Venture Kid

Venture Kid Review [PC] – Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts?


This review is going to work a little differently than the usual here on Nitchigamer. It’s broken up into two parts.

The first part is a concise review containing a summary of the game followed by a recommendation on who might be the right audience.

The second part provides important context and detailed criticism for the curious reader.

Venture Kid

The Concise Review

Venture Kid is a throwback retro 8-bit platform game. The development team says it’s their love letter to the games they grew up playing. It’s akin to the J. J. Abrams film, SUPER 8, which was his homage to the Stephen Spielberg adventure films of the same era.

This game has all the hallmarks of titles that were popular from that era, from the colorful overview map to the melodic chiptune soundtrack.

There is even a pitch-perfect storyline where you assume the mantle of Alex, a young man who must stop the evil Dr Teklov from completing his super weapon in an attempt to take over the world.

Alex is aided by his uncle who provides new special weapons as well as upgrades that can be purchased anytime during the game.

Venture Kid

Players run-and-gun through nine visually distinct levels including classics of the platformer genre such as the futurist city, the snake-filled jungle, and the slippery ice caves.

Navigating each level tends to be a reasonably straightforward affair – fight a variety of hostile enemy combatants while avoiding deadly environment hazards, like spikes and lava, until you reach the final boss battle.

Venture Kid is tough to recommend for most audiences.:

  1. People who are new to retro platformers might find this game frustrating, even on the easy difficulty setting.
  2. Hardcore gamers may be unsatisfied with the short levels and inconsistent design.
  3. Casual gamers might find titles with contemporary mechanics better suited to their taste.

The game is best suited for players who grew up with 8-bit platformers, and still love them – warts and all.

Venture Kid

Context And Criticism

Creating a video game is difficult under the best circumstances. Ideally, a developer has sufficient funding to pay the entire team market-rate wages (with benefits).

They should also have the backing of an experienced publisher to manage the go-to-market tasks, such as distribution and marketing. Even with that, success is not guaranteed.

Most indie teams are working on a shoestring budget with the hope their finished product will find an enthusiastic audience to provide them with some measure of financial security and the ability to make the next game.

That makes a difficult task significantly harder.

Anyone with a developed sense of empathy would take great care in suggesting that an indie game could have trouble finding their audience.

With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into how that conclusion was reached. There are three areas worth examining in greater detail: level design, powerup weapons, and difficulty setting.

Level Design

The biggest concern with the level design is simply inconsistency. Sometimes the design feels inspired and surprising, other times it feels confused and derivative.

The design and placement of enemies are emblematic of the consistency issue. Many levels feature unique enemies that perfectly mesh with the theme. The primates feel right at home in the jungle level. The robots whose heads pop off in the factory level are delightful.

But then we have snakes, jumping piranha, and giant spiders that appear in multiple levels. That isn’t to say a designer can never reuse quality enemies, but there are already some nearly identical clones (snakes/scorpions, piranha/fireball, rifleman/spearman).

If you’re going to commit to reskinning enemies, it’s best to go all the way.

The use of branching in the map feels similarly inconsistent. Most levels are linear, while a few of the levels contain branching paths. Some branches appear to lead to dead ends or circles, while others contain secret passages.

Unfortunately, some players may never find those secrets and end up frustrated. Confusion and frustration are generally emotions that players don’t want to experience.

It would be preferable to streamline the levels and hide most (or all) of the branches behind secret passages along the main route.

Venture Kid

Power-Up Weapons

Power-up weapons are an aspect where Venture Kid could really shine. The weapon designs are interesting and provide variety. Two major problems with how the weapons are implemented: usage and management.

First of all, there just aren’t enough opportunities where the weapons provide significant advantage. Players can easily defeat most enemies with the standard blaster weapon and they can reach most items without things like the boomerang or the freeze weapon.

Later stages show a little bit of promise in this regard. For example, the grenade and spike boots come in handy in the factory level. However, these situations felt like the exception to the rule.

The bigger problem is managing the weapons. Each special weapon has limited charge. Enemies will randomly drop fuel canisters that recharge the power, but those canisters are only useful if a weapon is actively equipped. So, picking up a canister with the standard blaster will result in nothing happening, even if all of your weapons were drained. This effectively wastes the energy.

This design choice means that players are required to constantly cycle through all the weapons in order to use and maintain their arsenal. That can quickly become tedious for all but the most hardcore players, and those players might find the limited effectiveness of these weapons disappointing.

It would be great if more enemies, boss and regular varieties, were weak to particular special weapons. For example, many of the denizens of the ice cave could be weak against the fire blast from the grenade.

Also, it would be great to have a special weapon slot so that a player could have one of special weapon active at all times. That way picking up a canister would always charge the active weapon.

Venture Kid

Difficulty Setting

The last thing that is challenging is the difficulty setting. The only difference between the various difficulty settings appears to be the maximum number of hearts allowed to the player.

This is a problem because there are many other variables that make the level challenging, including a high number of instant-kill environmental hazards.

The game would benefit greatly from changing other variables too.

Depending on the difficulty level, enemies could also have a lower or higher rate of fire, respawn points could be moved closer or further apart, and some enemies could take fewer or more shots to kill. Those changes could increase the appeal to a much wider audience.

