A few weeks ago, Nintendo pissed off the gaming public by announcing a Metroid spinoff. This travesty has left fans wallowing in a pit of despair, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some have looked beyond Nintendo to quench their thirst for classic sci-fi adventuring. Fitting that description comes this fun-sized throwback from Renegade Kid.
All images were taken from the developer's website.
Take a look at this picture of my Steam library:
One of these things is not like the other. It annoys the crap out of me when companies do this. I can understand putting the little "TM" in promotional material and copyright notices and whatnot, but is the company so insecure that they have to put that eyesore everywhere the name is mentioned? It sticks out like a sore thumb. Or maybe it's not just a simple legal thing. Maybe the "trademark" is actually an official part of the title. Or maybe it's the character's name. The little astronaut dude that you play as is never given a name, so that makes sense now that I think about it. His name is Trademark, the Xeodrifter.
Anyway. Xeodrifter is pretty straightforward. Trademark is just xeodrifting through space one day when his hyperdrive conks out, so he decides to go explore some nearby planets for supplies to repair it. Thus ensues diet-Metroid. You sidescroll your way through a moderate sized maze (don't worry, you have maps) by jumping around, shooting enemies, and collecting powerups.
Powerups are the breadcrumb trail that lead Trademark around the different planets. Just like Metroid, the areas are blocked off by impenetrable obstacles. When you come across one, you have to turn around and go find a boss to kill, which will grant you the ability to progress to the next section. Abilities don't actually add a whole lot to the game dynamics. For the most part, their sole purpose to get Trademark around the next barrier, and that's it. They have no use in combat, nor introduce any creative new ways to play the game.
The only one that gets any real use is the submarine. There is another one that lets you switch between the background and foreground. That sounds cool in theory, but in practice, all it does is make the sprites smaller. The only really unique thing that powerups do is a late game obstacle where you have to switch while using the dash ability. That's pretty fun, but it only pops up a couple times near the end of the game. As a result, you could probably replace all the roadblocks and abilities with simple locked doors and keys, and it wouldn't change the gameplay very much at all.
Of course, in order to get the abilities, you have to beat the boss. I say "the" because there is only one boss, a giant bug thing, that gets recycled throughout the whole game. Each encounter changes its color and gives it a couple more moves, but it's always the same schtick. And that right there sums up quite a bit about the game: there isn't a whole lot of substantial variation on going around and shooting enemies. The baddies are all pretty similar no matter where you are in the game. Other than the color pallete, the environments don't do much to make them feel creative or different from each other. The music is just kind of there, neither offensive nor memorable.
One of the few unique things it does have going for it is the weapon system. Trademark's gun has different firing modes that can be upgraded or mixed and matched. It's fun to see how different modes work together, and gives a strong sense of satisfaction when you can boost your power to wipe out foes quicker. Even this, though, runs its course pretty quickly. Once you find a winning combination, there's not much motivation to continue experimentation. I need a vacation. Alliteration!*
*Not actually alliteration.
Few of these things are outright offensive thus far. It would be nice if Renegade Kid gave us more depth to make Trademark's adventure more exciting. What is there, though, works just fine. Jumping is tight. The layouts of the maps are fine. Even if there's not a lot going on, it's a nice crisp Metroid clone.
If there is any real flaw, it would be that the difficulty can feel pretty cheap sometimes. Enemies frequently attack from offscreen, faster than you can react to them. There is a lot of trial and error involved in the early boss fights. Health items are scarce and usually hidden. Probably the worst is the lack of checkpoints. There is one in your ship (which is also the only point in the game where you can save) and one in each boss room. That's it.
It's not like the maps are enormous or anything, but they're big enough that you have to re-tread a fair amount of territory when you die. There's a pretty fair amount of backtracking already, especially if you want to collect all the upgrades. You also don't keep said upgrades if you die collecting them between checkpoints, so failure becomes frustrating really quickly.
Xeodrifter doesn't suck. It's an adequate game that only suffers from a little bit of frustration here and there. If it had come out a few years ago, I'd probably be shouting its praises from the rooftops. Problem is, in this day and age, indie retraux Metroidvania games are a dime a dozen. There has to be something more than "not sucking" to stand out, and everything Xeodrifter tries to add flavor or originality ends up in the shallow end of the pool. Again, that doesn't make it bad, just forgettable. If you like Metroid style games, then you'll probably like Xeodrifter.
It's starting to get a little cliche for me to say "wait for a sale." Trademark or not, ten bucks is steep for a game that doesn't stand out and can be beaten in only a couple hours. Seriously, I completed it twice in only three sittings. I would call it a worthy purchase for five or six dollars, and a recent sale saw it down to $3.39. If you're interested, wait until a price drop and you'll be more satisfied.