Heroes of Hammerwatch (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, it seems, more is less. So it is with Heroes of Hammerwatch, sequel, to, funnily enough, Hammerwatch, a Gauntlet inspired action roguelite with co-op, secrets, bosses…

I deliberately ran into danger to show off how dangerous the game can get if you’re not cautious with that grinding…

…And grind. So much grind. Bless, the devs have tried to make the early game more interesting, with monoliths, and portals, and gubbins that unlock as you go, but Heroes of Hammerwatch is both a game that takes a while (and many, many deaths) to get going, it’s also a game where the further you get, the more it puts in your way, from more taxes, to more deaths.

I am, it must be said, getting rather sick of the first area. Even the knowledge that beating a boss unlocks a portal to the next is small consolation, because, either way, there’s an endurance match. On the one hand, three levels an area, plus a boss (Who, your first time fighting it, with no upgrades to speak of, can best be described as the sound of a keyboard hitting a wall at great speed.) On the other, one level, plus several waves of enemies from the next area. Either way is painful, and death without first having sent money and ore up to town via a lift (not always available) means you’ve earned 75% of the experience, no money, and no ore. So, what’s it like to try a new character, seeing as there are three unlockables and four base classes?

This guy, his ever increasing bat horde, and his stalactite rush can all do anatomically improbable things to each other… Grumpety grump grump grump.

Well, money, ore, and town unlocks stay the same. That’s the good news. The bad news is that each new character is a several thousand coin investment to get them to anywhere near the same level of survivability as the rest of them. 2,250, for example, for three potion charges. Another 1500 for level 3 weaponry, same again for armour. The good news is that each of the classes are different, from the Knight, who can block some projectiles in an arc, and relies on melee, to the Priest, with an area effect clickathon attack, some healing abilities, and a murderbeam that takes a little bit to get going. The bad news? Each one has to fight that boss, and then make that same boss/enemy rush choice, and I’ve not been able to do that before several runs in the first area, and achieving at least level 4 in experience. A fairly good early run will probably net you… Maybe 3K. Minus taxes.

As such, you might be able to see why I’m sick of the first area, and the music of everything before the second. There is, it must be said, a multiplayer option. Which adds more enemies, more hitpoints, and the like, so… No, you’re not, generally speaking, going to have an easier time with friends.

While others decry the Ranger as weak, his piercing definitely helps in the enemy-rush you have to go through instead of a boss…

If the progression were somewhat quicker, and I hadn’t spent so much of my time in that first area, seeing the same traps, the same enemies, the same music, the same grind, I would perhaps be more charitable to Heroes of Hammerwatch. As it is, though, it can very easily be described as a slog, and a somewhat painful one at that.

The Mad Welshman really wants grind to be left in his childhood, where it belonged. Nuff said.

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Bytepath (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.69
Where To Get It: Steam

Okay, I was not expecting this. An asteroids inspired shooter, with RPG elements, completable in less than 2 hours, but pretty replayable due to lots of variety, and some extremely chill synthwave, for less than £2.

From relatively humble beginnings…

Bytepath even has a minimalist story: You are a program, told you can escape whatever system this is with the tools you’re given, and four hash keys, gained by surviving for 40 waves of asteroids, enemies, and power ups. Up starts and boosts, left and right turns, down brakes, and firing is automatic. Easy as pie, right?

You don’t even have to do it in one go, and the more you play, the more powerful you become. So, your first time, you build yourself up, build yourself up, collecting skill points in play until you buy the classes, device, and passive skills that net you level 40, and…

…Well, I won’t spoil that for you, but I’ll tell you two things: It took me about an hour and a half (and I could, apparently, have very possibly cut a good 40 minutes off that), and, on beating the game, I noticed… Ahahaha, there’s more to do. Will it change the ending? Unlikely. Is it something I can just try for, for replayability’s sake, and because the game’s low pressure? Yes.

…To the Cheeswheel of Death.

It’s mildly strange, actually, to see a confusing mess of pixels that largely only makes sense while you’re playing, and that statement that it’s relaxing, because the sound and music really do help. Relaxing synthwave steadies the nerves, reminding you “Hey… You’ve got all the time in the world. It’s okay if all the vectors want you dead, really it is”, and the ballet of death is almost rhythmical.

So, colour me pleasantly surprised by Bytepath.

A small part of Bytepath’s rather large passive skillweb.

The Mad Welshman hasn’t much else to say. I mean, after unlocking Wisp, what CAN be said?

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Dungreed (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Dungreed is an odd game to me, in that it is, in its first hour or two, definitely enjoyable, but, due to the nature of its progression, becomes… Well, a bit of a slog from the middle of it onward. Which is a shame, because some of its bosses are actually quite interesting and amusing.

So, to sum Dungreed’s basics up simply, you are an adventurer, who’s come to rescue a town from a dungeon that’s literally eaten the village. It’s an action platformer shooty/slashy type deal with rooms put together procedurally, and, importantly, at the end of each run, you lose all but your basic shortsword, and most of your money.

Pictured: Possibly the most fun boss in the game so far.

“But wait, Jamie, why would the game do something so cruel?” Well, partly to introduce variety, partly to give you a chance to level up, and partly so you end up interacting with the villagers you save, all of whom add a selection of kit to the dungeon’s random drops, a few random NPCs wandering around, and features that are meant to make your next run just that little bit easier. The Blacksmith, for example, gives you a random item. Could be a weapon, could be an accessory, could be ranged, could be melee. The shopkeeper lets you buy things (for when you’ve not got any NPCs to build village features for), the trainer levels you up (with each 5 points in a stat adding an ability to your stable like double jumping, shopkeepers costing less, or extra damage), and so on.

And then you start from the beginning. Which, funnily enough, is both its problem, and not one I can see much of a win for. See, the bosses are fine, and one, Niflheim, caused me to laugh and cry out to my friend “Wow, I just got killed by a Touhou in a roguelike!” (As her boss pattern, music, and aesthetic are all highly reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, specifically the Touhou games.) But by the time I’ve gotten to Niflheim, I’ve gone through several floors, with much the same preffered weaponry, having consigned much the same equipment to either use, or, more commonly, what can be called vendor/altar trash. Some, like the Matchlock Rifle with its pause before firing as well as a slow reload, more readily than others.

The further I get, the further I have to go, and the less I enjoy the preceding run up to whatever boss comes next, as, until I meet a new boss or a villager, all I’m doing is… Marking time. Time which increases the further I get.

A mix of melee and ranged is recommended, but heck, most of the ranged options are so much fun!

Which is a real shame to me, as the game’s aesthetically consistent, does some fun things with its music (As noted, Niflheim’s boss music is highly reminiscent of its inspiration) , and the enemies do have variety and interest… Just… Not quite enough to keep me going for this final stretch. Fun at first, it’s become, over time… Alright.

The Mad Welshman is a walker by habit, as opposed to a marathon runner.

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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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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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