Unheard (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

I love me a good mystery. Or three. Or five. I also love me some weirdness. So when Unheard popped up on my radar, I was intrigued. Ghost voices? Solving cold cases via audio recordings with movements of characters on a map? Deduction? Hell. Yes.

At the successful conclusion of each case, a short recap showing where the main clues were plays out.

And, overall, I’m not disappointed. I might as well get the niggles out of the way first, because they really are, honestly, niggles, little things. Firstly, it’s perfectly possible to just cows and bulls your way to the answer once you’ve identified everybody (You have X correct, no, X-1, ah, that one’s right, cool, next), and secondly, achievements are slightly borked in that it seems to give you the achievement for solving the case only with the play button… Even if you actually do use the recording progress bar (Rewind and Fast-Forward still fail the achievement.) And… That’s pretty much it, because the cases themselves get interesting pretty quickly. It starts nice and simple, with a twin identity case, moves on to an art theft where not all is as it seems, a terrorist bombing that also cleaned up the terrorist’s loose ends… Each one has something where the twist makes repeating the recording from different perspectives important, and each gives its clues well, for the most part (I say the most part, because case 3’s first question’s biggest clue is a surprisingly subtle one)

As you might be able to appreciate, I have to pick my images very carefully. I don’t want to spoil it for you…

The premise at first seems simple: You are someone being assessed using a new system of solving cases, all involving sound recordings of cold cases taken from places. Sounds unreal, and the game does a lot to make it seem more so, but, within its word, it feels real. On the one hand, it’s a short game, taking about three or four hours to complete, but it’s a well written experience, and the one mystery it does leave unsolved, it does so for a reason. Again, though, certain evidence deeply implies the solution, and I like that. Equally, I like the sound design, making the conversations with your assessor seem strange (you never see her face, for example), and the visual design very clearly lays out what’s needed.

Of course, the problem with saying much more, is that there are five cases, and to say much more risks spoilers… But it fits all the criteria of a good mystery game. It allows you to solve the case on your own, with the tools provided. Equally, it doesn’t hold your hand, instead allowing you to make notes. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaves just enough mystery to stay interesting all the way through, and, while it doesn’t appear like it ties up everything, it does, and that’s really cool. If you like mystery solving, give this one a look.

Case 3, pictured, is where things really start kicking off.

The Mad Welshman has to toodle off. Something about a new system where correcting contradictions in a manga short reveals who coded the cool tricks in games…

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Baba Is You (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Baba is Love. Baba is Win. Baba is also frustrating at times, but thankfully, it sets out its mindbending premise succinctly, and Baba has Charm.

The world is pretty big, although completing all puzzles is by no means mandatory. Thankfully.

Effectively, Baba is You is one of those tile-based, turn-based puzzle games where your conundrums lie in the forms of combinations of game rules. Something has to be YOU, and if it isn’t… Well, crap (Although one potential workaround is to have a thing that has you in it, or to have multiple YOU to work with.) Something, equally, is WIN, although it’s not always defined at the beginning. And, to make matters more interesting, words in these simple rule phrases can be pushed around like objects. So long as YOU reach the WIN, it’s fair game, and, while not all puzzles have multiple solutions, some definitely do.

Things start relatively simple, but believe me, it doesn’t stay that way.

Which quite neatly leads me to how pretty much all of the problems I have with it are purely subjective, and temporary, leaving me with not much except to slap “Does What It Says On The Tin.” Some of the puzzles too difficult? Nah, I’m pretty sure that’s me not getting it. These aren’t your simple logic problems I’m comfortable with, these are “What rules, in what order, expressed in this specific way, get me to my goal”, and a fair amount of that is lateral thinking. The wobble of the screen can be turned off, and a grid can be added to help you think it out more easily. Everything is clear, and, as to the seizure warnings I had, I’m again pretty sure I can chalk that up to my secondary trigger of “Word/Math puzzles”, as opposed to any flashing or patterns (Yes, I had similar problems with Alphabear. Epilepsy with both primary and secondary triggers being things I enjoy, by the way, does indeed suck, thanks for asking.)

That’s… A lotta rules. o.O

And what that leaves me with, is, essentially, a clear game, that clearly sets out what it basically wants you to do, gives you the tools to do it, and steps aside to let you enjoy its low-fi aesthetic, its cute things that you don’t want to blow up (but sometimes have to), and its puzzles, which, hard or no, are pretty well designed in that nothing is really wasted. I can tell you it’s relatively cheap, and all the things, I’ve said, but all that’s really left is that this comes recommended. Baba is Win.

