Assault Gunners HD (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19 (With extra pack, £9.29. Extra pack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Assault Gunners HD is a game with problems. And it’s perhaps unfortunate that these problems are so pervasive. Still, let’s back up a bit and talk about what the game is.

The laser is a frankly silly weapon when it comes to crowd control. And there’s always a crowd…

Assault Gunners was originally a PS Vita download-only title, reminiscent in both story (Self replicating robots gone bad on a colony) and feel of Armoured Core (Well, it tries. We’ll get to that.) And now, it’s come to Steam, in a HD edition that… Well, doesn’t exactly impress.

On the one hand, the game does some things better than some of its ported brethren. Actual sound, graphics, and keybinding options. Playable keybinds, so no, controller isn’t mandatory with this one. The mechs and enemies look alright, and the music and sound, while a little generic at times, similarly, are alright. Finally, with the exception of one menu element not being terribly clear, subtitles not happening in cutscenes, and the in-mission subtitles being in the top right (IE – where you’d rarely look), the UI and menus are relatively clear. Cluttered, but clear.

But these are, unfortunately, small potatoes compared to things that don’t go so well. There is little sense of impact, even with the missiles, which, in a missile heavy map, are going to obscure your vision, there’s so many smoke trails. You fire at a thing, it goes boom and dies. That’s it. I had originally intended to say the game is slow as hell, but no, that’s just the first body/legs. Once you get, for example, the BUNNY armour, boosting becomes fine, movement becomes fairly good, and with better legs, it gets better. But, funnily enough, this segues well into the next big problem with Assault Gunners HD… Balance.

Pictured: Slapping a ton of good stuff on, consequence free.

…Or, more accurately, lack thereof. By the time I had gotten to the first big enemy, rather than the hordes of small, not very smart, and weak enemies that give it more of a musou feel than that of an Armored Core game, I already had a Laser V (Best I’ve seen so far), level 5 in all the types of armours I know of, the best horizontal missile rack, stamina boost… I had a lot of good things, and, unlike Armoured Core, where its inspiration obviously comes from, there’s no disincentive (beyond the pickup magnet powerup) against just slamming all of them in and calling it a day. Oh no, its a grasshopper me- oh, it died before it managed to complete an entire loop of shooting? Oh, well, we’ll just be sad about the gunships we sent in as backup you obviously didn’t need, then.

So, before I’d reached 8 of the 20 missions in the base game (With a further 15 as DLC), I felt like a little tin god. Tin, because I never felt like it was earned, or even much of a decision. Fuck it, bunny armour and the best guns of their type on everyone! Extra target locks, extra health, shield regen, extra armour of all types, go wild, folks! And, since the mechs are used in every game mode (Edited in the Hangar menu), this then applied to the game’s wave based score attack mode, Inferno. Where scores of geometrically placed enemies died in droves to the fact that geometric placement is great for a piercing weapon, and I let myself die on Wave 18 because I felt the previous 17 waves had provided little entertainment or challenge.

This is *some* missiles. In a missile bot heavy map? This becomes “Good luck seeing anything.”

And that’s Assault Gunners HD… It’s fairly accessible, but, at the same time, I found myself having a relatively easy time, even on hard difficulty, and it had failed to entertain. Which is a shame, because there’s the kernel of a good idea here, and god knows, I wouldn’t mind an Armoured Core style game on PC, considering the lack of Armoured Core on PC, but this, for me, just wasn’t it.

The Mad Welshman consoles himself with a ride through some giant stompy robot games of the past.

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Going Back – TAROTICA VOO DOO

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was, I’ll admit, a little confused over being asked to review TAROTICA VOO DOO, even as an advocate of old games, and the joy (and pain) of programming for older systems as a good thing to do. It’s not the friendliest of games. It’s not the easiest of games. It definitely has its flaws, and, even as someone who likes a lo-fi aesthetic, 2-bit “hand drawn” (read: Pixel doodles) wasn’t immediately endearing to me.

One of our three family members, completely ignoring us because dinner’s not on the table… Ohhhh, I hope a pla- ah wait, that’s exactly what I hope to prevent!

