Penko Park was considered something of a hidden gem on the PC. I don’t know how it’s going to perform commercially on the Switch, but as a game concept, it’s much more at home on Nintendo’s handheld. Its biggest strength – the incredible creativity of the monsters that you’ll be taking photos of – really does make it worth your time, even if the game really could have done with finding an identity of its own and distinct from Pokémon Snap.
Potion Permit is twee. It’s sweet and charming, and made with love. The developers were also successful in finding a new take on the Moon-like rural life sim, and Atelier fans in particular are going to enjoy this crossover. The combat is the only real misfire, and thankfully it’s never present enough to make the rest of the experience taste sour.
The biggest problem that DioField Chronicle faces is probably its theme. Post Elden Ring, Dark Souls, Game of Thrones, the new Lord of the Rings TV series, and all the rest, you’ve got to wonder whether dark Euro-fantasy is starting to wear thin on audiences. With that being said, the elevated presentation and abstract qualities of the game will hopefully help it find an audience even among those that are bored of the standard approach to the genre, and the relatively fresh take on real-time combat will hopefully help intrigue people. When you consider that 2022 has arguably been the best year of all time for the sheer quantity of excellent JRPG releases, the fact that DioField Chronicle comes across as a fresh and different approach to all of them is a truly impressive feat.
As one chapter in something that is almost experimental for video games – a genuine epic, spanning decades of game development, a half dozen consoles, and a dozen titles – Trails From Zero is a very fine entry indeed. The rich complexities of the narrative engage the brain, while the charming writing and characterisation also make for an entertaining experience. The story is everything to this series, so it’s just as well that is spot on, though thankfully the combat is enjoyable in its own right, and it’s all backed by excellent aesthetics. If you are new to The Legend Of Heroes, this isn’t a bad place to start. If you’re a veteran of the series you must surely love how one of the best games in the series has finally got the full localisation it always deserved.
Soulstice is an excellent first effort in what must be an enormously difficult genre. Just imagine the work that must go into crafting such big, challenging action set pieces and leave the player feeling satisfied rather than infuriated. Soulstice isn’t perfect, but I hope the development team does stick at this, because they’re on to something special.
I can’t imagine the niche for this game will be too big, but even as someone who doesn’t know the anime, I found myself enjoying the unique take on hell that Made in Abyss throws at players. Once you learn to play it within its rhythms, rather than expect it to be something more conventional, it has a charm all of its own.
There’s not much more I can say about Amnesia without going heavy on the spoilers, and part of the reason it has been re-released on Switch is so people can experience them for the first time. However, what’s important here is that Amnesia: Memories is a well-written visual novel, and in so many ways epitomises the qualities of what you might expect from a “classical” otome game. For that reason alone, genre fans, and anyone interested in learning about it for the first time, owe it to themselves to check this game out.
However, regardless of the platform you play it on, you should play it. Whether it’s called Clap Hanz Golf or Easy Come, Easy Golf, it’s one of the finest efforts from this highly specialised, legendary development team. The Switch lets you enjoy the game without the subscription model attached (which is an inherent plus), and the price is more than reasonable for something that is this big. Grindy, yes, but once you fall in the habit of playing once or twice per week to check in, unlock a few things, and participate in a tournament or two, you’ll realise that you just never stop playing it. Over a year later, you’ll realise that you’ve chalked up dozens of hours and that this is one of the most fundamentally enjoyable sports games you’ve ever played.
Ten-pin bowling works as a little minigame, aimed at a social and party environment. It’s a simple, easy-to-grasp sport, and the consistency with the rules makes it ideal for pick-up-and-play fun. However, PBA Bowling 2023 aims to be more than that. This wants to be a serious simulation of a sport where the skill involved cannot be adequately abstracted into button presses. As a result, while PBA Bowling 2023 is a perfectly well-made game that is free of bugs and glitches (sadly a rarity among niche sports titles), it is also an intensely boring, shallow game. You’re better off sticking to the light and frivolous take in Wii Sports.
