Marble Skies (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back, in the mists of time, I used to play a wee game called Marble Madness. Good lord, it was frustrating, and was my first experience with a trackball. Many twenty-pences were lost, and, honestly, I never finished it. But hot dang if I had a love-hate relationship with that marble. Loved the idea, hated the levels.

The years have been somewhat kind to marble based racing games, thankfully, and, while Marble Skies is somewhat minimalistic, it’s also got its charm. It’s also got… Some demoralising best times. We’ll come back to those.

I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to get this down to 21 seconds, but, on watching the best time replay… So many edge leaps… So… Many…

Okay, let’s back up. Effectively, Marble Skies involves, as most marble games do, controlling an unruly, heavy marble along an obstacle course (sometimes needing to collect gems, sometimes merely needing to get to the exit) as quickly as possible, without dying. Want to get in among the speedrunners? Well, prepare to get acquainted with this marble’s physics, and jump segments of the course. Lots of them. Hell, at first, I doubted the current leaderboard times, but then I managed to get close enough to see how it could be done on a couple of levels. (I still doubt some of them, though, to be honest. But much fewer than I did…)

Aesthetically, like I said, the game is minimalist. It uses Unreal’s glows and gloss fairly well, but what it treasures more over looking pretty is clarity. Simple menus, clear differentiation of features.. The worst I could say, aesthetically, is that the music is rare, and that some of the main features are not really very clear (like jumps or gravity switches.) The sound of the rolling ball is nice, as well, and customisation is alright, all using points earned via play.

Mere seconds away from bouncing forward, past the grippy tiles, past the pillar, and into space. Eep.

Mainly, the biggest turnoff for folks will probably be an actual feature, in that glass balls are actually quite heavy, and turn, generally speaking, like a heavy thing that rolls easily. They also bounce quite a bit, and so, quite a few times in trying to get a quicker time, all I’ve done is bounce into oblivion, and hit the restart button with a gusty sigh (as dying during a run will not reset your time, presumably for speedrunners who want to be faithful with their times to complete) The level design does ramp up moderately quickly (By the time gravity switches got introduced, near the end of the beginner levels, I was sweating), so I honestly wouldn’t say this was a beginner’s marble rolling game, but the level layouts are interesting and sometimes pretty cool.

Finally, there’s a mini golf mode, and, honestly, this is the weakest feature. It’s an alright mini golf game, if you like golfing with marbles, but, not gonna lie, marbles or other glass balls would not be my first choice of ball, and the control scheme for it is fiddly (hold left, then mouse up and down for power, mouse left and right for direction. Release to fire.)

Go in. It’s sloped, y’git, go… IN!

Overall, then, Marble Skies is mostly a “Does what it says on the tin” release. For fans of marble puzzle racers, it’s an enjoyable one, but it’s not really going to bring anyone who’s on the fence into liking this style of game.

The Mad Welshman was, alas, too young for marbles in the playground to be a serious thing. I mean, Pogs, sure. But not marbles.

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Dungeon Munchies (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

A while ago, I reviewed Battle Chef Brigade, and… Well, I liked it. It presented an aspect of fantasy worlds we don’t think about too much. And now, we have dungeon cooking… Well, not really explored, per se, but at least a mechanical element in Dungeon Munchies.

BEST. ZOMBIE TELEPORTATION. EVER.

It’s… Alright? Okay, obviously I can’t leave it at that. What it is is that it has this interesting mechanic… That it doesn’t quite play with enough to be excellent, but does give enough to see the fun potential. Food as buff. We’ll come back to it, because first… What the heck’s going on?

Well, we are a zombie. A zombie raised by a necromancer chef who does her best to do the whole evil overlady schtick while also having a corporate overlady schtick. And it mostly works, to boot. She charges us, as seemingly the only “employee” who’s been able to do this so far, to get her magical cookbooks from various places, fighting bosses along the way. From there, things get… Interestingly complex, story wise.

Even main level enemies can wear you down. The bees shoot lasers. The crabs shoot water jets and slash hard.

Also along the way, we use the monsters as ingredients to form a limited set of buffs, some of which become permanent later on. One of the earliest, for example, is a double jump, made by giant skeeter wings, while others add things like elemental damage, extra damage, extra healing… And with 6 slots allowed, you can’t become some godlike undead shitwrecker through these, which is a nice touch. It has a cool animation (honestly, the animations in general are pretty good, even if weapons don’t really have that much impact, everything else works either smoothly or in a cool fashion), but, essentially, it’s like any other crafting: Got the ingredients? Bam, thing is made.

