Odallus: The Dark Call – Switch Review

I am not a fan of Metroidvania games so for me it’s somewhat difficult to review Odallus. I think that reviews should be left to people who know and can preciate the genre they are talking about, but there’s only me around so I’ll try my best to stay objective. This kind of games are a mixed bag of action of explorarion, trading the arcade feeling of action for the sense of wonder of explorative adventure, often sacrificing (and Odallus is guilty as well to some extent) exciting level design challenges in favour of watered down platforming that favours backtracking to skill challenge. Unfortunately in my personal experience, they tend to age worse than their action counterparts, and by playing Odallus you will confront a genuine re-enactment of the genre’s 8-bit era. Instants into the game and the feeling is recognisable, like when you’ll find yourself shaking the controller left and right to get rid of face-huggers in place of Metroids, only this time you are underwater and frantically gasping for air. Fun fact: I have died a couple of times waiting for those underwater bubbles to inflate enough for me to breath into, in a Sonic the Hedgehog conditioned behaviour. Well, it doesn’t happen, so you’d better find a way to keep your head out the water briefly or find another way… Thinking about it, that’s quite exciting isn’t it? Odallus is full of moments to keep you engaged. I especially enjoyed a platforming section where you are asked to climb while keeping attention to a shifting wind directions. In other istances you are required to solve a puzzle or find switches using hints provided, but there’s also an obstacle boat ride, boss battles with long neck abominations and everyone’s favourite flying meatball, and other bits that I’ll leave to you to not spoil the fun of discovery too much.It’s this kind of moments that keep your interest alive, curious to see what’s next.

odallusbossimage

Gameplay-wise Odallus plays like a traditional metroidvania of ancient times. Impersonating Haggis, a fearless warrior named after our beloved Scottish traditional delicacy, you will fend for yourself with your trusty sword, along with a set of consumable sub weapons. Provided you still have stock, you’ll be able to switch freely with a button between an axe that surprisingly travels straight, a kind of molotov/flame that works as your holy water (and it’s very effective against bosses) and a spear with an arch trajectory that is useful to impalw enemies that annoy you from different heights and angles.

The aspect I enjoyed the most about Odallus is how hard it tried to make itself more appealing for me, despite my dislike for the genre. This has been achieved with a series of implementations that while not disrupting the Castlevania traditional gameplay, make it more accessible and contemporary. Sub-weapons and hearts can be purchased in shops placed along the levels, thus making item collection limited to a single versatile currency. Hitting a chandelier to retrieve an heart was fun, but it has been done before and Odallus is aware of it. Well placed chests, maybe hidden in a secret passage, make up well for it.

I am quite sure I have seen this in an old Star Trek episode

The rest of the progression is quite standard, with the retrieval of additional hearts, relics granting new powers and stronger equipment. Exploration is satisfying, with a level design that feature branching paths and secrets passage, that however converge brilliantly to keep useless backtracking at bay. While I liked the level layouts, I wasn’t particularly fond of the scenarios. The burning village is there, and so is the acqueduct that is so reminiscent of Castlevania 3, but the overall graphic style doesn’t really keep up with the more famous installments. Sprites are big and well drawn, but I am not entirely sure about the chromatic choices. Sure, it looks a lot like Castlevania on the NES, but still left me with the feeling of fighting an army of monochromatic Exogini using some sort of color-blind colour scheme.

Twin Peaks walk with me. Also notice the Gargoyle outfit

Odallus almost won me over, with its choice of keeping an old metroidvania clunky gameplay feeling, but smoothed with intelligent design choices. Personally it didn’t make me change my mind about the genre as whole, but I recognise its merits. If you like the genre, you will find a lot to love in Odallus.

IFSCORE: 7/10

– Good exploration and progression feeling

– Intelligent design

– it’s still a metroidvania

– debatable art style

Riddled Corpses Ex – Switch Review

I am writing this review after my latest attempt at clearing level 5 (out of 6) in Riddled Corpses Ex after a good dozen of hours of gameplay. I made it. I barely made it, and that’s just because I miracoulously found a safe spot while avoiding the boss’ bullet patterns when every hope was lost.

