Hot Lava (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

When I first looked at Hot Lava, I very much enjoyed its first person platforming. I even expressed that it was one hell of a shock that I was, because, generally speaking, first person platforming puzzles are bollocks, and most people remember them unfondly. But no, I stand by that. The first person platforming is fun. I also stand by the GATS theme being bad. Sorry, Klei.

You will perhaps grow to hate this sister. But it’s not, strictly speaking, her fault.

So… Several areas now exist, each with 6 levels to complete, and, in each of them, you are, essentially, trying to get to the end by jumping on things that aren’t lava. Jumping on, or into lava is obviously bad. Falling too far is obviously bad. Being fast is good. And, to be fair, there’s a fair few ways you can go faster, each with their pros and cons.

For example, you can use Hot Lava’s variation on the bunny hop, where you leap, then both turn and strafe in a direction to pick up speed . The downsides of this are that it takes skill to pull off consistently, and it changes your route precisely because you’re going faster. Then there’s the usual thing of a tighter line (can I skip this tiny jump for this slightly bigger one that gets me where I need to go), and the final one that, so long as you know where the final checkpoint is, you can go straight there, skipping checkpoints along the way (The problem being, of course, that it’s longer between checkpoints, or maybe no checkpoints at all, so I hope you got it right!)

The fake loot boxes have, as far as I’m aware, been removed, replaced with “You get customisations for getting stars in missions”, although the collectibles are still there: Cards, both in lava world, and the normal one, and hidden GATS comics and golden pins in the levels themselves. You can even, once you’ve found the mini science-project style mountain, enter the lava world to just explore and get those cards, with no time pressure.

The Gym is, honestly, not a bad place. Especially since the pole collisions have somewhat improved. Ignore the time, I was just here for a collectible.

Still… The mention of the two in-level collectibles reminds me of one gripe about the game: a biggie. Chase the thing levels. Always last in the level order, and always painful, even in Early Access, they’re actually somewhat worse now. Before, if you got too far away, you’d lose, but you could still take routes that would catch whatever you were chasing, or even get in front of them. Now… Well, they have a pretty good route, although they all seem to be your sister, constrained by the same things you are, and catching them because you actually got in front of them? No longer counts. It’s a fail state. Not gonna lie, if I was clever enough to get to a route that actually beat said sister? I want that reward.

Without that objective, it’s basically an endurance match: No checkpoints, do it all well in one try, try and do elements of the characters route well enough that you catch them from behind. And the last one in particular, “Chase the Meaning” , can fuck right off. When I’m shaking from trying to do the same first segment twelve times, and know there’s no checkpointing, I’m not having a good time with your obstacle course.

Global Action Team: Bad Idols To Look Up To.

So… Aesthetics and narrative time… Oh, that’s right, there’s a narrative, of sorts. See, the prologue has you going to bed via… Well, playing the game of “Floor is Lava” with your sister. Except… There’s something horrible. And that something horrible scares you on the very last part of your journey… Which happens to be the balcony over the living room. The Global Action Team comics show them to be failures, misinterpreting situations, being gulled easily… Even stealing. And then… Well, suffice to say, I won’t spoil it, but you can possibly guess.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned theme song, the game works well. Everything is clear, including those bits you wish weren’t, the environments are plausible and well crafted, the character models are fun, and the music shifts pretty well from the playful tones… To darker ones… To hard driving ones… To, in some cases, almost silence. And all of them thematically work with the level in question (Oh, and the music is quieter when you’re not running all willy-nilly, a sign you should maybe get moving, squirt!)

Overall, Hot Lava is good, and I would recommend it. I would, however, repeat that the “Chase the” segments can go to hell, and I don’t say such things lightly.

The Mad Welshman will, one day, get all the stars. That day, however, is a long way off. But he has a fair few.

