Overwhelm inverts and twists the classic Mega Man formula to create a fresh and sometimes unsettling adventure. In the old Mega Man games, defeating bosses would net the player a new weapon whereas in Overwhelm, defeating a boss nets the enemy swarm with an additional enemy type in their zoo of an arsenal. Continuing on that line of thought, the game has you backtracking after each boss rather than just warping to the next stage. Also, ammo is limited, forcing the player to frugally manage their bullets carefully.
In Overwhelm, things a player would often take for granted come back to haunt them. Also, the player character dies in a single hit and has only three lives. To top that off, the line of sight is reduced after each death, so you have an experience that easily feels oppressive and possibly even unfair. However, lives are refreshed back to max after each boss fight as well as once the player successfully places the newly attained crystal into the main hub’s machine.
Enemy AI is very much predictable, but the enemy placement varied randomly. Though it kept the game feeling fresh, there were instances where avoiding death felt impossible. The luck factor seems to play a strong role in success. As the player defeats more and more bosses, the increasing enemy variation makes venturing into the unknown even more unpredictable. The game pairs varied enemy placement with static level design in order to balance the volatile nature of the former.
There is only level in Overwhelm and it’s segmented into five subsections. The interconnected nature of the level is reminiscent of Metroidvania games, though it’s small in the scale in comparison to most of the genre. With five bosses spread out in each of the subsections, the player must traverse through a variety of different terrains. Factors such as darkness, tall grass, and strong winds come into play when tackling each area. As a result, Overwhelm forces the player to adapt to each area in order to survive.
Controls are very tight and there was never a moment where they hindered the experience. Movement is simple and easy to master. The true challenge lies in avoiding or eliminating the hostile enemies along with having to deal with a very restrictive camera. Enemies can come at you unexpectedly off-screen, which would feel like the game steals a life from you. With enemies in the mix, platforming is much tenser due to gamble of their placement. Though the game gives a lot of opportunities to apply skill, luck often controls the journey.
Bosses in Overwhelm are intimidating. They move in aggressive ways and generally give off a feeling of uneasiness. The boss designs are all mechanically unique. Admittedly, they get a bit repetitive after multiple replays and the actual gameplay involved in defeating them was underwhelming. There’s a distinct randomness in boss fights involving enemies suddenly appearing to get the jump on you that really felt cheap.
After playing Overwhelm for hours and hours, one thought kept returning to my mind. The archaic and unforgiving life system takes away from the experience. Had the game been segmented off into levels and enemies tactically placed like in a Mega Man title, the adventure would’ve been far better for it. As it is now, the game’s luck factor and punishing nature just drain a lot of the enjoyment away from it. Sure, it may be appealing for those that crave challenge to pass the time, but that’s about it.
Luckily, the game does provide an assist mode that allows the player to have as many lives as they please. After trying it out, I realized that the game is so much more playable as a result. Not having to worry about limited lives allowed me to experiment and actually get some real practice in. Perhaps a better design choice would be to allow for infinite lives as an easy mode and then wall off the true ending in a normal mode that limit lives as it does now. That way, the game would be more straightforward to get acquainted with and once the player is ready to take the dive, they could choose the normal mode.
Overwhelm takes the action platformer genre to extremes. Despite its borderline unfair camera, players willing to accept the challenge have quite a tense journey ahead of them. It’s a game that controls exceptionally well in order to incentivize skilled play, while leaving enemy placement up to random number generation resulting in a compromise between the two. Due to the more unforgiving aspects, Overwhelm certainly appeals to the very niche audience that values challenge above all else.