It seems like we always have a bunch of these rogue-lites coming out every year with the same pixel art style. Children of Morta appears to be just another one of those at first glance, but upon further inspection, you’ll find that it does a lot to define itself, from its incredibly detailed environments to its heavy story emphasis. Some of these work in its favor and some do the exact opposite.
Note: This is a review from a singleplayer perspective, I did not try the local co-op.
Great art. I know that some have gotten tired of the same pixel art style for these types of games, but Children of Morta really knocks it out of the park. This is especially true when you look at the environments. The overall background design is incredibly detailed for a game using this art style and, combined with the excellent use of lighting, really makes for a visually-pleasing experience. The game further builds on this with its art style used for characters and enemies. It’s noticeably less detailed than the backgrounds, but it provides for a great contrast with that style and makes it far easier to differentiate between the two during actual gameplay.
Fun and diverse combat. Given that Children of Morta is being marketed as an action RPG, having good combat is a must. Fortunately, that is something that it does really well. The combat actually has weight to it and feels impactful, there’s a bunch of stuff on the map constantly changing the flow of the combat, and there’s a decent pool of enemies to encounter along the way. In fact, I was still running into new enemies by the end of the game. It’s not like they’re just copy-pasted with different skins either, the enemies have a wide variety of attack patterns, some of which make certain characters more difficult to play and vice-versa.
And of course that diversity extends to the playable characters, of which you’re given six to choose from, each with his/her own skill tree, unique abilities, and play style. You can hop from heavy melee attacks, to slower ranged attacks, and then back to fast hand-to-hand combat. Combine that with the skill trees and unique abilities and you’re given a lot of room to customize the combat experience. This is further expanded through the various items found throughout the game’s dungeons.
For example, there are certain items called runes that modify the properties of your base attacks. I could be playing the archer character and pick up a rune that allows my primary attack to fire three arrows instead of one, effectively tripling my damage output until the rune runs out. Granted, the game does have some issues here (more on that later), but it at least makes for some fun combat.
Great progression system. So not only is the combat fun to play around with, but the progression system built on top of it also adds to the experience. While each character does level separately, the game actively encourages you to swap between them, as if you play one for too long, that character will become “corrupted”. A corrupted character loses a significant portion of his/her max HP until you let said character rest for a couple runs.
However, the time spent leveling said character is not put to waste when playing another, as each character unlocks passive abilities that affect the entire family, so you’re never really losing too much by constantly switching around. Of course, this is on top of the family-wide upgrades that can be purchased between runs using the gold collected by any family member. It’s a pretty cool way to manage progression and encourage experimentation at the same time.
Uninteresting story. While it does not look like it at first glance, Children of Morta actually has a massive story side to it. Every time you finish a run, regardless of whether or not you were successful, you’re greeted with at least one cutscene that tries to develop the family and/or the world in which they live. Unfortunately, this ends up feeling more like an interruption than anything, as the story itself isn’t really all that good. The premise is simplistic, the characters really aren’t that interesting nor given the time to develop into something interesting, and the overall direction the story takes is very predictable.
You’re at least given the option to skip these cutscenes, but there are still other story segments you’ll have to sit through. Given that the story is such a huge element to the game (it is being marketed as a “story-driven action RPG” after all), this comes as quite the disappointment.
Lack of replayability. As someone that plays a lot of rogue-lites and roguelikes, I’ve pretty much come to expect at least a decent amount of replayability with such games. Given that, I was a bit surprised with how little actual replayability there is here in Children of Morta. There are a lot of factors contributing to this, including the quick outleveling of enemies, the copy-pasted dungeon layouts (especially later in the game), and the pretty low amount of diversity amongst the game’s items. You have your item that simply pushes enemies back, inflicts damage in an area around you, slows enemies in a given area, and the totems that basically do those same things while also taking up another item slot.
By the time I cleared the game (which took just under 10 hours), there wasn’t much of a reason to continue playing. Sure, I could keep leveling up my abilities and such, but at that point I pretty much powered through all the dungeons aside from the last one — there wasn’t much of a challenge left. Granted, the game is “story-driven”, so replayability probably took a backseat to that and some may not even have a problem with it, but considering the genre, it’s definitely something worth noting.
Funky UI issues. While I generally had a pretty smooth experience with the game on the technical side of things, I did run into some issues with the UI. Among these were UI elements flickering, UI elements disappearing behind the game’s art, and a rather annoying bug where a second player would join in despite not having a second controller connected, forcing me to restart the game to get rid of this phantom player. These issues did not occur too often, but often enough to warrant mentioning.
Although Children of Morta does suffer from its uninteresting story and lack of replayability, the base gameplay is at least fun enough to warrant a recommendation. The combat is impactful, the progression system is cool, and the art is really good for a game of the genre. For fans of rogue-likes and rogue-lites, Children of Morta should definitely be on your radar.
You can buy Children of Morta on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.