Cartomante (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When I went into this game, a divination game similar to… Well, Divination, in which you choose from a limited set of interpretations (of Tarot Cards, as Cartomante would imply) to “deal” with three people’s problems… I wasn’t expecting to try and solve a gay love triangle of man, their boyfriend, and their pupper (In the werewolf sense, who is also the boyfriend’s ex.)

Whoops. This guy is so fascinating he dominated my screenshots…

Okay, okay, that’s a big spoiler, but, as with any short game, it’s kind of hard to avoid them, and… Well, there’s several ways that could go. Several cards. Thirty potential endings.

And it helps that it has an aesthetic. Bright, colourful, with an off kilter soundtrack, it feels wonderful and weird, and the three clients are quite the set of characters. A voiceless (?), masked figure with a heavy load. A tattooed man with a ghostly dog on his shoulder. And a bourgeois plantgirl who is utterly blind to the fact her nephew is having orgies in the flower shop she entrusted to him.

God, she really is a bitch, and I’m looking forward to finding the ending to her story where she gets hers. But I did get her to legalise sex work in one ending, so there’s that!

Damn straight, tell it like it is!

Anyway, yes, the writing is as colourful and oddly off kilter as the game’s visuals. Sometimes, you get hints of a very dark supernatural world. Other times, it’s a supernatural world where people just casually talk to the Nameless like it ain’t no thing, and others, it’s an ordinary world with ordinary (and sometimes dumb) problems.

In any case, if you want something weird, with a fair bit of replayability while being short in terms of individual sessions, and like short VNs, well, Cartomante is £2, its sessions are short, it shows when you’ve picked an interpretation , and one feature I’d really appreciate is tracking what you’ve got and where, but…Well, as mentioned, it’s £2, it’s fun, it’s got good writing, and what the hey, bring a notebook.

The Mad Welshman seeks advice from the cards on what to if he’s secretly 300 bwci bois in a sweater…

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Paradise Killer (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£19.28 for game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

I love a good murder mystery. The twists, the turns, the red herrings, slowly being guided along a path. And sometimes… Being wrong. In a way, aside from all the other cool stuff, that’s what’s so good about Paradise Killer…

You’re allowed to be totally wrong. Even if you do need at least some evidence. And hell, even after a marathon session with one trial I felt was off, I’m still not sure I got the whole truth. Pieces were missing, strange pieces, but, considering how large the world is, I’d probably need a walkthrough to find the clues. But it’s okay, even if I feel like I shafted some friends in the process.

Regardless of right or wrong, the sentence remains… DEATH.

In any case, Paradise Killer is a first person exploration type murder mystery, with some visual novel elements (the interrogations, the trial, some of the puzzles) where the Council of Island 24 have been murdered just prior to the Island’s reality being broken down to make way for Island 25, Island Perfection (ha.) And you, Lady Love Dies, interrogator, investigator, and, when the time comes, executioner, must find out who did it. Maybe who plural.

Writing wise, it’s great, and aesthetically, it’s this strange 80s/90s vibe combined with urban fantasy, a paradise island with pyramids, some small hellscapes, obelisks, tenements… The supernatural and the “Normal” live hand in hand. The soundtrack’s great, the sound design is, except for the static in the second gate, good, and the VA pleases, very characterful.

I like Lydia. She’s down to earth, even in as strange a place as Island 24.

Now, mechanically… Ah, here’s where there are some imperfections. I’ve noted that you’re allowed to get it wrong, and this is good. But this is a fairly big open world, and, oddly, I feel that works against it in some respects. Hunt relics. Why? Completionism and a few quests, it seems. Hunt blood jewels. Why? Well, that’s more useful, unlocking a secret item needed for the best clues, unlocking fast travel points, and paying the toll for travelling from them.

But it definitely felt like a needle in a haystack at times, finding the clues. And then… There are the puzzles. Use symbols from a set to complete the image, except… I never used some. I never came across a lock that used some of the symbol elements. Maybe that’s by design, maybe not, but it kinda frustrated me on some odd level.

Yeah, ummm… Some of these, I didn’t use my whole playthrough.

Still, the mysteries kept me hooked, and the mysteries left are seriously tempting me to dive back in now that the review’s written, hunt down those final clues, and that, along with its aesthetics and writing, really nail it for me. Some of the platforming is annoying as fuck, but, overall, I would highly recommend this one, especially to murder mystery lovers.

May the million eyes watch over you as you play this…

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Death Come True (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Death Come True definitely has a quiet pizazz to it. Protagonist wakes up in hotel with amnesia, sees on the news that he is, apparently, a serial killer… And something is definitely wrong with the hotel he’s in.

