While this Thoth isn’t the inventor of writing and alphabets, nor a scribe of the underworld, it is a game that does have all the hallmarks of a classic arcade shooter
Developed by former Playdead lead Jeppe Carlson, the atmosphere and effects will remind you of his work on the likes of Limbo and Inside, but the gameplay is a complete left turn from everything he’s done to date.
Supposedly this is the game he’s always wanted to make – even part of his original pitch to work at Playdead – and it oozes a distinct charm and quality that helps it stand apart from others in the genre. At first glance, it seems to be a twin-stick shooter in a similar category to Stardust and Resogun, mixed in with 140 which we reviewed a few weeks back.
And it’s one where you’ll die … and die … and die some more because death seems anything but final!
But there is a simplicity and minimalism about the game as you’re essentially steering a white dot around a retro-grade backdrop, shooting at cubes with a pulsating essence within. At a base level, it really is that simple, but as you beat more and more levels and the difficulty amplifies, and the background changes, and the music becomes darker and more sinister, you’ll detect more subtle undertones. Especially when you come to the boss battles.
And the game will only checkpoint if you beat that boss. You start at Level 64 and gradually work your way down. If you fail, you start back at the previous checkpoint which would have been 4 levels previously, the ambience of the game gradually changing as you go. What you’re actually working towards is all part of the mystery, whether or not it’s Armageddon or Inspiration. It’s all part of the lure which will make sure you stick with Thoth to the bitter end.
Added to that is this distinct quality which makes the experience a little unsettling, putting you on edge, ironically helping you look past – what is essentially – a very simplistic game and appreciate it on a level you wouldn’t have expected.
Despite the looks, Thoth plays brilliantly. It’s extremely addictive – in the category of Super Meat Boy for replayability – and the handling is smooth and elegant. There’s a tactical aspect to it as well as if you’re shooting, the dot will move slower, whereas if you take your finger off the fire button, you can escape several “certain-death” situations by rapidly manoerving to safety. You can even play co-operatively with a buddy or jump into a Challenge Mode
And each board is different, whether you’ve got barriers in the way, whether the enemies are slightly different and their attacking patterns vary, such as shooting projectiles at your or splitting the board.
There are no words conveyed to the player. There’s not even a press start option at the beginning of the game. Just numbers and shapes. The only communication with the player is the new mechanics gradually added to the game, forcing you to learn them in order to survive.
Thoth is a refreshing change of pace and an enjoyable shooter. It won’t be sold by assets and video, it’s a game that needs to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. Sure, it won’t set the world alight or change your perspective of the genre, but elements of it will stay with you long after you finish playing and the satisfaction of victory certainly cannot be denied.