Uagi-Saba (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Uagi-Saba is one of those games I really want to like. An interesting, if bleak world, technically doomed. Music and aesthetics that match its dim dankness quite well. A relatively simple upgrade tree.

“You are 20 degrees short of the necessary heat to safely raise a Mystic and falling…”

One of its biggest problems, however, is that “doomed” part. See, a procgen world, made of discrete blocks with resources where you have to carefully balance whether you want the resources within, or a room with important functions, is, on paper, a great idea. But it’s something where you have to have some reassurance that the player will spawn vital things at appropriate times, or its a long, slow death that doesn’t entertain.

The visual style is simple, but arresting. Well, of the world, and its Inhabitants.

For me, this problem comes in the form of heat. More specifically, the fuel I need to get that heart up to levels where I can actually progress. It’s not the only time I’ve come across resource scarcity leading to a Dead Man Walking scenario, but it’s certainly the most egregious, as opening rooms lowers the temperature… But to find fuel sources (Smog vents), you have to… Open rooms. And heat is vital for both the third stage of the game (Raising a Mystic, one of the leaders of the community), and for staying in that second stage (Keeping Inhabitants, who require a lower, but still higher than ambient temperature to stay comfortable.)

This, to be honest, is a basic flaw. Add in that, while the visual style and workmanlike HUD are fairly good accessibility wise, the HUD’s size makes things busy, the tooltips do not stay around long enough to remain useful, and windowed mode is a fixed size… Make for added flaws. It’s a game that goes at a relaxed pace, but, unfortunately, that also makes a death spiral such as this that much more tortuous.

Typo aside, I actually quite like this introduction.

As such, as much as I want to like Uagi-Saba, I really can’t recommend it. Great on paper… But sadly, the implementation just doesn’t stick.

The Mad Welshman sighed, and shivered a little. It’s cold, out there…

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Vilmonic (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Vilmonic is, at heart, a sandbox. If you had, perhaps, let your sandbox get wet, in a marsh, and then let millennia pass it by, with the ruins of civilisation just barely holding onto coherency, and strange, fungal creatures giving way to strange, fungal animatroids.

Welcome to Vilmonic, I hope you like fungus!

Looking at an animatroid gives you hints as to what it’s going to do… If you know how to parse them.

Okay, that’s simplifying things a heckuva lot, but the basic premise, while simple, hides a lot of complexity, and a lot of fellow nerds nerding out over that (mostly unseen) backstage fun. You are a being that is trying to kickstart new life. You’re the only one who seems to want to do this, as the rest of your compatriots are corrupted, shambling versions of themselves, that want to spread their infection as far and wide as possible.

However, your fungal friends are not nearly so united, and so what plays out is, essentially, a Game of Life. Some fungaloids are aggressive, attacking all comers (including you.)

The Drone is never a good sign. It means your “Friends” are looking for you. Luckily for me, everything nearby is aggressive. And I have the power of WALLS.

And it all plays out with a minimalist, pixel art UI, both a blessing, and a curse. On the one hand, there’s not much to distract you, except the passage of time, and lots of things are clear. On the other, that minimalism hides complexity. I had, in my own world, a relatively easy time by leaving things mostly alone, and get to enjoy wandering around, looking at the various species that have cropped up on my world, but, behind this, there are sensory priorities, urges, genetics, and all sorts of odd stuff going on that, if you didn’t have an easy time of things at the beginning, or you have a goal you want to work towards (Say, carnivorous desert dwelling animatroids), it’s going to take wiki-play to understand how to get there, because even the information needs information the game doesn’t straight up give you to understand.

Vilmonic is interesting. It’s a game that does cool things. And if you like a game where your goals are mostly self imposed, where you can wander through the herds of beings you’ve created (or, just as likely, observe from a safe distance), maybe try and play God and find it’s not as easy as all that, then Vilmonic is worth a look.

Genes, urges, diet… It’s pretty comprehensive!

Cymrus Villainous is a carnivorous animatroid. It is highly aggressive.

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DUSK: Episode 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (£23.79 for all bells and whistles, £7.19 for soundtrack, graphic novel, and Intruder Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

After a wee while, DUSK Episode 3 has released, and the game is now… Complete. A love letter to the late 90s 3d shooter boom, DUSK is somewhat twitchy, sometimes stealthy, and sometimes has THE DARK MAZES OF ULTIMATE ANNOYANCE, but, most of the time, it’s over the top, shooty fun.

Oh hellll no…

I’d already covered Episodes 1 and 2 previously, and Episode 3… Well, it continues the same trends. The same love letter to 90s 3d shooters, with fast movement, varied enemies, and memorable weapons. The same bizarre nostalgia tingle from the chunky whirring of a hard drive (Present not just in the loading screen, but heard every now and again in the rare quiet portions of the game.)

