Helltaker (Review)

Source: Free
Price: Free, but the artbook has a pancake recipe, is £7.19, and if you like the game, buy it, let the dev know you liked it!
Where To Get It: Steam

Mmm, I do love me a sliding puzzle where I hit things. And I love me some demon gals. And I love the wooing thereof. So… That’s the major points of the review done with, let’s wrap it up, take it home, and-

Damn right!

Wait, you want me to say more? Ugh, fiiiiine… Okay, so… Helltaker is a game in which you, an incredibly macho (to the point of parody) protagonist, goes down to hell to get him a demon harem. Skeletons will bar your way. Block puzzles with one solution, and a perfectly fitting turn limit will haunt you. And saying the wrong thing to a demon girl will result in a bad end. But you are undeterred, because, as the protagonist states above, “When demon girls are involved, no price is high enough.”

Oh, and a multi-stage bossfight. I probably should have mentioned that.

HSSSSSSS!!!!

Anyway, it’s a puzzle game, it’s short, it’s free, and damn, does it have a good aesthetic. I love me some good inks. I love me some cartoonish, consistent visuals. And I love me a clear UX. It has all these things. So I never felt that much frustration with it, even with the normally despised Multi-stage rhythm boss fight (HISSSS!)

Don’t worry, it has a skip button. But doing them gets you cheevos.

And I liked the writing too, short as it is. You could be forgiven for thinking the entirety of the writing is “Short conversation, two choices, one is a bad end where you restart the puzzle”, but there’s also a little bit if you happen to ask the demon girls for advice. Including a secret ending (This is where the CW of suicide mention comes in, as one advice conversation has the choice of “Kill both of them” and “Kill yourself.” Only CW worthy ending that I know in the game, however)

And I would do aanything for love… Crap, that falls through, because I will push blocks…

So… Yeah, I love me a sliding puzzle where I hit things. I love demon gals, and the wooing thereof. And I like the humour of it. It’s horny, but SFW, and it prefers a little comedy, playing into the silliness of the concept, and I like the fact that the artbook also has a pancake recipe (There’s a reason why, but that’s to be discovered through play. If you like the game, get the artbook, give the dev some dough for making this short, but cool game.)

Seriously, buy the artbook if you like the game. It has a pancake recipe, and you’re supporting an indie developer.

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The Inner Friend (Going Back)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Carl Jung and David Lynch. One an odd student of Sigmund Freud’s, whose theory of the Shadow (the unconscious, unknown part of ourselves, which we both strive against and come to acknowledge) inspired quite a few dream based media. One a film-maker well known for his surrealism, and, of course, Twin Peaks. Which, itself, inspired Stranger Things, and that last part, as well as elements of the soundtrack to the game showing similarities, is why, if you watch a Let’s Play of this game, Stranger Things gets mentioned. It’s the most recent thing someone can point to that it’s “Like.”

YOU! YES, YOU! STAND STILL, LADDIE!

So, The Inner Friend is a puzzle game with horror elements, because what the protagonist (depicted as broken and incomplete) deals with is fears. Traumas in surreal, dream-like form. School, where the teachers can seem like monsters, and the books and educational television shows seem to drain our life. A museum, symbolic of our anxious and self critical nature, our damaged nature for all the world to gawk at, while our damaged self scans and finds wanting… Our damaged self.

Of course, these are just interpretations. That’s the thing about symbolic representations in a surrealist dreamscape… But the facts that they are a dreamscape, and they are the products of someone in pain, trying to comfort their Shadow… To acknowledge them.

Oh, and let’s not forget the horror that is being reminded of Junji Ito’s “The Amigara Fault” in a symbolic unbirthing/rebirthing that happens before every dream dive.

However, part of a dream is not knowing the rules of the dream. So each area, while it has a single puzzle type you repeat a few times, is a different puzzle in each area. And the game does some interesting things. Despite being a linear experience, it gives that dreamlike illusion of nonlinearity by turning you back on yourself, making the path forward be the way you came, and giving you the impression that which lit window you take to the next world, which of the buildings twirling in the void you visit, even matters. All roads lead to the next dream. There is a second cutscene at the end if you collect all of the objects in each dream (Listen for the tinkles. Always listen for the tinkles), but its original ending still interests.

