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Slay the Spire (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Slaying a sentient tower with all sorts of gribbleys living in, parasitising, and, to an extent, defending its ancient heart is, as it turns out, a difficult endeavour. Although it must be said that, at least some of the time, that’s definitely my fault. For example, spending lots of energy on a multiple attack card to try and kill something that reflects more damage than I’m handing out? That wasn’t a wise move.

Reading an ancient and maddening book when I was low on HP, and I already knew I didn’t have the HP to read it? My fault.

Ughhh… I will forever doubt if this grinning snake really was just giving me money.

Taking this path absolutely filled with monsters, and not a lot of healing or mystery options, because reasons? Yep, that bit me in the ass.

Still, Slay the Spire is, for all these things that were definitely my fault, a tough, turn based, choose your own path RPG brawler with a mechanic we seem to be seeing more of: Cards for skills, attacks, and powers, with what you can do limited by both hand size and Energy. And, you know? It’s got a fair few options spread among the 2 characters currently available.

The Ironclad, for example, specialises in defence, but also has nasty little tricks like Armament, a card that not only adds defense, but upgrades either a single card, or your whole hand. Or perhaps trading HP for strength, healing through murder, or Rampage, a card that slowly accrues damage with each use. Healing a little after every fight, he’s the long hauler.

The Silent, by contrast, has poison, and can quickly build up a deck where she builds up silly amounts of Energy and cards in the hand, for murderous barrages and a host of status effects. Sure, she doesn’t have a lot of defense, but when she gets going, things die very, very quickly.

Pictured: A lot of options, from the relics I’ve obtained, to the cards in my hand. How will I deal with this goshdarn ghost?

Add in the Relics, items that change up how things go the entire run, and the “Colourless” cards, available to all characters if they can find them, and you have a game with a lot of tactical options… If you can get them. After all, this is a procgen game, and there is no guaranteed route to a single build. The only thing that doesn’t really change… Is enemy patterns. Thieves gonna thieve, Priestesses gonna buff, and thorny orbs are only gonna get thornier the longer you leave them.

Visually, I’m quite fond of it. It’s simple, but it’s also very clear. You know what’s what, from the enemy intent, the tooltips are solid, and only with extremely silly builds do the cards become a little hard to distinguish. A little. Musically, the game’s orchestral tunes really set the scene, the drama, and fit well.

So, lots of tactical options, with adaptability required due to procgen? Okay, good. Good music? Yup. Accessible visuals, simple controls (It’s all mouse, and turn-based)? Good. Pattern based enemies and bosses being difficult the first time, but once you know the pattern, you at least know what you’re in for, all with interesting visual design? Yup. All in all, a solid game so far, very promising. When the worst things you can say is “Not for folks who hate turn based RPG combat, because it’s at the core” and “Some of the animations are a little lacking (Compensated for by solid soundwork)”, then you know you’re off to a good start.

The Silent is clever. She knows poisons that even affect the dread Slimes.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders about the Hexaghost’s backstory. I mean, was it a bad hexagon in life, or did it just have unfinished business?

MAIA (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.64

“Mr. Johnson, Aldis isn’t moving.”

“I say, not moving? Isn’t he perfectly fine with an 18 hour workday and sleeping on cold tile?”

“Er… I think he might be dead, Mr. Johnson.”

Well, that’s a crap work ethic!”

Pictured: A Crap Work Ethic

MAIA remains a Very British Game. What do we do when we have to concentrate on power, oxygen and food generation, and our colonists collapse? Why, we call down another one, every ten minutes, until the bally problem’s solved! Hurricanes? Oh, we’ll bunker down, we’ve done this before, and it’s not like we need all that oxygen right now. Or cooking. Or light. Twelve earthquakes in a row? Anybody dead or anything damaged? No? Well, carry on then.

It’s interesting just how dystopic it all is, from the improvements to the solar stills (Oh, we’ll just add this drug that helps keep colonists cool… Yes, it has nasty side effects if we use it too much, but naaaaah, that’d never happen!) to minor descriptions (The Body Storage, on mouse over, reveals that it is, in fact, the Snuff Box. Care for a pinch?)

