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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Ashen (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £30.99 (Definitive Edition £38.18 , Soundtrack £5.19, Nightstorm Isle DLC £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

And so the dark age passed into an age of light, a… Wait a minute, I was promised Dark Souls, not… Okay, fun aside, it’s actually nice to see some legitimate hope in a game with the “Go out, bash things with an input system that encourages only hitting the buttons you need to, not mashing them, die, spend money on improvement, hopefully get further this time” formula that has been called “Soulslike.”

I wanted to focus on the beauty for this review. For the combat, imagine a small circle in the middle of an enemy, as I slam that giant axe into its smug midsection.

In Ashen, you are, obviously, a voiceless Chosen One, who, along with two friends (and the others you meet along the way), must protect the Ashen, a bloody great bird made of light and life that sat on the World Tree, died (its three breaths creating three ages, which passed, and elements of the three civilisations still lived through the dark age), and is due to be reborn. Gosh, my throat’s a little bit norse from that short bit of exposition, lemme back up a bit.

Essentially, this is a third person action RPG, in which your low poly protagonist wanders through a map, directed by both the needs of currency/items gained from enemies, and the quests, side or main, from the people of your small, new township. This actually deserves a mention right now, because it’s a fulfilling aspect of the game: The further along the game you get, the more sidequests you do, the more your town hub (Well, more of a “start point on the journey”, really, as you travel along a narrowing spiral toward the end, unlocking Ritual Stones, your travel points, along the way) builds up and grows, starting as this near barren, ramshackle set of ruins, and, by the end of the game? It’s a thriving village, with each of your fellow characters having their own cohabitation with various people attracted to this glowing beacon of hope.

Early in the game, but I like the image of Batarn, the giant one armed smith, helping to build what will be a beautiful village toward the end, an enduring legacy of hope.

Even if the game weren’t good, this would have to be mentioned, precisely because it’s almost unheard of in this genre (or indeed, quite a few.) But the game is good. It doesn’t give you fast travel until a few main quests in, but the progression feels natural, and I only died once or twice in the early game, mostly due to either overconfidence or stupidity. Especially as you have a friend, always (whether a co-op partner, or one of the companions you meet, each with certain styles of weaponry), and so long as one of you is alive long enough to resurrect the other, you’re okay.

And the world is pretty. Even in the bleaker areas of the game, there’s a sense of beauty, fallen or otherwise. From the parts of the world so far reclaimed from the Ash, to the almost tundra like ruins of Sindre’s View, to… Ah, well, that would be spoiling things, but suffice to say, there’s a lot of environments, including, yes, dark areas. And the difficulty does ramp up, with some of the underground segments, in particular, making for a large difficulty spike. Still, it’s also a world where the developers want you to try clambering over it, to see what you can do, and want you to see it, and this, also, is appreciated. Finally, the music is, for the most part, calm, relaxing. This is a world you’re meant to take in.

Even in this bleak, ashen wasteland, there is beauty.

Are there complaints? Well, yes. The game very much overloads you with stuff early on, and it’s somewhat resource hoggy, with slowish loading times, and, outside of challenge runs, why wouldn’t you give your companions their quest items? But… There’s a lot it does right, over its compatriots, a lot it does differently. The game doesn’t really bar you that much, so you can engage or not as you like, explore as much or as little as you like, although it is highly encouraged you do those side quests before tackling a main one. As such, it’s more guiding than holding back or pushing, not holding your hand, but showing you the way.

So, in summary, I would say that this is a better introduction to the subgenre known as “Soulslikes” than… Well, Dark Souls, the game which popularised the term! It’s pretty, it’s interesting, its characters are cool… Yup, I like it.

The Mad Welshman appreciates beauty, bleak or otherwise, as much as he appreciates bearded handaxes. Which is to say, a fair bit.

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Tower Hunter: Erza’s Trial (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (Soundtrack £1.69)
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

Tower Hunter, the somewhat procgen action platformer, has hit release. And how do I feel about this game, after Early Access?

