Full Mojo Rampage will leave you wanting to rage.
For some, gaming is all about masochism. In such pairs of eyes, a game is not truly worthy of one’s time unless it makes them weep with pain at its difficulty, gritting their teeth until they’ve been filed down to stubs. There are a few types of game that lend themselves especially well to such mentalities, and one most certainly has become that of the roguelike. An element of randomization is always a great way to introduce potential challenges in a game. Nothing ever gets old if you don’t truly know what’s coming. Procedurally generated dungeon floors and item spreads keep adventurers on their toes.
Unfortunately, even within the world of the punishing, there have to be requirements and guidelines. Even there, there must be a point at which things go from “I had a stake shoved through my skull but eventually got to shove it back into the guy who put it in me” to “I had a stake shoved through my head and got kicked down a flight of stairs, and took an entire week to reach the bottom.” That’s my fun, creative-writing-degree-having way of saying that, no matter how much you may enjoy punishment in a game, it can be possible to have too much. Full Mojo Rampage, possibly unwittingly, crosses that line.
Full Mojo Rampage stars a voodoo practitioner on a mission. At the outset, a mystical voodoo Loa has accidentally gotten drunk and opened portals to the land of the dead, leaving a hell of a lot of mess to clean up. The perspective and control scheme are simple; top-down world, left stick to move, right stick to shoot. The character’s basic weapon shoots very small shots of magic stuff, making the lack of any form of reticule or aiming line noticeable, although far from painful. Players will find wearable equipment and single-use items along the way, providing stat bonuses, health regen, and other such factors. Sometimes a new weapon might even be in store; unfortunately, all of these auto-equip upon being found, and can’t be switched out unless they’ve been used up. Full Mojo Rampage is a fast enough game to train players to always keep that shooter-stick pointed one way or another, so the lives of temporary weapons may be short, indeed.
Full Mojo Rampage is divided into a series of “quests,” each spanning multiple levels. In a clever meta-rogue twist, the “world map” shuffles level types into random orders. You may start the same world ten times, and will never know whether your first outing will involve taking down enemy portals in a graveyard or exploring the haunted corridors of a crypt. Forcing players to start over after death is a defining feature of the genre, but at least Full Mojo Rampage provides the kindness of showing some sort of general roadmap for the fights ahead. The game also technically classifies as a “roguelite,” categorized by the fact that player EXP and leveling is kept throughout consecutive runs. This means that, no matter how many times you fail, you will improve, collecting more power-ups and stat augmentations as you go. There are some really interesting high points in level design, too, such as moving spike panels, dash pads on the floor, and pinball machine bumpers in the middle of rooms, lined with bounciness.
Unfortunately, this is the point where we have to get into the real misery business of the whole thing. Despite the fact that player characters can get stronger over multiple playthroughs, making room for early levels to be trifling afterthoughts of the relative difficulty they initially held, the problem is how long it takes to get there. The level grind is relatively slow, and each new level only allows for an increase in one stat of the player’s choice. This fact should be paired with the difficulty increase which, by roguelite or proper roguelike standards alike, is brutal. By the game’s second or third level, I found myself gunned down before I even had a chance to breathe. Part of the reason the most punishing games of our time (hi there, Dark Souls) have gotten popular is the inexorable sense of reward once the big bad who has killed you time and time again is slain, and the deed done at last. But there’s a difference between fighting one absurdly powerful enemy twenty times and restarting an entire chain of quickly punishing levels that same number of times. Do it for long enough, and the fun just gets drained away.
Luckily, even at its most scream-inducing, Full Mojo Rampage makes some serious magical headway in terms of visual style. The games art direction doesn’t just take a page from the book of Louisiana voodoo, but has taken pictures of each page in the damn thing and posted them all to Instagram. The soundtrack is absolutely wonderful, even reminiscent of the works of Grant Kirkhope during the golden age of Rare Studios. Likewise, the intro animation and sketches between levels all adhere to a really cool visual style that all fits like a glove. It all comes together almost as if the people behind Nightmare Before Christmas had instead decided to make their movie about the black magic of New Orleans.
Full Mojo Rampage also boasts a full multiplayer mode, which is a place where some new life is brought to this party of the dead. The online multiplayer consists of full co-op, where young Witch Doctors can come together to purge the land of evil in tandem. Some of the above complaints do get alleviated when a buddy is on hand to help in the pursuit of not dying at the hands of a giant skeleton hurling fireballs around. More perplexing is the local co-op option. There’s no setting to activate or option to choose from the start menu. Instead, starting up a single-player game with a second controller turned on will open up the option for a player 2 to jump in. While the second player gets all the same capabilities as the first, like a fireball attack and dodge-rolling, a quarter of the first player’s HP is inexplicably sheared off when player 2 spawns. A lot of games with optional co-op crank up the difficulty when a second player enters the field. This is far from the way to do that.
The array of spells cast by Full Mojo Rampage has made it very difficult to evaluate, but at the end of the day, here’s where we’re at. The game has very well-designed levels, often procedurally generated smoothly enough that you don’t really think about it. It lets players keep experience and build up characters over time, something that will either make it or break it. It’s charming, goofy, and exciting. It’s also an absolute chore to get to the point where you feel as though you’ve progressed. The game starts off at a grind, and now I just feel like I’ve been taking a bath in stylish, mechanically-sound sandpaper.
Final verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PC, PS4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Nicalis ; Developer: Over the Top Games ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: June 28, 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $12.99 (physical)
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy supplied by the game’s publisher, Nicalis.