Wicked Willow (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£17.70 for game, OST, and art book, OST and art book £2.09 each)
Where To Get It: Steam

Magic has a Price. This is a common theme in fantasy fiction, especially in magical realism or urban fantasy, in which yes, magic takes a toll, isn’t always predictable, and sometimes… That price is too much. And when you are only just starting out? Well… A beginning is a delicate time.

…A delicate time that involves an axe murderer. Uhhh…

Good thing you’re able to go through it over and over again until you know what’s going on, know the consequences, and are maybe… Maybe able to deal with them.

And I’ll admit, the first few endings I got, I was… A little disappointed. I fucked things up royally several times, got myself in a coma… But eventually, I found other endings, the good ones… And I appreciated it for the good, queer funtime that it can be, when you get that happy ending.

One straight ending, and a whole lot of gay ones, including a transgender character. Yep, fair! Still… The writing, and the voice acting…

Valid.

They are… Alright. The premise is a good one, a groundhog day of a witch whose magic always has an unintended price, with a shady organisation (or, more accurately, way of life, the One Right Way) behind the scenes… Mostly… Still, the One Right Way speech, by the nominal villainess, is an interesting one, and unsubtle. People do often go through the world thinking there is One Right Way of living your life. One Right Type of Relationship. One Right Way to look at it all. I can’t really say more without spoiling things, but alas, the character who represents ORW, and their philosophy is… An unsurprising choice. Still, seeing some trans-euphoria happen in a story is definitely nice, so… Another good reason to like this.

Cheerful British Cat Called Shadow is my new band name.

Aesthetically, it’s a clear visual novel, it’s voiced, its progress checkpoints are both a system I rarely see outside of, say, the wild rides of Kotaro Uchikoshi (look them up, I’ve reviewed Zero Time Dilemma and 428: Shibuya Scramble here, as fine examples), and well represented and checkpointed, letting you know where you can find more endings…

Overall, I must say I’ve enjoyed my time with Wicked Willow. It’s writing may be a little stiff or overdone in a few places, but overall, it is, as the technical term goes, “Dat Good Queer Shit.”

Yes, “Dat Good Queer Shit” is a technical term. Don’t @ me.

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Wintermoor Tactics Club (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£6.39 OST)
Where To Get It: Steam

Our hobbies don’t define us… But they sure as hell can bring us together, and tell others things about ourselves. I love art, and roleplaying, and generally, creative stuff. I love writing these reviews, and being critical and informative as best I can. And clubs… That’s where many people had their formative experiences, for good or for ill. Finding belonging, or exclusion, finding friends, ideas… Sharing.

Yes, the clubs are cartoonishly represented. But each one deeply connects with their hobby. And each other.

But what if, for some completely arbitrary reason, that club was shut down? How would that make you feel? Even if there was a reason, even if you didn’t lose the friends you made from those clubs, you would have less of a chance, less time to share that love of your hobby with your friends. And all because of something arbitrary.

And this, in a sense, is the core conflict of the Wintermoor Tactics Club, where the principal, for some unknown reason, begins holding a snowball contest between all the clubs of the school. The stakes? The club that loses each battle gets shut down. For good. All to find… The Ultimate Club. The Club of Clubs.

Look, I wanted to add this one in instead of a second tactics picture because it’s a Devo reference.

There is a reason for it, but, for the majority of the game, it’s going to feel arbitrary as hell, and corny when you do get there. Well played corny, with good writing… But even as a tabletop player who’s played some corny scenarios… Corny.

Anyways, yes, power of friendship, power of shared interests, a theme of tabletop tactics, because our protagonists are the members of the Wintermoor Tactics Club (plus folks who join the club after defeats, for various reasons), and the game is a cool hybrid of point and click adventure, visual novel, and turn based strategy. When you’re outside of battles, you do quests, talk to people, look at items for often humorous dialogue (love the library!), and progress the story in some fashion or another. And then… The battles. They’re all turn based and tactical, usually with three or four characters (sometimes more or less), but sometimes, they’re snowball fights, sometimes, they’re adventures to help the characters think, or to bring someone new to the group, sometimes, they’re progressing a character’s adventure to give them swanky new abilities. It’s solid stuff!

This is the kind of player character naming I can get behind…

Some of them are challenge maps with fixed stuff, which I know is a turn off for some folks, but, overall, it’s got give in how you play and which characters you use.

Aesthetically, I love it. Solid, cartoonish and expressive artwork, fitting and, in places, quite stirring music, a good, clear UX with solid text sizes and easy tooltips… And, as mentioned, some pretty solid writing, with very little tonal whiplash. When things get heavy, they get heavy. When things are meant to be light… You get the picture.

This is a solid game. It’s not a hugely long game, but it doesn’t need to be. I’d rather have something like this, tight, well written, and with elegance, over some bloated, over or underdesigned monstrosity. Turn based strategy newbies may well have a good time with this one, as it’s a nice, gentle introduction to the genre, with a good difficulty curve, and giving you useful information, such as who is going to attack who and why. Which is something you can exploit.

The Mad Welshman does 2 Psychic Damage for a nerdy tabletop reference. It may inflict confusion, or do extra damage if you are weak to Nerd.

