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Catacomb Kids (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.4c

Feel is a very important thing, from the feel of movement, to the feel of fairness. Like Vagante, which I reviewed, Catacomb Kids is dark… Has plenty of instant death traps… And mixes roguelike and platformer. But, unlike Vagante, Catacomb Kids feels more fair, more fluid, more fun. And it’s not even finished yet.

A hectic, joyful combat, just seconds before I combat-identify… A potion of flames. MY BAD.

So, how does it feel better? It’s a lot of things, adding up. Combat, for one, is somewhat easier. Yes, there’s rolling, and even bats and rats can harm you, but healing is fairly common, swings are mostly rapid, and there’s a sense of impact to even lighter blows. Magic, similarly, is very common, and can even be used by the most magic averse (with some risk.) More intelligent enemies run away, find friends, and even use potions, which makes it feel like, y’know, a living, breathing place. The traps still kind of suck, but I rarely find myself knocked back into spikes for an instadeath or the like.

No, more commonly, it’s the panic that results from rolling into the “SNAP” of a burning oil trap… Ohgodohgod the oil’s pouring, and if I do-FWOOSH. Dead. It’s quite avoidable, much like everything, and the signposting is there (the ceiling spike traps being the least signposted, the lava and crusher blocks the most.) But it’s a scary trap, and this, too, adds to the feel.

Popcorn also adds to the feel, in a pleasant way.

At the present time, the four classes appear to be locked in: Bullies, who can willingly alert nearby enemies and specialise in hitting things rather hard; Tinkers, who have a mechanical buddy for assistance, and are generally quite smart; Poets, also quite smart, but specialising in magic; and Wanderers, who can get an idea of their surroundings well, and specialise in being quick. Kids in each class are generated by set, and there’s a lot of choice in rolling a new character, from spending a little money to roll a new random Kid, spending a fair amount of money to make a custom kid who maybe, maybe, has the skills and equipment to do better than you did, to spending no money at all, and sending these poor, adventuring young adults to their doom, getting a new set when you exhaust the current one. Since each class is only limited in weapon use by things like wanting to use a weapon they like or have skill with, or not wanting to use a weapon they don’t like, and therefore suck at, there’s a lot of room, a lot of potential depth, in each run. And I like that.

The base tutorial for the game is good, but it should be noted that the character customisation screen isn’t terribly informative right now, so it’s a good idea to memorise those icons, checking what they do in play, before taking the leap of a custom Kid.

Visible representation of kit is pretty good, both in portrait and in the game.

That niggle aside, though, I’m having a lot of fun with Catacomb Kids at its present stage. It’s got a lot of tension, but not so much pressure, a fair amount of toys in the toybox to play with, and to see it so enjoyable, so early pleases me.

The Mad Welshman sometimes feels like a slime. Alas, no takeout in this world offers the good stuff.

AMID EVIL (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update #3

AMID EVIL (an anagram of a lot of things, but MEDIEVAL seems the best fit) is, much like DUSK, a love letter to 90s shooters, taking inspiration from Quake, Heretic and Hexen, and Rune. It does all of these things well, with one, glaring exception. Which itself is somewhat 90s.

Super dark areas are also, to be fair, somewhat 90s.

Specifically, the menu is a godawfully unreadable eyesore, and the ammo UI has hard to read elements. If both could be made clearer, then AMID EVIL would gain the coveted (ha) “Does What It Says On The Tin.” As is, however, it does enough well that the UI is, accurately, that glaring exception.

Storywise, it’s there, and there’s not really all that much to say about it. Like the games it’s inspired by, the story is a framing device, a Raison de l’assassinat more than anything else. Ancient evil, exiled sorcerer/warrior, a multidimensional horde of death and blood, just waiting to be gibbed.

I’ll give the AMID EVIL team this: The gibbing is pretty good, and comes in many dramatically named flavours. Starting with the Axe of the Black Labyrinth, and moving, weapon by weapon, to the Star of Torment (a flechette firing mace with wall pinning abilities) and the Aeternum (the BFG of the game, a super slow, but deadly multi-dimensional murder machine), each has their own quirks, and their own changes when you’ve killed enough enemies, and collected enough soul, to unlock a surge of SOUL POWER, aka “The weapons get nastier for a while, so long as you keep killing.” Currently, my favourite is the Star of Torment, as… Well, it does a fair amount of damage, is easy enough to aim, and… Wall pinning, geez!

