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 –

>HELP

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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Sunless Skies (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Forever Live The Queen! The Empire, In Its Infinite Wisdom, Has Replaced The Traitor Sun With A Clockwork Marvel. More Inside, Along With The Scandalous Dealings (And Deals) At Magdalene’s!

Although this screenshot is from an earlier version, how could I not include the talented melding of Terry Thomas and David Suchet as a dastardly bureaucrat? So good!

So… Here we are again. Failbetter, from browser game Fallen London, to Sunless Sea, to today, have created an interesting world, a dark, funhouse mirror world of the Victorian, Lovecraftian Empire. Cosmic Horror, Dunsanian Phantasy and Afternoon Tea, if you will. And now? We’re in the railways of space. Yes, you heard me right. Flying trains. Through space. But, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For example, resource management remains important, as you have limited cargo space (Even with improvements), and the very fact that running a space train is kind of expensive immediately throws you into the politics and mysteries of the area. The Company will keep you in fuel and money, so long as you regularly supply them with Port Reports, and don’t deal overmuch with those violent blackleggers and revolutionaries, the Tacketies. Which is amusing, when you consider that in the Station of New Winchester (The capital of the first area of the game, and currently the only available one), Victory Hall (One of the homes of the Tackety Movement) is quite near, in fact, to Company House. But such is life here.

Each area, each floating township and station has their own feel. Their own mysteries…

Right now, while there may not seem like a whole lot (And the developers, ever cognisant that you might have trouble paying the bills, give a generous starting payment to get you going), the stars of Sunless Skies are still intriguing. It’s a living, breathing Space, with the fungal remains of vast creatures, singing bees, and, of course, various Fallen Londoners in space. The most recent update, accessible by beta branch, is something well known to Sunless Sea players: The world having segments that are, themselves, static, but placed procedurally. So, sometimes, Port Prosper is, as the main branch would tell you, far to the Northeast. Sometimes, it’s to the Southwest. Sometimes, it’s to the NNW. But it will always be a tough prospect to reach without having some supply stops in that middle ring to help ensure you don’t die in what is, despite the Queen’s meddling, the cold of space. You’re rewarded with experience for finding places, filling out that map, doing tasks, but, in the end, the Sunless Skies will swallow your character whole.

Of course, if you die, at least some of your knowledge gets passed on to the next Captain, some of your goods, some of your wealth. Perhaps all of it, if you reach what’s currently the first goal of the game’s lineage based RPG fun: Having a home that isn’t the Cab of your (admittedly glorious) space train. The controls are simple, explained well by the game, and from there? Well, the choices are out there, ripe for exploration. I quite enjoyed Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies is looking to be an improvement on that formula, and I look forward to seeing where this looking glass leads.

Those who are impressionable may feel that this is an eldritch sigil, rather than a path of exploration along common trade routes. Please ignore the howling winds from the ground itself and tentacled beastie behind me, thanks in advance.

The Mad Welshman would, for obvious reasons, prefer to be referred to by his proper title: Captain D’Urbin of Her Majesty’s Windward Company, 4th Merchant Fleet. Thankew.

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Reigns: Her Majesty (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09 (£2.09 for the soundtrack, 79p for the Book of the Queen, £6.99 for a bundle of both this and the original Reigns, with all the mod cons)
Where To Get It: Steam

I can say, having played Reigns: Her Majesty, that I have been a lesbian queen torn to shreds by the adoration of her populace. I’ve also been a bisexual queen burned by the church along with the unborn heir to the throne, a heterosexual queen who had a dalliance with her hunter, then turned off the sun, an asexual queen who burned the treasury on pretty things, but, in all of these stories, there has been a common thread.

Uggghh… The worst part about Queen PLC is the bleedin’ Marketing Department, I swear.

Some incredibly shifty (and often shiftless) men trying to tell me how to live my life. Not to mention a couple of folks, men and women, trying to tell me what is proper for someone of my station. Even if, as it turns out, a lot of that “proper behaviour” was bollocks. It even got me killed, in one early case. Reigns: Her Majesty has things to say, about medieval perceptions of gender, pagan faiths versus state religion, all sorts of clever stuff under the surface.

I’m loving every minute of it.

Much like its predecessor, Reigns, you are a monarch, destined to die and live again, until something happens. Instead of being cursed by the Devil, however, you are an Archetypal Queen, seemingly created by the Lady of the Wood for… Reasons. Although there is an amusing nod where you ask your pet cat Rex if they’re the Devil in disguise. Any which way, your reigns are generally short and brutal, due to the balancing act you have to make with binary choices (Swipe left, swipe right.) You can’t be too popular, or not popular at all. You can’t have too powerful a military, or a nonexistent one. Obviously, there has to be money in the treasury. And you can’t piss off the Church too much. There are goals, but more than baby steps are unlikely, due to just how fragile the kingdom really is. The crown and Church battle. The King can’t be bothered with most administrative tasks. You’re not, in a very real sense, allowed to be yourself. You have to be The Flawed Queen, not perfect (Because you’ll die), not terrible (Because you’ll die), just… Walking the tightrope.

NARRATOR: As it turned out, no, she wasn’t good. She had, in fact, been deemed Very Bad by the Church…

If you can’t find parallells there with the modern day, with celebrity, women, and the like, trust me, they’re there. Visually, it’s as tidy, as interesting, and clear as its predecessor, and the soundtrack is quietly menacing, eerie, and sometimes ridiculous, as it needs to be. The writing’s damn fine, and, as with Reigns, the further in you get, the more there is to do, narrowing again toward the inevitable progression toward… Well. Let’s leave that for you to find out… My Queen.

NARRATOR: …And so, the Queen and her unborn heir were invited to a lovely barbecue, where she was the guest of honour, and the Church forgave her.
Oh, wait, no they didn’t.

The Mad Welshman never did get the hang of the tightrope…

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