A good family has to stay united, especially in moments of need. What if yours is a family of heroes since countless generations protect the world? That’s a heavy burden for sure. And that’s what the Bergsons have to endure in Children of Morta.
The game is roguelike with RPG elements, brought to us by Dead Mage.
The world is in grave danger. Once again, that evil and unstoppable force known as the Corruption is spreading at a fast pace. Cruel monsters appear anywhere, possessing what were peaceful creatures. It’s up to the legendary family of the Bergsons to fix everything. Whatever it may take. All while dealing with their own personal difficulties, contrasts and grief. That’s more or less Children of Morta‘s story. A story that, while pretty traditional in its structure, is surprisingly deep for the genre.
The game’s backstory is narrated through notes and documents found during dungeon raids. They focus on events prior to the main plot and also give a bit of trivia about the geographical characteristics of the game’s world. In this way, it’s possible to not bore the player too much with unskippable infodumps. However, it’s also a shame that the game doesn’t expand more upon some of these events, because that would’ve prompted some interesting side-stories.
Children of Morta follows your standard roguelike style. Autosaves, randomly generated dungeons, power-ups to find and lots of Game Overs.
Since the game is so focused on the concept of family, it wouldn’t be fair if only one Bergson were to take the spotlight, right?
That’s why the game offers us six playable protagonists. Other than mister Bergson, his four children and nephew take arms against the sprawling monsters. There are fundamentally three different “classes” of characters: the tank, the rogue and the ranged warrior. So, two by two, the Bergsons will have a similar role. Despite this, each character still plays in a different way. For example, the ranged characters are Linda, the eldest daughter, an archer and her little sister Lucy, gifted with pyrokinetic powers. The first one is specialized in shooting while moving, while the latter cannot move when attacking but sports a faster rate of fire and can use decoys and shields to block enemies.
Obviously, when a game has different playable protagonists, every player ends up using only one or two characters they enjoy the most. To prevent this, Children of Morta has a fatigue counter for each Bergson. If the player uses them too much, they’ll start each level with lowered vitality. The only way to cure fatigue is to make a character rest by not using them for a few rounds. This at first might sound annoying, but the more the player familiarizes with unwanted characters, the more they might get accustomed to them and find their usefulness.
In order to save the world, the Bergsons will adventure to faraway lands and free their guardian spirits from the Corruption’s clutches. Each land is divided into two or three different dungeons. For example, the first land starts with a set of caves, switches to a goblin settlement and ends with a subterranean temple. Every dungeon delving is different from the previous since its layout is randomly generated.
At first, it starts out simple, but the more the player progresses the more the map becomes convoluted and fills with traps. At some point, environmental hazards are somewhat even more dangerous than enemies themselves. This, together with lots of dead ends, would make navigation utterly impossible if not for the accompanying map that is accessible at any time.
Another thing that characterizes Children of Morta‘s dungeons is the abundance of random events one can come across. From chasing a bird that lays a mysterious, golden egg to freeing people from monsters and even playing memory games and a rendition of the classic Pong.
The players can’t but anticipate and desire to stumble across these diversions from the usual combat. Only fighting their way through the enemy filled dungeon would be a rather boring activity. Luckily, these events alone prevent the player from getting bored of the game too soon.
After every kill, the character will receive experience points. Gather enough of them and they will receive a skill point. It’s possible to spend them to unlock new abilities or fortify the available ones. For each skill point spent, the character will gain a level. Every few levels a new set of abilities will be unlocked and together with them a passive buff. The latter is always active even when the player switches to another Bergson, so it’s always convenient to rotate between characters.
Each new character joins at level 0 and this might turn off players from trying them, however, the experience gain is designed in such a way that in a single delving through a dungeon, they will catch up almost immediately. On the other hand, overlevelling is highly discouraged and almost impossible to put off. This is a balanced way to keep the game challenging but fun at the same time.
What is a good roguelike without its crazy power-ups? Children of Morta sports a wild variety of goodies. The player will find four types of them. Charms are one-time consumables that buff the character. Runes add special effects to attacks and abilities and disappear upon a few uses. Divine Relics add additional moves while Graces are passive abilities, like an increment on health or the summoning of flame orbs around the character.
