Vagante (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store
Version Reviewed: Build 59i

When things are this close to release, and the nicest things I can say is “Mages seem to work better, and bows are sort of viable now”, you may be able to figure that I am, as before, distinctly unfond of Vagante’s particular flavour of difficulty. I will, grudgingly, admit it has improved a little. But it still has many of the same issues.

Yup. He died, and so did I. WELP, RESTART.

To recap, Vagante is a procgen platform action dungeon crawler, where you pick a class, attain gear, try to defeat bosses and levels, and level up with each level you beat. Healing is very scarce, and if I felt the game were well balanced around that, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Unfortunately, bosses can best be described as “Absolute arses.” In more technical terms, even the first area bosses (Of which you will encounter all of them: A goblin warlord, a dragon, and a poisonous worm) are battles, not of tactics, but of attrition. Not all classes have an active defense (and those who do, only attain it through levelled abilities) , so taking damage is, in most cases, pretty much a certainty, as options with any sort of decent range are, to put it bluntly, crap. Bows don’t do a heck of a lot, Magic Missile doesn’t do a heck of a lot, wands have cooldowns and the same problems as any spells they own. The reason I found the Mage had improved somewhat as a class? Eleclance (One of the few spells with infinite charges per level, and a consistent, relatively high damage rate) by default.

Of course, this is all talking about the first area. Once the second area is hit, all bets are off, as bosses not only have vastly increased hit points, they also have some seriously beefy attacks and defenses. One boss, for example, has a ring of damaging projectiles circling it, and it can phase through walls. Good luck running away. Good luck getting close enough to hit it. Good luck surviving long enough to plink at it from range. I can’t tell you about later areas, because I haven’t gotten to them. I’ve beaten Spelunky. Heck, I’ve beaten LaMulana, and this game not only resists being finished, the kinds of deaths I’ve encountered make me, honestly, not want to finish it.

The Woods, the second area, is somewhat lighter. Still dark enough that you can’t tell what’s going on with a thumbnail.

I’ve fatfingered jump, very lightly, and died on spikes from a tile high. I’ve been lovetapped to death by misjudging a bat… After having beaten all three bosses of the first area. Heck, at times, I’ve known, before I’ve even found the boss, that I’m not going to win the damage race, because a goblin got lucky, or the aforementioned bat misjudging happened, or I came across a situation where I was going to take damage, be that due to unfortunate enemy configurations, or an enemy blindsiding me that I was sure I’d be able to murder (Explosive moths, for example, are best avoided, rather than attempting to attack them. Their movement is only technically predictable.)

Is there good? Yes, and that, really, makes how I feel about this game worse. The music is good, fitting mood pieces for the areas. The sound isn’t bad. The enemy designs, while not all new creatures, are still interesting. The skills are more clear. But if a weapon isn’t of at least Normal speed, odds are high it just isn’t worth working with timing (and some weapons have minimum ranges, less than useful when any melee enemy just wants to get right in your face), the first area is very dark, making it an eye straining and awkward experience to play… And, considering that all content is now in the game, bringing it fairly close to release? All these little frustrations, these decisions that seem more based on arbitrary difficulty than challenge, don’t make me confident that I’m going to be changing my mind about not liking Vagante on release.

Skills being more clear. Note: The shield blocks *physical* damage. So 2 out of the 3 bosses in the first area can still hurt you.

The Mad Welshman was correct in his last Early Access review: He’s already sick of the damn caves. Also the dagger remains what appears to be the best option.

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Subnautica (Early Access Review 3)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Played: Eye Candy Update (Dec 2017)

Subnautica, it seems, has come a long way. From just puttering around, building what the heck you want, to an involved story of survivors distinctly unprepared for the unlikely circumstances they found themselves in, trapped on a watery world with a deadly mystery, and, more specifically, of you, the sole definitely surviving survivor.

Echoes of Lost In Space here… We wanted to rescue these folks, but… Well…

Oh, it’s come a long way indeed, and, at the present time? Things are largely in the cleanup phase, with prettifications and bug fixes abound in the “Eye Candy” update. But it’s been a few updates since I last covered the game, so let’s get into the meat of it. Last time, I asked if you really want to leave this un-named blue planet, with its intriguing mysteries, fascinating, and sometimes deadly life forms, extinct aliens, and, of course, your crashed starship, which is likely going to kill large swathes of that aforementioned life if you don’t fix the reactor anytime soon.

Now? Well, very early on, you get some signs that… Perhaps not all is well. I don’t particularly want to spoil things for you, because this game comes highly recommended in the survival genre for an interesting, balanced, and well realised watery world (Itself uncommon), but… Leaving is definitely not an option until you clean up, both after yourself and the ancient, possibly extinct aliens that didn’t exactly do great things themselves.

