Friday 23 December 2022

Jitsu Squad Review (Switch)

 Jitsu Squad continues the recent revival of the scrolling beat’em up on Switch with frenetic and colourful approach to walking right and smacking people. The plot is as simple as always with these games with the four heroes having to stop a demon from getting hold of a magical stone which will of course grant it god like power.

The game has a Saturday morning cartoon look about it with bright colours and character designs that wouldn’t out of place in the brash world of the nineties. If you didn’t know better you could certainly see this being a spinoff from one of the many TV shows of the time, most of which spawned their own scrolling beat’em ups.

There aren’t a huge number of levels but each is distinctive from the last and they have their own sets of enemies to pummel with suitably large bosses at the end. And the amount of enemies is really something with the screen almost completely filling at times. It does get chaotic, especially in multiplayer, and we’ve seen reports of performance problems on Switch but we didn’t come across too many instances that let the game down.

With all these enemies to hit, it’s a good thing you have a decent array of moves to do it with. Much of the time you’ll be bashing away at the attack button but you gain new moves as you progress by collecting scrolls and there is also a throw and block button. Blocking can also lead to counter attacks with almost all enemy moves reversible. When things get really crowded you’ve also got the special move button which is effectively a smart bomb of sorts. Each of the four characters also has their own style and move set ranging from the standard tropes of quick ninja to strong tank.

Overall, Jitsu Squad is a fun addition to the ranks of the scrolling beat’em up. Very few games in the genre such a wide-ranging move set and the diversity in the characters is also fun. It is a very short game though and there’s little to do once you’ve been through it a couple of times. While many will be drawn to the Turtles and Streets of Rages of this world this is certainly well worth checking out and fans of the genre will likely have a blast with it.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Intrepid Izzy Review (Switch)

If there’s one genre that the Switch is not lacking in, it’s Metroidvania clones. At this point there must be hundreds of them. But the thing is, most of them are actually very good. Now here’s another one to add to the list with Intrepid Izzy moving over from Dreamcast and taking a slightly more physical approach to the platforming and exploration.

Izzy plays out in much the same format as every other game in the genre. You explore, find new skills and then unlock new areas to continue your adventure. There’s a host of arcade style mini games to distract you as well, but basically you know what you are getting. If there is a more direct comparison to be drawn then it’s with the Shantae series, as the look and feel of Izzy feel closest to it.

It’s certainly a colourful game with bold and bright colours used to create the various environments. Each area is distinctive from the last in terms of both environment design and enemies with the snowy landscape reached via boat being a particular highlight with the constant falling snow. Combat is also satisfying with Izzy punching, kicking and throwing the occasional Street Fighter-esque fireball to dispatch enemies.

If there is a criticism, it’s that the visual style verges a little too close to looking like a flash game. While everything is colourful and the environments look nice, the characters are generic and lack personality.

Overall, there isn’t a massive amount to say about Interpid Izzy. It’s well put together and solid but it is going to struggle to stand out from the masses of Metroidvania style games out there already. If it had arrived earlier in the life of the console (or genre), it would likely make a far bigger splash as there’s nothing wrong here and those who can’t get enough will be well served. It just lacks that something to differentiate it.

Overall 6/10

Monday 19 December 2022

Video Game Fables: Arena DLC

If you wanted a bit more of Momiji’s charming cut-out Video Game Fables, maybe this will do it. It’s not quite what you’d expect, which is very much in keeping with the rest of VGF. An arena mode seems like a bit of low-hanging fruit, but there’s enough twists here to make it a decent bolt-on, complimenting the main game well. A bit extra for existing players, and a bit of extra fat to appeal to prospective players.

The intrepid trio are back with their cheery bickering, those cut-out scamps, and can now (after a certain point in the main story) enter the arena. I very much enjoy the pallid Concierge who is a great guide to the new area. Rather than be a wave-based or boss-rush setup, the arena has limits on XP and progression through cups, so there are more choices here than just a series of standard fights taken out of context. In fact, there’s a sort of Running Man thing going on, where the fighting is observed on a TV show by the Nightmare Dimension.

You’ll encounter some familiar faces along the way and it provides an alternative angle to the original take on RPG combat that VGF had going for it. I didn’t stay too long with it, personally, as the story and design is what kept me interested in the core game, and new stickers are not my bag. This is, however, thoughtful DLC which works real nice. If you fancy a bit more of Tator, Aru and Nate, then this will be a cheery time.

Overall 6/10

Monday 12 December 2022

Before We Leave Review (Switch)

“War. War never changes”, so goes the intro to many a Fallout game. Before We Leave’s opening shares some common ground with the venerable RPG series - a post-apocalyptic world left barren for years, the survivors of war emerging from bunkers to reclaim the land and rebuild society – but that’s about it. Balancing Monkey Games’ take on a ravaged Earth is a much more optimistic take on the setting.

A 4X title with the aim of being relaxing, cosy and hopeful, it charges you with nurturing your Peeps as they emerge bleary-eyed into a planet reclaimed by nature. Some remnants of the past remain; old wooden power generators, rusting hulks, old ships – just enough resource to get society up and running, with the ultimate aim being to colonise islands, and eventually venture to the stars to establish colonies on other planets. The relaxing angle comes from the fact there’s no violence. You won’t find any mutants or roving Mad Max-style gangs here. The biggest issues you face are pollution, the happiness of your Peeps, and the potential to stymie your advancement through poor planning.

