Crossniq+ (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

I am always appreciative, when it comes to arcade puzzlers, or any sort of puzzler with a grid system, of epilepsy accessibility options. They don’t always work, but them just being there gives me a chance to review them (It’s in advanced options, fellow epileptics.) And so it is with Crossniq+ , a game about, as the title somewhat implies, making crosses in a grid. And, while it has a somewhat slow start… Hot-damn, is it enjoyable.

Okay, so, let’s get into the basics. You shift rows and columns, making crosses to a time limit, using your choice of mouse, keyboard, or gamepad (I found mouse the easiest, but each have their merits.) And, at first, it seems pretty simple. Shift them rows, right? But then the bonus/hindrance blocks start appearing. Fit a star into the cross, and you get more points (you also get more points the quicker you are about it.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, you can do this, you can (Narrator: He didn’t do this)

But lock icons also start appearing, which prevent you from sliding blocks from one side to the other (two lock blocks near the edges is a very “Deal with it.” situation. And then… The cross blocks. You can move blocks from outside the cross box’s cross into it, but you cannot affect the row and column of the cross-block itself. This most definitely is a block you have to work around. You can get rid of any special block by making a cross’ row or column next to one, but that works for bonus blocks too, so… Be careful!

And, in both endless mode and time attack, you don’t have the luxury of letting it pass, because the more you score, the tighter those times get (and the more score you get for carrying on making those crosses!) It starts nice and slow, easing you into mechanics, and while each block is a surprise the first time, you quickly get a handle on their behaviour, making for a very reasonable difficulty curve.

We don’t normally do menu screenshots, but damn, that’s… Either PS2 arcade puzzle or Dreamcast arcade puzzle style… And I love it!

Aesthetically, it aims for a late 90s console puzzle game feel, and it achieves that feel. Friendly, rounded icons, clear delineation of elements, photographic backgrounds, and music that, put together, distinctly put me in mind of some Dreamcast and PS2 games of the genre. So, suffice to say, I love that they achieved that goal, it’s an aesthetic I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Three modes exist in the game (Time attack, Endless, and Local Versus), plus a reasonable tutorial, and a customisation shop for the (local) multiplayer mode, so, overall, yes, it’s a tightly designed puzzle with some simple elements that make for some nice, frenetic strategy. Also, a chillout room, with things you’ve unlocked that are just… Calm, and a cast of well designed, interesting characters. So, obviously… A recommendation from me!

The Mad Welshman never owned a Dreamcast. So, obviously, he wants Chu Chu Rocket on PC. The Devil Dice games too, while folks are at it.

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Overland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Itch.IO , Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Regardless of the kind of apocalypse… Well, okay, except for the murderdogpocalypse… Your best friend is a Good Boy. And I should know, because I’ve been meeting a lot of Good Boys in Overland. Some that bork. Some that bite. And some that can just carry things, search through bins for fuel, and drop it where I need it. And I do need it, because I’m trying to get to the West Coast, while crystalline insectile gribbleys are trying to stab my face off.

Welcome to Overland, a game about making hard choices.

No matter what I ram, the car will explode. So my best bet is to get out of the car, and lead them away. Welp.

Now, at first, you may be confused into thinking this is a survival strategy game, one of kicking the shit out of those gribbleys, and being the badass. No. Attacking these crystal insects, while a thing you will have to do occasionally, is a bad idea. Because it summons more of them. And you can’t stay long, either, because they hunt by sound, and if one of them’s found you (and it’s never just one), you can guarantee more are coming too. Mostly, it’s luring the bastards, trying to keep out of their reach, while grabbing whatever you humanly can.

Alas, sometimes, you risk too much. And sometimes, somebody else fucks it up for you. Because not all survivors are friendly, and the unfriendly survivors tend to a) Attack things if they have a weapon on the first turn, summoning more, and b) Run around like headless chickens, getting in your way. And, sad to say, not all survivors carry something useful, or are useful. On the run where I got to demonstrate both these things, both survivors I’d picked up had succulents, and, softie that I am, I let them keep them. At least one of them got a bobble hat, toward the end. That was cute.

Dogs are, as it turns out, good listeners.

So… Crit. The game is hard. And I do mean hard. I only managed to get to the third area in early access, because the second has creatures that can run two squares, on top of the small ones, and the bigger ones that take two hits to kill. And, even with a feature that lets you go to areas you’ve unlocked, I’ve had trouble. Sometimes, that isometric camera gets in the way of important information, and, while I’ve yet to find an example where it did that to important items, I have seen it when it comes to enemies. Finally, the game does try to incentivise a full run with secret areas unlocked in the next part of the map if you carry a survivor who knows where one is past the blockade at the end of the level. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.

