Crystal Crisis

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Right, gonna get this part out of the way right now: While I’ve suggested fixes to the developer, at the time of writing, the colourblind support for Crystal Crisis is spotty at best, and the best option is to go into Extras (not Options, Extras), select custom colour scheme, pick colours that seem to work for you, and test them in Practice mode. I have requested further comment from the developer after the steam thread I gave this critique (and advice) disappeared, but so far, Nicalis has not responded, and I shall update the review when they do, or if this changes.

The original colour schemes. Three use green and yellow, with similar values. The colourblind set has different light values, but this only actually helps one or two types of colourblindness.

So, now that that particular beef is out of the way, the rest of the game is… Alright. Essentially, a 1P vs CPU game of dropping rotatable pairs of blocks, making patterns, and then popping them with the corresponding coloured gems that sometimes drop, in order to both drop blocks that can’t be interacted with for 5 drops (generally speaking), and to build up meter for the special abilities of your chosen characters (For example, Curly can either destroy rows on her own board, or turn rows of her opponents‘ board into the aforementioned unusable blocks.)

There is a story mode, although it honestly didn’t grab me that much (Essentially, a series of fights in which you choose which character you’ll play, and then get an ending depending on your path), while the game’s replayability depends on how much you like this sort of game (I’m alright with the various tile dropping and tile matching type deals, so I expect I’ll be coming back every now and again.) Finally, there is an Arcade mode, a decent (if slow) tutorial, a practice mode where the AI doesn’t fight back, and an Online mode that… Well, while I don’t normally comment on online modes, I have been seeing a fair amount of “Online is a ghost town” type threads out in the world. So playing with a friend online is probably your best bet.

As noted previously, it’s probably best to use your own colour scheme if you’re colour blind.

Finally on the mechanical end, we’ve got a mostly solid, unlockable character roster, which includes both Nicalis characters, and, interestingly, some of the cast of Osamu Tezuka’s works, such as Black Jack and Astro Boy. I do love me some Tezuka characters, so it earns a few points with me for that.

Aesthetically… Well, the menus aren’t bad, with a little bit of character to them, the characters definitely aren’t bad, well modelled and animated, the stages, similarly, are nicely modelled, and the blocks are, apart from the aforementioned colour blindness issue, and the somewhat inconsistent nature of their lighting (Furthering the colourblindness issue at times)… Well, they’re blocks, and stars, and you know the difference between a block, and the various special things. The sound is good, the music’s good.

Story mode is alright, just as the rest is. But don’t expect a deep plot.

If it weren’t for the colourblindness problems, I would heartily recommend this. But, here’s the thing: Colourblindness is common. The ways to deal with colourblindness in video games are, equally, well known and commonly passed around in most gamedev circles these days. So to see problems like this, where three of the default colour schemes have green and yellow of similar light values (A big problem), and the colourblind one has pink and purple (Which even non colour blind people can have problems with), with the aforementioned inconsistent lighting further confusing things, I can, at best, merely not recommend it to colourblind folk. Because even when a game does what it says on the tin overall, this definitely is a blunder.

The Mad Welshman refers you to the previous review for education on some techniques folks use to be more colourblind friendly.

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ViviEon (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, you want a nice relaxing time. Other times, you play a match puzzler. Okay, I joke, because many folks, including myself, find such games relaxing, but games like ViviEon, with its constantly rising set of coloured, decal covered blocks (for easy colourblindness recognition), and its limited moves, has a surprising amount of tension.

And, alas, sooner or later, things go south…

Here’s how it goes down… As the crosshairs show, you have horizontal shifts, and vertical shifts. A single move shifts the row or column by one, in the direction you want, and it wraps around, with the exception of blocks able to fall, which do. Matching three or more tiles of the same type, horizontally or vertically, will allow those blocks to be destroyed once you end your turn. Once you do, some of your moves replenish (to a maximum of 45 moves), four rows of blocks drop down, and you keep going until the blocks reach the top, at which point, game over.

And you know what? I love this. I love the limitations, which are just enough that if you experiment drastically, you’re not going to have the room to reset that experiment, but still give you that room to do what you need to do, maximise the block destruction. I love that, if you find yourself a bit stuck, want to get a better combo score, or are a masochist, you can add more blocks willingly. And I love that simplicity, allowing you to know exactly where you stand. So, is there anything to crit?

Oh, the sweet release of getting a whole load of blocks removed!

Well… Not that much, to be honest. A lack of rebindable keys is not great, but then, the game is turn based, so it isn’t terrible. The soundtrack is slim, but it’s also relaxing, and doesn’t get tiresome, and the sound effects and graphics are solid, with just enough visual interest to keep it going. Maybe the UI could be scaled up for better readability.

Beyond that, though, I’ve had a heckuva time with ViviEon, coming back to it for just one more try, just… Let’s see if we can get a really big combo. Let’s see if I can last longer. Let’s see if I can do it quicker. Self chosen goals, within a tight framework, is one of my many jams, and ViviEon, as mentioned, does exactly what it says on the tin.

It’s also nice how easily it highlights exactly what will make a match: Desaturating colours, and outlining the symbols. Simple. Effective.

The Mad Welshman appreciates the tight. Especially when it also taxes his brain.

