Tower 57 (Review)

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

I make no bones about the fact I loved the Amiga and Atari ST (The latter more than the former, mainly due to exposure.) This was a period when pixel art was going very strong, and designs went in interesting directions, even if they didn’t always work. Nowadays, of course, pixel art is going very strong, and designs go in interesting directions, even if they don’t always work. How things have changed!

This, of course, is a nice segue into Tower 57, a game where its greatest strengths and its biggest flaws tie directly into wanting to recreate the feel of old Amiga twinstick shooters. It’s pretty obvious where its main inspiration comes from (The Chaos Engine, Bitmap Brothers, 1993) , and…

Yes, it involves a dystopia. But this, surprisingly, is a relatively light moment, and a good example of the visual storytelling in the game.

…Well, let’s get the good out the way first. Visually, the game is good, and consistently so. It’s solid, clear, and with some good visual designs in the more complex beasties and mechanical creations. Music wise, the tunes also work well, fitting, pumping, and dramatic when they need to be. The writing is mostly pretty good (Being about “Agents” sent to break up a worker’s strike, and, as it turns out, something stinks almost from the word “Go”), and, overall, it’s a solid, linear game with some of the goodies I quite liked from the Days of Yore, like secrets hidden behind walls that, since the game is a linear, curated experience, I can remember and go back to, replaying with different characters. It even has some interesting minigames in the main level hub, and the six main characters do have their differences and uses. Levels, again, are interesting, with some good setpieces.

Where it starts to fall down, though, are the bosses. The difficulty curve on the bosses varies immensely, from “Oh gods, how the hell am I going to get out of this segment without losing a life” to “Ho-hum, circle strafe and murder, circle strafe and murder.” Although one of them would probably have been a lot harder if I ditched the anti-toxin trousers you can get in the very first level. Keep those trousers.

Oh, I just *love* me fights against turrets and beefy chasing drones in a confined space! Oh wait, no, love… HATE. Yes. Hate.

The minigames, similarly, while being fun, are also somewhat necessary if you want to be upgrading as much as possible, as the amount of money is largely set, and you will, for the sake of easing your travails with some of the nastier bosses, want double healing upgrades on all three of your characters. Oh, and extra stuff on the guns, only purchasable in the hub. As to the characters…

…Well, they vary in usefulness, and follow a similar function to lives in any other game, except if the lives then changed how the character played, the usefulness of their special ability, and… For example, for the boss that’s currently proven the biggest roadblock (Unsurprisingly, pictured), I went with the Cop, the Don, and the Diplomat. The Don survived the longest in this boss battle, due to having range on his gun. But eventually, they all went down, and while I could continue from a checkpoint (with all three characters) , I didn’t particularly feel like that this time around. Maybe later. In multiplayer, of course, you have double the firepower, a second player, but regardless of whether you’re playing alone, or with a friend, you won’t be changing characters too much unless they die, due to the lack of opportunities to do so. After all, it requires a closet, or one of the characters dying, and so… You tend to forget those other characters exist, by and large.

Finally, there’s things that were added, either for flavour, humour, or just interesting mechanics, that fall flat in various ways. A red light district, complete with sex workers (One of which you can attempt to chat up. Badly.) Limb damage, temporarily losing you weapons, tools, or moving at more than a crawl, until you fork out the dough to repair them (A forced tutorial example removes your legs… And indeed, leg removal remains the most irritating of the bunch.) The tools, funnily enough, also fit into this category, being mostly forgotten because you can get by a lot of the game without them. There are barks from the main characters, but they often feel either superfluous or odd, and I could, for example, definitely do without the Cop bemoaning possible drug addiction and testing each time she picks up a health pack.

Hrm. Would it be diplomatic to mention Electric Six at this point? Probably not, but that won’t stop me *thinking* it.

I still enjoy parts of this game. The levels are mostly interesting, apart from the odd set piece that doesn’t work so well. The news, mostly, paints an interesting picture. I’ve already mentioned some other good bits. But, overall, there’s enough that falls flat, or feels like difficulty for the sake of difficulty, or “Gotcha!” that, overall, this honestly doesn’t feel like something for me.

The Mad Welshman has also changed over the years. He’s got better textures now.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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