Swag and Sorcery

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

It is an oft-spoken truth that adventurers are in the biz to look fly. Well, secondary to the concern of being as murderous as humanly possible in the pursuit of loot and monsters, but yes, looking good while doing so is definitely a priority.

WHAT DOES HE HAVE THAT WE DON’T?!? IS IT THE WOLF HAT?

And Swag and Sorcery aptly demonstrates what hard, thankless grind this can be with its fashion obsessed kingdom, out to find a long-lost magical, kingly costume, and look swag as heck while doing so.

Oh, and there’s some dork trying to tear the kingdom down. I guess he’s kind of in the way, along with his summons. Something about thinking that the King relying on a magic suit his grandfather had to solve the Kingdom’s woes…

Swag and Sorcery, overall, is an idle RPG with crafting elements. Send your adventurers out into the wild (occasionally returning them to town so you get some loot, instead of no loot at all and an annoyed adventurer waiting to heal), get ingredients and money, and then throw those ingredients and money into the adventure supplying industries, so you can do that first bit all over again. And again. And again. Until you beat a boss, at which point, you get more areas to look at, unlock more ingredients for more recipes and…

The ladies are, honestly, cleaning up by this point…

…Look, it’s enjoyable with a certain mindset. Wanting to discover what new thing you encounter, what new costumes you get, and whether this time, this time, that damn priest judge won’t vote a 9 on that awful pumpkin number. I mean, it’s summer, pumpkin is fall, you ecclesiastical blunderer! There is, to be fair, a lot of this adventuring industry: Alchemy to make some rare ingredients and get mana for spells (used to help adventuring parties in trouble), smiths and carpenters to sort equipment, clothiers to help the wizarding types… All manned by… The same adventurers you’re hiring to clean out the dungeons. Heck, even sending multiple adventuring groups out at once is a thing you can quickly do.

Aesthetically, Swag and Sorcery is not bad at all. Good, clear pixel art, you know what things are, the music’s nice, and the roles that are voice acted are amusingly hammy. Which fits with the game’s silliness, so… Appreciated. Sure, some monsters are a little generic, but the majority are something interesting. Ghouls in this game, for example, are armoured murderbeasts, and the Infected are dead, weeping eyed humans who have been melded to what appears to be giant spikey crab legs.

I will say, though, nice nod to needing a work-life balance. Ahhhh…

But yes, Swag and Sorcery is all about, as with most idle type deals, getting bigger numbers, so you can hit bigger numbers, which gets you bigger numbers. Sometimes those numbers aren’t quite big enough, so you have to grind on the smaller numbers until you can get bigger numbers (or grind on the bigger numbers hoping to get something out of it while other numbers get lower.) And… It’s not unenjoyable, it definitely has its high points, but… Sadly, I’m not really of the mindset to properly enjoy it.

The Mad Welshman already ground out his reviewing stat this month. More grinding is… Inadvisable for him.

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Astrologaster (Review)

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

Ah, the 16th Century. Such a wondrous age, full of poets, of doctors finally starting to learn what the heck they’re on about, and, of course, the Plague. It is a wondrous age to which our dear leaders wish us to return, in the hope that perhaps the Empire might also coincidentally rise again.

Ah, the British Empire, such a place of tolerance and… Oh. Yeah, it was kind of an exploitative hateful shitpile. I almost forgot. ALMOST.

Speaking of quacks… Astrologaster is a comedic tragedy, in the form of speechcraft and song (Often Madrigals) about a “Doctor” who used Astrology as his form of diagnosis, one Simon Forman. And, to be fair, he is a fitting subject, for he was tangenitally involved with… Well, a lot of London life of the period. The game takes liberties, but it does so to introduce quite a few other major players of the period, such as Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle, the Dean of Rochester, Thomas Blague (and his wife Alice), and Emilia Lanier, a poet, and suspected to have been the Dark Lady of William Shakespeare’s sonnets 127-154.

