MetalFRO's Blog

Posted on May 8th 2019 at 12:00:00 PM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Switch N Shoot, Nintendo, Switch, eShop, download, shooter, shmup, shooting game, STG, shoot em up, Galaga, indie game

Title screen image shamelessly linked from Cliqist

Do you like Galaga? Do you like Space Invaders? Do you like Gorf? What about Phoenix? If you like blasting alien baddies in 8-bits, with simple, arcade style and fun, then boy, have I got a game for you! Switch 'N' Shoot, on the Nintendo Switch, might just scratch that old school arcade shooter itch you've been nursing.

Everyone on this site knows by now, I'm a huge shmup fan. I've made it no secret, and since hosting the RF Generation Shmup Club, and Shoot the Core-cast companion podcast, I think it's been exceedingly clear that shoot-em-ups are, far and away, my favorite genre of game. But when people think of classic shooting games, those conversations don't always go back any further than Gradius, or R-Type. Some folks talk about earlier games, like Xevious, or 1942, but rarely do they go back as far as the oldest titles I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Until shooting games started to actually scroll, it seems like those earlier titles often get relegated to inspiration for a budding genre, rather than the first wave of games that belong to it. I'm of the mind that Space Invaders is every bit the shooter that Darius is, just from an earlier time, and with much simplified mechanics, because it was a formative release. I see no separation between the old guard and the new, only time markers that signify when particular innovations were introduced to the genre. Early games like Xevious and Vanguard introduced fixed scrolling to the genre, Defender brought independent scrolling and 2-way movement on board, and so forth. It's all part of the same lineage, no matter what.

Each time you start a new game, your pilot is given a unique, random name.

It might seem counter-intuitive, then, in 2019, to introduce a game that hearkens back to the simplistic shooting game days of yore, rather than trying to make the most crazy bullet hell shooter of the modern day. Not so much, as has been proven by the popularity of classic shooting game compilations from Psikyo, the recent Darius Cozmic Collection, or the new Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection on the Switch. Even more so, there have been other games that throw back to older formulas, like Black Bird, which pulls from the Defender and Fantasy Zone school of design, or Hyper Sentinel, which channels (if not rips off) the Commodore 64 classic, Uridium, and both have had success doing so. With that in mind, does Switch 'N' Shoot do justice to its inspirations? Follow me, gentle reader, and I shall elucidate.

The best early arcade games did one thing, and did it well. There's a reason that, 40 years later, people still play Space Invaders. It's no surprise that PAC-MAN is still popular. And Galaga is as well loved, as it is iconic. Each of these games took a very simple formula and executed it well. This game could never be accused of being overly complex, because it's really very simple: you have exactly one button to press. ONE. Does that sound boring to you? Don't let it, because that simplicity is quite deceptive. Underneath a single action button and a simple, clean 8-bit aesthetic, is a game that has plenty of strategy and some depth to it. That also reflects the best classic arcade games.

That yellow plus sign is a power-up. Grab it quick!

The formula starts out very simple. Your single action button serves a dual purpose. When you press it, your ship starts moving, and will shoot a single shot, or volley. Press it again, and your ship changes directions (you can only go left or right), and will shoot another volley. If you don't press the button again, your ship will continue to travel the direction it was last going, and wrap around the screen. If you collide with an enemy, you die. Each time you play the game, you start in Sector 1, and you have 1 life. A single chance to fend off the alien horde, and make a name for yourself as a star pilot. As you go through a sector, you will see falling plus sign icons. Each time you collect one, you'll power up, and your shot will become larger, and cover more area. You'll see the bar at the top of the screen fill in. At power-level 3, your shot becomes a double-shot. At level 4, it becomes a 3-way shot. At level 5, you get a thin laser that shoots out from your ship, that instantly decimates any enemy that crosses its path. Sounds simple, right?

It sure does! But here's where the game begins to show its subtle complexities, under the surface. Once you reach power level 5, the sides of the screen become inflamed, and you can no longer rely on your ability to wrap around the screen. If you touch the wall of fire on either side, you die. Also, if you miss a power-up icon as it falls from the top of the screen, your ship powers down a level. In addition, as you progress through a level and collect power-ups, more enemies begin appearing, and more quickly. This makes sense, given the increased firepower you can wield. But missing a power-up means you'll have more to deal with, because the enemies won't let up, just because you powered down. If that weren't enough, as you go further into a sector, after achieving power level 5, the walls of flame on either side begin to encroach upon the play field, making things even more precarious. You quickly go from learning a simple, one-button game mechanic, to juggling several mechanics in the span of about 30-40 seconds.

The wall of flame means you can't wrap around the screen.
Thankfully, the triple shot helps clear the field.
Also, did I mention this game supports tate mode?

Thankfully, upon collecting a 6th power-up, you are warped to the next sector. You start off at power level 0 again, and enemies don't come at you as quickly as they did toward the end of the previous sector. However, the enemy appearance rate does increase slightly, as you move to Sector 2, and again to Sector 3. Each time you warp, you find that the subsequent sector is just a little bit more challenging than the previous one. This game presents a nice, natural difficulty curve, that eases you into a false sense of security. You can start a run with confidence in your skill, having reached Sector 3 in the previous game, and then bite it after shooting down 2 enemies on the next run, because you didn't time your button press correctly, or misjudged an enemy's position on screen, relative to how quickly you could get beneath them to fire, or you hesitated just a moment too long, and ran into an enemy, versus turning around. Each run has unlimited potential for success...and just as much potential to bomb out in the first 5 seconds.

