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TalkBack / Maneater (Switch) Review
« on: May 25, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Hope you're hungry.

While many games have used sharks as a way to keep players out of the water, very few games have actually let you take control of the sharks, come on land, and eat the unsuspecting humans tanning on the beach. Maneater from Tripwire Interactive is that game, filled with campy humor and a plot that starts and ends at being derivative of Discovery Channel’s Swamp People, while offering insanely satisfying action. Even though this shark-RPG adds mechanics you wouldn’t expect from a title that’s so ridiculous, Maneater fails to make its base gameplay interesting for longer than a short while.

As the orphaned bullpup of notorious shark hunter Scaly Pete’s last catch, you’ll find yourself small and alone in a world filled with bigger fish. As you munch your way up the food chain, you’ll get to sit back and relax to the exceptional narration skills of Rick and Morty’s Chris Parnell, while seeing snippets of documentary-style takes from the cajun crusader Scaly Pete’s boat. In a story that mimics that of Moby Dick, Scaly Pete is following in the footsteps of his father as a sharkhunter. But beyond Scaly Pete and the narrator, there isn’t much in terms of story available for your shark protagonist. I mean, it’s just a newborn shark, so the story wouldn’t be extensive, but in comparison with other RPGs on the market, plot points are pretty light.

Gameplay in Maneater is a lot like eating a super rich and decadent chocolate cake. Of course it’s great at first, and you’re excited about what you’re getting yourself into, but as you continue to eat, your stomach starts to hurt and it turns into a miserable slog to try to finish it all. Button mashing is the name of the game here, where besides your directional controls and a tail whip attack, you’re stuck just spamming the right trigger to continue biting and eating prey. Since progression is tied to your size, and gaining size is accomplished through eating things, this is what you’ll be doing most of the time. To be fair, is it exciting at times when you jump up on a beach and start mowing through people or when you trigger some mega-sized boss fight? Sure, but the monotony of chumming through fish and turtles gets really boring, really quickly.

The RPG mechanics add an interesting twist to what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward experience, but they don’t go deep enough to make up for the dull, repetitive action. Adding mutations to your shark is neat, from color changes to effects your shark takes on, such as improved organs or electric attacks—it’s all interesting. But, it really is a stretch to even call Maneater an RPG due to the shallow attempt at a “skill tree.” I mean, you do grind a lot to gain levels, which is similar to some RPGs, but that’s about it.

The performance of the Nintendo Switch port is simply alright. While frame rates never seemed to be much of an issue, the lowered resolution and occasional bugs are a bummer. Resolution differences are something we’ve become accustomed to on the Switch, so that’s only really an issue depending on if you play handheld or on your TV, but I regularly encountered visual bugs that affected immersion.

With all of this being said, I still think Maneater might be the best shark game ever made. Controls are smooth as butter and keep things simple, which makes underwater traversal a breeze. When you’re starting out, the animations and visceral action on offer is extremely satisfying. And the growth pattern as you take your shark from baby to adult is a quest of revenge worth undertaking. Collectibles also make things interesting, where landmarks and a ton of other items give you a break from the incessant trigger spamming to allow you to explore a bit. I definitely enjoyed portions of Maneater, without a doubt.

While Maneater isn’t the best RPG or action title I’ve ever played, it very well could be the best shark game I’ve ever encountered. Smooth controls, collectibles and exploration, and top-notch animations make ruling the water as a great white shark all the better, but a middling, campy story with monotonous gameplay and light RPG mechanics sink this otherwise visceral shark-action title.

TalkBack / Kill It With Fire (Switch) Review
« on: May 10, 2021, 10:39:53 AM »

Arachnophobic Mass Murder

Some people are afraid of spiders. That's perfectly fine, but apparently developer Casey Donnellan and the publishers over at tinyBuild have a problem with spiders that far exceeds the norm. Kill It With Fire is a simulation title that uses first-person shooter mechanics to let you decimate hordes of spiders, whether they be in your house or infesting a local gas station. While the premise is simple and doesn’t offer much in terms of story (where’s my spicy spider lore?), the arcade-like gameplay on offer with Kill It With Fire allows for a spectacular fireworks show that is equally impressive and just plain old-fashioned fun.

While we don’t have much information about our protagonist, we do know that he completely despises spiders. Like, to an obnoxious level. Weapons range from a book or hairspray-flamethrower, all the way up to rocket launchers and machine guns. Clearly this dude has some issues, but regardless, the spider-hate begins and ends there. Sticking to arcade-style shooter mechanics and exploration, the potential story that could have accompanied this unique premise died on the vine. Just like all the spiders.

Gameplay consists of being given a sandbox to move around in, having dozens of spiders thrown into various hiding places, while you’re entrusted with a toolbox of weapons that’d make Rambo blush. The first-person perspective makes the explorative mechanics more interesting, and stays true to the best way to shoot guns in video games. As you upgrade your arsenal, it makes more and more sense why this perspective was chosen, as things go continuously more off the deep end with the types of weapons you’re given. Besides unlocking achievements and finding all the spiders and killing them, there isn’t a whole lot to do here. Each level takes you to a new environment that is interesting to look around in, but continuing to simply search and destroy spiders can get old after a little while. It’s extremely fun to go on this absurd rampage, but there isn’t a ton of content or variety, so plan on this being more of something you mess around with than an experience you spend hours and hours completing.

Exploration is where the real excitement comes in, as you aren’t just handed the spiders on a silver platter. They are hiding everywhere, so you must unlock doors and other areas in order to find more puzzles to solve, in order to get your hands on every last one of these eight-legged suckers. The puzzle-solving mechanics are simple, but they satiate enough of the need to do something other than squash spiders to keep the experience moving. From manipulating objects to discover the spiders to altering the environment, you’ll be able to figure out most of what Kill It With Fire is looking for from you.

Visually, Kill It With Fire goes for more of a cubic-PS2 era look, with high-end graphics being left at the door. This doesn’t add or take away from the experience; it’s just what’s going on. While the explosions and fire could have looked a bit cooler, that’s really the only downside.

Kill It With Fire is fun. While it’s just about as bare bones as you can get and totally lacks the variety you’d want from a more long-term experience, there’s just something about repeatedly murdering spiders in various ways that puts a smile on your face. For those looking for something simple to mess around with on occasion (or as a way to vent stress) you’d do well looking into this one, while those looking for something more full-fledged should probably keep moving down the line.

TalkBack / Cozy Grove (Switch) Review
« on: April 06, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Animal Crossing Lite

After a year saving bells and filling a museum on an island getaway, fans of Animal Crossing: New Horizons have been patiently waiting for what is to come in another year hopefully filled with content. For those who cannot fathom waiting one more second for said updates, a new challenger is approaching in the form of Cozy Grove from the prolific mobile developer Spry Fox. Following suit in the life-sim genre, this top-down adventure mixes ideas from Animal Crossing, Don’t Starve, and Spiritfarer to create a wholly unique play style that—while missing the mark of Nintendo’s juggernaut property—offers its own charming experience with the spirit world.

Washing ashore on a mysterious island is a young scout on a journey for their merit badges. This character, known as a Spirit Scout, has a mission to aid the crossing of lost souls into the afterlife, all while learning a trick or two along the way. The island in question is known as Cozy Grove and features beautifully hand-drawn environments with charming inhabitants. The ghostly citizens on this isle are walking, talking bear-folk, each with their own moody tale to uncover over the course of the days and weeks ahead. Each bear had a vocation in the once-bustling town on Cozy Grove, from letter carrier to chef, where with the help of our empathetic Spirit Scout, they may show a glimpse into the true color of Cozy Grove. The stories told by these denizens are the real experience of the game, with each having their own heartwarming path. The charm and coziness ooze throughout the coves and forests, leaving a more-than-positive impression. The only downside to it all is the length of time needed in order to reach these finalities. Even though Cozy Grove is touted as a drop-in, drop-out experience  (with the game itself even letting you know when it is time to wait until the next day for more to happen), the daily expectation and amount of time necessary to actually see things come to fruition is hard to push through based on the gameplay offered.

After meeting your home-base firepit (yes, it’s sentient), you’re left to run around the island in search of spirit logs, which the firepit eats, allowing you to expand the island and meet new characters. These are received from the bears in exchange for completing the tasks they ask of you each day. These tasks can be something as simple as catching a certain number of fish or running around looking for colored leaves, to days-long gathering and crafting of items, but regardless, this is the main portion of what each day will bring. In between, fishing, crafting, collecting, and decorating are available, much like what you would expect in Animal Crossing, just in a slightly smaller package. Rather than gifting fossils and paintings to an inquisitive owl’s museum, you show items off to a stoic seagull-bear who is on a quest to see one of every available item... for some reason. Fishing is somewhat easier, with regular fish attracted to your lure just by being in the vicinity, and the list of craftable items is not nearly as jaw-dropping. Even so, it’s obvious that the main inspiration for Cozy Grove’s day-to-day aspects comes from Animal Crossing. The art style and crafting may be closer to Don’t Starve, and the fact that an actual story takes place allows Cozy Grove to one-up Animal Crossing in that respect, but clearly, this is meant to be that mobile experience Spry Fox are known for. That isn’t a slight; it’s just that you’re truly meant to simply spend a few minutes with it each day.

Where disappointment can arise is when you try to enter Cozy Grove after spending a little too time much on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The hundreds of hours that can be spent totally customizing your island and filling it with all your decorations is something that is lost on Cozy Grove, even if you can decorate the island with a small set of items. Those long playtimes grinding bells and materials, where events come and go asking for hours of your time, are something that Cozy Grove is actively trying to avoid. Playing Cozy Grove for a few hours isn’t going to be that interesting of an experience, as the island is quite small, and progress is purposefully stalled to make it last longer. While that means it values your time as the player, it also seems to look down upon your dedication to really dig into what is available to you on this island. Never has a game of this style had me feeling so conflicted as to whether I enjoyed my time with it, simply because I am the type of person who needs to jump into the deep end; thus, the restriction left me feeling cold towards the experience. While the payoff can be momentous when you reach each character’s storyline conclusion or finally find that last fish you’ve been searching for, the voyage there is too often gated and spread out far beyond its means, taking in-game weeks to reach a single character’s full tale. Since Cozy Grove doesn’t focus on a calendar of events, this seems like the logical way to pad out the experience. However, you’re just left waiting on the edge of your seat. The bottom line is that, while immensely similar, Cozy Grove and Animal Crossing hit differently. Both give you daunting tasks, tons of hours of content, and a daily drive, but each has a different way to keep you around for those play sessions.

The greater issue comes in with the Switch port, specifically, which has some pretty serious problems. A patch is being released ahead of the launch that plans to fix most of what I experienced, but for now, the frame rates regularly dip and stutter when moving around the island and load times are absurdly long. Cozy Grove is difficult to get through as of now, and for those interested who also have Apple Arcade, it is also available there, but here’s to hoping the Switch issues are alleviated as the developers intend.

**UPDATE: Following the patch, frame stuttering was almost eliminated and load times were vastly improved.**

Cozy Grove arrives as advertised—a smaller, more story-based Animal Crossing experience with its own charms and enjoyment. Though the tasks are also just as tedious at times, the fact that Cozy Grove holds back story entries through their daily cycle, rather than fish and bugs, tastes sour at times, even if the rest of what is on offer is a bountiful harvest. For those Animal Crossing fans out there looking for something close to what you’ve already experienced with New Horizons, this is the perfect drop-in-drop-out version of that experience and is definitely a must-try title, even with the hard feelings over how long it takes to really get to know that seagull-bear.

