Freaky Awesome (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99 (£8.78 w/soundtrack, £3.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Freaky Awesome is one of those ideas that looks fun on paper, but alas, the execution is a little lacking. The idea? A silly, twin stick melee and shooting romp, in which a badass action star who has a soft spot for his dog goes to the abandoned Chemical Factory to find them, only to find… Gruesomeness.

It has at least some of the right elements. Pumping and threatening bass electronic tunes? Yup. Slime and goo? Core to the game. Good visual designs? Yup. But it’s when it gets to play itself that it starts to feel… Well, not so well thought out. Partly through the procgen, partly through some base choices made. Let’s start with the mutations.

Small room? Check. Dynamite boxes? Check. Headache? Check.

When you first start a profile, you have two mutations you choose between for your character (For lo, he has been mutated by toxic waste, in true 80s fashion.) A one legged chicken-man with a kick and a dodge roll, and the Grub, able to lay worms and whip his head to attack multiple enemies at once. As you get to new zones, you can, with an expenditure of health, coins, and keys, fight a new mutation to keep it, in every stage. But the ideas for mutations run out relatively quickly, and their secondary abilities… Well, of the characters I’ve unlocked (Almost all of them) , only Chicken’s really sees any use at all, because that dodge roll has invincibility frames, and he’s the only mutation that has such a deal. The rest? Either they take long enough that they’re not worth the risk of being hit compared to, say, backing away while attacking, or they’re just not worth it period.

Example: Head. Head has a headbutt, the same way Fish has a chomping charge, Chicken has a roundhouse kick, Scorpion (presumably, not yet unlocked) has a slash. But his alternate ability is… To throw his head across the room, piercing enemies along the way, for… The same damage as if he’d headbutted them. Until the head is retrieved, no attacks are possible. Hrm… Which to go for? A headbutt that definitely hits everyone in melee range (Which, since many enemies are melee and want to get close, is a lot), and is quick… Or throw my head, do one hit, and then have to run away. Oil, with his fiery slime thrower and oil puddles, is a similar proposition. Shoot while running away, or take time to drop a slowing puddle that he can set on fire that doesn’t really work because it relies on chasing enemies not chasing you, and being stuck in the puddle.

Of course, I’m emphasising this “Hit them more often, as opposed to special abilities” because of both the monster and room design. The majority of enemies in Freaky Awesome rely on melee, and chasing you. Some are actually really good at chasing you, such as a three legged beastie that, no matter how fast you are, is probably going to at least be able to start attacking you at least once every second or two if you’re constantly moving. Others have area effect attacks, such as the chompers or big fellers with a ground pound that… Well, here’s where the rooms come in. Those ground pounders will spawn in small rooms. And the first area they’re introduced (Furnace) further restricts those rooms with fire vents in both the floor and the walls, the former of which are hard to spot on your first try (When they’re white, that means don’t step on them, they’re hot.)

This thing… This thing I have rude words about. Unless I have several follower items, in which case I yawn and kite, yawn and kite.

As you might have guessed, this makes some rooms not so much an exercise in not taking damage, but in how much damage you take, and that… Well, that isn’t great. Outside of those rooms? Well, even with a melee character, it’s surprisingly easy to kite most enemies, so the damage you’re going to be taking, with the exceptions of the Furnace and “Final” Organic area, is mostly from inattention to enemies, rather than being heavily restricted by the environment. Bosses, similarly, vary between the “Only take damage if you’re not paying attention” of Spider-boss and the Missile-Bee, to a larger version of the chompers that chases, has his area chomp, and, on “Death”, splits into two, and then again into four smaller versions, each a little faster, with a little less hit points, but more likely to do some damage if you don’t have a very specific kiting strategy to get them all chasing you in an orderly fashion (And even then, it’s risky.)

I could go on like this, but this, honestly, is a problem that hits nearly every mechanical level. Followers can break certain encounters over their knee, or they won’t do damage when they’re meant to. DNA is meant to be an incremental method of improving, as are the Mutation unlocks, but none of the mutations feel like much of a “Must have”, and unlocking them is a grindy process, not least due to the fact that giving Health is a factor in their unlocking. DNA is just grindy, although that grind presumably gets better once you’re not concentrating on mutations, as you can get 2 per zone (One from a shop, one from the boss.)

Not pictured: That third slot for a third benny costs 12 DNA. God knows what the fourth one costs.

As such, while it does have its freakiness, it’s monstrosities, it is, sadly, mostly surface level, and I can’t honestly say I’ve had much fun unlocking anything, or feeling rewarded for doing so. It’s just… Another day in the life. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t look like what the developers were really aiming for.

The Mad Welshman does not mutate. He already has all he wants: A nice, twirly moustache.

