Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access 1

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than riddling demons with holes with dual wielded SMGs. The kickback, the satisfying noise, the rapid thuds followed by the larger thud (or boom) as the monstrosity from another dimension finally keels over. In your imagination, of course, because while there’s bullet trails in Jupiter Hell (allowing you to see just how much ammo you wasted murdering them), death animations aren’t really that impressive, nor do they need to be.

Oh. Wait. There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than seeing the sizzling holes, melting a demon piece by piece, with dual wielded plasma SMGs. I stand corrected.

Buddy, you can… See all these bodies around, right? And me, without a scratch?

What I’m saying is, 0.8.8, the Dual Wield update for Jupiter Hell, has a feature that’s pretty damn satisfying, even if it has some qualifiers, like “You get this cool thing if you survive your first three level ups”, “It will still take up two weapon slots”, “Remember how you had that ammo problem? It will chew through ammo faster”, and “Only Marines and Scouts get this. Sorry Techies.”

Of course, it’s not the only change, although hacking turrets feels… A little underwhelming, as an example. Find the computer terminal on a level, spend 3 of the new combo armour replacement/hacking items, the multitool, and bam, turrets are… Deactivated, seemingly. Since I’ve never seen a turret shoot someone, and they have an ammo drop next to them, that’s basically what I assume, anyways. I mean, it makes levels slightly easier?

And now I’m on fire, how ’bout that?

Anyway, yes, I forgot, all this time, to say what Jupiter Hell is, for the folks in the back. Jupiter Hell is a turn-based roguelike, heavily inspired by Doom (Its spiritual predecessor actually was Doom: The Roguelike, and it was only Bethesda’s litigiousness, in spite of Id Software being cool with it, even flattered, that it is not called DoomRL2 today.) Actions like moving, reloading, firing… All take a certain amount of time, and the enemies, similarly, work on a timer. Diagonal movement costs two squares of movement, but moving doubles your chance of evading shots, so it’s valid to, when seeing a big old bundle of enemies, to book it to a safer position. Indeed, considering enemies will now hit cover when they see you most times, and only get out if you destroy it (sometimes possible) or lure them out (a risky move in some cases, but risk management is the name of the game.)

And how does all this feel? Well, easy mode feels pretty do-able, although you definitely have hairy moments. Normal is a roguelike experience, something that takes a fair amount of tactical thought to defeat… And, of course, there’s challenge modes. I don’t recommend challenge modes for the casual player, or the higher difficulties. But it is casual playthrough accessible, with relatively minimal unlocks for getting certain achievements.

Poor dualjay. He never got to see the plasma pistols…

It helps that it also looks and sounds pretty good. Shots sound satisfying, the clank of one of the chonky security robots is a sound that, once you know the enemy itself, makes you break into a cold sweat and hunt cautiously for both the robot and the best cover, the maps look pretty good for being tile based, quite atmospheric, and the music… Well, as with its inspiration, it veers between heavy, driving metal, and ominous, low tunes, setting the mood for each area. Oh, and then there’s the Marine/Scout/Techie, whose angry growls evoke that 90s protag feel, but in a way that’s not, like quite a few of the 90s FPS protags, a dickwad. Just a dude very, very angry that shit’s gone to hell.

So yeah, Jupiter Hell is getting closeish to release now, the devs have been very good about trying to balance it while maintaining interesting mechanics, and, while I don’t think they’re quite there yet, it’s a pretty good roguelike to start your entrance into the genre.

The Mad Welshman has nothing against demonic denizens. He just wished they’d stop trying to kill him.

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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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Dungeon Origins (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

I admit it: Normally, I am not a fan of Tower Defence. It’s just a personal preference, and I’ve only enjoyed a few games in the genre. So for me to say Dungeon Origins is okay? It might be more than that for you. Who knows. Let’s get into it.

See this? This is a very bad idea. This is your actual bad management skills at work here.

The story idea is actually a pretty fun one: A hero has cleansed the land of the great evils, and the kingdom is at peace. Well, right up until the moment where the King makes the extremely unwise decision of trying to kill said hero, who has defeated great evils, because he’s too dangerous to let live.

Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as said hero then resolves to create a great and evil dungeon, with which to punish the kingdom. And what results can basically be summed up as “Dungeon management tower defense.” With a tutorial that… Isn’t great. Basically, plonk down paths, making sure you have a nice twisty path with the space available to you (because, at the beginning, it ain’t much), traps, monsters (mostly monsters, as traps are less reliable), and, when you’re ready, go for the next wave! Every 10 or so waves, a boss spawns… And, of course, the more waves you get through, the tougher the obstacles on the way.

Whoops, I am dead, and so are all my minions. Gee willickers, I wish I could have been able to buy some corridors to distract them!

