Mad Crown (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Mad Crown is an interesting roguelike, coming with its own art style and quirks. It’s also a game where having a friend who’s playing the game too can really come in handy, as once you lose your items (due to Total Party Kill), your options are “Share a code and hope someone picks your stuff up” or “Share a code with a friend who’ll pick your stuff up.”

“BOW BEFORE YOUR NEW MASTER. Also give me all your stuff and run back to your camp yelling how great I am. Long live Lamda Omicron Lambda!”

There’s also the third one of “Ask Seggie to pick your stuff up”, but that rapidly goes into silly money territory. My Chapter 3 team, for example, lost their stuff, and that option now costs 3800 gold for them.

The story of Mad Crown is fairly traditional stuff in the modern day. Long ago, there was a crown, created by God, to grant wisdom. Now it’s vanished, and tentacley horrors with about as many eyes as they have teeth abound. Go get that Crown, it totally won’t have been cursed, and definitely won’t be the source of said horrors! But, honestly, it’s not the writing that really grabs me. It’s how it does its difficulty, and its aesthetics, that really work for me. Let’s start with the difficulty.

Essentially, as you progress through the dungeon, you accumulate Fel, a nasty, toxic goop that serves as a danger level. Let it get too high, and traps become more common, monsters get nastier, and you’ll, more often than not, be facing overlevelled opponents. It can be reduced, but you’re essentially balancing speeding through the dungeon (And not quite getting enough levelups or kit for the boss), and going carefully (More items, more levels, but you risk being underequipped.)

Some of the item descriptions, themselves, are quite good. Yes, throw that money, bask in that money, moneyyyyyeaah!

Now add in that, if monsters kill each other (A thing that can happen) … They level up. Significantly. It’s somewhat of a shock to suddenly see a level 7 creature triple its levels, and become your own personal nightmare. Sprinkle in some enemies immune to physical damage later on (The Gellyfish), monsters that steal your gold and run away, a lot of creatures having multiple attacks and status inflictions (Including Confusion), and you have something where thinking tactically is a baseline, and, by the halfway point of the storyline, becomes what is technically known as “Bastard hard.”

Is that a bad thing? It’s a tough call, because, as mentioned, your mileage on this will depend on if you have a friend or two who plays along, and can have your back, rescuing your stuff. If not, it becomes annoying as hell by the “halfway through the main plot” point (Let alone the later dungeons which add things that need to be identified.)

Still, its aesthetic adds just enough to keep it in the Recommended category, as it’s a somewhat unique one. Monsters look somewhat cartoonish, as do the characters, but it’s a style not seen elsewhere, and the music is calm when it needs to be, and hard, driven guitar when fights start. The cutscenes have a cool ink look to them, and, while there’s still a little jankiness in the translation, the Mandarin narration is interesting.

The Gellyfish. He’s an annoying little squib, especially if he’s on the front row. Smack him with guns and magic.

Overall, while Mad Crown’s mileage definitely depends on whether you’ve got a friend to play with you (or how much you like grinding through the midgame, ala Etrian Odyssey or other Nintendo-Hard RPGs), I quite like it. It does interesting things with its difficulty, it makes the threat of the monsters more than just their attack values, and this, combined with a cool aesthetic, make it a relatively solid game. Just… One that doesn’t pretend it isn’t hard.

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good experiment. Whether it fails or not, it adds a little to the phasespace of “What if?” developers can think about. I like that.

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Infinite Adventures (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

“You don’t have to fight over me” cries Rufus the Mendicant, as saucily as he can. And every time he does, I quietly wish for the sweet release of death. Welcome to Infinite Adventures, a game which is currently the closest thing to Etrian Odyssey on the PC right now (giving and taking some things), and, despite being a relatively solid game, it’s a somewhat painful experience in an aesthetic sense. Especially if you have anyone in the party with a “Flirty” voice.

You know… Like Rufus, default starting Mendicant.

“Ha! I think that enemy got… The point!”

