Hot Lava! (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Saying the words “First Person Platforming” is, in the majority of cases, a phrase to make one shudder. It’s rarely replied to politely, and, while there have been good games with first person platforming and movement elements, they’re rare enough that, for the most part, they don’t go down well.

Not pictured: The fifteen other attempts to get the sub 5 minute star, the buckets of sweat dumped over me, the grunts of EFFORT and the Body English. Also that this is a still of the middle of a series of jumps that take about a second, maybe a second and a half.

So it’s perhaps a good start for me to say that the most shudderworthy part of Hot Lava, a game that entirely revolves around first person platforming, was its attempt at a Saturday Morning Cartoon theme, and the lampshady humour about SatAm writing. Also the really thin poles, but we’ll get to those.

From what I can tell, the story of the game, such as it is, is that you’re a child with a highly active imagination (Who, as in my childhood, seems to be going through an “Imaginary self” phase), who is playing “The Floor Is Lava” , that game where the whole point isn’t to touch the carpet or flooring, because if you do… If you doooo… You’re sooooo dead. Because the floor is lava!

Now add in a score mechanic, collectibles, fake loot boxes bought with in-game currency, character customisation of your Action-Man jointed avatars, time-trial leaderboards, a pogo stick for some challenges, and a whole host of tricks and traps that could conceivably be how a child would imagine the danker and hidden parts of the school (like the ventilation being filled with deadly fans and crusher traps), and you have Hot Lava in its present, Early Access state.

Guess who gets the Boy Aquaman(TM) Short End of the Stick? #GiveSueNamiAChanceHackWriters

Aesthetically and accessiblity wise, insofar as a game about, basically, speedrunning a first person platforming level is pretty good. I never outright failed to notice something I could (in theory) jump to, there’s a checkpoint marker that is, unfortunately, not often all that useful, but it is there, and clear to boot, I had no problems with menu options or colourblindness issues, and things that can be swung from or grappled are highlighted well. The controls are, at their basic level, pretty simple: Tap space to jump, WASD to move, you control your jump mainly by mouse direction, rather than strafing, and you automatically grab anything that you can grab and have successfully reached.

Of course, for the “Pros” (ARGH) , there are tricks like perfect jump timing, a variation on Quake Bunny Hopping (If you jump, and both strafe and turn in a direction, then jump with the right rhythm, alternating directions, your momentum increases. A lot), and other such shenanigans. Oh, and a hidden comic and golden pin somewhere in the level, further cementing that one of the inspirations here (Beyond the child-to-tween-hood of a 30-40 something) is the Tony Hawks series. Or maybe Dave Mirra Pro BMX…

Scratch that, I have very unfond memories of playing the latter. In any case, the game, overall, feels alright, and you quickly get into the rhythm, except for the times you’re lost (The game relies on replay, so that’s less of a sin than you’d think), the times the way forward is awkward (Such as in the Ventilation Tunnels Of Crushing and Fanblades) , and… Thin rods that you have to jump on. The first person equivalent of “Pixel perfect platforming”, I despise them so, and am grateful that their somewhat easier to deal with cousin, Thin Rods You Can Jump On And Run Across, don’t have a tightrope or grind balance mechanic to – that is not a suggestion, Klei Entertainment… koff… Just to clarify.

Unlike either 80s playsets or loot boxes, the playsets of Hot Lava don’t ask for your blood, soul, money, or grandparents. All you need is to play. Plaaaaay. Plaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy!

As much as it feels odd to say this, Hot Lava… Looks promising. And this, funnily enough, is why I didn’t delay this review until the second area (Billed for about a week after the review hits) arrived… Because, even at this early stage, it’s oddly fun. With the exception of the SatAm theme… Sorry, folks, I know some SatAm themes were abominable, but that’s no excuse, dammit!

The Mad Welshman, overall, recommends this. The lava has told him it will eat all his favourite socks if he doesn’t. Joke’s on the lava, he likes the game anyway, and never mastered the art of wearing matching pairs.

Become a Patron!

Antigraviator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

As Future Racers go, Antigraviator is an interesting, but slightly flawed one. It’s trying something different, and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t really change that it doesn’t, entirely at least, work well.

I would like to apologise for being good enough at Future Racing games that this is the only mid-pack screenshot I have.

So, it’s a Future Racer, so there’s gravity hovercraft wot go fast, a lot of tracks in varying locales in tournaments of increasing difficulty, a boost start (Gotten by holding accelerate just as 2 vanishes and 1 is about to count), and… No context for any of this. Nope, this is a racing tournament, just a racing tournament, and that’s all good, with no in-game lore. Interesting move.

