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  • Writer's pictureAllan Jenks

Indie B-Sides Review #011

Welcome back to the latest Indie B-Sides Review! This time, we will be taking a look at a rhythm game that is also a racing game, a game that turns your own home into an escape room, a game that has a title that sounds like Mike Tyson saying the word sauce, a Rube Goldberg machine simulator (sort of), and another great blast from the past game about ninjas! Take a look at what we thought!

Music Racer (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Allan Jenks

Developer: Sometimes You

Publisher: Sometimes You

Category: Racing, Music, Arcade, Party

Release Date: 1.29.2020

Price: $6.99

A Music Racer That’s Fun to Lose At

I’ve always loved rhythm and music games, and as such, in my time with the JPSM team I have found myself the recipient of most of the review copies of games in this genre—and I’m ok with this! I have been surprised with how many different schools of thought there are when it comes to designing a rhythm/music game. Some concepts work better than others, and some are just plain clunky and weird.

Music Racer is somewhere in the middle; it has a huge fun factor and soundtrack, but the actual rhythm mechanic leaves a bit to be desired. Normally, this would tend to be an automatic fail when it comes to a rhythm game, but in this case, the game is still fun to play, even though I hold out little hope while doing so that I will ever hit anywhere close to a 100% run. The basic formula is this: you drive a car along a multi-lane track, and as the music plays, note icons appear in different lanes, tied to the rhythm of the song. You have to steer the car left or right to get to the notes in time.

The visuals are a bit trippy—somewhere between Rainbow Road and Saturday Night Fever—and the different tracks, 14 in all, snake around so much that it is often difficult to see where the notes are situated in the upcoming track sections. This makes it nearly impossible to anticipate where you need to be without basically memorizing the note placement for the song relative to each track. You start out with only a few cars and tracks available to use, but as you complete songs and gain points, you can use the points to unlock additional vehicles and tracks.

The entire soundtrack is great, and though I don’t typically listen to a lot of… I want to say trance? I don’t know all the genres, as I am no longer hip and with it… But even though it’s not my normal go-to thing, I really enjoyed each new song I tried as I progressed through the game. There are also a few different modes in which you can play: Standard, where you have notes to hit as well as speed-robbing red pillars to avoid; Casual (?), where you just have the notes to try and hit, without the pillars; Hard, where you instantly lose if you hit a pillar, rather than simply slowing down for a moment; and Cinematic, where the car just races along in the center lane on auto-pilot while the song plays in the background, almost like a screen saver you can throw on in the background at a party.

If any of this sounds remotely interesting, then it will definitely be worth the $6.99 for you to pick up this fun little racer/rhythm title—just don’t expect a perfect score without a lot of practice and memorization!

Score 7.5/10

Buy Music Racer from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Sometimes You

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Without Escape (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B.

Developer: Bumpy Trail Games Publisher: eastasiasoft Category: Action, Adventure, Puzzle Release Date: 1.16.2020 Price: $4.99

The Escape Room From Hell

Without Escape is a short point and click adventure game that sees players attempting to investigate strange phenomena in their own dang house. You wake up in your bed at 2:45 in the morning to a strange sound; perhaps someone is breaking in? You get out of bed to investigate to find nothing missing, but quite a few things out of place. The object of the game is to figure out just what the heck is going on here without dying horribly (or maybe by choosing to die horribly? There are multiple endings, so technically you do have to choose to die to find them all). Unfortunately, because of the passive nature of the gameplay, the game fails to really be all that spooky or unsettling. Certainly, a few still images are disturbing, but once you’ve been to that room a half dozen times in your investigations, the image loses its impact.

The gameplay is fairly simple point-and-click stuff; you run your cursor over the game screen waiting until it turns into a magnifying glass, signifying that you have found an object of interest. It’s… ridiculously simple, really. You have to find objects and solve puzzles scattered around the house to move into new rooms and onto new challenges. The puzzles range from as simple as finding the right item, to some more challenging stuff involving researching the game’s lore and—most horrifyingly—being able to do simple math. I was an English major in college specifically so I could avoid all math. Numbers are monsters.

The graphics are pretty sharp 3-D renderings, but the camera is always in a fixed view, so you don’t really get to see anything except what the game shows you. This is a bit of a problem for finding smaller items, like a key next to a clock in the game’s early goings. Some items are small and next to other interactive objects, meaning it can seem like there is only one object when really there are two, you just have to be selecting the right area of the screen. This is a rare issue, pretty much limited to that key I mentioned, but it was really annoying and held me up for longer than I care to admit. The sound is spooky and oppressive, befitting the tense atmosphere the game desires, but as I mentioned earlier, the lack of action on the screen really prevents the game from being truly scary. Without Escape is a neat, compact, but ultimately fairly simple adventure game that aficionados of the genre will like.

Score: 6/10

Buy Without Escape from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Bumpy Trail Games

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Follow eastasiasoft

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

THOTH (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: WoodManFLG

Developer: Carlsen Games

Publisher: Carlsen Games

Category: Shoot em Up, Puzzle

Release Date: 1.9.2020

Price: $4.99

A Fresh Spin On Two Familiar Genres

THOTH was a nice surprise for me; I came into it expecting a semi basic shoot ‘em up, but instead I honestly got something that felt more like it was a puzzle game mixed with the kind of “Try it again!” mindset and precision of Super Meat Boy or Celeste. Utilizing generally plain graphics, THOTH was made by Jeppe Carlsen, former lead gameplay designer at Playdead, who made the indie classics LIMBO and Inside. The simple graphic design, however, adds to the general vibe and aesthetic of this experience.

