Mad Crown (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Mad Crown is an interesting roguelike, coming with its own art style and quirks. It’s also a game where having a friend who’s playing the game too can really come in handy, as once you lose your items (due to Total Party Kill), your options are “Share a code and hope someone picks your stuff up” or “Share a code with a friend who’ll pick your stuff up.”

“BOW BEFORE YOUR NEW MASTER. Also give me all your stuff and run back to your camp yelling how great I am. Long live Lamda Omicron Lambda!”

There’s also the third one of “Ask Seggie to pick your stuff up”, but that rapidly goes into silly money territory. My Chapter 3 team, for example, lost their stuff, and that option now costs 3800 gold for them.

The story of Mad Crown is fairly traditional stuff in the modern day. Long ago, there was a crown, created by God, to grant wisdom. Now it’s vanished, and tentacley horrors with about as many eyes as they have teeth abound. Go get that Crown, it totally won’t have been cursed, and definitely won’t be the source of said horrors! But, honestly, it’s not the writing that really grabs me. It’s how it does its difficulty, and its aesthetics, that really work for me. Let’s start with the difficulty.

Essentially, as you progress through the dungeon, you accumulate Fel, a nasty, toxic goop that serves as a danger level. Let it get too high, and traps become more common, monsters get nastier, and you’ll, more often than not, be facing overlevelled opponents. It can be reduced, but you’re essentially balancing speeding through the dungeon (And not quite getting enough levelups or kit for the boss), and going carefully (More items, more levels, but you risk being underequipped.)

Some of the item descriptions, themselves, are quite good. Yes, throw that money, bask in that money, moneyyyyyeaah!

Now add in that, if monsters kill each other (A thing that can happen) … They level up. Significantly. It’s somewhat of a shock to suddenly see a level 7 creature triple its levels, and become your own personal nightmare. Sprinkle in some enemies immune to physical damage later on (The Gellyfish), monsters that steal your gold and run away, a lot of creatures having multiple attacks and status inflictions (Including Confusion), and you have something where thinking tactically is a baseline, and, by the halfway point of the storyline, becomes what is technically known as “Bastard hard.”

Is that a bad thing? It’s a tough call, because, as mentioned, your mileage on this will depend on if you have a friend or two who plays along, and can have your back, rescuing your stuff. If not, it becomes annoying as hell by the “halfway through the main plot” point (Let alone the later dungeons which add things that need to be identified.)

Still, its aesthetic adds just enough to keep it in the Recommended category, as it’s a somewhat unique one. Monsters look somewhat cartoonish, as do the characters, but it’s a style not seen elsewhere, and the music is calm when it needs to be, and hard, driven guitar when fights start. The cutscenes have a cool ink look to them, and, while there’s still a little jankiness in the translation, the Mandarin narration is interesting.

The Gellyfish. He’s an annoying little squib, especially if he’s on the front row. Smack him with guns and magic.

Overall, while Mad Crown’s mileage definitely depends on whether you’ve got a friend to play with you (or how much you like grinding through the midgame, ala Etrian Odyssey or other Nintendo-Hard RPGs), I quite like it. It does interesting things with its difficulty, it makes the threat of the monsters more than just their attack values, and this, combined with a cool aesthetic, make it a relatively solid game. Just… One that doesn’t pretend it isn’t hard.

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good experiment. Whether it fails or not, it adds a little to the phasespace of “What if?” developers can think about. I like that.

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Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?!

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.99 (Soundtrack £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s that time of year, when potato puns mix with moderately interesting, casual takes on different games. It’s time for more… Holy Potatoes!

And this time, it’s a little hectic, despite being pretty accessible. Because you’re a spy agency, and the clock is ticking. Even worse, your Jeet-kun-do is no use against… This cute puppy, AHAHAHAHAAAA!

Noted pupper-lover, er… Catlady plans to stealth and charm her way through her mission.

