Premium Fire

This weekend I was at CoxCon in Telford (helping out with selling early copies of Uncomfortable Labels with Laura Kate Dale) and I got a chance to go hands-on playing firefighting “un-simulator” Embr by Muse Games.

If you’re the kind of Silicon Valley tech type who thinks things like “what if there was a private security force that kept just my neighborhood safe?” Or “what if we made an Uber but for transporting you to hospital?” Or “what if there was a premium, for-profit fire and rescue service, which was available 24 hours, and staffed by anyone aged 18-85 who signed up?” Well, do I have news for you?

I do, in fact, have such news.

The gig economy called and there’s a capitalist system that needs oiling with the blood, sweat, and tears of the working class. Woo! (You probably say, because you’re a parasite (unless you’re not actually the hypothetical tech type I proposed earlier (in which case, welcome, help yourself to one of the guillotines, we march at dawn to overthrow capitalism))).

How about, instead of trained, professionals, we have (probably self-employed, so we don’t have to offer any kind of benefits) Respondrs™? A Respondr™ can hire equipment from us, and we connect them with contract holders who are in need of fire fighting services. We’ll have a clause in the contract that says we get to keep any money or valuables (with a cut to the Respondr™) and the Respondr™ will have to rescue a percentage of the contract-holder’s household.

Whoever though of that probably had some equally insidious tech friend who turned to them and called the “a fucking genius”. To which they likely replied, “I know”, because they’re like that.

Anyway, enough of the plot, what about the game itself?

I only played one level of Embr, but it was a lot of fun and had a certain dark humour. There I was, a bespectacled, elderly person known only as Granny, dropped off on the lawn of a burning house. According to my choice of load-out I was a hero (*blush* I’m just doing my job a Respondr™) with the axe being my first port of call.

With a comforting cry of “Here’s Granny”, I turned the door turned to kindling and set about rescuing at least three out of the five people living there. Stopping only briefly to look for any money they might have lying around the place that I could rescue (can’t be leaving cash about, it could get hurt in the fire, and Embr are very against such things).

With flames rising higher, I had to disable electrical supplies to avoid getting shocked, and engage ventilation to avoid poison gas clouds. At one point I found that an upstairs floor had collapsed, so I thought to bridge the gap with my ladder. Happily, this was a viable option (always nice when games let you improvise like that). No way a little thing like there being a lack of flooring was going to stop a cunning octogenarian like myself.

As I pulled out the third person from the blazing remnants of their home and hurled them into the designated safe zone I had to ask myself “do I want to just reel up my hoses and pack away my ladder, or can I earn myself a few more pennies by running back in and looting the joint?”

In this gig economy, the answer had to be “yes”.

Braving a further trip inside I found things were really heating up (yes, yes I am pleased with myself). Beams had started to fall, the floors, wall, and ceiling had been hurriedly redecorated in a charming shade called Raging Inferno (I checked the colour chart). I figured it would be worth hosing some of the hot stuff with wet stuff. Even deploying the odd water grenade (refillable at a sink) to make my way through the most aggressive parts of the blazing domicile.

While doing so, I did encounter another resident so I guessed they had to be rescued too (*sigh* I didn’t have all day. Ethel and I were due at the new action movie at 4 so I’d have to wrap up quickly). As I was upstairs, the quickest option was to deploy a trampoline and yeet my client out the window, as you do.

It was about this time I was starting to find all the fire a bit much. Despite having thrown water grenades into the heart of the hottest part of the flames, it was clearly well out of control at this point, and since I wouldn’t get paid if I died, I decided to head home. I briefly considered calling an Embr to deal with it, but who has that kind of money?

Embr is pencilled for release Autumn 2020 and will feature solo or up to 4 player, cross-platform, online co-op modes. Use cash to lease better equipment and take on the biggest jobs for the biggest payouts.

A Steam Page is already up so adding to your wishlist will keep it in mind come release date.

And remember, whatever you do, rescue Pim!

Scythe Had Enough – Staxel

I don’t quite know how it happened, why I let it happen, or if it could happen again, but fuck me, I got rinsed.

The other day a shiny trailer popped up somewhere or other, licked a finger and started stimulating the Lisa Frank receptors in my brain with bright colours and cute characters. That was the launch trailer for Staxel, a voxel-based farming game with crafting and building mechanics. There’s full controller support, it announced. There’s cat people, I discovered. It looks like a unicorn puked on it, I noticed. So, I checked the reviews and found them to be mostly positive. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but then neither am I, so I can relate. I had the cash spare so I grabbed it.

Here now are my findings after too long to request a refund for Staxel.

You begin your journey by designing a character using a fairly basic set of prefab parts. You can be all sorts of adorable and have most of the important styles of anime hair. You can be a cat person, which naturally, I chose.

Having fashioned a green-haired, purple-clothed, cat girl with a side fringe, I headed out into the world.

