Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for November 16th, 2020. We’re kicking off the second half of the month with full reviews of two recent releases that I really liked. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin and Cthulhu Saves Christmas are in the hot seat today, with a couple of Mini-Views accompanying them. There are also a few new releases to check out, and a rather hefty list of new sales to consider. Let’s get to it!
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin ($39.99)
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a peculiar game. It’s a side-scrolling action game with some RPG elements like crafting, gear, and expanding set of abilities based on your character’s level. It’s also a rather detailed rice farming simulation, teaching you a surprising amount of information about the ins and outs of growing one of the world’s most important crops. Both of these aspects sit in balance with each other to the extent that if you don’t like one of them, you probably won’t like the game. That said, both are done well enough that there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy them both.
As much as these two sides seem very different from each other, they both play perfectly into the themes of Sakuna. A group of humans, down on their luck, wander into the realm of the gods. A spoiled little goddess inadvertently causes a huge mess when she tries to chase them out. They’re essentially banished together to an island full of demons by the head goddess, forced to work together to survive and complete the head goddess’s request. There’s a lot more to all of this, and the plot unfolds in sometimes unexpected ways. But at its core is the story of someone who has been given far too much learning the actual cost of things, and perhaps even learning how to give a little back. Learning how to care about others.
Having this all revolve around rice-farming is kind of brilliant. Sakuna deals heavily in philosophical and religious themes that are strongly tied to Japan’s history, and rice has been (and continues to be) a major player in the culture of the country. Much like with most food products, it’s fair to say that most modern people don’t really understand how rice gets to the supermarket shelves where we buy it. Sakuna will teach you in painstaking detail, and although it does it in such a way to make it fun, you’ll probably have a new appreciation for just how difficult the process is. We get to learn along with our main character, the spoiled little princess Sakuna.
The basic loop of the game involves sending Sakuna out to stages where she’ll explore, battle enemies, and forage for materials. As you do that, time will pass. You’ll want to turn in at night, at least at first, because things get very nasty when the sun sets. So you return home, check on your rice crops and do what’s necessary to take care of them, maybe search around the land for materials, or turn in any quests you’ve been able to complete. Then, it’s dinner time. All of the characters gather around the table and eat a meal based on the things you’ve been able to forage and grow. The meals are pretty nasty early on, but as you get a handle on things you can see the effects of your work. The dinner table also serves as a place for the characters’ relationships with each other to deepen.
The better you eat, the more well-equipped you’ll be to explore the next day. Similarly, as your rice farm grows, so too does Sakuna’s power. Non-edible materials can be turned into gear that Sakuna can use in her travels. All of these things help you push further, which in turn helps you open up new areas that may have new materials and will certainly have new threats. Every once in a while, the plot pushes forward. That often involves a boss battle, putting all of your preparation and skills to the test.
Sakuna has a couple of basic attacks at her disposal, as well as the ever-useful ability to jump. Her real claim to fame comes from her Holy Raiment, a roll of cloth that she can use to grab enemies, attach to walls, and do all kinds of other things. As you progress, you’ll unlock new moves that you can assign as you see fit. These new moves help mix up the combat at regular intervals, and are often necessary for surviving nastier fights. The Holy Raiment is also used for progression through the stages, allowing you to climb up to greater heights. It’s quite a handy little item. Particularly during combat, where effective use of the Raiment works a lot like Nero’s Devil Arm in the Devil May Cry series.
The game’s presentation is gorgeous. The art style is unique and incredibly charming, and the music is excellent. It’s hard to believe that this game came from a relatively small team. The writing and voice work is top shelf, as well. It feels like you’ve jumped into a fairly high-end animated film. Of course, this is a good bit longer than a film. You’ll be in this game for a while if you want to see it through, and the pacing isn’t always smooth. Sometimes it can take a little while to get things into place to trigger the next story segment, and the actual process of farming rice can take a fair bit of time that isn’t always terribly exciting. But in its own way, I think this also feeds into the game’s themes.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a really good 2D action-RPG married to a solid farming simulator. Both of these aspects are elevated by the themes going on in both the background and foreground, presenting a unified experience that is truly special. I found myself struck in a powerful way by Sakuna’s journey of growth. I fell in love with all of the characters in her entourage, and was rocked by some of the plot’s revelations. There were parts that felt a bit tedious, but those too were essential elements of the ride. Simply a fascinating title with a strong identity, and one that makes me eager to see what its developers come up with next.
SwitchArcade Score: 5/5
Cthulhu Saves Christmas ($9.99)
This one comes from Zeboyd Games, the makers of Breath of Death VII, the back half of the Penny Arcade Adventures series, Cosmic Star Heroine, and of course Cthulhu Saves the World. The first Cthulhu game came early on in Zeboyd’s history, and given this developer’s disposition for re-thinking the rules of JRPG-style games, you can expect that this follow-up isn’t going to be content to tread water. And indeed it does not. While the story is intentionally as goofy as all get-out, the mechanics behind it are incredibly well thought-out. When compared to the last Zeboyd game, Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a rather brief escapade, but it’s incredibly densely-packed. All killer, no filler.
