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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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.

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Deep Sky Derelicts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

There is something deeply cathartic about smacking things with mechanical rocketfists. It doesn’t matter that it’s turn-based, and that this rocket-fist has been carefully considered after a couple of minutes. It doesn’t even matter that this is presented as the same comic frame for this move, repeated every time I choose it. The power of a good comic frame, really… It entertains even when you’ve seen it multiple times.

This screenshot is not, technically, lying. Sometimes you can get a Double Strike with more than two attacks. Ehehehe.

Similarly, that presentation helps make Deep Sky Derelicts as fun as it is. Which, when you think about it, is quite the achievement, considering it’s effectively a turn-based dungeon crawler where you want pretty numbers to go up. Consider: What I just said, compared to “You are a trio of convicts from diverse backgrounds, in a dystopian future, tasked by the Station Manager to find an ancient mothership by hopping from hulk to hulk, solving problems and being menaced by a variety of deadly aliens, mechanoid horrors, and environmental hazards.”

Makes all the difference. As does one of its little mechanical touches: Energy. Even though it’s rarely truly threatening, thanks to various means of getting it and conserving it that are open to characters, it’s never far from your thoughts, as it goes down with each move, each combat turn, each time you want to see just that little bit further… And if it goes to 0, you all die. Because it’s your suit energy.

As mentioned, though, the energy economy in the game is quite good, so it’s mostly inattention that gets you there. No, where the game gets you is when the enemies decide to take their gloves off. Because when they do, they do it hard. Summons. Armour. Miss chances, misfires, radiation… That last one, especially, is evil, because normally, your shields regenerate, and can easily be replenished, unlike your health, which stays gone, and can only be fixed up back at home base for prices best described as “Exorbitant” (Even in the midgame, when you’re getting a lot of stuff to sell, it can hurt.) Even with a mode where you can freely load from your last save, and death of a party member is reversible, around level 5, it starts getting tough.

This is one of the “nicer” enemy groupings of Level 5. And it was only due to liberal use of stuns on the Alpha Skinks there that I got out of it only needing to leave the station and heal…

Aesthetically, it comes together quite well. Comic book stylings (complete with frames that pop in for your moves) mesh well with a solid UI, marred only by some odd control issues (Sometimes, the mouse fails to register clicks until you move it, once you’ve left an event, for example) , and equally odd choices (Scanning should be default when exploring, but it’s a part of your PDA, and so… Don’t close your PDA out of inventory, save some time and click the “Scanner” button instead.) It has some nice dark tones going on with the music, and the events that are scattered around the various hulks are varied and interesting, such as the morally grey tale of the man who wants to be an AI, or the lighter events where a giant pest can be dealt with… Well, differently to your usual solutions of “Hack it, shoot it, hack it in the swordy type sense.”

As to problems, well, apart from the aforementioned oddities, it should be noted that the game’s fast music somewhat belies its slowish pacing (and loading.) It’s turn based, and, while the hulks do have enemies, events, and later environmental hazards and traps, early on, they feel empty, and later on, you sometimes find yourself wishing they were a little more empty, as the difficulty spikes around the aforementioned level 5 mark. Thankfully, one of my other niggles is somewhat dealt with by mousing over cards (When your hand gets big enough, it’s hard to see the cards), but never entirely goes away. Otherwise, it does something a little different with a formula that’s become all too familiar, and it’s a solidly presented game in an interesting world. Worth a look.

That’s a lot of cards. Thing is, I could have *even more*

The Mad Welshman reminds you that exploring old hulks is dangerous. Old games, less so.

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Frozen Synapse 2 (Review)

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

The original Frozen Synapse, released in 2011, gave me a new appreciation for AI. A few simple roles, a few simple actions, and a constricted battlefield nonetheless gave appreciation for timing, cones of vision, and action priority, because the core conceit of the game, whether against AI or players, is that turns happen simultaneously, and so, you have to not only think what you’re doing, but also what the other person’s doing.

A fine example of understanding timing from this multiplayer match… Nothing I do will save this assault, because the grenade is perfectly timed.

Okay, so you have to do that anyway in games, but seeing it, explicitly playing out on a map, and understanding both your mistakes and those of your opponents makes clear just how big that phase space of actions could get. It was scary, but thankfully, the community was pretty chill.

