Overland (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $20 or more (Approx  £15 and some change)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: Alpha 0.6, build 326

Rest in Peace, Meatball. You bit many a crystalline horror, and even if it was for nought, because the car had exploded, the whole place was on fire, and every human capable of driving you somewhere had died, you were a Good Pupper. And so ended a run of Overland, a roadtrip for survival in which you Go West. Why, beyond a reference to a good Village People song? Uncertain. Still, that’s what we’re doing.

Definitely pictured: Everything Has Gone Wrong. Not Quite Clear: Meatball defiantly facing down a crystal creature he can’t possibly kill this turn. GOOD DOG.

Overland is a little tough to describe, because, while it uses some procedural generation, it also uses mostly pre-generated maps, so it isn’t quite a roguelike… And it isn’t quite a strict puzzle game… And while it’s about a roadtrip for survival, it isn’t a survival game. But it takes elements from all three. For example, the people you meet along the way are generated, given small histories, possibly items if they’re lucky, and skills. Even the dogs, who seem to have a choice between Barking… And Biting.

Let’s take a step back. Overland is a turn-based game in which you, a survivor of the invasion of crystalline aliens who hunt by sound, find other survivors, steal a car, and attempt to get from the East Coast of America to the West Coast of America, facing the aforementioned crystalline creatures, other survivors (not all of whom are friendly), roadblocks, and the ever present threat of running out of fuel (aka: A death sentence, considering the numbers of creatures involved here.)

“Wait, these things hunt by sound, aren’t you kind of screwed?”

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, you can take a little bit of a beating, although getting injured usually gives you only one action/move rather than the multiple ones you get, but, at the same time, most of the monsters currently in the game only get 1 move/action a turn, while uninjured survivors, generally, get two. As such, so long as you carefully consider what you’re doing, you can outrun most of the creatures currently in the game.

At the end of each area is a roadblock. As it turns out, setting fire to the squares around the cars I needed to pull out of the way was a Bad Idea.

Where the puzzle begins, however, is that very rarely are they alone, and killing them always has a chance of bringing more. Sometimes, it’s night, and you can’t see clearly (but, tracking by sound, they can see you just fine.) Sometimes, what you need is going to take time to get to, or get out of the way (Time you may not have.) Similarly, only being able to carry up to two items, with your vehicle having limited capacity for both survivors and spare equipment, adds a little depth and thought to this game, sometimes leading to cruel moments based on… Well, pragmatism.

Sorry, Steve. I have no medkits, we just found another survivor… I may see you later down the road, if you live that long.

Still, for all this interest, there are things that work for and against the game. Like the pre-generated maps. As noted, unless enemies are fast, or you’re trapped, getting around isn’t a major issue. What can be an issue, however, is that you know, the moment you reach the map, where the interaction points are, even at night. And some of them have drops best described as “Godawful.” Oh, crap, it’s that one map with the single shack that’s our sole point of interest here. Does it have fuel? It does, but not enough to keep us going. CRAP.

Items, similarly, are limited, and once you have, for example, at least one person with an extra action and a steel pipe, you might as well concentrate on fuel and avoidance, it isn’t going to get much better than this. Similarly, some of this limited item set feels… Very situational. Like the wooden pallet, used as a shield, which… Can knock a crystal monster back a step. No damage, and if it’s a runner? Well, that isn’t going to help a whole lot. I’m sure there are uses for it, but I’m having a hard time giving examples there.

Funnily enough, this pair has halted all my progress on Overland until the next update. I don’t want them to go out there, you see…

Currently, three of the six areas in the game are here, with escalating difficulty and at least one new monster type an area, with nice touches to help those of us who like stories to construct a narrative around your characters () , an in-game screenshot option… Come to think of it, Overland has some extremely ScreenShot Let’s Play friendly features, although it does reveal that the game’s native resolution is 4K… Miiight want to adjust the screenshot size to the window size, Finji Games, as I’m pretty certain this breaks tables on most sites period…

It makes for a game which definitely has potential, is mostly pretty accessible, and has that low-key tension that makes for a good puzzler or survival game… It’s also a game which is still clearly a work in progress. Still, overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about Overland. G’bye Meatball, the Literal Disaster Bisexuals, and all the interesting folks along the way… I’ve no doubt I’ll see you all again in some form in later updates.

