Children of Morta: Family friendly Roguelike
Children of Morta occupies the slightly over crowded genre of Roguelike. It is more important than ever nowadays to try and standout, to be noticeable among the slush pile the gaming public have to wade through, whenever they want something new. At first glance Children of Morta wouldn’t really stand out, with its pixel art, randomly generated levels and fantasy setting. However there is one element that does help its cause, the family unit.
Children of Morta takes place in a fantasy world slowly being over taken by the magenta coloured goo called Corruption. The only people who can stop the spread of Corruption are a family of Guardians (The Burgsons), who have to find a way to free the world from what could be the end. Truth be told, the story is not exactly inspired or original in its execution. It’s a simple good vs. evil story, rather well told but never the less quite unremarkable as a whole (with the exception of the family theme). I doubt I will remember it for very long later this year.
The theme of family
The theme of family is baked into both the text and the progression system. The Bergsons all live within the same house, from grandmother to grandchild. I love how the family interact with each other (rather blandly but more on that later), the children are eager to continue the family legacy. John and Mary go through some very terrible things over the course of the game, but they still love each at the end of the day.
The way John plays with his children tells us so much about his relationship with the kids. It is the strength of the family that pull the Bergsons together, provide them the strength to against their fight. Family is both the solution to the spreading Corruption and the cause of the problem (in a rather fittingly Greek myth sort of way).
The baby is symbolic
At a particularly dark moment in the Morta story, Mary gives birth to a baby girl. After refusing to hand the child over to the Corruption, they name the child Hope. So please note dear reader, Mary gives birth to Hope, whose prescience provides the Burgsons with the (hope) to overcome the trials and tribulations of certain death.
Once Hope is born, the family is able to defeat the Corruption. Personally I am not of a fan of the opinion subtle=good writing. You can be obvious without sacrificing intelligence (Bioshock and Black Swan spring to mind). But repeating the obvious symbolism over and over and over again, you find yourself getting annoyed by it. It leaves you with the taste that Dead Mage had no faith in the player’s ability to pick up on metaphors and symbolic devices.
As wonderful as the family dynamic is within Morta, The characters themselves cannot escape feeling rather (ironically) two dimensional. Margret is the wise old mentor; John is the kind loving patriarch, who always puts his family and wife first etc. But they never really grow further than that, their internal monologues are utterly bland and functional “I hope Mary doesn’t find out about x.” Etc. None of it really offers anything that shows the unique personalities of Mark or Kevin or any of the other family members.
Overall, the gameplay is rather solid if somewhat unremarkable in execution. There is nothing particularly bad about Children of Morta, it’s perfectly fine. It’s well designed and offers a nice bit of variety between the family members. But Morta does suffer from some of the drawbacks of the Roguelike genre.
The theme of family
Family is not only present in the story but also within the gameplay itself. As you level up your character (with about six total characters available) you gain access to a number of passives that help the entire family. These can be anything from family members preventing the playing member from getting swarmed to denying death. Through gameplay, Morta shows the player how interconnected the family is. As one gets stronger the rest will benefit, it mixes the Roguelike progression system (slowly growing permanent benefits) with the themes of family and protection. It is kind of brilliant.
Very similar levels
The problem with randomized level layouts is that you technically get an infinite amount of very similar levels. Above all, considering how often you will die in over the course of the game, you will start to notice familiarity in the layout (You will always start at one of three points on each map). When your RNG runs out of unique layouts after three tries, you have to wonder if it would have been better just putting the levels together in a fixed design.
It could have and, as a result kept the pacing up and not have turned the story quests into random encounters. But then again, the Pseudo random elements do encourage exploration. This works both to its advantage and disadvantage, on one hand it is enjoyable to discover one of the many treasure rooms, littlered in a new location each time.
But on the other hand, the teleporter rooms are right next to the level exit. You will rarely find the teleporter before you have explored the level fully. Because you cannot go back to a previous level once you leave, it makes the teleport entirely pointless, and it’s not as if you can run through the level and find the room. It is randomised (to an extent) so you more or less have to try to find it before exploring the rest of the level. Like a blind man trying to navigate a rotating room. It’s entirely a convenience method and little else, the levels are not even big enough to warrant the short cut.
The family is different
Each playable family member is controlled in the same way. The difference comes in the form of play styles, Lucy is able to dish out damage very fast but she cannot move while attacking. As a result the player is forced to strategise, always look out another opening, to back away or cast a decoy.
She is completely different from Linda, who always has to be on the move, striking down her foes with her arrows from a distance, rarely standing still. This is total contrast to John, who has to get in close and personal, you have to decide when to tank multiple enemies and when to back away. These differences in play styles make the player want to level up all six playable family members, not just to access all the benefits they offer, but to enjoy something different, it keeps the combat fresh.
Graphics and art style:
Pixel art is rarely ugly and Children of Morta is no exception to this. The backdrops are gorgeous to behold. I love how expressive the Bergsons are, given how limited pixel art can be to work with, when it comes to animations. The world is beautifully colourful, greens clash with the deep magenta, epitomising the good vs. evil dynamic.
The 30 FPS can be rather painful on the eyes sometimes. Otherwise it runs quite well.
Children of Morta is a very sweet game, despite its rather uninspired story and repetitive level generation. It is an undeniablely fun and wholesome adventure that has some flaws, as with all almost all games.
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29/04/2020-Edit: Fixed some spelling mistakes.