Before We Leave (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.99 (Soundtrack £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

An interesting title, that. Has a kind of Ray Bradbury feel to it. In any case, the apocalypse has happened, the world has returned to some semblance of normality, and people have decided to rebuild. On sea. On land. In space.

I mean, they’re humans, of course they- OHHHH, YOU MEAN DEHYDRATED! D’OH!

Honestly, it’s somewhat nice to have a chill exploration and resource management game like this, and the aesthetic quite pleases me. After all, sea shanties are definitely my jam, and any music that reminds me of them is OK In My Book.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. After all, pollution is one of those things that screwed people over in the Before-Time, not that they remember, but they quickly learn that yes, smog from power plants, iron dust, and other “fun” stuff bad. Especially this useful, but awful black stuff, god, we’ve gotta get away from using that pronto!

However, sometimes it slows down a whole bunch. Once you’ve got a ship, for example, and colonised a second island, your previously quick pace up to that point slows down for a while until you get everything ready for fabric making, because wow, who thought the heat of a desert would make people super tired, meaning that unless your home to workplace route is short (ha, good luck with that), they’re going to spend long periods resting, also low on resources until you gun quickly for your new researches that can only be done with desert resources, and clothing, in that order.

You have discovered… Really Big Houses. But yes, those resources aren’t going to be helped by the fecund planet you just left for a while

Oh, and set up a trade route. Trade is pretty important in Before We Leave for new colonies. Once again, once you hit new planets, things slow down again… If you’re okay with these slow periods, in which you don’t really need to do anything with previous islands. In fact, once the research tree on an island is done, there’s nothing that needs doing, although increasing the population generally helps with resource flow… But again, is not, strictly speaking, needed… You can keep that relatively pastoral life for quite a while on your first island, with no detriment to the others. Especially as higher populations create more work, in the form of unhappiness management. Your efforts mostly focus on one island at a time in the early game.

And then, when you get to a new planet… Oh. Whoopsie, you didn’t pass on any of those red research points, and you have to start all over again, research wise. Thus creating another roadblock.

Welcome to Island 3. Relax, we already got weather-proof clothing, they’re just sleeping because it isn’t arriving there fast enough, and we can’t grow cotton here.

Aesthetically, the game works. Low poly hexes, low poly people, characterful, good music, clear UX… But mechanically, I find myself more frustrated by the roadblocks than charmed by the simple, clear play. It may be one of those games that “gets better later”, but… While I’d say give it a go if you like colonisation and resource management games, I can’t personally say it wowed me.

Before I Leave, I’d like to remind you all to hit up the Patreon, or at least gimme a Ko-fi. That way, I’ll have some snacks for the journey through space.

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Derelict Void (Review)

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

Being hurled into the depths of space with very limited resources is a solid fear. A terrible fear. Especially when what you can salvage will either be minimal… Or just broken.

This looks like it’s going okay. But I’m overloaded. I can jettison certain buildings. And you really should do that before you travel, because otherwise, you’re wasting time and fuel. No, it doesn’t account for that during transit.

Kiiinda wish we had leeway on the food and water, though. People can survive a certain time without it, after all.

Ah, what the hell, let’s say it’s an abstraction. Any which way, Derelict Void can best be described as “Bastard hard.” I would say it’s good that a survival game like this is so, but… It also means individual runs end up pretty short unless you luck out, and it’s a little depressing to see lots of buildings you need, but none are in good enough condition, you don’t have enough to repair them, you’re foundering under hull weight… You’re basically having a bad time.

Still, it’s easily understood, on the base level. You travel to places, some of which are resources, some events (quest chains that might help you out, like improving your engines), some hulls, which contain resources and buildings (and can be safely jettisoned if they have sod all in them, reducing weight), and, well, you try to make your ship as self sufficient as possible while keeping your food, water, and oxygen above zero. Since anything can be converted to fuel, well, you’ll sometimes end up using one of those three to get where you’re going. The game’s also friendly in that it has a modular difficulty, so you can make the game much easier or harder. It’s not like it appears to be scoring you.

But I played on default, just to get a feel for it. And it ain’t friendly.

Like I said, it’s not bad.

Anyway, aesthetically, it’s alright. Bit workmanlike, bit grubby, but it’s not an eyesore, it’s pretty clear, no colour problems, because most of the important stuff is shapes, and the music is okay too. The art within the various events isn’t bad, so there’s that going for it. It could also do with some text scaling options, as the UX is sparse enough to allow it.

Overall, with the adjustable difficulty, it’s not a bad game. But it’s… Kind of blah. Perhaps give it a go if you like procgen survival type deals, but it’s not really entry level, and I wouldn’t really say it’s a must-have.

The Mad Welshman, on the one hand, wouldn’t mind going into space adventures. Mostly yeeting the 1% into the sun though.

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Crown Trick (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hrm… Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re not having fun, be it a good or bad game. Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re having fun with a bad game. But with Crown Trick… Despite knowing it’s a well designed game… I’m not actually sure I’m having fun. And it feels awkward to say that.