The Mad Welshman scratches his head. WELSHMAN is WRITE, and WELSHMAN is DRAW. But WELSHMAN is not Y- [pop]

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Heartbeat (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£14.92 for game + soundtrack, £5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaaaart beat.. Why do I miss… Oh, wait, no, this is not, in fact, the TV show starring Nick Berry, but an RPG Maker game inspired by monster capturing games (Although to pick just one it’s inspired by would perhaps be a disservice.) A game that, while definitely interesting, is… Not without flaw right now. So… Let’s get this out the way right now.

BOULDERS. WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE BOULDERS?

If you are not fond of puzzle elements, especially, for example, block pushing puzzles, Heartbeat will probably turn you off within the first hour. It’s stylistically very fitting to its inspirations, it tries to do interesting things with its narrative of a world that lives with spirits (Mogwai.) It has a good soundtrack. Its combat is relatively quick and pleasant, and, while this isn’t something that would interest folks other than gamedev enthusiasts, I appreciate how the RPGMaker MV engine has been tweaked to good effect. It’s even pretty accessible.

But I freely admit I’ve found myself struggling to get very far, because of that combination of my own desire for completionism (CHESTS CHESTS CHESTS), and because the game frontloads about nine or ten block pushing/ball rolling puzzles in its first major segment, the Sol Tunnels. And, honestly, this is a bit of a shame for me, both in the sense of being a little ashamed, and feeling sad that this is so, because some of the puzzle elements are, in fact, quite cool.

Ahahaha. Oh, you sweet summer child…

With a tap of the Q key, you can select which party member leads, and each one has something that helps explore the world. Rex, for example, is a lightning cat Mogwai who can jump small gaps and fences. Klein, the protagonist’s primary companion as a Conjurer (Someone who makes pacts to share their souls with Mogwai, as diplomats and defenders of the uneasy truce), is small enough that he can fit through catflaps, and, being a Cait Sith, can talk to cats. The dialogue is a little cheesy in places, but it’s characters definitely have their charm, and it hits that right note between SatAm Pokemon, and a more serious monster training world.

Rex… So good, but they really need to stop rubbing their fur all over my nylon carpet…

Sometimes, alas, while you can see the charm about a game, something turns you off, and, in my case, it’s the front-loading of a puzzle type I have never been fond of. I would still say that monster hunting and JRPG fans check this out, because it does do interesting things, playing with the formula, but… It is, unfortunately, not really for me.

It happens sometimes. Still, I can appreciate the art. <3

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Simmiland (Review)

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

If there’s one thing that God games have taught me, it’s that being a God is hard. So much to manage, so little time, so many plates, just spinning in line… But, more recently, God games like Crest, Reus,and now Simmiland, have brought me to the conclusion that while being a God is hard, it’s not helped by humans. Demanding, contrarian, and often hard to teach humans.

(Citation Needed)

It also doesn’t help when the Manual for Good Godding gets mislaid.

Simmiland is, in essence, a real-time, puzzle God-game. You have cards, most of which have different effects on different biomes of the randomly generated world, and placing cards (Starting with your humans) takes Belief. From there, it’s working out what, placed where, gets the results you want. For example, minerals on grass gives you bog standard rock, useful for setting up. But placing rock in the ocean gets you coral, which, after you’ve researched medicine, needs to be Inspected for better medicine.

I’m not quite sure yet what Plague teaches my little Simmians, but it sure is cathartic when I get frustrated.

Sometimes, nuking something from orbit is the only way to be sure. And yes, there is a reason for this. A confusing reason… But a reason.

Nonetheless, the clock is ticking, and the clock is the size of your deck. So, at first, The End is guaranteed, you harvest belief based on what you managed to achieve, buy more God Cards at the God Shop, look at your compendium…

…And start all over. Aesthetically, the game is simple, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into being accessible. Cards in certain spots in your hand, for example, become a little difficult to select, be that for playing them, or selling them for belief in the tighter moments. The Compendium is the main source of remembering what a card does, and… You can’t see that from in-game. Two windows (Camp, and Wishes) are recommended to be open a fair bit of the time (Wishes all of the time, in fact, as they give you belief), but they clutter up the view. So part of the difficulty comes from struggling to remember what does what on your eventual, ideal path. Achievements at the end do help somewhat with this, giving you goals to shoot towards, but part of the “fun” is in finding out how the heck to get to these rewards.

Thing is, I can’t deny it isn’t interesting, for the same reason I found Reus interesting. Bashing things together to see what does what, building up a picture of the path I want, then aiming for it. But I also can’t deny it can’t be a frustrating experience. Human demands are sometimes very specific, and sometimes include things you just don’t know how to do yet. Heck, sometimes, it includes things that are a little irritating to do, like tropical biomes (Three suns, followed by a rain, presumably in a grass biome),or avoiding locking yourself into some dead ends. Individual games are short (Around 10 to fifteen minutes at most), but getting those achievements, those endings, that progress… That takes time.

