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!

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Puyo Puyo Tetris (Review)

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

Puyo Puyo, a game about matching pairs of blobs into groups of four or more, preferably in chains to Mean Bean your opponent into submission with drops of blobs from above that can only be broken with a match (and often, block matches.)

Crap. I am, it seems, Tetrising awfuls today!

Tetris, a game about matching tetrominoes into neat, tidy lines, preferably of four, in order to slam your opponent from below with dead lines, each having a gap that may or may not be easy to clear.

It was sort of inevitable, really, that the two would clash. And so they have, in the aptly named Puyo Puyo Tetris, which, yes, has been out awhile on consoles and handhelds, but hit PC a short while ago, and you know what? It Does What It Says On The Tin. And then a bit.

That “bit” would be the extremely silly Adventure Mode, the story of two (Well, technically three, but mainly two) universes colliding, with both of those worlds seeing a ‘Mino or a Puyo battle as means to… Well, let’s see here… Calm someone down, rile someone up, think clearly, stop a spaceship from crashing, forge eternal bonds of friendship… And these are all examples from the first chapter and a bit. Let’s not forget a clear menu system (Loud… But clear), a lovely soundtrack, unlockables out the wazoo, puzzle modes, challenge modes, and a decent tutorial set if you’ve never popped Puyos or lined up a Tetris.

“I shall also be engaging in Tetris-Puyo battles to clean my dishes later on!”

But it should also be noted that the game seems to expect you to have checked those tutorials. Some of the timed levels I had trouble finishing before remembering the insta-drop of Tetris, and Fusion mode, which you will encounter sooner or later, is somewhat devilish because of the way Tetrominoes and Puyos mix… Which is to say, one sinks to the bottom, pushing the other to the top.

So the rules don’t really change. You’re still making Tetris lines, you’re still popping Puyos… But you’re effectively playing two, linked games in the same small playfield, with tetrominoes affecting your Puyo play, in the same space. I’m not ashamed to admit the first time I tried it, I was a confused, demoralised mess. The second time? Yeaaaah, I’d consider 12 wins Endurance a fair comeback.

With each character having small changes and specials that add extra variety to play, I’d say that yes, Puyo Puyo Tetris is worth a go if you’re either a Tetris or Puyo Puyo fan… With, of course, the best experience coming from getting to know your quirky friend.

Ahahahaaaa, AHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!
I enjoy winning.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t hand out the Does What It Says On The Tin award as often as you’d think.

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Vagante (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store

Called it. I said, in the first Early Access review I did of Vagante, that I would be tired of its shit by release, and lo… Release has hit, and I am well and truly glad to have this off my docket. That may seem mean, but let’s unpack exactly why I so heavily dislike Vagante.

Everything else I’ve been reviewing this month has, in its way, expanded upon the procgen/roguelike formula. Accessibility. Quality of life. Vagante, meanwhile, makes it quite clear that its response to issues I have with the difficulty curve are, essentially, “git gud.” And I’ve made it quite clear in the past how badly I respond to that.

Let’s play a game of “Spot the Character.” Take your time, I can wait…

Let us take, as an example, the bosses of the first three levels of the dungeon. Two of the three have projectile attacks with damage over time, and like to stay out of your reach. Combine this with the rarity of healing items, and melee is either a case of damage racing the enemy (Providing, of course, you have the hit points to do so, as all melee attacks are fixed animations you can’t interrupt, and daggers, previously a go-to, are now slow enough that they are once again a weak option), or timing your attacks just so, over a protracted period of waiting for your single-blow opening, dodging and leaping projectiles, and luring the boss somewhere where you can actually hit them before getting a blow off. Bosses are, naturally, a bundle of hit points, so this can take a while.

