Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category:

20xx (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

20XX is a game with a laudable goal: A platformer heavily inspired by the MegaMan X games with random level generation. All the ideas, all the replayability! It’s just a shame it doesn’t really work out that way, for a variety of reasons.

Pictured: Ace and Nina’s unscrupulous creators don’t take failure kindly.

Aesthetically, 20XX has come a long way from when it was under a different name. It’s clean, it’s got good tunes, it’s got moderately good sounds. The enemies are visually distinct, and so you quickly learn what type is what, whether you can get nice things out of them, and what they do. That’s good.

Not so good is the fact I have little to no incentive to play Nina, the Not-megaman of the pair of Nina and Ace (who is Not-Protoman/Zero.) Equally not so good is the fact that the stages, very often, are more lethal than the bosses. And some of the bosses, honestly, are eh, even in their difficult forms. Let’s get into that a little more, starting with the linked problem of Nina and the levels.

The game features two characters: Nina, who shoots bullets, and has a piercing charge shot (with the option to change this basic attack to a variety of directional bullets or a wave-beam if you find the right powerup.) , and Ace, who has a sword, which he can charge, but, honestly, doesn’t need to (and, like Nina, can switch out for a variety of melee type weapons of varying utility, damage, range, and speed.) Both can dash jump. Both can use the same boss weapons, in the same way. Both can use the same permanent and per-run powerups that are unlocked by gaining one of the three types of currency in the game.

FUCKING BATS. Although thankfully not over a deathpit, or between two platforms, or any of the innumerable situations they just ANNOY THE HELL OUT OF ME.

When playing as Nina, to deal with hordes of bats, I need to waste a second or two charging my weapon, and lining it up. Without an alternate weapon, I have no means of dealing with enemies above me. When playing as Ace, most of my weapons can attack at least a little upward by default, have a wide area, and can chump hordes of bats with a few quick taps of the attack button. It’s not even a subtle difference. I have little incentive to play as Nina.

Meanwhile, one of the elements of the game is random level generation, using native enemy types, bats (Which are everywhere, and are annoying obstacles just as with videogame bats everywhere), and native trap types. Agnisort, the fire area, has conveyor belts and fireball launchers, with welding flames on the walls, belts, small pits… Anywhere they would fit, and a couple of places they shouldn’t. Vaculab, meanwhile, has that MegaMan staple, Yoku blocks (blocks that appear and disappear on a timer) and deadly vines. Skytemple relies on lasers, conveyor belts, and bottomless pits to kill you, while Frostor has spike shooters seemingly everywhere, even in places that are meant to be considered safe. It’s all generated according to a rough plan, it’s true, but I can almost guarantee you’re going to take, especially toward the end as the frequency of the traps increases, more damage from the stages than you are the bosses. Occasionally, the game will even generate a big ol’ middle finger, like the time my only path to progress was blocked by a pair of vertical lasers, each perfectly bisecting the platforms I needed, and seemingly timed to go active while the platforms were accessible.

Suffice to say, I didn’t appreciate that one tiny bit.

This jerk has gone through multiple iterations. He’s *less* annoying in the final release.

While we’re here, let’s talk about the bosses and their weapons. Bosses are, with only two exceptions, larger versions of the level enemies, with their highly pattern based gimmicks. Rollster is a robot hamster in a sawblade monowheel, and he bounces and fires sawblades. The Astral Twins are fireball spewing robot gorillas who will resurrect each other if you don’t kill them both within about ten seconds of each other. As the boss order is also randomly generated, both levels and bosses are meant to get harder the further you get. This is very true for the levels, but the bosses? The stages consistently seem to do more damage, and their weapons vary wildly in use. One, Skydragon’s, is essentially there as a reference to Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It’s a big, slow moving cuboid bullet. Yes, whatever it hits will take heavy damage, and it has some piercing, but it’s also easily blocked, and, just like the sketch with the Mooninites, it moves slowly enough that you might as well not bother with it.

In the end, one of the biggest problems with 20XX is that it’s trying to recreate the feel of a game series that mostly relied on tight level design with procedural generation, and so many of the obstacles and “set-pieces” feel arbitrary. Oh look, six bats. That I have to wait for, watching them crawl across the screen, because if I don’t, I’m going to screw up the timing of this conveyorbelt/fireball/welding torch “puzzle” that’s also going on.

Occasionally, the procgen will just outright screw you. Just quit to the menu at this point, you’re going to die.

BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS. BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS.

R-Coil (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: Approximately £3 ($5 USD)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Sometimes, the breadth of what people will experiment with interests me greatly. Asteroids, for example, is a simple formula, and yet, believe me, there are games that screw with that formula, some good, some bad. But I’ve had yet to see a game that experiments in order to encourage movement in an Asteroids game, and R-Coil, by Mike T, is one such game.

