MAIA (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.64

“Mr. Johnson, Aldis isn’t moving.”

“I say, not moving? Isn’t he perfectly fine with an 18 hour workday and sleeping on cold tile?”

“Er… I think he might be dead, Mr. Johnson.”

Well, that’s a crap work ethic!”

Pictured: A Crap Work Ethic

MAIA remains a Very British Game. What do we do when we have to concentrate on power, oxygen and food generation, and our colonists collapse? Why, we call down another one, every ten minutes, until the bally problem’s solved! Hurricanes? Oh, we’ll bunker down, we’ve done this before, and it’s not like we need all that oxygen right now. Or cooking. Or light. Twelve earthquakes in a row? Anybody dead or anything damaged? No? Well, carry on then.

It’s interesting just how dystopic it all is, from the improvements to the solar stills (Oh, we’ll just add this drug that helps keep colonists cool… Yes, it has nasty side effects if we use it too much, but naaaaah, that’d never happen!) to minor descriptions (The Body Storage, on mouse over, reveals that it is, in fact, the Snuff Box. Care for a pinch?)

But it works. There are, as you might expect from early access, still some bugs, and it’s a game that takes a while to get going, but nothing is insurmountable, and that’s nice. Yes, there will be things that seriously screw it up (If a megabeast decides your Geothermal Generator is the perfect place to scratch their back, well… Scratch one Generator), there will be obstacles, but everything has at least palliative solutions, if not always actual solutions. Air and heat, for example, are pretty quick to solve, and, even without beginning research, there are basic food solutions, you can meet your power needs (Especially if you happen to find some Geothermal vents near enough to build with), and your colonists…

Since animal-proof locks were considered surplus to budget requirements, yes, the native flora can and will invade your base. Thankfully, *nobody* is truly defenseless.

…Well, they can be helpful. You’ll quickly spot the middle manager types, because not only don’t they do much, they have this tendency of calling for meetings or wanting to suggest plans. Meanwhile, others will try to make the IMPs (Your friendly mining droids) sentient, work on improving heat insulation, offer to set your crops on fire to solve a crop infection… And some of this, among other offers they make, are legitimately helpful. They even write nice little haikus and strange ambient tunes, when they feel like it.

Despite a sometimes slow pace to the game, I legitimately enjoy MAIA. It’s got a clear aesthetic, and due to the fact that, barring something that wipes out all your colonists within a 10 minute window, you can come back from disasters, it’s also a fairly pleasant ride.

It is the far future. Space can be colonised, but nobody particularly wants to build a toilet. In spite of this, life has become good…

Welsh and villainous
I control your lives now
Dance gaily for me.

Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

For those who haven’t seen the Holy Potatoes series, they’re essentially games that futz with some established formulae, set it in a world where potato based people live, sprinkle in a boatload of referential humour, and set it into the wild. With Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?! (Yes, the punctuation is mandatory), Daylight Studios have taken on the cooking game genre… And, in the process, given it a very fitting title.

I somehow don’t think this is going on his account.

I mean, what else can you call a game where you, a trio of potato people (and additional, potato based cast) are chefs in Hell serving the souls of the damned in various, delicious, potato-based flavours to deities as you travel through the seven circles of Hell?

Gameplay wise, the basics are very simple: Feed the sinners into various pots to create ingredients. This takes time, you won’t be able to put more sinners in until your current batch is done, and each ingredient maker makes better quality ingredients if they fulfill certain arrangements. Early on, for example, very high sin makes for Good baked potato people. A little later on? Oh no, we’re not doing that “More is more” stuff, sins within a certain range are what makes the ingredients truly… Mwah. Anyway, those ingredients go into a pool, and, after a certain amount of prep time, your customers (an increasing cast of hungry deities) start demanding dishes. Each dish takes time to cook, the customers have requirements, and, for the early levels at least, you only have one stove. So the addition of potato drinks, in which you send dishes to be made into a delicious Baaleys, comes in. Baaleys in moderation delays those deities from getting angry and docking you Favour, serving within a reasonable time, to requirements, gets you Favour, and, while there’s a fair bit more mechanical gubbins than that, constantly expanding as you go through the circles of Hell to your “Reward” , those are the basics.

As it turns out, the Potato Holy Book is *really strict*

And yes, at no point have we lost sight of the fact that we are potato people, serving other potato people to potato deities, including Potato Loki (Sinstagram star), and Potato Thanatos (The actual Greek God of Death, who, in this game, guilts over his duties because, even though he doesn’t punish people directly, he still has to watch. Poor spud.) So… How does it feel to play?

