Friday 3 May 2019

A Coffee or A Game?

Two games a year; one for Christmas and one for my Birthday. When it came to new games I didn’t get access to many growing up. It’s understandable when you consider that most top tier AAA console titles of yesteryear were more expensive than they are now (and that doesn’t even factor in inflation)! A new and desirable Super Nintendo game twenty years ago would sell for as much as £60, while lesser desirable games would rarely drop below £30. It’s easy to see why Video Gaming has often been called an expensive hobby, but times have changed.

While the likes of ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ and ‘Legend of Zelda : Breath of the Wild’ still carry £50 price tags, digital distribution has meant players today can get games for much less. Some of the Switch’s top titles can infact only be bought this way. ‘Stardew Valley’, ‘Shovel Knight’ and ‘Celeste’ are often considered the best games on the console, yet all are (currently at least) download only and available for less than half the price of Nintendo’s most desirable physical releases.

Digital Distribution of console games undeniably exists because of the growth of mobile phone games. Since their debut, platforms like the App Store and Google Play have been awash with countless games that can be bought for less than £1. The problem is that knock-offs, shovel ware, homework assignments and quick cash-ins seem to vastly our number superior game-apps by celebrated recognised developers. The quality threshold certainly seems low on most digital distribution services which is why gamers weren’t too thrilled by an announcement made at Nintendo's 78th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders. It was revealed that the company's goal was to release "around 20 to 30 indie games on Nintendo Switch per week". Critics worried that Nintendo were following other platforms in the belief that quantity was more desirable than quality. Thankfully it seems that Nintendo have been more selective than most, and the barrier for entry is higher than many other digital distribution service.

The best eShop games are, for the most part, given their time in the sun. With Nindie Showcases and dedicated sections on the online shop, Nintendo are keen to tell the World when exciting titles are due to be released on the Switch. That being said, there are many enjoyable games that are often overlooked, and sometimes it’s because of their low price.

Many perhaps burnt by bad past purchases experiences; simply ignore games that are too cheap. Some believe that they’ll be getting an incomplete experience, with the majority of the content locked behind additional in-app purchases. Others are convinced that a bargain price will mean a bargain experience.

Clearly the Switch eShop isn’t without its share of sub-par, cheap and nasty games. Nintendo should be ashamed to have approved the sale of ‘Pure / Electric Love’ for example. However, there are a few surprisingly good games that can be bought for less than the price of a coffee.

So let’s presume your coffee of choice is a Large Skinny Vanilla Spice Latte priced at £3.75. If you forgo your beverage of choice for one day, which Digital Nintendo Switch games could you buy? Are there any budget priced games that are more appealing than a daily dose of caffeine, sugar and frothy milk?

For purpose of this test, games temporarily on sale are not being considered. Although not as extensive as those seen on Steam, the eShop regularly boasts impressive discounts that see the prices of many premium titles slashed. Fantastic games like ‘Sub Surface Circular’, ‘Pan Pan’ and even ‘Oxenfree’ have in the past been reduced so much that they could have been bought for this modest budget. However, without permanent price drops there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find them at the same price I've seen them for. Similarly, free-to-play games and demos are also being ruled out. Although there are many games that don’t have an entry fee, freemium games are never truly free and often players spend more than they would wish to get the experience promised.

So of the thousands of games listed on the eShop, 46 games are currently less than £3.75 at full price.

Five stand out from the crowd.

£3.59 gets you ‘Shut Eye’. Viewed from a child’s perspective, this horror game sees you attempting to keep your anxiety under control as you explore a nightmarish bedroom. Inspired by games like ‘Five nights at Freddy’s’, ‘Gone Home’ and ‘PT’, it’s a genuinely unnerving experience, at least initially. The simple goal of the game is to fend off demonic toys across seven increasingly more arduous nights. The only thing that will keep them at bay is a music box and your flashlight. Annoyingly to keep that powered you’ll have to explore the child’s bedroom, in the hope of finding additional batteries.

