Astrologaster (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the 16th Century. Such a wondrous age, full of poets, of doctors finally starting to learn what the heck they’re on about, and, of course, the Plague. It is a wondrous age to which our dear leaders wish us to return, in the hope that perhaps the Empire might also coincidentally rise again.

Ah, the British Empire, such a place of tolerance and… Oh. Yeah, it was kind of an exploitative hateful shitpile. I almost forgot. ALMOST.

Speaking of quacks… Astrologaster is a comedic tragedy, in the form of speechcraft and song (Often Madrigals) about a “Doctor” who used Astrology as his form of diagnosis, one Simon Forman. And, to be fair, he is a fitting subject, for he was tangenitally involved with… Well, a lot of London life of the period. The game takes liberties, but it does so to introduce quite a few other major players of the period, such as Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle, the Dean of Rochester, Thomas Blague (and his wife Alice), and Emilia Lanier, a poet, and suspected to have been the Dark Lady of William Shakespeare’s sonnets 127-154.

Yes, knowing this period of history helps with some of the jokes. But by no means all, for nearly everyone is mercilessly riffed on, excepting some folks whose lives… Really didn’t deserve that much mockery. In any case, a fair warning, the game does end rather suddenly, and the reason for this is that the good “Doctor” ended… Rather suddenly. But the aim is, through astrology (Or, more accurately, through a cunning combination of actually divining what’s wrong, and telling people what they want to hear), to diagnose folks’ complaints.

Ah, Dean Blague… Maybe one day you’ll make a sound investme-AHAHAHA I CAN’T FINISH THAT SENTENCE.

It’s very clear, in the sense that you know what’s what, even if the diagnoses are sometimes… Difficult, and the picturebook aesthetic works well. Where it really shines, though, is the aforementioned voice acting and singing. Jo Ashe does an excellent job of playing concerned wife Emma Sharpe (how do her older husbands keep dying on her?), for example, and the songs about Thomas Blague are wonderful examples of a new musical art form I would like to call “Getting owned by the Church Chorus.”

It’s… Honestly kind of hard to write about the charm of Astrologaster without either going on a history lecture, spoiling the results of some choices, or both, but… History buffs will get several laughs (and knowing nods), most folks will have a charming experience and quite a few laughs, and, overall… Yup, I like Astrologaster.

Astrologaster: Latest winner of the “NOT WHILE I’M [splutter] DRINKING COFFEE!” award.

I cannot really Madrigal, but Iamb good with that Pentameter. Honest.

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Divination (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Minimum $1, but if you drop less than $5 on it I’ll be disappointed in you.
Where to get it: Itch.IO

Anyone remember Cyber City Oedo 808? To me, it was one of the more interesting cyberpunk anime out there, because it not only had your oppressive government and criminals trying to fight the system (Albeit, because they were captured by the system, in small ways), but vampires, ghosts in the machine, and psychics. It was short, but it captured the imagination.

Cop uses Divinatory Pair of Hands, aka “Letting you know it’s fantastical right out of the gate.”

Divination, also, is short. But boy, does it capture the imagination. Imagine, if you will, a city that had, until a while ago, been run by Mother, an AI that, for some reason, decided that life was pointless, and, since the people believed her… Well, suicides and horror skyrocketed.

Imagine, if you will, a disembodied pair of hands in a room. They choose runes picked by their claimant, who is invited to their home with accurate predictions of their near future to tempt them. The payment for this service, answering one of their questions, is to recount a dream they had. Imagine four such divinations, each difficult questions, sometimes painful questions. And, at the end of those divinations, the hands sit back, look at what they have done… And are, for some reason, unsatisfied.

OBJECTIVE NOT REACHED: RESTARTING DIVINATION OF DIVINATIONS.

Divination is short, but goodness me, it has atmosphere, a clever gimmick, and replayability. Helped by the fact that you do not, strictly speaking, know what the runes mean yourself. Your avatar, the Diviner, most certainly does, as their confident predictions based on what you choose show (I was only disappointed once, but it was an important one), but you don’t. And arranging those symbols well is the key to your choice.

Aesthetically, the game has M O O D. A darkened room. Slow synth. The sharp tap of your steel fingers to change channels, meet guests… The red words on your screen, endlessly repeated, to speak. And the writing… As mentioned, some of the divinations are painful. Will my daughter wake up? Is there meaning to my (robotic) life? (Robots have, since Mother’s suicide, been fitted with anti-suicide protocols, so this is… A very important question.) And the dreams. From the very start, they’re disturbing, symptoms of a city clearly in pain. The English isn’t perfect, but the mood still gets across, and the mood is, for want of a better word, portentous.

