Dungreed (Review)

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

Dungreed is an odd game to me, in that it is, in its first hour or two, definitely enjoyable, but, due to the nature of its progression, becomes… Well, a bit of a slog from the middle of it onward. Which is a shame, because some of its bosses are actually quite interesting and amusing.

So, to sum Dungreed’s basics up simply, you are an adventurer, who’s come to rescue a town from a dungeon that’s literally eaten the village. It’s an action platformer shooty/slashy type deal with rooms put together procedurally, and, importantly, at the end of each run, you lose all but your basic shortsword, and most of your money.

Pictured: Possibly the most fun boss in the game so far.

“But wait, Jamie, why would the game do something so cruel?” Well, partly to introduce variety, partly to give you a chance to level up, and partly so you end up interacting with the villagers you save, all of whom add a selection of kit to the dungeon’s random drops, a few random NPCs wandering around, and features that are meant to make your next run just that little bit easier. The Blacksmith, for example, gives you a random item. Could be a weapon, could be an accessory, could be ranged, could be melee. The shopkeeper lets you buy things (for when you’ve not got any NPCs to build village features for), the trainer levels you up (with each 5 points in a stat adding an ability to your stable like double jumping, shopkeepers costing less, or extra damage), and so on.

And then you start from the beginning. Which, funnily enough, is both its problem, and not one I can see much of a win for. See, the bosses are fine, and one, Niflheim, caused me to laugh and cry out to my friend “Wow, I just got killed by a Touhou in a roguelike!” (As her boss pattern, music, and aesthetic are all highly reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, specifically the Touhou games.) But by the time I’ve gotten to Niflheim, I’ve gone through several floors, with much the same preffered weaponry, having consigned much the same equipment to either use, or, more commonly, what can be called vendor/altar trash. Some, like the Matchlock Rifle with its pause before firing as well as a slow reload, more readily than others.

The further I get, the further I have to go, and the less I enjoy the preceding run up to whatever boss comes next, as, until I meet a new boss or a villager, all I’m doing is… Marking time. Time which increases the further I get.

A mix of melee and ranged is recommended, but heck, most of the ranged options are so much fun!

Which is a real shame to me, as the game’s aesthetically consistent, does some fun things with its music (As noted, Niflheim’s boss music is highly reminiscent of its inspiration) , and the enemies do have variety and interest… Just… Not quite enough to keep me going for this final stretch. Fun at first, it’s become, over time… Alright.

The Mad Welshman is a walker by habit, as opposed to a marathon runner.

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Vagante (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store

Called it. I said, in the first Early Access review I did of Vagante, that I would be tired of its shit by release, and lo… Release has hit, and I am well and truly glad to have this off my docket. That may seem mean, but let’s unpack exactly why I so heavily dislike Vagante.

Everything else I’ve been reviewing this month has, in its way, expanded upon the procgen/roguelike formula. Accessibility. Quality of life. Vagante, meanwhile, makes it quite clear that its response to issues I have with the difficulty curve are, essentially, “git gud.” And I’ve made it quite clear in the past how badly I respond to that.

Let’s play a game of “Spot the Character.” Take your time, I can wait…

Let us take, as an example, the bosses of the first three levels of the dungeon. Two of the three have projectile attacks with damage over time, and like to stay out of your reach. Combine this with the rarity of healing items, and melee is either a case of damage racing the enemy (Providing, of course, you have the hit points to do so, as all melee attacks are fixed animations you can’t interrupt, and daggers, previously a go-to, are now slow enough that they are once again a weak option), or timing your attacks just so, over a protracted period of waiting for your single-blow opening, dodging and leaping projectiles, and luring the boss somewhere where you can actually hit them before getting a blow off. Bosses are, naturally, a bundle of hit points, so this can take a while.

