Original Reddit Posting
I review all sorts of games, and love indie developers. I thought about just leaving this review on Reddit, but x4000 is very active in the community here and it seems like there are good odds he will see this critique and possibly use it to make some good changes to AVWW1. I will suggest some possibly improvements towards the end that were not in the Reddit post. Keep in mind that I have never played AVWW before the Humble sale, my review is entirely based on the most current version of the game.
AVWW is a very unique game. It combines side scroller mechanics from the NES days (think Metroid running and gunning) with procedurally generated worlds and strategic objectives that your excursions into the side scrolling levels get the player closer to achieving. While this sounds great on paper, Arcen made a few stumbles getting there.Game Flow
To really understand AVWW you have to understand that the game is played in a cycle of stages. The cycle goes like this:
Complete 2-3 missions to upgrade your attack skills to the level of the remaining Lieutenants
Build wind shelters to reach a Lieutenant
Kill said Lieutenant
If it was the last Lieutenant? Send your towns people to drop the Overlord level further
Go kill the Overlord yourself, winning the continent
Repeat on the next continent, with tougher enemies and better rewardsThe Good
Mixing strategic objectives with procedurally (randomly) generated levels was a brilliant idea. There is so much that could be done with this model in the future (and has been done in the past, think XCOM). Changing things up in a game like XCOM between the relaxed strategic view and intense tactical battles keeps games from wearing the player out by constantly worrying about their troops being permanently lost. That happens in AVWW as well, dead glyph bearers (you) stay dead and in fact spawn ghosts you have to defeat where they died. However, they really didn't take much advantage of this dynamic. Your objectives are always the same and play out in the same order, therefore your strategy is always the same.
The only thing they did 100% correctly and I would like to see in more games with strategic layers: there is a "Things I should be doing" button you can press in game that contextually updates to tell you what your current strategic objectives are. It isn't a generic "flow of the game" text entry in an in-game manual, it updates to tell you specific adventuring items you should stock up on, what level of skills you should be looking for, etc...The Bad
The cycle isn't bad or boring itself. Mechanically, the game is quite sound most of the time. However there are some minor flaws that add up to me playing something else after I'm done writing this post. First and biggest problem I have with the game: the graphics are really, really bad. I don't mean low fidelity, I mean the art direction is no good. The monster sprites look like a mix of animated gifs that just loop while floating across the terrain. Your player characters look like the combatants from Mortal Kombat... on the SNES. It is really jarring and takes me out of the game frequently. Going low fidelity would have actually been a massive improvement for the game, because the terrain is usually painted with repetitive tiles that look right at home on a 16-bit era game. The problem comes in when nothing else looks like it is from the same game.
The exploration portions got on my nerves eventually because of one mechanic alone, light. You need to provide your own light sources in many, many areas, for no real reason other than to give players something else to have to manage, it seems. The darkness is not an interesting or fun mechanic, it is just you literally unable to see what you are fighting or the terrain you're trying to cross. It adds nothing to the game since the monsters just ignore it completely and players can't manipulate it aside from removing it entirely. It exists purely to slow players down and there is no really good way to deal with it other than dropping consumable lamps that you find randomly all over the place. You have skills that produce light, but they have severe limitations and must be spammed constantly in a dark cave to be of any use. Not my idea of fun times.
Finally, the last thing I realized was rubbing me the wrong way before I quit playing was that the game is too zoomed in. What do I mean by that? I mean in a game where the objective is to avoid taking damage while still attacking monsters effectively, the best way of doing this is by attacking at long range. As long as possible, preferably! However, in AVWW the longest ranged spells can actually hit off-screen, and you can be hit from multiple screens away by many enemies (not just bosses). You end up spending boss fights and some regular ones just keeping monsters on the edge of your vision (or unable to see them at all) while spamming and hoping you're hitting them until they die. Boss fights are especially problematic in this regard because the bosses take up nearly 1/4 of your screen while fighting them, so staying far away from their bodies and leading them into your shots is the only way to beat most of them.Conclusion
Even if you can get past the quality of the art direction (which I did for 10 hours), the game is far from perfect. It has a lot of great ideas, but they get bogged down in the bad to the point where I just don't want to play A Valley Without Wind any more.
