It doesn’t take long to get into Okhlos’ mood: the game wants you to run around and break stuff. Occasionally these things will be gigantic soldiers, cyclopes, and Greek dieties, but often they’re just animal stalls, temples, or shops. The important thing is that they’re things, and you break them.
Okhlos is a jaunty little rogue-lite bash-‘em-up from Argentinian developer Coffee Powered Machine in the style of the Pikmin games, set in ancient Greece. You are one of several notable heroes of Greek philosophy, and your job is to round up a gang of civilians, soldiers, livestock, and other friends and wreak havoc on your way through eight levels, with the goal of defeating one of the Greek Olympian gods.
You’ll move your chosen philosopher around with either the WASD keys or the right gamepad stick, while the mob of rioters you’ve amassed will follow around a pointer controlled by either the mouse or the left stick. In either case, it’s a bit awkward at first and it can be easy to lose track of your leader in the mob, but that’s ultimately part of the game’s chaotic nature.
The same can be said of the game’s clunky, pixel art style. While it’s not what you’d call pretty, it’s definitely deliberate. The bright sprites generally have only a handful of animation frames each, while buildings crumble and explosions touch off with smooth 3D physics. Again, this is jarring at first but it’s Okhlos’ chosen style.
Your task is to lead your mob through various large outdoor areas on your way to each level boss, clearing out each “room” of enemies and picking up more followers as you go. The more smashing and killing your mob does, the more effective it’ll become, and special characters (some from Greek history and mythology, such as Andromeda; some completely made up out of Greek name puns, like “Glytchos”) will add special buffs to your crowd. Too much time without victories or general destruction, and followers will get mopey and wander off, and once you lose all your followers you’ll have a limited amount of time to find more or it’ll be game over. Fellow philosophers can join your gang, and they’ll serve as extra “lives” should your leader get smooshed by an ogre’s club or one of Athena’s arrows.
Once your crowd is maxed out, though, they’ll carve through enemies and scenery like butter. You can give them rudimentary commands, such as to attack or block, and they can pick up various items like ham (which restores health) or explosive barrels (which explode). At top speed, you’ll feel like you’re whipping the crowd around like a flock of birds, and again, it can be tough to keep track of where they’re actually all heading as things get increasingly chaotic.
While I enjoyed Okhlos’ frequent references to Greek mythology and its irreverence for its own subject matter, and its Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon paced runs, the game unfortunately feels a bit one-note. There’s not really much to do other than run around smashing stuff, and enemy encounters feel much more dependent on brute force rather than tactics. Whipping a crowd of 30 furious peasants around simply doesn’t lend itself much to finesse, and the passive buffs provided by hero units tend to be hard to notice once you’re a few levels in. Busting up the Oracle at Delphi is fun the first time, but after you’ve done it once, you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer mechanically.
On PC, I also had some trouble getting my Xbox One controller calibrated with the game, which insisted I was pulling left on one of the sticks no matter what I tried to do. This wasn’t a major problem for me personally, since I preferred playing with mouse and keyboard, but it’ll make in-game menus at shops nearly unusable for players who prefer the pad.
Still and all though, Okhlos is an amusing, weird little game. The trouble is, it simply doesn’t explore its own ideas fully enough. The “rogue-lite” aspect is fairly meaningless, since you’ll always have a linear path to follow through the same environments each time you play. It never really does much with its Pikmin-esque crowd mechanics. The bright art is diminished by minimal animation. And while the cheeky nods to Greek mythology and history are fun, the theme is never really used meaningfully.
But if we’ve learned anything from video games, it’s that virtually breaking stuff is inherently fun. And Okhlos is all about breaking stuff.
Okhlos was developed by Coffee Powered Machine and published by Devolver Digital. A preview copy of the game was provided by the publisher.