Sunblaze (Review)

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

I’ll freely admit, hearing a combo of “Super Meat Boy” and “Celeste” didn’t exactly inspire confidence. For all that they share some things in common, they’re different enough that a mismash of the two would be painful.

But it was, for the most part, correct. Death is common. There is an optimal path through. Anything less than “pretty optimal” to “Optimal as fuck” means death. And, after about 19 levels, I very quickly realised this wasn’t for me.

Pictured: I got a little further, but my imminent demise here is inevitable, even if, looking at it, I see what to do.

Not because it isn’t good. It’s pretty responsive, you know exactly what tools you have in this twitchy puzzle platformer: A double jump and a dash. Maybe you get more tools later, maybe not. And you very quickly learn what things do, the game mostly teaching you ahead of time, such as falling blocks. Oh boy, there’s a lot of falling blocks. And the sprite art is great, and the chiptunes okay, the menu accessible, and options to turn off flashes, screenshake, and gltiching effects. I mean, they should be off by default, but now you know the option’s there.

No, it’s because I’m not great at this game. There’s a lot of levels in the first chapter, and, as mentioned, I got to 19 (pictured) before the momentum completely halted. Because it’s pretty difficult in terms of jumps and dashes almost from the get go. Now, what isn’t pictured is the spring platform that fell down. I know, theoretically, what I have to do: Jump off the ledge, dash to the block, then jump the fuck out before it crushes me under the spikes it crushes, high jump on the spring, dash back, double jump.

Ummmm… SOD.

I just can’t do it, because the timing’s pretty damn tight. The timing’s been pretty tight since about five levels before this.Not super tight, but tight enough that I bit 28 of those 36 deaths in the levels prior.

So yes, I like the aesthetic. I like the characters, especially the very dadly professordad. I like that it’s clear and simple, and I like its accessibility.

It’s just that it’s clearly laser focused on folks who say “Omigod, that game was hard as balls, but I finished it, got all the data cubes for the hard modes, and beat those, and I feel so good!”

And I am not one of those folks.

The Mad Welshman SETS deathtraps, he doesn’t try to escape them!

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2000 to 1: A Space Felony (Going Back)

Source: Charity Bundle
Price: Name Your Own
Where To Get It: Itch.io

Ah, I do love a good murder mystery. I love gathering the evidence, presenting it, drawing conclusions… But y’know what I don’t love?

Not-twists. Now, not-twists come in several flavours, but one of the most common ones is a twist that is not foreshadowed in any way, shape, or form.

Every time you present evidence or collect it, this, err… Gentleman repeats your testimony on the case.

Why is this relevant? Well, we’ll get to that. First, let’s get another thing clear: This is an alright game of its genre, with relatively few statements to untangle, a fair amount of evidence to poke at, has simple controls, a nice accessibility feature in the form of the option of glowing evidence points (with obvious interactions being obvious), and can be solved in less than an hour, if you’re so inclined or already know how to solve it. Since you’re in a spacesuit, you can rotate and the like, so some motion sick folks might dislike it, and, as far as I’m aware, there’s no windowed mode or resolution changes (BOO), but this is a lesser complaint.

It even has an interesting variation on the deaths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, on which it is very obviously based (C’mon, folks, at least say it’s an homage in the game, not a tongue in cheek “This totes isn’t based on a work by a handsome and talented writer.” The latter half being a claim I dispute anyway. I won’t spoil them, but rather than the relatively simple deaths of 2001, they’re more malevolent. Although one of them is a bit iffy. MAL, old buddy, you can see through the entire ship, how would you not know about that one?

Spacer, do you know what Clemenceau once said about AI?

So, aesthetically, it works well with its low poly style. It even has some tongue in cheek references, like the helmet of one of the crew being held in their arm, as they copy the pose of T. J. Kong from Dr. Strangelove. The music pays homage to the use of classical music in 2001, the writing is mostly solid…

Except for the not-twist. For the obvious reason that this isn’t foreshadowed, you’ll play through the game and… Wait, what? Only by doing something slightly different will this ending change. And, honestly, it’s a bit of a crap ending.

So, if you’re fine with a crap ending, preferring to focus on the gathering of evidence, the asking about evidence, and the presenting thereof, well, this is a solid short game. But if not-twists piss you off as much as they do me, then I can’t really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman eagerly awaits our AI overlords. Except not, because they’ll be capitalist bastards.

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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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Before We Leave (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.99 (Soundtrack £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

An interesting title, that. Has a kind of Ray Bradbury feel to it. In any case, the apocalypse has happened, the world has returned to some semblance of normality, and people have decided to rebuild. On sea. On land. In space.