Mostly pleasant, actually. For all its grisly premise, its sometimes disturbing sins (Mostly wacky, but sometimes icky, like “I stalked a politician, because I have no morals.” Ew. Ew ew ew.), the game is quite accessible, for several reasons. There are skip buttons for talkiness. Everything is clearly colour coded, and, where colour alone might suffice, shape coded or numbered clearly to boot. Tooltips are friendly and, again, clear. And, and I cannot stress this enough… There is a pause button. Oh, thank Potato God for that!

See, while I can certainly appreciate the high pace and stress of unpaused food making in, say, Cook, Serve, Delicious, a pause button is an option I like, because it gives me the option to remove a layer of play that I don’t want on top of what the game already has (Time and resource management, because, even without the pause button, I’ve had a few hairy moments where I’ve been running low on different flavours of sinners, and, in one area on the Second Circle, I was also running out of sinners. They were being cooked faster than they were coming in… And it still came close to not enough!) It also gives the game room to add more layers, which it’s been consistently doing throughout. The 3rd Circle, for example, introduces condiments and the aforementioned Baaleys.

Occasionally, you will be given the option to spare a Sinner, on the offchance they’ll make life easier.

The writing for the game isn’t going to wow. As mentioned, it’s got a setting, it’s setting itself up for humour (and a DRAMATIC TWIST), but mostly, what it’s setting itself up for is Potato and Hell puns. Enough puns, as with the other two Holy Potatoes! games, to make even the most devoted dad joke maker throw up their hands and promise to live a better life.

Overall, I somewhat enjoy the game. It’s accessible while also providing a challenge, it has, for all that it’s an excuse for potato jokes, an interesting premise which occasionally does raise interesting questions… And, y’know, potato jokes and oddball humour. At less than £6, it’s very reasonably priced, and I would honestly say it’s worth a go if you like cooking management type dealybobbers.

The Mad Welshman prefers to eat at Tony’s Hot Manna, down the street (metaphorically speaking.) Damn, those pizzas are heavenly!

Pit People (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’ve been staring at the page for a couple of minutes now, trying to marshall my thoughts. Behemoth’s strange worlds tend to do that to you, and Pit People… Well, Pit People is a doozy, world wise. A strange, disconnected world that somehow still works, both bright and malevolent. But, before we talk about that, let’s talk about the game itself.

Not pictured: Everything is bouncing to the music. The world is very much alive.

Pit People is a game with turn based combat, but real time exploration, where you explore the shattered world to which you belong, doing quests as Horatio the Boring Blueberry Farmer and his cohorts, gathered through accident, capture, and the whim of the malevolent and petty Narrator. It also has co-op and PVP, and it’s hard enough to describe that, for the first time in perhaps ever, I’m going to be putting one of my stream videos here. Warning, there are cries of “What the helllllll?!”

A lot of them. In any case, Pit People is quite accessible (Blue and Red are the main colours), easy to learn (the various character types are fairly well tutorialised, as are weapons and armour), and a little bit grindy (You have a loot limit in exploration, meaning multiple trips or a co-op partner if you want to collect things) , but, thanks in part to the Behemoth art style (simple, clear, characterful), in part to the music (pumping), and in part to the occasional interjection by the narrator (voiced by Will Stamper, the narrator of Battleblock Theater), it doesn’t feel that much of a grind a lot of the time. Enemies can be avoided in the exploration, with cannons or with movement, battles are usually over moderately quickly (And the rock-paper-scissors type elements are easy to understand.)

Yes, I actually quite like how Pit People is going.

Story wise, it’s… A thing. A giant, dying space bear crashed into the world, shattering it and turning it into a post-apocalyptic hellscape, where its malevolent god, The Narrator, malevolently snickers and directly manipulates events. He’s taken an interest in Horatio, a humble Blueberry Farmer, and so a great adventure begins. An adventure in a world where cupcakes are people (and also delicious), Queen Isabella waits to conquer the world, and the evil Helmetites (so called because they wear helmets, you know?) bully the weak. Oh, and there are pit fights, demiclops, medusas, ghosts with keyboards… It’s all very strange. It would perhaps be unbearably so, if it weren’t for the black humour provided by the Narrator’s pettiness, and the charm of how most of the characters speak nonverbally, but somehow clearly. “After giving her half of his remaining blueberries…” , “HUH? HUMEHUHNUH!”, “NO, you GAVE her your BLUEBERRIES.”

Why yes, that *is* a Cupcake Friend. He has waffles. And buttercream…

See? Perfectly clear! Pit People is perhaps the first game where I’d recommend watching the stream video, which covers the earliest moments in the game, then decide for themselves. I happen to like it, but tastes may vary widely.

The Mad Welshman gave his ups to Pit People [HUH? HUHME] YOU GAVE YOUR UPS TO PIT PEOPLE, JAAAAMES.

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.