Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

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OVERLOAD (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Normally, I try to avoid making references to other games in reviews, not least because it can introduce expectations that shouldn’t be there (see the Moonlighter review from earlier today), but, in the case of Overload, Revival’s 6 Degrees of Freedom shooter… It’s Descent.

“M’lud, if I could draw your attention to Exhibit A…”

For anyone young enough to not know why this is a big deal, Descent’s big selling point was the aforementioned 6 Degrees of Freedom. Want to float upwards and downwards, strafe sideways (that’s 2) , but also rotate in all three axes and move forwards and backwards in a science-fiction setting of robots gone wrong, and your mission to rescue the victims of what would eventually turn out to be both an alien invasion and Evil Corporation Shenanigans? Descent, and its two sequels had you covered, refining the formula.

Overload, funnily enough, refines it further. Although this is less surprising when you consider that the two Revival founders, Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas, three of the original trilogy’s musicians, Dan Wentz, Allister Brimble, and Jerry Berlongieri, and more have been involved heavily in the development. They’ve had time to think about this. So… What’s the result like?

Undeniably fun and tense, is the very short answer. Last time I looked at it, I mentioned that the refinements to the formula are, for the most part, more to do with level design and quality of life than, for example, major rejiggings. Multiple difficulty modes, with the nice touch that challenge leaderboards are separated by their difficulty. Looking at the map pauses, and, considering the general gameplay loop, this is a godsend, and, while the maps are indeed mazelike, I never found myself truly, hopelessly lost like I did in the original games. Although, equally to its credit, I’ve felt ambushed, claustrophobic, and tense, aided by the often casually oppressive sounding music, the almost-screams and growls of the Automatic Operators. Logs being short and sweet, upgrades, secrets… It’s an interesting mix of the more traditional and the modern, and it works.

Particle effects can, on the one hand, obscure what’s going on. On the *other* , it makes this Auto-Op about four or five times scarier, even after it’s dead.

Good example: This is a game that has monster closets, in the traditional sense of the phrase (Secret places that open on triggers, usually once you’ve done something, to reveal… SURPRISE ENEMIES, HAHAHAHAHA) , and… I don’t mind. You know you’ve done monster closets right when they feel natural… And, just as nice, they have an actual, narrative reason to be there. I won’t spoil it, but the overall idea is that a set of colonies around Saturn have gone dark, and, carried in your slower than light craft, you have to work out why robots have gone bad, why colonists have been reassigned, and why the hell the company’s founder, Gabriel Kantor, seems so certain he can burn his bridges and unleash death and destruction for a set of colonies that are nowhere near self-sufficience. It’s similar enough to the plot of the original Descent (hell, it even has references to the Evil Corporation of the original games, the Post Terran Mining Corporation), but the differences, and the explorations therein, short as they have to be due to constraints, pleases me.

In short, this is not only an excellent addition to the 6 Degrees of Freedom Shooter subgenre, it’s also an excellent Descent game, and well worth a look. Oh, and there’s a free level editor too.

The mood in these tunnels can be described with phrases like “Somewhat tense”, segueing quickly into “AHH DIE DIE DIE PLEASE DIE”

Yes, The Mad Welshman freely admits the possibility of rose-tinted goggles. He also admits the possibility that it’s just fun as hell to blow up robots in space.

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Wizard of Legend (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39 (Soundtrack £5.79, Game and soundtrack £18.18)
Where To Get It: Steam

Wizard of Legend is a tough game to write about. Not just because its gameplay is fairly simple, but also because, once you dig deeper… You hit bedrock fairly quickly. But it is a game which knows what it wants, and what it wants is many different visuals for the task of beating up fantasy wizards.

It definitely does this.

If a spell looks this impressive, you can guarantee you have to stand still to use it. Be cautious.

To give a brief summation, Wizard of Legend is a twitchy twin-stick shooter where a young person, on a trip to the museum of wizardry, gets sucked into the past, for the Wizard of Legend tournament, in which they fight through four grand masters (with, apparently, more on the way as DLC at some point), six roughly element themed levels (2 before each of the first three masters) , in order to both win the grand prize, and to get back home. Pretty normal stuff, as wizarding stories go. And this… This is kind of the thing…

Nearly all the ingredients are here: Elemental themes. A fair few enemies, some of whom are elemental themed. A whole boatload of spells (of which you start with four, can pick four of whichever ones you buy to start with, use up to six, and hold seven.) Improving yourself through play, by earning crystals in runs to buy new spells, relics, and costumes. Good music.

But it feels lacking, and I’d have to agree with my peers that the theming, while distinct, still keeps the rooms of the game looking quite samey. Oh, occasionally you’ll run into something definitely themed, such as elemental enemies and traps, but while the former add interest, the latter, like all trap/challenge rooms, are… Well, trap/challenge rooms. Here’s the environmental thing to dodge while getting the chest. Here’s the environmental thing to push enemies into while avoiding it yourself.

Every boss has a couple of cool, element themed puns. Just to keep it ice and interesting, and chill you out before getting frozen out or dropping that avalanche on them…

The spells, and to a lesser extent, the bosses, are definitely more interesting. Most can be upgraded once to add an effect, such as BIGGER FIST for the Earth Fist, or a freeze chance, or something similar, and others can be improved even further by becoming Signature Spells, which, when fully charged, really let rip. There’s even some tactical consideration, as the nastier spells freeze you in your tracks unless you dodge-cancel, and yes, the elemental damage does count for something, although it can sometimes be hard to tell in the chaos. Relics add some variety, but, as with any roguelike, roguelite, or roguesumawotsit, you don’t know what they are at first, can’t check in a run (which is an annoyance), and whether it synergises well with what you’re doing is as much dependent on proc-chances as skill.

