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TalkBack / Shoot 1UP DX (Switch) Review
« on: May 13, 2021, 08:54:28 AM »

An innovative shoot-'em-up where you have up to 60 controllable ships on the screen at once.

From Asteroids to Parodius, shoot-’em-ups are nearly as old as gaming itself, spanning decades of history. To stand out in an overcrowded genre, developers must put a unique spin on the conventions of that genre, and developer Mommy’s Best Games succeeds at that. Shoot 1UP DX is unique from most shoot-’em-ups because players aren’t piloting a single ship; they’re in control of an entire fleet. The ships in your armada represent the number of lives that you have, and the battle continues until your last ship is destroyed. Ships can be replenished by picking up 1-Ups along the way, hence the game’s title. A single player can control up to 30 ships at once, while 60 ships can appear on screen in two-player mode.

What makes the gameplay addicting is how the scoring system works. Formations of your ships can be changed to accommodate your surroundings, expanding or contracting when necessary. Expanding your ships help cover more territory, thus creating more destruction and racking up higher scores. By expanding, you’ll earn multipliers on points and gain the special ability to launch a plasma ray attack. The more you expand, the bigger your multiplier will be. The more ships you accumulate, the bigger your special plasma ray grows. Killing enemies earn you points, but they will only drop medals when killed with a multiplier.

There is one major downside to expanding your ships; it becomes increasingly difficult to defend yourself, since your ships are scattered in different directions. In tighter spots, when you need to play more defensively, contracting your ships can help avoid enemy fire. Contracting pulls your ships closer together, reducing the size of your hit box. This can be extremely useful during the game’s more tense, chaotic moments. Unfortunately, the consequence of playing things safe is you won’t score the maximum number of points. This risk/reward system provides the gameplay with an additional layer of strategy and depth beyond the standard shooter mechanics. By analyzing your surroundings and using your best judgement, you’ll be able to properly determine when to expand or contract your ships.

There are eight levels to play through, and the controls are completely customizable. While most shmups restrict players to one rail going toward a single path, Shoot 1UP DX offers freedom to choose which pathways to take. As a result, it makes everything feel a tad bit more unpredictable. Trajectories are constantly changing as you navigate through the warzone. Levels frequently flip back-and-forth between vertical-horizontal perspectives. Players can replay the game to experience divergent paths and alternative routes that they may have missed during their first playthrough.

As tends to be the case with most arcade shmups, Shoot 1UP DX is a short, breezy experience that can be completed in 45 minutes or less. Some players may feel turned off by the relatively short length, but Shoot 1UP DX is intended to be replayed multiple times. Key features include online leaderboards – global and local – so players can compete against friends, chasing the highest scores possible. And if you need more motivation, the game also offers an in-game achievements system. It’s also worth noting that the game offers three difficulty settings – Chilled, Normal, and Serious – if you’re seeking greater challenges to conquer. My biggest disappointment is the notable absence of online multiplayer. Multiplayer is restricted to local only, offering no options to play with friends online. With that said, playing two-player mode with a friend, locally, is a blast. It made me realize that the world needs more multiplayer shmups, in general. Earlier, I mentioned how you and your friend can have up to 60 (!) ships on screen at once. It’s surreal to see 60 ships battling for real estate on-screen, as they collide against endless waves of enemies. Mere words could not describe how chaotic of an experience it is.

Influenced by Japanese shmups and cyberpunk anime, the art direction leans hard on the unapologetic absurdity of the shmup genre. Featuring a diverse assortment of creature designs, boss fights include aliens with long tentacles for arms and worm-like monsters that slither around the screen. In this dystopian world, we see corpses of dead dolphins scattered across the ground. Nearly-nude cyborg women frequently appear in the looping backgrounds, reminiscent of the 1995 Japanese animated film Ghost in the Shell. During a major boss fight, the game reaches a new level of absurdity when a large cyborg woman shoots gunfire at you with her mechanical breasts. With some of the more risqué content, I’m surprised that the developer was able to avoid a Teen (13+) rating from the ESRB.

Visuals are clearly retro-inspired, but it’s unfortunate that a pixel-smoothing effect was applied to the sprites. Sure, the art looks high-resolution, but the effect makes the sprites appear more like blurry, scalable vectors than crisp pixel art.  It’s also disappointing that the background art wasn’t implemented with the action in a more creative, interactive way. Instead, backgrounds are merely treated as looping, static wallpaper. With that said, the visuals are clean and never distracted from the gameplay.

Designed around unique mechanics and smart ideas, Shoot 1UP DX is a cut above most standard shooters. Developer Mommy’s Best Games has successfully recaptured the magic that older Japanese shmups produced. If you’re willing to turn your brain off for an hour, Shoot 1UP DX provides the type of mindless, dumb fun that helped make the shmup genre so popular in the first place.

TalkBack / Swimsanity (Switch) Review
« on: December 10, 2020, 09:26:36 AM »

A chaotic shoot-'em-up that tries to be both a hardcore single-player game and a goofy multiplayer one.

In twin-stick shooter Swimsanity, a team of skilled underwater divers (called Moobas) fight for survival after being dropped into a dangerous aquatic world. Armed with an arsenal of weapons and power-ups, divers blast their way through countless waves of deadly sea creatures and hazardous obstacles. I found the controls to be fairly easy to learn and understand. Players swim with the left analog stick, aim with the right one and fire with the ‘ZR’ trigger. As Moobas navigate murky waters, they can pick up power-ups and upgrades such as health pickups, bombs and speed boosts. As you strike damage against enemies, your power meter slowly fills up, earning you the ability to “unleash” a special move against opponents.

