Strange Horticulture's biggest struggle is shoehorning itself into the Switch's little screen and thumbstick controls. It does that well enough to preserve its wonder, but if you have a PC to play it on, that might be preferable. It comes from a very simple place: a one-screen playfield with basic, heavily scripted interactions. But that is the perfect backdrop to throw the player's new discoveries into sharp relief and bring an eerie world and gripping mystery to life. This irresistible immersion stems eventually from a quiet and unassuming start, so stick with it – it'll grow on you.
Hindsight does what it does with technical and artistic aplomb. The story is eloquent, mature and moving, and the core mechanic of diving into objects creates perfect madeleine moments that boost the experience beyond many other story games. It only asks for a few hours of your time and repays the investment generously.
One challenge for the graphic adventure has always been how to meld puzzles, which are essentially abstract snippets of logic, with telling a story, which essentially needs to flow, without stopping to do sudokus 'round every corner. Growbot makes its most common puzzle part of the world, with its flower-based music mechanic, and the art makes everything look like there’s a story behind it. Unfortunately, that appearance of story is only skin-deep, and the puzzles hang oddly on the bare frame of a plot. Outside the musical sequencing, there are some infuriating blockers – especially when doing contrived things with contrived items for contrived reasons. That Goldilocks sweet spot of difficulty that makes the player feel in control proves too elusive, but there's melodious, mechanical enjoyment to be had here if you're not fussed about story.
Many will see the score at the bottom of this review and immediately write off Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition. However, there is something genuinely brilliant buried deep inside this Switch release, beneath the lingering issues with pacing and narrative design as well as the myriad painful "enhancements" Nightdive Studios has dumped on top. To cut through all that, you will need a great love for Blade Runner and cyberpunk, saintly patience, a walkthrough on hand, a strict requirement to play on console rather than PC, and a pair of rose-tinted glasses. If you have all those things then you may still see life in this game's eyes, but we don't need a Voigt-Kampff machine to tell this version from the real thing.
Cloud Gardens is a gentle-looking, gentle-sounding toy in the “chill” genre. It has a pretty good game hung on top, participation in which is largely optional. Noio’s stated aim “to fill you with satisfaction without the frustration” is a motto that’s been observed. Your mileage will vary based on what you find satisfying and what you find frustrating, but the gameplay, the themes, the music, the sound, and the graphics are all of a piece, admirably on-message, and contribute to a unique, bittersweet atmosphere.
Behind the Frame’s mobile roots show, and the Switch’s touchscreen comes into its own. The story didn’t exactly keep us guessing, but went to an interesting place. The graphical art and music are the stars, and the sub-2-hour playtime means they stay fresh to the last. Putting the length and price on one side so you can factor them in for yourself, we really rate the experience here as a piece of art worth getting into.
Arise: A Simple Story sets out to tell a story as a video game but, smartly, doesn’t overestimate the role of gameplay. Inventive level design drives things forward, but faced with the awkward task of demanding platform-jumping in the aftermath an emotional bombshell, it simply lets the musical and visual storytelling seize their moment. It is only a simple story, but well told.
Overall, Toodee and Topdee is fantastically imaginative puzzle game with exceptional variety wrung out of its core conceit. It struggles most when it asks for dynamic execution of puzzle solutions, but even then it’s pretty decent. This side-on / top-down puzzler is one that other games should look up to.
In its mission to make you listen to its music, A Musical Story practically hands you a blindfold. The story asks you to relax into its acid-trip jam-session cool, but somewhat harshes the mellow with its insistence on repeating long phrases until they’re perfect. However, it looks and sounds fabulous, and will reward perseverance and repeated plays.
A wonderful experience from the moment you set sail, FAR: Changing Tides builds out the world and gameplay ideas of its predecessor with scale, detail and awesome moments of discovery. Okomotive has started with its original neat mechanic about a left-to-right juggernaut, then taken it in every other direction it could go.
The Artful Escape is a thrill. It's true that the most joyous bits of action are underused – in terms of both playtime and what they could give the story – and some scarce but present graphical issues on Switch are a shame. Overall, though, the strengths are major, the niggles minor, and it will strike a chord with any pipe-dreaming rock star.
