Robo Instructus (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Programming puzzle games are, normally, extremely my jam. Teaching the logic behind programming is good, and, while it doesn’t teach actual programming most of the time, it does help understand it better. And that’s nice.

There. In the top left. That’s your options. That’s TINY by default!

Unfortunately, Robo Instructus doesn’t do a great job, for multiple reasons. Starting with a start interface best described as “Not great.” Okay, fun programmer joke, putting the save profiles in a 1d array. Cool. But when your options at the start are a small icon in the top left of a mostly black screen (even if it is one of the icons that is commonly accepted to be “Menu”), you’ve got some accessiblity problems. Add in the fact that while windowed mode is there, but it’s a resizable window, rather than one with options for common sizes, and it becomes needlessly difficult for streamers to get the right proportions, even with a scaling UI (and UI scale options, which, admittedly, is a thing done right.)

The level after this one is the pain in the ass.

Then, of course, there’s the things the game doesn’t tell you. Some of them are par for the course, and thus not a complaint (such as teaching the various parts piecemeal, so you don’t need to do a thing), but others… Well, for example, the third level taught me, although it took a while for me to realise, that a teleporter in a multiple level area (which is most of them) seems to either not count the teleporter as part of a robot_forward() command, or automatically call that command without a call on teleporting to a new area. Or it’s a bug. Finally, in terms of gripes, entering the program is, in places, needlessly pernickety, specifically on indenting. In most Object Oriented languages, anything contained between { and } (and with each command ending in a ; ) is considered as correct but in Robo Instructus, it needs to be indented correctly, and it only autocorrects to this formatting if you started with the instruction that isn’t indented (loop or if, for example.) Sooo, a lot of gripes here, which isn’t great.

The tower behind this wall-o-text(TM) is, essentially, your level structure. No, it doesn’t appear to widen out as it goes, terrible construction practices…

Aesthetically, it’s an odd mix. Most of it, visually, can best be described as “workmanlike” (or, possibly more accurately, a programmer’s visual design), but I’ll admit the actual robot section is visually pleasing, and the music is good.

But, overall? These gripes are certainly not trivial, for the most part, annoyances and accessibility problems that add up to make a programming puzzle game that, for once, I haven’t particularly enjoyed from the get-go.

The Mad Welshman knows enough coding to get him into trouble. Apparently, this trouble now also involves running robots off triangular cliffs.

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Nowhere Prophet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49 (£27.79 for all gubbins, £11.39 for soundtrack, artbook, and other gubbins)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO
Other Reviews: Early Access 1, Early Access 2

Nowhere Prophet has, over the course of its Early Access, been a promising, but sometimes frustrating ride. And with release? Well, there’s some improvement, including rejigging what the difficulty settings tell you, introducing and then toning down bosses for each checkpoint along the way to The Crypt, supposedly the salvation of this post-apocalyptic, Indian themed landscape, and rejigging items to create a more manageable version of the Leader decks, along with special abilities that can be used once a battle.

Aaaaaa, I got here, I got here! (and then never since. Oh Boo.)

In short, Nowhere Prophet has changed quite a bit from when I last reviewed it, and, on reflection, these changes are good, especially after some of the bosses have been toned down.

Because, hot damn, they were frustrating a day or so ago. To recap, Nowhere Prophet is a turn based game in which you balance food and hope versus progress and better gear, and the life of your followers versus your own life, because, in the fights, it’s a Hearthstone style of “Play units, play leader cards, get one more energy than the last turn, and your goal is to kill the leader.” There, a nice executive summary.

What complaints I have essentially still remain: Some decks are damn good, especially in the enemy’s hands, and the AI plays its deck well, grinding you down quite efficiently. Which is why the difficulty setting restatement is welcome: The AI does not play any better or worse on any difficulty, but does have less synergy in their own decks, and less powerful cards. On “Burdened” difficulty (Previously described as “Normal”), some of those decks can be, for want of a better word, bloody evil. But I’ve talked about things like Taunt and Armour boys before, so we’ll instead move on to bosses.

Oh no. Oh no. I am not ready for taunt/armourboi funtimes!

As mentioned, each checkpoint now has a boss fight, against one of 10 bosses (One for each of the factions), and the toning down has been good, because previously, some were intriguing, but many were downright frustrating, like the Union Bulwark essentially being the ultimate Taunt-Armour Boy, or the Blue Devil Tormented’s ability to level up all of his hand if you murder one of his folks. Now, those abilities are toned down, and, in some cases, limited to once a turn, for a limited number of turns, or both. Which means I can actually be excited about King Lizard’s clever trick without looking like a masochist.

King Lizard, on release, essentially straight up wounded/killed whoever attacked him when he didn’t have armour (Your Leader cards don’t count.) But now, it’s only the first unit a turn, and that is still tactical (Who do I sacrifice for the most gain?) without, for example, waiting to buff up some of your units so they really count toward that goal. Each has their own schtick, and it’s relatively easy to understand from the tooltips and what you’ve encountered of a faction.

Okay, so maybe I was. But I wasn’t in shape for what came next, and died.

