I’m not really squeamish, but even I’ll admit that Struggling is pretty disgusting. Thankfully, it’s off the wall humour and the crazy world it’s set in takes the edge off somewhat. You see, in Struggling you take control of Troy, a two headed failed lab experiment of sorts who sets out on a pilgrimage to seek out the abomination gods. And trust me, they are pretty grotesque.
Troy is essentially a head with two long, flailing arms of different colours. Struggling is designed to be played with a friend, in two player local co-op. It’s also possible to tackle the game solo, if you wish (or have no friends to hand). When teaming up with someone, you will take control of one arm each, and along with grabbing onto various parts of the environment, shuffle Troy rather awkwardly along on his journey whilst attempting to navigate all sorts of hazards. Be warned, it’s hard work and will result in many crossed words (and probably some shouting).
If you’re going it alone, you will control both arms, one with each of the Xbox controller’s thumbsticks, using the triggers to grab. The bumpers can also be used to shed the arm, freeing Troy from any tight spaces, before it shortly grows back.
If you are well and truly snookered, you can hold down B to have Troy blow himself into several pieces (in a more disgusting version of the self-destruct cheat from Tomb Raider II) causing you to start again from the last checkpoint. Thankfully these are fairly frequent, so the pacing is pretty easy going. It’s mastering the controls that present the biggest challenge.
Indeed, handling Troy is the gimmick with Struggling, but at the same time it remains its biggest problem. The novelty wears off after a while, and frustration starts to creep in. Getting his backside (if he had one) moving is especially tricky when up against it, for example when you are being chased by thousands of hungry rats. In the chaos of it all, it’s easy to forget which thumbstick controls each of Troy’s arms and a single mistake will nearly always cost you.
I’m sure the idea is for you to grapple with the controls due to the nature of Troy, but the balance tips pretty quickly from challenging to infuriating. There are lots of examples, such as trying to squeeze through tight spaces, which is an absolute ballache. Controlling him is not only clunky, but feels inconsistent and the controls tend to let you down when you really need them.
As you explore each location in Struggling, you’ll see that they are split into several levels which pleasingly flow straight into each other with no load screens. The hand drawn environments and characters help to make the game look really distinctive; there is clearly a lot of creativity within the team at Chasing Rats Games. Troy is faced with increasingly complex threats to counter on his quest, such as cave dwelling monsters, radioactive waterfalls, bone crushing cog machinery and cactus lined canyons to name but a few.
Every so often you will meet an aforementioned abomination god, which are effectively boss battles. These provide an opportunity to mix things up, for example effectively turning Troy into a pinball who you can flip around to defeat “Amadeus: The FirstBorn”.
After each encounter, Troy will mutate and gain a new ability such as being able to slow down time or detach his arms and control them remotely. His detachable arms offer up the opportunity to develop the puzzle platforming, as you can move them around by applying the same principles as you do to Troy, seeing them slink around like a disgusting caterpillar.
There are some good ideas which develop the gameplay and make things pretty challenging, such as using your detached arms to operate switches and the like when coupled with nodes, but the controls consistently overshadow this.
It’s hard enough moving in a vaguely straight line, nevermind trying to climb out of a cave to avoid rapidly rising radioactive waste or using mountain climbers as platforms to cross chasms before they plummet. I thought I could get used to how Tory handles, but the further I got into the game, the bigger of an issue it became. As the gameplay became more complex, the limitations of the control scheme were laid bare. I’m still dreading crossing paths with the neighbours, as they must have heard me effing and blinding like a trooper for four solid hours the other night.
On a lighter note, as you explore on your travels you may hear creepy voices whispering “secret” over and over. This means there’s a hat nearby, which Troy can wear. He can sport a couple at a time (one for each head). There is something extremely pleasing about seeing an abomination such as Troy wearing a party hat or wellington boot on his head. I can’t tell you why, there just is.
You’ll be treated to a chirpy little tune when you pop a hat on, my personal favourite being the ushanka (Google it kids). In fact, a real highlight of Struggling is how it sounds as the soundtrack is pretty eclectic. You may have tense chase music one moment and party tunes the next. Not only this, but the sound effects are well utilised to punctuate the action.
Struggling is bonkers, disgusting but also different. It’s enjoyable in parts but the frankly exasperating controls take the shine off some innovative gameplay ideas.
If you wish to pick up Struggling, head to the Xbox Store