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Found 283 results

  1. Six years ago, developer Mografi Kickstarted their mystery adventure game, Jenny LeClue - Detectivu. Last year the game released on PC and mobile devices, and now Switch owners have the opportunity to experience the mystery as well. Was the game worth the wait? The clues in this case are impeccable writing filled with humor and heart, stylish presentation, and engaging mystery gameplay, leading to only one logical deduction. Our protagonist, Jenny LeClue, is a confident, precocious young girl determined to follow in the detective footsteps of her mother. But Arthurton, their sleepy hometown, is a seemingly quiet, hohum place lacking in the kinds of mysteries and adventures that Jenny craves. That is, until a murder most foul occurs right under Jenny's nose, providing the perfect opportunity to flex her detective muscles and uncover Arthurton's unknown secrets. As a mystery story, Jenny LeClue is a complete success. The writing will easily draw you in to learn more about Arthurton and its inhabitants, as well as the mysterious goings-on under the surface. There are plenty of enticing, dangling threads to pull that will easily hook anyone that enjoys a good mystery. The game is also filled with quirky characters that are a lot of fun to interact with, including Jenny herself and her plucky, determined attitude. Be forewarned though: the title of the game doesn't make it clear but this is only part one of a planned series of games, which means the ending is a bit abrupt and leaves a lot unanswered. It's still an intriguing story and well worth exploring, but the inconclusive finale may bother some. I should also mention that the entire game is encapsulated as a story within a story. Within the game, "Jenny LeClue" is actually a series of children's mystery novels, formerly successful but recent waning sales have put the author, Arthur Finklestein, into the uncomfortable predicament of needing to shake up his story formula. Chapters of the game are punctuated by interludes where we see Arthur's writing process and his struggle to create an engaging mystery for his publisher without betraying his writing principles. It's an interesting way of framing the story and leads to some fun scenes where Arthur's narration seems to push against Jenny's own thoughts and behavior. The gameplay blends some light adventure elements with investigation and puzzle-solving, all in a side-scrolling 2D environment. The game's world is divided into small areas where Jenny can explore, examine objects and clues, and interrogate townsfolk. Interrogations play out as mini-investigations: Jenny will examine a person to pick up clues about their actions, then put those clues together for a logical conclusion. Outside of these character interactions, the gameplay is largely classic adventure game content, i.e. you're presented with a locked door, so you examine the surrounding area to find some way of opening it. The gameplay overall is solid though a lot of the puzzles are a bit too easy. For an adventure game—and particularly a mystery game—you'd expect the puzzles to require some serious thought, but that's rarely the case in Jenny LeClue. That's not all bad, since it does mean the game is quite comfortably paced, but there was definitely room for some more complex gameplay elements, especially for a future ace detective. You can expect to spend around eight or nine hours with Jenny LeClue, even when you take the time to really examine everything in any given area. There are small rewards for doing so, including stickers you can use to decorate Jenny's trusty detective's journal, and postcard scraps that you can put together to reveal fun little messages. You may also want to replay the game just to test out different conversation branches. You can sometimes choose Jenny's response during conversations, which doesn't seem to change the story on a fundamental level but can lead to some different dialogue that might be fun to see if you just can't get enough of Jenny LeClue. The game's visual style is striking, sporting sharp cartoonish designs and some beautiful color palettes, all animated with a puppeted style that is a lot of fun to see. It really helps to bring these quirky characters to life and make them particularly endearing, from the pot-bellied, jovial college dean to the lanky and good-natured best friend. The music does a fine job of setting an engaging mystery atmosphere, but it's the voice acting that is the real star of the show in the audio department. There's a lot of great voice work throughout the game that perfectly completes the charm of these characters. Jenny LeClue - Detectivu spins an intriguing mystery story set in an utterly charming little town filled with fun, engaging characters. Though the gameplay perhaps doesn't live up to its potential, the brisk pace of puzzle solving ensures you're always moving one step close to cracking the case. Even if there aren't head-scratching puzzles around every corner, Arthurton is still a joy to explore. The fact that the overarching mystery isn't fully resolved may also disappoint some, but it'll also leave you excited to see what new mysteries Jenny will solve in the next chapter of her story. Rating: 9 out of 10 Clues
  2. Cats and dogs working together? It's not mass hysteria, it's Cat Quest II, another light action-RPG from developer The Gentlebros. You once again play as a cat hero in the kingdom of Felingard, but this time your journeys will take you to the dog kingdom of Lupus as well. Most importantly, you can also play as a dog in this adventure, and even join up with a friend for local co-op action. Cat Quest II isn't much of a departure from its predecessor, but the simple, snappy action-RPG mechanics still make for a satisfying experience. You play as both a cat and a dog in this game—if you're playing solo you can swap between the two at any time—who are the displaced rulers of Felingard and Lupus. In order to reclaim your thrones, you'll have to adventure, gather strength, and reforge the legendary Kingsblade. The plot itself is decent enough, even if it feels a little basic at times, but the writing can be quite charming thanks to the ridiculous amount of puns found throughout Cat Quest II. This game is littered with every kind of cat- or dog-based pun you can think of, to the point where it's kind of distracting. Still, it's pretty cute, and will at least make you smile when you're taking on one quest after another. The gameplay is largely unchanged from the first game. You explore an overworld map which now includes both the cat and dog kingdoms, and you battle creatures using melee weapons and magic spells. In addition to the main quest you can pick up side quests that might reward you with new equipment, and will always award you with a healthy bit of EXP and gold. There are also caves and temples scattered across the map which are filled with monsters and more treasures. A big part of the appeal of these Cat Quest games lies in their simplicity. There aren't any elaborate RPG mechanics to learn here, you're just exploring, fighting, and improving your characters. It makes them incredibly easy to pick up, and ideal for quick play sessions. Cat Quest II isn't a demanding action-RPG, and having a friend along for the ride now makes the experience feel even more like a relaxed afternoon kind of game. If you're playing solo, the other character will be AI controlled, but you can swap between them at any time. The AI leaves something to be desired—it'll attack enemies, though not always in the most intelligent ways—but the real benefit is that the second character basically acts as a spare life for you. If your main character goes down you'll instantly swap to the other one and can revive the first. Even if the AI isn't the best fighter it still ends up being a handy assistant. The downside is that the game's simplicity does make it rather repetitive. There's a little bit of strategy and dexterity necessary, since you'll need to dodge out of the way of enemy attacks and may want to coordinate your spells to hit elemental weaknesses. For the most part though the game is easy to breeze through, and the enemies you fight and caves you explore are pretty much the same over and over. You can try to spice up the experience for yourself by swapping weapons, armor, and spells, though the cost of upgrading your equipment can discourage doing so too frequently. And in the end you're not going to have a wildly different experience no matter what kind of weapon you're favoring. Cat Quest II's simplicity is its charm, but it can also make it a bit shallow. It should only take you eight or nine hours to complete the whole adventure, which ends up feeling like a good length given how repetitive the gameplay can be. There is a bit of post-game content in the form of high-difficulty caves and temples, plus there is a new game+ feature to carry over some of your progress into a second playthrough. An update to the game has also added "Mew Game" and "Mew Game+" which allow you to play with various modifiers on to make the game a bit more challenging, such as limiting the equipment you can wear or causing everything to move faster. Players hoping for a bit more challenge will certainly want to check out these game modes. The presentation hasn't changed much from the first game either, and it's still overwhelmingly cute. The visuals are bright and colorful, and seeing the anthropomorphic cats and dogs running around is awfully adorable. There's less variety in environments in Cat Quest II, but the scale of the world still manages to feel a bit bigger and more grand. The music is a lot of fun as well. It's bubbly and heroic and really adds to the sense of adventure. Cat Quest II doesn't do too much to distinguish itself from its predecessor. Co-op is a fun addition, but otherwise the gameplay formula is nearly identical, including foibles like the repetitive caves and unambitious combat system. In the end though, those issues don't matter too much. Cat Quest II is still a charming little action-RPG, perfect for introducing young players to the genre, and now co-op makes that even easier to do. It's not the kind of game that's likely to capture your attention for hours on end, but as a quick, light adventure into a kingdom of cats and dogs, it's not a bad way to relax a bit and enjoy an undemanding game. Rating: 7 out of 10 Cats
  3. Over the past decade, developer Supergiant Games has seemingly gone out of their way to produce particularly unique games, covering a variety of gameplay features but retaining a certain impeccable sense of style in each. To be honest I wasn't thrilled to hear that their latest, Hades, was a roguelike, a genre that has never fully landed with me, even if I have enjoyed a few games that use its death loop mechanics. Leave it to Supergiant, though, to make me a believer. I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise given their previous games so perfectly combine disparate gameplay aspects into a brilliant and unique whole, but even as a fan of the developer I wasn't prepared for how fully Hades would capture my attention. In Hades you play as Zagreus, prince of the Underworld, who has grown tired of living in a world of shades and darkness and has decided to leave his father's realm to be with his extended family on Mount Olympus. Leaving the land of the dead isn't exactly a simple task though, and he'll need to battle his way through shifting hazards and guardians from Tartarus to the River Styx before he can escape the afterlife. Roguelikes don't generally have a lot of storytelling; the gameplay loop of restarting the entire adventure every time you die tends to downplay the story, or at least push it into small corners of the game's world. That's not the case with Hades. One of the best aspects of this game is the fact that it's not just the gameplay that compels you to keep playing and make another attempt but the story as well. You get little pieces of backstory and character development with every playthrough that will make you eager to push a little further and uncover more. It also helps that the developers have done an amazing job of bringing these Greek mythological figures to life (in a manner of speaking). Zagreus himself is a charming combination of moody and flippant without being obnoxious, and every other character—whether it's an underworld denizen or Olympic god—is just as wonderfully developed and charming. The short break between escape attempts might have been a dull housekeeping period in a lesser developer's hands, but in Hades it's an opportunity to talk with side characters and further immerse yourself in the game's setting. Like all roguelikes, the gameplay of Hades is based around repeatedly playing through the game with a random assortment of hazards and upgrades. Zagreus is able to choose one of six weapons to use in his escape attempt, but beyond that there's an element of chance to everything that happens. Different enemies will pop up, different room layouts will impede your progress, and different gods will grant you boons which act as powerful upgrades. For example, Zeus will give your attacks additional lightning damage, while Athena grants defensive buffs that can deflect enemy projectiles. You may also see improved versions of their boons (rare, epic, heroic) as well as boons that reinforce the ones you already have. Which gods you see on your playthrough and even which boons they grant are randomly generated so every attempt is going to feel a little different, which keeps the gameplay feeling fresh and forces you to think strategically with the tools you're given. What makes a good roguelike is essentially how much fun the core gameplay is, regardless of what boons/upgrades you're using and regardless of whether you're actually successful in your playthrough. Hades nails this aspect, ensuring that not only does each playthrough feel unique, but that the combat mechanics and combination of boons is always engaging. Even without boons the combat of Hades feels great. Each weapon has distinct advantages and disadvantages, from better range to defensive capabilities, and learning how to master each one's features is a blast (and tearing through enemies is super satisfying). Your attacks are sharp and responsive and you have a great amount of control over Zagreus's movements and dodges. Even basic sword swings just have a satisfying weight to them. Then there are the boons that add so much variety and depth to the combat system. Mixing and matching them allows for incredibly varied approaches to both normal fights and boss fights, and learning how to best use each boon is another fantastic layer of depth and strategy in Hades. There were plenty of boons that, starting out, I didn't like at all and couldn't find a good use for. But after a few playthroughs and some experimentation I found that they could be just as powerful as any other, and testing out new combinations became something to look forward to. Early on you'll just be experimenting to see what each boon can do, but soon enough you'll be experimenting with different combos, weapons, and playstyles, and Hades has a fantastic amount of variety in this department. Even after dozens of playthroughs there are still surprising and exciting aspects of the gameplay to uncover. Hades also allows you to make some permanent upgrades outside of the randomly generated boons, which is a huge help in making each playthrough feel useful and valuable even if you didn't make it all the way to the end. You're able to pick up a few different forms of currency which unlock permanent boosts to make you slightly stronger in your next attempt, and early on these incremental upgrades are a huge part of keeping you engaged for each playthrough. Then there's the flipside where, once you've finished the game once, you can choose to inflict additional challenges on yourself to make the game harder, like increasing enemies' health, damage, or attack speed. This will also net you additional materials for upgrades so it's not just designed to punish yourself, though by that point you'll likely be skilled enough that a little extra challenge is welcome. There's also God Mode which is an assist mode that will reduce the damage you take, perfect for players that need a helping hand or just want to see more of the story progress. Regardless of what upgrades or punishments you're using, Hades is a brilliantly addictive game that will leave you with that "one more try" feeling each and every time you finish a run, successful or not. Even across different genres and gameplay styles, one thing that has never never changed for Supergiant is the absolutely stunning presentation of their games. Hades is gorgeous, from the atmospheric scenery that captures a subtle sense of foreboding underworld vibes to the beautifully designed character portraits that do an incredible job of interpreting the classic Greek pantheon that we all know. The hand-painted environments are so richly detailed that for your first few playthroughs you'll likely just be distracted drinking in the scenery. And although the game's isometric perspective doesn't allow for much close-up detail the game is beautifully animated as well. Even after your fiftieth playthrough it's worth taking a little pause to appreciate the amazing visual design of Hades. Then there's the soundtrack which is once again masterfully composed by Darren Korb. There's a very fine line to walk here for a game where you're going to hear the same songs over and over, but Korb's soundtrack is the perfect blend of catchy and action-packed without feeling tiresome even by the hundredth time you've heard it. And finally, the voice work in Hades deserves special mention too for the way it captures each character's personality so well in a subtle, magnetic way that pulls you even further into the impeccable writing and storytelling. Hades is everything a roguelike should be. The controls and combat are so finely polished that even basic battles have a satisfying, addictive flourish to them. The gameplay is challenging without being discouraging, and always feels worthwhile whether you've made it to the end, collected valuable materials, or simply tested out new strategies based on what the game gave you. The writing is wonderfully engaging and uncovering bits of the story across each playthrough is another perfect incentive to keep playing over and over. Add onto all of this Supergiant's impeccable art and music design and you easily have one of the best Switch releases this year. Even if you're not a fan of roguelikes, there's something about Hades that will pull you in and won't let you go. Rating: 10 out of 10 Boons
