Speed Brawl (Review)

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

While I’m not much of a fighting game man, I love me some beat-em-up action. There’s something cathartic about beating the living daylights out of goons, beasts, and monsters, all of whom want yo- wait, speedrunning too?

Each tournament of the game is clearly mapped out, and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re meant to do.

Yes, this is Speed Brawl, a side-scrolling arena beat-em-up where the main concept is “Gotta punch fast.”, as you’re rated more by how quickly you get through its fighting shenanigans, or how quickly you hit targets, than how much health you have at the end of it, or how many sausages you picked up from trashcans along the way. And, as with any speedrunning games, there are tricks, little things to give you an edge.

Still, even without those, it’s mostly a fun as heck game about alternate-universe victorian characters (mostly, in the early game, some rad ladies) beating the hell out of mooks and bugs (big or otherwise.) And boy, do I love two of these characters in particular: Cassie and Bia.

Each character, along with equipment to buff them, and colour schemes (both won via playing the game), has a different feel to them, and Cassie and Bia are perfect examples of this. Cassie is a short french pixie-urchin with a cricket bat, and while she’s quick, she’s not the most damaging character, and is slightly more fragile than most. She also has a fast special, and her ultimate move (gained the same way you gain Special meter stamina: By beating things up) is nigh uncontrollable, but a glory off destruction if you can get her to spin around the stage just so. Meanwhile, Bia is big, butch, and her attacks work best at a somewhat specific range (the end of her fists, obviously.) She’s nowhere near as fast, but her specials and ultimate are tight, horizontal, and repeated haymakers, which do a lot of damage. Put the two together, since each level of Speed Brawl is played with two characters per player (and switching out gives a small speed boost), and an orgy of carnage results.

Like I said, when Cassie’s special can be aimed, it’s a gooood time!

It’s good, fun stuff, and it helps that everyone levels up once enough XP is gained, because for certain levels, folks like Cassie are, hands down, the best, while for others, you want something different. It works well aesthetically, the music is pumping and joyous, and, while the controls and later enemies (who have defences, or teleports, or ranged attacks) take getting used to, it’s definitely fun.

If I had any real crits for Speed Brawl, it’s that some enemies just feel more annoying to deal with (The large Rippers who are invincible from the front, for example), and that items don’t always feel like they do much, even though they are definitely increasing damage, and adding status effects. Part of this is that it’s chaotic as heck, and it can sometimes be hard to read what’s going on outside of your immediate circle of “Thing I’m pummelling right this second”, and this gets moreso with two players.

Then again, it also goes more quickly and is fun as heck with two players, so… Tradeoff? Either way, I like how Speed Brawl messes with the 2d beat-em-up formula, and, while it has a number of buttons, it’s still fairly easy to get back into.

It should also be noted that the animations have a good sense of impact. Or… Multiple impact, in this case…

The Mad Welshman loves Alternate Victorian times, because they really appreciated the value of a good top-hat and moustache. And yes, that is shallow.

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Lethal League Blaze (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lethal League Blaze is a game that, in many senses, takes a little bit to get going, but once it does, it lives up well to its name. And, even for a critic who doesn’t do well at fighting games, this one… This one tickles my fancy. And it’s all to do with how it revolves around a ball.

Lethal League Blaze is, essentially, combat ping-pong in a rectangular arena, in which the characters use directional movement, a double jump, and two keys (one for grabbing, one for thwacking), in order to punt, bunt, or smash a ball into their opponents with as much velocity as they can muster, fully aware at all times that a return at any point from the mid-stage could mean a loss…

Screenshots, alas, can barely cover what happens when it gets *really* fast. But this is a close example.

…After all, the more the ball gets bounced around, the faster it’s going. And the faster it’s going, well… The more it’s going to hurt when you fail to bat it or catch it, and it hits you in the [insert sensitive part of your anatomy here]. Now add in the possibility of special items, like a remote controlled ball, an invisible ball, and the like, and you have quite the explosive mix.

And yet, it continues to add flavour to this already heady mix. How about some tunes by Frank Klepacki, or Hideki Naganuma, of Jet Set Radio fame? How about a colourful character roster in a world of robots “not programmed to lose”, skaters, over the top Falcon Cops, and, as a final boss character, a murderous boom-box that quotes Sinistar, called, obviously, Doombox?

