Rogue Empire (Review)

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

Rogue Empire tries. Really it does. I like its talent system, despite the fact it doesn’t… Really lay any groundwork for its fancier text. I like the between game incremental upgrades, slow as they are to establish. +1 STR doesn’t seem like a lot, until you’ve played a Roguelike. But Rogue Empire definitely has its problems, and it is definitely mainly for the traditional Roguelike crowd.

And so begins our quest…

That isn’t a bad thing, as the idea’s then easy to explain: Land of many races, most of which have history, big bad goes down, hero gets the call (A nice touch, each race gets their own introduction), you move with the numpad (Although, in a fair accessibility move, controls can be remapped), walk into things to hit them, pick things up to equip and hit with, most scrolls and spells are pre-identified… There is something a little comforting about how, once you’ve gotten the hang of one Roguelike, there’s that much less getting the hang of to deal with when you move to others.

Monsters slowly spawn in each area, so you’re rarely lacking for something to wallop.

On the other hand… A lot of Rogue Empire, even after release, feels placeholder. Sound effects aren’t balanced with each other, and some are clearly from other sources (such as the Chrysalid-like sound of the Panther death.) Talking to someone is as simple as walking into them, but the text of nearby folks rapidly obscures and confuses previous text (Unless you have the log open, in which case you’re relying on the log.) Forests and dungeons kind of blur into one another, and auto-exploration tends to get hung up on Items of Interest.

This… Is not a great implementation.

Rogue Empire is workmanlike in its implementation, and, while I’ve somewhat moved past that, I could see how fans of traditional roguelikes may well enjoy this.

The Mad Welshman gives a firm “Alright.”

Become a Patron!

Heartbeat (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£14.92 for game + soundtrack, £5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaaaart beat.. Why do I miss… Oh, wait, no, this is not, in fact, the TV show starring Nick Berry, but an RPG Maker game inspired by monster capturing games (Although to pick just one it’s inspired by would perhaps be a disservice.) A game that, while definitely interesting, is… Not without flaw right now. So… Let’s get this out the way right now.

BOULDERS. WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE BOULDERS?

If you are not fond of puzzle elements, especially, for example, block pushing puzzles, Heartbeat will probably turn you off within the first hour. It’s stylistically very fitting to its inspirations, it tries to do interesting things with its narrative of a world that lives with spirits (Mogwai.) It has a good soundtrack. Its combat is relatively quick and pleasant, and, while this isn’t something that would interest folks other than gamedev enthusiasts, I appreciate how the RPGMaker MV engine has been tweaked to good effect. It’s even pretty accessible.

But I freely admit I’ve found myself struggling to get very far, because of that combination of my own desire for completionism (CHESTS CHESTS CHESTS), and because the game frontloads about nine or ten block pushing/ball rolling puzzles in its first major segment, the Sol Tunnels. And, honestly, this is a bit of a shame for me, both in the sense of being a little ashamed, and feeling sad that this is so, because some of the puzzle elements are, in fact, quite cool.

Ahahaha. Oh, you sweet summer child…

With a tap of the Q key, you can select which party member leads, and each one has something that helps explore the world. Rex, for example, is a lightning cat Mogwai who can jump small gaps and fences. Klein, the protagonist’s primary companion as a Conjurer (Someone who makes pacts to share their souls with Mogwai, as diplomats and defenders of the uneasy truce), is small enough that he can fit through catflaps, and, being a Cait Sith, can talk to cats. The dialogue is a little cheesy in places, but it’s characters definitely have their charm, and it hits that right note between SatAm Pokemon, and a more serious monster training world.

Rex… So good, but they really need to stop rubbing their fur all over my nylon carpet…

Sometimes, alas, while you can see the charm about a game, something turns you off, and, in my case, it’s the front-loading of a puzzle type I have never been fond of. I would still say that monster hunting and JRPG fans check this out, because it does do interesting things, playing with the formula, but… It is, unfortunately, not really for me.

It happens sometimes. Still, I can appreciate the art. <3

Become a Patron!

