Into The Breach Review Switch

Into The Breach Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Masterclass For Indie Strategy Games

Sometimes you play a game that oozes a certain type of magic. It’s not always immediately clear why it does so either, but you succumb to the feeling nevertheless as it draws you into its intricate web of splendour. It’s a rare feeling, one in which only a handful of games have given me admittedly but it’s one I experienced while playing Subset Games’ Into the Breach. A strategic indie title that has, to some surprise, arrived on the Nintendo Switch without forewarning.

Into The Breach Review Switch

It’s tempting to say that the Switch finally has a new Advance Wars, at long last, but that wouldn’t really give Into the Breach credit. While obviously similar in its turn, grid-based gameplay, Subset Games offers its own unique take on the winning formula. No longer do you have command of an almost endless supply of troops and tanks to manoeuvre across the battlefield… Instead, you defend earth from the Vek enormous creatures that are breeding beneath the planet with just three ‘mechs’.

Into The Breach Review Switch
Every move has to be considered carefully. Good luck, commander.

Each mini battle that takes place is essentially a fight for survival, a ‘hold them off until they decide to run affair’, across a number of different turns. During these battles, your job is to effectively minimise the damage to your power grid, protect your pilots and complete the available objectives in the smartest way possible. The penalty for a destroyed power grid is a literal Game Over and pilots killed in combat will not return. Buildings on the map are integral to powering the grid, so guarding them is important, but you also need to push back the Vek and smash those bonus objectives too success here bestows reputation (upgrade) points, life is tough without them. In other words: your movements are very limited, yet there’s an awful lot to do.

Yes, much like XCOM, Into the Breach does a remarkable job of making you feel helpless and guilty against your determined attackers. Every resource counts, every decision is questioned, every movement potentially your last. You did well, but remember that single building that was destroyed? Well, hundreds perished inside of it. It’s this state of vulnerability that makes it so thrilling as you just about pull off a victory, allowing you to ever so slightly upgrade your mechs with greater durability or additional moves.

Into The Breach Review Switch
Giant insects infest the earth. It’s a nightmare worth living.

Subset Games ensures a punishing sci-fi journey then; Into the Breach won’t be for everyone, even on the easier settings provided. However, like great strategy titles before it, precision, intelligence and skill are rewarded. Of course, losing to the Vek, as your precious power grid is depleted, isn’t the end of days when the majesty of time travel is involved. Upon defeat, your mechs are transported back through time, to before the point you were overwhelmed, and you can do it all again. The extra catch involved here? One, and only one, of your experienced pilots, can come with you. That’s multi-timeline Ralph for you (my longest serving pilot).

Making your way through each of the islands in Into the Breach demands you learn the mechanics thoroughly. You can reverse a move once per battle, true, but that really serves as a warning that you should be doing better. A large portion of the strategy focuses on using your environment and the unique abilities of the mechs. In lieu of directly attacking a Vek, a more efficient move might be to push it into the sea and drown it. Setting alight the monsters will perhaps validate a long game approach, but, alternatively, maybe you should have shunted two of them into one another. It’s a combined game of chess and billiards, and this is partly where that aforementioned magic starts to reveal itself.

Naturally, with a game of this calibre, the magic transpires in other more observable places too: the simplistic, retro visuals impeccably crafted and synthesised with the harps, cellos and sullen electric guitar riffs of the soundtrack which composer Ben Prunty describes as his, perchance, most ‘personal’ of all. One thing is for sure, the end of the world has seldom been this wholesome or inventive.

The even better news is that once you’ve vanquished the aliens and saved the earth, there’s so much more to see. New mech squads are available to purchase, think of them as extra chess pieces, which can radically change how you play. There are multiple pilots to recruit each with individual skills, a hard mode that demands just shy of perfection, and earning achievements serves a real, tangible purpose: it’s the currency used to buy these fresh squads. Numerous run-throughs are inevitable and encouraged.

Into The Breach Review Switch
New mech squads mean hours of fun. Forget your life.

The Switch version of Into the Breach is close to identical to its PC brother. It’s distinct, clear and attractive on the screen, with the UI from PC making it over in a rather perfect fashion. There’s some added HD Rumble support, for good measure, that subtly enhances the overall effect, but everything else is exact. Regardless, whatever platform you play Into the Breach on, quite simply, you should just play it. Did I mention that it’s a masterpiece?

Victor Vran: Overkill Edition Review [Nintendo Switch] – Medieval Duke Nukem

I was confused when I first loaded up Victor Vran. Not because I didn’t know what I was doing, more that I didn’t know what I was playing. The reason? Titular monster-hunter come demon-slayer Victor Vran is voiced by Doug Cockle who many will instantly recognise as the voice behind iconic Witcher, Geralt.

Now if you told me I was playing a spin-off of the Witcher series, I would have believed you. Let’s look at that facts; the game is set in an alternate past where monsters, demons and other nasties have started running riot and it’s your job to pursue and end them. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s what I thought, hence the confusion.

Haemimont Games, having worked on past titles such as the Tropico series, bring Victor Vran in its complete form to the Switch – full to the brim with extra content. More on that later, first of all, let’s take a look at what Victor Vran is in more detail.

