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.

Become a Patron!

Invisible Fist (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

The Invisible Fist of Capitalism. It stands ready, waiting to grind you down under its knuckles, to pummel you with sudden charges and unexpected disasters. It feels nothing, being an idea, and yet, it’s an idea that hates you, yes, you, personally. You cannot bring enough to its gaping, central maw to satisfy it, so it will destroy you, singly or in groups. Welcome to Late Stage Capitalism.

That’s… a $15 film ticket. The film could at least not be shit for that price.

So yes, this is another one of those games that has the content warning “Too Fuckin’ Real”, even with deliberate parody. Joy of joys. I needed that in my life right now. And this, funnily enough, is Invisible Fist’s biggest obstacle to success: It does what it sets out to do a little too well.

Okay, let’s unpack that: Invisible Fist is a turn-based, resource management game where your opponent is the Invisible Fist of Capitalism. As one of three characters (In fact, for a while, it will only be one of three characters, more on that in a moment), you attempt to survive, as long as you can, and maybe, just maybe, fight the fucking thing off you.

Suffice to say, what with that “Too fuckin’ real” comment, the odds are not in your favour. Even as your starting character, a douchebag startup techbro who is trying to create and market MONA, Mother of the New Age, an AI claimed to be for “Millennials who need new mommies” (Yes, he’s a sickening shitlord, ignorant of the fact that yes, he’s a Millennial too), while meeting the demands of both capitalism… And his own, clinging mother (Do you, perhaps, see where he might be projecting a bit?)

Funnily enough, the Announcer works best when the excesses are, in and of themselves, ridiculous.

So… Starting as a rich kid exploiting his workforce, blind to the ills of capitalism could easily be described as “Oooh, aren’t they bold?”, but… No matter who they would have started as, the tone of the game itself would have made this one emotionally draining. Considering the other two are “Self made college student selling weed to get by” and “Indian Factory Worker far from their family and lover”? Yeah, this wasn’t going to be easy. And it could all too easily emotionally backfire, considering… The Announcer.

The Announcer is the fucknugget who enjoys watching the world burn. He’s the shitheel gatekeeper, the Trololol asshole… And his insufferable, hateful spin on things very often veers into “Okay, the writers need to take a fuckin’ step back and seriously consider this guy.” Put it like this… Techbro’s techy startup is emblematic of the worst excesses, just like seemingly everything in this game, and so… Oh look, let’s add a content warning here for a random chance of “Mentions of Non-consensual Sex”, shall we?

There’s a lotta layers to this asshole, and they’re all made of dog turd.

Of course, unlocking a new character means new challenges. For example, Rena, the student, has limited funds, and her work options… Well, they don’t always make the bucks that are worth your time. And relaxing costs money. It nearly always costs money. Or health in terms of her pet cat sometimes deciding that no, it wants to roughhouse (nastily) instead of be scratched behind the ears delightfully.

Individual games of Invisible Fist go by quickly, but only by doing well, by meeting its (sometimes deliberately bullshit) challenges, and by defeating the Fist with good work-play balance, can you earn… Two, more difficult challenges. Interesting ones, and with the same level of social commentary (Spun by the Announcer in as shitty a way as possible, sometimes even if you nail it), but… Yeah, this game gets too damn real sometimes, in uncomfortable ways. So… Well designed, in that sense.

The Mad Welshman isn’t sure what to add. The shittiness of Capitalism kinda speaks for itself.

Become a Patron!

SnakeyBus (Review)

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

Sometimes, the old ones are the best. Pong has somehow survived to the modern day, although in oft unrecognisable forms. As have Tetrominoes and Puyos. And there is even room, in the modern day, for twists on Snake. Some are clever puzzlers with a snakey theme, some are repetitive minigames to represent grind or hacking (No, really), and sometimes… Well, sometimes, it tries 3D. I’d say that Snakeybus is one of the more successful ones on that front, and it’s largely due to having interesting maps.

Rest well, valiant… If foolish SnakeyBus.

So, one thing to get out of the way right now: Snakeybus is not the most polished of games. The UI is a utilitarian, boxy affair, the models and physics relatively simple, and the maps and garage are both relatively small. When passengers are dropped off, and the bus elongates, it does so by literally popping in the bus segments, rather than anything fancy, and, apart from the motion of the bus (and ragdolling of passengers on death), animation’s somewhat crude.

Okay, fine, but, and this is the important but: It does exactly what you would expect with a portmanteau of Snake and Bus: You move (slowing or accelerating depending on your W/S keys, steering at a fixed rate with your A/D, a little harder with shift), picking up passengers, and, preferably when the bus is full, you drop them off at a specific, fixed point (one of several is chosen), grow some, and you attempt to do this until you explode. Now do it again, but better. And this would, very quickly, become an exercise in frustration if it weren’t for… Your other key: The spacebar, aka “JUMP.”

Gonna eatchu, little passe- wait, no, body, don’t block me, bro!

Yup, this bus not only grows depending on how many passengers it’s dropped off, it can fly too. And, if you manage to hit ramps at the right angle (IE – without knocking them over), and a fair clip, you can get over obstacles (including yourself) that way too. It’s… An understatedly fun experience, honestly. Even if Endless (the 7th main map) is kind of a bad joke.

The “joke” is that there’s no passengers, just an endless, uncrashable bus ride, constantly lengthening until either the game crashes, your computer does, or you realise what it’s doing from the achievement and grumpily hit the ESCape to leave.

Desert Bus: Party Bus Edition.

Despite that, and the lack of polish, though, Snakeybus is definitely a relaxing way to spend a lunch break. Seeing what silly tricks you can pull, hearing the screams of the passengers sucked into the Bus of Inevitable Doom while light driving jazz plays, trying to ride your bus along the top of your bus… It’s a short, silly game, played in short, silly sessions, and that’s a niche I can respect.

The Mad Welshman likes it when folks keep it simple. Om nom nom.

Become a Patron!

Heaven’s Vault (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (£8 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Time… Can erase a lot of things. We can’t be certain about the little things about a person’s life, from documentation, even thirty years ago. Time and time again, we’ve found we were wrong about societies from hundreds of years ago (And we may still be wrong), and as to the earliest stages of our world? Ha. Language, especially, can be tricksy. Lots of words look related, but these are just as often coincidence as actual linguistic relation.

Linguistic puzzles come in two flavours: Guessing the words by related form and context, and piecing together phrases, which allows you to confirm your guesses (or disprove them)

So imagine my pleasure when I came across Heaven’s Vault, where the obscurity (deliberate or otherwise) of the past is a core theme, and the tricksiness of deciphering a language from scratch… Ahhh, that’s a core mechanic. And, while the base of the story is nothing new in science fiction, the details? Ah, that’s where it becomes interesting, and cool.

So, let’s start with surface details. The setting: A nebula, through which rivers of ice wend their way, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and both air and water are a premium. The society: Mostly under the rule of the Iox Protectorate, it is an Indian flavoured setting. It is by no means a nice place, but it’s what the main character, Aliya Alasra, calls home. She’s an archaeologist, and a request to find a professor leads to… Big consequences.

As an aside, if you’ve never thought Archaeology or Science have drama… I seriously suggest looking some of the drama up, because hot dang… Side note over, back to the game.

As with real rivers, there’s one heck of a rush to travelling rapids, thankfully without the risk involved (It is not, to my knowledge, possible to crash the ship)

More specifically, some crit I feel obliged to mention, before talking about why this is still interesting, and still recommended. The game is on a single save system. I can understand why, sort of… But it is annoying. The sound levels, at the time of review, don’t always take for the sailing segments. And the base text speed is a little fast (thankfully, it can be slowed down.) Toward the end of the game, the sailing, once joyful, becomes a bit of a chore. Okay, that’s the crit over with, now let’s get back to it.

The language in question, Ancient, plays a big role in the mystery Aliya gets involved in. Understanding of her situation requires exploring thoroughly, and understanding that you may not understand or have the tools to properly translate an inscription without context, or further pieces to work with. Thankfully, the hardest part (Discovering a few words) is already done, and you can infer some due to the fact the language is close to pictographic… Water, for example, looks like two waves, with two curved strokes to represent splashing. Nice. But since it’s also a compound language (Like German), you can also use that. Emperor, Holy, and God all have the same root symbols… And this, readers, is where the game does something clever that I appreciate.

The world doesn’t pretend to be a nice one. It’s grounded. Even if, sometimes, this involves delicate subjects (That it seems to handle quite maturely) such as slavery.

You see, it shows they understand that language doesn’t grow in isolation. It understands that words get tied to other words for reasons. And that Emperor/Empress, Holy, and God all have the same root deeply implies what the game then informs you… That the Emperors and Empresses were considered godlike. That’s a really nice touch.

Visually, it’s an interesting blend of hand-drawn animation and 3D landscapes that works pretty well. It’s fluid, it’s pretty easy to get what to do, and it looks lovely. Every place feels different. Musically, it’s very much a dreamlike experience. Sweeping violins fit well with the nebula’s rivers, and the “rocks”, small planetoids on which people still live (or… Not, as the case often is with the archaeological sites.) Sailing, while it gets annoying due to having to travel further as the game progresses (Fast travel thankfully got introduced just before publishing, and at least one mysterious “And the robot sailed the ship directly to where I was because reasons.”) is, in the first two thirds of the game, an interesting experience. It hasn’t really palled on me except when I’ve been feeling pressed for time, because it’s a beautiful place and the music is nice, but I can see how it would wear for others.

Oh, and what a hidden place it is. My favourite part of the early game…

In any case, interestingly written, with a core mechanic that is mostly unique (One of the few games to try and make linguistics core to its play, Captain Blood, does so in a different manner), and a story that kept me going, wanting to know exactly how things went as they did… Heaven’s Vault is definitely one of the most interesting adventure titles I’ve seen this year, and well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman loves exploring myth, and culture, and history. For a game to let him do this with a fictional one… Well, that’s the good stuff.

Become a Patron!

Goblin Shop (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Running a shop is, barring the social aspects, mind numbingly dull. Customers come in, they look at things, maybe they try and steal things, and sometimes they buy things. Then they leave.

Times my “helpful” employee has fallen asleep today: 15.

Goblin’s Shop tries to add things to this basic formula, in much the same vein as games like Recettear, Nono’s Magic Item Shop, or Moonlighter, but… A lot of what it seems to be adding is annoyance. Okay, yes, Employees potentially make things easier… But just as often, they’re going to fall asleep on the job, requiring you to punch them awake. The music is sparse chiptunes, and as such, they pall quickly. And adventuring… Well, have good enough folks, you can easily win through. Don’t, and you’re just leaving to come back later. There’s no real stakes to it, and…

…Well, it all ties into a core problem. Much like actual retail, a lot of this feels more like busywork. I don’t need every single material on the adventure map. I need newer ones. But it’s there, why not pick it up? Money? Money hasn’t been a problem the entire time. After a certain point, it just… Stops becoming important. Selling kit to adventurers to equip them seems like a good idea, until you realise that you have to solicit them, multiple times, to get the silly beggars into the shop to buy something basic like a potion. And the “multiple times” is there, not just due to failure chance, but because they may not actually buy a potion, despite you knowing that they’re going to need one, and soon.

This is about as exciting as adventuring gets.

There are some minor nice touches to Goblin’s Shop… Finding monsters is the way you both diversify your party and get more customers, and sometimes, when you sell a nice item to a customer, they’ll give you extra enchantments to work into your items (randomly.) When you defeat bosses, you actually have the chance to be merciful, which nets you kit, and can improve the humans’ opinions of you. But finding new recipes is slow and annoying, getting to new adventuring areas is a matter of going through adventuring again and again until you beat it… This is without getting into odd control decisions and hiccups, like WASD having menu functions in the shop, but not in adventuring, or the character stopping moving (Considering that your character’s only option when he doesn’t have backup is to run away… Not so good.)

In short, there’s a whole lotta grind here, not a lot of stakes, the music helps it feel grindy, and while there’s a lot in the game, there’s not a lot of cohesion to it. And that’s a big old shame.

The Mad Welshman takes no pleasure in being a downer on goblincraft. But sometimes, it just makes him too green.

Become a Patron!