Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?!

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.99 (Soundtrack £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s that time of year, when potato puns mix with moderately interesting, casual takes on different games. It’s time for more… Holy Potatoes!

And this time, it’s a little hectic, despite being pretty accessible. Because you’re a spy agency, and the clock is ticking. Even worse, your Jeet-kun-do is no use against… This cute puppy, AHAHAHAHAAAA!

Noted pupper-lover, er… Catlady plans to stealth and charm her way through her mission.

Anyway, yes… Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?! (Let’s just call it Potato Spy Story, shall we?) is a mashup of RPGs, management sims, and spy fiction, that has you play… Potato spies, in a world of anthropomorphic potatoes, having to balance limited resources while avoiding plot missions for as long as is humanly possible… Mainly because, once a mission has been “accepted”, either by taking a contract, or because the story demands, you have a limited time to successfully finish a mission. And no, that timer doesn’t stop running because you started the mission, nor does it care if you suddenly realise you have a hole in your coverage of the four stats (Fighting, Thinking, Stealthing, Charming.) Better plug that hole as quickly as you can, whether through gadgets, fashion, and, a little later, vehicles!

Whiiiich leads to the other balancing act you have to do, that of having limited space in your HQ for buildings, and needing paths to said buildings. Oh, and maybe some nice decorations that make spies better able to work. That can help too.

Me am good at optimisation. Me am good at spying. Me am also Bizarro, trust everything I don’t say!

Aesthetically, it’s got that clean, simple style that has been a hallmark of the series, and, with the exception of some building placements, it’s clear enough that you understand quickly what’s going on. Sound isn’t great, more servicable than anything else, and the writing is… Well, it’s puns. It’s a formula. It’s not going to win any writing awards (Until the industry admits it needs a “Most puns/legally distinct references in a single game” , for which, let’s face it, there are many contenders.)

While it’s not super fast, and has that all blessed pause button and adjustable time, it is a little frustrating that, rather than accepting plot jobs, they’re just… Given to you in spurts, with the main break being that “build something” main quests are not timed. Run out of time, game over, and, even with the generous timing, it does become a little tight if you’re not playing in a faaaairly optimised fashion. Add in special spies, which are their own “One time only” fun, and you’ve got something that toes the line between challenging (fun) and frustrating (not so fun.)

The difficulty curve is still relatively fair though, as, without distractions, I had to *work* to confirm game-overs from this particular mission.

Still, for all that I’m the kind of berk who doesn’t end up playing with any kind of optimisation in mind, I don’t mind Potato Spy Story. It isn’t going to rock socks, and the enjoyability of its puns depend on how dadly you’re feeling on a particular day, but it’s a relatively solid, easy to understand management game with only a few quibbles and flaws to its name. And that ain’t bad.

The Mad Welshman loves a good potato. Alas, he wouldn’t fit in with this world, considering he likes them best sliced, buttered, and baked.

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60 Parsecs! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£14.38 for both this and 60 Seconds)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, even the smallest things can have long term consequences. That was the core idea behind 60 Seconds, the first game in this series, and now, in 60 Parsecs (A joke title based on a common nitpick with Star Wars Episode IV), that same question is asked… But in SPAAAACE!

DIVE DIVE DIVE! Each character has their own animation for getting the heck out of about-to-be-nuked Dodge.

It also saves a little time, because it means I can say that if you liked 60 Seconds, odds are high you’d like 60 Parsecs, because the core is the same: You have 60 seconds to pick up as much survival gear as you humanly can, from tins of soup, to crewmembers, before your alternate 50s space station gets blown up, and from there… Hopefully find and survive in space, long enough to get rescued… Or for something else to happen. It depends on both luck of the draw and your choices.

I never thought, for example, of the many potential uses of the humble sock puppet. Morale booster, sanity keeper… And apparently, very useful for dealing with aliens who want to steal my soup? Huh, better write that one down then.

