Last Days of Tascaria (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

This has been a week for odd decisions with games. Like Noita, Last Days of Tascaria seems to be unloading and loading different windows, and… Doesn’t have a windowed mode. Which would just be a niggle, a wagging of the finger and “Come on, you can add that), if it weren’t for the game… Not being very fun to play.

On the one hand, wizardess’ hair is goals. On the other, these two… Eesh.

The general idea is one of a warrior and a wizardess, recruiting others, exploring a map in a turn-based fashion, skilling up, and engaging in pausable real time battles against groups of enemies, occasionally fighting a boss, on their path to… Destroy a heroine who’d turned evil, raised an army of the undead, because it was a relic, and now she’s resurrecting a lich king for some reason… Look, maybe she thinks being almost invincible due to her relics, while having an army that grows stronger with every victory isn’t enough or something. Any which way, that’s what you do.

And the combat is, in a word, tedious. There’s a rock-paper-scissors style thing going on with the combat (axes are best against armoured enemies, while dodge has to be countered with swords, so… Hit dodgy and armoured enemies once with sword, switch to axe, start over when they regain dodge) The wizardess, meanwhile, also has a rock-paper scissors thing with elements, but is pretty good ranged support. Them’s your basics.

Yes, never turn your back on an enemy. But guess what, wizardess lady has to get relatively close to cast her beefiest spell, shield doesn’t last forever, and… Suffice to say, this didn’t go well.

But the heroes don’t so much fling themselves into combat as stroll, swinging weapons with little impact behind their blows, flinching often from ranged enemies… And oh boy do they like their ranged enemies. The warrior (look, I don’t even care about learning their names) has a shield, but it’s directional, doesn’t last long, and enemy groups are, best case, double your size early in the game. You have to kill half of them to win the battle, and healing opportunities are… Not common.

What results is a slog. When I wasn’t looking on with a sigh, I was hitting that quit button with an irritated grumble. So… What about events? Well, those aren’t terribly interesting either. The problem with a game with turn-based walking around, and turn-based events, is that you somewhat have to care about the rest of it, and even then, dull writing can still be a turn-off. And this is… This is almost as generic as high fantasy can get. Aesthetically, it’s okay, but the animations don’t have much impact, or character, the music is about as generic as the world…

Honestly, I prefer orcs when they’re hot. And these ones… So generic.

I’m not ashamed to say I checked out pretty early. If the combat later was anything like the combat earlier, then no, it doesn’t really get better later. It feels generic, tedious, and its tactical options are, on the face of things, pretty limited, a time your cooldowns and use items well style affair that I wasn’t the biggest fan of in the first place.

The Mad Welshman repeats: More hot orcs.

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The Surge 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £43.99
Where To Get It: Steam

What is it with posthuman cult leaders and bad fashion sense? Yes, I know, if you’ve heard about The Surge or played it, you know that’s the least of your worries, but… It nags at me. Anyway, about the game.

This is very me: “Mmmhm, yes, Posthumanism, yes… [You look like a bloody dork in that]”

So, let’s get the spoilers out of the way niiiice and early: Burke lived, and you find that out in the first area! Warren lived, and this is pretty heavily implied by the mysterious stranger you meet just outside the first area! Shit’s gone to hell, which is exactly what you’d expect for a sequel! There, we’re done. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

In any case, The Surge is a science-fiction… Deep sigh, because I hate saying this… Soulslike. You have checkpoints, which you return to when you die, minus what money you’ve earned. Combat is based upon pattern recognition, good dodging/parrying skills, and managing your stamina. The Surge even added its own touches, such as rewards increasing the longer you spend between returns to a checkpoint (an interesting risk/reward system, which I have not taken much advantage of because I’m a coward), and the ability to target specific limbs, something you need to do for specific rewards, such as a blueprint of the opponent’s exo-limb.

Oh, and the online functionality, which introduces revenge enemies (Enemies with more health who killed another player, but drop lots of resources if you kill them), tags, the occasional battery drop where a player died, that sort of fun stuff. You can play offline, but these additions do add a bit of spice.

And with the slo-mo… My god it’s satisfying! Gimme your arm, y’bastard!

Controller is recommended, because while the keyboard/mouse controls are okay, and remappable, parrying appears harder to do well in kb/m. Okay, base mechanical stuff done with, let’s get into what I like and don’t like.

Aesthetically, the game is good, and, if your rig can handle it, it can look beautiful. Some facets are a little confusing, such as targeting, or the very small “You can backstun this fool” prompt, but it, and the sound, are pretty good. Also, while the protagonist isn’t voiced, the others are pleasant to hear, fairly well acted, and it made my day to hear a proper South Wales accent in the game… It was tidy, you might say. Motion Blur as a default is… Annoying, to say the least, but having the amount of it as a slider, along with a couple of other effects? That’s a good move.

