Tag Archives: Metroidvania

Beyond Human – Kickstarter Spotlight

With less then 48 hours left in the Kickstarter campaign, Beyond Human is a superbly polished and insanely fun metroidvania title that needs some help from the community to hit it’s funding goal. Beyond-Human’s initial release will be available for Windows, Mac, PS4, and PS Vita. The PC release will be distributed on Steam as well as GOG.com. It’s been depressing to see quality titles like Necrocosmos not hit their funding goals recently and I’d hate to add Beyond Human to the list.

BeyondHuman-Gunplay2

With a well designed campaign and an excellent demo, its bewildering that the development team behind Beyond Human has only raised 60% of the $30,000 budget. With only 2 hours remaining in the campaign, Beyond Human could use your help.

BeyondHuman-SwordPlay2

Melding classic Metroid atmosphere and gameplay, with speedy sword fighting and a touch of character customization, Beyond human deserves to be on any gamers radar. Exploring the demo’s gloomy space station for enemies to decapitate and power-ups to horde was satisfying not only because of great level layout and a creepy sense of hostility around every corner, but also due to how seamlessly the platforming and high octane action brought the whole package together.

BeyondHuman-Keycard

By the end of the demo the main character is transformed into a complete cybernetic bad ass, able to swap between slicing, dicing, and dashing between enemies, even throwing in a hail of bullets to eliminate ranged assailants. Flashbacks of the first time I played Devil May Cry. Powerful attacks are not unlimited though and the player must manage a simple to understand energy system that allows for consecutive special moves, but must be recharged over time. Players familiar with the stamina system in Guacamelee should have a firm grasp of  the concept.

BeyondHuman-SavePoint&Upgrades

Along with health power-ups and your standard fair of other collectibles, player should be on the lookout for any new weapons or mods they can find. Only an assault rifle and plasma sword were available to test. The plasma sword won me over instantly with flashy visuals and an ever evolving move set. Currency found by putting down the occupants of the space station can be invested into learning new moves for certain weapons. Gaining the abilities to perform dash attacks, uppercuts and body splitting dropping attacks was always satisfying and stringing them together on helpless enemies, even more so.

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Mods allow for a bit of customization and extra options during each combat encounter. I only ran across two during my time with the demo, but I see a lot of possibility. Up to three can be equipped at any one time and can be used by holding down the left trigger. I didn’t get much use out of the ones available, but the shotgun blast and bullet deflector could no doubt be powerful abilities in more capable hands. These abilities are also linked to your energy meter and cannot be spammed. Careful combination of weapons and mods will be a must in the final game and if nothing else will promote varied play styles.

BeyondHuman-EquipmentScreen

My time with Beyond Human was a treat and it sounds like the development team won’t give up on the project if funding doesn’t meet expectations, but I implore anyone interested in 2D action adventure, sci-fi, and/or the Metroid franchise to take some time to support Beyond Human, spread the word, and hopefully get this title funded within the next few hours.

List of Beyond Human’s features upon initial release:

• Metroidvania Style Progression
• Environmental Storytelling
• 6 Locations to Explore
• 6 Boss Battles
• 6 Unlockable Main Weapons
• 12+ Mini-Boss Battles
• 20+ Unlockable Weapon Mods

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Metroidvania Digital Sales – 8/28/2017

Only a small handful of Metroidvanias on sale this week on Steam. Hopefully more to come. Check these sales out before the end of the week and make sure to check back every Monday for digital deals on the web straight from BreakableWalls.com.

AlwasAwakening-Cover
Alwa’s Awakening

Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $7.49
Steam Page 

OneDogStory-Cover
One Dog Story

Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $4.99
Steam Page

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Eternal Return

Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $7.49
Steam Page

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Dungeon of Zolthan

Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $1.79
Steam Page

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Other Worlds India

Regular Price: $0.99
Sale Price: $0.49
Not highly rated by the Steam community, but for 49 cents it might be worth a look.
Steam Page

 

 

Metroid: Samus Returns – Overview Trailer

A new official trailer was dropped for Metroid: Samus Returns today. Dubbed the Overview Trailer, fans looking for a bit more information on the game will find some interesting tidbits about Samus’s new Aeion powers and a list of uses for all 4 Metroid Amiibos, even though the community has known about these for quite some time.

Aeion Abilities – All share the same resource and cannot be used indefinitely.

Scan Pulse – Allows the player to scan the area for special walls, power-ups, and paths. It appears to affect more than the screen the player is exploring, but also highlights parts of the surrounding map that the player has yet to uncover.  A completionist’s best friend.

