R-COIL (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: Approximately £3 ($5 USD, option to donate more)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO, Steam Page (For the Beta)

Allow me, if you would, to unburden for a second…

…AAAAaaaaAAAaaaAAAAaaAAaAaA!!!

…Aaand now I’m dead. LET’S DO IT AGAIN.

…Much better. This is what you might call the “Executive Summary” of R-COIL, a take on Asteroids that I’d covered previously. An interesting take, because the thrust and weapon systems on your little ship have, through terrible circumstance, been fused together. And, as it turns out, weapons have a lot of recoil in the largely frictionless depths of space. Cue the main challenge of the game.

Visually, the game is quite polished, quite clear, quite accessible. Taking from the vector drawn school of old arcade games, there’s nonetheless colour and pizzazz to the game, and the ability to turn off various jitters, jumps, and deliberate aesthetic glitchiness if it hurts the eyes is a very pleasant feature. The sound, similarly, has improved quite a bit since last time, keeping that 8-bit aesthetic while not being painful to the ears. So far… So good.

In other changes… Well, it must be noted that mouse and gamepad play are, due to their control scheme, somewhat different experiences. A gamepad is highly recommended, as it affords more granular control over, say… Aiming than the mouse, due to the fact that, with a gamepad, you’re turning in the direction the left stick is pushed toward (and the rightmost face button shoots or thrusts), while, with the mouse, left and right movement turn the craft, and the left mouse button shoots or thrusts.

Er, that’s Boomerang. Screenshots don’t capture quite how chaotic this can get, sadly.

Overall, though, it’s one heck of an interesting experience, albeit a twitchy one, where even powerups can be double edged swords. Yes, okay, the Cloak means enemies won’t specifically target you, because you’re invisible. Of course… You’re invisible, relying on your thrust and bullets to see where you are. Hence the screaming at the start of the review.

Better weapons are good, but often have more recoil, while different shields… Ah, there comes a real balancing act. Do you rely on the tatters of your rotational shield, hoping for something better to come along, or do you take that front deflector, good at blocking front shots, but absolutely useless at protecting you from one hit death, and the loss of one of your three lives, if you’re not paying attention? Other shields exist, but each has their ups and downs. Sound worrying? Don’t worry, there’s also a Stress Free mode, in which you can die as many times as you like, and still get to grips with things… Or just have fun blowing things up and being blown up in turn!

And that, in a nutshell, is R-COIL. While not officially on Steam until next February, there is an open beta of the game available both on Itch.IO and Steam, and, if you like interesting, hectic twists on older formulae.

I *knew* I shouldn’t have gone for the cheap cabling between the guns and engines!

The Mad Welshman is still screaming. Maybe just a little. But it’s a good kind of screaming.

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Dead Cells (Early Access Review 2)

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

It’s funny, sometimes, the things you have to think about in a game like Dead Cells. After all, sooner or later, the player’s going to have trouble getting new blueprints, or collect them all. Thankfully, I have discovered that yes, Motion Twin have thought of both aspects, while continuing to improve a game that I’ve already been liking so far.

See… I *told* you I’d get closer to that goal of getting all the lovely bubbly vials of cool things! Soon, my pretties. Soon.

When last I looked at Dead Cells, quite a few months back, it was already shaping up to be a characterful, clever 2d platforming slash-em-up with a lot of depth, paths, and ooey goo to enjoy. And since then? There’s been a lot of changes. And you know what? They’re good. The new levelling system, for example, balances a concern that the older system had, where you could go for damage, health, or ability, but could level yourself into a corner. This time around, every upgrade path gives you some health, and there’s good reasons to take any particular level up, from damage boosts on killing enemies, to improved parrying with shields. Similarly, some upgrades allow for selling things you don’t want on the spot, reshuffling the shop (for a price), a Daily Challenge mode where you try to balance getting through a level quickly with murdering the Best Monsters, and new areas galore.

