Wintermoor Tactics Club (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£6.39 OST)
Where To Get It: Steam

Our hobbies don’t define us… But they sure as hell can bring us together, and tell others things about ourselves. I love art, and roleplaying, and generally, creative stuff. I love writing these reviews, and being critical and informative as best I can. And clubs… That’s where many people had their formative experiences, for good or for ill. Finding belonging, or exclusion, finding friends, ideas… Sharing.

Yes, the clubs are cartoonishly represented. But each one deeply connects with their hobby. And each other.

But what if, for some completely arbitrary reason, that club was shut down? How would that make you feel? Even if there was a reason, even if you didn’t lose the friends you made from those clubs, you would have less of a chance, less time to share that love of your hobby with your friends. And all because of something arbitrary.

And this, in a sense, is the core conflict of the Wintermoor Tactics Club, where the principal, for some unknown reason, begins holding a snowball contest between all the clubs of the school. The stakes? The club that loses each battle gets shut down. For good. All to find… The Ultimate Club. The Club of Clubs.

Look, I wanted to add this one in instead of a second tactics picture because it’s a Devo reference.

There is a reason for it, but, for the majority of the game, it’s going to feel arbitrary as hell, and corny when you do get there. Well played corny, with good writing… But even as a tabletop player who’s played some corny scenarios… Corny.

Anyways, yes, power of friendship, power of shared interests, a theme of tabletop tactics, because our protagonists are the members of the Wintermoor Tactics Club (plus folks who join the club after defeats, for various reasons), and the game is a cool hybrid of point and click adventure, visual novel, and turn based strategy. When you’re outside of battles, you do quests, talk to people, look at items for often humorous dialogue (love the library!), and progress the story in some fashion or another. And then… The battles. They’re all turn based and tactical, usually with three or four characters (sometimes more or less), but sometimes, they’re snowball fights, sometimes, they’re adventures to help the characters think, or to bring someone new to the group, sometimes, they’re progressing a character’s adventure to give them swanky new abilities. It’s solid stuff!

This is the kind of player character naming I can get behind…

Some of them are challenge maps with fixed stuff, which I know is a turn off for some folks, but, overall, it’s got give in how you play and which characters you use.

Aesthetically, I love it. Solid, cartoonish and expressive artwork, fitting and, in places, quite stirring music, a good, clear UX with solid text sizes and easy tooltips… And, as mentioned, some pretty solid writing, with very little tonal whiplash. When things get heavy, they get heavy. When things are meant to be light… You get the picture.

This is a solid game. It’s not a hugely long game, but it doesn’t need to be. I’d rather have something like this, tight, well written, and with elegance, over some bloated, over or underdesigned monstrosity. Turn based strategy newbies may well have a good time with this one, as it’s a nice, gentle introduction to the genre, with a good difficulty curve, and giving you useful information, such as who is going to attack who and why. Which is something you can exploit.

The Mad Welshman does 2 Psychic Damage for a nerdy tabletop reference. It may inflict confusion, or do extra damage if you are weak to Nerd.

Become a Patron!

Kingdom: New Lands (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (OST £13.59)
Where To Get It: Steam

I’d actually been eyeing Kingdom for a while, but… Something put me off. I think, honestly, it was the tower defense aspect of it, for, as long time readers of my work may know, I’m not the biggest fan of tower defense style gameplay.

The Greed is attacking… And they’ll only become stronger the more I linger…

But, while there are aspects of that to Kingdom, and indeed, defending the kingdom is a core element of what’s going on, the other aspects are what keep me going to it. The decisions, for example. Huh, I’m short on coins… Do I create some farms? Do I chop some trees? Pay the merchant? Two of those can have consequences, if you aren’t careful. Chopping trees pulls back the forest, which is great if you want more land, more walls between you and the Dark Portals of Greed.

Not so good if you want to carry on recruiting people to become bowmen, knights (later), or farmers, maybe keep the merchant, or get a steady supply of deer. Creating farms is fine if you can defend them, or your temporary farms aren’t too far away from your settlement… But risky business nonetheless, because a slow citizen is a lost citizen, their tools stolen, trudging sadly back to the forest because you’ve failed them…

I am a queen who leads the way for my people… Such… Such as they are… Am I the bad queen, for leaving them behind?

…And, of course… Do I spend money on the main goals yet? Because there are two, or, more accurately, there’s one, but the second may be necessary to get the other. Building a ship to carry the King (or Queen) to a new land, and destroying the portals, the source of the dark Greed. The capital letter because it’s become an anthropomorphic force, rather than just, y’know… A lust for money or things you don’t have.

It’s an interesting idea. Story light, but it brought me back, quite a few times, to explore it. To take risks as the King (or Queen), because, for the majority of the game, there’s a lot you need to take a direct hand in, like distributing that coin to various projects, dropping coins beyond the battlements to maybe keep the Greed away for just one night, recruiting people by giving them coin… Riding out from the settlement, and god help you if you’re out at night, because if you don’t have coin to drop, to distract the Greed, they’ll take your crown. And if they take your crown, it’s all over.

This wasn’t the smartest idea. Somehow it panned out. Somehow.

