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.

DRAGON uses NOT ON SAME Y AXIS. It’s SUPER EFFECTIVE.

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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Delver (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (or thereabouts)
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site

Well, it’s been a wee while since I last looked at Delver, and now it’s hit release. And you know what? The game’s pretty solid, for what it is: A first person, moddable dungeon crawler building levels out of pre-built rooms, with random potions and kit, and fixed enemy types per area.

G’bye, broken dagger, you were an ok dagger while you lasted, but now you’re crap and gone!

A lot of what I’d previously said about Delver remains true: Weapons degrade over time, so you’re deeply encouraged to change things up (Unless you want to be walloping things for a grand total of 1 damage over and over again), inventory management is something you generally try not to do in the middle of combat, and you’ll want ranged options, and a fair amount of them, by the time you hit the second area. But it’s the little things, sometimes, that help.

What little things? Well, bigger room variety, for a start. The game really uses the vertical element now, and so rooms feel more fleshed out, more interesting. A few extra enemy types, a bit of rebalancing, and the addition of bombs (and bomb vases… Be wary of darker coloured vases, they go boom) all go a little way toward adding a little more flesh to what was already a fairly accessible, chunky dungeon crawler with a bit of charm to it. Potions can be exploded, if you use them right, and all of this goes toward giving a little more depth to a moderately simple game.

As such, yeah, Delver still charms me. Sure, there’s no incremental play (beyond gold carrying between runs), but it’s not designed around that, more about getting right in there and delving. No one combat option is superior to another, it’s simple to understand and get into, and deaths are simply a pause, a learning experience. Oh. Yeah. I maaaaybe shouldn’t stab the dark red vases, huh. Oh. Yeah… Wands and bows are actually useful. So that’s what that Skeleton does.

With the addition of bombs, things can get a little chaotic. The Fire Bomb is both the most rare and best example of this.

Another addition is that there are more… Sssseecretssss. Doors that don’t seem to be openable, locked areas, little branching paths. While I haven’t found the key to unlocking them yet, it is there, and the rewards, from what little I’ve been able to see, are pretty juicy. The sound really helps to create a living dungeon, and some monster noises echoing from further away really helps hit home that no, you are never safe.

The price has gone up since I last reviewed it, but I still feel, so long as you’re aware this is a pick up and play game, rather than The Big Roguelike of Complexity And Nuance (or something) , then I would still recommend this as a fun experience with a consistent, well put together aesthetic. And, of course, it’s got a mod scene. Not a big one yet, but the game is moddable.

A room? Just devoted to this elaborate patterned spike trap? Oh, you *shouldn’t* have! <3

The Mad Welshman gives this game the Sheev Palpatine Award for Health and Safety. Can confirm that handrails are mostly lacking over bottomless pits, and explosives are placed wherever the heck. Keep it up, villainy’s proud of you!

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Vagante (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store
Version Reviewed: Build 59i

When things are this close to release, and the nicest things I can say is “Mages seem to work better, and bows are sort of viable now”, you may be able to figure that I am, as before, distinctly unfond of Vagante’s particular flavour of difficulty. I will, grudgingly, admit it has improved a little. But it still has many of the same issues.

Yup. He died, and so did I. WELP, RESTART.

To recap, Vagante is a procgen platform action dungeon crawler, where you pick a class, attain gear, try to defeat bosses and levels, and level up with each level you beat. Healing is very scarce, and if I felt the game were well balanced around that, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Unfortunately, bosses can best be described as “Absolute arses.” In more technical terms, even the first area bosses (Of which you will encounter all of them: A goblin warlord, a dragon, and a poisonous worm) are battles, not of tactics, but of attrition. Not all classes have an active defense (and those who do, only attain it through levelled abilities) , so taking damage is, in most cases, pretty much a certainty, as options with any sort of decent range are, to put it bluntly, crap. Bows don’t do a heck of a lot, Magic Missile doesn’t do a heck of a lot, wands have cooldowns and the same problems as any spells they own. The reason I found the Mage had improved somewhat as a class? Eleclance (One of the few spells with infinite charges per level, and a consistent, relatively high damage rate) by default.

Of course, this is all talking about the first area. Once the second area is hit, all bets are off, as bosses not only have vastly increased hit points, they also have some seriously beefy attacks and defenses. One boss, for example, has a ring of damaging projectiles circling it, and it can phase through walls. Good luck running away. Good luck getting close enough to hit it. Good luck surviving long enough to plink at it from range. I can’t tell you about later areas, because I haven’t gotten to them. I’ve beaten Spelunky. Heck, I’ve beaten LaMulana, and this game not only resists being finished, the kinds of deaths I’ve encountered make me, honestly, not want to finish it.

The Woods, the second area, is somewhat lighter. Still dark enough that you can’t tell what’s going on with a thumbnail.

I’ve fatfingered jump, very lightly, and died on spikes from a tile high. I’ve been lovetapped to death by misjudging a bat… After having beaten all three bosses of the first area. Heck, at times, I’ve known, before I’ve even found the boss, that I’m not going to win the damage race, because a goblin got lucky, or the aforementioned bat misjudging happened, or I came across a situation where I was going to take damage, be that due to unfortunate enemy configurations, or an enemy blindsiding me that I was sure I’d be able to murder (Explosive moths, for example, are best avoided, rather than attempting to attack them. Their movement is only technically predictable.)

Is there good? Yes, and that, really, makes how I feel about this game worse. The music is good, fitting mood pieces for the areas. The sound isn’t bad. The enemy designs, while not all new creatures, are still interesting. The skills are more clear. But if a weapon isn’t of at least Normal speed, odds are high it just isn’t worth working with timing (and some weapons have minimum ranges, less than useful when any melee enemy just wants to get right in your face), the first area is very dark, making it an eye straining and awkward experience to play… And, considering that all content is now in the game, bringing it fairly close to release? All these little frustrations, these decisions that seem more based on arbitrary difficulty than challenge, don’t make me confident that I’m going to be changing my mind about not liking Vagante on release.

Skills being more clear. Note: The shield blocks *physical* damage. So 2 out of the 3 bosses in the first area can still hurt you.

The Mad Welshman was correct in his last Early Access review: He’s already sick of the damn caves. Also the dagger remains what appears to be the best option.

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