But, make no mistake, the tracks are very pretty. Even in the first tourney, you go from a “standard” city setting, to racing over the ocean, through a canyon system, and in orbit. It’s lush, and it’s fast, and it’s here we start to see this minimalist future racing game fight with itself, design wise.

It’s fast, and there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of blind jumps and turns, sometimes quite hard ones, sometimes in quick succession. But don’t worry, because only grievous collisions slow you down more than a tadge, and, unless you’ve gone for a low armour craft (more on that later), getting blown up by anything short of leaving the track (an instant explosion if you don’t land on the track, followed, in most cases, by respawn and loss of all speed you’ve built up) is quite tough. Okay, cool, these design decisions appear to have cancelled each other out for an alright, if odd baseline. But then we hit the Deathmatch mode of races, and they’re longer, and harder to lose, precisely because you have so much armour (and so do some of the other racers.) So, how do you blow people up?

Well, instead of weapon pickups, you have, at pre-determined points of the track, traps. Some are near-certain killers (like the reverse controls/magnet trap) , some are, basically, weapons (the missile), and the rest vary between fitting and slightly silly, deadly and slowing. Most require someone to be in front of you to trigger, give you a temporary immunity that usually gets you through the trap yourself, and have the good feature of telling you whether they caught somebody.

The first time playing, it goes straight to the mandatory tutorial. Not sure how I feel about that.

Unfortunately, they also require you and the other racer to be in a specific set of ranges to trigger, which conflicts, somewhat, with the other main mechanic, boost energy. See, going fast by collecting boost cylinders, and then boosting with the up arrow (2 cylinders per boost, and you can chain them pretty quickly) means that, funnily enough, you can end up first very quickly, so most of these traps… No longer mean much to you, especially if you stay far ahead enough that traps mean nothing. Even if, due to the fact the AI racers are fairly good, you’re not in first, you’re going quickly enough that, by the time the icon on the back of your ship lights up to show a trap has gone off, by the time it tells you a trap is ready, and by the time you look away from your real visual focal point of the track ahead of the ship (because you’re going very fast) … You miss your chance. The better a racer you are, the less you get to see or use a feature.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t have good answers for alternatives beyond the traditional, and I can also see why the traditional is being turned down here: It democratises things, to an extent, as the traps are track dependent, not based on loadout, or pre-genned track items, or a semi-random weapon pickup. The higher armour definitely helps ensure you can keep your speed (mostly) in track design that just wouldn’t work if, for example, wall and other ship collisions seriously hurt you, so the developers can use all those blind, sharp corners and jumps that normally, I would be crying hatred for, from the word go… Indeed, the final track of the second tournament, Michael’s Bay, earns my ire for being more hostile than the tracks bracketing it on either side, a solid and frustrating difficulty spike in a game otherwise able to mitigate that.

Finally, we get to the customisation options, and my greatest mystification. Scaling costs, I somewhat understand, but they’re applied inconsistently. Non-body parts, for example, don’t have nearly the steep cost rises that the two other body types (one tankier, one the “hard mode” craft that’s supremely fast, but has far inferior handling and shields), and… The colour schemes?

Accessibility note: The cost of the item should not be below the stat bar, and should be bigger than it is. The cost is 100,000.

No, really… The final colour scheme costs almost as much as the hard mode body part, and each colour scheme is more expensive than the last, because… I genuinely couldn’t tell you. I have no answer here, and it both confuses and annoys.

In the end, with the odder exceptions aside, Antigraviator is actually fun. It manages to be fun despite its design decisions fighting each other like design decisions were a cage match. Its online play has rankings, but remains fun, and the quick race mode means, unless you want to buy from the somewhat limited part set, you don’t have to engage with the tournament structure, just… To have a good time. Doesn’t change the fact it confuses me greatly, but it does make recommending it for what it is slightly easier. Worth a go to see something different being done in Future Racing, a genre that, amusingly enough, has been highly resistant to formula changes.

Spaaaaace. <3

The Mad Welshman likes walls, so he’s glad he’s been given so much leeway to grind against them in racing.

Become a Patron!

Fhtagn! Tales of the Creeping Madness (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I do love me some Lovecraftian shenanigans. I also love party visual novels. So you can perhaps imagine my pleasure when I saw Fhtagn! (Pronounced Fuh-tagh-un, Fe-Tahh-gun, or Steve), which is both of these things, involving the summoning of Dread Lord Cthulhu (who sleeps and is dead in his island city until the Stars Are Right comes on the telly.)

Ahh, the sleepy town of Arkham, home of scenic Night Terrors and a solid, if mind-bending academic institution!