Aesthetically, though, it’s quite pleasing. The survival music is tense, but low key, the camping music is wistful, and makes a nice backdrop to survivors who are having trouble keeping it together, and the low poly look is pretty good. Also the clarity of what it takes to kill enemies is very nice indeed, even if killing them most definitely isn’t the point, and you’re not going to have the resources to do so for the majority of the game. Writing wise, the procgen backgrounds are short and to the point, and the same with the conversations. They add a little character, without getting in the way of things.

You killed my friend, you weaselly fuck. I’d kill you, but word gets around, and I’d never be able to trade again. I’m glad you’re surrounded, though… Asshole.

Overall, while I can appreciate the difficulty, and that puzzle, rather than combat focused gameplay would be turnoffs, I enjoy Overland, even if it doesn’t particularly like me. It’s a game of thought, its aesthetic pleases me, and its encouragement of risk management is fun to me.

The Mad Welshman is not a big fan of hard decisions, and yet… He likes them in games. Odd.

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Exorcise The Demons (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Keep Talking, friends, and Nobody Gets Possessed. Had to get that joke in there. Anyway, yes, games with a co-op element can be so fun sometimes. Aaaand sometimes, they’re friendship ruiners. It all depends on who’s playing, really. And so it is with Exorcise the Demons, a game in which one player sees things, but has no idea what they’re doing, and their friend, who knows what the other player’s meant to do, but can’t see anything. Well, if you play it the way it’s meant to be played, anyway.

There are precisely two outcomes to this: He fireballs you, or you block it and banish him. Obviously, the latter is preferred.

Mechanically, there’s honestly not a lot more to it than that: The main player, in first person, runs around a demonic hellscape, in which there are a potential of 7 rituals to complete. All of them have to be completed successfully before you go up to the flaming book and pentagram, where a demon will appear, and you’ll find out if you have completed them successfully. Do so, and the demon’s fireball aimed at your bonce is shielded against, and you banish them. Fail on one puzzle, even one, and… Congrats, your soul is now theirs. So, naturally, there’s a fair bit of recrimination if you seem to have done everything right (Because there is no “You’ve done this right” sign for any single puzzle), and a bit of relieved joy if you actually have. There’s some physics manipulation involved, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’d think, as objects set remain set, and the majority is “Click on the thing or drag the thing over the other thing.” Cool.

Why yes, because nobody’s told you what to do, berk! (That’s a lie, I’d actually solved this seconds before. I just delayed for a nice screenshot.)

There is also a story mode of 25 levels, about a confused, amnesiac man named John, and his ally, who is… Of no help beyond giving story, so yes, you still need a friend to play this, although they don’t need the game. Story mode is where collectibles get unlocked, and it’s completion only that’s required to unlock things. Cool. And puzzles do appear to be randomised during Story levels too. I didn’t particularly feel like the writing of story mode was really drawing me in, unfortunately, and the voices were… Well, they were alright. So… Let’s deal with the Book of Rituals. Because only one player needs the game, and the other uses this.

The Book of Rituals is, like the bomb manual in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, misleading. Not factually misleading, but at times obtuse (the Ouija Board, for example, involves a wordsearch, when all you actually need is the position of the last letter of the demon’s name), and other times, worded so you can easily miss segments (While streaming this, a friend and I consistently failed the Circle of Protection segment. Turns out, there was a small, but significant point we were missing: The colour of the outside flames was the key.)

I’m pretty sure it’s going to be trimmed down by avid players, but it is something to be aware of (“Okay, check M first… Is it red? Okay, from left to right, you need to light the second and third candle, and hit YES on the Ouija Board. Also, I’m deliberately lying for the sake of an example.”)

Finally, there are curses and tattoos. These seem to be in for adding a bit of spice to both the practice mode, and padding out the story levels a little. Sometimes, your controls are wonky. Sometimes, what you see may not necessarily be true. Sometimes, you can freeze time during rituals, and sometimes, you can run faster between puzzles, as examples of precisely half the curses and tattoos available in game. Whee, that was a ride, wasn’t it?

The Crystal Puzzle. The devs are apparently aware of the problem, though.

So, obviously, how it feels depends on you and your friend. I had the hardest time communicating the Rune and Crystal puzzles with my co-op partner, although, in the former case, we’d been struggling to communicate at first, and, in the latter case, they have… Green and Yellow crystals. But the developers are, thankfully, aware of this, so I’m expecting a change to happen soon to make it more colourblind friendly. Aesthetically, well, like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, you’re going to be looking at the same visual presentation of puzzles, and the same play area a lot. It’s a very pretty one, and I like the grime, grit, and hellfire myself, along with the dramatic music, but be aware, that may or may not pall on you.

Overall, though, Exorcise the Demons does exactly what it sets out to do: Create a supernatural co-op puzzle experience, in which unreliable information is passed between players to co-operatively solve puzzles. And it’s been an enjoyable experience for me. Well, bitter arguments about how to do the Circle of Protection puzzle aside.

