2017 was a huge year for gaming. Nintendo launched the Switch in March and instantly made all of the money in the world by having done so. I also had to move across state lines for personal reasons, but I was in a good enough place that I was able to get a Switch on day-1 and proceed to distract myself from my problems and the depression which threatened to crush me at that point in my life! Anyway, here’s my list "bad" and "meh".
I really didn’t like Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie, so I probably wasn’t going to like A Hat in Time. I played it anyway though because it was on sale and I wanted to give it a chance. The aesthetic is really charming but the first mission I remember doing, where I needed to chase Moustache Girl, broke because I took an unintended but very obvious path to her. I played A Hat in Time in 2019 too, so I would have thought a bug like that might have been stomped out by now, but even aside from that, this game just felt off to play. The platforming and movement in A Hat in Time doesn’t feel all that precise to me, and while I didn’t fall through any world geometry I never felt like I had total control over Hat Girl.
As I played I was reminded of a 3D Mario game, but one that was still in beta. This extended to the combat too, which was really frustrating in an early boss fight where the boss itself didn’t seem to want to attack me. What made me want to try A Hat in Time in the first place was the fan base and the general opinion being that A Hat in Time is the best collection-based platformer to have launched in over a decade, and also that it’s much better than another collection-based platformer that also launched in 2017. What I experienced though was a game that didn’t feel like it was finished and was more frustrating to play than anything else. I don’t like A Hat in Time, but I don’t really like this genre to begin with.
(Yeah it's cute, but it's also terrible)
Arms is a one-on-one fighting game that heavily relies on motion controls, and that alone should have been more than enough red flags for me. I didn’t even buy Arms, I was gifted a copy, and I knew my opinion on it wasn’t going to change within the first hour or so when I had finished a couple of single player runs. I don’t dislike Arms because it’s different, but it is very different. The camera is situated behind your fighter instead of being presented in a flat plain like many other 1-v-1 fighting games, and you’re free to roam around a large 3D fighting arena with elements that can be interacted with.
To move, you tilt the joycon controllers unless you have the gamepad pro, in which case you tilt that. Moving the analog controllers moves your character’s fists and is used for defense, and as for offense, you punch out with the joycon or use the triggers on the gamepad pro. While punching, you twist the controller to twist your fist and effectively curve your punches. I found this style of control to be really awkward, and since you’re not so much punching as you are throwing fist-shaped projectiles the fights play out really slowly. That is, unless you move in close and spam grab attacks which do massive amounts of damage if you can connect them. It can be particularly devastating if you grab an opponent and throw them into a background object, like a table or a test tube. Gameplay like them reminds me a lot of other fighting games like Power Stone and Tekken, but since I’m playing with motion controls all it’s really doing is making me want to stop playing Arms so I can play those older, better games. Fighting games are not my genre, I hate motion controls, and this isn’t a revival of Primal Rage, so this fighting game was probably never going to win me over.
(A fighting game with a heavy emphasis on motion controls!? What could possibly go wrong!)
Bendy and the Ink Machine is an episodic horror game, but of the 5 available episodes I only made it through the first three chapters before my interest and good will dried up. The premise is pretty solid: you play as a retired artist who returns to the Disney-esq studio where he used to work to find the place is abandoned and littered with strange ink puddles. The art style of Bendy is also fairly interesting in that it seems to be cel-shaded but in a muted, sepia tone sort of style rather than the usual watercolor style of cell shading. It’s a really interesting looking game which is great because exploration and item-based puzzle solving is the core of the gameplay for the first three chapters.
Starting in chapter 2, you’re introduced to hostile creatures hellbent on tossing you into the Ink Machine. To deal with them you need to not be seen, and it’s from chapter 2 that I felt like I was playing a worse version of games I’ve played before. A lack of clarity on where to go, similar looking settings, and heavily flag-based puzzles had me confused on what I was meant to do, where, and when. There were times when I found something that I just knew would be a puzzle-important item, but I couldn’t grab it yet because the game didn’t want me to do so. There’s also the possibility that it takes the cursor longer than I expect to realize that I’m trying to interact with an object or pick up an item in general. I started noticing some issues in chapter 1, but I was interested enough in the story and characters to play through a little while longer but ultimately I just didn’t care enough for Bendy to see it through to the end.
