Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category:

Demon’s Tilt (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

Pinball is, in the physical world, almost an artefact, an anachronism vanishing into the historical distance. Wires, magnets, rubber, LEDs… But for an entire generation, they were a cultural touchstone. In the digital world, however, they still live. And the best of them take advantage of their medium, to do things that would likely be impossible with physical pinball tables. Both, however, can get a little arcane if you try and describe them mechanically. This ramp, followed by these bumpers, followed by this ramp, and then this ramp again, earns you… But This ramp, followed by this ramp, earns you a quick bonus, and if you can repeat that same trick fifty times…

Pictured: The Abomination, destroyed by hitting each head multiple times.

So, it’s fairly safe to say I won’t be saying much mechanically, rather than what applies to all pinball tables: You hit the ball with the paddles, using what you observe of the ball’s physics to hopefully hit what you want, keeping it from falling “out” of the table. The ball falls out three times (or one, in Hardcore mode), and you lose.

Demon’s Tilt (Heavily inspired by games like Devil Crush or Crue Ball), specifically, adds a few things we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a Goth. Synthwave. Bullet hell. Pinball game. Now, don’t run away, it’s not as intimidating as I make that out to be, just… A lot to unpack!

Still here? Whew. Okay, so two of these are, essentially, aesthetic. Pentagrams, liches, and undead lions in iron masks mix with synthwave style neon splashes for score, jackpot, and other notifications, all to a hard driving, Sega Genesis style soundtrack (Itself having diverse motifs: Little bit of OutRun feel for a few bars, tiny bit of Castlevania for another, while still meshing really well.)

The Lion In The Iron Mask doesn’t appreciate taking a steel ball to the snout. And Lilith doesn’t appreciate you hiding in her headgear. Can’t blame either of them, really!

The “bullet hell” part is interesting, because, while the bullets kill momentum, they only get spawned under certain circumstances (Hitting one of the table bosses in their mid to late stages, for example), the enemies are mostly weak (and only kill downward momentum, which is really helpful), and, to help counter these extra considerations, the game’s tilt sensor (An anti-cheat measure, originally to ensure you weren’t just lifting the table and tipping the ball where you wanted it to go) is quite generous (to the point where it recommends you use tilt.) Although, like any pinball table, it can get pretty twitchy (and dealing with the twitchy portions is a key to mastery), the bullets are pretty slow, and thus, dealing with them is more a matter of perception, of thought, than of reflexes.

Finally, of course, it is a pinball table. While its table guide is a little sparse, the game helpfully tells you its Letter Goals (for the words ZODIAC, ARCANE, and HERMIT, aka LOADSAPOINTS, LOADSAPOINTS, and LOADSAPOINTS), and the UI is laid out fairly sensibly, with the central focus being… The three tiered table, each tier containing its own enemy spawns and bosses. Kill a boss’s multiple stages, and you get big points, before it returns the boss to its lowest stage. On the one hand, there’s a lot to parse, but it becomes almost second nature to identify certain things: Here’s where the jackpots are. Here’s the teleportals. Oh good, the untouched bumpers for the top-tier letter goal are highlighted, nice job!

It helps that your reward for certain tricks is also… Quite visceral. Lilith is really angry now!

There’s some minor performance issues, but, for the most part, that’s Early Access, and this is a well-polished, high-octane table that nonetheless gives you a little breathing room as it goes. Well worth a look for pinball fans, and, if you’re interested in how digital pinball tables can change the base formula in interesting ways, this one’s one to watch out for too.

The Mad Welshman Devil Crushed this review, in his opinion.

Vilmonic (Review)

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

Vilmonic is, at heart, a sandbox. If you had, perhaps, let your sandbox get wet, in a marsh, and then let millennia pass it by, with the ruins of civilisation just barely holding onto coherency, and strange, fungal creatures giving way to strange, fungal animatroids.

Welcome to Vilmonic, I hope you like fungus!

Looking at an animatroid gives you hints as to what it’s going to do… If you know how to parse them.

