Rogue Empire (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Rogue Empire tries. Really it does. I like its talent system, despite the fact it doesn’t… Really lay any groundwork for its fancier text. I like the between game incremental upgrades, slow as they are to establish. +1 STR doesn’t seem like a lot, until you’ve played a Roguelike. But Rogue Empire definitely has its problems, and it is definitely mainly for the traditional Roguelike crowd.

And so begins our quest…

That isn’t a bad thing, as the idea’s then easy to explain: Land of many races, most of which have history, big bad goes down, hero gets the call (A nice touch, each race gets their own introduction), you move with the numpad (Although, in a fair accessibility move, controls can be remapped), walk into things to hit them, pick things up to equip and hit with, most scrolls and spells are pre-identified… There is something a little comforting about how, once you’ve gotten the hang of one Roguelike, there’s that much less getting the hang of to deal with when you move to others.

Monsters slowly spawn in each area, so you’re rarely lacking for something to wallop.

On the other hand… A lot of Rogue Empire, even after release, feels placeholder. Sound effects aren’t balanced with each other, and some are clearly from other sources (such as the Chrysalid-like sound of the Panther death.) Talking to someone is as simple as walking into them, but the text of nearby folks rapidly obscures and confuses previous text (Unless you have the log open, in which case you’re relying on the log.) Forests and dungeons kind of blur into one another, and auto-exploration tends to get hung up on Items of Interest.

This… Is not a great implementation.

Rogue Empire is workmanlike in its implementation, and, while I’ve somewhat moved past that, I could see how fans of traditional roguelikes may well enjoy this.

The Mad Welshman gives a firm “Alright.”

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Mad Crown (Review)

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

Mad Crown is an interesting roguelike, coming with its own art style and quirks. It’s also a game where having a friend who’s playing the game too can really come in handy, as once you lose your items (due to Total Party Kill), your options are “Share a code and hope someone picks your stuff up” or “Share a code with a friend who’ll pick your stuff up.”

“BOW BEFORE YOUR NEW MASTER. Also give me all your stuff and run back to your camp yelling how great I am. Long live Lamda Omicron Lambda!”

There’s also the third one of “Ask Seggie to pick your stuff up”, but that rapidly goes into silly money territory. My Chapter 3 team, for example, lost their stuff, and that option now costs 3800 gold for them.

The story of Mad Crown is fairly traditional stuff in the modern day. Long ago, there was a crown, created by God, to grant wisdom. Now it’s vanished, and tentacley horrors with about as many eyes as they have teeth abound. Go get that Crown, it totally won’t have been cursed, and definitely won’t be the source of said horrors! But, honestly, it’s not the writing that really grabs me. It’s how it does its difficulty, and its aesthetics, that really work for me. Let’s start with the difficulty.

Essentially, as you progress through the dungeon, you accumulate Fel, a nasty, toxic goop that serves as a danger level. Let it get too high, and traps become more common, monsters get nastier, and you’ll, more often than not, be facing overlevelled opponents. It can be reduced, but you’re essentially balancing speeding through the dungeon (And not quite getting enough levelups or kit for the boss), and going carefully (More items, more levels, but you risk being underequipped.)

Some of the item descriptions, themselves, are quite good. Yes, throw that money, bask in that money, moneyyyyyeaah!

Now add in that, if monsters kill each other (A thing that can happen) … They level up. Significantly. It’s somewhat of a shock to suddenly see a level 7 creature triple its levels, and become your own personal nightmare. Sprinkle in some enemies immune to physical damage later on (The Gellyfish), monsters that steal your gold and run away, a lot of creatures having multiple attacks and status inflictions (Including Confusion), and you have something where thinking tactically is a baseline, and, by the halfway point of the storyline, becomes what is technically known as “Bastard hard.”

Is that a bad thing? It’s a tough call, because, as mentioned, your mileage on this will depend on if you have a friend or two who plays along, and can have your back, rescuing your stuff. If not, it becomes annoying as hell by the “halfway through the main plot” point (Let alone the later dungeons which add things that need to be identified.)

Still, its aesthetic adds just enough to keep it in the Recommended category, as it’s a somewhat unique one. Monsters look somewhat cartoonish, as do the characters, but it’s a style not seen elsewhere, and the music is calm when it needs to be, and hard, driven guitar when fights start. The cutscenes have a cool ink look to them, and, while there’s still a little jankiness in the translation, the Mandarin narration is interesting.

The Gellyfish. He’s an annoying little squib, especially if he’s on the front row. Smack him with guns and magic.

Overall, while Mad Crown’s mileage definitely depends on whether you’ve got a friend to play with you (or how much you like grinding through the midgame, ala Etrian Odyssey or other Nintendo-Hard RPGs), I quite like it. It does interesting things with its difficulty, it makes the threat of the monsters more than just their attack values, and this, combined with a cool aesthetic, make it a relatively solid game. Just… One that doesn’t pretend it isn’t hard.

