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  • Writer's pictureAllan Jenks

Indie B-Sides Review #019

Welcome to another Indie B-Sides Review! This time, we focus mainly on puzzles and platformers... with some shameless looting thrown in for seasoning. Some of these games were a hit with us, and some fell flat. Let's take a look!

Thunder Paw (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Robert Krause

Developer: Sergio Poverony

Publisher: Ratalaika Games

Category: Action, Arcade, Platformer

Release Date: 3.20.2020

Price: $4.99

Missed Opportunity

Much like the Hall & Oates song, Thunder Paw could have had everything, but just kept missing its mark.

Thunder is a young pup playing outside with his ball when a large explosion destroys his home. He rushes back to find that his parents are missing, with nothing but a note saying that they have been kidnapped, and not to follow or you'll die. And die, and die, and die, you will. I will admit, I am not the Jason Bourne of hardcore platformers, but the difficulty of this game matched with the floaty, not-always-responsive controls, and weapon push back can be a REAL challenge. The pixel art of Thunder and the enemies is nice, which makes the downsides of this game a real bummer, as Thunder done right could be an iconic video game character. After the opening scenes, there is no storyline.

The levels before the boss fights are relatively simple. Kill the number of enemies shown on the top right and continue on. Most of the early levels you'll breeze through, as long as you adjust for the guns’ push back after every shot and don't rush your jumps. Later on, when stalactites or fire balls start falling, you'll really have to take your time. Your weapons will power up with the blue crystal drops from the enemies, so you can shoot farther and do more damage; but if you get hit, your weapons lose power along with your life bar. There are no cutscenes or chapter screens to show you where you are at in the game.

Boss fights in this game are more bipolar than Gary Busey during a full moon. The first boss almost made me eat my Switch, but the second boss I barely ever saw, as long as I stayed on the opposite side of the platform and spammed my bounce shot. I got past the third boss, but didn't want to search the next few levels for the final enemies to kill so I could move on, as I didn't feel any reward to do so. Maybe I'll go back to this and finish it one day, as I truly like the concept of the game.

Score: 4/10

Buy Thunder Paw from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Sergio Poverony

Follow Ratalaika Games

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Ego Protocol: Remastered (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: Static Dreams, No Gravity Development Publisher: No Gravity Games Category: Platformer, Puzzle Release Date: 2.21.2020 Price: $4.99

It’s a Game, and It Works…

Ego Protocol: Remastered for the Nintendo Switch is a re-release of a PC puzzle-platformer released in 2016. The game sees players guiding a robot protagonist through a series of nine-room gridded levels that players can shift around in one of four ways. Some levels can be shifted by column, some can be shifted by row and column, some levels allow players to swap adjacent tiles, and finally some levels have a blank tile that can be swapped with adjacent tiles. Along the way, players will have to contend with platforming obstacles such as mines, pitfalls, and teleporting pads, as well as collecting ammo to shoot guard robots. The goal of each level is to flip the switch to open the exit, and then reach the exit by manipulating the level.

Finishing a level rewards you with up to three stars; one star is for simply getting to the exit, one is for completing the level within a certain time limit, and one is for collecting all of the ego fragments scattered around the level. The biggest problem with the game is that the mechanics don’t stay interesting very long. The four mechanics for shifting a room around have different strategies so there is some variety, but that doesn’t provide much comfort when the game just isn’t very fun to begin with.

The graphics, while presentable, aren’t nearly attractive enough to make up for the game’s shortcomings. Making things messier, the tutorial is lacking in some pretty big areas: first of all, there is no option to see the button layout, so when the tutorial says “press the action button” to perform an action like jump or shoot, there’s no way to know which button that is except by pressing every button until one works—that seems like a stunningly obvious omission for a tutorial; second, there is an option to speed up your robot to save precious time, and the game never even mentions that as a possibility. I figured it out a few levels into the game when I saw an icon on the side that had the L/R buttons on it and pressed one just for the heck of it.

The game works, which is its biggest saving grace, but everything else fails to impress. The gameplay just isn’t fun, the graphics are fairly plain, and the tutorial doesn’t even teach you how to play the game properly.

Score: 3/10

Buy Ego Protocol: Remastered from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Static Dreams

/ YouTube

Follow No Gravity Games

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Unlock the King (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Allan Jenks

Developer: QUByte Interactive

Publisher: QUByte Interactive

Category: Puzzle, Strategy, Board Game, Training

Release Date: 3.5.2020

Price: $0.99

A Game Which Is Almost, But Not Quite, Entirely Unlike Chess

When I first saw Unlock the King come across the JPSM review board, I thought it looked pretty cool. I have always loved chess, and have been a fan of puzzles since as far back as I can remember, and this game looked like a combination of the two, so you can’t go wrong, right? Well, while I’m sure there are probably actually plenty of ways to go wrong with that formula, thankfully this was not one of those outcomes.

