City of Brass (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.2a

The City of Brass is many things. A cautionary tale about wishing for everlasting life. Proof that yes, whips remain awesome, and should be in games more. It’s also a game of twitchy planning. Yes, you heard that correctly: It’s a game that rewards very quickly coming up with ideas, and very quickly executing them.

As such, it’s a tadge tough, and your first hour with it is likely to be one of frustration. But when a plan comes together? Ohhh, yes. That’s a good feeling.

Okay, Guardian 1 tripped? Check. Flaming lantern nearby ready to chuck at both of them? CHECK.

Picture it: A big, open area. Traps, explosive vase, flaming lanterns, and, of course, a variety of enemies litter the area. Each enemy has different weaknesses and strengths, but nearly all of them will die to the humble trap. Then again, the traps also damage you, and, in the case of the spiked pitfall trap, outright kill you if you fall in. Here, a few Cursed Souls, armless, with head cages that prevent you stunning them with their whip. There, a passel of Guardians, more healthy than both the Cursed Soul and the Undead Merchants, but, until they get shields, you have a lot of options.

Okay, here, whip that explosive vase into my hand. Throw it at the Guardians. Whip the Cursed Souls into some spike traps, or trip them, and hit them twice each with the sword. Set the Merchant(s) on fire, and… Wow, yeah, that worked. That felt nice!

Conversely: Engage in a circle strafe sword fight with the Guardians, and… AGH, that Cursed Soul stunned me, a Guardian hit me, run away, pick my options, and… Wait, how did I forget that pitfall, AAAAAAAGH, start again!

Whoops.

The alpha nature of the game, to this point, is mainly showing in the balance. Health is very hard to come by, and item options are slim on the ground. Does that make it bad at the present time? Not really. Your whip has some possible options, but remains a whip, and it’s extremely useful. Your kick never changes, and is situationally useful. Your sword is not for button mashing, because it’s slow to swing, but since not a whole bunch of enemies (Mostly Gatekeepers, the bosses) take more than 3 swings that connect to kill, it still works, and its options can completely change combat style (from a cudgel that does only heavy knockback, not damage, lighter and heavier swords that trade damage and speed, and my current favourite, the torch. Set enemies on fire for damage over time? Yes please!)

It’s also, at the present time, an undeniably pretty game. The city’s gold glitters nicely, from the treasures to the spires, the environments fit well, the visual design of the enemies says a fair bit about them, and nearly everything’s clear enough that you’re only going to miss things while distracted. Which, considering that’s the whole point of traps? Fair. Musically, it works, and the screeches and groans of the enemies give them a little bit of extra character that I like.

I forgot to mention this, but see that ring up there? You can whip-leap from that. Errol Flynn’s ghost is crying tears of joy.

As such, while City of Brass is still in early alpha, it is a promising start, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

The Mad Welshman would like to add that playing this game while listening to Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” is pretty cool.

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Slay the Spire (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Slaying a sentient tower with all sorts of gribbleys living in, parasitising, and, to an extent, defending its ancient heart is, as it turns out, a difficult endeavour. Although it must be said that, at least some of the time, that’s definitely my fault. For example, spending lots of energy on a multiple attack card to try and kill something that reflects more damage than I’m handing out? That wasn’t a wise move.

Reading an ancient and maddening book when I was low on HP, and I already knew I didn’t have the HP to read it? My fault.

Ughhh… I will forever doubt if this grinning snake really was just giving me money.

Taking this path absolutely filled with monsters, and not a lot of healing or mystery options, because reasons? Yep, that bit me in the ass.

Still, Slay the Spire is, for all these things that were definitely my fault, a tough, turn based, choose your own path RPG brawler with a mechanic we seem to be seeing more of: Cards for skills, attacks, and powers, with what you can do limited by both hand size and Energy. And, you know? It’s got a fair few options spread among the 2 characters currently available.

The Ironclad, for example, specialises in defence, but also has nasty little tricks like Armament, a card that not only adds defense, but upgrades either a single card, or your whole hand. Or perhaps trading HP for strength, healing through murder, or Rampage, a card that slowly accrues damage with each use. Healing a little after every fight, he’s the long hauler.

The Silent, by contrast, has poison, and can quickly build up a deck where she builds up silly amounts of Energy and cards in the hand, for murderous barrages and a host of status effects. Sure, she doesn’t have a lot of defense, but when she gets going, things die very, very quickly.

Pictured: A lot of options, from the relics I’ve obtained, to the cards in my hand. How will I deal with this goshdarn ghost?

