How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. There’s a vast castle to explore, with a dash of instant death mechanics that makes it feel a little closer to Ghosts and Goblins, some of the harder Mega Man stages, or perhaps similar to the original Castlevania.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~8 hours
Review Info: Mortal Manor was played on Steam.
Buy Mortal Manor if you like…
- Brutally hard games with lots of instant death
- Quantity over Quality
- Oldschool Simplicity
- Grinding up tons of different weapons
- Numerous New Game Plus Customization Options
▼ Review continues below ▼
In 2009 when Mega Man 9 first came out, I found myself stuck on Tornado
Man’s stage for a decent amount of time. The stage’s gimmicks included
new platforming mechanics in tandem with the usual death spikes and
bottomless pits, meaning that an error often sent you back to the last
checkpoint to replay the section, or the whole stage from the beginning
when you ran out of lives. This made it pretty frustrating for my first
time through. However, Tornado Man’s stage has one of the best soundtracks in the game,
and in the midst of my frustrations my foot was always tapping to that
8-bit beat. Between that and the always-charming Mega Man, with decades
of nostalgia appearing on that colorful blue screen, I found myself
pumped to try again, and again, until I got it right – until I got to
taste that sweet satisfaction of wiping that smug half-grin off of
Tornado Man’s face.
Mortal Manor is a similarly challenging game – a Metroidvania with death spikes that can wipe out all of your progress – but it has none of Mega Man’s style to temper the frustration.
Don’t get me wrong. Mortal Manor has a lot going for it. I was impressed by its modest 14MB offering from the outset. The controls are tight and responsive, and enemies are designed well enough to make every mistake feel like it was my fault, not because of some unfair telegraphing or other RNG factor. It emulates the perfect formula for that hard but fair feeling of achievement. It’s created a bit of a cognitive dissonance for me though. I’ve always been an advocate of mechanics and level design being the primary force that makes a game great. Graphics, music, and general presentation are secondary to a tightly woven challenge or well-constructed narrative – with narrative being somewhat optional because it is, after all, a video game. Mortal Manor presented to me the first game I’ve played that was purely substance over style. Style is something that is completely subjective – I’m sure that some people will dig the graphics and sound of Mortal Manor. But the graphics and sound did absolutely nothing for me. It was so much not to my tastes, I had to turn the music off. I was experiencing real physical pain after hours of hearing the same shrill sounds.
Thus, my primary reason for pushing through the game was my sense of integrity as a reviewer; that I had to beat the game before forming an opinion on it. This isn’t the first time I’ve forced myself through a difficult game, that I wasn’t enjoying, just for the sake of reviewing it. And experience has taught me that trials very often reap great rewards, even in video games. But I can’t honestly say that pushing through Mortal Manor was worth it. I’ll try to explain my reasons.
On the subject of “Substance over Style”, there’s one matter of substance that I feel Mortal Manor fails significantly on; it has a great introduction to its story, but the game as a whole does little to hold up that narrative promise. Digging deeper into its locales reveals monsters named “Flying Monster”, bosses named “Failed Genetic Experiment named Robert”, and other similarly bland, generic enemies. The first boss that you’ll likely face is a giant frog of no real significance, and the final boss, while something that I could have predicted, similarly doesn’t seem to have any “substance” to him other than an “X” marking the game end point. I try not to compare everything to Hollow Knight because I don’t think it’s fair, but Hollow Knight is a great example of Mortal Manor’s opposite in this regard. Hollow Knight takes every opportunity to use its environment to tell a story, creating a rich world that I wanted to see more of. Mortal Manor’s world was boring simply because it makes no effort to do the same.
Furthermore, and unfortunately, the gameplay that I’ve praised up until this point started to feel the same way, boring. According to my map, I only completed 45% of the castle by the time I had made my way to the final boss and saw the “Incomplete Ending” according to my achievement. Even with the worst Metroidvanias I’ve played, I felt some compulsion to keep exploring – to keep discovering. After a fleeting moment of satisfaction after the “Git gud” phase at the beginning of the game, I lost that compulsion to explore with Mortal Manor completely. I got tired of seeing the same fireball spitting eyeball tower in every biome I entered. I was tired of whacking the same kind of skeltin over and over. Even the boss mechanics showed little creativity; the first frog boss alternated between a single shot directed at the hero and a spreadshot in 8 directions, which is similar to the pattern the final boss uses. I started to get a feeling that the game’s quality was being trumped by a desire for quantity. This lack of variety is exacerbated by the instant death mechanics.
I actually was pondering about Metroidvania game design shortly before I started playing this game – wondering if Instant Death has a place in the genre. Salt & Sanctuary gets away with it, as does La Mulana with its “Welcome to La Mulana” achievements. It’s pretty popular today to compare difficult games to Dark Souls, so let’s do that. In the original Dark Souls, if you die, you lose absolutely nothing; except the souls you are carrying. I know some people focus on the soul loss, but you get to keep any items you picked up before dying, any shortcuts you activated stay that way, any enemies that are programmed not to respawn stay dead, and you don’t even technically lose the souls permanently; you can go back and retrieve them. In Mortal Manor you lose everything since your last save point when you die. This is the same as Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night, but neither of those games had instant death mechanics. The aforementioned Mega Man is also similar, but Mega Man has about 2-5 hours worth of extremely linear gameplay, tightly designed for a one-way experience. I lost everything when I died in Mortal Manor, but I seriously questioned whether it was worth going back to re-explore the parts that I lost. I think the ultimate result is a game with a broken identity. It wants to be both a linear-like challenge and a Metroidvania, but it’s missing the complimentary mechanics to be truly good at either. I think it would have done well to take a page or two from Dark Souls/Hollow Knight/Salt and Sanctuary, or even Axiom Verge – just changing the death mechanics would help a lot.
Technically though, you can play on Easy Mode and remove the Instant Death in favor of near-mortal injury. Once you beat the game, you can customize a LOT in New Game+ to perhaps rectify any gripes you might have. If you just like having room after room to check off, Mortal Manor is a meaty package. It even has a randomizer mode if you want to keep it going forever. Mortal Manor has a lot going for it, and if anything on its store page looks appealing to you it has more substance than some of the other games I’ve played.
But if you take one look at its screenshots and find it unappealing, I can’t promise you a hidden gem hidden behind its production values.
Combat is simple, but tight in control and decently well telegraphed. Slightly marred by lack of variety
Tricky platforming over instant death spikes creates a high tension, and often frustrating experience
The castle is huge, and more than half of it is optional.
Simple switch puzzles make up everything that could be called ''Puzzle''
The opening scrawl shows promise, but little is done to deliver on that promise
It's functional, but lacks identity
I had to turn the music off because it was hurting my ears
A wide breadth of options are given to the player to customize any future playthrough after the first
Want a second opinion? See what other reviews say:
All Time: Mostly Positive
(75% of 16 Reviews)