With realistic graphics and disturbing ambient sounds it’s an engaging game, but hugely limited character movement and very restricted exploration means the novelty will wear off quickly. It’s an engaging experience, but one with little replay value. It will probably last as long as it takes to drink a large coffee - provided you factor in the time it takes to cool.

Those of a more sensitive disposition may prefer to spend their £3.59 on ‘Grid Mania’, an intriguing ball based puzzle game. In it you have to place coloured spheres on a corresponding space within a multicoloured game grid. However, the challenge comes from the fact you can't just move one ball at a time, as, like a Rubik's Cube, entire rows move together. After some gentle introductory levels, the stages become very taxing with new grids filled with more colours to contend with. While on casual mode you have an infinite amount of rotations, quick challenge mode limits the number of moves you can make to complete a conundrum.

Like all the best puzzle games, solving a more taxing stage is hugely satisfying. However the game does feel like the developers saw a puzzle in a ‘Professor Layton’ game and simply expanded upon it. ‘Grid Mania’ is fun to dip into for a quick go, maybe while sat in a coffee shop drinking your normal Large Skinny Vanilla Spice Latte.

Continuing a ball theme, for the same £3.59 price you could splash out on ‘1680 The Moon’. In this primitive looking monochrome game, rather than placing many colourful balls you must instead bounce a single white one across a stage filled with vanishing ledges and hazards. Even though the screen scrolls horizontally, the true gameplay gimmick involves the vertical axis: The top and bottom of the levels are linked so passing through one screen edge brings you out from the other. As you move through this short four hour long game, you’ll find the puzzling stages become more complex. However, playing them is a pleasure thanks to the superb tranquil soundtrack. Sounding like a relaxation CD, it’s the type of music you’d hear in a posh cafe that serves almond milk and home-made brownies.

Spending a pound less gets you ‘Red Game Without a Great Name’. This £2.69 title involves guiding a mechanical bird to a cage by teleporting through stylish steam punk silhouette levels. Perhaps inspired by ‘Limbo’, you will weave through narrow passageways and between imposing structures that are lined with wind milling saw blades, barbed wire and spikes. As the game was originally a 2015 mobile (and PSVita Game) its touch controls mean it can only be played in the Switch’s handheld mode. Bird manipulation involves holding down a finger to extend a dotted trajectory line, in the hope you’ll pass over danger and land in safe areas. It’s a simple premise that gets more and more complicated across the games’ 60 perpetually scrolling levels. However occasional exceptionally harsh levels pose difficulty spikes that may frustrate and irritate some players. It’s a feeling that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s made a purchase in a coffee shop but can't find anywhere to sit because every seat is taken up by aspiring lap-top tapping authors working on their novel.

For 89p ‘Sky Peace’ is currently the cheapest game you can buy on the Switch eShop, which makes the quality all the more surprising. Playing like a horizontal shooter (without bullets) a player’s goal is to pick which lane an adorable anime character should fly in to collect as many coins as possible. High Scores are the only objective in a game that is functionally identical to dozens of other available mobile phone games. However, this gameplay style is actually somewhat unexplored on the Switch making the game feel like a novelty. It’s cheap but well done, and ‘Sky Peace’ has that all important “one more go” appeal that’ll keep most players coming back again and again. Besides, at less than 90p you can simply down-grade your coffee from a large to a small and have saved enough to play this while still enjoying your favoured hot beverage. 

Much like the menu at a generic chain Coffee shop, for less than £3.79 there seems to be something for everyone on the Nintendo eShop. None of these games will be considered the best on the system and you’ll play them all for less time than a single more expensive title, but for the price it’s difficult to be too critical. They all feel complete experiences, polished and imaginative.

Gamers today often forget how lucky they are. Competition in the market has lead to a drop in prices and while it may take time to find the diamonds-in-the-rough, the eShop likely has a cheap game that would appeal to you and it’s probably worth giving up a coffee for.

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