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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Endcycle VS (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, Endcycle Vs didn’t interest me, despite loving Megaman Battle Network’s combat system of a 3×6 grid, split in two, in which the player and their opponents use abilities (Chips, in the case of the player) to attack the enemy, a new hand coming when the old one is used. After all, it was multiplayer only, and not even mod support was going to bring me to that party.

But now, it has singleplayer and… Well, I’m somewhat bouncing off it, to be quite honest.

This one’s a nasty one if it hits.

Mainly, it’s for a very simple reason: Everything is fast. And can seemingly move diagonally, although that may be just that they’re… Going really fast. In its inspiration, MegaMan Battle Network, things generally don’t move quickly. And the few enemies that do are considered the biggest pains in the ass in the series. Similarly, some moves where instant hits (known as hitscan), so you at least knew that, the moment you hit the fire button, something would get damaged.

And neither of these appear to be true, with the exception of swords, in Endcycle Vs. Spreadshots? Slowish projectiles. Cannons? Slowish projectiles. The “Rush” Sword is, in fact, a leisurely dodge. And grenade and trap type weapons both have a specific range, and are, generally speaking, slow. Meanwhile, enemies fast. Can you perhaps see the problem here?

Chips, chips, chips. Enough to open a chip shop. Which they have.

Now, less a problem and more “Something different, to maybe get used to” is the fact that, instead of getting a new “hand” of chips once you’ve used the last, you have three sets of four chips, each with cooldowns, and you can switch between chips with the space key, and use one of those four chips with the arrow keys. Okay, cool. But what this, generally speaking, means is that you’re either waiting on a cooldown, or rapidly switching between ability sets. Now, you can set everything to attack chips, if you really want, but it’s good to have some sort of healing, some sort of defence, and some sort of area or panel grab chip, which makes neutral panels yours, or enemy patterns neutral. Because you can only move on neutral or your panels, so without those, you can get hemmed in.

One of the two endless modes replaces one of your chips after each victory, your choice. But you cannot choose “None.” And, as you can see, sometimes this means getting a “No options you like” moment. Like this one.

Aesthetically, it’s alright. The music is good, light, but pumping beats for combat, a synth theme, various other tunes, all inspired by… Well, its inspiration. The spritework’s alright, the menus have a consistent font, and my main gripe is that it’s hard to parse cooldowns when you’re concentrating more on the enemy’s position rather than, y’know, you. Where the icons and their cooldown shaders are.

Overall, it’s very obviously designed for the Pro E-Sports crowd, balanced around people who are twitchier, more timing aware, and fine with longish matches because they’re darting around so damn much. But that definitely isn’t for me, and I don’t particularly see it being appealing to more than a niche crowd within the niche that is people who like this sort of battle game overall, and the people who, like me, loved a game boy advance series from way back when.

Stuff gotten! waves the tiniest flag.

There are other games like this in my future. And so, I don’t actually have all that much interest in coming back to this.

The Mad Welshman lives in the cyberworld. He has to admit, it’s a somewhat dull place. You get used to those rushing neon comets quite quickly.

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Azur Lane: Crosswave (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £32.99 for the base game, £9.17 total for the soundtrack and “time-savers”
Where To Get It: Steam

Azur Lane is one hell of a phenomenon. It was, originally a mobile shmup gacha type deal that persists to this day. Gacha, by the way, means random drops, like the toy ball machines you sometimes see in cinemas and arcades, which are called Gacha Machines.

I decided to kill you all with cute early on.

But over the years, it’s gotten an anime, several manga, a fan following that make doujin and headcanon, expanding on the world… And the developers, basing their shipgirls, or kansen (women who’ve been given magical girl powers from rebuilt battleships to fight an alien threat called the Sirens… Or to use that alien threat’s technology to be evil) on the battles and cruisers, destroyers, battleships and carriers of World War 2, even down to a plotline in the main game that closely matches that of World War 2.

It’s interesting stuff, and, prior to the release of this game, a friend encouraged me to try out the original. So here I am, reviewing a 3D, third person character shmup with players switching between shipgirls of various abilities to achieve three goals for S rank: All player ships survive. Bosses killed. And to do that in 2 minutes or under.

It can get… A lot, quickly in battles. Just circle strafing isn’t gonna save you here, buddy.

And it’s honestly pretty nice! Very talky, and with a game loop that’s a somewhat acquired taste, but the writing is good, and each character shows their development, from Shimakaze, the protagonist of story mode, a cute, but naïve shipgirl just coming into her own, to Amagi, the sadistic, dominant, and extremely thirsty cruiser who was the villain of the early arc of Azur Lane, along with her adoptive “sister”, Kaga, who is a much more quiet character who merely appreciates the art of battle… And is a grumpy dork. There’s even a particularly humorous section in Chapter 4 of the game, where one of the bigger bads, the Siren “Purifier”, attempts to fight the main character, with a big, dramatic build up… And then all of that, the dramatic music, the stormy clouds, the evil laughter and dramatic monologue… All fall down as she’s told Shimakaze is in the middle of a friendly match with another character.

“…What.” I laughed, just as I laughed at several moments up until then.

Yes, those are the “Deal with it” sunglasses. Yes, she does wear them often. Deal with it.

