Banners of Ruin (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£21.28 for bundle with Supporter stuff, Supporter Bundle on its own £5.79)
Where to Get It: Steam

I do love me some anthro dark fantasy. A tale of revenge, the last members of a clan of animals making their way through the enemy’s city to claim their head… Yes, this is very much my jam.

And, despite some qualifications, Banners of Ruin is also my jam.

Who are the bad guys? Well, they’re the ones on the side of ri- on the right hand side. This is dark fantasy, there is no right side…

So, in case you hadn’t guessed, this is one of those games where you pick cards for events (out of three each time, although you won’t always get a choice), level up your characters, build up a deck of combat cards with which to beat down the enemy, and weapons and armour to help screw them up, recruit more characters (potentially), fight a variety of enemies, and… Well, most likely die on your run until you really get to know the game.

Just roguelike things, y’know?

Honestly, though, while this isn’t anything new, per se, it’s solidly built. Choices are relatively simple, and everything is clear… Well… See, this is where one of the qualifications comes in.

See those tiny squares on the bottom? That’s where you drop your stuff.

Accessibility wise, it’s fuckawful. Serif fonts, often tiny. Colourblindness unfriendly symbols which are also tiny… Would a white outline, or, y’know, a high contrast colour kill you, folks? I can tell it’s bleeding from the drops, I can tell it’s a wound from… I know what the symbols mean because of your tooltips… It does have some of the basic stuff, like windowed mode, removing motion blur or screen shake, so on so forth, but… Something this ubiquitous is something that really needs looking at.

So there’s that. I did, however, like the fact that fights that seemed extremely deadly at first were actually manageable… Well, until the first boss, who utterly ruined me… But that’s generally the case with this sort of roguelike. I liked the fact that moving a party member from their position flummoxes the direct attack enemies, but doesn’t work at all on archers, and has only limited use with pikemen. However, be warned, keeping weapons in your stash also means they’re cards in your deck. Cards you can’t use, or, more accurately, I couldn’t quite use. Similarly, switching equipment from the looting screen is… Awkward. Tiny icons again, folks… Tiny icons.

I couldn’t exactly turn down a ferret with a polearm, could I?

And visually, I love it. I’m a sucker for painted art, and the art is good. Soundwise, I don’t feel particularly strongly either way.

If the accessibility issues were fixed, I’d whole-heartedly recommend this one to folks more experienced with card-based roguelikes, but as it is, it comes with that heavy accessibility qualification.

The Mad Welshman wants all dark animal fantasy to be as accessible as possible. The only thing I’d say we need more than dark fantasy anthro games is lesbian otome villainess isekai games.

Become a Patron!

The Henry Stickmin Collection (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Try this one WEIRD game! Completionists will HATE it!

I mean, that’s a really good capsule summary. It’s weird (unsurprising, considering it’s a meme ridden ex-Newgrounds series, a notable time for experimentation in Flash games, not always to the better, but enjoyably so, in this case), and yes, as a completionist, I can say that 100 percenting this game is a bastard.

If you’re confused, this is an MLG replay of failing utterly by 360 no-scoping your friend there. SO PRO, MUCH 1337. Oh, and content warning flashing imagery for that.

Okay, let’s get into it. Henry Stickmin (not to be confused with Henry Stickman) is a not-great human, er… Stickman. And with him, you go on a choose your own adventure style game (but with some quick time events) where failing still provides entertainment. There are six episodes, one of which requires you to have completed all the endings of the previous two to complete (part one of “Completionists will hate this.”) Choose your method of getting past the obstacle, watch what happens, likely retry, rinse, repeat. As noted, there are quick time events (some of which are brutal, so folks not okay with twitchy games, note well), and… Collectibles.

Oh boy, the collectibles. So, normally, I would be fine with collectathons. Love ’em. But Henry Stickmin wants to make it as hard for you as possible. There are people you have to click within about half a second, or multiple people you have to click within a few seconds, as many as 15. Some of whom are small. The same with the paintings in Stealing the Diamond. Oh, and the Among Us collectibles. And that one achievement where you have to click Gary Mann 5 times, or click where Henry’s going to land correctly in three different scenes…

STANDO!

