Slay the Spire (Early Access Review)

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

Slaying a sentient tower with all sorts of gribbleys living in, parasitising, and, to an extent, defending its ancient heart is, as it turns out, a difficult endeavour. Although it must be said that, at least some of the time, that’s definitely my fault. For example, spending lots of energy on a multiple attack card to try and kill something that reflects more damage than I’m handing out? That wasn’t a wise move.

Reading an ancient and maddening book when I was low on HP, and I already knew I didn’t have the HP to read it? My fault.

Ughhh… I will forever doubt if this grinning snake really was just giving me money.

Taking this path absolutely filled with monsters, and not a lot of healing or mystery options, because reasons? Yep, that bit me in the ass.

Still, Slay the Spire is, for all these things that were definitely my fault, a tough, turn based, choose your own path RPG brawler with a mechanic we seem to be seeing more of: Cards for skills, attacks, and powers, with what you can do limited by both hand size and Energy. And, you know? It’s got a fair few options spread among the 2 characters currently available.

The Ironclad, for example, specialises in defence, but also has nasty little tricks like Armament, a card that not only adds defense, but upgrades either a single card, or your whole hand. Or perhaps trading HP for strength, healing through murder, or Rampage, a card that slowly accrues damage with each use. Healing a little after every fight, he’s the long hauler.

The Silent, by contrast, has poison, and can quickly build up a deck where she builds up silly amounts of Energy and cards in the hand, for murderous barrages and a host of status effects. Sure, she doesn’t have a lot of defense, but when she gets going, things die very, very quickly.

Pictured: A lot of options, from the relics I’ve obtained, to the cards in my hand. How will I deal with this goshdarn ghost?

Add in the Relics, items that change up how things go the entire run, and the “Colourless” cards, available to all characters if they can find them, and you have a game with a lot of tactical options… If you can get them. After all, this is a procgen game, and there is no guaranteed route to a single build. The only thing that doesn’t really change… Is enemy patterns. Thieves gonna thieve, Priestesses gonna buff, and thorny orbs are only gonna get thornier the longer you leave them.

Visually, I’m quite fond of it. It’s simple, but it’s also very clear. You know what’s what, from the enemy intent, the tooltips are solid, and only with extremely silly builds do the cards become a little hard to distinguish. A little. Musically, the game’s orchestral tunes really set the scene, the drama, and fit well.

So, lots of tactical options, with adaptability required due to procgen? Okay, good. Good music? Yup. Accessible visuals, simple controls (It’s all mouse, and turn-based)? Good. Pattern based enemies and bosses being difficult the first time, but once you know the pattern, you at least know what you’re in for, all with interesting visual design? Yup. All in all, a solid game so far, very promising. When the worst things you can say is “Not for folks who hate turn based RPG combat, because it’s at the core” and “Some of the animations are a little lacking (Compensated for by solid soundwork)”, then you know you’re off to a good start.

The Silent is clever. She knows poisons that even affect the dread Slimes.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders about the Hexaghost’s backstory. I mean, was it a bad hexagon in life, or did it just have unfinished business?

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Freaky Awesome (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99 (£8.78 w/soundtrack, £3.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Freaky Awesome is one of those ideas that looks fun on paper, but alas, the execution is a little lacking. The idea? A silly, twin stick melee and shooting romp, in which a badass action star who has a soft spot for his dog goes to the abandoned Chemical Factory to find them, only to find… Gruesomeness.

It has at least some of the right elements. Pumping and threatening bass electronic tunes? Yup. Slime and goo? Core to the game. Good visual designs? Yup. But it’s when it gets to play itself that it starts to feel… Well, not so well thought out. Partly through the procgen, partly through some base choices made. Let’s start with the mutations.

Small room? Check. Dynamite boxes? Check. Headache? Check.

When you first start a profile, you have two mutations you choose between for your character (For lo, he has been mutated by toxic waste, in true 80s fashion.) A one legged chicken-man with a kick and a dodge roll, and the Grub, able to lay worms and whip his head to attack multiple enemies at once. As you get to new zones, you can, with an expenditure of health, coins, and keys, fight a new mutation to keep it, in every stage. But the ideas for mutations run out relatively quickly, and their secondary abilities… Well, of the characters I’ve unlocked (Almost all of them) , only Chicken’s really sees any use at all, because that dodge roll has invincibility frames, and he’s the only mutation that has such a deal. The rest? Either they take long enough that they’re not worth the risk of being hit compared to, say, backing away while attacking, or they’re just not worth it period.