Hand of Fate 2 (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £23.79 (£6.47 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Rumours of the Dealer’s death, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated, as, in the sequel to choppy (in the sense of slashing things), choose-your-own-adventure Card Wizard Assholery, he’s back. Scarred, bitter, and using you, his newest pawn, to attempt to regain his position on the Throne of Life and Death.

“I want you to know I’m feeling very bitter right now…”

While, on its most basic level, Hand of Fate 2 is the same game as the previous, there are changes. There’s a bit more pizazz to the fight and enemy introductions, a little more cohesion in the narrative structure, and the story makes a bit more sense from the get go. The “adventures”, for example, follow a thematic progression down the Major Arcana of the Tarot, rather than the suits, and each has its own little fillip or quirk to make it interesting, such as needing to gain 6 blessings to impress the High Priestess (Who values purity and strength.) They also fit into what is, recognisably, a world, rather than a hodepodge collection of events (Although replaying older events, also, is still a part of the game.) There’s a little more customisation, in that you can be a man or woman of about four different ethnicities each. So far, so nice.

Nonetheless, the basic structure remains the same: You make your way round a field of cards, some of which you’ve picked, some of which the Dealer has picked, in an attempt to reach the boss, achieve the objectives, get new shinies, and eventually take on Fate themselves. Occasionally, and definitely for the bosses, fighting happens, and here…

As with the previous installment, you can’t just whale on a boss and hope they go down. There’s *tactics* involved. The game’s good at telling you them, however, or at least hinting.

…I introduce an edit to the review, as Defiant are as quick on the ball as they’ve been in the past, and combat, previously unresponsive on the ol’ Keyboard and Mouse, has been fixed, so it’s challenging, but fair. As with the story, the fights have their own little quirks and traps. Some enemies take more damage from, say, dual blades. You have a companion character (at first, the seemingly well meaning rogue bard Malaclypse, although there are others), sometimes more than one. Sometimes, protecting them is important. In the case of your major companions, they can give you blessings mid-combat (so long as you’re next to them, and interact with them.) A good pair of examples of enemies getting more interesting are the pictured boss above (who requires bashing to knock off his… Er… Gooey encrustations before he can be damaged. Ew) and the Northern Trappers, who have bolos. Telegraphed well, if you’re distracted or fail to dodge, well, enjoy struggling against the bonds of tight ropes as the Trapper’s barbarian friends come to give you big, crushy hugs.

The voice acting is high quality (The Dealer, in particular, subtly nibbles on the scenery, rather than outright chewing on it in rage and bitterness), the music is good, and the visuals have improved a lot, seemingly without too much impact on performance.

As such… I still honestly like Hand of Fate 2. There’s a definite sense of improvement overall, and, as with the last time, I find myself pulled into the world implied, wondering… What’s up with those damn goblins? Why is Malaclypse so friendly with them? Did my hero from the last game screw things up badly, or is this the Dealer having a very bad case of sour grapes? I suspect the latter, as he really did seem like a sore loser last time around.

It’s adorable, the doe eyes she gives new tools of murder and pain.

So yeah, it’s mostly good, gamepad recommended, controls are patched to be more responsive on the ol’ keyboard and mouse, and, as noted, the game is interesting, fun, with a little more customisation and spice than its predecessor.

The Mad Welshman was the Jack of Cups once, you know. Now, he’s a tired King of Wands, sitting in his throne, not thinking analogies fully through.

Golden Krone Hotel (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Golden Krone Hotel remains, to my mind, the most accessible entry point to Roguelikes I can currently think of. And it’s interesting how intuitive a lot of it can be, when it’s streamlined. So let’s talk about this a wee bit.

Potions come in threes, so identifying one is less of a gamble than in other roguelikes. Still, can’t hurt to use a Primer to identify some of them…

The story, like the game, is simply presented: Vampires and Humans lived in relative harmony until a great war happened. Today, things have kind of settled down, and the main troublemaker, Prince Fane, has been exiled far away, to the Golden Krone Hotel. Such a shame you, General Sorin Arobase, have a bone to pick and a curse to break. As the general (and noted assassin and master of disguise), you enter the hotel. How you enter the Hotel is up to you.

See, part of the reason you’re there is because you got bitten by a vampire, so you can enter as a human, a vampire, or, if you’re really ballsy, a werewolf. And you don’t have to stay that way. Potions can keep you human (or temporarily make you human), turn you into a vampire… Or the usual things of healing, exploding, blinding, antidotes, and the like. So, how is it accessible?

Well, first off, everything is visually clear (Except in darkness, which… Well, it’s dark!) Controls are simply and clearly presented (Space for wait/rest, arrow keys for movement, click on potions to use them, T for talk, and so on) Inventory management is entirely down to potions (I have yet to have too many potions) and spells (Humans can cast spells, vampires… Not so much. But humans are limited to four spells at a time.) If an item is better, you just equip it. If it isn’t, you resolve to sell it. Easy as. Similarly, everything can be looked at with a right mouse press. Want to know how close you are to becoming a vampire? Well, there’s your bar marked “VAMP” , slooooowly filling.

