Eastern Exorcist (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49 (Demo is available)
Where to Get It: Steam

Being an exorcist in a world where demons not only exist, but have physical form, is a tough, dangerous proposition. And one’s heart needs to be like steel, as the protagonist quickly discovers. And so begins a journey of redemption, and perhaps revenge. Although I will say… Why the hell would you trust a Fox Spirit, a spirit well known for its lies and illusions? Ugh… Well, it makes for an interesting story.

Yes… How dare she turn into a vengeful ghost because we murdered her!

Eastern Exorcist looks pretty good. It even has an alright story. But… It has flaws. And gamepad comes heavily recommended. The various attack, parry, special, etcetera keys build up very quickly, and follow the JKL… Wait, no… H, JKL, UIO… And I’m sure Y will end up there pretty quickly. 8 buttons, not counting basic movement and jumping. That’s a fair amount, and, placed so close together… Either rebinding the keys for your comfort, or playing on gamepad is heavily recommended. And its gameplay…

This big guy moves more than this, but yes, he has a hefty recovery time for an equally heft boy.

It looks, on the surface, like an ARPG metroidvania. And maybe it improves from its somewhat basic formula later on… But the early game feels… Flat. I have a dash. I have a double jump. And yet… I don’t seem to use them much in the early game. The tutorialisation is, for the most part, pretty good, despite some segments being forced, but some concepts remain a little mysterious to me. And I meant to dash, and immediately hit J if I know it’s going to be a perfect, or as the symbol appears (usually when I’m too far away) or… It’s only one example, and the other mechanics, such as perfect parries or reflection, are explained well, but it’s a small thing that annoys me.

Moments later, they slashed me up but good. Not lethally, but still… Argh.

And so… I’m rather torn on this one. I’m not all that fond of what I call the “Gamepad heavily recommended ” games, and its early game feels flat in both the platform sense and the combat formula sense (Although that may just be me, as the enemy variety is solid pretty early on), but… It is Early Access, there’s plenty of time for it to improve, and the art style is definitely good, with well telegraphed attacks and clear signs of perfect dodge timing.

It’s one of these games where some problems are obvious to me, but others… Others are annoying me with not being able to properly pin my feelings down. It’s still one to at least watch, as I certainly didn’t find fault with the story, and the English localisation seems solid.

I just wish I could pin down more things about why I’m torn on this one right now.

The Mad Welshman, as an important reference, has not seen Chinese Opera. Just want that out there.

Become a Patron!

Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit In Wonder Labyrinth (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Mmmm, I love me some experimentation, and I’ve been getting a fair bit of it. I love me some Metroidvania funtimes, those action platformers where you unlock new areas by finding items, powerups, switches for somewhere way off, and defeating bosses. I’m not particularly familiar with Record of Lodoss War, but I’m informed it’s good.

And yet, I’m not quite meshing with Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, even knowing and loving its inspiration. And it’s mostly my fault.

Not pictured: A big ass water blast.

Let’s explain that: One of the things somewhat unique to this game is a spirit mechanic. The Wind spirit protects you from small wind element attacks, and gives you a sort of glide (we’ll come back to that.) The Fire spirit protects you, again, from small fire attacks, and adds fire to your attacks. Switching between them is important in this game, as, without it, you’re going to take a lot of unnecessary damage on the first boss, not get to certain areas you need to, and not, generally speaking, progress very far in the game.

I am not very good at this. Oh, and gamepad is recommended, or some heavy reconfiguring of keyboard controls, because the keyboard mapping is… Ohgod, for the first boss fight, three things you will definitely want are your bow (S), your jump (X), and switching your spirit (W.)

I genuinely love this mechanic. Good puzzling action.

Now, in my defense, health is not plentiful. You get some back by successfully attacking in fire form, but it doesn’t take all that much for you to keel over and go back to the last save point. And it doesn’t level up. Your magic levels up, and down, and your attacks level up (and down) based on how well you fight, but your health doesn’t appear to.

So it’s a tadge difficult, and I’m bad at it. It should also be mentioned, at this point, that it’s very much a work in progress, and only two areas (each with a midboss and a final boss) are in the game at the time of writing. So if that’s a turnoff, wait.

Still, it plays well, my badness and the keyboard controls notwithstanding, and aesthetically, it’s great. The feel it’s intending to give off is a homage to Symphony of the Night, and it pulls it off very well, with Deedlit even having, as fans call it, the Alucard Strut. The music is good, the spritework is damn fine, and the only real mar on the aesthetic is a smallish text size. Nonetheless, it’s a clear text separated well from the background, and the UX is otherwise pretty damn clear, so it’s solid in that respect.

God-damn door mimics!

I’m sure I’ll get better at this, and I appreciate most of the changes it makes to the formula of this genre, so I’d say that if you’re not turned off by the currrently short playtime (comparatively), and if you like a little challenge, then Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is a solid pick. And I get the feeling it’ll only get more interesting with time.

Elves. Nothing poignant, just… Elves, man, elves…

Become a Patron!

