Review - Overcome

It’s very easy to forget that some games aren’t made to be action-packed blockbusters or hyper-realistic simulations of real life. Some games are just a form of artistic expression. People make games just to work through some stuff sometimes.

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Overcome


Overcome definitely comes from someone’s heart. That someone is Kabir Lal, a game developer from New Delhi, India. On the surface, this is a 2D side-scrolling platformer, where you control a little pixel heart character. The gameplay consists almost entirely of either walking left or right, jumping, gliding, and using the game’s shield mechanic.

The shield is a fascinating tool to work with. When you’re standing, it faces the same direction you face, and will block enemy attacks. The number of attacks you can block consecutively is represented by a meter in the lower-left corner of the screen. The meter regenerates over time, and relatively quickly, but it does deplete fast enough that you can’t simply block forever.

The shield also gives you access to a reflect mechanic. Since you have no attacks of your own (surprisingly, jumping on enemies doesn’t deal damage to them), reflecting attacks with carefully timed button presses is your only method of offense.

Overcome is a short game, having only four levels, and it can be completed in less than two hours. However, I found it to be a really engaging experience due to its difficulty. This game is insanely hard. It borders on insultingly difficult. Fortunately, the time to respawn after a death is very short — usually under two seconds — but the frustration can get very real. The controls are as tight as you’d want from a 2D platformer, so Overcome does achieve that “I died, but I felt like it was my fault and not the game’s” feeling everyone likes. It’s just hard as hell.

Despite that, I pushed on for two reasons. The first is the excellent music, produced by an artist named Anshuman. For a game with barely any traditional storytelling, Overcome’s soundtrack is profoundly emotional. The game’s visual presentation doesn’t do much to portray a mood, but the music sets the atmosphere. It made me feel like there was more to the game than just platforming.

That feeling brings me to the second reason I persevered through Overcome’s stiff difficulty: its meaning. According to the Overcome website, Kabir Lal developed this game while coping with cancer treatments and a painful breakup. The game’s only direct storytelling comes from a handful of sequences involving your character being chased by a giant, black heart surrounded by black smoke. It’s clear that there’s some sort of symbolism going on between the game opening and closing with a chase sequence, and I will admit the specifics of it were lost on me as I played. It wasn’t until I checked out Kabir’s site that I realized what the game represented.

I don’t say that as a fault of the game. I can relate very specifically to having health complications while dealing with a tough breakup. I may not have felt that from the game, but the music and the struggle resonated with me enough that I could at least tell the developer was pursuing a deeper message. I inferred that the game feeling almost impossible at times is an intentional design choice, now that I know the development story.

Given that Overcome was developed over the course of six months, and the personal issues the developer dealt with, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work. No, this isn’t the next Super Mario and it probably won’t light up sales charts. At $10 on Steam, and with a two-hour run time at most, this may not be the best value for your money. But Overcome isn’t about that. It’s a heartfelt game that manages to express very real emotions using gameplay and music. It reminded me that games aren’t always about the players. And also that platformers can be savage.

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