Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.69 (£3.36 Collector’s Edition, £2.09 for artbook, soundtrack, other extras)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Itch release

Content Warning: This game has themes of self harm and suicide, and a depiction of suicide. As such, the review has been age gated, and this content warning has been added to the original review.

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Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Minimum $1, but if you drop less than $5 on it I’ll be disappointed in you.
Where to get it: Itch.IO

Content Warning: This game has themes of self harm and suicide, and a depiction of suicide. As such, the review has been age gated

(more…)

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Tales of the Neon Sea: Chapters 1-3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price:
£13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, how adventure games have grown. Sometimes forward, sometimes sideways… Sometimes, they take lessons from earlier eras. I mostly like Tales of the Neon Sea, because it’s using old puzzles, and one of the oldest forms of adventure game stylings (The side-on, almost platformerish adventure), and making an interesting noirish story with it.

Remembering that robots are now sentient… Trafficking is entirely the right word. Eugh.

It helps that there is at least one section that is entirely from the viewpoint of a cybernetic cat. That, I feel, is a big draw in and of itself.

It is the noir future (Eh? Ehhhh?!?), and you are Rex, a down on his luck, psychic robot, in a world where robots and humans… Sort of co-exist. Suffice to say, bigotry is alive and well. A murder of a little old lady leads… Well, interesting places. To a robotic serial killer. To a cat mafia. To meddling in a very important election. And, on a more day to day level, disassembling your household appliances because you can’t afford to fix your helper robot properly.

We will have need of that courage and respect, if the Families are to prosper, my friend…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. Its pixel art is clear, and its text clearer, with context sensitive options, and, if you’re hitting E to examine and/or use like a wally, some fun hidden descriptions. Its grime contrasted with the bright lights fits the mood well, its character design is solid, and its music… Ah, atmospheric and fitting. A few of its puzzles (Mainly light/cable switching) could do with some colour-blindness support, but, overall, it’s visually pretty accessible, with a simple control scheme, and, while some segments have timing based elements, it’s mostly good for not being twitchy too.

In fact… It is, it must be said, a little slow paced. It’s a deliberate slow pace, a design choice, and I respect that, but when puzzles, especially later on, become these large, sprawling affairs, and even the run is a light jog, I can understand that would be a turn-off for some folks. However, the puzzles mostly fit in their world (Nothing really felt like a Resident Evil Lock, just… Security and some shoddy in-world workmanship), and the writing… The writing is enjoyable. Mostly light hearted, sometimes absurd, it nonetheless puts on the frighteners and those tense moments when it needs to.

“Why don’t you try adjusting the phase? That’s the… Rightmost dial…”

Overall, I’d say that Tales of the Neon Sea is a solid adventure, an interesting hybrid of traditional inventory hustling, platform puzzling, and just straight up puzzles. It should be noted that Tales of the Neon Sea is an episodic game, and, as such, the story is not quite complete (the later chapters are apparently releasing in the fall, so I shall take a look then), but there’s definitely a fair amount of play here, an interesting world, and I look forward to seeing more.

The Mad Welshman loves a good puzzle. He loves good robots. And he loves cats. So you might have to take this review with a grain of saline crystal or two.

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SEQUENCE STORM (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

When you’re a data daemon down on your luck, sometimes even the shittiest of opportunities is a godsend. So it is for Elijah Gale who, having blown his last paycheck on a data daemon race, gets thrown into the world of… Rhythm racing hacking?

Our Protagonist, about to make the mistake that changes his life…

Bloody techno-capitalism, making programs that make no sense to the uninitiated…

Joking aside, Sequence Storm is, as noted, a rhythm racer, in which you are juggling inputs that race toward you, hitting them (or holding them) at the right times so as not to damage your racer, and do jobs for corporations. Although the default keyboard layout is a relatively sensible one, controller is still recommended, as there are a total of 9 things you have to keep an eye on (four bars, four lines, and a jump… Not to mention having to steer when you boost), and hitting buttons and triggers feels somewhat more intuitive than “Shift up one key, quickly right one key, wait, two keys right, yada yada.” And, while the tutorial does a really good job of letting you know what’s what, it also lets you know that the gloves are going to come off relatively early, leading to hectic times. Helpful tip: The bars to jump seem to be at a slightly later point than either the lines or blocks.

Why yes, I am a coward who screenshotted one of the lighter stretches.