TalkBack / Rip Them Off (Switch) Review
« on: March 25, 2021, 02:11:04 PM »

Capitalist Lemmings

Shopping in the 1950s was an entirely different beast than it is today. Between catalog shopping from Sears or Montgomery Ward and massive storefronts like Gimbel’s and Marshall Field’s, the experience of browsing and spending money was a bit more personal than today’s Amazon-laden, fast-paced way of doing things. Regardless of how it’s done, however, the capitalist machine has been raging in America since the very beginning, and Rip Them Off embodies some of that soulless corporate jargon and mentality. Touting itself as a puzzle/tower defense game, Rip Them Off mixes some interesting mechanics to create a more unique puzzle experience while nailing its charming vibes and themes. Unfortunately, arbitrary rules and a failure to have a clear solution to each puzzle simulate difficulty through confusing, trial-and-error gameplay that loses its fun factor pretty much from the get-go.

As a new member of [Company Name Here], you’re tasked with taking mindless consumers for everything they’ve got. Without legitimate branding or products, Rip Them Off tells a story while not actually telling one. Encompassing the overall mentality of corporate America, it doesn’t matter what company you’re working for or what it is you’re trying to sell—it’s all about profit. Thus, storefronts are replaced with symbols that match up with color-coded groups of consumers, where maximized efficiency is the name of the game. Minimalistic aesthetic and a 1950s art style makes Rip Them Off look the part while matched up with a top-notch jazzy soundtrack. While certainly keeping up a trendy presentation, Rip Them Off loses itself through its anonymity when introducing and employing mechanics that don’t seem to match up all the time.

The baseline experience in Rip Them Off starts with a line of consumers moving across the screen, with empty buildings allowing for the placement of “products” along their route. Consumers follow a small list of rules, like not wanting to see the same product more than once along the way, but beyond that, you’re simply trying to drain them of color, which symbolizes the amount of money they have available to spend. Storefronts placed for the consumers can have varying traits, such as more space, more selling power, or speedier checkouts, but ultimately, it all starts with trying to match the consumer’s colored marker to the proper symbol that fully takes advantage of their wallets. While the gameplay is meant to be solved through trial-and-error, a quick tutorial and a few “help” screens do clarify the main goals of Rip Them Off. However, even after trying to learn the mechanics, it doesn’t make that much sense.

Each day of progression through a puzzle, the number of consumers and amount of money available changes, which throws a wrench into the color-coded mechanic you’ve previously learned. Additionally, more difficult puzzles change things up with multiple lanes of consumers, as well as stores that can grab consumers from the various lanes. Basically, Rip Them Off is a series of math puzzles with its own created language, where you have to solve them by simply trying different solutions over and over until you get it right. What’s frustrating about having these math-based puzzles is the game tells the player not to worry about being perfectly efficient, while also not offering a full solution to each puzzle. You just have to hit your profit margin, which is nice for difficulty’s sake but doesn’t make sense when paired with a system that doesn’t work without there being concrete answers. It feels like the game asks the player what two plus two is and then allows the answer to be “more than three.”

Even though the aesthetic, soundtrack, and intelligent dialogue create a package that looks outstanding, Rip Them Off fails to come together in its puzzle gameplay. While utilizing trial-and-error can have its merits, Rip Them Off’s method of having the player learn a mathematic language that it then changes constantly just doesn’t make for a fun gameplay loop. Lacking hard solutions and ramping up difficulty before you’ve been properly taught makes Rip Them Off a puzzle title that is hard to recommend.

TalkBack / Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (Switch) Review
« on: March 15, 2021, 06:32:00 AM »

N.Odyssey of Galactic Proportions

After a 20-year hiatus, Crash is back! Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a direct sequel to 1998’s Crash Bandicoot: Warped, taking place right where the PlayStation classic left off. Keeping true to its roots, the action-platformer maintains its style, charm, and gameplay while amping up the graphics and feel to modern standards. While Crash’s facelift is fresh and exciting, Crash 4 also perpetuates some of the issues that have plagued the series since the beginning, with inaccurate platforming and irritating difficulty that will frustrate you into ripping up your favorite pair of jorts. Regardless, Toys For Bob has brought forth an authentic rendition of a gaming legend, allowing series fans and newcomers alike to experience the marsupial madness that tried to take down Nintendo’s platforming juggernaut.

With Uka Uka’s help, N.Tropy and Neo Cortex, the title’s antagonists, escape the time prison and force Crash and Coco to go on another adventure to gather the four Quantum Masks to save the multiverse from certain doom. Utilizing alternate timelines to try to change the past, these villains send our heroes on a mind-bending journey where getting help from familiar—but slightly different—faces from the series’ past titles is necessary to keep things as they are. While nostalgia tugs at the heartstrings, Crash 4’s story feels a bit scattered between the diverse eras and settings, where a Super-Mario-Odyssey-esque voyage takes place. Some series knowledge, while not necessarily needed, also helps make the connections that really bring this one together. All in all, as incredible as it is for original Bandicoot fans to see more from this eclectic cast of characters, newbies will often be left to focus on the gameplay while a lot of what is happening is lost to Crash games of the past.

Platforming in Crash 4 is a serious love-hate relationship. As the primary mode of gameplay, jumping around is obviously Crash’s thing. Paired with his iconic spin attack and special abilities like time-pausing and gravity-flipping given to him from the Quantum Masks, things stay diverse enough to keep your attention. Additional playable characters in Tawna and Dingodile add new mechanics—wall-jumping and a vacuum ability—that add to the flavor as well, making sure you’re never left bored with the actions you’re taking. The issue that comes in with the old-school style of platforming on offer in Crash 4 is that it simply doesn’t feel great. Perspective flips from 3D to 2D and directional changes where the path takes you towards the camera as well as away from it make getting into a rhythm vastly more difficult regardless of the twist that they add. Failing leads to a restart at the last checkpoint, with multiple failures forcing you to start the whole level over entirely. An easier mode is available to keep multiple deaths from forcing a level reboot, but even with that implemented, it can get pretty dicey. Combine that with level design that regularly tries to end your runs and you have a melting pot of chaos. While Crash’s platforming is a style beloved by many, it’s one that feels outdated.

Where Crash 4 makes up for its platforming woes is in its replayability. Besides the main path taken, there is an additional series of alternate timeline levels that feature the side characters Tawna, Dingodile, and Neo Cortex. These provide more context into what is happening in parallel to Crash and Coco’s quest and keep the player using these extremely-well-designed alternate characters. Flashback levels add some higher difficulty options following a found “Flashback Tape,” and the N.Verted Mode offered partway through the game allows you to replay each level backwards. On top of that, each level keeps track of crates bashed, gems found, skins unlocked, and time taken to complete the stage, allowing for a 100% completion path for those diehards out there. A multiplayer mode is also available for those looking to challenge their friends in checkpoint races and crate points. For those looking for maximum content offerings in their game purchases, you could do a lot worse than going after all the goals in Crash 4.

In terms of performance, Crash 4 runs well and looks alright. Minor frame dips in certain sections occur rarely, but the visuals are quite grainy, as has come to be the norm for most ports to the Nintendo Switch. Besides the graphical downgrade, the vibrant levels and cartoony soundtrack create an experience that series veterans will love to immerse themselves in.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time resurrects this classic series in an authentic fashion. While a modern adventure with maximum replayability is a godsend for fans, a lot of what made the original Crash games rough around the edges is also present in this iteration, with inaccurate platforming and frustrating difficulty. However, for those looking for a return to form for the Bandicoot, Toys For Bob has proven themselves yet again in this long-awaited sequel.

TalkBack / Cyanide & Happiness: Freakpocalypse (Switch) Review
« on: March 11, 2021, 02:29:16 PM »

Hardcore High School Simulator

Cyanide & Happiness has grown from popular webcomic to garnering Kickstarter fame and starting its own animated series over the course of its 16-year-run of heckling internet communities across the globe. Freakpocalypse is the first full video game release from the comedy property (a battle royale game is currently in Early Access on Steam), delving into the point-and-click genre while borrowing a lot of the tone and ideas from a similarly over-the-top animation in South Park’s The Fractured But Whole. While Freakpocalypse successfully makes the jump into the medium with more than serviceable gameplay, the constant barrage of dark, stereotypical comedy—though oftentimes funny—tries a bit too hard to pull punches with every line of dialogue, resulting in a few more sighs than laughs.

Coop McCarthy is a run-of-the-mill high schooler. Between searching for a prom date, not fitting in, and getting regularly bullied, Coop has a lot on his plate. But that isn’t enough for Freakpocalypse, as he is also treated like garbage by literally everyone in the school. Between the teachers’ outlandish psychoses, cliques, and focus on coming-of-age events, Freakpocalypse just oozes with stereotype after stereotype, often taken to the extreme. Teachers take part in the bullying, most kids won’t even give him the time of day, and the incessant name-calling is through the roof. For those familiar with Cyanide & Happiness, the commentary on how rough high school can be, taken to the nth degree, fits in with the series’ style of comedy. But for anyone who hasn’t been exposed to it, there is a lot of hurtfulness constantly blasting in you in the face.

Following the slow-paced opening section, Coop is tasked with saving the school from a gas-mask-wearing antagonist and radioactive events, which will leave this small town forever changed. Even though this pumps up the action and the fun-factor, the plot as a whole is pretty lackluster, heavily leaning on dialogue that is constantly trying to make jokes. While Freakpocalypse has several great moments that had the chuckles rolling, it also can be insensitive, racist, and out of line. As a content warning to anyone walking into Freakpocalypse without any prior knowledge, that may be something to keep in mind prior to playing.

After you move past the constant joke attempts and middling story, you’re left with a pretty simple point-and-click adventure. While keeping combinations and puzzles from being too absurd, Freakpocalypse does get a little wild when trying to, again, be funny. But in these gameplay instances, it feels less forced than in the dialogue. Running through locations repeatedly can get old while trying to find that missing piece of the puzzle or figure out where you need to go next, and the use of a cursor on console almost never translates well for this genre, but other than that, Freakpocalypse works just as well as any other point-and-click adventure, while being unique in its own way.

The use of missions helps to keep you on track while managing several puzzles at once, and the cosmetics for Coop are a fun addition, but after you get past your edgy-comedy-soaked experience, this is a pretty bare-bones adventure. While Cyanide & Happiness boasts a long history it can lean on, it just doesn’t have the chops of the franchises it tries to emulate. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that Freakpocalypse tries so hard to stay on brand that it loses a lot of what makes games interesting and comedy clever. Performing perfectly on the platform and utilizing its clown-band soundtrack are positives, but all in all Freakpocalypse sticks to the script and fails a lot because of it.

Cyanide & Happiness - Freakpocalypse is a perfectly serviceable point-and-click adventure that offers a lot of opportunities for laughter. However, unless you’re a longtime fan of their comics, the jokes can regularly fall flat as they’re pumped out in every sentence of dialogue. Between holding to basic mechanics and failing to impress past what is expected, Freakpocalypse forces you to focus on the negatives, even if there aren’t that many.

TalkBack / Little Nightmares II (Switch) Review
« on: March 03, 2021, 12:00:00 PM »

The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.

Little Nightmares’ release intrigued a player base coming off the heels of similar experiences in Limbo and Inside with its deeper descent into the macabre in genuinely nightmarish fashion. Focusing on a purer form of horror, while maintaining the dialogue-free, environmental storytelling, Little Nightmares was a grisly compliment to the puzzle-platforming-adventure genre. Little Nightmares II continues its course with a new main protagonist, holding true to its creepy roots, all while diversifying its puzzle mechanics in a similar fashion to Unravel 2, where progression is made through the use of the first title’s yellow-coat-wearing lead as your partner-in-crime. Some repetitious difficulty and a bit of clunkiness bother just enough to get on your nerves, but even so, it isn’t close to enough to dwindle away at the top-notch world on display in Little Nightmares II.

