Kingdom: New Lands (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (OST £13.59)
Where To Get It: Steam

I’d actually been eyeing Kingdom for a while, but… Something put me off. I think, honestly, it was the tower defense aspect of it, for, as long time readers of my work may know, I’m not the biggest fan of tower defense style gameplay.

The Greed is attacking… And they’ll only become stronger the more I linger…

But, while there are aspects of that to Kingdom, and indeed, defending the kingdom is a core element of what’s going on, the other aspects are what keep me going to it. The decisions, for example. Huh, I’m short on coins… Do I create some farms? Do I chop some trees? Pay the merchant? Two of those can have consequences, if you aren’t careful. Chopping trees pulls back the forest, which is great if you want more land, more walls between you and the Dark Portals of Greed.

Not so good if you want to carry on recruiting people to become bowmen, knights (later), or farmers, maybe keep the merchant, or get a steady supply of deer. Creating farms is fine if you can defend them, or your temporary farms aren’t too far away from your settlement… But risky business nonetheless, because a slow citizen is a lost citizen, their tools stolen, trudging sadly back to the forest because you’ve failed them…

I am a queen who leads the way for my people… Such… Such as they are… Am I the bad queen, for leaving them behind?

…And, of course… Do I spend money on the main goals yet? Because there are two, or, more accurately, there’s one, but the second may be necessary to get the other. Building a ship to carry the King (or Queen) to a new land, and destroying the portals, the source of the dark Greed. The capital letter because it’s become an anthropomorphic force, rather than just, y’know… A lust for money or things you don’t have.

It’s an interesting idea. Story light, but it brought me back, quite a few times, to explore it. To take risks as the King (or Queen), because, for the majority of the game, there’s a lot you need to take a direct hand in, like distributing that coin to various projects, dropping coins beyond the battlements to maybe keep the Greed away for just one night, recruiting people by giving them coin… Riding out from the settlement, and god help you if you’re out at night, because if you don’t have coin to drop, to distract the Greed, they’ll take your crown. And if they take your crown, it’s all over.

This wasn’t the smartest idea. Somehow it panned out. Somehow.

Aesthetically, it’s good pixelwork, some cool music, fitting the theme of a kingdom lost, a kingdom renewed… A kingdom threatened… And gameplay wise, it’s got depth from simple elements, resource management and tower defense… I like it. The tower defense aspects, the slowish pace, the almost roguelike nature of “You will fail to learn the systems”, and the ramping difficulty may turn folks off, but the original game, the proof of concept, is available much cheaper than this for you to try (£4), and, if that grabs your attention, it may be worth taking a look at this one, which adds various features.

The Mad Welshman would make a terrible monarch, or any sort of ruler, really. He’s more the “Laser his name on the moon” type.

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Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £49.99 (Plus artbook £3.99, and some item DLC, ho-hum)
Where To Get It: Steam

Step based RPGs (A first person style of RPG where you move in discrete steps, hence the name) are, when done well, a delight. When they have an interesting world, some interesting gimmicks, good balance, and well written characters, I’m happy.

So it was pretty pleasing to come across Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk. Which has all of these, and a little more.

Madame Dronya, and her Resting Bitch Face.

The general idea, at least at the start (There are, of course, twists. Big ones) is that an asshole witch is looking for a gateway to the land of the dead, found in a dungeon complex, deadly to humans because of its Miasma (a supernatural fog), inside a well in a small town. Ah, okay, not a protagonist you can sympathise with, huh?

Well… It’s a little more complicated than that. But still… The story gets interesting quick (Although there is some content warning worthy stuff, like an encounter where a priestess presumably forcibly gets it on with the witch protagonist (played for laughs, but I winced), and, naturally, death. Lots of death, for reasons which become clear as you play.

As to the game? Well, the simplest way I could put it is “It’s one of the closest things to Etrian Odyssey we’re going to get on PC until Atlus puts Etrian Odyssey on PC”, but that would, honestly, be reductive. It’s a step based RPG, with automapping, and, shortly into the game, knowledge of where the enemies are. This is useful, because, in the case of enemies early in the dungeon, once you’ve levelled to the point they’re absolutely no problem at all, it’s best to avoid the tedium (and there are reasons to go back to level 1, although, fair warning, don’t do it early.

See that thing on the right? That thing on the right is going to ruin your day if you don’t prepare for lots of them.

However, it’s not always useful, as, for example, there’s an area in one of the first proper dungeons where you’re trapped in an area with several rocky bastards (do not bring fire element attacks to this fight, you will die horribly), with a high ambush rate, and so, unless you know beforehand that it’s there, you’re going to have a nasty surprise.

And death, itself, can be a nasty surprise. After all, your adventurers aren’t the witch and company. They’re puppets, magical dolls imbued with souls of adventurers gone by, and, if they die, or if a special attack to break their parts hits, and does its job (like many status attacks, it doesn’t always), well, their effectiveness is lessened until you get back home, and repair those parts… If you have the resources. Higher level dolls need higher level parts.

I like this. I like the class system. I like the way parts of the game’s mechanics are unveiled slowly, from mapping, to enemy sight and ambushing, to villager quests, better dolls, checkpoints, shops… And I love the aesthetic. Good music, great voice acting, interesting enemy and character designs for this weird, dark world, and a clear UX. My only problem is that sometimes, the path forward is distinctly unclear. Oh, I have to threaten this lady? I have to say no to the statue which turns out to be a bit bonkers? Ah… This was less than clear, game.

