Freaky Awesome (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99 (£8.78 w/soundtrack, £3.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Freaky Awesome is one of those ideas that looks fun on paper, but alas, the execution is a little lacking. The idea? A silly, twin stick melee and shooting romp, in which a badass action star who has a soft spot for his dog goes to the abandoned Chemical Factory to find them, only to find… Gruesomeness.

It has at least some of the right elements. Pumping and threatening bass electronic tunes? Yup. Slime and goo? Core to the game. Good visual designs? Yup. But it’s when it gets to play itself that it starts to feel… Well, not so well thought out. Partly through the procgen, partly through some base choices made. Let’s start with the mutations.

Small room? Check. Dynamite boxes? Check. Headache? Check.

When you first start a profile, you have two mutations you choose between for your character (For lo, he has been mutated by toxic waste, in true 80s fashion.) A one legged chicken-man with a kick and a dodge roll, and the Grub, able to lay worms and whip his head to attack multiple enemies at once. As you get to new zones, you can, with an expenditure of health, coins, and keys, fight a new mutation to keep it, in every stage. But the ideas for mutations run out relatively quickly, and their secondary abilities… Well, of the characters I’ve unlocked (Almost all of them) , only Chicken’s really sees any use at all, because that dodge roll has invincibility frames, and he’s the only mutation that has such a deal. The rest? Either they take long enough that they’re not worth the risk of being hit compared to, say, backing away while attacking, or they’re just not worth it period.

Example: Head. Head has a headbutt, the same way Fish has a chomping charge, Chicken has a roundhouse kick, Scorpion (presumably, not yet unlocked) has a slash. But his alternate ability is… To throw his head across the room, piercing enemies along the way, for… The same damage as if he’d headbutted them. Until the head is retrieved, no attacks are possible. Hrm… Which to go for? A headbutt that definitely hits everyone in melee range (Which, since many enemies are melee and want to get close, is a lot), and is quick… Or throw my head, do one hit, and then have to run away. Oil, with his fiery slime thrower and oil puddles, is a similar proposition. Shoot while running away, or take time to drop a slowing puddle that he can set on fire that doesn’t really work because it relies on chasing enemies not chasing you, and being stuck in the puddle.

Of course, I’m emphasising this “Hit them more often, as opposed to special abilities” because of both the monster and room design. The majority of enemies in Freaky Awesome rely on melee, and chasing you. Some are actually really good at chasing you, such as a three legged beastie that, no matter how fast you are, is probably going to at least be able to start attacking you at least once every second or two if you’re constantly moving. Others have area effect attacks, such as the chompers or big fellers with a ground pound that… Well, here’s where the rooms come in. Those ground pounders will spawn in small rooms. And the first area they’re introduced (Furnace) further restricts those rooms with fire vents in both the floor and the walls, the former of which are hard to spot on your first try (When they’re white, that means don’t step on them, they’re hot.)

This thing… This thing I have rude words about. Unless I have several follower items, in which case I yawn and kite, yawn and kite.

As you might have guessed, this makes some rooms not so much an exercise in not taking damage, but in how much damage you take, and that… Well, that isn’t great. Outside of those rooms? Well, even with a melee character, it’s surprisingly easy to kite most enemies, so the damage you’re going to be taking, with the exceptions of the Furnace and “Final” Organic area, is mostly from inattention to enemies, rather than being heavily restricted by the environment. Bosses, similarly, vary between the “Only take damage if you’re not paying attention” of Spider-boss and the Missile-Bee, to a larger version of the chompers that chases, has his area chomp, and, on “Death”, splits into two, and then again into four smaller versions, each a little faster, with a little less hit points, but more likely to do some damage if you don’t have a very specific kiting strategy to get them all chasing you in an orderly fashion (And even then, it’s risky.)