I mean, they’re humans, of course they- OHHHH, YOU MEAN DEHYDRATED! D’OH!

Honestly, it’s somewhat nice to have a chill exploration and resource management game like this, and the aesthetic quite pleases me. After all, sea shanties are definitely my jam, and any music that reminds me of them is OK In My Book.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. After all, pollution is one of those things that screwed people over in the Before-Time, not that they remember, but they quickly learn that yes, smog from power plants, iron dust, and other “fun” stuff bad. Especially this useful, but awful black stuff, god, we’ve gotta get away from using that pronto!

However, sometimes it slows down a whole bunch. Once you’ve got a ship, for example, and colonised a second island, your previously quick pace up to that point slows down for a while until you get everything ready for fabric making, because wow, who thought the heat of a desert would make people super tired, meaning that unless your home to workplace route is short (ha, good luck with that), they’re going to spend long periods resting, also low on resources until you gun quickly for your new researches that can only be done with desert resources, and clothing, in that order.

You have discovered… Really Big Houses. But yes, those resources aren’t going to be helped by the fecund planet you just left for a while

Oh, and set up a trade route. Trade is pretty important in Before We Leave for new colonies. Once again, once you hit new planets, things slow down again… If you’re okay with these slow periods, in which you don’t really need to do anything with previous islands. In fact, once the research tree on an island is done, there’s nothing that needs doing, although increasing the population generally helps with resource flow… But again, is not, strictly speaking, needed… You can keep that relatively pastoral life for quite a while on your first island, with no detriment to the others. Especially as higher populations create more work, in the form of unhappiness management. Your efforts mostly focus on one island at a time in the early game.

And then, when you get to a new planet… Oh. Whoopsie, you didn’t pass on any of those red research points, and you have to start all over again, research wise. Thus creating another roadblock.

Welcome to Island 3. Relax, we already got weather-proof clothing, they’re just sleeping because it isn’t arriving there fast enough, and we can’t grow cotton here.

Aesthetically, the game works. Low poly hexes, low poly people, characterful, good music, clear UX… But mechanically, I find myself more frustrated by the roadblocks than charmed by the simple, clear play. It may be one of those games that “gets better later”, but… While I’d say give it a go if you like colonisation and resource management games, I can’t personally say it wowed me.

Before I Leave, I’d like to remind you all to hit up the Patreon, or at least gimme a Ko-fi. That way, I’ll have some snacks for the journey through space.

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Derelict Void (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Being hurled into the depths of space with very limited resources is a solid fear. A terrible fear. Especially when what you can salvage will either be minimal… Or just broken.

This looks like it’s going okay. But I’m overloaded. I can jettison certain buildings. And you really should do that before you travel, because otherwise, you’re wasting time and fuel. No, it doesn’t account for that during transit.

Kiiinda wish we had leeway on the food and water, though. People can survive a certain time without it, after all.

Ah, what the hell, let’s say it’s an abstraction. Any which way, Derelict Void can best be described as “Bastard hard.” I would say it’s good that a survival game like this is so, but… It also means individual runs end up pretty short unless you luck out, and it’s a little depressing to see lots of buildings you need, but none are in good enough condition, you don’t have enough to repair them, you’re foundering under hull weight… You’re basically having a bad time.

Still, it’s easily understood, on the base level. You travel to places, some of which are resources, some events (quest chains that might help you out, like improving your engines), some hulls, which contain resources and buildings (and can be safely jettisoned if they have sod all in them, reducing weight), and, well, you try to make your ship as self sufficient as possible while keeping your food, water, and oxygen above zero. Since anything can be converted to fuel, well, you’ll sometimes end up using one of those three to get where you’re going. The game’s also friendly in that it has a modular difficulty, so you can make the game much easier or harder. It’s not like it appears to be scoring you.

But I played on default, just to get a feel for it. And it ain’t friendly.

Like I said, it’s not bad.

Anyway, aesthetically, it’s alright. Bit workmanlike, bit grubby, but it’s not an eyesore, it’s pretty clear, no colour problems, because most of the important stuff is shapes, and the music is okay too. The art within the various events isn’t bad, so there’s that going for it. It could also do with some text scaling options, as the UX is sparse enough to allow it.

Overall, with the adjustable difficulty, it’s not a bad game. But it’s… Kind of blah. Perhaps give it a go if you like procgen survival type deals, but it’s not really entry level, and I wouldn’t really say it’s a must-have.

The Mad Welshman, on the one hand, wouldn’t mind going into space adventures. Mostly yeeting the 1% into the sun though.

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