Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker

Maid of Sker Review: PS5

Will you answer the Siren’s call?

There is a new survival horror game out on PS5 this month (well, a newish next-gen upgraded version of the game anyway), and I’m not talking about Resident Evil. Maid of Sker was previously released by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, and has received the next-gen upgrade treatment for PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. Can the small Indie developer known for trying to bring back the ‘FMV’ style of game (baaaaaad idea) find some success with a game in a more mainstream genre? Read on my friends, read on…

Plot

The story of Maid of Sker bears little resemblance to the original Welsh folk song (or the novel of the same name). The game is set in 1898 in Wales and we embody Thomas, a silent protagonist (unless you consider grunts and screams as speaking). He is sent a letter by his lady friend Elisabeth along with her mother’s musical locket. Elisabeth requests that Thomas write a song, indeed a ‘counter song’ to the melody played by the locket (whatever that is), and to bring his music to her in the Sker Hotel managed by her father. Unfortunately, she cannot provide any further detail in her letter…how convenient.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Welcome to Silent H… I mean the house of Lady Dime… I mean the Sker Hotel.

Thomas of course obliges to Elisabeth’s request and rushes to the hotel via train. On arrival, Thomas is greeted not by a thankful Elisabeth, but by a ringing telephone in the lobby of a dilapidated hotel filled with crazy cult members. Upon answering the phone, Thomas is pleased to hear that Elisabeth is on the other end of the line. She explains that she has barricaded herself in the attic to protect herself from her father, her uncle, and the strange people now inhabiting the hotel. She tasks Thomas with locating four musical cylinders hidden throughout the hotel that if played on the organ/harmonium in the hotel ballroom will turn everything back to normal. What is it that needs to be turned back to normal you ask? The ‘Quiet Ones‘ – staff and guests of the hotel that have been driven insane. They roam the grounds with sacks over their heads, viciously attacking anything that makes a sound.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Play me a song my darling Elisabeth.

Thomas is generally left to his own devices to complete the game’s quest and other than some brief phone conversations with Elisabeth there are no other verbal interactions of which to speak. However, there are a number of clues scattered around the hotel in journals and on scraps of paper that provide further plot exposition. Elisabeth’s family has been part of a cult for generations, after her ancestors appear to have encountered the mythical Siren out in the open sea when sailing back to Wales. What was it about the Siren’s song that was so alluring?

Gameplay

The main story mode of Maid of Sker can be best described as a survival/stealth horror game. We control Thomas from a 1st person perspective as he skulks around the hotel finding clues, solving puzzles and picking up the musical cylinders without being discovered by the Quiet Ones. Fortunately, the Quiet Ones wear sacks over their heads and are for all intents and purposes blind. They can only locate you when you are silly enough to bump into furniture or try to walk through a dust cloud and cough your lungs out when they are in earshot. Unfortunately, in what may be a frustrating choice for some players, for the majority of the game we are literally defenseless. Even when the game is nice enough to provide a ‘weapon,’ this can only be used to temporarily stun enemies and cannot kill them, and in typical style the ammo for this weapon is extremely limited. More frustratingly, there is a point when this weapon is simply taken away from you for the rest of the game.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
How do you know I’m standing here? Oh, I forgot deodorant this morning you say? It is only 1898 after all.

Whilst I must admit to finding this complete lack of any offensive power incredibly frustrating in the early going, by the later game it does provide you with some tense moments. Thomas does control well enough, and there were never any moments where I felt a death in the game was caused by anything other than my own poor choices.

The puzzles in the game are all intuitive enough to solve without needing to look up a guide, and there are typically ample clues around to help you if you get stuck. In truth I would have liked a bit more variety in the puzzles here, and there is nothing ground-breaking that you haven’t seen done in similar games elsewhere. Find item X to open secret passageway Y that leads you to key Z etc. etc. That being said, the offering here is solid and if you like this style of game, then it is an enjoyable way to pass some time.

I must point out that the main story is relatively short even for survival horror, and can be completed in about 4-6 hours (more if you want to find all of the collectable items and uncover the full backstory). Originally released as an Indie title by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, the team have gone above and beyond in providing something new for this next-gen upgrade with a collection of completely new game modes.

These 4 modes whilst all somewhat similar in their goal (escape the hotel with a limited number of lives/deaths) and do show that the game developers listened to some of the complaints of the original game. The two main differences in these additional ‘Challenges’ as they are called are:

  1. You now have access to 4 different weapons (Axe, Handgun, Shotgun, Rifle).
  2. There are a number of different enemy types that you need to mow down on your way out of the hotel.

The new experiences do give you that feeling of power that you severely miss in the main story and are worth a bit more of your time. But they probably won’t be something that significantly extends your time with the game as the FPS style controls and gameplay are just not up to par with dedicated FPS games.

Certainly my favourite element of the gameplay is the way that music and sound are utilised throughout the adventure. The crescendoing shrieks of a dissonant string orchestra will warn you of danger nearby. Alternatively, a simple change in the background music to a music box tune will alert you to an important item or save point nearby. What is that you hear? The rattle of a key turning a lock in the distance? You go to investigate… you have now opened the door to the next section of the review.

Presentation

Presentation is both a strength and a weakness of Maid of Sker. On the negative side, and as we might reasonably expect from an indie title with a small development team, the visuals here are rough around the edges. This was a late generation PS4 game, but it really wouldn’t look out of place on a PS3 when you compare it to the big AAA games on that platform (think Last of Us and Uncharted 3). Similarly to the lack of variety in the gameplay, there is also a similar deficiency here. The one main type of enemy is very bland looking and their animation is a bit janky, and the main boss is not much better.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5

That being said, there has clearly been a lot of care and attention to detail here in regards to the environmental details here such as the trimmings of the hotel, the art on the walls and the furniture strewn around the rooms. There are a number of brief/small set-pieces that made me stop and say ‘that was sick‘ (in a good way), whereas other moments seem to fall flat, or almost appear comical in nature due to the animation. Despite the game’s clear limitations in terms of visuals, the gritty, dark Sker Hotel and surrounding grounds provide a great atmosphere particularly when combined with the aforementioned best element of the game – the sound design.

Audio

I was blown away by the quality of the sound and music in this game. It is by no means perfect, but clearly sound design is the highlight of the Maid of Sker experience. Given that ‘music’ is a core aspect of the game’s story and gameplay, it is obvious that the developers really put some effort in to this part of the game. The soundtrack is haunting and the perfect fit to this game, particularly in the build up to the game’s finale. Sound effects are also generally good, but can occasionally be a little more miss than hit, for example some of Thomas’ falling/death screams seeming more funny/hilarious than scary. Thomas is silent throughout the game other than his breathing, screaming and yelling. Elisabeth, however, is fully voiced during the numerous phone calls with her, and the Gramophones that are used as this game’s save point (like the Typewriter in Resident Evil) will also play a recorded voice clip of Elisabeth and her family.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
If the screech of this device upsets you, wait until you hear me falling.

