Vagante (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store
Version Reviewed: Build 59i

When things are this close to release, and the nicest things I can say is “Mages seem to work better, and bows are sort of viable now”, you may be able to figure that I am, as before, distinctly unfond of Vagante’s particular flavour of difficulty. I will, grudgingly, admit it has improved a little. But it still has many of the same issues.

Yup. He died, and so did I. WELP, RESTART.

To recap, Vagante is a procgen platform action dungeon crawler, where you pick a class, attain gear, try to defeat bosses and levels, and level up with each level you beat. Healing is very scarce, and if I felt the game were well balanced around that, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Unfortunately, bosses can best be described as “Absolute arses.” In more technical terms, even the first area bosses (Of which you will encounter all of them: A goblin warlord, a dragon, and a poisonous worm) are battles, not of tactics, but of attrition. Not all classes have an active defense (and those who do, only attain it through levelled abilities) , so taking damage is, in most cases, pretty much a certainty, as options with any sort of decent range are, to put it bluntly, crap. Bows don’t do a heck of a lot, Magic Missile doesn’t do a heck of a lot, wands have cooldowns and the same problems as any spells they own. The reason I found the Mage had improved somewhat as a class? Eleclance (One of the few spells with infinite charges per level, and a consistent, relatively high damage rate) by default.

Of course, this is all talking about the first area. Once the second area is hit, all bets are off, as bosses not only have vastly increased hit points, they also have some seriously beefy attacks and defenses. One boss, for example, has a ring of damaging projectiles circling it, and it can phase through walls. Good luck running away. Good luck getting close enough to hit it. Good luck surviving long enough to plink at it from range. I can’t tell you about later areas, because I haven’t gotten to them. I’ve beaten Spelunky. Heck, I’ve beaten LaMulana, and this game not only resists being finished, the kinds of deaths I’ve encountered make me, honestly, not want to finish it.

The Woods, the second area, is somewhat lighter. Still dark enough that you can’t tell what’s going on with a thumbnail.

I’ve fatfingered jump, very lightly, and died on spikes from a tile high. I’ve been lovetapped to death by misjudging a bat… After having beaten all three bosses of the first area. Heck, at times, I’ve known, before I’ve even found the boss, that I’m not going to win the damage race, because a goblin got lucky, or the aforementioned bat misjudging happened, or I came across a situation where I was going to take damage, be that due to unfortunate enemy configurations, or an enemy blindsiding me that I was sure I’d be able to murder (Explosive moths, for example, are best avoided, rather than attempting to attack them. Their movement is only technically predictable.)

Is there good? Yes, and that, really, makes how I feel about this game worse. The music is good, fitting mood pieces for the areas. The sound isn’t bad. The enemy designs, while not all new creatures, are still interesting. The skills are more clear. But if a weapon isn’t of at least Normal speed, odds are high it just isn’t worth working with timing (and some weapons have minimum ranges, less than useful when any melee enemy just wants to get right in your face), the first area is very dark, making it an eye straining and awkward experience to play… And, considering that all content is now in the game, bringing it fairly close to release? All these little frustrations, these decisions that seem more based on arbitrary difficulty than challenge, don’t make me confident that I’m going to be changing my mind about not liking Vagante on release.

Skills being more clear. Note: The shield blocks *physical* damage. So 2 out of the 3 bosses in the first area can still hurt you.

The Mad Welshman was correct in his last Early Access review: He’s already sick of the damn caves. Also the dagger remains what appears to be the best option.

Become a Patron!

Haque (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Do you like glitchiness and a world that is not as it first seems? This question lies at the core of whether you’ll enjoy, or be annoyed by Haque, an interesting little roguelike. Unfortunately, saying more than that is kiiiiind of spoilery, so let’s talk about some other things that make the game interesting. Yes. Let’s not talk about the Old Man in the room.

Yes, that old man. That sweet, harmless… Old man. Yes.

