The invisible Zachary Lee has returned to the physical realm. Sole producer of Ruination, they return just four months later with a brand new bite-sized adventure: Shrine of the God-Ape.
Similarly to that of games such as La Rana (and the aforementioned Ruination), there is an issue of overall time investment. Shrine of the God-Ape took me forty minutes to complete, making it the second-shortest game I’ve ever reviewed for this site. Shorter than a standard film or an episode of Game of Thrones, one may hesitate to give it a fair shot.
If Ruination is anything to go off of (and I will reference it plenty in this review), this shouldn’t be an issue. Additionally, this and that have quite a bit in common, perhaps appropriate given the same developer and the short release distance between them. Still, with a release so quickly after the other, it’s tough not to question the quantity of ambition present in the product. On its own or compared to the previous title, Shrine of the God-Ape has some expectations to fulfill.
Shrine of the God-Ape is available on Steam for your regional pricing. (It’s dirt-cheap.)
Similar to Ruination, Shrine of the God-Ape features very little in-game context. Whatever story is incorporated can only be found outside the game through a quick synopsis, as the game only focuses on its gameplay finesse. Journeying to an island “rumored to house a priceless artifact,” the player assumes the position of someone “armed with the curse of the undeath.” This very likely explains why one controls a skeleton with a shotgun.
Dropped into the game with no opening cutscene or anything else, one could find the overall product somewhat abrupt and anticlimactic. Booting up the game will have the player meet with a title screen; “embarking” will transition straight into the game, no questions asked. A very straightforward product that doesn’t mince words (it has so few already). Those looking for any sort of backing motivation will not care for Shrine of the God-Ape, unless the thrill of shooting monkeys in the face sounds like reason enough to buy.
Something I enjoy doing with developers—especially indie ones—is see how they improve upon each game over their careers. A positive on my part with quick succession of games is that Ruination is still somewhat fresh to me. There are many similarities, as noted before, which I think is beneficial to discuss.
To nutshell it, Shrine of the God-Ape is like a scaled-down, more polished Ruination. Unmasking the details, there isn’t actually much to do in this newest title. Platforming, occasionally shooting, subtle puzzle-solving elements, and boss fights make up a bulk of the experience. Difficulty was also tremendously reduced, as I remember dying about fifty times more in Ruination than Shrine of the God-Ape. This result gives the game a more streamlined, accessible approach with a hint of challenge, rather than supplying a niche in the high challenge itself.
Overall, there’s also a notable fine-tuning in controls and platforming focus. I recall Ruination being very floaty with its controls and unflinching aiming mechanic, adding to its difficulty. Here, I had very few issues in controlling the character as I progressed through levels. Should the developer continue making games, I would recommend implementing a similar control dynamic thenceforth. Puzzles were (generally) not too vague, nor did they get in the way of one’s abilities. The focus on platforming also gave reason to explore the level and experiment with different means of puzzle-solving.
Now, seeing as this game took me forty minutes, but costs less than a candy bar, it makes quantity difficult to gauge in relation to quality. I, myself, noted in an earlier review that short but sweet titles can offer more than large but empty ones. Even so, there’s a limit to either side; Shrine of the God-Ape borders on that line. Even for those inexperienced with video games, individual levels shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes. Speedrunners could probably beat this game in less than 15 minutes. When examining each level, especially in the first world, there’s so little actually there that it makes the experience feel somewhat hollow.
Such hollowness is only accentuated when compared to Ruination. That game had a larger variety of weapons to choose from and enemies to kill. It simply had more things to play around with. Even its difficulty gave it a sort of thematic charm, whereas Shrine of the God-Ape feels more general. With an added dash feature to make the game more exciting, Ruination had the player feel more powerful. Shrine of the God-Ape limits the player to basic jumping and shooting. Thankfully, the game runs tremendously well, so anything that would make the simplicity more apparent would hamper the experience.
One area Shrine of the God-Ape does improve upon is boss fights. Much of the challenge and more satisfying quick-thinking moments come through bulky gorillas with guns. With only three bosses, there isn’t much to showcase, though it’s made up with added complexity. The final boss in particular is one that I think is this developer’s personal best. With plenty of forms and different measures of attack, it adds to the feeling of mighty animosity. The final strike is also one that feels ever-so-satisfying.
Graphics & Audio
While still nice, Ruination‘s pixel quality was a little messy, perhaps blended too much within the scenery. Shrine of the God-Ape is much bolder, giving a polished gameplay experience a commendable palette cover. Little details within the subtler animation makes scouring stages all the more important. Indications of hidden enemies, positioning of obstacles, and letterboxed boss cutscenes give an extra emphasis on visual interpretation to determine the best course of action, something Ruination didn’t have much of.
In terms of stages, the background and make-up of the worlds looked borderline impressive. I’m quite fond of looking at the backdrop scenery to the first world in particular, with scenic blends of color. Even the dark portions of the final world are highlighting with a great choice of maroon for efficient highlighting. If nothing else, the developer has improved upon their craft of creating distinct and vibrant settings, something that might just be enough to compensate for the lack of gameplay mechanics.
Speaking of “lack of,” this particular developer doesn’t seem to like music in their games. Ruination didn’t have any music to it, and Shrine of the God-Ape only has music playing during boss fights. I suppose in a realistic interpretation, music during an adventure would be too cinematic, but in a game, I would prefer something. Deciding upon a currently-trendy synth soundtrack which, as the developer themselves put “[doesn’t] fit the game at all,” there’s at least an attempt at supplanting some auditory enthusiasm to the adventure. Does it work? For me, not much. I do, however, like the developer’s awareness in tonal inconsistency. That’s almost worth ironically supporting more tonally-inconsistent soundtracks for future games.