The Sexy Brutale (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG, Humble Store

It’s no exaggeration to say that The Sexy Brutale, by Cavalier Games and Tequila Works, has been the high point of my month. Not least because it’s so pleasurable to see a game so delicately planned that the keyboard and mouse control scheme, while a little clunkier than controller, has a neat little touch that made me chuckle.

Hokay, Blood lady!

Reversing time is bound, on keyboard, to F1. I’d like you to think about that for a second, and chuckle with me. It’s nice and subtle, and a good segue into the rest of the game.

The Sexy Brutale can best be described as a stealth puzzle adventure with almost Metroidvania elements, in that solving the puzzle (Which, funnily enough, involves using your time travel and stealth powers, gifted to you by a lady made of blood) gives you extra abilities that will unlock new areas, new people to save from a devilish casino and its employees that, all of a sudden, has stopped fulfilling dreams, and is now murdering folks in blackly fitting ways. Ways that range from the mundane (Poison drinks, a stabbing… It was the 8 of Diamonds, officer, in the Church with the Rifle!) to the bizarre (This is a good time to mention that the game has something that arachnophobes may want to steel themselves for: A giant spider. Just the one, as far as I know, but… Be warned)

The game has Content Warning: Arachnophobia. Thematically appropriate, considering the mask, but yeah, you have been content warned.

But I’m not saying any more about the plot, as this is a moderately linear game, and instead, I’m going to try and persuade you by telling you just how accessible it is, and charming to boot.

First up, aesthetically, the game is beautiful. While the models are not hand-painted, they are stylised in such a way that you could almost believe they were, and the exaggeration helps make this game keep a somewhat light hearted tone despite the fact that, y’know, it’s a supernatural murder party. Similarly, the swinging music helps the mood immensely, from when it’s jazzy and breezy, to the tense tunes when time… Is running out. Everyone is a character, even the Playing Cards, the murderous henchmen, and it says a lot that I was perfectly fine with both watching the demise of the characters for their speech, and spending a lot of time making sure I knew everyone’s route, rewinding the clock to get collectibles, story, and the like. It’s a game where, thanks to the time mechanic, and the usefulness of a map that tracks characters you’ve seen during the day (As long as you’ve seen them, that is), I don’t feel bad about taking my time.

Clear. Concise. USEFUL.

The game encourages me to explore as a result, and that’s a good thing. Similarly, the differing control schemes of the game are both understandable, from the mouse and keyboard’s Dungeon Siege like “Hold right mouse to move, left click to do things, and then keys” to the controller’s “Right stick to move, face buttons and trigger to do things.” So it’s an accessible game too. Things are highlighted, the consistency of the UI is a delight…

…It’s very rare I can say that I don’t have anything negative to say, but I’m quite happy when it happens. The Sexy Brutale is one such game, as it’s accessible, charming, and the clues to its puzzles are uncovered organically. Recommended, and gladly.

The Mad Welshman wears a wolf mask. Well, he would, if the damn thing wasn’t using american shipping. He really wants a nice wolf mask. A red one.

Under Leaves (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam, iTunes App Store

A long while ago, I stated that games for younger children don’t get a fair rap, critically speaking. They’re considered lesser by virtue of… Being kid’s games. Edutainment, especially, is viewed under this lens. So you can imagine my pleasure when I was approached to take a look at Under Leaves, a hidden object game aimed at young children, and the parents thereof.

A clean, simple UI allows for easy access to levels holding a variety of animals living in the world today.

Aesthetically, Under Leaves is colourful and good looking, with hand painted assets that are fairly accurate to their subject matter, which is a variety of animals, the environs they live in, and a single food of each animal’s preference. The music is pleasant, and not overwhelming, and the sound effects are very well chosen. So, aesthetically, the game does pretty well, although I have raised the point that the game falls to a common flaw with some hidden object games (Not taking into account colourblindness in some of the level designs, most notably for me, the oceanic levels.)

The game can, by an adult, be played relatively quickly. In less than an hour, I had discovered many things, and each time I’d found and clicked all of the chosen food item (From nuts to clams to earthworms), I was rewarded with an animation, and a Steam achievement named after the Genus or genera of each animal in question (Such as Chamaeleo for, funnily enough, an African Chameleon – Chamaleo Africanus.) It helped that the help system consists of solving a 3×3 sliding block puzzle with the game’s title card as the image, although another minor criticism is that, on the larger areas, the help circle moves a little quick to catch up to if, say, an object is the other side of the levels.

In later levels, this hint circle can move at quite a clip if something’s across the area.