In a series of quirky heroes, Little Nightmares II follows suit with its paper-bag-wearing protagonist, Mono. Another small child, like Six from the original, Mono must also discover what has gone wrong in this world, while making his way towards a monolithic tower in the distance that is drawing in crowds of transformed monsters. Constantly escaping capture and certain death, the duo moves through iconically creepy settings on their way to enlightenment—whether a happy-ending or tragic tale. Much like the first release, Little Nightmares II perfects telling a story environmentally, where the goings-on around you reveal all you need to know about why things are the way they are, as well as what could be coming down the line. While crafting an effective story without dialogue is certainly an art, Little Nightmares II leaves a lot to interpretation, which means coming away from characters you’ve invested a lot of time into with many questions, whether you like it or not.

As you make your way through this 3D-side-scrolling hellscape, you’ll encounter puzzles that need to be solved in order to continue progressing. These generally include levers, switches, and the like that must be triggered in order to open a door or power up an elevator. To boil it down, the puzzle aspect comes into play while trying to decipher how to access said levers and buttons. Whether done through platforming across precarious heights, utilizing items around you, or a combination of several actions, that is the overall gist of it. A wrench is thrown into this cycle when you also have some mutilated corpse-monster chasing after you, which slides hiding and stealth mechanics into the equation.

Most of a playthrough with Little Nightmares II will feel primarily like a stealth-focused title. Simply running through sections of the map rarely works, forcing you to slow down and really try to solve the situation with the mechanics around you. At times, sprinting will be necessary, and outside of one brutally difficult, combat-heavy section, you’ll be utilizing evasion at all costs. Your small size plays into this mechanic, allowing you to simply run under tables or behind boxes to keep out of the line of sight of the giant antagonists.

Between the movement, platforming, and puzzle-solving, you have the makings of a perfect complement to the incredible world-building on offer in Little Nightmares II. However, some clunkiness and difficulty make these portions of the game feel pretty frustrating at times. First of all, due to your size in an otherwise large world around you and the side-view perspective, jumps can often be missed simply due to a lack of proper placement. Your jump is also limited in distance. Little Nightmares II is obviously not a platformer first-and-foremost leading to barely missing jumps that look possible.

Combat, though used infrequently, is often a bummer due to the speed at which enemies are coming at you. While an enemy sprinting at you increases the fear-factor, this can lead to regularly mistiming swings. While it’s super cool to smash some of the baddies encountered in Little Nightmares II, it doesn’t pair well with the way that saving and progression works. Specifically, an auto-save system keeps track of your progression through Little Nightmares II, where successfully making it to the next section saves your previous actions, much like other titles. What can get frustrating about the way Little Nightmares II works is that oftentimes these sections are rather long, which can mean a death can send you backward through a good portion of gameplay.

With the negative mechanics outlined above, you can see that simple mistakes in perspective can cause accidental falls, long combat-heavy sections can be tough to properly time with one-hit kills taking your character out, and puzzles with some difficulty can be failed simply by stepping out from cover too soon. Now, just so I’m abundantly clear, these portions of the game add to the anxiety and fear the title is trying to encapsulate, and most of the time this doesn’t get to the point of frustrating as failing a few times while learning your way around isn’t an issue at all. Things just go too far in certain situations where deaths can happen too easily and perfection is necessary in order to complete the section in front of you. Over the course of my eight hours or so playing through Little Nightmares II, this may have taken up twenty or thirty minutes of my time, but it hurts in a similar way to some of the hyper-difficult experiences on the market today, without Little Nightmares II trying to be one of them.

Running surprisingly well for a game with so much detail, Little Nightmares II is a grand Switch port, even with the small amount of extra graininess to it. Only rarely dropping frames, this version keeps you moving along nicely while also looking fantastic. Even if the drab and dreary settings equally invoke a more negative feel. On top of that, the soundtrack plays well into that morose experience happening around you.

Little Nightmares II successfully creates a series of titles that pair up splendidly. Through masterful environmental storytelling and world-building, Tarsier Studios steps up to the likes of Limbo and Inside to invoke a creepy, horror experience that will force its way into your memories. Even with some frustrating sequences and some perspective clunkiness, Little Nightmares II gets a helping hand with all the other ways it exemplifies the genre.

TalkBack / Tohu (Switch) Review
« on: February 11, 2021, 02:47:11 PM »

Wild worlds of wonder.

Point-and-click adventure games have been a mainstay since the LucasArts days and have maintained relevance through the likes of Telltale Games and Double Fine. Holding true to their formula, Tohu presents a whimsical journey of a protagonist simply referred to as The Girl along with her mechanical buddy Cubus. This duo must save fish-shaped planets in their solar system, as well as their wacky inhabitants, before it’s too late. Through classic puzzle gameplay and some of the best art on the Nintendo Switch, Tohu finds its place among the better titles in the genre, despite its short runtime.

A mysterious figure is wreaking havoc across the planets of this peaceful galaxy, setting up the end of the world by breaking the Sacred Engine, which keeps life chugging along. Between The Girl and Cubus’ puzzle-solving acumen and the help they get from the various lifeforms they encounter, the pair will try their best to stop this cloaked figure and put an end to their dastardly deeds. When compared to some of the greats from the adventure catalogue, Tohu would probably be found as one of the less story-intensive, with that baseline story keeping the plot moving with a cast engaging in minimal dialogue. Due to the length, however, Tohu doesn’t overstay its welcome with its so-so storyline.

Tohu has the player attempt numerous item-based puzzles while navigating beautiful lands and meeting interesting creatures. The loop involves finding and collecting a set of pieces that fit together in some way to allow for progress. Sometimes an oft-maligned portion of this genre, these items can fit together in completely incomprehensible ways, but luckily, Tohu helps players maintain their sanity, without any “light bulb + screwdriver = motor” shenanigans. A vast majority of what you’re doing is logical, outside of the otherworldly devices as a whole. Because of this, the puzzle-solving aspect stays within the realms of doable, while offering a really in-depth set of hints via a lock picking-esque minigame. Since the story can move along at a good pace, and the sets of puzzles remain fair, Tohu stays above the most-common argument made against the genre—completely illogical solutions.

Besides the length and mild-mannered story, the only other real flaw present might come if playing in docked mode, where you’re forced to use cursor-based movement and clicking. Never something you would like to see on a console, it is understandable based on this method being an easier stopgap compared to retooling the whole interface. The touch screen can be utilized in handheld mode, alleviating the issue, but it’s something to take note of for those looking to play with Joy-Cons or Pro Controllers.

Tohu might be the prettiest game I have played on the Nintendo Switch, not because of high-end graphics or realistic landscapes, but because of the amazing quality of the art. The cartoon-like animations and quality wowed me from start to finish. Performing well across the board on top of that allowed Tohu to be a visual spectacle, while also setting the proper mood to go with these beautiful worlds via Christopher Larkin’s (of Hollow Knight fame) world-class soundtrack.

Tohu is a beautiful and fresh iteration on one of gaming’s old school genres. Cursor-based movement in docked mode, a short playtime, and shallow story aren’t enough to hold back the top-notch art and animations, intelligent puzzles, and incredible soundtrack from creating a memorable experience from beginning to end. For those fans of LucasArts and Double Fine, Tohu is worthy of your time, while probably not changing the minds of those who haven’t discovered the secret of Monkey Island or defeated those dreaded tentacles.

TalkBack / Olija (Switch) Review
« on: January 28, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

Harrowing harpoon high jinks.

Stories of love and adventure have been a part of not only gaming but also worldwide culture as a method of storytelling for generations. From Captain Ahab’s voyage to take on the legendary white whale to insurance agents attempting to decipher the whereabouts of wayward crews in Return of the Obra Dinn, tales of the seafaring variety have intermingled with these longstanding stories as well. Olija brings together many of these ideas in a button-thumping action-platformer that has the famous Lord Faraday attempting to rescue his lost crew following a mysterious shipwreck. Even with some of the technical hiccups aboard this voyage, and some middling gameplay, Olija excites with the possibility of what could be beyond the horizon and what boss fight could enthrall you next.

On a seemingly eastward passage across the sea, Lord Faraday and his valiant mates have crashed upon the shores of Terraphage, a treacherous country with enemies at every turn. Following his duty and honor, Faraday takes to finding and reclaiming his missing companions, but that is only the beginning of this rollercoaster of an adventure. After making friends with the citizens of a local village and finding a legendary harpoon, Faraday comes across a beautiful maiden named Olija, whom he swears himself to while on his quest. Between entities trying to recapture the harpoon, otherworldly monsters, and the exploration of each corner of this realm, you are placed on a pilgrimage of enlightenment. While other sections of Olija may falter, the story is outstanding from top to bottom. Between the classic ideas present from novels and cinema and the clear Eastern storytelling influence, Olija captures everything you’d want to see from a platformer of this variety to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The other premiere portion of Olija comes in its boss sections, where you’re left to deal with oozing monsters from the abyss and harpoon-hunting baddies alike. These longer sequences of fighting allow for a puzzle-solving aspect to emerge that makes them well worth completing. While they may not top some of the better boss fights you can imagine, they make the journey a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

In terms of the basic gameplay sections in Olija, things simmer down quite a bit between the story sections and boss fights. Platforming is kept interesting merely through the use of the harpoon’s teleporting ability, which, when thrown at certain enemies, allows you to zoom towards them. Otherwise, this portion of Olija, as well as the button-mashing combat, are fairly lackluster. Different weapons and ability-gifting hats can keep things from growing too stale, but beyond not being boring, Olija’s movement and fighting style leave a lot to be desired.

The hub-world village you slowly unlock allows for a satisfying rate of expansion and progress, but again, it doesn’t feel like something that wows in a world of incredible indie adventures. Characters are interesting and dialogue is well-written, but not enough is given to the ability and weapon portions of the game to allow for your home to be as useful as you’d like.

Taking these negative aspects of Olija and pairing them with some technical hiccups on the Nintendo Switch port means this may, yet again, not be the best place to play this title. While the frame rate drops I experienced mostly took place in menus and cutscenes, it was enough to be disappointing regardless. While a day one patch is on the way following Olija’s release on other consoles and PC, the Switch patch will come sometime after release, and even then it doesn’t mention these frame dips. It is nice that some of the other bugs found will be fixed up hopefully soon after launch, but performance is something to keep in mind.

Olija’s soundtrack is fantastic, with influences from Flamenco and traditional Japanese music; this one mixes such an interesting group of sounds together for the adventure. Graphically, Olija has a great, simplistic pixel art style to it that will keep those retro nostalgia nuts chomping at the bit.

Olija has a wonderful story to tell that takes influence from some of your favorite seafaring adventures. While the technical hiccups can be disappointing and the major portion of the gameplay can feel unexciting, the boss fights and story sections bring to life a drab and dreary world that I would thoroughly enjoy seeing more of after the patches roll out.

TalkBack / Boot Hill Heroes (Switch) Review
« on: December 23, 2020, 10:49:03 AM »

Spaghetti Western that needs more sauce.

A western JRPG might be an oxymoron in terms of gaming descriptors, but Boot Hill Heroes fits the bill regardless, with its Wild West setting and influences from some of the most well-thought-of JRPGs on the planet. Even though Boot Hill Heroes is the second release to grace the Nintendo Switch, it is actually to be the first installment in the series. While that may be odd, all things considered, finally getting to see the origins to round out the story is a positive, but this entry fails in most of the same areas its sequel, Boot Hill Bounties, does.