It is, in its basics, a very familiar formula: There are up to four players in local co-op, eight locations, seven stats, six turns, and eight possible endings in the base game. With two tasks per location, each giving some combo of three stats (Except gambling at Madame Fufu’s), and only one player allowed per location, it’s up to the players to get their stats up to the major and minor requirements of their chosen ritual by succeeding in stat based events and upping stats with their chosen activity, while…

…Ah, now this is where it gets interesting. As I found out when streaming the game, just one of the players succeeding in their ritual isn’t enough for a victory… So there is a co-op element… It’s just, by its layout, you expect it to be competitive. Good trick!

In any case, this is one of those games where the writing is important, and is it good? It is! The humour in this game lands a lot more than it misses, like how a spicy burrito coming back to haunt your cultist can, in some circumstances, actually bring you closer to your goal… Whether that’s by successfully blaming your gastric upset on someone else, or by holding it in and inspiring the cult to greater eldritch dancing by your own tortured contortions. It’s a game aware of, and affectionately parodying its inspiration, while also sidestepping a lot of the stuff that makes liking Lovecraft’s work rather awkward (You know, like the fact that a lot of it is based on racism as well as the limitations of rationalism.)

IA! IA! HOWARDU FHTAGN!

Aesthetically, it also hits the shoggoth on the (nominal) noggin, with some lively, jazzy music to get you into that roaring 20s mood, some good animations, and, in the Mayor’s office, Himself rules over Arkham, perhaps for a Newer, Better Deal… Well, until we wreck the place and summon the Older, Awful Deal, anyway…

As to flaws, I can’t really pick anything out as more than a minor niggle, for two reasons: While the base game itself is quite short (In less than 2 hours, which includes a lengthy stream, I have 5 of the 8 endings), the developers are adding content quite soon to the game, and it has a content creation tool, which some folks have already added things, and you can, too (LINK)

As such… It’s tightly designed, fun to play with friends, got a lot of humour and charm, and you can make new content for it? That’s two squamous appendages up, Fhtagn!

LovecraftianMood.JPG

The Mad Welshman has only two squamous appendages, so this is a hefty endorsement indeed!

Become a Patron!

One Deck Dungeon

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £7.19 (Phoenix’s Den DLC :  79p)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Here’s another one that caught me off guard with the release. Yes, One Deck Dungeon, a game I reviewed about two months ago is out. Its main addition? A gauntlet mode, in which the masochistic can try and beat all the dungeons in one go.

The Lich’s special ability is frustrating. Turns out Liches are like small children playing Cops and Robbers.

Considering I wasn’t sure I could beat the main dungeons without the Hero Progression system they added… I can’t really say much about that.

So, to recap, One Deck Dungeon, a computer game based on the tabletop game of the same name, has up to two adventurers, each with a special ability, try to make their way through one of five dungeons, based on a single deck of possible encounters, random loot, and a boss at the end. Each dungeon has special rules, such as the Lich’s Tomb, which removes all dice rolling a 2 (Combined with encountering an Ethereal, who removes 1s and 3s, this dungeon can get painful) , and a boss at the end. Everything is resolved by rolling dice, fitting dice of the required number or above into boxes with numbers to prevent damage, losing time, or other fun things, and this can be aided with skills, potions, and each heroine’s special ability.

Nice to see a game with all-women protags, to be quite honest.

The Ethereal, similarly, is quite evil. But still, that loot… I need that looooooot!

Everything said in the previous review with the appearance of fairness (Yes, it’s dice, but skills can affect them, multiply them, reroll them… Skills go a long way to helping), the aesthetic (Solid, if workmanlike in places), and the dungeon deck (Could do with some extra variation) still stand. But one thing has served to improve the game, for me, at least, quite a bit. Hero Progression.

See, with the base abilities, the later dungeons can best be described as the sound of a table being flipped through a monitor, which is itself being thrown through a window. They’re punishing. But finishing a dungeon lets you, with Hero Progression on, unlock useful things in four basic categories: Basic, Healing, Combat, and Dungeon. I’ve mainly gone with a Healing build, and it’s been fun to go through the lower dungeons to get basic abilities, do the higher dungeons, just… Levelling up. As you would. I asked, last time I took a look, if the game could be more fair. And the answer, funnily enough, was “Yes, here’s a big step toward that.”

So, in summary, One Deck Dungeon is fun. Its music is alright, its aesthetic mostly solid, and it’s pretty clear to understand and play. It could do with some extra monster variety, but, overall, it’s alright as it is. Just… Turn Hero Progression on if you’re having trouble, eh?

Another 3 Star Dungeon, another… Three armour for every enemy on the third level. Well, good for me I brought the Warrior then!

Dungeons… Dungeons never change.

Become a Patron!

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.

Become a Patron!