One thing that immediately leaps out about the writing (for lo, writing is a lot of what you’re going to see in the game, along with the slowly changing faces of your ever more haggard crew) is that its humour rarely, if ever, punches down. It could have been a mean game, considering its subject matter, but at no point did I feel belittled or groan at a line… Mostly, in fact, I was chuckling if not outright laughing. For a game about an apocalypse, and surviving in extremely hostile (and cramped) conditions, it’s light hearted, and pulled me in. When Baby Bronco, the buff, but not very smart crew member fell in love with me, it was over positive reassurance, a reminder that he was valued. That was kiiiinda undermined by my dying of rats the next day, but it was sweet, and I appreciated its presentation. Even if I didn’t quite appreciate the whole “eaten by rats” thing.

I mean… We went together, that’s gotta count as a romantic no- No, it doesn’t, does it? Welp…

So… Writing’s good, sound’s good, art style is good (unlike 60 Seconds, which tried 3d models for the “OHCRAP GRAB THINGS” portion, 60 Parsecs has a nice, consistent style throughout, well animated and presented) … What’s not so good? Well, it’s a core thing, and, as such, this is more of a “Be warned” than a thumbs down. Not having the right item in some situations kills you. Failing certain events kills you. You will die, and sometimes it’s for the silliest of reasons (The rat thing, for example, was because I’d sent Baby Bronco out with the very item I needed to deal with the rats… The day before.)

I’d say, for the most part, the charm of the game gets around this, but it should be noted that getting to the end of either of the 60 [time units] games is hard. A lot of the enjoyment is not so much in the destinations (Of which there are multiple, some hidden), but in the journey.

Overall, I kind of like 60 Parsecs. It does the thing it does quite well, it’s got a lot of charm to it, it tutorialises fairly well, and, when I find myself even chuckling at some of the gruesome ends I and my crew have fallen prey to, I feel like, tonally, it’s hit a good mark.

“LET ME IN, EDDIE!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t quite do that, Cap’n! I have *no* idea why, and it *certainly* isn’t sinister, nosirree!”

The Mad Welshman would probably not make a good captain. I mean, both Captains and Vaudevillains often have rocking moustaches, but that’s nowhere near the amount of similarity needed…

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Donut County (Review)

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

Donut County is one of those most pleasant of games for a critic: A game where, on its surface level, it’s tight, accessible, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, although I freely admit I wouldn’t have minded more.

I mean… [looks at library] He’s not… Wrong?

Just below that, however, only slightly concealed, is a fun little bit of political allegory that I can’t help but appreciate. How a donut hole, “driven” by a raccoon to cause chaos for, essentially, selfish reasons, symbolises a large part of what is wrong with capitalism. That’s the kind of thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

On its face, there’s an enjoyable game. You are a raccoon, directing a donut-hole around a map with the mouse, exploring a well styled low-poly world as you drop it all… Into the hole. Why are you doing this? Well, partly it’s to get revenge on people who annoyed your friend. Partly it’s because it’s a game, and it’s a fun thing to do in a game. But mostly, it’s because you’re almost a Level 10 employee, and when you hit Level 10? You get a cool quadcopter of your very own. That’s a good enough reason to drop large portions of a small town into a deep, hungry donut-hole that expands the more it’s fed, right?

It helps that often, filling that hole is, itself, a pleasurable and amusing activity.

Even if it didn’t go the extra mile narratively, you’ve got a fun game with a delightfully subversive message. The more you throw into the hole, the bigger it gets. You’re filling it, but the hole always gets bigger, because there’s bigger stuff out there to throw into your bigger hole. And, each level, you’re only satisifed when there’s nothing left… But the hole. And you’re told what a good job you’ve done as the person you’ve dropped down the hole is endlessly falling, and a little bar puts you ever closer to that quadcopter, the cool thing you’ve been promised if you only keep filling the hole.

