I don’t think a week goes by without at least a dozen new releases on Nintendo Switch, and almost always with at least a few real gems among them. April was no exception, with headline acts like Atelier Mysterious Trilogy Deluxe Pack, New Pokemon Snap (review incoming!), and SaGa Frontier Remastered (though I reviewed the PS4 version). There are plenty of other noteworthy releases and curiosities among those big hitters, though—here are some mini-reviews of a few other games I’ve been playing on Switch, including Shantae, R-Type Final 2, and Kingdom of Arcadia.
It looks primitive now, but when Shantae originally came out in 2002, it was an incredible technical achievement. One of the last Game Boy Color games—released after the launch of the Game Boy Advance, no less—it pushed Nintendo’s older handheld to its absolute limit, with a level of detail, vibrancy, and fluid animation that looked like it should be impossible for the hardware it was running on. But more importantly than that, it also introduced the world to Shantae, the endearing half-genie hero whose misadventures have built up a legion of fans in the years since.
A Switch release of that first outing is a wonderful opportunity to remember—or, for newer Shantae fans, to discover—where it all began. It’s a delightful game, combining precision platforming, a light dose of Metroid-ish exploration, a cast of delightful oddballs, and a world that comes alive in a way that no other Game Boy game ever has. Shantae’s unique ability to transform into different creatures through a dancing minigame is something that’s not quite like anything else, even today.
It’s still a Game Boy game from 2002, though, and it shows its age in attacks that can be a little imprecise and monsters that have a nasty tendency to attack from offscreen or suddenly spawn underneath your feet with no warning. But with save state support baked into the Switch version, those issues are reduced to quaint relics of their time that are easily worked around, rather than sources of frustration. The Switch version also comes with both the GBC version and the “GBA-enhanced” version (which improved the colour display and added a few extras when playing on Game Boy Advance), and an image gallery full of concept art and maps for the labyrinths you’ll explore in Shantae.
With the latest re-release of Shantae, the entire series is now readily available on Nintendo Switch. It’s a delightful franchise that’s gone from strength to strength over the past 20 years, and to have the game that started it all easily accessible, with the convenience of save states to help work around some of its more dated elements, is a true joy.
R-Type Final 2 (Switch)
R-Type Final, originally released for PlayStation 2 in 2003, was meant to be the swansong for this beloved shoot-’em-up series. But nostalgia, the appeal of Kickstarter as an avenue to drum up support for rebooting dormant classics, and the relative success of R-Type Dimensions EX means R-Type is back from the dead—and with R-Type Final designer Kazuma Kujo at the helm, it should be a surefire hit.
Indeed, R-Type Final 2 hits all the right notes that make the series as memorable as it is. Detachable weapon drones that perform differently depending on when they’re free-flying or docked, a powerful beam cannon that leaves you vulnerable for a few seconds while it charges, and the ability to manually adjust your speed through four stages create a methodical, tactical, almost rhythmic approach to shooting. Level design full of obstacles, low ceilings, and uneven floors—generally non-hazardous, thankfully—encourages clever use of space over raw firepower, and even the most basic enemies require a little bit of thought in how you approach them.
It’s got all the strange bio-experimental foes and decaying organic scenery that give R-Type its unique, grisly look and uncomfortable atmosphere. Unlockable ships—99 of them, though some are locked Kickstarter backer rewards and DLC that’s not yet available—are a big focus of R-Type Final 2, and taking a new ride out for a spin and trying out its unique loadout is always a lot of fun. Customisation is a big deal, too, with a variety of colour options for each ship and plenty of decals to unlock.
But for all its classic R-Type appeal and wealth of unlockables, it’s also an uneven, frustrating game, especially on Switch. Dying often as you figure out the puzzles that make up each level is an expected (and even enjoyable) part of any R-Type, but fuzzy resolution and inconsistent frame rates make it harder than it should be to keep track of your own hitbox and maneuver around enemy bullets. Lengthy load times on Switch make every death far more tedious than it should be, too—that’s always going to be annoying, but especially so when you’ve died because of a sudden frame dip or because of a sneaky enemy bullet that you couldn’t properly see.
R-Type Final 2 is a worthy revival of an iconic shoot-’em-up series, with plenty of ships to unlock and exciting new levels to explore. But with performance struggles that can create unfair, unexpected failures in a game that’s already pretty challenging to begin with, Switch isn’t the way to play this one.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.
Kingdom of Arcadia (Switch)
Let’s be clear: despite being described as such, Kingdom of Arcadia is not a metroidvania. It’s a simple, straightforward action platformer that sends you travelling through a series of discrete levels in order to fight a boss at the end of each zone, with upgrades in the form of simple damage and health improvements. There’s a very light touch of exploration within each individual level, as you move around a maze-like level in search of switches that will open the path to the exit, but none of the grand, interwoven level design and upgrade-based progression that defines a metroidvania.
With that out of the way, Kingdom of Arcadia isn’t a bad game by any means, but it’s an unremarkable one. If you’ve ever played an action platformer, you’ve played this one: run through each level, hit things with your sword, collect coins, find your way to the exit, move onto the next one. Use gold you’ve found to upgrade your equipment in a strictly linear fashion, and then when you finally kill the boss of a zone, you get a magical artifact that unlocks the next one so you can do it all again.
This isn’t to say it’s not a fun game, it’s just a very generic one, with a standard premise (kid gets sucked into a videogame) and a basic fantasy world. It’s a stock-standard action platformer—nothing more, nothing less—and if you enjoy the genre’s no-nonsense fun and you’re not concerned at a lack of bells and whistles, you’ll like this one too. On the other hand, if you’re coming in expecting a metroidvania because the game’s own description calls it such, prepare to be a little disappointed.
Review copies of the games covered in this article were provided to Shindig by their publishers.