Minoria (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Minoria is cute. Minoria is melancholy. Minoria has an interesting world, that gets better the further you play into it. And Minoria… Has some brutally unforgiving boss fights, where single mistakes will cost you about three rooms worth of running and a cutscene to rejoin them. And, in the early game at least, there’s a big difference in challenge between the enemies… And the bosses.

Sister Devoir. She’s nasty, but… Maybe she has a point… About the church, silly, not the point of her sword.

Which, let’s face it, seems a very odd thing to say, doesn’t it? But the difference between the earliest enemies and the second boss, or even the second tier of enemies compared to the first, is clear. And everything that can hit you… Hits like a bloody truck. You start to get used to it, but… I have to admit, I bounced off hard, and bounced off early. Second boss, in fact.

And, honestly, there’s no shame in that. Single mistakes, especially in boss fights, cost dear, and, since the combat is akin to… Sigh… Dark Souls, in that fights with bosses are long, tense affairs in which, as noted, mistakes can quite easily cost your life, it’s merely beyond my own ability, rather than a condemnation of the game. More… A caution to those who, in turn, bounced off games of the Soulslike persuasion.

Wait, this woman looks… Familiar, for some reason…

The thing is, Minoria is also very lovely, aesthetically. Contemplative pianos give way to dramatic violins, beautiful princesses (Who… Remind me of someone. Hrm) and cute, but deadly small witches fit well in the well drawn corridors and steps of the cathedral, and everything is clear. It’s somewhat minimalistic in approach, but this works, and I do love it.

But, alas, I don’t really get on with its style of play, and, if we’re being honest, its keybinds. It’s most likely recommended that you play with controller, or rebind the keys, because it’s all too easy, with the default, to fatfinger the “Use Incense” key when what you meant to do was attack, or, less commonly, to switch your insenses when you meant to parry or dodge.

LET. US. PRAY!

Obviously, take this review with a grain of salt, because, as mentioned, I was not able to get too far due to the high damage you take for pretty much any mistake, but it’s a beautiful game that is recommended for soulslike fans, while not, generally speaking, recommended for beginners to its metroidvania styled exploration/combat. Specifically the combat.

The Mad Welshman is legitimately sad he couldn’t get as far as he wanted here.

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Kawaii Deathu Desu (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.89
Where To Get It: Steam

Singers, and indeed musicians of all kinds, get groupies. People who fan over them so much that they want to be inappropriate with their adored musician. But in Kawaii Deathu Desu, the handsy fans have invaded perhaps the last stage they should have… The stage of various supernatural Idol Singers, starting with… Death herself.

Yes, Death is an Idol Singer now. And her fans appear to love being reaped.

I’m honestly impressed that I managed to capture a frame that shows both the cutesy Death, and the reapings. Look at those blushy-happy ghosts go!

More accurately, Kawaii Deathu Desu is an extremely twitchy version of One Finger Death Punch, in which you use the left and right mouse buttons or arrow keys to murderise fans, levelling up idols, unlocking idols and their costumes, using their special ability with either space or both arrow keys at once, a thing you can accidentally do if you’re having to really lash out (and you are. Often.) And, funnily enough, it’s that levelling up and unlocking that’s precisely the problem. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Aesthetically, it’s an interesting mix of cutesy pixels… And grim pixels, moving seamlessly between both. The Idols are cute, swaying, headbanging, playing to their hearts’ content… Until they strike, whereupon they become horrific weapons of destruction, their fans vanishing into ash, being sliced in two…

I mean, to be fair, a metalhead ashing her fans with the power of SLIME ZOMBIES is, itself, metal as fuck.

And then their ghosts pop up, and most of them have heart eyes, with hearts flashing down from their ruined bodies as they vanish. The music is good, reminiscent of various styles from kitschy J-Pop, to harder tracks, and everything is pretty clear, even down to showing the keyboard controls for the menu only when you’re using the keyboard. I enjoy that. Oh, and the developer splash screen UwU’s you. Shouldn’t forget that.

