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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DUSK: Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (For all three episodes. The third isn’t out yet, and will be covered separately)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the early 90s. A time of ‘tude. A time of textured, low-polygon worlds, often heavily interlaced. A time where plots were paper thin, gibs flew freely, and nobody asked “What’s my motivation?”

Okay, so this isn’t entirely true, but a lot of people remember it that way, and DUSK? Tickles that nostalgia gland. Looking for a nuanced protagonist? Nope, you are a shootman. You shoot, and you shoot, and you shoot some more, because folks and creatures who are most likely evil want to shoot you. Puzzles? Sort of, if by puzzles, you mean finding walls that look suspicious, blowing them up, or finding switches to open them, and, of course, the hunt for up to three colour coded keys you need, Red generally being last.

The satisfaction of both a job well done, and the possibility of the last key nearby.

Honestly, even if Dusk wasn’t quite my cup of blood (and it is), I would appreciate the sheer commitment to aesthetic. The world is low poly and grungy, everything is chunky, and while there’s no need to reload, hitting the time honoured R key will spin your weapons in a cool way that vaguely looks like somebody reloading stylishly. Similarly, the music is hard, dark, and fitting with the grimdark sort-of-plot that Dusk has. Namely, evil experiments, a cult of worshippers who need stopping, and teleportation experiments. If that seems familiar, yes, it’s hammering together elements of Quake, Blood, and Doom in ways that, honestly? Don’t have to make sense. There is no fall damage, so feel free to look awesome as you drop from the sky raining explosive death.

So far, I’ve been quite complimentary, but it mustn’t be said that Dusk takes only fun lessons from 90s shooters. Bosses aren’t too challenging, beyond the fact that they have boodles of life and do a lot of damage if they hit. Some of the levels (Looking at you in particular, The Steamworks!) are dark and mazelike for the sake of being dark and mazelike, and are a sod to navigate, even for a 90s style shooter. Homing attacks from some enemies are annoying, even as they add a dimension to the combat style the game wants you to be playing with: Always moving.

The weaker weapons are all dual wield capable. The shotguns, in particular, are a joy to use.

Still, so far, I like Dusk Episodes 1 and 2. Since the game is episodic, I can quite happily cover these two episodes separately as actual reviews, and the third when it comes out as its own thing. The gunplay is a surprisingly clever game of resource management, as, while using a hunting rifle on mooks is entertaining, you’re probably going to need that ammo for more dangerous enemies, and the pistols see use pretty much throughout.

In the end, Dusk is an entertaining throwback to the days of swearing at your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT , without all that swearing and asking why the hell you have to reboot your computer because a game doesn’t like what you put as your HIMEM, and with a few design lessons of the modern day thrown in. If you like love letters to Ye Olde Days of Gibbing, that Tarnished Golden Age, then yes, Dusk is worth a go.

It even preconfigures the Soundboomer card correctly. Bloody magic, that is.

Commitment to aesthetic, thy name is [Clicking and whirring as of a struggling 486DX hard drive]. As you might guess, that’s somewhat hard to pronounce for anyone who isn’t a 90s kid.

The Mad Welshman is pleased. The portals work.

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Dimension Drive (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Dimension Drive is a good shmup game that I have a love-hate relationship with. A total of 26 levels (13 in normal, 13 in NG+) spread over three worlds, with an interesting story, a good aesthetic, and it’s mostly clear. It does interesting things, it’s pretty cool.

My brane hurts just looking at this representation of the multiverse.

But oh boy, am I bad at it. Which both amuses and frustrates me, because I can quite clearly tell it’s not the game’s fault. It’s giving me all the clues, but I can’t save myself from, for example, bashing into a wall. Because, where I’m looking, there isn’t a wall, but where I should be looking, there is.

Oh. Yes. That probably needs a bit of explanation. Dimension Drive is the story of the pilot of a multidimensional space fighter, the best in the multiverse, trying to save said multiverse from a nigh immortal conqueror who’s had millennia of experience at conquering entire dimensions (And, naturally, the resources of several of those dimensions.) This interesting twist further extends into gameplay with two screens of play. One is one dimension, the other’s another, with different walls, enemy patterns, and powerups. Flipping between the two is essential, both for bringing up that score multiplier, and avoiding what would be seemingly inescapable obstacles if we were limited to one or the other dimension.

