Crown Trick (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Hrm… Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re not having fun, be it a good or bad game. Sometimes, it’s clear that you’re having fun with a bad game. But with Crown Trick… Despite knowing it’s a well designed game… I’m not actually sure I’m having fun. And it feels awkward to say that.

Y’gotta respect a bird who wants to derring-a-doodle-doo.

The general story idea is a pretty cool one: There is a plague of nightmares upon the land, nightmares that draw people in, ne’er to return, and the last hope, the last of her world saving kind, is a child who appears to have no arms, aided by a large crown with a single, annoyed eye (generally speaking, not a sign that this assistance isn’t due to villainous ulterior motives, but that’s by the by.) And so a turn based, procedurally generated roguesortakindamaybelike begins, with shenanigans and buying stuff to improve future runs ahoy.

And make no mistake, it does interesting things with its formula, having a cool visual aesthetic, nice soundwork, and a cast of enemies and bosses that are interesting and challenging without being frustrating.

Except for Dr. Frank. Fuck that guy.

Like, you see those words, and you know he’s a bastard.

So, how does it change up the formula? Well, the level structure is more of an episode thing, with a unique final boss to each area, than a single sprawling “Beat this in one run.” It has familiars, which add special abilities to the list, interesting gimmicks in each area, and a variety of weapon types with their own quirks, such as the shotgun, which can either hit three enemies, one 2 tiles away, the other two on each side, or it can hit a single creature point blank 3 times in one shot. So yes, it’s a video game shotgun.

And, speaking of guns, the guns are… Honestly the weakest weapon type. It’s not that they don’t have powerful abilities, as the rifle can hit everything in a line within a 4 tile range, and the pistol’s final shot is a double-tap… But the clip is ridiculously small, so, unlike any other weapon type, it’s 2-4 shots, depending on the weapon, and then a turn wasted reloading. I’m sure some people like it, but it just feels less useful than, uhhh, every other weapon, including the axe, which, for best effect, needs multiple enemies right up in your face, ready to inflict pain.

Speaking of things that are of, at best, dubious use, the cursed statues and their “blessings.” Cursed chests, I’m fine with. They provide interesting little wrinkles that make you balance the risk and reward, like not being able to change weapons for three floors, bleeding until you kill an enemy, and an “everything dies in one hit, including you (except in boss fights), for 8 rooms.”

But when it came to the cursed statues and their “blessings”? The risk well outweighed the reward, every time. I had no incentive to fuck with them.

I never noticed this nice little touch when you’re dying (the zooming in, which makes for this interesting look.) But it is nice.

Okay, I’ve been bitching a lot, but this is, legitimately, well designed overall. The weapon types are, for the most part, pretty cool, and I’ve been most at home with the dual knives, which, yes, can only attack adjacent enemies… But the enemies it does attack, it fucks up, especially as you get more stun in on enemies trying to attack you. Oh, yes, the stun system is fun too. Even bosses can be stunned, with a single attack knocking 1 off the stun counter, more if they’re either attacking you, or trying to use a special ability. And naturally, once stunned, you can fuck them up at your leisure, until they’re not stunned, after which… Well, they can’t be stunned again for a certain amount of time, and you have to whittle down the counter as before, but… The damage has been done.

There’s a fair amount of depth here, the game’s pretty accessible, it’s got some great visuals and good soundwork going on… And yet, I find myself unable to determine if I’m actually having fun with it. It’s still a good game, though, so maybe you’ll have an easier time working out if you’re having fun or not.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. Because review wizard needs coffee… Badly!

Become a Patron!

Ziggurat 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (Soundtrack £4.79, bundle £17.80)
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, well, well… Ziggurat was one of those games that, if you were into arena fight roguelites (Walk into room, if room has enemies, kill them all before you leave, get stuff, rinse, repeat, boss, end level) was not bad at all. Some cool bosses, interesting weapons (some of which were, alas, crap), and carnivorous carrots aplenty. Good times.

