Resolutiion is a top-down hack’n’slash with a beautiful digital 16bit aesthetic, five years in the making, comes from two-man founded studio Monolith of Minds (I like to think of their heads getting stuck in a door with a name like that) and wears its hallowed influences on its sleeve.
No, you’re not the only one who thinks it looks like Hyper Light Drifter. We all do. But that’s no bad thing. HLD was one of my favourite games, and beyond that, favourite soundtracks of 2016 and if you’re going to take inspiration, why wouldn’t you take it from the best?
Let’s start how we mean to go on. It’s not a typo, it is spelled Resolutiion, with both the ii’s, and yes when you Google or Youtube this you are going to need to override the autosearch results for how to change Steam screen resolution. Did you mean resolution? No. Search instead for Resolutiion? Yes. Google’s great, but it does not like strange spellings. Here’s the Steam link to help you out – Resolutiion – if this game is going to get anywhere, it’s going to need people to be able to find it.
Now we’re clear on that, let’s jack-in to this digital wonderland and see how it plays.
After a strange little kickabout flashback with your friends (which I thought was a loading screen for way too long) graphics, music, game, everything glitches out. You wake up in something akin to an abandoned lab in a huge tower and you’re transformed; your arms are now bestial, clawed things which you begin to learn are pretty flashy and dangerous augments. You’re more machine now than man. How did we get here? Where is here? We don’t know, but a voice is calling you onward.
In kind of tired fashion, you’re an amnesiac cyborg with no RAM (memory) of what’s happened to get you to this point. Slightly more original is that you seem to be working through the game backwards to recover your lost memories. Starting at the labs and what’s seems to be an enormous digital tower, usually more an endgame location, you escape first and then go to track down those missing bytes. Don’t worry, your memories are probably on a hard drive somewhere.
So begins a quest across a digital realm populated with the remains of a broken society; labor-monks guard the ransacked digital archives, AI’s are worshipped at the base of their cradles (think pod-like canisters) in a strange religion, giant house cats tunnel in the desert, and huge worms live in the cracks in broken monuments from a bygone empire. Though it’s a nice setting, the story is fairly opaque. What I just described, I gleaned from one or two forthcoming NPCs who spewed exposition at me like they’d just had a bad kebab. No one else tells you a goddamn thing, just cryptic nonsense for most of the game.
You are joined on your memory quest by a little floating rogue AI called Alibi, a bit like Peter Dinklage’s Ghost from Destiny, but a lot less helpful. She (I’m identifying it as female) gives only the most basic guidance, and beyond pointing you towards your lost memories, there’s little in the way of direction. Resolutiion wants you to explore, not worry too much about story, and so for the most part, it does only the bare minimum of telling you where to go.
The world of Resolutiion is a gorgeous palette of neon pinks, burnt oranges and deep blues. The paint-splatter trees, stark deserts and bubbling underwater locales are all quite stunning. But beauty can’t be everything and Resolutiion suffers from being quite empty. You can explore every last nook and cranny for hours, and get barely a single stamina upgrade for all your hard work. The only method for interacting with your surroundings is to smash and break things with your claws, which is disappointing.
Smashing everything in sight will sometimes yield little yellow, pink and blue blocks; pink ones restore health but nine hours in and I still have found absolutely no use for the blue ones. The game explains nothing. You will also find a few NPCs on your travels; monks and farmers and a random merchant or two. No one has anything you could call a side-quest, just constantly strange tidings. The merchant, every time I met him, told me he had something to sell me if only I had 33 iecs. Then a small flying pig lands nearby and when you speak to it, it just repeats the 33 iecs demand. What are iecs? I don’t know. Are they the blue or yellow blocks I’ve been collecting? The game tells you nothing.
Only once I had 33 of the yellow blocks, and met him again hours later did the flying pig suddenly divest me of all 33 of them and then open a path for me. Except there was nothing there but a constantly looping pathway. Either it’s an elaborate joke, or I missed the trick to this puzzle, because no matter what I did, I could not find the promised reward. This is how Resolutiion seems to roll.
