Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £22.49 (£7.49 for soundtrack, game available as part of Steamworld bundle)
Where To Get It: Steam

I knew I’d done the wrong thing when the lovely mage Copernica fell. I won the boss battle, somehow, but I knew… I’d done the wrong thing. And the fact that I very quickly caught on exactly what I’d done wrong… Says nice things about Steamworld Quest, the latest in the growing Steamworld franchise, and this time… It’s a turn-based, card battling RPG with some real time elements.

A pair of robot ladies, strolling through the woods to kick ass and take shrooms.

The general idea is this: Some unlikely heroes (More setting wise than anything else, because they very quickly become quite badass) have, after a short adventure picking mushrooms (Which, yes, results in a boss battle, because it turns out a large mushroom doesn’t appreciate this), they return to town to find it on fire, with the heroes kidnapped by an evil army, of the kind that hasn’t been seen in the land for a long time. And then things get interesting.

So, there’s a fair amount to like about Steamworld Dig, starting with its somewhat unique approach to the card-based combat system of the type we’ve seen often lately. For a start, each character has their own deck, but all of these are shuffled into a single deck, from which you get 6 cards. You can play 3 cards a turn, but it’s heavily to your advantage if you play all three cards from the same character. Okay, that’s one interesting thing, but the other is where I made my mistake. You see, each character’s deck is limited (8 cards at the beginning), which come in two forms: Those that build power… And those that use power. Guess which fule put too many of the latter in their deck before Chapter 2’s boss fight? This fule.

“Omae wa mou shindeiru…”

Aesthetically, the game works pretty well: Smooth paperdoll animations for the characters, clear and friendly UX, good and fitting music, and some solid sounds and splashes make up for the fact that the attacks, being of the JRPG style, don’t always connect with as much impact as I’d like.

And then, of course, there’s the humour. The Steamworld games, even when they get dark, have a sense of playfulness about them, and Quest is no exception. In Chapter 3, in particular, we get the distinct impression that the Adventurer’s Guild had been living on easy street up until now (They have their own golf course, the bougie gits), and that the large world… Well, it carries on, even with an evil army on the march… Look for the two robots playing chess in the background. A subtle touch, but an amusing one.

One or both of these frontline mages can completely heal from this single attack. Good thing I’m chaining…

I do have one criticism of the game, but it’s an odd one, because it does tutorialise well: If you do not engage with its core systems (such as, for example, using the redraws you have to maybe make that “Three from the same character” chain), you’re going to have a much harder time. Even early Void Mages can heal each other, or themselves, for definitely more damage per turn than Copernica’s basic attacks, and a little less than what Galeo (the punchy healer) can put out with his… And since they rarely turn up alone, it can make a fight really drag on. Which, considering that the longer a fight drags on, the more you get hurt, and that healing items are not the most plentiful?

Well, please listen to the tutorials. Overall, though, I appreciate Steamworld Quest going for tight play, focusing on managing a small deck with more potential tools as you go on, and even something of an ambush system (Okay, second crit: Since ambushing an enemy means clicking directly on them when you’re close enough, it’s a hassle to get ambushes, and those are that little extra edge that can help a fight a fair bit.) It has style, it has humour, and, as always, I do like a good experiment. Especially when, as with Steamworld Quest, it seems to work.

The Mad Welshman has yet to meet a robot he hasn’t liked. Admittedly, some have been murderous mixes of skeletons, T-Rexes, and lawnmowers, but they were his kind of skeletal murderous lawnmower t-rex robots.

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Blood Card (Review)

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

Goodness me, we’re getting a lot of these card fighters. Unfortunately, they can’t all be good. Take, for example, Blood Card, which, while it has an interesting aesthetic to it, doesn’t really work well despite its interesting idea.

Weeeeeeelp.

