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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Lethal League Blaze (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lethal League Blaze is a game that, in many senses, takes a little bit to get going, but once it does, it lives up well to its name. And, even for a critic who doesn’t do well at fighting games, this one… This one tickles my fancy. And it’s all to do with how it revolves around a ball.

Lethal League Blaze is, essentially, combat ping-pong in a rectangular arena, in which the characters use directional movement, a double jump, and two keys (one for grabbing, one for thwacking), in order to punt, bunt, or smash a ball into their opponents with as much velocity as they can muster, fully aware at all times that a return at any point from the mid-stage could mean a loss…

Screenshots, alas, can barely cover what happens when it gets *really* fast. But this is a close example.

…After all, the more the ball gets bounced around, the faster it’s going. And the faster it’s going, well… The more it’s going to hurt when you fail to bat it or catch it, and it hits you in the [insert sensitive part of your anatomy here]. Now add in the possibility of special items, like a remote controlled ball, an invisible ball, and the like, and you have quite the explosive mix.

And yet, it continues to add flavour to this already heady mix. How about some tunes by Frank Klepacki, or Hideki Naganuma, of Jet Set Radio fame? How about a colourful character roster in a world of robots “not programmed to lose”, skaters, over the top Falcon Cops, and, as a final boss character, a murderous boom-box that quotes Sinistar, called, obviously, Doombox?

Multiple game modes, unlockable as you go? An arcade mode? A campaign? All in addition to the main core, which is multiplayer ball smacking action? Yeah, this all works. This brings those funky beats, whether that’s musical beats… Or the beatdown of watching a quick return make your opponent lose their last life.

As things heat up, so, too, does the background. Amusingly, the cops will just rush back once the fun’s over.

It’s also moderately accessible, for a fighting game. In its previous installment, one hit, regardless of speed, led to a loss of life, and you only had one. Here, folks in the early game can try things, work out what’s going on, get used to a character’s special, before it speeds up, because low speed hits don’t even deplete a single life-bar. All told, it’s fun stuff… But are there problems?

Sure, there are problems. But forgivable ones. For example, it must be said that the early parts of Campaign and Arcade modes are not great, because the AI isn’t bringing their A game. It’s understandable, but at the same time, watching an AI flail around, and getting a win where they don’t even hit the ball unless they need to isn’t great, and it leads to a false sense of security. A sense of security that, in arcade mode for me, lasted right up until about three fights before the end, and wasn’t shattered until I fought… DOOMBOX. Even if multiplayer is the focus (and it is), it wouldn’t hurt to tune the mid-game challenge up a little bit.

Otherwise, I like Lethal League Blaze. Its simple concept nonetheless allows for some tactics. Bunting the ball, then hitting it will drastically speed it up, and, at high speeds, the game gets chaotic, for example. Or the fact that the grab is a quick counter that, timed well when someone’s just finished charging up the ball, will knock the presumptuous player off their perch unless they, also, have a perfectly timed grab waiting. Its aesthetic is colourful, its unlockables are reasonable…

I LIVE… AGAIN. RUN, COWARD, RUN, RUN!

Yeah, I’m down for a Lethal League Blaze.

Perhaps the most painful part, for the Mad Welshman, was avoiding all the ball jokes. Aaaaaalll the ball jokes…

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is a narrative, procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, set in, unsurprisingly, the Cthulhu Mythos of the titular author. I want to be somewhat clear that this is something that could work, because, unfortunately… It doesn’t, in this case. And it doesn’t for a variety of reasons. I want to be clear here because, in a very real sense, the game isn’t.

Somewhere, in this room, is probably a clown. They love the dark, y’see. Can’t see ’em in the dark…

It certainly tries, with helpful prompts in its inventory screen, context sensitive ones for the various locks in the game. It even very briefly sets out the understandable control scheme. And then, for want of a lesser term, it goes tits up from the word go, in several senses. And, funnily enough, a lot of those problems manifest in that very first level, colouring the rest of the experience.

And the main problem? That the first chapter has more. More visual effects (Oooh, it is so dark, except where it, uncommonly, isn’t) , more powerful enemies (I died more on the very first level than any other combined), and more lore jammed into it, to the point where it makes later stages feel comparatively bland.

Unfortunately, more, in this case, is actually less. This first, lore choked level is also pointlessly dark, so it’s harder to read, and you’ll need to read the room well, because health kits aren’t exactly common, and the two varieties of shop even less so (To the point where, many attempts in, I’ve encountered the Info shop precisely once, and the shop that, presumably, takes the dollars I’ve also been collecting, only when I went back to test some things just prior to the review. Neither shop’s contents impressed me.) Add in that health can vanish in a couple of seconds if you’re not careful, and that the majority of enemies outrange you (Including the extremely deadly and impractical Cultist Turret), and you already have a punishing first stage.

Now add spikes that can only be dodge rolled. Now make some of those spike rooms puzzle rooms. Make some of the flavour events not flavour at all, but sanity loss, damage, and other roguelike bullshittery, with a hefty dose of keys hidden in a large map, two of which you need to progress to the boss, who is…

Pictured: Mmm, chaser AI, melee… KITES OF DEATH, ACTIVATED.

…An extremely underwhelming melee chaser.

Now, the rest of the levels I’ve encountered so far? Erratic, both in terms of content and balance. Interestingly, it seems like ranged enemies are the biggest offenders here, as, until you get a weapon with a better range (Which, currently, doesn’t seem to happen with Professor Doctor Clawstone, the second character of the game), the more bullet spongey shooters will most likely be your biggest source of character death… Despite the fact that the AI of everything that isn’t a chaser or a turret (both of which unerringly track you until dead) is “Run around like a headless chicken, occasionally shoot in the direction of the character, whether in range or not.”

The cult of the first area gives way to the Mi-Go and zombies of the second, and the zombies with a small side order of necromancers to… Look, past the first area, this game seems to have a very high zombie to lovecraftian creation ratio. And that isn’t exactly promising, considering the zombies of both the second and third levels have a threat level of “Perhaps if you’re not paying attention, something bad will happen.”

Perhaps things will change. Perhaps it will become more enjoyable, and the game, later on, won’t frontload both its difficulty and its content (I got all four of the currently available Detective Weapons by the end of the second level, and, similar, Professor Doctor Clawstone, who currently gets… Nothing beyond his base items, either in terms of interaction or kit.) Perhaps it’ll tie its world together better than “Here are a bunch of Lovecraft references, and he’s the shopkeep too, oh golly gee!” But right now, I find myself distinctly unimpressed with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories.

So, as it turns out, the liquid of the powder, while also atomised and sprayed, has the opposite effect to the original powder. Makes perfect sense, gotcha.

The Mad Welshman, similarly, is unimpressed with old Howard being the shopkeeper. His stock is disappointing too.

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