Written by Games of DAYNE | Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Struggling opens with a prophecy foretelling the arrival of a pair of heroes to save the day, an ancient civilisation is left in ruins by an evil conqueror when the fabled Hector and Achilles fail to arrive.
As generations pass, and the remnants of the fallen civilisation continue to hope their saviours will arrive, somewhere in a lab, Troy is born. Half Achilles, half Hector, Troy is a mutant that consists of conjoined heads and two arms.
Troy breaks free from the scientific tube he was created in and embarks on a daring escape, taking it one arm at a time in this humorous and frustrating physics-based 2D adventure.
The concept of Struggling may be familiar to those who have played Octodad or Manual Samuel for instance, titles where the controls are tied to limbs that the player must wrestle with in order to put one foot in front of the other so to speak. It makes for an entertaining experience that will almost certainly frustrate players but the satisfaction of overcoming an obstacle is a rewarding feeling.
Playable solo or co-operatively with one other player locally, the controls are essentially moving the left and right arms and clutching things with their respective hands. Simple right? Wrong. Simply moving, picking things up and using them or climbing things offer a challenge that never relents, and even after a few hours it can be easy to make simple mistakes that send you into a spiral of retries and failed attempts.
In Struggling, you can’t spell fun without frustration. I spent nearly 8 hours wrestling with Troy’s limbs before seeing the credits roll and given how the difficulty is also relative to the players experience with the genre, I’m not sure if that is quick or slow, I would suggest the latter.
The simplicity of the challenge is what makes Struggling enjoyable, there’s not a lot actually required from the player, simply moving across the screen and climbing things is pretty much all the player needs to do. Troy’s struggle becomes the players struggle and it’s this common ground that somehow makes the connection so relatable and the title so clever.
Troy must navigate dangerous environments, crossing perilous gaps and avoid obstacles that will kill him. Swinging across a fatal drop is much easier than climbing the object used to swing and it’s these types of shenanigans that walk that tightrope of fun and frustration.
Troy has two abilities that are useful in rare occasions only. He can shed an arm and regrow it, useful only in scenarios where that particular arm manages to get tangled in the environment and screaming to the point of exploding his beautifully mutated head, only to respawn at the most recent checkpoint. I haven’t yet figured out a situation where the self-detonation is useful or necessary but it’s amusing, nonetheless.
The humour and entertaining antics of the quirky characters that occupy the world of Struggling are enjoyable, especially with the cartoonish art design. Struggling manages to entertain visually and environmentally, enough to downplay any frustration that may be experienced after being stuck with some platforming. The brief moments of frustration are easy to overlook when there are as many pleasant distractions in between.
Tasking the players with being creative and dextrous with Troy’s appendages to navigate the puzzling environment, Chasing Rats Games have made an experience that is so unique. The challenge, comedic character designs and general oddity that is ever-present in the playful environments and the weird creatures that inhabit it. The moments where things seem too hard feel rewarding when they are overcome, the things that don’t seem to make sense draw laughter and grins. Struggling has a yin for every yang and its that balancing act that bleeds through in every aspect, including the gameplay of Troy.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Struggling is its excellent score. Dubstep, circus-like themes and upbeat EDM beats. There’s blues, opera, harmonica, a little bit of everything throughout the playful variety of biomes to traverse and survive and what’s more impressive is their placement. The score rises and falls with the madness of its themes and ideas, placed appropriately to wrap the overall presentation into a very distinctive, weird, and wacky package.
Despite putting the player through some tough times, Struggling makes it feel rewarding and satisfying, all while constantly surprising its players with a striking audio-visual, one-two punches. Imagination has translated cleverly to the screen and the end result is a memorably frustrating yet enjoyable experience that I can only imagine would be an absolute blast in co-op. Chasing Rats Games have delivered a strong outing and I for one am keen to see where they, and possibly Troy, take us next.