Seek Etyliv (Review)

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

Long time readers may have noted that I have a taste for the minimalist. After all, the less elements there are to a design, the less there is that can go wrong. And so, when I saw Seek Etyliv, I was intrigued. A dungeon puzzler consisting of a 3×3 grid.

I have, it seems, somewhat borked myself. I can’t kill this skelly on the right with my batwings, and flying down is certain death.

Yes, that’s right… The game’s puzzles are on a 3×3 grid. There aren’t a ton of them, but they’re sometimes quite devious. A fine example is a grid with two Brain Skeletons (One hit knocks their brain to the nearest available tile clockwise) and a grave marker. Or, more accurately, the fact that half of its orientations have a different solution to the other half. In any case, the rules of the game are very simple: Move into enemies to attack them (Batwings require the target to be two tiles away to attack rather than shove), anything adjacent when you end your move (or are pushed) pushes you away from it, don’t get shoved off the board or into a hole, shove every enemy and their grave markers off the board or into a hole.

Easy idea, devious execution in places. Aesthetically, it is, like the game itself, minimalist, small sprites scaled to however you’ve set it in the options (Personally, 5x seems good enough, and this does appear to be one of those games that’s better off windowed.) , with some good lo-fi sound, being eerily silent otherwise. Works for me, but obviously, taste may differ there.

Well, here she is. We’ve found her, un-named imprisoners! We can go home now!
…Please?

There is a story, of a prisoner, trapped in a dungeon, seeking Etyliv, the Sorceress of Hope, it’s a little surreal (Presumably because there are only skeletons and chests in the dungeon, and not an ounce of food) , and it constitutes one of my few niggles with the game. It’s not that the story is bad, it’s that it’s mostly presented as a poem… Except when it’s not. And the meter feels off. Still, it is a thief imprisoned in a deadly dungeon writing this from starvation, I maybe shouldn’t be expecting Dickinson.

Beyond that, there’s a replayable dungeon mode, in which you unlock characters with which to play… A random selection of the levels from the story. That’s niggle 2: Needs a few Dungeon mode exclusive puzzles to shake things up a bit. Otherwise, this is also somewhat interesting, as it begins you with two letters to name yourself (“You do not deserve more letters” … Shocking dehumanisation there, un-named imprisoner!) , and the more characters you unlock, the closer you get to 6 letters, which, you may have guessed, allows you to rescue Etyliv. Alas, without a third act, leading to niggles 3 and 4: 1.7% of folks have unlocked all characters at the time of the writing, and I have confirmed with the creator that there is no third act to the story. Nonetheless, some of the character unlocking is clever, such as breaking the fourth wall and trying to select a character you can’t select yet to unlock them. They will not, for the sake of spoilers, be named.

I’m glad you’re aware of that, Prisoner… But that doesn’t stop you being here, and also doesn’t stop me wondering why you haven’t told me I won’t get information… Information!

Beyond that, well, it’s small, it’s cheap, and interesting on a couple of fronts.

The Mad Welshman also wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t his fault. In his case, however, he’s often luckier.

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Spy Party (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

I thought my disguise was perfect. Who would have suspected The Mad Welshman, noted vaudevillain and spotlight hogger, to dress as a distinguished old lady? Statues checked and swapped: Check. Ambassador bugged: Check. Guest list purloined: Check. All in under a minute. Time to enjoy my drink, and…

That final, fateful sip…

Well, in the middle of savouring the drink, a high velocity round, the only one the sniper has, enters through my ribcage, putting paid to my dreams of living high on villainy. My opponent calmly explains how they tagged me: They knew that the Pub was a git to see the statues in, so they suspected me from the get go, but it wasn’t until the guest list disappeared that they were sure. So close. The next game, they also steal the guest list, but on the move, so, instead of my rightful suspect, a diplomatic incident is created as the harmless old lady, who was enjoying a nice G&T, is snuffed out due to a case of mistaken identity.

Spy Party is a simple game, in one respect: There is a sniper, whose laser sight is visible, and who has one bullet, watching a party in one of several locales. There is a spy, who has to achieve a certain number of missions without getting sniped. You would think, considering that the possible objectives go up, but the number of objectives to achieve remains roughly the same through most of the difficulty levels, that it would be stacked in the spy’s favour: Anything up to 16 guests, only a few of which can be ruled out (due to being targets for the spy in one respect or another), and an average of 7 possible objectives per area.