Victor Vran: Overkill Edition Review Switch
Victor Vran: Overkill Edition Review Switch

Like I mentioned, you play as Vran and it is your job to liberate the cursed city of Zagoravia from all manner of evil. Set as a top-down RPG, you begin to understand that this isn’t your average top-down adventure game. You choose how you want to play with outfits giving you different abilities, weapons granting different advantages and disadvantages and a levelling system that doesn’t force you down one particular route.

For instance, you can wield a shotgun running around like a crazy medieval Duke Nukem (which I did) or you can wield a sword or hammer and get up close and personal to your foes. Added to which a sharp fedora-topped outfit allows your demon powers to recharge slowly over time or a hunters outfit will charge your powers whenever you get hit. Using your demon powers on a large group of monsters is also very satisfying, especially splatting a swarm of spiders with a meteor shower! To top it off, each new level allows you to boost a given attribute such as ranged damage, health points or to get a loot chest – of which the content is random.

It’s little things like this that allow you to tailor the game around how you like to play and tackle each mission differently. Each level/area will also have challenges for you to complete which will grant bonus experience points, gold or other boosts to help you on your way.

Now whilst Victor Vran won’t set the genre alight, more likely sit amongst other great top-down titles, it does prove a massive point. That being that these sort of games can work and thrive on the Switch, which it does. Throughout testing, I played in handheld mode and the whole thing ran smoothly and rather quickly. Navigation wasn’t hard, nor was controlling Vran or the camera which made it so easy to play that I just kept going. One area would lead to another and I easily found myself losing a couple of hours at a time taking out skeletons, spiders and other ghostly beings.

The combat is quite intense too and doesn’t allow you to pause for breath for very long. If you stay stationary for too long you can quickly find yourself surrounded so staying mobile is always advisable, finding a brief respite where you can. This is one of the things which will keep you going as each fight is unique, requiring a different tactic each time.

Victor Vran: Overkill Edition Review Switch
Victor Vran: Overkill Edition Review Switch

In this, the Overkill Edition, Victor Vran comes with a host of extra content for you to tackle. Upon starting out you are given the choice of playing the base campaign, a campaign which is inspired by and revolves around the band Motorhead (paying tribute to the late metal legend, Lemmy) and finally the Fractured Worlds mode where everything takes an even more chaotic turn. Considering that the game can also be played online, there are many different things to play and ways in which to do so making this a great outing and addition to the Switch’s ever-expanding list of titles.

My only worry is over the pricing as this sits at £34.99 meaning it’s competing with the bigger and stronger titles out there, including Nintendo’s own strong first-party outings. Would people buy it at this price? It’s unlikely. Would I recommend buying it at this price? I don’t think so, maybe if it was more like half of that, which is a shame, as it may get overlooked until a price drop further down the line. If that does happen, however, I would recommend playing Victor Vran as I’m sure you’ll enjoy this charming adventure through Zagoravia.

Graveyard Keeper Review PC

Graveyard Keeper Review [PC] – One Grave A Day Will Keep The Ghosts Away

Advertised as “the most inaccurate medieval cemetery management sim of the year,” I went into Graveyard Keeper expecting to find something weird, funny, and moderately inappropriate. What I found was something… very close to it.

Graveyard Keeper is indeed a resource management game made by Lazy Bear Games and tinyBuild, who are also the creators behind the fighter management game Punch Club.

You are thrown right into the game, witnessing our protagonist’s rather unfortunate fate, which leads him into a curious conversation with Death himself. Suddenly, we are being teleported back in time (year 204 to be exact) and are assigned the role as a graveyard keeper. You receive in your possession an old, abandoned house on a hill, with an even older and rustic graveyard next to it. 

Enjoy your own little bizarre and slightly disturbing utopia by creating a garden, tidying up your graveyard and home. However, to do these things you need to unlock different technologies. As your skills and experience as a graveyard keeper expand, you will also unlock different ways of preserving and taking care of the bodies you receive.

Graveyard Keeper Review PC
It may seem complicated at first, but as you get into the game, things gradually fall into place.

Research and upgrade your characters’ skills by collecting red, green, and blue «points» – which kinda look like regular ol’ gems. Different gems are required for different techniques:

Red: represents hand-crafting skills.

Green: knowledge about the nature of things and nature itself.

Blue: spiritual knowledge of the immaterial world.

Collecting these points takes quite some time in the beginning, making the game feel very slow-paced. However, once I learned more skills, the game naturally became more interesting.

The fact that almost every single action in the game consumes energy feels like both a blessing and a curse. While this is not necessarily a problem in itself, one might discuss that each action takes too much energy. This becomes a little tedious when you eventually have plenty of tasks to do. A grave situation indeed!

Visually, Graveyard Keeper has a lovely retro style design. With that said, the geographical design of the game feels quite big. It feels like the distance between each relevant quest site is too far, and it takes me forever to get there; maybe an auto-walk button would come in handy. But hey, at least the game has really pleasant music that I can listen to while I walk!

Graveyard Keeper Review PC
One grave a day will keep the ghosts away… literally.

