Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Review)

Source: Hard parted with Cashmoneys. Worth it though.
Price: £41.99 (Look, there’s DLCs and a Season pass…)
Where to Get It: Steam

Space Opera is, in a way, a high fantasy all of its own. Want space elves? You can have space elves. Want space dwarves? Sure, no prob. Want a monolithic evil empire? Well, we all have those days. So Age of Wonders: Planetfall is not, strictly speaking, that big a leap from the fantasy shenanigans of previous games. Spells are now Tactical Operations, roving monsters are often NPC factions (Not all of which have a player faction equivalent), and overall? There’s a lot of interesting changes here, all of which seem to improve that AoW experience.

I get the distinct feeling we’re naming them, rather than using their names…

For those who don’t get the fuss about Age of Wonders, it’s a long running 4X franchise which has boasted many factions, asymmetric gameplay elements in later instalments, and some cool worlds of high fantasy. Well, now it’s science fiction. Turn based, with a hex based combat system when you get into it with units, and… Well, let’s talk systems.

As noted, there’s a lot of changes, but the two biggest, to my mind, are the Mod system for units, which extends the utility of units, especially Tier I units, quite a lot, and allows a fair amount of customisation, and the ability to research both your military and social researches at the same time, which… Really streamlines play, and I like that! In addition, factions and classes further mix things up both in the unit and research side of things (Species who choose the Voidtech class, for example, get Void Walkers, beings who can clone themselves before a seemingly unwinnable fight, and if they die? Well… Their clone is now them, because they were time travelling, and you had the bonus of doing damage to a creature outside of your current strength)

There’s many enemies, always enemies. But they will fall before the superior meld of biology… And technology

The system of base building has also been rejigged, and I also quite like this. Before this, it was done in a slightly more traditional 4X manner, with building cities, expanding them, and the main difference was in Outposts (to extend your territory without building another city) and Watchtowers (Extend the vision range of whoever owns them.) In Planetfall, it’s a collection of territories, and expansion is through exploiting a sector within range (preferably connected), and then building an exploitation on that point. Forward Bases can pre-emptively claim a territory, although anyone who wants to either destroy that or take that claim for their own can certainly try, so defending forward bases is… An interesting dynamic, since the game doesn’t generally encourage hordes of units, overall.

It’s somewhat refreshing, after the hullabaloo (enjoyable hullabaloo, but hullabaloo nonetheless) of Age of Wonders, to see the turns just… Glide by, relatively speaking. And it helps that, aesthetically, Planetfall is very much on point. The UI remains the same, and is mostly readable and well organised (occasionally, there’s a button or two that confuses a little, but it’s easy to learn), the music is fitting and gets the mood going along with things, and the worlds are, again, clear about what’s what. There is also hotseat, always a favourite of mine, for anything up to 12 players (Which is a fair bit more than the current number of factions, but the existence of a DLC Season Pass implies, as with Age of Wonders 3, that more is planned.)

I do enjoy a good warrior woman. Almost as much as my queer readers do.

So… I don’t really have any gripes about Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Some folks might get turned on by the extra login (as they might have done with Age of Wonders 3), but many a 4X or Grand Strategy player already has a Paradox account, so… Overall, it gets a recommendation for 4X players, with the only advice for those new to AoW being “Save often, but especially before fights, so you can learn how it all works without as much frustration.”

The Mad Welshman is torn between factions. So he spends most of his time with Planetfall banging his toys together and making “pew pew!” noises in Hotseat. He absolutely will not apologise for this. More 4X’s need hotseat.

Become a Patron!

Crystal Crisis

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

Right, gonna get this part out of the way right now: While I’ve suggested fixes to the developer, at the time of writing, the colourblind support for Crystal Crisis is spotty at best, and the best option is to go into Extras (not Options, Extras), select custom colour scheme, pick colours that seem to work for you, and test them in Practice mode. I have requested further comment from the developer after the steam thread I gave this critique (and advice) disappeared, but so far, Nicalis has not responded, and I shall update the review when they do, or if this changes.

The original colour schemes. Three use green and yellow, with similar values. The colourblind set has different light values, but this only actually helps one or two types of colourblindness.

