by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Inspiration from Greek Pottery
Apotheon captured my interest the very moment I saw the first images of it. The art style looked like it was lifted directly from the sides of ancient Greek black-figure pottery. The combination between this style and a side-scrolling 2D platformer gameplay is so logical that I am actually surprised that no one thought of it before (that I know of).
Apotheon is AlienTrap’s second outing into 2D platformers, the previous entry being a sci-fi action called Capsized, which was rather favourably received back in 2011. Their second game in the genre is equally well thought-out both stylistically and insofar as gameplay is concerned.
The plot also draws from Greek myths, but does not replicate any specific myth. Rather, you take the role of Nikandreos, a young soldier who begins the story by defending his village against invaders. It soon turns out that Zeus has turned his back to humanity and plans to let the humans kill each other so that he can begin again. Hera, Zeus’s wife and sister, disagrees and gives Nikandreos the mighty task of helping her as she plans to teach Zeus a lesson, stripping the Gods of their powers and saving the humanity. She sends the young hero to Mount Olympus, to Hades, and many other places as the story proceeds, providing an interesting variety of settings.
I had expected to see only stone-tablet like speech bubbles, but I was surprised to actually hear that Hera and other side characters are all voiced pretty well. The only voice that annoyed me a little bit was the narrator, but this was surely just a personal preference.
Although the game’s art style draws from ancient Greek art, that’s not the whole truth: the style is somewhat more complex than black figures on a red background. There are various sorts of faded background layers providing some depth to the scenery and different regions switch the pottery red background with other colours, such as blue or yellow. You also get other colours, such as blue and red in the tunics that the black figures wear and some colours on their shields as well. None of this removes from the basic idea of Greek pottery, however – the illusion is near perfect until the black figures actually begin to maul and behead each other.
The animations are naturally stiff, befitting the art style, but you do get some great action nevertheless: bodies gushing blood, soldiers thrown back when hit with a powerful swing, arrows that make them reel back. And when the enemies fall, they often leave behind useful items – such as spears, javelins, bows, arrows, swords, daggers, healing herbs etc. These are all represented with clear symbols, fitting the art style perfectly. This loot becomes very valuable when you add wear and tear – the weapons and armour degrade over time and you need to find replacements. Luckily, this will not leave you unarmed as the hero seems to be perfectly capable of hauling a veritable arsenal with him and switches automatically to the next weapon when one of them breaks.
There’s a small downside to the animations, however, and it is basically that it is sometimes difficult to tell the characters apart when there are more than two of them close to each other or on top of each other. This usually only happens when you have managed to attract multiple enemies upon you, further decreasing your chances of survival. I also found the use of bows and thrown weapons somewhat clunky with mouse+keyboard combination and switching between the various weapons takes your attention away from the fights. Overall, however much there is action in the game, it doesn’t really seem to be designed to be a fluid action game.
As an aside, the only technical problem I had was that the game did not Alt-Tab properly and a quick Google tells me that others have faced the same problem. Hopefully it will be fixed with an update soon.
Variety in gameplay
Although the gameplay is mostly set around action as the hero fights his way through various obstacles, there are settings where you have to switch to other types of gameplay. On Mount Olympus, for example, violence is forbidden, so you have to find your way around without angering anyone. At first, this may sound easy, but when you realise that simply picking a lock may anger one of the half-gods and set them upon you, you soon have to figure out new ways to solve the problems on your way. You also get to solve a variety of puzzles and do some basic platforming – the last of these is never as tough as some platformers make it and – happily – you do not ever find yourself counting the pixels between one platform and the next.
Appreciation of Black-Figure Pottery
In addition to offering very nice graphics, the game makes a point of trying to teach its players something about mythology, which I count as a good point. But I must say that the teachings are basic and do not offer much for someone who’s read a book or two on the topic already. Still, they are a nice educational bonus in the game.
Overall, I like the game and especially its visuals. There’s nothing particularly new about the concept, but the realisation is very good. The controls could have used some extra work and the story might have been a bit more complex, but these are minor complaints in a game like this. Even my wife who usually pays little attention to the games I play was enthused by the looks of the game, so that’s a definite bonus point as well. Definitely recommended!
Unique concept and beautiful realisation, black-figure pottery!
Story is somewhat generic and controls could have been smoother.