The game is, for the most part, pretty accessible, with story being largely a choice at the present time, and you can, if you wish, just tootle around the planet, exploring without having to worry about mean ol’ food, or even, at the cost of story, oxygen. Conversely, you can ironman the game, with one life, and no oxygen warnings from your friendly computer. Survival, the default, however… Really isn’t bad. Oxygen limits exploration somewhat, but as you get further in the game, more options exist, such as mech suits, minisubs, the big Cyclops mobile base/submarine. Each survival pod you explore, each base now has little bits of voiced story, to give you more detail, and, in a couple of cases, some mild bemusement at how the heck you managed to survive when your compatriots have done things like wave thermite flares around fuel tanks, or overclock their Seaglides (No, really, both of these things happen, and the results apparently weren’t pretty.)

“Bo-Chu-Da?”
“Er, we’re here to… Turn off the generator?”
“Five a dozen, ho ho ho!”
“…How rude!”

As you might have guessed, things are close to release. And, judging by the things I’ve done, the drama I’ve encountered, and the beautiful sights along the way, I have little doubt I’ll be saying much the same thing I have during the Early Access period for Subnautica…

…If you want a survival game with an underwater twist, that’s not terribly twitchy, has an intriguing world, some beautiful sights to see and treats for your ears… Subnautica remains a good pick. I look forward to finishing up the story, and, honestly? I’ll be a little sad when I leave this blue planet. It’s been so good to me, apart from the Reaper Leviathan.

Actually, can I elect to shoot the Reaper into space and live here? That would be just dreamy. Aaah.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, crashing from high orbit hasn’t done the Aurora any favours.

The Mad Welshman would like to note that Subnautica comes out of Early Access next month. So we’ll be back to this watery world very soon. Very soon.

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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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City of Brass (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.2a

The City of Brass is many things. A cautionary tale about wishing for everlasting life. Proof that yes, whips remain awesome, and should be in games more. It’s also a game of twitchy planning. Yes, you heard that correctly: It’s a game that rewards very quickly coming up with ideas, and very quickly executing them.

As such, it’s a tadge tough, and your first hour with it is likely to be one of frustration. But when a plan comes together? Ohhh, yes. That’s a good feeling.

Okay, Guardian 1 tripped? Check. Flaming lantern nearby ready to chuck at both of them? CHECK.

Picture it: A big, open area. Traps, explosive vase, flaming lanterns, and, of course, a variety of enemies litter the area. Each enemy has different weaknesses and strengths, but nearly all of them will die to the humble trap. Then again, the traps also damage you, and, in the case of the spiked pitfall trap, outright kill you if you fall in. Here, a few Cursed Souls, armless, with head cages that prevent you stunning them with their whip. There, a passel of Guardians, more healthy than both the Cursed Soul and the Undead Merchants, but, until they get shields, you have a lot of options.

Okay, here, whip that explosive vase into my hand. Throw it at the Guardians. Whip the Cursed Souls into some spike traps, or trip them, and hit them twice each with the sword. Set the Merchant(s) on fire, and… Wow, yeah, that worked. That felt nice!

Conversely: Engage in a circle strafe sword fight with the Guardians, and… AGH, that Cursed Soul stunned me, a Guardian hit me, run away, pick my options, and… Wait, how did I forget that pitfall, AAAAAAAGH, start again!

Whoops.

The alpha nature of the game, to this point, is mainly showing in the balance. Health is very hard to come by, and item options are slim on the ground. Does that make it bad at the present time? Not really. Your whip has some possible options, but remains a whip, and it’s extremely useful. Your kick never changes, and is situationally useful. Your sword is not for button mashing, because it’s slow to swing, but since not a whole bunch of enemies (Mostly Gatekeepers, the bosses) take more than 3 swings that connect to kill, it still works, and its options can completely change combat style (from a cudgel that does only heavy knockback, not damage, lighter and heavier swords that trade damage and speed, and my current favourite, the torch. Set enemies on fire for damage over time? Yes please!)

It’s also, at the present time, an undeniably pretty game. The city’s gold glitters nicely, from the treasures to the spires, the environments fit well, the visual design of the enemies says a fair bit about them, and nearly everything’s clear enough that you’re only going to miss things while distracted. Which, considering that’s the whole point of traps? Fair. Musically, it works, and the screeches and groans of the enemies give them a little bit of extra character that I like.

I forgot to mention this, but see that ring up there? You can whip-leap from that. Errol Flynn’s ghost is crying tears of joy.

As such, while City of Brass is still in early alpha, it is a promising start, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

The Mad Welshman would like to add that playing this game while listening to Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” is pretty cool.

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