So, now that that particular beef is out of the way, the rest of the game is… Alright. Essentially, a 1P vs CPU game of dropping rotatable pairs of blocks, making patterns, and then popping them with the corresponding coloured gems that sometimes drop, in order to both drop blocks that can’t be interacted with for 5 drops (generally speaking), and to build up meter for the special abilities of your chosen characters (For example, Curly can either destroy rows on her own board, or turn rows of her opponents‘ board into the aforementioned unusable blocks.)

There is a story mode, although it honestly didn’t grab me that much (Essentially, a series of fights in which you choose which character you’ll play, and then get an ending depending on your path), while the game’s replayability depends on how much you like this sort of game (I’m alright with the various tile dropping and tile matching type deals, so I expect I’ll be coming back every now and again.) Finally, there is an Arcade mode, a decent (if slow) tutorial, a practice mode where the AI doesn’t fight back, and an Online mode that… Well, while I don’t normally comment on online modes, I have been seeing a fair amount of “Online is a ghost town” type threads out in the world. So playing with a friend online is probably your best bet.

As noted previously, it’s probably best to use your own colour scheme if you’re colour blind.

Finally on the mechanical end, we’ve got a mostly solid, unlockable character roster, which includes both Nicalis characters, and, interestingly, some of the cast of Osamu Tezuka’s works, such as Black Jack and Astro Boy. I do love me some Tezuka characters, so it earns a few points with me for that.

Aesthetically… Well, the menus aren’t bad, with a little bit of character to them, the characters definitely aren’t bad, well modelled and animated, the stages, similarly, are nicely modelled, and the blocks are, apart from the aforementioned colour blindness issue, and the somewhat inconsistent nature of their lighting (Furthering the colourblindness issue at times)… Well, they’re blocks, and stars, and you know the difference between a block, and the various special things. The sound is good, the music’s good.

Story mode is alright, just as the rest is. But don’t expect a deep plot.

If it weren’t for the colourblindness problems, I would heartily recommend this. But, here’s the thing: Colourblindness is common. The ways to deal with colourblindness in video games are, equally, well known and commonly passed around in most gamedev circles these days. So to see problems like this, where three of the default colour schemes have green and yellow of similar light values (A big problem), and the colourblind one has pink and purple (Which even non colour blind people can have problems with), with the aforementioned inconsistent lighting further confusing things, I can, at best, merely not recommend it to colourblind folk. Because even when a game does what it says on the tin overall, this definitely is a blunder.

The Mad Welshman refers you to the previous review for education on some techniques folks use to be more colourblind friendly.

Become a Patron!

Fantasy Strike (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79 (Soundtrack £6.79)
Where To Get It: Steam

Fighting games are sometimes difficult to learn. Sometimes, they’re also difficult to master. But sometimes, as in Fantasy Strike, they’re mainly difficult to master. Which I appreciate, even if a tutorial before you can even change the window settings is not something I appreciate. Still, let’s talk Fantasy Strike.

“…You’re already painted.”

The philosophy behind Fantasy Strike’s fighting shenanigans is twofold: Firstly, to make a more accessible fighting game. But secondly, the game is all about David Sirlin’s favourite part of fighting games: Yomi.

It’s got multiple potential meanings, even in fighting games, but, essentially, the idea is that high level play involves reading your opponent well, so that you can adapt your strategies on the fly, be that conditioning your opponent into certain reactions (that you then punish with a different moveset), or simply knowing that an opponent likes a certain pattern, then punishing them for using it (It can go many ways, as you can see.) So, how does it do this? Well, multiple ways.

Firstly, there are a total of six buttons: One for light, one for heavy, two for specials, one for throwing, one for jump, and one for super moves. Also there is no crouching. Okay, that’s a relatively simple set up, especially since many characters don’t really have the need for both specials (although directional inputs change a fair few moves, as do, obviously, jumps.) There’s also a more limited health bar that gets chipped away if you block three attacks consecutively (some moves do double damage, such as Midori’s Dragon Throw, but most either deal one, or combo, so blocking it is effectively one damage, or two for not blocking.) It’s still somewhat twitchy, requiring good reactions and not button mashing to win the day, but that is, honestly, not bad. Enemies also flash various colours for invincibility frames (white), throws (blue), and special throws requiring a jump prompt to escape (green.) That still requires good reactions, but it is helpful.

Geiger, having a watch that controls time, counters and specials by… Being an asshole, essentially.