The voice effects of the characters are funny and reminded me a little bit of the voices in Undertale. The characters want you to do quests for them, and in return, you gradually build a friendly relationship with them. While the dialogue has many good intentions of being funny, I cannot exactly say that it tickled my funny-bone

Even though the dialogue isn’t top-notch, Graveyard Keeper has a morbid sense of humour. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that is kinda refreshing. For example, the local tavern is in dire need of meat for their delicious meals. And well, since you have flesh in abundance, you don’t really have to tell them where it comes from, right? … Right?

As you progress further in the game, you will also receive different recipes you can cook, so that you can restore the lost energy. Perhaps you might have some use for the flesh that you’ve been extracting too – if you know what I mean.

Being the graveyard keeper feels like a minor task in the game, compared to the tons of other stuff you can do: keeping a farm, a garden, working as a blacksmith to fix around your home, and doing various quests for the other villagers. The game runs in a day-and-night cycle, with different weather, even though I didn’t get the feeling it affected anything regarding gameplay. The characters’ availability, on the other hand, depends on which day of the week it is, where each day is indicated by its own symbol.

Moreover, Graveyard Keeper can become rather tedious. One example is being able to only pick up one thing at a time when you have to move quite a distance, making each task long and dreary. If I could pick up two things at a time, that would reduce the workload. If these glitches could be fixed, being a graveyard keeper wouldn’t be such a dead-end job… 

Though I must say, after I’ve laid my character to sleep to regenerate his energy bar, I kept finding myself automatically playing another day. Looks I’m just dying to play more… Because even though the game definitely has some flaws, it is nevertheless an entertaining game with a lot of potential.

I believe that the game could become excellent if it received more updates. If you like grinding games, Graveyard Keeper will definitely give you many hours of entertaining gameplay to dig into.

P.S: I hope my editor doesn’t give me the graveyard shift after this!

Graveyard Keeper is available on PC and Xbox One.

Hello Neighbor Review [Nintendo Switch] – Great Idea, Little Satisfaction

One would imagine that if you backtrack before the release of Hello Neighbor by Dynamic Pixels, before coding and artwork, before storyboards and script writing, someone, somewhere had a great idea for an amazing game.

Hello Neighbor [Switch] – Great Idea, Little Satisfaction

They wrote pages and pages of scribbled notes on a napkin sitting at a diner booth in the late hours of the night, drinking coffee and eating a cold plate of fries. This budding game designer would feverishly jot down ideas for a wild new concept that would revolutionize a genre. As their fries got colder and the napkin count rose, a fully fleshed out world would start to take shape.

I am sure whatever was written on those grease-stained napkins was pure genius, but that genius never made it past the face towelette stage. Hello Neighbor, a self-professed “Stealth Survival Horror” game, might have sounded like a spectacular idea at the start, but what we got will more likely make you weep then shake in your boots.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

The main objective is to sneak into your shady neighbor’s house and find a way to break into the basement to discover his dirty secret(s). You have the option of going through open bedroom windows, the front door, via the roof, and more. Be careful though, if the evil neighbor catches you, he’ll throw you out on the street. If he sees you lurking outside, he’ll jump through the closed window to boot you onto the curb. Magically, the window gets fixed in an instant.

Sounds easy enough, but as you find different ways of infiltrating, the Neighbor finds new ways of stopping you. The A.I. in the game is meant to counter your every move. Where once the front door was open and clear, now there will be cameras watching. Certain windows will have bear traps to stop you, or the Neighbor will find new shortcuts to get to you before you complete your mission.

If you manage to make it in the house, you can hide in cabinets and under tables as your enemy searches frantically to no avail. The house itself grows with new rooms and ways of getting lost, which I found to be pretty neat.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

It should all be fun and innovative, but instead, feels clunky, buggy, and frustrating. For instance, you can stack boxes to reach a window, but the physics engine seems to be off. The boxes are infuriatingly easy to knock over before ever getting anything done. It reminds me of a late ’90s virtual reality game that you think is going to be really awesome but ends up disappointing your childhood.

The colour pallet looks as if Thomas the Tank Engine had a baby with Marge Simpson, and then gave it up for adoption to Gumby. It’s not that I hate the way everything looks, it’s just that it has this uncomfortableness about it.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

There was one thing I did like about the game, and that’s a rather interesting auditory experience. If you listen carefully, you can hear the Neighbor’s footsteps as he walks inside and outside of the house (and it’s easy to differentiate between the two).

You can hear him as he is using the kitchen or bathroom sink, snoring in the living room, or grumbling to himself. The Neighbor will even turn on a record player or a broken TV, which you can then turn off by sneaking in through a window. Eliminating the extraneous noise allows the player to hear better and locate where the Neighbor might be at a given time. Out of all the things the developers were going for, I really enjoyed this one specific play mechanic the best. It isn’t perfect, but it’s fun.

Truth be told, I never made it too far into unlocking the mystery of it all, but that’s mostly because I stopped caring. I know this review sounds harsh, but that’s probably because I feel the concept is actually really cool, just poorly executed.