I’m also quite fond of the combat, being meaty, pretty well explained, and having a nice back and fore rhythm… Well, if you take the advice of timing your blows, rather than being a button masher like me. Still, I parry well, and I dodge okay, so I’m finding it pleasing to fight. Master one of these skills, and be at least okay with the other, or you’re going to have a hard time. Encouragement to use at least a partial set through partial and full set benefits is also a pleasing bit of incentivising styles of play, and that the first armour heals you a little when you finish off an enemy? That’s a good starter. There’s a few new weapon types, and, while I haven’t experimented with them much, they seem pretty cool, with nice tricks on the charge attacks.

Pictured: You must be this levelled to wear a full suit. Well, more levelled, obviously. It took a fair bit of grind to get the full set.

I am, however, less fond of the levelling system. Not the actual levelling itself, which is reasonable, but the Core Power being tied to your level. It’s about ten, maybe fifteen levels until you can properly equip a full set, and it was a little annoying to have to grind up to my first full set.

I could go on for quite a bit about all the quality of life improvements, but, essentially, if you played The Surge 1, it’s an improvement in many respects, and, if you’re starting out with The Surge 2, well… Going back to The Surge 1 may be a little tougher, although the basics remain the same. It feels pretty good, exploring this new, more open world with its diverse locations, it feels good to fight, and I would recommend this, even as someone who got very tired of games taking elements from the Souls series pretty quickly.

The Mad Welshman remains pretty easy to make in the majority of games. And he looks good in an exosuit. Nanomachines, son!

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Exorcise The Demons (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Keep Talking, friends, and Nobody Gets Possessed. Had to get that joke in there. Anyway, yes, games with a co-op element can be so fun sometimes. Aaaand sometimes, they’re friendship ruiners. It all depends on who’s playing, really. And so it is with Exorcise the Demons, a game in which one player sees things, but has no idea what they’re doing, and their friend, who knows what the other player’s meant to do, but can’t see anything. Well, if you play it the way it’s meant to be played, anyway.

There are precisely two outcomes to this: He fireballs you, or you block it and banish him. Obviously, the latter is preferred.

Mechanically, there’s honestly not a lot more to it than that: The main player, in first person, runs around a demonic hellscape, in which there are a potential of 7 rituals to complete. All of them have to be completed successfully before you go up to the flaming book and pentagram, where a demon will appear, and you’ll find out if you have completed them successfully. Do so, and the demon’s fireball aimed at your bonce is shielded against, and you banish them. Fail on one puzzle, even one, and… Congrats, your soul is now theirs. So, naturally, there’s a fair bit of recrimination if you seem to have done everything right (Because there is no “You’ve done this right” sign for any single puzzle), and a bit of relieved joy if you actually have. There’s some physics manipulation involved, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’d think, as objects set remain set, and the majority is “Click on the thing or drag the thing over the other thing.” Cool.

Why yes, because nobody’s told you what to do, berk! (That’s a lie, I’d actually solved this seconds before. I just delayed for a nice screenshot.)

There is also a story mode of 25 levels, about a confused, amnesiac man named John, and his ally, who is… Of no help beyond giving story, so yes, you still need a friend to play this, although they don’t need the game. Story mode is where collectibles get unlocked, and it’s completion only that’s required to unlock things. Cool. And puzzles do appear to be randomised during Story levels too. I didn’t particularly feel like the writing of story mode was really drawing me in, unfortunately, and the voices were… Well, they were alright. So… Let’s deal with the Book of Rituals. Because only one player needs the game, and the other uses this.

The Book of Rituals is, like the bomb manual in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, misleading. Not factually misleading, but at times obtuse (the Ouija Board, for example, involves a wordsearch, when all you actually need is the position of the last letter of the demon’s name), and other times, worded so you can easily miss segments (While streaming this, a friend and I consistently failed the Circle of Protection segment. Turns out, there was a small, but significant point we were missing: The colour of the outside flames was the key.)

I’m pretty sure it’s going to be trimmed down by avid players, but it is something to be aware of (“Okay, check M first… Is it red? Okay, from left to right, you need to light the second and third candle, and hit YES on the Ouija Board. Also, I’m deliberately lying for the sake of an example.”)

Finally, there are curses and tattoos. These seem to be in for adding a bit of spice to both the practice mode, and padding out the story levels a little. Sometimes, your controls are wonky. Sometimes, what you see may not necessarily be true. Sometimes, you can freeze time during rituals, and sometimes, you can run faster between puzzles, as examples of precisely half the curses and tattoos available in game. Whee, that was a ride, wasn’t it?

The Crystal Puzzle. The devs are apparently aware of the problem, though.

