Coffee Crisis (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Beat Em Ups, as they’ve long been known, have had some pretty interesting subject matter in the past. Failed Sega Mascots. Baseball (in the player sense) robots fighting Baseball (in the ball sense) aliens. Being a bad enough dude to save the president. And now… Two baristas, fighting those dirty custome- I mean, aliens leeching the world’s WiFi.

I’m, as confused as you are, Ashley.

I honestly can’t say I’m not charmed by the concept. It’s just it’s rather odd in places, execution wise. And only some of it I really understand. Let’s go back to basics, though, for a beginning.

As a beat-em-up, it’s a fairly old school setup: Attack, jump, jump attack, grab, and a special that costs health and is, extra damage aside, somewhat underwhelming. There are ranged enemies, who are a pain in the ass, there are tough and weak enemies, there are bosses, there are stages. Heck, there’s even level codes, which I kind of appreciate, even if they’re the older kind that doesn’t, for example, preserve number of lives and the like. It inherits the weaknesses of older beat-em-ups, such as lack of decent counters to ranged enemies, a lack of feedback (It took a level or so for me to notice the healthbar), and wall-locking enemies being the ideal strategy for the majority of encounters, but, as a beat-em-up, at its core, it isn’t bad.

Where it gets a little odd are the “spectacle” additions, Mods and “Special Effects.” Both can be turned off, but the game leaves them on by default, and… Honestly? They don’t really add all that much. Some of the mods change the way the fight works, but not all that many have a noticeable effect, and Special Effects? I’ve never been a big fan of involuntary shader funtimes, and to have fights randomly turn into greenscreen, or all wibbly, or with that “Metal” shader (You know, one of the ones that bears little resemblance to actual metal) is more offputting and artificial than anything else. Nonetheless, they can be turned off in the options, and it merely remains for me to point this out.

Not gonna lie, I had my fill of greenscreen CRT around… Ooh, 1987?

Aesthetically and narratively, it’s hit and miss. Some of it is that there’s obviously some local cultural references I’m just not getting. Some of it is enemies for the sake of enemies (Why are the aliens possessing OAPs?), and, aesthetically, it feels more than a bit chaotic, and the coffee OD level in particular has some eye-searing colour choices. Like… Ouch.

So, overall, Coffee Crisis is in an odd place for me. I’ve had some fun with it. I appreciate the coffee chugging minigame, both as part of the game’s odd world, and a reference to older minigame bonus stages. I appreciate that having a separate “Grab Enemy/Pick the weapon up” button is a damn useful thing to have. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, being short and punchy. But at the same time, I find some of its decisions odd and offputting. It is, I’ll say, worth at least a look if you like old school beat-em-ups.

Yup, this is indeed a beat-em-up. You can tell by whaling on several enemies with one swing of my coffee bag.

 

The Mad Welshman sips his coffee appreciatively, safe in the knowledge that Baristas are deadly brawlers who will forever protect his coffee drinking rights. Or something.

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Basingstoke (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Welcome to Basingstoke, a town filled with sausage rolls, quaint pubs, AND THE LIVING DEAD. We hope you enjoy your stay in the picturesque recycling bins, sewer pipes, and assorted possibly-safe buildings. There is no escape.

My character’s name sounds a bit like Gordon right now. There is no reason I find this fitting at all.

Basingstoke, the latest offering from Puppygames (and not the small English town, although it is set there) is an interesting game. It’s definitely an action game, but avoidance and stealth, rather than killing, is the main focus (Although weapons do exist, only a few are guaranteed a quick kill, and most of them are loud.) It’s procedurally generated, and has older game concepts just kind of strewn about, like save items, level-based gameplay, and the like. It is, in short, a mix of old and new ideas, starting with perhaps one of the older ones: Science going wrong, because a big company delved into things Man Was Not Meant To Know (Never goes wrong in a videogame, amirite?), and so Basingstoke is now a hellhole filled with zombies, mutants, aliens, and death-robots. A hellhole that you, the latest interviewee for Omnicorp, have to escape.

And it works. It works really well. Part of that is that Puppygames is no stranger to adding their own touches to arcade based play, and have a solid grasp of the low-poly aesthetic, with good sound design and occasional music. And part of this is that, most of the time, it feels fair, with the difficulty escalating sensibly, except when you screw up and trigger a loud noise, in which case the sudden horde of zombies is, definitively, your fault.

My last thought was “DO NOT RUN IN THE HALLWAYS”, oddly.