In this particular case, more of the same is… Pretty good, overall. More heavy, atmospheric tunes to lay on the pressure. The Sword, a melee weapon that does heavy damage, is a silent kill for unaware enemies (Video games, eh?), and can, with skill and Morale (the game’s armour equivalent) block. More imaginative setpieces using the low-poly visuals combined with some more modern techniques to create memorable moments.

I was at 20 health when this ambush triggered, and died taking screenshots for you. You’re welcome.

Of course, it’s not all roses. Being a 90s style 3d shooter, the run speed is… A thing, and I found myself rapidly disoriented with what would normally be a safe strategy of “circle strafe while trying to hit things.” Climbing is necessary in certain portions, and, while it’s nice that you can’t have a Dead Man Walking situation, climbing also gets finicky pretty easily (If you didn’t land facing the wall, holding the walk button may not work in the intended manner.) The most dangerous situations are not, as you might expect, bosses, but large groups of mid-tier enemies (such as the frozen church in level 2.) And, of course, being a 90s style shooter, secrets aren’t only badges of pride, but some can give you that much needed leg up… And, considering how the health and armour can bounce back and forth in a level, “Much needed” is very much the right phrasing. The physics objects, similarly, can be finicky. Yes, it’s funny that soap instantly kills a filthy enemy (Evil, as it turns out, is weak to Hygiene), but damn if that soap can sometimes be a git to handle…

The Crystals of Madness are another interesting facet of DUSK. Weaponised “Make enemies attack each other” gasbombs, in a nutshell.

Still, DUSK, as a whole, does a lot of things well. It tickles the nostalgia gland, while also adding more modern touches that make life a little easier. It takes advantage of being story light to concentrate on making its areas evocative and interesting, and while the flaws are there, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unfond of twitchy shooters (or the easily frustrated), it does exactly what it sets out to do with style. It feels good to see the crossbow gib not just the enemy directly in front of me, but several of its friends. It felt tense as hell to see a multi-tiered river of lava, despite the fact the encounters along it weren’t that tough, because it sold the tension. In a way, it’s a bit like its grungy world: A little battered in places, but feeling tight, tense, and… Unreal.

Okay, I should probably go to pun jail… Again… For that one. But still, DUSK is mostly fun and interesting, and that’s cool.

The Mad Welshman refuses to apologise for his puns.

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Mutant: Year Zero (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99 (£47.99 for Deluxe Edition, £18.99 for Deluxe Content DLC if you already have the base game)
Where To Get It: Steam

A good post-apocalypse is equal parts absurd and terrifying. Myths arise from casual misinterpretations, nomenclature is taken more seriously than perhaps it should, and yet, this is because death waits around every corner, just itching for the unwary. Why, then, would you not be afraid of something called a “Boom Box” with a red button on it?

“What are ya, survival-inept? DON’T TOUCH THE RED BUTTON!”

And that, apart from maybe a tale of tactical combat gone horribly wrong, is perhaps the best introduction to Mutant: Year Zero, a tactical RPG that moves relatively seamlessly between realtime isometric exploration, and turn-based tactical combat. A game where myths of survivors, that Safe Haven, put an already established community in danger. Perhaps more than even it’s aware of.

Mutant: Year Zero is also an interesting game, because, underneath all the glitter, there’s… Not actually a huge amount, mechanically speaking. There are relatively static shops at the Ark, your homebase. The turn based tactical combat is easy to get your head round if you’ve played anything with turn-based tactical combat… Two actions a turn, shooting ends your turn (generally), special abilities have kill based cooldowns, and ensuring enemies die quickly, and in a good order is the key to victory. A lot of it is writing, and mood, and aesthetic, all of which it pulls off… Quite well.

Reality: Probably were out for Brewskis when the crap hit the fan. What we see? People who couldn’t hack it in this dangerous world.

For example, the map and loading music reminds me very much of the iconic theme to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and, for those who haven’t seen that movie, its understated bass line, simple and rhythmic, has associations. Of death, of horror, of tension and mistrust. And it mostly plays that tense theming throughout, to good effect. Similarly, the two main characters, while ridiculous if you sum them up by their base concepts (A warthog and a duck. They stalk the Zone for the good of The Ark), are grounded, played straight to good effect. They sound like they’ve lived their concepts, and that suspends disbelief enough that you care about these two irascible, but otherwise alright folks. The world has enough to make it feel alien, while the familiar is seen through both our own eyes (Awwh heck, those poor folks, dying while camping), and the funhouse mirror of how the world sees them (Not understanding it wasn’t as threatening back then, the campers are derided for camping in a now-dangerous area.)