Add in the Relics, items that change up how things go the entire run, and the “Colourless” cards, available to all characters if they can find them, and you have a game with a lot of tactical options… If you can get them. After all, this is a procgen game, and there is no guaranteed route to a single build. The only thing that doesn’t really change… Is enemy patterns. Thieves gonna thieve, Priestesses gonna buff, and thorny orbs are only gonna get thornier the longer you leave them.

Visually, I’m quite fond of it. It’s simple, but it’s also very clear. You know what’s what, from the enemy intent, the tooltips are solid, and only with extremely silly builds do the cards become a little hard to distinguish. A little. Musically, the game’s orchestral tunes really set the scene, the drama, and fit well.

So, lots of tactical options, with adaptability required due to procgen? Okay, good. Good music? Yup. Accessible visuals, simple controls (It’s all mouse, and turn-based)? Good. Pattern based enemies and bosses being difficult the first time, but once you know the pattern, you at least know what you’re in for, all with interesting visual design? Yup. All in all, a solid game so far, very promising. When the worst things you can say is “Not for folks who hate turn based RPG combat, because it’s at the core” and “Some of the animations are a little lacking (Compensated for by solid soundwork)”, then you know you’re off to a good start.

The Silent is clever. She knows poisons that even affect the dread Slimes.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders about the Hexaghost’s backstory. I mean, was it a bad hexagon in life, or did it just have unfinished business?

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Boss 101 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Games like Boss 101, at times, make me think very uncharitably. Not necessarily because the game is bad, but because there’s so much surrounding that game, so many things, and these things seem so much like padding that… Well, uncharitable thoughts that they are padding makes me think less of the core.

See, this is good and fine. It’s also an early level, and a boss that doesn’t have the nastier surprises, but… Good, fine, works.

Make no mistake, the core of Boss 101 is simple and straightforward. Make a boss. You can make it weak to your weapons, or not, remake as many times as you like, get into the level, and… Fight a boss. That you rolled. In a strict time limit. That’s the core, and it works. It’s not great, as some enemy attacks can best be described with a tired sigh and “Really? Really?” (Lightning weapons automatically home in, so it’s a case of stay far away, and there are massive lasers on some bosses that… Well, odds are very, very high you’re going to get hit) , but, overall, it’s simple, it works, and there are attacks that are interesting. Also, y’know, minions.

Thing is, it’s not just the core though, is it? NEW NEW NEW NEW splatters the screen until you’ve explored everything, and even then, occasionally, you’ll come back to your Command floor (one of something like six) to find a cluster of NEW THINGS LOOK AT THE NEW THINGS. There’s an arcade, three or four different ways plot happens, a kite mode where the two main characters (a boy and his jetpack) charmingly muse on life, Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes style. There are many, many costumes and guns, all of which will cost money, and you can get that money, for that, and upgrades, and the like, by fighting bosses, but also did you know that there are secret Gophers, and if you get them all, something happens, and an ultimate gun for filling out the things, and pets (one of which has a theme song that plays once and you’ll never see it again)?

Pictured: A cool costume based on Joe Madrueira. Not pictured: So many other costumes. Soooo… Sooo many.

It’s busy, and while I can tell it’s designed to draw me in, give me lots and lots of reasons to play and come back and fight those boss levels with bosses I make before Boss 101, the titular bureacrat robot who… Oh, did I mention there’s plot, three different varieties, with several threads?

What I’m saying here is that it doesn’t draw me in. In fact, it does quite the opposite. This is something I may play for short periods, trying to get a high score in the three classic arcade games (based on Breakout, Tank-Battle (Which was always bullshit, even back in the day), and Wizard of Wor), or seeing what a new gun is like… This isn’t a game I want to spend a lot of time in, because its very busy-ness, the clutter, has me repelled. Essentially, this game has a content warning for overstimulation, and, as I’ve noted, I’m fully aware that it’s this, not the boss fights themselves (Which start eh, but can get interesting pretty quick if you roll, say, the flamethrowing stone head as a part, which is nerve wracking on its own) that’s discouraging me from play, making me think uncharitably. I don’t actually want those fifty billion costumes. I appreciate they let me pick one for its cosmetics, and one for the actual, in-game effect, but they’re pretty numbers, for the most part, and each takes a lot of dough, a lot of replay, that, funnily enough, the vast number of “features” in the game actively turns me away from.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Maybe you’ll have a better time of it. Maybe you’ll be delighted by the silly, multithreaded story about a boy, his jetpack, and making a cool video for his hospitalised, skateboarding brother while sticking it to the Robotic Man. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to get all the cheevos, the pets, the guns.

