When Struggling released last year I never got around to playing it—but I really wanted to. I’m glad, then, that it has recently made its way to consoles and I’ve gotten a chance to play it myself. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.
Struggling is a co-op puzzle platformer with body horror themes and QWOP-like gameplay. In it, you play as a two armed monstrosity—all limbs and head, and little coordination. It’s hard to move around without legs. Luckily, if you lose your arms for any reason, you can regrow them. If your arms are stuck you can pop them off at will. As your progress through the game, you’ll develop different powers which can be used to continue your horrifying existence. If you struggle far enough, you’ll eventually be able to detach your arms for, uh, extra utility. You’ll also be able to slow time to watch yourself die in slow motion as you fail to dodge a projectile.
While Struggling can be played solo, the real horror is trying to play it co-op. In solo mode, each limb is independently controlled by their respective joysticks. Grabbing with the left or right is done by pressing the left or right trigger. Moving isn’t exactly easy even in solo mode, as you’ll literally have to struggle to get your horrible monstrosity to each obstacle. In co-op mode, however, there is a lot more coordination involved. Even just moving from place to place requires practice and communication. Some of the harder tasks require feats of patience that tested me and my co-op partner’s limits.
There is a whole lot of body horror in Struggling, but it’s presented in a tongue in cheek sort of way. You (and your friend) will have to struggle your way over obstacles made of meat, avoid creatures that want to eat you, and barely hang on as you dangle over spikes and pits of acid. It’s not easy going, and you will die a whole lot. While I appreciate Struggling for what it is, one of my biggest complaints is the time between checkpoints. Losing feels pretty punishing sometimes, but fair other times.
Struggling isn’t just a bad control scheme thrown into a conventional platformer. There is really clever level design in Struggling. The challenges feel unique, and more than just a variation of “don’t fall to your death. “ More than that, there are novel mechanics thrown in every so often to keep things fresh—and that means fresh arguments with your co-op partner. Okay, I probably sound more bitter than I am. There are also boss “fights” that are equally horrible and grotesque. There’s a sequence where you have to avoid hordes of rats, and another where you control what can best be described as a flesh pinball machine.
While I played most of Struggling solo, I want to make it my life’s goal to finish the game with a co-op partner. Struggling is one of my favorite puzzle platformers this year. It has an amazing sense of humor and some genuine surprises up its meaty sleeves. It’s never been more fun to be a horrible, suffering abomination.
A PlayStation 4 key was provided to us for this review.
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