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good experiment. Whether it fails or not, it adds a little to the phasespace of “What if?” developers can think about. I like that.

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Catacomb Kids (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.4c

Feel is a very important thing, from the feel of movement, to the feel of fairness. Like Vagante, which I reviewed, Catacomb Kids is dark… Has plenty of instant death traps… And mixes roguelike and platformer. But, unlike Vagante, Catacomb Kids feels more fair, more fluid, more fun. And it’s not even finished yet.

A hectic, joyful combat, just seconds before I combat-identify… A potion of flames. MY BAD.

So, how does it feel better? It’s a lot of things, adding up. Combat, for one, is somewhat easier. Yes, there’s rolling, and even bats and rats can harm you, but healing is fairly common, swings are mostly rapid, and there’s a sense of impact to even lighter blows. Magic, similarly, is very common, and can even be used by the most magic averse (with some risk.) More intelligent enemies run away, find friends, and even use potions, which makes it feel like, y’know, a living, breathing place. The traps still kind of suck, but I rarely find myself knocked back into spikes for an instadeath or the like.

No, more commonly, it’s the panic that results from rolling into the “SNAP” of a burning oil trap… Ohgodohgod the oil’s pouring, and if I do-FWOOSH. Dead. It’s quite avoidable, much like everything, and the signposting is there (the ceiling spike traps being the least signposted, the lava and crusher blocks the most.) But it’s a scary trap, and this, too, adds to the feel.

Popcorn also adds to the feel, in a pleasant way.

At the present time, the four classes appear to be locked in: Bullies, who can willingly alert nearby enemies and specialise in hitting things rather hard; Tinkers, who have a mechanical buddy for assistance, and are generally quite smart; Poets, also quite smart, but specialising in magic; and Wanderers, who can get an idea of their surroundings well, and specialise in being quick. Kids in each class are generated by set, and there’s a lot of choice in rolling a new character, from spending a little money to roll a new random Kid, spending a fair amount of money to make a custom kid who maybe, maybe, has the skills and equipment to do better than you did, to spending no money at all, and sending these poor, adventuring young adults to their doom, getting a new set when you exhaust the current one. Since each class is only limited in weapon use by things like wanting to use a weapon they like or have skill with, or not wanting to use a weapon they don’t like, and therefore suck at, there’s a lot of room, a lot of potential depth, in each run. And I like that.

The base tutorial for the game is good, but it should be noted that the character customisation screen isn’t terribly informative right now, so it’s a good idea to memorise those icons, checking what they do in play, before taking the leap of a custom Kid.

Visible representation of kit is pretty good, both in portrait and in the game.

That niggle aside, though, I’m having a lot of fun with Catacomb Kids at its present stage. It’s got a lot of tension, but not so much pressure, a fair amount of toys in the toybox to play with, and to see it so enjoyable, so early pleases me.

The Mad Welshman sometimes feels like a slime. Alas, no takeout in this world offers the good stuff.

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Vagante (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store

Called it. I said, in the first Early Access review I did of Vagante, that I would be tired of its shit by release, and lo… Release has hit, and I am well and truly glad to have this off my docket. That may seem mean, but let’s unpack exactly why I so heavily dislike Vagante.

Everything else I’ve been reviewing this month has, in its way, expanded upon the procgen/roguelike formula. Accessibility. Quality of life. Vagante, meanwhile, makes it quite clear that its response to issues I have with the difficulty curve are, essentially, “git gud.” And I’ve made it quite clear in the past how badly I respond to that.

Let’s play a game of “Spot the Character.” Take your time, I can wait…

Let us take, as an example, the bosses of the first three levels of the dungeon. Two of the three have projectile attacks with damage over time, and like to stay out of your reach. Combine this with the rarity of healing items, and melee is either a case of damage racing the enemy (Providing, of course, you have the hit points to do so, as all melee attacks are fixed animations you can’t interrupt, and daggers, previously a go-to, are now slow enough that they are once again a weak option), or timing your attacks just so, over a protracted period of waiting for your single-blow opening, dodging and leaping projectiles, and luring the boss somewhere where you can actually hit them before getting a blow off. Bosses are, naturally, a bundle of hit points, so this can take a while.

Okay, so we can cross the Warrior and Wildling off the “enjoyable to play” list in the very first area (The second area’s bosses seem to actively punish melee users.) What about the two ranged classes, the Rogue and the Mage? Well, as mentioned, while, previously, the Rogue’s dagger could avoid in-level enemy damage a lot of the time, and generally do well in the damage race due to sheer speed, the bow remains, as explored in the previous Early Access review, a case of “Draw for a second, release… Do as much damage as a single sword blow, maybe as much as a heavy axe on a crit. Enemy must be in shortish range from you, good luck avoiding those fireballs/poison globules.” It’s not often I say this, but the Mage, weak as their starting “weapon” is (a staff with a limited number of charges, charging by, er… hitting the enemy with its weak, slow attack), is a good choice, as they have some short range spells that do decent damage, relatively quickly… But, again, your starting attack relies on the enemy being nearby and in front of you, which, with fireballs and the like, isn’t a good idea, and it’s very much potluck if you get, for example, Frost Nova, a spell that has a chance of freezing the enemy for a vital few seconds.