Mutant: Year Zero (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99 (£47.99 for Deluxe Edition, £18.99 for Deluxe Content DLC if you already have the base game)
Where To Get It: Steam

A good post-apocalypse is equal parts absurd and terrifying. Myths arise from casual misinterpretations, nomenclature is taken more seriously than perhaps it should, and yet, this is because death waits around every corner, just itching for the unwary. Why, then, would you not be afraid of something called a “Boom Box” with a red button on it?

“What are ya, survival-inept? DON’T TOUCH THE RED BUTTON!”

And that, apart from maybe a tale of tactical combat gone horribly wrong, is perhaps the best introduction to Mutant: Year Zero, a tactical RPG that moves relatively seamlessly between realtime isometric exploration, and turn-based tactical combat. A game where myths of survivors, that Safe Haven, put an already established community in danger. Perhaps more than even it’s aware of.

Mutant: Year Zero is also an interesting game, because, underneath all the glitter, there’s… Not actually a huge amount, mechanically speaking. There are relatively static shops at the Ark, your homebase. The turn based tactical combat is easy to get your head round if you’ve played anything with turn-based tactical combat… Two actions a turn, shooting ends your turn (generally), special abilities have kill based cooldowns, and ensuring enemies die quickly, and in a good order is the key to victory. A lot of it is writing, and mood, and aesthetic, all of which it pulls off… Quite well.

Reality: Probably were out for Brewskis when the crap hit the fan. What we see? People who couldn’t hack it in this dangerous world.

For example, the map and loading music reminds me very much of the iconic theme to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and, for those who haven’t seen that movie, its understated bass line, simple and rhythmic, has associations. Of death, of horror, of tension and mistrust. And it mostly plays that tense theming throughout, to good effect. Similarly, the two main characters, while ridiculous if you sum them up by their base concepts (A warthog and a duck. They stalk the Zone for the good of The Ark), are grounded, played straight to good effect. They sound like they’ve lived their concepts, and that suspends disbelief enough that you care about these two irascible, but otherwise alright folks. The world has enough to make it feel alien, while the familiar is seen through both our own eyes (Awwh heck, those poor folks, dying while camping), and the funhouse mirror of how the world sees them (Not understanding it wasn’t as threatening back then, the campers are derided for camping in a now-dangerous area.)

While relatively short, the game packs tightly, and if I had one critique, it’s that the relatively small seeming improvements can give an unwarranted sense of complacency. I hadn’t even realised I was halfway to a sensible level for taking on the next leg of my main quest at one point, and, at another very soon after, cursed that I hadn’t gone back to the ark to get those seemingly unimportant single damage points. Those seemingly unimportant single damage point armours. Just one extra heal. Those single points don’t seem to matter, but, as it turns out, they’re the difference between a stealthy kill of an outlier… And an extended firefight in which everyone dies. It’s a finely tuned game, but this also means that yes, those upgrades are important, although there’s obviously a little leeway.

Scoping out the area before you go hot is a good idea. I thought I was being smart, starting with a grenade. See that little arrow to the left? That’s the medbot who screwed it all up.

Finally, there’s splitting up. Mutant: Year Zero emphasises stealth, the picking off of outliers, because you’re always outgunned in some fashion in a straight up fight, and it’s an interesting risk-reward calculation to leave someone in a better position, micromanage outside of the enemy’s view, so you can ensure the best outcome.

So, an interesting world, seen through a funhouse mirror of post-apocalypse confusion. Solid writing, good music, a good aesthetic… And doing interesting things with genre mixing and the rote formulae we know and “love.” It’s tough, but it’s also fair tough, tutorialises well, and I’ve been having an enjoyable time, in the “Tense gripping of mouse and very quiet swear words when things go wrong and I know it’s my fault” sense. Well worth a look.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a top-hatted Corgi if he was a post-apocalyptic mutant. Cliched… But also CLASSY.

Become a Patron!

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.

Become a Patron!

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.

Become a Patron!