Review: Gear.Club Unlimited 2

Yeah, yeah. I’m not a big Mario Kart fan these days. So sue me. Granted, I do like the series a lot and yes, it’s fun as heck and all that. But when it comes to racing games or in this case, pure driving games, I tend to prefer a bit more realism these days or at least something that works as a hybrid of simulation and casual play where you can dip in and enjoy a game that has actual cars to mess around with. On my other consoles, it’s been a wealth of choices for quite some time and I’m more than pleased with the selection I have. On the other hand, we have Nintendo’s last two home consoles (Wii U and Switch) that up until late last year, had a grand total of three GOOD titles that featured licensed cars, one on the Wii U from 2013 and two which came out in 2017 and 2018. That’s just plain nuts.

 

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That versatile Unity engine sure does a car body good in this game.

gcu2_boxartAlthough both have a few issues that keep them from being as great as they should be, I’ll still recommend Microïds and developer Eden Games Gear.Club Unlimited ($44.99) and Gear.Club Unlimited 2 ($59.99) because warts and all, they contain a decent amount of actual licensed cars and are quite lengthy racing experiences when all is said and done. Yes, the load times are somewhat long (grrr!) and the handling can be squirrelly (and more so in the sequel even with the patches). But there’s a certain cool factor when you take a an actual licensed domestic or foreign car out for a test run from the dealership or can afford to add it to your digital garage and full-on race it whenever you feel that need for speed.

Speaking of garages, should there be a third game in this series, Eden should trim and simplify the garage function in order to give players a speedier means of car management between events. Keep the paint and sticker customization, but relegate everything else to a slick menu that’s faster to navigate. Also, adding the ability to drive freely on any unlocked course as a means of learning the handling model would be an excellent addition (as well as bringing back fond memories of the best parts of Eden’s Test Drive Unlimited games from the late 2000’s).

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Clock Simulator: Seconds Count in This Addictive Oddity

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This little piggy’s maybe gonna run out of time… unless you can help out  a little bit.

cs_boxSo, yeah. There’s a new game called Clock Simulator for the Switch, it’s a port of the PC version, that adds two mini-games to the mix, it’s a mere $3.99 and you should give it more than a few minutes of your time because it’s strangely addictive, that being a clock thing. No joke here, this is a pretty impressive variant on the rhythm game where you need to be even more precise with your button pressing than usual. Perfection is not an overrated thing at all, at least as far as this deceptively basic time sink goes.

It’s also a very cool way to learn a specific skill (pressing a button exactly one second at a time) that may not seem as if would come in handy at all, but in fact, is quite helpful if part of your job is clock-watching. Granted, if you work at any job with a clock nearby or are one of the many who constantly check their favorite timekeeping device, this game may either cone in quite handy or make you wince a tad. Either way, just don’t tell your boss about it (unless you’re the boss, of course).

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“Time enough, at last…” but don’t stop pressing that button, pal.

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Review: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Nintendo Switch)

superbrothers switchSuperbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP ($9.99) is pure brilliance in every area, but the game wisely notes in its end credits it’s probably not going to be for every taste. Still, if you’re wanting a nicely droll, somewhat cerebral, amusing and completely hip masterpiece, you’ll just love what’s here. For example: Right after its opening section (which takes between 15 to 30 minutes to complete), a cigarette (or is that a cigar?) smoking character called The Archtype appears and tells you to return later after taking a break as a pair of curtains close and you’re sent back to the title screen. I actually didn’t go back to the game at that point. Instead, I put my Switch back into its dock, turned it off and went to make lunch. When I came back about an hour later, I felt as if that break was indeed justified because the game did such a clever job of getting me hooked in enough that I followed that silly instruction.

That silly instruction turned out to be a lot less so when later on, the game asks you to come back to it when the in-game moon phase is at the right spot to activate a certain task. Again, brilliant. The game is an adventure/puzzle hybrid that pays homage to The Legend of Zelda, a bit of Robert E. Howard, Carl Jung and a bunch of neat other things you may or may not see on the surface. Not to sound overly pompous or anything, but here’s a game that cleverly nods and winks at those who get it, but is totally playable by just about anyone who can use a Switch and is a bit curious about what’s in store for them.

 

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Capsule Reviews: It’s A Puzzlement!

Not every game needs to go for epic length status or terminally flashy visuals to be enjoyable. I tend to gravitate to puzzle games when I need a break from other genres  and there have been a few really cool ones this year. Here’s a quick look at a some of the ones I liked a lot:

 

solar flux switchSolar Flux (Nintendo Switch, $9.99): Firebrand Games’ great space-themed puzzler may look simple, but it riffs on classic arcade gameplay with homages to Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Puzzle Bobble, a bit of Star Castle and probably a few other titles my brain can’t recall in a really fun, challenging manner. While it’s at heart, a supremely soothing experience, the reliance on touchscreen-only controls combined with limited fuel and the need for precision movement of your very fragile ship means you’ll be getting a game that won’t easily be mastered in one sitting. Yes, the music is ear-pleasing and completely chill, but if you’re easily flustered by even the tiniest of mistakes, the gameplay can get pretty tense if you’re not able to tip-tap-steer your way out of trouble. Practice makes perfect, folks.

