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.

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Demon’s Tilt (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

Pinball is, in the physical world, almost an artefact, an anachronism vanishing into the historical distance. Wires, magnets, rubber, LEDs… But for an entire generation, they were a cultural touchstone. In the digital world, however, they still live. And the best of them take advantage of their medium, to do things that would likely be impossible with physical pinball tables. Both, however, can get a little arcane if you try and describe them mechanically. This ramp, followed by these bumpers, followed by this ramp, and then this ramp again, earns you… But This ramp, followed by this ramp, earns you a quick bonus, and if you can repeat that same trick fifty times…

Pictured: The Abomination, destroyed by hitting each head multiple times.

So, it’s fairly safe to say I won’t be saying much mechanically, rather than what applies to all pinball tables: You hit the ball with the paddles, using what you observe of the ball’s physics to hopefully hit what you want, keeping it from falling “out” of the table. The ball falls out three times (or one, in Hardcore mode), and you lose.

Demon’s Tilt (Heavily inspired by games like Devil Crush or Crue Ball), specifically, adds a few things we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a Goth. Synthwave. Bullet hell. Pinball game. Now, don’t run away, it’s not as intimidating as I make that out to be, just… A lot to unpack!

Still here? Whew. Okay, so two of these are, essentially, aesthetic. Pentagrams, liches, and undead lions in iron masks mix with synthwave style neon splashes for score, jackpot, and other notifications, all to a hard driving, Sega Genesis style soundtrack (Itself having diverse motifs: Little bit of OutRun feel for a few bars, tiny bit of Castlevania for another, while still meshing really well.)

The Lion In The Iron Mask doesn’t appreciate taking a steel ball to the snout. And Lilith doesn’t appreciate you hiding in her headgear. Can’t blame either of them, really!

The “bullet hell” part is interesting, because, while the bullets kill momentum, they only get spawned under certain circumstances (Hitting one of the table bosses in their mid to late stages, for example), the enemies are mostly weak (and only kill downward momentum, which is really helpful), and, to help counter these extra considerations, the game’s tilt sensor (An anti-cheat measure, originally to ensure you weren’t just lifting the table and tipping the ball where you wanted it to go) is quite generous (to the point where it recommends you use tilt.) Although, like any pinball table, it can get pretty twitchy (and dealing with the twitchy portions is a key to mastery), the bullets are pretty slow, and thus, dealing with them is more a matter of perception, of thought, than of reflexes.

Finally, of course, it is a pinball table. While its table guide is a little sparse, the game helpfully tells you its Letter Goals (for the words ZODIAC, ARCANE, and HERMIT, aka LOADSAPOINTS, LOADSAPOINTS, and LOADSAPOINTS), and the UI is laid out fairly sensibly, with the central focus being… The three tiered table, each tier containing its own enemy spawns and bosses. Kill a boss’s multiple stages, and you get big points, before it returns the boss to its lowest stage. On the one hand, there’s a lot to parse, but it becomes almost second nature to identify certain things: Here’s where the jackpots are. Here’s the teleportals. Oh good, the untouched bumpers for the top-tier letter goal are highlighted, nice job!

It helps that your reward for certain tricks is also… Quite visceral. Lilith is really angry now!

There’s some minor performance issues, but, for the most part, that’s Early Access, and this is a well-polished, high-octane table that nonetheless gives you a little breathing room as it goes. Well worth a look for pinball fans, and, if you’re interested in how digital pinball tables can change the base formula in interesting ways, this one’s one to watch out for too.

The Mad Welshman Devil Crushed this review, in his opinion.

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DUSK: Episode 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (£23.79 for all bells and whistles, £7.19 for soundtrack, graphic novel, and Intruder Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

After a wee while, DUSK Episode 3 has released, and the game is now… Complete. A love letter to the late 90s 3d shooter boom, DUSK is somewhat twitchy, sometimes stealthy, and sometimes has THE DARK MAZES OF ULTIMATE ANNOYANCE, but, most of the time, it’s over the top, shooty fun.

