The Sealed Ampoule (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where to Get It: Steam

See, sometimes, you see an idea, you think “Hey, this is cool!” and then… Oh. Hrm. Ah. Not quite as cool in execution.

So it is with The Sealed Ampoule. It’s a very minimalist procgen dungeon crawler. So minimalist, in fact, that it doesn’t gel well with its length. The procedure is very simple. Go into dungeon. Hit things until you feel you aren’t going to survive the next level, go back to room. Use stuff you got in the dungeon to get skills, level up the dungeon’s drop rate and magic circle rate for each level. When you get the ability and have the resources, turn dungeon levels into farms, just dropping the drops. Find story every now and again, or resources to turn more dungeon levels into farms. Rinse, repeat.

Remember these polygons well, for they are the ENEMY. Defeat them, and gain their resources!

I will say this for this set of mechanics, it does cut down on the bumf you’re overlevelled for. I mean, I’m still somewhat overlevelled at any given point beyond the early game, although I suspect that changes the further in you go, but yes, turning the earliest levels into, eventually, a single level you just run through and collect resources from? This is a piece of legitimately good design.

But the rest? Well, as I mention, it’s basically a rinse and repeat. Skills drop once every five levels or so, although those, like the progress toward dungeon farms, require specific materials, dying loses you some resources, and… Well, it boils down to a blur of grind, occasionally interspersed with “Oh, new enem- FUCK, RUN!”, story, or a boss.

The story, similarly, is simple, although it has its compelling mysteries. You play as Irene, who has been depressed since her mother died, but found an advert for a cheap dungeon, and decided to turn it into an alchemy farm, so as to open a shop, make lots of money… And then she finds out that it’s more populated than it first appears, including two small and mysterious children, and… A man who has been bludgeoned to death by nothing less than The Philosopher’s Stone. It’s just that said story progresses in short cutscenes that are… Well, an increasing number of dungeon levels from where you were, even accounting for farms.

The Uncanny Valley Twins.

And finally, there are the aesthetics. Again, it’s minimalist. A few music tracks, that mostly fit the mood, but still feel off, and a few sound effects, generally around two per enemy, sometimes shared between groups. A low poly look that normally, I’d be down for, but feels like a waste of enemy design, and hits the uncanny valley in the case of Irene, whose mouth never seems to work right, and whose movement is… Well, speaking frankly, Irene’s animations are godawful. All five or so.

Otherwise, the accessibility is just fine. The menus are clear, albeit with calligraphic and serif text, you have a helpful toolbar about the status effects you know, and, with the exception of floating numbers for regeneration, nothing’s too small to distinguish. Starts in windowed mode, keys are simple, but options to change things are sparse, and there doesn’t appear to be any gamepad support.

It’s honestly disappointing, because you can see hints of what the developers were going for, but a lot of it just falls flat. If you want a time waster, then yes, this is alright, but otherwise, I can’t really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman loves games of alchemy. He just finds so few of them FUN.

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Subnautica: Below Zero (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Earlier Reviews: Early Access 1, Early Access 2.

At first, it was hard to put into words why I was less satisfied with the finished Below Zero, despite the cool things it added, the new creatures, the weirder world, and our visitor to the world getting into Big Trouble. It’s not unsatisfying, and I would err on the side of “It’s pretty damn good”, but something bugged me.

And then I remembered the earlier draft of the story. The one I gushed about way back when.

Ah. That’s part of it.

Yes, you’re right. I definitely count two pairs of appendages that could beat the hell out of me, old lady.

See, way back when, Robin was cheery, enthusiastic. She loved the world from the get go, and Sam was the serious one, the one who covered your ass, somewhat, as things started moving. But now… Well, it’s a different Robin. A Robin who was previously Sam, come to find, uhhh… The Sam who was previously Robin.

