Review: Apotheon

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Sure, the setup’s going to feel mythologically familiar to anyone who’s waded through rivers of blood with a certain ghost-skinned warrior: Led by that indifferent horndog Zeus, the gods have punted their responsibilities and turned their backs on humanity, like free-agent football players holding out for a better contract offer. The world lies in darkness. Crops are ruined and the seas are still. I don’t even think the satellite TV service is working.

But instead of commanding a larger-than-life rage-aholic with guilt issues and blades chained to his arms, you’re dropped into the boots of the far more anonymous hero Nikandreos and charged with the same task: Scaling the heights of Olympus to pick them off, one by immortal one. In Alientrap Games’ Apotheon, it’s less about the scale than the 2D platforming.

A single look’s enough to tell you that Apotheon’s biggest draw is easily its jaw-droppingly cool art style, cribbed straight from classical Grecian pottery. The palette mix of blacks, reds, oranges and yellows both brings the action to life and makes you want to just stop and appreciate the artistry. Upgrading your weapons, armor and shield has a distinct and colorful effect on your look, and it’s easy to feel like Hector at the start of the Trojan War when you’re rocking an oversized shield and a legendary weapon. The flames in the hanging lamps flicker wickedly, and they can also be used as environmental traps for unsuspecting enemies.

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In a nice intellectual touch, there are ornate kiosks scattered throughout the game’s multiple hub-based levels that, when touched, reveal classic-lit quotes from the likes of Aeschylus and Homer that illuminate the proceedings a little. It’s helpful and interesting to learn a little about forest-nymph culture as you try to track down Artemis and wrest her legendary bow from her immortal man-hands.

Your weaponry’s diverse and accurately named—there are spears, arrows and explosives available, in addition to the more standard-issue xiphos–but seriously, good luck swapping them out on the fly in the middle of a battle. By the time you’ve scavenged your way through a few battles and stopped to spend some gold at a few smithies, your weapons menus will be both extensive and clumsy. Given that you’ll often face packs of enemies coming at you with both melee and ranged weaponry, an easier way to switch back and forth–say, something like mapping weapons to face buttons–would have made combat feel a little less clunky.

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The platforming controls are Apotheon’s Achilles’ heel, an annoyance that often makes navigating the extensive levels — there’s one for each god in the pantheon, each with a cool theme and a memorable boss battle — a Sisyphean chore. There’s a general floatiness that makes landing in a specific location difficult, and that’s a problem given that precision’s often required to survive both simple close-quarters battles involving platforms and deity-based traps and attacks. Even tracking down simple find-the-object/creature/character objectives can become like the dragonfly buzzing around Io’s bovine eye: The number of times you’re asked to scale a few feet up a vertical or slanted wall then rebound to a higher location equals the number of times the imprecise controls will make you wish there were an easier way.

Apotheon’s gameplay won’t ensure its place in the platform gaming pantheon, but its unforgettable look surely will. Just like Paris, we gamers tend to be suckers for the prettiest face, and in this case, there’s little question where that golden apple’s going.

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Pros:
+ Gorgeous classical look is visually arresting
+ Wide range of weapons opens up multiple combat strategies
+ By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a World lit class

Cons:
– Floaty controls make platforming an unnecessarily Herculean task
– Swapping weapons could be much easier

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC via Steam
Publisher: Alientrap Games
Developer: Alientrap Games
Release Date: 2/3/2015
Genre: 2D Action Platformer
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Game played free through PlayStation Plus

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.