Antigraviator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

As Future Racers go, Antigraviator is an interesting, but slightly flawed one. It’s trying something different, and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t really change that it doesn’t, entirely at least, work well.

I would like to apologise for being good enough at Future Racing games that this is the only mid-pack screenshot I have.

So, it’s a Future Racer, so there’s gravity hovercraft wot go fast, a lot of tracks in varying locales in tournaments of increasing difficulty, a boost start (Gotten by holding accelerate just as 2 vanishes and 1 is about to count), and… No context for any of this. Nope, this is a racing tournament, just a racing tournament, and that’s all good, with no in-game lore. Interesting move.

But, make no mistake, the tracks are very pretty. Even in the first tourney, you go from a “standard” city setting, to racing over the ocean, through a canyon system, and in orbit. It’s lush, and it’s fast, and it’s here we start to see this minimalist future racing game fight with itself, design wise.

It’s fast, and there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of blind jumps and turns, sometimes quite hard ones, sometimes in quick succession. But don’t worry, because only grievous collisions slow you down more than a tadge, and, unless you’ve gone for a low armour craft (more on that later), getting blown up by anything short of leaving the track (an instant explosion if you don’t land on the track, followed, in most cases, by respawn and loss of all speed you’ve built up) is quite tough. Okay, cool, these design decisions appear to have cancelled each other out for an alright, if odd baseline. But then we hit the Deathmatch mode of races, and they’re longer, and harder to lose, precisely because you have so much armour (and so do some of the other racers.) So, how do you blow people up?

Well, instead of weapon pickups, you have, at pre-determined points of the track, traps. Some are near-certain killers (like the reverse controls/magnet trap) , some are, basically, weapons (the missile), and the rest vary between fitting and slightly silly, deadly and slowing. Most require someone to be in front of you to trigger, give you a temporary immunity that usually gets you through the trap yourself, and have the good feature of telling you whether they caught somebody.

The first time playing, it goes straight to the mandatory tutorial. Not sure how I feel about that.

Unfortunately, they also require you and the other racer to be in a specific set of ranges to trigger, which conflicts, somewhat, with the other main mechanic, boost energy. See, going fast by collecting boost cylinders, and then boosting with the up arrow (2 cylinders per boost, and you can chain them pretty quickly) means that, funnily enough, you can end up first very quickly, so most of these traps… No longer mean much to you, especially if you stay far ahead enough that traps mean nothing. Even if, due to the fact the AI racers are fairly good, you’re not in first, you’re going quickly enough that, by the time the icon on the back of your ship lights up to show a trap has gone off, by the time it tells you a trap is ready, and by the time you look away from your real visual focal point of the track ahead of the ship (because you’re going very fast) … You miss your chance. The better a racer you are, the less you get to see or use a feature.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t have good answers for alternatives beyond the traditional, and I can also see why the traditional is being turned down here: It democratises things, to an extent, as the traps are track dependent, not based on loadout, or pre-genned track items, or a semi-random weapon pickup. The higher armour definitely helps ensure you can keep your speed (mostly) in track design that just wouldn’t work if, for example, wall and other ship collisions seriously hurt you, so the developers can use all those blind, sharp corners and jumps that normally, I would be crying hatred for, from the word go… Indeed, the final track of the second tournament, Michael’s Bay, earns my ire for being more hostile than the tracks bracketing it on either side, a solid and frustrating difficulty spike in a game otherwise able to mitigate that.

Finally, we get to the customisation options, and my greatest mystification. Scaling costs, I somewhat understand, but they’re applied inconsistently. Non-body parts, for example, don’t have nearly the steep cost rises that the two other body types (one tankier, one the “hard mode” craft that’s supremely fast, but has far inferior handling and shields), and… The colour schemes?

Accessibility note: The cost of the item should not be below the stat bar, and should be bigger than it is. The cost is 100,000.

No, really… The final colour scheme costs almost as much as the hard mode body part, and each colour scheme is more expensive than the last, because… I genuinely couldn’t tell you. I have no answer here, and it both confuses and annoys.