I could go on like this, but this, honestly, is a problem that hits nearly every mechanical level. Followers can break certain encounters over their knee, or they won’t do damage when they’re meant to. DNA is meant to be an incremental method of improving, as are the Mutation unlocks, but none of the mutations feel like much of a “Must have”, and unlocking them is a grindy process, not least due to the fact that giving Health is a factor in their unlocking. DNA is just grindy, although that grind presumably gets better once you’re not concentrating on mutations, as you can get 2 per zone (One from a shop, one from the boss.)

Not pictured: That third slot for a third benny costs 12 DNA. God knows what the fourth one costs.

As such, while it does have its freakiness, it’s monstrosities, it is, sadly, mostly surface level, and I can’t honestly say I’ve had much fun unlocking anything, or feeling rewarded for doing so. It’s just… Another day in the life. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t look like what the developers were really aiming for.

The Mad Welshman does not mutate. He already has all he wants: A nice, twirly moustache.

Boss 101 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Games like Boss 101, at times, make me think very uncharitably. Not necessarily because the game is bad, but because there’s so much surrounding that game, so many things, and these things seem so much like padding that… Well, uncharitable thoughts that they are padding makes me think less of the core.

See, this is good and fine. It’s also an early level, and a boss that doesn’t have the nastier surprises, but… Good, fine, works.

Make no mistake, the core of Boss 101 is simple and straightforward. Make a boss. You can make it weak to your weapons, or not, remake as many times as you like, get into the level, and… Fight a boss. That you rolled. In a strict time limit. That’s the core, and it works. It’s not great, as some enemy attacks can best be described with a tired sigh and “Really? Really?” (Lightning weapons automatically home in, so it’s a case of stay far away, and there are massive lasers on some bosses that… Well, odds are very, very high you’re going to get hit) , but, overall, it’s simple, it works, and there are attacks that are interesting. Also, y’know, minions.

Thing is, it’s not just the core though, is it? NEW NEW NEW NEW splatters the screen until you’ve explored everything, and even then, occasionally, you’ll come back to your Command floor (one of something like six) to find a cluster of NEW THINGS LOOK AT THE NEW THINGS. There’s an arcade, three or four different ways plot happens, a kite mode where the two main characters (a boy and his jetpack) charmingly muse on life, Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes style. There are many, many costumes and guns, all of which will cost money, and you can get that money, for that, and upgrades, and the like, by fighting bosses, but also did you know that there are secret Gophers, and if you get them all, something happens, and an ultimate gun for filling out the things, and pets (one of which has a theme song that plays once and you’ll never see it again)?

Pictured: A cool costume based on Joe Madrueira. Not pictured: So many other costumes. Soooo… Sooo many.

It’s busy, and while I can tell it’s designed to draw me in, give me lots and lots of reasons to play and come back and fight those boss levels with bosses I make before Boss 101, the titular bureacrat robot who… Oh, did I mention there’s plot, three different varieties, with several threads?

What I’m saying here is that it doesn’t draw me in. In fact, it does quite the opposite. This is something I may play for short periods, trying to get a high score in the three classic arcade games (based on Breakout, Tank-Battle (Which was always bullshit, even back in the day), and Wizard of Wor), or seeing what a new gun is like… This isn’t a game I want to spend a lot of time in, because its very busy-ness, the clutter, has me repelled. Essentially, this game has a content warning for overstimulation, and, as I’ve noted, I’m fully aware that it’s this, not the boss fights themselves (Which start eh, but can get interesting pretty quick if you roll, say, the flamethrowing stone head as a part, which is nerve wracking on its own) that’s discouraging me from play, making me think uncharitably. I don’t actually want those fifty billion costumes. I appreciate they let me pick one for its cosmetics, and one for the actual, in-game effect, but they’re pretty numbers, for the most part, and each takes a lot of dough, a lot of replay, that, funnily enough, the vast number of “features” in the game actively turns me away from.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Maybe you’ll have a better time of it. Maybe you’ll be delighted by the silly, multithreaded story about a boy, his jetpack, and making a cool video for his hospitalised, skateboarding brother while sticking it to the Robotic Man. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to get all the cheevos, the pets, the guns.