Anyway, yes… Holy Potatoes! A Spy Story?! (Let’s just call it Potato Spy Story, shall we?) is a mashup of RPGs, management sims, and spy fiction, that has you play… Potato spies, in a world of anthropomorphic potatoes, having to balance limited resources while avoiding plot missions for as long as is humanly possible… Mainly because, once a mission has been “accepted”, either by taking a contract, or because the story demands, you have a limited time to successfully finish a mission. And no, that timer doesn’t stop running because you started the mission, nor does it care if you suddenly realise you have a hole in your coverage of the four stats (Fighting, Thinking, Stealthing, Charming.) Better plug that hole as quickly as you can, whether through gadgets, fashion, and, a little later, vehicles!

Whiiiich leads to the other balancing act you have to do, that of having limited space in your HQ for buildings, and needing paths to said buildings. Oh, and maybe some nice decorations that make spies better able to work. That can help too.

Me am good at optimisation. Me am good at spying. Me am also Bizarro, trust everything I don’t say!

Aesthetically, it’s got that clean, simple style that has been a hallmark of the series, and, with the exception of some building placements, it’s clear enough that you understand quickly what’s going on. Sound isn’t great, more servicable than anything else, and the writing is… Well, it’s puns. It’s a formula. It’s not going to win any writing awards (Until the industry admits it needs a “Most puns/legally distinct references in a single game” , for which, let’s face it, there are many contenders.)

While it’s not super fast, and has that all blessed pause button and adjustable time, it is a little frustrating that, rather than accepting plot jobs, they’re just… Given to you in spurts, with the main break being that “build something” main quests are not timed. Run out of time, game over, and, even with the generous timing, it does become a little tight if you’re not playing in a faaaairly optimised fashion. Add in special spies, which are their own “One time only” fun, and you’ve got something that toes the line between challenging (fun) and frustrating (not so fun.)

The difficulty curve is still relatively fair though, as, without distractions, I had to *work* to confirm game-overs from this particular mission.

Still, for all that I’m the kind of berk who doesn’t end up playing with any kind of optimisation in mind, I don’t mind Potato Spy Story. It isn’t going to rock socks, and the enjoyability of its puns depend on how dadly you’re feeling on a particular day, but it’s a relatively solid, easy to understand management game with only a few quibbles and flaws to its name. And that ain’t bad.

The Mad Welshman loves a good potato. Alas, he wouldn’t fit in with this world, considering he likes them best sliced, buttered, and baked.

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Infinite Adventures (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

“You don’t have to fight over me” cries Rufus the Mendicant, as saucily as he can. And every time he does, I quietly wish for the sweet release of death. Welcome to Infinite Adventures, a game which is currently the closest thing to Etrian Odyssey on the PC right now (giving and taking some things), and, despite being a relatively solid game, it’s a somewhat painful experience in an aesthetic sense. Especially if you have anyone in the party with a “Flirty” voice.

You know… Like Rufus, default starting Mendicant.

“Ha! I think that enemy got… The point!”

Okay, that’s not the best start, so let’s explain what I mean gameplay wise. Infinite Adventures is a dungeon crawler, step based, automapping, based around a single, fairly long dungeon, and the nearby town which bases its economy almost entirely on your questing. As with its inspiration, chests are floating boxes, there are harvest points for produce, minerals, and animal goods, and, not-at-all secretly, the dungeon hides a DEEP SECRET. There is also a story, through which our amnesiac protagonist finds themselves awakening from a coma, forming an adventuring guild, and finds out this DEEP SECRET after many travails. Everything is turn based, and there are classes, skill-trees, and items galore, with tactical thought going into most of your moves.

Sounds cool, yeah? Even better, on the normal and easy (Story) difficulties, you can turn random encounters off for a time, although that’s mostly useful for being able to gather items safely, rather than finish dungeons.

But, here’s the thing. Just as a game can be pretty as heck, but have poorly thought out or tedious gameplay, so too can the reverse be true: A game can have solid gameplay, and have inconsistent or poorly chosen aesthetics. Both are equally a turn-off, and, naturally, most games that have both never see the critical light of day. In the case of Infinite Adventures, it’s the aesthetic that’s the turn-off.

