Hover: Revolt of Gamers (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

“I don’t get it”, I said as I stared at the screenshots. “What does this have to do with gaming, per se? It looks like it’s inspired by Jet Set Radio Future, but doesn’t have any visible rollerblades or anything.” HOVER: Revolt of Gamers is, it must be said, a game with a somewhat confusing title. And it doesn’t help that there’s a fair amount you have to do before anything more is mentioned beyond “The Great Admin have banned fun” , which, also, seems like a very silly thing to try and ban. I have fun walking, for example, and singing, and, of course, there are many co-operative activities that are fun, at least some of which fall under the umbrella of “Necessary Procreation.”

Yes, this most certainly looks like fun. I am feeling the rebellion.

“Jamie, stop worrying about the damn story. It’s not important! I want to know how it plays!”

Oh. Not so hot. I mean, the basics work alright, but when those basics get into the wild, it gets a little frustrating. The controls are, for the most part, pretty simple, even if non-french folk might want to be warned to check the control options, otherwise they’re using ZQSD for walking (AZERTY Keyboard is the default.) Jumping things are done with space, sneaky slidey grindy things are done with shift, and throwy scanny talky things are done with the left mouse button. Bam. The problem then arises when turning the mouse is how you turn, and A and D (on a UK keyboard, anyway) are more sort of… Tilts.

Air control, and indeed run control, then sort of depend on your mouse sensitivity being high, which doesn’t interact too well with, say, looking around, or if you get motion sick. Then again, the way the player created protagonists bounce around, I probably couldn’t recommend this to anyone with motion sickness anyway, especially with all the boost pads and bounce pads and grabbing onto things that maybe should not be grabbed onto. One example I noted while playing in the first area was clothes lines. Okay, I can sort of see you grinding on clothes lines… Sort of… But they are, last I checked, not reliable mantling points, per se. So in a sense, they get in the way of a clean line, which is, of course, the best way to do any sort of mission involving speed. Which many of the missions are, and indeed, keeping your speed high is the only way to destroy holosigns, which is a thing you have to do.

A pet. On a magrail. That I’m meant to take for a walk. On the magrail. Guess who missed the pet, then had to retry the mission three or four times?

It doesn’t exactly help that the cluttered landscape of the hub, combined with a somewhat odd UX design, means you don’t always know where you’re going or what the hell you’re doing. I’ve failed delivery and Fuzz-running missions (Themselves a bit silly, because at least one involves giving someone’s pet a good walkies… On a magnetic tramway) simply because I didn’t notice where the damn item to pick up was due to the confusion. There’s a lot of bright colours, and they often conflict, so poor colourblind me was often acutely lost, even with the Crazy Taxi style arrow that tells you whether something you need to do is in front of, behind, to one side, or up or down, and takes its context from whatever you seem to be doing at the present time (be that capturing spy drones that just seem to be minding their own business, graffiti spraying over the seemingly rare Admin Propaganda posters, or some other things), or racing. This lack of clarity sometimes extends to missions, as friends and I had an interesting time trying to work out what the criteria for the “Do 20 tricks in under a minute and a half” mission was. It seems to be trick combos of more than 75 points, so I filled it out by jumping in different directions, bouncing off the ground with my neon moon boots, and holding the trick key in combination with various directions to pull off tricks, ala Tony Hawks or any other tricking game I’ve encountered.

That tricking mission ranked me up by 5, the highest I’d seen. Shame I had to hit 100 ranks total to get more story, and in less than an hour, I’d started to have trouble finding things to do that weren’t fuzz missions… At least some of which have gruelling time standards, as do most of the requirements for the medals. “8 seconds for gold on mantling several rooftops to deliver a ball” sounds easy until you realise each mantle’s about a second, and each throw’s about a second, so it’s basically “Don’t fuck up at all.” My first, blind time was 19s. No, there isn’t adjustable difficulty, why would you want adjustable difficulty? Don’t answer that, we both probably know if the question even has to be asked.

