Simmiland (Review)

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

If there’s one thing that God games have taught me, it’s that being a God is hard. So much to manage, so little time, so many plates, just spinning in line… But, more recently, God games like Crest, Reus,and now Simmiland, have brought me to the conclusion that while being a God is hard, it’s not helped by humans. Demanding, contrarian, and often hard to teach humans.

(Citation Needed)

It also doesn’t help when the Manual for Good Godding gets mislaid.

Simmiland is, in essence, a real-time, puzzle God-game. You have cards, most of which have different effects on different biomes of the randomly generated world, and placing cards (Starting with your humans) takes Belief. From there, it’s working out what, placed where, gets the results you want. For example, minerals on grass gives you bog standard rock, useful for setting up. But placing rock in the ocean gets you coral, which, after you’ve researched medicine, needs to be Inspected for better medicine.

I’m not quite sure yet what Plague teaches my little Simmians, but it sure is cathartic when I get frustrated.

Sometimes, nuking something from orbit is the only way to be sure. And yes, there is a reason for this. A confusing reason… But a reason.

Nonetheless, the clock is ticking, and the clock is the size of your deck. So, at first, The End is guaranteed, you harvest belief based on what you managed to achieve, buy more God Cards at the God Shop, look at your compendium…

…And start all over. Aesthetically, the game is simple, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into being accessible. Cards in certain spots in your hand, for example, become a little difficult to select, be that for playing them, or selling them for belief in the tighter moments. The Compendium is the main source of remembering what a card does, and… You can’t see that from in-game. Two windows (Camp, and Wishes) are recommended to be open a fair bit of the time (Wishes all of the time, in fact, as they give you belief), but they clutter up the view. So part of the difficulty comes from struggling to remember what does what on your eventual, ideal path. Achievements at the end do help somewhat with this, giving you goals to shoot towards, but part of the “fun” is in finding out how the heck to get to these rewards.

Thing is, I can’t deny it isn’t interesting, for the same reason I found Reus interesting. Bashing things together to see what does what, building up a picture of the path I want, then aiming for it. But I also can’t deny it can’t be a frustrating experience. Human demands are sometimes very specific, and sometimes include things you just don’t know how to do yet. Heck, sometimes, it includes things that are a little irritating to do, like tropical biomes (Three suns, followed by a rain, presumably in a grass biome),or avoiding locking yourself into some dead ends. Individual games are short (Around 10 to fifteen minutes at most), but getting those achievements, those endings, that progress… That takes time.

Why… Why would you even wish for that? WHY?!?

A cool experiment in doing God Games a little differently, with elements that frustrate, and others that somewhat confuse (Why, precisely, does having a church limit your Simmians IQ to 120?)…Worth checking out, considering its price, but some unintuitive elements do bring it down somewhat.

The Mad Welshman reminds all those who haven’t discovered the secret of fire to Bang The Rocks Together, Folks!

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Dungeon Girl (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: 
£8.99
Where To Get It: Steam

This review took a while because, at first, it’s somewhat hard to see what the problem is with Dungeon Girl. After all, how complex, or intricate, or messy could a game really be, when its main game loop consists of clicking on groups of same-coloured blocks to remove them, and other blocks fall down?

Looks p. simple, and the main action (clicking on those blocks) *is* . Everything else? Nooooot so much…

As it turns out, a fair bit. So let’s get into Dungeon Girl, in which a dungeon explorer for the Kingdom explores dungeons, albeit not in the fashion many are used to.

Dungeon Girl is, simply put, a block removing turn-based game with RPG mechanics. There are several kinds of blocks, but the most important (and common) are Life (Heals you), Work (Digs out ore), Search (Finds the exit to each floor), and Attack (Does what it says on the tin.) More blocks of the same colour make for a larger effect, and if one or more rows of the grid are filled with a block-type when you remove it, this has another extra effect. 200 dungeon floors, bosses roughly every fifteen floors, stairs roughly every 5 floors, and if you get damaged or your Mind meter goes to 0% , you lose that exploration run.

What’s that? I didn’t mention Mind? Are there Mind Blocks? What are these RPG mechanics? Well, this is where it gets a little complicated. Yes, there are Mind blocks, uncommon as they are. There are also items that heal mind. There’s also quests, and item mixing, and an item encyclopedia, and support members with their abilities and skill grids to put Friend Points in, and… Oh, your eyes are already glazing over. Yes. Mine did too, until suddenly some of these things become important. While others… Don’t. So much. So far. This, readers, is the problem here. It’s a game whose core game loop is simple enough, but everything surrounding it isn’t. And not a whole lot of it feels very useful, whether it is or isn’t. I can, for example, affect the tile drop rate by changing my Adventurer Type, unlocked by specific Friend Point tiles on their skill grids. I can also unlock their Stories, little vignettes, and extra HP, and Treasure Keys, and…

Yes. Yes. This is definitely a skill square. Those are definitely words, and abilities, and rising numbers.

