Necronator: Dead Wrong (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For all that I am not the biggest fan of tower defense games, I do respect a game that respects my time. And Necronator, being a tower defense roguelike, is a game that respects my time. And has a sense of humour. And, so far, only a few flaws.

Ah, the fresh… The freshly exhumed face of a new Overlord in training!

If you’ve never played one of these, the deal in this one is relatively simple. You summon enemies from your own “tower” (a crystal sphere, in this case), they go toward the enemy settlements or along the path you choose for them (by flipping signs), and the enemy does the same from their castle. Why a crystal ball and a castle?

Well, because you’re an evil overlord. Well, an evil overlord in training. And each time you defeat a settlement, be it an actual battle, a shop, an event, or a rest point, you move onto the next, down a branching map until… The boss. Gaining more servants along the way, that you cast.

Muahahahahaa…

There’s more to it than that, of course, mana, how getting minor settlements from the enemy speeds up your mana production, and makes defending a lane a little easier, how if you’re not quick enough to ruin an opponent, they reinforce, and the fight gets harder the longer it drags on… It’s a deckbuilder too.

Anyway, yes, battles are, overall, short. They get longer, as the sectors drag on, but for the first hour or so of play, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that lasts longer than five minutes. And I respect that. It’s pretty frantic, it looks pretty nice, and a rotatable view means that things can obscure the path you’re looking at, but it’s never more than a keyboard press away, and dragging units onto the field can be done anywhere, so this is a pretty good deal.

Pffft. Giving this guy the cold shoulder. Repeatedly.

Actually, wait. Giving him a cold shoulder’s actually a good thing, for an undead. It’s not like you have a warm shoulder!

Helps that it aesthetically looks pretty good, with some nice music, a good pixelly feel mixing well with cel-shaded art… My main criticism, aesthetically, is that some things don’t seem to get sound cues, so you have to trust, for example, that enrages are proccing, and that the status symbols over a unit are small unless you zoom in… Which you don’t, generally speaking, want to do.

Overall, though, it feels frantic and challenging without actually being twitchy, it’s got an interesting deck mix, a good aesthetic, it respects your time… It’s a promising start for Necronator, and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.

The Mad Welshman salutes his fellow Overlords. Soon, brethren, soon, we shall face… The Finals!

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World of Horror (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

Content Warning: This game has body horror and mutilation imagery, mentions of suicide, self harm, and murder.

(more…)

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Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access 1

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than riddling demons with holes with dual wielded SMGs. The kickback, the satisfying noise, the rapid thuds followed by the larger thud (or boom) as the monstrosity from another dimension finally keels over. In your imagination, of course, because while there’s bullet trails in Jupiter Hell (allowing you to see just how much ammo you wasted murdering them), death animations aren’t really that impressive, nor do they need to be.

Oh. Wait. There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than seeing the sizzling holes, melting a demon piece by piece, with dual wielded plasma SMGs. I stand corrected.

Buddy, you can… See all these bodies around, right? And me, without a scratch?

What I’m saying is, 0.8.8, the Dual Wield update for Jupiter Hell, has a feature that’s pretty damn satisfying, even if it has some qualifiers, like “You get this cool thing if you survive your first three level ups”, “It will still take up two weapon slots”, “Remember how you had that ammo problem? It will chew through ammo faster”, and “Only Marines and Scouts get this. Sorry Techies.”

Of course, it’s not the only change, although hacking turrets feels… A little underwhelming, as an example. Find the computer terminal on a level, spend 3 of the new combo armour replacement/hacking items, the multitool, and bam, turrets are… Deactivated, seemingly. Since I’ve never seen a turret shoot someone, and they have an ammo drop next to them, that’s basically what I assume, anyways. I mean, it makes levels slightly easier?

And now I’m on fire, how ’bout that?

Anyway, yes, I forgot, all this time, to say what Jupiter Hell is, for the folks in the back. Jupiter Hell is a turn-based roguelike, heavily inspired by Doom (Its spiritual predecessor actually was Doom: The Roguelike, and it was only Bethesda’s litigiousness, in spite of Id Software being cool with it, even flattered, that it is not called DoomRL2 today.) Actions like moving, reloading, firing… All take a certain amount of time, and the enemies, similarly, work on a timer. Diagonal movement costs two squares of movement, but moving doubles your chance of evading shots, so it’s valid to, when seeing a big old bundle of enemies, to book it to a safer position. Indeed, considering enemies will now hit cover when they see you most times, and only get out if you destroy it (sometimes possible) or lure them out (a risky move in some cases, but risk management is the name of the game.)