Okay, so we can cross the Warrior and Wildling off the “enjoyable to play” list in the very first area (The second area’s bosses seem to actively punish melee users.) What about the two ranged classes, the Rogue and the Mage? Well, as mentioned, while, previously, the Rogue’s dagger could avoid in-level enemy damage a lot of the time, and generally do well in the damage race due to sheer speed, the bow remains, as explored in the previous Early Access review, a case of “Draw for a second, release… Do as much damage as a single sword blow, maybe as much as a heavy axe on a crit. Enemy must be in shortish range from you, good luck avoiding those fireballs/poison globules.” It’s not often I say this, but the Mage, weak as their starting “weapon” is (a staff with a limited number of charges, charging by, er… hitting the enemy with its weak, slow attack), is a good choice, as they have some short range spells that do decent damage, relatively quickly… But, again, your starting attack relies on the enemy being nearby and in front of you, which, with fireballs and the like, isn’t a good idea, and it’s very much potluck if you get, for example, Frost Nova, a spell that has a chance of freezing the enemy for a vital few seconds.

DRAGON uses NOT ON SAME Y AXIS. It’s SUPER EFFECTIVE.

So far, I’ve described something unenjoyable, if not tedious. But wait, it gets better! It’s pretty dark, unless you have certain items (random drop chance), and instakill or damaging traps await, such as spikes (instadeath if you fall, or are knocked onto them, with the saving grace that enemies are also killed by them. Not bosses though), blockfall traps (mostly, thankfully, easy to spot once you know how, but still an occasional killer when, say, concentrating on an enemy), and worms (invincible until they attack, somewhat hard to see at times.) Want a heavier, more damaging weapon? Congratulations, you’ve found an axe, or a hammer, both of which… Are slow as hell, and have a minimum range on their hitbox. With melee enemies pretty much all rushing you as best they can.

In a way, it’s intriguing to me that a game can be so actively designed against its player characters, but alas, this has the side-effect that, for all that there may well be interesting things in the third dungeon area, for all that there may be new things to see, I most likely never will. Because the game is released, and I am so very done with it.

Goodbye, Vagante. I will fondly remember the time you had an option that wasn’t a tedious time.

Hrm. Big open area. 55 HP. Yup, I confidently predict I’m going to die, here on the first level.
And you’re probably as sick of seeing the Dragon now as I am.

The Mage is now seemingly the most viable class. I’d like that to sink in for a second.

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Deep Sixed (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

I was only talking about cheery dystopias a few weeks back, and yet, here we are with Deep Sixed, a game that has all the fun hallmarks. Remember, if your reactor is critically leaking, you may wish to repair it. If you cannot repair it, you may wish to send an emergency beacon. If the emergency beacon is not working, you may wish to send an emergency beacon.

Okay, I got *part* of it right.

Okay, so that’s not exactly what’s said, but the general sentiment, among others, is there, carefully and cheerily enunciated by the voice actress for URSA, the AI companion on your indefinite corrective period of exploration and adventure.

Which, translated, means: You’re indentured to explore a nebula on behalf of a corporation, because you fucked up, and your ship is a hunk of junk that will probably kill you if the local life forms don’t. This works both for and against the game. Let’s start with that good ol’ “For” column.

Deep Sixed does one thing quite well, and that’s setting its mood. You’re isolated, so your only contact with… Well, anyone is either email, mission descriptions, or your handy dandy (until it breaks) AI companion, URSA. You’re clearly not valued as anything more than an expendable resource, because your ship’s a hunk of junk, and only by doing jobs for the company can you make it anything but, or repair massive damage… And it will still break down with distressing regularity. Oh, and you’re not a trained worker, why would you be? So you get a manual of iffy usefulness, to help you with the repairs you’re inevitably going to be doing… Alone.

Ugh. Of *course* nobody told me the job would involve getting slimed. Of *course* they didn’t…

And, on a quiet mission, with only a few problems, this is fine. It adds atmosphere, and the fact that some of the missions are themselves an exercise in tedium is, itself, part of the allure. But when things go drastically wrong, as they inevitably will?