  4. With a combination of veteran experience and start-up ambition, indie developer Metronomik's debut game throws players into a futuristic world of music and rhythmic action. No Straight Roads stars an indie rock duo trying to make it big in a city that values EDM over any other genre, leading to clashes with the ruling musical elites and a rising swell of underground rock. Ultimately though this blend of action-platforming and stylish design is a bit out of tune. Our protagonists, Mayday and Zuke, perform as the rock duo Bunk Bed Junction in Vinyl City, where music literally provides power to the electrical grid. However, the record label No Straight Roads decides that rock music is passé and only EDM should be allowed, spurring our heroes to fight back in the name of musical freedom. It's a fun setting with larger-than-life characters that are a little goofy but also undeniably charming. However, the story never feels like it reaches its potential. Maybe it's just because the game is relatively short, but the inventive setting is rife with possibilities that aren't fully explored by the game. The gameplay of No Straight Roads focuses around big, creative boss fights with third-person action-adventure mechanics. You can play as either Mayday or Zuke with two-player co-op or you can play solo and swap between the two at any time (though if one dies it's game over when playing alone). Mayday has slightly slower but more powerful attacks with her guitar, while Zuke has weaker but faster, combo-driven attacks with his drumsticks. They also have special attacks and can transform objects in the environment with the power of music. Mayday's abilities tend to focus on offense while Zuke's are built for defense. You're able to upgrade their abilities via skill trees that unlock as you gain a fan following, as well as augment their stats with stickers slapped on their instruments. They make a solid team and even when playing alone the ability to swap between them helps cover their weaknesses. Between boss fights you can explore a small hub area of Vinyl City then dive into each boss's district by fighting your way through a short level of minor enemies and barriers. It really feels like these boss lead-ups were an underdeveloped idea thrown in late in development. You only ever fight against a couple of different enemy types in these stages, they're incredibly linear, and are all structured in the same exact way which doesn't feel thematically appropriate for each boss. They at least give you an opportunity to practice your attacking and dodging skills, but overall they feel like busywork. The real stars of the game are the boss fights which throw you into some insane and inventive duels that really test your dodging skills and endurance. These battles are over the top in a great way and show off some incredible arena and combat design. They're also pretty tedious at times, thanks to the unrelenting difficulty. You might not expect it from the game's colorful art style, but these boss fights can be downright cruel, whether it's from a barrage of attacks that forces you to do nothing but dodge or from the massive amount of damage you can take from a single hit. Early on the game gives you infrequent opportunities to rest or restore health through random item drops, though eventually both characters learn skills to recover health. Even then, boss fights really test the limit of your skills since every boss has multiple forms and there are no checkpoints, so dying restarts the entire fight. The controls aren't doing much to help with the uneven sense of difficulty either. Your movements are pretty loose, which doesn't feel great for the precision dodging you need to do at times. The camera is a huge pain since it is either too sensitive when you have full control over it, or it's fixed during boss fights, oftentimes at an angle that makes it hard to dodge or land your own attacks. The Switch version of No Straight Roads also seems to have a handful of small technical issues as well, none of which were game-breaking in my experience but they were annoying. For one thing the framerate is a little inconsistent and the hub world has a lot of visual pop-in. I also ran into several small glitches like not being able to jump unless I swapped characters, or the health bar displaying the wrong character. At minimum the game clearly could have used a bit more polish. No Straight Roads is also a fairly short game. The adventure is structured around the big boss fights, and there are only six in total—most players will finish in about six hours. There is a bit of variety to the game depending on what skills you pick from the skill tree or what sticker upgrades you use, plus there's a focus on replaying boss fights at higher difficulty levels to earn more fans, which allows you to unlock more skills. It's obviously repetitive to do that though, and some of these bosses are annoying enough to fight once. The Switch version of the game also has some unique features, including a touch mode and a three player assist mode which can help alleviate some of the boss battle frustration. The game's presentation is obviously the highlight here—how could it not be, when the focus of the story is on music-based battles? The soundtrack is pretty fantastic, whether you favor rock or EDM, as both are represented with tons of great songs that you can't help but bob your head to, even if you're getting destroyed in the boss fights. The music is incredibly catchy and shows a lot of range even within the two main genres on display here. The voice acting deserves some recognition as well for bringing these wild characters to life, including in songs and rap battles. The visuals of No Straight Roads is also super stylish, with an exaggerated cartoonish design that is colorful and chaotic and somehow perfect for these characters and this setting. Even if the technical aspect of the visuals is a little lacking on the Switch, the art design is just plain fun and is at its full power during the massive, intense boss fights. No Straight Roads' only real fault is being overambitious. Unfortunately that means a lot of gameplay elements feel unpolished or unfocused, and too much of the game plays like a rough draft rather than a fully realized experience. And although the Switch version comes with some fun extra features not found in other versions, it also comes with some technical issues as well. The game still oozes style and personality though, and for some players the rocking soundtrack and colorful, cartoonish visual design will be enough to justify giving No Straight Roads a shot on the main stage. Rating: 7 out of 10 Bands
  5. Take the Metroidvania formula for 2D exploration, sprinkle in some Dark Souls influence, and wrap it all up in a twisted, macabre world of Christian lore and Spanish art and you get Blasphemous, a dark and striking action-platformer from developer The Game Kitchen. Originally Kickstarted in 2017, the game drew attention for its haunting sense of style and classic gameplay elements. The final result is a game that leans a little too far toward punishment rather than penitence, but Metroidvania fans looking for a challenge should be pleased regardless. You play as the Penitent One, a nameless, voiceless, masked figure set on a pilgrimage to find the Cradle of Affliction and potentially break the cycle of death and rebirth that binds the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow and seemingly all the world of Cvstodia. Blasphemous draws heavily from Christian iconography and Spanish art to create a world of dark, twisted repentance and punishment that is fascinating to explore though feels a bit disjointed at times. The game throws a lot of information at you initially and then only brings it up again sparingly which makes it a little hard to follow at times when you hear names of individuals and groups mentioned casually. There's clearly some great lore and world-building happening behind the scenes here, it just doesn't come through well enough while you're playing. Still, even if the narrative feels a bit unpolished, the atmosphere of the game is undeniable. Blasphemous is a classic 2D Metroidvania game—leaning a little more toward the Castlevania side of things thanks to its religious symbolism—with some light Souls elements. That means you've got a massive, interconnected map to explore with tons of secrets to uncover, including equippable upgrades and opportunities to raise your health, magic, or strength. Save points are scattered around at fairly regular intervals which act as respawn points if—or rather when—you die, and using a save point also causes all defeated enemies to respawn. The Souls influence comes from the fact that, when you die, you lose a little piece of yourself. Your maximum mana (or Fervor as it is called in the game) is lowered and you'll earn less EXP (aka Tears of Atonement, which is also currency) until you return to the place you died and recover what you lost. Essentially, Blasphemous provides a classic Metroidvania experience with the difficulty tuned a little higher to the kind of tense challenge that Souls games are known for, but thankfully not overwhelmingly difficult. The cycle of dying and retrying isn't as punishing as in Souls games, and the combat system has a decent amount of fluidity and action to it. You can easily get your attacks in and dodge away with some lithe movements. That said, the combat system still expects a lot out of the player. Even basic enemies can do a lot of damage so any hits you take will hurt a lot, which means the only real strategy oftentimes is a very basic cycle of attack, dodge, repeat. This can make your first couple hours with the game particularly frustrating while you're still learning enemy attack patterns and don't have a lot of health to spare, and makes combat feel pretty repetitive even against different types of enemies. The game instead builds tension out of the need to reach the next save point where you can recover health and refill your healing potions. It definitely makes progress feel satisfying when you reach the next checkpoint, though it can be a bit too formulaic as well. Thorough exploration is a must in a Metroidvania game since you may be rewarded with various upgrades or side quests. In Blasphemous, you can customize your abilities with various upgrades or magic spells. There's a decent amount of variety that helps make your approach feel a bit unique even though the focus of combat is always on sword attacks. Side quests will reward you with some particularly useful items, including abilities that help you explore every inch of Cvstodia, but actually finding and completing side quests is frustratingly obtuse in Blasphemous. There's no kind of quest log so it's hard to remember what exactly you need to bring where, and that's when the game gives you any kind of clue at all. Oftentimes you'll find an item with no explanation for what it is meant to do and can only hope that you'll stumble upon its use at some point. Maybe the developers just want you to earn these rewards on your own, but a little more direction would have gone a long way. Surprisingly though, the biggest threat in Blasphemous is the platforming. It is absurdly easy to die by falling or being knocked into a bottomless pit or a spike trap, which is instant death no matter your health. The game really pushes the edge of your character's jumping range at times, and of course some enemies are just perfectly positioned to knock you off of a cliff's edge. You don't quite have the kind of fluid platformer movement to justify such punishing hazards. These kinds of instant death traps pose just as much danger even when you're far into the game and have plenty of upgrades, and are really just an obnoxious obstacle to exploration. The visual design of Blasphemous is easily the first thing that is going to stand out for you when you start playing. The world of Cvstodia is haunting, filled with grotesque religious iconography twisted into a bleak and hostile environment. This is all accomplished with some high quality sprite work which kind of makes it all the more impressive. The animation is smooth and fluid and the design is foreboding, perfect for the atmosphere that Blasphemous is creating. The music is a bit less striking since much of it is aimed more toward a low, background atmosphere vibe. It's not as in-your-face as the visual design is, and can be rather forgettable at times. Still, it's a decent soundtrack, even if it's not outstanding. The game also, surprisingly, features some voice acting, though the quality is a bit inconsistent. Blasphemous takes players on a harrowing adventure through a twisted world of penitence and punishment that may lean toward the latter a little too often. The combat can be challenging but manageable with some patience, but the platforming is downright cruel when it comes to instant death traps. Exploration can prove a bit too aimless when it comes to side quests, and even for the main quest it can be hard to know what to do thanks to opaque item descriptions. However, players willing to overlook some of the rougher edges of the game will find a stylish Metroidvania in Blasphemous, one that truly makes you earn every inch of progress you make toward redemption. Rating: 7 out of 10 Blasphemies
  6. The long-running rumors proved true and Nintendo celebrated 35 years of Mario platforming with a new All-Stars collection. Super Mario 3D All-Stars repackages Mario's first three 3D platforming adventures into one convenient Switch title, bringing with it some visual upgrades and controller adjustments to make each of Mario's landmark games more playable in 2020. It's easy to have wished for more out of this re-release collection, but in the end it still brings together not just wonderful pieces of Mario's history but three fantastic games to boot. Super Mario 64 Starting off with the original 3D Mario platformer, Super Mario 64 has the most significant visual upgrade in this collection—the game is 24 years old at this point after all. Smoothing out the original 64 graphics into crisp HD looks great, though obviously the game is still block and polygonal. Plus the simplicity of a lot of the textures is more glaring in full 720p. Technical looks aside, the visual style of Super Mario 64 is still absolutely charming. Blocky Goombas and Koopa Troopas may be simple but they have a delightful quality all their own. The gameplay also holds up in a lot of ways as a fantastically engaging transition to 3D platforming. The variety of challenges the game throws at you is excellent. There are plenty of stars that are simple to acquire, but there are just as many that provide unique challenges or clever ways of using 3D space, which was pretty novel in 1996. The level design is inventive, and oftentimes it's just fun to run around or try to explore with ridiculous chains of jumps. That said, there are some notable weak points in the game as well. The camera is the most obvious offender. It probably would have been asking too much to completely revamp the camera controls since it would impact how you collect a lot of stars as well, but it's a real adjustment trying to handle this camera in 2020. Mario's movements also have a bit too much slipperiness to them, which makes the simple act of turning around more awkward than it should be. New players, especially anyone that started with Odyssey and is now working backwards through Mario's history, might struggle. Overall though, I don't think it's just the rose-tinted glasses talking when I say Super Mario 64 is still a wonderfully constructed 3D platformer, not to mention an invaluable piece of gaming history. Super Mario Sunshine Super Mario Sunshine has the benefit of a more polished, detailed art style compared to 64, but there are still some nice enhancements at work here, including widescreen support and a reformatted HUD. What's really surprising is how great the game looks with just a few adjustments. The art direction of Sunshine is still excellent and just exudes vacation fun (even if Mario is stuck battling monsters), and the paint/pollution effects look great. The controls also work well on the Switch, even without the pressure-sensitive GameCube triggers (now ZR allows Mario to spray water and move while R keeps him stationary). The only negative is that you can't customize the controls, so anyone that prefers inverted camera controls—as in the original game—is out of luck. Like a lot of GameCube games, Sunshine was a bit of an oddball experiment for Nintendo. Using the F.L.U.D.D. to clean up the environment, attack enemies, and propel Mario around each world provides for undeniably unique challenges, and some of the most difficult parts of the game are when Mario doesn't have his water jetpack available. There are some pretty unforgiving challenges as well due to how vertical a lot of the environments are in Sunshine. Parts of the game also feel oddly padded out, including the huge number of blue coins to collect and the repeated tasks of fighting bosses multiple times. Still, Mario's tropical adventure really is a fun break from some of the typical gameplay elements of the franchise. Sunshine is unusual in the Mario canon which also makes it rather memorable, and helps its strengths shine a little brighter. There's also a clear evolution from 64's first tentative steps into 3D platforming to Sunshine's more elaborate and tricky challenges, and it's particularly rewarding to play them back to back and see that development so clearly. Super Mario Galaxy Finally there's Super Mario Galaxy, which has the easiest transition to HD—largely thanks to the already gorgeous visual design that brought these colorful planetoids and striking lighting effects to life in 2007—and yet also has the trickiest controller adjustment. Motion and pointer controls were inextricably built into the controls of the game on the Wii, and it's hard to properly replicate that on the Switch, even with multiple controller options, including touch controls for collecting and shooting star bits when playing in handheld mode. Even with Joy-Cons the controls just don't feel quite right, but after a bit of time to adjust it's not a huge problem. It doesn't feel like the ideal way to play the game, but it's still playable. And once you get into the absolute joy of leaping around all of the planets and wild shapes of Galaxy, controller quirks will be the last thing on your mind. Granted Galaxy is the youngest of these three games but it holds up incredibly well, from the beautiful visuals and stunning soundtrack to the pure delight of flying through space and playing with gravity. Though it is also the most linear, it still exudes the kind of inventive design that has kept the Super Mario series as one of the most consistently fantastic game franchises ever made. The level design is dizzying—oftentimes literally—and simply full of wonder and excitement. The other major feature of the 3D All-Stars collection is the music player, which allows you to revisit the soundtrack of all three games and potentially even play it in handheld mode and just enjoy the brilliant music compositions (especially if they're filled with nostalgia for you). The music player is a fun addition and it is great to see the soundtracks highlighted, but one can't help but wish there was a little more to make this feel like more of a full celebration of 3D Mario. The most glaring omission is Super Mario Galaxy 2 of course, but even a bit more like a concept art gallery would have been nice. Super Mario 3D All-Stars doesn't fully remake these classic Mario titles, the games really show their age in some respects, and the collection manages to miss out on the plumber's second trip out to space. When you're immersed in a Super Mario adventure though, those complaints end up feeling small. These three games are still an absolute blast to play, and playing them back to back really highlights the progression of 3D platforming design and Nintendo's seemingly endless ability to create inventive, charming worlds that leave the player amazed. New players may need a bit of time to adjust to some of the dated aspects of each game, but the visual upgrades are more the reason enough to revisit some of Mario's best adventures. Rating: 9 out of 10 Power Stars
