Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (Review)

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

Ah, the World of Darkness. A world of gothic woe, and equally gothic reaching for hope that is, in the long run, doomed to failure. Where supernatural creatures, indubitably powerful, nonetheless hide in the modern world, because yes, people would kill the hell out of them once they learned how if they were public. Well, actually, considering kink culture, probably not if they played their cards right. But anyway!

This woman is honestly pretty sympathetic. She’s gone through a lot.

This is a visual novel that, like another World of Darkness product I’d reviewed before (Preludes) is meant to be a sort of introduction to the world with the story of a newly embraced vampire, from one of three clans: Ventrue, the Blueblood powermongers. Brujah, the philosopher warriors turned anti-authoritarian. And Toreador, those who value art, even as their own artistic talent is crushed by the Embrace. And this is where people might start disliking the game, because the overarching story will remain the same in each playthrough, the main differences being how they lived and were embraced, and the person they’d known before their embrace. Add in that you can’t recruit more than two characters on a single playthrough, and definitely can’t do all the sidequests in the time you have, adds a little replay value, but if it being a shortish game is a big turnoff to you, or the general narrative arc remaining the same, then… This is not for you.

A fine example of the luscious painting style. Goshdarn, this is good stuff.

I don’t personally think of that as a bad thing. Nor do I think of the fact that it’s only really possible to fail at the very beginning as bad. Because I ask myself “What is the goal here?” And the answer comes up the same: It’s to tell a story, to immerse you into a world. Yes, that world is, in the World of Darkness, a world where even supernatural life, especially in the beginning, can be nasty, brutish, and short. But a game with that aspect would prove, as it has for me when sitting at the more adversarial tabletop sessions, unenjoyable. There is an interesting world, and the developers want to show it.

It helps that, aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. The characters and places are lushly painted, the writing is good, providing insight into this setting, and the UX is not bad at all. The soundscape, similarly, is pleasant, fitting with the scenes in question. Accessibility wise, resizable text is good. My only gripe, settings wise, is that there is no windowed mode.

I will note, however, that this guy has some serious Plan 9 vibes. Those eyes! <3

So, as such? My opinion is that it does precisely what it sets out to do: To tell a short story, from three potential perspectives, with potential choices for exploring other clans in the game, and aspects of a vampire’s life. It is, basically, a way to get you into the setting, to explore it a little and entice you to explore it further. And, again, I don’t really see that as a bad thing.

So yes, I don’t see the turnoffs as turnoffs myself, although I can perfectly understand if they are for you, the person thinking “Should I buy this?” My answer is that it’s a solid, short, story led visual novel with great art, good writing, and tight design.

The Mad Welshman values three things: Is it aesthetically consistent? Is it tightly designed? Is it interesting? This ticks those boxes.

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Temtem (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £27.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the games that try to give us the Pokemon experience on PC. The hunting of cute creatures, the training of cute creatures, the, er… Well, let’s skip over one of those points to the charm of gym leaders, the worlds, and the cartoonishly villainous antagonists. Yeah… And Temtem, in Early Access right now, is one of those, and is also… An MMO.

I already like this guy. You just know he’s a field researcher, with stories like that.

That’s right, a massively multiplayer game, in which you can, at times, interact with other trainers. Suffice to say, I am an internet hermit, so I shall most likely end up talking about that on the next Early Access review. For now, though, let’s talk about interesting differences, nice touches, aesthetics, and, of course, how it feels to play.

Pretty much from the beginning, there were interesting things that quickly became apparent. Now, before we talk about that, the way it usually goes for the new folks: You are a monster tamer, catching monsters in some form of digital storage (cards, in this case) after weakening them enough, and using them to fight other trainers, most of whom will pick a fight with you first. The wild temtem only exist in bodies of water and tall grasses, for the most part, and, once a fight begins, you engage in a turn based battle, which is where the first differences crop up.

Note that both kinds of breeding values are actually shown on the Temtem’s character profile. And the leaf is the number of times it can breed.

Some things stay the same. Your Temtem all have types, and those types are strong against one or more types… And weak against others. But here’s an important difference: Once you run out of stamina, the resource each Temtem has for using moves, it’s not “Oh heck, that move’s useless now.” No, you can do one of two things, both of which have different risks. You can rest that Temtem for a turn, which means you’re losing out on damage, but get stamina back… Or you can still use the move, but take the overflow of stamina loss to your hit points, then have to rest a turn. If you have healing items, and that move makes a win that turn likely, odds are high that one’s going to bring you the higher reward.

Even better, once you have a Temtem caught and registered in your codex, the game will colour code the target ring around the Temtem a bright green (for super-effective), or a dark red (for weak.) Value differences, people: They make a lot of difference. It’s by no means the only set of changes, which make for a more streamlined, nuanced experience, but it’s definitely one you notice straight away. Finally on the interesting and positive differences front, there is Temtem Essence, effectively, a full party heal and revive that can be used once, until you return to the nearest healing station. Cool.

