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.

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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!

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Oxygen Not Included (Oil Update, Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I can, even at this relatively early stage of Klei’s survival sim, see a few obvious things. Firstly, due to the very nature of Oxygen Not Included, I get easily frustrated. Secondly, plumbers and electricians are deities among humankind. Not a lot of this makes sense until you realise that the core element of the game is that it’s a survival management game… In a closed system. Oxygen is most definitely not included. It must be earned. And, past about day 10, this is a near constant struggle.

Yes, I get frustrated with it easily. But that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the vision here.

When Digging Out Water-Pools Backfires Horribly, a TMW Special.

In any case, the basic idea is very simple: You start with three “Duplicants” (clones, basically), stranded mysteriously by a teleporting gate (that also, periodically, is able to “print” new Duplicants.) They start with a ration box, and a small room that has some oxygen, and from there? Well, everything. Outhouses. You need those. And sinks to clean up. Wait, now you need water to wash with. Beds. Food. Electricity to power de-oxidisers and research stations. Algae to run those de-oxidisers, and dirt and more water for research. Wait, crap, you forgot about the carbon dioxide buildup, got to put that somewhere… And the poop. And the bad water. And so it goes, on and on until you’re trying to displace all the waste heat your generators and de-oxidisers and wires and pipes are making.

It is, perhaps, the first game I’ve come across where it becomes more complicated the more established you are. Because, of course, all of these actions, from growing to laying pipes to manning fans and giant hamster wheels, take time. And sure, more people will mean more gets done, but more people also means more CO2 generated. More food eaten. And, because Duplicants have flaws like consuming more oxygen than their compatriots, having a weak bladder, farting a lot… You have to choose your Duplicants wisely, as well. Heck, everything has to be chosen wisely, and, as I’ve mentioned, the further you get, the bigger the scale of the things you have to do, to deal with the buildup of problems over time. I highly expect, by the time I get to day 50, that I’ll have to build an oxygen pump at the top of my base, running a heat dissipating pipe through several areas I don’t care about (but will have to dig through and survive), before finally pumping that good, and most importantly, cooler air near the bottom of my base. Not the exact bottom, you understand… I have to have somewhere the CO2’s going to… Oh wait, now I need to dig down. Crap.

Not Pictured: Me panicking as I realise I’m going to run out of Algae *and* Hydrogen before I can build and power a Slime to Algae Converter.

Right now, there isn’t an end-goal to the game, although there are tantalising hints and things to be discovered. Offices, isolated in the middle of this asteroid in nowhere. Vending machines, with notices not to put harmful materials in. Brains in jars, that give your Duplicants new or improved skills, providing you find them. And, of course, beasties. The simple Hatch, which can be useful for their ability to eat things and poop coal, but will also, unchecked, eat the food destined for your colonist’s bellies. The Slimepuff, which can make slime in areas of polluted oxygen… Whether you want them to or not. And, of course, germs. There’s more, obviously, but I want at least some mystery for the new player.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where Oxygen Not Included goes, because when it comes to survival games, you can’t really top this in terms of challenge without becoming deeply unfair and unfun. As it is, I can see the long-term frustration inherent to its core premise turning folks off, but I also appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that’s gone into making even surviving to 100 days plus possible without resorting to “Eh, this thing just makes the air cooler/adds oxygen/just removes a need” to this point.

MYSTERY!

The Mad Welshman is pleased to announce that Klei have entered the hallowed ranks of “These developers slightly intimidate me.” He politely asks that they not abuse this honour.

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Going Back – Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 and 2

Ahhh, the dungeon management genre, how I love it so. Defeating those righteous do-gooders with the promise of treasure, and maybe even a fellow dungeon owner that doesn’t agree with my platform of Mine, Mine, Mine. Which makes Dungeon Manager ZV 1 and 2 somewhat interesting, as the two games take very different approaches to, effectively, the same subject.

One problem for a reviewer is that it can sometimes be hard to get timing down. For example, there *was* a King Slime, and a powerful one, in that middle square. There isn’t now. And soon, those red dots will reach my boss. Dammit.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital Edition (to use its full name) hit the Western world in October 2015 (It had originally been developed in 2004), and… Well, it’s a game where the options expand as you play, but you’d be forgiven, for playing the game for an hour or two, to think that there was little beyond building rooms, watching heroes come in, and then they go and do whatever the heck they want, occasionally dying, occasionally leaving, and always, always aiming for the final treasure in your dungeon and the death of your boss monsters. If the last treasure in the dungeon goes, whoops, you’ve lost.