Okay, that’s not the best start, so let’s explain what I mean gameplay wise. Infinite Adventures is a dungeon crawler, step based, automapping, based around a single, fairly long dungeon, and the nearby town which bases its economy almost entirely on your questing. As with its inspiration, chests are floating boxes, there are harvest points for produce, minerals, and animal goods, and, not-at-all secretly, the dungeon hides a DEEP SECRET. There is also a story, through which our amnesiac protagonist finds themselves awakening from a coma, forming an adventuring guild, and finds out this DEEP SECRET after many travails. Everything is turn based, and there are classes, skill-trees, and items galore, with tactical thought going into most of your moves.

Sounds cool, yeah? Even better, on the normal and easy (Story) difficulties, you can turn random encounters off for a time, although that’s mostly useful for being able to gather items safely, rather than finish dungeons.

But, here’s the thing. Just as a game can be pretty as heck, but have poorly thought out or tedious gameplay, so too can the reverse be true: A game can have solid gameplay, and have inconsistent or poorly chosen aesthetics. Both are equally a turn-off, and, naturally, most games that have both never see the critical light of day. In the case of Infinite Adventures, it’s the aesthetic that’s the turn-off.

Like Etrian Odyssey, it’s cel-shaded anime characters, over painted backgrounds, with workmanlike UI, with low-poly dungeons. Problem being… It’s nowhere near as cohesive.

Block puzzles move the blocks at a meaty pace of 3 frames a tile… Over about a second. Richly painted landscapes and rooms outside the dungeons contrast with cel-shaded characters, contrasting with a workmanlike interface (Itself having problems like colour choices, transparency interfering with text, and insufficient outlining), contrasting with low to mid-poly 3d dungeons. Voices range from “Adequate” to “Kill the ‘Flirty’ Characters On Sight.” The writing has the general plot beats of an Etrian Odyssey game, but is a blunt instrument with some awkward tonal shifts. Aesthetic consistency… Just plain doesn’t exist here.

And this, put bluntly, is a big problem. Not because the game is mechanically bad, or unplayable. It’s using tried and true mechanics, and while it takes some features people were fond of in its inspiration away, it gives others back. No, it’s because quite a few text-boxes hurt the eyes to read portions of, or because of that godawful “Flirty” voice (The “Absent-Minded” one is almost as bad), or because several different artstyles, each fighting for their place, distract from the gameplay, overpower it, and because the writing can’t save that.

This is perhaps the first time where I can’t recommend a game, not because it’s mechanically bad, but because it’s aesthetically painful. And that makes me sad, even if it’s an object lesson that no, you really can’t let go of one or the other.

It should be noted that comparisons to Etrian Odyssey are made, not just because of game similarity, but *plot* similarity.

The Mad Welshman is not a 4K 60FPS Always Photoreal kinda vaudevillain. However, consistency is a big sticking point.

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Endless Road (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Endless Road could probably be considered at least interesting, if its translation had worked a little better, or its information flow… But alas, neither are true, and it’s this core issue that really prevents it from being as fun or interesting as it maybe could be.

There are many pigs in the early levels. They’re all cute, and often deadly.

Endless Rogue is one of those incremental RPGs, where death nonetheless earns you stuff (or at least unlocks), set on a road that may branch, and branch, but will inevitably lead to a boss, and the next part of this… Endless Road. Along the way, you fight monsters, get random events, items to help you survive, and make tradeoffs. It’s largely fairly simple, and there’s a lot of tooltips, but…

See, I can get the sentiment here, roughly speaking… But it really doesn’t flow well..

…Here’s where that whole “Not great translation” plays in. Some skills and elements (Whether yours or the enemy’s) are either untranslated, or missing, which doesn’t exactly help, and, as a result, there’s a lot of cards whose synergy really isn’t clear. Why, pray tell, would I want my enemy to have 100 attack points in a turn? What ability would make that worth certainly taking damage? Do the traps really apply to me? Large swathes of abilities are unclear, and so, through confusion, I’m just not playing as well as I should. Said translation also makes the letters, which appear to be to our character from somebody called Rice, miss their mark, which, at a guess, is meant to be wistful and soulful, as our heroine goes further and further from home, but keeps finding these letters?