Swim Out

Swim Out Review [PC] – A Refreshing Splash

Swim Out is a turn-based puzzle game designed to be mentally stimulating while also relaxing the nerves and refreshing the soul. You can backstroke your way through a few levels to unwind after a stressful day at work, or perhaps enjoy a dog paddle after some guided meditation without harshing your mellow.

Swim Out PC

Swim Out Review PC

The game offers new players almost no tutorial. All you get are a couple of arrows to guide you to the exit. New elements are introduced one at a time, steadily increasing the complexity of the puzzles over time. The team at Lozange Lab does a nice job of making the elements feel intuitive, with their visual design complementing how they interact with the board.

Getting to the other end of the pool requires thinking a couple of moves ahead. You’ll need to first learn the pattern of behaviour for each different element in the pool. You will encounter different varieties of swimmer, ranging from elegant divers to kids doing cannonballs. Then you have to negotiate around the many types of environmental hazards, such as snippy little crabs or big waves that will delay you (or other swimmers) for a turn. Some puzzles include items that you will need to solve the puzzle, such as beach balls that can be used to stun nearby swimmers.

Relaxation is the guiding principle for the entire game. There is no timer. There is no move count and no “world average” like many other turn-based puzzle games. The game tracks your progress of which levels you’ve completed and gives bonus objectives on select levels, but there is no traditional score.

Swim Out PC

Handcrafted With Love

When you make a mistake, like running into another swimmer, the lifeguard will blow a whistle. It’s a sharp sound that could pull you out of the relaxed state. This is a minor quibble, but the sound might make some players hesitant to try out new strategies (or mute their audio).

Some of the puzzles are challenging and you might find yourself getting stuck. One of the nice features that Lozange Lab included was to unlock every level from the start. So, if you find yourself starting to feel frustrated, just skip back to the menu and try a different puzzle. That is a rare choice that fits nicely with the entire design ethos.

Swim Out’s gentle nature means that it might not be addictive in the traditional sense. The game doesn’t put you on a treadmill of accomplishments where there’s always some quest left unfinished. While that might be a downside for some people, this choice is another element in a cohesive design.

Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch]

Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch] – Oozes With Charm

Nitchigamer is pleased to welcome Chris Kaminski to the team. Chris is a former video game producer, most notably for MadWorld and Valkyria Chronicles from his time at SEGA. These days he’s producing film and TV. Over to you, Chris:

Shadow Bug is a stylish puzzle platformer for the Nintendo Switch. The game provides moments of surprise and delight as you explore each of the three-dozen atmospheric levels. Muro Studios delivers a compact and entertaining experience that stands apart in a crowded scene of indie platform games.

Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch]

You play as a miniscule ninja that is fighting against an invading horde of gnashing piranhas, angry robots, and other sinister creatures. The goal is quite simple: Get to the end of the level, as quickly as possible, while collecting as many white orbs as you can. You will be rewarded with up to three ninja stars per level. One for completing the level. A second star can be earned for finishing under the par time. And a third star for collecting more than the benchmark of orbs, which can be found strewn about the level and are earned by defeating enemies as well.

Shadow Bug takes a refreshingly minimalist approach. There’s no story for this game. As a matter of fact, there is very little text at all. You’ll get a few instructions on the basic controls and some level names. That’s it.

The gameplay is easy to learn and yet it takes practice to master. Failure rarely feels punishing, which encourages experimentation and leads you gently down a path of discovery. This is an excellent combination of traits for a game that relies heavily on solving puzzles.

Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch]
Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch]
One of the uncommon design choices that Muro Studios made was to forego the traditional jump mechanic. There is no button to jump. Instead you can leap across great distances by attacking an enemy. The game was originally designed for touchscreen devices like phones and tablets, which lack controllers and buttons. The limited input makes traditional platform games challenging. Clever designers can use these limitations to create new experiences, which is exactly what happened with Shadow Bug.

Shadow Bug features a new control scheme that is unique to the Switch. You can use the left joystick to move the tiny ninja left and right, and the right stick’s motion controls to move a glowing firefly to indicate where to attack. While it might sound a bit confusing, the controls feel completely intuitive in practice. This control scheme often feels more precise and less-error-prone than touching the screen. You can still use the original touchscreen controls on the Switch if that is your preference.

The level design provides an array of different puzzle types. Sometimes you need to wander off the main path to find a key to unlock a door. Other times you’re timing your attack to avoid dangerous obstacles like lasers or spikes or globs of venom. Many of the levels contain delightful little visual surprises for figuring out something new.

Some levels involve fighting boss monsters. Many of these battles are reminiscent of Zelda games, where you have to figure out the weakness and then repeat that attack three times to kill them. This kind of mechanic feels perfectly suited to a puzzle-based platformer. It adds a welcome bit of variety and challenge to the game.

Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch]
Shadow Bug Review [Nintendo Switch]
Shadow Bug also does a nice job of providing hidden areas, secrets caches of orbs, and bonus collectables. That combined with the three-throwing-star rating system provides a reason to play through the game additional times for those who want to achieve 100% completion or compete in speed runs.

The levels are short, so you can easily play for a few minutes and feel like you’ve made progress towards completion. This is the perfect feature for a game that originated on a mobile platform. It’s also for people who have busy lives and find it challenging to sit down to play for a couple hours at a time.