The spread shot is very nice, but one of the weapons to seriously push you back. So be careful!

If you’ve ever played Asteroids, you’d have the general idea: There are rocks, and you blow them up for some score. There are enemies attacking you, and you blow them up for a better score, while trying not to get blown up yourself. As in some Asteroids games, there are nastier enemies, and bosses, and yes, blowing them up involves big points … And a higher risk of dying. There’s a variety of limited use powerups, from the Death Ray, to drones that back you up (and serve as a shield.)

But the main thing is that R-Coil, when playing with the mouse, at least, is a one button game. Tapping the left mouse button fires, while holding it down thrusts. And so, not only do you have less control over movement than traditional Asteroids, you also have to consider that weapons fire knocks you back, from “A little way back” in the case of bog-standard bullets, to “WHEEEE!” in the case of the Death Ray. It is, in the scheme of things, a small change… But it makes all the difference, and remains challenging rather than frustratingly difficult. Only a few enemies fire shots directly at you, and those can quickly be prioritised due to the mostly clear visuals on the game (Screen shake and shudder can, at the time of writing, be turned on or off to taste.)

Alas, sooner or later, your lives run out, and it’s time to put another quarte- Oh, wait, no quarters needed? Isn’t progress wonderful!

As such, the game is one of those simple to play, but hard to master type games that I kind of enjoy, and the vector style graphics (inspired by the original Asteroids games) are pretty nice on the eyes. A little less nice on the ears is the retro beeps, boops, and sine noises that come from your weapons, especially the laser, although that may be subject to change, since the game is effectively in a fairly polished alpha state. It doesn’t have much of a story to speak of, which is skippable, and this works. Games don’t always need a story. Adding to the fun is the ability to locally co-op with both other players, and with AI companions, and a duel mode with the same features.

So if you like retro shooters, R-Coil is currently available on Itch.IO, quite clearly informing you that it’s still in development, is approximately £3 ($5 USD) , and, to arcade fans like me, seems quite enjoyable, challenging without being arsey, and, generally speaking, a fun time. Worth a look.

Of course, one of the problems with screenshots is that they don’t sum up quite how the pace of the game is quick, but not overwhelming. These are but moments in a smooth experience, taken out of context.

The Mad Welshman is a fan of reworking old things in more fun ways. Why, a death ray that expands? GLORIOUS!

Immortal Planet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m getting really tired of the word “soulslike.” I’m not ashamed to say this, because, like many game development fashions inspired by at least okay games, it can vary widely. Immortal Planet, sadly, is one of those that just doesn’t gel with me. Partly because it is as slow as advertised… And partly because it isn’t.

The game has an inventory, built up as you go through the game, weapons with multiple modes, and, of course, skulls and masks. A fair few of them.

The story is relatively simple: There is a planet, filled with folks who just won’t die (The justification for respawning enemies whenever you rest/level up.) It’s mysterious, and you, one of the big, hulking masked folk that populate this world, are a prisoner. Tromp and stomp and murder your way through the 5 bosses and 52 rooms. I know it’s 5 bosses from the achievements, and I know it’s 52 rooms because, for some odd reason, the room graphics are right there in the game’s directory (Found as I tried to get windowed mode to work. Which it still doesn’t seem to.)

Problem is, the game is frustratingly grindy, and, while the walk speed is slow (and the run isn’t a whole lot better), the combat is quick exchanges. And, like a Souls game, everything appears to be made of bricks that are made of bricks until you level up. Slash slash backstep to recover and let this fool get his two attacks off slash slash dead. This guy’s near an edge, haha, wait block dash the sod into the black ether and get the XP so much easier. Slash slash sla- dammit I’m out of stamina, backstep get hit get hit dammit now I have to use a healing item. So yes, it’s slow in one sense, but the fights are, comparatively, quick, twitchy exchanges. And then you meet the first boss, and realise another area the game is slow.

Block, slash, ohgods I barely scratched him, and even through my block that hurt. Slash, wait, he’s got a melee punish move, ohgod I’m almost dead, try to ba- aaaaaand dead. Lose all my XP, lose my healing items, reset, restart.

This enemy is about to be punished for having a dash-two slash combo that’s easily avoidable. His compatriots can be a lot more challenging.

Immortal Planet is not the friendliest of games. Funnily enough, though, most of this is feeling. On leaving a session, I was surprised to note that three loops around the first hub, combined with two deaths (one my fault, one due to somehow dashing off a cliff to my death when I’d intended to push someone else off the opposite cliff) took around 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer, not least because while the game has sound (and some quite meaty sounds for the weapons too), it doesn’t have music, per se. Snatches, here and there, like when you die, but mostly, it’s silent, with that tromp tromp tromp tromp tromp of walking around the main punctuation for a lot of the time.

