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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Kindred Spirits on the Roof (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £26.99 (£36.13 for all audio dramas and Full Chorus DLC, Full Chorus £7.19, OST £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warnings: Lesbian Sex, Masturbation, Teacher-Student Relationship.


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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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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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