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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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!

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Picto Quest (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Nonagrams, or Picross, as they are often called, are a favourite puzzle type of mine. Their solve methods, the hemming and hawing about placement, the desire to not fuck up, because who knows what interesting pixellated picture might result!

So, at first, I was a little wary of PictoQuest, because it promised to be a Picross RPG, and… How? How would that work? Well, as it turns out, I still don’t really have an answer, because while PictoQuest has RPG stylings… It’s essentially Picross puzzles, most timed, with some abilities, a limited inventory system for those abilities, and a lick of paint over it. The closest it really comes is in boss battles, where the bosses have the ability to affect the board.

I mean, you collect pixel-art, Moonface. Why would you not want to discuss why this is such a cool artform with a lot more nuance and variation than the average joe on the street appreciates?

Now, I’m going to make it clear that this isn’t a bad thing, although the bosses affecting the board may not be to your taste. The monsters look very pretty, the chests and shop look very pretty, the world, and having fast travel between areas… That’s nice. Aesthetically, it’s clear, it’s cool, I like it, from the cutesy visuals to the enemy designs to the music. Mechanically… Well, it’s honestly hard as hell to screw up Picross, although there are some minor gripes I’ll get to. And the purchasable abilities do help when there’s a monster involved, as the ice blast essentially freezes their attack timer for a few seconds, perhaps giving you time to wallop them but good by completing a row or column, or, in the case of the fire powerup, reveal the contents of a row and a column, briefly. So they’re nice, but… Not really sure if it’s an RPG per se… Well, it does have grinding earlier levels for coin to buy abilities, so… I guess that’s somewhat RPGish…

Poor rock man. He’s only defended by a 10×10 grid.

Anyway, that aside, it looks good, it sounds good, it’s PICROSS, so what can I gripe about? Well, slightly sticky controls and an awkward means of accessing your inventory, for a start. Draw a line across a row or column, and, if you’re too quick, it might not register it all. It might not register the first tile if it’s feeling finicky, as it does sometimes, and the inventory… Well, you can only access it in battle, with I and then clicking on whatever doohickey you’re going to use, and there’s consequently no way to drop items that I’ve seen.

Finally, there’s my personal bane: Single save. As I’m writing, I’m preparing to stream this, and I’m grimacing, because there’s already spoilers, and once I’ve completed those 100 puzzles (plus some change), well… What then?

Clearly, this is a giraffe. There’s no other possible interpretation…

These are, overall though, not enough gripes to really not recommend it. It’s a Picross game, it’s got a good aesthetic, it does have some thought needing to be put in beyond the puzzles (attacking an enemy also knocks back their attack timer, and, y’know, bosses), and it’s fun. Good enough for me!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say today. He’s not feeling too well.

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Gizmos: Steampunk Nonagrams (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Two Picross games on my docket, and this one has one of my favourite creatures in fantasy, the humble goblin? Well, sign me u- Steampunk lick of paint you say? Jigsaws with somewhat finicky “You’ve placed this!” detection, you say? Character designs that are expressive, but not used outside the cutscenes and that expressiveness isn’t… Really used?

“Help, help, I am stuck in the alien greetings card machine, send help.” But what could that mean?

Eh, honestly, most of those are just gripes, to be honest. It is Picross, the puzzles remain cool, the timers for the puzzles are alright, and not exactly a worry unless you’re into challenging yourself to gold every level. Hell, it even has the nice feature of locking you into a row or column when you’re placing tiles or crosses, showing you a count of your tiles from the ones you’ve selected, and pretty easy cancellation if you’ve suddenly realised “Damn, if I let go of the left/right mouse button now, I’m going to make a fuckup.” Just click the opposite mouse button while you’re still holding, and then you can let go. Nice!

There’s also voice acting in the game, and it’s okay, although I’m sure it’ll grate to some. And then… Story. Well, it’s there, alright. A NASA ship or satellite of some description crashes onto the world, three goblins come across it, and they decide not to tell anyone they’re trying to decipher the messages and what it is. That’s your basics.