Aesthetically, the game is cartoonish in nature, with cel shaded 3D models, nice, orchestral style music (I do love the cheery violin number you first hear when travelling the first route), and the writing… Well, from the moment you look at the Fire starter, and you hear the professor mention he won that starter in a pub brawl, you know the writing’s going to be a little more mature, and I appreciate this step. So… There’s a fair amount to like. What’s not so hot?

Omigosh yes, I don’t have to memorise type pairings anymore (except for those times I haven’t caught one yet.)

Okay, it’s only a few things so far, and I’m sure that, later in Early access, the devs will handle some of them. Balance wise, the first area is a little tough, and I had to rush back to the healing console a few times before I got to the first town, because some of the trainer fights (for example, the fight where there’s a level 11… I already forget the name, but it’s a bigass piranha.) are somewhat tough. Not unbeatable, for sure, but there’s some you’re definitely not coming out of without a Temtem being knocked out. Which neatly leads into another minor niggle… Unless you’re talking to everybody, you may not realise which of the three consoles you come across are the healing one, the storage one, or the vendor. It’s not a big problem, as experimentation quickly shows which is which (it’s the left one for healing), but it is an annoyance. But, on the other hand, it’s a definite improvement that there’s no unskippable speech, and the animation for healing is pretty quick. Very nice quality of life thing, right there.

You just know these guys are gonna try to double team you. Thankfully, only two Temtem are on the field at any one time.

Finally, the things that are interesting, but whether they please is to taste. Firstly, that some Temtem start without offensive moves when they’re caught. That one usually resolves itself relatively quickly, but in your first area, levelling up requires them to be in a fight to get experience, for at least one round. And secondly, that evolution levels are not “This level, full stop”, but “This many levels after the level you caught it at.” Personally, I found it an interesting touch that doesn’t overly affect my experience, but others may get turned off, so that has to be mentioned. There is also the fact that any one Temtem only has a limited number of breedings in them, and, when bred, the child has the lower breeding limit of the two parents. That one can, potentially sting.

Anyway, overall, I’ve had a pleasant time so far, now that the rush of the first few days has gone down. It has quite a few quality of life features (more than I could explain in my usual review size), interesting mechanical changes from its spiritual inspiration, a nice aesthetic, and, of course, playing with your friends. I can appreciate this a fair bit.

The Mad Welshman is a hermit, it’s true. But in his time in the mountains, he learned well the art of swearing at a monster-capturing device to make it work better. A valuable skill.

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Spellsword Cards: Dungeon Top (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was a very trepid warrior indeed. I skulked through the dungeon, throwing myself at the enemy more out of blind terror than bravery, and wondered, as my skull was split by a goblin axe, why the people I commanded kept dying.

And then Jamie realised you could move and attack. Whoops!

This pair of cards is about to make my life rather difficult.

So yes, Spellsword Cards has, as you might imagine, cards. And a mana system. And loot, which just so happens to be cards to add to your starting deck… And enemies, each with their own deck. But these cards are most often minions, with a few spells, weapons and treasures into the mix. And fights aren’t just “Play card, hit guy with card, win if guy dead, lose if you’re dead.” They’re small, turn-based tactics arenas, in which carefully putting minions into play is the difference between life… And death.

Okay, so you do have to kill the other’s leader, and not have yours die, but there’s more to it than that, is what I’m saying.

Of course, you can pretty much expect death, and a fair amount of it. It is a roguelike, after all. Whether that’s from ranged enemies, the occasional wizard (I encountered one whose entire deck was “Fuck you, splash damage.” Beat that one down as quick as you can, he gets stronger the longer the fight goes on), or… The bosses.

He can attack all horizontally or vertically adjacent tiles at once. Plan around this, or you will die.

Let’s take the example of the Ogre. Oh boy, is he tough. He’s not unbeatable, but whenever he attacks, he attacks everyone around him, can do 5 damage to the Hero(ine) unless they have block on every other turn, and, every other turn, gets 4 Block. Add in that he will have slightly less than 3 times the max health you have, and… He’s a bit of a bastard. As to the second boss? Well, currently, level 2 is where the gauntlets not only come off, but make you slap yourself while loudly wondering why you’re still hitting yourself. An example enemy here would be Fire Titans, which cause burn every turn, and can do a chain attack when someone’s burning. Pack yourselves close, get mullered. Spread out, and his lava minions might murder you instead.

It does ease you in, however, and it’s got some interesting synergies going on, in both the main decks currently available as the Warrior, and the Sorceress. The Helm deck is mostly about building up overwhelming damage, while the Karim deck is about sacrificing units to buff or summon other units. As with other deckbuilding roguelikes, decks can become bloated… But apart from spells and potions coming and going before you actually need them (your hand gets discarded at the end of every turn), you can still work with the 3 cards you get each turn in some fashion… Even if it’s not the potbuster you wanted, it can still protect your hero, or do some damage to the enemy hero.

Proof that I even got this far. Because hey, I am good at videogames! Sometimes!