…And while a fair amount of this is explained, not all of it is explained well, and so I’ve shied away from certain features because I genuinely can’t grasp their utility. These Object Points are good, huh? How do I… How do I get more of them? What does that actually do? I have Nono’s Bento at something like +4 , with 7 of them, at 0P. Looking at the help explains it a little, but I have 7 Nono’s Bentos, a +4 that doesn’t seem to do anything, and no bonus (the Help tells me it’s because I haven’t got enough of Nono’s Bento to unlock said bonus.) As such, mixes have largely been left the hell alone in my playthrough, and types left unchanged. Nothing seems to have suffered as a result.

But how are these items gotten? Treasure chests. Which require keys. Which require either unlocking skill grid items on party members (Considering how quickly the Friend Point requirement for the next grid item rises, this is not a preference) or Quests. Quests refresh every ten game days (three moves a day) in a dungeon, and, while some are perfectly do-able (Remove X blocks of Y type, Remove X blocks in one go of Y type Z times, Don’t Get Hurt for X turns), others seem, at best, counterproductive for their gains (Reduce yourself to 20% HP! Fight 5 enemies at once!) and others a matter of luck or speed, rather than skill (Fight X enemies, Fight Y rare enemies.) There’s conflicting elements here, and while choosing between them adds to the difficulty (because treasure chests can only be opened with keys), some seem particularly silly. Use X stairs? Er, yes, because I really want to be going deep quicker when my attack isn’t actually good enough for five floors down right now.

Dungeon Girl started somewhat enjoyable, a little confusing, a little popcorny, and I can see how folks who gave up on it early disliked it for “simple” gameplay. Over time, though, I’ve grown to dislike it because it’s not simple. It’s a hodgepodge of systems that aren’t terribly well explained, with elements fighting each other over how you should progress using its “simple” game loop. Which is less simple because that hodgepodge of elements seems to be affecting, behind the scenes, how well I attack, or the like. To the point where even explaining why it feels like a hodgepodge has turned this review… Into a hodgepodge.

While this ends well, I can’t help but feel this isn’t a good way of going about things. Also, I like pineapple on pizza.

The Mad Welshman loves tooltips. But tooltips, as he’s found elsewhere, are of little use when you don’t know the tooltip is there.

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Donut County (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Donut County is one of those most pleasant of games for a critic: A game where, on its surface level, it’s tight, accessible, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, although I freely admit I wouldn’t have minded more.

I mean… [looks at library] He’s not… Wrong?

Just below that, however, only slightly concealed, is a fun little bit of political allegory that I can’t help but appreciate. How a donut hole, “driven” by a raccoon to cause chaos for, essentially, selfish reasons, symbolises a large part of what is wrong with capitalism. That’s the kind of thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

On its face, there’s an enjoyable game. You are a raccoon, directing a donut-hole around a map with the mouse, exploring a well styled low-poly world as you drop it all… Into the hole. Why are you doing this? Well, partly it’s to get revenge on people who annoyed your friend. Partly it’s because it’s a game, and it’s a fun thing to do in a game. But mostly, it’s because you’re almost a Level 10 employee, and when you hit Level 10? You get a cool quadcopter of your very own. That’s a good enough reason to drop large portions of a small town into a deep, hungry donut-hole that expands the more it’s fed, right?

It helps that often, filling that hole is, itself, a pleasurable and amusing activity.

Even if it didn’t go the extra mile narratively, you’ve got a fun game with a delightfully subversive message. The more you throw into the hole, the bigger it gets. You’re filling it, but the hole always gets bigger, because there’s bigger stuff out there to throw into your bigger hole. And, each level, you’re only satisifed when there’s nothing left… But the hole. And you’re told what a good job you’ve done as the person you’ve dropped down the hole is endlessly falling, and a little bar puts you ever closer to that quadcopter, the cool thing you’ve been promised if you only keep filling the hole.

But it does go that extra mile, and, inbetween every level, there’s a little segment, at the bottom of the hole, where the survivors (including the friend of main protagonist BK the Racoon) call BK out on the fact that he destroyed the entire town… To get a cool quadcopter. And, at first at least, he’s not the slightest bit guilty. He’s too busy being pissed that his supposed best friend, who he did this for, broke his quadcopter. He was only doing his job! He nominally did some good along the way! It’s totally not his fault!

There’s other things, too, later down the line, but this… This is some well crafted allegory. We like stuff! We want more stuff! But there’s only so much stuff, and a lot of it is, put bluntly, junk. But that’s okay, we’re playing a trashpanda, and what does a trashpanda like? Junk. They don’t necessarily understand it (as the Trashpedia humorously shows), it’s… It’s junk! You get junk, and getting junk is good! It’s better if it’s cool junk, sure, but it’s stuuuuufff! Some of that stuff was better off where it was, serving a useful function. Some of that stuff was distributing other stuff. But nope, hole’s gotta be filled, we have to have all the stuuuufff!