Beginning like most good westerns, a duel between good and bad with a town’s future on the line has the local sheriff going toe-to-toe with the leader of a gang. Following this ugly contest, the crime syndicate is finished (for now), but the life of the hero has ended as well. Years later, we take over as Kid, the child of said sheriff who must get a job in order to aid his single mother in keeping the homestead from falling to the bank. Life couldn’t be that simple, however, as he gets mixed up in trying to take down the gang his father died valiantly to try to stop so many years ago, along with a ragtag group of companions. Doses of humor help out, but all in all, Boot Hill Heroes is filled with tropes that have been done to death by the western genre, where the biggest surprise is that the protagonist is an actual child. Pair that with regular typos in dialogue and shallow characters, and you have a disappointing entry in a rarely used storytelling setting.

Feeling and looking like most Super-Nintendo-era JRPGs, Boot Hill Heroes follows that up with a combat system and UI that matches up as well. Definitely heavily inspired by Earthbound, this title holds onto much of what makes games of that caliber great, while failing to correct that retro jank. Besides menu navigation and movement being rough around the edges, the combat works perfectly fine. Utilizing a timer-based attack and dodge system, Boot Hill Heroes lets you plan special abilities and powerful strikes out while letting you correct course based on the enemy AI’s decisions. Even though it’s nothing to write home about, it’s probably the most enjoyable part of Boot Hill Heroes.

The item and equipment systems are the most unique portion of Boot Hill Heroes, with a stylish set of hats determining your special skills, and tons of random junk littering the world for you to gather and sell. Other than your hats, however, most of the items you use are mostly generic, drag-and-drop additions based purely on stat-boosting. It felt like nearly every screen had something available to pick up, but pairing the pixelated graphics with no real way of distinguishing decoration from usable items, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of running around spam-clicking on things constantly, which feels genuinely retro—in a bad way.

Even though the pixel art in Boot Hill Heroes is good, it couldn’t be described as great in terms of modern indie standards. Another example of something that won’t blow your mind, this one holds true to the style of SNES JRPGs, while not going above and beyond to wow the audience. On the flip side, the soundtrack is great. Filled with chiptunes and western set pieces, it really pairs well with the otherwise bland main course.

Boot Hill Heroes, though an honorable attempt to make a retro RPG in the rarely-used Wild West setting, fails to hold up to modern standards. It also isn’t a close enough homage to let those misgivings slide. A fine combat system and an on-point soundtrack aren’t enough to get past the bland gameplay, trope-filled story, and old-school jank.

TalkBack / PHOGS! (Switch) Review
« on: December 03, 2020, 09:50:20 AM »

Gotta walk together, gotta sing this song.

Multiplayer shenanigans in fantastical lands manifested through the eyes of two curious, conjoined pups awaits anyone looking for cutesy puzzle-platforming adventures in PHOGS! Following suit with split-controller predecessors, such as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, PHOGS! breaks the player’s brain as you literally must split your controller inputs between the doggie-duo, unless a player two can be found in the real world to share in the fun. Regardless of how you play, PHOGS! entertains and amuses from start to finish, even if most of what you’re embarking on (yes) is meant for younger audiences or newer gamers, where only some slight awkwardness in the controls stands in your way.

Red and Blue are the adorable pair you’ve partnered up with for this one, and if they aren’t just the goofiest good boys (or girls) you’ll have the pleasure of playing with. The worlds ahead are Food, Sleep, and Play, in traditional canine fashion, where themes and ideas couldn’t be more on the nose. The journey is filled with puzzles galore, with nothing really deep to explain Red and Blue’s origin or how they came to these lands, but all in all it’s about the journey, which is adorable at the very least.

If constant puzzle-solving is your cup of tea, then I’ve got a whole pot on the stove for you. Making your way through each stage consists of you wiggling from puzzle to puzzle, opening paths of travel, to simply find the end pipe and move on to the next area. Usually done through putting items in certain places, biting onto certain things, or utilizing Red and Blue’s ability to become a flashlight or hose, nothing fancy or tricky awaits. Considering PHOGS! is clearly meant to allow for anyone to jump in and have an enjoyable experience, that hampers those puzzle-aficionados’s hardcore brain-twisters from existing in these worlds. Even though experienced players might find PHOGS! a bit tedious with the lack of major difficulty, the “boss battles” really amp things up, and this outing is simply amusing throughout. Bark-spamming and all.

While the regular stages are engaging enough, it is the final route that really makes the whole experience worth it. While not really “boss battles” in a traditional sense, these long-form puzzle-fights have you taking everything you’ve learned from the previous areas to make your way through a magnificent structure that felt, at times, like raiding a castle or stronghold. While still maintaining enough fluff to be player-friendly, this is where the veterans will find solace.

Maneuvering this tag-team is—to be blunt—kind of a pain in single player. When playing co-op, these issues are mostly alleviated, but playing by yourself adds more frustration than a self-inflicted difficulty bump. Platforming takes more of a back-seat, at least in the classic sense, so nothing gets out of hand or needs major dexterity, but the fact that slapping around on flat surfaces feels so wonky is a little bit of a turn-off. Also, due to the necessity of using all four bumpers for biting and stretching, you are forced to regularly hold onto the controller in a less-than-traditional way, which felt odd to this reviewer. To be fair, split-control schemes like this aren’t the norm, but regularly needing to think about how you need to manipulate your hands rather than the characters in the game isn’t ideal (think I Am Bread or Octodad: Dadliest Catch).

The soundtrack is whimsical and relaxing and the art style a simple, pastel landscape of fun. Every section of the game offers interesting characters to meet and beautiful sections to stare at, making the adventure even more worth frolicking through. Besides a couple of slight hiccups in frames during load times, performance maintained well enough throughout as well.

PHOGS! is as delightful as it is unique and entrancing. While the controls are a little tough to get the feel of for solo-players, teaming “pup” with a friend allows for an experience that, though mostly on the easy side, guarantees the player a thoroughly good time—especially in the boss stages.

TalkBack / Sniper Elite 4 (Switch) Review
« on: November 16, 2020, 06:00:00 AM »

The brutality of war continues.

Shooters are an essential part of gaming and date back to the early beginnings of the medium. Through gaming’s evolutionary path, first-person shooters have dominated the market, where an emphasis on multiplayer and historic set-pieces has become a core principle of the genre. However, some divergence from the norm is a good thing, and the Sniper Elite series has transformed the WWII shooter into a tactical sniping extravaganza with an emphasis on stealth. Sniper Elite 4 is the third (non-Zombie) entry to make its way onto the Nintendo Switch, and this most recent release continues to create top-notch experiences despite some technical hiccups and a failure to innovate on prior iterations.

Continuing to masquerade as Karl Fairburne—American sniper—Sniper Elite 4 drops the player at the conclusion of the third title to carry on Karl’s bloody path across the globe. Heading north following his African campaign, Karl Fairburne makes his way to Italy to try and stop one of the top Nazi scientists from developing a powerful new weapon. Along the way, he gets help from an underground militia trying to expunge the Nazi presence, known as the Partisans, and together they push against the occupation. With all the high-profile targets we’ve become accustomed to hunting in the Sniper Elite series, Sniper Elite 4 carries on with this tradition while adding some interesting alterations to history. While this explosive path through Italy maintains the overall story and keeps the oft-straightforward shooter genre on its toes, Karl shows his lack of true star power in this iteration through an increase in dialogue and a closer look at what makes him tick. As a mostly gruff, no-nonsense protagonist, Karl captures that tough-guy persona regularly used in action titles, while failing to let him add any sort of substance to the path of destruction he’s unleashing. Beyond just his character, the cast presented and story on offer could easily be considered among the better ways to experience World War II in video-game form.

While the gameplay of Sniper Elite 4, and the series as a whole, feels similar to something like Metal Gear Solid’s more recent entries, it is otherwise unique in its portrayal of the WWII shooter. Mixing stealth, sniping, and—ultimately—player choice, Sniper Elite 4 presents large sandboxes filled with hidden documents, caches of supplies, and all the Nazis you could ever want to use for target practice. Even though the sniping elements take precedent, the use of automatic weapons, pistols, and shotguns offer alternative approaches to an otherwise one-dimensional set of ideas. Explosives and destructible portions of the environments add additional ways to change things up while making your way from objective to objective on each stage. Various difficulty and accessibility options turn Sniper Elite 4 into a master class in customizable experiences. Altogether, Sniper Elite 4 drops you into an arena, with potentially hundreds of enemies, allowing you to choose your path via stealth or brute force to achieve each of the objectives presented—a truly enjoyable undertaking.

Surprisingly, it holds up well in the graphics department, too. Although it is obviously a slight downgrade from the PC and other console ports, the Nintendo Switch version is free of muddy visuals and pop-in, even with the massive sandbox on offer. At times, frame rates can dip, and I encountered a bug where my character was stuttering after climbing a hill, but a quick save and restart alleviated those issues. Outside of some occasionally awkward character models, cutscenes look outstanding, truly showing off this realistic vision of Italy. When you consider the number of AI bopping around, Sniper Elite 4 is definitely a showcase in proper Switch porting.

Where the graphics really shine is in the slow-motion kill sequences that the Sniper Elite series is famous for, where—in Mortal Kombat fashion—your bullet enters the enemy’s body in gorey glory, splitting and spraying anything it comes into contact with. These graphic cutscenes are what sets the Sniper Elite games apart from the rest, but for those that wish to focus on the gameplay, they can be switched off to ease those weak stomachs out there. While simply a quick snapshot following a trigger pull, these scenes are fascinating and horrifying displays of what damage can be done to the human body with a bullet.

Offering multiplayer and co-op options, Sniper Elite 4 pads out the already dozens-of-hours-long campaign with the option to take your skills to the worldwide web. Overwatch and Survival modes allow for local or online friends to gather and blow up as many heads as possible, while also offering the opportunity to play story missions as a tag-team as well.

Sniper Elite 4 takes its perch as the marquee, non-arcade sniping title on the market. Through its strategic gameplay, disgustingly explosive kill cutscenes, and jam-packed sandboxes, Sniper Elite 4 satiates the need for a World War II shooter, while not getting dragged down by the norms of the genre. Even with some technical hiccups and a less-than-likable protagonist, Sniper Elite 4 achieves, takes aim, hits its mark, and then some.

TalkBack / Descenders (Switch) Review
« on: November 06, 2020, 08:49:37 AM »

Speed, Tricks, and Airtime!

Everyone who grew up in the early 2000s remembers the skateboarding craze—embodied by legendary skater Tony Hawk. The BMX offshoots of those titles came from the likes of Mat Hoffman and Dave Mirra, where similar trick-laden gameplay warmed our hearts and our PlayStations. Today, skateboarding and cycling are a bit less prevalent, but a recent resurgence has granted us the pleasure of returning to some of these experiences on current-gen hardware. Descenders is one such title that takes downhill mountain biking specifically and creates a procedurally-generated roguelite. Between the adrenaline-inducing speed, jumps, and tricks, Descenders is entertaining and unique to a genre that is usually predefined, but some rough graphics and gameplay elements that can be skipped entirely make for an experience that loses some excitement when the difficulty ramps up.

As a newcomer to the scene, you’re given control of a rider on a mission to gain as much rep as possible, while courting sponsorship from a few professional teams. The story created is all on your shoulders, since Descenders leans more into simulation than triumphant tale of adventure, but that’s what most sports games are all about anyways. Fast times, high scores, and farthest progression possible are the name of the game.

The basic premise starts with the player at the top of a large hill or mountain, followed by holding on for dear life while moving towards the checkered flags at the bottom of said mountain. In between, you will find yourself hitting jumps, utilizing a small selection of tricks, and taking advantage of the big air gained to do flips. Each level’s score is calculated based on how fast you can go and how long you can maintain it, how high you can jump, and whether you make a proper landing, as well as the tricks netting you extra points. However, the biggest prize is lasting as long as possible on each overall run, where you make your way across maps from differing environments—running up your score from level to level. Runs are ended when you beef it too many times, where a health bar notifies you of how close you are to being jettisoned back to the main menu.

