Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where to Get It: Steam
See, sometimes, you see an idea, you think “Hey, this is cool!” and then… Oh. Hrm. Ah. Not quite as cool in execution.
So it is with The Sealed Ampoule. It’s a very minimalist procgen dungeon crawler. So minimalist, in fact, that it doesn’t gel well with its length. The procedure is very simple. Go into dungeon. Hit things until you feel you aren’t going to survive the next level, go back to room. Use stuff you got in the dungeon to get skills, level up the dungeon’s drop rate and magic circle rate for each level. When you get the ability and have the resources, turn dungeon levels into farms, just dropping the drops. Find story every now and again, or resources to turn more dungeon levels into farms. Rinse, repeat.
I will say this for this set of mechanics, it does cut down on the bumf you’re overlevelled for. I mean, I’m still somewhat overlevelled at any given point beyond the early game, although I suspect that changes the further in you go, but yes, turning the earliest levels into, eventually, a single level you just run through and collect resources from? This is a piece of legitimately good design.
But the rest? Well, as I mention, it’s basically a rinse and repeat. Skills drop once every five levels or so, although those, like the progress toward dungeon farms, require specific materials, dying loses you some resources, and… Well, it boils down to a blur of grind, occasionally interspersed with “Oh, new enem- FUCK, RUN!”, story, or a boss.
The story, similarly, is simple, although it has its compelling mysteries. You play as Irene, who has been depressed since her mother died, but found an advert for a cheap dungeon, and decided to turn it into an alchemy farm, so as to open a shop, make lots of money… And then she finds out that it’s more populated than it first appears, including two small and mysterious children, and… A man who has been bludgeoned to death by nothing less than The Philosopher’s Stone. It’s just that said story progresses in short cutscenes that are… Well, an increasing number of dungeon levels from where you were, even accounting for farms.
And finally, there are the aesthetics. Again, it’s minimalist. A few music tracks, that mostly fit the mood, but still feel off, and a few sound effects, generally around two per enemy, sometimes shared between groups. A low poly look that normally, I’d be down for, but feels like a waste of enemy design, and hits the uncanny valley in the case of Irene, whose mouth never seems to work right, and whose movement is… Well, speaking frankly, Irene’s animations are godawful. All five or so.
Otherwise, the accessibility is just fine. The menus are clear, albeit with calligraphic and serif text, you have a helpful toolbar about the status effects you know, and, with the exception of floating numbers for regeneration, nothing’s too small to distinguish. Starts in windowed mode, keys are simple, but options to change things are sparse, and there doesn’t appear to be any gamepad support.
It’s honestly disappointing, because you can see hints of what the developers were going for, but a lot of it just falls flat. If you want a time waster, then yes, this is alright, but otherwise, I can’t really recommend it.
The Mad Welshman loves games of alchemy. He just finds so few of them FUN.
Source: Charity Bundle
Price: Name Your Own
Where To Get It: Itch.io
Ah, I do love a good murder mystery. I love gathering the evidence, presenting it, drawing conclusions… But y’know what I don’t love?
Not-twists. Now, not-twists come in several flavours, but one of the most common ones is a twist that is not foreshadowed in any way, shape, or form.
Why is this relevant? Well, we’ll get to that. First, let’s get another thing clear: This is an alright game of its genre, with relatively few statements to untangle, a fair amount of evidence to poke at, has simple controls, a nice accessibility feature in the form of the option of glowing evidence points (with obvious interactions being obvious), and can be solved in less than an hour, if you’re so inclined or already know how to solve it. Since you’re in a spacesuit, you can rotate and the like, so some motion sick folks might dislike it, and, as far as I’m aware, there’s no windowed mode or resolution changes (BOO), but this is a lesser complaint.
It even has an interesting variation on the deaths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, on which it is very obviously based (C’mon, folks, at least say it’s an homage in the game, not a tongue in cheek “This totes isn’t based on a work by a handsome and talented writer.” The latter half being a claim I dispute anyway. I won’t spoil them, but rather than the relatively simple deaths of 2001, they’re more malevolent. Although one of them is a bit iffy. MAL, old buddy, you can see through the entire ship, how would you not know about that one?
So, aesthetically, it works well with its low poly style. It even has some tongue in cheek references, like the helmet of one of the crew being held in their arm, as they copy the pose of T. J. Kong from Dr. Strangelove. The music pays homage to the use of classical music in 2001, the writing is mostly solid…
Except for the not-twist. For the obvious reason that this isn’t foreshadowed, you’ll play through the game and… Wait, what? Only by doing something slightly different will this ending change. And, honestly, it’s a bit of a crap ending.
So, if you’re fine with a crap ending, preferring to focus on the gathering of evidence, the asking about evidence, and the presenting thereof, well, this is a solid short game. But if not-twists piss you off as much as they do me, then I can’t really recommend it.
