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Games of 2019 in 2020: Children of Morta and Gato Roboto

Let’s start with Gato Roboto, because this is the simplest to talk about from the two; it’s a metroidvania, action-platformer, about a cat that controls a robot. That sold me instantly and thankfully the game backs the expectations it sets up with that tagline; from the start, the two features that will stay with you for the rest of your 5-hour playthrough become apparent. There’s an instantly likeable charm from the characters, the animations, the enemies, and the environments, and that charm is doubled by the visual style of the game; this is a style that is a throwback to the Gameboy, and although I didn’t own the original Gameboy (with the black and white screen, which is the style of the game) I played this “game” on my GB color and SP editions, so many times when I was a kid that I couldn’t help but succumb to that sweet nostalgic feeling. Despite the style, there’s adequate challenge and a surprising pace to the campaign that made the 5 hours roll by, and the gameplay is very tight and feels really nice, so this isn’t a game solely intended to hit towards peoples’ nostalgia. It’s fairly cheap as well, so if you like metroidvanias and cats, and if you’re not bothered by very infrequent grievances with the controls on certain sections, you will enjoy Gato Roboto.

 That just leaves us with Children of Morta, an action-RPG, rogue-lite, that’s the only game from these articles that if I had played it in 2019 would have found its way on my list of favorite games. The reason for that is very simple: This is an A-RPG that tries to create a unique experience amongst its modern peers. There is no loot grind (although there is loot), there is no “end-game” (the game just ends), there is a story (albeit a standard one, but it is very-well told); even as a rogue-lite, every run you make feels significant and worthwhile, the combat is deep and satisfying enough to never feel stale, you don’t start from the very beginning each time you die. TL; DR the game adds a wrinkle in each segment of the formula it has and manages to make the whole completely unique. For example, the game starts with a quick tutorial and then hands you two characters to choose from and start progressing through the game; standard melee dude with a sword and shield, standard lady with a bow. But, as you’ve probably gathered from the tutorial, these are not the typical archetypes of the genre; shield dude is worthless when swarmed, he has to be more smart with his positioning and use of his shield; bow lady can’t simply stand back and shoot arrows for a consistent stream of DPS, she has to use her stamina smartly and create space for herself or else she dies. Obviously, no A-RPG worth a damn is shallow in that department, but I was really impressed with how well the specifics of each character’s source of depth was executed; I stared in each of their skill trees going back and forth on which path to take, because everything seemed like a worthwhile path and one that would help me in various situations. This ability to make systems and mechanics experienced before feel unique also ring true for the rogue-lite aspects of the game; there are several stuff to upgrade that give permanent boosts to your stats, loot that shapes the fate of your run, and the feeling of gradually getting better at the game to keep you going, but the feeling here is that the implementation is unique.

That has to do more with the fact that this game is secretly an action-adventure, that feels as directed and specifically designed as any indie action-adventure title. The structure here is a mix of A-RPG and rogue-lite; you have 3 maps, divided by 3 levels, which are all open-ended, procedurally-generated arenas that always end on a boss fight. You could win each boss fight as you encounter it and move on to the next level, but you’re probably going to lose, so until you hit the ‘requirements’ of that boss fight, you repeat the level, getting better each time, but you also encounter side quest that add to the lore (and give you loot) and by the time you beat the boss, you’ll probably also discover most of the collectibles and random story beats for that level, which gives the experience a satisfying pace and direction. For me, the stroke of brilliance hit with this game is that the game is finite; there is an end that can come within 15 hours not 50. This gives the developers liberty to shake things up; for example, every loot drop in this game ranges from ‘meh’ to ‘awesome, this is a good run’ which is a lot more satisfying than other rogue-lites that range from a sarcastic ‘great’ to fist bumping in the air in the short-run. Games like Dead Cells need those moments where you find the big, bulky sword that you hate, because it makes the moments you find the double daggers so much more meaningful and exciting, but that game could be played for eternity, while Children of Morta chooses to be more finite and more enjoyable at the same time.

Furthermore, Children of Morta has a surprisingly effective narrative to cap everything off. I’m not going to spoil anything, because there’s so little to talk about that it would be unfair towards the game, rather than representative, but despite that narrative is still a highlight of my experience; if it’s not apparent by now, I’m not talking about the actual story. The story is fine and it’s something you’ve seen so many times before, but just like an AI pondering human emotions and sentiments, if it’s done correctly it still has the same impact on you as when you first saw that story beat; specifically though, I’m talking about the atmosphere of the narrative. Its set in this colorful world that is immediately under attack by this menacing darkness of goo and despair, but the Bergson family is a shining beacon of hope that stands against that darkness, and makes their interactions so impactful and great. However, they add a bit of sweet melancholy to the narrative that makes a lot of their interactions – even the goofier ones – feel more poignant and interesting as a result. Despite the glowing praise I’ve given Children of Morta, there are a few sore spots; a couple out of the 6 characters were not enjoyable to use and that’s a shame because the game really excels at allowing (and sometimes requiring) you to use and progress with all of the characters and engage with the combat with their perks and limitations; the visual style is fantastic to look at, but the sprites sometimes work against you when there are a ton of stuff on the screen, because you can get lost easily; the balancing of the game in general is great but, the most difficult fights I had were the 2 of the 3 bosses in the first map, so that felt like a weird difficult spike that was never matched after. Obviously, these issues were not nearly impactful enough to dent my enjoyment of the game, but it is important to acknowledge them.

It should come as no surprise, given the length and tone of this article, that I really like both of this games; obviously, I like Children of Morta a lot more, but I still feel that both games are really great additions to any game library and hopefully you will agree too.

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