All-Stars Fruit Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (With “Yogscast Exclusive DLC” for £1.69″ …)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Cast’s still extremely white, then. Kind of a metaphor, really, for how the game has turned out, despite me being relatively nice last time I reviewed it. Perhaps too nice, as, over time, the flaws have become somewhat apparent.

This is the middle of the three skin tones on display, and poor Cora (Coconut) appears to stand alone in that midground.

Aesthetically, the game is mostly on point. There’s a lot of visual interest to the tracks, the UI’s pretty clear, the music’s good, and the devs have taken pains to ensure the tracks are part of their world, such as the snake from the first track of Papaya Island being a visual feature in at least one other track, and the like. And if it were just aesthetic, then I would be down for keeping this game on my Recommended list.

But it’s not. There’s a racing game in there, and, after time spent with it? It’s not that good. In fact, like the cast, it’s… Pretty bland. I had hoped, during the Early Access period, that it would get interesting, but there’s only so many variations of “This is a missile”, “This is a contact slowdown”, “This is a boost”, and “This is a trap” before it gets dull, and some of them last a long time. 5 or 6 places worth of time, which, when the AI preferentially targets you, can mean that you’ve just come out of a boost, somewhat ahead of everybody, when… BANANA, UNSPECIFIED ICE, PEACH, COCONUT, and bam, you’re last place, and not able to race for a vital second or two. Cars are cosmetic, so I’ve, unsurprisingly, been spending much of my time with Rebecca, whose special power is… A longish boost.

Started 1st, was made 8th by the AI ganging up, and, after this screenshot, I win by a nose *despite* being attacked a few more times.

The tracks are, for the most part, good, it must be said. Only a few exceptions exist, and most of those are due to arbitrary barriers. But… For all the unlockable characters, I have little incentive to pick them, because their special abilities… Are mostly eh. Some, like Amelia, have front firing missiles that auto target the next person along (and yes, there are shield powerups, so you at least have a chance of not losing five damn places to a Banana Rocket.) Many have mines of some description (with Gwendalyn’s Kiwi Mine being the most powerful, a slow field dropped onto the track.) One of the more inventive ones is Giselle’s Avocado Bite (A chomping, avocado coloured plant grows on the front, biting anyone directly in front of you.)

But all of them, in terms of pure competition, pale in comparison to being able to go faster. And that, honestly, is a problem. The karts themselves have no inherent advantages or disadvantages, so winning involves three things: Drifting a lot (preferably before a boost pad, as boosts stack.) A good racing line. And having boost abilities. Oh look, guess who’s the only character who has that? Strawberry Wings Awaaaaaaay!

There is multiplayer, and there are multiple game modes, but certain characters are a pain to unlock because, as is often the case with a racing game’s first outing, the time-trial gold times can best be described as “Race perfectly, and then some.” Which is decidedly unfun.

As such, despite having a visually interesting world and some good music, I can’t really recommend All-Star Fruit Racing, because it’s a case of style over substance, and, as a party racer, it has balance problems.

Obstacles, if hit, slow you down as if attacked by the weapons. Not, if you look in the bottom left, that it matters right now…

The Mad Welshman will always warn folks about giving one person a turbo nobody else has. Always.

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Scythe: Digital Edition (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Hotfix 0.56.

Right now, Scythe: Digital Edition is pretty much what it says on the tin: A digital adaptation of a strategy and resource management board game. Which, accurate as it is, doesn’t really explain why I’m conflicted about it. So let’s get into how “Does what it says on the tin” isn’t, in this case, entirely a compliment at the present time.

Scythe is, at its most basic level, a competitive game in which six russian styled factions rush to achieve supremacy by… Ah, wait, intricacy has reared its intriguing, yet sometimes ugly head already, because no, getting 6 objectives doesn’t win the game, it merely ends it. What matters is a combination of power, popularity, resources, and territory, with multipliers for high popularity and building things over the tunnels that honeycomb the hexagonal, rural arena in which the six factions battle. And, in a normal game where you aren’t shown the score count, that’s a combined battle you’re not really sure you’ll win unless you’re heavily keeping track.

