StarCrawlers (Review)

Source: Birthday Gift
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG

Being touched by knowledge of the Eldritch Thingumawotsits from The Dark Between The Stars is, it turns out, rather rough. But it does have its upsides. Being able to drain the shields of your enemies, smite them with pure Void… Yup, definitely has its compensations.

The bosses can get quite inventive, including this feller and his robo-dawgies. Git!

And this, funnily enough, is one of the things I like about StarCrawlers: Every class has its ups and downs, and, more importantly, its own flavour. So the temptation to have a save game in each class, so as to explore the story of the game from several perspectives, is definitely tempting. Even if I’m not actually the biggest fan of the Void Psyker due to the whole “Not so hot portrayal of mental health and occult stuff” being a roadblock for me.

In any case, StarCrawlers is a turn based, step based roleplaying game set in a corporate space opera universe, where everything moves when you do, your actions in combat have time costs that need to be considered, but it’s perfectly okay, because time doesn’t move on until you’ve had a cup of tea, a nice think, and then held down the mouse button, selected “MURDER THESE DAMN ENEMIES ALREADY”, and moved on. It does interesting things, like being able to look around while you explore, which you’ll need, as not everything is at eye level. I’ve found security panels and credsticks in some odd places, from next to desks, near the floor, and even, in a couple of cases, just lying, in a planter. Okay, not the security panel, but yeah, the game wants you to look around, and it demonstrates this by hiding things so that looking around nets you maximum loot. It’s also a fairly colourblind friendly game, and the UI is pretty clear.

If you don’t like the psychic darkside, then how about the power… To kill a droid from 200 yards away… WITH MIND BULLETS?!?

So, is there anything bad about the game? Well, apart from the characterisation of the Void Psyker, which is, tbqh, a hackneyed stereotype I’d really rather see less of, my main “complaints” are more like “niggles.” For optimal play, you will want a hacker and an engineer in your party, so as to, respectively, hack terminals and security panels, and fix shit that’s broken. The plot missions require a few level ups to get to, but this is actually okay because the generation of the levels keeps to a theme, and occasionally goes interesting places like the inside of mining asteroids and the like, while still making sure that secret doors aren’t blocked off, that once you know an area’s “theme”, you can quickly find security trip-lasers, secret door buttons, and, of course, the things likely to contain loot.

There’s a lot to StarCrawlers, but thankfully, it’s pretty accessible, from the Black Market to the faction system that can lead to assassins being sent after you by a corporation you’ve pissed off (In my runs, nearly always Chimera Corp, the Umbrella of the spaceways, but you might end up pissing off someone like Horizon Robotics or The Workers Union instead), it has an interesting universe, good sounds, good music, and clear visuals. I’d heartily recommend it to RPG fans, as it’s a good example of making a genre that occasionally gets bogged down in grogginess accessible to folks of all types.

“You don’t think it’s too subtle, Marty, you don’t think people are going to drive down and not see the door?”

The Mad Welshman inspires many a space psychic, being formed of the pure Dark Between The Genres.

EVERSPACE (Review)

Source: Birthday prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: SteamGOG

I do love me my first person space shooting games, and I do love me my procedural generation, so EVERSPACE (Capitals intended) continues to ring my bell in a most pleasing manner… With one exception: The story.

“Ye’re a Clone, ‘Arry!”
“You what?”
“A CLONE, ‘ARRY!”

More accurately, the fact that, once I’ve missed the story, that’s it, boom, it’s gone, it’s done, and you won’t see it again. I don’t mind so much that you don’t get new story until you reach the next sector, because honestly, the story is interesting, and takes a few twists and turns. Suffice to say, the strangeness of multiple pilots piloting what appears to be the same ship was indeed, as many players had speculated, that you are a clone. And that’s not a spoiler, because a) It was p. obvious, and b) It gets revealed in Sector 2. Of 7. And is foreshadowed from the start.