But gameplay wise, while the core, basic gameplay is mostly alright, the difficulty ramps up way more quickly than the souls you need to level up and buy things does. I have, through sheer bloody mindedness, managed to unlock the second level of China, and Emmy, the second character (A zombie rocker who summons a handsy graveyard of their own as their special), but it feels, right now, as if I have a longer road ahead of me than is enjoyable. While the earlier stages, themselves, still feel enjoyable.

Only… does finger math… Approximately 10400 souls to go before she can deal with the later levels. Damn.

So, overall, I’m conflicted about Kawaii Deathu Desu. I love its mix of cutesy and not-cute-at-all, and its core mechanic works just fine, but it gets twitchy as hell quickly for too little reward, generally speaking, with farming of the earlier levels a must to progress, and that… That annoys me. Maybe it’ll be changed. But right now, it hasn’t, so… Only get this if you’ve read all this, and still want to give it a go.

OwO, what’s this? The Mad Welshman appreciates cutesy death deities.

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Fantasy Strike (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79 (Soundtrack £6.79)
Where To Get It: Steam

Fighting games are sometimes difficult to learn. Sometimes, they’re also difficult to master. But sometimes, as in Fantasy Strike, they’re mainly difficult to master. Which I appreciate, even if a tutorial before you can even change the window settings is not something I appreciate. Still, let’s talk Fantasy Strike.

“…You’re already painted.”

The philosophy behind Fantasy Strike’s fighting shenanigans is twofold: Firstly, to make a more accessible fighting game. But secondly, the game is all about David Sirlin’s favourite part of fighting games: Yomi.

It’s got multiple potential meanings, even in fighting games, but, essentially, the idea is that high level play involves reading your opponent well, so that you can adapt your strategies on the fly, be that conditioning your opponent into certain reactions (that you then punish with a different moveset), or simply knowing that an opponent likes a certain pattern, then punishing them for using it (It can go many ways, as you can see.) So, how does it do this? Well, multiple ways.

Firstly, there are a total of six buttons: One for light, one for heavy, two for specials, one for throwing, one for jump, and one for super moves. Also there is no crouching. Okay, that’s a relatively simple set up, especially since many characters don’t really have the need for both specials (although directional inputs change a fair few moves, as do, obviously, jumps.) There’s also a more limited health bar that gets chipped away if you block three attacks consecutively (some moves do double damage, such as Midori’s Dragon Throw, but most either deal one, or combo, so blocking it is effectively one damage, or two for not blocking.) It’s still somewhat twitchy, requiring good reactions and not button mashing to win the day, but that is, honestly, not bad. Enemies also flash various colours for invincibility frames (white), throws (blue), and special throws requiring a jump prompt to escape (green.) That still requires good reactions, but it is helpful.

Geiger, having a watch that controls time, counters and specials by… Being an asshole, essentially.

Secondly, beyond the things that you normally do with the concept of Yomi (pattern punishes, baiting, jump cancels, etcetera), there is the concept of the Yomi Counter. Somebody wants to throw you, and normally this is tough to counter, but in Fantasy Strike, the way you counter it is by… Doing absolutely nothing. Not moving, not punching… Just very briefly letting go of the controls. In practice, this is something that still requires mastering the specific reaction needs of Fantasy Strike, but the mechanical theory, at least, is clever.

Finally, the game lets you know what kind of character you’re playing, and, like other fighting games, allows you to see the moveset. “Wild Card”, alas, is a needlessly nebulous term, as the two fighters in this category, DeGrey and Lum, still have overlap with other categories. Lum is a sort of zoner in practice with random items as his special, while DeGrey is a sort of meld of grappler (slow-ish, but hard hitting), and “doll” fighter, with his ghost friend being a ranged grapple. But the other categories of zoner (specialises in controlling the battlefield in some fashion, and making areas of the battlefield dangerous. By the way, no crouch means projectiles are more dangerous), rushdown (relying on getting in someone’s face and comboing them with mixups (different attacks to different areas) to murderise them), and grappler (You hit hard, are slow, and mostly rely on throws) make sense. The majority category, by the way, are zoners, giving you some idea of the priorities here.

