almost hypnotic beat to it, one that is almost relaxing if you weren't focused on dodging lasers and pitfalls. It's truly a mark of care and quality that each song feels so well tailored to the level it appears in. The visual side of the presentation is decidedly more minimalist, but even if the game is mostly just a bunch of colored grids with your ball rolling along it's still rather charming. And again there's something ironically relaxing about the game's simple graphics and groovy soundtrack—maybe that's what makes it so easy to keep playing even when you've died a dozen times in the same spot. At a glance Road to Ballhalla may look like the kind of game you've played plenty of times, but the game distinguishes itself with some important differences that keep it engaging and entertaining from the first note to the last. The rhythmic gameplay makes it easy to dive right into the game and keep playing level after level as the music keeps you entranced and the challenging yet fair level design leaves you eager to tackle each new stage. It's a shame that the main game is relatively short, but if you're willing to take on the more difficult time trials Road to Ballhalla will keep you rolling and grooving for hours. Rating: 8 out of 10 Balls Review copy provided by the publisher Road to Ballhalla is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  3. Originally released in 2017, four years after the first game, The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk from developer Studio Fizbin and publisher Headup Games brings players back to the land of Asposia where, despite Robert's heroic feats in the first game, a new danger threatens to unravel Asposian society. With new elaborate puzzles, detailed environments, and of course plenty of humor, The Last Wind Monk provides a satisfying follow-up for the point-and-click adventure fans of the first game. The Last Wind Monk picks up three years after the first game, and even after Robert's heroic efforts, all is not well in Asposia. Although Robert successfully overthrew the former tyrannical ruler, the despot's supporters insist on reinstating him and paint Robert as an enemy of the state. Now Robert and Laura need the help of the last wind monk to save Asposia once again. The Last Wind Monk benefits from a stronger overarching plot—the first game had plenty of charming scenes but the first half of the game didn't have a very urgent mission. This game, however, starts off with a more serious goal right off the bat, and with established characters too. The game's political message is also rather timely for today's society. But that's not to say The Last Wind Monk is all serious business. The writing has the same blend of humor and charm as the first game, bringing the strange world of Asposia to life. This game retains all of the adventure game point-and-click mechanics of the first: in each area of the game you're going to explore, examine everything on screen, pick up items, and use them to solve puzzles. But while the first game was a bit more forgiving with its puzzle design, The Last Wind Monk ratchets up the difficulty with more elaborate puzzles. On the one hand, elaborate puzzles can be a lot of fun—they're more engaging and more rewarding once you figure out the solution, and there is also a character swapping mechanic in this game which gives even more variety to how you approach puzzles. On the other hand though, this game slips into that frustrating territory so many adventure games do: ridiculous puzzle solutions. There are far more puzzles in The Last Wind Monk that seem to necessitate just trial and error gameplay because there's little logic behind the solution, or at the very least only obscure hints. The environments in general are just bigger in this game as well, which makes experimentation a little more difficult. It's great that The Last Wind Monk ups the ante for players already familiar with the first game's brand of puzzle solving, but it might have been a step too far. Thankfully though the game still has the step-by-step hint system, so at least when you get stuck, the game can nudge you in the right direction. One of the bigger annoyances of the first game has been addressed—at least somewhat. The controls remain a bit clunky when you're playing with a controller since it's awkward to select objects to examine and scroll through them. However, if you play in handheld mode you can use the Switch's touch screen which is so much more convenient for quickly looking around and using/combining items. It's still possible to miss noticing what you can interact with but at least it's easier to select items and points of interest. The visuals and audio in the game are much the same as its predecessor—quirky character design in a fantastical world full of bizarre creatures and environments. It does feel like The Last Wind Monk is bigger and more refined than the first game though. As mentioned the environments are a bit bigger and more elaborate, meaning the puzzles are more challenging but also that there are more fun details to spot as you play. And the choppy animation of the first game, while distinctive in its own way, has been smoothed out here so the visuals seem to flow a bit better. On the downside loading times seem noticeably longer, which is especially unfortunate given how every region of the game is made up of several screens, necessitating a lot of load time as you frequently move between screens. The music, meanwhile, is largely the same in variety and quality as the first game: a decent soundtrack, but overshadowed by the variety of charming voice acting, from Robert and Laura to the various weird characters you meet along the journey. The Last Wind Monk is a bit longer than the first game, and as mentioned the puzzles are distinctly more elaborate and challenging, so you'll probably spend more time trying to figure things out. And once again there isn't much replay incentive since it's an adventure/puzzle game, but fans of the genre will still feel like they've gotten their money's worth here. The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk offers only a few new frills on top of the classic point-and-click adventure gameplay of the first game, but for fans of the quirky characters and humor of Asposia it should still offer a satisfying sequel. Although some of the new, more complex puzzles drift into frustrating territory, the built-in hint system means you're never completely without a lifeline should you find yourself completely stuck, and the touch screen controls while playing undocked is a welcome addition. If you haven't had your fill of Robert and the flute noses after the first game, The Last Wind Monk offers another charming dip into the strange but endearing universe of The Inner World. Rating: 8 out of 10 Monks Review copy provided by the publisher The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  4. Eliwood8

    The Inner World Review

    Originally released back in 2013, The Inner World from developer Studio Fizbin and publisher Headup Games takes players into a totally bizarre but charming world full of oddly animated people and flying monsters. At the center of it all is one boy who stumbles upon the truth behind his unusual flute-shaped nose, and the real reason that the world is running out of wind. In classic point-and-click adventure game fashion you'll scan everything on screen to find useful items to progress through this puzzle-filled and beautifully strange environments of The Inner World. In the quirky little world of Asposia, a land surrounded by soil that relies upon three wind fountains for air, lives young Robert, a boy under the tutelage of Conroy the wind monk. Robert is a naive but cheerful lad living a secluded life, but when a pigeon steals his master's prized pendant Robert leaves the confines of his temple and discovers the real Asposia. Also, Robert has a flute for a nose. The Inner World is beautifully imaginative, the kind of story that throws one silly idea after another at you and you just kind of go along with the ride. That's not to say the game is all nonsense—the fantastical elements are actually quite charming and the plot tells an engaging little story about Robert and the truth behind his past. There's also plenty of humor found in this bizarre little cast of characters—the highly aggressive hedgehog, though more of a visual gag, is definitely a highlight. There are some perhaps not wholly unpredictable twists in the story but from start to finish Asposia paints a fun little story set in a unique world. The Inner World is a classic adventure game: click on objects to investigate them, collect items, combine them in weird ways, and solve puzzles to progress. It's a familiar gameplay formula and while this game doesn't try anything too new with it the gameplay is still quite engaging throughout the adventure. In fact, it helps that, unlike a lot of other adventure games, The Inner World doesn't seem bent on completely stumping the player. Too often adventure games rely upon completely esoteric puzzles that only drag down the pacing and enjoyment of the game—that's not the case here. The Inner World still has its challenges (and sometimes combining items in a somewhat haphazard way will lead to some useful creations) but for the most part the puzzles don't feel overwhelmingly obtuse. It helps that each region of the game is relatively small and you rarely pick up more than a handful of items at once, so it's easy to focus just on what tools you have and their possible uses in the immediate vicinity. In this regard The Inner World makes a good adventure game for players new to the genre. And as an added bonus, the game has a built-in hint system if you do find yourself stuck—happens to the best of us when we accidentally overlook one small object that's the key to the puzzle. Rather than run to an online guide, you can use The Inner World's hint system which offers step by step hints for each of your current objectives, so you don't have to worry about spoiling any other solutions or details if you just need help with one specific scenario. Everyone needs a little nudge in the right direction now and then and it's great that the game offers a detailed hint system throughout the adventure. On the other hand, players probably wouldn't need as many hints if the controls were a little smoother. On the Switch the controls are frankly disappointing—you can really tell that the game was built for a mouse and keyboard and not a console controller. You can't just walk up to an object and interact with it, you need to highlight it by pressing L, R, or Y, then select an action like examine or interact. It's a clunky interface made even more annoying by the fact that you have to be near the object to even see if you can interact with it in the first place; at the very least the game ought to highlight everything on screen when you press Y to check. This also means it's extremely easy to overlook something, and just walking around the environment is more awkward than it needs to be. Possibly the worst aspect though is pressing L and R to cycle through the possible objects on screen—it's an awkward system that will often leave you accidentally pressing the wrong button. The controls really put a damper on the pacing and flow of the game as you're constantly struggling just to select the object you want to investigate. The Inner World's unique look comes from its hand-drawn animation. The art style alone is delightfully eccentric, with all the charm and personality of an experimental cartoon, which makes exploring this strange world quite the visual feast. More importantly the slightly choppy animation gives the characters' movements a unique pacing. It's a little hard to look at sometimes but it's undeniably eye-catching in its own way. The music is decent enough as an atmospheric background soundtrack, and being able to play Robert's nose is a fun touch, but the voice acting gets special mention for being just as quirky as the rest of the game. Robert's somewhat nasally voice and quiet way of speaking is perfect for his meek character—and, you know, the fact that he has a bunch of holes in his nose. All of the voice work is charming and helps bring the odd little world of Asposia to life. The Inner World isn't a particularly long adventure, unless you find yourself often stuck on puzzles and refuse to give the in-game hints a try. On average though you'll probably spend six or seven hours in the land of Asposia. The only downside is that, as an adventure game, there isn't a lot of inherent replay incentives since you'd just be solving the same puzzles again. Still, the goofy humor and unusual art style might be reason enough to enjoy the game more than once. Full of strange characters and even stranger puzzle solutions, The Inner World is a delightfully charming adventure game on the Switch, held back somewhat by a clunky control scheme that makes every simple task a little more annoying than it ought to be. If you can look past the controls though you'll be treated to a quirky little story full of clever—but not too clever—puzzles and one of the most unique visual styles you'll see on the Switch. Rating: 7 out of 10 Flute Noses Review copy provided by the publisher The Inner World is available now on the Switch eShop for $11.99. (Keep an eye out for my upcoming review of The Inner World: The Last Wind Monk, the game's sequel, also available on the eShop right now!)
  5. Eliwood8

    Iconoclasts Review

    A labor of love from a one-man developer, Iconoclasts has been in development in one form or another since 2009, going through a couple of different names but always retaining the same core concept. Fans have had to wait patiently until the game was released on other systems earlier this year, and just this week on Switch. I'm happy to say the final game is 100% worth the wait. Iconoclasts from developer Joakim "Konjak" Sandberg and publisher Bifrost Entertainment is one of the most inventive, engaging, and thoughtful Metroidvania side-scrollers you'll ever play, and the care and attention of its dedicated developer is evident throughout the adventure. In Iconoclasts you play as Robin, an unlicensed mechanic in a world ruled by a totalitarian religious regime called One Concern. Robin's mechanic activities are illegal and punishable by death, so she has to hide her activity from One Concern. As the game begins, the story feels like a fairly standard basis for an adventure game—unique in its details, but fundamentally along the same tracks as other games, i.e. a scrappy heroine fights against an oppressive power. Once you get a little deeper into the game though the story takes off. There's a lot more interesting world building in Iconoclasts than you might initially expect, and it's all woven quite naturally into the game. There are some long cutscenes but information seems to flow at a natural pace. It's also surprising how dark and introspective the game gets. Robin is your classic silent protagonist but along her journey the people she meets go through serious character development, fueled by Robin's tireless desire to help people, and the game ends up dipping into some interesting philosophical territory. I don't want to give the impression that the story is too dry—there are a lot of great comedic moments as well, especially given the limited pixel artwork, but the somewhat surprising depth of the story is a breath of fresh air in the video game landscape, and even if there are a lot of cutscenes you'll quickly find yourself enraptured by them. Iconoclasts is a side-scrolling action/adventure game in the style of Metroidvania: Robin has a wrench and a stun gun and uses both to defeat monsters and explore a vast, interconnected world, full of secrets to find. It's a classic game genre for a good reason—the basic gameplay is simple enough for players to dive in immediately but the gradual progression of new items that allow you to explore new areas (and retread older ones for hidden items) is still wonderfully addictive, making you want to explore just a bit more every time you reach a new region. Iconoclasts in particular strikes a fantastic balance between using this classic gameplay formula but still making it modern enough to feel relevant today. Few of the little annoyances of old side-scrollers are found here, leaving only a charming adventure with a satisfyingly fluid sense of progression and challenge. The environment and level design in particular perfectly sets the pace of the game: each region has unique and interesting minor platforming puzzles to overcome, so there's always something new and exciting to engage with. The only minor quibble surrounding exploration is just that it would have been slightly more convenient to have a mini-map on the screen at all times. Pressing pause (+) brings up the map easily enough, but a constant mini-map one small feature that would have been nice. Possibly the absolute highlight of Iconoclasts, though, is the variety of bosses. The game boasts of having over twenty bosses, but what's really impressive is the variety and scope of each one. No two are alike, but each one is an intense, exciting duel that often requires a strong grasp of all of Robin's combat skills, as well as, of course, careful attention to the boss's attack patterns. And yet the bosses never feel overwhelmingly difficult or unfair. Iconoclasts manages to have inventive boss challenges, some with multiple stages to the fight, but without devolving into overtly cruel or unforgiving battles. Every time you come upon a boss in Iconoclasts you'll be excited to see what new challenge awaits you. A big part of exploring is finding hidden treasure chests, and what are in those chests you ask? Crafting materials! Iconoclasts doesn't have a hugely elaborate crafting system but you can create tweaks at special workbenches and then equip up to three tweaks at a time. Tweaks grant small skill bonuses, such as moving a little faster or dealing more damage with Robin's wrench, so they're a great little way to customize your playthrough without bogging the player down in meticulous stat building. Additionally, when you get hit one of your tweaks will break—don't worry, you can collect energy from defeated enemies to recharge your tweaks—so there's an extra layer of balancing how you use tweaks: to make the most of them, you'll have to play carefully. It may sound small but it's a fun extra layer to the gameplay. The graphics and music in Iconoclasts are absolutely stunning. If you're a fan of pixel art you're going to love this game, and if you aren't a fan this may well convert you. Not only is the scenery beautifully designed with colorful details in every region you explore, the characters are just adorable. More than that though, they're impressively expressive, even when faces only have a few pixels-worth of detail. It really comes down to classic animation techniques, and Iconoclasts nails them. Comedic moments have a wonderful flourish to them, while dramatic moments feel intense, all while working within a simple but very striking art style. From start to finish, Iconoclasts is just a joy to look at. And the music isn't half bad either, from the bubbly upbeat background music that starts your adventure to the catchy theme songs for important characters, and on to the more somber tunes when the story takes a turn for the more serious. It's a wonderful soundtrack that will keep your head bobbing along throughout the game. And speaking of which, Iconoclasts clocks in at a pretty respectable ten hours or so—though thanks to the brisk pace of the adventure those hours will fly by and the game will be over before you want it to. Like any Metroidvania worth its salt though there are plenty of secrets to uncover, as well as some side quests to tackle. The game tracks your completion percentage on your save file so completionists will enjoy seeing everything Iconoclasts has to offer. If you're not done there though you can try replaying the game on a different difficulty level or in New Game+, carrying over your tweaks. There's also a boss rush mode if you want to relive all of those boss fights in a more fast-paced, thrilling context. From start to finish Iconoclasts is a game that will keep you captivated. First for its stylish and gorgeously designed art and music, then for its polished take on a classic gameplay formula, then finally for its gripping story that seamlessly transitions among adventure, comedy, and drama. It is frankly shocking that such a game could have come from a single developer, but those years of hard work have yielded one of the best games I've played this year. Despite whatever you may think on first look, you've never played a game quite like Iconoclasts, but it's a game that everyone absolutely ought to play. Rating: 9 out of 10 Icons Review copy provided by the publisher Iconoclasts is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  6. Eliwood8

