Haque (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Do you like glitchiness and a world that is not as it first seems? This question lies at the core of whether you’ll enjoy, or be annoyed by Haque, an interesting little roguelike. Unfortunately, saying more than that is kiiiiind of spoilery, so let’s talk about some other things that make the game interesting. Yes. Let’s not talk about the Old Man in the room.

Yes, that old man. That sweet, harmless… Old man. Yes.

Haque is, glitch effects aside (they can be turned off), a fairly accessible roguelike, in which repeated playthroughs are encouraged through a choice of random characters (and their pets), and a story that… Crap, there’s that spoiler issue again. A story that starts bog standard roguelike, but has you on the defensive from the word go because it seems too pat. There. Better. Visually, it owes a lot to the 8-bit era, with bright colours, keyboard prompts as part of the UI, but… Get this…

…It has a soundtrack. Quite a nice one too, ranging from soothing, almost folksy acoustics, to pumping riffs that get you nice and ready for a good, old fashioned boss fight. Mixing this in with more traditional, chippy sounds doesn’t sound like it would fit well, and yet… It very much does. Control wise, it’s simple: Four directions, the mouse can be used for pretty much everything, and the tooltips are quite useful (accessed with the right mouse button.)

The glitching always happens for a reason. Usually, it’s because you’re low on health. Sometimes, other things happen.

The world, at first, also seems a bit generic. Here, a forest, there, a desert, here, a… Wait, why are there androids? Was someone running out of ide- Ah, yes. Things get different, and, edging into spoiler territory here, this is one of the few games I’ve encountered over the years where I feel sorry for having won a boss fight.

Well. That’s done, no use guilt tripping myself over being a stereotypical adventurer in a videogame now. Sigh.

In any case, Haque comes fairly recommended, as it’s an interesting world, an interesting story concept, fairly well executed and foreshadowed, and reasons to replay beyond getting that “Play the game with all classes” achievement or for the enjoyment of an accessible, interesting roguelike.

Pointy headed red guys? Ohhhh, GARRYS. Yeah, I’ve seen Garrys before.

“Do Not Look Behind The Review!” cried The Mad Welshman. “It Will Only Bring Doom And Destruction And Really Wild Things!”

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Battle Chef Brigade (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Battle Chef Brigade is charming. Its art style is clean, consistent, clear, and cool. Its music is very fitting and well crafted. It even fuses platforming combat, match 3 gameplay, and the tension of a real competitive cook-off. Although it at first didn’t seem to appeal much, it did grow on me, and part of that is how it introduces its mechanics.

So much talent, all in one place… Oh, so jealous of the judges!

Before we talk about that, though, let’s talk about aesthetic. Battle Chef Brigade is hand drawn, thin lines and flats making for a tight construction, with some good takes on fantasy designs, and similarly tight animations. Varied character design, good music, mostly good voice acting (some a little flat, but mostly good), and it ties into a world with something that I always enjoy seeing, because it’s a subject not often covered: How life changes in a fantasy world. Okay, so there are monsters, and magic. The former is deadly, the latter is potentially deadly. How do you apply the latter (and hunting) to the former, and still have a society that doesn’t have the dread Adventurer?

Battle Chefs. Complete with a cultural touchstone of an Iron Chef style cookoff, with preferred tastes and signature ingredients. It’s a simple idea, but the entire story of Battle Chef Brigade revolves around making it both plausible and interesting. Here, the Orcs Thrash and Shiv, from lineages that peacefully united the Orc tribes through a shared love of cuisine. There, Ziggy, creating a new and very possibly unsafe (but tres cool) method in Haunt Cuisine. Necromantically prepared? Hit me up with those dark aftertastes, my friend!

So, it’s an interesting world, its characters are engaging, but what about the play and main storyline? Well, here’s where it takes a bit, just a bit, to get going. If you recognise variations on the Hero(ine)’s Journey, you’ll recognise Mina Han. At first selfish, wanting to see the world, but still with promise (after all, she wants to improve a creative skill, I can applaud that), she learns hard lessons, faces a tribulation that affects both her and the world (I won’t spoil it), and becomes a better person along the way. Okay, so it may not win awards, but it has charm, and I like it.

