Tales of the Neon Sea: Chapters 1-3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, how adventure games have grown. Sometimes forward, sometimes sideways… Sometimes, they take lessons from earlier eras. I mostly like Tales of the Neon Sea, because it’s using old puzzles, and one of the oldest forms of adventure game stylings (The side-on, almost platformerish adventure), and making an interesting noirish story with it.

Remembering that robots are now sentient… Trafficking is entirely the right word. Eugh.

It helps that there is at least one section that is entirely from the viewpoint of a cybernetic cat. That, I feel, is a big draw in and of itself.

It is the noir future (Eh? Ehhhh?!?), and you are Rex, a down on his luck, psychic robot, in a world where robots and humans… Sort of co-exist. Suffice to say, bigotry is alive and well. A murder of a little old lady leads… Well, interesting places. To a robotic serial killer. To a cat mafia. To meddling in a very important election. And, on a more day to day level, disassembling your household appliances because you can’t afford to fix your helper robot properly.

We will have need of that courage and respect, if the Families are to prosper, my friend…

Aesthetically, the game works quite well. Its pixel art is clear, and its text clearer, with context sensitive options, and, if you’re hitting E to examine and/or use like a wally, some fun hidden descriptions. Its grime contrasted with the bright lights fits the mood well, its character design is solid, and its music… Ah, atmospheric and fitting. A few of its puzzles (Mainly light/cable switching) could do with some colour-blindness support, but, overall, it’s visually pretty accessible, with a simple control scheme, and, while some segments have timing based elements, it’s mostly good for not being twitchy too.

In fact… It is, it must be said, a little slow paced. It’s a deliberate slow pace, a design choice, and I respect that, but when puzzles, especially later on, become these large, sprawling affairs, and even the run is a light jog, I can understand that would be a turn-off for some folks. However, the puzzles mostly fit in their world (Nothing really felt like a Resident Evil Lock, just… Security and some shoddy in-world workmanship), and the writing… The writing is enjoyable. Mostly light hearted, sometimes absurd, it nonetheless puts on the frighteners and those tense moments when it needs to.

“Why don’t you try adjusting the phase? That’s the… Rightmost dial…”

Overall, I’d say that Tales of the Neon Sea is a solid adventure, an interesting hybrid of traditional inventory hustling, platform puzzling, and just straight up puzzles. It should be noted that Tales of the Neon Sea is an episodic game, and, as such, the story is not quite complete (the later chapters are apparently releasing in the fall, so I shall take a look then), but there’s definitely a fair amount of play here, an interesting world, and I look forward to seeing more.

The Mad Welshman loves a good puzzle. He loves good robots. And he loves cats. So you might have to take this review with a grain of saline crystal or two.

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Zombotron (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the level based shooter… Hand crafted areas, known enemy placements… Randomish items? Ah, okay. Two out of three ain’t bad. And Zombotron… Definitely isn’t bad.

Ah yes, I remember this scene from that noted bro-comedy, “Dude, Where’s My Ship?”

Originally a flash game, Zombotron is now in a different format, with improved art, and, overall… It’s a reasonable game. You, the chunky manhunk known as Daze, have landed on an alien world to answer an ancient distress call, and found… Well, multiple ships, multiple cultures and aliens (Not all of whom are hostile), and… Your ship’s energy cells stolen while you were exploring. So, in order, you have to:

  1. Wreck face with a variety of weapons, sometimes using the environment in clever ways.
  2. Get your power cells back so you can maybe leave.
  3. Maaaaybe do some rescuing/planet saving? It’s unclear in the early game.

So… There is, essentially, a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and occasionally, environmental puzzles of the type I grew up on (Shoot part of a platform so it drops to form a bridge, or a different part of a platform to drop it on some poor alien’s head, killing them instantly, and saving me ammo.) How does it feel?

Alas, poor Y’r’ck. I knew him… Not at all really, he was just another one of those aliens trying to claw my face off…

Well, it feels… Alright! There have been times where I’ve been a little irritable with its physics system (Yes, I would like to jump past this ene-oh, I’m dead. Sod.), and sometimes, checkpoints are spaced far enough apart that I have to restart the whole damn level, but, overall, it works. Guns come in several flavours, but the random nature means equipping at least one melee weapon, and using those grenades and health-kits that, if you’re like me, you normally hoard for some kind of Humongous Mutant Android Cephalopod encounter that never happens. It’s a game that wants you to explore it, and try things, albeit in the somewhat limited fashion of “Platforming shoot-em-up that has puzzle elements.”