I will say that, while there’s definitely a lot of replay value (even having beaten the game, there’s more I want to find), the final unlockable ability of convoys is brought about by beating… 25 bosses. And that, honestly, is expecting a bit much, considering there’s nine tribes to unlock this for, and four leaders, some of which you can only unlock through certain circumstances.

Still, overall, it’s visually impressive, its music is good, and even with that brief day one hiccup, it shows promise, with its daily challenges adding a little spice to the game. I would recommend this, because it does have some clever ideas, and playing it on the easier settings is not a guilt trip.

The Mad Welshman says Rusters are People too. This is in no way due to the nanocontrollers in his head.

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Grizzland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I like me some Metroidvanias. I do love me some lo-fi pixels. And so, Grizzland immediately caught my interest, because it is, essentially, a short Metroidvania, with lo-fi pixels, that still has encounters, boss fights, and challenge.

Not pictured: The actual fight, because they disappear and summon MANY TRIANGLES OF DOOM.

Maybe a little too much challenge at some times… But what the hey, checkpoints are mostly reasonable, so I’m not too irritable with that.

In any case, Grizzland’s premise starts out simple. It’s a fantastic world into which you’ve somehow teleported, except… Not all is as clear cut as it seems, from the very first journal you find. Wait, landed? Computer? Buddy, I’m swinging a sword and there are magicians with giant triangles comin’ at me, what is this gobbledegook?

Even basic enemies will dodge out of the way of your sword most of the time. Which isn’t as frustrating as it sounds, since they don’t jump very far.

Well, it quickly turns out that someone did land here, destroying the trees as they went toward the centre of the world, and, considering there’s only 5 of them, and they’re sentient? Well, that’s deep trouble indeed… Away we gooooo (to save the day)

Now, one thing that should be made clear is that enemy routines, combined with the fact that very little can be slain in one swing, make combat more difficult than you’d expect. Whether it’s the bats, who wake up, and mercilessly chase you, but retreat on the first blow far enough that you may have difficulty getting the three hits you need in before they hit you, or enemies which revenge fire when hit, it’s something to consider about the game’s difficulty.

“Not everything has to make sense.” Well, yes, but I do appreciate bears.

Happily, I can say I’ve enjoyed my time with Grizzland. The world is basic, but the journals, some of its stranger (1-bit) enemies help bring some oddity, as do the secrets, which are sometimes… Quite amusing. As the first you find states: Not everything has to make sense.

So yes, overall, there’s a solid attention to a consistent style, there’s some good chiptunes and sound effects, and, as a short Metroidvania, it can still pretty easily eat up an hour or four of your life (more if you’re looking for eeeeeverything. Which I am.) Reasonably priced to boot, I would definitely recommend Grizzland.

The Mad Welshman would probably also go on a quest of sword swinging if he found people uprooting trees. He’s very pro tree.

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Fantasy Strike (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79 (Soundtrack £6.79)
Where To Get It: Steam

Fighting games are sometimes difficult to learn. Sometimes, they’re also difficult to master. But sometimes, as in Fantasy Strike, they’re mainly difficult to master. Which I appreciate, even if a tutorial before you can even change the window settings is not something I appreciate. Still, let’s talk Fantasy Strike.

“…You’re already painted.”

The philosophy behind Fantasy Strike’s fighting shenanigans is twofold: Firstly, to make a more accessible fighting game. But secondly, the game is all about David Sirlin’s favourite part of fighting games: Yomi.

It’s got multiple potential meanings, even in fighting games, but, essentially, the idea is that high level play involves reading your opponent well, so that you can adapt your strategies on the fly, be that conditioning your opponent into certain reactions (that you then punish with a different moveset), or simply knowing that an opponent likes a certain pattern, then punishing them for using it (It can go many ways, as you can see.) So, how does it do this? Well, multiple ways.

Firstly, there are a total of six buttons: One for light, one for heavy, two for specials, one for throwing, one for jump, and one for super moves. Also there is no crouching. Okay, that’s a relatively simple set up, especially since many characters don’t really have the need for both specials (although directional inputs change a fair few moves, as do, obviously, jumps.) There’s also a more limited health bar that gets chipped away if you block three attacks consecutively (some moves do double damage, such as Midori’s Dragon Throw, but most either deal one, or combo, so blocking it is effectively one damage, or two for not blocking.) It’s still somewhat twitchy, requiring good reactions and not button mashing to win the day, but that is, honestly, not bad. Enemies also flash various colours for invincibility frames (white), throws (blue), and special throws requiring a jump prompt to escape (green.) That still requires good reactions, but it is helpful.

Geiger, having a watch that controls time, counters and specials by… Being an asshole, essentially.

Secondly, beyond the things that you normally do with the concept of Yomi (pattern punishes, baiting, jump cancels, etcetera), there is the concept of the Yomi Counter. Somebody wants to throw you, and normally this is tough to counter, but in Fantasy Strike, the way you counter it is by… Doing absolutely nothing. Not moving, not punching… Just very briefly letting go of the controls. In practice, this is something that still requires mastering the specific reaction needs of Fantasy Strike, but the mechanical theory, at least, is clever.