Multiple game modes, unlockable as you go? An arcade mode? A campaign? All in addition to the main core, which is multiplayer ball smacking action? Yeah, this all works. This brings those funky beats, whether that’s musical beats… Or the beatdown of watching a quick return make your opponent lose their last life.

As things heat up, so, too, does the background. Amusingly, the cops will just rush back once the fun’s over.

It’s also moderately accessible, for a fighting game. In its previous installment, one hit, regardless of speed, led to a loss of life, and you only had one. Here, folks in the early game can try things, work out what’s going on, get used to a character’s special, before it speeds up, because low speed hits don’t even deplete a single life-bar. All told, it’s fun stuff… But are there problems?

Sure, there are problems. But forgivable ones. For example, it must be said that the early parts of Campaign and Arcade modes are not great, because the AI isn’t bringing their A game. It’s understandable, but at the same time, watching an AI flail around, and getting a win where they don’t even hit the ball unless they need to isn’t great, and it leads to a false sense of security. A sense of security that, in arcade mode for me, lasted right up until about three fights before the end, and wasn’t shattered until I fought… DOOMBOX. Even if multiplayer is the focus (and it is), it wouldn’t hurt to tune the mid-game challenge up a little bit.

Otherwise, I like Lethal League Blaze. Its simple concept nonetheless allows for some tactics. Bunting the ball, then hitting it will drastically speed it up, and, at high speeds, the game gets chaotic, for example. Or the fact that the grab is a quick counter that, timed well when someone’s just finished charging up the ball, will knock the presumptuous player off their perch unless they, also, have a perfectly timed grab waiting. Its aesthetic is colourful, its unlockables are reasonable…

I LIVE… AGAIN. RUN, COWARD, RUN, RUN!

Yeah, I’m down for a Lethal League Blaze.

Perhaps the most painful part, for the Mad Welshman, was avoiding all the ball jokes. Aaaaaalll the ball jokes…

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NSFWare (Review)

Price: £2.09
Source: Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam

Sexual content contained in this game includes toys, cuckoldry, bdsm, voyeurism, and multiple partners.

I’ve been struggling with this one, not because it’s a bad game (It isn’t) , not because I don’t know what to say (Definitely not!), but because it’s Not Safe For Work (pixellated, 8-bit, or not) and as such, I’ve been having to struggle with how to present this without more than a content warning at the top of the review. Thankfully, a solution was found, and so I can deal with this interesting little number safely.

Yes, let us, by all means, take it up a notch…

“So, it’s a game with a lot of fucking, what’s the big deal?” Well, short version? Positive presentation, while retaining simplicity. If you’re aware of adult-only games, you’ll very quickly notice that NSFW games fail at either sex-positivity, tight design, or both, and NSFWare… Succeeds at both.

And how does it do it? By being WarioWare, but lewd. A gross oversimplification we’re going to unpack, but that’s your executive summary.

NSFWare is a game of four buttons, the arrow keys, and, in a series of short, sub 5 second minigames, you perform the act succinctly described. SPANK. COME. SWAP. WATCH. PEEK. PLEASURE. STRIP. Some require you to press a key, some to hold a key, some to switch keys, and some (this is the interesting part for me) require you to do… Nothing at all. That last one’s sort of against the spirit of WarioWare (where you are always doing something), but I get where it’s coming from in this case.

Graphically, it’s done with, essentially, a 16 colour palette (akin to the old EGA graphics mode), all bright, all saturated… It’s a little eye-searing at times, and I will say that that’s not for everyone. I will also say that blue and differently valued blue might present some colour-blindness difficulties, although I didn’t experience any myself. It uses relatively lo-fi musical effects, and is relatively short (You can experience a lot of the minigames in just a few short minutes, and get the hang of most of them in under half an hour.)

Animations are, interestingly, rotoscoped from pornographic media, and artistically so.

