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Noita (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£3.99 soundtrack, £17.98 game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Even at this relatively early stage, there’s a fair amount to say about Noita. It simulates every pixel (Although this mostly applies to fluids, fire, and particulates like spurting blood, smoke, steam, and even flammable gas), has an interesting core weapon mechanic, is, at the current stage (and probably later too) hard as balls… And, for some reason, it quits and restarts after every run. Don’t take that as a criticism as in “This thing is bad.” The game still works just fine. It’s just odd.

In the beginning…

So, right now, this is a somewhat plot light game (who knows, maybe it’ll get more, maybe not.) It’s implied, the first time you play it (and never again afterwards, because it’s a first play cutscene) that the universe came from a great phoenix’s three eggs. One created the land and sky, one the stars and sea, and the other… Life, both the usual kinds, and the inimical kinds. You are a wizard, entering a mine which appears to be some sort of trial, or at least having temples between levels that conveniently give you useful things… Like filling your health back up, because there is no health regen.

Funnily enough, I don’t particularly see that as a bad thing, because, while the economy gets annoyingly sparse later on (requiring enemy murder to get gold), if you’ve played your cards right, or simply gotten lucky, you’ll have something powerful enough to deal, even if the enemies, unless you’re tactical, can most definitely do unto you as you do to them. The nastier foes in the early levels, for example, are acidic spitting eyeballs and your fellow wizards, corrupted into elemental forms (I’ve only ever seen fire and lightning wizards, but these three alone are an immediate “nope!” on low health, and a pause for thought as to whether you really want to do this otherwise.)

Ahhh, it burns so prettily. Of course, I had gold down there, gold I can’t get before it disappears.

So, how do you get better? Well, sometimes, you can use your environment. Kicking things that can be kicked. Destroying convenient explosives, gas canisters, toxic goo canisters and the like. Setting off oil pools. Firing lightning into steel beams to murderize anything standing on them (Caution, this includes you!) Perks got between levels, like the ones that allow you to ignore elements, the ones that cause you to bleed poison, or slime, or be able to survive a single hit if you had more than 1 hitpoint (Does not apply to fire or acid, for obvious reasons.) Potions, like Beserkium (gives you Beserk status), Blood (Useful for folks with the Vampire perk), and Invisibilium (Guess.) Protip: And empty bottle can be used to store other liquids. And, finally, wands, and the spells contained therein.

You start with just two of these: A weak magic missile wand that fires two (capacity of three spell effects) before needing to recharge (relatively quickly), and a bomb wand, that, obviously, makes a bomb. Of which you have three. But you can find wands, and spell effects, or you can buy them between levels, with the gold you’ve earned… And, once you have those spell effects (You can even take them out of a wand completely before levels, to store for later), you can swap them between any wands that can cast them. And some effects, obviously, combine. So, if you wanted, and found the right elements, you could have a flaming projectile… That leaves a trail of gunpowder behind it. Or two at once. Or three. Some wands even have a spell built into the wand itself.

You’d think this is powerful. And it is. But it is less powerful than about twelve enemies at once. So I died a little bit later.

Aesthetically, it pretty much works. The environments themselves aren’t amazing, but it’s a whole thing to see pixellated clouds of flammable gas wisping its way upwards from where, below, the acidic gribbley you’ve just murdered is spewing it’s blood all over the ground, eating into it. Or how pretty a massive oil fire looks in game, licking over and through the wood… Before you realise “Wait, shit, I’m too clo- AAAAA HOT HOT HOT!” Remember what I said about potion bottles being filled with liquids? This is but one good reason why. Soundwise, the enemies themselves make few sounds, but the music is good, the sound effects for the various wands work.

But, honestly, the biggest draw here is how it works mechanically, the interactions of the world. And I find this very interesting, and pretty cool, so… Yeah, promising, as mentioned, hard, although it’s still, as far as I’m aware, relatively early days… I like it!

The Mad Welshman points out that drinking and wanding is not recommended. Especially if one of your spells is Fire Breath.

Conglomerate 451 (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)

The Uncanny Valley is alive and well.

And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And, honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities, until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision” thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?

Pictured: An absolute beast of a gun that can’t aim for shit.

Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they make you a little more powerful.

The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available, currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send agents to, with a chance of failure)

Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents in the mission.”

Why… Whyyyyyy?!?

And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once, but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s dull.

Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but definitely alright.

These little gits are apparently named after Good Boys. They are not, in fact, Good Boys.

And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)

The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk

Undermine (Early Access Review)

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

Sometimes, even games within a genre get hybridised, to interesting results. And so we come to Undermine, which mixes the room-based dungeons, secret rooms, keys, bombs, top down forced perspective, and bosses every X levels (3, in this case) of games like The Binding of Isaac, and the throwing weapon, jumping, and iterative play (including “Don’t lose as much gold next time” purchases) through a panoply of characters you really shouldn’t get attached to, of Rogue Legacy.

Oh dear. Never tell anyone that when it’s about time, that’s asking for trouble! And by trouble, I mean death at the hands of a villain.