Lightning Armor – An offensive electric shield that appears to damage any enemy Samus touches, decimating even large groups of smaller enemies.

Beam Burst – Turns Samus’s beam into a gatling gun of destruction. Rapid fire mayhem at its finest and will probably the best use of Aeion power during boss battles.

Phase Drift – While probably the least interesting of all of the powers, Phase Drift will allow Samus to slow down time, giving her the edge during more difficult encounters. Hopefully this power will promote some interesting environmental puzzles and exploration along the player’s journey.

New Metroid: Samus Returns Amiibos

New Metroid: Samus Returns Amiibo Functionality

Samus Aran
Tap once to unlock an Aeion Reserve Tank.
Tap after beating the game to unlock a Metroid II: Return of Samus art gallery.

Metroid
Tap once to unlock the Metroid Marker that uncovers nearby Metroids.
Tap after beating the game to unlock a more difficult Fusion Mode.

Original Samus and Zero Suit Samus Amiibos

Super Smash Brothers Amiibo Functionality

Samus
Tap once to unlock a Missile Reserve Tank .
Tap after finishing the game for a Metroid: Samus Returns concept art gallery.

Zero Suit Samus
Tap once to unlock an Energy Reserve Tank.
Tap once more after finishing the game for a sound test mode.

I’m glad to see that Nintendo is making pretty good use of the Amiibo functionality with Samus Returns and it should keep collectors happy. Fingers crossed that the new figures won’t be difficult to find on release day, September 15th, but I won’t hold my breath. The addition of Aeion powers and the melee counter are really shooting to keep the formula fresh and I for one am looking forward to having a few more powerful toys to play around with while exploring this new, portable Metroid adventure. Also, if you haven’t already preordered Samus Returns, consider doing so at Gamestop. They are offering a nostalgic 8-bit keychain with every preorder.

Samus Returns Gamestop Preorder Keychain
Samus Returns Gamestop Preorder Keychain

Nakawak – Kickstarter Spotlight

Who doesn’t want more adventure games inspired by the heydays of the GameBoy? Probably not many, but after stumbling upon the Kickstarter campaign for Nakawak, I can’t help but be impressed by the lone developers attempt at creating a GameBoy inspired Metroidvania title coming to Steam hopefully sooner than later.

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With only 7 days left in the campaign, Nakawak has well exceeded its goal of $250 and is only a few pledges away from hitting the third stretch goal. The game is actually fully developed, but the developer, Sean Filkins, is hoping to include an alternate, color version of the game. This version of the game is advertised to have exclusive levels and bosses. Its interesting to note that the goal behind this is to replicate Nintendo’s older practices of releasing different version of their titles.

MainCharacter

Gameplay looks solid and the graphics perfectly match the feel of the original GameBoy. Inspiration is heavily founded from the original two Metroid games and the environments and character sprites make this very apparent. Look into backing this game over the next week as just a few more pledges will afford the developer to add even more unique concepts and content to the color version. Two great games is always better then one.  Checkout the Kickstarter Campaign.

Nakawak Color

Necrocosmos – Kickstarter Spotlight

 August 1st marked the beginning of an exciting new Kickstarter campaign in the announcement of Necrocosmos. To be released on PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, Necrocosmos is bringing a new spin to the Metroid formula, introducing survival elements with a splash of randomized progression. Put simply, players will be challenged to explore multiple planets with unique environments and inhabitants, but the developers claim that progression will be randomly generated from player-to-player. An ambitious idea that I hope can be delivered upon. Thankfully the developers have made it very clear that planets will not be procedurally generated, but handcrafted with care.

 

NecrocosmosTreasure

The masterminds behind Necrocosmos, Andromeda Project3, have designed a very thorough and intriguing campaign full of images, gameplay snippets, lore, and detailed explainations of gameplay features and stretch goals. Little is left to backer imagination and the project looks to be quite polished already. Even better is the option of playing a pretty meaty demo without having to pledge a dime. I’ve spent several hours with the demo and still haven’t completed it, for better or for worse.

NecrocosmosGameplay2

Exploration of the planet on showcase in the demo is a treat and the narrative told through scavenged journal entries and the player character’s reactions to events is surprisingly entertaining. Not to spoil any of the events, but Metroid veterans will appreciate and feel right at home with the events that ultimately lead to exploring and meeting much more of the planet’s inhabitants than expected. Suffice it to say that gamers looking for a fair bit of lore to sink their teeth into will find a lot to love about Necrocosmos assuming the developers put as much effort and detail into the final product’s writing as they have crammed into the demo.