I found myself in a run-down house, with an awesome, nerdy looking person called Farm Fan, ready to show me the ropes. While I usually prefer to be the one using the ropes on others, I was taken enough with her style that I was willing to hang out and talk shop *ahem*.

For the next bit it was all pretty standard farming sim stuff. Learn to prepare the earth, plant seeds, water them. At this point, it’s basically a first-person 3D Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, very familiar and easy to manage, but explained well enough that someone new to the genre could find their way in.

After a while, you’re escorted off to town, to meet some of the residents and learn how crafting works. And this, for me, is where cool idea, became frustrating annoyance.

You’re charged with building a barn, so that you can adopt some cows. First off you’re given a sign post, which states what the building is and what it’s requirements are. The only real requirement for a barn is that it mostly fits inside some sparkling 3D guides (toggled from the signpost), and that it contains some specific items (a roof and some troughs for animal feed). You can confirm that a building project is complete by checking the sign, which will tick off items as you add them.

Well that sounds simple. Oh bless you, my sweet summer child.

The fundamental thing about Minecraft is that you build stuff out of blocks. Largely, these blocks are easy to make. Or at least the most basic ones are. Staxel chucks all that in the bin, sets fire to the bin and then laughs in a terrifying fashion. Too loud, and too long. Is that a tear in Staxel’s eye as it laughs and laughs while smashing its genitals into a Lisa Frank binder with a rainbow cat on it? Hard to say, and I don’t want to get too much closer.

Rather than clicking on a crafting object, entering a simple GUI and throwing things from your inventory in set shapes to fashion the things you need, Staxel wants you to put things on the crafting tables by hand. Need wood? head out, find a tree, cut it down (at least cutting the bottom will make rest collapse, rather than defying gravity like in Minecraft). Take your raw wood (*snigger*) off to the building centre in town and use their saw table by putting wood from your hand, onto the table and then activate the saw. From here it will keep going until it runs out of wood or you stop it and grab your freshly hewn lumber. Because the saw table is good and the others – which make you craft one unit at a time – are awful and should learn by saw table’s excellent example.

Now we need some blocks of wood, to do this we’ll need 2 x glue, 1 x nails, and 4x lumber we made and pop it on the tiling table (not the assembly table, that’s different). You’ll need to buy the glue and nails from the building centre (so luckily you’re already there). Once they’re in place, just click the table and it will fashion you 10 blocks of wood for building. It’s not exactly punch tree, wood into crafting slot, pop out some lumber to use for building.

During this process, it becomes apparent just how clumsy and unhelpful this method of putting things from your hand onto the tables is. First off, if something’s in your main inventory, rather than your hot bar, you’ll have to move it there first, so you can put it on the table. This makes the whole process unnecessarily laborious, in a game that is already plodding along.

Tutorial’s over, fuck off.

With the barn built, I was awarded two cows and a tool for milking them. From this point, the explanation is over and it’s up to you to work out what you do (or not). Sure, fellow cat person asked me about building a fishing spot, and the mayor wanted me to build a house so someone new could move into the town. Given how I was already hating the crafting, I was hoping I could enjoy the farming for a while instead.

The problem here was that I didn’t have much money, I didn’t really understand what how to sell things for cash, and at some point my hoe just went missing, and I have literally no clue where it went.

Back to the shop, back to buy another hoe. Hopefully I can keep my cat and cows fed while my crops grow, or else find some way to sell the one thing I do have lots of (wood/lumber).

The problem is that in a farming game, selling your crops should be super easy. It’s been easy from the dawn of farming sims. There’s a bin on your farm, that you throw stuff in and someone grabs them in the evening and gives you cash. Not so here. Staxel wants you to get your saleable goods in your hand, put them down on a ‘sell’ bin in the market, in town, and then move down slightly and click on the bin to sell the item. Here again, this becomes a pain, when you have lots to sell. It’s got to come out of your inventory, onto your hot bar and then into the bin and then click sell. I guess it will stop you accidently selling too many things, but still, it’s annoying as hell and only bringing me closer to giving up.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in these games, from a stress perspective, is not having time to get everything done before the sunsets and stamina runs out. Luckily, Staxel doesn’t do short days (they’re almost twice the length of Stardew Valley’s), or a stamina meter, or mobs. All this should lead to a more calm and cheerful experience, but it’s not. Staxel is just frustrating in so many little ways that make me want to give up in despair.

(I know I’ve mentioned Stardew Valley a lot in this review, but it’s the gold standard of modern farming games so it’s going to have to come up some more. Soz not soz.)

SV starts you off with the humble parsnip. You clear some space, turn the earth, plant seeds, and water them. Four days later, you have something to sell.