In the end, with the odder exceptions aside, Antigraviator is actually fun. It manages to be fun despite its design decisions fighting each other like design decisions were a cage match. Its online play has rankings, but remains fun, and the quick race mode means, unless you want to buy from the somewhat limited part set, you don’t have to engage with the tournament structure, just… To have a good time. Doesn’t change the fact it confuses me greatly, but it does make recommending it for what it is slightly easier. Worth a go to see something different being done in Future Racing, a genre that, amusingly enough, has been highly resistant to formula changes.

Spaaaaace. <3

The Mad Welshman likes walls, so he’s glad he’s been given so much leeway to grind against them in racing.

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Yoku’s Island Express (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Pinballtroidvania. That’s a word I never thought I’d use… And yet, here we are, with Yoku’s Island Express, which, in essence, is just that: Pinball, mixed with the design ideas behind the “Metroidvania” genre.

It’s cute, it’s fun, and, oh boy, is the post-game a slog. So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Let’s talk about the main game instead for a bit.

Just a small, early sample of the map in Yoku’s Island Express. It’s quite nice, really.

Yoku’s Island Express is the story of a beetle, tied to a ball, working as a postmaster in a world of skullmonkeys, bearngineers, space monks, and great guardians being harmed by an ancient and terrible evil. And how does this tiny creature, held down as they are by a great weight, get around? Well, convenient pinball paddles, bumpers, and kickers. Makes perfect sense.

Needless to say, the world is not a serious one. You’re not going to find deep philosophical questions, and the narrative is very firmly subservient to justifying various elements of its world (such as the Dive Fish powerup, which involves… Wearing a fish friend as leggings) , but, props to the developers, it is internally consistent. Not much of it may be very deep, but it’s clearly considered, well sketched out, and, as odd as the world of Yoku’s Island Express is, it didn’t feel unnatural, and that, in and of itself, is something to praise. So… How does it look, how does it play, how does it feel?

Pleasant, overall. The aesthetic is good, with fitting, often heartwarming and cool music, the difficulty curve during the main story is smooth, and no individual “table” in this world is particularly bad or frustrating. Heck, some of them, especially the bosses and climactic moment tables (such as blocking hot-spring vents to help save the Skullmonkey tribe) are quite interesting, as multiball, in the context of this game, is always assistance from a group against some sort of threat. A sort of “Power of Friendship” thing, if you will. The world fits together well, and some of its secrets and powers (such as the Sootling Hookshot) are cool and interesting. The main game, it must be said, is enjoyable, if somewhat short, with a large world to explore, some funny dialogue, and a surreal world that can nonetheless be taken at face value, explored with that voice that says “This is silly” being relatively quiet throughout.

Oooh, buddy… Heroic or no, blocking a volcanically hot hot-spring like that, you’re gonna need some lotion…

It’s when the story is over, though, and there are still things left to do, that the game falls somewhat flat. Thing is, this has been a problem with troidvanias of all sorts in the past as well, and I’ve never really seen a good solution to finding post-game collectathons involving collecting 100 of a thing, or triggering all of the things… Both of which are examples of the post-game, 100% completion “fun.” Does it have a better, true ending at the end of doing all the scarab marked paddles and shots and ramps, and collecting all the wickerlings, working out how to deliver parcels, and whatever the heck that space-monk thing was? Don’t know, don’t particularly enjoy finding out, never have.

Annoyance with collectathon postgames aside, as noted, the aesthetic is cool, it’s a nice world, and it was fun and interesting enough that I’d recommend it as an interesting variation on an established formula that mostly works… My favourite kind of recommendation.

The currency of Yoku’s world is fruit, a currency I can get behind… Although one has to wonder what the exchange rates are…

The Mad Welshman loves that ancient sport, Pinne of ye Balle, experimentation with genre, and insectoids. He is a marketing anomaly.

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Cultist Simulator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Cultist Simulator is a little like occult research itself: It’s messy, and offputting and obfuscatory at first, but, as you get deeper, it all becomes simpler, and then… Well, you’re exploring for the sake of exploring, falling deep down the rabbit hole…

The Mansus, this game’s Dreamlands, in all its glory. *Poked from off camera* Oh, sorry, wrong capitalisation. All its Glory!

