Immortal Planet (Review)

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

I’m getting really tired of the word “soulslike.” I’m not ashamed to say this, because, like many game development fashions inspired by at least okay games, it can vary widely. Immortal Planet, sadly, is one of those that just doesn’t gel with me. Partly because it is as slow as advertised… And partly because it isn’t.

The game has an inventory, built up as you go through the game, weapons with multiple modes, and, of course, skulls and masks. A fair few of them.

The story is relatively simple: There is a planet, filled with folks who just won’t die (The justification for respawning enemies whenever you rest/level up.) It’s mysterious, and you, one of the big, hulking masked folk that populate this world, are a prisoner. Tromp and stomp and murder your way through the 5 bosses and 52 rooms. I know it’s 5 bosses from the achievements, and I know it’s 52 rooms because, for some odd reason, the room graphics are right there in the game’s directory (Found as I tried to get windowed mode to work. Which it still doesn’t seem to.)

Problem is, the game is frustratingly grindy, and, while the walk speed is slow (and the run isn’t a whole lot better), the combat is quick exchanges. And, like a Souls game, everything appears to be made of bricks that are made of bricks until you level up. Slash slash backstep to recover and let this fool get his two attacks off slash slash dead. This guy’s near an edge, haha, wait block dash the sod into the black ether and get the XP so much easier. Slash slash sla- dammit I’m out of stamina, backstep get hit get hit dammit now I have to use a healing item. So yes, it’s slow in one sense, but the fights are, comparatively, quick, twitchy exchanges. And then you meet the first boss, and realise another area the game is slow.

Block, slash, ohgods I barely scratched him, and even through my block that hurt. Slash, wait, he’s got a melee punish move, ohgod I’m almost dead, try to ba- aaaaaand dead. Lose all my XP, lose my healing items, reset, restart.

This enemy is about to be punished for having a dash-two slash combo that’s easily avoidable. His compatriots can be a lot more challenging.

Immortal Planet is not the friendliest of games. Funnily enough, though, most of this is feeling. On leaving a session, I was surprised to note that three loops around the first hub, combined with two deaths (one my fault, one due to somehow dashing off a cliff to my death when I’d intended to push someone else off the opposite cliff) took around 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer, not least because while the game has sound (and some quite meaty sounds for the weapons too), it doesn’t have music, per se. Snatches, here and there, like when you die, but mostly, it’s silent, with that tromp tromp tromp tromp tromp of walking around the main punctuation for a lot of the time.

Eventually, I got used to the combat, which involves being as risk averse as humanly possible, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemies’ charge attacks are, for the most part, easily dodged, and well telegraphed. Now, I mention being risk averse, and you may be saying “Dark Souls also encourages risk aversion” , but this is not quite true. It involves calculated risk. While a single loop around the first area and level up purely into Strength (Damage) will ensure two of the first three enemy types will be chumps (Taking around 5-10 minutes) , the third enemy type (and the first boss) will punish you heavily for a mistake, and no, there is no option to just level up. You can level up and rest, resetting all enemies and any items you may have found beyond your basic allotment, or you can not level up. Bosses have multiple health bars, and, despite the fact it doesn’t actually take all that long to play, the grind and seeming slow pace makes it feel much longer than it is.

This exchange will take only a few seconds, but at this point, he’s already dead. If I’d misjudged, it would be *me* who was close to death.

In the end, Immortal Planet is very much a deal of “Your Mileage May Vary.” Myself, I prefer a different pace, and find elements of the game feeling iffy for me, but I can see how someone who wants a bit more challenge might enjoy this game. Aesthetically, it’s very clean, it has a moderately interesting story, but, alas, it’s not for me.

Sundered (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£6.99 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

I am, most of the time, a pretty calm person. Suffice to say, this sentence has an unspoken “BUT” , and, certainly enough, Sundered is that “BUT.” This is both a good… And a bad thing.

Congratulations, Thunder Lotus Games. You have discovered the edge, the very edge, of my video-game masochism.

While not a mobility or attack powerup, the shield is bloody useful because… Well, you *live* longer, innit?

