Niche (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Niche, a turn-based strategy/simulation game about keeping a clan of animals alive, is, on the one hand, an interesting one, with subtle details and features that make you think. On the other , it’s also a game which could do a better job explaining how to play it.

Ready to move onto the next island in story mode. Firstly, I don’t *have* to, that’s part of the fun, and secondly, those flowers are the teleport field. In case that wasn’t clear.

Briefly covering gameplay, depending on whether you play story or sandbox mode, you are either a single animal that travels islands looking for… Well, family, at first, or a mated pair of critters on an island type (and difficulty) of your choosing, simply looking to live your lives as best you can. Each critter only has a limited amount of energy (actions) with which to do things like cut grass for nest materials, mate, gather food (Be that by gathering fruit, killing animals, digging up tubers, or the like), and, at the end of each day, food is eaten, going down the pack order. Anything that can’t eat dies. Anything that gets sick and doesn’t get better dies. Anything that tries to tackle something it can’t handle dies, and anything well out of its element (Say, deep water) will probably die. Finally, compatible animals can be invited into the tribe with food, and you can have a chance of flipping the genes on animals that mate, changing your children into… Well, different children.

So far, so sandbox, and, once you get into it, it can be quite interesting. It’s visually consistent, with a clear, friendly looking style, and similarly, there is clear visual representation of the different traits. Unfortunately, the game does not tutorialise all that well, so you’re going to be doing a lot of exploring and fiddling (and probably failing) before you’re going to get anywhere. Some quick tips include that the bottom left buttons are act (paw), check DNA (the DNA twist), Select Mutations (the wider DNA twist), and family tree (the trio of animals.)

Niche is definitely a game packed with information to parse.

Is it worth it when you get into it, though? Myself, I somewhat like it, as it’s something I haven’t really seen much of since Reus… A chill game which, yes, does have consequences if you screw up, isn’t the friendliest game out there (Ahh, Reus. I still have a love/hate relationship with those 36 remaining achievements, all bastard hard to unlock), but is also, in its way, low pressure. Nature, after all, finds a way to survive, and I don’t mind going back to see if, maybe, just maybe, this time, I can make it work, and nobody has to worry about digital watches anymore. Bigger snout? Yes, I’ll be able to sniff out those lovely roots and berries better. Bigger claws? Ahhh, yes, that’ll do nicely, I can dig, and if any of those mean Bearyenas pop up to try and eat any of us, then we’ll be able to take them on in future. But wait, why is my clawed little child sick? Ah. Two of the same immunity gene, making them more susceptible to a certain illness! Damn youuuu, nature!

A few days later, half my tribe is sick, but the rest has survived, thankfully. Albeit clawless. Boo.

In summary, it’s a game that very much depends on replayability and experimentation for fun. Which, personally, I don’t mind coming back to now and again. If it could tutorialise a little better, then it would be a pretty good, relaxing, sandbox game. As it is, it’s an at least alright, not quite that friendly sandbox game.

BEARYENNAA, BEARYEENNNA, OOH, IT- doesn’t quite have the same ring as Snake, but yes, they’re quite deadly.

The Mad Welshman appreciates that, one day, his creations will rise up and supplant him, taking their rightful place as the inheritors of Earth. In the meantime, the Bearyenas work.

Going Back – Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 and 2

Ahhh, the dungeon management genre, how I love it so. Defeating those righteous do-gooders with the promise of treasure, and maybe even a fellow dungeon owner that doesn’t agree with my platform of Mine, Mine, Mine. Which makes Dungeon Manager ZV 1 and 2 somewhat interesting, as the two games take very different approaches to, effectively, the same subject.

One problem for a reviewer is that it can sometimes be hard to get timing down. For example, there *was* a King Slime, and a powerful one, in that middle square. There isn’t now. And soon, those red dots will reach my boss. Dammit.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital Edition (to use its full name) hit the Western world in October 2015 (It had originally been developed in 2004), and… Well, it’s a game where the options expand as you play, but you’d be forgiven, for playing the game for an hour or two, to think that there was little beyond building rooms, watching heroes come in, and then they go and do whatever the heck they want, occasionally dying, occasionally leaving, and always, always aiming for the final treasure in your dungeon and the death of your boss monsters. If the last treasure in the dungeon goes, whoops, you’ve lost.

Thing is, there’s actually a lot more that can be done than the first, near-surface level game implies, and here comes both the draw and the problem of DMZV in general: Because it isn’t terribly clear at times, you’ll make mistakes on your first run, mistakes you won’t always be able to correct, and won’t always be made clear as mistakes until hours later, when the Big Boys of herodom come and play. Although there are multiple saves, that’s a lot of either work or faffing around that’s going down the drain.

