Tangledeep (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

One of the many things I find interesting about game design is how, individually, elements can be nothing new, but… In combination, the magic happens. Tangledeep is, in many ways, a traditional roguelike: On its intended difficulty, survival involves genuine consideration and thought, knowledge of its rules (The game likes to remind you, on death, that those healing potions you get don’t take a turn to use, for example), and memorisation, to an extent, of the challenges that face you. This level branches into these levels, this boss is at 6F, and so on.

With the Keen Eye perk, a frankly silly amount of information is easily available about your enemy.

However, there’s enough differences and features that, in essence, listing them all would probably fill a review on its own. Crafting food, with a recipe book in your journal. A JRPG style Job system, where you mix and match both the skills and weapon talents of classes however you feel is optimal. Pets, seeds, a mysterious machine, and, somewhat surprisingly, an overarching narrative, set in a world where climbing up the Tangledeep, and attaining knowledge (Sometimes doing good along the way) is the goal, rather than, for example, climbing down the dungeon of Somuchforthat to gain The McOrbison of Clingfilming… Or something like that.

What this means, in practice, is that you always have a good reason to come back to town through the town portal, checking in on what’s going on, that there’s a fair amount to explore, and, thanks to an adjustable difficulty where you don’t necessarily have to die, you can chill the heck out while doing so, exploring the systems and getting the hang of things before maybe graduating to single character permadeath with unlocks, or, traditionally as heck, permadeath permadeath.

It shouldn’t really be said that you don’t disrespect a birdman’s nest, even if they *are* a jerk… But I went and did it.

Or not. Nice thing about games with a fair amount to do, and adjustable difficulty: You don’t have to explore the whole thing to have fun. It helps that, as Roguelikes go, Tangledeep is pretty accessible. Here, clear menus. This is equipment, food inventory, job point stuff, journal. There, a clear map, everything tile based with a key that leaves little doubt as to what everything is. With good music, sound effects, and visuals, all inspired by SNES JRPGs, a variety of classes, unlocks, etc, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Indeed, my main complaint is one that could be levelled at, honestly, a lot of roguelikes overall: Beyond the special areas and boss levels, going through some of the levels just feels a bit humdrum, a case of “Explore as much as possible, break things, go back to town, up some stairs, rinse, repeat.”

As such, overall? Tangledeep’s pretty good for a Roguelike. It’s got charm to it, and a solid, clear design to its UI that helps make it just that important, little bit more friendly. And that makes it a roguelike well worth checking out.

Please don’t ask me to name your own pets. This is part of why…

The Mad Welshman also has a nice nest. Well, as soon as he puts his many many books in order, preferably without loss of life or limb…

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Deep Sky Derelicts (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Balance can be a very difficult thing to achieve. I don’t think that’s always a well understood thing. The more complex a game is, the more likely one of its pieces can fail to interact with its siblings. And although I am certain it will be fixed, it’s interesting to note where Deep Sky Derelicts hasn’t quite got the balance down just right yet.

This combat, which I foolishly walked into, could be a metaphor or something.
But no, it’s me about to be clowned by a superior force.

Before we get into that, however, what the heck is a Deep Sky Derelicts when it’s at home? Well, it’s a procedurally generated, turn based game involving entering ancient hulks, fighting aliens, pirates, and robots, all to find two dreams of humanity: The Mothership on which humanity arrived, previously thought by the game’s spacefaring civilisation to be mythical, and citizenship, for lo, the spacefaring civilisation is a wee bit dystopic. Hand drawn art in a comic book style, some solid music and sound effects, and a mostly clear UI. Good stuff, potentially, and, aesthetically, already shaping up very well.

And mechanically, a fair amount of it is shaping up well, too. Most of the various classes work well, each having specialities of their own, such as the Bruiser’s Heavy Melee (at the cost of not having a ranged weapon, or a second tool), the Leader’s flexibility, and so on, with guns and addons being the main methods of customising your character’s deck of cards for the fights. There’s a certain joy in finding new and effective methods of murderising the opposition while ensuring your health or suit energy doesn’t get too low, because regaining the former is expensive, and losing all the latter (Drained by both exploration and turns of combat) is an instant death state… Similarly, the tutorialising is good, and mostly feels natural.

