Note: This writeup is about an EARLY ALPHA. The mechanics are great, but it’s still buggy, lacking content, and polish. And when I say alpha, I do mean alpha. Not “Steam Early Access.” But it’s also the best thing I’ve played this week.
Don’t Die, Collect Loot is a combination of Vampire Survivors, and Diablo. And it is absolute brain cocaine. If this was a chemical substance, the DEA would have already found the creator, kidnapped them, and brought them to some sort of black site.
Fortunately its perfectly legal to distribute on itch.io. I don’t know how much I’ve played, and I’m not sure I want to. But let’s talk about the mechanics first.
Don’t Die, Collect Loot is an ARPG and Roguelike. Prior to starting a run, you set up your equipment and skills. You then select a map to run (right now there’s only one), a difficulty, and head on out into the world.
The map scrolls, so at least at the start, just staying on the screen making is one of the obstacles to survival. As you kill enemies, you’ll level up for the run, and each time you level up, you’ll be presented with a set of three upgrades to choose from. These can be for various skills that you have, or just general purpose buffs to HP or resists.
You go until you die, or until the game breaks somehow. Right now, it’s mostly the second one. Again, alpha build.
Right now, I’d consider the game to be fairly bare bones. There are only two classes, one map to run, a single boss with 2 mini-bosses, and a decent skill tree. That said, the game manages to capture what ARPG’s are all about: making builds where you click once and everything on the screen explodes.
And despite its bare bones state, and despite the fact that I’ve lost multiple 30+ minute runs without getting any items whatsoever to bugs, I cannot stop playing it. It’s almost hypnotic. It strips out almost every vestigial part of the ARPG gameplay loop. No fetch quests, no annoying story. Just murder everything in front of you, and acquire treasure. The game’s name is a perfect encapsulation of what you’re trying to do: Don’t Die, Collect Loot. That’s it. That’s all that really matters.
If you want to play the game, you can find the current Alpha here on itch.io, and you can find the Steam page here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can max Inferno without making the game break.
I’ve been trying to write about Pedigree Tactics for a while. I wrote a few initial drafts, but they all sucked. Perhaps the difficulty is in the fact that I already wrote my review here on Steam. It was fairly critical, noted a variety of difficulties and bugs, and asked the dev to reach out to me.
And then they did! We had a good chat, I repo’d a variety of bugs in a one hour video I made, and now I’m here. Trying to write a honest and fair review about a single-person passion project.
Pedigree Tactics is single player tactics game in the vein of Disgaea. It’s fairly short, and the main reason to play it is to engage with the unique monster fusion mechanic.
The game consists of levels with 3v3 monster battles, and the goal is to knock out all opposing monsters. There are 23 levels, and beating the whole game took me about 3 hours each time I played through it.
Let’s just get the rough bits out of the way. The art is jarring; it mostly suffers from dissonance between the crayon-drawn monsters, video game maps, and attack effects. The sound effects and music exist. I’ve seen more tonally consistent sexy calendars than this game’s story.
That said, it does have an interesting core mechanic in its monster fusion system. Briefly into the game, you unlock the ability to fuse any two monsters together. This mutates them into a new monster, and gives the resulting monster access to the move pools of both the result, and the “parents.”
It’s interesting to try to puzzle out some of the monster combos. But the fun mostly comes in making incredibly busted monsters. My personal favorite trick was to have one monster spam stacking self buffs. Then I’d have another monster use its action to give the first monster extra turns. And after that, I’d have the first monster spam map clearing AOEs.
This fusion system and the fun you can have with it, giving abilities to units that really shouldn’t have them, is the heart of the game’s fun for me. It is somewhat unfortunate though that the rest of the game isn’t as appealing.
If you’re curious about Pedigree Tactics, you can find it on Steam here. I don’t exactly recommend it, but it’s weird and unique. And that made it worth experiencing for me.
When I was in highschool, I had to write essays. These essays were graded on a rubric with a certain percentage of points for various categories. One of these categories was what could be considered writing “technical skills.” Things like grammar, sentence construction, and spelling mistakes as a whole contributed to about 20% of the essay’s grade.
As a result, I would never get higher than 80%, because regardless of how good any of my points, ideas, or concepts were, my writing was a complete technical failure.
In that respect, my high school essays have a lot in common with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.
The Worst Performing Switch Game I’ve Ever Seen
Pokémon Violet’s miserable technical performance is omnipresent across the entire game. Miserable pop-in, levels of detail so low that you can see polygons getting added onto character models, poor framerates, and slowdown are present in virtual every area of the game. Almost every object is also subject to animation-frame culling as well.
My personal breaking point for this was the game’s credit sequence. This game is so unbelievably scuffed from a technical level that it fails to smoothly display scrolling text on a screen.
