Wintermoor Tactics Club (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£6.39 OST)
Where To Get It: Steam

Our hobbies don’t define us… But they sure as hell can bring us together, and tell others things about ourselves. I love art, and roleplaying, and generally, creative stuff. I love writing these reviews, and being critical and informative as best I can. And clubs… That’s where many people had their formative experiences, for good or for ill. Finding belonging, or exclusion, finding friends, ideas… Sharing.

Yes, the clubs are cartoonishly represented. But each one deeply connects with their hobby. And each other.

But what if, for some completely arbitrary reason, that club was shut down? How would that make you feel? Even if there was a reason, even if you didn’t lose the friends you made from those clubs, you would have less of a chance, less time to share that love of your hobby with your friends. And all because of something arbitrary.

And this, in a sense, is the core conflict of the Wintermoor Tactics Club, where the principal, for some unknown reason, begins holding a snowball contest between all the clubs of the school. The stakes? The club that loses each battle gets shut down. For good. All to find… The Ultimate Club. The Club of Clubs.

Look, I wanted to add this one in instead of a second tactics picture because it’s a Devo reference.

There is a reason for it, but, for the majority of the game, it’s going to feel arbitrary as hell, and corny when you do get there. Well played corny, with good writing… But even as a tabletop player who’s played some corny scenarios… Corny.

Anyways, yes, power of friendship, power of shared interests, a theme of tabletop tactics, because our protagonists are the members of the Wintermoor Tactics Club (plus folks who join the club after defeats, for various reasons), and the game is a cool hybrid of point and click adventure, visual novel, and turn based strategy. When you’re outside of battles, you do quests, talk to people, look at items for often humorous dialogue (love the library!), and progress the story in some fashion or another. And then… The battles. They’re all turn based and tactical, usually with three or four characters (sometimes more or less), but sometimes, they’re snowball fights, sometimes, they’re adventures to help the characters think, or to bring someone new to the group, sometimes, they’re progressing a character’s adventure to give them swanky new abilities. It’s solid stuff!

This is the kind of player character naming I can get behind…

Some of them are challenge maps with fixed stuff, which I know is a turn off for some folks, but, overall, it’s got give in how you play and which characters you use.

Aesthetically, I love it. Solid, cartoonish and expressive artwork, fitting and, in places, quite stirring music, a good, clear UX with solid text sizes and easy tooltips… And, as mentioned, some pretty solid writing, with very little tonal whiplash. When things get heavy, they get heavy. When things are meant to be light… You get the picture.

This is a solid game. It’s not a hugely long game, but it doesn’t need to be. I’d rather have something like this, tight, well written, and with elegance, over some bloated, over or underdesigned monstrosity. Turn based strategy newbies may well have a good time with this one, as it’s a nice, gentle introduction to the genre, with a good difficulty curve, and giving you useful information, such as who is going to attack who and why. Which is something you can exploit.

The Mad Welshman does 2 Psychic Damage for a nerdy tabletop reference. It may inflict confusion, or do extra damage if you are weak to Nerd.

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Kingdom: New Lands (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99 (OST £13.59)
Where To Get It: Steam

I’d actually been eyeing Kingdom for a while, but… Something put me off. I think, honestly, it was the tower defense aspect of it, for, as long time readers of my work may know, I’m not the biggest fan of tower defense style gameplay.

The Greed is attacking… And they’ll only become stronger the more I linger…

But, while there are aspects of that to Kingdom, and indeed, defending the kingdom is a core element of what’s going on, the other aspects are what keep me going to it. The decisions, for example. Huh, I’m short on coins… Do I create some farms? Do I chop some trees? Pay the merchant? Two of those can have consequences, if you aren’t careful. Chopping trees pulls back the forest, which is great if you want more land, more walls between you and the Dark Portals of Greed.

Not so good if you want to carry on recruiting people to become bowmen, knights (later), or farmers, maybe keep the merchant, or get a steady supply of deer. Creating farms is fine if you can defend them, or your temporary farms aren’t too far away from your settlement… But risky business nonetheless, because a slow citizen is a lost citizen, their tools stolen, trudging sadly back to the forest because you’ve failed them…

I am a queen who leads the way for my people… Such… Such as they are… Am I the bad queen, for leaving them behind?

