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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Necronator: Dead Wrong (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For all that I am not the biggest fan of tower defense games, I do respect a game that respects my time. And Necronator, being a tower defense roguelike, is a game that respects my time. And has a sense of humour. And, so far, only a few flaws.

Ah, the fresh… The freshly exhumed face of a new Overlord in training!

If you’ve never played one of these, the deal in this one is relatively simple. You summon enemies from your own “tower” (a crystal sphere, in this case), they go toward the enemy settlements or along the path you choose for them (by flipping signs), and the enemy does the same from their castle. Why a crystal ball and a castle?

Well, because you’re an evil overlord. Well, an evil overlord in training. And each time you defeat a settlement, be it an actual battle, a shop, an event, or a rest point, you move onto the next, down a branching map until… The boss. Gaining more servants along the way, that you cast.

Muahahahahaa…

There’s more to it than that, of course, mana, how getting minor settlements from the enemy speeds up your mana production, and makes defending a lane a little easier, how if you’re not quick enough to ruin an opponent, they reinforce, and the fight gets harder the longer it drags on… It’s a deckbuilder too.

Anyway, yes, battles are, overall, short. They get longer, as the sectors drag on, but for the first hour or so of play, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that lasts longer than five minutes. And I respect that. It’s pretty frantic, it looks pretty nice, and a rotatable view means that things can obscure the path you’re looking at, but it’s never more than a keyboard press away, and dragging units onto the field can be done anywhere, so this is a pretty good deal.

Pffft. Giving this guy the cold shoulder. Repeatedly.

Actually, wait. Giving him a cold shoulder’s actually a good thing, for an undead. It’s not like you have a warm shoulder!

Helps that it aesthetically looks pretty good, with some nice music, a good pixelly feel mixing well with cel-shaded art… My main criticism, aesthetically, is that some things don’t seem to get sound cues, so you have to trust, for example, that enrages are proccing, and that the status symbols over a unit are small unless you zoom in… Which you don’t, generally speaking, want to do.

Overall, though, it feels frantic and challenging without actually being twitchy, it’s got an interesting deck mix, a good aesthetic, it respects your time… It’s a promising start for Necronator, and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.

The Mad Welshman salutes his fellow Overlords. Soon, brethren, soon, we shall face… The Finals!

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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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Going Back – Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 and 2

Ahhh, the dungeon management genre, how I love it so. Defeating those righteous do-gooders with the promise of treasure, and maybe even a fellow dungeon owner that doesn’t agree with my platform of Mine, Mine, Mine. Which makes Dungeon Manager ZV 1 and 2 somewhat interesting, as the two games take very different approaches to, effectively, the same subject.

One problem for a reviewer is that it can sometimes be hard to get timing down. For example, there *was* a King Slime, and a powerful one, in that middle square. There isn’t now. And soon, those red dots will reach my boss. Dammit.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital Edition (to use its full name) hit the Western world in October 2015 (It had originally been developed in 2004), and… Well, it’s a game where the options expand as you play, but you’d be forgiven, for playing the game for an hour or two, to think that there was little beyond building rooms, watching heroes come in, and then they go and do whatever the heck they want, occasionally dying, occasionally leaving, and always, always aiming for the final treasure in your dungeon and the death of your boss monsters. If the last treasure in the dungeon goes, whoops, you’ve lost.

Thing is, there’s actually a lot more that can be done than the first, near-surface level game implies, and here comes both the draw and the problem of DMZV in general: Because it isn’t terribly clear at times, you’ll make mistakes on your first run, mistakes you won’t always be able to correct, and won’t always be made clear as mistakes until hours later, when the Big Boys of herodom come and play. Although there are multiple saves, that’s a lot of either work or faffing around that’s going down the drain.

This is a very un-optimal first level. Although, to be fair, those two slimes are the only two to have survived past heroes achieving level 3 to date.