Yeah, bosses tend to be quite easy compared to the levels themselves, but I made to the confrontation so deprived of lives and with a depleted stock of powerups (that can be bought between levels), that I failed my previous attempts miserably. But before I continue describing the joyful pain I have been through, a bit on the story.

Fiddling with a giant brain in tank is never a good idea but somewhere in the world there’s always some old mad scientist willing to do it only to regret when it is too late. As a result, the world is now filled with the undead, zombie rabbits and demons of all sorts. It’s up to an improbable squad of cops to make things right by blasting away everything in this horde twin-stick shooter that is Riddle Corpses EX.

You start as lousy Jon, a brown haired guy with a decent shot and no special skills. Your objective during your first runs in the story mode is to gather as much gold as possible, conveniently dropped by the enemies in form of coins, lingots and pixel skull shaped idols, in order to unlock the cuties that appear on the title screen. Every unlocked character comes with their own stats, skill and a shot that can be upgraded by spending gold.

You only have one weapon per characters in Riddle Corpses Ex and they work kinda the same, a straight beam that can be strenghtened temporarily by filling a combo gauge on the screen. You won’t have time to pay much attention to it though as the screen will be quickly flooded with spawning enemies, deadly at touch and also shooting some traditional pink bullets at you, to add insult to injury. Lose momentum for a second and the entire screen will be literally filled with enemies, making you regret the very same sense of your own existence. You can only rely to using some consumable powerups to slow down the horde: a clock that (almost) stops time, a dynamite that serves as an all-clearing smart bomb and a turret that you can only use once per level.

One of the reason why Riddled Corpses ex works so well with its super simple gameplay is that every sensory feedback is satysfing, from the tiny health bar depleting on top of enemies’ head to the tingling sound of gold filling your pockets. Gathering gold is a mechanic that blends well with the rest of the adrenalinic action, providing a sense of high comparable to a meat grinding slot machine on a winning streak. Kill, combo, gold, repeat. A sequence that will drag you down a spiral of excitement and sorrow.

However during the later parts of the game, this persistent gold gathering became a self-sustaining process. Even using Chloe, a character whose ability double the amount of gold you pick up, I felt that the gold required to unlock everything was excessive, compared to the relative shortness of the story mode. I spent most of the time grindind gold like crazy and dying, while slowly powering up my characters just to stand a chance in single player. It was still super fun: sometimes the screen scrolls putting some obstacles on your path and there is one level where you drive a questionable bike on a motorway, but exactly because everything shown works so well, I wished that the story mode was a bit more structured, longer and with a different sense of progression. Other than story mode, you can play an endless survival for score, and Arcade mode, where the character level up progression is scrapped in favour of a more traditional power-up collection. All the modes play roughly the same way anyway.

Single mode tends to be brutal, providing a good but not insurmountable challenge and tons of fun. Every game comes with the satisfaction of getting better, only a bit frustrated by the necessity to grind for power. Alternatively, if your existence is blessed with some friends or a significant other that share your passions, you can opt for coop game in every mode, which make things much more accessible, with twice the firepower available.

Speaking of the Switch conversion, an apposite control setup has been put in place in case you want to play the game with a friend using two joycons. In that case, the direction of your shots will follow the movement of your character, with the option of pressing a button to hold the position, while still aiming shots in the desired direction. I am not sure about this decision: considering the flow of the game, I think that holding the shot direction instead while keep moving would have been a better choice, but still it is a small change that can add a bit of variety, a valid option for 2 players mode, and I appreciated that they allowed the use of two joycons, putting some effort in the conversion. The achievements screen however lost something in the process, because you can see the icon of what you unlocked, but there is no way to read the description. A small oversight that can be easily fixed.

