Lumines Remastered (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99 (£9.49 for the Digital Deluxe DLC… Which is the soundtrack, some wallpapers, and avatars)
Where To Get It: Steam

Lumines Remastered is, on a basic level, exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the Lumines you may already have if you love the tetromino arcade puzzler, but with a higher resolution, some better menus, and some minor added features such as a versus CPU and multiplayer mode. Not a lot has changed, except that I find this version, oddly, triggers my epilepsy while the previous does not, and, as such, skins that were not colourblind friendly, remain unfriendly to those of us who have colourblindness of some description.

Although this does not look like a problem, the backgrounds are animated, and this seems to make this particular skin harder to differentiate.

So, for those of you who’ve played Lumines before, there’s your paragraph. For those who haven’t, let’s have a chat about feel and difficulty. Because the way Lumines works is quite cool, even if this remaster isn’t something I can recommend to my fellow epileptics.

Lumines, mechanically, works on three main elements. Matching squares with four tiles, of two different colours, into squares of single colours. A wipe bar, which, if you’ve matched a block while the wipe bar’s going across said block? Won’t fully count. And varying the speed of both block falling and the wipe bar to change the difficulty. Early levels are a normal speed for both, but then the block falling speeds up, and, every now and again, the wipe bar… Slows down. Which, considering this follows the usual tetropuzzle rule of “If you fill up a column and try to put a block on that column, you lose” , makes it harder, because matched squares don’t go away until the wipe bar’s fully crossed all the rows.

If you’ve got this many blocks this late, you have a problem.

Clever stuff, and a skilled player, despite being able to take it slower in certain stages, can take advantage of the slower wipe bar to build up some incredibly silly combos, and clear lots and lots of blocks. But mechanics alone doth not a game make, and Lumines also has a solid, clear aesthetic going for it. While, as I mentioned, some levels don’t differentiate the light/dark blocks terribly well, the majority thankfully do, and the music is a good mixture of catchy, dark, pumping, and relaxing. A medley of melodies, if you will. The effects of the game when blocks are cleared pleases my lizard hindbrain, and so, feelwise? It feels good.

Overall, if you already have Lumines Advanced, the only major selling points are the multiplayer/CPU mode and higher resolution graphics, but if you like tetromino puzzlers, Lumines has quite a pedigree, and hasn’t fixed what isn’t broken.

Mmmmm… Parrrrticles…

The Mad Welshman is not, despite the conspiracy theorists, actually a lizard. He’s a werewolf.

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Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

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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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