I’m a sucker when it comes to roguelites and roguelikes alike. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: They’re great. Among roguelites, there is also the subgenre of “roguevania” which is a mix of the metroidvania genre and roguelike mechanics. It’s a whole thing that is satisfying to play and innovative in most regards. So, on my search for interesting roguelites, I’ve stumbled across Mongrel… and while I want to review this one and go into detail about what makes it good, I simply can’t. It may not be a bad game – but I just don’t like it. Here’s why.
Note: Because the screenshot feature didn’t work for this game, I used images from the presskit. During my playtime, I didn’t get to upgrade my health, earn lots of money, or unlock weapons at all. The game doesn’t want you to have fun after all.
Developer: Fischmell Publisher: Fischmell Genre: Early Access, 2D,
Roguevania, Action Adventure, Indie Release Date: February 19th, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was provided by the developer.
In Mongrel, you play as a human-frog-hybrid named Finch who sets out to save the world of Yonder from an ancient evil. Society has crumbled and the only woman in the world is everyone’s mother… and evil people get flushed down the toilet… and honestly, I’m confused. The goal is to beat four big enemies to reunite the brain wheel… and you want to get a good reputation to get with society’s mother? It’s honestly incredibly confusing and random and I don’t quite get it. The game throws you in there with a lacklustre tutorial where you follow your father (a frog) around as he explains how the game works. The controls work alright for the movement and platforming bits but you can’t access your inventory unless you hit escape, even if the game tells you to open it by holding the tab button. At times you will need to latch onto flies but it’s not really working all that reliably most of the time which can get quite frustrating.
The game draws – apparently – inspiration from Metroidvanias, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Zelda. I can see how some of the story is based on Zelda’s “ancient evil showed up and now you gotta save the day” premise but apart from that, I don’t really see it. It feels too wishy-washy. Does the game actually try to make an effort to be serious? Not really. The game’s pretty much trying to be a parody of itself which doesn’t really work. What’s more, is that it tries itself at “dark humour” but for the most part, it’s just bad. The content warning on the store page warns about a guy who is aroused when he holds his breath. Meanwhile, the game actually has stuff that should have been mentioned like this one guy who “knows” that the kids want his touch even when he is told to leave them. At the same time, you have the option of calling someone a cripple. If you do that, you “commit a sin” meaning that your reputation goes down and prices in town are more expensive. Meanwhile, you can compliment people and give them ALL YOUR MONEY to increase your reputation. Backing off and going away is not an option. By engaging with people and trying to increase your reputation, you get actively screwed over. Furthermore, the “dark humour” is just borderline bigotry and ableism.
Speaking of money, you earn it by killing enemies. Where do you spend it? No idea. The game doesn’t tell you. There is a casino that screws you over. You give it some money and then it spins the wheel. So far so good. Then it shows you getting a good price. Alright. Then the guy running the place says “the machine must be broken” and spins again to get you something else. Alright, that’s funny… but then it just keeps on spinning over and over and over again until the joke overstays its welcome more than necessary to the point where you’re not frustrated but rather bored. A lot of times, you’ll find yourself in instances where you can’t skip conversations but you’re rather punished for trying to speak with people. It’s a common theme. No idea what the idea behind that was.
Gameplay-wise the game isn’t really offering you much. You can dive into the dungeon and defeat enemies. To move on, you need to defeat all monsters on the floor. Then you fight a tough enemy or boss of sorts… but it’s just incredibly boring. Now, when it comes to “roguelikes” you have generally a few different elements that make a roguelike a roguelike. If it’s procedurally generated with permadeath and powerups, that’s basically it. You can have other elements in it but my point here is: Mongrel doesn’t really have any of those. It’s labelling itself as “the only roguelike where you get flushed down the toilet” but in the end, you don’t see any upgrades anytime soon. You have no incentive to actually play the game as your damage stays the same over the course of the game. Your speed and other stats get upgraded maybe once here and there but unless you make it past the frustrating and flat-out boring bits, you won’t see any new weapons or anything that makes this a roguelike game or a Metroidvania game or even a fun game.
To top it off, the art style is weird and just doesn’t work for the game. The developers outsourced to someone for the background art. The person that did the art did an amazing job! The background art is amazing! It’s beautiful and immersive. The map looks quite nice. The level design is alright. It combines beautiful art in the background with pretty pixel art in the foreground. Finch, the main character of Mongrel, looks amazing as well. But the rest of the characters in the game and even the enemies look like poorly drawn characters that don’t belong in the game. When I say that the art style is “weird” and “doesn’t work for the game” I mean that it all doesn’t mash well. It’s almost as if they spent all their budget on the backgrounds but didn’t have enough funds left to get the enemies sorted out. You have pixel weapons to shoot dead demon babies and paint-style bats with… and it’s just not good to look at.
Overall, I thought that this game looked interesting. I got a key for it. It’s in Early Access. Obviously, a lot can change during the course of the EA period but frankly, I doubt that Mongrel is worth the time and money. It was funded via Kickstarter and is now available on Steam for roughly ten bucks but I really can’t recommend trying out this game because of how unenjoyable it is.