So it’s kind of nice, then, that the early tunes are among the most relaxing synthwave beats I’ve listened to in a while. Makes a nice counterpoint to my swearing when I inevitably screw it up. A good soundtrack, with intuitive beat markers, is a hallmark of a good rhythm game, and Sequence Storm definitely provides on that front, whether that’s the lighter tracks, or the grim saws and bass. Aesthetically, it also works pretty well, whether that’s the comic style story segments (In which Elijah is trying to make his way in a world where AI have taken all the jobs), or the race segments, which have a low poly, visually clear charm.

Now… The thing is, the gloves come off early, and the game is not forgiving. Jump bars, in particular, don’t give much room for error, and I very quickly found that anything less than good, long streaks is going to fail me a run. Although it doesn’t look it at first, it gets twitchy, and it gets twitchy pretty quickly. Does that make it a bad game? No. Its inputs are responsive, and you can, over time, build up that muscle memory, even with the track twisting and turning in an attempt to throw you off, but it’s definitely going to throw off newcomers. Add in a challenge mode later, and… Well, it’s a tough game, and I don’t think it makes any bones about that.

Elijah’s Rig, in all its beautiful, low poly glory.

Still, personally, I see myself coming back to it every now and again, despite finding it somewhat unforgiving, as the tunes are excellent, the visualisation is clear (and minimalist enough that there’s few distractions), and the story, equally minimalist though it is, is interesting. I would maybe like beginner mode to be a liiiiittle more beginner (Okay, a fair bit more beginner), but that is, honestly, me.

The Mad Welshman does not dance. Well, not often, anyway. But he does like a good tune.

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LOCALHOST (Review)

Source: Cashmoney
Price: $4.99+ (Approx. £3 , with the option to donate more)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

“It’s just a self defense mechanism.”

Androids and Gynoids are, in a very real sense, a way to treat dehumanisation. The feelings are invalid because you’re constructed. You are a made thing, not a born thing. And LOCALHOST plays on that pretty well. After all, you’re not being paid to care. You’re being paid to erase drives. Data. Nothing… More…

Oh, don’t worry, that’s just *simulated* pain/shock/fright they experience on waking, part of the boot-up process!

A little context here: LOCALHOST is a visual novel by Aether Interactive, set in a grim, dystopic robotics shack where your boss has informed you, a new hire, that you have to wipe four drives. Of course, very quickly, you realise a problem: They don’t particularly want to be deleted. And, having personalities (An uploaded human personality; the original host, LOCAL, a troublesome model line that keeps achieving self-awareness; A network admin AI, and something else), they argue their case. They have personalities. They have histories. Although the final determination is up to you, what seems to matter is that all the drives are both wiped… And not broken.

As such, the game is more about the journey than the destination. Do you try to explain love to an AI that thinks it knows what love is? Do you try to understand how a human upload is meant to have mistakenly arrived in this workshop, or what connection it has to LOCAL? Or do you simply take the seemingly most efficient route to convince them to unlock their own drives for deletion?

“And yet, you know this LOC-192 model. Please, tell me more, and remember that this conversation is being recorded for monitoring and training purposes.”

It’s interesting to note how much attention has been paid to making things seem just a little bit off. The music by Christa Lee varies depending on the situation and the personality you’re talking to, but they all have some subtle dissonance, something that doesn’t seem to quite fit, even if I can’t put a name to what it is. The visuals, by Penelope Evans and Arielle Grimes, are dirty, but subtly evoke different personalities in the single, broken gynoid body you see throughout. Sophia Park and Penelope Evans, meanwhile, give the idea, through the writing of the dialogue and characters, that it’s not just these drives that are dysfunctional. Assisants are Gynoids, and Workers are Androids. Such a simple phrase, but the matter of fact way in which this can be stated implies a society where yes, gender roles are firm, even if they don’t fit, and even if they only apply to the droids in question, it’s pretty grim.

Overall, I’d recommend LOCALHOST, and, since a single playthrough can be completed quickly, to play it through more than once. Maybe you’ll break everything. Maybe you’ll just do your job… Maybe… Just maybe… You might end up doing something at least nominally good in a dystopian world.

Er… Yes. There’s no false standard here, friendo, it’s just the rules. We put “Droid pain doesn’t actually matter” next to that bylaw about chickens.

The Mad Welshman broke a drive. It was an accident. He is simulating sadness nonetheless.

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