11 bit Studio (studio)
03 September 2019 (released)
11 November 2019
Rogue-lite dungeon crawlers are all the rage now (unlike Rage or Rage 2) and while many of them are great, it’s kind of overwhelming now. But I heard great things about Children of Morta and was informed it did some things differently and had a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Children of Morta has a clear focus with its theme of family as you play as the entire Bergson family who find themselves battling “The Corruption” as it overwhelms the world. Slowly but surely the forces of evil corrode and take over anything and everything in its path. The Bergson family are made up of mighty warriors young and old, who find themselves having to traverse a number of locations, ridding them of evil and saving others caught in the path of corruption.
So in regards to a setup, this is nothing special. But what is rather special and endearing are the moments in-between the action, where we see more of the family as they come to terms with the situation at hand. There are moments of sadness but also those golden moments of joy and progression. These fragments of the family becoming stronger with the return of missing family members, seeing them become stronger but also the looming threat stepping closer and closer to their home. All these moments add up to a story that has gravitas and will pull at your heart strings. It's en-lighting, powerful and can be pretty bleak at times! (and I thought the Joker was gloomy).
Plus the narrator is excellent at delivering this heartfelt tale.
The theme of family does also work its way into the gameplay, as you literally play as the whole Bergson family. Starting off with the father and unlocking more as you play the game, soon enough the whole family joins in on the fight. It’s great as each family member as their own skills, attacks and special abilities, making them each feel unique. So for those who enjoy the idea of playing a broad range of characters, levelling them up individually and as a family, then this will appeal to you. It’s a great feeling when you level up each character you use to advance their skills, but having the ability to level the entire family as well is fantastic for practical reasons too. As you’ll unlock the entire family over the course of the game, it nice to know that playing a new family member later in the game won’t mean they don’t have a fighting chance. As you can increase the damage, defences and speed of the entire family and thus give a new recruit a chance on conquering a later dungeon.
The family mechanic is truly a compelling dynamic for a dungeon crawler as everything else, kinda plays it safe for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, what the developers have done is make a very engaging and enjoyable dungeon crawler.
Exploration is highly rewarding as each time you venture into a dungeon, whether it’s the first or tenth time, there’s always loot to discover. Each dungeon is separated into multiple floors and within each floor are treasure rooms, challenges and side quests to complete. Treasure rooms hold special abilities or rare modifiers that allow you to deal extra damage or aid your defences. Challenges rooms present a simple or tough challenges often being a game of chance for the most part. I like the God pong which is a neat game of pong with an AI controlled slider, but the other types of rooms not so much. There’s often one room that appears and it’s just a “guess the right panel to step on or face resistance”. There are no clues or cleaver hints within the floor to reveal what could be the right one and this just feels a little cheap.
But the side quests are pretty great, with a variation of sub bosses, hoard mode style arenas, following mythical creatures and more to find. They’re nice foot notes in your journey, with side quests giving you a chance of obtaining a nice stash of loot, a key item, vital supporting characters or something to advance a family character. One of my favourites was finding the wolf cub early on as it added another layer of emotional depth to the story.
But the escort quests are so unfair! These I hated as normally you get an entire army of enemies waiting for you while the person you’re escorting has very little life. These missions are unbalanced for a single player and only seem appropriate for co-op.
Oh yeah there is co-op, which is great as it makes the family theme feel more integrated into the gameplay. But having more family members might have been more interesting.
Aside from the dynamic and highly rewarding exploration, there’s combat and as mentioned before, each family member is different. You have family members who focus on melee, some are ranged, and others rely on speed and some on magic. It’s a nice mixture and all family members feel as though they have a purpose and attacks you can develop and enjoy unleashing. Enemy variation and bosses are fine but it would’ve been nice to see a little more originality in the designs and even the “Corruption” is nothing special to look at. They’re all nicely designed but rather a little generic.
That’s another thing; this is a beautiful looking game. Again it’s mainly pixel art which might not seem special, but how it’s done makes it look so much more substantial. Impressive use of colour, gorgeous backdrops and how the pixels blend together, makes many of the images on screen look like beautiful paintings.
Children of Morta doesn’t make huge leaps of faith with the formula but there’s no denying that the developers have make some interesting steps with the family elements. The story has plenty of emotional weight, gravitas and mystery to keep you engaged. How it develops with each defeat is also very compelling and the family element in the gameplay works beautifully. You do feel something for the Bergsons and their journey is very interesting as it unfolds. Gameplay is excellent as again it’s not game changing but does so many things rights. Aside from some generic-ness with enemies and locations and some balancing issues for certain missions, the action and exploration is refined and massively enjoyable.
Children of Morta gets a high recommendation from us!
++Interesting theme of family that blends well into the story and gameplay
+ Intense dungeon action with plenty of rewarding features
+ Looks very pretty
-- Enemy designs and locations are a little generic
- Some balancing issues and lame side quests some times
A PS4 review copy of Children of Morta was provided by the publishers for the purpose of this review.