If you’ve played any 4X game such as Civilization you’ll know what to expect here, tech trees, hex tiles, and the satisfaction of rebuilding society. And for the most part, it sets out what it aims for. There’s a pleasure to be had in taking your Peeps from basic huts and chopping down trees to researching shipping, colonising islands, then working up to learning how to repair and launch a space shuttle, all without being constantly hassled by roving hoards looking to raze your buildings to the ground and decimate your population.

However, the game comes with its own stresses. Your Peeps aren’t unfeeling pawns, they have thoughts and emotions. Build an iron mine too close to accommodation or highly populated areas and your workers will be unhappy with the pollution. They also grumble about lack of food (which is fair, I suppose), poor clothing, lack of workers and other factors within the player’s control add to the mix. This (depending on your management style) takes away from the chilled nature of Before We Leave, as you shuffle buildings around or build more forests to try to negate some of the pollution. You start managing the shipping lanes to move resources between islands to ensure no-one goes hungry, or to ensure there’s enough of the correct types of research to advance to the next discovery. Of course, you could just as easily think your workers should suck it up, and proceed in gathering all the resources you can, ignoring their concerns and keeping things ticking along.

The presentation is nice, giving you a globe to work on rather then a top-down or isometric view common with the genre, and the game runs smoothly to begin with. As more buildings are erected and ships move between ports, the auto-resolution drops to accommodate the action (at least it does in handheld mode on the Switch), making things blurry for a while. You’re able to adjust the zoom to get up close to your Peeps, and the interface is decent, too. The whole thing is initially daunting, with so many icons and tips appearing on screen, but a decent tutorial (that leads into the main game) does a decent job of explaining everything.

Before We Leave is a hopeful, positive take on the 4X genre. A (mostly) relaxing way to while away a few hours and is a great match for the Switch. It could do with a little more polish though, as some of the tutorials could be a little more explicit in their instruction, and I’m sure that on one playthrough I wasn’t given a power source to repair meaning I couldn’t leave my first island. That said, there’s still enough here to warrant a look for those wanting to advance civilisation in snippets, and for anyone in the mood for a non-violent strategy title (space whales notwithstanding. It’ll make sense when you play it). Before We Leave goes to show that war may never change, but what might happen if society can.


Monday 5 December 2022

Lunistice Review (Switch)

Every generation has that special moment in their life, a little slice of time that they fondly recall. For most, it probably coincides with their teenage years. For me, it was the mid-to-late nineties; Britpop, cult TV, leaving school for college and the arrival of 3D games. As is perhaps normal for people around my age, I still think the nineties was only about ten years ago, so it’s nice to play Lunistice, since it feels like a forgotten PS1 title.

Playing as Hana the Tanuki, the aim is to reach the end of each level while collecting origami cranes and avoiding (or taking out) enemies. The game is so focussed on gameplay that there’s very little in the way of cutscenes (a brief one at the beginning and another at the end). This pared-back design initially made me feel as if something was missing, but as I progressed through the levels I began to fall under its spell. This is a pure 3D platformer from the Crash Bandicoot/Sonic Adventure camp; full 3D movement but exploration is limited to the odd branching path here and there.

Adding to the nostalgia is the design; low poly models and textures nail the PS1/Saturn aesthetic. Were it not for the silky-smooth movement and long draw distances you could swear you were playing a port from the days of Nights into Dreams or Pandemonium, and an optional CRT filter adds to the nostalgia. The pace at which the game moves when grinding a rail evokes memories of Sonic’s glory days. This is all accompanied with suitably jaunty music throughout.

Platforming is the main pull of the game, with a series of small ledges, huge drops, rails to grind and a sense of inertia to contend with, the enemies are really a secondary through, another hindrance to trip you up. While Hana’s fast and floaty to control at first, trial and error helps the player get some idea of how to fine tune her jumps and nail the landing. The addition of an almost obligatory double jump (and even a triple jump with the use of a spin attack) helps negotiate the game’s trickier later levels.

The levels are well thought out, and feel fine tuned. The player is rarely able to cheat the game as distances have been planned with a very specific jump combo in mind (my fifty plus attempts on certain sections towards the end verifies this), but should Hana plummet into the abyss she’s whisked back to the last checkpoint, which is normally near enough to feel fair, but far enough apart to add a sense of dread at having to traverse a particularly painful section for the umpteenth time. There are enemies, too, although not wave upon wave. They tend to occupy platforms to need to lad on, or block your jump from one ledge to another. There aren’t any boss battles, so you just have a few basic types of foes to deal with. A little more variety in enemy design would have been nice, but being their presence is mainly to add a little life to levels it’s hardly a damning criticism of the game.

Lunistice is a pleasant surprise. I must admit I knew nothing of it until I started it up, and I’m glad I didn’t, as I had no expectations going into it. It’s a game I didn’t realise I wanted to play, and thanks to its tight design and limited number of levels, it probably took me a couple of hours to play through from beginning to end. I feel there’s some items I missed, so it’s likely I’ll replay it to see what else it has to offer, but it ultimately it gave me those same nostalgia vibes I get when I fire up the PlayStation Classic. Even though I’m in my forties, my waistline is larger and my hairline has vanished, I’m briefly transported back ten years (give or take) to the late nineties.