Children of Morta review

Release Date
3 Sep 2019
Dead Mage
11 Bit Studios
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

It’s not easy being a Bergson, what with the corruption spreading through their mountain home of Morta and the constant dying. Oh, so much dying. Luckily the Bergson family happens to be the guardians of this mystical mountain and that comes with perks – like the convenient ability to respawn.

Children of Morta’s bittersweet story is simple but beautifully told, slowly revealing snippets of the world at large but focussing on the Bergsons themselves and their relationships with each other. When you die or complete a level, you’ll respawn back at the Bergson home and will often be treated to an in-game cutscene with narration. These procedural scenes vary, sometimes offering glimpses into the family dynamic, fleshing out bits of the world, or escalating the central conflict. All are gorgeously animated and engaging enough that any frustration I may have felt at dying in a boss fight for the umpteenth time was quickly forgotten.

Combat is enjoyable but challenging, and the challenge comes from knowing how to use each character and when to use certain abilities. There are six family members to choose from, each with their own unique skillsets, and Children of Morta encourages you to change characters between runs, which helps keep gameplay feeling fresh. Each hero gains abilities that assist the other family members, and characters sometimes suffer from corruption fatigue, so you’ll need to let them rest for one or two runs until they’ve recovered. Characters share the same control scheme – primary attack, secondary area-of-effect attack, dodge, and other special abilities or consumable items – but each character has their own unique playstyle. It’s refreshing to go from kiting enemies around the map as Linda in one run, to whomping them with a massive sledgehammer as Joey in the next. Attacks look, feel, and sound powerful and watching your enemies fall never gets old.

While you’ll probably be dying a lot, death doesn’t feel like a failure or time wasted. When you die, you keep any Morv you collected during your run – this is the game’s in-world currency and is used to upgrade the Bergsons’ stats, such as movement speed, max health, chance to dodge, etc. In my experience, successfully completing a level is a culmination of hours spent learning each family member’s unique skillset, getting to grips with the various items picked up during the runs, and levelling up abilities.

There are some very minor puzzle sections that will occasionally appear but, as a hack-and-slash roguelike, gameplay is mostly about combat and you won’t be juggling potions or managing an inventory. However, besides each character’s own skills and abilities, you’ll find various items to aid you in your runs – Runes are passive items that are applied to your primary or secondary attacks, for example, and Divine Graces are passive buffs that last the entire run. Divine Relics are buffs that usually require activation, and Charms are consumable items that can do things like increase your stats or provide healing. These items are all fun to use and, due to the procedural generation of each dungeon, you’ll need to adapt your playstyle slightly depending on what you pick up. It’s possible to get a synergy going, with your character’s skills and the various pickups all working together nicely.

Children of Morta is easily one of the most beautiful games I’ve experienced. The characters, enemies, and environments are all stunning, especially when in motion. There are little details everywhere you look but the screen never feels cluttered. Heroes and enemies have unique silhouettes, and the icons for the various items and abilities are also clearly defined. Sound effects, music, and the narration are also excellent and the local co-op (online co-op is planned for future release!) is great fun.

Children of Morta is a must-play for anyone interested in pixel art or roguelikes. While the game is challenging, there is always the sense that you are progressing and that each death counts for something. While some may find the combat too simple or tedious, and the story too shallow, I feel that Children of Morta is more than the sum of its parts and it has a special quality that keeps me coming back.
Beautiful pixel art and animation
Interestingly told narrative
Local co-op
Again - the art. Have you seen it?
Some levels and bosses can take several attempts to beat and this iterative style of gameplay might not be for everyone
Combat is possibly too simple for some
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