Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is a game that defies classification, but if I had to make an effort to describe it, I’d call it a combination of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, Super Mario 64, and Jade Cocoon. Then again, you never know when it’ll decide to be something else entirely, diving headlong into a different genre and experience that you had no reason to expect based on what came prior, but that’s polished and unexpectedly enjoyable nevertheless.
This is a game that’s half a brilliant homage to the old-school Wonder Boy games—particularly Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy in Monster World—and half a game seeking to artificially inflate its length with gimmicks and mandatory busywork. I wholeheartedly recommend one of those halves while having nothing but disdain for the other.
One of the most compelling reasons for this collection’s existence is to make each of these games available on current platforms—the original game and its numbered sequel were previously Nintendo 3DS exclusives, while the Hyper Drive Edition remake of the original could only be found on the Wii U/PC, and Mighty Switch Force! Academy was similarly exclusive to the PC platform. That’s a lot of fragmentation, and the convenience of having all four games available in a single package on a single platform can’t be overstated.
Characters can be possessed, frozen/shattered, and even bribed. If you're not able to accomplish something on your own, you can always just hire or trick someone. This underlying complexity is a double-edged sword, however, and it's not uncommon to lose an hour-long playthrough to someone who turned against you for reasons that aren't immediately obvious, at which point your run's progress is deleted.
All of these elements are familiar enough on their own, but coalesce into something that feels entirely new, and there’s a kind of underlying artistry intrinsic to the design that becomes increasingly evident the further you play. That having been said, I feel nothing but contempt for the underlying gameplay.
All Pirates of First Star had to do was end before its gameplay wore out its welcome. Instead, its second half sees numerous difficulty spike enemies who compelled me to switch to the easy difficulty in order to lessen the grind required to beat them, and even then, one or two fights still required a ton of grinding. Beating an enemy is no guarantee that they’re actually beaten, either, as I’ve had fights that simply refuse to allow victory, either freezing on the victory menu or outright crashing.
Originally released in mid-2017 and now making its way to the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One, OVIVO is a platformer centered around a mind-melting mechanic: you can swap between the positive and negative space in each level and use their opposing gravitational pulls to build up momentum and avoid hazards such as spikes and pits.
[T]he absence of a specific achievement and some telling dialogue about how my character isn’t strong enough to confront a key character despite having obtained every collectible phrase in every chapter of the game suggests that Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa simply failed to register my progress. As a result, I had to restart the game from the beginning in the hope that it’d work, and my second attempt to reach the end resulted in a bug that gated off a crucial dialogue choice.
Many plot threads are resolved, and the observant will be able to narrow down the catalyst for the overarching mystery to two possibilities, but a number of details and ancillary mysteries are left unaddressed so as to impart to the ending the same feeling of creeping uncertainty that defines much of the preceding game.
Undead Horde is an action RPG blended into an Overlord/Pikmin-style management game where your horde of resurrected enemies deal the bulk of your damage and have to be continually replaced with freshly-fallen foes as they suffer a final death. The gameplay difficulty, then, arises from poor party configurations that lead to your numbers being overrun faster than they can finish off enemies, ensuring that your numbers continually thin until you’re all alone against a group of enemies.
[T]he moment-to-moment gameplay is actually remarkably solid when everything is working as expected, and the underlying brilliance of the gameplay systems and their numerous tactical possibilities shines through even when it isn’t. With some rebalancing, quality of life improvements, and bug fixes, Zombotron could be quite the special game.
Yes, you can interact with some of the animals in minor ways and use trees to give yourself a burst of forward momentum. Yes, you can throw seeds down to create trees. Yes, you can create bridges and wander around a handful of different biomes while the scenery grows around you. Without a goal driving you, however, this carries the same amount of weight as being lost in a supermarket.
Bizarrely, Witch Thief is a bullet hell game where bullets are the least of your concerns; a sudden freeze can leave you with a single frame to react to a fireball (and you don’t move fast enough to get out of the way even if you have the reflexes to respond appropriately), while other times you find yourself hit by objects that are either behind you or obscured thanks to the camera’s refusal to cooperate.
I enjoyed the original game greatly, but its sequel surpasses it in almost every way; whereas the original game was a highly enjoyable distraction, One Finger Death Punch 2 quickly becomes an addiction that you can lose huge chunks of time to without noticing. This is simply a bigger, more complex game sporting more moving parts, and while its changes take a little getting used to at first, it’s such an improvement that the original pales in comparison.
Of course, the way you move from left to right is by manipulating a giant contraption through a series of buttons that you have to manually run around and press, relying on a sail and the release of steam built up by its engine to maximize your speed and distance while minimizing the amount of fuel that you use. It’s a bizarre concept that ends up being incredibly entertaining, and while FAR: Lone Sails may only last 2-3 hours, it’s filled with more than enough memorable moments to be worthwhile.
As desperately as I wanted to love Grimshade, it’s a broken game—its mechanics are a mess, popups that explain how things work are either needlessly vague or outright empty, bugs lurk around every corner, and it’s difficult to understand what’s happening at any given point because the dialogue is filtered through a prism of typos and wrong portraits/names that make it impossible to tell who’s speaking during conversations.
Claybook is a racing game, a physics platformer, and a resource management game at different points, existing as a kind of playground for numerous different experiences of wildly varying quality, but all of this evens out into a “jack of all trades, master of none” type of game that’s surprisingly easy to walk away from.