There’s also good variety in play. Myself, I mostly like non-confrontational play, creeping around, distracting enemies with sausage rolls or sandwiches, occasionally setting groups of zombies on fire with a molotov or flamethrower, if I can get hold of the salvage needed to build them. And the game supports this quite well. Get some Instant Coffee (freely available from drink dispensers, relatively common), and you can mix it with a sandwich, kebab, or the like to turn the zombie that eats it on its fellows. Or, y’know, just have a nice cup of coffee. Still, running hell for leather everywhere is, definitely on the early levels, still a valid and workable strategy if you’re clever about it.

And each has their downsides. My stealthy play, for example, is mostly slow, and I don’t get to explore everywhere. As such, my item use suffers somewhat. Running, meanwhile, attracts Tentacles, and even the twitchiest of players will occasionally get caught out by one that spawns either on top of them, or in such a way that it’s going to grab you. And in Basingstoke, one hit is a kill for your player character.

With revolutionary new RECYCLEBIN-O-VISION, you can see exactly how boned you, in fact, are.

There’s a fair amount to like about Basingstoke. For example, I can start from later levels if I really want to, and the Insurance Policy, if I can afford it, means I get to save mid-level (once.) There’s infinite retries on a level. It can turn down the flashing and gore, and it’s largely pretty clear how to play, tutorialising well. It also feels tense, without being aggravating. Yes, I can die at any second. But I know the progress from the previous level won’t be undone, and I can still try again. I know my progress overall won’t be undone. And I find myself, overall, looking forward to whatever evil thing the game is going to throw my way, be that for me, like when I made a proximity mine, or against me, like the large alien carnivores of the Underground. Well worth a look if you like stealth action titles.

The Mad Welshman sprinkled coffee, breadcrumbs, and bean juice over his egg and bacon sandwich, and smiled nastily. Somewhere, some zombie was going to have a very, very Full English day.

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Austen Translation (Review)

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

Austen Translation is an interestingly simple game: Spend four turns (plus some secret events) to try and get your stats (Wit, Ruthlessness, and Charm) close enough that your prospective hubby to be proposes to you, while sabotaging anyone else who might be after your beau (or… Well, just sabotage people so you’re the best match.) That is, beyond some twists and minigames, the whole thing, mechanically. Five players, local play only as far as I can tell, with randomly generated AI players if you don’t feel like filling the roster, and character generation with randomised stats, but you get to customise your lady’s looks.

Everybody got that?

Normally, this would get a “What it says on the tin”, some words about how, once again, Worthing & Moncrieff have nailed a clear, simple aesthetic with a good voice-actress for the round intros (Love the scandalised disgust in her voice when she asks “Did you really just interrupt me?” for clicking through an intro too fast), classical music fitting the theme of the piece…

…But I’ll freely admit, the narrative of the game doesn’t sit terribly well with me. See, Jane Austen was pretty good at critiquing the mores of the time, such as asking that dread question “Why can’t we marry for love, not money or standing?” in Pride and Prejudice… And Austen Translation, by parodying Austen, is almost as if Austen were playing it straight.

It’s pretty clear everyone’s competing, it’s definitely about the fat-stacks of cash the hubbies have, the losers “die in a rat-infested hovel” , and not even the odd winky asides and pleasant classical piano can really distract me from how uncomfortable it made me feel. It’s not played as being romantic, and from the outset, it’s made clear the women are going to be the dominant partners, but I still felt distinctly odd playing a narrative I’d kind of hoped we’d escaped a while back.

Mmmhm.

So, while I can’t personally recommend this, I will say again that it’s easy to pick up, tutorialises well, and has a good aesthetic going for it, with the minor niggle that maybe, just maybe, Wit and Charm could be different colours, or at least one could be made darker than the other so as to better differentiate them? It’s perhaps an interesting party game, albeit one with a narrative that, as noted, didn’t sit well with me.

I’m sorry, but I cannot accept, for my heart belongs to a man with six-degrees of freedom…

The Mad Welshman politely sipped his tea, wallet empty, and thought to himself “Thank goodness I’m a babbage-card critic, and don’t have to get embroiled in such things…”

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Monster Prom (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Monster Prom is one of those games where, when the lines land, they really land, for good or for ill. Case in point, I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness inherent in my Slayer-assisting class being a Gun-Haver (Superpower: Have all the guns) , but, earlier that game, there’d been a joke about sedating someone for drinks, and pretty much everyone playing both grimaced, and said something to the effect of “Not cool, game, not cool.”

Porn: Setting unrealistic standards for sex since 7200 BCE!

