Risk of Rain 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Risk of Rain, it seems, has made the transition to 3D. And you would think that this could be a very good thing. It could. Right now, though, it’s not really for me.

For some odd reason (CAN’T think why), the majority of my screenshots are me lying dead near a boss. Mysterious.

Okay, let’s back up a second. Risk of Rain, the original, had you, one of several unlockable protagonists, trying to make your way back to the prison ship you had been ejected from, through a land filled with teleporting enemies that got increasingly more hostile the longer the run went. It was clever, because it forced you to balance going fast with being prepared, and its bosses were quite interesting. And Risk of Rain 2, essentially, appears to be more of the same, but this time in 3D. So… Let’s discuss that aspect of things.

Some enemies, like the Wisps, have become somewhat easier (to kill, anyway), but, overall, there’s a lot of added obstacles that 3D has brought. For example, in the first Risk of Rain, you generally had attacks from three directions. In 3D, well, that number has quite drastically multiplied, so where, in the original, a horde was theoretically still Not Really A Big Thing (Except in terms of the time it takes to murder them), in Risk of Rain 2, certain hordes make things very awkward for the player. Wisps are a prime example, because, while individually easy to kill, they have sniper like accuracy, and you only have so much dodge to go around to avoid their shots… If you’re aware of them.

Sometimes, though, you just have to appreciate natural beauty while your drones murder things.

Add in that running is oddly bound (Ctrl, because Shift is dodge. You might want to rebind that), and has a nasty tendency to stop after… Well, anything that isn’t running, really (Especially jumps and dodges), and playing solo has multiple issues. Honestly, snipes and beams appear to be the biggest source of woes here, and it may be a good idea for those to get toned down. Finally, while the teleporter was somewhat visually distinctive in Risk of Rain 1, it becomes much less so in 2, and so time can often be wasted by not actually knowing where the teleporter is, when you’ve run past it several times.

So… Some work is needed. I will say, however, that the worlds of Risk of Rain are actually kind of elegant in 3D, allowing for more kinds of secrets and interesting things to find, that everything except the teleported has translated well visually, and that the sound and music remain as good as the first Risk of Rain. As with the original Risk of Rain, once a run gets going, it’s pretty damn glorious and chaotic, as powerups add things like slowing, burning, detonating on death, giving health orbs on death… A lot goes on, and I feel that sticking with much the same powerups and enemies does give a sense of familiarity that helps ease players of the original into it.

Whether single or multiplayer, one thing remains the same… Damn, fights can get chaotic, and this is glorious…

So that, essentially, is Risk of Rain 2 so far. 3D has added challenges, some enemies seem a little more accurate than is necessary, but the basics are down and clearly working. While I haven’t exactly enjoyed it so far, I did enjoy Risk of Rain 1, so I think it may well grow on me as it makes its way through early access.

Before anyone asks, no, The Mad Welshman refuses to “Git Gud.” Beyond hating the phrase, he’s already perfect…

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Nightshade (Review/Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

1992 was in a period of interesting experimentation in video-games. Not a whole lot was pinned down, and the hardware limited things in oft frustrating ways, so cool, yet clunky solutions were found… And not all of the lessons of these past games have been relearned. Nightshade is, I’m going to get this out of the way now, a difficult, and occasionally frustrating experience. It’s an adventure game that was on the NES, for a start, with action elements. And yet, now that it’s been re-released in emulated form by Piko Interactive, it’s somewhat easy to see why it was picked.

It is perhaps safe to say they aren’t tubular or radical. Just snotty.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this game definitely has some annoyances. Fights, for example, are pretty gimmicky, fairly common, and are going to be the biggest source of game overs. More than other adventure games, the advice “Save early, save often” works pretty well. Select lets you choose what you want to do in adventure mode (Also pausing while this happens, which can buy you some time when a hostile is nearby), although you have to be close to objects to interact with them, and while the main character and world are well sprited, the other portraits are… Well, they clash, quite a bit.