Even the most basic of attacks look good.

Alas, not all is currently well, and some things feel a little lacklustre. The Bruiser, for example, has the lowest ratio of combat cards to non combat at first, so they are, oddly, a class you have to build up before it really gets going, whereas others, such as the Engineer, can mostly get going straight away. Equally, not all weapons are equal, with the Assault Rifle getting the least use in my runs because… Well, without a high Weapon stat, it rapidly becomes useless against anything with the least amount of armour. At the moment, the ships feel relatively empty, which, in a way, is fitting, but also makes for minutes of… Well, wandering just to find something, and it’s very important to check the level of the ship you’re invading before embarking. There are four ships to start with, and closest does not mean friendliest. Just so you know. Finally, and this is definitely something that is being worked on to my knowledge, the game is not complete, so unless you’re gunning for the main goal as directly as possible, yes, you’re going to run out of missions, and consequently money. Money you need to re-energise your suits and survive.

These points aside, though, Deep Sky Derelicts is shaping up to be pretty fun. Some of the questlines are well written, and give a sense of a universe which has a lot of odd things going on, like God Machines (or machines with delusions of godhood… Take your pick), creative means of getting around the limitations of a space suit (and the disgusting results thereof) , and, of course, the things that populate ships. What makes all the janitor robots so damn murder happy? We may never know. Finally, when a run goes well, it goes very, very well, and I’ve been dissuaded from wanting to murder my entire team by… Well, finding some particularly juicy pieces of loot that make the combat go by even quicker, new things to see in the comic frame presentation of moves, and convinced myself “Okay, you don’t get cut off yet. Your kit’s too good.”

On the one hand, minimalist, and not a whole lot of events over the whole ship. On the other, this is clear as crystal.

So that’s the current state of Deep Sky Derelicts: When it’s good, it’s entertaining and fun, and when it’s bad, it can get sloggy quickly, which, thankfully, is fixable. It’s an interesting take on an idea we’ve seen quite a bit of over the years, with a good aesthetic, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, because, as mentioned, balance problems can be fixed, and the writing of what’s in there so far is giving me confidence that, by release, I’ll be more positive about the game.

The Mad Welshman would give you more today, but he needs to get a suit refill. Stupid oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere…

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Shadowhand (Review)

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

Ah, the noble highwaypeople, secretly nobles or derring doers! Oh, wait, no, that wasn’t quite the way it went, generally speaking. But there is a vast literary tradition of the noble turned criminal for Good Deeds, and this, generally speaking, is what Shadowhand is about. Also Solitaire.

See? Corruption. ‘Sright there, and we’re gonna fight it, as Lady Cornelia Darkmoor, aka… SHADOWHAND.

Shadowhand is an odd mix, and one I’ve only seen occasionally in the past: A solitaire game, with RPG progression, inventory, and special abilities, and, because RPGs do, generally speaking, need a story, a story about a noblewoman who, at first, dons a highwayman’s costume to find her maidservant, but then gets drawn into deep intrigue, fraternising with the criminal element, mystical ladies in caravans, and grave-robbing, to name but a few moments.

However, enjoyment of the game will really, really depend on how much you like Solitaire, that card game of trying desperately to beat random chance by putting a card 1 higher or lower than the card you have drawn into the deck until there are either no cards left in the layout (Go you, you won!) , or no cards left in the deck (Aw, boo, you lost!) Because it is very much the core mechanic here. There are elements that make it easier, harder, or more interesting in those aforementioned RPG elements, like Luck, a double edged stat that presents a percentage chance of any move you make getting rid of a second, random card that you could have picked, but it remains a little bit chancy that any layout is solvable.

That’s less of an issue with combat, as combat is effectively “Try to get chains while preventing your opponent getting chains, so you can wallop them harder than they wallop you.” A thing which becomes more of an issue when the hit-points and defense keep going up, the weapon damage keeps going up, and when a chain really hits, it hits… Either way. Attacking ends a turn, but that, also, becomes a consideration when items that give extra turns, or punish you with bleeding for taking your turn come into play.

This, er… Fine gentleman managed to get me to hit the retry button something like 4 times. This was near the end of the second.

