Going Back – TAROTICA VOO DOO

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was, I’ll admit, a little confused over being asked to review TAROTICA VOO DOO, even as an advocate of old games, and the joy (and pain) of programming for older systems as a good thing to do. It’s not the friendliest of games. It’s not the easiest of games. It definitely has its flaws, and, even as someone who likes a lo-fi aesthetic, 2-bit “hand drawn” (read: Pixel doodles) wasn’t immediately endearing to me.

One of our three family members, completely ignoring us because dinner’s not on the table… Ohhhh, I hope a pla- ah wait, that’s exactly what I hope to prevent!

Tarotica Voo Doo is a somewhat surreal “Escape Room” game, in which you solve puzzles (Some of which spread over the entire house, like the Salamanders who light up rooms), in order to break into a family’s home, cook them dinner as an apology, and get them out of the house, all before a plane crashes into it. It’s also a game coded for the MSX. Not the MSX 2, or 3, or Turbo. The MSX, played via the official MSX emulator. So… A game coded for a 1980s platform, in 2018. Normally, very much my jam.

And, in terms of the technical wizardry behind it, it very much is. If you want some idea of the kind of crap people had to pull to code games for the MSX, the PDF attached to the game (hand written by the developer in both English and Japanese versions) is worth the price of the game alone, and explains the 2-bit aesthetic (It was the only way to get as many frames of animation as the game has.)

This poor dog’s only crime is that it’s holding the front door shut (somehow.) The zombies, skeletons, salamanders, and the like inside, on the other hand…

As to the game? Well, it mostly comes out middling. I like, for example, how four frames of animation are used to good effect in puzzles and combat alike, with the latter a sort of rhythm deal where you have to time pulling fully back (for defending) and forward (for attacking) carefully, with the only pressure being that failure means restarting the (short) fight. I like how smoothly the developer has papered over the cracks of a slow Video RAM, meaning that the experience doesn’t jerk or stutter, even in the short, equally 2-bit cutscenes. I like how its control scheme (arrow keys to move, space to start interacting with a highlighted object, up and down to interact with it, space again to leave that interaction) is simple, and similarly smooth. I’m not so fond, however, of some of the more house-spanning puzzles, like going back between various rooms and the basement, in order to release the salamanders that provide light for the torches… Or block them off. A few fights (such as with one of the aforementioned salamanders) are just a tadge counter-intuitive, and, as mentioned, despite liking lo-fi aesthetics, Tarotica Voo Doo’s didn’t really grab me.

Nonetheless, it’s not a bad couple of hours, even if it didn’t quite grab me, and, with the attached “CHRONICLES OF TAROTICA VOO DOO”, detailing how the program was built up, it’s an alright, actually retro game with a post-mortem dissection of how it was put together that’s well worth a look for 8-bit programming enthusiasts, or even folks who just want an idea of why pushing the limits of an older machine was hard as hell.

This puzzle’s explanation is one thing, practice another. Thankfully, with only four frames per statue, it’s easy enough to work out.

The Mad Welshman is heartened by the fact that, even today, people struggle with assembler. It puts his own struggles in perspective.

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My Lovely Daughter (Review)

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

How far would you go to save a loved one, or a family member? In a world of magic, such as My Lovely Daughter, the answer is mass murder. But it’s okay, honest, because they’re homunculi, things created to be used and killed. Right… Right?

I’m gonna go with “Nooooo” here. Somehow.

My Lovely Daughter is, described mechanically and reductively, a life-sim VN. You’re trying to earn enough money for upkeep (of the corpse of your daughter, and ensuring your homunculi don’t run away) by doing jobs for your fellow townsfolk (Because a pitchfork and torch up the strap often offends, and they have money) or selling them better materials (made from homunculus-daughters who have levelled up enough), in order to achieve the statistics needed for an ending (or the perfect ending, all of which are obtained by… Slaughtering homunculus-daughters to feed the stripped out soul of your daughter, and are essentially the Four Humours of greek medicine and their appropriate moods.)

Goodness me, there’s a lot of murder and tragedy hiding under that mechanical description, isn’t there? And this is part of why I’m so fond of My Lovely Daughter: It goes all in on the Gothic front. All of your homunculi daughters love you, in their own ways… But they’re often twisted by the emotion they represent (such as the Mud daughter’s attempts to seek attention) or the form they take (Don’t worry about your other daughters, kill ’em all, and we can play in the water together, daddy – Mermaid Daughter) , or indeed both (Poor Animal daughter… Already depressed, and people call her a freak for having a fox head on top of that. Rude!) The Alchemist Faust is, mysteriously, alive again after a spell of being dead, and… Well, the whole thing oozes of tragedy, well written tragedy, from that of Faust, whose ego drives him to force that soul back into his daughter’s body, again and again, to the homunculus-daughters (who are not all innocents, but are, in their way, the most blameless of the cast), and the townsfolk, outcasts all, each with their own secrets, their own stories to tell.

Oh, no, you must be confusing me with my daughter, I’m sure she shopper here t- ohwait.

So yes, I quite enjoy the writing. I also quite enjoy the art, being hand drawn sketches, reminiscent somewhat of woodcuts, with procedural stains of various types giving the impression of a run down, grimy world, a world of obsession that’s slowly winding down… And leads me to that eternal question: But is there anything you don’t like?

Well, yes. But not a lot. Mostly, the fact that everything can be discovered in a single night is sad, it’s true. The game loop being repetitive is not something I’m annoyed with, because on the one hand, the game loop becomes quicker the further you get into actively searching for those endings, and on the other, as mentioned, the game is relatively short. Are these, even in combination, enough to stop me from recommending My Lovely Daughter? No. I feel I’ve seen an interesting, bleak world, I’ve been allowed to play in it, to explore its gloomy environs, and gotten a good, tragic tale of gothic hubris into the bargain. I’ve easily understood how the game is to be played, and I appreciate how even the forced tutorial at the beginning is part of its storytelling. Like gothic horror? My Lovely Daughter is, I feel, pretty good.

Er… Yes. I will play with you in the water, my daughter. Certainly. Later. Yes.

Having confirmed that he would be a bad dad, The Mad Welshman returns to what he’s good at. Moustache twirling.

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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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