    Hello Neighbor Review

    We all have that one neighbor we're a little suspicious of—the one that's coming and going at odd hours, or you heard something that sounded like a scream from their house. We've seen the formula plenty of times in films like Rear Window and The 'Burbs, and now developer Dynamic Pixels and publisher tinyBuild Games have brought the trope to video games with the stealth/horror blend of Hello Neighbor. Originally announced a couple of years ago, Hello Neighbor built steam in the fan community thanks to the variety of puzzles seen in Alpha builds, quirky art style, and the neighbor's ability to adapt to your actions as you play. But despite having a great premise for a unique game, the final product is riddled with problems, from clunky controls to insanely obtuse puzzle design. In Hello Neighbor you play as a young boy, bouncing a ball down the road, when you get to your neighbor's house across the street from your own and hear a suspicious scream, then see the neighbor frantically locking up his basement. From there your quest becomes finding out what is actually going on in the man's strange house full of odd contraptions and bizarre constructions like a ladder that leads to the roof and into a bedroom upstairs. Throughout all of this the neighbor will chase you down and throw you out if he catches you. One thing that Hello Neighbor perfectly nails is the creepy ambiance. The game's world is colorful and cartoony but everything about the neighbor and his house is unsettling—it perfectly captures that feeling, especially as a kid, of suspecting something weird is going on but never actually seeing it confirmed first-hand. As the plot progresses there are elements that become a little hard to follow, including what appear to be flashbacks in the neighbor's life, which makes the finale not quite as satisfyingly concrete as I'd like it to be, but during the game the mystery helps fuel the eerie vibe of the neighbor and his house. Gameplay-wise, Hello Neighbor combines stealth and adventure-puzzle solving—for example, in Act 1 you need to get into the locked basement, so you have to explore the house to find the key, which really means overcoming a variety of other smaller puzzle challenges to reach the key. It's a solid concept that completely falls flat in execution. On one hand it's neat that you can interact with most anything in the game. You can pick up boxes, books, picture frames, etc. and try to figure out inventive ways to utilize them to explore. On the other hand, the sheer openness of this kind of gameplay makes playing Hello Neighbor a total slog as you flounder about trying to figure out what to do. The game very rarely gives any kind of hint toward a solution, and some of these puzzles are completely wild. Sure, some things are fairly obvious—if you find a shovel maybe investigate that suspicious patch of loose dirt in the backyard—but it feels like more often you'll encounter an object that offers no explanation of what it's even for, like a button that activates something elsewhere and then you have to find its effect. It's trial-and-error to a completely tedious degree. Which still wouldn't be that frustrating of a concept if not for the neighbor's relentless pursuit of you throughout the house. Here the stealth aspect of the game comes into play: when the neighbor spots you he'll chase you down in what is truly a frightening sight and grab you, then you'll respawn outside of the house. You only get a small warning when the neighbor is near so he has a way of sneaking up on you as you explore, plus there are really only two options to evade him: run outside of the house or try to hide inside a wardrobe. The kicker is that the neighbor will adapt to your habits, so for example if he saw you coming through the front door he'll place a bear trap there to catch you next time (which is maybe an extreme response to a kid wandering into your house). Again, this is a fun, clever concept that just isn't put to good use in Hello Neighbor. Not only do these traps quickly add up, turning the already tedious process of exploring the house into an even more grueling task, but there are only a couple of things the neighbor even does to stop you. The concept seems to want to make exploration feel more dynamic, i.e. you can't use the same paths every time, but ultimately the new traps just feel kind of bland. The final nail in the coffin of Hello Neighbor is the controls. The game was originally built for the PC so it's not too surprising that there would be some awkwardness in translating the game to a standard console controller, but that doesn't excuse the level of stiff, finnicky controls found here. Interacting with objects is way more awkward than it has any right to be—especially small objects when you need to get the screen's cursor perfectly over the item. And since there are no directions in the game sometimes it's hard to understand how an item is actually meant to be used. The game's physics means you can use items in dynamic ways, such as hitting a distant switch, but it also makes just placing an object on the ground way more difficult than it has any right to be—not to mention the times when you toss an object and the physics freak out, sending the item bouncing around the room. Solving puzzles in Hello Neighbor is difficult enough as it is, but the biggest hurdle is just maintaining a concrete grip on the controls. Hello Neighbor also has some technical issues which is particularly disappointing since the game originally came out last year and such problems probably should have been ironed out by now. The game's wonky physics are again a common culprit as I got stuck in the geometry a few times—sometimes I even saw the neighbor get similarly trapped in the scenery. The game also crashed or got stuck on a loading screen occasionally, necessitating a reload of an earlier save file. In a game that already has a problem with making simple tasks more tedious than they need to be, these crashes only add to the game's frustrating design. As already mentioned the game's cartoonish art style makes for a perfect contrast to the game's creepy content. There's a 50s cartoon vibe to everything, from the exaggerated shapes to the vivid colors, and it really does make for a fun environment for the stealth and horror elements of the game. On a technical level though the game looks pretty rough. There are jagged edges over every object that do kind of take away from the unique style of the artwork, and ultimately the scenery does get a little repetitive since it's always the interior of the neighbor's house. And on one note for the design: it'd be great if whatever object you're holding didn't cover a third of the screen—that's just silly visual design. The game is split up into a few different acts, and if you know what you're doing you could potentially breeze through the game in just an hour, or even less. If you're playing without a guide though you're going to end up wandering the neighbor's house completely lost for hours upon hours sorting through dead-end paths and obscure puzzles. Regardless of how quickly you make it through the game's puzzles, the $40 price tag for the Switch version is pretty hard to swallow. Hello Neighbor is built upon a brilliant idea, one that is wonderfully tense and unsettling when you can play the game smoothly. The only problem is so much of the game seems to be battling against that. The neighbor's prowling pursuit of the player throughout the labyrinthine house makes even simple exploration more of a chore than a challenge, despite the fact that obtuse puzzle design and awkward controls demand a slow and methodical approach to the game—not to mention the technical issues the game encounters. As a proof of concept Hello Neighbor promises a delightfully eerie and exciting game, but the average player most likely won't want to pay a premium price to play what is essentially a rough draft. Rating: 4 out of 10 Neighbors Review copy provided by the publisher Hello Neighbor is available now on the Switch eShop for $39.99.
  7. Back when the original Crash Bandicoot game released in 1996 for the PlayStation, it was at a unique nexus point. The 90s were rife with platformers, but with the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 generation came the advent of 3D visuals and gameplay, and games like Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot represented the bridge between one of the classic gameplay genres and a new dimension of gaming. But while Super Mario 64 set the standard for a lot of 3D platforming mechanics and remains a pretty solid entry in the Mario series, time hasn't been quite so kind to the early Crash Bandicoot games. Although an iconic gaming mascot of the late 90s, Crash feels incredibly dated in 2018, even in the remastered Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Let's start with the first game which introduces us to Crash, a bandicoot that has been mutated by the evil Dr. Neo Cortex using his Evolvo-Ray. Although Cortex wanted to make Crash into a powerful animal soldier, Crash escapes the lab, only to start a quest across the Wumpa islands to rescue the other animal captives. Despite its sleek polygonal looks the original Crash Bandicoot was more of a combination of 2D platformer gameplay with 3D visuals. Some levels are viewed from the side like classic 2D platformers but many have Crash running into the foreground or background. Amidst all this there are boss fights and collectibles—all the basic building blocks of an adventure/platformer. Now I'll say here that I never played these games when they were first released, and while I'm sure this sort of gameplay twist was impressive at the time it is kind of a mess now. In fact, the original Crash Bandicoot feels like a crash course in bad 3D game design. You have very little depth perception in these fore-/background running levels, with only Crash's shadow to tell you where you'll land during a jump. And there are some insanely difficult jumps in some of these levels. Crash's movements are also incredibly stiff since, when the game was first released, the PlayStation didn't have analog sticks, so players used a D-pad to control Crash in these semi-3D levels, and Crash's movements remain awkward. And finally, your main attack is spinning into enemies, which requires getting up close and personal with enemies who can kill you just by touching you. All of this makes the original Crash Bandicoot obnoxiously difficult. Stiff controls with an awkward camera angle and unforgiving level design means it's easy to die pretty much constantly. Although there are some clever level designs it's hard to get past how frustratingly clunky and outdated the game feels today. To be fair, some of the clumsy gameplay might be due to this remastering which required rebuilding the gameplay from scratch, so some elements might not have translated well, but anyone that is first playing Crash Bandicoot in 2018 is most likely going to feel like this game is simply a relic that doesn't quite belong on a modern game system. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a marked improvement over the original game. Once again Crash is combating Dr. Cortex (though Cortex pretends to be asking Crash for help to collect powerful crystals) which leads Crash to a wide variety of different levels. There's much better stage variety in Crash 2, though Naughty Dog still loves the format of running into the foreground while something huge chases Crash. Still, Crash's movements are much smoother so it doesn't feel like you're fighting the controls throughout the whole game, and he also has a new attack: sliding. While playing these games back to back it's clear how much of an improvement it is to add even one new mechanic to Crash's repertoire. On the other hand Crash 2 also introduces some jetpack levels which, much like the entire first game, feel like an experiment in 3D game design that comes across as awkward and stiff today. But overall Crash 2 offers a more satisfying and diverse platformer adventure compared to the first game. The third game, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, is when Crash really hits his stride. The basic gameplay premise is the same as the first two (linear platformer levels that often have Crash running into the foreground or background) but the gameplay feels much more polished and, frankly, easier. But the lower difficulty is in part due to improvements to the game's mechanics. Crash moves more fluidly so it's easier to dodge obstacles. The level design is more varied and engaging, including race levels and flying levels. Over the course of the game Crash gains several new abilities, not all of which are always useful (and one of which, the gun, actually makes the game much, much easier) but the variety makes the gameplay feel more exciting from start to finish. There are fewer challenges that require super precise jumps and a lot more enemies that just stand around as obstacles rather than actively attack you, but even if the difficulty is toned down the gameplay is much more enjoyable. Each game contains around 25 levels, but to complete the games fully there's actually a lot of bonus material to cover. In each level of each game there are a number of crates you can break and, if you break all of the crates in a level, you'll be rewarded with a gem. You can also earn a gem from completing alternate paths within levels, which are unlocked by collecting gems in previous levels. In short, there's more replay value here than just blazing through each level once, and collecting every gem unlocks the true ending in each game—a fine reward for completionists. Gathering gems can be pretty tedious, especially in the first game, but it does give you more of a goal than just completing each game once. And finally there is a time trial mode to further pad out the games. There may only be a little over two dozen levels in each game but if you try to do everything you'll have plenty of Crash action here. Naturally this remastered trilogy comes with updated graphics and music, including cutscenes with voice actors from the more recent Crash games. Some of the level design still looks quite dated, which is more a product of the linear structure of each level, but overall the graphics look great on the Switch. The unique style of the Crash games is perfectly preserved while updating the artwork to something that feels more at home on a modern system. The updated music is well done as well, and has the right blend of atmospheric melodies and upbeat action. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. With the remaster of the first game, this trilogy proves that some games are better off left in the past, when repetitive level design and clunky controls might have been less noticeable thanks to the purely new appeal of 3D platformers. The other two games, however, are far less dated, and even if some of their mechanics still feel notably old-fashioned they're still enjoyable platformers today, particularly Warped. Nostalgic fans may love all three equally but new players might only enjoy the third game, making even the budget price on this trilogy a bit of a stretch. Rating: 7 out of 10 Wumpa Fruits
