Overgrowth is fast and brutal, but feels like it’s missing something.
It is obligatory that every article on Overgrowth start with a bit on how long it has been in development, so here’s mine. When Wolfire Games first started work on its rabbit beat-’em-up, both George W Bush and Gordon Brown were still in office, the first Android phone had not yet launched, and there was only one Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. The Humble Bundle was a spin-off project from Overgrowth, that is how much the industry has changed while this game’s development trundled on. So, after nine years of continuous, open development, you probably want to know what Overgrowth is, and the answer is this: Overgrowth is fast. Overgrowth is very, very fast. The protagonist, Turner, is a giant rabbit man, which means he has the proportional strength and speed of a rabbit (it’s probably best to not check the actual science behind this). He runs with astonishing speed, he can leap hundreds of feet through the air, and his man-rabbit kicks are devastatingly brutal.
And he kicks a lot. The majority of your time in Overgrowth will be taken up with kicking other rabbits to death (plus cats, dogs, rats and a few wolves). The combat system is incredibly simple, requiring only two buttons: Attack and defend. As you read that sentence, you’re probably imagining an Arkham- style system with carefully timed rhythmic button presses, but it’s not like that at all. Instead, holding down the left mouse button (you can use a pad, but unusually I felt more comfortable with a mouse) leads you to constantly auto attack, while holding down the right automatically blocks and dodges. Direction keys influence both, with a direction hit just before a dodge leading to a throw, and jumping and crouching while attacking resulting in sweeps and sweet dive kicks.
What this all means is that fights in Overgrowth are fast, incredibly fast, far faster than it could be if you had to click for every attack. Fights rarely last longer than a few seconds, but when your careful plan goes wrong you’ll instead be locked into a desperate struggle of dodging and kicking. It’s impressive to see a system that is as fun when it all goes perfectly as when everything descends into farce. So frantic are the battles that it wasn’t until the second playthrough on a higher difficulty setting that I felt that I ‘got’ the system properly, and wasn’t just desperately reacting to things.
Unfortunately, combat is only half the Overgrowth experience
Unfortunately, combat is only half the Overgrowth experience. The rest of the game is taken up with far weaker platforming sections, where Turner’s prodigious jump and wall-running abilities are used to scale linear obstacle courses. When the game started, I was convinced I was going to love this aspect. There’s a joy to sailing through the air as Turner, and the wall-running brought back pleasant memories of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Annoyingly, I spent a good proportion of my time watching Turner grab the wrong thing, ignoring the ledge that I was aiming for and instead mounting a jutting out piece of rock and doing chin-ups on the edge for basically forever. Thankfully, there’s an instant restart and some generous checkpointing, so you’re rarely inconvenienced by a missed leap, but it has the feeling of punishment and repetition that the exhilarating combat largely avoids.
I’m honestly torn on Overgrowth. I love the speed and brutality of the fights, but at the same time they are so fast, and so brief, that the game almost feels insubstantial, a problem not helped by a paper thin antihero plot. Perhaps the developers realize this, which is why they’ve added the less-impressive platforming sections to pad everything out. It’s such a strange-feeling game, it seems impossible to tell who will like it.
In the end, Overgrowth remains what it always appeared to be through all those years of development: a curio. It’s is a weird, unique creation, a window into an alternate approach to beat-’em-ups, a strange and beautiful place to visit, but it just doesn’t feel substantial enough to make your home in, at least to me anyway. It is a game to blast through in a weekend, enjoy, and then never think about again.