Mechanically, while the main loop of “Sit through a ton of events, have some two to five minute battles, maybe grind some earlier battles to make sure you S rank, collect loot boxes, then do it some more” may turn folks off, the battles themselves do have their interesting parts. As with the original mobile game, there are up to three frontliners, and three support ships, which provide abilities, covering fire, that sort of thing. But you can switch between the characters, and when you do… The character you were using heals, a subtle encouragement to switch characters to use their special abilities (such as Shimakaze’s speed boost), their lock on attacks, and their own weaponry, with strengths and weaknesses. My one crit so far is that while moving forward to the next objective is clearly marked with a green arrow, it could sometimes be simpler, mission wise, if the enemies just… Spawned in, rather than wasting time. Maybe a personal preference thing.

Meanwhile, the keyboard is not recommended for this one, as there are directional controls, camera controls, two attacks, two specials, a dodge… That’s tough to keybind well, and I had trouble before I went to controller to carry on playing.

Red is important, green (lighter green, good call) is optional (but recommended.)

Aesthetically, Azur Lane in general has been known for its music, and it’s no different here, with some good tunage, solid sound and voice work, and the visual novel/overworld map elements are well done. The UX is pretty clear, and, while the 3D isn’t top notch, it’s still pretty good, and I do like the water, unrealistic though it may be. I dunno, maybe it’s because it adds a touch of stylisation.

So, overall, I enjoy Azur Lane: Crosswave. It’s definitely one fans of the original should check out, and, if you like these sorts of genres, there’s going to be an element of the game, at least, that will be enjoyable to you. It knows what niche it’s aiming for, and it lands it, and… Well, I appreciate a well written game!

The Mad Welshman curses the day his friend got him to Azur Lane. It’s killed his productivity…

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Sayonara Wild Hearts (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.23 (Soundtrack £7.19, Deluxe Edition £13.72)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sayonara Wild Hearts fits in an interesting place in my mind. It’s somewhat akin to Audiosurf, in that you’re collecting things to a musical track, but it is, at the same time, less and more than that. It’s a game that rapidly, often to the point of disorientation, shifts gears on you, from floating to flying to quick-time fighting (space only for that, no worries on that front), to moments where you just enjoy that sparkle of things being collected and… Oh, yeah, photosensitive epilepsy warning, folks, because there’s a lot of flashing. The hearts flash, the world can flash, the fights are flashy in both senses of the word…

Not pictured: The rapid changes of pose and colour in this scene. Although this was a well timed screenshot, eh?

But it can’t be described with reference. Because it’s its own thing, and that thing is an arcade music video. Or, more accurately, an arcade music movie, sort of like Interstella 555 (Go watch that if you haven’t, it’s pretty good.) The multiverse used to be a cool place, full of love, and ruled by three of the Major Arcana. But then five of them decided to get up in everyone’s business and break those hearts. So they used the pieces of a broken heart to create a magical girl, a magical girl who’s going to heal the hearts of those broken hearted Arcana.

If you guessed there was a queer as fuck subtext here, you’re wrong. It’s text, and it’s fucking amazing. Biker girls, wolf girls, literal sword lesbians… And the music starts bittersweet, and, while it gets lonesome and bitter in places, that’s the point. You’re fighting that. You’re fighting, by the end, an avatar of homophobia, and then? Well, you get to do it again, this time with the goal of beautiful smooches, now you’re a proven Magical Girl Heart Mender!

What can I say but… Literal. Sword. Lesbians. Yes.

And, as you might have guessed from the idea that it’s a music movie, yes, the aesthetics are gorgeous, the tunes vary quite a bit, but they’re all good (I happycried the first time I went through some of them), the visuals are… Ah. Yes. Let’s talk about the heartbreak for me, and probably some other folks.

You see, even though the game is forgiving in terms of forgiving deaths, and having low score barriers to finish the main story… As mentioned, the game flashes a lot, there’s a level where it’s twisting in a way that’s guaranteed to set off somebody’s motion sickness, and when it gets twitchy, it gets twitchy. As in “You have precisely 0.1 seconds to reorient yourself, because here’s a narrow corridor/sudden obstacle/need for a turn-pad very quickly after another one” twitchy. The QTEs are actually just fine. They’re friendly, they pause for a short, grey moment before you screw it up (and don’t let you screw it up because you pushed it before the prompt even appeared. And the game takes itself in directions with little notice, from race-collecting, to shooters, to even a Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon like experience where you’re locking onto enemies to shoot them.

This, however, is what you’ll see most often. Usually at high speed.

The controls, thankfully, are accessible, and twitch was expected in a game like this, but, even with that forgiveness, it can get brutal, and I had real trouble getting through the aforementioned twisty level, the second Moon level against the Howling Moons Gang, precisely because it was fucking me up. And I will also mention that this disorientation is only fitting, considering it’s a coming out story, set to music, and narrated by Queen Latifah. Shit’s disorienting, and things can come at you from unexpected angles… It is fitting!

And so, while I’d heartily recommend it to the quick fingered and strong stomached, and while I would less heartily recommend it to folks who are at least strong stomached (Because, as noted, you’re going to finish the levels regardless, and getting bronze is definitely do-able on each level), I find myself reacting to its cuteness, coolness, and positive, bubbly nature like the disaster bisexual I am: Longing for mutual fulfilment, yet finding myself gunshy about engaging, because… What if it rejected me or hurt me?

Like I said, even though it’s a recommendation with some heavy qualifications, it is a recommendation. I just wish it didn’t seem so out of my league, y’know?

The Mad Welshman is, in case you hadn’t noticed, pro queer rep. So to see this was a balm to an otherwise terrible month for him.

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