May in the Nintendo eShop
One of the great things about modern console gaming is the huge number of independent titles that are available to play at a much lower price than their AAA brethren. So 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 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.
May has been an amazing month for indie games on the Switch, with no duff titles this month. Check out the following five:
Just Die Already
Game Type: Sandbox Adventure
Studio: Double Moose
Date: 20th May 2021
Price : £11.99
There’s not a lot of subtlety to Just Die Already. From the title to almost every aspect of the gameplay, it’s as if this game sets out to offend and upset. And like many things that don’t hold back when it comes to sensibilities, what results is absolutely hilarious. Leave your morality at the door.
Just Die Already is a sandbox game where you control an venerable member of society who may not quite have complete control over his-or-her mobility and…
OK, let’s cut the attempt to write this in a nice way and say it how it is.
Just Die Already has you take control of a miserable and cantankerous older person with flailing limbs and an incontinence problem as you try to complete a bucket list of tasks without dying. Actually, scratch that, as dying (in various horrible ways) is very much on that bucket list.
It’s both disgusting and brilliant in equal measure. Fall down too hard, and you can break an arm or a leg, touch an electrical outlet and get zapped, and open your fridge and be prepared for the huge crap inside to bite off your limbs. It’s all OK, though, because you seem so doped up on painkillers, you can just keep going. In fact, you can pick up a recently severed limb and use it to bash people around the head.
Or just piss on them—totally your call.
You are fragile and can easily lose bits of your body—even your head, leaving you a headless, limbless torso flopping about on the deck. Click the ‘respawn’ button, though, and you jump back to your last start point, all ready to go again.
It’s utterly ridiculous, and incredible fun.
You’ll get run over, you’ll mete out violence to local thugs (probably with an axe, or maybe just a nearby plank of wood), you’ll wake up in a dumpster, and you’ll stick your middle finger up at passers-by. These types of things and more will get your achievements knocked off your bucket list as you try to complete a litany of ridiculous actions to complete the game.
Sure, the graphics aren’t quite up to scratch (although they are very passable), and the collision detection is so tight that you’ll die and fall to pieces a lot more often than maybe fair. Still, Just Die Already is a fantastic attempt at a computer game that’s just different from everything else out there. You will laugh, no matter how humourless and easily offended a person you are.
Not one for children, though. Seriously.
Game Type: Turn-Based Strategy
Studio: Battlecruiser Games / Drageus Games
Date: 21st May 2021
Price : £4.49 (on sale at £3.59 until 20th June)
Guards prides itself on being an uncomplicated strategy game with depth, and it succeeds. The combat system (which is all there is to the game) is ridiculously simple, with each turn being made by swapping the position of two of your team (and that’s it). Still, the combinations possible with this one mechanic and the events it triggers are varied and interesting.
It has all the standard things: a fantasy-type setting, health- and strength-type statistics for your characters, a range of familiar tropes from healer through to knight with some oddball ones thrown in, and one-use items to help when things get tough. In that way, it drops you into a familiar game environment and relies on resonance to get things learned quickly.
Once you get going, though, you realise that the flavour dumped over the top isn’t really that relevant, and you need to crunch the numbers going on in the background to beat the levels. Combat range and health become much more important than whether the graphic looks like a little man with a shield. This is true of all good strategy games, of course, but it seems to ground itself a little quicker with Guards than with some other titles.
So, once you have stripped away all the dressing, does Guards stand up? Pleasingly, it does. The core game mechanic is deceptively complex. There’s a bonus beefed-up attack gained from bringing in a character from the back row to the front, which entices you to do this every turn (rather than side to side movement), but that shows itself to be a trap as the game develops. You really have to start thinking about the optimum play each turn to maximise damage to the opponent (and save on damage to your own troops).
It may not quite have the longevity that some other strategy titles have, but for the price it’s a great addition to the genre and other games can certainly learn from the staggering simplicity of its control system. Well worthwhile for combat strategy lovers.
Game Type: Platform Puzzler
Studio: Logic Ember Ltd.
Date: 20th May 2021
Price : £7.39
If there’s one thing the Switch eShop can be certain of, it’s that there are a lot of platform games, and a lot of puzzle games, and a lot of games that cross the two genres. Can Backworlds do anything to stand out from the crowd?
Backworlds’ unique selling point is with the idea that you can paint over the landscape, changing it from two states—a colour-rich environment and a black-and-white shadow-world. Obstacles (and whatever the opposite of obstacles is… helpful objects?) can appear in one and not be there in the other. As you move along, you will need to make good use of both worlds, sometimes de-colouring a section to walk past a wall that’s invisible in a black-and-white world, and other times relying on the solid platforms of the coloured land.
It’s brilliantly executed because with the circular, free-moving brush, there’s no limitation on what parts you can and can’t rub out. It’s not a simple case of making a block exist or not; depending on the state, you can cut part of the block away, making a slope or jagged edge as needed. Trap enemies, create walkable hills, even change the scene mid-jump to ensure you have something to land on where milliseconds ago you were leaping. It’s an engaging mechanic, and the puzzles make great use of it, often pushing you to stretch your imagination just a little further than you may expect.
