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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Octonaut (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Ahhh, shoot-em-ups have such an interesting family tree. From space invaders, to 1942, and Gradius, and Uridium, to… Well, a whole world of little to middling changes with big effects. And Gradius, or, more accurately, Parodius appears to be the inspiration for Octonaut, a fun little shmup about an octopus that’s going to save the world. And look cartoonishly cute and oblivious while doing so.

TFW When a mutant shark is thirsty for an Octopus starship,..

Mechanically, a shmup is a subtle thing, most of the time. Yes, okay, “gun go bang, thing go boom, get score, don’t get hit” is not subtle at all, but the reason a lot of patterns in shmups look familiar (The snake, the circling, the “I’m just going to sit here looking dangerous before shooting”) is because they clearly communicate expectations to the player. What Octonaut has, in addition that, and an interesting set of weapons, is dodging into the background, and a very timing based outlook rather than a twitchy one. For example, as with games like Twinbee and Parodius, the score items increase in colour and value the more you shoot them… To a point, after which they revert to the lowest point value, and you have to do it again… If you have the time. Movement is relatively slow, and enemies vary a fair bit in their tactics, so it’s more recognition. And I like that.

Aesthetically, the game works really well. The music is Sega Genesis/MegaDrive inspired, and it is indeed heavily reminiscent, with a variety of moods, all well crafted tracks, and the aesthetics, similarly, are that cartoonish, clean look seen in shooters of the period. It’s pretty, and this, also, I appreciate.

Some segments, as noted, outstay their welcome. This one in particular.

Okay, things I appreciate a little less. Screenshotting this was annoying, because the game’s window is not customisable, and is, in fact, quite small. Playing it in full screen is fine, but… Yes, the default window being tiny and unchangeable annoys. It’s more a reflection on me and my time-starved ways that completion appears to be required for Custom and Panic modes, instead requiring you to get through the game (Thankfully, Normal difficulty is both generous with lives, with good health, and is definitely do-able, I can report), so that one goes under niggles, but otherwise?

Otherwise, this is a solid shmup, with fine music, good aesthetics, solid wave design, and interesting bosses. Its levels have interesting gimmicks to them, none of which are frustrating (Although some, like laser jerk, go on a bit too long), and… Yeah, shmup fans, chalk another one to check out, this one’s pretty nice!

Wait, the Metroid Bees have skulls now? ABANDON OCTOPUS!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t know what’s been going on with shmups and windowed mode, but… Heck, this month has a lot going on overall…

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Void Bastards (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I do so love me a very British future in videogames. Because it is, almost always, an absolute hellscape, but with black humour that somehow keeps it going. And so it is with Void Bastards, a game about being left behind, dealing with a system that hates you, and surviving for as long as you can.

It’s… Somewhat worrying that these are quite prevalent. A penal society? EEEEESH.

Wow, that doesn’t induce feels in pretty much anyone who’s had to deal with the state unemployment system here in the UK. Not at all. And the starships in the Sargasso Void certainly aren’t filled with mutated chavs, janitors, and British Tourists, so it certainly isn’t the dumping ground for the unwanted and the awkward. Nope, nothing going on here. But it certainly makes for an interesting presentation of a roguelike shooter.

So… Essentially, it goes like this: After a short tutorial you are not expected to survive (but potentially can), either you will be asked to restart the ship’s FTL dri- whoops, “Clients” have their citizen cards shredded, so you can’t do that, need you to go through derelict ships to find the right items to make a new one. To get this, all you need to do is obtain permit A38. Orrr get two items, neither of which are close to your own ship, the Void Ark, and then get back. Or you will die, be rehydrated (Turns out you’re not only forgotten about, but also dehydrated for easy storage. Damn, this government is… Well, I can’t actually believe they would actually be that efficient, but still, it’s a game, whatever), and then told that you need to get these items to get your civil ID card back and restart the FTL drive.

Anyone wanting to know how many lines it takes to create a look of worry and bed wetting terror with just eyes, look no further than this.