NecrocosmosGameplay3

Exploration and gameplay is pretty vanilla out of the gate. Starting off with nothing but a short ranged rifle and jet pack, our hero isn’t particularly well equipped which allows for the tension of well designed survival games to shine through. A currency known simply as resource is collected through defeating enemies and destroying certain parts of the environment. Resources must be rationed wisely as they have heavy implications throughout. Upgrades to your suit are the most obvious use and can make a huge difference in empowering the players survivability in this inhospitable environment. Consider these upgrades a bonus as they shouldn’t be your first priority. Only through the expending of resources can players repair damage, save their progress, and even continue after death. The extra reliance on resources for such simple factors of gameplay adds a layer of tension that some players will enjoy, while others will no doubt loathe.

NecrocosmosBoss
I have mixed opinions on the matter. I quite like the idea of juggling the importance of gaining a permanent upgrade, healing and saving. Getting a chance to save after a lengthy session of exploration actually provided a rush of satisfaction that most other games in the genre don’t. Every mistake has bigger implications as a player can’t simply farm a room of enemies to replenish health. Actually on more then one occasion I found myself having to chose between healing or saving, without the resources to do both. Necrocosmos is punishing at times, but ultimately smart allocation of resources will reward a player just as much as skilled play. I can appreciate this, but I can not appreciate the way resources are tied into continuing gameplay after death. Upon death, a certain amount of resources are required to continue from the last save point. This system did not bother me in the least for my first few hours.
NecrocosmosSaving
But after several hours of exploration, gaining all of my suit’s upgrades and only a few objectives away from what I can imagine would be the demo’s conclusion, I died. No big deal. This had happened many times and it was my own fault for exploring while on low health. The game asked if I wanted to continue and of course my response was yes. I was having a blast and wanted to continue playing. It turns out that I didn’t have quite enough resources to continue. At this point I was placed at the beginning of the planet with all of my progress reset. No upgrades, zero map completion, nothing. To just lose that much progress, I had to turn the game off for a moment. Hoping to continue again, I booted up the game and found to my horror that the Continue option wasn’t selectable from the menu screen. All of my progress gone. Unfortunately I couldn’t gather the motivation to start again. I hope this isn’t a feature that will make it into the final build of the game.
NecrocosmosGameplay1
This left a permanent bad taste in my mouth after several hours of very enjoyable gameplay. I can’t imagine that having to restart the entire game will be an issue with the final product. Even expecting players to re-explore entire planets/levels is not going to sit well for most gamers. Sure, keeping enough resources stashed away can afford a guaranteed continue, but what about situations where a player finds themselves in a tough situation where they are facing death-after-death? Resources will eventually run dry and they’ll have to potentially replay a good portion of your game? Certain players will feel rewarded by replaying and overcoming the odds, but others will likely walk away in frustration. That’s exactly what I did, even if I tend to find myself in the first camp. Replaying 15-20 minutes worth of a game is acceptable, replaying several hours isn’t.
NecrocosmosSpaceBattle
Necrocosmos does so much else right that it’s hard to not recommend it to any fan of the older generation of exploration games. Fun touches like the vertical space shooter segments when traveling between planets and the collection of journal entries to solve some of the more insidious riddles are just great bonuses. One of the games most touted features hasn’t even been touched upon yet, the DNA gun. Destroying adversaries doesn’t simply reward resources, but also, on occasion, the enemy’s DNA. By collecting and combining different DNA types, the player can wield various forms of firepower. While only a handful were available to test, most create unique firing patterns and even the ability to bypass certain barriers found throughout the map. Alien vegetation blocking your passage? Create a flamethrower and clear the path. Players will only have a limited amount of shots per combination, but the ability to switch between two weapons on the fly will allow for saving precious ammo until the time is right. Yet another flaky layer of survival and problem solving.
As of the publishing of this article, Necrocosmos has 16 more days to hit its $53,000 goal and is almost halfway there. Necrocosmos has a wonderful premise and clearly a very passionate, talented team behind it. If you are at all a fan of the Metroid franchise and want to support more games like it, I highly advise you to look further into the Kickstarter campaign, spend some time with the demo, and take a chance by backing a worthy project.
Check out the Kickstarter and let us know what you think of Necrocosmos in the comments section below.

Metroidvania Digital Sales 08/14/2017

There is a nice selection of Metroidvania titles at discount prices on Steam this week. Check these sales out before the end of the week and make sure to check back every Monday for digital deals on the web straight from BreakableWalls.com.


Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition

Regular Price: $14.99
Sale Price: $4.49
Do not pickup the Gold Edition which is also on sale this week. Both are the same price, but Super Turbo Championship Edition is the definitive experience. Guacamelee is a phenomenal game. A must play, but if frequently on sale on Steam.
Steam Page 


Dex

Regular Price: $19.99
Sale Price: $4.99
Steam Page


Trials of Azra

Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $0.99
Steam Page


Other Worlds India

Regular Price: $0.99
Sale Price: $0.49
Not highly rated by the Steam community, but for 49 cents it might be worth a look.
Steam Page


Dungeon of Zolthan

Regular Price: $0.99
Sale Price: $0.49
Steam Page


Leon’s Crusade

Regular Price: $5.99
Sale Price: $3.59
Steam Page


Endica VII The Dream King

Regular Price: $4.99
Sale Price: $0.49
Steam Page


Randall

Regular Price: $14.99
Sale Price: $11.24
Steam Page


Blade & Bones

Regular Price: $14.99
Sale Price: $3.74
Claims to be an 3D, combat driven metroidvania. Reviews are mixed, but if you are a Dark Souls fan it might be worth picking up at 75% off retail through tomorrow.
Steam Page

Metroidvania Digital Sales 08/07/2017

Steam has some pretty good deals on a handful of Metroidvania games this week. Check these sales out before August 14th and make sure to check back every Monday for digital deals on the web straight from BreakableWalls.com.

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Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight
Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $6.99
Steam Page

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La-Mulana
Regular Price: $14.99
Sale Price: $4.94
Steam Page

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Evil Genome
Regular Price: $14.99
Sale Price: $11.99
Steam Page

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Aztaka
Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $1.49
Steam Page

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Dungeon of Zolthan
Regular Price: $0.99
Sale Price: $0.49
Steam Page

SlainCover
Slain (Not quite a metroidvania, but one of the better attempts at classic Castlevania gameplay)
Regular Price: $12.99
Sale Price: $4.41
Steam Page

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Kero Blaster
Regular Price: $9.99
Sale Price: $5.99
Steam Page

 

Inexistence Review

Inexistence is proof that even a mostly average and almost completely derivative game can still provide an enjoyable if not particularly memorable experience. I had a great time with this title, but for the life of me I can’t describe the vast majority of levels, bosses, or events that drive the gameplay along.

Gameplay1

Combat

Sword and sorcery is the name of the game here. Combat has a brisk pace and a good amount of weight to it, but never is the player required to show much finesse to overcome any foe. Most boss encounters boil down to jumping and attacking their upper body while dodging a few very simple attacks. Regular enemies are much better designed and prove quite deadly by the end of the game.

Magic seems like a huge missed opportunity. Unfortunately the developers have only provided players the bare minimum requirements to allow for ranged combat. A single “magic bullet” esque attack that the player receives early in the game is as exciting as it sounds and didn’t prove much use in combat or exploration. Magic is only useful if the player heavily invests in the magic stat upon level up and even then MP regenerates too slowly to allow for a mage-like playstyle. It’s much more efficient to simply dump points into strength, life and defense, but it’s still nice to have the option.

Gameplay3

Exploration

My biggest gripe with Inexistance is with it being labeled a Metroidvania. In it’s current form it really isn’t. The game is split among several stages and exploration doesn’t become important until the final act, which is a generically designed castle that requires a few items to fully explore. Outside of collecting a few hidden puzzle pieces or weapons, Inexistence gives little incentive to the player to return to any previously visited stage upon completion. It seems that the designer may not have meant for this title to include exploration until much later into development. This becomes even more apparent during gameplay when special traversal skills are required only a handful of times.

Map of Levels

Graphics

Visually Inexistence looks pretty decent. The visual diversity of the environments and enemies is one of the more compelling elements of the game, but excluding the final area, very little detail is put into the design of each level. Prepare to run through corridor after corridor  of enemies on a regular basis. Still, what is here on display is pretty high quality pixel art.

Gameplay2

Audio

Inexistence has an excellent, high tempo score that might trick the player into thinking the game is more exciting then it actually is. Surprisingly I found myself humming the castle stage’s theme long after I put the game down. From swinging a sword, to picking up coins, the sound effects do the job, but one very basic sound is inexcusable. Jumping sounds like the hero is taking off with exploding sneakers. The sound is obnoxious and much louder then it has any right to be.