But it does go that extra mile, and, inbetween every level, there’s a little segment, at the bottom of the hole, where the survivors (including the friend of main protagonist BK the Racoon) call BK out on the fact that he destroyed the entire town… To get a cool quadcopter. And, at first at least, he’s not the slightest bit guilty. He’s too busy being pissed that his supposed best friend, who he did this for, broke his quadcopter. He was only doing his job! He nominally did some good along the way! It’s totally not his fault!

There’s other things, too, later down the line, but this… This is some well crafted allegory. We like stuff! We want more stuff! But there’s only so much stuff, and a lot of it is, put bluntly, junk. But that’s okay, we’re playing a trashpanda, and what does a trashpanda like? Junk. They don’t necessarily understand it (as the Trashpedia humorously shows), it’s… It’s junk! You get junk, and getting junk is good! It’s better if it’s cool junk, sure, but it’s stuuuuufff! Some of that stuff was better off where it was, serving a useful function. Some of that stuff was distributing other stuff. But nope, hole’s gotta be filled, we have to have all the stuuuufff!

Legit creepy, sometimes, when you’re subtweeted by a literal Trash King.

I could go on, but it’s delightful, it’s clever, and it can be played in an afternoon. Then, if you feel like, you can do the completionist stuff, collect all the trash and do interesting things. And I would recommend that, because it’s fun, it’s simple, and it’s a balm in this stuff filled world we live in.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes a raccoon. He likes stuff!

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La-Mulana 2 (Review)

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

Being an Archaeologist is, in many senses, about being observant. Clues can be as subtle as a passage in a book, the curvature of glacially moulded hillscapes, or the precise composition of a flint arrowhead, and it’s important to be able to see, to understand what you’re seeing. Being a Ninja, if we go by popular depictions or otherwise, is about being observant. Being a covert agent is all about what you perceive, about how quickly you can sense danger, and, equally, about seeing opportunity where others merely see a surly major-domo (for example.) In both cases, livelihood (and sometimes, your life) depends on being able to clearly see the clues set in front of you by circumstance.

“Do not pursue Le-Meza!” doesn’t have quite the same ring, but yes, the protag’s dad always seems to be near the most devlish traps. I’m in the *POISON LAVA* on the left. Terrible parent, I swear…

And so, funnily enough, it is with La Mulana 2, a game that does explain its puzzles… It’s just not always in the places you’d expect. This is less surprising when you consider that the only family line to have successfully explored the La Mulana ruins (and, with your control, hopefully explore the Eg-Lana ruins that seemingly coincide with them) is a family of… Archaeologist Ninjas. Lemeza and Shawn, from the last game, and, the main protagonist of this game, Lemeza’s daughter Lumisa.

So, for those just catching up, La Mulana was, and is, a love letter to the MSX (One of Microsoft’s early attempts at “A computer on every desk” , an 8-bit system that found popularity in quite a few places, but most notably Japan and Brazil), and the action adventures that could occasionally be found on the system. It’s an action platformer, but with puzzles of all stripes, some of which will kill the unwary instantly, a variety of enemies, and, of course, bosses… Some of whom will kill the unwary instantly. Save early, save often, and investigate things. Oh, except that tablet. They told you not to read that tablet for a reason, don’t do that. That’s the Hard Mode Tablet.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Or that the game didn’t.

Bosses and NPCs alike take from a variety of mythological sources, from the Aztec, Mayan, Norse, and Celto-Gaelic cycles. Ixtab, for example, is the Mayan goddess of… Well, you can probably guess. 😐

Overall, La Mulana 2 is a more focussed, somewhat improved version of its predecessor. Awkward to no air control has become “A little air control” (and jumping puzzles designed around this), the early game is less punishing (You can, with just a little prep, take on all the minibosses and boss of the first area without serious weapon upgrades), the writing’s improved a little, and the art style is about the same as the remaster of La Mulana 1 (Solid pixel art, combined with some amusing hand-drawn characters for the conversations.) It controls relatively well (although the keybinds take some getting used to, and, even as an 8-bit kid, it took me a short time to figure out that F2 is for inventory, settings, and apps, and F1 is for conversation, the area map (if you’ve found it), and the area teleport interface. Swimming is still somewhat painful, alas, but we can’t have everything.