Me… I’m backing away. None of it costs money, but I’m still backing away, because there is such a thing as too much, and I’ve finally found that.

To give readers some idea, The Mad Welshman has a headache just thinking about the costume shop. On sale, quest, owned, five costumes all with the same ability set, 1,800,000 points each… Aaaaaaaaaaa!

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Bombslinger (Early-Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Update 13 (Aug 14th-Time of writing)

Normally, for a game review, I try to avoid referring to a game in terms of other games. With Bombslinger, its influences are so very clear that this becomes somewhat counterproductive. And those influences can boil down to two games, and one film genre: Bomberman, Binding of Isaac, and Spaghetti Westerns.

A shop, potentially for buying upgrades, piles of ashes where the simpler enemies once stood, the more challenging enemies are still around, and a super-bomb barrel that I could potentially use. Yup, this helps sum up that mixture of elements!

You are an outlaw who settled down, then had his house burned down by the very gang he left, and his wife murdered. As such, this pisses you off, and off you trot on a revenge quest that involves bombing the heck out of every person, beast, or supernatural creature in your way. Like Bomberman, you start with a single bomb, able to affect a single tile in each cardinal direction, and can level up your speed, number of bombs you can lay at any time, and the number of tiles the flames spurt out. Like Binding of Isaac, each room you enter can have chests, explodables, shops, and enemies in some combination or other, and, if it has enemies in, you can’t leave until everyone is dead. Somewhere in each level is a boss, and defeating this boss gets you to the next level. Take enough damage, you die. There’s more to it than that, with special abilities, experience from enemies (your main means of levelling up your stats), Snake Oil (Like potions in traditional roguelikes, these have a random effect, although they always seem to cause 1 damage in doing so), and starting items (Which can improve your stats or have other effects, like the Broom, which clears all non-fire, non-chest obstacles in a room once everybody’s dead.)

Part of the reason I have to explain this is because what flaws this game has, it inherits from its inspirations. Put at its simplest, the worst level enemies are more threatening than the bosses, but once you get the pain train rolling, that’s it, very little is going to stop you except the spectre of Yet Another Stupid Death. Let’s take the first level as an example.

The boss for the level is either a goat from the fires of hell (and its normal goat summons) or a carnival fire-breather turned bandit, who has, er… Fire. Both are heavily pattern based, and knowing the pattern… Largely nullifies their difficulty. Okay, fine, they’re first bosses. Taking damage from them once you know the pattern is, however, just plain embarassing.

I’m not even going to *pretend* the game isn’t using stereotypes. So yeah, be warned about that.

Now compare that to the rifleman and molotov thrower, both perfectly normal enemies. The rifleman only sleeps occasionally, wakes when you’re near or there’s a bomb nearby, and shoots. Yes, this blows up your bombs, so your tactic is to try to ambush him with the timed component, while also leaving you free to ambush him again. This is a lot trickier than it sounds. Similarly, the molotov thrower will, on seeing you, throw a 1-tile bomb in your direction. So, say, being 2 tiles away from him when he sees you guarantees that, unless your action is to run away immediately, you’re going to take damage.

Even normal enemies can, for want of a better word, be tedious. Both farmer types, for example, will run the hell away if they see a bomb, and only the white guys will occasionally fall asleep. Coyotes follow a very similar pattern, and the Crazed Miner… Ohhhh, I hate that guy. That guy is the worst of both worlds, because if he sees a bomb, his instinct will be to knock it the hell away before it explodes. Sometimes, you can use this. More often, it’s a case of having a very long range bomb.

Now, you might be getting the impression, from all this talk, that Bombslinger is a Bad Game. No. A game with some frustrating elements even after you’ve learned the enemy patterns, sure, and that’s certainly not a good thing, but there are interesting elements to the game, and it’s clear some thought has gone into it. For example, lesser versions of the hell-goat (who can also push bombs, but they have to charge to do so) present quite a few opportunities for the canny player, and some of the gun-toting enemies in the game (the cowboy and the gatling gunner) are, awkward placements aside, much more reasonable. The game uses sprites in a 3D space to mostly good effect, and with the exception of the farmers (Who just seem a bit awkward in the context, on a couple of levels), the enemy designs are interesting, and clearly communicate what they are and what they do.

