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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Undermine (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, even games within a genre get hybridised, to interesting results. And so we come to Undermine, which mixes the room-based dungeons, secret rooms, keys, bombs, top down forced perspective, and bosses every X levels (3, in this case) of games like The Binding of Isaac, and the throwing weapon, jumping, and iterative play (including “Don’t lose as much gold next time” purchases) through a panoply of characters you really shouldn’t get attached to, of Rogue Legacy.

Oh dear. Never tell anyone that when it’s about time, that’s asking for trouble! And by trouble, I mean death at the hands of a villain.

In Undermine, I am a peasant. I know my place. And my place is to go into a vast mine on the orders of my landowner, a wizard, and find what’s causing the earthquakes below his residence, or die trying. And then…

I am a peasant. I know my place. And my place is to go into a… You get the picture. But this peasant is slightly better equipped. Thankfully, my loyalty card with the local merchant carries over between runs, because it unlocks a character. Phew, thank goodness for Family Loyalty Programs.

The basic gameplay is pretty simple: In each run, you walk into a room, murder whatever’s in there by either hucking your pickaxe like a boomerang, smacking things with your pickaxe, or, if you’re feeling ballsy, dropping a bomb and hoping they blow up. Then you can leave the room, after smashing everything you can smash in it, collecting gold as you go. Occasionally, you’ll find a locked room, a chest, a powerup, or something behind rocks of some description, and you decide whether you want to spend the resources to open said obstacle.

I somehow survived this fight. There was a lot of hucking my pickaxe and jumping in terror.

Oh, and there are Mimics (with small signs that they are Mimics), and Cursed Chests (Which are incredibly obvious, so your main decision is “Do I want to risk curses like ‘The torches start tossing fireballs my way’ to get whatever’s in here?”) Such are the basics, not counting bosses, which are big long fights with gimmicks and patterns you will probably die to a lot of times before you get the hang of them.

Cool, that’s the basics… Except, there’s little touches to a lot of these that I quite like. Combat, for example, on top of pits and traps and whatnots, makes your jump super useful, overall. It’s a dodge. It allows you to leap over pits, either to lure enemies toward them to save effort, or to reach something you sort of need now rather than later. Fast travel is unlocked as soon as you find the map of the next area, and it’s honestly a charming presentation (A mysterious being puts you to sleep, then deposits you, safe and sound, in the area you choose. Said being must be a badass to do this.) And smashing gold?

Anyone else getting Zelda flashbacks?

Well, that lures the adorable, but also frustrating Pilfers, who deserve their own paragraph. Their weakness, in the monster tome, is “Gold.” They love it, and, as soon as you break open an ore chunk of some description, the gold comes flying out in various directions, and the pilfers ooze out randomly, looking to steal your rightful spoils. It has the potential to be really frustrating, except for two facts: Firstly, they take only one hit to reclaim your gold, and secondly, no other pilfer will touch it, because they are assigned to one piece of gold only, and if you take that gold, or bop the Pilfer? That piece of gold is safe, and the Pilfer runs off in disappointment.

Seriously though, they’re cute as heck, even if you bop them.

So, overall, Undermine is pretty fun. Its pixel art is good, its music is pleasant, and the game? Well, while not all areas of the game are done yet, and I’m certain fine tuning is being done as the devs go, it’s already quite playable, and enjoyable to boot. I would, as a sidenote, recommend mouse and keyboard with this game, as it gives you somewhat firmer control over where your pickaxe goes.

The Mad Welshman is against peasant labour practices. Peasants should have a basic minimum (livable) wage!

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Lewd Leaf Land: Maple Tea Ecstasy (NSFW Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: $4 (Approximately £3 at time of writing)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Content Warning: There is heterosexual sex between a deerman and a tanuki. That’s literally it, and it was good.

(more…)

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Hero Express

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Superhero(in)es are, as has often been proven, less powerful without folks who support them. Without Alfred, the Bat Family, and, of course, Ace, Bruce Wayne would have had a much harder time of things, possibly an impossible one (not to mention the many other folks who helped over the years.) And not all of them are in glorious roles. Mo Schreibnitz, for example, is… taxi driver to The Shadow.

You seriously mean to tell me you forgot? Ohhh boy…

In this particular case, you are a delivery driver, getting items to a superhero who… Regularly forgets them. No, really, the conceit is that he’s forgotten something vital to beating a villain, somehow, and you are meant to deliver it to him. In a very real way, you’re keeping this hero afloat in the business. By driving in a horizontal, 2D environment made of lakes, hills, valleys and assorted other obstacles and physicsy things, trying to get to the end by accelerating, slowing down, reversing, and tilting your vehicle to make sure it doesn’t explode.

You must be this grippy to ride the rollercoaster, kid.

And I think my main problem with this game is that, from the beginning, it’s a tough job. Trials eased you in. Heck, most games of this genre ease you in. But nope, from the outset, the level you start in is loooong. While there are vehicle upgrades, on that old “Each level is more expensive than the last” deal… This isn’t as helpful as, say… Designing the levels around a vehicle? Because, of course, the faster your engine is, the more airtime you get, the more traction you have on surfaces… This adds to what already happens in such games, where a slightly different landing or jump snowballs into changes down the line. Also, a more powerful engine might let you clear a jump more easily… Or it might mean that reversing to get a better run up is too effective, and you fall down a ramp that was going to make you too slow to make that jump in the first place.

It makes less sense that some of the other tracks seem shorter, so… Should be first, right? Well… No, they all have problems. Not least because they’re all different vehicles. Normally, I would say “Oh, great, different challenges, cool!” … But they have little dirty tricks. For example, in the Mamba stage, there are big hills. Big hills, and your allegedly off-road beast… Can’t handle them without upgrades. There are power ups that help… Well, a jump that is sometimes useful, and a cleaning spray that’s only good for if you’ve been hit with rubbish… But mostly, this appears to be a case of “Awww, sorry buddy, only folks with Traction this high can enter!”

Ah yes, the old “replace the chicken in the ritual with a rubber one” trick. The one that’s worked, er… No, I’m sure there’s a pulp story where that actually happened. SIGH.

It is, aesthetically, pretty nice. The music’s good, the tracks clearly signpost what’s bad and what isn’t, what things do make sense, and the hero is rightly portrayed as a berk (Although that he’s a dumpy man is… I don’t know how to feel about that, honestly, and that yes, there’s a stereotypical “Voodoo Queen” villain is… Ehhhhh….) But in terms of play, while I’m sure fans of the harder games of this genre may enjoy it, it’s definitely not a great introduction to such games (Which, to be fair, are often frustrating whether they tutorialise or not. But still…)

As The Mad Welshman is a villain, well… You can guess who he’s rooting for, even if his pride won’t let him lose this damn thing again.

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Dicey Dungeons (Review)

Source: Supporter copy
Price: £11.39 (Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

When you can build an entire, multifaceted procgen RPG out of dice, you pretty much know you’ve got it in the bag. And Dicey Dungeons is… Exactly that. It’s a game where yes, there are only D6s involved, but those dice? They go a long way, and are used in cool ways. Let’s get into this.

Ohno, I’m soooooo dead!

So, the story is pretty simple: Several adventurers are participating in a game show run by Lady Luck herself. A deadly game show, in which the winners take home a prize of their choosing (Disclaimer: Prize may in fact be an asshole genie wish), and the losers? Well, they get either death, or a lifetime of servitude in Lady Luck’s dungeon game show. Aesthetically, it’s got a great cartoony style, some synth beats that, to put it bluntly, fucking slap (Yes, technical term), and everything is very clear and understandable. Nice.

Mechanically? Well, let’s pick a few examples, both among equipment and characters. The game starts with the Warrior, who gets three rerolls a turn. This, honestly, isn’t bad. But I’ve had a lot more fun with the Robot, whose gimmick is that they don’t actually have a set number of dice, only a total they can’t roll above, their CPU count. Roll above it, and all abilities you have left become useless, Roll exactly on your CPU, and you get one of three special abilities in addition. It’s a tense game of chicken with the dice, and I love it. Especially since there are items, unique to the robot, that can play with both CPU count and the jackpot range, and one item in particular, the Ultima Sword, does double damage on a jackpot.

Music has quite the bite to it, and I have little doubt my poor thief is going to be on the receiving end of a shattering high note…

Meanwhile, there are abilities that seem useless unless upgraded (and even then, some aren’t great.) But, with certain other items, they become more useful, and, with the Inventor, whose gimmick is they have to destroy at least one item (more on that in a sec) for their special ability each combat, they’re a damn good way of keeping what you want to keep.

Anyway, each character’s arc is divided into 6 “episodes”, and only the first is the default experience. After that, Lady Luck starts introducing gimmicks. Nasty gimmicks that fit her charmingly mean spirited demeanour, like the Inventor having to destroy more items (but getting more in return), or doubles being destroyed (making certain items completely useless, and possibly doing you out of certain results you want.) Thankfully, each character is introduced whether you win or lose a run, and the further episodes are unlocked once you’ve got the hang of the five main characters (there is a sixth, but… Well, spoilers)

This is still the state of things on publishing this review… I am #cursed …

I wouldn’t really say the game is endlessly replayable, but, honestly, it doesn’t have to be. It’s got a lot of content, it’s easy to learn and middling to master, and its colourful cast, writing, and aesthetics are enjoyable as hell. Definitely worth giving a go, and I would say that this is one of those good first introductions to RPGs with some procgen content (Y’know, roguesortakindamaybelikes.)

The Mad Welshman would probably make a great D6. Would be hard to read black numbers on a black dice though. Ehehehe.

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