On Top of Spa-gheeeee-teee, all covered in cheeeeeese…

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Moonlighter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s interesting how marketing can change your mind. If I, perhaps, hadn’t been told, by quite a few people, that Moonlighter was “Recettear with the bad trimmed off” , I would perhaps feel nicer about it. As it is, the comparison leaves me distinctly unimpressed, and I can no longer quite be certain that my assessment of it on its own as “Alright, but never really excelling at any one thing, including making me care” isn’t based on this comparison.

Will, bridger of the gap between Merchant and Warrior. Twice the work, half the happiness.

There is a world, a world with a dungeon. As with many worlds with dungeons, people exploit this one, and an economy surrounds it. Or rather, an economy is restarted by it, as Will, a Merchant who owns the dungeon shop Moonlighter, re-enters the dungeons for things for his shop. Cue action RPG with shopkeeping elements.

As with many ARPGs of the modern day, the key to playing Moonlighter well is to know when to attack and dodge, using a variety of weapons, judging enemy patterns. It feels meaty, I’ll definitely give it that… But it also feels frustrating, for several reasons. Inventory limits are a starter. Every trip to the dungeon, only 20 things (plus equipment) can be carried. Items stack to their own limits (usually 5 or 10), and both cursed and uncursing items don’t stack. Why is this system here? Mainly to add something to inventory management. Unfortunately, what it adds is… Inventory management.

Shopkeeping is similar. What gets added when you level up the shop once? Shoplifters. Extra work, on top of the work you’ve got from extra features. You can, eventually, get shop security, but in the meantime… Enjoy chasing thieves to hit spacebar over them, or lose your stuff!

Is enjoy the right word? I’m thinking, and I’m thinking that the answer is no.

“Now remember, this one can only go to the sides, this one breaks if you get hit a bit, this one stops that rule applying for the first thing with rules it…” Please stop. Please.

Similarly, there’s a narrative, and it starts… Well, honestly, it doesn’t start well at all. Will goes into a dungeon ill equipped, gets his ass handed to him by a feature never seen again, gets told “Don’t look into the dungeon” by his Wise Old Mentor, then gets given a sword by said Wise Old Mentor, who continues to tell him not to go into the dungeon. Getting mixed signals here. Meanwhile, something builds up as you explore the dungeon, where it appears the dungeons are not, strictly speaking, dungeons, but parts of other worlds, randomly snatched with their security features still active. Is there a reason for it? Yes. Is it revealed? Yes. Does it, eventually, get resolved? Yes.

Is it particularly satisfying? Not really.

Indeed, this is the main problem, narrative wise, with Moonlighter. There’s little to no pressure, it’s true. But there are also little to no stakes involved, not much of a reason to care about the shop, not much of a reason to talk to any townsfolk outside of the shopkeepers. There’s an economy, but since nothing seriously threatens that economy, there’s no real incentive to keep those wheels turning except… That you need to do it if you want a decent chance of getting to the end of the game. Long before which, due to the lack of either threat or incentive to spend, you will have more money than you know what to do with, because, despite the seemingly silly costs of anything above the second tier, the rewards from the dungeons correspondingly increase.

So, in summary? It somewhat works mechanically, in the servicable, achieves its goals way, but Moonlighter feels uninteresting, at least in part because there’s nothing, good or ill, that properly ends up pushing the narrative forward.

I will give the game this: To be an adventurer is to often perpetrate or be complicit in otherwise criminal activity, and it acknowledges it.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes confused by what his peers consider “With the bad bits gone.”