But it works. There are, as you might expect from early access, still some bugs, and it’s a game that takes a while to get going, but nothing is insurmountable, and that’s nice. Yes, there will be things that seriously screw it up (If a megabeast decides your Geothermal Generator is the perfect place to scratch their back, well… Scratch one Generator), there will be obstacles, but everything has at least palliative solutions, if not always actual solutions. Air and heat, for example, are pretty quick to solve, and, even without beginning research, there are basic food solutions, you can meet your power needs (Especially if you happen to find some Geothermal vents near enough to build with), and your colonists…

Since animal-proof locks were considered surplus to budget requirements, yes, the native flora can and will invade your base. Thankfully, *nobody* is truly defenseless.

…Well, they can be helpful. You’ll quickly spot the middle manager types, because not only don’t they do much, they have this tendency of calling for meetings or wanting to suggest plans. Meanwhile, others will try to make the IMPs (Your friendly mining droids) sentient, work on improving heat insulation, offer to set your crops on fire to solve a crop infection… And some of this, among other offers they make, are legitimately helpful. They even write nice little haikus and strange ambient tunes, when they feel like it.

Despite a sometimes slow pace to the game, I legitimately enjoy MAIA. It’s got a clear aesthetic, and due to the fact that, barring something that wipes out all your colonists within a 10 minute window, you can come back from disasters, it’s also a fairly pleasant ride.

It is the far future. Space can be colonised, but nobody particularly wants to build a toilet. In spite of this, life has become good…

Welsh and villainous
I control your lives now
Dance gaily for me.

Bombslinger (Early-Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Update 13 (Aug 14th-Time of writing)

Normally, for a game review, I try to avoid referring to a game in terms of other games. With Bombslinger, its influences are so very clear that this becomes somewhat counterproductive. And those influences can boil down to two games, and one film genre: Bomberman, Binding of Isaac, and Spaghetti Westerns.

A shop, potentially for buying upgrades, piles of ashes where the simpler enemies once stood, the more challenging enemies are still around, and a super-bomb barrel that I could potentially use. Yup, this helps sum up that mixture of elements!

You are an outlaw who settled down, then had his house burned down by the very gang he left, and his wife murdered. As such, this pisses you off, and off you trot on a revenge quest that involves bombing the heck out of every person, beast, or supernatural creature in your way. Like Bomberman, you start with a single bomb, able to affect a single tile in each cardinal direction, and can level up your speed, number of bombs you can lay at any time, and the number of tiles the flames spurt out. Like Binding of Isaac, each room you enter can have chests, explodables, shops, and enemies in some combination or other, and, if it has enemies in, you can’t leave until everyone is dead. Somewhere in each level is a boss, and defeating this boss gets you to the next level. Take enough damage, you die. There’s more to it than that, with special abilities, experience from enemies (your main means of levelling up your stats), Snake Oil (Like potions in traditional roguelikes, these have a random effect, although they always seem to cause 1 damage in doing so), and starting items (Which can improve your stats or have other effects, like the Broom, which clears all non-fire, non-chest obstacles in a room once everybody’s dead.)

Part of the reason I have to explain this is because what flaws this game has, it inherits from its inspirations. Put at its simplest, the worst level enemies are more threatening than the bosses, but once you get the pain train rolling, that’s it, very little is going to stop you except the spectre of Yet Another Stupid Death. Let’s take the first level as an example.

The boss for the level is either a goat from the fires of hell (and its normal goat summons) or a carnival fire-breather turned bandit, who has, er… Fire. Both are heavily pattern based, and knowing the pattern… Largely nullifies their difficulty. Okay, fine, they’re first bosses. Taking damage from them once you know the pattern is, however, just plain embarassing.

I’m not even going to *pretend* the game isn’t using stereotypes. So yeah, be warned about that.

Now compare that to the rifleman and molotov thrower, both perfectly normal enemies. The rifleman only sleeps occasionally, wakes when you’re near or there’s a bomb nearby, and shoots. Yes, this blows up your bombs, so your tactic is to try to ambush him with the timed component, while also leaving you free to ambush him again. This is a lot trickier than it sounds. Similarly, the molotov thrower will, on seeing you, throw a 1-tile bomb in your direction. So, say, being 2 tiles away from him when he sees you guarantees that, unless your action is to run away immediately, you’re going to take damage.

