Project Warlock (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Project Warlock, a retro styled first person shooter, is a game where my biggest criticism, after consideration, is its first level. Beyond that, it gets more reasonable, but its first level… Well, we’ll get to that.

Enemies vary from episode to episode. Which is also a nice touch…

In the retro stylings corner, we have pixellated enemies, deliberately low-resolution wall textures, and an in-game UI that wouldn’t look out of place in an early Doom clone, and difficulty settings where only the “Casual” equivalent has infinite lives. On the modern end, we’ve got a menu that looks decent-ish (if busy), some good painted art on the loading screens and title, mouselook, RPG styled between-level mechanics, and interesting weapon quirks. For example, the axe can, if you GIT GUD (or lucky) bat projectiles back at an enemy.

Equally, though, the retro stylings also mean that there are monster closets and enemy spawns in cleared areas at fixed points, and it’s around here where we talk about how the first level gives you such a taste of what you’re in for that it’s actually kind of off putting.

Ohhh yes. There’s also this ambush. I’d forgotten about that ambush, in among the others.

Starts fine, but in very short order, you’re dropped into a pit into a small room filled with enemies. Then you get a key, only to be ambushed by several enemies. Then a weapon, where you’re ambushed again, then a lift, where you’re frontally ambushed in a tight corridor by two big fellers who have large tower shields (requiring good aim, good “getting past enemies who really want to hem you in and smack you with aforementioned shields” skills, or… ???) and their ranged support. Funnily enough, later levels actually ease off on this, although some retro game annoyances do occur from time to time (Such as picking up dynamite from a random drop immediately before being ambushed in a corridor. Hope you noticed you just picked up the dynamite, or you are very, very dead.)

A large difficulty spike in the first actual level is, perhaps, not the best of difficulty spikes to have. But, as noted, once past that first level, the power curve very rapidly catches up, especially if you’re getting the secrets, which tend to come in two varieties: Walls that look different and can be opened, and walls that don’t necessarily look that different until you shoot them, at which point they’re revealed to be walls that take a fair bit of shooting to open up. Each weapon has two possible upgrades, stats get upgraded, skills get upgraded… And there are spells. But, of course, unless you’re doing particularly well, you don’t get to play with all of those, and the first, the Light spell… Is very similar to the original Doom 3 flashlight, in that you can’t use it and a weapon. So, er… Good luck in dark, confined areas?

Honestly, this screenshot felt the most emblematic of the issues I have with Project Warlock.

Finally, we have the fact that you have to get through a certain number of levels in a row before clearing a “stage.” This seems to be, at worst, 4 levels in a row. Die, you lose a life. Leave to the workshop before you’re done, lose a life. As noted, only on the lowest difficulty setting do you have infinite lives. In medium difficulty, you have three, with pickups very sparsely scattered around. At the highest difficulty… Well, I hope you’re good at Doom style games.

It is not, overall, a terrible game. I’ve had some enjoyment out of it, now that I’ve gotten over some of its biggest hurdles. But that was on the lowest difficulty, with the full awareness that I’d have eaten about twelve game overs, four of them in the first level of the first episode, and I have to conclude that this game is too much in love with its difficulty-as-feature. Its modern additions don’t really feel all that much of a boon, and, as such, I can’t, personally, really recommend Project Warlock to many folks.

The Mad Welshman is no stranger to Monster Closets, but, unlike shooter-protagonists, he likes them firmly closed.

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Book of Demons (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s not often I mention a game’s trailer in a review… But Book of Demons is notable in that yes, it lets you know, ahead of time, that you’re going to get “jokes”, and a game that is, essentially, Diablo with the numbers filed off, with a strained meter to boot.

The Rogue. Still one of the more viable characters of the game.

Thanks, Paperverse, for making it clear in a review trailer some of the reasons I don’t recommend you before I’ve even written the release review.

Anyway, Book of Demons, as noted, is, at its base level, Diablo with the numbers filed off. The Bishop is now the Pope. The Butcher is now The Cook (And, if anything, is an even more annoying fight.) The Deckard Cain expy does exactly what you’d expect, except with references. But a lot of what’s different about Book of Demons… Isn’t exactly great. Like the try-hard, shitty humour. Hahaha, what a hated person this Gypsy Fortune Teller is! Hey Barmaid, do you remember the time when, or remember the time when, or remem- You get the picture.

Multi-stage boss who summons enough high HP adds that fighting them is mandatory damage (and poison)? Not the best design choice, is it?

Rather than a relatively open field, this only applies to monsters, whereas you are restricted to going along paths. Mandatory damage is rife, at least partly because of this, and partly because of enemies that require shields destroyed, or spawn enemies on being hit, or become faster and more damaging precisely because you were efficient at killing them. Ranged enemies can target you from off-screen, and if, funnily enough, they are in two of the four cardinal directions you can potentially move in… Saaaay… The same two cardinal directions you are allowed to move in down a corridor… Congratulations, eat more mandatory damage.

Aesthetically, it looks alright. But while the original stated goal was to add accessibility to games like Diablo, its changes are not,functionally speaking, all that different. Indeed, clicking multiple times on an opponent is technically worse than “Hold Left Mouse over enemy to attack it”, being restricted to certain areas of movement while enemies are not is technically worse than “Can move anywhere anything else can move”, and writing wise… Well, it’s a tired, uninspired clone with added “humour” that, most of the time, just isn’t funny.

TOTALLY NOT THE BUTCHER. NOPE. DEFINITELY NOT.

I started mildly curious, and somewhat sceptical about Book of Demons. And now, on release… Its papery aesthetic is a good metaphor for how thin it feels. For everything it’s reduced, it’s added tedium and frustration.

Paperverse is an apt name. Alas, perhaps not for the reasons the developers intended.

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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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