Library of Ruina (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Okay, let’s get an important warning out the way right now: Library of Ruina somewhat spoils the ending of Project Moon’s previous game I’ve reviewed, Lobotomy Corporation. It is, after all, a direct sequel.

And damn, does it have a great intro. The game, also, is solid, if a little grindy at times, and annoying at others. But we’ll be getting into that.

Instant bonus points for the use of my favourite word, Angela. And Project Moon.

So, our protagonist (?) is a Fixer, essentially, a high-grade mercenary in a city where urban legends are both real and deadly, and, having been seemingly killed, he is resurrected, and given a very special job: To kill others in increasing power, who are invited to the library, to create pages from their souls… To hopefully create… The Perfect Book.

And how do you do that? Essentially, by deckbuilding, and using those cards (balancing powerful attacks with lower cost cards) in turn-based battles. Using the powers of the pages to increase your own, as “burned” books create pages, which your increasing cast of Librarians and Assistants can equip to take on their likeness (to an extent) and abilities… And the pages, when burned, can Realise other pages (level them up), and give you cards from said page’s deck, to use in your own combat decks. You don’t need to engage with that last part for the early game at least, but it’s highly recommended to take a look, and see where a Page’s base deck can be improved or changed to fill a good role.

Yes, the ones who came before you have all died here. Repeatedly. I’ve been… Grinding them… Ohohoho…

Earlier fights can be replayed for their pages, which is useful if you want to get said pages to their level cap (although fights also give XP to that page), but generally, you engage in an upward journey, eerily similar to the Sephirah of the previous game (and, indeed, said Sephirah are represented by familiar characters from Lobotomy Corporation, still under the control of Angela from the previous game), occasionally fighting equally familiar Anomalies from the previous game, such as the Forsaken Murderer to progress.

Each Anomaly is, essentially, a sort of puzzle boss, with some pretty specific strategies, although the Anomalies give hints sometimes, and you learn their patterns. Dying doesn’t do anything bad, at least as far as I know, so you’re welcome to try, try again. And, funnily enough, it’s the anomalies where I find the most grind and irritation. Forsaken Murderer, in particular, was, as the technical term goes, “A right bastard”, and it, along with some later fights in the current content, required some good strategy and a fair amount of grind to get things to the level I wanted.

This one, thankfully, wasn’t too bad. Later ones will not be as forgiving.

Aesthetically, the game is split between a well painted manga style, and a more stylised chibi set for the turn based fights themselves, with a sort of Art-Deco look to some elements, contrasting with the blood-red lettering of some elements, the scratchy backgrounds of character thoughts at the bottom, but every element that needs to be clear is clear, from health, to the emotion system, and the UX. Yes, there are lots of fonts, but each has its purpose. The sound, similarly is good, and the music solid.

Basically, if you want to see where Lobotomy Corporation’s world went after the first game, or if you like deckbuilding turn based combat with RPG elements, Library of Ruina is a solid pick, and its eerie world, with some light elements, but mostly surreal and a little dark, appeals.

The Mad Welshman loves libraries. He also loves tastefully done flesh-walls. Perhaps there’s some way to mix the two?

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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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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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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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Coffee Talk (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29 (Artbook £3.99, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It is 2020. Elves, dwarves, orcs, fairies, demons… They all live in this alternate world… And they all have everyday lives. And they’ve got the same happinesses (mostly), the same drama (mostly), and the same problems (sorta mostly) as we do. And Coffee Talk, through the medium of a late night coffee shop, explores those lives in its fictional setting.

And yet, I’m almost certain somebody among my readership is thinking “It would be so hot though!”

I’m loving some of the little things. The joking between a vampire and a werewolf about werewolves using BDSM as a method for calming themselves during a fury (myth, in the setting. Some werewolves can calm themselves with sex, but for obvious risk reasons, they stick to vanilla.) The little things that remain the same, like people who’ve been there before giving advice to those going through troubles (Yeah, really is best not to leave issues unresolved, because yeah, they fester. Ain’t good for anyone. Wise advice, cop in a computer game.)

And, here’s the thing: Even though there’s wider story, a wider world out there, it’s these little stories, these slices of people’s lives, that are important. And I can only talk about so many, not only for space reasons, but spoiler reasons too. But I do want to mention that there’s one point that directly engages with the concept of fantasy allegories of racism, with a writer in this world pointing out that yes, there are different species to be racist about, but that wouldn’t mean that racism as a concept wouldn’t exist if there are only humans. And, of course, we know it to be true.

I did have a picture of making latte, but I deleted my picture of making latte art. Some things are too horrible for the world to see…

Now, mechanically, it’s very simple: Brew the drinks the customers want, or brew specific ones. There’s a pretty robust save function, and while, unfortunately, there isn’t a multiple save system, you can go back to previous days, and there are three profiles to play with… And the writing’s good enough that I’m reasonably sure you’ll have an okay time playing through. But also, as a free hint, be aware that the order of the ingredients is as important as the type of the ingredients. I learned that the hard way, and several saves and loads, my first time playing. I wanted to make sure I got a specific drink right, you see. And that, basically, is the mechanics: Make the kind of drinks you’d make in a coffee shop, what the customers want, and the story will progress. Make the wrong kinds of drinks, and you may just find other things, maybe good, maybe bad, will happen.

But of course, a visual novel, for that’s basically what it is, stands on its writing (It’s good, if you hadn’t got that from my two paragraphs of gushing), and its aesthetics. And its aesthetics, the pixel art of the various characters, their designs, the simple and clear UX (the menu is a little small, but not tiny. Just a little small), and the chill beats really sell the atmosphere of a warm, welcoming place where people can talk to the mysterious barista, each other, and be… Be themselves.

Catgirls, orc girlfriends… It’s like they know how to push them buttons…

I like Coffee Talk. And I’d recommend it. There’s not really anything more to say.

Except that no, I will never screenshot my attempts at latte art.

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