Secondly, beyond the things that you normally do with the concept of Yomi (pattern punishes, baiting, jump cancels, etcetera), there is the concept of the Yomi Counter. Somebody wants to throw you, and normally this is tough to counter, but in Fantasy Strike, the way you counter it is by… Doing absolutely nothing. Not moving, not punching… Just very briefly letting go of the controls. In practice, this is something that still requires mastering the specific reaction needs of Fantasy Strike, but the mechanical theory, at least, is clever.

Finally, the game lets you know what kind of character you’re playing, and, like other fighting games, allows you to see the moveset. “Wild Card”, alas, is a needlessly nebulous term, as the two fighters in this category, DeGrey and Lum, still have overlap with other categories. Lum is a sort of zoner in practice with random items as his special, while DeGrey is a sort of meld of grappler (slow-ish, but hard hitting), and “doll” fighter, with his ghost friend being a ranged grapple. But the other categories of zoner (specialises in controlling the battlefield in some fashion, and making areas of the battlefield dangerous. By the way, no crouch means projectiles are more dangerous), rushdown (relying on getting in someone’s face and comboing them with mixups (different attacks to different areas) to murderise them), and grappler (You hit hard, are slow, and mostly rely on throws) make sense. The majority category, by the way, are zoners, giving you some idea of the priorities here.

SIIIIGH. On the one hand, feels. On the other, in retrospect, the fact this lady is dragged off by oppressive government, then never mentioned again is bad.

Aesthetically, the game is honestly not bad at all. The characters are interesting visually, and you get a rough idea of what they can do by their look, the stages are lovely, and the music, while a little generic at times, is fitting and doesn’t steal the limelight. The voicework, on the other hand, is variable. Yes, I get that Valerie is a “Manic Painter”, but that isn’t always full ham, buds. And she is full ham. Which is a shame, because she’s my personal favourite. Similarly, the writing of Arcade Mode is… Well, it’s a little like earlyish fighting games (we’re talking Darkstalkers era more than original Stret Fighter), in that the plots are mostly silly, and told via beginning and end cutscenes. Although Valerie’s does start on a dark note, as her lady love is carted away by the oppressive government of the world that… Doesn’t really get that prominent a story role, to be honest? So, while there’s some queer rep, the cast is, honestly, pretty white as far as it goes, so it doesn’t really win any points for diverse representation overall.

I’ve already mentioned my main gripe (the tutorial being right at the beginning, rather than, say, a prompt before playing your first game that then allows you to change your options before play), and I will also mention that online requires a separate signup (Something I know some people aren’t a big fan of), but, overall? It isn’t a bad game, although I will say that the limited character roster is, considering the price, also a potential turn off. Finally, I’ll mention that yes, pro players will still kick your ass until you master things, with it being more to do with pattern recognition and timing than that and a hefty moveset. Otherwise, it honestly does most of what it sets out to do, isn’t a bad fighting game, and I found myself having an okay time with it, despite being normally bad and frustrated at fighting games.

The Mad Welshman dislikes explaining a lot, but, with fighting games, it’s kiiiinda necessary. There’s a lot of terms that only exist in fighting games.

Become a Patron!

Team Sonic Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Obligatory “Oh look, it has Denuvo” warning.

Ah, doesn’t Team Sonic Racing look pretty? Aren’t its tracks interesting, and its soundtrack gorgeous butt rock of the type we’ve come to love and expect? Solid voice acting, and a typically Sonic story with fourth wall breaking and silliness? Golly gee, this would normally make for a very positive review, wouldn’t it?

Exceeept… Team Sonic Racing, to me, feels like a case of “You had one job.” Because the racing… Is somewhat painful.

Oh dear. Knuckles got hit by something. Not my fault!

Not the team aspect. That was actually quite interesting and cool. After all, encouraging co-operation in a team racer is a good thing, and this, it does quite well, by giving benefits to those who slipstream each other, give each other little nudges forward, weapon boxes when they ask for them (The person heavily in first place rarely needs them, after all), and even for agreeing to use Team Ultimate at the same time. That is legitmately cool, so props where props are due.