Woman of colour as the protag, and the game doesn’t make a fuss about it? This is good, and I’d honestly like to live in a world where drawing attention to this as good wasn’t a thing I felt the need to do. But right from the get go, their zest for the world, that pep, something that I definitely resonated with… Well, it was gone. Replaced by a no-nonsense protag who, honestly, I’d have preferred way up in the sky, watching over you, adding practicality to your wonder.

Still, the rest of the game is good. I won’t say excellent, because it has less landmarks, and is therefore harder to navigate around, and a lot of the early game relies on the oxygen plants dotted around the deeper areas (I personally assume Robin just sticks her face in there and huffs it up like a bong with her rebreather) to both create tension and segments where you need them to go to certain important places. The land remains mostly a sidenote, and the sea remains, as it should be, a big focus.

It gets prettier the further down you go. And then you forget about your oxygen gauge because it’s pretty, and you sigh with your last breath.

And, lack of landmarks aside, what a sea it is. Green tinted vine caves, where thieving sea-monkeys, bombfish, their nests, and an ancient alien signal reside. The “smokestacks”, where thermal vents, giant mantis-shrimp (complete with punching action), and the first of the Big Boys resides. The forests of creepvine remain entrancing (and confusing), the coral chasm is a place of beauty, and the frozen underside of a glacier is a dangerous place where the smallest things can and will hurt you reside.

Guess where an important early game plotpoint resides? Nah, I’m kidding. It’s actually in a cave in the coral chasm.

Anyway, aesthetically, the game remains as on point as its predecessor. Underwater is beautiful, the UX remains pretty much unchanged, the neofuturist look of everything gives our intrusion a sterile feel, just as it did in the last game, and yes, the dystopian messaging of how Alterra is colonialist and crapitalist as fuck remains, although nowhere near as obvious at the beginning as it was in the earlier story version.

Yes. Alan the Alien. I fail to see why this is strange, Robin the Human-But-Not-Bird.

Overall, I’d still say that if you love the idea of survival and crafting in an alien ocean world appeals, or you enjoyed the original Subnautica, that Below Zero is worth it.

But when, like me, you remember the bright eyed and bushy tailed Robin who was thrust into WTF and somehow still remained optimistic? Well, you don’t enjoy it as much.

Still not leaving the world. Don’t wanna, can’t make me.

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Monster Hunter World (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99 base game, lots of gubbins including Iceborne, which is the big DLC wot costs £35+ quid)
Where To Get It: Steam

Oh, how I’d wanted to do this one when it first came out. And Iceborne. Oh, and Rise when it comes out on PC next year. But, alas, a small thing called “My Computer Was Dying Just A Little Bit” stopped me, and the pricepoint for a while thereafter.

This is pretty much mandatory in any coverage of the game.

But now, I’m here. Now, I’m rekindling my love fo- Haha, just kidding, I don’t have to rekindle my love of MonHun. After all, a game in which you live in a monster filled world, hunting them for resources and safety, and going on to bigger and bigger monsters? I like it. I’ve loved its take on progression, where yes, monster get beeg, but you don’t get big. Your equipment does, in a sense, but that’s the arms race between you and monsters, one you have to keep up with. But picking good equipment, learning about the monster from the mistakes you can make and come back from, taking educated guesses based on what it is, and then using these tools to take down a monster, alone or with friends? Heck yeah.

Let’s get a thing out of the way though. Monster Hunter World is doing a colonialism under thin pretenses of study. It’s an improved, quality of life added, and bigger MonHun than I’ve seen (although next to none of us here in the West ever really saw the actual MMO), it’s gorgeous, and it plays well according to the rules of MonHun. Learn thy weapons with the cat in the house, traveller, or just test them out where you aren’t going to get flattened. Each is unique. Each is pretty damn cool. Dual blades are the best and I will fight you on this.

I remain Easy To Create In Videogames.