  7. Breakpoint puts a new twist on the classic twin-stick shooter formula by giving you melee weapons instead of guns to survive wave after wave of geometric enemies. From developer Studio Aesthesia and publisher Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, Breakpoint creates a fresh arcade score-chasing experience out of one novel concept. Breakpoint relies on a straight up classic arcade game formula: your only goal is to rack up a high score by surviving for as long as possible. In fact, the game doesn't even have any other game modes or options, it's all about the core experience and comparing your scores on the online leaderboard. The game plays like any other twin-stick shooter except for the fact that your attacks are all melee weapons instead of guns or lasers. You start off with an axe but it's also possible to pick up a sword, hammer, spear, or daggers from defeated enemies. The fundamentals are the same as any other twin-stick game—destroy all enemies and survive by outmaneuvering them—but obviously you have to stay in melee range the whole time, which does make things feel a little more dangerous. Sharp evasion skills are more important than ever with Breakpoint. Of course, just melee weapons sounds like it really limits your attack options, so there's another key aspect at play here: after a few hits your weapon breaks, causing a huge explosion that demolishes any nearby enemies. Planning your strategy around the weapon break is crucial since it's a massively powerful area attack and oftentimes the difference between survival and becoming overwhelmed by enemies. The broken weapon also isn't much of an issue because you can repair/recharge it by collecting the energy dots that enemies drop when defeated. Collect enough energy and your weapon will be upgraded to be stronger and/or have more reach, though breaking eventually is inevitable. The weapon break system is a fun way of adding some strategic elements to the familiar twin-stick gameplay formula. Instead of just shooting wildly (or swinging wildly, in this case) you need to plan your approach a bit more to ensure the break happens at the most opportune moment. It helps keep the arcade gameplay a little less mindless, plus getting a huge explosion that wipes out all of the troublesome enemies nearby is pretty satisfying. In that sense, the most important aspect of Breakpoint is setting up these moments where you can cause a huge explosion and reap the points that it provides. The downside is that there really isn't much else to Breakpoint. There's only one game mode and there aren't any options to customize it to create new challenges. There's a small handful of weapon types you can experiment with but these are beholden to enemy drops so there's no guarantee what weapon you'll see available at any given time. You can compare your score on the leaderboard and even check out replays of other players to pick up their strategies, which is a neat feature. Granted, Breakpoint only costs $4.99, but it would have been nice to see a bit more variety in modes or features. The presentation of the game is decidedly minimalist, evoking the neon arcade vibe of the 80s with colorful geometric enemies set against a stark black background. The music is also a pretty light touch, and you shouldn't expect too much variety here either. In the end the presentation is fine for what the game is, and the neon style has a hypnotic quality perfect for zoning out from the world around you and focusing entirely on the game. Breakpoint is a fun twist on a classic game genre, one that will certainly scratch an itch for any old-school arcade fans that love zoning out with an engaging high score chaser. The lack of other game modes does make the experience feel a bit one note, but at such a modest price point it's hardly a stretch to give Breakpoint a chance and pick it up every now and then for another attempt at unseating the online leaderboard. Rating: 7 out of 10 Breaks Review copy provided by publisher Breakpoint will be available on the Switch eShop on September 24 for $4.99.
  8. Catherine: Full Body brings back the 2011 cult hit with brand new content in the story and gameplay, providing even more relationship complications for protagonist Vincent to puzzle over and towers to climb. With a mix of stylish visual novel storytelling and challenging block tower puzzle gameplay, the original Catherine provided a wholly unique experience. Now this updated version adds even more content, perfect for either returning or new players. Vincent Brooks is in a steady if routine relationship with his long-time girlfriend Katherine, but a chance encounter with an enigmatic young woman (named Catherine) at a bar throws his fidelity into question. To make matters worse, throughout the city unfaithful men are being haunted by strange nightmares which have deadly consequences in the waking world. Full Body adds yet another romantic entanglement into the mix, the amnesic Rin whom Vincent rescues from a dark alleyway one night and helps land a job at his favorite bar. Torn between these women, Vincent is perpetually on edge and forced to examine what he wants out of a relationship. Sure it's a bizarre setting for it, but Catherine: Full Body actually tells a pretty engaging story about confronting one's own indecisiveness about commitment. The downside is that the game does lean heavily on cliche, ham-fisted portrayals of gender roles (men=casual infidelity, women=nagging marriage) which makes for some clunky dialogue that honestly must have felt dated even in 2011, much less now. The game also gets into a, granted, believable portrayal of sensitive topics, but is still a bit uncomfortable and a bit callous. Rin's inclusion in particular feels a bit awkwardly inserted into the existing narrative. Despite all of that, the underlying exploration of relationships is still an engaging one, and the characters do see some growth over the course of the game by confronting the doubts that are preventing them from forging meaningful relationships. And with multiple endings possible as well as the new side story revolving around Rin, Catherine: Full Body tells a story that will easily pull you in, like a slow-moving relationship train wreck in a TV show where you can't help but want to see the final impact. A significant part of the gameplay revolves around just following the story—you spend half of your time in the Stray Sheep bar with Vincent and his friends, talking to fellow patrons and stressing out over what to say to Katherine or Catherine—but the more core gameplay features play out in Vincent's nightmares. In this dream realm, dressed only in his boxers and surrounded by sheep, Vincent must navigate a tower of blocks to reach the top. By pulling or pushing blocks you can create paths upward, though of course the obstacles in your way get more and more elaborate as the game progresses, from exploding blocks to antagonistic sheep that try to push you back down. You're challenged to think through how to create a viable path upward, but you can't spend too long thinking since the blocks at the bottom are gradually falling away into the abyss, prompting you to move quickly. It's a relatively simple puzzle-game system that Catherine: Full Body gets some great mileage out of, thanks to the wealth of possibilities that arise from just moving blocks to climb higher. There's a lot more depth at work than you might initially expect, and the game gradually explains some more advanced techniques to you that highlight just how flexible the system can be. It also requires a good amount of forethought and planning and, paired with the constant threat of falling into the abyss, the gameplay can be just as intense and stressful as Vincent's panicked expression every time he's talking to the women in his life. But as challenging as the game can be it also never feels terribly unfair. You can actually undo your last few moves if you realize you've made a mistake, or you could always restart from the last checkpoint you hit. Even with the constant time limit pressed upon you, there are opportunities to experiment at your own pace. Plus, finally reaching the top always feels like a satisfying accomplishment. The only aspect that does feel a bit lacking is in the controls. Your view of the block tower is essentially a 3D isometric display, but sometimes remembering exactly what left/right/up/down correspond to on the control stick is a bit awkward. A control stick in general doesn't feel like an ideal input method for the game's cubic level design, and it's easy to grab the wrong block or move in the wrong direction. It can lead to some foolish mistakes, which also means wasting time as the blocks below you continue to crumble. Thankfully though, the undo action means small missteps aren't a big deal, and this is all just a minor inconvenience in the control scheme. The presentation in Catherine: Full Body is pretty stylish, which shouldn't be too surprising considering some of the creators of the Persona games also worked on this. The fully animated cutscenes—and there are a lot of them—are beautiful, and really help to fully characterize Vincent and his love interests. The in-game graphics are less stand-out but still strong, and more importantly the excellent voice work helps bring the characters to life in a more realistic way. The soundtrack is excellent as well with a number of catchy, jazzy tunes and piano pieces that just feel right for a character in a near constant state of relationship crisis, punctuated by brief moments of respite. Just one playthrough of Catherine: Full Body lasts a good fourteen hours or so, maybe longer if you get particularly stuck on climbing the blocks, but this game is also packed with additional content. For one thing, there are multiple endings you can pursue, which also develop Vincent's character in different ways. It might be a little tedious to replay the whole game just to see these differences, but players looking to get the most out of the game should enjoy taking the time to do so. This edition of the game also comes with tons of additional challenges you can tackle outside of the story, including co-op and online competitive modes. If you enjoy the block puzzle gameplay, you're in for a real treat here. Catherine: Full Body provides a wealth of puzzle-solving gameplay thanks to the significant additions this version of the game provides. Throughout all of that, the core story of a romantically indecisive man haunted by his own hesitance is an engaging story, though the writing dips into some disappointing portrayals of gender norms and marginalized groups. Still, it's an engaging story like any romance triangle in a movie or show, and even if you're here just for the gameplay there's enough content and depth to keep you plenty busy. Switch owners looking for something unique will find Catherine: Full Body worth checking out. Rating: 8 out of 10 Sheep
  9. The party killer, determined to silence every noisy gathering he can find, is back again in Party Hard 2 from developer Pinokl Games and publisher tinyBuild Games. As before you're able to systematically dismantle each raucous party by killing everyone in attendance through a variety of traps, explosives, and your trusty knife. But instead of simply massacring every stage, you're also now given specific tasks to complete, including dispatching key targets at the party, finding valuables, or destroying valuable items. The new mission system is a welcome shake up to the original game's format, though doesn't fundamentally change the tedious nature of the gameplay. What little story there was in the first game is continued here with short cutscenes narrated by the killer's psychiatrist, explaining the murderer's actions and path of bloody destruction. Even though the cutscenes are pretty brief they manage to be a little difficult to follow—it may also just be that they are, frankly, rather boring and put mostly unnecessary context on the killer's actions. This isn't the kind of game that needs a detailed story, especially if it's done in a rather clumsy manner like this. The wooden voice acting also doesn't help sell the writing, and really just makes the whole attempt at a narrative feel a bit sloppy. In the first game, your goal was to simply murder every person at each party, which often meant taking out over fifty people through various traps, items, and weapons. If you're seen in the act the witness will call the cops on you and it's game over, so your strategy has to focus around stealth and finding ways to kill that don't draw too much attention (which can be somewhat nonsensical at times—no one reacts when you throw a grenade from a short distance away? Really?). That's more or less the same MO in Party Hard 2, but this time the game provides a variety of optional objectives (some of which are hidden until you stumble upon them) that provide a bit more guidance and nuance. For example, in one stage you might be tasked with killing all eighty party people or instead you could find the hidden target list somewhere in the level and then kill only the people on that list. Having actual objectives is a big improvement for Party Hard 2. The first game's formula was okay but quickly felt repetitive, especially when you were stuck just waiting for people to peel off into small groups so you could strike. Now there's much more incentive to fully explore the stage and really consider your approach. And the fact that you can still just murder everyone in sight should satisfy any bloodthirsty players as well. The only downside is that some objectives can be annoyingly vague which, paired with the game's habit of not fully explaining what different items actually do, can leave you at a complete loss as to how you're actually supposed to complete the objective. At least you can always fall back on wanton murder if pursuing the objectives isn't working out for you. The objectives can make the game progress a little more easily, but to compensate Party Hard 2 makes things harder for you by adding aggressive guards that will attack you on sight. These guards can be a huge pain since you don't need to be caught in the act for them to attack you—your very presence is enough to draw their ire. As a new obstacle to your murder sprees, the guards make sense, but oftentimes dealing with them just isn't very satisfying. They're more like a chore that you have to deal with before getting back into the actual interesting part of the game. It certainly doesn't help that they are just one more way of ruining your plans, and restarting a stage has the added annoyance of sitting through a long load screen every time. For a game where retrying repeatedly seems totally natural, it's a real shame that reloading isn't snappier. Finally, Party Hard 2 also shakes things up by adding boss fights. Kudos to the developers for trying to add some new flavor to the game but these battles are horribly misguided. The stealth and strategy gameplay doesn't translate well to boss fights in small arenas at all, and the final boss in particular feels more like an awkward, stilted battle from an action-adventure game rather than something that suits Party Hard 2. Like the first game you simply don't move very fast so trying to dodge attacks and strike back in turn feels terribly clumsy. With just fourteen levels, the game could potentially last you only a few hours, but more realistically it'll take plenty of deaths, retries, and some frustration to make it through the whole adventure. However, Party Hard 2 is also packed with replayable features, including co-op, alternate playable characters with different abilities, and of course replaying each level to complete every challenge. If you don't mind the game's repetitive nature there are plenty of incentives to redo each level over and over again. The presentation of Party Hard 2 upgrades the original's retro pixel art style with a mix of 2D and 3D effects. Characters are still 2D pixel art images, but they now move around in a 3D environment, like paper cutouts in a diorama. The effect is a bit underwhelming. It's striking at first, but it also makes details rather hard to make out. The game thankfully introduces a Party Vision ability that highlights objects of interest, but if the graphics were a little more clear you wouldn't need to be constantly scanning the environment with it in the first place. The soundtrack also certainly captures the repetitive dance party tracks you might expect to hear at a rave, but none of the tracks actually stand out well. Party Hard 2 makes some welcome improvements over the first game, though it also doesn't feel like it improves everything it should have. The core concept of using inventive traps and items to pick off party goers one by one is still charmingly macabre, but in execution it leads to some pretty repetitive gameplay, even with the addition of optional objectives. Still, if you enjoy the challenge of stealth games and don't mind the grisly concept, Party Hard 2 is a decent continuation of this indie series. Rating: 7 out of 10 Parties Review copy provided by publisher Party Hard 2 is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  10. How do you move around in a platformer that doesn't allow you to jump? In Deleveled, from developer ToasterFuel and publisher the Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, it's a matter of momentum. In this unusual puzzle-platformer you control two simple squares that gravitate to each other from the top and bottom of the screen, but when one bumps into the platform that the other is resting on, the momentum carries through to propel the square to new heights. Once you get your head wrapped around the concept, you're treated to a wealth of challenging, mind-bending puzzles. By all appearances, Deleveled looks like a pretty simple game, but its modest presentation belies an impressively complex puzzle system. The goal of each stage is to hit all switches to activate the glowing goal points, then navigate the squares into these points. On paper, a seemingly simple task. In reality, Deleveled will twist your brain into knots as you try to work out exactly how to reach remote switches without leaving behind the other square. When you have essentially two "characters" to manipulate on screen at all times, you have to start thinking carefully about how to move throughout each stage. Each square's movement is linked to the other's, so you have to be wary of stranding one with no means of moving. It's the mark of a great puzzle game to take a simple concept and work it into dozens of inventive challenges, and that's exactly what Deleveled does. Over the course of the game the stages get more and more complex by adding things like moving platforms or the ability to rotate the stage, but from start to finish the core gameplay is fiendishly clever and often takes lateral thinking, as well as a bit of platforming dexterity. It's also important to note that you can re-use switches, which is hugely helpful when dealing with asymmetric switches. It also means you can easily correct minor mistakes and aren't beholden to hitting each switch in a specific order. The only additional challenge in each level is completing the stage without dying or retrying, which will earn you a star. Collect enough stars and you'll unlock additional levels. Unfortunately that's pretty much it when it comes to additional frills in Deleveled, and earning stars sometimes feel like more of an exercise in tedium than real challenge since one false move will render your attempt wasted. You also won't be able to rely on any hints to help you progress, though you can play levels somewhat out of order if you find yourself completely stumped by one. The game feels a bit bare-boned, but then again a puzzle game like this doesn't need many extra features. The game's presentation is also extremely simple, which suits the puzzle gameplay but can't help but leave something to be desired. The totally basic visuals do ensure that the squares' movements on screen are always perfectly clear, but it still would have been nice to have something with a little more personality. The music is also a bit too bland, though again it's not surprising since the focus here is on puzzle-solving. Deleveled puts its core concept to excellent use across over one hundred challenging puzzle stages. The simple premise easily unfolds into a wide variety of inventive puzzles, and even once you have the basics down the game will surprise you with new twists that will have you pulling your hair out. A bit more on the presentation front might have rounded out the experience better, but puzzle fans should enjoy the clever challenges that Deleveled offers. Rating: 8 out of 10 Delevels Review copy provided by publisher Deleveled will be available on the Switch eShop on September 10 for $9.99.
