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To Hell With Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

To Hell With Hell, if it could maybe tone it down a little, would be a cool, good, and interesting twin-stick shooting roguesortamaybekindalike with a main character I’m still not sure about. As it is, it’s definitely got two of those, and is working on a third.

The masks in this game are, even at their worst, quite interesting. Fine example: The ninja mask has a stunning harpoon that pulls enemies toward you. GET OVER HERE!!!

The game’s plot, such as it is, involves Natasia, a scantily clad woman who, as it turns out, is one of the many children of a Duke of Hell, part of their backup plan if, for example, they were deposed by other minions of hell and held captive. At the present time, despite the comic book presentation, this really is “Such as it is”, a somewhat flimsy justification for a scantily clad woman to shoot demons. I’d say more, but the game’s really not giving me a lot to work with here beyond that. So… Swiftly moving on!

There is, thankfully, more meat aesthetically and gameplay wise, because this is… A game that touts its difficulty. Wait, don’t run away, it mainly does this with enemies being bullet spongy, the player not being bullet spongy, limited ammunition (encouraging you to switch weapons, or use melee… The latter’s not a great option, unfortunately), and limited saves on a run (6 saves on the basic difficulty, which comes to one save every 2 levels.) That this is the easiest difficulty perhaps sets the tone (slightly offputting, at the present time), and if it were just this? I would be much less kind, considering some of the enemies, such as the goat-headed explosion summoner, the large toad-thing that fires fans of bullets, and the fact that even the lowest tier of enemies takes between 3 to 5 shots to kill. Oh, and melee enemies and minibosses. Let’s not forget those.

As I said, thankfully, there’s more to it than this, because not only are there random skill ups on successfully completing a level (such as slower enemy bullets, more damage, a chance of health on killing an enemy, so on), the health can be boosted, and further abilities gained… With masks.

I can’t seem to face up to the facts… I’m tense and nervous, and I… Can’t relax…

Seemingly inspired by games like Wonderboy, Kid Chameleon, or Magician Lord, not only are there guns, health, and ammo pickups, there are masks, of which you can normally carry two, one or two appears per level, and each adds both health and special abilities, of varying use. Lose health, lose the masks, but while you’re carrying them, things like eating guns for ammo (eh), shotgun blasts (fair), shields (the SWAT mask), and fireballs (the cacodemon mask, a very nice area of effect) are yours to command, and you can switch between them.

Finally, add in that you automatically reload from your save when you die, allowing you to bully on through in some (but not all) cases, and… Well, it goes from highly frustrating to moderately so. Maybe it’s because a pair of goat-heads can really ruin your day from a surprising distance away that you have to cover while probably being shot at, and they don’t have to worry about line of sight. Maybe it’s because the starter pistol is, far and away, the worst option for dealing with enemies. Maybe it’s because, despite the fact melee deflects bullets, it’s a little slow. It’s nothing obvious in the design that’s putting me off, mechanically… But it is, at the moment, putting me off.

As noted, aesthetically, it’s fine. Enemies are clearly differentiated from the background, the levels have been brightened up from when I last looked at it, so it’s less muddy, and its pixel stylings definitely say “Hell” while working within the constraints of a twin-stick shooter. Musically, it’s that most devilish of music, hard guitars, and I am perfectly okay with this. But, right now, although it’s hard to define, To Hell With Hell essentially needs to work on its balance. Maybe that means having slightly beefier guns. Maybe that means having less tanky enemies for what is currently the lowest difficulty setting. It probably doesn’t mean making the masks more powerful, because that, funnily enough, is one of the parts that feels right.

YES. PLEASE.

But, overall, To Hell With Hell isn’t quite my cup of tea, being a little too devilish for my personal taste.

The Mad Welshman is well acquainted with Hell, one of the many underworlds and places of punishment he visits for entertainment purposes on a semi-regular basis.

Hot Lava! (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Saying the words “First Person Platforming” is, in the majority of cases, a phrase to make one shudder. It’s rarely replied to politely, and, while there have been good games with first person platforming and movement elements, they’re rare enough that, for the most part, they don’t go down well.

Not pictured: The fifteen other attempts to get the sub 5 minute star, the buckets of sweat dumped over me, the grunts of EFFORT and the Body English. Also that this is a still of the middle of a series of jumps that take about a second, maybe a second and a half.

So it’s perhaps a good start for me to say that the most shudderworthy part of Hot Lava, a game that entirely revolves around first person platforming, was its attempt at a Saturday Morning Cartoon theme, and the lampshady humour about SatAm writing. Also the really thin poles, but we’ll get to those.

From what I can tell, the story of the game, such as it is, is that you’re a child with a highly active imagination (Who, as in my childhood, seems to be going through an “Imaginary self” phase), who is playing “The Floor Is Lava” , that game where the whole point isn’t to touch the carpet or flooring, because if you do… If you doooo… You’re sooooo dead. Because the floor is lava!

Now add in a score mechanic, collectibles, fake loot boxes bought with in-game currency, character customisation of your Action-Man jointed avatars, time-trial leaderboards, a pogo stick for some challenges, and a whole host of tricks and traps that could conceivably be how a child would imagine the danker and hidden parts of the school (like the ventilation being filled with deadly fans and crusher traps), and you have Hot Lava in its present, Early Access state.

