Assault Gunners HD (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19 (With extra pack, £9.29. Extra pack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Assault Gunners HD is a game with problems. And it’s perhaps unfortunate that these problems are so pervasive. Still, let’s back up a bit and talk about what the game is.

The laser is a frankly silly weapon when it comes to crowd control. And there’s always a crowd…

Assault Gunners was originally a PS Vita download-only title, reminiscent in both story (Self replicating robots gone bad on a colony) and feel of Armoured Core (Well, it tries. We’ll get to that.) And now, it’s come to Steam, in a HD edition that… Well, doesn’t exactly impress.

On the one hand, the game does some things better than some of its ported brethren. Actual sound, graphics, and keybinding options. Playable keybinds, so no, controller isn’t mandatory with this one. The mechs and enemies look alright, and the music and sound, while a little generic at times, similarly, are alright. Finally, with the exception of one menu element not being terribly clear, subtitles not happening in cutscenes, and the in-mission subtitles being in the top right (IE – where you’d rarely look), the UI and menus are relatively clear. Cluttered, but clear.

But these are, unfortunately, small potatoes compared to things that don’t go so well. There is little sense of impact, even with the missiles, which, in a missile heavy map, are going to obscure your vision, there’s so many smoke trails. You fire at a thing, it goes boom and dies. That’s it. I had originally intended to say the game is slow as hell, but no, that’s just the first body/legs. Once you get, for example, the BUNNY armour, boosting becomes fine, movement becomes fairly good, and with better legs, it gets better. But, funnily enough, this segues well into the next big problem with Assault Gunners HD… Balance.

Pictured: Slapping a ton of good stuff on, consequence free.

…Or, more accurately, lack thereof. By the time I had gotten to the first big enemy, rather than the hordes of small, not very smart, and weak enemies that give it more of a musou feel than that of an Armored Core game, I already had a Laser V (Best I’ve seen so far), level 5 in all the types of armours I know of, the best horizontal missile rack, stamina boost… I had a lot of good things, and, unlike Armoured Core, where its inspiration obviously comes from, there’s no disincentive (beyond the pickup magnet powerup) against just slamming all of them in and calling it a day. Oh no, its a grasshopper me- oh, it died before it managed to complete an entire loop of shooting? Oh, well, we’ll just be sad about the gunships we sent in as backup you obviously didn’t need, then.

So, before I’d reached 8 of the 20 missions in the base game (With a further 15 as DLC), I felt like a little tin god. Tin, because I never felt like it was earned, or even much of a decision. Fuck it, bunny armour and the best guns of their type on everyone! Extra target locks, extra health, shield regen, extra armour of all types, go wild, folks! And, since the mechs are used in every game mode (Edited in the Hangar menu), this then applied to the game’s wave based score attack mode, Inferno. Where scores of geometrically placed enemies died in droves to the fact that geometric placement is great for a piercing weapon, and I let myself die on Wave 18 because I felt the previous 17 waves had provided little entertainment or challenge.

This is *some* missiles. In a missile bot heavy map? This becomes “Good luck seeing anything.”

And that’s Assault Gunners HD… It’s fairly accessible, but, at the same time, I found myself having a relatively easy time, even on hard difficulty, and it had failed to entertain. Which is a shame, because there’s the kernel of a good idea here, and god knows, I wouldn’t mind an Armoured Core style game on PC, considering the lack of Armoured Core on PC, but this, for me, just wasn’t it.

The Mad Welshman consoles himself with a ride through some giant stompy robot games of the past.

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Going Back – TAROTICA VOO DOO

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was, I’ll admit, a little confused over being asked to review TAROTICA VOO DOO, even as an advocate of old games, and the joy (and pain) of programming for older systems as a good thing to do. It’s not the friendliest of games. It’s not the easiest of games. It definitely has its flaws, and, even as someone who likes a lo-fi aesthetic, 2-bit “hand drawn” (read: Pixel doodles) wasn’t immediately endearing to me.

One of our three family members, completely ignoring us because dinner’s not on the table… Ohhhh, I hope a pla- ah wait, that’s exactly what I hope to prevent!

Tarotica Voo Doo is a somewhat surreal “Escape Room” game, in which you solve puzzles (Some of which spread over the entire house, like the Salamanders who light up rooms), in order to break into a family’s home, cook them dinner as an apology, and get them out of the house, all before a plane crashes into it. It’s also a game coded for the MSX. Not the MSX 2, or 3, or Turbo. The MSX, played via the official MSX emulator. So… A game coded for a 1980s platform, in 2018. Normally, very much my jam.

And, in terms of the technical wizardry behind it, it very much is. If you want some idea of the kind of crap people had to pull to code games for the MSX, the PDF attached to the game (hand written by the developer in both English and Japanese versions) is worth the price of the game alone, and explains the 2-bit aesthetic (It was the only way to get as many frames of animation as the game has.)

This poor dog’s only crime is that it’s holding the front door shut (somehow.) The zombies, skeletons, salamanders, and the like inside, on the other hand…

As to the game? Well, it mostly comes out middling. I like, for example, how four frames of animation are used to good effect in puzzles and combat alike, with the latter a sort of rhythm deal where you have to time pulling fully back (for defending) and forward (for attacking) carefully, with the only pressure being that failure means restarting the (short) fight. I like how smoothly the developer has papered over the cracks of a slow Video RAM, meaning that the experience doesn’t jerk or stutter, even in the short, equally 2-bit cutscenes. I like how its control scheme (arrow keys to move, space to start interacting with a highlighted object, up and down to interact with it, space again to leave that interaction) is simple, and similarly smooth. I’m not so fond, however, of some of the more house-spanning puzzles, like going back between various rooms and the basement, in order to release the salamanders that provide light for the torches… Or block them off. A few fights (such as with one of the aforementioned salamanders) are just a tadge counter-intuitive, and, as mentioned, despite liking lo-fi aesthetics, Tarotica Voo Doo’s didn’t really grab me.

Nonetheless, it’s not a bad couple of hours, even if it didn’t quite grab me, and, with the attached “CHRONICLES OF TAROTICA VOO DOO”, detailing how the program was built up, it’s an alright, actually retro game with a post-mortem dissection of how it was put together that’s well worth a look for 8-bit programming enthusiasts, or even folks who just want an idea of why pushing the limits of an older machine was hard as hell.

This puzzle’s explanation is one thing, practice another. Thankfully, with only four frames per statue, it’s easy enough to work out.

The Mad Welshman is heartened by the fact that, even today, people struggle with assembler. It puts his own struggles in perspective.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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