Equally, there is an optimal play considering you always have a 3×3 grid to play with on each floor, and any room connects with every other adjacent room: One long path filled with your heavier monsters, nastier traps, and the like… And one, very short path, filled only with monsters beneath the notice of the groups you encounter, leading straight to your final boss. And you have to make it clear the difference in difficulty from the first room, as groups only judge where to go by adjacent rooms. The more heroes you kill, the more you let some vital few escape to tell the tale (having been satisfied by murdering some of yours, or defeating your traps… All the better to lure bigger, better heroes in), the more you can do. At first, it’s only traps, capped at the dungeon level you’re in, and some simple monsters. But once those monsters level up, you can merge them, making new, nastier monsters. You can change the elements of floors, giving advantage to certain types. You find Dragon Eggs. And, of course, treasures can change things up too.

Unfortunately for DMZV1, there is somewhat of a flaw: Very quickly, certain monsters are outpaced, so it becomes tougher to level them up so you can get them to be able to meld with other monsters. Also, time will proceed unless you’re holding down the CTRL key or have set it to Freeze, so keeping track of everything, even on slow, can become a slog. As such, while DMZV1 is interesting, it’s also a deeply, deeply unfriendly game.

Ah, how right you are, random Dungeon Invader. [finishes another review, sits back with a smile]

DMZV2, on the other hand, changes the formula. It’s still, at its heart, a tower defense game, but now it has puzzle elements, sprites and tiles, and a friendlier interface. The general idea is still the same: Monsters, it seems, are getting a lot of stick, and the Lord of Dungeons is beseeched to create a dungeon so deadly, so alluring, that it will bring even the king of the land to it, to be murdered horrribly as vengeance for all those cute slimes being murdered. Dungeon features are unlocked in a main campaign mode consisting of, well, puzzles. How do we stop the adventurers from taking the objective in the time allotted to us? With fireballs, traps, and a succubus who is not terribly good at hand to hand, but can summon zombies (Remember, the ZV stands for Zombie Vital!), and shoot rather nasty magic, so long as the ghostly power of heroes who were satisfied until we killed them horribly lasts out (Obviously, we get that ghostly power by satisfying their needs, then murdering them horribly before they can leave. Priorities, folks, priorities!)

It is, so far, my favourite of the series, because, although the unlocking of features to use in the Create A Dungeon mode is through the campaign, that extension of DMZV1 and Resurrection’s “You get more things to play with the more you play”, it has selectable difficulty (indeed, Easy is mandatory the first time), the ability to go back, and the sound and visuals are less straining on a nice long game. It’s also, to my mind, the most characterful of the three, with at least some heroes introducing themselves, the sprites having their own character, and, sometimes, the black humour in levels. One of the early easy levels has you doing… Well, exactly nothing. The dungeon’s set up pretty much perfectly, and it harms your ability to murder folks to interfere with a trap setup that catapults heroes in laps round the dungeon until they die from impact damage.

And it’s not about you adventurers either, that go round and around and arou-

Finally, to my knowledge, this is the only game in the series with an expansion, released earlier this year. A fairly cheap one, too, with extra puzzle dungeons, 10 extra items, and second sets of transformations of monsters into better, nastier forms for, around £3. In fact, both of the first games and the expansion comes to just over £13 for all three in a bundle. It’s pretty reasonable, although DMZV1 and the newly released (and separately reviewed) Resurrection both involve making mistakes that you may not notice for an hour or two. Try them out if you like to see interesting experiments with dungeon management games.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 is available on Steam here, and DMZV2 here. Both pages have a link to the bundle.

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Dungeon Manager ZV Redux (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Dungeon Manager series has had an odd place in both my mind and heart since I was first made aware of the first localised installment (Dungeon Manager: Zombie Vital Edition.) They are, undeniably, tower defence games in a sense, although, as you’ll see from the Going Back on DMZV and DMZV2, they’ve gone in a couple of different directions, and I kind of like them… But one thing I can’t deny is that I’m never sure if I’m playing it right. And that’s never a great feeling.

