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Review

Review: Children of Morta

For every suc­cess­ful Kick­star­ter release like Under­ta­le or Sho­vel Knight, the­re are dozens or unfi­nis­hed or under­whel­ming games that lea­ve back­ers disap­poin­ted. After 4 years and a leng­thy delay, the final release of Child­ren of Mor­ta is here, deli­vering a decent rogue­lite expe­ri­ence that is held back by a lack of con­tent.

When you think of rogue­lites, there’s usual­ly a few key fea­tures that are com­mon bet­ween each game in the gen­re. Most have litt­le in the way of a sto­ry, and the focus is ins­tead on high re-playa­bi­li­ty through ran­do­mi­sa­ti­on and per­sis­tent unlocks for future play­th­roughs. Child­ren of Mor­ta bucks this trend, pla­cing a lar­ger empha­sis on its cha­rac­ters as they fight against the cor­rup­ti­on that is taking over the land. While you’ll still be spen­ding most of your time dun­ge­on craw­ling and figh­t­ing enemies, Child­ren of Mor­ta puts a noti­ce­ab­le amount of effort into try­ing to crea­te a rea­listic fami­ly of cha­rac­ters.

The sto­ry revol­ves around the Berg­son fami­ly, who have been tas­ked with pro­tec­ting the moun­tain Mor­ta for many genera­ti­ons. One day the land starts to beco­me cor­rup­ted, causing the local wild­life to die and the sur­roun­ding are­as to was­te away. They dis­co­ver that, by fre­eing the 3 guar­di­an spi­rits that look over the world, the­re may be a way to halt the cor­rup­ti­on for good. When not try­ing to save the land, they must con­t­end with more mun­da­ne affairs like pre­pa­ring for the upco­m­ing birth of a new fami­ly mem­ber and the bonds bet­ween parent and child. Child­ren of Mor­ta deli­vers the­se sto­ries through a com­bi­na­ti­on of scrip­ted events and more ran­dom smal­ler sce­nes, to mixed results.

While the­re is a big­ger focus on tel­ling a sto­ry com­pa­red to many rogue­lites, the main sto­ry­line falls flat due to a bland vil­lain and a coup­le of weak attempts to rai­se the sta­kes part­way through the game. By the end, it felt like the ‘saving the world’ part of the sto­ry had litt­le in the way of depth or a true rea­son to care about the world. Most of the more memo­r­able sce­nes ins­tead invol­ve the inter­ac­tions bet­ween each fami­ly mem­ber, as they go about their dai­ly lives even as the world slow­ly beco­mes more cor­rup­ted. Young Kevin’s attempts to pro­ve him­s­elf lead to him being trai­ned by his father to fight the cor­rup­ti­on, and Uncle Ben tri­es to deal with his past trou­bles. The­se moments are sprinkled throughout the game and add some much-nee­ded per­so­na­li­ty to the fami­ly, though it would have been nice if most of their back­sto­ries weren’t con­fi­ned to long text ent­ries rather than being shown during the sto­ry. The ever-pre­sent nar­ra­tor also helps make even the least enjoy­a­ble sto­ry sce­nes more tole­ra­ble, deli­vering each line with emo­ti­on.

Once you’re rea­dy to search for one of the spi­rits, you have to choo­se a fami­ly mem­ber (or two in co-op) to adven­ture out into the world. Each cha­rac­ter, of which the­re are a total of 6 play­a­ble, has their own uni­que set of skills and in turn their own play­style. John, the father of the fami­ly, can use his shield to block attacks, while Kevin can attack pro­gres­si­ve­ly fas­ter with his dag­gers. You’re incen­ti­vi­sed to play mul­ti­ple fami­ly mem­bers through bonu­ses unlo­cked by level­ling each cha­rac­ter, and it’s easy to keep everyone’s levels clo­se with how generous expe­ri­ence is later on. Howe­ver, a few flaws with the com­bat make play­ing cer­tain fami­ly mem­bers less enjoy­a­ble than others.

