Sayonara Wild Hearts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.23 (Soundtrack £7.19, Deluxe Edition £13.72)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sayonara Wild Hearts fits in an interesting place in my mind. It’s somewhat akin to Audiosurf, in that you’re collecting things to a musical track, but it is, at the same time, less and more than that. It’s a game that rapidly, often to the point of disorientation, shifts gears on you, from floating to flying to quick-time fighting (space only for that, no worries on that front), to moments where you just enjoy that sparkle of things being collected and… Oh, yeah, photosensitive epilepsy warning, folks, because there’s a lot of flashing. The hearts flash, the world can flash, the fights are flashy in both senses of the word…

Not pictured: The rapid changes of pose and colour in this scene. Although this was a well timed screenshot, eh?

But it can’t be described with reference. Because it’s its own thing, and that thing is an arcade music video. Or, more accurately, an arcade music movie, sort of like Interstella 555 (Go watch that if you haven’t, it’s pretty good.) The multiverse used to be a cool place, full of love, and ruled by three of the Major Arcana. But then five of them decided to get up in everyone’s business and break those hearts. So they used the pieces of a broken heart to create a magical girl, a magical girl who’s going to heal the hearts of those broken hearted Arcana.

If you guessed there was a queer as fuck subtext here, you’re wrong. It’s text, and it’s fucking amazing. Biker girls, wolf girls, literal sword lesbians… And the music starts bittersweet, and, while it gets lonesome and bitter in places, that’s the point. You’re fighting that. You’re fighting, by the end, an avatar of homophobia, and then? Well, you get to do it again, this time with the goal of beautiful smooches, now you’re a proven Magical Girl Heart Mender!

What can I say but… Literal. Sword. Lesbians. Yes.

And, as you might have guessed from the idea that it’s a music movie, yes, the aesthetics are gorgeous, the tunes vary quite a bit, but they’re all good (I happycried the first time I went through some of them), the visuals are… Ah. Yes. Let’s talk about the heartbreak for me, and probably some other folks.

You see, even though the game is forgiving in terms of forgiving deaths, and having low score barriers to finish the main story… As mentioned, the game flashes a lot, there’s a level where it’s twisting in a way that’s guaranteed to set off somebody’s motion sickness, and when it gets twitchy, it gets twitchy. As in “You have precisely 0.1 seconds to reorient yourself, because here’s a narrow corridor/sudden obstacle/need for a turn-pad very quickly after another one” twitchy. The QTEs are actually just fine. They’re friendly, they pause for a short, grey moment before you screw it up (and don’t let you screw it up because you pushed it before the prompt even appeared. And the game takes itself in directions with little notice, from race-collecting, to shooters, to even a Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon like experience where you’re locking onto enemies to shoot them.

This, however, is what you’ll see most often. Usually at high speed.

The controls, thankfully, are accessible, and twitch was expected in a game like this, but, even with that forgiveness, it can get brutal, and I had real trouble getting through the aforementioned twisty level, the second Moon level against the Howling Moons Gang, precisely because it was fucking me up. And I will also mention that this disorientation is only fitting, considering it’s a coming out story, set to music, and narrated by Queen Latifah. Shit’s disorienting, and things can come at you from unexpected angles… It is fitting!

And so, while I’d heartily recommend it to the quick fingered and strong stomached, and while I would less heartily recommend it to folks who are at least strong stomached (Because, as noted, you’re going to finish the levels regardless, and getting bronze is definitely do-able on each level), I find myself reacting to its cuteness, coolness, and positive, bubbly nature like the disaster bisexual I am: Longing for mutual fulfilment, yet finding myself gunshy about engaging, because… What if it rejected me or hurt me?

Like I said, even though it’s a recommendation with some heavy qualifications, it is a recommendation. I just wish it didn’t seem so out of my league, y’know?

The Mad Welshman is, in case you hadn’t noticed, pro queer rep. So to see this was a balm to an otherwise terrible month for him.

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Blaster Master Zero 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99 (£1.79 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Blaster Master. The original was a bit of a cult classic, in that it could be bastard hard, was somewhat difficult to get hold of, and so, built up a small following of very devoted fans. Including, it seems, IntiCreates, who created Blaster Master Zero, a fun little Metroidvania type dealio with the same general idea of “One boy, a frog, and his tank.” And, you know, the friends you make along the way, your friend who you want to save from a mutant parasite slowly taking her over… Usual stuff, really!

You’ll believe a Tank can fly…

And, while there is a lot to like about it… Dear god, some of it is finicky as hell. Like the game’s walljump, which does what I’d like for it to do in terms of my opinion toward it… But not in terms of what I’d actually want it to do. So, metaphorically, it can go jump on some spikes. In actuality, I’d really like for that to stop happening, whether it’s through tight windows, reading a jump as a hover, not jumping the whole way between walls when it really can, or… Well, any combination of the above. I eventually got over that hurdle, but while it was happening, I was less than impressed.