But yes, its story can’t help but be framed as colonialist af, considering yes, the Fifth Fleet are trying to force their methods to work here as they do elsewhere, and… Well, I think this is the first title where we actively screwed up with the Big Elder Dragon, rather than “Ohshit, it woke up for some unknown reason, is causing disasters and/or heading directly to our village/town, it’s them or us!” (Well, except the first bit. That first bit was classic MonHun “Ohshit it just turned up”)

So, aesthetically, it’s good, it’s got some wonderful tunes, including a new rendition of that iconic theme, “Proof of a Hero”, the monsters are animated wonderfully. I mean, they’ve had a lot of experience here, but the monsters fighting each other… Sometimes, I just get out the popcorn and yell “HIT HIM WITH THE CHAIR!” from a safe distance, and the UX is… Somewhat changed. I won’t say it’s all for the better, it’s still a bit of an issue finding things, and the scoutflies feel like a necesssary addition, considering how certain plants and items blend into the landscape as well as, well, a native plant should!

And mechanically… Well, the formula got refined. There’s an always available weapon called the Slinger (y’know, that thing you use to look cool as you ride pterodactyls), but the weapon types, from my personal fave, the lightning fast dual blades, to the lumbering Greatsword, or the swag pseudo-hammer that buffs everyone, the Hunting Horn, have added little mechanics from previous games…

THE TOP ROPE’S RIGHT THERE, HE’S DOWN, PEOPLE’S ELBOW THEM IN THE FORK!

It’s somewhat hard to talk about Monster Hunter games precisely because they are, despite their simple formula, A Lot, but yes, overall, I would in fact recommend MHW. From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty likely I’d recommend Rise a bit more, although part of that is on the grounds that we haven’t seen this flavour of village in MonHun since Portable 3rd (Technically Generations, but Generations is a mashup.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to take down The Dread Pickle.

Or, as is just as likely for the overconfident like me, to be leapt on from a mile away, and gored.

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Legend of Keepers (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99 (Supporter pack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access

Let’s see here… Welcome back, Legend of… Kepers? Oh, Keepers, sorry, that was hard to pronounce. So, as you know, you’re here for your review meeting, in which we go over what you’ve learned, how you’ve improved, your general suitability as a procgen , your ability to show what dungeon keeping is like, the hassle, the danger, the awful marketing department, so on, so forth…

Place your monsters carefully, for maximum effect. Go for consistent builds. Murder the hell out of those self righteous twits.

A little improvement, not much change? Ah, well, that’s to be expected, you were pretty polished the first time around, didn’t really have many complaints. You’re still nice and presentable, that’s quite the accessible look you have there, presenting yourself clearly, very understandable… We’re always fond of pixel art here at WelshCorp, especially hi-def pixel art, very nice look! You’re not all that musical, but not everyone has talent in that area, and you’re certainly suitable.

Now, let’s see, you still have three classes, each with their own skill tree, each with their own gimmick… The brute, the trapper (actually very good at ruining morale, that’s nice!), and the damage-over-time specialist (poor dear, she gets in so many fights, I’d consider her the hard mode, honestly…) The brute is, alas, still a little bro-ish, but we can’t help our little quirks sometimes.

Marketing: They’re still jerks. But

Oh dear, that awful random party shuffle man is still in your department? Well, he adds a little tactical spice, but customer reports state that he’s really not popular with people. Well, at least he generally dies quickly.

Oooh, a little storytelling too as you progress through the seven two year stints of the game (week by week, with events?) Well, it’s only a small addition, but it’s a nice one, so you definitely score points there with us.

Well! I can see you’ve only improved slightly, Kepers… Keepers? Terribly sorry. Also, why is your first name not Legends, plural? It’s just your name? I’m nitpicking now, terrible habit of mine. Yes, you definitely pass muster among those players who’d like to explore the world of strategic and tactical rogue-sort-of-maybe-kind-of deals, and, of course, veterans of the field looking for a challenge!