This is a very un-optimal first level. Although, to be fair, those two slimes are the only two to have survived past heroes achieving level 3 to date.

Equally, there is an optimal play considering you always have a 3×3 grid to play with on each floor, and any room connects with every other adjacent room: One long path filled with your heavier monsters, nastier traps, and the like… And one, very short path, filled only with monsters beneath the notice of the groups you encounter, leading straight to your final boss. And you have to make it clear the difference in difficulty from the first room, as groups only judge where to go by adjacent rooms. The more heroes you kill, the more you let some vital few escape to tell the tale (having been satisfied by murdering some of yours, or defeating your traps… All the better to lure bigger, better heroes in), the more you can do. At first, it’s only traps, capped at the dungeon level you’re in, and some simple monsters. But once those monsters level up, you can merge them, making new, nastier monsters. You can change the elements of floors, giving advantage to certain types. You find Dragon Eggs. And, of course, treasures can change things up too.

Unfortunately for DMZV1, there is somewhat of a flaw: Very quickly, certain monsters are outpaced, so it becomes tougher to level them up so you can get them to be able to meld with other monsters. Also, time will proceed unless you’re holding down the CTRL key or have set it to Freeze, so keeping track of everything, even on slow, can become a slog. As such, while DMZV1 is interesting, it’s also a deeply, deeply unfriendly game.

Ah, how right you are, random Dungeon Invader. [finishes another review, sits back with a smile]

DMZV2, on the other hand, changes the formula. It’s still, at its heart, a tower defense game, but now it has puzzle elements, sprites and tiles, and a friendlier interface. The general idea is still the same: Monsters, it seems, are getting a lot of stick, and the Lord of Dungeons is beseeched to create a dungeon so deadly, so alluring, that it will bring even the king of the land to it, to be murdered horrribly as vengeance for all those cute slimes being murdered. Dungeon features are unlocked in a main campaign mode consisting of, well, puzzles. How do we stop the adventurers from taking the objective in the time allotted to us? With fireballs, traps, and a succubus who is not terribly good at hand to hand, but can summon zombies (Remember, the ZV stands for Zombie Vital!), and shoot rather nasty magic, so long as the ghostly power of heroes who were satisfied until we killed them horribly lasts out (Obviously, we get that ghostly power by satisfying their needs, then murdering them horribly before they can leave. Priorities, folks, priorities!)

It is, so far, my favourite of the series, because, although the unlocking of features to use in the Create A Dungeon mode is through the campaign, that extension of DMZV1 and Resurrection’s “You get more things to play with the more you play”, it has selectable difficulty (indeed, Easy is mandatory the first time), the ability to go back, and the sound and visuals are less straining on a nice long game. It’s also, to my mind, the most characterful of the three, with at least some heroes introducing themselves, the sprites having their own character, and, sometimes, the black humour in levels. One of the early easy levels has you doing… Well, exactly nothing. The dungeon’s set up pretty much perfectly, and it harms your ability to murder folks to interfere with a trap setup that catapults heroes in laps round the dungeon until they die from impact damage.

And it’s not about you adventurers either, that go round and around and arou-

Finally, to my knowledge, this is the only game in the series with an expansion, released earlier this year. A fairly cheap one, too, with extra puzzle dungeons, 10 extra items, and second sets of transformations of monsters into better, nastier forms for, around £3. In fact, both of the first games and the expansion comes to just over £13 for all three in a bundle. It’s pretty reasonable, although DMZV1 and the newly released (and separately reviewed) Resurrection both involve making mistakes that you may not notice for an hour or two. Try them out if you like to see interesting experiments with dungeon management games.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 is available on Steam here, and DMZV2 here. Both pages have a link to the bundle.

Dungeon Manager ZV Redux (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Dungeon Manager series has had an odd place in both my mind and heart since I was first made aware of the first localised installment (Dungeon Manager: Zombie Vital Edition.) They are, undeniably, tower defence games in a sense, although, as you’ll see from the Going Back on DMZV and DMZV2, they’ve gone in a couple of different directions, and I kind of like them… But one thing I can’t deny is that I’m never sure if I’m playing it right. And that’s never a great feeling.

On the one hand, this is a fairly established dungeon. On the other, that’s a *big* group of adventurers.

In any case, the general idea is that you, the Dungeon Overlord, have become somewhat tired of those heroes killing monsterkind, again and again, so you’ve decided to make a dungeon. A dungeon that will grow, tempting greater and greater heroes inside to be given hopes, then slain, until finally, you destroy kings. So you dig out a dungeon (in this installment, by basically “painting” it with the mouse), place traps, enemies, and monsters (within set limits, and starting with only a limited toolset) , and then?

