StarCrawlers (Review)

Source: Birthday Gift
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG

Being touched by knowledge of the Eldritch Thingumawotsits from The Dark Between The Stars is, it turns out, rather rough. But it does have its upsides. Being able to drain the shields of your enemies, smite them with pure Void… Yup, definitely has its compensations.

The bosses can get quite inventive, including this feller and his robo-dawgies. Git!

And this, funnily enough, is one of the things I like about StarCrawlers: Every class has its ups and downs, and, more importantly, its own flavour. So the temptation to have a save game in each class, so as to explore the story of the game from several perspectives, is definitely tempting. Even if I’m not actually the biggest fan of the Void Psyker due to the whole “Not so hot portrayal of mental health and occult stuff” being a roadblock for me.

In any case, StarCrawlers is a turn based, step based roleplaying game set in a corporate space opera universe, where everything moves when you do, your actions in combat have time costs that need to be considered, but it’s perfectly okay, because time doesn’t move on until you’ve had a cup of tea, a nice think, and then held down the mouse button, selected “MURDER THESE DAMN ENEMIES ALREADY”, and moved on. It does interesting things, like being able to look around while you explore, which you’ll need, as not everything is at eye level. I’ve found security panels and credsticks in some odd places, from next to desks, near the floor, and even, in a couple of cases, just lying, in a planter. Okay, not the security panel, but yeah, the game wants you to look around, and it demonstrates this by hiding things so that looking around nets you maximum loot. It’s also a fairly colourblind friendly game, and the UI is pretty clear.

If you don’t like the psychic darkside, then how about the power… To kill a droid from 200 yards away… WITH MIND BULLETS?!?

So, is there anything bad about the game? Well, apart from the characterisation of the Void Psyker, which is, tbqh, a hackneyed stereotype I’d really rather see less of, my main “complaints” are more like “niggles.” For optimal play, you will want a hacker and an engineer in your party, so as to, respectively, hack terminals and security panels, and fix shit that’s broken. The plot missions require a few level ups to get to, but this is actually okay because the generation of the levels keeps to a theme, and occasionally goes interesting places like the inside of mining asteroids and the like, while still making sure that secret doors aren’t blocked off, that once you know an area’s “theme”, you can quickly find security trip-lasers, secret door buttons, and, of course, the things likely to contain loot.

There’s a lot to StarCrawlers, but thankfully, it’s pretty accessible, from the Black Market to the faction system that can lead to assassins being sent after you by a corporation you’ve pissed off (In my runs, nearly always Chimera Corp, the Umbrella of the spaceways, but you might end up pissing off someone like Horizon Robotics or The Workers Union instead), it has an interesting universe, good sounds, good music, and clear visuals. I’d heartily recommend it to RPG fans, as it’s a good example of making a genre that occasionally gets bogged down in grogginess accessible to folks of all types.

“You don’t think it’s too subtle, Marty, you don’t think people are going to drive down and not see the door?”

The Mad Welshman inspires many a space psychic, being formed of the pure Dark Between The Genres.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus (Review)

Source: Review copy
Price: £29.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Review – Senran Kagura Estival Versus

Senran Kagura, in a single phrase, is clunky and internally inconsistent. It wants to be humourous, and also to be a grim tale of women ninja fighting against yomi (Evil spirits.) It wants to be a Musou game, but also an eroge with what I’m assuming is meant to be women who are comfortable enough in BDSM to be completely open about it with each other (While also freaking each other out, another level of inconsistency), and also having RPG elements that, to be honest, only add grind and reduce clarity. It’s a game where even people who have noticed I disliked the game along the review process have been inconsistent in where they defend the game… From saying it’s “light hearted” to “surprisingly dark”, to saying the comedy’s bad, but it is a comedy (but it also isn’t), and giving me varying points at which it “Gets Better”, all of which, funnily enough, start about four or five hours into the game.

This is one of the points at which the game allegedly “Gets Better.” I wish I was joking when I said this.

Enough. Senran Kagura is inconsistent. Its combat flow is often broken up by the Shinobi Transformations (Which enemy named characters can do while you’re in the middle of a combo, throwing off your combo because hey, there’s a fifteen second animation playing in between your blows… It can be skipped with the Start button, much like the sometimes cringey cutscenes, but that doesn’t really solve the problem that it breaks gameplay flow), it has trouble telling you about your new moves, and the writing…

…When you have a game with several characters (At least twelve, it’s somewhat hard to keep track), you can’t help but either pad out the story (Which runs the risk of you forgetting what the hell is up with anyone) or painting characters as simple caricatures (Which runs the risk of those caricatures being, put bluntly, a bit shit.) As far as I can tell, both are happening here, with two chapters seemingly devoted to our heroines winding up on a beach world because… Reasons (Which aren’t made clear, even three hours in) and deciding “Hey, let’s do beach things, disregard these resurrected (Also all women) ninja that are trying to beat us up, and let’s… Beat each other’s clothes off, teehee!”

