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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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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Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access 1

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than riddling demons with holes with dual wielded SMGs. The kickback, the satisfying noise, the rapid thuds followed by the larger thud (or boom) as the monstrosity from another dimension finally keels over. In your imagination, of course, because while there’s bullet trails in Jupiter Hell (allowing you to see just how much ammo you wasted murdering them), death animations aren’t really that impressive, nor do they need to be.

Oh. Wait. There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than seeing the sizzling holes, melting a demon piece by piece, with dual wielded plasma SMGs. I stand corrected.

Buddy, you can… See all these bodies around, right? And me, without a scratch?

What I’m saying is, 0.8.8, the Dual Wield update for Jupiter Hell, has a feature that’s pretty damn satisfying, even if it has some qualifiers, like “You get this cool thing if you survive your first three level ups”, “It will still take up two weapon slots”, “Remember how you had that ammo problem? It will chew through ammo faster”, and “Only Marines and Scouts get this. Sorry Techies.”

Of course, it’s not the only change, although hacking turrets feels… A little underwhelming, as an example. Find the computer terminal on a level, spend 3 of the new combo armour replacement/hacking items, the multitool, and bam, turrets are… Deactivated, seemingly. Since I’ve never seen a turret shoot someone, and they have an ammo drop next to them, that’s basically what I assume, anyways. I mean, it makes levels slightly easier?

And now I’m on fire, how ’bout that?

Anyway, yes, I forgot, all this time, to say what Jupiter Hell is, for the folks in the back. Jupiter Hell is a turn-based roguelike, heavily inspired by Doom (Its spiritual predecessor actually was Doom: The Roguelike, and it was only Bethesda’s litigiousness, in spite of Id Software being cool with it, even flattered, that it is not called DoomRL2 today.) Actions like moving, reloading, firing… All take a certain amount of time, and the enemies, similarly, work on a timer. Diagonal movement costs two squares of movement, but moving doubles your chance of evading shots, so it’s valid to, when seeing a big old bundle of enemies, to book it to a safer position. Indeed, considering enemies will now hit cover when they see you most times, and only get out if you destroy it (sometimes possible) or lure them out (a risky move in some cases, but risk management is the name of the game.)

And how does all this feel? Well, easy mode feels pretty do-able, although you definitely have hairy moments. Normal is a roguelike experience, something that takes a fair amount of tactical thought to defeat… And, of course, there’s challenge modes. I don’t recommend challenge modes for the casual player, or the higher difficulties. But it is casual playthrough accessible, with relatively minimal unlocks for getting certain achievements.

Poor dualjay. He never got to see the plasma pistols…

It helps that it also looks and sounds pretty good. Shots sound satisfying, the clank of one of the chonky security robots is a sound that, once you know the enemy itself, makes you break into a cold sweat and hunt cautiously for both the robot and the best cover, the maps look pretty good for being tile based, quite atmospheric, and the music… Well, as with its inspiration, it veers between heavy, driving metal, and ominous, low tunes, setting the mood for each area. Oh, and then there’s the Marine/Scout/Techie, whose angry growls evoke that 90s protag feel, but in a way that’s not, like quite a few of the 90s FPS protags, a dickwad. Just a dude very, very angry that shit’s gone to hell.

So yeah, Jupiter Hell is getting closeish to release now, the devs have been very good about trying to balance it while maintaining interesting mechanics, and, while I don’t think they’re quite there yet, it’s a pretty good roguelike to start your entrance into the genre.

The Mad Welshman has nothing against demonic denizens. He just wished they’d stop trying to kill him.

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