Tarotica Voo Doo is a somewhat surreal “Escape Room” game, in which you solve puzzles (Some of which spread over the entire house, like the Salamanders who light up rooms), in order to break into a family’s home, cook them dinner as an apology, and get them out of the house, all before a plane crashes into it. It’s also a game coded for the MSX. Not the MSX 2, or 3, or Turbo. The MSX, played via the official MSX emulator. So… A game coded for a 1980s platform, in 2018. Normally, very much my jam.

And, in terms of the technical wizardry behind it, it very much is. If you want some idea of the kind of crap people had to pull to code games for the MSX, the PDF attached to the game (hand written by the developer in both English and Japanese versions) is worth the price of the game alone, and explains the 2-bit aesthetic (It was the only way to get as many frames of animation as the game has.)

This poor dog’s only crime is that it’s holding the front door shut (somehow.) The zombies, skeletons, salamanders, and the like inside, on the other hand…

As to the game? Well, it mostly comes out middling. I like, for example, how four frames of animation are used to good effect in puzzles and combat alike, with the latter a sort of rhythm deal where you have to time pulling fully back (for defending) and forward (for attacking) carefully, with the only pressure being that failure means restarting the (short) fight. I like how smoothly the developer has papered over the cracks of a slow Video RAM, meaning that the experience doesn’t jerk or stutter, even in the short, equally 2-bit cutscenes. I like how its control scheme (arrow keys to move, space to start interacting with a highlighted object, up and down to interact with it, space again to leave that interaction) is simple, and similarly smooth. I’m not so fond, however, of some of the more house-spanning puzzles, like going back between various rooms and the basement, in order to release the salamanders that provide light for the torches… Or block them off. A few fights (such as with one of the aforementioned salamanders) are just a tadge counter-intuitive, and, as mentioned, despite liking lo-fi aesthetics, Tarotica Voo Doo’s didn’t really grab me.

Nonetheless, it’s not a bad couple of hours, even if it didn’t quite grab me, and, with the attached “CHRONICLES OF TAROTICA VOO DOO”, detailing how the program was built up, it’s an alright, actually retro game with a post-mortem dissection of how it was put together that’s well worth a look for 8-bit programming enthusiasts, or even folks who just want an idea of why pushing the limits of an older machine was hard as hell.

This puzzle’s explanation is one thing, practice another. Thankfully, with only four frames per statue, it’s easy enough to work out.

The Mad Welshman is heartened by the fact that, even today, people struggle with assembler. It puts his own struggles in perspective.

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One Deck Dungeon (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Adaptations of board games, for better or for ill, generally have to be faithful to the original. And so it is with One Deck Dungeon, a game that toes the line between “Yeah, that’s fair” and some good, old fashioned table flipping. You might be unsurprised to learn that dice are heavily involved. But let’s get into that.

If I’m clever, and my Black Die of General Usefulness roll well… I can still take it. Let’s do this.

One Deck Dungeon is a game where the majority of the deck remains roughly the same. Here, a beetle, armoured up the wazoo, and able to run away with its loot rather than die (as it should) if its armour remains unbreached, regardless of how much it hurt. There, a Wraith, avoided by many an adventurer, not for the traditional reason of life drain, but because it converts items (Which give you dice) into XP (Which, while useful in a fair few contexts, doesn’t give you dice, and gives you nothing if you haven’t levelled up yet.) So, it’s a game where, like a traditional RPG, knowing what something is on first glance (even without things helpfully being labelled and clearly explained on encountering them) means you can answer that age old question: Kill, Flee, Disarm. Every dungeon has the same timer, ticking down by a base 2 per turn, ticking further down if time is spent murdering an enemy (IE – boxes with an hourglass in them aren’t fitted with a corresponding die), and, once time has been used up, staying in that level of the dungeon hurts the adventurers (Presumably they have a bad case of loot itch, a horrid affliction that means not-looking for loot somewhere more powerful than where you were causes physical pain.)

Where does the change come in, the challenge from trying different things? Well, mainly two sources right now: The Adventurers (each with different values of stats-as-dice, in five flavours, and different skills if you play single player or two player) and the Dungeons (Each of which has a different boss, and different, stacking “Bad Things” per level.) My Warrior has, generally speaking, had a good time in the beginner dungeon (even getting me my sole win so far), but, due to a variety of factors, from 2s magically disappearing because of a Weakness Curse to magic based armour and damage, hasn’t done so well in, for example, The Lich’s Tomb, or against the Yeti. So… Everything is understandable, at a glance, and this is good.

