Review: Elli (Switch)

elli boxBandanaKid’s Elli ($19.99) is a fun, family-friendly game that focuses on precision platforming and simple to moderate puzzle solving over the standard combat-focused action that’s a staple of the genre. This ends up being a good thing for those looking for something a bit different than the usual mascot-themed, enemy-packed games where variations on the butt-bounce and besting big, bad bosses are core gameplay elements. On the other hand, those looking for a deep and direct comparison to certain AAA or other indie games of this type may find what’s here a bit lacking in a few areas.

For example, while the lovely, mostly isometric visuals are lovely to admire, there’s enough of a Breath of the Wild vibe here to prod one into thinking it’s some sort of spin-off gaiden featuring some lesser known NPC’s. Granted there’s a plot here about Elli, a 600-year young elf trying to celebrate her birthday only to have those Crystals of Time she’s guardian of swiped by the not so friendly Ghasti, whereupon it’s off to the races to retrieve them. That’s pretty much all you need to know and the game doesn’t throw any major world-building at you in an attempt to try and make you think it’s any deeper than that.

That by the way, turns out to be a mostly good thing, as the gameplay’s simpler focus is on getting from Point A to Point B and dealing with assorted obstacles just works well without the baggage of perusing copious amounts of whys and hows via lengthy text or cut scenes. On the other hand, between the mostly silent NPCs and Elli’s own somewhat quiet approach, the game at times feels a bit empty outside her general motivation to catch that nasty Ghasti.

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Review: Dark Quest II (PS4)

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Nostalgia alert: This one’s great stuff.

You’d best believe I uttered out loud (to no one in particular) “Wait, there’s a Dark Quest I out there somewhere?” as soon as that email I recently received about Dark Quest II ($14.99) landed in my inbox. I took a look at the brief trailer on YouTube and yes indeed, put in a code request because all sorts of nostalgic switches were flipping in my brain.  A few days of playing this later and I’m very pleased developer Brain Seal Ltd took the time to craft this hard to put down throwback of a keeper.

If you’ve been around the RPG block for any decent length of time, you know the drill: Evil sorcerer doing evil things socked away in his castle, a hero strolls up to the gates, yadda, yadda, yadda – you’re in deep dungeon doo-doo, make new allies along the way and it’s a fight to the finish against that mad magician and his kill-crazy minions. Granted, this game will be a hard sell to some stubborn ones out there who think console or PC RPGs started sometime in the 90’s or early 2000’s, or who’ve never played either classic Dungeons and Dragons, the old board game HeroQuest, or Hero Quest II: Legacy of Sorasil on the Amiga.  DQII wraps these three influences together, adds in some lovely artwork and ties everything together with an appropriately nifty audio experience that seals the deal.  The stripped-down to the basics gameplay here had me grinning through surviving encounters by a hair and even relishing a defeat or three just so I could retry a quest and try new strategies to win.

For players new to this particular style of game, you’ll need to be aware of a few things such as despite the isometric viewpoint this isn’t a “Diablo-style” chase ‘n chop nor any sort of action/RPG in that vein. Combat is turn-based and there’s an invisible sort of dice roll happening where you and your enemies will hit or miss attacks based on a few factors such as active or passive skills and potion use. You can take your time while playing this, as enemies will patiently wait for you to act and yes, this also means when you’re in a room packed full of them, you’ll likely be attacked one by one as their turns roll up.

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Ematic Switch Controllers: Solid Alternatives For Budget-Minded Gamers

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Surprise, surprise – these two budget controllers are pretty awesome.

 

Generally, when it comes to peripherals, I’m mostly a first-party OEM guy, particularly when it comes to controllers. That said, once in a while I’ll stumble across a third-party item that not only does what it needs to do well, it does it well enough to recommend without hesitation. I’d initially planned a review of the otherwise decent officially licensed Horipad Wired Controller ($19.99) and was just about done writing when I got an email from an Ematic PR rep asking if I was interested in taking their Wired N-Switch ($19.99) and Wireless N-Switch ($27.99) Switch controllers for a test drive. Of course, I said I’d love to and shortly afterwards, both arrived and were indeed, taken for a few spins and assorted tests over the past two weeks.

switch horipadI’ll say first and foremost, that licensed Switch Horipad is an excellent official controller that’s lightweight, simple to set up out of the box and a really well-manufactured unit that works fine with every game I tested it with* with no real weaknesses outside the lack of vibration, NFC, and motion control functions that give certain Switch games that extra kick. Yes, that low price point means you get not a hint of feedback which is disappointing unless you really don’t care and just want a solid, inexpensive and very reliable controller for yourself or the kids.