Okay, so we can cross the Warrior and Wildling off the “enjoyable to play” list in the very first area (The second area’s bosses seem to actively punish melee users.) What about the two ranged classes, the Rogue and the Mage? Well, as mentioned, while, previously, the Rogue’s dagger could avoid in-level enemy damage a lot of the time, and generally do well in the damage race due to sheer speed, the bow remains, as explored in the previous Early Access review, a case of “Draw for a second, release… Do as much damage as a single sword blow, maybe as much as a heavy axe on a crit. Enemy must be in shortish range from you, good luck avoiding those fireballs/poison globules.” It’s not often I say this, but the Mage, weak as their starting “weapon” is (a staff with a limited number of charges, charging by, er… hitting the enemy with its weak, slow attack), is a good choice, as they have some short range spells that do decent damage, relatively quickly… But, again, your starting attack relies on the enemy being nearby and in front of you, which, with fireballs and the like, isn’t a good idea, and it’s very much potluck if you get, for example, Frost Nova, a spell that has a chance of freezing the enemy for a vital few seconds.


So far, I’ve described something unenjoyable, if not tedious. But wait, it gets better! It’s pretty dark, unless you have certain items (random drop chance), and instakill or damaging traps await, such as spikes (instadeath if you fall, or are knocked onto them, with the saving grace that enemies are also killed by them. Not bosses though), blockfall traps (mostly, thankfully, easy to spot once you know how, but still an occasional killer when, say, concentrating on an enemy), and worms (invincible until they attack, somewhat hard to see at times.) Want a heavier, more damaging weapon? Congratulations, you’ve found an axe, or a hammer, both of which… Are slow as hell, and have a minimum range on their hitbox. With melee enemies pretty much all rushing you as best they can.

In a way, it’s intriguing to me that a game can be so actively designed against its player characters, but alas, this has the side-effect that, for all that there may well be interesting things in the third dungeon area, for all that there may be new things to see, I most likely never will. Because the game is released, and I am so very done with it.

Goodbye, Vagante. I will fondly remember the time you had an option that wasn’t a tedious time.

Hrm. Big open area. 55 HP. Yup, I confidently predict I’m going to die, here on the first level.
And you’re probably as sick of seeing the Dragon now as I am.

The Mage is now seemingly the most viable class. I’d like that to sink in for a second.

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Mercenary Kings Reloaded (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, I’ll freely admit, reviewing can get a little odd. But when given the opportunity to compare a game’s experience both before and after a major free update, it’s an interesting window into game updates that would normally be reserved for Early Access releases.

That doesn’t, unfortunately, mean I particularly get along with Mercenary Kings, even after its Reloaded update. But in some areas, I can definitely see improvement, and I see this as a good thing, overall. Let’s get into it.

Big, lumbering… Does a hell of a lot of damage if it hits you though!

Mercenary Kings is a 2D platforming shooter with quite a few elements that are inspired by the gameplay of Monster Hunter and its ilk. Several repeatable missions in areas that expand as you get further toward the end of each chapter, with random drops from a set pool that depends on the enemy or, in the cases of boxes, on the mission itself. Said drops, along with the money reward, goes into unlocking or buying kit, skills, and usable items, which make your pretty damage and defense numbers go up, allowing you to fight bigger and nastier things… With the caveat that really big numbers tend to have a tradeoff, like weapons being heavy enough that you can’t run or jump nearly as well, for example. Mostly, getting through is a combination of knowing enemy patterns, good item usage, and picking your fights.

Thing is, flow becomes very important in such a game, and, before the Reloaded update, the early game flow was painful, at best. Certain enemies (Shield Joes, Pyros, and Drillerillas, for example) felt more like living roadblocks than an organic part of the experience, hard to avoid even with the lightest of equipment, and equally annoying to kill without damage, and, beyond the weapons, early game progress was slow.

Right is, in this case, the safer choice. This drill kills bullets.

Aesthetically, the game was (and is) strong, with the one notable exception being Empress (the original woman character) being… Well, an Escher Girl in her title appearance. Otherwise, the spritework’s good and clear, and the music is reminiscent of quite a few nostalgic treats, mostly platformers and shooters (The camp music, for some reason, reminds me of Blake Stone, an old Apogee published first person shooter. Maybe it’s the sound font.)

Has the Reloaded update improved this? Somewhat. The aforementioned roadblock enemies still feel like roadblocks, and are still somewhat annoying, but the weapon updates and balancing has definitely improved things, even if the early game flow remains a little slow and grindy. The two new characters are a welcome addition, as is objectives clearly being shown on the map (Something I don’t recall before Reloaded. Happy to be corrected if it was the case previously, and I just didn’t see it.) The bosses are mostly pretty interesting, even if I quickly saw the base enemies as a chore, rather than a challenge, or source of enjoyment, and seeing various new knives and guns is always a pleasure to my monster huntin’ mind.

