Where The Water Tastes Like Wine (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£19.96 w/soundtrack, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

History often ignores the smaller stories. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t tell some of them, but they can often get missed, in the grand tides of nations, governments, and movements. And yet, stories are one of the main ways in which we shape our lives, and those of others. Here’s the Engine that was Naughty. Here’s the story of how tragedy turned to comedy with old Uncle Jimmy. Here’s the story of how This Person Is Weird, Stay Away. Not that all stories are trustworthy, of course, it’s as much the teller as the tale. And stories, passed around, grow in the telling.

Hoo boy… This hand has a story attached to it, y’know… Which is why I got a baaaad feelin’ , son…

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is, in one sense, the story of the Skeletal Hobo, and his Service to the Devil-As-Wolf. In another, it’s a collection of vignettes, short stories that paint a picture of life in America’s Great Depression. In a third, it’s a story… About stories, and how much we want to hear them.

To describe it mechanically, amusingly, strips some of the mystique away: You walk, often slowly, sometimes quicker if you whistle, across America. Travelling from place to place, collecting and telling stories. Sometimes, you influence them a little, by taking part in them, and along the way, you hear the bigger stories, hunting down characters to tell them the stories you’ve heard, to share enough of a connection that they open up to you, and finish their own stories. Hear all the stories, spread enough of them around, and you’re done.

The pace of the game is sometimes slow between stories, although recent patches have improved this somewhat with better rail and bus travel the further you get, and the mementoes from completed stories allow you to fast travel. Some have said this slow pace is a detraction from the game, but honestly? I like it somewhat slow. It fits the mood of the character, where whistling a merry tune quite literally speeds your travel somewhat. Nonetheless, the option is there, and it adds a little extra choice for those who want to play through quickly, rather than savouring, remembering, and thinking over the stories as you walk.

Some of the stories may seem tall tales, it’s true… But hey, you lived ’em, so you know best, right?

…What was the deal with that white deer? Was there anything I could have done? Ohhh, that poor vet, come home with no reward save the cold road, and what reward is that? The kids these days, and that woman, I do hope she’s alright, and not dead like the tales suggest… Maybe I should swing back that way, see what’s up with that, when I have a spare moment from this grave and onerous task? Ah well, the road lies ahead, and it isn’t gonna get any shorter from me thinking about it.

Time to hunt down the next tale, be it tall or short…

As y’can see, friend, got a ways to go for the next tale to gather. Hand me that flask, and let’s sing a lil’ tune as we go, eh?

The Mad Welshman would like to note that the game’s editor, Laura Michet, has written a detailed post-mortem of the game, available here. It’s an interesting read.

Become a Patron!

Mount Your Friends 3D (Review)

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

Mount Your Friends 3D, also titled “A Hard Man Is Good To Climb” , is many things. A party game. A work of sculpture, different with every play, but following roughly the same design ideals. Homoerotic testament to extremely buff men with tight posing pouches…

The goal, so simply and plainly expressed. Beautiful.

…Okay, so that last one’s stretching things a bit, about as much as the posing pouches on the mounting friends of Mount Your Friends 3D, perhaps… But the party game bit is definitely true, for lo, Mount Your Friends 3D is a competition in which you and some friends both form a mountain made of buff men, all trying to strain higher from the base that is… A goat on a hill, on a pole.

No, don’t ask me, I don’t know either. In fact, beyond the facts that firstly, the game is indeed fun to play with friends, and challenging too, the basic rules of play, and that it has a lot of grunting and groaning as your buff, sometimes sweaty, sometimes sparkly avatars attempt, in a set time, to reach the pinnacle of Man Mountain, setting a new bar for the next one, and the next, and the next… Hold the pose, and the height, for three seconds, and a new record is set, and the next player’s turn is taken.

I call this performance piece “Mounting Equality.”

…It’s a very silly game. But tight controls, a similarly tight control scheme (Hold left or right mouse to release your grip and control said limb, release to hopefully grab onto whatever you were wanting to grab onto), make the title so very true… A hard man is good to climb. It helps that there’s added variety, both from unlocks by playing the game (Customisation options and chat stickers, the means of communication between players), and in its game modes, at least some of which are deceptively simple looking.

Take, for example, Spiral mode. At set heights, the men are replaced by a long 3d block, at an angle to the one before it (hence, Spiral.) At first, the blocks make things easier, but, as it gets higher, the spirals get harder to climb, with less room for error, until… Oh no, you fell down, and spent all your reserve time on the way back up. Oh well, keep watching, friend, this is how… Oh no, I fell down, and spent all my reserve time on the way back up… Good game, folks, good game!

And this collaborative piece, entitlted “We will hit the Minions memes with large blocks and buff men.”

There are others, of course. Standard, classic, low gravity, ones with and without blocks, but through it all, there are three constants. Firstly, that it’s fun with friends. Secondly, that buff men and a goat are always involved. And thirdly, that it costs less than £6 , for something with a fair amount of replay value, a lot of silliness, and pretty accessible play.

