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.

Become a Patron!

Ritual of the Moon

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

Being ostracised, for whatever reason, is… Painful. If you have any kind of mental health condition, it becomes that much worse, as you’re cut off from support networks, and what’s left is your own mind… Which might not be the friendliest to begin with. And, funnily enough, this can sometimes impact on your day to day remembering of doing things. Little things or big, it can… Just get forgotten.

There is also, interestingly, a third option. But that’s a seeeecret.

The Ritual of the Moon is a game played in five minute chunks, once per day, for 28 days, and then… You begin again. It remembers when you last played, and if you happen to miss a day? Well… We’ll get back to that.

You see, you’re a witch. Banished from Earth, to the Moon, you have the power to save the Earth from the daily bombardments from space of comets, and it doesn’t even take you that long. You look at the Earth, musing about your exile. You enter your module, preparing the ritual (By clicking objects and mouse dragging a line over stars to make shapes), the comet starts arriving, and you drag it away. Or into the Earth a little harder, that’s your choice.


Sometimes, those we trust turn on us. And that hurts.

But you are alone. Your imprisonment was unfair. Close partners and friends betrayed you to whatever hateful regime did this… And you are alone, uncertain if you’ll even have the oxygen to last out the month. And, since the game relies on your participation… Well, sometimes, you will forget. And each time you forget, people die. Forget enough, and the Earth dies. This burden is also unfair.

So… How do you react? The dialogue makes it clear that the Witch, nameless, alone, is bitter, and angry… But she also doubts, and clearly is unhappy. Every time you forget, she reminds you “Not doing anything is as good as doing it myself.”

It’s short, and simple… But that’s its charm. It’s also very direct about its subject matter. Ostracism for who you are, depression, and isolation, while still having a burden to the society that pushed you out. The unfairness of that, and the choices you make. I chose to try and save the Earth. I wasn’t perfect. I forgot. And so the Earth was saved, but cratered, its seas dried. It was a bittersweet victory, as my reward was… To go back and do it all again. Forever.


MOOD.

I can’t say Ritual of the Moon is one of those “Fun” games. It’s a game which reflects you, to a certain extent. But it’s a game where I appreciate its tight, minimalist design, its mood, and its aesthetic.

The Mad Welshman is always available for hugs, for Witches and Warlocks in need of comfort.

Become a Patron!

Invisible Fist (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

The Invisible Fist of Capitalism. It stands ready, waiting to grind you down under its knuckles, to pummel you with sudden charges and unexpected disasters. It feels nothing, being an idea, and yet, it’s an idea that hates you, yes, you, personally. You cannot bring enough to its gaping, central maw to satisfy it, so it will destroy you, singly or in groups. Welcome to Late Stage Capitalism.

That’s… a $15 film ticket. The film could at least not be shit for that price.

So yes, this is another one of those games that has the content warning “Too Fuckin’ Real”, even with deliberate parody. Joy of joys. I needed that in my life right now. And this, funnily enough, is Invisible Fist’s biggest obstacle to success: It does what it sets out to do a little too well.

Okay, let’s unpack that: Invisible Fist is a turn-based, resource management game where your opponent is the Invisible Fist of Capitalism. As one of three characters (In fact, for a while, it will only be one of three characters, more on that in a moment), you attempt to survive, as long as you can, and maybe, just maybe, fight the fucking thing off you.

Suffice to say, what with that “Too fuckin’ real” comment, the odds are not in your favour. Even as your starting character, a douchebag startup techbro who is trying to create and market MONA, Mother of the New Age, an AI claimed to be for “Millennials who need new mommies” (Yes, he’s a sickening shitlord, ignorant of the fact that yes, he’s a Millennial too), while meeting the demands of both capitalism… And his own, clinging mother (Do you, perhaps, see where he might be projecting a bit?)

Funnily enough, the Announcer works best when the excesses are, in and of themselves, ridiculous.

So… Starting as a rich kid exploiting his workforce, blind to the ills of capitalism could easily be described as “Oooh, aren’t they bold?”, but… No matter who they would have started as, the tone of the game itself would have made this one emotionally draining. Considering the other two are “Self made college student selling weed to get by” and “Indian Factory Worker far from their family and lover”? Yeah, this wasn’t going to be easy. And it could all too easily emotionally backfire, considering… The Announcer.