Legit creepy, sometimes, when you’re subtweeted by a literal Trash King.

I could go on, but it’s delightful, it’s clever, and it can be played in an afternoon. Then, if you feel like, you can do the completionist stuff, collect all the trash and do interesting things. And I would recommend that, because it’s fun, it’s simple, and it’s a balm in this stuff filled world we live in.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes a raccoon. He likes stuff!

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Tanglewood (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s an interesting world we live in, right now. A time where the oldest computer systems are starting to die, and parts to fix them have become short in supply, due to the simple fact that nobody really makes the chips any more. So when I heard about Tanglewood, a game which was developed for the Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you prefer) using the devkit, and, indeed, was also produced in cartridge form, I had to take a look.

I would, on the face of things, be perpetually angry if this was my purpose in life too.

And you know what? It isn’t bad. Emulated on its PC/Steam release, it works fairly well within its limitations, to create a somewhat minimalist puzzle platformer about a fox… Living in a supernaturally cursed forest. And this fox’s only friends are rocks… and fluffy balls called Fuzzl, who grant Nymn, the lost little fox, special abilities if rolled back to their nests.

So let’s get the bad out of the way first, because, thankfully, it’s somewhat brief. Movement has a fair amount of inertia, and not all the platforms have that extra bit of jumping room most platformer players are used to, so it’s better to jump slightly earlier than you think you’re meant to. Also, if you’re pushing something, and an enemy is coming for you, it’s quicker to let go of the controls, then jump, than let go of the push button while still moving, and trying to jump. Finally, the early Djakk (Big, quicker than you beasties with big teeth) chases can be a pain in the ass to nail due to water screwing with your jump timing. End of things I don’t like.

RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!

Otherwise, it’s tough, but fair. Eight chapters, split into relatively short segments, and each introduces its concepts quite well. Chapter two, Act three, for example, has lightning as its primary antagonistic element, and this is shown very early on with a Hogg directly showing the consequences of being out in the open (IE – Nothing above you.) Clear, quick, direct. No lives system, so while there are stakes, you’re not pressured into perfection first time, and checkpoints are, for the most part, very sensible, being at the start and end of each “puzzle.” With three buttons, each with a clear function, and a nice in-game manual available in the ESC menu, it’s also fairly accessible, and I didn’t have any trouble distinguishing between visual elements. So… That’s fairly nice!

Aesthetically, the game is somewhat minimalist, but in a pleasant way. Each chapter has a day, an evening, and a night theme to it, with some ambient noise every now and again, and small musical stings for each area. Otherwise, it’s fairly quiet, and for this, it works, because often, you’ll hear enemies and Fuzzls before you see them, and, considering death is mostly by contact, this is a good setup. It also fits the mood well, as the feel of threat is increased by the silence… Well, for anyone who’s been to a forest and understands why that’s a bad sign, anyway.

As such, the good outweighs the flaws in Tanglewood, and I feel pretty comfortable recommending it for folks who like platform puzzlers. For those interested, there’s also a brief interview with Matt Phillips, head of Big Evil Corp, on the site as well.

On the one hand, pushing drastically slows you down, be it a big or small object. On the other, most of the time, it’s pretty low pressure.

The Mad Welshman is somehow surprised he was caught off guard by the death-squirrels. He already knew they were… ogoshsocuteARGHMYFACE.

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La-Mulana 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Being an Archaeologist is, in many senses, about being observant. Clues can be as subtle as a passage in a book, the curvature of glacially moulded hillscapes, or the precise composition of a flint arrowhead, and it’s important to be able to see, to understand what you’re seeing. Being a Ninja, if we go by popular depictions or otherwise, is about being observant. Being a covert agent is all about what you perceive, about how quickly you can sense danger, and, equally, about seeing opportunity where others merely see a surly major-domo (for example.) In both cases, livelihood (and sometimes, your life) depends on being able to clearly see the clues set in front of you by circumstance.

“Do not pursue Le-Meza!” doesn’t have quite the same ring, but yes, the protag’s dad always seems to be near the most devlish traps. I’m in the *POISON LAVA* on the left. Terrible parent, I swear…

And so, funnily enough, it is with La Mulana 2, a game that does explain its puzzles… It’s just not always in the places you’d expect. This is less surprising when you consider that the only family line to have successfully explored the La Mulana ruins (and, with your control, hopefully explore the Eg-Lana ruins that seemingly coincide with them) is a family of… Archaeologist Ninjas. Lemeza and Shawn, from the last game, and, the main protagonist of this game, Lemeza’s daughter Lumisa.