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That challenge ramps up geometrically during the 80 missions set across 4 galaxies, but nice looks and all, you’re not here to do any sightseeing. Getting the best times as things get complicated is somewhat tricky (but rewarding). So expect a few retries and perhaps a few times when you’re just putting the game down for a bit and coming back later if you lose that zen-like concentration. Don’t worry, though. Those assorted suns you need to recharge will be there when you return. All is good in this universe, just relax and it’ll be quite the thrill.

Score: A (90%)

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Review: Iris.Fall (PC)

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Do you love challenging puzzle games with a mysterious vibe? Well, Iris.Fall ($14.99) is waiting for you with open arms to tickle your brain for a spell. Developer NEXT Studio had crafted a lovely and often deviously designed game where your brain will get quite the workout and playing at your own pace is welcome. This isn’t any sort of action or platforming game where you’ll need to worry about enemies and assorted hazards. Nope, what you have here is a well crafted gem that plays with some of those conventional elements by adding them to the game as puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress.

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Not a place to lose a contact lens, that’s for sure…

 

After awakening from a dream, Iris follows a black cat into a dilapidated theater, traveling back and forth through a strange labyrinth of light and shadow. As the story unfolds, Iris begins to realize that everything in this theater seems to have some kind of hidden connection to herself.

 

The story is played out wordlessly and is a bit vague at the start, but things fall into place as you play and pay attention to each reveal as well as interact with certain objects. I won’t go into detail because the game’s more of a “play it and see where it goes” deal and it’s also a relatively brief experience that feels like a bedtime with a somewhat unsettling tone. Puzzles start out simple enough, but ramp up to be some pretty solid brain twisters that require a bit of deep thought. Most of them will have you scouring the lovely artwork looking at and for clues to progression, but some are variants on classics found in plenty of point & click adventures. Connecting wires in a circuit box or shifting parts of a puzzle inside a small box, for example, and there’s a multi-part sort of Rubik’s Cube-inspired sequence in one area that’s a cool diversion while it lasts.

 

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Capsule Reviews: Mega Cats, MagiCats, and Other Critters of Note

Yes, we’re playing a bit of mega-catch up here, but it’s a weird and wild season on a few fronts and staying in an entertaining mood is quite tricky when the walls and floors are moving constantly. Anyway, here’s a few quick takes and hearty Holiday Gift Guide recommendations, kinda retro games division. Buy them all if you’re into what they bring to the table:

little-medusa-sega-box Little Medusa (Sega Genesis/NES/SNES): Mega Cat Studios has been pumping out some truly excellent retro content for those who still own either original hardware or the means to play cart games on those newer retro consoles. Little Medusa is a tough little number that will have fans of the classic puzzler Kickle Cubicle grinning and grimacing in equal measure as they play through this colorful, challenging update to the Irem arcade and later, NES hit.

As Artemiza, a young goddess transformed into a Gorgon by the escaped Titans, you’ll need to turn enemies into stone using her steely (stony?) gaze and quickly push them into place in order to clear five tricky levels of increasing difficulty. This one works best if you’ve a trusty, well-used controller or a new one that’s super responsive. Like plenty of classics from the 8 and 16-bit era, expert players can whip through this in a lazy weekend, but the thrill of a good game is always having it handy no matter how many times you’ve beaten it, so all hail Mega Cat for getting this out in physical form at a few price points so that collector side is satisfied.

Score: B+ (85%)

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Review: Heavy Fire: Red Shadow (PS4)

Heavy Fire RSWhile previous games in the Heavy Fire series have been on-rails shooters a tiny bit (but not exactly) like a non-gun controller version of Time Crisis with a whiff of modern military shooters set in fictional locations based on real word military hot zones, Heavy Fire: Red Shadow ($19.99) is more than a little reminiscent of the arcade version of Beach Head 2000. For those with short memories (or those who’ve never played that older game), it was a fixed turret shooter where you mowed down enemy troops and vehicles, blasted planes out of the sky and pretty much laid waste to as much as you could in a 360 degree radius until you were overrun (or just ran out of credits). While a bit on the shallow side in terms of gameplay depth, this latest installment packs in enough stress relieving bang for the buck that keeps it replayable.

Well, provided you don’t mind dealing with a few troubling bugs that really need patching.

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“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”  Ha. Ha. (BOOM!), Now you have quite a few too many guns.