Me… I’m backing away. None of it costs money, but I’m still backing away, because there is such a thing as too much, and I’ve finally found that.

To give readers some idea, The Mad Welshman has a headache just thinking about the costume shop. On sale, quest, owned, five costumes all with the same ability set, 1,800,000 points each… Aaaaaaaaaaa!

20xx (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

20XX is a game with a laudable goal: A platformer heavily inspired by the MegaMan X games with random level generation. All the ideas, all the replayability! It’s just a shame it doesn’t really work out that way, for a variety of reasons.

Pictured: Ace and Nina’s unscrupulous creators don’t take failure kindly.

Aesthetically, 20XX has come a long way from when it was under a different name. It’s clean, it’s got good tunes, it’s got moderately good sounds. The enemies are visually distinct, and so you quickly learn what type is what, whether you can get nice things out of them, and what they do. That’s good.

Not so good is the fact I have little to no incentive to play Nina, the Not-megaman of the pair of Nina and Ace (who is Not-Protoman/Zero.) Equally not so good is the fact that the stages, very often, are more lethal than the bosses. And some of the bosses, honestly, are eh, even in their difficult forms. Let’s get into that a little more, starting with the linked problem of Nina and the levels.

The game features two characters: Nina, who shoots bullets, and has a piercing charge shot (with the option to change this basic attack to a variety of directional bullets or a wave-beam if you find the right powerup.) , and Ace, who has a sword, which he can charge, but, honestly, doesn’t need to (and, like Nina, can switch out for a variety of melee type weapons of varying utility, damage, range, and speed.) Both can dash jump. Both can use the same boss weapons, in the same way. Both can use the same permanent and per-run powerups that are unlocked by gaining one of the three types of currency in the game.

FUCKING BATS. Although thankfully not over a deathpit, or between two platforms, or any of the innumerable situations they just ANNOY THE HELL OUT OF ME.

When playing as Nina, to deal with hordes of bats, I need to waste a second or two charging my weapon, and lining it up. Without an alternate weapon, I have no means of dealing with enemies above me. When playing as Ace, most of my weapons can attack at least a little upward by default, have a wide area, and can chump hordes of bats with a few quick taps of the attack button. It’s not even a subtle difference. I have little incentive to play as Nina.

Meanwhile, one of the elements of the game is random level generation, using native enemy types, bats (Which are everywhere, and are annoying obstacles just as with videogame bats everywhere), and native trap types. Agnisort, the fire area, has conveyor belts and fireball launchers, with welding flames on the walls, belts, small pits… Anywhere they would fit, and a couple of places they shouldn’t. Vaculab, meanwhile, has that MegaMan staple, Yoku blocks (blocks that appear and disappear on a timer) and deadly vines. Skytemple relies on lasers, conveyor belts, and bottomless pits to kill you, while Frostor has spike shooters seemingly everywhere, even in places that are meant to be considered safe. It’s all generated according to a rough plan, it’s true, but I can almost guarantee you’re going to take, especially toward the end as the frequency of the traps increases, more damage from the stages than you are the bosses. Occasionally, the game will even generate a big ol’ middle finger, like the time my only path to progress was blocked by a pair of vertical lasers, each perfectly bisecting the platforms I needed, and seemingly timed to go active while the platforms were accessible.

Suffice to say, I didn’t appreciate that one tiny bit.

This jerk has gone through multiple iterations. He’s *less* annoying in the final release.

While we’re here, let’s talk about the bosses and their weapons. Bosses are, with only two exceptions, larger versions of the level enemies, with their highly pattern based gimmicks. Rollster is a robot hamster in a sawblade monowheel, and he bounces and fires sawblades. The Astral Twins are fireball spewing robot gorillas who will resurrect each other if you don’t kill them both within about ten seconds of each other. As the boss order is also randomly generated, both levels and bosses are meant to get harder the further you get. This is very true for the levels, but the bosses? The stages consistently seem to do more damage, and their weapons vary wildly in use. One, Skydragon’s, is essentially there as a reference to Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It’s a big, slow moving cuboid bullet. Yes, whatever it hits will take heavy damage, and it has some piercing, but it’s also easily blocked, and, just like the sketch with the Mooninites, it moves slowly enough that you might as well not bother with it.

