Minoria (Review)

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

Minoria is cute. Minoria is melancholy. Minoria has an interesting world, that gets better the further you play into it. And Minoria… Has some brutally unforgiving boss fights, where single mistakes will cost you about three rooms worth of running and a cutscene to rejoin them. And, in the early game at least, there’s a big difference in challenge between the enemies… And the bosses.

Sister Devoir. She’s nasty, but… Maybe she has a point… About the church, silly, not the point of her sword.

Which, let’s face it, seems a very odd thing to say, doesn’t it? But the difference between the earliest enemies and the second boss, or even the second tier of enemies compared to the first, is clear. And everything that can hit you… Hits like a bloody truck. You start to get used to it, but… I have to admit, I bounced off hard, and bounced off early. Second boss, in fact.

And, honestly, there’s no shame in that. Single mistakes, especially in boss fights, cost dear, and, since the combat is akin to… Sigh… Dark Souls, in that fights with bosses are long, tense affairs in which, as noted, mistakes can quite easily cost your life, it’s merely beyond my own ability, rather than a condemnation of the game. More… A caution to those who, in turn, bounced off games of the Soulslike persuasion.

Wait, this woman looks… Familiar, for some reason…

The thing is, Minoria is also very lovely, aesthetically. Contemplative pianos give way to dramatic violins, beautiful princesses (Who… Remind me of someone. Hrm) and cute, but deadly small witches fit well in the well drawn corridors and steps of the cathedral, and everything is clear. It’s somewhat minimalistic in approach, but this works, and I do love it.

But, alas, I don’t really get on with its style of play, and, if we’re being honest, its keybinds. It’s most likely recommended that you play with controller, or rebind the keys, because it’s all too easy, with the default, to fatfinger the “Use Incense” key when what you meant to do was attack, or, less commonly, to switch your insenses when you meant to parry or dodge.

LET. US. PRAY!

Obviously, take this review with a grain of salt, because, as mentioned, I was not able to get too far due to the high damage you take for pretty much any mistake, but it’s a beautiful game that is recommended for soulslike fans, while not, generally speaking, recommended for beginners to its metroidvania styled exploration/combat. Specifically the combat.

The Mad Welshman is legitimately sad he couldn’t get as far as he wanted here.

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Grizzland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I like me some Metroidvanias. I do love me some lo-fi pixels. And so, Grizzland immediately caught my interest, because it is, essentially, a short Metroidvania, with lo-fi pixels, that still has encounters, boss fights, and challenge.

Not pictured: The actual fight, because they disappear and summon MANY TRIANGLES OF DOOM.

Maybe a little too much challenge at some times… But what the hey, checkpoints are mostly reasonable, so I’m not too irritable with that.

In any case, Grizzland’s premise starts out simple. It’s a fantastic world into which you’ve somehow teleported, except… Not all is as clear cut as it seems, from the very first journal you find. Wait, landed? Computer? Buddy, I’m swinging a sword and there are magicians with giant triangles comin’ at me, what is this gobbledegook?

Even basic enemies will dodge out of the way of your sword most of the time. Which isn’t as frustrating as it sounds, since they don’t jump very far.

Well, it quickly turns out that someone did land here, destroying the trees as they went toward the centre of the world, and, considering there’s only 5 of them, and they’re sentient? Well, that’s deep trouble indeed… Away we gooooo (to save the day)

Now, one thing that should be made clear is that enemy routines, combined with the fact that very little can be slain in one swing, make combat more difficult than you’d expect. Whether it’s the bats, who wake up, and mercilessly chase you, but retreat on the first blow far enough that you may have difficulty getting the three hits you need in before they hit you, or enemies which revenge fire when hit, it’s something to consider about the game’s difficulty.

“Not everything has to make sense.” Well, yes, but I do appreciate bears.

Happily, I can say I’ve enjoyed my time with Grizzland. The world is basic, but the journals, some of its stranger (1-bit) enemies help bring some oddity, as do the secrets, which are sometimes… Quite amusing. As the first you find states: Not everything has to make sense.

So yes, overall, there’s a solid attention to a consistent style, there’s some good chiptunes and sound effects, and, as a short Metroidvania, it can still pretty easily eat up an hour or four of your life (more if you’re looking for eeeeeverything. Which I am.) Reasonably priced to boot, I would definitely recommend Grizzland.

