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Need a setting for your new game? Hurting for a plot? It’s probably time to dig into mythology! Really, what was mythology but video games for the ancients, anyway? Sure, they might not have had gaming PCs or consoles to enact mythological stories, but they also had plenty of wine to make up for it, so it probably evened out in the end.
We’ve seen plenty of mythological games lately, from Hades to Immortals Fenyx Rising, and today we’re going to check out Yaga, which goes the unusual route of digging into Slavic myth for inspiration.
It probably goes without saying that you want to spend as much of your life as possible without being cursed. With that in mind, it’s pretty bad news if you’re cursed by the legendary witch Baba Yaga, as happened to the villainous Tzar. Yaga says that the Tzar’s empire will crumble due to the actions of the most unlucky man.
Conveniently, that guy’s readily available! It’s Ivan, a blacksmith with one arm after having lost his due to a highly unlucky meeting with a forest monster. By sending Ivan off on seemingly impossible quests, the Tzar believes he’ll be safe from the blacksmith’s (inadvertent) malign influence…and Ivan, for his part, just wants to serve to the best of his ability. We’ll follow Ivan on those suicide quests and see if he can make it through despite all that terrible luck.
Yaga’s got bits and pieces mixed in from Roguelikes, Zelda-style games and Russian mythology. Overall, it plays a lot like a classic Flash RPG thanks to the general lack of impact involved in the combat, which is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it sort of thing. Ivan’s got a reliable hammer to smack enemies around and to throw boomerang-style at ranged foes, a dodge roll to avoid getting smacked in return, and, as a blacksmith, he’s able to craft new weapons.
Indeed, as a particularly unlucky blacksmith, it’s likely that those weapons are going to break so he’ll have to make more. Ivan gets more unlucky in response to pretty much anything, so it’s best not to get too attached to any particular bit of gear. He can’t lose his basic hammer, though, and enough hammer-throwing will see you through any situation.
Yaga, then, boils down to dungeon-crawling by going from fight to fight, managing your health and healing so you don’t run out and switching weapons as your armaments crumble to dust. It’s generally not bad, and there’s little quality-of-life perks here and there like, erm, flying stoves that serve as a fast travel system. Don’t expect the new king of run-based games; Yaga’s a little too simple for that, and even bosses tend to end up being roll-fests where you throw your hammer between diving around like a slippery fish. On the other hand, it’s easy to get into the game’s setting and flavor thanks to that simplicity.
A lot of love and attention were paid to Yaga’s presentation, so much so that it ends up being the high point of the game. It’s got a sort of…fantasy-punk feel which is particularly emphasized by the excellent hip-hop-meets-Romanian-inspired soundtrack. Likewise, Yaga’s visuals are fantastic and memorable, particularly the monsters which end up being both whimsical and spooky in equal measure. Even Ivan himself is such a lovable oaf that it’s easy to enjoy steering him from danger to danger.
As mentioned, Yaga probably isn’t going to dethrone The Binding of Isaac or anything like that. Arguably it’s not really trying to. Instead, the focus here is clearly on showcasing some of the world’s most interesting and bizarre mythology in an easily digestible way. From that perspective Yaga is a fantastic trip worth taking, so long as you watch out for the riddle-slinging sheep and other such craziness, and you’ll do it all with that lovely soundtrack bumping your way through each hammer-throw.