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  • Writer's pictureBarely Magic Mike

MythForce Review - A Radical Tribute to 80's Saturday Morning Cartoons?



MythForce Review - Written by Barely Magic Mike


MythForce

Available on - PC/PS/XBOX/SWITCH

Release Date - 9/12/23 Developed by Beamdog Published by Aspyr


If you watched that opening and grew up with Saturday morning cartoons like He-man and Thundercats, you might have already decided you want to play MythForce no matter what it is or how well it plays. And I don’t terribly blame you – MythForce’s commitment to its retro animated shtick hits hard from the first few seconds you boot it up, where you’re greeted by a deliciously cheesy but oddly catchy intro song introducing our four heroes with a literal wink and tongue planted firmly in cheek.


So without a doubt in my mind, there is an audience for this game right off the bat. But while I ultimately had some fun with MythForce, I would caution that audience from rushing in too quickly and with too high of expectations of this flawed but fun melee-focused indie roguelite.


Let’s get past the obvious – MythForce does a great job presenting itself as a playable Saturday morning cartoon. The heroes making up Mythforce look great, the environments are bright and colorful, and the upbeat synthy music overlaying it all has plenty of the right vibes. There’s not a whole lot in the way of voice acting beyond a small handful of brief cutscenes and regular quips during gameplay, but what’s there is well done. That said, the game does include a way-too-intense film grain filter that cannot be turned off, which I can’t believe game developers are still doing on PC in 2023 and I really hope they add an option to remove that. But on the flip side, the game is a great experience on Steam Deck out of the box, which should please many looking to play it on the go.


MythForce gameplay
Visually MythForce really stands out with an 80's cartoon aesthetic

As I mentioned, MythForce is a roguelite game where you make your way through a series of 9 episodes, which unlock as you make your way through them one by one. Each episode encompasses a single run filled with about a dozen to a dozen and a half rooms before reaching a boss or timed challenge that caps it off. Most rooms are designed similarly, with waves of enemies periodically emerging from portals or doorways to give you grief until you’ve beaten enough of them into submission to move on. Yet before you do, you’ll be tasked with choosing a perk or weapon upgrade, such as gaining back 1% of your health each time you kill an enemy with an arrow or lighting enemies on fire every time you slash at them with your sword.


Before you begin each run though, you’ll have to pick between one of four characters, all of whom vary drastically in gameplay and difficulty. You can choose between Maggie, the fire-blasting mage, Victoria, the valiant knight who slings her shield at enemies like a boomerang, Hawkins, the archery-focused hunter, or Rico, the quick-on-his-feet rogue. Each character has unique abilities beyond their basic attacks that can help turn the tide of battle, and can get seriously powered-up as you gain perks and weapon upgrades along each run. I won’t say I enjoyed playing all of them, as I never quite clicked with Maggie’s slow movement speed and finnicky fireball-throwing, but overall they’re a good time and add some variety to the proceedings.


In between each run, in typical roguelike fashion, you can visit various zones around your hub to increase the drop rate of your favorite perks or trinkets, increase the effectiveness of upgrades or fuse gems to increase your power. Frankly, the way this hub drowns you in information without the slightest hint of a proper tutorial wasn’t my favorite, but eventually I stumbled my way into figuring out which upgrades worked best for me.


The lack of proper tutorial extends to the gameplay in MythForce as well. There technically is one, but it presents itself with the subtlety of a cinderblock to the face, forcing you to read dense pop-ups that explain every little thing happening on screen and every one of your character’s power in a form not unlike an aggressively overprepared PowerPoint. I was thankful the game itself was straightforward enough, with a regular attack and power attack, two weapon sets to switch between and character-specific abilities subject to cooldowns, but a little more guidance at first would have certainly been welcome.


MythForce game
The game can be enjoyed with 4 players total

When it comes to actually playing MythForce, your mileage is going to heavily vary with your expectations. I’ll say with no hesitation that the moment-to-moment gameplay is pretty fun, and I certainly wasn’t having a bad time at any point. But the overall experience feels bogged down by unbalanced design, repetitive levels and a focus on multiplayer that leaves solo players with a bit less to get excited about than they might expect.

Putting it bluntly, I like Mythforce’s vibes and I like its core gameplay well enough, at least when I focused on ranged combat (more on that shortly). But as much as I enjoy roguelikes, it feels like a format that was chosen for its convenient ability to pad out playtime than as the linear, narrative-focused, set-piece-littered version of this game I would’ve much more happily played.


