They Can’t Stop the Gaming

Welcome to Save State, where I play random indie games and tell you about the experience. Over the last few weeks, I’ve platinumed Elden Ring, had a water main break, and then lost electricity because of rogue tree-cutters taking out the transformer on the utility pole in front of my house. I’m not saying these three things are related, I’m simply stating that I’m probably too awesome for my utility companies to handle me, right now. Clearly it was a situation of Vincent OP: Please nerf, just like the Sword of Night and Fire in Elden Ring.

Since that day, my power has been flickering on and off at random times and without warning, so I’ve been playing more games on my Switch. Nintendo’s little handheld is fantastic for playing in the dark and wondering how life brought you to this point, and of course, like any respectable Switch owner I wound up browsing the e-shop via mobile hotspot just to see what was on sale. A game with a particularly bombastic art style leapt out at me- Steel Assault, some kind of platform action game. “I haven’t played something like Gunstar Heroes or Contra in a long time. This’ll be a nice change of pace from all of the metroidvanias and roguelikes I’ve been playing.” Before I knew it, the game had already been installed on my Switch and I was off to the races- I’m apparently very compulsive when I’m sitting in the dark with nothing much else to do.

Steel Assault’s opening is eye-catching and explosive: phenomenal pixel art flies at the viewer in rapid succession, distinctly presenting to you the preview scrawls that would show up on old arcade machines, mixed with a modern anime flair. Steel Assault looks positively gorgeous. The slick, super-saturated pixel art and special effects, from rain to explosions, enraptures the player in the action, just like in old Genesis games like Gunstar Heroes. There’s even a bilinear and CRT filter that are quite convincing, more so than the filters of most retro game collections from way bigger developers, though I eventually wound up turning them off because my old man eyes were having difficulty distinguishing some of the flashing projectiles from the background with the blur filter switched on.

Steel Assault is very reminiscent of old 2D arcade games of the days of yore- those quarter eaters that you’d spend your entire allowance on just so you could tell your friends that you made it to level 3 without spending any extra money. You primarily play as a character with a bionic arm, your weaponry replete with an electric whip and a zip line you can fire to dodge attacks or climb through areas. There are powerups you can find, such as a shield or an electric charge that allows your whip to fire a projectile, but those power ups are limited in use, though you can extend their benefits by destroying enemies point blank to acquire cores that charge up your subweapons.

The challenge of Steel Assault is in how most enemies have projectile weapons, but you have greater mobility and a whip that can cancel out most enemy bullets. This creates a fast and frenetic kind of gameplay where you’ll whip away some projectiles, jump and use a zip line to cross a gap, double jump over more projectiles, and finally whip a particular enemy until it explodes. Controls are tight, and enemy placement is specifically designed in a way that challenges you to approach cautiously, but quickly, else you be overwhelmed by enemy bullets. The zip line mechanic, combined with a double jump and an invincible slide ability, combine in a way that gives you ton of maneuverability as you cut swaths through hordes of enemy robots.

The campaign mode of the game sends you on a quick tour of the game’s five levels, and while it also gives you some background on what the protagonist is doing at each location, the main draw is that should you die, you’re sent back to the most recent checkpoint. Arcade mode, on the other hand, gives you a warning about being meant for skilled action platformer players, and it means it: Dying in arcade mode means getting sent back to the beginning of the game. That being said, the difficulty is quite customizable- I played on normal mode, but should you find that too difficult, there is an easy an expert mode to fine tune the difficulty more to your liking.

Steel Assault is a game that looks fantastic in motion. There’s oftentimes a ton of visual effects, like rain or billowing, fiery smokestacks of a nuclear plant in the background. The audio of the game is incredibly catchy- some tracks sound like they’d be right at home in a playlist next to Mega Man X6, one of the highest compliments I can give (which, as well all know, has the best soundtrack of the PSX Mega Man X titles, even if everything else was half-baked). You can’t listen to the first stage’s song and tell me that it’s anything short of fantastic. There are people who can say Steel Assault has a bad soundtrack, and then there are people with correct opinions, it’s honestly that simple.

Steel Assault is a 2D action platformer, and it stands head and shoulders with other titles in its genre. It has no ranking system like Mega Man Zero, but anyone who enjoys those games would be right at home playing Steel Assault with very little issue. If you enjoyed Strider 2, Bionic Commando, or a wide variety of similar games, Steel Assault would be right up your alley. Like those games, however, Steel Assault is also very, very short. It’s an arcade-style game with an emphasis on replayability, and it likely won’t take you more than an hour to clear the game.

