REVIEW: ‘Struggling’ Is a Struggle Worth It (XSX)

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Struggling

Struggling is a physics-based platformer from developer Chasing Rats Games and publisher Frontier Developments. You play as a grotesque abomination, Hector and Achilles, two pairs of a head and arm mashed together and collectively known as Troy, as you escape your maker and traverse an utterly disgusting and disturbing world.

It’s a simple premise at first. One stick and trigger controls and grips with one arm on this abomination, and the other set control the other arm. Or, in co-op, each player controls one arm each. We’ve seen this type of gameplay plenty of times before. But where Struggling immediately sets its use of this gameplay mechanic apart is where exactly the axes are on either arm and the exact shape your body takes. You don’t just wave the arms up and down at the shoulder. Instead, they curl in on themselves like the giant sacks of meat they are, requiring you to use a full 180 degrees of rotation on the joystick to manipulate either arm properly. And the giant head of yours is slightly off-center from your arms, with more room below than above. This combined makes traversing significantly more complicated, precise, and sometimes finicky than any similar game I’ve played.

It’s also what makes its gameplay so darn fun. Having to carefully manipulate my arms to squeeze through very tight holes or use momentum to swing from platform to platform feels so satisfying every time I pass an obstacle. The precision and patience required always leave me feeling like I accomplished something. And when I inevitably fail, falling into a pit of mutant rats or acid, Troy screeching all the way down, it feels fair and deserved. If I had just reacted faster or remembered to split my brain in half and turn either arm more precisely instead of just trying to synchronize them, I would have succeeded. Fortunately, checkpoints are fairly distributed, and there are no lives to lose and send you back farther.

The gameplay is strong, but the real standout is the game’s art design. It’s gross, to put it bluntly. I’m not typically a fan of crude humor, whether we’re talking bathroom jokes or Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. This game has its share of both vibes. But it’s executed so well that I simply can’t help but be enamored. It begins in a lab where scientists are partying, and the only crudeness is your form and their inebriation. But quickly, you discover this entire world is disgusting and filled with creatures more abominable than even you are. And all the while, the art is sharp, creative, and disgusting. But the dashes of humor, specifically in the way your character screams whenever they’re in danger, or the tutorial texts, which are absolutely obnoxiously facetious, balance out the grossness nicely.

All praise must go to the level design. Nothing ever gets repetitive for a single moment. Every new section of your linear adventure is filled with some new way to use gravity to propel you or forces you to grip walls in different ways to squeeze through tight areas. And over time, you unlock other mutant powers that further spice up the traversal game.

There’s also a large swath of hidden hats that you can find and put on either Hector or Achilles’ heads. Many are in relatively easy-to-find places, some are quite well hidden, and others are obvious but very difficult to get to without dropping them in a vat of acid before placing it on your head. It’s a great collectible system because I always wanted to see what other hat options were out there. And occasionally, when I was really close to one, something started yelling “secret” really creepily until I uncovered it, which felt like a nice and thematic way to illustrate that you should check every nook and cranny as you go along.

If I had to find one thing to complain about, it’s perhaps just that I wish the tutorial made it a bit more clear where the axes were on my arms. I had to really figure that part out on my own, and at first, it was rather discouraging when I simply couldn’t get the arms to move how I wanted them to. But between eventually getting the point and the fact that you can always kill off one of your arms and have it regrow in a neutral position in less than a second, the times when my arms got twisted, or I got stuck in a corner ultimately came to feel like minute setbacks.

Struggling is a very creative and endearing platformer that surprised me with both how much I enjoyed its grotesque universe and how tight its physics-based gameplay is.

Struggling is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Struggling
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Struggling is a very creative and endearing platformer that surprised me with both how much I enjoyed its grotesque universe and how tight its physics-based gameplay is.