By Josh Speer / December 15th, 2014
|Release Date||December 11, 2014|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Renegade Kid. I’ve been supporting them since Dementium first came out, and, almost without exception, find their games highly diverting and fun. They’ve proven they can do the retro genre justice with Mutant Mudds, so, when I saw Xeodrfiter was going to be like a Metroidvania version of that game, I was intrigued. Mutant Mudds was a big hit, but it and Xeodrifter have another interesting thing in common — both are essentially demakes. When Mudds was first announced, it was a cartoonish FPS with the same premise as the final game. I wasn’t interested in it at all until I saw it with a shiny pixelized coat of paint. So, when I heard about Xeodrifter and how it was a demake of Moon Chronicles that Jools and co. basically did in their free time, I had to wonder if it would be another success story. So, was Xeodrifter the best entry yet by the indie developer or should it stay lost in space?
The game starts out with you crashing into a meteor and damaging your ship’s valuable warp core. Upon scanning the area, you find four planets with pings that might lead you to the components necessary to build a new core. From there, it’s off to the races. Though this is not a plot-heavy game, it tells you enough story to keep things moving forward. Which brings me to the first thing I really liked about the game — it does a minimum of hand holding. Like any good Metrodivania, it requires players to think for themselves and study their environment. Any info is given via visual cues on the touch screen or the occasional, but very infrequent, info box, usually after you unlock a new ability. That sort of minimalism is not only appreciated, but it also does a great job of setting the tone for the entire experience. Nothing says moody isolation like having to figure things out for yourself as you travel from planet to planet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Very few Metroidvanias have managed to capture the spirit of the Metroid series with such skill.
Speaking of Metroid, Xeodrifter does it justice in many ways. You have four planets through which you must travel, and doing so requires you to find and utilize new abilities acquired by beating bosses. Progress through each planet is demarcated by a helpful mini map that displays on the touch screen, so you’ll never get too lost. Despite this, I did have to backtrack a few times very early in the game to find the proper planet on which to start. Many are organically sectioned off and require a certain ability to get past, and I ended up trying out the hardest planets first and having my butt handed to me. Nothing that a little trial and error couldn’t fix, though.
Now, before you get the impression that Xeodrifter is just a thoughtless Metroid clone, let me clarify what it does to distinguish itself. While it does indeed have many similarities, they are presented in such a way that old-school gamers and newbs alike can benefit from them. For example, while there are save points in Xeodrifter, they only exist at the entrance to each planet, which is accessed from your ship’s teleporter. What that means is that, if you die on the way to the boss, you’ll have to start over from scratch (with the exception of checkpoints found before boss rooms). This caused me to up my game early on, and play very cautiously to avoid such a fate. Another unique aspect of the gameplay I really enjoyed was the weapon system. While, in Super Metroid, you naturally find and equip upgraded Beam weapons, it works a bit differently and intuitively in Xeodrifter. I never understood why, in Metroid games, certain weapons are considered better than others. I personally loved the Ice Beam, and dreaded having to switch to another one, such as the Plasma. Xeodrifter fixes this dilemma by letting the player adjust weapons settings themselves. You can find Gun upgrades, but, instead of doing something specific, you use them like currency to adjust the gun you already have. For example, you can toggle the shots bigger, make them fire more rapidly or even fire in curvy waves. All of this is done via the touch screen, and was very intuitive. During boss fights, I ended up trading speed for power, and switched things up when exploring levels. The catch is that there are only so many power ups, so you can’t boost all the gun’s stats to maximum, allowing players to cater to their own play style.
Another way Xeodrifter is different, yet similar is the use of abilities. As you progress, you unlock them via boss battles, and must use them to explore each planet fully. Though there are some that will sound familiar, such as one that allows you to fling yourself vertically in the air and another that lets you explore underwater, there are others that are completely unique, and fit well within Renegade Kid’s wheelhouse.
One key example is the ability to shift between the foreground and background. This instantly made me think of how skillfully done this was in Mutant Mudds, but I dare say it’s done even better in Xeodrifter. It adds an element of complexity to each area, especially when complicated by mechanical grids which prevent such exploration. Another cool example is the Solar Gun upgrade that is found late in the game, which allows charged shots with the primary purpose of blowing up otherwise indestructible road blocks. What I especially loved about this attack was that I discovered it can also deflect enemy projectiles! Xeodrifter knows the conventions it’s playing with, and does so deftly and with confidence.
Let me also speak about the graphics and music. The graphics were full of pixelated detail, and immersed me in these strange and alien planets. Though it took some cues from Mutant Mudds, it managed to distinguish itself enough for my tastes. The planets and foes you fight have an almost aquatic theme to them, ranging from shelled foes to shrimp-like creatures to giant slimes. Each and every foe looks unique, and have different attack patterns you’ll have to familiarize yourself with. To be fair, most of these are pretty basic, but they still keep you on your toes. Also, the 3D effect is handled quite well, especially with regard to jumping between foreground and background. The music, likewise, is chiptune goodness, and kept things desolate while still being upbeat and compelling. However, as much as Xeodrifter did most things right, there were a couple of disappointing missteps.
While it’s true I appreciate the diversity of alien lifeforms in Xeodrifter, that diversity is sadly absent from the boss battles. In fact, each and every boss is an upgraded color swap of the creature pictured below.
Now, while I have no problem with the design of this critter, I do take issue with the lack of originality. I loved the vast differences in boss battles in the games that inspired Xeodrifter. While each of the bosses do get more challenging, and utilize more complicated attacks, it was at the expense of the visual design. I am not sure if this was a conscious decision, or a hardware limitation, but it kept the experience from attaining perfection in my mind. Whereas the boss fights in similar games continuously escalate in a resounding crescendo, Xeodrifter’s bosses are more like minimal remixes. Another complaint I have is about the length of the adventure. When all was said and done, I clocked in at a little less than three hours beating the game. Granted, I have yet to 100% the game (I beat it with 91%), but, unless getting that coveted percentage unlocks something, I find it unlikely I’ll replay the game anytime soon. That said, neither of these were game breaking — just frustrating given the polish seen in the rest of the game.
All in all, I was more pleased than displeased with Xeodrifter. As a fan of Renegade Kid, it takes a lot for me to hate anything they make. I found Xeodrifter was quite fun and pretty much unputdownable. My biggest complaints were the lack of unique boss fights and the short time it took to finish it. However, for the price tag of $9.99, I feel I got my money’s worth. I hope to see more such games from Renegade Kid in the future, as they have certainly proven they can do retro right and can handle Metroidvania pretty darn well.
Review copy purchased by reviewer
3DSMetroidvaniaMutant MuddsRenegade KidReviewXeodrifter