I’m not even going to bother focusing on whether or not I enjoyed playing Xeodrifter.
Spoiler alert, I did.
So let’s dive right in by taking a look at the graphics. It’s pretty obvious that the developers went with retro for this game and I for one am always a fan. However, while the simple sprite based graphics do have their charm, in this case they come off as a little overly simple and teetering on lazy. For almost every asset that I can highlight there is a glaring counter that cannot be ignored.
Take for instance the main protagonist. While he is easily recognizable and admittedly kind of cute in a simple space explorer kind of way, his pixel count struggles to barely break into the double digits. Even level design suffers from this balancing act of design versus detail. All four of the planets possess their own unique look and design, which is great, yet I quickly realized repeating assets and the backgrounds often looked busy, not detailed.
If I had to shine on light on one in particular, the biggest culprit of this would be the enemy design. While it’s far from uncommon for old games to create variety with palette swaps, it’s disappointing for a game that was originally released on the DS in 2014 and then on multiple home consoles in 2015. If you want an example of what I mean, take a look at the boss.
No, I didn’t forget to specify which boss because there is only one.
Throughout the entire game you will fight the same boss over and over again, with only a colour change and a new attack added each time. That’s not to say that the fights aren’t enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, because there is an undeniable amount of fun to be had in learning the move sets of the boss and finding patterns in order to defeat it.
Honestly though, graphics are rarely the selling point for Metroidvania style games. It always comes down to the game play and I’m happy to report this is easily the highlight of the title. Initially you will only have a simple attack and jump button at your disposal, while new abilities are doled out at a great pace without overwhelming you all at once.
Some of these powers are fun and creative, like the ability to jump into the background in order to gain access to areas that have barred in the foreground. While on the other hand, some are just ways of putting necessities into a power up, like the submarine. It seems like you could just swim as your space suit must have some sort of oxygen array included but where would be the fun in that. There must be a reason you can’t just swim, let’s say acid, and besides what’s more fun than jumping into the water/acid substance and magically transforming into a submarine.
Any fan of the genre knows how important the distribution of these powers are, no matter how much sense they make, as backtracking is the name of the game. You regularly find unreachable items meant to taunt you to move on in order to find a way to reach them. Luckily the map marks power ups that you spot so that you don’t have to commit them to memory. Provided the power up can be seen as this game is notorious for invisible walls. Pay close attention if your bullets connect with a wall as there could be a chance you can run right through it in order to find one of the many optional health or weapon upgrades.
Quick note about the weapon upgrades as they are very well done. When you find a weapon upgrade it gives you a point that you can distribute in the menu between five categories such as spread or machine gun. Each can be upgraded multiple times and then even reallocated if you want to mix it up. It’s a very nice touch of adaptability to your main weapon not seen in too many games.
Finally we have to address the biggest issue with this game, length. The whole thing clocks in at about three hours and then maybe just another one to find all the collectibles. The four planets are not very big which makes traversal a cakewalk even if you have to back track a couple of times to get power ups. Another big contributor to the short length is difficulty; it’s not only easy but forgiving as well. The most difficulty you will have is if you mess up on learning a boss pattern and even then they will simply respawn you just outside the door if you fail.
I had a fun time with Xeodrifter. Even if short, every minute of gameplay was enjoyable. I did however, get it free as a PS+ game and just cannot recommend it at the normal $9.99 price point. If you are a diehard Metroidvania fan you can probably pick it up and not feel too bad about it. Otherwise, wait for a sale, but when that sale does come, don’t hesitate.