Sigma Theory (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£22.68 game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

International espionage is, at the best of times, a tough job. It involves not only observation, but paperwork, diplomacy, bribery, compromising assets… It’s a multifaceted operation. And lots of things can get in your way, from local law enforcement, to other agents, encryptions… Even just plain bad luck.

Or being a berk, as I describe later in the review…

And, in Sigma Theory, you’re doing this in service to perhaps the last big arms race of all… The race to a Paradigm Shift, where new technologies change the very nature of the world, people, cultures, infrastructure… Even hearts, minds, and bodies. It’s an arms race which could very well result in the world melting down, culturally for sure, possible literally. No pressure, though.

The general idea is, in its basics, very simple: Keep relatively good relations with your own country and others… While researching technologies, and stealing the scientists of others to help achieve your own goals. Turn based, you have a lot of time to think about your moves… But something will throw a wrench in your plans, because every technology gained changes the game somewhat. One will make the agents of a country incorruptible. Another makes the scientists of other countries more corruptible. One slows research of every other country. One allows two of your agents to get an upgrade in their intelligence. And there is no way in hell you’re going to get that. So, that’s the main idea… Send your agents to other countries, find scientists, compromise them, steal them, research technologies, and try not to let the same happen to you.

A bad day just got a hell of a lot worse…

Of course… Like I said, things get complicated, because there are private groups who want to fuck things up too, and, while your goals may well align with theirs (Taking down capitalism? Sign me the fuck up!), they will scew you over if you don’t. And exfiltrating scientists and other figures is its own, turn based fun time, set in a city route spattered liberally with cops and events that may raise the alertness level, lower it, slow you down, speed you up… Screw it up, and you not only lose the agent, you lose reputation with both their country and yours… And you need that high rep with yours to keep your surveillance and combat drones to help you, and get new benefits, like being able to replace the agents you lost. You’ll also lose rep if you go loud, but sometimes you need to go loud.

And agents… Agents have preferences. In the most recent game, Russia was already well on its way to dominance, and America was falling behind. But I forgot that Mystery, the hacker I’d recruited, and who was exfiltrating a scientist, was a pacifist. With fleeing or stunning highly dangerous options, I ordered her to open fire… And she surrendered, immediately. Well, damn. Read your dossiers, Jamie, read your dossiers! (Especially since recruiting agents you haven’t recruited before requires it, to recruit them in the first place.)

Thinks about resisting a terrible joke… Nahhh… There is no ethical marriage under Capitalism!

Aesthetically, the whole is very pleasing. A simple, clear, but fitting UI, music that adds to that tense feeling that pervades the game’s mechanics, good character portraits, and the cityscape is also pretty clear. With a surveillance drone, you know how hard it’s going to be to get out, but without, the route is clear… But cops fade into view.

The game is very difficult, and, at times, distinctly unfair… But I still enjoyed myself, and continue to do so, because thematically? It works. It’s a dangerous situation in which one misstep can cascade into the Doomsday Clock running down, or the world dominance (quite literally) of another global power, or a private corporation. So if the fact that it’s difficult doesn’t turn you off, I would definitely recommend it for what it is… An engaging turn based game, set in perhaps the biggest cold war I’ve seen in a setting. A cold war for how humanity itself is directed.

Being a spy agency is hard. I wonder how super agents would do with Disciples 1?

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Spring Falls (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19 (£7.87 for game + soundtrack, £2.89 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

There’s little I love more than a relaxing puzzle game, with chill music, that makes itself clear from the get-go. And then adds things that you can’t help but experiment with. I also quite like beautiful flowers and grassy landscapes (And, indeed, I pay the price for that pretty much every summer. Hey ho…)

Will this… Will this work? I’m not sure. It looks dicey.

So Spring Falls, a game about, essentially, trying to make water fall in such a way that the grass grows in a line around your water… That leads to one or more flowers. Of course, the falls part becomes obvious pretty early on… You have limited space to work with, and, being on a cliffside, if the water falls off the edges, or falls lower than it needs to to water a plant… Well, might as well restart. And, for the most part, you can only pull hexes (for lo, tiles are hexagonal) down. Well, mostly…

A nice, simple premise, no? It adds things later on, but let’s take a break from that, and talk about the game’s aesthetics. It’s pretty, a minimalist kind of pretty that’s also clear, and the music is so very relaxing… Sound wise, there’s not a lot, some stings, flowing water sounds, and pops… But there doesn’t need to be a lot, because what sounds there are are both clear and pleasant. Indeed, the puzzles use some pretty restricted space, in order to get you to focus on a relatively small number of moves. Hrm, this cracked clay sort of block, what does it… Oh! It rises when it’s watered! And, from then on, bam, you know what it does, and can immediately identify it.

So pretty… <3

And the game tutorialises pretty damn well. At first, the clay block rising was a good thing. But then it got in the way, and I could see no way around it to the flower, except… AHA… It can be dragged down not only one level, but to its original height!