It’s fun while I’m playing it. I can’t deny that. But, on the outside looking in, when a run is over, I’m not entirely sure how much I’ve learned, beyond enemy patterns. I’m not sure how much one thing or another contributed to my run, because it’s not always clear. The fun is in the moment, and while that’s not a bad thing, it does leave an odd aftertaste to the experience of playing Wizard of Legend.

Some enemies have elemental attacks of their own. That perfect half second before I flop over and die through, essentially, overconfidence and miscalculculation.

Or maybe I, and other critics, are overthinking things. Sometimes we do that. Either way, Wizard of Legend is, as noted, fun in the moment, mainly confusing when you’re letting rip, but with good telegraphing, and isn’t a bad addition to the twin-stick rogueapalooza stable. That’s all it needs to be.

The Mad Welshman is a jack-of-all-elements.

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Juicy Realm (Review)

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

The fruit and veg, it appears, has evolved rapidly to rule the world. A world that sure as hell ain’t Earth, if those dinosaur bones are anything to go by… But still, fruit and veg with guns. But the remnants of humanity are fighting back!

Yes, for you, the game is over, ghosts of enemies. GG, fruitthings. GG…

Ah, what an exciting synopsis. It’s a shame, then, that it’s a somewhat plodding game, in multiple senses. The game’s characters don’t so much run about as lightly jog, even plodding in some cases, the enemies fire… Occasionally? It’s about once every few seconds… And, while there is a dash, it’s a somewhat short one on a rather long cooldown. This isn’t, in the purely technical sense, bad design, as the enemies become more numerous, the weapon patterns and environmental traps more devious, and the game appears balanced around the speed it’s at.

In the more subjective sense, though? It feels like a marathon of attention, with the main killer being, essentially, too distracted to even notice the bullets among the chaos, be that from the effects of your own bullets, cloudy visual effects, or the fact that there’s several enemies on screen.

Spot the… Well, anything of importance.

Beyond this, unfortunately, it’s… Not got a lot of variety. Yes, there are many guns, but most are your average bullet shooters, with only a few (The cross-gun, which does hideous damage and multiple projectiles on impact too) of note, a couple of melee weapons you’ll mostly end up forgetting about, and a few that I assume are meant to be joke weapons (Such as GG, the keyboard that fires “GG” at people, hoho, or Steam, the gun that prints money when you hit things with it… My sides, they do split…)

Juicy Realm is not, strictly speaking, a bad game. However, its ideas are as staid and plodding as the game itself, and I don’t find myself particularly feeling much at all, whether I’m winning, losing, or even just plodding along.

Thankfully, the boss arenas are clear enough that you have a pretty good idea what you need to do.

The Mad Welshman is, it’s true, a fan of good aesthetic. However, good aesthetic often involves enough clarity you know what the hell you’re doing at any given moment.

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Beacon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $19.99 (Approximately £15 , 657 copies remaining of first access at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: o.14A

It’s a decidedly eerie feeling, finding yourself. No, not in the sense of discovering your personality. I mean, discovering you, or, more accurately, an earlier clone of you that didn’t make it, for whatever reason. But that’s part of the “joy” of Beacon, a third-person twin-stick game where you are a clone. And not necessarily a faithful one, either.

Hrm, there’s something different about me… Oh, I redid my hair in the vat! Niiiice!

Okay, that bit takes some explaining. While Beacon is indeed another twin-stick, procedurally generated shooter with persistent elements, those elements are mainly (in the present build, at least), genetic. Abstracted genetics, harvested from things that maaaaaybe wouldn’t have genes (like the PRISM robots) , but genetics nonetheless… And these attempts at improvement through genetic tampering have a reason. The original Freja Akiyama (the protag) died on landing after crashing on this hostile and ever changing world. But that doesn’t mean her base personality wasn’t saved, and that she doesn’t want to get off the planet. So, she has a clone tank. Sometimes, it works as intended, taking genes from local wildlife (robotic or otherwise) , and sometimes… It makes drastic changes, both to her body, and to her perception of things.

It’s one hell of a clever conceit, and it’s backed up by a good, low-poly aesthetic, some good secrets (Of which I’ve discovered a few, and not quite got the hang of quite a few more), a variety of weapons, and a relatively limited enemy set that nonetheless gets tough, and scary, pretty early on. Good soundtrack, good idea, good aesthetic… So… What’s not so hot?

AHsodoffsodoffsodoff! (Dodge-rolling is the only way to get some range here)

Well, every gun has a minimum range, and there are a couple of enemies, specifically the Quick PRISM Robot subtype, that are annoying as hell at the present time. It’s not just that they’re faster than you. It’s not just that weapons have a minimum range. No, it’s that they can also shield themselves, and that, honestly, is a bit much. They are, unlike, for example, the flamethrower robots, not so much scary, or tense, as annoying to deal with. There’s also a lack of permanence, right now, in the things you’ve found, which is a bit of a shame, if understandable.

Still, this is already a promising start, with a lot to explore and deal with, a lot of weaponry of different types, and, once you get further in the game, you start to uncover an interesting mystery. I mean, robots and buildings do sort of imply previous habitation… Do they not?

Note for next clone: Chaingun slows you down. Also, construction failing, almost died due to plates falling. Be careful, sister!

The Mad Welshman #37 loves his spindly little robot legs. The Mad Welshman #36 says they don’t quite suit him though. Please help solve our “discussion” without chainguns getting involved.

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