Developer: Wolfire Games
Publisher: Wolfire Games
Released: October 17, 2017
As I’ve mentioned before on this website, the decision between purchasing a new game and affording necessary living expenses like a week’s worth of food and my subscription to Men’s Health magazine (for the articles only, of course) is one that used to plague me up until recent years. As a result, most of my formative gaming years came in the form of magazine-packaged demo discs, which would eventually go on to make up at least eighty-five percent of my game library until 2014. Sure, they weren’t the latest gaming hotness of the time, but I still have fond memories of some seriously obscure and underrated gems.
One demo in particular that has remained lodged firmly in my memory ever since I came across it in my high school years was Lugaru, a kung-fu rabbit fighter developed by one-man team Wolfire Games. And it was surprisingly advanced for a 2005 indie game. Not only was it one of the first indie games of the time to incorporate ragdoll physics, but it also introduced a unique combat system that I’ve still never seen used by another game to this day, revolving entirely around reading context and timing. It was brutal, it was fast, it was fun, and only occasionally brought back the traumatic memories of watching Watership Down at an incredibly inappropriate age. So, you can imagine my excitement when I found out that its sequel, Overgrowth, would finally see an official release after spending nine years percolating in Steam Early Access.
Cut to a month after its release and, even in the midst of playing Summer’s long-awaited titles and Sonic Forces, Overgrowth the one game I can’t get off my mind. Over and over, I just keep coming back to it so I can indulge in more blood-soaked cotton-tail kicking action!
Of course, it’s far from being any sort of masterpiece. For a $30USD game fresh out of early access, a lot of Overgrowth is still seriously unpolished. Visually, it suffers from a strange dissonance as its beautifully executed lighting effects clash with textures that belong to a game from Xbox 360 era. Its platforming controls seem more sadistically interested in watching you faceplant into walls instead of climbing up them. And then there’s the writing; chock full of angsty dialogue that gives Shadow the Edgy Hedgy a run for his money. Not to mention a story so dull and inconsequential that its only purpose is to thread together the game’s twenty-nine levels and explain why the characters transition from snowfields to the insides of an active volcano.
But if you can manage to look past those flaws, you’ll find that Overgrowth is hiding some of the most satisfying combat gameplay I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying this year.
Like Lugaru before it, Overgrowth’s fighting controls use the left and right mouse buttons for attack and defence respectively. Your positioning, distance and direction of movement dictate which sort of moves you pull off. The end result manages to make every combat encounter feel like a fast-paced, epic scuffle ripped out of a kung-fu flick, without the need of overly complex button combinations.
And while that’s already impressive in its own right, what really makes Overgrowth shine is how it combines this combat system with its level design and dynamic physics. The game drops you into tiny sandboxes that allow for countless unscripted moments that will either make you feel like badass rabbit assassin, or a hilariously fumbling fuckwit.
One of the best examples of this can be seen in this particular level:
Armed with only a knife and my soft, adorable fists of justice, you’re tasked with taking out the four enemies camping by a fire; one keeping watch, two asleep, and the other patrolling a nearby area. I’ve played through this level multiple times already, but out of all of those playthroughs, there are two that stand out to as my most memorable.
On one attempt, I leapt down from my perch and dive-kicked the rabbit keeping watch in the head, the sounds of crunching bone confirming he was dead. Then, just as his napping friends woke up, I threw the knife at one, falling to a lifeless heap atop his bedroll. His other companion was about to attack, but a well-timed click of the right mouse button parried his blow, throwing him ass over tea kettle into the fire behind me. Finally, as the final cotton-tailed patroller figured out what had happened, I quickly collected my knife from the corpse holding it and tossed it towards the charging foe, landing firmly in his chest as his body slid in a crumpled heap at my feet.
But when I tried to do this again, it didn’t go anywhere near as smoothly. Like before, I tried to dive-kick the rabbit keeping watch, only to miss completely and fall into the flames, which in turn woke up the others as they kicked my still-burning body along the ground like an infernal curling iron.
And that right there is exactly why you need to experience Overgrowth for yourself. Once you look past the clashing visual appearance and cringe-inducingly cliché writing, you’ll find a game that combines the quick-reflexes and brutality of a Bruce Lee film, with the physics-based comedy of Goat Simulator. Its mechanics somehow mesh together in such a strangely perfect way to make every successful fight feel incredibly satisfying, while managing to ease the sting of failed attempts by making them look as equally hilarious. I could keep going on about my personal tales of being the world’s most clumsy, yet successful ninja rabbit, but it would honestly be better to let you try it out for yourself and craft your own unique stories of bunny badassery.
Writer: Tristan Venables