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Apotheon – Video Game Review

Apotheon (cover)Apotheon is an indie platform sidescroller, an action game set in the world of Ancient Greek mythology with a focus on combat and puzzle solving. It’s available for PlayStation 4 on PlayStation Plus, and for the PC on Steam.

I absolutely love anything to do with Greek mythology and the ancient world, so I was excited by the idea of this game and at the very least expected to enjoy the story and its setting. But I was surprised by just how much it impressed me. Apotheon is deeply inspired by Greek mythology and feels constantly true to the feel of those old stories. You play as Nikandreos (a new hero not attached to any previous myth), who, with the help of Hera, is challenging the gods themselves. When his hometown of Dion is destroyed, Nikandreos soon learns that mankind has fallen out of favour with Zeus. Zeus plans to destroy his creation, and you are the one tasked with the monumental mission to stop the king of the gods himself. To do so, you must first battle your way through the Greek pantheon of gods, taking their powers for yourself.

The idea of fighting against the gods is not a new one, and is a theme that modern works inspired by old myths seem to be particularly fond of. However, there is something fresh and interesting about this version, partly due to the game’s respectful and always joyful handling of mythological elements, and partly because you have no real hope of succeeding without the aid of the gods themselves. Hera sets you on your path of defiance, but you are aided by a few of the gods along the way, some of whom seem detached from the world of men, and some of whom cannot conceive of existing without it. Many of these gods take a perverse delight in making you work for their powers; their personalities are as fun and fickle as the ‘real’ mythological versions. Other gods you will have to fight the more traditional way, but in the end they are all truly defeated by their own arrogance and underestimation of a mere mortal. I got the impression that it would be easy for any of them to simply blast you from their realm, but they just have to see how you will do; just have to prove themselves against you.

Apotheon (screenshot 3)

The game involves both combat and puzzle solving. There are main objectives and ‘side quests’ along the way, all of which you will find through a greater exploration of the map. In fact, this is very much a game that encourages exploration, and it is a rich and lovely world to explore, with hidden compartments, switches and puzzles, and walls that can be blown up using Greek fire.

There are certain gods who must be defeated in order to progress and beat the game. Each is found in his or her own area, which is themed to suit their personality and powers. Most areas require a series of challenges to be completed before you can fight the gods themselves, or before they submit their powers to you. The game is kept interesting with a good variety of different kinds of tasks, fights and puzzles. Ares’ realm, as you might expect from the god of war, requires a lot of fighting through tough enemies. Athena’s, on the other hand, requires solving puzzles inside a rotating labyrinth. Boss fights are equally varied and well thought out – Poseidon offers a more standard fight in which the god is vulnerable as long as you are not attacking him from the water; Artemis wants to engage in a hunt with you, in which you alternate between hunted (transformed into a deer) and hunter (now Artemis is the deer). Dionysus, naturally, challenges you to his particular brand of drinking contest.

Not only is this all a great amount of fun, it feels like the game really cares about its subject matter. Gamers who enjoy Greek mythology will love each new tribute. For the very enthusiastic mythology fan, there are even scrolls found in each area that provide context with quotes from Homer, the bard that the ancient Greek epics the Odyssey and Iliad are attributed to.

Apotheon (screenshot 2)

Combat in this game is more complex than your average platformer. There is a huge variety of weapons – melee and ranged – from clubs to daggers, slingshot pellets to Hydra arrows (which split into three when loosed). Not to mention bombs, magic, potions and enhancements… even bone dust that can be used to spawn minions. Everything can be thrown, so a spear acts both as a melee weapon and a ranged attack when needed. Weapons can be slow or fast, and they all have a certain reach, meaning that a spear can hit someone further away than a sword, but if you can get under the spear’s reach then you can attack up close without being hit. You can control the direction you hit or shoot from, and also the direction you block with your shield. You can also roll and walk backwards while facing ahead. All of this is important, because hits do a lot of damage and combat can be very tricky. In fact, I’ve seen its combat likened several times to a 2D Dark Souls. This is obviously designed to be a game that you can’t simply hack and slash through with ease.

In the beginning I found combat difficult to get used to. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, and a variety of weapons and strategies is helpful. It can be frustrating at first, but deeply satisfying when it clicks. It’s rare to find a game where there are so many elements to consider, where you can actually trick your opponent into opening up by fake-stabbing, then roll backwards as he strikes and throw your spear at him before he can get his shield back up. Or swipe her legs and then go for the head while she’s down. Or use the scenery around you by shooting an oil lamp hanging over your enemy with a blast arrow. Tell me that doesn’t sound fun!

Apotheon (screenshot 1)

Unfortunately, there are issues that do spoil this a little, and that can make the fighting awkward and annoying. The controls are a bit fiddly, especially when fighting on several levels (to slip down a level on the thin black platforms, you have to hold jump and down at the same time, something that is difficult to do during combat and doesn’t always work smoothly). Changing weapons is painfully slow and awkward – scroll left and right through categories, and up and down to select which item you want. This is very hard to navigate during combat, which is when you are most likely to want to switch items. The result is that fighting is sometimes just frustrating, and I found myself often wishing for a quick menu or hot keys for favourite items. The game also crashed several times for me, and on two occasions I became stuck in a wall. However, having said this, I appreciated the attempt to create a more interesting combat system and largely felt that it succeeded. Don’t expect fighting to be easy, and save often!

Apotheon (cover 2)The true triumph of the game is in its visuals. The game has been styled to look like a vase painting, with the background in pottery shades and the game itself (platforms, characters, scenery) in black silhouette shapes, like the figures on black-figure pots. The result is that the game feels like moving artwork, stylised rather than realistic, very clever and genuinely beautiful. This suits both the theme of the game and the genre of game very well. Little details really take this to another level – when your health is low, cracks appear in the vase, and the background clay/glaze colours change to suit the particular area or god you are dealing with. There is a unified look and feel, but also something new to every area.

As you can probably tell by now, I would highly recommend this game. While giving us what initially appears a standard platform combat + puzzles game with your familiar defeat the gods storyline, Apotheon actually delivers something that I found unique and surprising. Combat is different and fun, the puzzles engaging and the challenges varied. The look and feel of the game is mesmerising, with some beautiful music to complement the visuals, and the story is interesting throughout. There is a huge sense of fun and playfulness to the mythological aspects, which felt true to the feel of Greek mythology, and a sense of respect and love for the stories that inspired it. More than any other game I’ve played involving Greek mythology, this game really transported me there, to the world of gods, heroes and monsters.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Dryson says:

    After watching the game play for Apotheon I had a really great idea for a side scroller.

    You are on an archeology dig with your wife two sons and two daughters and come across an ancient burial tomb with a never before seen language. Your team keeps digging and finds a steel box that is remarkably unlocked. You open the steel box and suddenly there is a flash of light and everyone has been turned into sprites similar to that seen in Apotheon, including yourself and your family.

    A ancient demon that appears and tells you that in order to return to the living you must rescue each of your family members by defeating the Glyphs of each of the ancient empires of Earth. This adventure would take the player through each of the ancient worlds Glyphs seen on the walls and caves that would include Mayan and Aztec, American Indian, European, Africa, Middle East and Asian locations where glyphs have been found and used as ways of telling a story about the cultures past.

    The player must hurry though as if they don’t defeat the Glyphs their family will permanently become part of the history of the past as Glyphs on the wall with the character roaming the glyphs forever as a shadow.

    http://forum.unity3d.com/threads/a-new-genra-of-side-scroller-and-platformer.357422/

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