The Mad Welshman eagerly awaits our AI overlords. Except not, because they’ll be capitalist bastards.
Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£19.28 for game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam
I love a good murder mystery. The twists, the turns, the red herrings, slowly being guided along a path. And sometimes… Being wrong. In a way, aside from all the other cool stuff, that’s what’s so good about Paradise Killer…
You’re allowed to be totally wrong. Even if you do need at least some evidence. And hell, even after a marathon session with one trial I felt was off, I’m still not sure I got the whole truth. Pieces were missing, strange pieces, but, considering how large the world is, I’d probably need a walkthrough to find the clues. But it’s okay, even if I feel like I shafted some friends in the process.
In any case, Paradise Killer is a first person exploration type murder mystery, with some visual novel elements (the interrogations, the trial, some of the puzzles) where the Council of Island 24 have been murdered just prior to the Island’s reality being broken down to make way for Island 25, Island Perfection (ha.) And you, Lady Love Dies, interrogator, investigator, and, when the time comes, executioner, must find out who did it. Maybe who plural.
Writing wise, it’s great, and aesthetically, it’s this strange 80s/90s vibe combined with urban fantasy, a paradise island with pyramids, some small hellscapes, obelisks, tenements… The supernatural and the “Normal” live hand in hand. The soundtrack’s great, the sound design is, except for the static in the second gate, good, and the VA pleases, very characterful.
Now, mechanically… Ah, here’s where there are some imperfections. I’ve noted that you’re allowed to get it wrong, and this is good. But this is a fairly big open world, and, oddly, I feel that works against it in some respects. Hunt relics. Why? Completionism and a few quests, it seems. Hunt blood jewels. Why? Well, that’s more useful, unlocking a secret item needed for the best clues, unlocking fast travel points, and paying the toll for travelling from them.
But it definitely felt like a needle in a haystack at times, finding the clues. And then… There are the puzzles. Use symbols from a set to complete the image, except… I never used some. I never came across a lock that used some of the symbol elements. Maybe that’s by design, maybe not, but it kinda frustrated me on some odd level.
Still, the mysteries kept me hooked, and the mysteries left are seriously tempting me to dive back in now that the review’s written, hunt down those final clues, and that, along with its aesthetics and writing, really nail it for me. Some of the platforming is annoying as fuck, but, overall, I would highly recommend this one, especially to murder mystery lovers.
May the million eyes watch over you as you play this…
Source: Review Copy
Where To Get It: Steam
Death Come True definitely has a quiet pizazz to it. Protagonist wakes up in hotel with amnesia, sees on the news that he is, apparently, a serial killer… And something is definitely wrong with the hotel he’s in.
Like, y’know, how every time he dies, he wakes up in the same bed, the same time, reliving the same events. And that there’s a scary murderer on the loose in the hotel.
So… This is one of those games where yes, deaths abound, but each death brings you closer to the truth. And while I wish it were longer, I can certainly understand why it wasn’t so. It’s technically a visual novel, as there are no puzzles, a heavy emphasis on story, and the mechanic is “Make choice(s)”, but it’s presented in a full motion video, fully voice acted form. Interesting stuff we don’t see a lot, because… Well, it’s fucking expensive.
But did I enjoy this experience? Well, this is one of those where, when asked that, I wave my hand back and forth, if only a little before saying “Overall, yes.” I enjoyed the acting, and the writing, with characters who are easily identifiable, and two or three out of the small cast you can sympathise with. Each film segment is fairly well shot, I was brought into the story, and there’s some subtle visual imagery I quite enjoyed, that makes sense later. And the UX is solid, even nice, as it shows a tiny preview of your path (even if it takes a short time to realise the choices are pretty much always on the left… And right.)
And that preview, a very nice element in the UX… Becomes an eyesore after a certain point. I understand why they did it (It works with the narrative), but it’s hard on the eyes, and I will say that if you don’t like glitch effects, or have photosensitive epilepsy, that happens a lot, and this game is probably not for you. The path becomes pretty clear after a short while, and I would honestly have liked some sort of timeline feature to see the deaths, rather than replaying the entire storyline to deliberately make the wrong choices to see them, since, as mentioned, after a certain point, those nice previews go to shit, meaning that getting to those choices becomes a chore on the eyes.
Apart from this, where yes, the UX is most of my complaints (One of the deaths seems completely out of the blue, feeling like it’s there for the sake of a death, and one is rather dull compared to the others), I did legitimately enjoy my time with Death Come True, and I would say that if you’re interested in short visual novels with well acted FMV, and glitching effects are not a turn off for you, then this one is a nice pick, even if it’s slightly flawed in places.
My main issue is, funnily enough, with something that still fits in the game, narratively… But oh boy, am I not a fan of glitch effects myself.
The developers have very kindly requested I keep this as spoiler light as possible, and use the given screenshots.