One of the great things about modern console gaming is the huge number of independent titles available to play at a much lower price than their AAA brethren. While it’s great to play the Zeldas and Animal Crossings of this world, some of the best experiences come from playing those little-known games that are hiding in the Nintendo eShop.
Every month, we at Ultimate Gaming Paradise are going to do some of the hard work for you—sifting through some new titles and seeing what is (and isn’t) worth playing.
Without further ado, then, let’s take a look at some of the indie titles made available during February.
Game Type: Puzzle
Date: 11th Feb 2021
Price : £5.00
Persephone immediately grabs due to its somewhat-unique game mechanic—that of using your own corpse as a puzzle piece. This is the driving factor that developers Momo-Pi are hoping rises their new game above the crowd of many pretty block-moving puzzle games that are regular additions to indie game libraries.
Does its unusual take on bodies provide enough to make it stand out from the crowd?
It’s an interesting concept, for sure, but it doesn’t seem to provide enough difference to really break the mould. Once you become used to the idea of killing yourself to gain an extra block which you can use to press a button or drop over a spike pit to provide something safe to walk on, it becomes little more than a game mechanic which could easily have just been anything else. You can leave three corpses behind before they disintegrate, but really it’s no different to having three blocks in an inventory that you can use when needed. Cute and atmospheric, definitely, but not as groundbreaking as it wants to be.
What does pick Persephone up from the pack are the beautiful graphics and well-realised puzzle levels. From the beginning, it is a treat to play and does well to provide a substantial addition to the genre. The learning curve is pitched well, neither too hard nor offering too many easy levels to get the player used to the mechanics. Plus, it looks fantastic.
There’s a strong amount of replay value, drawing you in to complete its 100 levels and for the money offers a great game to while away a few afternoons.
Game Type: Arcade
Date: 4th Feb 2021
Price : £0.75
There’s room in every game library for something that’s just a little bit silly and get picked up every now and then for a fun half an hour with friends. Super Meatball fits very nicely in that slot.
It’s basically a football game with a car. Only the football is a giant meatball, and you have a fork-on-a-rope strapped to the car.
A bit like going camping at a food festival.
It’s all a bit of laugh, and for less than a quid isn’t something to really complain about. The controls are good enough that you don’t get frustrated, and there’s something satisfying about launching a fork-harpoon to steal the meatball from your gloating friend just before they score a goal.
That’s what a game like this is all about, really—laughing with (and occasionally screaming at) friends and family.
And gravy splotches. The playing area soon fills up with those.
Super Meatball is never going to win any best game awards, and it has limited replay value, but on those occasions when you do load it up with a friend or two, it’s going to be well worth the seventy-five pence you spent on it!
Game Type: Arcade
Date: 18th Feb 2021
Price : £1.79 (£0.89 until March 9, 2021)
If you are one of those players who look at the graphics of a game as an indication of quality, then walk away now. Gemini looks rubbish. It would have looked rubbish in 1992.
It’s not, though.
The basis of Gemini is simple—defend the big gem from the waves of bad guys coming to break it. So there you stand, sword in hand, while streams of green blobs swarm at you.
The controls take a little getting used to. There’s a crosshair to indicate where you will hit that’s controlled independently from movement (they get a stick each), and then you press to slash your sword. Get the distance right and the timing sorted, and it’s easy to despatch the enemy, but the chances are high you’re not getting this right the first time, and you’ll die before the end of the first set of waves.
Gemini is a proper arcade game in the old-school style. It’s relentless and unforgiving, it’s hard and rewards learning the skills needed to play, and it doesn’t pander with long tutorials. Instead, it just drops you into the action and expects you to sort it out.
One of the key indicators to old-school style arcade game quality is what happens in your mind when you die. If your response is ‘I’m putting this down,’ then the game has failed. If you immediately start a second game, then it’s done what it’s meant to do. Gemini definitely sucks you in for a second game.
And a third. And a fourth… each with incremental improvements to how you are doing that provide a personal sense of satisfaction and joy.
‘Just one more game,’ you think. Perfect.
Later on, you get to visit the shop. You’ll improve weapons, add potions, tweak those ever-important combat stats and then throw yourself back into the fray, never forgetting that important objective – keep the gem safe.
One important factor for indie games is how much they set back your bank balance. Gemini is delightfully cheap in that way, coming in under the £2 mark. You won’t be disappointed.
