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  • Writer's pictureAllan Jenks

Indie B-Sides Review #017

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

Welcome back to another Indie B-Sides Review! This time, we look at a hand-drawn account of real life events—events that may have been more interesting than the retelling—played out as an old lady, a game about sniping skiers, an almost-rogue-like game with a Metroidvania twist, a game about what happens when you pee on electronics, and a nice, relaxing chess-based puzzle game. Lets get started!

Vasilis (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: Sometimes You, Marginal Act Publisher: Sometimes You Category: Adventure, Puzzle Release Date: 2.26.2020 Price: $4.99

If You Came For a Great Narrative, You’re Gonna Have a Bad Time

Vasilis is an old-school point-and-click adventure game that takes its minimalist aesthetic to the extreme. The gameplay mechanics are pretty simple, as these things tend to be in this genre; you just walk around the town from area to area, collecting items and using them on the right person/object to get to new areas. It’s a tried and true formula, with a few hitches. It does not help that the player character moves excruciatingly slowly. It only gets worse when you realize how much backtracking is required. Finally, the game does not always do a good job of explaining your objectives, so in addition to the regular backtracking required, you might be wandering around aimlessly for a frustratingly long time—or at least I did. I dunno… Maybe I just suck—that’s a real possibility.

Players take the role of an old woman searching for her missing husband. Along the way, she gets caught up in a revolution, of which her husband is a ringleader. The story is a somewhat confusing mess about raising towers and chaos and revolution, and the typo-ridden dialogue and exposition doesn’t help anything. It is inspired by the Ukrainian coup of 2014; I would like to have found more value in the story because those events are of grave importance and deserving of exploration. Unfortunately, Vasilis just doesn’t deliver a narrative experience equal to its inspiration.

And that brings us to the game’s art direction. The art style looks like what I used to scribble in the margins of my notebooks in school; pretty sketchy and fairly crude. Every visual asset in the game is hand-drawn, which is a pretty cool accomplishment. The problem is that the art style is amateurish and bland. Everything is black, white, or grey, and it makes for a very visually unappealing experience. I suppose you could call it impressionistic, if you were feeling generous, but staring at the graphics for the few hours it took to beat the game did not engender any kind of charity within my heart. There is no music in the game, either; the soundtrack consists of only a few sound effects. Combined with the dull art style, lackluster story, and bland gameplay, the game’s complete silence just makes Vasilis tiresome to get through. Even if you’re a diehard adventure game lover, find something else.

Score: 1/10

Buy Vasilis from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Ski Sniper (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Mat Benson

Developer: Crazy Rocks

Publisher: Ultimate Games

Category: Sports, First Person Shooter, Arcade

Release Date: 2.28.2020

Price: $4.99

Testing Your True Sniping Skills!

Ski Sniper is the type of game that really does not need much of an explanation; the basic premise of the game is to literally snipe ski jumpers after they have made the jump, in order to complete various objectives set for you on that particular perch. Altogether, there are nine different locations from which you can snipe, and each one has different objectives to earn extra cash. The money is then used to upgrade for better sniper rifles, or for pills that give you Super Focus, which translates to slowing down time in order to get a better shot.

Even though the game’s premise is extremely simple, the gameplay is a bit rough around the edges. It is a first-person shooter game; however, the developers decided to have a kind of strange button layout, which cannot be changed. It takes some getting used to, especially since almost all other shooter games have the same button layouts. For me, this was frustrating, especially on top of the objectives of the game, which are all very difficult to complete. When you hit the target in the run (or last target in a multiple run), a cool animation takes over that shows the bullet flying through the air hitting the person in slow motion. It also shows an X-ray of the jumper, which shows you where exactly you hit them in the first place. I did, however, find myself questioning the trajectory of the bullets a lot of the time, believing that I hit someone in the head, yet somehow I missed the brain—which, of course, is one of my objectives.

Another frustrating objective-based issue is with the “hitting people in a row” objective. This particular objective doesn’t keep count between different attempts, and each attempt is five rounds. Some of these rounds can be multiples; however, I had many instances where I needed six or seven hits in a row, and the game only gave me five people in the five rounds, making the objective impossible—and, in my opinion, a little unfair, but I will admit that it is satisfying when you actually land the shots on target. The game also gets easier over time, as I got used to the control scheme and obtained better sniper rifles. The original sniper rifle they give you is most certainly not going make hitting the target easy at all with its weak zoom, stability, and fire rate.

All in all, I would say that this game can be a fun little time waster; or, if you truly are a perfectionist and want a game that, in a few hours’ time, you could 100% complete, this may be the game for you. For me, the game is still a bit disappointing, especially with the control scheme they created. I feel that they would have been better off just mimicking the controls that players are used to from games like the Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Sniper Elite franchises. The objectives are also a bit frustrating, as some of them are a bit on the extreme, like hitting targets in the spleen, which you basically have to just be lucky to hit.

Score: 5/10

Buy Ski Sniper from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

King Lucas (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: WoodmanFLG

Developer: Devilish Games

Publisher: Hidden Trap

Category: Action, Platformer

Release Date: 2.21.2020

Price: $4.99

Swing That Sword! A Tale as Old as Time

You're a knight under the illustrious King Lucas, tasked with tracking down his daughters in an ever-changing, giant castle. However, this won't be as easy as you would think, because this castle is constantly getting bigger and bigger with random generation, so it's only going to get harder to find his daughters as you fight all kinds of beasties and get items and cash to get to your goal! At full size, this castle ends up with over 1000 rooms, a challenge only the most hardcore of King Lucas fans will undertake! Will you be able to save the daughters of the kings, and maybe even win one of their hearts? Let's talk a little more about the gameplay of the game, before we answer that question.

