First made real by the imaginings of the legendary J.R.R Tolkien, Google classes ‘orcs’ as an ‘ugly, warlike race’. This blatant racial discrimination is likely to be the root of why they’re so bent on warmongering, but that’s a socio-political issue for another time. In ORCS you’d assume that the player would be taking control of one, in some subversion of the norm where the supposedly evil characters aren’t that evil. Sadly this isn’t the case. Yet another title where a knight wanders to cut down every orc in his sight.

As an action platformer that borrows heavily from titles like Castlevania, and early Metroid, ORCS tries desperately from the off to be unique through its narrative. The King Orc gathers his troops, and informs them that enough is enough: they’re going to run this kingdom now. Of course we’re then introduced to our hapless hero, who, instead of helping fighting the Orcs back, is sat on a nearby rock enjoying an afternoon off. One of the main selling points listed on the Steam page is ‘funny dialogue’, which hints at possibly some dark humour, maybe some tongue-and-cheek jabs at the nature of war. But no such joke appears. The closest thing to a ‘joke’ in the opening screens is the knight saying ‘ugh, do I have to?’ There’s no real comedy to be seen.

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Complete with five bosses, and twenty-four levels, ORCS is more of a slow slog through hell than a fun romp through a battlefield. While the difficulty spikes can be attributed to the retro style the game was gunning for, it feels incredibly artificial, and forced in places. Even the platforming feels awkward. Jumping from place to place in any game where the main focus is doing exactly that, should be made to feel awesome instead of dodgy. The main problem with the platforming is that there’s no weight to the character, so jumping is more like launching into space.

With only three hearts (5 hits before death), the knight is already at a major disadvantage versus the hoarde. This innate disadvantage, doesn’t include the fact that if you touch enemies you also take damage immediately after being hit. Immunity frames that allow safe escape don’t really seem to exist in ORCS, so taking damage will simply lead to more damage taken unless you flee.

The controls are similarly simplistic. While not a bad thing, the lack of abilities, powers, or cool things to throw (beyond clubs, axes, and firing bows) is simply an issue. If it had other things to do, like combos, or even a simple shield – it would solve the problem. The game doesn’t feel retro, it feels unfinished. What at first seemed charming, quickly becomes a bore as the game doesn’t really offer anything beyond what you experience in the first three levels of the entire campaign.

ORCS – 36/100

Written by Matt Dawson

Developer – Pixel vs Pixel
Publisher – Pixel vs Pixel
Genre – Action, Adventure, Indie, Platformer
Release date – 20th May 2016
Website – http://www.pixelvspixel.com.br

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