And here is where it’s alright instead of good. See, while it has some cool ideas, its implementation, even as a score attack type deal where you see how many days you last is… Not great. Monsters, for the most part, are fine. Learning how to mix monsters, like a tough melee type in front of weaker, ranged monsters, is a must, and, if worst comes to worst, the dungeon core itself can attack intruders who’ve reached it, with monsters respawning after each wave… That’s fine. But paths and tile placement is… Awkward. Mainly because you are encouraged to get certain dungeon features, which, in addition to costing… A lot, will also cost a tile worth of gold, an increasing cost, and those features will completely block that tile. Traps not being able to be placed with monsters? That’s more reasonable. But special rooms take up more of the economy than they claim to, and what they claim to is an arm and a leg for wherever they’re recommended.

There’s also a skill tree, which, again, is fine… But traps deserve another mention, because the earliest trap (indeed, the only trap I was able to unlock on the first run) has… a 10% chance of going off. Which, not going to lie, feels a little ridiculous. The idea is that, if it goes off, it does a significant chunk of damage… But it also does sod all to thieves, who will steal the hardest resource to get in the game: Gold.

Ah, raiding. The dungeon keeper’s equivalent of taking the kids to the park.

Mana gems are, it’s true, the rarest, but regular raids will provide you with a pretty consistent supply, whereas gold… Gold drops in relatively piddling amounts unless you’re going big with the raids (potentially disastrous, because raids cost your most common… And most used resource, Souls.) Spells… Exist, but have long cooldowns for what is, at first, not a great effect. Perhaps a scaling cooldown might have worked better there, but a single use, and then a several day cooldown is not great. (Hero assaults occur once a turn, which is a day, and raids for magic gems and gold take several days, a minimum of 2.)

Aesthetically, it’s alright. Lo-fi pixelwork, some chunky sounds, a relatively clear UX… But I found myself hemming and hawwing over this one, because while it was entertaining and a little interesting at first, the power creep of the heroes compared to the growth of me and my dungeon felt uncomfortable. So… If you want a Tower Defence game with RPG elements, then… Maybe?

The Mad Welshman has a dungeon. It’s where he reviews from. Quite nice, considering…

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Besiege (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back when it entered Early Access, Besiege was a darling of streamers who loved contraption games. In a sense, I can see why they liked it. In another, it’s… Not the friendliest of games. But I can definitely see the appeal.

An attempt at building a rocket launcher. This failed.

Okay, so, the unfriendliness is a good start, because, honestly, this is going to be the biggest turn off. UX wise, the menu options are tiny. And, apparently, UI scaling was at its biggest level when I ran it, so… Yeah, that needs a rework, folks. You can do bigger than that. Indeed, only by zooming into the planet menu was I able to see where the heck I was meant to go for the first world. Secondly… Building, and the tutorialisation thereof.

I get that it’s a toolbox to play with, and that experimenting is at least some of the fun, really I do. But how, pray tell, do I stop a bomb exploding instead of launching it? I don’t know. How do I aim a rocket well? I don’t know. How do I give my poor siege engine four wheel drive? This, I had to look up. Turns out you can rebind keys on individual parts. It ain’t the friendliest. You need boomy things to kersplode rock or brick. This, at least, I got.

Boom. Playing with bombs is rather difficult. I still haven’t worked out how to do it.

And I will admit that finding an unexpected solution to an early puzzle was amusing and interesting. You can see it pictured below. Well, the aftermath, anyway. Basically, bomb on top, what was meant to be a hinged holder for the bomb, with a piston to launch said bomb toward the obelisk I was meant to destroy. On the downside, the hinge tilted back, as it was meant to… And the entire machine exploded. On the upside, the machine did not, in this particular case, have to survive to do the job, as the burning, flying parts of my machine formed a giant, impromptu shotgun blast, and blew the obelisk to smithereens.

I don’t really see it catching on, though. Bit of an expensive solution for a medieval civilisation, that.

VICTORIOUS! What do you mean, is it sustainable? PFAH!

But I’ll also admit that some levels were just plain fun. Kill 70% of a group of knights and archers? Well, I added a few saw blades to the sides of my poorly steering machine (remember how I said I wanted to know how to 4WD that puppy? Well, I hadn’t learned it by that point. By the end of the fight, one of my wheels had fallen off, but the knights foolishly leapt forward, and were torn to shreds. The archers had been eviscerated just as they managed to shoot off one of my wheels. Somehow. With arrows.

Aesthetically, its low poly look is appealing, as is the calm, relaxing, and ambient tunes that form the background of… Well, blowing shit up, stealing things with grabbers, building improbable machines, and generally causing objective based chaos. But it’s very much a niche sort of game, and the unfriendliness of it isn’t… Well, it isn’t making a friend of me, for sure. Still, it’s relatively cheap, it’s got a lot of levels to it, and you can, if you really work at it, make some utterly ridiculous machines. So it’s got that going for it.

Obligatory worldmap shot!

The Mad Welshman, honestly, just wants to see his machines burn. That’s the best part.

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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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