In any case, while I’ve been jokingly referring to this as a “Soulscraftroidvania” (This is a joke on my more jargon loving peers in the industry) , it is, once you break down the word, moderately accurate. It has a high difficulty curve that is supposed to get better by dying and levelling up from the fruits of that dying. One of its antagonists (who is also your weapon) is the Shining Trapezohedron, and Lovecraft references abound… I would like to add, at this point, that making the main character a woman of colour is both a nice step representation wise, and a nice subversion of Lovecraft’s work, which often had folks of colour as the villains (Sigh.) And, like Metroid and Castlevania, progression depends on getting powerups, not all of which are mobility based, but all of which unlock some kind of skill gate or another. Explore three areas, murder enemies and bosses, get cash, die, repeat, hopefully making some progress. Equally, another core mechanic is that you can, with the Elder Shards dropped by boss and miniboss alike, either empower your abilities, changing them, or get more basic shards with which to improve your skillls.

That’s the absolute basics. Let’s get the good out of the way. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful. Thunder Lotus have a clean, consistent style, they know their UX, they know their animation, and they know their music. The sounds are mostly good, even if one in particular has associations with the mixed bit. The powerups are interesting, and some have some very interesting factors that make them extremely multifaceted.

Wait, tenta- NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE, DIE DIE DIE.

The best example of this is the Cannon. On the one hand, it fires a massive bolt that does at least three times the damage of your best melee strikes, and pierces walls, enemies, and the pots, crates, and gooey blobs you shatter to maybe get money. On the other, it’s slow to fire, takes both a unit of ammunition and stamina (Only one of which regenerates. The other must be found), only fires straight forward, and hurtles you backwards (Funnily enough, that makes it a mobility tool too.) On the third hand, it’s the only way of opening certain locks that exist… In the first area of the game. That is good design.

Similarly, the writing is pretty good. The Shining Trapezohedron is a weapon, an antagonist, and an unreliable narrator. It wants you to kill. It wants you to be better at killing. It hates you when you don’t take this option, and I’m almost certain it’s lying to you.

Now let’s get to the bad bit. Funnily enough, just like the Cannon is a core gameplay element, so is the part that I’m extremely unfond of: Enemies. Not specifically the fact that there are enemies, or the fact that they’re tough (Although some are extremely tough, serving as their own damn skill gates, and some, like the Aberration or… Well, nearly anything with ranged weapons, honestly, are just bloody annoying.) It is, like the Cannon, a multifaceted problem.

They are not in set positions, but rather, come in waves of increasing brutality, each wave being made of “native” enemies (For example, Cultists, Crawlers, and Screamers in one area.) Sometimes, they will be megawaves (signalled by a gong or a klaxon, depending where you are.) The ranged opponents can attack from offscreen… A long way offscreen. This gets worse later on, when some of the enemies get homing bullets. And, due to another facet of the game (Its tendency to zoom out to show you pretty or big things) combined with the number of enemies that can appear on screen at one time, the fact the ranged enemies often force you to hunt them down (While sometimes limiting your mobility) by virtue of firing from way offscreen (Hunters are the earliest offenders here, but not the worst), and, of course, the Endless Horde rooms you have to race through to get perks you will most likely need before the endgame (and, if you’re a completionist, definitely want)… Well, it makes what are meant to be big, epic fights sometimes confusing, often frustrating, and, overall, makes it feel more like difficulty padding than merely challenging. The limited pseudo-random generation of areas (The basic layout remains the same, but the specific paths within those areas varies from game to game, and indeed death to death) is an interesting idea, but also, at times, leads to frustration as a longer way out dicks me out of just a tadge more progress by… Well, having to deal with more waves.

Pictured: A nice game of “spot the protagonist in the middle of a bossfight.” Not pictured: The 50 or so assholes he was going to summon.

Similarly, your mileage may vary with the bosses. Quite widely. All of them are at least moderately pattern based, and relatively easy to understand, but some are exercises in frustration and pain. Funnily enough, all three of the examples I can think of off the top of my head are variations of ranged enemies, based on the Cultist (Creates walls of tentacles and explosions), the Screamers (Tries to keep out of your range, shoots you), and the Aberration (Often keeps out of your range by grappling from wall to wall, fires bullets with moderate homing.) The Aberration boss, in particular, has driven me almost to tears, and, at the time of writing, still hasn’t been beaten.

