Welcome to Coverage Club, our new regular series where we shift our critical eye towards smaller games that deserve some attention. Each week, our review editors select two titles and provide honest first impressions in the same style as our full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preferences, you're sure to find something off the beaten path here.
This week, Alex is losing his head over Mandragora's Freaky Awesome, a top-down roguelike set in a toxic sewer that's infested with mutants. Meanwhile, Sam gets in touch with his inner birb as he plays Sunside Inc's Crow, a critically acclaimed action adventure that released on Steam back in 2014.
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
In this sewer, every room is filled with toxic sludge and hideous monsters who seem to beg for death as they spew sewage out of their mouths. Of course, you're not any better, as your human protagonist has rolled through enough sewage to mutate into an entire zoo of hybrid abominations. Whether you're trying to kick foes as a chicken, electrifying them by means of blobfish, or simply blowing them up with a grenade, you're constantly on the move and acquiring more health on your way to the next mutation. Simply put, Freaky Awesome has a look.
Freaky Awesome is a top-down roguelike with combat arenas aplenty. What sets it apart from an Enter the Gungeon or a Forced: Showdown is a unique spin on playable characters. Instead of choosing a single archetype from the start, you're constantly healing yourself with toxic waste, which lets you mutate between different forms. Each of these creatures attacks from different ranges, meaning that you'll never be able to rely on a single playstyle for too long.
This creates a balancing act between healing and progression that forces you to avoid hits in order to preserve the type of attacks you'll need to take on the boss of any given floor. This is a balance that I'm not sure Freaky Awesome pulls off successfully. The game's pace and your constant switching of characters make it hard to get into the zone and keep you on your toes. You're constantly relearning how to play the game because of these shifts, and that means that you're never truly prepared for boss encounter filled with crushing blows and screen clearing lasers of death.
This would probably be fine if Freaky Awesome gave players a constant sense of progression. This is a roguelite, where you start off weak and expand your item pool and abilities just as much as you expand your skills. Much like Enter the Gungeon, Freaky Awesome locks a lot of that progression behind a currency available from fallen bosses or expensive in-game purchases. New players are basically trapped in a loop where a lot of the game's content is locked behind challenging fights that can't easily be overtaken or practiced. Instead of rewarding players with a slow drip of new toys to play with, Freaky Awesome expects mastery up front and punishes those who don't play ball.
In a genre saturated with instant classics, you really have to bring something to the table to stand out. Freaky Awesome's roguelite offering is stylish for sure, with a gameplay loop best described as Binding of Isaac by way of The Toxic Avenger. The soundtrack is frantic dirty surf rock that never lets you rest on your laurels, and the hideous mutations you fight along the way are lovingly rendered pixel-art creations. However, difficulty spikes and a limited item pool serve to betray the presentation by revealing gameplay that is less evolved than its genre brethren. While the game does innovate in some aspects, it demands a level of patience that could sour potential players before they become dedicated.
Freaky Awesome was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
Real talk for a minute: Crows are one of my favorite animals. They're weird, smart, can make funny voices and I sort of love them. So when a game called Crow lets me play as a crow then I'm going to be all for it. I'll be honest, I knew little about Crow besides that it was a port of a well-received mobile game. What better game to dive into for our first Coverage Club outing?
The truth is maybe any other game would have been better. I spent about two hours with Crow and came to the conclusion that the game made me feel nothing. I didn't feel any sort of overwhelming interest to see what would happen next, nor did I feel any abhorred revulsion at the game. Crow is a video game that exists, and after two hours I found myself struggling to form any sort of opinion on it besides that.
The game is split into two main sections. First, you'll be put in an overworld-styled area to explore. Your goal here is to find various trinkets scattered around the map and collect them to help give you some skill points. There's really nothing else to do besides that. You'll fly around looking for anything that sparkles, and then click when you spot something. At any time you can hit space to get a "bird's eye view" of the searchable area and click to teleport somewhere instantly, but that's about all you need to do. Sometimes these trinkets will give you little story segments where your crow lands on a surface and you can read about someone trying to influence how it acts. Ultimately it's not much of interest.
Once you've explored enough you can then enter the second segment of Crow. Here you'll be fighting against owls, ghosts, giants, a scarecrow, and other enemies. These segments are on rails, with the crow flying along a set path while enemies swing or shoot at him when he gets near. As you fly along these paths you can collect energy, and when you've filled the energy bar you can then cast a spell. Crow has two spells available to him: you can either attack an enemy by drawing a line over them or put a shield over the crow by drawing a circle around it. It's the kind of gameplay that makes a lot of sense for a phone with a touchscreen, but at least it works perfectly fine on PC.
Everything in Crow works competently, so the game has that going for it. Yet I just feel nothing when I play it. Maybe there are people out there who would really enjoy it, and I believe it's worth taking a look at if nothing else. Just don't go in with much in the way of expectations.
Crow was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.