In Undermine, I am a peasant. I know my place. And my place is to go into a vast mine on the orders of my landowner, a wizard, and find what’s causing the earthquakes below his residence, or die trying. And then…

I am a peasant. I know my place. And my place is to go into a… You get the picture. But this peasant is slightly better equipped. Thankfully, my loyalty card with the local merchant carries over between runs, because it unlocks a character. Phew, thank goodness for Family Loyalty Programs.

The basic gameplay is pretty simple: In each run, you walk into a room, murder whatever’s in there by either hucking your pickaxe like a boomerang, smacking things with your pickaxe, or, if you’re feeling ballsy, dropping a bomb and hoping they blow up. Then you can leave the room, after smashing everything you can smash in it, collecting gold as you go. Occasionally, you’ll find a locked room, a chest, a powerup, or something behind rocks of some description, and you decide whether you want to spend the resources to open said obstacle.

I somehow survived this fight. There was a lot of hucking my pickaxe and jumping in terror.

Oh, and there are Mimics (with small signs that they are Mimics), and Cursed Chests (Which are incredibly obvious, so your main decision is “Do I want to risk curses like ‘The torches start tossing fireballs my way’ to get whatever’s in here?”) Such are the basics, not counting bosses, which are big long fights with gimmicks and patterns you will probably die to a lot of times before you get the hang of them.

Cool, that’s the basics… Except, there’s little touches to a lot of these that I quite like. Combat, for example, on top of pits and traps and whatnots, makes your jump super useful, overall. It’s a dodge. It allows you to leap over pits, either to lure enemies toward them to save effort, or to reach something you sort of need now rather than later. Fast travel is unlocked as soon as you find the map of the next area, and it’s honestly a charming presentation (A mysterious being puts you to sleep, then deposits you, safe and sound, in the area you choose. Said being must be a badass to do this.) And smashing gold?

Anyone else getting Zelda flashbacks?

Well, that lures the adorable, but also frustrating Pilfers, who deserve their own paragraph. Their weakness, in the monster tome, is “Gold.” They love it, and, as soon as you break open an ore chunk of some description, the gold comes flying out in various directions, and the pilfers ooze out randomly, looking to steal your rightful spoils. It has the potential to be really frustrating, except for two facts: Firstly, they take only one hit to reclaim your gold, and secondly, no other pilfer will touch it, because they are assigned to one piece of gold only, and if you take that gold, or bop the Pilfer? That piece of gold is safe, and the Pilfer runs off in disappointment.

Seriously though, they’re cute as heck, even if you bop them.

So, overall, Undermine is pretty fun. Its pixel art is good, its music is pleasant, and the game? Well, while not all areas of the game are done yet, and I’m certain fine tuning is being done as the devs go, it’s already quite playable, and enjoyable to boot. I would, as a sidenote, recommend mouse and keyboard with this game, as it gives you somewhat firmer control over where your pickaxe goes.

The Mad Welshman is against peasant labour practices. Peasants should have a basic minimum (livable) wage!

Re: Legend (Early Access Review)

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

As soon as I saw the farm, messy and strewn with rocks and trees, I knew. Or thought I did. “Ohhh boy”, I thought “I’m going to get halfway through this, and my energy will be pretty low.” Nope. I thought “Fishing is going to be my main source of income, because it’s easy.” Not… Quite true.

“aaaaaaaaa…” [later] “Oh, wait, that was easy. Nice!”

Essentially, I went in with expectations of a farm-life/adventurer sim in the style of Rune Factory, or Stardew Valley, and, while it is that… It’s also got its own flavour. Some good, some not so good, but averaging out, I feel, to “A’ight.” Which, considering it’s in Early Access (and parts of the review may be out of date by tomorrow, since the devs are updating at a steady clip), still gives it a fair bit of wiggle room.

So, let’s begin with the general idea, for those new to the genre: You, an amnesiac hero(ine), are welcomed into a small, rural community (In this case, on an island, so beaches and palm trees are common), given a farm, and, very quickly, you realise there’s adventure to be had in them thar hills. Or, y’know, you could do a lot of avoiding enemies (running doesn’t take stamina? Don’t you dare change that, devs, it’s wonderful!) to mine stuff you can’t get at home, farming, doing quests for folks, festivals, minigames… And, of course, romancing folks.

I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I can’t tell if there’s some Good Gay options in there, but it’s all there, it’s mostly enjoyable, and those who’ve played this genre before not only know what to expect, they have some pleasant surprises. Like underwater plants (Trust me, if you’re new to this genre: Folks love more things to farm) and a pet system (And pets can have utility both inside and outside of combat, such as the Draconewt you start with, whose watery breath isn’t just useful in combat… It’s a nice, easy way of watering your crops, too!)

Immediately after character creation, you’re shoved off a cliff by some asshole. I hate it when that happens!