On the one hand, this is a fairly established dungeon. On the other, that’s a *big* group of adventurers.

In any case, the general idea is that you, the Dungeon Overlord, have become somewhat tired of those heroes killing monsterkind, again and again, so you’ve decided to make a dungeon. A dungeon that will grow, tempting greater and greater heroes inside to be given hopes, then slain, until finally, you destroy kings. So you dig out a dungeon (in this installment, by basically “painting” it with the mouse), place traps, enemies, and monsters (within set limits, and starting with only a limited toolset) , and then?

You wait. Heroes arrive periodically, and from there… Well, this is where the mileage begins to vary. See, the heroes and monsters alike move and attack in a fashion best described as “Bumblefucking.” They have some rough idea of the direction they’re heading, but seem to bump into walls, fumble their way around, and, in the case of monsters, suddenly shift priorities from someone they were sure to kill to someone who could (and does) easily murder them. And yet, despite all this, heroes will find their way to chests, they do find their way through the dungeon, and the monsters do manage to kill folks.

Killing them too early isn’t great, but it’s serviceable, as it still grants you bones with which to summon zombies and traps. Kill them after they’ve satisfied some of their needs (which, yes, includes killing your monsters), and you get Spirit, which can be used for slimes, building new kinds of traps, and other fun stuff along the way. Let them escape after satisfying their needs, and they talk up the dungeon, slowly increasing the fame of the dungeon, and the power of the heroes invading it. Playing through the tutorial once thankfully gives you the basic idea, and there are hints that give you further possiblities (Why not build an “easy” path to the boss monster(s) so low level characters can be easily fed to them, and a “hard” path so more experienced heroes get tempted away from that “easy” path?)

Clicking on an adventurer or monster’s icon can tell you more, and, in the case of the adventurers, there’s a world hinted at.

“But wait, doesn’t that mean eventually low level monsters eventually become useless?” Well, not quite. See, with Resurrection, the option now exists to invade the surface world, in a wave based monster on hero combat. At the price of temporarily and completely depopulating your dungeon afterwards, even level 1 zombies and slimes have at least a chance to level up and become the murderbeasts you need to progress. Oh, yeah, combining monsters of high level together gets you new monsters. Better monsters. Two zombies, for example, make a Half-Golem, while two of those become a Golem, a slime and a zombie becomes a Melty Zombie, and two of those becomes a Core Ghost, and two slimes becomes a Big Slime, and so on… There’s a fair few combinations, and due to the fact that monsters gain abilities in this game, they get a little nuance and character of their own.

Of course, all of this has been mechanical talk. How does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel? Well, this is where it gets a bit awkward. I don’t particularly feel invested in the dungeon building itself, the sound effects are okay (Although it’s easy to get tired of them), and there is a single music track in-game that is pumping, but like the sound effects, feels repetitive after a while. What I do feel invested in, on the other hand, is finding out what makes what. And, since this game appears harder to outright lose than the original Dungeon Manager, I can do that a little bit at a time. The game autosaves, with the options to clear the dungeon, but keep your monsters (Initialise Dungeon) or to just plain restart (Initialise Save… The localisation’s okay, but definitely not perfect.)

As with main dungeon mode, you have no control over the monsters’ actions. But it is fun to see adventurers getting overwhelmed!

It’s not a game that feels all that deep, although there are hidden complexities under the hood, and it’s certainly not going to be impressing anybody graphically (Although I was interested by the developer, Studio GIW, going back to letters, but in pseudo-3d, rather than the tile or sprite based monsters of the previous game.) My main recommendations, here, would be to fantasy game strategy fans who want to see something somewhat different, with no short-term pressure, and who are okay with the fact they’re going to be doing a fair amount of micromanagement even without having direct control of their dungeon denizens.

The Mad Welshman is, of course, a Dungeon Lord of some standing. Why, he’s run more than six dungeons, in six worlds, and none of his minions have ever filed a complaint!

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