Unlock the King gives you a simple goal: clear a path for the king to be able to make it from his starting point to the destination in one shot. While the game pieces are exclusively chess pieces, and do adhere to the rules of movement—i.e., the bishop only moves diagonally in an unobstructed path, knights only move in L-shaped movements where only the destination tile needs to be clear, etc.—that is where the rules of chess end with this game. I was a little disappointed about this at first, but once I got into the swing of things, I hardly cared. The movement rules of each type of piece are really just parameters for the puzzle-solving mechanics anyway.

The board itself is not an entire chess board, only certain tiles arranged in a way that makes move selection limited, forcing you to think several steps ahead in order to clear spaces in the correct order to allow for all of the pieces to get where they’re going and out of the way of the king. There are no turns or move limits, you just move all of the pieces around (except for the king) wherever you need to move them until a path is cleared. Once the path is cleared, the king will automatically make his journey, and you move on to the next puzzle. There are 100 puzzles to solve, each one slightly more complex and difficult than the last.

Visually, Unlock the King is simple and clean. Nothing fancy, but nothing terrible either. The color palette is calm and relaxing, and the isometric view of the board makes it easy to see everything going on; and if you need a different angle, you can rotate the view as well. The soundtrack is just ambient, soothing sounds that really put you into a calm and relaxed state. This game really does help de-stress and focus your mind. If you are a fan of chess, or just puzzles in general, this is a great title to add to your collection. I love having games like this where you can pick them up and play, whether you have 5 minutes or an hour to kill.

Score: 7.5/10

Buy Unlock the King from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow QUByte Interactive

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Otherworldly (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: Ultimate Games

Publisher: Ultimate Games

Category: Adventure, Horror

Release Date: 2.21.2020

Price: $6.99

In Another World, Video Games Are Only Two Minutes Long

Otherworldly for the Nintendo Switch is a first-person survival horror game about entering a mysterious dungeon and grabbing five thousand dollars’ worth of loot before the dungeon’s demonic inhabitants tear you to pieces. It sounds fun, but it’s a really limited experience. Like, really limited. From a gameplay standpoint, the mechanics are pretty simple. You can walk or run through the dungeon; your only source of light is a set of matches you brought with you. Why didn’t you bring a proper torch? This ain’t that kind of game.

You can find more matches and even some candles as you progress through the dungeon. If you run out of light, your sanity starts ebbing away. As you explore, you’ll encounter monsters, like skeletons that only move when you’re not looking at them, and straight up hellspawn that will just attack on sight. Monsters will erode your sanity as well as your health, and if you run out of either, it’s a game over. And that’s pretty much it. Once you beat the game (a successful run takes less than five minutes), there’s nothing else to do. Sure, the dungeon is randomized every time, but I don’t know what the point of the game was the first time, so why would I do it again?

For me, lore and atmosphere are a huge part of what makes the survival horror experience successful. I guess we’ve sort of got the creepy atmosphere here, but there’s no context to ground it or make it mean anything. It’s just a poorly lit dungeon with DOOM monsters running around. Moreover, the graphics and soundtrack are nothing to write home about; the graphics look a little dated and the music is just generic horror movie ambient sounds. The scariest thing about Otherworldly is that the devs think it’s worth seven bucks.

Score: 1/10

Buy Otherworldly from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Ultimate Games

Website / Facebook / / YouTube

*A game code was provided for review purposes

Mekorama (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Robert Krause

Developer: Martin Magni, Ratalaika Games

Publisher: Rainy Frog

Category: Puzzle

Release Date: 3.26.2020

Price: $4.99

Touch the Robot

Mekorama is a 3-D puzzle game ported to the Nintendo Switch from mobile. The game can be played entirely on the touch screen, or with a cursor. You control an adorable dome-headed robot who is trying to reach a red button throughout various dioramas, angling the camera to search for your best path and moving sliding blocks to reach or unlock higher tiers. The game has easy, medium, tricky, and hard difficulties.

Moving your robot is a simple touch on the screen to where you want him to go. He’ll move to any block, as long as there is nothing blocking his way. Sliding blocks that you can use directly, or some with levers, will move you up or down the diorama. The controls can be frustrating at times, as you use your fingers to zoom in, out, and rotate, looking for the next pathway or block to move, and the robot will move through dark tunnels where you’re not quite sure where he’ll end up. Both of these are minor issues and didn’t frustrate me enough to want to stop playing. Some of the level design will leave you marveling at the fact that someone was able to think of it, and how devious they were to put you through it!

Mekorama also has a Create Mode that resembles a mini Minecraft. This can take a lot of time and patience, but you can create some maddening levels to torture your friends—or in my case, my wife. Pro tip: do not follow my lead.

I enjoy my time playing the game, usually for about an hour at a time before my brain needs a break. The create feature was fun to make one level, but the amount of time it took didn’t feel worth it. For the price point, I would definitely recommend it.

Score: 6/10

Buy Mekorama from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Martin Magni

Website / Twitter

Follow Ratalaika Games

Website / Facebook / / YouTube

Follow Rainy Frog

Website / Facebook / / YouTube

*A game code was provided for review purposes

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