Slasher’s Keep (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

One thing that has always interested me is the use of older game design techniques, but with the quality of life improvements and changes that come from modern game design. So when I quite quickly noticed that Slasher’s Keep mixes hand drawn, eight angle “sprites” , mixed with cartoonishly textured 3D models, I immediately thought “IN.”

Why thank you for the kind offer of your loot, Mister Moleman. Nothing to do with this hammer I wield, I hope!

I’m happy to say that it’s been charming me more, the further I get. At least partly because, in its quiet way, it is ensuring I get further. And it feels good. Surviving to the second level means I can start finding chutes, through which I can drop equipment from higher levels to the beginning. It also means a shop, somewhat useful when I have vendor trash. Get to the third, and those bits of crafting materials I’ve found can be made into new, spankier weapons… Which it may sometimes be a good idea to just drop in the chute already, knowing that even the swanky kit won’t guarantee my continued breathing abilities.

Each time I die, yes, I lose money, stats, and all the kit I didn’t bung down the shoot… But stat gaining potions, the fact that potion drops scale with you, and the fact that a quarter of your XP can easily be regained (and a bit on top) in a good run, means that slowly, but surely, I’m making my way up, and, importantly, seeing more of the comedy of errors that is Slasher’s Keep.

And there’s no doubt, from the mumbling stone idol that occasionally crops up, goblinoid pin-ups (Including one I was cruelly… Okay, I wasn’t forced to destroy a really good goblinoid pin up, but it was in the way of a treasure chest), and even the introduction show that yes, this is a light hearted game. I mean, if you’d been locked in a cell all the time, with a hole in the wall showing keys just out of reach, would you just… Try pushing the cell door, to realise it didn’t have any hinges?

I like to think I craft metaphors as well as deadly, flaming-icy weaponry.

Well, okay, maybe you would, in reality. But this is a dungeon hack in a comic fantasy world, we’ll have none of this “Common sense” malarkey!

With all this gushing, you’d think, perhaps, that Old Grumpy Reviewer Durbin wouldn’t be unmasked as the monster this time, that there’d be nothing to criticise, and that the Mystery Gang wouldn’t have to pull his latest monster mask off his head to muttery grumblings. But alas, as I often say, no game is perfect, and Slasher’s Keep does do some things that get on my (perky) norks.

That map generation needs a bit more work is understandable. Procgen maps are surprisingly hard, and I can’t really begrudge that. But it must be said that yes, there are dead ends to no good purpose, sometimes at the end of a rather long corridor. Less forgivable, perhaps, are some of the ranged enemies. Specifically, the bugs and skulls. See, it’s Slasher’s Keep, not Waiter’s Keep, and I get rather annoyed when, due to an unforeseen mana shortage, I have to either laboriously trick my insectoid opponent to maybe not retreat over the chasm for the twelfth time, or my bony friends to maybe, just maybe, get on with that screaming plunge attack that inevitably leads to their demise, rather than the floating and shooting me from afar thing they seem so fond of? Mana shortages, in this context, are usually unforeseen because only one wand is effectively hitscan, and so shooting at bugs and skulls rapidly loses me all my mana. As such, skulls and bugs are rapidly achieving the not-really-coveted status of “Well, they’re FUCKING BATS to me, mate!”

Especially as, occasionally, challenge rooms (Where the challenge is “You walked into the room, and now you’re locked in until everything but you (or you) is (are) dead”) will entirely consist of… Bugs or skulls.

I mean, okay, I lost stuff, got stripped, and thrown back in, but not only am I stronger… I’m still hot. So my jailors can suck it.

Otherwise, it’s very enjoyable as a first person procgen comedy murderbrawl, and comes highly recommended otherwise.

The Mad Welshman kindly asks for confirmation whether the stone idol’s accent is indeed Brummy. He still has the scars from confusing Liverpool and Hove, and would like to avoid further accent related injuries…

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Tangledeep (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

One of the many things I find interesting about game design is how, individually, elements can be nothing new, but… In combination, the magic happens. Tangledeep is, in many ways, a traditional roguelike: On its intended difficulty, survival involves genuine consideration and thought, knowledge of its rules (The game likes to remind you, on death, that those healing potions you get don’t take a turn to use, for example), and memorisation, to an extent, of the challenges that face you. This level branches into these levels, this boss is at 6F, and so on.

With the Keen Eye perk, a frankly silly amount of information is easily available about your enemy.