The Mad Welshman would probably also go on a quest of sword swinging if he found people uprooting trees. He’s very pro tree.

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Gato Roboto (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Cats are glorious creatures. Ask any cat owner. Said cat owners will also confirm that they are clowns, doofuses, malevolent little gits… Cats have quite the range. And it’s gratifying to see a cat in a mech suit as the protagonist of Gato Roboto, a game which… Well, it’s very, very similar to early Metroid games, with a 1-bit art style (Pixels in black or white), and…

Kiki is cattily smug when they manage to screw attack someone.

…It’s got a speedrun timer. This is… A mixed sign, I’ve found. And lo and behold, this is borne out. A game you can complete quickly, it nonetheless has some challenges that are both mandatory… And going to annoy the hell out of the player who doesn’t know the tricks. You good at screw attack chaining, m’folk? No? Well… There’s an entire section with that. And a boss fight that seriously outstays its god-damn welcome. Which, funnily enough, is a good segue into some other problems.

Boss cutscenes skippable? No sirree. You screw up that boss, you get to hit Z through the whole damn thing all over again. And it is always Z, because keys are not rebindable. And that boss has a lotta hitpoints for a god-damn mouse in a robot suit.

Without the rapid shots powerup, this one’s as hard on the index finger (or thumb, on controller) as it is on your tolerance.

It’s a shame really, because the designs and aesthetic are a charm, and a fair amount of the actual areas are fairly well designed. The sound is good, even if the music didn’t really grab me. The animations are lovely. But the third encounter with a certain asshole who also has robot suits (plural), in particular, annoys me. Not because it has a bundle of hitpoints, although that helps. Not because it’s easy to assume it’s a screw-attack exam, rather than a dodge exam. No. Because that bundle of hitpoints is best whittled down (at first) with… An item you get, not via the usual method, but technically a “bonus” item from collecting all secret 1-bit palette changes from the first two areas, and knowing where a tight collision hitbox ends. Argh.

Including a Metroid Fusion style “You come here as a cat, no Mech Suit or actual health bar for you, Sonny Jim!

Still, once that hurdle’s over, it’s an okay Metroidvania, taking cheeky nods from the original Metroid and Metroid Fusion, keeping the progression area-linear (Essentially, you go through each area once to complete it, then again to get everything you possibly can find now the area blockages are removed.) The story isn’t bad, but yes, the game has enough annoyances that it took me a frustratingly long time to get to enjoy it.

The Mad Welshman is eternally salty that house rules and budget disallow a cat of his own. He loves them so.

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Tower Hunter: Erza’s Trial (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39 (79p for OST)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Release

Early Access can be a funny thing. Hell, gamedev can be a funny thing. Sometimes, you have beautiful games that, mechanically, fight with themselves. Sometimes, you get something like Tower Hunter, which is mechanically reasonably sound… But, aesthetically, lacks that pop, that flair, that makes it interesting. And so, it remains merely… Somewhat solid.

There is a lot to be said, however, for this particular segment of the first level. That’s a good feel, crushing several Spectators beneath your icy heels.

Tower Hunter is, essentially, a procgen Metroidvania: Clear levels, defeat bosses, get better kit, rinse, repeat. You are the titular Erza, looking to clear the Magic Tower for… Actually, I forget why. Look, there’s a tower, it’s filled with monsters, beat the shit out of them and the lords of each biome within the Magic Tower, which has biomes because fuckin’ magic.There’s four main weapon types in the early game (I don’t, at this point, know about the later game), and when you die, you lose portions of your money and stored powerups. Cool. Okay, now let’s talk about the things that make it interesting… And why you might not really notice them.

So, let’s start with the interesting: Quite quickly, you build up a small arsenal of powers, some depending on your weapon, like lightning for dual swords, some your basic magic skills, like icy dive kicks that do hilarious damage. And, scattered through the dungeon are several kinds of power-ups, all of which can be levelled up with your own skills, and are replacable. Nice!

