City of Brass (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£19.48 w/soundtrack, Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

City of Brass, it’s safe to say, had charmed me pretty much from the first. It had some issues, which have mostly been resolved by the developers, and now, just a couple of short months from the last time I looked at it, it’s jumped from 0.5 to 1.0, full release.

And I’m happy to say that honestly, it doesn’t feel premature. In fact, it feels pretty good.

About as good, in fact, as the feeling of shoving this zombie into that spike trap.

City of Brass is a first-person, procedurally generated game in which our un-named protagonist has found the mythical City of Brass, a city cursed with immortal life by, as you might have guessed by the Middle Eastern aesthetic of the world, a group of asshole Djinni. With a talisman that grants you three wishes, a whip, and a sword, it’s up to you to enter the city, loot as much as possible, and hopefully beat the final boss and escape. It’s a game that uses smallish variations in its simplicity to add flavour and depth, and it feels good.

Let’s take the whip as an example. The whip, by itself, is a versatile tool. It lets you swing from certain places, grab loot and throwables from a distance, trigger most kinds of trap, you can pull enemies toward you with it, whip their projectiles back at them, or, depending on where you hit them, stun them, disarm them, or trip them.

And then, with a bit of money, and luck of the draw, you can give it a heck of a long reach. Or it can freeze enemies. Or it really stuns them. Clever stuff, and, if you want other examples, you can read the earlier reviews. But what’s new in the release version?

Enemies with shields remain something to be wary of. Which is still perfectly fine, gotta keep you on your toes!

Well, part of it is balancing. As an example, before, city guards were perhaps my earliest killers, because they weren’t stunned very long by attacks. Now, they stun longer when you whack them with a sword, so they’re less of a threat, and the early game is friendlier as a result. There’s also a new blessing that, on the one hand, removes your leaderboard score for the games you use it on, like all blessings (Meant to give you an easier time), but it totally removes the timer, letting you explore levels at your leisure. Nice!

But another part of it is Twitch Integration, allowing those of you who stream the game to add some interactivity and spice. While a niche feature, I can confirm from experience that this gets chaotic as hell, and, since planning around chaos is a core part of the game, I loved the heck out of it. To stroll through the first levels, only to be greeted by enemy cries in an empty room, for example, unnerved the heck out of me, which put my guard down a little later on, when my chat decided… To hit me with an entire group of enemies. Ouch. Also, nice work.

YOU DON’T FOOL ME, AND I HAVE AN EXPLOSIVE URN! WE’LL GO TOGETHER IF YOU VWIP AWAY, I SWEAR!

The Gatekeepers remain a fairly variable bunch, although they do seem somewhat more manageable overall, but, essentially, what I’ve said previously with City of Brass still stands: It comes highly recommended, a clever use of a limited toolset that makes me feel good when a plan comes together, with an interesting world, solid aesthetics, and clear, intuitive play.

Look away from the sceeeeene, I can take you anywhere! Spend a vision with me, a chaaaase with the wiiiiiind! (Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” remains an awesome accompaniment to this game.)

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Bombslinger (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, last time I looked at Bombslinger, I would be embarassed to die to the bosses, and often died to the enemies. By the time of release, however, things have gone back to a more natural order of bosses being more challenging than enemies. And what a set of bosses it is…

Ahhh, the sweet smell of nitro in the morning…

Bombslinger, as noted in my Early Access review, is a spaghetti western inspired procgen Bomberman style game. The basic idea is very simple: You have bombs, which hurt both you and the enemies, and clear terrain. Blow up enemies, collect powerups so you get more bombs, health, speed, and bomb power, ensuring you don’t die. Get to the end of the level, blow up the pattern based boss, go to the next level with more difficult enemies and bosses, until you win or die. Easy.

But Bombslinger adds a little extra, a little variety with its roguelike elements. On top of Bomberman style staples available like Big, Extra Splodey Bombs and remote detonation bombs, there are powerups that let you dodge roll, let you leap obstacles, and even ensure that those pesky obstacles are no impediment to your explosive revenge on the folks that killed your wife (Yes, like a Spaghetti Western, it’s got a story that goes some of the same places a Spaghetti Western would have, for good and for ill.) Some of these powerups are available at the beginning of a run, based on previous achievements (thus adding some incremental improvement in there too.)

For some odd reason, I’m thinking of Wolfenstein right now…

While some things (such as the earliest enemies being more tedious than tense or tactical) haven’t changed, the bosses have definitely improved. While the Firestarter boss is still heavily pattern based, he’s more threatening, getting more dangerous the closer he is to death, for example. The UI remains pretty clear (although the keybinding is a little odd, the clarity helps remind me what’s a special, what’s a consumable, and what’s an ability), the aesthetic is interesting (Essentially, it’s 2D sprites in a 3D space, as shown when you enter the shop, done smoothly enough that it’s only really noticeable in the shop), the music is quite nice, and, overall?

Bombslinger does nice things with its mechanical inspirations, and is well worth a poke for Bomberman fans.

The broom, while technically useless, does save a little time.

The Mad Welshman is a big fan of the old cannonball bomb design. It has history.