So, obviously, how it feels depends on you and your friend. I had the hardest time communicating the Rune and Crystal puzzles with my co-op partner, although, in the former case, we’d been struggling to communicate at first, and, in the latter case, they have… Green and Yellow crystals. But the developers are, thankfully, aware of this, so I’m expecting a change to happen soon to make it more colourblind friendly. Aesthetically, well, like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, you’re going to be looking at the same visual presentation of puzzles, and the same play area a lot. It’s a very pretty one, and I like the grime, grit, and hellfire myself, along with the dramatic music, but be aware, that may or may not pall on you.

Overall, though, Exorcise the Demons does exactly what it sets out to do: Create a supernatural co-op puzzle experience, in which unreliable information is passed between players to co-operatively solve puzzles. And it’s been an enjoyable experience for me. Well, bitter arguments about how to do the Circle of Protection puzzle aside.

The Mad Welshman actually doesn’t mind demons. But it is rude to possess another nonconsensually.

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Aery (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Aery interested me the moment I noticed this, and I will freely admit that a big part of it was being an Old. “Hey, wow, this looks like a Psygnosis game, if Psygnosis was still around!” It certainly had a visual flair that reminded me of their earlier, odder titles, and the synthwave music wasn’t a detraction either.

I, too, would like to relearn the art of unpowered flight.

However… I then found my detractions. And they’re biggies. One of them is plausibly a bug (Level 4’s “Got the feather” bell is loud no matter what volume you’ve set), but the two others… Annoy the hell out of me.

Still, before we do that, the game: There is a bird that wants to see the world. They fly. They can roll. And they collect feathers. Their journey is told in short prose before each level, and it’s a relatively short experience, which is nonetheless pleasant. The low-poly worlds are mostly quite interesting, the music is good slow journey music (not too driving, but with a good beat to it.) Said bird controls well, feels like a bird, glides and flaps like a bird, looks like a bird with a golden underside.

Spot the feather. Or, indeed, the bird.

While I am most of the way through it, the two big issues: Firstly, the second level is a nightmare, even for those folks who are not colourblind. The feathers are white. The sea… Is white. And the tops of the blocks wot have feathers on are, for the most part… White. I hope the developers see the problem inherent to this trio of sentences. I did very rapidly. Still, I got through that, and the third, and, on the fourth, I finally realised that a problem in the whole game was a problem. When you die, you are sent back to your starting point. The same starting point that’s a good minute of flight to anything of interest, let alone a feather. I am chill, and I like to chill. But that’s a bit much.

Thing is, it’s not, overall, a bad game. It does what it says on the tin, and, if that second level were fixed, I could pretty much recommend it as “Thing you play to relax, or in short bursts over your lunch break.” It definitely looks good.

Preeeeettteeee…

The Mad Welshman appreciates experiments. Also prog rock.

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Minoria (Review)

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

Minoria is cute. Minoria is melancholy. Minoria has an interesting world, that gets better the further you play into it. And Minoria… Has some brutally unforgiving boss fights, where single mistakes will cost you about three rooms worth of running and a cutscene to rejoin them. And, in the early game at least, there’s a big difference in challenge between the enemies… And the bosses.

Sister Devoir. She’s nasty, but… Maybe she has a point… About the church, silly, not the point of her sword.

Which, let’s face it, seems a very odd thing to say, doesn’t it? But the difference between the earliest enemies and the second boss, or even the second tier of enemies compared to the first, is clear. And everything that can hit you… Hits like a bloody truck. You start to get used to it, but… I have to admit, I bounced off hard, and bounced off early. Second boss, in fact.

And, honestly, there’s no shame in that. Single mistakes, especially in boss fights, cost dear, and, since the combat is akin to… Sigh… Dark Souls, in that fights with bosses are long, tense affairs in which, as noted, mistakes can quite easily cost your life, it’s merely beyond my own ability, rather than a condemnation of the game. More… A caution to those who, in turn, bounced off games of the Soulslike persuasion.

Wait, this woman looks… Familiar, for some reason…

The thing is, Minoria is also very lovely, aesthetically. Contemplative pianos give way to dramatic violins, beautiful princesses (Who… Remind me of someone. Hrm) and cute, but deadly small witches fit well in the well drawn corridors and steps of the cathedral, and everything is clear. It’s somewhat minimalistic in approach, but this works, and I do love it.

But, alas, I don’t really get on with its style of play, and, if we’re being honest, its keybinds. It’s most likely recommended that you play with controller, or rebind the keys, because it’s all too easy, with the default, to fatfinger the “Use Incense” key when what you meant to do was attack, or, less commonly, to switch your insenses when you meant to parry or dodge.

LET. US. PRAY!

Obviously, take this review with a grain of salt, because, as mentioned, I was not able to get too far due to the high damage you take for pretty much any mistake, but it’s a beautiful game that is recommended for soulslike fans, while not, generally speaking, recommended for beginners to its metroidvania styled exploration/combat. Specifically the combat.

The Mad Welshman is legitimately sad he couldn’t get as far as he wanted here.

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