Triplicity (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£3.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Triplicity is, on your very first glance, a strange combination. Okay, so there’s a deckbuilding, small scale card game battler… But why the block puzzles, friend? It still somewhat confuses, but, thankfully, both elements improve over time, so Triplicity… Turns out alright.

The blocks have been conquered, and soon, I shall face my polygonal opponent, and hear their twinkly lamentations…

The artistic direction in the game is pretty solid, overall. Minimalist, but solid. Soft, ambient music, low poly worlds that are nonetheless bright and use their colour well (with one minor exception: Green/Yellow blocks, or more accurately, the markers of where they’re meant to go, are hard to distinguish, so a colour-blind pass may be useful.) The cards are reminiscent, artwise, of early editions of Magic: The Gathering, relatively muted colour schemes, but using a similar 5 colour scheme for it’s theming. The similarity ends with that and the attack/defence stat.

Playwise, it’s similarly simple and approachable. Block moving puzzles make a prelude to card battles, where the first turn is chosen randomly, and there are three fields, three energy per turn, and cards have a max energy cost of three. Some cards have special abilities, but for the most part, you’re tactically considering where to put your cards for maximum offence and defence as players react to each other (or player and CPU, as is the case with story and practice mode.) Defeat still earns a card for your library, while winning earns three. Take a wild stab at how many block puzzles have to be solved before fighting a card battle in the single player mode.

I could really go for some Twiglies right about now…

With a multiplayer mode, and a practice mode where you can try your wits versus the AI, Triplicity is, honestly, not a bad game. It’s approachable, accessible, and when my only niggle with it is “Wait, if the cards are the focus, what’s all this block malarkey”, I can’t help but give a pair of gentle thumbs up.

The Mad Welshman finds simplicity both pleasing and frustrating. You may be able to tell.

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Going Back – TAROTICA VOO DOO

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was, I’ll admit, a little confused over being asked to review TAROTICA VOO DOO, even as an advocate of old games, and the joy (and pain) of programming for older systems as a good thing to do. It’s not the friendliest of games. It’s not the easiest of games. It definitely has its flaws, and, even as someone who likes a lo-fi aesthetic, 2-bit “hand drawn” (read: Pixel doodles) wasn’t immediately endearing to me.

One of our three family members, completely ignoring us because dinner’s not on the table… Ohhhh, I hope a pla- ah wait, that’s exactly what I hope to prevent!

Tarotica Voo Doo is a somewhat surreal “Escape Room” game, in which you solve puzzles (Some of which spread over the entire house, like the Salamanders who light up rooms), in order to break into a family’s home, cook them dinner as an apology, and get them out of the house, all before a plane crashes into it. It’s also a game coded for the MSX. Not the MSX 2, or 3, or Turbo. The MSX, played via the official MSX emulator. So… A game coded for a 1980s platform, in 2018. Normally, very much my jam.

And, in terms of the technical wizardry behind it, it very much is. If you want some idea of the kind of crap people had to pull to code games for the MSX, the PDF attached to the game (hand written by the developer in both English and Japanese versions) is worth the price of the game alone, and explains the 2-bit aesthetic (It was the only way to get as many frames of animation as the game has.)

This poor dog’s only crime is that it’s holding the front door shut (somehow.) The zombies, skeletons, salamanders, and the like inside, on the other hand…

As to the game? Well, it mostly comes out middling. I like, for example, how four frames of animation are used to good effect in puzzles and combat alike, with the latter a sort of rhythm deal where you have to time pulling fully back (for defending) and forward (for attacking) carefully, with the only pressure being that failure means restarting the (short) fight. I like how smoothly the developer has papered over the cracks of a slow Video RAM, meaning that the experience doesn’t jerk or stutter, even in the short, equally 2-bit cutscenes. I like how its control scheme (arrow keys to move, space to start interacting with a highlighted object, up and down to interact with it, space again to leave that interaction) is simple, and similarly smooth. I’m not so fond, however, of some of the more house-spanning puzzles, like going back between various rooms and the basement, in order to release the salamanders that provide light for the torches… Or block them off. A few fights (such as with one of the aforementioned salamanders) are just a tadge counter-intuitive, and, as mentioned, despite liking lo-fi aesthetics, Tarotica Voo Doo’s didn’t really grab me.

Nonetheless, it’s not a bad couple of hours, even if it didn’t quite grab me, and, with the attached “CHRONICLES OF TAROTICA VOO DOO”, detailing how the program was built up, it’s an alright, actually retro game with a post-mortem dissection of how it was put together that’s well worth a look for 8-bit programming enthusiasts, or even folks who just want an idea of why pushing the limits of an older machine was hard as hell.

This puzzle’s explanation is one thing, practice another. Thankfully, with only four frames per statue, it’s easy enough to work out.

The Mad Welshman is heartened by the fact that, even today, people struggle with assembler. It puts his own struggles in perspective.

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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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