Cat Lady (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Cats are magical creatures. But even I have to admit that a ghost cat with deadly psychokinetic hairballs is a new one on me. But this is one of the cats available to shoot with in Cat Lady, a roguelite twin-stick shooter that isn’t to be confused with The Cat Lady. Which isn’t even in the same genre.

Grandma, as it turns out, has a lot of stuffed rabbits, among other things.

The story is quite simple: You’re visiting Grandma’s house, but, oh dear, it’s been haunted by a poltergeist, who is commanding a legion of ghosts infesting household objects, and they’re out for Grandma for some reason! Luckily for you, now her small horde of cats can talk, and have gained magical abilities. Including the aforementioned ghost cat, one who throws deadly kisses, a wizard cat you start with… And this is without mentioning secondary cats and their abilities (Personal favourite is Box Cat, who paws at anything near where you told him to set up shop)

And, while the first few areas can be breezed through, not only does it definitely show promise, I appreciate being able to see everything the game has to offer. As far as the mechanical formula goes, it’s not a new deal (nor does it have to be.) You walk into a room, if it has enemies in it, it locks the doors until all the enemies are dead, you pick up one of two kinds of currency (the in-run Kibble, and the between-run Ghostly Spirits), you sometimes trade up your primary and secondary cats, exit levels via stairs, fight bosses (currently 3), and you get powerups.

Approximately 3 seconds before everything in this room dies.

Let’s take a brief digression into the powerups, because, while some are a little iffy, they do combine, so when you have a good combo, your shots break the game over their knees. For example, at first, I made my life more difficult by getting erratic shots. I couldn’t reliably aim at enemies, so… Whoops! But then… Bouncing projectiles (cool, less worries), burst fire (Wow, that’s a fair few bouncy projectiles!), giant projectiles (I… I’m having trouble seeing what’s going on, but I’m reasonably sure everything except me is dying), and finally… A poison effect.

To cut a long story short, by the time I’d gotten halfway through the third area, I was filling the screen with giant, deadly, knockbacktastic and poisonous catfarts. And my box cat? Well, I could set him down, and he would be batting murderously at a large portion of the room.

Suffice to say, I expect these powerups will get nerfed somewhat over the course of Early Access.

Your groans sustain me as much as they no doubt sustain the developers. Long live bad cat puns.

Aesthetically, I quite like it. It’s not quite 1-bit colouring (Black, and colour), but you, the room, and your cats have one colour (determined by area), and the enemies have another (determined by area), and the shadows are black. It’s clear, it’s highly readable, and I appreciate that. The telegraphing of enemy attacks is similarly good, and, indeed, the clear hurtboxes shown on the screen are sometimes used cleverly, as with the first boss’s bite attack, which has two forms in quick succession: A toothy mouth where the hurtboxes are the teeth, and, as soon as that one lands, it’s the inside of the mouth that’s the hurtbox. Nice touch, that.

So, problems? Well, right now, the hitboxes for interactions are finicky as hell, and buying something in the shop boots you away from the shop, so you have to… Interact again to buy more. I found myself shuffling back and fore, effectively pixel hunting for the area where I could do the thing I wanted to do. And, although the hurtboxes are clear, sometimes the attack lands before you think it would land (a problem with the muscle bunnies and the weird skeletal rabbit things that leap at you.) Some of the powerups seem outright detrimental, although maybe that’s just me not finding a good combo.

Silly Ally Marie, can’t you see your cat’s grumpy because you photobombed their sweet viral selfie?

Apart from that, though, while it’s currently moderately easy (Well, it becomes easy once you have a good powerup set), and there’s not a great amount to the game, it definitely shows promise, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. Nyaa.

More games with adorable murdercats, please.

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Noita (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£3.99 soundtrack, £17.98 game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Even at this relatively early stage, there’s a fair amount to say about Noita. It simulates every pixel (Although this mostly applies to fluids, fire, and particulates like spurting blood, smoke, steam, and even flammable gas), has an interesting core weapon mechanic, is, at the current stage (and probably later too) hard as balls… And, for some reason, it quits and restarts after every run. Don’t take that as a criticism as in “This thing is bad.” The game still works just fine. It’s just odd.

