Games that do a lot with not so much are always impressive to me. Sometimes this comes from the use of minimalistic art styles, selective use (or non-use) of dialogue or simply just not including a lot of extraneous elements that don’t add to the game’s overall experience. Other times it comes from other, weirder things like when I notice that the download and install size of a game is incredibly tiny, like it is for CARRION. Weighing in at a paltry 171MB of total install size I can honestly say I’m at a loss as to how they managed to include so much game in such a small space as whilst the pixel art style might’ve saved them a little bit the detailed physics, impressive soundtrack and foley work must eat up the lion’s share of that total install size. But you’re probably not here to gawk at the install size like I am, you probably want to know what it’s like as a, you know, game. From that perspective it’s quite something, a reverse-horror metroidvania that’s very well done, only let down by it’s somewhat repetitive nature and lack of quality of life additions for a game of this type.
You waited in the deeps for an unknown amount of time, simply sitting there waiting to be discovered. When you were you found yourself in a world of readily available biomass that you could use to build your fleshy empire as you saw fit. However the biomass of this world fought back and imprisoned you, taking away all your precious mutations and biomass, keeping them for their own study. That is until one day you found a crack in the prison that they put you in, giving you the chance to once again consume all the biomass you wished and evolve yourself into the perfect being.
CARRION is pure pixel art perfection, using every modern trick in the book whilst still retaining the same aesthetic that all gamers of my generation grew up on. This is partly why I’m so impressed with what the game packs in its small install size as a lot of the features you’re seeing aren’t coming from a modern engine like Unity or Unreal, they’ve been hand cranked by the developers as the base engine, MonoGame, really doesn’t provide you much apart the API abstraction to distribute across multiple platforms. Credit where its due though the art team has done a fantastic job of creating detailed tilesets to build the levels out, giving each biome a distinct theme. This does help somewhat with the problem of figuring out where the hell you are but it’s still quite easy to get lost in a level if you’re not paying attention. Suffice to say I’m impressed with the visuals from multiple perspectives.
Metroidvania is probably the most apt genre for this game to fit in given it’s single map and progression mechanics that subsequently unlock previously unavailable areas to you. CARRION markets itself as a “reverse horror” game and whilst that’s true initially it quickly turns into a more traditional game as you progress through the levels. You do have multiple options available to you for completing levels though: going full bore gruesome combat, taking out enemies silently or a combination of both. Progression is also interesting as you technically never achieve a “best” form, you’ll need to use all of the ones you’re granted to solve all the puzzles and some are far better for certain playstyles over others. Again there’s a lot of game in here in a surprisingly small package.
The main mechanics of combat and puzzle solving are intertwined heavily with you needing to use both in order to complete any one section. Initially it’s a pretty straightforward endeavour of just finding the quickest route through a section but it quickly evolves into a mixed game of figuring out what mechanics you need to use when. You’ll often be switching between different evolution levels in order to access different sections and figuring out how and where to do so is one of the game’s main challenges. For the most part though the new abilities don’t really impact your combat ability too much, well at least not from what I tried (attempting to spike the robots was…ineffective to say the least).
There are a few small rough edges in the game that could make the experience a lot more enjoyable. A metroidvania game without a map feels like a bit of a misstep from my perspective and it made progression hard at some points as I wasn’t really sure where I was in relation to everything else. There’s community made maps out there which are an absolute godsend and I know I’m not alone in wanting that as a feature. As with any bespoke system the physics and procedural generation of the monster’s movements can sometimes be a bit janky, especially with complex interactions like the elevator when you’re a stage 3 monster and there’s a lot of…you to deal with. The game also has real issues with being alt-tabbed which, if you don’t have 2 monitors, could be a bit of an issue if you’re consulting say a map to figure out where you are. These are all things that can be fixed or improved upon though so hopefully the devs spend a little time giving a bit more polish over the coming years.
There’s a minor story to CARRION but nothing of real note. The end of the game is fun and does beg the question as to whether or a sequel of this game is warranted. I had a discussion with a mate of mine about it and we’re of the opinion that there’s no real need for a follow up but would be interested to see if they took the concept in a new direction. The game does start to suffer from repetition towards the back half as most of the puzzles are just variants of earlier ones you’ve come across with an extra stage related to the new power you recently picked up. Whilst we might not see where the concept could go I’m sure the developers have a thought or two.
CARRION is an absurdly well crafted game that needs a few minor improvements here or there to take it from a good game to great. In this day and age of multi-GB installs for AAA games it’s incredibly refreshing to see something so well put together that it takes literal seconds to download and start playing. The game itself is all exceptionally well put together, the developers and artists obviously spending a lot of time getting everything working nicely. There are some issues which could do with addressing though and whilst I personally found it somewhat repetitive towards the end it seems that not everyone shares that opinion. So for what it’s worth I think CARRION is definitely worth a look in if you’re after something that’s a little atypical, especially in this time of AAA releases.
CARRION is available on PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PC with a total play time of 4.4 hours with 90% of the achievements unlocked.