Yes, knowing this period of history helps with some of the jokes. But by no means all, for nearly everyone is mercilessly riffed on, excepting some folks whose lives… Really didn’t deserve that much mockery. In any case, a fair warning, the game does end rather suddenly, and the reason for this is that the good “Doctor” ended… Rather suddenly. But the aim is, through astrology (Or, more accurately, through a cunning combination of actually divining what’s wrong, and telling people what they want to hear), to diagnose folks’ complaints.

Ah, Dean Blague… Maybe one day you’ll make a sound investme-AHAHAHA I CAN’T FINISH THAT SENTENCE.

It’s very clear, in the sense that you know what’s what, even if the diagnoses are sometimes… Difficult, and the picturebook aesthetic works well. Where it really shines, though, is the aforementioned voice acting and singing. Jo Ashe does an excellent job of playing concerned wife Emma Sharpe (how do her older husbands keep dying on her?), for example, and the songs about Thomas Blague are wonderful examples of a new musical art form I would like to call “Getting owned by the Church Chorus.”

It’s… Honestly kind of hard to write about the charm of Astrologaster without either going on a history lecture, spoiling the results of some choices, or both, but… History buffs will get several laughs (and knowing nods), most folks will have a charming experience and quite a few laughs, and, overall… Yup, I like Astrologaster.

Astrologaster: Latest winner of the “NOT WHILE I’M [splutter] DRINKING COFFEE!” award.

I cannot really Madrigal, but Iamb good with that Pentameter. Honest.

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Fission Superstar X (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Space. There’s so much more room for plotting and cackling there. Also dogfights and heavy capital ship whaling, which… Is where Fission Superstar X comes in. With a distinct Death Road to Canada vibe, Fission Superstar X is the tale of Doctor Leopold Merkin, and his attempts to make a super-nuclear bomb… A superstar. Her name is Celine Fission, and you will enjoy her concert, fools…

Aaaaand IIIIIII-EEEEIIIII Will always bomb YOUUU-OOOOHHHHHH!

Describing how this roguelike shmup works can seem a little fusterclucky, but it’s really quite simple: You have four potential crew slots, up to two of which are filled at the beginning (For a while, it will just be your Clone Pilot and Clone Scientist, but options open up the more you play.) Each one mans a single turret quadrant (From Pilot, top, to Engineer, rear), and enemies will come at you from varying directions. Kill them before they kill you, and you’ll get a chance to train up your folks or heal in some fashion, then pick where to go next, including Recruitment (potentially better crew), Shipyards (potentially better ship stats, definitely some repairs), and special event locations of varying evil (From the relatively nice Medicaid Drones, to Comet Tails which blow you the heck about, to the Ion Storm or Minefield, which might as well be marked with “HERE BE ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH.”) You pick up money and ammo from destroyed ships where you can, and, once you beat a planet’s boss (From Pluto all the way to…???), you can choose to blow up the bomb early, earning you a new ship (and a shot of Doctor Merkin angrily wondering how it went wrong.)

This is what is known as “Hanging on through sheer bloody mindedness.” That’s me at the top, by the way.

And them’s the basics, although there’s a lot more to it than that. Armoured ships, whose only weak point is the cockpit. Minibosses, including the Doctor Leopold Police Task Force. Those terrifying saw-ships, whose only purpose is to ram into you and murder murder murder. And, of course, different weapon types. I could probably spend a long while just talking about the variety of things that can happen, and references, and joy at the pew-pew guns. So let’s just assume “It is packed full of things wot happen”, and move on.

Aesthetically, the game is pretty interesting. Cartoonish pixels, junk, gore every now and again, and a fair amount of male presenting nipples, the ships are both clear in their design, and also interesting in and of themselves. Heck, there’s visible representation of your own ship upgrades, always a nice touch, and the music is solid stuff, giving that space opera B-Movie vibe. The ships deliberately don’t control that hot until you upgrade the handling (seriously, in the case of the Big Yins), and it’s all, honestly, very fitting for what it’s aiming for (The feel of a gigantic space bomber lurching its way through space.) The difficulty progression is mostly fair (Although those sawship enemies fill me with terror the moment they’re on screen, regardless of my or my crew’s armour), and, in the case of nastier encounters, it does warn you.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes. Geddit, guys? I’m Dr. Where!”

