Where The Water Tastes Like Wine (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£19.96 w/soundtrack, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

History often ignores the smaller stories. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t tell some of them, but they can often get missed, in the grand tides of nations, governments, and movements. And yet, stories are one of the main ways in which we shape our lives, and those of others. Here’s the Engine that was Naughty. Here’s the story of how tragedy turned to comedy with old Uncle Jimmy. Here’s the story of how This Person Is Weird, Stay Away. Not that all stories are trustworthy, of course, it’s as much the teller as the tale. And stories, passed around, grow in the telling.

Hoo boy… This hand has a story attached to it, y’know… Which is why I got a baaaad feelin’ , son…

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is, in one sense, the story of the Skeletal Hobo, and his Service to the Devil-As-Wolf. In another, it’s a collection of vignettes, short stories that paint a picture of life in America’s Great Depression. In a third, it’s a story… About stories, and how much we want to hear them.

To describe it mechanically, amusingly, strips some of the mystique away: You walk, often slowly, sometimes quicker if you whistle, across America. Travelling from place to place, collecting and telling stories. Sometimes, you influence them a little, by taking part in them, and along the way, you hear the bigger stories, hunting down characters to tell them the stories you’ve heard, to share enough of a connection that they open up to you, and finish their own stories. Hear all the stories, spread enough of them around, and you’re done.

The pace of the game is sometimes slow between stories, although recent patches have improved this somewhat with better rail and bus travel the further you get, and the mementoes from completed stories allow you to fast travel. Some have said this slow pace is a detraction from the game, but honestly? I like it somewhat slow. It fits the mood of the character, where whistling a merry tune quite literally speeds your travel somewhat. Nonetheless, the option is there, and it adds a little extra choice for those who want to play through quickly, rather than savouring, remembering, and thinking over the stories as you walk.

Some of the stories may seem tall tales, it’s true… But hey, you lived ’em, so you know best, right?

…What was the deal with that white deer? Was there anything I could have done? Ohhh, that poor vet, come home with no reward save the cold road, and what reward is that? The kids these days, and that woman, I do hope she’s alright, and not dead like the tales suggest… Maybe I should swing back that way, see what’s up with that, when I have a spare moment from this grave and onerous task? Ah well, the road lies ahead, and it isn’t gonna get any shorter from me thinking about it.

Time to hunt down the next tale, be it tall or short…

As y’can see, friend, got a ways to go for the next tale to gather. Hand me that flask, and let’s sing a lil’ tune as we go, eh?

The Mad Welshman would like to note that the game’s editor, Laura Michet, has written a detailed post-mortem of the game, available here. It’s an interesting read.

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Miss Fisher And The Deathly Maze, Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s a somewhat sad truth that there are very few games about detectives that make you feel like a detective. Unless, of course, you’re after the Lestrade experience, where you bang things together until somebody archly takes you aside and tells you how you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. And so it is with the Miss Fisher Mysteries episodic adventures so far, an oddly hollow experience after you reach past the surface value of it being more adventures of one of the more characterful and interesting detectives in recent history.

Ah yes, the opera. Noted purveyors of Hoyyotoyoho…

On the absolute surface of it, the music is fitting (It should be, a fair amount of it comes from the show), the paintings of the characters and locations are solid, and it’s accessible. But even here, oddities begin showing up. No windowed mode (or, more accurately, you can Alt-Enter, but it won’t be terribly useful.) Saves are within episodes (so you have to start the episode to load a save, going through at least the introductory cutscene.) If you guessed, by the price, that the cast of the television series were not going to make an appearance (or, indeed, voice acting), you’d be 100% correct. That, at least, I’m not really willing to judge beyond making a note of it.

The rest, however? That, I’m willing to look at a little harder, and, honestly, it just feels unsatisfying. It’s an adventure game of the “One correct path, and no progress until you do the thing” variety, and progressing… Well, when the first episode is resolved with repeated “Talk” commands (and, in the context, this is rather lacklustre ), I can’t help but feel a little cheated. This is a dramatic moment, folks, why the variety of textboxes? Both episodes can be completed in a single afternoon, but… Even knowing this, after the first episode, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to. And a big part of this is that it feels more like a highlight reel, sapped of context, than a fleshed out adventure.

Ah yes, one of those times when Dot is shown something “sinful” in order to progress the plot. Noted running theme.

Ah yes. Here’s the bit where Phryne scandalises her aunt, yes, we want that. And the bit where she tells Jack she’s not a settling person (being a strong, independent woman of the 20s/30s.) Here’s a brief bit of 20s colour, in the form of a speakeasy, yes. Oh, and the bit where progress is being impeded, effectively, by the patriarchal obsession with proprietry. All gone by in the space of an hour, largely unexplored, only… Sort of there. Oh, and we know you like Murdoch Foyle, so he’s our cad and bounder of the hour (or, more accurately, couple of hours.)

