[Review] Children of Morta – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Dead Mage
  • Publisher: 11 bit studios
  • Release Date: 20/11/2019
  • Price: £19.79/$21.99
  • Review code provided by 11 bit studios

Intro

What’s more important than family? Having recently become a Father for the first time, I find myself appreciating time with my family more than ever before. I also find myself worrying about them more and more. Life is short, and becoming a Father has, in my eyes, only served to highlight that fact.

Up until recently I have never been able to properly relate to games with strong parental themes. The Last of Us, whilst a real heartbreaker, never really caught me with its central story theme. In recent years I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and watched the film. I was obviously still devastated by both, but I’m sure it would have been a whole different ball-game if I was to go back to either of these now!

A Family Affair

Children of Morta follows the Bergson family as they face the trials of an encroaching corruption. The family must travel from their ancestral home to the nearby Mount Morta to face a number of trials and help bring peace back to their land.

The game perfectly mixes hack-and-slash gameplay with RPG and Rogue-lite mechanics to offer an addictive slice of dungeon crawling. You control one of six family members as you embark on an adventure through several procedurally generated dungeons.

As you progress through each dungeon you earn various temporary abilities including passive buffs and totems which offer various effects, such as causing your character to continually emit explosions or grant the ability to spawn orbiting balls of electricity. These offer a nice sense of progression within each run and can lead to some fun builds as you experiment with the different options.

Like most traditional RPGs, kills earn you XP. Chaining together killstreaks earn a multiplier which give your character a big boost to the amount of XP earned. Each level gained earns you a skill point which can be spent on various options which unlock new abilities and passive buffs. Each character has a range of different abilities and unlocks including some which benefit every family member based on that character’s specialism. I did find a strange bug, in that any passive abilities which affected the whole family would remain locked even after I had met the unlock requirements. This was fixed with a quick reboot of the game, but was initially frustrating, as I assumed I had misunderstood the criteria to unlock the ability.

Home Sweet Home

Between runs your character returns to the family home, which acts as your hub world and main menu. From there you can access the library to read up on lore of the world and can purchase various upgrades and improvements for the whole family using Morv, the currency within the game. You can also listen in on the different conversations between family members and watch them go about their daily routines. The level of detail, especially in the Bergsons’ home, is impressive.

The heavily pregnant mother goes about the home nesting, whilst her dutiful husband follows her around ready to catch her when she falls (literally). Other family members can be observed training in the garden on playing with pets. Over time you start to really get a feel for the relationships within the family and get to know more about the personality of each. This is where the game manages to make you really care about each of the protagonists.

There are six family members to unlock. You start initially as John, the father of the family who plays much like a traditional Knight, with sword and shield. Linda, John’s daughter, plays more like your traditional ranged Archer and Kevin, the youngest son is your archetypal Thief, with blazing fast speed and dual wielded blades. The roster expands as you meet various family members and eventually includes a Mage and Monk. The devs plan to add more characters in the future as free DLC, which should present some interesting new ways to play. I found each character presented a very different play style and very quickly settled into my favourite. The game works around this with the concept of corruption fatigue. Characters can only be used a limited number of times before they become fatigued, which weakens them significantly. This encourages you to use the full roster and helps prevent the gameplay loop becoming stale.

Team Handed

The focus on the family acting as a unit can be felt quite harshly when playing solo. The game is weighted slightly towards coop play, with local coop available at launch. I don’t have anyone to play locally with, so I found the difficulty quite punishing. The devs have planned to add online coop in the near future which should help with this.

The difficulty curve is helped as the game is quite generous with upgrades and with the persistent elements kept across playthroughs. One of my bugbears with some Rogue-lites is how stingy they can be with unlocks. Children of Morta is much more generous in this respect, meaning it is easy to keep interested. There is a faint whiff of Diablo throughout the gameplay and whilst the unlocks aren’t quite as plentiful as the loot in Diablo, the devs clearly understand how to tickle those same synapses with their rewards!

Despite the punishing difficulty and the general cruelty that some Rogue-likes can display, Children of Morta keeps fun at it’s core. Throughout runs you find a number of different mini games which can offer rewards if you do well. These include tests of memory and skill and even the game’s own version of Pong, known as Pong of the Gods!

Morta Lisa

Graphically the game is absolutely stunning, with intricate pixel art that reminded me somewhat of Crawl. Rather than relying on the chunky styling of 8 and 16 bit games, Children of Morta uses much smaller pixels with a huge amount of detail. The end result is absolutely gorgeous, resembling a stained-glass window at times, and painting at others. The amount of personality conveyed by the detail and by the animation is brilliant and really helps bring the world to life.

The developers have shown their intentions to support the game heavily in the future, with a lengthy roadmap being recently presented including 6 free expansions and an additional paid one. There is a huge amount to do in the game already, but the inclusion of significant future expansions makes the game an even more enticing proposition.

Final thoughts

Children of Morta is a brilliantly refreshing take on the Rogue-lite genre. It offers satisfying, chunky combat with a brilliant sense of progression and served to shake of the sense of fatigue I had felt with the genre in recent years.

The prospect of online coop and additional expansions down the line has me excited for the future of the game and will ensure it stays in my rotation for a long time to come.

The game combines some of my big gaming loves in Diablo, pixel art and RPG customisation in a way that provides a deep sense of satisfaction.

Pros

  • Shakes up a genre that had become stale
  • Makes you care about the characters
  • Stunning pixel art

Cons

  • Difficulty a little unbalanced at times

Verdict
Children of Morta is a brilliant take on the Rogue-lite genre, offering hours of adventuring in a world with characters you’ll truly care about. The combat is satisfying, the RPG mechanics rewarding and the graphics are beautiful. This is definitely a game worth paying attention to!

4.5/5

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