Example: Head. Head has a headbutt, the same way Fish has a chomping charge, Chicken has a roundhouse kick, Scorpion (presumably, not yet unlocked) has a slash. But his alternate ability is… To throw his head across the room, piercing enemies along the way, for… The same damage as if he’d headbutted them. Until the head is retrieved, no attacks are possible. Hrm… Which to go for? A headbutt that definitely hits everyone in melee range (Which, since many enemies are melee and want to get close, is a lot), and is quick… Or throw my head, do one hit, and then have to run away. Oil, with his fiery slime thrower and oil puddles, is a similar proposition. Shoot while running away, or take time to drop a slowing puddle that he can set on fire that doesn’t really work because it relies on chasing enemies not chasing you, and being stuck in the puddle.

Of course, I’m emphasising this “Hit them more often, as opposed to special abilities” because of both the monster and room design. The majority of enemies in Freaky Awesome rely on melee, and chasing you. Some are actually really good at chasing you, such as a three legged beastie that, no matter how fast you are, is probably going to at least be able to start attacking you at least once every second or two if you’re constantly moving. Others have area effect attacks, such as the chompers or big fellers with a ground pound that… Well, here’s where the rooms come in. Those ground pounders will spawn in small rooms. And the first area they’re introduced (Furnace) further restricts those rooms with fire vents in both the floor and the walls, the former of which are hard to spot on your first try (When they’re white, that means don’t step on them, they’re hot.)

This thing… This thing I have rude words about. Unless I have several follower items, in which case I yawn and kite, yawn and kite.

As you might have guessed, this makes some rooms not so much an exercise in not taking damage, but in how much damage you take, and that… Well, that isn’t great. Outside of those rooms? Well, even with a melee character, it’s surprisingly easy to kite most enemies, so the damage you’re going to be taking, with the exceptions of the Furnace and “Final” Organic area, is mostly from inattention to enemies, rather than being heavily restricted by the environment. Bosses, similarly, vary between the “Only take damage if you’re not paying attention” of Spider-boss and the Missile-Bee, to a larger version of the chompers that chases, has his area chomp, and, on “Death”, splits into two, and then again into four smaller versions, each a little faster, with a little less hit points, but more likely to do some damage if you don’t have a very specific kiting strategy to get them all chasing you in an orderly fashion (And even then, it’s risky.)

I could go on like this, but this, honestly, is a problem that hits nearly every mechanical level. Followers can break certain encounters over their knee, or they won’t do damage when they’re meant to. DNA is meant to be an incremental method of improving, as are the Mutation unlocks, but none of the mutations feel like much of a “Must have”, and unlocking them is a grindy process, not least due to the fact that giving Health is a factor in their unlocking. DNA is just grindy, although that grind presumably gets better once you’re not concentrating on mutations, as you can get 2 per zone (One from a shop, one from the boss.)

Not pictured: That third slot for a third benny costs 12 DNA. God knows what the fourth one costs.

As such, while it does have its freakiness, it’s monstrosities, it is, sadly, mostly surface level, and I can’t honestly say I’ve had much fun unlocking anything, or feeling rewarded for doing so. It’s just… Another day in the life. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t look like what the developers were really aiming for.

The Mad Welshman does not mutate. He already has all he wants: A nice, twirly moustache.

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Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $19.99 First Access (With further donation options)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

The Scions of the Dreaming Dark surround my people. Their eldritch machines drain their blood, only to make them more violent, more willing to die for their leader. Their people may fall rapidly, but each time one falls, so do many of mine. And their leader… Their leader feeds off their hate, their rage, their death. He takes blows that would slay a normal human like rain off my jacket, shrugging, laughing.

My people are falling. We may never reach the Promised Land. And the longer this fight goes on… The harder it becomes.

Well… This is… Awkward. The combat plays *somewhat* like Hearthstone with the Momentum. But, y’know, without the monetisation. Sweet.

It’s intriguing, isn’t it, how games imply a world with mechanics. And Nowhere Prophet, by Sharkbomb Studio, does this so very well. Even for a game that currently has two areas playable.

The basic idea, storywise, is that you are a latter day Moses, except, of course, I really do mean “Latter” day, as the world has kind of gone to ruin, with some technology still being known, and used, but others, such as the satellite that crash lands near our titular Prophet, mystified and referred to in the simple terms of the day. It talks of safety, and knowledge. Isn’t that enough to make a grand journey for, and to share with others?

