Monday, October 10, 2016

PC Review #152: Thoth

Title: Thoth
Developer: Carlsen Games
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $9.99
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Your typical dual stick shooter is all about chaos. Victory comes from overwhelming non-stop firepower and evading waves and hordes like a madman. Erase your enemies from the screen as fast and fiercely as possible. From Geometry Wars and Assault Android Cactus to Binding of Isaac, relentless offense is the best defense. Not firing only gives your enemies time to surround and corner.

Thoth is nothing like that. Sure, you have an effective means of attack - a dual-stream of bullets - and can weave and dodge with ease, and there are fierce enemies that crowd the screen, but relentless firepower will only hasten your destruction.
Much like Carlsen's previous effort 140, Thoth is an exercise in minimalism. It's dual stick shooter distilled, from your single attack to the stark aesthetic and single-screen rectangular arenas. Your vessel is a mere circle, your enemies an array of other shapes. There are no upgrades or power-ups or loadouts or other complexities of the sort.

From this foundation, instead Thoth laser-focuses on the gameplay and exploring its mechanics. It's a game without a tutorial, where you learn through play rather than text. Your movement and shooting are the tools that teach you how enemies behave, and thus every new enemy and mechanic evokes a moment of tension, another unknown variable to master and overcome.
But once you do understand the varied actions of your geometric foes, you realize that Thoth is not exactly a shooter. It's a puzzler, and shooting and movement are how you solve these spatial conundrums. When to shoot, where you shoot from, which enemy you shoot at, in what order, all must be considered. Your circular ships moves faster when not firing, and each enemy requires sustained fire to drain them from existence, so positioning and timing are perhaps the most important aspects to assess while playing Thoth.

Positioning becomes much more critical when you realize that the arena itself is linked with the enemies you face. From changing the available space to swapping the barriers that divide the stage, killing an enemy can hinder rather than help if done at the wrong time and place. Mindlessly firing without considering your location will more than likely see your ship trapped and cornered. Across the game's 64 levels, you're constantly introduced to twists and elements, forcing you to adapt regularly and wringing surprising variety from a seemingly simple format.
Although...it may be a misnomer to say you kill enemies in this game. Enough bullets, and your colorful foes become structures of negative space, empty portholes into endless abyss beyond the arena, that pursue you even more aggressively. It's yet another puzzle piece to consider while dodging and weaving. Thoth's otherworldly droning soundtrack complements the imagery of that cold void wonderfully,

Much like the abyss hidden behind its minimal aesthetic, Thoth's distilled approach to the dual-stick genre hides a unique action puzzler behind the veneer of hectic shooter. You can purchase Thoth on Steam and Humble.

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