So… There’s depth to this whole Solitaire shebang, but it’s depth that becomes rather frustrating early on. Yes, okay, I can infinitely retry pretty much any segment of a chapter until I ace it. But, the further I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been hitting that retry button (and, occasionally, taking advantage of the bit I’m thankful for, being able to change my equipment before I actually start each combat, search, or gimmick level.)

You might be thinking, at this point, “Wow, he really doesn’t like this!” Not… Exactly. What I’m trying to get across here is that, yes, it’s a solitaire game with depth, some nice, relatively static visuals (Combat has short animations, and cards have short animations, but character dialogue is the static image of a character and textbox we know and love from Visual Novels and the like), some okay music (It fits the theme, it doesn’t get in the way, but it’s not terribly memorable, either), and a story (Which we’ll come back to in a second), but Solitaire, however it’s dressed up, given depth, or the like, remains a game that frustrates the hell out of even those of us who enjoy Solitaire from time to time.

Which, finally, brings us to the story, such as it is. It is not, strictly speaking, a bad story in the broad strokes. In fact, it’s one we’ve heard a few times: A noble accidentally ends up a highwayperson, finds some corruption (In this case, her family fortune is being embezzled in some larger scheme), and decides to lead a dual life in order to halt this corruption. It’s mainly that, as sometimes happens, the story takes a backseat to the game, and the tone of the story thus suffers. Oh no, dark deeds are afoot in the graveyard, and our heroine must find a treasure map by graverobbing, while also defeating Thug, Other Thug, and the boss of the area, mean ol’ gravekeeper Doug Hole! This is kind of a shame, as, like I said, the broad strokes are the bones of a good yarn. But it’s a yarn that doesn’t flow, tonewise or in terms of pacing, and that makes me kind of sad.

Never let it be said that Lady Shadowhand doesn’t take advantage of the finest of the Regency Roguery line!

Overall, as I’ve pretty much been saying the whole time, it really depends on how much you like Solitaire, whether you like this or not. If you accept Solitaire’s flaws for what they are, then you have a perfectly fine Solitaire game that adds depth to the basic formula, wraps a story around it, and has some interesting additions. Myself, I’m not that big a fan, so I only see myself coming occasionally back to this.

The Mad Welshman would like you to step down from the carriage gently and hand over your valuables. He also thanks you for your custom.

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Reigns: Her Majesty (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09 (£2.09 for the soundtrack, 79p for the Book of the Queen, £6.99 for a bundle of both this and the original Reigns, with all the mod cons)
Where To Get It: Steam

I can say, having played Reigns: Her Majesty, that I have been a lesbian queen torn to shreds by the adoration of her populace. I’ve also been a bisexual queen burned by the church along with the unborn heir to the throne, a heterosexual queen who had a dalliance with her hunter, then turned off the sun, an asexual queen who burned the treasury on pretty things, but, in all of these stories, there has been a common thread.

Uggghh… The worst part about Queen PLC is the bleedin’ Marketing Department, I swear.

Some incredibly shifty (and often shiftless) men trying to tell me how to live my life. Not to mention a couple of folks, men and women, trying to tell me what is proper for someone of my station. Even if, as it turns out, a lot of that “proper behaviour” was bollocks. It even got me killed, in one early case. Reigns: Her Majesty has things to say, about medieval perceptions of gender, pagan faiths versus state religion, all sorts of clever stuff under the surface.

I’m loving every minute of it.

Much like its predecessor, Reigns, you are a monarch, destined to die and live again, until something happens. Instead of being cursed by the Devil, however, you are an Archetypal Queen, seemingly created by the Lady of the Wood for… Reasons. Although there is an amusing nod where you ask your pet cat Rex if they’re the Devil in disguise. Any which way, your reigns are generally short and brutal, due to the balancing act you have to make with binary choices (Swipe left, swipe right.) You can’t be too popular, or not popular at all. You can’t have too powerful a military, or a nonexistent one. Obviously, there has to be money in the treasury. And you can’t piss off the Church too much. There are goals, but more than baby steps are unlikely, due to just how fragile the kingdom really is. The crown and Church battle. The King can’t be bothered with most administrative tasks. You’re not, in a very real sense, allowed to be yourself. You have to be The Flawed Queen, not perfect (Because you’ll die), not terrible (Because you’ll die), just… Walking the tightrope.

