Archive for the ‘Game Reviews’ Category:

SEQUENCE STORM (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

When you’re a data daemon down on your luck, sometimes even the shittiest of opportunities is a godsend. So it is for Elijah Gale who, having blown his last paycheck on a data daemon race, gets thrown into the world of… Rhythm racing hacking?

Our Protagonist, about to make the mistake that changes his life…

Bloody techno-capitalism, making programs that make no sense to the uninitiated…

Joking aside, Sequence Storm is, as noted, a rhythm racer, in which you are juggling inputs that race toward you, hitting them (or holding them) at the right times so as not to damage your racer, and do jobs for corporations. Although the default keyboard layout is a relatively sensible one, controller is still recommended, as there are a total of 9 things you have to keep an eye on (four bars, four lines, and a jump… Not to mention having to steer when you boost), and hitting buttons and triggers feels somewhat more intuitive than “Shift up one key, quickly right one key, wait, two keys right, yada yada.” And, while the tutorial does a really good job of letting you know what’s what, it also lets you know that the gloves are going to come off relatively early, leading to hectic times. Helpful tip: The bars to jump seem to be at a slightly later point than either the lines or blocks.

Why yes, I am a coward who screenshotted one of the lighter stretches.

So it’s kind of nice, then, that the early tunes are among the most relaxing synthwave beats I’ve listened to in a while. Makes a nice counterpoint to my swearing when I inevitably screw it up. A good soundtrack, with intuitive beat markers, is a hallmark of a good rhythm game, and Sequence Storm definitely provides on that front, whether that’s the lighter tracks, or the grim saws and bass. Aesthetically, it also works pretty well, whether that’s the comic style story segments (In which Elijah is trying to make his way in a world where AI have taken all the jobs), or the race segments, which have a low poly, visually clear charm.

Now… The thing is, the gloves come off early, and the game is not forgiving. Jump bars, in particular, don’t give much room for error, and I very quickly found that anything less than good, long streaks is going to fail me a run. Although it doesn’t look it at first, it gets twitchy, and it gets twitchy pretty quickly. Does that make it a bad game? No. Its inputs are responsive, and you can, over time, build up that muscle memory, even with the track twisting and turning in an attempt to throw you off, but it’s definitely going to throw off newcomers. Add in a challenge mode later, and… Well, it’s a tough game, and I don’t think it makes any bones about that.

Elijah’s Rig, in all its beautiful, low poly glory.

Still, personally, I see myself coming back to it every now and again, despite finding it somewhat unforgiving, as the tunes are excellent, the visualisation is clear (and minimalist enough that there’s few distractions), and the story, equally minimalist though it is, is interesting. I would maybe like beginner mode to be a liiiiittle more beginner (Okay, a fair bit more beginner), but that is, honestly, me.

The Mad Welshman does not dance. Well, not often, anyway. But he does like a good tune.

Uagi-Saba (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Uagi-Saba is one of those games I really want to like. An interesting, if bleak world, technically doomed. Music and aesthetics that match its dim dankness quite well. A relatively simple upgrade tree.

“You are 20 degrees short of the necessary heat to safely raise a Mystic and falling…”

One of its biggest problems, however, is that “doomed” part. See, a procgen world, made of discrete blocks with resources where you have to carefully balance whether you want the resources within, or a room with important functions, is, on paper, a great idea. But it’s something where you have to have some reassurance that the player will spawn vital things at appropriate times, or its a long, slow death that doesn’t entertain.

The visual style is simple, but arresting. Well, of the world, and its Inhabitants.

For me, this problem comes in the form of heat. More specifically, the fuel I need to get that heart up to levels where I can actually progress. It’s not the only time I’ve come across resource scarcity leading to a Dead Man Walking scenario, but it’s certainly the most egregious, as opening rooms lowers the temperature… But to find fuel sources (Smog vents), you have to… Open rooms. And heat is vital for both the third stage of the game (Raising a Mystic, one of the leaders of the community), and for staying in that second stage (Keeping Inhabitants, who require a lower, but still higher than ambient temperature to stay comfortable.)