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For some reason, the Horipad looks as if it’s got a slight frown, while Ematic’s has a “Hey, check me out – I’m cool!” smile thing working for it.

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Review: X-Morph: Defense (Nintendo Switch)

X-morph box switchDeveloper EXOR Studios has done such a phenomenal job in porting X-Morph: Defense ($19.99 Standard Edition, $29.99 Complete Edition) to the Switch that I hope it’s likely going to be a game that will be studied for quite some time students getting into game making or by other devs who want to port a game they’ve made onto the platform. From visuals to performance, it’s a wonderfully complete experience that easily stacks up to the other versions made for more powerful hardware.

The funny thing is, I initially didn’t want to play this because I pretty much stopped cold playing tower defense-type games thanks to to having played so many for so long I became bored with the relative sameness they shared despite thematic differences. Thankfully, the addition of fast-paced arcade-style twin stick shooting blends well with the real-time base expansion elements and yes, the ability to play not as the humans, but the aliens in the process of vanquishing anything the earthlings toss at them as they attempt to mine the planet for its resources.

Hey, if you’re going to wreck the planet, you may as well do it in style and a continent at a time, right?

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Review: Vaporum (Nintendo Switch)

Vaporum_switchAs a well-aged (I prefer the term “vintage”) fan of old school dungeon crawlers, I knew Vaporum ($24.99, worth every penny) was going to be right up my alley. With its dark thematic elements, Dungeon Master meets BioShock vibe and plenty of play and replay value, the very worst thing that I could think of as I sat down to type out this review was simply only being able to get through the game once for this post and having to move onto something else thanks to my stupidly large backlog.

The team at Cypronia has converted developer Fatbot Games’ stellar PC game into a mostly excellent home console version and yes, when I say home console, I kind of mean it. While you can indeed take this on the go as a Switch owner, you’ll have to deal with somewhat smallish onscreen text and controls that can be a bit complex as they’ve been translated from keyboard and mouse to a controller with a lot less buttons to operate. Everything works as it should, but there are a few fiddly moments that require a trip to the options screen to adjust things to your preferences.

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Shocker! Just about everything wants you dead in this game – expect traps and tricks galore as you get deeper into the thick of things.

Personally, though – this is exactly the sort of game you’ll want to play while socked away on a rainy vacation at home in front of the TV in docked mode. That way, you’re all into the visual and aural experience (the game both looks and sounds fantastic) and not having to be interrupted by outside distractions such as some kid walking up to you and asking “Hey, is that a Switch? Can I play, please because my mom won’t let me take mine outside and… blah de blah, blah, blah..” (true story, that). This is the sort of game where concentration, planning and execution are all urgent forces vying for your attentions.

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Modus Operandi: Getting Games Out When They’re Good and Ready

While they’re not a household name yet (but they should be), publisher Modus Games has a number of current and upcoming titles that should please those looking for a bit of variety in their gaming lives. From the return of the Trine series to its side-scrolling origins to three new (or new-ish n one case) IP set to arrive on the scene between this year and 2020, all four games I saw at their press event in NYC were looking great and are well worth waiting for.

ary-logo-colorAry and the Secret of Seasons (in development, PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One)- My first stop was a game with an intro trailer had me laughing out loud for a few minutes because it hit my particularly oddball sense of humor right in the sweet spot. It turns out the game in question is actually a bit more serious in tone yet looking like quite a blast to play. Co-developed by eXiin and Fishing Cactus using the versatile Unity engine, the game intentionally recalls classic mascot character action games of the 90’s and early 2000’s with what’s looking like a strong emphasis on both story and gameplay.

While the demo wasn’t a hands-on one, watching Ary get put through her paces by eXiin’s Sébastien Le Touze kept me smiling constantly. Her season controlling powers allowed for some great puzzle-solving solutions as well as some thrilling combat moments and yes. those powers sure looked great in motion as they affected the environments around then in real time. The ability to change the weather in an area to rainy meant lightning zapping those pesky hyenas or ice hindering them briefly while Ary’s slingshot and sword skills knocked them for a few loops. Granted, the demo had all her powers unlocked at the start, but that was simply to show how versatile she’ll become as the adventure progresses.

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The aforementioned puzzles can be solved in a few creative ways such as creating a large bubble of water to hop into and swim up to a high spot in order to flip a switch, or temporarily freezing an object or obstacle in order to pass safely before you free it and let it take out some baddies. Combining season powers is also key to some areas and Le Touze certainly did a stellar job in showing off what Ary could do. While it’s not set to launch until 2020, it’s a sure bet to be on quite a few watch and want lists, mine included.  If and when eXiin can get a demo of some sort up for everything this will appear on, I’m betting the game will find quite a few more eager fans ready to explore its pretty game world.