And how does all this feel? Well, easy mode feels pretty do-able, although you definitely have hairy moments. Normal is a roguelike experience, something that takes a fair amount of tactical thought to defeat… And, of course, there’s challenge modes. I don’t recommend challenge modes for the casual player, or the higher difficulties. But it is casual playthrough accessible, with relatively minimal unlocks for getting certain achievements.

Poor dualjay. He never got to see the plasma pistols…

It helps that it also looks and sounds pretty good. Shots sound satisfying, the clank of one of the chonky security robots is a sound that, once you know the enemy itself, makes you break into a cold sweat and hunt cautiously for both the robot and the best cover, the maps look pretty good for being tile based, quite atmospheric, and the music… Well, as with its inspiration, it veers between heavy, driving metal, and ominous, low tunes, setting the mood for each area. Oh, and then there’s the Marine/Scout/Techie, whose angry growls evoke that 90s protag feel, but in a way that’s not, like quite a few of the 90s FPS protags, a dickwad. Just a dude very, very angry that shit’s gone to hell.

So yeah, Jupiter Hell is getting closeish to release now, the devs have been very good about trying to balance it while maintaining interesting mechanics, and, while I don’t think they’re quite there yet, it’s a pretty good roguelike to start your entrance into the genre.

The Mad Welshman has nothing against demonic denizens. He just wished they’d stop trying to kill him.

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Endcycle VS (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, Endcycle Vs didn’t interest me, despite loving Megaman Battle Network’s combat system of a 3×6 grid, split in two, in which the player and their opponents use abilities (Chips, in the case of the player) to attack the enemy, a new hand coming when the old one is used. After all, it was multiplayer only, and not even mod support was going to bring me to that party.

But now, it has singleplayer and… Well, I’m somewhat bouncing off it, to be quite honest.

This one’s a nasty one if it hits.

Mainly, it’s for a very simple reason: Everything is fast. And can seemingly move diagonally, although that may be just that they’re… Going really fast. In its inspiration, MegaMan Battle Network, things generally don’t move quickly. And the few enemies that do are considered the biggest pains in the ass in the series. Similarly, some moves where instant hits (known as hitscan), so you at least knew that, the moment you hit the fire button, something would get damaged.

And neither of these appear to be true, with the exception of swords, in Endcycle Vs. Spreadshots? Slowish projectiles. Cannons? Slowish projectiles. The “Rush” Sword is, in fact, a leisurely dodge. And grenade and trap type weapons both have a specific range, and are, generally speaking, slow. Meanwhile, enemies fast. Can you perhaps see the problem here?

Chips, chips, chips. Enough to open a chip shop. Which they have.

Now, less a problem and more “Something different, to maybe get used to” is the fact that, instead of getting a new “hand” of chips once you’ve used the last, you have three sets of four chips, each with cooldowns, and you can switch between chips with the space key, and use one of those four chips with the arrow keys. Okay, cool. But what this, generally speaking, means is that you’re either waiting on a cooldown, or rapidly switching between ability sets. Now, you can set everything to attack chips, if you really want, but it’s good to have some sort of healing, some sort of defence, and some sort of area or panel grab chip, which makes neutral panels yours, or enemy patterns neutral. Because you can only move on neutral or your panels, so without those, you can get hemmed in.

One of the two endless modes replaces one of your chips after each victory, your choice. But you cannot choose “None.” And, as you can see, sometimes this means getting a “No options you like” moment. Like this one.

Aesthetically, it’s alright. The music is good, light, but pumping beats for combat, a synth theme, various other tunes, all inspired by… Well, its inspiration. The spritework’s alright, the menus have a consistent font, and my main gripe is that it’s hard to parse cooldowns when you’re concentrating more on the enemy’s position rather than, y’know, you. Where the icons and their cooldown shaders are.

Overall, it’s very obviously designed for the Pro E-Sports crowd, balanced around people who are twitchier, more timing aware, and fine with longish matches because they’re darting around so damn much. But that definitely isn’t for me, and I don’t particularly see it being appealing to more than a niche crowd within the niche that is people who like this sort of battle game overall, and the people who, like me, loved a game boy advance series from way back when.

Stuff gotten! waves the tiniest flag.

There are other games like this in my future. And so, I don’t actually have all that much interest in coming back to this.

The Mad Welshman lives in the cyberworld. He has to admit, it’s a somewhat dull place. You get used to those rushing neon comets quite quickly.

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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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