Like, y’know, how every time he dies, he wakes up in the same bed, the same time, reliving the same events. And that there’s a scary murderer on the loose in the hotel.

Yes, he does use that chainsaw, so content warnings for both glitching and murder by chainsaws, hammers… Oh, and a suicide or two.

So… This is one of those games where yes, deaths abound, but each death brings you closer to the truth. And while I wish it were longer, I can certainly understand why it wasn’t so. It’s technically a visual novel, as there are no puzzles, a heavy emphasis on story, and the mechanic is “Make choice(s)”, but it’s presented in a full motion video, fully voice acted form. Interesting stuff we don’t see a lot, because… Well, it’s fucking expensive.

But did I enjoy this experience? Well, this is one of those where, when asked that, I wave my hand back and forth, if only a little before saying “Overall, yes.” I enjoyed the acting, and the writing, with characters who are easily identifiable, and two or three out of the small cast you can sympathise with. Each film segment is fairly well shot, I was brought into the story, and there’s some subtle visual imagery I quite enjoyed, that makes sense later. And the UX is solid, even nice, as it shows a tiny preview of your path (even if it takes a short time to realise the choices are pretty much always on the left… And right.)

ACAB.

And that preview, a very nice element in the UX… Becomes an eyesore after a certain point. I understand why they did it (It works with the narrative), but it’s hard on the eyes, and I will say that if you don’t like glitch effects, or have photosensitive epilepsy, that happens a lot, and this game is probably not for you. The path becomes pretty clear after a short while, and I would honestly have liked some sort of timeline feature to see the deaths, rather than replaying the entire storyline to deliberately make the wrong choices to see them, since, as mentioned, after a certain point, those nice previews go to shit, meaning that getting to those choices becomes a chore on the eyes.

Apart from this, where yes, the UX is most of my complaints (One of the deaths seems completely out of the blue, feeling like it’s there for the sake of a death, and one is rather dull compared to the others), I did legitimately enjoy my time with Death Come True, and I would say that if you’re interested in short visual novels with well acted FMV, and glitching effects are not a turn off for you, then this one is a nice pick, even if it’s slightly flawed in places.

Such a useful person, to just point the way!

My main issue is, funnily enough, with something that still fits in the game, narratively… But oh boy, am I not a fan of glitch effects myself.

The developers have very kindly requested I keep this as spoiler light as possible, and use the given screenshots.

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Wicked Willow (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (£17.70 for game, OST, and art book, OST and art book £2.09 each)
Where To Get It: Steam

Magic has a Price. This is a common theme in fantasy fiction, especially in magical realism or urban fantasy, in which yes, magic takes a toll, isn’t always predictable, and sometimes… That price is too much. And when you are only just starting out? Well… A beginning is a delicate time.

…A delicate time that involves an axe murderer. Uhhh…

Good thing you’re able to go through it over and over again until you know what’s going on, know the consequences, and are maybe… Maybe able to deal with them.

And I’ll admit, the first few endings I got, I was… A little disappointed. I fucked things up royally several times, got myself in a coma… But eventually, I found other endings, the good ones… And I appreciated it for the good, queer funtime that it can be, when you get that happy ending.

One straight ending, and a whole lot of gay ones, including a transgender character. Yep, fair! Still… The writing, and the voice acting…

Valid.

They are… Alright. The premise is a good one, a groundhog day of a witch whose magic always has an unintended price, with a shady organisation (or, more accurately, way of life, the One Right Way) behind the scenes… Mostly… Still, the One Right Way speech, by the nominal villainess, is an interesting one, and unsubtle. People do often go through the world thinking there is One Right Way of living your life. One Right Type of Relationship. One Right Way to look at it all. I can’t really say more without spoiling things, but alas, the character who represents ORW, and their philosophy is… An unsurprising choice. Still, seeing some trans-euphoria happen in a story is definitely nice, so… Another good reason to like this.

Cheerful British Cat Called Shadow is my new band name.

Aesthetically, it’s a clear visual novel, it’s voiced, its progress checkpoints are both a system I rarely see outside of, say, the wild rides of Kotaro Uchikoshi (look them up, I’ve reviewed Zero Time Dilemma and 428: Shibuya Scramble here, as fine examples), and well represented and checkpointed, letting you know where you can find more endings…

Overall, I must say I’ve enjoyed my time with Wicked Willow. It’s writing may be a little stiff or overdone in a few places, but overall, it is, as the technical term goes, “Dat Good Queer Shit.”

Yes, “Dat Good Queer Shit” is a technical term. Don’t @ me.

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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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