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Review: Feather (Nintendo Switch)

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Because sometimes you really really need to relax, games such as Feather ($12.59, $9.99 on PC) exist and should thrive because they do what they do well enough to recommend to those with more open minds. Melbourne-based Samurai Punk‘s super-chill experience is as much of an art project as it is a highly playable stylized bird flight simulation and it works on a few levels some won’t immediately grasp. Its open world setting couple with the simple to pick up controls allow free exploration of the map which reveals a few nifty secrets for those willing to take the time to dive in and discover.

This is a game where the intentional low-poly look blends seamlessly with its lovely soundtrack that does a great job of transporting you and your brain into a comfortable place for as long as you need that respite. As there are no big goals other than enjoying the ride and locating all nine music tracks (accessible via circular gateways placed in select locations), it’s a case where if you want to end the game, it doesn’t mind when you quit because any “progression” you’ve made isn’t saved. Yes, that seems strange in this era of auto-saves or games recalling your last position before a huge event. Feather itself is the event, and it’s a low-stress one at that. Jump in at any time and fly until you’ve had your fill.

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Oh, the places you’ll go: Just explore everything, as you’ll fly into some odd spots worth seeking out.

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Review: Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics (Nintendo Switch)

Cthulhu SwitchYeah, there’s a review hidden in here somewhere, but first, a lengthy foreword of sorts before the main event. I blame American International Pictures for my unapologetic appreciation for H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, but I’ll also blame a particular English class teacher way back in my high school days who assigned the class to write a book report on anything they’d recently read and liked, no matter the medium.

We had to each bring our book of choice in so he could approve it and (eek) everyone had to go up to the front of the class and explain why we chose that particular read, which was mind you, quite a challenge for some of the more socially awkward students (*cough*, ahem!). Of course, one smart-ass decided to be funny and bring in Clifford, the Big Red Dog as his choice and was surprised as hell when his choice was approved… with the caveat that it had to be twice the length of the 500 words the other students were assigned as well as “the BEST damn book report on Clifford, ever!” (eek). So much for that dude trying to get off easy, right?

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Not quite what one thinks of when “Eldritch” is the subject, but it kind of works.

Me? I ended up picking Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” from a collection of his works thanks to seeing the so-so 1965 film “Die, Monster, Die!” on TV a few times and later finding out via either Famous Monsters of Filmland , The Monster Times, or some other sci-fi/horror flick-related magazine that the film’s story was very loosely based on that well-aged 1927 short story.  I distinctly recall after struggling through my intro speech in front of the class, I ended up getting a note to see the teacher after class (Yipes!). But all he did was complement me on my “mature” selection and note that I’d maybe find out later in life that ol’ H.P. was a tad controversial for a few reasons I didn’t know at the time. Personally, I didn’t care because I wanted to explore the story in question more than I wanted to stumble over info later that would maybe make me not like what I’d read way back when I was in those formative years.

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Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid Punches Way Onto Consoles, PC

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Eep. Just looking at this image had that original main theme song popping into my head. Where’s my Geritol?

Man, I Feel Really Old, Volume XVIII: Developer nWay, coming off its success with the mobile game Power Rangers: Legacy Wars is doing it up again for fans of the long-running series with an all-new game, Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid ($19.99, Standard Edition, $39.99, Digital Collector’s Edition), out now for PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch with a PS4 version dropping shortly. Take a look at the trailer and sure, go get the kids and gather around the screen if you like. I think if they’re fans, they’ll be quite pleased:

So, what’s in that download, you ask? Well, look below the jump and find out, I say.

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Lost Ember: Making Mooneyes at This Great-Looking Game

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I’d been quietly following Mooneye Studios upcoming Lost Ember for a few years with the hope that the dev team would be taking their time to make an already gorgeous  game even more so. So this new trailer and actual launch date are making me really happy:

Lovely, isn’t it? Well, that July 19 release date for PC, PS4 and Xbox One is indeed a good thing, and with a Switch version also in the works, it’s safe to say about the only folks who might be a tad perturbed will be Mac and Linux die-hards who have to be a bit less grumpy unless their wants are taken care of. Anything is possible, so who knows what will happen in the future, I say. Go stick this one on your watch and wish lists, folks.

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A wolf whistle to the art team for such spectacular environments might not be a bad thing here.

– GW