NARRATOR: As it turned out, no, she wasn’t good. She had, in fact, been deemed Very Bad by the Church…

If you can’t find parallells there with the modern day, with celebrity, women, and the like, trust me, they’re there. Visually, it’s as tidy, as interesting, and clear as its predecessor, and the soundtrack is quietly menacing, eerie, and sometimes ridiculous, as it needs to be. The writing’s damn fine, and, as with Reigns, the further in you get, the more there is to do, narrowing again toward the inevitable progression toward… Well. Let’s leave that for you to find out… My Queen.

NARRATOR: …And so, the Queen and her unborn heir were invited to a lovely barbecue, where she was the guest of honour, and the Church forgave her.
Oh, wait, no they didn’t.

The Mad Welshman never did get the hang of the tightrope…

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Oriental Empires (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam

A key to good 4X design, I’ve often found, is understanding. That seems like a simple thing, but sadly, we’ve seen it proven time and time again over the years that it’s not. Oriental Empires is a strategy game set in ancient China, and its UI is… Not the friendliest.

The latest heir of my empire, being annoying and blocking my authority/culture meter.

In fact, the game as a whole isn’t very friendly. Considering that games don’t exist in a vacuum, this… Is kind of a big deal. Small text, smaller tooltips, and further information behind easy to miss subtabs left a bad taste in my mouth.

A bad taste that, sadly, only worsened when I found out about Local Factors. Hidden behind about three layers of interaction (Click banner, click unrest icons for general unrest details, click Dissatisfaction) is a number, contributing to your chance of revolt… That cannot be directly affected, and changes over time because… Well, to all practical intents and purposes, because reasons.

There’s not so much a tutorial as “A 40+ page in-game manual and an advisor that will tell you about things after you’ve worked out how to do them.” The actual effect of buildings and research (Outside of combat related improvements, it generally boils down to “Gives Happiness”, “Gives Authority”, “Unlocks a resource exploiter”, and “Makes some bad events less bad.” ) are hidden under popups (The wee texty bars lookin’ icon shows or hides that.) Occasionally, those popups will obscure information that you need, such as when an Heir comes along, randomly, and covers up the Authority and Culture meters you need to, for example, judge how many settlements you can build without added resentment (A brief irritation, but one of, as noted, quite a few.) Does it play well?

Okay, so I want you and you to flank so as to cut off retr- Which part of “Cut off Retreat” did you not understand, soldiers?

Honestly, not really. Outside of combat largely seems like an afterthought, especially in the early game, where resources are rare, and you are both encouraged to land grab and, er… Not exceed your Authority (which controls how many cities you can own without dissatisfaction) for fear of rebellions. Buildings have a high upkeep, so you’re rarely dealing with that, conquering things is a bad idea, due to that aforementioned Authority issue…

It makes the early game painful, in more senses than one. It doesn’t really help that combat, also, doesn’t feel like you have all that much control over it. Simultaneous turns means that you may well have trouble pinning down your opponent for a fight, and when you do get in a fight? Well, enemies will escape, so you have to start the whole palaver again, having multiple battles in a single round with a single force if you’ve preset your movement right, or fighting over multiple turns if you don’t (The correct method, generally, seems to be “Into the enemy and past them in the direction you think they’re most likely to run for as many movement points as you feel you can manage.) It doesn’t particularly feel engaging, especially as multiple fights are likely to break out in a single turn, and combat tactics are limited. Why did my units mill about aimlessly for most of a combat with a charge, but efficiently (if extremely widely) flank when I asked them to? No idea. I’m not told. Oh, and no, cutting off retreat with just the units you have is not an option. The enemy will retreat. Multiple times.

Really, these problems, these lack of clarity, kill the game for me, and it doesn’t particularly help that, visually, it doesn’t feel all that interesting either. The music is fitting, at least, but it doesn’t really redeem a game that will sometimes tell you useful things after you need them, sometimes just not tell you, and has many a turn passing with… Well, nothing of note happening. Kind of saddening, really.

This rain turned red as blood, and almost caused a rebellion. Funnily, most bad things seem to be “Causes unrest.”

The Mad Welshman finds no happiness here. 

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