This, to be honest, is a basic flaw. Add in that, while the visual style and workmanlike HUD are fairly good accessibility wise, the HUD’s size makes things busy, the tooltips do not stay around long enough to remain useful, and windowed mode is a fixed size… Make for added flaws. It’s a game that goes at a relaxed pace, but, unfortunately, that also makes a death spiral such as this that much more tortuous.

Typo aside, I actually quite like this introduction.

As such, as much as I want to like Uagi-Saba, I really can’t recommend it. Great on paper… But sadly, the implementation just doesn’t stick.

The Mad Welshman sighed, and shivered a little. It’s cold, out there…

Rogue Empire (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Rogue Empire tries. Really it does. I like its talent system, despite the fact it doesn’t… Really lay any groundwork for its fancier text. I like the between game incremental upgrades, slow as they are to establish. +1 STR doesn’t seem like a lot, until you’ve played a Roguelike. But Rogue Empire definitely has its problems, and it is definitely mainly for the traditional Roguelike crowd.

And so begins our quest…

That isn’t a bad thing, as the idea’s then easy to explain: Land of many races, most of which have history, big bad goes down, hero gets the call (A nice touch, each race gets their own introduction), you move with the numpad (Although, in a fair accessibility move, controls can be remapped), walk into things to hit them, pick things up to equip and hit with, most scrolls and spells are pre-identified… There is something a little comforting about how, once you’ve gotten the hang of one Roguelike, there’s that much less getting the hang of to deal with when you move to others.

Monsters slowly spawn in each area, so you’re rarely lacking for something to wallop.

On the other hand… A lot of Rogue Empire, even after release, feels placeholder. Sound effects aren’t balanced with each other, and some are clearly from other sources (such as the Chrysalid-like sound of the Panther death.) Talking to someone is as simple as walking into them, but the text of nearby folks rapidly obscures and confuses previous text (Unless you have the log open, in which case you’re relying on the log.) Forests and dungeons kind of blur into one another, and auto-exploration tends to get hung up on Items of Interest.

This… Is not a great implementation.

Rogue Empire is workmanlike in its implementation, and, while I’ve somewhat moved past that, I could see how fans of traditional roguelikes may well enjoy this.

The Mad Welshman gives a firm “Alright.”

Heartbeat (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£14.92 for game + soundtrack, £5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaaaart beat.. Why do I miss… Oh, wait, no, this is not, in fact, the TV show starring Nick Berry, but an RPG Maker game inspired by monster capturing games (Although to pick just one it’s inspired by would perhaps be a disservice.) A game that, while definitely interesting, is… Not without flaw right now. So… Let’s get this out the way right now.

BOULDERS. WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE BOULDERS?

If you are not fond of puzzle elements, especially, for example, block pushing puzzles, Heartbeat will probably turn you off within the first hour. It’s stylistically very fitting to its inspirations, it tries to do interesting things with its narrative of a world that lives with spirits (Mogwai.) It has a good soundtrack. Its combat is relatively quick and pleasant, and, while this isn’t something that would interest folks other than gamedev enthusiasts, I appreciate how the RPGMaker MV engine has been tweaked to good effect. It’s even pretty accessible.

But I freely admit I’ve found myself struggling to get very far, because of that combination of my own desire for completionism (CHESTS CHESTS CHESTS), and because the game frontloads about nine or ten block pushing/ball rolling puzzles in its first major segment, the Sol Tunnels. And, honestly, this is a bit of a shame for me, both in the sense of being a little ashamed, and feeling sad that this is so, because some of the puzzle elements are, in fact, quite cool.

Ahahaha. Oh, you sweet summer child…

With a tap of the Q key, you can select which party member leads, and each one has something that helps explore the world. Rex, for example, is a lightning cat Mogwai who can jump small gaps and fences. Klein, the protagonist’s primary companion as a Conjurer (Someone who makes pacts to share their souls with Mogwai, as diplomats and defenders of the uneasy truce), is small enough that he can fit through catflaps, and, being a Cait Sith, can talk to cats. The dialogue is a little cheesy in places, but it’s characters definitely have their charm, and it hits that right note between SatAm Pokemon, and a more serious monster training world.

