Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal (Review)

Source: Gold Coins from Captain Skully Bartella.
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the majority of which were written by tabletop legends Steve Jackson (NOT THAT ONE) and Ian Livingstone, were an interesting part of the tabletop scene, although early books in the series were well known for gotcha traps, instant death paragraphs, and some highly frustrating collectathons. Looking at you, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and your god-damn keys.

Ah, the heady days before “Mimic” became common parlance for anything pretending to be a chest…

They were also experiences that, like your linear, curated experience in a game, could be successfully completed on replaying… Through the notes you took last time, reducing the challenge of future runs.

Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal reduces the latter to a certain extent with its adaptations of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy (Gamebooks 6, 21, and 36, all written by Ian Livingstone), while… Faithfully preserving the gotchas, instadeaths, and collectathons.

As such, it can best be politely described as “An acquired taste.” Less diplomatic descriptions are usually long strings of vulgar language, interspersed with terms like “Garnet” , “Infinite Unwinnable Fights of Padding”, “Gotcha”, and “Black Imp.”

To be fair to the developers, they have taken steps to palliate this, with multiple difficulty levels and a lives system, allowing you to take multiple runs without losing your progress… To a point. Default difficulty has 9 lives, and, unless you are supremely lucky on those die rolls, and know exactly the path to take through the game… You will lose at least a couple of those lives. We’ll get back to that.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 1.

First, there’s something we’ve been missing this whole time: How have Nomad Games and Asmodee Digital adapted a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a sort of top-down, tabletop like experience with dice and cards, with random encounters to both spice up the emptier bits of the dungeon, and replace one-off events that you’ve already dealt with. It looks pretty nice, with some good artwork, definitely nice looking maps, and music that doesn’t, generally speaking, outweigh its welcome. Menus are clear, and, while I would have liked some of the map segments to look a bit less muddy, clear icon signposts for direction choices and doors helps with this a lot. Text is in neat boxes, choices are clearly highlighted… It isn’t bad, in this respect.

But, amusingly enough, part of the problem is that it is a mostly faithful adaptation of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy. A trilogy which has some rather painful moments, such as, early in the Trial of Champions gamebook, six fights in a row, with minimal healing every two fights. Oh boy, I hope your skill rolls are good, my friends, because otherwise, even the generous checkpointing for this particular part (So notable because it’s more generous than, say, the entirety of Deathtrap Dungeon, which has precisely one checkpoint), you may well lose a few of your precious lives here! Add in some difficult, if not unwinnable fights with meager rewards in some paths, gotcha traps in both set and random encounters (Take 2 Stamina Damage. No, just take it, this isn’t a Skill or Luck roll like the others, you Just Take Damage), and some places where only memorisation will save you from unpalatable options there’s precisely no signposting for. Looking at you, rat staircase and arena fight in Deathtrap Dungeon! Looking… Right… At you!

It is, however, nice in that you do get to keep your items, and setpieces you’ve completed remain completed, even if you die.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 2. Albeit without the part where you skim through the book to find the paragraph number where you succeed.

Overall, Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal is, as noted, an acquired taste. So long as you’re okay with the fact that this digital adaptation only slightly pulls the punches of CYOA gamebooks from the 80s, with arbitrary game design moments to match, then you may well find joy and interest in this title. If this isn’t your thing, then y’know what? I don’t entirely blame you, as going back through this trilogy, swearing at various elements, and then thinking “Oh… Yeah, this was roughly how I felt the first time” was quite the experience. The game is also, at the time of writing, somewhat crash prone, although I’m sure that will be dealt with in time.

Still… It’s not often I both congratulate and curse a developer for correctly emulating the feel of an old property… Not often at all…

The Mad Welshman still remembers how his first experience with another CYOA series was the Deathlords of Ixia. He feels this may have had lasting effects…

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Omensight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Artbook £7.19 , Soundtrack £7.19 , Collector’s Edition £29.87)
Where To Get It: Steam

Omensight is, on the one hand, a game I quite like, set in a world I quite like, and spiritual successor (set in the same world, but some time/place else) to another game I quite like by the same company.

On the other, it’s a game where some of its options and choices are, to my mind, flawed and hamhanded. Still, let’s describe what’s basically going on. Because this will be the last time, both in game and review, it is basic.

Battle animations are fluid, and you can dash quite a bit round the battlefield… But then, so can some of your opponents.

Omensight is a spiritual successor to Stories: Path of Destinies (by the same company), and involves many of the same themes and mechanics remixed. There are time travelling shenanigans for our hero(ine. Being some form of spirit, gender is not assumed) , the Harbinger. There are fights to be fought against enemies using light, heavy, and special attacks in combos, with better performance leading to better rewards (And some enemy types being largely immune to some attacks.) There’s lore to collect, with the overall goal of solving a murder mystery: Who killed the Godless Priestess, whose demise has unbalanced the power structures of two warring kingdoms, and is about to end the world in a single night?

