Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Nobody likes this game!
My friends just shake their heads whenever I put it in. Chris took one look at the full-motion video and asked if it was a CD-i game. My wife wanted to know if I paid money for this. 1-2-Switch is mainly a showcase for the new Joy-Con controllers. These tiny overpriced controllers ($50 each!) are basically miniature Wiimotes, complete with the "be mindful of your surroundings" warnings. Despite their size the Joy-Cons are jam-packed with functionality, housing a microphone, camera, sophisticated rumble feedback, an accelerometer, and gyroscope for motion tracking. 1-2-Switch bundles up 28 mini-games, some of which are so trivial you'll be amazed they made the cut. All are two-player only, and most instruct you to look your opponent in the eye, which I found awkward. The action is largely driven by sound cues and force feedback. In fact, a blind person could play this! Some games test your reflexes, like the Wild West shootout and a phone-answering contest. Zen challenges you to remain perfectly still, detecting even your slightest movements. Ball Count simulates a number of balls rolling around in the controller and it's pretty neat. Some of the more elaborate motion games like runway model and air guitar are probably more entertaining if the players have been drinking... a lot
. Some of the more offbeat games incorporate shaving, eating, and milking a cow. Signal Flag and Sword Fight are too confusing to be fun, although you could argue that none of these are particularly fun. A few, like Dice Roll and Soda Shake, barely qualify as a game
. To its credit, 1-2-Switch boasts slick production values, bright color schemes, and enthusiastic actors. Judging from the tutorial videos alone you'd expect every game to be a complete riot. Other critics have written off 1-2-Switch as a glorified tech demo that should have been shipped with the system. They are correct. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Arms is Punch-Out!!
(NES, 1987) for the 90s! I mean 2000's! Whatever! In this high energy, one-on-one slugfest each fighter has long, coily arms. Not only can you throw punches from a distance, but you can guide your fists
toward your moving opponent. The stylish presentation boards bright visuals and a spirited vocal chorus. It occurred to me that Arms has one element you rarely see in modern video games, and that's a catchy soundtrack! It'll have you cranking up the volume and humming right along. The colorful cast includes ninja dudes, chicks with taffy hair, a hulking mummy, a robot, and a Gumby-like character. You outfit your fighter with a variety of arms (hands really) equipped with gadgets like shields, missiles, or saws. The arenas range from a laboratory to a dance club to the steps of a Japanese temple. In addition to throwing punches you can dash, jump, and block. Naturally there's a special move that lets you go buck-wild with a crazy barrage. I found the screen layout confusing. Your opponent's health meter only appears intermittently, often in the distance. The game is surprisingly playable with the Joy-Con motion controls. It's satisfying to land a combo or catch a dodging enemy in the side of the head. Unfortunately, configuring the Joy-Cons as individual controllers is pain, so my friends and I normally just stick to the standard controller configuration. Either way, the game will make you work up a sweat. In addition to best-of-three matches there are basketball, volleyball, and target-punching mini-games. I guess the main problem with Arms is that it doesn't have legs
. Competing against a friend is fun, but there's little incentive to play solo, outside of earning credits to unlock new arms. Still, I have to give Arms credit for its refreshing arcade-style gameplay with originality to burn. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Flashback Classics
Publisher: Atari (2018)
Combining the three previously-released volumes of Atari Flashback Classics, this massive 150-game compilation would appear to be a tremendous value. You get 32 arcade games, 102 Atari 2600 games, and 16 Atari 5200 titles. The arcade selection includes all-time greats like Centipede, Tempest, Asteroids, and Missile Command. Digging deep into its archive, Atari also unearthed ancient black-and-white arcade titles like Avalanche, Destroyer, Basketball, and Fire Truck. They look sharp but their audio is the true revelation. That bonus beep in Asteroids Deluxe sounds like it's coming from another dimension!