Soul Power makes even the pistol analogues of the game seem godlike. Which makes me sad that it requires a lot to wield it well.

Alas, the soul power is my other niggle, purely a personal dislike, about AMID EVIL. I can understand, somewhat, how it’s meant to be a force multiplier for the skillful, and an ass saver otherwise. But once that meter’s full, the next time you hit the fire button, regardless of whether you want it, it unleashes. It won’t unleash while you’re firing, a recent improvement I like, but it’s still a cool thing I don’t really get to enjoy as much of because I don’t have as much control over its use as I’d like.

Beyond that, and the aforementioned UI though, the game plays to its aesthetic well, making good use of its low poly worlds, with mostly clear level design, 3 worlds out of the seven planned already in the game, an endless wave mode, accessibility options, and, of course, the old school “Type the word in” cheats. If Indefatigable and the New Blood team could improve that UI, make it more readable while keeping the ‘tude, I would have very little to complain about with its fast paced, retro inspired action. Even as it is, AMID EVIL is a bit of alright, a fairly good first person shooter taking the speed and aesthetic of predecessors.

Nothing like a boss in silent, pre-death repose to close up a review. Beautiful.

The Mad Welshman knows what it’s like to be keeper of ancient weaponry, wielding the Quiet Blade of Holistic Criticism.

One Deck Dungeon (Early Access Review)

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

Adaptations of board games, for better or for ill, generally have to be faithful to the original. And so it is with One Deck Dungeon, a game that toes the line between “Yeah, that’s fair” and some good, old fashioned table flipping. You might be unsurprised to learn that dice are heavily involved. But let’s get into that.

If I’m clever, and my Black Die of General Usefulness roll well… I can still take it. Let’s do this.

One Deck Dungeon is a game where the majority of the deck remains roughly the same. Here, a beetle, armoured up the wazoo, and able to run away with its loot rather than die (as it should) if its armour remains unbreached, regardless of how much it hurt. There, a Wraith, avoided by many an adventurer, not for the traditional reason of life drain, but because it converts items (Which give you dice) into XP (Which, while useful in a fair few contexts, doesn’t give you dice, and gives you nothing if you haven’t levelled up yet.) So, it’s a game where, like a traditional RPG, knowing what something is on first glance (even without things helpfully being labelled and clearly explained on encountering them) means you can answer that age old question: Kill, Flee, Disarm. Every dungeon has the same timer, ticking down by a base 2 per turn, ticking further down if time is spent murdering an enemy (IE – boxes with an hourglass in them aren’t fitted with a corresponding die), and, once time has been used up, staying in that level of the dungeon hurts the adventurers (Presumably they have a bad case of loot itch, a horrid affliction that means not-looking for loot somewhere more powerful than where you were causes physical pain.)

Where does the change come in, the challenge from trying different things? Well, mainly two sources right now: The Adventurers (each with different values of stats-as-dice, in five flavours, and different skills if you play single player or two player) and the Dungeons (Each of which has a different boss, and different, stacking “Bad Things” per level.) My Warrior has, generally speaking, had a good time in the beginner dungeon (even getting me my sole win so far), but, due to a variety of factors, from 2s magically disappearing because of a Weakness Curse to magic based armour and damage, hasn’t done so well in, for example, The Lich’s Tomb, or against the Yeti. So… Everything is understandable, at a glance, and this is good.

So… Close, dammit! [dies]

You would think, at this point, that I’d then point to the dice and cry “BULLLL!” But no. Mainly because, while victory against a boss is only assured if you’re both good and a little lucky (and, in cases like the Yeti, heavily weighted toward hitting things while also having some dice to take care of, say, Magic and Agility), getting to the boss is, generally speaking, okay. The majority of the dungeon deck doesn’t change, as noted, so there’s a careful balance between taking damage to Get Cool Stuff (XP so you can hold more stuff, potions so you can live long enough to get stuff, or use special abilities in your quest to get stuff, stuff adds to your dice, skills to more easily turn crap dice into good dice, so on so forth) and knowing when it’s good to Just Run (The Wraith, for example, I generally avoid or potion out of if I can. No stuff for you, mister Wraith, only meeeee.) The feeling of being fair is important, and, for all that it is, at its core, a game about rolling dice and hoping for high numbers, One Deck Dungeon mostly feels fair.

