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Friday Freebies Club

Wequer’s Playful Monster-Raising Chess Hybrid — Friday Freebies Club 

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Variations on the ancient game of chess are seeing a surge of popularity in the video game scene. The mod Dota Auto Chess is perhaps the most the most well-known of the bunch, a game where the player spawns a variety of units which then automatically fight the creatures on a random opponent’s board. The popularity of this title has led to a variety of spin-offs, each with differing appearances but very similar gameplay. Wequer, on the other hand, takes a different approach to combining chess and monsters, with a hands-on focus on wrangling your units. Created by solo developer Ben Allen, this charming chess-like perfectly hits that balance of easy to pick up, hard to master.

A match in Wequer begins on a what appears to be a rather typical chess board, apart from the fact that it is covered in seashells. Each player starts with three heroes: the worm, who produces eggs on every space she moves over; the warrior, who can move twice in a turn and attack other units directly; and the wizard, who cannot move at all but has access to a shop full of dangerous spells. Defeat all three of the opponent’s heroes, and the match is won.

Each of the heroes of Wequer plays very differently, and will need to coordinate with the other two to cover their shortfalls. The worm spawns eggs that can be hatched into adorable little monsters, which the player sets to target one of the opponent’s heroes. Shells collected on the map by the worm are used to hatch monsters, with different shells creating more powerful beasts. The best shells are in the middle of the board, but the worm is also unable to defend herself or move backward, making collecting those shells a high risk, high reward venture.

The warrior is a fairly basic unit, and is best used for protecting the worm and the wizard. His excellent movement and attack abilities make him a good guard. 

The wizard acts as a kind of wildcard on the battlefield, with access to a wide array of spells. Every spell the wizard can use must be purchased, and both players share the same shop, so if the opponent buys a fireball spell, it will be sold out on your screen. Spells are bought with crystals. The wizard gains one crystal each turn, and each turn a spell sits in the shop, it becomes cheaper, making magic more affordable as the game goes on. The wizard cannot cast a spell on the same turn they have purchased one, so shopping too greedily also has drawbacks. 

Using the three heroes is initially a little intimidating, since they are so different in behaviour to a classical chess piece. An extensive tutorial does a good job of teaching the player how the game works, however, and after a few matches, using the heroes feels natural. The interface is clear and uncluttered, keeping the board to the left side, and inputs to the right. Big buttons on the right-hand side of the screen move the current unit, so the player will have no confusion on where the unit can move. The worm’s available monsters and the wizard’s spells are easily tabbed through. At the end of each turn, the player is informed what spells the opponent bought, and you can also see what magic they have on hand by hovering the mouse over their wizard. Everything is nice and clear, which is important in a tactical game.

Once you have got a handle on the basics of Wequer, the main menu is opened up. You can play against the AI, which will progressively become smarter, or online against random people or Steam friends. I did not have any luck finding a random online opponent, probably due to my Australian time zone, but I did enjoy a few matches against my husband through the Steam friends function. The multiplayer aspect worked well, with a chat system available that can be toggled on or off at your discretion. I would have liked a clearer indication of whose turn it was—the ‘end turn’ button lights up when you are in control, but a ‘Your turn’ splash across the screen or the like would help daydreamers like me pay attention. The turn counter should also be clearer, as some spells have different effects depending on if it is an odd or even turn. The writing is grey on black, and hard to read compared to the game’s otherwise bright visuals. 

A lot of care has also gone into the presentation of the game, with adorable sprite-work and an amazing dynamic soundtrack. The units are easily readable while still possessing personality. I became pretty attached to my monsters, which are all different types of vaguely aquatic monstrosities. The shifting soundtrack was also really impressive, with different instruments playing as different characters are used—it could all be right out of a high-budget Game Boy Colour game.  

I really enjoyed my time with Wequer. Ideally, I think it would work really well as a mobile game: something I could play on a lunch break in between Hearthstone matches. To come up with a laundry list of features I would like to see in the future is easy—asynchronous multiplayer, a puzzle mode with different layouts, maps of different shapes and shell layouts—but the game is also a perfectly balanced little thing on its own.  

My husband Ben Davidson enjoyed Wequer as well. “The game is fun, simple, and challenging. Great soundtrack, cute sprites. It’s free, just play it and then come back here.
Okay so now that you know what it’s like, I think we’ll agree on what it needs. A Chess Puzzle mode, for sure. Modes featuring multiples of you main units, or perhaps a way to acquire them in-game? All-in-all there’s a surprising amount of depth here, and if the developer ends up working on a full-fledged tactics game down the line then they have my money. 4/5.”

