Indie B-Sides Review #023
And we're back with another pulse-pounding edition of everyone's favorite Switch-focused collaborative critique endeavor, the Indie B-Sides Review! Today we're taking a look at societies of questionable holiness, arcades of undisputed fuzziness, shiba inus of dystopian summerness, an eternity of retro castleness, and canyons of explosive coltness. Everything in that previous sentence was a real word. Since we all acknowledge that, let's start the show!
The Unholy Society (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Julia Oh
Developer: CAT-astrophe Games
Publisher: CAT-astrophe Games
Category: Adventure, Puzzle
Release Date: 2.25.2020
The Unholy Society is a side-scroller with light adventure elements (emphasis on “light”). The game puts you in the shoes of snarky, bad boy exorcist priest Bonaventura “BonBon” Horowitz, who finds himself back in his hometown of Silent Virginia to officiate his estranged sister’s wedding. The Unholy Society serves as a homage to, in the developer’s own words, “'80s and '90s movies [and] comic books,” and although the art style definitely accomplishes this, the referential humor seems more pan generational than Millennial.
The adventure aspect of the game includes side scrolling (either walking or sprinting via skateboarding), climbing a few ladders, and uncomplicated fetch quests. You interact with townspeople and have dialogue choices – most snarky and invariably wordy – that don’t actually affect the course or outcome of the narrative. The puzzle element comes into play during combat, during which you move a magnifying glass around the battle screen to reveal and string together symbols to unleash as many attacks as you can before the timer runs out, at which point your opponent attacks and the timer is reset. You unlock a total of five attacks and enter the battle screen with an arsenal of three.
The QTE is quite frustrating -- think of it as a maddening Where’s Waldo? It sounds simple, however, the location and selection of symbols that appear are randomized, and it took me longer than I like to admit to realize that the symbols you need don’t always spawn. In fact, oftentimes I’d get symbols that weren’t relevant to any of my chosen spells. For example, there were many instances where I wanted to string together a “heavy attack,” which needs three “energy” symbols. However, oftentimes when I was searching for the last one, I’d discover too late that there were only two available on-screen, resulting in a wasted round. Although you technically can rerandomize the symbols by creating a nonsense spell, it’s still frustrating and wastes time.
In the end, I relied heavily on a weak spell since it was the only ritual that used easily detectable pentagram symbols. However, this didn’t make combat less frustrating -- if anything, it just made things more tedious. You also unlock the ability to heal, cure, shield, and “rage” (briefly augment your attack power), but the effectiveness of these tools were lost on me. They ended up being more distractive than useful as I was more preoccupied with finding and matching symbols while also keeping an eye on the timer and my health.
The Unholy Society, as it is, serves as just a taste of what will presumably be a longer game. However, even as a standalone first chapter, it was a shallow, unsatisfying experience that clocked in at just under a couple of hours’ worth of gameplay. I didn’t find any “quirky, fleshed out characters” or “engaging exorcism system.” There were a few genuinely humorous moments, and the art and sound were pleasing enough; however, the combat is frustrating, chaotic, and felt more like a scramble than a satisfying rush.
Buy The Unholy Society from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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Arcade Fuzz (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Allan Jenks
Developer: QUByte Interactive
Publisher: QUByte Interactive
Category: Action, Strategy
Release Date: 2.25.2020
Arcade Fuzz is actually two different games in one bundle: TTV3, and Warpzone Drifter. Both are endurance tests, and neither is easy. TTV3, however, was at least playable for me, while Warpzone Drifter just never quite clicked.
In TTV3, you start in the middle of the screen, which is filled with random moving shapes. The goal is to make it off screen without any of these objects touching you, at which point you switch to a new moving-shape-filled screen, entering from whichever side of the screen you exited the other screen from. This repeats until you touch something and die. It appears that there are around 100 screens to pass, though I can only confirm my best record: nine. The visuals are simply high-contrast solid shapes, including your floating character, but it is still aesthetically pleasing. While there is quite a challenge here, it is very rewarding when you start hitting a bit of a streak, and I enjoyed this one.