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Catacomb Kids (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.4c

Feel is a very important thing, from the feel of movement, to the feel of fairness. Like Vagante, which I reviewed, Catacomb Kids is dark… Has plenty of instant death traps… And mixes roguelike and platformer. But, unlike Vagante, Catacomb Kids feels more fair, more fluid, more fun. And it’s not even finished yet.

A hectic, joyful combat, just seconds before I combat-identify… A potion of flames. MY BAD.

So, how does it feel better? It’s a lot of things, adding up. Combat, for one, is somewhat easier. Yes, there’s rolling, and even bats and rats can harm you, but healing is fairly common, swings are mostly rapid, and there’s a sense of impact to even lighter blows. Magic, similarly, is very common, and can even be used by the most magic averse (with some risk.) More intelligent enemies run away, find friends, and even use potions, which makes it feel like, y’know, a living, breathing place. The traps still kind of suck, but I rarely find myself knocked back into spikes for an instadeath or the like.

No, more commonly, it’s the panic that results from rolling into the “SNAP” of a burning oil trap… Ohgodohgod the oil’s pouring, and if I do-FWOOSH. Dead. It’s quite avoidable, much like everything, and the signposting is there (the ceiling spike traps being the least signposted, the lava and crusher blocks the most.) But it’s a scary trap, and this, too, adds to the feel.

Popcorn also adds to the feel, in a pleasant way.

At the present time, the four classes appear to be locked in: Bullies, who can willingly alert nearby enemies and specialise in hitting things rather hard; Tinkers, who have a mechanical buddy for assistance, and are generally quite smart; Poets, also quite smart, but specialising in magic; and Wanderers, who can get an idea of their surroundings well, and specialise in being quick. Kids in each class are generated by set, and there’s a lot of choice in rolling a new character, from spending a little money to roll a new random Kid, spending a fair amount of money to make a custom kid who maybe, maybe, has the skills and equipment to do better than you did, to spending no money at all, and sending these poor, adventuring young adults to their doom, getting a new set when you exhaust the current one. Since each class is only limited in weapon use by things like wanting to use a weapon they like or have skill with, or not wanting to use a weapon they don’t like, and therefore suck at, there’s a lot of room, a lot of potential depth, in each run. And I like that.

The base tutorial for the game is good, but it should be noted that the character customisation screen isn’t terribly informative right now, so it’s a good idea to memorise those icons, checking what they do in play, before taking the leap of a custom Kid.

Visible representation of kit is pretty good, both in portrait and in the game.

That niggle aside, though, I’m having a lot of fun with Catacomb Kids at its present stage. It’s got a lot of tension, but not so much pressure, a fair amount of toys in the toybox to play with, and to see it so enjoyable, so early pleases me.

The Mad Welshman sometimes feels like a slime. Alas, no takeout in this world offers the good stuff.

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City of Brass (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.5

City of Brass, last time I looked at it, showed promise. A game of quickly executing your plans in order to progress further into a city cursed with greed and everlasting life (of a sort) , it was already drawing me in, luring me with its traps, its enemies making for interesting, emergent challenges, and its middle eastern setting.

Mmm, the sweet smell of incense on the – oh, that’s burning undead? Huh, learn a new thing every day!

With blessings to match the burdens, further customising difficulty, I’m somewhat happy to say that the game has, overall, improved on its original promise. Even if some things remain roughly the same. Specifically, the Gatekeepers, bosses of each of the game’s five areas.

Before we get into that, though, let’s recap what remains good. Aesthetically, the game is on point, from its lush setting that subtly changes as you get further into the city, its musical and sound cues, and the clarity of everything. This is a treasure, I can tell by the noise, and the sight. This is a windtrap, clearly identifiable from even a fair way away, which is important if I want to know what not to randomly back into for instant death funtimes. That noise signifies I’ve been spotted by a sorceress. Not an archer, a sorceress. Maybe I can use that. I can, with the knowledge I’ve built up over three areas of the game so far, use a lot of this, if I play my cards right. And this is definitely a strength of the game.

Keeping the core gameplay simple, and challenging, is also of note. While items may affect, for example, the strength of your throws, or lure treasure to you, or change something about your basic weaponry and armour, you still know, roughly, what to expect: Here is your whip, for pulling and shoving enemies and items, triggering traps, and swinging off things. Here’s your sword, for walloping things. Here is your armour, and, normally, it will sort of protect you. Sort of. Three levels per area, three wishes you may or may not wish to spend (Including using all three at the beginning of the game to shortcut to the third area), it’s all simple to understand, and explains itself well. Similarly, blessings make things easier, but deny you a place on the leaderboard, burdens make things harder, and give you extra gold or XP.

Wishes, if not used on skipping areas, can sometimes change the tactical landscape greatly. A good case in point are the trap genies, who now serve… ME.

