Let me start by declaring that I’m not usually a fan of rogue-like games. In general, I’m not particularly fond of death and failure being an integral part of a game’s experience. I’m also not a fan of repetition and grind without a tangible goal that appears within reach. Children of Morta, however, has somehow become the exception to my preferences and managed to carve out a special spot in my gaming heart.
There are Problems, and You’re the Solution
Children of Morta is in itself a play on words. As much as you play as several family members, starting with the children, of the family of Bergsons, you are also protectors of the mountain Morta; thus its children. As a rogue-like game, the story is straight forward. A big bad evil in the form of corruption has spread over the mountain, and it is up to you to discover its source and ultimately deal with it. Doing so requires going on a journey into the mountain and beyond. Each time you embark on the adventure, death is inevitable. It’s just a matter of time.
The levels are randomly generated each time you head out. As you descend further into enemy territory, the challenges increase. In the end, you face a boss. You won’t be able to defeat this monstrosity until you’ve leveled up several times and improved your character’s health pool, stamina, and skills. Each area you explore is littered with goodies to collect and bring home when you’re overcome by the enemies. In typical roguelike fashion, you don’t actually die, but rather are whisked back to the hideout of your family and recover your health, hopefully with new coins to purchase upgrades, or valuable experience levels to invest in skills.
The random nature of the dungeons and levels you enter keeps things interesting. There’s always valuable information to retrieve on your runs, whether that’s in the form of items, special powers, or the knowledge of how to best that new enemy type you’ve never seen before. I found myself surprisingly not frustrated at repeated failures because it always felt as if I had gained something. Each time I returned, I felt a little stronger, a little more powerful, and also a little cockier. This would last until I cleared a section and then the formula repeats itself. New, stronger enemies, more sneaky traps, and more difficult mechanics made me feel small and weak again but gave me an opportunity to learn and grow once more. Fortunately, each death feels like respite, a return to comfortable surroundings, to news of events occurring while I’ve been away exploring, to family.
All in the Family
Children of Morta is about more than just the protectors of the mountain of Morta. It is about family. None of it is more evident than when you return to the home after each death. Perhaps you’ve unlocked a new family member along your travels, or you’ve rescued a wolf pup that needs healing, or maybe that long-lost cousin has returned with news about the corruption. Your “home base” is a beautifully detailed home full of life, intricately crafted pixels, and useful things to do. There are make-shift shops in the form of a workshop and library to provide access to better gear, upgrades, and skill enhancements.
Before each adventure, you choose from a cast of family members to embark with, each with unique skills, powers, and some more suitable for the task at hand than others. This also provides the option to play Children of Morta the way you want to. Perhaps you prefer the brute power of John, or the ranged attacks of Linda, or the swift rogue-like attacks of Kevin. Add in an archetype similar to that of a wizard, and you can quickly see how you can go about solving this corruption problem in the way most suitable for you.
Each character has their particular skills and experience bar, so you’ll probably quickly develop a favorite in your quest for more powerful gear, spells, and attacks. There’s a lot of fun to be had in trying out all the different family members, and you can always try a different tactic should you hit a brick wall. Fortunately, I found things to be well-balanced overall, and while I did occasionally switch up characters to overcome certain obstacles, I usually was able to adapt the game to my preferred play style.
Without a doubt, pixel-style games are a dime a dozen themes days. But few stand out like Children of Morta does. Every pixel serves a purpose, from the beautifully rendered backdrops to the shiny and sparkly effects of your character’s magic actions. The accompanying soundtrack is soothing when you’ve returned home after your 115th death, and the sound effects are on point. Whether you’re in a cave crawling with spiders and goblins, or in a more colorful, lush environment, the ambient sounds add to the atmosphere. Oh, and smacking enemies into dust with combos both looks and sounds incredibly fun. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself yelling at your screen after you’ve defeated that boss after trying many times to get your character into the best possible position to win.
Children of Morta is just as easy to recommend to fans of rogue-like games as it is undoubtedly to please fans of pixel art. What makes this title a complete success, however, is that even gamers who may be tired of the pixels and aren’t usually patient enough to put up with repetition and deaths as a game mechanic will enjoy it. Don’t sleep on Children of Morta. It’s full of action-packed moments, screams of agony when things go sideways, and heart-warming story-fueled family moments.