Oh hellll no…

I’d already covered Episodes 1 and 2 previously, and Episode 3… Well, it continues the same trends. The same love letter to 90s 3d shooters, with fast movement, varied enemies, and memorable weapons. The same bizarre nostalgia tingle from the chunky whirring of a hard drive (Present not just in the loading screen, but heard every now and again in the rare quiet portions of the game.)

In this particular case, more of the same is… Pretty good, overall. More heavy, atmospheric tunes to lay on the pressure. The Sword, a melee weapon that does heavy damage, is a silent kill for unaware enemies (Video games, eh?), and can, with skill and Morale (the game’s armour equivalent) block. More imaginative setpieces using the low-poly visuals combined with some more modern techniques to create memorable moments.

I was at 20 health when this ambush triggered, and died taking screenshots for you. You’re welcome.

Of course, it’s not all roses. Being a 90s style 3d shooter, the run speed is… A thing, and I found myself rapidly disoriented with what would normally be a safe strategy of “circle strafe while trying to hit things.” Climbing is necessary in certain portions, and, while it’s nice that you can’t have a Dead Man Walking situation, climbing also gets finicky pretty easily (If you didn’t land facing the wall, holding the walk button may not work in the intended manner.) The most dangerous situations are not, as you might expect, bosses, but large groups of mid-tier enemies (such as the frozen church in level 2.) And, of course, being a 90s style shooter, secrets aren’t only badges of pride, but some can give you that much needed leg up… And, considering how the health and armour can bounce back and forth in a level, “Much needed” is very much the right phrasing. The physics objects, similarly, can be finicky. Yes, it’s funny that soap instantly kills a filthy enemy (Evil, as it turns out, is weak to Hygiene), but damn if that soap can sometimes be a git to handle…

The Crystals of Madness are another interesting facet of DUSK. Weaponised “Make enemies attack each other” gasbombs, in a nutshell.

Still, DUSK, as a whole, does a lot of things well. It tickles the nostalgia gland, while also adding more modern touches that make life a little easier. It takes advantage of being story light to concentrate on making its areas evocative and interesting, and while the flaws are there, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unfond of twitchy shooters (or the easily frustrated), it does exactly what it sets out to do with style. It feels good to see the crossbow gib not just the enemy directly in front of me, but several of its friends. It felt tense as hell to see a multi-tiered river of lava, despite the fact the encounters along it weren’t that tough, because it sold the tension. In a way, it’s a bit like its grungy world: A little battered in places, but feeling tight, tense, and… Unreal.

Okay, I should probably go to pun jail… Again… For that one. But still, DUSK is mostly fun and interesting, and that’s cool.

The Mad Welshman refuses to apologise for his puns.

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Katamari Damacy: Re-Rolled (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam.

It says a lot about how well Katamari Damacy has aged that, years after its original release, I still sing along to Katamari on the Rocks with the same enthusiasm as when I first heard it, and I just nodded when the keyboard controls were WASD for left stick, IJKL for right stick.

Ugh, SERIOUSLY, DAD? DO YOU KNOW HOW DENTED MY KATAMARI IS CLEANING UP AFTER YOU?!?

And, of course, when it came time to play again, I swore in much the same places.

For those who never saw Katamari Damacy before now, it’s a fun arcade game in which you, one of the Princes of All Cosmos, are cleaning up your dad’s mess (He broke all the stars in the sky), by rolling a sticky ball around the Earth, gathering up as many items as possible in a time limit to create new stars. Anything the same size as your Katamari can’t be picked up, anything bigger than you actively knocks items off your Katamari when they hit you (or vice versa), slightly smaller things may take two rolls, one to knock them over, another to pick them up.

Why yes, a lot of the things you roll up are people. I’m sure they’re fine with being turned into a star!

Although part of this is that “Collect Specific Object” levels can be devious. That’s not a Swan at all!

In any case, this is essentially a remake, fixing some of the problems of the earlier, and, at the time, somewhat ambitious game, while retaining everything else. A light hearted soundtrack,varying from triumphant a-capella, to smooth and jazzy. A solid, low-poly aesthetic, even carried into its animated cutscenes, where the strangely cuboid family witness the events from a slightly different perspective. Even the interesting writing, which varies from light-hearted, to light-hearted covering a darker side (The King of All Cosmos is, overall, a terrible dad at this early point in the series. And, you know, turning Earth into a variety of stars, piece by piece, in order to fix the mistakes of the parent.)