And it is an interesting idea, make no mistake. Well, a couple. You see, you are a being trying to escape Death. Y’know, the bony feller with the robes and scythe version, tends not to let people go. And your deck? Is also your health. Much like other card battlers, there’s a limited energy pool from which to play cards, there’s a limited time in each combat before Death appears, and… Honestly, this is where the problem begins. While your hand replenishes (apart from cards which destroy themselves) after each fight, enemies very quickly start ensuring that Death will appear, doing increasing damage for each turn he’s there. Sure, he ends up killing the enemies too, but that race against the clock is definitely not in your favour, especially with elites and the bosses. The objective? To either kill death, or leave the dungeon.

“You could be cool like me!” Yes, er… I see a flaw in this argument…

Aesthetically, the game is odd. Some good pixel art, with some interesting enemy designs, meshes somewhat poorly with the workmanlike, and admittedly more accessible clean sans-serif font, and while the mood is meant to be Dark Fantasy (You know, blood and death and guts and gore and ohgodwhy, that sort of thing), it breaks this mood surprisingly often. Like the barrel guy, or the vampire, whose first thought in “Convincing the hero(ine) they want to be a vampire” is simply “Wouldn’t it be cool?”

Well, yes, but it would also suck, if you’ll pardon the pun. I’ll pass. The brevity of the character lines doesn’t exactly help, as it feels stilted. The music, well, it’s fitting (choirs, bassy brass, that sort of thing), but you’re going to get tired of it relatively quickly, alas.

Well, I mean… The attacks do 4 damage to one enemy, so… Ooh, I’m gonna be here a while…

Now, there is a third idea that normally, I would applaud: Letting you choose what to deal with. You get X rooms before the boss, and Y,Z, and so on of normal enemy groups, Elite enemy groups, shops, and events. But this, also, doesn’t really mesh that well, because the bosses are pretty damn mean, and when even normal enemy groups can delay and debuff you enough to ensure that Death sticks around for at least a couple of rounds (and yes, Death will turn up during the boss fights, making them increasingly more difficult the longer they go on)

Overall, Blood Card feels like it’s tough for the sake of being tough. 3 energy a turn quickly runs out, meaning you don’t often get to play, for example, Finishing cards (Which require you to have 1 card in your hand when played to get the effect), and your base attacks are relatively weak. While the art is quite nice for grimdark pixels, it can’t, unfortunately, mask the fact that the game doesn’t really want me to get very far, or see much of what it has to offer.

The Mad Welshman does appreciate the cape value of being a vampire, but would honestly prefer werewolfdom. Saves time on “Hair of the dog that bit you?”

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Gato Roboto (Review)

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

Cats are glorious creatures. Ask any cat owner. Said cat owners will also confirm that they are clowns, doofuses, malevolent little gits… Cats have quite the range. And it’s gratifying to see a cat in a mech suit as the protagonist of Gato Roboto, a game which… Well, it’s very, very similar to early Metroid games, with a 1-bit art style (Pixels in black or white), and…

Kiki is cattily smug when they manage to screw attack someone.

…It’s got a speedrun timer. This is… A mixed sign, I’ve found. And lo and behold, this is borne out. A game you can complete quickly, it nonetheless has some challenges that are both mandatory… And going to annoy the hell out of the player who doesn’t know the tricks. You good at screw attack chaining, m’folk? No? Well… There’s an entire section with that. And a boss fight that seriously outstays its god-damn welcome. Which, funnily enough, is a good segue into some other problems.

Boss cutscenes skippable? No sirree. You screw up that boss, you get to hit Z through the whole damn thing all over again. And it is always Z, because keys are not rebindable. And that boss has a lotta hitpoints for a god-damn mouse in a robot suit.

Without the rapid shots powerup, this one’s as hard on the index finger (or thumb, on controller) as it is on your tolerance.