The power-ups are dropped from enemies, found in chests or bought from vendors. The Bergson might receive one of them even after completing a side event in a dungeon. In contrast to other games of this genre, there isn’t a great abundance of them. Not every one of them might prove useful or suitable for certain circumstances. It’s up to the player to recognize them and decide what to pick up. This can create a few frustrating moments and many Game Overs since one might get stuck with useless or even detrimental power-ups, especially when engaging a boss.
Combat is pretty straightforward. Each Bergson has a normal attack available from the start and special abilities that can be unlocked later. Every one of them has either a cooldown after each use or consumes stamina, the most powerful ones might have both of them. It’s possible to avoid an enemy’s attack by dashing away from them. There is a cooldown even for dashing and the number of consecutive evasive moves a character can pull off varies for each one of them. John, the father, has only one, while Kevin, the younger son, has three. To complete the combat system, there’s a rage bar that is gradually replenished by attacking enemies and activates buffing effects.
The family will fight against a multitude of enemies, ranging from skeletons, goblins, bats to robots and mummies. Some enemies, with a special symbol upon them, are more powerful than their unmarked counterparts and have special abilities, like spitting pools of acid or shoots paralyzing crystals. The player might actively search for them because they drop more gold and prizes than the normal ones.
The combat against normal enemies is dynamic and difficult enough that the player has to keep their attention high. Even at the end of the game, it’s easy to get killed if one underestimates the foes. Boss battles are dynamic and will require a few attempts to end successfully. They’re designed in such a way that the player will neither feel cheated on nor have an easy time.
The game’s difficulty curve is a descending one, except for a few spikes. At first, the player will struggle to complete dungeons and will rely on the power-ups they can find. They even might want to avoid any regular enemy they encounter since getting surrounded by them can bring to a quick death. However, the more they upgrade their equipment and as the characters level up, the more it becomes a matter of skill alone. It will be possible to beat bosses even without good item spawns.
Even when a player is defeated, death isn’t a major concern. More often than not, it’s even better to take multiple runs through a dungeon before beating it. The player might even anticipate it. Every time a Bergson returns home, in fact, new plot-related scenes are available. It’s even possible to use the money gained to permanently power up the family’s equipment from uncle Ben’s forge and increase the drop and experience rates thanks to grandma Margaret’s magic.
The game sports a beautiful, high-resolution pixel art. While characters are represented by little sprites, these aren’t devoid of personality. Each Bergson has their own animations for walking, dodging and attacking. John has a stoic gait, that is far different from his son Kevin’s, who jumps around a lot. It’s even possible to see characters moving their mouths when they talk. Even enemies’ designs have the same focus on details.
Environments are beautiful and awe-inspiring, especially the Bergsons’ house with the alien landscape that can be seen on the horizon. Dungeons, albeit randomized, are detailed as well. A bit more environmental variation would’ve been welcome, though. There are tiny differences between each areas’ dungeon and it’s fun to spot them. However, with such beautiful art the player would love to see more, different places rendered in this style.
Music is good and embodies well in each area. The final battle music is especially adrenaline-pumping and solemn. The narrator’s voiceover is done with competence and isn’t intrusive at any time.
The main problem players will face with the soundtrack is its tendency to glitching out. It’s common for the audio to stutter or become outright unbearable to listen to. The narrating voice might also not be synchronized with subtitles or even it might even say something completely different. There is no way to fix it in-game. The only solution is to reboot the game.
The game can be finished in around 10 hours and there’s no postgame content. Luckily for people who missed pieces of lore and want to explore more, after the credits roll, it’s possible to return to the state preceding the final battle.
While there’s no replayability to speak of, the players can extend their playtime thanks to the co-op mode. A second player can join the action by pressing + on their controller at the character selection screen. While it might be a fun way to tackle the game with another person, it’s a shame that the game doesn’t make use of it in a more impactful way, like introducing specific co-op challenges. Moreover, this is limited to only two players and has no online function available, but only local. Especially considered how tiny the sprites are. The only viable way to play in the cooperative mode is when the Switch is docked for TV mode.
Children of Morta is a good game. As a roguelike it greatly falls short in replayability. It also abandons the pick-and-play nature that is a staple of the genre. It could have a more engaging co-op mode. However, its focus on narrative and character interaction makes up for these shortcomings. The player will surely appreciate the care put into the game’s graphics.
That said, Children of Morta is a great game for people who enjoy an Action-RPG but want a more condensed approach, an interesting story, and a lovable family.
Final Rating: 8/10