That’s perhaps not a huge surprise, however. I’ve always felt like Zeboyd’s design philosophy was about cutting away the fat from the genre, so it was really just a matter of time before that was applied to the often ponderous pace that seems to be a matter of course in so many games. At four or five hours long, this is a perfect little holiday treat that you may actually want to replay whenever the Christmas season rolls around. You’ll have your loony party assembled in shockingly short order, and you can go from plot point to plot point if that’s how you like to do things. Between dungeon crawls, the game takes a page out of Persona‘s book by allowing you to build R’lyehtionships (not sure if that’s spelled right, not checking right now) with characters by participating in various events.
As in most of Zeboyd’s games, dungeon exploration is quite comfortable thanks to mitigating what can be some of the more annoying elements of the genre. Random battles are capped to a specific number in each area, and you can choose to fight whenever you like if you want to knock them all out right away or engage in extras. In what may be a nod to Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey games, a meter slowly fills up giving you a good idea of when the next “random" attack is coming. Your health is refilled after every battle, allowing you to go all out in every fight without worry. Want to look around without the threat of cutting away to battles? Clear them out immediately and you can explore without being punished for it.
The battles keep some things from Cthulhu Saves the World, incorporate aspects from later Zeboyd games, and add a few new things to the mix. Just as in the previous game, you can inflict the insanity status effect on your enemies, making them more susceptible to damage while dealing more. It also changes their vulnerabilities to other status effects, and many moves work differently depending on whether an opponent is sane or insane. Instead of having your abilities rely on MP, the system here resembles Cosmic Star Heroine. You can use special abilities once and can’t use them again until you use a move that refreshes the character. New here is a selection of skills that will be randomly shuffled in for each fight. You never quite know exactly what you’ll have to work with, though you do have control over a certain amount of your moveset.
There are also special combination moves you can pull off once per battle, and the longer you hold off on using them the more powerful they become. On the lower difficulty levels, you don’t need to worry too much about any of these complexities, but if you choose to tackle the game on a more difficult setting you’ll need to take advantage of every trick in the book, particularly against the bosses. The League of Christmas Evil should not be trifled with. It’s up to you how much teeth you want them to have. After you’ve cleared the game, you can play a New Game+ mode, ensuring you have the chance to see all of the R’lyehtionships through.
Regular readers know I’m a bit of a sucker for holiday-themed games, and Cthulhu Saves Christmas is a really fantastic one. It’s also a really tightly-designed JRPG-style game, with interesting mechanics that reward those who like to experiment. I also enjoy its wacky sense of humor, though I suppose that aspect is more subjective than most. Finally, I genuinely appreciate its quick pace. I like long RPGs, but it’s nice to have one that doesn’t require such a significant commitment of time, especially since I see myself wanting to play this again during future holiday seasons. And yes, it’s nice to see Zeboyd’s Cthulhu back in action. He’s a surprisingly likeable hero, and I love seeing him do good in spite of himself. A great game at an excellent price, and one that RPG fans will want to dig into while they try to ignore the annual holiday family fireworks.
SwitchArcade Score: 4.5/5
Metaverse Keeper ($14.99)
I waffled a bit on what score to give this game. I feel like on paper it’s not that special, but my heart says it’s more than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s the attractive presentation, or the bizarre style of it all, or just how the solid mechanics work together. Whatever it is, Metaverse Keeper is a really enjoyable entry in an admittedly crowded genre. I like how each of the different heroes has their own special ability, and the amount of weapons and enemies is certainly on point. Not the most difficult roguelite dungeon crawler you’ll find, but that’s not a bad thing at all sometimes. Very enjoyable as a single-player affair, and if you can pull in some friends to play with it’s an absolute riot.
SwitchArcade Score: 4/5
Let’s Sing 2021 ($39.99)
At first blush, Let’s Sing 2021 seems like the same old business with some new songs. And by and large, it is. It’s hard to improve on a concept like a karaoke game once you’ve nailed it down, and this series did that a long time ago. There are a couple of nice additions here, however. The game gives you feedback and tips on your singing, for one thing. For solo players, the new Legend mode is the coolest new feature. You take on challengers in singing battles, giving you something to compete against aside from your own scores. The song list is a fairly strong mix of new and old, though with only 30 songs it can only cover so much. There are quite a few paid DLC packs you can buy to add to that list, of course. Plenty of fun whether you’re playing alone or with friends, even if you stick with what’s included in the base package.
