Apotheon – What We Think
Apotheon from Alientrap—the team behind the beautiful alien planet Metroidvania Capsized—takes the tried and true sidescrolling action RPG formula and gives it a classical twist with a storyline based on Greek myth and graphics based on bronze age art. That’s enough of a hook already, but the gameplay does the concept proud. It’s tough in all the right places, even brutally tough, but even the frustrating parts make perfect sense in context. The difficulty curve might be steep, but that just makes climbing it all the sweeter.
How Do You Say “Ragnarok” in Greek?
The gods of Olympus have abandoned the mortal realm, leaving the world in ruins. You must make them pay! Sounds a bit like God of War, but this is no AAA title full of 3D villains that look like rejects from a Spawn comic book. Your character, Nikandreos, is just a simple villager…albeit a simple villager tasked with bringing down Zeus himself.
As they did with Capsized, Alientrap pull out all the stops to make the game’s setting come alive. This isn’t a generic Metroidvania with characters named after random Greek gods and heroes; the devs did their homework. As you wander through the Agora—the central market area from which you can enter various levels—and the realms of individual gods, you’ll regularly come across quotes from classical Greek literature that help bring the mood even more to life.
We’re not just talking a couple of scenes from The Odyssey, either. There’s plenty of Aeschylus and Euripides for your perusal, as well. You don’t have to be a classical scholar to appreciate Apotheon, but it helps.
Ode to a Grecian Urn
Apotheon is also so gorgeous it makes your eyes hurt. The art is based on amphorae, the ubiquitous double-handled pottery of the ancient world. A boon to architects and art historians alike, these pots—used to transport such valuables as olive oil and wine—were painted with scenes from classical legends and date back to nearly a thousand years B.C.
These scenes of plume-helmeted warriors and javelin-wielding hunters come to life in Apotheon, the animation dynamic but distinctly two-dimensional for an effect that feels smooth while still evoking the still-life art of classical Greece. The use of color—soft greens and blues for the realm of forest hunting goddess Artemis, red and orange watercolor effects for the flaming river Phlegethon—is stunning, and simple geometric patterns for wind and water convey motion while retaining the pottery-come-to-life aesthetic.
A Succession of Greek Tragedies
Apotheon is hard, but it’s hard in all the right ways. With the combat system, the developers were trying to evoke the confusion and awkwardness of real hand to hand combat. They succeeded! You’ll be tempted to bash away, but this is no simple hack and slash game. You’ll need to carefully time and aim your attacks, keep your shield up, and even pay attention to what shape your weapon is in. Hit a rock with your sword, and it’ll break on you, so if you’re going to run around bashing away at everything that isn’t nailed down, maybe stick to something cheap, like a pitchfork or wooden club.
That goes for ranged weapons, too. In Apotheon, technically anything can be a ranged weapon (you can throw your swords and clubs if you like), but javelins and bows are ideally suited for this. You’ll need to have time and distance to aim, though, so if you’re being pursued by a fast-moving satyr or a group of angry guards, they’ll be on top of you before you’ve even loosed your bow-string.
Combat aside, the levels, and in particular some of the boss fights, are cleverly put together, ranging from the wild hunt of Artemis to a ship-bound battle with Poseidon. There are also several optional boss fights, including a timed, wine-fueled series of jumping puzzles in the hall of Bacchus, god of wine. These are more set-pieces than traditional boss fights, and though they’re all tough, they’re not frustrating, because you can eventually figure them out. And once you do, it’s so satisfying!
Apotheon might be too tough and its controls too intentionally awkward for some players. It’s old school, and it’s brutal. But it’s brutal in the best ways, never difficult simply for the sake of frustrating the player, but always carefully crafted and perfectly married to its unique aesthetic. Like the eponymous hero of Homer’s Odyssey, you’ll go to hell and back, but what an amazing journey!
Watch the trailer for Apotheon below: