Sayonara Wild Hearts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.23 (Soundtrack £7.19, Deluxe Edition £13.72)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sayonara Wild Hearts fits in an interesting place in my mind. It’s somewhat akin to Audiosurf, in that you’re collecting things to a musical track, but it is, at the same time, less and more than that. It’s a game that rapidly, often to the point of disorientation, shifts gears on you, from floating to flying to quick-time fighting (space only for that, no worries on that front), to moments where you just enjoy that sparkle of things being collected and… Oh, yeah, photosensitive epilepsy warning, folks, because there’s a lot of flashing. The hearts flash, the world can flash, the fights are flashy in both senses of the word…

Not pictured: The rapid changes of pose and colour in this scene. Although this was a well timed screenshot, eh?

But it can’t be described with reference. Because it’s its own thing, and that thing is an arcade music video. Or, more accurately, an arcade music movie, sort of like Interstella 555 (Go watch that if you haven’t, it’s pretty good.) The multiverse used to be a cool place, full of love, and ruled by three of the Major Arcana. But then five of them decided to get up in everyone’s business and break those hearts. So they used the pieces of a broken heart to create a magical girl, a magical girl who’s going to heal the hearts of those broken hearted Arcana.

If you guessed there was a queer as fuck subtext here, you’re wrong. It’s text, and it’s fucking amazing. Biker girls, wolf girls, literal sword lesbians… And the music starts bittersweet, and, while it gets lonesome and bitter in places, that’s the point. You’re fighting that. You’re fighting, by the end, an avatar of homophobia, and then? Well, you get to do it again, this time with the goal of beautiful smooches, now you’re a proven Magical Girl Heart Mender!

What can I say but… Literal. Sword. Lesbians. Yes.

And, as you might have guessed from the idea that it’s a music movie, yes, the aesthetics are gorgeous, the tunes vary quite a bit, but they’re all good (I happycried the first time I went through some of them), the visuals are… Ah. Yes. Let’s talk about the heartbreak for me, and probably some other folks.

You see, even though the game is forgiving in terms of forgiving deaths, and having low score barriers to finish the main story… As mentioned, the game flashes a lot, there’s a level where it’s twisting in a way that’s guaranteed to set off somebody’s motion sickness, and when it gets twitchy, it gets twitchy. As in “You have precisely 0.1 seconds to reorient yourself, because here’s a narrow corridor/sudden obstacle/need for a turn-pad very quickly after another one” twitchy. The QTEs are actually just fine. They’re friendly, they pause for a short, grey moment before you screw it up (and don’t let you screw it up because you pushed it before the prompt even appeared. And the game takes itself in directions with little notice, from race-collecting, to shooters, to even a Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon like experience where you’re locking onto enemies to shoot them.

This, however, is what you’ll see most often. Usually at high speed.

The controls, thankfully, are accessible, and twitch was expected in a game like this, but, even with that forgiveness, it can get brutal, and I had real trouble getting through the aforementioned twisty level, the second Moon level against the Howling Moons Gang, precisely because it was fucking me up. And I will also mention that this disorientation is only fitting, considering it’s a coming out story, set to music, and narrated by Queen Latifah. Shit’s disorienting, and things can come at you from unexpected angles… It is fitting!

And so, while I’d heartily recommend it to the quick fingered and strong stomached, and while I would less heartily recommend it to folks who are at least strong stomached (Because, as noted, you’re going to finish the levels regardless, and getting bronze is definitely do-able on each level), I find myself reacting to its cuteness, coolness, and positive, bubbly nature like the disaster bisexual I am: Longing for mutual fulfilment, yet finding myself gunshy about engaging, because… What if it rejected me or hurt me?

Like I said, even though it’s a recommendation with some heavy qualifications, it is a recommendation. I just wish it didn’t seem so out of my league, y’know?

The Mad Welshman is, in case you hadn’t noticed, pro queer rep. So to see this was a balm to an otherwise terrible month for him.