So, honestly, I somewhat like this as an edutainment game. It shows animals, not just in isolation, but sharing an expanding ecosystem in areas, the achievements are a subtle nod to things parents and children can look up together, and it’s moderately entertaining for me, a jaded thirty something grumpus wearing a reviewer mask. It has replay value (In fact, one can reset the game’s progress quite easily)and isn’t too long to completely go through. Win all round.

Did I mention how gorgeous the illustrations were? I think I did, but it bears repeating.

The Mad Welshman loves animals. Such variety! So many interesting things they do to live! So many things that can be put in tanks for do-gooders to fall into!

Bomb Squad Academy (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

In a somewhat different state of affairs than is usual for reviewing, let’s get the bad out in the first paragraph of this review: Bomb Squad Academy doesn’t currently have good windowed mode support, or a volume slider.

Bam. Thank you, Systemic Games, for making that part of my job so pleasant.

Cue They Might Be Giants playing “Now I Know” in the background.

Bomb Squad Academy is, in essence, a game about basic electronics and electronic logic, under the guise of possibly the nicest fictional bomb defusal school I’ve ever come across. The final bomb for the second actual puzzle category (Including the dreaded OR gate) has little LED displays connected to the correct defusing options that read, on completion, “CONGRATS YOU ARE LEGEND.” The instructor encourages you to experiment, and is even occasionally seen to be trying positivity when you screw up, the screen goes white, and presumably you are small meaty chunks. “Well, you might not need that arm!”

Thanks, bomb instructor. Thanks a bunch for being understanding, and giving me a second chance in this educational setting. No, really! In any case, the game is very simple to control. Left click interacts with things. That’s it. Wires get cut. Buttons are pushed (and sometimes held down), switches get flicked or rotated… And through it all, I get to relearn the things I learned in Secondary School Electronics (that’s High School, to non-Europeans), such as the behaviour of logic gates (AND, OR, XOR, and the like), capacitors, switches and buzzers, in carefully planned puzzles that never feel overwhelming.

Each category is explained quite well, with good tutorialisation that means you never feel *overwhelmed* . Only tense.

Tense? Yes. The time limit is real, and sometimes it can be tight… But, much like real and good instruction, it’s at a pace you’re fairly certain you can handle. Concepts are introduced, then tested, and those tests slowly increase in complexity, bringing older elements in, and, since everything is visually clear, you’re never overwhelmed… Just occasionally pushed into not noticing things. Like how cutting that wire probably wasn’t the good idea you thought it was, or how you failed to account for that one AND gate.

But it’s okay. The instructor understands, and so, the fun is preserved, and you feel pretty smart when you look, trace around, mutter a bit, and, with less than thirty seconds on the clock, push a few buttons, cut a single wire, and flick a dial just so to defuse the bomb. Complete with a triumphant tune.

Simple. Elegant. And with a difficulty curve smooth as butter, rising just so for enjoyment with the occasional shock. Definitely recommended for puzzle fans, and folks looking for an entry level puzzle game.

Many bombs in the game *look* complex… Until you see what’s going on. Take a breath. You’ve still got a minute to cut some wires, it’s all good.

The Mad Welshman is looking forward to the possibility of a circuit editor in this game’s future (No promises.) After all, it appeals to his villainous side more than the defusal of bombs.

Hidden Folks (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page

It’s not often I get to review a game that’s so very honest about what it is: A hidden object/person search in the purest sense of the word, where the entire point is to click on things in the hope that yes, that’s the one you’re looking for. Or, y’know, get eyestrain trying to do it legitimately. That’s an option too.

Clicking on things, as it turns out, is the wiser option. As is discovering the scroll wheel does zoom in and out in many places. And that click and drag moves things. The game doesn’t outright tell you any of this, but you do discover it fairly quickly and organically, so I can’t really have a go at the developers for that.

Goodness me, there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there?

In fact, there’s a lot going for what, at first, appears a simple and unassuming game, and a lot of that is because the developers have done their homework on both their source inspiration (Things like the Where’s Wally?/Waldo? books) and how a game… Can somewhat get around the limitations of their source.

Like the hidden person books from which they’ve drawn inspiration, there are stories in each image. The butterfly hunt. A day at the farm. A concert in the middle of the desert, which proved… Not to be the best idea. But interaction is required to fully spot everything you want (Although you can move forward before spotting everything, if you so desire, which is very nice.) Some people and objects are hidden behind leaves, or rocks that you drag, or, in one case, you have to appease the gods of the corn for your blessing to appear (Yes, I’m being cryptic. It’s not a long game, so I’m trying my damnedest not to give you any hints that the game isn’t.) Clicking on the objects to find in the bottom bar will give you a hint. Not always a very useful hint, but then, they weren’t always very useful in the Where’s Wally books either. And, of course, sometimes something is more apparent zoomed in, than zoomed out.