Tricking in trash… I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. *Shrugs*

That isn’t to say that there isn’t good in the game, for, while the hub is extremely cluttered, I can’t really say it’s not pretty or aesthetically consistent. It is, in an anime-cyberpunk sort of way, and the character designs, similarly, are mostly kinda cool. The music is definitely a strong point, as Hideki Nakagama (yes, JSRF composer Hideki Nakagama) and Cédric Menendez bring some damn find beats. But the problem is that this is just two parts. The UX is cluttered, at least some of the missions amount to “Do it perfectly or fail”, even in the first part of the story, the missions lack variety, and the story is… Well, silly even for a videogame.

The Mad Welshman no Great Admin, out to ban fun (At least partly because such a thing would be extremely hard to enforce), but he sadly can’t recommend this game.

Dead Cells (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

For a bundle of ooze, condemned to murder and drain the genetic information of magical weapons and experiments just like itself, the titular Dead Cells are quite an expressive character. They sort of have to be, as they can’t say anything, and that’s easily explained by the fact that they’re an oozing thing with one burning eye and no mouth. But hey, they understand folks fine, what’s the problem?

Ahhh… Soon, I will have *aaaall* the goopy vials… And maybe then, I can rest.

Anyways, Dead Cells is a game about dodging blows from various enemies, leaping about frantically, slashing and murdering frantically, and occasionally dying frantically, before your little pile of ooze is piped into another headless corpse to begin the whole palaver again for the nefarious purposes of a Necro-Alchemist. It’s a simple game, and pseudo-random level generation means that while I know roughly what to expect from a level, I don’t know the full ins and outs.

Design wise, it’s pretty tight so far. It’s one of the first games where I haven’t found a subweapon I haven’t found a use for, the weapons, similarly, are solid. Enemies telegraph things well enough that I’ve quickly worked out how to dodge, say, the venom of the scorpions in the old sewer. You start with only one path, but unlock more by getting far enough (You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road… And I will be murdered by scorpions!) , you have a fair few weapons already (From main weapons like the electric whip and the BLOOD SWORD, to subweapons like the Meat Grinder, or my personal favourite, Ice Grenades), and, obviously, a bevy of monsters.

What’s that coming out of the ground, is it a Scorpion, it is a scorpion!

It must be said that, if you can’t play twitchy games, Dead Cells is sadly not for you, because it’s twitchy as hell. In fact, one of my current criticisms of the game is that Elite enemies following you gives you absolutely no chance to heal (Which takes time), and sometimes, the fight goes so quickly that you’re not sure what actually killed you (Each individual fight tends to take between 1 and 3 seconds, and, at the end of that time, either they’re dead, or you are. Unless they’re Elites, in which case the fight lasts either too long, or a painfully short time.)

But the sound design is good (The slish and squish of your ooey-gooey body shlorping into your next headless host is… A thing to behold), the visuals are good (Pixellated gore, goo, and viscera is the order of the day… The game revels in its griminess, but everything except the pipe ladders in the sewer levels are clearly differentiated), and even getting past the first level means you improve, albeit slower than if you get further each run, so the difficulty evens out over time. Overall, Dead Cells is already looking promising, and, along with Drifting Lands, is currently my go to for a quick, fun game. The tunes are good, and my only grump right now is that Elite enemies are, if anything, too elite.

Are you… Are you *Bratting* on me, Cursed Chest? Goodness me, I’d almost be tempted if I didn’t already *know* you’d bite me and inflict a death curse!

The Mad Welshman grimaced, if a pile of sentient goop could be said to grimace… This zombie looked… Different somehow. “Is it your hai-URK.”

Welp. Time to start over.

MX Nitro (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

When I first noticed MX Nitro, I couldn’t help but be a little baffled. Saber Interactive and Miniclip SA are not really known for MX games, be they the more traditional kind, or what MX Nitro is, which is a Trials style “Balance the bike and do tricks while trying to win the race/get a score/just look freaking cool/not crashing” type dealybobber.

Bird of Prey… Bird of Prey… Flying high! Flying high!

And while I wouldn’t say this was a standout example of the genre… It does okay. Aesthetically, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an extreme sports game in general. Sorry, extreme sports games, but you definitely have an audiovisual style that, on the one hand, is immediately identifiable, but, on the other, makes many of you blur together in my mind. Sandy arenas, muddy tracks, and gritty, be-puddled (Yes, that’s a word now, shut up) streets near the docks meld with moderately distorted guitar dominated tunes that you can almost hear crying anachronistic “HELLA RIDE, BROOOOO!”s , themselves melding with clashing, saturated colour gear and bikes.

