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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Nintendo Switch Reviews B

Battle Axe
Grade: B-
Publisher: Numskull Games (2021)
Posted: 2021/8/29
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, fantasy violence)

screenshotBattle Axe harkens back to the old sprite-based hack-n-slash classics like Gauntlet (NES, 1987), Golden Axe (Genesis, 1989), and Dungeons and Dragons Collection (Saturn, 1999). The controls feel outstanding as you rapidly hurl knives and wildly slash at trolls, skeletons, and plump flying insects. This is pure pick-up-and-play fun.

The destruction quotient is commendable. Creatures burst into meaty chunks, expelling gems and gold coins in their wake. It's satisfying to see point values light up the screen. Portals explode into mushroom clouds and wooden towers come crashing down in a heap. I do however wish you could aim more precisely using the analog stick instead of being limited to the eight basic directions.

The two player co-op is awesome but you only get a choice of three characters - a dark elf, an oversized dwarf, and a hobbit that lashes out with his beard. The game is played from a tilted overhead view, and while you can move freely, the elevated platforms tend to be fairly linear in design. Along the way you'll save helpless people (named after the designers no doubt) while avoiding occasional spear, flame, and bear traps.

The 16-bit style graphics are absolutely gorgeous but the voices sound more hip ("see ya!") than medieval, and that's kind of a turn-off. The stages are cookie-cutter to the max, although there are fun details like blowing leaves and occasional raindrops. The synthesized music is terrific and a perfect match for the action.

There are special items and power-ups but these are too rare to play a significant role. If you hear that classic line "needs food badly", you're pretty much a goner. And why is it that no matter how well I do, my end-of-stage rating is always an E? Am I missing something?

Despite its rinse-and-repeat style Battle Axe is endlessly playable. Heck even my wife likes this. The high score screen looks incredible but why not allow the players to enter their initials? The only skill levels available are easy and hard. Stuff like this really bothers me. Battle Axe offers some of the best hack-n-slash/shooting action I've experienced in years, yet doesn't come close to reaching its full potential. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: easy
Our high score: 262,420
1 or 2 players 

Blade Strangers
Grade: D+
Publisher: Nicalis (2018)
Posted: 2019/11/19
Rating: Teen (mild blood, mild language, partial nudity, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis one-on-one fighter really does live up to its name. Who the hell are these people?! According to its NES-style instruction manual most hail from Cave Story and something called "Code of Princess X". I did recognize Shovel Knight and that Isaac dude at least. Blade Strangers kicks off with an exuberant, feel-good vocal animated intro. Its 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 him 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 too 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.

1 or 2 players 

Bloodrayne: Betrayal - Fresh Bites
Grade: D
Publisher: Ziggurat Interactive (2021)
Posted: 2022/10/18
Rating: Teen

screenshotThe original Bloodrayne (GameCube, 2002) was a stylish, 3D hack-n-slasher. Set in the bayous of Louisiana, it starred an red-headed vampire vixen named Rayne with blades on her arms. After a lackluster sequel the series lay dormant for a decade or so until this 2D incarnation emerged. It bummed me out when it was download-only, but eventually Bloodrayne: Betrayal eventually found its way to physical media.

Betrayal borrows heavily from Castlevania with its gothic visuals and momentous orchestrated music. The graphics have a hand-drawn, cell-shaded quality with bold colors - particularly red (go figure)! The brooding atmosphere is fine but it's hard to tell the foreground from the background. The camera zooms in on characters when it can, as the visuals remain razor-sharp.

The combat system is designed to let you easily handle enemies on both sides. You can quickly dish out slashes and there are a limited number of gunshots as well. It's pretty fun to shoot through five guys at the same time. You can also suck the blood of a stunned enemy to replenish your health.

It all sounds great but disappointment sets in from the outset. The first stage rapidly flashes move instructions but there are too many guys dropped into your lap to properly digest it all. Worst yet there are patches of this green, poisonous fog that burn your skin. It's really hard to see - and harder to avoid. Somebody thought this was a good idea?

The fighting can be awkward. Whenever you want to remain in one spot, Rayne shifts. When you're trying to move, she remains in place. Regenerating enemies are bad enough, but when a red portal just continuously drops one after the other, it's just irritating.

Once you get the hang of combat there's a myriad of traps to deal with. In chapter four you'll deal with converging circular saws, cannons, and missiles - all at the same time! It's like the final level of a Mario game for crying out loud.