Exploration functions a little like Hyper Light Drifter, except that in HLD you’re not constantly confused as to where to go, and you get clear objectives and rewards. It apes the style but not the content. Absolutely essential then is the top-down map that gives you a much clearer idea of where you’ve been or still have to go. The map is at least usable, but the rest of the menu in Resolutiion is opaque to the point of ridiculous. There is no information at all on the menu screens, barely a series of icons that I assumed tracked how many of the weapons I’d found and those little blue and yellow blocks. It’s the most minimalist menu I’ve seen in a long time. What’s wrong with giving a little information?
The map helps, as Resolutiion is setup something like a metroidvania, in that there are blockers and weird barriers in many places, stopping your progression. Only after you’ve found the necessary weapon can you then use it to access new areas. This part was probably the mechanic I appreciated most, being quite a fan of the Metroidvania genre in general. It could be satisfying when you found a new weapon and were able to return to old areas and open new ones.
The game has a number of weapons to find, some of which are just combat-related and some help progress. Many are relatively original and inventive. There’s a cool ray that uncovers hidden routes, a weird yellow goop that makes ladders where there were no ladders, and a little nanobot bomb that disintegrates impassable blocks. Later in the game you find a power that transforms you into one of the weird yellow worms, which makes the most intensely annoying noise as you move through tunnels previosuly inaccessible to humans.
Combat, though serviceable, is probably the weaker ingredient in Resolutiion’s melting pot. You can hit A to slice through a small combo, or you can hold it down, but holding the button makes little sense to me and I’m not sure why it’s there. The trouble is, beyond your claws you don’t get another melee weapon, and it soon gets a little old. Combat is simple which helps to make it accessible, considering the difficulty, but it gets dull fast.
You can perform a speed boost not long into the game and this livens up combat, but it is a stamina-based mechanic, and the recharge takes a while. Enemies and bosses demand liberal use of boost to avoid projectiles, careening worms, bullets, you name it. So it is frustrating to have such a constraint put on what is an essential skill.
Health is also weird. Battle progress is saved when you die in every area except boss encounters, meaning you can mash melee as fast as possible, not worry about dodge at all, and then die, reload, walk back, and continue from the same spot in the fight. This has the contradictory effect of meaning things are hard, but also pointlessly easy once you crack the workaround. I’ll tell you something else weird about health in this game, but I’ll save it for when we talk bosses.
Guns, the couple there are, instead of working akin to a twin-stick, require you to stand still to aim and fire, and then need to recharge. This makes them cumbersome and largely redundant in a fast-paced fight. Bosses, at least the ones I’ve faced, were far easier to beat dashing about and hitting with your melee attacks, and would have slaughtered me had I stood still long enough to fire one of these purposeless guns.
Enemies are strange little concoctions and fierce fighters. It is sometimes a little hard to tell if something is NPC or enemy, as many are just innocent creatures, but you can kill anyone and anything you don’t like the look of, so there’s that. They are very simple in design and like the rest of this strange game, there was little to explain what any of them were, why they attacked, or any other questions I might have had and still had at the end.
So what’s weird about health in boss fights? Well, you can only find those pink health blocks from the things you smash, almost only ever outside of battle. This means that in normal enemy encounters you can search for and regain health after you’ve dispatched your foes or even during if you dare. However that’s not the case with bosses. Bosses are set in their own separate arenas, and there’s often nothing to smash to regain health. This means that you must do each and every boss in a single life, with no items, no magic, no powerups to recover health. I can’t help but think this was an oversight because it makes bosses into something you have to perfect your way through, and means they take a lot of practice.
Bosses have simple patterns to them akin to a Zelda game, but none can be taken with just three hits. Instead many demand some intense skill to avoid and dodge, and that’s before you start trying to hit them too. And though some only needed a few hits, others like the little girl and her worm protector demanded more hits than you can easily count. That’s really frickin hard when she fights back and you can only take about five hits yourself before you’re licked and have to try again. I had to hound her into a corner hitting her constantly in a way that is more manipulating the system than a clean win.