Boss Fight

Verdict

If you are looking for a short Metroidvania romp to get you through an hour or two, Inexistence fits the bill, but at six dollars I’d suggest waiting for a sale. I managed to pick up mine on Steam for 75% off. Fast paced gameplay, well designed pixel art, and a catchy soundtrack make this title worth a play, but it’s understandable if the short length, repetitive level design, and lack of exploration until the final act would put off more then a few players. The one-man-team behind Inexistence should applauded for their hard work and as of May 24th of this year they announced on Steam that they would be recoding the game from scratch and adding a plethora of new features. I’ll be interested to see what ultimately comes of the update, but the changes being advertised will certainly fix many of the issues that I might have with the game and I will provide an updated review upon delivery.

+Quick, responsive controls
+Customizable leveling system
+Well paced
+Interesting final story beat (No spoilers)
+Well designed enemies
+Engaging gameplay

-Equipment isn’t visible, nor is there very many pieces (only 12 pieces)
-Very short. ~2 hours
-Little pricey for 5.99
-Not particularly replayable. Hard and Time Attack modes are available.
-Very easy
-Only one spell
-Only 6 locations
-Collected abilities are underutilized

Game: Inexistence
Release Date: February 17, 2016
Platforms: Steam
Developer and Publisher: Jonathan Brassaud
Pick up Inexistence on Steam

 

Cave Story+ Special Edition for Nintendo Switch

Cave Story has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings in 2004. A great game indeed that has recently just seen a very limited run of physical copies put into circulation for the Nintendo Switch. Released on June 20th, I picked up my copy alongside a brand new Nintendo Switch. This isn’t going to be a review of the game itself, but more of a showcase of the items included in this special edition release. For returning fans and new players alike, there are some very cool inclusions with this $30 title.

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Cave Story+ and Nintendo Switch

I have to start off by giving credit to Nicalis, the independent publisher responsible for both the Binding of Isaac and now Cave Story+ physical releases for the Nintendo Switch. There was a lot of love put into not only the packaging, but also the included goodies. Also, their website is glorious and I highly suggest you check it out. One of the most original websites I’ve seen in years. Nicalis Website

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Game, Keychain, Full Color Manual, and Soundtrack

Old school gamers should be drooling by now due to the actual inclusion of a full-color manual. A full-color manual! 32 pages of beautiful artwork and full of inspiration from classic NES games. The character artwork on each page just screams nostalgia of cracking open manuals from the late 80s. The small unassuming soundtrack sports some cute vector art of Quote, the main protagonist, as well as 41 tracks from the game. A great piece for collectors of video game soundtracks and Cave Story’s does not disappoint.

Last of all is the inclusion of a random character keychain if bought from GameStop. While these are cool, I’m not a big fan of the fact that not everyone who buys the game gets the same items. I was fortunate enough to know my local GameStop manager and was able to request getting the Quote keychain.  Quote, Curly and Balrog are all available and I’m hoping to pickup the remaining two online over the coming weeks.

Cave-Story-Keychains

For only $30 this special edition of Cave Story+ is a steal for fans, collectors, or even Switch owners looking for a new game. Don’t wait to long to get a copy though, as I expect Cave Story+ to become uncommon before the end of the year and much like its 3DS counterpart, reselling for higher then retail further down the road.

Unformed – Kickstarter Spotlight

Unformed is a Dark Souls and H.P. Lovecraft inspired 2D adventure game who’s Kickstarter campaign is wrapping up on June 22nd, 2017. I’ve recently played through a good amount of the demo available from the campaign page and I’ve got more then a few thoughts that I’d like to share.

Unformed - Save Point

Unformed is a quite beautiful game and gave me flashbacks to my time playing Guacamelee, but with a much more somber tone. It possesses a beautifully colorful art style and if there is one thing I have to give the developers, Blackfire Games, credit for are the environments. The graphics are crisp, clean, and easily the high point.

Unformed - Dark Cave Gameplay

Unfortunately, the rest of the game isn’t quite as polished, or at least not in the demo provided. Inspirations from the Souls series are abundant within both combat and leveling. A stamina gauge is used to enforce careful decision making during combat. All action besides running take some mount of stamina and combat is, for the most part, fast paced and responsive. Jumping, rolling and blocking are all available in the players toolkit. Anyone who has played Salt and Sanctuary will feel right at home with how Unformed weaves these maneuvers into moment-to-moment gameplay. These tools are great, but not overly helpful when enemies have very little in the way startup animations before attacks. Enemies seem to dash forward and assault the player character without warning. This nearly almost always requires players to guess as apposed to respond. Guessing correctly, dodging through an enemy, and backstabbing them is an adrenaline rush, but not overly rewarding as the player isn’t getting better at the game, but simply getting lucky.