The replay function, in combination with helpful players, is very useful for working out what went wrong… Or *so close to right, dammit*

But this is without accounting for the fact that there are any number of tells that can give you away. Sometimes, as with contacting the Double Agent, it’s loud. “BANANA BREAD”, the game declares. Sometimes, as with another game I played, they’re subtle. “Oh, you picked up your glass and went straight to the statue? The statues need to be picked up with both hands, so the AI doesn’t go to the statues unless they’re on their last sip.”

See? So obvious once it’s explained… But it caught me out. But it goes the other way, too. You can, if you’re clever (and a little lucky) grab the Ambassador’s briefcase, fingerprint it while walking, hand it to the ambassador, and bug them, all while strolling to the next conversation. One objective, and a part of a second, with no-one the wiser unless they’d already pegged you. A false contact, while the sniper’s looking at another of the two Double Agents, can get them suspicious of exactly the wrong people. There’s a lot of depth to it, and this is early days yet.

It’s not all roses with Spy Party, although it’s a solidly designed game with a lot of depth… The lobby’s an old school IRC type deal, with a little reading of the manual needed to understand how to, for example, make your own room (it’s /mr “[room name]” , by the way) , but playing publicly is currently alright, with players often explaining how they got you.

The Dossier, while not quite finished, nonetheless shows you what you can do, and is thus a useful source of tips… For both sides!

Spy Party is multiplayer only, but it’s definitely a multiplayer game I can get behind, one with depth in both perspectives, some good old fashioned psychological warfare, and a clever premise, well executed. Games are 1v1, and, if you have friends, it’s best to make a room, but if you want a multiplayer game with thought required, this is definitely one to look out for.

The Mad Welshman will snipe you. He’d snipe your little dog, too, but, y’know, Intelligence Service budget cuts…

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Q.U.B.E. 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (£4.99 soundtrack. Season pass £9.99 , no DLC yet)
Where To Get It: Steam

QUBE was an interesting puzzle game, a silent, minimalist world, implying something big in its sterile, subtly disordered cubic world, a something that was clarified in its director’s cut (That the Cube was big, headed for Earth, and possibly about to do not nice things. Best be the spanner in the works humans are so good at being, then!)

One of the moments of beauty in QUBE 2. There’s a few of these.

QUBE 2? QUBE 2 improves upon the first in many ways. The general formula is the same: You have a suit, which has the power to affect certain squares of the cubic world, which, for most of the game, is one of one type of block (in Jump-pad, Extend-O-Block, and Cube Drop varieties) , and you use these powers to get around, reroute power in a cubic world, and explore two mysteries.

Why are you, Dr. Amelia Cross, here, in this alien, cubic world?

And what connection does this have to do with the massive cube that maybe threatened Earth last time?

Hrm… Kinda wavering now on whether we were right to blow up that first qube. For multiple reasons…

Unfortunately, explaining it in as minimalist and tight a fashion as the puzzles doesn’t really get across how enjoyable this game is. Yes, three powers. Yes, cubes. But none of that covers, for example, how threatening the world of QUBE 2 starts becoming, as it awakens, and, itself, starts to answer your questions. It doesn’t cover how aesthetically pretty it is, or how there’s a really good colour-blindness accessibility option. It doesn’t cover how the puzzles expand over time, but always iterating in such a way that you can usually see the solution just by stepping back and taking a look. Nothing here feels like a difficulty cliff, just short spikes before the eureka moment hits, and you get that sweet, sweet, puzzle solved endorphin rush. Nice, this goes here, I sit here, and I can switch between these thanks to the cubes I can throw here, and here… And bam, the door is opened, more interesting story awaits!

The long and short of it is: If you like first person puzzlers, QUBE 2 is not only good, it’s an improvement on the original in every way. Unlike the first game, I’m not annoyed at the ball puzzles, or feeling discomfited (at first. It grew on me) by the minimalist style of the game. Well worth a look.

Ahhh… Block C goes on Block B, Insert Person DAC, lift via Tab U. Nice!

One of those times there’s nothing really bad to say. A nice end to the month.

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Going Back – Death Coming

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So here we are, looking at a game where the main character, after having died, is employed by death to… Use various items around the levels to crush, burn, boil, freeze, and, generally speaking, make a lot of pixel people very, very dead. Death Coming is a good dictionary definition of “Guilty Pleasure”, considering its subject matter.

