Syberia 3 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99 (£39.99 deluxe, £9.99 deluxe upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

The Syberia series has always been interesting to me, with a charming alternate world, interesting art direction, and some haunting melodies. You may think this is a prelude to a positive review. Alas, it is mainly an informative review, because Syberia 3 is an example of how certain design choices should, perhaps, stay in the past.

Giant furry ostriches, somehow not knowing where their own ancestral mating ground is. Still charming as heck.

Syberia 3 is the continuing story of Kate Walker, a lawyer turned adventurer, and currently the White Saviour of the Youkol tribe, whose migrations are being disrupted by racists in the town of Valsembor. As such, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, writing wise, as the Youkols are very interesting, and the focus of the story is meant (As in the previous two games) to be on natural conservation, but, in adventure game fashion, they are oddly helpless. As, as it turns out, is Kate Walker, at the mercy of the adventure game protagonist’s natural enemy: Awkwardly placed objects.

While there is no fail state for the game as far as I am aware (So no Sierra style deathtraps, or Dead Man Walking scenarios), there are puzzles that rely on finding things that are hard to spot, even with the addition of context sensitive dots that fade into existence when you are close to a thing you can interact with. Some of them, alas, also rely on adventurer kleptomania, and talking to the right individual to change the situation somehow. When the very first main puzzle (A shifty psychiatrist presents Kate with a key that’s meant to set her free, but it’s deliberately damaged… And no, there’s no way to see this beforehand that I know of) involves not only stealing a key from a sleeping patient, but to enter an area that it’s not that clear you can enter, take a mechanical parrot to lure a rather odd owl… It gets a bit nonsensical at times, and as such, you will sometimes find yourself more blundering on the solution than having thought of it.

You, er, don’t want to maybe close the door behind you, Kate?

The control scheme is mouse for interaction, keyboard for walking, although the controller is not only an option, the game recommends it, and it’s not hard to see why. While not actually tank controls, Kate Walker has a bit of a turning circle for a lithe adventurer, and it’s fairly clear that the game’s interface was designed with controller in mind first. This is a shame, as there’s elements to the controls I quite like, such as shifting objects or opening things (occasionally) by moving the mouse, but to page through the inventory for the one thing I can use on an item gets somewhat annoying.

This is a real shame, as the voice acting really isn’t bad, the music is still pretty damn good, and the aesthetics, if they cleared up some problems where consistency of location has overruled both the principle of leading the player’s eye to places they can go or things they can do, and the one where you might want to help colourblind folks see a little clearer. Yes, you can be stylish and still colourblind friendly, folks, there’s certainly enough games I’ve complimented on this in the past to see this.

Pictured: An obviously Not-Good Person.

In any case, while it definitely has some style going for it, the substance is somewhat wonky, and I would only really recommend this either to folks who really want to see where Kate Walker has ended up, or adventure gamers well used to the foibles of the genre.

The Mad Welshman, it should be mentioned, really likes that key at the beginning. It makes next to no sense, but it’s a very pretty key.

Golden Krone Hotel (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.10

With Golden Krone Hotel, we’re looking, once more, at a turn based hack with transformation as a core gimmick. Earlier this week, we took a look at Midboss, a game with similar themes, but the difference between these two games couldn’t be more stark than night and day. Which is fitting, considering the transformations in Golden Krone Hotel.

Hahaha, stupid humans can’t see in the dark (The game has, as of 0.10, a tutorial. It plays once, and gives you the absolute essentials quickly and efficiently)

The general idea is that you are a General, who is also an assassin, and you are infilitrating the Golden Krone Hotel, owned by a Vampire called Fane. Vampires and Humans uneasily co-exist here, and as such, you’re going to get into a fight whether you’re a vampire, a human, or, worst case scenario, a Werewolf, who nobody likes when they’re obviously being a Werewolf. So form, in this game, truly matters, and it matters in a number of ways. Vampires, for example, don’t read (No, don’t ask why, although I’ll be coming back to this), get damaged by sunlight and fire, but can see in the dark. Humans, on the other hand, can improve themselves, read, but can’t see in the dark and have to eat to survive. Werewolves are basically humans, but become murderbeasts in the full moon. And, depending on whether you’re a vampire or a human, vampires or humans will talk to you, telling you things.

In a way this, along with the narrative framing, are the weakest portions of the game. There’s not a lot folks have to say, except to remind you that General Arobase has a serious grudge against Fane, and couldn’t possibly be here (They’re a master of disguise, we couldn’t possibly be General Arobase!), and the roles of various human or vampire enemies. So if you’re playing for rich lore, or a deep story, look elsewhere, this isn’t exactly Bard material, and bits of it fall apart under scrutiny (Vampires not being able to read is purely a mechanical conceit, and not supported, as far as I can tell, anywhere narratively.)