To unpack this, nominally, Cultist Simulator is a real-time strategy/RPG hybrid where you, a person of some description (be that a doctor, a policeman, a working joe, or other things) get a hint of a deeper world, a world where, if you really, really want, if you work hard, and make sacrifices, you too can become a big player in the world of ancient magics.

Of course… Some of those sacrifices are human, and some of that work is murder, or suppression of evidence that you’re doing all this stuff, and I say “nominally” regarding the game because it isn’t really much like anything that’s come before. The cards, for example, are all on timers. The events are on timers. And, while you can pause and interact with them all, unless you’re doing just that, the event cards can only be viewed individually, so you’re always going to miss things, partly because here, a lack of tutorialising is a deliberate choice. Fun fact: Cult, and occult are words whose Latin roots are two letters apart. Colere, to cultivate, and Celare, to hide.

As such, a review of Cultist Simulator, by its very definition, is a somewhat spoilery experience. Starting only from a card or two, the world expands, with more verbs (that’s the squares as opposed to the cards) unlocking in play, more threats, more opportunities. Teachers are discovered, lore is uncovered. Dreams, strange places, possible cult members, and, of course… Hunters. People who would rather (and with good reason) see these ancient secrets remain buried, even if their methods, their name (The Bureau of Suppression) seems a step too far.

There’s one heck of a narrative here, but interpreting it is as much a learned skill as getting to the point I have.

This is one of the high points of the game, that the world expands, and is explained as you go, in fragments, little pieces. With atmospheric writing, overlays to the board, changes of music, the world is created. This is a game with a lot of reading, and a lot that can only be discovered through experimentation. Wait, you can Study with your Patrons? Damn, didn’t know that. You can get a rough idea of what an event or card wants by clicking the empty slot? Damn, didn’t know that at first.

It’s simultaneously frustrating as hell, and some excellent marrying of narrative to mechanics. You are, after all, always a character unfamiliar with the occult elements of its world, by choice or no, but, as a player, I can’t deny I spent some time angry that progression seemed always a step away. What the hell do I do with this door? How do I deal with the deep, dark Dread in my life? (To be fair, that’s a question I struggle answering in life, as well as this game.) It doesn’t necessarily help that yes, even if you’re so close to earning that goal, that true glimpse that destroys and creates, something simple, something you’d overlooked, can prematurely end your dreams. Since a single run can sometimes last up to 10 hours, you can imagine why that’s so devastating. The cult members and patrons remain the same, even if the story changes, and this, also, is perhaps a flaw.

Cultist Simulator is interesting as all get out, and somewhat unique, both in terms of how it handles events, and how it uses a lack of tutorialising to its benefit narratively. I would recommend it to folks, because, interestingly, it’s using its flaws. Not perfectly, and there are still things that the game does that annoys the hell out of me (such as generating cards on top of other cards, or the magnet slots on events prioritising over events that are already being used, dammit dammit dammit, but it intrigues me with its well researched and written world, its subtle, mostly minimalist aesthetic, and… Not gonna lie, it feels good when you finally achieve your goals.

The writing is excellent, and I mainly chose this screenshot for the folks who already bought the game. Some amusing… Poetic… Justice.

The Mad Welshman loves new aspirants. It’s such a delight to discover how well each goes with Garlic Butter.

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Juicy Realm (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The fruit and veg, it appears, has evolved rapidly to rule the world. A world that sure as hell ain’t Earth, if those dinosaur bones are anything to go by… But still, fruit and veg with guns. But the remnants of humanity are fighting back!

Yes, for you, the game is over, ghosts of enemies. GG, fruitthings. GG…

Ah, what an exciting synopsis. It’s a shame, then, that it’s a somewhat plodding game, in multiple senses. The game’s characters don’t so much run about as lightly jog, even plodding in some cases, the enemies fire… Occasionally? It’s about once every few seconds… And, while there is a dash, it’s a somewhat short one on a rather long cooldown. This isn’t, in the purely technical sense, bad design, as the enemies become more numerous, the weapon patterns and environmental traps more devious, and the game appears balanced around the speed it’s at.

