On paper Struggling seems like a neat idea, taking the goofy arm grabbing, physics-based gameplay of the hilariously funny Heave Ho and applying that to an actual adventure with bigger levels and a story backing it up. The inclusion of a co-operative option only made the whole package sound even more appealing especially since that’s where Heave-Ho was at its best. Unfortunately, once this idea moves beyond paper and into practice, the end result is anything but the fun and silly time you’d want it to be.
You play as Troy, a grotesque blob of a creature with two heads and two arms who manages to escape his prison after a scientist vomits on the connecting control panel. You’ll then work your way through a series of environments at first using nothing more than your two arms, grabbing at the environment and pulling or swinging yourself along. As you progress though, you’ll unlock other abilities such as slowing down time or being able to detach your arms from your pair of heads and move them around freely. If you’ve played Heave-Ho then the controls should feel very familiar, each control stick controlling an arm’s movement and the triggers initiating their grip. It sounds simple but you’ll soon discover proves to be anything but.
I get that Struggling is very much one of those games that’s meant to be difficult to control in the same vein as the likes of running game QWOP, Heave Ho or Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Where the fun stems from trying to tame the wild handling nature of those games. Where Struggling falters though is that it just asks far too much of a game that controls so awkwardly. Heave-Ho was fun because levels were short, never too demanding and you were free to take your time. QWOP meanwhile was just a fun distraction with no real goal other than bettering your best time. Struggling, however, wants to be an actual platformer adventure complete with tough to navigate environments, obstacles aplenty and time constraints that make one slip-up a fatal one. That wouldn’t be such a problem if controlling Troy wasn’t such a battle at times and the physics weren’t another aspect to have to deal but you’ll find both are an annoyance throughout.
Getting to grips with Troy is no easy feat and even after completing the game’s tutorial moments I found myself flailing his arms around helplessly plenty of times in the hours that followed. When you do manage to accomplish something skilful you do feel quite the sense of achievement especially during some of the game’s set-piece moments where quick movement and response is vital. Banging your head against what feels like an unclimbable wall only to finally best it is a great feeling when it comes to any challenge but with Struggling doing that whilst also dealing with the controls and physics of the game adds a whole new layer to that sensation.
Unfortunately, these moments are far outweighed by those filled with pure frustration as you continually fail at the same section over and over again be it due to tangling your arms or simply just stumbling across objects or new terrain that requires even more of you. While I would eventually defeat these challenges, that feeling of accomplishment would lessen as the level of failure and fumbling would rise the deeper into the game I played. Even something like movement would just feel like a drag as the journey progressed, those awkward controls that once drew a small smile now just inducing groans.
There are two elements here that on their own prove great fun. You have the goofy, awkward-controlling physics-based gameplay usually good for creating funny moments and then you have a platforming adventure. Together it just feels like the two aren’t the best match.
Struggling can also be played co-operatively with each player taking control of an arm. As you can imagine chaos and yelling come in healthy measure as you both try your best to work as a team. If the game wasn’t already tough enough alone, playing in co-op takes things to a whole other level of frustration. It’s entertaining at first and you’re sure to get a few laughs through the arguing and red faces, however we were more than happy to switch back over to single player.
From a presentation standpoint there’s a decent amount of detail to the world created in Stuggling with an art style that looks clean and never short on character. Personally, I found that style to be not to my taste though, with those visuals opting for a rather off-putting and gross-out look complete with vomit, gore and other horrible looking creations. The audio too is just as unpleasant, Troy making plenty of groaning and squelching noises that was more than enough to make us want to turn the volume off. There’s a clear style the developer was shooting for with Struggling and while some will likely get a good kick out of it’s disgusting (and I don’t mean that negatively) vibe, it just wasn’t for me nor my wife.
Struggling is one of the more frustrating games I’ve played on the Switch to the point where it felt more like an endurance challenge than anything else. Small victories are marred by countless failures and coupling that with a co-op mode than only serves to aggravate more and a visual style that is at times unappealing and others just plain gross makes for an end result that makes it a struggle to keep playing.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Frontier Foundry