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Mortal Manor (PC) artwork

Mortal Manor (PC) review

"Progress so hard to come by, you'll progress to the next game on your list"

Mortal Manor is a side-scrolling metroidvania that seems to be purposefully cultivating a reputation for being punishing; for gating its very worthwhile gaming goodness behind a rough start beyond which only the most elite gamers will experience. I can't quite speak to any late-blooming goodness -- I suppose I didn't get far enough -- but I can speak to its ostensible hardore status. And in truth, navigating from screen-to-screen eliminating each oddly formed monster to appear is not inordinately difficult in this game.

The challenge comes from the fact that save points are so few and far between. For a title of this type, an 8-bit-styled adventure, the map is surprisingly large, and that is to the game’s credit. To the game’s detriment, however, you can go through dozens of screens before you get to the next save point.

The issue with this is obvious: metroidvanias are about exploration... then character building, and further exploration. The whole point of these exercises is for your hero to begin his quest with precious little in the way of abilities and weaponry, and so you are compelled to uncover more and more of the world map to secure attributes and equipment hidden away behind puzzles and bosses.

But when the opportunity to save your hard-earned progress comes along so seldom, you're actually disinclined to explore because death could come at any given time and erase a good 15 to 20 minutes of play. That doesn't make Mortal Manor difficult, it makes it obnoxious.

And it’s unfortunate, because there is so much potential here. There are some good tunes, a hero that evokes the Simon Belmont avatar of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, some interesting monsters, and a cool control interface whereby you can assign up to three melee weapons to different buttons. It's got instant save-to-save travel, backflips, grapple hook jumps (and double grapple hook jumps!) and tons of fairly well drawn environs to discover.

But given that your avatar feels feeble and doesn’t move about particularly quickly, the save point issue is especially crippling. I get that this approach is intended to make the player sweaty-handed and cognizant of how precious life is, to make us navigate with care, aware that death can come quickly and suddenly and that it has real consequences. I get all that. But had I not been tasked with the review assignment, I certainly would not have given Mortal Manor the time I did; I realized fairly early on that despite sounding many pleasant retro notes, the game is difficult to enjoy.

You’ll achieve the first save point without too much fuss early on, and from there, will pick one of numerous paths and strike out in that direction to do some exploring. And then you’ll figure out all too soon how hard it is to venture forth when what’s foremost in your mind is the sobering likelihood that you’ll have to circle back to the very same save point to have any hope of retaining the items and skills that you just accrued.

And that’s not how these games are supposed to work. You are supposed to explore, fight, save -- rinse and repeat. You shouldn't be encouraged to establish a home base that you must scamper back to every few minutes, tail between your legs, for fear of not seeing the next one for the next half hour of play. And if a game's identity is attached to being subversive or tipping status quo on its head, it should be prepared to be left quite alone.

I appreciate the other ‘hardcore’ decisions here: as mentioned your character doesn't feel particularly sturdy or fleet of foot, most enemies require multiple hits to dispatch, re-entering a past screen respawns the same enemies -- I would be fine with all of that were it not for the looming spectre of the underrepresented save point.

If I were optimistic, I could hope that this would be addressed in an update, but I doubt that it will, since feedback from the developer (sourced from some game forum posts) suggests that they are taking some amount of pride in the game’s hardcore reputation -- the game’s punishing reluctance to record and reward progress is no accident or decision arrived at lightly, from what I can tell.

If I were to compare Mortal Manor to another hardcore platformer, the celebrated Cuphead, I'd say the latter game is much more difficult, requiring considerable planning and dexterity for success. Making your way through Mortal Manor isn't all that taxing, but the knowledge that there is no safe haven on the horizon definitely is. This may be your brand of hardcore, and if it is -- more power to you. Most gamers though, will likely pass in favour of more accessible Steam metroidvanias, of which there is fortunately no shortage.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (February 18, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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