Okay, enough technical and mechanical chatter, let’s get down to it (Hehe.) Why is this, a minigame collection costing £2 and some change, worth looking at in the lewdgames market? As mentioned, sex positivity is a big part of it. Apart from PEEK (where the failure state are the two active sexual partners getting annoyed), everything is clearly consensual, and being enjoyed. There are no expressions, as everyone is a rather solid hunk of pixels, but the body language shows pleasure. Although some of the kinks shown are not for everyone (some BDSM and Cuckoldry), the game doesn’t place any value judgements. Whether it’s masturbation, multiple partners, gay or not, it’s always an act, being performed by people who are into the act. And all of these games are about the pleasure of good sex. Do it wrong, it’s awkward. Do it right, and everyone enjoys themselves.

And, as mentioned, sometimes, the thing to do is to be the receiver, to be the inactive partner. When you WATCH, for example, the failure state is to not watch. And, since you’re already watching… Each act is cleverly encapsulated in simple controls, whether that’s to SEXT, or PEG, or even TEASE. Each act is presented as is. Each act is, done well, pleasurable. No awkward decontextualising, no judgements of either partner… Just 24 acts, 24 minigames, presented simply.

Which is a good segue into my two criticisms of the game. Fitting, for a simple, mostly tight game, that my criticisms are also simple, and tight. One is that, yes, there are only 24 minigames. It’s a short game, it’s priced accordingly, so this is more a “So now you know.” Secondly, there is, at the time of the review going up, no windowed mode for the game, no volume control, and no options. This can, again, be somewhat countered with its price and small size, but they would make the game a little more accessible.

What I haven’t been showing is one minor annoyance, there in the bottom right.

Otherwise, this is one of the few NSFW games, in development or otherwise (I can count them on about a hand and a half) I feel no problem covering in a positive light, precisely because it’s simple, and positive about its acts. It’s not going to educate. It’s not going to be more than a game that enjoys sex. But it’s tightly designed around one thing: If everyone’s enjoying themselves, a good time is had.

The Mad Welshman is happy to announce he finally got an age gate installed. It’s ugly as sin at the time of writing, but we’re working on it.

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Return of the Obra-Dinn (Review)

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

It says a lot, either about my own media consumption or the Obra-Dinn, that nary an eyebrow was raised at its sharp turn into the more supernatural. I was too busy worrying about how to identify the crewmen, and whether what was sticking out of them was swords… Or spikes shot from demon crustaceans.

Sometimes… There just isn’t that much of a corpse to see… Eep. o.O

Just another day in 1800s insurance, using my Memento Mortem watch to wince at the gruesome deaths of almost an entire ship of people, then ticking off boxes like “Was Murdered By A Grue” or “Mutiny Related Causes (Not Covered By Policy, Fine Their Estate For Criminal Charges).”

The Return of the Obra-Dinn is, in essence, a mystery game, in which you, the unnamed insurance agent with a watch that can relive the last moments of the dead, attempt to discern precisely what went on during the ill-fated voyage of the Obra-Dinn. And you do it by reliving the story of the Obra-Dinn (Tragic and foolish as it is), one death at a time. From these final moments, and a couple of clues (Such as uniforms, the objects people hold, the language they speak in, and who works where, to take some examples), you have to piece together not only who is who, but who did what to who, and how many, if any, survived.

Okay, you get a big clue in that respect from the beginning, which can trip you up later if you forget it, but still… There’s approximately 50 crew, and at first, it seems a daunting task. Then, as you build up more information, context, and clues, it becomes easier, until late in the game, where it becomes hard again because the clues are more subtle. Fortunately, once you know the fates of three people, they’re locked in, although it’s important to note that it doesn’t change any misidentifications you made elsewhere (That one tripped me up very late in the game.) It’s a subtle kind of interactivity, while it can be a little annoying in the late game until you realise you can use the bodies revealed in a scene, in the scene, to teleport between parts of the chapter. But, overall, it’s a clever one. How did this man die? Well, it’s a little unclear, isn’t it? But… Goodness me, that’s bright. It could be, you know, that giant tentacle, but why is this bit so bright?

I mean, bad enough he’s so far up, but the actual *cause* of death could be… A couplea things, yeah…

Oh.