Sorry if that seemed harsh! You've got a LOT of tough competition these days, though, especially from other indie developers. Easy examples off the top of my head are Rogue Legacy
, both amazingly fun games with laser-like focus on one primary system (real time tactical fighting, like your side scrolling levels), but both feature a secondary system that directly enhances the primary (building up your castle in Rogue Legacy, crafting in Teleglitch). These games are excellent to contrast with AVWW for a number of reasons, the most obvious one being great art direction.
Both Teleglitch and Rogue Legacy rely on procedurally generated level layouts each time you play, and permanent death without being annoying. This makes them ideal to compare to a game like AVWW1. They show that you can do procedural content while still maintaining a consistent and appealing aesthetic. Normally, I am the first to say "graphics don't matter, gameplay matters", but AVWW is just painful to look at sometimes. At some point I must acknowledge that video games are a visual medium, and appealing visuals do matter. I'm sure that is not a new observation, but consider those other games. They show two very distinct aesthetics with minimal art resources, but both look so much better than AVWW. Rogue Legacy uses both repeated tiles for backgrounds and palette swapped monsters just as AVWW does. Teleglitch is so low-fidelity the player has to imagine things like their own face. However, this does not in any way detract from the experience of either game for me because the style is used consistently throughout, from the opening splashes, to the final boss, to the top level menus, and they are appropriate for the tone / context of the games.
Please consider at some point a re-release of AVWW with an alternate graphical style, somewhere in between NES and SNES era applied consistently to both the actors (player, monsters, villagers), and the environments. AVWW shooty bits play a lot like early Metroid games, and it would benefit greatly from sharing the good aesthetics of that era.
As I mentioned in the review, there are some things that could be better mechanically as well. In order of most annoying to least:
- Zoom level
- Strategic Options
Darkness should just be removed entirely. It just doesn't serve any good purpose or interesting mechanic. You already need to drop boxes and platforms to navigate levels, why make it hard to see? The way darkness is currently implemented I don't see any means of turning it into a meaningful game mechanic that is fun to interact with. Right now it only serves to bog down the player with an extra layer of annoyance to deal with when it shows up.
The zoom level, as I mentioned in the review, is just too close for the ranges of spells and sizes of some enemies. Zoom out to 75% size of what you have right now and even that would be a big improvement since most spells would no longer go off screen, leaving the player wondering if they're aiming in the right place to hit the boss they are kiting. At least experiment with this suggestion please and see how it "feels".
Finally, for the strategic level, it is hard for me to justify deviating from the cycle I described in the review. I know you stated that the carrots were supposed to encourage players, but I don't think the carrots are yummy enough to chase. Why bother crafting when there is a 5 minute mission that will provide me with a new spell of the appropriate power level? The constant progression of monster power is central to the game, so this is a tough problem. Speaking of progression, I get the 10/10 upgrade system, but it would be nice if you gained more than 10 points to spend, say an extra 1-2 per continent you defeat. As it is, I set those up and never touched them again once I felt I had the optimal configuration for my hero.Amalgam of Ideas
Ultimately it feels like there are a lot of good ideas at work here, but like the art direction, they don't always mesh well together. It might be worth your time and energy to fully develop the side scrolling aspect of the game before trying to make the strategic part more prominent and meaningful. Redoing the entire art style, removing darkness, and zooming out a bit would be good first steps. The overworld art style is already consistent enough, at least until more pressing things are taken care of.
edit: I realized perhaps that is too much work to do to salvage AVWW1. Perhaps an entirely new game incorporating the things learned from making AVWW1+2 would be a better use of resources. If you could nail the fun down and hire an art director you'd be golden.