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Exorcise The Demons (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Keep Talking, friends, and Nobody Gets Possessed. Had to get that joke in there. Anyway, yes, games with a co-op element can be so fun sometimes. Aaaand sometimes, they’re friendship ruiners. It all depends on who’s playing, really. And so it is with Exorcise the Demons, a game in which one player sees things, but has no idea what they’re doing, and their friend, who knows what the other player’s meant to do, but can’t see anything. Well, if you play it the way it’s meant to be played, anyway.

There are precisely two outcomes to this: He fireballs you, or you block it and banish him. Obviously, the latter is preferred.

Mechanically, there’s honestly not a lot more to it than that: The main player, in first person, runs around a demonic hellscape, in which there are a potential of 7 rituals to complete. All of them have to be completed successfully before you go up to the flaming book and pentagram, where a demon will appear, and you’ll find out if you have completed them successfully. Do so, and the demon’s fireball aimed at your bonce is shielded against, and you banish them. Fail on one puzzle, even one, and… Congrats, your soul is now theirs. So, naturally, there’s a fair bit of recrimination if you seem to have done everything right (Because there is no “You’ve done this right” sign for any single puzzle), and a bit of relieved joy if you actually have. There’s some physics manipulation involved, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’d think, as objects set remain set, and the majority is “Click on the thing or drag the thing over the other thing.” Cool.

Why yes, because nobody’s told you what to do, berk! (That’s a lie, I’d actually solved this seconds before. I just delayed for a nice screenshot.)

There is also a story mode of 25 levels, about a confused, amnesiac man named John, and his ally, who is… Of no help beyond giving story, so yes, you still need a friend to play this, although they don’t need the game. Story mode is where collectibles get unlocked, and it’s completion only that’s required to unlock things. Cool. And puzzles do appear to be randomised during Story levels too. I didn’t particularly feel like the writing of story mode was really drawing me in, unfortunately, and the voices were… Well, they were alright. So… Let’s deal with the Book of Rituals. Because only one player needs the game, and the other uses this.

The Book of Rituals is, like the bomb manual in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, misleading. Not factually misleading, but at times obtuse (the Ouija Board, for example, involves a wordsearch, when all you actually need is the position of the last letter of the demon’s name), and other times, worded so you can easily miss segments (While streaming this, a friend and I consistently failed the Circle of Protection segment. Turns out, there was a small, but significant point we were missing: The colour of the outside flames was the key.)

I’m pretty sure it’s going to be trimmed down by avid players, but it is something to be aware of (“Okay, check M first… Is it red? Okay, from left to right, you need to light the second and third candle, and hit YES on the Ouija Board. Also, I’m deliberately lying for the sake of an example.”)

Finally, there are curses and tattoos. These seem to be in for adding a bit of spice to both the practice mode, and padding out the story levels a little. Sometimes, your controls are wonky. Sometimes, what you see may not necessarily be true. Sometimes, you can freeze time during rituals, and sometimes, you can run faster between puzzles, as examples of precisely half the curses and tattoos available in game. Whee, that was a ride, wasn’t it?

The Crystal Puzzle. The devs are apparently aware of the problem, though.

So, obviously, how it feels depends on you and your friend. I had the hardest time communicating the Rune and Crystal puzzles with my co-op partner, although, in the former case, we’d been struggling to communicate at first, and, in the latter case, they have… Green and Yellow crystals. But the developers are, thankfully, aware of this, so I’m expecting a change to happen soon to make it more colourblind friendly. Aesthetically, well, like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, you’re going to be looking at the same visual presentation of puzzles, and the same play area a lot. It’s a very pretty one, and I like the grime, grit, and hellfire myself, along with the dramatic music, but be aware, that may or may not pall on you.

Overall, though, Exorcise the Demons does exactly what it sets out to do: Create a supernatural co-op puzzle experience, in which unreliable information is passed between players to co-operatively solve puzzles. And it’s been an enjoyable experience for me. Well, bitter arguments about how to do the Circle of Protection puzzle aside.

The Mad Welshman actually doesn’t mind demons. But it is rude to possess another nonconsensually.

