Sayonara Wild Hearts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.23 (Soundtrack £7.19, Deluxe Edition £13.72)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sayonara Wild Hearts fits in an interesting place in my mind. It’s somewhat akin to Audiosurf, in that you’re collecting things to a musical track, but it is, at the same time, less and more than that. It’s a game that rapidly, often to the point of disorientation, shifts gears on you, from floating to flying to quick-time fighting (space only for that, no worries on that front), to moments where you just enjoy that sparkle of things being collected and… Oh, yeah, photosensitive epilepsy warning, folks, because there’s a lot of flashing. The hearts flash, the world can flash, the fights are flashy in both senses of the word…

Not pictured: The rapid changes of pose and colour in this scene. Although this was a well timed screenshot, eh?

But it can’t be described with reference. Because it’s its own thing, and that thing is an arcade music video. Or, more accurately, an arcade music movie, sort of like Interstella 555 (Go watch that if you haven’t, it’s pretty good.) The multiverse used to be a cool place, full of love, and ruled by three of the Major Arcana. But then five of them decided to get up in everyone’s business and break those hearts. So they used the pieces of a broken heart to create a magical girl, a magical girl who’s going to heal the hearts of those broken hearted Arcana.

If you guessed there was a queer as fuck subtext here, you’re wrong. It’s text, and it’s fucking amazing. Biker girls, wolf girls, literal sword lesbians… And the music starts bittersweet, and, while it gets lonesome and bitter in places, that’s the point. You’re fighting that. You’re fighting, by the end, an avatar of homophobia, and then? Well, you get to do it again, this time with the goal of beautiful smooches, now you’re a proven Magical Girl Heart Mender!

What can I say but… Literal. Sword. Lesbians. Yes.

And, as you might have guessed from the idea that it’s a music movie, yes, the aesthetics are gorgeous, the tunes vary quite a bit, but they’re all good (I happycried the first time I went through some of them), the visuals are… Ah. Yes. Let’s talk about the heartbreak for me, and probably some other folks.

You see, even though the game is forgiving in terms of forgiving deaths, and having low score barriers to finish the main story… As mentioned, the game flashes a lot, there’s a level where it’s twisting in a way that’s guaranteed to set off somebody’s motion sickness, and when it gets twitchy, it gets twitchy. As in “You have precisely 0.1 seconds to reorient yourself, because here’s a narrow corridor/sudden obstacle/need for a turn-pad very quickly after another one” twitchy. The QTEs are actually just fine. They’re friendly, they pause for a short, grey moment before you screw it up (and don’t let you screw it up because you pushed it before the prompt even appeared. And the game takes itself in directions with little notice, from race-collecting, to shooters, to even a Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon like experience where you’re locking onto enemies to shoot them.

This, however, is what you’ll see most often. Usually at high speed.

The controls, thankfully, are accessible, and twitch was expected in a game like this, but, even with that forgiveness, it can get brutal, and I had real trouble getting through the aforementioned twisty level, the second Moon level against the Howling Moons Gang, precisely because it was fucking me up. And I will also mention that this disorientation is only fitting, considering it’s a coming out story, set to music, and narrated by Queen Latifah. Shit’s disorienting, and things can come at you from unexpected angles… It is fitting!

And so, while I’d heartily recommend it to the quick fingered and strong stomached, and while I would less heartily recommend it to folks who are at least strong stomached (Because, as noted, you’re going to finish the levels regardless, and getting bronze is definitely do-able on each level), I find myself reacting to its cuteness, coolness, and positive, bubbly nature like the disaster bisexual I am: Longing for mutual fulfilment, yet finding myself gunshy about engaging, because… What if it rejected me or hurt me?

Like I said, even though it’s a recommendation with some heavy qualifications, it is a recommendation. I just wish it didn’t seem so out of my league, y’know?

The Mad Welshman is, in case you hadn’t noticed, pro queer rep. So to see this was a balm to an otherwise terrible month for him.

