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.
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.
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.
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.
Source: Review Copy
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 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.
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.
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.
Where To Get It: Steam
Cats are magical creatures. But even I have to admit that a ghost cat with deadly psychokinetic hairballs is a new one on me. But this is one of the cats available to shoot with in Cat Lady, a roguelite twin-stick shooter that isn’t to be confused with The Cat Lady. Which isn’t even in the same genre.
The story is quite simple: You’re visiting Grandma’s house, but, oh dear, it’s been haunted by a poltergeist, who is commanding a legion of ghosts infesting household objects, and they’re out for Grandma for some reason! Luckily for you, now her small horde of cats can talk, and have gained magical abilities. Including the aforementioned ghost cat, one who throws deadly kisses, a wizard cat you start with… And this is without mentioning secondary cats and their abilities (Personal favourite is Box Cat, who paws at anything near where you told him to set up shop)
And, while the first few areas can be breezed through, not only does it definitely show promise, I appreciate being able to see everything the game has to offer. As far as the mechanical formula goes, it’s not a new deal (nor does it have to be.) You walk into a room, if it has enemies in it, it locks the doors until all the enemies are dead, you pick up one of two kinds of currency (the in-run Kibble, and the between-run Ghostly Spirits), you sometimes trade up your primary and secondary cats, exit levels via stairs, fight bosses (currently 3), and you get powerups.
Let’s take a brief digression into the powerups, because, while some are a little iffy, they do combine, so when you have a good combo, your shots break the game over their knees. For example, at first, I made my life more difficult by getting erratic shots. I couldn’t reliably aim at enemies, so… Whoops! But then… Bouncing projectiles (cool, less worries), burst fire (Wow, that’s a fair few bouncy projectiles!), giant projectiles (I… I’m having trouble seeing what’s going on, but I’m reasonably sure everything except me is dying), and finally… A poison effect.
To cut a long story short, by the time I’d gotten halfway through the third area, I was filling the screen with giant, deadly, knockbacktastic and poisonous catfarts. And my box cat? Well, I could set him down, and he would be batting murderously at a large portion of the room.
Suffice to say, I expect these powerups will get nerfed somewhat over the course of Early Access.
Aesthetically, I quite like it. It’s not quite 1-bit colouring (Black, and colour), but you, the room, and your cats have one colour (determined by area), and the enemies have another (determined by area), and the shadows are black. It’s clear, it’s highly readable, and I appreciate that. The telegraphing of enemy attacks is similarly good, and, indeed, the clear hurtboxes shown on the screen are sometimes used cleverly, as with the first boss’s bite attack, which has two forms in quick succession: A toothy mouth where the hurtboxes are the teeth, and, as soon as that one lands, it’s the inside of the mouth that’s the hurtbox. Nice touch, that.
So, problems? Well, right now, the hitboxes for interactions are finicky as hell, and buying something in the shop boots you away from the shop, so you have to… Interact again to buy more. I found myself shuffling back and fore, effectively pixel hunting for the area where I could do the thing I wanted to do. And, although the hurtboxes are clear, sometimes the attack lands before you think it would land (a problem with the muscle bunnies and the weird skeletal rabbit things that leap at you.) Some of the powerups seem outright detrimental, although maybe that’s just me not finding a good combo.
Apart from that, though, while it’s currently moderately easy (Well, it becomes easy once you have a good powerup set), and there’s not a great amount to the game, it definitely shows promise, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. Nyaa.
More games with adorable murdercats, please.