Now, after that, a similar concept with Frozen Cortex (Only robot sportsball instead of corporate murderclones with guns), and a few years, Frozen Synapse 2 has come to deliver… Well, more of that. And it brings two somewhat different experiences, depending on whether you tackle the City Mode, singleplayer, or Multiplayer. Let’s deal with multiplayer first, because it’s the simpler of the two, in a sense.

Four players, in two teams, given one of several random, single weapon loadouts. While there are other multiplayer modes, the most common is that, as mentioned, turns are simultaneous, and you don’t know what a player’s doing unless the opponent is in your vision arc. A good example from my multiplayer matches (Where I have consistently been defeated so far) was where a grenadier, unbeknownst to me, was right behind my assault that turn, and slipped into a doorway to grenade one of my folks from where I least expected it.

It was a clever play, because even if they had been seen because my Assault (automatic rifle) had seen them, they would still probably have escaped before I could shoot them, due to the fact that Grenadiers always run when they’re not throwing grenades, but Assaults track slowly when they’re moving, and are at their best when they know roughly where to aim. There are inequalities, built into the classes (Knife, Pistol, Assault, Shotgun, Grenadier, Rocketeer, Flamethrower) that add tactical considerations. Grenades take time to throw, and won’t move until they do, but their explosions last longer than a rocket (Not much longer, but enough that I painfully learned that Grenadiers can run into their own grenades, after the explosion started), Rocketeers blow up all the landscape in the rocket’s AoE, which can work against as much as for, and everything takes time.

A lot of this would already be known to Frozen Synapse players, new roles aside, but the addition of focus fire makes for a new priority to memorise, and a new wrinkle.

Moving quickly means it’s harder to hit you, but you can’t fire. Moving normally means you fire, but you have a penalty aiming. Stopping when you see someone means you shoot quickly, but are a sitting duck. But whoever correctly predicts the small, diamond shape location where an enemy is going to be when they fire, they get an accuracy boost. So, for example, somebody covering a door, from a far corner, may well get the drop on somebody who knows damn well the door’s their only exit, but foolishly stands in the doorway.

The story of Frozen Synapse continues, as this city is essentially built on the rubble of the first game’s story mode.

So it’s tactically intricate, simple rules making for an intriguing tactical game where you’re seeking a maximum area of action, while attempting to contract the opponent’s choices. I almost won one match from near death, due to the last person being a grenadier, who can quickly deny large areas without having to destroy their cover. Alas, they had a grenadier too, and, on the 9th turn of 8, it was declared a draw.

City Mode, on the other hand, is more complex. Not only are there the same tactical considerations, there’s management aspects to it too, such as building permits, a mercenary market, diplomacy… And it doesn’t exactly tutorialise well. Case in point: Grenades are great. Grenades are useful. But you can’t use Grenades unless you’ve signed up for Explosive Ordnance Services in the City. Or rockets. And the first I knew of this was when I’d already sent a Grenadier along with my squad to help clear out some Raiders. All the great aesthetics, the huge map, the soulful music that plays, isn’t going to save single player mode from some heavy flak for bad explanation of complex systems… Or, overall, the fact that accessibility options for the small text are currently nonexistent (There was, apparently, a “4K Supporting GUI” patch over the weekend before writing this, but it doesn’t appear to change tiny text, nor is there an option for this.)

Just a minute or so before I make a mistake that dooms a merc, I appreciate… Oh gods, this is a lot of buildings!

Add in some awkwardness in Multiplayer (If you want to add one of your own matches to Favourites by liking it, you have to search for its ID in the Match Play tab, rather than something more intuitive), and all of that interesting stuff I mentioned… Is less accessible to folks.

So, unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it. Its single player is complex without good support, its multiplayer isn’t for everyone no matter how friendly its community is, and, while it does make some steps in terms of colourblind support, that doesn’t change that a lot of its UI text is painfully small. It does expand on what worked well in the main game, and, apart from the knife, which is… Not something useful to a beginner player, those expansions add depth while still being easily explored. The rest? Not so much.

The Mad Welshman would make a poor mercenary leader. I mean, who gives soldiers orders to shoot without ammo?