…And, of course… Do I spend money on the main goals yet? Because there are two, or, more accurately, there’s one, but the second may be necessary to get the other. Building a ship to carry the King (or Queen) to a new land, and destroying the portals, the source of the dark Greed. The capital letter because it’s become an anthropomorphic force, rather than just, y’know… A lust for money or things you don’t have.

It’s an interesting idea. Story light, but it brought me back, quite a few times, to explore it. To take risks as the King (or Queen), because, for the majority of the game, there’s a lot you need to take a direct hand in, like distributing that coin to various projects, dropping coins beyond the battlements to maybe keep the Greed away for just one night, recruiting people by giving them coin… Riding out from the settlement, and god help you if you’re out at night, because if you don’t have coin to drop, to distract the Greed, they’ll take your crown. And if they take your crown, it’s all over.

This wasn’t the smartest idea. Somehow it panned out. Somehow.

Aesthetically, it’s good pixelwork, some cool music, fitting the theme of a kingdom lost, a kingdom renewed… A kingdom threatened… And gameplay wise, it’s got depth from simple elements, resource management and tower defense… I like it. The tower defense aspects, the slowish pace, the almost roguelike nature of “You will fail to learn the systems”, and the ramping difficulty may turn folks off, but the original game, the proof of concept, is available much cheaper than this for you to try (£4), and, if that grabs your attention, it may be worth taking a look at this one, which adds various features.

The Mad Welshman would make a terrible monarch, or any sort of ruler, really. He’s more the “Laser his name on the moon” type.

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Monster Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

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

For me, Monster Sanctuary is a bit of an odd experience. It is, by no means, a bad game, a metroidvania combined with the monster raising and fighting type games many of us love so much. Its skill trees, balance, and difficulty curve appear pretty solid, and I like its pixel art designs.

So it’s bugging the hell out of me that I’m not terribly enthused with it, and can’t work out why.

Monsters, some tame, some not, protag, got it, I know where I stand!

It’s certainly not the thinnish story, or the obvious gamey unlocks of features based on progression. I’m used to those, and honestly, it’s not that big a deal. You want to be the very best Monster Tamer, bad things are happening, and you work in an organisation, so it’s all good there.

The grind, similarly, isn’t bad. After all, monsters in the line share XP, so if you’re in need of seriously levelling someone up, you can put them as a reserve, beat up some lower level monsters, and don’t put them in the frontlines until they’re needed. And, of course, monsters are the level you catch them at.

It’s some solid visrep of combat, and a clear UX too.

Even the combat is engaging, because it’s this balancing act of factors. Do you put a monster in the very front, where it won’t do as much damage, but it’ll rack up combos for the monsters after it? Do you use a powerful ability, or tone it down and do less damage, because the powerful version outstrips the mana regeneration that monster currently has? Adding to this, you can see the types of monsters in a group (and they are, apart from uniques, always in a group), and plan accordingly, looking at your monster journal for weaknesses, coming up with a plan for the following encounter.

So, the systems fit pretty well together, with multiple elements to play with, multiple different roles, and the fact that even healing will add to a combo helps you keep the flow going with a healer role in the party. Moving around isn’t bad, especially since different monsters have different abilities you can use in the world, from breaking open inaccessible areas, to mobility improvements…

An example of this would be the bird. Poor bird, he has to carry the protag. Can’t do it for too long, but it’s enough.

It’s a solid game. And yet… I had trouble keeping my enthusiasm going, and I don’t particularly know why. There’s still time to work it out. There’s still time to change my mind, or have my mind changed by some update or another. And it’s a solid mix of platformer and turn-based monster taming RPG. It just… Doesn’t really grab me right now.

The Mad Welshman hates not knowing why he doesn’t get on with a thing. Normally he’s much better than that.

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Bombing Quest (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Bomberman. A game which has inspired many clones, over the years. Heck, I was tempted to do a Going Back on Super Bomberman R, and am still tempted. So, Bombing Quest… An overworld RPG Bomberman style game, in which you are on a grid with bombable obstacles, unbombable ones, and monsters, where all but the most basic have some sort of surprise, be it charging, invincible rolling, leaping over bombs and blocks… It’s fun stuff, and mechanically, I’m liking what Bombing Quest is doing with the formula.

Sometimes, you just need to wait a short while. To make sure the enemies aren’t going to leap down your throat the moment the doors close behind you.

Aesthetically, though… Well, the first area is, visually speaking, very dull. It’s clearish, but… Well, dull. Not a lot of colour variation, and so I found myself less enthusiastic about blowing the hell out of the various gribbleys. And the second area, alas, isn’t much better.