“I hear this General Assassin who’s good at disguise is here, but you couldn’t *possibly* be them!”
Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Haaaaa.

But mechanically, the game is both strong and simple. Movement is in four directions, everything moves when you do, and you know exactly what to expect. Playing as a vampire, you can heal by licking up blood, and as a human, you can eat, heal if you have the skill, cast spells, and fire a revolver (With limited ammo.) What makes the game interesting, however, is that just because you start as a human or a vampire or a werewolf, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way, because some potions… Change you. And others will affect you differently depending on what form you’re in.

Demon’s blood, for example, will turn you into a vampire temporarily, but will also buff you if you are a vampire, while Luna potions will turn you into a werewolf, again, temporarily. And enemies will change their reactions accordingly. So, playing as a vampire, if you want access to spells, you drink a specific kind of potion, and bam, all those books you picked up are suddenly read, you have skills, you have extra stats (Which last beyond that human transformation), and you can read what lore there is, without having to worry about spellcasting humans. There’s also a fair amount of “neutral” enemies, who’ll try to kill you no matter what, from the get go. So there’s difference, and there’s interest, and everything is accessible and clear. Even the usual equipment problem is abstracted: Better equipment is kept, adding its bonus to your defense, melee, or revolver attack, and worse equipment is added to your score, measured in gold.

Just like Midboss, reviewed earlier this month, you attack enemies by walking into them or casting spells, and numbers happen. The spells, however, are more dynamic, and there’s more to do with the environment.

As such, if you’re looking for an entry level game to let you know what the fuss is with all these roguelikes, roguelites, roguelikelikelikesortas, and whosamaroguesits, Golden Krone Hotel is definitely not a bad start. It’s pretty colourblind friendly, clear in its concepts from the get go, and, being turn based, it doesn’t require manual dexterity or good reflexes to play. Its not the prettiest game out there, the music and sounds are okay at best, “meh” at worst, and you’re probably not playing it for the rich lore, but I would recommend this to both roguelike fans and people looking to understand what the fuss is about.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is not a master of disguise. Although he does enjoy throwing his disguise aside and cackling wildly. Perhaps that’s part of why…

Midboss (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£14.98 for game and soundtrack, £3.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It has always been the position of TMW that experimentation is good. It’s good to try new things, because by trying new things, exploring new possibilities, games as a whole improve. Unfortunately, while Midboss experiments, it also falls prey to the problems of genre past, and feels somewhat humdrum and unfriendly as a result. Let’s unpack that.

The game, essentially, is a turn based dungeon hack, where you play that most maligned of any Dungeon Lord’s denizens, the humble Imp. Except the Imp, rather annoyed at being the punching bag of all those skeletons and zombies, decides to finally use its power of possessing creatures to work its way up the hierarchy. Viva La Impvolution!

Alas, La Impvolution often ends quite quickly. Imps are not the beefiest revolutionaries.

And this, in the end, is its core gimmick. You have an ability in Imp Form, to mark an enemy for possession. Kill it, and you become it. Kill other creatures with it, and you unlock its powers. You then have the option of using those powers in imp form, and, if you’ve got all the skills, mastering the form, you can also gain their stats. It’s clever, it’s understated, and that understatement, along with the unfriendliness of the traditional roguelike, forms the main problems.

Yes, it’s nice to be a high damage skellington, for example. But animations are light on the ground, so combat is mostly “Bash self into enemy, numbers happen, enemy bashes itself into you, numbers happen.” It is more involved than that (Speed factors into how many turns you get to move and hit people versus them hitting you and moving, for example), but it rarely feels more involved than that. Similarly, you hit crates, cratefish (Normally a subject for a joke, but here, it’s just A Thing That Happens), yarn, and maybe items pop out. The items, except for potions, blend somewhat into the floor, it’s not always clear what kind of item they are due to this colourblind unfriendly problem, and, of course, in roguelike fashion, you don’t know what they are until you pick them up.

The game has “Retro modes” , shaders that appear mostly accurate to older graphical modes. Here’s the VIC-20, one of the *less* eye-searing ones.

There is a lot of vendor trash, so improving yourself equipment wise becomes an exercise in tedium, itself not helped by the fact that there is, as far as I am aware, one vendor, who is a cat, and may exist on any given dungeon level. See, again, potentially interesting and amusing thing, made humdrum. They accept balls of yarn as currency, and, for some reason, this Dungeon Lord keeps lots of bundles of yarn. No, I don’t particularly know either. There’s one kind of scroll that I’ve seen (Identify), a variety of potions, and skill/spell books, which let you use abilities without having the form equipped (A limited number of times.)

