Demon’s Tilt (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

Pinball is, in the physical world, almost an artefact, an anachronism vanishing into the historical distance. Wires, magnets, rubber, LEDs… But for an entire generation, they were a cultural touchstone. In the digital world, however, they still live. And the best of them take advantage of their medium, to do things that would likely be impossible with physical pinball tables. Both, however, can get a little arcane if you try and describe them mechanically. This ramp, followed by these bumpers, followed by this ramp, and then this ramp again, earns you… But This ramp, followed by this ramp, earns you a quick bonus, and if you can repeat that same trick fifty times…

Pictured: The Abomination, destroyed by hitting each head multiple times.

So, it’s fairly safe to say I won’t be saying much mechanically, rather than what applies to all pinball tables: You hit the ball with the paddles, using what you observe of the ball’s physics to hopefully hit what you want, keeping it from falling “out” of the table. The ball falls out three times (or one, in Hardcore mode), and you lose.

Demon’s Tilt (Heavily inspired by games like Devil Crush or Crue Ball), specifically, adds a few things we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a Goth. Synthwave. Bullet hell. Pinball game. Now, don’t run away, it’s not as intimidating as I make that out to be, just… A lot to unpack!

Still here? Whew. Okay, so two of these are, essentially, aesthetic. Pentagrams, liches, and undead lions in iron masks mix with synthwave style neon splashes for score, jackpot, and other notifications, all to a hard driving, Sega Genesis style soundtrack (Itself having diverse motifs: Little bit of OutRun feel for a few bars, tiny bit of Castlevania for another, while still meshing really well.)

The Lion In The Iron Mask doesn’t appreciate taking a steel ball to the snout. And Lilith doesn’t appreciate you hiding in her headgear. Can’t blame either of them, really!

The “bullet hell” part is interesting, because, while the bullets kill momentum, they only get spawned under certain circumstances (Hitting one of the table bosses in their mid to late stages, for example), the enemies are mostly weak (and only kill downward momentum, which is really helpful), and, to help counter these extra considerations, the game’s tilt sensor (An anti-cheat measure, originally to ensure you weren’t just lifting the table and tipping the ball where you wanted it to go) is quite generous (to the point where it recommends you use tilt.) Although, like any pinball table, it can get pretty twitchy (and dealing with the twitchy portions is a key to mastery), the bullets are pretty slow, and thus, dealing with them is more a matter of perception, of thought, than of reflexes.

Finally, of course, it is a pinball table. While its table guide is a little sparse, the game helpfully tells you its Letter Goals (for the words ZODIAC, ARCANE, and HERMIT, aka LOADSAPOINTS, LOADSAPOINTS, and LOADSAPOINTS), and the UI is laid out fairly sensibly, with the central focus being… The three tiered table, each tier containing its own enemy spawns and bosses. Kill a boss’s multiple stages, and you get big points, before it returns the boss to its lowest stage. On the one hand, there’s a lot to parse, but it becomes almost second nature to identify certain things: Here’s where the jackpots are. Here’s the teleportals. Oh good, the untouched bumpers for the top-tier letter goal are highlighted, nice job!

It helps that your reward for certain tricks is also… Quite visceral. Lilith is really angry now!

There’s some minor performance issues, but, for the most part, that’s Early Access, and this is a well-polished, high-octane table that nonetheless gives you a little breathing room as it goes. Well worth a look for pinball fans, and, if you’re interested in how digital pinball tables can change the base formula in interesting ways, this one’s one to watch out for too.

The Mad Welshman Devil Crushed this review, in his opinion.

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From Beyond: Prologue (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09
Where To Get It: Steam

Yup, it’s a NESVenture style game alright. As if the interface wasn’t a big enough clue, the deaths, the inventory loss moments, and… Ear piercing noises definitely clued me in. Those last, in particular, are worthy of note. And not in a pleasant manner.

Also from the inspiration, blood. A fair amount of blood and horror.