Some PS5 features also helped improve the experience such as the fast loading times and the utilisation of the Dual Sense controller’s haptic feedback. Thomas’ heart rate will increase and become stronger depending on the situation he finds himself. It is subtle but again helps build on the game’s strong atmosphere and overall experience.

Conclusion

Maid of Sker was made by a small core team of less than 15 people, and at times it does show. As noted above, the base game is very short for a modern game. Even in this game’s genre, this one feels a little bit short for me. This may be as a result of the repetitiveness in the enemies and the puzzles.

That being said, the atmosphere that is built though the soundscape of this game is excellent. You can feel the pressure and tension of sneaking past groups of enemies, and the relief of snatching the item that you need to progress without being found.

There is nothing here that can be considered broken or otherwise gamebreaking. The game is a solid package and everything works. I played through the full story and multiple attempts at the challenge content and did not come across any bugs or crashes on PS5. Maid of Sker can’t compete at the level of a game like Resident Evil: Village – but we have to accept that a AAA game would have had at least 10 times the number of staff working on the game as Maid of Sker.

For what it is Maid of Sker is an enjoyable, if not short, experience that provides an intriguing story, a creepy atmosphere with some occasional jump scares and a cracking soundtrack.

So, why should you play it?

  • You are a survival/horror buff and want to experience a different and unique story.
  • Zombies, Vampires and other common horror tropes bore you and you want something more.
  • Not much time to play? No worries with this, you can get through it easily without too much of a time sink.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • BOO! (did that scare you?)
  • You prefer a game that you can engage with for a long period of time.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Essays on Empathy Review: PC

empathy | ˈɛmpəθi | noun “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”

Deconstructeam – maybe you’ve heard the name? Based in Valencia, Spain, this close-knit indie game developer consists of three key members, known for creating intimate, emotive narrative games, now in collaboration with Devolver Digital. Weaving stories with important messages conveyed through experimental formats, the studio has been widely-recognised for their games, “Gods Will Be Watching” (PC) and “The Red Strings Club” (Nintendo Switch, PC). While many of us play indie videogames on a daily basis for enjoyment, challenge, or entertainment, how often do we truly gain the opportunity to delve deeper into the motivations and thoughts behind the creative minds that concoct these experiences?

The Red Strings Club Nintendo Switch
Cyberpunk narrative adventure game, “The Red Strings Club”.

This is where Essays on Empathy fills a void. Through a hybrid format of videogames and short video documentaries, the player is taken on a journey into Deconstructeam’s past and present through 10 unique, individual standalone experiences. From a game as simple as picking the right book for a birthday present, all the way through to heart-wrenching human relationships and painful emotional experiences, there is one concept that flows through each game in this collection: empathy.

Accompanying each experience is a 10 – 15 minute dissection from the developers, who explain their creative processes, motivations, and most importantly, the messages and challenges behind the game’s creation. When consumed by a gripping videogame, it’s too easy to forget that these are all experiences for which real people are responsible, something Essays on Empathy expertly emphasises.

So what exactly are the games on offer in this captivating collection?
Let me break it down into its ten components:

Underground Hangovers (Genre: Metroidvania/Platformer)

If you had to leave a mysterious planet tomorrow would you: a) go to sleep at a reasonable time to ensure you don’t miss the only rocket off the planet, or b) have a massive party, wake up with a throbbing hangover, and miss the only rocket off the planet? Well in this case, the unfortunate party from Underground Hangovers chose the latter.

Underground Hangovers Essays on Empathy PC
The “Dual-Hook” makes for some interesting (and occasionally frustrating) platforming.

In what feels like the odd game out in the collection (as it’s far more focused on gameplay), you’re tasked with collecting enough ore to rebuild a rocket to make your way off this desolate planet. Though a simple game initially made for a Game Jam in 2015, it features some creative platforming puzzles that feel right at home in the genre.

Supercontinent Ltd (Genre: Cyberpunk/Narrative)

Bold, atmospheric, gripping and clever. Supercontinent Ltd is a narrative-heavy cyberpunk experience that will leave you thirsty for more. Playing as Brandeis (a character who also appears in The Red Strings Club), this game revolves around the use of ancient technology: a landline phone. Through use of a voice modulator (VOMOD), Brandeis makes phone calls to unravel the plot behind a mysterious organisation on the evening of their plan to overthrow the police force.

Supercontinent Ltd Essays on Empathy PC
Landlines really are ancient technology now.

With its engaging dialogue, gloomy pixel-art aesthetic, and ambient synth soundtrack, this game oozes style from every pixel. Impressively, Supercontinent somehow manages to achieve more character development and world-building in thirty minutes than games like Cyberpunk 2077 do in their entire narrative. Thirty minutes well spent.

Behind Every Great One (Genre: Drama/Narrative)

Riding on a high from Supercontinent, I jumped straight into the next game. I was not prepared for what I was about to feel. This game is, at times, mentally and emotionally difficult to play. Interestingly, the developers too discuss how difficult this game was to create. If you’re not in a good headspace, I would approach Behind Every Great One with caution. It will make you feel like absolute shit.

Behind Every Great One Essays on Empathy PC
Victorine’s life is a dull, unfulfilling loop.

You play as Victorine, the housewife to Gabriel, who is a renowned and celebrated artist. Living in his shadow, life has become a monotonous repetition of household chores and meaningless attempts at activity devoid of passion, interspersed with frequent anxiety attacks. The story becomes progressively more depressing as you delve deeper into the characters’ broken relationship and expectations of Victorine. It’s a highly emotive and confronting game that is not for the faint of heart.

Eternal Home Floristry (Genre: Narrative/Flower Arrangement)

An injured hitman loses his arm in an attack and is forced to seek refuge in the house of a florist called Sebastian, with whom he builds a relationship during their short time together. Learning the art of flower arrangement and the messages the blooms convey, Gordon is able to delve deeper into his own emotions and relationships. A highly emotive narrative that explores raw human emotion and the fragile elements that reside within even the most harsh exteriors.

Eternal Home Floristry Essays on Empathy PC
A truly beautiful narrative.

My favourite in the collection. Several times it even had me on the verge of tears. An impressive feat for a game that can easily be completed in half an hour. Though the game may be short, choices based on your flower arrangements will dramatically affect the outcome.