  8. Candle: The Power of the Flame, from developer Teku Studios and publisher Merge Studios, takes its cues from classic adventure/puzzle games, presented with beautiful hand-painted graphics. The game was successfully Kickstarted by the Spanish developer studio back in 2013 and since then they've painstakingly crafted every scene and puzzle throughout this unique little adventure. Players can expect plenty of satisfying puzzles, but be prepared for some frustrating ones as well. In Candle you play as Teku, apprentice to his tribe's shaman and wielder of the candle's power which allows him to carry a flame and use its light to reveal secrets or activate objects. When the evil Wakcha tribe attacks and kidnaps Teku's teacher, he embarks on a quest to rescue the shaman and the other members of the tribe that were kidnapped. Although most of the characters do not speak an intelligible language, the game features a narrator that explains what is happening. The best part of the story might just be exploring this bizarre and unique world, though. You don't get long-winded explanations of each locale but there's clearly a history to each that's communicated visually and it paints a fascinating picture of the game's world. Ultimately Candle isn't about Teku's journey so much as it is about the mythology of his world, which leads to some interesting revelations near the game's climax. The gameplay is based around classic adventure/puzzle gameplay in the vein of point-and-click adventure games. After a short tutorial to explain the kinds of things Teku can interact with, there's almost no explicit instruction on how to progress. Candle is a game that rewards careful examination of the scenery, experimentation, and ingenuity. Maybe there's a block of ice that looks like it could melt—how do you get close enough with your candle flame to melt it? Since Teku only has a few abilities (most actions are context sensitive so you'll see a prompt if you can interact with something, the only exception being Teku's shining light ability) you have to think critically about what to do and how to leverage your basic abilities. There are hints occasionally, oftentimes half-hidden in the artwork of the scenery, but for the most part Candle is a game about using a small set of tools in creative ways to overcome obstacles. In that respect it's incredibly rewarding when you find the right solution. And on the other hand it's also incredibly frustrating when you're stuck. There are a lot of clever puzzles in Candle but there are also plenty that just feel obnoxiously obtuse. The game's hints are few and far between, and oftentimes you have to try something new or creative with Teku's limited abilities to progress. That's a great basis for a puzzle game but without a little more context or nudge in the right direction you can end up completely lost, repeatedly. And even if you think you have the right solution you might just be frustrated with how much time it can take to retry when you fail. Thankfully, if you mess up and are killed you'll restart from a nearby checkpoint so you don't have to go all the way back to your last save file. However, it's still a slow process to try again. Teku does not move quickly, and oftentimes getting all of the pieces of a puzzle into the right place is just a little too slow. Sometimes it's difficult to even tell if you can stand on a ledge, leading to some leaps of faith that can have deadly results. Again, you'll restart nearby, but Teku's sluggish movement and the high difficulty level of Candle's puzzles can sometimes make progress feel agonizingly slow. At the very least, while you're traversing screen after screen, scanning for any small hint or interactive object that you might have missed, you'll be treated to absolutely gorgeous artwork. As mentioned the visuals do a fantastic job of establishing the history of the game's world. The graphics are beautifully atmospheric, with colorful, intricate hand-drawn and painted designs that are just lovely to see on the TV or on the Switch's screen. The animation is also incredibly charming—Teku may move a little too slowly for the gameplay but his plodding pace is adorable to see and has a striking sketch-like quality to it. The music is also top notch and adds a lot to the atmosphere as you explore these colorful environments. The game isn't actually that long, with only three main locations to explore. If you were able to breeze through the adventure, never getting stuck on a puzzle, the game would only last a few hours, but in reality you'll spend plenty of time working out each puzzle, running back and forth to ensure you've found all the items and hints you can. As a puzzle game there isn't much incentive to replay the adventure though, aside from seeing all of the game's gorgeous artwork again. Candle: The Power of the Flame features the kind of head-scratching puzzles that will leave you completely at a loss, sometimes to an annoying degree. But the game tempers some of that frustration with some of the most beautiful graphics you'll ever see in a game—colorful, unique, and utterly captivating. The visuals alone are enough to pull you into the world of Candle, and although the game caters more to hardcore puzzle fans, those puzzle pros will enjoy the creative challenges offered here. Rating: 7 out of 10 Candles Review copy provided by the publisher Candle: The Power of the Flame will be available on the Switch eShop on July 26th for $14.99.
  9. Following in the footsteps of the Doom port from late last year, publisher Bethesda Softworks brought another intense FPS to the Switch with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Originally released on other systems last year, The New Colossus follows veteran fighter B.J. Blazkowicz as he battles Nazis in an alternate world where Nazis won World War II and have effectively ruled the world for fifteen years, aided by futuristic technology. The game is a bloody FPS as you either stealthily eliminate Nazi soldiers or go all out, dual-wielding machine guns and tearing apart anyone in your way. Whichever play style you favor you're in for a wild ride. The story picks up immediately after the events of the first game, which left off on a slight cliffhanger, so Switch-only owners might be a little lost on what is happening (Wolfenstein: The New Order was released on other consoles in 2014 but never made it to a Nintendo system). This game at least offers a quick recap of events but to truly appreciate some of the characters and their relationships with one another you ought to play the first game if you can. And this game hits the ground running, so ideally you're already up to speed on who the resistance fighters are, as well as the primary antagonist, General Engel. What follows can only be described as an action-packed thrill ride, one that takes you across the Nazi-occupied United States and even into space with one shocking event after another. What's pleasantly surprising about it all is that the game manages to maintain a sense of charm and personality throughout all the chaos. It would've been easy for the game to slip into completely ridiculous action-trope territory, but somehow The New Colossus manages to tell a viciously brutal story with supernatural elements without coming off as gauche, in particular thanks to a fun cast of characters, each one larger than life and a lot of fun to see play off of one another. It helps that there are plenty of moments of levity too, ones that clearly show a degree of self-awareness for the game's intense, over-the-top action. The New Colossus is an FPS with a mix of stealth and action gameplay. Generally you'll enter an area with a number of lackeys to eliminate as well as one or two commanders who, if they raise an alarm, will cause more soldiers to storm the area. As such you can choose to take a slow and stealthy approach to eliminate a commander without alerting anyone, or you can just charge in and go nuts. Compared to the previous Wolfenstein game the stealth gameplay seems much harder here. Enemies are far more perceptive than your average blind video game soldier—generally if you can see them at all they can and will see you—which does make the stealth approach more satisfyingly challenging, but it might be just a tad too difficult. Unlike a pure stealth game you don't have many options for sneaking, distracting guards, or eliminating them from a distance, so the stealth gameplay in The New Colossus is a bit frustrating at times. Luckily, you can always fall back on the frontal assault approach, and for the most part this gameplay style feels a little easier in The New Colossus. There is no shortage of ammo, health, or armor in this game and oftentimes the full attack option, while somewhat less elegant, is far more effective. Still, the game gives you the option of how you want to play which is nice, and halfway through the game you'll get the chance to customize your play style further with a special gadget. Furthermore, the game's perks system rewards you with bonus effects which are generally tied to the way you play—i.e. if you do a lot of stealth kills you'll get perks related to sneaking—so there's even a pleasing sense of progression based on how you approach each level. Whichever path you choose you'll be rewarded with plenty of satisfying FPS action. There are a few overall issues that detract from the experience a bit, though. For one thing the level design leaves something to be desired. There are a few standout areas, generally when you're outside, exploring an almost Fallout-esque American wasteland, but too often the game feels like a corridor shooter, which is especially disappointing if you're focusing on stealth. Additionally, the game could really use a better indication of where you're taking damage from. Too often I found myself at a loss as far as where I'm getting shot from—a better on-screen indicator would help during intense fights. The controls are decent enough for the most part, with enough customization options that you can find your preferred sweet spot when it comes to sensitivity. Plus The New Colossus offers motion aiming if that's your thing. Motion controls can feel a little unwieldy if you're not ready for them but for Nintendo die-hards that are well experienced with motion-controlled shooters this is a great option to have. Obviously The New Colossus is not going to look as good on the Switch as it will on other systems. It just won't. But unless you held the two up side by side to compare them, you probably won't be bothered by it too much. Sure some of the textures seem a bit blurry, which is distracting when there's a sign that ought to have readable text but instead it just looks muddy, but in general the game runs quite well on the Switch, and the retro-futuristic-techno setting is really cool (even if, again, there are a few too many similar corridors). Perhaps more importantly the game runs well, even in handheld mode, so a few blurry textures or lack of detail compared to other versions shouldn't be too much of a concern. On the audio side of things the music is suitably intense for an action-packed game, though a bit forgettable as well. The voice acting is excellent though, and really brings the heroes—and especially the villains—to life. The New Colossus will last a good twelve hours or so if all you want to do is finish the story. However, there's quite a bit of side content to enjoy here as well. In addition to a variety of collectibles in each stage—including concept art which is always fun to see—there are also side quests which can be rewarding if you're trying to fill out all of your perks. Plus it might be worthwhile to replay the game focusing on a different play style, and of course there are several difficulty levels to play on, from the extra easy to the uber difficult. And as an extra treat the entire Wolfenstein 3D game is available to play within this game—just be prepared for some very old-fashioned FPS gameplay. However long you decide to play The New Colossus, killing Nazis never seems to get old. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has a few rough edges that make it hard to live up to its predecessor, but the final package is still an incredibly satisfying and bloodthirsty FPS adventure, one that manages to reward both the slow and thoughtful approach and the all-out assault style. A slight visual downgrade isn't a bad trade off for portable gameplay as well as motion control, and at its heart The New Colossus on Switch still retains the most important features, like chopping a Nazi's limb off with a hatchet. It's bloody, it's over-the-top, and it's oh so fun. Rating: 8 out of 10 Bullets
  10. Eliwood8

