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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Mercenary Kings Reloaded (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, I’ll freely admit, reviewing can get a little odd. But when given the opportunity to compare a game’s experience both before and after a major free update, it’s an interesting window into game updates that would normally be reserved for Early Access releases.

That doesn’t, unfortunately, mean I particularly get along with Mercenary Kings, even after its Reloaded update. But in some areas, I can definitely see improvement, and I see this as a good thing, overall. Let’s get into it.

Big, lumbering… Does a hell of a lot of damage if it hits you though!

Mercenary Kings is a 2D platforming shooter with quite a few elements that are inspired by the gameplay of Monster Hunter and its ilk. Several repeatable missions in areas that expand as you get further toward the end of each chapter, with random drops from a set pool that depends on the enemy or, in the cases of boxes, on the mission itself. Said drops, along with the money reward, goes into unlocking or buying kit, skills, and usable items, which make your pretty damage and defense numbers go up, allowing you to fight bigger and nastier things… With the caveat that really big numbers tend to have a tradeoff, like weapons being heavy enough that you can’t run or jump nearly as well, for example. Mostly, getting through is a combination of knowing enemy patterns, good item usage, and picking your fights.

Thing is, flow becomes very important in such a game, and, before the Reloaded update, the early game flow was painful, at best. Certain enemies (Shield Joes, Pyros, and Drillerillas, for example) felt more like living roadblocks than an organic part of the experience, hard to avoid even with the lightest of equipment, and equally annoying to kill without damage, and, beyond the weapons, early game progress was slow.

Right is, in this case, the safer choice. This drill kills bullets.

Aesthetically, the game was (and is) strong, with the one notable exception being Empress (the original woman character) being… Well, an Escher Girl in her title appearance. Otherwise, the spritework’s good and clear, and the music is reminiscent of quite a few nostalgic treats, mostly platformers and shooters (The camp music, for some reason, reminds me of Blake Stone, an old Apogee published first person shooter. Maybe it’s the sound font.)

Has the Reloaded update improved this? Somewhat. The aforementioned roadblock enemies still feel like roadblocks, and are still somewhat annoying, but the weapon updates and balancing has definitely improved things, even if the early game flow remains a little slow and grindy. The two new characters are a welcome addition, as is objectives clearly being shown on the map (Something I don’t recall before Reloaded. Happy to be corrected if it was the case previously, and I just didn’t see it.) The bosses are mostly pretty interesting, even if I quickly saw the base enemies as a chore, rather than a challenge, or source of enjoyment, and seeing various new knives and guns is always a pleasure to my monster huntin’ mind.

*Sinks to his knees, fists clenched to the sky* GATHERING MISSSSIOOOONNSSSS!!!

As a platformer shooter, Mercenary Kings Reloaded feels a little slow (unless you have the sprinter upgrade), a little grindy at first, but it has taken steps to make its early game a little more friendly, and this is one of the few times where I will say “It Gets Better.” It’s no Contra, no quick, twitchy game this (Although some bosses do require a good handle on movement and dodging), and 4 player multiplayer definitely helps when you have friends to play with… But, as mentioned, despite its influences, it’s sadly not my cup of tea. Regardless of my opinion, though, I will state: The Reloaded update is an improvement. Respect for that.

The Mad Welshman killed 23 CLAW soldiers to make this review. It would only have been 7, but fabric drops were low on the mission he was on.

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R-COIL (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99 (option to donate more on Itch.IO)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO, Steam Page (For the Beta)

When last I reviewed R-Coil, I screamed a lot. It’s unsurprising, considering how tense and twitchy a game can get when, for example, your shields are all gone, and so it’s exceedingly important you murder everything before it murders you, while also doing your best not to crash into asteroids. All of this while your thrust is holding the mouse, while firing is tapping the mouse (or gamepad, which the game prefers) , and both will, in different ways, send you careening around R-Coil’s Asteroids inspired arena.

Right now, I’m lucky. These folks only fire upwards and downwards, so I can take them out…

It’s a lot of fun. But it should also be noted how, relatively speaking, the game is quite friendly. On first loading, it asks three important questions. Do you want to play in its no pressure mode, where yes, you die, but you never game over? Do you want its flashy, arcade style screen shakes, glitches, and flashing text to be turned on or off? Do you want to reverse the joystick? Save, let’s get into it, and, oh, the game’s designed around a gamepad, with mouse being an option that plays a little differently.

Not many games ask you, straight up, if you want to ease your eyes or brain, just get into the game to see what it’s like. So… Brownie points there, and, if you are completely new to R-COIL, I would recommend those answers be “Yes, No, and Whichever you’re used to.”

Apart from that, well, my opinion remains unchanged from the last review, and so do the majority of the basics. Mouse is still a different play experience to gamepad (Mouse is left and right turning, with LMB for thrust/shoot, while gamepad is thumbstick for direction, and face button(s) for shooting and thrusting) , powerups and weapons still hold an entertaining variety of both effects and drawbacks, which makes for the experience of… “Do I really want this powerup?” , the sound is retro arcade inspired, minimalist, and works with its vector graphics experience, and the enemy variety is quite cool, even in the early stages, from wildly spewing space turrets, to finicky, dodgy sniper drones, to UFOs of various descriptions, to, in true arcade fashion, minibosses and the screen splitting laser. It is highly recommended you kill those, by the way.

An exercise for the reader: If the Death Ray has massive knockback, as it does, what kills me milliseconds after this screenshot, the bullet or the UFO behind it?

R-COIL remains, as it has been from early days, an interesting, amusing, and twitchy arcade experience that delights me while adding a tactical twist to an ancient formula. All worthy of praise.

The Mad Welshman has nothing clever to say here. All the clever has been done by the game.

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