Murder By Numbers (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99 (Soundtrack £6.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Murder By Numbers is a great Picross Murder Mystery Visual Novel… In which, oddly enough, the Picross is the weakest part. Not terrible, by any means… But it is missing some quality of life stuff that somewhat baffles. But let’s talk about the good, first, since, as mentioned, the Picross part isn’t awful.

This is, er… It’s… I’ll get back to you… (It’s a phone receiver. But the coloured version is only somewhat clearer)

The good is… A lot of the rest. Let me start by saying that this is the first game in a long while I’ve encountered who actually understands what makes a good Saturday Morning style theme. And the rest of the music is great, slipping into its mood, and, just as importantly, humorously cutting off a triumphant theme when whoops… Moment ruined. It’s a little touch, but it’s a good one.

Then there’s the rest of the aesthetic. Big, clear icons, with the eye being led to the two less obtrusive ones. Large sans serif fonts. White borders around the characters, adding a note of differentation between the styles of the foreground and background, that helps cut down on any minor style dissonance… It’s good work, being both visually appealing and clear.

Becky. Being a badass.

And the writing. For example, I hated Becky at first. She’s a diva with a temper, and she seems oblivious to the feelings of those around her as she storms and lashes about. But she gets nuance. I started to empathise. The characters each get their spotlight, potential motives for characters dying becomes clear, and the murderers… Well, I can perfectly understand why comparisons to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney have been made. When the killer loses it… They lose it. And it’s your guide to when you’re on the right track, although the clues do connect the dots well, even toward the red herring paths you’re meant to go down, before the real culprit is found. Nice touch, that, and it shows the developers know their murder mysteries, because I couldn’t find wasted foreshadowing or hinting. What I’m getting at is, it’s well written, and I love that.

That… Yes, case in point.

So… The Picross element. If this were great, it would be the cherry on the cake, considering it was a core advertising element. And it isn’t, to make this clear, bad, although snobs of this genre of the puzzle like myself may feel uncomfortable with it. And it is, apart from finished sprites that sometimes seem less than clear, mostly to do with little things we’ve come to expect. Like being held within a row or column if we’re moving down that column. Or a restart puzzle button in easy reach. Or maybes being turned into either crosses or pixels, instead of just being erased. Little things that merely make it… Alright, verging on good. Thankfully, they’re things that are fixable, for the most part. And they do, to be fair, ease you in. Although in the later cases, it can merely look like they’re easing you in, instead posing you a devious one in less space than you’d think you can be devious. Save before you investigate, and after each puzzle. You’ll thank yourself later.

The characters get so expressive! Also… NEEEEEERD!

It is a shame that a core element isn’t great, but, as noted, these are fixable problems, and the rest of the game is otherwise great. As such, it gets a recommendation, with the caveat that, until the aforementioned Picross Problems (heh) are sorted, folks like me who play a lot of such games are going to be grinding their teeth.

The Mad Welshman played the theme tune no less than thirty times in a row while writing this.

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Lives So Sweet (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £2.09
Where To Get It: Steam

Content tags: Lesbian sex, mild domination/submission. It’s pretty wholesome.

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Coffee Talk (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.29 (Artbook £3.99, Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It is 2020. Elves, dwarves, orcs, fairies, demons… They all live in this alternate world… And they all have everyday lives. And they’ve got the same happinesses (mostly), the same drama (mostly), and the same problems (sorta mostly) as we do. And Coffee Talk, through the medium of a late night coffee shop, explores those lives in its fictional setting.

And yet, I’m almost certain somebody among my readership is thinking “It would be so hot though!”

I’m loving some of the little things. The joking between a vampire and a werewolf about werewolves using BDSM as a method for calming themselves during a fury (myth, in the setting. Some werewolves can calm themselves with sex, but for obvious risk reasons, they stick to vanilla.) The little things that remain the same, like people who’ve been there before giving advice to those going through troubles (Yeah, really is best not to leave issues unresolved, because yeah, they fester. Ain’t good for anyone. Wise advice, cop in a computer game.)

And, here’s the thing: Even though there’s wider story, a wider world out there, it’s these little stories, these slices of people’s lives, that are important. And I can only talk about so many, not only for space reasons, but spoiler reasons too. But I do want to mention that there’s one point that directly engages with the concept of fantasy allegories of racism, with a writer in this world pointing out that yes, there are different species to be racist about, but that wouldn’t mean that racism as a concept wouldn’t exist if there are only humans. And, of course, we know it to be true.