No. It’s the rest of it. Let’s start with this whole drifting thing. If your drifting is painful, on both mouse and keyboard (and it was for me), then maybe, just maybe, it’s not a good idea to so heavily emphasise it. Or make it the star ability behind both the “collect things” challenge types that exist. Overall steering is, honestly, not terrible (not great, but not terrible), but, since the track design also has things for which a simple turn doesn’t suffice, er… That drifting is required. The same drifting that so badly gelled with me. Joy. It doesn’t help that the drift boost is… Disappointing, compared to the headliner team mechanics.

Attempted, a light drift: What I get… OH GOD WALL WHY.

And then… Customisation. Normally, I am a beast for customisation in racing games. I love me new parts. But when firstly, said customisation is based on gacha (That’s random drops, ala lootboxes), and there are a total of three parts of Speed, Technique, and Power type, along with gold versions of the exact same powerups… Well, that’s somewhat dull, especially as their boosts and maluses are… Middling, at best, not significantly changing play.

As noted, on an aesthetic level, it works just fine. Most things are clear (The only thing I didn’t find too clear was the quicksand v track segment of one track, but overall, it’s bright, with solid readability and good value shifts for clarity), the designs work well, and the music and VO are good, solid stuff. But this is, unfortunately, an at best passable racing game. At worst, its drift’n’collect stages are frustrating, and the online play… Well, it isn’t great. The ending animations become unskippable (and they are slow), reports come in of matchmaking problems…

AEAB. That’s all I have to say.

…Overall, TMW has definitely seen better kart racing. TMW has definitely seen better racing games overall. And this is a shame, because an otherwise glittering core element, and an otherwise shiny exterior sandwiches… Well, blandness and some irritation.

It is The Mad Welshman’s sad duty is to inform you that no, you do not, in fact, go that fast here.

Become a Patron!

Wargroove (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99 (£17.98 for game+Soundtrack, £3.99 Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, getting what I want to see feels like a monkey’s paw just curled. Thankfully, Wargroove is not one of those times. But oh boy, it could have been. After all, for all that the Advance Wars games were solid, they were definitely not without flaw, and irritation.

Not this bit, though. This bit has always been cool.

So let’s talk about that, and how Wargroove definitely seems to understand, and try new things. The general idea is turn-based strategy, in which two or more commanders send their soldiers (Who can move and attack within certain ranges) to either conquer the battlefield by capturing the HQ, or defeating the opposing commander. The more construction buildings they own, the more units they can build from each, and the more villages they own, the more money they have spare to actually construct those buildings. In addition, commanders have special powers charged by combat, which can turn the tide of battle. So far, so AW, even down to many of the fights in story mode being down to misunderstandings (except with the EEEEVIL Undead faction.)

Obligatory “Good Boy About to Inspire His Troops To Smack Bandits Down” image.

Where it changes, however, gets interesting. Yes, buildings get captured, but once they are, the side in question gives them HP before they can be recaptured, which replenishes slowly, but can also be used to heal surrounding units (A cool tactical consideration.) Units’ critical abilities encourage you to play in certain ways (Such as archers being stationed to guard choke points, pikemen grouping up to tag-team enemies, or knights charging across the battlefield), and the commanders being on the field also changes things up, as they’re basically super-units, balanced out by the risk of them dying if they overstretch, and the fact that commander powers are used by the commanders limits their utility somewhat. That still leaves a first turn advantage in multiplayer, from what I hear, but, overall, it’s an interesting move, and expands the tactical options somewhat.

I like Ragna. She seems to have been made for the sole purpose of being an Advance Wars style character. Both in and out of game. 😛

Now add in that the difficulty can be eased in several ways, allowing you to experience the game at the cost of completionist factor (Lower difficulties, which is also customisable, reduce the amount of stars you can potentially earn in a game), and a checkpoint system mid-mission, and the game is, mechanically, both pretty tight, and accessible. The UI is solid, the pixel art is good, the writing pays homage to its inspiration, and the sound and music is solid.

What I’m basically getting at here, is that Wargroove definitely gets the coveted “What It Says On The Tin” award, along with accessibility and aesthetic points, making it a good turn-based strategy, not outstaying its welcome, and what few flaws I felt I came across, are either relatively minor, or fixed with some sort of feature in recent weeks. Worth a look!

Vampire batladies, accessible strategy, good dogs, and cackling villainy. Yes, these are the good things in life.

Become a Patron!