Speed Brawl (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

While I’m not much of a fighting game man, I love me some beat-em-up action. There’s something cathartic about beating the living daylights out of goons, beasts, and monsters, all of whom want yo- wait, speedrunning too?

Each tournament of the game is clearly mapped out, and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re meant to do.

Yes, this is Speed Brawl, a side-scrolling arena beat-em-up where the main concept is “Gotta punch fast.”, as you’re rated more by how quickly you get through its fighting shenanigans, or how quickly you hit targets, than how much health you have at the end of it, or how many sausages you picked up from trashcans along the way. And, as with any speedrunning games, there are tricks, little things to give you an edge.

Still, even without those, it’s mostly a fun as heck game about alternate-universe victorian characters (mostly, in the early game, some rad ladies) beating the hell out of mooks and bugs (big or otherwise.) And boy, do I love two of these characters in particular: Cassie and Bia.

Each character, along with equipment to buff them, and colour schemes (both won via playing the game), has a different feel to them, and Cassie and Bia are perfect examples of this. Cassie is a short french pixie-urchin with a cricket bat, and while she’s quick, she’s not the most damaging character, and is slightly more fragile than most. She also has a fast special, and her ultimate move (gained the same way you gain Special meter stamina: By beating things up) is nigh uncontrollable, but a glory off destruction if you can get her to spin around the stage just so. Meanwhile, Bia is big, butch, and her attacks work best at a somewhat specific range (the end of her fists, obviously.) She’s nowhere near as fast, but her specials and ultimate are tight, horizontal, and repeated haymakers, which do a lot of damage. Put the two together, since each level of Speed Brawl is played with two characters per player (and switching out gives a small speed boost), and an orgy of carnage results.

Like I said, when Cassie’s special can be aimed, it’s a gooood time!

It’s good, fun stuff, and it helps that everyone levels up once enough XP is gained, because for certain levels, folks like Cassie are, hands down, the best, while for others, you want something different. It works well aesthetically, the music is pumping and joyous, and, while the controls and later enemies (who have defences, or teleports, or ranged attacks) take getting used to, it’s definitely fun.

If I had any real crits for Speed Brawl, it’s that some enemies just feel more annoying to deal with (The large Rippers who are invincible from the front, for example), and that items don’t always feel like they do much, even though they are definitely increasing damage, and adding status effects. Part of this is that it’s chaotic as heck, and it can sometimes be hard to read what’s going on outside of your immediate circle of “Thing I’m pummelling right this second”, and this gets moreso with two players.

Then again, it also goes more quickly and is fun as heck with two players, so… Tradeoff? Either way, I like how Speed Brawl messes with the 2d beat-em-up formula, and, while it has a number of buttons, it’s still fairly easy to get back into.

It should also be noted that the animations have a good sense of impact. Or… Multiple impact, in this case…

The Mad Welshman loves Alternate Victorian times, because they really appreciated the value of a good top-hat and moustache. And yes, that is shallow.

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Lethal League Blaze (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lethal League Blaze is a game that, in many senses, takes a little bit to get going, but once it does, it lives up well to its name. And, even for a critic who doesn’t do well at fighting games, this one… This one tickles my fancy. And it’s all to do with how it revolves around a ball.

Lethal League Blaze is, essentially, combat ping-pong in a rectangular arena, in which the characters use directional movement, a double jump, and two keys (one for grabbing, one for thwacking), in order to punt, bunt, or smash a ball into their opponents with as much velocity as they can muster, fully aware at all times that a return at any point from the mid-stage could mean a loss…

Screenshots, alas, can barely cover what happens when it gets *really* fast. But this is a close example.

…After all, the more the ball gets bounced around, the faster it’s going. And the faster it’s going, well… The more it’s going to hurt when you fail to bat it or catch it, and it hits you in the [insert sensitive part of your anatomy here]. Now add in the possibility of special items, like a remote controlled ball, an invisible ball, and the like, and you have quite the explosive mix.

And yet, it continues to add flavour to this already heady mix. How about some tunes by Frank Klepacki, or Hideki Naganuma, of Jet Set Radio fame? How about a colourful character roster in a world of robots “not programmed to lose”, skaters, over the top Falcon Cops, and, as a final boss character, a murderous boom-box that quotes Sinistar, called, obviously, Doombox?