I Love the idea of an A.I. that learns and makes things harder minute by minute. I love the idea of using your senses to avoid the enemy and solve the puzzle. I am a huge fan of using your surroundings to aid in the quest. I just wish it all came together better.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

My Child Lebensborn Review [Android/iOS] – A Heartbreaking Journey Through War

My grandmother was 21 years old when the Second World War ended. Even though she was not herself a child born of war, she remembers the stigma and negative attitude that existed around children with a German father and Norwegian mother; the war didn’t necessarily end for some of these poor children. I remember her telling me stories that for her family, it was the drastic change in society that made the biggest impact.

Before I continue, let me explain the word “Lebensborn”. During World War 2, children of German soldiers and Nordic women were registered to the Nazi’s “Lebensborn” program and were just one of many examples of the Nazi’s twisted look on race and genes. When the war ended, the Lebensborn children became especially vulnerable to injustice and abuse, both through adoptions and placement in children’s homes and by the treatment from general society.

Made by the Norwegian game developers Sarepta Studio (also the creators of Shadow Puppeteer), My Child Lebensborn tells the difficult story about children born of war, and the hardship of surviving the aftermath of the Second World War in Norway. You adopt either Karin or Klaus, young children abandoned by their parents. As the sole caregiver for the child, the player has to help them survive in a post-war society filled with hate.

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The game has a lovely hand-drawn art style.

My Child Lebensborn is a story-driven nurture game, where each day is split up into four parts, morning, midday, afternoon, and night. During each part of the day, you have two or three “energy bars” – each action you take depletes one of these bars. I have to feed Karin, give her baths and take care of her; reminding me very much of Tamagotchi in terms of gameplay. This also involves buying and making the food, fixing her clothes, and reading bedtime stories.

Karin goes from being a happy child, feeling hopeful and eager to meet the future – to becoming a child that questions her own existence, the spark of life taken from her. And it is my job, as her protector, to restore it. Weighing your choices carefully is important because they shape and form the child as a person – will you fix Karin’s clothes because they were ripped up by the mean children at her school, or read her a bedtime story to calm her down after other the kids were picking on her? Work overtime to earn more money for food or go home to a child that is lonely and scared?

Prioritising is painful in this game, and I constantly wish that I had more time. The dialogue is as sweet and joyful as it is brutal and honest, and it’s up to the player to balance resources and the child’s emotional needs, where each choice you make will have an impact on the child’s personality and view on life.

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Parenting a child born of war is far from easy; as the child becomes older, Karin eventually starts to question her own history, wanting to know more about her parents, and why the other children at their school are being so mean to her. This is where the interesting parts of the game come in; the events that happen in My Child Lebensborn are based on real events, which makes them all the more powerful. While it baffles me that people have the ability to be so cruel to a child – or to anyone for that matter – it hurts me even more that I feel helpless to do anything about it.

Because of the game’s design, the only downside would be the inevitable pattern of repetitiveness. Except for some days that carry special events, most days are exactly the same gameplay-wise. Because of that mechanism, I felt like the story went a little bit too slow. When I wanted to know more about the story, I still had to finish every chore before I could move on to the next day, which was frustrating when the storyline peaked. But I guess it’s like that by design; we’re supposed to be on edge, eager to see how the road is being paved for this child.

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You don’t have to be a Norwegian to play this game, nor have much knowledge of the country’s history. Even though this is a story being told from a small corner of the world, they are not exclusive to Norway – children from all over the world suffered the same fate, regardless of the conflict, where they are, or what their cultures are.

Lust For Darkness Review PC

Lust For Darkness Review [PC] – A Flaccid Attempt At Erotic, Lovecraftian Horror

From 50 Shades of Gray all the way back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, humans have always been intrigued with sex, attraction, and the social boundaries around the delights of the flesh.

Lust For Darkness Review PC

Lust for Darkness, developed by Movie Games Lunarium, attempts to combine erotic fiction with themes reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft. Unfortunately, Lust for Darkness takes hold of some of the more sordid tropes of the erotic fiction genre, without taking advantage of the Lovecraftian themes, or even the gaming medium itself. Thus, leaving the experience feeling flat.

Your wife is kidnapped by a sex cult bent on opening a portal to a world of eternal pleasure named, wait for it, Lusst’ghaa. To be fair, the game explains the word “Lust” comes from the experiences of that world, not the other way around. But, this alone speaks volumes about the quality of the in-game storytelling, which, unfortunately, never fares any better than your typical discounted bodice ripper.

Without giving much away, you end up with a woman is kidnapped, the woman is then raped, and she then develops what appears to be an extraordinary example of Stockholm’s Syndrome. I am not one to feign offence, so I realize this is a standard trope in erotic fiction, but the story never really progresses above this, nor is there really much story to speak of in general.

There are sections of background info you can find throughout the game that give more details on the cult itself, which were actually quite interesting. These extra bits of story told through text were never quite enough to make up for the lack of story in a playthrough, but it did demonstrate to me that the developer put far more thought into the tale than the player ever gets to experience directly. I hope if the developer chooses to move forward with another title, they can add in more of this type of storytelling as a part of the game experience rather than in the form of side collectables.

