Struggling begins with a man throwing up at an office party. I could not think of a more fitting metaphor for my time with this game. It’s a disgusting mess, and only partly because it wants to be.
The awkward controls and fleshy meaty visuals are there purely by design, so I can’t really fault it for that. It’s pretty clear that Struggling was made for streamers to get wound up about while on camera, since it takes the physics of Heave Ho or Mount Your Friends, then makes a fiendishly difficult platformer out of it.
I’d talk about the plot, but it’s just a way of putting high stakes in a game that really didn’t need it – it’s not referenced much during the course of the game itself. All you really need to know is that you are controlling Troy, an experiment gone wrong, screaming into and about its own existence as it swings across platforms and ceilings with its independently controlled arms.
One thing that’s clear is that Struggling’s art style riffs off the ‘Gross Out’ phenomenon of the late 80s/early 90s. Think Ren & Stimpy or Garbage Pail Kids. It’s a look… that I actually like, despite all the vomit and gore. There’s definitely some passion behind the hand-drawn visuals and it fits in with the game’s over-the-top tone.
When I began Struggling, all I could do was flail the failed school science project’s arms to move around uselessly. The way the arms work is relatively easy to grasp, though there are plenty of times where the game’s physics got in the way of progress.
If you’re playing on PC, the game recommends that you use a controller and I would as well, since it’s easier to use the triggers to grab onto stuff and regrow with the controller rather than a keyboard and mouse setup. I would add that the option to colour code the arms is incredibly helpful as I often struggled to tell which arm was which with the default settings.
About an hour in and countless deaths later, I unlocked the ability to detach one or both arms. This, among other things, allowed me to create an extended arm by grabbing the soggy end of a detached arm with the hand of the one I still had attached. I liked the versatility of this new ability and the times that challenges were solely focused on how to use it effectively. I also like how hats are hidden throughout the adventure to encourage replaying the game once you eventually are done with it.
I liked little else.
It was a bad sign when I quit out of Struggling multiple times in the same section, just to calm down and have a cup of tea. Every time I had to take a break, it was due to some kind of speed-based challenge or some aggravation with the game’s object physics.
It’s also a bad sign that this first happened about 20 minutes into the game when I was being chased by a horde of mutated rats. All I had to do was clamber over some boxes, get across three swinging platforms, and push through a small chute. How hard could it be, right?
Turns out that it was ludicrously difficult and it’s all down to the fact that moving with speed will more often than not tie the fleshy husk’s arms into a sickly knot. Normally this isn’t an issue as you can just press a button to regrow the arms, but in a tense situation where rats are slowly filling the room like plague-infested water filling an empty swimming pool, I found that the simple act of moving was just too difficult to do consistently.
My patience finally ran out during the third location: the wild west. There’s a part where you must swing across branches to go upwards, avoiding cacti growing on the cliff side. The physics of how these tree branches bend was just a bit too chaotic, requiring manual dexterity that neither I, nor the meat sack I was controlling, was capable of executing. I managed to get up to the third branch just once, before my hopes and dreams of reaching the top came plummeting down with a sickening thump.
This is the main problem with Struggling: your enjoyment will depend on how much of a chance you’re willing to give it.
To its credit, the one bit of gameplay that I did like were the pinball sections. Why? Because they actually felt fair. You control arms placed around the level and fling the core of the meaty lads. Sometimes this is time sensitive, other times it requires precision, but these are the rare moments that I found myself enjoying my time with the game.
Struggling was built with co-op in mind, with local co-op that can test your friendship on either Switch or PC, and support for Steam Remote Play for online on computer. Each player has independent use of an arm, adding a further challenge of needing to collaborate to get through each level, with all the wacky physics and interactions that go along with it. You might get a laugh out of it, but it will also quickly become a tedious chore.
At the end of the day, Struggling just isn’t a game for me and I didn’t have the patience to make it through to the bitter end. However, I don’t think it was fully down to my lack of patience, the style of controls clashing too often with the types of challenge that you face. Chances are that others will have an absolutely miserable time too and as the saying goes, misery loves company. It’ll attract people to watch videos of others screaming their heads off, but that’s about it.