Staxel starts you off with a beetroot, just one. In the tutorial, you’re told to find a clear space, hoe the ground, plant the seed, and water it. However, the tutorial then says that for the sake of understanding the process, they’re going to give you a magic jar of stuff to make it grow instantly, so you can learn to harvest. While I get the need to show the whole process early on and shortening it can be a good idea, what’s not clear until you start farming for yourself, is that these things take 8 days to grow normally(about 2.5 hrs of game time). That means that – while you should always give these things a decent amount of time before saying, “this isn’t for me” – by the time you’ve finished your first harvest, you’re already outside the refund window for the game on Steam. Furthermore, that’s 8 days of trying to make money to do something else while your crops grow so that you have to find something fun to do.

Until you get your first couple of harvests out of the way, you’re going to have to spent a lot of time pottering about the farm, then running to town to sell, talk, buy essentials to make things, or use the crafting tables in the building centre to process items. While town isn’t far away, it’s just such a constant need that it becomes a massive pain in the bum. Especially if you forget something at home.

Speaking of leaving things at home, I’d best mention storage. Chests are a common choice to both MC and SV. However, Staxel favours shelves and tables. Luckily there’s a starter shelf at home for you to dump things on, but once again, it’s a case of needing things on the hot bar to put them on the shelves in the first place *wails like an injured penguin*.

Something that I didn’t notice anyone in town explaining, was that there are special events. Not only did they not mention them before they happened, they weren’t always clear what they were about when they happened. My first encounter was seeing a bunch of what looked like partially built houses suddenly appearing in the weird field of storage bits (it looks like an abandoned market that’s fallen into disrepair) on the way to town. The first day, I assumed they were maybe going to be finished building’s later. However, further inspection revealed that they were actually portals to other worlds/areas.

I’ve been through each of these portals and while the change of scenery is nice, I’m a little wary of touching too much, as it’s been made clear by the villagers that if you take things from them that don’t belong to you, they’ll stop using the spaces/buildings. So, do I start taking the cool looking scenery for my home? Do I enjoy it as a weird new place to explore? Does anything happen in here or is it just there for the sake of being a different place? I have no idea, and as you can probably tell, I’m reeeeeeeally struggling to care at this point.

Staxel has just left early access and I’m not sure what it looked like before, but as it stands, it feels like a very pretty, but ultimately empty experience. Maybe if the crops were a little quicker to grow, if the days were a little shorter (or you could go to bed early to skip some time early on), if the crafting was less of a chore, if I had some idea where to look for fetch quest items, of if the quests could provide more info about where to find critical recipe ingredients (“you need two of these beetles, they hang out up trees and look like this” or something so you’re not just wandering round grabbing every innocent insect in the hope this is the one), I’d be writing a more glowing review, as it stands, it feels like unfinished, unintuitive, technicoloured unicorn shit.

I tried, but I’m done.

Maybe they have a roadmap for their future and a year from now it will be good, but right now it’s annoying shit that doesn’t even have a proper wiki to explain itself.

No, I don’t know where your blue socks are. If that’s your whole life ruined, fellow townsperson, you have bigger problems than cold feet.

Pros:

  • Colourful.
  • Cat people.
  • Mod and steam workshop support.

Cons:

  • Lacking substance.
  • Took so long to fully show its colours, I missed the refund window.
  • Needlessly obtuse at times.

Final Score: 4/10

Roll Model

Some years ago I read an article about the greatest PlayStation 2 games that nobody bought. I had most of the games on that list and figured that it would be worth seeing what else might work for me that hadn’t worked for most. The first one I picked up was an odd little title called We ♥ Katamari. It was bright and colourful, it had a very strange intro with a really catchy theme, and I was absolutely in love. I do, in fact, ♥ Katamari.

Over the years I’ve managed to miss every other Katamari game, either because they’re hard to get hold of, on systems I couldn’t afford for only one game, or just sounded like really bad versions (I’m looking at you, mobile ports). As such, it was with a certain degree of squeeing, flapping and excitedly running around that I learned that the original, Katamari Damacy, was coming to my beloved Switch, as a glorious remaster. Since I first got my Switch, I’ve been saying we need to put a Katamari game on there. I was right, It’s a great fit and I’m so happy it’s happened (it’s also on PC, but my PC broke and I can’t afford to replace it).

Katamari Damacy Reroll includes all the beautiful Katamari fun (not Beautiful Katamari fun, that’s the Xbox 360 version), with shiny new graphics. Katamari games have always had a particular art style, slightly blocky people and animals, simple and clear textures, and just plain weird cutscenes. It’s all here, all prettied up for your collecting pleasure.

You take on the role (ha!) of the prince. Your father, The King Of All Cosmos has broken everything in the heavens, leaving only the earth (and I guess the sun). Consequently, you are charged with heading down to earth to roll up whatever you can, to make new stars, constellations, and a new moon. You do this by rolling a colourful, lumpy ball around. Things smaller than the katamari will stick to it, while larger things will bash you away or just stop you altogether. The larger your ball of stuff gets, the larger the stuff you can grab gets.