In the end, one of the biggest problems with 20XX is that it’s trying to recreate the feel of a game series that mostly relied on tight level design with procedural generation, and so many of the obstacles and “set-pieces” feel arbitrary. Oh look, six bats. That I have to wait for, watching them crawl across the screen, because if I don’t, I’m going to screw up the timing of this conveyorbelt/fireball/welding torch “puzzle” that’s also going on.

Occasionally, the procgen will just outright screw you. Just quit to the menu at this point, you’re going to die.

BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS. BATS ARE BAD, DO NOT USE BATS.

R-Coil (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: Approximately £3 ($5 USD)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Sometimes, the breadth of what people will experiment with interests me greatly. Asteroids, for example, is a simple formula, and yet, believe me, there are games that screw with that formula, some good, some bad. But I’ve had yet to see a game that experiments in order to encourage movement in an Asteroids game, and R-Coil, by Mike T, is one such game.

The spread shot is very nice, but one of the weapons to seriously push you back. So be careful!

If you’ve ever played Asteroids, you’d have the general idea: There are rocks, and you blow them up for some score. There are enemies attacking you, and you blow them up for a better score, while trying not to get blown up yourself. As in some Asteroids games, there are nastier enemies, and bosses, and yes, blowing them up involves big points … And a higher risk of dying. There’s a variety of limited use powerups, from the Death Ray, to drones that back you up (and serve as a shield.)

But the main thing is that R-Coil, when playing with the mouse, at least, is a one button game. Tapping the left mouse button fires, while holding it down thrusts. And so, not only do you have less control over movement than traditional Asteroids, you also have to consider that weapons fire knocks you back, from “A little way back” in the case of bog-standard bullets, to “WHEEEE!” in the case of the Death Ray. It is, in the scheme of things, a small change… But it makes all the difference, and remains challenging rather than frustratingly difficult. Only a few enemies fire shots directly at you, and those can quickly be prioritised due to the mostly clear visuals on the game (Screen shake and shudder can, at the time of writing, be turned on or off to taste.)

Alas, sooner or later, your lives run out, and it’s time to put another quarte- Oh, wait, no quarters needed? Isn’t progress wonderful!

As such, the game is one of those simple to play, but hard to master type games that I kind of enjoy, and the vector style graphics (inspired by the original Asteroids games) are pretty nice on the eyes. A little less nice on the ears is the retro beeps, boops, and sine noises that come from your weapons, especially the laser, although that may be subject to change, since the game is effectively in a fairly polished alpha state. It doesn’t have much of a story to speak of, which is skippable, and this works. Games don’t always need a story. Adding to the fun is the ability to locally co-op with both other players, and with AI companions, and a duel mode with the same features.

So if you like retro shooters, R-Coil is currently available on Itch.IO, quite clearly informing you that it’s still in development, is approximately £3 ($5 USD) , and, to arcade fans like me, seems quite enjoyable, challenging without being arsey, and, generally speaking, a fun time. Worth a look.

Of course, one of the problems with screenshots is that they don’t sum up quite how the pace of the game is quick, but not overwhelming. These are but moments in a smooth experience, taken out of context.

The Mad Welshman is a fan of reworking old things in more fun ways. Why, a death ray that expands? GLORIOUS!

Agents of Mayhem (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £39.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Agents of Mayhem is, it seems, trying to have several cakes and eat them. It wants to be a superhero, Saturday Morning style deal. It wants to still be a Saints game. It wants, just a little, to be a more serious property. And it wants to still be referential as hell.

The thing with wanting several cakes at once is that you tend to have a mess of cake, and a stomachache. So it is with Agents of Mayhem, where you can see elements occasionally shine through, but more often fall flat. Let’s unpack that.