In the beginning…

So, right now, this is a somewhat plot light game (who knows, maybe it’ll get more, maybe not.) It’s implied, the first time you play it (and never again afterwards, because it’s a first play cutscene) that the universe came from a great phoenix’s three eggs. One created the land and sky, one the stars and sea, and the other… Life, both the usual kinds, and the inimical kinds. You are a wizard, entering a mine which appears to be some sort of trial, or at least having temples between levels that conveniently give you useful things… Like filling your health back up, because there is no health regen.

Funnily enough, I don’t particularly see that as a bad thing, because, while the economy gets annoyingly sparse later on (requiring enemy murder to get gold), if you’ve played your cards right, or simply gotten lucky, you’ll have something powerful enough to deal, even if the enemies, unless you’re tactical, can most definitely do unto you as you do to them. The nastier foes in the early levels, for example, are acidic spitting eyeballs and your fellow wizards, corrupted into elemental forms (I’ve only ever seen fire and lightning wizards, but these three alone are an immediate “nope!” on low health, and a pause for thought as to whether you really want to do this otherwise.)

Ahhh, it burns so prettily. Of course, I had gold down there, gold I can’t get before it disappears.

So, how do you get better? Well, sometimes, you can use your environment. Kicking things that can be kicked. Destroying convenient explosives, gas canisters, toxic goo canisters and the like. Setting off oil pools. Firing lightning into steel beams to murderize anything standing on them (Caution, this includes you!) Perks got between levels, like the ones that allow you to ignore elements, the ones that cause you to bleed poison, or slime, or be able to survive a single hit if you had more than 1 hitpoint (Does not apply to fire or acid, for obvious reasons.) Potions, like Beserkium (gives you Beserk status), Blood (Useful for folks with the Vampire perk), and Invisibilium (Guess.) Protip: And empty bottle can be used to store other liquids. And, finally, wands, and the spells contained therein.

You start with just two of these: A weak magic missile wand that fires two (capacity of three spell effects) before needing to recharge (relatively quickly), and a bomb wand, that, obviously, makes a bomb. Of which you have three. But you can find wands, and spell effects, or you can buy them between levels, with the gold you’ve earned… And, once you have those spell effects (You can even take them out of a wand completely before levels, to store for later), you can swap them between any wands that can cast them. And some effects, obviously, combine. So, if you wanted, and found the right elements, you could have a flaming projectile… That leaves a trail of gunpowder behind it. Or two at once. Or three. Some wands even have a spell built into the wand itself.

You’d think this is powerful. And it is. But it is less powerful than about twelve enemies at once. So I died a little bit later.

Aesthetically, it pretty much works. The environments themselves aren’t amazing, but it’s a whole thing to see pixellated clouds of flammable gas wisping its way upwards from where, below, the acidic gribbley you’ve just murdered is spewing it’s blood all over the ground, eating into it. Or how pretty a massive oil fire looks in game, licking over and through the wood… Before you realise “Wait, shit, I’m too clo- AAAAA HOT HOT HOT!” Remember what I said about potion bottles being filled with liquids? This is but one good reason why. Soundwise, the enemies themselves make few sounds, but the music is good, the sound effects for the various wands work.

But, honestly, the biggest draw here is how it works mechanically, the interactions of the world. And I find this very interesting, and pretty cool, so… Yeah, promising, as mentioned, hard, although it’s still, as far as I’m aware, relatively early days… I like it!

The Mad Welshman points out that drinking and wanding is not recommended. Especially if one of your spells is Fire Breath.

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Blast Axis (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15 (Game has a free demo)
Where To Get It: Steam

Space is big… But it does seem like, whenever there’s a horde of aliens, mindless or otherwise, infesting somewhere, it’s somewhere we are. This time, in Blast Axis, it’s interdimensional, pink and purple beasties, who just seem… Well, aggressive overall.

