Overgrowth finally released on Oct 16, 2017, but is the game worth the nearly decade-long wait in development?
Genre: Action, Indie
Developer: Wolfire Games
Publisher: Wolfire Games
Release date: 16 Oct, 2017
Not an Easter Ninja-Bunny
Before I sat down to play Overgrowth, I had some pre-conceived ideas of what to expect. Images of blood-spattered fur and furious sword fights with ninja stars whizzing through the air against a background of bamboo trees creaking in the wind on a moonlit night filled my mind. I imagined a Rabbit Tenchu or maybe Watership Down with an even darker and more brutal storyline. However, Overgrowth didn’t quite impress me as much as my imagination did. I think that is where I was let down the most. It simply fell short of my expectations.
With the main Overgrowth story, you are a wandering ninja rabbit named Turner who, after discovering his fellow rabbits are being raided and enslaved, decides to kill the bad guys and let freedom ring for all rabbitkind. Along the way, you find out about a hierarchy of evil cats who are running the show with henchmen dogs, wolves, rats, and even some heartless rabbits. You move from one fight to the next with some platforming levels in between. That’s honestly all there is.
While the story consists entirely of dialogue, there is little to no character development or any engrossing dramatic scenes. Without much in the way of facial expressions or environmental areas taking center stage where the story may falter a bit, it leaves the actual game feeling flat and unfinished. The Lugaru storyline follows the same sort of pattern, but with a more personal vendetta storyline that actually does feel slightly more dramatic despite it being almost entirely about action combat. Yet, that was what I was hoping for, right? Maybe not. If that was all I wanted then I’d probably be happier after completing the two stories in the game. Is there banter? Sure. Just nothing of note. It’s about as much story as two people talking on the subway about the news and weather. Could it have been better? Why yes, but I think the focus here was more on the combat and physics. My favorite lines were honestly the quotes during the loading screens.
I have to say the ragdoll physics, while very accurate for what they are trying to achieve, do not really gel with me well. It’s just a little *too* ragdoll, with body parts flying every which way as if rabbits are made of stretched out chewing gum. I think a good portion of the time, I was just jumping through the air, crashing hard, and struggling to get myself back in a stance before I was overtaken.
When I hit an opponent, I didn’t have that feeling of impact until I killed them. When I blocked, I had no idea if it worked or not because I didn’t see the other guy reacting. During a fight, sometimes they die after a few hits, and sometimes they are combat sponges where I have to hit them several times before they die. I can’t tell, even if it’s the same rat guard right next to another. There is no health meter for anyone in the game, the wolves are very much overpowered, and anyone with a sword can one-hit kill you. Also, if you have two or more guys fighting you and you miss by a half second to block or attack, you are toast as they will pummel you to death, the AI is that aggressive.
Now, this is somewhat balanced in two ways. For one, you can Leg-Cannon ( a sort of 360-degree ground pound) someone in the head and kill them within 1-2 hits. For anyone, even bosses, this is lethal. I just wish I didn’t have to resort to this when facing wolves or sword-wielding bad guys. There was one fight with four rabbits in a frozen creek bed, that was really tough for me even with Leg-Cannons and I felt that was probably the hardest time I had in the game. Granted, I liked it and kept at it until I finally beat them. The other way the game balances combat is with a difficulty slider. I played on Hardcore and found it a good challenge for myself. You can lower or increase the speed of the game and difficulty as much as you like. It’s a good way to adjust how hard you want to play.
What you won’t find are collectible items, runes, weapon upgrades, skill set upgrades, power boosts, health, loot, or pretty much anything else you would normally find in an action game.
The combat consists of the aforementioned Leg-Cannon, leg sweeps, judo throws, sword throws and more. For the most part, you will be hitting one button to attack. The type of attack is context sensitive depending on the motion of Turner and the distance from the opponent. Yet, I would prefer to simply choose when to kick or punch. The combatants can usually block that leg sweep once you are past the first few levels and you’ll end up getting thrown and kicked to death in a matter of seconds. Knife throws sometimes worked and sometimes did nothing to help. In a few skirmishes, I would throw my sword at a dog and have it keep attacking me with a sword in its head. Not quite fair when they come at me and one-hit kill me with their own sword.
After some time, this just becomes grindy and repetitive. I don’t mind the challenge. In fact, it was well done. It’s just that doing the same things over and over with nothing else going on felt boring by the time you are 1/3rd of the way through the campaign. The lack of a decent story didn’t help already, but now I have combat that I’m just not enjoying all that much even with all the well thought out physics. I can’t tell if it still needs development or it’s just too ragdoll for my tastes. Coming off a game like Yakuza Kiwami, I just wished I was back fighting in that game instead.
