Kam from Gamer Heroes brings you his review of OVERWHELM for the Nintendo Switch! A full written version of the review can be found below:
In the interest of full disclosure, a copy of this game was provided by popagenda on behalf of the developer for review purposes. The version played for review was on the Nintendo Switch platform.
Every once in a while, a game comes along that makes you appreciate the medium a little bit more. I hadn’t really run across a game personally that nailed the experience of anxiety and hopelessness until I came across OVERWHELM. It’s tense, it’s hectic, it’s even downright scary at times. True to its name, I was unbelievably tense and worried the whole game, but I just kept coming back for more.
OVERWHELM is a side-scrolling action platformer with some horror elements thrown in. You play as a soldier sent into a heavily-infested series of caverns to combat something ominously referred to only as “the Hive.” The goal is pretty straight-forward from the get-go: collect the five crystals spread around the map, bring them back to the center, and get the hell out. It seems simple, but the game will make you fight and learn for every single bit of progress, only to have you start over again as you inevitably fail. Your entire skill set consists of a dashing punch move, an uppercut double-jump, a single-shot pistol with limited ammunition, and three lives to pull it off. Oh, and you die in one hit. Sounds easy, right?
Working your way through the various areas in OVERWHELM for the first time is absolutely harrowing. You never know what’s around the corner and whether or not it’s already lined up an attack. Coupled with the incredible sound design that incorporates some deep bass synth tones, petrifying white noise, and the scariest of all, absolute silence, the developer delivers a truly unique horror experience. Nothing about this game is scary in a traditional horror sense (after all, the regular monsters are just small white bunches of pixels) but the emergent feeling of dread and horror created by the always real possibility of immediately losing your run had my heart pounding every time I picked up this game for a session.
Once you lose your first life, you start to be able to see less of the screen, as if you, the player, is getting tunnel vision from being too freaked out to think straight. That effect is only amplified on your last life, too. The tunnel vision obscures your remaining ammunition and the silence is broken with some of the most unsettling white noise I’ve heard in a while. Almost as if to call you out, the game also flashes “LAST CHANCE” boldly in the center of the screen before you go off to try and survive just a little bit longer. Eventually you make it to a crystal, all of which are guarded by bosses that aren’t terribly difficult, but force you to learn their attack patterns and how they work. Once you throw yourself at it enough to finally kill the boss and grab that crystal is really when the magic of this game begins to shine.
Because, as the game says, the hive grows stronger.
I absolutely love this game’s twist on typical rogue-like elements. Once you finally beat the boss, you don’t get stronger or get a new power up, but the enemies do. It felt like the hive you’re there to destroy has finally acknowledged your presence and starts to fight back and adapt to you. I don’t want to go too much into it since it should absolutely be experienced, but I felt it absolutely worth mentioning since it felt really earned by the nature of how the world works. You do get the benefit of being able to immediately start a run outside the boss room of any boss you’ve beaten so far, which definitely saves you time, but you still start over from the beginning. Getting 3 or 4 crystals only to die to the last boss was genuinely soul-crushing, but still absolutely exhilarating the whole way through. Every victory felt earned and while I do take some minor issues with how your character handles while in the heat of the moment and the occasional sudden death from the unfortunate enemy placement, they made everything feel frantic and stressful.
OVERWHELM isn’t a very long game technically (I’ve seen some speedruns clocking in at about the 15 minute mark) but the amount of time and effort you’re putting forth helps it stay around a little longer. Plus, once you finish the game, you unlock the New Game+ option, which changes up the paths and makes things have more of a set path.
I also want to give a shout-out to the game’s accessibility and difficulty options, because I think they’re brilliant. The menu literally says “Overwhelm is never easy. It’s hard for some. Impossible for others. If you find it impossible, try this:” and directs you to the assist mode, which lets you have infinite lives, ammo, and aim assist, among other tweaks. Those seem like they could ruin the experience, but they absolutely don’t. It doesn’t take away from the tension of knowing the boss can kill you in one hit or the frustration of throwing yourself at a problem you can’t solve. The assists streamline the process, and allows for people to experience the game when they normally couldn’t.
Are you the type of person that enjoys haunted houses and a steep challenge? If so, then I absolutely cannot recommend this game enough. It’s equal parts rewarding, punishing, and terrifying. The sound and visual design combines to allow for some unsettling effects that feel designed to get inside the head of the player. Even if you aren’t a thrill-seeker, I would definitely say to give it a try! The assist mode options allows the game to still keep the same challenge while allowing the spirit of the game to remain. I could go on and on about how cool this game is, so I’ll wrap it up here with this: play OVERWHELM.
Kam is one of the hosts of the Gamer Heroes podcast, head of content at GGKC, and a passable Dave Grohl look-a-like. Read more of his pretty okay words at his blog, or keep an eye on his regular attempts at humor on twitter @TheKamdyman.