Monster Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For me, Monster Sanctuary is a bit of an odd experience. It is, by no means, a bad game, a metroidvania combined with the monster raising and fighting type games many of us love so much. Its skill trees, balance, and difficulty curve appear pretty solid, and I like its pixel art designs.

So it’s bugging the hell out of me that I’m not terribly enthused with it, and can’t work out why.

Monsters, some tame, some not, protag, got it, I know where I stand!

It’s certainly not the thinnish story, or the obvious gamey unlocks of features based on progression. I’m used to those, and honestly, it’s not that big a deal. You want to be the very best Monster Tamer, bad things are happening, and you work in an organisation, so it’s all good there.

The grind, similarly, isn’t bad. After all, monsters in the line share XP, so if you’re in need of seriously levelling someone up, you can put them as a reserve, beat up some lower level monsters, and don’t put them in the frontlines until they’re needed. And, of course, monsters are the level you catch them at.

It’s some solid visrep of combat, and a clear UX too.

Even the combat is engaging, because it’s this balancing act of factors. Do you put a monster in the very front, where it won’t do as much damage, but it’ll rack up combos for the monsters after it? Do you use a powerful ability, or tone it down and do less damage, because the powerful version outstrips the mana regeneration that monster currently has? Adding to this, you can see the types of monsters in a group (and they are, apart from uniques, always in a group), and plan accordingly, looking at your monster journal for weaknesses, coming up with a plan for the following encounter.

So, the systems fit pretty well together, with multiple elements to play with, multiple different roles, and the fact that even healing will add to a combo helps you keep the flow going with a healer role in the party. Moving around isn’t bad, especially since different monsters have different abilities you can use in the world, from breaking open inaccessible areas, to mobility improvements…

An example of this would be the bird. Poor bird, he has to carry the protag. Can’t do it for too long, but it’s enough.

It’s a solid game. And yet… I had trouble keeping my enthusiasm going, and I don’t particularly know why. There’s still time to work it out. There’s still time to change my mind, or have my mind changed by some update or another. And it’s a solid mix of platformer and turn-based monster taming RPG. It just… Doesn’t really grab me right now.

The Mad Welshman hates not knowing why he doesn’t get on with a thing. Normally he’s much better than that.

Become a Patron!

Spellsword Cards: Dungeontop (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 1 Release Review

Rogues. We love them. Or hate them. It really depends on which party got backstabbed. And this is the latest addition to Spellsword Cards: Dungeon Top (Stop snickering!), a card based strategy game where the cards summoned are units, your hero is a unit too, and if your hero dies, you lose, good job, start over… And if their hero in a fight dies… Congrats, you won a fight.

Redirect Yo Momma Joke is a powerful and deadly spell.

And our old friend incremental unlocks, where winning gets you resources to get more stuff, which may help you win… So on. Aesthetically, it’s pretty nice, some dramatic, tense music, some cool painted faces for the assorted minions and hero(in)es, and…

Sigh. A menu UI that’s still small, with no scaling option. It’s been what, [insert time here], folks? Come on, I know your dungeon door is pretty, but you can make the menu options bigger than that.

In any case, play still revolves around a deck themed around the Hero/Faction dichotomy, where some cards are unique, others are general, and the themes are obvious. The Karim remain the faction which eats itself for power, sacrificing minions to make the few glorious murderbastards. Helm, meanwhile, has the philosophy of “Build ’em up slow, take the enemy down.” And the Warrior, Mage, and Rogue? Well, they stab hard, throw spells, and sneakily take down the enemy, respectively.

Have a big wall of “The enemy is very boned.”

Okay, the rogue, being a new addition, needs a little more detail: His weapons come in melee and ranged flavours, but if you can get throwing knives (giving you multistrike at higher levels), go for them, and build around them. Because knockback is a thing, and knockback damage is a thing, the rogue can do well as a ranged murderer supreme, mainly needing his minions as meatshields. Or they can go all out on certain spells, and get through a fair few fights making the minions or the boss hit each other (and get free attacks from your own units.) They fight quick, and they fight decisively, one way or the other.

You will fail at first. It’s one of those games. But from each battle, you learn an enemy’s (pretty fixed) patterns. You learn how to beat them. In a way, it’s more of a puzzle game than a strategy one, although the random element does make it more “Hrm, of these five cards, which three of these do I apply to most effectively murder this giant golem that runs pretty quickly, attacks all units around it once every two turns, and will murder even my strongest warriors without too much hassle (and me with only slightly less)?”

Because yes, you have limited amounts of cards you can play in a turn, although some level up choices can make that more reasonable, as can some treasures.

Each character now has their own dialogue for the invidual chapters. It’s a little touch. But a nice touch.

How does it feel? Well, it feels much the same as when I last reviewed it: It’s an interesting game, it’s got a good aesthetic, it still needs to make those menu options bigger, and with a new area of the game added to boot, it’s got its rough difficulty curve laid out. It also has a draft option, allowing you to build a specific deck, seeds, and adding threat, so… Overall, it’s looking pretty promising!

Hi devs. Decent size on them main menu buttons, ta. Right now, it’s my only crit.

Become a Patron!

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!

Become a Patron!