Any which way, it’s certainly playable, as there are still abilities clear enough to use, and a lot of it is about managing your various resources. In the board aspect of the game, moving forward takes SP (Stamina Points, I’m guessing), so you need items or events to replenish this, lest bad events become more and more common (They’re moderately common already.) Meanwhile, you’re trading health, stamina, and gold for various improvements and abilities, using items to gain that health, and occasionally getting into fights, where the goal, each turn, is to score more points with your cards than the opponent does with theirs. Simple enough, except that’s then complicated by abilities. Some enemies, for example, punish close point values, others large differences, and cards can do various things as well, and so those tooltips (mouse over an ability or card) become quite important. Escape is, unless you have a certain item (Monster Mucus) impossible, and besides… Some of them drop sweet, sweet loot.

Every area made of lovingly hand drawn bits? My jam.

It looks pretty nice, to the point where I feel very sad about attacking some low level monsters (I’M SO SORRY, BANDIT-PIG-SAN, BUT I MUST DO THIS), and can recognise, roughly, what abilities a monster has by their visuals and repeated play. But while it’s certainly playable, and it’s not resource intensive, those translation issues take away a lot of the potential fun and mood.

Which is, if we’re being honest, a crying shame.

The Mad Welshman reminds you that if you want to gain an international audience, please translate responsibly.

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Dungeon Girl (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: 
£8.99
Where To Get It: Steam

This review took a while because, at first, it’s somewhat hard to see what the problem is with Dungeon Girl. After all, how complex, or intricate, or messy could a game really be, when its main game loop consists of clicking on groups of same-coloured blocks to remove them, and other blocks fall down?

Looks p. simple, and the main action (clicking on those blocks) *is* . Everything else? Nooooot so much…

As it turns out, a fair bit. So let’s get into Dungeon Girl, in which a dungeon explorer for the Kingdom explores dungeons, albeit not in the fashion many are used to.

Dungeon Girl is, simply put, a block removing turn-based game with RPG mechanics. There are several kinds of blocks, but the most important (and common) are Life (Heals you), Work (Digs out ore), Search (Finds the exit to each floor), and Attack (Does what it says on the tin.) More blocks of the same colour make for a larger effect, and if one or more rows of the grid are filled with a block-type when you remove it, this has another extra effect. 200 dungeon floors, bosses roughly every fifteen floors, stairs roughly every 5 floors, and if you get damaged or your Mind meter goes to 0% , you lose that exploration run.

What’s that? I didn’t mention Mind? Are there Mind Blocks? What are these RPG mechanics? Well, this is where it gets a little complicated. Yes, there are Mind blocks, uncommon as they are. There are also items that heal mind. There’s also quests, and item mixing, and an item encyclopedia, and support members with their abilities and skill grids to put Friend Points in, and… Oh, your eyes are already glazing over. Yes. Mine did too, until suddenly some of these things become important. While others… Don’t. So much. So far. This, readers, is the problem here. It’s a game whose core game loop is simple enough, but everything surrounding it isn’t. And not a whole lot of it feels very useful, whether it is or isn’t. I can, for example, affect the tile drop rate by changing my Adventurer Type, unlocked by specific Friend Point tiles on their skill grids. I can also unlock their Stories, little vignettes, and extra HP, and Treasure Keys, and…

Yes. Yes. This is definitely a skill square. Those are definitely words, and abilities, and rising numbers.

…And while a fair amount of this is explained, not all of it is explained well, and so I’ve shied away from certain features because I genuinely can’t grasp their utility. These Object Points are good, huh? How do I… How do I get more of them? What does that actually do? I have Nono’s Bento at something like +4 , with 7 of them, at 0P. Looking at the help explains it a little, but I have 7 Nono’s Bentos, a +4 that doesn’t seem to do anything, and no bonus (the Help tells me it’s because I haven’t got enough of Nono’s Bento to unlock said bonus.) As such, mixes have largely been left the hell alone in my playthrough, and types left unchanged. Nothing seems to have suffered as a result.