The Bookshelf Limbo (Genre: Point-and-Click)

Simplistic and charming; more of a minigame than a proper standalone title. Pick a comic book from the shelf at a bookstore to purchase as a birthday present for your father! This game was created as a birthday gift alongside a friend of the developers and features amusing cover art, genre stereotypes, and mocking of internet trolls.

The Bookshelf Limbo Essays on Empathy PC
The first game I’ve encountered that’s essentially an interactive birthday card.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism (Genre: Sci-Fi/Narrative)

Pottery meets Cyberpunk in a genre mash-up I never thought I’d encounter. As a new member of a human improvement workshop, you’re tasked with creating body modifications to fulfil your client’s needs. By handcrafting differently-shaped mods, you’ll be able to enhance certain physical traits and oblige the wishes of the often-selfish humans.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism Essays on Empathy PC
I need this one!

Another incredibly stylish game with an odd concept – this intriguing pottery-crafting gameplay re-appears in The Red Strings Club as a major gameplay mechanic. But does crafting your body into the ideal traits really lead to true fulfilment?

Engolasters January 2021 (Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure)

In my opinion the least-enjoyable game in the entire collection. Set in the real life small mountain town of Engolasters, the protagonist (whose son has just run away from home) stumbles across extra-terrestrial life which offers to bestow great power. She must make a choice to save her son, herself, or unravel the secrets that lure her into the unknown. Afflicted by a wound and slowly losing blood, players must manage their life, phone battery, and car fuel while exploring the frosty overworld. The overworld is vast, empty, and lacking in direction, which led me to become easily frustrated.

Engolasters January 2021 Essays on Empathy PC

11:45 A Vivid Life (Genre: Point-and-Click)

The most interesting concept out of all the games: what if your skeleton didn’t belong to you? This simple point-and-click game explores the topic of body image and acceptance. By stealing an x-ray machine and fleeing to the country, the protagonist discovers more about herself by looking inside. Literally. X-rays reveal implants, evidence of past trauma, and pieces that seem mismatched and out of place. Once located, any foreign body parts must be forcibly removed through the use of pliers or scalpels. Not for the squeamish! Players can choose dialogue that will vary the consequences of the story, weaving an entertaining, introspective narrative with a stylish visual aesthetic.

11:45 A Vivid Life Essays on Empathy PC
Plenty of amusing dialogue in this one.

Dear Substance of Kin (Genre: Horror/Adventure)

For a moment I could have sworn I was playing something straight out of Bloodborne! This title is melancholy, chilling, and is dripping with disturbing atmosphere like a blood-soaked cloth. Exploring a decrepit and dilapidated town, you are the Coppersmith, an immortal artisan who harvests the organs of townspeople in exchange for fulfilling their requests through blood magic. By interrogating the residents, you can perceive their selfish desires and choose to either fulfil or sabotage them.

Dear Substance of Kin Essays on Empathy PC
The colour palette and pixel art create a morbid style.

Dark and brooding narrative alongside macabre art and music make this one of the most memorable titles in the collection, and leaves me thirsting for more. The inspiration behind this title is particularly interesting, as the creator draws upon a method that you’re unlikely to expect. Watch the documentary to find out!

Des Tres al Cuatro (Genre: Comedy/Narrative)

The main feature of this collection, a game that translates to “Three for a Quarter” (e.g. something of such poor quality that you can buy three of them for a single quarter), also the name of the comedy duo that you play as during this game. Garza and Bonachera are two halves of a failing comedy act, two lovers, and two grown men struggling for success, stumbling over the hurdles of their passions and their relationship. The story here is particularly personal to the developers, as it emphasises the harsh reality of making a living off of a creative pastime. Conversations between the characters are deeply intimate and allow the player to dive beneath the surface by revealing the characters’ inner thoughts on a separate area of the screen.

Des Tres al Cuatro Essays on Empathy PC
Many mature themes are discussed between Garza and Bonachera.

Gameplay is incredibly creative and unlike anything I’ve played, combining aspects of deckbuilding games with comedy dialogue, allowing you to attempt to earn coins to improve your deck. Cards will either build upon a joke, execute a hilarious punchline, or fail miserably and embarrass yourself in front of an entire crowd. Not only is it fun to play, but many of the jokes are legitimately amusing and it’s quite satisfying to be able to slowly improve your confidence with each show.

Des Tres al Cuatro Essays on Empathy PC
Easily some of the most creative gameplay you’ll come across.

Des Tres al Cuatro is, in my opinion, the best game in the entire collection, as it offers the perfect balance of innovative gameplay and insightful dialogue, and is an experience that is enjoyable every minute from start to finish. If you’re interested in Essays on Empathy, it’s worth it just for this alone.

Conclusion

A vast amount of passion has been poured into crafting these short but powerful games, which becomes even more apparent while watching the developers discuss each title in their respective documentaries. Thoughtfully reflective, introspective and emotive, Essays on Empathy is 50% videogame, 50% documentary, and 100% heart. If you’re the kind of person who plays videogames not only for enjoyment, but for deep narratives, important messages, or artistic expression, then this is an essential experience. And really, couldn’t everyone benefit from just a bit of extra empathy?

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of emotive narratives.
  • Looking for creative indie games? Go no further!
  • Gorgeous pixel art and equally gorgeous music.
  • Strong LGBTQIA representation will likely appeal to those within the community.

So, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Certain games may be best avoided if you’re not in the right headspace.
  • Not a fan of narrative or text-heavy games? Then these probably aren’t for you.

Essays of Empathy is available now on PC via Steam.
Find out more about the game here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1586880/Essays_on_Empathy/

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Rise of the Slime Review: Nintendo Switch

Is it high time for the Slime to shine?

Every hero needs to start somewhere. That’s why ever since the dawn of slime, RPGs begin with the player leaving the comfort of the starting town, collecting trivial items, rescuing a couple of cats, all while smiting hordes of low-level monsters for precious XP. Though mobs sometimes appear in the hundreds, few enemies can hope to achieve the level of fame as that of the simple Slime. Name a popular series and it’s almost certain to have its own iteration of this iconic enemy! But despite becoming an immediately-recognised staple of the genre and even its own trope, the Slime is usually battered, down-trodden and quickly cast aside once the player has levelled-up.

Left to right: Dragon Quest (Slime), Atelier series (Puni), Bravely Default (Slime), The Legend of Zelda (Chu-Chu), Neptunia series (Dogoo).