The Announcer is the fucknugget who enjoys watching the world burn. He’s the shitheel gatekeeper, the Trololol asshole… And his insufferable, hateful spin on things very often veers into “Okay, the writers need to take a fuckin’ step back and seriously consider this guy.” Put it like this… Techbro’s techy startup is emblematic of the worst excesses, just like seemingly everything in this game, and so… Oh look, let’s add a content warning here for a random chance of “Mentions of Non-consensual Sex”, shall we?

There’s a lotta layers to this asshole, and they’re all made of dog turd.

Of course, unlocking a new character means new challenges. For example, Rena, the student, has limited funds, and her work options… Well, they don’t always make the bucks that are worth your time. And relaxing costs money. It nearly always costs money. Or health in terms of her pet cat sometimes deciding that no, it wants to roughhouse (nastily) instead of be scratched behind the ears delightfully.

Individual games of Invisible Fist go by quickly, but only by doing well, by meeting its (sometimes deliberately bullshit) challenges, and by defeating the Fist with good work-play balance, can you earn… Two, more difficult challenges. Interesting ones, and with the same level of social commentary (Spun by the Announcer in as shitty a way as possible, sometimes even if you nail it), but… Yeah, this game gets too damn real sometimes, in uncomfortable ways. So… Well designed, in that sense.

The Mad Welshman isn’t sure what to add. The shittiness of Capitalism kinda speaks for itself.

Become a Patron!

Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99
Where To Get It: Steam

CONTENT WARNING: It should be mentioned that Zanki Zero deals with adult themes like abuse (sexual or otherwise), gaslighting, and murder, so… Yeah, be warned, this game deals with squicky subjects.

It’s an interesting exercise, to tot up the thematic elements of a developer. And for Spike Chunsoft, there’s a fair amount to pick from. Sins of the past. Just about believable pseudoscience made believable. Big twists. And attacking the heartstrings with comically large pliers.

This… Isn’t going to end well. I want it to… But I know it won’t.

And Zanki Zero definitely goes in for all of these, along with a bit of cringe early on. If I had a nickel for every time a “wacky” cartoon character was just groan inducingly gross, I’d have enough to whack said cartoon characters with a small sack of nickels. Thanks, Zanki Zero, for the unnecessary addition that one of your MCs is proud of pissing themselves on camera. I’m only grateful that’s told, not shown.

Iiin any case, once the game gets going, the cringe seems to die down (somewhat, although content warnings for abuse, sexism, violence and murder definitely apply throughout), and the game gets interesting. A survival RPG/Visual Novel hybrid, Zanki Zero follows eight protagonists, and… Seven sins? Ah, one of them is secretly an architect of this whole mess where humanity is extinct, and eight (?) clones of people are asked to rebuild a cloning machine to resurrect humanity, despite the fact that they, as clones, cannot breed. I’m sure this’ll at least try to make more sense down the line, but at the beginning, mysteries, gribbleys, failed human clones, and ruins abound, with various systems unlocking as you go. Building elements of your base. Cooking, crafting, upgrading. And, through it all, the clone mechanics.

There are, thankfully, lighter moments, and the game paces itself well overall.

At first, as described, it’s stressful, and the game makes sure to kill off a character to get the point across, but, while death isn’t the end, and can be beneficial in certain aspects (Dying in Adult life, for example, extends Adult life by 1 day), it costs to resurrect someone, so care must still be taken, as there’s a lot that can screw you up. Traps, monsters, the threat that some of the gifts you get from the EXTEND Machine have strings attached. You know, losing what’s left of your humanity, that sort of thing. I’ve been playing it on the second difficulty setting, and this honestly seems reasonable for me, since my only party wipe was through overconfidence. It’s only later, with the introduction of various traps, that it starts to get properly mean. God-damn bird…

Ohhh, this feller. I have feelings about this feller… And all of them are associated with flipping tables…

The game’s pace is, honestly, pretty good, and, some odd keybinds aside, it tutorialises pretty well. This, plus the interesting way combat and “survival” plays out (The bars, equally, decrease and increase at sensible rates, so I rarely felt I was nannying) means that, overall, I quite like Zanki Zero. Sho, the cringier of the two Extend TV hosts, is a different story, but thankfully, his segments are quite brief. If you want to explore a VN/RPG hybrid which adds depth as it goes on, Zanki Zero is definitely an interesting one to check out.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have anything clever to say here. How can he, when Humankind is long gone?

