Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (And a whole buttload of DLC, totalling £71.)
Where To Get It: Steam

I loved Darius when I was young. It was a great example of the imaginative boss design of shmups, along with Xenon 2’s bosses. An evil empire that has a design theme of fishes, crabs, and cephalopods for its giant boss ships? Oh. Hell. Yes. It helps that the series has had one hell of a soundtrack, and it’s been alright on the difficulty for a shmup.

I would have shown screenshots of mowing down smaller enemies, but with only a few exceptions, that’s relatively quick, even if the waves are placed in such a way you move a lot.

So, once again, the Belsar have invaded, with their fish-like ships, and it’s up to the elite Silverhawks to scramble to save the day. Go save the day, hero!

Bam. Plot done. Let’s talk about the game. Like earlier titles in the series, it’s split up into various routes, although, unlike previous entries, there’s a single main route, and side routes. What makes this one interesting is that you can unlock ships from throughout the series (and, with DLC, play ships from other properties, including the jetpack cannon funtimes of the Space Harrier protagonist), and play with those… Although you’ll get a chance to try out most of them in any case, some of which have unique tricks, and all of whom have at least one different element. Each mission is split up into at least two stages, often with multiple boss fights against memorable ships (the same models, such as King Fossil or Mirage Castle, have appeared pretty much throughout the series, so returning players know most of what to expect.)

Including this asshole. Ohhh, I’m sure many Darius players remember Thousand Bullets…

Missions also have mutators from the base of “All types of powerup, your special weapon charges from killing enemies”, such as limited or no drops, or your special weapon automatically charging (You’d think this was a godsend, but no, the challenge usually matches that mutator.) Beating each stage earns you a proportion of the score as points to purchase ships (Ships from later in the series, such as the Murukamo, require a lot of points, so if you really, really want to play those early, expect to grind the earlier missions a lot), and to spend on, if you choose to use a custom ship, powering them up for the mission (just using them is free, but if the mission has a no-powerup mutator, you really want to power them up appropriately, or better, than the preset ship you’re given)

When it comes to soundtrack, it’s great. The music, as mentioned, has been strong through most of the series, and this one is no exception. Visually, it works well, ships with powerups being denoted with strong, saturated colours, and foreground elements you could conceivably smash your ship against more saturated and brighter than the background, as it should be. The UX is clear, the sound is good (although, fair warning, if you’re using one of the older ships, it uses similar sound effects to the games they’re from, and changes the soundtrack in some places. They’re still powerful, so, er… Don’t discount them, even if chiptunes and beepy pew-pews aren’t your thing.)

Oh wait, I did have a wave screenshot!

It does get difficult somewhat early, due to some of the bosses having revenge bullets, a boatload of health, and some nasty attacks, but it plays very smoothly for what it is (a port of a PSP game), it’s a good shmup with a great soundtrack… My only critique is that there’s no english language version of the special guidebook you can get as DLC. I’d love to read that. Ship DLC is pretty cheap individually, and there’s certainly enough playtime that you won’t feel the need to play with those until you’ve finished the main game. Oh, and let’s not forget that it has both Arcade and Story modes (The mission route mode I’ve spent most of this review talking about), remote play, and Chronicle Mode, an interesting mode where there are 3000+ worlds on a “cabinet” that you share with other players online.

So… It comes highly recommended as a shmup which, while it gets bullet helly fairly quickly, is interesting, cool, and with a great soundtrack!

The Mad Welshman loves the inventive shooters, with the interesting boss designs. Don’t give me boring old “Ships, but big.” Give me things that make me say “Omigod, this is a thing I want to share!”

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Bombing Quest (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Bomberman. A game which has inspired many clones, over the years. Heck, I was tempted to do a Going Back on Super Bomberman R, and am still tempted. So, Bombing Quest… An overworld RPG Bomberman style game, in which you are on a grid with bombable obstacles, unbombable ones, and monsters, where all but the most basic have some sort of surprise, be it charging, invincible rolling, leaping over bombs and blocks… It’s fun stuff, and mechanically, I’m liking what Bombing Quest is doing with the formula.

Sometimes, you just need to wait a short while. To make sure the enemies aren’t going to leap down your throat the moment the doors close behind you.

Aesthetically, though… Well, the first area is, visually speaking, very dull. It’s clearish, but… Well, dull. Not a lot of colour variation, and so I found myself less enthusiastic about blowing the hell out of the various gribbleys. And the second area, alas, isn’t much better.

The gameplay is alright. There’s a somewhat interesting cap on items, based on finding certain collectibles (and somewhere you can equip the gadgets that improve your stats), there are variations on basic levels past the first area (for example, a smaller arena where the enemies are, but a series of traps beforehand.)

