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  • Writer's pictureFernando Da Costa

Review - Umbraclaw

Developer: Inti Creates

Publisher: Inti Creates

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC

Review console: Nintendo Switch


HERE, KITTY, KITTY!


You know, for some inexplicable reason, the internet has adopted the cat as their universal pet and companies have noticed. Throughout the years, there has been a flood of titles starring a furball, with the release of Little Kitty, Big City receiving a decently strong reception. Not to be overshadowed, Inti Creates have entered the fray with an offering of their own.


Umbraclaw was demoed at PAX East but I didn’t hop on. Honestly, I couldn’t because the lineup was immense. A nice-sized crowd had congregated around the booth. Being the socially inept bellend that I am, I chose to stick back instead, glaring from afar. My creepy behaviour aside, I did decide that I had to try my hand at in-depth analysis.


At a glance, Umbraclaw seems like a Metroidvania but it’s really not. In lieu of the visual similarities, it comfortably sits in the action side-scroller genre. I’m not bothered by that, although the cat motif has me feeling iffy. Well, until I saw the unique twist, anyway.



A GIRL AND HER CAT!


A commonality with Inti Creates, in terms of writing, is how they indulge in the ridiculous. Umbraclaw doesn’t stray far from that formula, relishing in the silliness. Surprisingly, it also bathes in a side order of sincerity. I didn’t expect the dialogue to be this damn adorable, or how it left me smiling like an idiot. The interactions between a girl and her kitty, Kuon, had my icy heart encased in a blistering warmth. Her words are tied together by a string of unconditional love, making for a quaint romp. I chortled softly as I read - I couldn’t help but be happy. Of course, I recognize that I’ve got an affinity for cringe and that nauseating cuteness might elicit auditable groans from most. Be that as it may, the one-sided chatter is delightful.


As for the story, it’s astonishingly brief. I’ll put it this way; I finished it twice in a single session. That’s it as I can’t say much else without getting into spoilers. What I can say is that Umbraclaw isn’t afraid to explore dark topics. They’re usually implied, never direct, and they genuinely caught me off-guard. I can’t believe that I’m about to admit this but I felt sadness in an Inti Creates jaunt. Let that sink in for a moment. Sure, it’s only slightly but the mere fact it’s even there is mind-blowing. I wasn’t anticipating the handful of endings either, with one blindsiding me with how it went. Hell, Umbraclaw pulled an emotional response, albeit small, out of me. Obviously, your mileage will vary but I do believe literary prowess is charming.



OH, THAT’S NEW!


They say felines have nine lives. Inti Creates heard that idiom and ran straight for the drawing board. I mean, it serves as a crucial mechanic in Umbraclaw. See, Kuon can be defeated, well, nine times, before players are met with the game over screen. It sounds basic but creativity slithers in when you realize that dying has a benefit. Yup, the sweet embrace of eternal slumber grants a couple of kickass skills. For instance, I may gain one that turns me into a chihuahua, bolstering my defense, or one that gives me a Tiger’s soul that translates to a stronger melee strike. There’s no disputing how innovative this feature is. As a bonus, it doesn’t just rely on RNG to determine what I’m taught because what I fall victim to also plays a role.


You’re probably wondering what I mean but I’m not crazy, it’s quite clever. Think about it; any foes I encounter carry a buffet of abilities that can be thrown into my arsenal. It’s super distinct and has so much potential. If utilized correctly, it would introduce a ton of strategy. For instance, going with my usual kamikaze approach may not fare amazingly against certain bosses. Luckily, a blob-like monster is nearby, and killing it may get me better equipped to push back. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a balancing act between the pros and the cons of self-deletion. While it’s possible to gain an advantage, the lives I have will be depleted. It sounds stellar, but only on paper. When in practice, the execution falls short.



To put it bluntly, the alleged randomness isn’t very random. When I initially began, seeing what this facet had in store left me enthused. I hadn’t seen this idea before. I assumed I’d be blown away but what a sweet summer child I was for having that thought. Look, the RNG is busted. It doesn’t matter if there are five or six possible techniques that a single enemy can teach. I’d regularly get a subset, over and over. It solely focused on a group of two or three while ignoring the rest. That strategic element I mentioned doesn’t exist. I think the biggest blunder, however, is how the challenge has been neutered. I never felt that I needed to adapt to the situations. It was a mindless affair, whittling down my sense of engagement.


