๐Ÿ•ต️ Pecaminosa | Review | Nintendo Switch |7/10 | "Pass me that Mack Daniels, Thin Lizzy" ๐Ÿ•ต️ @Pecaminosagame #GameDev #IndieGames

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Heavy on the pop culture references, smoky jazz and cigarettes, Pecaminosa is a game that really sucked me in hard, like the first cigarette of the morning along with a hot cup of coffee but it did lose focus in the latter sections, maybe all that whisky started to make things a bit wobbly...

You play as town drunk - and ex-cop - John Souza, a man who lives in Pecaminosa, a border town near Mexico seemingly sometime in the early ‘50s. One night, Souza is visited by a ghost and his two spectral henchmen and they give you a hit list of your associates to make your way through, in order for you to get to heaven. Go on, get those boozy wings, Souza!

Presented in a top-down and pixel art format, the visuals are really tasty and crisp in either portable or docked mode on the Switch. From the chunky, Darkside Detective-Esque character portraits that slowly fill up the in-game compendium to the beautiful artwork that makes up the title screen and smaller, more detailed sprite-work in-game. 

The music is also tantalisingly close to being amazing. There’s a really smooth jazz vibe going on with harmonica, lazy drums and piano making up a lot of the soundtrack, giving off an aura of late-night, underground clubs so tangible that you can almost taste the Chesterfield smoke being blown out of the mouths of red-lipped broads. The only issues I had with the soundtrack were the few times I could hear the music looping - a real pet peeve of mine - and the fact that sometimes, the shorter tracks get repetitive when you stay in a certain section too long, which ties into another problem that I had with the game, one that I’ll get into later.

The reason I’ve held off on talking about the gameplay so long is that I adored the first half of the game so much. I don’t think I’ve ever agonised over scoring a game for so long. This is the first game I believe I’ve played that was developed in The Azores and I really took into account the small team and price of the game to reach the 7 I awarded Pecaminosa because the game very much feels like one of two halves. Flawed, yes,  but it gets so much right for those first hours of play, not just in terms of mood and atmosphere but also in some neat, subtle detective touches.

The game begins with a mission that requires you re-acquire your old gun from a pawnshop. As you walk the eternal night of Pecaminosa, you’ll pass various bars, casinos - in which you can actually play cards to win more chips, the in-game currency - and a handful of places that will clearly act as mission focal points later on. Beyond searching the sewers and punching bins for pick-ups (whisky for health, cigarettes for a luck boost and universal bullets for your weapons) there are no enemies and it’s oddly zen to listen to that mellow jazz soundtrack as you potter from place to place, mentally noting all of the music and movie references you come across, both in dialogue and the environment.

Minimalist as this was, I was hips deep in talking to the different characters, getting involved in the occasional shootout - more on the combat later - and meeting the handful of wonderful clichรฉs that make up the citizens of Pecaminosa. The whole approach really appealed to the Amiga lover in me as this felt - up until now - that it could almost be a lost Amiga classic due to its style presentation. There is a section of the game whereby you must bypass a curious police officer by using information available in your menus and compendium through a series of questions, it’s a criminally underused and fun mechanic that quite frankly, I would have been happy for the game to have been entirely based around.

Essentially, I was really enjoying the game until I caught the train out of town to search for a mansion in the desert. It’s here that things started to grate a little. The jaunty music in this section, due to the gameplay of just wandering around, killing the same mix of enemies over and over in a samey landscape took the audio from being zen and hypnotic to repetitive and irritating and there were some design choices that focused on the twin-stick shooter aspects that highlighted the weaker parts of the game and a real blow for me was the artificial extension of game length through introducing forced back-tracking. Completely at odds with the always available taxi service (which I never used in the town itself as I enjoyed wandering around so much), the only way I can explain this desert section is to go into detail of the process I seemingly had to follow.

I headed into the desert with around three hundred bullets (the machine gun uses three at a time and the shotgun, five) and began wandering aimlessly for a ruined church that marked the correct path. After a while - and running low on ammo - I got jumped by a giant scorpion and maimed. As there are no save points in this section of the game, I was back in town.

Pawning a load of smokes, I turned in all my chips for more ammo and health and headed back to the desert, where I eventually found the church and, from there, the mansion. Outside of which was the pawnshop owner who offered to take me back to town for 100 credits, which I did…to find that I had to manually find my way back to the mansion from scratch as the trip is one way, it doesn’t open up a fast-travel point.

Again, buying up a load of supplies, I made the journey, but this time, there were no enemies, so I was literally retracing my steps with no threat... just THAT music for company. When I finally made it through the mansion and had defeated several bosses, as I was about to enter a portal and face another boss (in quick succession), the game warned me that I had better make sure that I had enough ammo and health…you know what that meant, back through the mansion, to the town and all the way back again. It really felt like a way of extending the game run time at the expense of player patience.

There’s a possibility that I missed a fast travel point but I really don’t think that I did. During this part of the game, I realised that I hadn’t explored the graveyard and so I headed all the way through the multiple floors, killing numerous spiders and zombies, solved a zodiac-themed puzzle that opened a door…and nothing.

I contacted the developer as I assumed this was a bug but apparently, the game branches off at a certain boss fight and this area is no longer required (the developers seem like great guys), he advised that a patch would be put in place that makes it clearer to the player that this is a dead-end, which would definitely stop a lot of emails and forum posts in future.

Pecaminosa is a game that tries to get a lot going on and would really have benefitted from a tighter focus. The upgrade system, ability to swap clothes, multiple boss fights, initial inventory management and storage that quickly falls by the wayside - due to only really needing health and ammo from pretty early on - and the really shaky final third act detracts from what starts off as a real hidden gem on the Switch.

"Right, I’m off to have a few Mack Daniels at the Thin Lizzy bar, you know the one, just off Penny Lane…. near Abbey Road."

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