At first, I have to admit I wasn’t enamoured of the 6-degrees-of-freedom shooty spaceship-in-a-space-station funtimes of Blast Axis. I enjoyed some things, like the bio-luminescent, odd entities that infested the station, and even found that bright green nightvision mode more tolerable than other games I’d seen it in (I’m just not the biggest fan of bright green night goggles overall, sad to say.) But the map, at first, confused me, and as I wandered through its first (zeroeth) level, I felt… Somewhat of a lack of cohesion. Wait, why is this tunnels and junk, tunnels and ju-

The sudden realisation people lived here. Worked here. Died here.

And then I hit the second level, and I started seeing a little bit of the scale. An avenue of buildings, big honkin’ walkways, doors… This used to be a place where a lot of people lived, and seemingly, in the grand tradition of such games, mined rocks, and presumably explored things where “Should” was probably a better start to their sentence than “Could.” And I also answered the question for myself I’d also asked in that first level. Where was the difficulty?

Well, let’s digress into limits. There are more than 10 monsters, but not more than 20. There are 6 weapons, 10 ammo types, a couple of firing modes… At first, it seems a bit limited. But those ammo types, those firing modes, do introduce interesting things, and, even on Minor Hazard (the game’s equivalent of “Easy”), it’s… It’s surprisingly easy to get blindsided, and from quite a ways away, by even a moderate group of gribbleys. Some fire swirly trails that hurt. Some fire lots of odd spikey icicle looking things that hurt, like a machine gun. But one of the first enemies you encounter is both the most interesting… And the one that blindsided me the worst.

Taken about a twentieth of a second after the little sod rammed me. In two seconds, his friend will ram me from a completely unexpected angle. Thankfully, this was early, so I had a lot of backup armour.

They’re inoffensive, squid like things, with a single large eye, and glowing some blue/purple/pink shade like every other enemy (I actually like that, it makes for better visual distinction, and the glow makes them easier to spot in the dark too. The very common dark.) And, until they notice you, they really do seem inoffensive. Hell, in the first level, you rapidly chunk them before they do. But when they do notice you, and you don’t notice them… That’s when it hurts. Because they’re suddenly fast, attack with headbutts, and then vanish into some corner, until they spot you again. And again. And again. Projectiles, you can see. The mine like enemies… You can blow up, easily. But those little sods? They did more damage to me than even some of the more powerful enemies later on, overall.

So, from an unpromising beginning, Blast Axis started winning me over. Cyclopean machinery, long dead… The axis of the outer wheel, so far away… The aesthetic started to win me over. The music is filled with low key dread, the station and the machinery of the game feel worn (even the ship is clunky and battered, and I love that.) Aesthetically, it pleases, even the slightly clunky menu, and the oddly 70s style title.

“I can’t shake him!” “Stay on target…”

This is not to say the game is without flaw. There is a dash boost, and it’s all too easy to trigger when you don’t want it to (the trigger is double tapping, but even “tap…tap” can sometimes trigger it, which is annoying when you’re being cautious.) The keys are rebindable, but I found it odd that Shift is the default “go down” key (normally it’s Ctrl.) And the map is… Hard to get used to, as it’s not your normal map, but a map centered around you. So using it can sometimes be a distinctly confusing and irritating experience.

Otherwise, though, this definitely isn’t a bad 6DOF shooter, and it starts you on the easy difficulty, which is nice (even if, judging by it, medium and hard are going to be utter bastards. Minor Hazard is challenging, tense at times, but definitely not unbeatable.) I wouldn’t exactly call it a good introduction to this subgenre, but it does feel like it has a solid place within it, with its own touches that make it interesting.

For cross dimensional invaders looking for a good space station to inhabit, please contact TMW, care of… Well, we’ll find you when you’re ready for an offer…

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Gato Roboto (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Cats are glorious creatures. Ask any cat owner. Said cat owners will also confirm that they are clowns, doofuses, malevolent little gits… Cats have quite the range. And it’s gratifying to see a cat in a mech suit as the protagonist of Gato Roboto, a game which… Well, it’s very, very similar to early Metroid games, with a 1-bit art style (Pixels in black or white), and…

Kiki is cattily smug when they manage to screw attack someone.

…It’s got a speedrun timer. This is… A mixed sign, I’ve found. And lo and behold, this is borne out. A game you can complete quickly, it nonetheless has some challenges that are both mandatory… And going to annoy the hell out of the player who doesn’t know the tricks. You good at screw attack chaining, m’folk? No? Well… There’s an entire section with that. And a boss fight that seriously outstays its god-damn welcome. Which, funnily enough, is a good segue into some other problems.