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Wizard of Legend (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39 (Soundtrack £5.79, Game and soundtrack £18.18)
Where To Get It: Steam

Wizard of Legend is a tough game to write about. Not just because its gameplay is fairly simple, but also because, once you dig deeper… You hit bedrock fairly quickly. But it is a game which knows what it wants, and what it wants is many different visuals for the task of beating up fantasy wizards.

It definitely does this.

If a spell looks this impressive, you can guarantee you have to stand still to use it. Be cautious.

To give a brief summation, Wizard of Legend is a twitchy twin-stick shooter where a young person, on a trip to the museum of wizardry, gets sucked into the past, for the Wizard of Legend tournament, in which they fight through four grand masters (with, apparently, more on the way as DLC at some point), six roughly element themed levels (2 before each of the first three masters) , in order to both win the grand prize, and to get back home. Pretty normal stuff, as wizarding stories go. And this… This is kind of the thing…

Nearly all the ingredients are here: Elemental themes. A fair few enemies, some of whom are elemental themed. A whole boatload of spells (of which you start with four, can pick four of whichever ones you buy to start with, use up to six, and hold seven.) Improving yourself through play, by earning crystals in runs to buy new spells, relics, and costumes. Good music.

But it feels lacking, and I’d have to agree with my peers that the theming, while distinct, still keeps the rooms of the game looking quite samey. Oh, occasionally you’ll run into something definitely themed, such as elemental enemies and traps, but while the former add interest, the latter, like all trap/challenge rooms, are… Well, trap/challenge rooms. Here’s the environmental thing to dodge while getting the chest. Here’s the environmental thing to push enemies into while avoiding it yourself.

Every boss has a couple of cool, element themed puns. Just to keep it ice and interesting, and chill you out before getting frozen out or dropping that avalanche on them…

The spells, and to a lesser extent, the bosses, are definitely more interesting. Most can be upgraded once to add an effect, such as BIGGER FIST for the Earth Fist, or a freeze chance, or something similar, and others can be improved even further by becoming Signature Spells, which, when fully charged, really let rip. There’s even some tactical consideration, as the nastier spells freeze you in your tracks unless you dodge-cancel, and yes, the elemental damage does count for something, although it can sometimes be hard to tell in the chaos. Relics add some variety, but, as with any roguelike, roguelite, or roguesumawotsit, you don’t know what they are at first, can’t check in a run (which is an annoyance), and whether it synergises well with what you’re doing is as much dependent on proc-chances as skill.

It’s fun while I’m playing it. I can’t deny that. But, on the outside looking in, when a run is over, I’m not entirely sure how much I’ve learned, beyond enemy patterns. I’m not sure how much one thing or another contributed to my run, because it’s not always clear. The fun is in the moment, and while that’s not a bad thing, it does leave an odd aftertaste to the experience of playing Wizard of Legend.

Some enemies have elemental attacks of their own. That perfect half second before I flop over and die through, essentially, overconfidence and miscalculculation.

Or maybe I, and other critics, are overthinking things. Sometimes we do that. Either way, Wizard of Legend is, as noted, fun in the moment, mainly confusing when you’re letting rip, but with good telegraphing, and isn’t a bad addition to the twin-stick rogueapalooza stable. That’s all it needs to be.

The Mad Welshman is a jack-of-all-elements.

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Juicy Realm (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The fruit and veg, it appears, has evolved rapidly to rule the world. A world that sure as hell ain’t Earth, if those dinosaur bones are anything to go by… But still, fruit and veg with guns. But the remnants of humanity are fighting back!

Yes, for you, the game is over, ghosts of enemies. GG, fruitthings. GG…

Ah, what an exciting synopsis. It’s a shame, then, that it’s a somewhat plodding game, in multiple senses. The game’s characters don’t so much run about as lightly jog, even plodding in some cases, the enemies fire… Occasionally? It’s about once every few seconds… And, while there is a dash, it’s a somewhat short one on a rather long cooldown. This isn’t, in the purely technical sense, bad design, as the enemies become more numerous, the weapon patterns and environmental traps more devious, and the game appears balanced around the speed it’s at.