Y’gotta respect a bird who wants to derring-a-doodle-doo.

The general story idea is a pretty cool one: There is a plague of nightmares upon the land, nightmares that draw people in, ne’er to return, and the last hope, the last of her world saving kind, is a child who appears to have no arms, aided by a large crown with a single, annoyed eye (generally speaking, not a sign that this assistance isn’t due to villainous ulterior motives, but that’s by the by.) And so a turn based, procedurally generated roguesortakindamaybelike begins, with shenanigans and buying stuff to improve future runs ahoy.

And make no mistake, it does interesting things with its formula, having a cool visual aesthetic, nice soundwork, and a cast of enemies and bosses that are interesting and challenging without being frustrating.

Except for Dr. Frank. Fuck that guy.

Like, you see those words, and you know he’s a bastard.

So, how does it change up the formula? Well, the level structure is more of an episode thing, with a unique final boss to each area, than a single sprawling “Beat this in one run.” It has familiars, which add special abilities to the list, interesting gimmicks in each area, and a variety of weapon types with their own quirks, such as the shotgun, which can either hit three enemies, one 2 tiles away, the other two on each side, or it can hit a single creature point blank 3 times in one shot. So yes, it’s a video game shotgun.

And, speaking of guns, the guns are… Honestly the weakest weapon type. It’s not that they don’t have powerful abilities, as the rifle can hit everything in a line within a 4 tile range, and the pistol’s final shot is a double-tap… But the clip is ridiculously small, so, unlike any other weapon type, it’s 2-4 shots, depending on the weapon, and then a turn wasted reloading. I’m sure some people like it, but it just feels less useful than, uhhh, every other weapon, including the axe, which, for best effect, needs multiple enemies right up in your face, ready to inflict pain.

Speaking of things that are of, at best, dubious use, the cursed statues and their “blessings.” Cursed chests, I’m fine with. They provide interesting little wrinkles that make you balance the risk and reward, like not being able to change weapons for three floors, bleeding until you kill an enemy, and an “everything dies in one hit, including you (except in boss fights), for 8 rooms.”

But when it came to the cursed statues and their “blessings”? The risk well outweighed the reward, every time. I had no incentive to fuck with them.

I never noticed this nice little touch when you’re dying (the zooming in, which makes for this interesting look.) But it is nice.

Okay, I’ve been bitching a lot, but this is, legitimately, well designed overall. The weapon types are, for the most part, pretty cool, and I’ve been most at home with the dual knives, which, yes, can only attack adjacent enemies… But the enemies it does attack, it fucks up, especially as you get more stun in on enemies trying to attack you. Oh, yes, the stun system is fun too. Even bosses can be stunned, with a single attack knocking 1 off the stun counter, more if they’re either attacking you, or trying to use a special ability. And naturally, once stunned, you can fuck them up at your leisure, until they’re not stunned, after which… Well, they can’t be stunned again for a certain amount of time, and you have to whittle down the counter as before, but… The damage has been done.

There’s a fair amount of depth here, the game’s pretty accessible, it’s got some great visuals and good soundwork going on… And yet, I find myself unable to determine if I’m actually having fun with it. It’s still a good game, though, so maybe you’ll have an easier time working out if you’re having fun or not.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. Because review wizard needs coffee… Badly!

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Panzer Dragoon Remake (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ohhh boy. Panzer Dragoon was a classic of the rail shooters. A weird world and story that could have fit within the pages of Metal Hurlant, a system wherein you earned credits by doing well at the game, and had to basically finish it in one sitting… Yep, a classic, arcade hard game. Only seven levels, but oh boy, they’re all a ride… So yes, it’s twitchy. And replayable.

Look. At these beautiful. Environments.

Especially when, like me, you forget that you can change your direction of viewing with a keypress. Not least because the game, original and remake, doesn’t tutorialise. At all. You’d perhaps think that teensy bit of quality of life could have been put into said remake, but… Apparently not. See also “Both parts of the intro before you even get to the menu, hope you like 1920×1080 fullscreen until then.”

Funnily enough, no, no I do not. It’s annoying as hell to restore and max windows back to normal. Start in windowed mode is, as a general rule, going to get you less complaints like this.

Anyway, the game itself. The story is that a young man, Keil Fluge, who, chasing monsters, finds himself the owner of a blue dragon, and gets embroiled in an apocalyptic fight, in a post-apocalypse, no less, over Ancient technology (yes, capital letter. This is a post-apocalypse of a highly advanced society, of course they’re going to have left their potentially world ending shit lying around.) On his side, a blue dragon called Solo Wing. On the other, lots of gribbleys, an empire’s fleet, the Black Dragon, who Keil is charged to stop from getting to an Ancient obelisk.

The Black Dragon. It bad. It’s as cool looking as ours.