Art direction feels reminiscent of old Flash games published in the early 2000s. The visuals have a low-budget, vector-based art style characterized by flat colors and no outlines. Instead of traditional frame-by-frame animations, they are created “puppet-style” with motion-tweens like a Flash cartoon. The art direction could possibly be traced back to when this game’s concept began as a senior school project in Flash way back in 2008. On a more positive note, the clean, simplistic visuals make levels more easily readable, thus making it easier to follow the chaotic action as it unfolds. I appreciate how the visuals never become a distraction that interferes with the gameplay.

Two of the game’s modes – “Adventure” and “Survival” – can be played in either Solo or Co-op. Adventure Mode has players fighting their way through large sea creatures, while Survival has you blasting away at endless hordes of enemies. In Versus, players face off in various modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Orb Rush, Team Orb Rush and Last Mooba Standing. Speaking for myself, I found the versus modes to be much more enjoyable than Co-op. Unfortunately, setting up matches through online multiplayer felt like a big chore, and finding Switch players to play against online can be a difficult task. However, I wouldn’t blame those issues solely on the developers. Indie developers are trying their best to work miracles around Nintendo’s clumsy online infrastructure.

Swimsanity feels like an awkward experience because it attempts to be different things to different audiences. From one side, Swimsanity wants to be a tough-as-nails, hardcore twin-stick shooter. It wears its brutal, unforgiving difficulty as a badge of honor, and there are no menu options to adjust the difficulty. However, from the other side, the game also markets itself as a colorful, multiplayer party game that can be played casually with a group of friends. Decoy Games struggles to balance the two sides, resulting in an experience that tries to be everything for everyone.

This problem is especially apparent in Solo mode, where the difficulty frequently feels most unbalanced. Playing solo can sometimes feel more frustrating than fun with instant deaths lurking around every corner. It’s clear that multiplayer was the main priority during development, while single-player was treated as a mere afterthought. When multiple players work together, the game’s difficulty feels much more balanced and enjoyable. But when played solo, the game suddenly devolves into a dull, unrewarding slog.

While it may lack originality and fresh ideas, Swimsanity is still able to distinguish itself from other twin-stick shooters thanks to its unique underwater setting and multiplayer gameplay. With roughly eight modes to choose from, Swimsanity can be a blast to play with a group of friends. It’s just unfortunate that it never reaches its full potential due to bland visuals, unbalanced difficulty and lackluster single-player options. Nonetheless, it should still have some appeal to anyone who’s even remotely a fan of the genre.

TalkBack / Witcheye (Switch) Review
« on: October 16, 2020, 07:49:35 AM »

A quirky platformer with major Game Boy Advance vibes.

Witcheye’s story begins when a smarmy knight sneaks into a witch’s home and steals her valuable possessions. As the knight runs off, he accidentally leaves behind a trail of gems and spell ingredients. To track down the thief, the witch transforms into a flying eyeball and sets off on an adventure across six colorful worlds (and over 50 levels). I’m a fan of how the story reverses the roles of the knight and witch, turning the standard trope upside down on its head.

Originally developed for mobile devices, Witcheye’s gameplay can be best described as “Breakout” meets the side-scrolling platformer genre. It’s not deep or complex, and it’s not an experience that demands to be played on a big-screen television. The mobile version was designed around a touchscreen where swipes and touches controlled movements. By comparison, the Switch version attempts to port those touch controls to more traditional inputs – buttons, sticks – with mixed results. Switch’s traditional controls don’t work quite as well as touch controls, but they’re still good enough to get the job done.

Getting yourself comfortable with the controls requires time and patience. Flicking the analog stick sends your eyeball flying into different directions, bouncing off surfaces wildly like a rubber ball. To regain control, you can press one of the face buttons – A, B, X, Y – to instantly stop your eyeball in its current position. Stopping your eyeball is helpful before rushing toward an enemy. For instance, some enemies have the ability to block or dodge your attacks, forcing you to attack from a specific angle or position.

Collectable gems are scattered across each level, hidden inside breakable boxes and secret locations. Many enemies are also carrying gems and must be defeated to obtain them. Boss fights are a major highlight, but don’t expect to defeat most of them on your first try. Since boss sprites tend to be very large, getting around them can be challenging. It’s important to study the movement patterns of enemies and bosses to anticipate their attacks. Each boss requires different strategies to defeat them.

The presentation almost feels like something that could’ve been developed by HAL Laboratory. Colorful visuals, cutesy characters, and cheerful music all reminded me of the Kirby series. In fact, some of Witcheye’s enemy designs wouldn’t look out of place if they were thrown into a Kirby game. Due to its rich and vibrant color palette, the pixel art looks like it was created in the vein of Game Boy Advance.

Similar to HAL’s Kirby series, Witcheye is not a long game. Most experienced players should be able to complete the game in a few hours. Speaking for myself, I found it refreshing to play a shorter, tighter game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It can be enjoyed in short bursts or completed entirely in one sitting. While some players may feel turned off by the short length and lack of depth, I appreciate and admire Witcheye’s simplicity and narrow focus. It’s a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, and it never tries to be anything else.

