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Slime Rancher (Early Access Review)

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

There is, on the face of it, not a lot in Slime Rancher. You would think this was maybe a bad thing. But cute slimes, exploration, and expanding seems, honestly, to go a long way. And Slime Rancher is one of those games where a somewhat humdrum early start… Opens up.

Ah, look at all these slimes, frolicking together in a pool. Better leave before one of them becomes a Tarr… 🙁

Considering the start, however, I certainly wouldn’t blame you, as, at the very beginning of the game, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot to do. You encounter four slime types (Plus their Largo variations, and a few massive Slimes), can capture three, and once captured, it’s feed, collect, rinse, repeat. Pink Slimes, being the most common, rapidly drop off in value, so until you get some cat and rock slimes, you’re in a rather grindy situation. And, funnily enough, many of the options for cages, farms, and the like is to reduce that grind. Higher walls so you don’t have to keep an eye on the slimes so often. Music boxes so they don’t try to escape so much. Auto collectors and auto feeders (the latter reducing feeding.)

It’s an interesting comment on the game, really, that I’ve started to have real fun with the game once the farming aspect is toned down somewhat. Because then, I’ve been able to experiment with mixing slimes, fighting Tarr (the dread result of Slimes mixing and matching themselves too much, and common in any area where there are three or more slime types co-existing… until they eat all the other slimes, then starve, anyway), unlocking Slime Gates to new areas, and encountering new and even more interesting slime types, from Gold Slimes (can’t be caught, run away, but can be fed for GOLD PLORTS) to Boom Slimes (The clue as to why they’re dangerous, friends, is in the name.)

Some slimes are extremely dangerous to keep. Just for giggles, I’ve mixed two of the more dangerous varieties, just to add a bit of spice to it all…

This, in a way, is why the game definitely isn’t for everyone. “Omigod, how cute!” gives way to “Grumble mutter feeding time is it you sneaky gits?” gives way to “Hrm, I wonder which of these huuuuge slimes unlocks the way to an area where the Big Money is so I can get this Lab thing?” , and progress is gated behind… Well, exploring and trying things. Feeding Gordo Slimes to get Slime Keys to reach new areas. Earning enough money to open up the Ranch and its features. Getting a jetpack, and extra energy. And, finally at the present version, unlocking the Lab so you can build stuff, open those Treasure Pods that have been annoying you all this time, and capture rare and huge slimes.

Is it cute? Oh gods yes. But whether you enjoy it or not really depends on how far exploration, finding snippets of world lore and conversations that don’t necessarily make sense at first, and the cycle of feeding slimes, collecting their diamond shaped poop, and selling it in order to find better slimes with better poop will take you. For me, it works well in small to medium bursts. But I won’t pretend I don’t hope to see something that will keep me going once I’ve found everything.

Still some slimes to collect. C’mon, Beatrix, we can do it, and please Harry and the others too!

Yes, The Mad Welshman is somewhat conflicted about Slime Rancher. As noted, cute slimes go a long way… But not all the way.

Overload (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Six Degrees of Freedom. Ahhhh, I remember well when that phrase was marketing magic. Wait, a first person shooter where you have complete freedom of movement? Sign me the hell up!

Wait, no, I didn’t sign up for thiiiiii- BOOM.

While OVERLOAD is certainly not the first game to attempt a revival of this particular genre of first person shooter, where you pilot a spaceship, destroying robots gone bad, OVERLOAD hits me squarely in the nostalgia glands because not only is it headed by the original Descent developers, Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog (Not to mention various folks who worked on other Descent games in the original series, and the original CD soundtrack composer, Allister Brimble), it’s very clear they’ve refined their formula over the years.

When OVERLOAD eventually leaves Early Access, it will have 15 story missions, several challenge maps, and, of course, a variety of murderous robots to destroy, guilt free. The story missions follow the same rough formula as the game it’s a spiritual successor to, where you enter a base of some description, attempt to hunt down a generator, blow the hell out of it, and escape. Meanwhile, there are secrets, monster closets, upgrades… It is, in a sense, a very traditional game.

