Hnefatafl (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the ancient board game Hnefatafl. Originally a Scandinavian game of unknown rules (although variants existed in different portions of Europe, especially the Irish and Scottish versions), there was, nonetheless, a version that we now know as Hnefatafl: Tablut, from Lapland. And the general idea is that there is a king, who sits at his table with his men, and… Whoops, turns out this was a pretext by another king to murder him, and he is surrounded on all four sides. Can the king escape, guarded by his men? Or is he fucked?

koff

Well… That’s a common narrative interpretation, anyway. Nonetheless, it’s a competitive board game that is hard. Get hemmed in as the king? Lose. Get captured as the king, lose. (Depending on which rules you use, that requires a simple two capture, or completely surrounding the king) Don’t have enough pieces to capture the king? Lose. King gets to the corner, or edge in some rulesets, and is surrounded by men, so you can’t take him? Lose.

I love Hnefatafl, despite being atrocious at it.

So it’s a bit of a shame that, aesthetically, this isn’t all that strong. The main store image for the game is somewhat misrepresentative, as it isn’t 3D at all. It’s your standard top down deal, ala some chess games, and its UX is clear, but… Eh, it isn’t the greatest, really. There is online multiplayer for the game, so you could very conceivably play a friend (or play them with Steam’s Remote Play function.) It does, however, have most, if not all of the rule variations that exist of the game, so that’s definitely a plus, as is a chess like scoring system for online play, so… Plus?

Big ol’ list of variants, see?

And that, honestly, is the real choice here, when it comes to Hnefatafl games. If you want the most complete game with most, if not all of the rulesets, this is your choice, £5. If you want something older, with a little more flair, King’s Table, £4. If you want a 3D hnefatafl game with some visual polish, Hnefatafl: Viking Chess, £4. None of them will really go into the deep strategy of it, that’s for you to research… But they all offer different things, and this Hnefatafl game? It offers the variations.

Thud is, by the way, a hnefatafl variant. In case you didn’t know.

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Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (And a whole buttload of DLC, totalling £71.)
Where To Get It: Steam

I loved Darius when I was young. It was a great example of the imaginative boss design of shmups, along with Xenon 2’s bosses. An evil empire that has a design theme of fishes, crabs, and cephalopods for its giant boss ships? Oh. Hell. Yes. It helps that the series has had one hell of a soundtrack, and it’s been alright on the difficulty for a shmup.

I would have shown screenshots of mowing down smaller enemies, but with only a few exceptions, that’s relatively quick, even if the waves are placed in such a way you move a lot.

So, once again, the Belsar have invaded, with their fish-like ships, and it’s up to the elite Silverhawks to scramble to save the day. Go save the day, hero!

Bam. Plot done. Let’s talk about the game. Like earlier titles in the series, it’s split up into various routes, although, unlike previous entries, there’s a single main route, and side routes. What makes this one interesting is that you can unlock ships from throughout the series (and, with DLC, play ships from other properties, including the jetpack cannon funtimes of the Space Harrier protagonist), and play with those… Although you’ll get a chance to try out most of them in any case, some of which have unique tricks, and all of whom have at least one different element. Each mission is split up into at least two stages, often with multiple boss fights against memorable ships (the same models, such as King Fossil or Mirage Castle, have appeared pretty much throughout the series, so returning players know most of what to expect.)

Including this asshole. Ohhh, I’m sure many Darius players remember Thousand Bullets…

Missions also have mutators from the base of “All types of powerup, your special weapon charges from killing enemies”, such as limited or no drops, or your special weapon automatically charging (You’d think this was a godsend, but no, the challenge usually matches that mutator.) Beating each stage earns you a proportion of the score as points to purchase ships (Ships from later in the series, such as the Murukamo, require a lot of points, so if you really, really want to play those early, expect to grind the earlier missions a lot), and to spend on, if you choose to use a custom ship, powering them up for the mission (just using them is free, but if the mission has a no-powerup mutator, you really want to power them up appropriately, or better, than the preset ship you’re given)

When it comes to soundtrack, it’s great. The music, as mentioned, has been strong through most of the series, and this one is no exception. Visually, it works well, ships with powerups being denoted with strong, saturated colours, and foreground elements you could conceivably smash your ship against more saturated and brighter than the background, as it should be. The UX is clear, the sound is good (although, fair warning, if you’re using one of the older ships, it uses similar sound effects to the games they’re from, and changes the soundtrack in some places. They’re still powerful, so, er… Don’t discount them, even if chiptunes and beepy pew-pews aren’t your thing.)

Oh wait, I did have a wave screenshot!