This game makes you feel like you have been plopped in some kind of experiment as you make your way through all of the levels available to you—in sets of 4 with generally heavy theming for each 4 levels. You can die, but only once per level per 4 levels, or else you will be sent back to the first level in the set. Your method of interacting with this almost action puzzle is your ship and the bullets it shoots. Featuring a twin-stick-shooter-style set up, you have full control of where you shoot, and you will need it! You slow down when you shoot, so choose your movements carefully, or else you will end up cornered and starting over!

The general rule is that you have to destroy whatever moving colored objects you are presented with, as they come at you. You have normal ones, ones that spit a smaller one at you when they die, stationary ones that get bigger until you shoot them—but once they are dead they will grow unchecked—ones that form chains to other blocks, and more! This game’s concept really started to grow on me, as I would loudly exclaim some expletive on my last attempt at a hard set, but I wouldn’t skip a beat as I went and took another try—it's almost addicting! I love that every set of 4 levels feels so unique with a very strong theme, and it elaborates on it more and more each level, usually culminating in adding mechanics from previous levels at the same time as the new one. The music was pulsing electronic beats that weren’t too stand out, but felt appropriate for the game.

THOTH was a ton of fun for me, and totally exceeded my expectations. It proved itself to be a fun puzzle-esque take on the twin-stick shooter/shoot ‘em up genre; and at $4.99, you could do FAR worse—that's a fact! I give THOTH a strong 7/10!

Score: 7/10

Buy THOTH from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Carlsen Games

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Robots Under Attack! (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Akio Kahoshi

Developer: Dmytro Derybas

Publisher: Dmytro Derybas

Category: Action, Arcade, Puzzle

Release Date: 1.14.2020

Price: $5.99

60% of the Time, It Works Every Time!

The premise of Robots Under Attack! is fairly simple: shoot arrows from a bow and destroy robots. But it builds upon that premise with complex traps that, when triggered, will destroy the robots without a single arrow ever touching them. Buttons, doors, and even portals all combine in different ways. When it works, the game turns into a giant Rube Goldberg machine that is extremely satisfying. Unfortunately, it often does not work.

More than once, a ball I needed to roll would just suddenly stop, or an explosion would damage a robot 99%, but not kill it properly. While most levels this was not a problem, on the levels it was, I ended up spending a frustrating amount of time repeating the level. Thankfully, the load times are near-instant, both moving from level to level and restarting quickly—though using the X-button for reset proved annoying, as I often accidentally reset the level.

What I found odd was that, rather than relying on complex puzzles, quite a few levels relied more on skill with the bow. Shooting the bow honestly felt awkward at times, and I cannot count the number of times I had to restart because an arrow just barely missed the target. While having to aim properly is clearly an important part of the gameplay, even having a short lead line to give an idea of the expected arc would have made the game significantly more satisfying.

There are also two boss fights in the game, which honestly would have been better omitted. They proved to just be tedious more than challenging, and offered none of the interesting gameplay of the other levels.

Beating a level with extra arrows rewards money, which can be used to buy different bow designs. They do not affect gameplay, but along with color options, they do allow the player some customization of their gameplay. Personally, I would have rather had the ability to change sound levels though. The music and sounds have on/off options, but no sliders. I found the game rather loud compared to other games, and would have liked to adjust it down.

While there are clearly quite a few things that can be improved upon within Robots Under Attack!, it’s still an impressive feat for the game’s single developer. Aside from the occasional issue of physics working against me, the game runs flawlessly. The graphing paper look also gives it a charm that helps it stand out from the pack. Players looking for a distraction to pass some time will find some fun challenges here, as long as they can handle the occasional frustration.

Score: 7/10

Buy Robots Under Attack! from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Dmytro Derybas

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

SEGA AGES Shinobi (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Brad “The Waffinator” E.

Developer: M2

Publisher: SEGA

Category: Action, Arcade

Release Date: 1.23.2020

Price: $8.99

Retro Ninja Arcade Action!

SEGA Does it again, bringing another timeless and ageless classic to the forefront for the old and new with their SEGA AGES lineup, and this time with the one and only Shinobi. This game was originally released in 1987 for the arcades, and has more recently been brought back to life for the Nintendo Switch—and I am super excited! This was one of the games I never had the chance to play back in the day, so I am excited to have it in the forefront again, and you should be too! Since this is a SEGA AGES lineup, let's take a look at what makes the game a bit different and newer.

For starters, they added reverse mode. With reverse you can rewind time and relive your mistakes, learn from your mistakes, and carry on without losing a life. It comes in handy when you are outnumbered and overwhelmed! There is also the Ages Mode, where you start out with two hits of damage before dying (instead of the traditional one hit and dead) and you can refill by helping save hostages. Also, your weapons are more powerful, killing enemies a lot quicker. Even in traditional mode you have unlimited coins and can keep continuing once you get game over, and you can save the game and pick up where you left off if you need to put it down and walk away.

The controls are very user friendly and quick to pick up; You use Y to throw weapons/attack, B to jump, and A to use your ninja power. Because it was an arcade game like the other AGES titles, you can choose the wallpaper that you see, allowing you to customize your cabinet-like experience. The game looks and plays great, both portable and docked, making it a great title to play on the go and on the TV. All of the sound effects have been upped in quality, making it overall really enjoyable.

SEGA AGES Shinobi is a great game to get for both old school gamers and even newer gamers who want the great retro looks and feels on a modern day console. This port to the Switch was a great addition, and I look forward to continuing to play this game. This is one I would definitely recommend. Also, you get to choose the difficulty, allowing you to play at a nice pace, or maybe you want a game that's enjoyable while making you rage quit… The choice is yours!

Score 9.5/10

Buy SEGA AGES Shinobi from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow M2

Follow SEGA

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

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