Yup. I hate the completionist aspect of this one. I’m also less than fond of it using infamous meme “Shoop Da Whoop” (A blackface meme), even considering that it was popular back in the day. Gollywog dolls were too, and I sure as hell wouldn’t defend them. But overall, it picks some solid ones, fun references to Avatar, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Predator, Looney Tunes, Zelda, Pokemon, Phoenix Wright… I could go on for a fair while, but its silly humour lands more often than it misses. Or maybe I’m just an old.

Aesthetically, well, it’s very clear. Choices are nice and big, the text is clear… The music is a bit of a mixed bag, but overall, it works.

Now, when it comes to the audience? I’ll freely admit, the appeal is somewhat niche. Masochistic completionists, I guess, old folks like me who get the memes, Newgrounds Nostalgics… Seriously, I don’t really know. All I know is I found it a generally alright experience, except for the completionist stuff, which I hated.

No, The Mad Welshman has not 100%ed this game. Don’t bug him about it.

Become a Patron!

The Sealed Ampoule (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where to Get It: Steam

See, sometimes, you see an idea, you think “Hey, this is cool!” and then… Oh. Hrm. Ah. Not quite as cool in execution.

So it is with The Sealed Ampoule. It’s a very minimalist procgen dungeon crawler. So minimalist, in fact, that it doesn’t gel well with its length. The procedure is very simple. Go into dungeon. Hit things until you feel you aren’t going to survive the next level, go back to room. Use stuff you got in the dungeon to get skills, level up the dungeon’s drop rate and magic circle rate for each level. When you get the ability and have the resources, turn dungeon levels into farms, just dropping the drops. Find story every now and again, or resources to turn more dungeon levels into farms. Rinse, repeat.

Remember these polygons well, for they are the ENEMY. Defeat them, and gain their resources!

I will say this for this set of mechanics, it does cut down on the bumf you’re overlevelled for. I mean, I’m still somewhat overlevelled at any given point beyond the early game, although I suspect that changes the further in you go, but yes, turning the earliest levels into, eventually, a single level you just run through and collect resources from? This is a piece of legitimately good design.

But the rest? Well, as I mention, it’s basically a rinse and repeat. Skills drop once every five levels or so, although those, like the progress toward dungeon farms, require specific materials, dying loses you some resources, and… Well, it boils down to a blur of grind, occasionally interspersed with “Oh, new enem- FUCK, RUN!”, story, or a boss.

The story, similarly, is simple, although it has its compelling mysteries. You play as Irene, who has been depressed since her mother died, but found an advert for a cheap dungeon, and decided to turn it into an alchemy farm, so as to open a shop, make lots of money… And then she finds out that it’s more populated than it first appears, including two small and mysterious children, and… A man who has been bludgeoned to death by nothing less than The Philosopher’s Stone. It’s just that said story progresses in short cutscenes that are… Well, an increasing number of dungeon levels from where you were, even accounting for farms.

The Uncanny Valley Twins.

And finally, there are the aesthetics. Again, it’s minimalist. A few music tracks, that mostly fit the mood, but still feel off, and a few sound effects, generally around two per enemy, sometimes shared between groups. A low poly look that normally, I’d be down for, but feels like a waste of enemy design, and hits the uncanny valley in the case of Irene, whose mouth never seems to work right, and whose movement is… Well, speaking frankly, Irene’s animations are godawful. All five or so.

Otherwise, the accessibility is just fine. The menus are clear, albeit with calligraphic and serif text, you have a helpful toolbar about the status effects you know, and, with the exception of floating numbers for regeneration, nothing’s too small to distinguish. Starts in windowed mode, keys are simple, but options to change things are sparse, and there doesn’t appear to be any gamepad support.

It’s honestly disappointing, because you can see hints of what the developers were going for, but a lot of it just falls flat. If you want a time waster, then yes, this is alright, but otherwise, I can’t really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman loves games of alchemy. He just finds so few of them FUN.

Become a Patron!

Ultimate ADOM (Early Access Review)

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

As soon as I get down the stairs, I know I’m fucked. The rat, I’m not worried about. The hobgoblin, I’m sort of worried about. But the Chaos Barbarian, the one with the star over their head? Oh yeah, definitely worried about them. And no matter where I go, I’m going to be trapped by at least two of them.