It’s a shame really, because the designs and aesthetic are a charm, and a fair amount of the actual areas are fairly well designed. The sound is good, even if the music didn’t really grab me. The animations are lovely. But the third encounter with a certain asshole who also has robot suits (plural), in particular, annoys me. Not because it has a bundle of hitpoints, although that helps. Not because it’s easy to assume it’s a screw-attack exam, rather than a dodge exam. No. Because that bundle of hitpoints is best whittled down (at first) with… An item you get, not via the usual method, but technically a “bonus” item from collecting all secret 1-bit palette changes from the first two areas, and knowing where a tight collision hitbox ends. Argh.

Including a Metroid Fusion style “You come here as a cat, no Mech Suit or actual health bar for you, Sonny Jim!

Still, once that hurdle’s over, it’s an okay Metroidvania, taking cheeky nods from the original Metroid and Metroid Fusion, keeping the progression area-linear (Essentially, you go through each area once to complete it, then again to get everything you possibly can find now the area blockages are removed.) The story isn’t bad, but yes, the game has enough annoyances that it took me a frustratingly long time to get to enjoy it.

The Mad Welshman is eternally salty that house rules and budget disallow a cat of his own. He loves them so.

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Tower Hunter: Erza’s Trial (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39 (79p for OST)
Where To Get It: Steam

Early Access can be a funny thing. Hell, gamedev can be a funny thing. Sometimes, you have beautiful games that, mechanically, fight with themselves. Sometimes, you get something like Tower Hunter, which is mechanically reasonably sound… But, aesthetically, lacks that pop, that flair, that makes it interesting. And so, it remains merely… Somewhat solid.

There is a lot to be said, however, for this particular segment of the first level. That’s a good feel, crushing several Spectators beneath your icy heels.

Tower Hunter is, essentially, a procgen Metroidvania: Clear levels, defeat bosses, get better kit, rinse, repeat. You are the titular Erza, looking to clear the Magic Tower for… Actually, I forget why. Look, there’s a tower, it’s filled with monsters, beat the shit out of them and the lords of each biome within the Magic Tower, which has biomes because fuckin’ magic.There’s four main weapon types in the early game (I don’t, at this point, know about the later game), and when you die, you lose portions of your money and stored powerups. Cool. Okay, now let’s talk about the things that make it interesting… And why you might not really notice them.

So, let’s start with the interesting: Quite quickly, you build up a small arsenal of powers, some depending on your weapon, like lightning for dual swords, some your basic magic skills, like icy dive kicks that do hilarious damage. And, scattered through the dungeon are several kinds of power-ups, all of which can be levelled up with your own skills, and are replacable. Nice!

You can basically only spot the boss when he’s in front. He wasn’t for the majority of this fight, so this is a post death screenshot…

Buut… While the character animations are mostly alright, the music is pretty good, and the sound is also alright, the visual flair of everything else? Is somewhat lacking. That’s… Sort of excusable for creatures like the Clockwork Mannequin, but there are bugs, and bone throwing skeletons, and bees, and… Not many of them are memorable. Heck, the first boss… Is barely distinguishable among the small horde of red bugs, green bugs, some purple bugs, some mannequins…And the landscapes feel somewhat bare, even when they try and get interesting.

And this is a shame, because it also rewards those who take on an extra challenge. Beat that first area quicker? Get a better trophy, which ups abilities. Somewhat quick, but got every single magic power-levelling stone in the 2 levels of the area? Get the bestest trophy, and more rewards!

There is also some Engrish in the game, but y’know what? That’s no big right now.

So yeah, mechanically, Tower Hunter works. It even adds some interesting ideas for rewarding speed and exploration, and a little customisation (Although, y’know, I’m not entirely on board with the bunny suit one, just sayin’.) But, right now, that’s balanced out by, essentially, being visually uninteresting, or, more accurately, a little homogeneous. It’s worth a look for some of its ideas, but I really hope that it gets a little more flair and pizzazz.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is a bit tired. He will nap now, on that comfy bed there.

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Sanguine Rose (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Name your own price on Itch, would recommend donating.
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Content Warning: The game contains D/S powerplay, some violence and gore, and an enslavement bad end.

Read more (Age Gated)

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