Spot the Rusviet Workers (DISCLAIMER: Difficulty determined by colour blindness type)

So, on the upside, the option to keep track and see this (Score Preview) does exist. For hotseat and single player, anyway. On the downside, this information pretty much requires you hover over the tooltips to remind yourself of the less common symbols. The… Rather small symbols. And the sometimes small text. Which is something else to squint at, as well as Rusviet workers on some of the backgro-

Look, I’m basically saying, rather clumsily, that this game could have done with some accessibility options planned from the start. While there is an option to change the colour of the map, this only actually applies when you’re zoomed out, which, not gonna lie, isn’t a view I tend to use, especially considering that the pretty faithful recreation of the models, the unpainted plastic mechs and heroes in six flavours, and the wooden, blocky workers, is visually appealing when colour issues aren’t making the latter (Arguably more important units than your mechs and heroes) somewhat hard to distinguish.

The event cards are evocative, albeit uncommon features. And some factions, the villains, get to pick more than once here!

The game is currently hotseat, with the option of bots, and, despite its cool boardgame aesthetic, and music with Russian instruments, this… Isn’t serving it too well. It’s definitely a game you want to play with friends, with the uncertainty, the diplomacy, and the nervous planning. As it is, the uncertainty over whether getting that sixth star is the best idea right now only exists when you deliberately avoid the option to remove that veil, and the diplomacy… Well, this is one of the few times I’d say hotseat makes a strategy game, tabletop adaptation or otherwise, less exciting.

It has a cool world, alas, mostly seen in the rulesbook (an outside PDF link), and hinted at in the game. It’s got a good aesthetic. But, at the current time, it’s a good example of how sometimes, you need a human face or two attached to a game to make it what it is. It’s definitely worth a go, and it’s definitely a faithful adaptation of an interesting game… But it’s a faithful adaptation of a game whose interest comes from the dual uncertainty of hidden scores and potentially irrational actors.

The AI victors, who would not have *been* victors if I hadn’t picked on myself. Alas, I didn’t win, I didn’t win, and I would have won if I hadn’t attacked myself.

The Mad Welshman, being a moustache twirler, is a rational actor. Death rays are perfectly logical and sensible time and money expenditures.

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Haimrik (Review)

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

Haimrik is a game with an interesting concept. What if you had the ability to take words, and use them to change the world? Not in a “Saying powerful things”, but literally picking the word Sword up, and bam… Sword. It’s a cool idea, and not having those words be entirely under your control (some words, after all, bite back, or are just hostile to you, personally) is also a neat touch.

It’s a shame then, that Haimrik feels so very constrained. Understandable… But also a shame.

I mean, to be fair, being attacked by an ice wizard on a day I was planning to write things for you wasn’t exactly expected for me either…

Protagonist Haimrik is a writer. Well, a scrivener. He writes books, in the hopes that they sell, and the only person who even reads them is his landlady (whom he has a thing for), while he’s behind on his rent, and a corrupt king supported by his Word Warriors rules tyrannically over the land. Enter The Book. Drop some blood onto it, and the narrative of the world can be changed. An artefact, and a power, that immediately gets him into trouble.

Nice concept, yeah? Unfortunately, less than an hour in, its prescriptive approach gets my goat. There are a couple of puzzles where there are multiple solutions, but a lot of the time, no, it’s just the one. And not always a terribly interesting one. Okay, yes, we plant the SEED (run to seed, hold down) in the FERTILE SOIL (Hold F, plant seed), and then we call for some RAIN (run to RAIN, hold down), and… Oh, crap, do we use FERTILISER or POISONOUS FUNGUS to grow the plant, considering the obstacle we can’t control, the SWARM OF LOCUSTS? Which, as a bonus to losing us the seed we need, will gruesomely kill us, just as we’ve gruesomely killed (and been killed by) several soldiers, some goblins, a rat, a snake, a crocodile, and an ice wizard by this point.

Ohcrapohcrapohcrap CODE VERMILLION TALON, I REPEAT, CODE VERMILLION TALON!