You can basically only spot the boss when he’s in front. He wasn’t for the majority of this fight, so this is a post death screenshot…

Buut… While the character animations are mostly alright, the music is pretty good, and the sound is also alright, the visual flair of everything else? Is somewhat lacking. That’s… Sort of excusable for creatures like the Clockwork Mannequin, but there are bugs, and bone throwing skeletons, and bees, and… Not many of them are memorable. Heck, the first boss… Is barely distinguishable among the small horde of red bugs, green bugs, some purple bugs, some mannequins…And the landscapes feel somewhat bare, even when they try and get interesting.

And this is a shame, because it also rewards those who take on an extra challenge. Beat that first area quicker? Get a better trophy, which ups abilities. Somewhat quick, but got every single magic power-levelling stone in the 2 levels of the area? Get the bestest trophy, and more rewards!

There is also some Engrish in the game, but y’know what? That’s no big right now.

So yeah, mechanically, Tower Hunter works. It even adds some interesting ideas for rewarding speed and exploration, and a little customisation (Although, y’know, I’m not entirely on board with the bunny suit one, just sayin’.) But, right now, that’s balanced out by, essentially, being visually uninteresting, or, more accurately, a little homogeneous. It’s worth a look for some of its ideas, but I really hope that it gets a little more flair and pizzazz.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is a bit tired. He will nap now, on that comfy bed there.

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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £34.99 (Iga’s Back Pack £7.99, Soundtrack £7.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh, Castlevania. The mere name evokes memories of violin and piano laden music, memorable monsters, and, of course, a castle with a monster in it who plans to destroy the world. But alas, Castlevania is no more.

Die, Barber! You Don’t Belong In This World!

Good thing ArtPlay have perhaps created a new name: Bloodstained. And, for a first outing, it’s… Pretty close, if not spot on, to what I wanted, at the very least. A castle to explore, with paths opening up the more I fight. Memorable monsters with a mythical bent (Props on the Welsh and Gaelic stuff, by the way. XD.) Equally memorable characters, even if some of them are, on the face of it, a little stereotypical (But still highly enjoyable.) And some bloody amazing music, paying homage to the tunes and world that the team had previously created.

Honestly, from the moment Castlevania big name Koji Igarashii threw down his wine glass, it was pretty clear that this was going to be polished to an eerie sheen. And, funnily enough, it mostly is, as I have very few complaints… Mostly things that could just be me (Zangetsu and Andrealphus were somewhat painful for me, but part of this could be I was going quite INT heavy), or things that have a solution (On keyboard and mouse, RMB hold + MMB click for directional spells is somewhat of a pain, but… That can be rebound in a way that’s more playable.)

Too cute to die… Too dangerous to live.

So, for those new to how a Castlevania game works, this is basically the deal: There is a big castle that has appeared out of nowhere, casting demons and other gribbleys across the land (Some of which looks too cute to destroy, but you sort of have to. Sorry, demon pupper!) You, Miriam, one of the two survivors of the first attempt to summon demons, have come to stop the other, Gebel, from conquering the world (but maybe not all is as it seems?), with the power of Shardbinding (Taking demon’s souls, and taking them into yourself to gain new abilities), whatever weapons you can find, get in quests, or craft (Often very lovely to boot, each with their own special moves), and the fact that nearly everything that looks vaguely like a torch contains money or mana when smashed, have to save the world.

Aaaaand inhale, after all that! I love the feel, the cries of the beasts as they vanish, or their characterful moves. I love the music, and, funnily enough, one of the best love letters to the departed Castlevania involves this (Sit at the piano. And just wait for a soulful goodbye to what was left behind.) I love the designs, especially those of the two Shardbinders, Gebel and Miriam. And I love all the little touches inspired by the Castlevania series. Shardbinding works like Circle of the Moon. The Crafting works like some of the later titles.

The game uses its 2.5D stylings well for dramatic effect, or just for prettiness, whenever it needs to.

Look… I could rhapsodise for a long while about the feeling of beating down demons, getting new stuff, finding new areas with the new stuff, and the laughter at, even to this day, finding Wall Chicken… But overall, Bloodstained is the developers showing their love to the series they couldn’t carry on, by bringing it a new name, and all the care and design they’d honed over the years. It’s good stuff.

The Mad Welshman kneels before the Dark Lord. Nuff said.

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