Tangle Tower (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Families can be… Difficult. The unspoken. The misspoken. The very much spoken. As much as they can be a joy, people to hold onto in difficult times… They can equally be a burden, a curse. And the latter is… Sort of true in Tangle Tower, a mystery adventure game where the murder of one of its scions not only causes grief for the family, but exposes the cracks, the pain that’s already there. The failed dreams, the self delusions.

I can’t help but like Poppy. In a way, she’s the most honest of the lot.

Families can be difficult, and never moreso than when there’s a death in the family. A death, in this case, that was premeditated by a family member. But who?

Well, that’s your job, as Detective Grimoire and Sally. To solve the murder of Freya Fellow, an artist and lover of insects. And while the game is most definitely pleasant, the story of the murder itself? Well, murder can be for some not very rational decisions.

Anyway, the game. The game has three or four base elements to it: Investigating the various locales of Tangle Tower, solving the various puzzles and puzzle locks around the house, interrogating the family members (plus a brusque fellow detective named Hawkshaw), and putting together those suspicions in one of two ways: By making sentences with two pieces of evidence and two sentence fragments, or by picking the relevant clue item.

This one caught me out for the longest time…

The most complex elements are the puzzles, and it warmed my heart to see that not only was there a clue button that would let you know where to go next if you were stuck (or who to talk to, if you had all the pieces to reveal someone’s secret), the puzzles would have hints. Not big ones, just a general hint on how to solve the puzzle if you took multiple tries, but that was nice. Add in that pretty much everything is done by clicking the left mouse button, or dragging it, and it’s pretty accessible to play too.

Aesthetically, it works quite well. Clear UX, so you know what is what and what does what, the soundscapes were nice, from the music that fit each character (For example, melancholy piano for Poppy) and situation (The eerie, final areas have an equally eerie tune), to the little things, like ambient sound. The art style is solid, painted backgrounds working well with the heavily inked, flat shaded characters, and the voice work? The voice work is good. You get the feel for each character, and, when their suspicious aspect is revealed, you can hear the defeat, the brittleness in most of their voices. I say most, because some are already brittle.

Fifi is one hell of a character. Autistic readers, if you play the game, lemme know if they’re good autistic rep, and I’ll edit this caption to reflect that.

As to the writing? Well, I can’t spoil it, but it follows the rules of a good mystery: Red herrings, misdirections, every clue having a reason to be there, and moderately good foreshadowing of various elements. Why is there a bloodstain on the floor when Freya was standing close to the painting when she got stabbed, in the chest? There’s fantastical elements, it’s true, from the more outlandish characters to the general idea of the island, a place where the lake waters mutate creatures and plants much more rapidly than the surroundings, to the eccentricities of the family.

And, of course, a little humour. Sometimes it’s the kind of humour that stays light, like the sarcastic banter between Grimoire and Sally. Sometimes, it’s the kind that, later on, makes you feel a little bad for laughing.

In any case, I finished Tangle Tower in a single setting, and, while it’s not the longest game, clocking in at around 4 hours for a playthrough, I’ve had a whale of a time with it. Not, specifically, fun, because fun isn’t, strictly speaking, the goal. But I wanted to know, know about the family, about the island, about the mechanics of this strange murder, and the reason for it. Well, I got all those things. And I recommend it.

The Mad Welshman honestly wishes the folks who still live in Tangle Tower well. Life’s tough, people need a break.

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The 13th Doll: A 7th Guest Fangame (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, I came into The 13th Doll expecting cheese, evil puzzles, and Stauf being sarcastic, and, beyond some odd design choices, that’s… Exactly what I got. Good job, everybody, let’s pack it up and…

Ah, the puns. I actually missed these.

…Oh, wait, I need to talk about it, don’t I? Well, The 13th Doll, like the 7th Guest, is a first person puzzle adventure with 3d areas and, occasionally, live action on top. It looks relatively natural for such a thing, which is a somewhat difficult thing to pull off. Now, though, they’re using Unity, and so they’re not limited to awkward, individually raytraced movement frames between locations. You just… Move around, your cursor changes when you can change rooms (A skeletal finger beckons), when you can’t just yet (it wags), when you can do a puzzle (A skull with a pulsating brain), and when you can pick up or otherwise interact with something (Chattering teeth or a comedy mask, depending on what it is.)

The other thing here is that there are, in fact, two protagonists: Tad, the boy from the original game, who escaped the mansion after being stuck there as a time looping ghost. And, since this game is set in the 20s or 30s, starts the game placed in a “hospital for the mentally insane” (If anyone knows what physical insanity is, let me know too, I’m curious.) The other is the new psychiatric doctor, Dr. Richmond, who, as exposure therapy, takes Tad back… To the mansion! Legitimately a nice way to have 26 puzzles (13 apiece) in the game, and their stories both intersect at points… And diverge the rest of the time.

Tad has grown, and… Well, I suppose he’s got good reason to be so sulky as an adult.

Tad, quite literally haunted by the spectres of his past, seeks to destroy Stauf once and for all by… Well, he’s told the 13th doll is the key, but, considering it tried to grab his ankles in the intro, I’m not entirely sure this is true. Meanwhile, Dr Richmond’s story… Ohh, it burns my ass to see Stauf engaging in historical revisionism. He’s a brilliant man! A genius! His wife was the serial killer, and she was the one who caused the children to die in the first game through a virus she had! BLECH.

In any case, aesthetically, it works alright, overall… The music is pretty good, sometimes covers of the first game’s soundtrack, others new tracks, and they’re all pretty fitting. The acting, on the other hand… That’s more variable. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting shakespearean ham from anyone but Robert Hirschboeck (who both reprises his role as Henry Stauf, and brings his style, panache, and ham to the role once more) but the protagonists are sometimes a little flat in their speech. Visually, well… It’s not a bad looking rendition of the Stauf Mansion, and I like the new touches on some of the old spookings. It also has a relatively clear UX, although there is the oddity that, to save, you have to go to the main menu. Don’t quite know why that decision was made, but I’ve let you know now.

ARGH. AAAAAARGH.

Still, a game like this wouldn’t be complete without the puzzles, and… Ohhh boy. There is colourblind assistance, but it’s a text overlay, which, in the case of some puzzles early on, makes it a sod to see the puzzle itself. And the puzzles are, for the most part, bastard hard. Case in point, on Doctor Richmond’s path, there is… The clock puzzle. Can you split a clock into four parts, so that each endpoint of your segments adds up to the same number? I’ve been racking my brain over this one for a while, suffice to say. Some are new takes on old puzzles, such as the artery puzzle (Now a sliding block puzzle with a twist: The blocks can fall off the edges, never to be regained.) Oh, and the return of the fucking first person maze. Oh yes, that was indeed a memorable moment in 7th Guest. That was the part most of us said “Nope, fuck this!” and missed out on the endings. Get your graph paper out for that one, friends!

Overall, though, it’s by no means a bad game. The story is ham and cheese, but I went in expecting that, and if you do too, you’ll be alright. The puzzles, the mansion… These are the meat of the game, and, while not all the accessibility options work well (if you have problems, let them know.), it’s worth hitting options before you begin to check them. In any case, the puzzles, while fiendish, are mostly well explained (Although the hints mostly seem to be restatements of the puzzle mechanics, sadly), the callbacks are mostly fun, and, overall… Yep, definitely recommended for 7th Guest fans, moderately recommended for puzzle adventure fans who like hard puzzles. Good Stauf!

Robert Hirschboeck. Playing the Man in the Moon at a theater near you.

The Mad Welshman finds himself… Chilling with this game. That was a graaave mistake… (Ohohoho)

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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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