Immortal Planet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m getting really tired of the word “soulslike.” I’m not ashamed to say this, because, like many game development fashions inspired by at least okay games, it can vary widely. Immortal Planet, sadly, is one of those that just doesn’t gel with me. Partly because it is as slow as advertised… And partly because it isn’t.

The game has an inventory, built up as you go through the game, weapons with multiple modes, and, of course, skulls and masks. A fair few of them.

The story is relatively simple: There is a planet, filled with folks who just won’t die (The justification for respawning enemies whenever you rest/level up.) It’s mysterious, and you, one of the big, hulking masked folk that populate this world, are a prisoner. Tromp and stomp and murder your way through the 5 bosses and 52 rooms. I know it’s 5 bosses from the achievements, and I know it’s 52 rooms because, for some odd reason, the room graphics are right there in the game’s directory (Found as I tried to get windowed mode to work. Which it still doesn’t seem to.)

Problem is, the game is frustratingly grindy, and, while the walk speed is slow (and the run isn’t a whole lot better), the combat is quick exchanges. And, like a Souls game, everything appears to be made of bricks that are made of bricks until you level up. Slash slash backstep to recover and let this fool get his two attacks off slash slash dead. This guy’s near an edge, haha, wait block dash the sod into the black ether and get the XP so much easier. Slash slash sla- dammit I’m out of stamina, backstep get hit get hit dammit now I have to use a healing item. So yes, it’s slow in one sense, but the fights are, comparatively, quick, twitchy exchanges. And then you meet the first boss, and realise another area the game is slow.

Block, slash, ohgods I barely scratched him, and even through my block that hurt. Slash, wait, he’s got a melee punish move, ohgod I’m almost dead, try to ba- aaaaaand dead. Lose all my XP, lose my healing items, reset, restart.

This enemy is about to be punished for having a dash-two slash combo that’s easily avoidable. His compatriots can be a lot more challenging.

Immortal Planet is not the friendliest of games. Funnily enough, though, most of this is feeling. On leaving a session, I was surprised to note that three loops around the first hub, combined with two deaths (one my fault, one due to somehow dashing off a cliff to my death when I’d intended to push someone else off the opposite cliff) took around 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer, not least because while the game has sound (and some quite meaty sounds for the weapons too), it doesn’t have music, per se. Snatches, here and there, like when you die, but mostly, it’s silent, with that tromp tromp tromp tromp tromp of walking around the main punctuation for a lot of the time.

Eventually, I got used to the combat, which involves being as risk averse as humanly possible, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemies’ charge attacks are, for the most part, easily dodged, and well telegraphed. Now, I mention being risk averse, and you may be saying “Dark Souls also encourages risk aversion” , but this is not quite true. It involves calculated risk. While a single loop around the first area and level up purely into Strength (Damage) will ensure two of the first three enemy types will be chumps (Taking around 5-10 minutes) , the third enemy type (and the first boss) will punish you heavily for a mistake, and no, there is no option to just level up. You can level up and rest, resetting all enemies and any items you may have found beyond your basic allotment, or you can not level up. Bosses have multiple health bars, and, despite the fact it doesn’t actually take all that long to play, the grind and seeming slow pace makes it feel much longer than it is.

This exchange will take only a few seconds, but at this point, he’s already dead. If I’d misjudged, it would be *me* who was close to death.

In the end, Immortal Planet is very much a deal of “Your Mileage May Vary.” Myself, I prefer a different pace, and find elements of the game feeling iffy for me, but I can see how someone who wants a bit more challenge might enjoy this game. Aesthetically, it’s very clean, it has a moderately interesting story, but, alas, it’s not for me.

Flinthook (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£14.99 for Deluxe with artbook, music, and other nice gubbins)
Where To Get It: Humble StoreSteam

Flinthook, a game about a ghost headed pirate with time-slowing powers, an anchor that he uses to effortlessly hook his way around, and, of course, a blaster, begins in an extremely fun way. So many possibilities! An interesting cartoon universe, hinted at in scraps of lore and relics and enemy designs! Good sound effects and a consistent, action-cartoon aesthetic I can’t help but love!

