THOTH
Developer: Carlsen Games
Publisher: Double Fine Studios
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Release Date: October 7, 2016

There exists, at times, a peaceful tranquility in simplicity.  The absence of any constant motion or a complex center of visual interest can leave one in a state of mental bliss.  This is the center point of any great minimalist art piece, and also the focus of THOTH; a twin stick shooter that abandons substance for overly simplistic style and a brutal combat system.  It falls into the trap of providing unique visuals but abandoning any real tangible objectives or rewards; a problem that indie games find themselves in all too often.   While the core mechanics of the game are solid, it’s the general lack of content, and the painful difficulty spike, the really dull its shine.    

The biggest problem facing THOTH is it complete and utter lack of filler.  There is no story, goal, upgrade system, or primary gameplay loop that would make the player want to revisit the game, save to finish it.  This might be due to the fact that THOTH’s development team is so minuscule, but greater indie titles have come from one man teams in the past.  Despite being a threadbare gaming experience, THOTH does offer up a few unique gameplay concepts that put a twist on the typical twin-stick shooter formula.  

THOTH is your typical top-down twin-stick shooter, but with a few modifications.  The player acts as a small white dot that maneuvers around a relatively small arena, shooting at a variety of colored shapes.  Movement is slowed as the player shoots, which creates an interesting dynamic that makes THOTH more of a puzzle game than a shooter.  The player’s every move must be carefully considered as an increased number of enemies with a multitude of abilities assails you in the later levels.  Enemies’ abilities range from faster movement to quick projectiles and even an ever increasing black hole that can kill the player upon contact.      

Levels in THOTH can either breeze by or slog on depending on the player’s skill level.  While the earlier levels can be beaten with relative ease, it’s the end stages that provided the most grief.  Checkpoints are reached in sets of four, with three basic levels proceeding a boss.  If the player dies anywhere during their fight towards the boss, they are given one retry and then sent back to the beginning of the stage.  This level grouping also acts as a way to introduce the player to new enemy types.  One set of a level might only be filled with squares that break apart into smaller projectiles upon death, while another might be filled with the aforementioned black holes.  Players can also bring a friend along to help in local co-op, but with the frantic nature of movement and the difficulty of most levels, this may end up being a hindrance rather than a benefit for some players.  

THOTH’s fresh take on a classic genre is as refreshing as it is lackluster.  Stylish yet barren level design and an overall lack of meaningful content stop this twin-stick shooter from elevating itself to a truly great title.  While its art direction and design are unique and pleasing to look at, it’s the threadbare holistic look at THOTH that kept me from enjoying what it had to offer.

Carston is a freelance writer hailing from the always humid Sunshine State. He enjoys RPGs, grand strategy games, 80's New Wave and post-punk, and anything PlayStation related. If Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, or Chinese food are your thing, find him on Twitter @RolandDucant.