Multiple game modes, unlockable as you go? An arcade mode? A campaign? All in addition to the main core, which is multiplayer ball smacking action? Yeah, this all works. This brings those funky beats, whether that’s musical beats… Or the beatdown of watching a quick return make your opponent lose their last life.

As things heat up, so, too, does the background. Amusingly, the cops will just rush back once the fun’s over.

It’s also moderately accessible, for a fighting game. In its previous installment, one hit, regardless of speed, led to a loss of life, and you only had one. Here, folks in the early game can try things, work out what’s going on, get used to a character’s special, before it speeds up, because low speed hits don’t even deplete a single life-bar. All told, it’s fun stuff… But are there problems?

Sure, there are problems. But forgivable ones. For example, it must be said that the early parts of Campaign and Arcade modes are not great, because the AI isn’t bringing their A game. It’s understandable, but at the same time, watching an AI flail around, and getting a win where they don’t even hit the ball unless they need to isn’t great, and it leads to a false sense of security. A sense of security that, in arcade mode for me, lasted right up until about three fights before the end, and wasn’t shattered until I fought… DOOMBOX. Even if multiplayer is the focus (and it is), it wouldn’t hurt to tune the mid-game challenge up a little bit.

Otherwise, I like Lethal League Blaze. Its simple concept nonetheless allows for some tactics. Bunting the ball, then hitting it will drastically speed it up, and, at high speeds, the game gets chaotic, for example. Or the fact that the grab is a quick counter that, timed well when someone’s just finished charging up the ball, will knock the presumptuous player off their perch unless they, also, have a perfectly timed grab waiting. Its aesthetic is colourful, its unlockables are reasonable…

I LIVE… AGAIN. RUN, COWARD, RUN, RUN!

Yeah, I’m down for a Lethal League Blaze.

Perhaps the most painful part, for the Mad Welshman, was avoiding all the ball jokes. Aaaaaalll the ball jokes…

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NSFWare (Review)

Price: £2.09
Source: Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam

Sexual content contained in this game includes toys, cuckoldry, bdsm, voyeurism, and multiple partners.

I’ve been struggling with this one, not because it’s a bad game (It isn’t) , not because I don’t know what to say (Definitely not!), but because it’s Not Safe For Work (pixellated, 8-bit, or not) and as such, I’ve been having to struggle with how to present this without more than a content warning at the top of the review. Thankfully, a solution was found, and so I can deal with this interesting little number safely.

Yes, let us, by all means, take it up a notch…

“So, it’s a game with a lot of fucking, what’s the big deal?” Well, short version? Positive presentation, while retaining simplicity. If you’re aware of adult-only games, you’ll very quickly notice that NSFW games fail at either sex-positivity, tight design, or both, and NSFWare… Succeeds at both.

And how does it do it? By being WarioWare, but lewd. A gross oversimplification we’re going to unpack, but that’s your executive summary.

NSFWare is a game of four buttons, the arrow keys, and, in a series of short, sub 5 second minigames, you perform the act succinctly described. SPANK. COME. SWAP. WATCH. PEEK. PLEASURE. STRIP. Some require you to press a key, some to hold a key, some to switch keys, and some (this is the interesting part for me) require you to do… Nothing at all. That last one’s sort of against the spirit of WarioWare (where you are always doing something), but I get where it’s coming from in this case.

Graphically, it’s done with, essentially, a 16 colour palette (akin to the old EGA graphics mode), all bright, all saturated… It’s a little eye-searing at times, and I will say that that’s not for everyone. I will also say that blue and differently valued blue might present some colour-blindness difficulties, although I didn’t experience any myself. It uses relatively lo-fi musical effects, and is relatively short (You can experience a lot of the minigames in just a few short minutes, and get the hang of most of them in under half an hour.)

Animations are, interestingly, rotoscoped from pornographic media, and artistically so.

