We’re getting super-close to the end of the year and I have to take a quick second of your time to thank you for supporting The Ghost Generation in 2019. It’s no easy task getting something like this going, and there’s PLENTY more work to be done, but these first four months have been tremendous and it wouldn’t happen that way without you guys.
Alright, stroking sesh finished. I was working on my “Best Switch Games of 2019” article when I realized that I STILL had more new shit to check out. The hits keep on comin’ and before we start handing out Ghosties (like Oscars, but WAY cooler) I have another crop of absolutely fantastic indie games that you should know about. SEVEN of them in fact. It’s a really good thing that the Switch is portable because that means you can play it in your car, where you may be living after buying all these video games. It’s OK, I’ve slept in a few cars in my day- OK, I’ve PASSED OUT in a few cars, but who’s counting?
SUPEREPIC: THE ENTERTAINMENT WAR
SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is tremendously fantastic game, lets just let that be said right off the bat. By now we’re ALL sick to death of the word “metroidvania” but whatever- that’s what SuperEpic is and in fact, it’s one of the best ones on Nintendo Switch which is pretty huge considering the absolute embarrassment of riches the console has in terms of the genre. I’ll stick this toe-to-toe with Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, and all the other insanely rad action/platformers that rule the Switch roost, any day of the week.
FUNNY DONE RIGHT.
SuperEpic: The Entertainment War (developed by Undercoders/published by Numskull Games) is a satirical game about overthrowing the last video game company on Earth (Regnantcorp.) because they have turned video games into lifeless, microtransaction-filled garbage and must be stopped. Gotta return the art form to its former glory after all, and did I mention you are also a raccoon riding on a llama? Yep, there’s that. It’s AWESOME. These guys have hit a massive out-of-the-park home run with SuperEpic and it most definitely deserves your undivided attention.
The game plays out in REALLY well-executed metroidvania fashion, with levels that are full of secrets, enemies to smack around, and some fantastic boss fights too. It’s all total bliss to control and even though there can be SOME areas with a few too many enemies they are always a JOY to whack all over the place. The combat is EXCELLENT, some of my favorite in the genre in fact, and it never gets old because there plenty of different weapons you can upgrade to. You have 3 attacks at your disposal, tons of upgrades & progression, and let me tell you- the screenshots don’t do it justice- the pixel art is top-notch, hilariously animated, and everything is full to the brim with humor and gaming references too. One big thing for me? The humor is done RIGHT. It’s not hokey or cheesy or TOO referential- it’s perfectly done satire and a pretty damn spot-on critique of the state of the games industry as it sits today. SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is a stellar effort and one of the most pleasant surprises of 2019. It’s a definite must-buy and, something I didn’t know but was OVERJOYED to find out is that you can unlock a “prototype” of a roguelike mode Regnantcorp. was supposedly working on and it’s actually a full-fledged roguelike mode. This came as fantastic news to me and I have a feeling I’m going to be playing SuperEpic for a LONG time to come. It sets a new standard for exploration-based platformers and if everything that comes after it is even HALF as good the genre will be all the better for it.
If you’ve seen screenshots of Riverbond you’re probably as excited about it as I was before I got my hands on it. Something about voxels- I LOVE them. I love those little blocky bastards and when they are used to great effect you have my immediate attention. Riverbond is a very simple game that does show its cards fairly quickly BUT they are fun cards to play with so it actually works in its favor. You’re essentially hacking, slashing , and twin-stick shooting through voxel-based levels where everything can be destroyed- and I do mean EVERYTHING. That’s fun enough in itself, but then again I’m cheap date. You’re given quests by NPCs and there isn’t a hugely deep story here but it WAS fun to uncover it as I went along so I’m not gonna spoil it for you here. You’re going to find a ton of different weapons and skins too- you end up with skins that make your character look like everything from bosses you’ve defeated to indie game icons and all points in between. There’s even a skin that turns you into a slice of bacon cause of COURSE there is.
You can hold 5 weapons at any given time and they’re going to range from fairly basic guns/swords all the way to BAT-SHIT crazy stuff and even though they mostly play about the same it is ALWAYS super-fun when you discover a new one. Quite a few of them made me chuckle so again, no spoilers here.
So. Many. VOXELS!
I’ve seen it said that Riverbond is better in co-op which it is definitely designed for primarily but I gotta say- besides some bosses taking an obviously “slightly too long for single player” amount of time to take down the whole experience has been excellent to play solo. I don’t play Switch with anyone else so it’s always rad when a game can be fun solo too, and Riverbond delivers. It’s not the deepest game, but what it does is INSANELY fun and by combining beautiful voxel art (and some pretty great sound design by the way), hack and slash combat, AND twin-stick shooting developer/publisher Cococucumber has created something that gets straight to the point, and down to the business of just being FUN.
