There are times where I feel like roguelike role-playing games (RPGs) are becoming a saturated market. Couple this with the rise in gorgeous pixel art in games, I feel like there is a bubble straining to burst. This does mean that heading into my time with Children of Morta, from developer Dead Mage, I was looking for something new and exciting to grab me by the beanbags.
What I found was a game that didn’t lean into shoehorning a gimmick into the established ROGUELIKE tropes, and instead built from unique and interesting mechanics that were already familiar but ended up being polished into a brilliant shine. The core roguelike structure of heading into a dungeon and crushing it for loot is always at the forefront of what makes or breaks a game of this type, and it’s thrilling to find that CoM has managed to make every aspect of this loop enjoyable and time efficient; minutes turn to an hour, and you barely notice, it’s just good solid fun.
Wish my family photos were this rugged and gorgeous
Meet the Bergsons – a family that is forever destined to fight off a dark and terrifying force known as ‘The Corruption’ (which is about as spooky and broody as you can get without being called ‘The Darkness’, but you forgive the uninspired name quick enough). Each of the Bergsons offers a unique play style to cover all the standard fantasy combat archetypes that you’d expect, with skill trees to kit them out for your adventures. The biggest sigh of relief from me came from the rad inclusion of an ability to dump gold into universal stats that are shared across the family – so the age-old creeping guilt of neglected characters in your fantasy RPG was quickly mitigated. I could jump to other Bergsons (such as John, the neglected burly brawler) and still hammer skulls without feeling like I was due for a grind.
Poor big fella is all tuckered out
Their narrative is beautifully told, with small cutaways to tell you about your family members and their experiences as a family with such purpose. These beautiful scenes are tasty morsels that add depth to the smash n’ bash gameplay, and spotlight relationships between the siblings in such a way that it makes you care about these pixel people – you are some omnipotent force guiding them forward, and overseeing their incredible lives. I do dare to wonder how I would find this story the second time around, as the game is not especially built to drastically change the story as you play it multiple times.
Visually the title has a lofty goal of trying to appear as a gorgeous pixel game during a time where many indie and AA developers feel like they have cornered the market on gorgeous pixel games. Surprisingly enough however, the team at Dead Mage have definitely crushed it in this regard, with amazing motion being portrayed across the simplistic character sprites. The game world is dripping with great contrast and colour – I was particularly enamoured with a dusty forest a couple hours into the game, as each gnarled tree had me looking closely to see what sprites had been recycled throughout the environments. I was genuinely trying to nitpick – and struggling.
The game world is dripping with great contrast and colour
On this same token, I can’t help but mention that occasionally some enemies feels undercooked. There is the odd jerky animation, perhaps an unfinished sprite or even just a lack of attention offered to the less impactful creatures. Compared to the Bergson family, you can’t help but see where the share of the workload was allocated within the game – not so much to the game’s detriment, being an indie developer – but it’s noticeable all the same.
While still riding the gripe wagon, there were a few situations that felt ferociously overtuned. An early boss battle left me completely mouth agape as I was crushed by an obnoxiously heavy-handed set of mechanics. I wish I could say this was an isolated experience, but as I played more I did run into a handful more situations that I questioned whether I was doing something outwardly wrong, or if perhaps the developers had just not fine tuned them enough. With a title this new, I am keeping an eye on initial patch notes to see how the crew at Dead Mage react, because I can’t shake the feeling that these isolated punches to the face are due for a little tune.
I’m no expert, but I am fairly sure MONSTERS CONSUMING is a dope metal band name
Honestly? For its price there is little reason not to pick up Children of Morta, apart from the obvious case of you don’t like Roguelike Action RPGs. Though I reviewed the title on PC with a controller, I feel the overwhelming urge to perhaps play it on Nintendo Switch, it just screams portable fun.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher