[REVIEW] Serious Sam: Tormental – Seriously stupid, still ‘cool’

I know a lot of you Serious Sam connaiseurs are familiar with Croteam’s brainfarts. It’s not a unique thing when the Croatian dev concocts something so stupid, that even you facepalm yourself a black eye. But with Serious Sam: Tormental, you just might. Because this freshly released roguelite is seriously stupid, even if it’s still cool in a way.

Straight out the gate, Serious Sam: Tormental doesn’t hide the fact that it’s different. Even Ray Charles can see that. Croteam and Gungrounds have chosen a different path, the roguelite one. Instead of mowing down endless hordes of bomb-handed kamikaze dicksneezes and other kinds of disturbing demonic abominations in first-person view, Tormental takes us top-down into the brain of Sam’s arch-nemesis Mental. There’s still a ton of blasting to do, but it just looks and plays differently. It’s probably a bitter pill to swallow for the FPS fans. For the twin-stick fanatics among us, it might be more of a sweet treat.

So, what are we dealing with exactly? The story of Serious Sam: Tormental makes as much sense as all the other storylines in the franchise. After fooling around with a cursed artifact called the Mentaloptician, Sam invades the mind of his BFF (Best Foe Forever) to play mind games. Because if Sam can fuck ’em up real good in the head, maybe they won’t be such a pain IRL. But that means sifting through Mental’s Mindspace, dealing with his stupid imagination. If you think this sounds stupid, wait till you start playing the actual game…

But seriously, Serious Sam in a top-down setting. That might just work. And it does, but it also kinda doesn’t. Because, if you ask me – and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t – there’s just something off about Serious Sam: Tormental. It could be the art style, which gave me an I Hate Running Backwards feel from the get-go. It might also be the fact that none of the iconic adversaries make a presence in their unmistakable form. You kinda know what/who you’re dealing with, but it doesn’t even come close to the figment of your imagination. Then again, we’re dealing with figments of Mental’s imagination. So I guess that’s why most of those hideous pieces of alien shit look so damn cuddly all of the sudden.

It’s just that because of this, Serious Sam: Tormental doesn’t feel like a Serious Sam game. Sure, there are a few spoken voice lines here and there, but that’s about it. Almost nothing is recognizable unless you use your imagination really hard. The iconic beheaded kamikaze dingleberry that has now been reduced to a mere Bombhead… that’s a hard sell. And that might be a major turn-off if you’re only interested in Tormental because it has the label Serious Sam on it. But if you can look past that, there’s actually some fun to be had. It might not be the greatest Serious Sam experience, but it sure makes for a neat casual roguelite.

Because honestly, Tormental actually plays quite well. Twin-stick controls are smooth and gunplay is rather satisfying. Especially after picking up some upgrades – which can be acquired by forking over Golden Keys or figment (in-game currency) – things can get a lot more interesting. Therefore, Tormental tries to coax you into taking risks by going for Brutal Kills. These finishers require you to go up close and personal, leaving you more vulnerable. Because no, dodging does not make you indestructible. And even though there’s nothing ‘brutal’ about it (you basically roll over a staggered enemy), it will pay out higher rewards.

Please don’t get me wrong here. It might seem like I’m making mincemeat out of Serious Sam: Tormental, but I actually enjoyed it plenty. Sticking closely to the RNG roguelite formula, the game does try its best to outbest you. It really is one of those “easy to learn, hard to master” experiences. Even if Tormental only consists of five different worlds, they do get ‘looped’ constantly with increasing difficulty. Making it through a level once doesn’t mean you’re done. In order to gather all the Black Keys needed to unlock Mental’s mind completely, you’ll have to revisit them more than once. And with every run, things get significantly harder.

And even while that keeps things exciting, it’s the lack of variation that kills it a bit. There’s plenty of cannon fodder to quench your bloodlust over the five levels. But taking out the same old enemies with each run can get a little brain-numbing, even if they’ve become more dangerous. Not even playing with one out of the other three playable characters can really change that. The funky music does, if only a little. Also here, not quite the Serious Sam “death and destruction” metal music, but more family-friendly tunes. And even though that first came as a major disappointment, the tunes were like pubes: they grew on me.

So, is Serious Sam: Tormental one of those games that you should consider getting? That depends on your level of expectation. Are you looking for a hardcore Serious Sam spin-off, then forget about it. You’ll probably go ‘mental’ within the first hour. But if you fancy a semi-casual cute-lookin’ twin-stick roguelite with a nonsensical storyline and somewhat repetitive gameplay, go for it. Hell, it might even make you chuckle occasionally. Just remember: it’s seriously stupid, but still ‘cool’ in its own way.

Brainfarts FTW!
The Cool
Looks hella cute
Serves as a neat semi-casual roguelite
Handles pretty well
Dem funky tunes tho
The Mental
Hardly a Serious Sam experience
Where are those kamikaze fuckwads at?!
Lack of enemy diversity makes things repetitive