Hermitage: Strange Case Files (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warning: The game contains mentions of abuse, bullying, self harm, drugs, and suicide. Although TMW has not managed to fully check the CWs, they assume there are more, but these alone are biggies for a fair few folks.

Well… That’s been one hell of a ride.

Yeah, sometimes all you can really say as an opener is something so simple, because Hermitage: Strange Case Files is an emotional rollercoaster, and, naturally for a horror adventure game with obvious Lovecraft influences, it’s a deeply unsettling experience at times.

Ah, a many angled doggy. Sadly, a bit too eldritch and hostile to be pettable. Sorry, you cannot pet the dog in this game.

Slight, yet important tangent here, because I know something’s going to be said: Yes, Lovecraft was a racist fuck to the point where even his peers went “Whoooooah there, buddy!” Yes, a lot of his work has racism, and indeed, much of the subtext and theming is racist as fuck too. But if you are to judge a later work riffing on the created mythos, not on its own merits, but just as a sentence that starts with “This person liked Lovecraft’s work, ergo, they are -”, you’re doing a disservice to the creator in question.

Okay, that said, let’s go into it. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a supernatural mystery visual novel, mostly from the perspective of a bookshop owner whose landlord is… Mysterious, and knows more than they’re letting on, his lawyer cum investigator friend, and the various people who are caught up in horrors that said trio help solve. The first chapter is available as a free demo, and oh boy, it’s a doozy. A private school. Bullying. Strange dreams that prove to be real. I would definitely say, if you have a trauma trigger about school bullying, that the descriptions are uncomfortably on point. In each chapter, there are only a few puzzles, the majority of which are to do with sliding clues onto questions to answer them (three per question), with three chances on each, and a bad ending awaiting if, well, you fuck any of them up.

This guy… This cryptic god-damn guy…

So, let’s get the bad out the way: Scarlet text on a dark transparent box, with sometimes dark backgrounds? HAVE. COLOURBLINDNESS. OPTIONS. Some of the questions, perhaps due to the translation from Chinese to English, are worded in such a way that you likely won’t get it the first time, and sometimes, when you click to fast forward text before clicking again to skip the line… Well, it just skips the line before it’s done. Okay. That’s the bad out the way.

The writing is good. It will frustrate some folks to know that it has the feel of a sequel at the beginning, but most things get revealed by the end, don’t worry. It’s descriptive, it’s emotive (oh boy is it emotive), and the characters, even the ones who are introduced for only one chapter, are fleshed out as well as they can be for their screentime. It draws you in, and I honestly didn’t realise the first chapter took almost 2 hours, because, well, there were only five puzzles (technically four), and the writing drew me in.

Please do not do this. No, really, I can’t fucking read this at all.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned accessibility issue, it’s styling… The character designs are sharp, an ink and airbrush style you often see in manhua, with the occasional more painted look, the menus of the game fit the mood and theme of a mystery game well, the locations are nice, and the soundtrack and ambient sound… Mmmm, chef’s kiss, it’s good stuff.

So yes, if you like horror, if the content warnings don’t turn you off, and if you like a nice visual novel to keep you up at night, then Hermitage is a definite recommendation from me.

Have. Colourblindness. Options. This is not a request.

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Powerwash Simulator (Early Access Review)

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

Muckingham, a town where beautification committees are considered quaint, and where Health and Safety Inspectors dare not enter, for fear of their lives, has a new hero. The hero they need. The hero they may or may not deserve. The one who’s going to clean up this town!

Hitting tab allows you to gauge the herculean task in front of you. And whether you missed a spot.

Oh, I’m sorry, was the title not clear enough that all that heroic guff was hyperbole, and that it is, in fact, a relaxing game about washing things with a high pressure hose, a variety of nozzles, and whatever background music you choose to put on, for the game deliberately has none? Because yes, it’s a game about cleaning things, both big and small, with a high pressure hose, a variety of nozzles, and whatever background music you choose to put on.

It’s pretty clever, actually. Because it’s not only a game you can take at your own pace, nobody can actually say it isn’t a challenge. That one tiny nook you missed, that’s stopping you from that dopamine inducing ting of “This has been cleaned now!” That swearing as you realise that your quick sweep has just left dirt that you can’t see, outside of your super-power of briefly turning dirt bright yellow, but is nonetheless all over the sodding place. Oh, and let us not forget trying to find that one support or timber out of 21 (people who’ve already bought the game know exactly what I mean) that has only mostly been cleaned.

Considering the state of Muckingham, I’m assuming it went on the “Nearly Unused” listing on mBay.

It’s got it’s challenges, that’s for sure. But it’s well designed, in that it’ll give you a big one, maybe a couple of big ones… Then a smaller job. Then a few more big ones, maybe a medium one, smaller job, so on… It’s well paced, in its career mode, and the writing of the characters who hire you is humorous indeed. From the old park keeper who doesn’t understand why people are complaining about a little bit of muck (read: The whole fucking park), to the bakery folks who live in a rustic cottage, one Hansel and Gretel Hexenjager, who are definitely bakers and not anything else!

