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!”

Bomb Squad Academy (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

In a somewhat different state of affairs than is usual for reviewing, let’s get the bad out in the first paragraph of this review: Bomb Squad Academy doesn’t currently have good windowed mode support, or a volume slider.

Bam. Thank you, Systemic Games, for making that part of my job so pleasant.

Cue They Might Be Giants playing “Now I Know” in the background.

Bomb Squad Academy is, in essence, a game about basic electronics and electronic logic, under the guise of possibly the nicest fictional bomb defusal school I’ve ever come across. The final bomb for the second actual puzzle category (Including the dreaded OR gate) has little LED displays connected to the correct defusing options that read, on completion, “CONGRATS YOU ARE LEGEND.” The instructor encourages you to experiment, and is even occasionally seen to be trying positivity when you screw up, the screen goes white, and presumably you are small meaty chunks. “Well, you might not need that arm!”

Thanks, bomb instructor. Thanks a bunch for being understanding, and giving me a second chance in this educational setting. No, really! In any case, the game is very simple to control. Left click interacts with things. That’s it. Wires get cut. Buttons are pushed (and sometimes held down), switches get flicked or rotated… And through it all, I get to relearn the things I learned in Secondary School Electronics (that’s High School, to non-Europeans), such as the behaviour of logic gates (AND, OR, XOR, and the like), capacitors, switches and buzzers, in carefully planned puzzles that never feel overwhelming.

Each category is explained quite well, with good tutorialisation that means you never feel *overwhelmed* . Only tense.

Tense? Yes. The time limit is real, and sometimes it can be tight… But, much like real and good instruction, it’s at a pace you’re fairly certain you can handle. Concepts are introduced, then tested, and those tests slowly increase in complexity, bringing older elements in, and, since everything is visually clear, you’re never overwhelmed… Just occasionally pushed into not noticing things. Like how cutting that wire probably wasn’t the good idea you thought it was, or how you failed to account for that one AND gate.

But it’s okay. The instructor understands, and so, the fun is preserved, and you feel pretty smart when you look, trace around, mutter a bit, and, with less than thirty seconds on the clock, push a few buttons, cut a single wire, and flick a dial just so to defuse the bomb. Complete with a triumphant tune.

Simple. Elegant. And with a difficulty curve smooth as butter, rising just so for enjoyment with the occasional shock. Definitely recommended for puzzle fans, and folks looking for an entry level puzzle game.

Many bombs in the game *look* complex… Until you see what’s going on. Take a breath. You’ve still got a minute to cut some wires, it’s all good.

The Mad Welshman is looking forward to the possibility of a circuit editor in this game’s future (No promises.) After all, it appeals to his villainous side more than the defusal of bombs.

100 Ft Robot Golf (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

100 Ft Robot Golf is not so much a golf game with giant stompy robots, as a giant stompy robot game with golf. It’s a relaxing experience, even if it’s not quite the one you might expect.

But is it a good game? It’s an okay game. More importantly, it’s a fairly relaxing game, and I’m 100% down for that. So let’s talk about some things.

Like I said… it’s *relaxing*

Let’s start with how the mechanics interact in ways that seem counter to conventional wisdom. Yes, you have special weapons. But odds are high you’re not going to be affecting the other players with them. No, your weapons are best for blowing up buildings that are in your way, and thus clearing up a shot that otherwise would have slowed you down. There is no turn taking, and it’s effectively a race to the finish line, but if you’re even halfway good at golf games, quickly lining up swings should be no problem, even with the fact that each type of mech has a different system that effectively amounts to “How accurate was this shot?” And dickery such as the Kuvo maneuver, where you block the ball with your giant metal body, is perfectly acceptable so long as you have the skill to pull it off.

So the game isn’t complicated, and it isn’t as bloodthirsty as you’d think. Similarly, the story is a lighthearted riffing on the silliest parts of 90s anime: Max and Vahnija, one of whom is a failed golfing host (Because Robot Golf blew up the moon), and one of whom now owns Robot Golfing (despite not being that good a Robot Golfer) organise a new tournament, bringing talent both old and new, while they have… A NEFARIOUS PLAN, AHAHAHAAAA (Ehehehehee!)! Meanwhile, the NGDL , led by Panzato and Dando, are finally ready to enact… Project C. Project C are good dogs, yes they are, they’re such good dogs, gooood dogs. It’s dumb, it’s deliberately hammy, and it somehow still makes a sort of sense despite being deliberately written how 90s anime is often perceived (A mess of threads that somehow clash together for a BIG FINISH.)

See? They’re good dogs. And one of them is *Welsh* ! <3

The thing is, I could go on for a very long time about things like the visual design (Slightly janky, but charming), the sound design and voicework that went into this game (Deliberately, as before, aimed at that 90s Anime aesthetic, while also being aimed at parodying how golf commentary struggles to be exciting), and how little touches like how even the quickplay versus mode has little anime style “LAST EPISODE” blurbs add that touch more charm, but in the end, you’re either going to love it or hate it. The campaign takes something like 3 or 4 hours to complete (true ending and all), and, after that, it’s unlocking skins, playing with friends, and maybe replaying for the plot, and you know what?

I am A-okay with that. You might not be, and I respect that. But 100 Ft Robot Golf, to me, is a relaxing, relatively nonviolent time despite, y’know, explosions and buildings being destroyed, and it has a charm that I can’t help but like.

Even the customisation has some small charm to it. Remember, Support Esports!

Also, y’know, they’re good dogs, Dante. They’re good dogs, Danforth.

EVERSPACE (Early Access Review)

Source: Birthday Prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page
Version Reviewed: 0.3 (March 7th, 2017)

Good spaceflight games are, even in these days where they’re coming back, few and far between. But Everspace, god help me, has definitely grabbed my attention in a big way, because even though it’s only at 0.3 (0.4 coming soon), it’s already quite polished, and had me whooping like a schoolchild at how enjoyable it was to die, again and again and again.

The game has missions, every now and again. I can tell the mission giver is not a hoopy frood, because he doesn’t know where his towel is.

Yes, you heard me right. It was, and is enjoyable, even in losing. But let’s get into it. Everspace is the 3D equivalent of something like FTL, a procedurally generated universe made of sectors, themselves made of small, junk filled arenas where a series of pilots (played by you), attempt to get to their destination while being chased by the Okkar empire, a reptilian people, being hounded by outlaws, trying to find the resources (Especially fuel, which is needed for Jumps between subsectors) you need to survive, while also being nagged by perhaps the most British AI I have yet to encounter.

Interestingly, all of these pilots are named differently, but sound the same… And I honestly don’t mind. It… Works, somehow. I wish I could tell you how. In any case, the game is very polished for a 0.3 release, with some great soundwork, music that gets the blood pumping, a solid UI, and some nice, chunky ship designs, from the tri-foil Outlaw fighters, to the Okkar Corvette that I encountered in Sector 3 (So far, the furthest I’ve gotten in something like 30 runs.) Every time you die, the money earned goes towards levelling up abilities, chance of good drops, better equipment, and… Different ships.

It’s somewhat difficult, for obvious reasons, to grab footage of a fight as it’s happening. Thankfully, the game’s Action Pause Camera allows me to wow you anyway.

I’m not going to say better ships, because I’ve been learning that lesson the hard way with the Gunship. Oh, it’s meaty, alright. The Medium Explorer has a shield, a pulse laser, and a gatling gun (With the option to increase damage for a period of time), but, while the Gunship has armour (Reducing damage taken overall), a Gatling Turret, Combat Drones out of the box, and the highly satisfying Flak Cannon (Mangle an Okkar Fighter in just a couple of shots once its shields are down! Mine an asteroid or crystal node with one shot!), it also has… No shields, and its shield damaging weapon is the highly erratic and energy intensive Fusion Cannon (Which I try to replace with my dependable buddy the Pulse Laser as soon as humanly possible.) It’s also slower, and harder to turn. So, while, with the Explorer, it’s entirely possible to get through an encounter undamaged, the Gunship is very much in the “Damage race” end of things, especially as most of its weaponry is close range (Sub 1Km)

Considering I have to get 10 thousand credits in a single run to buy the Scout, I can’t really tell you what the Light option is like right now (Although I most definitely will before release), but I can tell you that each ship has its own upgrade tree, with a player tree for things like better maps (GOOD), Better retrieval of the wreck of your last run (Providing, of course, you can find it), extra equipment choices, and, of course, more cash, better repairs, more fuel… And while yes, there’s a limited amount of things you can encounter, the later sectors have bigger and badder things (Such as the Link Drone Ship, invincible until you destroy the swarming little beggars it produces… Periodically.) and, of course, the game isn’t finished, so more things are being promised.

