Children of the Sun is a powerhouse in the form of a psychedelic puzzle-shooter

Children of the Sun is one of those games that struck me from the moment I saw it – crazy visuals like this will do that to you. With that distinctive, disjointed look combined (and contrasting) with some strong and precise gameplay it certainly delivers on the wild, thrilling, and violent ride its trailer promises.

It’s a lot at times, overwhelming and overstimulating, but at its core Children of the Sun is a thoroughly satisfying, well-polished game, despite its stylishly messy aesthetic.

Kill Anything That Glows

The story of Children of the Sun is told in jerky, messy cutscenes, unfolding slowly over the game between bouts of incredible violence, but when the game starts, all you need to know is this:

You are a young woman. You have a gun. You are going to take down a cult.

The twist, that makes this game distinctive, is the fact that instead of having plenty of ammo to tear your way hack-and-slash style through the cultists, your gun only has one bullet. That one bullet you can pivot and control unlike any ordinary one, but it’s a singular bullet all the same, and it has been tasked with taking down a whole group of people.

With the player taking the role of a sniper, each level begins with slow consideration as you locate each target, calculate trajectories, and reposition yourself. Then you fire, and it’s an incredible burst of violence as your bullet zips from one person to the next, tracking a harsh zigzag pattern of blood across the map. And then the last body falls, and the level is complete. It’s not the type of gameplay you see every day, and it feels thrilling.

Becoming the Bullet

When I first picked up Children of the Sun, the simplicity of its controls surprised me. Despite the game’s flashy, almost overwhelming appearance and copious amounts of blood splattering everywhere nigh-constantly, the movement of the character was a simple back and forth, and the gun and bullet controls a simple click, hold, and zoom.

As the game progresses and you learn new abilities, it becomes a little more complex, but it always retains that core simplicity. It’s neat and satisfying. Physically, it’s fairly easy to play – which leaves plenty of room for it to be more difficult mentally.

While I hesitate to call this game a full puzzle, at times it delivers that puzzle-like satisfaction when you execute a flawless shot and take down half a dozen cultists in the blink of an eye. Monitoring the level, strategising, failing – then restarting, revising your plan, and doing it perfectly this time? It’s a good feeling, and though I wouldn’t label it as super challenging (especially not at first) it does deliver enough difficulty for you to feel accomplished after a well-executed killing spree.

Each level is short, with only a few minutes (or even seconds!) difference and a few tiny adjustments meaning the difference between incredible success and utter failure. It all feels fast-paced, in a way that makes playing it exhilarating despite the simple motions you’re making.

The level design itself can feel a tiny bit repetitive at times, especially if you’re playing for long stretches, but for the most part, the designers add plenty of new and different elements to keep it feeling fresh and unique – the location of your murders include joyrides, moving trains, petrol pumps and much more, adding to both the challenge and the fun.

A willingness to add levels that deviate completely from the formula certainly doesn’t hurt. Using magic bullet powers to catch some breakfast was a welcome break, a different challenge, and added some well-appreciated humour.

New mechanics are added gradually, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming – and on the flip side, it doesn’t feel hand-holdy either, as you’re immediately dumped from the tutorial teaching you your new ability into the level itself, where it’ll be put to the test.

Aim for the Sky

Children of the Sun isn’t just a game where you win or lose. Your performance on any given level is scored, based on a variety of criteria – how long you spent in the level (shorter is better), how quickly you jumped from one person to another, how many people you killed and where you hit them (with different limbs scoring different points), whether you caused any explosions (and how many the explosion killed), and so on.

At the end of each level, it’s all tallied up and put on a leaderboard. If you’re the competitive sort, you can retry the level again and again, getting better scores each time, all while testing your skills against other players. Those scores, combined with the fact that restarting a level takes only a moment, provide a real incentive to play again and again.

There’s also the fact that there are multiple ways to solve any given level. For the most part, it’s not too wildly different, but the game does allow you to experiment and test the game’s – and your own – limits.

Alternatively, you can ignore the leaderboard entirely and play each level to completion once before leaving it – either way works fine, and it’s all in the name of a fun time.

Psychedelic Pictures

It’s impossible to talk about this game for long without mentioning its wacky and psychedelic visuals. The cutscenes are scratchy and colourful, iconic and a little overwhelming. The levels themselves feature rough 3D models, with strange glows and pops of colour. It’s distinctive and stylish, in a way that makes the game stand out and adds to its surreal, supernatural story and atmosphere.

And these crazy visuals do not come at the cost of readability. It sticks close enough to an internal style that even with all the weird lighting and colours, you can still tell what’s going on, and what your bullet needs to hit. The UI is also clear and concise.

That said, while it may be perfectly legible, the photosensitivity warning for this one is well deserved, even if the eye-straining parts are constrained to short doses in cutscenes and certain parts of a level. I’d recommend passing on this one if that’s an issue for you.

While the music isn’t the most incredible I’ve ever heard in a video game, it is good. It perfectly suits the game’s aesthetic, and complements the intense emotions this game embodies.

The story, as you might imagine from a game where the central mechanic is shooting people, is dark. You could even call it a little edgy, in an over-the-top way which is in keeping with the over-the-top gameplay. The game does take its time to explore this story, the backstory of our protagonist, her mindset and her feelings, and at times does so in interesting ways, through surreal and unusual side levels and little details in the normal levels. Ultimately, while the story does work just fine, I found what drew me back to this game was its fast-paced gameplay and striking appearance more than the plot.

Final Thoughts

Children of the Sun is, undeniably, a little weird. The bold look, scribbly cutscenes and violent gameplay aren’t going to appeal to everyone. But if this game does strike your fancy – if you are searching for a game that is a little unusual – it only makes it more alluring.

Playing this game was very satisfying, with its simple controls and fast-paced ‘combat’ combined with the crazy visuals. It’s a bit of an experiment, but it’s one that completely sticks the landing.


Highlights: Easy to play but difficult to master; Short, sharp levels; Iconic style and visuals; Leaderboard and good scoring system; Great replayability with different ways of finishing a level
Lowlights: Level design can feel a tad same-y; Visuals may make the game unsuitable for photosensitive players
Developer: René Rother
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.