The dishes come in many types, and they’re all *eyewateringly* nice looking.

Similarly, the basic idea of using Match 3 mechanics with a cook-off makes immediate sense once you see it in action. Hunting down monsters in a themed arena area off to one side, gathering ingredients at first seems pretty basic: Wallop monsters, they die, they drop stuff, you can carry so much, run back and forth to gather ingredients. Ingredients have different gem types and shapes, three gems make one better gem, and you can do that twice before you have the best gem. How the heck does that fit with cooking? Well, there’s only so much room in the pot, and you can’t rotate the ingredients before placement. So, if you want to make the best dishes? You want to learn the ingredients, learn the biomes.

As you go along, however, new mechanics, items, and explanations get introduced, pretty much all the way through the normal story mode. At first, this put me off, but it must be kept in mind that not only is there a New Game+ of sorts in Hard mode, there’s also two challenge modes, and a Daily Cook-Off, using fixed items. The story mode won’t take a terribly long amount of time, but it’s still enjoyable, and I did come to like the fact I’m learning new things every time I get further. Oh, wait, you can do that? The birds aren’t just assholes, but have a little ecology going? Ohhhhhh!

Overall, I have a soft spot for Battle Chef Brigade. It’s tightly focused on an aspect of its world that it’s made central, but it’s also made it believable, and not only believable, but charming. Thumbs up!

Oh, y’know, just another day hunting for cooking ingredients in a cook-off!

The Mad Welshman would, in a fantasy world, want Haunt Cuisine. Oh heck yes he would. Also he would order from the Flambe Warlocks.

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Tower 57 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam

I make no bones about the fact I loved the Amiga and Atari ST (The latter more than the former, mainly due to exposure.) This was a period when pixel art was going very strong, and designs went in interesting directions, even if they didn’t always work. Nowadays, of course, pixel art is going very strong, and designs go in interesting directions, even if they don’t always work. How things have changed!

This, of course, is a nice segue into Tower 57, a game where its greatest strengths and its biggest flaws tie directly into wanting to recreate the feel of old Amiga twinstick shooters. It’s pretty obvious where its main inspiration comes from (The Chaos Engine, Bitmap Brothers, 1993) , and…

Yes, it involves a dystopia. But this, surprisingly, is a relatively light moment, and a good example of the visual storytelling in the game.

…Well, let’s get the good out the way first. Visually, the game is good, and consistently so. It’s solid, clear, and with some good visual designs in the more complex beasties and mechanical creations. Music wise, the tunes also work well, fitting, pumping, and dramatic when they need to be. The writing is mostly pretty good (Being about “Agents” sent to break up a worker’s strike, and, as it turns out, something stinks almost from the word “Go”), and, overall, it’s a solid, linear game with some of the goodies I quite liked from the Days of Yore, like secrets hidden behind walls that, since the game is a linear, curated experience, I can remember and go back to, replaying with different characters. It even has some interesting minigames in the main level hub, and the six main characters do have their differences and uses. Levels, again, are interesting, with some good setpieces.

Where it starts to fall down, though, are the bosses. The difficulty curve on the bosses varies immensely, from “Oh gods, how the hell am I going to get out of this segment without losing a life” to “Ho-hum, circle strafe and murder, circle strafe and murder.” Although one of them would probably have been a lot harder if I ditched the anti-toxin trousers you can get in the very first level. Keep those trousers.

Oh, I just *love* me fights against turrets and beefy chasing drones in a confined space! Oh wait, no, love… HATE. Yes. Hate.