But how are these items gotten? Treasure chests. Which require keys. Which require either unlocking skill grid items on party members (Considering how quickly the Friend Point requirement for the next grid item rises, this is not a preference) or Quests. Quests refresh every ten game days (three moves a day) in a dungeon, and, while some are perfectly do-able (Remove X blocks of Y type, Remove X blocks in one go of Y type Z times, Don’t Get Hurt for X turns), others seem, at best, counterproductive for their gains (Reduce yourself to 20% HP! Fight 5 enemies at once!) and others a matter of luck or speed, rather than skill (Fight X enemies, Fight Y rare enemies.) There’s conflicting elements here, and while choosing between them adds to the difficulty (because treasure chests can only be opened with keys), some seem particularly silly. Use X stairs? Er, yes, because I really want to be going deep quicker when my attack isn’t actually good enough for five floors down right now.

Dungeon Girl started somewhat enjoyable, a little confusing, a little popcorny, and I can see how folks who gave up on it early disliked it for “simple” gameplay. Over time, though, I’ve grown to dislike it because it’s not simple. It’s a hodgepodge of systems that aren’t terribly well explained, with elements fighting each other over how you should progress using its “simple” game loop. Which is less simple because that hodgepodge of elements seems to be affecting, behind the scenes, how well I attack, or the like. To the point where even explaining why it feels like a hodgepodge has turned this review… Into a hodgepodge.

While this ends well, I can’t help but feel this isn’t a good way of going about things. Also, I like pineapple on pizza.

The Mad Welshman loves tooltips. But tooltips, as he’s found elsewhere, are of little use when you don’t know the tooltip is there.

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Tanglewood (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s an interesting world we live in, right now. A time where the oldest computer systems are starting to die, and parts to fix them have become short in supply, due to the simple fact that nobody really makes the chips any more. So when I heard about Tanglewood, a game which was developed for the Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you prefer) using the devkit, and, indeed, was also produced in cartridge form, I had to take a look.

I would, on the face of things, be perpetually angry if this was my purpose in life too.

And you know what? It isn’t bad. Emulated on its PC/Steam release, it works fairly well within its limitations, to create a somewhat minimalist puzzle platformer about a fox… Living in a supernaturally cursed forest. And this fox’s only friends are rocks… and fluffy balls called Fuzzl, who grant Nymn, the lost little fox, special abilities if rolled back to their nests.

So let’s get the bad out of the way first, because, thankfully, it’s somewhat brief. Movement has a fair amount of inertia, and not all the platforms have that extra bit of jumping room most platformer players are used to, so it’s better to jump slightly earlier than you think you’re meant to. Also, if you’re pushing something, and an enemy is coming for you, it’s quicker to let go of the controls, then jump, than let go of the push button while still moving, and trying to jump. Finally, the early Djakk (Big, quicker than you beasties with big teeth) chases can be a pain in the ass to nail due to water screwing with your jump timing. End of things I don’t like.

RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!

Otherwise, it’s tough, but fair. Eight chapters, split into relatively short segments, and each introduces its concepts quite well. Chapter two, Act three, for example, has lightning as its primary antagonistic element, and this is shown very early on with a Hogg directly showing the consequences of being out in the open (IE – Nothing above you.) Clear, quick, direct. No lives system, so while there are stakes, you’re not pressured into perfection first time, and checkpoints are, for the most part, very sensible, being at the start and end of each “puzzle.” With three buttons, each with a clear function, and a nice in-game manual available in the ESC menu, it’s also fairly accessible, and I didn’t have any trouble distinguishing between visual elements. So… That’s fairly nice!

Aesthetically, the game is somewhat minimalist, but in a pleasant way. Each chapter has a day, an evening, and a night theme to it, with some ambient noise every now and again, and small musical stings for each area. Otherwise, it’s fairly quiet, and for this, it works, because often, you’ll hear enemies and Fuzzls before you see them, and, considering death is mostly by contact, this is a good setup. It also fits the mood well, as the feel of threat is increased by the silence… Well, for anyone who’s been to a forest and understands why that’s a bad sign, anyway.

As such, the good outweighs the flaws in Tanglewood, and I feel pretty comfortable recommending it for folks who like platform puzzlers. For those interested, there’s also a brief interview with Matt Phillips, head of Big Evil Corp, on the site as well.

On the one hand, pushing drastically slows you down, be it a big or small object. On the other, most of the time, it’s pretty low pressure.

The Mad Welshman is somehow surprised he was caught off guard by the death-squirrels. He already knew they were… ogoshsocuteARGHMYFACE.

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