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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Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit In Wonder Labyrinth (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29
Where To Get It: Steam

Mmmm, I love me some experimentation, and I’ve been getting a fair bit of it. I love me some Metroidvania funtimes, those action platformers where you unlock new areas by finding items, powerups, switches for somewhere way off, and defeating bosses. I’m not particularly familiar with Record of Lodoss War, but I’m informed it’s good.

And yet, I’m not quite meshing with Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, even knowing and loving its inspiration. And it’s mostly my fault.

Not pictured: A big ass water blast.

Let’s explain that: One of the things somewhat unique to this game is a spirit mechanic. The Wind spirit protects you from small wind element attacks, and gives you a sort of glide (we’ll come back to that.) The Fire spirit protects you, again, from small fire attacks, and adds fire to your attacks. Switching between them is important in this game, as, without it, you’re going to take a lot of unnecessary damage on the first boss, not get to certain areas you need to, and not, generally speaking, progress very far in the game.

I am not very good at this. Oh, and gamepad is recommended, or some heavy reconfiguring of keyboard controls, because the keyboard mapping is… Ohgod, for the first boss fight, three things you will definitely want are your bow (S), your jump (X), and switching your spirit (W.)

I genuinely love this mechanic. Good puzzling action.

Now, in my defense, health is not plentiful. You get some back by successfully attacking in fire form, but it doesn’t take all that much for you to keel over and go back to the last save point. And it doesn’t level up. Your magic levels up, and down, and your attacks level up (and down) based on how well you fight, but your health doesn’t appear to.

So it’s a tadge difficult, and I’m bad at it. It should also be mentioned, at this point, that it’s very much a work in progress, and only two areas (each with a midboss and a final boss) are in the game at the time of writing. So if that’s a turnoff, wait.

Still, it plays well, my badness and the keyboard controls notwithstanding, and aesthetically, it’s great. The feel it’s intending to give off is a homage to Symphony of the Night, and it pulls it off very well, with Deedlit even having, as fans call it, the Alucard Strut. The music is good, the spritework is damn fine, and the only real mar on the aesthetic is a smallish text size. Nonetheless, it’s a clear text separated well from the background, and the UX is otherwise pretty damn clear, so it’s solid in that respect.

God-damn door mimics!

I’m sure I’ll get better at this, and I appreciate most of the changes it makes to the formula of this genre, so I’d say that if you’re not turned off by the currrently short playtime (comparatively), and if you like a little challenge, then Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is a solid pick. And I get the feeling it’ll only get more interesting with time.

Elves. Nothing poignant, just… Elves, man, elves…

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Salad Fields (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£3.99 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

“It’s a leather mouse recipe… It was handed down to me by my leather daddy.”

I see what you did there, Salad Fields, and I thoroughly approve.

Heh… Skulls are cool…

So yes, Salad Fields, a block pushing puzzle game with a surreal, wildly contrasting set of aesthetics, dialogue and characters who toe the line between “Barely subtextually queer” and “Holy shit”, is… A game. Bear with me, I’m still blinking and staring into space contemplatively. Surreal queer retropunk games, relatively rare as they are, can do that to you.

Apart from the block pushing puzzles’ mechanics, which are pretty understandable (if having quite the variable difficulty curve), it’s… Well, I’ve described it above, but there’s a lot to potentially unpack. Like the depressed snake whose birthday apparently sucks. Or the bird who’s into self bondage, teleporting elsewhere if they get unbound to do it again.

God, saaaaaaame…

Okay, maybe there’s not a lot to unpack there. They like tying themselves up. But there’s others, like the computer who’s terrified of Y2K… Look, it’s got characters, and they’re characterful, even if they’re surreal at times. The contrasting aesthetic elements fit with this strange, broken world, in need of a whole load of vegetables and a helping, comforting hand from your furry protagonist.

Well, except the magical boyfriends, they seem to be alright (Indeed, between the first chapter and the second, they talk about how well you’re doing, and chat about thrifting and the other’s cool t-shirt.) But there is, for example, the aforementioned computer, or an ampersand who never wanted to be fancy, but was pressured into it. There’s characters who are run down, depressed, or don’t have the spoons to deal with you right now, and… Well, you don’t see that too often, it must be said.

I could have put another puzzle here, for you to pre-emptively figure out or something. But nah, magical furry boyfriend time.

There’s some fine music, the sounds aren’t bad, and the aesthetics of each area are unique and interesting, although your mileage will vary depending on how you like Windows 95 era 3D and sprites. My only real crit is that movement is smooth enough that holding down a movement button for fiddlier stuff is a really bad idea, as you may have to restart from pushing something a space… Too far. Edging against boundaries you already know about sorta thing.

Anyway, I like it, queerphobic people will probably be, at best, confused, and queer folks into puzzles might find a character who they react to with “God, saaaaaame…” And… Well, I’m going to continue staring into space and blinking.

I like how this game is simultaneously “Big mood”, “ARGH”, and “wat.” Nothing pithy here, just an extra observation.

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Maid of Sker (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Maid of Sker (Y Ferch O’r Scer) is an old Welsh ballad, telling the tale of a love denied by class differences, a harper loving a maid, the maid being married off after the father denied the dalliance, and the maid dying of a broken heart. Or, in some versions of the tale, being locked in a tower, dying, and haunting the mansion forever more.