Guess who gets the Boy Aquaman(TM) Short End of the Stick? #GiveSueNamiAChanceHackWriters

Aesthetically and accessiblity wise, insofar as a game about, basically, speedrunning a first person platforming level is pretty good. I never outright failed to notice something I could (in theory) jump to, there’s a checkpoint marker that is, unfortunately, not often all that useful, but it is there, and clear to boot, I had no problems with menu options or colourblindness issues, and things that can be swung from or grappled are highlighted well. The controls are, at their basic level, pretty simple: Tap space to jump, WASD to move, you control your jump mainly by mouse direction, rather than strafing, and you automatically grab anything that you can grab and have successfully reached.

Of course, for the “Pros” (ARGH) , there are tricks like perfect jump timing, a variation on Quake Bunny Hopping (If you jump, and both strafe and turn in a direction, then jump with the right rhythm, alternating directions, your momentum increases. A lot), and other such shenanigans. Oh, and a hidden comic and golden pin somewhere in the level, further cementing that one of the inspirations here (Beyond the child-to-tween-hood of a 30-40 something) is the Tony Hawks series. Or maybe Dave Mirra Pro BMX…

Scratch that, I have very unfond memories of playing the latter. In any case, the game, overall, feels alright, and you quickly get into the rhythm, except for the times you’re lost (The game relies on replay, so that’s less of a sin than you’d think), the times the way forward is awkward (Such as in the Ventilation Tunnels Of Crushing and Fanblades) , and… Thin rods that you have to jump on. The first person equivalent of “Pixel perfect platforming”, I despise them so, and am grateful that their somewhat easier to deal with cousin, Thin Rods You Can Jump On And Run Across, don’t have a tightrope or grind balance mechanic to – that is not a suggestion, Klei Entertainment… koff… Just to clarify.

Unlike either 80s playsets or loot boxes, the playsets of Hot Lava don’t ask for your blood, soul, money, or grandparents. All you need is to play. Plaaaaay. Plaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy!

As much as it feels odd to say this, Hot Lava… Looks promising. And this, funnily enough, is why I didn’t delay this review until the second area (Billed for about a week after the review hits) arrived… Because, even at this early stage, it’s oddly fun. With the exception of the SatAm theme… Sorry, folks, I know some SatAm themes were abominable, but that’s no excuse, dammit!

The Mad Welshman, overall, recommends this. The lava has told him it will eat all his favourite socks if he doesn’t. Joke’s on the lava, he likes the game anyway, and never mastered the art of wearing matching pairs.

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

Beacon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $19.99 (Approximately £15 , 657 copies remaining of first access at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: o.14A

It’s a decidedly eerie feeling, finding yourself. No, not in the sense of discovering your personality. I mean, discovering you, or, more accurately, an earlier clone of you that didn’t make it, for whatever reason. But that’s part of the “joy” of Beacon, a third-person twin-stick game where you are a clone. And not necessarily a faithful one, either.

Hrm, there’s something different about me… Oh, I redid my hair in the vat! Niiiice!

Okay, that bit takes some explaining. While Beacon is indeed another twin-stick, procedurally generated shooter with persistent elements, those elements are mainly (in the present build, at least), genetic. Abstracted genetics, harvested from things that maaaaaybe wouldn’t have genes (like the PRISM robots) , but genetics nonetheless… And these attempts at improvement through genetic tampering have a reason. The original Freja Akiyama (the protag) died on landing after crashing on this hostile and ever changing world. But that doesn’t mean her base personality wasn’t saved, and that she doesn’t want to get off the planet. So, she has a clone tank. Sometimes, it works as intended, taking genes from local wildlife (robotic or otherwise) , and sometimes… It makes drastic changes, both to her body, and to her perception of things.

It’s one hell of a clever conceit, and it’s backed up by a good, low-poly aesthetic, some good secrets (Of which I’ve discovered a few, and not quite got the hang of quite a few more), a variety of weapons, and a relatively limited enemy set that nonetheless gets tough, and scary, pretty early on. Good soundtrack, good idea, good aesthetic… So… What’s not so hot?

AHsodoffsodoffsodoff! (Dodge-rolling is the only way to get some range here)

Well, every gun has a minimum range, and there are a couple of enemies, specifically the Quick PRISM Robot subtype, that are annoying as hell at the present time. It’s not just that they’re faster than you. It’s not just that weapons have a minimum range. No, it’s that they can also shield themselves, and that, honestly, is a bit much. They are, unlike, for example, the flamethrower robots, not so much scary, or tense, as annoying to deal with. There’s also a lack of permanence, right now, in the things you’ve found, which is a bit of a shame, if understandable.

Still, this is already a promising start, with a lot to explore and deal with, a lot of weaponry of different types, and, once you get further in the game, you start to uncover an interesting mystery. I mean, robots and buildings do sort of imply previous habitation… Do they not?

Note for next clone: Chaingun slows you down. Also, construction failing, almost died due to plates falling. Be careful, sister!

The Mad Welshman #37 loves his spindly little robot legs. The Mad Welshman #36 says they don’t quite suit him though. Please help solve our “discussion” without chainguns getting involved.