Beyond this, and a problem I seem to be seeing a lot this month (That the volume can’t be manually adjusted in game, only the sound turned on and off), there really isn’t a whole lot to say about Spring Falls, precisely because it’s a tight puzzle game where the objective becomes clear from the get go, so all you have to do… Is relax… And think. You’ve got all the time in the world. Drink it in, like a flower.

The Mad Welshman, even with his hayfever, appreciates flowers. So many lovely sights and (ACHOO! …sniff) smells

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DemonCrawl (Review)

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

Minesweeper. A logic game as old as Windows… Well, older than Windows, actually, but it was popularised (sort of) by its inclusion in Windows 3.1, right up until the present day. And the formula hasn’t changed. Like, at all. Click a square. Is it a bomb? No. Is it an empty space with empty spaces around it? Those empty spaces will auto clear, until, at the edges, there are The Numbers. The numbers that tell you how many Mines are adjacent. And from those, you have to deduce… Where the bombs are. Hit a bomb, welp, you die.

[Screams In Minesweeper]

Why am I explaining this, a thing known to many a person who just… Has a PC? Well, Demoncrawl is Minesweeper… But it’s also a roguelite, a game with progression once you lose, shops, items… And Hit Points. That’s right, you can fuck up more than once. Well, in Quest Mode. So long as the monsters (your new Mines) aren’t strong, and roll high on their damage, one shotting you. Or you’re sucking wind on hitpoints, in which case, welcome to Classic Mode in Quest Mode, sucker! But it’s okay, you can get magic items, and buy them, and there are strangers, people who’ll help you, and…

Look, it adds stuff to the Minesweeper formula, and it makes it still tough, and indeed some items (Omens) and status effects in dungeons make it tougher, but it also makes things more interesting. In a good run, I was collecting more gold than I knew what to do with, and when I had trouble, well, I had a magic bow, an explosive boomerang, a summoner of minions who would at least expose monsters, even if they didn’t kill them to make my life that much easier.

Oh… Dear.

On a particularly bad run… Well, let me explain the screenshot above. 3 curses in my inventory. One means there are ten more monsters on the board than normal, and there always will be until I get rid of it. One is “Chance of loot (at all) halved” … And this just after I’d gotten something that tripled my chances of a legendary item. And finally, “Levels always have at least one status, which is random.” And that random status? I lost an item on my first turn, and could have lost more. I was in deep trouble.

Somehow, I managed to solve it, and said “Fuck it!”, took a teleporter to a random level… And promptly died. At least I got a few tokens for buying new legendaries to drop, customisation stuff (mostly minor), and better chances at more tokens so I could buy them quicker. Oh, and a mummy avatar. I now have Resting Mummy Face. In EGA, no less. And all this is without mentioning other fun things in each level, like merchants, a very Audrey like plant that will give you things (in exchange for a lot of items), the Chaos Forge that… Well, adds chaos…

He later killed all of my kind. Just because I’d stepped on him.

To sum up, it’s an interesting take on Minesweeper that makes the game more enjoyable, has a fair amount of replay value and things to find, and I would recommend it for folks looking for a logic puzzly, rogueliteish time. Or one of the two and exploring the other. I’ve definitely enjoyed myself.

I am… Very bad at Minesweeper. It is embarassing.

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Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79 (£7.09 for game and soundtrack, £2.09 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Adventurers are not the smartest of folks. They run heedlessly into dungeons, and then scratch their heads as they’re faced with… A grid? A small economy system? A… Puzzle? BRUNO SMASH. Bruno dead. Whoops, Bruno should have listened to the tutorial of Krumit’s Tale, a fun little puzzle and deckbuilding roguelite in which you try to efficiently clear out a dungeon, with the only major criteria being survival. Of course, if you survive and leave a lot of item tiles on the board, you get more opportunities to beef up your deck. And that’s so very tempting.

All these tiles will be lost… Like tears in the rain. Time to die…

The actual rules of Krumit’s Tale are pretty simple. With an enemy, you attack first, unless they’re ambushing or blitzing you (the lightning symbol.) Killing an enemy nets you 1 gold, and gold is used to buy abilities. I mention this before things like parrying, where if you have more armour the the enemy’s attack? They’re stunned for a turn, which, effectively, counts for either two turns of damage, or the enemy’s death, depending on how much they have left in the (heart) tank, because you don’t start with weapons or armour.

You have to buy them, if you have the option. Once all enemies are dead, you’ve won, and the equipment and ability tiles you have left on the board are counted toward your bonus points. You get a free tile, you pick a special ability out of four, and then you buy tiles and rubbish cards you don’t want anymore until your deck size is the current maximum. Then you do it again. Die? You’ve earned XP, which will, over runs, unlock you new abilities for the character you’ve played.

A dangerous foe indeed!

The devil’s in the details, of course, with each new enemy having something that complicates matters, but the base ideas are tight, simple, and easily understandable. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of. Which is good, I like me some tight design! But what about… Everything else?

