Bonds (Review/Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

You know, I was worried for a hot minute that I wouldn’t see another positive game talking about kink subjects for a while, but thankfully, Bonds came to Steam earlier in the week, and it does a good, positive job with its subject matter of bondage modelling, and the friends who get into it.

Don’t worry, Robin, you can do this!

Right from the get go, things get done that make me smile. The awkwardness of confessing that you like being tied up (or tying up), how a fair few folks realise they like bondage fairly early on, and self experiment. How just talking can make someone feel a little more at ease, or dialling it back some. How it’s good to set boundaries on what’s comfortable and what’s not. How yes, for all that how erotic forums are filled with some terrible usernames, the folks are mostly okay (Even if some of them are cheapasses. More on that later.) And that it does so while maintaining a light tone, and a little romance… Well, that’s icing on the cake.

Heck, it even manages to be safer for work, although that may disappoint some folks. After all, the focus in the modelling sessions, and indeed, in the story, is three folks bonding over a love of being tied up, and the knowledge that there’s no shame in earning a paycheck doing what you like. I can think of much worse messages.

So… Overall, you may have guessed that I like the writing in Bonds. You may have noticed I found the positivity charming, and the relationship dynamic to be a pleasant one. Where does the mileage really vary?

One other thing I appreciate is that a lot of modelling is expression on demand, and bondage modelling? No different.

Well, let’s start with it being a tadge short, running at around an hour and a half for a single playthrough. That’s not really a problem for me, as there are a couple of paths, the ability to replay chapters, and, of course, the photo session mode, which is a nice way to spend a little time. Still, I’m aware that’s a turnoff for some folks.

A little more irritating is that session mode… Doesn’t really play up to its full potential, while, at the same time, being a gatekeeper to the plot. There was mention of arm-binders, and, indeed, those are for sale, but, funnily enough, I never needed them. Instead, my problem was earning enough for yellow socks. Yellow socks are, for some odd reason, $200 , higher than even the arm-binders, and that… Well, that was confusing. Maybe it was a plot-thing I missed. Any which way, normal commisioners vary widely in their offered prices, and more than a few are, put bluntly, jerky jerkfaces. $5 for something I have to get stockings for? Geddoudaheah! $0? Oh, buddy, if you think you’re getting a freebie, step the hell off!

Koff apologies, that part is, alas, just a little too real. Finally, the interface is just a tiny bit kludgy, and it’s all on a single save. Chapters can be replayed to different results, and it saves your progress after each chapter, so that isn’t so bad, it’s just a little disappointing. Remember, click on choice, then click on choice again to make it.

Honestly, I mainly put this one in because it fit well with playing the game more than once.

In summary, though, I like Bonds. It’s light, it’s positive about its subject matter, the art isn’t bad, the music doesn’t outstay its welcome, and I think, on the whole, it was well worth taking a peek at.

The Mad Welshman debated whether to put this one under the age-gate, but eventually decided to play it safe. It is, in fact, relatively safe for work despite its subject matter.

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Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?!

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.99 (Soundtrack £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s that time of year, when potato puns mix with moderately interesting, casual takes on different games. It’s time for more… Holy Potatoes!

And this time, it’s a little hectic, despite being pretty accessible. Because you’re a spy agency, and the clock is ticking. Even worse, your Jeet-kun-do is no use against… This cute puppy, AHAHAHAHAAAA!

Noted pupper-lover, er… Catlady plans to stealth and charm her way through her mission.

Anyway, yes… Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?! (Let’s just call it Potato Spy Story, shall we?) is a mashup of RPGs, management sims, and spy fiction, that has you play… Potato spies, in a world of anthropomorphic potatoes, having to balance limited resources while avoiding plot missions for as long as is humanly possible… Mainly because, once a mission has been “accepted”, either by taking a contract, or because the story demands, you have a limited time to successfully finish a mission. And no, that timer doesn’t stop running because you started the mission, nor does it care if you suddenly realise you have a hole in your coverage of the four stats (Fighting, Thinking, Stealthing, Charming.) Better plug that hole as quickly as you can, whether through gadgets, fashion, and, a little later, vehicles!

Whiiiich leads to the other balancing act you have to do, that of having limited space in your HQ for buildings, and needing paths to said buildings. Oh, and maybe some nice decorations that make spies better able to work. That can help too.

Me am good at optimisation. Me am good at spying. Me am also Bizarro, trust everything I don’t say!

Aesthetically, it’s got that clean, simple style that has been a hallmark of the series, and, with the exception of some building placements, it’s clear enough that you understand quickly what’s going on. Sound isn’t great, more servicable than anything else, and the writing is… Well, it’s puns. It’s a formula. It’s not going to win any writing awards (Until the industry admits it needs a “Most puns/legally distinct references in a single game” , for which, let’s face it, there are many contenders.)