Alas, that first bloom has faded. Let me tell you, folks, about my own White Whale. Let me tell you… about the Midgame.

Your choice of ships to raid is, for the most part, clearly explained, and it’s easy to remember what does what. This, as it turned out, was a Poor Choice.

Currently level 39, I am, at the time of this review, about halfway through. And I feel like I owe my victory more toward grind and luck than skill, without feeling bad about it. Why? Because, from about level 20 onwards, from about three skulls onwards, the game starts throwing some distinctly unfair rooms at you. Rooms where I have yet to figure out if there even is a way to get through without taking damage. And it starts playing tricks that, honestly, I’m not on board with. Here, screenshotted, is a pretty good example: The Bird Room. While exploring the procedurally generated ship-dungeons of the game, you may come across the bird room. The birds are invincible. No, those bubbles, unlike the others you may encounter (including in boss encounters) cannot be popped with your hook. And they will poop similarly invincible bombs at you until you leave. How not to be damaged? Don’t be under them. Don’t touch them. Good luck!

Thank you, Flinthook, for very briefly wanting me to replace my cries of FUCKING BATS with DAMN BOMB POOPING SPACE PARROTS

Similarly, combat rooms start getting, for want of a better word to describe them, dickish. And a lot of this fuckery comes from one enemy in particular: The bubble wizards. As long as these robed assholes live, everything else is invincible. And often, these same lizard wizards are hiding… behind the invincible enemies. Oh, never in such a way as to completely block them off, it must be said… But nearly always in a way that getting to them has a much higher chance of you needing to damage sponge your way to them.

Adding to this is that half the subweapons… Feel much more situational than the other half. Spinning Skulls are a finicky subweapon to hit folks with, and don’t do a whole lot of damage, the bomb barrels are for when you want an enemy heavily damaged or dead right damn now, whereas, by comparison, the freeze globe is a “Get out of miniboss/dickish trap room” card, or at least something that helps, and the Fighting Bell is temporary invincibility, which… Is also a “Get out of miniboss/dickish trap room” card. I often forget subweapons as a result, or end up with Giant Robot Crab Syndrome, where I don’t want to use my freeze globe on the trap room because I might need it for another room.

Poor Bad Billy Bullseye. This is the fifth time I’ve done this to him out of frustration I’ve died on the way to the Baron so much.

The bosses, by comparison, are… Well, actually somewhat easier. Bad Billy Rex, the unlockable upgraded form of the first boss, felt like a victory lap, since his base pattern doesn’t really change: Hook his ride’s glowy bubble butt, shoot it, and a new glowy bubble butt appears, shoot his tumbling starfish brethren that he adds each time, repeat until there are no bubble butts to pop, his centipede-buffalo pal is dead, and poor Bad Billy is left crying like the Rancor trainer in Return of the Jedi.

Is Flinthook a bad game? Not really. It uses all its abilities, makes them pretty accessible, and teaches you their use very well. But it’s a game that expects you to grind out to reach the endgame, and it’s a game where the levels, not particularly the bosses, are the real enemy. It’s pretty twitchy from even the midgame, so I sadly can’t recommend this to folks who, for various reasons, can’t play that sort of game. For everyone else, the pixel art is consistent, the UI is good and clear, powerups are explained when you get them, the music is brilliant, and the sound effects are also good. It took me about 4 hours to hit the midgame, and I expect it will be at least a few more before I’m ready to tackle the endgame. It’s a “few more hours” I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to invest, myself, but your mileage may vary, so if you like arcadey platforming and shooting hijinks, perhaps this is for you.

The Mad Welshman loves universes like this. Even if, in said universes, he’d probably end up with a glowing weakpoint.

MX Nitro (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

When I first noticed MX Nitro, I couldn’t help but be a little baffled. Saber Interactive and Miniclip SA are not really known for MX games, be they the more traditional kind, or what MX Nitro is, which is a Trials style “Balance the bike and do tricks while trying to win the race/get a score/just look freaking cool/not crashing” type dealybobber.

Bird of Prey… Bird of Prey… Flying high! Flying high!