So, for those just catching up, La Mulana was, and is, a love letter to the MSX (One of Microsoft’s early attempts at “A computer on every desk” , an 8-bit system that found popularity in quite a few places, but most notably Japan and Brazil), and the action adventures that could occasionally be found on the system. It’s an action platformer, but with puzzles of all stripes, some of which will kill the unwary instantly, a variety of enemies, and, of course, bosses… Some of whom will kill the unwary instantly. Save early, save often, and investigate things. Oh, except that tablet. They told you not to read that tablet for a reason, don’t do that. That’s the Hard Mode Tablet.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Or that the game didn’t.

Bosses and NPCs alike take from a variety of mythological sources, from the Aztec, Mayan, Norse, and Celto-Gaelic cycles. Ixtab, for example, is the Mayan goddess of… Well, you can probably guess. 😐

Overall, La Mulana 2 is a more focussed, somewhat improved version of its predecessor. Awkward to no air control has become “A little air control” (and jumping puzzles designed around this), the early game is less punishing (You can, with just a little prep, take on all the minibosses and boss of the first area without serious weapon upgrades), the writing’s improved a little, and the art style is about the same as the remaster of La Mulana 1 (Solid pixel art, combined with some amusing hand-drawn characters for the conversations.) It controls relatively well (although the keybinds take some getting used to, and, even as an 8-bit kid, it took me a short time to figure out that F2 is for inventory, settings, and apps, and F1 is for conversation, the area map (if you’ve found it), and the area teleport interface. Swimming is still somewhat painful, alas, but we can’t have everything.

Thing is, La Mulana 2 does exactly what it sets out to do: Be a tough, but mostly fair adventure platformer, with a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic setting where not only were all myths real, they all had a single source, a progenitor who, as it turned out, just wanted to go home… And the world ending threat she represented. So, on the one hand, this review is very much a “Does what it says on the tin”, and, considering the Kickstarter campaign was on the platform of “Back this, and I will make a game that kills your character repeatedly” (not the exact words, but close enough), and the first game worked on exactly this notion… Yes, it does what it says on the tin. But I thought I’d finish up this review by describing the core loop of gameplay, because most people who get turned off by the game get turned off by the second part of the loop, and maybe hearing it will help.

At first, everything is very simple: You’ve opened doors, you’ve got the map to the area, you’ve remembered to ensure you can teleport to the area (by scanning the holy grail you normally save with), and you’ve killed pretty much everything you can kill that stays dead, such as minibosses. Good on you… But of course, the game isn’t over, and the question then arises… Well now what?

Once you’ve figured out part of the puzzle, the rest tends to fall into place. Which, let’s face it, is a good feeling.

Well, now you need to go somewhere new, solve some new puzzle, obviously. And sometimes, it seems like there’s no way forward. One optional example here is the chain whip. It’s a useful weapon, like your whip, but does double the damage, which is just enough not to hear the dreaded “tink” of “Haha, nope, this enemy didn’t even feel that.” But getting it involves observation, and the fact that you have water (poisonous), ice water (poisonous and cold), lava (hot), and poison lava (hot poison, and no, I’m not joking. Poison lava. Just for added “Screw you.”) All I will say is that identifying which is which is very valuable in determining whether a path is suicidally impossible… Or do-able, providing you know how to deal with the swimming. This is one example of where the way forward is there… You’re just not seeing it. Drawings on tablets give you hints to what these cryptic texts are talking about. Tablets tell you about things… Walls can look different, maybe crumbly, maybe hollow.

And then you find a way forward, and it probably kills you, because of something you hadn’t seen before. Sometimes it’s a miniboss. Sometimes it’s a new enemy. Sometimes, it’s gotcha traps, which, I’ll grant you, are a turn off (although even these mostly give clues to their presence… Even if the clues, sometimes, are bait.) But you know a way forward. Due to the relatively nonlinear nature of the game, it doesn’t even have to be the same path your friend took (I got two sigils before my friend did, but had to look at his footage to see where the hell the chain-whip was, for example.)

That, in the end, is the core of La Mulana 2: Explore, probably die a lot, save often so the deaths set you back less, find clues, find cool items and mythological beings to talk to (or fight), solve those puzzles, beat those bosses, eventually save the world, hopefully have a good time doing so. Despite being horribly stuck, I’m having fun, and I hope folks who get the game (if they do after reading this) enjoy it too, because while it’s sometimes old school, it’s a lot more fair than the old-school I’m used to. Looking at you, old text adventures… BITE LIP… Who the hell thinks BITE LIP is the proper solution to a puzzle, I ask you…

Even returning characters get some impro-H GODS, ALRIGHT, I’LL BUY SOME WEIGHTS, JUST DON’T HURT ME!

The Mad Welshman will draw the curtain on this review, to save you from a rant about the bullshittery of old text adventures… For now.

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