For one thing, while there are a lot of options to tweak to your liking, the balance of Mythforce’s difficulty feels like a mess of competing priorities. You can choose the difficulty of each episode you play, between easy, normal or hard, as well as higher “Mythic” levels of difficulty that unlock similar to Slay the Spire’s ascension levels, and give you some greater rewards for managing to finish them. But frankly, as a solo player, it was really hard to figure out what to play for the right balance of difficulty when it varies so much based on what difficulty you choose, what character you play as and what weapons you use. Playing as the archery-focused Hawkins on Easy results in absolutely trivial runs where you’re overpowered the entire time and can one shot many enemies even in later parts of the stage. Playing as Maggie on Easy feels borderline impossible alone, with area of effect attacks that are simply too slow to manage the number of enemies without another player to help you out. But then playing as Hawkins on Normal becomes a huge jump in difficulty, often too tough to get past the first few rooms. It felt like I was constantly punished for playing alone either because the game was too hard to make progress by myself, or so trivially easy that the need to carefully choose my upgrades essentially went out the window. There’s a leveling up system in MythForce that raises your stats passively as you play the game, but it was regularly hard to tell what leveling up even did if you weren’t paying attention to the exact number of your stats before it happened.


Thankfully I did get to try some multiplayer, and that’s where MythForce can certainly shine, especially if each player focuses on a different character and specialty. But I do want to address the melee combat here, because for a melee-focused roguelike, Mythforce’s slashing and parrying is surprisingly weak and unforgiving. Power slashing enemies is slow and feels ineffective when dealing with the big groups the game likes to throw at you. Because the game likes to unleash large hordes of weaker enemies most of the time, parrying often feels redundant, and even when I used it, it tended to feel unsatisfying and a little janky. Enemies will often spawn out of nowhere and surround you, sometimes taking huge chunks of your health in a single hit before you have time to react. Some enemies will even slash at you from several feet away and hit you regardless, as if their three-foot sword is actually three times as long but mostly invisible.


Overwhelmingly I defaulted to ranged combat, which felt significantly better and less cheap (so much for this being a melee-focused roguelike). Hawkins quickly became my favorite pick with ranged combat as his specialty, and playing as him, I never felt the need to invest in melee weapons as they felt almost completely useless by comparison, putting me closer in harm’s way for no tangible benefit.


Unfortunately, while I enjoy the look of MythForce, it also has a major problem with repetition in its environments and level design. The series of rooms you traverse in each run are randomly generated, but only use a small handful of level layouts – so small, in fact, that I would almost always see the same room show up twice or more during run, occasionally even back-to-back. While the traps and traversal challenges of each new arena mix things up a bit, the frequency with which they’re recycled makes every run feel virtually identical, with little to no variation each time you start. I was hopeful that each episode of the game would have a different environment to mix things up, but that was very much not the case, with many episodes using identical visuals and layouts just with different mixes of enemies, and only a small number of truly unique environmental templates used throughout the game.


MythForce videogame
Better tutorials and more maps will help the game going forward

Sadly, while combat can be satisfying regardless of these issues, MythForce’s enemies are also dumb as bricks, rarely doing anything more than slowly approaching you in a straight line like good little cannon fodder. On some occasions enemy pathfinding would seemingly mess up as well, resulting in foes that would stand still as sitting ducks, unaware of your presence and eager to take an arrow to the face. Even the bosses are pretty easy to cheese, often getting stuck in place or having their attacks easily interrupted by a well-placed headshot.


So overall, MythForce has a lot of issues. I don’t want to be too hard on it, because especially with friends it’s a pretty decent time. But I also don’t think it lives up the potential of its concept, because after a few hours the game was already getting pretty stale. And as such, I don’t recommend getting it at launch unless you’re really in love with its shlocky 80s vibe. With some additional level layouts, changes to balancing and improvements to enemy AI, MythForce could have a lot more longevity than it currently does, but in the meantime, I’d wait for a sale.


Pros:

  • Great aesthetics true to 80s cartoons

  • Nice variety of heroes with interesting powers

  • Pretty fun with friends!

  • Works great on Steam Deck

Cons:

  • Levels get repetitive very quickly

  • Not great for solo players

  • Melee combat is passable at best

  • Poor tutorial

  • Need ability to turn film grain off



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