And while I wouldn’t say this was a standout example of the genre… It does okay. Aesthetically, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an extreme sports game in general. Sorry, extreme sports games, but you definitely have an audiovisual style that, on the one hand, is immediately identifiable, but, on the other, makes many of you blur together in my mind. Sandy arenas, muddy tracks, and gritty, be-puddled (Yes, that’s a word now, shut up) streets near the docks meld with moderately distorted guitar dominated tunes that you can almost hear crying anachronistic “HELLA RIDE, BROOOOO!”s , themselves melding with clashing, saturated colour gear and bikes.

What I’m saying is that if you’ve played the likes of Nail’d, MX Vs ATV, or even a DiRT game, you’d probably feel right at home, although there’s nothing standout about any of it. It’s good, it’s tunes to mash your head to despite the inadvisability of doing so in-game, and that’s perfectly fine.

Crash, and you lose both time and position. Also, y’know, that combo you were building. Sucks to be you. However, *winning* while crashing is a very amusing thing.

A definite plus side, however, is the simplicity of the controls. Although at first you may scratch your head, the keyboard controls for MX Nitro are sensible and responsive: Up to accelerate (Always hold this down), left and right to tilt the bike backwards and forwards (For Wheelies and Stoppies, the go-to means of holding a combo), space to NITRO (Because of course there’s a nitro boost, why wouldn’t there be?) , and number keys for tricks. Unless you have very tiny hands, you won’t have too much trouble here, and there is controller support for those more comfortable with a controller.

So the controls are good, the music and visuals are what you’d expect and smooth, all of which are good… Where’s the downside, huh?

Well… Most of that is that, with that simplicity of controls, it then expects you to know them from the word go. Or, more accurately, it expects you to always be thinking about them, from the moment they’re introduced, or to fail, again and again at a stage, until you either luck out or realise what you’ve been doing wrong. While most early stages are do-able, boss stages and trick stages in particular both require you to ABW (Alway Be Wheelie-ing) when you’re not boosting (ABB. Always Be Boosting) or tricking (ABT. Guess.) Even if you do win a race stage, it feels a bit hollow to be given the star, the unlockables (Including tricks and new bikes), and the extra cash from objectives when you have a worse score, overall, than the other racers (Who, in true EXTREME SPORTS fashion, have names like Black Devil or Red WhiskyBreath… Okay, the last one’s not real, but the first one is, and you get the idea.)

I will get first in this race, despite having the lowest score. Because it’s drag, and so the points don’t matter. Only objectives.

…Still *feels* like they matter though, sadly.

And, in the end, that’s largely what can be said about MX Nitro: It’s moderately fun, especially if you like that sort of thing, and, once you get the hang of ABB, ABW, and ABT, the unlocks, occasional crashes (Of the bike kind, not the game kind, the game’s stable), then you start having fun. It’s not for everybody, even among EXTREME SPORTS fans, but since individual races are relatively short, the unlocks are pretty reasonable (Yes, even the fact that tricks unlock), and restarting a race is pretty simple too, it can be summed up as “Good arcade fun, even if it doesn’t really stand out from anything else.”

The Mad Welshman always stands on one leg when walking, just to make things interesting. He also kicks off walls and hops really fast. Is he not EXTREME?

Hollow Knight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£14.38 for “With Soundtrack” bundle, £6.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, GOG

Dark Souls, it seems, has become… Almost a template. A boilerplate. We’ve seen this quite a few times in good ol’ (Ha!) video games, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s done well. Hollow Knight, by all appearances, does pretty well. Sometimes too well.

That’s not creepy. Not at all, no *SHUDDER* sirree…

In any case, you are a bug. Possibly undead, it isn’t made too clear at first. You’re drawn to a nigh empty village above a set of ruins populated by the damned and the forgotten. If you’ve played Dark Souls, you’ll already be seeing how this is going. Mystery! Tragedy! Boss fights! That one place where everything seems to hate you, the player, personally! And, of course, that sick, numb feeling that comes from dying to something perfectly ordinary on the way to trying to recover your currency from where you died not five minutes ago.

I could bang on about which element is a metroidvania thing, which is a Dark Souls thing, so on, so forth, but… It’s apparent if you’ve played them, and irrelevant beyond the concept of “Exploring platformer where you kill stuff and get special abilities and maybe get told a tragic, creepy story if you’re not hammering that ‘skip dialogue’ button like a hammering thing.” What matters is: Does it do it well?

