For The King (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Folks, I could tell a long rambling story here, blow by blow accounts of the heroic deeds of a blacksmith, a hunter, and a scholar, normal folks who almost saved the day as the last hope of the kingdom of Fahrul. I could talk about their exploits fighting such evils as the Hangman, the dread King’s Maze, and the seemingly humble (yet devilishly agile) Imps. But a lot of this would distract from the fact that these are stories I made up, based on some damn fine procedural RPG play.

eep.

So yeah, For The King is a procedurally generated RPG, with a lovely low-poly board game aesthetic, where balancing aggressively pursuing quests, and biding time to make sure you can really take on that dungeon. Move too slow, and things get more dangerous, until eventually, you either fall, or the world ends. Move too quickly, and you’ll quickly get out of your depth. Thankfully, the game’s pretty good at giving you some idea which end you’re tending towards, play by play.

And it feels pretty good, with a fair amount of depth to it. Enough that I’d have a little trouble describing it all without this review feeling more like a feature list. Oh, hey, here’s a cast of characterful enemies, from the Triclops Infant that… Well, I feel bad killing these, because their main attack is “Fall over really heavily on top of you.” I have the option of sneaking or ambushing, but that XP is direly needed, because I have to take on the Mind Melter. The animations are great, with visible representation of your equipment on the well crafted low poly models, a real sense of impact to them, and the game tutorialises quite well.

It’s a beautiful world. Even the bits which are decidedly pointy and evil and stuff…

That it also defaults to the easiest difficulty mode is a real blessing, because yes, the game is pretty hard, even on the easiest difficulty. But also, oddly, gentle about that. It reminds you that you aren’t meant to win on your first try, or even your third (My third run on the main campaign, I got about halfway through), but getting further, seeing new and interesting monsters, made me feel… Well, like a badass.

So… Good aesthetic. Good music, fitting without over-riding. A real feeling of impact, both on the world and the fights. Good tutorials. And a hefty amount of replayability, due to unlocks and the extra quests and classes that some of these unlocks represent. Multiple game modes. What’s not to like?

Well, it’s best if characters stick together throughout, keeping close so as to have a full party. As such, multiplayer co-op (Where you play one character) is something that needs a tight knit group to work. Beyond that, though, there’s a lot done right with For The King, both in terms of mechanics, and in terms of feel and aesthetic. I foresee a fair bit of enjoyment with this one.

Yeah, remember what I said about a sense of impact? That *definitely* felt like a finale to the quest. 😛

The Mad Welshman could probably have said a lot more words. But basically, the game is pretty good.

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Dungeon Stars (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: First EA release.

Dungeon Stars is one of those games that mostly does what it says on the tin… But what it says on the tin is not really my thing. Because what it says on the tin is “Repetitive, simple game with some minor depth, but mostly pandering to the lizard brain with shiny things and bigger numbers.”

It’s important, with screenshots, to get across what the majority of an experience will be like. Well… This is a good screenshot.

You pick a hero, of one of three elements, and some classes. This element determines who they do more damage to, and who does more damage to them (Fire → Earth → Ice → Fire), and each hero starts with a basic attack (hammering the left key), a slam attack that gets rid of shields (hold the right key), a block for when something swings heavily at you (hold the left key), and a special ability (later becoming two special abilities and a Pet special ability, plus whatever the heck your equipped loot gives you.) You go through dungeon floors from left to right, only stopping to casually murder goblins, trolls, mages, and other assorted dungeon monsters, some of which are bosses. Beat a level, and a nice tune plays, you get some loot, and you maybe get to heal up. That’s… 95% of the game, right there.

And you know, some baffling strain on the GPU aside for its aesthetic, it does all of this perfectly well. It even drops special daily dungeons, one possibly for a pet, one for a hero, if you play long enough. The main problem, for me, is that this, apart from the possibility of seeing new gribbleys to whack by ruining my left arrow key, is… About it. There’s the same music loop, the same end tune, my current crop of heroes differs only in how they look and their special abilities, and…

Fire -> Earth -> Ice -> Fire. Simples!

