SwitchArcade Round-Up: Reviews Featuring ‘Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story’, Plus Today’s Releases and Sales

Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for March 13th, 2024. It’s the usual fairly slow Wednesday, but today I have a nice chunky review for you to read over. Digital Eclipse’s latest interactive documentary, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story, releases today and I have my full thoughts on it. After that, we have a couple of other new releases to summarize, and then head into our usual conclusion with the lists of new and expiring sales. Let’s go!

Reviews & Mini-Views

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story ($29.99)

Here we are with the second volume of the Gold Master series from Digital Eclipse. In a spiritual sense, this series started with the outstanding Atari 50. Its “museum-first" approach set a new standard for retro game compilations, showing a way forward for games that are in sore need of context for a new generation of players. The first Gold Master release, The Making of Karateka, demonstrated that this set-up worked just as well with a laser-focus on a single creator as it did with a huge publisher. The story of how Jordan Mechner went from riffing on Asteroids to pushing the boundaries of the nascent medium of gaming was utterly compelling, and being able to jump in and play at various points showed how this kind of documentary could only exist in this form.

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story isn’t telling the tale of the journey towards one particular game, but rather the journey of one creator. There’s no destination on this trip, even if this documentary itself finishes off on a particularly well-known high note. The old Yak himself, Jeff Minter, is still out there creating games to the beat of his own drum. That gives this volume a more scattered feel than the previous one, but it’s no less fascinating. Minter has always been one of the independent gaming scene’s more colorful characters, and his games reflect his unique personality. You get a lot of them in here, too. All-up, there are forty-two games here spread across various platforms and versions. Just as we saw in The Making of Karateka, Digital Eclipse has created its own special remaster of one of Minter’s games, too. Gridrunner, naturally.

Still, I think there’s an interesting parallel between these first two volumes. Both Jordan Mechner and Jeff Minter got their start as creators by trying to make computer versions of popular arcade games, but where they went from there are two very different stories. Where Mechner’s love of film led to him moving from arcade-style action to the incredibly cinematic Karateka, Minter’s love of arcade-style gaming pushed him to keep finding new twists on his favorite games. As we progress through the years, we can also see his love of animals and his favorite music genres seeping into his works. Minter loved score-chasing, and virtually all of his games reflect that. By contrast, while he certainly had an appreciation for lore, he didn’t seem to have much interest in putting story into the games themselves.

Like Mechner, Minter took his fair share of creative risks. Sometimes they paid off, and sometimes he got burned. How Minter reacted to his successes and failures is another interesting point of comparison to Mechner, and we get to see a lot of his feelings from the time thanks to the various magazine columns, fanzines, and other notes he kept. There are also video interviews with Minter and many others that offer additional insights on the events of his career. It’s all valuable stuff, because Minter was often at the forefront of new platforms and technology. There aren’t many other developers in a position to tell us much about, say, the Konix Multisystem.

My only real criticism of the documentary aspect of this release is that lack of focus I touched on earlier. By positioning the previous release as the story of one game, it was able to cap things off in a smooth way. Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story just kind of unceremoniously ends after the release of Tempest 2000, and it feels a bit odd since the narrative wasn’t really working towards that. Minter has released a lot of games since then, and while I understand asking for all of them to be included is a little greedy, it would have been nice to see, for example, the Minotaur Project mobile games find a new life here. And if the games couldn’t be included, I still would have liked to have seen them covered properly in the story. Well, I suppose there are worse things than leaving the audience wanting for more.

Over on the game side, we’ve got quite the assortment here. While I had absolutely no issues recommending The Making of Karateka as a whole, I have to admit that if you were coming at it from the angle of wanting some games to play it was a little light. That certainly isn’t the case here. There are thirty-three distinct games, with additional versions of some of the games bringing the full total up to forty-two. They’re not all winners, but they’re all worth playing. And when they’re good, they’re very good indeed. While this isn’t an exhaustive collection of Minter’s games, even within the span of time this covers, it’s as close as it’s going to get without dealing with some serious licensing shenanigans. You’ll start your journey playing some rudimentary games on the ZX81 and finish it on Atari’s Jaguar console with the ultra-slick Tempest 2000, and that turns out to be quite a spread of arcade action. I would venture to say that this set is worth it for the games alone, if that’s what you need it to be.

I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record with my reviews of Digital Eclipse’s offerings in recent years, but this is another must-have for those interested in gaming history. That it also packs in a massive catalog of games from one of gaming’s iconic independent developers is simply the cherry on top of the sundae, but it also means there’s a lot here for fans of classic arcade action games to enjoy. Having devoured this entire story in a couple of sittings, I find myself once again educated, entertained, and awaiting whatever these folks do next.