Early levels will see you rolling up small items around a small room. Later on, you’ll be moving from small enough to roll under a car, with plenty of head room; to a gargantuan ball of terror that gathers even the tallest buildings. Most of the time, you’ll be given a target size and a time limit to aim for. Some levels however, will have special conditions. Maybe, you have to catch as many crabs as possible; maybe you have to carefully roll up things that aren’t cows, to get big enough to get the largest possible cow, to please the king (this level can get in the sea); maybe you’re trying to guess when your katamari hits a specific size, without your normal gauge.

Movement is done through tank controls. Both sticks in the same direction to move that way; one forward, one back for fast turning; speedy, alternate waggling of sticks to get a speed boost. Well, that’s true for normal controls. You can also use motion controls, but oh heckins I cannot recommend that at all. It feels clunky, unwieldy and like you’re going to run out of time before you master it.

The music in Katamari Damacy Reroll is typically cheery, fun, and not a little silly. It’s in all sorts of style from jazzy numbers, to mambo, to acapella that even in a 15 minute plus levels it doesn’t get boring or annoying.

It’s a really odd concept, but it really works and is a huge amount of fun. While I completed every level of the game in one afternoon, I’m still going back and trying to get better scores on the levels. Larger stars will replace the old ones, smaller ones are destroyed for stardust, just making the sky more twinkly. My sky will be full of stars and stardust and I’m looking forward to playing a huge amount more. *begins plotting campaign to get more Katamari games on Switch*

Pros:

  • A huge amount of fun, at a budget price
  • Looks fantastic
  • Great soundtrack

Cons:

  • The cow and bear levels can get in the sea
  • It has to end eventually
  • Motion control is the literal worst

Overall Score 9/10

Starlink: Battle For Fat Cash

I’ve had the chance to sit down with Starlink: Battle for Atlas over the last week or so. It’s the latest toys-to-life game from Ubisoft. This time we’re avoiding big name characters and franchises (bar Starfox if you’re playing on Switch), the building fun of Lego Dimensions, or the whatever the heck Skylanders was about and going into the one place that was previously thought to remain uncorrupted by capitalism.

Turns out Tim Curry was dead wrong.

I was lucky(?) enough to get to play with the physical release on Switch, which comes with a rather nice Arwing model with detachable wings, a couple of weapons (one fire based, one ice), a Fox McCloud pilot figure, another pilot (who I’ve spent so little time playing as, I have no idea what his name is (ok, I looked it up, he’s called Mason. Happy now?)), and a stand to attach it all to my joycons. There’s a poster in there too, but who cares. Want game now! In addition to this, there’s digital versions of a third weapon (kinetic type) and the standard ship that comes in the other format physical editions.

I’ve probably dumped around 20 hours into this so far. Lots of buzzing over planets claiming every ruin, enjoying the beautiful and varied biomes & wildlife, destroying enemy extractors (think fracking/mining if it made clouds of evil that corrupt local fauna… so, fracking), building up a whole host of mining and observation facility-running friends by completing basic tasks (allowing me to get regular cash deliveries and see more of the planets I visit respectively), and crushing the wonders (world bosses).

I’ve been struck how much Starfox content there is in the game, making me feel kinda bad for people on other systems. There’s cutscenes, and bonus missions to be had. PS4 and XB1 players will miss out on this, but I suppose they can rub themselves down with slightly better graphics to feel better, if that’s their bag.

On the subject of missing out, I come to my main problem with the game. As mentioned earlier, the physical version comes with two physical weapons, covering fire and ice elements, plus a digital weapon that’s kinetic. As far as I’ve seen, kinetic weapons can’t open anything particularly special, they just do non-elemental damage. However, elemental weapons do act as keys for specific doors/chests. At this point, I ask myself: “do I miss whatever this is and move on, or buy more bits to unlock it?” and looking at my cool Arwing model and go, “this is yet more plastic tat that will sit on my shelf after a week and never be looked at again, meanwhile, the actual game I want to play is gating content”. Often, you will find canisters with the required element that you can throw at these elemental locks, but sometimes you have to go well out of your way to find the right one.

See, the thing is, once you’ve got the game going, you don’t actually need the models attached to the controller, as you can just use the menu to change them digitally. This takes unnecessary weight off and makes long term play more comfortable. As such, after the initial hour or so of “hey, this is fun to take the wings off on the fly, or attach them all on one side and make the ship really wonky” turns into “ah, that enemy is resistant to cold damage, I’ll hit the menu and swap that out as I don’t own the third weapon physically anyway”.

“So what about the digital version”, I hear the imagined voices in my head cry, because I imagined them crying that.