…For all that it’s meant to pander to my lizard brain desire, I find myself dissatisfied. Maybe it’s the shop, random drops, 25000 coins (or one dungeon trip) to reshuffle the store. Maybe it’s that I don’t really feel that much in control, especially when dealing with mages (Who, due to the “Always runs right unless slamming, blocking, or blocked by an enemy” , often hit with their spells.) Maybe it’s that there’s no real sense of impact to the weaponry, only either quick kills (in the case of the mooks) or a bar whittling down. And I can’t really say those aren’t working as intended, because the design is clear enough that yes, this is basically what it is: A level by level damage race, running from left to right, occasionally getting items, a “secret” dungeon, or loot. It looks alright. Its aesthetic is consistent. But it just doesn’t really appeal to me.

I’m willing to forgive missing descriptions this early in the process. The not being able to see all items when you have more than 4, less so.

The Mad Welshman sometimes wonders. He wonders a lot of things, sometimes.

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Catacomb Kids (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.4c

Feel is a very important thing, from the feel of movement, to the feel of fairness. Like Vagante, which I reviewed, Catacomb Kids is dark… Has plenty of instant death traps… And mixes roguelike and platformer. But, unlike Vagante, Catacomb Kids feels more fair, more fluid, more fun. And it’s not even finished yet.

A hectic, joyful combat, just seconds before I combat-identify… A potion of flames. MY BAD.

So, how does it feel better? It’s a lot of things, adding up. Combat, for one, is somewhat easier. Yes, there’s rolling, and even bats and rats can harm you, but healing is fairly common, swings are mostly rapid, and there’s a sense of impact to even lighter blows. Magic, similarly, is very common, and can even be used by the most magic averse (with some risk.) More intelligent enemies run away, find friends, and even use potions, which makes it feel like, y’know, a living, breathing place. The traps still kind of suck, but I rarely find myself knocked back into spikes for an instadeath or the like.

No, more commonly, it’s the panic that results from rolling into the “SNAP” of a burning oil trap… Ohgodohgod the oil’s pouring, and if I do-FWOOSH. Dead. It’s quite avoidable, much like everything, and the signposting is there (the ceiling spike traps being the least signposted, the lava and crusher blocks the most.) But it’s a scary trap, and this, too, adds to the feel.

Popcorn also adds to the feel, in a pleasant way.

At the present time, the four classes appear to be locked in: Bullies, who can willingly alert nearby enemies and specialise in hitting things rather hard; Tinkers, who have a mechanical buddy for assistance, and are generally quite smart; Poets, also quite smart, but specialising in magic; and Wanderers, who can get an idea of their surroundings well, and specialise in being quick. Kids in each class are generated by set, and there’s a lot of choice in rolling a new character, from spending a little money to roll a new random Kid, spending a fair amount of money to make a custom kid who maybe, maybe, has the skills and equipment to do better than you did, to spending no money at all, and sending these poor, adventuring young adults to their doom, getting a new set when you exhaust the current one. Since each class is only limited in weapon use by things like wanting to use a weapon they like or have skill with, or not wanting to use a weapon they don’t like, and therefore suck at, there’s a lot of room, a lot of potential depth, in each run. And I like that.

The base tutorial for the game is good, but it should be noted that the character customisation screen isn’t terribly informative right now, so it’s a good idea to memorise those icons, checking what they do in play, before taking the leap of a custom Kid.

Visible representation of kit is pretty good, both in portrait and in the game.

That niggle aside, though, I’m having a lot of fun with Catacomb Kids at its present stage. It’s got a lot of tension, but not so much pressure, a fair amount of toys in the toybox to play with, and to see it so enjoyable, so early pleases me.

The Mad Welshman sometimes feels like a slime. Alas, no takeout in this world offers the good stuff.

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AMID EVIL (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update #3

AMID EVIL (an anagram of a lot of things, but MEDIEVAL seems the best fit) is, much like DUSK, a love letter to 90s shooters, taking inspiration from Quake, Heretic and Hexen, and Rune. It does all of these things well, with one, glaring exception. Which itself is somewhat 90s.

Super dark areas are also, to be fair, somewhat 90s.

Specifically, the menu is a godawfully unreadable eyesore, and the ammo UI has hard to read elements. If both could be made clearer, then AMID EVIL would gain the coveted (ha) “Does What It Says On The Tin.” As is, however, it does enough well that the UI is, accurately, that glaring exception.

Storywise, it’s there, and there’s not really all that much to say about it. Like the games it’s inspired by, the story is a framing device, a Raison de l’assassinat more than anything else. Ancient evil, exiled sorcerer/warrior, a multidimensional horde of death and blood, just waiting to be gibbed.

