SwitchArcade Round-Up: ‘Heave Ho’ and ‘Vambrace: Cold Soul’ Reviews, ‘La-Mulana 1 & 2’ Coming in 2020, ‘Astral Chain’ and Today’s Other New Releases, and More

Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for August 30th, 2019. Today we’ve got reviews of two new games, one of which is extremely good. In other business, we have summaries of all of today’s new releases, a single (but significant) news item, and a bunch of cool new sales to check out. Yes, it’s another big one, but you’ve got all weekend to digest it, so let’s start the meal!

News

NISA Will Bring ‘La-Mulana 1 & 2’ to Switch in 2020

The La-Mulana games are great 2D action-adventure titles that really nail that old-school feel for better or worse. The second game came out a little while ago in Japan on the Switch, and it looks like gamers in the West can look forward to a little extra mustard on top when NISA brings it out in 2020. Rather than just selling the second game on its own, NISA is putting out a set with both games included. Naturally, the publisher is putting it out digitally and physically, and there’s also a lovely limited edition that you’ll be able to pick up from NISA’s website if you want to really splash out.

Reviews

Heave Ho ($9.99)

I can’t remember the last time my family had as much fun playing a video game together as we did with Heave Ho. I had no expectations of this game heading into it. After playing single player for a little bit and enjoying it well enough, I roped my son into joining in with me. We played far longer than I’d planned, laughing all the while as we failed and ran into near-misses. My wife watched curiously the whole time, even though she has little interest in most games. A few days later, we tried it with four players, and again spent hours having a rip-roaring good time. It’s been an instant cure for any bad moods in the household for the last few weeks.

In Heave Ho, the goal is simple. You start at one part of each stage and you need to reach a goal marker. Unfortunately, you’re a weird potato thing and you don’t have any legs. You do, however, have a pair of arms and some seriously beefy gripping skills. Moving the stick moves those arms around, while pressing down on the appropriate trigger will grip with your left or right hand. The face buttons on the controller are mapped to various reactions and poses, some of which have a practical use while others are just for fun. You have to pull, swing, flip, and basically do whatever you can to get yourself to that goal. The stage layouts are the same regardless of the number of players. Four players linking hands can obviously stretch farther than one, but oh, what delightful chaos can come from adding a few more brains and pairs of hands into the mix.

Beyond simply reaching the goal, there are other side targets to aim for. Most levels have a coin placed in a tricky location, and if you can bring it to the goal you can keep it. Of course, giving up a hand to carry a coin means one less hand to grab onto things with. It’s very hard to do it on your own, in other words. This is probably why the level coins only appear in multiplayer. Worry not, however. You can also get coins by playing mini-games. Those mini-games can be found by pulling on the gold ropes that sometimes appear in the levels. You’ll be whisked away to a special bonus area where you’ll do things like lob balls into a moving basket to earn some extra cash. Those coins can be used in a prize machine to unlock new costumes for your characters, so they’re not necessary so much as they are fun.

There are several worlds to play through, each containing a handful of stages. Each world has its own theme and gimmick, from the rolling rising sun of the Japanese-themed stages to the wild spinning platforms in the circus world. After completing the original set of worlds, you get a new set of levels for each that will really put you to the test. The level designs are generally quite good, offering multiple routes to the goal depending on how much of a risk the player wants to take. Most of them take place on a single screen, but you’ll occasionally run into a scrolling level with checkpoints to make sure you’re never set back too far if you fall. Your best time on each stage is recorded, giving incentive to try to go even faster next time.

Indeed, there are a lot of little helping hands available in Heave Ho to make sure players keep having fun. If you die, you’ll go out in a splatter of paint and the sound of a party whistle before instantly respawning. Players can easily grab onto others and be carried along, and if a more skilled player gets ahead, he or she can stretch out their hand to make the gap a little shorter for the rest. Once one player reaches the goal, a lever appears underneath it. If someone pulls the lever, a balloon will appear somewhere in the level that players who are struggling can grab onto for support. If enough time passes without everyone reaching the goal, some poles will be placed around the level to make it easier to traverse. All of this stuff ensures that more skilled players can help less skilled players in a variety of ways.

Ultimately, the worst part of Heave Ho is that you really do need the extra players to get the full effect. It’s definitely fun to mess around with in single-player, as there’s a lot to learn as far as the gameplay mechanics go and mastering them does feel good. But the real pleasure comes from trying to make it through the stages with others. Even if you’ve mastered the levels in single-player, it’s a whole different ballgame when you need to make sure everyone makes it. That’s the kind of scenario where you will find yourself shouting out the game’s title without even thinking about it. Heave Ho in solo is just an okay game. Heave Ho in multiplayer is an absolute riot.

Simply put, if you regularly play video games with friends or family, buy Heave Ho. Just buy it. You won’t regret it. This is probably the best co-op multiplayer game on the Switch outside of Snipperclips. It’s easy enough to grok even if you don’t normally play games, and anyone of any skill level can enjoy a good chunk of the game. The price of the game is an absolute steal for how much you’ll get out of it. My family has put in more than fifteen hours so far and I can guarantee that we’re not finished with it, even though we’ve already seen every stage. There are more costumes to unlock, some time records to beat, and some achievements to earn. Most importantly, we know there are a lot more laughs ahead, and that’s what will keep us coming back to Heave Ho for a long time to come.

SwitchArcade Score: 4.5/5

Vambrace: Cold Soul ($24.99)

Vambrace: Cold Soul really makes an effort to build on the ideas that Darkest Dungeon brought forward. On paper, all of its additions are quite sensible. Why not more story? Wouldn’t it be cool if the setting was fleshed out a little more, and had more to do outside of the dungeon itself? And while Darkest Dungeon doesn’t look bad overall, how cool would it be if you got some really great art in there? Vambrace seeks to answer those questions, and some of the results are better than others. Unfortunately, while it’s busy trying to make improvements in certain areas, it lets down a lot of the things that its inspiration did well. What we’re ultimately left with is quite playable and often interesting, but not nearly as compelling as it ought to be.

One of the things that Vambrace does well is in establishing its world. It takes place in the cursed, frozen city of Icenaire. The King of Shades put the city under a permanent frost and turned most of its former inhabitants into wraiths. The remaining survivors huddle together in a small underground city, making only occasional forays outside its safe walls to collect supplies. The curse makes it so that no one can enter or exit Icenaire, or so it would seem. Then one day, a young woman named Lyric appears searching for her father. She wields a magical vambrace that may be the key to turning the tides. Naturally, this is your main character.

This is all presented in a rather verbose opening that probably spends a little too much time trying to establish things upfront. Once you get into the actual action, it will be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent some time with Darkest Dungeon. You take your party through side-scrolling areas, hunt for loot, and battle enemies in JRPG-inspired turn-based combat. There’s a bit of roguelite mixed in here, as any party members who die (apart from Lyric) are permanently lost. Navigating the dungeons is a little troublesome thanks to their side-scrolling layouts, as the directions of north-south-east-west are not always intuitive. Battles are similarly confusing in places, as exactly which characters can hit which rows isn’t as logical as you’d hope. Once you’ve sorted all that out, however, combat almost gets a little too dull. You don’t really have a lot of options, leading to repeated tactics in most scuffles.

Oddly, I feel like Vambrace‘s desire to tell a story runs at odds with the gameplay it’s trying to put forward. The straightforward mechanics scream pick-up-and-play, but the overly chatty narrative elements seem to want you to sink in your chair for a while. The roguelite perma-death seems like a fun bit of risk and reward, but the fact that Lyric needs to be alive for the plot to move means that if she dies, you just get kicked out of the dungeon without any real loss. Thus, if a battle is going pear-shaped, it’s better if you can get your party leader killed rather than any of your other characters. She will always come back if she croaks first, but they won’t. The game wants you to get invested in its plot and characters, but three-quarters of your party will always be made up of blank slates since perma-death could potentially remove them at any time. Finally, a big part of any RPG’s appeal is in watching your characters grow over time, but in Vambrace only Lyric levels up.

Worst of all is that for however cool the setting and basic characters are, the plot itself is rather weak. It throws so many words at you, and so very few of them are worth absorbing. It was just interesting enough to keep me playing, but after how much work it put into arranging its pieces on the board, I was really hoping for something better. Characters are established and then barely do anything for the rest of the game. Sometimes the game seems to be building to some kind of emotional pay-off, and then does almost nothing with it. You can really feel the game pulling against itself at times, like there were two completely separate ideas that were forced into one jar together, come hell or high water.