I’ll tell you. The digital edition includes the game + 4 ships, 6 pilots, and 12 weapons. Add to that the Switch version includes the exclusive ship, pilot, and missions. All this for slightly less than a physical version. Those weapons cover all elemental options, meaning you can unlock (as far as I can tell) every elemental door/chest and easily find a weakness for every elemental enemy without the need for additional purchases. Furthermore, additional ships will act as extra lives, meaning you can respawn immediately, rather than back at a prospector/observatory.

Throughout the game, there are upgrades you can make to your mothership. These include adding additional mod slots to your ships and weapons, the ability to fuse low level mods into the next level up, extra space in your inventory for collected items, etc. At first progress is nice and steady, but before long you’ll notice the bottom three categories can’t be unlocked with the pilots you have available in the physical edition (and, I understand you need at least two extra pilots with the digital edition). Right now, I can’t tell if these are really important to the game, but I feel it’s important to let you know where you’ll need to spend extra monies.

Right now, ship packs – containing one ship, a pilot and a weapon – will set you back £24.99 for physical editions and £9.99 for digital. Then there’s pilots, which are sold individually for £6.99 physical and £4.99 digital. Lastly, there’s weapons in two packs which go for £9.99 physically and only £3.29 on the eshop. I have no idea where they got these prices, but it feels like they just drew numbers out of a hat.

I get that it’s a toys-to-life game. I get they want to make fat cash off of these toys, but when you’re skint like me, the value from the physical game feels greatly lessened when I start finding bits I just can’t do, because I was wowed by a plastic Arwing.

As far as I can see, someone buying the physical edition of the game will need at least two extra weapons (gravity and levitation based) and 2-3 extra pilots to unlock everything. I’ve tried to work out what the smallest amount of extra stuff I’d need to buy to see what I currently feel is gated, but it’s proving a pain so close to release. Best guess right now is two ship packs 1-2 pilots.

“Enough of the gripes about how much the damn thing costs and tell us about the actual game”, the imagined voices holler. To which I say, “shut your noise hole and try a brownie. While your mouth is full, I’ll tell you.”. The voices agree, and I move on.

The game starts with a grumpy alien vulture kidnapping the team’s peculiarly named leader (just as Starfox and pals arrive in the area). Apparently they’re the Legion and they’re bad, so they’ve decided they need leader guy more than we do. With our ships disabled, we’re helpless to fight back and badly named vulture makes off with our heroic motivation.

Next thing you know, you’re down on a planet, learning to fly around, plucking fruit, scanning fauna, helping out the locals, mining currency, blowing up the Legion forces, looking for plot clues, and planning epic revenge.

Play went something like: do all listed tasks on planet, upgrade some stuff, head to space, attack a few random space pirate bases, head to next planet, start again, go back to space, plot happens, go to next planet, find all my weapons are made of fail against these enemies but do my best (standard enemies taking nearly 3 times longer to beat, not due to their skills, but because they’re bullet-sponges), encounter a jumping puzzle.

A. FUCKING. JUMPING. PUZZLE!

If you think jumping puzzles in FPS games are bad, try it in a hovering ship that will just slide all over the tiny ass platforms. It’s absolute garbage and whoever, thought it should go in needs an Arwing, with the wings on backwards, shoved right up their nose for their crimes. True, it was 1am when I got to this bit, but hovering ship-based jumping puzzles can get in the freaking bin! Worst part was that the first time I made it to the top, I couldn’t finish the puzzle as I hadn’t noticed that I needed to cut free the final platform from the ground first. This really doesn’t help that before this I was already starting to feel that the game was getting a little repetitive. This just made me swear at the screen and go to bed.

I’ve got past it now, only to be rewarded with a well done that implied that it took me ages, it did, but heck you and the modular ship you flew in on.

Overall the game is fun-ish, graphically very pretty, nice to listen to (really digging the Starfox theme when you call for support), good to explore, ship design is interesting, and the plot isn’t too awful.

Pros:

  • The worlds are diverse and pretty
  • Nice Arwing model
  • Solid space and planetside combat

Cons:

  • Switch version requires a huge download before you can play the physical version
  • Physical copies really skimp on content compared to the digital versions
  • FUCKING JUMPING PUZZLE!

Overall Score: 5/10

Do You Want Anything From The Shop?

I went on a bit of a Kickstarter spree in the nine months from September last year. I backed a bunch of boardgames. So far, they’ve all come through and been pretty darn good. Last week I got the latest one delivered. The small but mighty, Tiny Epic Zombies.

The game comes in a box not much bigger than the average novel, but contains a huge amount of stuff. Firstly, there’s the nine mall cards. The eight stores are laid out at random around a central courtyard. Once the board is laid out, you can move on to picking the three objectives for the game from the 9 each available for co-operative or competitive modes. Between the randomised nature of the stores and the variety of objectives, there’s a lot of replayablity with this game.


Each of the objectives will include their own setup instructions with extra tokens being placed out, or markers placed on the objectives themselves, to monitor progress. Objectives could be anything from tracking down the true source of the zombie outbreak to building a weapon and ammo cache by scavenging the mall stores.