Riddled Corpses is all about gameplay. Despite some shortcomings, it provides hours of mindless and adrenalinic fun in a cute bubblegum gory world. Now I can go back and beat the game. Unfortunately i did not realise that after quitting the previous game I have to start back at level 5, but I am confident I can make it again!

IFSCORE 8.5/10

+ addictive and satisfying action

+ awesome art direction

– bit too grindy

– some unused potential

Oniken: Unstoppable Edition – Switch Review

I have been around Oniken for a long time now, since when the monstrous cybernetic creature wrapped onto a tree in stage 4 was actually a giant snake. Years have passed, and from its original release on PC back in 2012, Oniken went through a few graphical and gameplay tweaks and it is finally available in its definitive form on Switch. I originally played it around 2014 and absolutely loved it. Now I have played it again and I still had a blast.

that thing used to be a snake


Oniken is an action platformer made with the intent of capturing the feeling of the 8-bit era and it succeds in every possible aspect. Joymasher travelled back in time and brought back the pieces to assemble a lost classic bit by bit, drawing for inspiration generously from all the best tropes and games of the good old times but assemblying a brand new game with its own unique personality, and a gameplay that respects and pays tribute to the past but manages to stay fresh and approachable.

The protagonist Zaku, is a mixed breed between Kenshiro and Gatsu from Berserk, beheading enemies with his Buster Sword and throwing grenades for that added spicy kick through 6 levels of retro-inspired action. Ok, this sentence sounds like an advert, but I like it and it describes it perfectly, so I’ll keep it.

Technically, Oniken never puts too much on the plate: you’ll never see more than a few moving sprites at the same time on the screen and animations use the lowest count possible of frames; only this time it is not the result of hardware limitations or obsolete programming software, but a deliberate intent to recreate the feeling of yesteryear action platformers.

The learning process and progression through the game follows the Contra philosophy. Learn the patterns, act fast and with a plan and your enemies will go down in the blink of an eye; try to brute force the game and you’ll probably quit crying halfway through it. The balancing works wonder. It stays challenging, but never becomes frustrating. Playing Oniken you can enjoy the feeling of getting good at a game, without all the grief. It really should be subititled “an excellent introduction to retrogaming”.

Oniken is generous with helping the uneducated player: medikits are plenty, and your health is replenished every time you pass a checkpoint. Also, when you clear a level your progress is saved and you can continue from there if you lose. Anything more than this and you’re asking the game to play itself. Seriously, if you’re still complaining about difficulty you should reconsider your hobby as a videogamer.

It’s no cakewalk though. Snipers are positioned in the most annoying spots and that red ninja always throws his giant shuriken just a split second after you are expecting it. Jump around recklessly and someone around will be happy to knock you back into a bottomless pit.

wait for the right moment to strike


While you play, don’t you dare skipping the cutscenes: they play a fundamental role to put you in the right arse-kicking mood with its cast of heroes, generals, pals and crazy bad guys.
Dialog lines are direct, raw and capture the feeling of a lost in time Japanese action game translated in some Tokyo basement. Cutscenes tell you half the story, while the rest is narrated through the gameplay itself, with Zaku storming the levels, fighting future gladiators on top of a moving train, riding futuristic hoverbikes, stopping missiles mid-air with a sword swing and climbing laser shooting giant cyber skeletons Yeah, it’s that good.

chainsaw arms no problem

It only takes some determination, basic competence and motor skills to complete Oniken. I have heard some complaints about the controls (yeah, you know the old blame the controller) and apparently they are going to fix something with an upcoming patch, but personally I had no problem in playing the game in portable mode using the tiny digital inputs of the Joycon (I refuse to use the analog stick) and I only had to switch to using the PRO controller to beat the last boss who was giving me a bit of trouble because it requires a swift change of direction at some point.

not in the picture: you can stop bullets with your sword

Once you complete the six levels of the game, you will be rewarded with some goodies: a boss rush mode, an hardcore no-continue mode and an additional side story mission where you play as Jenny rescuing hostages in a brand new stage and gameplay elements. She has a rifle! Oniken is really good value for its price, and I promise will leave you satisfied.