Unformed - Boss Battle 1

Offensively, the player feels strangely limited. Having a basic sword and the temporary use of both a two-handed greatsword and daggers seems interesting in theory, but I had a few issues with this system. To gain access to temporary weapons the player must allow a gauge to fill up and then upon use of these weapons it will deplete. That’s reasonable. Actually using these weapons is where everything goes downhill. Activation requires pressing up or down on the d-pad. That’s already bad design as I have to remove my hand from the left joystick and lose the ability to move my character for a moment. I don’t even like it that much in the Souls series, but the pace and feel of combat doesn’t translate here. Why not map this to the left bumper and left trigger? They aren’t used for anything except bringing up the control scheme, which can be accessed just as easily through the menu. These weapons also don’t feel powerful enough to prove useful in most cases. The daggers might be quicker then the basic sword, but don’t afford the player any more substantial damage over the course of a combo or quicker reflexes to avoid enemy assaults. Add either one of these benefits and the daggers could see some solid use during boss battles. The greatsword is slow and actually quite a bit more powerful then the other two weapons, but cleaving an enemy doesn’t even phase the weakest of them. Knocking back opponents or even stunning them would add a bit more weight and usability to this weapon. These are just suggestions though and this system may very well be refined later on in development.

Unformed - Greatsword

Unformed has a plethora of potential and Soulsborne and Salt and Sanctuary fans should take note of it’s inspirations not just in combat, but also in the similarly inspired bonfire, health flasks, and experience systems. Not to even mention the “You Died” game over screen.  There is also plans for implementing a Final Fantasy X inspired sphere grid system for customization. I know I sound down on Unformed. I’m critical because I see potential, not because I want to see the game fail. With a few tweaks to enemy and special weapon mechanics Unformed could be something special that I’m sure Blackfire Games wants to deliver. Unfortunately without the help of the Metroidvania community it doesn’t look promising that Unformed will see the light of day. With a little more then 2 days left in the campaign, only 20% of the $20,000 goal has been raised. I behoove anyone interested to take a trip over to the Kickstarter page and pledge whatever you feel comfortable with over the next 48 hours.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1737913494/unformed/description

I sincerely hope that Blackfire Games, if this first attempt at a campaign fails, doesn’t give up on this project as they have created a solid foundation for what could be something special.

Unformed - You Died

Unformed - Boss Battle 2

Planned platforms for release: PC and eventually consoles

 

 

Xeodrifter Review

Quality Metroid clones don’t come around everyday and Xeodrifter, even for it’s flaws, is one of the most fun I’ve experienced. For some the 10 dollar price tag and relatively short 3-4 hours worth of gameplay might be off putting, but Xeodrifter provides an unoriginal, but enjoyable few hours of exploring various alien worlds while it lasts.

Xeodrifter is light on story and that’s okay. Our hero’s ship gets damaged during flight and it’s up to the player to help them recover their ships lost hyper drive. Simple enough, but the challenge comes from exploring the nearby planets, fending off each one’s fauna, and collecting many power-ups and abilities along the way. It doesn’t get more Metroid esque then that, but that’s where the majority of the similarities stop and Xeodrifter offers up a few of it’s own original ideas.

Gameplay5

Xeodrifter’s ace in the hole is it’s customizable weapon loadouts. While checking each nook and cranny along your adventure, players are sure to stumble upon a few weapon power-up nodes. These can be used on the inventory/map screen to customize the fire pattern, speed, and power of your main weapon. This system really isn’t that deep as you only have one weapon to actually upgrade throughout the entire game and most players will quickly come to find out that simply upgrading power and rate of fire is easily the best choice for any situation. Still, it’s fun to mess around with and the ability to save up to three different loadouts is a nice touch. I do want to give the designers credit for designing the weapon power-ups in such a way as the player does feel truly empowered throughout the game if they search high and low for most or all of the upgrades.

Gameplay3

This is important due to Xenodrifter being difficult in the beginning stages. Probably too difficult actually. Enemies don’t do a ton of damage, but with such a low life pool starting out and very few opportunities to refill during stages, most players will die a few times starting out. I appreciate the concept of making the player feel somewhat helpless. Enemies and platforming are not particularly challenging, but I wasted a lot of time within the first hour of playing simply losing all of my progress and restarting the level due to either a couple of mistakes or not knowing what to expect around the next corner. This will turn some players away and I can’t blame them.