Structure wise, it’s more of a linear level dealio, although revisiting earlier areas is possible if, say, you need some earlier ingredients too. You wander through, hopefully not dying a lot (You thankfully don’t lose much by dying, but it is annoying to go through an area multiple times), with, of course, a boss at the end. And the bosses, happy to say, are alright to deal with. No super annoying ones, and, since your movement and combat are fairly easy to get the hang of, you can learn their tricks relatively safely, only taking maybe two or three tries until you get the general idea.

Ah, gotta love those fishing photos. Oh, wait, no I don’t, I hate fishing.

Right now, it definitely has charm, and the story seems like it’s going interesting places, with some equally good ideas within the crafting, and I wouldn’t feel guilty saying it’s worth a try right now.

Writing this review has made The Mad Welshman hungry. He could murder a good Beholder Sautee…

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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £34.99 (Iga’s Back Pack £7.99, Soundtrack £7.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh, Castlevania. The mere name evokes memories of violin and piano laden music, memorable monsters, and, of course, a castle with a monster in it who plans to destroy the world. But alas, Castlevania is no more.

Die, Barber! You Don’t Belong In This World!

Good thing ArtPlay have perhaps created a new name: Bloodstained. And, for a first outing, it’s… Pretty close, if not spot on, to what I wanted, at the very least. A castle to explore, with paths opening up the more I fight. Memorable monsters with a mythical bent (Props on the Welsh and Gaelic stuff, by the way. XD.) Equally memorable characters, even if some of them are, on the face of it, a little stereotypical (But still highly enjoyable.) And some bloody amazing music, paying homage to the tunes and world that the team had previously created.

Honestly, from the moment Castlevania big name Koji Igarashii threw down his wine glass, it was pretty clear that this was going to be polished to an eerie sheen. And, funnily enough, it mostly is, as I have very few complaints… Mostly things that could just be me (Zangetsu and Andrealphus were somewhat painful for me, but part of this could be I was going quite INT heavy), or things that have a solution (On keyboard and mouse, RMB hold + MMB click for directional spells is somewhat of a pain, but… That can be rebound in a way that’s more playable.)

Too cute to die… Too dangerous to live.

So, for those new to how a Castlevania game works, this is basically the deal: There is a big castle that has appeared out of nowhere, casting demons and other gribbleys across the land (Some of which looks too cute to destroy, but you sort of have to. Sorry, demon pupper!) You, Miriam, one of the two survivors of the first attempt to summon demons, have come to stop the other, Gebel, from conquering the world (but maybe not all is as it seems?), with the power of Shardbinding (Taking demon’s souls, and taking them into yourself to gain new abilities), whatever weapons you can find, get in quests, or craft (Often very lovely to boot, each with their own special moves), and the fact that nearly everything that looks vaguely like a torch contains money or mana when smashed, have to save the world.

Aaaaand inhale, after all that! I love the feel, the cries of the beasts as they vanish, or their characterful moves. I love the music, and, funnily enough, one of the best love letters to the departed Castlevania involves this (Sit at the piano. And just wait for a soulful goodbye to what was left behind.) I love the designs, especially those of the two Shardbinders, Gebel and Miriam. And I love all the little touches inspired by the Castlevania series. Shardbinding works like Circle of the Moon. The Crafting works like some of the later titles.

The game uses its 2.5D stylings well for dramatic effect, or just for prettiness, whenever it needs to.

Look… I could rhapsodise for a long while about the feeling of beating down demons, getting new stuff, finding new areas with the new stuff, and the laughter at, even to this day, finding Wall Chicken… But overall, Bloodstained is the developers showing their love to the series they couldn’t carry on, by bringing it a new name, and all the care and design they’d honed over the years. It’s good stuff.

The Mad Welshman kneels before the Dark Lord. Nuff said.

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AMID EVIL (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£23.79 for Warrior Edition, also available in a bundle with DUSK)
Where To Get It: Steam

Last time I looked at AMID EVIL, I enjoyed it, with some minor qualifications. Alas, one of those minor qualifications still exist (Sorry, AMID EVIL devs, your menu and your UI is not the easiest to read, and the menu is still visually painful), but the other now doesn’t (Soul power is unleashed with Alt-Fire), and so I can honestly say that, menu and UI aside, AMID EVIL is enjoyable. Hard, once it gets going, for reasons I’ll go into, but enjoyable.