Cue shooting. Now, before we get into this, I would like to properly start by saying “Holy shit this game looks even more amazing than the original!” Trust me, even the original looked pretty damn good. The shooting, once you get used to it, is great, the music is good, the sound is good… Apart from an annoying colourblindness problem with the main menu (lessened when an option is highlighted, but… Still, another QoL that didn’t get introduced, BOO), the game is very much on point, aesthetically.

It would normally be something I’d definitely recommend, if it weren’t for the aforementioned quality of life and tutorial issues. Also, please note, folks, that even if this game didn’t have motion blur, there’s a heavy motion sickness warning. I’m not prone to motion sickness, but even I felt somewhat disoriented.

I’ve been inwardly comparing this to Metal Hurlant precisely because this is some Mobius level design. Look at thiiiis!

Nonetheless, the feel, the world, the aesthetics… It hits all the right spots, so it’s still a recommendation, even to players new to rail shooters. Controller might well be a good idea with this game, although it’s certainly comfortable to play with keyboard and mouse. But damn, I wouldn’t mind seeing more worlds like that one in video games. I wouldn’t mind at all.

I too, would agree to save the world if I was told I would do it with a dragon. I mean… [slaps scales] You can fit so many capitalists in this bad-boy…

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Ancient Enemy (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

I have not, perhaps, had the best of histories with solitaire RPG type experiences. I’ve always found them at least okay, within the limitations of the kind of solitaire they invariably use (go up and down the numbers, as far as you can, using abilities to help with this.) But they’ve never really grabbed me.

That’s a big faerie. That’s a big faerie…

With Ancient Enemy, I was at area 7 before I really thought about whether I was enjoying myself. And, on reflection? In a calculating, analytical way, I was. The solitaire part was okay, as solitaire often is (although we’ll get back to that), and the story was… In a way, interesting in how it uses minimalism, but the combat… Ah, the combat is where I felt at home, and looking at the layout with an eagle eye.

You see, it’s not just the combos you have to think about. The combos are important, yes, and getting nice, long ones definitely has its benefits, like a lot of extra damage if you play your cards right (heh), but the suit of the card is quite important, and there are other things to think about. Because the suit of the card charges your abilities, in Basic Attack (A dagger), Magic (Your major damage output, since you are, after all, a mage), and Defense (Which, with only a few exceptions, is physical or magical. There is at least one magic and physics block, but it relies on long combos, because its basic form is weak.)

Gah, look at the shoddy craftsmanship here, my mother could stitch better than that!

And also, when the layout’s low, you may have to waste an action refreshing. Which, if you time it wrong, lets the enemy get off a free hit on your sorry ass. Since items take a turn, and, similarly, you don’t want to waste a combo when it appears, it creates this interesting back and forth. It’s one I’ve mostly won, up to this point, and handily so on Normal (not a bad thing, I enjoy games that want me to see the content, then optionally let me challenge myself), but it’s also one where, if you don’t pay attention and equip accordingly for your enemy, you’re going to get damaged, and health only heals, with a few exceptions, after the chapter’s done.

…Oh gods, sometimes you don’t want to equip, because damn that layout refreshes after you equip, and this one is such a sweet start! Special cards that damage, sometimes big ones. Others that raise your defense without needing to block. Wyrm cards, the wild cards of the game that let you, in the right circumstances, stretch out some really nice combos… When I see a good layout, I’m really tempted to let it play out, sod the resistances and the fact I can’t block any of their attacks…

It helps that there are also passive and active abilities that you can switch in and out between fights and item collecting layouts that help with that, like card destroyers, upping the likelihood of Wyrm Cards or giving you extra undos, changing a card to fit the combo better, or shuffling the entire deck to the same goal… I liked using those abilities, even if they’re usable once per layout, with the exception of finding recharge totem cards.

Ohhh boy… That chained card needs to be dealt with twice. But hey, 30 cards in my deck, I got this!

So, mechanically, I quite enjoyed it. What about the rest? Well, aesthetically, it’s clear. It sort of has to be, and the tooltips are alright. You know what’s what, the characters and enemies look good (Although I wish there was a little more variation outside all monster types you’ve encountered getting beefier, and occasionally more powerful), the environments are lovely, and the music’s alright. The writing… Well, it’s effectively monologues. Why? Because The Mage pulled himself out of… Well, it’s unknown at the start, but he returned to life and the land… To find that the Evil Overlord had won. The land was sick, everyone was dead or corrupted, including spirits and animals. Killing the source probably won’t make things much better… But he’s determined not to fail this time.

I’ve… Enjoyed myself with this one. The difficulty curve is pretty reasonable, everywhere outside the item collecting, you start to feel powerful once you get going, and even in item collecting, you have recourse. Score chaser that I am (especially since that’s also currency), I still retried, but less times than I have with others, and… Yeah, if the idea of solitaire RPGs interests you, I would definitely say give this one a go.

The Mad Welshman is more a Minesweeper kinda guy these days. Shush, he’s not bad at either of them, shush, SHUSH.

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