Puyo Puyo Tetris (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Puyo Puyo, a game about matching pairs of blobs into groups of four or more, preferably in chains to Mean Bean your opponent into submission with drops of blobs from above that can only be broken with a match (and often, block matches.)

Crap. I am, it seems, Tetrising awfuls today!

Tetris, a game about matching tetrominoes into neat, tidy lines, preferably of four, in order to slam your opponent from below with dead lines, each having a gap that may or may not be easy to clear.

It was sort of inevitable, really, that the two would clash. And so they have, in the aptly named Puyo Puyo Tetris, which, yes, has been out awhile on consoles and handhelds, but hit PC a short while ago, and you know what? It Does What It Says On The Tin. And then a bit.

That “bit” would be the extremely silly Adventure Mode, the story of two (Well, technically three, but mainly two) universes colliding, with both of those worlds seeing a ‘Mino or a Puyo battle as means to… Well, let’s see here… Calm someone down, rile someone up, think clearly, stop a spaceship from crashing, forge eternal bonds of friendship… And these are all examples from the first chapter and a bit. Let’s not forget a clear menu system (Loud… But clear), a lovely soundtrack, unlockables out the wazoo, puzzle modes, challenge modes, and a decent tutorial set if you’ve never popped Puyos or lined up a Tetris.

“I shall also be engaging in Tetris-Puyo battles to clean my dishes later on!”

But it should also be noted that the game seems to expect you to have checked those tutorials. Some of the timed levels I had trouble finishing before remembering the insta-drop of Tetris, and Fusion mode, which you will encounter sooner or later, is somewhat devilish because of the way Tetrominoes and Puyos mix… Which is to say, one sinks to the bottom, pushing the other to the top.

So the rules don’t really change. You’re still making Tetris lines, you’re still popping Puyos… But you’re effectively playing two, linked games in the same small playfield, with tetrominoes affecting your Puyo play, in the same space. I’m not ashamed to admit the first time I tried it, I was a confused, demoralised mess. The second time? Yeaaaah, I’d consider 12 wins Endurance a fair comeback.

With each character having small changes and specials that add extra variety to play, I’d say that yes, Puyo Puyo Tetris is worth a go if you’re either a Tetris or Puyo Puyo fan… With, of course, the best experience coming from getting to know your quirky friend.

Ahahahaaaa, AHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!
I enjoy winning.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t hand out the Does What It Says On The Tin award as often as you’d think.

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Algo-Bot (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Programming within limitations has always been an interesting exercise. Take, for example, a robot. Give it some limited options, such as moving forward, turning, picking something up, putting something down, or hitting a button, and then limit it to a certain number of instructions (With some ability to bring things down to functions, which can be used in place of a smaller set of instructions repeated.) That’s the basis for AlgoBot, a game by Fishing Cactus.

AAAAARGH!

And it’s not a bad basis for a game at all. There’s a certain pleasure in solving the problem as ideally as possible, and another, entirely different kind of pleasure in solving a complex problem at all. Providing you’re teaching well as you go along, you can add complexity, more things to do, more challenge to it all. This, too, Algo Bot does well. Starting with simple commands, it moves onto functions, teaching you that if you want something done well, isolating the most repeated instructions saves time and frustration. Then another function, more instructions, so on. It does so with a good, clear UI, some nice futurist designs for robots and belts and buttons that clearly identifies every element in your mind. So far, so good.

If this were the end of things, having a good learning curve, a nice, clear aesthetic, and an interesting idea, this would make it a damn good game, and another entry into the Hall of Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin. There are, however… Niggles. Little annoyances. For example, instructions cannot be changed while the program is running, even in the step by step mode, so the trickier the puzzle gets, the more you’re having to play the whole thing through, painfully, to identify the problem. That the speed option resets after each playthrough, equally, is a niggle.

Sometimes, thankfully, the simple solution really is the one you’re looking for.

Nonetheless, I enjoy the futurist aesthetic, from the tunes to the clean, expressive robots, and the comedy of errors that is the story. In closing, I only have this to say to my robot PAL: Only a poor workman blames his tools.

The Mad Welshman has deliberately chosen screenshots where he wasn’t actually that close to a solution. Just so you know.

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Iconoclasts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.49
Where To Get It: Steam

An Iconoclast is one who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. Sometimes, because this is the right thing to do, holding back progress. Sometimes, because said beliefs or institutions conflict with the individual philosophy. Sometimes, simply because it’s cherished.

Of course, sometimes it can be a little hard to tell *why* an institution is cherished as an outsider. Who do you love and who loves you? YES!

