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.

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Bombing Quest (Early Access Review)

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

Ah, Bomberman. A game which has inspired many clones, over the years. Heck, I was tempted to do a Going Back on Super Bomberman R, and am still tempted. So, Bombing Quest… An overworld RPG Bomberman style game, in which you are on a grid with bombable obstacles, unbombable ones, and monsters, where all but the most basic have some sort of surprise, be it charging, invincible rolling, leaping over bombs and blocks… It’s fun stuff, and mechanically, I’m liking what Bombing Quest is doing with the formula.

Sometimes, you just need to wait a short while. To make sure the enemies aren’t going to leap down your throat the moment the doors close behind you.

Aesthetically, though… Well, the first area is, visually speaking, very dull. It’s clearish, but… Well, dull. Not a lot of colour variation, and so I found myself less enthusiastic about blowing the hell out of the various gribbleys. And the second area, alas, isn’t much better.

The gameplay is alright. There’s a somewhat interesting cap on items, based on finding certain collectibles (and somewhere you can equip the gadgets that improve your stats), there are variations on basic levels past the first area (for example, a smaller arena where the enemies are, but a series of traps beforehand.)

But the biggest problem with it right now is the somewhat dull nature aesthetically. Colour and value differentiation is low, so the health bar sometimes gets drowned out by the background (and, let’s face it, red/grey isn’t great when it comes to dingy lighting or backgrounds), the character portrait models are… Well, they exist… And the music, similarly, doesn’t really grab, or even get the pulse flowing.

The second area, for dinginess comparison purposes.

Bombing Quest still has a ways to go. It’s only at 0.4.3 at the time of writing. But I’m not terribly enthusiastic about this one, and a big part about it is the very workmanlike visuals, with their poor colour/value differentiation (not great for colourblind folks.) But mechanically, it works, with the usual disclaimer for games like this that you will get irritated when enemies avoid your bombs. Ohhh boy, you will.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a whole lot else to say, honestly. That’s why it’s short.

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Iratus: Lord of the Dead (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 (£26.58 for Supporter Edition, £7.59 for upgrade to Supporter Edition)
Where to Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access Review

And so, the Dark Lord is finally out of the dungeon. Well, metaphorically. For the goal remains, in Iratus, to get your necromantic Dark Lord… Out of the dungeon. Which he had been trapped in, until some foolish adventurers opened his crypt and gave him some starting materials…

Screeeeaaaam.

Speaking of materials, goodness me, there’ve been some changes since last I played, and they do make the experience more challenging!

In any case, this is a turn based strategy game in which you, a very sarcastic Dark Lord (the best kind), have found yourself awakened once again, and you have to beat or frighten your way back up through the depths, to claim your right to conquer once more. Encounter by encounter, battle by battle, you earn resources to build up your army of the dead, maybe unlock more types, and balance for the encounters you see coming.

Now that is a welcome change. Because while frightening enemies to death (as opposed to shooting, stabbing, magicking, and bludgeoning them to death) is the path to the best rewards, risky as it is, there are some enemies, most notably the golems early on, who are not only immune to Stress damage, but can also redirect the stress damage they can’t take from others… Onto themselves. You really want a high damage build for these bastards, as they have a lot of armour too.

Obligatory “Big Rock Guy is a scary bastard” picture.

But there are other changes too, that make things more challenging. To pick one example, a common means of buffing your troops was to turn crap materials into less-crap materials. A strategy that is less do-able now, because the chances of better items coming out is minimal without some talent upgrades, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that new parts for your undead don’t buff specific stats… But give you more stat points to do with as you please.

I said before that the game is pretty clear, aesthetically speaking, and this is mostly true, but what I failed to mention last time is that, alas, there is no text scaling option. Beyond this, however, you know what’s what, the tooltips are fine, and the visuals, music, and voicework are all high quality. It really gets across this atmosphere of a dark world, a world which… Honestly, the villain could probably conquer in other ways, considering how there are slavers, beserkers, mad mages, dwarves gone bad… Well, Iratus does Iratus, I guess!

Although, y’know, a guy who poses like this? Prooobably a bit narcissistic. Either that, or taking a rocking selfie…

And what Iratus does, it does well: A turn based strategy game with a fair amount of depth, a good amount of polish, a protagonist with a bleak sense of humour, and some tense, challenging gameplay. Your minions are not that replaceable. Try not to get them killed a second time, eh?

The Mad Welshman likes to see a fellow villain go up in the world. Well, unless they’re encroaching on his areas, in which case, he likes to see them go down.

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Spellsword Cards: Dungeontop (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 1

Rogues. We love them. Or hate them. It really depends on which party got backstabbed. And this is the latest addition to Spellsword Cards: Dungeon Top (Stop snickering!), a card based strategy game where the cards summoned are units, your hero is a unit too, and if your hero dies, you lose, good job, start over… And if their hero in a fight dies… Congrats, you won a fight.

Redirect Yo Momma Joke is a powerful and deadly spell.

And our old friend incremental unlocks, where winning gets you resources to get more stuff, which may help you win… So on. Aesthetically, it’s pretty nice, some dramatic, tense music, some cool painted faces for the assorted minions and hero(in)es, and…

Sigh. A menu UI that’s still small, with no scaling option. It’s been what, [insert time here], folks? Come on, I know your dungeon door is pretty, but you can make the menu options bigger than that.

In any case, play still revolves around a deck themed around the Hero/Faction dichotomy, where some cards are unique, others are general, and the themes are obvious. The Karim remain the faction which eats itself for power, sacrificing minions to make the few glorious murderbastards. Helm, meanwhile, has the philosophy of “Build ’em up slow, take the enemy down.” And the Warrior, Mage, and Rogue? Well, they stab hard, throw spells, and sneakily take down the enemy, respectively.

Have a big wall of “The enemy is very boned.”

Okay, the rogue, being a new addition, needs a little more detail: His weapons come in melee and ranged flavours, but if you can get throwing knives (giving you multistrike at higher levels), go for them, and build around them. Because knockback is a thing, and knockback damage is a thing, the rogue can do well as a ranged murderer supreme, mainly needing his minions as meatshields. Or they can go all out on certain spells, and get through a fair few fights making the minions or the boss hit each other (and get free attacks from your own units.) They fight quick, and they fight decisively, one way or the other.

You will fail at first. It’s one of those games. But from each battle, you learn an enemy’s (pretty fixed) patterns. You learn how to beat them. In a way, it’s more of a puzzle game than a strategy one, although the random element does make it more “Hrm, of these five cards, which three of these do I apply to most effectively murder this giant golem that runs pretty quickly, attacks all units around it once every two turns, and will murder even my strongest warriors without too much hassle (and me with only slightly less)?”

Because yes, you have limited amounts of cards you can play in a turn, although some level up choices can make that more reasonable, as can some treasures.

Each character now has their own dialogue for the invidual chapters. It’s a little touch. But a nice touch.

How does it feel? Well, it feels much the same as when I last reviewed it: It’s an interesting game, it’s got a good aesthetic, it still needs to make those menu options bigger, and with a new area of the game added to boot, it’s got its rough difficulty curve laid out. It also has a draft option, allowing you to build a specific deck, seeds, and adding threat, so… Overall, it’s looking pretty promising!

Hi devs. Decent size on them main menu buttons, ta. Right now, it’s my only crit.

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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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