Yup. Pushing tourists into toxic goop by means of plant is one of those “Guilty Pleasure” things.

But y’know what? It’s fun, and I’m somehow shocked I missed this one back in November of last year. Ah well, let’s take a look now.

As noted, the basic gameplay idea is very simple: You have a town, and a certain number of items around town are imbued with the power of death. What this amounts to is that, when clicked for the first time, they (mostly) show you roughly what they’re going to kill, and, the second time around, they activate (With some later additions like guards who stop things going awry, and more complex, multipart death traps.) Aided with this knowledge, two goals are in sight: Kill a certain number of people (Who Death informs you have lived past their time), and kill three specific people in each level, because they, apparently, are both past their time and linked, in some fashion, to your own death.

Aesthetically, the game’s isometric, pixel artwork and ominous tunes give a good backdrop to this strategy game of mass murder, with a whole host of animations that only gets bigger as the varieties of death get stranger and stranger. Here, the manhole cover is opened, and there’s just a frame of suspension, before the fall into darkness, a meaty crunch, and an FPS style announcer deeply intoning “MEGAKILL.” This is not a game trying to step around its subject matter.

Some folks, apparently, need to die more than others. At least some of these can be related to the level’s narrative.

I like how it progresses, and I also like how there’s a very real sense, as the game goes on, that Death is maybe not playing ball, and that maaaaybe we’ve been duped. THE POLICE ARE HERE, as angels descend from the heavens to try and stop your murderous shenanigans. Wait, if the people really are past their time to live, then why… Ohhhhh…

The game does a fairly good job of adding to its replayability, with each area having a new wrinkle, unique feature, or extra step in difficulty (such as the introduction of changes due to different weather conditions. Dagnabbit, I missed my 3 minute window to use a manhole!) , and this leads me to the two niggles I have with this game: That it’s somewhat short (Delightful, but short), and that it has a single save system.

Otherwise, Death Coming is an interesting take on hidden object puzzle gameplay, with a solid focus around its theme, some black comedy, and good replayability. Worth a look.

Every level adding something new, some new wrinkle. Today’s wrinkle? Weather, part the second!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot more to say. The game kind of speaks for itself.

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Nonagram (Review)

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

A Nonagram puzzle, often known as a Picross or Griddler puzzle, is, usually, a calm exercise in logic, where rows and columns are broken into sets of numbers, and you have to deduce the position of blocks in them. The game simply titled “Nonagram” , wants to be the final word in such games, and, can’t lie, it takes a good stab at it.

It is a *pretty* Picross game, I’ll give it that!

Musically, it is quite calming, with lots of xylophones, wind, and piano that you’d find on an Easy Listening Instrumental album… In fact, I’m pretty sure a couple of the tunes are easy listening covers, but that’s by the by. It presents itself well in its Gallery mode and in presentation (I quite like how, rather than a straight grid, coloured puzzles are squares of different values. Pleasing to the eye.) It even has a third option beyond the usual two of “This is definitely a square” and “This is definitely not a square”, which I generally use for checking what could be a square. An editor, and community puzzles, a timed mode and a zoom control allowing for really big puzzles (Alt-Left mouse moves it around, and the column/row numbers don’t change with where you are, just to clarify. So it does work, and you can’t break the puzzles into smaller ones with it.)

Wait, what? AAAARGH, USE THAT NEGATIVE SPACE!

So… So far, so good. I might even go so far as to say “Damn fine.” But, as is often the case, niggles and problems do exist. Gallery mode is relatively accessible, but it’s important to note that timed mode is a challenge mode (So there is a limit), and “Classic” mode starts with a 50×35 puzzle (Definitely requiring zoom.) With or without the zoom to help, puzzles can get finicky, and the game’s definition of perfect is just that: One mistake, and no shiny crown for you!

The size of the puzzles is, itself, somewhat odd… There’s a lot of negative space there, and it’s not being used. Finally, although this is apparently on the roadmap to fixing, the automatic fade-out of numbers you’ve correctly worked out is currently bugged, and so doesn’t accurately display your solving status. Not a game-breaker, but still rather annoying.

As such, it is, undoubtedly, a good Picross game, and has the potential to be a great one. It just needs to somewhat up its game with the bigger puzzles, accessibility wise.

Ah, Gallery mode. Spot the video game references, there are quite a few…

The Mad Welshman wonders if, like with previous genres he’s looked at, he’s going to be known as “The Picross Guy” now. He rather hopes not.

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