Aesthetically, it’s pleasing, with good, lowish poly character designs, a bright and cheery world, and a mostly clear UX (It took a friend pointing it out during multiplayer that I could add to my pet’s stats, for example.) I didn’t really find the tunes memorable, but that’s more because they fit just fine, and things that fit just fine… Well, you only tend to notice what doesn’t fit so well, generally speaking. Speaking of not fitting so well… Complaints and niggles.

Starting with the base stuff, tutorialising for things like fishing is a bit sparse (It took me a few tries to get the hang of fishing, for example, not helped by… ohboy, a bigger fish just ate the smaller one on my hook, and now I’ve got a bigger fight ahead of me), and not all of the minigames are enjoyable. Smithing immediately comes to mind, a “Hit the coloured bits on the bar” game where said coloured bits are… Rather small. Melee is, honestly, not as useful as the ranged options, especially when it comes to, for example, the first boss, who electrifies himself. And it can be fiddly to pick things up, water, or plant things, since you aren’t fixed to the tiles it uses (Also, if a pet is nearby, you can easily end up leaping on to ride them rather than pick up the thing your pet is standing over, necessitating leading said pet away. Every time.)

Yessssssss!

Finally on the crit, there’s multiplayer. It’s a relatively recent addition, so I certainly don’t mind the bugs, knowing that the community is pretty good at reporting them, and the devs, as I’ve noted, update pretty rapidly at the present time. I don’t even mind the lack of any sort of pausing, because synced pausing is unfun for the other player, and any other method would be a bloody nightmare. But the method of starting a co-op session is poorly explained, requiring you to copy the host’s Steam ID (the numerical one the game gives you, not your profile name or account name), and then pasting that in to connect (3 players can join a host, sharing a farm, and… The sales bin. Which, considering myself and my multiplayer partner have yet to find a means of expanding this, isn’t the best of times.)

But this is still relatively early days, the game is pretty solid overall, and, even now, I would recommend this to fans of this genre wot Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and Stardew Valley belong to, the… Farmer-Adventurer RPG Lifesim? Not quite sure. Anyway, it’s reasonable right now, and certainly shows promise.

The Mad Welshman actually quite likes the humble farmer-adventurer. Sure, they can be massive jerks, but they’re massive jerks who put food on his table.

Iratus: Lord of the Dead (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 (£25.25 for Supporter Edition, £7.59 for upgrade to Supporter Edition)
Where to Get It: Steam

Iratus: Lord of the Dead has, very often, been described to me as “Darkest Dungeon, but you’re the villain.” This isn’t, on the face of it, a wholly inaccurate statement. But it is, in many respects, its own, shambling beast. In a good way.

So, as you might expect from the title, you are a necromancer. One who almost managed to conquer the world, until those pesky heroes shot you down. For a long time, you were locked in a casket (Normally a prelude to insanity, but, let’s face it, that’s Tuesday to a necromancer), but now you’re free, and… Have to escape a four level dungeon complex that was built over your tomb.

Good thing you can create undead, huh?

Things rapidly begin going south. We lost our Zombie. Along with his BIG CANNON.

So, combat wise, yes, the game is quite similar to Darkest Dungeon. You have four slots, they have four slots (not always filled), and you have class abilities based on what undead you are. Where it begins to differ, however, is that units have three potential base damage types instead of two. Beyond the “Magic” and “Physical”, you have… “Dread.” And this is where the comparison mainly comes in, as some units specialise in causing sanity damage to enemies, who, after a certain point, will either have some form of insanity (although sometimes, that is a benefit in disguise), or are inspired (get a buff, regain all their sanity, very annoying.) Mixing and matching the two for maximum synergy is highly encouraged, especially as… Not everything has sanity. Lookin’ at you, Golem that wrecked my Dread based party the first run through.

My lord, we can’t scare it… WE CAN’T SCARE IT!

Beyond this, there are only a few similarities. Buildings exist, including the healing building, for sure, but they cost minions as well as resources. Your minions aren’t hired, they’re constructed, from parts of your enemies, or bits you dug up. You can make better parts, spec into spellcasting (I haven’t done this, having too much fun with brains, alchemy, and DREAD), refocus your minions using two choices of ability change per ability, and the dungeon itself is procgenned, sure, but it’s a map where you know roughly what’s ahead, ahead of time (Although enemy composition was, until the most recent updates, a mystery.)

So, in short, it’s got a lot of depth, and the game even has little things to help you recover from losses (brains, for example, automatically level up an undead to the same level as the brain, allowing you to quickly get units of comparable strength to the ones you lost onto the field), and I don’t really have any complaints mechanically. Similarly, aesthetically, the game is pretty clear, the music is suitably ominous and villainous, the soundwork is fine, and Iratus… Well, Iratus’ snark game is on point. Okay, maybe one gripe: Every female minion is of the big-breasted, eerily attractive variety. But mileage varies on that gripe, for obvious reasons.

“For a given value of smiled…”

So, what we have here, essentially, is a pretty polished turn-based strategy/roleplaying hybrid, which I quite like, and seems to be well on track to being a fine release.

The Mad Welshman always appreciates villainous snark. It expands his own repertoire, for the next heroic break in of his lair. So much tidying up afterwards…