Even normal enemies can, for want of a better word, be tedious. Both farmer types, for example, will run the hell away if they see a bomb, and only the white guys will occasionally fall asleep. Coyotes follow a very similar pattern, and the Crazed Miner… Ohhhh, I hate that guy. That guy is the worst of both worlds, because if he sees a bomb, his instinct will be to knock it the hell away before it explodes. Sometimes, you can use this. More often, it’s a case of having a very long range bomb.

Now, you might be getting the impression, from all this talk, that Bombslinger is a Bad Game. No. A game with some frustrating elements even after you’ve learned the enemy patterns, sure, and that’s certainly not a good thing, but there are interesting elements to the game, and it’s clear some thought has gone into it. For example, lesser versions of the hell-goat (who can also push bombs, but they have to charge to do so) present quite a few opportunities for the canny player, and some of the gun-toting enemies in the game (the cowboy and the gatling gunner) are, awkward placements aside, much more reasonable. The game uses sprites in a 3D space to mostly good effect, and with the exception of the farmers (Who just seem a bit awkward in the context, on a couple of levels), the enemy designs are interesting, and clearly communicate what they are and what they do.

YASD Strikes Again

So, Bombslinger, currently, is an interesting, but flawed game, experimenting with mixing elements that definitely seem to be able to fit together, even if they don’t quite gel right all the time, and, for four levels consisting of several arenas (the equivalent of a Bomberman World), a fair amount of unlocks and power ups to discover, and a soundtrack that works just fine, it’s not unreasonable to say this is alright. And good enough? Is good enough.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have much to close with this time. He’s busy grappling with a hell-goat. Damned petsitting…

Cogmind (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site
Version: Beta 3

It’s one heck of a thing, to see a robotic hive in action. A wall gets blown up, along with some hostile bots, and a small army of utility robots arrives on the scene quite quickly, to pick up parts and rubble for recycling, to rebuild the walls, and, before you know it, everything’s pristine again.

The mines, where I found a wonderful sensor that I thought would keep me safe. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Not that you’ll be spending too much time watching this, since hostile robots are also quite quick to the scene, repair is hard to come by, and, being a sentient robot that is quite fragile once all the bits it’s accumulated have blown off, you generally don’t want to be hanging around. But it is interesting to see. Such is Cogmind, the Roguelike by GridSage Games.

Now, one thing to definitely get out of the way first is that Cogmind is hard. Thankfully, there are two factors that make this game more accessible (Beyond being turn-based.) Firstly, there’s two flavours of “Easier Mode” in the options (Yes and EXTRA YES) , and secondly, the controls are fairly simple. Left clicking on things interacts with them (and is fairly context sensitive: Left clicking an enemy fires at it, for example), right clicking examines them (Useful information wise, and the ASCII art for various items is kind of cool), numpad keys moves, G gets things, and escape opens up the menu.

Core to the game is the fact that you are reliant on parts to become less vulnerable… But those parts come from other robots, and the longer you stay in one area, the more you fight or blow shit up or hack things, the bigger the response is. Leaving for another area lowers the alert a little, but you’re always a patrol or two away from death, even with high powered machinery. So… Do you try to find sensors, so you can see them before they see you? Bigger bangtubes so you can kill them before they have much of a chance to react? Smarter weaponry that lets you murder from afar? Maybe hacking tools, so you can make all these lovely, deadly creations your best friends in the whole world? All of these require different strategies, and, of course, finding the right parts. Which, generally speaking, will not be parted so easily from the robots that are currently using them. Everything else, from finding materials forges to murdering scavenger droids for anything they’ve picked up, is pretty much a gamble. And, since the parts double as your armour, getting into fights means you have to replace parts, changing your strategy on the fly.

On the one hand, I got tantalising information, and hints as to how get more. On the other, the alert level just got raised, and they know roughly where I am. Crap.

As such, the main killler of my runs so far aren’t the rare boss encounters, or the melee only Bruiser Bots… No, it’s the humble S-10 “Pest.” They’re not armed with much… They’re not tough… But they’re fast, and come in groups, outpacing even your speedily rolling exposed core. And if something can keep up with, and keep firing on, your core… Well, it’s game over, and back to the trash-heap you go.