It’s kind of interesting that this is the title of the game, not because of the story (involving a mechanic rebelling against a techno-religious regime that’s repressive because ??? . No, they’re demonstrably evil. It’s just their reasons are unclear for the majority of the game) , but because Iconoclasts, in its way, is trying to shift things up mechanically. Nominally called a Metroidvania, it nonetheless does… And doesn’t fit that mould. More accurately, it’s a puzzle platformer where even the combat against the many bosses… Is a puzzle.

And, at times, the game contains the frustrations of both. “Oh, sod!” I mutter, as I backtrack three times round an area to solve one small puzzle. “Wait, what am I meant to do here?” , as I get lost, or encounter a new enemy who’s immune to what’s worked so far. “Wait, my reward for solving this bit is… more, with a different element? ARGH!” as, yes, puzzles mix things up, and bosses often have multiple phases. That isn’t to say there isn’t joy, or the appreciation of a well-crafted fight… But poor explanation or signposting often leaves me irritable as I play through.

Oh, hello there, Screen Splitting Laser. How’s the folks? Good? Fine, fine…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. The music is wonderful, the world is interesting, if a little confusing at times, and enemy designs are varied and numerous. The writing, on the other hand, is a little heavy handed, and I’ve found it, at times, a little difficult to precisely work out what’s going on. Okay, pirates. Who are ancestor worshippers and use seeds, which is apparently heretical. Nearly everyone seems to be going through some form of survivor stress, with abandonment and safety being prime concerns (Presumably because this safety is provably rather hard to keep, even if you follow the techno-theocracy’s rules, and because people keep dying or being kidnapped), and it can sometimes be hard to keep up. The techno-theocrats have pseudo-magic powers, presumably through this Ivory stuff, which may or may not be nanomachines, son?

It’s a bit confusing. Does this necessarily make it bad? Well… Not really. It doesn’t make it great, or possibly even that good, but the movement is fluid, the combat moves mostly responsive, and being able to move (or charge your wrench, when the time is right) while charging up gun attacks is a nice move that makes things a little easier. The physics are pretty dependable, and that’s a good thing, because some of the puzzles really do depend on object physics to get by.

Explained: That ‘sploding the red parts push the box in the opposite direction. Demo’d: That the seeming background blocks stop its movement. Not quite explained: To use your charged shot here, you have to be at least a certain distance *away* from that rightmost pad. Otherwise it clinks off harmlessly.

As to how it feels to play? Well, sometimes, it’s good. Oh hey, a new area. A cool new ability (sparsely handed out in the first two thirds of the game.) A new character. This area’s pretty straightforward. Other times… Well, the frustration kicks in. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll finish Iconoclasts. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll get the point. But it’s not a game I’m playing in more than little bursts, and I’m probably not alone there.

The Mad Welshman wants to clarify that this is an okay game. The frustration balances out the joy of working out how the heck ass gets kicked.

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Battle Chef Brigade (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Battle Chef Brigade is charming. Its art style is clean, consistent, clear, and cool. Its music is very fitting and well crafted. It even fuses platforming combat, match 3 gameplay, and the tension of a real competitive cook-off. Although it at first didn’t seem to appeal much, it did grow on me, and part of that is how it introduces its mechanics.

So much talent, all in one place… Oh, so jealous of the judges!

Before we talk about that, though, let’s talk about aesthetic. Battle Chef Brigade is hand drawn, thin lines and flats making for a tight construction, with some good takes on fantasy designs, and similarly tight animations. Varied character design, good music, mostly good voice acting (some a little flat, but mostly good), and it ties into a world with something that I always enjoy seeing, because it’s a subject not often covered: How life changes in a fantasy world. Okay, so there are monsters, and magic. The former is deadly, the latter is potentially deadly. How do you apply the latter (and hunting) to the former, and still have a society that doesn’t have the dread Adventurer?

Battle Chefs. Complete with a cultural touchstone of an Iron Chef style cookoff, with preferred tastes and signature ingredients. It’s a simple idea, but the entire story of Battle Chef Brigade revolves around making it both plausible and interesting. Here, the Orcs Thrash and Shiv, from lineages that peacefully united the Orc tribes through a shared love of cuisine. There, Ziggy, creating a new and very possibly unsafe (but tres cool) method in Haunt Cuisine. Necromantically prepared? Hit me up with those dark aftertastes, my friend!