This mechanic, though unique, brings about a set of problems where choosing to strategically skip jumps and tough maps by simply going around the track and straight to the finish line—without repercussions—means that the difficulty and major reason behind playing Descenders is overruled by the roguelite and health mechanics. Obviously, you would be more than welcome to repeatedly bash your face into the stone walls and wooden logs if you so choose, leading to new runs, but in order to make significant progress, it sometimes feels like losing some possible reputation is worth maintaining your longevity in the run. Whether you’re playing for fun or to win means you could be looking at seriously different experiences in the career mode, which isn’t great.

Some levels take this open concept approach a step further by being more skatepark-style, rather than the majority of levels that have you heading to the country for a downhill experience. This leads to some really tough and tricky sections that need a lot more masterful work by the player, but change things up in an otherwise fairly monotonous experience. Adding in some death-defying stunts on “boss levels” where you could find yourself racing past a moving train or leaping through a ring of fire, and you start to see some resemblance to the Trials series, rather than a straight cycling sim.

Multiplayer also adds in a different dynamic, where playing with friends or randoms online can create some thrilling experiences. Whether you choose to simply race to the bottom, or try to pull off as many trick combos as possible, being able to experience it all with some buddies means that even more of your time with Descenders feels new all the time, especially when you start sporting the unlockable clothing and gear to show off your own style on the track.

Graphically, Descender on the Nintendo Switch leaves a lot to be desired. More than anything, it’s fine, but when you consider the vast majority of your time if spent in outdoor environments, the level of detail necessary to make areas look clean and impressive is tough to attain on the Switch’s handheld hardware. It’s one of those things that comes pretty commonly with ports for the Switch but is worth mentioning for those multi-consoled folks out there who would prefer a top-notch graphical experience elsewhere.

Descenders joins the reawakening of the skateboarding and cycling genres by offering a unique take on a specific form of cycling we haven’t seen in a long time. While the gameplay is thrilling and does its best to stay interesting, mechanics that are at odds with each other mean you will be forced to choose between having that exciting arcade experience or maintaining the roguelite run through the sometimes intense difficulty. Whether taken seriously or just for fun, Descenders isn’t consistent, and considering this specific port has some rough edges graphically, you may just want to focus on using it for its multiplayer.

TalkBack / ScourgeBringer (Switch) Review
« on: October 26, 2020, 01:00:00 PM »

Pissed-Off Celeste - The Heavy-Metal Warrior

Celeste’s tale of struggle and mental health touched a generation of players, but have you ever wondered what it would have been like if Celeste decided to get the emo make-up out and rage rather than whimsically travelling up that mountain? ScourgeBringer is a roguelite, action-platformer from the creators of NeuroVoider that utilizes a protagonist who looks quite similar to Celeste but reacts much, much differently to strife—taking the fight to the baddies with sword and gun. Popping along to the heavy-metal tuneage through beautifully-crafted pixellated environments is one hell of a time, even with the hardcore difficulty trying to hold you back.

As world-renowned warrior Khyra, you are tasked with attempting to solve the riddle behind the ScourgeBringer, a floating deathtrap that has caused devastation to this world. After droves of combatants have attempted to best the beasts inside it, Khyra has become humanity's best hope at toppling whatever powers are behind this menace. Most action games fall prey to getting a little front-loaded on the storytelling, while not following through with anything interesting during the midgame to keep you on the edge of your seat, but ScourgeBringer entices with just enough tidbits and discoveries from run to run to keep you wondering while offering a cast of characters that keep the interest up as well.

While navigating a grid of rooms in search for each biome’s boss fight, Khyra attacks with a combination of button-mashing strikes and strategic gunshots. Attacks refill your bullet gauge, allowing you to utilize it semi-regularly against a large enemy or to slim down a large horde that is surrounding you. Combat is fluid and fast-paced—feeling a bit monotonous at times—until you realize the bullet hell you’re facing has the protagonist zooming about each room like some sort of angelic ninja. Dashes and jumps keep the action moving at a regular clip, where more of your time is almost spent with your focus on avoidance while spamming your attacks, versus any sort of combo system you might find elsewhere. A heavy strike, special attacks, and new abilities keep things spicy, while progressively more interesting enemy types add to the flavor.

Besides acquiring Judge Blood, which is spent on permanent ability upgrades, nothing is kept through to each fresh run, including your progress, which resets to the very beginning regardless of how far you’ve made it. Fast travel abilities allow for a way around this and some really helpful accessibility options keep the frustration to a minimum if you so please. For those gluttons for punishment who want to take on this challenge organically, you’re going to have one hell of a time making it through this one. Some help from the random NPC or deciding to spend blood on a better weapon mid-run help also, but things are just too tough with a health bar that increases this slowly.

Brilliantly-colored sections and a pumping soundtrack make things feel a bit nicer while getting your ass beat, with some of the finest pixel-art animations you can find in gaming. There is nothing better than running through swarms of enemies while head-banging to some rock-and-roll and ScourgeBringer melds these together into a package that the team at Flying Oak Games should be proud of.

ScourgeBringer offers everything you’d want from a roguelite experience. Fast-paced gameplay, amazing visuals and soundtrack, and understandable systems round out a truly enjoyable experience. Some button-heavy combat and hardcore difficulty aren’t enough to damper the fun to be had in this top-notch action-platformer.

TalkBack / Foregone (Switch) Review
« on: October 13, 2020, 07:00:00 AM »

Diablo 2D

There are pros and cons to having DNA that can easily be identified through the achievements of other games. When a title feels similar to another highly regarded game, that can be positive, but it can also lead to something that lacks an identity of its own. Foregone, from prestigious mobile game developer Big Blue Bubble, is one such example that has several positive attributes, but few things that feel wholly original. With a story that seems to take inspiration from Halo, mechanics from award-winning hits like Diablo and Dark Souls, and art reminiscent of Dead Cells, Foregone could easily be the greatest game ever made. But because so much of the inspiration is transparent and seemingly duct-taped together, Foregone fails to coalesce into a product that amazes like its predecessors, even if it is still pretty damn fun.

The war-laden city of Calagan is no stranger to danger, but with a new threat at its doorstep, the citizens are forced to bring out the big guns. Known as the Harrow, this threat has the ability to revive the dead and corrupt them towards their cause, like the Flood’s place in the Halo universe. Between man and beast, the protagonist will have to fight through hordes of enemies on their way to freeing Calagan from the Harrow’s evil clutches. As the Arbiter (ahem), you’ll play as a super-soldier who must investigate the origins of the Harrow, while kicking some serious ass along the way. Beyond the world-ending enemy premise, you are given tidbits of more personal information about the Arbiter’s background throughout the game but otherwise are left to tackle the menace head-on in this action-packed title. While weaving this tale, Foregone doesn’t quite reach a point where you feel the story pays off, but considering the main portion revolves around gameplay, that is something only those heavily invested in story might be bothered by.

As an action-platformer, Foregone allows for fast and fluid combat with some platforming here and there to add to the depth of the levels. Playing fairly straightforward, it mainlines enemy after enemy into your path, where the crux of exploration and progression is based on moving forward through the swarms of enemies, not getting held back by puzzles or vertical challenges of any sort, thus making this one feel way more “action” than “platformer.” Luckily, the action is well-done, with several weapons and skills to choose from to allow for different builds to be made for the main characters based on player preference.

From getting in close with some shotgun-nunchucks to keeping things at a distance with a spear, you will have total control over how you’d like to play. Pairing that melee choice with a gun choice also adds to the strategy. Double up the close-and-personal vibes with some fast-striking daggers and a big-ole’ shotgun? Or get a little more frisky with a falchion-bow combo? Regardless it is a lot of fun trying all the weapon types out—getting a feel for them—so that you can make the decision as to what you’d like to stick with for your playthrough. From there, the loot is characterized by color (think Fortnite) and bonus attributes (à la Diablo’s magic items) that can add extra damage types or additional health. While providing a nice layer on top of the otherwise combo-laden combat, Foregone’s loot and attribute system are rudimentary when compared to something like you’d find in Diablo, based simply off of the lower number of options available across the board, but even so, it was good to have versus not having anything there at all.

Adding in some roguelike elements, Foregone offers an upgradeable skill and currency system. While dying doesn’t reset the main character or the stages you move through, you can exchange the dropped blue and gold currency for weapon upgrades and advancement in the skill tree, which persists after death. In order to complete these transactions, you must return to the starting area to work through the vendors present there. This is another mechanic that works but doesn’t feel that interesting in this format.

Finally, the art style is a beautiful swath of pixelated colors that makes each boss battle look even more extraordinary. Vistas are created quite well, which helps take away from the lacking platform design. While the detailed pixel art makes everything come to life, the monotonous set of platforms and ladders across most biomes means you’ll be doing a lot of the same tasks, even if you see extremely different things.

Foregone is a good game from start to finish. The combat provides an exciting challenge, the art style is on point, and there are just enough mechanics mixed in from various genres to keep things interesting throughout. However, following the source material of the inspirations a little too closely means Foregone can feel like a lot of good ideas that don’t come together in a fully-thought-out package.

TalkBack / Lepow 1080p USB Portable Monitor Review
« on: September 17, 2020, 09:58:54 AM »

The Switch gets even more portable!

Being able to comfortably game on the go is one of the main benefits of the Nintendo Switch hardware; thus, keeping all options on the table when planning out trips, commutes, or more, is something that those considering it will have at the front of their mind. Considering the Switch’s portable nature, it seems redundant to have a monitor on the market that would allow for connectivity with our favorite little handheld, and even though some of the main features are lost on the system we discuss most, the flexibility of the Lepow 1080p USB Portable Monitor cannot be denied.

Right off the bat, you will notice the monitor’s weight is unbelievably light, making this an ideal option for gaming outside of your normal setup. When considering space in your bag, as well as the limitations that may come from playing games in a hotel room or friend’s house, having a screen that can easily be moved around is a definite plus. Unfortunately, that light weight also comes with the downside of the monitor being a little bit flimsy when paired with its default folding cover that is utilized as its stand as well.

This stand is subpar in the nicest of terms; it regularly collapsed under the light pressure of the screen, meaning that adding some extra form of stand to attempt to keep this monitor upright was necessary. Having even the simple design of the kickstand on the back of the Nintendo Switch works well enough. The Lepow monitor could learn a thing or two, but without a more dedicated stand this monitor feels like you’ll need to rig up a setup for it, which defeats a lot of the simple purpose for it.

On the plus side, the Lepow monitor does have built-in speakers, which is rarely found in monitors at this price point. Obviously necessary for it to be considered your travel monitor, this screen has everything you need in terms of features, even if some of the finer points would benefit from some higher-quality pieces or adjustments.

Another reason the monitor falls short comes in the use of multiple cables to operate it. Using some sort of wireless connection, such as Bluetooth, would make a ton of sense, but USB-C and Mini HDMI cables are necessary for your Nintendo Switch connection. Meaning that you will awkwardly need to dangle these cords over to your already portable Nintendo Switch in order to utilize this bigger screen, which at the end of the day is the only major argument for it in terms of your Nintendo Switch.