The Mad Welshman is, you may have noticed, pro buff men in tight posing pouches.

Become a Patron!

Hacktag (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Even after release, Hacktag remains an odd sort of beast to me. It is, and, at the same time, isn’t my sort of game. It remains recommended because, despite my own problems, it is, nonetheless, an interesting and fairly accessible take on co-op stealth/hacking games.

Oops… I see trouble in my future…

Goodness me, that was a bit of a mouthful. Let’s back up a sec. Hacktag is, at the same time, competitive and co-operative, involving an anthropomorphic (that’s animals as people, in this case) world of corporate espionage, in which two players steal data in one of three mission types, either as a stealth operative, or a hacker. The gameplay in each is different, but has the same base idea: Do the things, don’t get caught, and if you do get caught, hope your friend (or you, in the case of Solo play) don’t get caught trying to bust you out. Occasionally, you do things together, and, overall, it’s a tense experience.

Aesthetically, the game works fairly well. Clear visuals, some good stealthy music, ramping up to fever pitch when, inevitably, something goes to hell, and its icons and tutorialising are pretty clear. The controls are understandable, and it comes in the three flavours of multiplayer (friends or random players), local (Two players, one machine), and solo (switching between controlling characters with TAB, the majority of my experience with the game.)

Mainframe hacking is the mission type added for release, and it’s a long, tense haul…

I’ve already mentioned that I find it a little odd that, despite its co-op nature, players are scored (and level up) separately, especially as co-operation is, in at least some cases, mandatory. Indeed, part of the tensions comes from situations like one player trying to unlock the way ahead for the other, to run into a situation like the alarm trap, which requires both players to deactivate (Indeed, one of the pictures of this review is a fine example of when this happens.) Nonetheless, unlockables, co-op play, an interesting visual style… There’s a lot to recommend it.

It isn’t, as it turns out, my particular cup of tea, but if you’re looking for something new in a relatively small genre (at the present time, anyway), this may well be worth a look.

As far as I am aware, while this deeply resembles a lootbox, Coins are earned in-game. Nonetheless, I did get a little skittish when I noticed this…

The Mad Welshman isn’t, as it turns out, much of a multiplayer feller.

Become a Patron!

Hacktag (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Last time, on Hacktag

“You’re a loose cannon, Hacktag! Competition and co-op play in the same game? Hand me your badge!”

And now, we return you to… Hacktag

People forget, I think, how many possible ways there are of making a multiplayer experience single player. They also forget that sometimes this can be quite tough. AI companions require extra code, extra thought. A checkpoint based auto companion can feel very samey, but cuts down on the work.

Updated skills and lobby interface? Yes, please!

Hacktag has gone for something a little more old fashioned, but it’s interesting to note how it changes the game: Split-screen, swappable solo. One keyboard, two characters, and you’re switching between the perspective of both. How is it?

Challenging! With multiplayer, the other player is able to spot and avoid threats just fine on their own. The only times you worry about them is when they screw up and get caught, when you screw up and need to be rescued, or when you both need to be at the same place for the dual hacks. With singleplayer? Ahh, there’s the rub. Because whether you’re on split screen or full screen perspective for each character, once you switch characters, the other is helpless, and so, timing becomes much more important. As do safe zones. As such, it’s both a more challenging, and, at the present stage at least, frustrating experience. In the middle of a dual hack when bam, guard. Stealthing to the next safe point, but… Crap, antivirus. It’s got a lot of planning to it, that’s to be sure.

AAAaaaaAAA! There are also new objectives. Now… AaaaAAAAaaaaAAa!!!

Nonetheless, if that were the only change at this stage, rough as it is, I’d be happy. But the general experience has improved as well, with more types of event, rejiggered minigames for hacking and stealthing, and… Traps. Sometimes, it’ll be the standard “There is an alarm, get to it and disable it before it goes off.” Sometimes, it’ll be a laser grid, to be avoided in either hacker or stealth mode until the timer runs out. What’s nice about that one is that it varies depending on who triggers it, a clever touch that swings things a little back toward parity between stealth and hacking play.

The competitive score with co-operative play remains (And seems to now firmly be a part of the vision), but skills and cosmetics have also been improved, so levelling up gives a broader depth of rewards, and now, should your heart desire, you can be one of a small multitude of anthropomorphic animal cat burglars. Go you!

So, on the whole, the potential of Hacktag is really shaping up. Good co-op play can tough out even the meanest of missions, be it local or multiplayer, solo play is there for those of us who like planning (and also acknowledge that a plan never survives contact with the enemy), and, even aesthetically, there’s a little more variation. There are still some bugs and glitches, but they are, at the present time, relatively minor, so, overall, I guess I’ll leave you with the denouement of this episode of Hacktag.

Solo *does* have the option of switching between fullscreen perspectives, but… Nah, not risking it!

KOFF, I never shoulda cancelled my laser-grid insurance!”
“No… Don’t say that… You’re Gonna Live.”

The Mad Welshman recommends this and many other games… Because they’re video-games. And all your friends are playing them.

Become a Patron!

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!