Children of the Sun – Review

Violence is always puzzling

I love puzzles and the satisfaction of thinking outside the box to solve a problem. On the other hand, some think puzzles are a needless annoyance that only gets in the way and means that they must stop playing to look at a Wiki to progress, breaking the flow and ruining an otherwise engaging experience. Puzzles are an enjoyable distillation of turning chaos into order, like solving a Rubik’s cube. Videogames are a unique way to scratch that mental itch. However, they vary in execution; some are more literal, whilst others are more abstract. Games, like the recently rebooted Alone In The Dark or Resident Evil, use puzzles as a lock and key in abstraction as they serve the same purpose, but in a way that’s twisted and convoluted. A game like Portal is less abstract as it will ask you to literally push a button, but the process of pushing it requires you to disregard common sense and break the laws of physics; it’s logical yet entirely impractical. Children Of The Sun is a puzzle game that presents another method, though one that isn’t wholly unfamiliar if you’ve played the likes of Superhot or Hotline Miami, ultraviolence.

Children Of The Sun is a simple game of carefully calculated and methodical revenge. You take the role of The Girl who is at war with The Cult and its charismatic figurehead, The Leader, who is responsible for the deaths of her family. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. Just like a single bullet, it cuts to the heart of the matter with no extra bells and whistles, I find that a game that can adequately tell a satisfying story with little bloat is a rare thing in this current stage of gaming, and it’s a breath of fresh air when a game like this comes along. It’s a gorgeous and holistic experience that I can only adequately describe this game as a Dadaist interpretation of the works of Quentin Tarantino, its wilful disregard for convention coupled with an absurdist notion you’d see in an early 00’s action movie about bending bullets and irreverent pulpy ultraviolence, as headshots in Children Of The Sun cause an exaggerated fountain of blood to spew from their now inverted skulls.

A large amount of blood leaves an enemies body through a small hole

Much like Superhot and Hotline Miami, Children Of The Sun’s puzzles are about killing all available targets in the most efficient way possible; where it differs from its forebears is how. Superhot’s puzzles require careful planning as you’re in the thick of it immediately, but slows time down so you can see what’s coming so long as you remain still. When you move or perform an action, time will return to normal until you stop again, and the resulting carnage is akin to The Matrix or a John Woo action film.

Children Of The Sun is very simple, one rifle, one bullet and many Cultists who must die. The Girl is locked to a fixed perspective and can only move from left to right to adjust your firing angle. When you’re satisfied with your positioning, you can scope in ready-to-shoot, and once you’re scoped in, you can tag Cultists, which will show you their locations and keep a headcount. The number of targets is on the screen’s top right-hand side, so you’ll always know how many you need to complete a level. The bullet can be redirected to another target after a successful impact, which allows you to continue the chain of murder until there are none left. One shot, many kills.

Additionally, Cultists will not attack back, nor are you in any danger of dying unless you direct your shot back at yourself; however, if you miss your shot, then you will fail, and you’ll have to try again. Frustratingly, some levels are so vast that you’ll need to take a few probing shots to find all the cultists hidden in hard-to-see places; however, if you kill a cultist that you didn’t previously mark, they will be marked when you restart the level which is nice and convenient but also interferes with the game’s otherwise immaculate flow as those moments make the first shot you take an automatic failure while you scour the level for all available targets, thankfully these kinds of levels are few and far between and other levels that are equally as vast don’t share this problem. There’s also a weird minigame about a third of the way in that was another key point of frustration, with loose controls and unpredictable enemy movement and hitboxes; while this was a low point for me, it at least had the good grace to be over, quickly and never appear again.

The levels are replayable, as there is always a better, more efficient way to eliminate your targets. There are additional challenges that give an extra layer to solving the level’s puzzle, an extra stipulation that rewards extra points and achievements. However, some are too cryptic for their own good, as I wasn’t able to figure them all out and solve them. The faster you chain kills together, the more points you get, and this is where the game allows you to be creative by using the environment to your advantage. Levels have cars with explosive petrol caps and propane tanks to blow away crowds; even if there aren’t any cultists nearby, they can still be used as a way to get a better firing angle. Additionally, birds serve as a non-lethal option to change your firing position. Points are awarded based on location, distance, whether your target is moving, hit location, killstreaks, multi-kills, environmental targets, and combo score. The flow is reminiscent of a deadly dance, much like you’d see in Hotline Miami, where you must master the dance and carve an efficient path to victory,