It’s too bad, because Vambrace does a lot of things reasonably well. The presentation is excellent, for starters. I love the art in this game. The characters look good, the environments give off exactly the vibe they should, and it’s genuinely creepy in places thanks to a combination of good sound design and clever visuals. Icenaire is a genuinely interesting place to inhabit and explore, and I really do like Lyric’s design. There’s just enough quality here that I can’t reject Vambrace: Cold Soul completely. But it’s also pretty hard to put much gusto behind recommending it, especially since you can get some really great games in this price range that are a lot less confused about what they want to be.

SwitchArcade Score: 3/5

New Releases

Astral Chain ($59.99)

SwitchArcade Highlight!

It’s the latest from Platinum Games, the developers behind games like Bayonetta and NieR: Automata, so at the very least you know it’s going to play well. And indeed, Astral Chain is an awful lot of fun to play. The story doesn’t exactly impress, but the theme and setting call to mind some of the great futuristic police anime and manga from the 1980s and 1990s. You play as a rookie in a special task force called Neuron and use living weapons called Legions to battle for the sake of humanity. Another great action game from a team that really knows its stuff, and a nice way to close out Nintendo’s strong summer line-up of games.

FUZE4 Nintendo Switch ($39.99)

SwitchArcade Highlight!

No matter how you do it, making a game is really hard. But if you want to make things a bit easier, FUZE4 will help you out. You don’t need to know how to code to put together a game with this app, nor do you need to know how to create your own art, sound effects, and so on. You can choose things from pre-existing assets and drag and drop things to make a game with relative ease. But FUZE4 does offer flexibility if you want to mess around with the nitty-gritty of that kind of work once you’re a bit more confident. Aspiring game designers can learn a lot by spending some time with this one.

Legend of the Skyfish ($7.99)

SwitchArcade Highlight!

I really loved Legend of the Skyfish when it came out on mobile, and it’s just as good here. It might give you Zelda vibes from its appearance, but it’s actually a much simpler and straightforward kind of game. Use your fishing pole to hook and pull things in order to solve puzzles and make your way through each stage. You can even use it to grapple around the stages, hookshot-style. The puzzles are clever and the game is quite satisfying to play through. Playing it with buttons on a bigger screen definitely does it a few favors, making it worth spending the few extra bucks to pick it up over the mobile version.

Arcade Archives Pinball ($7.99)

The latest in Hamster’s line of Nintendo Arcade Archives is Pinball. Yes, that same Pinball that was on the NES. Unlike some of the other arcade versions of NES games, there really isn’t much different about this particular title when compared to its NES counterpart. That means you can look forward to a fairly simple take on silverball with a neat mini-game and extremely simple physics and graphics. I’d be very surprised if Pinball didn’t show up on the NES Switch Online app at some point in the future, so I’m not really sure I’d pay eight dollars to get it this way. There are worse Nintendo arcade games, and a couple of them have been released in the Arcade Archives line, but this is definitely one of the least exciting.

Star-Crossed Myth – The Department of Punishments ($29.99)

Star-Crossed Myth – The Department of Wishes ($29.99)

I’m only writing one paragraph for these two separate releases because they’re more or less two parts of one whole. Anyway, this is a dating simulation where you take your pick of hunky heavenly dudes. Seriously, they’re all from the stars. There’s one man for each of the twelve zodiac signs, and each version of the game gives you access to six of them. Just from the titles, I’d guess that one version gets you the nice boys while the other gets you the bad boys, so choose accordingly if you’re only getting one. Anyway, these come from Voltage, who are definitely well-versed in otome romance games, so you can be sure that you’ll get something of at least reasonable quality here.

Hopping Girl Kohane Jumping Kingdom ($19.99)

That’s not even the full title of the game, but there are limits to how long they can be without breaking the formatting on the site. The full title is (takes deep breath)… Hopping Girl Kohane Jumping Kingdom: Princess of the Black Rabbit. Yeah, just rolls off the tongue. Anyway, you play as a cute girl on a pogo stick who has to hop her way through more than 100 stages full of gimmicks, traps, and tricky terrain. You can unlock a bunch of extra costumes, and there’s a two-player splitscreen battle mode where you can test your pogo skills against a friend.

Headspun ($12.99)

This is an FMV adventure game where you play as a man who has just woken up from a five-week coma. Your memories are in disarray and you need to try to piece your life back together. The outside world is represented by FMV sequences, while the internal struggle in the main character’s brain looks like a sprite-based point-and-click adventure. The conscious and subconscious mind don’t always get along, but you’ll have try to reconcile their differences while you retrieve your lost memories and get your cortex back in order. Weird idea, but I bet some people are going to really dig this one.