    The Mooseman Review

    One part puzzle/adventure and one part history lesson, The Mooseman from developer Morteshka and publisher Sometimes You takes a close look at a mythology that most gamers probably haven't heard of. But the developers have done an impressive job of bringing the ancient Finno-Urgic stories to life in a unique way, while heavily drawing inspiration from the artwork and artifacts of the people from the Ural region. Even though the gameplay is fairly basic, it's the storytelling and style of The Mooseman that makes it a compelling indie game. The game's mythology is based on ancient Russian stories and practices, wherein the world was created by the god Yen, which created a division between the Lower World, the Middle World where mankind resides, and the Upper world where the gods live. As The Mooseman you have the ability to see both the physical and the spiritual, allowing you to traverse the three worlds and meet gods and spirits, learning about ancient myths and following the paths they describe. Even though the game doesn't really simplify or adapt the mythology into a more modern format it's still easy to follow the story and it makes for a compelling game narrative. There's a timeless quality to myths which makes them captivating to this day, and The Mooseman does a fine job of tapping into that. The game also provides plenty of text describing the ancient stories and it's always fascinating to learn about a different mythology and gain some insight into the beliefs and values that have shaped humanity. As far as gameplay is concerned The Mooseman is pretty minimalist. The controls are also quite simple—there are only three actual actions in the game, and you can even walk forward automatically if you want—so puzzle interaction is kept to a pretty basic level. For example, you might need to find a way across a gap, so you switch from seeing the physical world to seeing the spiritual, and you might notice a spirit nearby that can help you cross. That's actually about as complex as it gets; with every puzzle you'll always see the solution nearby, so it's not even a matter of exploring to progress. In addition, each time you pass by an idol you'll get a new myth to read in the pause menu, and these myths often relay some sort of hint about how to progress, or are at least related to your current position in the journey. Suffice it to say The Mooseman does not have much in the way of gameplay challenges. This is a game you play to learn about Finno-Urgic mythology in an interactive way, not to challenge your puzzle-solving skills or your dexterity. There is, however, one gameplay aspect that is at least a little more fleshed out. Along your adventure you can find artifacts (based on actual Perm animal style artifacts) and finding all of these collectibles is surprisingly not as simple as you might think. Even though you can basically only walk left or right it's easy to miss these artifacts, so trying to collect them all can be a nice little challenge. At the very least it can help extend the game's length a bit, since The Mooseman is really only a couple hours long. In addition to the research they did in representing and retelling these ancient myths, the developers went out of their way to give The Mooseman an authentic audio and visual aesthetic as well, and it's truly beautiful. In addition to the artifacts based on actual tokens and idols found in the Perm Krai region of modern day Russia, all of the game's visuals have a beautiful ethereal quality to them, perfect for a game about balancing between the physical and spiritual worlds. There's also a roughness to the artwork that is so well suited to the cave painting art you see on your journey, and truly evokes a sense of hearing these stories thousands of years ago. The music also shows a lot of care and attention in recreating the folk music of the Komi people. The audio is beautiful but also mysterious and haunting—perfect for the ambiance that The Mooseman is creating. The game is even voiced by a native speaker, and just hearing the stories in its native language does so much for bringing them to life. The Mooseman is a brief but compelling journey into a world of mythology. As a video game it may fall short in many respects but it kind of makes more sense to think of this as an interactive educational experience. The Mooseman brings to life these ancient myths that I certainly never had heard before, and I imagine most players wouldn't have either, and it does so with beautiful, stylish, and authentic art and music. If you're interested in taking a journey off the beaten path of standard video games and more common Western myths and legends, try the Finno-Urgic mythology of The Mooseman. Rating: 7 out of 10 Moosemen Review copy provided by the publisher The Mooseman will be available on the Switch eShop on July 18th for $6.29.
  11. One part Pokémon, one part color matching game, and one part making you hungry for sushi, Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is another oddball title from Nintendo that builds an addictive game around a relatively simple gameplay hook. Matching plates of sushi is a bizarre way of fighting but for puzzle fans on the Switch it's a great way to scratch an itch for fast-paced puzzle gameplay. In a world where wars are fought over and with sushi, one young boy (or girl) has been orphaned by the most recent great sushi war. Growing up in a poor orphanage, the child had never tasted sushi, until a strange traveler reveals the secrets of sushi combat. Now, in an effort to share sushi with everyone and stop the evil Empire from controlling the world's supply of sushi, the child becomes a sushi striker to master the art of sushi snacking. It's an incredibly silly premise for a story and thankfully the game doesn't take itself too seriously. Most of the game plays out like a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon, complete with goofy side characters and predictable anime twists. It's a bit of a missed opportunity that the game relies more on the absurdity of its premise than in actually building an original, unique story, though. In many ways Sushi Striker is a parody of Saturday morning cartoons, but without any other clever twist or commentary on the format it just becomes an average Saturday morning cartoon itself. In essence, Sushi Striker combines the creature collecting mechanics of Pokémon with color matching games like Panel de Pon or Bejeweled. In battle, you match the colors of sushi plates by dragging the cursor—or your finger—in order to build up a stack, then fling the stack at your opponent to damage them (stacks can be manually or automatically thrown). The sushi plates are moving on opposing conveyor belts, so you have to be quick and a little dexterous to build up a large stack since you only have a few seconds to create the chain. It's a solid, simple baseline for the game that becomes increasingly chaotic and engaging when you're in the heat of battle, trying to build up a good string of attacks before your opponent can do the same. The creature collecting aspect comes in the form of sushi sprites, who influence what sushi is available on your side of the battlefield (different color plates do different damage) and each sprite has a unique ability that can be activated in battle. For example, the first sprite you connect with changes every plate on the screen to the same color, allowing you to easily build a huge stack. There are a few dozen sushi sprites in the game and although their appearances feel like knock-off Pokémon—they even evolve upon reaching a certain level—the different abilities are well thought out and provide for plenty of different strategies. You can bring up to three sprites into battle so you can get creative with how your sprite abilities play off of one another. You might want a balance of offensive and defensive skills, or you might take three offensive types so you can strike hard and fast. It's great to see some variety in a genre that is otherwise kind of built upon doing the same thing over and over. Sushi Striker also features some RPG mechanics which aren't quite as valuable to the core gameplay. Both your character and your sprites gain experience and level up, affecting damage and maximum health, but it kind of just feels like a system made for grinding. Since you generally want to have as strong of a team as possible at all times this pushes you into using the same sprites over and over, which isn't great for experimentation. Of course, you can just replay earlier levels to grind some experience points, but that process is slow and makes the game feel repetitive. In fact, the single-player story already feels too long and repetitive as is, so forcing the player to grind even more just to try out other viable strategies makes the whole game a little exhausting. In addition, gaining new sprites is a semi-random system. After battle there's a chance you might get a new sprite, but there's no indication of what that chance might be. It seems to be tied to having a higher score but there's no guarantee of it, so you really have to just trust to luck. As entertaining as the battle system might be, a lot of the game feels like filler. Sushi Striker also features local and online multiplayer battles—a natural fit given the head-to-head nature of the puzzle mechanics. Like most multiplayer games fighting a human opponent is much more challenging and satisfying, and Sushi Striker forces both players' sprites to be at the same level so it really is a test of skill rather than who has the higher level sprites. The online community isn't super active but thanks to local multiplayer you can simply share a Joy-Con with a friend for some multiplayer action. Even though the controls are decent on the Switch it's clear that the game was built for the 3DS's touch screen. Playing with the control stick and buttons is a bit clunky—it doesn't have the speed or precision that the gameplay clearly demands. You can still play decently with a controller but it'll always feel like you're at a disadvantage. Thankfully, the Switch also lets you use the touch screen while undocked. You may lose the benefit of playing on the big screen but using your finger makes a world of difference for quickly and accurately chaining plates. It still doesn't feel ideal—your finger still isn't as perfectly accurate as a stylus—but as far as the Switch version is concerned it's the way to play. Everything in the game's presentation screams Saturday morning cartoon, in both good and bad ways. Some of the character design and animation feels kind of cheap at times, but it's undeniably colorful and eye-catching, even if minor characters look laughably cookie-cutter. The music isn't bad either—certainly energetic enough for a round of action-puzzle gameplay—and the voice acting is more or less in the same camp as the art design: it's exaggerated and over-the-top at times, in both charming and awkward ways. Just getting through the story lasts a good fifteen hours or so, and if you get hooked on the puzzle gameplay you can expect plenty of replay value. There are optional stages in the single-player adventure, plus high score ranks, plus stars you can earn based on specific challenges such as finishing the level with 40% or more health left. And, of course, there's multiplayer to give the game nigh infinite replay value. Even though the game can feel like a grind at times, if you enjoy the grind you'll find plenty of gameplay to enjoy here. Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is a charming, bizarre little twist on both action-puzzle games and Saturday morning cartoons. The gameplay is satisfyingly engaging, even if the single-player adventure turns into a grind at times, and the promise of local and online multiplayer will keep addicted sushi strikers well entertained. Although the controls never quite feel perfect on the Switch, Sushi Striker is a great way for puzzle fans to kill a bit of time. Rating: 7 out of 10 Sushi
  12. Battle Chasers: Nightwar from developer Airship Syndicate began as a kickstarter nearly three years ago, and after making its way to other consoles it landed on Switch in May. There aren't any fancy additions for the Switch release, but RPG fans will still want to pay attention as Nightwar brings together classic dungeon-crawling mechanics with a rich combat system that will kick your ass if you're not playing intelligently, wrapped up in a visually striking package based off of a comic series from the 90s. If you take the time to learn its battle mechanics, you'll be rewarded with a challenging but satisfying RPG adventure. Nightwar spends little time in setting up its world or characters. Your party is already a tight-knit crew who, after crash landing on the Lost Isles, has to fight their way through a variety of monsters to regroup and uncover the origin of the region's unusual mana activity. There's definitely a feeling that you'd better appreciate the characters and setting if you were already a fan of the comics, but even so, players new to Battle Chasers won't have much trouble getting to know and liking this cast of misfits. And to understand them a bit better you'll want to rest at the inn often, where you'll be treated to a short dialogue exchange between two or more characters which helps flesh out a bit of their backstories or relationships. Even by the end of the game it still feels like you've only gotten to see a small sliver of this world and the characters, especially since the central conflict of the game has little direct ties to the characters, but it's still an engaging and interesting sliver. The gameplay here is classic dungeon-crawling action, complete with turn-based battles and RPG leveling/equipment. The overworld you explore is little more than a conduit between dungeons, which are made up of randomly generated rooms full of treasure, traps, and monsters. There are actually only a handful of dungeons in the game but each one feels unique. The later ones in particular mix things up with unique mechanics—oftentimes status effects that make things more difficult for you—so the game always feels like it has new challenges for the player. In fact, Nightwar is all around a pretty difficult game, one where you really have to pay attention to the game's mechanics to survive battles unscathed. In addition to keeping an eye on the turn order, combat largely revolves around managing your mana and building up overcharge. Using basic attacks builds overcharge which is essentially temporary mana that lets you use special attacks without draining your magic power too quickly. Characters' mana pools are generally rather low—and don't increase as you level up—so to avoid squandering magic in early fights you'll want to use overcharge instead. And you definitely want to use special attacks as much as possible. In addition to just being more powerful they often have other beneficial effects such as poison, bleeding, healing, etc. which can be invaluable. On the other hand special attacks require time to cast, pushing that character down in the turn order, so that's another level of strategy to keep in mind. In short, Nightwar is the kind of RPG where you can't just mash A and rely on basic attacks in every battle. You have to pay attention to the flow of battle and build up overcharge to use the skills you need—it can be difficult but it's also incredibly satisfying for any RPG fans who get disappointed when a game only really requires strategy and forethought in boss fights. It definitely makes for a steep learning curve early on but once you have a decent grasp of managing mana and special attacks you'll find the combat to be highly rewarding. In Nightwar, every battle demands your full attention. Possibly the best part of Nightwar is the variety of strategies you can build, even with only six playable characters and three active members in battle. Generally you'll want to keep things balanced with an attacker, defender, and healer, but other compositions are equally viable, and you can slightly customize your characters with perk points and the variety of equipment found in the game. Although characters aren't completely customizable—each one clearly has a certain combat role—with a little experimentation you can come up with your own strategies which really opens the game up to replay value. Plus you can replay dungeons at different difficulty levels to earn better rewards, and since dungeons are randomized you can get quite a bit of variety out of the game. There are also side quests which can reap valuable rewards; Nightwar's handful of dungeons ends up being a solid 30-hour RPG with a decent amount of replay value. One area where Nightwar has some notable problems is technical performance, namely loading screens and frame rate issues. Moving into and out of dungeons brings up a long loading screen—long enough that you start to notice and check your watch to see how long it's actually taking. Even loading up a battle screen can be slow, surprisingly. Thankfully this isn't a game-breaking problem but it's still annoying to see. And the frame rate noticeably stutters at times, particularly in busy areas where there's a lot happening on screen. Again, this doesn't spoil the experience at all, but it's still disappointing. The artwork carries the distinctive style of Joe Madureira, artist/creator of the original comic series and known in video game circles for his work on the Darksiders games. It's hyper-stylized fantasy artwork and it looks fantastic in Nightwar, both in the 2D character portraits and also in the 3D models in battle. The scenery is also gorgeous, with each dungeon capturing a unique style that is still dark and foreboding. There are times where it's hard to make out the details in the scenery, which can definitely be obnoxious when you're trying to comb an area for all collectible items, but overall it's hard to complain about these graphics. And the music, though a little too understated, is excellent as well. You'll have to really pay attention to it at times to truly appreciate it, but when you do you'll be treated to an atmospheric and enchanting soundtrack. Battle Chasers: Nigthwar is an RPG made for fans of classic dungeon-crawling RPGs. There's no hand-holding here, no concessions to the player to help guide them through. Like the characters themselves you're dropped into this hostile territory and forced to fight your way out. But for turn-based RPG fans, there couldn't be anything better. The combat mechanics are deep and rewarding, with plenty of little strategic elements to keep track of. At the same time the battle system is versatile enough that experimenting with different strategies opens up a wealth of possibilities, even if you have to grind a bit to make them a reality. Still, RPG fans will love the challenge that Battle Chasers: Nightwar offers. Rating: 9 out of 10 Battles
  13. Eliwood8

    Runbow (Switch) Review

    First the Wii U, then the 3DS, and now the Switch! No matter what Nintendo system you prefer you can enjoy the chaotic and colorful antics of Runbow. Developer 13AM Games and publisher Headup Games have brought one of the best recent indie titles to the Switch, in all of its stylish, colorful glory. Aside from losing a few minor features this is the same Runbow that players know and love, and remains an incredibly addictive and charming speed-based platformer. If you haven't played the game before on any other platform, Runbow is a fast-paced platformer. Most levels can be finished in under 30 seconds and challenge you to time your jumps perfectly and in sync with the changing colors of the background, because when a platform matches the color of the background, it essentially disappears. You'll have to react quickly to not only survive but to find the perfect rhythm to clear each stage with the best time, which will earn you the full three medals (medals unlock concept art which is absolutely worth taking the time to pursue—it's fantastic to see the process of developing Runbow's art style). The gameplay can be challenging at times but the quick pace of the game means it's rarely frustrating. Rather, you'll just be eager to try again and perfect your skills. In addition to the over 140 levels in the main adventure there's also the Bowhemoth, a gauntlet challenge that you have to complete in one sitting. The is essentially the pro challenge for once you've mastered the art of timing your jumps with the pace of the colored backgrounds. Some of the trickiest levels can be found here, and conquering the Bowhemoth is a challenge that every Runbow fan should enjoy. A big part of Runbow's appeal is the chaotic nature of its multiplayer. You can bring friends along for the adventure mode or fight against one another in the competitive game modes. Even though multiple players in adventure mode seems like it'd offer some kind of advantage it often leads to a hilarious, chaotic mess as you bump into one another in an attempt to reach the goal. The competitive modes are a great way to let out some of the aggression that might cause, and with three modes and a wide variety of items there are plenty of options for racing and battling in Runbow. Plus, if you don't have a chance to get friends together locally, Runbow also offers an online mode. The precise timing of Runbow means that any slight delay in your internet connection is going to feel like a significant hurdle online, but the option is still great for playing with distant friends. One feature that has been dropped from the Wii U version is Color Master mode, where one player controls the changing background colors to try to trick the other players. It's a shame that the mode isn't included but it's also understandable. Color Master took advantage of the Wii U's Gamepad for a bit of unique asymmetric multiplayer, and obviously you can't get the same effect with the Switch. Speaking of missing content, the digital version of Runbow does not include the DLC levels Satura's Space Adventure, which adds more levels with unique new gameplay mechanics and stars the game's antagonist, Satura. But again, it's understandable that it might not be included in the base price—you can still purchase it as an add-on—but it certainly would have been nice if it were included. If you do want the full package in one game you can spring for the physical release of Runbow on the Switch, which will include the DLC. Runbow's distinctive art style, with its sharp corners and bright color palette, looks great no matter where you're playing it. On the TV or handheld, the simple art style truly pops on the screen. The game's soundtrack is also fantastic. Oftentimes you only get to hear it in short bursts since each level is so short, but even when you only hear it for twenty seconds the music is incredibly catchy. Runbow on the Switch retains everything that made the original one of the highlights of the Wii U's indie scene: quick, addictive gameplay, a wonderfully stylish art style, infectious soundtrack, and all the fun of chaotic multiplayer action. The loss of Color Master mode is pretty minimal, and the advantage of having frantic multiplayer gameplay on-the-go is a worthwhile trade-off. If you haven't yet tried Runbow it's absolutely worth giving the game a chance, and on the Switch you can run wherever you are. Rating: 9 out of 10 Colors Review copy provided by publisher Runbow will be available on the Switch eShop on July 3rd for $14.99. Pre-purchase today for a 20% discount.
  14. Eliwood8