(Baby's First Penumbra)
I loved Fire Emblem: Awakening when that launched but for whatever reason I just can’t get into Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. I can’t really understand why either since mechanically this is the same kind of game: it’s a tactics-and-turn-based JRPG with a heavy story focus and fantastic animation quality both in-game and for cutscenes. I think a big part of what’s keeping me from getting really immersed is the split-narrative: You play as Alm and Celica, who are bound by fate and clearly meant to end up together in some way or another but who, in the early chapters of the game, are on their own separate adventures with their own separate parties.
I haven’t made it very far in the narrative but so far what I’ve got is this: Celica is travelling west to meet with Alm and on her way engages in pirate adventures on the high seas; that is, she fights against a pirate king and eventually defeats him and his crew. Alm meanwhile, is protecting his castle from an invading force from the north. Once they do reunite, Alm and Celica have a falling out and go their separate ways again. Alm goes north, Celica goes north-east. I have completely lost the thread of what both parties are hoping to attain though: Celica could be on a spiritual pilgrimage but I could be misremembering that. Alm is trying to rout an invasion force before it can become too strong to manage, if I remember correctly. I think this is another reason I’m having trouble engaging with this Fire Emblem: The story in Awakening...well I don’t really remember that one either, but necromancy and time travel were involved, and I’m pretty sure dating was introduced far earlier.
I like the changes to the combat, where weapons don’t degrade as you use them. That was a point of stress for me in Awakening that isn’t a factor for me here. That being said though, tactics RPGs are difficult for me to get into anyway as I strongly prefer a more straight-forward JRPG where movement and positioning doesn’t matter as much as your party composition and which attacks you’re able to use at the time. There are dungeon crawling segments which are very different from what I’ve come to expect from a Fire Emblem game. Enemies even appear randomly and if you strike them before they touch you, you get the initiative to move and attack first in combat. It’s just kind of strange to me, even though I appreciate the opportunity to grind a bit. I loved Fire Emblem Awakening, and Shadow of Valentia doesn’t do anything drastically different, I just don’t really care for it.
(I really did want to like this one, honestly)
Fortnite is more popular than battle-royale flavored pancakes, so I played a round or two when it launched on the Switch. I really don’t care for multiplayer games, but I don’t like being contrarian either despite all of the other popular things that I loudly dislike. That being said though, I don’t see the appeal of the battle royale genre in general. The greatest criticism I have against it is how you only get one life and if you die early you’ve essentially just wasted however long it took to que into a game and load in. The shooting is fine, and I like how you need to find weapons instead of choosing a load-out, I just get annoyed playing this type of game. It’s probably of a decent quality compared to its peers, but the down time in between matches is more than long enough to make me quit out and put on a game that I actually like. I can’t say I dislike this game, if I did I would have given it up after one match instead of three. It’s just very much not my thing.
Horizon: Zero Dawn certainly isn’t a bad game, but it just didn’t grab me like it did so many other people. Horizon is a really good looking former-PS4 exclusive where you play as a young woman, Aloy, who sneaks through the regrown ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America trying to find answers as well as her place in society. I don’t know if I would call Horizon an open-world type of game, but the areas that can be explored are vast and populated with hostile, robotic dinosaurs. Luckily, Aloy discovered a piece of ancient technology in a ruin which allows her to see the weak spots of the robot dinosaurs, among other things. As intriguing as the plot is, and as curious as I was to know what happened to humanity, and where these robot dinosaurs came from, the gameplay itself didn’t interest me very much.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the robot dinosaurs if you’re spotted, since they usually travel in packs of three or more depending on the type. To defend yourself, you have a staff or you can fight at range with a bow and arrow. There are also stealth elements such as hiding in tall grass or attacking from above. I found some traps which helped me against a particularly large robot, and there are different types of arrows that can be used during combat, but playing Horizon felt a lot like playing 2013’s Tomb Raider to me. It was pretty engaging at first, but I felt myself disengaging really early on. Exploring your surroundings yield tons of crafting items, so scarcity didn’t seem like a thing, and resources you get by hunting organic animals can be used to craft larger bags so you can hold more ammo and resources. Once I realized that I felt like I was playing a very familiar game again and I disengaged a little bit more. What pushed me over the edge and made me want to stop playing were the side quests given by villagers, and indeed the villagers themselves.
Something about the human character models in Horizon really made me feel weird, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. They look nicely detailed, they animate really well, but something about the way their faces animate while they speak is just different enough that I felt the uncanny valley effect. It was like an incredibly high quality puppet show in a way. Another thing I noticed, and I realize this is a nitpick, is that even though the NPCs I did meet claimed to be from different tribes, they all seemed to have the same aesthetic. It was hard to take them seriously when there was such a lack of diversity on display...at least until you get into the large village and meet a couple of characters who are wearing iron armor, they actually did seem to be from another society. By that point though I had well and truly checked out. I might get back into Horizon, but I don’t see myself buying it again.