The game follows the exploits of the Agents of MAYHEM, a GI Joe like organisation led by ex villain Persephone, combating the evils of LEGION, and its… Pridetroopers? Eesh, that was a bad namepick (The proper name is Helltroopers of the LEGION of Pride, but yes, “Pridetroopers” was used, with maybe not as much thought as could have been had.) Anyway, LEGION is up to no good in Seoul, and, with the magic of an Ark aircarrier and a drop teleporter, they do various missions, attempting to stop LEGION from setting off Dark Matter devices to, er… Do something.

Good guy does the thing he was told not to do because he’s the asshole… Check…

It’s okay, you have plenty of time to do so, as, once you enter Seoul, it’s things you’d recognise from any GTA or Saints style game: Steal cars to get your own. Run LEGION vehicles off the road as Targets of Opportunity. Set up things to “claim” an area, defend it for a bit against waves of LEGION enemies, kill them all, bam, you now have tech in town, or some money laundering that’s totes okay because you’re the good guys, remember? Or, y’know, things that you would normally have to return to the Ark for. Sometimes, you’re putting hostages in safety bubbles before detonating the bombs they’re attached to, and… Well, it doesn’t feel very SatAM, does it?

But never fear, the cutscenes are here! To tell you about the villains, to tell you about the heroes, their struggles, and… This is sort of dependent on characters, really, isn’t it? And the characters vary wildly in terms of writing quality. Some, like Braddock, the gay WOC marine in a relationship with the fussy brit (and PA to Persephone, your boss) Friday, are well written. How do you feel when the folks you’ve worked with support the terrorists? Some, like Yeti and Hardtack, are… Well, Yeti is Big Russian Hacker with Freeze Gun, and Hardtack is the demoman, but Amurrcan, and with the most videogamey shotgun to have ever videogamed shotguns. You’ve seen the kind before, and sadly, there’s not a lot new in their lines. Others, like Hollywood, are well written in a sense, but mostly in the sense that while you can appreciate an asshole is well written, this gives you less incentive to care because… Well, there’s more interesting people.

It’s the same with their PSAs. Yes, like some of the older SatAM cartoons, the game has fake PSAs, and again, they vary extremely widely. Rama screws one of hers up. Both Hollywood and Friday just end up looking like assholes, and, rather than a homage, as some characters seem to be, or a subversion, it ends up looking like a mockery.

SatAM PSAs… But for *adults* ! This is one of the better ones.

This isn’t to say the game doesn’t do nice things. Seoul is pretty, and has a lot of character if you’re willing to stop and smell the roses every now and again. Visually, and musically, it’s good, and the Agents of MAYHEM stings and elements of the soundtrack let you believe, for just a moment, that it’s achieved its goals of SatAM pastiche. Everyone has a theme. Having three characters per outing, with adjustable difficulty that you control, is a good move, especially as switching players is important to let them heal, and some of the special abilities really are quite good. The mobility is good, I didn’t have a tough time getting around, and that’s good. But for me, the problem is that it’s trying to go in multiple different directions at once, and so it just ends up feeling like it didn’t really care about any of them. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s taking the piss out of SatAM or loving it. It can’t seem to decide how much it wants to please ex-Saints Row players who might be pissed that this is an alternate world, and it occasionally tries to set forward tough, mature themes, only to drop them for the black-and-white “Here is villain. He is bad. Go get ‘im!”

Even without suffering from performance issues (Which I have been, the game is surprisingly resource intensive, and the launch troubled with bugs), I just don’t really find myself enjoying my time. These issues unfortunately, I am far from alone in, although your mileage may vary quite a bit, and the developers are aware of these problems, asking for DXDiags and other troubleshooting questions. As such, this combination of a troubled launch, and the fact that honestly, the game just doesn’t really seem that enjoyable to me. It seems to be fighting among itself, while I’m left scratching my head at the inconsistent experience.

Yes, that’s Kingpin. Yes, he’s an OG. Yes, that special ability is a boombox that makes enemies dance so he can shoot them. SIGH.

The Mad Welshman does root for the heroes sometimes. He really does. But if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s opposition without class.