King Lucas has you playing as a Knight, and he can do various knightly things, like use a sword, run, jump, and swim. The movement in this game isn’t super fluid, but neither is the enemies’ movement, so it's an even playing field in that regard. You can get gold coins from the environment, boxes, and enemies, and you can use those at blacksmiths or the witches’ shops to upgrade your equipment—your swords degrade, so pay attention—and buy healing items or keys.

You will have to defeat the usual suspects—slimes and various other beasties—in your quest to find the princess sisters, and defeat them you will! This game didn’t feel very difficult for what I played, outside of being an endurance game with the ever-increasing area to explore, and it feels like distance between checkpoints increases, as well. I can’t say it’s a rogue-lite, and I can’t say it’s a Metroidvania, because it has check points, and because you don’t need to find items to open up new pathways, you just kind of pick a direction and go for it in King Lucas. It doesn't feel very rewarding, because you just randomly find the princess; there's no real build up to it. Also, I know it’s something that will differ from person to person, but by God, what a gross visual art style! To me, it looks just… ugh. Not very endearing, in my opinion.

King Lucas is a fun little romp that I’m sure some will get more out of it than I did. It has some good, but it certainly needs polishing. The good ideas keep this above a 5, but I would love to see this dev team hit the drawing board and come back with something awesome for either a sequel, or a spiritual sequel. Change up the art style, maybe make it lean a little more towards rogue-lite, and get some of those progression elements from Metroidvanias. You can keep the # of rooms down if you give a meaningful reason to go back through ones you've already been in, and that will let you breath even more life into each individual section! I give King Lucas a 6/10, as there are FAR worse things you could spend $4.99 on—so give it a try!

Score: 6/10

Buy King Lucas from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Portal Dogs (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Allan Jenks

Developer: Brain Connected

Publisher: Brain Connected

Category: Puzzle Platformer

Release Date: 2.26.2020

Price: $4.99

A Good Trailer is Worth a Thousand Downloads

Sometimes a trailer makes you really want to play a game, but when you actually get to playing it, you quickly realize that the trailer may have been the only part of the game you liked, as beyond the 45 seconds of storytelling in the intro, there’s not really a whole lot going on. Unfortunately, I have come across one of these games in Portal Dogs. The trailer looked promising; nothing too flashy or ground-breaking, but a decent-looking little platformer with some colorful and cutesy cartoonish characters to enjoy. You play a curious dog who digs up the power cord to what appears to be a time machine/portal generator of some sort, which sends you to a different dimension where, in each level, you must collect bones and rescue other lost dogs—apparently your loyal subject dogs, as you are their king, and they have followed you into the other demensions.

The problem with Portal Dogs is the execution. For one, this is one of those “memorize the steps” type of puzzle platformers, where if you want to get 100% on a level, you will often have to rely on simple trial and error to figure out what all needs to be done in order to rescue all the stray dogs and collect the bone. The issue there is that this is not an instant-respawn type of game, like kuso or Super Meat Boy, where you die and immediately reappear at the last checkpoint; no, this game makes you spam the A-button through a couple of stat screens each time, then flashes to the developer’s logo screen every single time you die—which is quite often, considering that you die if you even so much as think about brushing up against any of the obstacles, a mechanic made even more fun by loose controls that continue moving after you stop—so most of the gameplay can tend to be waiting for these screens to go away so you can try the puzzle again. Most of the time, I knew exactly what I needed to do to solve the puzzle, but getting the clunky controls and horrible follow mechanics of the lost dogs you rescue to cooperate was the real task. I often gave up after just a few tries because the game simply didn’t feel like it was really inviting me to keep playing.

At the end of the day, I was excited to try Portal Dogs, as it looked like a cute little indie puzzle platformer, but I was wholly unimpressed by what I played. It felt like a free mobile game without the pop up ads—though I think that would have made it feel more authentic. It can definitely kill a few minutes here and there in a pinch, but I will not likely be returning for more of this one. On the other hand, though, it may be the perfect game for younger kids who like cutesy cartoons in their video games, so perhaps I am not the intended audience here, but it just feels like it wasn’t very well polished either way. I can’t recommend this game at full price ($4.99), but if you catch it on sale, it’s under 100MB, so it won’t take up too much space on your SD card.

Score: 4/10

Buy Portal Dogs from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Knight Swap (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Marcos Martin

Developer: QUByte Interactive

Publisher: QUByte Interactive

Category: Puzzle, Board Game, Strategy, Training

Release Date: 3.17.2020

Price: $0.99

The Title Is Accurate

Knight Swap is a minimalistic chess puzzle game where you only use the knights. The goal is to move the white knights to where the black knights are placed on the board, and vice versa. The same rules of chess apply here, regarding piece movement, as you are only able to move the pieces in L-shaped steps. As many puzzle games do, this one also starts out easy, in an effort to help you to understand its mechanics first-hand; and that’s most of what you’ll get, as there are no tutorials here, but with such simplistic mechanics, the game does a good job teaching you the ropes through these easy levels.

As the game progresses, so too does the level of difficulty, making every subsequent level harder than the one before, even introducing new mechanics such as pressure plates that have to be stepped on in order to make something happen on the board, or portals that make your knights go from one place of the board to the other. The music of the game is atmospheric, and it does a great job trying to keep you relaxed through the challenging puzzles that would otherwise make you want to rage-quit from time to time. If you enjoy chess, puzzles, minimal or simple things, I suggest you try this one and see if it’s for you.

Score: 7/10

Buy Knight Swap from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

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