Quick Reviews 7: Metroidvanias

Reviewing a set of Metroidvanias I picked up on Steam.

Inside: Elliot Quest, 8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure, Unbound: World Apart, Teslagrad

Elliot Quest

This is a very average Metroidvania. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t bring anything significant to the table either. Combat is a little clunky (your only weapon is a bow), and it’s both extremely linear and extremely poor at telegraphing where you’re supposed to go next. I spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly, not helped by the game using an overworld map to connect a bunch of tiny locations instead of a single interconnected map you can check any time like in Castlevania and Metroid.

8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure

A girl travels into the afterlife to save the soul of her father who died under mysterious circumstances. The game is by a South Korean developer and operates under its model of the afterlife, which was cool since that’s not a perspective we get to see often here in the States. I particularly enjoyed the melding of medieval architecture with modern technology and electronics, and all the adorable animal people. Unfortunately, the translation could have used more work; there’s a lot of grammatical errors, including using the wrong pronouns for characters in some lines, which can make conversations hard to follow. It’s still comprehensible and in fact quite a decent story, but it’s a shame it lacks polish.

Something I noticed is that while their aesthetics are very different, the game clearly borrowed a lot from Hollow Knight, gameplay-wise. Not only does it share most of its major upgrades with Hollow Knight, but you get them in the exact same order; it even copies placing the double jump in the lowest area. It also does the thing where you need to buy a map of each area, though fortunately it’s nice enough to provide a simpler auto-map until then instead of leaving you totally lost. There’s also a mine area filled with colored crystals and vertical conveyor belts to synergize with wall cling, a dark waterway area, and it even does the thing where it uses overhangs to denote areas that require double jump. None of this is a complaint, mind — I love Hollow Knight and don’t mind copying stuff I love — but it was interesting to notice how direct the comparisons were.

Unfortunately, one thing it didn’t copy from Hollow Knight was its truly open-ended world design; the game is completely linear, requiring you to visit areas in a precise order, and for the most part the game progresses in a pretty straight path without much need to retrace your steps. This is how a lot of Metroidvanias work so I don’t fault it too much, but it was a bit disappointing.

The major difference from Hollow Knight is in combat, where it borrows more from other Soulslikes instead. You acquire multiple weapons throughout the game, each with different speed, range, and strength, and you can string attacks into combos for extra damage. I found this remarkably well-balanced; I rarely used the club, but I used the other weapons pretty evenly, and I was impressed by how the starting weapon remained useful throughout the game. Overall, very enjoyable!

I also appreciated that the ending was not the usual tripe about how we need to roll over and accept death like I was expecting; you do in fact get to resurrect the person you came to save if you complete all the sidequests.

Unbound: Worlds Apart
Metroidvania/Puzzle Platformer

Though this game can technically be considered a Metroidvania, it’s very light on that aspect. Most of the gameplay involves one-off abilities tied to specific areas, though there are also your standard Metroidvania-style permanent upgrades. This unfortunately leads to the same problem I identified in Antichamber, where it can be unclear if you haven’t thought hard enough about a puzzle or if you literally can’t solve it. It’s also heavier on precision and timing than most puzzle platformers, which I found frustrating in several levels (that series of rotating spiky platforms, ugh).

The basic premise is that you can open portals to other worlds, which alter the space around you while they’re open. In practice, this really just overlays a slightly different version of the level, but it works for puzzle purposes. Most levels have you accessing different worlds, with different effects, so it doesn’t get stale.

The plot seems to be an anti-colonialism thing but also seems kinda anti-intellectual to me? Basically, Big Academia started colonizing other worlds under the claim they were spreading knowledge and welfare, which… seemed to be true? But then they were too “greedy for knowledge” and did an experiment that screwed up reality, and silenced everyone involved to cover it up. This is all told through optional lore snippets, so it’s a bit unclear. Also, the bad guy is evil because his completely justified anger toward the mages turned him into a demon and now he wants to destroy the world for no reason.

One thing the store page doesn’t really mention and that I would have liked more warning on, however, is that the game actually has pretty strong horror themes. The monsters have very disturbing designs, made all the worse by their often being in shadow or only seen briefly, and your character dies at the slightest touch. It’s also really big on jumpscares. Not inherently a bad thing, but I would have appreciated a heads-up beforehand.

Metroidvania/Puzzle Platformer

This is barely a Metroidvania; it’s very linear and the only backtracking is for optional collectibles. As a puzzle platformer, it’s decent; everything is based around magnetism, and your upgrades revolve around giving you more ability to manipulate magnetic objects. However, this does run into the fiddliness problem with all physics puzzlers, with several puzzles based around very precise timing and positioning that proved more frustrating than anything else. Additionally, it suffers severely from the camera positioning issues discussed in this Game Maker’s Toolkit; the camera is very zoomed in and features no grounding or lookahead despite being very fast-paced, so I repeatedly ran into hazards I didn’t know were there or lost track of trying to juggle multiple things just outside my view range. It’s also very intolerant of failure, as you always die in one hit; the boss fights are particularly bad about this, as you always have to start from the very beginning every time you die.

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