Oxygen Not Included (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When you can tell a release candidate is a big step up from its Early Access, it’s not only a pleasant feeling, it’s a relief. A game you can point to and say “Nice, I enjoyed this!” And Oxygen Not Included, having rebalanced and added More Stuff to the usual Klei brand of “Games I Love, But Seem To Dislike Me (While Being Enjoyable To Play)”, is definitely one of those kinds of games. What interests me most about it is that it also retains that feeling of a slow fight of attrition against a difficult situation (Being trapped in the middle of an asteroid, with Oxygen in limited supply, and the means of making it in potentially limited supply, and… Look, there’s a lot of things I could affix “In limited supply” or “Of limited effectiveness” to, from food to water to power, and beyond.

“Wait, whose idea was it to import fish to flop around?” [answered only by angry squeaking]

But it’s not insurmountable, although it definitely feels that way in the early game sometimes, and the game rewards you for that struggle, that fight for survival, with cool things to find, and more information about why you, for some reason, are squeaking, honking clones, finding yourself in a tiny space at first, with absolutely no context beyond “Hey, you’ll die if you don’t work at the whole staying alive thing! Chop chop!”

And a part of what it’s added, although part of that may well be me having gotten better at things (With the exception of wiring… Le sigh) is that you get to see it more, before it starts pulling the gloves off. And, for players who want a challenge, or just a change, there are several different types of asteroids to be trapped in, from your bog standards, to your boggy standards, all the way to “Oh heck, why did someone even do this, putting us in this hellhole to die?”

Speaking of “Why would you even?” Jean… Ellie… WHY WOULD YOU EVEN?!?

Now, overall, it’s indirect management. I can’t say all of it’s good (It still, oddly, has the speed settings as a sort of throttle, so to go from “somewhat fast” to “normal” is two taps, but I can somewhat forgive that, especially as the sleep period seems to go by quicker), and reading tooltips is a must, but… Scalable UI. That’s good. Clear fonts. Cool. And very little that seemed to affect colourblindness, with the tooltips aiding in letting me know “This is coal, this is granite, and this is a chlorine filled mess you’ll probably have to go into with insufficient protection, because there’s useful things here. Hope your air plan is gooood, LOL!” Finally, there’s been some streamlining. Research is more clearly delineated, and levelling up a Duplicant is now at the base duplicator, rather than a thing requiring its own research. Nice!

And it’s these things, these seemingly small (But actually kind of big) changes that make the game friendlier, without, obviously, being too friendly. You’ll still, eventually, have to do dangerous things, overstretch yourself, and bar some duplicants from using machinery just to cut down on their commute. And you’ll still, occasionally, be yelling at them, despite a priority system, to “Argh, fix that, fix that, you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t AAAARGH.”

Pictured: The transcendent experience of education. Not Pictured: My electrical systems shorting and my coal generators slowly making the air worse.

But, for the most part, outside the really early game, that AARGH is a slower process, a process you can come back from, if you keep your head together. And, since Oxygen Not Included was already interesting and charming, not pretending to be anything other than it is, it remains highly recommended to fans of these indirect management survival games.

Just don’t come crying to me if your wiring overloads and starts a fire. Not least because I won’t be able to help you either.

No, really… The Mad Welshman sometimes has trouble remembering whether CHA FAN is a usable motherboard socket for… A fan. Don’t ask him about wiring.

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Reventure (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99 (£1.69 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

What if you were not, in fact, the hero, but some random jackass chosen to wield a magical sword? Such is the question asked by Reventure, and the answer is: You die. A lot. Sometimes entertainingly, sometimes anticlimactically. And this, funnily enough, is the whole point: A collectathon of endings.

He’s Lump, He’s Lump, He’s in mah head…

To say that mileage will vary on this one is… Kind of an understatement. After all, we’ve seen obscure game endings, some of us have gotten those obscure game endings, and always, the question arises: Was that worth the effort to get it? By the time the obvious ones, involving the sword, Power of Love, and just dying to things had come and gone, I was apparently in the top thirtieth percentile of players. By where I am right now, where a lot of what I need to do involves either completing the game’s stated goal of saving the Princess in some fashion, finding obscure things, and the like, I am top 10% of people who bought it already.

Since this is kinda the core deal, it’s important to note, because, aesthetically, the game can shine as much as it wants, and it kind of does, with highly Zelda reminiscent tunage, some amusing writing (“Wait, ignore the heroic music, don’t go past the checkpoint without a weapon!”), and a solid tiled pixel aesthetic… But you’re going to be hearing that heroic music, the eerie temple and Dark Castle tunes, and seeing areas… A lot. And, later on, it’s going to be to the backdrop of “Shit, wait, shit, wait, where do I…?”

Get crushed, and… Well, you’ll be alive, at least? Poor Hero.

It’s basically about discovering things, and, funnily enough, one of the most amusing discoveries is that, for the majority of endings, our hero just… Won’t die. Crushed by a brick? With an “X time later” card, we come back to the house, to find… OH GOOD GOLLY… A boneless, flapping husk is now our player avatar. Eep. Zombies, pirates, even a Tingle… These form a component of its humour, and I definitely appreciate the variety. The other feature of the game, in which Twitch streamers can let a person play the role of the hero verbally, is… Well, the mileage on that can vary quite widely too. I didn’t use that one, even though I know my community’s pretty solid.

Still, this is definitely a game that does what it’s trying to do. It’s trying to give that feeling of hunting obscure endings, of the variety of possibilities that, normally, we just cover with some generic game over, or a brief animatic. It even tries to give them the same sort of weight. But that sort of even weighting isn’t entirely do-able, simply due to the nature of the beast. Its humour mostly works, and, overall, I would recommend this to the completionist in my life, even with that final stretch being a bit tiresome to achieve.

The Mad Welshman is a Grumpy Completionist. He likes completing things, but never has the time

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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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