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