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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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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Der Geisterturm (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£16.58 for game+soundtrack, £4.67 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Der Geisterturm (The Ghost Tower) is a sequel, or maybe parallel game, to Das Geisterschiff, which I’d reviewed previously. As a member of Eberbach Corporation’s combat corps, you… Are told that you’re dead. And if you want a second chance at life, congrats, you have to get up a tower full of droids ordered to murder you a second time.

Cacklingly evil corporations. Go figure. Now, Das Geisterschiff was tough. Der Geisterturm? Is murderously tough. As in: I have yet to get to the second level tough. And there comes a time when you have to resolve to see if you can beat a thing later, and say that you currently cannot.

“By the way, we’ve put you in a death tower for unspecified reasons. It was in the small print of your contract.”

Now, it should be noted that individual enemies are generally not that tough. And that you have a shield, albeit one with limited energy (and another option we’ll get to later, for its extremely situational usefulness.) And indeed, you have a lot of options, that you need to switch between if you want to do the best job you can. And even combat stances and ram responses, that can set how you react to ramming (a valid tactic, when something or someone is lighter than you.) Changing your stance and ram responses, turning, and turning your shield on or off appear to be instantaneous. Switching weapons, moving, and waiting, however, is not. And we’ll get into why that makes the difficulty curve sharp in a moment.

But first, improvements! They are, for the most part, small, but they exist! Everything is blue now, rather than a somewhat disconcerting red. Items have visible representation (although sometimes tiny visible representation, like keycards), cutting down on “Where the hell is the thing?” … Somewhat! It’s still got that low poly aesthetic, with unidentified bots as wireframe cubes, but… We’ll also get into that.

This time, I have the upper hand. This time.

So… Der Geisterturm inherits some of the problems of its predecessor, and manages to make some new ones, alas, making the buy-in that much more difficult. For example, once an enemy has been identified, it should stay identified… But it does not. And, considering there are two basic enemies in both the tutorial and the first level, with only the latter allowing visual confirmation without analysis, this is kind of important. And now… Hiding and switching weapons. Yes, we definitely need to talk about those.

Hiding is, for the most part, useless. Enemies have an audio range, but generally speaking, this is big enough that your one for one movement doesn’t actually allow for getting far enough out of audio range (or sight range) to wait out their searching. As to switching weapons, well… Some enemies have vulnerability to bullets, others to lasers, others to explosives… You have limited ammo for each… And the first level’s encounters? Appear to almost exclusively consist of one drone that is weak to lasers. And another that’s weak to bullets and ramming. They appear in pairs, one of each type. And, as mentioned, switching weapons takes a turn, and they always appear in patterns that, if you concentrate on one, or run to lure the bigger one into range, you will likely take at least some damage from the other.

Every time you analyze an enemy to remind yourself of its weaknesses, three or four pages of this will turn up. Not the biggest fan of this.

Still no larger map, so get out those mapping tools, folks, no in-game options and key rebinding, which is doubly annoying because the game forgets it’s meant to be in windowed mode the moment you start a game…

Basically, I’d like to recommend Der Geisterturm, because it has an interesting aesthetic, a dark world, and a fair bit of atmosphere, but… While I could recommend Das Geisterschiff with the qualification that it’s hard, Der Geisterturm feels… Well, it feels much less fair. And maybe that’s intended. But it’s a turn off for me. I don’t particularly miss the days of the hard as balls wireframe first person RPGs like Wizardry 2, you see.

The Mad Welshman is an Old, it’s true. But he does not look kindly upon the past of computer games overall, except what we can learn from it.

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Digimon Stories: Cyber Sleuth Complete Edition (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Digimon, Digital Monsters, only certain ranks of Digimon are the Champions, as it turns out, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But that’s besides the point, we’re reviewing one I missed, because the budget’s never great: Digimon Stories – Cyber Sleuth, Complete Edition. Bit of a mouthful, but I appreciate that it is. Even down to the “Timesaver” bonus content. Whuff.

Okay, it’s time for the Devilma- What do you mean, Devimon doesn’t have the same theme song?

So yes, the general idea: It’s the future of our world, virtual reality that doesn’t make you motion sick (or need to move physically) is a thing, people quite literally “go on the internet”, and cyber crime still exists… Except using Digimon, which humanity, as a whole, seems to be unaware are actually living beings, albeit in digital form. And two protagonists, along with their friends and mentors, discover Great Events in the offing, as they gain the friendship of Digimon, and the Digital World and the Human World entwine and bleed into each other all the more.