There’s options to play cooperatively with 1-4 players against an AI zombie force, or else 2-4 players can go up against a human controlled enemy.

Each player is dealt 3 characters and picks one to represent them in the world. Different characters having their own unique skills which offer an advantage against the horde.

A zombie is selected or chooses who they’ll play as. These zombies can be found on the back of the character cards and are the decomposing versions of those heroes. For the AI versions, only the passive skills are used. However, for a human controlled horde, there are a range of increasingly powerful skills available.


Gameplay consists of players moving three spaces through the mall and carrying out any number of actions as they do so. This could involve performing melee attacks on zombies in the same room, ranged attacks on zombies in adjacent rooms, collecting items from stores – once they’ve been cleared out, etc.

At the end of each turn, players perform a search by turning over their scavenge card. If the icon on the card matches the store, this will give the zombies an advantage. Once revealed, these scavenged items can be collected by the next player to visit the store, after it’s clear.

For the zombie player, they’re trying to attack the central court of the mall, break down the barricades and kill any survivors they find there. They can also kill the player characters, which will deplete the survivor count from the central courtyard.

The health and ammo mechanic in this game is unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Basically you start in good health and with 9 bullets for your ranged weapon. Ranged attacks (and some of the player character abilities) will deplete ammo. Zombie player abilities and poor melee attacks by the players can cause them to receive wounds. However, the health and ammo meter are on the same track. Should the two meet, or overtake each other, that player is dead. Either due to their wounds or because they were too badly equipped to survive. If there are survivors left in the courtyard, that player can take another player card and start again. Their old character dropping all their weapons and items in the store they’re standing for anyone else to collect.

One of the first things that really drew me to the game on Kickstarter was the ITEMeeple. These are fairly standard shaped meeple – maybe a little larger than average – but with little holes at their hands. One of the unique things about this game is that the weapons you scavenge around the mall can be equipped to your meeple. Adorable knives, swords, Uzis, mp5s, etc can be attached to your avatar as you wander around the mall. There’s also the vehicles that can be used. Either a motorcycle or a police car. You really haven’t lived until you’re riding a cute little motorcycle through a mall while brandishing a dinky chainsaw and rocket launcher.

Pros:

  • Lots of replayablity
  • Great artwork
  • Adorable game pieces

Cons:

  • Can be a lot to take in the first time
  • Good chance you may lose a zombie or two due to size
  • If you’ve got the Deluxe Edition, you may have to deal with the dog dying.

Overall: 8/10

Legendarily Fiendish

Every now and then, a hero comes along. One hero, born to fight the hordes of evil. You probably know the drill by now. Mighty, smitey, probably not bitey human comes to wreck evil’s shit. And you, you are not that hero. You’re Bill. Say hi to Bill. Look at his evil little goatee. Marvel at that despicable widow’s peak. Stare in awe at his angry eyebrows. Yeah, you know he means business. He’s a go-getting type, ready to wipe out humanity like a baws.

The Legend of Evil as a 2D, side scrolling, tower defence game, with a pleasant pixel-art style, and a chiptune soundtrack from Springloaded Games (a fact, I only know because it’s written on the Steam page, not because I found it mentioned anywhere on their website. Still, I suppose making games is more important than rabbiting about them. Perhaps Peter Molyneux could learn a thing or two).

The wiley Bill begins his conquest of the human world with limited powers. Movement is controlled by left stick, there’s a dash on B, you can interact with towers with A, view the whole area with L, and dig with R. Later on, in certain circumstances, you get to use a summon move, with Y.

Your first task is to get a demon tower built by moving next to the glowing rune on the ground and hitting A. This brings up your a menu showing all the available demons you’ve unlocked. At first, you’ll only have access to a very basic melee unit, but as you progress you can unlock all kinds of creatures – the slow and sturdy, rock-like Lapis; the mighty, flying Sky Spear, the kind of like, but legally distinct from a beholder Coral Lights, and many more..

Over time, your towers will generate demons to fight for you. Demons will be opposed by the pitiful human forces. These wielders of sticks and stones will pose you little threat and once there bodies are broken, you can harvest their souls. Souls are the currency needed to upgrade your towers. Have them generate more souls over time, churn out demons more quickly, or create area of effect fields such as healing, slowing enemies, or protecting your horde. With your army made strong, you make progress across the map to destroy the human gate and claim victory, before moving on to the next area.

During play, you may find yourself waiting for souls to generate for your next upgrade, It’s times like this you should be searching for small, lit areas. These can be dug up to reveal coins (used for winning bonus medals in the campaign and permanent upgrades in rogue conquest mode) or yet more of those tasty tasty souls.