The Monsters in Monster Prom are monsters in more ways than one, you see. But to backtrack a little bit, Monster Prom is a dating sim visual novel, set in a place called Monster High (no, not that one), with local and online multiplayer for up to four players. In a very real sense, it’s a party game. Can you get your stats high enough, in the right places, over the 12 turns of a game, to find love at the Monster Prom with your proposed date? Or is something odder going to happen?

It’s a game that looks and sounds good, I’ll definitely give it that. The cartoonish style works well, it’s got a clear UI, it has a good mood to it, and the art supports the base situations pretty well. It feels fun to play with others (Especially if one or more of you is skilled in Dramatic Reading), and it’s simple to pick up and play.

The turn order can be decided in a party game fashion, or hitting the random button. Many can probably guess why we hit random here.

Which means that really, the only major reason folks might not like this game is how its humour can sometimes go places that would be uncomfortable for folks, or, at times, just plain isn’t funny. Sex mentions might put off some, drug mentions will definitely put some folks off (Aside from the aforementioned sedative “joke”, there’s also cocaine and heroin mentioned), and bullying or abusive behaviours are also sometimes mentioned (Such as the old “Stuffed in a locker” thing leading, potentially, to the “stalked through radio tag” thing… EESH.) Some are kinky and genuinely amusing (such as Miranda’s confusion about what a Leather Daddy is, or how everybody at the school reads an erotic dragon fanfic), and some are good lampshading (Oh isn’t it convenient that everyone at Monster High is over the age of consent, huh? Haha, these wacky monsters all conveniently over 18, eh?!)

Overall, it hits more than it misses with its humour, but when it whiffs, it whiffs harder than Charlie Brown playing baseball. I’d still recommend it, because it’s a good concept, mostly well executed, and you’re certainly not going to run out of events early (It speaks volumes that even the developers seem to think chasing every single event down might be a bit much, with the “get everything” event called “Honey… This isn’t healthy…”), but I would also say: Be aware that this game might, with its humour, touch on subjects you’re uncomfortable with.

You can, in fact, choose fanfic over prom-dates. Nuff said.

The Mad Welshman, a noted monster himself, is somewhat fond of this game despite its missteps.

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Going Back – Death Coming

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So here we are, looking at a game where the main character, after having died, is employed by death to… Use various items around the levels to crush, burn, boil, freeze, and, generally speaking, make a lot of pixel people very, very dead. Death Coming is a good dictionary definition of “Guilty Pleasure”, considering its subject matter.

Yup. Pushing tourists into toxic goop by means of plant is one of those “Guilty Pleasure” things.

But y’know what? It’s fun, and I’m somehow shocked I missed this one back in November of last year. Ah well, let’s take a look now.

As noted, the basic gameplay idea is very simple: You have a town, and a certain number of items around town are imbued with the power of death. What this amounts to is that, when clicked for the first time, they (mostly) show you roughly what they’re going to kill, and, the second time around, they activate (With some later additions like guards who stop things going awry, and more complex, multipart death traps.) Aided with this knowledge, two goals are in sight: Kill a certain number of people (Who Death informs you have lived past their time), and kill three specific people in each level, because they, apparently, are both past their time and linked, in some fashion, to your own death.

Aesthetically, the game’s isometric, pixel artwork and ominous tunes give a good backdrop to this strategy game of mass murder, with a whole host of animations that only gets bigger as the varieties of death get stranger and stranger. Here, the manhole cover is opened, and there’s just a frame of suspension, before the fall into darkness, a meaty crunch, and an FPS style announcer deeply intoning “MEGAKILL.” This is not a game trying to step around its subject matter.

Some folks, apparently, need to die more than others. At least some of these can be related to the level’s narrative.

I like how it progresses, and I also like how there’s a very real sense, as the game goes on, that Death is maybe not playing ball, and that maaaaybe we’ve been duped. THE POLICE ARE HERE, as angels descend from the heavens to try and stop your murderous shenanigans. Wait, if the people really are past their time to live, then why… Ohhhhh…

The game does a fairly good job of adding to its replayability, with each area having a new wrinkle, unique feature, or extra step in difficulty (such as the introduction of changes due to different weather conditions. Dagnabbit, I missed my 3 minute window to use a manhole!) , and this leads me to the two niggles I have with this game: That it’s somewhat short (Delightful, but short), and that it has a single save system.

Otherwise, Death Coming is an interesting take on hidden object puzzle gameplay, with a solid focus around its theme, some black comedy, and good replayability. Worth a look.

Every level adding something new, some new wrinkle. Today’s wrinkle? Weather, part the second!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot more to say. The game kind of speaks for itself.

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