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.

Become a Patron!

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!

Become a Patron!

Hacktag (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hacktag is an odd beast, all told. And beast is quite apt here, as it’s a hacking/stealth arcade game set in a corporate world of anthropomorphic animals. Lions, does, panthers… It’s a cat eat deer world out there, and yet… It feels a little bit empty at the present stage.

For future notice, screenshots show usernames, so the black bars are to protect player identity, not actually part of the game.

That’s not to say that it is empty, but some decisions feel odd, considering 90% of the game right now is procedurally generated missions that can only be played multiplayer (in pairs, one stealth agent, one hacking agent.) Let’s start with how it is a co-operative game, but… Is scored competitively. Not gonna lie, this doesn’t entirely make sense for a whole bunch of reasons. The hacker, for example, is nearly always going to get, if you’ll pardon the pun, the lion’s share of the computer thievery done, and whoever gets started on a computer first, unless they get caught, pretty much has the points from hacking. But this conflicts with the fact that, to complete the mission, you do have to co-operate. And yes, this has an influence on your XP (+1 XP per 100 points scored)

Still, that need for co-operation is an interesting feature, and I honestly like it. Yes, a hacker could race past doors that the stealth agent can’t get through (because they need the hacker to unlock them), but the hacker is also barred by firewalls, and there are some doors that require both players to progress. Now, some of this is done with holding a button and waiting, and some via recognisable minigames such as “Hit the right arrows in sequence” and “Both players scroll through a code-list, match the codes.” These are mainly made tense by guards and online watchers, neither of which can be defended against, only avoided, distracted, or, in the case of the watchers, temporarily trapped in a single computer node by the stealth agent, and, should you be captured? You’ll be herded into a holding cell, and the other partner will have to get you out. If both players are captured, or you can’t get them out in time, then whups, run over!

The hacker’s view is at once more colourful, and, in a sense, more empty. They also move a *lot* quicker without having to worry about noise.

The emptiness, mainly, comes from a combination of sameyness, and the fact that there’s just the teensiest bit of bias toward the hacker (Beyond what we’ve already mentioned, there is, overall, more the hacker can deal with than the agent.) For all that different corporations are being raided, there will be the same sort of rhino guards, the same amorphous blob of the watchers, and, indeed, many of the same threats. The pre-mission conversations, optional as they are, also feel a little samey, with the brief following a formula, and the responses ranging from “professional” to “Extremely unprofessional.” As such, they feel somewhat superfluous. One feature I’m not so fond of is that rooms in the newer maps can randomly trigger alarms. Yes, I get that challenge has to be added, but I don’t really feel RNG is the way to go there, and I hope future releases replace this “feature” with something else. It is, if that’s not your thing and you still want to play the game, only on the newer maps as of the Sept 15th release.

Is this to say the game doesn’t have promise, or doesn’t work in and of itself? No, and no. What’s in the game works (The hacker cannot stop once they’ve taken a path, but this is explained, and merely requires more care), and the single player tutorial ran me through the concepts just fine, although I’ll freely admit I often forget I have a holographic distraction device (and mainly do alright without.) But right now, for all that there are unlockable bonuses (Such as being able to screw up certain minigames some of the time, or having less options to choose between on co-op minigames), and customisation options, it feels like the game needs to build its world, its character somewhat. If you have a co-op partner handy, you can quite happily complete a mission or two in an hour. If you don’t, well, alas, this game is currently multiplayer only, and I am uncertain if there will be any SP content beyond the tutorial. Either way, the game is currently only in the 0.1s, so there is plenty of time to see change.

There’s a lot of friendly highlighting going on, and I definitely respect this feature. Capture radii, timers, unhacked computers being white highlighted… This is definitely a positive feature.

The Mad Welshman is perfectly willing to give stealth co-op games like this their chance to shine. As noted, it’s early days yet, and I wish Piece of Cake well.

Become a Patron!

Immortal Planet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’m getting really tired of the word “soulslike.” I’m not ashamed to say this, because, like many game development fashions inspired by at least okay games, it can vary widely. Immortal Planet, sadly, is one of those that just doesn’t gel with me. Partly because it is as slow as advertised… And partly because it isn’t.

The game has an inventory, built up as you go through the game, weapons with multiple modes, and, of course, skulls and masks. A fair few of them.

The story is relatively simple: There is a planet, filled with folks who just won’t die (The justification for respawning enemies whenever you rest/level up.) It’s mysterious, and you, one of the big, hulking masked folk that populate this world, are a prisoner. Tromp and stomp and murder your way through the 5 bosses and 52 rooms. I know it’s 5 bosses from the achievements, and I know it’s 52 rooms because, for some odd reason, the room graphics are right there in the game’s directory (Found as I tried to get windowed mode to work. Which it still doesn’t seem to.)

Problem is, the game is frustratingly grindy, and, while the walk speed is slow (and the run isn’t a whole lot better), the combat is quick exchanges. And, like a Souls game, everything appears to be made of bricks that are made of bricks until you level up. Slash slash backstep to recover and let this fool get his two attacks off slash slash dead. This guy’s near an edge, haha, wait block dash the sod into the black ether and get the XP so much easier. Slash slash sla- dammit I’m out of stamina, backstep get hit get hit dammit now I have to use a healing item. So yes, it’s slow in one sense, but the fights are, comparatively, quick, twitchy exchanges. And then you meet the first boss, and realise another area the game is slow.

Block, slash, ohgods I barely scratched him, and even through my block that hurt. Slash, wait, he’s got a melee punish move, ohgod I’m almost dead, try to ba- aaaaaand dead. Lose all my XP, lose my healing items, reset, restart.

This enemy is about to be punished for having a dash-two slash combo that’s easily avoidable. His compatriots can be a lot more challenging.

Immortal Planet is not the friendliest of games. Funnily enough, though, most of this is feeling. On leaving a session, I was surprised to note that three loops around the first hub, combined with two deaths (one my fault, one due to somehow dashing off a cliff to my death when I’d intended to push someone else off the opposite cliff) took around 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer, not least because while the game has sound (and some quite meaty sounds for the weapons too), it doesn’t have music, per se. Snatches, here and there, like when you die, but mostly, it’s silent, with that tromp tromp tromp tromp tromp of walking around the main punctuation for a lot of the time.

Eventually, I got used to the combat, which involves being as risk averse as humanly possible, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemies’ charge attacks are, for the most part, easily dodged, and well telegraphed. Now, I mention being risk averse, and you may be saying “Dark Souls also encourages risk aversion” , but this is not quite true. It involves calculated risk. While a single loop around the first area and level up purely into Strength (Damage) will ensure two of the first three enemy types will be chumps (Taking around 5-10 minutes) , the third enemy type (and the first boss) will punish you heavily for a mistake, and no, there is no option to just level up. You can level up and rest, resetting all enemies and any items you may have found beyond your basic allotment, or you can not level up. Bosses have multiple health bars, and, despite the fact it doesn’t actually take all that long to play, the grind and seeming slow pace makes it feel much longer than it is.

This exchange will take only a few seconds, but at this point, he’s already dead. If I’d misjudged, it would be *me* who was close to death.

In the end, Immortal Planet is very much a deal of “Your Mileage May Vary.” Myself, I prefer a different pace, and find elements of the game feeling iffy for me, but I can see how someone who wants a bit more challenge might enjoy this game. Aesthetically, it’s very clean, it has a moderately interesting story, but, alas, it’s not for me.

Become a Patron!

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.

Become a Patron!