I don’t, for the life of me, understand why it even has to have that many choices to begin with. It’s pointless, especially since the RNG seemingly paralyzes the algorithm. It doesn’t stray far from its comfort zone. Okay, there’s a chance I’m severely unlucky. If so, cool, but as it stands, my opinion is that the variety, and I say that with quotations, is an illusion. I wanted to enjoy Umbraclaw as I’m a huge Inti Creates fan, but try as I may, it was futile. It didn’t click, and while I vibed for an hour, that rapidly waned. I was promptly disenchanted. It’s unavoidable and as I’m writing this coverage, there’s zero desire to return. Frankly, the experience is forgettable and the half-baked notions prevent it from excelling.



PLANT A TREE FOR A GEM!


An aspect I’m a sucker for is a tasty, delicious, Skill Tree. It’s a bonafide method that injects spice into a game. Typically, these follow that tried and true ideology of slowly climbing up the branches with the tips holding the cream of the crop. The implementation of it gets me giddy because I’m smitten by the visible progression. I’ve always thought that it’s done in this manner to avoid characters from becoming OP. It’s to ensure that I don’t turn into a behemoth. It’s calculated and sadly, that’s not how Umbraclaw works which is no bueno. Instead of working towards the best perks, I can select whatever I damn well please. I hate that because I can simply disregard the bulk of this facet and immediately invest in the strongest options. 


Essentially, Umbraclaw has the weirdest habit of trivializing itself. It’s the ultimate example of self-sabotage. I grew bored thanks to how easily exploitable the difficulty is. I like that it tries to offer freedom but going full hog with it proves to be detrimental. After choosing what passives I believe will aid me, further investment is a waste. Committing any more minutes to it is foolish. It bears repeating; if I’m ignoring an entire half of an aspect, that’s poor design. Still, I do have to highlight how there’s a section of the Skill Tree dedicated to the gems I’m rewarded after beating a boss. It encourages replay. The thing is, no matter how much I wanted to enjoy it, nothing is worth the effort because compared to the standard, they’re subpar.



MEOW FOR ME!


I can’t, in good conscience, say that the music is spectacular. It’s serviceable, with a soundtrack that’s composed decently, but it’s not going to set the world ablaze. What will, though, is the voice acting. Yeah, I’m not joking about that. The delivery of the girl’s lines when she’s speaking to Kuon, for example, is excellent. The other characters aren’t bad either. I especially like how they capture the essence of whomever it is they represent. I know, I know, that’s vague but I don’t want to get into details. It’s something I want y’all to witness for yourselves. What I will allude to is how it fits like a glove with who it’s portraying. Again, it isn’t setting a high bar but it’s better than I expected. It did enrich my session.


PRETTY COLOURS!


When it concerns the visual fidelity, I’m smitten by the water paint aesthetic. The stylistic choice made is fellatio to my eyes. The colors are crisp and the details are simplistic but effective. The vibrancy slaps a player across the face and the environments aren’t complicated by any stretch. If you were to take a gander at the exquisite line work, the passion Inti Creates poured into the game is evident. The graphics have been meticulously crafted and will stand the test of time. I don’t foresee it ever aging badly. As for the animations, I have to applaud them. The movements have that peanut butter smoothness firmly intact, while the sprites are clean.



AND THE CATTY VERDICT IS…


Umbraclaw has every tool to be a distinct romp in a sea of titles that share a furry protagonist. Regrettably, it doesn’t flourish when amalgamating the mechanics and putting them into motion. Let’s just say that I was hyped to start my session but as I progressed, that was no longer the case. The gameplay does nothing but help boredom swallow me. What kept me from abandoning ship is the charismatic energy in the writing. It’s a sublime blend of humor and unbridled wholesomeness, but it isn’t sufficient enough to suggest buying as soon as possible. I do think y’all should one day, but at the current price, it’s a tough sell.


WAIT FOR SALE ON UMBRACLAW!


The Publisher provided the code used for the purposes of this review.



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