Thing is, La Mulana 2 does exactly what it sets out to do: Be a tough, but mostly fair adventure platformer, with a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic setting where not only were all myths real, they all had a single source, a progenitor who, as it turned out, just wanted to go home… And the world ending threat she represented. So, on the one hand, this review is very much a “Does what it says on the tin”, and, considering the Kickstarter campaign was on the platform of “Back this, and I will make a game that kills your character repeatedly” (not the exact words, but close enough), and the first game worked on exactly this notion… Yes, it does what it says on the tin. But I thought I’d finish up this review by describing the core loop of gameplay, because most people who get turned off by the game get turned off by the second part of the loop, and maybe hearing it will help.

At first, everything is very simple: You’ve opened doors, you’ve got the map to the area, you’ve remembered to ensure you can teleport to the area (by scanning the holy grail you normally save with), and you’ve killed pretty much everything you can kill that stays dead, such as minibosses. Good on you… But of course, the game isn’t over, and the question then arises… Well now what?

Once you’ve figured out part of the puzzle, the rest tends to fall into place. Which, let’s face it, is a good feeling.

Well, now you need to go somewhere new, solve some new puzzle, obviously. And sometimes, it seems like there’s no way forward. One optional example here is the chain whip. It’s a useful weapon, like your whip, but does double the damage, which is just enough not to hear the dreaded “tink” of “Haha, nope, this enemy didn’t even feel that.” But getting it involves observation, and the fact that you have water (poisonous), ice water (poisonous and cold), lava (hot), and poison lava (hot poison, and no, I’m not joking. Poison lava. Just for added “Screw you.”) All I will say is that identifying which is which is very valuable in determining whether a path is suicidally impossible… Or do-able, providing you know how to deal with the swimming. This is one example of where the way forward is there… You’re just not seeing it. Drawings on tablets give you hints to what these cryptic texts are talking about. Tablets tell you about things… Walls can look different, maybe crumbly, maybe hollow.

And then you find a way forward, and it probably kills you, because of something you hadn’t seen before. Sometimes it’s a miniboss. Sometimes it’s a new enemy. Sometimes, it’s gotcha traps, which, I’ll grant you, are a turn off (although even these mostly give clues to their presence… Even if the clues, sometimes, are bait.) But you know a way forward. Due to the relatively nonlinear nature of the game, it doesn’t even have to be the same path your friend took (I got two sigils before my friend did, but had to look at his footage to see where the hell the chain-whip was, for example.)

That, in the end, is the core of La Mulana 2: Explore, probably die a lot, save often so the deaths set you back less, find clues, find cool items and mythological beings to talk to (or fight), solve those puzzles, beat those bosses, eventually save the world, hopefully have a good time doing so. Despite being horribly stuck, I’m having fun, and I hope folks who get the game (if they do after reading this) enjoy it too, because while it’s sometimes old school, it’s a lot more fair than the old-school I’m used to. Looking at you, old text adventures… BITE LIP… Who the hell thinks BITE LIP is the proper solution to a puzzle, I ask you…

Even returning characters get some impro-H GODS, ALRIGHT, I’LL BUY SOME WEIGHTS, JUST DON’T HURT ME!

The Mad Welshman will draw the curtain on this review, to save you from a rant about the bullshittery of old text adventures… For now.

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Dead Cells (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £21.99 (+£4.04 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: SteamHumble StoreItch.IO

If you’ve looked at my past coverage of Dead Cells, you’ll know that I’ve been quite positive, and, over time, seeing things that I’d thought of as mild flaws within the game corrected, almost as soon as I thought of them. Motion Twin, as it turns out, have their heads firmly in the game, and now that Dead Cells is released?