It’s kind of hard to write the release review at this point, because my opinion remains largely unchanged: The voice acting is excellent, while remaining down to earth (I especially like HIVE, the fussy, very snarky core of the AETERNA system of the ship you fly), the different ships definitely make for a different gameplay experience, and the dying while levelling up over time mechanic, that we’ve now seen in multiple games this month, let alone this year, remains a fairly decent way of lengthening play while not making it feel like grind (Even though that’s exactly what it is.) The handling is good, the music and sound design pleasing…

This screenshot, taken just moments before death, shows you a Bad Idea: Taking on an Okkar Corvette before you’re *damn good and ready*

… I am, however, the first to admit it’s not for everbody. You don’t get to keep money between runs, so unlocking your first other ship (From your two choices of the Scout or the Gunship) can feel extremely annoying, some of the achievements seem a little forced (No, really, what do I have against floodlights, of all things?), and, of course, space shooters in general are a genre that doesn’t have a great history accessibility wise, being hard to simplify and requiring a little bit of twitch to the old reflexes. Still, it’s got a lot going for it, and having a different ship does make for a somewhat different experience.

The scout, for example, can cloak, and begins with a charged sniping weapon and a beam laser, relying on speed, cloaking, and the limited automatic lock-on of the beam laser to win the day, while the Gunship has a top turret, heavier weapon loadouts, more armour… And begins with no shields, making it a battle of attrition until you get some. There are also skills that don’t depend on a ship, and it’s these I tend to prioritise while playing because… Honestly, who doesn’t want more credits, better resources, and the knowledge beforehand that if they go that way, they’ll encounter a terrifying black hole, and if they go that way, they’ll encounter an Okkar warship?

The Gunship remains my favourite.

Any which way, if you like space flight shooting type games, don’t mind the fact that you (currently) only get the story once, and will be seeing the early sectors a fair bit, then EVERSPACE is definitely worth a go. The story gets very interesting, fairly quickly, it has both 1st and 3rd person modes, an action cam for when you want to take ROCKING SCREENSHOTS, and the ship design is well worth a look.

“I think I’m getting the hang of thi-” is, perhaps, The Mad Welshman’s most common set of last words. TMWr1-46, 58-64, and 128-209 have all said such words before rejoining the star-stuff Carl Sagan said we’re all made of.

Golden Krone Hotel (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.10

With Golden Krone Hotel, we’re looking, once more, at a turn based hack with transformation as a core gimmick. Earlier this week, we took a look at Midboss, a game with similar themes, but the difference between these two games couldn’t be more stark than night and day. Which is fitting, considering the transformations in Golden Krone Hotel.

Hahaha, stupid humans can’t see in the dark (The game has, as of 0.10, a tutorial. It plays once, and gives you the absolute essentials quickly and efficiently)

The general idea is that you are a General, who is also an assassin, and you are infilitrating the Golden Krone Hotel, owned by a Vampire called Fane. Vampires and Humans uneasily co-exist here, and as such, you’re going to get into a fight whether you’re a vampire, a human, or, worst case scenario, a Werewolf, who nobody likes when they’re obviously being a Werewolf. So form, in this game, truly matters, and it matters in a number of ways. Vampires, for example, don’t read (No, don’t ask why, although I’ll be coming back to this), get damaged by sunlight and fire, but can see in the dark. Humans, on the other hand, can improve themselves, read, but can’t see in the dark and have to eat to survive. Werewolves are basically humans, but become murderbeasts in the full moon. And, depending on whether you’re a vampire or a human, vampires or humans will talk to you, telling you things.

In a way this, along with the narrative framing, are the weakest portions of the game. There’s not a lot folks have to say, except to remind you that General Arobase has a serious grudge against Fane, and couldn’t possibly be here (They’re a master of disguise, we couldn’t possibly be General Arobase!), and the roles of various human or vampire enemies. So if you’re playing for rich lore, or a deep story, look elsewhere, this isn’t exactly Bard material, and bits of it fall apart under scrutiny (Vampires not being able to read is purely a mechanical conceit, and not supported, as far as I can tell, anywhere narratively.)

“I hear this General Assassin who’s good at disguise is here, but you couldn’t *possibly* be them!”
Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Haaaaa.

But mechanically, the game is both strong and simple. Movement is in four directions, everything moves when you do, and you know exactly what to expect. Playing as a vampire, you can heal by licking up blood, and as a human, you can eat, heal if you have the skill, cast spells, and fire a revolver (With limited ammo.) What makes the game interesting, however, is that just because you start as a human or a vampire or a werewolf, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way, because some potions… Change you. And others will affect you differently depending on what form you’re in.