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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…)

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Coffee Talk (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29 (Artbook £3.99, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It is 2020. Elves, dwarves, orcs, fairies, demons… They all live in this alternate world… And they all have everyday lives. And they’ve got the same happinesses (mostly), the same drama (mostly), and the same problems (sorta mostly) as we do. And Coffee Talk, through the medium of a late night coffee shop, explores those lives in its fictional setting.

And yet, I’m almost certain somebody among my readership is thinking “It would be so hot though!”

I’m loving some of the little things. The joking between a vampire and a werewolf about werewolves using BDSM as a method for calming themselves during a fury (myth, in the setting. Some werewolves can calm themselves with sex, but for obvious risk reasons, they stick to vanilla.) The little things that remain the same, like people who’ve been there before giving advice to those going through troubles (Yeah, really is best not to leave issues unresolved, because yeah, they fester. Ain’t good for anyone. Wise advice, cop in a computer game.)

And, here’s the thing: Even though there’s wider story, a wider world out there, it’s these little stories, these slices of people’s lives, that are important. And I can only talk about so many, not only for space reasons, but spoiler reasons too. But I do want to mention that there’s one point that directly engages with the concept of fantasy allegories of racism, with a writer in this world pointing out that yes, there are different species to be racist about, but that wouldn’t mean that racism as a concept wouldn’t exist if there are only humans. And, of course, we know it to be true.

I did have a picture of making latte, but I deleted my picture of making latte art. Some things are too horrible for the world to see…

Now, mechanically, it’s very simple: Brew the drinks the customers want, or brew specific ones. There’s a pretty robust save function, and while, unfortunately, there isn’t a multiple save system, you can go back to previous days, and there are three profiles to play with… And the writing’s good enough that I’m reasonably sure you’ll have an okay time playing through. But also, as a free hint, be aware that the order of the ingredients is as important as the type of the ingredients. I learned that the hard way, and several saves and loads, my first time playing. I wanted to make sure I got a specific drink right, you see. And that, basically, is the mechanics: Make the kind of drinks you’d make in a coffee shop, what the customers want, and the story will progress. Make the wrong kinds of drinks, and you may just find other things, maybe good, maybe bad, will happen.

But of course, a visual novel, for that’s basically what it is, stands on its writing (It’s good, if you hadn’t got that from my two paragraphs of gushing), and its aesthetics. And its aesthetics, the pixel art of the various characters, their designs, the simple and clear UX (the menu is a little small, but not tiny. Just a little small), and the chill beats really sell the atmosphere of a warm, welcoming place where people can talk to the mysterious barista, each other, and be… Be themselves.

Catgirls, orc girlfriends… It’s like they know how to push them buttons…

I like Coffee Talk. And I’d recommend it. There’s not really anything more to say.

Except that no, I will never screenshot my attempts at latte art.

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Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (Review)

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

Ah, the World of Darkness. A world of gothic woe, and equally gothic reaching for hope that is, in the long run, doomed to failure. Where supernatural creatures, indubitably powerful, nonetheless hide in the modern world, because yes, people would kill the hell out of them once they learned how if they were public. Well, actually, considering kink culture, probably not if they played their cards right. But anyway!

This woman is honestly pretty sympathetic. She’s gone through a lot.

This is a visual novel that, like another World of Darkness product I’d reviewed before (Preludes) is meant to be a sort of introduction to the world with the story of a newly embraced vampire, from one of three clans: Ventrue, the Blueblood powermongers. Brujah, the philosopher warriors turned anti-authoritarian. And Toreador, those who value art, even as their own artistic talent is crushed by the Embrace. And this is where people might start disliking the game, because the overarching story will remain the same in each playthrough, the main differences being how they lived and were embraced, and the person they’d known before their embrace. Add in that you can’t recruit more than two characters on a single playthrough, and definitely can’t do all the sidequests in the time you have, adds a little replay value, but if it being a shortish game is a big turnoff to you, or the general narrative arc remaining the same, then… This is not for you.

A fine example of the luscious painting style. Goshdarn, this is good stuff.

I don’t personally think of that as a bad thing. Nor do I think of the fact that it’s only really possible to fail at the very beginning as bad. Because I ask myself “What is the goal here?” And the answer comes up the same: It’s to tell a story, to immerse you into a world. Yes, that world is, in the World of Darkness, a world where even supernatural life, especially in the beginning, can be nasty, brutish, and short. But a game with that aspect would prove, as it has for me when sitting at the more adversarial tabletop sessions, unenjoyable. There is an interesting world, and the developers want to show it.

It helps that, aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. The characters and places are lushly painted, the writing is good, providing insight into this setting, and the UX is not bad at all. The soundscape, similarly, is pleasant, fitting with the scenes in question. Accessibility wise, resizable text is good. My only gripe, settings wise, is that there is no windowed mode.

I will note, however, that this guy has some serious Plan 9 vibes. Those eyes! <3

So, as such? My opinion is that it does precisely what it sets out to do: To tell a short story, from three potential perspectives, with potential choices for exploring other clans in the game, and aspects of a vampire’s life. It is, basically, a way to get you into the setting, to explore it a little and entice you to explore it further. And, again, I don’t really see that as a bad thing.

So yes, I don’t see the turnoffs as turnoffs myself, although I can perfectly understand if they are for you, the person thinking “Should I buy this?” My answer is that it’s a solid, short, story led visual novel with great art, good writing, and tight design.

The Mad Welshman values three things: Is it aesthetically consistent? Is it tightly designed? Is it interesting? This ticks those boxes.

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