  11. It's been over twenty-five years since the last game in the series but now Streets of Rage 4 is bringing back the franchise in the only way it possibly could: with a ton of side-scrolling beat 'em up action. Rather than reinvent the formula, Streets of Rage 4 feels like it could have been made back in the heyday of the genre, notwithstanding its modern stylish graphics and sound. Fans of the series will love having a new entry, though the way the game clings to the past leaves something to be desired. The story takes place ten years after the events of Streets of Rage 3. The villainous Mr. X and his crime syndicate has been defeated, but now his children, the Y twins, have built their own crime organization, prompting our returning heroes, Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, to once again crack some heads on the mean streets to put an end to their nefarious deeds. I really doubt anyone is playing the Streets of Rage games for their storytelling, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the plot is really just a bare-boned facilitator for beatdown action. And that's not really a slight against the game—the writing in a beat 'em up like this doesn't need to be more than that. Streets of Rage 4 is classic side-scrolling beat 'em up action. You choose one of four characters and walk through levels packed with thugs to punch, kick, and throw. In addition to basic attacks, you can charge up a hit for extra damage, perform a quick rush attack by double tapping forward, and, most importantly, sacrifice some of your health to use special attacks. Not only are these specials more powerful, they can provide a small period of invincibility, which makes them even more valuable when you're surrounded. Streets of Rage 4 also takes some pity on the player by allowing you to recover the health spent on a special if you can quickly execute some basic hits on an enemy. If you're hit during this window of opportunity though, you'll lose that health. Finally there are star moves which are massive special attacks that cost stars to use (on normal difficulty you start the stage with one star and can find more scattered throughout the level). Knowing when to use and how to combo together your basic, special, and star attacks is the key to success. And that's basically it. The gameplay really doesn't get much more complicated than that, outside of the ability to pick up weapons and a small variety of enemies that provide different challenges—some enemies will counter attack you if you hit them at the wrong time, some throw grenades, some have shields, etc. Streets of Rage 4's formula is virtually unchanged from the kinds of beat 'em ups you could find in arcades in the 80s and 90s, which is great if you already love the satisfying simplicity of such games. It really is a blast from the past and there's a great sense of authenticity to the game design that will surely transport you back to those halcyon days. However, it does feel like more could have been done to modernize the experience, even if it's just to throw in some unique stages more often. There's a small variety of environmental hazards that occasionally pop up, but otherwise the experience really feels the same from one level to the next. And again that doesn't make any of the stages poorly designed or not fun to play, but it feels like there were so many other opportunities for more inventive game design. The game also has the somewhat sluggish feel of a lot of beat 'em up games. Aside from Cherry Hunter, who is the designated fast character in the game, the playable characters feel slow, to the point where bosses can literally walk circles around you. Moving up and down on the screen feels a bit imprecise, which again is something a lot of beat 'em up games deal with, but it can be a little frustrating at times. On one hand it's great that Streets of Rage 4 can preserve the kind of experience found in the original games, but on the other hand there's a lot more that could have been done with the gameplay. A quick three hours or so will see you through the story mode, but a big strength of a game like this is its replay value. Not only are there multiple playable characters, each with slight differences in how they attack and move, there are also plenty of difficulty options, an arcade mode (which challenges you to complete the game without using continues), boss rush, multiplayer versus mode, and multiplayer co-op. You can even play co-op online which works pretty smoothly. You might have trouble finding other players these days but it's worth taking the effort to coordinate with a friend and team up on some of these overwhelming waves of enemies and bosses. Being able to play with a friend definitely adds to the experience. The game's presentation is the one aspect that feels truly modernized, and the result is beautiful. Hand-drawn graphics are stunningly animated to give the game a gorgeously vivid sense of color and style. The music is impeccable as well. It's the perfect kind of heart-pumping beat you want to accompany a game all about beating up enemies over and over. The presentation finds a perfect balance of evoking the classic tone and feel of the franchise while bringing in some modern style as well. Streets of Rage 4 is a stylish throwback to a cult classic franchise and a genre that has seen less and less attention over the years. The game is a little too beholden to the old school formula, perhaps just out of a sense of preserving the original experience, but fans of the series will love having a chance to dish out some beatdowns on the side-scrolling streets again anyway. Grab a friend for the classic co-op experience and enjoy a window into the gaming of yesteryear, now with stylish modern graphics and sound. Rating: 7 out of 10 Streets
  12. Among last week's Indie World announcements and surprise drops was Evergate, a colorful puzzle-platformer set in the afterlife from developer Stone Lantern Games and publisher PQube. The game seems to draw inspiration from the best of the indie game scene while centering its gameplay around the Soulflame mechanic that allows for inventive platforming challenges and puzzle scenarios. Evergate may seem like a familiar kind of platformer at first, but its unique mechanics and heartfelt story help it stand out. Evergate takes place in the afterlife where you play as the spirit Ki, who is awaiting reincarnation. But the afterlife is beset by a terrible storm that threatens to destroy everything, so Ki journeys into the memories of her past lives to find the source of the storm and the solution to dispelling it. It's hard to say much more about the story without spoiling too much, especially since the early parts of the game keep things fairly vague. The end of the game however brings together the story's loose ends quite neatly for a truly heartfelt final few scenes that highlight the bonds that transcend lifetimes. It's definitely a bit of a tearjerker in the end, one that can't help but make you reflect on your own personal connections. The gameplay is divided into short puzzle-platformer stages, set in different lifetimes. Your aim is to reach the goal of each stage by using crystals and the Soulflame to move about. Pressing ZR activates the Soulflame and lets you aim with the control stick to align the flame with a crystal; you then press Y to activate the crystal. Each crystal has different effects, for example the first one you use propels you in the opposite direction, so you might need to jump over a crystal, aim the Soulflame down, then activate the crystal to push yourself up and reach a higher platform. It's an unusual movement system and does take a bit of getting used to, especially since the controls feel a bit unintuitive at first. After a few levels though you should get the hang of things, and from there the inventive possibilities of the Soulflame system shine. For one thing, each chapter of the game introduces new crystals with different effects, which end up getting pretty wild, such as the crystal that creates an anti-gravity field around you so you can float in air, or one that turns you into a fireball that can break through weak walls. Multiple types of crystals can appear on one stage, which is what makes Evergate as much of a puzzle game as it is a platformer. You'll have to work out a viable path to the goal with the tools (i.e. crystals) provided to you, and it can get challenging when there's no obvious path. However the difficulty never feels overwhelming. Since there are only a certain number and type of crystals in a stage, you know in general what kinds of actions you'll need to use to reach the goal. You likely won't get too stuck as long as you focus on what crystals are available to you, and it is rather fun to go through a couple of trial and error attempts as you work out a successful path. That said, the platforming aspects of Evergate can be rather tricky. Even when you've worked out the solution to the puzzle, actually executing on that solution can be challenging, especially when you're quickly bounding through the level and using your Soulflame in mid-air. As mentioned the controls can take a bit of getting used to, and even with the game's auto-aim system enabled it's sometimes hard to hit a crystal in the exact spot you want. Thankfully though each level is very short, and you can restart almost instantly, so even when you do miss a tricky jump you're not losing tons of time. There are also three bonus objectives available in each stage: collect all three essence petals, use every crystal, and reach the goal within the time limit. Each bonus objective earns you an essence, which are used to unlock artifacts that you can equip. Artifacts are hugely powerful and can make the game significantly easier, whether it's a simple boost like jumping higher or something more specific like protection from falling rocks, which appear on certain stages and can kill you. Regardless, you definitely want to be unlocking artifacts, plus these bonus objectives make each stage much more engaging (and thankfully you don't have to complete all bonus objectives at once, since the time limit ones are usually so strict that you really have to fly through the level with every shortcut you can muster). Collecting a lot of essence will also unlock bonus levels for a little extra incentive. The game's stages are thoughtfully constructed as compact and challenging platformer puzzles, and collecting every essence helps highlight that fact. The game's presentation is pretty delightful, both in the visual and music departments. The hand-drawn artwork is colorful and vivid, though it can feel a bit repetitive at times, partially because the core visuals—platforms, crystals, etc.—aren't going to deviate too much. Still, there's a lot to be said for the colors and emotion found in the backgrounds. The music is also doing a lot of the heavy lifting of giving Evergate its ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere. The orchestral soundtrack is incredibly emotive and really helps bring the story to its emotional climax. Evergate weaves an emotional story, brought to life with colorful graphics and a moving soundtrack, into an inventive and challenging puzzle-platformer experience. It takes a bit of time to build up steam, but the later levels of the game showcase some sharp level design that require not just thoughtful approaches but quick reactions as well. Though it won't take too long to make it through the whole game once, the challenge of collecting every essence is a worthwhile pursuit, and speedrunners should enjoy finding new ways to fly through each level. Even if you take it slow, Evergate is a worthwhile puzzle-platformer on the Switch. Rating: 8 out of 10 Essences Review copy provided by publisher Evergate is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99. On sale until 8/30 for $16.99.
  13. Up is down, left is right, and sometimes up is left and down is right depending on where you're standing in Manifold Garden, a mind-warping puzzle game all about changing gravity to see solutions from new angles. Developed by William Chyr, this first-person trip into an MC Escher print challenges you with simple gameplay mechanics that are put to wild effects as you navigate a world of repeating patterns and surreal landscapes. And it's a landscape that is a joy to explore. There's no text or voice over to guide you in Manifold Garden, you're simply left to explore this surreal world that seems to have no beginning or end, just endlessly repeating structures. What the game does have is an incredibly sharp sense of atmosphere, brought out by the visual and audio design, as well as the fact that you are wandering alone through unreal structures. There's something a little haunting about that, especially when the music—normally kept at a moody minimum—swells as you uncover a new area to explore. Conversely, the game is also quite calming and meditative. Just like an MC Escher print, you'll get lost in Manifold Garden as you observe how the unreal scenery interlinks. There's a real sense of wonder and awe to the experience, which is only heightened by the minimalist art style that allows your mind to just roam and revel in the landscape. The art style serves the gameplay as well. The puzzles would likely be far more confusing and complicated if there was too much detail in the environments—the endless white scenery and strong linework of Manifold Garden does have a way of keeping you focused on the puzzles. Throughout the game your goal is essentially just to move forward, open new paths, and continue exploring this world. You do this by manipulating gravity and moving colored cubes around to activate switches. The gravity effects are trippy, and yet ultimately quite easy to grasp. When facing a wall, you press ZR, and what was once the wall is now the floor (I use terms like "walls" and "floors" to convey how you move about but these are honestly rather meaningless in this game). This allows you to climb up every side of a room or explore each facet of a structure floating in the endless white abyss. To make things a little easier to follow, each surface is color-coded, so you can quickly tell which direction is currently "down." The cubes are also color-coded so you can conveniently see that you'll need to be on the red surface to use the red cube. Most areas of the game are also endlessly repeating, so for example if you jump off a cliff you'll eventually land back in the same spot. Not only does this mean you can't really get "stuck" anywhere, it allows for some truly inventive puzzle solutions. This all feels very strange to explain in text, but rest assured that the gameplay is shockingly easy to understand once you've had a few moments with the game. One of Manifold Garden's great strengths is in making the complex seem simple, and the simple seem complex. Initially the game might seem daunting, but it doesn't take long at all for the seemingly complicated mechanics to click in your brain. It also allows for some delightfully mind-bending puzzle solutions, which most often strike you in an "of course, why didn't I see this sooner" sort of way. And once you have those basic mechanics down, Manifold Garden is an absolute delight to explore. The scenery is endlessly surprising, and there are always interesting new quirks to puzzle over in each new area that you uncover. The puzzles themselves are also engaging without being frustrating. Manipulating the 3D space can get a little confusing but there wasn't a single puzzle solution that I found to be obtuse or annoying. It helps that, since you have so few tools or actions at your disposal, you'll never be bogged down with options. Instead you just need to examine the area and consider the puzzle from a new angle—literally. It's a game that you can very easily lose yourself in, and not just because the environments are so surreal. One of the few downsides to Manifold Garden is that it simply isn't longer. You can pretty comfortably get through the game in just five hours or so, though that number can vary depending on how quick you are at solving 3D spatial puzzles. Like most puzzle games there's not a ton of incentive to replay it once you already know the answers, though the solutions in the game so often come out of pure experimentation that I might not be able to replicate most of them right away. There's also something to be said for the journey of Manifold Garden, not the destination. Wandering through the beautiful and trippy scenery of the game may well warrant a replay or two. It feels cliche to say of games like this, but Manifold Garden is an experience, one that treats players to a surreal, breathtaking journey and challenges them with inventive and mind-bending puzzles. It's a clever puzzle game without being tedious, with stunning art and music that knows exactly how much or how little to use. It's so easy to be drawn into this endlessly repeating world, and it's a tranquil, delightful experience to discover the surprising puzzles and solutions that wait within. Rating: 9 out of 10 Cubes Review copy provided by developer Manifold Garden is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99, currently on sale until 8/30 for $17.99.
