Developer: Dead Mage
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Platform: Available Now: Windows (Reviewed) – Coming Soon: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: 3 September 2019 (PC), 15 October 2019 (Consolees)
Price: $21.99 USD/$35.95 AUD – Available Here
An ancient corruption is once again spreading across mountain of Morta. The Bergson family have been protecting the land for centuries. They must now rally together once again to stop the corruption while navigating the ups and downs of family life.
The bulk of Children of Morta’s story is told between dungeon runs, with a few side stories found within the randomly generated dungeons. The story is told completely through the narrator, similar to Supergiant Games’ Bastion. I am particularly impressed with how well Dead Mage manages the pacing of the story throughout. Rogue-lites are traditionally tricky due to the nature of the genre. Early in the game, almost every mission is capped with a cutscene. The story slows down a bit as players progress deeper into the game, but it is still at a rate that keeps the players hooked.
The plot is an enjoyable one, expertly mixing familial struggles that players can easily identify with and a more epic battle against the corruption. The twists and turns are excellent, hitting all the right emotional buttons. While there is a large cast of characters to keep track of, each character’s individuality is emphasized, making it easy to get to know, separate, and fall in love with the characters. I quickly found myself emotionally invested in the trials Bergsons faced.
Children of Morta is a rogue-lite that mixes elements of action RPGs like Diablo with traditional rogue-lite mechanics. There are six family members who wade into battle, each with their own unique playstyle and skill tree. Each run involves players attempting a randomly generated multi-level dungeon that is capped off with a boss battle. Dying at any time in the dungeon will send players back to the family mansion with only the experience and Morv they accrued in the dungeon. Any gems, runes, and items collected disappear. As a rogue-lite, there is some progress carried over between runs that will make future attempts easier. Uncle Ben’s workshop and the Book of Rea will offer bonuses to stats that affect all family members. As individual family members level, they will also unlock universal bonuses that will affect other members.
The Bergsons offer two ranged and four melee classes. The developers do an excellent job striking the right balance between classes that are similar enough that skills from one class will carry over well to another, while still being different enough that players will actually find a class or two that will become fast favourites. For example, Linda is an archer who has a low rate of fire but can shoot and move for short bursts. In comparison, her sister Mary can hurl fireballs like a machine gun but can only fire while stationary. The game not so subtly encourages players to try new classes out with Corruption damage that will slowly lower a character’s max health if they are played too often. Currently, the rate of corruption is at a good place, hitting the right balance of encouraging players to try new characters and add extra family wide skills, while still offering lots of opportunities to play a favoured family member.
The classes are generally well balanced. The first few levels are the most difficult as many abilities have yet to be unlocked. Most characters are good to go once they have unlocked their first special attack, but Joey and to a lesser degree Mark struggle a bit until all their abilities become available. The skill trees are well done, with most skills offering a noticeable improvement to the character’s gameplay. Even skills with a less obvious impact like Kevin’s dodge chance bonus still logically contribute to the character’s playstyle.
Children of Morta offers a fantastic gameplay loop. Since there are so many family members to try, the game is on the generous side for experience gain. There are plenty of side events that even if a player doesn’t gain enough levels for a new skill point, there is some feeling of progression from either saving some refugees or earning enough Morv to increase some stat for the next run.
The controls are excellent. Both controllers and mouse and keyboard work well. The developers even allow controllers to be rebound, which is an often-overlooked feature that should be added to more games. The controls are generally very responsive, though there is a slight dead period during special ability animations where basic attack inputs are not acknowledged. Since the basic attacks seem to be channeled when the attack button is held, it can result in no follow up basic attacks in this case. With a little practice, the issue is easily avoided, but I would have preferred if the dead zone was eliminated all together, so basic attacks pick up as soon as the special attack animation ends.
Children of Morta offers eye-catching pixel art graphics. The artists do a great job contrasting the light and colourful world of Morta with the dark corruption. The sprite animations are excellent, with enemy attacks being clearly telegraphed with a bit of flair.
Children of Morta offers a fantastic audio experience. The sound effects are simple to match the game’s pixel art style but are still enjoyable. The soundtrack compliments the mood and the pace of the game well. The narrator’s voice acting is perfect. His skillful performance goes a long way in creating the bond between the player and the Bergson family considering the narrator is the only voice actor in the game. The narration easily shares a category with other legendary performances like Logan Cunningham’s work in Bastion.
Children of Morta is a fantastic game. It has an addictive gameplay loop that keeps players coming back run after run to see how the Bergson family cope with their ancient duty. The audio/visual presentation is top notch and pairs nicely with the game’s plot. While there are some extremely minor issues with the early game balance and the special attack dead zone, I can see the game being a solid contender as one of the best indie titles in 2019.
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