Inside: Rogue Legacy, Reventure, Chronicles of Teddy, Path of Giants.
A roguelike with a heavy macrogame component. You play as a heroic lineage attempting to conquer an ever-shifting eldritch castle, and any gold you obtain on your run can be used to improve your future descendants. There is a clear Castlevania influence, with similar aesthetics and a subweapon system that’s basically copied wholesale. It does a much, much better job of being a procedurally-generated Metroidvania than Sundered, chiefly because enemies are tied to specific rooms instead of appearing out of nowhere in between several minutes of nothing. I still only managed to get to the second boss before getting tired of it, as it remains extremely challenging and frustrating even after significant upgrades. Your characters, even the “tanks”, are made of tissue paper and die in only a few hits, and stat boosts don’t really change this. Additionally, most of the danger comes from traps rather than enemies, which cannot be disabled and are extremely difficult to navigate around. It feels a lot like the game couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be an action RPG or a precision platformer.
It also has a very tasteless depiction of disability. A main feature is that heroes all have randomly-generated traits, and this includes things like ADHD boosting your speed and OCD giving you bonuses for smashing objects. Maybe this wasn’t deliberately malicious, but it’s impossible to tell when so much of society unironically considers disabilities a joke.
A parody of action-adventure games where the goal is to discover 100 different endings to a generic “save the princess” quest. It basically becomes a game of seeing just how many crazy things the developer predicted you’d do, with a lot of strange and funny endings. I found it very fun and amusing, though some of the trickier endings like the burger run were a little frustrating. Even that, though, is mitigated by the fact that several endings result in permanent changes to the world that unlock convenient shortcuts, making future runs much easier.
If I had one substantial criticism, it’s the abundance of “death by falling” endings despite there being no actual fall damage mechanic to indicate that’s a thing we should look out for. It made me very surprised when I discovered my first one, and there’s very little indication of which drops the game considers fatal or not. It also might have been better if the whistle was weightless; I rarely found it worth the handicap.
Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus
A Metroidvania taking inspiration from, interestingly enough, Zelda 2 rather than the usual suspects. Zelda 2, much like the ur-Metroidvania Castlevania 2, was an interesting concept executed terribly, and so I’m very pleased to see a modern take on it. The game is entirely a 2D sidescroller instead of Zelda 2‘s odd top-down/sidescroller hybrid model, making it much more of a Metroidvania, but it maintains Zelda 2‘s combat focus and style. Like Link, the protagonist has an incredibly tiny sword and must duck and stand to attack enemies at different heights while also blocking their attacks with a shield. Several enemies are in fact tactical copies of Zelda 2‘s infamous Iron Knuckles, who will mirror your movements to block your attacks and poke through your defenses, requiring quick maneuvering and tactical thinking to defeat. (Unfortunately, while Iron Knuckles were way too hard, I felt the enemies here went a bit too far in the opposite direction — forcing them to block a low blow seems to always create a very easy opening for a high blow, and they die in only a few hits, eliminating most of the thought involved in fighting them.)
The game is an excellent modern update of Zelda 2‘s mechanics, provided you don’t mind that the combat is still a bit finicky. The world is split into multiple smaller sub-worlds instead of a huge interconnected map as in most Metroidvanias, which helped keep me focused and gave every area a distinct identity. I only have a few minor criticisms: the protagonist’s default walk speed is way too slow, the double-tap to activate dash is very awkward (lots of reviewers have complained about this), the inability to attack while double-jumping makes fighting aerial enemies unfairly difficult, and the music should really dim automatically when a firefly song is playing. (I eventually resorted to turning the music off in the settings whenever I was hunting for fireflies, which sucks because the music is really good.) Bosses also tend to be the type that can only be hurt if they take a specific action, which can get frustrating if the dice don’t favor you. (The final boss is particularly bad in this regard.) Boss fights are less fun if I’m just sitting around waiting for the right thing to happen, rather than fighting continuously. I also thought the puzzles for beating the second and fourth bosses were a bit too obtuse; I had to look up guides for both of them.
Oh, and I was very amused that the inciting event that motivates the protagonist is that her house gets a blackout while she’s playing a video game.
(This game is technically a sequel to another game, Finding Teddy, which was a point-and-click adventure game rather than a Metroidvania. Quite the genre shift! You don’t have to play it to understand anything in this game, though.)
Path of Giants
A puzzle game about three archaeologists exploring an ancient temple for a lost treasure. The puzzles are mostly based around elevation: the archaeologists can only move up or down a ledge if another character acts as a stepladder, so you have to position them to get everyone to the right switches and such. It was… fine? I don’t have anything bad to say about it, but the puzzles were generally quite simple, and I finished the whole game in just over 2 hours. I also didn’t really understand the point of the pot-smashing minigame; there’s only two pots in the entire game that are actually difficult to spot.
I felt the story could have been fleshed out more. The gameplay is frequently interrupted by scenes of the characters chatting with each other about the temple, but we get very little context for the significance of it or the artifact they’re trying to find. I figured it was some reference to real-world mythology, but an internet search didn’t turn anything up. The characters could have used more distinct characterization, and more unique appearances than just color changes; as it is, I couldn’t even remember their names, they were all so interchangeable.