Scythe: Digital Edition (Review)

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

Scythe is one of those games where, for all that it added in the three all too brief months since I last looked at it, I can’t really recommend it without qualifications. Specifically, that it is definitely still better with friends, multiplayer or no… And that the Rusviet faction still causes colour issues, at two of the three distances you would normally look at them (Essentially, only up close are the workers easily visible.) Small text remains small, small icons remain small. Still some accessibility issues.

Spot the Rusviet Workers (DISCLAIMER: Difficulty *still* determined by colour blindness type)

Knowing this, let’s do a brief recap. Scythe is a boardgame set in an alternate history where a strange factory is at the core of a landgrab power struggle between six russian themed factions, where, unless you have the option to turn score previews off, you’re wondering whether ending the game is really a good idea, because there are multiple factors at play that mean the person to end the game (Getting six stars for various objectives)… May not actually be the winner.

Maybe one player has courted Popularity so well that their score multiplier takes them to first place. Maybe their winning several fights has boosted them slightly beyond you. It adapts its boardgame style very well visually, the card art is gorgeous, the music is great, and it now has both multiplayer and an extra reason to keep playing (some extra cards for play are now locked behind completing objectives in games.)

But none of this, unfortunately, gets around the fact that it still has those accessibility issues. Its addition of multiplayer was definitely a step forward, but it’s the only complaint of mine about it that was really addressed. And, as such, while it is an interesting game, I can’t really give a whole hearted recommendation. Nor, because it still has its interest, and definite fun from the diplomacy, and uncertainty that comes from playing with others, can I thumb it down.

There is, perhaps, a minor assumption here. An *understandable* assumption… But an assumption nonetheless…

The Mad Welshman is slightly amused it’s taken 3 years to get to the point where he hasn’t much to add on release.

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GRIP (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99 (Assorted team unlock DLC totalling around £6)
Where To Get It: Steam

GRIP, spiritual successor to Rollcage and future racing game about cars that work equally well (or poorly) both ways up, remains a game where when it goes well, it goes very well, and when it goes poorly, you say rude words and hit the “RESTART” button. It also remains a game where the line between the two can be quite thin. As thin as a single ramp, or some inconsiderate driver you’ve just shot with a gatling deciding to get in your way after several high caliber reminders not to.

Pictured: Poor combat-racer etiquette, as demonstrated by a robot.

You’d think they’d learn after the fifth missile for getting ahead of me in a row. But such is life in the world of GRIP. C’est la guerre, as they say.

The thing with GRIP is that, although it’s undeniably cool, it is also harder and a little less accessible than other Future Racers. Breakneck speed, combined with the ability to launch yourself into the air, combined with less than stellar track signposting and some nasty corners… This is before we get into things like the entire HUD going screwy when you’re heavily damaged, or the less than friendly multiplayer interface (and odd segregation of race types.)

Does that, necessarily, make it bad? Well, no. It’s aiming for barely controlled chaos, and it gets barely controlled chaos. It’s also one of the first future racers where I felt obligated to use the brakes. And, to its credit, it does mention the difficulty of the tracks, and it’s not joking when it says “Hard.” To take one example, the aptly named Acrophobia (A mountain track set above some deadly drops) finishes with perhaps the nastiest brake trick I’ve seen, a leap from one track to another vertically opposite, then… Ah, then, if you don’t immediately slow down, you’ll careen off the side of a 90 degree hard turn, rather than quickly braking (or at least, taking your finger off accelerate) dropping from the second track, slowed down, but able to take that sharply angled corner. That one caught me out more times than I care to count.

I can’t deny, however, that it looks *awesome* when you pull it off.

On the plus side, beyond the track design, and the usual Future Racer tricks (Such as only hitting the accelerator on “GO!” to get a boost-start… Itself mainly useful if you don’t have a conga line of racers in front to ruin said boost), difficulty can be set in a moderately granular fashion. Don’t like blowing up mid-race? GRIP feels you, and lets you turn that option off. Want packs to be more cohesive, and to never feel truly safe in a race? Rubber-banding can be turned on and off. Don’t like Blue Shells (the Hunter missile)? You can turn that off in pickups. Well, in single player and online, anyway. In Campaign, the rules are mostly set.

