Swag and Sorcery

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where to Get It: Steam

It is an oft-spoken truth that adventurers are in the biz to look fly. Well, secondary to the concern of being as murderous as humanly possible in the pursuit of loot and monsters, but yes, looking good while doing so is definitely a priority.

WHAT DOES HE HAVE THAT WE DON’T?!? IS IT THE WOLF HAT?

And Swag and Sorcery aptly demonstrates what hard, thankless grind this can be with its fashion obsessed kingdom, out to find a long-lost magical, kingly costume, and look swag as heck while doing so.

Oh, and there’s some dork trying to tear the kingdom down. I guess he’s kind of in the way, along with his summons. Something about thinking that the King relying on a magic suit his grandfather had to solve the Kingdom’s woes…

Swag and Sorcery, overall, is an idle RPG with crafting elements. Send your adventurers out into the wild (occasionally returning them to town so you get some loot, instead of no loot at all and an annoyed adventurer waiting to heal), get ingredients and money, and then throw those ingredients and money into the adventure supplying industries, so you can do that first bit all over again. And again. And again. Until you beat a boss, at which point, you get more areas to look at, unlock more ingredients for more recipes and…

The ladies are, honestly, cleaning up by this point…

…Look, it’s enjoyable with a certain mindset. Wanting to discover what new thing you encounter, what new costumes you get, and whether this time, this time, that damn priest judge won’t vote a 9 on that awful pumpkin number. I mean, it’s summer, pumpkin is fall, you ecclesiastical blunderer! There is, to be fair, a lot of this adventuring industry: Alchemy to make some rare ingredients and get mana for spells (used to help adventuring parties in trouble), smiths and carpenters to sort equipment, clothiers to help the wizarding types… All manned by… The same adventurers you’re hiring to clean out the dungeons. Heck, even sending multiple adventuring groups out at once is a thing you can quickly do.

Aesthetically, Swag and Sorcery is not bad at all. Good, clear pixel art, you know what things are, the music’s nice, and the roles that are voice acted are amusingly hammy. Which fits with the game’s silliness, so… Appreciated. Sure, some monsters are a little generic, but the majority are something interesting. Ghouls in this game, for example, are armoured murderbeasts, and the Infected are dead, weeping eyed humans who have been melded to what appears to be giant spikey crab legs.

I will say, though, nice nod to needing a work-life balance. Ahhhh…

But yes, Swag and Sorcery is all about, as with most idle type deals, getting bigger numbers, so you can hit bigger numbers, which gets you bigger numbers. Sometimes those numbers aren’t quite big enough, so you have to grind on the smaller numbers until you can get bigger numbers (or grind on the bigger numbers hoping to get something out of it while other numbers get lower.) And… It’s not unenjoyable, it definitely has its high points, but… Sadly, I’m not really of the mindset to properly enjoy it.

The Mad Welshman already ground out his reviewing stat this month. More grinding is… Inadvisable for him.

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Fission Superstar X (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Space. There’s so much more room for plotting and cackling there. Also dogfights and heavy capital ship whaling, which… Is where Fission Superstar X comes in. With a distinct Death Road to Canada vibe, Fission Superstar X is the tale of Doctor Leopold Merkin, and his attempts to make a super-nuclear bomb… A superstar. Her name is Celine Fission, and you will enjoy her concert, fools…

Aaaaand IIIIIII-EEEEIIIII Will always bomb YOUUU-OOOOHHHHHH!

Describing how this roguelike shmup works can seem a little fusterclucky, but it’s really quite simple: You have four potential crew slots, up to two of which are filled at the beginning (For a while, it will just be your Clone Pilot and Clone Scientist, but options open up the more you play.) Each one mans a single turret quadrant (From Pilot, top, to Engineer, rear), and enemies will come at you from varying directions. Kill them before they kill you, and you’ll get a chance to train up your folks or heal in some fashion, then pick where to go next, including Recruitment (potentially better crew), Shipyards (potentially better ship stats, definitely some repairs), and special event locations of varying evil (From the relatively nice Medicaid Drones, to Comet Tails which blow you the heck about, to the Ion Storm or Minefield, which might as well be marked with “HERE BE ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH.”) You pick up money and ammo from destroyed ships where you can, and, once you beat a planet’s boss (From Pluto all the way to…???), you can choose to blow up the bomb early, earning you a new ship (and a shot of Doctor Merkin angrily wondering how it went wrong.)