All these lovely… HEY, SHEPHERD! THAT’S NO PLACE TO TAKE A SHOWER!

Adding to this is the charm of the audio. Pretty much everything is done, soundwise, via foley, aka “Let’s try and imitate the noises with our mouths”, and I shamelessly love that. There’s a sense of playfulness about it as a result. Similarly, while the black and white line-art of the visuals may be a turn-off for some, it neatly sidesteps colourblindness issues that could be such a problem in hidden person books, and, again, it has charm.

Honestly, there’s only two things I would really criticise, and both of those are effectively niggles: The flavour text boxes for each level don’t run on a replay (You can delete your progress and replay), and the varieties of left mouse interaction aren’t very well explained (But become apparent with experimentation on the second level.)

For the price, one and a half times that of one of those pocket Where’s Wally books, I’d honestly recommend Hidden Folks to fans of this sort of thing, and for folks who want a relaxing, somewhat likeable game that involves just exploring the landscape.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he moved the train down the tracks. Ostensibly, he’d find one of those people he was hired to… But the hero tied up in front was definitely a bonus!

Dungetris (Review)

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

Dungetris is not, sadly, a game you’re going to be playing for enjoyment. To pass time, yes. To see an interesting idea, yes. But sadly, the creativity extends only so far, making this… Not a bad purchase, per se? But one where purchasing with awareness and acceptance of its flaws is perhaps wisest.

This is what victory looks like. It will look something like this from about Act 2 onwards. It looks a little like this in Act 1 too.

So let me help you there. The basic concept is an interesting one, balancing turn based roguelike elements (You take a step, time passes) with building the dungeon as you go in a manner similar to, but not quite like Tetris (Not all the blocks are tetronimoes, there’s no rotating them or slotting them, and unfillable spaces are filled in.) It’s fairly accessible, with clear UI, simple controls (WASD to move, mouseover for tooltips, right mouse to enter build mode, and left mouse to either place blocks or interact with chests/gubbins/cards, although the arrow keys are sometimes usable), and everything is mostly explained.

But problems become apparent fairly quickly. There is precisely one music track, and the sound can best be described as “Blah.” It’s there, but that’s about all I can say. Similarly, there are unlockable characters, but… They don’t seem to make a huge difference (Death is somewhat dodgier, Loic is somewhat tankier), as most of the tactical considerations come from block placement, getting the drop on enemies (Sometimes as simple as placing the next tile in the right way, others as annoying as hitting space to wait until they step next to you), and on card usage. It doesn’t help that, while experience is persistent per character, it is per character, so properly levelling up means replaying the levels, and…

…Here we come to the core. There’s that basic idea. And it’s good. Okay. Fine. But at something like a third of the way through Act 3 (81% complete, if steam achievements are any arbiter), it’s been “Kill X of Y” nearly all the way through. Sometimes that’s been relatively easy (Kill X Enemies, full stop.) Sometimes that’s been a bit finicky (Kill X Enemy Type Y, not guaranteed to spawn in any tile.) Sometimes, it’s just a pain in the arse (Kill X Elite Enemies, which, as the screenshot below shows, was the time I stopped to write this.)

Kill things again? But daaad, I’m *tired* of just killing things!

What do these have in common? Padding. I have all the cards, so there’s no sense of progression there. I have all the characters, and progression of more than one means more of the same. New tiles and enemies stopped appearing somewhere near the beginning of Act 2, and, due to the way the tiles work? I’d killed the boss of Act 2 in… Pretty much every level. So when I was asked to kill the boss at the end of the act?

I sighed.

Act 3’s first level, and the Rescue Smith level (allowing you to reach the smith early to upgrade cards), have been the only major difference so far, and… I wasn’t terribly impressed with either, sadly. The first required you to beat the boss before finding the Smith tile (Either that or continue to place tiles after the boss one until you hit the Smith tile), and the second required placing 200 blocks.

If you guessed, while reading that paragraph, that it feels like padding? You win an imaginary cookie. Stuffed with padding.

Death is usually a result of either being underlevelled because you switched characters, or poor planning. That’s… About it, honestly. Note: Both Space and R kick you back to the main map rather than R restarting the level. This may get fixed in the future. Maybe.

So, in the end, I can’t really recommend Dungetris, as it doesn’t have much going for it except grind, but I can’t say it’s bad… Just shallow, grindy, and padded out. For £4 , though, if you want to take a look, it’s still fairly accessible, and a good time waster, but that’s about the extent of its good points, sadly.

The Mad Welshman hefted another oddly shaped brick with a monster in it. He was hoping for a chest piece, but you know how it is with these brick sets… Can never find the one you want.