Anyway, those aside, let’s talk the interesting things. First up, this is an action-adventure game, on the NES, in 1992. The select-action thing gets around a lot of the potential problems this could have caused, and the writing, while a little odd in places, generally has a light, humorous tone. The story’s a little hammy, but then, it’s a pulp superhero story, where a librarian becomes a trenchcoated crusader after the previous hero (Vortex, a proper cape) was captured and murdered by Sutekh, egyptian themed crimelord. Equally unfortunately, the game starts with your capture. Whatever will Lampsha- er, Nightshade do?

Hrm, they’ve tied me up pretty good… How the heck am I… Ah, LEVERS. We’re off to a great start!

Funnily enough, this is a good tone-setter, as it’s a scenario many a pulpy hero has faced. Tied to a chair, bomb, candle, wall nearby… All the elements are there, and if you happen to “die”, well, the other clever thing about the game comes in: Lives are replaced by similar escape sequences to this, as Sutekh is the gloaty, easily-escapable deathtrap type. I mean, he learns from his mistakes, and the deathtraps escalate in difficulty until the fifth one is impossible to escape, but… I actually kinda like this. Suitably villainous, one might say.

Now, the important question here is “Is Nightshade any good?” , and the answer is “If you are somewhat used to how old adventure games pull things, yes, it’s definitely interesting. Or if you remember that this is emulated, and that save-states will allow you to explore without so much frustration, sure.” It’s an interesting look at how console obstacles for adventure gaming were gotten around (and, honestly, the villainous deathtrap/lives thing is a choice I’d like to see more in media involving supervillains), it isn’t, as far as 90s games go, unresponsive or bad, and £4 for trying a mostly forgotten, and interesting piece of gamedev history is not a bad price at all.

Lose, and Sutekh… Well, I’m sure this is just metaphorical… Isn’t it?

Nightshade isn’t one of those forever-classics. But it’s definitely worth a look.

The Mad Welshman, you may have noted, appreciates experimentation. And the 90s is a treasure trove of it.

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Unheard (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

I love me a good mystery. Or three. Or five. I also love me some weirdness. So when Unheard popped up on my radar, I was intrigued. Ghost voices? Solving cold cases via audio recordings with movements of characters on a map? Deduction? Hell. Yes.

At the successful conclusion of each case, a short recap showing where the main clues were plays out.

And, overall, I’m not disappointed. I might as well get the niggles out of the way first, because they really are, honestly, niggles, little things. Firstly, it’s perfectly possible to just cows and bulls your way to the answer once you’ve identified everybody (You have X correct, no, X-1, ah, that one’s right, cool, next), and secondly, achievements are slightly borked in that it seems to give you the achievement for solving the case only with the play button… Even if you actually do use the recording progress bar (Rewind and Fast-Forward still fail the achievement.) And… That’s pretty much it, because the cases themselves get interesting pretty quickly. It starts nice and simple, with a twin identity case, moves on to an art theft where not all is as it seems, a terrorist bombing that also cleaned up the terrorist’s loose ends… Each one has something where the twist makes repeating the recording from different perspectives important, and each gives its clues well, for the most part (I say the most part, because case 3’s first question’s biggest clue is a surprisingly subtle one)

As you might be able to appreciate, I have to pick my images very carefully. I don’t want to spoil it for you…

The premise at first seems simple: You are someone being assessed using a new system of solving cases, all involving sound recordings of cold cases taken from places. Sounds unreal, and the game does a lot to make it seem more so, but, within its word, it feels real. On the one hand, it’s a short game, taking about three or four hours to complete, but it’s a well written experience, and the one mystery it does leave unsolved, it does so for a reason. Again, though, certain evidence deeply implies the solution, and I like that. Equally, I like the sound design, making the conversations with your assessor seem strange (you never see her face, for example), and the visual design very clearly lays out what’s needed.

