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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Full Service Shop (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Name your own price (Option to donate if the game pleases)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Content Warnings for the game include dubcon, drugging, mind control, mental programming, and hypnosis, light mind break, memory changes, restraint, oral, and edging. However, people who are going to cry foul at the mental aspects of this, read the review before commenting, thanks.

The game has a full list of content warnings (the majority of which have been presented here) in a TXT file in the main game directory.

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Big Tiddy Goth GF Simulator (NSFW Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Donationware
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

Content Warning: The game contains hyper-inflation and feederism.

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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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