Gameplay is fast paced for the most part, and the difficulty curve is steep, bordering on vertical at times. With the first six or so levels of the campaign being simple affairs, to introduce mechanics, you’re suddenly thrust into levels where you’re forced to make decisions about where you will build your first tower within seconds. Choosing incorrectly can lead to very quick death. However, with practice, you can pick up what the level wants from you. Be it a quick start from a particular position, followed by demolishing an old tower and replacing with something stronger and then working on upgrades, or building ranged and melee units to support each other against a more diverse enemy.

Ultimately, I haven’t found the campaign all that fun. It often feels like there is one specific way that the game wants you to play an area, and it’s up to you to figure out exactly what the designers had in mind.

Significantly more enjoyable was the rogue conquest mode. Here you play through eight, randomly generated stages. You use a random generator to create an avatar you’re happy with (I got a little green-haired person in a witch hat, who suits me just perfectly) and head into the world. Initially, you are awarded a low-level demon, who is adapted to the biome you start in, be it forest, cliff, snow, or swamp.

As you play through each level, it’s important to keep an eye out for the glowing dig points, as getting money is vital to unlocking new demons, additional towers, power-up orbs for your troops, and abilities like additional starting souls.

Aside from the shop, you can also visit the forge between battles. Here you can attach orbs to your minions to boost their stats or give them new abilities, such as explode on death, knock-back resistance, or the ability to survive in biomes that they are not naturally adapted to. Want to take your best melee, ground fighter out on the cliffs? Give them the ability to jump, and they’ll be able to navigate safely in these battles.

Rogue conquest mode is a great way to see more of the demon types and upgrades that you’d have to play further through the campaign to get a look at otherwise. It’s a fun and interesting challenge that avoids the steep difficulty curve of the main campaign.

The Steam page makes note that the developer is planning to release more content for the game, including PVP, a map editor, a hundreds of levels long conquest mode, and more. I’ll certainly be interested to see what comes of all that.

Pros:

  • Nice graphics.
  • Pretty soundtrack
  • Very replayable rogue conquest mode

Cons:

  • Steep difficulty curve
  • Not a huge amount of content
  • Those lumberjacks can get in the sea (of fire)

Overall: 6/10

The Legend of Evil is available now on Steam and Switch

Let’s (Mario) Party!

If you’ve owned a Nintendo system in the last 20 years (well, now I feel freaking old), chances are you’ve played one of the fifteen or so Mario Party games. If not, the concept is pretty simple – roll dice to move around a game board, compete in simple minigames, collect coins (to buy bonus items and stars, the player with the most stars after a set number of turns get to rub their glorious victory in the faces of their loser friends (Suck it, Peach. Shy Guy is the boss round here. Go back to your castle and cry more! … Ahem). It’s a really simple idea that is made or broken on how good the minigames are, as that’s what you’ll spend most of your time doing.

And so we come to the eleventh game in the main console series – Super Mario Party.

Once again, Mario’s heroes and villains have gathered to see who will be the superstar. Choose from 16 characters (to start with and 4 more to be unlocked as you play), including fan favourites like Shy Guy, Waluigi, Bowser and Dry bones (I mean, Mario and that lot are in there too, but they get quite enough of the spotlight in other games tbh. Also, I think it’s time to petition Nintendo for Bowsette DLC). Each character will have access to their own unique special die as well as a basic D6. Shy Guy, for example has is five sides showing ‘4’ and one of ‘0’ – pretty handy if you’re looking to move a very specific amount to land on something good.

With your character chosen, you can set the difficulty level for any CPU players and then stroll on into the Party Plaza. Here you can check out the game’s modes. Initially, not everything is open, but in time you’ll have access to a whole range of options.

First up there’s classic party mode. 4 players go head to head to take on one of three game boards, each with their own unique mechanics to help or hinder your progress. Once all three have been completed, you’ll open a fourth board for this mode. You can choose to play 10 or 30 turns. With 10 working out to approximately an hour of play.

Different spaces on the board will have different effects, blue for extra coins, red to lose coins, exclamations cause special effects on the board (e.g. taking a warp to another area), clovers award a random bonus, bad luck spaces cause a random loss, and then there’s the ally space.

The ally space allows you to pick up a companion from the remaining available characters. You’ll get to use their special die and they’ll roll a bonus die along with your roll that will add 1 or 2 to your total. It’s cute and fun watching dialogue between sworn enemies, agreeing to help out… just this once.

Next there’s couples mode. Two teams of two make their way across a much more open board. Rather than the usual, single lane, branching path, these boards tend to have more room to move and plan your strategies. Both players on a team will roll their dice and the total is added together. Players then get to move the total of the dice roll each. I found this mode to be a bit slower on the board itself, as the teams make plans to move around. Do you move together, towards the star or split the party, with one going for a special item, to gather coins, or pound on your opponents in order to steal their precious coins?

Additionally, the fact that one player will always move first of the two, becomes important, since the first player can trigger a special event, which may change the possible routes around the board. This could mean that bad planning sees the second player being stuck behind a wall, losing some of their moves.