Thankfully, monsters like this Goblin Anarchist, once you identify them, won’t be blowing you up unless they catch you by surprise.

Turn-based, clear visuals, clear controls… There’s a lot to like here. Is it tough? Well, the first few floors aren’t, it’s very rare I die on the first few floors. But once the gloves start coming off, yes, it gets tough. It’s kind of hard to begrudge this, though, because with almost everything, the cause of your death was quite clear. Here, you drank too many teleport potions in a row, and ended up in the Maelstrom, a hellish dimension that changes around you. There, it’s because you let yourself get surrounded. How much time has passed? Oh, half an hour? Well, let’s get right back in there!

In the end, Golden Krone Hotel is easy to understand, quick to play, accessible, charming, and affordable. Nice.

Whups…

The Mad Welshman finds it pleasantly frustrating when there isn’t much to say beyond “It’s good, easy to understand, and friendly.” 

YS VII (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m somewhat grateful that I don’t need a heck of a lot of context for the Ys games, because there’s a lot of world throughout the series. A lot. Thankfully, one of the first nice things I can say about Ys VII is that, like others, while you’ll get a couple of references and extra context by playing previous games, each Ys game is self contained enough that you don’t need to.

Ys VII is an action RPG in perhaps one of the purer senses, in that a gamepad is useful, and fighting is mashing the hell out of buttons, dodging, blocking, all in real-time. One button for main attacks, four for specials, one for block, one for dodge-rolling, and one for ultimate power. Easy to understand, somewhat twitchy to play. In this particular installment, you play Adol (Who has a bad enough case of protagonism that he is the only character to explain that he is okay rather than just saying “I’m fine”) and Dogi, heroes of a couple of previous Ys titles, as they get embroiled in dangerous and momentous events on the isle of Altago, home of the Five Dragon Gods.

Altago is very pretty.

Originally a PSP game, the port is fluid and easy to play, with the only major sign that it is a port being the save menu. As such, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely, whacking the hell out of monsters, getting and solving quests, and fighting… Titanos.

Effectively, the rough way it goes is this: You get a plotquest, maybe some sidequests if you actually talk to the NPCs (Even if you don’t do this for quests, the dialogue is occasionally interesting, and the world seems quite alive, so I’d recommend it), make your way through the overworld map, fighting as you go (Or, if you can’t be assed, dash-dodging your way past everything… Although this means you miss out on XP, gold, and resources used to craft better gear you’re probably going to need) to a dungeon, solve a few puzzles, and fight… Titanos. A boss by any other name is just as pattern based, and just as bossy. Giant beetles, boars, and stranger creatures abound, and honestly?

Screenshots, unfortunately, don’t do justice to how smooth and quick this is… Or how boned I am about to become.

These are the real skill-gates of the game, compared to the enemies. Until later in the game, yes, enemies have attacks. They give conditions. They have defenses. But they also generally go down to a sustained assault, which is exactly what you and your AI companions are probably doing. Titanos, in the meantime, are definitely both the more intriguing and frustrating end of things. Zeran Fith, the giant beetle, for example, won’t be taking much damage at all until you knock the armour off his legs, letting his almost chameleon-like sticky tongue out and giving you a proper chance to wail on it. And there’s a fair amount it can do to dissuade you (terminally) from this. Turning quickly, webs spit out, poison is shot, prawns with fiery bubbles are summoned… I died twice to Zeran Fith, and he’s only the third Titano you encounter.

Thing is, though, even coming out of that sweating, I’ve been having fun. Every basic mechanic is explained clearly, the world is interesting, the music good, and the world is beautiful. The rock-paper-scissors of bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage versus various enemies is clever, encouraging me to get to grips with every character I play as, and each one definitely has character. Adol is perhaps the most generic (Heck, it’s even joked about with that third person narration), Dogi puts his all into what he does (Which, in the overworld, is punching the hell out of armoured enemies), Elk fluidly and rapidly wields his dual bladed staff, almost dancing. And these are just the earliest examples.

Adol thought he should really stop speaking in the third person. But nobody else seemed to notice, so he carried on.

Honestly, there’s not a lot I have to moan about here, because even death is a case of retrying from the start of the fight or loading a save (A quick process), and the experience, overall, is fluid. The writing’s solid, the game’s solid, the difficulty curve is actually pretty good (This is an RPG where Normal difficulty really does mean “To an average player’s skill” , which is very nice.) The only flow breaker I’ve seen is using potions and items, which, due to limitations of the original platform, is effectively a pause menu.

Overall, a good action RPG, well worth its price, and well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman only speaks in the third person for effect, or when he really, really wants to close a conversation.

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.