“Shut up and shoot this guy before he shoots you. Or we do…”

Feelwise, it’s meant to feel like a hectic chase across the Solar System, hounded by everyone and their dog, with you the villain, and… Yep, it nails that feel. The speed of even the slowest ships is shown in the starfield, and the feeling of trying to slide past a small battleship while it’s peppering you with missiles, wave beams, and whatever whatnots it’s throwing at you (probably while other things are also shooting at you) invokes just as much adrenaline based swearing as you’d imagine, and it’s a nice touch that you know how long the level’s going to last, as well as how much closer it gets you toward its goal.

So, overall, it does really well. What does it not do so well? Window customisation and the fact that individual runs are long. That last one’s more a taste thing than anything else (It isn’t a lunch break game, it’s something you play of an evening when you want to… Hrm, destress probably isn’t the right word… Play, I guess.) Still, overall, I like its feel, I like its guns, I like its heft… Fission Superstar X gets a vaudevillainous thumbs up, one Mad Scientist to another.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have too much to add to this. He’s still working on writing his name on the moon. Best demonstration of ownership, writing your name on the moon with a giant laser…

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Octonaut (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Ahhh, shoot-em-ups have such an interesting family tree. From space invaders, to 1942, and Gradius, and Uridium, to… Well, a whole world of little to middling changes with big effects. And Gradius, or, more accurately, Parodius appears to be the inspiration for Octonaut, a fun little shmup about an octopus that’s going to save the world. And look cartoonishly cute and oblivious while doing so.

TFW When a mutant shark is thirsty for an Octopus starship,..

Mechanically, a shmup is a subtle thing, most of the time. Yes, okay, “gun go bang, thing go boom, get score, don’t get hit” is not subtle at all, but the reason a lot of patterns in shmups look familiar (The snake, the circling, the “I’m just going to sit here looking dangerous before shooting”) is because they clearly communicate expectations to the player. What Octonaut has, in addition that, and an interesting set of weapons, is dodging into the background, and a very timing based outlook rather than a twitchy one. For example, as with games like Twinbee and Parodius, the score items increase in colour and value the more you shoot them… To a point, after which they revert to the lowest point value, and you have to do it again… If you have the time. Movement is relatively slow, and enemies vary a fair bit in their tactics, so it’s more recognition. And I like that.

Aesthetically, the game works really well. The music is Sega Genesis/MegaDrive inspired, and it is indeed heavily reminiscent, with a variety of moods, all well crafted tracks, and the aesthetics, similarly, are that cartoonish, clean look seen in shooters of the period. It’s pretty, and this, also, I appreciate.

Some segments, as noted, outstay their welcome. This one in particular.

Okay, things I appreciate a little less. Screenshotting this was annoying, because the game’s window is not customisable, and is, in fact, quite small. Playing it in full screen is fine, but… Yes, the default window being tiny and unchangeable annoys. It’s more a reflection on me and my time-starved ways that completion appears to be required for Custom and Panic modes, instead requiring you to get through the game (Thankfully, Normal difficulty is both generous with lives, with good health, and is definitely do-able, I can report), so that one goes under niggles, but otherwise?

Otherwise, this is a solid shmup, with fine music, good aesthetics, solid wave design, and interesting bosses. Its levels have interesting gimmicks to them, none of which are frustrating (Although some, like laser jerk, go on a bit too long), and… Yeah, shmup fans, chalk another one to check out, this one’s pretty nice!

Wait, the Metroid Bees have skulls now? ABANDON OCTOPUS!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t know what’s been going on with shmups and windowed mode, but… Heck, this month has a lot going on overall…

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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.

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