It’s pretty accessible, with a right click toggle of the water to save your poor finger if you wish (although alas, your wrist is likely to suffer if you play for long periods), clear UX, the bright yellow of the dirt sight clearly contrasting with a good 99% of the surfaces (so even though some grime may not be visible at first glance, it will always be when you Tab to check), colour coding for your nozzles…

And, aesthetically, it’s solid. Often bright, colourful locations, making a night and day transition from Ye Liveliest Awfulness to pristine, friendly locales, the sound of the pressure washer against various surfaces is relaxing, and fitting… It doesn’t have music, it’s true, but this is a deliberate decision so you can put your own on.

Your reward for a job well done is to see the work you’ve done… Being done. Ah, watching that dirt vanish in moments is… Slightly taunting the time you actually took doing it…

I like Powerwash Simulator already, a bunch, and I’m very unlikely to change this opinion. There’s a lot of rinsey, bubbly bang for your buck if you’re into nice, relaxing simulation games that aren’t really simulations, per se, but are good enough that you can imagine you’re having a nice, relaxing time drenching things at high pressure and watching the muck and grime and rust melt away…

…Ahhh, bliss. Even for a mucky pup like myself!

Oh, and the Multiplayer Beta dropped, so soon, you’ll be able to powerwash with your friends, too, wheeee!

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Ultimate ADOM (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £17.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Review: Early Access

Ah, ADOM. I’m going to say this now, if you don’t like hard, old school roguelikes, stay away, because ADOM is very, very traditional. In the “If you don’t know the systems, you’re unlikely to get past Level 3, and random start is Challenge Mode” sense.

MONSTER CLOSET, WOOOOOOOO!!!!

Also if you find a clunky UX which occasionally does things like have text that’s obviously code (such as, in at least one of these screenshots, “DRINK_SYMBOL”) offputting. Because that’s a thing too.

Anyway, yes, despite this, it’s not a bad roguelike. It is, after all, one of the earlier ones that’s gone through a lot of rejigging, although this version doesn’t have the massive world traditional ADOM does. Gender options are alright (including, as I mentioned in my Early Access review, Tentacled… Gotta love Tentacled and Non-Binary as options… Although, as with older RPGs, each gender comes with stat mods… Not my favourite), class and race options are pretty plentiful, and there’s certainly a fair few systems to interact with, like summoning, grafting, corruption and mutation… There’s not all that many roguelikes where I can say “I, a Gray Elf Necromancer, decided I wanted a third arm that belonged to a goblin. I never did find a third dagger for it before I died, but I could have, and that would have rocked. Damn you, dark elf immune to life draining magic, which was my main healing…”

Bree-Yark is… God-damn, I think that’s one of the oldest tabletop/roguelike memes in existence… Glad to see it here.

And aesthetically, it’s alright. No major issues besides skinny text for accessibility, the chibis and monsters look alright… Honestly, my main problem is that it’s clunky. Progression has gotten faster, so levelling isn’t a big problem, but going through a mini-menu when you want to do certain things gets annoying quickly, even with a turn based game where taking your time and thinking is the preferable path.

In the end, Ultimate ADOM may well please traditional roguelike fans who don’t mind a little jank, but folks looking to get into roguelikes should definitely look elsewhere. I honestly wish I could say more, but… There’s not a lot else to say that I haven’t said before.

The Mad Welshman is one of the deities in this game. Well, he’s like one of the deities in this game. Certainly as stylish.

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Tsugu No Hi (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£4.79 for Evil God Korone)
Where To Get It: Steam

Hrm. “Day of Atonement”, according to the developer. It’s a good title for this series of horror vignettes, and furthermore allows a simple change to make Tsugi No Hi (The Next Day), even if… What are the characters in these vignettes atoning for again?

I thought I’d start with a note that yes, there is a Kizuna Ai Tsugu no Hi story. And a Korone one at the time of publishing.

Well, except for one, maybe two cases? Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, intruding upon something that they never would have realised they were intruding on. It’s honestly one of the things I like about Japanese horror stories like these: It doesn’t feel the need to explain the why or the what. If you happen to know why you’re being targeted by this ghost/youkai/kami/whatever (no, I’m not using these interchangably, I’m just covering the bases), then good, but most of the time… You won’t. Why would you? How would you?

I got pretty far ahead of myself here, so let’s back up a bit. Tsugu No Hi is a series of short adventures that were previously made in Flash, in which, for the majority of games, there are precisely two necessary controls: Left, to go left. Enter to pass onto the next bit of dialogue. You do this a few times, each time being a day, and eventually… Well, you inevitably reach your fate. It’s one of the more literal interpretations of Kinetic Novels I’ve seen, and I like that.