It’s pretty nice! On the one hand, the game is a sort of deliberate twitch, in which you can hang back, but, in many situations, the best option is to get in there with one finger firmly controlling your dodge rolls, and the other on the weapon options. Combat with an enemy is never impossible, but the less you’ve found, weapon and power up wise, the more fraught it becomes.

Reminder: It’s not cowardice if your HP is this low. Even when it isn’t, it’s *being cautious* , and cautious goo blobs live longer. (But they probably won’t get the speedrun reward, booooo!)

In the Ossuary, for example, I never quite feel comfortable without some damage over time weaponry, like the Blazing Torch or Bleeding Sword, because the creatures that live specifically there are meaty, often quick, and their general theme is to punish both the close and unwary. Considering I am occasionally the latter, and often the former… Well, something where I can throw it, hide away for a second, then throw it again in order to get through relatively safely is my touchstone.

Part of the fun of Dead Cells, however, is that you don’t always get what you want, and adapting to the various weapon styles the game throws at you is important. Which makes it equally nice, then, that they’re easy to understand. Simple combos for each weapon mean that you very quickly “get” the weapon’s deal, and, equally, you can clearly see where there’s something you’ll be wanting to try and find later down the line. Somewhere. Somehow.

Example: There are doors. They don’t open right now, but they’re numbered. I’m not worried. Sooner, or later, I’ll work out what they’re there for, on the routes I have available. Similarly, I see areas only reached with a walljump, and I say to myself “Aha… I have to get further to get that.” The more you play, the more, seemingly, there is to find. Although that will, no doubt, have its limits as the end approaches.

This wasn’t here pre-release. And I’m okay with it being here, because I know, sooner or later, I’ll find the key(s) I need. Sooner… Or later…

It even has an interesting world, where, in the release version, Motion Twin have added something that was always subtly in the background, but is now available in a lot of the explorable lore of each area: Humour. This is, yes, an ooey-gooey game about smashing enemies into bits, before being smashed yourself, hopefully getting further each time, before being brutally killed and doing it all over again, from the beginning. But, as it turns out, our protagonist is a bit of a fish out of water. “Huh, all those bodies look a bit like… Me” , they think, examing what is presumably… Well, them, dead, over and over again. They do make the connection, but the subtle animation, the scratching of their slimey goop head, adds charm to it. The bratchests remain, just as bratty, just as into the act of being violently opened, and just as into punishing the player as they have been, but there are little bits where the protagonist lampshades the seriousness, such as the statue of the king. How did he see out of that helmet? Weird.

So, it’s got humour, and subtle humour at that. It’s got charm, it’s got good visuals, clean menus, and excellent sound design. What it also has is its core game loop, and this, fellow readers, is going to be your make or break with Dead Cells. Are you, the potential player, okay with the fact that, no matter how many shortcuts you do or don’t unlock, no matter what new toys you successfully get (You have to complete a level to keep them, complete more levels to attain them, after all), you are, upon death, going to be sent straight back to the beginning, albeit with some things retained?

Pile of oddly reminiscent corpses may or may not reflect number of deaths in game. Looks a little short for my playthrough so far…

Personally, the answer is yes, because it’s an interesting world, and I want to see more. But I can perfectly understand players who’d be put off by this, because, until a shortcut is unlocked (and you know roughly how to get there, and through it), every new area, every new miniboss, every elite enemy or even new enemies, are potential run enders. Many give visual clues to their function, but, in the end, how much you like Dead Cells depends on how comfortable you are with being sent back to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Okay Fine You Can Keep This Much Gold.

As mentioned, I’m fine with it. But it is a core part of the design, and I highly doubt it’s going away any time soon.

The Mad Welshman has died many times. But each time, he oozes back, because the Editors of Reality demand he keep up. Damn their galaxy-filled eyes…

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