Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pint Size Metroidvania - The Xeodrifter Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Take the Metroid formula and condense it down to about 3 1/2 hours of gameplay for the perfect bite sized play through. The retro styled graphics and sound design bring back memories of yesteryear, as does the difficulty curve, so if you're not a fan of backtracking or higher difficulty, stay away. 

Metroid and Super Metroid helped create a unique blend of exploration and tension that was then refined with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night later on the PS One. This style of discovery that requires back tracking with new powers to open up more pathways in old areas has been adapted over and over again, often times to great success. Xeodrifter is the next game in line to take this patented formula and use it perfectly in a small, digestible experience of roughly three to four hours that left me feeling complete, and honestly, wanting to just play more.

Xeodrifter is designed like an old Nintendo game, and with that in mind there isn't a whole lot of story or plot aside from a little bit of set up. At the beginning, your little astronaut is left stranded in his/her ship and is forced to travel between four planets to restore the hyper-drive needed to head home. This simple premise is the perfect backbone for the game, as it doesn't interfere with the meat that is the gameplay while giving the player a reason for being on these alien planets. 

The simple map is reminiscent of older sci-fi games.

While traversing the 2D levels of each of the four planets the astronaut will come across obstacles that require new upgrades. Of course these abilities are spread out across all four planets and are guarded by boss fights, so the player will become very familiar with the maps of each planet as time goes on. These boss fights are actually a series of fights with the same boss, or at least the same type of boss. Each encounter with the giant bug creature the boss gains a new ability that must be learned in order to survive the encounter. With each victory, the astronaut earns a new ability that will help progress forward into new areas, be they on a new planet or in a previously visited planet. Some may find the lack of different boss creatures mundane, but the fact that each boss fight introduces a new attack to learn how to fight against kept things interesting enough that I never saw it as a problem. I actually like the concept of the enemy getting stronger as I was getting stronger because it felt like a nice parallel for a game without much story around it.

The super-speed upgrade in action. Great for running across boiling hot lava.

The upgrades themselves are also rather interesting. They start rather simple, such as gaining the ability to swim (by turning into a submarine), but some of the later abilities, like running at super speed or being able to shift between the two 2D planes in each level, keep things fresh and entertaining. These abilities also allow for easier backtracking in levels the player has already been through thanks to the smart level design of Renegade Kid. 

The main menu shows all upgrades and augmenters for the weapon attacks as well as all the maps. Super convenient.

Aside from the major power-up abilities, players can also gather health upgrades and weapon augmenters. The health upgrades are pretty straight forward, adding another bead of health for the astronaut, but the weapon augmenters are really interesting. The basic form of attack is to fire a ball of energy, but by adding weapon augmenters, the player can change the style of this attack. For example, there's a scatter shot augmenter that allows the player to shoot three orbs at once. By applying multiple augmenters to this attack style, the player can make this style of attack more prevalent. By filling up an entire attack segment (eight augmenters total), the player can reach the full potential of this attack type. There are four different styles of attack and 12 augmenters total, with the ability to pick and choose which style to invest in as well as create multiple loadouts to switch between. The system is simple to understand and versatile enough to encourage a good amount of experimentation. 

Enemies vary in shape and size, with some like this bad boy above who can kill in one hit early on.
The 8-bit art style is crisp and colorful, with plenty of eye catching enemy design and level layout to perfectly emulate an old school Nintendo game. I particularly enjoy the design of the astronaut and his/her main attack, especially once the weapon has been augmented. The chip tune inspired score is also rather enjoyable, even if there are only a few tracks to listen to. 

Overall Xeodrifter is a great game for old school enthusiasts or those who missed out on the 8 bit era and want to see what it's like. The style of game lends itself to be played in short bursts or one long stint and is perfect on either handheld or home console. The back tracking and lack of variety with the boss designs may throw some people off, but this just isn't the game for those who don't enjoy going back with newer upgrades and exploring even further.

9.0 out of 10

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