I did have a picture of making latte, but I deleted my picture of making latte art. Some things are too horrible for the world to see…

Now, mechanically, it’s very simple: Brew the drinks the customers want, or brew specific ones. There’s a pretty robust save function, and while, unfortunately, there isn’t a multiple save system, you can go back to previous days, and there are three profiles to play with… And the writing’s good enough that I’m reasonably sure you’ll have an okay time playing through. But also, as a free hint, be aware that the order of the ingredients is as important as the type of the ingredients. I learned that the hard way, and several saves and loads, my first time playing. I wanted to make sure I got a specific drink right, you see. And that, basically, is the mechanics: Make the kind of drinks you’d make in a coffee shop, what the customers want, and the story will progress. Make the wrong kinds of drinks, and you may just find other things, maybe good, maybe bad, will happen.

But of course, a visual novel, for that’s basically what it is, stands on its writing (It’s good, if you hadn’t got that from my two paragraphs of gushing), and its aesthetics. And its aesthetics, the pixel art of the various characters, their designs, the simple and clear UX (the menu is a little small, but not tiny. Just a little small), and the chill beats really sell the atmosphere of a warm, welcoming place where people can talk to the mysterious barista, each other, and be… Be themselves.

Catgirls, orc girlfriends… It’s like they know how to push them buttons…

I like Coffee Talk. And I’d recommend it. There’s not really anything more to say.

Except that no, I will never screenshot my attempts at latte art.

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Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the World of Darkness. A world of gothic woe, and equally gothic reaching for hope that is, in the long run, doomed to failure. Where supernatural creatures, indubitably powerful, nonetheless hide in the modern world, because yes, people would kill the hell out of them once they learned how if they were public. Well, actually, considering kink culture, probably not if they played their cards right. But anyway!

This woman is honestly pretty sympathetic. She’s gone through a lot.

This is a visual novel that, like another World of Darkness product I’d reviewed before (Preludes) is meant to be a sort of introduction to the world with the story of a newly embraced vampire, from one of three clans: Ventrue, the Blueblood powermongers. Brujah, the philosopher warriors turned anti-authoritarian. And Toreador, those who value art, even as their own artistic talent is crushed by the Embrace. And this is where people might start disliking the game, because the overarching story will remain the same in each playthrough, the main differences being how they lived and were embraced, and the person they’d known before their embrace. Add in that you can’t recruit more than two characters on a single playthrough, and definitely can’t do all the sidequests in the time you have, adds a little replay value, but if it being a shortish game is a big turnoff to you, or the general narrative arc remaining the same, then… This is not for you.

A fine example of the luscious painting style. Goshdarn, this is good stuff.

I don’t personally think of that as a bad thing. Nor do I think of the fact that it’s only really possible to fail at the very beginning as bad. Because I ask myself “What is the goal here?” And the answer comes up the same: It’s to tell a story, to immerse you into a world. Yes, that world is, in the World of Darkness, a world where even supernatural life, especially in the beginning, can be nasty, brutish, and short. But a game with that aspect would prove, as it has for me when sitting at the more adversarial tabletop sessions, unenjoyable. There is an interesting world, and the developers want to show it.

It helps that, aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. The characters and places are lushly painted, the writing is good, providing insight into this setting, and the UX is not bad at all. The soundscape, similarly, is pleasant, fitting with the scenes in question. Accessibility wise, resizable text is good. My only gripe, settings wise, is that there is no windowed mode.

I will note, however, that this guy has some serious Plan 9 vibes. Those eyes! <3

So, as such? My opinion is that it does precisely what it sets out to do: To tell a short story, from three potential perspectives, with potential choices for exploring other clans in the game, and aspects of a vampire’s life. It is, basically, a way to get you into the setting, to explore it a little and entice you to explore it further. And, again, I don’t really see that as a bad thing.

So yes, I don’t see the turnoffs as turnoffs myself, although I can perfectly understand if they are for you, the person thinking “Should I buy this?” My answer is that it’s a solid, short, story led visual novel with great art, good writing, and tight design.

The Mad Welshman values three things: Is it aesthetically consistent? Is it tightly designed? Is it interesting? This ticks those boxes.

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Kindred Spirits on the Roof (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £26.99 (£36.13 for all audio dramas and Full Chorus DLC, Full Chorus £7.19, OST £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Content Warnings: Lesbian Sex, Masturbation, Teacher-Student Relationship.

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