Eventually, I got used to the combat, which involves being as risk averse as humanly possible, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemies’ charge attacks are, for the most part, easily dodged, and well telegraphed. Now, I mention being risk averse, and you may be saying “Dark Souls also encourages risk aversion” , but this is not quite true. It involves calculated risk. While a single loop around the first area and level up purely into Strength (Damage) will ensure two of the first three enemy types will be chumps (Taking around 5-10 minutes) , the third enemy type (and the first boss) will punish you heavily for a mistake, and no, there is no option to just level up. You can level up and rest, resetting all enemies and any items you may have found beyond your basic allotment, or you can not level up. Bosses have multiple health bars, and, despite the fact it doesn’t actually take all that long to play, the grind and seeming slow pace makes it feel much longer than it is.

This exchange will take only a few seconds, but at this point, he’s already dead. If I’d misjudged, it would be *me* who was close to death.

In the end, Immortal Planet is very much a deal of “Your Mileage May Vary.” Myself, I prefer a different pace, and find elements of the game feeling iffy for me, but I can see how someone who wants a bit more challenge might enjoy this game. Aesthetically, it’s very clean, it has a moderately interesting story, but, alas, it’s not for me.

Agents of Mayhem (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £39.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Agents of Mayhem is, it seems, trying to have several cakes and eat them. It wants to be a superhero, Saturday Morning style deal. It wants to still be a Saints game. It wants, just a little, to be a more serious property. And it wants to still be referential as hell.

The thing with wanting several cakes at once is that you tend to have a mess of cake, and a stomachache. So it is with Agents of Mayhem, where you can see elements occasionally shine through, but more often fall flat. Let’s unpack that.

The game follows the exploits of the Agents of MAYHEM, a GI Joe like organisation led by ex villain Persephone, combating the evils of LEGION, and its… Pridetroopers? Eesh, that was a bad namepick (The proper name is Helltroopers of the LEGION of Pride, but yes, “Pridetroopers” was used, with maybe not as much thought as could have been had.) Anyway, LEGION is up to no good in Seoul, and, with the magic of an Ark aircarrier and a drop teleporter, they do various missions, attempting to stop LEGION from setting off Dark Matter devices to, er… Do something.

Good guy does the thing he was told not to do because he’s the asshole… Check…

It’s okay, you have plenty of time to do so, as, once you enter Seoul, it’s things you’d recognise from any GTA or Saints style game: Steal cars to get your own. Run LEGION vehicles off the road as Targets of Opportunity. Set up things to “claim” an area, defend it for a bit against waves of LEGION enemies, kill them all, bam, you now have tech in town, or some money laundering that’s totes okay because you’re the good guys, remember? Or, y’know, things that you would normally have to return to the Ark for. Sometimes, you’re putting hostages in safety bubbles before detonating the bombs they’re attached to, and… Well, it doesn’t feel very SatAM, does it?

But never fear, the cutscenes are here! To tell you about the villains, to tell you about the heroes, their struggles, and… This is sort of dependent on characters, really, isn’t it? And the characters vary wildly in terms of writing quality. Some, like Braddock, the gay WOC marine in a relationship with the fussy brit (and PA to Persephone, your boss) Friday, are well written. How do you feel when the folks you’ve worked with support the terrorists? Some, like Yeti and Hardtack, are… Well, Yeti is Big Russian Hacker with Freeze Gun, and Hardtack is the demoman, but Amurrcan, and with the most videogamey shotgun to have ever videogamed shotguns. You’ve seen the kind before, and sadly, there’s not a lot new in their lines. Others, like Hollywood, are well written in a sense, but mostly in the sense that while you can appreciate an asshole is well written, this gives you less incentive to care because… Well, there’s more interesting people.

It’s the same with their PSAs. Yes, like some of the older SatAM cartoons, the game has fake PSAs, and again, they vary extremely widely. Rama screws one of hers up. Both Hollywood and Friday just end up looking like assholes, and, rather than a homage, as some characters seem to be, or a subversion, it ends up looking like a mockery.

SatAM PSAs… But for *adults* ! This is one of the better ones.

This isn’t to say the game doesn’t do nice things. Seoul is pretty, and has a lot of character if you’re willing to stop and smell the roses every now and again. Visually, and musically, it’s good, and the Agents of MAYHEM stings and elements of the soundtrack let you believe, for just a moment, that it’s achieved its goals of SatAM pastiche. Everyone has a theme. Having three characters per outing, with adjustable difficulty that you control, is a good move, especially as switching players is important to let them heal, and some of the special abilities really are quite good. The mobility is good, I didn’t have a tough time getting around, and that’s good. But for me, the problem is that it’s trying to go in multiple different directions at once, and so it just ends up feeling like it didn’t really care about any of them. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s taking the piss out of SatAM or loving it. It can’t seem to decide how much it wants to please ex-Saints Row players who might be pissed that this is an alternate world, and it occasionally tries to set forward tough, mature themes, only to drop them for the black-and-white “Here is villain. He is bad. Go get ‘im!”