This lil’ fella and his friends fire shots that somewhat home in…

So, let’s get the first thing out the way quite quickly: AMID EVIL, like its 90s and early 00s inspirations (Specifically, games like the Heretic/Hexen series), can get pretty twitchy, real fast. None of the enemies, individually, are that smart, are pattern based, and can be dealt with by virtue of being faster than them and hitting them really hard with whatever flavour of magic beatdown you happen to be using at that time (And there are several, each with nice, meaty effects to sink your teeth into, especially with Soul Mode unleashed.) But, from early on, there’s never just one, but a small army. Killing that small army is, to be fair, a cathartic as hell experience. But I often find myself coming out of fights with my HP barely inside the double digits, hunting for health pickups, a lot.

…And when there’s a lot of them… Ohhh boy, you’re in trouble!

So, essentially, it gets twitchy pretty fast, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to newcomers to first person shooters. But, y’know what? That’s alright. It is what it is, and what it is is a spectacle of gibs (some of which are, themselves, mini enemies later on), sound and fury, but, unlike the shakespeare monologue, it signifies one step closer to an interesting boss, a new locale, and new, more interesting enemies to defeat. Considering the game has seven episodes, each with their own flavour, there’s essentially a lot to play here.

An example of a beautiful environment. Shamelessly cribbed from my last review.

Okay, so… Apart from the menus, the lack of a map of some description can sometimes hurt it. Like DUSK, the game is very fond of trap labyrinths, secrets, and monster closets. Overall, though, while it doesn’t like to move beyond its very Quake 2 comfort zone, it aesthetically pleases, with good music, good weapon effects, and interesting low-poly visuals… Oh, and being fast as heck. As mentioned, not really for players new to FPS, but definitely a cool one to give a go.

The Mad Welshman would, honestly, root for the eyeball things if they’d let him. But they don’t.

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SnakeyBus (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, the old ones are the best. Pong has somehow survived to the modern day, although in oft unrecognisable forms. As have Tetrominoes and Puyos. And there is even room, in the modern day, for twists on Snake. Some are clever puzzlers with a snakey theme, some are repetitive minigames to represent grind or hacking (No, really), and sometimes… Well, sometimes, it tries 3D. I’d say that Snakeybus is one of the more successful ones on that front, and it’s largely due to having interesting maps.

Rest well, valiant… If foolish SnakeyBus.

So, one thing to get out of the way right now: Snakeybus is not the most polished of games. The UI is a utilitarian, boxy affair, the models and physics relatively simple, and the maps and garage are both relatively small. When passengers are dropped off, and the bus elongates, it does so by literally popping in the bus segments, rather than anything fancy, and, apart from the motion of the bus (and ragdolling of passengers on death), animation’s somewhat crude.

Okay, fine, but, and this is the important but: It does exactly what you would expect with a portmanteau of Snake and Bus: You move (slowing or accelerating depending on your W/S keys, steering at a fixed rate with your A/D, a little harder with shift), picking up passengers, and, preferably when the bus is full, you drop them off at a specific, fixed point (one of several is chosen), grow some, and you attempt to do this until you explode. Now do it again, but better. And this would, very quickly, become an exercise in frustration if it weren’t for… Your other key: The spacebar, aka “JUMP.”

Gonna eatchu, little passe- wait, no, body, don’t block me, bro!

Yup, this bus not only grows depending on how many passengers it’s dropped off, it can fly too. And, if you manage to hit ramps at the right angle (IE – without knocking them over), and a fair clip, you can get over obstacles (including yourself) that way too. It’s… An understatedly fun experience, honestly. Even if Endless (the 7th main map) is kind of a bad joke.

The “joke” is that there’s no passengers, just an endless, uncrashable bus ride, constantly lengthening until either the game crashes, your computer does, or you realise what it’s doing from the achievement and grumpily hit the ESCape to leave.

Desert Bus: Party Bus Edition.

Despite that, and the lack of polish, though, Snakeybus is definitely a relaxing way to spend a lunch break. Seeing what silly tricks you can pull, hearing the screams of the passengers sucked into the Bus of Inevitable Doom while light driving jazz plays, trying to ride your bus along the top of your bus… It’s a short, silly game, played in short, silly sessions, and that’s a niche I can respect.

The Mad Welshman likes it when folks keep it simple. Om nom nom.

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