    Wild Guns Reloaded Review

    The 1994 sci-fi/western shooting gallery Wild Guns is back with an enhanced remaster, which adds new features and content while preserving the extra-difficult gameplay and pixel artwork style. Wild Guns Reloaded is a love letter to fans of the original, and frankly they're likely the only ones to truly enjoy the experience. Some of the antiquated aspects of the game will most likely turn off new players, particularly the odd mishandling of multiplayer. Since it was designed as an arcade-style shooter for the SNES it shouldn't come as any surprise that storytelling is not Wild Guns Reloaded's strong suit. This is the kind of game where you just jump right into the action, and question why there are robots in a Wild West setting later. It would have been nice to have a bit more story exposition for this remake, for example between levels, but players will just have to settle for the frenetic shooting gameplay. Wild Guns Reloaded is a shooting gallery game—your character is in the foreground, facing the background, where enemies pop up and shoot at you with guns, dynamite, etc. It's classic arcade-style fun, the kind of game that makes you want to jump in and rack up a high score. Wild Guns makes things a little more interesting with a few unique features. In addition to the power-ups that occasionally appear, each character has unique attacks or special attacks, particularly the two new characters who differ wildly from the original two. The game doesn't ease you in with a tutorial so some of the finer details you'll have to figure out yourself (presumably fans of the original will already know these tricks). In addition to new characters this remaster also features new levels and two new modes: beginner's mode and a boss rush time attack. The new levels are spread out across the different difficulty levels so you'll have to replay the game a couple of times just to see everything once, and even though beginner's mode might seem too forgiving with its infinite lives it's a pretty significant boon for Wild Guns Reloaded. The base game is hard—even on easy mode you'll likely game over and retry multiple times—so having an even easier mode is a nice starting point. It feels a bit like a token gesture though. The game really could have just used a full rebalancing to make it feel less like a quarter-eating arcade game and more like a fair challenge from start to finish. The combination of one hit kills, waves of bullets, and stiff, awkward controls often makes the game feel more like an exercise in frustration techniques than a fun pastime. Things like not being able to move and shoot at the same time might have made sense on an SNES controller but since the advent of twin stick controls feels clumsy and awkward, and forces everything in the game to slow down in a sense. As it is, the game has a very steep learning curve that only slightly tapers off once you've got a few hours of experience with it. And don't think the game gets any easier with a few friends in multiplayer mode. Despite increasing the player count from two in the original to four in this remake it's actually significantly harder, because the game doesn't give you an option of what difficulty level to play on and there are no continues if you game over. On top of all of that, all players share one pool of lives. Basically, Wild Guns Reloaded doesn't pull any punches in multiplayer. It is honestly surprising that the game doesn't even include an option of playing with continues or increased extra lives or any other feature that might make multiplayer feel at all balanced—you can't even really practice that easily since you always start at the first level, so there's no chance to perfect your skills on the later levels. Despite all appearances of being a quick, pick-up-and-play kind of multiplayer experience, Wild Guns Reloaded's multiplayer mode is best reserved for hardcore players of equal skill level. Instead of overhauling the original game's art style in HD, Wild Guns Reloaded pays homage to the pixel graphics of the past with detailed pixel recreations and smooth animation. You might not even notice anything is different at all unless you compared it to the original side by side, but the art style looks solid on a TV or on the Switch's screen. The music is also reflective of the game's 1994 origins, but doesn't age quite as well. At the very least, it's a forgettable action-game soundtrack. If you were to play through the game without dying—or at least not getting a game over—Wild Guns Reloaded is a relatively short game. It really is an arcade-style experience and could conceivably be finished in under an hour. That's not too likely though, at least not for your first playthrough, and you're more likely to spend at least a couple of hours to complete the adventure once. Playing on different difficulty levels with new stages adds some replay value, and there are online leaderboards to incentivize mastering the gameplay, but unless you plan on really perfecting your play style the $30 price tag is actually kind of asking a lot. Wild Guns Reloaded is a faithful recreation of an SNES game—perhaps too faithful, which might end up alienating players expecting more modern conveniences. The result is a game that can be engaging but also laboriously difficult, and almost unplayable in multiplayer mode when even the kindness of an option to continue after losing all lives is denied to the player. Wild Guns Reloaded caters to a specific type of player—anyone else should expect some hard work ahead of them. Rating: 6 out of 10 Guns
  15. Eliwood8

    Figment Review

    Dreamlike scenery, engaging puzzles, bosses that sing while attacking you—this game has it all. Figment, developed and published by Bedtime Digital Games, dives into a human subconscious where personified emotions live in a surreal landscape, not unlike Pixar's Inside Out. In fact, the Inside Out comparison might be even more appropriate, because like that film Figment does a wonderful job of exploring serious emotional issues in a way that is engaging and entertaining without being clumsy or awkwardly dramatic. Most impressive of all, Figment does it with musical numbers. Although the game opens with a cutscene in a real world setting the bulk of the game takes place in a surreal landscape within the mind, where nightmares are wreaking havoc and spreading fear and depression. The only hope for defense is Dusty, the grumpy representation of courage who hasn't had much to do in a long time. Although Figment initially seems like just another quirky indie game it actually does a fantastic job of dealing with heavy topics like fear and depression—here represented in a very literal way—without sugarcoating them or reducing the gravity of these emotions. It's not easy to address these issues in a video game without coming across as cheesy or heavy handed, but Figment finds kind of a perfect balance between its cheery, surreal presentation and the sober reality that these characters represent, culminating in the final moments of the game which are genuinely affecting. As for the gameplay, Figment is primarily a puzzle game with a bit of action sprinkled throughout—think of a Zelda game that focuses on puzzle-solving over combat or world exploration. Each region of the game is split up into smaller areas, and within each area you'll need to solve a variety of puzzles to progress, often by finding a key item or hitting a switch. Figment does a solid job of offering up a steady supply of interesting puzzles. There's never anything too difficult—if anything some puzzles are simply time-consuming as you may need to run back between two points several times—but there's still enough variety that it doesn't feel like you're simply doing the same actions over and over. And even if the majority of the puzzles have fairly straightforward solutions there are a handful of satisfying head-scratchers that will have you pause for a moment or two to think things through. The combat, meanwhile, is significantly less satisfying. You have basic sword swipes and a charge attack, but there are only a handful of enemy types to deal with throughout the game, and defeating them takes minimal strategic thinking or dexterity. In fact, some of the monsters are merely tedious since you have to chase them down to deliver a finishing blow. Clearly combat is not the focus of Figment but it still would've been nice to see something with a bit more depth to it. However, it's to the game's credit that the boss fights actually largely focus on puzzle solving rather than combat mechanics, so thankfully the biggest moments play to the gameplay's strengths. In addition to simply progressing through the game you can take a step off the beaten path to find Remembranes, collectibles that flesh out the story a bit more through short, hazy memories. Collectibles are always a nice way of padding out the game a bit more and in Figment's case the puzzles to collect Remembranes are often more involved or unique, so it's definitely worth pursuing them just for the added challenge. Otherwise the game clocks in at a short but respectable five hours or so—the game is engaging enough that it easily could have lasted longer, though. And as charming as the game is there's little replay incentive in solving puzzles a second time. The game has some minor technical hiccups on the Switch, but thankfully nothing that breaks the game or even really interferes with the experience. It's just a matter of some load times that feel just a little too long, enough that your mind starts to wander while you're watching the loading screen. In addition the animation can be a bit choppy at times, both due to awkward movement transitions, such as when Dusty is riding a moving platform, and also from some frame rate stuttering. Ultimately these are minor issues though. Figment is an absolutely beautiful game thanks to the hand-drawn graphics that capture the surreal landscape of the subconscious mind. What better way to represent jumbled thoughts than a bizarre mashup of objects in a colorful, interconnected world? Plus each region of the game captures its specific aspect of the mind perfectly, from the free-flowing, colorful scenery of the creative side to the clockwork machinations of the logical side. It would have been great to see even more variety but it's hard to complain about what we do get in Figment. And the gorgeous artwork is complemented by an equally outstanding soundtrack, and I'm not just saying that because the game's bosses all sing their own little songs when you fight them (okay that's a significant part of it). The developers even advertise the game as a "musical action-adventure," and the songs will definitely stick with you after finishing the game, not just because it's unusual to hear these kinds of musical numbers in a video game but because they're genuinely catchy and fun. Even the songs that don't have lyrics are charming and atmospheric—perfect background audio while you solve puzzles. Outside of the musical numbers Figment has a lot of great voice acting as well. Some of it make come off as a little much but for a game revolving around emotions in a human brain a larger-than-life quality to the voice work feels appropriate. Figment performs an impressive balancing act between light-hearted gameplay and somber ideas like depression clouding the mind. The best part is that this one game is able to handle both with aplomb, and neither feels out of place. From the beautifully rich and surreal visual design and catchy soundtrack (complete with boss fight musical numbers) to the wealth of engaging puzzles Figment offers up a truly charming little journey through the mind, one that proves to be quite moving in the end. Rating: 8 out of 10 Emotions Review copy provided by the publisher Figment will be available on the Switch eShop on Thursday, June 28 for $15.99.
  16. Eliwood8