I’m not going to harp on the technical problems of Violet after this paragraph, except for when they become relevant to other portions of the game. Games are made up of multiple components, and worked on by multiple teams.
Some teams did their job very well. Some of these teams may have done the best they could under extreme time pressure. Or maybe they’re just incompetent! I don’t know which one it was. My conclusion is the same.
Despite liking and enjoying Pokémon Violet, the game’s technical issues are so widely spread that I just can’t recommend the game.
I did a large writeup on Pokémon as a series a while back. If you’re not familiar with Pokémon games at all, I suggest you read that writeup before the next bit. It included a overview of structure the games follow, along with general coverage of the series’ mechanics, and some suggestions for where a new player could start.
Scarlet and Violet mark the series transition to a full open world from the previous linear routes and narrative path. Instead, the world is shaped like a large donut. Difficulty scales as you travel up either side of the donut, with the game’s finale taking place in the center.
In Legends: Arceus, the battle and catching system was very simple. In Scarlet and Violet, those systems have been rolled back to their more complex previous forms, and are still very good and very compelling. There’s no more tall grass. Instead Pokémon spawn into the world in packs, and running into them will start a battle.
Node-Based Story Structure
The story structure is also fairly different. Because of the game’s open world nature, there’s no single series of events, or path that’s really required. Instead, each story event is sort of a self-contained mini-event. There are three main routes for these events. Two routes have 5 events, and the gym route has 8.
I think these story nodes can be completed in pretty much any order. I’m not sure that’s the case, though, because I did all the ones that gave me travel upgrades first. It certainly didn’t feel like there was a required order to me.
That said, these events don’t dynamically scale. I left what could be considered the 2nd or 3rd gym fight to do last one. There’s something amusing about showing up with a team of level 60 Pokémon for a gym battle against level 25s. But it’s also a little disappointing that the game doesn’t utilize the nonlinear story structure to give different players a different experience based on the order they complete story battles.
Also, before I switch topics, the games story arcs are surprisingly good. From a purely story standpoint, Scarlet might be my favorite Pokémon game. Is it the greatest story ever? No, but it’s memorable and unique.
Thematically Vast, Visually Bland
The Paldea region is one of the areas where the game feels like it’s been held back by the technology. There’s an early moment where a character is supposed to be introducing the stunning majesty of the Paldea region, and we get treated to a set of panning views of… various green-grey plains.
It’s sort of sad-funny that sets the tone for what we’ll see in the rest of the game.
The game has a variety of areas, but outside of Pokémon variety, the areas never felt different. Looking back, I remember dry desserts, a large cave, some icy mountains, ocean-side towns, and a coal mine, but they all felt identical. The only area that left any sort of impact was a large cave that I wandered into under leveled, swiftly got pulped, and then booked it out of.
I think the biggest issue is that Pokémon games have often been light on visuals. Instead, the tone of the zones was sold by the Pokémon themselves. Caves full of Zubats spring to mind. Lunatone and Solrock in Meteor Falls, or Skarmory in the ash covered zones.
However, because of how Pokémon spawning works, and the fact that it’s possible to ignore pretty much every encounter I didn’t want to fight, most areas ended up feeling empty. I could rush through them, and interact with nothing but story events if I so chose.
Some thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else
Pokémon is a broad franchise, and has its own subtypes of players just like other complicated and broad games. As such, there are some things I can’t comment on. I don’t know how well the game is balanced and plays for multiplayer activities, such as competitive tourneys, or the end-game raids. I also didn’t do much with the breeding post-game/shiny hunting.
Many of the gyms in this game have their own mini-game or side mode associated with them. One of the more standout moments for me was a game mode where you’re supposed to collect Sunflora, and bring them back to a central area. This puzzle was very clearly designed before being tested, because it required collecting such a large number of Sunflora, that they would lag the game, and pop-in if you ran too far ahead of them. The town with this gym challenge also had a windmill that had ridiculous animation culling. Both of these combined to make the whole area incredibly immersion-breaking.
The new Pokémon designs generally felt quite good, as did much of the general world design and writing. The Jiggypuff with sharp teeth that screams and bites you is one of my favorites.
Again, though, it’s things like the carefully crafted in-world advertisements and logos that end up feeling like they’re in sharp contrast to the generally poor technical quality of the rest of the game.
The vengeful fairy with a giant hammer that just beats the shit out of you is also great.
Pokémon Scarlet is a 7/10, but it gets that score, much like my high school English papers, for a sheer lack of technical polish.
If this was an indie game, I’d excuse a lot of these issues. But this is the largest media franchise in the world. Yes, Scarlet makes makes changes in story, structure, and world, but they’re all hindered by those technical issues.
There have been some rumors that Nintendo/Gamefreak are working on patches to improve performance, but I’m not holding my breath. And I’m not betting on these issues being fixed for the next game either.