Moon Kid’s Witcheye is a very fun, unique twist on the platformer genre, but it could also be described as a one-trick pony. Based around a single gimmick, the gameplay gradually wears thin over the course of its brief length. And truth be told, the unique controls won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. However, Witcheye is still a very solid recommendation if you’re seeking a kid-friendly, Halloween-themed game to play this October.

TalkBack / Bake 'n Switch (Switch) Review
« on: September 29, 2020, 10:03:19 AM »

A beautiful yet half-baked multiplayer party game.

By mixing baking with brawling, Bake ‘n Switch is a multiplayer game that feels reminiscent of Team17’s Overcooked series, but it’s not nearly as addictive. Choosing from six apprentice bakers each with unique abilities, players gather bread-like creatures called “doughs” and throw them into designated ovens to score points. Bigger points are earned when small doughs are merged together to create larger dough. When doughs grow, they become heavier to carry. Racing against a set time limit, players need to punch enemies, dash across pitfalls, and avoid environmental hazards.

New concepts and challenges are gradually introduced over time. Ovens make specific requests about the types of dough they want. For example, when ovens ask for flavored dough, you’ll need to dunk your doughs into flavor pools. To make things more challenging, enemies called Mouldies can infect the doughs unless they’re swatted away in time. Sage the Witch, my favorite playable character, has a special attack where she can use her cauldron to defeat enemies.

With adorable characters and tropical environments, the colorful art direction is easily the strongest aspect. Each playable character has distinctive designs with customizable colors. I was also impressed by the gorgeous environments due to the hand-painted aesthetic. Based on the company’s history as an art outsource studio, the team’s art talents shouldn’t come as a surprise. Streamline Studios had previously collaborated with big publishers on major franchises such as Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, Gears of War, and Marvel vs Capcom.

Bake ‘n Switch features online and offline modes, but both feel severely limited. Online mode, for example, doesn’t offer matchmaking with strangers. By restricting online multiplayer to friends only, the potential pool for players becomes more limited, making it tricky to find people to play with. Realistically, the only feasible way to find online players is by joining a Discord community or a forum. Players can choose between two multiplayer modes – co-op and PvP – but only one of them feels fleshed out. While co-op is treated as the main attraction, PvP’s content feels very limited by comparison. Playing co-op online also feels awkward since there’s no convenient way to verbally communicate, due to Switch’s lack of built-in voice chat.

Unfortunately, a single-player option is currently not available. And since there’s currently no option to add CPU bots, this game can’t be played without other human beings. By comparison, most co-op couch party titles – Overcooked 2, Invisigun, Battery Jam, Super Bomberman R – all provide some type of option to add bots to multiplayer matches. Developed with Unreal Engine, Bake n’ Switch also suffers from some minor technical issues and hiccups; the framerate sometimes struggles to keep up with the action unfolding on screen. In all fairness to the developers, future updates may address and resolve some of these issues. But considering the $30 price tag, this “release now, fix later” strategy seems a bit eye-rolling.

Intended as a four-player experience, Bake ‘n Switch’s difficulty feels unbalanced (and not nearly as fun) when playing with less players. With only two players, everything feels slower-paced, less-rewarding and duller. But with four players, everything feels more frantic, chaotic, and energized. For example, earning a three-star rank – the highest rank – on campaign stages is difficult without four players. During a year of pandemics and social-distancing, how often can a person gather four players together for local multiplayer? Even in a normal year, assembling a team for local co-op can prove challenging.

Bake ‘n Switch is a visually impressive game that shines as a co-op multiplayer experience. Unfortunately, the package feels too half-baked and barebones to recommend at the moment. When compared to other similar multiplayer-centric titles, Bake ‘n Switch currently lacks too many basic options and features: no single player, no online matchmaking, and no bots. Playing with less than four players also dulls the pacing and makes the difficulty feel unbalanced. I would have been willing to forgive the lack of options if the PvP content wasn’t so limited and the framerate had been a little smoother. Young children will enjoy Bake ‘n Switch’s cartoonish presentation and casual gameplay. However, older experienced players may quickly lose interest in the simplistic, repetitive gameplay loop after a few hours.


To start, Boutin shares stories of game budgets in the '90s and working with David Perry on Cool Spot.

Note: This is a re-publishing of an old 2012 interview conducted by Emily Rogers for the defunct website known as “Not Enough Shaders”.

We would like to thank former producer/director René Boutin for giving us his time to interview him about his experiences working at Virgin Games and Sunsoft during the 1990s. He also sheds some light on what it was like working with licensors such as Disney and Warner Bros during the 16-bit console generation.

René Boutin worked on the following games during his time at Virgin Games and Sunsoft:

  • Looney Tunes B-Ball (SNES) – Producer
  • Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos (SNES) – Director, level designer, misc art
  • M.C. Kids (NES) – Sprite animator and Background Artist
  • Cool Spot (SNES) – Animation, Backgrounds, and GUI
  • Cool Spot (Genesis) – Animation, Backgrounds, Prototyping
  • Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage (SNES) – Associate Producer
  • Aero the Acro-Bat 2 (SNES) – Character designer, Play Tester
  • Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s Quest (Genesis) –  Producer
  • Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: Roar of the Beast (Genesis) – Producer
  • ACME Animation Factory (SNES) – Co-Producer
  • RoboCop VS The Terminator (Genesis) – Sprite animator
  • Daffy Duck (Game Boy) – Debugging Team

Nintendo World Report (NWR): In the '90s, you worked on both the Sega Genesis and SNES. What were the strengths and weaknesses of each of these consoles?  Which console did you prefer developing for?