There are some cool moves like kicking your enemies into whirling blades. Most are difficult to execute however, especially in the heat of battle. I hate how you can't duck unless you perform a low kick. Bloodrayne: Betrayal is not easy to play, and Rayne isn't even sexy. Maybe this deserved download-only status after all. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Grade: B-
Publisher: Inti Creates (2018)
Posted: 2019/10/29
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotCurse of the Moon is one of two recently-released Bloodstained titles, so try not to 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.

Its 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. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Grade: B+
Publisher: 505 Games (2019)
Posted: 2019/10/29
Rating: Teen (blood, partial nudity, violence)

screenshotBloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a modern Castlevania-style platformer unlike Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch, 2018) which delivered retro-style Castlevania action. Ritual boasts high-resolution anime characters, lush environments, and excellent 2.5D platform gameplay with heavy RPG elements. I love the look of this game. Its 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 slaying squid monsters, werewolves, and towering knights. Some of the weirder enemies include 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 prefer to stick with my fully-powered "bone throw".

A "familiar" shard gave me a floating silver knight companion, but 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. Ritual of the Night looks amazing but there are a few technical flaws. It's disconcerting how the screen "blacks out" for varying periods of time while moving between floors. Worse yet, the game actually crashed on me twice ("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 like a ritual! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends
Grade: D+

screenshotThe original Bubble Bobble (NES, 1988) was a classic platformer starring one or two pudgy little dinosaurs. An arcade romp with no rhyme or reason, you blew bubbles to trap foes and popped them to produce fruit bonuses. The game was addictively fun whether played solo or with a friend. Sadly, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends fails to capture the essence of the original.

The primary mode "challenges" (and I use the word lightly) one to four players. Each screen-sized stage sports an uninteresting kids' room theme, and the graphics are so sugary sweet it hurts. You'll face little resistance as you methodically clear out animated tanks, cannons, and Lego bricks. Upon completion dozens of high-value fruit and confections flood the screen.

Not only do I feel undeserving of 40k-point donuts, but the game gives you so much time to gather them up it starts to feel like a chore! It takes forever for any challenge to kick in and the selectable power-ups are confusing. Before long you'll want to run out of lives. The carnival-style background music is nauseating.

You'd expect multiplayer to be the main selling point for a game with "4 Friends" in the title but there's no competitive element. Teaming up to clear a screen is boring and you even share the same score! Bubble Bobble 4 Friends might be considered the "participation trophy" of video games.

This game does have one ace in the hole however, and that's Bubble Bobble Classic Arcade. This mode presents the original 1986 arcade game in all its pixelated glory. Tuned to perfection, the game offers seemingly endless series of imaginative stages. I played head-to-head with Brad and had a blast competing for high score. Classic mode not only redeems the entire cartridge but reminds you why people like Bubble Bobble in the first place. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: classic
Our high score: 142,500
1 to 4 players 

BurgerTime Party
Grade: D
Publisher: XSeed (2019)
Posted: 2021/7/1

screenshotIt's hard for me to put my finger on what's wrong with BurgerTime Party. It retains the same gameplay and whimsical graphic style of the 1982 arcade hit, but with an endless supply of screens and support for up to four players. So why am I not having a good time?

If you're not familiar with the original BurgerTime (Colecovision, 1984), the idea is to navigate a little chef over a series of platforms while avoiding wandering hot dogs, eggs, and pickles. Walking across buns and patties causes them to drop down to form burgers below. Sandwiching foes between dropping layers nets you bonus points, and you also have a limited supply of pepper to freeze enemies. The original game was extremely difficult as you had to strategically maneuver to avoid getting trapped.

Like too many modern remakes BurgerTime Party lacks intensity, piling on the lives, pepper, and a lot of unnecessary new power-ups. The solo mode is so easy it comes across as a braindead tutorial. The selling point of any "party" game is its multiplayer modes, so why are they locked from the outset? And for a game that requires precision control, the lack of digital pad support is unforgivable.

The only mode I found moderately fun allows four players to compete at the same time on expansive screens of sprawling platforms. Still, it's hard to keep track of what's going on with so many characters milling around, especially when the camera is pulled way back. Your initial placement on the screen is critical but out of your control. At the end of each stage a winner is declared but it's not clear what criteria is used to determine that (it's not score).

My friends thought this was okay, but clearly BurgerTime wasn't meant to be a party game. It requires a certain degree of strategy that basically goes out the window when three other players are causing chaos. I'm all for reintroducing a long-dormant franchise to a new generation, but this watered-down version has "participation trophy" written all over it. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, MobyGames.com, Nintendo Everything, Nintendo Life, Polygon, Nintendo Difference