 

That said, I’d gather that some fans of the series from its beginnings as digital titles on the Nintendo 3DS may be disappointed in this because of the lack of co-op play, which a game such as this kind of needs to spread the fun past one’s home. You do get PSVR support in the retail packaged version that adds some “in your face” moments (usually in those moments when you’re yelling exactly that to some enemies on the receiving end of whatever ordinance you’re blasting or calling down on them). But those plain-ish visuals tend to get a bit mushy in VR compared to other games using the format. Granted, it’s not supposed to be a “great” game in that way some games become “instant classics” these days. But, if you just love all sorts of digital pyrotechnics and can bear the bugs, step on up and have a seat – it’s your turn at the turret.

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Review: Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Heavy Burger (Nintendo Switch)

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Holy… wow. this game is too freakin’ incredible. BUY IT. Or at least hope that Mr. Turbo has plans to get in onto a platform you can play it on.

 

Ahem. Every so often a good, well-made game of any genre makes me want to wax poetic, so here you go, a rhyming (not “rappin'” as I can’t do that at all unless it’s leftovers that need storage in the fridge) review of quite a fine Switch game you need to buy (ASAP, as its really, really good). Yes, the (very) old Bad the Bard alter ego has resurfaced from the grave, so expect the following verse to be cringe-worthy at best. Very cringe-worthy, apologies in advance…

(Takes out invisible lute and busted Casio VL-10). Er, go watch this rather conveniently placed trailer while I warm up… I’ll be back below the jump.

 

(Thanks, Flying Tiger Entertainment!)

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Review: Ninjin: Clash of Carrots (Nintendo Switch)

ninjin switch cubeHa. less than thirty seconds into developer Pocket Trap’s excellent Ninjin: Clash of Carrots ($14.99) and I’m cackling like Renfield because while it’s being marketed as a “beat ’em up” style endless runner game, it’s more of an arcade shooter/brawler hybrid and a damn good one at that. Of course, you may need to adjust your brain past the clever marketing stuff and your play style from “runner-based slug-fest” to “arcade shmup/beat ’em up”, but trust me, it makes a pretty cool game all the more cooler once you do.

The story is pretty simple, but comic timing courtesy some well-placed jokes and visual gags at every opportunity keep things fresh and funny.  Your character of choice (Ninjin the rabbit or Akai the fox) is tasked with zipping through the game’s super-colorful levels collecting a village’s stolen carrots while taking down waves of enemies and a series of increasingly challenging sub-bosses and bosses. Yes, you can see it as a sort of brawler based on the many weapons and upgrades you’ll recover from downed baddies or in the two shops you’ll discover.  However, switch to playing this as a coin drop arcade shooter and you’ll see those items in a new light.

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It’s either R(abbit)-Type in disguise, a more hallucinogenic Fantasy Zone, or some other old arcade shmup retooled for today’s gamers. At least that what I get from this auto-scrolling and shooting/slicing stuff.

 

Firstly, the constantly scrolling levels and enemy waves are pure shmup, as are things such as recognizing enemy patterns and the necessity of upgrading to better weapons as you go. Granted, the need to tap out moves constantly is more of an old school shmup and fighter/brawler thing , but you also get screen clearing moves, ranged weapons that feel lifted from shooters and an overall sense of fun that’s addictive enough to make one crave more when the experience is over. Yes, you have swords, spears, axes, meat (!) and other weapons to swing away at baddies with. But the non-stop pacing is made to keep you on your toes as enemy speed and ferocity varies from simple to nightmarish, fluctuating a few times as the game progresses.

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Review: ZARVOT (Nintendo Switch)

Zarvot Switch CubeTrying to nail down ZARVOT (A Game About Cubes, by the way) into a specific niche is, in an amusing way, a waste of time because it’s a perfect example of using a less by the book scholarly critical analysis and more of a “shut up and play it!” approach. While you can (and should) snap this up for the solid multiplayer modes, it’s worth the $19.99 alone for the brilliant Story mode and its blend of adventure and puzzle game elements, droll to laugh out loud humor and straight up surreal nature. It’s also a master class in game design as well as showing off the versatility of the Unity engine thanks to Sam Eng (@snowhydra), who put 4 years into making this great looking instant classic. Oh, and the soundtrack? yep, worth paying for as well.

In a nutshell, cube pals Mustard and Charcoal set out to put together the ultimate birthday present for their cube pal, Red, stuff goes wrong and needs to made right. There’s a lot of laser fire involved in this and saying anything more would ruin a hell of a lot of surprises. When you find yourself putting down a controller to either laugh at the absurdity of it all or pause to reflect on an emotional issue a character is facing (for cubes, insects and other assorted creatures, they’re quite… human, warts and all), you kind of get a better sense of game appreciation. I actually wish this were on a physical game card because it’s one of those keepers that might get lost in the well over 1200 games (and counting) filling up the eShop.

But I’m getting all scholarly and critical here, so let me stop that and dip into the fun stuff…

 

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