Void Bastards (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I do so love me a very British future in videogames. Because it is, almost always, an absolute hellscape, but with black humour that somehow keeps it going. And so it is with Void Bastards, a game about being left behind, dealing with a system that hates you, and surviving for as long as you can.

It’s… Somewhat worrying that these are quite prevalent. A penal society? EEEEESH.

Wow, that doesn’t induce feels in pretty much anyone who’s had to deal with the state unemployment system here in the UK. Not at all. And the starships in the Sargasso Void certainly aren’t filled with mutated chavs, janitors, and British Tourists, so it certainly isn’t the dumping ground for the unwanted and the awkward. Nope, nothing going on here. But it certainly makes for an interesting presentation of a roguelike shooter.

So… Essentially, it goes like this: After a short tutorial you are not expected to survive (but potentially can), either you will be asked to restart the ship’s FTL dri- whoops, “Clients” have their citizen cards shredded, so you can’t do that, need you to go through derelict ships to find the right items to make a new one. To get this, all you need to do is obtain permit A38. Orrr get two items, neither of which are close to your own ship, the Void Ark, and then get back. Or you will die, be rehydrated (Turns out you’re not only forgotten about, but also dehydrated for easy storage. Damn, this government is… Well, I can’t actually believe they would actually be that efficient, but still, it’s a game, whatever), and then told that you need to get these items to get your civil ID card back and restart the FTL drive.

Anyone wanting to know how many lines it takes to create a look of worry and bed wetting terror with just eyes, look no further than this.

And so it begins. Tromping around dark, often dangerous ships, with a cel shaded comic book style exploration,traps, limited opportunities to heal, and a variety of enemies, most of whom are British. The Juves, the Janitors, the Screws, the bureacratic Scribes, the Tourists who explode if you get near them (but want you to be near them, because they have questions. Bloody tourists…) It’s legitimately nice that, once options have been unlocked, you get them for the characters after, but it should be noted that ammo is also scarce. Besides, fighting… Isn’t always the best way. As noted, healing’s kind of limited too. Basically, running a way a lot is a good idea. Or being sneaky and cunning.

Oh, and if you thought the ID card was the end of it, you’ve clearly never dealt with the joys of bureaucracy. Or a looted bureacratic starship whose step-by-step bureaucratic AI can’t even act properly to save itself.

…I’d probably give most people a pass on the latter, if we’re being perfectly fair.

Colour Blind Mode, aka Five Shades of Gray.

Anyway, while the comic book style is good, the UI is clear (except in Colour Blind mode, which hates you and everything you stand for), and it’s visually quite pleasing, where the game shines is in its voice acting, and its writing. If you want an idea of what British Hell sounds like, this comes pretty damn close. The bored teenagers have laser guns, but still oh-so-imaginatively think calling you a “Knobhead” is the height of wit, the shipboard computer is telling you that the worst thing about the Void Pirates is that they aren’t paying VAT on what they steal, and…

…Nobody’s actually a villain here. Nobody in the Nebula, at least. Just a lot of people, forced by terrible circumstances (and probably bureacratic AI) to deal with being abandoned to terrible circumstances.

What is it with this month’s reviews and the need for a “Content Warning: Too Damn Real”? Anyway, well worth a look, good example of British Humour, and a solid roguelike FPS to boot.

The Mad Welshman forgot to file Permit A-39, as noted by the circular B-65, so he can’t actually add the “Too Real” Content Warning until the process has been completed. We expect this to take around 20 years.

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!

Phoenix Wright Trilogy (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (£38.25 game+soundtrack, £12.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh, we’ve been waiting a long time for this, but finally, the first trilogy of Phoenix Wright has hit the shores of the PC, and it’s quite the pleasing turnabout. After all, Phoenix Wright is, overall, an interesting and cool series, and the PC port is pretty good.

Wellington’s as excited as I am for this to have happened. Either that or we caught him in a massive porkie.

Okay, let’s get the niggle out of the way before we sum up the trilogy: It only remembers what window size it’s meant to be on loading. That’s pretty minor, so… Phoenix Wright. It’s a series of police procedural visual novels, in which you play the titular character, a novice lawyer, in the deadly justice system of what has been dubbed by fans “Japanifornia” (For being both Japanese and American), where simply defending your client isn’t enough… If you can’t find the real murderer in 3 days, your client is guilty by default. Game over, man… Game over.

It comes in two segments, investigation and the trial, but, thankfully, I can’t think of an instance where the investigation can end without you having collected the necessary evidence. The trials, however… Ah, they get tricksy at times, because not only do you have to choose between pressing for further details and presenting evidence, sometimes, what seems like the obvious path is… Well, the wrong one for the time. So, yes, occasionally there’s a bit of “Read the developer’s mind.”

Artist’s rendition of the player versus the developer in these moments…

Thankfully, you can save at any time, so if you’re unsure, remember the old adventure gamer’s adage: Save Early, Save Often!

Now, of course, is it good? Well, the original games and their HD ports come highly recommended for charming writing, good visuals, fairly accessible play (They were originally developed for the DS), and good tunes (Especially “Cornered”, which really gets the blood pumping), and, I’m happy to say, this particular port is… No different. The pacing and tone shifts are well handled, it breaks up the tension well with its comedic moments, and there are characters to love (Edgeworth, who definitely isn’t a secret Steel Samurai fan, nope), characters to love hating (Redd White and April May definitely come to mind for this), and I’m having a whale of a time playing through the first three games (Although I am informed that whales don’t get involved until Dual Destinies, which is outside the scope of this review.) As mentioned, there’s one correct path, and sometimes it involves reading the developer’s mind, but these are relatively few and far between.