Problem the first: The solving bit is slightly inaccurate. What you’re doing is going through the last night of four individuals, trying to encourage them to lead you to both clues and, in the end, the solution via the cunning use of memories and following them. Sort of a Dirk Gently mystery. And the more efficient at solving the mystery you are… The less you get to know about the characters, the world, and the very mystery you’re involved in, beyond the core bullet points.

Twenty minutes after taking this screenshot, I accidentally ended up taking the path to the next chapter, through my desire to open locked doors. WHOOPS. This screen (Reminding of clues) is not available in “True Detective Mode.”

Equally, beyond a certain difficulty level in the detective mode, you lose out on a tool that can just as much remind you where you are after a break as supposedly give away the way forward. The same way forward that the Priestess will mention… The characters will mention… And… Look, as a murder mystery, it plays its hands too heavily, which means it’s very tough to miss out on the solution to each chapter’s conundrum. Which leads into the problem that you can, quite easily, miss the story collectibles because the game is too good at solving its own mystery.

Continuing on, there are four keys, and each chapter contains one of the titular Omensights, visions with which the plot’s direction… Changes. Funnily enough, the game does foreshadow its twists fairly well, even if, as noted, I don’t feel like much of a detective because its clues are heavy handed, and the four main characters are fairly well written. They play on you being a silent protagonist. Sometimes, as in the case of the cheeky (Yet brittle) leader of the Rat Clan rebellion, Ratika the Bard, they put words in your mouth. Sometimes, like when you’re collecting things, they speculate as to your motives. This can get annoying, but I also appreciate that yes, when the Harbinger, the being that both presages and is meant to prevent the apocalypse, takes a break to smash barrels for money, you too would wonder what was up with that. The voice acting is pleasant, although sometimes stereotypical (Hi Emperor as Grand Vizier! Hi Thug Bear With A Heart of Gold! ), and the music is good. Not always memorably so, but it fits well with its areas and its timing.

One of the titular Omensights, which the Harbinger will then show other people… To get to the truth in perhaps the messiest way.

Beyond the sound and story design, combat in Omensight is a little annoying, as, on any difficulty above the easy, quick reflexes are mandatory for the dodging, and being able to quickly visually identify your enemies is mandatory if you want to do well in a fight, as some enemies have shields (Meaning that light attacks will just bounce off), some have counters (Meaning you’d best be away as soon as the Angrier Exclamation Mark appears, or else), and some are flying, and so a pain in the rear end by definition (with the saving grace that all but one of these flying enemies falls down when hit, and can be coup-de-graced immediately after.) It doesn’t feel especially great, and, for all that there’s a lot of fighting in the game, it’s by no means the strongest aspect of it.

For all these flaws, Omensight still works fairly well, partly because it has a fairly strong storyline (Although it’s a downer… Apocalypses generally are), some solid, low poly aesthetics (Each area has a different feel, and I like that) , some good voice acting and music, and adjustable difficulty separated into the detectiving and combat end, so, if you really want, you can turn both to their lowest settings, and just… Enjoy the ride. That’s the nice thing about adjustable difficulty: You get to do you.

I’ll let you guess which clan is which.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say today. It’s incredibly hot at Chez TMW.

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

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Moonlighter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s interesting how marketing can change your mind. If I, perhaps, hadn’t been told, by quite a few people, that Moonlighter was “Recettear with the bad trimmed off” , I would perhaps feel nicer about it. As it is, the comparison leaves me distinctly unimpressed, and I can no longer quite be certain that my assessment of it on its own as “Alright, but never really excelling at any one thing, including making me care” isn’t based on this comparison.

Will, bridger of the gap between Merchant and Warrior. Twice the work, half the happiness.

There is a world, a world with a dungeon. As with many worlds with dungeons, people exploit this one, and an economy surrounds it. Or rather, an economy is restarted by it, as Will, a Merchant who owns the dungeon shop Moonlighter, re-enters the dungeons for things for his shop. Cue action RPG with shopkeeping elements.

As with many ARPGs of the modern day, the key to playing Moonlighter well is to know when to attack and dodge, using a variety of weapons, judging enemy patterns. It feels meaty, I’ll definitely give it that… But it also feels frustrating, for several reasons. Inventory limits are a starter. Every trip to the dungeon, only 20 things (plus equipment) can be carried. Items stack to their own limits (usually 5 or 10), and both cursed and uncursing items don’t stack. Why is this system here? Mainly to add something to inventory management. Unfortunately, what it adds is… Inventory management.

Shopkeeping is similar. What gets added when you level up the shop once? Shoplifters. Extra work, on top of the work you’ve got from extra features. You can, eventually, get shop security, but in the meantime… Enjoy chasing thieves to hit spacebar over them, or lose your stuff!

Is enjoy the right word? I’m thinking, and I’m thinking that the answer is no.

“Now remember, this one can only go to the sides, this one breaks if you get hit a bit, this one stops that rule applying for the first thing with rules it…” Please stop. Please.