Yup. That is indeed a nonagram!

Now, since it is basically Picross, and Picross is, generally speaking, Good, any gripes? Well, yes. Whether the starting tile you want is highlighted or not is a bit of a coin toss, leading to either clicking the tile in mild annoyance, or trying again, wasting a little time either way. And I’m not really sold on the cutscene paintings. Other than that, though, the jigsaws don’t really detract from the experience, and can be skipped, so in the end, it comes up as an alright Picross game, and that’s… Alright! I do kind of wish the goblin designs were better, and they’d have a bit of screentime beyond cutscenes and the occasional voice clip congratulating you for finishing a row (yes, they autocomplete the crossed-out tiles once you’ve correctly solved, saving you a little time), but… Yeah, it’s a decent game.

The Mad Welshman didn’t screenshot the jigsaws, because… Well, most people know what a jigsaw is, and a picture wouldn’t show the common problem of finicky placement hitboxes.

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Endcycle VS (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, Endcycle Vs didn’t interest me, despite loving Megaman Battle Network’s combat system of a 3×6 grid, split in two, in which the player and their opponents use abilities (Chips, in the case of the player) to attack the enemy, a new hand coming when the old one is used. After all, it was multiplayer only, and not even mod support was going to bring me to that party.

But now, it has singleplayer and… Well, I’m somewhat bouncing off it, to be quite honest.

This one’s a nasty one if it hits.

Mainly, it’s for a very simple reason: Everything is fast. And can seemingly move diagonally, although that may be just that they’re… Going really fast. In its inspiration, MegaMan Battle Network, things generally don’t move quickly. And the few enemies that do are considered the biggest pains in the ass in the series. Similarly, some moves where instant hits (known as hitscan), so you at least knew that, the moment you hit the fire button, something would get damaged.

And neither of these appear to be true, with the exception of swords, in Endcycle Vs. Spreadshots? Slowish projectiles. Cannons? Slowish projectiles. The “Rush” Sword is, in fact, a leisurely dodge. And grenade and trap type weapons both have a specific range, and are, generally speaking, slow. Meanwhile, enemies fast. Can you perhaps see the problem here?

Chips, chips, chips. Enough to open a chip shop. Which they have.

Now, less a problem and more “Something different, to maybe get used to” is the fact that, instead of getting a new “hand” of chips once you’ve used the last, you have three sets of four chips, each with cooldowns, and you can switch between chips with the space key, and use one of those four chips with the arrow keys. Okay, cool. But what this, generally speaking, means is that you’re either waiting on a cooldown, or rapidly switching between ability sets. Now, you can set everything to attack chips, if you really want, but it’s good to have some sort of healing, some sort of defence, and some sort of area or panel grab chip, which makes neutral panels yours, or enemy patterns neutral. Because you can only move on neutral or your panels, so without those, you can get hemmed in.

One of the two endless modes replaces one of your chips after each victory, your choice. But you cannot choose “None.” And, as you can see, sometimes this means getting a “No options you like” moment. Like this one.

Aesthetically, it’s alright. The music is good, light, but pumping beats for combat, a synth theme, various other tunes, all inspired by… Well, its inspiration. The spritework’s alright, the menus have a consistent font, and my main gripe is that it’s hard to parse cooldowns when you’re concentrating more on the enemy’s position rather than, y’know, you. Where the icons and their cooldown shaders are.

Overall, it’s very obviously designed for the Pro E-Sports crowd, balanced around people who are twitchier, more timing aware, and fine with longish matches because they’re darting around so damn much. But that definitely isn’t for me, and I don’t particularly see it being appealing to more than a niche crowd within the niche that is people who like this sort of battle game overall, and the people who, like me, loved a game boy advance series from way back when.

Stuff gotten! waves the tiniest flag.

There are other games like this in my future. And so, I don’t actually have all that much interest in coming back to this.

The Mad Welshman lives in the cyberworld. He has to admit, it’s a somewhat dull place. You get used to those rushing neon comets quite quickly.

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