The minigames, similarly, while being fun, are also somewhat necessary if you want to be upgrading as much as possible, as the amount of money is largely set, and you will, for the sake of easing your travails with some of the nastier bosses, want double healing upgrades on all three of your characters. Oh, and extra stuff on the guns, only purchasable in the hub. As to the characters…

…Well, they vary in usefulness, and follow a similar function to lives in any other game, except if the lives then changed how the character played, the usefulness of their special ability, and… For example, for the boss that’s currently proven the biggest roadblock (Unsurprisingly, pictured), I went with the Cop, the Don, and the Diplomat. The Don survived the longest in this boss battle, due to having range on his gun. But eventually, they all went down, and while I could continue from a checkpoint (with all three characters) , I didn’t particularly feel like that this time around. Maybe later. In multiplayer, of course, you have double the firepower, a second player, but regardless of whether you’re playing alone, or with a friend, you won’t be changing characters too much unless they die, due to the lack of opportunities to do so. After all, it requires a closet, or one of the characters dying, and so… You tend to forget those other characters exist, by and large.

Finally, there’s things that were added, either for flavour, humour, or just interesting mechanics, that fall flat in various ways. A red light district, complete with sex workers (One of which you can attempt to chat up. Badly.) Limb damage, temporarily losing you weapons, tools, or moving at more than a crawl, until you fork out the dough to repair them (A forced tutorial example removes your legs… And indeed, leg removal remains the most irritating of the bunch.) The tools, funnily enough, also fit into this category, being mostly forgotten because you can get by a lot of the game without them. There are barks from the main characters, but they often feel either superfluous or odd, and I could, for example, definitely do without the Cop bemoaning possible drug addiction and testing each time she picks up a health pack.

Hrm. Would it be diplomatic to mention Electric Six at this point? Probably not, but that won’t stop me *thinking* it.

I still enjoy parts of this game. The levels are mostly interesting, apart from the odd set piece that doesn’t work so well. The news, mostly, paints an interesting picture. I’ve already mentioned some other good bits. But, overall, there’s enough that falls flat, or feels like difficulty for the sake of difficulty, or “Gotcha!” that, overall, this honestly doesn’t feel like something for me.

The Mad Welshman has also changed over the years. He’s got better textures now.

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Oriental Empires (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam

A key to good 4X design, I’ve often found, is understanding. That seems like a simple thing, but sadly, we’ve seen it proven time and time again over the years that it’s not. Oriental Empires is a strategy game set in ancient China, and its UI is… Not the friendliest.

The latest heir of my empire, being annoying and blocking my authority/culture meter.

In fact, the game as a whole isn’t very friendly. Considering that games don’t exist in a vacuum, this… Is kind of a big deal. Small text, smaller tooltips, and further information behind easy to miss subtabs left a bad taste in my mouth.

A bad taste that, sadly, only worsened when I found out about Local Factors. Hidden behind about three layers of interaction (Click banner, click unrest icons for general unrest details, click Dissatisfaction) is a number, contributing to your chance of revolt… That cannot be directly affected, and changes over time because… Well, to all practical intents and purposes, because reasons.

There’s not so much a tutorial as “A 40+ page in-game manual and an advisor that will tell you about things after you’ve worked out how to do them.” The actual effect of buildings and research (Outside of combat related improvements, it generally boils down to “Gives Happiness”, “Gives Authority”, “Unlocks a resource exploiter”, and “Makes some bad events less bad.” ) are hidden under popups (The wee texty bars lookin’ icon shows or hides that.) Occasionally, those popups will obscure information that you need, such as when an Heir comes along, randomly, and covers up the Authority and Culture meters you need to, for example, judge how many settlements you can build without added resentment (A brief irritation, but one of, as noted, quite a few.) Does it play well?

Okay, so I want you and you to flank so as to cut off retr- Which part of “Cut off Retreat” did you not understand, soldiers?

