As an entertainment form, games are able to produce almost anything imaginable and turn it into an interactive experience that someone, somewhere will enjoy. Sometimes that may arrive in the form of an exhilarating wheel to wheel racing experience, other times it may be a deep and fulfilling story adventure and other times… well… we get things like Struggling – yet as bizarre as it may be, I can’t help but go back for more.
The story begins by telling players of a prophecy in which it is said that two champions will arrive from a pilgrimage having obtained the power to make every sentient being live free from pain or fear and that they alone will save humanity from the shallow demise that it faces. Despite the masses putting faith in these saviours, the memo didn’t quite reach the other end on time, and these saviours never arrived. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, and instead, the saviours are cometh now. Whilst they may not have arrived when expected, and they certainly don’t quite possess that ‘heroic look’ that many would expect, they are here now.
You see our saviours are brothers Hector and Achilles, they have been reincarnated within the confines of a research laboratory and it’s fair to say that their entire being and indeed existence is an abomination. They are conjoined at the face, they have one arm each, and they are in constant pain as they move. Together they are Troy – and they are frustrating, to say the least.
Gameplay begins with either one, or two players taking control of Troy to escape the confines of a glass test container that he, or they, appear to be living in. When a party-going drunken scientist throws up his excess alcohol on the control panel, however, the chance to escape is presented and you must grab it with both of your grotesque hands! Playing solo will see players take control of both arms, whilst two players together can take an arm each. No matter which way you choose to play, however, one thing will remain the same, that being you’ll need to exercise patience and practice should you wish to make it through each platforming area and achieve your end goal of saving humanity.
Movement is as simple as possible on paper. You control each arm with the corresponding analog stick and appropriate trigger. Left for the left arm, and right for the right arm. It sounds simple, but the reality is incredibly different and often difficult. For a simple comparison, Struggling is a game very much in the same vein as titles Manual Samuel, or I Am Bread, in which you need to manipulate the position of your body to achieve basic movement. This will not only be needed for basic traversal, but also actions such as climbing, closing doors, operating controls, riding a motorbike and anything else asked of you.
Without a doubt, the developers Chasing Rats Games have intended to make the title of the game as realistic a feature as possible. They want you to struggle and they want you to feel challenged by what is on offer. For the most part, this is done incredibly well, even causing incredible tension in one area as you are chased to the exit by a swarm of rabid rats early on. On the odd occasion though things can feel a tad unfair and it’s these times you’ll find yourself needing a break for five minutes.
For example, one such irritating point in the game came when I was being chased by another unthinkable abomination as I exited an elevator, I’d just learnt how elevators work you see, and was also learning how to close doors – a finicky process to say the least, yet suddenly I was placed into an apparent chase situation and whilst the tension had begun building as I felt the real threat of danger, that tension and excitement suddenly turned to frustration as I had not only died 3 times trying to get the door closed before being attacked by this creature, but on 2 of those occasions, it was because one of my arms had become stuck underneath my body in the rush and I was struggling to even move.
There is an acknowledgement of sorts on the developers part hereof this being a possibility by allowing an option to instantaneously amputate your arm before regenerating another in its place, but unless you’re stuck on a platforming section with few threats, this can lead to an extra death. This alone is no real cause for concern as checkpoints are frequent and a retry of any section is rather quick to put into action after death, however with an achievement included for finishing the entire game without a single death, this is sure to cause some people to struggle beyond what even the developers have expected.
That said, Struggling is in no way a bad game. I found a ton of enjoyment to be had and whilst it’s pretty simply a platformer in which you need to move from point A to B in this horrid world, the way in which you have to do so is always interesting and varied. Yes there are plenty of reasons to find yourself venting at your deformed and mutant-looking ‘hero’, and you will find your patience partaking in a test of endurance throughout but the overall experience is an enjoyable one.
Whilst the overall goal is the point to point stuff, there are also a bunch of collectables littered throughout that come in the form of Hats – yes simple hats.
These hats don’t give the player anything extra that’s noteworthy besides a new visual appearance when donning whichever said hat you’ve picked up, however for those that like to explore every nook and cranny on the hunt for that hidden collectable, Struggling has you covered, with players often required to go off the beaten – and usually much more difficult path, in order to collect every one.
Naturally, with platforming, puzzles are featured as a part of the game and whilst none prove all that difficult to figure out, achieving what they ask of you isn’t easy thanks to the difficult nature of the controls. Again this usually comes down to your ability to manipulate the body of Troy at the right moment rather than any real brainpower, but there is enough challenge and variety to see that nothing feels reused all too often, or too far out of your grasp, with gameplay feeling fresh throughout.
The final point to note within the gameplay comes in the form of the boss battles, and it’s fair to say that with all the interesting ideas that have been placed within each level, the creative quality hasn’t suffered when it comes to boss fights. The very first boss fight of the game will see you take on a creature with a similar horrific look to your own in a game of what appears to be pinball against this hulking monstrosity. Each fight brings about a fresh and enticing challenge and whilst you’ll need all of your communicatory skills to be on point should you wish to beat these with a friend, they are definitely some of the best boss battles we’ve seen in some time.
Visually things are designed around a cartoon art style, much like the previously mentioned Manual Samuel. Colours are vibrant and rich and no matter if you’re crawling through the sewers or travelling on the back of a motorbike as the scenery whizzes past, there is never a dull pixel on the screen. Whilst realism isn’t the focus here, the game world has a well realised and dark comedy feel to it, with hideous creatures lurking in certain areas and each environment feeling unique and rather fun to explore.
Finally, we have the game audio and whilst I’m all for drowning out a dull soundtrack or meaningless audio cues in favour of a thumping playlist from Spotify, Struggling isn’t a game in which that was necessary with comical but not too frequent screams from our protagonists as pain endured throughout movements was made apparent, and appropriate music managing to set the tone for boss fights, things always feel catered to ensuring you know at all times the scale of what you’re about to face. It’s nice to see a game that ensures audio matches what is happening onscreen and whilst Struggling doesn’t go above and beyond to create anything spectacular here, there is enough here to keep you engaged without falling to a yawn.
Overall and if you’re looking for a game that is great to play with a friend and can frequently keep things interesting then Struggling is sure to keep you entertained. It holds enough challenge and difficulty to keep things engaging without ever going too far as to make things inaccessible. Whilst it’s likely to be one of the weirdest games you’ll play in 2021, it’s up there with one of the finest indie games too.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.