As you might have guessed by the description of this puzzle, and the accompanying screenshot, it’s pretty much an inventory puzzle of sorts, with nouns being the inventory in question. Occasionally, it becomes more interesting, such as the fight with Murdock the Ice Wizard, or the Dragon, which are… Well, they’re boss fights, with the twist being in the sentences they display. It’s a fairly good twist, to be honest, counterbalanced by Haimrik being… Kind of crap at fighting. Aiming is a somewhat slow affair, jumps in a couple of boss fights are tight, and, even with the fact that death leads to a scene restart, it can get frustrating quickly.

Narratively, it’s a story seen quite a bit before. Cruel king, young man raised in a rural town in obscurity, family and town gets brutalised very soon after he gains a magical ability… It’s not helped by the fact that, even toward the very end, Haimrik, as a character, is basically a punching bag, and so their Hero’s Journey seems… Flat.

But then, the game is trying to do several different things. It’s trying to be an old-school adventure game (Complete with “Ha-ha, what fool uses LEECHES without a BUCKET? Eat a death!”), a difficult platformer (Complete with deathpits), a gore comedy, and a traditional fantasy romp. But it doesn’t quite have the speed of many difficult platformers (Haimrik can best be described as “trundling”, even when his life depends on it), it doesn’t have a lot of charm behind its comedy, and part of that is because it’s also trying to go through the Serious Hero’s Journey In Fantasy checklist. Also, it doesn’t help that a lot of the comedy comes from “Ha ha, you died.”

See if you can spot which word would have saved me from YAHGD (Yet Another Horrific Gotcha Death)…

One of the few upsides is that it has a solid, consistent aesthetic, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting this game down again… And again… And again, out of frustration with the gotchas and sometimes nonsensical solutions.

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Jack B. Nimble (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £1.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Sometimes, you get a pitch that you just can’t ignore. “Canabalt meets Castlevania” is, let’s face it, one hell of an elevator pitch, and that’s precisely how Jack B. Nimble was presented to me. An endless runner, but with a Castlevania-esque, whippy twist.

Why yes. I would like to hear more.

Ahh, good old Londinium, capital of Roman vampires, werewolves, and assorted succubi. Good party town.

And so I did. And… While it mostly works, that “mostly” is slightly annoying. So, let’s mention the good, because there’s a fair amount of it. The game can be played with one button (space) , one button (left click on the mouse), or, if you’re a smart aleck like me, played with two buttons (space and the left click.) Pressing it once while on the ground either hops or leaps, depending on the length you press, while pressing it in the air whips. This is important, because both the number of candles whipped, and the accuracy of your whip cracks figures into your score. The game’s help screen quite helpfully shows the formula as Distance x Number of Candles x Accuracy Percentage. So, for example, surviving 1040m, and whipping 22 out of 24 candles would get me 20973 points (1040 x 22 x 91% and some change.) Speed goes up over time, some things slow you down, some things speed you up, missing a jump kills you dead, hitting an obstacle kills you dead. Nice and easy.

Visually, the game is on point: A four colour palette, similar to the Game-Boy it’s so obviously inspired by, clear pixel visuals, and the stages look, apart from the fact there’s no stairs, and only one… cough… BAT (Restraining myself there) that flies by when you lose, like Castlevania stages. Add in unlockable characters, most punning on either Jack or Jill (Jack Frost, Jack O Lantern, Jill Nimble, as early examples) , and visually, the mood is spot on.

It may not look it, but… Nailed it.

So, it’s accessible while also being challenging, as Endless Runners generally are. So far so good. Now come the bits that aren’t gamebreakers, but are annoyances and niggles.

Musically, the game sticks to its chosen theme of “Castlevaniaesque” for two of the six stages for sure, and then goes for more generic, arcade platformer tunes for the third and fourth. As noted, it’s not a gamebreaker, but it’s a tonal shift that messes with the mood, and I’m not the biggest fan, even though the tunes for the third and fourth stages are not, in and of themselves, bad chiptunes. Alas, I can’t tell you about the fifth stage at the time of review, because, at the time of writing, I have yet to beat my current scores on any of the four stages (sub 500k with the exception of the first stage, in which I have 600k and some change), and, to unlock the fifth, I need to earn 500k minimum per level. For the sixth, that rises somewhat, to 800,000 per stage (for a total of 2 million and 4 million respectively.) So, unfortunately, I can’t really tell you if it gets that mood back.