While it’s not super fast, and has that all blessed pause button and adjustable time, it is a little frustrating that, rather than accepting plot jobs, they’re just… Given to you in spurts, with the main break being that “build something” main quests are not timed. Run out of time, game over, and, even with the generous timing, it does become a little tight if you’re not playing in a faaaairly optimised fashion. Add in special spies, which are their own “One time only” fun, and you’ve got something that toes the line between challenging (fun) and frustrating (not so fun.)

The difficulty curve is still relatively fair though, as, without distractions, I had to *work* to confirm game-overs from this particular mission.

Still, for all that I’m the kind of berk who doesn’t end up playing with any kind of optimisation in mind, I don’t mind Potato Spy Story. It isn’t going to rock socks, and the enjoyability of its puns depend on how dadly you’re feeling on a particular day, but it’s a relatively solid, easy to understand management game with only a few quibbles and flaws to its name. And that ain’t bad.

The Mad Welshman loves a good potato. Alas, he wouldn’t fit in with this world, considering he likes them best sliced, buttered, and baked.

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Scythe: Digital Edition (Review)

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

Scythe is one of those games where, for all that it added in the three all too brief months since I last looked at it, I can’t really recommend it without qualifications. Specifically, that it is definitely still better with friends, multiplayer or no… And that the Rusviet faction still causes colour issues, at two of the three distances you would normally look at them (Essentially, only up close are the workers easily visible.) Small text remains small, small icons remain small. Still some accessibility issues.

Spot the Rusviet Workers (DISCLAIMER: Difficulty *still* determined by colour blindness type)

Knowing this, let’s do a brief recap. Scythe is a boardgame set in an alternate history where a strange factory is at the core of a landgrab power struggle between six russian themed factions, where, unless you have the option to turn score previews off, you’re wondering whether ending the game is really a good idea, because there are multiple factors at play that mean the person to end the game (Getting six stars for various objectives)… May not actually be the winner.

Maybe one player has courted Popularity so well that their score multiplier takes them to first place. Maybe their winning several fights has boosted them slightly beyond you. It adapts its boardgame style very well visually, the card art is gorgeous, the music is great, and it now has both multiplayer and an extra reason to keep playing (some extra cards for play are now locked behind completing objectives in games.)

But none of this, unfortunately, gets around the fact that it still has those accessibility issues. Its addition of multiplayer was definitely a step forward, but it’s the only complaint of mine about it that was really addressed. And, as such, while it is an interesting game, I can’t really give a whole hearted recommendation. Nor, because it still has its interest, and definite fun from the diplomacy, and uncertainty that comes from playing with others, can I thumb it down.

There is, perhaps, a minor assumption here. An *understandable* assumption… But an assumption nonetheless…

The Mad Welshman is slightly amused it’s taken 3 years to get to the point where he hasn’t much to add on release.

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GRIP (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99 (Assorted team unlock DLC totalling around £6)
Where To Get It: Steam

GRIP, spiritual successor to Rollcage and future racing game about cars that work equally well (or poorly) both ways up, remains a game where when it goes well, it goes very well, and when it goes poorly, you say rude words and hit the “RESTART” button. It also remains a game where the line between the two can be quite thin. As thin as a single ramp, or some inconsiderate driver you’ve just shot with a gatling deciding to get in your way after several high caliber reminders not to.

Pictured: Poor combat-racer etiquette, as demonstrated by a robot.

You’d think they’d learn after the fifth missile for getting ahead of me in a row. But such is life in the world of GRIP. C’est la guerre, as they say.

The thing with GRIP is that, although it’s undeniably cool, it is also harder and a little less accessible than other Future Racers. Breakneck speed, combined with the ability to launch yourself into the air, combined with less than stellar track signposting and some nasty corners… This is before we get into things like the entire HUD going screwy when you’re heavily damaged, or the less than friendly multiplayer interface (and odd segregation of race types.)

Does that, necessarily, make it bad? Well, no. It’s aiming for barely controlled chaos, and it gets barely controlled chaos. It’s also one of the first future racers where I felt obligated to use the brakes. And, to its credit, it does mention the difficulty of the tracks, and it’s not joking when it says “Hard.” To take one example, the aptly named Acrophobia (A mountain track set above some deadly drops) finishes with perhaps the nastiest brake trick I’ve seen, a leap from one track to another vertically opposite, then… Ah, then, if you don’t immediately slow down, you’ll careen off the side of a 90 degree hard turn, rather than quickly braking (or at least, taking your finger off accelerate) dropping from the second track, slowed down, but able to take that sharply angled corner. That one caught me out more times than I care to count.

I can’t deny, however, that it looks *awesome* when you pull it off.

On the plus side, beyond the track design, and the usual Future Racer tricks (Such as only hitting the accelerator on “GO!” to get a boost-start… Itself mainly useful if you don’t have a conga line of racers in front to ruin said boost), difficulty can be set in a moderately granular fashion. Don’t like blowing up mid-race? GRIP feels you, and lets you turn that option off. Want packs to be more cohesive, and to never feel truly safe in a race? Rubber-banding can be turned on and off. Don’t like Blue Shells (the Hunter missile)? You can turn that off in pickups. Well, in single player and online, anyway. In Campaign, the rules are mostly set.

