Glorg, Grapefrukt's new one button hack-n-slash RPG tribute, has some great hilariously misleading faux-box-art, and an interesting premise. Glorg is the story of a warrior whose unibrow is small but whose heart and courage are large. Glorg finds himself in a dark, deep dungeon. At first, Glorg is scared, for Glorg was surrounded by monsters, Glorg's least favorite thing. But then our hero sees that also surrounding him are treasure and weapons; Glorg's favorite things! Striking out with his mighty stick of bashing and shield of blocking, Glorg heads out to explore. Will Glorg ever see the light of the surface again? That's up to you! You control Glorg just by clicking the left mouse button. The green circle next to Glorg will tell you what will happen when you click; it's used to explore areas, loot treasure, walk, and, most importantly, fight.
Battle is real-time, so you'll need to pay attention to the prompts that appear on your green circle. Click when it says "Block" or you'll take damage. You can click fast to attack rapidly, or you can hold down the button to charge up a powerful attack, which has a chance of stunning an enemy if it hits. If you defeat your enemy, you'll not only earn EXP, but you'll also occasionally get treasure that you can use to purchase portals. Portals let you skip levels if you die, so you'll learn to love them fast. As you explore, you'll uncover new areas in the dungeon; you can't choose the direction Glorg moves when presented with multiple paths, unfortunately, but if he runs into a dead end he'll simply head back the way he came.
Analysis: Since the release of One Button Bob earlier this year, platform developers have tended towards increasing innovation with ultra-streamlined control schemes, but Glorg is the first time I've seen this kind of simplified structure applied to an RPG framework. Reducing any genre to minimalism is going to come off as perhaps overly artistic, but fortunately, Glorg, with its adorable aesthetic, humorous asides, and sense of dreaminess, is as entertaining as it is experimental.
Naturally, streamlining a genre can mean sacrificing quite a bit: in this case, story, customization, and any sense of non-linearity. And I don't mean it's "linear in the sense of "it only has one ending." I mean linear. Lin-E-Ar. Super-Linear. Ultra-Linear. The kind of linearity that would cause a straight line to say "Boy howdy, that's linear!". It turns out removing most aspects of the control scheme really limits player-freedom. If you've ever wondered whether Nethack could be reduced to a series of quick-time events, wonder no more.
Of course, ultra-linear quick-time-event-based games can be quite entertaining, if often repetitive (...I'm looking at you, Dragon's Lair), and by removing the illusion of choice, Glorg allows for a subtle parody of most RPG player behavior. For instance, at first I found it frustrating that Glorg always took the most circuitous path through the dungeon, never finding a staircase until he had explored all the rooms. Then I realized: when crawling through an RPG dungeon, and having barely explored it before finding the staircase to the next level, does any self-respecting gamer immediately take it? Of course not! The designer wouldn't have included the other rooms if they didn't contain some awesome loot! So every room ends up explored anyways. Likewise, I thought it a little strange that you had no say over what weapon Glorg used. Then I remembered that 95% of the time the only thing you ask about a found weapon in an RPG is "Is it stronger than the one I already have?", even if that means replacing your broadsword with a sharpened umbrella. Grapefrukt clearly understands the tropes and player behaviors of the RPG enough to poke fun by making them automatic.
Glorg is a unique experience. At first I was drawn in by its charming style and music. After playing a while, I thought it more than a little monotonous. Yet I kept coming back to it, using the check-points to get further and further, five minutes or so at a time. Glorg sometimes feels like a mini-game (if a high-quality one) expanded a little further than its mechanics could handle. Still, Glorg is an interesting twist on the RPG formula and quite worthy of your time.