And so it begins. Tromping around dark, often dangerous ships, with a cel shaded comic book style exploration,traps, limited opportunities to heal, and a variety of enemies, most of whom are British. The Juves, the Janitors, the Screws, the bureacratic Scribes, the Tourists who explode if you get near them (but want you to be near them, because they have questions. Bloody tourists…) It’s legitimately nice that, once options have been unlocked, you get them for the characters after, but it should be noted that ammo is also scarce. Besides, fighting… Isn’t always the best way. As noted, healing’s kind of limited too. Basically, running a way a lot is a good idea. Or being sneaky and cunning.

Oh, and if you thought the ID card was the end of it, you’ve clearly never dealt with the joys of bureaucracy. Or a looted bureacratic starship whose step-by-step bureaucratic AI can’t even act properly to save itself.

…I’d probably give most people a pass on the latter, if we’re being perfectly fair.

Colour Blind Mode, aka Five Shades of Gray.

Anyway, while the comic book style is good, the UI is clear (except in Colour Blind mode, which hates you and everything you stand for), and it’s visually quite pleasing, where the game shines is in its voice acting, and its writing. If you want an idea of what British Hell sounds like, this comes pretty damn close. The bored teenagers have laser guns, but still oh-so-imaginatively think calling you a “Knobhead” is the height of wit, the shipboard computer is telling you that the worst thing about the Void Pirates is that they aren’t paying VAT on what they steal, and…

…Nobody’s actually a villain here. Nobody in the Nebula, at least. Just a lot of people, forced by terrible circumstances (and probably bureacratic AI) to deal with being abandoned to terrible circumstances.

What is it with this month’s reviews and the need for a “Content Warning: Too Damn Real”? Anyway, well worth a look, good example of British Humour, and a solid roguelike FPS to boot.

The Mad Welshman forgot to file Permit A-39, as noted by the circular B-65, so he can’t actually add the “Too Real” Content Warning until the process has been completed. We expect this to take around 20 years.

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Black Paradox (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£13.74 for game+soundtrack, £5.79 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Hey you! Do you remember the 80s? How about something more recent that remembers the 80s, Vaporwave? Okay, okay, let’s make this a little easier? How much do you know about shooting spaceships in procgenned patterns that then go boom, followed by a bigger boss spaceship, and doing that until you go boom, at which point you get points to buy better stats, then do it again?

Ah, okay, I feel we reached the maximum number of folks with that last one.

As soon as I saw this, I thought: “Yes, this is exactly the mood the game is going for: Blowing shit up with MURDERKEYTAR.”

So yes, Black Paradox is a shoot-em-up, of the horizontal variety, where you, a bounty hunter with duplication powers called Black Paradox, shoot space pirates, cowboys, and other ne’er do wells, beat bosses in a space DeLorean, and, when you die, you get the chance to use the money you earned to buy upgrades. Not new weapons, mind you, because weapons drop from Carriers in level, and it’s random what you can pick up, but stat upgrades, to things like health, attack, speed, and fire rate (With added percentage chance of something extra per shot, according to the chip you slot.)

So, what’s it like? Well, I feel like the main good points are its aesthetic, and the energy of its weapons. Aesthetic wise, Black Paradox is trying for a Vaporwave aesthetic, a style that pays an odd kind of homage to the 80s styles while also ambiguously satirising the consumer culture of the period. So, on the one hand, synth tunes with a distinct 80s feel, bike helmets, big triangles, and, on the other, parodies of popular 80s icons like Lobo, Tex Hex, and the Master Blaster duo. It’s mostly surface level, but it does work moodwise.

I don’t feel like fighting this guy, where’s a wisecracking horse, a bad comedy sidekick, and a sheriff with animal powers when you need them?

As to the weapons, well, there’s quite a few of them, and, beyond the bog standard gun with middling round bullets wot go pew pew pew, there are lasers, deadly boomerangs, railguns, flamethrowers… Each weapon acts pretty differently, and some, like the railgun, are definitely meant for use on bosses or big enemies only. What matters is that they are all, from the weakest to the strongest, chunky and exciting to use. I love being slowed down by the Dart Punk, my missile pods wrecking anything silly enough to stay in the way. I love filling the screen with boomerangs, wandering around the screen as entire asteroid fields (and the ambushes behind them) die before I really get to see them. And equally, I love a lot of the powerups you get from defeating one of the seven bosses. The blade drone (A roomba, but with knives.) The medic drone, occasionally topping me up because, boy, I also love running into bullets and exploding a lot.