Thing is, there’s actually a lot more that can be done than the first, near-surface level game implies, and here comes both the draw and the problem of DMZV in general: Because it isn’t terribly clear at times, you’ll make mistakes on your first run, mistakes you won’t always be able to correct, and won’t always be made clear as mistakes until hours later, when the Big Boys of herodom come and play. Although there are multiple saves, that’s a lot of either work or faffing around that’s going down the drain.

This is a very un-optimal first level. Although, to be fair, those two slimes are the only two to have survived past heroes achieving level 3 to date.

Equally, there is an optimal play considering you always have a 3×3 grid to play with on each floor, and any room connects with every other adjacent room: One long path filled with your heavier monsters, nastier traps, and the like… And one, very short path, filled only with monsters beneath the notice of the groups you encounter, leading straight to your final boss. And you have to make it clear the difference in difficulty from the first room, as groups only judge where to go by adjacent rooms. The more heroes you kill, the more you let some vital few escape to tell the tale (having been satisfied by murdering some of yours, or defeating your traps… All the better to lure bigger, better heroes in), the more you can do. At first, it’s only traps, capped at the dungeon level you’re in, and some simple monsters. But once those monsters level up, you can merge them, making new, nastier monsters. You can change the elements of floors, giving advantage to certain types. You find Dragon Eggs. And, of course, treasures can change things up too.

Unfortunately for DMZV1, there is somewhat of a flaw: Very quickly, certain monsters are outpaced, so it becomes tougher to level them up so you can get them to be able to meld with other monsters. Also, time will proceed unless you’re holding down the CTRL key or have set it to Freeze, so keeping track of everything, even on slow, can become a slog. As such, while DMZV1 is interesting, it’s also a deeply, deeply unfriendly game.

Ah, how right you are, random Dungeon Invader. [finishes another review, sits back with a smile]

DMZV2, on the other hand, changes the formula. It’s still, at its heart, a tower defense game, but now it has puzzle elements, sprites and tiles, and a friendlier interface. The general idea is still the same: Monsters, it seems, are getting a lot of stick, and the Lord of Dungeons is beseeched to create a dungeon so deadly, so alluring, that it will bring even the king of the land to it, to be murdered horrribly as vengeance for all those cute slimes being murdered. Dungeon features are unlocked in a main campaign mode consisting of, well, puzzles. How do we stop the adventurers from taking the objective in the time allotted to us? With fireballs, traps, and a succubus who is not terribly good at hand to hand, but can summon zombies (Remember, the ZV stands for Zombie Vital!), and shoot rather nasty magic, so long as the ghostly power of heroes who were satisfied until we killed them horribly lasts out (Obviously, we get that ghostly power by satisfying their needs, then murdering them horribly before they can leave. Priorities, folks, priorities!)

It is, so far, my favourite of the series, because, although the unlocking of features to use in the Create A Dungeon mode is through the campaign, that extension of DMZV1 and Resurrection’s “You get more things to play with the more you play”, it has selectable difficulty (indeed, Easy is mandatory the first time), the ability to go back, and the sound and visuals are less straining on a nice long game. It’s also, to my mind, the most characterful of the three, with at least some heroes introducing themselves, the sprites having their own character, and, sometimes, the black humour in levels. One of the early easy levels has you doing… Well, exactly nothing. The dungeon’s set up pretty much perfectly, and it harms your ability to murder folks to interfere with a trap setup that catapults heroes in laps round the dungeon until they die from impact damage.

And it’s not about you adventurers either, that go round and around and arou-

Finally, to my knowledge, this is the only game in the series with an expansion, released earlier this year. A fairly cheap one, too, with extra puzzle dungeons, 10 extra items, and second sets of transformations of monsters into better, nastier forms for, around £3. In fact, both of the first games and the expansion comes to just over £13 for all three in a bundle. It’s pretty reasonable, although DMZV1 and the newly released (and separately reviewed) Resurrection both involve making mistakes that you may not notice for an hour or two. Try them out if you like to see interesting experiments with dungeon management games.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 is available on Steam here, and DMZV2 here. Both pages have a link to the bundle.