The music is good, the visuals are good, the soundscapes are bewildering (aka good) and, generally speaking, there’s clear hints leading you through what you’re meant to do, which is good. It even does some fun visual tricks in some areas, like the fish-eye lensing in the museum. Less good is that the camera can be a little wilful at times, that I experienced a hang on trying to enter the third dream (I got past it, but it is a bug I encountered), and… Well, not so much less good as an interesting choice is that it frontloads its more difficult puzzles early. By the time of the hospital, what you want to be doing is pretty well communicated.

A cold, sterile place to be displayed, this…

So, would I recommend it overall? Well, I’m a bit jaded on the horror front, so I can’t really say anything did more than somewhat unsettle me, and chase segments merely feel… Well, like chase segments. Try real hard to focus on the objective, don’t look at the gribbley, got it, done. But it definitely unsettles in places, and it is an interesting game, so, overall? Yeah, I’d recommend this. If you’re turned off by short games, yup, it’s pretty short, jog on, but if that isn’t a turnoff, and you find an hour or two of an interesting experience worth more than 30 hours of a bland one, then yes, this is an interesting experience.

The Mad Welshman can’t really say that he’s fully up on his Jungian Psychology. But he does enjoy some David Lynch.

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Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.29 (£11.14 for game and soundtrack, £2.09 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 1

Note: This review was written using the optional beta, allowing early early access to features not yet complete. Like the fourth character.

They’re available now, but look, I’m impatient.

Last time I looked at Meteorfall, I appreciated a lot about it. The subtle depth of the deckbuilding, the encouragement to do more with less, and its fun, cartoony aesthetic and character. Oh, and adventurers being represented as characterful assholes too. Oh, Bruno, you growling brute of a man, I still love how your approach to life is to SMASH it…

That is the face of someone extremely smug they did this.

But now… Well, there’s two more characters, two more playstyles… And I’m enjoying them both. Mischief (the one that, at the time of writing, is available on the main branch of the game) is a rogue. Dextrous, stealthy until she attacks… And so, so smug. Thing is, she’s even more of a glass cannon than Greybeard, and, out of stealth… Well, she’s a bit crap without buffing. She relies upon it. Think of her as a hard mode, where you’re milking your resources to their limit.

Muldorf, meanwhile, is a jolly necromancer, and, while his skeletons take health to summon (mostly), and are not, in and of themselves, all that strong (mostly), they can still kill a couple of low level enemies without dying, and can be buffed by various means. This also means that, if you play your cards right, you’re rarely without four cards in your inventory, and his base weapons lifestealing or summoning enemies on killing others means that, if you get a chain going, you’re going to be a tough old coot. Even if you can’t heal normally.

Spooky Scary Skeletons, They Block Me From My Death…

What else has changed? Well, not a whole lot, if we’re talking about core elements. More items, abilities and perks have been added, and not just because there are two new characters with their own level rewards, but the core loop of “Beat all enemies and win, the more tiles still in play, the more bonus points you get to buy cool shit so you can discard some of your own shit, manage your resources well, and get abilities” is unchanged, the emphasis and encouragement of managing your limited resources effectively hasn’t changed, and the sarcastic, sometimes grim humour hasn’t changed either.

So, it’s still recommended as a card-based roguelike, it’s still promising… It’s just there’s more of it. Without drastic changes, I expect I’ll see you all at the release review, which will most likely read “Yup, it’s still good!”

I wouldn’t really call myself a Vaudedude, but hey, Muldorf the Necrodude does Muldorf, and I respect that.

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Mystic Pillars (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Counting games, such as games from the Mancala family, are quite interesting. Often seen as games representative of sowing and harvest, a common objective is to lay seeds from one pool, to another set as far away as the number of seeds you have away, dropping a single seed in each hole along the way, and then capture seeds from the next pool over. It’s a game of strategy. And it fits, because Mystic Pillars is a puzzle game where there is a great drought, caused by a spirit who has summoned pillars blocking the river.

He gets a little friendlier. But yes, he is both the storyteller… And the antagonist.