Even as is, though, the game is high octane in its combat, darkly relaxing in between, with a lot of its potential already shining through.

Pictured: The first time I took the Gunship out for a spin. I underestimated my opponents, and I paid the price for not understanding how my ship worked. LET’S DO IT AGAIN!

Oh, and it has an action-pause cam from the menu, allowing you to hit escape at the right moment, go to the cam, and capture your ship either wrecking… Or getting wrecked. I’d like to be able to take pics from more than just the players’ perspective (I mean, if it’s my Gunship getting owned, maybe I’d like to take it from the perspective of my killer, or some random drone that still has a good angle?), but right now? That’s my only niggle with this game. It’s built around multiple runs, and so far, it’s doing a very good job of sucking me into one more run.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he heard the DING of target lock. What was causing all these ships of the same model to come by? Oh, no matter, they always had good loot!

Hidden Folks (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page

It’s not often I get to review a game that’s so very honest about what it is: A hidden object/person search in the purest sense of the word, where the entire point is to click on things in the hope that yes, that’s the one you’re looking for. Or, y’know, get eyestrain trying to do it legitimately. That’s an option too.

Clicking on things, as it turns out, is the wiser option. As is discovering the scroll wheel does zoom in and out in many places. And that click and drag moves things. The game doesn’t outright tell you any of this, but you do discover it fairly quickly and organically, so I can’t really have a go at the developers for that.

Goodness me, there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there?

In fact, there’s a lot going for what, at first, appears a simple and unassuming game, and a lot of that is because the developers have done their homework on both their source inspiration (Things like the Where’s Wally?/Waldo? books) and how a game… Can somewhat get around the limitations of their source.

Like the hidden person books from which they’ve drawn inspiration, there are stories in each image. The butterfly hunt. A day at the farm. A concert in the middle of the desert, which proved… Not to be the best idea. But interaction is required to fully spot everything you want (Although you can move forward before spotting everything, if you so desire, which is very nice.) Some people and objects are hidden behind leaves, or rocks that you drag, or, in one case, you have to appease the gods of the corn for your blessing to appear (Yes, I’m being cryptic. It’s not a long game, so I’m trying my damnedest not to give you any hints that the game isn’t.) Clicking on the objects to find in the bottom bar will give you a hint. Not always a very useful hint, but then, they weren’t always very useful in the Where’s Wally books either. And, of course, sometimes something is more apparent zoomed in, than zoomed out.

All these lovely… HEY, SHEPHERD! THAT’S NO PLACE TO TAKE A SHOWER!

Adding to this is the charm of the audio. Pretty much everything is done, soundwise, via foley, aka “Let’s try and imitate the noises with our mouths”, and I shamelessly love that. There’s a sense of playfulness about it as a result. Similarly, while the black and white line-art of the visuals may be a turn-off for some, it neatly sidesteps colourblindness issues that could be such a problem in hidden person books, and, again, it has charm.

Honestly, there’s only two things I would really criticise, and both of those are effectively niggles: The flavour text boxes for each level don’t run on a replay (You can delete your progress and replay), and the varieties of left mouse interaction aren’t very well explained (But become apparent with experimentation on the second level.)

For the price, one and a half times that of one of those pocket Where’s Wally books, I’d honestly recommend Hidden Folks to fans of this sort of thing, and for folks who want a relaxing, somewhat likeable game that involves just exploring the landscape.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he moved the train down the tracks. Ostensibly, he’d find one of those people he was hired to… But the hero tied up in front was definitely a bonus!