However, there’s enough differences and features that, in essence, listing them all would probably fill a review on its own. Crafting food, with a recipe book in your journal. A JRPG style Job system, where you mix and match both the skills and weapon talents of classes however you feel is optimal. Pets, seeds, a mysterious machine, and, somewhat surprisingly, an overarching narrative, set in a world where climbing up the Tangledeep, and attaining knowledge (Sometimes doing good along the way) is the goal, rather than, for example, climbing down the dungeon of Somuchforthat to gain The McOrbison of Clingfilming… Or something like that.

What this means, in practice, is that you always have a good reason to come back to town through the town portal, checking in on what’s going on, that there’s a fair amount to explore, and, thanks to an adjustable difficulty where you don’t necessarily have to die, you can chill the heck out while doing so, exploring the systems and getting the hang of things before maybe graduating to single character permadeath with unlocks, or, traditionally as heck, permadeath permadeath.

It shouldn’t really be said that you don’t disrespect a birdman’s nest, even if they *are* a jerk… But I went and did it.

Or not. Nice thing about games with a fair amount to do, and adjustable difficulty: You don’t have to explore the whole thing to have fun. It helps that, as Roguelikes go, Tangledeep is pretty accessible. Here, clear menus. This is equipment, food inventory, job point stuff, journal. There, a clear map, everything tile based with a key that leaves little doubt as to what everything is. With good music, sound effects, and visuals, all inspired by SNES JRPGs, a variety of classes, unlocks, etc, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Indeed, my main complaint is one that could be levelled at, honestly, a lot of roguelikes overall: Beyond the special areas and boss levels, going through some of the levels just feels a bit humdrum, a case of “Explore as much as possible, break things, go back to town, up some stairs, rinse, repeat.”

As such, overall? Tangledeep’s pretty good for a Roguelike. It’s got charm to it, and a solid, clear design to its UI that helps make it just that important, little bit more friendly. And that makes it a roguelike well worth checking out.

Please don’t ask me to name your own pets. This is part of why…

The Mad Welshman also has a nice nest. Well, as soon as he puts his many many books in order, preferably without loss of life or limb…

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Delver (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (or thereabouts)
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site

Well, it’s been a wee while since I last looked at Delver, and now it’s hit release. And you know what? The game’s pretty solid, for what it is: A first person, moddable dungeon crawler building levels out of pre-built rooms, with random potions and kit, and fixed enemy types per area.

G’bye, broken dagger, you were an ok dagger while you lasted, but now you’re crap and gone!

A lot of what I’d previously said about Delver remains true: Weapons degrade over time, so you’re deeply encouraged to change things up (Unless you want to be walloping things for a grand total of 1 damage over and over again), inventory management is something you generally try not to do in the middle of combat, and you’ll want ranged options, and a fair amount of them, by the time you hit the second area. But it’s the little things, sometimes, that help.

What little things? Well, bigger room variety, for a start. The game really uses the vertical element now, and so rooms feel more fleshed out, more interesting. A few extra enemy types, a bit of rebalancing, and the addition of bombs (and bomb vases… Be wary of darker coloured vases, they go boom) all go a little way toward adding a little more flesh to what was already a fairly accessible, chunky dungeon crawler with a bit of charm to it. Potions can be exploded, if you use them right, and all of this goes toward giving a little more depth to a moderately simple game.

As such, yeah, Delver still charms me. Sure, there’s no incremental play (beyond gold carrying between runs), but it’s not designed around that, more about getting right in there and delving. No one combat option is superior to another, it’s simple to understand and get into, and deaths are simply a pause, a learning experience. Oh. Yeah. I maaaaybe shouldn’t stab the dark red vases, huh. Oh. Yeah… Wands and bows are actually useful. So that’s what that Skeleton does.

With the addition of bombs, things can get a little chaotic. The Fire Bomb is both the most rare and best example of this.

Another addition is that there are more… Sssseecretssss. Doors that don’t seem to be openable, locked areas, little branching paths. While I haven’t found the key to unlocking them yet, it is there, and the rewards, from what little I’ve been able to see, are pretty juicy. The sound really helps to create a living dungeon, and some monster noises echoing from further away really helps hit home that no, you are never safe.

The price has gone up since I last reviewed it, but I still feel, so long as you’re aware this is a pick up and play game, rather than The Big Roguelike of Complexity And Nuance (or something) , then I would still recommend this as a fun experience with a consistent, well put together aesthetic. And, of course, it’s got a mod scene. Not a big one yet, but the game is moddable.

A room? Just devoted to this elaborate patterned spike trap? Oh, you *shouldn’t* have! <3

The Mad Welshman gives this game the Sheev Palpatine Award for Health and Safety. Can confirm that handrails are mostly lacking over bottomless pits, and explosives are placed wherever the heck. Keep it up, villainy’s proud of you!

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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.

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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!”

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