There is little more horrifying than seeing this as you close your eyes for the last time.

So now, we have a sequel, and it’s changed the formula somewhat. Let’s start with the story. In the first game, you, a wizard from a pool of wizards (some of whom were unlockable), had to go up the Ziggurat, a prison to seal away horrific beasties, as your wizarding exam. Turns out wizards don’t fuck around when it comes to higher education.

Alas, wizards are also known, beyond deadly educational procedures, for warring over things and causing apocalypses or other terrible events. So, yay, wizard schism, the Ziggurat (reminder: Prison to seal away very bad monsters) got blown up in the war. Now you, some of the few surviving wizards, have to clean up the mess this wizarding war caused by, er… Doing what you did last time, but in discrete areas.

And this is honestly one of the more interesting changes: Rather than a strict level based structure, it’s a more quest based deal, in which solving mini dungeons gets you cool stuff and money. Which you’ll need to level up your wands, staffs, spellbooks, amulets, and alchemical/mechanical weaponry. And your wizards. And, of course, you do that by blowing the shit out of stuff with those weapons and wizards.

Oh, whaddya know, one of my screenshots with shooting in it has the little bastards in it too. God-damn carnivorous carrots, cackling and getting everywhere…

But it’s still got a ways to go right now, and it shows. As far as looks go, it’s very pretty, and you can tell the modellers on the team have been improving their craft. And the new levelling system (XP and coins are necessary) and map system are definitely an interesting change. But it does need fine tuning, as, right now, coin drops are annoyingly hard to get, and I have far more things in need of a level up than I have coins to level them up. Add in that length 1 can mean 1 floor (okay, cool) or two floors (Less cool, that’s a war of attrition it’s not so easy to get through when you’re low level), and… Yeah, it needs a little work.

Aesthetically, a definite improvement, and pretty accessible to boot. Difficulty levels appear alright, although it’s definitely recommended you try the easiest difficulty first (don’t worry, you have multiple save slots, you’re good), and I can’t really say that being easy to be backed into a corner because you don’t dare look behind you is a flaw, as it’s very much by design (and a dash-dodge means you can leap over, for example, those fucking carnivorous carrots that are the bane of my existence.)

Hrm, what with running into this guy in repeated runs, would you say… Repetition helps hammer home a point?

It’s relatively early days, though, and as far as these arena type roguesortamaybekindalikes goes, it’s not a bad one, even now.

The Mad Welshman repeats that wizards should never be allowed to be prison guards. This sort of thing ends up happening, you get monsters everywhere… It’s a nightmare.

Become a Patron!

Panzer Dragoon Remake (Review)

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

Ohhh boy. Panzer Dragoon was a classic of the rail shooters. A weird world and story that could have fit within the pages of Metal Hurlant, a system wherein you earned credits by doing well at the game, and had to basically finish it in one sitting… Yep, a classic, arcade hard game. Only seven levels, but oh boy, they’re all a ride… So yes, it’s twitchy. And replayable.

Look. At these beautiful. Environments.

Especially when, like me, you forget that you can change your direction of viewing with a keypress. Not least because the game, original and remake, doesn’t tutorialise. At all. You’d perhaps think that teensy bit of quality of life could have been put into said remake, but… Apparently not. See also “Both parts of the intro before you even get to the menu, hope you like 1920×1080 fullscreen until then.”

Funnily enough, no, no I do not. It’s annoying as hell to restore and max windows back to normal. Start in windowed mode is, as a general rule, going to get you less complaints like this.

Anyway, the game itself. The story is that a young man, Keil Fluge, who, chasing monsters, finds himself the owner of a blue dragon, and gets embroiled in an apocalyptic fight, in a post-apocalypse, no less, over Ancient technology (yes, capital letter. This is a post-apocalypse of a highly advanced society, of course they’re going to have left their potentially world ending shit lying around.) On his side, a blue dragon called Solo Wing. On the other, lots of gribbleys, an empire’s fleet, the Black Dragon, who Keil is charged to stop from getting to an Ancient obelisk.