ARGH. One early example was after I’d discovered the existence (through a plot mission) of Zephyrlings. Zephyrlings run in packs. Zephyrlings can quickly short the power of your modules, forcing you to waste valuable time flipping to the power room to repower the viewing stations, and combat with multiple opponents is best described as “An exercise in slow, painful, and frustrating death.” There are thing to make it somewhat easier, like shields, a deceleration field that can slow some enemies, and a hotkey for switching laser types… But combat is definitely one of the weaker parts of the game, and, interestingly enough, creates the more difficult to solve problems (recalibrating lasers, repairing hull damage mid fight, combatting fires mid fight.) There is an “Easy” mode, but, beyond actually telling you what problems exist, allowing pre-mission saves, and disabling achievements, it’s not… All that much easier.

As such, despite its charm, the woman of colour protagonist, some pretty good voice acting and writing, and some interesting ideas, overall, Deep Sixed turns me off. It’s not that these difficulties are insurmountable. It’s not that you can’t learn how to be a good captain of a shitty ship. It’s not that the game isn’t working well… Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s simply that this kind of experience, while interesting in small bursts, isn’t great for me overall. If you like a game that is tough, but with the toughness coming more from stimulus overload than lack of clarity, then perhaps Deep Sixed is for you.

As it turns out, reading the manual for fixing oxygen leaks while oxygen leaks are happening is… A bad idea.

The Mad Welshman would like to note the devs appear receptive to constructive criticism, as noted by the addition of continuing from saves to Easy Mode just prior to this review being written.

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Slasher’s Keep (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

One thing that has always interested me is the use of older game design techniques, but with the quality of life improvements and changes that come from modern game design. So when I quite quickly noticed that Slasher’s Keep mixes hand drawn, eight angle “sprites” , mixed with cartoonishly textured 3D models, I immediately thought “IN.”

Why thank you for the kind offer of your loot, Mister Moleman. Nothing to do with this hammer I wield, I hope!

I’m happy to say that it’s been charming me more, the further I get. At least partly because, in its quiet way, it is ensuring I get further. And it feels good. Surviving to the second level means I can start finding chutes, through which I can drop equipment from higher levels to the beginning. It also means a shop, somewhat useful when I have vendor trash. Get to the third, and those bits of crafting materials I’ve found can be made into new, spankier weapons… Which it may sometimes be a good idea to just drop in the chute already, knowing that even the swanky kit won’t guarantee my continued breathing abilities.

Each time I die, yes, I lose money, stats, and all the kit I didn’t bung down the shoot… But stat gaining potions, the fact that potion drops scale with you, and the fact that a quarter of your XP can easily be regained (and a bit on top) in a good run, means that slowly, but surely, I’m making my way up, and, importantly, seeing more of the comedy of errors that is Slasher’s Keep.

And there’s no doubt, from the mumbling stone idol that occasionally crops up, goblinoid pin-ups (Including one I was cruelly… Okay, I wasn’t forced to destroy a really good goblinoid pin up, but it was in the way of a treasure chest), and even the introduction show that yes, this is a light hearted game. I mean, if you’d been locked in a cell all the time, with a hole in the wall showing keys just out of reach, would you just… Try pushing the cell door, to realise it didn’t have any hinges?

I like to think I craft metaphors as well as deadly, flaming-icy weaponry.

Well, okay, maybe you would, in reality. But this is a dungeon hack in a comic fantasy world, we’ll have none of this “Common sense” malarkey!

With all this gushing, you’d think, perhaps, that Old Grumpy Reviewer Durbin wouldn’t be unmasked as the monster this time, that there’d be nothing to criticise, and that the Mystery Gang wouldn’t have to pull his latest monster mask off his head to muttery grumblings. But alas, as I often say, no game is perfect, and Slasher’s Keep does do some things that get on my (perky) norks.