And while you don’t precisely do it like Mancala style games (Ali Guli Mane, or Chenne Mane is the cited inspiration), the general principle to the puzzle is similar: You’re taking from one pillar of seeds to another, and if you go 1 space away, you place 1 seed from the first to the second, if you move 2 spaces, 2 seeds… There are up to 10 spaces on each pillar, and so… You have a logic puzzle.

And, as with any good puzzle game, when I understood the solution of a difficult puzzle, I had that “Ahaaaaa!” moment, that pleasure of figuring it all out. That, alone, would be a recommendation.

But it also engages me with its story. A story of a traveller, seeking to return the flow of the river in the kingdom of Zampi, while a tricksy spirit tells you how it came to pass that the kingdom fell in the first place. I enjoyed it, as I did the clear, beautiful aesthetic of the game. As I did how the move limit is exactly what you need, no more, no less. And how there’s no pressure to solve, even though many of the puzzles are, within only a few experiments, solvable fairly easily.

When you get that “AHA” moment, it’s pretty sweet.

It’s not a long game, by any means. But it’s an enjoyable one, with a story I had fun reading, puzzles that gave my little grey cells a pleasing workout, and, as another game that does what it says on the tin… If you like puzzles, this one may well be a pleasant pick for you.

The Mad Welshman is more of a fan of Sennet. But he still appreciates this game.

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Hidden Through Time (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £5.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hidden object games, when they’re purely hidden object games, are normally extremely my jam, not least because they seem like a bit of a lost art.

Only a gem, and a feather left. Ohhh, Horus is gonna be annoyed if I don’t find his feather…

Hidden Through Time, while it definitely has its good points… Also misses the point enough times that although I’ve completed it, I find myself with mixed feelings. And some eyestrain.

Let’s get the obvious, glaring flaw out of the way right now: There are a fair few objects and people… Who are more than 75% obscured, or hidden in colour identical (or nearly identical) areas. Yes, developers. You want people to have a hardish time, explore your lovingly crafted scenes to find those objects… But if it’s more than 25% obscured, especially if, for example, it’s a thin god-damn thing to start with (Hi, nearly every instance of the mace I saw!), it’s going to irritate people when they find it, even if it is the only instance of the object around. The mace, as the most irritating example I remember, could have been put out in the open. There’s enough visual confusion that it would still be missed on a cursory pass, believe me. Otherwise, that full view of the object in the hints, regardless of what clue you give? Useless to me, or any other player. I got those through sheer bloody mindedness. And no, the outlines don’t actually help with the smaller items. In the case of the smallest items, it makes them harder to identify.

AAAAARGH, NO, PLEASE DON’T. IT’S TINY ENOUGH AS IS!

Rant over. Now let’s get on with nice things. Aesthetically, it’s quite nice. The clue boxes themselves are clear, there’s a nice, simplistic style, which, with the exception of the small, fiddly objects, works for it… And there’s a fairly easy to learn editor, allowing you to set your own objectives and clues, and for others to play those online, nice! It is somewhat irritating that some objects you’d consider rather common, like skeletons (Let’s face it, skeletons in games are really common) are restricted to the age they’re first found in, but that’s, honestly, a minor niggle in the face of things. Music wise, it doesn’t wear out its welcome, although it’s not really memorable stuff.

Scenario wise, I do somewhat like the story mode’s stories, for the most part. The stone age stuff is very reminiscent of both the Flintstones and old children’s puzzle books, which would also sometimes have things like “What if a zoo, but stone age?” , or little touches like the builders in the egyptian setting leaving their tools back at the workplace, or dropping them, or accidentally breaking the pillar they’ve built… These are nice touches, and they definitely helped bring things back from irritation with the negative aspects of the design, to the more positive end of things.

Mmm, well do I remember the tribal moshpit. Rock banging solo went on forever, though!

So, overall, Hidden Through Time is flawed, but it’s still a game that doesn’t outstay its welcome, that allows replayability through creation, has at least an accessible UX (Alas, a lack of colourblindness support, and the aforementioned eyestrain inducement of finding the tinier, skinnier things loses this one accessibility points), and is, overall, a hidden object game to definitely try. You’ll find out pretty quickly if this one’s a turn-off for you.

The Mad Welshman has found everything. Except his mind.

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