West of Dead (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.48 (£19.02 for DLC and OST, £4.79 Soundtrack, £2.09 DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

West of Dead definitely nails its atmosphere down. Heavy black shading, deep shadows, washed out colours, tombs everywhere… It’s a Western styled afterlife, alright. And one cowboy is stuck in purgatory, hunting down the ghost of a preacher… Who might actually have made the land of the dead mighty ornery. Good thing the cowboy in question is tired and ornery too.

Sure ain’t…

Said ghostly cowboy is voiced by… Ron Perlmann. A man who knows his matter of face, practical characters who are Very Tired Of Your Shit. And William Mason is, indeed, a man who takes the situation in his stride. He knows he won’t like the answers to certain questions he could ask, so he doesn’t ask them. He knows something’s wrong, so he just gets down to it. And he can certainly wax poetic, at times. I like him. And the general idea is a twin-stick roguelike shooty type deal, with you shooting various undead folks and beasts in a claustrophobic land of the dead, levelling up and finding hopefully new, hopefully better gear as you go. I like that style of game, too.

I like… The combat a little bit less, however. Not the general idea, it’s quite cool, and encourages the Western shootout feel by having to reload, and that reloading being faster in cover, and slower still while on the move. And cover does break, and there are folks who don’t give a hoot about your cover, such as bombers or the big boys, so you’re shooting all the folks you can from one piece of cover, then rolling to the next, hopefully dodging shots along the way. It’s good stuff, on its most basic level.

Them boys ain’t right…

However… That difficulty ramps up quickly indeed, so this is one of those… Where it doesn’t feel like it wants me to see it. It wants me to die early, over and over again, ’til I’ve either got the muscle memory or the tools to deal with, say, the Butchers, who are only melee in the sense that most of their attacks are melee based. Don’t matter none, they can destroy cover, and if you get close, best be dodging, and dodging the right way, because they got an area attack, friend, and that hurts.

So… This is one where I love the atmosphere. I love the basic idea of the combat, I love the aesthetic, it’s all pretty clear… But I’m honestly finding the difficulty unforgiving, because while I can consistently get to the second level, I also consistently die there. Also in the negative category is that sometimes, the camera really isn’t your best friend. And finally, in niggles, the game goes full screen for a brief time on loading, even if you’ve set it to windowed mode. Which is annoying.

Every character has something going for them, design wise.

I don’t really think it’s a bad game… But it is a tough game, so if you’re frustrated by that sort of thing, I would say stay away, and if not… It’s definitely got a unique atmosphere, and a nice little twist on things, so if difficulty doesn’t turn you off, I’d say give this one a go.

Life ain’t what it used to be. But nor’s death either. Leastways, not in games, where it’s sure as hell painful… And just as surely temporary…

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SUPERHOT (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Ah, SUPERHOT. One hell of an interesting premise, both in terms of mechanics and story. The gist? Time only moves when you do, including looking around… And you’re in some extremely hectic situations in which it’s kill… Or be killed.

But hey, it’s only a pirated in-development game sent by a friend, and you can always restart!

MAKE HIM FLY.

Haha… Hahahaha… Haaaaboy…

It’s kind of amusing, really, how such a simple premise can be stretched out, and, with the story, each area of progression retrospectively makes the levels you’ve already completed something you can feel a vague sense of guilt about. But it’s only vague, because you’re hooked, the enemies are low-poly faceless red people who want you dead, and you want to see more.

Good boy…

Time for some… Dentistry. With bullets.

Aesthetically, that low poly look, the glittering reds of what you need to kill, the blacks of what you can use to maim and stun and kill, the slow sounds of glass shattering, bullets firing, and the sterile white of the rest of the landscape makes everything nice and visually clear, yet disconcertingly off… And that discomfort rises when… Ah, but you thought I was going to spoil something, didn’t you? Well, as far as this review goes…

guruCHAT – so old, it’s riskier to log in than not. Who knows who might hijack your chat?

You are not in control.

After all, I want people to experience the twists. That slow, dawning “The fuck?” as they happen, as you have to get ever more creative, to not rely on any one thing, be it guns, your fists, or things to throw, to help you survive. Or at least enjoy dying as a means of exploring what you can do, and to find the (really annoying) secrets of the game. After all…

Bodies are disposable.

The Mad Welshman’s reviews are good. Money is disposable. Support is the new… Okay, okay, but you have to admit, it was worth a shot!

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SUPERHOT: MIND, CONTROL, DELETE (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (Soundtrack free!)
Where to Get It: Steam

SUPERHOT was an interesting, paranoia inducing game about shooting and killing and beating people in a game that… Haha, well, let’s just say “Time only moves when you do”, and leave spoilers out of it. It’s an interesting premise, the story took some cool and dark turns, and I quite enjoyed it.

Oh, you poor fool. When it comes to pistol v pistol, friend… I automatically win.

