Apotheon, a staple of PAX indie booths for the past few years, is here now, and for better or worse, it is what you feared and hoped it would be: a taut but predictable adventure. There’s nothing in Apotheon that is entirely original or revolutionary, but it doesn’t need to when it simply aims and hits its mark as a tight, sleek game.
One of the more notable portions is the story, which skews far closer to a traditional Greek epic than any modern, conventional tale. You follow a fellow named Nikandreos, a citizen of a village called Dion, which also has the unfortunate fate of being forsaken by Zeus. In fact, as he ascends Mt. Olympus to fix the follies of this home, Nikandreos discovers that Zeus would rather see all of humanity destroyed.
It has some similarities to the God of War series, sure, like gathering up the aid of other gods like Hera and besting the rest. But whereas God of War focused on and built up the character of Kratos, Apotheon pretty much just presents him as a person that has to do a thing. It’s a shame because the God vs. Man conflict is such a potent base narrative.
Talking about the plot, though, is overlooking the most remarkable part of Apotheon. This is a fantastic looking game. It’s like the scenes from Disney’s Hercules where the Muses sing, except less…musical and far more authentic. It very much looks like a Greek pottery painting come to life, complete with some delightful lighting effects against the two dimensional plane on which it is all presented.
The visage is potent throughout. When you climb a ladder, for instance, instead of being presented as a person ascending the face of the ladder, you are shown as trekking up the side of it. And effects like water spray is shown as dribbling blocks of blue and firelight has a spectacularly harsh delineation against the flat environment. Motifs visually manifest and carry throughout the whole of a deity’s domain, too, making for diverse eye candy.
Once you get to the gameplay, though, it’s far less interesting. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it certainly isn’t anything as original. It breaks down into a traditional 2D platformer with some added fully directional attack and defend mechanics. You present your shield in the most effective direction since it can’t cover all of you at once, recalling the jutting of Link’s shield in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
The same goes for your attacks. You must thrust out your swords and spears and aim your javelins carefully as your enemies dance up and around you. It’s important because timing and placement is vital. Axes, for instance, swing slowly, and only the head of the axe—you know, the part with the blade—will cause real damage. Once you start swinging, you can’t really stop, so you’ve got to move in concert with your opponent.
It’s simple but can also be engaging. For a while, that is. Even over the course of the appropriately sized 15-hour runtime, the battles can go from starting as fun and engrossing to something closer to tedium, especially with some problematic movement. Luckily, though, Apotheon has a knack for mixing it up.
Level designs are seemingly built around this limitation. Some bits, for instance, are in total darkness and require you to forgo either your shield or your favorite two-handed weapon so you can hold a torch just to see where you’re going. And then bosses and the like have a penchant for really switching things up. Artemis will turn you into a deer and attempt to ensnare you, for example.
Other parts of the game, while in existence, barely warrant mention. There’s a crafting system, but it doesn’t really build up to much beyond stocking up on health potions and mending breakable weapons (a system I personally abhor). Voice acting ranges from topnotch to questionable while sound effects are serviceable. The music, though, is pretty nice.
While nothing sounds exemplary in the slightest save for the game’s artistic endeavors, it all adds up to something that can sufficiently enrapture you for hours at a time. Apotheon hardly strives for anything new, but it combines a visual delight into a delectable variety of gameplay that it doesn’t need to break new ground.
+ Looks absolutely fantastic
+ Combat can be engaging when mixed with level variety
– Humdrum narrative with a vacuous protagonist
– Befuddling locomotion
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Game Review: Apotheon
Release: February 3, 2015
Genre: 2D action platformer
Available Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4