SpaceColorsRunner ($5.99)

Hmm, well. The magic of a free market is that something like this can release on the same day and platform as something like Astral Chain and someone will actually choose this. I think what you do here is try to run as fast and as far as you can without blowing your ship up. You can change the color of your ship which will apparently allow you to pass through planets to earn points? There’s a single-player mode and splitscreen two-player support for both co-op and versus play. To tell the truth, this looks like something I probably wouldn’t even download for free on my iPhone, but if it looks appealing to you, don’t let me stop you.

Sales

This is a much smaller list of new sales than we usually see on a Friday, but there are still a few things worth noting in today’s list. First, Axiom Verge has a bigger discount than it usually gets. If you don’t have it yet, this is a good chance. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an impressive port of a really interesting game, so grabbing it with a 30% discount is a pretty sweet deal. Dead Cells has been on sale before and it will be on sale again, but it’s very much worth that twenty dollars. Also note that Swim Out is on sale for exactly one day, so grab it now if you want it.

New Games on Sale

Dead Cells ($19.99 from $24.99 until 9/7)
Collidalot ($2.99 from $5.99 until 9/16)
Headspun ($11.69 from $12.99 until 9/13)
Sky Ride ($0.99 from $7.00 until 9/18)
Axiom Verge ($13.99 from $19.99 until 9/5)
88 Heroes – 98 Heroes ($14.97 from $29.95 until 9/12)
Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron ($8.99 from $14.99 until 9/12)
Swim Out ($1.99 from $5.99 until 8/31)
Hyper Sentinel ($0.90 from $12.99 until 9/5)
Die for Valhalla! ($5.99 from $11.99 until 9/12)
Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! ($11.99 from $14.99 until 9/12)
Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! ($11.99 from $14.99 until 9/12)
Red’s Kingdom ($7.49 from $9.99 until 9/12)
Western 1849 Reloaded ($3.19 from $7.99 until 9/12)


Doughlings: Arcade ($3.49 from $6.99 until 9/12)
1001 Ultimate Mahjong 2 ($3.99 from $9.99 until 9/12)
Storm In A Teacup ($2.39 from $2.99 until 9/12)
Gem Crash ($1.99 from $5.99 until 9/17)
Gnomes Garden ($2.99 from $4.99 until 9/8)
Thea: The Awakening ($10.79 from $17.99 until 9/12)
Dark Quest 2 ($6.59 from $10.99 until 9/12)
RICO ($15.99 from $19.99 until 9/13)
Undead’s Building ($3.99 from $5.99 until 9/17)
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice ($20.99 from $29.99 until 9/12)
Giga Wrecker Alt ($18.74 from $24.99 until 9/12)
Stranger Things 3: The Game ($9.99 from $19.99 until 9/11)
Tetsumo Party ($3.74 from $4.99 until 9/12)
Invasion of Alien X – Earth in Crisis ($7.99 from $9.99 until 9/17)

Sales Ending This Weekend

Mars or Die! ($9.99 from $19.99 until 8/31)
Otto ($2.49 from $4.99 until 8/31)
Parallel ($2.99 from $9.99 until 8/31)
Sudoku Universe ($4.89 from $6.99 until 8/31)
Super Inefficient Golf ($3.99 from $7.99 until 8/31)
Swim Out ($1.99 from $5.99 until 8/31)
Vectronom ($8.99 from $9.99 until 8/31)
Cast of the Seven Godsends ($1.29 from $12.99 until 9/1)
Clue: The Classic Mystery Game ($20.99 from $29.99 until 9/1)
Dream Alone ($0.99 from $9.99 until 9/1)
Exorder ($1.29 from $12.99 until 9/1)
Gravity Duck ($3.99 from $4.99 until 9/1)
Lines X ($0.74 from $0.99 until 9/1)
Mainlining ($8.99 from $14.99 until 9/1)
The Long Reach ($1.49 from $14.99 until 9/1)
The Walking Vegetables: Radical ($2.59 from $12.99 until 9/1)
Word Mesh ($5.94 from $6.99 until 9/1)

That’s it for this week and this month, friends. I’ll see you all again on Monday as we kick off what promises to be an extremely expensive month full of great new Switch games. What are you playing this weekend? I’m trying to mop up a few outstanding older releases on my Switch like Snake Pass and Code of Princess so that I can clear some space on my memory card for what’s on the horizon. Anyway, I hope you all have a great weekend, and as always, thanks for reading!



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