So, for those not aware, the NESVentures is a reference to adaptations of a series of adventure games called the MacVentures by a company called Kemco, who simplified the multiple window interface into something tighter: A map window, a picture window, an inventory window, and the verb/save/load window (TAKE, USE, OPEN, LOOK, etcetera.) They were known, just as the MacVentures were, for what we now call “’Gotcha!’ Deaths”, where opening a door, taking an item, or otherwise fiddling with something you didn’t know was dangerous… Turned out to be fatal.

In the case of From Beyond: Prologue, it is a NESVenture style game set as a prequel to the Lovecraft tale of the same name, and you play as… The antagonist of that story, Crawford Tillinghast, on his quest to see what man was not meant to wot. Alas, we are meant to shepherd him toward the doom he’s meant to suffer, not all the other dooms along the way, such as being eaten by wolves, falling down a crevasse in the dark, or not having the right item on him when something horrible inevitably does appear.

If you were unfamiliar with the NESVenture style, you would probably not know to OPEN the car door, and TAKE the bag inside.

It is, then, perhaps unfortunate that, along with the tight interface of the NESVentures, the developer has also introduced many of the flaws. Thankfully, the Gotcha Deaths are of a much lesser degree here, being telegraphed in one sense or another (The snow is loose, the floor looks weak, it is dark… So on.) But, even with this, it is a point and click adventure where you have to LOOK in the picture window to note any items you may need, and most useless interactions are marked with nothing. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if that also weren’t the reaction when you’ve missed the hitbox of the thing you’re trying to effect. I mention this because of an apple on a branch in the second act, which, so far, has resisted all efforts to effect it, both through its relatively small hitbox, and seeming lack of items that will get hold of it.

So, utility issues aside, it visually achieves the style it’s going for. Similarly, its chiptunes and most of its sound effects also achieve the style it’s going for, and your tolerance and enjoyment of these really depends on how much you like NES style chiptunes. That being said, that high pitched squeal whenever The Entity contacts you, or something weird related to it happens, is, as noted, piercing. Even with the sound turned pretty low, it’s annoying, and, due to its comparative volume, I would definitely recommend turning the sound low.

This man did not Save Early, Save Often. It is no excuse that he doesn’t have the capability to…

While it is not a terribly long game, as most NESVentures were not, it is a game where you’re going to be pushing your 5 save slots to their fullest if you try it out. Would I recommend it? Not… Really. It’s an adventure game emulating an old adventure game’s style pretty well, but that means old adventure game rules, and that means that, unless you’re really into the “Save early, save often, oh wait, 5 save slots” style of play, it’s going to be more frustrating than enjoyable, and no commitment to aesthetic is really going to change that.

> FINISH REVIEW
That is not an approved command. Your blood pressure rises.

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Return of the Obra-Dinn (Review)

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

It says a lot, either about my own media consumption or the Obra-Dinn, that nary an eyebrow was raised at its sharp turn into the more supernatural. I was too busy worrying about how to identify the crewmen, and whether what was sticking out of them was swords… Or spikes shot from demon crustaceans.

Sometimes… There just isn’t that much of a corpse to see… Eep. o.O

Just another day in 1800s insurance, using my Memento Mortem watch to wince at the gruesome deaths of almost an entire ship of people, then ticking off boxes like “Was Murdered By A Grue” or “Mutiny Related Causes (Not Covered By Policy, Fine Their Estate For Criminal Charges).”

The Return of the Obra-Dinn is, in essence, a mystery game, in which you, the unnamed insurance agent with a watch that can relive the last moments of the dead, attempt to discern precisely what went on during the ill-fated voyage of the Obra-Dinn. And you do it by reliving the story of the Obra-Dinn (Tragic and foolish as it is), one death at a time. From these final moments, and a couple of clues (Such as uniforms, the objects people hold, the language they speak in, and who works where, to take some examples), you have to piece together not only who is who, but who did what to who, and how many, if any, survived.