In the more subjective sense, though? It feels like a marathon of attention, with the main killer being, essentially, too distracted to even notice the bullets among the chaos, be that from the effects of your own bullets, cloudy visual effects, or the fact that there’s several enemies on screen.

Spot the… Well, anything of importance.

Beyond this, unfortunately, it’s… Not got a lot of variety. Yes, there are many guns, but most are your average bullet shooters, with only a few (The cross-gun, which does hideous damage and multiple projectiles on impact too) of note, a couple of melee weapons you’ll mostly end up forgetting about, and a few that I assume are meant to be joke weapons (Such as GG, the keyboard that fires “GG” at people, hoho, or Steam, the gun that prints money when you hit things with it… My sides, they do split…)

Juicy Realm is not, strictly speaking, a bad game. However, its ideas are as staid and plodding as the game itself, and I don’t find myself particularly feeling much at all, whether I’m winning, losing, or even just plodding along.

Thankfully, the boss arenas are clear enough that you have a pretty good idea what you need to do.

The Mad Welshman is, it’s true, a fan of good aesthetic. However, good aesthetic often involves enough clarity you know what the hell you’re doing at any given moment.

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Beacon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $19.99 (Approximately £15 , 657 copies remaining of first access at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO
Version Reviewed: o.14A

It’s a decidedly eerie feeling, finding yourself. No, not in the sense of discovering your personality. I mean, discovering you, or, more accurately, an earlier clone of you that didn’t make it, for whatever reason. But that’s part of the “joy” of Beacon, a third-person twin-stick game where you are a clone. And not necessarily a faithful one, either.

Hrm, there’s something different about me… Oh, I redid my hair in the vat! Niiiice!

Okay, that bit takes some explaining. While Beacon is indeed another twin-stick, procedurally generated shooter with persistent elements, those elements are mainly (in the present build, at least), genetic. Abstracted genetics, harvested from things that maaaaaybe wouldn’t have genes (like the PRISM robots) , but genetics nonetheless… And these attempts at improvement through genetic tampering have a reason. The original Freja Akiyama (the protag) died on landing after crashing on this hostile and ever changing world. But that doesn’t mean her base personality wasn’t saved, and that she doesn’t want to get off the planet. So, she has a clone tank. Sometimes, it works as intended, taking genes from local wildlife (robotic or otherwise) , and sometimes… It makes drastic changes, both to her body, and to her perception of things.

It’s one hell of a clever conceit, and it’s backed up by a good, low-poly aesthetic, some good secrets (Of which I’ve discovered a few, and not quite got the hang of quite a few more), a variety of weapons, and a relatively limited enemy set that nonetheless gets tough, and scary, pretty early on. Good soundtrack, good idea, good aesthetic… So… What’s not so hot?

AHsodoffsodoffsodoff! (Dodge-rolling is the only way to get some range here)

Well, every gun has a minimum range, and there are a couple of enemies, specifically the Quick PRISM Robot subtype, that are annoying as hell at the present time. It’s not just that they’re faster than you. It’s not just that weapons have a minimum range. No, it’s that they can also shield themselves, and that, honestly, is a bit much. They are, unlike, for example, the flamethrower robots, not so much scary, or tense, as annoying to deal with. There’s also a lack of permanence, right now, in the things you’ve found, which is a bit of a shame, if understandable.

Still, this is already a promising start, with a lot to explore and deal with, a lot of weaponry of different types, and, once you get further in the game, you start to uncover an interesting mystery. I mean, robots and buildings do sort of imply previous habitation… Do they not?

Note for next clone: Chaingun slows you down. Also, construction failing, almost died due to plates falling. Be careful, sister!

The Mad Welshman #37 loves his spindly little robot legs. The Mad Welshman #36 says they don’t quite suit him though. Please help solve our “discussion” without chainguns getting involved.

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