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Jamestown + (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (Deluxe Edition £17.26, Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

In a way, I already knew what I was going to write about Jamestown+ well before I got it. Because, before this site was even in being (I’ve been writing since 2010, folks), I’d reviewed Jamestown, and I found it both bloody hard… And immensely satisfying, a Western bullet hell shooter using Victorian steampunk pulp as an inspiration. Well, it would be considered scientific romance, but… Anyway, Mars is a green land of floating rocks and blue skies, except for those bloody Martians and the Spanish Armada, who are planning to attack. Sir Raleigh, while on the run from the British Empire because he was framed for the disappearance of the Roanoke colony, must save the day!

Sir Walter Raleigh, and a Blue Mars.

Yes, as this is set in an alternate Victorian Period, it’s colonialist. Just so you know.

In any case, the plus is there because yes, this is a remaster, and yes, this does have some extra stuff. Specifically, the Treason DLC, and a new one, the Armada DLC, which adds two new levels, and a new viewpoint character: John Smith, adventurer, great lover, and shameless braggart. So, that makes several levels, including two new ones, quite a few challenges, local multiplayer (up to 4 players, if you have the space, friends, and/or controllers. I know I don’t have at least two of those things!), and twelve ships, four of which have two potential alternate fire modes… Means there’s a lot of stuff. Especially as the game tracks whether you’ve done challenges or levels with specific ships, and what difficulty you’ve done it on.

Hucking a barrel may well blow this Martian up. But I’ll temporarily lose bulle- hucks barrel.

Although, annoyingly, an earlier restriction is still in place: You must be this good to enter Levels 4 and 5! (Respectively, beating the first three levels on the second difficulty level, and then, if I recall correctly, the first 4 on the third difficulty level. Out of five, the last two of which are hair-raising experiences.

Still, let’s count out the positives: Lots of ships and replayability, or simply finding the ship you’re comfortable with and having a good time? Check. Heck, you don’t even need to stick to the same ship level by level. Good visuals, mostly clear, good music and sounds, and keyboard moving of a mouse cursor for those who want to stay wholly keyboard? Check. Relatively low grind, not least because losing a level will still earn you some money for whatever cool thing you’re after (including a very silly “Farce Mode”, more challenges once you’ve finished the first four, and different types of shots and, in the case of the Armada ships, an alternate-alternate fire mode)? Check. The writing is minimalist, but does get across the characters of Raleigh and Smith respectively (alas, not the other viewpoints, although I understand why.) And while it is a bullet hell shooter, for a bullet hell, it’s one of the more accessible and flashy ones, with some interesting variety in the weaponry.

Not pictured: You must be this good to finish the game. Annoyingly.

Overall, I have pretty much the same opinion as back in the day: For shooter fans, this one’s an interesting one, for bullet hell fans, it’s a good example of a Western bullet hell, and for people looking to get into shooters for the first time? Aaaaahhhh it’s better than some options. But yes, overall, recommended.

The Mad Welshman would like to see more anti-establishment victorian cogs’n’steam settings. Because Steampunk, overall… Ain’t punk.

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Demon’s Tilt (Review)

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

It’s been a while since I last looked at Demon’s Tilt, but it’s now out, and… Yup, it’s still a multi-segment pinball table where the three main features (bosses) change as you defeat them, is still a pretty tough pinball table that nonetheless is cool and interesting, and is still partly a bullet hell game where you can avoid the bullets, but sometimes using them is a better option. Oh, and nudge is encouraged, although the default keyboard binds (WSAD for nudge, the usual Left and Right shift for paddles, Space for the plunger) are a little uncomfortable (It has controller support, and I’ve had an okay time with that)

Yup, I feel like a badass priest alright, getting in the headgear of a succubus, smacking a chimera in its dumb helmeted head as she smacks me into it, and about to ride down a snake’s gullet for SUPER HOLY POINTS. Hell yes.

The amusing thing being, that I’ve already sung its praises in a previous review (Because yes, even for the price, this is a good and highly involved table, once you get to see things), there’s going to be a little repetition here. Actually, a lot of repetition.

The table is inspired by a few older pinball titles, namely Alien Crush and Devil Crush, and Crue Ball, and has three segments, a few hidden sub-tables, and, in EX mode, more hidden sub-tables. And each segment has at least one boss monster, from the Iron Chimera and Priestess Lilith, to the various gribbleys that populate the lowest segment.

