Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: To Be Released soon. (Was $19.99)
Where To Wishlist It: Itch.IO , Steam

Nowhere Prophet continues to impress. And frustrate. Its world is intriguing, its difficulty mostly solid at this point, even if those rare exceptions… Frustrate the hell out of me. Still, that’s something to get to, so let’s backtrack a second and remind ourselves about Nowhere Prophet overall.

Each area of the route is predominantly of a single faction, although events are common to all areas.

Nowhere Prophet is an Indian themed post-apocalypse (Untouchables stand side by side with cybernetic horrors, and Rajs with mutated beasts), in which you, a Prophet, hear the last, garbled words of a fallen “star” (Satellite), and set out for the Crypt, the Promised Land which may or may not have the power to heal this ruined world. You set out with disciples, facing the world, and trying to balance your own health, and the efficacy, health, and morale of your followers. It’s a battle of attrition, as only perfection will allow you to escape the fights and trials unscathed… And these are many, while you and your followers are… Not so many.

Since I last took a look at Nowhere Prophet, it’s actually mostly done, with a closed beta until release. Areas are in, the intro and map have been spruced up, and there is, generally speaking, the more I had been curious about last time. It still hasn’t got an amazing amount of variety music wise, but the music that’s there is good, the visuals are both clear and striking, and the events mostly interesting and adding a little to the world, with extra possibilities unlocked by certain types of followers, number of followers or batteries (the currency of the world), or your level in the three philosophies (Believers, Scholars, or Altruists.)

This is bad. This is very bad. Yup.

Combat, meanwhile, is a Hearthstone like affair where, each turn, you have a limited pool of energy from which to summon followers and effects, which grows each turn (or with certain abilities), a limited battlefield in which (mainly) only frontliners can attack, and interesting obstacles and items on the field, such as Soft Cover, which gives health to those summoned nearby, or Acid Plants, which, if destroyed, also damage the entire column they’re on. Killling the enemy leader wins you the battle, while if your Prophet is killed… Well, game over. And, over time, you grow more familiar with what lies where, and what factions have which sorts of decks.

And this, funnily enough, is where the frustration sometimes happens. You see, some Elite and Boss decks are nasty, and, regardless of how far I’ve come, meeting these particular ones can be a slow, demoralising death. The Barrier Swarm (Rusters, the Cyborg/Robot faction.) The ArmourBoi (Union of the Five Fingers.) The Endless Taunt (Feral Wanderers, the bandit/beast faction.) These three decks in particular are annoying, because… Well, there’s seemingly not that much that consistently counters them, and their entire focus is “No, you can’t, in fact, hit me, you got more to worry about.” And, since they’re on Bosses and Elites, well… You’d have to do a lot of damage to take them out before they get going.

YOU’RE NOT WRONG, TOOTHY ONE!

But this, essentially, is more of a gripe than anything else, and I can relatively consistently get to at least the third map, with still more to explore, such as Daily Challenges, and, of course, working out how to unlock various tribes and leaders, for more deck exploration. Nowhere Prophet remains pretty interesting, and I’m happy to report that.

Normally, I would wait until release. But I noticed that I hadn’t reviewed in a while, and it has changed… Quite a bit!

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Black Paradox (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£13.74 for game+soundtrack, £5.79 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Hey you! Do you remember the 80s? How about something more recent that remembers the 80s, Vaporwave? Okay, okay, let’s make this a little easier? How much do you know about shooting spaceships in procgenned patterns that then go boom, followed by a bigger boss spaceship, and doing that until you go boom, at which point you get points to buy better stats, then do it again?

Ah, okay, I feel we reached the maximum number of folks with that last one.

As soon as I saw this, I thought: “Yes, this is exactly the mood the game is going for: Blowing shit up with MURDERKEYTAR.”

So yes, Black Paradox is a shoot-em-up, of the horizontal variety, where you, a bounty hunter with duplication powers called Black Paradox, shoot space pirates, cowboys, and other ne’er do wells, beat bosses in a space DeLorean, and, when you die, you get the chance to use the money you earned to buy upgrades. Not new weapons, mind you, because weapons drop from Carriers in level, and it’s random what you can pick up, but stat upgrades, to things like health, attack, speed, and fire rate (With added percentage chance of something extra per shot, according to the chip you slot.)