So, it’s an interesting world, its characters are engaging, but what about the play and main storyline? Well, here’s where it takes a bit, just a bit, to get going. If you recognise variations on the Hero(ine)’s Journey, you’ll recognise Mina Han. At first selfish, wanting to see the world, but still with promise (after all, she wants to improve a creative skill, I can applaud that), she learns hard lessons, faces a tribulation that affects both her and the world (I won’t spoil it), and becomes a better person along the way. Okay, so it may not win awards, but it has charm, and I like it.

The dishes come in many types, and they’re all *eyewateringly* nice looking.

Similarly, the basic idea of using Match 3 mechanics with a cook-off makes immediate sense once you see it in action. Hunting down monsters in a themed arena area off to one side, gathering ingredients at first seems pretty basic: Wallop monsters, they die, they drop stuff, you can carry so much, run back and forth to gather ingredients. Ingredients have different gem types and shapes, three gems make one better gem, and you can do that twice before you have the best gem. How the heck does that fit with cooking? Well, there’s only so much room in the pot, and you can’t rotate the ingredients before placement. So, if you want to make the best dishes? You want to learn the ingredients, learn the biomes.

As you go along, however, new mechanics, items, and explanations get introduced, pretty much all the way through the normal story mode. At first, this put me off, but it must be kept in mind that not only is there a New Game+ of sorts in Hard mode, there’s also two challenge modes, and a Daily Cook-Off, using fixed items. The story mode won’t take a terribly long amount of time, but it’s still enjoyable, and I did come to like the fact I’m learning new things every time I get further. Oh, wait, you can do that? The birds aren’t just assholes, but have a little ecology going? Ohhhhhh!

Overall, I have a soft spot for Battle Chef Brigade. It’s tightly focused on an aspect of its world that it’s made central, but it’s also made it believable, and not only believable, but charming. Thumbs up!

Oh, y’know, just another day hunting for cooking ingredients in a cook-off!

The Mad Welshman would, in a fantasy world, want Haunt Cuisine. Oh heck yes he would. Also he would order from the Flambe Warlocks.

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Opus Magnum (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Opus Magnum is, as you might expect from a Zachtronics game, clever, mildly frustrating at times, but overall very good if you like puzzles that use programming logic as their core element. This time? The logic of an alchemical machine, used by a recently graduated alchemist who very quickly gets way, way over his head. Solid stuff.

Anateus, as you might have guessed, is a slovenly genius.

So what’s clever about this? Well, it encourages tight, simple designs with fewer moving parts. Sometimes, this is positive reinforcement, like the warm glowies you get when two arms, a special kind of bonding machine, and a glyph to turn elements into salt take the element of Fire, and make it… Well, more fiery. Not that you’d see that, but rest assured, you’re making explosives, there is story to it, both before and after, it’s written well, and it makes sense (More bonds, in chemistry = More energy when they break. KABOOM.)

Sometimes, this is more restriction than anything else. The robot arms (your means of manipulating the elements) can’t be programmed until you place your element sources and the output down, and no, these sources are the sources you have to work with. Move them around, shuffle them for optimisation, but when it gives you one Water Sphere, and you have two waters to bond, then you just have to deal with it… And it’s fun to do so.

This took about an hour to program (including checking everything), and was slow, expensive, *and* taking up a lot of space. Don’t do this, kids.

Finally, there’s the negative reinforcement. The more complicated the machine you’re making, the more it costs, the more area it takes up, and the longer it’s going to take to program to work right (Although I really do feel a “Start from a certain place in the program” option would help there.) Two of those are things you’re scored on, compared with other folks… And this is the other joy of Opus Magnum… Different designs having different efficiency, efficiency that often comes at the sacrifice of other qualities. The game makes this pretty damn easy to make these designs, with multiple design saves per puzzle possible, so for some puzzles, I have designs that are quick (because I threw lots of arms in… Arms can overlap, even if collisions with their bases is not allowed. This is a useful tip) , and for some, I have compact and cheap (but sloooow) designs. Somewhere, you’re going to compromise.

The ability to make your own puzzles, puzzles not related to the story, but part of the world, a little side game… There’s a fair amount to Opus Magnum, and all this, combined with the good music and visuals? Makes it a good choice for folks who like puzzle games with a bit of bite. I would also recommend this to folks who liked previous Zachtronics games, but… Well, they probably already have it. While it is in Early Access, the game is pretty much complete, save for balancing.

The side-game, an interesting take on matching puzzles, with commentary by the two main characters.

The Mad Welshman likes the GIF record feature. It lets him gloat when he has a reaaaaally good machine. Or horrify people with overly complex creations. That too.

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