While the game definitely has its dark areas, a combination of the flare, your shots, and the explosions of deadly robots will light your way.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t feel traditional. It feels very modern indeed, and at least part of this comes from, as mentioned, this obvious, yet hard to pin down refinement. Levels aren’t quite as claustrophobic as in the original Descent games, and so far, I’ve had very little trouble familiarising myself with the levels, the controls remain simple, but fluid, and the difficulty seems pretty balanced so far. So far, so appealing to the first person shooter crowd, and this seems unlikely to drastically change, considering the polish shown so far.

I will, however, freely admit to a minor bias here, due to the developers actively tickling that nostalgia in small, but noticeable ways. Example: While playing the first Challenge map (Essentially, survival against endless waves of deadly robots, escalating in difficulty as you go), something was grabbing me, something above the dark, yet somehow quite clear visuals, and the sound design, which, even through the chaos, will occasionally give you something memorable (Some of the more melee/explosive based robots seem to growl and, occasionally, scream at you, while still sounding like… Well, like robots. It’s quite disturbing!)

“Wait… Is that… Is that the original Descent theme, remixed?”

In single player missions, once the reactor has been destroyed, and providing you find the exit, you get to feel pretty damn badass. Just like you might have in 1994

Immediately closing the game, I hunt around, and lo and behold… It was. Darker. Nastier. While still retaining enough of the motifs that gripped me while I was young (and having nightmares about four clawed robots, being interrogated by violent tiger aliens, and skeletons with rocket launcher shoulderpads, as well as the more usual Daleks and Critters.)

In summary, it’s Descent, but for the modern generation. It’s not the only one by a long shot, but so far, it’s the one that’s coming out ahead in my mind as the best spiritual successor, and a nice confirmation that sometimes, the original developers retain the Good Ideas they had in their younger days. It seems fairly accessible, but if you’re on the fence, there is a free demo, and that, at the very least, is well worth a go.

The game, whether in single player or Challenge mode, can get a little busy, what with all those chunks, explosions, and pews going on…

The Mad Welshman is well aware that medical science poo-poohs the idea of the nostalgia gland. But it exists, oh yessss, it exists…

Golden Krone Hotel (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.10

With Golden Krone Hotel, we’re looking, once more, at a turn based hack with transformation as a core gimmick. Earlier this week, we took a look at Midboss, a game with similar themes, but the difference between these two games couldn’t be more stark than night and day. Which is fitting, considering the transformations in Golden Krone Hotel.

Hahaha, stupid humans can’t see in the dark (The game has, as of 0.10, a tutorial. It plays once, and gives you the absolute essentials quickly and efficiently)

The general idea is that you are a General, who is also an assassin, and you are infilitrating the Golden Krone Hotel, owned by a Vampire called Fane. Vampires and Humans uneasily co-exist here, and as such, you’re going to get into a fight whether you’re a vampire, a human, or, worst case scenario, a Werewolf, who nobody likes when they’re obviously being a Werewolf. So form, in this game, truly matters, and it matters in a number of ways. Vampires, for example, don’t read (No, don’t ask why, although I’ll be coming back to this), get damaged by sunlight and fire, but can see in the dark. Humans, on the other hand, can improve themselves, read, but can’t see in the dark and have to eat to survive. Werewolves are basically humans, but become murderbeasts in the full moon. And, depending on whether you’re a vampire or a human, vampires or humans will talk to you, telling you things.

In a way this, along with the narrative framing, are the weakest portions of the game. There’s not a lot folks have to say, except to remind you that General Arobase has a serious grudge against Fane, and couldn’t possibly be here (They’re a master of disguise, we couldn’t possibly be General Arobase!), and the roles of various human or vampire enemies. So if you’re playing for rich lore, or a deep story, look elsewhere, this isn’t exactly Bard material, and bits of it fall apart under scrutiny (Vampires not being able to read is purely a mechanical conceit, and not supported, as far as I can tell, anywhere narratively.)

“I hear this General Assassin who’s good at disguise is here, but you couldn’t *possibly* be them!”
Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Haaaaa.

But mechanically, the game is both strong and simple. Movement is in four directions, everything moves when you do, and you know exactly what to expect. Playing as a vampire, you can heal by licking up blood, and as a human, you can eat, heal if you have the skill, cast spells, and fire a revolver (With limited ammo.) What makes the game interesting, however, is that just because you start as a human or a vampire or a werewolf, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way, because some potions… Change you. And others will affect you differently depending on what form you’re in.

