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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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.

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Dragon Spear (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£11.79 for DLC characters (£3.99 each))
Where To Get It: Steam

I missed Dragon Spear on the first pass. Budget didn’t allow, and, despite being interested in the idea (A fantasy belt scrolling beat-em-up with RPG elements, like Dragon’s Crown), it wasn’t quite enough. Besides, I seem to recall the monkey’s paw had curled on me with another “I wish there was a game like [insert console exclusive] on PC…”

But I am pleased to state that, while Dragon Spear has its flaws, I’ve enjoyed my time with it, enough to have considered it one of those cases where said monkey’s paw did not curl.

The characters you can play. The front 3 are DLC.

So, to begin with, the story is somewhat threadbare, but the basic idea is that there was a big bad, a bad that wanted to destroy humanity, and they created Nightmares, monstrous creatures deemed unstoppable by most. The important part being the “most” part. For some people managed to destroy them, and Witches managed to contain many of them… But all is not well, and six Nightmare Slayers are summoned to deal with the threat.

Like I said, it’s a little threadbare, but it does have some interesting moments, and a little character interplay. Some of it’s… Confusing, and inconsistently written, not to mention a little off in places. Er… Why did the Gunner (A pirate) intentionally misgender the Warrior (a dude)? And then be inconsistent even outside their hearing? There’s a fair amount of awkward translation, but it still manages to have some moments, such as a tragic fate, a little intrigue, and Magic Science Gone Wrong. Oh, and the titular Dragon’s Spear, and a Dragon to go with it.

Perhaps the translation is off, but any which way, it does seem to not be a great moment, writing wise.

It’s not a twitchy game. More accurately, it’s a button mashy game, with a few tactical decisions to make, but mostly, the catharsis of beating the everloving shit out of enemies while making sure they don’t surround, and then a boss, which is sometimes jugglable to a small extent (every character has at least one “Slam up” move), but… Not always. And, in a nice touch, the boss telegraphs are not only actual telegraphs, but, on Normal, at least, all enemy attacks that aren’t quick have their area of effect shown… Albeit as red with a slightly brighter outline. Which isn’t so great. Sigh.

And, despite my enjoyment, I do have to admit it’s a game where the upsides often come with qualifiers. Like the above example with the telegraphing, or the fact that you have multiple abilities to switch between, but armour… There’s no good reason not to just go to the next tier of armour as the story progresses. It’s just higher levelled. The characters share money, which means buying equipment and upgrades becomes easier the further you go, and the grind isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think… But there is some grind, especially when it comes to getting certain loot drops, like interesting pets and armour sets, and the game is single save, with no option to reset. BOOO!

When you properly wallop things, there’s a lot going on. So you know.

The thing is… Overall, that still comes to a net positive. Not a big net positive, but still enough for me to think: This is a spiritual successor, to a platform exclusive game I’ve wanted on PC for a while… And it breaks the streak of that monkey’s paw curling on me, and throwing spiritual successors I’ve disliked at me. As a belt scrolling beat-em-up goes, it’s worth a look.

The Mad Welshman is just happy that, just once, an “I wish there was a game like [console exclusive] on PC” didn’t go horribly wrong for him.

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Hot Lava (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

When I first looked at Hot Lava, I very much enjoyed its first person platforming. I even expressed that it was one hell of a shock that I was, because, generally speaking, first person platforming puzzles are bollocks, and most people remember them unfondly. But no, I stand by that. The first person platforming is fun. I also stand by the GATS theme being bad. Sorry, Klei.

You will perhaps grow to hate this sister. But it’s not, strictly speaking, her fault.

So… Several areas now exist, each with 6 levels to complete, and, in each of them, you are, essentially, trying to get to the end by jumping on things that aren’t lava. Jumping on, or into lava is obviously bad. Falling too far is obviously bad. Being fast is good. And, to be fair, there’s a fair few ways you can go faster, each with their pros and cons.

For example, you can use Hot Lava’s variation on the bunny hop, where you leap, then both turn and strafe in a direction to pick up speed . The downsides of this are that it takes skill to pull off consistently, and it changes your route precisely because you’re going faster. Then there’s the usual thing of a tighter line (can I skip this tiny jump for this slightly bigger one that gets me where I need to go), and the final one that, so long as you know where the final checkpoint is, you can go straight there, skipping checkpoints along the way (The problem being, of course, that it’s longer between checkpoints, or maybe no checkpoints at all, so I hope you got it right!)