And this is a damn shame, because, while I normally would only not recommend this game to those who, for one reason or another, don’t like or aren’t able to play twitchy games (Being an action combat platformer, it’s very twitchy, and button mashy a fair bit too), I also can’t recommend this game to those with anger-management problems, because keyboards, mice, controllers and monitors are expensive, and I have no desire to be responsible for the destruction of said items in a frustrated rage that I freely admit I’ve come close to at times with this game. Not for novice players, it definitely has its good points, but the experiment of not having basic enemy placement is one that, unfortunately, I’m not fond of.

Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £39.99 plus BOODLES OF DLC
Where To Get It: Steam

It speaks volumes that, when attempting to talk about the FATE universe(s), I end up using a lot of jargon, and a lot of things get capitalised. So let’s try and keep that to a minimum, because I want you to understand why I’m okay with FATE/Extella, and its rather… Odd universe…s.

Yes, it’s a JRPG/VN/Musou game, so there is the obligatory “Ohhhh *Japan* ! o.O” character.. Well, a couple.

Essentially, every now and again, regardless of universe, a war is fought over the Holy Grail. Yes, that one. That one which has also been a Cosmic Horror in disguise, is pretty much always the asshole kind of wish-granter that twists your wish in the most evil way possible, and somehow, keeps tempting people to summon spirits of heroes past, be they digital avatars with souls (as in the Extra/CCC/Extella universe), or literal phantoms of the past, drawn from their time to fight in a thematic cage match with one nominal winner. I say nominal because damn if the winner doesn’t nearly always get the shaft somehow. Like I said, the Holy Grail is an ass.

Anyway, the Grail War is over. SE.RA.PH, the amazing moon computer, has become peaceful, united under the rule of Nero Claudius, who is a woman, and of the “Oh, my brave love!” type. Iiiiit’s pretty obvious it’s written for the dudes, it must be said, even though the option of playing a woman is there (An option I took. It doesn’t make the romance dialogue any less awkward.)

EXCEPT THINGS, UNSURPRISINGLY, ARE NOT WELL! When are they ever, eh? Anyway, with a band of supporting heroes, a cast of villains, and robot/AI mooks aplenty to beat up, you… Wait, this sounds… familiar.

Yes, it has many of the same elements of Senran Kagura. Visual novel sections, broken up by sections where you wallop the shit out of mooks, defeat bosses, and, in a more traditional twist, have to successfully control portions of the map and do objectives before you do so. Things that add depth, like having to keep an eye out for Plants, which spawn enemy attack forces if you don’t murder them, get rid of thematic elements like Medusa’s Blood Fortress, and that most dangerous of tasks, Pursuing Lu Bu.

Luckily, like any Shounen Musou character, Nero Claudius (Who is a girl, yes) not only has her Noble Phantasm, she also has a Shitkicker Mode.

If you saw a lot of capital letters and jargon there, yes, this is largely unavoidable. Keeping it simple, the majority of the game is “Beat up mooks in rooms until larger mooks appear, beat them up, rinse and repeat until you control a room. Oh, and watch out for that other stuff like Plants, objectives, or the fact you have allies, and them getting beaten down makes your situation worse.” And then there’s the story bits, where the right choice when talking to your main Servant nets you better Bonds, those, in turn, net you scenes where you bond with that individual (romantically or otherwise), rewards…

…This is the first problem with FATE/Extella: Even though the game does its utmost to explain things, it’s one of those examples of a long running, multi-continuity series that feels dense to the outsider. I know some of it from the various anime (Yes, it’s a multimedia franchise too), but other bits feel a mystery, even if there’s an in-game Encyclopedia to try and explain it. It’s the same with a lot of the universe stuff. Players who’ve played the other games, or seen some of the anime in the Extra/CCC/Extella continuity, may well be ooohing and aahhing, but as someone who hasn’t? I’m mostly confused, except for the bits transplanted from other continuities or series. Nameless? Oh, yeah, that’s that guy! Meanwhile, why is Elizabeth Bathory an Idol Singer, and… Well, a bit of a joke character, to be honest?

Nero is somewhat exuberant, and… There was a word for her character, but I forget it. Answers on a postcard…

Despite my recommending a controller is used, the default keyboard controls aren’t actually terrible… But it does make for a lesser experience, as the camera is controlled with the arrows, the movement with WASD, and basic attacks and jumping lie awkwardly in the middle, so you sometimes have to awkwardly shift to… Well, see what the hell’s going on. The musou gameplay is alright, but the Bond system feels a little bit arbitrary sometimes. Not with the VN segments with each character, you’re playing to their mood to get on better with them, but with the side mission mechanic, which is taken from a pool of choices including things like “Eat 4 Yakisoba Bread in a single mission.” I’m not even sure I’ve seen a yakisoba bread, let alone 4. Similarly, unless you really, really need it (and you won’t, at least until the midgame on normal), do not use the Command Sigil thing, as it resets your bonds.