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Agent A: A Puzzle In Disguise (Review)

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

Agent A is, some Simon puzzles and a couple of brute forcers aside, a fairly good puzzle game where I’ve never felt the need for a walkthrough (the urge, yes. But not the need.) So that’s quite a pleasant start, both to the review and the game itself. But hot-damn, it also has some moments in the game that make this review really hard to write, because I have to avoid spoilers that I really want to talk about.

If only I could… Put a secret code or something with spoilers in (No, I have not in fact done this)

Still, let’s give this a go. Agent A is, as you might have guessed from the subheader, a Myst style “Explore a place, solving puzzles as you go.” Except it’s not uninhabited, and it is, in fact, the home of the antagonist, enemy spy Ruby LaRouge, who has a reputation for “dismissing” enemy agents, a reputation you witness the truth of just a few hours before you trail her to her hideout.

And ohhh, she’s a good antagonist. Vaudevillainous as a James Bond villain, confident, sadistic… It feels like she’s taunting you a lot more than she actually is, because her presence lingers. So… What about the puzzles?

These are never good words to hear from a sadistic enemy agent.

Well, the good news is that with most of them, the clues are there if you know where to look for them, and the item puzzles only take a little bit of wandering and futzing before you work them out. The colour ones appear to be colour blind friendly (As always, corrections on this from folks with colourblindness appreciated, but it does seem to be holding to the “Difference in both hue and light value” rule that works best), and there are only a few Simon style or brute force puzzles (of which the piano, in Chapter 1, is the worst to my mind. As soon as I saw a pianola roll, I audibly groaned.)

The controls are also pretty simple, although there’s some slowness to the movement that may not be appreciated: Left click does a thing, left drag moves a thing or drags a thing from inventory to be used, right click is “Go back a bit.” And that last one works because the tree of rooms and zones is kept relatively tight. But it should be noted that the perceptive player, who has their screenshot button handy, is rewarded (not just in puzzle clues, but… Other information), whereas the one not looking at everything they humanly can will have a much tougher time. It’s that sort of game. Heck, there are even secret things to do, ones I’ve definitely missed on this review playthrough.

What, you thought those cars that could turn into submarines stored themselves?

Still… The game looks good. The music is good. The voice acting is solid, especially the antagonist who comprises the majority of the game, and its clarity works for it. It’s also an experience that feels longer than it is (in a good way), and has some replay value if you’re a perfectionist. But mostly, it does what it says on the tin, tightly, and with a little panache, and I can quite easily recommend this one for the puzzlers out there. But remember, Ruby is mean, and that is all the warning I can give you!

The Mad Welshman sometimes chafes under the need to hide spoilers, as many people do. Although… He does like hearing the shocked cries of “The hell?” as people get to certain plot points too… Decisions, decisions…

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Cliff Empire (Early Access Reviews)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Release

Right now, Cliff Empire is a frustrating experience. Not because it doesn’t have a good idea. Not because it doesn’t have a good aesthetic (futurist and clean.) No, it’s simply because its tutorial… Does not actually teach very well. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t keep up very well with how it is currently balanced.

Our latest bunch of hapless colonists.

Example: You are asked to build one matter generator. Then you’re asked to build a whole bunch of stuff that uses matter. Congratulations, your matter economy is now borked. If you, yourself, fix that, well… Did you know the power economy is, in the early game, heavily weighted toward building a lot of power surplus during the day, then disabling buildings and using batteries constructed by power surplus for the night? No? Oh. Well now you do. Some other things are more obvious, such as needing enough food and water to keep your colonist fed. But some needs are… Irritating.

Oh, yes… Premise. Earth has been blasted by radioactive war, leaving a lot of the fallout. Some folks escaped to an orbital station (which is doing just fine, by the by. Bastards), while the ones who remained, out of some weird altruism (that I don’t think those station folk are owed) built giant cliffs to rise above the radioactive fog that now covers the Earth.