SwitchArcade Score: 4/5
The idea behind this game is that the water level keeps on rising and you need to build upward to stay ahead of it. You use a mixer to create blocks, then place the blocks as you like. There are different types of blocks, and each of them has different properties. It’s also important to remember to bring your mixer with you as you go. Mildly amusing as a solo affair, but it reaches it maximum enjoyment in the local multiplayer mode, where up to four players can try to work together to keep their heads above water. I’m not sure how many Switch owners need yet another local party game right now, but if you do this is a decent choice at the sub-five dollar price point.
What does two and a half bucks get you, provided you’re not poking around in the discounts? Well, it could get you this minimalistic twin stick shooter. It’s not too bad, actually. There are a few different enemy types to deal with, and things heat up at a nice pace. Everything explodes like fireworks, and it’s all rather pretty. The way your bullets fly out is interesting, and you can’t just lay out shots non-stop. You can’t even see your score until you finish a run, so you never know quite how close you are to making a new record. Certainly worth the meager price if you enjoy games like Geometry Wars.
Super Punch ($1.99)
Another boxing game built in the style of the old Atari 2600 Boxing. You’re looking down at the fighters and the strategy is mostly in positioning. There are six different fighters to choose from. You can play solo against the AI or pull in a friend for some local multiplayer. Note that this also qualifies as something two and a half bucks could get you, and it would even leave you with two whole quarters in your pocket. But unlike Sentry, I don’t think you’ll get even that small amount of value out of it. Maybe, maybe with a friend? Even then you’re probably not going to want to play this for more than a few minutes.
Stencil Art ($3.99)
Less a game and more of an art app, but that’s a nice thing to see sometimes too. Stencil Art is essentially what it says on the tin. Place a stencil and fill it in with the colors or patterns of your choice to make a nice picture. You can control it with the touchscreen, use gyro controls, or try to make things work with the stick and buttons. For the price, I think this might be a nice thing to pick up if you have younger kids running around. Or for yourself, if you just want to chill on a cool evening.
(North American eShop, US Prices)
Plenty of games went on sale over the weekend, and only about half of them are from the usual list that do that. Sort out the launch discounts for a few games, and you’ve still got a rather impressive amount of titles we don’t see very often. Games like Nowhere Prophet, Piffle, Dadish, and Death’s Hangover add a bit of spice to this Monday line-up. There are a few interesting things in the outbox as well, so do that little thing that I always ask you to do.
Select New Games on Sale
Mind: Path to Thalamus ($3.59 from $11.99 until 11/18)
Infernium ($7.48 from $24.95 until 11/18)
Koral ($3.59 from $11.99 until 11/18)
Ramp Car Jumping ($11.24 from $14.99 until 11/20)
Bus Driver Simulator ($23.99 from $29.99 until 11/21)
Gaokao.Love.100Days ($6.99 from $11.99 until 11/22)
Soulslayer ($5.49 from $9.99 until 11/22)
CrunchTime ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/22)
Rally Road: Crashy Car Racing ($1.99 from $4.99 until 11/22)
Super Arcade Racing ($4.99 from $9.99 until 11/23)
Skull Rogue ($1.99 from $2.99 until 11/23)
Tactical Mind ($1.99 from $2.99 until 11/23)
FunBox Party ($1.99 from $2.49 until 11/23)
Grim Legends 3: Dark City ($8.99 from $14.99 until 11/23)
Swordbreaker The Game ($1.99 from $4.99 until 11/24)
Debtor ($1.99 from $2.99 until 11/24)
Mech Rage ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/24)
Breathing Fear ($1.99 from $4.99 until 11/24)
Toy Stunt Bike: Tiptop Trials ($1.99 from $4.99 until 11/25)
Casebook of Arkady Smith ($1.99 from $8.99 until 11/25)
Fall Gummies ($5.59 from $7.99 until 11/26)
Shadow Bug ($5.39 from $8.99 until 11/27)
City Bus Driving Simulator ($5.99 from $11.99 until 11/27)
Squeakers ($2.09 from $2.99 until 11/28)
Ellipsis ($2.99 from $4.99 until 11/29)
Piffle: Cat Puzzle Adv. ($9.95 from $19.95 until 11/29)
Last Encounter ($2.99 from $14.99 until 11/29)
Dadish ($2.00 from $10.00 until 11/30)
Pure Mahjong ($4.99 from $9.99 until 11/30)
Watermelon Party ($1.99 from $4.99 until 11/30)