Isle of Arrows offers an interesting take on the tower defense genre, but a dependence on good RNG to survive pulls it down.
I don’t hate Isle of Arrows, but I can’t recommend it. It has a nice art style, and interesting core mechanics. But the reason the game took me 12 hours to beat is that randomness plays too heavy a factor. Having good runs is difficult, and having satisfying runs almost impossible.
Isle of Arrows is a tower defense tile placement game. You start with a single pre-placed arrow tower, a few pre-placed road tiles, a bomb and a bridge.
Your job is to turn this.
Into something like this.
Game Mechanics and Systems
You have 4 resources: Life, Gold, Bridges, and Bombs. If enemies reach the tiny gold octahedron at the end of the route, you lose a life. Enemies themselves will always spawn on the last road tile on a path to your octahedron.
Gold is the only real spending resource. Each round, you’re given a tile for free that you can place. You can either place that tile, or skip it. Then you can spend 2 more gold to draw the next tile. Repeat until you’re out of gold. For example, if I had 10 gold, I could place my current tile, then advance choosing to place or skip up to 5 more tiles.
It’s important to note that you can only ever see the next single tile that you’ll draw. While enemies can drop gold, your primary source of gold is income. It’s almost interest: each round, you’ll get 1 gold, plus 1 more for each 10 gold you have stored. (Up to a max of +4 at 30 gold banked.)
The tiles you draw have placement requirements, though. Tiles must be connected to another tile you’ve already placed, they can’t overlap with existing structures, and they have to be placed on ground.
Which brings us to the last two resources: Bombs and Bridges. They both serve a similar purpose in allowing you to break some of the rules. Bombs can be spent to place a tile on an already existing tile, and bridges can be spent to allow you to build out into the air. While there are ways to get more bombs and bridges, there’s no way to guarantee it.
There are a few more tile types. There are roads that can be placed to expand the path to your shiny defense shape, and there are towers that can be placed to shoot enemies as they travel along the roads. There are also traps, which have some effects on enemies placed along the road, and non-combat tiles such as water that often come attached to other tiles. Finally, you can place economy tiles to generate resources, usually as a one time effect based on where you place them.
Isle of Arrows has a beautiful isometric look. It’s fun to watch your island expand! But Isle of Arrows has a big fundamental problem: the randomness.
At its simplest, the problem boils down to a question of DPS. There’s no guarantee that you’ll draw enough towers with tiles to have enough damage to clear late game waves. But more importantly, there’s no guarantee you’ll see any specific tower. So it’s hard to strategize. You can’t build or plan with the expectation of “Eventually I’ll get X.” You can play 40 rounds, and never get a ballista. Or you can get 3 sniper towers in the first 10 tiles, and zero in the next seventy.
As a result, I couldn’t set up and build to do anything clever. Sure, I could try to to build a long straight road that would be cleared with a boulder tower, but I’d often never see one. I could set up a winding route that would be perfect with ballista, but if it didn’t show up, that route was just a waste of space.
As a result, my strategy was pretty much always the same: pool gold until I got to 30 banked. After that, I’d just place tiles wherever they provided maximum utility in the moment. There was no grand strategy, or clever synergies. Instead, it was just a fight stay ahead of the curve.
I think this is why my brain feels a bit melted after playing Isle of Arrows. I never really changed up my core strategy. Instead, I just tried to have any tower I placed cover as many tiles as possible, and hoped for the best.
I think a peak example of this randomness was visible in my clear of the game’s final level, Burning Embers. Burning Embers has a fire theme, and a tower called the cluster tower. Cluster towers get a damage bonus for each other cluster tower they’re linked to. But they’re fairly rare, and in my first several attempts, I saw either one or zero of them.
But on what would be my final run, I lucked into an early cluster tower, and then several more later on. Those cluster towers made the difference, bringing down the final tanky enemies, because of that cluster damage bonus.
But there was no way to build or plan for this. There was no grand strategy. It was just “Hey, you got lucky on the rolls, here’s some good stuff.”
And more irritatingly, there are no systems to compensate for the inverse happening, and just getting screwed by RNG. Random draw is the only way to get towers and tiles. You can’t choose to spend an exorbitant amount of money to buy a single specific tower. You can’t choose to modify the pool you’re drawing from. You can make all the right choices, and still lose.
Getting Kobyashi-Maru’d isn’t fun, but it’s made even less fun by the fact that there is really only one strategy. As I mentioned before, it boils down to just getting as much value out of tiles on the turn you draw them.
Isle of Arrows is nicely polished. I want to like the random tile system for an interesting take on tower defense. But the randomness and capriciousness makes it feel like there’s no point to trying out multiple strategies, or trying to be clever.
Give me ways to mitigate being screwed by your system! Let me pay a premium to bring in certain towers if I can pool the money. Or do something akin to Loop Hero, where certain arrangements of tiles and towers morph into a larger super tower structure. Give me some form of decision making that isn’t just pushing my luck, or maximizing current utility.