SIIIIGH. On the one hand, feels. On the other, in retrospect, the fact this lady is dragged off by oppressive government, then never mentioned again is bad.

Aesthetically, the game is honestly not bad at all. The characters are interesting visually, and you get a rough idea of what they can do by their look, the stages are lovely, and the music, while a little generic at times, is fitting and doesn’t steal the limelight. The voicework, on the other hand, is variable. Yes, I get that Valerie is a “Manic Painter”, but that isn’t always full ham, buds. And she is full ham. Which is a shame, because she’s my personal favourite. Similarly, the writing of Arcade Mode is… Well, it’s a little like earlyish fighting games (we’re talking Darkstalkers era more than original Stret Fighter), in that the plots are mostly silly, and told via beginning and end cutscenes. Although Valerie’s does start on a dark note, as her lady love is carted away by the oppressive government of the world that… Doesn’t really get that prominent a story role, to be honest? So, while there’s some queer rep, the cast is, honestly, pretty white as far as it goes, so it doesn’t really win any points for diverse representation overall.

I’ve already mentioned my main gripe (the tutorial being right at the beginning, rather than, say, a prompt before playing your first game that then allows you to change your options before play), and I will also mention that online requires a separate signup (Something I know some people aren’t a big fan of), but, overall? It isn’t a bad game, although I will say that the limited character roster is, considering the price, also a potential turn off. Finally, I’ll mention that yes, pro players will still kick your ass until you master things, with it being more to do with pattern recognition and timing than that and a hefty moveset. Otherwise, it honestly does most of what it sets out to do, isn’t a bad fighting game, and I found myself having an okay time with it, despite being normally bad and frustrated at fighting games.

The Mad Welshman dislikes explaining a lot, but, with fighting games, it’s kiiiinda necessary. There’s a lot of terms that only exist in fighting games.

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Speed Brawl (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

While I’m not much of a fighting game man, I love me some beat-em-up action. There’s something cathartic about beating the living daylights out of goons, beasts, and monsters, all of whom want yo- wait, speedrunning too?

Each tournament of the game is clearly mapped out, and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re meant to do.

Yes, this is Speed Brawl, a side-scrolling arena beat-em-up where the main concept is “Gotta punch fast.”, as you’re rated more by how quickly you get through its fighting shenanigans, or how quickly you hit targets, than how much health you have at the end of it, or how many sausages you picked up from trashcans along the way. And, as with any speedrunning games, there are tricks, little things to give you an edge.

Still, even without those, it’s mostly a fun as heck game about alternate-universe victorian characters (mostly, in the early game, some rad ladies) beating the hell out of mooks and bugs (big or otherwise.) And boy, do I love two of these characters in particular: Cassie and Bia.

Each character, along with equipment to buff them, and colour schemes (both won via playing the game), has a different feel to them, and Cassie and Bia are perfect examples of this. Cassie is a short french pixie-urchin with a cricket bat, and while she’s quick, she’s not the most damaging character, and is slightly more fragile than most. She also has a fast special, and her ultimate move (gained the same way you gain Special meter stamina: By beating things up) is nigh uncontrollable, but a glory off destruction if you can get her to spin around the stage just so. Meanwhile, Bia is big, butch, and her attacks work best at a somewhat specific range (the end of her fists, obviously.) She’s nowhere near as fast, but her specials and ultimate are tight, horizontal, and repeated haymakers, which do a lot of damage. Put the two together, since each level of Speed Brawl is played with two characters per player (and switching out gives a small speed boost), and an orgy of carnage results.

Like I said, when Cassie’s special can be aimed, it’s a gooood time!

It’s good, fun stuff, and it helps that everyone levels up once enough XP is gained, because for certain levels, folks like Cassie are, hands down, the best, while for others, you want something different. It works well aesthetically, the music is pumping and joyous, and, while the controls and later enemies (who have defences, or teleports, or ranged attacks) take getting used to, it’s definitely fun.