This is what is known as “Hanging on through sheer bloody mindedness.” That’s me at the top, by the way.

And them’s the basics, although there’s a lot more to it than that. Armoured ships, whose only weak point is the cockpit. Minibosses, including the Doctor Leopold Police Task Force. Those terrifying saw-ships, whose only purpose is to ram into you and murder murder murder. And, of course, different weapon types. I could probably spend a long while just talking about the variety of things that can happen, and references, and joy at the pew-pew guns. So let’s just assume “It is packed full of things wot happen”, and move on.

Aesthetically, the game is pretty interesting. Cartoonish pixels, junk, gore every now and again, and a fair amount of male presenting nipples, the ships are both clear in their design, and also interesting in and of themselves. Heck, there’s visible representation of your own ship upgrades, always a nice touch, and the music is solid stuff, giving that space opera B-Movie vibe. The ships deliberately don’t control that hot until you upgrade the handling (seriously, in the case of the Big Yins), and it’s all, honestly, very fitting for what it’s aiming for (The feel of a gigantic space bomber lurching its way through space.) The difficulty progression is mostly fair (Although those sawship enemies fill me with terror the moment they’re on screen, regardless of my or my crew’s armour), and, in the case of nastier encounters, it does warn you.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes. Geddit, guys? I’m Dr. Where!”

“Shut up and shoot this guy before he shoots you. Or we do…”

Feelwise, it’s meant to feel like a hectic chase across the Solar System, hounded by everyone and their dog, with you the villain, and… Yep, it nails that feel. The speed of even the slowest ships is shown in the starfield, and the feeling of trying to slide past a small battleship while it’s peppering you with missiles, wave beams, and whatever whatnots it’s throwing at you (probably while other things are also shooting at you) invokes just as much adrenaline based swearing as you’d imagine, and it’s a nice touch that you know how long the level’s going to last, as well as how much closer it gets you toward its goal.

So, overall, it does really well. What does it not do so well? Window customisation and the fact that individual runs are long. That last one’s more a taste thing than anything else (It isn’t a lunch break game, it’s something you play of an evening when you want to… Hrm, destress probably isn’t the right word… Play, I guess.) Still, overall, I like its feel, I like its guns, I like its heft… Fission Superstar X gets a vaudevillainous thumbs up, one Mad Scientist to another.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have too much to add to this. He’s still working on writing his name on the moon. Best demonstration of ownership, writing your name on the moon with a giant laser…

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Talisman: Origins (Review)

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

Talisman is one of those games that, honestly, shouldn’t really have been made as much as it has. It’s not at Blood Bowl levels of “Oh, that’s just milking it now”, but… When the main thing I can say about Talisman: Origins is that it’s “Talisman: Digital Edition, but single player, and with story”, or “It’s Talisman: Prologue, but more expensive and with story/quests” , I kind of have to throw my hands up a bit.

This is now something like the third time I have seen this exact board. And, on reflection… I ask myself Why?

So, for those who don’t know Talisman, it’s an old Games Workshop board game, with elements reminiscent of Warhammer Fantasy (Eagle Lords, grim cities, dark magical artefacts), but its own, High fantasy world. You travel around the board, looking to reach the Crown of Power, the tile in the middle of the board, strengthening yourself, weakening others, occasionally running into trouble, and, because it’s not a game that really does progression (normally), every so often running into a string of unwinnable situations, swearing, and mentally flipping a table. It had a number of expansions, each one alone with interesting twists and scenarios, but, all together? A recipe for minutiae, and backstabbing, and many, many dice rolls.

I tried Talisman: Digital once with all the expansions. That was… An experience. See, the digital editions of the game have, with even one AI player, a certain amount of waiting for them to decide what to do. Even without, there’s dice rolling, waiting for animations, noise cues… It wants to be as clear as possible, but no, you do not get any option to skip said animations and cues and things that slow it down. It is, generally speaking, a game you play with friends, understanding friends who won’t get angry at you when its old school, adversarial play gets the better of them, and where conversation definitely helps it go smoother.

“An Epic tale, as told by dice rolls that can just as easily harm the narrative as help it!”

As such, you can maybe imagine my confusion. And this is as someone who likes hotseat 4X games and board game adaptations where yes, you can play by yourself. Talisman’s lore is… Not particularly deep (It is, essentially, a “chase’n’race” board-game with fantasy trappings and a lot of randomness), and adding lore doesn’t really make any of its shenanigans make more sense. And this, essentially, is where I find myself: Trying to work out where the audience lies here.

Does it really appeal to the folks who already have Talisman: Digital Edition? There’s nothing new animation wise, I’m pretty sure there’s not much new card-wise, and, as I’ve alluded to, Talisman’s expansions are… A lot. Does it, then, appeal to somebody new to Talisman? I’d argue no, because the lore is mostly unreferenced outside of this game (Apart, obviously, from the Crown of Power), and its first tutorial alone took me about half an hour (And not, it must be said, a terribly exciting half an hour.) It does, somewhat, prepare players for the PvP core of the game with AI characters, but… The same experience could be had hotseat. What it adds are lore, quests, and challenges, and… Honestly, that’s not the biggest of niches.

As it turns out, this Great Wizard has Weakness to Ghost types.

So, overall, Talisman: Origins just… Leaves me confused. With other games, I can clearly point and go “Ah, here’s this interesting core” or “Ah, I can see where this is appealing to X”, and, with this… If there were no DLC for the thing planned, I’d say “This is a cheaper alternative to the main Talisman, as the DLC for that comes to around ninety quid”, but I’m not certain about that, considering how even Talisman: The Horus Heresy (It’s 40K themed, less visually readable cousin) has about 9 DLC. The biggest draw of Talisman has always been the social aspect to it, and so… All the “for” arguments I can think of are rather weak.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t enjoy being confused. It is his least favourite status effect outside of “Hangry-Thirsty.”

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Thea 2: The Shattering (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I appreciate modular difficulty sliders. I appreciate the ability to customise one’s experience somewhat. I appreciate survival, and I appreciate 4Xs. What I am not, strictly speaking, so fond about, however, is when the percentage of your “Normal” difficulty is 150% difficulty. That, and needing to survive 100 turns on “Normal” difficulty, are a fair portion of my irritation with Thea 2: The Shattering, a survival 4X that I had taken a look at in Early Access.

This, for example, has a better chance of happening. Which, considering how few folks you start with…

And, just to make this clear, the game has improved from last time, in several important senses. But in terms of feeling whether the devs actually want me, someone who isn’t dealing amazingly well with Thea’s particular brand of conflicting desires, to see more of its content? Thaaat’s not so hot still.

So, let’s back up a second, quick recap: World’s Nordic in flavour, pantheistic, got a bit of a problem with the world maybe ending sometime in the near-ish future. And your deity has chosen you to lead a small group of folks to grow, to expand, and hopefully to survive long enough to find out what the Darkness is, and, best case scenario, how to defeat it. And, being fair to the developers, they have introduced more to help deal with that. An extra modular difficulty setting, allowing you to autoresolve conflicts more easily (or with more difficulty.) A lumber building that gives wood, even if there’s no wood nearby. That sort of thing.

A new deity is useful, it’s true. But it takes about 400 odd turns of good play per deity to get one…

But, in the end, here’s the thing. As I mentioned right at the top, unlocking more things is a royal pain in the ass. I need 9 God Points to get a new Deity to try out. I need at least 5 to get new potential starting bonuses (At least some of which are locked behind their respective Deities.) I will, if I do well on “Normal” difficulty (Surviving at least 100 turns, completing various events) gain… Maybe 3. For about an hour and a half worth of play, maybe more. And “Normal” difficulty is tough, not least because of conflicting desires.

