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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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!

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Hero Express

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Superhero(in)es are, as has often been proven, less powerful without folks who support them. Without Alfred, the Bat Family, and, of course, Ace, Bruce Wayne would have had a much harder time of things, possibly an impossible one (not to mention the many other folks who helped over the years.) And not all of them are in glorious roles. Mo Schreibnitz, for example, is… taxi driver to The Shadow.

You seriously mean to tell me you forgot? Ohhh boy…

In this particular case, you are a delivery driver, getting items to a superhero who… Regularly forgets them. No, really, the conceit is that he’s forgotten something vital to beating a villain, somehow, and you are meant to deliver it to him. In a very real way, you’re keeping this hero afloat in the business. By driving in a horizontal, 2D environment made of lakes, hills, valleys and assorted other obstacles and physicsy things, trying to get to the end by accelerating, slowing down, reversing, and tilting your vehicle to make sure it doesn’t explode.

You must be this grippy to ride the rollercoaster, kid.

And I think my main problem with this game is that, from the beginning, it’s a tough job. Trials eased you in. Heck, most games of this genre ease you in. But nope, from the outset, the level you start in is loooong. While there are vehicle upgrades, on that old “Each level is more expensive than the last” deal… This isn’t as helpful as, say… Designing the levels around a vehicle? Because, of course, the faster your engine is, the more airtime you get, the more traction you have on surfaces… This adds to what already happens in such games, where a slightly different landing or jump snowballs into changes down the line. Also, a more powerful engine might let you clear a jump more easily… Or it might mean that reversing to get a better run up is too effective, and you fall down a ramp that was going to make you too slow to make that jump in the first place.

It makes less sense that some of the other tracks seem shorter, so… Should be first, right? Well… No, they all have problems. Not least because they’re all different vehicles. Normally, I would say “Oh, great, different challenges, cool!” … But they have little dirty tricks. For example, in the Mamba stage, there are big hills. Big hills, and your allegedly off-road beast… Can’t handle them without upgrades. There are power ups that help… Well, a jump that is sometimes useful, and a cleaning spray that’s only good for if you’ve been hit with rubbish… But mostly, this appears to be a case of “Awww, sorry buddy, only folks with Traction this high can enter!”

Ah yes, the old “replace the chicken in the ritual with a rubber one” trick. The one that’s worked, er… No, I’m sure there’s a pulp story where that actually happened. SIGH.

It is, aesthetically, pretty nice. The music’s good, the tracks clearly signpost what’s bad and what isn’t, what things do make sense, and the hero is rightly portrayed as a berk (Although that he’s a dumpy man is… I don’t know how to feel about that, honestly, and that yes, there’s a stereotypical “Voodoo Queen” villain is… Ehhhhh….) But in terms of play, while I’m sure fans of the harder games of this genre may enjoy it, it’s definitely not a great introduction to such games (Which, to be fair, are often frustrating whether they tutorialise or not. But still…)

As The Mad Welshman is a villain, well… You can guess who he’s rooting for, even if his pride won’t let him lose this damn thing again.

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Crystal Crisis

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

Right, gonna get this part out of the way right now: While I’ve suggested fixes to the developer, at the time of writing, the colourblind support for Crystal Crisis is spotty at best, and the best option is to go into Extras (not Options, Extras), select custom colour scheme, pick colours that seem to work for you, and test them in Practice mode. I have requested further comment from the developer after the steam thread I gave this critique (and advice) disappeared, but so far, Nicalis has not responded, and I shall update the review when they do, or if this changes.

The original colour schemes. Three use green and yellow, with similar values. The colourblind set has different light values, but this only actually helps one or two types of colourblindness.

So, now that that particular beef is out of the way, the rest of the game is… Alright. Essentially, a 1P vs CPU game of dropping rotatable pairs of blocks, making patterns, and then popping them with the corresponding coloured gems that sometimes drop, in order to both drop blocks that can’t be interacted with for 5 drops (generally speaking), and to build up meter for the special abilities of your chosen characters (For example, Curly can either destroy rows on her own board, or turn rows of her opponents‘ board into the aforementioned unusable blocks.)

There is a story mode, although it honestly didn’t grab me that much (Essentially, a series of fights in which you choose which character you’ll play, and then get an ending depending on your path), while the game’s replayability depends on how much you like this sort of game (I’m alright with the various tile dropping and tile matching type deals, so I expect I’ll be coming back every now and again.) Finally, there is an Arcade mode, a decent (if slow) tutorial, a practice mode where the AI doesn’t fight back, and an Online mode that… Well, while I don’t normally comment on online modes, I have been seeing a fair amount of “Online is a ghost town” type threads out in the world. So playing with a friend online is probably your best bet.

As noted previously, it’s probably best to use your own colour scheme if you’re colour blind.

Finally on the mechanical end, we’ve got a mostly solid, unlockable character roster, which includes both Nicalis characters, and, interestingly, some of the cast of Osamu Tezuka’s works, such as Black Jack and Astro Boy. I do love me some Tezuka characters, so it earns a few points with me for that.

Aesthetically… Well, the menus aren’t bad, with a little bit of character to them, the characters definitely aren’t bad, well modelled and animated, the stages, similarly, are nicely modelled, and the blocks are, apart from the aforementioned colour blindness issue, and the somewhat inconsistent nature of their lighting (Furthering the colourblindness issue at times)… Well, they’re blocks, and stars, and you know the difference between a block, and the various special things. The sound is good, the music’s good.

Story mode is alright, just as the rest is. But don’t expect a deep plot.

If it weren’t for the colourblindness problems, I would heartily recommend this. But, here’s the thing: Colourblindness is common. The ways to deal with colourblindness in video games are, equally, well known and commonly passed around in most gamedev circles these days. So to see problems like this, where three of the default colour schemes have green and yellow of similar light values (A big problem), and the colourblind one has pink and purple (Which even non colour blind people can have problems with), with the aforementioned inconsistent lighting further confusing things, I can, at best, merely not recommend it to colourblind folk. Because even when a game does what it says on the tin overall, this definitely is a blunder.

The Mad Welshman refers you to the previous review for education on some techniques folks use to be more colourblind friendly.

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