While relatively short, the game packs tightly, and if I had one critique, it’s that the relatively small seeming improvements can give an unwarranted sense of complacency. I hadn’t even realised I was halfway to a sensible level for taking on the next leg of my main quest at one point, and, at another very soon after, cursed that I hadn’t gone back to the ark to get those seemingly unimportant single damage points. Those seemingly unimportant single damage point armours. Just one extra heal. Those single points don’t seem to matter, but, as it turns out, they’re the difference between a stealthy kill of an outlier… And an extended firefight in which everyone dies. It’s a finely tuned game, but this also means that yes, those upgrades are important, although there’s obviously a little leeway.

Scoping out the area before you go hot is a good idea. I thought I was being smart, starting with a grenade. See that little arrow to the left? That’s the medbot who screwed it all up.

Finally, there’s splitting up. Mutant: Year Zero emphasises stealth, the picking off of outliers, because you’re always outgunned in some fashion in a straight up fight, and it’s an interesting risk-reward calculation to leave someone in a better position, micromanage outside of the enemy’s view, so you can ensure the best outcome.

So, an interesting world, seen through a funhouse mirror of post-apocalypse confusion. Solid writing, good music, a good aesthetic… And doing interesting things with genre mixing and the rote formulae we know and “love.” It’s tough, but it’s also fair tough, tutorialises well, and I’ve been having an enjoyable time, in the “Tense gripping of mouse and very quiet swear words when things go wrong and I know it’s my fault” sense. Well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a top-hatted Corgi if he was a post-apocalyptic mutant. Cliched… But also CLASSY.

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60 Parsecs! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£14.38 for both this and 60 Seconds)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, even the smallest things can have long term consequences. That was the core idea behind 60 Seconds, the first game in this series, and now, in 60 Parsecs (A joke title based on a common nitpick with Star Wars Episode IV), that same question is asked… But in SPAAAACE!

DIVE DIVE DIVE! Each character has their own animation for getting the heck out of about-to-be-nuked Dodge.

It also saves a little time, because it means I can say that if you liked 60 Seconds, odds are high you’d like 60 Parsecs, because the core is the same: You have 60 seconds to pick up as much survival gear as you humanly can, from tins of soup, to crewmembers, before your alternate 50s space station gets blown up, and from there… Hopefully find and survive in space, long enough to get rescued… Or for something else to happen. It depends on both luck of the draw and your choices.

I never thought, for example, of the many potential uses of the humble sock puppet. Morale booster, sanity keeper… And apparently, very useful for dealing with aliens who want to steal my soup? Huh, better write that one down then.

One thing that immediately leaps out about the writing (for lo, writing is a lot of what you’re going to see in the game, along with the slowly changing faces of your ever more haggard crew) is that its humour rarely, if ever, punches down. It could have been a mean game, considering its subject matter, but at no point did I feel belittled or groan at a line… Mostly, in fact, I was chuckling if not outright laughing. For a game about an apocalypse, and surviving in extremely hostile (and cramped) conditions, it’s light hearted, and pulled me in. When Baby Bronco, the buff, but not very smart crew member fell in love with me, it was over positive reassurance, a reminder that he was valued. That was kiiiinda undermined by my dying of rats the next day, but it was sweet, and I appreciated its presentation. Even if I didn’t quite appreciate the whole “eaten by rats” thing.

I mean… We went together, that’s gotta count as a romantic no- No, it doesn’t, does it? Welp…

So… Writing’s good, sound’s good, art style is good (unlike 60 Seconds, which tried 3d models for the “OHCRAP GRAB THINGS” portion, 60 Parsecs has a nice, consistent style throughout, well animated and presented) … What’s not so good? Well, it’s a core thing, and, as such, this is more of a “Be warned” than a thumbs down. Not having the right item in some situations kills you. Failing certain events kills you. You will die, and sometimes it’s for the silliest of reasons (The rat thing, for example, was because I’d sent Baby Bronco out with the very item I needed to deal with the rats… The day before.)

I’d say, for the most part, the charm of the game gets around this, but it should be noted that getting to the end of either of the 60 [time units] games is hard. A lot of the enjoyment is not so much in the destinations (Of which there are multiple, some hidden), but in the journey.

Overall, I kind of like 60 Parsecs. It does the thing it does quite well, it’s got a lot of charm to it, it tutorialises fairly well, and, when I find myself even chuckling at some of the gruesome ends I and my crew have fallen prey to, I feel like, tonally, it’s hit a good mark.

“LET ME IN, EDDIE!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t quite do that, Cap’n! I have *no* idea why, and it *certainly* isn’t sinister, nosirree!”

The Mad Welshman would probably not make a good captain. I mean, both Captains and Vaudevillains often have rocking moustaches, but that’s nowhere near the amount of similarity needed…

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