However, the role of the Slime has since changed, with the creation of games that seek to emphasise the importance of this iconic adversary. Games like Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, Slime-San, and Slime Rancher portray the character in a completely different image, sometimes even as the main protagonist. Joining the ranks of these sublime Slime games is the roguelike deck-builder: Rise of the Slime. An indie title impressively crafted by a one-man team, Maris Bunovsky (who is the game’s sole creator, artist, and developer), the game launched yesterday on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series S | X.

So does Rise of the Slime join the ranks of other prime slime games, or is it a giant steaming pile of goo?

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch

What’s a “Roguelite Deckbuilder?”

Games like Slay the Spire and the Hand of Fate have defined this subgenre, which combines randomised RPG elements with turn-based combat, focused on a deck of cards that is improved/expanded during progression. The gameplay of Rise of the Slime is exactly what you would expect from this subgenre: randomly-generated levels, challenging combat, and a sizeable pool of cards/abilities that mean no two playthroughs are exactly the same. In a genre that has become increasingly complex since its conception, Rise of the Slime goes back to basics and offers gameplay that is initially approachable and simple.

Slay the Spire Nintendo Switch
“Slay the Spire” introduced gameplay that helped define the genre.

Gameplay

Starting in the Cemetery of the Ancients (hub area), you’ll have the option to customise your slime with power-ups, bring along a pet to aide your quest, and then choose one of three gameplay modes. Challenge Mode is a continuous map with no checkpoints, Short Run features a plethora of “mutators” to adapt your Slime, and Old Path is a longer, more forgiving experience. I played a few hours of each and noticed a significant difference despite the same base gameplay.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch
How does a slime even use a lever?

Each area is divided into 20+ individual rooms within a distinct locale (Forest/Swamp/Lava etc.), which feature small environmental puzzles, upgrades or items, and of course, lots of enemies to try stop you. A single run will take anywhere between 30 minutes to over 2 hours, depending primarily on a combination of luck and skill. Four different decks are available at the beginning of a run and allow for vastly-different options in combat, focusing on close combat, ranged, ailments, or a combination of each. These decks don’t necessarily dictate how you should play, but provide a foundation of combat on which you build with additional cards as you progress.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch
I took a liking to the fire deck, which can quickly backfire.

Combat is where your slime will spend most of its time. Using the deck provided, you’ll take turns against enemies on a side-scrolling battlefield. A “mana system” limits how many cards can be used in a single turn, and will require you to prioritise moving, attacking, defending, or status cards like fire or acid which can afflict both yourself and the enemy. HP does not automatically regenerate between encounters, so conserving health during combat is of the utmost importance. This becomes difficult as enemies can quickly overwhelm and overpower you, which must give the poor Slime some horrid flashbacks of its RPG days. Unless you gain specific abilities or cards during a run, the combat, especially during boss fights, can become unfairly difficult and will quickly lead to frustration and failure. For a game that appears effortless on the surface, it can descend into brutal difficulty.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch

Additional cards will be unlocked upon completion of each round of combat, and can be chosen to best suit your current deck. Positive and negative “mutators” will also appear randomly in the environment, which can be either a blessing or a hinderance, and will dramatically change your success in each run. Upgrades may also be purchased throughout each run, improving both the Slime itself and the individual cards in the deck. The game also claims to offer permanent power-ups that can be purchased in the hub world prior to a run, though frustratingly I constantly encountered a bug that removed any upgrades immediately after leaving the room (which massively hindered my progress through the game).

Visuals

Without a doubt the most appealing and charming aspect of RotS is its adorable visuals. Somehow managing to be equal parts cute and gloomy, Maris crafts an aesthetic akin to that of a picture book. The heroic Slime and all other characters appear as cut-outs supported on paddlepop sticks (that’s a popsicle stick for all you non-Aussies out there), and move just like a puppet show. This style allows the characters to pop out of the background, which provides an often atmospheric backdrop to the action occurring in the foreground.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch
The game is very cute at times.

I did find myself on multiple occasions stopping to appreciate the game’s illustrations, which are packed full of vibrant colours and extra details. Other aspects of design such as the UI, menus, and cards, are equally attractive, and feel like a more charming version of Hearthstone. Overall, it’s a style that feels right at home on a Nintendo console and is especially suitable when being played in handheld mode.

Audio

The only aspect of the game not created by Maris is its soundtrack, which has been composed by Arletta Supe, a Latvian musician who has made her videogame music debut in Rise of the Slime. Although it’s far from the catchy chiptunes or sweeping orchestral scores one might associate with the slimes of JRPGs past, Arletta offers a relaxed, ambient soundtrack that matches the aesthetic of the game. You’re not likely to find yourself humming these songs or adding them to a game music playlist, but they provide a means of enhancing the atmosphere of each environment. It’s a prime example of background music.

Conclusion

As an introductory title into a niche subgenre of games, Rise of the Slime provides an adorable experience that is initially simple and approachable thanks to its lack of complexity and charming visual aesthetic. It’s an ideal title for younger players wanting to dip their toes into this unusual gameplay. Though one would expect a slime typically to be squishy and smooth, there are many aspects that are still rough around the edges. Combat can often feel unfair, the pool of cards available becomes repetitive after several hours of gameplay, and I encountered significant bugs (and several crashes) which significantly hindered my progression. It’s a fun game for a short period, but not quite enough to commit hundreds of hours of gameplay like I would for other roguelikes.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch

So, why should you play it?

  • Wanting to give the roguelike/deck-builder genre a go.
  • Adorable visual aesthetics appeal to you.
  • After a significant challenge? You may actually enjoy the difficulty.
  • Slime!

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can be unfairly punishing.
  • May encounter bugs that will hinder gameplay.
  • Becomes repetitive after several hours.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Before I Forget Review – Nintendo Switch

In recent years, thanks to the growing popularity of indie games and small teams of developers, videogames have provided a means of discussing impactful topics. Often with only several people working on a game, this allows for unique insight into subject matter that might not otherwise be possible for triple-A titles. Notable titles like the widely-celebrated and brutally-difficult Celeste, which cleverly discusses depression and anxiety while climbing both a literal and figurative mountain, or Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a dark fantasy in which the player is made to experience psychosis, are both brilliant representations of mental health in video games. Games like these do not stigmatise or portray such difficult topics in a negative light, but rather help to promote understanding and discussion.

Chances are you may know someone, or have friends or family who have a loved one affected by dementia – in Australia alone there are 472,000 people living with dementia, and almost 1.6 million people involved in their care. This complex collection of symptoms can lead to memory loss, confusion, and impairment of thinking, making even simple daily activities into challenging tasks. A condition for which there is no prevention or cure, and of initial signs that can often be subtle or vague. Dementia is chronic and can progress to the point where it can become debilitating or even fatal. So how can a videogame attempt to replicate and provide insight into such a complex set of neurological symptoms?