Well, it just so happens that I like the aesthetic too. Visually, it’s a cartoonish style, with some interestingly grim elements, and lovely little touches like the M of Krumit’s fluttering above the candle flame of the L, and the animations of each character. Speaking of characters, both of the currently available characters have their own… I won’t quite say “charm” , but character works. Bruno is definitely a barbarian of a man, with a constant, low key gargling of suppressed rage, and similarly, Greybeard the wizard is toothily muttering his incantations. Their designs, and that of the monsters, are pretty cool, and the music? Suitably creepy. Nice!

Yes, this would be an ideal spot. I love sneks!

This, the difficulty curve, the clever little things you can do (If your inventory isn’t used up, it counts toward that tile bonus, friends!), and its sarcastic, sometimes grim humour works well for me. As far as deckbuilder roguelites go, it comes recommended, even in this early stage, showing promise and polish.

The Mad Welshman loves the description of W’aggu. Alas, he didn’t screenshot it. Go play the game.

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The 13th Doll: A 7th Guest Fangame (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, I came into The 13th Doll expecting cheese, evil puzzles, and Stauf being sarcastic, and, beyond some odd design choices, that’s… Exactly what I got. Good job, everybody, let’s pack it up and…

Ah, the puns. I actually missed these.

…Oh, wait, I need to talk about it, don’t I? Well, The 13th Doll, like the 7th Guest, is a first person puzzle adventure with 3d areas and, occasionally, live action on top. It looks relatively natural for such a thing, which is a somewhat difficult thing to pull off. Now, though, they’re using Unity, and so they’re not limited to awkward, individually raytraced movement frames between locations. You just… Move around, your cursor changes when you can change rooms (A skeletal finger beckons), when you can’t just yet (it wags), when you can do a puzzle (A skull with a pulsating brain), and when you can pick up or otherwise interact with something (Chattering teeth or a comedy mask, depending on what it is.)

The other thing here is that there are, in fact, two protagonists: Tad, the boy from the original game, who escaped the mansion after being stuck there as a time looping ghost. And, since this game is set in the 20s or 30s, starts the game placed in a “hospital for the mentally insane” (If anyone knows what physical insanity is, let me know too, I’m curious.) The other is the new psychiatric doctor, Dr. Richmond, who, as exposure therapy, takes Tad back… To the mansion! Legitimately a nice way to have 26 puzzles (13 apiece) in the game, and their stories both intersect at points… And diverge the rest of the time.

Tad has grown, and… Well, I suppose he’s got good reason to be so sulky as an adult.

Tad, quite literally haunted by the spectres of his past, seeks to destroy Stauf once and for all by… Well, he’s told the 13th doll is the key, but, considering it tried to grab his ankles in the intro, I’m not entirely sure this is true. Meanwhile, Dr Richmond’s story… Ohh, it burns my ass to see Stauf engaging in historical revisionism. He’s a brilliant man! A genius! His wife was the serial killer, and she was the one who caused the children to die in the first game through a virus she had! BLECH.

In any case, aesthetically, it works alright, overall… The music is pretty good, sometimes covers of the first game’s soundtrack, others new tracks, and they’re all pretty fitting. The acting, on the other hand… That’s more variable. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting shakespearean ham from anyone but Robert Hirschboeck (who both reprises his role as Henry Stauf, and brings his style, panache, and ham to the role once more) but the protagonists are sometimes a little flat in their speech. Visually, well… It’s not a bad looking rendition of the Stauf Mansion, and I like the new touches on some of the old spookings. It also has a relatively clear UX, although there is the oddity that, to save, you have to go to the main menu. Don’t quite know why that decision was made, but I’ve let you know now.

ARGH. AAAAAARGH.

Still, a game like this wouldn’t be complete without the puzzles, and… Ohhh boy. There is colourblind assistance, but it’s a text overlay, which, in the case of some puzzles early on, makes it a sod to see the puzzle itself. And the puzzles are, for the most part, bastard hard. Case in point, on Doctor Richmond’s path, there is… The clock puzzle. Can you split a clock into four parts, so that each endpoint of your segments adds up to the same number? I’ve been racking my brain over this one for a while, suffice to say. Some are new takes on old puzzles, such as the artery puzzle (Now a sliding block puzzle with a twist: The blocks can fall off the edges, never to be regained.) Oh, and the return of the fucking first person maze. Oh yes, that was indeed a memorable moment in 7th Guest. That was the part most of us said “Nope, fuck this!” and missed out on the endings. Get your graph paper out for that one, friends!

Overall, though, it’s by no means a bad game. The story is ham and cheese, but I went in expecting that, and if you do too, you’ll be alright. The puzzles, the mansion… These are the meat of the game, and, while not all the accessibility options work well (if you have problems, let them know.), it’s worth hitting options before you begin to check them. In any case, the puzzles, while fiendish, are mostly well explained (Although the hints mostly seem to be restatements of the puzzle mechanics, sadly), the callbacks are mostly fun, and, overall… Yep, definitely recommended for 7th Guest fans, moderately recommended for puzzle adventure fans who like hard puzzles. Good Stauf!

Robert Hirschboeck. Playing the Man in the Moon at a theater near you.

The Mad Welshman finds himself… Chilling with this game. That was a graaave mistake… (Ohohoho)

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