In the more subjective sense, though? It feels like a marathon of attention, with the main killer being, essentially, too distracted to even notice the bullets among the chaos, be that from the effects of your own bullets, cloudy visual effects, or the fact that there’s several enemies on screen.

Spot the… Well, anything of importance.

Beyond this, unfortunately, it’s… Not got a lot of variety. Yes, there are many guns, but most are your average bullet shooters, with only a few (The cross-gun, which does hideous damage and multiple projectiles on impact too) of note, a couple of melee weapons you’ll mostly end up forgetting about, and a few that I assume are meant to be joke weapons (Such as GG, the keyboard that fires “GG” at people, hoho, or Steam, the gun that prints money when you hit things with it… My sides, they do split…)

Juicy Realm is not, strictly speaking, a bad game. However, its ideas are as staid and plodding as the game itself, and I don’t find myself particularly feeling much at all, whether I’m winning, losing, or even just plodding along.

Thankfully, the boss arenas are clear enough that you have a pretty good idea what you need to do.

The Mad Welshman is, it’s true, a fan of good aesthetic. However, good aesthetic often involves enough clarity you know what the hell you’re doing at any given moment.

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Beacon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $19.99 (Approximately £15 , 657 copies remaining of first access at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: o.14A

It’s a decidedly eerie feeling, finding yourself. No, not in the sense of discovering your personality. I mean, discovering you, or, more accurately, an earlier clone of you that didn’t make it, for whatever reason. But that’s part of the “joy” of Beacon, a third-person twin-stick game where you are a clone. And not necessarily a faithful one, either.

Hrm, there’s something different about me… Oh, I redid my hair in the vat! Niiiice!

Okay, that bit takes some explaining. While Beacon is indeed another twin-stick, procedurally generated shooter with persistent elements, those elements are mainly (in the present build, at least), genetic. Abstracted genetics, harvested from things that maaaaaybe wouldn’t have genes (like the PRISM robots) , but genetics nonetheless… And these attempts at improvement through genetic tampering have a reason. The original Freja Akiyama (the protag) died on landing after crashing on this hostile and ever changing world. But that doesn’t mean her base personality wasn’t saved, and that she doesn’t want to get off the planet. So, she has a clone tank. Sometimes, it works as intended, taking genes from local wildlife (robotic or otherwise) , and sometimes… It makes drastic changes, both to her body, and to her perception of things.

It’s one hell of a clever conceit, and it’s backed up by a good, low-poly aesthetic, some good secrets (Of which I’ve discovered a few, and not quite got the hang of quite a few more), a variety of weapons, and a relatively limited enemy set that nonetheless gets tough, and scary, pretty early on. Good soundtrack, good idea, good aesthetic… So… What’s not so hot?

AHsodoffsodoffsodoff! (Dodge-rolling is the only way to get some range here)

Well, every gun has a minimum range, and there are a couple of enemies, specifically the Quick PRISM Robot subtype, that are annoying as hell at the present time. It’s not just that they’re faster than you. It’s not just that weapons have a minimum range. No, it’s that they can also shield themselves, and that, honestly, is a bit much. They are, unlike, for example, the flamethrower robots, not so much scary, or tense, as annoying to deal with. There’s also a lack of permanence, right now, in the things you’ve found, which is a bit of a shame, if understandable.

Still, this is already a promising start, with a lot to explore and deal with, a lot of weaponry of different types, and, once you get further in the game, you start to uncover an interesting mystery. I mean, robots and buildings do sort of imply previous habitation… Do they not?

Note for next clone: Chaingun slows you down. Also, construction failing, almost died due to plates falling. Be careful, sister!

The Mad Welshman #37 loves his spindly little robot legs. The Mad Welshman #36 says they don’t quite suit him though. Please help solve our “discussion” without chainguns getting involved.

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