Game Review #538: Carrion (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Akio Kahoshi
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer
Release Date: 07.23.2020
Watch the Trailer
Buy Carrion from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Horror games are nothing new, and the gaming community has seen many over the decades. Games where each sound or imagined movement leaves you with a sense of intangible dread. Where you are expected to fight off an unspeakable horror with five bullets and a flashlight. In Carrion, you are the unspeakable horror. You are the one spreading dread.
And I loved every minute of it.
Every detail of this game has been optimized to feel exactly like a traditional horror game, but in reverse. The haunting music that would normally strike fear in the player is instead empowering. At the same time the wonderfully made pixel art presents an attractive, and bloody, game that manages to avoid the gross gore-fests of movies like Saw that a more realistic art style would have created.
Unleashing The Creature
In Carrion, you start by breaking free of confinement as a monstrous being straight out of eldritch horror. At first the creature’s abilities are limited, mainly moving around using a single tentacle to grab objects or people (and then eating said people, of course). This game wastes no time getting right to the bloody action.
What surprised me was how fluidly the Carrion beast moved around the room. Simply moving in the intended direction sends tentacles shooting out toward walls, pulling it through the air at incredible speed. There was a slight learning curve to learning how to use the tentacle, which is controlled independently using the right analog stick, but aside from that the controls were shockingly good.
Once I understood the basic controls and started moving through the environment I realized that Carrion has a lot more going on than I initially expected. It is, in fact, full of environmental puzzles. With the upgrades that are unlocked throughout the game opening up new paths in previous areas, I genuinely felt at times I was playing a Metroidvania. All this while being an amorphous creature zipping around via tentacles.
If it was not evident by the number of times I have used the word “tentacle” so far in this review, Carrion has more tentacles than a hentai film. But that is not the Carrion beast’s only ability. Each new level has at least one major upgrade for the Carrion beast giving new abilities ranging from a web tentacle to invisibility.
Where it gains complexity is that each new offensive skill unlock also increases the size of the beast. This gives it more biomass, the stand in for health, but also makes it more difficult to maneuver. In addition, each size only has access to one set of skills, requiring the creature to change its size to complete certain puzzles.
This usually was not a problem due to well placed pools of special liquid where I could safely deposit biomass for later retrieval, decreasing my size in the process. There was also usually a save point nearby that could restore biomass if necessary. In fact, the way the levels are designed is probably the best feature of the game.
Without a doubt, what takes Carrion to another level is it's incredibly clever level design. While there is very little hand-holding in this game beyond it teaching the player how to use new skills, each puzzle slowly builds upon previous ones so that no puzzle seems impossible. In fact, with the design I found myself flying through the puzzles at incredible speed at times, which felt incredible.
For those that enjoy exploring every nook and cranny, most of the game’s areas have a hidden upgrade to find. These upgrades give various bonuses such as a boost to energy used for skills or an additional tentacle. While not required to beat the game, they certainly make some of the more challenging areas near the end of the game easier.
As for what to do in each level, the ultimate goal is to find the biomass upgrade and then escape through a portal. By traveling through the level and merging with save points, the Carrion beast spreads itself out and unlocks part of the portal. Despite only having vague echolocation in place of a map, I never felt myself lost. The flow of each level feels incredibly natural, leading to the next area without feeling like the game is on rails.
Humans, They’re What’s For Breakfast
It is not just the environment that is carefully made. Even the major combat sections are presented as puzzles, with the rooms smartly set up in ways to allow multiple solutions to hunting down the ever increasingly difficult foes. Rushing straight in is almost always a bad idea, but using the terrain in clever ways allows the Carrion beast to pick off the soldiers trying to kill it one at a time.
The various upgrades also all are useful in combat, giving the Carrion beast a variety of ways to defend itself regardless of its current size. While the soldiers do not provide biomass, in most of the game there are normal humans as well to provide a pick-me-up snack after taking some damage.
As the game progresses, it can be very easy to be overwhelmed by the enemy and killed. Thankfully the game reloads quickly to the last save space. Sometimes if I died, exploring the area would present a new method of approaching the fight I missed before, and thus lowering the difficulty substantially. This led combat to be extremely satisfying, and enforcing that feeling of a predator hunting its prey.
While not a long game, the length of Carrion felt very satisfying. I truly enjoyed the game from start to finish, though its limited replayability might be a downside to some people. For now we have seen the end of the Carrion beast’s journey, but I hope one day we will get to see more.
Buy Carrion from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Phobia Game Studio
*A game code as provided for review purposes.