The Black Dragon. It bad. It’s as cool looking as ours.

Cue shooting. Now, before we get into this, I would like to properly start by saying “Holy shit this game looks even more amazing than the original!” Trust me, even the original looked pretty damn good. The shooting, once you get used to it, is great, the music is good, the sound is good… Apart from an annoying colourblindness problem with the main menu (lessened when an option is highlighted, but… Still, another QoL that didn’t get introduced, BOO), the game is very much on point, aesthetically.

It would normally be something I’d definitely recommend, if it weren’t for the aforementioned quality of life and tutorial issues. Also, please note, folks, that even if this game didn’t have motion blur, there’s a heavy motion sickness warning. I’m not prone to motion sickness, but even I felt somewhat disoriented.

I’ve been inwardly comparing this to Metal Hurlant precisely because this is some Mobius level design. Look at thiiiis!

Nonetheless, the feel, the world, the aesthetics… It hits all the right spots, so it’s still a recommendation, even to players new to rail shooters. Controller might well be a good idea with this game, although it’s certainly comfortable to play with keyboard and mouse. But damn, I wouldn’t mind seeing more worlds like that one in video games. I wouldn’t mind at all.

I too, would agree to save the world if I was told I would do it with a dragon. I mean… [slaps scales] You can fit so many capitalists in this bad-boy…

Become a Patron!

Paradise Killer (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£19.28 for game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

I love a good murder mystery. The twists, the turns, the red herrings, slowly being guided along a path. And sometimes… Being wrong. In a way, aside from all the other cool stuff, that’s what’s so good about Paradise Killer…

You’re allowed to be totally wrong. Even if you do need at least some evidence. And hell, even after a marathon session with one trial I felt was off, I’m still not sure I got the whole truth. Pieces were missing, strange pieces, but, considering how large the world is, I’d probably need a walkthrough to find the clues. But it’s okay, even if I feel like I shafted some friends in the process.

Regardless of right or wrong, the sentence remains… DEATH.

In any case, Paradise Killer is a first person exploration type murder mystery, with some visual novel elements (the interrogations, the trial, some of the puzzles) where the Council of Island 24 have been murdered just prior to the Island’s reality being broken down to make way for Island 25, Island Perfection (ha.) And you, Lady Love Dies, interrogator, investigator, and, when the time comes, executioner, must find out who did it. Maybe who plural.

Writing wise, it’s great, and aesthetically, it’s this strange 80s/90s vibe combined with urban fantasy, a paradise island with pyramids, some small hellscapes, obelisks, tenements… The supernatural and the “Normal” live hand in hand. The soundtrack’s great, the sound design is, except for the static in the second gate, good, and the VA pleases, very characterful.

I like Lydia. She’s down to earth, even in as strange a place as Island 24.

Now, mechanically… Ah, here’s where there are some imperfections. I’ve noted that you’re allowed to get it wrong, and this is good. But this is a fairly big open world, and, oddly, I feel that works against it in some respects. Hunt relics. Why? Completionism and a few quests, it seems. Hunt blood jewels. Why? Well, that’s more useful, unlocking a secret item needed for the best clues, unlocking fast travel points, and paying the toll for travelling from them.

But it definitely felt like a needle in a haystack at times, finding the clues. And then… There are the puzzles. Use symbols from a set to complete the image, except… I never used some. I never came across a lock that used some of the symbol elements. Maybe that’s by design, maybe not, but it kinda frustrated me on some odd level.

Yeah, ummm… Some of these, I didn’t use my whole playthrough.

Still, the mysteries kept me hooked, and the mysteries left are seriously tempting me to dive back in now that the review’s written, hunt down those final clues, and that, along with its aesthetics and writing, really nail it for me. Some of the platforming is annoying as fuck, but, overall, I would highly recommend this one, especially to murder mystery lovers.

May the million eyes watch over you as you play this…

Become a Patron!

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?

Become a Patron!