You wait. Heroes arrive periodically, and from there… Well, this is where the mileage begins to vary. See, the heroes and monsters alike move and attack in a fashion best described as “Bumblefucking.” They have some rough idea of the direction they’re heading, but seem to bump into walls, fumble their way around, and, in the case of monsters, suddenly shift priorities from someone they were sure to kill to someone who could (and does) easily murder them. And yet, despite all this, heroes will find their way to chests, they do find their way through the dungeon, and the monsters do manage to kill folks.

Killing them too early isn’t great, but it’s serviceable, as it still grants you bones with which to summon zombies and traps. Kill them after they’ve satisfied some of their needs (which, yes, includes killing your monsters), and you get Spirit, which can be used for slimes, building new kinds of traps, and other fun stuff along the way. Let them escape after satisfying their needs, and they talk up the dungeon, slowly increasing the fame of the dungeon, and the power of the heroes invading it. Playing through the tutorial once thankfully gives you the basic idea, and there are hints that give you further possiblities (Why not build an “easy” path to the boss monster(s) so low level characters can be easily fed to them, and a “hard” path so more experienced heroes get tempted away from that “easy” path?)

Clicking on an adventurer or monster’s icon can tell you more, and, in the case of the adventurers, there’s a world hinted at.

“But wait, doesn’t that mean eventually low level monsters eventually become useless?” Well, not quite. See, with Resurrection, the option now exists to invade the surface world, in a wave based monster on hero combat. At the price of temporarily and completely depopulating your dungeon afterwards, even level 1 zombies and slimes have at least a chance to level up and become the murderbeasts you need to progress. Oh, yeah, combining monsters of high level together gets you new monsters. Better monsters. Two zombies, for example, make a Half-Golem, while two of those become a Golem, a slime and a zombie becomes a Melty Zombie, and two of those becomes a Core Ghost, and two slimes becomes a Big Slime, and so on… There’s a fair few combinations, and due to the fact that monsters gain abilities in this game, they get a little nuance and character of their own.

Of course, all of this has been mechanical talk. How does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel? Well, this is where it gets a bit awkward. I don’t particularly feel invested in the dungeon building itself, the sound effects are okay (Although it’s easy to get tired of them), and there is a single music track in-game that is pumping, but like the sound effects, feels repetitive after a while. What I do feel invested in, on the other hand, is finding out what makes what. And, since this game appears harder to outright lose than the original Dungeon Manager, I can do that a little bit at a time. The game autosaves, with the options to clear the dungeon, but keep your monsters (Initialise Dungeon) or to just plain restart (Initialise Save… The localisation’s okay, but definitely not perfect.)

As with main dungeon mode, you have no control over the monsters’ actions. But it is fun to see adventurers getting overwhelmed!

It’s not a game that feels all that deep, although there are hidden complexities under the hood, and it’s certainly not going to be impressing anybody graphically (Although I was interested by the developer, Studio GIW, going back to letters, but in pseudo-3d, rather than the tile or sprite based monsters of the previous game.) My main recommendations, here, would be to fantasy game strategy fans who want to see something somewhat different, with no short-term pressure, and who are okay with the fact they’re going to be doing a fair amount of micromanagement even without having direct control of their dungeon denizens.

The Mad Welshman is, of course, a Dungeon Lord of some standing. Why, he’s run more than six dungeons, in six worlds, and none of his minions have ever filed a complaint!

LOCALHOST (Review)

Source: Cashmoney
Price: $4.99+ (Approx. £3 , with the option to donate more)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

“It’s just a self defense mechanism.”

Androids and Gynoids are, in a very real sense, a way to treat dehumanisation. The feelings are invalid because you’re constructed. You are a made thing, not a born thing. And LOCALHOST plays on that pretty well. After all, you’re not being paid to care. You’re being paid to erase drives. Data. Nothing… More…

Oh, don’t worry, that’s just *simulated* pain/shock/fright they experience on waking, part of the boot-up process!

A little context here: LOCALHOST is a visual novel by Aether Interactive, set in a grim, dystopic robotics shack where your boss has informed you, a new hire, that you have to wipe four drives. Of course, very quickly, you realise a problem: They don’t particularly want to be deleted. And, having personalities (An uploaded human personality; the original host, LOCAL, a troublesome model line that keeps achieving self-awareness; A network admin AI, and something else), they argue their case. They have personalities. They have histories. Although the final determination is up to you, what seems to matter is that all the drives are both wiped… And not broken.

As such, the game is more about the journey than the destination. Do you try to explain love to an AI that thinks it knows what love is? Do you try to understand how a human upload is meant to have mistakenly arrived in this workshop, or what connection it has to LOCAL? Or do you simply take the seemingly most efficient route to convince them to unlock their own drives for deletion?

