Developed by Dead Mage Published by 11 bit studios Reviewed on Steam (also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch)
Children of Morta is a highly stylized action role-playing game that draws inspiration from dungeon crawlers and rogue-like design. Its mechanics straddle the line between simplicity and depth. Its emphasis on family growth sets it apart from other dungeon crawlers. Each playable family member is not only a unique class but also a personable character with human traits. Its stark audiovisual design is simultaneously enchanting and haunting. While the game can be punishing, its flow is rewarding and merits repeated play.
Children of Morta takes place in a verdant fantasy-inspired land. Players control the Bergson family who resides near the mountain of Morta. The family seeks to locate three spirits in order to alleviate the plague-like Corruption that saps the vitality of the land. By utilizing the mysterious chambers underneath their abode, the family members travel to forlorn locales full of warped creatures and forgotten dangers.
Children of Morta’s straightforward design allows players to jump into the action. After picking a dungeon, players move, dodge, and attack as they traverse procedurally generated areas en route to each floor’s exit. Each character has primary and secondary actions. For example, the fighter-type character John respectively swings his sword and hoists his shield in a defensive position. Other characters’ secondary skills involve scoring area of effect damage. Players must keep an eye on their stamina gauge and skill cooldowns to be effective in battle.
Where the game deviates from other dungeon crawlers is how it approaches progression. Not all of the six family member are playable at the beginning, and successive dungeon runs gradually unlock characters through narrated story scenes. The game rewards players who swap characters between each dungeon run. Gaining experience unlocks skill points that unlock passive and active skills. Certain passive skills actually boost the entire family’s effectiveness in battle, which encourages boosting multiple trees in order to receive as many buffs as possible.
While the game can feel a bit punishing at times, it gives plenty of reasons to keep playing. If players run out of health, their character is returned to the family abode. The game then features plenty of touching scenes in which the family bonds over meals, training, and other activities. Some scenes in which parents prohibit younger members from fighting are relatable. Aside from skill trees, players can boost the family via two sets of upgrades that include bolstered health, speed, and money drops. Much of the game’s progression revolves around locating passive and active items that can have some rather turn-tiding effects. Some items even temporarily change how skills work such as turning arrow fire into a spread shot. While wiping in a dungeon results in losing all held items, the ongoing unlocks and boosts provide just enough of a sense of empowerment for the next attempt.
With its sweeping melodies and detailed pixel art, the audiovisual design is striking and a joy to behold. Rather than revisiting prior eras of pixel art, the game uses pixels in a unique way. The areas feel detailed with a stark vibrant sense of lighting. Some of the vistas are comprised of bold shapes that simultaneously feel captivating and mysterious. Alongside the visuals is continual narration that frames the family’s struggle as well as the effects of the Corruption. Furthermore, the ambient music practically brings players into another world with plenty of enjoyable well-paced flourishes.
Children of Morta is a captivating take on the dungeon crawler genre that stands apart from its brethren with family-focused mechanics and a compelling audiovisual style. Each of the three worlds features procedurally generated sub-dungeons that can each take a bit of persistence to clear. However, the passive family skill boosts and two player local co-op play can give players an edge as they try to overcome the minions of the Corruption. Anyone interested in a challenging yet captivating game would certainly enjoy what Children of Morta has to offer.