René Boutin (RB): As a video game artist and animator at that time, I couldn’t help but be more enthusiastic for the SNES. It definitely had the graphics advantage.  Just off the top of my head, I remember it had a greater color palette, more colors for sprites, as many as three independently scrollable background layers, sprite transparency and of course the famous “Mode 7” rotatable/scalable background mode.

However you needed really talented programmers to push these features because the main CPU was rather underpowered and the system architecture really complex. We used to call it “fake 16-bit” because it was really a custom version of an 8-bit CPU hybridized with some 16-bit functionality. The Sega Genesis on the other hand had a true 16-bit processor, the Motorola 68000, despite being a couple years older than the SNES.

The SNES’s wavetable sound chip also gave it a big advantage with audio, and I still feel the controller was way more ergonomic than the Genesis one. So my clear favorite if it isn’t obvious already was the SNES! Let’s not forget that this era also saw the Turbo Grafix 16, and the rich kids’ favorite mega-console, the Neo Geo AES.

NWR: What were the typical budgets for most SNES/Genesis games that you produced and directed?

RB: I only had peripheral knowledge of the budgets, since that, schedules and negotiations with outside development studios were handled by the Director of Development and the General Manager. From what I recall though, Sunsoft was able to outsource development for around $125,000 to $250,000 USD range (but I may be off). That was considered a bit on the low side even then, but studios would sacrifice profits for the chance to add a big name license to their portfolio. In hindsight this seems rather unfair, but that’s the way business works I guess.

NWR: You were an animator and background artist for the game “Cool Spot” for SNES and Sega Genesis. 19 years later, and it’s still the best game based on a beverage.  Do you have any interesting stories to share about your time working with David Perry on that game?

RB: My impression of [David Perry] was that he was a fairly down to earth, serious but amicable guy who worked hard and was a really talented programmer and game director. He’s also great at PR.

Before David ever started on “Cool Spot”, I was doing a lot of early design and prototype work. I had been drawing and animating sprites for the NES game “M.C. Kids” when I was paired off with a programmer to experiment and prototype on the Super Nintendo. This programmer had no game coding experience at all and meanwhile I had all these ambitious ideas and thought I could do it all (graphics, animation, level design …)

Based on the popular 7Up Spot “surfing” commercial, I came up with this whole narrative to explain where Spot was going in the game:  First he surfs in on his bottle, he gets separated from it and ends up looking for it on the beach, into the walls of a nearby toy store, in a doll house, on a toy train, on the docks, etc. And I desperately wanted to use the SNES’ mode 7 to have a level where Spot would run along a truck wheel, trying to keep from falling off.

I created background art and sprite animations and meanwhile the programmer could barely get a character moving around, so I was left as a bit of a rogue, doing whatever I felt like with little opportunity to really test my graphics or get any real gameplay going on the system.

My memory is fuzzy regarding how many months continued like this, but eventually David Perry, David Bishop and Bill Anderson came to Virgin, as well as the talented team of Mark Kelly and Steven Crow. Their first game was “Mick & Mack Global Gladiators” and the quality of Perry’s engine and the character animation possible with it provided the catalyst for Virgin to start really ramping up the art department and pumping up the team to use the same technology on “Cool Spot”.  

The Sega Genesis version took priority with Perry in the lead, while Mark Kelly programmed the SNES version. Some of my stuff made it into the game, some didn’t fit in with the new look and was scrapped.

With David (Perry) in the lead, the game really took shape rather quickly. David was pretty good about delegating parts of the game without dictating too much creatively. When he tasked me to create the score panel and fonts for the Sega Genesis version, he explained how he needed a way to indicate different levels of player health and he wanted something fairly original (as opposed to a typical life meter). So I came up with the “peeling Spot” that gets limp and peels off the score panel the more hurt you are, and falls right off when dead. Usually a programmer would balk at having to write special code to do something nonstandard like that, but I guess he liked it.

NWR:  Is there anything else that you tell us about Cool Spot’s development?

RB: This is the commercial that inspired “Cool Spot” theme.

I’d like to mention that mucho credit goes to Virgin for providing the authorization and support for people like David Perry, Mike Dietz, and Tommy Talarico to innovate rather than rush out yet another platformer with a strict budget.

David Perry managed to program a method of swapping in sprite animation data in real-time (something no other games did before, and were thought to be a hardware limitation). And of course he programmed and directed the development of the whole game. A programmer was assigned to develop a sample-based music system, which enabled Tommy Talarico to compose tunes with more than just chip-wave sounds. A system of aligning and digitizing hand-drawn animation frames was created, enabling artists trained in classical animation to create fluid, disney quality animations which where then colored and touched up on computer. Greg Tavares and the other guys at Echidna developed an amazingly easy to use level editor that made creating levels as easy as using a paint program.

These people and many others on the team really made Cool Spot what it was.

TalkBack / Invisigun Reloaded (Switch) Review
« on: December 17, 2019, 02:44:21 PM »

An interesting take on Bomberman that makes invisibility a core mechanic.