“And yet, you know this LOC-192 model. Please, tell me more, and remember that this conversation is being recorded for monitoring and training purposes.”

It’s interesting to note how much attention has been paid to making things seem just a little bit off. The music by Christa Lee varies depending on the situation and the personality you’re talking to, but they all have some subtle dissonance, something that doesn’t seem to quite fit, even if I can’t put a name to what it is. The visuals, by Penelope Evans and Arielle Grimes, are dirty, but subtly evoke different personalities in the single, broken gynoid body you see throughout. Sophia Park and Penelope Evans, meanwhile, give the idea, through the writing of the dialogue and characters, that it’s not just these drives that are dysfunctional. Assisants are Gynoids, and Workers are Androids. Such a simple phrase, but the matter of fact way in which this can be stated implies a society where yes, gender roles are firm, even if they don’t fit, and even if they only apply to the droids in question, it’s pretty grim.

Overall, I’d recommend LOCALHOST, and, since a single playthrough can be completed quickly, to play it through more than once. Maybe you’ll break everything. Maybe you’ll just do your job… Maybe… Just maybe… You might end up doing something at least nominally good in a dystopian world.

Er… Yes. There’s no false standard here, friendo, it’s just the rules. We put “Droid pain doesn’t actually matter” next to that bylaw about chickens.

The Mad Welshman broke a drive. It was an accident. He is simulating sadness nonetheless.

GRIP (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.2.6

Ahhh, GRIP. A spiritual successor to Rollcage with much promise, but it does seem to make the oddest mis-steps sometimes. Nonetheless, I will begin by saying that the GRIP team are slowly, but surely, pushing the game to better heights, and I highly respect the fact that they aren’t going to be taking the game out of Early Access until they’re sure it’s good enough. Even with critics like me pushing, and occasionally moaning and bitching.

Pleasure, thy name is a missile up the jacksie of the racer in front.

Needless to say, there is going to be some moaning and bitching. But less than there was, and in different areas. So let’s start off with what’s good, and what’s improved.

Aesthetically, apart from something I’m going to touch on a little later, GRIP is good. Gritty industrial elements counterpoint well with pretty vistas, blend well into the landscapes they’re built on (Except where it’s obvious they’re the paving over of said landscapes with ugly metal), and similarly, the soundtrack is pumping, industrial, and decidedly cool. The various GRIP vehicles stilll have character, despite the constraint that they have to be boxy, and their wheels big enough to fit the main motif of the game (They have high downforce, so it doesn’t matter which way up they are) , and that the steering becomes less responsive the faster you go, so slowing down is important is good. Similarly, the new weapons appear cool, and my previous complaints about the blue-shell nature of the Assassin missile appear to have been dealt with somewhat. The AI appears to be somewhat less vicious, and this, too, is good (I spent all of the last session on Hard, and felt like I was earning my podium place without feeling cheated on all of the tracks I was familiar with.)

Atoll is *very* lovely, as is the wont of a sandy beach…

So far, so good. Equally good, it’s still early days, and the devs do have a quick response to considered critique. Cool. Now for what is currently less good, or needs some work. Starting with the dramacam, and signposting. Essentially, a bit of colourblind support, or making signage and the path more clear, would be very helpful in the WIP tracks, as the game has now started putting in tracks with some devilish features, and more attention to the signposting thereof would be very helpful indeed. Features like uphill to downhill U-turns, and quite sharp ones too on Atoll, or the 90 degree turn with little warning and no rails on the fittingly named Acrophobia track. Combining with this was the drama cam, which, when I have a sharp impact, or I’m moving very slowly, decides not to focus on where I’m going, but… Well, this screenshot from Atoll is emblematic of the sort of thing I have to deal with, and I will also add the disclaimer that, most of the time, it works, and adds all sorts of dutch angles and funtimes that make the experience quite visceral, working well when I suddenly have to flip between track elements. Finally, the Primer is quite intrusive, and I find myself heavily disagreeing with the decision that either the game pauses, or heavily slows down (while still requiring control) every time it wants to take up the screen to tell me what to do… Especially as, if I’m not quick enough, it’ll do it again until I’ve done the arbitrary goal that, in 90% of the Primer, is “Use this basic weapon on somebody” if I’m not quick enough to do so.

…Alas, it is also one of the places where DramaCam hampered me more than pleasured me. Yes, I am aware the beach is pretty… But the way forward is IN FRONT OF ME.

Overall, though, GRIP definitely looks like it’s improving, the addition of multiplayer is nice (Still in testing, and the game, as with all WIP content, politely informs me is WIP both in menu and game, and, in the case of Multiplayer, embargoed until it’s more polished. Which is perfectly fine), and I feel a lot better about recommending this to future racing fans who still want some wheels.

Vroom vroom.