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Jamestown + (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (Deluxe Edition £17.26, Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

In a way, I already knew what I was going to write about Jamestown+ well before I got it. Because, before this site was even in being (I’ve been writing since 2010, folks), I’d reviewed Jamestown, and I found it both bloody hard… And immensely satisfying, a Western bullet hell shooter using Victorian steampunk pulp as an inspiration. Well, it would be considered scientific romance, but… Anyway, Mars is a green land of floating rocks and blue skies, except for those bloody Martians and the Spanish Armada, who are planning to attack. Sir Raleigh, while on the run from the British Empire because he was framed for the disappearance of the Roanoke colony, must save the day!

Sir Walter Raleigh, and a Blue Mars.

Yes, as this is set in an alternate Victorian Period, it’s colonialist. Just so you know.

In any case, the plus is there because yes, this is a remaster, and yes, this does have some extra stuff. Specifically, the Treason DLC, and a new one, the Armada DLC, which adds two new levels, and a new viewpoint character: John Smith, adventurer, great lover, and shameless braggart. So, that makes several levels, including two new ones, quite a few challenges, local multiplayer (up to 4 players, if you have the space, friends, and/or controllers. I know I don’t have at least two of those things!), and twelve ships, four of which have two potential alternate fire modes… Means there’s a lot of stuff. Especially as the game tracks whether you’ve done challenges or levels with specific ships, and what difficulty you’ve done it on.

Hucking a barrel may well blow this Martian up. But I’ll temporarily lose bulle- hucks barrel.

Although, annoyingly, an earlier restriction is still in place: You must be this good to enter Levels 4 and 5! (Respectively, beating the first three levels on the second difficulty level, and then, if I recall correctly, the first 4 on the third difficulty level. Out of five, the last two of which are hair-raising experiences.

Still, let’s count out the positives: Lots of ships and replayability, or simply finding the ship you’re comfortable with and having a good time? Check. Heck, you don’t even need to stick to the same ship level by level. Good visuals, mostly clear, good music and sounds, and keyboard moving of a mouse cursor for those who want to stay wholly keyboard? Check. Relatively low grind, not least because losing a level will still earn you some money for whatever cool thing you’re after (including a very silly “Farce Mode”, more challenges once you’ve finished the first four, and different types of shots and, in the case of the Armada ships, an alternate-alternate fire mode)? Check. The writing is minimalist, but does get across the characters of Raleigh and Smith respectively (alas, not the other viewpoints, although I understand why.) And while it is a bullet hell shooter, for a bullet hell, it’s one of the more accessible and flashy ones, with some interesting variety in the weaponry.

Not pictured: You must be this good to finish the game. Annoyingly.

Overall, I have pretty much the same opinion as back in the day: For shooter fans, this one’s an interesting one, for bullet hell fans, it’s a good example of a Western bullet hell, and for people looking to get into shooters for the first time? Aaaaahhhh it’s better than some options. But yes, overall, recommended.

The Mad Welshman would like to see more anti-establishment victorian cogs’n’steam settings. Because Steampunk, overall… Ain’t punk.

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Demon’s Tilt (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s been a while since I last looked at Demon’s Tilt, but it’s now out, and… Yup, it’s still a multi-segment pinball table where the three main features (bosses) change as you defeat them, is still a pretty tough pinball table that nonetheless is cool and interesting, and is still partly a bullet hell game where you can avoid the bullets, but sometimes using them is a better option. Oh, and nudge is encouraged, although the default keyboard binds (WSAD for nudge, the usual Left and Right shift for paddles, Space for the plunger) are a little uncomfortable (It has controller support, and I’ve had an okay time with that)

Yup, I feel like a badass priest alright, getting in the headgear of a succubus, smacking a chimera in its dumb helmeted head as she smacks me into it, and about to ride down a snake’s gullet for SUPER HOLY POINTS. Hell yes.

The amusing thing being, that I’ve already sung its praises in a previous review (Because yes, even for the price, this is a good and highly involved table, once you get to see things), there’s going to be a little repetition here. Actually, a lot of repetition.

