Roguelikes are a dominant subgenre on both the Nintendo Switch and our site in particular. While most of these games offer addictive combat and gameplay loops, they’re usually built upon a fairly basic narrative structure in order to emphasize arcade action. There are always outliers, of course: Tangledeep and Moonlighter both offer pleasant and engaging stories to go along with their gameplay, highlighting the mysterious, ever-changing nature of their dungeons as a conceptual mystery. Even so, there are few examples of titles within the roguelike genre that manage to truly immerse the player with their aesthetic and narrative design. Luckily, we have Children of Morta. With its striking visuals, powerful score, and inventive sidequest and character introduction systems, this game is sure to offer a continually compelling adventure.
Children of Morta challenges players to explore the mystical mountain of Morta with its family of guardians, the Bergsons. Over the course of your playthrough, you’ll take on the roles of six family members, slowly trickled into the roster via narrative progression. Early on, you’ll be introduced to melee and ranged options in John and Linda respectively, but later characters will offer their own unique variations on classic RPG tropes: monks, mages, rogues, and brawlers. Characters have a basic attack combo as well as a dodge roll, but you’ll unlock additional abilities as you gain experience. The basic combat loop is very action-oriented, requiring a great deal of evasion and horde management as you keep your HP in check. During each roguelike run, you’ll spend time defeating enemies in order to gather the in-game currency Morv. Unlike many roguelikes however, you’ll keep the currency you gather between runs to spend at one of two workshops at the main hub, either to upgrade specific abilities and mechanics at Uncle Ben’s Workshop or the mysterious Book of Rea- both offer different sorts of enhancements, but they also can be stacked in order to favor certain character builds. Another surprising deviation from the subgenre’s norm is persistent experience gain, which allows characters to level up their own specific skills- while individual character levels only rise from their experience gain, Morv spent allows every family member to receive benefits, meaning there are several positive gameplay loops rewarding the player simultaneously.
Though the environments are tiered and feature increasingly difficult enemy encounters, the choice to enter a specific tier allows players to double back and grind on weaker enemies, should they find the most recent challenge too daunting. While gameplay does throw randomized caves and cliffs at the player, there are a number of run-based relics and runes, as well as sidequest opportunities, that will appear sporadically. Relics are passive abilities, while runes are active and assigned to specific skills. Sidequests are often based on small narrative vignettes you’ll see when you return to the hub, and will randomly generate within specific dungeon floors, though you’ll also have the opportunity to meet up with another family member to tackle a co-operative challenge- if you’re playing in single player, of course. Another neat function of Children of Morta is the ability to have two players fight together and gather experience and Morv for the family, which lends a beneficial and speedy pacing to the gameplay, though it might result in some backtracking when switching back to single player.
Narrative and Aesthetics
Children of Morta’s story has a great deal of lore and depth, though it rarely comes in the form of its central narrative. Though the deep, lovely voice-acted narration adds a sense of gravitas to the affair, the story is a fairly standard battle against corruption. What helps flesh out the harrowing world of Rea are the number of journals and additional lore explanations offered throughout dungeons. You’ll often find journals next to impressive and daunting landmarks, some of which will shed further light on the scenarios of the journal entries. These tales rarely offer a happy ending, but help to impress the importance of the Bergsons’ quest.
An additional boon to the impact of the narrative is the beautiful pixel art and animation featured in-game. Simple enough to highlight specific features of animals, humans, and corrupted creatures, yet also detailed enough to stand out against backgrounds and evoke directness and fluidity in movement, the character design in Children of Morta is unique and extremely effective. However, even this finely-tuned, complex pixel art can result in characters and swarms of enemies becoming difficult to follow when there are a multitude on screen. Still, the amount of unique animations used for hub storyline sequences, enemy introductions, and special attacks is truly awe-inspiring, and well-worth the price of entry.
The beauty of Children of Morta’s backgrounds and environments simply cannot be overstated, offering a wondrous landscape of pastel, ethereal coloring to stop and admire. Though the locales will change this color palette, every zone is given care and attention, evoking their theming perfectly. As mentioned previously, the visuals and narration blend perfectly with some suitably rich tracks. There’s some engrossing battle themes as well as atmospheric exploration songs, and the Bergsons’ homestead is warmly-tinged with its own unique melody. Children of Morta definitely scores points for keeping aesthetic consistency in every single one of its environments, even if its main narrative doesn’t push many boundaries.
Impressions and Conclusion
Many roguelikes integrate and justify their random mechanics in their own ways, with some refusing to acknowledge their existence and others attributing purpose to the nature of their continuous runs. A title like Moonlighter focuses on currency investment and item collection in order to encourage multiple expeditions, but Children of Morta only masks its slowed narrative progression behind experience and Morv accrual. What further complicates the nature of runs is the potential for corruption poisoning, where enough failures will result in a health penalty for the family member the player has been over-using. While this does encourage a mix of characters and pushes the player to invest in growing every family member, it rarely factors into the play experience enough to force experimentation.
This is fortunate, perhaps, as there are some Bergsons that are a bit wonky to play- certain family members seem better-suited to co-operative expeditions than others. Not that this is a bad thing- a pair of players can enjoy a number of different team compositions across multiple story playthroughs, though it might be best if this experimentation occurs during a single campaign. Children of Morta has a sizable main narrative, clocking in around twenty hours, so restarting to focus on specific character builds might not be the most time-sensitive approach. With the promise of more content down the line, including at least two more playable characters, New Game +, and the addition of online co-op, it seems that Children of Morta is a roguelike primed for a healthy life, as well. Make no mistake, however- Children of Morta is not a slight experience in any way. Though the character experience mechanics aren’t quite justified by the randomized nature of its runs, the game continually rewards the player with character and ability upgrades that make its grind enjoyable. If you’re looking for a roguelike that offers a traditional, yet satisfying experience that continually pushes the player towards the end of its campaign, you truly cannot go wrong with Children of Morta.