Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £22.49 (£7.49 for soundtrack, game available as part of Steamworld bundle)
Where To Get It: Steam

I knew I’d done the wrong thing when the lovely mage Copernica fell. I won the boss battle, somehow, but I knew… I’d done the wrong thing. And the fact that I very quickly caught on exactly what I’d done wrong… Says nice things about Steamworld Quest, the latest in the growing Steamworld franchise, and this time… It’s a turn-based, card battling RPG with some real time elements.

A pair of robot ladies, strolling through the woods to kick ass and take shrooms.

The general idea is this: Some unlikely heroes (More setting wise than anything else, because they very quickly become quite badass) have, after a short adventure picking mushrooms (Which, yes, results in a boss battle, because it turns out a large mushroom doesn’t appreciate this), they return to town to find it on fire, with the heroes kidnapped by an evil army, of the kind that hasn’t been seen in the land for a long time. And then things get interesting.

So, there’s a fair amount to like about Steamworld Dig, starting with its somewhat unique approach to the card-based combat system of the type we’ve seen often lately. For a start, each character has their own deck, but all of these are shuffled into a single deck, from which you get 6 cards. You can play 3 cards a turn, but it’s heavily to your advantage if you play all three cards from the same character. Okay, that’s one interesting thing, but the other is where I made my mistake. You see, each character’s deck is limited (8 cards at the beginning), which come in two forms: Those that build power… And those that use power. Guess which fule put too many of the latter in their deck before Chapter 2’s boss fight? This fule.

“Omae wa mou shindeiru…”

Aesthetically, the game works pretty well: Smooth paperdoll animations for the characters, clear and friendly UX, good and fitting music, and some solid sounds and splashes make up for the fact that the attacks, being of the JRPG style, don’t always connect with as much impact as I’d like.

And then, of course, there’s the humour. The Steamworld games, even when they get dark, have a sense of playfulness about them, and Quest is no exception. In Chapter 3, in particular, we get the distinct impression that the Adventurer’s Guild had been living on easy street up until now (They have their own golf course, the bougie gits), and that the large world… Well, it carries on, even with an evil army on the march… Look for the two robots playing chess in the background. A subtle touch, but an amusing one.

One or both of these frontline mages can completely heal from this single attack. Good thing I’m chaining…

I do have one criticism of the game, but it’s an odd one, because it does tutorialise well: If you do not engage with its core systems (such as, for example, using the redraws you have to maybe make that “Three from the same character” chain), you’re going to have a much harder time. Even early Void Mages can heal each other, or themselves, for definitely more damage per turn than Copernica’s basic attacks, and a little less than what Galeo (the punchy healer) can put out with his… And since they rarely turn up alone, it can make a fight really drag on. Which, considering that the longer a fight drags on, the more you get hurt, and that healing items are not the most plentiful?

Well, please listen to the tutorials. Overall, though, I appreciate Steamworld Quest going for tight play, focusing on managing a small deck with more potential tools as you go on, and even something of an ambush system (Okay, second crit: Since ambushing an enemy means clicking directly on them when you’re close enough, it’s a hassle to get ambushes, and those are that little extra edge that can help a fight a fair bit.) It has style, it has humour, and, as always, I do like a good experiment. Especially when, as with Steamworld Quest, it seems to work.

The Mad Welshman has yet to meet a robot he hasn’t liked. Admittedly, some have been murderous mixes of skeletons, T-Rexes, and lawnmowers, but they were his kind of skeletal murderous lawnmower t-rex robots.

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Team Sonic Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Obligatory “Oh look, it has Denuvo” warning.

Ah, doesn’t Team Sonic Racing look pretty? Aren’t its tracks interesting, and its soundtrack gorgeous butt rock of the type we’ve come to love and expect? Solid voice acting, and a typically Sonic story with fourth wall breaking and silliness? Golly gee, this would normally make for a very positive review, wouldn’t it?

Exceeept… Team Sonic Racing, to me, feels like a case of “You had one job.” Because the racing… Is somewhat painful.

Oh dear. Knuckles got hit by something. Not my fault!

Not the team aspect. That was actually quite interesting and cool. After all, encouraging co-operation in a team racer is a good thing, and this, it does quite well, by giving benefits to those who slipstream each other, give each other little nudges forward, weapon boxes when they ask for them (The person heavily in first place rarely needs them, after all), and even for agreeing to use Team Ultimate at the same time. That is legitmately cool, so props where props are due.

No. It’s the rest of it. Let’s start with this whole drifting thing. If your drifting is painful, on both mouse and keyboard (and it was for me), then maybe, just maybe, it’s not a good idea to so heavily emphasise it. Or make it the star ability behind both the “collect things” challenge types that exist. Overall steering is, honestly, not terrible (not great, but not terrible), but, since the track design also has things for which a simple turn doesn’t suffice, er… That drifting is required. The same drifting that so badly gelled with me. Joy. It doesn’t help that the drift boost is… Disappointing, compared to the headliner team mechanics.