  14. [Information] Title: Ion Fury Release Date: May 14th, 2020 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One) August 15th, 2019 (PC) Price: 24.99 Review Code Provided By: 3D Realms Disappointing. It's a word that kept coming up during my time with Ion Fury on Nintendo Switch. While the game is a fantastic, fast and frenetic shooter on PC the Switch port is a mess with multiple problems including bugs, glitches and a less than stable framerate bringing any enjoyment this title has to an almost complete stop. This Bombshell is a Dud Ion Fury is a classic 90's shooter inspired by games like Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior and Blood. It runs on the Build Engine which actually powered the three previous titles mentioned. It's a throwback in a similar vein to Doom (2016). That means a focus on fast combat with a heavy emphasis on strafing, keycards to find, and large explorable levels full of secrets and of course no regenerating health or weapon limit. Ion Fury has a story putting you in control of Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison a foul-mouthed, Duke Nukem-esque female badass as she attempts to the stop the evil Dr. Heskel (played by Duke himself John St. John) from taking over the city of Neo D.C. but it's a story so insubstantial that you're better off just ignoring it. The voice acting from John St. John and Valerie Arem as Shelly are excellent and it's clear that each actor is having a blast. Shelly delivers quips (which can be turned off) during certain actions and while they do repeat a bit it's still entertaining due to the delivery. The music is also a highlight as it fits the cyberpunk aesthetic and each tracks fits in perfectly with the action. Ion Fury consists of 7 zone comprising about 30 levels (including some secret levels) through the campaign you will explore buildings, discover secret hideouts, explore sewers (because every 90's shooter had to have sewer levels) and more. Each zone will probably take most people about an 1-2 hours to complete especially if you are looking for secrets. The levels themselves are extremely enjoyable even if a few of them do feel a bit too big and maze like. Each zone is then capped off with an epic boss fight that will definitely test some skills even on the default normal difficulty. A Broken Switch The port of Ion Fury was handled by General Arcade and to say it has issues is an understatement. Ion Fury targets 30 Frames Per Second and it rarely holds it. The game chugs anytime there are multiple enemies on screen and even worse when explosions are involved. There is one boss fight that has so many explosions it brings the framerate down to almost single digits and that was after the game received an alleged performance patch. The game also crashed during said boss fight no less than 5 times forcing a restart of the level. I also encountered a bug in a level where a switch didn't activate properly forcing a restart as well. The game also suffers from textures glitching out and for some unexplained reason the game randomly faced me in a different direction during combat leading to a lot of unnecessary deaths. The game also has no way to customize controls and while you can get used to the controls fairly quickly it is still a bit unfortunate. Verdict Ion Fury on Switch is a poor version of an excellent game. The excellent level design, great weapons and fantastic music is sadly tarnished by the numerous technical problems. If you are wanting to play Ion Fury check either the other console versions out or go for the original PC version. Score: 2 Out Of 5 (Rough)
  15. Six years ago, Phoenotopia debuted on Newgrounds as a Flash game. Not content with the dated capabilities of that platform, developer Cape Cosmic fully revamped the game to give it a new life with updated graphics, script, and an all-around bigger scope. Phoenotopia: Awakening is a far cry from its original Flash incarnation, and now takes players on a massive side-scrolling action/adventure packed with side quests, challenging boss fights, and secrets to uncover. Rest assured this is not your typical indie pixel art adventure, particularly due to its charming presentation and fiendishly difficult combat system. You play as Gail, a young girl living a quiet life in a small country village, until a mysterious flying object kidnaps all of the adults. As the oldest member of the community, Gail leaves the children in the safety of the village and sets out on a quest to rescue the adults and uncover the source of the strange ship. Soon enough the scope of the adventure grows massive, with a number of twists and turns in the narrative that will certainly keep you guessing as to what could possibly happen next. In fact, the story gets a little wild by the end, resulting in a finale that feels a bit rushed given the events leading up to it. Still, there's a lot to love about the game's writing thanks to an abundance of humor and heart. This is clearly a fully fleshed out world and every single person you meet has a few lines of dialogue that are cute, funny, or some combination of the two. You'll absolutely want to take the time to talk to everyone when you enter a new town. The gameplay has some clear similarities to Zelda II, even down to the overworld map with roaming random monster encounters. In terms of adventure and exploration, Phoenotopia: Awakening is a wonderfully rich experience. Each area of the game is packed with things to uncover, both inside and outside of the main dungeons, and you'll be well rewarded for treading off the beaten path. You'll find both health expansions and stamina expansions, both vital to your survival, as well as other key items such as Moonstones that can be spent on other upgrades. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in exploring every nook and cranny you can find, to the point where you can spend hours and hours just poking around the game's hidden areas or working through side quests/mini-games. It's definitely the kind of game where you'll feel compelled to re-explore everything you can when you find a new item, in the hopes of uncovering more secrets. The lack of an in-game map does make it difficult to keep yourself oriented at times, but it's not so bad that you'll be constantly lost. Just finishing the main quest will likely take you at least thirty hours or so, and doing everything the game has to offer could easily double that number. Frankly, the amount of content in Phoenotopia: Awakening would be impressive for a AAA game, so coming from an indie developer it's pretty astounding. The complexity and design of the game's puzzles is also what makes Phoenotopia: Awakening such a compelling experience. You'll encounter some standard adventure game puzzles or obstacles—hit the switch to open a new path, utilize all of your items to progress, etc.—but there are also some fairly intricate puzzles that are a lot of fun to work through. These are the kinds of puzzles you'll need a pencil and paper to properly work out and visualize, and that old school puzzle mentality fits perfectly with the game's retro aesthetic. Phoenotopia: Awakening's combat system is no less intricate but the challenge is a bit more punishing and a bit less fun. This game doesn't hold much back when it comes to battling even basic monsters. For one thing, all attacks and item use are tied to your stamina meter, so you can't just swing wildly. Requiring a thoughtful approach is fine, but the game also pairs this with relatively little in terms of dodging or blocking (you can sprint away but that also drains stamina). Gail's main weapon is a short range club that actually gets weaker upon multiple hits, so you have to back off and "recharge" a bit between swings. None of Gail's attacks or items are particularly fast either, which gives you narrow windows for striking. You can recover health by eating food, but much like Monster Hunter or Dark Souls there's an animation period while eating which can leave you vulnerable. And the biggest frustration is the lack of invincibility frames when you're hit, which means you can easily be juggled by multiple enemy attacks in a row (which actually happens quite often, whether due to multiple enemies or rapid-fire attacks). All of this isn't to say that the combat system in Phoenotopia: Awakening is bad, but it is extremely challenging, much more so than you might expect given the otherwise friendly appearance of the game. You really have to time your moments to strike, and boss fights will likely take numerous attempts as you learn their patterns. It can also be rather discouraging, especially since there's no immediate retry option—you'll have to go back to your last save point—which can be tedious when you're out exploring and just plain time consuming when you're in a boss fight and just want to jump in again for another attempt. The difficulty of the combat system might blindside a lot of players and put them off, which is a shame since the exploration side of the game is certainly worth pursuing. The game's presentation puts pixel art graphics to excellent use, and pairs them with a stellar soundtrack. At a glance this might look like yet another pixel art indie game on the Switch, but the environments are wonderfully detailed and the characters' relatively simple designs actually allows for some outstanding animation—Gail rising out of bed with a yawn and a stretch is absolutely charming every time you see it. Just like the writing, there's a lot of hidden depth to the visual design to enjoy. The music is also phenomenal, featuring a wide array of songs that are lively, engaging, and perfect for both exploration and combat. The soundtrack sets a perfect tone for adventure and mystery, whether in dark caverns or bustling towns. Phoenotopia: Awakening is a stunning achievement from such a small indie team. Clearly the developers have spent the past few years fleshing out everything they could from the original Flash game, and the result is an incredibly rich action/adventure packed with intriguing and compelling scenery to explore, townsfolk to meet, and monsters to slay. The combat does feel perhaps overtuned toward experienced fighters and the unforgiving difficulty might easily dissuade more casual players from giving the game a chance, but if you stick with Phoenotopia: Awakening its addictive exploration gameplay and charming presentation make it an adventure worth taking. Rating: 8 out of 10 Moonstones Review copy provided by publisher Phoenotopia: Awakening will be available on the Switch eShop on August 20 for $19.99.