What I’m saying is that if you’ve played the likes of Nail’d, MX Vs ATV, or even a DiRT game, you’d probably feel right at home, although there’s nothing standout about any of it. It’s good, it’s tunes to mash your head to despite the inadvisability of doing so in-game, and that’s perfectly fine.

Crash, and you lose both time and position. Also, y’know, that combo you were building. Sucks to be you. However, *winning* while crashing is a very amusing thing.

A definite plus side, however, is the simplicity of the controls. Although at first you may scratch your head, the keyboard controls for MX Nitro are sensible and responsive: Up to accelerate (Always hold this down), left and right to tilt the bike backwards and forwards (For Wheelies and Stoppies, the go-to means of holding a combo), space to NITRO (Because of course there’s a nitro boost, why wouldn’t there be?) , and number keys for tricks. Unless you have very tiny hands, you won’t have too much trouble here, and there is controller support for those more comfortable with a controller.

So the controls are good, the music and visuals are what you’d expect and smooth, all of which are good… Where’s the downside, huh?

Well… Most of that is that, with that simplicity of controls, it then expects you to know them from the word go. Or, more accurately, it expects you to always be thinking about them, from the moment they’re introduced, or to fail, again and again at a stage, until you either luck out or realise what you’ve been doing wrong. While most early stages are do-able, boss stages and trick stages in particular both require you to ABW (Alway Be Wheelie-ing) when you’re not boosting (ABB. Always Be Boosting) or tricking (ABT. Guess.) Even if you do win a race stage, it feels a bit hollow to be given the star, the unlockables (Including tricks and new bikes), and the extra cash from objectives when you have a worse score, overall, than the other racers (Who, in true EXTREME SPORTS fashion, have names like Black Devil or Red WhiskyBreath… Okay, the last one’s not real, but the first one is, and you get the idea.)

I will get first in this race, despite having the lowest score. Because it’s drag, and so the points don’t matter. Only objectives.

…Still *feels* like they matter though, sadly.

And, in the end, that’s largely what can be said about MX Nitro: It’s moderately fun, especially if you like that sort of thing, and, once you get the hang of ABB, ABW, and ABT, the unlocks, occasional crashes (Of the bike kind, not the game kind, the game’s stable), then you start having fun. It’s not for everybody, even among EXTREME SPORTS fans, but since individual races are relatively short, the unlocks are pretty reasonable (Yes, even the fact that tricks unlock), and restarting a race is pretty simple too, it can be summed up as “Good arcade fun, even if it doesn’t really stand out from anything else.”

The Mad Welshman always stands on one leg when walking, just to make things interesting. He also kicks off walls and hops really fast. Is he not EXTREME?

Mastema – Out of Hell (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

There is such a thing as too faithful. Mastema: Out of Hell, with its homage to the coin guzzlers of yesteryear, very aptly demonstrates that in less than ten minutes. So let’s talk about my mood during that first ten minutes, then what comes after.

See, This is Good…

“Starting option to have CRT effects or not, and it looks like its built around that? HELL YES.” That was my inner monologue. The intro splashes, reminiscent of a game like Splatterhouse, enchanted. The audiovisual assault, a combination of eerie chiptunes, deliciously chunky spritework, sumptuous animations, and some decent, Genesis styled sound effects charmed.

And then I fell in a pit. And discovered Point of No Return dissolving platforms in the second stage of the first area. And then, because it was my birthday, and I had things to do, I quit, mildly peeved.

I came back, and… Unfortunately, the game has also inherited a fair amount of what can best be described as “Jank” and coin-guzzling bad habits. Beyond traps for the unwary, such as the aforementioned dissolving platforms (Not to mention many jumps requiring near-pixel perfection), the larger enemies seem pretty much invincible, while the small ones die in one hit of the sword, leaving the Special Attacks feeling… Largely useless, honestly. It doesn’t help that, when you attain the first of these, there’s essentially one enemy between you and the exit. This all adds up to feeling like… There really hasn’t been much thought put in besides the Aesthetic. You stumble through three or so levels per stage, reach an exit door, and move onto the next. Perfection and collecting enough skull-gems rewards you with extra life. A single fuckup reduces that limited supply, and once those are up, game over, hope you enjoy playing through the game again!