Gameplay1

Xeodrifter’s four different planets are a cool idea on paper. Each is vibrant accompanied with unique assets and color schemes, but it turns out that exploring isn’t quite as exciting as it should be. Creative level and enemy design is severally lacking. Most rooms aren’t even rooms, but linear horizontal or vertical hallways. Poorly designed map layouts force players to retread old ground for new power-up, but unlike well designed exploration based games, shortcuts aren’t sprinkled throughout each area. Backtracking is part of the genre, but never make the player navigate back through a level multiple times the exact same way. In theory the developers probably thought dividing the world up into four different, smaller areas would alleviate the need, but it isn’t fun or interesting to navigate a level and then immediately have to retrace the exact same steps in reverse just to go to another level. You’ll be doing this a lot in Xenodrifter and that’s a shame, especially for a game this short.

Status Screen

That all aside, Xeodrifter does have it’s merits. Gameplay is quick and frenetic throughout, more akin to Mega Man then Metroid. This helps exploration feel more engaging as it’s fun to zip around levels as fast as possible and many of the new abilities earned, such as a rocket jump and speed dash, help somewhat alleviate the poor level design and unlock new areas and power boosts. One of the more interesting abilities allows for players to jump in and out of certain background layers. Some of the more dastardly areas of the game will have the player taxed to speed across treacherous terrain while simultaneously hopping from background to foreground at a moments notice. It’s a novel idea that the developers of Xeodrifter first implemented in an earlier title, Mutant Mudds.

Gameplay4

Early game difficulty and poor map design hold Xeodrifter back from being a top-tier 2D adventure game. These issues aside, I still had a fun first playthrough. I even found myself oddly drawn toward going for 100% completion afterwards. So why is that? It comes down to the polished, fast paced run-and-gun gameplay combined with great empowerment of the player character as you explore each planet discovering that previously dangerous foes now kneel to your power. I’ll even defend the games recycled bosses as I found it interesting to see what new attacks I’d have to deal with in the next encounter. Xeodrifter may not be a must play at the full retail price of $10, but if you are looking to fill the void until Metroid: Samus Returns for an afternoon or a good sale comes around, you could do a lot worse.

+Polished, fast paced run-and-gun gameplay
+Great player empowerment
+Short gameplay time might appeal to some players
-Uninspired level design, too much forced backtracking
-Difficulty not well balanced toward the beginning
-Only 3-4 hours of gameplay

Game: Xeodrifter
Release Date: Decemeber 11th, 2014
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Steam
Developer and Publisher: Renegade Kid

Salt and Sanctuary Review

2-D Dark Souls….Yeah I’m On Board With That

SnS - Death Screen

As you create your character and emerge into gameplay on an old ship dripping with despair it’s no surprise that SKA Studios has perfectly melded their classic hand drawn art style with engrossing Dark Souls and Metroidvania esque gameplay as promised. What might be seen as a cash in toward the popularity of the Souls series by outsiders, it doesn’t take more then a handful of minutes of gameplay to understand what makes Salt and Sanctuary more of a tribute and excellent time killer while fans wait so maddeningly for Dark Souls 3. That’s not to say SnS should simply be cast aside, because it  holds up on all of it’s own merits and true fans will be revisiting this title for months, if not years, to come.

Salt and Sanctuaries world is cleverly designed and intricately detailed throughout each of it’s dark corners, which incidentally are all very much worth exploring during my 20 hour long quest. The dark and gritty art style that SKA Studios is known for sets a somber tone, but also goes leaps and bounds above the studios previously excellent works such as; Vampire Kiss and The Dishwasher. With great detail put into every environment and enemy taking up inhabitants, each locations in this cohesive world has it’s own story and unique aesthetics. While most music is simply ambient noise, it certainly helps amplify the importance of audio cues while platforming, but most importantly during combat.

SnS - Mage

But how does a 2-D Dark Souls game play exactly?  While the combat certainly isn’t as deep as a Souls game. One can’t argue that thought and consideration was put into trying to capture as much of the visceral combat flow within SnS as possible. Movement and attacks are all still dependent upon your equipment choices and of course stat allocation. If your character is a magic flinging wizard don’t expect them to be able to don heavy armor right out of the gate without clear and obvious negative side affects to basic movement. Each weapon class has different combos and damage potential, but where SnS falls a little flat is in the individuality of the weapons. Each feels the same, for the most part, and all the new interesting weapons created from bosses or found in the world are no more then a bigger damage number and a new aesthetic. Thankfully all of the usual weapons classes one would expect are here and represented well. If you want to be a quick and nimble assassin go ahead and use a dagger or short sword. Decked out in heavy armor and want to pack a slow, melodic punch? Go for a mace or greatsword. There are off-hand weapons aplenty to compliment any playstyle. Magic, crossbows and shields all add deeper customization to your loadout and add tactical advantages during various encounters. With my time in SnS I played a greatsword wielding mage and a classic whip wielding hunter. Both felt unique and I can see tons of different options of skills and weapons that players can tailor their dream character with.