Speaking of weapons, the game seems to be at its best when it’s sticking to traditional models. There, any flaws in the bots seem more natural. In Arena mode, for example, I never really felt challenged by the bots, only by other players, while in Ultimate race mode (which adds a stunt and combat scoring mechanism, as well as racing points), it felt like the more cohesive the pack was, the harder the time I had racking up those points. After all, you don’t get points for fucking up and losing seven places… Speaking of… A reset remains punishing in most cases, so occasionally, there’s the frustration of a second placer knocking you off the track (or going off the track due to a moment’s inattention), and… All of a sudden, you’ve lost several places, and, if this is anything after the 2nd lap, good luck clawing your place back. Combat is nearly all frontal, with some clever exceptions like the EMP field (also known as “Punish anyone coming close”) and the time slow powerup (Which slows everyone except you… Normally quite powerful, it can, however, aid some players through the more difficult sections, which makes it a bit of a gamble. But a clever one, as some distance is always gained.)

The Hydra Missile. Poor lock-on range, situational… Still like it because it’s a swarm missile.

Overall, GRIP is something I personally enjoy, while acknowledging it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The menu accessibility varies, the track signposting is iffy, the tracks can get hard pretty quick. But the powerups are pretty balanced, the granular difficulty is a good choice, the music and visuals overall are pretty, and the feeling of big, chunky jet-propelled cars careening around their chosen track or arena is pretty good, right up until it suddenly feels a bit frustrating. Probably not best for first time future racers, but at least alright overall.

The Mad Welshman will always, when customisation options are available, go for the most garish car imaginable. It’s basically like using missiles, but for the eyes.

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Speed Brawl (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

While I’m not much of a fighting game man, I love me some beat-em-up action. There’s something cathartic about beating the living daylights out of goons, beasts, and monsters, all of whom want yo- wait, speedrunning too?

Each tournament of the game is clearly mapped out, and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re meant to do.

Yes, this is Speed Brawl, a side-scrolling arena beat-em-up where the main concept is “Gotta punch fast.”, as you’re rated more by how quickly you get through its fighting shenanigans, or how quickly you hit targets, than how much health you have at the end of it, or how many sausages you picked up from trashcans along the way. And, as with any speedrunning games, there are tricks, little things to give you an edge.

Still, even without those, it’s mostly a fun as heck game about alternate-universe victorian characters (mostly, in the early game, some rad ladies) beating the hell out of mooks and bugs (big or otherwise.) And boy, do I love two of these characters in particular: Cassie and Bia.

Each character, along with equipment to buff them, and colour schemes (both won via playing the game), has a different feel to them, and Cassie and Bia are perfect examples of this. Cassie is a short french pixie-urchin with a cricket bat, and while she’s quick, she’s not the most damaging character, and is slightly more fragile than most. She also has a fast special, and her ultimate move (gained the same way you gain Special meter stamina: By beating things up) is nigh uncontrollable, but a glory off destruction if you can get her to spin around the stage just so. Meanwhile, Bia is big, butch, and her attacks work best at a somewhat specific range (the end of her fists, obviously.) She’s nowhere near as fast, but her specials and ultimate are tight, horizontal, and repeated haymakers, which do a lot of damage. Put the two together, since each level of Speed Brawl is played with two characters per player (and switching out gives a small speed boost), and an orgy of carnage results.

Like I said, when Cassie’s special can be aimed, it’s a gooood time!

It’s good, fun stuff, and it helps that everyone levels up once enough XP is gained, because for certain levels, folks like Cassie are, hands down, the best, while for others, you want something different. It works well aesthetically, the music is pumping and joyous, and, while the controls and later enemies (who have defences, or teleports, or ranged attacks) take getting used to, it’s definitely fun.