Okay, enough technical and mechanical chatter, let’s get down to it (Hehe.) Why is this, a minigame collection costing £2 and some change, worth looking at in the lewdgames market? As mentioned, sex positivity is a big part of it. Apart from PEEK (where the failure state are the two active sexual partners getting annoyed), everything is clearly consensual, and being enjoyed. There are no expressions, as everyone is a rather solid hunk of pixels, but the body language shows pleasure. Although some of the kinks shown are not for everyone (some BDSM and Cuckoldry), the game doesn’t place any value judgements. Whether it’s masturbation, multiple partners, gay or not, it’s always an act, being performed by people who are into the act. And all of these games are about the pleasure of good sex. Do it wrong, it’s awkward. Do it right, and everyone enjoys themselves.

And, as mentioned, sometimes, the thing to do is to be the receiver, to be the inactive partner. When you WATCH, for example, the failure state is to not watch. And, since you’re already watching… Each act is cleverly encapsulated in simple controls, whether that’s to SEXT, or PEG, or even TEASE. Each act is presented as is. Each act is, done well, pleasurable. No awkward decontextualising, no judgements of either partner… Just 24 acts, 24 minigames, presented simply.

Which is a good segue into my two criticisms of the game. Fitting, for a simple, mostly tight game, that my criticisms are also simple, and tight. One is that, yes, there are only 24 minigames. It’s a short game, it’s priced accordingly, so this is more a “So now you know.” Secondly, there is, at the time of the review going up, no windowed mode for the game, no volume control, and no options. This can, again, be somewhat countered with its price and small size, but they would make the game a little more accessible.

What I haven’t been showing is one minor annoyance, there in the bottom right.

Otherwise, this is one of the few NSFW games, in development or otherwise (I can count them on about a hand and a half) I feel no problem covering in a positive light, precisely because it’s simple, and positive about its acts. It’s not going to educate. It’s not going to be more than a game that enjoys sex. But it’s tightly designed around one thing: If everyone’s enjoying themselves, a good time is had.

The Mad Welshman is happy to announce he finally got an age gate installed. It’s ugly as sin at the time of writing, but we’re working on it.

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DISTANCE (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

2018 continues to be a year of firsts for me saying words I never thought I’d say. In the case of Distance, spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, those words are “Wow, I never thought I’d see a good horror game in the Future Racing genre.”

Grain, spooky thing in the distance, ambience? Yup, that’s… Waaaaaait…

And yet… Here we are. A Future Racing game involving a car that can fly, tumble, and make sharp turns without braking… Also being a game with horror stylings, unsettling the player with strange vistas of a world gone horribly wrong, shining hope transmuted to despair. Without a single human character, only a car, a road that inexplicably seems to want you dead, a teleporter, and a rogue machine… OR IS IT?

Okay, so it gets a little odd and ambiguous at times, and I’m not 100% sure I can give the game props for horror writing when I haven’t completely played through the second campaign, but moodwise, it definitely creates feelings I’d associate with horror: Uneasiness and dissociation, asking myself… What’s really going on?

It also helps that it’s a smooth game. While I would recommend controller over keyboard for Distance, if only because the control scheme is a little odd, the keyboard controls are, nonetheless, quite smooth, and I only ever felt a little put out during the quicker, more difficult segments by the aforementioned control scheme (Quickly hitting SPACE, A/D, and SHIFT in the right timings was a little bit frustrating. Only needed late in the main campaign, and I’m sure rearranging keybinds could help.)

While flying is relatively rare, the cold, deep depths of space aren’t. They’re breathtaking. Well, they would be if cars had lungs, anyway…

Aesthetically, the game is on point pretty much throughout. Good signposting, clear visuals, and a dystopian retrofuturist aesthetic that works well whether it’s ruined or not, I never felt distracted. Musically, it switches well from pumping electronic beats to more ambient, horror styled soundscapes, and the sound effects and voice work well.

So… So far, I’ve been pretty glowing about Distance. And it is a good game. It helps that it also has a track editor and Workshop support, but one thing I will say is that I don’t really feel like the campaign added a whole lot to flying before it’s taken away from you for the majority of the rest. Part of that, I get, flying is hard, and inverting the vertical controls is a bit of a shock if you aren’t prepared for it (My exact words were, as I recall “Friends don’t let friends invert on you.”), but it was somewhat disappointing to see flying under-represented. But other changes from the original formula, such as a “down” thrust (that’s “down relative to your car”) are definitely welcomed, and I did, overall, find enjoyment in doing some of the silly things you can do with your jumping, thrusting, tumbling electronic car before the end of its main campaign.