And she wasn’t the only one. There is a boss towards the middle, which is effectively a head that shoots spiked balls at you that took a lot of practice to learn how to dodge, and an eyeball that keeps popping out. You can hit him in the nose, but again you have to do the whole thing in one life because there’s no way to regain health in battle. I hit his nose hundreds of times – he shudders, like it’s the only thing that really seems to be hurting him. But after around twenty attempts it didn’t seem to matter how many times I’d hit him, he never went down.
The game gives you nothing to go on, so its trial and error for the most part, and it’s also giving you red herrings. The eyeball regenerates, which led me to think, well there’s not a lot of point hitting that, it would be more useful and economical with my short one-shot lifespan to hit the nose. And lo, the only way the hero could prevail was to destroy like five eyeballs. I don’t know if hitting the nose ever helped, apart from making him sneeze out his eye. Let this be a warning, Resolutiion is hard as nails and it wants you to fail.
Last thing I’ll say on bosses, the next few after the head were piss-easy, because my dodging skills had become so ridiculous.
So, is there an area where Resolutiion isn’t just deliberately obtuse? Thankfully yes, and its music. The music in Resolutiion shines bright. From the first menu screen, through tranquil forest themes and brooding mines, to the pounding boss battles, almost every piece of music, especially early on, is a treat. Every time the landscape changes and you enter a new space, you think the music can’t possibly get any better, but it does. So many brilliant tracks each more intense, glitchier and more haunting than the last.
The game’s soundtrack comes from composer Gerrit Wolf – great name by the way, you could be in a video game yourself – I haven’t heard his work before now, but the soundtrack needs recognition. It’s not just a nice synthwave OST, though there are elements of that. It’s that this has actually been composed with an ear for nuance. It’s got that feel of Fez to it, but only time will tell if it’s quite that timeless. It’s no wonder then that there is a 57 track 2-disc soundtrack available, split like Ben Prunty’s FTL one into Ambient tracks and Assault tracks. If it makes it to Bandcamp or somewhere other than just the Steam store, it’s the kind of soundtrack I will keep listening to long after the game it was written for fades from my cyborg memory banks.
One issue I did have was that despite the quality of the tracks themselves, the same care hasn’t been taken to mix or loop them. If you are in the same area for some time, tracks are going to loop – that’s no problem, they are a pleasure to listen to – but the moment when they mix between the end back to the beginning has been botched in quite a few cases. It’s often jarring and abrupt. A shame.
Other than the evocative music, sound is quite minimalist, but in keeping with the digital setting its full of spasmodic glitchy noises. Combat’s thwacks and slices are satisfying.
Within all the strangeness, there are nice touches; the circuit boards on the floor that just require a touch to save your game, or the ability to go underwater without needing to breathe – you’re a cyborg after all, who long since gave up lungs. The fast track opens up way too late in the game, but it’s a wonderful concept that plays to the game’s quirky creations where you play a sort of zither-like instrument and the resonation attracts friendly yellow worms, who then take you through their own private tunnel network to any of ten or so fast travel points.
However a few quirks and creations are not enough. I’m left with a certain emptiness. Resolutiion’s look promises much, but in the end it’s a case of style over substance. It looks very pretty and the music is sublime, but that will only get you so far. Combat is dull and unengaging, and the world beyond its pixelart is empty of character and reward. It’s nice to look at, but it’s just not that interesting to play.
It would be forgiven if the story engaged and drew you in, but the whole game is about as narratively impenetrable as the reason there are two ii’s in the title. Is it simply because the dev team is called Monolith of Minds – the logo really draws attention to the two ii’s in that?
If you enjoyed Hyper Light Drifter and like me, you’re a sucker for good pixelart, there are things to like in Resolutiion. It’s got plenty of HLD’s beauty, just little of its charm. Basic combat, an empty world devoid of reasons to return, and some odd design choices, mar its otherwise great potential.
A collection of aesthetically pleasing Random Access Memories that no-one’s going to be able to Google, Resolutiion is out now for Steam, Nintendo Switch and Mac.
Resolutiion launches on May 28th 2020 on Steam (reviewed)
Developer: Monolith of Minds
Publisher: Deck13 Spotlight
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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