(Boring and generic, up until I started fighting robot dinosaurs)
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe is the Switch version of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U. Out of the box it includes all of the DLC content and aside from that the single player experience is exactly the same except for the addition of 200cc time trials. If you didn’t own a Wii U, this is a fantastic package, but if you did then the most major difference between the original and the deluxe version would be the completely re-worked multiplayer...and also the inclusion of Inklings as a racer. I don’t know how long people have been complaining about the multiplayer in Mario Kart since I refuse to join fan communities, but the changes made to Deluxe’s multiplayer seem to be to just bring the Super Mario Kart battle mode into this game. It’s a lot of fun too:
There are a handful of arenas to drive around in, attacking your opponents until they or you have lost all 3 of your balloons. It’s in this mode that you can play through a Splatoon themed arena which is alright, but it highlights the absence of a Splatoon-themed race track. Considering Deluxe is virtually the same game as Mario Kart 8, and considering that you need to pay a fee to play the game online these days, and considering that I’m a firmly single-player type of gamester, I’m just not too hyped for this version of Mario Kart 8: Deluxe. I had my fun with Mario Kart 8 a couple years ago, and there’s just not enough in this entry that makes me want to play it over other entries in the series.
(Error: Simpson's Reference "It's Been Done" Not Found)
I probably didn’t give Nioh enough of a chance, but I had a lot of trouble getting into it to begin with. I feel like it overcomplicates things early on and that’s probably what puts me off. Nioh does the Dark Souls thing: it uses stamina-based combat and features large, monstrous bosses. There are a lot of weapons to choose from but the overcomplication comes from how every melee weapon can be used in one of three ways. It’s usually optimal to switch up your combat style while in combat, and as with other Souls games it’s never a good idea to fight multiple enemies at once which is easier said than done as you explore unfamiliar territory. Conceptually I love Nioh, I went through a yokai phase so massive that I’m still fairly deep in it, but the gameplay in Nioh is so frustrating for me that I actually haven’t made it to the first boss on the Isle of Demons. I recognize that Nioh is well-made, but I just couldn’t get into it.
(Demon King's Dark Field of Souls Borne)
I had a lot of trouble deciding on how I feel about Prey. A lot of what I like about this game can be boiled down to positive nit-picks (I’m going to call them neat-picks). Without going into detailed spoilers the plot as a whole, and who you choose to play as, is completely meaningless. The greatest strength Prey has to offer is the setting and the secrets hidden therein. Talos I is a space station overrun by an alien species that can very quickly and easily overpower you, but the resources to protect yourself and overcome them literally surround you. Getting to those resources and utilizing them is what I saw as the core of the gameplay.
Since the space station has been overrun by a hostile alien infestation a majority of it has been locked down, but there are multiple ways to open the station up and get to seemingly inaccessible areas. Breaking out a window, moving an improvised barricade made up of furniture, turning the power back on, these are fairly simple means of opening a door if you don’t have the keycard or know the password. If you want to move the heaviest furniture, repair the most damaged of generators, or hack computers that run Linux you’ll need to put skill points into those specific skills. There are also skills that give your space suit more pockets, make your weapons deadlier, allow you to upgrade weapons more efficiently, and the usual sort of thing. What’s really interesting is that you can eventually put skill points into alien skills so you too can live out your dream of turning yourself into a coffee cup.
The alien powers seem like they might be overpowered, so to compensate for that if you use alien powers yourself the turrets will attack you. The combat didn’t interest me very much: There are a lot of different things you can use to defend yourself but I felt like the only weapons I could rely on were my pistol, my shotgun, and my wrench. The glue gun you find early on immobilizes enemies, but I got more use out of it as an exploration tool. The EMP grenade felt more like a debuff than an offensive measure against corrupted robots. The recycle grenade was really useful against random objects if I needed crafting material. Then there’s the NERF crossbow, which turned into the most impressive weapon in my arsenal.
There was a side quest I was focused on that needed me to get into Psychotronics, but the only way in was locked behind 2 doors I couldn’t get past. I smashed a window in the lobby, but apparently I was too fat to squeeze through the bars. I noticed a door release button though and the part of my brain that’s really into Duke Nukem told me to shoot at it. I did so, but nothing happened, then I switched from my pistol to my NERF crossbow, shot the button, and the door opened. Unfortunately I needed a keycard for the second door, but some time later, while trying to get into a security station, I learned through trial and error that the NERF crossbow can be used to operate computers. I felt much more engaged by the setting and just messing around with things rather than completing quests or dealing with the combat. Prey reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 2: I’m not sure if I like the game part of the game all that much, but the way you interact with the world is very engaging, and I really liked it.
