Children of Morta is a rogue-lite title that subverts expectations with its use of the genre. Retaining a focus on presentation, it strives to craft a meaningful story alongside its addictive gameplay loops. As a balancing act from developers Dead Mage, there are parts of the game I really enjoy. Meanwhile, the game is passable in sections where others would probably desire a greater effort. Depending on what you’re looking for from Children of Morta, it’s a great experience that fits neatly on the Nintendo Switch.
Children of Morta lays its story on thick. Following the Bergson family, which serves as the guardians of Mount Morta, the story centers around them investigating a spreading corruption that Morta and its wildlife have fallen victim to. There’s a singular voice-over artist that narrates throughout the game’s dialogue and story (similar to Supergiant Games’ Bastion). It remains excellent throughout the entire game, held up by grandiose writing.
This grandiosity comes from the use of emotional pathos rather than detailed, high-fantasy storytelling. In between runs, Children of Morta portrays the interpersonal relationships of the Bergson family to great effect. It uses stellar characterization to provide a palpable intimacy between the player and the family.
Accompanying this narrative presentation is a gorgeous style of well-animated pixel art. Care was obviously taken to portray distinct mannerisms in every character, from the individual family members to their many enemies. The environments are also heavily detailed, featuring a combination of pixels and watercolor-inspired drawings.
Children of Morta uses rogue-lite elements that nourish the desire to throw yourself at its gameplay loops. Every dungeon run has randomly generated aspects, with randomized side-quests, NPCs, and shopkeeper items that entice you to explore areas repeatedly. Since there’s a linear storyline, however, this replayability is slightly undercut. You can finish the game’s story in 15 hours.
Stellar action-RPG gameplay
Each member of the Bergson family plays differently. Some use a basic inventory of sword and shield (such as John), but others provide more ranged options, like Lucy and her magic. Both of these playstyles mesh well with the game’s overall controls since Children of Morta allows the player to utilize the right stick to aim basic attacks. There are also a variety of passive abilities and special attacks that you can use for each of the family members. As you upgrade each character’s individual skill trees, you’ll be able to unlock more of the capabilities unique to each.
Dungeon runs work similar to other ARPGs like Diablo, involving a lot of mob management against hordes of enemies. It’s almost frustratingly difficult at the beginning. Once you have a few lucky runs under your belt, though, you’ll have enough points to invest in the skill trees to make dungeons much easier to navigate.
There are other skill trees that feature passive abilities affecting all of the Bergsons, rewarding players who decide to play with multiple characters. Even better is that the campaign has co-op functionality, allowing you to take a second player through the dungeons. The only drawback is that they must be in the same room with you, as Children of Morta does not support online play.
While it keeps itself from being repetitive with its shorter playtime, I did find myself wishing there was more enemy diversity. There aren’t enough interesting enemy types with different behaviors to maintain a challenge in the later game.
A solid, though not endless, rogue-lite
Since it’s polished in almost every regard with its gameplay and presentation, it’s possible Children of Morta would’ve benefited from a more focused design direction rather than a rogue-lite dungeon-crawling experience. Nevertheless, in a sea of games for the rogue-lite genre, it’s refreshing to see developers do something unique and tell a meaningful story. The emotional heights that the game reaches goes farther than many narrative-focused games. If you’re looking for a story-driven ARPG, then Children of Morta needs to be at the top of your list.
A review code was provided by the publisher.