Archive for the ‘Games Gone By’ Category:

Going Back – Death Coming

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So here we are, looking at a game where the main character, after having died, is employed by death to… Use various items around the levels to crush, burn, boil, freeze, and, generally speaking, make a lot of pixel people very, very dead. Death Coming is a good dictionary definition of “Guilty Pleasure”, considering its subject matter.

Yup. Pushing tourists into toxic goop by means of plant is one of those “Guilty Pleasure” things.

But y’know what? It’s fun, and I’m somehow shocked I missed this one back in November of last year. Ah well, let’s take a look now.

As noted, the basic gameplay idea is very simple: You have a town, and a certain number of items around town are imbued with the power of death. What this amounts to is that, when clicked for the first time, they (mostly) show you roughly what they’re going to kill, and, the second time around, they activate (With some later additions like guards who stop things going awry, and more complex, multipart death traps.) Aided with this knowledge, two goals are in sight: Kill a certain number of people (Who Death informs you have lived past their time), and kill three specific people in each level, because they, apparently, are both past their time and linked, in some fashion, to your own death.

Aesthetically, the game’s isometric, pixel artwork and ominous tunes give a good backdrop to this strategy game of mass murder, with a whole host of animations that only gets bigger as the varieties of death get stranger and stranger. Here, the manhole cover is opened, and there’s just a frame of suspension, before the fall into darkness, a meaty crunch, and an FPS style announcer deeply intoning “MEGAKILL.” This is not a game trying to step around its subject matter.

Some folks, apparently, need to die more than others. At least some of these can be related to the level’s narrative.

I like how it progresses, and I also like how there’s a very real sense, as the game goes on, that Death is maybe not playing ball, and that maaaaybe we’ve been duped. THE POLICE ARE HERE, as angels descend from the heavens to try and stop your murderous shenanigans. Wait, if the people really are past their time to live, then why… Ohhhhh…

The game does a fairly good job of adding to its replayability, with each area having a new wrinkle, unique feature, or extra step in difficulty (such as the introduction of changes due to different weather conditions. Dagnabbit, I missed my 3 minute window to use a manhole!) , and this leads me to the two niggles I have with this game: That it’s somewhat short (Delightful, but short), and that it has a single save system.

Otherwise, Death Coming is an interesting take on hidden object puzzle gameplay, with a solid focus around its theme, some black comedy, and good replayability. Worth a look.

Every level adding something new, some new wrinkle. Today’s wrinkle? Weather, part the second!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot more to say. The game kind of speaks for itself.

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.

Going Back (?) – The 8-Bit Adventure Anthology, Volume 1

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Adventure games have quite the history, and it’s one with a lot of branches, and, interestingly enough, more than a couple of roots. For example, while it’s commonly accepted that CAVE, which was eventually renamed Colossal Cave Adventure, was the progenitor of Interactive Fiction (Due to the fact that anything earlier has been lost to time, it’s intriguing to note the history, as adventure games with graphics cropped up as early as 1980 (With Sierra’s Mystery House), and games with a point and click cursor (Controlled by the keyboard) came around 1983, with Project Mephius for the FM-7, a computer that released only in Japan. Indeed, part of the reason the timeline of game design is so messy is that European, American, and Japanese markets had their own home grown items that none of the others saw (Until later.)

Okay, so I’ve uncovered this… But how the heck do I open this door to the left? HRM.

Why all this preamble? To establish two things. That the adventures comprising this remake anthology are not, strictly speaking, firsts in the genre. Influential games, yes, but not firsts. But also that it’s fascinating to see changes and shifts, not just on the purely international level, but within individual nations. We’ll be briefly coming back to this, but first, the games!

The three games that comprise this trilogy were originally created in the mid 80s (1985-87) for the then humble Apple Macintosh, and, as such, were known as the MacVentures: Deja Vu, a noirish tale about an amnesiac detective down on his luck; Uninvited, a haunted house tale with the main character searching for their younger brother; and Shadowgate, a fantasy yarn that, despite the comparatively higher difficulty of the former two games, has a reputation for its gotchas and deathtraps. They had a graphic user interface, a selectable parser, and an icon based inventory, all of which were not, strictly speaking, new… But they might as well have been to the European and American audiences.

They did pretty well, well enough that a company called KEMCO ported them, with permission, to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and 1990. These are the games remade and presented in this anthology, and this, also, is interesting because the UI was changed, a controller led pointer was introduced (as in Project Mephius, several years previously), and Nintendo, a family friendly company even then, asked for… Changes. Some of these changes, I’m sure people are very grateful about: As far as I’m aware, the ten minute timer for one of Deja Vu’s “Solve this or die” puzzles (finding a cure for your amnesia) was gone. Yes, ten real time minutes. The interface was made tighter due to platform limitations, pentagrams were replaced by stars, and crosses by chalices, and, in an odd decision, it’s not the younger brother you save in Uninvited, but an elder sister.

Yep. That is indeed a greenscreen terminal filter. Yessirree.