The only wrinkle to this is that, once you get used to enemies and traps, you’re inevitably going to reach that third level, and find yourself facing off against something rare, that’s simultaneously harder to learn, and less likely to give you lots of chances to learn it: The Gatekeepers. Based on enemies previously encountered, the Gatekeepers are a leap in difficulty, and I’m thankful I have the option to skip three of the five with my wishes. Because oh boy, they’re hard. Take the first, the Sorceress analogue. Okay, so sorceresses are a pain. They don’t let you get close for long, take about as many hits as a guardsman (three) , and fire ranged attacks that, if they hit, hurt. They’re still something you can work with. The Sorceress, on the other hand, is, like her Gatekeeper Brethren, a gimmick enemy of a sort. No hitting her until her shield’s down, and how do you knock that shield down? Whipping homing projectiles back at her.

On the upside, you don’t have to hit them directly back at her. On the downside, you will, every few seconds, have to whip, block, or run the hell away from those projectiles, and you never have many hits with which to do it. It’s not insurmountable. It is a leap in difficulty, so these Gatekeepers are aptly named, skillgates of sorts, where, while they don’t take many more hits (not counting shields and the like), the difficulty is in getting those hits in.

These shutters, thankfully, block some of the projectiles, and give you a temporary chance. Make the most of it.

Despite this, I still feel City of Brass definitely comes out more positive than negative. The developers have been very thoughtful in providing means of skipping some of these once they’re beaten for the first time, and the addition of blessings, in order to provide an easier experience, are a godsend. The game is clear, lush, and, for the most part, teaches its world and rules very well, and I continue… To look forward to what’s coming next.

After writing this review, The Mad Welshman had a run where he got to level 10, using the Extra Health and Damage blessings. They make a Big difference!

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Into The Breach (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.18 w/Soundtrack, £4.79 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Minor paraphrasing aside, Into the Breach sums up, in its own title, how I’ve felt while reviewing it. Once more, unto the breach, dear friends! ONCE! MORE! I’m less enthused about the part where I close up the walls with the English dead, but that’s mainly because I don’t have all that many to close the walls with, and I’m pretty sure most of my mech pilots aren’t English to begin with…

OOPS. Welp, back to the time machine, folks!

…Still, Into the Breach is Subset games’ latest foray into their particular brand of tight, replay dependent strategy, in which three mech pilots (One of which, at any given time, is a traveller from a future where things went horribly wrong) try to hold back an insectile menace, mostly without backup. It’s turn based, and with the clever gimmick that, due to time travelling shenanigans, you already know what your enemy is going to do. Well, to a certain extent. You know what they’re shooting at (and are capable of), and you can take advantage of this to, for example, shove one of them with artillery or a punch in such a way that they actually hit their bugfriends this time around.

As such, it’s a highly tactical game with a lot of depth, which you might not realise looking at screenshots, as every mission is an 8×8 map. On its most basic level, there’s always at least as many of them as you (unless you’re super good), so simply doing damage isn’t enough. In fact, at least some of the time, you’re merely going to be concentrating on avoiding housing damage, as, with enough loss of life, that’s it, the Vek have reached critical mass, time to bug out and maybe find a timeline where you did better (taking one pilot with you.) But then, it adds layers. Pushing and pulling enemies as well as hitting them. Status effects. Synergies. Environmental considerations.

Ahhh, nothing like saving the day by setting things on fire, and then shoving things *into* fire. Or acid. Hell, just plain water does well sometimes too!

Since explaining everything would most likely be rather dull, let me focus on a team that I never thought I’d like… And yet, they consistently get closer to victory than any of my other mech groups. Heck, even their name (The Rusting Hulks) and their price to unlock (a measly 2 coins) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The fact that one of their units doesn’t even hurt enemies seems, at very first glance, like the waste of a unit. But this is where it gets fun. Because, you see, the other two units drop smoke. Smoke which, to them and them alone, also electrocutes enemies at the beginning of their turn, on top of what smoke normally does in this game: Stop you being able to attack if you’re in it.

This may not seem useful, but consider this: An enemy not attacking, and taking damage, is a net plus. An enemy that can’t fly shoved into water, or two enemies with 1 HP being shoved into each other with violent gravitic force is not only a plus, it’s being classy as hell. I don’t need powerful beam weaponry, giant fists, or superscience shenanigans. I have smoke and mirrors. What with the different teams each having an interesting style of play, the ability to play with random mechs, and the ability to pick and choose teams, with achievements (and thus further team unlocks) for experimenting? Now that’s what I call encouraging replay and diversity of play, friends…

It hasn’t taken me terribly long to get to the point where things have slowed down a little (A straight night of play has earned me all of the islands, most of the pilots, and some of the teams, with two almost wins) , but, even with everything unlocked, I see the potential here for me coming back. What if I have an all-shoving team? Or having to watch my collateral with highly damaging beam weaponry? Hrm. Hrrrrrrrm!

Smoke and mirrors. Okay, and riding the lightning too, but let’s not go overboard here!
…Okay, let’s go overboard.

It helps that the music is tense, fitting, and atmospheric, the sound solid, the visual aesthetic similarly tight and consistent, and, best of all, it tutorialises fairly well, and is pretty clear. I would consider this a pretty strong purchase for strategy fans, and another fine example to add to my collection of designing clearly and tightly to goals. Props.

Burninate the towns… Burninate… Oh, wait, no, that’s the opposite of what The Mad Welshman is meant to be doing! Sorrrreeeee!

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