In the sea of endless indie metroidvanias, the new game from developer Brainwash Gang and publisher Thunderful Group, Laika: Aged Through Blood, aims to stand out by using a slightly different genre description. Laika uses the description of a ‘motorvania’, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. A metroidvania in which you traverse the world using a motorbike. Does that simple change warrant a new genre description? Probably not. But is it fun? It sure is!
At first, learning to control your motorbike properly can take some time getting used to. It’s not as simple as moving right or left as usual with most 2D platformers. Instead, you control acceleration and brakes, with a separate button to drift and turn if held for long enough. You’re also given a gun, and while shooting is pretty straightforward, you reload by doing a backflip with your bike. At first it can seem like Laika unnecessarily complicates simple things, but as you play the game more and all of these things become second nature to you, you’ll come to realize how good it all feels.
Naturally, the environments are built with this in mind, and so you’ll be speeding through levels, shooting enemies in bullet time (which can be activated by holding the trigger button) and doing backflips left and right, creating some very stylish moment to moment gameplay. It feels like gameplay that was designed to feel incredible once mastered, even if that means there’s an initial barrier that you’ll have to overcome. But I also don’t want to make this sound like Laika is some hardcore difficult game. Give it 30 minutes and you’re in the zone.
Gameplay isn’t the only thing stylish in Laika, as it shines with its presentation. The stylized western it depicts with its cast of anthropomorphic animals, endless deserts of sand, stone, and animal skulls, all illustrated in this rather striking art style featuring thick lines and saturated tones of brown, yellow, and red. It’s a unique looking game, but that’s now where my praise for its stylish presentation stops. The soundtrack of Laika is unbelievable. With acoustic guitar tracks and beautiful vocals that accompany them, Laika establishes a very clear atmosphere that’s personal and melancholic. Early on, there’s a moment where you ride across the desert with the sunset in the background and a dying friend in your arms, and an original song playing in the background. A moment that altogether gave me chills and makes me expect an emotional journey that I can’t wait to experience.
Right now, the story is still rather simple and developing in the expected direction. Your friend dies at the hands of an enemy tribe and they seem to have built a weapon that could overrun you without a chance of fighting back. And while you want to avoid a further conflict between the two tribes, the grief you feel while mourning this loss, and the potential threat they present, you go on a hunt for vengeance.
Laika: Aged Through Blood has set everything up for an experience that could be truly special, and that I can see myself absolutely loving. But now it comes down to delivering on those expectations and not falling short of the incredible potential this game has.
Nairon is playing Laika: Aged Through Blood on PC with a review key. Laika: Aged Through Blood is also available on Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.