With Red Death, we dodge waves of projectiles and even a few tentacles emitted from Cthulhuian foes. Then, in Sin Slayers, we discover a noble notable blend of role-playing and rogue-like elements. It’s a game where immortality increases the difficulty level, which seems disconcertingly lifelike.
Red Death, Panda Indie Studio, $4.99
For diehard STG aficionados, a hardware platform becomes viable once a decent selection of shooters has materialized on the system. The Nintendo Switch was fortunate enough to reach this critical mass early. Titles like Ikaruga, R-Type Dimensions EX, Raiden V: Director’s Cut, and two compilations of Psikyo shmups arrived early to satisfy projectile dodging urges. Three years since the console’s debut, the genre has a substantial presence in Nintendo’s digital marketplace.
Undeterred by its bullet-hell competitors, Red Death arrives, offering four levels of intense action as well as an arcade mode for under five dollars. At that asking price, it’s a reasonable option, offering enough difficulty to stretch it’s vertically scrolling, four-stage story mode into an hour or two (depending on your abilities). Complete that undertaking and you’ll unlock the game’s arcade mode. This offers an endless, procedurally generated variant. Although it adds a bit of longevity, the random number generator is likely to spawn occasional frustration.
Largely, Red Death adheres to genre formula. You’ll start with a feeble auto-cannon that requires a few hits to eliminate most enemies. Falling, power-ups gradually augment your arsenal. Avoid getting hit and you’ll initially double your firepower. Continue collecting these boxes and you’ll soon earn a laser, and finally, a double-barreled version of this penetrating weapon. Following tradition, destroying foes releases collectable stars. Gather enough of these to fill an Overload meter, and a button press will push your weapon to the limit. Trigger this when you have two lasers, and you’ll be able to char adversaries with a third beam. The only problem is, like Gradius, losing a life forfeits most of power-ups. So, if you die during a boss fight, you’ll feel tragically underpowered.
Fortunately, Red Death has a few distinctions. Enemy projectiles aren’t always emitted in perfect, orderly patterns. Often, they’re offset by a few pixels, making predictability a bit challenging. Sporadically, they’re emerge from the bottom of the screen, require players to rehearse for their ambush. On the upside, a press of the top triggers slows down time and project onscreen crosshairs to assist when the bullet barrage grows especially dense. It’s hardly a panacea though, you’ll still need pixel-perfect dexterity. Aesthetically, the game’s synth soundtrack recalls John Carpenter’s eerie scores, while the brash color palette might evoke memories of gaming on a ZX Spectrum.
Recommended for: Shoot ‘em junkies looking for a cheap fix.
Sin Slayers: Enhanced Edition, goonswarm, $19.99
Fusing role-playing basics with rogue-like mechanics sounds seems like a promising concept. Russian developer Goonswarm (Alteric, Pandarama: The Lost Toys) latest effort is set in the Valley of Fallen Sinners. There, a party of three adventurers are losing the fight against a horde of creatures and decide to take refuge of the church. But when an old sage explains they are locked inside until seven portals are broken, the house of worship starts resembling a jail.
Escape involves taking a trio of archetypal adventurers to areas named after the seven deadly sins. Initially, you’ll commandeer a warrior, archer, and healer, but over time you’ll encounter new characters which can be swapped out back at the church. Combat reflects conventional turn-based quarrels that have been incorporated into RPGs for decades. At launch, these encounters could use a bit more balancing. While they are lightly challenging at first, before long they become effortless, introducing tedium, especially since you fast-forward or let the CPU take control of rudimentary elements like enemy targeting. Another downside is that characters have a scant number of skills, reducing the amount of strategy as you deduct shielding and hit points from foes.
Sin Slayers’ sin-based statistic is supposed to influence the level of challenge. Exploring the game’s procedurally-generated grids uncovers events. Elect to loot a corpse, and you’ll gain a bit of wealth, but greed is punished in raising your sin level. When elevated, this affects how tough enemies are, so you’re supposed to keep your immorality in check. But save for bosses, having your sin level at capacity doesn’t seem to put your team at a perilous disadvantage.
Leveling and crafting attempt to add sophistication to the game but each is slightly problematic. The former isn’t handled automatically. Instead, players must head to the Party menu, and with a minimal amount of guidance, it’s all too easy to neglect this function. Crafting can produce new equipment that can be dropped into each character’s two slots. While new gear does provide a noticeable augmentation, being able to use two items limits the complexity of gearing your adventurers. Another issue is that exploration isn’t all that engaging. You’ll click to uncover squares in each area and periodically bring the party to foundations to revitalize. But there’ no sense of cohesion or mystery for each area. Although there’s moments of promise demonstrated by Sin Slayers, the game really needs to absolve itself of tedium that stems from simplicity. On the upside, this edition bundles the “Snow Peak” post-game content as well as the Northerner and Blood Mage playable characters.
Recommended For: Patient role-playing fans who enjoy managing unpredictability.