As far as Warpzone Drifter, however, I cannot say that I enjoyed myself. The controls are just not something that seemed to ever click with me. You control a constantly-drifting vehicle that looks like a paddle from Pong, one stick controls one side of your Pong-esque “vehicle” and the other stick controls the other side… beyond that, though, I couldn’t tell you what the difference was between moving side one or side two, and in which direction. Every time I thought I had figured out how to make the thing go where I needed it to go—essentially, you have to drive over all of the targets without ending up too far off screen and dying—I would attempt to apply my theory, and the vehicle would just do whatever it wanted. I played this game for a solid half hour and could not finish a single stage… the best part is that it constantly vibrates the entire time you are playing, and there’s no option to turn off the vibrations… so yeah… don’t play this in the back row on the bus, because you might get some strange looks—oh, and your battery life will drop immensely too!
Overall, Arcade Fuzz is a good little time-killer game I can pick up for a couple minutes at a time, but beyond that, it loses my interest fairly quickly. I wouldn’t recommend this one with regard to Warpzone Drifter, but TTV3 is worth the purchase if you can catch it on sale.
Buy Arcade Fuzz from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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A Summer With The Shiba Inu (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Quill Game Studios
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Category: Visual Novel
Release Date: 6.26.2020
It’s a Dog Eat Dog World
You should definitely read the game description before playing A Summer With the Shiba Inu for the Nintendo Switch. At first glance, it starts playing like a typical visual novel romance, except with shiba inu dogs instead of people. Syd, our protagonist, has just returned to her home on Shiba Island and met with an old friend named Max to have lunch and re-familiarize herself with the city. That’s what I thought I was getting myself into. And then… jeez. Wow. Without warning, things swerve hard into a dystopian sci-fi struggle mingled with meditations on power and personal responsibility.
It turns out Syd is the bearer of a magical relic called the Feather, which she won in the ARIna tournaments used to determine whether a dog is “good” or “bad.” ARIna is a virtual battleground – think Battle Royale – where pups fight to the virtual death to prove their worth to the Allocated Reality Institute, Shiba Island’s governing body. As the ARIna champion, Syd was awarded the Feather, which allows her to alter all of reality to her will. She has returned to the island to find her brother after using the Feather to flee to Canine-Da to start a new life on her own terms.
I can’t even begin to explain what a delightful surprise the game’s storyline turned out to be; I was gripped by Syd’s journey through Shiba Island, engrossed in both her search for her lost sibling and her attempts to come to reconcile her power over others with her desire to never let others have power over her. Some of that stems from my initial misinterpretation of the game’s premise, but overall it’s hard to find a story that I enjoyed more. The only really problem is that the branching storylines cause some issues with the pacing; I only finished one of the game’s three main endings, and there are several smaller, character-specific storylines that branch as well. There was kind of a herky-jerky, abrupt feeling to some transitions between scenes, and some storylines were left feeling unfinished if you don’t make the right choices during your playthrough.
A Summer With The Shiba Inu is a visual novel, so there’s not much to talk about in terms of gameplay. You’ll occasionally have to make a choice in between reading lines of text, but that’s about it. Luckily, the story is great, and the visuals are really cool, too. The art for character portraits and backgrounds are of a high quality, although some of the portraits for the minor characters are very similar and can be hard to tell apart on the screen before they talk. It’s a minor issue, but that’s really all I could find – well, that and the thing about some of the branching storylines not fitting together smoothly. At the end of the day, though, this is a stellar dystopian science fiction visual novel. If you like any of those words, give A Summer With The Shiba Inu a try.