Aesthetically, it’s okay. You know what everything is, and there’s this chunky aesthetic to it throughout, with paper doll animation that looks a little dated, but only a little (Look, really good paperdoll animation is hard.) The important part is that, apart from some items like money being a little hard to spot, is that it’s clear, and even secrets can be spotted once you work out what it is you’re looking for. The music is, sadly, mostly forgettable, although it does fit the mood, and the sound is alright, so…

Just as you can be clever with the environment, sometimes you need to be clever rather than wasting ammo. Case in point: It’s almost time for me to restart from checkpoint!

…Overall, Zombotron, is alright, with some fun and clever elements. It isn’t going to blow minds, but, as has previously been noted on the site several times, “Does What It Says On The Tin” is a good thing, and I’ve had a fun time with it.

The Mad Welshman does not, generally speaking, support nuking from orbit. Launching into the Sun is far more impressive, and good praxis to boot.

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Robot Wants It All (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, after capitalism has kicked you down, time and time again, it’s time to fight back. Such is the subtext of Robot Wants It All, where Robot, our protagonist, suffers many humiliating deaths (usually, anyway) in their quest of Wanting things that, as it turns out, are monkeys paws (Except Puppy. Puppy is a Good Boy), before eventually realising that what he wants… Is Justice.

Justice, in this case, being saving the workers from the embodied evil of capitalism.

Or it’s a series of early Metroidvania type games from the days of Newgrounds, packaged into a collection that doesn’t run on the now obsolete Flash, with a new installment. It’s that too. But it’s hard to avoid the subtext, any which way, and, funnily enough, I like that.

So… A collection of shortish Metroidvania type escapades, ranging from simple to punishingly unfair (And not necessarily in game order), Robot Wants It All is, right out of the gate, a release that has its turn offs. But, to its credit, it does both add to its subtext and somewhat help with the difficulty with its progression. Starting with the Easy (smaller map, less enemies) version of Robot Wants Kitty, the player earns (in-game) Moneys by killing enemies, getting achievements, and earns the other installments of the series, from Easy, to Classic, to Remix (Hard), along with different robot types for an added challenge. Player, if they want to experience the whole, Wants It All too.

For one game, at least, Kitty and Robot are actually friends. Look at this teamwork!

Aesthetically, it looks somewhat like old shareware titles of the 90s, with pixel art for the main play, and bold illustrations for the endings, with simple (but mostly alright) chiptunes. No, where the interest comes in with Robot Wants It All is that each episode has different mechanics and progressions (Something that’s lampshaded in Robot Wants Justice’s intro.) While powerup collecting remains a core, what powerups vary from game to game. Robot, for example, uses Kitty as their main weapon in Robot Wants Puppy, a risky damage over time effect that ends with the death of either robot or the now quickly running (but not firing) enemy. In Robot Wants Y, they have a very slow to use bouncing laser that requires aiming, while in Robot Wants Fishy, they have both arcing bombs and, later on, harpoons. In Robot Wants Fishy, there is the amusing powerup of… Nothing. Because the explosion you caused to get there is reward enough, is it not?

Well, I chuckled. In any case, it was interesting to see the variations in the basic Metroidvania formula in each installment, even if, as noted, some are more difficult than others, if mainly because of the awkwardness of certain controls… Specifically, swimming. Swimming is a pain in the ass when you can do it (And you have to), and the segments involved often involve death. Some flying enemies have the nasty habit of floating outside of where they originally patrolled, although none have, so far, made things impossible to escape without death… Just awkward.

This, the easiest of the hard bosses, is a gent who, by the end of his life, it’s very tough to shoot without dying at least once. Doable… But tough.

Overall, I honestly like the experimentation within Robot Wants It All. The difficulty variations are somewhat annoying (A straighter progression would perhaps have been nice, but these were, and technically still are, separate games, so… I GUESS…), but I appreciate sticking to the original aesthetic while packaging the games in a more playable format, and adding nice things too. It’s worth a look if you like Metroidvanias.

The Mad Welshman does not, in fact, Want It All. All he wants is to make enough to do this full time. That’s what the support links are for.

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Touhou – Luna Nights (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh, Remilia Scarlet, you’re such a card! Creating an entire alternate universe to play violent games with your maid, importing people from the actual world of Gensokyo for… Reasons. Most of us would make a game, or tell a story. You put your murder-maid in a metroidvania situation for funsies.

Metroidvanias generally are and aren’t, Sakuya. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.

Hello, yes, welcome to Gensokyo, which has had perhaps more misunderstanding based fights, bullheadedness based battles, and apocalyptic events caused by selfishness than Marvel Comics. Or, more accurately, welcome to an alternate Gensokyo, seemingly crafted for the sole purpose of being a Touhouvania for the entertainment of the protagonist’s bored, listless vampire employer(s).

Honestly, of the Touhou games, this has one of the more interesting stories, as the Scarlet Devils appear to have learned to become a tadge more responsible in their shenanigans, and there is, under the silliness, a story worth playing through for, if you’re into this sort of game. What would probably turn people off, however, is the one thing that isn’t really a fault of the game: That it is, indeed, bullet hell.