DEAD END JOB
If you’ve been paying attention to my ramblings the past few months, specifically the Switch-related stuff, you’ll know that I’m a RABID fan of twin-stick shooters. I usually buy anything that comes out, and even though some aren’t GREAT, most of them are enjoyable to me cause something about the genre just CLICKS with me. I have my definite favorites, but I’m always down to check out the new kid on the block and what we have in Dead End Job is yet ANOTHER killer twin-stick shooter to add to the Switch’s esteemed lineup. Ant Workshop and Headup Games have a total gem here, and it also manages to be pretty unique from all the rest which is super refreshing and very much welcome.
You’re playing as Hector Plasm, an employee of Ghoul-B-Gone who is tasked with getting rid of ghosts from office buildings and such, like an exterminator for the paranormal. Hector is also trying to save the soul of his partner & mentor but to be completely truthful I didn’t pay a ton of attention to the story cause for me- it’s ALL about getting down to the business of twin-stick shooting. Well, in this case, twin-stick shooting AND sucking up ghosts. Kinda like a more violent Luigi’s Mansion with a much more irreverent sense of humor. And it WORKS.
Who ARE you gonna call?
Dead End Job is a really invigorating breath of fresh air to the roguelike/twin-stick shooter genre cause it does its own thing, and also doesn’t over-complicate things in the process. That soul you’re trying to save? You have to save her by the next full moon or she’s stuck as a ghost forever. No bueno. You’re also needing to charge a client for all this work so you’ll see everything you do in-game adding up on the bill. It’s pretty funny stuff and you unlock new areas with the funds you get at the end of each level. There’s items to pick up, achievements and quests, and the whole thing is wrapped up in some of the most stunning and beautiful “Ren & Stimpy-Esque” artwork I’ve ever seen. This is what I imagine would happen if someone walked into my living room when I was 9, handed me a controller while watching weird-ass Nickelodeon cartoons, and said “now YOU control this!”. It’s just the right balance of challenging and fun, it’s SUPER addictive, and it stands proudly next to the titans of its genre. yet again- you’re gonna need to pick this one up STAT.
“Gemstone Keeper is a twin stick shooter where avid explorers go down into the Cistershire Caverns, a large, dangerous and mysterious set of caves and caverns that are filled with vast amounts of rare and valuable gemstones.”
There you go, from the mouth of the dev himself (the one-man team of Gamepopper). You’re probably doing the same thing I did when I first saw a screenshot of Gemstone Keeper- you’re asking yourself “what the hell am I looking at?” and fair enough. Just don’t do yourself the disservice of not playing this game because if I would have judged this book by its cover I would have missed out on one of the most engaging, addictive, and strangely beautiful roguelike/twin-stick shooters I’ve ever come across. Gemstone Keeper was a COMPLETE surprise but I can confidently say that it is in the VERY top echelon of my favorites list for this year and I’m incredibly stoked to be telling you guys about it.
As you can see, the whole thing is done in ASCII art from one single text font file. Your ship? It’s the @ symbol. The walls? They’re made if the # symbol. Everything else? You guessed it, all text characters of various colors & sizes and you know what? It WORKS and really damn well too. When I first saw it pop up on the eShop my immediate thought was “Oh Jesus, really?!” and that is the 100% truth. I took a chance on it though, because this crazy art form of video games never ceases to surprise me, and since I love a twin-stick shooter/roguelike I figured it would be worth the $8.
Me to Me: “How does your foot taste, Sir?”
Shit, Gemstone keeper would be worth TWICE that amount given how much tight, fun, and genuinely creepy (in a good way!) gameplay there is packed in here. It’s incredibly simple- shoot stuff, collect gems, don’t get shot. Weapons, upgrades, items, all the usual roguelike suspects are here too. There’s multiple game modes (Campaign, Score Attack, Daily Run, and Boss Rush), a ton of secrets to uncover, and some really creative boss fights that do some fantastic stuff with the whole text-based theme. Anyone who has ever doubted that gameplay is king- get in here and be humbled.
Because that’s the thing with this game- you’re not being slapped upside the head with ray-traced , uber-realistic fingernail physics and whatnot- this shit is BARE bones. BUT- the way the sound design marries with the minimalistic visuals creates a world you end up designing in your head. Your imagination becomes almost like your Player 2, and those letters and symbols quickly become a gateway to a million different worlds in your head. It’s thrilling stuff, and it’s been genuinely tough to pull myself away from it to play through all these OTHER fantastic games. Duty calls though, but I’ll readily admit that I’m consistently excited to get back to gem hunting in this FANTASTIC and 100% essential addition to your Switch library. Gemstone Keeper plays like a dream, it’s brilliantly inventive, and one of the best twin-stick shooter/roguelikes around. Foot in mouth, indeed.