Aesthetically, it’s good pixelwork, some cool music, fitting the theme of a kingdom lost, a kingdom renewed… A kingdom threatened… And gameplay wise, it’s got depth from simple elements, resource management and tower defense… I like it. The tower defense aspects, the slowish pace, the almost roguelike nature of “You will fail to learn the systems”, and the ramping difficulty may turn folks off, but the original game, the proof of concept, is available much cheaper than this for you to try (£4), and, if that grabs your attention, it may be worth taking a look at this one, which adds various features.

The Mad Welshman would make a terrible monarch, or any sort of ruler, really. He’s more the “Laser his name on the moon” type.

Become a Patron!

Monster Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For me, Monster Sanctuary is a bit of an odd experience. It is, by no means, a bad game, a metroidvania combined with the monster raising and fighting type games many of us love so much. Its skill trees, balance, and difficulty curve appear pretty solid, and I like its pixel art designs.

So it’s bugging the hell out of me that I’m not terribly enthused with it, and can’t work out why.

Monsters, some tame, some not, protag, got it, I know where I stand!

It’s certainly not the thinnish story, or the obvious gamey unlocks of features based on progression. I’m used to those, and honestly, it’s not that big a deal. You want to be the very best Monster Tamer, bad things are happening, and you work in an organisation, so it’s all good there.

The grind, similarly, isn’t bad. After all, monsters in the line share XP, so if you’re in need of seriously levelling someone up, you can put them as a reserve, beat up some lower level monsters, and don’t put them in the frontlines until they’re needed. And, of course, monsters are the level you catch them at.

It’s some solid visrep of combat, and a clear UX too.

Even the combat is engaging, because it’s this balancing act of factors. Do you put a monster in the very front, where it won’t do as much damage, but it’ll rack up combos for the monsters after it? Do you use a powerful ability, or tone it down and do less damage, because the powerful version outstrips the mana regeneration that monster currently has? Adding to this, you can see the types of monsters in a group (and they are, apart from uniques, always in a group), and plan accordingly, looking at your monster journal for weaknesses, coming up with a plan for the following encounter.

So, the systems fit pretty well together, with multiple elements to play with, multiple different roles, and the fact that even healing will add to a combo helps you keep the flow going with a healer role in the party. Moving around isn’t bad, especially since different monsters have different abilities you can use in the world, from breaking open inaccessible areas, to mobility improvements…

An example of this would be the bird. Poor bird, he has to carry the protag. Can’t do it for too long, but it’s enough.

It’s a solid game. And yet… I had trouble keeping my enthusiasm going, and I don’t particularly know why. There’s still time to work it out. There’s still time to change my mind, or have my mind changed by some update or another. And it’s a solid mix of platformer and turn-based monster taming RPG. It just… Doesn’t really grab me right now.

The Mad Welshman hates not knowing why he doesn’t get on with a thing. Normally he’s much better than that.

Become a Patron!

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.

Become a Patron!

Necronator: Dead Wrong (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For all that I am not the biggest fan of tower defense games, I do respect a game that respects my time. And Necronator, being a tower defense roguelike, is a game that respects my time. And has a sense of humour. And, so far, only a few flaws.

Ah, the fresh… The freshly exhumed face of a new Overlord in training!

If you’ve never played one of these, the deal in this one is relatively simple. You summon enemies from your own “tower” (a crystal sphere, in this case), they go toward the enemy settlements or along the path you choose for them (by flipping signs), and the enemy does the same from their castle. Why a crystal ball and a castle?

Well, because you’re an evil overlord. Well, an evil overlord in training. And each time you defeat a settlement, be it an actual battle, a shop, an event, or a rest point, you move onto the next, down a branching map until… The boss. Gaining more servants along the way, that you cast.

Muahahahahaa…

There’s more to it than that, of course, mana, how getting minor settlements from the enemy speeds up your mana production, and makes defending a lane a little easier, how if you’re not quick enough to ruin an opponent, they reinforce, and the fight gets harder the longer it drags on… It’s a deckbuilder too.

Anyway, yes, battles are, overall, short. They get longer, as the sectors drag on, but for the first hour or so of play, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that lasts longer than five minutes. And I respect that. It’s pretty frantic, it looks pretty nice, and a rotatable view means that things can obscure the path you’re looking at, but it’s never more than a keyboard press away, and dragging units onto the field can be done anywhere, so this is a pretty good deal.

Pffft. Giving this guy the cold shoulder. Repeatedly.

Actually, wait. Giving him a cold shoulder’s actually a good thing, for an undead. It’s not like you have a warm shoulder!

Helps that it aesthetically looks pretty good, with some nice music, a good pixelly feel mixing well with cel-shaded art… My main criticism, aesthetically, is that some things don’t seem to get sound cues, so you have to trust, for example, that enrages are proccing, and that the status symbols over a unit are small unless you zoom in… Which you don’t, generally speaking, want to do.

Overall, though, it feels frantic and challenging without actually being twitchy, it’s got an interesting deck mix, a good aesthetic, it respects your time… It’s a promising start for Necronator, and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.

The Mad Welshman salutes his fellow Overlords. Soon, brethren, soon, we shall face… The Finals!

Become a Patron!