Back in 2005, a little game called Lugaru released. It was classically early 2000s story material with the graphics of a late 90s game. One huge difference was the fighting style, which was a fluid mix of punches and kicks mixed with weapons, jumps, throws, and ragdoll physics. For its time, it was interesting and popular enough to gain a small cult following. Two years later a followup was announced. It continued the story of rabbit protagonist Turner with better graphics, more interesting controls, and new enemies to fight. It promised smooth platforming, crafty stealth, and fantastic stunts, many of the things the Assassin's Creed series has to offer, but in a much more flop-eared package. For years it went through development, transparently releasing news, updates, and patches as it made very slow progress.
Imagine waiting nine years for any other game sequel. Imagine Starcraft 2 (which released twelve years after the first one) hitting shelves and looking as graphically challenged as the original. There are games released long ago that are still being played by thousands of people, but even World of Warcraft looks and plays enormously different from when it started out. So how does Overgrowth hold up? Quite simply: it doesn't. Overgrowth is way past its expiration date at this point, and there's no way for the frankly often fun gameplay to make up for how awful everything else ended up being.
Overgrowth takes the same formula as the first game and applies it to thankfully fresher looking character models. The original, despite being a 2005 release, had character models that resembled 1998 games. You'd assume (wrongly) that an indie game in development for nine years would at least resemble a high budget game from five years ago, but instead, it looks like something from the original Call of Duty, which is even older than Lugaru. Don't get me wrong, I understand why it looks so old. All the characters are animals, and all the models are handmade by the developer so that they can pull off the wildly limb-flailing kung fu combat moves that you go through. There aren't many models that you can pull inspiration from out there, as the only game with kung fu animals I can think of is Warcraft with their Pandaren.
Still, it looks like there's only one skeleton that just varies in size and has different tails and heads applied to it. Sure, the different animals you fight look different and have different sizes, but in the end, they're all capable of the same movesets. The harder the enemy, the more relentless the attacks, and the less time they wait for you to stand up after you get knocked down. The toughest enemies, wolves, are capable of downing you in a single hit, and cats usually come equipped with multiple weapons that they never stop hitting you with. None of this actually matters because all animals have the same weakness: the flying kick. Jumping towards an enemy and hitting the attack button solves most any problem. There is literally no enemy in Overgrowth that is capable of withstanding the power of this one move. I was hoping for tougher enemies capable of knocking me out of the air, but instead, I ended up beating very difficult missions just by jumping around like a rabbit on crack. When you don't use this strategy, the battles vary between wildly entertaining and confusing. There are no warnings, no real way to tell what an enemy might be doing, even after he's done it. Actually doing damage is lackluster, giving no real feedback on if you hit unless they turn into a ragdoll, at which point they flail their limbs like they're made of taffy.
I tried to fight many battles in the way I suppose the developers intended you to: many missions allow you to sneak around, stealth killing enemies and dragging their bodies into bushes. Those moments were genuinely fun, but they were just less well-built, less interesting versions of almost any other stealth game. In Monaco: What's Yours is Mine, you at least have abilities to help you navigate the guards. In Assassin's Creed, you can at least whistle to attract a guard to your position. None of that added power is in Overgrowth, and you're stuck crouch-walking after a guard from the nearest corner. I will say stealth is far better in Overgrowth than in some high budget games: enemies can see you from long distances if you try going out in the open, and they're not dumbly limited to seeing you only when you're ten feet away. I crawled out and strangled a rabbit to death only to find a dog on the other side of a farm was running straight at me. Enemies are capable of warning other people when they see something fishy, but they're still easily fooled by simply stepping behind a rock and disappearing from their line of sight. I can only assume this was on purpose since animals have a hard time with object permanence.