Improved, meanwhile, is a bit of responsiveness, adding keyboard controls (Although this is one of those games which was definitely designed for twin-stick gamepads, and so, it’s preferable to play with one),and takes advantage of the extra performance it can squeeze out so that the larger, more filled levels no longer slow things down.Which, overall, means it’s a solid rebuild of a classic and interesting game with a unique aesthetic, and no more needs to be said, right?

NEWS: Strange King Hangs Over Earth. Also Some Stars Came Back.

Not quite, although what’s left are, essentially, annoyances. Video and sound settings are not accessible until the tutorial is completed, and the game essentially throws you right in. Beyond this,however, there’s enough quality of life improvements, and the game’s formula remains pretty fresh, that yes, even for £16, I would recommend Katamari Damacy fans give this rebuild a go, be that on PC,or on the other platforms it’s released on. Even the local multiplayer has been preserved.

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good aesthetic. Almost as much as he approves of the wanton, joyful chaos.

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Speed Brawl (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

While I’m not much of a fighting game man, I love me some beat-em-up action. There’s something cathartic about beating the living daylights out of goons, beasts, and monsters, all of whom want yo- wait, speedrunning too?

Each tournament of the game is clearly mapped out, and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re meant to do.

Yes, this is Speed Brawl, a side-scrolling arena beat-em-up where the main concept is “Gotta punch fast.”, as you’re rated more by how quickly you get through its fighting shenanigans, or how quickly you hit targets, than how much health you have at the end of it, or how many sausages you picked up from trashcans along the way. And, as with any speedrunning games, there are tricks, little things to give you an edge.

Still, even without those, it’s mostly a fun as heck game about alternate-universe victorian characters (mostly, in the early game, some rad ladies) beating the hell out of mooks and bugs (big or otherwise.) And boy, do I love two of these characters in particular: Cassie and Bia.

Each character, along with equipment to buff them, and colour schemes (both won via playing the game), has a different feel to them, and Cassie and Bia are perfect examples of this. Cassie is a short french pixie-urchin with a cricket bat, and while she’s quick, she’s not the most damaging character, and is slightly more fragile than most. She also has a fast special, and her ultimate move (gained the same way you gain Special meter stamina: By beating things up) is nigh uncontrollable, but a glory off destruction if you can get her to spin around the stage just so. Meanwhile, Bia is big, butch, and her attacks work best at a somewhat specific range (the end of her fists, obviously.) She’s nowhere near as fast, but her specials and ultimate are tight, horizontal, and repeated haymakers, which do a lot of damage. Put the two together, since each level of Speed Brawl is played with two characters per player (and switching out gives a small speed boost), and an orgy of carnage results.

Like I said, when Cassie’s special can be aimed, it’s a gooood time!

It’s good, fun stuff, and it helps that everyone levels up once enough XP is gained, because for certain levels, folks like Cassie are, hands down, the best, while for others, you want something different. It works well aesthetically, the music is pumping and joyous, and, while the controls and later enemies (who have defences, or teleports, or ranged attacks) take getting used to, it’s definitely fun.

If I had any real crits for Speed Brawl, it’s that some enemies just feel more annoying to deal with (The large Rippers who are invincible from the front, for example), and that items don’t always feel like they do much, even though they are definitely increasing damage, and adding status effects. Part of this is that it’s chaotic as heck, and it can sometimes be hard to read what’s going on outside of your immediate circle of “Thing I’m pummelling right this second”, and this gets moreso with two players.

Then again, it also goes more quickly and is fun as heck with two players, so… Tradeoff? Either way, I like how Speed Brawl messes with the 2d beat-em-up formula, and, while it has a number of buttons, it’s still fairly easy to get back into.

It should also be noted that the animations have a good sense of impact. Or… Multiple impact, in this case…

The Mad Welshman loves Alternate Victorian times, because they really appreciated the value of a good top-hat and moustache. And yes, that is shallow.

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