So, since this is your final review session with us… Oh, you didn’t know? Well, our budget has been slashed, so we’re having to cut the fat, as it were. You’re lean, mean… Ahaha, well, we’ve replaced you with a cheaper employee. But you get a very nice severance package, why, it’s all of 120 gold!

AAaAAaAAAAAARGGGGH DAMN YOUUUUUU!

WAIT, NOT THE TABLE! NOT THE FACE!

The Mad Welshman is accepting further produc- er, employees. He’s talking about games to review, not writers. Pay him lots if you want more writers.

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Atelier Firis DX: The Alchemist And The Mysterious Journey (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £32.99 (or £74.22 for this, Sophie DX, and Lydie and Suelle DX)
Where To Get It: Steam

Time limits. My ancient nemesis. Why, I haven’t seen you since… Come to think of it, I haven’t played an RPG with time limits since Recettear. Huh.

Anyway, before I go on, I will mention they’re quite generous unless you want to do aaaaall the sidequesting, but, can’t lie, I’ve been spoiled by the recent ones and feel like it’s antithetical to cute alchemist chill times.

Well, except maybe in Escha & Logy, what with the whole “World on the verge of ruin” dealio. Anyway, bitching over, time to talk about cute alchemist funtimes. Because, oh look, it’s still a quality series.

I feel you, Firis. I feel you.

And this installment… Apart from the ones I haven’t played (most of the earlier ones), this is perhaps the saddest beginning. Little bird Firis, trapped in a stone cage, barred with an iron door.

I mean, the cage is actually a mining town, and she has a valued job because she can “hear” gathering points (ores is specifically what she was trained for), but… A cage all the same, and she wants to see the blue sky, feel the wind… The world outside, dagnabbit!

Well, obviously it’d be a short game if she didn’t find a way to leave, but… It’s an emotional beginning, all the same. And then, of course, it’s cute alchemist funtimes, with cute alchemist obsta-

Obligatory Random Barrel Text Screenshot. Also, yes, this is before I got to the actual building part of the questline.

Ah. Let’s talk a little about Flussheim. Flussheim is not my favourite place in Atelier Firis. In fact, it seems to serve almost solely as something to make the clock flow by. Long runs from objective to objective, a small mazelike portion of the map where I waste a day on average trying to get to the two shops there during their opening hours, and your first mass alchemy. Oh boy. I hope you were collecting ingredients despite feeling the time pressure, otherwise you’re going to be spending time gathering ingredients. 40 metals. 30 fuel. I forget the others, but in addition to the other quest item requirements, you can pretty much expect to be a pro at Ingots, and spend several days, probably around 20 or 30, just making this one thing.

This killed my buzz pretty quickly. Up to this point, I’d been happily gathering, getting new recipes, meeting new folks, chuckling as an old lady very obviously put us through the wringer with chores for the sake of putting us through the wringer (oh, you cunning old biddy), engaging with the turn based combat and making new friends to fight with, pretty much all of them useful in some fashion in the party, enjoying the aesthetic…

I didn’t check out during Flussheim’s final step. But god, I was tempted, and I think, honestly, this point in the game is going to be where people get put off from finishing. It’s a segment of the game that doesn’t respect your time. And what with the time pressure, it’s a frustrating, evil segment that brings the rest down.

Some of the combat animations are great. Suffice to say, she wrecks face with this skill.

The rest of the game is fine, and indeed, once you’ve gotten through the alchemy exam, the time limits go away, and it remains cute alchemist funtimes, with great music, well designed enemies, cool crafting with puzzle elements (Addition: Oh hi there, colourblind unfriendly ingredient colours!), interesting places… But I can’t say I’m fond of time constraints, however generous, and I’m even less fond of them after encountering Flussheim. And I’m also less fond of Atelier Firis.

In conclusion? Firis is one of the weaker entries I’ve encountered so far in the series.

Which is a shame, because otherwise, it’s a fun story.

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