Similarly, there are some niggles mechanically and visually, in that it the controls are precise enough that my run most commonly runs into two problems: Whipping because I hadn’t precisely landed on the floor, and thus faceplanting into whatever the pit of death is for the stage, landing on a crate and not being able to jump because I landed wrong… Cue faceplant, and, most heartbreaking of all, whipping as I try to leap off a crate, still successfully leaping, but knowing that I have to work harder to get that higher score. Again, not a dealbreaker, but it does happen, and it is annoying.

WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO EMULATE THE WONDERSWAN…

Finally, there’s the part I would just like to be a different colour scheme. You see, every now and again, IT IS A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE (Remember that old chestnut?) and the colour scheme is replaced by… Crimson and Black. Aka the colour of the Wonderswan, aka “The Curse of Colourblind Unfriendliness From Satan’s Unwashed Posterior.” I don’t mind curses, but colourblind unfriendliness is, as longtime readers may know, a thing I bang on about.

Otherwise, though, Jack B. Nimble is a lighthearted, pretty accessible game that wears its retro sensibilities on its sleeve, without that retro bullshittery, and with an interesting addition to the otherwise basic formula of the Endless Runner. Which is nice, I like to see more of that!

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, or Jack will never beat his personal best and unlock new colours for his universe. WHIP AND JUMP, PEON, WHIP AND JUMP.

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The Miskatonic (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

The Miskatonic, to get the things that turn some folks off right now, is a no-choice visual novel (click the right things to proceed, click everything else for more world/dialogue) with some body horror NSFW, and a lewd adjacent tone for most of its Post-Lovecraftian shenanigans (That’s a nice term, thanks RPS.) It takes about 2 hours to play through.

I don’t know *where* I got the idea it might be lewd-adjacent for a lot of it. Not. A. Clue.

Okay, has everyone who’s turned off by that gone?

Good.

The Miskatonic is an interesting visual novel, built in TyranoBuilder, because of all the subtle messaging we’ve got going on here. “Oh hey, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice, let’s be nice and try to make the world nicer.” is the core philosophy of the main character. People who have been mutated in this strange, Miskatonic world aren’t irreperably disabled by it, but are folks who… Well, just get on with their lives, and are still people. There’s even some not-very subtle lewd adjacency and QUILTBAG+ imagery. And, at a certain point, it points out that when people reach extremes of an ideology, they become gatekeepy assholes. It tries to create a world, in the relatively short time available to it, that has not only met the Great Old Ones, but just… Dealt with it, and moved on.

And then it makes a lot of the characters I previously empathised with douchebags, who had been working with the folks I already thought were douchebags, or just plain creepy. I could probably, given a while, a decent headspace, and a 2000+ wordcount, write quite a bit about… A 2 hour visual novel.

To have an eldritch horror have to tell you this is probably a galling experience, I would imagine.

But, in a way, this is precisely the problem I face with The Miskatonic. It packs a lot into a little, and it leaves the critical brain a little frazzled, because not everything works together (Although enough does that it makes for an interesting narrative.) It’s flirty until it takes a left turn into horrortown. It’s pretty inclusive in messaging, but the majority of the characters are caucasian (When they’re not a plant-being, or a tiny adorable avatar of Yog Sothoth, or a person whose head entirely consists of craters), and wheee that’s a lot of breastage implied there!

What I guess I’m trying to say here is that it works… Overall… But definitely isn’t perfect, and the tonal whiplash doesn’t so much shock, as feel… A little off. Text could use the accessibility option of being larger (Although, not having TyranoBuilder, I’m uncertain how that would be applied.), musically and visually it fits together with its themes and mood, and as such, while I would overall recommend it as an interesting piece of writing (and a good example of relatively well proportioned, thirsty artwork that also manages to, with one exception that’s jarringly deliberate, normalise the body horror elements), I would maybe suggest to the developers they look to add a few accessibility options if that’s at all possible.

The supersonic squeal at the cuteness (and probably Welshness) of this Avatar of Yog-Sothoth broke seventeen windows. Kindly support TMW to pay the bill for that, it wasn’t my fault!

The Mad Welshman sounds confused today because his brain got hit by Shoggoth matter. Moreso than the baseline amount, anyway.

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