Enemies only stop your ball from below, with the exception a few larger ones, and bullets kill the momentum of your ball regardless, so you can either use that to your advantage, swear and quickly nudge to avoid the dread drain (the pinball term for the ball falling below the lowest paddles, the point of no return), or… Well, not noticing and losing a ball. As well as all this, there are teleportals, spikes, the aforementioned sub tables… And aesthetically, it hits the nail on the head too.

This one’s an older screenshot, but hot damn, that was a good run. Also one of my few pics of this scary bossdude.

Gothic imagery, synthwaveish tunes and neon splashes (and, indeed, neon splash text), good impact and UX layout… There’s a lot to like about it. Although, fair warning, it’s a stimulation heavy game, lots of things flashing and sparking and bouncing and flashing, and it’s very easy to get overloaded. But hot damn, it looks so good while it’s doing it! It even gives you a hint as to what to do to get your next letter on the three LOADSAPOINTS objectives, and highlights jackpots and super jackpots as they appear.

Of course, no game is perfect, and perhaps my worst criticism is that the flippers are a little slow, requiring you to account for this with your timing. More than once, I’ve said to myself “I’ll set up an end of flipper shot”, and watched in irritation as I hit the flipper half a second too late, and watched it slide a table segment down.

These assholes, for example, shoot bullets a fair bit, and explode a lot, and this isn’t even counting when there’s lots of bullets. It’s a lot to take in!

But, overall? For pinball fans, this one is basically a must. It’s an exciting table, it’s got a great aesthetic, there’s replayability, the obligatory leaderboards (My PB is 302M, I’m sure there’s folks out there that can beat that), and there’s a lot to explore.

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GRID 2019 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Ultimate Edition £64.99, Upgrade to Ultimate Edition £29.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Codemasters. Purveyors of racing games since… Well, as long as I can remember. No, that’s a lie, I grew up with them publishing Dizzy games. But for a while, at least. Sometimes a little simulation-like, mostly arcadey, with fairly good music, a fair few licensed vehicles/teams/racers, and this time…

Rolliiiiing START!

Three races before you even hit the main menu for the first time. Three races, and something like five interminable cutscenes. Oh, GRID 2019 is off to a rolling start, and… Wait, what are the keybindings again? Oh… Oh… Suffice to say, even though I understood part of why, I was less than impressed with how my experience started.

Was I impressed with the game itself? Weeeelll… It honestly isn’t bad. The cars are somewhat tunable, and there’s a moderate variety of them, with the most in the Invitational category (presently, at least, as the game has a Season Pass and some car DLCs already… hissssss…) Aesthetically, it looks good. The menu music is solid Racing Game music, of the kind you hear in racing recap segments, or, indeed, earlier Codemasters games (in mood and motif. Not exactly the same music) But when it comes to the races themselves, it’s the cars you concentrate on, and they, also, sound good. A Camaro sounds different to a Mini Metro, and when you’re pushing them to their limit, they sound like they should… Straining and buzzing angrily at the treatment you’re giving them.

When in doubt, I trade paint. Epilepsy aside, this is probably why I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

The tracks, the racers, the cars… They are, for the most part, the popular ones. Oh, there’s Silverstone. There’s San Francisco. But there aren’t that many of them (although, as with many racing games, extra variation is added with track weather and driving the course in reverse), and… Well, even though I’m sure there will be some free tracks, the purpose of that Season Pass becomes clear.

But this, also, I could somewhat forgive, because what there are are some interesting and technical tracks. And, if you’re not a great racer, one who makes some pretty nasty mistakes, the flashback feature from past Codemasters games is alive and well, on a rechargable basis rather than “You have this many.” These are nice. It even allows you to unlock races without actually winning them. And, of the race styles, there’s a fair few, which, overall, is the most varied part of it for me (With Invitational taking up the most room in terms of both cars and events)

The customisation system is also alright. A limited pattern set, but I wasn’t expecting Picasso, and I managed to make something I’m happy with easily enough.