A lot of indie games struggle from having no budget (or time or skill) to develop modern graphical environments and can end up looking out-of-date or just a little crude. Backworlds avoids this entirely by opting for an enticing hand-drawn style that really adds to the game. Consequently, it’s great to look at, too.
If you enjoy platform puzzlers, then Backworlds has something to offer you, no matter how full your library is of similarly conceived games. It’s excellently developed, with strong level design and a core mechanic that works perfectly—another great game from a strong month.
Driving World: Aspen
Game Type: Driving
Studio: BoomBit Games Ltd.
Date: 21st May 2021
Price : £10.79 (on sale at £8.09 until 17th June)
With a big bus on the cover illustration, Driving World: Aspen grabbed immediate attention. Was it possible that here was an indie driving game worth having? Would I get to drive a bus!?
Good-looking driving games are hard to come by in the low-budget arena. So, although Driving World: Aspen has graphics that are a bit last-generation, that’s quickly forgiven in the search for something that plays well. And actually, when all loaded up and ready to go, it looks fine. We’re driving a little blue number that seems quite realistic—it even has a box on the roof for all those extra holiday essentials, which makes sense, as we’re driving on holiday in a skiing location, right?
But how does it perform?
My instant thoughts are quite positive. Driving World: Aspen distances itself from many driving games by offering a control experience that is a little more simulation than it is game-oriented. There are forward and reverse gears, plus a brake and accelerator, and we’re driving on ice and snow, which seems represented in the movement.
But then I go to turn around a corner, and… oh no.
For reasons I cannot fathom, Driving World: Aspen doesn’t allow you to turn the car while you have your foot on the throttle. Not because the physics make you swerve on the road or anything like that, no, with throttle pressed to make the car move forward, left and right simply don’t respond. At all.
Excuse me, what?
Take your finger off the accelerator, and the car turns neatly and sort of realistically. Let go of the steering, and you can apply power again, but nope, no matter how I try, I cannot get it to do both at once.
It’s so upsetting. Really, really upsetting, because if this flaw wasn’t there, then Driving World: Aspen would be a very high scoring game.
There are missions, a fun environment, multiple vehicles and modes of play. There’s snow, and there are skis. You can come hurtling down a mountain onto the roof of a little chalet.
But you can’t turn the wheel and go forward at the same time.
It’s still playable. You get used to it and start to take it into account, building up momentum to turn and slipping your finger off when you need to manoeuvre—but each time, it makes you cringe because you know it shouldn’t be like that.
Oh, BoomBit Games, why did you do that to us?
Was it choice? Was it a struggle to get it all working in time? Are they going to patch it later? I have no answers to these question.
What I know is that an indie driving game that could have got a strong 8, or even a 9 out of 10, is getting a 6. And I’m being generous.
Plus, I never got to unlock the bus.
Space Commander: War and Trade
Game Type: Space Combat and Trade / Strategy
Studio: Home Net Games
Date: 13th May 2021
Price : £8.99 (on sale at £7.19 until 12th June)
This month started strong, but it ends even stronger. Without a doubt, Space Commander: War and Trade has been the most fun I’ve had with an indie game in months. No, years.
In 1984 there was Elite. It was revolutionary. A space game where you flew a 3D wire-frame spaceship, traded with space stations to bring commodities from one location to another, making a profit on the way, and trying to avoid pirates. Or you’d beef up your ship, put the trading aspect in the background, and hunt pirates like the action hero you felt yourself to be.
Elite was a near-perfect game and spawned sequels and clones aplenty—the massive multiplayer game Eve Online owes more than a little to David Braben’s mid-80s classic.
Why am I talking about Elite? Because Space Commander: War and Trade is the same game.
Oh, it’s got plenty of differences; the combat is third-person, not first, and the missions and central campaign mode are more modern and varied, but at its core, this is Elite.
I didn’t realise just how much I’d missed it.
Space Commander does a really good Elite impression but also makes sure that it’s a good game in itself. The combat is fun, with voiceovers that’ll make you smile for a bit before you mute them and dodging and boosting aplenty. Upgrading your ships is enjoyable, and from the moment you add a slot with some more guns to your basic firepower, you’ll be grinning. “Come here, Gunship, I’m going to tear a hole in your hull! Yeah!”
It has trade, and missions for trade that help make it more financially rewarding.
It has combat, and missions for combat to keep your ship upgraded and in tip-top condition.
There are pirates and space police. There are good guys and bad guys (and you can choose to work with either). There’re wormholes and scientists looking for the next best thing in space transportation. There are space stations and planet-side dogfights.
It’s absolutely excellent.
If space ships and trade missions leave you cold, then Space Commander isn’t for you, but if you are looking for a game with massive longevity and varied gameplay, with a sense of constant incremental improvement, then this is definitely one worth the wishlist.
I did consider giving it the full 10/10 but realised there might be a little too much nostalgia and personal bias to make that an accurate score, so Space Commander: War and Trade manages a mere 9.5. Also, it has the worst title and cover shot possible, which is such a shame because many players are going to pass this by as they scroll through the shop—and they really shouldn’t.