Next week, we’ll be taking a look at Bone Voyage, a third-person adventure game inspired by classic point-and-click adventure titles. The game can be picked up from its Steam page here. Conversation will be happening in the Discord server, or you can email me here.

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Friday Freebies Club

Mutropolis: Mars Episodes Gamifies Public Speaking — Friday Freebies Club

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Mutropolis

The year is 5020. Humanity has abandoned Earth long ago, settling on Mars despite the planet’s barren resources and thin atmosphere. Most people think Earth is better left in the past, little more than a relic of humanity’s beginnings. You, on the other hand, believe you have discovered something of value left back on the old deserted planet – the city of Mutropolis, a glittering monolith filled with old-world treasures like jewels and coffee. Long thought to be a myth, you are confident you have found enough evidence to prove that the fabled city is real. Now all that needs to be done is to convince a group of your peers to fund an investigation to find the city. Stepping up to the podium, the words you choose next will determine the fate of your dream expedition.   

Created by two-person development team Pirita Studio, Mutropolis: Mars Episodes serves as a prologue to Mutropolis, a point-and-click adventure due out later this year. Playing as a roughly fifteen-minute dialogue tree of choices, this bite-size preview gives a good indication of the kind of style and humour the final game will contain, and offers an intriguing glimpse into a strange far-flung future. 

The game begins as the player’s adorable scientist shuffles up to the podium, looking nervously over the crowd. The audience are displayed as a series of dots in the upper left hand corner, which light up green when they like what you say, and turn red when they are less than impressed. Gain the approval of the majority of your audience, and the expedition will be funded. 

Impressing the audience is trickier than one might initially expect. The protagonist has plenty of different evidence he can show, but not only must the right evidence be chosen, the way the information is presented will affect the audience’s reaction too. Will people understand the implications of the dove’s unusual diet? Are they more likely to respond to a stirring call to action about the role of the wind in archaeological research, or should the scientist be more matter-of-fact on the subject? Should he present every piece of evidence he has found on the location of Mutropolis, or only the strongest one to avoid information overload? Each choice will shift the audience’s opinion, and it will probably take a few attempts to understand what these future people desire. My first run-though I was purely factual, which impressed a fraction of the crowd, but not nearly enough to get funding. An entirely over-the-top approach was no good either, however, with only one person supporting me at the end. After a few more tries, the right combination of facts and flashy presentation got me over the line. 

The questions are randomised each time, and some will sway the crowd more than others, with certain questions upsetting the whole crowd if answered incorrectly. Some harsh punishments made sense – forgetting the name of a colleague is a big gaff, but others seemed a bit excessive, like not getting an exact creation date from analysing a jewel. 

I would have liked to see the stress of presenting represented more as well – the incident with mental blanking on a person’s name has absolutely happened to me in the real world, and added tension to what is otherwise a rather calm game. Have all the worst nightmares of performing a presentation included in the randomiser, like dropping notes, the projector malfunctioning, mispronouncing a word and getting called on it, all the sorts of things that make one feel like crawling under a rock. Persevering under tougher conditions would also add more impact to victory. The victory screen could use an overhaul, since at present it only shows whether or not you succeeded at funding your expedition. This would be the perfect spot to play a trailer for the full game. A link for the trailer exists on the main menu, but showing it off more prominently would make sure players who enjoyed the game know that more is to come. 

Despite the simple presentation, Mutropolis: Mars Episodes is overflowing with personality. The scientist character is super cute, reminiscent of the style used in Broken Age, and the information displayed on the slides also has an appealing cartoony appearance. I really liked all the reactions from the crowd, with the future people taking great interest in the dangers of exploring a cactus field and the candy-based diet of early humanity. Sound design is minimal, but suits a quiet presentation environment, with crowd shuffling noises, claps and booing. 

The dialogue is well-written, but suffers from a few translation errors – ‘survivals’ rather than ‘survivors’, ‘mummy’ when referring to human remains in general, and some incorrect usage of plurals. The game has no issues to the point of confusion, but a run through of the script with a native speaker would be beneficial. Another issue to address is the text colour of the crowd’s comments. The colour of a statement changes depending on the speaker, and a few of the colour choices blended in too much with the stage, making it hard to read. Changing out the orange and brown hues for something different would aid immensely in legibility.

Overall, I liked my time with Mutropolis: Mars Episodes. The strange future depicted in the game intrigued me, and using persuasion skills made for an interesting twist in a dialogue-heavy game. I’m looking forward to seeing the full release of Mutropolis later in the year.  

Next week we’ll be taking a look at Magic Mouse, a top-down dungeon crawler set in a fantasy word. The game can be picked up on Steam here. For discussions, visit the Only SP Discord or you can email me here.

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