Oh, this poor swampy dryad…

But, overall, Labyrinth of Refrain is a solid RPG experience, and I like it quite a lot.

The Mad Welshman does love him some Etrian Odyssey style shenanigans. It’s such a shame that firstly, Etrian Odyssey isn’t on PC, and secondly, experiences like it are a gamble, pleasure wise…

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Helltaker (Review)

Source: Free
Price: Free, but the artbook has a pancake recipe, is £7.19, and if you like the game, buy it, let the dev know you liked it!
Where To Get It: Steam

Mmm, I do love me a sliding puzzle where I hit things. And I love me some demon gals. And I love the wooing thereof. So… That’s the major points of the review done with, let’s wrap it up, take it home, and-

Damn right!

Wait, you want me to say more? Ugh, fiiiiine… Okay, so… Helltaker is a game in which you, an incredibly macho (to the point of parody) protagonist, goes down to hell to get him a demon harem. Skeletons will bar your way. Block puzzles with one solution, and a perfectly fitting turn limit will haunt you. And saying the wrong thing to a demon girl will result in a bad end. But you are undeterred, because, as the protagonist states above, “When demon girls are involved, no price is high enough.”

Oh, and a multi-stage bossfight. I probably should have mentioned that.

HSSSSSSS!!!!

Anyway, it’s a puzzle game, it’s short, it’s free, and damn, does it have a good aesthetic. I love me some good inks. I love me some cartoonish, consistent visuals. And I love me a clear UX. It has all these things. So I never felt that much frustration with it, even with the normally despised Multi-stage rhythm boss fight (HISSSS!)

Don’t worry, it has a skip button. But doing them gets you cheevos.

And I liked the writing too, short as it is. You could be forgiven for thinking the entirety of the writing is “Short conversation, two choices, one is a bad end where you restart the puzzle”, but there’s also a little bit if you happen to ask the demon girls for advice. Including a secret ending (This is where the CW of suicide mention comes in, as one advice conversation has the choice of “Kill both of them” and “Kill yourself.” Only CW worthy ending that I know in the game, however)

And I would do aanything for love… Crap, that falls through, because I will push blocks…

So… Yeah, I love me a sliding puzzle where I hit things. I love demon gals, and the wooing thereof. And I like the humour of it. It’s horny, but SFW, and it prefers a little comedy, playing into the silliness of the concept, and I like the fact that the artbook also has a pancake recipe (There’s a reason why, but that’s to be discovered through play. If you like the game, get the artbook, give the dev some dough for making this short, but cool game.)

Seriously, buy the artbook if you like the game. It has a pancake recipe, and you’re supporting an indie developer.

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Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh god, here we are again. Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon is one of Ye Olde Choose Your Own Adventure Roleplaying experiences, and, if you read my review of Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal (which contains the trilogy), you will know that they can best be described as “Bastard hard with some Dead Man Walking scenarios.”

So, why am I back? Well, apart from video game masochism (Almost a job requirement), this is fully narrated by Eddie Marsan, seated in a comfortable leather armchair… As your Dungeon Master stand in.

…Luck. Yes, well, Eddie, I hope I have good luck too. I bloody need it with this one…

Alas, as soon as we begin, I have a critique: Subtitles are off by default, and the game doesn’t have a windowed mode. Come on, folks, we can do better than that! That, and… No windowed mode. Welp. Adding to this, folks might be uncomfortable with the narration videos themselves, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, direct eye contact is the name of the game here (which I know makes some uncomfortable), and secondly, some sections (some of which are necessary for a successful completion of the adventure) have video effects that are also uncomfortable, such as an eye straining “heat haze” effect.

Still, once you’ve properly started the adventure, rolling or choosing your stats, picking your potion, and getting past the first choice of the game, the game has a save system that fits the gamebook well… Checkpoint saves. You can start over from an early checkpoint, to take another route entirely (the major routes are quite long, and there’s some side encounters on each… Some of which are necessary), or reload a set of encounters, to maybe come out of it with more health. Also welcome is the cut-down fight system, where three rounds decide the fight, rather than slogs which… Well, they can definitely kill you pretty easily.

Orcs orcs orcs orcs…

Eddie Marsan’s narration is, nonetheless, solid, the aesthetic is mostly alright, the soundscape is good, I enjoyed the cut-ins of the original illustrations… But whether you like this game really depends on a few things: Whether any of the above turned you off… Whether you have some nostalgia for the era of Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks… And whether you’re going to be okay with this one, one of the more infamous of the Fighting Fantasy books, with its single actual path to victory, paths which are, effectively, dead man walking, and a fair few “Your adventure ends here” moments. If the answer for the two positive ones is yes, turn to 104. If it’s no, turn to 136. If you’re still undecided, you may choose to use one of your items, before taking one of the two paths in front of you.

Choose wisely, traveller…

104 – As you travel down the corridor, you find time regressing, images of your past life, tinged with a rosy light, flashing down the mirrored sides of the golden path you find yourself on. You wish to stay here, forever.

Nostalgia has taken you, and your adventure ends here.

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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.

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