Attempted, a light drift: What I get… OH GOD WALL WHY.

And then… Customisation. Normally, I am a beast for customisation in racing games. I love me new parts. But when firstly, said customisation is based on gacha (That’s random drops, ala lootboxes), and there are a total of three parts of Speed, Technique, and Power type, along with gold versions of the exact same powerups… Well, that’s somewhat dull, especially as their boosts and maluses are… Middling, at best, not significantly changing play.

As noted, on an aesthetic level, it works just fine. Most things are clear (The only thing I didn’t find too clear was the quicksand v track segment of one track, but overall, it’s bright, with solid readability and good value shifts for clarity), the designs work well, and the music and VO are good, solid stuff. But this is, unfortunately, an at best passable racing game. At worst, its drift’n’collect stages are frustrating, and the online play… Well, it isn’t great. The ending animations become unskippable (and they are slow), reports come in of matchmaking problems…

AEAB. That’s all I have to say.

…Overall, TMW has definitely seen better kart racing. TMW has definitely seen better racing games overall. And this is a shame, because an otherwise glittering core element, and an otherwise shiny exterior sandwiches… Well, blandness and some irritation.

It is The Mad Welshman’s sad duty is to inform you that no, you do not, in fact, go that fast here.

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Review)

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

Even grudgingly admitting that Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has improved in some aspects, this is one that remains poorly paced, difficulty spikey, and… Well, not drawing me into its world, because its world isn’t all that interesting in the first place.

Game number 1: From this screenshot, try to guess where, offscreen, the necromancer who keeps summoning these zombies has run to.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. A Lovecraftian twin-stick shooter with RPG elements (keys, inventory, special items, events, and, at least once a level, puzzles), Lovecraft’s Untold Stories starts you as a private dick who has been called upon by Raymond Legrasse (The inspector who formed a cameo in The Call of Cthulhu, the “iconic” Lovecraft tale.) From there, things rapidly get weird, from Lovecraft and the King In Yellow as shopkeepers, to a Yithian sanctum as your home base…

…Honestly, I can’t really carry on with that sentence without getting into why it feels wrong to say all that. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is Lovecraftian in the same way that Ready Player One is Cyberpunk, or an Olde English Bar in America is, in fact, Olde English. Oh, it’s got surface elements, to be sure. Star Spawn and Mi-Go and what I’d finally worked out were meant to maybe be Colours from Space. But they fill much the same space as zombies and cultists with machine-guns: As things you shoot to leave the room. Similarly, books are not gateways to knowledge that man was not meant to wot, but one of the two forms of currency in the game (The other being money, most often obtained by collecting treasure.) Elements of horror fiction, distilled into enemies and powerups. Ye Olde English Yawn.

This… Is about as interesting as that gets.

“But come now, that’s not terribly fair. What about that old chestnut about going mad from said knowledge?” Ah, yes. The thing with little to no seeming effect on play beyond being a second, less readable health bar that partly obscures the actual health bar. If lots of purple gunk over the top left, maybe eat a bar of chocolate or three, and avoid pretty much any interactable event you don’t know the “safe” interaction with (At the cost of not finding secrets and earning less Information currency.) Bam, the unknowable has become the known.

“Okay, okay, so it’s not very Lovecraftian. What about the twin-stick elements?” Well, those have slightly improved, in that now you have mouse-aim. The first area has also become less of a pain in the ass, with seemingly none of those murderous (and inexplicable) cultist gun turrets to be seen, only cultists and gribbleys. This, of course, is assuming you’re playing as the Investigator, as there are other unlockable characters, unlocked by reaching the right area, and solving a certain puzzle.

Each one has their own starting area, and their defensive abilities take different forms. The investigator has a dodge roll and explosives. Whoop. The scientist has a high-explosive shot that is as likely to impact something you weren’t sure was an obstacle (or a rushing enemy) and kill you as not, and a defensive shield. I haven’t unlocked the rest because… Well, when a game feels more like a battle of attrition than a tense conflict in which worlds are at stake, and madness lurks around every corner, you know something’s gone wrong.

Game number 2: Spot the arbitrary spikes. Before you run into them, and inflict a long bleed status and damage.

Is it the darkness hiding increasingly arbitrary damage/status traps? Is it Chapter 3’s obsession with “Hunt the guy running away, otherwise you’ll never clear the room”? Is it that the puzzles either feel like arbitrary key/item hunts or things that don’t make sense even in the context? Yes, yes, yes, it’s all of these things, plus the endless… Interminable “spooky” rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” No, really, it’s main motif is the three keys of a children’s song.