Hell, the AI is at least alright, reacting to you, playing aggressively if you’re anywhere except in first and speeding the hell ahead, although if you qualify, then get first, you’re going to have a much easier time of it, and some racers… Well, here we get to what’s not so great. Specifically, the nemesis system, and the team system.

The nemesis system, on the face of it, is a clear one: If, like me, you race dirty, and trade paint, or even bits of your frame, to gain advantage, you’re going to piss other racers off. And you have a team member, who can be ordered to attack (try and move up), and defend (try and help you forward.) There’s even purchasable team members, but, to be honest… Neither feature seems to play much of a role. Nemeses (for lo, I often have multiple on any given lap) don’t seem to be more willing than usual to trade paint with you, or screw you over, and team-mate orders don’t really help all that much with your position over, say… Having a good line, and being aggressive.

Okay, okay, so maybe that’s trading more than paint. I got a decent position, alright?

As such, buying team members isn’t really a purchase I’ve bothered with, to, basically, no effect on how I’ve enjoyed the game (which is “Somewhat”) The UX is that understated style you often see in racing games nowadays, and, in and of itself, it’s not bad (although damn, do the visuals on cars seem to take an Ice Age to load in those menus!)

And this leaves me uncertain where I stand, precisely, with GRID 2019. It’s alright, for sure, but it’s made some odd decisions, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Ultimate Editions, Season Passes, and whatnots, and some of its features seem under implemented, despite being seemingly flagship features. I also can’t deny that it feels like less than its predecessors. And, as such… I’m erring on the side of “Not really.”

The Mad Welshman is not, after experimentation, as bad at arcade racers of this style as he feared. Turns out he’s just aggressive.

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Crossniq+ (Review)

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

I am always appreciative, when it comes to arcade puzzlers, or any sort of puzzler with a grid system, of epilepsy accessibility options. They don’t always work, but them just being there gives me a chance to review them (It’s in advanced options, fellow epileptics.) And so it is with Crossniq+ , a game about, as the title somewhat implies, making crosses in a grid. And, while it has a somewhat slow start… Hot-damn, is it enjoyable.

Okay, so, let’s get into the basics. You shift rows and columns, making crosses to a time limit, using your choice of mouse, keyboard, or gamepad (I found mouse the easiest, but each have their merits.) And, at first, it seems pretty simple. Shift them rows, right? But then the bonus/hindrance blocks start appearing. Fit a star into the cross, and you get more points (you also get more points the quicker you are about it.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, you can do this, you can (Narrator: He didn’t do this)

But lock icons also start appearing, which prevent you from sliding blocks from one side to the other (two lock blocks near the edges is a very “Deal with it.” situation. And then… The cross blocks. You can move blocks from outside the cross box’s cross into it, but you cannot affect the row and column of the cross-block itself. This most definitely is a block you have to work around. You can get rid of any special block by making a cross’ row or column next to one, but that works for bonus blocks too, so… Be careful!

And, in both endless mode and time attack, you don’t have the luxury of letting it pass, because the more you score, the tighter those times get (and the more score you get for carrying on making those crosses!) It starts nice and slow, easing you into mechanics, and while each block is a surprise the first time, you quickly get a handle on their behaviour, making for a very reasonable difficulty curve.

We don’t normally do menu screenshots, but damn, that’s… Either PS2 arcade puzzle or Dreamcast arcade puzzle style… And I love it!

Aesthetically, it aims for a late 90s console puzzle game feel, and it achieves that feel. Friendly, rounded icons, clear delineation of elements, photographic backgrounds, and music that, put together, distinctly put me in mind of some Dreamcast and PS2 games of the genre. So, suffice to say, I love that they achieved that goal, it’s an aesthetic I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Three modes exist in the game (Time attack, Endless, and Local Versus), plus a reasonable tutorial, and a customisation shop for the (local) multiplayer mode, so, overall, yes, it’s a tightly designed puzzle with some simple elements that make for some nice, frenetic strategy. Also, a chillout room, with things you’ve unlocked that are just… Calm, and a cast of well designed, interesting characters. So, obviously… A recommendation from me!

The Mad Welshman never owned a Dreamcast. So, obviously, he wants Chu Chu Rocket on PC. The Devil Dice games too, while folks are at it.

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