For first time players, the level design hints at things that you can achieve, or get. Glowing sarcophagi. Weird blobs, strange sigils… Where I’m currently at, ability wise, I’m looking at walls too tall for me to climb, and I’m not thinking “Oh boo, an area blocked off”, I’m thinking “Hrm. Somewhere, currently out of my reach (but not forever), there is someone I’ll defeat to get wall climbing or jumping. And then, my pretties… Oh yessss, theeeennnn…”

When a plan comes together, and enemies go SQUISH, it’s a good feeling…

It encourages with its blockages, rather than feeling like a limitation. Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but somehow… It works. Similarly, Elite enemies are a thing you can choose not to engage. Hit ’em, and you fight ’em. Avoid them, and, okay, you miss out on some lovely Cells for unlocking new weapons and abilities, but you wouldn’t be avoiding them if you didn’t think that maybe they’d be too much for you right now.

The things I’ve said previously, about the cool, disgusting sound design, the goo, the interesting visual design, and the twitch, remain the same. The aesthetic is awesome, the game mostly lets you deal with it on your own terms, while encouraging weapon experimentation with synergies and special abilities, and… Well, I liked it then, and I still quite enjoy it now, even where I am, pretty late in the collection game and hunting for the next step forward.

The briefest of glimpses of an area recently added, the Clock Tower. Suffice to say, it was brief because I was murderised shortly thereafter.

The Mad Welshman is running and running to stay in place, oh, what a mixed up world this is!

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Freaky Awesome (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99 (£8.78 w/soundtrack, £3.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Freaky Awesome is one of those ideas that looks fun on paper, but alas, the execution is a little lacking. The idea? A silly, twin stick melee and shooting romp, in which a badass action star who has a soft spot for his dog goes to the abandoned Chemical Factory to find them, only to find… Gruesomeness.

It has at least some of the right elements. Pumping and threatening bass electronic tunes? Yup. Slime and goo? Core to the game. Good visual designs? Yup. But it’s when it gets to play itself that it starts to feel… Well, not so well thought out. Partly through the procgen, partly through some base choices made. Let’s start with the mutations.

Small room? Check. Dynamite boxes? Check. Headache? Check.

When you first start a profile, you have two mutations you choose between for your character (For lo, he has been mutated by toxic waste, in true 80s fashion.) A one legged chicken-man with a kick and a dodge roll, and the Grub, able to lay worms and whip his head to attack multiple enemies at once. As you get to new zones, you can, with an expenditure of health, coins, and keys, fight a new mutation to keep it, in every stage. But the ideas for mutations run out relatively quickly, and their secondary abilities… Well, of the characters I’ve unlocked (Almost all of them) , only Chicken’s really sees any use at all, because that dodge roll has invincibility frames, and he’s the only mutation that has such a deal. The rest? Either they take long enough that they’re not worth the risk of being hit compared to, say, backing away while attacking, or they’re just not worth it period.

Example: Head. Head has a headbutt, the same way Fish has a chomping charge, Chicken has a roundhouse kick, Scorpion (presumably, not yet unlocked) has a slash. But his alternate ability is… To throw his head across the room, piercing enemies along the way, for… The same damage as if he’d headbutted them. Until the head is retrieved, no attacks are possible. Hrm… Which to go for? A headbutt that definitely hits everyone in melee range (Which, since many enemies are melee and want to get close, is a lot), and is quick… Or throw my head, do one hit, and then have to run away. Oil, with his fiery slime thrower and oil puddles, is a similar proposition. Shoot while running away, or take time to drop a slowing puddle that he can set on fire that doesn’t really work because it relies on chasing enemies not chasing you, and being stuck in the puddle.

Of course, I’m emphasising this “Hit them more often, as opposed to special abilities” because of both the monster and room design. The majority of enemies in Freaky Awesome rely on melee, and chasing you. Some are actually really good at chasing you, such as a three legged beastie that, no matter how fast you are, is probably going to at least be able to start attacking you at least once every second or two if you’re constantly moving. Others have area effect attacks, such as the chompers or big fellers with a ground pound that… Well, here’s where the rooms come in. Those ground pounders will spawn in small rooms. And the first area they’re introduced (Furnace) further restricts those rooms with fire vents in both the floor and the walls, the former of which are hard to spot on your first try (When they’re white, that means don’t step on them, they’re hot.)

This thing… This thing I have rude words about. Unless I have several follower items, in which case I yawn and kite, yawn and kite.