This has been achieved in Before I Forget, a story-rich experience that is less of a traditional videogame, and more of a succinct interactive, artistic insight into the emotional impact of dementia. Created by 3-Fold Games and conceptualised at a Game Jam in 2016, the game launched as a Humble Original for PC in 2020 and received a BAFTA nomination earlier this year as a “Game Beyond Entertainment” (which has been received by games such as Hellblade and Animal Crossing: New Horizons). Now available on Nintendo Switch, how does such an impactful, thought-provoking game fare on a handheld console?

Story

The player takes control of Sunita Appleby, a Indian Cosmologist and a celebrated scientist – though these accolades have since become remnants of her fragmented past. Once a brilliant mind, Sunita is now affected by symptoms of dementia; her memories of family and friends fade in and out of view from within the window panes of her small home in which the entire game takes place. Finding herself trapped in her own porch, a small post-it note adhered to the wall sparks a memory of her loved one.

Unpaid bills lay scattered that Sunita has no recollection of, voice messages are left on her phone by friends who are now complete strangers, and through empty hallways echo the sound of melancholy piano played by none other than virtuoso pianist, Dylan Appleby, Sunita’s husband. This short story follows several days of Sunita’s life as she seeks to find Dylan and overcome simple challenges at home. Though the story takes place from her current perspective, you’ll be able to piece together her past through recollections, forgotten conversations, treasured mementos, and nostalgic flashbacks of key life moments.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Sunita Dylan
Sunita and Dylan are never seen in the game; you’ll find their images throughout the house.

Although short, the story is insightful, emotive, and at times even amusing and heart-warming. Impressively Before I Forget manages to achieve a deep emotional connection between Sunita and Dylan within a timeframe where most other videogame narratives would only be setting the scene.

Gameplay

Some may classify Before I Forget as a “Walking Simulator“, a sub-genre of games in which the primary gameplay involves controlling a character that walks and interacts with objects to unravel a story (think Dear Esther & Gone Home for example). In order to focus on a narrative, aspects of gameplay are minimal, though this does not detract from the overall experience of the game. Sometimes even navigating throughout Sunita’s small house can be a difficult task, as could be the case for those with dementia. Particular parts of the game may fool you into thinking you’ve gone in the wrong direction, or surprise you with hinderances that in reality do not actually exist.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Dementia visuals
Even the simple task of walking can sometimes be difficult.

Interacting with certain items in the game will prompt flashbacks of memories, in which you’re given insight into Sunita’s life, her relationship with Dylan, or her childhood. Although these events are mostly quite straightforward, they provide more depth to the narrative. You’ll likely miss a lot of these small details during your first playthrough, as not all of them are necessary for progression, which provides some incentive to play the game an additional time.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Flashback Art
This stargazing flashback of Sunita’s childhood is particularly heart-warming.

Visuals

This is one of the most appealing aspects of Before I Forget – I’d compare the visuals to a fusion of real life and an impressionist painting. At the beginning of the game, the surroundings are dull and devoid of colour to represent Sunita’s lack of memory. With further progression and interaction with more elements, her memory breathes life into the game’s visuals and colour begins to once again wash across the house like watercolour paint slowly spreading across a canvas. It’s a beautiful visual effect and is highly satisfying to see a bland room eventually transformed in pastel colours – quite a unique way to gauge the player’s progression through the game.

Rooms will begin to regain their detail and colour as you explore them.

Despite being played on the small, handheld screen of the Nintendo Switch, the simple visuals of the game still look incredibly attractive thanks to this art-style. There were even moments where I found myself pausing to admire the surroundings and snap a few screenshots before moving on.

In juxtaposition to the game’s gorgeous visuals, there are hindering visual elements designed to represent Sunita’s symptoms of dementia. Often the screen will have a hazy visual effect or at key moments will distort to appear chaotic and confusing, making it intentionally tricky to navigate an otherwise simple hallway. I would have liked to have seen more use of these sort of visuals though, as there were only a couple of instances where they had a significant impact.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Dementia visuals
At times Sunita feels trapped or lost within her own house.

Audio

Clever audio design is a key aspect in Before I Forget. Heavy footsteps on hardwood floors might prompt you to explore your surroundings, echoing piano notes from the distance call you to walk towards them, and thoughts and conversations from the past regularly play out in Sunita’s head. You’ll also hear quite a bit of dialogue throughout the game from Sunita, her mother, and Dylan. All have excellent performances from their voice actors and become highly emotive toward the end of the game. The simple piano soundtrack too is quite fitting, as music is often played by memories of Dylan who is a talented pianist. Here’s a short snippet in which you can literally watch the world go by while you enjoy the music:

Though I usually find myself fawning over game soundtracks, my favourite aspect of the audio is the inclusion of a full developer commentary. When starting the game you can choose to turn this on, and in doing so you’ll be prompted with hovering speech bubbles throughout your journey through the game. These snippets each a couple minutes long, contain interesting banter from most of the team who worked on the game, and felt as if I was listening to an interactive podcast. I wish more indie games would include commentary like this as an added bonus! It really offered me incentive to play through the game again with the commentary turned on.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Developer Commentary
These optional floating speech bubbles can be scattered throughout Sunita’s journey.

Conclusion

At only an hour long, Before I Forget feels like less of a traditional videogame and more of an interactive art piece, designed to offer insight into the topic of dementia and does so by portraying an impactful story with emotional character connections in a single sitting. In consulting with two psychiatrists (Dr Donald Sevant and Dr David Codling) for their medical expertise, 3-Fold Games have managed to create a melancholy but poignant story that highlights the challenges faced by those with dementia. I personally found myself to be quite moved by the experience. Though not all will find the game appealing, players with a fondness for artistic games or those seeking a narrative with an important message will find the experience worthwhile.

So, why should you play it?

  • You enjoy concise games with a focus on an emotional narrative.
  • Artistic games with very basic gameplay usually appeal to you.
  • You’d like to try understand a bit more about dementia.
  • It’s hard to find time for long games – this game can be easily played and completed in a single sitting.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You’d rather play games to keep yourself occupied for hours at a time.
  • If videogames are more of a way to escape life’s tricky topics rather than to experience them.