  16. The original Deadly Premonition, released in 2010, achieved cult classic status not because it was a good game but because it was a confoundingly bizarre one. It was riddled with technical issues and just plain mediocre design, particularly with its clunky combat mechanics, but the utterly unusual writing—particularly the quirks of its protagonist, FBI agent Francis York Morgan—endeared it to tons of players. But how do you make a sequel to a game like that? One that was loved both because of and in spite of its flaws? It puts Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise in a precarious position, resulting in a game that feels just as plagued with problems but without the accidental charm of the original. If the first game wore its Twin Peaks influences on its sleeve, A Blessing in Disguise does the same with True Detective. The game opens with two FBI agents interrogating an aged York in 2019 before flashing back to 2005, where the majority of the game takes place. Back then, York was swept up in a murder investigation in the small town of Le Carré, Louisiana, where a teenage girl was completely dismembered and propped up on an altar for display. York teams up with the local sheriff and his precocious daughter to investigate the matter, which weaves into bizarre ritual and metaphysical territory, all while involving the quirky town locals. The writing is verbose and seemingly aimless at times, capturing an almost stream-of-consciousness style as characters dip into random pop culture references and oddball behavior seamlessly. It's undeniably fascinating to watch the story unfold, though it's not quite satisfying. It feels like there's too much weirdness for weirdness sake here, particularly in the game's climax which throws a little too much at you all at once. The quirky cast of side characters isn't quite as charming as the first game, and is too often pushed to the sidelines or rushed past. It's still an intriguing mystery story, but with so many ungrounded elements it's hard to be fully invested in it from start to finish. Like the first game, the gameplay in A Blessing in Disguise is a melting pot of game genre influences. Most of all it's an open-world exploration game—you travel the town of Le Carré via skateboard to investigate the murder, pick up side quests from the colorful locals, or engage in other mini-games and odd jobs. It also has third-person shooter mechanics as you battle both local wildlife (including wild dogs and alligators) and supernatural, ghostly creatures. There are survival mechanics since you have to eat and sleep semi-regularly, and of course this all comes wrapped up in a horror/mystery setting. All of these varied elements feel somehow appropriate for this oddball game, but the problem is none of them feel particularly well thought out or designed. For example, you're repeatedly given tasks that can only be completed at certain times of day or on certain days of the week, but waiting for the clock to move is either ridiculously time-consuming or costly since the best way to kill time is sleeping in York's hotel room, which gives you a bill every time you do. The game is also filled with obtuse fetch quests, some of which give you a general idea of where to go while others are frustratingly vague. The shooting mechanics are basic and bland, plus there are only a couple different enemy types throughout the entire game, making every battle encounter incredibly repetitive. You do eventually unlock a fast-travel system, but otherwise traveling via skateboard is not just slow but frankly uninteresting—the joke of it all wears itself out in mere minutes. On top of all this the controls are always a little awkward. They aren't terrible, but they also aren't as smooth as they really ought to be—aiming is quite stiff and moving or riding on the skateboard just has a rather clumsy, dated feel to it. In all of this, there's something reminiscent of the original game, but is purposefully designing a game with clunky flaws mean it's quirky, or is it just bad game design? On top of all of this A Blessing in Disguise has some plain technical issues. The frame rate has been patched since its initial launch but it's still noticeably poor, especially when riding the skateboard around town. It's not unplayable but it's incredibly distracting, and makes an already dull travel experience feel that much more obnoxious. The load times are also pretty rough, especially when you exit a building and enter the open world of Le Carré. Granted, there are no loading screens once you're outside, but given the frame rate it might have been better to divide the town into sections that could load separately. The game's presentation also leaves a lot to be desired. More than any of the game's other issues, the dated look of the graphics may be chalked up to a stylistic choice. The original game, after all, had dated graphics for its time as well. The effect just doesn't come together though—the choppy anti-aliasing and jittery animations add nothing to the tone or style of the game, they only detract from the experience. The audio half of the presentation manages its over-the-top quirkiness a bit better. The soundtrack isn't actually half bad, though the songs you hear most often—such as while skateboarding—end up being a bit grating. The voice work though is largely oddball and at times ridiculous, but it actually feels like it suits the bizarre tone that the game is going for more than the dated visual design. It's possible to zip through the main story (even with the time spent just killing time) in about fifteen or twenty hours, but A Blessing in Disguise also has a lot of additional content. There are tons of side quests you can tackle, though most of them lack depth—instead you're stuck doing things like "kill X amount of enemies" or fetch quests. There are also upgrades you can craft by collecting materials, though they're hardly needed to complete the main story. You can also replay the game with a new game plus to wrap up any side quests you didn't finish or to see the story again and hope it makes more sense the second time around. If, for some reason, you just can't get enough of Deadly Premonition, there are a decent number of things to do in this game, but none of them alleviate the gameplay's flaws. I'll say this for the first game and Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise: you're not going to find any other games like them. That's as much of an insult as it is a compliment, but if Deadly Premonition's specific brand of weird pulled you in, you'll be satisfied with this sequel. Anyone else, however, will likely turn away after one look at the janky graphics, or the clumsy controls, or the repetitive and time-wasting tasks the game throws at you. The quirky writing and bizarre mystery at the heart of the story are definitely intriguing, but they might not be good enough to suffer through all the other aspects of the game. Rating: 5 out of 10 Premonitions
  17. Who says twin-stick shooters have to be sci-fi? The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines from developer tinyDino Games and publisher Quantum Astrophysicists Guild brings the twin-stick gameplay formula to a fantasy setting. Instead of shooting bullets, you're tossing swords, firing magic bolts, and of course dodging barrages of enemy attacks as well. Throw on a time manipulation mechanic and you've got a fairly unique action game. You play as Gregor, newly appointed member of the Eternal Fellowship and an Ambassador of Time. However, shortly after your induction, the order's capital city is destroyed, and you're the only hope for setting things right. It's a decent setting for the gameplay but not much more—beyond your initial introduction to side characters and regions it's hard to feel too invested in the story. However, if you do want to get into all of the backstory available, there are hidden lore books scattered throughout the game which add some context and storytelling. The fractured nature of finding these books still makes the writing a bit dry, but there's at least more to the story if you're willing to work for it. The Ambassador features some non-linear progression. After the initial tutorial level you're allowed to tackle the three main worlds in the game in any order. Each world is made up of a variety of levels, but they're all fairly short—in fact there's a time attack challenge for every level with a time limit generally under a minute. Additionally, you can pursue other bonus challenges in each level, such as not taking any damage, not using recovery items, or finding all of the aforementioned lore books. So even though a single playthrough of The Ambassador won't last longer than a few hours, completing everything that the game has to offer by replaying it repeatedly will certainly fill your timeline. The gameplay itself mostly has the twitchy action that you'd expect from a twin-stick shooter, but there are a few important wrinkles. For one thing, you can't spam attacks wildly—when you throw your weapon, you have to wait for it to return to your hand whether you've hit something or not. You need to be a little more thoughtful in your approach, especially if you miss and are left weaponless for several seconds. You can, however, also swap to your magic weapon, most of which are a little more rapid-fire, but at the expense of mana (mana gradually regenerates). This ammo-focused approach can make the gameplay feel a bit slow at times, but it's a unique change of pace from the typical twin-stick shooter and provides its own engaging challenges. Aim is paramount so as not to leave yourself exposed and weaponless, so instead of prioritizing speed, the game focuses on precision, which forces you to approach enemies more thoughtfully. You'll also unlock a number of weapons, magical weapons, and armor as you progress through the game, allowing you to customize your approach a bit. There's a good amount of variety available here and sometimes changing your weapon loadout is the best way to handle new or powerful enemies. The other key aspect of the game has to do with Gregor's time manipulation abilities. You're able to temporarily slow down time around you, making it easy to avoid incoming attacks or perfectly line up your own. The effect will only last for a couple seconds and needs to recharge after it's used, so you can't go crazy spamming it. Just like the "ammo" system you need to plan your moment to use your time abilities well, since it's also your only real defense (no blocking or dodging for Gregor, unfortunately). It's a clever way of wrapping up offense and defense capabilities into one effect, though the timing can be a little tricky at times—some enemy attacks happen so quickly that you'll need to anticipate the attack to actually get away in time. It makes the combat a somewhat more thoughtful dance of attacks and dodging rather than just barrages of bullets like many twin-stick shooters. All that said, The Ambassador can feel rather repetitive at times. There isn't a huge variety of enemies or environments, and if you're not pursuing the speed or no-hit challenges the levels can feel somewhat rote pretty quickly. Even if there are some unique concepts in the gameplay structure, the game doesn't inject enough unique challenges into the action itself to make individual stages feel distinct. If the gameplay does click for you though there's also the BloodHenge mode available after you beat the game once, which is a survival mode that pits you against waves of enemies. It's perfect for score-chasers but for anyone else it only highlights how repetitive the gameplay can feel after a while. The game's retro presentation is solid, though there's not much more to say about it. The pixel graphics are decent but there's not much in the art design that stands out, and the soundtrack is much the same: the music isn't bad but there's not much you're going to remember about it. The bigger enemies and boss creatures are a little more impressive at least, though obviously those are rare to see. The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines mashes together its own timeline of influences—twin-stick shooter, fantasy setting, time manipulation mechancs—into a unique but underwhelming package. This isn't one that you'll likely play for the presentation or story, but the gameplay has some fun ideas, even if its repetitive nature drags. Players looking for a new take on the twin-stick formula that is slightly less frantic might enjoy seeing what The Ambassador has to offer. Rating: 6 out of 10 Timelines Review copy provided by publisher The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines will be available on the Switch eShop on August 13 for $14.99.
  18. I couldn't be more pleased that nonogram puzzles (aka Picross puzzles) have become an increasingly significant genre of games, to the point where we're now seeing it incorporated into genre mash-ups. Framing the puzzle-solving gameplay around a proper story is a logical combination, and what better genre to use than visual novels? Murder by Numbers combines the story-driven appeal of a game like Phoenix Wright with the addictive puzzle mechanics of Picross, and the result is even more than the sum of its parts. Sure it may seem niche, but the stylish design, charming story, and brain-tickling puzzles makes for a winning combination. Murder by Numbers is a detective story, though your path into the field is a little unusual. You play as Honor Mizrahi, an actress on a detective show, who finds herself mixed up with actual murder cases when someone close to her is killed. As luck would have it, at the exact same time she meets SCOUT, a flying robot who assists with finding clues (clues, in this case, are represented by nonogram puzzles). The pair make an unlikely but effective detective partnership, and from there you get three more cases to puzzle over, ultimately leading you to discover more about SCOUT's mysterious origins. The writing is highly reminiscent of Phoenix Wright—there are puns aplenty and most characters are big, larger-than-life personalities that are a lot of fun and allow for plenty of funny, charming, and occasionally heartfelt scenes. The cases themselves will also keep you engaged with plenty of twists and intrigue, even if some of the twists are rather predictable for experienced gumshoes. The gameplay is pretty evenly divided between talking to/interrogating characters and solving nonogram puzzles. On each screen you have the option to talk to anyone in the area or investigate. Investigating lets you scan the screen for puzzles that provide clues to the case, such as a missing wallet or suspicious items scattered around the area. Once you have the clues, you can present them to other characters to suss out lies or inconsistencies and gradually unravel the truth of each case. It's a simple, effective gameplay loop that provides a nice balance between the long dialogue sequences typically found in visual novels and the somewhat overwhelming supply of puzzles that you're given in a typical Picross game. For anyone unfamiliar with nonogram puzzles, they're a type of logic puzzle like Sudoku. You have a grid with numbers along the sides, and those numbers provide clues on where to fill in squares on the grid, ultimately revealing a picture. The game starts off simple with 5x5 grids, but by the end will ramp up to 15x15 which provide much more complex puzzles to solve. That said, Murder by Numbers isn't a terribly difficult game, neither in puzzle-solving nor interrogations. For one thing there's basically no penalty for failing at either aside from just trying again, but it also feels like, by combining these two game genres, the developers opted to make both relatively easy so as not to scare off new players. That's not to say there aren't some rare tricky moments, but for the most part it's not hard to comfortably progress through the game. Ultimately this might be a strength of the game—getting bogged down in challenging puzzles can be a drag, and Murder by Numbers keeps its gameplay progress feeling snappy and moving, which ensures the story doesn't drag either. The game is also a bit longer than you'd probably expect. There are only four cases to solve but the last two are particularly long—all told you're looking at over fifteen hours of gameplay, potentially more depending on how quickly or slowly you solve nonogram puzzles. As mentioned though the game never feels like it drags, plus if you want even more content you'll unlock additional bonus puzzles as you progress through the game. As a puzzle game there's not a ton of incentive for replaying the whole experience, but one playthrough still provides plenty of content for the price. Nonogram puzzles can be rather dry in the visual or audio departments, so it's great to see that Murder by Numbers infuses so much personality into its presentation to really make the characters and their stories pop. The artwork is bright and colorful, capturing the 90s setting of the story, and the characters themselves are distinct and memorable. The music is also lively and engaging, and its similarities to Phoenix Wright are no mere coincidence as Ace Attorney composer Masakazu Sugimori worked on the soundtrack. Sugimori certainly has a knack for making catchy songs that meld into the background while heightening the action or dialogue on screen, and that's definitely true for Murder by Numbers as well. Murder by Numbers proves that developer Mediatonic has a keen understanding of not just visual novels and puzzle games, but how to combine them in a clever, engaging way. The writing is charming, the puzzles are satisfying, and the game's stylish presentation ensures there's never a dull moment. Fans of either visual novels or puzzle games owe it to themselves to check out Murder by Numbers, and they may just discover a new love for another genre of gaming along the way. Rating: 8 out of 10 Numbers