Fun fact: They don’t always fill your needs. Perhaps the survivors on Earth had a sense of humour. In any case, there are three modes of play: Sandbox (currently preferred), Default (In which raiders don’t appear to come, but you have to fill those needs), and Tower Defense, which I haven’t even touched because… Come the hell on, I don’t need powering missile stations and shit on top of the hot mess that is currently “Just keeping folks alive.”

Trying to go it alone resulted in a… Marginally better life. Marginally.

Because yes, you will have trouble balancing needs. Colonists come in groups of 15 (needing Uranium to land, something you will have to trade for in the early game because you don’t know how much is in your particular cliff top), but housing comes in… 13, with the options for more if you spend the money. The money you won’t have until you build a trading station.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the UI. Most of the time, the UI is just fine. But currently, the trading UI is clear as mud. It specifically wants you to enter numbers in the more than columns and less than columns as needed (Once you’ve put in a number, entering 0 for less than, or a number higher than you think you can feasibly reach for more than, is needed.) Buuuut guess how the columns, and the rows are differentiated? Answer: Not at all. It’s a big black space that, honestly, confused me for far longer than it should have.

What this doesn’t tell you: Also have enough matter creation to be able to handle that 3d printing and everything else you’re about to do…

Overall, Cliff Empire has an interesting premise (Even if I feel antipathy toward the orbital station survivors, considering their likely background), and it doesn’t need much more work, aesthetically speaking (Music is fine and calming, buildings are clear and futurist, UI… Needs some scaling options, and the aforementioned Trading UI thing.) But the balancing seems to need work, considering that nearly every building past the first few has some sort of roadblock or bottleneck associated with it.

The Mad Welshman will not allow the rich to get to the orbital stations. His knife and fork are at the ready…

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AMID EVIL (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£23.79 for Warrior Edition, also available in a bundle with DUSK)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Last time I looked at AMID EVIL, I enjoyed it, with some minor qualifications. Alas, one of those minor qualifications still exist (Sorry, AMID EVIL devs, your menu and your UI is not the easiest to read, and the menu is still visually painful), but the other now doesn’t (Soul power is unleashed with Alt-Fire), and so I can honestly say that, menu and UI aside, AMID EVIL is enjoyable. Hard, once it gets going, for reasons I’ll go into, but enjoyable.

This lil’ fella and his friends fire shots that somewhat home in…

So, let’s get the first thing out the way quite quickly: AMID EVIL, like its 90s and early 00s inspirations (Specifically, games like the Heretic/Hexen series), can get pretty twitchy, real fast. None of the enemies, individually, are that smart, are pattern based, and can be dealt with by virtue of being faster than them and hitting them really hard with whatever flavour of magic beatdown you happen to be using at that time (And there are several, each with nice, meaty effects to sink your teeth into, especially with Soul Mode unleashed.) But, from early on, there’s never just one, but a small army. Killing that small army is, to be fair, a cathartic as hell experience. But I often find myself coming out of fights with my HP barely inside the double digits, hunting for health pickups, a lot.

…And when there’s a lot of them… Ohhh boy, you’re in trouble!

So, essentially, it gets twitchy pretty fast, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to newcomers to first person shooters. But, y’know what? That’s alright. It is what it is, and what it is is a spectacle of gibs (some of which are, themselves, mini enemies later on), sound and fury, but, unlike the shakespeare monologue, it signifies one step closer to an interesting boss, a new locale, and new, more interesting enemies to defeat. Considering the game has seven episodes, each with their own flavour, there’s essentially a lot to play here.

An example of a beautiful environment. Shamelessly cribbed from my last review.

Okay, so… Apart from the menus, the lack of a map of some description can sometimes hurt it. Like DUSK, the game is very fond of trap labyrinths, secrets, and monster closets. Overall, though, while it doesn’t like to move beyond its very Quake 2 comfort zone, it aesthetically pleases, with good music, good weapon effects, and interesting low-poly visuals… Oh, and being fast as heck. As mentioned, not really for players new to FPS, but definitely a cool one to give a go.

The Mad Welshman would, honestly, root for the eyeball things if they’d let him. But they don’t.

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