Overwhelm looks basic at first glance. A pixel-based roguelike with a dark and mysterious hive minded terror trying its damnedest to kill you. But just like the enemies in the game, Overwhelm evolves. It takes the best parts of Binding of Isaac, Dark Souls, and Metroidvania platforming and bundles them together in a completely breathtaking package. It’s amazing to think that Overwhelm was created by a one-person team, Ruari O’ Sullivan and his studio RANDOMNINE.
The main goal of Overwhelm is to seek out and destroy the hive. These alien menace won’t be put down so easily. There are six bosses in total, each more terrifying and difficult than the last. Players will venture out once they enter into the hive and track them down in any order. But the most interesting catch to this concept is that each time a player defeats a boss they signal the hive to evolve, including the remaining bosses. Players will not be able to grind or find an overpowered weapon, they’re armed with only a trusty rifle to face these hoards of alien enemies. Overwhelm requires players to learn the bosses, memorize attack patterns and sometimes just get downright lucky. Every death is your fault and every victory is earned. Death comes quickly as well, as one hit will end players lives. Those feelings are reminiscent to many Dark Souls veterans, but Overwhelm does this is such a “bite-sized” way.
“Don’t lose hope skeleton!” Co-op can lessen the difficulty of the game but in a balanced way. Overwhelm supports two player local co-op. Players will be able to revive their partner making the game slightly less scary. The downside is players will have a smaller ammo pool.
Overwhelm finds the perfect balance of challenging its players but not turning them off. Players will never feel completely in control, each death causes the screen to distort and make it harder to see. Players have only three lives to complete this dark and frightening gauntlet of six bosses, once they’ve failed three times its back to square one. Again it never feels, pardon the pun, overwhelming. The game captures that feeling of “one more try” as players search for that next boss or lose their lives as they discover a new evolution of the hives monsters.
Overwhelm has a unique look. Everything is red and black, and it really gives players a claustrophobic feel. The 8-bit art style just feels perfectly at home in this type of game and setting. Overwhelm will leave just enough of the character and monster design up to the imagination to let players fill in the gaps. One of the bosses are twin lizards but the designs are just different and distinct enough that players will start to see the subtle differences. In my personal experience, I started to refer to one of the lizards as “armored” because I saw it as having armor plates attached to its hide.
Overwhelm reminded me of 80’s arcade games. Where the gameplay may not look the greatest but the gameplay is portrayed in a way that you see it come alive in your head. Like when you played with toy soldiers as a child. The sounds and music are great, the chiptune style fits Overwhelm like a glove. I was transported back to days of playing in arcades feeding quarters into a machine to have one more chance at beating the boss.
Overwhelm is a master class in the atmosphere. The colors, music, sounds, and style are all chosen to hold the other up. It’s a house of cards. Without one, the other would fall, but how they are put together makes it all stand above
Lack of a story can be a story, right? Vagueness leaves room for players to create their own reasons the character is hunting down the hive. Shoot aliens with guns until they’re dead is always a good B movie motive. This is Overwhelms weakest pillar, but not one I personally fault it for too much. Reminding me a lot of Binding of Isaac, Overwhelm gives players an outline of a story and stops holding your hand. It doesn’t affect the fun factor of the game, or players drive to play but it can be a bummer for anyone looking for a story driven game. Personally, I don’t need an excuse to put a bullet in the head of a giant space squid.
This goes without saying but Overwhelm has amazing replay value. The game is built on players replaying it over and over and over trying to defeat all the bosses in one run. Sadly it also lends itself to one of Overwhelms biggest weaknesses. Once a player manages to defeat the hive and all the bosses in one run, the game ends. Roll credits. The journey to get there though is well worth the price of admission and players will have a good time if they put their nose to the grindstone and don’t shy away from failing a few times.
Overwhelm is a delight to play. With its engaging evolution mechanic making the boss fights more challenging the closer you get to the end. It’s a perfect example of atmosphere, with its frightening sci-fi 8-bit visuals and refreshing color palette. The dread the character feels is translated perfectly into the gameplay. Overwhelm is great, and with its evolution to the switch, it’s found a wonderful home to showcase its roguelike gameplay.
Editor’s Note: GameOctane editor Matt Steigely purchased a code for review and to share his experiences with the GameOctane audience.
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+ Fun, engaging gameplay loop
+ Beautiful art style and atmosphere
+ Local Co-op
- Short length
- Wonky Controls