I’ll give the AMID EVIL team this: The gibbing is pretty good, and comes in many dramatically named flavours. Starting with the Axe of the Black Labyrinth, and moving, weapon by weapon, to the Star of Torment (a flechette firing mace with wall pinning abilities) and the Aeternum (the BFG of the game, a super slow, but deadly multi-dimensional murder machine), each has their own quirks, and their own changes when you’ve killed enough enemies, and collected enough soul, to unlock a surge of SOUL POWER, aka “The weapons get nastier for a while, so long as you keep killing.” Currently, my favourite is the Star of Torment, as… Well, it does a fair amount of damage, is easy enough to aim, and… Wall pinning, geez!

Soul Power makes even the pistol analogues of the game seem godlike. Which makes me sad that it requires a lot to wield it well.

Alas, the soul power is my other niggle, purely a personal dislike, about AMID EVIL. I can understand, somewhat, how it’s meant to be a force multiplier for the skillful, and an ass saver otherwise. But once that meter’s full, the next time you hit the fire button, regardless of whether you want it, it unleashes. It won’t unleash while you’re firing, a recent improvement I like, but it’s still a cool thing I don’t really get to enjoy as much of because I don’t have as much control over its use as I’d like.

Beyond that, and the aforementioned UI though, the game plays to its aesthetic well, making good use of its low poly worlds, with mostly clear level design, 3 worlds out of the seven planned already in the game, an endless wave mode, accessibility options, and, of course, the old school “Type the word in” cheats. If Indefatigable and the New Blood team could improve that UI, make it more readable while keeping the ‘tude, I would have very little to complain about with its fast paced, retro inspired action. Even as it is, AMID EVIL is a bit of alright, a fairly good first person shooter taking the speed and aesthetic of predecessors.

Nothing like a boss in silent, pre-death repose to close up a review. Beautiful.

The Mad Welshman knows what it’s like to be keeper of ancient weaponry, wielding the Quiet Blade of Holistic Criticism.

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Ghost of a Tale (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

A lot can be said about how intimidating it is, playing a largely pacifist mouse in a world of giant, angry rats, that it’s taken me this long to take a look at Ghost of a Tale, the stealth action RPG by SeithCG. But, like Tilo, the mouse bard protagonist of this game, I’ve gotten over that, and honestly? I’m glad I have.

I feel you, little guy… They *are* scary!

Ghost of a Tale is, at its most basic level, a game where you, Tilo the mouse bard, must explore an ancient keep, hoping to save your wife Merra (Imprisoned, like you, for treason) and escape. Of course, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t have either the tension or the interest, so there’s a pretty wide cast of characters, some friendly, some not quite friendly, and many of which aren’t friendly at all, considering that they’re either beasties out for any blood they can get… Or the rat guards, who, understandably considering the charge you’ve been imprisoned under, aren’t exactly fond of you.

Of course, this doesn’t bring secret doors, shortcuts, a hint system in the form of a seemingly friendly blacksmith, a small web of intrigue, and something about an Emerald Flame, a great evil that may or may not be rising again… And some fine characters, all set in a beautifully rendered environment. There’s a fair bit to do in Ghost of a Tale, and I appreciate how, while the rats are a threat, they’re a threat that can be dealt with in a variety of ways, including running away (Even walking, you are slightly faster than the rat guards) and hiding until they return to their posts. Failing that, slime trips them up (if they’re not wearing boots), bottles knock them out (if they’re not wearing helmets), and, eventually, two sets of armour that allow you to move unchallenged… Past the guards, anyway.

I get the distinct feeling I’m not meant to be up here… Yet.

There’s a fair amount I like about Ghost of a Tale, as the shortcuts are helpful, the world is pretty, and the characters are, when they speak, charming and amusing (Kerold the Frog Pirate, for example, has a fine example of breaking the fourth wall with items that don’t turn up until you know they’re there… I won’t spoil it for you.) But this isn’t to say there aren’t things I get a bit grumpy about. There’s a fair amount of the game that can best be described as “Collectathon-ing” , and some of the puzzles are a little obtuse. There are maps, but it’s a case of finding a safe spot to look at your inventory, and memorising.

Still, overall, I find Ghost of a Tale more charming than frustrating, and, despite being intimidating looking in the early game, it’s a cool game that emphasises exploration and trickery over violence, and a pretty accessible one at that. Worth a go!

Top of the world, ma! (No, really, highest point in the game’s rather large map, apparently)

The Mad Welshman is not ashamed to admit the Rat-Guard scared him. It just means they’re doing their job well, is all!

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