As you might have guessed, this makes some rooms not so much an exercise in not taking damage, but in how much damage you take, and that… Well, that isn’t great. Outside of those rooms? Well, even with a melee character, it’s surprisingly easy to kite most enemies, so the damage you’re going to be taking, with the exceptions of the Furnace and “Final” Organic area, is mostly from inattention to enemies, rather than being heavily restricted by the environment. Bosses, similarly, vary between the “Only take damage if you’re not paying attention” of Spider-boss and the Missile-Bee, to a larger version of the chompers that chases, has his area chomp, and, on “Death”, splits into two, and then again into four smaller versions, each a little faster, with a little less hit points, but more likely to do some damage if you don’t have a very specific kiting strategy to get them all chasing you in an orderly fashion (And even then, it’s risky.)

I could go on like this, but this, honestly, is a problem that hits nearly every mechanical level. Followers can break certain encounters over their knee, or they won’t do damage when they’re meant to. DNA is meant to be an incremental method of improving, as are the Mutation unlocks, but none of the mutations feel like much of a “Must have”, and unlocking them is a grindy process, not least due to the fact that giving Health is a factor in their unlocking. DNA is just grindy, although that grind presumably gets better once you’re not concentrating on mutations, as you can get 2 per zone (One from a shop, one from the boss.)

Not pictured: That third slot for a third benny costs 12 DNA. God knows what the fourth one costs.

As such, while it does have its freakiness, it’s monstrosities, it is, sadly, mostly surface level, and I can’t honestly say I’ve had much fun unlocking anything, or feeling rewarded for doing so. It’s just… Another day in the life. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t look like what the developers were really aiming for.

The Mad Welshman does not mutate. He already has all he wants: A nice, twirly moustache.

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Boss 101 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Games like Boss 101, at times, make me think very uncharitably. Not necessarily because the game is bad, but because there’s so much surrounding that game, so many things, and these things seem so much like padding that… Well, uncharitable thoughts that they are padding makes me think less of the core.

See, this is good and fine. It’s also an early level, and a boss that doesn’t have the nastier surprises, but… Good, fine, works.

Make no mistake, the core of Boss 101 is simple and straightforward. Make a boss. You can make it weak to your weapons, or not, remake as many times as you like, get into the level, and… Fight a boss. That you rolled. In a strict time limit. That’s the core, and it works. It’s not great, as some enemy attacks can best be described with a tired sigh and “Really? Really?” (Lightning weapons automatically home in, so it’s a case of stay far away, and there are massive lasers on some bosses that… Well, odds are very, very high you’re going to get hit) , but, overall, it’s simple, it works, and there are attacks that are interesting. Also, y’know, minions.

Thing is, it’s not just the core though, is it? NEW NEW NEW NEW splatters the screen until you’ve explored everything, and even then, occasionally, you’ll come back to your Command floor (one of something like six) to find a cluster of NEW THINGS LOOK AT THE NEW THINGS. There’s an arcade, three or four different ways plot happens, a kite mode where the two main characters (a boy and his jetpack) charmingly muse on life, Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes style. There are many, many costumes and guns, all of which will cost money, and you can get that money, for that, and upgrades, and the like, by fighting bosses, but also did you know that there are secret Gophers, and if you get them all, something happens, and an ultimate gun for filling out the things, and pets (one of which has a theme song that plays once and you’ll never see it again)?

Pictured: A cool costume based on Joe Madrueira. Not pictured: So many other costumes. Soooo… Sooo many.

It’s busy, and while I can tell it’s designed to draw me in, give me lots and lots of reasons to play and come back and fight those boss levels with bosses I make before Boss 101, the titular bureacrat robot who… Oh, did I mention there’s plot, three different varieties, with several threads?

What I’m saying here is that it doesn’t draw me in. In fact, it does quite the opposite. This is something I may play for short periods, trying to get a high score in the three classic arcade games (based on Breakout, Tank-Battle (Which was always bullshit, even back in the day), and Wizard of Wor), or seeing what a new gun is like… This isn’t a game I want to spend a lot of time in, because its very busy-ness, the clutter, has me repelled. Essentially, this game has a content warning for overstimulation, and, as I’ve noted, I’m fully aware that it’s this, not the boss fights themselves (Which start eh, but can get interesting pretty quick if you roll, say, the flamethrowing stone head as a part, which is nerve wracking on its own) that’s discouraging me from play, making me think uncharitably. I don’t actually want those fifty billion costumes. I appreciate they let me pick one for its cosmetics, and one for the actual, in-game effect, but they’re pretty numbers, for the most part, and each takes a lot of dough, a lot of replay, that, funnily enough, the vast number of “features” in the game actively turns me away from.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Maybe you’ll have a better time of it. Maybe you’ll be delighted by the silly, multithreaded story about a boy, his jetpack, and making a cool video for his hospitalised, skateboarding brother while sticking it to the Robotic Man. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to get all the cheevos, the pets, the guns.