In an increasingly crowded marketplace, indie games must constantly fight tooth-and-nail for visibility. As the eShop gets bombarded with a weekly avalanche of titles, it’s only inevitable that a few great games will slip through the cracks and go widely unnoticed. One example is Invisigun: Reloaded, a multiplayer stealth battle game from Sombr Studio that hit Switch in the summer of 2019. It’s a hidden gem that most Switch owners have probably never heard of, but they should soon discover how very good it actually is.

Over the years, I’ve played my fair share of Bomberman-inspired battle games, each with their own twists and ideas. But what makes Invisigun’s concept so unique is that all of the players are invisible, and they only reveal themselves when firing their weapon or using special abilities. To track down opponents, you must pay close attention to the environment for subtle visual clues. If your opponent walks through water, you see and hear splashes. If a player walks through sand, they leave behind a trail of footprints. As players attempt to stealthily navigate around the map, it can lead to some very intense matches and psychological mind-tricks.

Invisigun features an aesthetically pleasing art direction with colorful environments and quirky characters. More importantly, the pixel art has a very crisp, clean look that makes it easy to distinguish environmental objects from one another. That’s incredibly important in a game like this where the readability of the environment – like scanning your environment for clues – is crucial to winning matches. It also helps that the game’s maps are designed to look like a grid, making it easier to count your steps and keep track of your current position. Your character is controlled with the D-Pad as you maneuver one grid-space at a time.

As one could imagine, controlling an invisible character has a learning curve. For newcomers, the invisibility mechanic can sometimes lead to more frustration than fun, at least in the beginning. And in a fast paced multiplayer game like this, keeping up with all of the on-screen action can sometimes be challenging. Fortunately, the game offers a quick tutorial to new cadets who want to learn the ropes. And with a little practice and persistence, you’ll quickly memorize the grid-based map and learn how to avoid hazards and obstacles.

There’s an impressive amount of content packed into this game. The developers have described Reloaded as a “culmination of five years of painstaking blood, sweat, and tears” and it most definitely shows in the end product. Invisigun offers local-and-online multiplayer battles with full PC crossplay, 12 playable heroes, and a 72 playable battle maps. Battle mode features a variety of game modes – for both core and casual players – with different conditions to win. For example, in “Hunter”, you score a point for every hero killed. In the mode “Survival”, the last hero standing each round gets a point.

Unfortunately, Invisigun runs into the same problem that plagues other great indie Switch multiplayer games. Since the community around Invisigun is still small and growing, finding players for online matches can be difficult. However, there are ways to easily get around this issue. Invisigun allows you to create multiplayer matches with bots if you can’t find real players. Secondly, you can join Invisigun’s Discord channel to organize matches with other friendly players.

If you prefer playing alone, there is a mode called “Hero’s Journey” that offers single-player campaigns specific to each hero. These campaigns contain puzzles and boss fights. Once you have gained enough practice from the single player campaigns, you should feel confident enough to test your skills in multiplayer. With that said, while I enjoyed the single player campaigns, they often felt too repetitive for my tastes. Invisigun shines brightest when it focuses on multiplayer, embracing its Super Bomberman influences as a social party game.

Overall, Invisigun stands tall as one of the most unique multiplayer experiences available on the Nintendo Switch. Featuring a variety of multiplayer and single player modes, there’s plenty of value being offered in this tiny package. For the past two decades, Nintendo has tried to make the case that dual screens – DS, 3DS, Wii U, GCN/GBA connectivity – were necessary to create unique multiplayer experiences. But Invisigun: Reloaded makes a convincing argument that innovative multiplayer experiences can still be created with only a single screen.

TalkBack / Could A VR-Related Switch Announcement Be Approaching?
« on: February 15, 2019, 08:05:00 AM »

The breadcrumbs have been laid out and sources have told us VR could be coming to Switch soon.

Nintendo World Report believes that Nintendo could make its first VR-related announcement as early as this year, according to multiple sources. We also believe that a small, select number of traditional first-party software titles may receive VR support in the not-so-distant future. While this news may surprise some, Switch’s VR capabilities have been public knowledge for quite some time. Last year, CNET reported that data miners had discovered a screen-splitting “VR mode” hidden within Switch’s system firmware.

Over the years, Nintendo executives have tried to downplay the company’s interest in VR. In an interview last year, Philippe Lavoue, Managing Director of Nintendo France, expressed doubts that VR can appeal to the mainstream. “Consumers are not patient with entertainment if you’re not able to deliver an all-inclusive package,” said Lavoue.

However, there is mounting evidence that suggests Nintendo is actually very interested in the technology. In June 2016, Digitimes reported that Nintendo had delayed Switch’s launch to March 2017 to enhance the console with Virtual Reality (VR) capabilities. During that same year, it was also revealed that Nintendo had filed a patent application for a head-mounted display that could house Switch’s tablet screen.

Four months ago, Reggie Fils-Aime, President and COO of Nintendo of America, confirmed to Ars Technica that the company was actively experimenting with Virtual Reality for its software. And in a 2017 interview with Nikkei, former Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima stated that the company had been studying the possibility of adding VR to the Switch.

Furthermore, Anime News Network reported last month that 13 Japanese companies established a joint enterprise named “VRM Consortium.”  The enterprise’s goal is to develop the international virtual reality business. Nintendo is currently participating as an “observer” of this newly-joint enterprise. Participating companies include Unity Technologies Japan, Dwango, and Crypton Future Media.

