In today’s world of 3D graphics and ultra-realistic textures, small 2D gems often go unnoticed and unloved, all because, graphically, they can’t compete with technology as it chugs along. However, thanks to XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare, we’re seeing a resurgence of gamers who are just fine with 2D titles and, dare I say, enjoy them just as much as their modern counterparts.
Larva Mortus is a 2D top-down shooter that is reminiscent of the original Grand Theft Auto titles – only instead of jacking cars and running over pedestrians, you’re equipped with a really huge sword and your trusty six shooter in order to take down all manner of baddies, from zombies to werewolves.
The basic idea of the story is sort of Van Helsing-ish, as you’re looking for a lost artifact in 19th century Europe. Along the way, you’ll travel to various places, such as Italy, Switzerland, the United States, and Germany. The look of these areas changes depending on where you are, and Larva Mortus incorporates some pretty nice particle effects on both the monsters and the general environment to create a nice atmosphere of fog and lights.
In addition to the environmental effects, monsters can have their heads blown off, be sliced in half with your sword, or shot in half with the shotgun to produce still-wriggling skeletons and zombies. The amount of 2D gore the game contains is enough to satisfy any blood thirsty zealot, but if you don’t like the pools of red and the bits you blast your enemies into, you can turn this feature off.
The brilliant thing about the game is the RPG elements that are incorporated. As you move from room to room, slaying monsters and removing curses, you gain experience, which contributes to leveling up. From there, you gain points that you can place into seven different attributes, including run speed, health, and the amount of experience you can gain.
Dungeons are accessed via a world map, with missions marked on the map as envelopes with small details about what you’ll need to do once you’re inside. There are several different mission types, from removing curses and slaying all the champion monsters, to finding and defeating the one boss at the end of the dungeon.
Not all dungeons have a boss monster to slay, and this is mainly because of the random generation system. Missions are placed on the map in varying difficulties according to your level, and no matter what level you are, you’ll never run out of missions to complete. This is because each time you enter a dungeon from the map, it is randomly created, with rooms cobbled together for you to explore. Thus, no two missions will be the same.
The random aspect can also be a hindrance, however. Since there is no store to purchase ammo, you’ll rely entirely upon the drops you get from killing monsters. What makes this doubly frustrating is that dropped ammunition disappears after a small time window. This can be especially frustrating for players who like to use a certain gun, such as the shotgun, which can only hold thirty-six shells at a time.
While Larva Mortus isn’t a terribly difficult game, dying late in a dungeon can be unforgiving, especially if you’ve managed to pick up one of the special items that has a random drop rate and rewards certain bonuses to your character. Death in a dungeon means that you’ve failed that mission, and any items you picked up while you were there are lost. Since there are unlimited missions, this doesn’t mean that you’ve lost out on any experience, but it can be quite frustrating to see the Exit gate, only to be slain by an unseen skeleton or zombie.
The variety of monsters you’ll encounter in Larva Mortus is actually quite astounding, and with eight different weapons to choose from, you’ll need to use them all to combat your foes effectively. For example, late in the game you’ll pick up a cattle prod-type weapon that shoots a bolt of electricity in front of you. This is generally useless against skeletons, but when wraiths come into the picture, the cattle prod will be basically all that you use.
The variety of weapons available makes for great play, although there are some problems with how they work. Hit detection with the sword is somewhat spotty, so it’s only useful for breaking open crates instead of wasting ammo. In addition, the cannon is a powerful weapon, but it’s slow to reload and shoots in a straight line, which isn’t good for fast moving targets, and can often get you killed. The crossbow is simply a repeat of the cannon, which loads slightly faster.
Each dungeon can be played in around 10 to 15 minutes, and, with several environments to choose from, the game has tons of replay value, even after you’ve completed the main storyline. The Steam version of the game also comes with 25 achievements for those of you who love blasting through a game with a sense of accomplishment, and the completely gothic score fits well with the atmosphere of the game.
While Larva Mortus won’t satisfy your shooter itch if you’re a die hard fan of 3D shooters, if you enjoy a good dungeon romp, and don’t mind the highly detailed 2D graphics, it’s definitely worth the price.