Killing lots of things dramatically and having fun, about five seconds before I crash into that square outcrop on the left. Foolishly.

It’s interesting, because, difficulty wise, the individual screens are about on par with your average western coin-op (It doesn’t get into bullet hell territory until much later on), with relatively simple bullet and enemy patterns. But together? Together, they weave a web that has you nervous. Making mistakes. Clever stuff. And while it doesn’t truly take the gloves off until later on, it still has segments where care is very important. Like level 3’s trench run through a collapsing and exploding space station.

Considering this, considering the score attack nature of the game (with leaderboards and all), and considering the New Game + , the game at first seems short, but what it’s doing is using limited tools to great effect. Switching worlds. Flipping round. Picking good weapons for the level (as later weapons aren’t always more useful, they just expand your options), or trying something new.

I like Dimension Drive, its music, an at least okay story with some twists, and, of course, its own clever twist on gameplay. But boy, I wish I was better at it!

Another incentive to come back to earlier levels is that some tools make earlier bosses easier.

The The Mad Mad Welshman Welshman Loves Hates Multiple Multiple Dimensions Dimensions. They They Are Clever Do His Nut In

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R-COIL (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: Approximately £3 ($5 USD, option to donate more)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO, Steam Page (For the Beta)

Allow me, if you would, to unburden for a second…

…AAAAaaaaAAAaaaAAAAaaAAaAaA!!!

…Aaand now I’m dead. LET’S DO IT AGAIN.

…Much better. This is what you might call the “Executive Summary” of R-COIL, a take on Asteroids that I’d covered previously. An interesting take, because the thrust and weapon systems on your little ship have, through terrible circumstance, been fused together. And, as it turns out, weapons have a lot of recoil in the largely frictionless depths of space. Cue the main challenge of the game.

Visually, the game is quite polished, quite clear, quite accessible. Taking from the vector drawn school of old arcade games, there’s nonetheless colour and pizzazz to the game, and the ability to turn off various jitters, jumps, and deliberate aesthetic glitchiness if it hurts the eyes is a very pleasant feature. The sound, similarly, has improved quite a bit since last time, keeping that 8-bit aesthetic while not being painful to the ears. So far… So good.

In other changes… Well, it must be noted that mouse and gamepad play are, due to their control scheme, somewhat different experiences. A gamepad is highly recommended, as it affords more granular control over, say… Aiming than the mouse, due to the fact that, with a gamepad, you’re turning in the direction the left stick is pushed toward (and the rightmost face button shoots or thrusts), while, with the mouse, left and right movement turn the craft, and the left mouse button shoots or thrusts.

Er, that’s Boomerang. Screenshots don’t capture quite how chaotic this can get, sadly.

Overall, though, it’s one heck of an interesting experience, albeit a twitchy one, where even powerups can be double edged swords. Yes, okay, the Cloak means enemies won’t specifically target you, because you’re invisible. Of course… You’re invisible, relying on your thrust and bullets to see where you are. Hence the screaming at the start of the review.

Better weapons are good, but often have more recoil, while different shields… Ah, there comes a real balancing act. Do you rely on the tatters of your rotational shield, hoping for something better to come along, or do you take that front deflector, good at blocking front shots, but absolutely useless at protecting you from one hit death, and the loss of one of your three lives, if you’re not paying attention? Other shields exist, but each has their ups and downs. Sound worrying? Don’t worry, there’s also a Stress Free mode, in which you can die as many times as you like, and still get to grips with things… Or just have fun blowing things up and being blown up in turn!

And that, in a nutshell, is R-COIL. While not officially on Steam until next February, there is an open beta of the game available both on Itch.IO and Steam, and, if you like interesting, hectic twists on older formulae.

I *knew* I shouldn’t have gone for the cheap cabling between the guns and engines!

The Mad Welshman is still screaming. Maybe just a little. But it’s a good kind of screaming.

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