All of this wasn’t even Nintendo’s first brush with VR. Nintendo’s ill-fated Virtual Boy might not have been a success, but when it was released in 1995, it was advertised as a “portable console” capable of displaying “true 3D graphics.” Unfortunately, that description didn’t quite match (virtual) reality. The system was far too large and bulky to ever be considered truly portable, and the monochromatic graphics were limited to a red-and-black color palette. The box was plastered with warnings about how playing too long could eventually lead to health issues. Virtual Boy would go down in history as Nintendo’s worst selling console, getting discontinued after less than a year.

It’s been 24 years since the release of the Virtual Boy, and technology has gone through much advancement since then. Two months ago, IDC issued a report that the VR market received a 8.2% year-over-year growth during the third quarter of 2018. IDC believes spending on VR and AR products and services will increase by 69% this year. Nielsen-owned SuperData Research predicts 2019 will be the year when virtual reality actually goes mainstream. SuperData are also anticipating growth of mobile augmented reality over the next few years due to Google and Apple.

Nintendo might have been absent from the VR wars of the past few years, as companies like Sony and Oculus wage war, but chances are good that we will see Nintendo enter the fight at some point in the near future. If their past is any indication, it very well might hark back to the age-old Gunpei Yokoi quote: “lateral thinking of withered technology.”

TalkBack / Battery Jam (Switch) Review
« on: February 04, 2019, 03:13:41 PM »

Local multiplayer and territory capturing go together like peanut butter and jam.

Battery Jam initially began development as a twenty-week student project at Savanah College ofArt and Design. It is a competitive local-multiplayer game where four robots battle against each other ina small arena for territory. Each tile is worth one point, and the winner is whoever captures the mosttiles before time runs out. Heavily inspired by the multiplayer framework of Bomberman, Battery Jamasks players to strategize inside of a maze-based environment. Players can manipulate the arena’senvironment to influence their opponent’s movements. For example, tiles can be raised to block paths,or they can be lowered into dangerous lava pits.

Each robot is armed with a blaster gun to shoot and stun their opponents. With your trusty gun,opponents can be pushed into lava pits, earning you tiles surrounding the pit. Your gun can also beuseful for destroying objects or obstacles blocking your path. One way to secure territory is by hurlingexploding cubes called Boomboxes at your opponents. When a Boombox crashes into an opponent,you’ll gain ownership of nearby tiles surrounding that explosion. If a Boombox explodes without anycasualties, then it will create a large lava pit.

The gameplay has a surprising amount of polish for something that began life as a small studentproject. Controls are fast and responsive, and each of the gameplay mechanics are well-designed.Sometimes game developers can become overly-ambitious, biting off way more than they can chew. ButBattery Jam’s polish is a result of narrowing down the scope by focusing on smaller, tighter game design.In an interview, the developer explained, “We had seen a lot of other student games and one piece offeedback we heard from guest speakers and alumni was always something along the lines of "buildspace invaders, not GTA."

Visually, Battery Jam has a very clean, colorful presentation, making it easy to keep track of allthe chaotic action. Whereas UI junk cluttered the screen in Nintendo’s Flip Wars, Battery Jam does abetter job at integrating UI information into the game’s environment. Flip Wars also had an inconsistentart direction that looked like something straight out of the WiiWare era. By comparison, Battery Jam’sart direction features a bolder, more vibrant color palette. There are also some very impressiveenvironmental animations where the arena will go through cosmetic or structural changes.

Unfortunately, Battery Jam is anemically low on content, even for a small budget indie title.With only eight levels to play, and only two modes to choose from, local multiplayer feels very limitedand bare-bones. ‘Team Jam’ groups players into teams, while ‘Classic Jam’ is a free-for-all mode that pitseveryone against each other. Unlike Super Bomberman R, there is no reward system or extras in BatteryJam that motivates players to keep playing well. No unlockable modes, no unlockable levels, noleaderboards. What you see is what you basically get.

It’s difficult to take Battery Jam seriously as a competitive multiplayer title when it doesn’t evensupport online multiplayer. Sure, it’s a solid-enough couch multiplayer title, but it’s competing againstSwitch’s library, which is filled with titles like Super Bomberman R, Splatoon 2, Rocket League andOvercooked 2. Even Flip Wars made an attempt at an online mode. I applaud the developers for creatinga strong local multi-player game, but the absence of online multiplayer isn’t something that can beeasily overlooked. On a more positive note, you can play the game solo by adding multiple AI bots withfive levels of difficulty.

Battery Jam is an addictive local multiplayer title with colorful visuals and a polishedpresentation. But as enjoyable as the gameplay is, it’s difficult to recommend it over other multiplayertitles when the amount of content here feels so paltry and limited. The lack of online multiplayer wouldbe easier to excuse if local multiplayer had a little more meat to it. With that said, it’s still a verycompetently made indie game that’s fun to play in short bursts. Just don’t expect too much depth fromthe gameplay.

TalkBack / Steven Universe: Save the Light (Switch) Review
« on: December 05, 2018, 08:39:58 AM »

An enjoyable RPG in the Steven Universe world.

Steven Universe: Save the Light shares many similarities with South Park: The Stick of Truth.  For starters, both are licensed games based on hugely popular animated television shows. But more importantly, both are turn-based role-playing games heavily inspired by the gameplay, aesthetics, and humor of Nintendo’s Paper Mario series. More specifically, the first two installments of the series: Paper Mario 64 and The Thousand-Year Door.

