The murder mystery and puzzle elements of those earlier titles are basically absent in this new adventure, and the moniker of baby's first visual novel is both apt and unable to fully capture its conflicted essence. My recommendation, if you really must play this game, is to finish the demo and then know that it's downhill from there. Ultimately, this mishmash of genres fails to conjure up the magic of its forebears or carve out a space for its own limited bag of tricks.
The pixel art, soundtrack, and performance are all solid, and the menus and base where you choose your loadout are presented well. There's also something funny about Goose's random honks and certain moments when the action slows down and a giant goose pops up in the corner of the screen. If you absolutely need more Metal Slug in your life, then I would say wing it, but otherwise maybe let sleeping geese lie.
Astalon inserts itself into an ever-more-crowded genre that starts with "M" and ends with "vania," but it absolutely nails the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of progression, both through noticeable character improvement and the acquisition of unique items and powers. Underneath the solid gameplay lies an interesting story and premise, with neither trying to steal the spotlight from the action and exploration. A not-imposing set of achievements and unlockables, in addition to map and items found percentages push the longevity score even higher, and ultimately I just had an incredibly tough time putting this one down. Anyone who loved whipping through games like Bloodstained, Axiom Verge, and similar indies should do themselves a favor and delve into the amazing adventure that is Astalon.
Another issue is that there's no local co-op option; every player needs to have their own game and Switch console. Regardless, any Bomberman fan should be picking this one up. I can readily admit that I fall into that camp, and I've been having a blast.
Online leaderboards would have been a nice inclusion, and it's hard not to feel like the basic premise of the game isn't taken much further in later stages than earlier ones. Still, even playing alone I had a lot of fun shuttling cars around the different stages, and the potential for chaos and uproarious laughter in multiplayer is very, very high. Just be prepared to fight the driving controls as much as you fight for parking spaces.
Even the optional treasure rooms that are unlocked by engaging in a final duel at the end of every stage fail to provide enough risk for their reward-I went for them on each level and never failed (Did that make me too powerful?). Although I'm filled with questions about the validity of Jetboard Joust's roguelite status, it plays well enough and can likely provide solid entertainment in short bursts. Fans of classic arcade games may dig this new twist on the high-scoring chasing arcade shooter, but after one full run through, I've had "joust" about enough Jetboarding to last a lifetime.
Fortunately, there are a few different options at the game's start menu that make the experience somewhat customizable, like removing the hunger and thirst parameters. Ultimately, there is much to discover both below and above the waterline, including aliens, mysterious messages, and even a mech that can walk on the ocean floor. While those looking out for signposting and clear directions should probably keep their feet dry, those who enjoy a more laid-back, albeit grindy, experience can safely dip their toes in these waters.
It controls fine and offers some replay value, but the steep initial difficulty curve, lackluster story, and middling presentation position this title well below others of its ilk. I do like how after the timer runs out you enter a "sudden death" situation, where the next hit will end your run, but that's another small positive lost among the negatives. I'm eager to see further iteration on the boss rush-style action game, but I don't need three strikes to call this one out.
I want to like this game more than I did, and while I enjoyed Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion well enough, the experience is over far too soon. It would seem that Turnip Boy got off light this time. Must have been for time served or good behavior.
Starting with Cold Steel III is fine, but hopefully we'll see all four games on Switch eventually. For those who already know and love Trails of Cold Steel, it would seem worthwhile to seek out the other two Trails series to really appreciate the richness of the world of Zemuria and the scores of character interactions and references that come up in Trails of Cold Steel IV, an excellent bookend to the incredible journey of Rean and Class VII. I've always said that the mark of a great role-playing game is in that bittersweet feeling you get when it's over. I'm happy to have seen this story to completion, but for a while I'll be sad that my adventures with this likeable and colorful cast have also ended.