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.

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Last Days of Tascaria (Review)

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

This has been a week for odd decisions with games. Like Noita, Last Days of Tascaria seems to be unloading and loading different windows, and… Doesn’t have a windowed mode. Which would just be a niggle, a wagging of the finger and “Come on, you can add that), if it weren’t for the game… Not being very fun to play.

On the one hand, wizardess’ hair is goals. On the other, these two… Eesh.

The general idea is one of a warrior and a wizardess, recruiting others, exploring a map in a turn-based fashion, skilling up, and engaging in pausable real time battles against groups of enemies, occasionally fighting a boss, on their path to… Destroy a heroine who’d turned evil, raised an army of the undead, because it was a relic, and now she’s resurrecting a lich king for some reason… Look, maybe she thinks being almost invincible due to her relics, while having an army that grows stronger with every victory isn’t enough or something. Any which way, that’s what you do.

And the combat is, in a word, tedious. There’s a rock-paper-scissors style thing going on with the combat (axes are best against armoured enemies, while dodge has to be countered with swords, so… Hit dodgy and armoured enemies once with sword, switch to axe, start over when they regain dodge) The wizardess, meanwhile, also has a rock-paper scissors thing with elements, but is pretty good ranged support. Them’s your basics.

Yes, never turn your back on an enemy. But guess what, wizardess lady has to get relatively close to cast her beefiest spell, shield doesn’t last forever, and… Suffice to say, this didn’t go well.

But the heroes don’t so much fling themselves into combat as stroll, swinging weapons with little impact behind their blows, flinching often from ranged enemies… And oh boy do they like their ranged enemies. The warrior (look, I don’t even care about learning their names) has a shield, but it’s directional, doesn’t last long, and enemy groups are, best case, double your size early in the game. You have to kill half of them to win the battle, and healing opportunities are… Not common.

What results is a slog. When I wasn’t looking on with a sigh, I was hitting that quit button with an irritated grumble. So… What about events? Well, those aren’t terribly interesting either. The problem with a game with turn-based walking around, and turn-based events, is that you somewhat have to care about the rest of it, and even then, dull writing can still be a turn-off. And this is… This is almost as generic as high fantasy can get. Aesthetically, it’s okay, but the animations don’t have much impact, or character, the music is about as generic as the world…

Honestly, I prefer orcs when they’re hot. And these ones… So generic.

I’m not ashamed to say I checked out pretty early. If the combat later was anything like the combat earlier, then no, it doesn’t really get better later. It feels generic, tedious, and its tactical options are, on the face of things, pretty limited, a time your cooldowns and use items well style affair that I wasn’t the biggest fan of in the first place.

The Mad Welshman repeats: More hot orcs.

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The Surge 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £43.99
Where To Get It: Steam

What is it with posthuman cult leaders and bad fashion sense? Yes, I know, if you’ve heard about The Surge or played it, you know that’s the least of your worries, but… It nags at me. Anyway, about the game.

This is very me: “Mmmhm, yes, Posthumanism, yes… [You look like a bloody dork in that]”

So, let’s get the spoilers out of the way niiiice and early: Burke lived, and you find that out in the first area! Warren lived, and this is pretty heavily implied by the mysterious stranger you meet just outside the first area! Shit’s gone to hell, which is exactly what you’d expect for a sequel! There, we’re done. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

In any case, The Surge is a science-fiction… Deep sigh, because I hate saying this… Soulslike. You have checkpoints, which you return to when you die, minus what money you’ve earned. Combat is based upon pattern recognition, good dodging/parrying skills, and managing your stamina. The Surge even added its own touches, such as rewards increasing the longer you spend between returns to a checkpoint (an interesting risk/reward system, which I have not taken much advantage of because I’m a coward), and the ability to target specific limbs, something you need to do for specific rewards, such as a blueprint of the opponent’s exo-limb.

Oh, and the online functionality, which introduces revenge enemies (Enemies with more health who killed another player, but drop lots of resources if you kill them), tags, the occasional battery drop where a player died, that sort of fun stuff. You can play offline, but these additions do add a bit of spice.

And with the slo-mo… My god it’s satisfying! Gimme your arm, y’bastard!

Controller is recommended, because while the keyboard/mouse controls are okay, and remappable, parrying appears harder to do well in kb/m. Okay, base mechanical stuff done with, let’s get into what I like and don’t like.

Aesthetically, the game is good, and, if your rig can handle it, it can look beautiful. Some facets are a little confusing, such as targeting, or the very small “You can backstun this fool” prompt, but it, and the sound, are pretty good. Also, while the protagonist isn’t voiced, the others are pleasant to hear, fairly well acted, and it made my day to hear a proper South Wales accent in the game… It was tidy, you might say. Motion Blur as a default is… Annoying, to say the least, but having the amount of it as a slider, along with a couple of other effects? That’s a good move.