*Sinks to his knees, fists clenched to the sky* GATHERING MISSSSIOOOONNSSSS!!!

As a platformer shooter, Mercenary Kings Reloaded feels a little slow (unless you have the sprinter upgrade), a little grindy at first, but it has taken steps to make its early game a little more friendly, and this is one of the few times where I will say “It Gets Better.” It’s no Contra, no quick, twitchy game this (Although some bosses do require a good handle on movement and dodging), and 4 player multiplayer definitely helps when you have friends to play with… But, as mentioned, despite its influences, it’s sadly not my cup of tea. Regardless of my opinion, though, I will state: The Reloaded update is an improvement. Respect for that.

The Mad Welshman killed 23 CLAW soldiers to make this review. It would only have been 7, but fabric drops were low on the mission he was on.

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Iconoclasts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.49
Where To Get It: Steam

An Iconoclast is one who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. Sometimes, because this is the right thing to do, holding back progress. Sometimes, because said beliefs or institutions conflict with the individual philosophy. Sometimes, simply because it’s cherished.

Of course, sometimes it can be a little hard to tell *why* an institution is cherished as an outsider. Who do you love and who loves you? YES!

It’s kind of interesting that this is the title of the game, not because of the story (involving a mechanic rebelling against a techno-religious regime that’s repressive because ??? . No, they’re demonstrably evil. It’s just their reasons are unclear for the majority of the game) , but because Iconoclasts, in its way, is trying to shift things up mechanically. Nominally called a Metroidvania, it nonetheless does… And doesn’t fit that mould. More accurately, it’s a puzzle platformer where even the combat against the many bosses… Is a puzzle.

And, at times, the game contains the frustrations of both. “Oh, sod!” I mutter, as I backtrack three times round an area to solve one small puzzle. “Wait, what am I meant to do here?” , as I get lost, or encounter a new enemy who’s immune to what’s worked so far. “Wait, my reward for solving this bit is… more, with a different element? ARGH!” as, yes, puzzles mix things up, and bosses often have multiple phases. That isn’t to say there isn’t joy, or the appreciation of a well-crafted fight… But poor explanation or signposting often leaves me irritable as I play through.

Oh, hello there, Screen Splitting Laser. How’s the folks? Good? Fine, fine…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. The music is wonderful, the world is interesting, if a little confusing at times, and enemy designs are varied and numerous. The writing, on the other hand, is a little heavy handed, and I’ve found it, at times, a little difficult to precisely work out what’s going on. Okay, pirates. Who are ancestor worshippers and use seeds, which is apparently heretical. Nearly everyone seems to be going through some form of survivor stress, with abandonment and safety being prime concerns (Presumably because this safety is provably rather hard to keep, even if you follow the techno-theocracy’s rules, and because people keep dying or being kidnapped), and it can sometimes be hard to keep up. The techno-theocrats have pseudo-magic powers, presumably through this Ivory stuff, which may or may not be nanomachines, son?

It’s a bit confusing. Does this necessarily make it bad? Well… Not really. It doesn’t make it great, or possibly even that good, but the movement is fluid, the combat moves mostly responsive, and being able to move (or charge your wrench, when the time is right) while charging up gun attacks is a nice move that makes things a little easier. The physics are pretty dependable, and that’s a good thing, because some of the puzzles really do depend on object physics to get by.

Explained: That ‘sploding the red parts push the box in the opposite direction. Demo’d: That the seeming background blocks stop its movement. Not quite explained: To use your charged shot here, you have to be at least a certain distance *away* from that rightmost pad. Otherwise it clinks off harmlessly.

As to how it feels to play? Well, sometimes, it’s good. Oh hey, a new area. A cool new ability (sparsely handed out in the first two thirds of the game.) A new character. This area’s pretty straightforward. Other times… Well, the frustration kicks in. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll finish Iconoclasts. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll get the point. But it’s not a game I’m playing in more than little bursts, and I’m probably not alone there.

The Mad Welshman wants to clarify that this is an okay game. The frustration balances out the joy of working out how the heck ass gets kicked.

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