YASD Strikes Again

So, Bombslinger, currently, is an interesting, but flawed game, experimenting with mixing elements that definitely seem to be able to fit together, even if they don’t quite gel right all the time, and, for four levels consisting of several arenas (the equivalent of a Bomberman World), a fair amount of unlocks and power ups to discover, and a soundtrack that works just fine, it’s not unreasonable to say this is alright. And good enough? Is good enough.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have much to close with this time. He’s busy grappling with a hell-goat. Damned petsitting…

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20xx (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

20XX is a game with a laudable goal: A platformer heavily inspired by the MegaMan X games with random level generation. All the ideas, all the replayability! It’s just a shame it doesn’t really work out that way, for a variety of reasons.

Pictured: Ace and Nina’s unscrupulous creators don’t take failure kindly.

Aesthetically, 20XX has come a long way from when it was under a different name. It’s clean, it’s got good tunes, it’s got moderately good sounds. The enemies are visually distinct, and so you quickly learn what type is what, whether you can get nice things out of them, and what they do. That’s good.

Not so good is the fact I have little to no incentive to play Nina, the Not-megaman of the pair of Nina and Ace (who is Not-Protoman/Zero.) Equally not so good is the fact that the stages, very often, are more lethal than the bosses. And some of the bosses, honestly, are eh, even in their difficult forms. Let’s get into that a little more, starting with the linked problem of Nina and the levels.

The game features two characters: Nina, who shoots bullets, and has a piercing charge shot (with the option to change this basic attack to a variety of directional bullets or a wave-beam if you find the right powerup.) , and Ace, who has a sword, which he can charge, but, honestly, doesn’t need to (and, like Nina, can switch out for a variety of melee type weapons of varying utility, damage, range, and speed.) Both can dash jump. Both can use the same boss weapons, in the same way. Both can use the same permanent and per-run powerups that are unlocked by gaining one of the three types of currency in the game.

FUCKING BATS. Although thankfully not over a deathpit, or between two platforms, or any of the innumerable situations they just ANNOY THE HELL OUT OF ME.

When playing as Nina, to deal with hordes of bats, I need to waste a second or two charging my weapon, and lining it up. Without an alternate weapon, I have no means of dealing with enemies above me. When playing as Ace, most of my weapons can attack at least a little upward by default, have a wide area, and can chump hordes of bats with a few quick taps of the attack button. It’s not even a subtle difference. I have little incentive to play as Nina.

Meanwhile, one of the elements of the game is random level generation, using native enemy types, bats (Which are everywhere, and are annoying obstacles just as with videogame bats everywhere), and native trap types. Agnisort, the fire area, has conveyor belts and fireball launchers, with welding flames on the walls, belts, small pits… Anywhere they would fit, and a couple of places they shouldn’t. Vaculab, meanwhile, has that MegaMan staple, Yoku blocks (blocks that appear and disappear on a timer) and deadly vines. Skytemple relies on lasers, conveyor belts, and bottomless pits to kill you, while Frostor has spike shooters seemingly everywhere, even in places that are meant to be considered safe. It’s all generated according to a rough plan, it’s true, but I can almost guarantee you’re going to take, especially toward the end as the frequency of the traps increases, more damage from the stages than you are the bosses. Occasionally, the game will even generate a big ol’ middle finger, like the time my only path to progress was blocked by a pair of vertical lasers, each perfectly bisecting the platforms I needed, and seemingly timed to go active while the platforms were accessible.

Suffice to say, I didn’t appreciate that one tiny bit.

This jerk has gone through multiple iterations. He’s *less* annoying in the final release.

While we’re here, let’s talk about the bosses and their weapons. Bosses are, with only two exceptions, larger versions of the level enemies, with their highly pattern based gimmicks. Rollster is a robot hamster in a sawblade monowheel, and he bounces and fires sawblades. The Astral Twins are fireball spewing robot gorillas who will resurrect each other if you don’t kill them both within about ten seconds of each other. As the boss order is also randomly generated, both levels and bosses are meant to get harder the further you get. This is very true for the levels, but the bosses? The stages consistently seem to do more damage, and their weapons vary wildly in use. One, Skydragon’s, is essentially there as a reference to Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It’s a big, slow moving cuboid bullet. Yes, whatever it hits will take heavy damage, and it has some piercing, but it’s also easily blocked, and, just like the sketch with the Mooninites, it moves slowly enough that you might as well not bother with it.

In the end, one of the biggest problems with 20XX is that it’s trying to recreate the feel of a game series that mostly relied on tight level design with procedural generation, and so many of the obstacles and “set-pieces” feel arbitrary. Oh look, six bats. That I have to wait for, watching them crawl across the screen, because if I don’t, I’m going to screw up the timing of this conveyorbelt/fireball/welding torch “puzzle” that’s also going on.

Occasionally, the procgen will just outright screw you. Just quit to the menu at this point, you’re going to die.

BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS. BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS.

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