Otherwise, this monitor would be ideal for multiple other uses. For anyone trying to game on a console that doesn’t already feature a dedicated screen and speakers, the Lepow monitor can provide gaming on the go. Also, using it for a bigger phone display, or as an additional monitor to your PC setup, are much better uses considering only a single cable needs to be run in those setups versus when using it with gaming hardware. All in all, the Lepow 1080p USB Portable Monitor is an excellent piece of hardware for the gamer looking for a partner for their PS4 or Xbox One, or for the PC enthusiast looking for a light screen to throw into their setup with minimal headaches. For the Nintendo Switch, I can’t recommend the monitor unless you are really looking for those extra inches on the screen, but as an all-around gaming accessory, you won’t find many pieces for under $200 that match what the Lepow monitor can do for you.

Score: 7/10


The lightweight design is incredible considering what all it features.

Built-in speakers are a major plus.

Perfect monitor for the console gamer or as a second monitor in your PC build.


Not really ideal for the Nintendo Switch, considering its already portable nature.

Extra cables needed for use with the Switch make it a clunkier setup.

The stand is flimsy and regularly topples the monitor over, meaning you’ll need to find alternate ways to prop this monitor up.

TalkBack / Nexomon: Extinction (Switch) Review
« on: September 07, 2020, 05:12:07 PM »

Mega Evolution or Baby Pokémon?

Mastering Pokémon’s formula to success is something that several developers have tried to emulate, with very few finding any sort of major traction in this attempt. Moving to mobile would seem like an easy win for The Pokémon Company, but unless you’re looking for spin-off experiences, this still hasn’t come to fruition, thus allowing for some competition to breed on the platform. Nexomon, the first title in the Nexomon series, started on Android and iOS and garnered a lot of success taking up the banner of the monster-catching RPG. The follow-up to the original is Nexomon: Extinction, a fully-fledged console iteration that—while unabashedly taking a swing at Pokémon—uses their model with a set of unique systems and oft-asked-for mechanics, but ultimately falls short of the goliath it tries to one-up.

Utilizing a darker, world-based story than you’d find in Pokémon’s kid-friendly palette, Nexomon: Extinction takes place following a catastrophic war between Nexomon and humankind. Following a dragon leader known as a Tyrant, these Nexomon attempt to rid the planet of their co-inhabitants. From this fight sprouted the Tamers—humans who capture and befriend the Nexomon—turning the fight back against the Tyrant overlord. After this conflict comes to a head, the humans with their Nexomon partners prevail, but for how long will the peace last? The protagonist of this title starts as an orphan who has finally reached the age to become a Tamer and thus begins this journey, where all manner of quest and adventure is ready to be had. While offering some aspects of the story that are much, much deeper than the reiterated versions you’d find in Pokémon’s titles, it still copies several of the tropes and base plot points from the Pokémon series. Even the dialogue regularly breaks the fourth-wall—generally through your cat-humanoid sidekick—to make a comment on the genre, make fun of some aspect, or the like. With that being said, Pokémon has never found its strength in storytelling, so because Nexomon follows it so closely, neither does Nexomon: Extinction.

While the battle system mimics Pokémon as well, with four moves per creature, nine types of creatures with strengths and weaknesses to each, and six Nexomon on your team at a time, Nexomon: Extinction changes up a few mechanics—for better or worse. First of all, rather than using PP to limit the uses of each move, Nexomon: Extinction has a stamina system for the creature as a whole. This means that your stronger moves must be saved for dire straights or strategic strikes, where your weaker moves are necessary to give your beast longevity through the fight. Because of this, you will find swapping Nexomon during fights much more of a prevalent strategy. While the type differences are present, each attack rarely does enough to one-hit-KO enemies, unlike Pokémon’s meta which hinges on it. This means fights are much more difficult in general, as you juggle stamina, type differences, and the health of your team with each encounter.

Pair that with the fact that Nexomon level up much more slowly than in Pokémon and you have a second reason Nexomon: Extinction is a tougher experience, making this one feel like grinding is necessary, à la more traditional JRPGs. Taking an entire team from start to finish becomes a little less possible unless you’re extremely dedicated, as keeping the experience points to a couple of your favorites while swapping out for tougher Nexomon in new areas makes for a smoother time overall.

Catching Nexomon also follows the same formula as Pokémon, but adds some really player-friendly ways to maximize efficiency. Using traps instead of balls, you are presented with a screen prior to attempting the capture that shows the exact percentage chance you have to catch the Nexomon in front of you. Utilizing their favorite foods, type-specific traps, and properly completing a time-based activity that has you pushing buttons in a certain order, allows you to increase your chances at making a successful capture. Rather than sitting there guessing which ball to use while tapping the buttons in whatever superstitious pattern you’ve used since Pokémon Red and Blue, you get everything spelled out for you, which is an incredible feature.

Traversing the overworld takes a more classic Pokémon approach, with the top-down, grid-based movement of the original few releases, while upping the graphics nicely. The game looks and runs great, but beyond the base performance, Nexomon: Extinction takes how you get around a step further by actually letting you go wherever you’d like—something fans have been begging of Pokémon for years. I am the type of person who checks every corner of the available space given to me for secrets before moving on to the next section, so it was surprising when I found myself turn in the opposite direction of where the story told me to go, which took me to a random island filled with its own set of NPCs and story to discover. The main quest is still linear in a normal Pokémon-esque fashion, and the side quests and locales aren’t that interesting in the ways a game like Skyrim could have you spending hours away from the main portion, but Nexomon: Extinction allows you to explore at your own pace and blaze your own trail, which is refreshing for a title such as this.

Interactions with NPCs in Pokémon are often pretty drab, where the most exciting thing is usually getting an item given to you or the occasional trade offering. Well, in Nexomon: Extinction, this gets taken to the nth degree, where side quests pile up with random characters needing various supplies in exchange for some upgraded loot that you’d be happy to take. It was a surprise to even find a number of NPCs looking for specific Nexomon, where you could exchange them for items, rather than simply in a ‘mon-for-’mon trade. This makes each conversation way more enticing.

As you can see from this review, Pokémon is the main aspect for comparison. While that is partially unfair as it is a stand-alone product, the fact that Nexomon: Extinction takes its identity as a Pokémon clone so seriously—it does everything but namedrop its rival series—means these comparisons have to be made. For the Pokémon super fan, Nexomon: Extinction will more than likely offer some fresh takes on a genre you adore, meaning you’ll have a decent time. But there is just something that makes it feel like a mere copycat. The charm, the nostalgia, and the world of Pokémon can’t be repeated, so while it is nice to have a title make some improvements and pull a few punches, at the end of the day, Nexomon: Extinction knows it isn’t going to be Pokémon, and that’s the best way to offer an iteration such as this.

Nexomon: Extinction is clearly inspired by Pokémon from top to bottom. While they change up a few mechanics and make some definite improvements here and there, not enough is done to consider this among the elite of the monster-catching RPGs. An interesting title to spend some time in for the right price, Nexomon: Extinction will be something the Pokémon hardcore will want to check out, while everyone else might just want to find a Game Boy and their copy of Blue version.

TalkBack / Best Friend Forever (Switch) Review
« on: September 04, 2020, 03:30:35 PM »

It can be a ruff go for a pup out there.

It’s safe to say that—generally speaking—visual novels are for a more niche audience. Between romance-based storytelling and mechanics, some hot-and-heavy love scenes, and the dialogue-heavy style, a title like Best Friend Forever tends to not be for everyone. Giving itself something to stand out from the pack, this dog-laden iteration on a tried-and-true genre brings in some management gameplay and all the cutest pups you could ask for. Unfortunately, said management portions of Best Friend Forever end up being side pieces that cause more problems than add fun-factor. Additionally, this means the only way to distinguish itself from the stable of visual novels, not only on the system but on offer in general, is severely lacking in what is necessary to give a title such as this real staying power.

The protagonist is new in town, leaving the big city for a more calm, restful life away from the hustle and bustle. Arriving at a town that features a high rate of dog ownership doesn’t necessarily mean you have to join in, but alas, you hop onto a dating app and run down to the nearest pet adoption center to get a furry friend of your own. After selecting your new best friend, you have to make it through Paws Academy—a 15-week course to help you succeed as a dog owner—while searching for a life partner to accompany you as well. While following most of the basic tropes done in a vast majority of visual novels, Best Friend Forever has a couple of saving graces. The romantic options are more diverse than what you might have seen in the genre, with available suitors of all gender, sexuality, race, and more. Pair that with the diverse range of pets they own, and you have a majorly positive set of options in this particular visual novel. Beyond the inclusivity, the dialogue tends to match up with the overly-sexualized standards, corniness, and lack of interesting developments you’d see elsewhere. The story as a whole stays pretty even-keel, with your other significant mechanic being in tending to your animal.

Through this extremely short experience (around an hour for a single run), you must move to increase your dog’s stats in order to maintain progress in doggy school. Choosing events week-to-week to help them, from exercise to play, helps boost those areas, but beyond selecting what you’re doing there isn’t any other interaction with the mechanic. Otherwise, you’re only met with random, interrupting outbursts from your pup while you’re in the middle of dialogue sequences. Think of these as quick-time events, but instead of pressing a sequence of keys to make a jump or something, you need to shake your cursor back and forth quickly in order to settle your dog down or drag a bag of feces to a garbage can to stop the dog from losing control of his or her bowels. While these events were meant to break up the tedium of reading through long stretches of dialogue, they instead add an annoyance that is extremely cumbersome with the way the UI operates.

Clearly made for PC first, Best Friend Forever on the Nintendo Switch features the dreaded on-screen cursor for game control. While this sometimes isn’t an issue, paired with the quick-time events you will find yourself regularly failing to complete them successfully while in docked-mode. Handheld mode offers a touch screen variant that helps, but all in all, it is disappointing that more time wasn’t taken to develop some alternatives for console.

The only real positive outside of the inclusivity is that the art, style, and soundtrack are great. Detailed and interesting characters make for more unique interactions than normally found in visual novels, as well as a light-hearted and colorful backdrop that pairs well with the tunes coming from your speakers. A lot of love and care was clearly put into visualizing this world, but a lot of shortcomings overtake these positives.

Best Friend Forever offers a fairly generic visual novel, with the only hook being one that fails to do anything truly interesting. The management mechanics are the lightest, most fleeting portions of the game, where you’re bogged down with a rough control scheme that is quite frustrating. Even with the positives in inclusivity, too many shortcomings make this feel like it was built to be vanilla and given the toppings way later on.

TalkBack / Metamorphosis (Switch) Review
« on: August 19, 2020, 02:13:35 PM »

Franz Kafka: The Video Game

Games come out all the time that take inspiration from artists, authors, and art. Very rarely, however, do you find a title stuffed with as many references from one place as you’d find in Metamorphosis’ love of Franz Kafka. Due to this, it suffices to say that this game is Kafkaesque, not just in interpretation, but quite literally, as the story in place follows through the two most popular of Kafka’s published works—The Metamorphosis and The Trial. As a platforming adventure title, Metamorphosis offers a unique and interesting world hiding right under our very noses, but unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch will more than likely not be where you’ll want to experience this tale.

Following the transformation of Gregor Samsa into a spider-like insect, you must partake in a quest to not only discover the secret behind this change but also attempt to aid your closest friend Josef in getting out of whatever criminal charges he is facing. Living vicariously through Josef’s journey as you travel through everyday locations from a tiny perspective, you must subtly do whatever is in your power. Beyond the main protagonists, you will also meet all sorts of quirky characters that emanate with that Kafkaesque humor, from a tragic filmmaker who needs help getting his film shown, to a rather flirty beetle looking to help you on your journey. The story matches fairly well with the original works—some artistic liberty aside to combine them—as well as offering several easter eggs to other published writings. Metamorphosis’ story is creative and unique, offering all the weird, wacky, strangeness you’d want from this title based solely on its description. Some of the plot points don’t hold up, but for being a conglomeration, it comes together nicely for the most part.

