Category: Switch

GRIS

GRIS

GRIS is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful games ever released, but it doesn’t have much going for it otherwise. There’s the occasional esoteric puzzle that evokes memories of Braid and FEZ, but much of the gameplay is merely about finding a path through the elaborate level design. Though you’ll accumulate new powers as you progress, they’re all extremely ordinary – double jump, ground pound, swimming, etc. Additionally, while the audio is magnificent, neither it nor the movement controls are suited to a sense of urgency, so the game falls flat when it tries to invoke such a reaction. The lack of a failure state doesn’t help there, either. Most disappointingly, the narrative’s stunning imagery belies an overly simplistic tale that seems inconsistently conveyed.

Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge is the best type of game – one that uses a solid template as a jumping-off point for a host of crazy ideas. The template in this case is Metroid, and the crazy ideas include weaponizing in-universe glitches, phasing through walls, and exploring caves with a rifle-mounted drill. It should be an amazing nostalgic love letter, but seemingly everything that makes it awesome has a caveat attached to it. There are over a dozen weapons, but none of them are remotely balanced. The aesthetics are a nearly flawless NES recreation, but that means the environments are a pixelated jumble and the audio is unbearably screechy. The controls are excellent, except for the later movement abilities, which all handle terribly.

Much has been made of Thomas Happ’s one-man development effort, and with good reason: he clearly knows what makes this genre tick. Between the setting and the enemies, I haven’t seen a game world feel so completely alien since the last Metroid Prime. Between that and the meaty challenge (excepting some uneven boss fights), this 8-bit side-scroller can be uncommonly frightening. The one sector where Happ should definitely do some outsourcing is storytelling, however. After an intriguing first half, the plot abruptly implodes, with nonsensical twists involving every imaginable sci-fi cliché. It’s possible this was meant as another layer of homage, because it’s the kind of stream-of-consciousness schlock that informed 80s video games. In that case, mission accomplished, unfortunately.

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods

I want to like Night in the Woods a lot more than I do. It’s basically Persona with all the anime sucked out, which should be the bee’s knees. Its story and characters are exceptionally well-written and memorable, not to mention unexpectedly topical (cosmic horror elements notwithstanding). It’s frequently hilarious, but it also understands when to get serious in order to grab our attention or make a point. It’s got a unique atmosphere that sways between pleasantly familiar, wistfully reminiscent, and decidedly creepy. Even its aimless, minimal gameplay avoids the trap of feeling token and instead reinforces the slice-of-life tone.

The problem is how inaccessible a lot of this quality is. Navigating the setting feels like a chore in every sense of the word. Slow player movement and inconvenient level design provide an inherently boring baseline, and an incredibly arbitrary distinction between foreground and background sprinkle a touch of frustration on top. Most problematically, the game’s system of missable daily character events demands the development of rigorous travel patterns, turning most of the experience into a veiled checklist. There’s definitely something special to Night in the Woods, but it’s going to make you work to appreciate it.

Salt and Sanctuary

Salt and Sanctuary

I’m constantly searching for a Souls-like that isn’t designed by assholes, where all the mechanics are effectively tutorialized, the checkpoints are distributed humanely, and all hints of artificial difficulty have been exorcized out. Such a game would be practically perfect. Salt and Sanctuary is not that game. In fact, had I realized how closely it mimics its inspiration, including every unintuitive detail of its interface, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Which is not to say that it’s terrible. Part of copying Dark Souls is copying the things it does right, so S&S is still intensely atmospheric, impressively deep, and skilled at environmental storytelling. There’s just not much reason to play it unless your major issue with Dark Souls was its number of dimensions.

Anything that doesn’t owe its existence to From Software is an undisciplined jumble of quality. Switching to a wholehearted Metroidvania was appreciated, but the continued omission of a map in such a case is inexcusable. Wall-jumping and the ability to reveal/disperse certain matter via torchlight are cool features, but the controls are still emulating the clunky movement of armoured 3D characters. I’d love to welcome the full co-op gameplay with open arms, but it’s clearly a late addition, as it’s noticeably unbalanced and often bizarrely implemented. Finally, that brutal, smoky art style is terrible for navigation and populated by characters that comically look and animate like Salad Fingers.

Guacamelee! 2

Guacamelee! 2

A constant sense of déjà vu and a massive spike in annoying chicken noises slightly detract from this otherwise excellent sequel. Everything about the original Guacamelee! has been maintained here, including its quality. There’s the same tightly constructed Metroidvania level design, the same frenetic beat ‘em up combat, the same absolutely perfect controls, the same sassy humour, and the same weirdly serious story that doesn’t really mesh with everything else. There are a few fluctuations – the striking but messy background art is even messier now, while the co-op has been improved with regards to polarity-switching. Overall though, everything you need to know about Guacamelee! 2 is in its title, and that’s no insult.