I could, in essence, say a hell of a lot more, because there’s a lot of mechanics, but the game tutorialises fairly well, and, although I grimace at the awkwardness of some of the VN writing, the overall idea is quite interesting, I like the world, and the musou beat-em-up segments have interest and variety to them. It’s still a shame it’s a later game in the series that’s translated, because you get that word salad that you’re already expected to know, but Fate/Extella does not appear to be a bad game. Just somewhat opaque to newcomers lorewise, and, as mentioned, a controller is highly recommended.

The Mad Welshman is still rather confused by VN/Musou hybrids, and the seeming need to shove a romance plot in there, but explanations thrown at me tend to make me dizzy.

Children of Zodiarcs (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Ebony and Ivory, together in perfect… Oh, wait, no, this is a game with child protagonists, published by Square Enix. One of whom is a White Black Mage, and one of whom is… No, I daren’t even finish that sentence. Nonetheless, this is, some qualifications aside, a positive review about a cool game by Cardboard . Buckle up.

<3 Nahmi. That is all.

Children of Zodiarcs is a turn based strategy RPG which uses cards and dice as its main mechanics. The player moves, plays attacks, heals, buffs, and debuffs, then the enemy does the same. Levelling up gets you better stats, better cards, different cards, and the same goes for dice. Direction matters, because backstabbing does extra damage and doesn’t get counter attacked, cards have different effects, some special, red symbols on the dice do bad things, white ones do good things, and you get to reroll two dice with each card you play. Enemies have different decks, and bam, there’s your mechanical end summarised. In play, it’s actually pretty cool. I find myself thinking about how the players work together naturally, about how if I do this, then THIS, I remove two arrogant, assholish Nobles from my path, and, next turn, another couple won’t even know what hit them. Muahaha.

If it were just the mechanical end, I’d be okay with Children of Zodiarcs. It experiments, the experiment works well, and it’s explained clearly and succinctly. Apart from the red dice (a colourblindness issue), I can clearly see what does what, and, honestly, all I need to know is that Red Dice are Bad. Avoid them.

This guard is, briefly, going to have a very bad day. And then he’s not going to have any more days. Brice stole them.

But it’s not just the mechanical end. Narratively, I care about the characters. They’re young, sure, and, like the young, speak dramatically, bicker, bitch, argue, doubt… But they’re characters. Nahmi’s gruff, bold exterior hides a lonely soul. Brice hates grown ups (and with good reason), but has a hero worship thing going on with Nahmi. Pester, at first seeming like the whipping boy of the group, actually helps hold things together, and Zirchhoff is a laughing, brash Shounen Fagin who no doubt hides dark secrets, but charmed me with his bloodthirsty ways from the start. The Nobles are privileged, arrogant assholes, perhaps the weakest part, but still villains I love to hate, and other gangs are human, from the very first you meet, the Black Fangs. I care about the characters, I care about the world, and as such, I only cringe a little at the pun with Nahmi (a WOC protagonist to boot, miracles abound!) the… Ebony Flame, and Brice (A girl of the Caucasian persuasion), who immediately calls herself… The Ivory Flame.

Ouch. This, funnily enough, is a good segue into the game not being perfect, and, in its current state, not exactly for beginners. Which is slightly saddening, but I’m sure either balancing will happen, or folks will try it for the story. Anyway…

…While the visual design is clear and concise, with a good feel for story through costume and the like, and the music is excellent, the animations… Can best be described as “Servicable.” They could uncharitably, at times, be called “Lackluster”, such as the Ruiner, a line spell that, er… Makes a particle effect on each person. Eh. Similarly, once you’re out of the first three tutorial missions, the gloves are off, figuratively speaking, and you’re thrown into a mission where the objective (Get to the exit) is definitely not to be ignored. A swift death awaits you if you don’t plan, and plan well. It’s almost the same in the second such mission, but with the possibility of lessening the difficulty by… Repeating the first two missions to grind experience. Not, perhaps, the best solution. There are generally three characters in a mission, and, while I like some (the original trio), others are not so hot.

