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  • John Bush

Indie B-Sides Review #021

Welcome to yet another installment of the Indie B-Sides Review! Today we've got some strategery, good times with party people, jumping to be the king, lighthearted castle exploration with some buds (or pals, if you prefer), and an adorable tale about a girl and the demon who threatens to steal her sole if she doesn't get sweets. Sounds like a good lineup to me; let's take a look!

Make War (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Mat Benson

Developer: Deqaf Studio

Publisher: No Gravity Games

Category: Real Time Strategy, Simulation

Release Date: 4.16.2020

Price: $9.99

A Disconnect Between Idea and Execution

Make War is an interesting game with unique gameplay and a great concept. It takes you around time and space entering different historical battles as an alien overlord. It is your job to influence these battles in a variety of ways to accomplish different objectives. It is definitely a challenge, and takes a vast amount of wartime strategy to accomplish as many of your goals as you can, so you can advance to the next battle in time to control your pawns of war.

With all this being said, the game has a lot of glaring problems, hardships, and glitches. It’s pretty obvious that this is a port from the PC, as you have to use a pointer on the screen to click on anything you want. This ranges from clicking on your units to place or replace them to change up your strategy in order to accomplish your achievements. Now the achievements themselves are pretty challenging, which is good, because it should be; however, each level has not only different objectives, but a ton of them. They also increase in difficulty after you get through about 20 to 30 of them. I don’t really see this as a negative, because it’s a game that takes a simple concept and ramps it up to give the player a true strategic challenge.

One of the biggest issues is the glitch in the game where your pointer gets frozen and the rumble in the controller won’t stop. Every time you unlock a new unit or trap, a pop up appears on the side of the screen, which is supposed to give you a description of the unit and advice on how to utilize it. However, I noticed that when you move the cursor over there, it buzzes the rumble heavily, and proceeds to get stuck on the icon. I actually could get it to move most of the time, but at least once I had to reset the game. The controls in general are a bit fishy because they are not very well converted to a controller from a keyboard and mouse setup.

The sound and graphics are okay. There is nothing particularly special about either, and it leaves much to be desired; however, I don’t think that when this game was created, they were going for anything groundbreaking in these departments. Again, I do enjoy the concept of Make War as a whole, but the problems with it just drag down the experience of trying to influence these battles, which were well researched, and clearly thought out.

Score: 5/10

Buy Make War from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Deqaf Studio

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Follow No Gravity Games

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*A game code was provided for review purposes.

Marooners (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Akio Kahoshi

Developer: M2H

Publisher: M2H

Category: Party

Release Date: 2.7.2020

Price: $14.99

Party on a Deserted Island

Marooners is a strange case for me. It is a multiplayer game, but I was unable to test the multiplayer aspect. When I tried to go online, every server showed zero other players connected. So the rest of the review is based purely on playing against the built-in bots in solo play. The premise is a party game consisting of a series of mini-games where the players attempt to collect the most coins. Unlike games like Mario Party which are designed to be played for a decent amount of time, each game of Marooners will take only a few minutes. All of the fluff and external mechanics of other party games have been stripped away, to leave only the minigames.

The minigames themselves are fine, offering a variety of challenges from dodging boulders to playing hot potato. Before starting a variety of options can be set, the most important of them being whether the games are played linearly or in “chaos” mode. In chaos mode, instead of the games playing until completion before moving on the games will play for only a short period of time before randomly switching to another. This continues until each of the separate mini-games have been finished.

Personally I did not enjoy chaos mode at all. More often I found myself losing my position when switching back and running off a cliff or something. That said, it does offer a novel way to mix up the gameplay that would otherwise get stale quickly. Marooners is definitely not a game that can be played extensively. Beyond the minigames, coins are used as experience to level up the player. Leveling up unlocks new customization options, which is probably the game’s strongest suit. Overall, Marooners is a passable party game. If a group of friends jumps on to play together, there is enough to have some fun for an afternoon. Unfortunately, the fact that I could not find anyone online means that outside groups of friends this game has limited appeal. Playing against bots is only enjoyable for so long.

Score: 4/10

Buy Marooners from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow M2H

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*A game code was provided for review purposes.

Jump King (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: Nexile

Publisher: Ukiyo Publishing

Category: Platformer

Release Date: 6.9.2020

Price: $12.99

Might As Well Jump

Jump King for the Nintendo Switch looks great at first blush; it features some absolutely stunning pixel art graphics that are almost enough to make me like the game on their own. Seriously; the backgrounds are intricately detailed and just gorgeous, and the character sprites are likewise beautifully designed and animated. I even like the soundtrack, or what little there is of it at any rate. The game starts off quiet, but the music kicks in more the higher you get in your jumping journey. So, yeah, the scenery is amazing. It’s the game itself I can’t stand. You play as a dude in armor trying to jump to the top of a tower to find a hot babe.

All you can do is walk left and right and jump; but you don’t just jump. When you hit the jump button, you do a tiny little hop. If you hold the button down, your jumps power up; the longer you hold it down, the higher your jump. When you’ve reached max power, you’ll jump automatically. You have to choose a direction to jump before you take off; you can’t alter your path in the air. That’s more than a little annoying, but it’s not game-ruining on its own. As you get farther up the tower you’ll encounter things like hidden paths, wind that blows you off your trajectory, and advanced strategies like bouncing yourself off a wall intentionally. The platform jumping strategy of the game is pretty neat, but the jumping mechanics are what transform the game from a gorgeous platformer to just kind of a frustrating experience.