The fake loot boxes have, as far as I’m aware, been removed, replaced with “You get customisations for getting stars in missions”, although the collectibles are still there: Cards, both in lava world, and the normal one, and hidden GATS comics and golden pins in the levels themselves. You can even, once you’ve found the mini science-project style mountain, enter the lava world to just explore and get those cards, with no time pressure.

The Gym is, honestly, not a bad place. Especially since the pole collisions have somewhat improved. Ignore the time, I was just here for a collectible.

Still… The mention of the two in-level collectibles reminds me of one gripe about the game: a biggie. Chase the thing levels. Always last in the level order, and always painful, even in Early Access, they’re actually somewhat worse now. Before, if you got too far away, you’d lose, but you could still take routes that would catch whatever you were chasing, or even get in front of them. Now… Well, they have a pretty good route, although they all seem to be your sister, constrained by the same things you are, and catching them because you actually got in front of them? No longer counts. It’s a fail state. Not gonna lie, if I was clever enough to get to a route that actually beat said sister? I want that reward.

Without that objective, it’s basically an endurance match: No checkpoints, do it all well in one try, try and do elements of the characters route well enough that you catch them from behind. And the last one in particular, “Chase the Meaning” , can fuck right off. When I’m shaking from trying to do the same first segment twelve times, and know there’s no checkpointing, I’m not having a good time with your obstacle course.

Global Action Team: Bad Idols To Look Up To.

So… Aesthetics and narrative time… Oh, that’s right, there’s a narrative, of sorts. See, the prologue has you going to bed via… Well, playing the game of “Floor is Lava” with your sister. Except… There’s something horrible. And that something horrible scares you on the very last part of your journey… Which happens to be the balcony over the living room. The Global Action Team comics show them to be failures, misinterpreting situations, being gulled easily… Even stealing. And then… Well, suffice to say, I won’t spoil it, but you can possibly guess.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned theme song, the game works well. Everything is clear, including those bits you wish weren’t, the environments are plausible and well crafted, the character models are fun, and the music shifts pretty well from the playful tones… To darker ones… To hard driving ones… To, in some cases, almost silence. And all of them thematically work with the level in question (Oh, and the music is quieter when you’re not running all willy-nilly, a sign you should maybe get moving, squirt!)

Overall, Hot Lava is good, and I would recommend it. I would, however, repeat that the “Chase the” segments can go to hell, and I don’t say such things lightly.

The Mad Welshman will, one day, get all the stars. That day, however, is a long way off. But he has a fair few.

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Aery (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Aery interested me the moment I noticed this, and I will freely admit that a big part of it was being an Old. “Hey, wow, this looks like a Psygnosis game, if Psygnosis was still around!” It certainly had a visual flair that reminded me of their earlier, odder titles, and the synthwave music wasn’t a detraction either.

I, too, would like to relearn the art of unpowered flight.

However… I then found my detractions. And they’re biggies. One of them is plausibly a bug (Level 4’s “Got the feather” bell is loud no matter what volume you’ve set), but the two others… Annoy the hell out of me.

Still, before we do that, the game: There is a bird that wants to see the world. They fly. They can roll. And they collect feathers. Their journey is told in short prose before each level, and it’s a relatively short experience, which is nonetheless pleasant. The low-poly worlds are mostly quite interesting, the music is good slow journey music (not too driving, but with a good beat to it.) Said bird controls well, feels like a bird, glides and flaps like a bird, looks like a bird with a golden underside.

Spot the feather. Or, indeed, the bird.

While I am most of the way through it, the two big issues: Firstly, the second level is a nightmare, even for those folks who are not colourblind. The feathers are white. The sea… Is white. And the tops of the blocks wot have feathers on are, for the most part… White. I hope the developers see the problem inherent to this trio of sentences. I did very rapidly. Still, I got through that, and the third, and, on the fourth, I finally realised that a problem in the whole game was a problem. When you die, you are sent back to your starting point. The same starting point that’s a good minute of flight to anything of interest, let alone a feather. I am chill, and I like to chill. But that’s a bit much.

Thing is, it’s not, overall, a bad game. It does what it says on the tin, and, if that second level were fixed, I could pretty much recommend it as “Thing you play to relax, or in short bursts over your lunch break.” It definitely looks good.

Preeeeettteeee…

The Mad Welshman appreciates experiments. Also prog rock.

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