It does get difficult somewhat early, due to some of the bosses having revenge bullets, a boatload of health, and some nasty attacks, but it plays very smoothly for what it is (a port of a PSP game), it’s a good shmup with a great soundtrack… My only critique is that there’s no english language version of the special guidebook you can get as DLC. I’d love to read that. Ship DLC is pretty cheap individually, and there’s certainly enough playtime that you won’t feel the need to play with those until you’ve finished the main game. Oh, and let’s not forget that it has both Arcade and Story modes (The mission route mode I’ve spent most of this review talking about), remote play, and Chronicle Mode, an interesting mode where there are 3000+ worlds on a “cabinet” that you share with other players online.

So… It comes highly recommended as a shmup which, while it gets bullet helly fairly quickly, is interesting, cool, and with a great soundtrack!

The Mad Welshman loves the inventive shooters, with the interesting boss designs. Don’t give me boring old “Ships, but big.” Give me things that make me say “Omigod, this is a thing I want to share!”

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One Step From Eden (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (£7.19 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, adding roguelike elements to things. We’ve seen it a lot, in recent years. We’ve even seen games that attempt to mix the Battle Network style of play, in which a field of tiles is split in two, and you dodge round them, using spells, cards, chips, whatever you wish to call them, to make attacks… Look… Move round field. Dodge attacks. Hit people with things, in the way the cards you got say. Rinse. Repeat.

My co-op partner and I… Getting our asses kicked.

So, most of this review is gameplay, because the story? Well, it’s post apocalyptic, there are beasties, there’s an end goal (Eden), and there are bosses (Who are also playable characters.) The aesthetic is, for the most part, fine, with a UX that only takes a little bit of getting used to (Although… Points docked for no colourblind mode, and some colourblindness problems, like the four tile marker, and broken tiles not being quite clear enough), with some nice music and pixel-art.

But the majority is gameplay, and the gameplay definitely has some interesting elements. Like its inspiration, it is, essentially, a deckbuilder, but stays real-time by shuffling your deck, rather than having you pick cards from it, randomly putting them into one of two slots, while you have a “weapon” for your character you can fall back on (or, in the case of Saffron, the starting character, hold the button down while you’re doing everything else.) Not all the weapons are weapons, and the cards you can pick for your deck, the artefacts, remain the same for all characters.

This… Seems like a bad idea. But it may not be… Well, situationally…

And there is the nice touch that you can focus on certain builds, letting the RNG prioritise certain card types over others. Maybe you like Anima, the elemental cannon type. Maybe you prefer Trinity, where the best things come in threes, or, more specifically… Third time lucky. Or maybe you want something like Flow, where the flow is built up and spent, powerful so long as you keep the flow flowing. I like this, it allows you to build the sort of deck you want, even if it may be luck to get it going. Shops are expensive, it’s true, and the unlocks between runs are, essentially, random, but they happen, and the fights are reasonable, so all is well in singleplayer.

Co-Op, on the other hand, is… Less well implemented. There is shared health, but this comes at the cost of both players having to play the same character, where… Not all of the palette changes are properly distinguishable from each other. It is also only local for both Co-Op and PVP (the latter of which I didn’t try, it must be mentioned.) There have been attempts to balance the co-op elements, with quicker mana regeneration, but, on the whole, my friend and I were not impressed. If you are trying this through Remote Play, be aware that yes, you’re probably going to have latency. Damn you, British Internets!

I would say the little sod’s got what’s coming to him, but he’s one of those enemies you have to take down with individual attacks. He only takes one HP per, y’see.

Overall, though, I like One Step From Eden. It has flaws. It has boss fights I don’t like (Violette’s can be quite painful if you don’t realise those notes are for stepping on, to prep you for her largely unavoidable attack.) And, as mentioned, co-op’s not so hot. But it has more going for it than against it, and so, I would recommend this.

The Mad Welshman appreciates not having to play an alphabet soup deck. And no, this won’t make sense to many. But he is still glad.

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Jamestown + (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99 (Deluxe Edition £17.26, Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

In a way, I already knew what I was going to write about Jamestown+ well before I got it. Because, before this site was even in being (I’ve been writing since 2010, folks), I’d reviewed Jamestown, and I found it both bloody hard… And immensely satisfying, a Western bullet hell shooter using Victorian steampunk pulp as an inspiration. Well, it would be considered scientific romance, but… Anyway, Mars is a green land of floating rocks and blue skies, except for those bloody Martians and the Spanish Armada, who are planning to attack. Sir Raleigh, while on the run from the British Empire because he was framed for the disappearance of the Roanoke colony, must save the day!

Sir Walter Raleigh, and a Blue Mars.

Yes, as this is set in an alternate Victorian Period, it’s colonialist. Just so you know.

In any case, the plus is there because yes, this is a remaster, and yes, this does have some extra stuff. Specifically, the Treason DLC, and a new one, the Armada DLC, which adds two new levels, and a new viewpoint character: John Smith, adventurer, great lover, and shameless braggart. So, that makes several levels, including two new ones, quite a few challenges, local multiplayer (up to 4 players, if you have the space, friends, and/or controllers. I know I don’t have at least two of those things!), and twelve ships, four of which have two potential alternate fire modes… Means there’s a lot of stuff. Especially as the game tracks whether you’ve done challenges or levels with specific ships, and what difficulty you’ve done it on.