Me… I’m backing away. None of it costs money, but I’m still backing away, because there is such a thing as too much, and I’ve finally found that.

To give readers some idea, The Mad Welshman has a headache just thinking about the costume shop. On sale, quest, owned, five costumes all with the same ability set, 1,800,000 points each… Aaaaaaaaaaa!

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Hand of Fate 2 (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £23.79 (£6.47 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Rumours of the Dealer’s death, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated, as, in the sequel to choppy (in the sense of slashing things), choose-your-own-adventure Card Wizard Assholery, he’s back. Scarred, bitter, and using you, his newest pawn, to attempt to regain his position on the Throne of Life and Death.

“I want you to know I’m feeling very bitter right now…”

While, on its most basic level, Hand of Fate 2 is the same game as the previous, there are changes. There’s a bit more pizazz to the fight and enemy introductions, a little more cohesion in the narrative structure, and the story makes a bit more sense from the get go. The “adventures”, for example, follow a thematic progression down the Major Arcana of the Tarot, rather than the suits, and each has its own little fillip or quirk to make it interesting, such as needing to gain 6 blessings to impress the High Priestess (Who values purity and strength.) They also fit into what is, recognisably, a world, rather than a hodepodge collection of events (Although replaying older events, also, is still a part of the game.) There’s a little more customisation, in that you can be a man or woman of about four different ethnicities each. So far, so nice.

Nonetheless, the basic structure remains the same: You make your way round a field of cards, some of which you’ve picked, some of which the Dealer has picked, in an attempt to reach the boss, achieve the objectives, get new shinies, and eventually take on Fate themselves. Occasionally, and definitely for the bosses, fighting happens, and here…

As with the previous installment, you can’t just whale on a boss and hope they go down. There’s *tactics* involved. The game’s good at telling you them, however, or at least hinting.

…I introduce an edit to the review, as Defiant are as quick on the ball as they’ve been in the past, and combat, previously unresponsive on the ol’ Keyboard and Mouse, has been fixed, so it’s challenging, but fair. As with the story, the fights have their own little quirks and traps. Some enemies take more damage from, say, dual blades. You have a companion character (at first, the seemingly well meaning rogue bard Malaclypse, although there are others), sometimes more than one. Sometimes, protecting them is important. In the case of your major companions, they can give you blessings mid-combat (so long as you’re next to them, and interact with them.) A good pair of examples of enemies getting more interesting are the pictured boss above (who requires bashing to knock off his… Er… Gooey encrustations before he can be damaged. Ew) and the Northern Trappers, who have bolos. Telegraphed well, if you’re distracted or fail to dodge, well, enjoy struggling against the bonds of tight ropes as the Trapper’s barbarian friends come to give you big, crushy hugs.

The voice acting is high quality (The Dealer, in particular, subtly nibbles on the scenery, rather than outright chewing on it in rage and bitterness), the music is good, and the visuals have improved a lot, seemingly without too much impact on performance.

As such… I still honestly like Hand of Fate 2. There’s a definite sense of improvement overall, and, as with the last time, I find myself pulled into the world implied, wondering… What’s up with those damn goblins? Why is Malaclypse so friendly with them? Did my hero from the last game screw things up badly, or is this the Dealer having a very bad case of sour grapes? I suspect the latter, as he really did seem like a sore loser last time around.

It’s adorable, the doe eyes she gives new tools of murder and pain.

So yeah, it’s mostly good, gamepad recommended, controls are patched to be more responsive on the ol’ keyboard and mouse, and, as noted, the game is interesting, fun, with a little more customisation and spice than its predecessor.

The Mad Welshman was the Jack of Cups once, you know. Now, he’s a tired King of Wands, sitting in his throne, not thinking analogies fully through.

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