Boss cutscenes skippable? No sirree. You screw up that boss, you get to hit Z through the whole damn thing all over again. And it is always Z, because keys are not rebindable. And that boss has a lotta hitpoints for a god-damn mouse in a robot suit.

Without the rapid shots powerup, this one’s as hard on the index finger (or thumb, on controller) as it is on your tolerance.

It’s a shame really, because the designs and aesthetic are a charm, and a fair amount of the actual areas are fairly well designed. The sound is good, even if the music didn’t really grab me. The animations are lovely. But the third encounter with a certain asshole who also has robot suits (plural), in particular, annoys me. Not because it has a bundle of hitpoints, although that helps. Not because it’s easy to assume it’s a screw-attack exam, rather than a dodge exam. No. Because that bundle of hitpoints is best whittled down (at first) with… An item you get, not via the usual method, but technically a “bonus” item from collecting all secret 1-bit palette changes from the first two areas, and knowing where a tight collision hitbox ends. Argh.

Including a Metroid Fusion style “You come here as a cat, no Mech Suit or actual health bar for you, Sonny Jim!

Still, once that hurdle’s over, it’s an okay Metroidvania, taking cheeky nods from the original Metroid and Metroid Fusion, keeping the progression area-linear (Essentially, you go through each area once to complete it, then again to get everything you possibly can find now the area blockages are removed.) The story isn’t bad, but yes, the game has enough annoyances that it took me a frustratingly long time to get to enjoy it.

The Mad Welshman is eternally salty that house rules and budget disallow a cat of his own. He loves them so.

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AMID EVIL (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£23.79 for Warrior Edition, also available in a bundle with DUSK)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Last time I looked at AMID EVIL, I enjoyed it, with some minor qualifications. Alas, one of those minor qualifications still exist (Sorry, AMID EVIL devs, your menu and your UI is not the easiest to read, and the menu is still visually painful), but the other now doesn’t (Soul power is unleashed with Alt-Fire), and so I can honestly say that, menu and UI aside, AMID EVIL is enjoyable. Hard, once it gets going, for reasons I’ll go into, but enjoyable.

This lil’ fella and his friends fire shots that somewhat home in…

So, let’s get the first thing out the way quite quickly: AMID EVIL, like its 90s and early 00s inspirations (Specifically, games like the Heretic/Hexen series), can get pretty twitchy, real fast. None of the enemies, individually, are that smart, are pattern based, and can be dealt with by virtue of being faster than them and hitting them really hard with whatever flavour of magic beatdown you happen to be using at that time (And there are several, each with nice, meaty effects to sink your teeth into, especially with Soul Mode unleashed.) But, from early on, there’s never just one, but a small army. Killing that small army is, to be fair, a cathartic as hell experience. But I often find myself coming out of fights with my HP barely inside the double digits, hunting for health pickups, a lot.

…And when there’s a lot of them… Ohhh boy, you’re in trouble!

So, essentially, it gets twitchy pretty fast, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to newcomers to first person shooters. But, y’know what? That’s alright. It is what it is, and what it is is a spectacle of gibs (some of which are, themselves, mini enemies later on), sound and fury, but, unlike the shakespeare monologue, it signifies one step closer to an interesting boss, a new locale, and new, more interesting enemies to defeat. Considering the game has seven episodes, each with their own flavour, there’s essentially a lot to play here.

An example of a beautiful environment. Shamelessly cribbed from my last review.

Okay, so… Apart from the menus, the lack of a map of some description can sometimes hurt it. Like DUSK, the game is very fond of trap labyrinths, secrets, and monster closets. Overall, though, while it doesn’t like to move beyond its very Quake 2 comfort zone, it aesthetically pleases, with good music, good weapon effects, and interesting low-poly visuals… Oh, and being fast as heck. As mentioned, not really for players new to FPS, but definitely a cool one to give a go.

The Mad Welshman would, honestly, root for the eyeball things if they’d let him. But they don’t.

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