This will probably be the last daylight you’ll see. Along with something you’ll be seeing a fair bit of.

Okay, in at least one version, it turns out alright in the end. But it’s that second one that’s pertinent, as Wales Interactive have decided to take a stab at a first person survival horror, where the maid’s song, a song she was forced to sing, has corrupted the entire household into murderous, faceless mirrors. Or… Maybe it’s not as clear cut as that? Still, we’re here to look at the overall stuff, so how did Wales Interactive do?

Well, aesthetically, they nail it. Since the creatures you face hunt by sound (and they’re faster than you), their deep breaths and clumping footsteps fill with dread, and the areas each have a distinct flavour, be they outside or inside. It feels, in essence, like a place, which happens to have monsters in it.

Ew.

On the gameplay end, however… It can be pretty frustrating. The stealth, not so much, although there are definitely frustrations there (I get it, you’ve got a cough, Thomas, and I also get that it’s there to add a little spice to things, but it felt random and irritating.) I didn’t find the AI omnipotent at times, as others have said, mainly because I took great care not to bump into anything. But mileage apparently varies there.

Meanwhile… The puzzles. Some are obtuse and frustrating, and I can’t help but feel what happened was that I missed a document somewhere. In any case, that and the protagonist being seemingly the only properly mute character in the whole thing is also a tadge annoying (I’m going to note, with some amusement here, that some have said the perfect Welsh singing of Ms. Williams with a seemingly English accent was offputting… Believe me, butt, I can sing flawlessly in Welsh, but my accent is English too. Bloody Radio 4 cursed me.)

Eesh. When you care more about proper records and salvage than people. Wreckers…

Still, there’s enough it does right that it still errs on the side of recommendation. The introduction of the monsters is well done, the little vignettes you see, such as the gravekeeper seeming to burn someone alive, are good, and you get the picture of what went on very early on. It’s kind of bleak to read, at one point, the tally of these hotel owners/shipwreckers’ victims (Clothes 2/6, Trinkets 1/6), and then, later on, to hear your dear heart talk, seemingly oblivious, about how her father and brother were swearing over the guest vanishing, but no money coming out of them. So, aesthetically, it works, and horror wise, it does more than just jump scare (although it does that too, so the jump scare averse, stay away)

I won’t say I had the best time with it, but I can at least lay that partially down to frustration with the puzzles and the feeling I was missing something (especially maps for certain areas, which bugged the hell out of my completionist reflexes), and partly down to my pickiness with horror coming from years of familiarity. And it does, in the end, have more going for it than against it.

The Mad Welshman loves his home country, and its relationship with myth and the supernatural. It’s a largely untapped resource, to be quite honest. Doctor Davies, Warlock Exorcist, when, folks?

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Death Come True (Review)

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

Death Come True definitely has a quiet pizazz to it. Protagonist wakes up in hotel with amnesia, sees on the news that he is, apparently, a serial killer… And something is definitely wrong with the hotel he’s in.

Like, y’know, how every time he dies, he wakes up in the same bed, the same time, reliving the same events. And that there’s a scary murderer on the loose in the hotel.

Yes, he does use that chainsaw, so content warnings for both glitching and murder by chainsaws, hammers… Oh, and a suicide or two.

So… This is one of those games where yes, deaths abound, but each death brings you closer to the truth. And while I wish it were longer, I can certainly understand why it wasn’t so. It’s technically a visual novel, as there are no puzzles, a heavy emphasis on story, and the mechanic is “Make choice(s)”, but it’s presented in a full motion video, fully voice acted form. Interesting stuff we don’t see a lot, because… Well, it’s fucking expensive.

But did I enjoy this experience? Well, this is one of those where, when asked that, I wave my hand back and forth, if only a little before saying “Overall, yes.” I enjoyed the acting, and the writing, with characters who are easily identifiable, and two or three out of the small cast you can sympathise with. Each film segment is fairly well shot, I was brought into the story, and there’s some subtle visual imagery I quite enjoyed, that makes sense later. And the UX is solid, even nice, as it shows a tiny preview of your path (even if it takes a short time to realise the choices are pretty much always on the left… And right.)

ACAB.

And that preview, a very nice element in the UX… Becomes an eyesore after a certain point. I understand why they did it (It works with the narrative), but it’s hard on the eyes, and I will say that if you don’t like glitch effects, or have photosensitive epilepsy, that happens a lot, and this game is probably not for you. The path becomes pretty clear after a short while, and I would honestly have liked some sort of timeline feature to see the deaths, rather than replaying the entire storyline to deliberately make the wrong choices to see them, since, as mentioned, after a certain point, those nice previews go to shit, meaning that getting to those choices becomes a chore on the eyes.

Apart from this, where yes, the UX is most of my complaints (One of the deaths seems completely out of the blue, feeling like it’s there for the sake of a death, and one is rather dull compared to the others), I did legitimately enjoy my time with Death Come True, and I would say that if you’re interested in short visual novels with well acted FMV, and glitching effects are not a turn off for you, then this one is a nice pick, even if it’s slightly flawed in places.

Such a useful person, to just point the way!

My main issue is, funnily enough, with something that still fits in the game, narratively… But oh boy, am I not a fan of glitch effects myself.

The developers have very kindly requested I keep this as spoiler light as possible, and use the given screenshots.

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