Mortal Manor bids itself as a Metroidvania, but also wants to stand out with a different approach to gameplay. Fortunately, this includes a vast sprawling world and tons of weapons to collect. Unfortunately, the approach also includes instadeaths and enemies that are as annoying as %*#&.
Any indie gem has rough edges and I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Mortal Manor‘s edges are about as smooth as rock golem’s butt. For those with the same sort of patience as an eternal being, though, there’s a massive game here, crammed with varied areas and bursting with weapons, relics and secrets to find.
We cover a lot of demos and alphas and the like here, and while the demos provide decent entertainment, pretty much none of them over the last three years have since seen the light of day as a full release. So here’s a demo for a metroidvania that is due for release in just one month. Oh, but it’s been in development for six years.
Chasm promises the usual metroidvania fare, and while it certainly is polished with all the right founding ingredients in place, the demo, which turns out to be from the dark ages of 2013, left me feeling a little uninspired.
With a few days left, time to slip in another set of picks for the Steam Summer sale.
Last time I pointed out a bunch of games I largely already owned or ended up buying and playing due to the sale, that turned out decent enough. This time, I’m pointing out some games that I haven’t yet played, and probably games that most people have never heard of – so this is a good chance to discover some new obscure games.
The Steam Summer Sale is currently on, running until July 5th, so another 10 days or so from this post, which means plenty of time to grab some bargains.
When 25 of my wishlisted items appeared on sale in my inbox, it was both a blessing and a curse for my wallet. I mean, sure, I spent a lot, but at these savings, it’d be losing money not to buy… uh, right? Double-mortgage aside, given the massive number of games on sale I thought this would be a good time to shortlist a few New Retro Games Staff picks.
Thimbleweed Park (40% off, ~12EUR)
An old-school adventure game throwback by Monkey Island brigand Ron Gilbert himself, Thimbleweed Park kind of gets thrown as Maniac Mansion meets Twin Peaks. Perhaps not totally inaccurate, but… to me, it feels a bit more like Zakk McKracken meets Twin Peaks.
The general impressions of the game were positive, and although while perhaps not hitting the highs of his earlier affairs, Thimbleweed seems to be offering some solid adventure so far. It sports some damn beautiful classic pixel artwork, and the five character + inventory swapping puzzles and bizarre town make it worth the discounted price for sure.
Cosmic Star Heroine (50% off ~8EUR)
I took a look at Cosmic Star Heroine back in Jan, and while I did enjoy it, I also had somewhat mixed feelings about it. A callback to 16-bit SNES rpgs brimming with modern potential, CSH had an interesting fast-paced battle system and creative cast, each with their own unique skillsets, but it tended to burn through everything so fast that it was hard to really dig in to. I finished it, including every side quest and achievement, in 17 hours, and that was at a relaxed pace. Still, sometimes we don’t want to invest 100+ hours into a game, and for less than a tenner, it’s pretty cheap.
Darkest Dungeon (70% ~7EUR)
This is a game I’d been on the fence about for a long time, persisting through numerous sales. The game brings some richly artistic flair to your dungeon crawling, mixed in with Dark Souls level punishing difficulty. As a fan of old-school dungeon crawls like the Gold Box games or even Nethack, this can be a good thing, but I also don’t quite have the patience I did those days. Nevertheless, at 70% off this sale convinced me to take the plunge and I can confirm that I have been enjoying the self-flagellation so far. Even playing on the (later patched in) easier mode, I find myself taking careful steps in combat and each trip feels suitably risky, yet rewarding. Worth the admission price, I think, even if you end up only spending 10 or so of the potentially dozens of hours the game offers.
Dungeon Warfare (66% off, ~3,50EUR)
Dungeon Warfare is a relatively simple but strangely addicting reverse dungeon crawler/TD-style game. Being some sort of sentient evil entity, you decide to fill your dungeons with an assortment of traps to put a stop to the encroaching horde of money-grubbing do-gooders from the inconvenience of killing you. Where the game really excels, however, is how well these traps work together in unison, whether it be pushing peasants into spike pits or pulling knights into an endless pit. Playing with combinations is fun by itself, but the game actively rewards you for doing so, and it gets addicting fast.
There’s a disappointingly increasing trend for browser games and mobile games to try and go big time by releasing a PC port. However, most of the time the leaving in of a horrible UI, dumbed-down gameplay and, in some cases, confounding “freemium pay-to-win” model in the game smells richly of cash grab. Luckily, this is not the case for Dungeon Warfare. It did indeed start as a free browser game (and is still available), and the Steam version simply adds a bit of extra polish and content. This may seem “low effort”, but the game itself is solid, so while technically you can get enough enjoyment from the free version, for me this really was a case of throwing a few deserved bucks the developer’s way.
