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.
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: Sidebar Games (2017)
Now here's something different! Golf Story is a role-playing game (?!) starring a kid who must master several fantasy golf courses on his way to becoming pro. I don't think I've played a game like this since World Court Tennis
(Turbografx-16, 1991). The old-school pixelated graphics feature anime-style characters, checkerboard greens, and plenty of witty dialog. The controls employ a standard three-button swing meter with oversized holes that make putting easy. On approach shots I end up hitting pin a lot.
The story mode begins slowly but gradually gains traction while teaching all the subtle nuances of the sport. The varied courses are set in a desert, a spooky swamp, a bright beach, and snowy mountains. Each is plagued by pests like moles, crabs, or birds you'll help eliminate. The golf-related challenges are incredibly imaginative. You'll bounce balls off turtle shells. You'll hit chicken legs at crocodiles. You'll knock eyeballs into skeletons and hit flaming balls at frozen people. The target-style challenges are super addictive. Not all the action takes place on the courses; at one point you'll need to solve a murder mystery in a clubhouse! There's even a tongue-in-cheek "8-bit" golf game called Galf! You spend a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out what to do next, but that's the nature of this type of game. There's plenty of text but the prose is entertaining. The use of animated fonts to convey voice inflection is especially effective. That said, the further I progressed the less patient I became at the verbose dialog. My friend Brent was shocked
I was taking the time to read it all! The golf action is quick, easy and fun, but a little shallow. You get a brief overhead view of each hole at the start, but there's nothing to reference afterwards. You can only "see" the course ahead by aiming your shot, and some holes are so cluttered it's hard to locate the fairway. That said, there's plenty of tension and excitement as you challenge rivals in brisk nine-hole tournaments. Crisp sound effects and catchy (if repetitive) music really add to the experience. I wouldn't recommend Golf Story to die-hard sports fans but this game has a whimsical charm that will keep most gamers engrossed for hours on end. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Team Cherry (2018)
If ever there was ever a slow-burn video game it's Hollow Knight. For the first hour or two you might even regret purchasing such a bland, melancholy platformer. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into. I've clocked in over 37 hours playing this - more than any other game in recent memory. Hollow Knight's dark, understated graphics convey a brooding, tense atmosphere. Your character is a modest little fellow with horns in a shadowy world populated with stylized insects ranging from beetles to worms to praying mantis to... jellyfish? Your primary weapon is a sword-like "nail", although you can also unleash energy projectiles. Hollow Knight is nothing if not polished. Every platform is situated with precision and each enemy placed with exact purpose. Though difficult, the game is never unfair. Larger enemies exhibit distinct attack patterns, often telegraphing their strikes with vocal cues. Defeated foes drop "geo" currency used to purchase items. Though the game borrows elements from franchises like Zelda (health system) and Dark Souls (reclaiming lost loot), there's no lack of innovation. Hitting enemies fills your soul meter which can be used to rekindle health, and this constantly plays into your strategy. Collectable "charms" add a whole new dimension to the game, exponentially expanding the strategic possibilities. Each charm provides some sort of advantage like improving your range, providing a protective shell, or sending out little fairies to collect loose geo. You can only equip a limited number at a time, and it's fun to mix and match for each new situation. The game saves often and life-replenishing "benches" serve as convenient rest stops. Despite its substantial grinding and backtracking, the evolving nature of the game prevents repetition from setting in. The brief, often inscrutable dialog is sweetly poetic. An unobtrusive audio track consists of soothing music and crisp, delicate sound effects. Hollow Knight's haunting storyline, somber atmosphere, and gothic scenery makes it like the Smashing Pumpkins of video games. It's hard to believe something that looks so simple and plain can turn out so engrossing and beautiful. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
I Am Setsuna (Japan)
Publisher: Square Enix (2017)
I purchased this upon hearing it was a winter-themed role-playing game (RPG). What could be better than curling up with a good RPG on a cold winter night? I Am Setsuna is a Japanese game but all the text including menus and dialog display in English so it's not a problem. The game certainly has a nice sense atmosphere with its snow-covered forests and quaint villages. Gentle piano music nicely complements the falling snowflakes. I like the anime style but "monsters" like walrus, rabbits, and penguins are almost too cute to slaughter! Almost. The character conversations tend to be brief and inconsequential. The two responses you're asked to choose from are basically the same answers worded differently, so there's little if any impact on events. I find it odd how whenever a new character is encountered the game asks if you want to change their name. What is the point?