Game Type: Point-and-click puzzle adventure
Studio: The Irregular Corporation
Date: 28th Jan 2021
Price : £11.99
Forget all your frenetic arcade games, and instead, lie back and relax. From the very beginning, Tohu feels more like an exercise in peaceful meditation than it does a button-hammering stress-fest, which is great (especially if you’ve just come off an hour of playing Gemini…). The music is wonderful, and the graphics are simply divine. In fact, calling them graphics is doing Tohu a disservice; the proper term is ‘art’.
Tohu looks and feels like stepping into a slightly-surreal children’s bedtime story. There’s a giant fish that you seem to be living on, and the sweet little girl who is the main character can turn effortlessly into a hefty robot, capable of lifting heavy crates or big pipes. Bugs flitter around the landscape for you to note down on little collector cards, and music plays along in the background holding it all together in a wistful way.
Ahhhh, how nice.
But it’s not perfect. Tohu is obviously ported from a more standard Windows-esque environment, and no attempt has been made to make this Nintendo Switch version JoyCon-friendly. It has a little mouse pointer, which you have to drag slowly across the screen with the sticks, and this really detracts from the otherwise smooth experience. It’s saved somewhat if you are playing handhold (or on a Lite) because the touchscreen provides a much simpler user interface. Still, if you want to play while docked, then you’re stuck with the pointer-stick issues—and you will want to dock it so that you can see all those beautiful animated illustrations on the big screen.
What about the game itself? This is a standard point-and-click adventure, but with all the evolution, four decades of point-and-click can offer. The puzzles each location provides are enjoyable and provide a good challenge without being frustrating. There’s enough variety in the way each puzzle is completed to stop any feeling of repetition. Giving the main character the option to switch between a little girl and a big robot adds an extra dimension to the whole thing and helps puzzle development stretch a little further.
If slow-paced adventuring is not your thing, then you’re unlikely to love Tohu. For everyone else, however, this is a delightful title to own. It’s priced on the high side for an indie title, at £11.99, but well worth it as this feels like a fully developed game that’s been polished as much as any of the competition. It’s just a shame it’s a port—if you have the option, it’s probably a little more enjoyable on a PC.
Game Type: Arcade
Studio: Ratalaika Games / Playful Pasta
Date: 18th Dec 2020
Price : £4.99
Technically, Freddy Spaghetti came out at the tail end of 2020, but we include it in our February list because, well, we’re like that (and because this needs to get a mention)!
Indie game development allows for some unusual fringe concepts, and there’s no doubt Freddy Spaghetti falls into this region. This is not something you’d see out there in the ‘real world’!
It’s important to start with the concept: you control a piece of sentient spaghetti. He’s called Freddy, and from the very start, you get to hear about his origins and the struggles he faces.
The story is a small bit of comedy joy and definitely adds a whole heap to the game. In fact, it was definitely the story that had me pushing through when I struggled, wanting to complete just one level so I could see what happened next.
And I did struggle.
The controls for Freddy Spaghetti feel designed to upset you. You press one button to make one end of Freddy move alone (the yellow end) and another button to do the same with the green end. It’s a bit like having a button for each leg of a person and needing to do them alternately to get any sort of movement. Then you use the joystick to give this motion direction and hope for the best.
A bit of practice and rhythm means you can move the string of pasta at quite a speedy rate along the path, but any distraction or slip of the finger, and you’re flailing along like a baby learning to walk. It’s incredibly frustrating—and there’s no doubt it’s intended to be.
After all, poor Freddy is having a hard time of it, too.
When you get it right, it feels glorious! You are the pasta master! You fly along a road with all the confidence of a 10m long string of spaghetti and don’t mind that you’re missing sauce and meatballs (they’re busy elsewhere, being used to score goals in a car game…). Just moving Freddy is its own reward. Sickening.
Come to thing of it, moving Freddy along is pretty much the entire game!
But it’s the why of the whole thing that grabs you. As Freddy escapes his potential fate (of being eaten while covered in tomato sauce) and instead strides off into the world, you are there with him, cheering him along. When the police start to take an interest, you need to run, and when the drones come for him, you panic, too.
And then you mess up, and have to start the level again. Aaaaarrrgghhh!
Freddy Spaghetti is everything an indie game should be. It’s fun, it’s skill-testing, it’s funny, it’s frustrating, and it’s utterly bonkers. I think I need another go.
What We Missed
With close to 100 new entries to the Nintendo eShop each month, there’s plenty to choose from. If we missed something dear to your heart, why not let us know? Sharing those hidden indie gems is one of the joys of Switch gaming.
We look forward to hearing from you. Until then, maybe just one more go on Gemini…