To create an experience that captures the cartoon’s tone and spirit, showrunner Rebecca Sugar co-wrote the story and dialogue for Save the Light. For those not familiar with the TV series, Steven Universe is a coming of age story about a young boy (Steven) who befriends magical guardians known as the Crystal Gems.

Save the Light’s story begins when a villainous Gem, named Hessonite, steals Steven’s Prism with plans to use it as a weapon. As Steven embarks on his new adventure, he is accompanied by his best friend, Connie, as well as his guitar-wielding father, Greg. Along your journey, members of the Crystal Gems – Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and Peridot – join Steven’s party. Members of your party can be changed at any time, except for Steven, who can’t be removed from the group.

Similar to the Paper Mario series, Save the Light presents characters as flat 2D paper cutouts roaming around colorful 3D environments. It’s an absolute joy to see locations from the TV series recreated with a gorgeous cel-shaded art direction. Interestingly enough, the game’s character designs went for a more simplified, less-detailed approach than the TV series.

I found the fixed camera system to be frustrating. With no control over the camera, it’s easy to get yourself accidentally stuck behind environmental objects. This gets even more annoying because all four characters in your party are onscreen at once. The fixed camera system can also make things awkward during sections that introduce platforming elements.

Timed attacks are part of Save the Light’s combat system. When a yellow star appears, pressing the A button triggers a bonus attack. Characters can also block enemy attacks by pressing A when a star flashes. Characters can’t make their next move until their Star Meter ring has filled. Once the ring fills completely, new star points are added.

After winning battles, your team members receive skill points that can be used to improve four upgrade categories: Attack, Defense, Luck, and Teamwork. Upgrading Teamwork, for example, improves relationship building between your characters. This leads to more frequent fusions and team attacks. Fusions occur when two Gems combine their powers together, allowing them to dish out significantly higher damage. There is also a badge system where playable characters can wear different badges to enhance their abilities. For instance, wearing an “XP Badge” will help a character gain XP 15% faster, while an “Attack Badge” increases attacks by two.

Back when Save the Light first released in late 2017, the game suffered from numerous technical issues. In fact, some media outlets described the game as being completely broken and almost unplayable. Since then, developer Grumpyface Studios has released at least four patches to fix most of these issues. In November 2017, the developer released a patch to resolve freezes and soft locks occurring during battles. The game received another patch in June that fixed bugs and added performance improvements. This begs an important question: If the game has been patched multiple times on other platforms, how does the Switch version perform?

During my playtime, I had not encountered any freezes, crashes or game breaking bugs. It seemed to be running rather smoothly in both docked and portable mode. However, there’s a noticeable lack of polish throughout. Even with multiple patches, minor bugs are still frequently present during battles. Characters sometimes clip through walls or objects. Loading times can also feel overly long when you’re entering or exiting areas.

Despite a frustrating camera system and some minor technical issues, Steven Universe: Save the Light is still a highly enjoyable role-playing game that will appeal to both fans of the TV series, as well as fans of the genre. Thanks to some assistance from Rebecca Sugar, the show’s creator, it perfectly captures the television show’s colorful tone and optimistic spirit.  Steven Universe and South Park are both examples of licensed games adding their own unique spins on the Paper Mario RPG formula – and succeeding admirably.

TalkBack / Pinstripe (Switch) Review
« on: November 14, 2018, 08:15:48 AM »

A short and haunting tale about one’s personal Hell.

Thomas Brush’s Pinstripe is a puzzle platformer about an ex-minister named Ted who journeys through Hell in search of his three-year-old daughter, Bo. In most religious and mythological stories, Hell is commonly portrayed as a physical place where sinners are punished with fire and brimstone. But Pinstripe envisions Hell as a cold, barren place with snowy landscapes and quirky characters. This isn’t just any generic depiction of Hell that we’ve seen a million times before – we’re entering Teddy’s personal hell. And what greater hell is there for a parent than to lose a child?

Inspired by classic Henry Selick films such as Coraline and The Nightmare before Christmas, Pinstripe’s atmosphere strikes a pitch perfect balance between charming and disturbing. The art direction is beyond gorgeous with its hand-painted environments and beautiful scenery. It’s a world that looks like it came straight out of an illustrated children’s book. Equally impressive is the soundtrack that syncs perfectly with the visuals.

Our story begins on a train during a snowy winter night. Bo wakes her father to play detective and investigate a strange smell on the train. “You can be Sherlock,” says Bo.  “You got it, Watson!” responds Ted. These light-hearted daughter-father exchanges between Bo and Ted are utterly delightful. However, the tone quickly turns grim once a shadowy figure named Mr. Pinstripe is introduced. When Pinstripe kidnaps sweet, innocent little Bo, Ted must trek across a frozen afterlife to rescue her.

While a kidnapping plot might seem cliché, it provides a launching pad to learn more about Ted as a person.  Why would an ex-minister – a man of the church – wind up in Hell of all places? When you really break down the story, this is essentially about a father confronting his personal demons, facing his deepest regrets and asking for forgiveness. That even includes asking for forgiveness from his daughter. At one point, Ted becomes reunited with George, the family dog. George sniffs around for clues, digging up buried personal items from your past. And since this is Hell, it should come as no surprise that your loyal canine companion is now able to talk.