Demon’s blood, for example, will turn you into a vampire temporarily, but will also buff you if you are a vampire, while Luna potions will turn you into a werewolf, again, temporarily. And enemies will change their reactions accordingly. So, playing as a vampire, if you want access to spells, you drink a specific kind of potion, and bam, all those books you picked up are suddenly read, you have skills, you have extra stats (Which last beyond that human transformation), and you can read what lore there is, without having to worry about spellcasting humans. There’s also a fair amount of “neutral” enemies, who’ll try to kill you no matter what, from the get go. So there’s difference, and there’s interest, and everything is accessible and clear. Even the usual equipment problem is abstracted: Better equipment is kept, adding its bonus to your defense, melee, or revolver attack, and worse equipment is added to your score, measured in gold.

Just like Midboss, reviewed earlier this month, you attack enemies by walking into them or casting spells, and numbers happen. The spells, however, are more dynamic, and there’s more to do with the environment.

As such, if you’re looking for an entry level game to let you know what the fuss is with all these roguelikes, roguelites, roguelikelikelikesortas, and whosamaroguesits, Golden Krone Hotel is definitely not a bad start. It’s pretty colourblind friendly, clear in its concepts from the get go, and, being turn based, it doesn’t require manual dexterity or good reflexes to play. Its not the prettiest game out there, the music and sounds are okay at best, “meh” at worst, and you’re probably not playing it for the rich lore, but I would recommend this to both roguelike fans and people looking to understand what the fuss is about.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is not a master of disguise. Although he does enjoy throwing his disguise aside and cackling wildly. Perhaps that’s part of why…

Midboss (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£14.98 for game and soundtrack, £3.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It has always been the position of TMW that experimentation is good. It’s good to try new things, because by trying new things, exploring new possibilities, games as a whole improve. Unfortunately, while Midboss experiments, it also falls prey to the problems of genre past, and feels somewhat humdrum and unfriendly as a result. Let’s unpack that.

The game, essentially, is a turn based dungeon hack, where you play that most maligned of any Dungeon Lord’s denizens, the humble Imp. Except the Imp, rather annoyed at being the punching bag of all those skeletons and zombies, decides to finally use its power of possessing creatures to work its way up the hierarchy. Viva La Impvolution!

Alas, La Impvolution often ends quite quickly. Imps are not the beefiest revolutionaries.

And this, in the end, is its core gimmick. You have an ability in Imp Form, to mark an enemy for possession. Kill it, and you become it. Kill other creatures with it, and you unlock its powers. You then have the option of using those powers in imp form, and, if you’ve got all the skills, mastering the form, you can also gain their stats. It’s clever, it’s understated, and that understatement, along with the unfriendliness of the traditional roguelike, forms the main problems.

Yes, it’s nice to be a high damage skellington, for example. But animations are light on the ground, so combat is mostly “Bash self into enemy, numbers happen, enemy bashes itself into you, numbers happen.” It is more involved than that (Speed factors into how many turns you get to move and hit people versus them hitting you and moving, for example), but it rarely feels more involved than that. Similarly, you hit crates, cratefish (Normally a subject for a joke, but here, it’s just A Thing That Happens), yarn, and maybe items pop out. The items, except for potions, blend somewhat into the floor, it’s not always clear what kind of item they are due to this colourblind unfriendly problem, and, of course, in roguelike fashion, you don’t know what they are until you pick them up.

The game has “Retro modes” , shaders that appear mostly accurate to older graphical modes. Here’s the VIC-20, one of the *less* eye-searing ones.

There is a lot of vendor trash, so improving yourself equipment wise becomes an exercise in tedium, itself not helped by the fact that there is, as far as I am aware, one vendor, who is a cat, and may exist on any given dungeon level. See, again, potentially interesting and amusing thing, made humdrum. They accept balls of yarn as currency, and, for some reason, this Dungeon Lord keeps lots of bundles of yarn. No, I don’t particularly know either. There’s one kind of scroll that I’ve seen (Identify), a variety of potions, and skill/spell books, which let you use abilities without having the form equipped (A limited number of times.)