This is the *core* of the game, but… Everything else fights with this core for prominence. To the detriment of the whole.

Oh, did I forget to mention that, like Akiba’s Trip, the objective is to beat the clothes off fellow women ninja, while not losing your own clothes? Unlike Akiba’s Trip, though, this is dressed up in shallow BDSM talk that, at times, just makes me cringe. And I say that as a dom. Ryona, the extremely unsubtle hyper masochist, and Murasaki, the self-hating shut-in, are perhaps the worst offenders here, as something that I’m pretty sure is intended to be “funny” not only falls flat, but makes me say “WHOAH, CALM THE FUCK DOWN, SENRAN KAGURA, THAT’S NOT ON!”

But, of course, it “gets better”, as unlocks range from several varieties of clothing (mostly underwear) to beat off, special arena defeat cutscenes that range from the “Blah” to the “Oh, for the love of… [Facepalm] “, and, of course, the groping game. There’s a helluva lot of missions, and more in DLC that’s free or otherwise, but it seems that they all boil down to “Beat up everyone as quickly as you can while getting hit as little as possible”, and many of its mechanics are either explained in flow breaking, unskippable text boxes, or not explained outside of loading screen hints.

There *is* a reason this happens. The tone *does* change somewhat. But this, trust me, is in the middle of a *lot* of teeheeing.

As such, I really can’t recommend Senran Kagura Estival Versus, as it just has too much bad design, inconsistent writing, and, to be honest, cringey writing that just leaves me, not even chuckling, but coldly judging. Oh, and for those curious, this game might as well be controller mandatory, as the base keyboard binds make this a very difficult time on base KB+M (I’m sure a gaming mouse would help somewhat, but naw, stick to controller.) It’s not that good an eroge. It’s not that good a musou game. Its design elements conflict with each other, and honestly? I’m glad to be shot of it, now this review’s out.

The Mad Welshman is free. He can move on. His spirit is lightened. And he is grateful for this.

Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, GOG

Holy Potatoes! Is a difficult game to write about. Not because it’s a bad game (It’s not), or buggy (It’s not), or even unclear (Nope, it explains itself and its mechanics quite well), but because it is very directly designed around something that definitely isn’t for everybody: Grind. I ran into this problem when trying to describe the first game in the series (Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!) to a friend, and now, I’m running into it when describing it to you.

I forget to mention this, but there’s a lot of root vegetables walking around asking for a good beetdown.

Mechanically, the game boils down to “Explorer planets toward a mission within a time limit, try and improve your ship and weapons within the limitations of the system’s store/loot, and things slowly get tighter and more tactical as you go on.” and part of the problem describing this well is that, while everything’s open (You know, for example, the damage ranges of your weapons fairly well, even before crafting them), if you’re not paying attention to this from the start, you’re going to run into problems later on. My first play, for example, started running into game overs about four or five missions in, as I’d sped through the missions, and not, for example, ground out the money with the spare time I had to improve my ship enough. I could have reloaded, but by that point, I’d already fallen into the urgency trap.

And this is a shame for me, because the game, like its prequel, has some charm to it. Visually, its simple and clear aesthetic is nice, its music is riffing on space opera, and the story also riffs on space opera in an often comedic manner, as the two heroines bumble their way about the universe looking for their grandfather, perhaps creating more problems than they solve. There’s a variety to the weapons within their basic groups, and systems are easy to understand, but success involves balancing these “simple” systems together, and that’s where the difficulty lies.

Exploring a planet generally takes 2 sols (1 to get there, 1 to explore.) So you can see there’s often a *reason* for urgency. Which can be tricksy.

Limited crew slots means you’re balancing goals, such as research, crafting of new weapons, and, for the most part, repair and refuelling in the early game means spending a day or two heading back to the starbase in the system. So, in one sense, the entire game is the balancing of these simple systems so as to not have mistakes that snowball. And this is what might put people off, that, while there are multiple paths to success (Being tanky as hell, being extra-shooty, special abilities, more crew = more guns), mistakes have a nasty habit of snowballing insidiously.