Why… Why would you even wish for that? WHY?!?

A cool experiment in doing God Games a little differently, with elements that frustrate, and others that somewhat confuse (Why, precisely, does having a church limit your Simmians IQ to 120?)…Worth checking out, considering its price, but some unintuitive elements do bring it down somewhat.

The Mad Welshman reminds all those who haven’t discovered the secret of fire to Bang The Rocks Together, Folks!

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Dungeon Girl (Review)

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

This review took a while because, at first, it’s somewhat hard to see what the problem is with Dungeon Girl. After all, how complex, or intricate, or messy could a game really be, when its main game loop consists of clicking on groups of same-coloured blocks to remove them, and other blocks fall down?

Looks p. simple, and the main action (clicking on those blocks) *is* . Everything else? Nooooot so much…

As it turns out, a fair bit. So let’s get into Dungeon Girl, in which a dungeon explorer for the Kingdom explores dungeons, albeit not in the fashion many are used to.

Dungeon Girl is, simply put, a block removing turn-based game with RPG mechanics. There are several kinds of blocks, but the most important (and common) are Life (Heals you), Work (Digs out ore), Search (Finds the exit to each floor), and Attack (Does what it says on the tin.) More blocks of the same colour make for a larger effect, and if one or more rows of the grid are filled with a block-type when you remove it, this has another extra effect. 200 dungeon floors, bosses roughly every fifteen floors, stairs roughly every 5 floors, and if you get damaged or your Mind meter goes to 0% , you lose that exploration run.

What’s that? I didn’t mention Mind? Are there Mind Blocks? What are these RPG mechanics? Well, this is where it gets a little complicated. Yes, there are Mind blocks, uncommon as they are. There are also items that heal mind. There’s also quests, and item mixing, and an item encyclopedia, and support members with their abilities and skill grids to put Friend Points in, and… Oh, your eyes are already glazing over. Yes. Mine did too, until suddenly some of these things become important. While others… Don’t. So much. So far. This, readers, is the problem here. It’s a game whose core game loop is simple enough, but everything surrounding it isn’t. And not a whole lot of it feels very useful, whether it is or isn’t. I can, for example, affect the tile drop rate by changing my Adventurer Type, unlocked by specific Friend Point tiles on their skill grids. I can also unlock their Stories, little vignettes, and extra HP, and Treasure Keys, and…

Yes. Yes. This is definitely a skill square. Those are definitely words, and abilities, and rising numbers.

…And while a fair amount of this is explained, not all of it is explained well, and so I’ve shied away from certain features because I genuinely can’t grasp their utility. These Object Points are good, huh? How do I… How do I get more of them? What does that actually do? I have Nono’s Bento at something like +4 , with 7 of them, at 0P. Looking at the help explains it a little, but I have 7 Nono’s Bentos, a +4 that doesn’t seem to do anything, and no bonus (the Help tells me it’s because I haven’t got enough of Nono’s Bento to unlock said bonus.) As such, mixes have largely been left the hell alone in my playthrough, and types left unchanged. Nothing seems to have suffered as a result.

But how are these items gotten? Treasure chests. Which require keys. Which require either unlocking skill grid items on party members (Considering how quickly the Friend Point requirement for the next grid item rises, this is not a preference) or Quests. Quests refresh every ten game days (three moves a day) in a dungeon, and, while some are perfectly do-able (Remove X blocks of Y type, Remove X blocks in one go of Y type Z times, Don’t Get Hurt for X turns), others seem, at best, counterproductive for their gains (Reduce yourself to 20% HP! Fight 5 enemies at once!) and others a matter of luck or speed, rather than skill (Fight X enemies, Fight Y rare enemies.) There’s conflicting elements here, and while choosing between them adds to the difficulty (because treasure chests can only be opened with keys), some seem particularly silly. Use X stairs? Er, yes, because I really want to be going deep quicker when my attack isn’t actually good enough for five floors down right now.

Dungeon Girl started somewhat enjoyable, a little confusing, a little popcorny, and I can see how folks who gave up on it early disliked it for “simple” gameplay. Over time, though, I’ve grown to dislike it because it’s not simple. It’s a hodgepodge of systems that aren’t terribly well explained, with elements fighting each other over how you should progress using its “simple” game loop. Which is less simple because that hodgepodge of elements seems to be affecting, behind the scenes, how well I attack, or the like. To the point where even explaining why it feels like a hodgepodge has turned this review… Into a hodgepodge.

While this ends well, I can’t help but feel this isn’t a good way of going about things. Also, I like pineapple on pizza.

The Mad Welshman loves tooltips. But tooltips, as he’s found elsewhere, are of little use when you don’t know the tooltip is there.

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