Risk of Rain 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Risk of Rain, it seems, has made the transition to 3D. And you would think that this could be a very good thing. It could. Right now, though, it’s not really for me.

For some odd reason (CAN’T think why), the majority of my screenshots are me lying dead near a boss. Mysterious.

Okay, let’s back up a second. Risk of Rain, the original, had you, one of several unlockable protagonists, trying to make your way back to the prison ship you had been ejected from, through a land filled with teleporting enemies that got increasingly more hostile the longer the run went. It was clever, because it forced you to balance going fast with being prepared, and its bosses were quite interesting. And Risk of Rain 2, essentially, appears to be more of the same, but this time in 3D. So… Let’s discuss that aspect of things.

Some enemies, like the Wisps, have become somewhat easier (to kill, anyway), but, overall, there’s a lot of added obstacles that 3D has brought. For example, in the first Risk of Rain, you generally had attacks from three directions. In 3D, well, that number has quite drastically multiplied, so where, in the original, a horde was theoretically still Not Really A Big Thing (Except in terms of the time it takes to murder them), in Risk of Rain 2, certain hordes make things very awkward for the player. Wisps are a prime example, because, while individually easy to kill, they have sniper like accuracy, and you only have so much dodge to go around to avoid their shots… If you’re aware of them.

Sometimes, though, you just have to appreciate natural beauty while your drones murder things.

Add in that running is oddly bound (Ctrl, because Shift is dodge. You might want to rebind that), and has a nasty tendency to stop after… Well, anything that isn’t running, really (Especially jumps and dodges), and playing solo has multiple issues. Honestly, snipes and beams appear to be the biggest source of woes here, and it may be a good idea for those to get toned down. Finally, while the teleporter was somewhat visually distinctive in Risk of Rain 1, it becomes much less so in 2, and so time can often be wasted by not actually knowing where the teleporter is, when you’ve run past it several times.

So… Some work is needed. I will say, however, that the worlds of Risk of Rain are actually kind of elegant in 3D, allowing for more kinds of secrets and interesting things to find, that everything except the teleported has translated well visually, and that the sound and music remain as good as the first Risk of Rain. As with the original Risk of Rain, once a run gets going, it’s pretty damn glorious and chaotic, as powerups add things like slowing, burning, detonating on death, giving health orbs on death… A lot goes on, and I feel that sticking with much the same powerups and enemies does give a sense of familiarity that helps ease players of the original into it.

Whether single or multiplayer, one thing remains the same… Damn, fights can get chaotic, and this is glorious…

So that, essentially, is Risk of Rain 2 so far. 3D has added challenges, some enemies seem a little more accurate than is necessary, but the basics are down and clearly working. While I haven’t exactly enjoyed it so far, I did enjoy Risk of Rain 1, so I think it may well grow on me as it makes its way through early access.

Before anyone asks, no, The Mad Welshman refuses to “Git Gud.” Beyond hating the phrase, he’s already perfect…

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Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

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

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

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Nightshade (Review/Going Back)

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

1992 was in a period of interesting experimentation in video-games. Not a whole lot was pinned down, and the hardware limited things in oft frustrating ways, so cool, yet clunky solutions were found… And not all of the lessons of these past games have been relearned. Nightshade is, I’m going to get this out of the way now, a difficult, and occasionally frustrating experience. It’s an adventure game that was on the NES, for a start, with action elements. And yet, now that it’s been re-released in emulated form by Piko Interactive, it’s somewhat easy to see why it was picked.

It is perhaps safe to say they aren’t tubular or radical. Just snotty.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this game definitely has some annoyances. Fights, for example, are pretty gimmicky, fairly common, and are going to be the biggest source of game overs. More than other adventure games, the advice “Save early, save often” works pretty well. Select lets you choose what you want to do in adventure mode (Also pausing while this happens, which can buy you some time when a hostile is nearby), although you have to be close to objects to interact with them, and while the main character and world are well sprited, the other portraits are… Well, they clash, quite a bit.

Anyway, those aside, let’s talk the interesting things. First up, this is an action-adventure game, on the NES, in 1992. The select-action thing gets around a lot of the potential problems this could have caused, and the writing, while a little odd in places, generally has a light, humorous tone. The story’s a little hammy, but then, it’s a pulp superhero story, where a librarian becomes a trenchcoated crusader after the previous hero (Vortex, a proper cape) was captured and murdered by Sutekh, egyptian themed crimelord. Equally unfortunately, the game starts with your capture. Whatever will Lampsha- er, Nightshade do?

Hrm, they’ve tied me up pretty good… How the heck am I… Ah, LEVERS. We’re off to a great start!

Funnily enough, this is a good tone-setter, as it’s a scenario many a pulpy hero has faced. Tied to a chair, bomb, candle, wall nearby… All the elements are there, and if you happen to “die”, well, the other clever thing about the game comes in: Lives are replaced by similar escape sequences to this, as Sutekh is the gloaty, easily-escapable deathtrap type. I mean, he learns from his mistakes, and the deathtraps escalate in difficulty until the fifth one is impossible to escape, but… I actually kinda like this. Suitably villainous, one might say.

Now, the important question here is “Is Nightshade any good?” , and the answer is “If you are somewhat used to how old adventure games pull things, yes, it’s definitely interesting. Or if you remember that this is emulated, and that save-states will allow you to explore without so much frustration, sure.” It’s an interesting look at how console obstacles for adventure gaming were gotten around (and, honestly, the villainous deathtrap/lives thing is a choice I’d like to see more in media involving supervillains), it isn’t, as far as 90s games go, unresponsive or bad, and £4 for trying a mostly forgotten, and interesting piece of gamedev history is not a bad price at all.

Lose, and Sutekh… Well, I’m sure this is just metaphorical… Isn’t it?

Nightshade isn’t one of those forever-classics. But it’s definitely worth a look.

The Mad Welshman, you may have noted, appreciates experimentation. And the 90s is a treasure trove of it.

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Unheard (Review)

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

I love me a good mystery. Or three. Or five. I also love me some weirdness. So when Unheard popped up on my radar, I was intrigued. Ghost voices? Solving cold cases via audio recordings with movements of characters on a map? Deduction? Hell. Yes.

At the successful conclusion of each case, a short recap showing where the main clues were plays out.

And, overall, I’m not disappointed. I might as well get the niggles out of the way first, because they really are, honestly, niggles, little things. Firstly, it’s perfectly possible to just cows and bulls your way to the answer once you’ve identified everybody (You have X correct, no, X-1, ah, that one’s right, cool, next), and secondly, achievements are slightly borked in that it seems to give you the achievement for solving the case only with the play button… Even if you actually do use the recording progress bar (Rewind and Fast-Forward still fail the achievement.) And… That’s pretty much it, because the cases themselves get interesting pretty quickly. It starts nice and simple, with a twin identity case, moves on to an art theft where not all is as it seems, a terrorist bombing that also cleaned up the terrorist’s loose ends… Each one has something where the twist makes repeating the recording from different perspectives important, and each gives its clues well, for the most part (I say the most part, because case 3’s first question’s biggest clue is a surprisingly subtle one)

As you might be able to appreciate, I have to pick my images very carefully. I don’t want to spoil it for you…

The premise at first seems simple: You are someone being assessed using a new system of solving cases, all involving sound recordings of cold cases taken from places. Sounds unreal, and the game does a lot to make it seem more so, but, within its word, it feels real. On the one hand, it’s a short game, taking about three or four hours to complete, but it’s a well written experience, and the one mystery it does leave unsolved, it does so for a reason. Again, though, certain evidence deeply implies the solution, and I like that. Equally, I like the sound design, making the conversations with your assessor seem strange (you never see her face, for example), and the visual design very clearly lays out what’s needed.

Of course, the problem with saying much more, is that there are five cases, and to say much more risks spoilers… But it fits all the criteria of a good mystery game. It allows you to solve the case on your own, with the tools provided. Equally, it doesn’t hold your hand, instead allowing you to make notes. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaves just enough mystery to stay interesting all the way through, and, while it doesn’t appear like it ties up everything, it does, and that’s really cool. If you like mystery solving, give this one a look.

Case 3, pictured, is where things really start kicking off.

The Mad Welshman has to toodle off. Something about a new system where correcting contradictions in a manga short reveals who coded the cool tricks in games…

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Horizon Chase Turbo (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£17.53 for game+soundtrack, £3.99 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

Arcade racing games can be beautiful things. They don’t even have to be twitchy, they just have to feel twitchy. And the best of them appreciate that all you really need is steering, acceleration, brakes, and boost.

While the number of racers seems intimidating, there is some level of avoidance on starting, so with a little care, it’s fine.

Okay, that one’s subjective, but hey, less controls means more accessibility, and on the controls front, Horizon Chase Turbo definitely fits the bill. Everything is accessible on keyboard with one hand. And, while the game definitely has some twitchy sections, a lot of it is, essentially, the art of the overtake. Turning corners hard may get you round that corner for sure, but if you want to pass that car in front instead of bumping their rear end… Well, ease off on the turn a little, you can edge by ’em!

Now, the thing with Horizon Chase Turbo is that, apart from completionist stuff, mechanically, it is very much “Does What It Say On The Tin.” The most complex part of it is boost starting (Have your revs in the green, not the red when the count hits 0, you get a boost), and everything else is aesthetic and track design… And the base track design is good. Good aesthetics, and only a few nasty surprises in the form of a couple of high chicane tracks early on.

A lot of overtakes feel… Really close on reflection. But damn, they feel good…

No, where it likes to get challenging (sometimes downright nasty) is for the completionists among us. You see, there are tokens. Get all the tokens and place first, you get a super trophy. Get all the super trophies, and a gold in the Upgrade race (Permanent buffs for all your cars, two stats at a time), and you unlock a new car. But these tokens have been the biggest source of retries for me, as some are placed in such a way you have to get each row, each lap, some are placed so it would be very difficult to get both rows in one go, and one track in particular in the early game raised my eyebrow a little, as the tokens are on the inside of one curve to the outside of the next. In driving terms, this is basically the hardest kind of line you can try to follow.

But the thing is, apart from that, Horizon Chase Turbo is really enjoyable to play. Its simplicity means you’re paying attention to the race, its music is good driving tunes, from rocking synth guitars to instruments that remind me heavily of Amiga soundfonts (The Amiga had a lot of racing games), it’s visually pleasing and clear, and, for the devs among us, there’s the fun note that Horizon Chase Turbo mimics the visual style of outrun (Which used sprite scaling to imply distance) by… Scaling the models as they become visible, essentially doing a 2D trick that was necessary into a 3D trick that isn’t, but adds directly to the feel. That’s classy.

I dunno, random dialogue… There’s a certain… y’know, joo noo say kwah about lapping the person who was first…

For a good look at a good way of doing an Outrun style arcade racer, or if you’re looking for a racing game that doesn’t have you tearing out your hair, Horizon Chase Turbo is definitely worth a look.

The Mad Welshman enjoys good arcade racing so much, he forgets release dates. Ah well, it’s good stuff.

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