Families can be funny things; they can either be your best friends or a gigantic pain in the arse. Sometimes they can even be both at the same time. In Children of Morta, the Bergson family have to put up with all the usual family drama like kids misbehaving and drunken uncles, but they also have the added complication of having to defend the world from the encroaching malevolent force known as The Corruption.
The Bergsons come from an ancient line of people who have guarded the world for generations and it looks like it’s in dire need of saving again. A supernatural evil purple goo is slowly oozing down from the top of Mount Morta, tainting all those it encounters.
While the story is a relatively simple one, it’s delivered in an enthralling way thanks to the wonderfully detailed pixel art style and the sublime gravitas of its narrator. He has a fantastic tone to his voice that makes even ordinary events sound like something amazingly adventurous is about to happen.
Circle of Life
To save the world the family will need to fight their way through a series of dungeons that can be conveniently accessed from underneath the house. This is one of those games where you’ll be dying repeatedly but will slowly get stronger over time until you can finally overcome whatever challenges lie in wait.
You can enter the dungeon either as John or his eldest daughter Linda and they both handle quite differently. John is a melee character with a standard sword and shield whereas Linda is highly skilled with archery. I found that Linda was great at taking out enemies at a distance but she was too weak to survive for long if she got surrounded. John felt much stronger but was fairly slow and cumbersome in combat.
It’s really easy to run into trouble when you first start playing. Even low-level enemies like bats are able to gang up on you. You’ll really need to get the hang of dodging monsters as well as mastering the strengths and weaknesses of each character if you want to survive.
If you die then you’ll warp back to the family home where there will usually be a short cutscene waiting for you. You’ll get to learn more about each character as well as watching the family support each other after witnessing the horrors in the dungeons.
There was one point in the game where I managed to save a wolf cub from a hoard of monsters and brought him back home. The string of cutscenes that followed did a surprisingly good job at tugging on my heart strings. I had to search for restorative herbs to help him recover and then got to see the family give him a name. They even built a little dog house for him. These scenes where great at balancing out some of the more despairing things you’ll witness in the dungeons.
It’s pretty impressive how even though they aren’t very long scenes you’ll really grow to care for the family. I even started to find that I didn’t mind when I died as I always hoped that there’d be another scene for me to watch when I got back home.
Fun for the whole family
These scenes aren’t just to add a little flavor text. You’ll also slowly unlock new family members to go dungeon crawling with. The game’s combat really begins to shine when you unlock a character that clicks with you. I was particularly fond of Lucy, an energetic young girl who can quickly chain together little balls of magical fire that can incinerate everything that dares to stand in her path.
Each character learns different skills on their own personal skill tree but you can also use currency gathered in the dungeon to upgrade various shared stats for all family members. This was a pretty great feature as it meant that whenever I gained access to a new character, because of the shared upgrades, they didn’t feel completely weak and feeble. It never felt like too much of a grind to get them to the same level as the rest of my characters.
You aren’t able to just stick with your favorite character throughout the whole game. They’ll eventually start to suffer from corruption fatigue which reduces their stats. Thankfully this can easily be fixed by leaving them at home to rest. It usually only took a few dungeon runs with a different character for them to be fully healed. While it can be a bit of a pain to get into the rhythm of using a different character, there is one very big advantage to doing so: family traits. These are skills that characters learn at specific levels that benefit the whole family. So Linda will give everyone the benefit of increased movement speed whereas leveling up John will increase everyone’s maximum health.
Every time you go into the dungeon it’ll have a different layout. While many games with procedurally generated designs can start to feel a bit repetitive and samey, Children of Morta does a brilliant job of keeping things fresh. It always feels like there’s a new adventure awaiting. You’ll come across different rooms which can contain everything from random puzzles to people needing to be rescued, and even pong style minigames.
You’ll also find divine objects that can really help you out. These items will only stick with you during your current run but they can make a huge difference to whether you successfully get to the end of a dungeon or not. From slowing down enemies, recovering health, and even briefly summoning dragons, the effects of the items can be really varied and some of them are far more helpful than others. Boss fights can be made much easier if you find the right items but it’s also completely possible to take them out by just relying on your own skill. Regardless of how you manage it, every boss fight feels quite intense and you’ll need to use every ability in your arsenal to succeed.
If you have a spare controller and a willing friend to lend a hand, then it’s also worth giving the couch co-op mode a try. Having someone there to help you take down the hordes of dangerous beasties is brilliantly chaotic fun. It’s also really handy to have someone to revive you, assuming that they manage to stay out of harm’s way long enough to do so!
I really can’t stress enough how absolutely gorgeous this game is, the exquisitely detailed pixel art style and the brilliant narration combine to create a really atmospheric game. The random nature of the floor layouts and the different combat style of each character means that every time you venture into the depths of the dungeon, you’re sure to have a very different but incredibly enjoyable experience.
Children of Morta PS4 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.