Could it be more fair? Quite possibly. As implied, without a bit of luck, some good stats, and preferably a potion stashed away, the bosses of each of the five dungeons will mercilessly muller you. But then again, I’ve come so close… So close… So I know that these bosses can be killed, they can be beaten. Is it fair enough to keep me coming in without a friend to play with? Maybe. It does have a two player local mode at the moment, with each player’s stats and Heroic Abilities halved in effectiveness, but a good mix (Warrior/Rogue, for example, has served me well so far in Yeti’s Cavern) goes a long way, and that “X skills/items per character” wears thin slower (normally, in a single player run, I don’t bother going for items on higher floors.) I can even build synergy, so it helps.

5 Classes, 5 dungeons, and the only one I’ve not felt cool with so far was the Paladin. I more put this down to being a vaudevillain than any mechanical demerit with their play, though…

Overall, One Deck Dungeon explains itself and its rules quite well, seems mostly balanced and fair (for a given value of fair), and, if there were anything I’d maybe get tired of, it’s the main dungeon deck. Oh, right, another Goblin. Two flame traps in a row? Yaaawn. Still, it’s an alright pick if you like two player local play, or a single player game where you’re relatively free to expand your tactics in interesting directions. We’ll see how that progresses as time goes on.

The Mad Welshman appreciates well how the appearance of fairness is just as important as actually being fair. The game, thankfully, is both.

City of Brass (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.5

City of Brass, last time I looked at it, showed promise. A game of quickly executing your plans in order to progress further into a city cursed with greed and everlasting life (of a sort) , it was already drawing me in, luring me with its traps, its enemies making for interesting, emergent challenges, and its middle eastern setting.

Mmm, the sweet smell of incense on the – oh, that’s burning undead? Huh, learn a new thing every day!

With blessings to match the burdens, further customising difficulty, I’m somewhat happy to say that the game has, overall, improved on its original promise. Even if some things remain roughly the same. Specifically, the Gatekeepers, bosses of each of the game’s five areas.

Before we get into that, though, let’s recap what remains good. Aesthetically, the game is on point, from its lush setting that subtly changes as you get further into the city, its musical and sound cues, and the clarity of everything. This is a treasure, I can tell by the noise, and the sight. This is a windtrap, clearly identifiable from even a fair way away, which is important if I want to know what not to randomly back into for instant death funtimes. That noise signifies I’ve been spotted by a sorceress. Not an archer, a sorceress. Maybe I can use that. I can, with the knowledge I’ve built up over three areas of the game so far, use a lot of this, if I play my cards right. And this is definitely a strength of the game.

Keeping the core gameplay simple, and challenging, is also of note. While items may affect, for example, the strength of your throws, or lure treasure to you, or change something about your basic weaponry and armour, you still know, roughly, what to expect: Here is your whip, for pulling and shoving enemies and items, triggering traps, and swinging off things. Here’s your sword, for walloping things. Here is your armour, and, normally, it will sort of protect you. Sort of. Three levels per area, three wishes you may or may not wish to spend (Including using all three at the beginning of the game to shortcut to the third area), it’s all simple to understand, and explains itself well. Similarly, blessings make things easier, but deny you a place on the leaderboard, burdens make things harder, and give you extra gold or XP.

Wishes, if not used on skipping areas, can sometimes change the tactical landscape greatly. A good case in point are the trap genies, who now serve… ME.

The only wrinkle to this is that, once you get used to enemies and traps, you’re inevitably going to reach that third level, and find yourself facing off against something rare, that’s simultaneously harder to learn, and less likely to give you lots of chances to learn it: The Gatekeepers. Based on enemies previously encountered, the Gatekeepers are a leap in difficulty, and I’m thankful I have the option to skip three of the five with my wishes. Because oh boy, they’re hard. Take the first, the Sorceress analogue. Okay, so sorceresses are a pain. They don’t let you get close for long, take about as many hits as a guardsman (three) , and fire ranged attacks that, if they hit, hurt. They’re still something you can work with. The Sorceress, on the other hand, is, like her Gatekeeper Brethren, a gimmick enemy of a sort. No hitting her until her shield’s down, and how do you knock that shield down? Whipping homing projectiles back at her.