To help break up the monotony, when you reach Sector 4, you're greeted with your first boss fight. This giant space squid creature releases enemies at you from its, erm, underside, and you need to shoot them down. When the boss opens its eyes, you can shoot them, and after shooting both eyes, it releases a power-up you need to collect. Every so often, the boss will shoot a giant laser from its mouth. You have a moment to get out of the way, because it proceeds this volley with a sound effect, and a graphical tell that shows you where it's going to fire the laser from. Rinse and repeat until you fully power-up your ship, and take out the menace, to proceed to Sector 5. This is a nice change of pace from what came before, even though each Sector can be as short as 45 seconds or a minute, depending on whether or not you miss a power-up.

Switch 'N' Shoot offers a number of pre-built palettes to choose from.
You also get a fair bit of snark from the creature who sends you off to die.

Along the way, starting in Sector 2, you also have a shield power-up you can obtain. Every so often, an enemy will go across the screen horizontally, rather than descending from the top of the screen. If you shoot this foe down, you'll see a special plus sign icon fall, and if you grab it, you get a one-hit force field that will protect you from damage. I say one-hit, because it only takes 1 enemy collision, or running into the flame wall, to dissipate it. However, after you take that hit, the shield flashes for a couple seconds before it disappears completely, so sometimes, you can take advantage of that bit of time, much like i-frames after getting a power-up in some other games. This further enhances your ability to combat the alien menace, and makes a big difference in helping you get farther. Be careful, though: the shield hitbox is the shield itself. If one pixel of it overlaps with one pixel of an enemy sprite, or other obstacle, it's back to your feeble, single-hit self.

A couple nice features that enhance the game experience are its tate mode feature, the color palettes, and touchscreen controls. For the uninitiated, tate is the Japanese term that refers to a portrait, or vertical screen orientation. Much like a vertically oriented arcade shooter, rather than a 4:3 aspect ratio of a standard TV or monitor, those screens were flipped on their side, so the vertical space was favored to the horizontal. This game has the ability, simply by pressing the plus button on the Switch controller, to change from the horizontal view, with graphics on the sides, to the portrait view, in an instant. Playing in an undocked fashion, this gives you a lot of screen real estate to look at. Speaking of undocked mode, this also allows you to use the touchscreen, instead of pressing a button. For kids used to smartphone and tablet games, this will be a welcome feature, but it's also a choice that you might want to make, depending on how fast you can tap a screen, versus press a button. I've found myself holding my Switch in my hands, tapping the screen furiously over lunch breaks at work, as I try to work my way up through the various sectors in the game. It's a welcome addition, and one that gives the player greater choice; in a game with so little in the way of control, I think it was a wise decision to add the capability.

Sector 4 changes things up with a fun boss battle.

As mentioned, there are also various color palettes to choose from. There are built-in palettes you can choose from the start, many resembling a number of 8-bit microcomputers from the early 1980's. To be frank, some of these standard palettes, while evocative of that time, are rather gaudy, and hard on the eyes. Thankfully, as you play the game, achieve new high scores, and reach new areas, additional pre-built color schemes can be unlocked. Also, you have some ability to create your own, as well. You can change between the various motifs on the fly, using the L and R buttons on the controller or Joy-Con, and cycle through them, to find one that suits you. A word of warning - the black and red palette can be eye searing, so unless you're a big Virtual Boy aficionado, or really dig that color scheme, keep that in mind.

I've put some 10-15 hours (or more) into this game over the past few weeks. For a game that can last anywhere from 10 seconds to 4-5 minutes, depending on how well you play, that's a lot. It's a testament to both the pick up and play nature of it, and also the addictive quality the game has, and its staying power. Bright colorful graphics, catchy chiptune accompaniment and crisp sound effects, and a simple, sublime control scheme all combine to give this game a level of quality that raises it above the competition. From my perspective, it's greater than the sum of its parts, because it fuses everything together so well that it really creates more than just a game - it's an experience. I got lost in this game more than a few times. For something that takes the best qualities of a mobile game, and melds them to the best qualities of a good, classic arcade game, it has that "one more try!" sort of quality to it that is hard to pin down. That's the mark of a great game, and that's exactly what I think Switch 'N' Shoot is - a great game. I may have received a download of this for free, but I would gladly give my $5 for a copy, because it's worth every penny, and hopefully, the developer's generosity will be repaid through this review. Hopefully, some of you will pick it up, and get lost in it as I did, as you think back to childhood memories of plunking quarters into a Space Invaders or Galaga cabinet, and rekindle that love of simple, addictive arcade experiences.

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Did this start as a mobile game? It seems perfect for the mobile experience given the simplicity and one button nature of the mechanics. The back and forth is an interesting twist. I don't know if I'd enjoy it much for a long term session, but for a quick game on my phone while waiting around in the store or some similar circumstance, it'd be a great way to get in a quick shooter fix on the go. Thanks for highlighting it!
@zophar53: I believe it's a Switch exclusive, at this point.
This game definitely looks fun and interesting.  I really dig the graphics and sound (even more so since it is on Steam!), and would likely have purchased it even if the whole "one button" mechanic wasn't present.  I will definitely be picking it up in the future.  Thanks dude!
@bombatomba: You're welcome! And thank you, for bringing the Steam version to my attention! I wasn't aware that was a thing.

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