There is a hive. There is always a hive.
OVERWHELM is a Metroid/roguelike platformer set in a vast monochromatic hive, with the goal being to take down every boss located in every corner of the map. With a one-hit death and limited lives, this certainly is no easy task and requires a great amount of skill. Unfortunately, while the game has a fantastic sense of dread and style, the lack of upgrades and janky/unfair deaths holds this one back from being a truly fantastic roguelike experience.
The controls are a little different than one might be familiar with when playing a Metroid-like game, for the player actually has full 360º control over their gun. This allows ultra precision when dealing with the overworld’s enemies, but combined with the melee attack it can be a little confusing to wield at first. The game starts you off with using the shoulder buttons to attack, and in the long run this is probably the best way to play. Fortunately, you are allowed to change the button scheme in any way you’d like.
The visuals feature big and chunky pixels, with a standard Virtual Boy red and hellish look to the surroundings. If red isn’t your color, they let you choose from a handful of others to suit your preference. The music works together with the visuals quite nicely to present a world of terror and danger, with sustained dissonance warning the player whenever a threat is near. The bosses are pretty neat: each differing in attack patterns, scale, and design. Every time one is defeated, a certain aspect of the world will get more threatening, like creatures being able to crawl on the walls or being able to fly, making them more aggressive and sinister.
What also instills fear is when you find out how easily you can die. The slightest mistake can be your downfall; if you touch literally anything without either your fist or a bullet, you are dead. You get three lives to reach a boss and take it down, claim its gem, and bring it back to the main hub. If the tension still hasn’t mounted enough for you, every time you die your field of vision cleverly shrinks a little to make the game that much harder. Obviously, the more you can see the better prepared you’ll be, but of course the opposite is also true.
This leads me to the main problem I experienced with the game: the seemingly unfair deaths that can occur. Bosses have this sort of glitching ability to teleport around the room, and sometimes they can appear so close that you have no choice but to get hit and die. In the main world, the gameplay is a little too fast for a one hit-death, and it just doesn’t feel good to get hit by a passing enemy that should have been hit by your gun or melee attack. Frankly, it feels cheap, and I think that while it doesn’t happen all the time, OVERWHELM could have greatly improved on this by granting just one extra hit point to account for the jank. The included co-op option does allow a player to be resurrected, so working together can be a much more enjoyable experience if you can manage to find a skillful friend to play with.
All in all, OVERWHELM is a fun and neat little roguelike with an unfortunate problem: it can feel unforgiving in the worst way. While it’s far from being unplayable or unenjoyable, it can simply be disheartening to be on an incredible run only to be cheaply killed by either a teleporting boss or a random overworld enemy. If you can get past that, there is an amusing game that I could recommend to roguelike fans.