Rex… So good, but they really need to stop rubbing their fur all over my nylon carpet…

Sometimes, alas, while you can see the charm about a game, something turns you off, and, in my case, it’s the front-loading of a puzzle type I have never been fond of. I would still say that monster hunting and JRPG fans check this out, because it does do interesting things, playing with the formula, but… It is, unfortunately, not really for me.

It happens sometimes. Still, I can appreciate the art. <3

Project Warlock (Review)

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

Project Warlock, a retro styled first person shooter, is a game where my biggest criticism, after consideration, is its first level. Beyond that, it gets more reasonable, but its first level… Well, we’ll get to that.

Enemies vary from episode to episode. Which is also a nice touch…

In the retro stylings corner, we have pixellated enemies, deliberately low-resolution wall textures, and an in-game UI that wouldn’t look out of place in an early Doom clone, and difficulty settings where only the “Casual” equivalent has infinite lives. On the modern end, we’ve got a menu that looks decent-ish (if busy), some good painted art on the loading screens and title, mouselook, RPG styled between-level mechanics, and interesting weapon quirks. For example, the axe can, if you GIT GUD (or lucky) bat projectiles back at an enemy.

Equally, though, the retro stylings also mean that there are monster closets and enemy spawns in cleared areas at fixed points, and it’s around here where we talk about how the first level gives you such a taste of what you’re in for that it’s actually kind of off putting.

Ohhh yes. There’s also this ambush. I’d forgotten about that ambush, in among the others.

Starts fine, but in very short order, you’re dropped into a pit into a small room filled with enemies. Then you get a key, only to be ambushed by several enemies. Then a weapon, where you’re ambushed again, then a lift, where you’re frontally ambushed in a tight corridor by two big fellers who have large tower shields (requiring good aim, good “getting past enemies who really want to hem you in and smack you with aforementioned shields” skills, or… ???) and their ranged support. Funnily enough, later levels actually ease off on this, although some retro game annoyances do occur from time to time (Such as picking up dynamite from a random drop immediately before being ambushed in a corridor. Hope you noticed you just picked up the dynamite, or you are very, very dead.)

A large difficulty spike in the first actual level is, perhaps, not the best of difficulty spikes to have. But, as noted, once past that first level, the power curve very rapidly catches up, especially if you’re getting the secrets, which tend to come in two varieties: Walls that look different and can be opened, and walls that don’t necessarily look that different until you shoot them, at which point they’re revealed to be walls that take a fair bit of shooting to open up. Each weapon has two possible upgrades, stats get upgraded, skills get upgraded… And there are spells. But, of course, unless you’re doing particularly well, you don’t get to play with all of those, and the first, the Light spell… Is very similar to the original Doom 3 flashlight, in that you can’t use it and a weapon. So, er… Good luck in dark, confined areas?

Honestly, this screenshot felt the most emblematic of the issues I have with Project Warlock.

Finally, we have the fact that you have to get through a certain number of levels in a row before clearing a “stage.” This seems to be, at worst, 4 levels in a row. Die, you lose a life. Leave to the workshop before you’re done, lose a life. As noted, only on the lowest difficulty setting do you have infinite lives. In medium difficulty, you have three, with pickups very sparsely scattered around. At the highest difficulty… Well, I hope you’re good at Doom style games.

It is not, overall, a terrible game. I’ve had some enjoyment out of it, now that I’ve gotten over some of its biggest hurdles. But that was on the lowest difficulty, with the full awareness that I’d have eaten about twelve game overs, four of them in the first level of the first episode, and I have to conclude that this game is too much in love with its difficulty-as-feature. Its modern additions don’t really feel all that much of a boon, and, as such, I can’t, personally, really recommend Project Warlock to many folks.

The Mad Welshman is no stranger to Monster Closets, but, unlike shooter-protagonists, he likes them firmly closed.