My thumbs were aching slightly after an hour of playing THOTH. Look for an angle, look for a way around, try not to smash into a moving obstacle, and then “bam!” you are toast. It is a one hit instant death and back to the start of the level set. Undeterred, I went back at it repeatedly until I finally made some headway. One thing is for sure, THOTH is more than a challenging game. It’s made of bare-knuckled tension with the full intent of breaking your game-fail tolerance.
STATUS: FULLY RELEASED
DEVELOPER: CARLSON STUDIOS
PUBLISHER: DOUBLE FINE PRESENTS
GENRE: INDIE, ACTION, TWIN STICK SHOOTER
RELEASE DATE: 7TH OF OCTOBOER, 2016
TYPE: SINGLE-PLAYER, LOCAL CO-OP
From the beginning of the game, you are presented with a sparse minimalist screen with the title name in white and some electronic beats grooving lightly. Once you select a level, the music changes tone with a slightly ominous chord and a movie sound-effect similar to walking into a room filled with xenomorphs. When I first began playing I had absolutely no idea what type of game this was. Suddenly, I was a little circle moving around and avoiding a sinister looking set of squares that obviously had it out for me. Geometric rivalries are real here, shoot first and ask later. Very quickly, I discovered exactly what style of game this is.
It’s a twin stick shooter, folks; a fairly intense one at that.
Now, for me this felt daunting because my experience with twin stick shooters is minimal at best. I’ll have to review this from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t have reflexes of steel. Think reflexes made of marshmallows with rainbow colored coconut flakes on top. Perhaps melt them into cookies for good measure. There, now you’ve got it. Take a deep breath and let it out before watching me get stumped playing a twin stick.
I won’t lie. It took me a number of attempts to even get to the first level save. You must complete four levels to get a save point within the game. There are 64 levels – 16 level sets – of nerve wracking enjoyment. In order to get very far, you’ve got to be experienced with using both left and right joysticks on a controller in a coordinated effort. Frankly, that’s not me. For the most part, I use the right joystick to change camera angles or aim badly while playing a shooter. Yet, I wasn’t beat-down. I play a fair amount of platformers and fighters so I can manage to aim and fly at the same time. My first reaction after multiple deaths was mild rage. If you have a rage issue, I don’t recommend this game. The first three level sets are not impossible, but level set 4 may induce controller throwing fits if you have trouble keeping a cool demeanor. You have to dig deep from your inner patience to play THOTH. After awhile, the zen sets in and you keep at it doggedly like any good challenge inspires.
For those without a controller, there are keyboard and mouse controls. To my surprise, these are actually good controls and you may even have an advantage playing with a mouse and WASD if you primarily play that way. I preferred a controller myself.
So, what sets THOTH apart from the other reflex games? A few things stand out to me. First and foremost, once you shoot out the color from an enemy it does not die. Instead, it attacks you at a faster rate and with acceleration. Yes, those dead blocks are not only chasing you around, they are accelerating towards you at a very fast pace. Several of them can gang up and attack like a school of piranhas making a lunch of you. With the one hit deaths, THOTH comes at you with teeth snarling.
It’s not just the enemies out to get you because the environment can kill you as well. Death walls may disappear or revolve around you. Sometimes, they can alternate as deadly or neutral every time you shoot a block out. Even the enemies may change, where you have to keep an eye on them from destroying not just you but the whole game space like a bomb ready to blow.
A crucial bit of information is that when you shoot, it slows down your movement. This single property is essential to how you maneuver through the levels. Often you must dodge before shooting, or carefully move out of the way and line up a shot because they’ll form a line of death if you don’t leave a way out somewhere. You can’t just roll in, guns blazing, or you’ll die in seconds.
Each level set is a different puzzle, a slightly new strategy. It’s this puzzly attribute that makes the game substantially more intricate than a game based solely on dodging and attacking. It’s an unpredictability that echoes of playing Asteroids on a CRT screen at an arcade. You are looking forward to seeing if you can make it out or get boxed into an oncoming attack.
There is a definite reliance of color scheme and balance with the game environment. You won’t see amazing detailed landscapes or breathtaking graphic imagery. Instead, THOTH, places you in a color saturated pantheon of line art. The emphasis is on the gameplay, not the images. However, there is very careful attention to the overall look and presentation of each level. It’s sort of like playing a nice art-deco game from 1983.
The background sound is more a series of alien tones and sound effects. It’s as if the sound designer from a science fiction movie put all the movie sound effect samples into one track and handed it over for use on THOTH. While not aggravating, the sound does not exactly do much to keep the gamer from getting frustrated.
The gameplay in THOTH never changes, only the level consistency changes around. From what I played, there were no power-ups or added bonus weapons. I won’t deny that an argument could be made that THOTH is somewhat lackluster. However, that’s ignoring one prevalent game trait; the level patterns are unpredictable. Variation is key with a completely static set of movements and attacks. It gives the game a bit of a rogue-like feel, even though it’s not rogue-like in format. THOTH is about using your honed skill set. Imagine a real life WWI pilot. You can’t upgrade your plane or buy weapons in mid-air, it’s just you and the plane. If you get shot down, you die. Much of the same feel of that gritty situation is in THOTH.
While I enjoy the game, and plan on keeping it installed for a while as I whittle away at some of the level sets, it is definitely repetitive. It is also not a game for everyone. Some people may find it too boring or too tedious. It’s just not a game I would brag about to all my friends with excitement. Mostly, it’s a game I would show to my friends and see how far they can get. There is a co-op option, but I was unable to convince anyone at home to play with me if that gives you any idea.
For me, it’s a great way to get my twin stick skills sharpened. I found it a nice challenge since the game is quite easy to pick up and I’ve become a little closer to my controller because of it. For a zen experience of twin stick goodness where you constantly evolve your game strategy like a cat chasing a running mouse, THOTH delivers.