It’s dramatic stuff, and I appreciate how the main plot’s kept me coming back, what with corrupt corporate businessfolks I love to hate (Well, no, I just hate, to be honest), Digimon of various personalities, such as one that simply wants friends, but goes about it in precisely the wrong way (and other, darker individuals), and, of course, friends, characters, their own stories. Nice. It’s also aesthetically pleasing, mostly, with a mostly clear UX. We’ll get into that mostly in a moment. But how does it play?

Not only are these two cute as hell. Not only are these two magical girls in the vein of Bayonetta or Panty and Stocking, but cute… You can get them as Digimon, and embrace cute. Doooo iiiiit.

Well, beyond the basics, which are a little more involved than Pokemon (You have two sets of types to consider: Vaccine/Virus/Data/Free, and element types. And yes, both of them factor into damage, so if you have precisely the wrong matchup, prepare to have that Digimon knocked out very quickly indeed), the devil’s in the details of which story you’re playing in the game: The Hacker’s Memories, or Cyber Sleuth. The Hacker’s Memories involves different kinds of battles, and seemingly no use for the Mirror Dungeon part of the DigiLab (where you do various things starting with Digi- to Digimon, such as Digivolution, the changing of a Digimon into a different Digimon, or back to give a little more of a level benefit. A thing that’s required for certain kinds of digivolutions.) Meanwhile, Cyber Sleuth has more of a real world map. But both involve… Look, I would be here for a very long time if I were talking about mechanical differences, and the Digivolution process, so let’s talk about how it feels… And the negatives of the game. Positive wise, we shall leave it so far as “Mostly good aesthetics, mostly good UX, a fair bit of depth and complexity, without being overwhelming, and puzzle areas that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out at the roots.

Feel wise, I’m feeling myself drawn into the story and its characters, enjoying the boss battles, and finding the world interesting. It dripfeeds the lore, only as it needs to, and, for the most part, doesn’t go “Hey, did you know about ‘World thing?’” unless it’s genuinely something the character wouldn’t know, or is unclear about. Good! The random battles… Exist. Maybe I’m overlevelled a lot of the time, maybe it’s just that way once you get any sort of decent team, but it’s only either when I’m in a new area, or am just starting out that I don’t seem to be one-shotting Digimon that I’m not weak against. So… The random battles feel a little like busywork as a result, especially due to the digicapture system (yes, a lot of things being with digi- . Deal with it.)

Team Monster +1, in that rare crit, the “Somebody is going to become very very dead” triple link-up!

See, you have to beat up a certain number of Digimon of a species to get enough data to hatch one yourself. And then more data, up to 200%, to make sure your Digimon is the best of its kind it can be. This can be eight fights with a digimon of a type (25%-30% each.) It can be ten. And it can be 14 fights. I haven’t found anything below 15% Data from each fight yet, but… Yeah, getting Digimon can be a grind. And some, you have to either feed in the Digifarm a lot, or have along with you in fights, to raise their CAMaraderie to the level you need. Rare Digimon can take a silly number of levels, plus special items to make, but… That’s rare ones, I’m okay with that.

What I’m less fine with is the type-match colouring when you select an enemy to hit, which is Red (Good damage, but not necessarily great damage, because, as you recall, there are two sets of type matchup.) which is fine… White for normal, which is fine… And blue for bad, or, more accurately speaking… Cyan for bad. These last two colours are very close together, to the point where even a fair few folks who aren’t colourblind can’t tell them apart, so… Bit shit, that. And no, there is no colourblindness option. At all.

It is no spoiler to say that this… This is the face of evil. Believe me, she gives away how gleefully evil she is from the first time(s) you meet her.

Equally, there are two minor niggles. The dungeon animations, or animations where your group is both running and bigger than 2, get weird, because the monsters can easily get caught up on you (stilling their animations, although it doesn’t restrict their movement), and are always pointed toward you when they’re running, which looks janky as hell. It’s not a dealbreaker, and nor is the fact that audio options don’t seem to take effect (or can even be set) until you start a game or continue it (the first time you play, you set them, and can change them in game.)

Overall, I’ve had a fairly good time with Digimon Stories, and it’s probably one of the games I’ll actually new game+ , in my large backlog. As a monster collecting game, it’s solidly designed overall, its story is drawing me in, and, apart from these problems, I’m having fun, and would recommend it to other fans of RPGs, especially those who are into the monster collecting gig.

I’ve appreciated having two months in a row where I’ve had nice monster collecting games. Now if only I had the free time to play them…

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