Cloud Gardens (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Sooner or later, everything falls to ruin. Everything returns to nature. And Cloud Gardens, as much an experience as a puzzle game, is all about that. All about making it happen. And, in its sandbox mode, all about making something that will look all the more… Bleakly beautiful, once it’s been overgrown, nature triumphing over the works of man.

The steel may be rusted, but the plants, the plants are always verdant, the colours of life steel cannot match.

Yes, that’s a very poetic way of putting things. It’s that kind of game, even though there’s not a single word spoken. Like how a cactus in a corner, with bricks around it, and the fact that candles were my items for the majority of it… Led to a sort of shrine. It’s meditative. It’s quiet. And the only sounds are the ambient music, the light thuds as you place items near your plants (in order to make them grow), the rustle of growth, and the gentle, echoing drips as you replenish water from harvesting seeds, to make new plants.

This game isn’t perfect. It tutorialises well, but some of its areas are tricky as hell (especially the overpass signs early on), and it’s sometimes hard to see elements, leading to confusion as to why you aren’t either losing because you haven’t overgrown the world enough, or being given more stuff.

Who knows why those chairs are there. Maybe they sat, to witness the end. Maybe they were forgotten, the remains of a picnic. Their story may never be known.

But overall… Cloud Gardens is an interesting puzzle experience, with a good aesthetic to it, and simple, yet gripping play. Although the theme might make some folks depressed.

The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day…

The Mad Welshman isn’t sure whether to call this calming, or depressing. Probably both.

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Paradise Killer (Review)

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.

Regardless of right or wrong, the sentence remains… DEATH.

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.

I like Lydia. She’s down to earth, even in as strange a place as Island 24.

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.

Yeah, ummm… Some of these, I didn’t use my whole playthrough.

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…

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Family (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Donationware
Where To Get It: Itch-IO

I loved Return of the Obra-Dinn. Its detective stylings, where you felt clever because you were actually putting together clues. And I love music, especially of the 80s to the mid 90s. So when a friend recommended Family to me, I was extremely on board.

It’s a shorter experience, to be sure… But no less cool. In fact, it makes up for its length in cool factor, specifically… Its soundtrack.

A fictional London pop scene. But a believable one.

You see, Family is a game about looking back at the history of a fictional 80s London Scene. And each of the nine bands has a representative song. Along with some very believable lore about said scene.

Anyway, for those unfamiliar, Family goes like this: You use various clues, such as articles, roadie notes, and even the game’s Sussex Radio, to determine, essentially, who played in what band. Who moved, and whether they changed instruments (because some do.) And while you certainly won’t get all the drama from piecing things together, you can certainly imagine some of it. The failures along the way. The arguments. The losses. Deduce a certain number right, and you get more clues to work from, until finally… You have all the artists placed. And the character who’s seen it all, Ella Neil, gives one last, bittersweet song to let you go with.

What, did you think I was going to give you a screenshot telling you even part of the puzzle? Haha no.

Aesthetically, it’s very minimalist, and the tutorial “cutscenes” are, unfortunately, a little janky, with some obvious tearing… But that minimalism works for it, and makes everything more clear. Whenever in doubt, click on a thing. Play a song. Listen to the radio, and the snippets of interview. Click someone’s face to set a name.

I ended up being confused by one last one… But it clicked when a friend gave me a subtle hint, and the clues are all there. If you like music, and if you like games of deduction, Family gives you that radio feeling while also being a good, tight puzzler. Definitely recommend this one.

The Mad Welshman loves a good tune. And damn, these are some good tunes…

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GNOG (Going Back)

Source: Bundle
Price: £7.19 (With option to donate more on Itch.IO)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

I love puzzle boxes. Hell, I enjoy puzzles overall. But I do love puzzle boxes. So, when asked “Would you enjoy puzzle boxes, but they’re a computer game?”

The answer is very obviously yes. And, after playing it, the answer is “More please!”

Don’t worry lil’ buddy, I’ll get your supplies back, thank god you still have oxygen, right?