    The Alliance Alive Review

    The Alliance Alive is a spiritual successor to The Legend of Legacy, another 3DS RPG that boasted a large character roster and traditional turn-based battles. Both games use the same distinctive art style—one where characters have no noses, for some reason—as well as the same leveling system that grants health and attack boosts semi-randomly. Although AA corrects some of the largest missteps of its predecessor, there are still some clunky battle mechanics to deal with here that can turn the game into a seemingly random grind. The game takes place in a world where humanity has been subjugated by Daemons, who have divided the world into separate districts and left Beastfolk to rule over the humans. The story begins with two young friends who, while out exploring, stumble into a dangerous truth behind the Daemon rule and set out on a quest to put the world back in order. There's a lot of interesting lore here but the game never fully capitalizes on it. After the initial introduction of characters and locations a lot of the backstory is too muddled or unspoken, which makes it hard to care about the game's world. The Alliance Alive is also a bit overambitious with its characters. Their interactions and dialogue with one another is charming but with nine playable characters their motivations and backstories aren't well developed—even the two characters that open the game feel pretty two-dimensional. Somewhat ironically for an RPG, there isn't enough time devoted to storytelling here. I'll start with the most important change to the gameplay for anyone that played The Legend of Legacy: you do not need to draw contracts to use magic. It was a neat concept but in practice it was insanely tedious, and thankfully Alliance Alive streamlines its magic use. You still need to equip specific items to use magic, but you won't be wasting several turns just to cast one spell. That said, magic still feels underwhelming in this game. The offensive spells are never quite as effective as you'd hope, so mostly you'll just be using magic to heal. Since there is no group healing magic you're often stuck having one character heal individual characters every single turn during boss fights. For basic battles you often don't have to heal at all since your party auto-heals all damage after battle, which is nice but also creates something of an imbalance between the pace of normal fights and bosses. You only actually get to/need to use strategic planning against bosses—for normal enemies you're better off just attacking all-out to defeat everything in just a turn or two. The Alliance Alive does bring back battle formations and the level up system from its predecessor. Formations let you change the focus of each character—attack, defend, or support—to balance your party effectively. Again, this is the kind of strategic thinking that only gets used in boss fights, and although the game gives you a decent amount of options there's little incentive to experiment too much. And like the last game characters don't have levels per se. Instead, after battle they might earn an HP or SP boost, and during battle they might learn new combat skills for the weapon they have equipped, or boost the attack/defend/support rating for a skill they used. Just like The Legend of Legacy this feels like a weirdly unnecessary system for increasing power, especially since it can feel totally random whether or not a character will earn one of these stat boosts. It does feel like they come more easily in The Alliance Alive, so there's a bit less grinding, but the uncertainty is still an odd choice. Naturally, the game has all of the other core mechanics you'd expect from an RPG: exploration, finding/buying new equipment, etc. There are quite a few optional dungeons as well which only have a somewhat random chance of providing any good items but can be valuable grinding locations. As seemingly random as leveling can be in The Alliance Alive you do need to make sure your party is in tip top shape at all times—there are a couple of significant difficulty spikes which can completely blindside you if you aren't keeping up. One in particular feels awfully unfair; the game definitely could have benefited from balancing the overall difficulty, especially between mindless normal battles and more challenging boss fights. All that said, The Alliance Alive definitely scratches an itch for anyone that enjoys classic turn-based RPGs. Not all of its RPG mechanics are completely engaging, but RPG fans will still feel a satisfying familiarity with the basic battle and exploration systems. The controls are simple enough to learn since it's an RPG, though I don't understand why L is used to confirm in a lot of the menus. The graphics have a certain charm to them, even though the lack of noses is a bit weird, and the chibi art style kind of makes it feel like the entire game is made up of children. Still, the art style suits the 3DS, given the hardware. The music is well composed, even if few tracks stick with you after finishing the game. While playing though they have the suitable catchy-ness and gravitas of a good RPG soundtrack. With nine playable characters, several weapon types, and the variety of formations you can employ, there's a lot of variety in The Alliance Alive, which makes it ideal for repeated playthroughs. In fact, there's a new game+ option that lets you carry over certain abilities, which helps you fast-track through some of the early parts of the game. Even if it can be a grind to do so, the game is very friendly to experimentation and creating your own ideas for a battle party. All told, The Alliance Alive is just about mid-length for an RPG—about twenty five hours or so, depending on how much you grind—though maybe it should have been a bit longer to flesh out the story more. The Alliance Alive does an admirable job of fixing the issues found in the developer's previous game, though all the pieces of this RPG still don't quite come together fully. The story has some interesting insights into a unique world, but the game doesn't fully capitalize on it. The gameplay, although less tedious than The Legend of Legacy, still has some nagging issues that make it feel both grindy and, at times, unbalanced. There's plenty of room for experimentation but the grind of building up characters with different weapons/skills can be tiring. The Alliance Alive is a solid RPG but in many ways a forgettable one as well. Rating: 7 out of 10 Alliances
  17. In a world where money is power, one princess puts every cent she has into taking revenge on the money lenders that drove her father into debt and destroyed his kingdom. Penny-Punching Princess gets high marks for originality—even though the core gameplay is an isometric beat 'em up, the emphasis on money makes for some clever game mechanics. Not all of the cash-centric features are well integrated into a fast-paced action game though, and the game's rhythm suffers for it. Our silent protagonist is on a quest for revenge against the Dragoloan family, a group of loan sharks (or loan dragons, as it were) that caused the downfall of her kingdom. She's aided by a talkative stag beetle named Sebastian as well as Zenigami, the god of money, who gives her a magic calculator that she can use in battle. Rest assured that the game knows all of these elements are delightfully absurd and the game doesn't try to play any of it straight. Penny-Punching Princess is a charmingly goofy game—though the vernacular writing is a bit annoying to read after a while—and it's even narrated as if each chapter is an episode of some bizarre Saturday morning cartoon. As strange as the game's concept is, the writing embraces the absurdity wholeheartedly and makes the cutscenes quite charming. At its core Penny-Punching Princess is a brawler: you explore stages, engage in battles, and beatdown all sorts of enemies with your furious princess fists. There's a decent variety of enemy types as well as hazards, and by collecting Zenigami statues you can upgrade the princess's stats and abilities. The unique hook of the game, however, is the calculator, which allows you to bribe enemies to fight for you instead of against you using the money you've earned throughout the battle. Enemies essentially become an item you can use a set number of times (it differs depending on the enemy). Bribing is incredibly valuable since it both removes one enemy from the playing field and lets you take advantage of the massive area of effect attacks that some monsters use which are much more effective than your own for clearing out crowds. In fact, aside from the smaller monsters, bribed enemies are almost always more effective than you are, plus you don't have to worry about taking damage when someone else is fighting for you—now that's the true mark of royalty. You can even bribe the hazards on the battlefield to work for you as well. For example, there might be a hazard that shoots out flames sporadically. If you bribe it you'll be immune to the fire and it'll damage enemies instead (hazards also have limited uses, like bribed enemies). Battles in Penny-Punching Princess can get incredibly hectic with multiple hazards and enemies attacking you from all sides, so being able to eliminate a few traps is often the difference between success and failure. It also adds an element of strategy—which hazard should you prioritize? Should you bribe a trap that is giving you trouble, or go for one that has a better chance of taking out multiple enemies? You'll have to make these decisions in the heat of battle and the resulting chaos is both challenging and satisfying. As unique and engaging as the calculator is though, it also has some pretty significant problems. For one thing, pulling up the calculator is often far too slow and clumsy when you're surrounded by enemies. The calculator interface pops up to cover a part of the screen which is already kind of annoying, but then you have to punch in a number to indicate how much you're going to pay to bribe an enemy (every enemy type has a specific price). Frankly this makes no sense to drag the gameplay to a halt in the middle of a fight. Thankfully you can tap a button to scroll through the enemies on screen, automatically bringing up the requisite price, but now we've reached another issue: choosing the target of your bribe is painfully slow as well. Oftentimes you'll want to bribe a key enemy or hazard to eliminate it immediately, but the clumsy selection interface means you're likely to get attacked a few times before you can find the right target. Maybe it would have been overpowered to pause the battle completely while you're selecting a bribe, but it would definitely have been less frustrating. The calculator's use is also limited—you'll have to wait a bit for it to recharge between uses. Granted, that makes sense, since the calculator is so powerful that using it non-stop would basically eliminate almost all of the challenge in the game. At the same time though your basic attacks are so weak that you can't afford to not use the calculator as much as possible, so a lot of battles end up feeling like a waiting game as you kill time while the calculator recharges. It doesn't help that you can only have one enemy or hazard bribed at any time—including heart enemies, which are the main way to heal damage in the game—so you have to be careful what you bribe and ensure you'll survive until you can bribe again. In short, the pacing of fights is too much of a waiting game which just doesn't feel satisfying. The game isn't particularly long—a good ten hours or so will get you through the entire story—but even so the game falls into a pretty tiresome pattern of repetition, just one battle after another. It doesn't help that, in order to forge new equipment or earn more ability points, you need to bribe specific enemies, so actually upgrading the princess ends up being a long grind. The constant repetition might have been more excusable if it didn't feel like every battle is just killing time while the calculator recharges. There technically is a lot of replay value if you're the type to collect every piece of armor or skill in a game, but the grind really doesn't make the effort feel worthwhile. Isometric battlefields and pixel part characters make up the art style Penny-Punching Princess. It's not the most unique look these days, but it's not half bad in this game. Mostly the large enemies or bosses have the best opportunity to shine—everything else will start to look pretty repetitive after a while. The music isn't particularly notable either. It's fine for what it is but it's not the kind of soundtrack that will keep your toes tapping after the game ends. It is funny that the game has a fully voiced narrator though—it certainly adds a bit more charm to the silly cutscene writing. Ultimately Penny-Punching Princess's unique draw, the calculator and bribing mechanic, ends up being its biggest flaw as well. The concept just isn't integrated into the rest of the gameplay smoothly, and the entire experience ends up being incredibly repetitive and pretty obnoxious against the tougher enemies. Penny-Punching Princess has some good ideas but the unpolished design means they don't really get a chance to shine. Rating: 6 out of 10 Pennies
  18. Eliwood8

    Owlboy Review

    After initially releasing on PC in 2016, Owlboy made the leap to consoles this year and joins the illustrious indie game lineup that the Switch has cultivated. This platform/adventure title from D-Pad Studio adds another dimension to the standard 2D exploration genre by giving the main character a set of wings. The gameplay is serviceable, if a bit clunky at times, but the real draw of Owlboy is the gorgeous pixel art design that complements an engaging story in a charming little world. In Owlboy you play as Otus, an anthropomorphic owl who lives in the quiet, peaceful little village of Vellie, situated on floating islands in the sky. As an owl Otus is tasked with keeping the village safe, but when sky pirates attack on his watch he embarks on a quest to set things right. For what initially appears to be a simple, cute adventure story, Owlboy does a fantastic job of tugging on your heartstrings (especially since our protagonist is just so cute). The story also takes a few twists that give it a bit more intrigue and depth than one might assume at first. At the same time though the scope of the story feels a little rushed, as if you were playing through an outline of the plot rather than the full fleshed out game. This doesn't really hurt the experience too much but it does feel like the game should have had more time to let the world-building develop. At its heart Owlboy has all the basic elements of a familiar 2D adventure/platformer, but the flying mechanics and partner system are what set the game apart. As an owl Otus can fly through the air, making Owlboy a uniquely vertical game at times—the closest comparison I could make would be Kid Icarus. There's a small overworld to explore as well as temples with puzzles, hazards, and enemies to defeat. However, Otus doesn't directly receive upgrades or new items—his partners do. Otus can carry one of three partners at any given time, and they are able to shoot or otherwise interact with the world. Aside from adding an interesting visual element this isn't too dissimilar than if Otus carried the weapons himself, but there are times where you need to separate from your partner to solve a puzzle. In fact the game really could have leveraged this idea a little further—as it is the puzzles are generally pretty straight-forward. The real challenge of the game is oftentimes just keeping your bearings as you fly around since there's no in-game map. The game has its share of annoying or frustrating elements as well. For one thing, the controls just never feel right. It's hard to say exactly what feels off about the button mapping but I constantly found myself pushing the wrong button, dodging when I meant to jump, dropping my partner when I meant to swap to a different one. Customizable controls would have at least alleviated some of that confusion. Otus's movements are also kind of slippery—understandable since you're mostly flying/hovering in the air, but it's a real pain when you are just trying to pick up an item and Otus keeps floating just past it. Grabbing items is even more annoying when there are multiple items next to each other. And finally, one old-school game element that was totally unnecessary in Owlboy: knockback on hit. The effect is especially disorienting in Owlboy because you fly backward, dropping your partner, and the resulting animation makes it very easy to lose track of yourself. Additionally, Owlboy seems to have some technical issues on the Switch. The game crashed several times while I was playing, including during the final cutscene which meant I had to redo the final battle in order to finish the cutscene. At least Owlboy auto-saves quite frequently though, so outside of that final battle repeat I never lost significant progress. The visual design in Owlboy is ridiculously charming, especially the animation of the game's protagonist. The developers did a pretty fantastic job of making Otus cute and emotive even with the limits of pixel art. The rest of the character design is great as well, and the environments are beautiful, from the lush jungle settings to the snowy mountain tops. One annoying aspect of the visuals is the excessive use of screen shake when you're hit, but otherwise the graphics are top notch. The music is excellent as well, though my one complaint here is the inconsistently in volume—Owlboy has a bad habit of going from extremely quiet sections to loud, booming songs. The songs themselves are great but the sound mixing could have been better handled. Owlboy isn't a long game, which is also why it feels like the story should have been fleshed out a bit more. You can finish in about seven or eight hours, plus there are a few collectibles to enjoy. Each region of the game has a limited number of coins, which you can use to unlock upgrades. There are also large bonus coins that add to the game's backstory a bit. Scrounging for coins gets to be a little tedious, especially without a map, but it at least adds an extra objective as you progress through the game. Owlboy is a beautifully designed game, one that tells a short but endearing story in a unique environment. I just wish the gameplay was as polished as the graphics and audio. The flying mechanics are fun but rarely feel like they're used to their full potential, while annoying little aspects such as slippery controls eat away at some of the game's charm. There's still a beautiful little game to enjoy here though, even if some features drag it down a bit. Rating: 7 out of 10 Owls
  19. Who would've thought that you could take pinball, a game format that far predates video games, and make it feel completely fresh and unique in 2018? Developer Villa Gorilla does just that with the beautifully stylish Yoku's Island Express, which stars a dung beetle on his first day on the job as a postman. The best part is that this isn't just an inventive take on pinball mechanics, it's a fantastically crafted Metroidvania adventure game with all of the exploration one expects from the genre, in a charming pinball format. Once you're pulled into exploring the hills and caverns of Yoku's Island Express, with all of its flippers and bumpers, it's hard to put down. Our dung beetle protagonist arrives on Mokumana Island ready to start delivering letters and packages. His inaugural day as postman is quickly turned upside down when he learns someone has attacked the island's protector god, and now Yoku needs to assemble the three chiefs to help put things right. And if you can't count on the postman to help save an island, who can you trust? There isn't an abundance of writing in Yoku's Island Express but it has just enough to establish the charming island setting full of adorable creatures. And even if the game doesn't indulge in long cutscenes or exposition you still get the sense that there's a rich history to the island and the game's world in general—certainly enough to build a sequel or two off of. So what does a pinball Metroidvania even entail? Well, Yoku can move left and right and interact with certain objects or talk to the island's inhabitants, but the crux of the game is based on using flippers to launch Yoku through tunnels or high into the air. There are sequences that are set up like a classic pinball game: left and right flippers, bumpers, spinners—even a pit to fall into if your timing is poor. Most people are familiar with pinball, which helps make Yoku's Island Express easily accessible for any player, and getting the ball to spin through various tunnels and bumpers is always satisfying. Of course, it can sometimes be tricky to get the ball exactly where you want it to go in pinball, and in this game you often need to aim for a specific passageway or tunnel in order to collect a key item or otherwise progress, so sometimes the game feels a little difficult to manage. However, there are no significant penalties for messing up. There's no timer over your head and you can't die, so even if you do find yourself a little frustrated you'll never lose anything in the game. It helps that Yoku's Island Express gives you plenty of small goals and side quests to interact with, so you're always engaged and eager to complete the next mission. Everywhere on the island you'll find fruit in bubbles. The fruit acts as a sort of currency; spend them to unlock flippers/launchers that can take you to new parts of the island, or purchase items from a handful of characters. Collecting fruit to unlock new areas to collect more fruit to unlock new areas—it's a perfect little exploration gameplay feedback loop, one that compels you to keep playing, keep exploring, because there's always something new to uncover. You'll also discover items and abilities that allow you to reach new areas, encouraging you to backtrack and discover everything the island has to offer. It's Metroidvania gameplay philosophy at its finest. Even though the island isn't really that large there's so much to uncover that Yoku's Island Express is still a good nine or ten hours long. Like other Metroidvania games you could probably speed through it in a fraction of the time but that'd be depriving yourself of all of the unique side quests, like helping a giant mushroom find new soil to spread its spores. And of course there's plenty of stuff to collect, so completionists will enjoy finding every secret that Mokumana has to offer. However, there are a couple of areas where Yoku's Island Express could be a little easier to explore and backtrack. Repeating certain pinball sections can actually be rather confusing if you can't remember exactly which path or tunnel is meant to send you forward or backward. None of the pinball sequences are so long that this is a huge problem, but it still would have been a little more convenient to be able to quickly skip some areas. Also the game's map, while beautifully drawn, is pretty difficult to read, especially if you're trying to find collectibles that you've missed. You almost have to be playing in handheld mode, with the screen close to your face, to be able to clearly find what paths you need to take. These aspects don't make the game any less fun, but they do make it a bit inconvenient at times. Right from the start Yoku's Island Express is just an absolutely charming game. The character designs are adorable but more importantly there's something incredibly tranquil about the game as a whole. Obviously this isn't a game based around intense combat or anything like that but still, the developers clearly built the visuals and music around a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere—perfect for an island vacation kind of game. Aside from the ridiculously cute characters the environments have been beautifully hand-painted with plenty of rich colors, whether it's on the tropical beach, snowy mountain top, or even the dark caverns under the island. The music is just wonderful as well—I could listen to the main theme on a loop for hours—although if anything the soundtrack gets too muted and atmospheric at times. It generally suits the environments, like the aforementioned caves, but the first few tracks are so delightfully upbeat that I kind of wished they all could be like that. Yoku's Island Express is guaranteed to charm you from the second you start playing. The entire atmosphere of the game is so delightfully vibrant and buoyant, from the colorful scenery and infectious music to the adorable island inhabitants. Then the gameplay pulls you in with the simplicity of familiar pinball mechanics crossed with Metroidvania exploration to create a wonderfully original experience. In many ways Yoku's Island Express exemplifies the best of indie gaming: talented developers working on original ideas to create a game truly unlike any other. Rating: 9 out of 10 Pinballs
  20. Eliwood8