Buy A Summer With the Shiba Inu from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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The Eternal Castle [Remastered] (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: TFL Studios
Publisher: TFL Studios
Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer
Release Date: 5.15.2020
If Eternal Means Like Two Years Old, Then Sure
The Eternal Castle is a really cool sidescrolling adventure that would have you believe it’s more than just retro-inspired; the devs put together a really unique backstory for the game that would have players believe it is in fact a long-lost masterpiece. They pulled it off pretty convincingly for a time, but ultimately it is a new game with super-stylish graphics, a killer soundtrack, and gameplay that ranges from intriguing to exhausting. The story is a pretty straightforward tale of a space colonist returning to earth in search of a fellow colonist sent to scavenge for supplies after earth’s society collapsed.
The soundtrack is probably the only element of the game with no downsides; it’s simply stellar. It’s a moody, atmospheric delight that feels believably retro but with enough modern sensibilities to stay away from the sometimes grating sounds actual retro games had a habit of embracing. I mean, those old sound chips only had so much range so it was unavoidable, but still; annoying. The graphics are an equally stunning modern take on the retro aesthetic, but they do introduce some challenges. Visually, the game relies on a lot of heavy, solid black areas, which is fine for atmosphere, but it kind of makes it hard to see your character on the screen a lot of times. Most action scenes are well-lit, but when there are enemies lurking around in a dark area the game starts to feel more frustrating than challenging when you can’t even see what’s hitting you.
The game itself is plenty challenging nonetheless; the action is smooth and moves fast enough to be satisfying. Some elements – the boss fights, in particular – are pretty darn tough. You should expect to die quite a bit, but solutions and strategies are always there to be found. The big drawback is the loading time; it doesn’t take long to load, less than thirty or twenty seconds most of the time, but similar games – and some more graphically intensive games – I’ve played can reload checkpoints almost instantly. The extra wait - even if it’s short in terms of real time – starts to feel longer the more times you need to retry a challenge. Overall, however, this game is a must-play for anyone with an affection for retro game aesthetics or who remembers the simple joys that only a floppy disk could create.
Buy The Eternal Castle [Remastered] from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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Colt Canyon (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Frank Wood @WoodmanFLG
Publisher: Headup Games
Category: Roguelike, Twin Stick Shooter
Release Date: 7/16/2020
Rootin’ Tootin’ Cowboy Shootin’
Now a western themed twin shooter roguelike, that sounds new to me! So many things in the roguelike genre are being explored now, it's always refreshing to see something that feels new in its setting. Colt Canyon is a fun little indie with a cool minimalistic pixel art style that speaks volumes with its atmosphere, rather than its visual fidelity. Colt Canyon is a quest to save your partner, who has been kidnapped by some local bandits. You start as your usual cowboy, but quickly unlock more characters to use, who have different stats and starting weapons. You have a variety of guns and an emphasis on smartly reloading during combat. You also can toss some dynamite for explosive crowd control when it's necessary. Rounding out your arsenal of attacks, you have a knife which is perfect for sneaky, single-hit kill stealth attacks, as well as breaking barrels and crates to keep your supplies topped up.
6 Shots in the Chamber
The weapons all feel real nice; beefy shotguns blowing away enemies in a tight group in one shot, the revolver excelling at medium range pot shots and quick reload, and then things like a varmint rifle to rain accurate shots down on your enemies from a distance. Even beyond that, you can use some more interesting things too, such as a bow and arrow, or throwing tomahawks. Your enemies range from animals to people, with ranged attacks being chunky and visible, and melee attacks have enough start up for you to use your invincibility frames to your advantage in this game. Fans of Enter the Gungeon will feel right at home with this gameplay, but it is a MUCH more grounded experience than that game. As usual with roguelikes, each playthrough will give you a new map, with new bosses and enemy placements, on whole new environments. As no two games are completely the same, there is lots of entertainment to be had in this title. And as you play, you will unlock more characters, as well as new ways to play as characters you already had, only adding to the replayability.
Colt Canyon is a great value for its price. It doesn’t really bring anything too wild to the genre besides its setting, but it's fun, and easy on the eyes. Many runs of this game are to be had, and I am having a good time doing it! I give Colt Canyon a 7/10!
Buy Colt Canyon from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*Game codes for all games were provided for review purposes.