There’s some other stuff too, such as finding Phryne’s dresses (finding things seems to be an obsession with these more casual adventures, I’ve noticed. Odd), but, on examination? It’s window dressing. Very accessible window dressing, make no mistake, for, as noted, the game will simply refuse to progress until you’ve done the right thing, and your options are, essentially “Look at thing”, “Talk to person”, and “Bang clues together until you have a new one or a changed one.”

I’d say this would maybe be a short, enjoyable romp for folks who are fans of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, but…. I’m a fan of them, and my time so far has felt like popcorn: Briefly tasting nice, before I realise I’ve spent dosh on something that’s going to make me hungrier…

Here’s your general guide to Murdoch Foyle, serving double duty in this scene as one of two clues you’re given *in* the scene to bang together!

The Mad Welshman often has difficulty, with short games like this, to avoid spoilers in the images. He hopes that nothing has surprised you, as he picked on the basis that it didn’t surprise him.

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WORLD OF HORROR (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: PWYW (Developer Patreon also an option)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

When the first thing a friend asks me on showing them a shot of the game is “Was this programmed in HyperCard?” , I know that, on an aesthetic level, WORLD OF HORROR, a short investigative adventure game inspired by early Mac games and the horrific art of Junji Ito, is definitely working as intended. And, considering the game’s short and sweet as well at the present stage of its development? The stars are seemingly aligned.

…Alas, not, generally speaking, in my favour. Oh well, nobody said stopping reality from breaking was easy!

Backing up a bit, WORLD OF HORROR (caps intended) is currently in a demo stage, showing off the three main methods of play (Single area, timed investigation; home/progressive investigation; location/day based investigation.) It’s a game in which high school students of Horror Japan (The city of OOO, In the year 19XX) are the only hope of even delaying eldritch horror based apocalypse, often based on urban myths, such as Red Coat or Bloody Mary, or on J-Horror themes, like a festival of sacrifice and the like.

While each playstyle is different, some things remain the same throughout. Combat is brutal, as, y’know, students versus ancient evils, ghosts, witches and killers rarely ends well. Items and spells, while useful, are always double edged swords. And each case can be completed (for good or for ill) in around ten to twenty minutes. As such, while the game is difficult, it’s short enough that I genuinely don’t mind that I’ve either died horribly or ushered in the apocalypse in all but one of my runs so far. Not everything is clear in the game (the DOOM meter, for example, doesn’t seem to do much right now), but again, short runs let me get used to things like quickly checking my inventory, and experimenting with buttons to see what they do (The 1 and 2 are important with the first case, as is checking your storage!)

See, on the one hand, exploring school in a Kendo Helmet looks silly. On the *other* , it’s protection. More important than my fashion sense.

So, while there’s not currently a lot of game in WORLD OF HORROR, what there is is quick, relatively easy to get into despite some minor unfriendlinesses in the UI, and it plays to its retro-aesthetic strengths well, with eerie chiptunes, clever 1-bit art (Not necessarily black and white, as the title card allows you to change between a variety of dark/colour palettes… I went with a nice, soothing cyan), and, overall? I found myself wanting to see more of this strange, bloody world.

More. So much more…

Hopefully a portent of things to come, but the main UI changes according to need.

The Mad Welshman is IN.

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Anchorhead (Review)

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

It is only now, in writing the events of this narrative, that I consider how I am to be viewed. Reader, do not consider me possessed, or speaking nonsense, for the events I write of actually happened, although I sometimes wish it was not to be.

Content warnings… And yet… I pressed on…

In my youth, I was fresh faced, always willing to explore the realms of the digital from its earliest incarnations. Sights I had witnessed, from the terminal to the advent of Gouraud and beyond. Oh, that I could tear such knowledge from my head, for time is an illusion!

Consider… Twenty years it had been, since last I visited Anchorhead, Massacheusets, and, stumblingly, witnessed the tragedy of Michael Verlac and his wife, and the terrifying, awesome words that comprised that tale. Indeed, words were my only means of witnessing, through some digital alchemy, interactivity that had its roots in the bubbling, chaotic cauldron of the birth of the games industry twenty years before. Twenty years, and twenty years, and maybe longer still, for it was itself related to the horrific prose of Lovecraft, whose prose was only rivalled by his now reviled beliefs.

Knowing that eldritch monuments were often worshipped by fey cults of ill aspect, I made sure to check the exits to this ill omened square…

And yet… Before me, it stood. Anchorhead, once more. The same tragedy, replaying, calling me to save, and save often, warning me of its CONTENTS beforehand. And yet, G-d help me, I played the tragedy through once more. Through its haunted, prose filled streets. Listening, and urging the wife of Michael Verlac on through this tragedy, a multiplicity of horror, death, and, rarely, hope, stretching in front of me as I played the part of both demon and angel upon her shoulders. Only now, windows into the world, this other, shady world of gray and black and white horrors, added to my despair, for I knew that Anchorhead… Lived.