Here, I finally enjoyed myself in combat. Figuring out how to sneak up on dogs and such was not easy in the least, especially in that ice fort where everyone is so spread out with very little cover. Once the guards spot you, they will converge on you like an angry hornet nest. Sneaking up and strangling or slitting someone’s throat is just ninja nirvana. That’s what I live for. The fact that it was tough was great too. Easy to kill one or two, but all the rest? Not easy at all. It’s too bad there wasn’t enough of that in the game.
The AI here will not let you get an easy kill. They can see you from far away, can tell you are sneaking in the grass, and spot you from on top of a peak. Oddly, if I was just one degree away from a 90-degree angle to them, I was mostly invisible if far enough away. Up close, and I was dead meat and they keep an ear out for footfalls. The stealth in the game is how it should be, bravo on the stealth aspect.
While some folks seem to enjoy the graphic fidelity well enough, with the exception of the spooky swamp level and the lava level, I thought it looked sparse and rough looking myself. The textures don’t look detailed enough and the character animations are stiff with decent body movements but almost no facial movements. At least, not from what I saw. I think it would have been a huge improvement to the impact of the storyline if there had been more facial reaction to the dialogue and events. The characters just don’t do the game justice. Also, the other non-rabbit characters look off. When I first saw a cat and dog, the heads were way too small. It was as if someone ripped the heads off an action figure and traded them out with the wrong heads, i.e. Luke Skywalker’s head on the pig-faced body of a Gamorrean Guard from Return of the Jedi.
Other graphics that fell short, the blood splatter. It looks like little strings of red yarn tangled around them. Lastly, there is no mini map, so getting lost is something you’ll just have to get used to in some areas that are more densely designed. The swamp area, which was a good area graphically with fire lighting, fog, and wooden bridges that gave off a total Shinobi vibe, was a spot where I totally lost my bearings. I wandered around for almost 10 minutes before I realized where the rat camp was. The lack of a mini-map or direction arrows will also likely give you pause on the platforming. Now, there are some scratch marks on the areas to designate a platform, but it’s not always easy to see them or decide which area to jump to. There was one section in the Sky Island where I died maybe 30 times before I realized I was aiming at the wrong platform and the correct one was behind me and way across to the left.
As for bugs, personally, I did not encounter anything game breaking. The only thing that got me upset, besides a few screen freezes for two seconds, was after I closed the game. I had almost made it to the top of the Sky Island but had to leave for dinner. I came back and Steam was syncing the game for some reason and it made the screen go hazy white. When I restarted Steam, my game save for that level was deleted. Not sure if the level has no saves within the level or Steam somehow erased my progress, but I had to replay the entire Sky Island up to the top again.
Oh my, the parkour can be infuriating. Platforming with wall jumps and jumping to ledges is not difficult but done well enough that you have to think how to approach an area before tackling it. To the credit of the level design, there are many approaches and even some shortcuts if you look around a bit. The parkour, however, is another matter where I, and I assume many others, need some serious practice. I really think more save locations should be added after each parkour area because if you fall down somewhere else, you’ll be repeating that parkour section. I’m not sure if it needs to be fixed per se, but it’s tough when you die 30+times, make it across and then miss one jump later only to end up back at that same parkour section that pissed you off earlier. A save right after would be appreciated since there is no way to manually save. I thought the lava level was a surprise and well done for the difficulty while the Sky Island level was inventive with the way you needed to progress especially with the option to use ropes instead, but there it is overly difficult with some of the parkour areas. I can see many people just getting furious as they fall repeatedly until you manage to pull it off in the air to grab a ledge. There is a trick to it once you get the hang of it, but it’s something self-taught more than shown.
From my point of view, as someone who didn’t follow the game’s development but checked on an article here and there over the course of nine years, I can’t recommend Overgrowth. I wish I could, it has all the makings of something great. I don’t feel like the levels are put together in a shoddy fashion, but I do feel like it’s still unfinished. The campaign at least feels like all the attention was put on the mechanics and combat animation with not enough time spent on the actual game design itself. Perhaps my imagination overreached the game’s ability to deliver. Maybe it’s just still not ready for a full release. For whatever reason, I do know that despite the vision and effort to make this game, it’s still a short campaign with a lackluster experience and abrupt ending. And this feels weird because this should have been a Magnus Opus of indie games. The best part is still the editor and the mods. If you are looking for a fighting game to mess with, it’s a decent game. If you are looking for a ninja game, then I’d look for something else while we see if any updates fix the campaign mode in the future.