The table is inspired by a few older pinball titles, namely Alien Crush and Devil Crush, and Crue Ball, and has three segments, a few hidden sub-tables, and, in EX mode, more hidden sub-tables. And each segment has at least one boss monster, from the Iron Chimera and Priestess Lilith, to the various gribbleys that populate the lowest segment.

Enemies only stop your ball from below, with the exception a few larger ones, and bullets kill the momentum of your ball regardless, so you can either use that to your advantage, swear and quickly nudge to avoid the dread drain (the pinball term for the ball falling below the lowest paddles, the point of no return), or… Well, not noticing and losing a ball. As well as all this, there are teleportals, spikes, the aforementioned sub tables… And aesthetically, it hits the nail on the head too.

This one’s an older screenshot, but hot damn, that was a good run. Also one of my few pics of this scary bossdude.

Gothic imagery, synthwaveish tunes and neon splashes (and, indeed, neon splash text), good impact and UX layout… There’s a lot to like about it. Although, fair warning, it’s a stimulation heavy game, lots of things flashing and sparking and bouncing and flashing, and it’s very easy to get overloaded. But hot damn, it looks so good while it’s doing it! It even gives you a hint as to what to do to get your next letter on the three LOADSAPOINTS objectives, and highlights jackpots and super jackpots as they appear.

Of course, no game is perfect, and perhaps my worst criticism is that the flippers are a little slow, requiring you to account for this with your timing. More than once, I’ve said to myself “I’ll set up an end of flipper shot”, and watched in irritation as I hit the flipper half a second too late, and watched it slide a table segment down.

These assholes, for example, shoot bullets a fair bit, and explode a lot, and this isn’t even counting when there’s lots of bullets. It’s a lot to take in!

But, overall? For pinball fans, this one is basically a must. It’s an exciting table, it’s got a great aesthetic, there’s replayability, the obligatory leaderboards (My PB is 302M, I’m sure there’s folks out there that can beat that), and there’s a lot to explore.

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Blaster Master Zero 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99 (£1.79 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Blaster Master. The original was a bit of a cult classic, in that it could be bastard hard, was somewhat difficult to get hold of, and so, built up a small following of very devoted fans. Including, it seems, IntiCreates, who created Blaster Master Zero, a fun little Metroidvania type dealio with the same general idea of “One boy, a frog, and his tank.” And, you know, the friends you make along the way, your friend who you want to save from a mutant parasite slowly taking her over… Usual stuff, really!

You’ll believe a Tank can fly…

And, while there is a lot to like about it… Dear god, some of it is finicky as hell. Like the game’s walljump, which does what I’d like for it to do in terms of my opinion toward it… But not in terms of what I’d actually want it to do. So, metaphorically, it can go jump on some spikes. In actuality, I’d really like for that to stop happening, whether it’s through tight windows, reading a jump as a hover, not jumping the whole way between walls when it really can, or… Well, any combination of the above. I eventually got over that hurdle, but while it was happening, I was less than impressed.

The game does have other potential turnoffs that have been part of the series since… Well, since its first incarnation, really. The tank’s jumps are pretty floaty, its movement has a little bit of inertia, and, while you can get used to it, I know some folks dislike it. Meanwhile, I’ve always liked the “get out of the tank” idea, even if your protagonist, in the tank part of the world, can easily injure himself… With his own jump. Indeed, falling off a shortish ladder can be a lethal error, so… Don’t do either of those things.

Special abilities in combat are the equivalent of parries, and god-damn are they fun when you pull them off. And you can pull them off relatively easily.

But each has their own strengths. The tank gains more abilities over time, and so does the pilot, Jason. Admittedly, each character’s abilities can only really be used in their respective worlds (for the most part), but each gets interesting fairly quickly, getting special weapons, mobility powerups… And, of course, each fighting different styles of bosses. For Jason, it’s Zelda style forced perspective battles with giant mutant spiders, other Mobile Armour pilots (Jason thought he was the last, but he is wrong), and, for the tank, things like a giant bee holding its hexagonal hive below it, both as a shield, and, of course, as a spawner of its ilk. They’re interesting fights, and it’s pretty easy to get the pattern down in only a short time. And, of course, if you screw it up, the save points are always there pre-bosses (They’re… Not terribly generous elsewhere, but just enough that you don’t feel like they’re too far apart. Just… Somewhat far apart.)

