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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.

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.

Kelipot (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the story of Cain and Abel. Two bears, both proud warriors, and one of whom is… No, this is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain definitely tries to kill Abel… It’s just…

Okay, alright, this is one of those procgen not quite metroidvania type deals, where some abilities are kept between runs at a castle, and others are only used or obtained during that run. And yes, the story involves a bear named Abel, whose brother, Cain, appears to have been corrupted by something, something that seems to have corrupted others, as Abel finds out when he and a doggy merchant are thrown into a world between worlds. And wouldn’tcha know it, Abel accidentally has the key to those worlds!

Except he isn’t, but he is, but he isn’t… Look, parallel worlds are confusing, alright?

It’s not a bad premise, all told, and the writing sells that confusion, the questioning and hurt that comes from seeing people you know and love become twisted. It also creates some interesting characters, although some are more fleshed out than others. As in… It’s pretty much Abel and the Merchant who flesh out over time. From what I’ve seen so far, at least. As to the game? Well, there’s a fair bit that I like, and a couple of things I’m… Not so fond of. But hey, Early Access, things are subject to change, including my opinion.

So let’s begin with what I like. The character designs are pretty damn nice. For example, Abel is a soft boy, for being a warrior, and that’s thematically fitting. Yet he still animates well, and while the enemies aren’t pushed back by normal blows, there’s nonetheless strength and speed in the swings. The secondary abilities, the passives… Most of them feel like powerups. The enemies are an interesting mix, and, once I’d learned to spot certain traps, I appreciated the tension in certain layouts. The fact that only some items and abilities stay from run to run is less fun, but there’s some compensation in picking one of the special abilities you earn (by finding in-run abilities you haven’t collected yet) for an extra benefit, such as being able to damage foes by jumping on their heads, having better healing, and that sort of thing.

Individual rooms can be complex, or simple, but they are nearly all populated by things that can, want to, and might just kill you.

I am less appreciative of the keyboard controls. Just, overall. The defaults feel a little confusing, and even with rebinding them to something I’m used to, I have problems. Controller is recommended for this one folks.

And similarly… I’m not exactly having fun with the bosses. Damage in the game is brutal, and bosses can quite easily murder the heck out of you with just a few hits, which, on the one hand, is similar to the enemies… On the other, you have to get through the enemies to reach the boss, and, while I didn’t have a problem with this in, say, Dead Cells, I feel like I’m having more trouble here.

Despite this, do I recommend it, at the present stage? Yes. It’s showing a lot of promise, some solid writing, a good aesthetic, and hell, you might have a much easier time of the bosses than I am.

The Mad Welshman dislikes when he’s having a tough time of it. Just… Overall, to be honest.

Nexomon (Early Access Review)

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

Aaargh. Aaaargh. Sometimes, I hate Windows 10. Hey, is your app too blurry, why don’t we, why don’t we, why don’t we Stop Tabbing Out Win10, it’s not blurry! (To fix this, turn display change notifications the hell off)

Please don’t do this. Especially don’t do this more than 5 times in the first two gym areas. Kthxbai

Anyway, yes, Nexomon starts in full screen mode, and it seems to be a little while before you can actually get into the options. Have options on the main screen, folks, because otherwise you have, for example, the game’s volume blaring until the into cutscenes are over (one of which, for some reason, is unskippable.) And yes, I had that experience, and yes, it was a bad start to the game for me. And then another bad experience, with a fourth wall breaking joke that was less funny than the developers thought it was (Which has, so far, happened about eight or nine times), and perhaps the most obvious foreshadowing that the…

Wait, the Gym Leaders in this Pokemon-alike are part of Team Evil? I… Hrm. Anyways, yes, this is one of the Pokemon style games that have been cropping up this past year, and it’s… A very mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s visually pleasing, with lots of cool designs. The animations work pretty well, and the music pleases, even through the acknowledgement that the musical stings and the like have very similar motifs to the Pokemon franchise. At least the shopkeeper is a cat called Ron. That’s nice. And the battles, if you know what your moves actually do, is good.

A recent patch meant you know vaguely what moves do. The database is still very sparse, though.

But I did say it was a mixed bag, and most of this is in the writing, some things that may or may not irritate, the aforementioned lack of an options menu until you’re in the game, and status effects are, for the most part, single turn effects. That’s right. Single turn. Oh yeah, and if you’re wanting a team of a single Nexomon, you’re outta luck, because only one can be captured, and if you try to capture another, you’re wasting Nexotraps, the Pokeballs of this game. In one case, where the “captured” icon didn’t show up in the top right, I wasted three before I said “soddit!” and finished it off. And then I went back and, sure enough… Already captured, 750 coins worth of Nexotraps lost to the ether.

Pew-eee! Anyway, yes, it gets super dramatic after every gym. In a painfully predictable way.

Now, there are, indeed, 300 Nexomon in the game. And many of them are packed into a very tight space. As in, I was finding different Nexomon, including different rare ones, in different screens of a route. And, since there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of quick routes (You’d think they’d give you running shoes after the second gym, but no, it’s apparently somewhere in the third gym), it’s a slow trudge, and…

Well, it’s at this point that I talk about what this is: It’s a port of a mobile game, and it shows. It shows in the lack of move descriptions in battle, and the UX. It shows in how minimal the database and move descriptions are (beyond their energy cost, which may or may not reflect how powerful the move actually is.) And it shows in being more grindy than your default Pokemon experience. Since the writing isn’t all that great, and considering all of this, I would definitely understand if you were turned off, or at best non-committal, since, even when reviewing it, I had to take breaks out of, basically, irritation at how slow it was going. It had a feature where you could switch between moves you’d learned, but… Not enough to save it.

This poor dork, on the other hand… This guy really gets it. Repeatedly.

And, after the second gym, and the knowledge that I was going to have to grind more to beat the first trainer battle after it, I checked out. There are some good designs here, and, like Disc Creatures, it has the feature of allowing you to pick between your moves, but the game itself? Is a tedious slog with some distinctly hammy and awful writing in places, especially when it breaks the fourth wall.

The Mad Welshman would like to remind spiritual successor types: Please fully understand why a thing is good. Thank you for your time.

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.