Deck of Ashes (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£5.19 each for OST and Print-Ready Posters, £7.19 each for expanded art book and unique character skins)
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access

Deck of Ashes is, to me, an odd one. It’s not often we deal with Grimdark (where the darkness almost seems so dark as to be comical, except… When it’s not.) A world where Death’s Curse has been unleashed by 3 fools and an evil jester who misled them. And now… A mysterious man leads all four back, to meet their fates.

Except it’s never that easy, is it?

Bah, you shall have the food in your mouth turn to ash, asshole.

Deck of Ashes is one of those card combat, turn based roguelike dealios, in which our four protagonists, each with their own unique gimmick, fight their way to Lady Death, unlocking cards for their deck along the way, along with useful items.

The deck part is important, because your deck… Has a direct effect on your health. No, no free reshuffles for you, boyo, every time you run out of cards, you have to spend 10 health points, to get 5 random cards back in. You can upgrade this to either 8 random cards or five selected cards, but the cost remains pretty much the same: Health, for cards back.

Buck’s friend Charon, when unable to lend their strength to Buck, gets mean.

And this, funnily enough, is both a help and a hindrance to all characters. Lucia’s fire magic, for example, is damaging to herself, so ending fights quickly is a must. Buck doesn’t want some of his cards back, because while they’re in the Ash deck, as the discard pile is known, some of them give him special abilities. So if one or more goes out… Whoops, there they go, and you only get one chance of putting all ash cards… In your hand… Back into the Ash pile to do their thing.

Similarly, everyone has a story, and the grimdark is strong with this one, as every single one of the characters has some kind of dark past, although the most relatable is Buck, who is highly empathetic, and wants to save his friend. Least relatable is Magnus the Jester, who is a manipulative, hateful asshole through and through, using his powers of manipulation not to solve his problem (people dismiss him and despise him for his deformity), but to ruin things, and even at the time we join him, after he unleashed the Ash Curse, nope, he wants to become a new god. Asshole. Suffice to say, nobody’s end seems happy, because grimdark.

That’s right. Go back to the hateful, small little fool you are, Magnus.

Despite the whole “Your mileage may vary on grimdark” thing, aesthetically, it’s pretty pleasing overall. Good art style (even if the loading screens are in a different style, they still show the characters well), solid music, with threatening bass lines and violins quavering at the violence (not actually, but this is the mood they were going for), and… Ah, yeah, we do have one problem: Although most of the tooltips, menus, etcetera are clear and readable, there is one very odd exception: The resource trade menu… Which is tiny. Not only is it hard to read, it’s hard to select, and I don’t know why this is.

Still, overall, there’s some interesting tactics here, an interesting take on the roguelike card battling type genre, and even though I’m not particularly a fan of grimdark, I do appreciate that the story is pretty well presented for what it is. So, overall, a recommendation.

Er, fix the menu though, folks, eh?

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good experiment. He’s less fond of all the screaming and gore during one, though…

Become a Patron!

The Inner Friend (Going Back)

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

Ah, Carl Jung and David Lynch. One an odd student of Sigmund Freud’s, whose theory of the Shadow (the unconscious, unknown part of ourselves, which we both strive against and come to acknowledge) inspired quite a few dream based media. One a film-maker well known for his surrealism, and, of course, Twin Peaks. Which, itself, inspired Stranger Things, and that last part, as well as elements of the soundtrack to the game showing similarities, is why, if you watch a Let’s Play of this game, Stranger Things gets mentioned. It’s the most recent thing someone can point to that it’s “Like.”

YOU! YES, YOU! STAND STILL, LADDIE!

So, The Inner Friend is a puzzle game with horror elements, because what the protagonist (depicted as broken and incomplete) deals with is fears. Traumas in surreal, dream-like form. School, where the teachers can seem like monsters, and the books and educational television shows seem to drain our life. A museum, symbolic of our anxious and self critical nature, our damaged nature for all the world to gawk at, while our damaged self scans and finds wanting… Our damaged self.

Of course, these are just interpretations. That’s the thing about symbolic representations in a surrealist dreamscape… But the facts that they are a dreamscape, and they are the products of someone in pain, trying to comfort their Shadow… To acknowledge them.

Oh, and let’s not forget the horror that is being reminded of Junji Ito’s “The Amigara Fault” in a symbolic unbirthing/rebirthing that happens before every dream dive.