Like Etrian Odyssey, it’s cel-shaded anime characters, over painted backgrounds, with workmanlike UI, with low-poly dungeons. Problem being… It’s nowhere near as cohesive.

Block puzzles move the blocks at a meaty pace of 3 frames a tile… Over about a second. Richly painted landscapes and rooms outside the dungeons contrast with cel-shaded characters, contrasting with a workmanlike interface (Itself having problems like colour choices, transparency interfering with text, and insufficient outlining), contrasting with low to mid-poly 3d dungeons. Voices range from “Adequate” to “Kill the ‘Flirty’ Characters On Sight.” The writing has the general plot beats of an Etrian Odyssey game, but is a blunt instrument with some awkward tonal shifts. Aesthetic consistency… Just plain doesn’t exist here.

And this, put bluntly, is a big problem. Not because the game is mechanically bad, or unplayable. It’s using tried and true mechanics, and while it takes some features people were fond of in its inspiration away, it gives others back. No, it’s because quite a few text-boxes hurt the eyes to read portions of, or because of that godawful “Flirty” voice (The “Absent-Minded” one is almost as bad), or because several different artstyles, each fighting for their place, distract from the gameplay, overpower it, and because the writing can’t save that.

This is perhaps the first time where I can’t recommend a game, not because it’s mechanically bad, but because it’s aesthetically painful. And that makes me sad, even if it’s an object lesson that no, you really can’t let go of one or the other.

It should be noted that comparisons to Etrian Odyssey are made, not just because of game similarity, but *plot* similarity.

The Mad Welshman is not a 4K 60FPS Always Photoreal kinda vaudevillain. However, consistency is a big sticking point.

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Deep Sky Derelicts (Review)

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

There is something deeply cathartic about smacking things with mechanical rocketfists. It doesn’t matter that it’s turn-based, and that this rocket-fist has been carefully considered after a couple of minutes. It doesn’t even matter that this is presented as the same comic frame for this move, repeated every time I choose it. The power of a good comic frame, really… It entertains even when you’ve seen it multiple times.

This screenshot is not, technically, lying. Sometimes you can get a Double Strike with more than two attacks. Ehehehe.

Similarly, that presentation helps make Deep Sky Derelicts as fun as it is. Which, when you think about it, is quite the achievement, considering it’s effectively a turn-based dungeon crawler where you want pretty numbers to go up. Consider: What I just said, compared to “You are a trio of convicts from diverse backgrounds, in a dystopian future, tasked by the Station Manager to find an ancient mothership by hopping from hulk to hulk, solving problems and being menaced by a variety of deadly aliens, mechanoid horrors, and environmental hazards.”

Makes all the difference. As does one of its little mechanical touches: Energy. Even though it’s rarely truly threatening, thanks to various means of getting it and conserving it that are open to characters, it’s never far from your thoughts, as it goes down with each move, each combat turn, each time you want to see just that little bit further… And if it goes to 0, you all die. Because it’s your suit energy.

As mentioned, though, the energy economy in the game is quite good, so it’s mostly inattention that gets you there. No, where the game gets you is when the enemies decide to take their gloves off. Because when they do, they do it hard. Summons. Armour. Miss chances, misfires, radiation… That last one, especially, is evil, because normally, your shields regenerate, and can easily be replenished, unlike your health, which stays gone, and can only be fixed up back at home base for prices best described as “Exorbitant” (Even in the midgame, when you’re getting a lot of stuff to sell, it can hurt.) Even with a mode where you can freely load from your last save, and death of a party member is reversible, around level 5, it starts getting tough.