As a platformer, first and foremost, Metamorphosis has you taking on some great challenges. Traversing the world in insect-form is no easy task, allowing for some interesting locales and predicaments. Utilizing ink or honey to allow for vertical climbs or more story-based decisions adds into an otherwise black-and-white, run-and-jump system. The only true downside to the platforming, outside of its repetitive nature, is that the main mechanic creates some clumsiness in maneuvering this arachnid. Keeping track of balance and location with your odd-shaped body on sometimes perilous stretches of jumps can feel wonky here and there, but otherwise getting around is always a pleasurable, if dicey, experience.

Questing through the adventure portion is mostly bland, where running from bug to bug to gain information or gather some help is as simple as following the map and traveling from A-to-B. These interactions are often used as another excuse to send you through some platforming challenges or to discuss with the oft-fascinating non-player character’s witty dialogue (outside of many spelling and grammatical errors).

Puzzles consist of gathering said information to figure out how you need to interact with the environment. Generally, this results in an engaging response that alters the location you’re moving through. Interactions with the NPCs and humans that sometimes move through these pint-sized locations can also be an interesting result to the completed puzzles. From knocking an apple off a pole to operating a large sorting robot, things get interesting when you settle in, find out what you need to do next, and start to really interact with the environment in enjoyable ways.

I wish I could say that was the end of the review, as these portions are really something worth experiencing most of the time, but the Nintendo Switch port has some major issues performance-wise. From frame stuttering between areas to some serious texture pop-in that is encountered throughout the entire experience. Pair that with two hard crashes (one of which somehow had my Switch register as no longer docked, scaring me into thinking something may be wrong with my system) and you have a recipe for disaster. Metamorphosis just doesn’t play well on our favorite handheld hybrid, unfortunately. Considering you could push through these issues mostly with no issue, we then get to the significant graphical downgrades in this port. One of the biggest sellers to this title is the incredible vistas and top-notch, cartoony looks. While most of the views from afar still hold up for the most part, up-close you have some pretty rough edges and lack of detail across the—often literal—board. A game as pretty-looking as Metamorphosis deserves a playthrough, but the Nintendo Switch version might need to wait for a patch.

Metamorphosis is a love letter to Franz Kafka, that, unfortunately, is in pretty rough shape on the Nintendo Switch. The stuttering, texture pop-in, and hard crashes overshadow an experience that could otherwise be described as generally enjoyable. Witty dialogue, challenging platforming, and the incredible sights to see from this pint-sized perspective would make it worth the issues in performance if it weren’t also for the bland adventuring and jittery controls.

TalkBack / Crysis Remastered (Switch) Review
« on: August 04, 2020, 12:35:33 PM »

But can it run Crysis?

The Crysis series has reached legendary status over the last decade-plus, with its high-end graphics and fast-paced, first-person shooting. Following suit with the series of remasters and last-gen port jobs to the Nintendo Switch, Crysis Remastered has arrived. Titling itself as a remaster may seem odd based on the clear downgrades that make this port possible, but the performance is smooth throughout and still looks pretty impressive when compared to other FPS titles on the platform. Add in the fact this is an open-world title and the lowered resolution can easily be pushed to the back of your mind. Still holding up to this day, Crysis Remastered offers intense and exciting gameplay while allowing you to choose how to tackle each stronghold, even if the age can be felt from time to time.

After dropping into enemy territory to rescue a group of captives, the team of Nanosuit-wielding super soldiers come into contact with dug-in North Korean forces, as well as some more interstellar foes that have awoken after a long slumber, à la War of the Worlds. Moving about this chain of islands, it is up to you to reconnect with your squad, try to gain a communications foothold in the area, and fight through roadblock after roadblock on your way to discovering the secrets this misty island has to offer. The story is definitely secondary to the top-notch gameplay but offers an interesting take in comparison with most first-person shooters, even if a majority of the themes and ideas could be found in other media.

Getting around a sandbox of this magnitude can be a daunting task, but Crysis does traversal right. Between the vehicles and boats that can be commandeered, and the Nanosuit’s speedy sprint option, you can make your way around like it’s no difficult task at all. Pair that with a burst jump that sends you through the air fairly high and you can maneuver your way around most obstacles. The only negative I found to your Nanosuit’s core abilities came in the use of your chameleon-like stealth ability, which I found to rarely actually hide you from enemies, even from long distances.

With that being said, this AI is tough to beat, even in easier gameplay modes. They are quite intelligent, recognizing movement and sound to a degree you don’t find in rival shooters. This means you will have to actually take the time to plan out step-by-step how to tackle encounters varying from patrols to full-on complexes. This variety to combat means that every engagement feels fresh and thrilling. Ammunition can sometimes be tough to come across for your cooler, default weaponry, so you will regularly have to settle for whatever your downed enemies were using, which is a bummer until you get later in the game. Regardless, getting to the next fight was more fun than anything else I encountered in Crysis Remastered—it’s a masterfully-done gameplay loop.

The actual quests given are bland, “go here, now go here”-style objectives where you’re basically just given an excuse to run face-first into more baddies. Fighting it out with those baddies is a positive interaction, so no ill-will there, but I came away regularly wishing there was a bit more substance behind what was happening, whereas most of your time with the world is spent simply clicking on a radio or piece of equipment followed by doing the same thing at the next location.

Graphically, Crysis Remastered looks worse than its original 2007 release, but hey, you’re doing it on a handheld device with a game once memed to death about its performance standards. It runs smoothly at all times, with very little in terms of any noticeable slowdown, even when dealing with larger groups of enemies. Destructible environments have been salvaged, as you’re still able to break down turret locations with a grenade or chop through brush and trees with your gunfire. Considering the Switch’s limited nature, the fact you can fight a dozen enemies, while running around in circles, with trees and buildings exploding all around you is damn impressive. Kudos to the port house! The only knock on this one outside of the graphical downgrade comes in the setting choice, where jungles have been done to death at this point. But, this is a nice jungle, at least.

Crysis Remastered is an impressive showcase for the Nintendo Switch’s true capabilities when ports are given the love and attention they deserve. Graphical downgrade aside, this title plays, looks, and feels great. Besides some aging mechanics and a so-so story, the gameplay loop of fighting through strategic engagement to engagement is addictive and invigorating, even if that means you’ll have a better time ignoring the objectives to get to the next fight quicker.


Super Paper Mario meets Cute Jumping Kitty Simulator

A successful Kickstarter campaign has another interesting and unique title making its way over to the Nintendo Switch!

Neko Ghost, Jump! from Burgos Games has reached its funding goal of $15,000 with over 400 backers.

For those unfamiliar with the perspective-swapping platformer, here is the official description:

“Neko Ghost, Jump! is a pawsome puzzle-platformer that tasks players with switching between 2D and 3D camera perspectives as they guide Nekoman on an epic quest to rescue his bride-to-be, friends, and family from the evil Space Dog Pirate Boss and his minions. This adventure will take Nekoman across several biomes ranging from grassy plains to snowy tundras, to sweltering deserts and beyond. Along the way, players will have to not only switch between 2D and 3D planes but also between their physical and ghost forms to defeat any baddies along the way as they pounce across a series of entertaining yet challenging obstacles that will test their spatial awareness to the limits!

Neko Ghost, Jump! will run the gamut from an accessible family-friendly affair to a furmidable challenge for more masochistic players. Players will have the choice to use the playstyle they want to advance to later levels. Race against the clock trying to beat the speedrun time, take your sweet time and collect all the coins in the level, or for those that prefer no-fuss all action, just whack your enemies into oblivion with the swordfish. Use the loot collected in each level to not only take some time off the clock but also turn it in and customize Nekoman’s appearance with plenty of options available. Give him sweet specs, a dapper hat, or some shiny bling!”

With only three days to go until the Kickstarter concludes, the focus has shifted to reaching as many stretch goals as possible. Currently, they are working towards adding a “Lost World” Biome and Boss, which will add five new optional levels to the game.

TalkBack / Neversong (Switch) Review
« on: August 03, 2020, 05:00:00 AM »

A dark, twisted puzzle-platformer winding its way through a mental health maze.

Games centering on the struggles of mental health have become more and more prevalent as indie developers have been given the tools to make their projects from start to finish without having to rely on large publishers or funding to see their vision through to completion. Previously known as Once Upon A Come during its successful Kickstarter campaign, Neversong brings Zelda-inspired puzzle-platforming to the Nintendo Switch—with a beautiful mix of dark themes and aesthetic. As charming, well-made, and thought-provoking as this experience may be, some issues with inaccurate hit detection, non-user-friendly level design, and a story twist that adds more questions than answers come together in a title that is recommended but not a must-play.

The protagonist of Neversong is Peet—a comatose young boy in search of his kidnapped girlfriend, Wren—who utilizes tools discovered through the game’s progression in order to unlock new areas, similar to The Legend of Zelda. Along this journey, you encounter a cast of wacky children, each with their own issues, as they aid you in your quest to save Wren. Their parents are missing, and some of them have become the boss monsters you have to face, but Peet’s main objective is to discover the secrets of his hometown, save the girl, and defeat the maniacal Dr. Smile. The subtlety and discovery of this tale are things of beauty, with well-written dialogue and clues along the way, but the main story twist—though unexpected—makes you question swaths of the journey and opens up a new slew of questions rather than solving old ones. Though not a bad way to end things, it definitely doesn’t feel complete or as satisfying, which is a huge bummer in a story that leans on its twists, turns, and hidden meanings.

Platforming is your main mode of transportation, where being able to make those tough jumps and navigate through each area properly is a necessity. Speed becomes a mechanic through the use of the skateboard and time-based puzzle-solving, as well as the use of the baseball bat swing and umbrella to add height to the mix, making for some complex platforming challenges that may take several attempts. The difficulty of the jumps adds value to this adventure, but this is where the level design comes into question, as these elaborate, step-by-step maneuverable areas can sometimes lead to a restart if a jump is missed. Several times, it didn’t feel like failure was taken into account, where your landing pad may take you multiple screens away just to get you back to the start of the challenge.  This can add a frustrating time-sink to the already tough platforming, making several puzzles quite annoying.

The combat in Neversong is fine. A simple hack ‘n’ slash, Neversong has you use your trusty baseball bat to fight through bug-like creatures with a single-button-press attack. Hit detection can sometimes give issues, where you’ll accidentally run face-first into a damaging blow, rather than striking true. The movement seems to take precedence over your attack, which may be the cause of this slight hiccup, but it’s nothing that can’t be learned. Beating these enemies drops shiny objects, which when gathered, offer you additional hearts. These hearts don’t go away, so it is important to get as many as possible so that you’re well-prepared for the boss battles, where the puzzle-led combat is much more interesting. Each boss has its own weaknesses and set of actions that must be completed to defeat them, which pairs with the great puzzle design on offer in Neversong.

Puzzles are the best feature of Neversong. From collecting organs to make a soupy medicine to rolling one of your friends in various substances to attract a snake monster, Neversong keeps the variety and difficulty on point. Puzzles mainly take the form of striking a set of light orbs before a timer runs out, usually done through challenging platforming or hidden orbs, where regular progress is stymied for the occasional puzzle to be solved.

The aesthetic of Neversong is top-notch, with a moody, piano soundtrack, and dark, minimalistic artwork to satiate your sense of sight. The piano becomes a mechanic as well, where learning various note combinations following boss fights lets you unlock the tools needed to get to the next area. Having this level of charm be the outer skin of this deep journey was a pleasure for sure.

Beyond simply progressing through the quest at hand, discoverable cards allow for some rare cosmetics to be added to your character model for some good fun and collectible-hunting goodness. Hidden extremely well at times, the cards do require some extensive searching to find them all, but it is worthwhile as they generally add value to gameplay by offering a difficult puzzle to solve or an elaborate set of platforming jumps in order to collect it.