Ohhhhh. [scribblescribblescribble]

Aesthetically, the game has an amazing 1-bit shader, which is to say, everything is either a colour (defaulting to Apple Macintosh green), or white. It’s a lovely effect, and it works well with the game’s mostly ambient noise. Once you’re in the thick of things, however, nautical or dramatic music can happen, which is nice, but more often, it’s a soundscape, crafted to both give clues, and obscure those clues under as much information as they can get. It’s well done.

As noted, if you’re looking for the “best” ending, where you get the full story, it can get a little irritating, as the clues become more subtle to folks’ identities as time goes on, and, honestly, I’m not really sure why the chapter that’s locked off is the one locked off, as it’s fairly easy to deduce the root cause behind a lot of the misery, even by the mid-game, and anyone familiar with nautical horror and myth would have already predicted it. Still, there’s more than enough interesting mystery to go around, and the Return of the Obra-Dinn is recommended for both aesthetic reasons, and for a well put together mystery.

Not pictured: A whole bundle of screaming, shouting, shattering wood, things thumped about, and, hidden, the guy who *actually* died here.

The Mad Welshman appreciates games that use a clever idea for their mystery solving. So that definitely helped.

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MegaMan 11 (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Yup, it’s a MegaMan game. I knew that from the moment I died for the fifth time on a single screen, and thought fondly about violence against bats… Which, in the real world, I quite like, but in videogames, they are a symbol of the purest rage and hatred.

Bats, bats, they’ll ruin your day, they’ll ruin your day and they’ll get in your way…

Which is a good segue into how I feel about MegaMan 11, an artfully designed, clever game that makes me want to throw things on even its actual “Normal” difficulty of “Casual.”

MegaMan is, in many ways, an archetypal run’n’gun platformer. You, MegaMan, the greatest creation of benevolent robotics professor Dr. Light, have to take on eight normally good robots who have been corrupted by Doctor Wily, a man who has been attempting to destroy the world since his tech proposals got turned down in college (A facet we now see in the intro to MegaMan 11.) And how do we do this? We visit eight themed stages, plus Wily’s Castle, and go through platforming and shootman challenges, fighting one or two minibosses in each stage, before taking on the bosses, whether that’s armed with their thematic weakness, or just with whatever weapons we have, which can be charged.

It’s a tight formula, with some similarly tight challenges, that, despite its artistry, contains a lot of things I just plain hate. And it seems the developers are aware of this, because there are things you can obtain that ameliorate some of the worst. Such as items that protect you, for a short time, against the horror that is the instant spikes of spikey death. There is also a pair of boots that allow you to not slip everywhere in Tundra Man’s stage. You might be able to hazard a… Sharp guess as to why I mention those two items in rapid succession. Oh, and let’s not forget our oldest “friends” , shielded turret (or Sniper Joe, which is functionally the same) where you want to jump, and FUCKING BATS.

About three seconds before Mega got exploded, and I was tempted to throw things.

The thing is, for what it is, MegaMan is, in fact, very well designed. Its stages teach you their quirks as you go along pretty easily, and they repeat their challenges just enough to keep things interesting, never outstaying their welcome. The bosses and minibosses, with one “Old Friend” exception, are well designed, their patterns pretty clear. That one exception, by the way, is the return of Yellow Devil, a boss that has never sat well with me due to its “Get up and wait” pattern. Graphically, it’s solid, musically, it’s stirring, its narrative works well, and its Dual-Gear system, allowing you to charge up either power or speed, is a clever addition.

And when it isn’t specifically set up to kill you on your first failure, I feel a sort of enjoyment. I actively enjoyed working out what I was doing with the second Bounce Man miniboss fight, or how to dodge Fuse Man’s hyper-speed attacks (It’s possible without the Speed Gear, but it really helps.) But then there are parts like the wall of fiery death in Torchman’s stage, coupled with enemies that are both largely invisible and definitely invincible, that make me want to throw things.

So, in short, MegaMan 11 is a well designed mixed bag. It tightens up its formula, makes a few new additions, but it will probably never remove that feeling of hate when something slaps you into a bottomless pit. It definitely isn’t a bad game, but… Not for me, sadly.

I would also like to note that I feel horrible about defeating BounceMan. It’s like kicking a puppy…

The Mad Welshman is very much a “Save The MegaMan” type person. Is that a GDQ donation category?

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