Is there somebody out there who wants to change Setsuna's name to Shirley? The exploration element is fun thanks to the frosty scenery but combat system leaves a lot to be desired. Each character must wait for their meter to fill before they can act, resulting in an uneasy mix of real-time and turn-based combat. When multiple meters are full, it's hard to tell who you're controlling. Worse yet, the stat boxes across the bottom of the screen aren't presented in the same order of the characters on the screen, which is confusing. Nothing worse than accidentally "curing" someone with full health! Pressing the Y button during an attack adds "momentum" for extra impact, but it's not clear when you did it right. The game makes a point of telling you it does not automatically save your progress, as if that's some kind of badge of honor. The save points are few and far between. You'd think there would at least be one in each village, but nope!
There were times when I felt like the game was holding me hostage
for crying out loud! As if to rub it in, there is
a "save" option on the menu but it's disabled. I general I found the game to be fairly dull, with boss encounters that go on forever. I Am Setsuna satisfied my appetite for winter but I feel like it tried to reinvent the wheel and it turned out square. Note: I'm told the save option is available when you are on the world map, but I still don't like the system. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol)
I think we all knew Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was going to be good. I mean, it was only in development for five years
for crying out loud! This epic journey begins with Link emerging from a 100-year slumber and gazing across a sunny rolling landscape with distant castles, ruins, and volcanoes. I usually stick to the main quest in open-world games, yet Breath of the Wild made me want to explore every inch of its vast uncharted wilderness. Maybe it's the tight, responsive controls. The dash move lets you cover a lot of ground in a hurry, and the new climbing controls mean nowhere is out of reach. The crisp, cell-shaded graphics are more realistic than previous Zeldas but still possess an anime charm. The control scheme is so well designed that sifting through your inventory is a pleasure. In addition to a captivating storyline there are endless side quests and over 100 shrines scattered around the world. Each shrine is a dungeon offering mind-bending challenges employing the powers of magnetism, time, fire, and energy. As jaded as I am, I found myself constantly amazed at this game's ingenuity. Awe-inspiring boss encounters feature four "divine beasts" which brought back fond memories of Shadow of the Colossus
(PS2, 2005). I was skeptical about some of the new features but they won me over. The stamina meter adds a lot of suspense as you try to climb a peak without losing your grip. I scoffed at the idea of cooking, yet it turns out to be surprisingly entertaining to toss ingredients into a pot and see what comes out. The fact that weapons break down adds a layer of strategy as you try to conserve your best items for the toughest beasts. Breath of the Wild is a massive game that will not only dominate your Switch but leave your other systems starved for attention. An NES-style manual would have been nice, but frankly it's hard to find fault with this. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a title you'll anxiously look forward to playing every day after school or work, and when was the last time a game made you feel like that?
© Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Publisher: Ubisoft (2017)
Ubisoft hasn't had the best track record as of late so Mario + Rabbids comes as a pleasant surprise. Kingdom Battle has the look and feel of an Nintendo title, and that is high praise indeed. It's turned-based "strategy lite" designed for casual gamers, with wacky characters, simplified gameplay, and a gently-ramping difficulty. It's like a kid-friendly version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown
(Xbox 360, 2012). In the chaotic intro mischievous "rabbids" wreak havoc with a virtual reality machine, causing objects to fuse together with crazy results. To restore order Mario finds himself teaming up with two friendly "cosplay" rabbids (dressed as Peach and Luigi) in a fanciful world that looks like a Candyland board game. There's some lightweight puzzles and exploration but the game is mostly a series of short battles. During each turn you methodically position your three characters, attack exposed enemies, and employ special abilities (like healing or weaken) to tilt the advantage. The first few battles are mindlessly simple and it takes a while for the game to gain traction. But once you get to the meat of the game Kingdom Battle is one heck of a good time. Battle concepts tend to build upon each other and the multi-tiered environments provide all sorts of strategic possibilities. Each character can cover a lot of ground per turn by utilizing transportation pipes and "team jump" techniques. The graphics look extremely polished and the shimmering blue water is gorgeous. I noticed a few collision detection and camera issues but not nearly enough to derail the fun. The cut-scenes are funny and I found the frequent "progress saved" messages reassuring. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle isn't the type of game I'd play for hours on end, but it's a good option if you need a quick fix. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Okay, so it's a blatant rehash. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still the best kart racer you've ever played. The original Mario Kart 8
(Wii U, 2014) was spectacular, save for a weak battle mode. With Deluxe that oversight has been addressed to the full extent of the law. Instead of taking shots at players while doing laps, you battle in layered arenas with all sorts of interleaving, crisscrossing paths. It's chaotic, exhilarating, and with eight players per match there are always plenty of targets. Fun locations include Luigi's Mansion, a Japanese temple, a lunar colony, and a stage inspired by Splatoon
(Wii U, 2015). All of the DLC released for the original game is baked in, and since I never purchased any, I was thrilled with the wide selection of characters and tracks. One drawback to having so much unlocked is there's little incentive to master each circuit, although you'll still win coins for upgrades. The eye candy is mesmerizing as you race through a pristine airport, careen down jungle water slides, and zoom through an underwater kingdom. My personal favorite track is the rainy metropolis with its colorful neon lights (a la Blade Runner). Once I started playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it was hard to stop. The gameplay is well balanced, although I wish there were more ways to defend yourself from shells. The controls feel great and the revving vibration is remarkable. Unless you are absolutely sick of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U (not likely), this Deluxe version is a good investment. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Tennis Aces
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
I was almost certain Mario Tennis Aces was going to be Nintendo's latest runaway hit, but it turned out to be a gimmick-laden mess
. The default adventure mode forces you to traverse a map with more mini-games and boss battles than actual tennis matches. In addition to standard shots (topspin, lob, backspin) there's a laundry list of special moves: star shots, charge shots, leap shots, power shots, slow-motion shots, trick shots, target shots, zone shots, and more! You can even initiate bullet time
for Pete's sake! I couldn't grasp the controls and can't imagine trying to explain them to a friend. What's wrong with regular tennis? The exotic court locations (jungle, temple, haunted house) look nice but even those are gimmicky. The pirate ship court has a mast that deflects the ball and the haunted house court has floating mirrors that intercept your hits. Stuff like that may add variety but it's not particularly fun. I hated adventure mode and found no joy in tournament mode either. Aces is less about playing tennis and more trying to figure out what crazy shot you can pull out of your ass. And do we really need to view an automatic replay after every point?