  19. How do you keep a franchise feeling fresh game after game? It must be difficult balancing the impulse to repeat the same style/features of a winning formula with branching out and trying something new. For the Paper Mario series, the developers clearly went with the latter by dropping the RPG elements of the first few games and transitioning to a more purely action-adventure system. The change was clumsy, to say the least, and few would disagree that Sticker Star was the low point of the series. Color Splash made some decent steps toward restoring the panache that the franchise is known for, and now Paper Mario: The Origami King pushes forward with even bigger strides. It's still not the RPG experience that many fans most likely hoped for, but The Origami King still does an excellent job of crafting a new adventure brimming with charm. It wouldn't be a Mario game—platformer, RPG, adventure, or otherwise—without our favorite plumber setting off on a quest to rescue Princess Peach. This time she and her entire castle have been overrun by Olly, the self-proclaimed Origami King, who is literally reshaping the world one fold at a time. Mario is aided on his quest by Olivia, Olly's sister, plus you'll see Luigi, Bowser, and dozens of Toads as you work to undo Olly's reign of terror. One of the great strengths of the Paper Mario series is the personality and humor it injects into familiar Mario characters. Sure you get a bit of that in the mainline Mario platformers, but this spin-off series is where the writing can really shine, and The Origami King manages it exceedingly well. Olivia in particular is one of the most delightful companions Mario has ever had. More than just a mouthpiece for Mario or a guide for the player, her story throughout the game is genuinely engaging, and her sweet, friendly demeanor makes her instantly endearing—leave it to Nintendo to make a sentient origami such a lovable character. The game is also jam-packed with puns and various other goofy jokes, most of which are far more charming than they have any right to be. The Origami King places a fairly big emphasis on exploration. The environments are significant, larger than most Paper Mario games, and are filled with little things to interact with. As you explore you can rescue Toads who have been turned into origami shapes, collect items—both usable items and collectibles—from question blocks, and repair holes in the world with confetti wherever the paper has been torn. Each area you explore is filled with these little things to do, and it's a lot of fun to go out of your way to do them all. There's something very simple and satisfying about this kind of collection or checklist completion gameplay, plus there are some wonderfully inventive environments in the game that make exploration much more interesting than simply walking through a field or scaling a mountain. Completionists should love having so much to do in each region. The game's battle system will most likely be a divisive issue among fans once again, since there still isn't an experience points system to actually reward you for battling. However, The Origami King might have the best non-RPG battle system in the series to date. For one thing, you are still rewarded with coins and confetti, both of which are plenty useful. More importantly, this game uses a ring-based battle system which essentially makes every fight a mini-puzzle. In order to efficiently defeat enemies you'll want to line them up in a row (for jump attacks) or arrange them into a square (for hammer attacks). By manipulating the rings on the battlefield, you can move enemies into the ideal formation for your attacks. It helps keep every battle at least a little engaging, and some of the puzzles can get genuinely difficult, so it's not like this is a mindless task in each battle. The really complicated puzzles can be a bit frustrating, but you can also spend coins to get an assist from the Toads you've rescued, which is extremely helpful. The ring system can get tiresome or repetitive if you're doing a lot of battles in a row, and the lack of experience points still somewhat disincentivizes you from actually fighting instead of just avoiding enemies, but it's at least an improvement over recent Paper Mario games. And while you do need to buy equipment to use more powerful attacks, the equipment has a lengthy durability so you don't need to be constantly buying more, unless you're going out of your way to fight every enemy you meet. Boss fights take the ring-based battle mechanic one step further with a more elaborate puzzle system. This time Mario is navigating the battlefield and needs to follow arrows on the ground in order to get close enough to attack the boss. It scratches a puzzle/strategy game itch where you get the satisfaction of seeing your plans fall into place, which in this case means delivering a devastating attack against giant bosses. There are also specific strategies you'll need to employ to properly damage most bosses, and just figuring out the right steps can be an engaging challenge. In the end, The Origami King finds a unique and interesting battle system even without the standard RPG elements. It's arguable that those RPG elements would only further improve the experience, but at least battles don't feel like completely lopsided time wasters in this game. The Origami King is also a lot longer than you might expect. Given the lack of RPG mechanics, you might expect the game to skew toward a more typical action-adventure length, but there's still quite a lot to do here, and the early parts of the game in particular can be decently time-consuming. You can expect a good thirty hours or so out of the game, more if you go after all of the little collectibles that the game has to offer (including a fishing mini-game, because every game has a fishing mini-game these days). The visuals in the game are just a joy to look at, and once again push the envelope of what a world built entirely out of paper and craft supplies can be. The real-world constructed feel of the game is beautiful, and combined with the simplicity of 2D character designs it creates a rather striking yet also mellow and charming visual identity for the game. The origami characters are excellent as well, and manage to capture a realistic feel and weight of paper while still fitting perfectly with Paper Mario's aesthetic. And Olivia's adorable design is undeniably a part of what makes her so endearing. There are also some surprisingly gorgeous special effects at play here, notably the water and soil effects during specific scenes of the game, which feels like the developers showing off what the Switch can really do (and will hopefully be put to use in a new Pikmin game?). The soundtrack is excellent as well and thankfully doesn't rely too much on recycling familiar Mario tunes—it's fun to hear those songs again from time to time, but nothing beats originality, and The Origami King has some fantastic original tunes. Paper Mario: The Origami King still refuses to embrace the RPG mechanics that made the early games in the series such a smash hit with fans, but the compromises it concocts might be enough to make up for it. The ring-based battle system is a fun novelty, even if its charm does wear off at times, and the emphasis on exploration has provided a vibrant Mushroom Kingdom filled with fun and unique set pieces. Most importantly, the humor and personality of Paper Mario is well-represented here, from the pun-filled dialogue to the absolutely adorable adventure partner, Olivia. If Paper Mario can't return to its RPG roots, it has at least found a quality, engaging niche with The Origami King. Rating: 8 out of 10 Folds
  20. Metro Redux combines Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light into a single survival-horror FPS package. Originally released in 2010 and 2013 respectively, the two games follow the story of Dmitry Glukhovsky's novels, wherein nuclear war has created an apocalyptic landscape overrun by mutated beasts and people now live underground in the metro subway systems of Moscow. Both games exude atmosphere and style, even if the performance on the Switch has some ups and downs. More problematic, though, is the blend of survival mechanics and FPS action, which leads to some disappointing aspects of both. In Metro 2033, you play as Artyom, a young man living in a small station of the Metro who embarks on a quest to Polis, the capital of the Metro, after his station is attacked by mysterious creatures known as the Dark Ones that seem to possess psychic powers. Along the way Artyom gains allies and guides to help him on the journey, and perhaps understand the mysterious origins of the Dark Ones. The post-apocalyptic aspect of the story is solid even if it feels like it's been done before (i.e., even with vicious mutated beasts hounding the human population, the real danger is, as always, your fellow man), but the supernatural aspects of the story provide a real sense of intrigue. Metro 2033 explains very little to you outright, so it's more about immersing yourself in the world and lore of the game, which is pretty satisfying. Unfortunately the supernatural elements also feel a bit underused in Metro 2033, but thankfully they become more of a focus in Metro: Last Light's story, which also stars Artyom. Artyom himself is a bit odd as a protagonist, since during gameplay he is the classic silent, blank slate character (which also means other characters are constantly talking at you in order to tell you where to go or what to look at) but you can also find diaries written by Artyom which help flesh out the world's storytelling and adds insight to his personality. It feels unnecessary to divide Artyom's characterization like this, but at least he has some personality—you just have to find it. The Metro games might best be described as atmospheric FPS games. Unlike the typical action-focused FPS experience, both Metro games blend stealth gameplay, survival mechanics, and some scares into first-person shooter gameplay. You're actually free to approach most situations with either stealth or an all-out gunfight, though you'll always be limited by the amount of ammo you're able to scrounge up or purchase with the rare currency you can find. Whatever your playstyle preference, the atmosphere is tense as you struggle to survive against monsters and men. And whatever your playstyle preference, the Metro experience can be challenging, partly due to your limited assets and partly due to somewhat clunky gameplay design. Neither the stealth nor the gunplay feels quite ideal. Your movement and aim control are just a little too clunky to efficiently sneak around or to aim quickly and sharply, especially against monsters that will run at you and knock you around in a fury of claw attacks. Your field of vision is also limited compared to other games that focus entirely around stealth, which can be a little frustrating at times. The biggest annoyance though is when the game throws waves and waves of enemies at you like a typical FPS game, yet your limited ammo makes it hard to just go wild against fast-moving monster enemies. Metro: Last Light in particular features several large-scale battles that are more tedious than they are engaging. All that said, none of these complaints fully spoil the experience of creeping through derelict tunnels and desolate environments, but they can take you out of the game at times. The games' survival mechanics mainly center around the limited supplies that you're able to find and carry, especially filters for your gas mask which is required anytime you're on the surface or anywhere else with hazardous elements. Each filter has a limited use, which essentially puts a time limit on you whenever you don the mask—it can get tense at times when you only barely make it to a safe zone on your last filter. The most unique survival mechanic though is the way currency works. Instead of paper or metal money you actually trade bullets—powerful, military-grade bullets to be precise. You can use these powerful bullets in any machine gun, or you can use them to buy supplies when you're at a settlement. It's a really novel way of approaching the limited resources challenge of a survival game, and will definitely leave you questioning how best to use your resources. The game's controls have a few odd quirks, mostly due to using a controller as opposed to a mouse and keyboard. All of the basics—moving, aiming, shooting—are functionally fine with a controller, even if they're a bit too slow as previously mentioned, but the Metro games use an odd system for menus. Rather than having a typical pause menu for swapping guns, equipping gear like the gas mask, or checking your current goal, you have to use a combination of button presses to bring up these options. It's not terribly complicated after playing for a while, but it's a weird and unnecessary way of reinventing the wheel. Although the games run admirably well on the Switch's hardware, the one point of issue that stands out is the loading screen. Both games are divided up into little chapters and every time you enter a new one you're treated to a fairly lengthy loading screen. The good news is that this only happens when you start a new chapter—if you die and retry the loading screen is much shorter. Still, it's an annoyance that's hard to ignore. Each game lasts about ten hours, which isn't bad for a two-pack game bundle. There are also various difficulty levels to test your skills, and finding all of the diary pages may require another playthrough. Both games also have a small variety of weapons you can use, but since you can only carry three at a time you may want to replay parts of the game or the entire thing to fully experiment with different guns. And although neither game explicitly explains this, it might be worth replaying them to see if you can reach a different outcome by the end. The presentation in both games is notably dated (the first game is a decade old at this point, after all) but putting aside the technical quality of the visual design, the art direction is kind of a victim of its own success. Since the setting is post-apocalyptic, the scenery is understandably drab, full of grays and browns and rubble-strewn tunnels. It definitely succeeds in creating a certain atmosphere, it's just that that atmosphere can be rather boring after a while. The game is also in desperate need of an adjustable brightness setting. Dark shadows is a mainstay of the two games, but it can be difficult to make out what's on screen even when you have your flashlight turned on—playing in handheld mode is particularly difficult thanks to the overwhelming shadows. Thankfully you do eventually gain night vision goggles which helps alleviate the issue somewhat. The sound design is also a bit mixed, because a lot of the voice acting is shaky at best, and at worst it's laughable (notably, the voices for children). But if you're willing to focus on subtitles over audio, you can always switch to Russian voice acting which at least feels more natural given the setting. Metro Redux is a handy package for two decent survival horror FPS games. The games' atmospheric experiences make up somewhat for the rather clunky controls and mechanics of both the stealth and gunplay aspects of the gameplay, and the story is undeniably intriguing, especially when you consider the overarching plot of both games. Players looking for a more story-driven FPS would do well to check out this bundle, though anyone looking for a more purely stealth- or action-oriented game will have to cope with some awkward design choices. Rating: 7 out of 10 Metros
  21. A small, sleepy town is rattled by a double shooting and the local police is quick to rule the matter a murder-suicide, but Detective Michael Stone is determined to uncover the truth in this story-driven mystery game. Rainswept, from developer Frostwood Interactive and publisher 2Awesome Studio, uses simple graphics and basic gameplay elements to tell an emotional, affecting story about love and trauma, and the long-reaching effects of both. It's not a typical adventure experience, but Rainswept has a way of making a lasting impression. You play as Detective Stone, a detective from the big city that has come to the small town of Pineview to help solve an apparent murder-suicide. The victims are a young couple only recently moved to town, and their lack of connections or roots in the community only makes the investigation more complicated. Worse yet, Detective Stone is dealing with his own demons from a troubled past. The basic set-up does have some typical detective story vibes, and even a bit of Twin Peaks influence when things get a little weird, but even if Rainswept relies on some tropes there's still a great buildup around the mystery. It's a slow build, but gradually seeing more of the characters' lives, both the victims' and Stone's, is gripping, and the themes at play here—some of which are quite dark—are handled well and with appropriate delicacy to highlight very human and painful experiences. It's a slow, satisfying story buildup, and yet the ending does feel somewhat rushed. It's not a bad conclusion to the story, it's just that not every element of the ending feels like it fully has time to breathe, which is perhaps only more stark in comparison to the relatively leisurely pace that the rest of the investigation has. There's such weight to the rest of the story and its themes of trauma that the final reveal of what actually happened doesn't have quite the impact it should. As for the actual gameplay, Rainswept is pretty light on interactive elements. Your investigation will take you all around Pineview and you'll have to talk to townsfolk or interact with objects to examine them, but you generally aren't tasked with solving mysteries or resolving clues on your own. You simply examine everything around you and the story plays out, so Rainswept is more of an interactive story than anything. You can occasionally wander the town and talk to people though, which adds a fun bit of world-building to the experience. It would've been nice to have a bit more direct gameplay involvement with how things play out, but ultimately it doesn't detract from the story being told. Rainswept is also not the kind of game you'd typically replay repeatedly, though viewing the story again knowing everything that happens could add an interesting perspective. Realistically, this is the kind of game you play once for a solid six hours or so, which still isn't too bad considering its low price. The game's art style may seem simple at first but in the end it feels oddly appropriate for this small town where people live their lives—or try to live their lives—as simply as possible. The flat 2D visuals also doesn't mean that there aren't some striking scenes peppered throughout the game, and the basic, marionette animation of the characters' movements is oddly charming. The music is by and large moody and atmospheric, exactly what you'd expect from a story-driven detective game, culminating in an excellent final number that manages to capture the mood of the whole experience. Rainswept's quiet, unassuming sense of style may leave it poised for a similar release on the Switch, but you shouldn't overlook this story-driven experience. While the game plays it light on gameplay interactivity, the mystery at the heart of the story and, more importantly, the insight into flawed, emotional, human characters makes this a detective story worth unraveling. Anyone that enjoys a thoughtful, narrative-driven game would do well to check out Rainswept. Rating: 7 out of 10 Raindrops Review copy provided by publisher Rainswept will be available on the Switch eShop on July 24 for $9.99. Pre-purchase before release for a 10% discount: $8.99.