The console selection includes some legitimate classics (Adventure, Warlords, Video Pinball, Yars' Revenge) but there's plenty of filler like Hangman, Stellar Track, and Basic Math. Several homebrews are also included like Yars' Return, Wizard, and Adventure II. M-Network titles like Armor Ambush and Frogs and Flies are great third-party additions, but the lack of Activision and Imagic games is glaring. They produced some of the best titles for the system! And where are Defender, Phoenix, Galaxian, Jungle Hunt, and Pac-Man? Apparently they were only licensed
by Atari for their consoles. Still, it's neat how you can bring up a virtual Atari 2600 dashboard and flip its switches. To determine which variation you want, you can peruse digitized manuals and they even included the comic books for the Swordquest titles. My main issue with this collection is the controls. Most of the arcade games and even many of the console titles required special controllers like paddles or trackballs. An analog stick is a marginal substitute. It feels more touchy than precise, even when you dial down the sensitivity. Certain games work fine with the thumbstick (Black Widow and Night Driver) while others don't work at all (Red Baron and Race). The Atari 5200 keypad emulation is comically bad. It ruins Realsports Baseball, which also suffers from visual glitches and off-key sound. The Flashback menu interface is poor in general, requiring you to begin a new game before you can return to the main menu. Local high scores are saved for the arcade games but not the console titles. Atari Flashback Classics may contain a treasure trove of classic material, but it feels like a case of quantity over quality. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Badlands Games (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
I tend to hop from one game to the next but Axiom Verge became an instant obsession. I still can't get over how finely-crafted and inventive this sci-fi platfomer is. Though obviously a Metroid clone, Axiom Verge out-Metroids every Metroid game ever made. Its gorgeously-pixelated 16-bit graphics employ limited color schemes for dramatic effect, with stages composed of granular blocks. It's superb 2D gameplay is enhanced by a mind-bending story and pulse-pounding musical score. The environments feature a lot of familiar elements like steam vents, rolling boulders, and toxic pools, but don't let that fool you. The creativity in this game is off the charts, with monsters, items, and weapons like you've never imagined. Case in point is the "address disrupter" gun which actually allows you to create graphical glitches in the game
- for your benefit!! And once you think you have Axiom Verge figured out, you're just getting started. Like a good Zelda adventure once you acquire a new ability you'll want to comb over old locations to make new discoveries. Backtracking has never been so satisfying. A handy map is at your fingertips and the save points are perfectly placed. The audio is amazing, from the crisp tapping of your drone scurrying around to the Defender-like electronic sound when you find a new weapon. Static in the music adds to the atmosphere of isolation, but some people might wonder if there's something wrong with their sound system. Axiom Verge was developed over five years by a single man.
And when you consider Tom Happ even created its otherworldly soundtrack, this is an astounding accomplishment. My one complaint has more to do with the Nintendo Switch controller. A game like this demands a directional pad, and there's really no decent substitute on the Joycon. Double-tapping is awkward and I kept accidentally changing weapons! Once I switched to a Pro Controller, it was like night and day. Axiom Verge isn't a Metroid clone - it's a Metroid killer!
This is one of the best games I've ever played - hands down. TIP: The Multiverse Edition includes bonus materials. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nicalis (2018)
Rating: Teen (mild blood, mild language, partial nudity, suggestive themes, violence)
This is a one-on-one fighter that really does live up to its name. Who the hell are
these people?! An NES-style instruction manual provides some much-needed insight. Most apparently hail from Cave Story and something called Code of Princess X. I did recognize Shovel Knight and Isaac at least. Blade Strangers kicks off with an exuberant, feel-good singing animated intro. The 2D characters are large and detailed but their grainy edges suggest the screen resolution isn't high enough. The warriors hail from ancient times all the way through the future, and there are a few legitimate hotties. Most are armed with a weapon like a sword, knife, gun, or... backpack?
There's no blood, even when a girl is kneeling over an opponent and stabbing it repeatedly with a knife! One chick rides on the back of her enormous cat who does most of the fighting with his claws. When someone takes a hit the screen warps a bit like there's a sudden tear in the space-time continuum. The controls are pretty standard, with plenty of combos and counters. Expect some really over-the-top moves, like getting smacked into the stratosphere with a baseball bat. I like how using the same attack over and over results in a repetition penalty. That said, button mashing can get you pretty far, and once I cornered my opponent they usually had no chance. The voices are all Japanese, giving the game some street cred. The stages tend to be bland and uninteresting, including a space station, clock tower, and empty basement. Even the Halloween-themed "Lich Yard" is lacking in detail. After beating arcade mode on my first attempt I gave the story mode a try. It featured a bunch of computers having funny conversations about bringing fighters back from throughout time to battle. Wouldn't you know I beat that on my first try too? The survival mode might be a challenge if you set it to hard, but by then I felt like I'd seen just about all the game had to offer. Unless you have a vested interest in these obscure characters Blade Strangers feels like generic, disposable fighting fare. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Publisher: Inti Creates (2018)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Curse of the Moon is one of two Bloodstained titles recently released. Don't get them confused!