Demon’s blood, for example, will turn you into a vampire temporarily, but will also buff you if you are a vampire, while Luna potions will turn you into a werewolf, again, temporarily. And enemies will change their reactions accordingly. So, playing as a vampire, if you want access to spells, you drink a specific kind of potion, and bam, all those books you picked up are suddenly read, you have skills, you have extra stats (Which last beyond that human transformation), and you can read what lore there is, without having to worry about spellcasting humans. There’s also a fair amount of “neutral” enemies, who’ll try to kill you no matter what, from the get go. So there’s difference, and there’s interest, and everything is accessible and clear. Even the usual equipment problem is abstracted: Better equipment is kept, adding its bonus to your defense, melee, or revolver attack, and worse equipment is added to your score, measured in gold.

Just like Midboss, reviewed earlier this month, you attack enemies by walking into them or casting spells, and numbers happen. The spells, however, are more dynamic, and there’s more to do with the environment.

As such, if you’re looking for an entry level game to let you know what the fuss is with all these roguelikes, roguelites, roguelikelikelikesortas, and whosamaroguesits, Golden Krone Hotel is definitely not a bad start. It’s pretty colourblind friendly, clear in its concepts from the get go, and, being turn based, it doesn’t require manual dexterity or good reflexes to play. Its not the prettiest game out there, the music and sounds are okay at best, “meh” at worst, and you’re probably not playing it for the rich lore, but I would recommend this to both roguelike fans and people looking to understand what the fuss is about.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is not a master of disguise. Although he does enjoy throwing his disguise aside and cackling wildly. Perhaps that’s part of why…

Dead Cells (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

For a bundle of ooze, condemned to murder and drain the genetic information of magical weapons and experiments just like itself, the titular Dead Cells are quite an expressive character. They sort of have to be, as they can’t say anything, and that’s easily explained by the fact that they’re an oozing thing with one burning eye and no mouth. But hey, they understand folks fine, what’s the problem?

Ahhh… Soon, I will have *aaaall* the goopy vials… And maybe then, I can rest.

Anyways, Dead Cells is a game about dodging blows from various enemies, leaping about frantically, slashing and murdering frantically, and occasionally dying frantically, before your little pile of ooze is piped into another headless corpse to begin the whole palaver again for the nefarious purposes of a Necro-Alchemist. It’s a simple game, and pseudo-random level generation means that while I know roughly what to expect from a level, I don’t know the full ins and outs.

Design wise, it’s pretty tight so far. It’s one of the first games where I haven’t found a subweapon I haven’t found a use for, the weapons, similarly, are solid. Enemies telegraph things well enough that I’ve quickly worked out how to dodge, say, the venom of the scorpions in the old sewer. You start with only one path, but unlock more by getting far enough (You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road… And I will be murdered by scorpions!) , you have a fair few weapons already (From main weapons like the electric whip and the BLOOD SWORD, to subweapons like the Meat Grinder, or my personal favourite, Ice Grenades), and, obviously, a bevy of monsters.

What’s that coming out of the ground, is it a Scorpion, it is a scorpion!

It must be said that, if you can’t play twitchy games, Dead Cells is sadly not for you, because it’s twitchy as hell. In fact, one of my current criticisms of the game is that Elite enemies following you gives you absolutely no chance to heal (Which takes time), and sometimes, the fight goes so quickly that you’re not sure what actually killed you (Each individual fight tends to take between 1 and 3 seconds, and, at the end of that time, either they’re dead, or you are. Unless they’re Elites, in which case the fight lasts either too long, or a painfully short time.)

But the sound design is good (The slish and squish of your ooey-gooey body shlorping into your next headless host is… A thing to behold), the visuals are good (Pixellated gore, goo, and viscera is the order of the day… The game revels in its griminess, but everything except the pipe ladders in the sewer levels are clearly differentiated), and even getting past the first level means you improve, albeit slower than if you get further each run, so the difficulty evens out over time. Overall, Dead Cells is already looking promising, and, along with Drifting Lands, is currently my go to for a quick, fun game. The tunes are good, and my only grump right now is that Elite enemies are, if anything, too elite.

