Tag Archives: Metroidvania

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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