Become a Patron!

Yuppie Psycho (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £16.66
Where To Get It: Steam

One element of good horror is to take the normal… And bend it. Make it unwelcoming, emphasises what’s frightening about it, and emphasise its isolation. And there is little that isn’t already terrifying to the initiated than… A corporate office, or other appendage of a large company.

“3) We get 5000 resumes…” is how this segment begins. The Company gives no shits about YOU.

After all, a company often already has a friendly face, but behind that face, the lies are revealed for what they are. Ohhh, yes, we get diversity, but there’s no need to make emotional decisions. We understand that people get sick, often in arbitrary ways… But you have taken quite a few sick days working for us, and I’m afraid that we can’t employ someone who’s sick more than once every few months. That overtime? Oh, no, it’s not mandatory, you can… Ahaha, you want to work normal hours? That’s going to look bad on your performance review compared to the rest of us!

And that’s without me trying to think of examples. Oh yes, the Company can be a terrible place. The addition of some nameless “Witch”, corrupting the company from within for decades, causing insanity and mutation… Well, that just makes the horror all the more clear. Cue our protagonist, Brian.

You have to take the book… But of course, Archives is very zealous about withdrawals…

Brian, despite being a low grade member of society (and judged, right from the beginning, to be scum because of this) is, somehow, hired by Sintracorp, the most prestigious company on the planet. Although one has to wonder how this has happened, considering that, in a blackly fitting symbolic twist, the company is a meatgrinder of psychosis, supernatural mutation, murder, and paranoia. And, honestly, a part of why this works so well with the way it plays is because, on some level, it echoes the worst excesses of a corporation gone wrong.

Here, the milling, endless crowd of Induction, forever stuck in the limbo between internship and actually getting paid. There, the Archives, a system so archaic it has taken on the aspect of a Resident Evil puzzle lock, and the Library is overseen by horrors long forgotten in the dark by its parent organisation. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover, later in the game, that the office cougar met early on is a literal man-eater, as opposed to a figurative one. And the employees are, relatively speaking, okay with this, because eh, it’s a living… Horrifying.

And, in the middle of this all, Brian, who has been hired as a Witch Hunter, despite having no qualifications for this, to fix a problem that, in all likelihood, Sintracorp created in the first place. This is one of the reasons it works so damn well. It helps that it’s a pretty accessible game, with its horror well paced against its lighter moments. Aaand then right back, as some of the light hearted things show their grue-filled core.

Oops. Somebody’s soul needs a little more toner…

Besides a few hitches in early cutscenes, funnily enough, it works pretty well. The exaggerated art style of the characters works well to express both the light and dark sides of things, and adds that needed clarity for puzzle elements. To be both expressive and clear is a good look, especially when darkness is also a core element of the game. Puzzle wise, I’ve come across nothing cruel in the puzzles, with there always being something to help ameliorate it.

A good example: Early on, you’re left in the dark by a Mysterious Asshole Coworker, in the vicinity of some quite nasty, and ever exploding “Mines.” Thankfully, the mines light up when you’re near them, only arming when you’re closer, and exploding when you’re close, so the puzzle is, interestingly enough, made a little easier by the very things that will kill you if you screw up. You still feel cool for having survived, and you knew that the little helping hand was by no means a guarantee of safety.

Yuppie Psycho is, overall, a clever and interesting horror game, using its environment well both metaphorically and literally. Like other survival horror titles, it does have a single, limited save system (Requiring a photocopier, ink in that photocopier, and some Witch Paper to photocopy your souuuuuul… Oooowooooo!), but these seem reasonably placed, and I’d definitely say that this is one of the good horror titles of the year.

The Mad Welshman wants to stay the heck away from the Hell Offices. You can help do that via the support links. This has been your company memo.

Become a Patron!