To seek help regarding dementia, or if you need to help a family member or a friend that is affected, you can reach out to the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or via the Dementia Australia website.
If you or someone you care for is in need of support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

WCTV Podcast #4 – Hunting Season

Recently I’ve been invited to appear on WindyCornerTV’s channel to help record a podcast! Earlier this year we recorded and episode for the 10th anniversary of the Nintendo 3DS, and decided to make the podcast a regular thing!

In each episode we’ll discuss recent releases, games we played and reviewed over the last couple of weeks, and interesting topics from the games industry around the world. In this episode we discuss the biggest release of the last month: Monster Hunter Rise! Robert also dives into his experience with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 on the PlayStation 5, we chat about the recent VR version of DOOM 3 for the PSVR, and I discuss my time at the Hamburg Games Conference and recent review of Everhood on Nintendo Switch.

You can watch the podcast here:

Stay tuned for future episodes and be sure to check out WindyCornerTV’s channel!
In the next episode I’ll be talking about my weekend playing the Diablo II: Resurrected technical alpha.

Nintendo Indie World Showcase Summary – 14.4.21

Road 96, OXENFREE II: Lost Signals and OlliOlli World among the highlights of the Indie World Showcase

Autumn is in the air, and the latest indie adventures on Nintendo Switch are here with the cool change. During the latest Indie World video presentation, Nintendo detailed 21 games from independent developers that are coming to Nintendo Switch – with three having launched today.

Indie games featured in the showcase include Road 96, a procedural story-driven game from DigixArt that will change depending on the choices you make; OXENFREE II: Lost Signals, a direct sequel to the original acclaimed supernatural game from Night School Studio; OlliOlli World, Roll7’s new skateboarding action game in the totally gnarly OlliOlli franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a side scrolling beat ’em up invoking the Turtles’ legendary 1987 design; and The Longing, an experimental real-time adventure from Studio Seufz that launched today for Nintendo Switch.

Additionally, an Indie World sale is starting today in Nintendo eShop, offering discounts on select indie games for Nintendo Switch from now until 25th April.

To view the Indie World video in its entirety, visit Indie World – 15/04/2021 (Nintendo Switch).

The highlights revealed in the video include:

  • Road 96 from DigixArt: In a narrative-focused game with a mix of adventure, exploration and puzzle-solving, Road 96 tells a procedural story with thousands of potential paths to take. Meet characters from all walks of life and learn their intertwining stories. The decisions you make – both big and small – can drastically alter your experience. There are many roads. Which one will you take? Road 96 drives onto Nintendo Switch later this year.
  • OXENFREE II: Lost Signals from Night School Studio: Published by MWM Interactive, OXENFREE II: Lost Signals is a supernatural narrative adventure game about a researcher who stumbles upon ghostly happenings. Five years after the events of OXENFREE, Riley returns to her hometown of Camena to investigate mysterious radio frequency signals causing curious disturbances. OXENFREE II: Lost Signals comes to Nintendo Switch in 2021.
  • OlliOlliWorld from Roll7: The bold new entry in the OlliOlli series is here! In OlliOlli World, tear up the streets of Radland and search for the mystical skate gods in this slick action platformer. With super-tight controls and level design that flows with your combos, you’ll have a blast mastering tricks, meeting colourful characters and discovering the hidden secrets of this vivid and vibrant world. OlliOlli World launches for Nintendo Switch this summer.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge from Tribute Games: With a blend of retro and modern visuals, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge finds the four favourite turtles kicking some serious shell in classic arcade-style beat-’em-up action. Up to four players can play locally* or online in this bodacious game developed by Tribute Games and published by Dotemu, who also published Streets of Rage 4 and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge launches for Nintendo Switch later this year.
  • The Longing from Studio Seufz: With a beautiful hand-drawn art style and an intriguing story, The Longing is unlike anything you have played before. The big twist: You don’t actually have to play to see how it ends. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit idly by. As main character Shade, you must wait 400 days for your king to awaken. While waiting, you can explore dark caves, complete time-based puzzles and collect items. Start your countdown clock now, as The Longing is out now on Nintendo Switch.
  • Annapurna Interactive: Two new games from Annapurna Interactive, the award-winning publishers of Florence and What Remains of Edith Finch, are coming to Nintendo Switch. These are just the latest artistic gems from the publisher’s already impressive library of games:
  • Hindsight from Annapurna Interactive: Hindsight from developer Joel McDonald is a poignant narrative game about an older woman reminiscing about her family. The objects from her past serve as portals into long-lost memories, revealing a decision that forever changed her life. Learn more when Hindsight launches for Nintendo Switch this year.
  • Last Stop from Annapurna Interactive: Last Stop from developer Variable State is a single-player third-person adventure set in modern-day London, where you play as three separate characters whose worlds collide in the midst of a supernatural crisis. What connects these three strangers? Where will fate lead them? Find out when Last Stop launches for Nintendo Switch in July.
  • Aerial_Knight’sNever Yield from Aerial_Knight: This is not your typical “runner” game! Run, jump, slide and dash through a futuristic Tokyo-styled Detroit to a head-bopping soundtrack as the protagonist Wally to save what’s left of the future. Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield slides onto Nintendo Switch on 19th May. A demo will be available to download now in Nintendo eShop.
  • FEZ from Polytron: Gomez is a 2D creature living in a 2D world. Or is he? When the existence of a mysterious third dimension is revealed to him, Gomez is sent out on a journey that will take him to the very end of time and space. Use your ability to navigate 3D structures from four distinct classic 2D perspectives. The critically acclaimed FEZ is available now on Nintendo Switch.
  • Aztech Forgotten Gods from Lienzo: If you’re looking for a grand adventure inspired by Aztec mythology, look no further than Aztech Forgotten Gods from Mexican studio Lienzo. Gain powerful arm upgrades, traverse different areas within an advanced Mesoamerican metropolis and encounter all sorts of characters to uncover ancient secrets. Aztech Forgotten Gods soars onto Nintendo Switch this spring.
  • There is No Game: Wrong Dimension from Draw Me A Pixel: Despite its title, this really is a game! There is No Game: Wrong Dimension is a point-and-click comedy adventure filled with riddles and puzzles. If you’re looking for something different and experimental that’s full of surprises, look no further. There is No Game: Wrong Dimension is out now on Nintendo Switch.
  • Cris Tales from Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK: Drawing inspiration from classic and modern JRPGs, Cris Tales incorporates time traveling into its storyline and combat with a variety of surprise effects, like making enemies younger and thus easier to defeat. While exploring this handcrafted, dark fairy-tale world, you’ll recruit a diverse cast of allies and discover new realms. Cris Tales lands on Nintendo Switch on 20th July.
  • GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon from Konami Digital Entertainment and GuruGuru: Showcasing a stylized Japanese aesthetic, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon delivers a dynamic hack-and-slash roguelite experience, filled with perilous dungeons, fierce boss battles and intense, skill-based combat. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon launches for Nintendo Switch next year.
  • Beasts of Maravilla Island from Banana Bird Studios, LLC: In this 3D adventure game, take on the role of a young wildlife photographer who traverses Maravilla Island’s magical ecosystems to discover extraordinary creatures, learn their behaviours and, most importantly, photograph their majesty. Beasts of Maravilla Island launches for Nintendo Switch in June.
  • Skul: The Hero Slayer from SouthPAW Games: Take on an entire army to rescue your king in this 2D fast-action roguelite. And the best part? To progress in the game, you’ll need to swap abilities, which is done by swapping … heads. With 90 playable character variations, each with their own special abilities, you might think you’re out of your skull in real life. Skul: The Hero Slayer launches for Nintendo Switch this winter.
  • art of rally from Funselektor Labs Inc.: Will you master the art of rally? Drive iconic cars inspired by the golden era of rally racing on challenging stages through stylized environments set around the world. art of rally launches for Nintendo Switch this winter.
  • KeyWe from Stonewheat & Sons: KeyWe is a cute, cooperative postal puzzler starring two small kiwi birds working in a whimsical post office. They must jump, flap and butt-slam across an interactive landscape of levers, bells and buttons to get those messages delivered on time. KeyWe launches for Nintendo Switch in August.
  • ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights from Adglobe: In this dark fantasy 2D action-RPG, encounter horrific enemies against whom a moment of inattention could be fatal. Overcome these hardships and seek the truth with the help of fallen knights. ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights launches for Nintendo Switch on 22nd June.
  • Weaving Tides from Follow the Feathers: Call your Weaver and soar across a stunning woven landscape. Set out on a journey to explore ancient dungeons, solve puzzles, wrap up your foes and unravel the great mysteries of a long-forgotten past. Weaving Tides, a charming single-player adventure set in a world of magic and textile, launches for Nintendo Switch in May.
  • Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective from Darjeeling: Adapted from the children’s book series, Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective takes you across incredibly detailed mazes to retrieve a powerful artifact. On your quest, you will interact with more than 500 items or characters, find over 100 hidden objects and wander about in beautiful locations. Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective launches for Nintendo Switch this autumn.
  • The House of the Dead: Remake from MegaPixel Studio: The classic arcade rail-shooter is back with a new makeover and exciting gameplay changes. In this multiplayer game, you’ll suit up as a pair of government agents sent to investigate disappearances only to find hordes of undead monstrosities. The House of the Dead: Remake launches for Nintendo Switch later this year.