Even with the turn based nature of the game, odds are high you’ll forget that you can go into your inventory, right click a book or a potion, and lo, your odds of survival/damage/stunning/whatnots have improved… Because yes, you have to do this.

There are some nice touches to this game, don’t get me wrong. When you equip a form on top of another form, your palette changes to reflect this (So a vampire bat/skellington is a red skeleton, while a lightning bat/skellington is pale blue), and there are unlockable “Retro Modes”, basically palette accurate shaders of days gone by, from the eye-searing CGA palette (Pictured), to the more reasonable tones of the VIC-20 or C64. They don’t help the colour blind problems of the game (In fact, CGA makes it worse, because CGA was always a fucking terrible video mode), but they are somewhat nice.

When the majority of items are vendor trash, and there is only one vendor… Problems arise.

Overall, though, Midboss places me in an awkward spot. It’s not quite friendly enough to be a starter for folks wanting to get into Roguelikes, beyond its core gimmick, it isn’t quite interesting enough to recommend to Roguelike fans looking for something new… I could maybe recommend it to folks looking at game design and gimmicks that change gameplay, but otherwise… It just doesn’t really seem to get me going, and I don’t feel like I’m doing more than going through the motions when playing.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he watched the Imp. Soon, he would have to reveal himself, and he was getting really tired of saying “Yes! I WAS that sheep!”

Academagia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When it first came out, Academagia wowed people in the lifesim world with ripping yarns about life in a magical school. Now, the Steam version of Year 1 has hit, and the question has to be asked: How the heck is it?

Well, let’s get a thing out of the way first: If you do not like reading, then Academagia is not for you. Reading is, in fact, the majority of what you do in Academagia. And when you aren’t reading, you’re thinking of ways to have adventures while not skipping class, or what the heck to do. Because there’s a lot to explore, and considering a single playthrough can easily take a night away, it can at first be difficult to get into. It is not, it must be said, a terribly friendly game in a sense, as, while the character creation tries to explain things, it can often involve going back and forth between elements before finalising your character.

A swotty swot planning how to swot swottingly.

So this review is going to take the form of advice, if you like reading, how Academagia can be played a little more enjoyably.

Firstly, yes, you can go back and forth on character creation steps. You have points to spend on backgrounds and things, but you can go right back to stats if ideas present themselves. I often go for the Gift of Libraries, because I’m a swotty swot wot swots n wots, but you can be the child of a pirate, an athletic nobleman, the school gossip… There’s a lot of options, and at first it may seem like a mountain. Pick a path, get comfortable with it.

Read what things do as soon as you know about them. Academic success, for example, isn’t always dictated by the subject, but also by general exam discipline, knowledge in a secondary subject (Forging things, for example, is considered useful by Enchanters), and, of course, the odd spell to help you bone up.

The Steam version lets you resize and move panels. This is not advertised, but can be incredibly useful, especially when your specific resolution means that occasionally, it looks like you have a 0 in a subject, when actually, you’ve maxed it out.

He’s a *sneaky* little swot too, you can tell by the fact he’s maxed out his Glamour (Illusion) magic!

You have more options in dealing with a situation when you have a clique of friends (Kinda like a school gang, in a sense), but it’s by no means the only way forward, so if you feel like playing a loner bookworm (Hi), you can do so.

If you’re not a big fan of classical music, you can turn it off. Sadly, faces are pretty much set, and by college.

When it comes to skill chances, green text is good, blue is okay, black is 50/50, red is less than good, and purple is almost-no-chance. But just because it’s green… Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good choice. Sometimes a green choice is a “Get out of event” or “I choose to fail”, rather than a good thing.

So, essentially, that’s Academagia: There’s a lot of reading, but if you take your time with it, you can read a mostly charming, branching story involving a boy or a girl at a magical public school. I’ve fought pirates, settled arguments between ghosts, survived innumerable prankings (Including some jerky jerkface casting a love spell on someone I’d never met in school before… Asshole) , discovered the real history of the Day of Dragons, and, every now and again, seriously broken school laws and somehow gotten away with it. I’ve always had an exotic familiar, and sometimes, that’s been… Awwwh, not Craig!

Thankfully, my little swot’s familiar is Clarisse this time, a classy winged lady.

It’s okay. I’ll learn to appreciate him over my year in Academagia. I always bond well with my familiars. <3

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.