It isn’t the only music in the game, and the intro narration is very nice, as is the pixel art. But the pixel-art is often obscured by darkness, and stylistic goodness is more than counterbalanced by what a tedious slog this feels.

The Mad Welshman has seen many things. Perhaps too many. Over many games, the monicker has become more and more accurate. IA! IA! D’Signu B’et’a!

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Endhall (Review)

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

Robots just seem to get the short end of the stick sometimes. Here,in the Endhall, we’re faced with a robot that is tempted, oh so tempted, by all the sights it’s been shown, but noooo, to see those sights, they have to fight their way through a crumbling hall of murder robots, mines, and turrets, with limited resources. Killing regains battery power, which double as health and turn-timer, and, after each successful area, you get to pick an ability to add to your deck, while never improving in base statistics.

Looking relatively grim, as if any but the top guy get to me, I’m almost dead. Luckily, I have FIRE.

And that, essentially, is everything mechanical about the game except for spoilers, that there’s ten levels in each run, and your starting moves, which are always the same. So… It’s minimalist turn-based strategy. Cool!

Aesthetically it looks alright, the music’s fine, what writing there is clearly lays out its short narrative… No move feels completely useless (Although some, such as Small Move, are more situational than most), and I never felt, when beginning a level, that it was impossible to complete, usually spotting where I’d screwed up a couple of turns before my demise.

Landmines… Free, take 1 damage to deal 2 damage before something can reach you. If you’ve judged their pathing right.

Beyond that, it’s small, it’s tight, it does what it says on the tin, and what’s left are gripes. Namely that the tooltips for the enemy health aren’t always that readable (dark red… Argh), and that time-bombs counting as enemies is frustrating in layouts where they aren’t useful as environmental damage. Worth a look if you like minimalist pixel strategy titles.

Due to the fact individual runs are short, The Mad Welshman is amused to note that a third of his screenshots taken are, technically, SPOILERS.

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Speed Brawl (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

While I’m not much of a fighting game man, I love me some beat-em-up action. There’s something cathartic about beating the living daylights out of goons, beasts, and monsters, all of whom want yo- wait, speedrunning too?

Each tournament of the game is clearly mapped out, and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re meant to do.

Yes, this is Speed Brawl, a side-scrolling arena beat-em-up where the main concept is “Gotta punch fast.”, as you’re rated more by how quickly you get through its fighting shenanigans, or how quickly you hit targets, than how much health you have at the end of it, or how many sausages you picked up from trashcans along the way. And, as with any speedrunning games, there are tricks, little things to give you an edge.

Still, even without those, it’s mostly a fun as heck game about alternate-universe victorian characters (mostly, in the early game, some rad ladies) beating the hell out of mooks and bugs (big or otherwise.) And boy, do I love two of these characters in particular: Cassie and Bia.

Each character, along with equipment to buff them, and colour schemes (both won via playing the game), has a different feel to them, and Cassie and Bia are perfect examples of this. Cassie is a short french pixie-urchin with a cricket bat, and while she’s quick, she’s not the most damaging character, and is slightly more fragile than most. She also has a fast special, and her ultimate move (gained the same way you gain Special meter stamina: By beating things up) is nigh uncontrollable, but a glory off destruction if you can get her to spin around the stage just so. Meanwhile, Bia is big, butch, and her attacks work best at a somewhat specific range (the end of her fists, obviously.) She’s nowhere near as fast, but her specials and ultimate are tight, horizontal, and repeated haymakers, which do a lot of damage. Put the two together, since each level of Speed Brawl is played with two characters per player (and switching out gives a small speed boost), and an orgy of carnage results.

Like I said, when Cassie’s special can be aimed, it’s a gooood time!

It’s good, fun stuff, and it helps that everyone levels up once enough XP is gained, because for certain levels, folks like Cassie are, hands down, the best, while for others, you want something different. It works well aesthetically, the music is pumping and joyous, and, while the controls and later enemies (who have defences, or teleports, or ranged attacks) take getting used to, it’s definitely fun.

If I had any real crits for Speed Brawl, it’s that some enemies just feel more annoying to deal with (The large Rippers who are invincible from the front, for example), and that items don’t always feel like they do much, even though they are definitely increasing damage, and adding status effects. Part of this is that it’s chaotic as heck, and it can sometimes be hard to read what’s going on outside of your immediate circle of “Thing I’m pummelling right this second”, and this gets moreso with two players.

Then again, it also goes more quickly and is fun as heck with two players, so… Tradeoff? Either way, I like how Speed Brawl messes with the 2d beat-em-up formula, and, while it has a number of buttons, it’s still fairly easy to get back into.

It should also be noted that the animations have a good sense of impact. Or… Multiple impact, in this case…

The Mad Welshman loves Alternate Victorian times, because they really appreciated the value of a good top-hat and moustache. And yes, that is shallow.

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