Of course, the problem with saying much more, is that there are five cases, and to say much more risks spoilers… But it fits all the criteria of a good mystery game. It allows you to solve the case on your own, with the tools provided. Equally, it doesn’t hold your hand, instead allowing you to make notes. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaves just enough mystery to stay interesting all the way through, and, while it doesn’t appear like it ties up everything, it does, and that’s really cool. If you like mystery solving, give this one a look.

Case 3, pictured, is where things really start kicking off.

The Mad Welshman has to toodle off. Something about a new system where correcting contradictions in a manga short reveals who coded the cool tricks in games…

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Even grudgingly admitting that Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has improved in some aspects, this is one that remains poorly paced, difficulty spikey, and… Well, not drawing me into its world, because its world isn’t all that interesting in the first place.

Game number 1: From this screenshot, try to guess where, offscreen, the necromancer who keeps summoning these zombies has run to.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. A Lovecraftian twin-stick shooter with RPG elements (keys, inventory, special items, events, and, at least once a level, puzzles), Lovecraft’s Untold Stories starts you as a private dick who has been called upon by Raymond Legrasse (The inspector who formed a cameo in The Call of Cthulhu, the “iconic” Lovecraft tale.) From there, things rapidly get weird, from Lovecraft and the King In Yellow as shopkeepers, to a Yithian sanctum as your home base…

…Honestly, I can’t really carry on with that sentence without getting into why it feels wrong to say all that. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is Lovecraftian in the same way that Ready Player One is Cyberpunk, or an Olde English Bar in America is, in fact, Olde English. Oh, it’s got surface elements, to be sure. Star Spawn and Mi-Go and what I’d finally worked out were meant to maybe be Colours from Space. But they fill much the same space as zombies and cultists with machine-guns: As things you shoot to leave the room. Similarly, books are not gateways to knowledge that man was not meant to wot, but one of the two forms of currency in the game (The other being money, most often obtained by collecting treasure.) Elements of horror fiction, distilled into enemies and powerups. Ye Olde English Yawn.

This… Is about as interesting as that gets.

“But come now, that’s not terribly fair. What about that old chestnut about going mad from said knowledge?” Ah, yes. The thing with little to no seeming effect on play beyond being a second, less readable health bar that partly obscures the actual health bar. If lots of purple gunk over the top left, maybe eat a bar of chocolate or three, and avoid pretty much any interactable event you don’t know the “safe” interaction with (At the cost of not finding secrets and earning less Information currency.) Bam, the unknowable has become the known.

“Okay, okay, so it’s not very Lovecraftian. What about the twin-stick elements?” Well, those have slightly improved, in that now you have mouse-aim. The first area has also become less of a pain in the ass, with seemingly none of those murderous (and inexplicable) cultist gun turrets to be seen, only cultists and gribbleys. This, of course, is assuming you’re playing as the Investigator, as there are other unlockable characters, unlocked by reaching the right area, and solving a certain puzzle.

Each one has their own starting area, and their defensive abilities take different forms. The investigator has a dodge roll and explosives. Whoop. The scientist has a high-explosive shot that is as likely to impact something you weren’t sure was an obstacle (or a rushing enemy) and kill you as not, and a defensive shield. I haven’t unlocked the rest because… Well, when a game feels more like a battle of attrition than a tense conflict in which worlds are at stake, and madness lurks around every corner, you know something’s gone wrong.

Game number 2: Spot the arbitrary spikes. Before you run into them, and inflict a long bleed status and damage.

Is it the darkness hiding increasingly arbitrary damage/status traps? Is it Chapter 3’s obsession with “Hunt the guy running away, otherwise you’ll never clear the room”? Is it that the puzzles either feel like arbitrary key/item hunts or things that don’t make sense even in the context? Yes, yes, yes, it’s all of these things, plus the endless… Interminable “spooky” rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” No, really, it’s main motif is the three keys of a children’s song.

It isn’t the only music in the game, and the intro narration is very nice, as is the pixel art. But the pixel-art is often obscured by darkness, and stylistic goodness is more than counterbalanced by what a tedious slog this feels.

