Review – OVERWHELM (Switch)
If there is one thing that I love about my Nintendo Switch is its ability to provide me some stellar indie ports that I would have missed out on. Steam gets inundated with countless amounts of indies which makes it hard to keep up on all of them. Some great examples of this are: Not a Hero: Super Snazzy Edition, The Way Remastered, and Slain: Back From Hell. All three of these games I highly recommend, but completely missed with their initial release until they came to the Switch. I’m now here to let you know that OVERWHELM is another gem lost in the shuffle of Steam, but has found its light on the Switch.
OVERWHELM is decidedly light on story which lends to more of its mystery and tension. You’re thrown into the world without instructions other than you need to clean out the infestation that has occurred within the hive. You’re given a map with a few indicators of where the bosses can be, but it is up to you to explore, track down the bosses, and kill them. The premise may seem simple, the gameplay not too complex, but it’s the execution of completing these tasks is where you’ll become entranced. The curiosity of “what is next” will grab a hold tightly and have you wanting to keep playing to see more.
Being a rogue-like game means that OVERWHELM is going to kick your butt. However, unlike other rogue-like games your character doesn’t get any better. You don’t collect experience points, you don’t unlock abilities or new weapons, and you don’t collect money to spend on anything. If you die three times before beating a boss, you must start over. That means you have only three chances to make it to a boss and then kill it. Once you kill a boss your lives will reset, giving you another three chances to return the boss gem to the machine in the center of the hive (more on this later).
The rogue-like in this game actually benefits the enemies. Each time you die, the enemies and bosses become harder. Each boss you kill, the enemies unlock new moves or a new type of harder enemy will appear on the map. The game will actively get harder, while you only get the benefit of learning the map, enemy attacks, and the boss’s moves. This is where OVERWHELM may lose some folks since it is very unforgiving. No matter what enemy it is, you will die with only one hit. The developers even give a warning that some people will find this game impossible.
While this may seem daunting at first, and trust me you’ll rage quit a few times, it isn’t impossible. It’s actually not a very long game from beginning to end, but the difficulty and needing to restart makes it much longer. I must have reset the game at the final fleeing scenes at least five times. This causes frustration, but each time you restart you get better and better as you learn the map, enemy locations, and the bosses moves. As I mentioned before, it’s that drive to find out what the heck happens at the end that kept me going. . . as well as my own pride to not let this game beat me.
If this is starting to sound like it may be too frustrating for you, don’t fret. The developers have included ways to make things easier and even included some cheats for you. I found their difficulty slider to be ingenious. It’s not a traditional “easy, medium, hard” option, instead it has you change the speed of the game. The standard is set to 250 milliseconds which is pretty close to the average human reaction time which is at 215 milliseconds according to the Human Benchmark Test. If you find that the action is happening too fast for you, feel free to bump this up a few notches to slow things down. You can increase the reaction time to 450, almost doubling the standard speed. This will bring the game to a slow motion feel if you have gotten use to the standard 250. If you’re still having trouble, you can turn on a few cheats like infinite lives, infinite ammo, and auto aim.
If you don’t feel like cheating, but the higher reaction time still isn’t helping you out, then invite a friend over! Yes, OVERWHELM does support two player local co-op. Pop out the joy-cons and have your friend join you in taking down the horde. This makes the game considerably easier since you’re able to revive your teammate if they get hit. You do start off with less ammo, but the ammo combined is still quite a lot. My main issue with playing co-op with the joy-cons is that you lose the second stick to aim. You can still hold down the ZR button to aim and shoot, but that means you can’t move while aiming. To combat this issue, the game does enable a bit of auto aim for both players to help out.
There are six bosses in total including the final boss, but the main five baddies are where most of your time is going to be spent at restarting. Each boss has their own section of the map which take on some characteristics of the boss arena. For example, the lizard boss has platforms that break as soon as you touch them so their path is filled with breakable platforms. This helps you prepare for some of the themes that will happen during the boss fights. Once a boss is defeated, it will drop a gem, which you then need to safely return to the main starting area to deposit. If you don’t deposit the gems, you’ll need to collect them from your death location to continue. This becomes more important in New Game + when you need gems to unlock boss stages. Once all five bosses are killed and gems are delivered, you’ll enter the final stages. I won’t spoil it for you, but the last few stages after the boss fights do not get any easier.
The graphics are a bit hit or miss for me. While the boss and level designs are well detailed even in an 8-bit style, the smaller normal enemies lack details. It’s not messy, you won’t mistaken an enemy because of this, but it’s a little bland. It’s not often when an 8-bit art style can actually help a games feeling of tension, but the minimalistic nature of the visuals in OVERWHELM does exactly that. There are a couple sections where the developers play with the pixelated look to hide enemies or obstruct your view a bit. Nothing in an unfair way, but your first couple times traversing the long grass area will cause you some headaches until you catch the visual clues of an enemy location.
The sound design is fairly basic offering some classic sounding chip-tune soundbites for various movements. The sound of the gun has a fantastic and powerful blast which compliments the visuals of the large bullets. The real shining star for the sound design comes from the soundtrack. While exploring you’re greeted with creepy undertones that enhances the feeling of dread and tension of what is next. However, as soon as you step into a boss fight the soundtrack kicks in with powerful ominous synths to get your heart racing and adrenaline flowing.
There were only a couple issues I found in the game, but I’m not sure if it’s a glitch with the game itself or my Switch was acting up. The gameplay is flawless with no slow downs, but I did have the game freeze on me twice. The Switch itself didn’t lock up, only the game, which unfortunately made me hit the home button and close the application. It wasn’t anything I could reproduce in the same way, but it’s still frustrating to happen in a game like this.
OVERWHELM will not be for everybody, it will beat you up, and then laugh at your small victories by becoming harder. It’s unforgiving, but rarely unfair. Although you’ll rage at the game quite a few times, the sense of accomplishment once you beat the game is astounding. If you’re looking for a challenging game that will keep you on your toes not only by its difficulty, but by its creepy tones, then I highly recommend picking this up.
The 8-bit visuals are often well detailed especially on the larger bosses and environments, but smaller enemies are very basic.
Gameplay is fast and frantic as well as responsive. Unforgiving and for the most part fair, besides a couple of sections.
Sound design is minimal, but effective. The soundtrack is slow and creepy, but will ramp up into intense rhythmic beats bringing tension to boss fights.
OVERWHELM will beat you up over and over. It is relentless and punishing, but there is an addictive loop to its somewhat simple design.
Final Verdict: 8.0
OVERWHELM is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of OVERWHELM was provided by the publisher.