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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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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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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The Coma 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.99 (£1.69 each for two skins, £3.19 for artbook or soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warning: This game contains body horror, in addition to what is usually expected in a horror game.

I knew I was going to have a fun time with The Coma 2 when our protagonist, Mina Park, utters a solidly “Horror protagonist” line. Context first: She woke up in a strange, alternate school in which her teachers are monsters, and the halls are filled with student bodies twisted into grotesque forms. She escapes said monsters, rescued by somebody, and is deposited at the local police station, and told to wait there until the rescuer (seemingly the only normal person in this universe) comes back. And what does she say?

You may have gotten a B+ in the English exam, Mina, but you’re A+ on Advance Horror Protagonism.

“While I’m here, I can file a report at the Police Station.” Solid. Gold. Horror protagonists, continue to do counter-survival things in order to make things interesting.

Anyway, yes, The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is the sequel to The Coma, this time from the perspective of Mina Park, the best friend of the first game’s protagonist, who is drawn into the same shadow world. A world where people she would otherwise have trusted have become shades or monsters, and only a few can be trusted.

It’s pretty good survival horror, to be honest. 6 areas, which you hop between in an effort to, essentially, survive and, hopefully, stop an eldritch horror from entering our world. Does it have a good ending? Ahaha, that would be spoilers.

English, as it turns out, is quite the murderous subject. (Although that’s usually demonstrated by people who butcher the English Language)

Nonetheless, the gameplay is pretty tight. E to interact, some of which will take some time (and notes will take some extra time, as I found out on my first proper death in the Police Station. Avoid death first, notes later!), A and D or the arrow keys to walk, Shift to run, space for a dodge… And WASD/arrow quicktime events (your choice) for holding your breath and difficult actions. This, honestly, is the one thing I wasn’t entirely fond of, but I will say that the game eases you in.

Now, aesthetically, the game is on point. An inked and cel shaded hand drawn style that’s quite charming, ambient, eerie music with its own feel, and audio cues that let you know when a monster that isn’t one of the basic obstacle types is on your floor, and what direction they’re coming from? These are all good. Similarly, the writing is solid, with the character of Mina and others sold well, and the world given to you piece by piece, in a sensible manner.

WELP. Very, very dead.

Difficulty wise, it eases you in, and collecting the story notes is, for the most part, pretty easy when you start, ramping somewhat in difficulty the first time you hit the Police Station, and… Well, let’s leave it at “The difficulty curve is reasonable, and I enjoy this.” And feel wise? Well, I appreciated that there are few jump scares, preferring to go with enemies you at least know when you first see them, and the twisted humans, who are quick, screamy, and will murder you quickly if you don’t succesfully hide or try to just run (they’re slightly faster than you, although doors and stairs briefly delay them.) Also a sensible stamina bar. I always appreciate a stamina bar that lets you run for more than 5 seconds, although this is still… About fifteen seconds before you’re out of puff.

So, overall, this is fairly nice for a horror game, and, for horror fans, this one is one you should definitely give a go, at the very least.

The Mad Welshman is always pleasantly surprised when someone actually gets what a good horror game should be like. It’s fairly rare.

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