If you played and enjoyed Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! Then you will definitely enjoy We’re In Space?! , as it’s roughly the same tactical and strategic RPG concepts, the same balancing of “simple and clear” elements within a relatively strict time limit, the same random events, clear art style, charming and highly referential writing, but dressed up in a space opera leotard and packing laser beams and missiles instead of swords. If you haven’t, We’re In Space?! Has a demo, and it’s worth a look if you like simulation and “simple” SRPG type games. Which are still complex enough in how they work that a reviewer like me struggles to describe how it’s actually quite complex and interesting.

The game establishes its charm and reference quality early on by having a Quantum Cat. Yes, I *know* all cats are Quantum Cats, but this one’s more *obvious* about it.

The Mad Welshman stared at the store display. Damn, he couldn’t afford both Extra Train Tracks and Better Rope. Decisions, decisions…

Diluvion (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for Fleet Edition)
Where To Get It: Humble StoreGOGSteam

The sea is a harsh mistress. She is also, in Diluvion, a strangely empty one. Unless you count pirate ships, of which there are plenty.

Thankfully, at this range, it’s almost impossible to miss. The day is mine!

Let’s step back a bit: Diluvion is a submarine adventurey simulation type thing, in which you pick one of three ships, eventually upgrading to better ones that can go deeper, picking up crew and having adventures as you go.

There’s just one problem: It’s not very intuitive, and it doesn’t feel all that rewarding. It is, without doubt, pretty. When you find an ice block, several times bigger than your sub, or an abandoned research station surrounded by mines, you can’t help but wonder at the stories. But, even with the landmarks, those stories are mostly one liners, and most of what you’ll be seeing, even if you work out how to efficiently use the faster currents to get around, is murky dankness, filled with the bacteria and dead flesh of the ocean, the marine snow.

Not the shiniest landmark. But still an *impressive* landmark, considering…

The main thing that comes to mind with Diluvion is that yes, it’s a fairly open world, but it’s an open world without a whole lot to do. The first main quest (Upgrading the sub) is effectively an extended fetch quest, asking you to find scrap (Which is the easiest, being common, and ammunition for your main guns aside), reinforced plates (Seemingly only found in a minefield, because this is a post-apocalypse), engine parts (Seemingly, again, only found in certain areas), some blackberries (God knows how they’re grown, but I’ve also found Ferns and Daisies, so… Good job?), and a morse radio (Again, found… Somewhere. Somewhere I haven’t been yet.) Meanwhile, most of what this entails is docking with abandoned research stations, Loot Spheres (No, really, that’s what they’re called), pirate ships you’ve attacked, hunting around a hand drawn 2d representation of the thing you docked with for chests, and looting the buggers. Occasionally, there will be a crew member to hire (Including, weirdly, in the pirate ships you cripple with your scrap cannons), a trader, or an event hidden behind a door, itself gated by whether you have a crew member (Who you will potentially lose) and a crowbar (Which you will definitely lose, regardless.)

Again, these… Just blend into each other, to be honest, the majority not even being noticeable, let alone memorable. Crazed crewman to calm down was the most common one I saw, along with “There is a loot chest here, but it’s dangerous to get, maybe a crewman will help!” Meanwhile, Lady with Party Hat seems to get about a lot faster than I do, being seen in multiple places, at multiple times, sometimes even in the same building. Sometimes she’ll be running a bed and breakfast. Sometimes, she’s got absolutely nothing to say. Sometimes she’s a crafter of charms, which, due to the strange world, actually have an effect. But she is Lady with Party Hat, and unfortunately, you can tell me no different.

Good Heavens, they’re *multiplying* o.O

There is an over-arching story to this, by the way, something about a treasure, with everything unknown but its rough location (Very Deep Underwater), that apparently will make Everything Alright… But, for all that there are excellent ship designs, and the buildings are interesting, the sameness of a lot of the ones you encounter dulls the overall experience. It’s interesting, in its way, how a first quest can really mess up an experience. There are interesting things to find, and I’ve mentioned a few (Another would be the Angry Captain. Poor feller’s driven himself into an electricity pylon, and needs to make the cash to get towed), but despite seeing these things, I’m bored, and this big ol’ fetch quest is a big part of that.