Gameplay was similarly thin. Most of your time is spent simply wandering about, which would have been fine had there been a more detailed experience or plot. But, as it is, you find yourself only in a handful of run-ins with the baddies of Lusst’ghaa. These are very short run sequences reminiscent of Amnesia. However, these are so few and fleeting, the game rarely engenders a true sense of dread or terror. I was able to make it through each one without much trouble. Similarly, the puzzles are also few and far between, and so simple that can be solved in a matter of minutes.

To the developer’s credit, however, the game looks gorgeous and it is clear much time and thought were invested in everything from the numerous nick-knacks and items of decoration scattered across the extravagant mansion, to the purple-hued caverns of Lusst’ghaa, to the various masks you will see the cult members donning prior to their upcoming ceremony.

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It is the clear attention to visual detail, along with some of the interesting background info you can discover along the journey, that makes me think Movie Games Lunarium has potential to develop an interesting title. But, Lust for Darkness is not that title. The game comes in at around three hours in length, but the short experience still feels hollow and offers little to nothing to encourage a second run-through unless you feel compelled to locate all the little snippets of extra story detail.

Henry The Hamster Handler Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Simple Yet Challenging Rhythm Game

In a time dominated by an ever-growing number of expansive open world games, it’s occasionally nice to sit back with something simple. There are a lot of small games for the Switch, a good amount of which can, unfortunately, be written off as cash grabs. Simplicity, however, doesn’t always have to mean bad.

Pong is simple, and yet one of the most iconic games ever created. Henry the Hamster Handler by Pocket Money Games is not going to reach the icon stratosphere like Pong, but it is a simple game that packs in a lot of complex fun.

Henry The Hamster Handler Review

Henry The Hamster Handler Review

The game’s premise is basic; make sure the furry little nuggets of joy reach their destination without getting eviscerated. The Hamsters walk at an even pace across the stage with various obstacles in their way.

You the player must press the correct Joy-Con button when prompted in order to allow the little ones to proceed without impediment. Fail to do so, and you’ll immediately see your new friends burned, gassed, crushed, vaporized, or fall to their deaths. If a majority don’t make it across the danger zone intact, the stage will automatically be lost.

There are three hundred levels, each one with increasing difficulty and speed. Like most classic rhythm games, you have to get into the groove or you’ll get overwhelmed pretty quickly.

The first couple of levels ease you into the play mechanics, but I found myself scrambling to hit the correct buttons pretty soon out of the gate. As you can guess, the hamsters keep coming, forcing you to act fast or face the consequences. Things got so intense, I definitely became anxiety-ridden on more than a few occasions.

Henry The Hamster Handler Review

There’s really not much else to the game. Hamsters drop down, and the human must ensure they make it safely to the goal. Fail to do so, and you have to restart the stage. There are no frills, no bonus menus, and no options to speak of. This is as simple as it gets, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not worth your time.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review [Nintendo Switch] – Hello Old Friend

It has been far too long since I experienced a Castlevania game. It wasn’t until I played Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon that I realised the full meaning of that statement either. Regardless of what Konami wants to do with the ‘Castlevania’ name, this is what the real future of the franchise now looks like. And it’s looking bright.

Let me just say, though, that it’s an increasingly common trend in the games industry. That being where the original creator, (Koji Igarashi in this case), has to fight back for the same individual and creative control they once knew. I won’t digress any further on that point, don’t worry, but it’s great to see a positive outcome in such a mad, fickle world.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review

So, here we are with Curse of the Moon and the short answer is: it’s essentially everything you might expect and want from a ‘classic’ Castlevania game. What I mostly mean by classic is the absence of the Metroidvania exploration and, to a degree, upgrades we all know and love. That’s not a bad thing at all…

What we have instead are levels, with multiple paths within them, that all nevertheless lead to the same ending point. At the end of the levels are challenging bosses that remind you of how tough video games of the past used to be. You’ll have to fight your way through endless creatures of the night and avoid nasty traps to get there as well.

You might even ‘battle across a bridge’ or ‘through a room’. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review
Zangetsu in action

Fundamentally then, what Iga and the extremely talented Inti Creates have produced here recaptures the magic of the very first 2D Castlevania games from the NES and SNES days. That includes an awesome soundtrack (of course), gorgeous 8-bit graphics and the ability to control four different characters. The latter is an area in which Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is fondly remembered for.

Four Characters, Eight Stages

In Curse of the Moon, we have the exorcist Zangetsu who fights with a sword, the heroine Miriam who deploys the classic whip, the latest ‘incarnation’ of Dracula called Gebel, (although not officially), who can turn into a bat or summon them from his cape and, lastly, the alchemist Alfred who can use powerful magic. Each of these characters is unlocked at the end of the preliminary stages. All of them have individual life bars too, making things a bit easier.

You’ll be switching between the group to get through the eight stages, although, for a first playthrough, Miriam’s range of attack with her whip is a safe bet. There are also diverging points on each of the levels that can only be accessed through certain character abilities. Finding these points will take you through a variety of scenarios that keep Curse of the Moon feeling fresh.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review
This magic spell is essential

It wasn’t until I completed the game twice on ‘Veteran’ (Spoilers: there are multiple endings), that I truly started to understand where each character excelled. Basically, the more deaths I endured, the easier it became. Yes, there is certainly a high difficulty to overcome in Veteran (probably not as tough as some of the older Castlevania titles), but purists will most likely love every masochistic second of it.

