Children of the Sun Is A Blood-Soaked Puzzle Game About Lining Up Shots and Taking Revenge

Games Reviews Children of the Sun
Children of the Sun Is A Blood-Soaked Puzzle Game About Lining Up Shots and Taking Revenge

There’s a lot to take in with Children of the Sun, a solo dev project from René Rother and publisher Devolver Digital, but the first thing that jumps out are its feverish bad vibes. Surrounded by a purple haze, The Girl takes aim at an unsuspecting cultist and fires her only bullet. Propelled by more than gunpowder, it finds its mark, sweeping the target off their feet as a cartoonish geyser of gore erupts from their skull. However, this projectile hasn’t reached its final destination. The other victims watch in horror as the round emerges from their dead compatriot, leapfrogging across the battlefield and into brains until there’s no one left standing beside the shooter, whose glaring green eyes and serial killer mask imply this isn’t the last hunt.

If it wasn’t clear, this is a nasty, magenta-tinted revenge thriller where you play as a sniper who uses a single bullet to wipe out those who took everything from her. Drawing on other puzzle-action game hybrids, it combines the trigger-pulling thrills of an FPS with the problem-solving of something slightly more cerebral, forcing you to consider each move as you chart a path through gray matter. It’s clever, fun, and grimy as can be, following at least partially in the footsteps of definitive Nasty Boy games like Manhunt or Kane and Lynch. While its relatively short runtime and difficult-to-parse narrative slightly hold it back, altogether, it’s a striking freshman effort that hits the mark.

The core gameplay setup is pretty simple: The Girl’s objective is to kill all the cultists in each level. You can move left or right to set up your shot but are confined to maneuvering within a fixed semi-circle around the area. And as alluded to, the trickiest part is that you only have one round of ammo to wipe out your prey. If you hit a cultist (or a gas tank or a stray bird), time slows down while you line up where your hot lead will fly next, the projectile jumping between targets thanks to the protagonist’s psychic powers until everyone is dead, or you miss and start over from the beginning of the stage.

Children of the sun

It’s a straightforward setup that works because it combines the satisfaction of landing shots with slow-mo interludes that provide wiggle room to think through your next move. This constant switching between quick visceral acts and something more deliberate makes Children of the Sun feel in conversation with other stop-and-go action games, such as Superhot or Hotline Miami, which are also about puzzling out the best way to orchestrate great acts of violence. And like those, it’s these moments of cold contemplation that make all the killing a strange mixture of gratifying and offputting, the dissonance between having enough time to stare into the pixelated eyes of your soon-to-be-dead foes contrasting against the glee of all the little audio-visual touches that make it admittedly very fun to blast these dudes.

One of the best details is that as each round leaves the chamber, the camera eagerly follows the projectile, offering a front-row seat for when the next victim is hit with a bullet that arrives with the weight of a freight train. On top of this, when a shot lands, you’re serenaded by a delightful cymbal crash, and when everyone is wiped out, the last enemy drops amidst a blaring mix-amp as spasming yellow text reads “DEAD.” If that didn’t release enough happy brain chemicals, there’s also a combo system where if you chain together hits quickly or perform trickier maneuvers like lining up multi-kills by detonating explosives, you can rack up big score multipliers that propel you up the leaderboard.

As for the puzzling, the main challenge is figuring out how to avoid dead ends so you can string together every kill in one go. Although things start off relatively straightforward, as larger numbers of tough foes are introduced, such as armored enemies, these stages eventually require just the right amount of brainpower. Adding to the complexity are upgrades that give even more control over the bullet: first, you learn how to curve it, then to completely change its trajectory mid-air, and last, to speed it up until it moves so fast it tears the fabric of reality. Each is gated to limitations, like hitting a certain number of enemy weak points to unlock a charge of the ability, adding even more complexity to finding an efficient path.

It’s quite rewarding to think your way through these tricky stages, figuring out the best way to weave between windows and gas tanks so you can blast through telekinetic shields or line up shots that pick up enough velocity to pierce armor. The high-score system pushed me to find even more streamlined solutions, challenging both my memory and quick-fire aim so I could keep my combo going and climb the leaderboards. Smart little touches help reduce frictions during retries, like the ability to tag foes so you can more easily locate them on subsequent attempts, or hit markers that appear when you’ve properly lined up a target.

And while the puzzle gunplay is engaging, what ties this experience together is its hallucinogenic aesthetic, a bad trip defined by purples, yellows, and gushing maroon. The aggressive color grading and low-poly graphics make the hyper-violence of this revenge romp pop, and we can see how the protagonist views her cultist adversaries as less than human based on their glowing eyes and the cold relish of each kill. It’s very degenerate, but in a way that mostly feels purposeful, less a story expressed through exposition and more via brutal acts of bloodletting.

Children of the sun

However, although the game’s vile tone comes across nicely through its mechanics and visuals, the brief snippets of more direct storytelling are less successful. Over the course of the story, we get quick, illustrated cutscenes that show what set The Girl on this path, but these flashes are so brief and disjointed that I almost wish they were omitted entirely in favor of the more effective environmental work and strange narrative mini-games found elsewhere. Frankly, the particulars of this revenge story are less interesting than the murderous mood cultivated as you put bodies in crosshairs and pull the trigger.

In terms of gameplay, there are also a few minor hiccups, such as a couple of gimmicky stages that don’t flow as well as the rest. And for some, I imagine the biggest sticking point will be the brief runtime (which is somewhere in the three-to-four-hour range, depending on how much you care about climbing the leaderboard). While I always appreciate a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, things conclude a little too briskly after introducing all the abilities and enemy types that add satisfying complexity to these challenges, and I would have liked if we even got only a few more levels at this heightened difficulty. Thankfully, things at least end on a high note, with a multi-part stage that tests everything you’ve got.

As a whole, Children of the Sun’s explosions of violence pull us into The Girl’s quest for revenge, combining dome-blasting fun with action-puzzles that invite creativity. Equally important, the game’s aesthetic rips — its offputting art style, color choices, and unsavory elements, like the bliss The Girl takes from drilling holes in cultist skulls, driving home all the visceral details. While I wish this attention-grabbing EP had a few more tracks, what’s here lands with the impact of a hollow-point round.

Children of the Sun was developed by René Rother and published by Devolver Digital. Our review is based on the PC version.

Elijah Gonzalez is the assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

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