When it breaks up the tension with humour… Well, it works. Poor Phoenix…

As such, Phoenix Wright Trilogy definitely comes recommended. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and hot damn, you do feel clever getting a case done without, say, looking at a walkthrough. For fans of mysteries and visual novels, Phoenix Wright is a no brainer.

The Defence Rests, Yeronner.

Become a Patron!

Death Mark (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £32.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ghosts, it seems, are sexist. Either that, or they’re creeps. This is the impression I get from Death Mark, a visual novel/RPG with an interesting premise, but fanservicey art choices that don’t gel well with their horror narrative. So, more accurately speaking… Death Mark’s got a gender-bias problem.

I wanted at least one male horror, for comparison’s sake.

Let’s back up a bit. Death Mark tells the tale of an amnesiac protagonist, where it’s quickly established that they are amnesiac because of a death curse from a vengeful ghost. And so, with a living doll, a mansion that belonged to one of the victims, and the help of other Marked individuals, you attempt to find the spirit that cursed you to die in terror, forgetting more and more.

Let’s appreciate what’s good. The soundtrack is atmospheric and tense, and the sound design is pretty good. The UI is clear, except for the character menu (Which, apart from the END that leaves the game, can be explored just fine.) The art is good, except for some of the ghosts. The story beats are interesting, and the game sells its odd, urban legend inspired world. Similarly, the characters are interesting, and each has something going for them, where even the unlikable ones have some sympathetic aspects to them.

The most horrifying woman’s death CG in the game. And still shibari. SIIIIGH.

But, as mentioned, the game has a definite “Targeted toward the horny white male” vibe to it, as men are invariably murdered horribly, while the portrayal of women is… Well, this is the least sexy “Dead/about to be made dead” CG in the game apart from the intro. Inventory can be a bit of a pain, especially in Chapter 2, where the bottles of Nite Nite are not grouped, and yes, there are items of technically no use. Finally, while I could say the deaths/game overs for fuckups are annoying, the main reason this is so is because saves are restricted to the mansion, as, for the most part, puzzles do have clear hints (Sometimes in notes, sometimes inventory, sometimes conversation.) And finally, the monsters being in a different art style, while I can understand why (To emphasise their otherness), it doesn’t really land for me.

While Lee Chaolan has fallen on hard times, he’s still cheery as ever…

Nonetheless, overall, I enjoyed Death Mark, having completed the good route over the course of the weekend. I enjoyed its twist at the end of the main story, I somewhat enjoyed the DLC chapter, but would warn folks that the game contains mentions of abuse, child abuse, suicide, prostitution, rape… Heavy subjects. If that doesn’t turn you away, then Death Mark is pretty solid horror, and I do, overall, recommend it despite the reservations above.

The Mad Welshman says “Kill men sexily in horror games 2019!”

Become a Patron!

The 7th Guest: 25th Anniversary Edition (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

25 years it’s been, since we first visited the house of Stauf, the serial-killer toymaker who lived in a devilish House that Jack Built. A game that sold many a CD-ROM back in the day, but nowadays receives either quaint chuckling or ear-shattering rage, depending on when somebody experienced the dread Microscope Puzzle.

Oh, and anniversary editions that are actually ports of mobile editions. That too.

Complete with translation errors. Well, at least this one’s amusing. What, who HASN’T eaten at least one fair?

For those who haven’t seen The 7th Guest, it’s a spooky puzzle adventure in which six guests (that you know of) have been invited to the mansion of Stauf, a mysterious and murderous toymaker. They all vanished, long ago, but you see their ghosts as you, a man with no memory, explore the house, solve puzzles, are taunted by Stauf, and eventually discover the mysteries, like… What happened to the other 6, why children died when they bought Stauf toys, and… Who the 7th guest was… It was interesting stuff, and most of it’s aged fairly well. Normally, anyway.

In case that first pair of paragraphs hadn’t clued you in, The 7th Guest 25th Anniversary Edition’s value mostly lies in its extras. The rejiggered graphics are, indeed, rejiggered in the technical sense, but in the technical sense of “Upscale, smoothing filter applied.” The audio’s alright, but the “totally new” control scheme is… Well, it’s actually clunkier than the original, which is a thing to behold. Rather than smooth shifts between contextual controls, there’s a giant mouse cursor (For lo, the game has no windowed mode, and resolution changes happen twixt menu and game… Even menu to menu, in some cases) that shifts between “Big pointy thing” to the beckoning skeletal fingers and eyeballs we know and love (Some of which stay on screen blinking for a bit after you’ve moved selections.)

“Winking in and winking out… Hey Guest, don’t try this out!”

Sooo… In general, the nicest thing I can say is “The map looks a bit clearer, and the sound’s a little cleaner.” Not a good start. But how about the dread Microscope Puzzle?

Well, apparently that’s a third somewhat nice thing. It has been retooled, somewhat, to the point where opinions actually differ on whether the thing’s an utter bastard to finish. But that, essentially, is about it. A clunkier interface and smoothed upscale doesn’t make for a great experience, and, while those can be removed (Along with the nicer map, by choosing “Original” graphics), it ends up with either money I’ve already spent on The 7th Guest itself, or a port of a port that feels less pleasant to play.

And he’s going to carry on waiting. The 1.04 version doesn’t even get past the menu for me, hence all these screenshots being early game…

Neither are a particularly pleasing choice to me, and so I leave by repeating what I said earlier: Unless the extras interest you, this is probably one to avoid.

The Mad Welshman normally doesn’t disapprove of ports. But, here’s the thing… They have to be decent ports.

Become a Patron!