Veteran Or Casual?

Have no fear though. Players that are new to the series or just want to take a smoother ride are also well looked after with the ‘Casual’ style of play. Casual removes the dreaded knockback from enemies and lives are unlimited. The game asks you whether you want to change the style frequently, encouraging either more challenge or a break from the stress. This is a great implementation.

I can’t say Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon does anything truly new for the series, but sometimes that’s perfectly ok. What it does do, however:

  1. Recreates the classic games, to brilliant effect
  2. Continues the dormant legacy of the wonderful Castlevania series
  3. Makes the wait for Ritual of the Night much harder

For most people, that will definitely be an enticing proposition worthy of their time and money.

Venture Kid

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

Introduction

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.

A Way Out

A Way Out Review [PS4] – A Criminally Good Co-Op Adventure

As they say, there’s no “I” in “team.” From the man who has believed in this mantra since his previous game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Josef Fares is the director of the co-op exclusive A Way Out. Made by Hazelight Studios and published by Electronic Arts, this is a game I have been looking forward to ever since it was announced on E3 in 2017.

A Way Out is a textbook action-adventure game, but it’s unique in so many ways. As mentioned, there is no single-player option. You can play either local co-op, with a traditional split-screen style, or you can play online with another player. I chose to play the game in local co-op, so I can’t comment on how the game works online. From my experience with Fares’ previous game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, I knew local co-op would not be a problem, as Brothers offered an amazing co-op experience.

A Way Out Review

At the beginning of the game, each player has to assign a character, which can be described in these short terms:

  • Meet Vincent Moretti. Smart and strategic, Vincent prefers the stealthy route when it comes to handling situations and is not one to be underestimated. Vincent is convicted of murder, and the game opens with him being lead into prison. Outside the prison, Vincent is in a somewhat rocky place with his very pregnant wife.
  • Meet Leo Caruso. Tough, honest, and never afraid to do things the hard way, Leo is a stubborn man who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Leo is already an inmate when Vincent entered the prison and was convicted of grand theft. Outside the bars, Leo’s faithful girlfriend and their beloved son are waiting for him.

While the two men have each taken a very different path in life up until this very moment, Leo and Vincent’s unique stories are connected into one fantastic storyline. As they slowly get to know each other, they find out about a common enemy, a con man named Harvey – the sole reason for them being in prison in the first place. Queue revenge-plot!

Prison is a dangerous place to be and escaping it isn’t easy. Leo and Vincent are determined to get out. How else are they going to get their revenge? So, walk around the prison, do your chores, and make discreet conversation with the other inmates to gather information on security, how the prison is built, its weaknesses, etc. Do everything you can to make the prison break more manageable, without letting anyone else know what you’re planning.

A Way Out
Take a break from the “escaped convict” life, and play a round or two of tic-tac-toe with your partner!

There are bound to be some fights in prison and this is no different. The fighting scenes are well-made, and in the very first one Leo and Vincent must work together in a ‘fighting circle’. The fights are badass, smoothly shifting from Leo’s perspective to Vincent’s – and it works really well. The quick-time events are terrific and so much fun. Three words: slow-motion scenes. However, there are also stealth-missions while inside the prison; one is the distraction, the other does the dirty work. The reliance on both of you to do your job is exciting and serves for some very refreshing gameplay.

The question on everyone’s mind is; how did they get there in the first place? The storyline moves back and forth between past and present, giving the player a right amount of story both before and after their escape from prison. And yeah, that is not a spoiler, by the way. The majority of the game does not actually surround itself with after prison; it surrounds itself with what happens after their escape. Leo and Vincent’s reunion with the world is not necessarily easy, as they finally must encounter the problems that have been waiting for them outside the bars.

What I really like is how A Way Out integrates the co-op factor into every single aspect of the game – with masterful success. Upon completing a task, such as opening heavy doors and climbing certain obstacles, you are dependent on your partner to help you. That’s just the minor things. The game is extremely interesting in how it presents a variety of different ways of getting through multiple situations.

The two escaped convicts have their own methods: while Leo prefers brute force, Vincent wants more stealth. Most importantly, the players actually have to agree on the choice. And let me tell you, that can definitely create some tension on each side of the couch. This also creates some great replay value – I would like to find out if the story unfolded differently if I had made other choices.

A Way Out
The nice pacing of the game makes each moment all the more engaging.

When it comes to dialogue and script, there is an excellent synergy between Leo and Vincent and it is well-written, intriguing and thrilling. The voice-acting was good, and the synergy between the voice-actors was just as good as the characters in-game. The emotions change quickly from witty commentary that made both me and my partner laugh out loud, to severe conversations that created a pit in our stomach.