Wow, I can actually… See this guy this time.

Well… Okay. Some improvement was made. Let’s recap, before we get into that. Tower Hunter is a procgen action platformer, in which you, the titular Erza, must clear a magical tower, defeating its inhabitants, for… Nope, still haven’t remembered. In any case, there are five main weapon types, with you randomly getting a possibly different weapon before each run (and being able to find other, better versions of weapons, if not the one you started with sometimes, in the dungeon), and, should you die, you start over again, losing some of your powerup “chips” and money (gems) in the process. Which… Usually isn’t that bad, to be honest, because you’re usually spending gems on upgrades for much of the game, and the chips are in plentiful supply, so it’s only if you’ve lost some seriously good ones that it’s a setback, and it’s very much a temporary one.

Last time I looked at this, the mechanical aspects were somewhat interesting, such as a large bevy of upgrades, multiple unlockable special attacks, the powerup chips being replaceable in play if you find others, recycling of items you don’t want or need into gems, and an improvement of your abilities should you beat the increasingly difficult requirements (Bronze, Silver, Gold for each of the five or six stages, themselves broken into two levels, and, another relatively recent upgrade, an actual boss of a stage. We’ll get to that shortly.)

And while the mandatory spike segment of the first area annoys me, this? This never gets old.

But the visual flair was somewhat lacking, the seams of the level blocks very clear, and the animations… Well, so so, for the enemies. Oh, and the poor translation into English, which, while I could deal with it in general (It’s not the most plot heavy of deals), is, admittedly, a turn off. Sound alright, music alright…

Well, the animations have gotten a little better. And the bosses do have some visual flair to them, more attention having been lavished on them than, perhaps, the bread and butter of the basic enemies (Who, nonetheless, feel a little more organic in their movement. Not consistently, alas.)

So, mechanically, it remains interesting, rewarding speed and exploration. And it has, to be fair, improved visually somewhat (The levels themselves remain… Well, a bit blah. You have to work harder to make procgen 3D areas fit nicely, and harder still to make them look… Well, not like it’s a collection of single assets.) And now… Actual bosses. I haven’t faced many so far (two of the five or six), but so far, they have been both unique, somewhat of an improvement over the basic enemies (Admittedly, uniqueness is a part of that, I feel), and… Somewhat frustrating.

This guy. This… Frickin’ … Guy…

The game, as is, has a battle of attrition in the levels before a boss. Most enemies can be stunlocked to oblivion, or murdered quite quickly, but ranged enemies are introduced early, and some enemies are frustrating to hit because their preferred attack vector is… Well, out of reach unless you hop. Add in traps, status effects like blinding (thankfully, only a restriction of your vision, rather than total blindness), and the occasional time your character just doesn’t seem to respond properly (uncommon, but it does happen), and… Those health potions you have to help cope go relatively quickly, even with resting areas between each of the two levels and before a boss. And then you get to the boss…

…The first is not so bad: The Cockroach King is clear, you can dodge all of his attacks just fine, and, apart from the boss thing of breaking stunlock (and being immune to it after 50% health, with desperation moves being added), he’s a decent fight. Also one I was glad to beat, because he was a braggart asshole, and possibly skeevy to boot. The Centaur Knight, on the other hand… Is mean. Jump the dash, don’t try to dash dodge it, because it plain doesn’t work. Shields often, doesn’t always telegraph too well, and while your attacks don’t seem to do anything to an offscreen enemy, his definitely can affect from offscreen. He is, to put it bluntly, a big ol’ pile of dicks. I’ll beat him, eventually, I’m sure. But he is definitely quite the spike, compared to the first boss.

An apt metaphor, I feel.

So… Do I recommend it? Its core ideas remain interesting. It has shown some improvement on the aesthetic front, although not as much as I’d like. And, apart from those odd glitches (Which I’m sure are being worked on), it’s a solid, if still not-so-visually appealing procgen action platformer. So… A tentative yes.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is a Vaudevillain, and so the very definition of a Pattern Based Enemy.