Hucking a barrel may well blow this Martian up. But I’ll temporarily lose bulle- hucks barrel.

Although, annoyingly, an earlier restriction is still in place: You must be this good to enter Levels 4 and 5! (Respectively, beating the first three levels on the second difficulty level, and then, if I recall correctly, the first 4 on the third difficulty level. Out of five, the last two of which are hair-raising experiences.

Still, let’s count out the positives: Lots of ships and replayability, or simply finding the ship you’re comfortable with and having a good time? Check. Heck, you don’t even need to stick to the same ship level by level. Good visuals, mostly clear, good music and sounds, and keyboard moving of a mouse cursor for those who want to stay wholly keyboard? Check. Relatively low grind, not least because losing a level will still earn you some money for whatever cool thing you’re after (including a very silly “Farce Mode”, more challenges once you’ve finished the first four, and different types of shots and, in the case of the Armada ships, an alternate-alternate fire mode)? Check. The writing is minimalist, but does get across the characters of Raleigh and Smith respectively (alas, not the other viewpoints, although I understand why.) And while it is a bullet hell shooter, for a bullet hell, it’s one of the more accessible and flashy ones, with some interesting variety in the weaponry.

Not pictured: You must be this good to finish the game. Annoyingly.

Overall, I have pretty much the same opinion as back in the day: For shooter fans, this one’s an interesting one, for bullet hell fans, it’s a good example of a Western bullet hell, and for people looking to get into shooters for the first time? Aaaaahhhh it’s better than some options. But yes, overall, recommended.

The Mad Welshman would like to see more anti-establishment victorian cogs’n’steam settings. Because Steampunk, overall… Ain’t punk.

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Blink: Rogues (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

There is a common misconception among folks relatively new to vertical or horizontal shooters (or shmups, as they’re called) : That the Japanese ones are more difficult than the Western ones. While this certainly can be true (Hello Gradius, Hello Touhou!), there are still Western Shmups that are, for want of a better phrase (haha, not really), “Bastard Hard.” Jamestown. Raptor: Call of the Shadows. Xenon 2. They’re slower paced, for the most part, but enemies can be nasty.

Hrm, now how am I going to murder all eight of these enemies efficiently?

And so it is with Blink: Rogues, which combines some elements of the older European Shmup style (Slow paced, health bars, enemies are bullet spongey to the basic attack) with other ideas known to the genre, like enemies that can only be murderised with one of the three special weapons you have, flipping your craft to fire backwards, and a feature I haven’t seen outside of one other game (Dimension Drive) : Swapping between two different playfields, both because there are enemies to kill/avoid in both, and there are obstacles in both, some of which can only be avoided by blinking between sides.

Which would make the game more interesting, if it wasn’t for a lack of flair to it all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like me a low poly aesthetic, I love it contrasting with painted characters and nice, clean text. And I love little touches like parts that come off when you shoot them, even if it makes the enemies that little bit more bullet spongey. But the projectiles, the music, the enemy explosions… They can best be described as “workmanlike.”

I do like a bearded older man with a cigar and a naval uniform sometimes…

Add in that there’s no UX scaling for the main, shooty bits, and no reminder as to what the special weapon keys are. Yes, I forgot. Regularly. Colours? No. Keys? Yes. I’m also not certain as to its colourblind friendliness (being Red, Blue, and Green), so maaaybe different shield animations would help there? In any case, it’s not quite as accessible as I would like, and while the story is reminiscent of old arcade games and the DOS shooters that had story (Short conversations and collectible journals), it’s also somewhat workmanlike.

I don’t know, maybe I’m jaded. In any case, the difficulty ramps up reasonably well, although a big part of that is that death doesn’t lose you the mission, but instead takes you out of the fight for a whole 3 seconds (and, if you were in the middle of a wave, 3 seconds is a loooong time), and lose your multiplier. That’s pretty much it, although it does make reaching the star goals of a level that much harder if you die (Kill 50%, 75%, and 100% of enemies, sometimes with an extra modification like “You have to kill all the red beacon ships!”)

Rocks. Cuboid rocks, but… Well, they are rocks, I’ll give this mission that.

Despite that workmanlike nature, it’s not a bad game, by any means, and a multiplayer mode (local, whether against another player, or an AI with 5 difficulty levels) with several story missions that don’t outstay their welcome (and now, survival levels afterward, presumably on a “One life” basis) helps give it that little touch of replayability once you’re done (Whether that’s “Beaten all the levels” or “All the stars, all of them!”), but… As mentioned, it’s workmanlike and low key, and I can perfectly understand why that would be a turn off to folks.

The Mad Welshman once had a successful 100% run of the Monty Python DOS game. To this day, he doesn’t quite know how.

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