When you're not skipping replays you're mashing buttons to page through the pointless dialog. Why does a tennis game need so much dialog? Most Nintendo sports titles lean toward the arcade end of the spectrum, but Mario Tennis Aces went completely off the deep end. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom
Publisher: FDG Entertainment (2018)
After recently playing through the retro-flavored Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
(PS4, 2017), Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom gave me a case of deja vu. It turns out Monster Boy is the spiritual successor
to the Wonder Boy series. In this vibrant 2D platform adventure you are a boy who can assume the form of several animals including a sniffing pig, a snake who can slither up walls, and a frog with a slingshot tongue. The layered forests and colorful underwater scenes are a real feast for the eyes. The controls feel crisp and responsive, and if that laid-back, jazzy soundtrack doesn't put you in a good mood, nothing will. The various animal forms add variety and the weapons are fun too. The ability to hurl multiple boomerangs at a time is great, but even better is unleashing little tornados that bounce around and clear a path for you. The platform action is mixed with clever puzzles and I love the Zelda-esque fanfare that plays when you solve one. As much as I enjoyed Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom the game did test my patience at times. It's frustrating when you're sinking in mud while trying to avoid a swooping bat, or getting pushed off a platform into a bed of spikes when you run out of real estate. Your pig has a "poke range" of about a millimeter, so have your weapons ready. Speaking of which, switching weapons is a hassle. Instead of just clicking a shoulder button to cycle through them you need to select from a "wheel" using the right thumbstick. Otherwise the game's polish is commendable. There are ample save points and if a boss is giving you a hard time, the game will begin doling out more hearts to give you a hand. The box contains a glossy, full-color booklet that harkens back to the NES days. Friendly, fun, and not too hard, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a good-looking title that's hard to dislike. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Mutant Football League
Publisher: Digital Dreams (2018)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, drug reference, mature humor, strong language, violence)
The original Mutant League Football
(Genesis, 1993) was an offbeat title pitting monsters against each other on trap-laden fields. Sounds like a blast, right? Well, the action was choppy and the hazards were more annoying than fun. That said, it was an interesting concept. This updated version actually has more in common with NFL Blitz
(PS1, 1998). They even brought back the same announcer! The teams are a mishmash of armored creatures including skeletons, werewolves, demons, aliens, and trolls. The action kicks off with a horribly non-intuitive kick meter, complete with incorrect on-screen instructions. The play-calling interface is easy enough although the play selection is paltry. It's easy to initiate a run or pass, but what happens next is hard to discern. With all those spikes, tails, and wings flying it's impossible to tell what the [expletive] is going on! After a chaotic scrum you'll assume the play is dead, only to push the thumbstick up and continue running. It's hard to tell how a fumble or interception occurred, and no instant replay either. Hazards like spikes and mines add gratuitous gore, and occasionally players will brandish weapons like a shotgun or chainsaw! In a game like this where anything goes, how could there be penalties?!
I had three touchdowns
called back in a single game!
So dumb. I will admit the stadiums look awesome and some resemble gothic cathedrals. There's a little "shoot the ref" halftime game that plays like an overhead shooter. Wanton violence is something you would expect from a game like this, but who thought strong profanity was a good idea? The play-by-play is unfunny to begin with, and the raining F-bombs make it downright embarrassing. My friend Chris assured me that this game would be hilarious... if we were 12 years old.
The problem is, this is supposed to be a mature (17+) title. I'm glad the quarters are mercifully short because I found Mutant Football League extremely hard to stomach. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
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