Agartha by Shindenken
The surface world is for plebs. Agartha is where the party is happening! Unfortunately, getting to the fabled paradise at the Earth’s core is going to require moving heaven and earth.
While the visuals are nothing grand, Agartha’s simple interface is elevated by challenging 2D platforming. Mastery over the environment is this game’s raison d’etre, and each stage is a multi-layered affair just waiting to be carved up. By collecting resources and unlocking additional characters, the path to perfection is within reach.
Down The Rabbit Hole
There are 64 levels to play through, though it isn’t a linear slog. Every level can be cleared by passing through a door, which will open up a new stage.
Most often, this is going to require making changes to the elements using one of four abilities. The gunner can use fire to water into steam and an ice gun to change steam into water and ice, and two types of blaster weapons for attacking creatures and blasting holes in solid objects.
Initially, this limits the path downwards. There are other doors hidden within stages, but to reach them, the skills of additional characters are often necessary.
Seven unlockable player classes exist, each with varying ways to control different elements. Access to them can be purchased by collecting meat and minerals. These can be found in most stages, though keeping the spoils requires successfully clearing a stage without dying.
The controls are simple, with one button each controlling jumping, firing a weapon and selecting another weapon. The arrow keys move the character, and it’s possible to fire in eight directions.
The simplicity of the control scheme is a blessing, as the underground journey quickly becomes packed with foes. Many of them move quickly and without warning. Their actions are also erratic, so counting on similar movements from a foe is going to result in death. Most critters can be taken out with a few shots from a weapon, but with a set limit on resources, firing around wildly is just a bad idea.
The ammo cap in each area is the same, varying only by which fighter is selected. There are no refills for ammo – or health points, for that matter.
If the gear is out of juice and there still isn’t a door readily accessible, that’s it. Fortunately, holding down the V key will suffocate and kill the player (yay?), and return him to the main menu.
8 Bit Is Enough
Gamers who cut their 2D platformer teeth on any of the Mega Man games will be right at home with Agartha’s minimalistic presentation, as well as the grueling level of difficulty.
The complexity comes in the form of a fully destructible/malleable environment and a limited number of resources. Finding all of the games’ secrets will demand returning to several stages with new characters in tow.
The retro gloss of the visuals practically screams for a punchy chiptune soundtrack, and Agartha doesn’t disappoint. Each track bears the hallmarks of Capcom’s NES glory days. Get ready for a few concurrent cases of earworm.
Boiling the Ocean
The game physics are solid but can be unpredictable, largely due to the huge amount of pixels in play. Even an abundance of caution can be in vain in cases where a wonky interplay of the elements takes place.
Water never seems to fully disperse as one might expect, instead forming peaks and valleys on the surface, rather than leveling out. Steam can sometimes be seen seeping through solid earth. With physics being the centerpiece of the game, these little gripes take on more weight.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
Less is often more, and Agartha’s stripped back presentation is a fine example. While graphics clearly aren’t the developer’s priority, the player has a great deal of control over what is on screen.
Returning to previously cleared stages to dig into the real guts of the game using new tools is a great deal of fun, and easily as much so as the challenge of clearing them in the first place. For completionists, this seemingly bare-bones game is bursting with secrets.
Agartha is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Agartha below.