Okay, you get a big clue in that respect from the beginning, which can trip you up later if you forget it, but still… There’s approximately 50 crew, and at first, it seems a daunting task. Then, as you build up more information, context, and clues, it becomes easier, until late in the game, where it becomes hard again because the clues are more subtle. Fortunately, once you know the fates of three people, they’re locked in, although it’s important to note that it doesn’t change any misidentifications you made elsewhere (That one tripped me up very late in the game.) It’s a subtle kind of interactivity, while it can be a little annoying in the late game until you realise you can use the bodies revealed in a scene, in the scene, to teleport between parts of the chapter. But, overall, it’s a clever one. How did this man die? Well, it’s a little unclear, isn’t it? But… Goodness me, that’s bright. It could be, you know, that giant tentacle, but why is this bit so bright?

I mean, bad enough he’s so far up, but the actual *cause* of death could be… A couplea things, yeah…

Oh.

Ohhhhh. [scribblescribblescribble]

Aesthetically, the game has an amazing 1-bit shader, which is to say, everything is either a colour (defaulting to Apple Macintosh green), or white. It’s a lovely effect, and it works well with the game’s mostly ambient noise. Once you’re in the thick of things, however, nautical or dramatic music can happen, which is nice, but more often, it’s a soundscape, crafted to both give clues, and obscure those clues under as much information as they can get. It’s well done.

As noted, if you’re looking for the “best” ending, where you get the full story, it can get a little irritating, as the clues become more subtle to folks’ identities as time goes on, and, honestly, I’m not really sure why the chapter that’s locked off is the one locked off, as it’s fairly easy to deduce the root cause behind a lot of the misery, even by the mid-game, and anyone familiar with nautical horror and myth would have already predicted it. Still, there’s more than enough interesting mystery to go around, and the Return of the Obra-Dinn is recommended for both aesthetic reasons, and for a well put together mystery.

Not pictured: A whole bundle of screaming, shouting, shattering wood, things thumped about, and, hidden, the guy who *actually* died here.

The Mad Welshman appreciates games that use a clever idea for their mystery solving. So that definitely helped.

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DISTANCE (Review)

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

2018 continues to be a year of firsts for me saying words I never thought I’d say. In the case of Distance, spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, those words are “Wow, I never thought I’d see a good horror game in the Future Racing genre.”

Grain, spooky thing in the distance, ambience? Yup, that’s… Waaaaaait…

And yet… Here we are. A Future Racing game involving a car that can fly, tumble, and make sharp turns without braking… Also being a game with horror stylings, unsettling the player with strange vistas of a world gone horribly wrong, shining hope transmuted to despair. Without a single human character, only a car, a road that inexplicably seems to want you dead, a teleporter, and a rogue machine… OR IS IT?

Okay, so it gets a little odd and ambiguous at times, and I’m not 100% sure I can give the game props for horror writing when I haven’t completely played through the second campaign, but moodwise, it definitely creates feelings I’d associate with horror: Uneasiness and dissociation, asking myself… What’s really going on?

It also helps that it’s a smooth game. While I would recommend controller over keyboard for Distance, if only because the control scheme is a little odd, the keyboard controls are, nonetheless, quite smooth, and I only ever felt a little put out during the quicker, more difficult segments by the aforementioned control scheme (Quickly hitting SPACE, A/D, and SHIFT in the right timings was a little bit frustrating. Only needed late in the main campaign, and I’m sure rearranging keybinds could help.)

While flying is relatively rare, the cold, deep depths of space aren’t. They’re breathtaking. Well, they would be if cars had lungs, anyway…

Aesthetically, the game is on point pretty much throughout. Good signposting, clear visuals, and a dystopian retrofuturist aesthetic that works well whether it’s ruined or not, I never felt distracted. Musically, it switches well from pumping electronic beats to more ambient, horror styled soundscapes, and the sound effects and voice work well.