The first boss eases you in, but by the end, safe-spots are… Small.

Less bullet hell than many Touhou games, it’s true, but the patterns of the bosses definitely require memorisation and tactical thought more than your average Castlevania type game, and I was stuck, for the longest while, on Marisa, the second boss whose side-gimmick of “Stop your timestop” clouds was annoying to deal with. Not impossible, none of it is impossible, and the nature of bullet-hell means that it’s not all that twitchy either (Relying more on, as noted, knowing safe spots for each enemy pattern more than hectic dodgery), but it can be a turnoff for folks, and I respect that.

Otherwise, though, this is a solid game. Movement is tight, with interesting options, the core gimmick (Sakuya’s time stop ability) makes for some cool puzzles (Including the fact that water can be both a help and a hindrance when time is still, and not everything being affected), it tutorialises moderately well, and, as with many a Touhou game, fan-group created or otherwise, the music is excellent and the sound work is moderately good. Aesthetically, animations are good, and the telegraphing works very well, so… Apart from the potential genre turnoff, there’s very little fault to be found, and a fair amount of enjoyment.

Graze… Magic Bonus… Graze… Magic Bonus…

I’ve had a fun time with Luna Nights, and, despite being bad at Touhou games, this is definitely one I want to finish. If I were to pull some crit, the map screen isn’t as useful as it potentially could be, but when that’s the only criticism I can really find? Well, that’s always nice to be able to say!

Okay, so I got a bit annoyed with the graze/bonus loop, but that’s a niggle.

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MegaMan 11 (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Yup, it’s a MegaMan game. I knew that from the moment I died for the fifth time on a single screen, and thought fondly about violence against bats… Which, in the real world, I quite like, but in videogames, they are a symbol of the purest rage and hatred.

Bats, bats, they’ll ruin your day, they’ll ruin your day and they’ll get in your way…

Which is a good segue into how I feel about MegaMan 11, an artfully designed, clever game that makes me want to throw things on even its actual “Normal” difficulty of “Casual.”

MegaMan is, in many ways, an archetypal run’n’gun platformer. You, MegaMan, the greatest creation of benevolent robotics professor Dr. Light, have to take on eight normally good robots who have been corrupted by Doctor Wily, a man who has been attempting to destroy the world since his tech proposals got turned down in college (A facet we now see in the intro to MegaMan 11.) And how do we do this? We visit eight themed stages, plus Wily’s Castle, and go through platforming and shootman challenges, fighting one or two minibosses in each stage, before taking on the bosses, whether that’s armed with their thematic weakness, or just with whatever weapons we have, which can be charged.

It’s a tight formula, with some similarly tight challenges, that, despite its artistry, contains a lot of things I just plain hate. And it seems the developers are aware of this, because there are things you can obtain that ameliorate some of the worst. Such as items that protect you, for a short time, against the horror that is the instant spikes of spikey death. There is also a pair of boots that allow you to not slip everywhere in Tundra Man’s stage. You might be able to hazard a… Sharp guess as to why I mention those two items in rapid succession. Oh, and let’s not forget our oldest “friends” , shielded turret (or Sniper Joe, which is functionally the same) where you want to jump, and FUCKING BATS.

About three seconds before Mega got exploded, and I was tempted to throw things.

The thing is, for what it is, MegaMan is, in fact, very well designed. Its stages teach you their quirks as you go along pretty easily, and they repeat their challenges just enough to keep things interesting, never outstaying their welcome. The bosses and minibosses, with one “Old Friend” exception, are well designed, their patterns pretty clear. That one exception, by the way, is the return of Yellow Devil, a boss that has never sat well with me due to its “Get up and wait” pattern. Graphically, it’s solid, musically, it’s stirring, its narrative works well, and its Dual-Gear system, allowing you to charge up either power or speed, is a clever addition.

And when it isn’t specifically set up to kill you on your first failure, I feel a sort of enjoyment. I actively enjoyed working out what I was doing with the second Bounce Man miniboss fight, or how to dodge Fuse Man’s hyper-speed attacks (It’s possible without the Speed Gear, but it really helps.) But then there are parts like the wall of fiery death in Torchman’s stage, coupled with enemies that are both largely invisible and definitely invincible, that make me want to throw things.

So, in short, MegaMan 11 is a well designed mixed bag. It tightens up its formula, makes a few new additions, but it will probably never remove that feeling of hate when something slaps you into a bottomless pit. It definitely isn’t a bad game, but… Not for me, sadly.

I would also like to note that I feel horrible about defeating BounceMan. It’s like kicking a puppy…

The Mad Welshman is very much a “Save The MegaMan” type person. Is that a GDQ donation category?

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