Okay, that’s simplifying things a heckuva lot, but the basic premise, while simple, hides a lot of complexity, and a lot of fellow nerds nerding out over that (mostly unseen) backstage fun. You are a being that is trying to kickstart new life. You’re the only one who seems to want to do this, as the rest of your compatriots are corrupted, shambling versions of themselves, that want to spread their infection as far and wide as possible.

However, your fungal friends are not nearly so united, and so what plays out is, essentially, a Game of Life. Some fungaloids are aggressive, attacking all comers (including you.)

The Drone is never a good sign. It means your “Friends” are looking for you. Luckily for me, everything nearby is aggressive. And I have the power of WALLS.

And it all plays out with a minimalist, pixel art UI, both a blessing, and a curse. On the one hand, there’s not much to distract you, except the passage of time, and lots of things are clear. On the other, that minimalism hides complexity. I had, in my own world, a relatively easy time by leaving things mostly alone, and get to enjoy wandering around, looking at the various species that have cropped up on my world, but, behind this, there are sensory priorities, urges, genetics, and all sorts of odd stuff going on that, if you didn’t have an easy time of things at the beginning, or you have a goal you want to work towards (Say, carnivorous desert dwelling animatroids), it’s going to take wiki-play to understand how to get there, because even the information needs information the game doesn’t straight up give you to understand.

Vilmonic is interesting. It’s a game that does cool things. And if you like a game where your goals are mostly self imposed, where you can wander through the herds of beings you’ve created (or, just as likely, observe from a safe distance), maybe try and play God and find it’s not as easy as all that, then Vilmonic is worth a look.

Genes, urges, diet… It’s pretty comprehensive!

Cymrus Villainous is a carnivorous animatroid. It is highly aggressive.

From Beyond: Prologue (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09
Where To Get It: Steam

Yup, it’s a NESVenture style game alright. As if the interface wasn’t a big enough clue, the deaths, the inventory loss moments, and… Ear piercing noises definitely clued me in. Those last, in particular, are worthy of note. And not in a pleasant manner.

Also from the inspiration, blood. A fair amount of blood and horror.

So, for those not aware, the NESVentures is a reference to adaptations of a series of adventure games called the MacVentures by a company called Kemco, who simplified the multiple window interface into something tighter: A map window, a picture window, an inventory window, and the verb/save/load window (TAKE, USE, OPEN, LOOK, etcetera.) They were known, just as the MacVentures were, for what we now call “’Gotcha!’ Deaths”, where opening a door, taking an item, or otherwise fiddling with something you didn’t know was dangerous… Turned out to be fatal.

In the case of From Beyond: Prologue, it is a NESVenture style game set as a prequel to the Lovecraft tale of the same name, and you play as… The antagonist of that story, Crawford Tillinghast, on his quest to see what man was not meant to wot. Alas, we are meant to shepherd him toward the doom he’s meant to suffer, not all the other dooms along the way, such as being eaten by wolves, falling down a crevasse in the dark, or not having the right item on him when something horrible inevitably does appear.

If you were unfamiliar with the NESVenture style, you would probably not know to OPEN the car door, and TAKE the bag inside.

It is, then, perhaps unfortunate that, along with the tight interface of the NESVentures, the developer has also introduced many of the flaws. Thankfully, the Gotcha Deaths are of a much lesser degree here, being telegraphed in one sense or another (The snow is loose, the floor looks weak, it is dark… So on.) But, even with this, it is a point and click adventure where you have to LOOK in the picture window to note any items you may need, and most useless interactions are marked with nothing. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if that also weren’t the reaction when you’ve missed the hitbox of the thing you’re trying to effect. I mention this because of an apple on a branch in the second act, which, so far, has resisted all efforts to effect it, both through its relatively small hitbox, and seeming lack of items that will get hold of it.