Neversong is a delightful experience from top to bottom, but it just gets in its own way too many times. From frustrating level design to some hit detection issues in combat, there’s just enough of a lack of polish to be noticeable, but the incredible aesthetic, thought-provoking story and top-notch blend of puzzles and platforming create an experience I would definitely recommend for fans of the genre. It just isn’t necessarily one you need to jump off the couch to pick up.

TalkBack / Radical Rabbit Stew (Switch) Review
« on: July 15, 2020, 09:00:00 PM »

Slip Slappin’ Bunny Slayin’ Puzzle Solvin’

Every day I wake up in the morning with the urge to slap around some bunnies, so Radical Rabbit Stew coming into my life has been a blessing. As an action-puzzle title, Radical Rabbit Stew offers fast-actin’-attackin’ bunny slappin’ as you attempt to land these furry devils into a boiling pot of stew. Fighting the rabbit menace has never been more satisfying, with top-notch puzzles, interesting mechanics, and even the feeling of your trusty spoon connecting with cotton-tailed foes, evoking similar emotions to the smell of fresh-cut grass or that first sip of a can of Coke. Besides a lack of diversity throughout—especially in the boss fights—this is one of the more unique and enjoyable puzzle titles you’ll find on the Nintendo Switch this year.

The illustrious space chefs have been captured by space-faring rabbit overlords, and it is up to you to free them while cooking up some coney justice. Leaping right into the action following some old-school movie projector narration, your character is on a mission to bash bunnies before it’s too late. Light on story outside of this basic premise, Radical Rabbit Stew is more of an arcade experience than deep storytelling venture, but the gameplay is so fresh that it really isn’t a downside.

After choosing your stage from the overworld map, the gameplay starts with a series of rabbits spawning across the level, with various silver cooking pots scattered around as your end goal. Each pot needs a single rabbit in order to progress, but this process won’t happen without some violent persuasion. Striking the rabbits with your oversized spoon will send them flying in the direction you are facing. So, basically, you just need to smack the bunnies around obstacles until you can get a clear shot at the pots. Breakable blocks, walls, and open water will need to be maneuvered around in order to properly solve the puzzles, in a similar manner to the cave-rock puzzles in the early Pokémon titles.

After conquering each world, an upgraded spoon—or additional health to help stave off some serious rabbit bites—is given to open up new styles of puzzles. From the Silver Spoon, which allows you to use a charged spoon attack that sends heavier bunnies flying, to a hookshot-esque claw that lets you grab and pull rabbits or yourself through the stages, Radical Rabbit Stew transforms after every dozen-or-so levels to keep things interesting during the entire playthrough. Besides simply getting the rabbits to the end goals, hidden coins are also available in some of the levels that add challenge and replayability to the stages. This mechanic forces you to think outside the box in each stage, and since the gameplay is so enjoyable to begin with, it just makes for more play potential.

A minor versus mode sees you competing with up to four players for dominance, where whoever gets the most rabbits into the pot wins. Additionally, a stage editor allows for even more content for you to play within Radical Rabbit Stew, even if these extra portions are pretty bare bones.

With a 16-bit, pixelated art style, Radical Rabbit Stew looks great while pumping out a soundtrack that keeps the excitement and action moving throughout the entire experience. Beyond just looking and sounding good, the controls are also tight, with the most minor of issues coming in a lack of speed for the protagonist at times.

It’s important to note, if you aren’t someone who enjoys the arcade action and puzzle-solving on offer from the start, this won’t be a game that improves for you over time. What you see is what you get, and Radical Rabbit Stew sticks to its basic formula to a fault. While perfect for the Nintendo Switch’s pick-up-and-play style, this one might need to be put down and returned to once in a while to keep it from getting bland on occasion. The only disappointing portion here comes in the boss fights, where a similar model is used in each fight. Things get tougher, faster, and more interesting, but you’re mostly doing the same thing to conclude each area.

Radical Rabbit Stew is a thoroughly enjoyable experience from top to bottom. From the arcade, slapstick action of punting rabbits into bowls of soup, to the thought-provoking map puzzles, this action-puzzler offers a unique and interesting take on the genre, even with the sometimes repetitive nature, and boss fights that utilize overly similar ideas from world to world.

TalkBack / void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium (Switch) Review
« on: July 11, 2020, 05:00:00 AM »

Apocalyptic Tamagotchi Simulator

Adding to the vast collection of gaming experiences we didn’t know we needed, Void Terrarium is a Mystery Dungeon-style game, where collecting food and resources for the last surviving human is the main objective. Besides delving into dungeon-crawling, you also get to decorate the glass tube this human calls home; that way, she feels better about the fact she has mushrooms growing out of her face. In one of the weirder overall experiences I’ve had recently, Void Terrarium—in all seriousness—offers a unique tale of apocalyptic survival from a Wall-E-esque point of view, even if the gameplay is too tedious to be enjoyable for long.

As a wee mouse awakens a helper bot from a pile of rubble, this journey begins with a lonely trek into the unknown. After discovering the cause of this destruction—a computer with a weepy AI who was built to help humans—a mutual goal arises in attempting to save the life of a human girl found barely holding on in her destroyed home. Following her revival, keeping her fed and well-maintained becomes the mission, with regular trips into the world for whatever salvage is necessary to rebuild her habitat, spruce it up, and keep her from fading away due to malnourishment. Learning tidbits about what happened to this world, though drip-fed, is interesting throughout. As stressful as it can be to keep on top of everything you need while fighting through hordes of robot enemies, you deeply feel the need to keep this girl alive, so Void Terrarium succeeds in that sense.

Where Void Terrarium fails to engage the player is in its gameplay loop. Strategically planning out each step and attack to save up energy could be enjoyable, if it wasn’t for the difficulty curve. Harder-hitting special attacks use additional battery power from your robot, but in the deeper stages, it’s grueling to try to get past the toughest of enemies down beneath the layers of the dungeon without these attacks. Thus, your main objective actually becomes running around like a chicken with its head cut off looking for the precious batteries that renew your energy bar just to continue the already arduous journey presented to you. This may have been aided by interesting attack mechanics or abilities, but all in all, you’re simply pounding away at whatever is in front of you, waiting around for your health to regenerate, and continuing on in the quest for mushrooms and flies. It isn’t all bad, as damage types like corrosion and item utilization add a little bit of flavor, but it’s mostly a drag.

The best part of the dungeon crawling is trying to level up, where gaining passive and active abilities is really the best way to make progress. As a roguelite, being incapacitated resets you to default-form, with all your collected items turned into baseline materials, but in The-Binding-of-Isaac fashion, it kept things slightly interesting at the very least. It really is unfortunate that so much of the actual game is about going out for supplies, as the rest is quite pleasant.

After returning to the surface, using blueprints to craft items necessary for the terrarium, as well as keeping the girl fed, offers something less tedious and relaxing. Getting the glass bottle repaired and filled with items for the girl to enjoy is a feel-good experience that makes the rough edges to the dungeons a little more worthwhile. She’s adorable, and being able to provide something nicer atop this pile of rubble just felt nice. It’s an odd thing to play a game centered around dungeon crawling, combat, and strategy and feel the best about the side portion where you clean up a room and decorate it while talking to an eccentric computer, but hey, Animal Crossing is pretty popular.

Void Terrarium looks great, with its dark and ominous environments and chibi-esque stylization. The soundtrack keeps things dark and dour, adding to the overall atmosphere created here. The music is definitely a huge plus considering what you’re doing most of the time while looking at this beautifully-crafted world.

Overall, Void Terrarium is just an odd mix of ideas. Mystery Dungeon titles are popular, but this one sadly offers a weak example of mechanics in comparison to the broader genre. From there, being able to go full Tamagotchi with a girl in a glass bottle was intriguing and kept pushing me through the tedious and difficult dungeon crawling. A powerful story, moody soundtrack, and amazing aesthetic round out an experience that has a solid support structure, but less than awesome baseline gameplay premise.


A classic that could have stayed snarkled.

The Bard’s Tale is a series that originated on the PC in the mid-80s and has gone through several iterations over the course of the last three-and-a-half decades. As one of the original computer RPGs, Tales of the Unknown: The Bard’s Tale gained notoriety for its close relationship to the tabletop juggernaut, Dungeons & Dragons. Relaunched in the form you see now in 2004, this top-down action-RPG moved away from the serious high fantasy roots of the originals, instead moving forward with satirical commentary on the genre. Now remastered for modern consoles, The Bard’s Tale ARPG: Remastered and Resnarkled offers all of the same charm and incredible dialogue of the original release, while not really fulfilling the promise behind a “remastered” version.

The Bard is a dastardly anti-hero, who doesn’t really care about anyone other than himself. Regularly willing to demean everyone he comes across, The Bard fights for fame, money, and women—nothing else. After getting dragged into an attempted princess rescue, The Bard finds himself having to make decisions that will alter this world drastically. If it weren’t for the presence of the player themselves, The Bard probably wouldn’t have bothered with any of this, but through him, you can decide. You are given a positive dialogue option which offers up a pleasant response to whoever The Bard is speaking with, or the more entertaining snarky option. The dialogue is masterfully-written and enjoyable throughout the entire experience. Voice acting is at an all-time high in The Bard’s Tale, and it holds up very well after a 16-year hiatus. The story itself is fairly generic if you’ve ever played or watched anything even remotely resembling high fantasy, but the satirical angle allows for some out-of-left-field twists that add some spice to this otherwise bland bowl of rice.

As far as action-RPGs go, The Bard’s Tale’s combat is fairly basic. Featuring an attack and block button, this bare-bones mechanic feels more similar to a beat ‘em up than the Diablo-esque dungeon crawler it pretends to be. Summoning creatures and warriors to your side is the only interesting portion of combat, but is limited to the number of party members allowed and the dozen or so spells at your disposal. Due to this, much of your time will be spent running in circles avoiding enemies while re-summoning your friends to the battlefield to take on whatever baddie is giving you chase. Maybe it adds to the persona of The Bard, or maybe it speaks to the satire across the board, but in reality, it’s just a boring hack-n-slash fest.

Questing through each area means searching around every town and speaking with all the townsfolk in hopes of finding something interesting to do. A little more direction would have been nice, and the rudimentary mini-map doesn’t help, but some of the quests end in a truly comedic experience that I was glad to have searched out. Whenever you think you know what might be going on, get ready for some 4th-wall-breaking comment or a total reversal from the implied tropes.

Leveling up results in the ability to stack points into certain categories that influence attack strength or summoning power—much like Dungeons & Dragons—but The Bard’s Tale fails to add anything interesting beyond what you would expect from rolling a D20 or assigning points into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. in the wasteland. It’s entirely serviceable but plain-jane and uninspiring.

Graphically, The Bard’s Tale still feels like it could be a game from the early 2000s. Some sort of upgrade had to have happened, I suppose, but it isn’t impressive in any way, shape, or form. With that being said, it does enough to not be bothersome or too wonky, even if the controls and slight graphical bugs can be annoying. Even though the game doesn’t look top-notch, the performance was fine across the board, which is better than nothing. The soundtrack feels like something you’d get in other satirical films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with that flare of medieval pageantry.

The Bard’s Tale is a low-grade action-RPG that must have spent all its skill points in voice acting and writing. Featuring Cary Elwes of The Prince Bride fame, and following a script that truly puts the snark in Resnarkled, The Bard’s Tale could talk its way out of any confrontation. Sadly, sub-par, boring combat, and a restrictive summoning system mean you’ll be rolling ability checks with a negative modifier. If only The Bard’s Tale was more proficient—should’ve chosen a wizard or a rogue.

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