Isle of Arrows is $13 on Steam, at time of writing. Any desire I have to continue playing the game is mostly out of a sense of spite, and to vindicate my own opinions. I’m confident I can clear all maps with all factions. After all, I’d just need to get lucky.
I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide if that constitutes a endorsement.
Author’s Note: I didn’t really mention the faction mechanic. There are five factions outside the starter faction, they all change up the gameplay slightly. They usually make it harder. Architects don’t get flags to expand the island, but gets bridges after each wave. Cannoneers don’t get flags, but convert any extra life or bridges into bombs. Pathfinders can build roads both ways, but get swamped with road tiles. I’ve got two problems with factions. First, the general high level strategy doesn’t change per faction. Second, each faction is usually more difficult than the preceding one. As a result, clearing each map with an additional faction just feels like grindy busywork instead of an interesting choice of challenge, or a fun variant to try out on a map.
TLDR: There’s a faction system, but it feels like it exists to pad playtime, not make it more fun.
Mythic Mischief and Klask don’t really have anything in common with each other. It’s not even like they had booths next to each other or something. Mythic Mischief is an action economy and movement-based game with victory points that almost reminds me of Chess. Klask is a skill-based dexterity game that feels like miniature air hockey.
So why am I covering them together? Because I don’t have enough to say about them separately to fill writeup! Anyway, let’s get to it.
Mythic Mischief is an asymmetric grid-based movement game, designed by Max Anderson, Zac Dixon, Austin Harrison, and published by IV Games.
The best summary I can offer is that you and your opponents both control 3 miniatures on a 5v5 grid. Alternating turns, you attempt to spend your actions and use your abilities to place your opponent’s units in the path or directly on an NPC unit called the Tome Keeper.
Editor’s Note: Tome Keeper not to be confused with Dome Keeper
At the end of a player’s turn, the Tome Keeper moves towards specific locations. If there are units in its way, the Tome Keeper knocks them out, and the player who didn’t control those units scores points. Units that get knocked out can be replaced at the start of the next player’s turn.
There’s a fair amount to the movement and action system, and how it plays with the game’s upgrade choices that I don’t think I can summarize effectively, so I won’t try. It’s a perfectly fine system, but I would not describe it as “Sparking Joy,” at least for me.
It is worth noting that each player will be playing a different faction, with unique abilities and so keeping track of what your opponent can do is necessary to succeed.
I only played one game of Mythic Mischief, and it was a combination of a demo and an ass beating. I wouldn’t say that I hugely enjoyed it. That might have been because I lost, and because I get salty easily. But I also struggled with two other factors.
First up, just because of how the game works with scoring, it felt very difficult to make any sort of comeback once I fell behind. Secondly, the game reminded me of Chess in that it felt like a game of trying to find the “Correct” moves, and like a puzzle of chaining things together. That’s just not something I find very fun.
So yeah, if you do like deterministic movement games, or things like Chess, maybe you’ll get more out of Mythic Mischief than I did.
Klask is a manual dexterity game by Mikkel Bertelsen.
Honestly, it feels weird to be reviewing Klask here. It’s as if for some reason I felt compelled to write a review of Skeeball, or Soccer. The closest games I can think of as a comparison to Klask would be Air Hockey or maybe Foosball.
All of this to say that the “Manual Dexterity” part of the game is absolutely not optional. Klask is played in an elevated square wooden box with sides. Each player has a magnet with a stick in the end that they hold under the box, and a pawn they place on top. The top pawn is moved by dragging it with the magnet from under the box.
The pawn and stick aren’t the only magnetic pieces, though. Klask also has 3 small plastic beads with magnets in the center that are placed equidistant in the middle of the playfield at the start of a point. These beads will jump and stick to your pawn if you get too close, and if 2 of the 3 stick to a player’s pawn, their opponent gets a point.
Points can also be scored by a player hitting the ball into the goal indent on the board, or if a player messes up and gets their pawn stuck in the indent.
The interesting part of Klask for me is how the tiny white beads open up strategy. Without them, the game is pretty much just air hockey with a marble. But with the beads, you can do interesting stuff like hitting them towards your opponent in order to close off parts of the board.
Overall, I like Klask. I just don’t like it enough to really want to buy it. That said, if someone asked me if I’d play, my response would be a semi-enthusiastic “Sure!”
I don’t think there’s any meaningful conclusion you can take out of things like both Klask and Mythic Mischief being present at PAX Unplugged. Maybe there’s some sort of testament to the diversity of mechanics and games present. Maybe there’s something to be said for the sorts of games you’d play if someone else is footing the bill.
And maybe there’s nothing. Maybe there is no purpose. Maybe the real journey was the friends we made along the way.