Visually, A Way Out is a stunning action-game with perfect pacing. Like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the game knows that it has beautiful scenery, and gives the player plenty of chances to slow down and observe, before throwing out a fast-paced challenge. As Leo and Vincent naturally must spend a lot of time outside, the game really gets a chance to show off incredible lighting and with perfect corresponding ambience.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the different nuances implemented within. In different instances of the game, the perspective changes. Some parts use the classic GTA top-down style, others it’s a Tekken/Street Fighter style. Josef Fares has made some bold decisions by adding a lot of variety, but somehow it just works perfectly and feels refreshing.

There is also a distinct change in audio when each character has separate conversations. If the players are exploring on different sides of a scenario, then the one who started to speak first will have the highest audio or the ‘focus‘ of the conversations. When one of the characters encounters a critical discussion, the game will automatically focus more on that. It’s an excellent way to focus on the essential things, and even though it was a bit confusing at first, it worked surprisingly well.

It wasn’t until I played A Way Out that I realized how much I’ve missed classic split-screen co-op. Nothing beats it. Where have all the good ones gone anyway? Because if I had to find a flaw in this game, I would say that I wished it was just a little bit longer… I wanted more, and though I know that wishes like that are often a double-edged sword, A Way Out is so much more than a get-out-of-prison game.

[There’s a huge twist at the end, a true turning point of the story; if you’re playing with someone in the same room, there might or might not be a problem. And that’s all I am going to say about that].

Juicy Realm Review

Juicy Realm Review [PC] – The Saltiest Fruit You’ll Ever Fight

Humans, despite our lack of brute strength, when compared to other predators in the animal kingdom, have managed to stay on top of the food chain due to our innovation, particularly when it comes to the creation of weapons.

But, what if another species suddenly developed weapons as well and decided our time as king of the jungle had come to an end? And, no, I am not talking about Charlton Heston against a band of royally perturbed, highly intelligent apes.

I am talking about an enemy that seems far less likely to arise, but if they ever did, man would find they have a bone to pick with us: sentient fruit.

Juicy Realm Review

Juicy Realm is a roguelike in which you’re taking part in an ongoing war against cognizant crops of various berries, pomes, and melons.

Notes left behind by a brave, or foolish, observer provide some context for the world in which you now find yourself. However, it doesn’t take more than a few seconds of gameplay to figure out regardless of why or how these once docile and delicious eatables are out to kill.

Equipped with weapons ranging from dual-wielded swords to portable Gatling guns, the fruit prove to be formidable foes.

You have the choice to stand in the shoes of four different character types who come with varying stats and starting weapons: the Boxer, the Botanist, the Mercenary, and the Ninja.

All, except the Ninja, begin with a gun. The Ninja is the only one who begins with a melee weapon in the form of a giant sword. Between playthroughs, you can choose to switch out characters by going back to camp, but not during a play session.

Each character also comes with a unique item/secondary weapon classified as “gear” that cannot be dropped or replaced during combat. The Botanist comes with a grenade launcher type weapon. The Ninja has a tiny, mobile companion that can be dispatched to electrocute enemies. The Mercenary can set up a turret that sends single blasts toward approaching enemies. And, finally, the Boxer can use a life potion that refills portions of her HP as long as she stands within the glowing, green circle.

Once a character deploys their gear, a meter on the bottom of the screen empties and then slowly refills, indicating when the gear can be used again. the time between uses is long enough that you don’t depend too heavily on them as a sort of trump card during combat.

However, they do give some characters more advantage over others.

Juicy Realm Review

For example, the Boxer’s life potion and high beginning HP do make her easier to use than, say, the Ninja who’s beginning weapon, as badass as it may seem, make him far more vulnerable to attack since he must engage enemies at close range.

His companion, however, being mobile is far more useful than the Mercenary’s turret which requires you to lure enemies close to it before it becomes useful.

In this way, the developers of Juicy Realm have done a decent job of establishing a simple balance between characters and requiring you to use each character slightly differently during combat.

I do wish the game allowed you to compare the stats of each character’s starting weapons along with their other stats. Without this information, I had no way of knowing whether there was a specific advantage to any of the guns over the others, or even how the Ninja’s sword stacked up against other melee weapons I found throughout my journey.

The game does give you some simple stats for new weapons you find but unfortunately does not offer a way to compare them to weapons you are currently carrying.

A recent update improved the attack power of melee weapons, thus making their use feel a bit less like an unfair disadvantage during combat. This is especially important since weapons are dropped or discovered randomly.

So, if you end up running out of ammo and need to use the baguette you just found to defend yourself (yes, a baguette), you are not at the disadvantage you once would have been before this was corrected.

In fact, I often noticed certain melee weapons could take out enemies in two hits when the gun I was using took at least four or five shots. The advantage of the gun, obviously, is that I can keep moving and stay much farther away from enemies during a firefight.

The only issue, however, with the game giving you melee weapons is as effective as they may be, you are literally bringing a knife (or, rather, a wrench) to a gunfight. Some of the enemies can shoot three shots in quick succession. Others can fire multiple rounds one after another.

When there is a cluster of enemies, this makes using melee weapons quite difficult and made me wonder a few times why melee was available at all, or at least as common as it is, within what is clearly a dual-stick shooter type game, along with its roguelike elements.

