Being inspired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the director of developer Alien Trap (Lee Vermeulen) began his work on their third game. Having the visuals heavily focused on Greek art, Apotheon was quite different from other games in terms of presentation and while God of War was the one that had taken the spot-light on Greek mythology when it comes to video-games, it is good to see others tackling it and making something to call their own.
The Gods of Olympus have abandoned humanity, leaving the earth in such devastation that even the daylight has been taken away from it; hope is lost and insanity has taken its place. Now raiders attacked the village of Dion where our hero and playable character Nikandreos awakens. After supporting the villagers and the soldiers of the town, the Goddess Hera reveals herself in front of Nikandreos, telling him about Zeus’ anger towards humans and that he has made other Gods follow him in a quest to destroy them. Being mad at Zeus’s many affairs with both Gods and mortals, as well as wishing to give humanity a second chance, Hera tasks Nikandreos to slay Zeus and his supporters.
The overall plot is nothing special, but the Gods, flavor-texts and the inscriptions on the tablets and statues in the world are a treat and especially entertaining for anyone with the slightest interest for Greek mythology. The story is forgettable and not really a focus, almost like a traditional NES-game where the plot is simply an excuse to move you forward, and Nikandreos being a silent protagonist to represent the player. The journey however is filled with characters that are entertaining and having a world based on Greek mythology, gives it a lot of personality. You always feel like a part of a huge and interesting world, even if the plot itself is not as grand.
Story score: 7/10
Fighting against Gods
The combat is incredibly deep and the biggest focus of this game. Your character can pick up many different weapons, each with different strength, speed, depletion of your stamina-meter, range and durability. The weapons can’t be used forever and only one of each type (except for throwing or small weapons) can be carried at a time, so you will have to vary and learn to use every weapon. What I like is that none of them feel unbalanced, and they all have a different use and can be quickly selected, with swords being better for combats up-close, arrows if you want to take the first shot unnoticed and spears for when you don’t have a shield at hand, to name a few examples. Speaking of which, you can also dodge and block in various directions, giving you quite allot of options to be both offensive and defensive. You aim both where you want to attack and defend with your mouse or analog-stick, giving the combat overall an intense and agile approach.
Besides the combat to keep you alive, there are a health and armor-meter, and the ability to craft potions, bombs and also use traps. The armor-meter is affected by what you wear and good armor will last longer and make health deplete at a much slower rate. Unlike weapons, you can actually repair the armor with help of a blacksmith or with a hammer. Potions and bombs can be crafted by items found in the world and by finding recipes, while traps are found.
You are quite suited for taking on many dangers, and thank Hera for that: the enemies are deadly and varied, making it so that you must be on your toes when fighting them. You will be fighting animalistic creatures, soldiers both mortal and divine with many having the same abilities as you, making the combat demand a lot strategy. But what shines the most when it comes to the combat, are the bosses. They are excellent, dangerous and varied, from the fast-attacking Chimera, to the gigantic Brontes, each testing your skills to the highest. Even more appealing are the gifts you get from defeating them, giving great effects to your already impressive fighting skills.
There are 10 areas in total, excluding the first area that works as a good tutorial, leading you through how the game works through gameplay. The gates of Olympus works as a hub-world for 2 areas: Acropolis and Agora, which again have 3 areas each, with the last being Zeus’s home. There are shops to visit for either purchase of items, weapons and repairing armor in the game, however they are easy to forget, since enemies drop a lot of loot and if you are the exploring type: you will find more than enough to be prepared against the dangers that are up ahead. Each area always offer something different from the last in its focus and layout, from sneaking through a party held by satyrs and swimming through mysterious oceans, to the depths of Hades where there can be places with no light, affecting your use of shields or having to escape the light of the fire.
What is great, is that this adds to the variety, while not deviating from the core gameplay. This is a metroidvania, giving the stages freedom to be explored for hidden goodies and taking on quests at your own pace and in order of your choice. While the stages are nonlinear and not really small, you uncover maps as you explore each area and are always pointed to where the objects are, but never how to get there. The platforming is quite well done, with your hero having real weight to him, but it’s also lenient enough to be able to move around and having the ability to climb certain objects and cling to edges makes it feel realistic, while not sacrificing good controls.
Being so combat-heavy in a metroidvania game was an interesting choice, but it works incredibly well and the platforming and exploration are well done, making for an intense journey.
Gameplay score: 9/10
Like a piece of vase
Between the beginning of the sixth and the end of the fourth centuries B.C., black- and red-figure techniques were used in Athens to decorate fine pottery for the wealthier crowd and, of course, temples. The use of this art-form for a game, is unique and makes old art come to life. Being also a 2D-game makes it feel more even more in tone with the art it’s based on. Technically it’s quite a treat, with good use of puppet-animation that affects how limbs and facials are moved, which you might have seen in Rayman Origins or Ty 4. The areas themselves are varied in looks, with simple use of colors giving them an extra flavor to distinguish one from the other. It is quite impressive how such minimalist approach can still create something broad.
The music is also great and atmospheric, complementing each area well and feeling for the most part like something from ancient Greece. To nitpick, around this time-period and areas where the visuals are based upon, there were certainly less instruments used than what the game presents, but to be all honest: it would not have had the same effect if they limited themselves too much (I suppose the paintings on the vases didn’t move back in the days either.). The sound is excellent, from the clashing of the weapons, echos in the caverns, to the superb and plentiful voice-actors in the game. The cast gives the game a bit of an over-the-top performance, making it feel like something out of a theater, but enough personality to be intriguing.
Presentation score: 9/10
Welcome, to the arena!
The game is about 7 hours long, if you just go through it. If you want to explore, find all the hidden treasures and some pretty entertaining side-quests, that can easily add 5 more hours. Due to the well-designed levels, it is fun to go back to them and explore to your heart’s content, but there is not much reason for it post-game, besides completionist-satisfaction. The multiplayer however, is intense and fun, giving you a good selection of areas to fight in and a nice choice on how the battles will be fought, with deathmatch, team-deathmatch and no-respawning team-deathmatch. It would have been nice to have more options in the multiplayer besides battling each other however, like a boss-rush mode or maybe even a co-op mode, but what is here is definitely something to come back to.
Extras score: 8/10
Apotheon is such a treat for any fans of 2D-sidescrollers. It has great focus on what it does well, varies itself up enough to never be tiresome and a combat-style that is incredibly satisfying and entertaining. It has enough to stand on its own and has personally become one of my favorite metroidvania-games, even if the experience is a bit shorter than the average ones.