Accessibility wise, right now, my main bitch is that the main menu is too small. I know there’s a lot of items there, and I know folks love to have a good splash screen, but… It could definitely do with being bigger. Maybe fold some of those items like cheevo progress, the card library, and the rulebook into… A “codex” option, as a starting suggestion? Oh, and Tutorial into New Hero (the equivalent of New Game) In any case, if folks are curious as to what’s coming, the library does mention a third class (Rogue, because of course they’re going Warrior, Wizard, Thief), and 3 factions not currently in the game (Although only the names, so… I won’t be able to tell you what they do until the next review, be it early access or release.) Basically, a UI/tooltip/text scale would be nice, thanks. Status symbols are quite small, but there are tooltips, so… waves hand… That one somewhat evens out.

But otherwise, it’s a fairly easy to learn game, it has a good, inked visual style, fairly good music, the enemy decks are enemy specific, and currently, the enemies are easy to learn in each level, with a small selection of what’s in a level, and one boss per level (of the 3 currently in the game. No idea if that’ll be the lot.) Fair amount of replay value, interesting decks, lots of potential things to see in each one, and a good aesthetic make this one… Definitely one worth taking a look at, if you like small unit, turn-based tactics and card based roguelikes.

No, readers, there are no Dungeon Tops in this Dungeon Top game to my knowledge. It’s as disappointing to me as it is to you.

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Piko Piko (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

This is, honestly, the first time a metroidvania has bewildered me. Not confused. Not a dislike. Just a sort of mild “Wha- What’s going on?” Part of that is that it throws you into the storyline quite quickly. Part of that is that it’s a colourful assault on the senses at times, especially during boss time… And partly… It’s confusing, and doesn’t currently tutorialise well.

The protagonist is only slightly less confused than I am. Although she does seem the Go with the Flow type.

So yes, this is the story of Piko, a Piko Piko hammer (A plastic whack-a-mole mallet with rubber ends) wielding girl and her fox friend, both students at the Blacksmith Academy, where… Oh no, the Great Blacksmith Hammer has been stolen, the school is in ruins, and Teacher has been framed! Piko and her friend must beat the everloving crap out of people, mostly fellow students, until they can get to the bottom of this!

No, really, that’s the premise behind this indie metroidvania type deal. You are a girl with a surprisingly whallopy plastic hammer, who goes around hammering things, and using her special abilities, to go from boss fight to boss fight, solving hammer and ability based puzzles, and gaining powerups along the way, in their quest to… Basically, find out what’s going on. And it’s here where we get into “Shows promise, needs work” territory. Let’s start with the visual.

In boss fights, whalloping enemies directly on the head is the best way to stun them. But it quickly becomes tough as nails.

On the plus side, it has a windowed mode, the UX is pretty clear, it looks pretty, and only a few enemies are hard to distinguish from the backdrop (mostly the leafy enemies.) On the downside, windowed mode is a little glitchy on the highest windowed resolution it has, not actually resizing the display, and, if you want over 1440 width, you might as well go full screen (or 760 and some change, if you want your window not to be 760 and some change with lots of blackspace.) The sound design is nice, some nice chunky noises, and a fair few cute ones too, and, if you expected character design to be cutesy with a side order of “The hell?” in the case of some of the bosses (Like the german third grader transfer student in a tank), then you’re doing well. Similarly, the maps have enough interest, and locations of interest, to be able to lead you around.

Now, here’s where it gets annoying. The keyboard layout is, in and of itself, not bad. But it’s not signposted. So you won’t know without experimenting that jumping, then holding down and jump, will do a very useful move: A slam. You’d think it would be, for example, down and X (attack on the keyboard), but… No. It’s jump, and, in midair, whether you double jumped or not, down and jump. It wasn’t until a second run through that I even noticed Piko had a jumping special attack on C, because C normally results in your partner throwing a drill.

The characters are also quite expressive.

Oh, and down and C is a slide, which I also didn’t know about. Perhaps you can see why this might be a problem. Options? Not really. Is the hammer slam useful? Yes. But this leads into another thing… The hammer slam is, inarguably, one of your best tools for stunning bosses, letting you get free hits in. It’s also a bitch to land. So… It’s somewhat obtuse, requires experimentation with the controls, and some of its more useful skills, while you have them early on, are hard to use.

Does that make it a bad game? No. Once I got into the swing of things, I beat a few bosses, explored quite a bit, had a lot of fun, and, as mentioned, beat the everloving crap out of lots of cutesy things with my hammer. I even explored the world quite a bit, although there doesn’t appear to be much of a reason to visit many areas (maybe I haven’t gotten far enough.) But it does make it exactly what it is: A work in progress, an Early Access game with some “Mileage May Vary” warning in there. If you’re looking for another pixel metroidvania fix, and don’t mind the game being a work in progress, it’s worth a shot. Otherwise, wait.

The Mad Welshman also has a hammer, but it is not a Piko Piko. It’s a rather large Lucerne, for henchfolk who displease him.

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Kindred Spirits on the Roof (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £26.99 (£36.13 for all audio dramas and Full Chorus DLC, Full Chorus £7.19, OST £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warnings: Lesbian Sex, Masturbation, Teacher-Student Relationship.

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