…and that’s a wrap!
Some really awesome titles announced – very excited to play these. Oxenfree is a personal favourite of mine and is one of the best games on the Switch, so I’m most looking forward to the sequel. What’s top of your list from this bunch of indies? Reach on on socials and let me know!

The Funniest Game on Switch? Say No! More Review – Nintendo Switch

Did you have a ball playing Katamari Damacy? Did you think Untitled Goose Game was a honking good time? Looking for another light-hearted, hilarious game? Then Say No! More.

Have you ever been in a situation where you just wanted to shout “NO!”?
Can you imagine if you didn’t even have the option? If refusal was considered taboo?
Where no matter what was asked of you, even the most tedious of tasks, you had to say “yes!” with enthusiasm.

Welcome to the world of Say No! More, a game that developers, Studio Fizbin, claim to be the world’s very first “NPG (No-Playing Game).” Through literally teaching the player to say “no” more, the game emphasises the power behind using this simple word that we too often take for granted. With its unique simplicity, quirky sense of humour, heavily-stylised visuals and superb voice acting, Say No! More delivers a unique experience I KNOW you won’t want to pass up.

So what makes such a simple concept so entertaining?
Well there’s NO time to waste, read on!

Say No More Nintendo Switch

PLOT

It’s your first day at a new job, you’re one of three new interns hired to work for an unnamed massive corporation. Exciting, right? No.

Only minutes into the new job you find out there is a hierarchy that must be obeyed. And as a lowly intern, guess what? You’re the bottom of the ladder. Anything that is asked of you must be done with enthusiasm, in fact it’s impossible to refuse. But why is that? The word “no” does not exist. It has has been completely outlawed, banished and hidden from society.

Get your superior a coffee? Sure, that’s reasonable!
Unjam the printer that your work colleague so kindly stuffed up? Rightio!
Work unpaid overtime for the fifth time this week? Yes, I would love to!
Even give up your adorable unicorn lunchbox because your supervisor forgot their lunch at home? Of course!

Say No More Nintendo Switch Unicorn Lunchbox
Yep, everyone in this game wants a piece of your badass unicorn lunchbox. Who wouldn’t? Just look at it. Majestic.

But this all changes when you stumble across a hidden tape above your dilapidated office desk. A tape containing a forbidden word that has been lost to society. In listening to this tape you gain a power that others in the world would not even speak of: the ability to say NO!

Say No More Nintendo Switch Tape
The world’s shortest audiobook.

In possessing this unique newfound skill, the oppressed intern seeks to rise up and quite literally spread the good word. What follows is a plot that is not only hilarious, but at times meaningful and strangely heart-warming. What starts out as a simple concept, evolves over 8 chapters into something much more dramatic than I had ever expected from a comedy game.

But how do you say “no” more?

GAMEPLAY

Before assaulting office workers and superiors with a barrage of refusal, you’ve got to look the part, right? The game begins with a detailed character creator, despite the very minimalist low-poly graphics. It feels like a combination of Mii Maker and creating a character in The Sims, allowing you to stylise your character’s facial features, clothing and accessories to be as exciting or boring as you wish. I went for a pretty generic salaryman look (that somehow looked a bit like Robert Downey Jr?).

Say No More Nintendo Switch Character Creator
Change your face? No plastic surgery required.

After creating your character, you need to give them a voice. Impressively you can choose from shouting “NO!” in seventeen different languages, each with a feminine or masculine voice. The voice acting is in English, but this shouldn’t stop you from exploring all the different ways you can refuse someone! Definitely a nice touch. For your entertainment here’s a short clip of how to say “no” in the languages available:

Ever wondered how to say no in Gaelic? No?

Once you’ve created your character and chosen your preferred language, the game drops you into a story that takes place across 8 different chapters. Each is about 10 – 15 minutes long and is packed full of hilarious dialogue, amusing conversations between characters, clever easter eggs, and silly slapstick comedy. Levels follow a linear route akin to an on-rails shooter, but instead of firing bullets you’ll be blasting office workers with the sheer power of your words alone. This is simplistic gameplay at its finest and is approachable enough for literally anyone to play. Even my wife (who is usually terrible at games, sorry!) enjoyed it.

