Developer(s) – Tiny Warrior Games
Publisher(s) – Tiny Warrior Games
Designer – Brandon Song
Released on Steam following a successful IndieGoGo campaign, Ato is an atmospheric Metroidvania game set in Feudal Japan whereby players take on the role of an anthropomorphic samurai fox who sets out on an adventure to rescue his abducted child from a cult of deadly ninjas. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid a game this was compared to other indie Metroidvania games; it stands as a shining example of how a satisfying and immersive gaming experience can be developed on a budget.
Graphics – 8/10
The game makes use of 8-BIT style graphics with characters and settings inspired by Feudal Japan and the diversity in environmental design is quite staggering, ranging from cherry blossom forests to sunset mountainsides to snowy tundras. The game’s environmental design is most definitely the standout feature in this game from a visual standpoint; they also do exceptionally well to add to the game’s overall atmosphere in conjunction with what situation the player character is in at any one given time. The only minor issue I had with the visuals was that at one or two points there is a small amount of slow down, but overall, it does little to hamper the experience.
Gameplay – 9/10
The title also incorporates the use of a wide range of gameplay elements. Like many other Metroidvania games, the objective is to explore as much of the world map as possible and uncover as many items as possible. Over time, there are new abilities introduced in order for players to explore other inaccessible areas throughout the game, as well as there being secret items to be found in order to either increase the player’s health or coins to progress further. But in my opinion, the most impressive gameplay element found in this title is the combat system.
Players also gain different weapons and abilities to use in combat ranging from including a poisoned sword, dash attacks, a spiked shield, and later on in the game, even magic abilities; it’s quite similar to Dust: An Elysian Tail in its approach to combat. The wide range of boss fights is also quite impressive; there are a few starter boss fights in quick succession earlier on in the game to give players a feel for the combat system in general, but after that, they become even more varied in design. This amount of diversity in gameplay perpetuates the standard to be found in any great Metroidvania title; it’s satisfying to play and a genuine pleasure to explore through.
Controls – 10/10
The control scheme of the game is also simple enough to get to grips with, which was impressive given the amount of variety there is in combat; it was yet another means for me to draw comparisons with Dust: An Elysian Tail. Though it may not have a combo system like the former, there would’ve been no need to include one as each battle, be that with bosses or general enemies, is still as satisfying as it is challenging; especially on the harder difficulty settings.
Lifespan – 5/10
The only real downside to this title is that it can only be made to last for a maximum of 4 hours, which whilst doesn’t do a game like this justice, I suppose such is the reality of the situation when a game is developed with a limited amount of funds like this was. It lasts considerably less time than an average Metroidvania game, but it lasts slightly longer than a lot of other independently developed titles in the genre, such as The Swapper and Xeodrifter. Compared to those two titles at the very least, this game blows the both of them out of the water as far as I’m concerned (in terms of both lifespan and general gameplay) so the average runtime of Ato was enough to justify a hard 5 as opposed to a soft 4.
Storyline – 8/10
The story of Ato follows a father caring for his wife and infant child in a small house amidst a peaceful spec of land. But suddenly, the family is devastated when a group of masked ninja steal the infant child from its parents. The father then sets off on a quest to bring their child home. It sounds simple enough on the face of it, but without giving away anything that happens, the plot later unfolds into a lot darker and deeper than what the player will first imagine and things also escalate abnormally quickly.
Although there’s either no spoken or written dialogue throughout the game, the characters’ emotions and hardships are wonderfully portrayed to convey the events of the story, which considering that this is an 8-BIT game, is even more impressive. Also, the game’s environmental design works exceedingly well to add the game’s atmosphere throughout with elements such as day-to-night transitions used to change the mood at specific times and rainstorms to add further tension to already exceedingly intense situations.
Originality – 8/10
Between everything that this game does as well as it does, from the combat system to the environmental design to the manner in which the story is told, it also makes for a rather unique experience. In a gaming mainstream that relies heavily on cutting-edge graphics and motion capture to effectively tell an emotionally charged story, very few 8-BIT games I have played have portrayed themes and emotions, as well as this, does. Also, to at the same time keep the general focus on gameplay is welcome in a market saturated with games putting story ahead of gameplay such as The Last of Us and the Telltale games.
In summation, Ato is a wonderful title that exceeds in almost every aspect and I can recommend it to any Metroidvania fan out there reading this review. It’s a well-crafted blend offering great gameplay and an enthralling story, which had me taken aback by just how good it is.
8/10 (Very Good)