I must talk about the soundtrack, or perhaps the lack thereof, and why I adore it so much. It’s unique as it’s not the kind of genre you’d hear in games, minimalistic noise-rock consisting primarily of heavily distorted and filtered guitars, synthesisers and minimal percussion, with the occasional acoustic guitar thrown in as something more mellow. It’s a wonderfully unconventional soundtrack that interested me in Children Of The Sun from the very start, as I love music outside of cultural and societal norms. However, I understand why some might be put off by it as it’s very grating and hard on the ears, especially when some cutscenes assault your hearing with the absurd volume. The soundtrack perfectly punctuated the tone and style of the art and story; it beautifully captured The Girl’s hatred and madness while leaning into the absurdity of its setting and plot, with its screeching guitars, blown-out distorted saw-waves and ominous crunchy hums. Children Of The Sun has very little in terms of sound effects. The soundtrack fills in the blanks where those sound effects should be, such as guitar strumming in place of footsteps or a cymbal clash when you successfully land a shot. The game’s sound effects are limited to distorted gunshots, blood splatters and bullet cracks.

As the game progresses, you get new powers to play with and expand your options. Trajectory Change allows you to make minor adjustments to the bullet’s trajectory whilst in flight. Re-aim lets you completely change a shot’s direction after hitting two enemy weak points, and Power Shot speeds the bullet up so it can punch through armour. However, the game will introduce new cultist types to complicate matters, Shield Cultists who carry bulletproof riot shields that you must guide the bullet around, Psychic Cultists who repel your bullet when you enter their protective bubble, and Armoured Cultists who require fully charged Power Shots to kill otherwise you bullet will just bounce off their armour, resulting in a failure. More variety is always a good thing to keep things fresh and interesting, but in one case, I feel that Power Shot is underutilised as it only affects Armoured Cultists, it can’t punch through shield cultists, which makes it like it was added at the last minute, having more utility for the charged shot would’ve added more depth and replayability, and that lack of additional uses is a bit disappointing, mainly because the Trajectory Change and Re-aim abilities give you so much extra flexibility. The roster of powerups and enemy types is limited. Still, the game makes up for it with the thrill of the hunt, meticulously planning your routes, finding where all your targets are and marking them, keeping an eye out for environmental hazards and learning the stipulations of the level before executing your plan and, most importantly, your enemies. Some may be turned away by this meagre roster, but I felt that simplicity was its greatest strength; so many games try to add variety for variety’s sake and end up creating so much unnecessary bloat that it feels more like an obligation rather than an earnest attempt to add depth.

The story is mysterious and beautifully told through harsh and comic book-stylised art with minimal animation, punctuated by the previously mentioned harsh and brutal noise-rock soundtrack that perfectly captures the tone and atmosphere of cartoonish violence. All of it is delivered without a single line of dialogue. However, there are breaks in the violence as levels take place in The Girl’s Dreams, and you see her cryptic internal monologue, which is the closest the game gets to dialogue. The game’s muted colour palette washes out its environments and backgrounds with greys and purples. At the same time, the cultists all stand out with blown-out yellow highlights and a distinctive glow that often reminded me of Sin City. The limited use of colour helped put me into the bleak mindset of The Girl, as her world has no joy but incandescent hatred for those who took that joy from her. The game is not very long at all. I finished the game in just over four and a half hours, even with frequent breaks and level repeats, which is perfectly fine. As mentioned before, the levels are all replayable for extra points, leaderboard positions, challenges, and Children of the Sun never felt like it was starting to drag or had additional bloat for the sake of it. This game fits comfortably into that palate cleanser category, an amuse bouche nestled between more time-demanding and feature-rich titles.

Children of the Sun ended up scratching an itch for a genre I didn’t think of. Violent Puzzle. Not since the likes of Hotline Miami or Superhot have I enjoyed such puzzles, and if you enjoyed those titles, I recommend giving Children of the Sun a look if you’re concerned about the level of violence or if it’s a match for you, there is a Demo to check out before committing money to the moment. If, like me, you enjoy scratching that puzzle itch while embracing absurd concepts like bending bullets. There’s a roughness to it, and its soundtrack is an acquired taste, like a punk rock band down your local pub, reminiscing of a more experimental PlayStation 1 era, but with a lack of tradition and requirements. The sort of thing that, while it might not stand shoulder to shoulder with the giant triple-A titles we are inundated with these days, it stands proud of the rebel it’s trying to be and that we desperately need.

Two enemies stand near a car

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Kerri Pearson

Kerri Pearson

Lover of RPGS, Gathering and Crafting... Software Engineer by day, pilgrimage to Zanarkand by night.

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