Hermitage: Strange Case Files (Review)

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

Content Warning: The game contains mentions of abuse, bullying, self harm, drugs, and suicide. Although TMW has not managed to fully check the CWs, they assume there are more, but these alone are biggies for a fair few folks.

Well… That’s been one hell of a ride.

Yeah, sometimes all you can really say as an opener is something so simple, because Hermitage: Strange Case Files is an emotional rollercoaster, and, naturally for a horror adventure game with obvious Lovecraft influences, it’s a deeply unsettling experience at times.

Ah, a many angled doggy. Sadly, a bit too eldritch and hostile to be pettable. Sorry, you cannot pet the dog in this game.

Slight, yet important tangent here, because I know something’s going to be said: Yes, Lovecraft was a racist fuck to the point where even his peers went “Whoooooah there, buddy!” Yes, a lot of his work has racism, and indeed, much of the subtext and theming is racist as fuck too. But if you are to judge a later work riffing on the created mythos, not on its own merits, but just as a sentence that starts with “This person liked Lovecraft’s work, ergo, they are -”, you’re doing a disservice to the creator in question.

Okay, that said, let’s go into it. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a supernatural mystery visual novel, mostly from the perspective of a bookshop owner whose landlord is… Mysterious, and knows more than they’re letting on, his lawyer cum investigator friend, and the various people who are caught up in horrors that said trio help solve. The first chapter is available as a free demo, and oh boy, it’s a doozy. A private school. Bullying. Strange dreams that prove to be real. I would definitely say, if you have a trauma trigger about school bullying, that the descriptions are uncomfortably on point. In each chapter, there are only a few puzzles, the majority of which are to do with sliding clues onto questions to answer them (three per question), with three chances on each, and a bad ending awaiting if, well, you fuck any of them up.

This guy… This cryptic god-damn guy…

So, let’s get the bad out the way: Scarlet text on a dark transparent box, with sometimes dark backgrounds? HAVE. COLOURBLINDNESS. OPTIONS. Some of the questions, perhaps due to the translation from Chinese to English, are worded in such a way that you likely won’t get it the first time, and sometimes, when you click to fast forward text before clicking again to skip the line… Well, it just skips the line before it’s done. Okay. That’s the bad out the way.

The writing is good. It will frustrate some folks to know that it has the feel of a sequel at the beginning, but most things get revealed by the end, don’t worry. It’s descriptive, it’s emotive (oh boy is it emotive), and the characters, even the ones who are introduced for only one chapter, are fleshed out as well as they can be for their screentime. It draws you in, and I honestly didn’t realise the first chapter took almost 2 hours, because, well, there were only five puzzles (technically four), and the writing drew me in.

Please do not do this. No, really, I can’t fucking read this at all.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned accessibility issue, it’s styling… The character designs are sharp, an ink and airbrush style you often see in manhua, with the occasional more painted look, the menus of the game fit the mood and theme of a mystery game well, the locations are nice, and the soundtrack and ambient sound… Mmmm, chef’s kiss, it’s good stuff.

So yes, if you like horror, if the content warnings don’t turn you off, and if you like a nice visual novel to keep you up at night, then Hermitage is a definite recommendation from me.

Have. Colourblindness. Options. This is not a request.

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Tsugu No Hi (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£4.79 for Evil God Korone)
Where To Get It: Steam

Hrm. “Day of Atonement”, according to the developer. It’s a good title for this series of horror vignettes, and furthermore allows a simple change to make Tsugi No Hi (The Next Day), even if… What are the characters in these vignettes atoning for again?

I thought I’d start with a note that yes, there is a Kizuna Ai Tsugu no Hi story. And a Korone one at the time of publishing.

Well, except for one, maybe two cases? Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, intruding upon something that they never would have realised they were intruding on. It’s honestly one of the things I like about Japanese horror stories like these: It doesn’t feel the need to explain the why or the what. If you happen to know why you’re being targeted by this ghost/youkai/kami/whatever (no, I’m not using these interchangably, I’m just covering the bases), then good, but most of the time… You won’t. Why would you? How would you?

I got pretty far ahead of myself here, so let’s back up a bit. Tsugu No Hi is a series of short adventures that were previously made in Flash, in which, for the majority of games, there are precisely two necessary controls: Left, to go left. Enter to pass onto the next bit of dialogue. You do this a few times, each time being a day, and eventually… Well, you inevitably reach your fate. It’s one of the more literal interpretations of Kinetic Novels I’ve seen, and I like that.

Equally, I like the aesthetic when it’s not trying its best to burst my eardrums or jumpscare me. Photoshopped people, a photocollage for most of the stories, blank spaces where the eyes should be being the norm, normal, ambient sounds, until… Oh… Oh… Things are starting to get weird. A good staple of horror that: The slow realisation of wrongness in reality. The music in the end and the beginning of each story is also good, so… Mmm, do like, and same with ye ambient horror bass.