(God is maimed, come let us...recite Cradle of Filth lyrics)
I feel really conflicted on Resident Evil VII: Biohazard. On the one hand, it starts out incredibly strong but after a certain point things just seem to go wrong. You play as a dude named Ethan and you drive to a house in the middle of the Louisiana swamp after receiving a message from your presumably dead wife. She’s only been missing for 3 years so instead of leaving well enough alone, Ethan decides to drive to what is clearly a murder house. The atmosphere of the houses you explore is incredibly thick and oppressive, especially since most of the time you spend in The Baker estate is spent trying to avoid Jack and Margarite (no, not at the same time). You’re also trying to find your girlfriend and to subvert expectations a bit, she’s the first person you meet in the Baker Estate. Before you can get the Hell out though, she goes psycho and chops your hand off.
A few staples and some magical water later though and your hand is perfectly, usably fine. I noticed early on that I was collecting a lot of weapons and ammunition, but the only threats I’ve found have been invincible family members. There were a couple of boss fights early on that required me to shoot or swing at the head of whoever was attacking me, but there weren’t any zombies or lesser enemies inhabiting the halls of the Baker Estate...until you get into the basement of the first building and suddenly the goth cousin of The Cookie Monster shows up with its hoard of twins. The Cookie Monster comes in a handful of varieties; standard Cookie Monster, Cookie Monster but with a slightly bigger right arm, crawling-n-hopping Cookie Monster, and fatter than usual Cookie Monster.
Playing on normal, I was able to destroy the head of the first one I encountered with 3 pistol-shots to the face, but that wasn’t constant. During another play session I was able to shotgun blast the head off of one of the crawling types from distance, but another one that was much closer took 2 shotgun blasts for some reason. I never had a good sense of how much damage the goo-mobs were able to take, and they move deceptively fast so it wasn’t always an option to run around them. Boss fights, unlike the Cookie Uroboros, were consistent bullet-sponges. Whenever I had enough ammo and resources to make more of it that I was unsure I would actually need it, it seemed like a boss fight would begin and completely drain all of my resources. This is me playing on Normal difficulty too, and with the upgraded pistol, upgraded shotgun, etc.
While playing there are a few video tapes that you can find which give you hints on how other areas of the house work, what items are in those areas, there's lore building, etc, and these are usually puzzle focused. I really liked most of the video tape sections, but if you already know the solution of a puzzle before going into a tape the game just doesn’t care and forces you to go through those tape sections so I wonder how subsequent playthroughs are going to work. It was said when this game was new that it was a return to form for the Resident Evil series, and while it’s true that Resident Evil VII is a far cry from Resi’s 4 through 6, I remember there being a better sense of consistency in the early games. The puzzles here are fine, but the combat is either alright because you’re using a shotgun or remote bombs, or it’s pointless because the flamethrower, machine gun, and pistols rank somewhere between under-powered to absolutely useless outside of a few very specific circumstances. I recognize that Resident Evil VII is well made, I love the atmosphere, and the concept for the boss fights against Margarite, and the one fight against Jack in the Garage are pretty good, but I’m only finishing this game out of spite. After leaving the Baker estate, I knew I was well past the best part.
(So close, but it's just no...well, you'll see)
I don’t like South Park: The Fractured but Whole nearly as much as I liked Stick of Truth. It’s a turn-based RPG like the first game, but with a couple of changes that probably shouldn’t have been implemented. Moving around on the battlefield isn’t a bad idea, especially during boss fights which require you to move away from instant-death zones. I also kind of like how each attack has a specific area of effect. What I don’t like is how it doesn’t matter which character class you choose because you’ll end up unlocking all of them before the game reaches its conclusion.
Character progression in FBW is completely numbers based so if you want to wear a full set of Goth clothes for 20 hours of gameplay you can do that, but there really isn’t much role play to be done when you realize that there is an optimal set of abilities to choose. I guess this was also the case in Stick of Truth, but at least the character you build in that game felt like a set character rather than a self-insert power fantasy. The writing is still really good though, and it’s surprising to me that South Park hasn’t suffered the same stagnation as other long-running animated series like that one that rhymes with the word “Simpsons”. This is also a little bit of a problem: even if you like the comedy of South Park there are going to be diminishing returns if you choose to play more than once. Between that and the homogenous character build options, FBW is a fantastic game to play once, but I don’t see myself going back and playing it a second time since I know I’m going to be playing through the same set pieces, going to the same places, hearing the same jokes, and playing as the same character.
