Roah: a Metroidvania that provokes... thought

Reconsidering the regressive relationship between retro games and sexual content

I was browsing through the Nintendo Switch's eShop the other day, as I am wont to do, looking for things that caught my eye. I saw the logo for Roah, the new platform game from Grynsoft. Checking out the screens I got that sort of vibe - and you probably know what I'm talking about - where you think ah, hullo. This artist definitely has a DeviantArt account. And a Patreon with artwork of a certain nature.

And they did. And that's not in any way meant to be any kind of judgmental way, because honestly, who cares? Nice work if you can get it! But what it did do is give me pause for thought, and I will explain about what shortly. First, though, Roah.

I don't think it's unfair to say that Roah takes some inspiration from the Shantae series, as its Metroidvania-ish trappings and hazardous dungeons recall that series, as does its variously pneumatic cast of characters. The combat, however, is completely different and quite a lot better. The PR says it takes cues from fighting games, and that's true to an extent but personally I found it most reminiscent of the cult favourite The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night game for the GBA. That means there's a lot of juggling using Roah's nifty scorpion tail, as well as the infliction of various status effects to even the odds. You'll also pick up equippable trinkets and upgrades that'll allow you to tailor your playstyle as you see fit.

It's not perfect - the animation could be nicer and the collision detection on the platforms isn't ideal at times, but that in particular is a very minor and situational issue that could be patched or easily ignored. Level design is strong, it's fun to move around and the pacing is good. It's a fun, silly and challenging Metroidvania adventure, that happens to have something of a fixation on breasts. And that's what got me thinking.

See, it's all well and good making fun of this sort of thing, and Roah hardly falls under the umbrella of "erotic games", but what if it did? What about a game that's much more sexually explicit, but is still... you know... a good game? Would it get any column inches (Stop sniggering)? Does such a game even exist? There are a whole ton of old PC-98 titles that are variously sex-focused, are any of them worth playing? If we divorce the actual game element from the masturbation element, does anything rise to the top (Stop sniggering)?

I've covered Legend Entertainment's Spellcasting series on here before, which is a game I enjoy but one that leans into misogynistic content in a way that makes it difficult to recommend to contemporary players. Roah, however, doesn't, and goes to show that the inclusion of scantily-clad female characters isn't necessarily a sure sign of... well, deviance. And it makes me consider my own prejudices against games like it. Most sex or sexual content in games old and new just makes me cringe, but does that mean no marriage whatsoever can exist between the genre and the form? I don't mean one of those Mario romhacks that lets you see his knob, but I'll put this one to you, readers - what's your take on this? There's got to be a more interesting conversation out there than "ban this" or "never ban anything", right?

That's a little disingenuous, I know, but whenever anyone talks about retrogaming and sex, the first thing that gets brought up is actual rape simulator Custer's Revenge. Surely there are better frames of reference than that, now, in 2020? Are there any old-school games with erotic elements that you'd genuinely go back to? Are there any that transcend the worryingly youthful characters of the otherwise-brilliant likes of Pachinko Sexy Reaction? We have a game here, Roah, that's very good fun to play. And a lot of people are going to dismiss it, because it's horny. Is that fair?

Look, someone's got to ask. You tell me, Nauties. Or should I say Naughtys?

A review copy of Roah was provided.