On the upside, you don’t have to hit them directly back at her. On the downside, you will, every few seconds, have to whip, block, or run the hell away from those projectiles, and you never have many hits with which to do it. It’s not insurmountable. It is a leap in difficulty, so these Gatekeepers are aptly named, skillgates of sorts, where, while they don’t take many more hits (not counting shields and the like), the difficulty is in getting those hits in.

These shutters, thankfully, block some of the projectiles, and give you a temporary chance. Make the most of it.

Despite this, I still feel City of Brass definitely comes out more positive than negative. The developers have been very thoughtful in providing means of skipping some of these once they’re beaten for the first time, and the addition of blessings, in order to provide an easier experience, are a godsend. The game is clear, lush, and, for the most part, teaches its world and rules very well, and I continue… To look forward to what’s coming next.

After writing this review, The Mad Welshman had a run where he got to level 10, using the Extra Health and Damage blessings. They make a Big difference!

Mad Crown (Early Access Review)

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

IMPORTANT REVIEW NOTE: The Steam Store page will tell you it is not English supporting. This is an oversight. Second menu button, third tab, bottom drop down menu option, select English. You’re welcome.

This past year, it seems, my cup runneth over with interesting, accessible, yet challenging Roguelikes. And Mad Crown was an especially nice surprise to review, considering the developers hadn’t originally planned to localise it until release. So, thanks for that, S-Game (M-Game?) , and thanks also for making said localisation moddable. Perhaps, with this, I could make a Wenglish translation. Enemy is BLEEDIN’ TAMPIN’ , BUTT.

Three thieves, and a treasure containing monster. I foresee pretty much everything running away this fight, some of it with my hard-earned…

But I digress. Mad Crown is a turn based roguelike, in which a slowly growing group of adventurers try to head deeper into a nether dungeon, to seek an artefact of great power that had gone missing previously. So far, so… Wait, buzzsaw robots? Grinning goblinoids and zombie gangers? Huh. Mad Crown’s world is an interesting and eclectic mix, and the hand drawn art style both stands out and sells it quite well. The music’s good, the UI’s clear, and the game?

The game isn’t bad at all. Difficult, yes. But difficult in a way that can be understood. Enemies debuff a lot, from Chaos (confusion) to Disarming (Removes equipment), and against that, each character has one basic attack, one special attack, one defensive ability, and a passive. Almost everything else is cards, from equipment cards (adding armour, damage, and special abilities), spells (The instant action Heraldries and the all group Upanishads providing an interesting balance: Do you want to attack as well as debuff or hurt a single enemy, or do you want to try affecting everyone with the debuff? Tough call), and items. Each dungeon run starts you at a low level (levelling up as you go), and the longer you take in the dungeon, the more overlevelled enemies get. Add in the other wrinkle, that if an enemy kills another enemy, it levels up, and…

The further into the dungeon you get, the more interesting it becomes. Although, y’know, also the more *lethal* it becomes…

…Look, there’s a lot of depth here, both in the dungeon, and the town. Individual dungeons are relatively short, the game mostly tutorialises well, and it gets a lot of good mileage out of the features currently present in the game. I’ve crowed with delight as I killed multiple opponents in a single turn, and recoiled as what I thought was going to be an easy enemy ate its friends, and suddenly became a miniboss. Said “easy” enemy is now higher on my target list in a fight, precisely because it’s one of the few that willingly attacks its own friends without confusion.

And yet, it remains at least moderately fair, due to its rescue system. Got a friend with the game? Good, because they can save your kit, and you can save theirs, once you get far enough in the story that the rescue of your equipment from your corpses is no longer automatic. Copy a code to your clipboard, give it to your friend, and they rescue your kit. Nice, encourages you having friends playing, and makes the difficulty curve just that little bit smoother in the earlier stages of the game.

Overall, I quite like Mad Crown, occasional frustrations aside. It’s got promise, it’s got a lot to unpack and unlock, and its systems are easily explained and learned in play. I look forward to seeing where this one goes.

Eep.

The Mad Welshman is pleased to be the first english language reviewer of this game. Wooooooo!