Ouch. Yeah, you’re kinda right, Robot Buddy. At least I have the hope of being able to watch Doom Patrol sometime this century

I won’t spoil what’s most disturbing about it all, but… I got there, and it’s an interesting twist. Divination is cyberpunk as hell, albeit from a twisted perspective, it’s definitely got its horrific side, and I heartily recommend it for fans of short, mood-heavy narrative pieces.

The Mad Welshman has cast the runes, and he confidently predicts he’ll have 20+ reviews this month. No, he didn’t already know that, shut up!

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

Source: Cashmoneys
Price:
£13.49
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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ISLANDERS (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, the city builder. The puzzle city builder. They’ve both got their own beauty, but, done well, both can be extremely relaxing times. And Islanders… Is done pretty well.

I’m about to lose… But, you know what? I feel accomplished for having done this much, not bad for losing.

As with city builders, buildings in the right range of each other create synergy, for good or for ill. A lumberjack does well with lots of trees around, better with a statue, better with a sawmill… But it makes parks, shamans, and other stuff less palatable to place nearby. Some buildings, like the Temple, are very picky, so thinking ahead is definitely a useful skill.

And then there’s the title. See, it all revolves around islands. Sometimes tiny archipelagos, sometimes big grassy dealios with ruins… But always, space is at a premium. And always, progress must be made. Most of the time, this means making enough points to get more buildings. But once you get far enough, the next island starts calling, and, whether through feeling you’ve maximised your work here, running out of useful buildings, or simply from having placed a lot of buildings, it’s time to move to the next, keeping only the score you’ve accumulated so far.

Every Island has its specific challenges, things that work well, and things not so well. For example here, brickies aren’t going to have a great time: No sand.

Thing is, while it is challenging, it does a lot to make it a chill experience. Tooltips handily tell you what a building does before placing it, allowing you to think. When placing things, there’s visual guides both to its sphere of influence and the points you’ll rack up from placement (Occasionally leading to “Just a pixel to the left, and… BAM, 32!”) It’s very quickly clear what’s what, and, throughout, light, relaxing music is playing, keeping you calm. Since the game automatically restarts on a loss, and saves progress if you leave, there’s also no pressure there, and I like that.

Islanders, overall, feels quite pleasant to play, sounds good, looks good… And, of course, the feeling when you have an island almost filled is a good feeling. Sometimes, you need something relaxing that still challenges the mind, and Islanders is definitely that.

Ohhh yeah. That’s the stuff. Still got placements, still got the chance to go to the next island. MMMMMMM.

The Mad Welshman always has time for relaxation. So ISLANDERS is definitely going in his “Play this when things are getting you down” folder.

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Subara City (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Cities are interesting places. Some heavily planned, some… Not so much planned as grew. And there have been many arguments as to whether one should take a top down approach (Larger matters to small) or a bottom-up approach.

“That’s Two Level 12 buildings, we can give you, guv’nor, take it or leave it…”

In Subara City, the answer is “Both.” A simple on the surface match puzzle game, Subara City has you match houses and characters with under-tiles of the same colour to combine them, until they reach Level 10. Then it gets a little tricky. You see, there’s a risk-reward thing going on, where Level 10 buildings can only be combined with each other, and once you do… That building can no longer be combined with anything else.

So, ideally, you want as many Level 10s to combine as you can get… But you also have to make sure you can still combine other blocks, otherwise… Game over. Similarly, on the risk-reward front, you have a certain number of demolitions you can do (one gained every 100 turns, and some for high level buildings), but your score is your population, so demolishing that level 17 building in the hope you get a level 18? Won’t gain you that much, if anything.

The first time you satisfy a building or character condition, it’s nice enough to let you know on the left, along with general hints and tips occasionally.

And that, essentially, is the game. Scores are local, but, after a while, you’ll find yourself struggling to reach Top 10… Against yourself. So… That’s the game, mechanically. It pretty much does what it says on the tin. How about aesthetically?

Well, musically and soundwise, there’s really not a lot to say. It has one tune for the main game (A choral piece), one for the menu, and the sounds are equally simple… That choral tune may well wear on you, or you might blank on it, so that’s a “Eh” for sound. Visually, it’s nice and clear, so that’s a definite plus, and there’s a little charm in the buildings and characters (Some of which you unlock through play.)

I’ve done slightly better than this since this screenshot… But I’ve also ensured anything less than 2 million won’t reach the top 10… Curses.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for “Does what it says on the tin”, and while it’s simple on the surface, paying attention to every part of the board is important, as really good play involves thinking several moves ahead. There are, however, a few minor niggles. There are odd (if slight) performance hitches when you select demolition or combining level 10 blocks for the first time, and some of the requirements for character unlocks don’t encourage high score play (A niggle because characters don’t, strictly speaking, have a score element attached to them.) These aside, it is a pleasant game to play, and I think other match puzzler fans will enjoy this one too.

The Mad Welshman is, in particular, fascinated by the most difficult requirement for a character. How many? And that level? Wow.

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