It wants you to move from Island to Island. It wants you to do events. But it also wants you to hunker down, because this adds its own benefits. It wants you to spread, but gives a pittance of children and growth, slowly depleting the resources, and increasing the hostility. And, in essence, the games feel the same, because they tread along the exact same path. Here, the Witch’s hut, and gathering food, and finding a settlement. There, the Cmuch prince, the Wisps, the Demon Games. That very sameyness means that, to unlock more Gods, more things that maybe help you get further, you have to tread the same path over, and over, and over again, and…

It’s well written. But it’s also something like the 20th time I’ve seen it.

…Thea 2 has some interesting ideas. It has an interesting world. But I’ve never really felt like the game wants me to explore that world, to look down its path. And, even with the narrative conceit that yes, the world is hostile, it is not a game that resists being played in a fun way. It merely resists, struggling against being enjoyed, and that saddens me.

The Mad Welshman wants games to be enjoyed. Sometimes, the games themselves don’t help.

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Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99
Where To Get It: Steam

CONTENT WARNING: It should be mentioned that Zanki Zero deals with adult themes like abuse (sexual or otherwise), gaslighting, and murder, so… Yeah, be warned, this game deals with squicky subjects.

It’s an interesting exercise, to tot up the thematic elements of a developer. And for Spike Chunsoft, there’s a fair amount to pick from. Sins of the past. Just about believable pseudoscience made believable. Big twists. And attacking the heartstrings with comically large pliers.

This… Isn’t going to end well. I want it to… But I know it won’t.

And Zanki Zero definitely goes in for all of these, along with a bit of cringe early on. If I had a nickel for every time a “wacky” cartoon character was just groan inducingly gross, I’d have enough to whack said cartoon characters with a small sack of nickels. Thanks, Zanki Zero, for the unnecessary addition that one of your MCs is proud of pissing themselves on camera. I’m only grateful that’s told, not shown.

Iiin any case, once the game gets going, the cringe seems to die down (somewhat, although content warnings for abuse, sexism, violence and murder definitely apply throughout), and the game gets interesting. A survival RPG/Visual Novel hybrid, Zanki Zero follows eight protagonists, and… Seven sins? Ah, one of them is secretly an architect of this whole mess where humanity is extinct, and eight (?) clones of people are asked to rebuild a cloning machine to resurrect humanity, despite the fact that they, as clones, cannot breed. I’m sure this’ll at least try to make more sense down the line, but at the beginning, mysteries, gribbleys, failed human clones, and ruins abound, with various systems unlocking as you go. Building elements of your base. Cooking, crafting, upgrading. And, through it all, the clone mechanics.

There are, thankfully, lighter moments, and the game paces itself well overall.

At first, as described, it’s stressful, and the game makes sure to kill off a character to get the point across, but, while death isn’t the end, and can be beneficial in certain aspects (Dying in Adult life, for example, extends Adult life by 1 day), it costs to resurrect someone, so care must still be taken, as there’s a lot that can screw you up. Traps, monsters, the threat that some of the gifts you get from the EXTEND Machine have strings attached. You know, losing what’s left of your humanity, that sort of thing. I’ve been playing it on the second difficulty setting, and this honestly seems reasonable for me, since my only party wipe was through overconfidence. It’s only later, with the introduction of various traps, that it starts to get properly mean. God-damn bird…

Ohhh, this feller. I have feelings about this feller… And all of them are associated with flipping tables…

The game’s pace is, honestly, pretty good, and, some odd keybinds aside, it tutorialises pretty well. This, plus the interesting way combat and “survival” plays out (The bars, equally, decrease and increase at sensible rates, so I rarely felt I was nannying) means that, overall, I quite like Zanki Zero. Sho, the cringier of the two Extend TV hosts, is a different story, but thankfully, his segments are quite brief. If you want to explore a VN/RPG hybrid which adds depth as it goes on, Zanki Zero is definitely an interesting one to check out.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have anything clever to say here. How can he, when Humankind is long gone?

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