I’m coming around to the “Soulslike”. Dark Souls is a game that (as I’ve talked about before) does tragically little besides make me want to bite a small child, but for some reason- the game that are INSPIRED by Dark Souls seem to fall right into a sweet spot for me. None of them are usually QUITE as soul-obliteratingly tough, and as a busy father of two and husband of one I don’t have fucking time to be ANGRY AT A GAME. I want to have fun, engage with rad art, and reap the happiness dividends that come from it.
When I heard about Immortal Planet (developed by teedoubleuGames & published by Monster Couch) I was immediately skeptical because I know exactly how games like it make me feel. I’ve also ended up falling rapturously in love with OTHER DS-esque games recently (here’s lookin’ at YOU Dark Devotion & Ashen!) so I decided to keep an open mind cause something about this one just looked COOL.
Anyone else bite their SNES controllers in a fit of game rage when you were a kid? Just me?
I was right, Immortal Planet IS cool. You’re a lonesome Awakewalker, risen from your slumber to find a desolate society of immortals who are trapped in an eternal cycle of rebirth. It’s your job, now that you’re awake and all, to sort out the mysteries of the planet and get things back to kosher. How are you going to accomplish this? Through a whole bunch of isometric, 2D, hand-drawn, stamina-based combat and exploring, THAT’S how!
I’d hate to be a mortician on an Immortal Planet. Sorry, dad joke.
Immortal Planet wears its influence on its sleeve but, like some of the other games in this article, it manages to do its OWN thing too. You can pretty much take the DS formula and apply it liberally here: die, lose stuff, get stuff back before you die again. Weapons, spells, and items. Methodical and stamina-based combat, like I said- you know the drill. I’m not trying to be cheap or lazy with the Dark Souls references either, by the way, the developer readily throwss it out as a badge of honor- calm down. What sets Immortal Planet apart, and places it in the upper reaches of “indie game awesomeness” is that the whole thing feels like a dungeon-crawler in the best of ways and the hand-drawn art on display is absolutely brilliant to behold. Immortal Planet feels like the result of Link getting hooked on The Binding of Isaac but he just can’t deal with all the poo and chaos so he starts playing Dark Souls instead. Replace the bleak religion/death inspired environment with a super-rad futuristic/mystical vibe and you’ll arrive somewhere in the vicinity of what this game is all about. It’s beautiful, and JUST on the other side of “bite small child” challenging which is a nice plus for someone like me.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually bite small children.
There’s some really great level design at play here, the sound design is strong, and it keeps giving me those “one more run” feels which only the best games give me. I’m really happy to give Immortal Planet such a glowing recommendation, because I love the fact that I’m starting to open up to a new style of game that I have definitely been a bit averse too. Your poor wallet, I almost feel guilty telling you this is ANOTHER must-buy, but it totally is. You don’t need two kidneys, maybe you can sell one.
Listen, here’s the deal- I reach out to developers and publishers of games I WANT to write about. This is my website and I can do whatever the fuck I want, so I choose to curate my content and also- I don’t want to play games I don’t reasonably think I’m going to enjoy. Let the big guys like IGN play EVERYTHING, I don’t have time for that shit. I bet my average reader doesn’t either, so I like to write about rad games and keep shit easy for you guys. Sometimes though, I get codes or make eShop purchases that aren’t QUITE what I hoped they would be but I still respect the effort involved. Unless something is an insidious cash grab/shovelware situation I’m not gonna spill Haterade all over a small dev who tried to DO SOMETHING, but I can’t fully cosign either. A couple of these made it into my recent rotation and you can do what you will with this information.
Space Pioneer (Vivid Games & Qubic Games) is a game I was stoked on from seeing it pop up on the eShop’s “Coming Soon” page. Twin-stick shooter? Check. Roguelike? Check. Plenty of missions, upgrades, and a rad artstyle? Check. All the ingredients were there for it to be something exciting and the game is good. However, the game is also coming to Switch from being a mobile game and unfortunately- it shows. This game has “freemium” written all over it with its gated progress/unlock structure and for me- that stuff is a pretty big dealbreaker. When it comes to games like this I want to shoot stuff and have fun, and anything that keeps me from that is no bueno.