Haque is, glitch effects aside (they can be turned off), a fairly accessible roguelike, in which repeated playthroughs are encouraged through a choice of random characters (and their pets), and a story that… Crap, there’s that spoiler issue again. A story that starts bog standard roguelike, but has you on the defensive from the word go because it seems too pat. There. Better. Visually, it owes a lot to the 8-bit era, with bright colours, keyboard prompts as part of the UI, but… Get this…

…It has a soundtrack. Quite a nice one too, ranging from soothing, almost folksy acoustics, to pumping riffs that get you nice and ready for a good, old fashioned boss fight. Mixing this in with more traditional, chippy sounds doesn’t sound like it would fit well, and yet… It very much does. Control wise, it’s simple: Four directions, the mouse can be used for pretty much everything, and the tooltips are quite useful (accessed with the right mouse button.)

The glitching always happens for a reason. Usually, it’s because you’re low on health. Sometimes, other things happen.

The world, at first, also seems a bit generic. Here, a forest, there, a desert, here, a… Wait, why are there androids? Was someone running out of ide- Ah, yes. Things get different, and, edging into spoiler territory here, this is one of the few games I’ve encountered over the years where I feel sorry for having won a boss fight.

Well. That’s done, no use guilt tripping myself over being a stereotypical adventurer in a videogame now. Sigh.

In any case, Haque comes fairly recommended, as it’s an interesting world, an interesting story concept, fairly well executed and foreshadowed, and reasons to replay beyond getting that “Play the game with all classes” achievement or for the enjoyment of an accessible, interesting roguelike.

Pointy headed red guys? Ohhhh, GARRYS. Yeah, I’ve seen Garrys before.

“Do Not Look Behind The Review!” cried The Mad Welshman. “It Will Only Bring Doom And Destruction And Really Wild Things!”

Become a Patron!

Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $19.99 First Access (With further donation options)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

The Scions of the Dreaming Dark surround my people. Their eldritch machines drain their blood, only to make them more violent, more willing to die for their leader. Their people may fall rapidly, but each time one falls, so do many of mine. And their leader… Their leader feeds off their hate, their rage, their death. He takes blows that would slay a normal human like rain off my jacket, shrugging, laughing.

My people are falling. We may never reach the Promised Land. And the longer this fight goes on… The harder it becomes.

Well… This is… Awkward. The combat plays *somewhat* like Hearthstone with the Momentum. But, y’know, without the monetisation. Sweet.

It’s intriguing, isn’t it, how games imply a world with mechanics. And Nowhere Prophet, by Sharkbomb Studio, does this so very well. Even for a game that currently has two areas playable.

The basic idea, storywise, is that you are a latter day Moses, except, of course, I really do mean “Latter” day, as the world has kind of gone to ruin, with some technology still being known, and used, but others, such as the satellite that crash lands near our titular Prophet, mystified and referred to in the simple terms of the day. It talks of safety, and knowledge. Isn’t that enough to make a grand journey for, and to share with others?

But here’s the thing: It’s all very well to promise a Promised Land. But how, in the end, will you lead your people? Praise knowledge? Kindness? How will you keep their hope up, when you aren’t there yet, and the journey seems so long… How will you defend them, in these hostile lands?

Hrm… Possibility of painful death, or Possibility of painfu… New followers? Sold!

While it’s not perfect, the game has this: How do you return hope? Well, the birth of a child can happen, that helps. But mostly, you’re passing round shinies, in the hope that it will distract them. It sounds cynical as hell, but it can’t be denied that yeah, a little luxury makes a journey go faster. Lose hope, and problems arise. Similarly, food. You sort of need that to live, last I checked. And so, tough decisions are made. Do you take that nastier route because it has food, even knowing that it’s going to cost food to get the food, and that said food is probably already claimed by animals, ancient and malfunctioning robots using it as bait, bandits, or an end-times cult? Or do you take the easier route in the hope that something comes along?

Combat, similarly, has options, due to the deckbuilding system. You start with 23 followers, and the clothes on your back, and, no matter how much you want to preserve these people you promised, if you die, everybody loses. Take out the enemy leader, or make them run away. Even here, there’s decisions to be made. Do you keep a lot of weaker followers that synergise well, but might die in droves if the fight doesn’t go the way you want it to? Maybe bigger folks, buying time with your followers. Use them too harshly, and… Well, you don’t have followers anymore.