Equally, I like the aesthetic when it’s not trying its best to burst my eardrums or jumpscare me. Photoshopped people, a photocollage for most of the stories, blank spaces where the eyes should be being the norm, normal, ambient sounds, until… Oh… Oh… Things are starting to get weird. A good staple of horror that: The slow realisation of wrongness in reality. The music in the end and the beginning of each story is also good, so… Mmm, do like, and same with ye ambient horror bass.

A brief summary of the series. Despite this sign, you enter. And bad things happen. And you vanish from the world, presumably horribly. No, not even this cat is immune.

Now, let’s get onto problems. So, first up, if kinetic novels are not your thing, this will miss you. You have next to no control, you cannot escape this fate, and, while this is thematically appropriate (after all, you were fucked from the moment whatever is happening started), this is what it is. A dark ghost house ride, jumpscares and all. Some of these hit, adding to the atmosphere, and some, well, they’re silly, shock and nothing more.

Secondly, this is… A pretty direct set of ports. Volume control? Gonna have to go into your mixer while the game’s running, buddy. The small window of the story selection screen is most definitely… A thing, although the windows for the games themselves can be maximised just fine. And thirdly, fans of the originals will find the “The Next Day” transitioning to “The Day of Atonement” (in this translation “The Hexed Day”… Oh ho ho) to be a disappointment. I can’t really speak about the quality of translation, alas, but it seems mostly faithful from what I’ve seen of translators Let’s Playing it.

Sometimes, it’s just… Jumpscare after jumpscare, right at the end. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either when it happens.

Honestly, I like Tsugu No Hi overall, I love the implication of connected incidents in many of the chapters, and I like the general concept, even if the aural and visual assault of the final days is a mixed bag for me, usually a miss when it’s really over the top. But I like the connected stories, even if the connection isn’t obvious. This… Is an extremely cursed place. Spirits abound, people are fucked (and one cat. So, yes, CW: Cat death)…

…I just wish this was more of an update using the assets, rather than most of the originals, jank and all, collected in one place. But hey, if you like janky J-horror, know to turn the volume down in the mixer lest your eardrums suffer, and are fine with jumpscares (either in the sense of enjoying the ARGH! Or just… Being okay with them, like me), this definitely isn’t a bad pick to while away a few hours.

The Mad Welshman has somehow not reached The Day of Atonement. He’s kind of disappointed, actually. He’s always wanted to punch a ghost in the face for trying to claw his own off.

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Cloud Gardens (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ha. The most chill post apocalyptic game has released, and I have… Mixed feelings. Not about the game, but more… Well, it suddenly feels a bit raw, a game about nature claiming our buildings, the last evidence humans were there, growing over eerily familiar environments with the power of the stuff that was put down there, making them unrecognisable…

Just, y’know, sitting here, feeding nature the remnants of our civilisation, no big…

The game, I only really have a few minor problems with. Mostly to do with tooltipping. I’m sorry, what did this moss ball do again? Why would I bother with grass? I’d like not to have a restart finding out. We’ll get to the other two bitches in time.

In any case, the game is a very simple one. In the middle of nowhere, there is an isolated segment of civilisation, be it a dump, an apartment, a toll gate, or a highway. You’re given at least one seed to start off your quest, each with their own growth patterns. For example, got a big gap between the thing and the ground? The first seed you’re ever given does that well. But it doesn’t do well with flat surfaces, that’s what vines are for (and, to a lesser extent, moss.)

See, after we’re gone, it’ll be nice and pretty, look at this picturesque scene!

Once you’ve done that, you’re given items of civilisation. They’ve got a radius, and within that radius, things will grow around where you placed that item. And your seeds will grow, and sprout seeds of their own, which you use to cover more, place more items, so on so forth, until a certain percentage of growth is completed. And heck, if you have items left, and seed power left (what, you thought they’d be mean enough to stick you to just one seed type in a mission beyond the tutorials?), then you can add more before going to the next level, just to make it a little more aesthetic. I often do.

Entirely mouse driven, the loop is simple, the UX is minimalist, yet stylish, and the low poly landscapes, isolated in cloud (geddit, you’re making- Oh, never mind) appeal to me greatly. Less appealing is how it’s sometimes hard to see planters (look for green corners on objects. Not sure if there’s a colourblindness issue there, best to check with a screenshot), and how certain objects, like bicycles, are both inherently unstable and useful. Nothing quite frustrates like placing a bike in the middle of some lush foliage to get easy seeds, only for it to fall over the exact plants you wanted to harvest, lowering your percentage and fucking you out of the seeds.

I blame Ceres Fauna.

But, overall, it’s a good, chill game. Goodness me, the post-apocalypse is a relaxing place without…

Ah. Yeah. Anyway, give it a go if you like puzzle games.

The Mad Welshman loves nature. No, really, he does! It’s full of things that are both crunchy and juicy when put over a flame of some kind!

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