…Or, make it manageable.

HIGH The options made this game finishable and enjoyable.

LOW Dying an absurd number of times right before the final run.

WTF Were all of those weird, glitchy flashes about?

How much difference can 250 milliseconds make? If you had asked me a couple days ago, I would have had no idea how to answer. Now after playing Overwhelm? I can say with confidence that 250 milliseconds can make a world of difference.

Overwhelm is a 2D pixel-art action game from developer Ruari O’Sullivan. It isn’t much for story — apparently there’s a subterranean hive full of creatures that need to be eradicated because of course they do, so a tiny character on a horse rides out and drops inside to take care of business.

Gameplay is simple. The character has a gun that can fire in three-shot bursts and carries a limit of 99 bullets. They can also jump, double jump and cling to walls.

The goal is to collect five gems scattered throughout the hive. They’re visible on a map, although the exact route to each one is initially obscured. Players head out in a direction, kill monsters along the way, grab the gem (yes, there’s a boss fight at each one) and then try to get all five gems back to the entry point of the hive, which serves as a hub of sorts.

It seems straightforward — and it is — but there are a few complicating factors.

First, Overwhelm is fast and deadly. When left on default settings, death comes quickly thanks to randomly-spawned enemies attacking from unpredictable locations and a general need for players to have ninja-like reflexes. A player only gets three lives before a run ends, and those lives can go poof in the blink of an eye. One saving grace is that if the player manages to beat a boss and get a gem, then those lives are restored. However, it’s not a great deal of help considering how lethal the world is.

The other factor making Overwhelm a particularly challenging experience is that each boss has a special ability or quality, and when that boss is defeated, many of the monsters in the hive gain that quality.

For example, when the bird on the west side of the map is defeated, some of the flying creatures get increased attack speed. When the worm at the bottom is taken down, creatures that are impervious to frontal attack start showing up – and boy howdy, is that a tough thing to deal with. After just a few bosses taste defeat, the already-killer hive becomes even deadlier. While I’m sure that there are people out there capable of finishing Overwhelm through sheer skill and determination, I found it to be a bit above what my patience could handle.

If this had been the average ‘chip on its shoulder’ indie that asks people to dance to its beat or GTFO, I would have walked away without finishing and wouldn’t have bothered with a review, but that wasn’t the case. No, Overwhelm comes with a suite of options that let players completely customize the experience, and they made all the difference — fairly ironic timing given the game-o-sphere’s rampant discussions on difficulty lately. (Thanks, Sekiro!)

This piece of work whose core identity is about pushing players to the limit of their skill also lets them enable infinite lives, infinite ammo, aim assist, pausing while in the map screen, and most importantly, lets them adjust the speed of play. This is where the 250 milliseconds I mentioned at the beginning of the review comes in — with this cranked to the max, the entire experience almost goes into a slow motion mode.

Including this suite of features is a genius move. Trying to best Overwhelm on the default settings is a big ask of anyone, but by letting me modify aspects to match my own taste and abilities, it goes from being an ego-bruising wall of difficulty that I would bail out of into something that was quite enjoyable, and a title that I now happily recommend to others.

(A small side note – people trying to finish it in vanilla mode should brace not only for a lot of unexpected, borderline ‘unfair’ deaths thanks to random monster generation, but from a number of very nasty surprises that come in the late game. Overwhelm is out for your ass and it has no mercy.)

Without the customization options, Overwhelm would be a neat project that would suit for a tiny fraction of hardcore players who don’t mind throwing themselves into the meat grinder of mastery. However, thanks to a developer willing to have his creation be played in a way outside the original vision, not only will more people be able to get the full experience from his work, but I imagine that it will earn him fans eager to see more in the future. I’m a firm believer that offering options can only help a game and never hurt it, and Overwhelm is a perfect example that proves it true.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by RandomNine and published by Alliance Digital Media. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in the local co-op mode.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence. The graphics are heavily pixelized and stylized, and the game concerns a small character blasting monsters in a gore-free way. There is no sexual content nor any salty language. https://ebiteua.com/en/

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options, but there are palette choices available – a total of four different colors the game can be displayed as. The default is red, but yellow, green and blue are also available.  

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is basically no text in the game apart from menus. (See below for example.) I played the entire game muted and encountered no difficulties at all. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Brad Gallaway
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