If I had any real crits for Speed Brawl, it’s that some enemies just feel more annoying to deal with (The large Rippers who are invincible from the front, for example), and that items don’t always feel like they do much, even though they are definitely increasing damage, and adding status effects. Part of this is that it’s chaotic as heck, and it can sometimes be hard to read what’s going on outside of your immediate circle of “Thing I’m pummelling right this second”, and this gets moreso with two players.

Then again, it also goes more quickly and is fun as heck with two players, so… Tradeoff? Either way, I like how Speed Brawl messes with the 2d beat-em-up formula, and, while it has a number of buttons, it’s still fairly easy to get back into.

It should also be noted that the animations have a good sense of impact. Or… Multiple impact, in this case…

The Mad Welshman loves Alternate Victorian times, because they really appreciated the value of a good top-hat and moustache. And yes, that is shallow.

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Lethal League Blaze (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lethal League Blaze is a game that, in many senses, takes a little bit to get going, but once it does, it lives up well to its name. And, even for a critic who doesn’t do well at fighting games, this one… This one tickles my fancy. And it’s all to do with how it revolves around a ball.

Lethal League Blaze is, essentially, combat ping-pong in a rectangular arena, in which the characters use directional movement, a double jump, and two keys (one for grabbing, one for thwacking), in order to punt, bunt, or smash a ball into their opponents with as much velocity as they can muster, fully aware at all times that a return at any point from the mid-stage could mean a loss…

Screenshots, alas, can barely cover what happens when it gets *really* fast. But this is a close example.

…After all, the more the ball gets bounced around, the faster it’s going. And the faster it’s going, well… The more it’s going to hurt when you fail to bat it or catch it, and it hits you in the [insert sensitive part of your anatomy here]. Now add in the possibility of special items, like a remote controlled ball, an invisible ball, and the like, and you have quite the explosive mix.

And yet, it continues to add flavour to this already heady mix. How about some tunes by Frank Klepacki, or Hideki Naganuma, of Jet Set Radio fame? How about a colourful character roster in a world of robots “not programmed to lose”, skaters, over the top Falcon Cops, and, as a final boss character, a murderous boom-box that quotes Sinistar, called, obviously, Doombox?

Multiple game modes, unlockable as you go? An arcade mode? A campaign? All in addition to the main core, which is multiplayer ball smacking action? Yeah, this all works. This brings those funky beats, whether that’s musical beats… Or the beatdown of watching a quick return make your opponent lose their last life.

As things heat up, so, too, does the background. Amusingly, the cops will just rush back once the fun’s over.

It’s also moderately accessible, for a fighting game. In its previous installment, one hit, regardless of speed, led to a loss of life, and you only had one. Here, folks in the early game can try things, work out what’s going on, get used to a character’s special, before it speeds up, because low speed hits don’t even deplete a single life-bar. All told, it’s fun stuff… But are there problems?

Sure, there are problems. But forgivable ones. For example, it must be said that the early parts of Campaign and Arcade modes are not great, because the AI isn’t bringing their A game. It’s understandable, but at the same time, watching an AI flail around, and getting a win where they don’t even hit the ball unless they need to isn’t great, and it leads to a false sense of security. A sense of security that, in arcade mode for me, lasted right up until about three fights before the end, and wasn’t shattered until I fought… DOOMBOX. Even if multiplayer is the focus (and it is), it wouldn’t hurt to tune the mid-game challenge up a little bit.

Otherwise, I like Lethal League Blaze. Its simple concept nonetheless allows for some tactics. Bunting the ball, then hitting it will drastically speed it up, and, at high speeds, the game gets chaotic, for example. Or the fact that the grab is a quick counter that, timed well when someone’s just finished charging up the ball, will knock the presumptuous player off their perch unless they, also, have a perfectly timed grab waiting. Its aesthetic is colourful, its unlockables are reasonable…

I LIVE… AGAIN. RUN, COWARD, RUN, RUN!

Yeah, I’m down for a Lethal League Blaze.

Perhaps the most painful part, for the Mad Welshman, was avoiding all the ball jokes. Aaaaaalll the ball jokes…

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