Curse is an NES-style Castlevania throwback with charming pixelated graphics, old-school platform gameplay, and reverberating minor-key music. For those with fond memories of the original Castlevania
(NES, 1987), Curse of the Moon fits like an old shoe. The graphics are understated but artistic, with layered scenery that's easy on the eyes. The opening scene features a dark forest silhouette over the night sky, with a ghostly blue locomotive chugging in the background. The monochromatic characters and monsters are rendered with thick outlines and frankly it's hard to tell what some of them are supposed to be. The animations are engaging however, with decrepit skeletons pointing the way and the scuttling rats that periodically hunch up to look around. The controls are so simple you can even navigate stairs
with ease. You begin play as a swordsman but new characters soon join your party which you can toggle between on the fly. They include a wizard, a lady with a whip, and a vampire dude that transforms into a bat. I love how each has special attacks perfectly suited to particular enemies. When a character dies you still have the rest of the crew to fall back on. On the downside, there are certain areas that are awkward, if not impossible to complete if you don't have access to the right character. The bosses are great, including a skeletal giant composed entirely of gold coins. The old-school gameplay does afford a few old-school headaches. The controls feel stiff and taking a hit will often knock you backward into an abyss. If the challenge is too much you can switch to the easy mode at any time. The game offers automatic saving, unlimited continues, and even a score. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is an enjoyable love letter to all the gothic platformers of yore. Did I just say yore?!
I apologize! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Publisher: 505 Games (2019)
Rating: Teen (blood, partial nudity, violence)
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a modern Castlevania-style platformer unlike Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
(Switch, 2018) which delivers retro-style Castlevania action on a pixelated scale. Ritual offers high-resolution anime characters, lush environments, and excellent 2.5D platform gameplay with heavy RPG elements. I love the look of this game. The foggy courtyards, exquisite castle architecture, and omnipresent full moon convey a cozy, gothic atmosphere. Playing as the attractive female warrior Miriam you navigate platforms while fighting squid monsters, werewolves, and towering knights. Some of the weirder enemies includes flying pigs, fluttering fairies, demonic bunnies, rolling balls-o-death, and animated portraits (of the programmers, no doubt). Your adventure begins on a rickety pirate ship in stormy seas, and if you think the water running down the hull of the ship looks amazing, wait until you see the colossal mermaid with her tremendous rack. There's a wide selection of weapons to choose from including guns!
Ritual of the Night is also one of the few games where being impaled by a giant glass shard is a good
thing. Shards imbue you with magical powers like weilding fire, summoning demons, or materializing a huge boney hand to remove heavy obstacles. There are so many
magical attacks in this game it's kind of overwhelming. I decided to stick with my fully-powered "bone throw". A "familiar" shard gave me a floating silver knight companion, and boy he is one worthless sack of [expletive]. Beating up enemies is satisfying however and I love the numeric damage displayed for every hit. Inventory management is easy enough and it's satisfying to equip a new item that pumps up your stats. Even the crafting process is relatively painless as the game lets you know what you can create based on your inventory. The stages are complex mazes but a handy map on the top-right lets you know where you haven't been yet. Ritual of the Night looks amazing but its Kickstarter roots are manifest in some technical flaws. It's disconcerting how the game "blacks out" for varying periods of time while moving between floors. Worse yet, it actually crashed on me twice ("the software was closed due to an error"). Fortunately save rooms are so frequent I didn't lose much progress. I've failed games for less, but Ritual of the Night is just too much fun. This is one I looked forward to playing every night - it was practically a ritual! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Capcom Belt Action Collection
Publisher: Capcom (2018)
You don't see many 2D side-scrolling beat-em-ups nowadays but they were big in the 1990's. This awkwardly-titled import offers seven arcade games from the era including Final Fight, King of Dragons, Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, Warriors of Fate, Armored Warriors, and Battle Circuit. I had never even heard of a few of these! Final Fight is a classic brawler where you punch and kick your way through the mean streets of "crime capital" Metro City. Any fighting game that lets you shatter a phonebooth with one punch has got to be good. Like the other titles, only two buttons are used yet there's still a wide range of moves. Final Fight's vibrant city skyline is a feast for the eyes although more variety in the thug department might have been nice. The game is great for coop and the ending is well worth the effort. Captain Commando is like a futuristic Final Fight with post-apocalyptic