While Steel Assault is a fairly short game, it’s challenging in all the right ways, as everything is avoidable with the right timing. Getting attacked by a giant, metal worm with laser cannons while you’re on a small hover transport might seem too challenging to avoid some of its charging attacks… until you just jump off the transport and use your zip line to stick to the bottom, causing the worm to miss completely. It’s a quick little game that will make you feel like a golden gaming god, especially when you clear it on expert mode after an hour’s worth of attempts. Steel Assault is absolutely the definition of, “Here for a good time, not a long time” and is an easy recommendation to any 2D action game fan.

Of course, Steel Assault wasn’t the only game I’ve played in the last couple weeks while sitting in the dark. Rune Factory 5 released with very little fanfare- in fact, I didn’t even remember the game had released until my copy showed up at my door.

Rune Factory is a series that marries old style Story of Seasons gameplay with the elements of an action JRPG. You always begin as an amnesiac protagonist taken in by a group of friendly townsfolk, you’re given a field you can attend in order to grow a wide variety of crops, the ability to capture monsters and have them work for you, and JRPG combat whose ease is directly influenced by how much you’ve grinded your various crafting skills to make strong gear. There’s also romance and a wide variety of side activities, from festivals to mining to fishing.

Rune Factory 5 is similar to Frontier or Tides of Destiny in how they approach the camera. Rune Factory 1-4 were all presented from a top-down perspective, while Frontier, Tides, and 5 have all taken a more fully 3D approach. You’re given a plot of land within minutes of starting up the game, and you’re sent to the request board to complete various tasks for the villagers of Rigbarth. As you complete tasks, you’ll become closer with villagers

Farming is one of your primary methods of making money, and you can use fertilizer and formula to increase crop quality, yield, and rate of growth to make even more money. Leveling crops works just like it does in Rune Factory 4: use fertilizer to increase a turnip’s quality, then use a scythe to cut the fully grown turnip to get seeds of a higher quality, then sell those seeds so stores begin stocking them. You can then use that money to fund purchasing new gear, or materials to make gear of your own, more furniture, upgrades to stores in town, or generally just become a kingpin of the 1%. Honestly, the world is your oyster, and Rune Factory is very accepting of just allowing the player to enjoy the game at their own pace.

Upon leaving the town, the player will encounter multitudes of monsters that you can either steal items from, capture, or defeat to earn delicious skill experience. Building a monster barn will give you a place to stick your captured monsters, and once you get them to like you enough, you can put them to work watering your crops for you, too. You have a variety of weapons you can use to defeat foes, like short swords, long swords, hammers, and even punching gloves that let you do throws once you level up the skill enough. As with any Rune Factory, everything you do from eating to sleeping can level up and provide you with a stats bonus, but leveling up your weapon stats will do all of that plus give you access to new powerful techniques, as well!

There’s a variety of quality of life improvements from Rune Factory 4, for those returning fans who may occasionally read this column. The map and mini-map will both show where villagers are, making it easy to find and follow up with characters you’d like to speak or give gifts to. Story, villager, and romance events all have indicators you can see on the map, which is an absolute godsend, and quite possibly the best change made in this iteration. No longer will players have to hunt all over the place and waste time trying to find where the next event occurs.

Each previous 3D Rune Factory game had some kind of issue, however. Frontier on the Wii was effectively the “perfect” Rune Factory, but the Runey system completely made that game a slog to play by the end of the first year if you didn’t know to maintain it (using a cheat code to “freeze” the Runey system makes it easily the best 3D Rune Factory as it has fantastic characters, systems, and places to explore). Tides of Destiny on the PS3 had poor performance and was even grindier than Frontier, streamlining farming systems only to make you grind even more. Rune Factory 5, at least of time of this writing, seems to be much more in line with Rune Factory 4’s formula but with better graphics, so it’s great in terms of gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, it has some of the worst performance in a Marvelous game.

Rune Factory 5 runs poorly on the Switch- almost abysmally so. Entering or leaving a building will often result in the game freezing up for a moment, and frame drops in Rune Factory 5 aren’t a noteworthy event because they’re simply occurring all the time. While farming, even doing something as simple as busting a boulder with your hammer, the game will lag pretty heavily and it feels like inputs get missed relatively often. Usually in combat that’s less of an issue, but frame drops happen while fighting monsters too. Strangely, and this is anecdotal, performance seems better while undocked than docked, though that could be placebo of some kind.

I haven’t been able to play Rune Factory 5 enough to truly talk about its positives or flaws, so this is more a preview for an upcoming review. Just having cleared the first few dungeons and bosses, it’s without a doubt that Rune Factory 5 has a very solid core of an action RPG- it’s just the sluggish performance that weighs the experience down, a bit. That being said, I believe we can safely bring this instance of Save State to a close. Join us again in two weeks’ time so I can gush to you about more indie games or RPGs I stumble upon!

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