So, utility issues aside, it visually achieves the style it’s going for. Similarly, its chiptunes and most of its sound effects also achieve the style it’s going for, and your tolerance and enjoyment of these really depends on how much you like NES style chiptunes. That being said, that high pitched squeal whenever The Entity contacts you, or something weird related to it happens, is, as noted, piercing. Even with the sound turned pretty low, it’s annoying, and, due to its comparative volume, I would definitely recommend turning the sound low.

This man did not Save Early, Save Often. It is no excuse that he doesn’t have the capability to…

While it is not a terribly long game, as most NESVentures were not, it is a game where you’re going to be pushing your 5 save slots to their fullest if you try it out. Would I recommend it? Not… Really. It’s an adventure game emulating an old adventure game’s style pretty well, but that means old adventure game rules, and that means that, unless you’re really into the “Save early, save often, oh wait, 5 save slots” style of play, it’s going to be more frustrating than enjoyable, and no commitment to aesthetic is really going to change that.

> FINISH REVIEW
That is not an approved command. Your blood pressure rises.

DUSK: Episode 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (£23.79 for all bells and whistles, £7.19 for soundtrack, graphic novel, and Intruder Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

After a wee while, DUSK Episode 3 has released, and the game is now… Complete. A love letter to the late 90s 3d shooter boom, DUSK is somewhat twitchy, sometimes stealthy, and sometimes has THE DARK MAZES OF ULTIMATE ANNOYANCE, but, most of the time, it’s over the top, shooty fun.

Oh hellll no…

I’d already covered Episodes 1 and 2 previously, and Episode 3… Well, it continues the same trends. The same love letter to 90s 3d shooters, with fast movement, varied enemies, and memorable weapons. The same bizarre nostalgia tingle from the chunky whirring of a hard drive (Present not just in the loading screen, but heard every now and again in the rare quiet portions of the game.)

In this particular case, more of the same is… Pretty good, overall. More heavy, atmospheric tunes to lay on the pressure. The Sword, a melee weapon that does heavy damage, is a silent kill for unaware enemies (Video games, eh?), and can, with skill and Morale (the game’s armour equivalent) block. More imaginative setpieces using the low-poly visuals combined with some more modern techniques to create memorable moments.

I was at 20 health when this ambush triggered, and died taking screenshots for you. You’re welcome.

Of course, it’s not all roses. Being a 90s style 3d shooter, the run speed is… A thing, and I found myself rapidly disoriented with what would normally be a safe strategy of “circle strafe while trying to hit things.” Climbing is necessary in certain portions, and, while it’s nice that you can’t have a Dead Man Walking situation, climbing also gets finicky pretty easily (If you didn’t land facing the wall, holding the walk button may not work in the intended manner.) The most dangerous situations are not, as you might expect, bosses, but large groups of mid-tier enemies (such as the frozen church in level 2.) And, of course, being a 90s style shooter, secrets aren’t only badges of pride, but some can give you that much needed leg up… And, considering how the health and armour can bounce back and forth in a level, “Much needed” is very much the right phrasing. The physics objects, similarly, can be finicky. Yes, it’s funny that soap instantly kills a filthy enemy (Evil, as it turns out, is weak to Hygiene), but damn if that soap can sometimes be a git to handle…

The Crystals of Madness are another interesting facet of DUSK. Weaponised “Make enemies attack each other” gasbombs, in a nutshell.

Still, DUSK, as a whole, does a lot of things well. It tickles the nostalgia gland, while also adding more modern touches that make life a little easier. It takes advantage of being story light to concentrate on making its areas evocative and interesting, and while the flaws are there, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unfond of twitchy shooters (or the easily frustrated), it does exactly what it sets out to do with style. It feels good to see the crossbow gib not just the enemy directly in front of me, but several of its friends. It felt tense as hell to see a multi-tiered river of lava, despite the fact the encounters along it weren’t that tough, because it sold the tension. In a way, it’s a bit like its grungy world: A little battered in places, but feeling tight, tense, and… Unreal.

Okay, I should probably go to pun jail… Again… For that one. But still, DUSK is mostly fun and interesting, and that’s cool.