Even without suffering from performance issues (Which I have been, the game is surprisingly resource intensive, and the launch troubled with bugs), I just don’t really find myself enjoying my time. These issues unfortunately, I am far from alone in, although your mileage may vary quite a bit, and the developers are aware of these problems, asking for DXDiags and other troubleshooting questions. As such, this combination of a troubled launch, and the fact that honestly, the game just doesn’t really seem that enjoyable to me. It seems to be fighting among itself, while I’m left scratching my head at the inconsistent experience.

Yes, that’s Kingpin. Yes, he’s an OG. Yes, that special ability is a boombox that makes enemies dance so he can shoot them. SIGH.

The Mad Welshman does root for the heroes sometimes. He really does. But if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s opposition without class.

Shrouded Isle (Review)

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

I’m going to get this out the way right now, so as to weed out those reading this: Shrouded Isle is mechanically very simple. For three years (12 seasons), you, the high priest(ess?) of a lovecraftian cult, must keep the noble houses that support you happy, while encouraging “Virtues” like Ignorance and Penitence, and also sacrificing one of your advisors each year. Apart from a few somewhat spoilery details, that’s yer lot.

Find a sinner, kill ’em dead. Got it… But… Who’s a sinner again?

Now let’s get into why the game is still interesting, and not a little disturbing. Let’s talk about evil. Evil is not a single entity, no matter how much we sometimes wish it would be. Nor, funnily enough, is Good. They’re values, not people. Even within a group, there is difference. Even within a group that seems unified, there is dissonance, sometimes prejudice. Shrouded Isle, despite its fantastic setting, does a good job of putting this into play, synergising mechanics with its world.

Ivan Efferson is a Flirt. He’s bad for discipline. Problem is, I know from watching the Virtue levels that he inspires even more Obedience than usual. It’s a sin, it’s true, but forgivable considering his good work for his house. The family would be angered if I sacrificed him, and, honestly, so would I. A good advisor makes a bad sacrifice.

His daughter Fania, on the other hand, I recently discovered was exactly what I was looking for. My Lord had told me to seek a Swindler, and lo and behold, there she was. A prime sinner. She’s not even very virtuous (Although I have yet to determine what her virtue is.) But there’s another factor: If I let her advise, I will have to use her skills, because I’ve already sacrificed one of Ivan’s daughters, and I’ll need to counter the sheer outrage from the bias in selecting from the same family twice. I could wait a year, but she’s sabotaging me behind the scenes.

Sin… SIIIIIIN!

To win, I have to manipulate. I have to put useless people in positions of power both to maintain the status quo, and to ensure my relationship with this advisor’s family remains cosy. They may all be sheep, to be fed to my Lord once he Awakens, but even sheep can, in panic, turn on me. They may not even do it for reasons “Good” people would consider “Good.” There’s another person who’s undermining my perfect… Controlled… Society. And they’re doing it because they’re a massive pervert, blaspheming even before my eyes.

Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Because it sure as hell does to me. Like many, I’ve seen it played out, the scapegoat thrown to the wolves, the inner conflicts that can rend a group apart, the search for purity. As such, it blackly amuses me to note that victory not only involves invasion of privacy and deception, it involves satisfying overall goals while… Keeping little bars of Virtue between two poles. Poles that shift as the Lord demands focus on a virtue.

Of course, it also adds nuance. Chernobog may consider Ignorance a virtue… But Liars and Swindlers alike are just as high on his list as the secret Librarians and Kind folk. The soundwork is subtle and unnerving, and, while the colour schemes at first seem unsubtle as all hell, they’re picked for their high contrast, although recently a more muted grey (Cremation Ash) is available in the options. I’m thankful for that, as, while I appreciate that the original colour scheme is picked for its subtly nauseating effect, it’s not something I want to play for long.

…Listen, buddy… There’s only *one* narcissist allowed in this cult, and that’s ME.

I kind of like Shrouded Isle. It’s taken around 2 hours, 2 games, to get to the win, but the game has multiple bad ends based on which “Virtue” was found lacking, and I find myself curious. I also wouldn’t mind replaying, as the game randomises virtues and sins, and it’s simple enough that I can see myself coming back. The game is pretty accessible, it does what it says on the tin quite well, so my main “not recommended for” group would be folks who are not up for a game in which you are definitely bad folks sacrificing your fellow human beings to summon an elder god.