scenery and mechs you can commandeer. In the medieval world of King of Dragons you emply might and magic to battle orcs, minotaurs, and dragons (duh). Knights of the Round is more sword-oriented, with gorgeous countrysides, classy renaissance music, and RPG elements. In Warriors of Fate you do battle on horses but I found it mediocre. Armored Warriors is a futuristic fighter with hulking mechs like the film Pacific Rim. The sprites definitely push the envelope with behemoths that fill the screen. Battle Circuit is a downright weird futuristic romp with aliens and mutants in a tawdry, reality-show setting. One of the bosses is actually an Elvis impersonator. All games are configurable but only three let you adjust the continues. The others are on "free play" which removes any tension and undermines the high score system. I'd recommend lowering the difficulty, cranking up the lives, and forgoing any continues. My friends clocked a lot of time with Capcom Belt Action Collection, especially since most games support up to three players. Not all are gems but collectors will appreciate owning these on physical media. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy
Publisher: Activision (2017)
I'll never forget the first time I played Crash Bandicoot
(PS1, 1996). As I ventured down that scenic island path I felt as if I was being engulfed by dense jungle foliage! The 3D graphics were rich and the tropical theme was brimming with style and character. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy resurrects the series for a new generation, giving the stages a makeover while retaining the classic gameplay. The original game represented a new breed of 3D adventure, restricting the player to a path but allowing for free movement within its confines. As Crash hops across overgrown ruins he'll bash crates, collect fruit, and perform twirls that send turtles, crabs, and aardvarks spinning off the screen. There's plenty of variety too. Certain stages are more 2D in nature while others let you run toward
the screen. Crash 2 introduced new moves, a stage select, and a higher difficulty level. Crash 3 tempered the difficulty while introducing motorcycles, airplanes, and even a bazooka! The developers did a fine job porting these three to the Switch but took a few liberties. When bouncing on crates Crash now collects three fruit at a time, minimizing the number of bounces necessary. Now that
is a good idea! When you spin into animals, they tend to fly into boxes and enemies up ahead, which is very cool. There are new icons to collect, presumably to unlock new features. Upon completing a stage you'll watch all the crates you missed getting smashed over the head of Crash, and that gets old in a hurry. A few new stages are included but if "Stormy Ascent" is any indication, these are more punishing than fun. So the big question is, do these games measure to the originals? Well, the controls don't feel as tight and despite the graphic fidelity I had problems with depth perception and hard-to-see hazards. Then again, unless you own an old CRT TV it's hard to experience the trilogy in its original glory. Retro gamers should clutch their old discs like grim death, but newcomers will discover N-Sane Trilogy packs plenty of bandicoot goodness for the money. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
Publisher: Activision (2019)
At first Crash Team Racing reminded me of Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy
(Activitision, 2019), resurrecting a beloved franchise with updated graphics along with some new features to sweeten the deal. Back in the day Crash Team Racing
(PS1, 1999) was the only kart racer that could stand toe to toe with Mario Kart 64
(N64, 1997). This updated edition offers "revved up" versions of tracks from the original game as well as the less-than-stellar Crash Nitro Kart
(Xbox, 2003). The developers managed to bring the graphics up to 2019 standards while retaining that cartoon likeability. The gameplay however suffers from a serious lack of tuning, beginning with the frustrating single-player adventure mode. While there appears to be a whole island at your disposal, in fact everything is locked except for two tracks, and you need to finish first
in each to progress. That's a problem because the difficulty is so hard you'll need more luck than skill to win. The action is chaotic but not in a good way. The game's rubber-band physics has CPU karts slingshotting all over the place. One second you're in first place and next you're in dead last. Most weapons are pretty lame but those guided missiles are too
good. And then there's that weird weapon that turns everybody into drunk drivers. I blamed myself for the lack of progress in adventure mode, until my friends suffered the same hardship - in easy mode
no less! The four player screen screen action is always a welcome feature and the framerate is quite smooth. But like the single-player game, you'll find yourself fighting for 5th place!
The over-engineered, non-intuitive controls suggest nobody played-tested this game. Power-slide boosts were key in the original game, but here you'll be lucky to figure out how they even work!
When I did pull off one by accident the payoff was weak. In the final analysis Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled can be considered nothing more than a terrible disappointment. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
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