This… Not so much (Especially considering the whirlwind of ULTRA METAL DEATH will… Do nothing here)

The controls are a little unresponsive (Mainly felt while trying to do those aforementioned near-pixel jumps), and you will learn, by the third stage, that the protagonist has the strange, yet sadly common inability to air control his jump when standing right next to a wall. I’d gotten to something like the fourth stage, and had yet to encounter anything that wasn’t in the binary of “Don’t bother attacking” or “Dies in one hit” , or a level that didn’t also have the binary of “This jump is easy” or “This jump requires you to be in the right place first.

As such, I really can’t recommend Mastema. Sure, it’s got style, and I’m informed it’s got boss fights and more interesting levels down the road or something. But to get there, I’d have to suffer through some numbly painful “oldschool” bullshittery that, honestly, I was quite happy to leave behind in my halcyon days of youth, and, honestly, I have better things to do.

You can, no joke, die here. The final jump of this level.

The Mad Welshman likes imaginative gribbleys. But he’d also like that imagination to extend to gameplay dickery, if you really have to have it in your game…

Hollow Knight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (£14.38 for “With Soundtrack” bundle, £6.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, GOG

Dark Souls, it seems, has become… Almost a template. A boilerplate. We’ve seen this quite a few times in good ol’ (Ha!) video games, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s done well. Hollow Knight, by all appearances, does pretty well. Sometimes too well.

That’s not creepy. Not at all, no *SHUDDER* sirree…

In any case, you are a bug. Possibly undead, it isn’t made too clear at first. You’re drawn to a nigh empty village above a set of ruins populated by the damned and the forgotten. If you’ve played Dark Souls, you’ll already be seeing how this is going. Mystery! Tragedy! Boss fights! That one place where everything seems to hate you, the player, personally! And, of course, that sick, numb feeling that comes from dying to something perfectly ordinary on the way to trying to recover your currency from where you died not five minutes ago.

I could bang on about which element is a metroidvania thing, which is a Dark Souls thing, so on, so forth, but… It’s apparent if you’ve played them, and irrelevant beyond the concept of “Exploring platformer where you kill stuff and get special abilities and maybe get told a tragic, creepy story if you’re not hammering that ‘skip dialogue’ button like a hammering thing.” What matters is: Does it do it well?

The boss fights are, as you might expect, highly pattern based, but creative and with stories of their own to tell. I almost feel sorry for this feller, for example…

In short… Yes. It does it aesthetically, with the hand drawn landscapes, music and bug design really selling that “Dark and creepy (but grounded) world” mood. It does it mechanically, with responsive controls, gameplay that relies more on timing than twitching, and a narrative that still works despite taking a lot of its beats from… Dark Souls.

There is, of course, a “but” hanging over this: If you didn’t like certain aspects of Dark Souls, such as occasionally having trouble working out where to go/what to do next (Not aided by a map that only updates a) If you bought a basic map of the area already by finding the mapmaker in the area, and b) You’ve sat down at a bench post exploration.) Or Occasionally breaking into an area you’re definitely not prepared for and dying. Or realising that, to get a thing that would definitely help survive an area, you’re going to have to grind enemies for… Quite a while (Which, at the time of this sentence, is exactly the problem I’m facing. Most of these things are either fair, or ameliorated somewhat (You can, if you get hold of a Rancid Egg and a Simple Key, draw your Hollow soul back via an NPC, for example), but they are nonetheless baked into the design philosophy behind the game, and if they turn you off, then I obviously can’t recommend it for you.

From the Metroidvania end of things comes… Extra Mobility (Gating areas.)

Overall, though, it’s an imaginative world, a responsive and pleasurable experience most of the time, and I’ve enjoyed my time so far with Hollow Knight. For an example of crossing Dark Souls and Metroidvanias well, you can’t go far wrong with this.

The Mad Welshman agrees that this review feels a bit short. Some might say… Hollow.