  22. Following in the spiritual footsteps of slow-paced, atmospheric adventure games like Journey, Spirit of the North takes players on a quest across wide-open and solitary landscapes, seen through the eyes of a fox. Instead of boss fights and wild action set-pieces, this game simply gives players the freedom to explore and overcome simple environmental puzzles as the fox journeys closer and closer to a mountain with a mysterious red cloud emanating from it. For games like this, the appeal is in the journey, not the destination, but in Spirit of the North's case, the journey doesn't hold much appeal either. The story draws from Nordic folklore, but you'd honestly not even know it without researching the matter yourself. That's sort of the problem with telling a story in a video game that has no dialogue or text, and not even many cutscenes either. The best you can do is piece together the lore from murals you can find while exploring, but these can be easy to miss. The fox's journey still has a somewhat mysterious appeal given the magical vibe of the game, and it does have its emotionally evocative moments, but in the end it's hard to be invested in it fully. The gameplay in Spirit of the North features some unique elements but is bogged down by poor design choices. One of the first things that may strike you while playing is that the fox is incredibly slow. Even with the ability to run for short distances, it always feels like it takes longer than it should to get anywhere. Granted, that's part of the slow-paced, atmospheric vibe of the game, but paired with some awfully large environments, and particularly environments that don't have a lot in them to actually interact with, the game ends up feeling plodding and a bit boring. This problem is only exacerbated by the game's spirit energy mechanic. Early on in the adventure you gain the ability to absorb blue spiritual energy from nearby flowers and then use the energy in a number of ways, such as lighting up murals, activating stone monuments, or charging up a powerful, darkness-destroying bark. The problem with the spiritual energy system is that you can only hold one charge at a time, which means you are constantly going back and forth between blue flowers and objects you can interact with. Sometimes this limitation is put to clever use, such as reusing the same energy on multiple objects to gradually open up new paths in an interconnected network of rooms, but most of the time the limitation just means you're stuck going back and forth repeatedly. Even though blue flowers are fairly plentiful you're still going to be spending a significant amount of time simply walking back to one in order to solve a puzzle. There really doesn't seem to be any value in this limited system aside from padding out the game's length a bit more. Even controlling the fox doesn't feel particularly smooth or satisfying. Your movements are actually somewhat clumsy, with plenty of awkward collisions and unclear platform placements. The gameplay has none of the fluidity of movement that you'd expect from a typical third-person platformer, which again, to be fair, may be linked to the game's slow, measured style. But when that style means that you'll mess up on lining up a jump correctly because the fox can only jump in certain ways, it makes exploration rather dull. To justify having such large, open landscapes you'd want the fox's movements to be engaging and fun, but they're simply not. The last opportunity to make exploration fun in a game like this is the visual style, but sadly Spirit of the North falls short here as well. Part of the problem comes down to the game's performance on the Switch. The frame rate is at least fairly smooth, but textures are muddier than they should be, and you'll see a lot of pop-in while running (or walking) through the large environments. It's also a failing of the art direction that these icy glaciers, green fields, and dark caverns are frankly pretty boring to look at. The soundtrack, however, fares much better, and has some genuinely engaging and melodic songs that are frankly doing the heavy lifting in building up the atmosphere of the game. The music can also be a little repetitive though, and would have had more emotional impact if it were better matched up to the action on screen, but it's still one of the few highlights of the game. Spirit of the North isn't a particularly long game, though given how slowly the fox moves it might feel longer than it is. You can easily finish in under five hours, depending on how efficiently you solve puzzles such as activating monuments to create a platform. The one aspect of the game that does reward exploration is rescuing the spirits of fallen monks. To do so you need to find a staff and return it to the body of a dead monk. This is actually kind of clever since it's a bit of an Easter egg hunt to find these two halves and bring them together. It can also be quite difficult at times, even ignoring the fox's slow movements. The reward is somewhat middling but if you do want to get the most out of the game it can stretch out the game's length a bit. Spirit of the North uses a light touch on storytelling and gameplay mechanics, but the end result is rather bland instead of atmospheric and alluring. The gameplay limitations that force you into slow, repetitive actions come off as tedious more than anything, while awkward jump mechanics leave much to be desired. Add on a visual style that isn't too impressive on either a technical or design front and Spirit of the North doesn't have a lot going for it on the Switch. Rating: 5 out of 10 Spirits
  23. The Wii U has been positively hemorrhaging its short but strong exclusives catalog. But after Bayonetta and its sequel made the jump to the Switch, it shouldn't be too surprising that another title from Platinum Games would also find a new home on more recent consoles. Plus, The Wonderful 101: Remastered gives a much bigger audience a chance to experience its wacky superhero story and insane action gameplay. For new players though, some of the game's flaws might feel a little more stark compared to fans who already have nostalgia for the original release. You play as a member of the Wonderful 100, a team of heroes equipped with powerful Centinel suits that are able to band together to defend the world from alien invaders. The GEATHJERK Federation is attacking the planet once again, and it's up to you and your fellow heroes to stop them. The writing in The Wonderful 101 absolutely revels in its cheesy Saturday morning cartoon vibes, from the exaggerated Super Sentai/Power Rangers hero team to the goofy (and occasionally fourth-wall-breaking) jokes. The characters can be a bit trope-heavy at times, but even if the story beats feel rather familiar it's still a fun hero story and well told. Like a lot of Platinum Games titles, The Wonderful 101 can seem completely chaotic when you first jump in. All of their games feature fast-paced action, crazy combat combos, and seem to require you to hold off on blinking for minutes at a time to ensure you don't mess up the timing on any attack, and that all describes this game to a tee. It's a wild ride and sometimes it feels like all you can do to keep your head above the water. In fact, The Wonderful 101 can feel particularly insane, even by the standards of similar action games, since you're controlling a group of tiny characters and sometimes the actual action can get lost in all of the colorful effects happening on screen. It's actually a bit of a problem at times, and the game's camera isn't always up to the task of ensuring everything happening on screen is clearly readable. Somehow it manages to ping-pong to both extremes—sometimes the camera is too far away and you'll lose track of your character, other times it's so close that you can't see nearby attacks coming in from off-screen. The indoors segments also make an awkward transition from the Wii U version of the game, where they played out on the Gamepad to give you an up-close view of the action. Now, limited to a single screen, the game uses a picture-in-picture technique which is serviceable but not ideal. And even more so than other Platinum Games titles, The Wonderful 101 has a pretty steep learning curve. It's difficult to learn how to play perfectly in any of their games—they're all essentially made to be played repeatedly, so that each playthrough further refines your skills—but a lot of best practices are particularly opaque in The Wonderful 101, such as learning when best to block and when best to dodge, or how to interrupt enemies or pull back and pick your moment to strike. The oftentimes relentless speed of combat in this game can make the learning process a real trial by fire. Once you do learn the ins and outs the combat can be a lot of fun, it's just a little discouraging to reach that point. Plus the least interesting parts of the combat are undeniably the times where you're required to use a specific weapon or technique. One of the coolest things about the game—in fact, the whole hook of its combat system—is the way you can draw shapes to morph your Wonderful 100 heroes into different weapons, such as a fist, sword, or gun. Stringing together chains of attacks with different morphed weapons is flashy and fun, and smacking around colossal enemies with a giant fist made up of heroes linked together is pretty damn satisfying. The annoying parts of the game are when you have to use a specific weapon due to a specific enemy weakness, such as heavily armored enemies that need to be cracked open with the hammer before you can deal any real damage. Limiting you to a single weapon is a bit tedious, and I would argue that the hammer in particular is one of the least fun weapons to use, so the requirement feels like a real hassle. I have to address the change in controllers as well, since drawing shapes is quite different when you can only use the right control stick instead of drawing directly on the Gamepad's screen. The Switch can technically do either since you can use the touchscreen in handheld mode, but playing on the TV limits you to the control stick which can be rather obnoxious when it comes to the more complex shapes. Quickly drawing a circle or straight line with the control stick is no problem, but anything more complex had me missing the Gamepad quite a bit, where the combo allowed for both precision (with the touch screen) or speed (with the control stick). Obviously the solution is to just play in handheld mode, but it's limiting, and only further exacerbates some of the game's camera issues. All that said, when you get down to the core gameplay of The Wonderful 101, it can be a blast. Combat is challenging (and occasionally feels rather punishing) but the fast-paced action is satisfying, and the game peppers in a lot of variety in the form of chases, shooter segments, and even a boss fight that uses Punch-Out mechanics. However, the pacing of the game does seem to drag at times. Each level of the game consists of several smaller missions, and sometimes these missions just go on and on. Breaking them up a bit more might have made the fifteen hour length feel a bit less plodding. The game's presentation remains a colorful blend of insane action scenes with a cartoony art style. It may not be the kind of action game you'd normally expect to see but there's no denying the big action set-pieces are dazzling. The soundtrack is also one of the few areas of the game to see a significant remastering as songs are remixed. The change might only be noticeable to die hard fans though as the game's original soundtrack was already a fast-paced, high energy musical accompaniment to the heroic action on screen. The Wonderful 101: Remastered gives a niche action game a chance to reach a far wider audience, and in that regard it should be considered a success. The fact that it does little to touch up some of the more glaring annoyances of the original game, and arguably adds more with the slightly more restrictive control scheme, is a bit disappointing though. The wild action and flashy combat will definitely appeal to a certain type of fan, but anyone unfamiliar with the typical foibles of a Platinum Games' work may find it tedious, at least on any difficulty level higher than easy. For any of the millions of Switch owners that never played this on the Wii U though, The Wonderful 101: Remastered is definitely worth checking out—just be prepared for steep learning curves and slightly clunky cameras. Rating: 7 out of 10 Wonderful Ones
  24. Sometimes all you really want out of a game is to just tune out for a while and chase a high score that you can show off to your friends, just like the classic arcade experience. #Funtime, with its explosions of color and wireframe graphics, is perfectly evocative of an afternoon at the arcade, where your eyes start to blur from staring at the screen for too long but you can't blink and risk ruining your high score run. From developer One Guy Games and publisher The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, #Funtime is a simple but stylish twin-stick shooter perfect for quick bursts of gameplay. #Funtime takes the classic twin-stick shooter game design and introduces a few twists to make the experience a bit more unique and fresh. In addition to simply shooting the various geometric obstacles that float toward you, you can also press the ABXY buttons to change the color of your ship, which leaves a trail of color behind you as you move. Swapping colors has both offensive and defensive benefits: enemies of the same color that move into your trail will explode for triple the points that you'd normally earn from shooting them. Your ship is also immune to damage from the same color that it currently is, so for example if you swap to red you can pass through red lasers and destroy red enemies behind you. It's a simple addition to the twin-stick shooter formula but it has a significant impact on how you play. There's this entire new level of strategy at work that you can use or ignore at your peril. In the heat of things it's easy to overlook swapping colors, but adapting to what's on-screen is vital, especially if you want to keep your high score multiplier. There are also various game modes that highlight the color mechanic further, such as a mode that gives you small safe zones scattered around the map that you can only enter when you're the same color. That's the other key feature that helps #Funtime stand out: the different game modes give you a decent amount of variety to enjoy, so the challenge of high score chasing never really grows old. If you get tired of playing the classic score chasing modes there are also mazes that require you to dodge obstacles to reach the goal, or survival levels where the objective is to simply survive as long as you can. Arguably the highlight of the game's various modes though is Funtime, which equips your ship with a giant flail that you can spin around to destroy enemies. The catch is that the flail will also damage you if you're not the same color, and of course you'll eventually be inundated with enemies and flashing colors all over the screen. It's chaotic fun to just wreck things while wildly spinning around, and it really captures the satisfaction of arcade-y destruction. In addition to challenge levels, #Funtime also has endless arcade modes with online leaderboards. The curious thing about the arcade modes though is that you have to gradually unlock various abilities and features. You start off with just one hit point, and as you earn points you can purchase additional health, stronger guns, the ability to color swap, and other boosters. It's an interesting way of giving the arcade a sense of progression, but it is also quite jarring to go from a challenge level with every weapon/ability at your disposal back to square one in the arcade. The abilities you unlock are persistent at least, so you only have to unlock them once, meaning it's really just the first handful of matches in the arcade that you'll feel particularly underpowered. There are a couple of other quirks in #Funtime that can impact the experience. Swapping colors with the ABXY buttons makes a decent amount of sense since each button is assigned to a different color, so you can quickly swap to the color you need in a split-second—sometimes that split-second action is the difference between life and death. The problem is you have to take your thumb off of the right control stick, i.e. you have to stop firing while you swap colors. It's only for a split-second but that also can make a huge difference. Again, the control scheme makes sense for what you're working with on a standard controller, but it's not quite ideal. The other minor issue comes from the visual design that can make asteroid obstacles super hard to see at a glance. Granted, it feels like a design choice to make them difficult to make out and hence more dangerous, but sometimes the small ones feel nigh invisible against the black backdrop of the game. Otherwise the simple, retro visual style is really quite charming. Sure there's nothing particularly elaborate at a glance, but when you're being bombarded from all sides by enemy attacks, the clear readability of the brightly colored shapes is invaluable. The soundtrack is also pretty sharp and completes the heart-pumping arcade atmosphere that the game is recreating. There does unfortunately seem to be a persistent glitch that will cause the music to cut out, and the only fix is closing and restarting the game. And you'll really want the background audio, since blasting shapes from all sides doesn't have the same effect when it's completely silent. #Funtime is a simple, sleek, and stylish twin-stick shooter that introduces enough twists to make a classic gameplay formula feel unique and engaging. There are plenty of challenge levels and arcade modes to keep you occupied, but like any high score-chasing game the real longevity of this game depends on how much you enjoy refining and perfecting your score. If that clicks for you, #Funtime provides a great arcade experience perfect for quick bursts of play time on the Switch. Rating: 7 out of 10 Colors Review copy provided by publisher #Funtime will be available on the Switch eShop on July 16 for $14.99.
  25. Clearly no concept is too peculiar for the world of video games since Wilmot's Warehouse builds an entire game around the concept of organizing objects in a warehouse to fulfill orders. But the craziest thing is just how fun it is to do that. Scratching a very particular relaxed-puzzle-game itch, Wilmot's Warehouse is an oddly compelling example of simple, addictive gameplay. The game doesn't try to build any kind of narrative around its gameplay—which is almost certainly for the best. You simply play as a square face who picks up and pushes square icons around a large black warehouse. You'll receive orders and will need to pick up the required icons and bring them to the top of the warehouse for delivery. Between deliveries you'll receive a shipment of new stock, including more and more different icons, and it's up to you to organize the warehouse in a logical way that makes it easy for you to fulfill orders quickly, because you do earn stars for delivering in a timely manner. You also have limited time between orders, so you need to be able to organize your warehouse efficiently lest you get overwhelmed with new shipments. Thankfully you do get occasional periods of unlimited time to organize your stock however you want, which is vital if you want to be able to find things easily. That's really all there is to Wilmot's Warehouse. It makes for an undeniably repetitive game—you unlock some upgrades but fundamentally there's very little different about the gameplay from your first order to your last—but it's also a wonderfully calming experience. Having this little video game world where all you have to do is keep your things tidy is oddly compelling, and certainly hits something in your brain's weird need/desire to organize things. It's a simple, repetitive task that is so satisfying precisely because it offers a basic, clear-cut goal. It's the video game equivalent of tidying your room or performing light manual labor like gardening and somehow manages to replicate the same feeling of a job well done. Wilmot's Warehouse is definitely a relaxed gaming experience, even if you do have to contend with timers and, by the end of the game, have such a cluttered warehouse that it can feel a bit overwhelming. One of the unique things about the game though is how the difficulty is kind of dictated by your own actions. Initially you have a small, random group of icons to work with, but once you're dealing with dozens or hundreds of items you might want to organize them in logical ways that make it easy to remember where things are. For example, I made a "summer items" area for things like popsicles, tents, maps, and parasols, as well as a "science items" area for microscopes, thermometers, and eyeglasses. How you organize things is entirely up to you, which is what makes the difficulty level so fluid. If you create and maintain strict item groupings, you might have an easier time remembering where something might be when you're dealing with 100+ items in your warehouse. Placing things randomly might be more of a "hard mode," requiring you to simply remember where everything is. There's also some challenge in deciding where each item should logically go—would eyeglasses fit my "science items" section better or my "clothing items" area? There's a lot of freedom in how you decide to organize your warehouse and how you play the game, which makes it a lot of fun to see how other people arrange their inventory. All that said, the game does actually have an expert mode if you want something a little more challenging, which limits some of your abilities to make you work harder. Probably the biggest change is limiting the time you can freely organize your stock. In normal mode these respites are vital to keeping the warehouse neatly arranged, but in expert mode they become yet another frantic period of fast-paced organizing. Because of this, expert mode kind of does away with the relaxed, zen nature of the game, but it's still a fun way of testing your skills, especially since the main game will probably only take you six or seven hours to complete. There's also a split-screen co-op mode which presents its own challenges and frantic moments, but it's a fun experience to share with a friend. The presentation of the game is the definition of simplicity—your player character is literally just a box with a face, after all. Still, the simplicity is appealing and reinforces the game's simple and calming tone, and having clear icons is hugely important when you need to find things quickly. Though the game still throws some curveballs at you, like the numerous icons that are simple color patterns, seemingly designed just to mess with you based on how similar they are. The soundtrack is also, not surprisingly, quite calming and atmospheric. It's nothing too fancy, but serves as perfect background music when you're shuffling through your warehouse, making sure all of your inventory is in its proper place. Wilmot's Warehouse creates a beautifully addictive experience out of the simple premise of organizing items. Though undeniably repetitive, the simplicity of the gameplay makes that repetition more of a zen experience than a tedious one. Anyone that likes to keep their surroundings organized will surely find Wilmot's Warehouse delightfully compelling, and even if you're not a compulsive tidier you'll find the game to be an engrossing and unique puzzle game. Rating: 8 out of 10 Items