This is one of the “nicer” enemy groupings of Level 5. And it was only due to liberal use of stuns on the Alpha Skinks there that I got out of it only needing to leave the station and heal…

Aesthetically, it comes together quite well. Comic book stylings (complete with frames that pop in for your moves) mesh well with a solid UI, marred only by some odd control issues (Sometimes, the mouse fails to register clicks until you move it, once you’ve left an event, for example) , and equally odd choices (Scanning should be default when exploring, but it’s a part of your PDA, and so… Don’t close your PDA out of inventory, save some time and click the “Scanner” button instead.) It has some nice dark tones going on with the music, and the events that are scattered around the various hulks are varied and interesting, such as the morally grey tale of the man who wants to be an AI, or the lighter events where a giant pest can be dealt with… Well, differently to your usual solutions of “Hack it, shoot it, hack it in the swordy type sense.”

As to problems, well, apart from the aforementioned oddities, it should be noted that the game’s fast music somewhat belies its slowish pacing (and loading.) It’s turn based, and, while the hulks do have enemies, events, and later environmental hazards and traps, early on, they feel empty, and later on, you sometimes find yourself wishing they were a little more empty, as the difficulty spikes around the aforementioned level 5 mark. Thankfully, one of my other niggles is somewhat dealt with by mousing over cards (When your hand gets big enough, it’s hard to see the cards), but never entirely goes away. Otherwise, it does something a little different with a formula that’s become all too familiar, and it’s a solidly presented game in an interesting world. Worth a look.

That’s a lot of cards. Thing is, I could have *even more*

The Mad Welshman reminds you that exploring old hulks is dangerous. Old games, less so.

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Endless Road (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Endless Road could probably be considered at least interesting, if its translation had worked a little better, or its information flow… But alas, neither are true, and it’s this core issue that really prevents it from being as fun or interesting as it maybe could be.

There are many pigs in the early levels. They’re all cute, and often deadly.

Endless Rogue is one of those incremental RPGs, where death nonetheless earns you stuff (or at least unlocks), set on a road that may branch, and branch, but will inevitably lead to a boss, and the next part of this… Endless Road. Along the way, you fight monsters, get random events, items to help you survive, and make tradeoffs. It’s largely fairly simple, and there’s a lot of tooltips, but…

See, I can get the sentiment here, roughly speaking… But it really doesn’t flow well..

…Here’s where that whole “Not great translation” plays in. Some skills and elements (Whether yours or the enemy’s) are either untranslated, or missing, which doesn’t exactly help, and, as a result, there’s a lot of cards whose synergy really isn’t clear. Why, pray tell, would I want my enemy to have 100 attack points in a turn? What ability would make that worth certainly taking damage? Do the traps really apply to me? Large swathes of abilities are unclear, and so, through confusion, I’m just not playing as well as I should. Said translation also makes the letters, which appear to be to our character from somebody called Rice, miss their mark, which, at a guess, is meant to be wistful and soulful, as our heroine goes further and further from home, but keeps finding these letters?

Any which way, it’s certainly playable, as there are still abilities clear enough to use, and a lot of it is about managing your various resources. In the board aspect of the game, moving forward takes SP (Stamina Points, I’m guessing), so you need items or events to replenish this, lest bad events become more and more common (They’re moderately common already.) Meanwhile, you’re trading health, stamina, and gold for various improvements and abilities, using items to gain that health, and occasionally getting into fights, where the goal, each turn, is to score more points with your cards than the opponent does with theirs. Simple enough, except that’s then complicated by abilities. Some enemies, for example, punish close point values, others large differences, and cards can do various things as well, and so those tooltips (mouse over an ability or card) become quite important. Escape is, unless you have a certain item (Monster Mucus) impossible, and besides… Some of them drop sweet, sweet loot.

Every area made of lovingly hand drawn bits? My jam.

It looks pretty nice, to the point where I feel very sad about attacking some low level monsters (I’M SO SORRY, BANDIT-PIG-SAN, BUT I MUST DO THIS), and can recognise, roughly, what abilities a monster has by their visuals and repeated play. But while it’s certainly playable, and it’s not resource intensive, those translation issues take away a lot of the potential fun and mood.

Which is, if we’re being honest, a crying shame.

The Mad Welshman reminds you that if you want to gain an international audience, please translate responsibly.

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