HIGH Adorably gruesome characters, great sense of humor.
LOW That motherf***ing part with the mountain climbers.
WTF Who thought that opening backstory was a good idea?
With a main character so bizarrely ugly that it’s cute, Struggling caught my eye the moment I saw it in the eShop.
Coming from a studio called Chasing Rats, Struggling is a challenging, unconventional title starring two misshapen heads fused together. Each noggin has control of a single arm, and with almost no other assets to work with, the game asks players to crawl, roll, and flop their way out of a science lab and escape out to… well… anywhere else, basically.
Story isn’t a great concern in Struggling. While the devs start off with an overcomplicated, confusing tale about a race of ancient Greek mutants, none of that is necessary and it ends up being totally irrelevant, anyway. No, let’s not concern ourselves with a script.
Instead of storytelling, Struggling‘s main draw is that it offers an incredibly taxing campaign that will require the blob to use super-grabby claws at the end of each arm to clutch things in the environment and work its way up, over and around any obstacle in its path.
The physics here are something else — while the claws will cling to any traversable surface infallibly, the arms attached to them flail and bounce like rubber tubes, and this, in turn, causes the head to bob and weave. To say that it’s “a challenge” to get this creature to do anything reliably is an understatement of cosmic proportions.
Climbing a short set of stairs? It might take three or four tries.
Crawling past timed steam vents? Grab a seat.
Leaping from a swinging rope onto the backpack of a mountain climber, grabbing the next climber, sailing to a third climber and then catapulting off onto a distant ledge while dealing with time limits?
Bite down on a leather strap and try not to scream.
Players looking for a smooth, easy ride should steer clear, but patient souls unafraid of difficulty should know that besides the sometimes-maddening gameplay, Struggling has a fantastic sense of humor and more than a few delightful surprises. In fact, every time my rage started to build and I’d start to have my fill, something totally unexpected would happen and I’d be sucked back in.
The first hint of beyond-the-premise absurdity showed up when the blob needed to operate a crane like a giant claw machine of the kind found in arcades. Using the arms to manipulate levers instead of just grabbing and dragging his heads along the ground was a neat twist, and the devs go nuts in a dozen different directions from there.
Besides ever-more-difficult navigation challenges, players will ride a dirtbike, dunk a basketball in space, go on a date and… well, there’s a lot more that comes up, but I’d be remiss if I spoiled all the surprises. However, I can say that each new twist was more bizarre and outrageous than the last.
In terms of criticisms, Struggling wouldn’t be hurt by dialing back on the infuriating bits. I don’t think the appeal is in the challenge, but in its novelty, oddness and laughs. Letting more players enjoy it by sanding down the difficulty spikes would only be a good thing.
Also, I do think that some of the checkpoints are a bit too far apart. It’s disheartening to cramp fingers and break a sweat while nailing a tricky series of jumps and grabs, only to fall into spikes immediately afterwards and have to do it all again. There weren’t many times that I felt shafted by the checkpoint placement, but when it happened… hoo boy.
On my list of “most pleasant and unexpected surprises” this year, Struggling is near the top. The sad, blobby heads are endearing, it offers a significant test of skills, and it has a sense of humor that I found absolutely delightful. I sometimes wanted to pull my hair out and I had to walk away from my Switch and cool off a few times, but I always came back to it and I’m glad that I did.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Chasing Rats and published by Frontier Foundry. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in the local multiplayer mode where the creature’s arms are controlled by separate people. Are you kidding? It’s balls-hard already, and would only be harder trying to coordinate between two people, not to mention that one person would kill the other out of frustration.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Gore, Crude Humor and Fantasy Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a puzzle-platformer in which players assume the role of Troy, a mutated test subject searching for his purpose in the world. Players use physics to traverse side-scrolling platforms while avoiding/escaping hazards (e.g., hordes of rats, toxic sludge, spiked objects). Some hazards cause Troy to dissolve or burst into body parts. Several levels depict fleshy tunnels and creatures with mutated organs, some of which explode when destroyed. One level depicts a donkey that bursts into chunks of flesh when crushed by an object. In one sequence, a giant unicorn emits rainbow-colored fluids/gas from its buttocks. In another scene, a scientist can be seen vomiting.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no problems at all. There’s no talking in the game, no audio cues of note, and there’s almost no text. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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