Seeders Puzzle Reboot ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/30)
Vera Blanc: Full Moon ($3.99 from $4.99 until 11/30)
Brunch Club ($1.44 from $14.49 until 12/1)
Stencil Art ($1.99 from $3.99 until 12/1)
Escape Doodland ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Mana Spark ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Koloro ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Zombie Blast Crew ($4.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Utopia 9: Volatile Vacation ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Unit 4 ($1.99 from $14.99 until 12/1)
Blazing Beaks ($1.99 from $14.99 until 12/1)
Warlocks 2: God Slayers ($1.99 from $17.99 until 12/1)
We. The Revolution ($4.89 from $19.99 until 12/1)
Eyes: The Horror Game ($1.99 from $2.49 until 12/1)
Mini Trains ($1.99 from $5.99 until 12/1)
#RaceDieRun ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Rimelands: Hammer of Thor ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
REKT! High Octane Stunts ($1.99 from $5.99 until 12/1)
Big Pharma ($5.89 from $29.99 until 12/1)
Space Pioneer ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/1)
Barbarous: Tavern of Emyr ($1.99 from $7.99 until 12/1)
Welcome to Primrose Lake ($1.99 from $7.99 until 12/1)
Pocket Mini Golf ($1.99 from $2.49 until 12/1)
HyperParasite ($3.59 from $17.99 until 12/1)
Tharsis ($4.79 from $11.99 until 12/1)
Help Will Come Tomorrow ($3.99 from $19.99 until 12/1)
Gravity Rider Zero ($1.99 from $6.99 until 12/1)
Red Wings: Aces of the Sky ($4.99 from $19.99 until 12/1)
Dex ($7.99 from $19.99 until 12/1)
Metamorphosis ($9.99 from $24.99 until 12/1)
Death’s Hangover ($2.49 from $4.99 until 12/1)
Safari Pinball ($2.00 from $2.99 until 12/3)
Adventure Pinball Bundle ($3.95 from $8.99 until 12/3)
WildTrax Racing ($3.99 from $7.99 until 12/3)
Green Game: TimeSwapper ($2.00 from $2.99 until 12/4)
Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/4)
Midnight Evil ($1.99 from $9.99 until 12/4)
Commandos 2: HD Remaster ($26.99 from $29.99 until 12/4)
LocO-SportS ($2.03 from $5.99 until 12/4)
#womenUp, Super Puzzles Dream ($2.10 from $6.19 until 12/4)
Spartan ($1.99 from $3.99 until 12/4)
Yet Another Zombie Defense HD ($1.99 from $4.99 until 12/5)
Moorhuhn Remake ($5.59 from $6.99 until 12/7)
Golf Peaks ($1.99 from $4.99 until 12/7)
The Secret Order: Shadow Breach ($2.09 from $14.99 until 12/7)
Nowhere Prophet ($12.49 from $24.99 until 12/7)
Sales Ending Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17th
American Ninja Warrior Challenge ($7.49 from $29.99 until 11/17)
Big Buck Hunter Arcade ($4.99 from $19.99 until 11/17)
Biped ($9.74 from $14.99 until 11/17)
Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers ($2.49 from $9.99 until 11/17)
Chalk Dash Carnival ($1.99 from $7.09 until 11/17)
Desktop Baseball ($2.91 from $7.21 until l1/17)
Desktop Bowling ($2.95 from $7.39 until 11/17)
Desktop Dodgeball ($2.98 from $7.45 until 11/17)
Desktop Rugby ($1.99 from $7.43 until 11/17)
Desktop Soccer ($2.84 from $7.11 until 11/17)
Desktop Table Tennis ($2.96 from $7.41 until 11/17)
Farabel ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/17)
Goosebumps the Game ($4.99 from $19.99 until 11/17)
Hidden ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/17)
Mad Carnage ($1.99 from $4.99 until 11/17)
Mushroom Quest ($1.99 from $2.99 until 11/17)
Neverlast ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/17)
Nickelodeon Kart Racers ($7.49 from $29.99 until 11/17)
Our Flick Erasers ($9.07 from $12.96 until 11/17)
Pew Paw ($2.44 from $6.99 until 11/17)
Power Rangers: BftG ($11.99 from $19.99 until 11/17)
Pure Pool ($11.99 from $14.99 until 11/17)
Rapala Pro Fishing Series ($4.99 from $19.99 until 11/17)
Shmubedi Boo ($7.99 from $9.99 until 11/17)
Sniper Elite 4 ($33.99 from $39.99 until 11/17)
Street Outlaws: The List ($9.99 from $39.99 until 11/17)
Voxel Galaxy ($1.99 from $7.43 until 11/17)
Voxel Pirates ($1.99 from $7.28 until 11/17)
Voxel Shot ($1.99 from $7.99 until 11/17)
Voxel Sword ($1.99 from $7.00 until 11/17)
ZOMB ($1.99 from $9.99 until 11/17)
Zombieland: Double Tap Road Trip ($9.99 from $39.99 until 11/17)
That’s all for today, friends. Tomorrow will see several new releases, and I may have a review or two for you to consider as well. We should also have some news and new sales to go over, so please look forward to that. I hope you all have a marvelous Monday, and as always, thanks for reading!