That map generation needs a bit more work is understandable. Procgen maps are surprisingly hard, and I can’t really begrudge that. But it must be said that yes, there are dead ends to no good purpose, sometimes at the end of a rather long corridor. Less forgivable, perhaps, are some of the ranged enemies. Specifically, the bugs and skulls. See, it’s Slasher’s Keep, not Waiter’s Keep, and I get rather annoyed when, due to an unforeseen mana shortage, I have to either laboriously trick my insectoid opponent to maybe not retreat over the chasm for the twelfth time, or my bony friends to maybe, just maybe, get on with that screaming plunge attack that inevitably leads to their demise, rather than the floating and shooting me from afar thing they seem so fond of? Mana shortages, in this context, are usually unforeseen because only one wand is effectively hitscan, and so shooting at bugs and skulls rapidly loses me all my mana. As such, skulls and bugs are rapidly achieving the not-really-coveted status of “Well, they’re FUCKING BATS to me, mate!”

Especially as, occasionally, challenge rooms (Where the challenge is “You walked into the room, and now you’re locked in until everything but you (or you) is (are) dead”) will entirely consist of… Bugs or skulls.

I mean, okay, I lost stuff, got stripped, and thrown back in, but not only am I stronger… I’m still hot. So my jailors can suck it.

Otherwise, it’s very enjoyable as a first person procgen comedy murderbrawl, and comes highly recommended otherwise.

The Mad Welshman kindly asks for confirmation whether the stone idol’s accent is indeed Brummy. He still has the scars from confusing Liverpool and Hove, and would like to avoid further accent related injuries…

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Tangledeep (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

One of the many things I find interesting about game design is how, individually, elements can be nothing new, but… In combination, the magic happens. Tangledeep is, in many ways, a traditional roguelike: On its intended difficulty, survival involves genuine consideration and thought, knowledge of its rules (The game likes to remind you, on death, that those healing potions you get don’t take a turn to use, for example), and memorisation, to an extent, of the challenges that face you. This level branches into these levels, this boss is at 6F, and so on.

With the Keen Eye perk, a frankly silly amount of information is easily available about your enemy.

However, there’s enough differences and features that, in essence, listing them all would probably fill a review on its own. Crafting food, with a recipe book in your journal. A JRPG style Job system, where you mix and match both the skills and weapon talents of classes however you feel is optimal. Pets, seeds, a mysterious machine, and, somewhat surprisingly, an overarching narrative, set in a world where climbing up the Tangledeep, and attaining knowledge (Sometimes doing good along the way) is the goal, rather than, for example, climbing down the dungeon of Somuchforthat to gain The McOrbison of Clingfilming… Or something like that.

What this means, in practice, is that you always have a good reason to come back to town through the town portal, checking in on what’s going on, that there’s a fair amount to explore, and, thanks to an adjustable difficulty where you don’t necessarily have to die, you can chill the heck out while doing so, exploring the systems and getting the hang of things before maybe graduating to single character permadeath with unlocks, or, traditionally as heck, permadeath permadeath.

It shouldn’t really be said that you don’t disrespect a birdman’s nest, even if they *are* a jerk… But I went and did it.

Or not. Nice thing about games with a fair amount to do, and adjustable difficulty: You don’t have to explore the whole thing to have fun. It helps that, as Roguelikes go, Tangledeep is pretty accessible. Here, clear menus. This is equipment, food inventory, job point stuff, journal. There, a clear map, everything tile based with a key that leaves little doubt as to what everything is. With good music, sound effects, and visuals, all inspired by SNES JRPGs, a variety of classes, unlocks, etc, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Indeed, my main complaint is one that could be levelled at, honestly, a lot of roguelikes overall: Beyond the special areas and boss levels, going through some of the levels just feels a bit humdrum, a case of “Explore as much as possible, break things, go back to town, up some stairs, rinse, repeat.”

As such, overall? Tangledeep’s pretty good for a Roguelike. It’s got charm to it, and a solid, clear design to its UI that helps make it just that important, little bit more friendly. And that makes it a roguelike well worth checking out.

Please don’t ask me to name your own pets. This is part of why…

The Mad Welshman also has a nice nest. Well, as soon as he puts his many many books in order, preferably without loss of life or limb…

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