    West of Loathing Review

    It's a little surprising that there aren't more comedies in the world of video games. Granted, gaming naturally lends itself to grand adventures with tons of action, but comedy, particularly witty humor, is woefully underrepresented. The good news is West of Loathing, from developer Asymmetric, perfectly fills that niche while still delivering an excellent little RPG adventure. Players can enjoy all of the item collecting, turn-based combat, and dialogue trees that one expects from an RPG, but West of Loathing's oddball sense of humor adds a charm and levity to the adventure, from the first spittoon you investigate to your last demonic cow battle. The story begins when you head out west from your family's little farm to seek your fortune in one of three character classes: Cow Puncher, Snake Oiler, or Beanslinger. After a short tutorial in the town of Boring Springs you make your way to Dirtwater, your base of operations while you explore mines, pickle factories, and traveling circuses. West of Loathing wastes no time in getting silly, but there's something to be said for the breadth of humor in the game: puns, sight gags, clever dialogue, etc. What the game does so well is naturally weaving the comedy throughout every inch of this RPG adventure: character interactions are delightfully goofy, the items you find are bizarre, and the first perk you pick up is called Stupid Walking which makes your character, well, walk stupidly across the screen. Comedy can be challenging in a text-based format, but West of Loathing has a knack for landing its jokes. It's often tempting, in a lengthy RPG, to skip over flavor text and focus on the gameplay, but it is definitely worth enjoying every line of text here, because you'll always find something weird and witty. It may sound like West of Loathing is just a goofy game in every sense, but there's actually a solid RPG adventure here with plenty of depth to enjoy. There may be an emphasis on jokes and humor but there are still a variety of side quests to tackle, dozens of locations to explore, and a satisfying variety to the gameplay that lets you tackle challenges in different ways depending upon your skills and perks. It really is an open-world RPG, one that is incredibly easy to lose yourself in thanks to the wealth of tasks and items to collect. There's always something new to discover, and the best part is you're often rewarded for examining everything with some unique humor—even when you're exploring the depths of a well-used spittoon. It's not just dialogue trees and comedy in West of Loathing, though. There's a turn-based combat system which, even though you can only select a few characters to use, has a decent amount of variety to it. Your character class obviously affects your battle skills, and combined with the numerous items you can discover throughout your quest you have a good amount of options in battle. The difficulty of combat can feel pretty inconsistent, though. You can generally defeat single enemies without any effort at all, but groups of enemies, even if they aren't particularly powerful, pose a significant threat just through sheer numbers. As such battles bounce between boringly easy to desperate brawls where you employ every item you have. A little more consistency in the combat difficulty would have been useful, though on the bright side there are plenty of instances where you can avoid combat entirely using some other skill to trick or talk down enemies. West of Loathing also has some item management problems. There is a ridiculous number of items you can pick up—weapons, consumables, hats, you name it. The inventory screen, however, could be much better organized, with better division between item categories, or just an easier way to sort them yourself. Similarly the side quest management system leaves something to be desired. You can consult your partner for a quick reminder but it's not a very efficient recap of what you're working on. These problems don't spoil the experience, but they're consistent minor annoyances throughout the adventure. If you were to race through the story missions you could probably finish the entire game in just a few hours, but why would you want to do that? A big part of the charm of open-world RPGs is taking your time to explore, and West of Loathing's humor makes every investigation worthwhile. Still, this isn't the type of game that eats up all of your free time for months on end. An average playthrough will probably be closer to ten hours, although with its different character classes and dialogue choices you could easily replay the game a couple of times for a decently unique experience. This is definitely a game that you cannot judge by its cover. Sure the stick figure graphics may seem silly at a glance, but there's a certain charm to the art style. The longer you play the more you'll appreciate the unique look of stick figures in a 3D diorama-style setting. And of course, the simple graphics help the game lean into the comedy/absurdity angle—this is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, which allows for plenty of gags. The music, meanwhile, has a suitably Western lilt to it, though even here the developers manage to give the game a fun, comedic sense of personality. It's enough to keep your toes tappin' while you investigate suspicious saloons and hippie-infested forts. West of Loathing is a farcical take on Western adventures that will keep you grinning from start to finish. Other games might have comedic moments, but West of Loathing weaves a consistently hilarious and oftentimes bizarre sense of style that encompasses the story, gameplay, and (clearly) the visuals. Best of all, the humor is perfectly balanced with engaging RPG gameplay that keeps you eager to explore every inch of the game's stick figure Western environment. Switch owners couldn't ask for a better example of comedic video games than this. Rating: 9 out of 10 Hats Review copy provided by the publisher West of Loathing is available now on the Switch eShop for $11.00.
  21. Eliwood8

    Runner3 Review

    The first Runner game was released as part of the Bit.Trip series, an extra-challenging collection of different gameplay styles, all presented in sharp, minimalist graphics. Runner2 leapt into a whole other dimension with HD graphics but retained the first game's penchant for difficult, rhythm-based action gameplay. Now Runner3 once again expands on the formula with a new collection of surreal and delightful levels that will test the limits of your dodging abilities. Some aspects make the game a bit more repetitive than it needs to be but new gameplay features add invaluable tools to CommanderVideo's running repertoire. Even though there are cutscenes (of a sort) in Runner3, this isn't a game you play for the story. That's not to say the writing is bad—far from it, actually. The game is rife with hilarious, absurd, and surreal world building, and the developers clearly delight in making Charles Martinet recite tongue-twisting narrations. There are also optional cutscenes that you can only see if you collect all stickers within a world, and the charming paper-craft puppet theater presentation makes the effort well worth it. The overarching plot still boils down to "beat the bad guys," but the path to get there is so delightfully bizarre that Runner3 always manages to surprise you, in very strange ways. When you look back on the game though it won't be the story that sticks in your mind, it'll be the challenging rhythm gameplay. Runner3 builds off of the rhythmic-running gameplay of the previous two games: CommanderVideo (or whichever character you choose to use) always moves forward, and your job is to dodge obstacles by jumping, sliding, and kicking. One of the best things about the Runner games is that the basic concept is almost endlessly playable. Even if this game just used the above three inputs there could conceivably be hundreds of levels created around different songs and combinations of obstacles. And Runner3 does a fantastic job of creating varied levels so there's always a new challenge to tackle. Of course, Runner3 doesn't just retread old concepts. There are some important new features here, including two invaluable input methods: double jump and fast drop. Anyone that played previous Runner games will understand that these are game changers, not just because they provide for new obstacles but because they give you the chance to change up CommanderVideo's movements. Essentially, you have some options when it comes to certain obstacles—in previous games every obstacle has one action to overcome it (jump over low hazards, duck under high ones, etc.). In Runner3 however, there's some wiggle room now, and you don't have to be quite so precise with the rhythm. Obviously the game is still based around the rhythmic action, but if you're off a little bit or make a mistake you won't necessarily fail. Double jumping in particular provides a useful safety net, while fast dropping lets you be incredibly precise with your jumps. In a way these features make Runner3 possibly the most accessible of the Runner games. Now I'll temper that last statement by saying Runner3 is still a very difficult game. Even with the benefit of double jumping you cannot afford to make mistakes—one hit sends you back to the start of the level or the mid-way checkpoint. All of the Runner games are known for their difficulty though and this one is mostly on par with them, except for the optional extra-difficult levels (appropriately named "impossible levels") which may leave you cross-eyed and cursing just to finish the level, much less collect all of the gold and gems. Runner pros will enjoy the challenge but don't take the impossible levels lightly. Not all of the new features in Runner3 are totally positive, though. For one thing, each level now has two paths, the second of which only unlocks after completing the level once. It's a neat concept but in practice it gets a little tiring having to replay a level repeatedly, especially because the alternate paths only make up a small portion of the level. It's also a little obnoxious that, in order to grab stickers or other collectibles for hero quests, you often have to go off the beaten path, meaning you'll miss out on gold or gems. It's understandable that they'd be a little hidden since they're optional collectibles but the completionist in me is annoyed that you miss out on gold or gems to get them. Thankfully collectibles stay with you if you fail and restart, so you can actually just grab one then immediately die to get back on track. This is kind of an unnecessary workaround though, and the game really shouldn't expect the player to sacrifice one attempt just for collectibles. The controls are easy enough to learn as you play more and more—you'll want the inputs to be completely second nature. One minor tip though: turn off rumble if you're playing in handheld mode. When you're dying over and over the rumble starts to get a little annoying. Runner3 continues Runner2's tradition of completely bonkers art design, and it's fantastic. Half of the visuals look like something out of a fever dream—I'd actually recommend letting someone else play for a bit so you can take in the graphics and scenery without focusing on obstacles. The character design is also completely insane and oftentimes it seems like the developers enjoy skirting the line between hilarious and gross. Still, the surreal art style is just part of Runner3's charm, and anyone would have to admit that it's a unique, memorable style. And of course the game wouldn't be what it is without a phenomenal soundtrack, one that is just as weird as the visuals at times but is always infectiously catchy. (Give it a listen) Each track is perfect for a rhythm game: you get into the groove of the music and let it inform your movements on screen. Charles Martinet also returns as narrator (and as an unlockable playable character!) and gives the entire game a wonderfully charming, 80s Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Compared to Runner2, Runner3 cuts down on the number of levels and brings the selection down to three worlds of ten levels each, plus three impossible levels in each world and three retro worlds. To be fair though, the levels feel significantly longer than previous games, and generally display more complex level design as well. The $30 price tag feels a little high, but there's a lot of quality content here, especially for completionists. Runner3 introduces some fantastic new features to the franchise's gameplay while still providing an incredibly challenging adventure full of surreal visuals and wonderfully catchy tunes. Runner fans will love having a new selection of challenges that perfectly blend fast-paced action and rhythmic gameplay, and new players might be drawn in by the game's incomparable sense of style and new mechanics that make the gameplay slightly more forgiving. Either way, it's great to see another adventure for CommanderVideo and friends. Rating: 8 out of 10 Runners
  22. Anyone notice that Nintendo has essentially repeated the year 2014 with Switch releases this year? Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Hyrule Warriors…there's even going to be another Super Smash Bros. game later this year! I suppose we can cut them some slack though, since all of those were excellent games on the Wii U and they're still fantastic on the Switch. Hyrule Warriors in particular benefits from a number of improvements introduced in the 3DS version of the game, and Switch owners don't even have to pay extra for the extensive amount of content that was originally paid DLC. The subtitle here is no exaggeration—if you want the full Hyrule Warriors experience, look no further than Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition. This is literally the third time I've written a review for Hyrule Warriors so let's just quickly run through the essential details: it's a Musou game meaning you cut through thousands of enemies on each map and battle powerful bosses big and small. Each level throws dozens of key targets and objectives at you and you'll have to work quickly to complete everything with the time and characters you're given. Hyrule Warriors draws upon some of the most memorable characters from the Zelda franchise (as well as a few oddball choices) and makes them playable in this hack 'n' slash adventure. The entire game is a trip down memory lane, including remixed/reimagined locations and music from past Zelda titles. This game definitely leverages your nostalgia for the Zelda series but at its core it's also a really fun, frantic, and addictive action game. As the Definitive Edition this includes all of the DLC on the cartridge as well as all of the features that the 3DS version added, including Linkle's Tale, the Wind Waker content, all of the adventure maps, etc. When you look at it all it almost feels like an endless supply of content: 32 levels in story mode (each of which can be pretty long) plus 9 adventure maps which are made up of dozens of short challenges. Although all of the DLC characters are present here you still need to unlock them, as well as unlock new weapons, costumes, fairies—there really is a ridiculous amount of content here if you choose to play it all, and in this version you can play it on the TV or in handheld mode, solo or with a friend. Much like the Switch itself this Definitive Edition takes the best of both worlds from the Wii U and 3DS versions. One of the few new features is the ability to buy item cards on adventure maps after you've unlocked that item at least once. In order to unlock everything on an adventure map you sometimes need to use items to uncover secrets: burn a bush, bomb a wall, push a statue—all standard Zelda adventurer's fare. You earn items by completing adventure map stages but previously you'd have to replay stages to have enough items to cover all of the secrets on a map (especially if you make mistakes and waste items). Now you can just spend a few rupees, so the process is much less repetitive. On the downside, some aspects of Hyrule Warriors are definitely beginning to show their age. After last year's Fire Emblem Warriors some features feel outdated, or just don't work as smoothly as you might like. Specifically, giving your ally characters orders is less robust than in FEW. The AI allies have never been particularly powerful in these games but at least in FEW you could specify actions better. Also, if you tell an ally to move to an area, they never "forget" that command. If you take control of them and move them somewhere else, they'll still follow the previous command and return to that point. It's just inconvenient to have to babysit ally commands so much. Hyrule Warriors looks great on the TV, which shouldn't be any surprise, but it also runs pretty well in handheld mode. There are definitely some dips in frame rate while undocked, which is most noticeable during the intro/outro animations of characters and stages, but rarely do the frame rate dips interfere with the gameplay. Otherwise this Definitive Edition retains the stylish art design and infectious, remixed soundtrack of the original game, both of which can be a treat for longtime Zelda fans. Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is mostly the same game we saw in 2014 and in 2016, but the combination of features offers everything you could want from the game in one handy, portable Switch title. If you've only played the Wii U version, you're getting the benefit of all of the DLC and Legends add-ons. If you've played the 3DS version, you're getting the benefit of a higher quality resolution plus features like co-op. If you've played both you're probably a huge Zelda fan and will want to buy this one anyway. Regardless of your familiarity with Hyrule Warriors, the Definitive Edition is a wonderfully addictive action game and remains a delightful love letter to Zelda's storied history. Rating: 8 out of 10 Rupees
  23. Eliwood8