Of course, that’s because, at any given time, there’s a fair amount of bullets on screen at any one time. It isn’t quite bullet hell, but it comes pretty close, and there are some attacks that make you panic. But runs are quick to restart, and I know, with each failed run, I’m a tiny bit closer to getting more powerful. I could do with becoming more powerful a little more quickly (As higher level chips cost a lot more, and so do the chip slots), but, honestly, it isn’t terrible. Know that, unless you’re good at these ol’ shmups, you may be a while to properly powerup, and, if you’re cool with that, then it’s all good.

And yes, occasionally, you run into a Black Paradox event. Which is mirror match BADTIMES (In the best way.)

So yeah, overall, I feel positive about Black Paradox. It’s a little slow to get going if you’re not great at shmups (HI), but its aesthetic is nice, its weapons feel good, especially once you get how they work, its music is good, and I can see myself coming back to this quite a bit.

The Mad Welshman unfortunately has neither the touch, nor the power to take on the final boss yet, but when he does, he will dare, dare to believe he will suriiiiiive.

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Zombotron (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price:
£11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the level based shooter… Hand crafted areas, known enemy placements… Randomish items? Ah, okay. Two out of three ain’t bad. And Zombotron… Definitely isn’t bad.

Ah yes, I remember this scene from that noted bro-comedy, “Dude, Where’s My Ship?”

Originally a flash game, Zombotron is now in a different format, with improved art, and, overall… It’s a reasonable game. You, the chunky manhunk known as Daze, have landed on an alien world to answer an ancient distress call, and found… Well, multiple ships, multiple cultures and aliens (Not all of whom are hostile), and… Your ship’s energy cells stolen while you were exploring. So, in order, you have to:

  1. Wreck face with a variety of weapons, sometimes using the environment in clever ways.
  2. Get your power cells back so you can maybe leave.
  3. Maaaaybe do some rescuing/planet saving? It’s unclear in the early game.

So… There is, essentially, a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and occasionally, environmental puzzles of the type I grew up on (Shoot part of a platform so it drops to form a bridge, or a different part of a platform to drop it on some poor alien’s head, killing them instantly, and saving me ammo.) How does it feel?

Alas, poor Y’r’ck. I knew him… Not at all really, he was just another one of those aliens trying to claw my face off…

Well, it feels… Alright! There have been times where I’ve been a little irritable with its physics system (Yes, I would like to jump past this ene-oh, I’m dead. Sod.), and sometimes, checkpoints are spaced far enough apart that I have to restart the whole damn level, but, overall, it works. Guns come in several flavours, but the random nature means equipping at least one melee weapon, and using those grenades and health-kits that, if you’re like me, you normally hoard for some kind of Humongous Mutant Android Cephalopod encounter that never happens. It’s a game that wants you to explore it, and try things, albeit in the somewhat limited fashion of “Platforming shoot-em-up that has puzzle elements.”

Aesthetically, it’s okay. You know what everything is, and there’s this chunky aesthetic to it throughout, with paper doll animation that looks a little dated, but only a little (Look, really good paperdoll animation is hard.) The important part is that, apart from some items like money being a little hard to spot, is that it’s clear, and even secrets can be spotted once you work out what it is you’re looking for. The music is, sadly, mostly forgettable, although it does fit the mood, and the sound is alright, so…

Just as you can be clever with the environment, sometimes you need to be clever rather than wasting ammo. Case in point: It’s almost time for me to restart from checkpoint!

…Overall, Zombotron, is alright, with some fun and clever elements. It isn’t going to blow minds, but, as has previously been noted on the site several times, “Does What It Says On The Tin” is a good thing, and I’ve had a fun time with it.

The Mad Welshman does not, generally speaking, support nuking from orbit. Launching into the Sun is far more impressive, and good praxis to boot.

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