So, what’s it like? Well, I feel like the main good points are its aesthetic, and the energy of its weapons. Aesthetic wise, Black Paradox is trying for a Vaporwave aesthetic, a style that pays an odd kind of homage to the 80s styles while also ambiguously satirising the consumer culture of the period. So, on the one hand, synth tunes with a distinct 80s feel, bike helmets, big triangles, and, on the other, parodies of popular 80s icons like Lobo, Tex Hex, and the Master Blaster duo. It’s mostly surface level, but it does work moodwise.

I don’t feel like fighting this guy, where’s a wisecracking horse, a bad comedy sidekick, and a sheriff with animal powers when you need them?

As to the weapons, well, there’s quite a few of them, and, beyond the bog standard gun with middling round bullets wot go pew pew pew, there are lasers, deadly boomerangs, railguns, flamethrowers… Each weapon acts pretty differently, and some, like the railgun, are definitely meant for use on bosses or big enemies only. What matters is that they are all, from the weakest to the strongest, chunky and exciting to use. I love being slowed down by the Dart Punk, my missile pods wrecking anything silly enough to stay in the way. I love filling the screen with boomerangs, wandering around the screen as entire asteroid fields (and the ambushes behind them) die before I really get to see them. And equally, I love a lot of the powerups you get from defeating one of the seven bosses. The blade drone (A roomba, but with knives.) The medic drone, occasionally topping me up because, boy, I also love running into bullets and exploding a lot.

Of course, that’s because, at any given time, there’s a fair amount of bullets on screen at any one time. It isn’t quite bullet hell, but it comes pretty close, and there are some attacks that make you panic. But runs are quick to restart, and I know, with each failed run, I’m a tiny bit closer to getting more powerful. I could do with becoming more powerful a little more quickly (As higher level chips cost a lot more, and so do the chip slots), but, honestly, it isn’t terrible. Know that, unless you’re good at these ol’ shmups, you may be a while to properly powerup, and, if you’re cool with that, then it’s all good.

And yes, occasionally, you run into a Black Paradox event. Which is mirror match BADTIMES (In the best way.)

So yeah, overall, I feel positive about Black Paradox. It’s a little slow to get going if you’re not great at shmups (HI), but its aesthetic is nice, its weapons feel good, especially once you get how they work, its music is good, and I can see myself coming back to this quite a bit.

The Mad Welshman unfortunately has neither the touch, nor the power to take on the final boss yet, but when he does, he will dare, dare to believe he will suriiiiiive.

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Pathway (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99 (£3.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

There is little more cathartic, in most media, than giving a Nazi what for. A boop to the snoot. The old one-two. Especially since the Ratzis do have this nasty habit of exploring things man was not meant to explore, in an attempt to find that unbeatable, supernatural edge in their hateful war on that which is not them.

Blowing them to kingdom come also works, I’m reliably informed.

If you guessed, from that intro, that Pathway heavily involves some pulpiness and Nazi-murdering, then yes, you win a No-Prize. It does, along with zombies, Bedouin tribesmen, strangely intelligent dogs, and companions who aren’t always clean as a whistle themselves. It essentially comes in two main parts: Exploring a map in your jeep, encountering events and folks in your path, and trying not to run out of fuel (You can run out of fuel, but it’s never good, as your characters’ health becomes the next fuel meter)… And, if the situation demands it, tactical RPG action where you can move and take a single action, balancing risk and reward.

Do you trust your wolfhound to not only take out that Nazi, but take the punishment from his friend before you get there? Do you think your gun can do more damage than your bowie knife to that Zombie, and, considering it’s one that blows up after it dies, do you want to risk melee? The answer varies, but only some clever tactical thinking will let you out of a fight unharmed.

Alas, zombies have that tactical advantage known as “Sheer numbers.” I fought bravely, though…

Nonetheless, it’s all pretty clear. Go places, kill nazis, limited inventory, multiple characters, and where the icons aren’t all that clear, the tooltips help immensely. Being able to adjust the combat difficulty and fuel is nice, and, although it has no effect on the difficulty, being able to change what “Daytime” looks like is a nice aesthetic touch. The visual style works pretty well, being solid pixel art, and the animations not only make it clear what’s going on, they have a fair amount of impact to them (Especially vaulting over cover. Even with an eagle eye perspective, the energy is obvious.)