So, GNOG, as you might have figured, is a game about puzzle boxes, those containers where the goal is to go through a series of steps that may or may not be clear, in order to open the box. That’s… Not strictly what happens here, but the goal is to open the box’s mouth, so we’ll count it as that, mmm?

And there’s a whole variety of them, such as submarines, giant frogs, a cartoonish tenement complex, all in this well put together, 3d mini-world. And there’s nearly always something moving, whether under its own power, or asking yourself “What does this [knob/button/switch/dial/OTHER] do?”

The puzzle home, splitting apart. And it’s our job to put it together again.

Aesthetically, it’s great. Bright, contrasting colours, clear differentiation, beautiful music, my only real gripes are that one puzzle in particular’s signposting is… Not great (HOM-3’s security floor), and that some of the interactions, even with mouse, are somewhat fiddly. But the storytelling through showing in each area is pleasant, from the simple “What does animal/person want, and what stops them”, to the subtle overarch of “Let’s piece together the things this boy loves in life, to reassemble the home wot we broke in the first puzzle.”, the music is fitting to each area, and fittingly uplifting as the puzzle boxes groan-sing in joy as they’re awakened, and the sound is good.

Ah, that wonderful bass fits FR-0G the best…

Essentially, if you like puzzles with cool, low-poly aesthetics, then GNOG is good. If you like puzzle boxes, GNOG is cool. And, since I like all of these things, I recommend GNOG. It’s as simple as that.

The Mad Welshman Starts singing tenor if you gently boop his nose, tickle under the ear, and headpat him. True facts!

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Rogue Legacy 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £15.49
Where to Get It: Steam

Yup. This is definitely Rogue Legacy, alright. Platforming and murdering monsters in a procedurally put together castle and environs? Check. Some useful random abilities, some assholish ones, and some funny ones like IBS? Check. Several classes, and rising costs for every improvement you make, with Death taking all, then most of your money every time you die and your successor, from a random pick of three, asks him to ferry you to the castle?

KAME… HAME… HAAAAAAAAA!

Check. Whoo, that was a lot, wasn’t it? Anyway, yes, Rogue Legacy 2 is a procgen platforming type dealio, where your bloodline has been cursed, and only by defeating the horrors of the haunted castle in which the curse began can you all be free. That’s harder than it sounds, by the way. A lot harder, because you start pretty weak. Weak enough that you’ll likely die within a few rooms at first.

Still, even with the game being in early access, there’s a fair few changes in this sequel, such as the introduction of an Archer class, which has the side effect of… Making mouse controls or using gamepad somewhat mandatory. Sorry, keyboard only buds, it’s one or the other. New abilities, such as one that makes you take more damage, but only have a bullet hell like central hitbox (represented by your heart), or… Sigh… Pacifist. No attacks. No ability to damage, even via your new spin kick. +75% gold, though, so if you’re really canny, you can make it work. I am not, hence the gusty sigh.

Ooookay. That… Is indeed a boss door. Jesus…

And aesthetically, the game is still clean looking as hell, but less pixelated. It’s got this cartoony vibe to it, preserving the general look, and… I like it! Musically, it remains on point, remasters and remixes of the original tunes so far, all good.

Any critiques? Well… Much the same as the first game, honestly. Some of those visual abilities really are a bit of an eyesore, early impressions make the game feel much tougher than it actually is, and, new to this one, they could do with introducing window locking of mouse, because, while using a gamepad negates this, in windowed mode, it’s very easy to click outside the window as, say, the Archer (who I actually like as a class, on par with the barbarian for “Can screw up enemies” with the addition of being ranged, while still being fragile enough to only be on par)

Ah, the spiky ball that bounces slowly around… I didn’t miss you, old nemesis…

…And then dying horribly as you try and get back to the game window. Most of the classes remain very similar, the general mechanics of “Find things in the dungeon to give you permanent buffs” and challenges are similar (again, a nice new touch is the teleporters that need to be used, themselves making for new challenge puzzles which are interesting), and so, it feels, so far, like a refinement of what’s come before.

And I do like me a refinement. So count this one as recommended, and one to watch.

The Mad Welshman is actually the 253rd Mad Welshman of the name. His full name is Jamie The Mad Welshman, of The Mad Welshman line.

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