Solo developer Jonas Manke has aimed for the comfort of an easy-in-every-way game and hit the mark. The play feel of the later game and gorgeous environments are what lift it above a paint-by-numbers explore-em-up. It will test neither your skill nor your patience, with solid execution that respects the player’s time. While there’s little to blow you away, there’s lots to impress, delivered confidently and without asking much in return.
Nonetheless, Beyond a Steel Sky magically brings its 1994 ancestor back to life. The style, the humour, the chirpy dystopia are all revived. However, a lot has happened since that first golden age of adventures, and if you want a creative addition to the indie-fuelled inventiveness of the modern genre then you should look elsewhere. This is a game that remembers exactly how great things were in 1994, but isn’t much interested in how great they were last week.
Unsighted combines some very familiar ideas: it's a top-down, roguelite, sci-fi Metroidvania with a strong 16-bit aesthetic. Its time-is-ticking, post-apocalyptic scenario is brought to life by the enchanting palettes of its pixel art, making a world you want to explore, full of characters you want to know. Far from punishing, it leans more on the 'lite' than the 'rogue', letting fun prevail – as it will, thanks to the addictive rhythm of the controls, backed by punchy sounds. The cooperative multiplayer is icing on top of an already well-iced cake. Combining flavours of Super Nintendo classics with modern playability, Unsighted is the game 1995 desperately wanted to make but just didn't know how.
Beyond Blue has noble intentions, with an urgent and vital message about our impact on the Earth. However, it doesn't do itself justice. Although there is some decent content in here – videos, music, sound design, gameplay, narrative – those parts do little to support or enhance one another. Gameplay is soothing but one-note, the video documentaries don't frame the missions and neither are well connected to the narrative. While there are moments of majesty in exploring the ocean, the limited draw distance and pop-in frequently interrupt the awe. Edutainment's a hard one to pull off, and Beyond Blue feels less like an awesome rock concert about dolphins and more like your science teacher trying to do a rap.
Unpacking manages to do several things very well, all at the same time. It's a touching story told through interaction, it provides the creative play space of a great dollhouse game, and it deftly applies established game design ideas from completely different genres. Its only real shortcoming is the repetition that is a necessary byproduct of landing its message. Effort has gone into making the controls satisfying on Switch, and the visual and sound design are delightful throughout, making Unpacking, like any sane person's cutlery, absolutely top-drawer.
Tunche looks and sounds good, plays neatly and consistently and is fun for couch co-op. However, it takes its punchy ideas and sneaks off into a dark, dirty alley where people just won’t want to go and find it. It is fun if you’re willing to get in there and get stuck in, but you’ll need to step over the broken glass of tiny screen text, try not to touch the wet-stained walls of repetitive, roguelite early encounters, and apologetically deny having any spare change to the drugged up yuppie of verbose exposition. In conclusion, if you are looking for a fight, mate, let us point you in the direction of Tunche.
Circa infinity is a game where form follows function and function follows form. If the image of a bold circle on the screen was the chicken, then the mechanic of a wrap-around platformer was the egg. The constant trickery of its concentrated concentricity is confoundingly circular, but once you’ve bought into the premise, it makes perfect sense. Player-friendly level design and a well judged difficulty curve let the fluid intricacy and fiendish challenge shine, while its distinctive appearance will leave an indelible mark on your mind.
Dungeon Encounters is a masterstroke of game design, character and narrative – it's storytelling in the way only games can be. It teaches how scale is felt in a game, and it teaches, through their absence, the roles of rich visuals and verbose storytelling. Next time we play an RPG with baroque graphics and forests of text, we will understand a little more deeply where a game's atmosphere really comes from.
The Good Life knows where its strengths lie. Its functional open-world model and mostly-dated gameplay systems sit quietly in the background and allow its quirky charm to take the spotlight. That charm is piled on thick, with absurd characters (and absurd accents), a plot that digresses so wildly it seems unable to remember where it started and, lest we forget, the whole dog/cat transmogrification thing. The charm and atmosphere have to be seriously compelling if they are to excuse the well-worn mechanics, repetitive tasks and frequent slowdown and pop-in. If Japanese old-school gaming whimsy × twee Englishness isn't for you, then neither is The Good Life. But if you're a SWERY fan and that sounds like your cup of tea, get dunking.