However, part of a dream is not knowing the rules of the dream. So each area, while it has a single puzzle type you repeat a few times, is a different puzzle in each area. And the game does some interesting things. Despite being a linear experience, it gives that dreamlike illusion of nonlinearity by turning you back on yourself, making the path forward be the way you came, and giving you the impression that which lit window you take to the next world, which of the buildings twirling in the void you visit, even matters. All roads lead to the next dream. There is a second cutscene at the end if you collect all of the objects in each dream (Listen for the tinkles. Always listen for the tinkles), but its original ending still interests.

The music is good, the visuals are good, the soundscapes are bewildering (aka good) and, generally speaking, there’s clear hints leading you through what you’re meant to do, which is good. It even does some fun visual tricks in some areas, like the fish-eye lensing in the museum. Less good is that the camera can be a little wilful at times, that I experienced a hang on trying to enter the third dream (I got past it, but it is a bug I encountered), and… Well, not so much less good as an interesting choice is that it frontloads its more difficult puzzles early. By the time of the hospital, what you want to be doing is pretty well communicated.

A cold, sterile place to be displayed, this…

So, would I recommend it overall? Well, I’m a bit jaded on the horror front, so I can’t really say anything did more than somewhat unsettle me, and chase segments merely feel… Well, like chase segments. Try real hard to focus on the objective, don’t look at the gribbley, got it, done. But it definitely unsettles in places, and it is an interesting game, so, overall? Yeah, I’d recommend this. If you’re turned off by short games, yup, it’s pretty short, jog on, but if that isn’t a turnoff, and you find an hour or two of an interesting experience worth more than 30 hours of a bland one, then yes, this is an interesting experience.

The Mad Welshman can’t really say that he’s fully up on his Jungian Psychology. But he does enjoy some David Lynch.

Become a Patron!

Iratus: Lord of the Dead (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 (£26.58 for Supporter Edition, £7.59 for upgrade to Supporter Edition)
Where to Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access Review

And so, the Dark Lord is finally out of the dungeon. Well, metaphorically. For the goal remains, in Iratus, to get your necromantic Dark Lord… Out of the dungeon. Which he had been trapped in, until some foolish adventurers opened his crypt and gave him some starting materials…

Screeeeaaaam.

Speaking of materials, goodness me, there’ve been some changes since last I played, and they do make the experience more challenging!

In any case, this is a turn based strategy game in which you, a very sarcastic Dark Lord (the best kind), have found yourself awakened once again, and you have to beat or frighten your way back up through the depths, to claim your right to conquer once more. Encounter by encounter, battle by battle, you earn resources to build up your army of the dead, maybe unlock more types, and balance for the encounters you see coming.

Now that is a welcome change. Because while frightening enemies to death (as opposed to shooting, stabbing, magicking, and bludgeoning them to death) is the path to the best rewards, risky as it is, there are some enemies, most notably the golems early on, who are not only immune to Stress damage, but can also redirect the stress damage they can’t take from others… Onto themselves. You really want a high damage build for these bastards, as they have a lot of armour too.

Obligatory “Big Rock Guy is a scary bastard” picture.

But there are other changes too, that make things more challenging. To pick one example, a common means of buffing your troops was to turn crap materials into less-crap materials. A strategy that is less do-able now, because the chances of better items coming out is minimal without some talent upgrades, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that new parts for your undead don’t buff specific stats… But give you more stat points to do with as you please.

I said before that the game is pretty clear, aesthetically speaking, and this is mostly true, but what I failed to mention last time is that, alas, there is no text scaling option. Beyond this, however, you know what’s what, the tooltips are fine, and the visuals, music, and voicework are all high quality. It really gets across this atmosphere of a dark world, a world which… Honestly, the villain could probably conquer in other ways, considering how there are slavers, beserkers, mad mages, dwarves gone bad… Well, Iratus does Iratus, I guess!

Although, y’know, a guy who poses like this? Prooobably a bit narcissistic. Either that, or taking a rocking selfie…

And what Iratus does, it does well: A turn based strategy game with a fair amount of depth, a good amount of polish, a protagonist with a bleak sense of humour, and some tense, challenging gameplay. Your minions are not that replaceable. Try not to get them killed a second time, eh?

The Mad Welshman likes to see a fellow villain go up in the world. Well, unless they’re encroaching on his areas, in which case, he likes to see them go down.

Become a Patron!

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…)

Become a Patron!

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.

Become a Patron!