Plato waves his arms around, directing a pixelated horde of civilians and heroes into buildings, which the mob quickly tears to shreds. One of the mob hoists up a ham from the building’s rubble, letting me know that I’ve got a heal available. Guards and satyrs looking for Plato’s head bound towards him, but are quickly trampled and cut to shreds by the mob. A few screens later and they’re dodging the goddess Athena’s bear traps as they attempt to peck her ankles to death. It may not be wholly loyal to Plato’s masterpiece The Republic, but it’s decidedly more exciting.
Okhlos (Greek for “mob”, roughly) is a light roguelike with twin stick shooter mechanics, which puts it in the same sphere as The Binding of Isaac, (there’s even a tear blasting hero in the game named Isakkos), but that’s about all they have in common. Where Binding is a dark, miserablist religious parable, Okhlos is a colorful, player-friendly romp. Though you could probably read something into the murder of Gods being a core gameplay element if you’re inclined/have a thesis paper due.
Despite the hectic look of hundreds of adorably angry lil Greeks all on screen at once, the game’s controls are simple enough, with the right stick moving the mob and the left stick moving the philosopher. Holding the triggers down while moving the sticks makes the mob attack/defend, speed up/slow down, or disperse/tighten up. We found the disperse command really useful for when the mob got some sort of poison infection and had to give each other a little breathing room to get better.
While the mob is ultimately expendable and new recruits can be picked up from all over, your philosopher needs to be protected. How do you expect a mob to function without someone there to explain postmodernism? New philosophers basically serve as extra lives, and new ones are permanently unlocked as you play through the game's procedurally-generated levels. Both philosophers and heroes, special units you find or buy, have special abilities which can be used to increase your mob’s size, strength, and power amongst other things.
Despite its wacky premise, the game features dozens of actual Greek gods, philosophers, and historical figures, all with plenty of flavor text to browse in the menus. Between Plato, Socrates, Athena, and Hera, even the most Mountain Dew addled brain is bound to walk away ever so slightly enlightened about ancient Greek history.
The game’s sprite work is excellent, some of our favorite since indie co-op game Crawl, and it’s surprisingly inviting to play. It’s likely a result of developer Coffee Powered Machine’s background in mobile game development, where the best games tend to be of the “simple to play, difficult to master” type.
Does tearing down ancient Mediterranean cities and Gods sound good to you? Keep an eye out for Okhlos' August 18th release on PC.