But the biggest problem with it right now is the somewhat dull nature aesthetically. Colour and value differentiation is low, so the health bar sometimes gets drowned out by the background (and, let’s face it, red/grey isn’t great when it comes to dingy lighting or backgrounds), the character portrait models are… Well, they exist… And the music, similarly, doesn’t really grab, or even get the pulse flowing.

The second area, for dinginess comparison purposes.

Bombing Quest still has a ways to go. It’s only at 0.4.3 at the time of writing. But I’m not terribly enthusiastic about this one, and a big part about it is the very workmanlike visuals, with their poor colour/value differentiation (not great for colourblind folks.) But mechanically, it works, with the usual disclaimer for games like this that you will get irritated when enemies avoid your bombs. Ohhh boy, you will.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a whole lot else to say, honestly. That’s why it’s short.

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Azur Lane: Crosswave (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £32.99 for the base game, £9.17 total for the soundtrack and “time-savers”
Where To Get It: Steam

Azur Lane is one hell of a phenomenon. It was, originally a mobile shmup gacha type deal that persists to this day. Gacha, by the way, means random drops, like the toy ball machines you sometimes see in cinemas and arcades, which are called Gacha Machines.

I decided to kill you all with cute early on.

But over the years, it’s gotten an anime, several manga, a fan following that make doujin and headcanon, expanding on the world… And the developers, basing their shipgirls, or kansen (women who’ve been given magical girl powers from rebuilt battleships to fight an alien threat called the Sirens… Or to use that alien threat’s technology to be evil) on the battles and cruisers, destroyers, battleships and carriers of World War 2, even down to a plotline in the main game that closely matches that of World War 2.

It’s interesting stuff, and, prior to the release of this game, a friend encouraged me to try out the original. So here I am, reviewing a 3D, third person character shmup with players switching between shipgirls of various abilities to achieve three goals for S rank: All player ships survive. Bosses killed. And to do that in 2 minutes or under.

It can get… A lot, quickly in battles. Just circle strafing isn’t gonna save you here, buddy.

And it’s honestly pretty nice! Very talky, and with a game loop that’s a somewhat acquired taste, but the writing is good, and each character shows their development, from Shimakaze, the protagonist of story mode, a cute, but naïve shipgirl just coming into her own, to Amagi, the sadistic, dominant, and extremely thirsty cruiser who was the villain of the early arc of Azur Lane, along with her adoptive “sister”, Kaga, who is a much more quiet character who merely appreciates the art of battle… And is a grumpy dork. There’s even a particularly humorous section in Chapter 4 of the game, where one of the bigger bads, the Siren “Purifier”, attempts to fight the main character, with a big, dramatic build up… And then all of that, the dramatic music, the stormy clouds, the evil laughter and dramatic monologue… All fall down as she’s told Shimakaze is in the middle of a friendly match with another character.

“…What.” I laughed, just as I laughed at several moments up until then.

Yes, those are the “Deal with it” sunglasses. Yes, she does wear them often. Deal with it.

Mechanically, while the main loop of “Sit through a ton of events, have some two to five minute battles, maybe grind some earlier battles to make sure you S rank, collect loot boxes, then do it some more” may turn folks off, the battles themselves do have their interesting parts. As with the original mobile game, there are up to three frontliners, and three support ships, which provide abilities, covering fire, that sort of thing. But you can switch between the characters, and when you do… The character you were using heals, a subtle encouragement to switch characters to use their special abilities (such as Shimakaze’s speed boost), their lock on attacks, and their own weaponry, with strengths and weaknesses. My one crit so far is that while moving forward to the next objective is clearly marked with a green arrow, it could sometimes be simpler, mission wise, if the enemies just… Spawned in, rather than wasting time. Maybe a personal preference thing.

Meanwhile, the keyboard is not recommended for this one, as there are directional controls, camera controls, two attacks, two specials, a dodge… That’s tough to keybind well, and I had trouble before I went to controller to carry on playing.

Red is important, green (lighter green, good call) is optional (but recommended.)

Aesthetically, Azur Lane in general has been known for its music, and it’s no different here, with some good tunage, solid sound and voice work, and the visual novel/overworld map elements are well done. The UX is pretty clear, and, while the 3D isn’t top notch, it’s still pretty good, and I do like the water, unrealistic though it may be. I dunno, maybe it’s because it adds a touch of stylisation.

So, overall, I enjoy Azur Lane: Crosswave. It’s definitely one fans of the original should check out, and, if you like these sorts of genres, there’s going to be an element of the game, at least, that will be enjoyable to you. It knows what niche it’s aiming for, and it lands it, and… Well, I appreciate a well written game!

The Mad Welshman curses the day his friend got him to Azur Lane. It’s killed his productivity…

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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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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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