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Noita (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (£3.99 soundtrack, £17.98 game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Even at this relatively early stage, there’s a fair amount to say about Noita. It simulates every pixel (Although this mostly applies to fluids, fire, and particulates like spurting blood, smoke, steam, and even flammable gas), has an interesting core weapon mechanic, is, at the current stage (and probably later too) hard as balls… And, for some reason, it quits and restarts after every run. Don’t take that as a criticism as in “This thing is bad.” The game still works just fine. It’s just odd.

In the beginning…

So, right now, this is a somewhat plot light game (who knows, maybe it’ll get more, maybe not.) It’s implied, the first time you play it (and never again afterwards, because it’s a first play cutscene) that the universe came from a great phoenix’s three eggs. One created the land and sky, one the stars and sea, and the other… Life, both the usual kinds, and the inimical kinds. You are a wizard, entering a mine which appears to be some sort of trial, or at least having temples between levels that conveniently give you useful things… Like filling your health back up, because there is no health regen.

Funnily enough, I don’t particularly see that as a bad thing, because, while the economy gets annoyingly sparse later on (requiring enemy murder to get gold), if you’ve played your cards right, or simply gotten lucky, you’ll have something powerful enough to deal, even if the enemies, unless you’re tactical, can most definitely do unto you as you do to them. The nastier foes in the early levels, for example, are acidic spitting eyeballs and your fellow wizards, corrupted into elemental forms (I’ve only ever seen fire and lightning wizards, but these three alone are an immediate “nope!” on low health, and a pause for thought as to whether you really want to do this otherwise.)

Ahhh, it burns so prettily. Of course, I had gold down there, gold I can’t get before it disappears.

So, how do you get better? Well, sometimes, you can use your environment. Kicking things that can be kicked. Destroying convenient explosives, gas canisters, toxic goo canisters and the like. Setting off oil pools. Firing lightning into steel beams to murderize anything standing on them (Caution, this includes you!) Perks got between levels, like the ones that allow you to ignore elements, the ones that cause you to bleed poison, or slime, or be able to survive a single hit if you had more than 1 hitpoint (Does not apply to fire or acid, for obvious reasons.) Potions, like Beserkium (gives you Beserk status), Blood (Useful for folks with the Vampire perk), and Invisibilium (Guess.) Protip: And empty bottle can be used to store other liquids. And, finally, wands, and the spells contained therein.

You start with just two of these: A weak magic missile wand that fires two (capacity of three spell effects) before needing to recharge (relatively quickly), and a bomb wand, that, obviously, makes a bomb. Of which you have three. But you can find wands, and spell effects, or you can buy them between levels, with the gold you’ve earned… And, once you have those spell effects (You can even take them out of a wand completely before levels, to store for later), you can swap them between any wands that can cast them. And some effects, obviously, combine. So, if you wanted, and found the right elements, you could have a flaming projectile… That leaves a trail of gunpowder behind it. Or two at once. Or three. Some wands even have a spell built into the wand itself.

You’d think this is powerful. And it is. But it is less powerful than about twelve enemies at once. So I died a little bit later.

Aesthetically, it pretty much works. The environments themselves aren’t amazing, but it’s a whole thing to see pixellated clouds of flammable gas wisping its way upwards from where, below, the acidic gribbley you’ve just murdered is spewing it’s blood all over the ground, eating into it. Or how pretty a massive oil fire looks in game, licking over and through the wood… Before you realise “Wait, shit, I’m too clo- AAAAA HOT HOT HOT!” Remember what I said about potion bottles being filled with liquids? This is but one good reason why. Soundwise, the enemies themselves make few sounds, but the music is good, the sound effects for the various wands work.

But, honestly, the biggest draw here is how it works mechanically, the interactions of the world. And I find this very interesting, and pretty cool, so… Yeah, promising, as mentioned, hard, although it’s still, as far as I’m aware, relatively early days… I like it!

The Mad Welshman points out that drinking and wanding is not recommended. Especially if one of your spells is Fire Breath.

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