Similarly, there’s a narrative, and it starts… Well, honestly, it doesn’t start well at all. Will goes into a dungeon ill equipped, gets his ass handed to him by a feature never seen again, gets told “Don’t look into the dungeon” by his Wise Old Mentor, then gets given a sword by said Wise Old Mentor, who continues to tell him not to go into the dungeon. Getting mixed signals here. Meanwhile, something builds up as you explore the dungeon, where it appears the dungeons are not, strictly speaking, dungeons, but parts of other worlds, randomly snatched with their security features still active. Is there a reason for it? Yes. Is it revealed? Yes. Does it, eventually, get resolved? Yes.

Is it particularly satisfying? Not really.

Indeed, this is the main problem, narrative wise, with Moonlighter. There’s little to no pressure, it’s true. But there are also little to no stakes involved, not much of a reason to care about the shop, not much of a reason to talk to any townsfolk outside of the shopkeepers. There’s an economy, but since nothing seriously threatens that economy, there’s no real incentive to keep those wheels turning except… That you need to do it if you want a decent chance of getting to the end of the game. Long before which, due to the lack of either threat or incentive to spend, you will have more money than you know what to do with, because, despite the seemingly silly costs of anything above the second tier, the rewards from the dungeons correspondingly increase.

So, in summary? It somewhat works mechanically, in the servicable, achieves its goals way, but Moonlighter feels uninteresting, at least in part because there’s nothing, good or ill, that properly ends up pushing the narrative forward.

I will give the game this: To be an adventurer is to often perpetrate or be complicit in otherwise criminal activity, and it acknowledges it.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes confused by what his peers consider “With the bad bits gone.”

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Wizard of Legend (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39 (Soundtrack £5.79, Game and soundtrack £18.18)
Where To Get It: Steam

Wizard of Legend is a tough game to write about. Not just because its gameplay is fairly simple, but also because, once you dig deeper… You hit bedrock fairly quickly. But it is a game which knows what it wants, and what it wants is many different visuals for the task of beating up fantasy wizards.

It definitely does this.

If a spell looks this impressive, you can guarantee you have to stand still to use it. Be cautious.

To give a brief summation, Wizard of Legend is a twitchy twin-stick shooter where a young person, on a trip to the museum of wizardry, gets sucked into the past, for the Wizard of Legend tournament, in which they fight through four grand masters (with, apparently, more on the way as DLC at some point), six roughly element themed levels (2 before each of the first three masters) , in order to both win the grand prize, and to get back home. Pretty normal stuff, as wizarding stories go. And this… This is kind of the thing…

Nearly all the ingredients are here: Elemental themes. A fair few enemies, some of whom are elemental themed. A whole boatload of spells (of which you start with four, can pick four of whichever ones you buy to start with, use up to six, and hold seven.) Improving yourself through play, by earning crystals in runs to buy new spells, relics, and costumes. Good music.

But it feels lacking, and I’d have to agree with my peers that the theming, while distinct, still keeps the rooms of the game looking quite samey. Oh, occasionally you’ll run into something definitely themed, such as elemental enemies and traps, but while the former add interest, the latter, like all trap/challenge rooms, are… Well, trap/challenge rooms. Here’s the environmental thing to dodge while getting the chest. Here’s the environmental thing to push enemies into while avoiding it yourself.

Every boss has a couple of cool, element themed puns. Just to keep it ice and interesting, and chill you out before getting frozen out or dropping that avalanche on them…

The spells, and to a lesser extent, the bosses, are definitely more interesting. Most can be upgraded once to add an effect, such as BIGGER FIST for the Earth Fist, or a freeze chance, or something similar, and others can be improved even further by becoming Signature Spells, which, when fully charged, really let rip. There’s even some tactical consideration, as the nastier spells freeze you in your tracks unless you dodge-cancel, and yes, the elemental damage does count for something, although it can sometimes be hard to tell in the chaos. Relics add some variety, but, as with any roguelike, roguelite, or roguesumawotsit, you don’t know what they are at first, can’t check in a run (which is an annoyance), and whether it synergises well with what you’re doing is as much dependent on proc-chances as skill.

It’s fun while I’m playing it. I can’t deny that. But, on the outside looking in, when a run is over, I’m not entirely sure how much I’ve learned, beyond enemy patterns. I’m not sure how much one thing or another contributed to my run, because it’s not always clear. The fun is in the moment, and while that’s not a bad thing, it does leave an odd aftertaste to the experience of playing Wizard of Legend.

Some enemies have elemental attacks of their own. That perfect half second before I flop over and die through, essentially, overconfidence and miscalculculation.

Or maybe I, and other critics, are overthinking things. Sometimes we do that. Either way, Wizard of Legend is, as noted, fun in the moment, mainly confusing when you’re letting rip, but with good telegraphing, and isn’t a bad addition to the twin-stick rogueapalooza stable. That’s all it needs to be.

The Mad Welshman is a jack-of-all-elements.

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