And that, honestly, is about all I can say, because the game is simple and tight, elegantly tutorialises, and is fairly accessible to boot. It’s got some interesting horror elements that feel natural, and is well worth a look from the Future Racing crowd.

Another improvement over Nitronic Rush… These spikes didn’t want to make me throw my control-device out of a window.

No, for reference, Twisted Metal doesn’t count, because it’s a Combat Racer. Small diff.

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Lucah: Born of a Dream (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

When you’re the sole reviewer, it becomes ever more important to separate not liking something for genuine problems, and not liking something because you’ve grown tired of certain genres and their conventions. While, normally, a writer can just recuse themselves, occasionally, something interesting comes along that requires, partly, putting aside that dislike.

Lucah: Born of a Dream is one such game. A deliberately lo-fi adventure, with a top-down false perspective, and… Soulslike combat, levelling mechanics, and saving via specific resting points. The latter of which I have, over time, become somewhat tired of.

YOU DIED [Your Corruption Has Risen]

Narratively and aesthetically, the game is bleak. Corruption, or, just as accurately, depression is a core theme, and this is aptly portrayed in a number of ways. Methods of “salvation” often turn out to be nightmares in waiting, the world is unrepentantly hostile, and, when the NPCs aren’t outright despairing, they have a bitter edge to them, such as the shopkeeper who tells you how many times you’ll see them. 2 if you do well… Another one if you don’t. None of the lines are voiced, but I can almost hear a sneer there.

Maybe that’s viewing it through the lens of my own depression. The world is mostly black and “not-black” , harsh, scribbled tones, and its moderately plodding tone outside of combat emphasises that this is a world seen on its way out, a world that’s… Keeping on, rather than thriving. It’s clever, and while it hits a little close to home for me, I can appreciate the artistry behind it. Similarly, the game has a sort of time limit on each “run” , as Corruption is slowly building (quicker the more you die, slowing as you beat fights), and when it reaches 100% ? Well, back to the beginning, you failed. Sorry.

It’s just… The way things are. Give in.

Combat, meanwhile, is also deliberate, but less plodding. In fact, it can get downright hectic at times, and it’s here that I have to separate my more generalised dislike from the few actual problems it contains. You see, for the most part, it works, and is clever. Two loadouts you can quickly switch between, each containing three elements: Your light attack, your heavy attack, and your support option, meant to buy time for your stamina to regenerate. Attacks lock you into their animation pattern, and, as you progress, you gain more abilities, some of which require using limited skill slots ,Virtues, and some of which you can turn on or off as you feel, the Tech… Turning these off appears mostly to be a challenge thing, as it includes things like the dodge parry. Speaking of…

When it works, it works well… Enemies clearly telegraph their attacks, there’s a variety of ranged and melee attacks that keep you on your toes, and the spaces range from large to confined, so there’s a lot of tactical variation. Changing your Mantras and Familiars for different loadouts of attack is definitely encouraged, as is experimenting with them to see what fits your style best. But it’s at this point that I have to mention some jankiness.

Sometimes, although I don’t fully understand why, my attacks will lock onto a specific enemy (I may have fatfingered a lockon there), and this leads to frustration as… Dammit, I was aiming for that one, not that one! Similarly, dodge timing takes a little getting used to for parries, because while often, enemies will telegraph their attacks, the telegraph is not the moment you dodge toward the attack.

Boss battles definitely live up to their name, and each has a different, interesting touch.

The actual attack is, and it’s at this point that I mention a controller is probably a good idea for Lucah, since I’ve found, on keyboard and mouse, dodge parrying a little too finicky, because yes, you do have to dodge specifically into the attack to trigger it, and that’s easier to handle with the more granular nature of an analogue stick.

The rest of my gripes with this game, quite honestly, you can simply note as gripes with the Soulslike formula, and more to do with genre weariness than any actual fault of the game. As such, it overall gets a recommendation, because it does interesting things with the genre, and has a somewhat unique aesthetic and narrative that, overall, works. Definitely one of those cases where, even weary as I am of the You Died bullshittery, I appreciate the artistry the Lucah team have brought to bear here.

Eesh. Only way to progress, huh? Chilling.

The Mad Welshman must rest. He is tired.

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