The game does have other potential turnoffs that have been part of the series since… Well, since its first incarnation, really. The tank’s jumps are pretty floaty, its movement has a little bit of inertia, and, while you can get used to it, I know some folks dislike it. Meanwhile, I’ve always liked the “get out of the tank” idea, even if your protagonist, in the tank part of the world, can easily injure himself… With his own jump. Indeed, falling off a shortish ladder can be a lethal error, so… Don’t do either of those things.

Special abilities in combat are the equivalent of parries, and god-damn are they fun when you pull them off. And you can pull them off relatively easily.

But each has their own strengths. The tank gains more abilities over time, and so does the pilot, Jason. Admittedly, each character’s abilities can only really be used in their respective worlds (for the most part), but each gets interesting fairly quickly, getting special weapons, mobility powerups… And, of course, each fighting different styles of bosses. For Jason, it’s Zelda style forced perspective battles with giant mutant spiders, other Mobile Armour pilots (Jason thought he was the last, but he is wrong), and, for the tank, things like a giant bee holding its hexagonal hive below it, both as a shield, and, of course, as a spawner of its ilk. They’re interesting fights, and it’s pretty easy to get the pattern down in only a short time. And, of course, if you screw it up, the save points are always there pre-bosses (They’re… Not terribly generous elsewhere, but just enough that you don’t feel like they’re too far apart. Just… Somewhat far apart.)

Aesthetically, it’s a lo-fi pixel dealio, with some lovely chip-tunes and SNES like sound effects, making it feel retro while… No, it is a modern game, and while some of its tricks are old school, the rest are modern indeed.

Okay, so some of you would want your companion to turn into a slimegirl. But, y’know, this isn’t that sort of game.

And I may have spent a couple of paragraphs griping, but, honestly, Blaster Master 02 really… Isn’t bad. It’s the second game in the modern series, itself an interesting take on the Metroidvania formula, it’s aesthetically pleasing and clear, and, apart from some mobility finickiness, I never really felt like I was bashing my head against a brick wall.

Aaaand I’ve got a brand new Mobile Armour, and I’ll give you the key…

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Tower Hunter: Erza’s Trial (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (Soundtrack £1.69)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Tower Hunter, the somewhat procgen action platformer, has hit release. And how do I feel about this game, after Early Access?

Wow, I can actually… See this guy this time.

Well… Okay. Some improvement was made. Let’s recap, before we get into that. Tower Hunter is a procgen action platformer, in which you, the titular Erza, must clear a magical tower, defeating its inhabitants, for… Nope, still haven’t remembered. In any case, there are five main weapon types, with you randomly getting a possibly different weapon before each run (and being able to find other, better versions of weapons, if not the one you started with sometimes, in the dungeon), and, should you die, you start over again, losing some of your powerup “chips” and money (gems) in the process. Which… Usually isn’t that bad, to be honest, because you’re usually spending gems on upgrades for much of the game, and the chips are in plentiful supply, so it’s only if you’ve lost some seriously good ones that it’s a setback, and it’s very much a temporary one.

Last time I looked at this, the mechanical aspects were somewhat interesting, such as a large bevy of upgrades, multiple unlockable special attacks, the powerup chips being replaceable in play if you find others, recycling of items you don’t want or need into gems, and an improvement of your abilities should you beat the increasingly difficult requirements (Bronze, Silver, Gold for each of the five or six stages, themselves broken into two levels, and, another relatively recent upgrade, an actual boss of a stage. We’ll get to that shortly.)

And while the mandatory spike segment of the first area annoys me, this? This never gets old.

But the visual flair was somewhat lacking, the seams of the level blocks very clear, and the animations… Well, so so, for the enemies. Oh, and the poor translation into English, which, while I could deal with it in general (It’s not the most plot heavy of deals), is, admittedly, a turn off. Sound alright, music alright…

Well, the animations have gotten a little better. And the bosses do have some visual flair to them, more attention having been lavished on them than, perhaps, the bread and butter of the basic enemies (Who, nonetheless, feel a little more organic in their movement. Not consistently, alas.)

So, mechanically, it remains interesting, rewarding speed and exploration. And it has, to be fair, improved visually somewhat (The levels themselves remain… Well, a bit blah. You have to work harder to make procgen 3D areas fit nicely, and harder still to make them look… Well, not like it’s a collection of single assets.) And now… Actual bosses. I haven’t faced many so far (two of the five or six), but so far, they have been both unique, somewhat of an improvement over the basic enemies (Admittedly, uniqueness is a part of that, I feel), and… Somewhat frustrating.

This guy. This… Frickin’ … Guy…

The game, as is, has a battle of attrition in the levels before a boss. Most enemies can be stunlocked to oblivion, or murdered quite quickly, but ranged enemies are introduced early, and some enemies are frustrating to hit because their preferred attack vector is… Well, out of reach unless you hop. Add in traps, status effects like blinding (thankfully, only a restriction of your vision, rather than total blindness), and the occasional time your character just doesn’t seem to respond properly (uncommon, but it does happen), and… Those health potions you have to help cope go relatively quickly, even with resting areas between each of the two levels and before a boss. And then you get to the boss…

…The first is not so bad: The Cockroach King is clear, you can dodge all of his attacks just fine, and, apart from the boss thing of breaking stunlock (and being immune to it after 50% health, with desperation moves being added), he’s a decent fight. Also one I was glad to beat, because he was a braggart asshole, and possibly skeevy to boot. The Centaur Knight, on the other hand… Is mean. Jump the dash, don’t try to dash dodge it, because it plain doesn’t work. Shields often, doesn’t always telegraph too well, and while your attacks don’t seem to do anything to an offscreen enemy, his definitely can affect from offscreen. He is, to put it bluntly, a big ol’ pile of dicks. I’ll beat him, eventually, I’m sure. But he is definitely quite the spike, compared to the first boss.

An apt metaphor, I feel.

So… Do I recommend it? Its core ideas remain interesting. It has shown some improvement on the aesthetic front, although not as much as I’d like. And, apart from those odd glitches (Which I’m sure are being worked on), it’s a solid, if still not-so-visually appealing procgen action platformer. So… A tentative yes.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is a Vaudevillain, and so the very definition of a Pattern Based Enemy.

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Noita (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£3.99 soundtrack, £17.98 game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Even at this relatively early stage, there’s a fair amount to say about Noita. It simulates every pixel (Although this mostly applies to fluids, fire, and particulates like spurting blood, smoke, steam, and even flammable gas), has an interesting core weapon mechanic, is, at the current stage (and probably later too) hard as balls… And, for some reason, it quits and restarts after every run. Don’t take that as a criticism as in “This thing is bad.” The game still works just fine. It’s just odd.

In the beginning…

So, right now, this is a somewhat plot light game (who knows, maybe it’ll get more, maybe not.) It’s implied, the first time you play it (and never again afterwards, because it’s a first play cutscene) that the universe came from a great phoenix’s three eggs. One created the land and sky, one the stars and sea, and the other… Life, both the usual kinds, and the inimical kinds. You are a wizard, entering a mine which appears to be some sort of trial, or at least having temples between levels that conveniently give you useful things… Like filling your health back up, because there is no health regen.

Funnily enough, I don’t particularly see that as a bad thing, because, while the economy gets annoyingly sparse later on (requiring enemy murder to get gold), if you’ve played your cards right, or simply gotten lucky, you’ll have something powerful enough to deal, even if the enemies, unless you’re tactical, can most definitely do unto you as you do to them. The nastier foes in the early levels, for example, are acidic spitting eyeballs and your fellow wizards, corrupted into elemental forms (I’ve only ever seen fire and lightning wizards, but these three alone are an immediate “nope!” on low health, and a pause for thought as to whether you really want to do this otherwise.)

Ahhh, it burns so prettily. Of course, I had gold down there, gold I can’t get before it disappears.

So, how do you get better? Well, sometimes, you can use your environment. Kicking things that can be kicked. Destroying convenient explosives, gas canisters, toxic goo canisters and the like. Setting off oil pools. Firing lightning into steel beams to murderize anything standing on them (Caution, this includes you!) Perks got between levels, like the ones that allow you to ignore elements, the ones that cause you to bleed poison, or slime, or be able to survive a single hit if you had more than 1 hitpoint (Does not apply to fire or acid, for obvious reasons.) Potions, like Beserkium (gives you Beserk status), Blood (Useful for folks with the Vampire perk), and Invisibilium (Guess.) Protip: And empty bottle can be used to store other liquids. And, finally, wands, and the spells contained therein.

You start with just two of these: A weak magic missile wand that fires two (capacity of three spell effects) before needing to recharge (relatively quickly), and a bomb wand, that, obviously, makes a bomb. Of which you have three. But you can find wands, and spell effects, or you can buy them between levels, with the gold you’ve earned… And, once you have those spell effects (You can even take them out of a wand completely before levels, to store for later), you can swap them between any wands that can cast them. And some effects, obviously, combine. So, if you wanted, and found the right elements, you could have a flaming projectile… That leaves a trail of gunpowder behind it. Or two at once. Or three. Some wands even have a spell built into the wand itself.

You’d think this is powerful. And it is. But it is less powerful than about twelve enemies at once. So I died a little bit later.

Aesthetically, it pretty much works. The environments themselves aren’t amazing, but it’s a whole thing to see pixellated clouds of flammable gas wisping its way upwards from where, below, the acidic gribbley you’ve just murdered is spewing it’s blood all over the ground, eating into it. Or how pretty a massive oil fire looks in game, licking over and through the wood… Before you realise “Wait, shit, I’m too clo- AAAAA HOT HOT HOT!” Remember what I said about potion bottles being filled with liquids? This is but one good reason why. Soundwise, the enemies themselves make few sounds, but the music is good, the sound effects for the various wands work.

But, honestly, the biggest draw here is how it works mechanically, the interactions of the world. And I find this very interesting, and pretty cool, so… Yeah, promising, as mentioned, hard, although it’s still, as far as I’m aware, relatively early days… I like it!

The Mad Welshman points out that drinking and wanding is not recommended. Especially if one of your spells is Fire Breath.

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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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