Honestly, not really. Outside of combat largely seems like an afterthought, especially in the early game, where resources are rare, and you are both encouraged to land grab and, er… Not exceed your Authority (which controls how many cities you can own without dissatisfaction) for fear of rebellions. Buildings have a high upkeep, so you’re rarely dealing with that, conquering things is a bad idea, due to that aforementioned Authority issue…

It makes the early game painful, in more senses than one. It doesn’t really help that combat, also, doesn’t feel like you have all that much control over it. Simultaneous turns means that you may well have trouble pinning down your opponent for a fight, and when you do get in a fight? Well, enemies will escape, so you have to start the whole palaver again, having multiple battles in a single round with a single force if you’ve preset your movement right, or fighting over multiple turns if you don’t (The correct method, generally, seems to be “Into the enemy and past them in the direction you think they’re most likely to run for as many movement points as you feel you can manage.) It doesn’t particularly feel engaging, especially as multiple fights are likely to break out in a single turn, and combat tactics are limited. Why did my units mill about aimlessly for most of a combat with a charge, but efficiently (if extremely widely) flank when I asked them to? No idea. I’m not told. Oh, and no, cutting off retreat with just the units you have is not an option. The enemy will retreat. Multiple times.

Really, these problems, these lack of clarity, kill the game for me, and it doesn’t particularly help that, visually, it doesn’t feel all that interesting either. The music is fitting, at least, but it doesn’t really redeem a game that will sometimes tell you useful things after you need them, sometimes just not tell you, and has many a turn passing with… Well, nothing of note happening. Kind of saddening, really.

This rain turned red as blood, and almost caused a rebellion. Funnily, most bad things seem to be “Causes unrest.”

The Mad Welshman finds no happiness here. 

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City of Brass (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.2a

The City of Brass is many things. A cautionary tale about wishing for everlasting life. Proof that yes, whips remain awesome, and should be in games more. It’s also a game of twitchy planning. Yes, you heard that correctly: It’s a game that rewards very quickly coming up with ideas, and very quickly executing them.

As such, it’s a tadge tough, and your first hour with it is likely to be one of frustration. But when a plan comes together? Ohhh, yes. That’s a good feeling.

Okay, Guardian 1 tripped? Check. Flaming lantern nearby ready to chuck at both of them? CHECK.

Picture it: A big, open area. Traps, explosive vase, flaming lanterns, and, of course, a variety of enemies litter the area. Each enemy has different weaknesses and strengths, but nearly all of them will die to the humble trap. Then again, the traps also damage you, and, in the case of the spiked pitfall trap, outright kill you if you fall in. Here, a few Cursed Souls, armless, with head cages that prevent you stunning them with their whip. There, a passel of Guardians, more healthy than both the Cursed Soul and the Undead Merchants, but, until they get shields, you have a lot of options.

Okay, here, whip that explosive vase into my hand. Throw it at the Guardians. Whip the Cursed Souls into some spike traps, or trip them, and hit them twice each with the sword. Set the Merchant(s) on fire, and… Wow, yeah, that worked. That felt nice!

Conversely: Engage in a circle strafe sword fight with the Guardians, and… AGH, that Cursed Soul stunned me, a Guardian hit me, run away, pick my options, and… Wait, how did I forget that pitfall, AAAAAAAGH, start again!

Whoops.

The alpha nature of the game, to this point, is mainly showing in the balance. Health is very hard to come by, and item options are slim on the ground. Does that make it bad at the present time? Not really. Your whip has some possible options, but remains a whip, and it’s extremely useful. Your kick never changes, and is situationally useful. Your sword is not for button mashing, because it’s slow to swing, but since not a whole bunch of enemies (Mostly Gatekeepers, the bosses) take more than 3 swings that connect to kill, it still works, and its options can completely change combat style (from a cudgel that does only heavy knockback, not damage, lighter and heavier swords that trade damage and speed, and my current favourite, the torch. Set enemies on fire for damage over time? Yes please!)

It’s also, at the present time, an undeniably pretty game. The city’s gold glitters nicely, from the treasures to the spires, the environments fit well, the visual design of the enemies says a fair bit about them, and nearly everything’s clear enough that you’re only going to miss things while distracted. Which, considering that’s the whole point of traps? Fair. Musically, it works, and the screeches and groans of the enemies give them a little bit of extra character that I like.

I forgot to mention this, but see that ring up there? You can whip-leap from that. Errol Flynn’s ghost is crying tears of joy.

As such, while City of Brass is still in early alpha, it is a promising start, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

The Mad Welshman would like to add that playing this game while listening to Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” is pretty cool.

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