The grotesque environments and physics-based insanity of Struggling are far beyond anything I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing or playing before. It’s a game that starts by explaining the unique premise, where Troy – a hybrid of brothers Hector and Achilles – was supposed to save humanity, but instead arrives much later in the future. The problem is he’s now a hideous abomination of flesh, with two bulging arms of flesh and a deformed head. What follows are levels that utilise the mechanics in strange ways, making sure you do indeed struggle.
Although it can be beyond frustrating, there’s an great sense of accomplishment in getting past each hurdle. You control both arms with a Joy-Con each, moving them and grabbing onto anything you see. You can pull yourself up a wall with the right arm, then use your left arm to swing up and grab a bit higher. Momentum is also important as there are sections which have falling debris, so flinging yourself through the air to avoid it becomes a regular occurrence.
What sticks out the most is the incredible level design. Sometimes you’ll have to swing over pools of toxic waste, escape thousands of rats, ride a motorbike, and avoid fleshy abominations. Every obstacle provides its own challenge, and regardless of the section you’re in, the physics work really well. The main problem with Struggling is how your arms get tangled up, and when you’re faced with a time-sensitive puzzle, one wrong move can cost you greatly.
There are various checkpoints across Struggling, but sometimes they are too far apart. For example, there’s a level set in a cave, and after one checkpoint there’s a narrow crevice up the side of a steep mountainous spike. It took me ages to crawl up the spike, and if I messed up before the next checkpoint, I had to climb the bloody thing again. You’ll often find these kind of tight spaces the most infuriating moments of all, but aside from these, the majority of the game is a lot of fun to play. You’ll unlock new powers as you play, such as bullet time, and these can really help you during some tough segments.
The art style is like something you’d find on Adult Swim, if it was directed by David Cronenberg or Dario Argento. The cartoon aesthetic is definitely a plus point, and the gore, guts, and depravity are used more creatively with each new level. The soundtrack is also excellent. There’s a blend of different genres throughout, and I could quite happily whack it on Spotify and listen to it out and about. Chasing Rats Games knows exactly what it wants, and has made something very different to anything else on the market.
Struggling is good on your own, but playing with someone else locally is much better. I played with my daughter (don’t judge me) and we laughed so much as we tried to use a crane to pick up objects to use as a makeshift bridge. She got stuck in the crane and couldn’t get out no matter how hard she tried. It wasn’t the game being broken that stopped her, but her frustration and temporary memory loss of the controls. OK, so maybe I shouldn’t have laughed, and she was pretty angry, but that’s what made it funnier. No, I’m not giving back my father of the year trophy. You can’t make me!
If you love a challenge, Struggling provides plenty of that. The visuals and level designs are fantastic, and the music is the icing on the blood-soaked cake. Whilst some sections will frustrate the living hell out of you, it’s a lot of fun for the most part, especially if you have someone to play with. For a game that nobody had heard of until recently, it’s definitely a stand out for puzzler of the year. I can’t get enough of the grisly art style and dark humour, and I’d definitely suggest you give it a whirl.
Inventive use of physics-based gameplay
Great level design
Co-op is fun
Controlling Troy never gets easier
Difficult in parts