If I had any real crits for Speed Brawl, it’s that some enemies just feel more annoying to deal with (The large Rippers who are invincible from the front, for example), and that items don’t always feel like they do much, even though they are definitely increasing damage, and adding status effects. Part of this is that it’s chaotic as heck, and it can sometimes be hard to read what’s going on outside of your immediate circle of “Thing I’m pummelling right this second”, and this gets moreso with two players.

Then again, it also goes more quickly and is fun as heck with two players, so… Tradeoff? Either way, I like how Speed Brawl messes with the 2d beat-em-up formula, and, while it has a number of buttons, it’s still fairly easy to get back into.

It should also be noted that the animations have a good sense of impact. Or… Multiple impact, in this case…

The Mad Welshman loves Alternate Victorian times, because they really appreciated the value of a good top-hat and moustache. And yes, that is shallow.

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Lethal League Blaze (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lethal League Blaze is a game that, in many senses, takes a little bit to get going, but once it does, it lives up well to its name. And, even for a critic who doesn’t do well at fighting games, this one… This one tickles my fancy. And it’s all to do with how it revolves around a ball.

Lethal League Blaze is, essentially, combat ping-pong in a rectangular arena, in which the characters use directional movement, a double jump, and two keys (one for grabbing, one for thwacking), in order to punt, bunt, or smash a ball into their opponents with as much velocity as they can muster, fully aware at all times that a return at any point from the mid-stage could mean a loss…

Screenshots, alas, can barely cover what happens when it gets *really* fast. But this is a close example.

…After all, the more the ball gets bounced around, the faster it’s going. And the faster it’s going, well… The more it’s going to hurt when you fail to bat it or catch it, and it hits you in the [insert sensitive part of your anatomy here]. Now add in the possibility of special items, like a remote controlled ball, an invisible ball, and the like, and you have quite the explosive mix.

And yet, it continues to add flavour to this already heady mix. How about some tunes by Frank Klepacki, or Hideki Naganuma, of Jet Set Radio fame? How about a colourful character roster in a world of robots “not programmed to lose”, skaters, over the top Falcon Cops, and, as a final boss character, a murderous boom-box that quotes Sinistar, called, obviously, Doombox?

Multiple game modes, unlockable as you go? An arcade mode? A campaign? All in addition to the main core, which is multiplayer ball smacking action? Yeah, this all works. This brings those funky beats, whether that’s musical beats… Or the beatdown of watching a quick return make your opponent lose their last life.

As things heat up, so, too, does the background. Amusingly, the cops will just rush back once the fun’s over.

It’s also moderately accessible, for a fighting game. In its previous installment, one hit, regardless of speed, led to a loss of life, and you only had one. Here, folks in the early game can try things, work out what’s going on, get used to a character’s special, before it speeds up, because low speed hits don’t even deplete a single life-bar. All told, it’s fun stuff… But are there problems?

Sure, there are problems. But forgivable ones. For example, it must be said that the early parts of Campaign and Arcade modes are not great, because the AI isn’t bringing their A game. It’s understandable, but at the same time, watching an AI flail around, and getting a win where they don’t even hit the ball unless they need to isn’t great, and it leads to a false sense of security. A sense of security that, in arcade mode for me, lasted right up until about three fights before the end, and wasn’t shattered until I fought… DOOMBOX. Even if multiplayer is the focus (and it is), it wouldn’t hurt to tune the mid-game challenge up a little bit.

Otherwise, I like Lethal League Blaze. Its simple concept nonetheless allows for some tactics. Bunting the ball, then hitting it will drastically speed it up, and, at high speeds, the game gets chaotic, for example. Or the fact that the grab is a quick counter that, timed well when someone’s just finished charging up the ball, will knock the presumptuous player off their perch unless they, also, have a perfectly timed grab waiting. Its aesthetic is colourful, its unlockables are reasonable…

I LIVE… AGAIN. RUN, COWARD, RUN, RUN!

Yeah, I’m down for a Lethal League Blaze.

Perhaps the most painful part, for the Mad Welshman, was avoiding all the ball jokes. Aaaaaalll the ball jokes…

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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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