A brief summary of the series. Despite this sign, you enter. And bad things happen. And you vanish from the world, presumably horribly. No, not even this cat is immune.

Now, let’s get onto problems. So, first up, if kinetic novels are not your thing, this will miss you. You have next to no control, you cannot escape this fate, and, while this is thematically appropriate (after all, you were fucked from the moment whatever is happening started), this is what it is. A dark ghost house ride, jumpscares and all. Some of these hit, adding to the atmosphere, and some, well, they’re silly, shock and nothing more.

Secondly, this is… A pretty direct set of ports. Volume control? Gonna have to go into your mixer while the game’s running, buddy. The small window of the story selection screen is most definitely… A thing, although the windows for the games themselves can be maximised just fine. And thirdly, fans of the originals will find the “The Next Day” transitioning to “The Day of Atonement” (in this translation “The Hexed Day”… Oh ho ho) to be a disappointment. I can’t really speak about the quality of translation, alas, but it seems mostly faithful from what I’ve seen of translators Let’s Playing it.

Sometimes, it’s just… Jumpscare after jumpscare, right at the end. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either when it happens.

Honestly, I like Tsugu No Hi overall, I love the implication of connected incidents in many of the chapters, and I like the general concept, even if the aural and visual assault of the final days is a mixed bag for me, usually a miss when it’s really over the top. But I like the connected stories, even if the connection isn’t obvious. This… Is an extremely cursed place. Spirits abound, people are fucked (and one cat. So, yes, CW: Cat death)…

…I just wish this was more of an update using the assets, rather than most of the originals, jank and all, collected in one place. But hey, if you like janky J-horror, know to turn the volume down in the mixer lest your eardrums suffer, and are fine with jumpscares (either in the sense of enjoying the ARGH! Or just… Being okay with them, like me), this definitely isn’t a bad pick to while away a few hours.

The Mad Welshman has somehow not reached The Day of Atonement. He’s kind of disappointed, actually. He’s always wanted to punch a ghost in the face for trying to claw his own off.

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Jupiter Hell (Review)

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

Well, this is certainly pleasing. Not unexpected, but pleasing. Jupiter Hell has had quite the glow-up since I last saw it, and I am happy.

He’s angry… I mean, this is the default state, but… Yup, definitely some killing to be done here!

I mean, not aesthetically, although its intro is very nice, much machismo there, yes… And health items are still hard to spot in certain areas (would it kill ya to add outlines for the colourblind, mmmm?) but in other terms.

First though, your reminder as to what Jupiter Hell is: It’s a turn based game, in which all actions take a certain amount of time, and you walk/run around, pick up items, shoot the hell out of zombies, demons, and security bots, and move from level to level, with risk-reward decisions at every step. For example: You’re low on ammo for your favourite weapon. Do you ditch it for a while for something with more common ammo for the area, or do you stick with it in the hopes of finding more, at the risk of being caught in an awkward situation?

Oh, and there’s the challenge modes: Do not do them if you’re not up for a very roguelike challenge mode (hard as balls even on medium difficulty), but they do exist, and they are interesting (such as “Angel of Carnage.” Rocket launcher only, all ammo can be turned into rocket launcher ammo, good luck, because there’s a high chance of killing yourself!)

You’d think a fight between a security robot with a minigun and a marine with a pair of uzis would be an unfair matchup. You’d be right, bot never had a chance.

Anyway, me oh my, the stuff since the last update has become pretty interesting. More areas, lore (surprising nobody who’s played any of the spiritual predecessors, the Doom series, Mars has become a portal to hell and the company stationed there was doing bad things that caused this whole mess), and something I don’t think I’ve seen in a roguelike before: Messages that can incentivise you to take another path, or warn you about problems ahead.

“Some asshole got into the strongroom on CALLISTO MINES L1, here’s how they did it, please fix [NARRATOR: It wasn’t fixed, and everyone involved with that strongroom is dead, loot to your heart’s content]” or “Shit, the power’s out in IO HUB, you’ll need a multitool to bring the power back [TRANSLATION: Dark level, but if you have high enough firepower, this is a good thing, don’t bother fixing the lights.]”

It’s a pretty welcome thing, honestly. Refreshing.

Wait, it has… Story now? Yes, and quelle surprise, capitalism and the military industrial complex did a demonic whoopsie!

Anyway, overall, Jupiter Hell has a good easy difficulty for folks, it’s relatively simple, pretty accessible, barring a few issues, and as far as roguelikes go, yes, I still recommend this one.