That… That was a Ruiner, huh. Mm. I was expecting something, Iunno… More *Ruiny*

However, the missions are definitely not unbeatable, although you may bang your head against them a couple of times, so while this isn’t a beginner SRPG at the present time, it’s still pretty accessible, charming, and seemingly quite well written. Well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman would like to inform people that the Nobles have been excluded from this year’s VillainCon. Remember, Villains, not JERKS.

Sin Castle (Experimental Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where to Get It: Steam

You’ll notice the “Experimental” in the title here, and this is for a very simple reason: Sin Castle has not yet been translated into English, and I was curious to see if it was as accessible as it seemed from the video. Could it, in short, be played without knowledge of the language?

In short? Yes… And no. Now let’s get into the long, unpacking where it does well, and where it fails (Sometimes regardless of language.)

There was this Serpent, see? And he convinced the first two folks to… And then THINGS HAPPENED.

To give a brief summary of the game and what I understand of its story, it’s a puzzle game with roleplaying game elements where you click on things to interact with them, and use items to get ahead in what will be your main interaction, clicking on monsters to kill them (While they do their level best to kill you too.) The eight levels are themed on the Tree of Knowledge (Which started this whole Sin mess, if you believe some interpretations of the Christian Bible) and the Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity (Sloth, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Pride. Not in that order.)

After only four hours of what can best be described as “Bumblefucking my way through”, I have reached what is either Greed or Envy. The level graphic could, to be fair, mean either, but I’m tending toward envy, as equipping good items seems to raise enemy stats. Each level, as you might have guessed from this, has a somewhat thematic set of gimmicks. And sadly, it’s these gimmicks that make the game harder if you don’t speak the lingo, and at times bring the game down regardless.

Let’s take the first chapter, the Tree of Knowledge, and its two main gimmicks to start with. One gates progress, while the other simply makes things more difficult at the end. Let’s start with the one that makes it more difficult to beat the level: Some of the enemies (Demons of some variety, I’m guessing) have a two-faced symbol on them. There are two items you get fairly early on: A stocks (of the “Put someone in the stocks!” variety) and a Rod of Asclepius (Symbol of healing and medicine.) Kill the monsters with the two-face symbol without using the right one of these two on them (And it is not always the Rod, unsurprisingly), and they buff the Tree’s draconian guardians, with a worst case scenario of making the final three guardians tedious, and the last one nigh impossible to defeat. Use the right symbol, and a blue winged shield will appear, presumably saying it’s fine to kill them. Wrong one, and you might as well not kill that enemy.

Each level of the castle is its own thing, with progress not being carried over. And, after the prologue, maps can get big.

This is an interesting gimmick, but the language barrier makes this one a bit trial and error, as does, for example, the gimmicks of three of the four boss monsters in the second level, Gluttony. The other gimmick of the first level, however, is…

…Look, you can’t kill certain monsters (As you don’t have the right weapons) until you beat the Serpent of the Garden in Rock-Paper-Scissors. Except it’s Sword (Quicker than axe, breaks on shield), Shield (Blocks sword, axe breaks shield), and Axe. And, unless you went fully Hitpoints on your stats, you have, at worst, 2 incorrect answers before you die and start again, compared to the Serpent’s 5. To say I am not enchanted with this is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic is a bit damp.” I am also less than amused with how certain monsters are a matter of slooooooowly out damaging them, waiting for your regeneration to hit safe levels before hitting them for just more than they can regenerate in the same time, and… It takes a few blows to see, on average, if you’re actually doing anything with said creatures.

Hrm… 50HP deducted for each wrong answer… I feel the deck is *slightly* stacked against me, Mister Snake!

You can, for a certain (rising) fee, respec your character, or attain silver and gold keys you might be running low on or out of, and you do slowly get money on a timer, but these both feel, not so much balancing out, but padding. Especially as both price and timer on the keys go up as you attain more. Each Sin’s level is self contained, starting you at Level 1, no stats, no keys, and some levels, yes, have less keys than others. It can be frustrating at times.

Overall, though, this is an interesting concept, it does some interesting things, and it has a cool and good aesthetic to it with what appears to be good colourblind awareness, nice music, and okay sounds. It’s just the execution could use a little polish.

The Mad Welshman knows a fair bit about Sin. Kind of comes with the territory of being a moustache twirling villain, really…