The Mad Welshman has seen many things. Perhaps too many. Over many games, the monicker has become more and more accurate. IA! IA! D’Signu B’et’a!

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BEACON (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: 2.01

With Beacon on the Steam store, and just a few versions left until release, it may well be a good idea to see what’s cookin’ with Freja Akiyama, Security Runner for the Shoraiteku Corporation.

Look at her, Captain… Isn’t she beautiful?

Ah. Yes, I remember now, what’s cooking, or, more accurately, long since cooked, is Freja Akiyama Mark 1. At the time of writing this sentence, poor Freja is at Mk 49, and very attractive she looks too with her insectile maw, robot legs, and bony spatulate tail. Welcome to Corporate Futurist Dystopia, folks, where not even death is necessarily going to end your contract. Download your mind to the core system (if it still survives, which, thankfully, it did), fire up the clone bank, and bam, you’re ready to either do or die for the cause of getting off the planet and getting back to work!

Mostly die, though, it must be said. But, as with some games of this genre, it’s the journey that counts, seeing what odd secrets you can uncover, weapons you can play with, and the new ways the game mercilessly attempts to beat you down. That sounds unappealing at first, but, oddly, it’s the journey, not the destination, that fascinates me with Beacon. A journey that begins with a disaster, and heads very quickly into an evocative alien world of three factions: The robots-with-DNA of the PRISM corporation (There is, I’m informed, a wee note to be discovered that lampshades the oddity behind this), the native Solus (assorted bugs, slimes, and beasties), and the Flauros (They of the flames, and the pointy stars, and goat-skulls.) It is perhaps unfortunated that they all hate you, albeit for differing reasons (Corporate Security, Territorial Instinct, and ???), but, thankfully, they also hate each other, and, in some areas, you can take advantage of this.

The antibodies of a Solus Stomach are… Well, I’m sure they’re to scale…

So, so far, so twinsticky, roguesortakindalike, and incremental. So what makes this one interesting for me? Well, it’s a combination of aesthetics, secrets, and how it plays the incremental game. Everything, you see, is lost once you die (Except archives, which you can look at in the main menu, although I’d still say collect everything you can see during a run), from guns, to knowledge, to, most importantly, the DNA you collect to affect your stats. And that’s important because, while you can get so far on normal stats, getting further does require a little extra oomph, and the oomph from your DNA changes (good and bad) and the mutations only take you so far. If you didn’t mutate, the genes don’t seem to hang around, and if you do, well, those mutations only last a run or two without boosting, and once they’re done, both the mutation and the stat changes are gone. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it not only works, it provides interest to each run.

Similarly, as mentioned, the world is this evocative, low poly landscape, that feels alive. It also feels intruded upon, with crates, mining lasers, and all sorts of gubbins left by the PRISM corporation, but even when it isn’t, bones litter the landscape, there are biomes. It never really lets you forget that it’s a level, and the optimal path is to explore as much as humanly possible (for chances at DNA, as new DNA leads to chances at bigger, meatier guns), but the secrets tie into the logic of the world, and I love that. In the PRISM held areas, it might be a set of energy repeaters you have to blow up to open a door or turn on a jump pad. In the more natural Solus landscape, it might be taking advantage of natural features like forcefully popping swamp bubbles to propel yourself the right way, and not all of them give you multiple chances at it. Case in point, some require destroying rot plants, and being propelled upwards from the explosion of poisonous gases. Screw that up, and… Well, the plants are gone. The cloud has probably dissipated by the time you land, but you lost your chance at a secret.

That is, for context, a really big worm.

Beacon, in short, is relatively close to being finished (with a roadmap clearly laid out for the final versions), has been looking interesting from early on, and, barring unlikely mishaps, I could probably leave it here well enough on release.

I won’t, because there’s at least one more act of the game to come. But yes, Beacon is already hecka interesting.

The Mad Welshman Mk 53 stepped out of his pod, and checked his emai-

…The Mad Welshman Mk 54 stepped out of his pod, and-

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