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Robo Instructus (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Programming puzzle games are, normally, extremely my jam. Teaching the logic behind programming is good, and, while it doesn’t teach actual programming most of the time, it does help understand it better. And that’s nice.

There. In the top left. That’s your options. That’s TINY by default!

Unfortunately, Robo Instructus doesn’t do a great job, for multiple reasons. Starting with a start interface best described as “Not great.” Okay, fun programmer joke, putting the save profiles in a 1d array. Cool. But when your options at the start are a small icon in the top left of a mostly black screen (even if it is one of the icons that is commonly accepted to be “Menu”), you’ve got some accessiblity problems. Add in the fact that while windowed mode is there, but it’s a resizable window, rather than one with options for common sizes, and it becomes needlessly difficult for streamers to get the right proportions, even with a scaling UI (and UI scale options, which, admittedly, is a thing done right.)

The level after this one is the pain in the ass.

Then, of course, there’s the things the game doesn’t tell you. Some of them are par for the course, and thus not a complaint (such as teaching the various parts piecemeal, so you don’t need to do a thing), but others… Well, for example, the third level taught me, although it took a while for me to realise, that a teleporter in a multiple level area (which is most of them) seems to either not count the teleporter as part of a robot_forward() command, or automatically call that command without a call on teleporting to a new area. Or it’s a bug. Finally, in terms of gripes, entering the program is, in places, needlessly pernickety, specifically on indenting. In most Object Oriented languages, anything contained between { and } (and with each command ending in a ; ) is considered as correct but in Robo Instructus, it needs to be indented correctly, and it only autocorrects to this formatting if you started with the instruction that isn’t indented (loop or if, for example.) Sooo, a lot of gripes here, which isn’t great.

The tower behind this wall-o-text(TM) is, essentially, your level structure. No, it doesn’t appear to widen out as it goes, terrible construction practices…

Aesthetically, it’s an odd mix. Most of it, visually, can best be described as “workmanlike” (or, possibly more accurately, a programmer’s visual design), but I’ll admit the actual robot section is visually pleasing, and the music is good.

But, overall? These gripes are certainly not trivial, for the most part, annoyances and accessibility problems that add up to make a programming puzzle game that, for once, I haven’t particularly enjoyed from the get-go.

The Mad Welshman knows enough coding to get him into trouble. Apparently, this trouble now also involves running robots off triangular cliffs.

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Marble Skies (Review)

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

Way back, in the mists of time, I used to play a wee game called Marble Madness. Good lord, it was frustrating, and was my first experience with a trackball. Many twenty-pences were lost, and, honestly, I never finished it. But hot dang if I had a love-hate relationship with that marble. Loved the idea, hated the levels.

The years have been somewhat kind to marble based racing games, thankfully, and, while Marble Skies is somewhat minimalistic, it’s also got its charm. It’s also got… Some demoralising best times. We’ll come back to those.

I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to get this down to 21 seconds, but, on watching the best time replay… So many edge leaps… So… Many…

Okay, let’s back up. Effectively, Marble Skies involves, as most marble games do, controlling an unruly, heavy marble along an obstacle course (sometimes needing to collect gems, sometimes merely needing to get to the exit) as quickly as possible, without dying. Want to get in among the speedrunners? Well, prepare to get acquainted with this marble’s physics, and jump segments of the course. Lots of them. Hell, at first, I doubted the current leaderboard times, but then I managed to get close enough to see how it could be done on a couple of levels. (I still doubt some of them, though, to be honest. But much fewer than I did…)

Aesthetically, like I said, the game is minimalist. It uses Unreal’s glows and gloss fairly well, but what it treasures more over looking pretty is clarity. Simple menus, clear differentiation of features.. The worst I could say, aesthetically, is that the music is rare, and that some of the main features are not really very clear (like jumps or gravity switches.) The sound of the rolling ball is nice, as well, and customisation is alright, all using points earned via play.

Mere seconds away from bouncing forward, past the grippy tiles, past the pillar, and into space. Eep.

Mainly, the biggest turnoff for folks will probably be an actual feature, in that glass balls are actually quite heavy, and turn, generally speaking, like a heavy thing that rolls easily. They also bounce quite a bit, and so, quite a few times in trying to get a quicker time, all I’ve done is bounce into oblivion, and hit the restart button with a gusty sigh (as dying during a run will not reset your time, presumably for speedrunners who want to be faithful with their times to complete) The level design does ramp up moderately quickly (By the time gravity switches got introduced, near the end of the beginner levels, I was sweating), so I honestly wouldn’t say this was a beginner’s marble rolling game, but the level layouts are interesting and sometimes pretty cool.

Finally, there’s a mini golf mode, and, honestly, this is the weakest feature. It’s an alright mini golf game, if you like golfing with marbles, but, not gonna lie, marbles or other glass balls would not be my first choice of ball, and the control scheme for it is fiddly (hold left, then mouse up and down for power, mouse left and right for direction. Release to fire.)

Go in. It’s sloped, y’git, go… IN!

Overall, then, Marble Skies is mostly a “Does what it says on the tin” release. For fans of marble puzzle racers, it’s an enjoyable one, but it’s not really going to bring anyone who’s on the fence into liking this style of game.

The Mad Welshman was, alas, too young for marbles in the playground to be a serious thing. I mean, Pogs, sure. But not marbles.

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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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