But here’s the thing: It’s all very well to promise a Promised Land. But how, in the end, will you lead your people? Praise knowledge? Kindness? How will you keep their hope up, when you aren’t there yet, and the journey seems so long… How will you defend them, in these hostile lands?

Hrm… Possibility of painful death, or Possibility of painfu… New followers? Sold!

While it’s not perfect, the game has this: How do you return hope? Well, the birth of a child can happen, that helps. But mostly, you’re passing round shinies, in the hope that it will distract them. It sounds cynical as hell, but it can’t be denied that yeah, a little luxury makes a journey go faster. Lose hope, and problems arise. Similarly, food. You sort of need that to live, last I checked. And so, tough decisions are made. Do you take that nastier route because it has food, even knowing that it’s going to cost food to get the food, and that said food is probably already claimed by animals, ancient and malfunctioning robots using it as bait, bandits, or an end-times cult? Or do you take the easier route in the hope that something comes along?

Combat, similarly, has options, due to the deckbuilding system. You start with 23 followers, and the clothes on your back, and, no matter how much you want to preserve these people you promised, if you die, everybody loses. Take out the enemy leader, or make them run away. Even here, there’s decisions to be made. Do you keep a lot of weaker followers that synergise well, but might die in droves if the fight doesn’t go the way you want it to? Maybe bigger folks, buying time with your followers. Use them too harshly, and… Well, you don’t have followers anymore.

As you might tell, I like and enjoy this game. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, but what imperfections it has? Well, it’s early days. But the writing is good, the art style really sets the tone for each faction, and my main criticisms right now can be fixed with time. Basically… More. A little more music, to break things up. Obviously, the areas that are already coming. For some of the events with options that require 50 followers or 26 Altruism to maaaaybe not proc in the first area where I don’t see reasonable ways of achieving this? That last one, honestly, is mostly a grump, these events can happen anywhere down the line, but… Yes, I’ve had a lot of enjoyment with Nowhere Prophet so far, and foresee more, because it makes interesting choices, has a cool art style, tutorialises well, and its mechanics sync well with its narrative. So, all in all? Thumbs up.

It’s important to note that not all paths are pre-mapped. There’s nearly always a way forward, even if it’s… Uncomfortable.

The Mad Welshman is a quiet Prophet. Mostly a prophet of interesting design choices that people seem to miss. Ah well, it’s a niche.

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Stars In Shadow + Legacy DLC (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 Base Game, Legacy DLC £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’d missed Stars In Shadow the first time around, sadly, but, thanks to a nice, cheap DLC introducing a new race, hey, I get to review it! Isn’t that nice? Wait, a cyborg race worshipping a computer that comprises most of their planet? Even better!

Awww, wookitdawiddle religious murderbots!

So, for those who, like me, missed Stars In Shadow, the basic idea is that it’s a relatively simple, very friendly to play turn based strategy game in space, where you raise an alien species (or, y’know, humans) with differing specialities and flaws to the stars in a micro-universe. Usually, it must be said, through building lots of ships and tanks, murderising the heck out of everyone else, while researching ways to keep your economy going and build better, murderier tanks and ships.

Okay, so there’s maybe other victory conditions too, like allied victory and winning the galactic presidency… But blowing ships up is, honestly, a skill you’ll need throughout. Also it involves building your very own Dread Star, and how many can turn that down?

Because this is mainly to do with the DLC, however, let us note that the majority of my playtime has been with the Tinkers, the cybernetic race who possess the upside of not needing food, and the downside of… Well, tying up an entire planet’s resources every time they want to increase their otherwise slow to grow population. Dagnabbit, game abstractions! They also convert population by, effectively, borging them, which is a shame, because they otherwise seem like very nice theocrats who worship a planet computer.

The Herald, who, sadly, had to make bank off someone else… Who got the sweet, sweet technologies I didn’t.

Which is a sentence I never thought I’d say. In any case, even if the Legacy DLC just involved a playable faction, it would be reasonably priced, but there’s also an added NPC race (The Arda Seed, who are treefolk), and… The Herald. The Herald’s an interesting one, as he flies about the galaxy, visiting pretty much every race, and offering them a leg up, research wise, in exchange for materials. It adds a bit of much needed spice.

