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.

Overload (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Six Degrees of Freedom. Ahhhh, I remember well when that phrase was marketing magic. Wait, a first person shooter where you have complete freedom of movement? Sign me the hell up!

Wait, no, I didn’t sign up for thiiiiii- BOOM.

While OVERLOAD is certainly not the first game to attempt a revival of this particular genre of first person shooter, where you pilot a spaceship, destroying robots gone bad, OVERLOAD hits me squarely in the nostalgia glands because not only is it headed by the original Descent developers, Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog (Not to mention various folks who worked on other Descent games in the original series, and the original CD soundtrack composer, Allister Brimble), it’s very clear they’ve refined their formula over the years.

When OVERLOAD eventually leaves Early Access, it will have 15 story missions, several challenge maps, and, of course, a variety of murderous robots to destroy, guilt free. The story missions follow the same rough formula as the game it’s a spiritual successor to, where you enter a base of some description, attempt to hunt down a generator, blow the hell out of it, and escape. Meanwhile, there are secrets, monster closets, upgrades… It is, in a sense, a very traditional game.

While the game definitely has its dark areas, a combination of the flare, your shots, and the explosions of deadly robots will light your way.

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t feel traditional. It feels very modern indeed, and at least part of this comes from, as mentioned, this obvious, yet hard to pin down refinement. Levels aren’t quite as claustrophobic as in the original Descent games, and so far, I’ve had very little trouble familiarising myself with the levels, the controls remain simple, but fluid, and the difficulty seems pretty balanced so far. So far, so appealing to the first person shooter crowd, and this seems unlikely to drastically change, considering the polish shown so far.

I will, however, freely admit to a minor bias here, due to the developers actively tickling that nostalgia in small, but noticeable ways. Example: While playing the first Challenge map (Essentially, survival against endless waves of deadly robots, escalating in difficulty as you go), something was grabbing me, something above the dark, yet somehow quite clear visuals, and the sound design, which, even through the chaos, will occasionally give you something memorable (Some of the more melee/explosive based robots seem to growl and, occasionally, scream at you, while still sounding like… Well, like robots. It’s quite disturbing!)

“Wait… Is that… Is that the original Descent theme, remixed?”

In single player missions, once the reactor has been destroyed, and providing you find the exit, you get to feel pretty damn badass. Just like you might have in 1994

Immediately closing the game, I hunt around, and lo and behold… It was. Darker. Nastier. While still retaining enough of the motifs that gripped me while I was young (and having nightmares about four clawed robots, being interrogated by violent tiger aliens, and skeletons with rocket launcher shoulderpads, as well as the more usual Daleks and Critters.)

In summary, it’s Descent, but for the modern generation. It’s not the only one by a long shot, but so far, it’s the one that’s coming out ahead in my mind as the best spiritual successor, and a nice confirmation that sometimes, the original developers retain the Good Ideas they had in their younger days. It seems fairly accessible, but if you’re on the fence, there is a free demo, and that, at the very least, is well worth a go.

The game, whether in single player or Challenge mode, can get a little busy, what with all those chunks, explosions, and pews going on…

The Mad Welshman is well aware that medical science poo-poohs the idea of the nostalgia gland. But it exists, oh yessss, it exists…

Drifting Lands (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£18.78 with soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

The continued existence of the scrolling shoot-em-up is a minor pleasure to me. There’s just something cathartic about holding down a button, and spaceships blow up. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but blowing things up is definitely the most relaxing part of the experience. And, spoiled 30 something brat that I am, I sometimes think I want more ways of blowing people than I’ve gotten.

Pictured: A fairly killy, speedy ship, which certainly won’t get into trouble around Grade 3/10 with my fat fingers. Nope, definitely not…

This is definitely not to say that Drifting Lands is a bad game. It’s actually quite good. I just wish there was more to it in some places. So, what’s different about the game? Equipment slots on your ship, each of which have pretty numbers that may help or hinder you. You want most of those numbers to go up as you go along, such as more Damage Per Second on your guns, more Armour, Health, Shield and Health Regeneration, and other such things. And you want certain numbers, such as “Chance for [item] to Break on [Manual/Automatic] Retreat” or “Chance for Cargo to be Lost [even if you win the ‘mission’]” to stay low. It’s a credit to the game that this is nowhere near as intimidating as I perhaps make it sound. It’s not the only different thing about Drifting Lands compared to other shmup type experiences, but that, and the fact that waves of enemies are picked from a list for each level and area randomly, that the game helpfully tells you how many waves are left at the top, and that the difficulty slowly increases as the game goes on with the addition of mechanics like revenge bullets (The ship you shot releases bullets on exploding, usually straight at you), are all interesting features.

There’s quite a bit of variety in the kit, and while I’d like to say “Go for the weapon you like the pattern of, and stick with it”, the game disincentivises that by virtue of the fact that some weapons will always have a lower damage among peers of their respective levels (Shotguns and Lasers, for example, suffer, compared with the Trident and Double Cannon, which, relatively consistently, outdamage them.) Also, y’know, that weapon you want to get the next hotness of might not have your +X Navigation, meaning its Damage is even lower than you’d think.

Pictured: Ignonimous defeat.

Still, once you get into the missions, it’s joyously simple again, although it becomes more bullet-hell like as you rank up in grades: Shoot things, use your special abilities to kill more things, dodge bullets, maybe fight a boss or a Convoy Mission (Kill X enemy type before the end), and don’t die. My current favourites, ability wise, are a ring of fire, a back and fore blast that kills things in a straight line, another kind of blast that kills things in a circle around me quicker than the fire ring will, healing, the chance to get more money the bigger the kill streak I can line up, and the thing I’ll probably never ditch, the Automatic Retreat, stopping you from losing your ship if you die, at the cost of the things you picked up during the mission, and maybe some of your niftier equipment.

There’s also a story to the game, and while it’s a little cliché (The Ark, sole independent survivors, fight religious zealots, corporations, robots, etc, while their main pilot (that’s you) seem to make poor decisions), it’s fairly well written and characterfully voice acted cliché with a moderately diverse cast. The music’s good, the art is very good, so honestly…

You can almost *see* the slime dripping off this guy. You can definitely *hear* it when he talks.

…If you don’t mind twitch gameplay, where your reflexes will save the day, if you can get along with the fact that your favourite weapon types won’t always be available, if you can get along with the fact that the game’s enemies start throwing serious bullet, laser, and explosive shit at you by Grade 3 out of 10 (And it presumably gets nastier), then this might very well be a game you want to check out, for experimenting with the shmup formula in interesting, if not always fun ways. I still like it, flaws and all, so thumbs up from m-

EEEEEE, DAMN YOU, THIRD BOSS, DAMN YOU AND YOUR WAVES OF FURYYYY!