The gameplay is alright. There’s a somewhat interesting cap on items, based on finding certain collectibles (and somewhere you can equip the gadgets that improve your stats), there are variations on basic levels past the first area (for example, a smaller arena where the enemies are, but a series of traps beforehand.)

But the biggest problem with it right now is the somewhat dull nature aesthetically. Colour and value differentiation is low, so the health bar sometimes gets drowned out by the background (and, let’s face it, red/grey isn’t great when it comes to dingy lighting or backgrounds), the character portrait models are… Well, they exist… And the music, similarly, doesn’t really grab, or even get the pulse flowing.

The second area, for dinginess comparison purposes.

Bombing Quest still has a ways to go. It’s only at 0.4.3 at the time of writing. But I’m not terribly enthusiastic about this one, and a big part about it is the very workmanlike visuals, with their poor colour/value differentiation (not great for colourblind folks.) But mechanically, it works, with the usual disclaimer for games like this that you will get irritated when enemies avoid your bombs. Ohhh boy, you will.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a whole lot else to say, honestly. That’s why it’s short.

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The Inner Friend (Going Back)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Carl Jung and David Lynch. One an odd student of Sigmund Freud’s, whose theory of the Shadow (the unconscious, unknown part of ourselves, which we both strive against and come to acknowledge) inspired quite a few dream based media. One a film-maker well known for his surrealism, and, of course, Twin Peaks. Which, itself, inspired Stranger Things, and that last part, as well as elements of the soundtrack to the game showing similarities, is why, if you watch a Let’s Play of this game, Stranger Things gets mentioned. It’s the most recent thing someone can point to that it’s “Like.”

YOU! YES, YOU! STAND STILL, LADDIE!

So, The Inner Friend is a puzzle game with horror elements, because what the protagonist (depicted as broken and incomplete) deals with is fears. Traumas in surreal, dream-like form. School, where the teachers can seem like monsters, and the books and educational television shows seem to drain our life. A museum, symbolic of our anxious and self critical nature, our damaged nature for all the world to gawk at, while our damaged self scans and finds wanting… Our damaged self.

Of course, these are just interpretations. That’s the thing about symbolic representations in a surrealist dreamscape… But the facts that they are a dreamscape, and they are the products of someone in pain, trying to comfort their Shadow… To acknowledge them.

Oh, and let’s not forget the horror that is being reminded of Junji Ito’s “The Amigara Fault” in a symbolic unbirthing/rebirthing that happens before every dream dive.

However, part of a dream is not knowing the rules of the dream. So each area, while it has a single puzzle type you repeat a few times, is a different puzzle in each area. And the game does some interesting things. Despite being a linear experience, it gives that dreamlike illusion of nonlinearity by turning you back on yourself, making the path forward be the way you came, and giving you the impression that which lit window you take to the next world, which of the buildings twirling in the void you visit, even matters. All roads lead to the next dream. There is a second cutscene at the end if you collect all of the objects in each dream (Listen for the tinkles. Always listen for the tinkles), but its original ending still interests.

The music is good, the visuals are good, the soundscapes are bewildering (aka good) and, generally speaking, there’s clear hints leading you through what you’re meant to do, which is good. It even does some fun visual tricks in some areas, like the fish-eye lensing in the museum. Less good is that the camera can be a little wilful at times, that I experienced a hang on trying to enter the third dream (I got past it, but it is a bug I encountered), and… Well, not so much less good as an interesting choice is that it frontloads its more difficult puzzles early. By the time of the hospital, what you want to be doing is pretty well communicated.

A cold, sterile place to be displayed, this…

So, would I recommend it overall? Well, I’m a bit jaded on the horror front, so I can’t really say anything did more than somewhat unsettle me, and chase segments merely feel… Well, like chase segments. Try real hard to focus on the objective, don’t look at the gribbley, got it, done. But it definitely unsettles in places, and it is an interesting game, so, overall? Yeah, I’d recommend this. If you’re turned off by short games, yup, it’s pretty short, jog on, but if that isn’t a turnoff, and you find an hour or two of an interesting experience worth more than 30 hours of a bland one, then yes, this is an interesting experience.

The Mad Welshman can’t really say that he’s fully up on his Jungian Psychology. But he does enjoy some David Lynch.

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