As you might tell, I like and enjoy this game. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, but what imperfections it has? Well, it’s early days. But the writing is good, the art style really sets the tone for each faction, and my main criticisms right now can be fixed with time. Basically… More. A little more music, to break things up. Obviously, the areas that are already coming. For some of the events with options that require 50 followers or 26 Altruism to maaaaybe not proc in the first area where I don’t see reasonable ways of achieving this? That last one, honestly, is mostly a grump, these events can happen anywhere down the line, but… Yes, I’ve had a lot of enjoyment with Nowhere Prophet so far, and foresee more, because it makes interesting choices, has a cool art style, tutorialises well, and its mechanics sync well with its narrative. So, all in all? Thumbs up.

It’s important to note that not all paths are pre-mapped. There’s nearly always a way forward, even if it’s… Uncomfortable.

The Mad Welshman is a quiet Prophet. Mostly a prophet of interesting design choices that people seem to miss. Ah well, it’s a niche.

Become a Patron!

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.” 

Become a Patron!

Cogmind (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site
Version: Beta 3

It’s one heck of a thing, to see a robotic hive in action. A wall gets blown up, along with some hostile bots, and a small army of utility robots arrives on the scene quite quickly, to pick up parts and rubble for recycling, to rebuild the walls, and, before you know it, everything’s pristine again.

The mines, where I found a wonderful sensor that I thought would keep me safe. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Not that you’ll be spending too much time watching this, since hostile robots are also quite quick to the scene, repair is hard to come by, and, being a sentient robot that is quite fragile once all the bits it’s accumulated have blown off, you generally don’t want to be hanging around. But it is interesting to see. Such is Cogmind, the Roguelike by GridSage Games.

Now, one thing to definitely get out of the way first is that Cogmind is hard. Thankfully, there are two factors that make this game more accessible (Beyond being turn-based.) Firstly, there’s two flavours of “Easier Mode” in the options (Yes and EXTRA YES) , and secondly, the controls are fairly simple. Left clicking on things interacts with them (and is fairly context sensitive: Left clicking an enemy fires at it, for example), right clicking examines them (Useful information wise, and the ASCII art for various items is kind of cool), numpad keys moves, G gets things, and escape opens up the menu.

Core to the game is the fact that you are reliant on parts to become less vulnerable… But those parts come from other robots, and the longer you stay in one area, the more you fight or blow shit up or hack things, the bigger the response is. Leaving for another area lowers the alert a little, but you’re always a patrol or two away from death, even with high powered machinery. So… Do you try to find sensors, so you can see them before they see you? Bigger bangtubes so you can kill them before they have much of a chance to react? Smarter weaponry that lets you murder from afar? Maybe hacking tools, so you can make all these lovely, deadly creations your best friends in the whole world? All of these require different strategies, and, of course, finding the right parts. Which, generally speaking, will not be parted so easily from the robots that are currently using them. Everything else, from finding materials forges to murdering scavenger droids for anything they’ve picked up, is pretty much a gamble. And, since the parts double as your armour, getting into fights means you have to replace parts, changing your strategy on the fly.

On the one hand, I got tantalising information, and hints as to how get more. On the other, the alert level just got raised, and they know roughly where I am. Crap.

As such, the main killler of my runs so far aren’t the rare boss encounters, or the melee only Bruiser Bots… No, it’s the humble S-10 “Pest.” They’re not armed with much… They’re not tough… But they’re fast, and come in groups, outpacing even your speedily rolling exposed core. And if something can keep up with, and keep firing on, your core… Well, it’s game over, and back to the trash-heap you go.

If you can get into it, however, and get somewhere, there’s an interesting world out there. A world of robots, some sentient, some not-so-sentient, and clues as to the true nature of your core. It helps that, once you’ve got the hang of things, you can do some serious damage, and get around a fair bit. But, most often, you’ll end your runs a small, desperately rolling ball, chased and reduced to scrap, seemingly for the crime of being just that little bit different.

If you’re okay with that, then give Cogmind a go. Perhaps you’ll find more about the world than I have.

I’d managed to blow quite a few up before they got me, but, as you can see… There were a lot more coming, and I had no options left. Time to die…

The Mad Welshman sympathises with the plight of his robot overlo- er, friends. Yes, definitely friends.

Become a Patron!