Well, dash it all

Welp. Yep, Ultimate ADOM is still the tough roguelike I know and love, although “love” may not apply evenly to folks. After all, even with easy class/race combos like a Dwarven Fighter, you’re not necessarily going to last. Something is going to screw you if you’re not careful. And patient. And even that may not save you.

So, a little context. ADOM, originally created in 1994 by Thomas Biskup, is a true blue roguelike. Permadeath, turn based movement and combat, dungeons, procedural generation, etcetera, etcetera, everything in the Berlin Interpretation, basically. You’ll die, you’ll die a lot, you’ll learn about the game over time, its systems, managing its resources (both the “high good” and “high bad” variety), and you will become intimately familiar with the wait button, because this is a game where healing options are few.

So, even among roguelikes, it’s a slowish game. But how is this version “Ultimate”?

So, yes, my Ratling’s gender is always tentacled.

Well, basically, a GUI, more races (Well, sort of, the rest of the races have yet to be finished at this point), more genders (although your mileage may vary in ye olde dealybobber of having stat bonuses for your gender… Props for having Tentacled as a gender, and giving nonbinary people charm bonuses, though, it warms my nonbinary heart a little… Ehehe), more classes, and, of course, more features. All the classic ones are in there, like the equivalent of both the game’s mutation stat and its timer (Corruption), and gaining experience, health, or magic from destroying items (an elegant solution to both trash drops and the somewhat slow progression, although only XP is unlocked at first) Although what it doesn’t have, at the present time at least, is a massive game world. It’s one, big dungeon. And that’s fine, honestly.

Aesthetically, it’s okay. No colourblindness issues I could find, text is sans serif and not small, although a little thin, items on the floor are shown as a popup over your quickslots when they’re under you, mollifying the “items can be tiny” deal you sometimes see, tooltips… And, of course, it’s turn based, and its design encourages you to take your time.

You’d think this room would be a problem. And it is for a Ratling. But it’s not impossible. It just requires a bit of running away and holding down the wait button a fair way away, eating what food you have when you get hungry.

So, generally, this is a solid roguelike, albeit definitely not entry level, somewhere on the harder side, although permadeath can be disabled if you want, and I would recommend this to roguelike fans either looking for something with a little (a fair bit) more bite, or fans of ADOM looking for a glow-up to their favourite.

There’s really not a lot else to say, excet that hobgoblins go splat so pleasantly.

Become a Patron!

Paperback: The Game (Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Words are great. I love words. Especially words that make sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, then books… Yup, I love words. I mean, they’re double edged swords, like the…

Wait, game, what do you mean Estoc isn’t a real word? Or Wales? (There was actually a better example, but we’ll leave that…) I’ve wielded the former, and lived in the latter, so…

I agree, past me, this dictionary sucks if it doesn’t acknowledge Wales.

Yes, Paperback, the digital edition, has the same flaw you’d find in, say, some versions of Scrabble online: The dictionary doesn’t accept some words you know damn well are real. There goes my dream of making a novel set in Wales about aliens and 50s sensibilities clashing with modern ones in a videogame!

Except not, because, essentially, Paperback is simply about making words with the letters you have in your hand (for lo, it is card based), and either buying better letters, or the wild cards that give you fame. Some letter cards have special effects, like giving you more money if it’s first or last in the word (Maybe the editors have a thing for Ts, or a hangup about Ss), or allowing you to trash cards, and making a word with 7 letters or more gives you props too. Run out of two wild card piles, tot up the fame points for your Great Welsh Novel, and the winner’s the one with the most fame!

I vaguely remember this getting through and being shocked it did. Or it didn’t, and I went for Ennui, which definitely works instead.

Life. Don’t talk to me about life…

So… Accessibility wise, it’s okay. It’s windowed, but it can be made a window that fills the whole screen, and you can click on a card to see what the hell it does if the text is a bit small (which it is when you’re not zoomed in.) Both of these are good points. Less good is that there is no volume slider, only on… Or off for sound and music. And while Paperback has a chill, elevator music style track to play to, it is… A track. Or if it’s multiple tracks, they blur together that well.

In any case, paperback has a hotseat mode (always a plus, I find) and an online mode with a signup and login (I can’t really speak as to how well that works), it plays alright, it’s okay, accessibility wise, and as a game? It ain’t bad. If you want a chill word game with friends, this is a solid pick.

Panty, toilet, dirty devil! Words are trouble, words are subtle…

Become a Patron!