Children of Morta
Developed By: Dead Mage
Published By: 11 bit studios
Category: Action, Role-Playing, Roguelite
Release Date: 11.20.19
Is there ever a bad time for a roguelite dungeon crawling action-RPG? I don’t think so, but I am partial to any game whose super-specific sub-genre ends in “RPG,” so maybe I’m not the best person to ask. Today’s game, Children of Morta for the Nintendo Switch, plays like Diablo III but with a little deeper skill tree and an absolutely gorgeous pixel art aesthetic. It’s tough to compete with games like Hyper Light Drifter and Superbrothers, but I think this might be the best-looking pixel art game on the market. Now, let’s start our climb up this mountain and see exactly what it is that makes Children of Morta so special.
Conquer the Corruption
Children of Morta tells the story of the Bergson family, who have long been the guardians of Mount Morta. Ages ago, they were responsible for the defeat of the Corruption, and ever since they have stood guard against its return. So, they’re kind of like the Belmonts except they fight an ancient darkness instead of vampires… which I guess are a kind of ancient darkness, so I guess they’re a lot like the Belmonts. Anyway, when Grandmother Margaret senses a disturbance in the forest, she sends her eldest son John to investigate. When John returns with news that the Corruption has returned, he sets off with the aid of his eldest daughter to seek aid from three guardian divinities to stop the flow of the Corruption once more.
As the story progresses, more members of the Bergson family are introduced and join the fight against the Corruption. While the main quest is about fighting their family’s ancient enemy, the real meat of the game’s narrative lies in the interaction and development between the family members themselves. Between some small skits and larger cutscenes, players become integrated into the Bergsons’ relationships, personalities, and struggles. It’s a surprisingly touching look at the dynamics of a family of monster hunters in the midst of the fight of their lives that touches on themes of duty, family, and coming of age. While the gameplay and graphics alone would be worth the price of admission, Children of Morta raises the bar by throwing in a fantastic, character-driven storyline as well.
Six Pack of Whoopass
The basics of combat are pretty familiar to isometric action-RPG veterans; you control your character from a bird’s-eye view as they roam through dungeons hacking and slashing (and burning and shooting and smashing and punching) mobs of enemies in order to get to the end of the dungeon and fight a unique boss. You also have the option of playing co-op, but for now it’s local co-op only. There are six Bergson’s to play that are unlocked as the story progresses, and each one has a different style of play, but they basically boil down to two classes; melee and ranged.
The melee units play similar to other action-RPGs like Moonlighter or Hyper Light Drifter. The ranged units play more like a twin-stick shooter, and I found them to be way, way, way easier to play than the melee characters. It was way easier to manage mobs of monsters when I could keep my distance. I always felt like I was in total control of the battle when I was playing as Linda, the eldest daughter and devastating archer. When playing co-op, this preference pretty much disappeared. Two Bergsons are better than one, I suppose.
The Hero’s Randomly Generated Paths
There are a number of dungeons to explore, and much like the Diablo series, each dungeon is randomly generated each time you enter. You’ll venture across dank caverns, eerie forests, and barren deserts, just to name a few different environments. There are a number of random events and challenges that will pop up, as well. Completing these events will often reward you with powerful artifacts that either add useful buffs or allow access to powerful abilities. You don’t keep these artifacts between dungeon runs, which is kind of a bummer. When you manage to find artifacts that perfectly complement your Bergson’s play style, it almost feels like a setback to finish a dungeon and lose your artifacts.
Upgrades for All
Each character has different skills that can be unlocked with skill points gained by leveling up, and they consist of active abilities and passive buffs that accentuate each Bergson’s play style. For example, Mark, who fights with his fists, can unlock a whip attack that stuns enemies so he can attack them quickly. He also has an ability that reduces damage done to him the more damage he does, which works well with his up-close fighting style. Each character also unlocks passive abilities that are shared between the entire family as they spend more skill points.
Weapons, armor, and stats like critical chance and dodge chance can be purchased from Uncle Ben in the Bergson mansion between dungeon runs. These upgrades apply across all characters, so each of the Bergsons maintain roughly the same level of readiness even if their skills aren’t as developed. And that’s a good thing, because the game “encourages” you to play as each different character by introducing the concept of Corruption fatigue. Basically, if you play as one character too much, that character gets sick and suffers from debilitating debuffs until they recover, which usually takes a couple of dungeon runs by other characters. Linda’s still the best character, though.
Pixel Art, or Just Art?
I mentioned how good this game looks in the open, and I could go on for days about how much I love the graphics. Every single pixel is perfectly placed to maximize the level of detail in every background and imbue every Bergson, monster, and villager with an amazingly fluid sense of motion and life. Children of Morta perfectly creates locations that manage to be dark and foreboding without being murky or hard to discern. This game looks as good as anything else on the market, and that’s a fact.
The game’s audio, while well-crafted and an asset to the game’s story and atmosphere when working, has a number of issues. I ran into a few different audio glitches while playing, including some times where the narration failed to sync with the subtitles, which is the most minor of the problems. There were also times where a subtitle flashed for half a second and then disappeared, going to the next subtitle without any audio playing. It feels like I was missing some parts of the story, too, which sucked considering how much I was enjoying it. The biggest glitch seemed to pop up when I had been playing for longer sessions, like a couple of hours or more. The audio glitched out and was replaced by one sound on infinite repeat; no music or other sound effects, no narration, no nothing. When this happened, the game would sometimes experience lag as well. I’ve seen a few other people online have some of these same issues, so here’s hoping the devs are aware and working on it.
Buggy, But Still Perfect
The audio issues aside, I can’t recommend Children of Morta more highly to anyone who loves video games. Not specific genres or styles; just anyone who appreciates and loves games as a form of art. The story unfolds naturally and at a good pace, and the gameplay is fluid and fun – if a little skewed towards the characters who use ranged attacks. And the graphics! I’ll say it one more time in case you weren’t paying attention: THIS GAME IS GORGEOUS. Even if the audio issues never get fixed, it’s well-worth playing just to experience the graphics – and if you limit your play sessions to like an hour or two, you might never even run into the audio glitches in the first place. Even acknowledging a few bugs, I can’t help but give this game a perfect score.
Buy Children of Morta
$21.99 Digital/$34.99 Physical
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.