The Mad Welshman actually doesn’t mind demons. But it is rude to possess another nonconsensually.

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Agent A: A Puzzle In Disguise (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Agent A is, some Simon puzzles and a couple of brute forcers aside, a fairly good puzzle game where I’ve never felt the need for a walkthrough (the urge, yes. But not the need.) So that’s quite a pleasant start, both to the review and the game itself. But hot-damn, it also has some moments in the game that make this review really hard to write, because I have to avoid spoilers that I really want to talk about.

If only I could… Put a secret code or something with spoilers in (No, I have not in fact done this)

Still, let’s give this a go. Agent A is, as you might have guessed from the subheader, a Myst style “Explore a place, solving puzzles as you go.” Except it’s not uninhabited, and it is, in fact, the home of the antagonist, enemy spy Ruby LaRouge, who has a reputation for “dismissing” enemy agents, a reputation you witness the truth of just a few hours before you trail her to her hideout.

And ohhh, she’s a good antagonist. Vaudevillainous as a James Bond villain, confident, sadistic… It feels like she’s taunting you a lot more than she actually is, because her presence lingers. So… What about the puzzles?

These are never good words to hear from a sadistic enemy agent.

Well, the good news is that with most of them, the clues are there if you know where to look for them, and the item puzzles only take a little bit of wandering and futzing before you work them out. The colour ones appear to be colour blind friendly (As always, corrections on this from folks with colourblindness appreciated, but it does seem to be holding to the “Difference in both hue and light value” rule that works best), and there are only a few Simon style or brute force puzzles (of which the piano, in Chapter 1, is the worst to my mind. As soon as I saw a pianola roll, I audibly groaned.)

The controls are also pretty simple, although there’s some slowness to the movement that may not be appreciated: Left click does a thing, left drag moves a thing or drags a thing from inventory to be used, right click is “Go back a bit.” And that last one works because the tree of rooms and zones is kept relatively tight. But it should be noted that the perceptive player, who has their screenshot button handy, is rewarded (not just in puzzle clues, but… Other information), whereas the one not looking at everything they humanly can will have a much tougher time. It’s that sort of game. Heck, there are even secret things to do, ones I’ve definitely missed on this review playthrough.

What, you thought those cars that could turn into submarines stored themselves?

Still… The game looks good. The music is good. The voice acting is solid, especially the antagonist who comprises the majority of the game, and its clarity works for it. It’s also an experience that feels longer than it is (in a good way), and has some replay value if you’re a perfectionist. But mostly, it does what it says on the tin, tightly, and with a little panache, and I can quite easily recommend this one for the puzzlers out there. But remember, Ruby is mean, and that is all the warning I can give you!

The Mad Welshman sometimes chafes under the need to hide spoilers, as many people do. Although… He does like hearing the shocked cries of “The hell?” as people get to certain plot points too… Decisions, decisions…

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Pyromind

Source: Review Copy
Price: £2.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Pyromind, in its own words, is a turn based, but also real time action puzzler, in which you are a “Mind” , in a minefield (A… Mindfield? Your groans sustain me), trying to defuse bombs before they go off, reaching a higher and higher score, with more difficult elements, every time you do so. There are two kinds of mines, but there only needs to be two kinds of mines, because a Pobomb (1 square radius) or a chain of them can kill you just as easily as a Limonka (Cross effect across the entire field) or its chain can. Your only saving grace? You can cross from one side of the field to the other.

WHOOPS!

So… That, and the fact you can earn minds (slowly, oh so slowly at first) with their own special abilities (you start with none, obviously) is pretty much the core of things. There’s a time attack mode, a multiplayer battle mode (alas, I can’t say much about that… Not much of a multiplayer guy), and a campaign in the battle arena mode, essentially a CPU vs Player version of the multiplayer mode.

Alas, while single player modes earn gems for new characters, the Battle Arena does not, although the idea is fun: Essentially, the more points a player has over their opponent, the quicker a screen splitting laser moves toward the opponent, and horizontal screen movement isn’t allowed, only vertical.

So, simple to describe, and indeed learn, and not difficult to master, just requires keeping a sharp eye on where bombs are. Still ramps up the difficulty quickly, and I do wish difficulty was selectable once you’d cleared more than one difficulty, but this isn’t really a big flaw. A middling flaw, really.

It’s a variation on the sudden death of other puzzle action games, but I like its touches.

Finally, we have the aesthetic. Everthing except the menu is relatively clear, there’s a fair amount of good music, both tense and charming, and its clean, vector style appeals. As mentioned, the menu could do with more clarity, rather than going fully stylistic as it has (Options and credits are currently the arrow in the top right, tooltip for what the hell something is in the top left.) But, apart from the flaws described, this is a solid title, with an interesting core mechanic, and I’m having fun with it.

The Mad Welshman hates Limonkas. They may have become his newest worst enemy.

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