Musically, and sound wise? Well, the inspiration of Nazi-punching pulp media is strong here. A little Indiana Jones style tunes here, a little The Mummy there… It’s good stuff, and the sounds are solid as well. Although dog lovers, be aware that the Good Boy companion can pass on just the same as any other, and it breaks my heart, too, to hear that whimper. Just so you know.

A nice touch is that, if you lose one half of your team, a Good Boy may well come and join you. Good Donut, Bite that Ratzi!

The basic maps, as far as I know, remain pretty much the same, so you do know roughly how much fuel you need to get from start to finish, although what’s in the map is random, based on a variety of events, allowing a fair amount of replay value. Also helping this is a large roster of characters, each with their own up and downsides, and the fact that character skills have a bearing on how some events can be completed.

Overall, I’ve found this one interesting. While I wouldn’t say it’s amazing, or great, it is fun to me, a fan of procgenned RPG content, and while the Nazis-Seek-Evil-Occult-Power storyline is nothing new, it’s still enjoyable.

Nazis… One of the few kinds of villains The Mad Welshman will happily team up with those Dudley-Do-Rights to fight.

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Risk of Rain 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Risk of Rain, it seems, has made the transition to 3D. And you would think that this could be a very good thing. It could. Right now, though, it’s not really for me.

For some odd reason (CAN’T think why), the majority of my screenshots are me lying dead near a boss. Mysterious.

Okay, let’s back up a second. Risk of Rain, the original, had you, one of several unlockable protagonists, trying to make your way back to the prison ship you had been ejected from, through a land filled with teleporting enemies that got increasingly more hostile the longer the run went. It was clever, because it forced you to balance going fast with being prepared, and its bosses were quite interesting. And Risk of Rain 2, essentially, appears to be more of the same, but this time in 3D. So… Let’s discuss that aspect of things.

Some enemies, like the Wisps, have become somewhat easier (to kill, anyway), but, overall, there’s a lot of added obstacles that 3D has brought. For example, in the first Risk of Rain, you generally had attacks from three directions. In 3D, well, that number has quite drastically multiplied, so where, in the original, a horde was theoretically still Not Really A Big Thing (Except in terms of the time it takes to murder them), in Risk of Rain 2, certain hordes make things very awkward for the player. Wisps are a prime example, because, while individually easy to kill, they have sniper like accuracy, and you only have so much dodge to go around to avoid their shots… If you’re aware of them.

Sometimes, though, you just have to appreciate natural beauty while your drones murder things.

Add in that running is oddly bound (Ctrl, because Shift is dodge. You might want to rebind that), and has a nasty tendency to stop after… Well, anything that isn’t running, really (Especially jumps and dodges), and playing solo has multiple issues. Honestly, snipes and beams appear to be the biggest source of woes here, and it may be a good idea for those to get toned down. Finally, while the teleporter was somewhat visually distinctive in Risk of Rain 1, it becomes much less so in 2, and so time can often be wasted by not actually knowing where the teleporter is, when you’ve run past it several times.

So… Some work is needed. I will say, however, that the worlds of Risk of Rain are actually kind of elegant in 3D, allowing for more kinds of secrets and interesting things to find, that everything except the teleported has translated well visually, and that the sound and music remain as good as the first Risk of Rain. As with the original Risk of Rain, once a run gets going, it’s pretty damn glorious and chaotic, as powerups add things like slowing, burning, detonating on death, giving health orbs on death… A lot goes on, and I feel that sticking with much the same powerups and enemies does give a sense of familiarity that helps ease players of the original into it.

Whether single or multiplayer, one thing remains the same… Damn, fights can get chaotic, and this is glorious…

So that, essentially, is Risk of Rain 2 so far. 3D has added challenges, some enemies seem a little more accurate than is necessary, but the basics are down and clearly working. While I haven’t exactly enjoyed it so far, I did enjoy Risk of Rain 1, so I think it may well grow on me as it makes its way through early access.

Before anyone asks, no, The Mad Welshman refuses to “Git Gud.” Beyond hating the phrase, he’s already perfect…

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Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

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