    Punch Club Review

    Punch Club from developer Lazy Bear Games and publisher tinyBuild takes an unusual approach to the fighting game genre—you don't actually fight at all in this game! Punch Club is a sim game and challenges you with balancing work with training to become the next champion boxer. Along the way there are a variety of side quests and branching paths that can make each playthrough unique. The concept of the game represents a fun combination of sim and fighting game elements, but in practice the game falls into an incredibly repetitive grind. It turns out training to be a champion fighter isn't all that fun. This game loves the 80s. As a boxer training to become a champion the similarities to Rocky are easily apparent, but there are tons of other pop culture references to films, comics, and games mostly from the 80s, the heyday of stories about strongmen fighting their way to glory. And Punch Club is smart enough to not take this kind of storyline too seriously. The writing is full of humor and the soap operatic twists in the plot are more comical than dramatic. And to be fair to the developers it is rather impressive that they included branching story elements since at first glance this isn't the type of game where you'd expect to find such attention to detail. On the other hand the game is littered with typos, but we can overlook those when the game's writing is focused on pop culture humor. Like other sim games the main challenge of Punch Club is in balancing your time effectively so you're never too low on money, health, hunger, or sleep. And to become a great fighter you'll need to hit the gym regularly to build up strength, agility, and stamina. Once you win fights you can also customize your fighter through four skill trees to focus on one stat and unlock more powerful attacks or helpful passive effects. The game doesn't do a great job of explaining things when you first start off though, so there's an added layer of difficulty in figuring out what is actually useful to you as a fighter and what will be wasting your time. In fact, the game throws so many elements at you in the first few days that new players will most likely be genuinely lost for a while. Once you find a rhythm of work, training, and taking on side quests the game starts to feel a little more rewarding, but be prepared to work through some confusing moments at first. What makes Punch Club particularly difficult though, and also rather tiresome after a while, is stat decay. For each day that passes in-game your strength, agility, and stamina stats will go decrease (the higher the stat, the more it decreases). This can be a real pain at first since your time and money are so limited that essentially any decay is a huge setback for your fighting career, and even later on once you've established a strong regimen the looming problem of stat decay means you're kind of stuck doing the same thing day in and day out, even moreso than other sim games. The need to train regularly may be fairly realistic for a professional fighter but it doesn't make Punch Club fun—it just turns the entire game into an endless grind. It certainly doesn't help that most everything in the game is automated, i.e. you select a task and your fighter just does it with no further button input from you, even when you fight. You'll select your attack commands at the beginning of each round but after that you just watch the fight unfold which can be extremely frustrating at times when your character performs poorly and there's nothing you can do about it. Thankfully you can at least hold ZR to speed up the fight but it's still an unfortunate combination of dull and frustrating to watch fights unfold. And sadly Punch Club suffers from some technical issues as well. There are general bugs in the experience that can disrupt the gameplay in minor ways, but there are also significant problems that can completely stall your progress. At that point it hardly seems worth struggling through the game's long grind again. On the bright side there is an easy mode in this version of Punch Club which eliminates stat decay, which reduces a large part of the game's grind. The charm of training daily/balancing your other life goals is still tepid at best but easy mode really is a much less tiring experience. With all of its references to the 80s it's fitting that the graphics are quite retro as well—not quite as simple as 80s game design, but the pixel artwork definitely evokes a sense of the past. They're definitely charming in their own way but at the same time there's not a lot that is particularly unique in the art design either. The scenery is well detailed but the characters have a bland stiffness to their movements. The music also has some suitably nostalgic vibes but also lacks a unique hook to make it stand out—if anything it just starts to sound droning as you work through the grind of the game day in and day out. Punch Club takes a big swing on a unique combination of gameplay elements, but the hit doesn't quite connect. The number of side stories and options is impressive and the pop culture references are fun to spot, but the grind that the core mechanics are based around, particularly a grind that plays itself most of the time, overshadows almost all of that. At the end of the day Punch Club feels more like work than play, with only a minimal sense of satisfaction as you rise through the boxing ranks. Rating: 5 out of 10 Punches Review copy provided by the publisher Punch Club is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  24. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was one of the best games on the Wii U, so it's great to see it get a new, funkier life on the Switch. Just like their previous work on Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro Studios did an absolutely amazing job of capturing the core concepts that made Donkey Kong Country such a blast on the SNES while also injecting a wealth of new content, all amidst an absolutely gorgeous setting and soundtrack. The only thing that might hold back this Switch version is the fact that there isn't a ton of new content if you already played the Wii U version, But the game is good enough that you'll likely enjoy a second playthrough regardless. Tropical Freeze on the Switch doesn't change anything about the story or core gameplay. As in the Wii U original the villainous Snowmad vikings invade Donkey Kong's home, freezing the entire island using a magic horn, completely ruining DK's birthday party. Understandably the Kongs set out for revenge, traversing multiple islands to reach the Snowmads' magic flying ship at the peak of DK island. It's pretty much the quintessential platformer setup—short, sweet, and gives a good reason to travel to multiple locations. In case you haven't played the original or have merely forgotten, Tropical Freeze is a tough platformer. It's not that there are swarms of enemies—though there are a few levels where you have to keep moving to avoid hazards—it's that the level design often requires perfect jumps, made all the more difficult by DK's unique movements. When he's not running DK is actually pretty slow and lumbersome. Build up a little momentum with a roll though, and DK will fly across gaps. The controls can be tricky at first but there's a fantastic sense of rhythm to DKC games which makes them challenging but not completely frustrating. Instead, when you complete a level, there's only a sense of satisfying accomplishment. And in the case of Tropical Freeze, there are some fantastic designs throughout the adventure. The game trades level count with level intricacy—each island only has a handful of stages but they're long and elaborate, packed with collectibles and perfect for the time attack option that opens up after you complete the level once. There is a wealth of content to enjoy here, and you can even bring a friend along for some frantic co-op fun. Now we come to the star of the show, and the main addition to Tropical Freeze on the Switch: Funky Kong! The most tubular member of the DK crew functions as an easy mode thanks to his extended health and extra-durable surfboard which protects him from hazards like spikes. He can also perform a short double jump in the air and ride his surfboard for a slow, gradual landing, making tricky jumps easy to complete. Funky is definitely easier to use in a lot of ways but if you get used to using the other Kongs Funky can feel a little hard to use in some instances. Funky's abilities make him good at everything but there are some instances where Dixie or Cranky are better—they have more specialized abilities while Funky is all-around effective, so you might not necessarily want to rely on him for everything. He's still a great addition for novice players though, especially considering Tropical Freeze's difficulty on some levels. The only downside though is that Funky is restricted to his own easy mode, so if you start a game in normal mode you can't just swap to him. It's understandable to separate him for online leaderboard/time attack purposes but it's still kind of a bummer that you have to commit to easy mode if you want to try him out. Tropical Freeze looks every bit as good as it did on the Wii U—better even, thanks to some slight boosts to the resolution. Regardless of the technical aspects though it's the bright, lively art design that makes the visuals pop, even when playing in handheld mode on the Switch's screen. The background artwork is so rich at times that it's almost worth replaying the game just to take in all of the visuals. And the soundtrack by David Wise is every bit as captivating as it was in the original game—Grassland Groove remains a personal favorite of mine. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is another worthy port to the Switch's library. Its main addition, Funky Kong, is somewhat restricted as a separate easy mode, but fans of the game will still appreciate experimenting with a new way to play the game, and the new possibilities he offers for speedrunning. The real draw for this Switch game is everything that made the Wii U game great: incredible level design, a wealth of challenging collectibles to uncover, gorgeous visuals, and a truly stellar soundtrack. Tropical Freeze may not be new for some players, but it's well worth another playthrough all the same. Rating: 9 out of 10 Bananas
  25. Eliwood8

    FRAMED Collection Review

    Plenty of games offer a time-traveling mechanic to correct mistakes, but what if you could completely rearrange events to reach your goal? FRAMED Collection from developer Loveshack Entertainment and publisher Surprise Attack Games brings to the Switch both FRAMED and its sequel FRAMED 2, both of which are based around the simple, central puzzle mechanic of moving comic book frames to transform an unfortunate capture into a timely escape. Originally created for mobile devices, the FRAMED games are a natural fit on the Switch thanks to the touch screen, but even if you play with a controller you can expect plenty of clever puzzles set against a delightful noir backdrop. The only area FRAMED disappoints is the all too short length. Both FRAMED games are absolutely bursting with style: black silhouette characters have only the smallest white highlights in a colorful, 50s noir-style world. In this visually arresting setting the developers manage to tell an engaging spy story without a single word of text or dialogue. The graphics alone—particularly the delightfully expressive animation—do a fantastic job of conveying the story, even if large parts of it are simple cat-and-mouse chases between our criminal protagonists and the police. Still, it's enough to pull you into the intrigue of this crime caper with its twists and turns as each side gains an advantage over the other in turns, culminating in a surprise ending for each game, one that is particularly shocking in FRAMED 2 after you experience the events of the original. The FRAMED games do a fantastic job of iterating on a simple, core puzzle concept: rearrange comic book panels to change the outcome of a scene. For example, you can move helpful items into place before the protagonists run into a hazard or police officer waiting to arrest them—a well placed ladder is the difference between escape and capture. It's the kind of puzzle design that is so perfectly intuitive that anyone will immediately grasp the idea after just a few seconds with the game, but the concept is also malleable enough to be put into a variety of puzzle scenarios, some of which can be quite challenging. In short, it's the perfect puzzle system: easy to learn, but with enough variety to tickle the player's brain when you have to keep track of numerous elements. Even better, the FRAMED games largely avoid the frustrations of extra-difficult puzzle design, particularly because there are ultimately only so many combinations you can make with the panels given to you. That's not to say the games are too easy either. FRAMED introduces a few wrinkles that increase the complexity of the puzzle design without making it overwhelming, such as rotating panels instead of just moving them, and FRAMED 2 adds another layer when you have multiple characters to keep track of from panel to panel. Even if the basic premise looks the same from one puzzle scenario to the next, the game does a good job of keeping you engaged with new challenges that always feel smart, never cheap. One of the only minor complaints with the FRAMED games on the Switch is the way the controls work with a controller. Instead of being able to swap two frames you actually select one frame and drag it through the others, essentially moving every frame one space. It's a little inconvenient to shuffle every frame when you need to make just one adjustment. If you're playing on the Switch's touch screen you can simply select two frames and swap them—since the games were originally built for a touch screen it makes sense that the controls are a bit better suited for it. It's hardly a real issue to play with a controller though; at most this is a minor inconvenience since you never have to move frames super quickly anyway. As already mentioned the game's graphics are delightfully stylish—this is definitely the type of game that you have to see in motion to fully appreciate the smooth animation. It is perhaps not surprising to learn the artwork was hand-crafted—only that kind of care would yield such fluid, expressive animation that makes every scene of the adventure a delight to watch unfold. And in case you thought only the visuals were painstakingly designed, rest assured, the soundtrack shows every bit as much love and care with an original live jazz soundtrack. You couldn't ask for a more perfect musical accompaniment to the noir setting of both FRAMED games. The music sets just the right tone for an adventure that is in turns tense and light-hearted, bouncing between nail-biting escapes and clever, sometimes comedic puzzle solutions. Truly, the only disappointing aspect of the FRAMED Collection is how quickly you'll play through it. Even with the game's mix of puzzle designs—some easier, some a little harder—each game can be finished in just a couple of hours at most. In both cases it can feel like the game is over all too soon, and as puzzle games there's no in-game incentive to replay them (other than to enjoy the art and music all over again). It's a shame since the puzzle design could have lent itself to an even longer game, for both FRAMED and FRAMED 2, but for now we'll just have to hold out hope for a FRAMED 3. FRAMED Collection brings together two whole games, both packed with clever puzzle design and wonderfully charming visuals and music, and you'll still likely walk away eager for even more puzzle action. The core gameplay mechanic is refreshingly clever and perfectly poised for a whole variety of challenges, and even though FRAMED Collection ends all to quickly the developers crafted a wonderful variety of challenges, complemented by a captivating noir story and setting. Puzzle fans won't want to miss this intriguing addition to the Switch's library. Rating: 8 out of 10 Frames Review copy provided by publisher FRAMED Collection is available now on the Switch eShop for $9.99.