So… Close, dammit! [dies]

You would think, at this point, that I’d then point to the dice and cry “BULLLL!” But no. Mainly because, while victory against a boss is only assured if you’re both good and a little lucky (and, in cases like the Yeti, heavily weighted toward hitting things while also having some dice to take care of, say, Magic and Agility), getting to the boss is, generally speaking, okay. The majority of the dungeon deck doesn’t change, as noted, so there’s a careful balance between taking damage to Get Cool Stuff (XP so you can hold more stuff, potions so you can live long enough to get stuff, or use special abilities in your quest to get stuff, stuff adds to your dice, skills to more easily turn crap dice into good dice, so on so forth) and knowing when it’s good to Just Run (The Wraith, for example, I generally avoid or potion out of if I can. No stuff for you, mister Wraith, only meeeee.) The feeling of being fair is important, and, for all that it is, at its core, a game about rolling dice and hoping for high numbers, One Deck Dungeon mostly feels fair.

Could it be more fair? Quite possibly. As implied, without a bit of luck, some good stats, and preferably a potion stashed away, the bosses of each of the five dungeons will mercilessly muller you. But then again, I’ve come so close… So close… So I know that these bosses can be killed, they can be beaten. Is it fair enough to keep me coming in without a friend to play with? Maybe. It does have a two player local mode at the moment, with each player’s stats and Heroic Abilities halved in effectiveness, but a good mix (Warrior/Rogue, for example, has served me well so far in Yeti’s Cavern) goes a long way, and that “X skills/items per character” wears thin slower (normally, in a single player run, I don’t bother going for items on higher floors.) I can even build synergy, so it helps.

5 Classes, 5 dungeons, and the only one I’ve not felt cool with so far was the Paladin. I more put this down to being a vaudevillain than any mechanical demerit with their play, though…

Overall, One Deck Dungeon explains itself and its rules quite well, seems mostly balanced and fair (for a given value of fair), and, if there were anything I’d maybe get tired of, it’s the main dungeon deck. Oh, right, another Goblin. Two flame traps in a row? Yaaawn. Still, it’s an alright pick if you like two player local play, or a single player game where you’re relatively free to expand your tactics in interesting directions. We’ll see how that progresses as time goes on.

The Mad Welshman appreciates well how the appearance of fairness is just as important as actually being fair. The game, thankfully, is both.

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Lost In The Dungeon (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Lost in the Dungeon is one of those games where the art is quite nice. The intro cutscene is a short motion comic, and it’s nice. The card art is nice. The music, while a little bland, is nice. Obvious work has gone into the assets.

I will die in two turns, counting this wasted one. I feel, somehow, this sets the mood.

It’s just a terrible shame that not nearly as much was put into the game. Let’s start with the basics: Sound control? Sort of, you have music on, music off. That’s your lot. Windowed mode? Sort of, you can alt-tab to have a full screen window instead of full screen. Accessibility? Well, here, it sorta wins out, as it’s a turn based game, everything is via the mouse, and there are few enough options (with “Click again to confirm” on things like quit) that it doesn’t take terribly long to learn them. Forced tutorial every single time you start a new character, with no option to turn it off? Yup!

These are minor niggles, it is true. But these are, if you will, an aperitif, a little starter, for, regardless of your character class, the difficulty curve begins at “No fuck you.” And it surprises me how the characters fail in the early game, more than the fact that they do.

Mood.JPG.

The warrior, for example, does great damage. Hell, when he has the energy to use his best attack, and rolls well? He cleans house, taking even the armour of giant spiders off (That’s 7 armour at start, as an aside.) But his own armour is very prone to coming off, not just because, when energy is low, he’s unable to do more than defend, but because enemies like removing armour in the first dungeon, and one of his best early options for quickly barrelling armour… Costs armour. This is before we factor in that poison and bloodsucking, two abilities common to enemies in the very first dungeon… Completely bypass armour. Hope you’ve got an antidote card handy for that damage over time with your health, friend, and hope the snakes and spiders don’t decide to poison you all over again, because antidotes and potions cost 5 gold a pop, even if you got ’em in your hand of 3 cards!