The window! It resizes! The font grows bigger, drawing me in! I must –


The Mad Welshman found this review on his doorstep one morning, for the recently re-released Anchorhead, a critically acclaimed interactive fiction game. The author has yet to be found, although it is wished they are in good health…

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Shadowhand (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the noble highwaypeople, secretly nobles or derring doers! Oh, wait, no, that wasn’t quite the way it went, generally speaking. But there is a vast literary tradition of the noble turned criminal for Good Deeds, and this, generally speaking, is what Shadowhand is about. Also Solitaire.

See? Corruption. ‘Sright there, and we’re gonna fight it, as Lady Cornelia Darkmoor, aka… SHADOWHAND.

Shadowhand is an odd mix, and one I’ve only seen occasionally in the past: A solitaire game, with RPG progression, inventory, and special abilities, and, because RPGs do, generally speaking, need a story, a story about a noblewoman who, at first, dons a highwayman’s costume to find her maidservant, but then gets drawn into deep intrigue, fraternising with the criminal element, mystical ladies in caravans, and grave-robbing, to name but a few moments.

However, enjoyment of the game will really, really depend on how much you like Solitaire, that card game of trying desperately to beat random chance by putting a card 1 higher or lower than the card you have drawn into the deck until there are either no cards left in the layout (Go you, you won!) , or no cards left in the deck (Aw, boo, you lost!) Because it is very much the core mechanic here. There are elements that make it easier, harder, or more interesting in those aforementioned RPG elements, like Luck, a double edged stat that presents a percentage chance of any move you make getting rid of a second, random card that you could have picked, but it remains a little bit chancy that any layout is solvable.

That’s less of an issue with combat, as combat is effectively “Try to get chains while preventing your opponent getting chains, so you can wallop them harder than they wallop you.” A thing which becomes more of an issue when the hit-points and defense keep going up, the weapon damage keeps going up, and when a chain really hits, it hits… Either way. Attacking ends a turn, but that, also, becomes a consideration when items that give extra turns, or punish you with bleeding for taking your turn come into play.

This, er… Fine gentleman managed to get me to hit the retry button something like 4 times. This was near the end of the second.

So… There’s depth to this whole Solitaire shebang, but it’s depth that becomes rather frustrating early on. Yes, okay, I can infinitely retry pretty much any segment of a chapter until I ace it. But, the further I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been hitting that retry button (and, occasionally, taking advantage of the bit I’m thankful for, being able to change my equipment before I actually start each combat, search, or gimmick level.)

You might be thinking, at this point, “Wow, he really doesn’t like this!” Not… Exactly. What I’m trying to get across here is that, yes, it’s a solitaire game with depth, some nice, relatively static visuals (Combat has short animations, and cards have short animations, but character dialogue is the static image of a character and textbox we know and love from Visual Novels and the like), some okay music (It fits the theme, it doesn’t get in the way, but it’s not terribly memorable, either), and a story (Which we’ll come back to in a second), but Solitaire, however it’s dressed up, given depth, or the like, remains a game that frustrates the hell out of even those of us who enjoy Solitaire from time to time.

Which, finally, brings us to the story, such as it is. It is not, strictly speaking, a bad story in the broad strokes. In fact, it’s one we’ve heard a few times: A noble accidentally ends up a highwayperson, finds some corruption (In this case, her family fortune is being embezzled in some larger scheme), and decides to lead a dual life in order to halt this corruption. It’s mainly that, as sometimes happens, the story takes a backseat to the game, and the tone of the story thus suffers. Oh no, dark deeds are afoot in the graveyard, and our heroine must find a treasure map by graverobbing, while also defeating Thug, Other Thug, and the boss of the area, mean ol’ gravekeeper Doug Hole! This is kind of a shame, as, like I said, the broad strokes are the bones of a good yarn. But it’s a yarn that doesn’t flow, tonewise or in terms of pacing, and that makes me kind of sad.

Never let it be said that Lady Shadowhand doesn’t take advantage of the finest of the Regency Roguery line!

Overall, as I’ve pretty much been saying the whole time, it really depends on how much you like Solitaire, whether you like this or not. If you accept Solitaire’s flaws for what they are, then you have a perfectly fine Solitaire game that adds depth to the basic formula, wraps a story around it, and has some interesting additions. Myself, I’m not that big a fan, so I only see myself coming occasionally back to this.

The Mad Welshman would like you to step down from the carriage gently and hand over your valuables. He also thanks you for your custom.

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