SnS - Dex 2

Character development is treated somewhat like Dark Souls in that when defeating enemies they drop currency for the player to use. Instead of souls, it’s salt this time around. Yeah I know. Who would have guessed? Salt is used to level up and to purchase boss material crafted weapons. This makes it super valuable, but don’t go around hording it for long periods of time because upon death you will lose your salt. You can regain it by getting back to where you died and eliminating a specific enemy near your death location, but if you die before recovery it will be gone forever. It can be quite disheartening to lose your first couple of stashes of salt, but quickly you become less and less attached as you find that death will be common and find that salt is easier to come by as you progress. Unlike the Souls series, SnS also has gold which drops much like salt, but is used to purchase consumables and basic equipment. It’s puzzling why both currencies were included as gold seemed to become redundant as I came to the end of my first playthrough.

SnS - Level Grid

Spending salt to level up rewards the player with dark pearls. These are used to progress your character by purchasing nodes on a grid that will feel quite familiar to players of either Final Fantasy X or Path of Exile. Depending upon the class you choose at the beginingin of the game you will have a pre-determined position on the grid, but are free to move about as you see fit. Each sector of the grid is tailored to different playstyles and dipping into several can create some interesting hybrid classes. It’s a cool freedom, but isn’t quite as interesting as the previous two mentioned games. 95% of the nodes are simple stat increases and the other 5% govern your ablility to use certain equipment, magic, and healing items. There’s nothing particularly flashy to build toward, but all the elements are here and well thought out to allow for relatively deep character development through several play sessions.

SnS - Item Shop

Traversing Salt and Sanctuaries deeply interconnected world and discovering the bevvy of secrets along the way will keep players invested just as much as the quick and satisfying combat. You will find shortcuts back to other environments regularly and while this isn’t nearly as rewarding as it was in Dark Souls, it does cohesively bring the world together and doesn’t create the idea that each area is just another ‘zone’ to explore. Progression will often lead to new acrobatic feats that will have the player defying gravity and dashing through the air with ease. These abilities open up new paths and little goodies hidden in previously explored areas, but I often found myself disappointed in how few of these extra areas there were in comparison to other games of the Metroidvania genre. Even more important then finding new areas and loot, is finding safe havens known as sanctuaries. This whole game title is coming together nicely now! Treat these havens much like bonfires or continue points that the player can use to level up and restock on supplies. A unique feature is the ability to customize these sanctuaries with with helpful NPCs. Throughout your journey you will find stones that will allow you a finite ability to summon permanent characters to your sanctuary of choice. This can be a huge boon as you can setup important shops and fast travel features within frequently visited sanctuaries. A certain stone will even allow you to play cooperatively with a friend in local multiplayer. This isn’t necessarily the most easily interpreted, but it’s a cool touch and the games difficulty will change to compensate for the extra help.

Characters can also align with creeds found throughout the world. These act much like covenants or factions, but with far less interesting features. When players are aligned with different creeds they are asked to seek certain items dropped from various monsters. These items are in turn traded in to level your devotion with said creed. Increasing your devotion can increase the amount of healing items your character can tote and at certain levels vendors may add new wares. Extra healing items are certainly worthy rewards and mages will find several of the most powerful spells in the game this way, but outside of these rewards there isn’t much incentive for players to experiment with various creeds. It feels like a missed opportunity. Fortunately farming most of these items is not difficult, but some creeds will take some serious exploring on the players part to locate.

SnS - Sanctuary

There are a bewildering amount of similarities between Dark Souls and Salt and Sanctuary that SKA Studios managed to fit in without making it feel ultimately forced. Gameplay mechanics, character customization, visual and audio inspired atmosphere, and even character created messages strewn about the world. It’s all here and the removal of a dimension does not take away from the experience in most cases. Combat and item nuances aren’t quite as deep as the Souls series, but Salt and Sanctuary hit all the right chords for me and while the difficulty and learning curve is certainly present, fans of the genre should feel good knowing that the game is fair and an even better adaptation of a 2-D Dark Souls then I could have hoped for.

SnS Inventory
+Rock solid action and gameplay
+Difficult, but fair
+Great atmosphere and level design
+$20 dollars for a quality 20+ hour experience is a steal
-Creeds left a lot to be desired
-Not as many hidden secrets in previously explored areas was dissappointing

Game: Salt And Sanctuary
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Platforms: Playstation 4, Vita, and soon to be PC
Developer and Publisher: SKA Studios

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