The Guise, a game that is sure to delight the senses at almost every turn, but not necessarily your thumbs. In the game you take control of Ogden who is one of several orphans living under the roof of a caretaker, Mallory, who seems to have more to her than she lets on. After a fateful incident involving a mask that many will find familiar; Ogden loses his human body as he is turned into a monster. He is then tasked by Mallory to seek a shaman in order to regain his humanity.
With this new body, Ogden is able to perform attacks and abilities that are necessary for him to complete his journey. He also gains new abilities and powers as the game progresses through boss battles and side quests which allow access to more areas of the map. Ogden is not alone in this journey as he has the help of Mallory who allows you to upgrade your acquired abilities and change your amulet. Think of amulets as a form of gear, or equipment, which add a way to further alter the damage of Ogden’s attacks and abilities.
That all being said, the story and gameplay take a back seat to a truly underrated art and musical presentation. Whether it is a well animated cutscene, excellent foreground and background imagery, or some unique looking bosses, the art style never disappoints. Oftentimes you will find yourself noticing just truly how far above the bar the imagery is set for a smaller title such as this. Still imagery often does not do it justice as where it really shines was in the animations of things such as fire, or ghastly faces in the background as bloody hand prints slap at the screen.
The same can also be said for the game’s audio and music. Especially the tracks that play during the game’s 11 boss fights which were often where the music seemed to be at its best. Even outside of boss encounters, no matter the environment, the music seemed to fit. For example, a dark piano playing during a dark stormy night. A striking solo violin that plays while exploring a dilapidated town. Even during a section of the game involving water care was taken in order to drown out the music ever so slightly to keep it audible, yet distorted.
As for overall plot and writing, I feel the writing is neither here nor there. At no point does the writing feel like it is lacking, nor does it feel like it excels at anything other than providing support to a fair number of languages (8 total). There isn’t much in the way of dialogue but what was there always fit the style of each character and never felt out of place. The overall plot is pretty straightforward and remains the same throughout the game, simply put, reclaim your humanity. This remains throughout the game despite all of the different environments you visit along the way so there is not much to be said there as it is sufficient.
“That’s all well and good, but how about the combat?” You might be asking by now. That is of course the main appeal when looking at a spiritual successor to games such as Hollow Knight, and other souls-like metroidvanias after all. This is where we start to run into some issues with gameplay. While there is a very appropriate variety of enemy models to fight with many different unique (and cool) designs, they all effectively remain the same over the game. Even when their attacks change up more often than not your strategy to defeat them remains the same. I could sum up every enemy type with a sentence or two on how to deal with them despite having probably 5-7 variations of each type over the course of the game. None of that is to say that the combat is necessarily lacking, but it is not on the same level as the art and music unfortunately and easily the weakest link here. At times the game even provides multiple alternate paths which allow you to skip combat easier which can be a welcome reprieve when you just want to quickly, or safely, get from point A to B. There were times where I felt those paths were unnecessary as even simply running through enemies is perfectly fine as there is no body collision or damage while doing so.
While on the idea of being near enemies, I often found that the hitbox, especially for Ogden, felt too small while the enemy hitboxes were too big. That is to say that I felt I should have taken more damage and been hit by more things than what actually registered. This led to a number of times where I could attack enemies (including a boss) at a perfectly safe location with melee attacks while in absolutely no danger at all. These kinds of safe spots are most likely unintended which leads me into my last critique: a little more polish would be appreciated on a few glitches. Nothing that a patch probably wouldn’t be able to fix, but annoying nonetheless. For example, I found that when dropping down off a ledge and trying to immediately fire an acid attack would sometimes softlock Ogden and keep him from being able to perform any attack for a small period of time. Another glitch presented itself when accessing the menu and changing tabs which shared a key bind with a costly ability and would queue it up unintentionally despite the game being paused and perform it once resumed. This happens consistently when hitting RB in the pause menu when standing near an enemy.
In the end, is this game going to blow you away or add something new to the games it draws inspiration from? No, no it is not, and that is ok. Once you account for it coming from a single developer with a low price of admission ($5 USD) it is a perfectly acceptable game given its shortcomings. Clocking in at around 5 hours of casual unrushed play with backtracking in order to collect extra items there is a reasonable amount of value in the price. It is with all of this in mind that I feel the work that went into the art and music alone is neat enough to warrant the slight bump up out of the middle reviews it would otherwise deserve. Go in with reasonable expectations of playing a heavily inspired title with your gamepad in hand and I believe you will be able to get your money’s worth out of the experience. Let me clarify as well, as I do mean gamepad. I would not recommend this title with only keyboard controls as someone who often only uses keyboard and mouse. Unless you are very comfortable with WASD, and have a mouse with programmable macro buttons I personally found the keyboard controls clunky and there is no option to rebind them in-game.
Excellent art design.
Acceptable plot and dialogue.
Occasional bugs that probably should not have made it this far but nothing game breaking.
The enemies may look different but the best ways to deal with them often remain the same.
The game does take a bit to really get going until you have more options to change your build.