Now, The Mad Welshman doesn’t have to worry about demons for all of… A week? Things just keep cropping up, he doesn’t know where they come from…

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Scarlet Hollow Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (It’s sort of a season pass deal, episode 1 is £4.79, episode 2 is £5.19)
Where to Get It: Steam

Content Warnings (taken from the official site) Realistic Gore; death; dead, dying and injured animals; children in peril; child death; claustrophobia; emetophobia/vomiting; disturbing imagery and situations

Mystery horror. It’s a difficult thing to write, honestly. You’ve got to get the right balance between a sense of normality and… Something being off, before that something decides to come knocking.

And said somethings can be… Ewwwwww…

And so, Scarlet Hollow begins in a very simple way, well known to horror fans: An estranged family member, going to the family’s run down, decrepit house in a run-down, slowly dying town for their aunt’s funeral.

And it doesn’t fuck around with the “something off”, either. The guy on the bus is loud on the way there, and subtly unstable. The cat (if you can talk to animals, more on that in a sec) is a proud French asshole. There’s a forbidden wing, a seriously tired and frumpy cousin, and yes, you are very much a stranger in a strange land.

And this is before things even kick off.

So, yes, Scarlet Hollow is a visual novel, episodic, and only episodes 1 and 2 are out right now. But buy it once, and when the rest of the episodes come out, bam, they’re yours! And it’s… A really cool experience, gently unsettling until it decides to go all out, lowering and spiking the tension well… And aesthetically, it’s very on point.

Even if you’re haunted by grief and gribbleys… Don’t let your bathroom get this stanky. Seriously.

Inks abound, crosshatching, all that good pen drawing shit I know and love, and solid colour choices, muted when it needs to be, loud when it needs to be. Musically, it’s good, accessibility wise, it’s good, and it’s got… A lot of choice. Just to start off with, pronouns (YESSSS) and two special traits. For my first go through, I picked talking to animals and book smarts, and… Wow, I spent a lot of the first ep sounding like a pompous grad student, while also being dissed by Frou-Frou for butchering their native language. Ehehehe. So… Yeah, that, combined with hidden meters, meant I got a fair bit of choice paralysis, not helped by…

…Curse you, Black Tabby Games… You know about scroll-wheeling in Ren’py, and you cockblocked me. Then I shall have to save a heckuva lot

Why, bless your butterbiscuits, Gretchen, you are the sweetest little Southern Pugge I’ve ever met!

Anyway, yes, queer horror, romance options, complicated relationships… If you like a visual novel with a lot going on, then Scarlet Hollow is really good. Oh, and obviously, if any of the content warnings are triggers for you, stay away, and if they aren’t, keep an eye on the CW page for further warnings that may or may not occur.

No, dating the pug to get adorable doggy “kisses” is not an option. Sorry, go for Purrfect Date or Hatoful Boyfriend for that, and apologies.

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Swarm The City (Demo Review)

Source: Review Copy (?)
Price: The actual game isn’t out yet.
Where to Wishlist It: Steam

I don’t normally review demos. Early Access, I’m comfortable with, because it’s an ongoing process. It’s fascinating to see how a game evolves (or devolves) as time goes on. But a demo is generally part of a finished product, even if it’s not the whole thing, and even if it’s sometimes different. But I did accept a key, and it’s not a public demo, so…

From relatively small beginnings…

…Take this as a review of the demo, and if any similarities exist between it and the game itself, well, those critiques apply. Otherwise… Well, this is for the demo of a real time strategy game about being an unseen dark overlord released in the modern day, unleashing your undead hordes to once again cover the world in darkness. Solid concept.

That said, it’s a rocky start when you have a slow loading time, and the quit, join the discord, and version number all blurred out by your filter. It loses that fuzziness once you hit that “start the game” (get to the main menu) button, and you get to make the game windowed from that point on, but… First impressions matter.

After that? Well, it was only the first chapter, but I can say it was… Okay. The UI is minimalist, although it could maybe do with some tooltipping, but this works. The (unskippable) text crawl at the beginning was sans-serif, which is a solid accessibility choice, as is the rest of the text, some of the icons are small, and it’s unclear at first that you have to go to the side of the skill button to level something up, but the basic concept is solid, and the visual aesthetic overall is the low poly good shit that I enjoy, animated fairly well. Musically, it was a bit sparse, and I’m genuinely uncertain how much playtime the other two chapters in the main game would offer, but…

To a full blown crisis thanks to a slow response from… Wait, shit, pretend I didn’t say that…

It’s okay. I have as many “hrm…” moments as I had “Ah!” moments, such as how you can play pretty tactically, but also the “move here” command doesn’t scroll along at the edge of the screen, which fixes you to a relatively short range in the larger maps… The demo, at least, seems solid for fans of relatively simple real time strategy that nonetheless has some layers to it, but, as I mentioned, I can’t speak for the rest of the game.

The Mad Welshman would like to pick your brains on this one…

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