There’s actually a fair bit added for the price, and that’s somewhat nice, because, as is, Stars In Shadow is very streamlined. It’s friendly enough that I would certainly recommend it as an entry point into Space 4X games, and the turn based combat is pleasant, as is the ship design system, but… I freely admit I have a little trouble saying much because I’m rather used to different fare by now. Is Stars In Shadow good? Alas, not for me personally. But, as mentioned, it’s a friendly and mostly accessible entry point into the 4X genre, and games are relatively quick. A 50 star game can be finished in a couple of hours, either to victory or defeat, and when it does end in defeat, it’s usually pretty clear what you had problems with. And the Legacy DLC? Well, it adds a bit more depth, a bit more challenge, and an entirely new race to play with for a very reasonable price.

A good example of an early game mistake: Taking on space pirates with only starting weaponry. So consider this “1 turn before Bad Things Happen.”

The Mad Welshman likes robot factions. It’s one of the easier ways to his heart.

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Boss 101 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Games like Boss 101, at times, make me think very uncharitably. Not necessarily because the game is bad, but because there’s so much surrounding that game, so many things, and these things seem so much like padding that… Well, uncharitable thoughts that they are padding makes me think less of the core.

See, this is good and fine. It’s also an early level, and a boss that doesn’t have the nastier surprises, but… Good, fine, works.

Make no mistake, the core of Boss 101 is simple and straightforward. Make a boss. You can make it weak to your weapons, or not, remake as many times as you like, get into the level, and… Fight a boss. That you rolled. In a strict time limit. That’s the core, and it works. It’s not great, as some enemy attacks can best be described with a tired sigh and “Really? Really?” (Lightning weapons automatically home in, so it’s a case of stay far away, and there are massive lasers on some bosses that… Well, odds are very, very high you’re going to get hit) , but, overall, it’s simple, it works, and there are attacks that are interesting. Also, y’know, minions.

Thing is, it’s not just the core though, is it? NEW NEW NEW NEW splatters the screen until you’ve explored everything, and even then, occasionally, you’ll come back to your Command floor (one of something like six) to find a cluster of NEW THINGS LOOK AT THE NEW THINGS. There’s an arcade, three or four different ways plot happens, a kite mode where the two main characters (a boy and his jetpack) charmingly muse on life, Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes style. There are many, many costumes and guns, all of which will cost money, and you can get that money, for that, and upgrades, and the like, by fighting bosses, but also did you know that there are secret Gophers, and if you get them all, something happens, and an ultimate gun for filling out the things, and pets (one of which has a theme song that plays once and you’ll never see it again)?

Pictured: A cool costume based on Joe Madrueira. Not pictured: So many other costumes. Soooo… Sooo many.

It’s busy, and while I can tell it’s designed to draw me in, give me lots and lots of reasons to play and come back and fight those boss levels with bosses I make before Boss 101, the titular bureacrat robot who… Oh, did I mention there’s plot, three different varieties, with several threads?

What I’m saying here is that it doesn’t draw me in. In fact, it does quite the opposite. This is something I may play for short periods, trying to get a high score in the three classic arcade games (based on Breakout, Tank-Battle (Which was always bullshit, even back in the day), and Wizard of Wor), or seeing what a new gun is like… This isn’t a game I want to spend a lot of time in, because its very busy-ness, the clutter, has me repelled. Essentially, this game has a content warning for overstimulation, and, as I’ve noted, I’m fully aware that it’s this, not the boss fights themselves (Which start eh, but can get interesting pretty quick if you roll, say, the flamethrowing stone head as a part, which is nerve wracking on its own) that’s discouraging me from play, making me think uncharitably. I don’t actually want those fifty billion costumes. I appreciate they let me pick one for its cosmetics, and one for the actual, in-game effect, but they’re pretty numbers, for the most part, and each takes a lot of dough, a lot of replay, that, funnily enough, the vast number of “features” in the game actively turns me away from.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Maybe you’ll have a better time of it. Maybe you’ll be delighted by the silly, multithreaded story about a boy, his jetpack, and making a cool video for his hospitalised, skateboarding brother while sticking it to the Robotic Man. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to get all the cheevos, the pets, the guns.

Me… I’m backing away. None of it costs money, but I’m still backing away, because there is such a thing as too much, and I’ve finally found that.

To give readers some idea, The Mad Welshman has a headache just thinking about the costume shop. On sale, quest, owned, five costumes all with the same ability set, 1,800,000 points each… Aaaaaaaaaaa!

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