The Mad Welshman refuses to apologise for his puns.

Mutant: Year Zero (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99 (£47.99 for Deluxe Edition, £18.99 for Deluxe Content DLC if you already have the base game)
Where To Get It: Steam

A good post-apocalypse is equal parts absurd and terrifying. Myths arise from casual misinterpretations, nomenclature is taken more seriously than perhaps it should, and yet, this is because death waits around every corner, just itching for the unwary. Why, then, would you not be afraid of something called a “Boom Box” with a red button on it?

“What are ya, survival-inept? DON’T TOUCH THE RED BUTTON!”

And that, apart from maybe a tale of tactical combat gone horribly wrong, is perhaps the best introduction to Mutant: Year Zero, a tactical RPG that moves relatively seamlessly between realtime isometric exploration, and turn-based tactical combat. A game where myths of survivors, that Safe Haven, put an already established community in danger. Perhaps more than even it’s aware of.

Mutant: Year Zero is also an interesting game, because, underneath all the glitter, there’s… Not actually a huge amount, mechanically speaking. There are relatively static shops at the Ark, your homebase. The turn based tactical combat is easy to get your head round if you’ve played anything with turn-based tactical combat… Two actions a turn, shooting ends your turn (generally), special abilities have kill based cooldowns, and ensuring enemies die quickly, and in a good order is the key to victory. A lot of it is writing, and mood, and aesthetic, all of which it pulls off… Quite well.

Reality: Probably were out for Brewskis when the crap hit the fan. What we see? People who couldn’t hack it in this dangerous world.

For example, the map and loading music reminds me very much of the iconic theme to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and, for those who haven’t seen that movie, its understated bass line, simple and rhythmic, has associations. Of death, of horror, of tension and mistrust. And it mostly plays that tense theming throughout, to good effect. Similarly, the two main characters, while ridiculous if you sum them up by their base concepts (A warthog and a duck. They stalk the Zone for the good of The Ark), are grounded, played straight to good effect. They sound like they’ve lived their concepts, and that suspends disbelief enough that you care about these two irascible, but otherwise alright folks. The world has enough to make it feel alien, while the familiar is seen through both our own eyes (Awwh heck, those poor folks, dying while camping), and the funhouse mirror of how the world sees them (Not understanding it wasn’t as threatening back then, the campers are derided for camping in a now-dangerous area.)

While relatively short, the game packs tightly, and if I had one critique, it’s that the relatively small seeming improvements can give an unwarranted sense of complacency. I hadn’t even realised I was halfway to a sensible level for taking on the next leg of my main quest at one point, and, at another very soon after, cursed that I hadn’t gone back to the ark to get those seemingly unimportant single damage points. Those seemingly unimportant single damage point armours. Just one extra heal. Those single points don’t seem to matter, but, as it turns out, they’re the difference between a stealthy kill of an outlier… And an extended firefight in which everyone dies. It’s a finely tuned game, but this also means that yes, those upgrades are important, although there’s obviously a little leeway.

Scoping out the area before you go hot is a good idea. I thought I was being smart, starting with a grenade. See that little arrow to the left? That’s the medbot who screwed it all up.

Finally, there’s splitting up. Mutant: Year Zero emphasises stealth, the picking off of outliers, because you’re always outgunned in some fashion in a straight up fight, and it’s an interesting risk-reward calculation to leave someone in a better position, micromanage outside of the enemy’s view, so you can ensure the best outcome.

So, an interesting world, seen through a funhouse mirror of post-apocalypse confusion. Solid writing, good music, a good aesthetic… And doing interesting things with genre mixing and the rote formulae we know and “love.” It’s tough, but it’s also fair tough, tutorialises well, and I’ve been having an enjoyable time, in the “Tense gripping of mouse and very quiet swear words when things go wrong and I know it’s my fault” sense. Well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a top-hatted Corgi if he was a post-apocalyptic mutant. Cliched… But also CLASSY.