DRAGON uses NOT ON SAME Y AXIS. It’s SUPER EFFECTIVE.

So far, I’ve described something unenjoyable, if not tedious. But wait, it gets better! It’s pretty dark, unless you have certain items (random drop chance), and instakill or damaging traps await, such as spikes (instadeath if you fall, or are knocked onto them, with the saving grace that enemies are also killed by them. Not bosses though), blockfall traps (mostly, thankfully, easy to spot once you know how, but still an occasional killer when, say, concentrating on an enemy), and worms (invincible until they attack, somewhat hard to see at times.) Want a heavier, more damaging weapon? Congratulations, you’ve found an axe, or a hammer, both of which… Are slow as hell, and have a minimum range on their hitbox. With melee enemies pretty much all rushing you as best they can.

In a way, it’s intriguing to me that a game can be so actively designed against its player characters, but alas, this has the side-effect that, for all that there may well be interesting things in the third dungeon area, for all that there may be new things to see, I most likely never will. Because the game is released, and I am so very done with it.

Goodbye, Vagante. I will fondly remember the time you had an option that wasn’t a tedious time.

Hrm. Big open area. 55 HP. Yup, I confidently predict I’m going to die, here on the first level.
And you’re probably as sick of seeing the Dragon now as I am.

The Mage is now seemingly the most viable class. I’d like that to sink in for a second.

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Mad Crown (Early Access Review)

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

IMPORTANT REVIEW NOTE: The Steam Store page will tell you it is not English supporting. This is an oversight. Second menu button, third tab, bottom drop down menu option, select English. You’re welcome.

This past year, it seems, my cup runneth over with interesting, accessible, yet challenging Roguelikes. And Mad Crown was an especially nice surprise to review, considering the developers hadn’t originally planned to localise it until release. So, thanks for that, S-Game (M-Game?) , and thanks also for making said localisation moddable. Perhaps, with this, I could make a Wenglish translation. Enemy is BLEEDIN’ TAMPIN’ , BUTT.

Three thieves, and a treasure containing monster. I foresee pretty much everything running away this fight, some of it with my hard-earned…

But I digress. Mad Crown is a turn based roguelike, in which a slowly growing group of adventurers try to head deeper into a nether dungeon, to seek an artefact of great power that had gone missing previously. So far, so… Wait, buzzsaw robots? Grinning goblinoids and zombie gangers? Huh. Mad Crown’s world is an interesting and eclectic mix, and the hand drawn art style both stands out and sells it quite well. The music’s good, the UI’s clear, and the game?

The game isn’t bad at all. Difficult, yes. But difficult in a way that can be understood. Enemies debuff a lot, from Chaos (confusion) to Disarming (Removes equipment), and against that, each character has one basic attack, one special attack, one defensive ability, and a passive. Almost everything else is cards, from equipment cards (adding armour, damage, and special abilities), spells (The instant action Heraldries and the all group Upanishads providing an interesting balance: Do you want to attack as well as debuff or hurt a single enemy, or do you want to try affecting everyone with the debuff? Tough call), and items. Each dungeon run starts you at a low level (levelling up as you go), and the longer you take in the dungeon, the more overlevelled enemies get. Add in the other wrinkle, that if an enemy kills another enemy, it levels up, and…

The further into the dungeon you get, the more interesting it becomes. Although, y’know, also the more *lethal* it becomes…

…Look, there’s a lot of depth here, both in the dungeon, and the town. Individual dungeons are relatively short, the game mostly tutorialises well, and it gets a lot of good mileage out of the features currently present in the game. I’ve crowed with delight as I killed multiple opponents in a single turn, and recoiled as what I thought was going to be an easy enemy ate its friends, and suddenly became a miniboss. Said “easy” enemy is now higher on my target list in a fight, precisely because it’s one of the few that willingly attacks its own friends without confusion.

And yet, it remains at least moderately fair, due to its rescue system. Got a friend with the game? Good, because they can save your kit, and you can save theirs, once you get far enough in the story that the rescue of your equipment from your corpses is no longer automatic. Copy a code to your clipboard, give it to your friend, and they rescue your kit. Nice, encourages you having friends playing, and makes the difficulty curve just that little bit smoother in the earlier stages of the game.

Overall, I quite like Mad Crown, occasional frustrations aside. It’s got promise, it’s got a lot to unpack and unlock, and its systems are easily explained and learned in play. I look forward to seeing where this one goes.

Eep.

The Mad Welshman is pleased to be the first english language reviewer of this game. Wooooooo!

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