During this mode, you’ll find allies being air dropped in at intervals. If you can swoop in and grab them before the opposing team, they can really make or break your game. Here the ally’s added dice rolls will only go to the player that picked them up, rather than to the team as a whole.

If you’re feeling up for some rhythm action, there’s Sound Stage mode just for this. The actions range from washing suds off of a window, riding a horse by pulling on the reigns, spiking fruit with a sword, and more. The music is great and controls are suitably responsive as you waggle your way to victory.

Next up is challenge road. A single player mode where you must play through each of the 80 minigames in a specific order. The difficulty is pre-set and can get pretty tricky, especially if there’s games you know you’re weak on.

Finally, why not take a nice gentle paddle down the river? I’ll tell you why not, because the water it pretty darn choppy in River Survival and there’s plenty of obstacles in your way (Bloopers making whirlpools, Cheep Cheeps bouncing out of the water, etc.). This mode is played as a co-operative, four player team, working together to take on the many dangers of these choppy waters (and maybe overthrowing capitalism once they’re done… please?). As there were only two of us playing, I was initially concerned that having two CPU players would make life super difficult. We made sure one of us was on either side of the boat, with the CPU helping one of us each, they did a great job paddling where we wanted and held their own in the mini games.

One game in particular really showed off how considerately programmed they are. It’s a basic memory game, with cards laid out showing the suits, you’re given the target suit and after a few seconds, they’re flipped over, some will move and then you have to pick out the correct cards. My first thought was that, if I’ve been focusing on one particular card, and the CPU picks that one, I’m pretty screwed. However, I noticed that there was a distinct pause before they move, giving you good time to get to your target. It’s a simple thing, but makes all the difference and stops it feeling unfair if you’re not playing with a full team of hoomins.

Along the course of the river, you’ll find balloons, which will trigger minigames. These can be completed for additional sailing time, with higher scores/better times meaning your earn more time. There’s also stop watches which award an extra three seconds. As you progress, there’s the chance to pick different routes so you can eventually see all five endings of this mode.

If all the main modes seem like a bit of a time commitment that you can’t afford, there’s a mode to free-play any of the games you’ve unlocked and even compete in five minigame, online marathons.

That’s already a lot of game, but wait, there’s more. Anyone who’s seen the trailer for the game will have noticed that there’s a special mode using two Switches. First, you’ll need two consoles and two copies of the game. Set up is pretty simple from the tile screen, and then you can head into Toad’s Rec Room. Now, just lay your Switches down next to each other, on a flat surface. Draw a line on the screen to let the system know where they are relative to each other. Now you can drive tanks through warp pipes to travel between the screens and attack your opponents. It’s pretty cool, but expensive to get started.

This game has a huge amount of heart. One of my favourite features is the high fives. At the cue, just punch the air with your controller in hand and your characters will perform a cute little high five. In River Survial mode, you can perform the manoeuvre after every minigame, or clap your paddles together between areas to earn three extra seconds. In couples mode, you can do it to gain some extra coins after minigames.

If that’s all a bit hectic for you, why not retire to the sticker room and just cover some scenes in Mario themed stickers. If you’ve got Mario character amiibo, you can unlock shiny stickers for those characters, other amiibo will award you additional party points to spend on more unlocks.

I’d say we spent about 15 hours total playing through classic party mode, river survival, couples, sound stage mode, and challenge road. After all that, I’m still up for playing it a whole bunch more and really excited to see what it’s like with four friends. The music is great, it’s graphically beautiful, with wonderful texture work, and it never once felt like I was fighting the controller.

Speaking of which, all you need to play the game is a single Joy-Con. There’s a good variety of games using motion control (for example to throw boomerangs or shave ice), many using the stick and one or two buttons, or just single button pounding. Even the HD rumble feature is put to good use (This was really my first experience of the HD rumble as I’ve not had a chance to check out 1-2 Switch). One game features a number of passing characters (Wigglers, Bullet Bills, Thwomps, etc) each causing the controller to rumble very differently. The rumble is then played back blind and you have to identify which character it was you could feel. I was super impressed with how different they could make the rumble feel.

Another game sees you having to select boxes and shake them to see which have the most nuts inside. Once you’re happy, pop them down on your side of the play field and see how you scored at the end. It’s a really innovative use of the controller and I’m super glad it’s not been ignored beyond that pricy tech demo

#12SwitchShouldHaveBeenAFreePackInWithTheConsole.

Pros:

  • A lot of game to get through.
  • AI is capable in co-op and challenging at higher skill levels.
  • Very replayable.
  • Looks beautiful.

Cons:

  • No option to use download play to try Toad’s Rec Room.
  • River mode doesn’t work super well in single player.
  • I was robbed in classic mode during the bonus awards *shakes fist*.

Overall Score: 10/10