Some Metroidvanias and some more standard platformers. Inside: Even the Ocean, Xenodrifter, Gato Roboto, RONIN.
Even the Ocean
A story-heavy puzzle platformer about an environmental crisis. I found the writing pretty bland, and I saw every twist and moral coming a mile off. In particular, I felt the villains weren’t accurate to their real-world counterparts — they genuinely don’t realize that they’re destroying the world, which is far too generous of a portrayal. (Their last-ditch plan to turn the wealthiest districts into an escape pod while leaving everyone else to die was on-point, though.) I suppose I respect that they didn’t allow a deus ex machina last minute fix ending, but it still makes the whole thing feel pretty bleak. I think it also would have benefited from proper visual novel-style text narration, as the graphics are very limited and it can be hard to tell what’s going on sometimes.
I thought the gameplay was quite good, though! The central mechanic is that there are various energy sources in the levels that can increase either your speed or your jumping height, but if you gain too much in one direction you die. This creates an interesting see-saw effect where objects that can hinder you in one context can help you in another. The game keeps coming up with new mechanics throughout its whole span, so it never got stale for me. My only criticism is that the levels did feel a bit too simple, especially in the early game, and they also felt quite empty, as there are no secrets or alternate routes despite the levels being quite expansive. A wider camera might have helped prevent me from instinctively thinking there was something worthwhile just out of my sight.
A sci-fi Metroidvania. It has two central gimmicks: One is that it takes place over four (very tiny) planets, the other is that you can move between the background and foreground in certain areas to access different parts of levels. The planet-hopping was an interesting concept, but I mostly just found it frustrating because of how spread out the upgrades were — you frequently go into a planet, get an upgrade, hit a wall, and then have to trek all the way back to your ship to explore a new planet. Movement upgrades made repeat trips quicker and easier, but the backtracking still smacked of padding. And there are unmarked secret passages, hooray. I somehow managed to beat the game missing half the health upgrades. There also really should have been a way to toggle the Solar Flare with a single button — having to go into the menu every time made an otherwise-fun upgrade really tedious.
I’m ambivalent about there only being one boss fought repeatedly throughout the game. While it does make the fights very similar, the boss does gain new abilities each time, and your own abilities let you counter attacks you were helpless against in previous fights. So it does work for providing a sense of progression, even if it could have broken up the basic strategy more.
This does, however, charge $10 for a game with only 3-4 hours of playtime, which I found a bit steep. You’ll have to make your own decision on whether that’s worth it.
A sci-fi Metroidvania with a lot of deliberate references to the Metroid series. You play as a cat whose human owner was incapacitated in a crash landing; he directs you to a power suit, which you use to investigate the area and wreak havoc. The premise is delightfully absurd and I loved it. This also sets up the central mechanic, which is that the cat sometimes has to exit the mech to get into spaces the mech can’t fit; without the protective suit, the cat dies in one hit to any hazards, making these sequences tense even after you’ve gotten all the mech upgrades.
The area design is a lot more linear than most Metroidvanias: there are three main regions to explore that must be done in a specific order, and they are all self-contained, meaning you don’t have to revisit anything after you finish the main mission there. (There are, of course, collectibles you can get by revisiting with later powerups.) This effectively makes every region a mini-Metroidvania rather than the whole game being one, but I personally didn’t mind. Especially after all the backtracking in Xenodrifter, it was nice to have such a focused experience.
The story had surprising depth for such a silly premise, also. I really liked that the “mad scientist” was actually motivated by emotion and empathy, and the military personnel he worked with were significantly more evil.
You may recall a while back that when I played Celeste, I appreciated the dash pause provided by its assist mode, and speculated on what a fully turn-based platformer might look like. Well, RONIN is that platformer. You play as an assassin infiltrating various strongholds and taking down enemy security. You play in real time until you get spotted, at which point you enter a turn-based combat system where you can take as long as you want to plan your next move.
Unfortunately, despite the interesting concept, I found it clunky and frustrating in practice. I especially didn’t like the jumping controls — instead of pressing a button, you use the right analog stick to aim your trajectory, which makes sense in the turn-based sections but is overly convoluted in the real-time sections. It’s also very hard to select an exact trajectory, as you jump as soon as you let go of the analog stick, making it easy to fumble. It’s also frustrating that the grappling hook doesn’t show your adjusted trajectory; I ended up accidentally swinging into enemy fire lots of times. Combine this with the fact you die if you’re hit even once, and the combat sections feel incredibly punishing and frustrating.