It doesn’t help that, as mentioned, it’s somewhat unintuitive, and a little bugged to boot. When entering the settings, mouse sensitivity and the window size aren’t remembered between sittings (Occasionally causing swearing as Apply resizes beyond what I was comfortable with), the crew end up being pretty numbers, and applying them is odd, combat depends upon you remembering turret position, and just because something is a landmark, doesn’t always mean its a checkpoint. To be perfectly fair, dying is not a big problem, as you can reload from the last checkpoint just fine, but switching between 2d captain mode (For talking to crew, boarding ships, etc) and the main 3d mode is annoying at best, and, even with the addition of a slowdown function to switch crew between stations in combat, frustrating at worst.

Tonnesburg is, so long as you look around, a surprisingly lovely place. You will be coming back here. A fair bit.

I can see Diluvion being perfectly fine if you go into it with the right mindset, aware of the grind and just wanting to chill out, spend some time. It does, as noted, definitely have its pretty side. There was obvious attention paid to the aesthetics, there’s obviously a world out there. But it’s not really for me. If you want a chill submarine time, then I don’t think you could go far wrong with Diluvion. But if you want something a little spicier, quicker, and a little less grindy, I definitely wouldn’t blame you.

Dungetris (Review)

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

Dungetris is not, sadly, a game you’re going to be playing for enjoyment. To pass time, yes. To see an interesting idea, yes. But sadly, the creativity extends only so far, making this… Not a bad purchase, per se? But one where purchasing with awareness and acceptance of its flaws is perhaps wisest.

This is what victory looks like. It will look something like this from about Act 2 onwards. It looks a little like this in Act 1 too.

So let me help you there. The basic concept is an interesting one, balancing turn based roguelike elements (You take a step, time passes) with building the dungeon as you go in a manner similar to, but not quite like Tetris (Not all the blocks are tetronimoes, there’s no rotating them or slotting them, and unfillable spaces are filled in.) It’s fairly accessible, with clear UI, simple controls (WASD to move, mouseover for tooltips, right mouse to enter build mode, and left mouse to either place blocks or interact with chests/gubbins/cards, although the arrow keys are sometimes usable), and everything is mostly explained.

But problems become apparent fairly quickly. There is precisely one music track, and the sound can best be described as “Blah.” It’s there, but that’s about all I can say. Similarly, there are unlockable characters, but… They don’t seem to make a huge difference (Death is somewhat dodgier, Loic is somewhat tankier), as most of the tactical considerations come from block placement, getting the drop on enemies (Sometimes as simple as placing the next tile in the right way, others as annoying as hitting space to wait until they step next to you), and on card usage. It doesn’t help that, while experience is persistent per character, it is per character, so properly levelling up means replaying the levels, and…

…Here we come to the core. There’s that basic idea. And it’s good. Okay. Fine. But at something like a third of the way through Act 3 (81% complete, if steam achievements are any arbiter), it’s been “Kill X of Y” nearly all the way through. Sometimes that’s been relatively easy (Kill X Enemies, full stop.) Sometimes that’s been a bit finicky (Kill X Enemy Type Y, not guaranteed to spawn in any tile.) Sometimes, it’s just a pain in the arse (Kill X Elite Enemies, which, as the screenshot below shows, was the time I stopped to write this.)

Kill things again? But daaad, I’m *tired* of just killing things!

What do these have in common? Padding. I have all the cards, so there’s no sense of progression there. I have all the characters, and progression of more than one means more of the same. New tiles and enemies stopped appearing somewhere near the beginning of Act 2, and, due to the way the tiles work? I’d killed the boss of Act 2 in… Pretty much every level. So when I was asked to kill the boss at the end of the act?

I sighed.

Act 3’s first level, and the Rescue Smith level (allowing you to reach the smith early to upgrade cards), have been the only major difference so far, and… I wasn’t terribly impressed with either, sadly. The first required you to beat the boss before finding the Smith tile (Either that or continue to place tiles after the boss one until you hit the Smith tile), and the second required placing 200 blocks.

If you guessed, while reading that paragraph, that it feels like padding? You win an imaginary cookie. Stuffed with padding.

Death is usually a result of either being underlevelled because you switched characters, or poor planning. That’s… About it, honestly. Note: Both Space and R kick you back to the main map rather than R restarting the level. This may get fixed in the future. Maybe.

So, in the end, I can’t really recommend Dungetris, as it doesn’t have much going for it except grind, but I can’t say it’s bad… Just shallow, grindy, and padded out. For £4 , though, if you want to take a look, it’s still fairly accessible, and a good time waster, but that’s about the extent of its good points, sadly.

The Mad Welshman hefted another oddly shaped brick with a monster in it. He was hoping for a chest piece, but you know how it is with these brick sets… Can never find the one you want.