It took Nintendo just three releases to turn Splatoon into one of its biggest and most valuable properties, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not complex: Splatoon is something that almost everyone can enjoy. For those who want to be competitive, the blend of weapons, items, and abilities gives the game plenty of nuance, and there’s a true curve from beginner to excellence. For those that just want to jump in and have a blast, it’s a game that’s welcoming, has an excellent single-player mode to onboard you, and never feels like it’s punishing you if you spend less time playing it than others. At a time when online play is becoming increasingly hostile to anyone who isn’t willing to make the game their entire hobby, it’s nice to have a company like Nintendo remind us what it’s like to have simple, uncomplicated fun in online multiplayer.
Temtem’s disappointing, because it promised to be so much. In a genre that has been so utterly dominated by one particular property, and then lightyears back to the nearest rival, here was a game that seemed like it had the ambition and scope to actually rival Game Freak’s giant on its home turf. Unfortunately the result is more akin to the more egregious MMOs – a waste of time that exists to be a waste of time.
Steelrising sits right up there with the original Nioh as my favourite example of a Soulslike made outside of From Software. The spectacular alternative history backdrop is a delightful way of getting people interested in the events and people of the French Revolution, and that’s backed with some of the most enjoyable and distinctive level and environment design that we’ve seen from the genre to date. Of course, it’s not Elden Ring, and was never going to hit that level of polish or scope, however, it also wasn’t trying to. It’s very comparable to the likes of Nioh, and the sheer thought that went into making every building block within it relate to its themes and artistic vision makes it a compelling and thoughtful entry into an increasingly over-crowded genre.
Many of my complaints from the previous two collections apply here. I would have liked to have seen more effort go into the game’s history – give us scanned copies of the manuals or digital art books or something to make it feel more than a launcher for two games picked at random out of the back catalogue. Nonetheless, these are two deeply nostalgic and important artefacts from a genre, and La Pucelle, in particular, is a pioneering title that every genre fan should play.
South Of The Circle is a beautiful game that tells a wonderful little story, and is backed up with a genuine effort by the developers to explore cinematic techniques for dramatic effect. When the alternative in video games is typically the equivalent of bland, rote Hollywood productions, South Of The Circle stands out as something different. Different is and always will be interesting. I’m just glad the developers backed the interesting techniques they used with a fascinating story.
If only the game played well. While my review of the PC version has been lost to the Internet ether, I did give it 4/5 and if it played well on the Switch here I would have scored it higher. I firmly believe that in concept and theme, Idol Manager is one of the best simulations I’ve ever played. If only it was not so infuriating to play with a controller. This game deserved far better.
When I find that my complaints largely have to do with wishing there was more content in a game that is already perfectly sufficient, I know that I’ve had a good time. It feels strange to call Pac-Man World a “classic,” but the numbers don’t lie. The original game sold 1.5 million units, was well-received by critics and justified a number of sequels. Bandai Namco is most justified in trying this on to see if there’s room to revive the Pac-Man World property with new games, and based on the quality of this, I’d like to see what a new Pac-Man World looks like down the track.
The sense of shallowness is impossible to shake, and over the course of a reasonably long brawler/RPG gets tiring. Dusk Diver 2, much like its predecessor, has all the potential in the world, and most of its individual elements are really competently made. It just doesn’t come together in execution, and while I was willing to give the developers the benefit of the doubt the first time, I’m just not certain they have a good grasp of how they want to execute on their ambition with this series. I don’t know if a third would be a good idea at this stage.
But those are all very minor gripes and given the extremely niche nature of Lair Land Story it’s not something the people that would be drawn to play the game will hold against it. The main thing is that Lair Land Story gets the most important element of the genre right. Chilia is adorable and you will be invested in her story, and builds around it a fun set of characters, some nice aesthetics, and a good sense of humour. This is a simple and modest kind of game, but it is very warm and warming, and sometimes, those are enough in games.
Soul Hackers 2 is a smart, evocative, and classically dark game from the Shin Megami Tensei tradition. It’s not going to turn heads like Persona 5 and SMT V did, but the developers seem to have realised this and taken the opportunity to deliver a harder-hitting and more thought-provoking narrative. To me, that’s Atlus getting back to its core vision for the broad and extended SMT property. That’s what I want from this series.