I’m all for sacrificing to eldritch gods.
Always have been, always will be. But sacrifices can be boring: there’s only so many times I can endure the virgin on the ceremonial altar, it’s just so overdone. Thankfully, Galvanic Games have given us a new way to invoke the lords of darkness! Cue Gurgamoth, a fast-paced couch-multiplayer flying-fighting game where your aim is to kill your friends using your environment in order to summon the titular bringer of the end times.
Gurgamoth has a basic concept at its blackened heart: hit other players into things. Controls are simple: left stick to move your little death cultist around the screen, A button to attack, B button to dodge, and double tap B to stun (in case it isn’t clear, a gamepad controller is compulsory). Your cultist has a little arrow around it to show which direction it’s moving or attacking in to make sure you’re oriented correctly. Attacks are quite similar to using a billiards ball to knock another billiards ball – if the balls were made of necrotic flesh and the pockets were lethal spikes. Because of this there’s quite a lot of manoeuvring to get the best “shot”, flinging your opponent into some saw blades at just the right time and at just the right angle so that it ends in a satisfying splat. Furthermore, you’re only given three of these attacks at a time before a countdown replenishes them, meaning you’ll have to choose your moment to strike carefully. An autobalance feature also further reduces your attacks to level the playing field during a match.
On top of this, the dodge ability not only aids evasion, but can also be used to feint and get into a better position against your opponent. Stunning is certainly the weaker aspect of the control scheme, as myself and my couch partners often weren’t really sure how or why a stun had occurred or who had done it, and the stuns themselves don’t last very long. Indeed, many of the deaths in Gurgamoth were seemingly caused by freak accident or luck. On the other hand, this confusion may have just been a by-product of the heat of battle. Whilst to some this confusion and apparent randomness may add to the fun of the fight, those looking for a more refined and predictable experience may find it frustrating. Overall, the stripped down controls provide a surprising amount of tactical depth whilst encouraging you to make use of the only means of achieving death in Gurgamoth: the deadly environment.
Gurgamoth lives and dies (over and over) on its maps. The only way to kill your opponents is to force them to get hit by the many fatal parts of the playing field. The borders of all the maps run along the edge of your screen, and normally these are lethal to touch or unpredictably bouncy. As the game progresses the map becomes smaller and the borders of the map ever encroach on the battle, ensuring that games never last too long. Sometimes the map even shifts up or to the side, wrapping around the screen and causing a lot of confusion, or maybe an opportunity if your mind copes well with trippy dimensions. However, as well as there being dangers on the edge of the map, there are also dangers in the middle of the map. Whaddya know, danger is everywhere! These usually come in the form of spiky balls that float precariously around the arena, rocks that fire out laser beams periodically, or frozen lumps that fly out of ice balls and trap players. These can be somewhat influenced by the player if you’re clever: the spiky ball can be pinged snooker style in the direction of your enemy, and the laser beams fire out from the rock on the opposite side to where you strike it. Power-ups are also available to be picked up if you’re willing to use one of your attacks on them, perhaps giving yourself a shield or a slew of infinite attacks for a short time.
The game’s aesthetics fit into that cutesy yet sometimes horrific cartoonish niche carved out by the likes Castle Crashers, Super Meat Boy, and The Binding of Isaac. Maps are based around a variety of horror themes, some hellish, some industrial, and are often populated by an unreasonable number of spikes. The player can also choose from a variety of cultists, although these are merely cosmetic choices. The soundtrack is solid, light-hearted and frantic, again drawing comparisons from the aforementioned games.
Sadly, Gurgamoth died a death in our living room at the hands of a simple phrase: “So that’s it?” All too quickly we played through every map available, used all the power-ups, and died to every hazard. Whilst the core concept of the game – one centred around tight flight mechanics and attack positioning – was a solid one, it was set in a frame that boasts little variety. Gurgamoth is like a big fish in a tiny, tiny pond. The limited selection of maps is frustrating, especially when they are mostly re-skins of each other. Most of what I mentioned above regarding the map obstacles is quite literally all there is to discover. It’s all just far too shallow.
With what is essentially a robust game mechanic, Gurgamoth could be improved immensely by including more interesting maps, perhaps a co-op campaign with side scrolling levels, or even just a boss fight with the eponymous deity. Unfortunately there’s isn’t even a single player mode. Ultimately it seems that the creators came up with a brilliant idea but rushed the product: although for some the core game will be enough, for those looking for real longevity and replay-ability Gurgamoth will be sacrificed prematurely on the altar of one-night-only party games.