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Dungeon Manager ZV Redux (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Dungeon Manager series has had an odd place in both my mind and heart since I was first made aware of the first localised installment (Dungeon Manager: Zombie Vital Edition.) They are, undeniably, tower defence games in a sense, although, as you’ll see from the Going Back on DMZV and DMZV2, they’ve gone in a couple of different directions, and I kind of like them… But one thing I can’t deny is that I’m never sure if I’m playing it right. And that’s never a great feeling.

On the one hand, this is a fairly established dungeon. On the other, that’s a *big* group of adventurers.

In any case, the general idea is that you, the Dungeon Overlord, have become somewhat tired of those heroes killing monsterkind, again and again, so you’ve decided to make a dungeon. A dungeon that will grow, tempting greater and greater heroes inside to be given hopes, then slain, until finally, you destroy kings. So you dig out a dungeon (in this installment, by basically “painting” it with the mouse), place traps, enemies, and monsters (within set limits, and starting with only a limited toolset) , and then?

You wait. Heroes arrive periodically, and from there… Well, this is where the mileage begins to vary. See, the heroes and monsters alike move and attack in a fashion best described as “Bumblefucking.” They have some rough idea of the direction they’re heading, but seem to bump into walls, fumble their way around, and, in the case of monsters, suddenly shift priorities from someone they were sure to kill to someone who could (and does) easily murder them. And yet, despite all this, heroes will find their way to chests, they do find their way through the dungeon, and the monsters do manage to kill folks.

Killing them too early isn’t great, but it’s serviceable, as it still grants you bones with which to summon zombies and traps. Kill them after they’ve satisfied some of their needs (which, yes, includes killing your monsters), and you get Spirit, which can be used for slimes, building new kinds of traps, and other fun stuff along the way. Let them escape after satisfying their needs, and they talk up the dungeon, slowly increasing the fame of the dungeon, and the power of the heroes invading it. Playing through the tutorial once thankfully gives you the basic idea, and there are hints that give you further possiblities (Why not build an “easy” path to the boss monster(s) so low level characters can be easily fed to them, and a “hard” path so more experienced heroes get tempted away from that “easy” path?)

Clicking on an adventurer or monster’s icon can tell you more, and, in the case of the adventurers, there’s a world hinted at.

“But wait, doesn’t that mean eventually low level monsters eventually become useless?” Well, not quite. See, with Resurrection, the option now exists to invade the surface world, in a wave based monster on hero combat. At the price of temporarily and completely depopulating your dungeon afterwards, even level 1 zombies and slimes have at least a chance to level up and become the murderbeasts you need to progress. Oh, yeah, combining monsters of high level together gets you new monsters. Better monsters. Two zombies, for example, make a Half-Golem, while two of those become a Golem, a slime and a zombie becomes a Melty Zombie, and two of those becomes a Core Ghost, and two slimes becomes a Big Slime, and so on… There’s a fair few combinations, and due to the fact that monsters gain abilities in this game, they get a little nuance and character of their own.

Of course, all of this has been mechanical talk. How does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel? Well, this is where it gets a bit awkward. I don’t particularly feel invested in the dungeon building itself, the sound effects are okay (Although it’s easy to get tired of them), and there is a single music track in-game that is pumping, but like the sound effects, feels repetitive after a while. What I do feel invested in, on the other hand, is finding out what makes what. And, since this game appears harder to outright lose than the original Dungeon Manager, I can do that a little bit at a time. The game autosaves, with the options to clear the dungeon, but keep your monsters (Initialise Dungeon) or to just plain restart (Initialise Save… The localisation’s okay, but definitely not perfect.)

As with main dungeon mode, you have no control over the monsters’ actions. But it is fun to see adventurers getting overwhelmed!

It’s not a game that feels all that deep, although there are hidden complexities under the hood, and it’s certainly not going to be impressing anybody graphically (Although I was interested by the developer, Studio GIW, going back to letters, but in pseudo-3d, rather than the tile or sprite based monsters of the previous game.) My main recommendations, here, would be to fantasy game strategy fans who want to see something somewhat different, with no short-term pressure, and who are okay with the fact they’re going to be doing a fair amount of micromanagement even without having direct control of their dungeon denizens.

The Mad Welshman is, of course, a Dungeon Lord of some standing. Why, he’s run more than six dungeons, in six worlds, and none of his minions have ever filed a complaint!

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