So… So far, I’ve been pretty glowing about Distance. And it is a good game. It helps that it also has a track editor and Workshop support, but one thing I will say is that I don’t really feel like the campaign added a whole lot to flying before it’s taken away from you for the majority of the rest. Part of that, I get, flying is hard, and inverting the vertical controls is a bit of a shock if you aren’t prepared for it (My exact words were, as I recall “Friends don’t let friends invert on you.”), but it was somewhat disappointing to see flying under-represented. But other changes from the original formula, such as a “down” thrust (that’s “down relative to your car”) are definitely welcomed, and I did, overall, find enjoyment in doing some of the silly things you can do with your jumping, thrusting, tumbling electronic car before the end of its main campaign.

And that, honestly, is about all I can say, because the game is simple and tight, elegantly tutorialises, and is fairly accessible to boot. It’s got some interesting horror elements that feel natural, and is well worth a look from the Future Racing crowd.

Another improvement over Nitronic Rush… These spikes didn’t want to make me throw my control-device out of a window.

No, for reference, Twisted Metal doesn’t count, because it’s a Combat Racer. Small diff.

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Ghostly Matter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ghostly Matter is one of those games where, with its retro stylings and cool ideas, I want to like it. Mixing old action adventure titles (Not the modern definition, but essentially, platformers with adventure game elements), pulp horror, and survival horror.

Two professors, both alike in dignity…

But a common problem, it seems, with retro games is that they also take the less laudable elements of retro design, and Ghostly Matter, for all that it has an interesting world, won’t particularly let me get into it because it wants to be retro hard.

The general story is, admittedly, nice and pulpy. Two professors, both alike in dignity, work in the burgeoning field of ghostly research, but they split over an argument about whether something that lets you look into the abyss that is the realm of the dead will also let the abyss look into them. Years pass, and Dr. Penderghast, the protagonist, receives a mysterious message from beyond the grave that seems to be his old professorial friend. Cue horrors and hijinks.

I’d love to tell you more about those hijinks, about the direction the game goes, but, unfortunately, I can’t. Because there is a lot of dying in this game, and checkpoints… Are not terribly helpful. Fixed life with few healing items contrasts with contact damage, rapidly firing enemies, the fact that your Spectroscope is necessary to see certain enemies, but also drains your health at a rate of knots (and needs batteries) … Before we even get into things like the gotcha that opens up a shortcut in the second level, where you open up said shortcut, jump down, and… Are immediately assailed by four skeletons arising in very close proximity. Whups, opening this shortcut is going to cost you health, no matter what you do. What’s that? Your health is in short supply? Better remember where the nearest checkpoint is, then!

In game design philosophy, there is the problem of Schrodinger’s Monster Closet. When the waveform collapses, you either take damage or have an item (its usefulness also determined by a waveform.)

There are other, better weapons that, unfortunately, but I can, at least, tell you there are three different types of enemies, and certain weapons work better than others. But when maps are large and sprawling, health items are few and far between, checkpoints are equally pretty far… And the enemies like to be invisible (use the spectroscope to hit them, lose health anyway, because the spectroscope is a gateway to death), or pop up from the ground (with some being easy to spot, others not so much) or just have hard to dodge ranged options, I found myself hitting brick walls pretty often, to the point where I’m writing this review without having gotten nearly as far as I’d like.

Oddly, narratively, everything fits together well. The supernatural world is tough (enemies are bullet spongy) , the spectroscope drains life with use because it’s basically a gateway to the spirit realm (but is necessary for puzzles, while health items are rare) , and you can’t exactly have a horde of evil in a small room (maps are large, with only a few navigation aids.) Mechanically, as those little asides note, it doesn’t work so well, with a lot of factors contributing to the difficulty, while less factors ameliorate it. The controls are also a little tough to get into, sadly, but this is not a huge issue when a lot of the time, what you need is move, jump, and shoot, all of which are simple enough.

Still, it is an interesting story, and while I have a lot of trouble with it, if you’re fine with games being tougher than usual, this may be one to look at.

Even in the areas I’ve been able to struggle through, there’s at least some variety. From a normal house to… This. Cool!

The Mad Welshman loves him some horror. It’s part of why he’s often so harsh with horror titles, it must be said.

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