Are you… Are you *Bratting* on me, Cursed Chest? Goodness me, I’d almost be tempted if I didn’t already *know* you’d bite me and inflict a death curse!

The Mad Welshman grimaced, if a pile of sentient goop could be said to grimace… This zombie looked… Different somehow. “Is it your hai-URK.”

Welp. Time to start over.

TMWTalk – Video Reviews, or The Lack Thereof

A question, and a statement, that keeps coming up, if only now and again is: “Why don’t you do video reviews? I’d see you more if you did video reviews!” And, honestly, while I can sort of see the point folks are making (Accessibility, “Seeing the game in action”), I’d like to point some things out.

This Ain’t Exactly Sustainable As Is

Right now, at the time of writing, I get approximately $80-87 USD a month for this. While the writing of each review takes anything up to two hours, the actual reviewing process is a bit longer, and varies wildly by game. I’ve written about this fairly extensively in the On Games Journalism series, but one thing I haven’t covered is video reviews. Below are two images, now somewhat out of date, but still illuminating. Less than a hundredth of the folks who, potentially, look at my work pay for it. On a bad week these days, less than a hundredth of the people who visit the site each week pay for the content produced.

While out of date, this is a nominally “Eh” week, in terms of visitors.

 

Although messy, it gets across the point that… *sings* One of these things… Is not like the others!

Let’s talk about videos a little bit now. Video reviews require recorded footage. They are, in my personal opinion, best done as post-commentary, which means I’m guiding my words. Similarly, it’s often best if they’re at least edited to show what the hell I’m talking about. As such, recording can take a while, anything up to four or five hours. Editing is going to mean recording commentary, slicing and splicing to fit, and extra stuff that, thankfully, only takes a few minutes more to add, less once it’s nailed down. But even that’s an extra hour or three (The latter in the case of particularly difficult to present stuff.)

Considering that, at national minimum wage, that should be earning my ass approximately £60 GBP a video? You can perhaps see why I’m leery of this. You can also, perhaps see, when I point out that just two of those videos a week would ensure I have no safety net, as 16 hours is the point at which state benefits (AKA – The Safety Net) is pulled out from under my ass, which also takes the rent with it.

Two, probably less than 30 minute videos, more often ten minutes for the brevity many folks demand in their reviews would, no joke, have the real potential to make my ass homeless. Hilarious, isn’t it? Let’s use an example from my earliest days, when I was young, and foolish, and got exactly nothing for this task. This review, by the way, led to my editor of the time asking for a re-review, something most games journalist will flat out turn down, let alone their editors.

This one was relatively short to edit, at an hour and a half for recording (Three or four races), half an hour for commentary (I knew exactly what I was going to say), and three hours for editing, encoding, and uploading (I had a bad computer then, but I also wanted to splice footage in a sensible manner.) It’s perhaps unsurprising, considering racing games are among the easier ones to splice footage for. Which leads us nicely to the second subject.

Your Mileage May Vary

Video reviews vary in usefulness by a number of factors. With something like Blur, I can get across the gameplay quickly and consistently. But what about something like Offworld Trading Company, or Crusader Kings 2, or Endless Space 2? There’s a lot more going on in many of those, and it’s not exactly obvious a lot of the time. There is also, sadly, another minefield waiting here: OMG SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. I’ve already talked about spoilers in reviews elsewhere, and navigating this particular minefield (In which, as ATLUS recently demonstrated, can come from the developers and publishers as well as the audience) is an added risk.

With a written review, I can still be clear, show off some things, talk about things, and, funnily enough, it’s easier to navigate the Spoilerfield, because there’s more than enough going on to focus on. It helps that I don’t like repeating myself. Of course, with videos, it doesn’t help that I don’t like repeating myself. If Gamerfill still existed, you would have seen me make many of the same points in the review that I make in the video (And, indeed, the re-review, which is one of the rare times that happened at all.)

…Did I mention that I really dislike repeating myself?

Anyways, this has been a brief summation dealing with the question of video content for TMW. Want more? Support the writer. Then the writer can pay his bills. He has more time. He spends less time worrying about said bills, and can, potentially, pay other writers, who also have more time and spend less time worrying about bills. If you really, really want video content, then you’re gonna have to be able to reassure me I’m not going to lose out by doing so.

Thank you for your time.