In any case, that’s where we are today: Reviewing a port of a port of a trio of adventure games from the 80s. How do they hold up? Not that bad, actually! The Nintendo versions were not only notable for their changes, but a solid soundtrack that still holds up to this day, distinctive spritework, and an interface that, thanks to the fact we’re using a mouse rather than the NES controller, is highly accessible and a delight to use. Each could be played through over the course of an afternoon, perhaps less if you follow the ancient adventure game maxim of “Save Early, Save Often” , and only a few of the puzzles don’t have some signposting to their solution (There’s no clue, for example, that a certain ghost is afraid of spiders, sadly.) Be warned, however, that garbage items with no actual use in game abound. Old adventure games loved to do that, partly for realism’s sake (Yes, even then), but also partly to obscure solutions.

Being able to keep saves, and switch between them with relative ease? Oh yes, this is good. Having… Old monitor filters? Well, I guess it’s there? (Not gonna lie, if I wanted more eye strain, I’d just dig out my old BBC Micro and its CRT monitor. But they are nice filters.) And the writing of the games, for the most part, holds up. Deja Vu, being both a game of the 80s, and being inspired by the pulps, is perhaps the one that has aged most poorly, but there’s still some solid design there.

Also, the achievements. Ah ha ha yes, the achievements! It somewhat tickles me that the achievements for this trilogy all have to do with something you would either, unaware of this game from its heyday, stumble into, or, if you’re like me, a person amused by the death states of old videogames, actively seek them out: The deaths. Wait, you mean that lady wasn’t friendly? Gosh! And my shield could only take a few puffs of molten, superheated death spewing from a dragon’s mouth? Golly!

Well, we know we’re a dude. This much, we can be sure of.

As pieces of relatively faithfully preserved games history, this isn’t bad at all, although the “Volume 1” confuses me a little. After all, there were four MacVentures in total, so… Where would you go from here, General Arcade and Abstraction? Although it must be said, this trilogy did seem to inspire a wave of graphical adventure innovation in the West, from the Legend Entertainment games, to the Magnetic Scrolls series, each of which contributed, somewhat, to the eventual rise of the point-and-clicks we know and love today.

So yes, give these a go if you feel like experiencing some relatively solid 80s game design, and perhaps it might inspire you to check out other bits of adventure game history (Or, indeed, some of the other ports existing out there.)

The Mad Welshman enjoys older adventure games. Things tend to happen when he BITE LIP, however. Terrible things.

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.

Princess Maker 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Well, this is technically a Going Back, but, since the game has now been released in the West, localised where previously it… Wasn’t, it’s in one of those interesting grey areas. Which, honestly, is a good segue into how I feel about Princess Maker 3 compared to Princess Maker 2. In places it giveth… And in others it taketh away…eth.

The Fairy Queen, both plot device and save/load feature.

Princess Maker 3, while by no means the most recent title in the series (I’m pretty sure we’re at 5 right now) is once again the tale of a single parent father figure who is given a small child by supernatural agency, and told to make them a Princess… Or at least, do the best they can. Just like the rest of the series, you do this by assigning study, work, and rest periods, buying things for your child, talking to them (Greeting to talk normally, Gentle to be uplifting, Strict to be stern), and generally really trying to earn that #1 Dad Coffee mug. Or pulling a Gendo Shinkicker, and raising your child badly. And yes, like other Princess Maker games, there are Bad Ends.

Beyond that, though, it feels very different, and, in some ways, a lesser game. Some of it, I’ll freely admit, is purely my own feeling. I don’t like the fairy butler, I’m used to Cube, the demonic butler. But other things are a lack of clarity. Wait, that’s the calendar? I added an entire year’s worth of study before I realised that what you’re actuallly doing is setting a week or two (hitting the B key to see how it affects your Budget in the calendar screen), swapping between the three categories, before finally hitting right click, watching it play out, and occasionally stopping things to have a heart to heart with my dear daughter. Who became a spoiled teenager. Although the achievements assure me she’s going to make a fine Southern Fairy Princess… Er, if I do some things it’s not told me about. Meanwhile, I liked that I could customise said Dad to more of an extent (now giving him a profession.)

Oh, damn, I missed the boat on a second Summer vacation!

Meanwhile, no more adventuring. It’s just working, studying, talking, and the addition for Princess Maker 3… Rivals. My darling girl is quite right to be weirded out by these individuals, one dimensional nerds whose only goal in life is to pick someone who seems to be about to best them in classes, pick on them until they either give up or are bested, and then, as a result of being bested, they… Become besties with my daughter? It’s very confusing. Part of this is because the game is less clear in how it presents information, part of it a general problem with lifesim games in general, which have not received as much designer attention and learning as other genres. And this is, after all, an older example of the genre.

It’s taken several years to build this building, but by god, we did it!

Is it a bad game? Not… Really. It does its job okay, it is, in some ways, a more focused game than Princess Maker 2, and in others, it’s a less clear game than the previous installment. I honestly hope that we see the rest of the series hit Steam, as, from a design standpoint, it is definitely an interesting game, in a largely underexplored genre. But it is definitely a game of its time still, and it shows, in accessibility issues such as hard to read text and unclear tooltips. So pretty much a straight port. As such, if you’re interested in lifesim games, go in with the caveat that this is, pretty much, a straight port of a game from 1997, with all this implies.