If you can get into it, however, and get somewhere, there’s an interesting world out there. A world of robots, some sentient, some not-so-sentient, and clues as to the true nature of your core. It helps that, once you’ve got the hang of things, you can do some serious damage, and get around a fair bit. But, most often, you’ll end your runs a small, desperately rolling ball, chased and reduced to scrap, seemingly for the crime of being just that little bit different.

If you’re okay with that, then give Cogmind a go. Perhaps you’ll find more about the world than I have.

I’d managed to blow quite a few up before they got me, but, as you can see… There were a lot more coming, and I had no options left. Time to die…

The Mad Welshman sympathises with the plight of his robot overlo- er, friends. Yes, definitely friends.

Oxygen Not Included (Oil Update, Early Access Review)

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

I can, even at this relatively early stage of Klei’s survival sim, see a few obvious things. Firstly, due to the very nature of Oxygen Not Included, I get easily frustrated. Secondly, plumbers and electricians are deities among humankind. Not a lot of this makes sense until you realise that the core element of the game is that it’s a survival management game… In a closed system. Oxygen is most definitely not included. It must be earned. And, past about day 10, this is a near constant struggle.

Yes, I get frustrated with it easily. But that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the vision here.

When Digging Out Water-Pools Backfires Horribly, a TMW Special.

In any case, the basic idea is very simple: You start with three “Duplicants” (clones, basically), stranded mysteriously by a teleporting gate (that also, periodically, is able to “print” new Duplicants.) They start with a ration box, and a small room that has some oxygen, and from there? Well, everything. Outhouses. You need those. And sinks to clean up. Wait, now you need water to wash with. Beds. Food. Electricity to power de-oxidisers and research stations. Algae to run those de-oxidisers, and dirt and more water for research. Wait, crap, you forgot about the carbon dioxide buildup, got to put that somewhere… And the poop. And the bad water. And so it goes, on and on until you’re trying to displace all the waste heat your generators and de-oxidisers and wires and pipes are making.

It is, perhaps, the first game I’ve come across where it becomes more complicated the more established you are. Because, of course, all of these actions, from growing to laying pipes to manning fans and giant hamster wheels, take time. And sure, more people will mean more gets done, but more people also means more CO2 generated. More food eaten. And, because Duplicants have flaws like consuming more oxygen than their compatriots, having a weak bladder, farting a lot… You have to choose your Duplicants wisely, as well. Heck, everything has to be chosen wisely, and, as I’ve mentioned, the further you get, the bigger the scale of the things you have to do, to deal with the buildup of problems over time. I highly expect, by the time I get to day 50, that I’ll have to build an oxygen pump at the top of my base, running a heat dissipating pipe through several areas I don’t care about (but will have to dig through and survive), before finally pumping that good, and most importantly, cooler air near the bottom of my base. Not the exact bottom, you understand… I have to have somewhere the CO2’s going to… Oh wait, now I need to dig down. Crap.

Not Pictured: Me panicking as I realise I’m going to run out of Algae *and* Hydrogen before I can build and power a Slime to Algae Converter.

Right now, there isn’t an end-goal to the game, although there are tantalising hints and things to be discovered. Offices, isolated in the middle of this asteroid in nowhere. Vending machines, with notices not to put harmful materials in. Brains in jars, that give your Duplicants new or improved skills, providing you find them. And, of course, beasties. The simple Hatch, which can be useful for their ability to eat things and poop coal, but will also, unchecked, eat the food destined for your colonist’s bellies. The Slimepuff, which can make slime in areas of polluted oxygen… Whether you want them to or not. And, of course, germs. There’s more, obviously, but I want at least some mystery for the new player.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where Oxygen Not Included goes, because when it comes to survival games, you can’t really top this in terms of challenge without becoming deeply unfair and unfun. As it is, I can see the long-term frustration inherent to its core premise turning folks off, but I also appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that’s gone into making even surviving to 100 days plus possible without resorting to “Eh, this thing just makes the air cooler/adds oxygen/just removes a need” to this point.

MYSTERY!

The Mad Welshman is pleased to announce that Klei have entered the hallowed ranks of “These developers slightly intimidate me.” He politely asks that they not abuse this honour.