Legend of Grimrock 2 (60% off, ~9EUR)
I bought this game for full price back in the day and still don’t regret it, even though it took me about 3 years to get around to finishing the thing. Grimrock 2 is an expertly-done modern take on the classic Dungeon Master crawl formula, and is also basically an improvement on its prequel in every way possible. If you like this sort of game at all, and don’t mind square dancing with giant turtles while unkillable air elementals push you into the water where a sea monster blocks the ladder while you drown to death, then hey, there’s no real reason not to get this.
Z-Exemplar (50% off, 2,50EUR)
Taking the spot of one of our games of the year back when we did that sort of thing, Z-Exemplar is a solid, if sometimes unforgiving, classical horizontal-scrolling shoot ’em up harking back, as the name would suggest, to the days of the ZX Spectrum. What helps the game stand out from its inspirations is its solid weapons system, with tons of combinations to choose from, all characteristic from branching vines to lasers to orbs of death, and all upgradable. Better yet, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and sports a lovely british sense of irreverent humour. There are also over 900 levels to non-linearly explore. They are all very short, taking around about 1 minute to beat, but goddam if that’s not insane. I am still nowhere near finishing the game.
Phew, that’s enough for now. I might try to throw together another list in a few days, because hot dam, if this isn’t a disturbingly enticing sale I don’t know what is.
The remarkable thing about zero-budget indie RPGs made by guys in their basement is that can compel us to still play them under the shadow of top quality million dollar triple-A ventures. Case in point: I recently acquired The Witcher III, and yet here I am, playing Sigma-Finite Dungeon. That’s not to say the Witcher isn’t great, because it is, but there’s always room to indulge in that sense of old-school satisfaction that pushing yet another pixelated goblin to its death in a spike trap elicits.
Sigma-Finite Dungeon is an intoxicating mashup of Final Fantasy Tactics party-based battles with roguelike dungeon crawling, with a party to equip, skills to leverage, and monsters to slush. It’s not quite as deep as FFT or Nethack, but its tactical combat provides some solid satisfaction.
I have a confession to make: I don’t really miss JRPGs all that much. After gluttonously gorging on Final Fantasy‘s heyday (6 and 7 in particular), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and more, I’m incredibly blessed. But I don’t really want more.
Yet… If it’s one thing I really do miss from those days where trifling matters like paying taxes were not on my radar, it is the FF5/Tactics style job system. That shit was awesome. JRPG derivations are a dime-a-dozen now, but this one enticing element is never authentically replicated.
Magna Driver heard my call, though, emerging at my darkest hour. It may be a prototype-level demo, sure, but that same addictive crack-like quality of the job system is still there, and I devoured it gleefully for about an hour until I had unlocked every job and ability for each character.
Those anime protagonists sure know how to wield a massively oversized impractical sword. You’d think that by the time they actually manage to lift it, a ninja would’ve already stabbed them in the face a few times, but apparently not. Nevertheless, Bold Blade puts my theory to the test, with gameplay entirely swiveled around (pun intended) the art of sweeping a screen-clearing hunk of metal through wave after wave of monsters.
Bold Blade clearly channels the impractical sword-wielding antics of Ginormo Sword, but where that effort happily jumped into a lo-fi psychedelic deep end without abandon, Blade is far more polished in appearance and follows a much more grounded 90s arcade approach, and I could easily see myself playing this on the SEGA Megadrive as an angst-filled teenager, when giant swords where the best solution for most problems.
Back in the day elves were seen as cheery little bastards, known for helping lost travelers find their way, constructing toys for old fat men in subzero temperatures, or being Will Ferrel.
Elf, a 1991 game developed by Nirvana Systems and published by OCEAN, is not about those kinds of elves. Elf hates you and your family and wants you to die a confusing, pointless death, again and again. But it looks fantastic while doing so.
As my hillbilly cowboy roundhouse kicked yet another boar rider off the edge of a cliff to his untimely death, I couldn’t help but think “this is weird.” More importantly, I also couldn’t stop thinking “this is awesome.”
About 4 years in the making, with a fourth and final chapter in the works, World’s End is an excellent – and I do mean really excellent here – strategy/tactics RPG that mostly flew under the radar: a crime that must be now corrected before karmic disaster befalls us all.