SwitchArcade Score: 5/5

New Releases

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story ($29.99)

Well, there’s a whole review up there. Unless you skipped all the way down to this section, you probably know what’s up with this one. The second in Digital Eclipse’s Gold Master series, this time covering the rise of one of gaming’s more eccentric indies, Jeff Minter. You get a great, well-told documentary here along with forty-two classic games spread across a wide array of platforms. They stretch from the early 80s all the way up to Tempest 2000, plus a cool remaster of Gridrunner. If you like the work of Mr. Minter or simply enjoy gaming history, this is a must-have.

Cybertrash STATYX ($9.99)

A side-scrolling action-platformer where you play as a cyborg lady who is trying to recover her lost memories while fighting back against the evil corporation that turned you into a mind-wiped cyborg to begin with. There’s a leveling system in this game that rewards you with experience for defeating enemies. You can upgrade your stats and abilities to give yourself advantages against your enemies and help you progress further into the game. It looks okay for a sub-ten dollar game. Not sure what’s up with the name, mind you, but it certainly catches the eye.

Violet Wisteria ($14.99)

This is pretty plainly an homage to Valis, and that’s cool. Valis isn’t exactly a top-shelf meal but it is distinctive and has a cult following that could do with more service. But Violet Wisteria also does its own thing in a lot of ways, with the key feature being its color-coded attack system. You can attack in three different colors, and you can only vanquish enemies if you use the correct one for their weakness. Use the wrong one and you’ll be pushed way back, which is bad! Or… is it? Perhaps that could be used to traverse certain gaps your jumps won’t carry you across? It’s those puzzle-like elements that help this stand out a bit. Absolutely not for everyone, but those that will like it will probably like it a lot.


(North American eShop, US Prices)

That’s a small list of sales, and it makes me nervous. Usually when we have a run of light days like these, a big sale is right around the corner. But don’t worry about that! Dig that outbox with plenty of good games finishing up their sales today. Check through both lists and see what you can scare up.

Select New Sales

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2 HD ($14.99 from $29.99 until 3/26)
Dead by Daylight: Gold Edition ($41.99 from $69.99 until 3/26)
Vengeful Heart ($1.99 from $9.99 until 3/27)
SteamWorld Build ($22.49 from $29.99 until 3/27)
The Cub ($8.99 from $14.99 until 4/2)
Warhammer 40k: Dakka Squadron ($9.99 from $19.99 until 4/2)
Railbound ($2.59 from $12.99 until 4/3)

Sales Ending Tomorrow, March 14th

A Dark Room ($2.79 from $6.99 until 3/14)
Cattails: Wildwood Story ($14.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)
Citizen Sleeper ($9.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)
Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo ($2.99 from $14.99 until 3/14)
Dariusburst CS Core + Taito/SEGA ($17.99 from $29.99 until 3/14)
Demon Gaze Extra ($23.99 from $59.99 until 3/14)
Double Dragon & Kunio-kun RBB ($19.99 from $39.99 until 3/14)
Eschatos ($16.19 from $26.99 until 3/14)
European Conqueror X ($3.99 from $9.99 until 3/14)
Existential Dilogy ($17.59 from $21.99 until 3/14)
Gematombe ($5.99 from $14.99 until 3/14)
Gruta ($1.99 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Hike Adventures ($5.59 from $7.99 until 3/14)
Incredible Mandy ($5.99 from $14.99 until 3/14)
Kowloon High-School Chronicle ($9.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)

Little Disaster ($1.99 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Manifold Garden ($7.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)
Mercenaries Saga Chronicles ($5.99 from $14.99 until 3/14)
Murderous Muses ($5.59 from $13.99 until 3/14)
Paradise Killer ($7.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)
Random Heroes: Gold Edition ($1.99 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Rescue Dropkick On My Devil ($4.49 from $8.99 until 3/14)
River City Melee Mach ($4.61 from $13.99 until 3/14)
River City Saga: Three Kingdoms ($22.49 from $29.99 until 3/14)
Shelter Generations ($7.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)
Shephy ($2.49 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Telenet Shooting Collection ($40.49 from $44.99 until 3/14)
The Pale Beyond ($9.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)
The Red Lantern ($2.49 from $24.99 until 3/14)
The Stillness of the Wind ($1.99 from $12.99 until 3/14)
Thunder Paw ($1.99 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Thunderflash ($1.99 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Tricks Magician ($2.49 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Ultra Pixel Survive ($1.99 from $4.99 until 3/14)
Witchy Life Story ($13.99 from $19.99 until 3/14)

That’s all for today, friends. Tomorrow is Thursday and it’s looking like a beefy one, with more than twenty-five games on the schedule right now and more sure to turn up as the day goes on. We’ll do our best with it. Any sales and major news items that roll in will also be included, of course. I hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday, and as always, thanks for reading!