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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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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Sayonara Wild Hearts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.23 (Soundtrack £7.19, Deluxe Edition £13.72)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sayonara Wild Hearts fits in an interesting place in my mind. It’s somewhat akin to Audiosurf, in that you’re collecting things to a musical track, but it is, at the same time, less and more than that. It’s a game that rapidly, often to the point of disorientation, shifts gears on you, from floating to flying to quick-time fighting (space only for that, no worries on that front), to moments where you just enjoy that sparkle of things being collected and… Oh, yeah, photosensitive epilepsy warning, folks, because there’s a lot of flashing. The hearts flash, the world can flash, the fights are flashy in both senses of the word…

Not pictured: The rapid changes of pose and colour in this scene. Although this was a well timed screenshot, eh?

But it can’t be described with reference. Because it’s its own thing, and that thing is an arcade music video. Or, more accurately, an arcade music movie, sort of like Interstella 555 (Go watch that if you haven’t, it’s pretty good.) The multiverse used to be a cool place, full of love, and ruled by three of the Major Arcana. But then five of them decided to get up in everyone’s business and break those hearts. So they used the pieces of a broken heart to create a magical girl, a magical girl who’s going to heal the hearts of those broken hearted Arcana.

If you guessed there was a queer as fuck subtext here, you’re wrong. It’s text, and it’s fucking amazing. Biker girls, wolf girls, literal sword lesbians… And the music starts bittersweet, and, while it gets lonesome and bitter in places, that’s the point. You’re fighting that. You’re fighting, by the end, an avatar of homophobia, and then? Well, you get to do it again, this time with the goal of beautiful smooches, now you’re a proven Magical Girl Heart Mender!

What can I say but… Literal. Sword. Lesbians. Yes.

And, as you might have guessed from the idea that it’s a music movie, yes, the aesthetics are gorgeous, the tunes vary quite a bit, but they’re all good (I happycried the first time I went through some of them), the visuals are… Ah. Yes. Let’s talk about the heartbreak for me, and probably some other folks.

You see, even though the game is forgiving in terms of forgiving deaths, and having low score barriers to finish the main story… As mentioned, the game flashes a lot, there’s a level where it’s twisting in a way that’s guaranteed to set off somebody’s motion sickness, and when it gets twitchy, it gets twitchy. As in “You have precisely 0.1 seconds to reorient yourself, because here’s a narrow corridor/sudden obstacle/need for a turn-pad very quickly after another one” twitchy. The QTEs are actually just fine. They’re friendly, they pause for a short, grey moment before you screw it up (and don’t let you screw it up because you pushed it before the prompt even appeared. And the game takes itself in directions with little notice, from race-collecting, to shooters, to even a Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon like experience where you’re locking onto enemies to shoot them.

This, however, is what you’ll see most often. Usually at high speed.

The controls, thankfully, are accessible, and twitch was expected in a game like this, but, even with that forgiveness, it can get brutal, and I had real trouble getting through the aforementioned twisty level, the second Moon level against the Howling Moons Gang, precisely because it was fucking me up. And I will also mention that this disorientation is only fitting, considering it’s a coming out story, set to music, and narrated by Queen Latifah. Shit’s disorienting, and things can come at you from unexpected angles… It is fitting!

And so, while I’d heartily recommend it to the quick fingered and strong stomached, and while I would less heartily recommend it to folks who are at least strong stomached (Because, as noted, you’re going to finish the levels regardless, and getting bronze is definitely do-able on each level), I find myself reacting to its cuteness, coolness, and positive, bubbly nature like the disaster bisexual I am: Longing for mutual fulfilment, yet finding myself gunshy about engaging, because… What if it rejected me or hurt me?

Like I said, even though it’s a recommendation with some heavy qualifications, it is a recommendation. I just wish it didn’t seem so out of my league, y’know?

The Mad Welshman is, in case you hadn’t noticed, pro queer rep. So to see this was a balm to an otherwise terrible month for him.

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Demon’s Tilt (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s been a while since I last looked at Demon’s Tilt, but it’s now out, and… Yup, it’s still a multi-segment pinball table where the three main features (bosses) change as you defeat them, is still a pretty tough pinball table that nonetheless is cool and interesting, and is still partly a bullet hell game where you can avoid the bullets, but sometimes using them is a better option. Oh, and nudge is encouraged, although the default keyboard binds (WSAD for nudge, the usual Left and Right shift for paddles, Space for the plunger) are a little uncomfortable (It has controller support, and I’ve had an okay time with that)

Yup, I feel like a badass priest alright, getting in the headgear of a succubus, smacking a chimera in its dumb helmeted head as she smacks me into it, and about to ride down a snake’s gullet for SUPER HOLY POINTS. Hell yes.

The amusing thing being, that I’ve already sung its praises in a previous review (Because yes, even for the price, this is a good and highly involved table, once you get to see things), there’s going to be a little repetition here. Actually, a lot of repetition.

The table is inspired by a few older pinball titles, namely Alien Crush and Devil Crush, and Crue Ball, and has three segments, a few hidden sub-tables, and, in EX mode, more hidden sub-tables. And each segment has at least one boss monster, from the Iron Chimera and Priestess Lilith, to the various gribbleys that populate the lowest segment.

Enemies only stop your ball from below, with the exception a few larger ones, and bullets kill the momentum of your ball regardless, so you can either use that to your advantage, swear and quickly nudge to avoid the dread drain (the pinball term for the ball falling below the lowest paddles, the point of no return), or… Well, not noticing and losing a ball. As well as all this, there are teleportals, spikes, the aforementioned sub tables… And aesthetically, it hits the nail on the head too.

This one’s an older screenshot, but hot damn, that was a good run. Also one of my few pics of this scary bossdude.

Gothic imagery, synthwaveish tunes and neon splashes (and, indeed, neon splash text), good impact and UX layout… There’s a lot to like about it. Although, fair warning, it’s a stimulation heavy game, lots of things flashing and sparking and bouncing and flashing, and it’s very easy to get overloaded. But hot damn, it looks so good while it’s doing it! It even gives you a hint as to what to do to get your next letter on the three LOADSAPOINTS objectives, and highlights jackpots and super jackpots as they appear.

Of course, no game is perfect, and perhaps my worst criticism is that the flippers are a little slow, requiring you to account for this with your timing. More than once, I’ve said to myself “I’ll set up an end of flipper shot”, and watched in irritation as I hit the flipper half a second too late, and watched it slide a table segment down.

These assholes, for example, shoot bullets a fair bit, and explode a lot, and this isn’t even counting when there’s lots of bullets. It’s a lot to take in!

But, overall? For pinball fans, this one is basically a must. It’s an exciting table, it’s got a great aesthetic, there’s replayability, the obligatory leaderboards (My PB is 302M, I’m sure there’s folks out there that can beat that), and there’s a lot to explore.

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