When you're not fighting enemies, you're platforming, and that adds a whole new element of frustrating awfulness. The next thing you're supposed to jump to is often blindingly obvious, covered in scratch marks from other people taking the same path. There are times when you're stuck jumping on the same stupid, frustrating pathway that seemed obvious only to find out it's a dead-end. Thankfully, respawning is very fast, and if you only die a couple dozen times while climbing something, it's at least fun to watch the protagonist die horribly in the fall. Unfortunately, many times you can see the clear path and you know how to move on, but you're not doing a button combination exactly the right way. There's no intuitive mechanics, and sometimes you find yourself flinging your character off into a giant pit of lava because for some reason Turner didn't feel like grabbing a ledge. Much like the game itself, direction and objectives are nebulous and unformed.
On top of the problems with platforming, there are a few times when it's entirely pointless. One level has you randomly traveling to the heart of a volcano to collect a fungus. Why? Reasons I guess. The storyline comes to a grinding halt so you can climb to the top of an improbably built "natural" rock formation covered in strangely chosen textures. At the top is some sort of glowing fungus that one of the evil bad guys needs, as well as just being one of the ways evil bad guy likes to get rid of problematic prisoners. Hopefully, you didn't want to know what the fungus does or why the bad guy needed it because that entire story arc just ends with a fart joke between two guard dogs.
Most of Overgrowth's story feels wildly inconsistent, with Turner at one point insisting he'll never ever leave this peaceful island because he's tired of murdering everyone, even if more bad guys exist out there. In the next ten minutes, you murder everyone and then decide to leave the island, and all it took was one guy saying "but more bad guys exist". Throughout many of the levels, he insists on his heavily armed partners staying out of the fight so he can take care of things himself, even when said partners come up with smart strategies that don't involve rushing in and stabbing everything. Later, when forced to fight other rabbits in the arenas, Turner tries to argue them over to his side, and they ignore it to fight. This happens over and over to the point where they actually skip over his dialogue pleading to finally be teammates to fight, even when it would be a really good idea to team up. This has led me to the conclusion that every single character is extraordinarily, mind-numbingly stupid.
It doesn't matter, though, since Overgrowth characters only last two or three missions at the most. You meet plenty, all of which are so flat they're knocked over by breathing hard. Turner expresses lifelong gratitude, promises, and favors to people that he never actually follows up on, which is fine since none of his friends ever follow-up on their plans either. At one point you set up a deal where you'll be smuggled out of an arena after you win a fight, but without any warning or reasoning you end up leaving the city on your own without any help or real mention of the deal. You promise some orphans to find their mother but then never actually find her or see the orphans again, despite him gravely promising to never forget them. There are so many storylines that could be interesting little distractions and side quests, maybe adding an extra dimension to what otherwise seems like a glorified tech demo, but they're never seen again. You spend several levels trying to steal poison which I'm not entirely sure was actually used, and at another point, you spend what feels like hours climbing a huge level only to meet... some guy at the top who tries to kill you? And then somehow that's good enough of a note to end the game on? And why is it even called Overgrowth anyway?
Overgrowth is similar to how it feels when you watch some old movie you remember loving as a child only to realize it's incredibly bad as an adult. Sure, parts of it ooze cool, and there are not many games that can pull off that smooth, leg-sweeping, jump-kicking, mid-air-dagger-throwing combat like Overgrowth can, but that's the only redeeming characteristic. It looks awful, it makes no sense, and half the time I'm wondering if I'm actually the bad guy. As opposed to the rest of the dialogue, the only intriguing story elements are the little quotes on the loading screens told from different character's point of view, and I have a sneaking suspicion that those were written in the modern century. If you want to enjoy some genuinely unique action, just boot up the previous game, Lugaru. That one looked awful when it released and still does, but at least it doesn't try anything more than being a combat simulator. Overgrowth tried more but ended up being nothing at all.
Our Overgrowth review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.
Overgrowth might be a good game if it weren't under a layer of glitches, vacant characters, and ancient mechanics. It would be a good indie game if it traveled back in time to 2005. Unfortunately, it's just a glorified tech demo instead.
- Exciting Combat
- Beautiful Vantage Points
- Frequent and Rapid Checkpoints
- Nonsense Story with Flat Characters
- Confusing Combat Solved by Jump Kicking EVERYTHING
- Frustrating Platform Movement