Even with the turn based nature of the game, odds are high you’ll forget that you can go into your inventory, right click a book or a potion, and lo, your odds of survival/damage/stunning/whatnots have improved… Because yes, you have to do this.

There are some nice touches to this game, don’t get me wrong. When you equip a form on top of another form, your palette changes to reflect this (So a vampire bat/skellington is a red skeleton, while a lightning bat/skellington is pale blue), and there are unlockable “Retro Modes”, basically palette accurate shaders of days gone by, from the eye-searing CGA palette (Pictured), to the more reasonable tones of the VIC-20 or C64. They don’t help the colour blind problems of the game (In fact, CGA makes it worse, because CGA was always a fucking terrible video mode), but they are somewhat nice.

When the majority of items are vendor trash, and there is only one vendor… Problems arise.

Overall, though, Midboss places me in an awkward spot. It’s not quite friendly enough to be a starter for folks wanting to get into Roguelikes, beyond its core gimmick, it isn’t quite interesting enough to recommend to Roguelike fans looking for something new… I could maybe recommend it to folks looking at game design and gimmicks that change gameplay, but otherwise… It just doesn’t really seem to get me going, and I don’t feel like I’m doing more than going through the motions when playing.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he watched the Imp. Soon, he would have to reveal himself, and he was getting really tired of saying “Yes! I WAS that sheep!”

Academagia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When it first came out, Academagia wowed people in the lifesim world with ripping yarns about life in a magical school. Now, the Steam version of Year 1 has hit, and the question has to be asked: How the heck is it?

Well, let’s get a thing out of the way first: If you do not like reading, then Academagia is not for you. Reading is, in fact, the majority of what you do in Academagia. And when you aren’t reading, you’re thinking of ways to have adventures while not skipping class, or what the heck to do. Because there’s a lot to explore, and considering a single playthrough can easily take a night away, it can at first be difficult to get into. It is not, it must be said, a terribly friendly game in a sense, as, while the character creation tries to explain things, it can often involve going back and forth between elements before finalising your character.

A swotty swot planning how to swot swottingly.

So this review is going to take the form of advice, if you like reading, how Academagia can be played a little more enjoyably.

Firstly, yes, you can go back and forth on character creation steps. You have points to spend on backgrounds and things, but you can go right back to stats if ideas present themselves. I often go for the Gift of Libraries, because I’m a swotty swot wot swots n wots, but you can be the child of a pirate, an athletic nobleman, the school gossip… There’s a lot of options, and at first it may seem like a mountain. Pick a path, get comfortable with it.

Read what things do as soon as you know about them. Academic success, for example, isn’t always dictated by the subject, but also by general exam discipline, knowledge in a secondary subject (Forging things, for example, is considered useful by Enchanters), and, of course, the odd spell to help you bone up.

The Steam version lets you resize and move panels. This is not advertised, but can be incredibly useful, especially when your specific resolution means that occasionally, it looks like you have a 0 in a subject, when actually, you’ve maxed it out.

He’s a *sneaky* little swot too, you can tell by the fact he’s maxed out his Glamour (Illusion) magic!

You have more options in dealing with a situation when you have a clique of friends (Kinda like a school gang, in a sense), but it’s by no means the only way forward, so if you feel like playing a loner bookworm (Hi), you can do so.

If you’re not a big fan of classical music, you can turn it off. Sadly, faces are pretty much set, and by college.

When it comes to skill chances, green text is good, blue is okay, black is 50/50, red is less than good, and purple is almost-no-chance. But just because it’s green… Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good choice. Sometimes a green choice is a “Get out of event” or “I choose to fail”, rather than a good thing.

So, essentially, that’s Academagia: There’s a lot of reading, but if you take your time with it, you can read a mostly charming, branching story involving a boy or a girl at a magical public school. I’ve fought pirates, settled arguments between ghosts, survived innumerable prankings (Including some jerky jerkface casting a love spell on someone I’d never met in school before… Asshole) , discovered the real history of the Day of Dragons, and, every now and again, seriously broken school laws and somehow gotten away with it. I’ve always had an exotic familiar, and sometimes, that’s been… Awwwh, not Craig!

Thankfully, my little swot’s familiar is Clarisse this time, a classy winged lady.

It’s okay. I’ll learn to appreciate him over my year in Academagia. I always bond well with my familiars. <3