SUPERHOT is more of the same… Except now in a sort of roguelike form. There are areas, and within those areas you have a pattern of random levels taken from a pool, and random upgrades (the number of each is fixed), and defeating everything in an area is completion, which then lets you access other nodes in this network, nodes that have memories, snippets of dialogue, and hacked in upgrades such as the ability to charge people, or bullet deflections that deflect every bullet back toward the enemies, regardless of whether you deflected those. But in its basic level goals, it remains mostly the same: Use your time stopping/slowing powers to murder red people in a level using whatever you can, be it thrown items, melee weapons, or one of a variety of guns.

And naturally, what SUPERHOT: MCD brings to the table, apart from MORE story, is just… MORE… MORE gun. MORE wrinkles, such as enemies who can only be hurt in certain locations, and are otherwise as white and sterile as your non interactible bits of scenery. MORE levels in which to play. Hell, even the achievements are “MORE [thing]”

And indeed there is! There’s so much MORE…

And aesthetically and narratively, it’s also similar, in that paranoid, dystopian tone, which I compared to a mix of David Cronenberg and David Lynch (two film directors well known for surreal and dark films), and the way the aesthetics both subtly put you off balance and highlight everything you need to know.

For anyone with a little first person, low poly roguelike-ish need, this one’s a pretty solid pick. And for the people who played Superhot, but somehow haven’t already got MCD… It’s MORE.

The Mad Welshman apologises that he wasn’t able to screencap mid shuriken throw. Those things go at one hell of a clip…

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Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £29.99 (And a whole buttload of DLC, totalling £71.)
Where To Get It: Steam

I loved Darius when I was young. It was a great example of the imaginative boss design of shmups, along with Xenon 2’s bosses. An evil empire that has a design theme of fishes, crabs, and cephalopods for its giant boss ships? Oh. Hell. Yes. It helps that the series has had one hell of a soundtrack, and it’s been alright on the difficulty for a shmup.

I would have shown screenshots of mowing down smaller enemies, but with only a few exceptions, that’s relatively quick, even if the waves are placed in such a way you move a lot.

So, once again, the Belsar have invaded, with their fish-like ships, and it’s up to the elite Silverhawks to scramble to save the day. Go save the day, hero!

Bam. Plot done. Let’s talk about the game. Like earlier titles in the series, it’s split up into various routes, although, unlike previous entries, there’s a single main route, and side routes. What makes this one interesting is that you can unlock ships from throughout the series (and, with DLC, play ships from other properties, including the jetpack cannon funtimes of the Space Harrier protagonist), and play with those… Although you’ll get a chance to try out most of them in any case, some of which have unique tricks, and all of whom have at least one different element. Each mission is split up into at least two stages, often with multiple boss fights against memorable ships (the same models, such as King Fossil or Mirage Castle, have appeared pretty much throughout the series, so returning players know most of what to expect.)

Including this asshole. Ohhh, I’m sure many Darius players remember Thousand Bullets…

Missions also have mutators from the base of “All types of powerup, your special weapon charges from killing enemies”, such as limited or no drops, or your special weapon automatically charging (You’d think this was a godsend, but no, the challenge usually matches that mutator.) Beating each stage earns you a proportion of the score as points to purchase ships (Ships from later in the series, such as the Murukamo, require a lot of points, so if you really, really want to play those early, expect to grind the earlier missions a lot), and to spend on, if you choose to use a custom ship, powering them up for the mission (just using them is free, but if the mission has a no-powerup mutator, you really want to power them up appropriately, or better, than the preset ship you’re given)

When it comes to soundtrack, it’s great. The music, as mentioned, has been strong through most of the series, and this one is no exception. Visually, it works well, ships with powerups being denoted with strong, saturated colours, and foreground elements you could conceivably smash your ship against more saturated and brighter than the background, as it should be. The UX is clear, the sound is good (although, fair warning, if you’re using one of the older ships, it uses similar sound effects to the games they’re from, and changes the soundtrack in some places. They’re still powerful, so, er… Don’t discount them, even if chiptunes and beepy pew-pews aren’t your thing.)

Oh wait, I did have a wave screenshot!

It does get difficult somewhat early, due to some of the bosses having revenge bullets, a boatload of health, and some nasty attacks, but it plays very smoothly for what it is (a port of a PSP game), it’s a good shmup with a great soundtrack… My only critique is that there’s no english language version of the special guidebook you can get as DLC. I’d love to read that. Ship DLC is pretty cheap individually, and there’s certainly enough playtime that you won’t feel the need to play with those until you’ve finished the main game. Oh, and let’s not forget that it has both Arcade and Story modes (The mission route mode I’ve spent most of this review talking about), remote play, and Chronicle Mode, an interesting mode where there are 3000+ worlds on a “cabinet” that you share with other players online.

So… It comes highly recommended as a shmup which, while it gets bullet helly fairly quickly, is interesting, cool, and with a great soundtrack!

The Mad Welshman loves the inventive shooters, with the interesting boss designs. Don’t give me boring old “Ships, but big.” Give me things that make me say “Omigod, this is a thing I want to share!”

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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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