I’m not here to be a full-on Debbie Downer though- Space Pioneer IS a fun game. It’s got a great artstyle, and the foundations are there for something that COULD be great. A revamp that removes the mobile elements and fully brings it to Switch without all that stuff holding it back would be welcomed with open arms, and I’m all ears to revisit this when/if that were to happen. If YOU don’t mind those things though, get in here- cause Space Pioneer is definitely GOOD, but to hit GREAT it just needs some good old-fashioned TLC.
Disclaimer- The Space Pioneer trailer isn’t for the Switch version, I couldn’t track down a launch trailer but it’s essentially the same thing. You’ll live.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not spend a ton of time with Rift Keeper. I was excited to try it out based on the trailer because it looked to have vibrant pixel art, Dead Cells-esque combat, and a slightly rough-around-the-edges “little game that could” vibe going on. I reached out the the publisher (Sometimes You, developed by Frymore Games), I got a code, and I gave it a shot.
I tried, I really did guys. Frymore is a small team of two friends who very clearly LOVE the art form of video games. Rift Keeper is only their second project and you can tell that they tried to do something great. I admire and respect ANYONE who takes the incredibly risky step of trying to do something creative for a living, I’m doing it myself. The problem is, as someone who curates and reviews things I also have to divorce myself from those feelings to be objective about these things and unfortunately I just can’t sign off on Rift Keeper. The combat is stilted and stiff, the level design is confusing and punitive, and the color schemes are headache-inducing. I fucking HATE to have to call it that way, but I’d be lying if I said any different.
So why the hell is Rift Keeper in my “Honorable Mentions” section then? Yeah, I know- seems weird. Rift Keeper is in this article because I know there will probably be quite a few eyes on this piece once it gets published, and I WANT people to know about Frymore. The fact remains, that two guys who love games set out to make a love-letter to Dead Cells which is fucking ambitious as shit to begin with, and even though it fell flat for me there are two things I want you to get from this:
- You might disagree with me completely and find a new game you love. Art is subjective, and maybe I just didn’t “get it”. I’m not here to claim I’m the ultimate opinion over all others, sometimes I’m wrong.
- I want you guys to keep am eye on Frymore Games, because if these two guys can learn from this experience, and apply it to their third attempt, I think they could do great things. I’ll be keeping an eye on them and you should too.
Whenever somebody allows me access to their game for the purposes of review, I owe it to them to be honest. In seeking out games I am excited about it minimizes the risk of running across things I’m not jazzed about but sometimes, something gets through that isn’t quite up to snuff. Rift Keeper is that for me, it’s not quite what I need a game like this to be but I HUGELY respect the effort and I’m genuinely interested to see what these guys can do from here.
To quote thee, Semisonic: “Closing Time”.
True story: Back in 1999 (yes I DID party like it was itself) my hooligan friends and I went to a punk rock show in St. Louis. We spent the day in the city and went to cause trouble and loiter at Union Station, which may still be a mall there but I didn’t bother to look it up and I haven’t been to St. Louis in AGES. As we crested the escalator up to the food court, your intrepid writer here noticed what was obviously a band sitting there with their tour manager. Probably trying to have a quiet lunch in a mall food court, but this guy? I noticed that it was the band Semisonic and their hit single “Closing Time” was absolutely DECIMATING the charts at the time, so I absolutely HAD to fuck with them somehow. What a dick. So what do I do? I proceed to run over to their table and shout “HEY, AREN’T YOU SEMISONIC? HEY EVERYONE, IT”S SEMISONIC- CLOOOOSIIIING TIIIIME!!!” at the top of my lungs. The place was packed full of people too, so this food court goes deathly silent and these poor bastards just give me this look of “FUUUUUCK You, man” and they get up and try to make a quick exit. By that I mean they got chased out of the mall by a growing mob of screaming fans while my friends and I laughed hysterically.
Sorry, I couldn’t let a good Semisonic reference go to waste without telling THAT story. Anywho, I hope you’ve enjoyed this and I also hope you still have some money left over to pay your rent after you finish this article and inevitably go on one of those eShop “Sprees of Shame” to buy everything mentioned in this article. You’ll be fine, you have a TON of money saved right? Don’t we all? Fuck. What am I DOING with my life?
Cue existential crisis, and cue my exit.
Review codes for SuperEpic, Riverbond, Dead End Job, Rift Keeper and Immortal Planet were provided by Numskull Games, Cococucumber & Stride PR, Headup Games, Sometimes You, and Monster Couch respectively. I purchased Gemstone Keeper and Space Pioneer with my own stacks on stacks on stacks.
All developer/publisher links are included in the article and/or above, as well as links to each game’s page on www.nintendo.com. I don’t get paid for that shit, I’m just a neat guy.
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