The boss fights are, as you might expect, highly pattern based, but creative and with stories of their own to tell. I almost feel sorry for this feller, for example…

In short… Yes. It does it aesthetically, with the hand drawn landscapes, music and bug design really selling that “Dark and creepy (but grounded) world” mood. It does it mechanically, with responsive controls, gameplay that relies more on timing than twitching, and a narrative that still works despite taking a lot of its beats from… Dark Souls.

There is, of course, a “but” hanging over this: If you didn’t like certain aspects of Dark Souls, such as occasionally having trouble working out where to go/what to do next (Not aided by a map that only updates a) If you bought a basic map of the area already by finding the mapmaker in the area, and b) You’ve sat down at a bench post exploration.) Or Occasionally breaking into an area you’re definitely not prepared for and dying. Or realising that, to get a thing that would definitely help survive an area, you’re going to have to grind enemies for… Quite a while (Which, at the time of this sentence, is exactly the problem I’m facing. Most of these things are either fair, or ameliorated somewhat (You can, if you get hold of a Rancid Egg and a Simple Key, draw your Hollow soul back via an NPC, for example), but they are nonetheless baked into the design philosophy behind the game, and if they turn you off, then I obviously can’t recommend it for you.

From the Metroidvania end of things comes… Extra Mobility (Gating areas.)

Overall, though, it’s an imaginative world, a responsive and pleasurable experience most of the time, and I’ve enjoyed my time so far with Hollow Knight. For an example of crossing Dark Souls and Metroidvanias well, you can’t go far wrong with this.

The Mad Welshman agrees that this review feels a bit short. Some might say… Hollow.

Nefarious (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh, Nefarious… You’re kind of villainous, but for many of the wrong reasons. I’d still say you’re okay, but you definitely have your downsides. So let’s discuss that, you and I.

Problem one with screenshotting Nefarious: There’s a fair amount of variety.
Problem two: MY EYES!

I like your idea: This time, it’s the villain. I loved some of the interesting, gimmicky moments you had, and the wry commentary on many moustache twirling habits, like mainly kidnapping princesses rather than princes, and how not all princesses are going to be dainty little flowers. I love your visual design, cartoony, over the top, and yet so clean, and I definitely love your soundtrack, with all the knowing nods, winks, and nudges to a wide variety of things, including Sentai shows. We need more of that, so props where props are due!

But, of course, we need to talk about the other things. You’ve probably heard them before, and you may be tempted to dismiss them. Please don’t, you can improve, twirl your moustache that little bit harder if you listen. Let’s start with your platforming. It’s floaty, and saggy. Part of this is the physics… Yes, I get you wanted freedom of movement in the air, but sometimes, those little boom jump things really would be better if they were fixed path. It would save a lot of players, including me, switching their hand from the mouse to make damn sure we actually get where we’re going, which slightly defeats the point of those boomjumps. Similarly, needing the player to fully go through the landing animation before being able to jump again causes some headaches, especially when you’re required to jump rather quickly and precisely. Not quite sure how to fix that, but it does lead to accidents in the workplace, sadly…

The prince is a nice guy. You did a good job kidnapping this one!

…Soundwise, you’re a little bit lacking. Those punches need a bit of a swoosh to them, add a little impact. In fact, sound in general needs a bit of perking up, and I was rather confused when the protagonist, Crow, spoke in the beginning, and then… Didn’t. I quite liked his voice, but I understand if the budget didn’t allow… It’s just a little saddening, is all.

Beyond that, there’s minor niggles, like how the airship keeps flying back to the first area after each level, or your problem with ramps (A common one with Unity games, but fixable. Take heart!) but I’d like to stress that you have charm, you have a lot of variety, some nice, eclectic references, and even if you’re not for everyone, I know you can improve, and gain a blacker, dapper-er heart.

Don’t worry about the ropes or the train, that’s just my normal way of greeting a fellow ne’er-do-well.

Not pictured: The slightly hollow footsteps.

Wishing you well!

The Mad Welshman