In order to help players maintain use of their guns longer, the same update that increased melee attack power also added random enemy ammo drops. This means that while you can indeed run out of ammo, I rarely did. I was quite thankful I did not have to battle a boss with the baguette.

Plus, blasting away your equally equipped fruity foes was far more fast paced and enjoyable than the comparably slow melee attacks.

Juicy Realm Review

Aside from locating weapons and ammo at random, you can also break open boxes to reveal food which will restore your health.

Coins that you can either find or collect from fallen enemies can be used to purchase randomly generated items from vending machines you will find also at random throughout your run.

Keep your eyes open because “hidden” areas will appear that, though not hard to figure out how to get to, can offer extra coin or food or ammo. The game’s controls are smooth and straightforward. On the keyboard, you use the mouse to aim and WASD to move about. You click left to fire and clicking right on the mouse allows you to dash a short distance in the direction your mouse is pointed.

This works especially well when in close combat with an enemy that can fire several shots in succession, but I found I rarely needed it when using a firearm because all I needed to do was keep moving about.

Just like with the gear, there is a meter that depletes each time you use your dash ability which will need to refill after a certain number of uses before you can use the dash again.

The game also has controller support, though I found aiming with the mouse much simpler than the dual-stick controls on the controller. There is no way to customize the controls using either, but with such simple design, I didn’t feel the need to do so.

Boss battles have a traditional Zelda-like feel, requiring you to learn a series of attack patterns in order to achieve victory.

For instance, the first boss I fought, a giant melon, had four basic attacks: a dash, a ground pound, shooting several rows of wooden spikes, and setting loose a gaggle of tiny watermelon slices that are surprisingly aggressive despite their tiny appearance.

I quickly learned I could not do any damage unless the boss was momentarily incapacitated. So, I had to learn how to make that happen.

Of course, this means you will likely die at least once or twice before reaching your goal.

Punishment for death means going back to camp and starting over again. This might seem likely a heavy price, but due to the constantly changing level layouts, I never felt like I was making the same run twice.

Juicy Realm Review

On the downside, though, without any real way to upgrade or customize your weapons or characters, the multiple run-throughs begin to lose a sense of reward aside from hopefully making it all the way through.

The game is rather short, at least, so I never got to the point where I lost interest entirely. But, if I could customize my weapons or my character so that each run-through at least rewarded me with something that would make tearing through the same levels much faster and with more satisfying violence, it might raise the replay value quite a bit.

As it is, you can play against your own time once you finish the game, but there isn’t much else to keep you coming back. Unless that is, you want to play through with a friend using the local two-player mode.

Despite its tendency to perhaps be a bit overly simplistic, Juicy Realm boasts gorgeous visuals and a handful of different level designs. From dense jungle to desert sands, the vibrant, stimulating colour palette paired with the jovial soundtrack adds a level of excitement and wonder.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review [Nintendo Switch] – Magic?

There aren’t many times where I don’t sing the praises of the Nintendo Switch, and the same is going to happen here. Albeit not in the form of praise for its power, prowess or its stellar first-party line-up, but more for the fact it is helping me catch up with some games that I have missed on other consoles.

The Switch is the perfect platform for smaller, indie games new or old and it’s great to see so much support for the little guys out there by Nintendo.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Switch Review

Such a title that I missed back in 2013 was Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Not through ignorance or purpose, it was just something that I never picked up at the time, much like many indie games I must ashamedly concede that launched around this time.

So, Max has had his time already on other platforms, including this generation and the last generation of consoles, not to mention PC. Now, though, is his time to shine for Nintendo…

The Curse of Brotherhood starts with Max squabbling with his younger brother Felix – much like anyone else did when they had another sibling. Rooting through his toys and making an almighty mess, Max puts a curse on Felix that he found on the internet in an attempt to make him disappear.

Somehow it works and both Felix and Max get pulled through a wormhole into another creepy and bizarre universe where Felix has been kidnapped and Max must rescue his brother.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review

Permanent Marker

The game plays out across your typical 2D platformer landscape with you having to navigate Max over obstacles and dodge enemies to move onto the next area.

Sadly Max didn’t come well-equipped for this task beyond having a permanent marker in his possession when he came through the wormhole. After meeting an old lady who has magic power, she grants his marker the ability to manipulate certain parts of the terrain to Max’s advantage.

This allows the Switch to show off its multiple inputs by having you control Max with the thumbsticks on the Joy-Cons but allowing you to use the marker by using the touchscreen display.

It’s simple, and makes perfect sense, as I imagine most people will play the game in handheld mode – as I did for the duration of my time before writing this review.

The game also looks very shiny on the console and runs smoothly, but it does also show its age sometimes, with the textures and reliance on the same mechanics throughout.

There are also a couple of issues with the detection when jumping and input for the marker pen which can result in you repeating certain sections.

But, for a five-year-old game, this does not detract from the title and it is to be expected that it won’t be as ‘shiny’ as if it were launched today.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is the perfect game for the Switch. It’s a game you can pick up and play at any point and makes use of the Switch’s portability and touchscreen. In fact, if you ask me, playing games like this is one of the biggest selling points for the Switch.