Say No More Nintendo Switch Gameplay
Probably don’t do this in your real-life office though…

As you progress through the chapters, you’ll be given additional means of saying no. Certain situations may require you to respond with an angry, a lazy or a sarcastic no. To further humiliate your colleagues, you can perform actions like sarcastically clapping at them, laughing or nodding your head, all of which have certain situations where they are most appropriate. You’ll also be able to hold down the button to charge up a more devastating “NO” that usually causes havoc by launching the unfortunate office workers or inanimate objects that stand in your way. These are all clever ways of adding slightly more depth to a game that could otherwise be finished just by pressing a single button.

Say No More Nintendo Switch Controls
Next time you have to say “no” to a work colleague, try sarcastically clapping at them while doing so. It’ll go down well, I promise.

Though the gameplay in Say No! More is simple, its comedic delivery is where it truly shines.

COMEDY

I’m in no way exaggerating when I say that Say No! More is quite possibly the funniest game I’ve ever played. Throughout the few hours playing the game, the vast majority of the time was spent either in legitimate laughter or with a big cheesy grim on my face. The game is absolutely packed full of superbly-written clever dialogue, witty responses, and a satirical take on the office lifestyle (which I can really appreciate being an office worker myself).

A few snippets from the game, including a reference to some obscure monster-fighting RPG.

My personal favourite parts of the game are delivered in the form of motivational speeches. The tape which teaches you how to say “NO!” is actually delivered by a character that I can only describe as if Hulk Hogan became a motivational speaker. Levels will be scattered with excerpts from this character as you listen to more of the tape, allowing you to unlock further secrets of this powerful word bestowed upon you by your brawny teacher.

Say No More Nintendo Switch Hulk Hogan Nogan Motivation
Your mentor, or as I like to call him: Hulk NOgan.

VISUALS

As you may have already noticed, the game employs a distinct low-poly art-style with vibrant colours and exaggerated animations. I’d say it has a similar aesthetic to Katamari Damacy, which in my opinion is a very good thing. Though detail is limited, this seems to fit well with the comedic style of the game and means the screen can be full of activity with little-to-no drop in framerate. The game performs well in both handheld and docked mode and looks vivid and visually-pleasing.

The low-poly art style of Katamari Damacy Reroll (2018) vs Say No! More.

AUDIO

The soundtrack is quite simple, comprised of peppy, upbeat music that you might expect to hear in the background of an office training video. During the tape sequences however, you’ll feel as if you’ve been thrown into a workout video, as heavy riffs accompany “Hulk NOgan” yelling motivational lines at you.

While none of the tracks in the game will likely find their way onto your favourite game music playlist, the voice acting and delivery of the game’s hilarious dialogue is something worth writing home about. Every single word in the game is voiced, including all the office worker NPCs you’ll often fling out of the way without a care in the world. If you stop to listen to them you’ll enjoy short monologues that aren’t only amusing, but often also insightful.

Say No More Nintendo Switch Dialogue
Take the time to listen to your co-workers. You might learn something from them.

CONCLUSION

So is Say No! More just another indie game on the Switch that you should ignore? NO!
It’s a unique comedic romp through an office that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone thanks to its witty dialogue and simple, approachable gameplay. Surprisingly, the game also delivers a deeper message about the importance of being assertive and by the end you might even take onboard some of the life advice it provides.
Completion will only take 2 – 3 hours and you’ll be laughing and smiling the entire time. I’m predicting this game will be quite a hit with YouTube “let’s players” looking to share a hilarious game with their viewers.

So, why should you play it?

  • You enjoy light-hearted games filled with humour.
  • Can’t commit to 100-hour JRPGs? Here’s a brilliant game that you could finish in a single sitting!
  • Work in an office? You’ll relate to this satirical take on the office lifestyle.
  • You’d prefer a game for sheer enjoyment rather than a challenge.
  • Needing to learn to assert yourself? Say No! More.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Bland sense of humour? Don’t enjoy silly games? Maybe not for you.
  • There are NO other reasons not to play this game!

Say No! More launches TODAY for Steam, Nintendo Switch and iOS.
You can find out more about the game here: https://www.saynomo.re/

A Nintendo Switch review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Voxel Indie Narrative Adventure ‘7 Years From Now’ Making Way to Nintendo Switch and PC

PQube, Fumi and Room 6 are excited to announce that award winning narrative adventure, 7 Years From Now, will be launching on Steam and Nintendo Switch on 28th May!

  • A mature, emotional and uniquely wrenching single player experience
  • All DLC included, featuring epilogue, side story, glossary and Sound Mode
  • Rated 4.9 / 5 on iOS, 4.6 / 5 on Google Play
  • Winner of 5 awards including Vivo’s Best Indie Game, Huawei Most Exciting
  • Downloaded over 6,000,000 times on mobile
  • Launching on Steam & Nintendo Switch on 28th May, 2021

First launched in 2017 for mobile, the deceptively dark and wonderful ‘7 Years From Now‘ charmed audiences with its deeply engrossing story, minimalist voxel art style and ambient score soundtrack.

Check out the 7 Years From Now Trailer:

Winner of 5 awards since its mobile launch in 2017, 7 Years From Now received international acclaim as it approached serious narrative themes from bullying, to mental health and domestic violence with immersive and masterful storytelling.  Now optimised and adapted for PC and console, containing all content from the main story, to epilogue and more7 Years From Now will be coming to Nintendo Switch and Steam on 28th May, 2021.

7 Years From Now Old Well Screenshot 1

Developed as a labour of love by Mafumi Yoshida, a one-man development team, 7 Years From Now is a uniquely emotive non-combat based narrative experience. Embark on a surreal journey retracing the steps of old memories lost 7 years prior. Take on the role of high school student Haruto Soraki as he returns to his hometown on a quest to recover his memory after being involved in an accident, which he knows nothing about.

7 Years From Now Honoka’s Hospital Room Screenshot

In this wonderfully charming yet sinister slice of life adventure, reacquaint yourself with forgotten friends, discover hidden depths as you expose a horrifying conspiracy and learn the truth of your past once and for all.

7 Years From Now Clinic Check Up Room Screenshot

For more information and the latest news, follow PQube on TwitterFacebookTwitchInstagram and our official website: http://pqube.co.uk/ Join the discussion using hashtags #7YearsFromNow and #PQube