“Ugh,” I scowl in frustration, itching at my thumb as I encounter another stupid death in THOTH. Stupid not because of the control scheme, but due to my greediness of a few milliseconds of bullet spray as I risk my speed and end up hitting a geometric enemy. The game teases me to keep going in an almost alluring way, though the harshness of the sounds coming from the television deter me from going forward. THOTH is a simple yet challenging twin-stick shooter that includes a slick design and some sharp controls.
In a sentence, THOTH is basically this: You’re a small circle tasked with shooting its way through 64 levels of minimalistic horror. Each screen pits you against a number of monstrous shapes as your sole gun can shoot unlimited bullets at the cost of making you slower than normal. If you hit anything hostile, you die, and the game will give you one more chance to make it right. Die a second time, and you pop back to the last checkpoint (which are grouped in batches of four levels). At the end of each group is a small boss battle with harder-to-defeat shapes.
Sounds easy, right? Well, yes, it’s pretty simple, but the way THOTH challenges you is with enemy variety. First off, destroying an enemy by battering it enough won’t kill it. In fact, it becomes an intangible beast that will hound you until you touch its corporeal corpse. Your goal is to destroy all the shapes, and only then will they stop. While your foes will consist of squares and other geometric objects, each enemy reacts differently. Some will just chase you while others, like a black hole, will constantly increase in size until you can destroy it; then, after you do that, it becomes an unstoppable force which will only stop when you kill the other shapes. These puzzle battles add an oddly strategic layer to this twin-stick shooter, as “shoot as many things as possible” becomes an impossibility after a few levels.
For example, as aforementioned, black hole enemies will definitely kill you if you destroy them. Therefore, you’re going to have to balance shooting the regular shapes that are following you while making sure the black holes don’t get too big, and then destroy them as normal. A circle inside a square will eject itself, trying to kill you in recoil, which means you’re going to have to quickly dodge and predict the trajectory of this deadly projectile when you kill the creature. There’s even some stages that will switch its deadly traps on and off based on how many enemies you’ve destroyed on a stage currently, so you have to carefully position yourself to not get impaled by spikes. It’s these small details and quirks of each enemy that gives them personality, even if they’re just literal shapes.
The sound design here is equal parts haunting and distracting. When I first booted up the game, I was actually rather dissuaded by the jarring and sometimes loud sounds coming from the screen each time I died. Sometimes the sounds were so loud that I would actually lose my focus and thus end up losing twice, thus causing my progress to be wiped for a couple stages. However, once I got into the mindset that this was an intentional decision and to treat the game more like an indie horror shooter, it felt ingenious. And actually, the design and use of minimal sound effects and sparse cues of trance-inducing music add to the solitude of THOTH (regardless of the fact that you can play this game with two players). While it can be a bit annoying (especially if you’re trying not to die a second time), the sounds complement the slightly scary undertones of THOTH, similar to the electronic pulse-pounding mood of 140’s beats.
What’s also a bit annoying, however, is the rather odd continue system. While you get checkpoints every four levels, you’re sent back to the first in a group of four when you die twice consecutively. This isn’t normally a problem, but the second time you attempt a stage, the background goes rather psychedelic and now every border turns into an instant death trap. Later levels will require the use of hugging walls in order to survive, so by disabling that option, you’re most likely going to die during these levels. Why you would make a game harder when you already died once is baffling enough, but I think it would have been a much better approach if you were to make the stage harder the first time you encounter it, and then if you die, make it so that the borders are safe rather than dangerous. Considering the game is around 2 hours long, it’s a cheap way to add game length. However, in spite of these faults, THOTH is a game that’s very much worth your $4.99.
THOTH is a blissfully difficult twin-stick shooter that challenges your reflexes and puzzle-solving skills on the fly. Never have 2D shapes been creepier.