(It could have been a whole lot worse, but it could have been better too...obviously)
Snake Pass is a really interesting take on the concept of a physics platformer. You play as an adorable snake named Noodle and its hummingbird companion Doodle. It’s up to the duo to find all of the missing keystones so that travel between lands can be possible again. What makes Snake Pass different from just about every other puzzle/platformer/collectathon, is that everything down to movement has been gamefied. Noodle is a snake and can’t just move forward, it needs to slither by moving left and right (while holding the right trigger button if I recall correctly). To climb up surfaces, Noodle needs to either get their head over the topmost edge of it and shimmy, or wrap their entire body around it and work their way up.
The platforming challenges here can be really difficult, and controlling Noodle at all is a challenge that takes time to master. Luckily there’s a lot of openness when it comes to puzzle solving in this game. There’s also an element of puzzle solving not just to get to certain collectibles, but also to get back to safety once you’ve collected the things. There are many instances where you’ll need to wrap Noodle around a branch that’s over a bottomless pit of death-hazard, lower yourself to collect the item, but not enough to drop, then get yourself back up and out of danger. In just about any other game, this wouldn’t even be an issue, but since movement itself is so heavily gameified in Snake Pass, there were times where I had more trouble getting back to safety than actually getting to the collectibles I was chasing after in the first place.
I love Snake Pass conceptually, but I haven’t actually finished all of the levels and I haven’t earned top-marks for the ones that I have made it through. It’s a great game concept, but after a while the balance between fun and frustration skewed a little bit too far one way and I eventually put this one down. I would recommend trying it, it’s just not one that I was able to maintain my enthusiasm for.
(It looks very Rare, but I assure you, it's not...somehow)
I think I’ve only played Strafe for about an hour or two, but I just couldn’t get into it. The layout of the ship you warp to is randomized, but while I played I somehow got the same ship layout more than once which has never happened to me before. You can choose to start with one of three weapons: a very weak machine gun, a somehow-weaker rail gun, or a shotgun that does some decent damage. If you choose to start a level without any weapons at all, I found a wrench within seconds and it seemed to be the most effective weapon of all. The ship you warp to has been completely overrun by monsters and it seems like the core of the experience is clearing the ship out. Not a bad premise, but I never felt all that powerful.
In a game like this that’s a massive issue, compounded by slow movement speed and a lack of feedback from monsters as you’re attacking them. It’s not as bad as Borderlands where it’s just you shooting numbers at monsters who don’t react at all until their number hits zero and they fall over dead, but it’s close enough that I very quickly got bored of the game and checked out. I’m not a big fan of the art style either, but that’s more of a nitpick than anything: a Playstation-styled first person shooter, but with lots of blood, isn’t necessarily a hard sell but it quickly became the most interesting thing about Strafe to me.
Super Bomberman R was one of the games that launched with the Nintendo Switch, and which is now available on all of the other platforms. I picked it up based more on reputation than anything else and because it looked like a classic Bomberman experience rather than something new and baffling. Bomberman is a cute strategy game where you need to find the exit of each level through strategic demolition and without being touched by the enemies wandering the labyrinthine levels with you. Destroying certain blocks can give you more bombs, or special bombs, and you’ll sometimes find a key to unlock the door at the end of the level. This is essentially how all of the single and multiplayer content plays out with the main exception being during boss fights which play out slightly differently and sometimes require you to toss bombs out of the arena you’ll be confined to.
It’s a really simple style and easy enough to understand, but I had some trouble with the controls. It seemed like it took an extra second or two between a button input and an in-game action to occur. This happened with movement as well as actions, so while fighting bosses especially there were times where I would take a hit when I really didn’t feel like I should have. There are a lot of Bombermen to play as, with a few being added as DLC (some free, some paid), but it seems like they’re just cosmetic changes. I liked being able to play as Goemon and Pyramid Head even if there’s a little bit of tonal clash. Out of all of the Switch games I picked up, especially during the early days of that console's lifespan, this is the game I played the least. It could have been a whole lot worse, but it didn’t really appeal to me.
(I feel like if you've played one of these you've played them all...unless you've played Act Zero)
To be continued in part 2, where I'm much more positive!