The big problem is that you have to eyeball every jump; there’s no gauge or sound or indication of any kind to let you know what level of power you’re using, which gets old fast. How many fractions of a second do I need to hold the button down to make a jump between two platforms so I don’t bounce off the roof and fall three screens down and have to redo the last half hour of trial and error jumping all over again? No idea. And there’s no way to tell except playing forever for basically no immediate reward or any hint at what the ultimate reward might be. By the way; the reward is a crown added to your character model and the credits rolling. I guess there is also a hot babe at the top. But not that hot. Kinda pixelated, actually. So, if you like tediously imprecise game mechanics, no narrative whatsoever, and gorgeous graphics, this is the game for you.

Score: 4/10

Buy Jump King from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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Follow Ukiyo Publishing

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*A game code was provided for review purposes.

Castle Pals (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: Brad Erkkila

Publisher: Ratalaika Games

Category: Platformer, Arcade, Action

Release Date: 3.29.2020

Price: $4.99

Two Very Good Pals... In A Castle

Castle Pals for the Nintendo Switch is a fast indie pixel art platformer that is short, sweet, and pretty darn neat. From one-man indie dev Brad Erkkila (with a Switch port assist from Ratalaika games), Castle Pals is the story of two kids named Kylee and Owen who wander into an old castle and decide to explore it and fight monsters. I don’t want to be that guy, but seriously, where are the parents? Anyway, they find ghosts, monsters, spikes, and more lava than is common in most castles – but maybe that’s why it’s abandoned?

The castle is separated into thirty-six regular levels and a few bonus levels tacked on at the end if you can find some hidden gems. Players alternate between controlling Kylee and Owen with each level, and the two have different playstyles. Kylee is a more traditional platforming heroine; she can run, jump, and punch with her signature boxing gloves. She can also go full Mario and defeat foes by jumping on them. Owen has no attack, but he can still do a head stomp and his beanie allows him to do unlimited midair jumps. Most Kylee levels see players punching out bad guys and manipulating moveable switches to proceed, whereas Owen’s feature a lot of jumping-based puzzles and fewer enemies. And lava. Owen has to deal with a lot of lava. Seriously; how can a castle with this much lava in it even still be standing? It’s uncanny.

The gameplay is smooth and fast, but sometimes a little imprecise. If you’re like me, you’ll die like fifty times on the harder levels before you get to the end. My deaths were evenly split between my own poor decisions and a little bit of finicky controls (OK, maybe more like 60-40… if I’m lucky). However, most levels take less than a minute to finish if you do it right and load times are nonexistent, so you can get back in action in a snap. The pixel graphics are on the simpler side, but they are nonetheless bright, colorful, and really attractive – at least to someone with an intense nostalgia for the 8- and 16-bit eras. On the whole, Castle Pals is a really fun, quick, and plenty challenging arcade platformer about which fans of the genre will have no complaints for just five bucks. What are you waiting for?

Score: 7.5/10

Buy Castle Pals from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Follow Brad Erkkila

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Follow Ratalaika Games

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

Strawberry Vinegar (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: ebi-hime

Publisher: Ratalaika Games

Category: Visual Novel

Release Date: 6.5.2020

Price: $9.99

Friendship, Food, and Fun

Strawberry Vinegar is an adorable tale of a young demon in search of yummy food and her first real friend and a wise-beyond-her-years loner elementary school girl who slowly realizes that maybe she’s after the same thing. Sakuraba Rie is a young girl just trying to bake herself some cookies when a cute demon girl named Lucia pops into her life and eats her cookies. The two enter into a deal wherein Rie has to feed Lucia one delicious food every day or else the demon will reap her soul. She also wants to experience as much Japanese culture as she can – not just the food, but also school, shrine festivals, and other things she read about in her favorite manga.

The writing can fluctuate between sharply written, insightful passages that reflect on Rie’s feelings of loneliness and friendship and some overwritten, kind of overly weepy explorations of… well, the same subjects, actually. The game’s script is tightly focused on its themes, which is to its credit. On the whole, I really liked the writing, as well as the cutesy story and subtle revelations about the nature of Rie’s parents’ relationship. I also enjoyed the art; things are drawn in an adorable shoujo style, with the tastiest-looking food portraits this side of Final Fantasy XV. There’s a lot of focus on food here, so if you don’t want to get hungry for Japanese food this isn’t the game for you.

As a visual novel, there’s not a whole lot to do in terms of gameplay; there are some dialogue choices to be made, which will influence which of the game’s six endings you see, but that’s about it. The rest of the game is just advancing through text boxes. Luckily, the story is fun and not especially long so it won’t take too long to explore all of the game’s branches. As you encounter new foods and hit important story events, their images will be added to the game’s gallery so you can view them any time. Ultimately, Strawberry Vinegar is a short, cute, and sweet visual novel about friendship and intricately-detailed descriptions of food that will satisfy anyone looking for a gentle story to take their mind off of the abominable hellscape we now call our world.

Score: 7.5/10

Buy Strawberry Vinegar from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

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