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Dungeon Girl (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: 
£8.99
Where To Get It: Steam

This review took a while because, at first, it’s somewhat hard to see what the problem is with Dungeon Girl. After all, how complex, or intricate, or messy could a game really be, when its main game loop consists of clicking on groups of same-coloured blocks to remove them, and other blocks fall down?

Looks p. simple, and the main action (clicking on those blocks) *is* . Everything else? Nooooot so much…

As it turns out, a fair bit. So let’s get into Dungeon Girl, in which a dungeon explorer for the Kingdom explores dungeons, albeit not in the fashion many are used to.

Dungeon Girl is, simply put, a block removing turn-based game with RPG mechanics. There are several kinds of blocks, but the most important (and common) are Life (Heals you), Work (Digs out ore), Search (Finds the exit to each floor), and Attack (Does what it says on the tin.) More blocks of the same colour make for a larger effect, and if one or more rows of the grid are filled with a block-type when you remove it, this has another extra effect. 200 dungeon floors, bosses roughly every fifteen floors, stairs roughly every 5 floors, and if you get damaged or your Mind meter goes to 0% , you lose that exploration run.

What’s that? I didn’t mention Mind? Are there Mind Blocks? What are these RPG mechanics? Well, this is where it gets a little complicated. Yes, there are Mind blocks, uncommon as they are. There are also items that heal mind. There’s also quests, and item mixing, and an item encyclopedia, and support members with their abilities and skill grids to put Friend Points in, and… Oh, your eyes are already glazing over. Yes. Mine did too, until suddenly some of these things become important. While others… Don’t. So much. So far. This, readers, is the problem here. It’s a game whose core game loop is simple enough, but everything surrounding it isn’t. And not a whole lot of it feels very useful, whether it is or isn’t. I can, for example, affect the tile drop rate by changing my Adventurer Type, unlocked by specific Friend Point tiles on their skill grids. I can also unlock their Stories, little vignettes, and extra HP, and Treasure Keys, and…

Yes. Yes. This is definitely a skill square. Those are definitely words, and abilities, and rising numbers.

…And while a fair amount of this is explained, not all of it is explained well, and so I’ve shied away from certain features because I genuinely can’t grasp their utility. These Object Points are good, huh? How do I… How do I get more of them? What does that actually do? I have Nono’s Bento at something like +4 , with 7 of them, at 0P. Looking at the help explains it a little, but I have 7 Nono’s Bentos, a +4 that doesn’t seem to do anything, and no bonus (the Help tells me it’s because I haven’t got enough of Nono’s Bento to unlock said bonus.) As such, mixes have largely been left the hell alone in my playthrough, and types left unchanged. Nothing seems to have suffered as a result.

But how are these items gotten? Treasure chests. Which require keys. Which require either unlocking skill grid items on party members (Considering how quickly the Friend Point requirement for the next grid item rises, this is not a preference) or Quests. Quests refresh every ten game days (three moves a day) in a dungeon, and, while some are perfectly do-able (Remove X blocks of Y type, Remove X blocks in one go of Y type Z times, Don’t Get Hurt for X turns), others seem, at best, counterproductive for their gains (Reduce yourself to 20% HP! Fight 5 enemies at once!) and others a matter of luck or speed, rather than skill (Fight X enemies, Fight Y rare enemies.) There’s conflicting elements here, and while choosing between them adds to the difficulty (because treasure chests can only be opened with keys), some seem particularly silly. Use X stairs? Er, yes, because I really want to be going deep quicker when my attack isn’t actually good enough for five floors down right now.

Dungeon Girl started somewhat enjoyable, a little confusing, a little popcorny, and I can see how folks who gave up on it early disliked it for “simple” gameplay. Over time, though, I’ve grown to dislike it because it’s not simple. It’s a hodgepodge of systems that aren’t terribly well explained, with elements fighting each other over how you should progress using its “simple” game loop. Which is less simple because that hodgepodge of elements seems to be affecting, behind the scenes, how well I attack, or the like. To the point where even explaining why it feels like a hodgepodge has turned this review… Into a hodgepodge.

While this ends well, I can’t help but feel this isn’t a good way of going about things. Also, I like pineapple on pizza.

The Mad Welshman loves tooltips. But tooltips, as he’s found elsewhere, are of little use when you don’t know the tooltip is there.

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