Finally, the game lets you know what kind of character you’re playing, and, like other fighting games, allows you to see the moveset. “Wild Card”, alas, is a needlessly nebulous term, as the two fighters in this category, DeGrey and Lum, still have overlap with other categories. Lum is a sort of zoner in practice with random items as his special, while DeGrey is a sort of meld of grappler (slow-ish, but hard hitting), and “doll” fighter, with his ghost friend being a ranged grapple. But the other categories of zoner (specialises in controlling the battlefield in some fashion, and making areas of the battlefield dangerous. By the way, no crouch means projectiles are more dangerous), rushdown (relying on getting in someone’s face and comboing them with mixups (different attacks to different areas) to murderise them), and grappler (You hit hard, are slow, and mostly rely on throws) make sense. The majority category, by the way, are zoners, giving you some idea of the priorities here.

SIIIIGH. On the one hand, feels. On the other, in retrospect, the fact this lady is dragged off by oppressive government, then never mentioned again is bad.

Aesthetically, the game is honestly not bad at all. The characters are interesting visually, and you get a rough idea of what they can do by their look, the stages are lovely, and the music, while a little generic at times, is fitting and doesn’t steal the limelight. The voicework, on the other hand, is variable. Yes, I get that Valerie is a “Manic Painter”, but that isn’t always full ham, buds. And she is full ham. Which is a shame, because she’s my personal favourite. Similarly, the writing of Arcade Mode is… Well, it’s a little like earlyish fighting games (we’re talking Darkstalkers era more than original Stret Fighter), in that the plots are mostly silly, and told via beginning and end cutscenes. Although Valerie’s does start on a dark note, as her lady love is carted away by the oppressive government of the world that… Doesn’t really get that prominent a story role, to be honest? So, while there’s some queer rep, the cast is, honestly, pretty white as far as it goes, so it doesn’t really win any points for diverse representation overall.

I’ve already mentioned my main gripe (the tutorial being right at the beginning, rather than, say, a prompt before playing your first game that then allows you to change your options before play), and I will also mention that online requires a separate signup (Something I know some people aren’t a big fan of), but, overall? It isn’t a bad game, although I will say that the limited character roster is, considering the price, also a potential turn off. Finally, I’ll mention that yes, pro players will still kick your ass until you master things, with it being more to do with pattern recognition and timing than that and a hefty moveset. Otherwise, it honestly does most of what it sets out to do, isn’t a bad fighting game, and I found myself having an okay time with it, despite being normally bad and frustrated at fighting games.

The Mad Welshman dislikes explaining a lot, but, with fighting games, it’s kiiiinda necessary. There’s a lot of terms that only exist in fighting games.

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Abyss Manager (Early Access Review)

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

Running a dungeon is, as we’ve seen multiple times in the thematic genre that is Dungeon Management (be it RTS, management sim, or some variety of adventure game), quite tough. There’s always those pesky murderhobos out to kill your monsters, raid your gold hoard, and ruin your plans for world domination, because apparently they’re the kind of jerks who don’t want the world to be under your totes-gentle-honest hand… Adventurers are such assholes.

AAARGH. I was researching workplace improvement, you bastards!

Unfortunately for Abyss Manager, it’s also currently a slow descent into hell to play. It is, on the one hand, turn based, so it gives you, in a sense, plenty of time to decide things. However, you are almost constantly assailed by adventurers, meaning that your two main considerations are “Where can I put my exhausted staff to productively recuperate their stamina?” and “Ohgod, who can I pull from one kind of work to fight this set of beefy bastards of various races?”

Progression in the game is, essentially, over grindy on Normal difficulty, with buildings costing many, many turns worth of work, tournaments between the various dungeon masters that totally aren’t mandatory… If you like having Prestige and Sponsorship for your dungeon, that is, and always, always, the choice between spending what renown you have (for lo, Altars don’t regenerate renown all that well), and whether swapping someone out will be worth the 20 stamina lost for retreating mid battle to be replaced, or if they can soooomehow survive the next turn, to make it slightly less painful to do so.

What do these sponsorships actually do? Couldn’t tell you.

Finally, on the gripes, the game doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Oh, it has tooltips, but tutorialisation is thin on the ground, and tooltips can only take you so far. So, that’s the gripes over with… What’s enjoyable?

Well, the sound effects and pixel aesthetic are alright, and a research tree which costs more the more you research (but can be researched in several different directions) is an alright idea. There’s a fair few races, lots of skills, exploration of the world… The problem being that aforementioned “Oh hey, you can’t do a lot of it a lot of the time, because you’re being assailed a whole hell of a lot, and you’re playing the stamina shuffle constantly (with the added annoyance that exploration and matches take several turns to complete, leaving you relatively open to attacks)

Everyone I can tag in from other work is tired. The adventurers keep coming, and we will not last out. – Last journal entry.

While Abyss Manager does have some interesting ideas, hot damn, it really needs to cut down on that grind, maybe explain things a little better, before I could really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman does, however, appreciate that running a lair is hard. His imps absolutely refuse to help with the dishes, for example.

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