Okay, how about the mage? Usually, when the warrior suffers, the Mage makes bank, right? Well, they have superior armouring options, and a good spell for removing armour… But when it comes to damage, somehow, fireball does bupkiss. It’s got some damage over time, but you’re not going to get very far when nothing is dying and everything is still poisoning or leeching or attacking you. Welp.

Be it vendor trash or new, good or not, the same, flashy presentation awaits your hard earned chests. There’s a lootbox joke in there somewhere.

I get where the game’s going with this. It wants me to grind those first few rooms of the first dungeon, again and again and again until I have Good Stuff, enough money for my potions and antidotes not to embarassingly run out (along with my money, making for a potionless grind of… The first few rooms), and some extra, better cards under my belt from its limited toolset (perhaps mixing classes, since there appears to be no restriction on that beyond… Well, starting from First Cards of varying utility. Thing is… I don’t want to do that. I don’t particularly care if it Gets Better Later (and I’m informed it does) , because what I’m experiencing now is some of the most painful, joyless grind I’ve experienced in a long time. And I’m not down for that.

The Mad Welshman is an adventurous type. He just prefers to be able to conquer early dungeons fairly easily. As tradition dictates.

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My Lovely Daughter (Review)

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

How far would you go to save a loved one, or a family member? In a world of magic, such as My Lovely Daughter, the answer is mass murder. But it’s okay, honest, because they’re homunculi, things created to be used and killed. Right… Right?

I’m gonna go with “Nooooo” here. Somehow.

My Lovely Daughter is, described mechanically and reductively, a life-sim VN. You’re trying to earn enough money for upkeep (of the corpse of your daughter, and ensuring your homunculi don’t run away) by doing jobs for your fellow townsfolk (Because a pitchfork and torch up the strap often offends, and they have money) or selling them better materials (made from homunculus-daughters who have levelled up enough), in order to achieve the statistics needed for an ending (or the perfect ending, all of which are obtained by… Slaughtering homunculus-daughters to feed the stripped out soul of your daughter, and are essentially the Four Humours of greek medicine and their appropriate moods.)

Goodness me, there’s a lot of murder and tragedy hiding under that mechanical description, isn’t there? And this is part of why I’m so fond of My Lovely Daughter: It goes all in on the Gothic front. All of your homunculi daughters love you, in their own ways… But they’re often twisted by the emotion they represent (such as the Mud daughter’s attempts to seek attention) or the form they take (Don’t worry about your other daughters, kill ’em all, and we can play in the water together, daddy – Mermaid Daughter) , or indeed both (Poor Animal daughter… Already depressed, and people call her a freak for having a fox head on top of that. Rude!) The Alchemist Faust is, mysteriously, alive again after a spell of being dead, and… Well, the whole thing oozes of tragedy, well written tragedy, from that of Faust, whose ego drives him to force that soul back into his daughter’s body, again and again, to the homunculus-daughters (who are not all innocents, but are, in their way, the most blameless of the cast), and the townsfolk, outcasts all, each with their own secrets, their own stories to tell.

Oh, no, you must be confusing me with my daughter, I’m sure she shopper here t- ohwait.

So yes, I quite enjoy the writing. I also quite enjoy the art, being hand drawn sketches, reminiscent somewhat of woodcuts, with procedural stains of various types giving the impression of a run down, grimy world, a world of obsession that’s slowly winding down… And leads me to that eternal question: But is there anything you don’t like?

Well, yes. But not a lot. Mostly, the fact that everything can be discovered in a single night is sad, it’s true. The game loop being repetitive is not something I’m annoyed with, because on the one hand, the game loop becomes quicker the further you get into actively searching for those endings, and on the other, as mentioned, the game is relatively short. Are these, even in combination, enough to stop me from recommending My Lovely Daughter? No. I feel I’ve seen an interesting, bleak world, I’ve been allowed to play in it, to explore its gloomy environs, and gotten a good, tragic tale of gothic hubris into the bargain. I’ve easily understood how the game is to be played, and I appreciate how even the forced tutorial at the beginning is part of its storytelling. Like gothic horror? My Lovely Daughter is, I feel, pretty good.

Er… Yes. I will play with you in the water, my daughter. Certainly. Later. Yes.

Having confirmed that he would be a bad dad, The Mad Welshman returns to what he’s good at. Moustache twirling.

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