During development, Brush believed that simplistic, casual gameplay could help make players focus more on the atmosphere. “Simple gameplay is the cornerstone of Pinstripe, and was the goal from the start,” he explained in his Kickstarter campaign. “The goal of Pinstripe is to make you feel like a kid again without being bogged down with stuff that is confusing and unnecessarily.”

Early on, Ted climbs up a large tree where he finds Bo’s toy box hanging from a branch. Inside the toy box contains a slingshot that can be used for killing enemies and solving environmental puzzles. The majority of the puzzles can be solved in five minutes or less. Enemies are also rather easy to defeat and don’t pose much of a threat at all. Most skilled players should be able to finish the game in two hours or less.

Unfortunately, not everything about Pinstripe works. Backtracking can be a momentum killer during the second half. The worst pacing issues tend to occur around the middle portion. The controls are very easy to learn, but if I had one nit-pick, the platforming tends to feel floaty and imprecise. This isn’t a huge problem considering how Pinstripe doesn’t rely much on precision platforming like similar games.

After I had finished the game, I was surprised to learn how many famous YouTube Let’s Players were involved with the voice acting: PewDiePie, Jacksepticeye, and Ross O’Donovan and Danny Avidan from Game Grumps. Normally, a voice cast full of YouTubers would have instantly pulled me out of the game’s world, but I was genuinely impressed with some of their performances. I would have never guessed that they were the voices.

When Pinstripe focuses on emotional storytelling and rich atmosphere, it presents a haunting-yet-beautiful adventure game that’s worth playing. But when it tries to artificially pad its length with backtracking, that’s when the game begins to drag itself down. With a unique setting and memorable characters, Pinstripe is an extremely short but unforgettable experience that will continue to linger in your mind long after it’s over.

TalkBack / Debris Infinity (Switch) Review
« on: October 22, 2018, 03:11:30 AM »

A blend of Asteroids and Geometry Wars made by a single person hits Switch.

When Asteroids released in 1979, the popularity of science fiction films had risen and American audiences were growing hungry for stories about space travel. By 1981, Asteroids had become the most popular coin-operated game in the United States, eventually outearning Space Invaders. Asteroids also became one of the most imitated games in the medium, spawning numerous clones. Fast forward 40 later, and many modern games are still imitating it.

New Switch game Debris Infinity wears its influences on its sleeve, clearly inspired by both Asteroids and Geometry Wars. Similar to Atari’s Asteroids, Debris Infinity has the player take control of a spaceship in an asteroid field, blasting objects into tiny fragments and pieces. The game controls like most standard twin-stick shooters; the left stick moves your vehicle, while the right fires in multiple directions.

Controlling your spaceship feels smooth and responsive. Maneuvering around obstacles never feels like a chore and mechanics are also quite easy to grasp. When feeling cornered, players can press ZL to unleash a bomb attack that temporarily wipes all enemies off the screen. Another useful ability is the power to slow down time, making it easier to kill enemies with more precision and accuracy.

From the neon-lit vector graphics to the glowing particle effects, Debris Infinity tries very hard to imitate Geometry Wars’ presentation. Even the pulsing electronic dance music in the background will remind you of Geometry Wars. With that said, the visuals are colorful and vibrant, and the overall presentation feels very polished. When it comes to performance, the game plays equally well in both portable mode and docked mode. I never noticed any moments where it stutters or lags.

Players can choose between three modes: Normal, Time Attack, and Power Wave. In Normal mode, players must survive an onslaught of enemies for as long as they can. In Time Attack, players aim for the highest score in a limited amount of time. Finally, there’s Power Wave, where players must destroy an onslaught of enemies to obtain more time.

Gameplay is simple enough to learn, but don’t expect to pull off any impressive scores without a basic understanding of the scoring system. Points are rewarded based on how many combos, streaks, and chains are executed. Streaks occur when players kill enemies without taking damage, whereas chain bonuses are triggered when multiple enemies of the same color are destroyed. It would have been helpful if Debris Infinity had a tutorial mode to explain to new players how this complex scoring system works. On a more positive note, the game features online leaderboards, where players can upload and share their high scores with the rest of the world.

As much as I enjoyed my time with Debris Infinity, some minor nagging issues hold it back. The overly large UI ring encircling your ship felt distracting – especially since it’s the same glowing white color as some of the asteroids. In terms of audio, the sound design feels very lacking and incomplete. It’s missing sound effects during certain events, and I wish the music selections were more memorable. That’s unfortunate because high quality sound design can help players keep track of everything that’s happening on the screen.  

Another issue is the HD Rumble implementation in portable mode. It feels more jarring and distracting than immersive. Not only does the vibration feel too powerful, but vibrations occur too frequently (almost non-stop). Sometimes vibrations would trigger even during the most minor, inconsequential events. Fortunately, there’s an option to disable controller vibration in the game’s main menu.

Although Debris Infinity lacks originality and creativity, it’s still a competently made game with solid controls, addicting gameplay and high replay value. If you’re currently seeking a game that can be played in short bursts, or if you need something to scratch that Geometry Wars itch, then Debris Infinity is one of the best arcade-style shooting titles on the Nintendo Switch.  It’s also worth noting that the game’s programming, art and design was all done by one person. While it may not be the most ambitious game on the eShop, it’s definitely an admirable effort.

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