Speaking of weapons, the game seems to be at its best when it’s sticking to traditional models. There, any flaws in the bots seem more natural. In Arena mode, for example, I never really felt challenged by the bots, only by other players, while in Ultimate race mode (which adds a stunt and combat scoring mechanism, as well as racing points), it felt like the more cohesive the pack was, the harder the time I had racking up those points. After all, you don’t get points for fucking up and losing seven places… Speaking of… A reset remains punishing in most cases, so occasionally, there’s the frustration of a second placer knocking you off the track (or going off the track due to a moment’s inattention), and… All of a sudden, you’ve lost several places, and, if this is anything after the 2nd lap, good luck clawing your place back. Combat is nearly all frontal, with some clever exceptions like the EMP field (also known as “Punish anyone coming close”) and the time slow powerup (Which slows everyone except you… Normally quite powerful, it can, however, aid some players through the more difficult sections, which makes it a bit of a gamble. But a clever one, as some distance is always gained.)

The Hydra Missile. Poor lock-on range, situational… Still like it because it’s a swarm missile.

Overall, GRIP is something I personally enjoy, while acknowledging it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The menu accessibility varies, the track signposting is iffy, the tracks can get hard pretty quick. But the powerups are pretty balanced, the granular difficulty is a good choice, the music and visuals overall are pretty, and the feeling of big, chunky jet-propelled cars careening around their chosen track or arena is pretty good, right up until it suddenly feels a bit frustrating. Probably not best for first time future racers, but at least alright overall.

The Mad Welshman will always, when customisation options are available, go for the most garish car imaginable. It’s basically like using missiles, but for the eyes.

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Infinite Adventures (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

“You don’t have to fight over me” cries Rufus the Mendicant, as saucily as he can. And every time he does, I quietly wish for the sweet release of death. Welcome to Infinite Adventures, a game which is currently the closest thing to Etrian Odyssey on the PC right now (giving and taking some things), and, despite being a relatively solid game, it’s a somewhat painful experience in an aesthetic sense. Especially if you have anyone in the party with a “Flirty” voice.

You know… Like Rufus, default starting Mendicant.

“Ha! I think that enemy got… The point!”

Okay, that’s not the best start, so let’s explain what I mean gameplay wise. Infinite Adventures is a dungeon crawler, step based, automapping, based around a single, fairly long dungeon, and the nearby town which bases its economy almost entirely on your questing. As with its inspiration, chests are floating boxes, there are harvest points for produce, minerals, and animal goods, and, not-at-all secretly, the dungeon hides a DEEP SECRET. There is also a story, through which our amnesiac protagonist finds themselves awakening from a coma, forming an adventuring guild, and finds out this DEEP SECRET after many travails. Everything is turn based, and there are classes, skill-trees, and items galore, with tactical thought going into most of your moves.

Sounds cool, yeah? Even better, on the normal and easy (Story) difficulties, you can turn random encounters off for a time, although that’s mostly useful for being able to gather items safely, rather than finish dungeons.

But, here’s the thing. Just as a game can be pretty as heck, but have poorly thought out or tedious gameplay, so too can the reverse be true: A game can have solid gameplay, and have inconsistent or poorly chosen aesthetics. Both are equally a turn-off, and, naturally, most games that have both never see the critical light of day. In the case of Infinite Adventures, it’s the aesthetic that’s the turn-off.

Like Etrian Odyssey, it’s cel-shaded anime characters, over painted backgrounds, with workmanlike UI, with low-poly dungeons. Problem being… It’s nowhere near as cohesive.

Block puzzles move the blocks at a meaty pace of 3 frames a tile… Over about a second. Richly painted landscapes and rooms outside the dungeons contrast with cel-shaded characters, contrasting with a workmanlike interface (Itself having problems like colour choices, transparency interfering with text, and insufficient outlining), contrasting with low to mid-poly 3d dungeons. Voices range from “Adequate” to “Kill the ‘Flirty’ Characters On Sight.” The writing has the general plot beats of an Etrian Odyssey game, but is a blunt instrument with some awkward tonal shifts. Aesthetic consistency… Just plain doesn’t exist here.

And this, put bluntly, is a big problem. Not because the game is mechanically bad, or unplayable. It’s using tried and true mechanics, and while it takes some features people were fond of in its inspiration away, it gives others back. No, it’s because quite a few text-boxes hurt the eyes to read portions of, or because of that godawful “Flirty” voice (The “Absent-Minded” one is almost as bad), or because several different artstyles, each fighting for their place, distract from the gameplay, overpower it, and because the writing can’t save that.

This is perhaps the first time where I can’t recommend a game, not because it’s mechanically bad, but because it’s aesthetically painful. And that makes me sad, even if it’s an object lesson that no, you really can’t let go of one or the other.

It should be noted that comparisons to Etrian Odyssey are made, not just because of game similarity, but *plot* similarity.

The Mad Welshman is not a 4K 60FPS Always Photoreal kinda vaudevillain. However, consistency is a big sticking point.

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