Before the closing lines I’ll leave you with an anedoct: a few years ago I sent Joymasher an Italian translation for Oniken (the Steam edition included a .ini file for this purpose). They thanked me but for some reason uit never made officially into the game. Imagine my surprise when I found my translation being used for the Italian language in the Switch edition! Unfortunately, my name does not appear anywhere: the translation credit screen at the beginning of the game has been removed since the Unstoppable edition on PC and never made it back. (but it’s still there in Odallus, how unfair!) I am a bit disappointed as I am very proud of it and I would have loved to see my name associated to such a great title, but hey it’s their game, and the guys were so nice to forward my recent fan email to the publisher to get me review codes for the games, so I still love them ❤

My glorious translation! Culo means arse

I had to make an effort to calm down the enthusiasm to scrutinise the game for flaws. The only thing I have found is that, stripped down of all its coolness, looking at its barebone elements you can see that the level design and enemy placement is sometimes a bit unsophisticated compared to the games it gets inspiration from and lacks that spark to make it stand out. Maybe it is a flaw, maybe it is Oniken trying, and mostly succeding, in finding the impossible balance between old gameplay and modern taste for not being kicked in the teeth. I am not sure. However, as a whole experience, Oniken is a memorable game that you want to play and if it came out like 30 years ago, today it would be a cult classic.

IFSCORE: 9/10

+Genuine late ’80s/early ’90s experience

+Dripping with style and attitude

-I am not in the credits

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince – Switch review

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince is a beautiful digital storybook. It tells the story of a wolf who deals with the consequences of her actions. She blinds a friendly prince with a swing of paw, and she spend the rest of the game trying to make it right, causing even more trouble in the process. I won’t spoil a single more word about the story, as it is the strong point of Liar Princess, and it’s told with mastery, each page unfolding quite literally on each cut scene, depicted with hand drawn graphics of such quality that really stand out and make you love the characters. Everything is accompanied by a wistful and somewhat hypnotic soundtrack and the storyteller’s voice acting that make you feel comfy, as if reading an old book in front of a cosy fireplace. I was also pleasantly surprised by the text in the unlockable illustrations being translated into English, allowing the reader to fully appreciate the details and the care that has been put into the preparatory work.

a blessed localisation

Unfortunately Liar Princess’ gameplay doesn’t make it justice. You impersonate the Princess who needs to guide the visually impaired prince to safety, by pulling him holding his hands, giving him simple commands to follow (carry this thing, go right, go left and that’s about it), and turning herself into the big but not bad wolf to slay the creatures that threaten the Prince’s life. It play like a sort of bi-dimensional ICO meets Limbo, but not as good. Levels don’t show any real inspiration of a journey through a mysterious forest, being quite flat and with an heavy tileset feeling. The action is composed by a well balanced mixture of platforming and puzzle, that however fail to convey a tangible sense of bonding between the two characters, mostly because it feels quite detached from the story featuring a basic selection of pull the lever and push the block puzzles, and lacks inventive or any sense of urgency and insecurity to spice up things. Sometimes the Prince dies usally because he falls from an undefined mortal height, the Princess cries a bit and then you are back for some more soporific action in an anonymous level design.

I solved this puzzle by pure chance fiddling with the numbers LOL

I have completed the Liar Princess in about 4 hours and it left me with the memory of a good tale, but haunted by a uninspired gameplay. I’ll still give it a pass, as I understand the idea of being a sort of interactive storybook, something that you could probably enjoy playing along your young children, but be warned that this lovely parent-child moment come with the burden of a gameplay which excitement is comparable to a hefty priced toddler activity book.

This is is the bread and butter of all storytelling. The mystery! Also, look at the lovely graphics!

IFSCORE 6-

+Beautifully drawn

+ Nice story and cosy atmosphere

-gameplay is as fun as hoovering the carpet

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