I’m also quite fond of the combat, being meaty, pretty well explained, and having a nice back and fore rhythm… Well, if you take the advice of timing your blows, rather than being a button masher like me. Still, I parry well, and I dodge okay, so I’m finding it pleasing to fight. Master one of these skills, and be at least okay with the other, or you’re going to have a hard time. Encouragement to use at least a partial set through partial and full set benefits is also a pleasing bit of incentivising styles of play, and that the first armour heals you a little when you finish off an enemy? That’s a good starter. There’s a few new weapon types, and, while I haven’t experimented with them much, they seem pretty cool, with nice tricks on the charge attacks.

Pictured: You must be this levelled to wear a full suit. Well, more levelled, obviously. It took a fair bit of grind to get the full set.

I am, however, less fond of the levelling system. Not the actual levelling itself, which is reasonable, but the Core Power being tied to your level. It’s about ten, maybe fifteen levels until you can properly equip a full set, and it was a little annoying to have to grind up to my first full set.

I could go on for quite a bit about all the quality of life improvements, but, essentially, if you played The Surge 1, it’s an improvement in many respects, and, if you’re starting out with The Surge 2, well… Going back to The Surge 1 may be a little tougher, although the basics remain the same. It feels pretty good, exploring this new, more open world with its diverse locations, it feels good to fight, and I would recommend this, even as someone who got very tired of games taking elements from the Souls series pretty quickly.

The Mad Welshman remains pretty easy to make in the majority of games. And he looks good in an exosuit. Nanomachines, son!

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Children of Morta (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Children of Morta isn’t a game you progress in easily (unless you are good at ARPGs), but, even with not progressing as far as I’d like, there is… A lot to like about this one.

I’ve been there. Sometimes, y’just gotta bite the bullet.

The general story is one you’ve heard before: Yada yada corruption, yada yada pilgrimage to holy sites to clean said corruption, yada yada monsters and bosses along the way. What makes this interesting, however, is that it’s also the ongoing story of The Bergsons, guardians of the land, who, despite having trained for generations, find themselves struggling, not only with their path to find and defeat the source of the corruption (hopefully for real this time), but also in bringing the family together in a time of crisis… A family that had, like many families, had its fair share of drama. Uncle Ben finds himself struggling with his own bitterness between him and Sheila. Kevin struggles with finding acceptance among his own family, because he wants to help, being a good Bergson.

They’re lives that make sense, even in this topsy turvy, high fantasy world of ancient evil, goblins, trolls… And while the gameplay is interesting indeed, I find myself just as impressed at how the narrative of the family tugs at the heartstrings. It helps that the narrator has a solid voice for fantasy narration, and that the soundtrack is… Melancholic, in its way. Peaceful when at home, tense when in the dungeon, but, at home, there is this sense of sadness hiding in the music.

That statue looks relatively innocent in this screenshot, but it pulses with gravity waves, and yes, those are spike traps.

Visually, the game is also solid. Although you only realise what certain dungeon features are once you’ve unlocked them, or encountered them for the first time, they’re easily identifiable, especially the ones that show up on the mini-map. Enemies, similarly, are interesting, and the pixel stylings are good.

And finally, we have the mechanics. As you might have guessed, this is the incremental sort of RPG, where upgrades and treasure gained are carried over, but in-dungeon items, for the most part, are not. Upgrades are unlocked as the game progresses, as are characters to play, and while everyone has some sort of dodge move, and quickly unlocks a damaging effect or upgrade to their abilities, each character has their own feel.

And when the family is united… Oh, that would be a terrible day for evil…

Kevin, for example, is an assassin, striking faster and faster the more his blows hit, but losing steam if there’s no-one nearby to kill, encouraging a rushdown style in which you’re looking for someone to fight. Kevin, after all, is not only trained, he has something to prove, as much to himself as his family. Meanwhile, Linda, the bard, is an archer, who can fire while moving, but does more damage, faster shots, if she’s still, raining death on her foes while needing to move away with the nastier enemies. In general terms, it feels somewhat like a twin-stick Diablo, complete with that “Ohshit, Runrunrun!” when an Elite or an ambush appears. But nobody dies, being saved on the brink of death to try, try again.

Children of Morta is definitely one I feel like coming back to, as individual runs are short, the story is charming and soulful, the aesthetic is good… It has a lot of character, and I would definitely recommend it to ARPG fans.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t root for nonspecific forces of evil. If you aren’t cackling wildly while giving away your secret plan, I’m not bothered.

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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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