Aesthetically, it’s a lo-fi pixel dealio, with some lovely chip-tunes and SNES like sound effects, making it feel retro while… No, it is a modern game, and while some of its tricks are old school, the rest are modern indeed.

Okay, so some of you would want your companion to turn into a slimegirl. But, y’know, this isn’t that sort of game.

And I may have spent a couple of paragraphs griping, but, honestly, Blaster Master 02 really… Isn’t bad. It’s the second game in the modern series, itself an interesting take on the Metroidvania formula, it’s aesthetically pleasing and clear, and, apart from some mobility finickiness, I never really felt like I was bashing my head against a brick wall.

Aaaand I’ve got a brand new Mobile Armour, and I’ll give you the key…

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Blink: Rogues (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

There is a common misconception among folks relatively new to vertical or horizontal shooters (or shmups, as they’re called) : That the Japanese ones are more difficult than the Western ones. While this certainly can be true (Hello Gradius, Hello Touhou!), there are still Western Shmups that are, for want of a better phrase (haha, not really), “Bastard Hard.” Jamestown. Raptor: Call of the Shadows. Xenon 2. They’re slower paced, for the most part, but enemies can be nasty.

Hrm, now how am I going to murder all eight of these enemies efficiently?

And so it is with Blink: Rogues, which combines some elements of the older European Shmup style (Slow paced, health bars, enemies are bullet spongey to the basic attack) with other ideas known to the genre, like enemies that can only be murderised with one of the three special weapons you have, flipping your craft to fire backwards, and a feature I haven’t seen outside of one other game (Dimension Drive) : Swapping between two different playfields, both because there are enemies to kill/avoid in both, and there are obstacles in both, some of which can only be avoided by blinking between sides.

Which would make the game more interesting, if it wasn’t for a lack of flair to it all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like me a low poly aesthetic, I love it contrasting with painted characters and nice, clean text. And I love little touches like parts that come off when you shoot them, even if it makes the enemies that little bit more bullet spongey. But the projectiles, the music, the enemy explosions… They can best be described as “workmanlike.”

I do like a bearded older man with a cigar and a naval uniform sometimes…

Add in that there’s no UX scaling for the main, shooty bits, and no reminder as to what the special weapon keys are. Yes, I forgot. Regularly. Colours? No. Keys? Yes. I’m also not certain as to its colourblind friendliness (being Red, Blue, and Green), so maaaybe different shield animations would help there? In any case, it’s not quite as accessible as I would like, and while the story is reminiscent of old arcade games and the DOS shooters that had story (Short conversations and collectible journals), it’s also somewhat workmanlike.

I don’t know, maybe I’m jaded. In any case, the difficulty ramps up reasonably well, although a big part of that is that death doesn’t lose you the mission, but instead takes you out of the fight for a whole 3 seconds (and, if you were in the middle of a wave, 3 seconds is a loooong time), and lose your multiplier. That’s pretty much it, although it does make reaching the star goals of a level that much harder if you die (Kill 50%, 75%, and 100% of enemies, sometimes with an extra modification like “You have to kill all the red beacon ships!”)

Rocks. Cuboid rocks, but… Well, they are rocks, I’ll give this mission that.

Despite that workmanlike nature, it’s not a bad game, by any means, and a multiplayer mode (local, whether against another player, or an AI with 5 difficulty levels) with several story missions that don’t outstay their welcome (and now, survival levels afterward, presumably on a “One life” basis) helps give it that little touch of replayability once you’re done (Whether that’s “Beaten all the levels” or “All the stars, all of them!”), but… As mentioned, it’s workmanlike and low key, and I can perfectly understand why that would be a turn off to folks.

The Mad Welshman once had a successful 100% run of the Monty Python DOS game. To this day, he doesn’t quite know how.

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