No mat­ter who you’re play­ing you’ll be able to use a basic attack and a dodge move, though the­se vary wild­ly bet­ween each cha­rac­ter. John is rather slow to balan­ce out his access to a shield, while the bow wiel­ding Lin­da can run much fas­ter to distan­ce herself from enemies. Most fami­ly mem­bers also only have a coup­le of extra skills that they can use, mea­ning that it’s easy to pick any cha­rac­ter and play wit­hout having to worry about a com­pli­ca­ted list of abi­li­ties. It does make the base game­play a litt­le sim­plistic, but it’s still fun to fight through enemies as you explo­re each area. After a few dun­ge­on runs, you’ll unlock runes that can give extra effec­ts to your abi­li­ties like making your regu­lar attack deal poi­son or fire dama­ge. Fur­ther­mo­re, if you level a cha­rac­ter high enough their runes can also be used on other fami­ly mem­bers, lea­ding to some weird skill com­bi­na­ti­ons. Runes don’t chan­ge up how you play too dra­ma­ti­cal­ly, but they do add some more varie­ty to each cha­rac­ter.

Pro­blems ari­se when it comes to how cer­tain cha­rac­ters are desi­gned. John’s shield is meant to make up for his lack of mobi­li­ty, but the­re are still many attacks that can dama­ge him even when blo­cking. One cha­rac­ter also has to stand still to attacks, mea­ning that it is incredi­b­ly easy to die if you’re unlu­cky with ene­my spawns, and the are­as whe­re you’re forced to fight mul­ti­ple waves of enemies just end up with you kit­ing enemies around the are­na wai­ting for your mana to rep­le­nish. One of the last fami­ly mem­bers you unlock is also far too slow to be use­ful, espe­ci­al­ly with how most fast many of the bos­ses are.

For this review we’ve been com­pa­ring the game to other rogue­lites, but Child­ren of Morta’s focus on its sto­ry and cha­rac­ters cau­ses it to fall behind other popu­lar ent­ries in the gen­re like The Bin­ding of Isaac and Dead Cells. The num­ber of enemies, are­as, unlock­able items and envi­ron­ment designs are incredi­b­ly low, lea­ving litt­le in the way of varied levels or inte­res­ting items com­bi­na­ti­ons. Like the other afo­re­men­tio­ned rogue­lites, items you pick up in dun­ge­ons grant bonu­ses for that dun­ge­on run only. Howe­ver, there’s such a small pool of items that you’ll end up run­ning into the same ones repeated­ly, and most have boring effec­ts like gran­ting extra health or dodge chan­ce. This also app­lies to enemies and area designs, as the­re are only 3 main are­as to play through. This lea­ves you figh­t­ing the same enemies in the same envi­ron­ments over and over again. The lack of varie­ty over­all, com­bi­ned with a sto­ry that only lasts around 10-15 hours, gives litt­le incen­ti­ve to keep play­ing after the credits roll. It would have made more sen­se to have set are­as with the small amount of con­tent the­re is here, sin­ce there’s nowhe­re near enough here to keep each run fee­ling uni­que after the first few attempts.

Even the beau­ti­ful visu­als work against Child­ren of Mor­ta at times. Each cha­rac­ter is lovin­g­ly ani­ma­ted and the spri­te work has a lot of charm, but it can often make actual­ly play­ing the game more frus­tra­ting. It’s often hard to see how much ran­ge an enemy’s attack actual­ly has, making melee cha­rac­ters less via­ble sin­ce you’ll often take dama­ge even if it looks like you’re safe. On the other hand, ran­ged cha­rac­ters have to deal with walls that can some­ti­mes block pro­jec­tiles even if they’re not actual­ly in the way. This can also work in your favour though, with one ene­my type’s walls often not blo­cking attacks when they real­ly should.

Conclusion

Child­ren of Mor­ta doesn’t mana­ge to deli­ver an enga­ging sto­ry­line for its short play­ti­me, but the smal­ler inter­ac­tions bet­ween the Berg­son fami­ly have a lot of charm. The eye-catching spri­tes are also both a bles­sing and a cur­se, making the game more visual­ly appe­aling at the cost of game­play. This is far from a ter­ri­ble game, and may be a good ent­ry point for tho­se who are new to rogue­lites, but wit­hout some mea­ning­ful updates Child­ren of Mor­ta just ends up being OK in a gen­re that alrea­dy has far more impres­si­ve games.

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