Infernax: Deux or Die goes above and beyond
My love of Infernax is no secret by this point. Many indie titles have shot for NES nostalgia, but Infernax provides an experience that genuinely belongs among the console’s best. Its tight gameplay, compact map to explore, and authentic difficulty curve drives home the feeling of playing a version of Simon’s Quest that became a beloved classic instead of a series black sheep. Add in a host of secret characters and multiple endings, and you have a game just begging to be replayed.
I gleefully put in at least three runs through Infernax last year, yet the announcement of couch co-op via the Deux or Die update still peaked my curiosity. As much as I love this game, couch co-op updates to single games have left me underwhelmed in the past. For example, Shovel Knight‘s two-player mode was fun, but nowhere near the quality of its one-player campaign. Meanwhile, Deux or Die promises the new character Cervul, a plethora of unique abilities, and a revamped progression system. Would Infernax maintain its quality as a two-player game, or would it be another novelty worth an hour or two?
Well, after playing Infernax this weekend armed with a friend (henceforth referred to as John Dtoid), I am extraordinarily happy to say that Berzerk Studio hit it out of the park with Deux or Die.
A rebalanced campaign
The first thing Deux or Die does fantastically well is remix the entire campaign with Player Two in mind. Right out the gate, the cutscenes incorporate Cervul and even add some unique dialogue throughout the adventure. Story was never the strong suit of Infernax, but I love the playful route Deux or Die takes. For example, after one NPC praises protagonist Alcedor, he adds a tepid “oh hi Cervul” just to acknowledge him. It rides a fine line of lampshading its one-player focused story while avoiding outright fourth-wall breaking jokes.
Fortunately, it’s not just story that was overhauled for Cervul. Every screen in Infernax is littered with enemies now, to the point of looking like a Kaizo ROM hack at first. This gives both players equal responsibility to proceed through the game effectively.
Since so many enemies come at you from multiple directions, John Dtoid and I typically divided responsibilities between us. As the one in control of Cervul, I handled airborne enemies while Alcedor’s mace smacked things at ground level. After mastering the new mechanics, I was pleased to see that our pace matched a normal solo run of Infernax. Despite the overwhelming enemy forces, both players recieve ample power to match the odds.
Cervul is my new favorite character
While the campaign rebalancing is nice, what really makes Deux or Die click is Cervul himself.
By default, Cervul chucks axes at enemies a la the classic Castlevania axe. Holding directions on the D-Pad lets Cervul change the trajectory of his throws, but he’s never particularly good at hitting things in front of him. Meanwhile, melee is the one range Alcedor is very good at. Both characters’ mechanics naturally encouraged cooperation without stepping on each other’s toes. I always felt like I was contributing a lot as Cervul without ever fully stealing the spotlight.
As you progress further, Cervul unlocks and strengthens an extraordinarily fun set of skills. My bread-and-butter was the Crossbow, which requires a charge between shots but snipes enemies effectively. Meanwhile, against enemies throwing ranged attacks in turn, I could wield my Pavise with both hands and focus on blocking incoming shots to defend myself and ol’ John Dtoid. This let our playthrough of Infernax become surprisingly methodical instead of a test of our reflexes. I’d often stop and evaluate an area before selecting the tool that would lighten the challenge in front of us.
Honestly, there were moments when I felt like I was outright breaking the game with Cervul. However, instead of coming off as cheap, I instead felt rewarded for knowing what skills would work best in each situation. Using Cervul’s kit let me see the entire world of Infernax is a new light, almost as if I was playing an entirely new game.
The crazy part is that Cervul isn’t the only one bringing team dynamics. Alcedor’s support spells now affect both players, ranging from shields to full heals. This, too, adds a new layer of depth to Infernax.
By default, Cervul has a stack of bandages that can slowly but reliably heal either player individually. Meanwhile, Alcedor’s healing spells work instantly and heal fully, but he can only use a couple casts before his mana runs dry. This created a fun minigame where John Dtoid and I constantly thought of how to min-max our healing within dungeons, perpetually keeping our HP bars even with bandages so we could get optimal heals with spells later.
Cervul’s tools do make him feel like four characters in one. However, switching his skills takes time, which in turn gives Alcedor much more agency in co-op. Covering that melee blind spot for Cervul is optimal in most situations, but this never feels forced or inconvenient. Even Alcedor’s shield, which generally is inferior to Cervul’s Pavise, still has the advantage of being available on demand. There were more than a few situations where Johnny boy blocked shots for me while I was charging my crossbow, especially if I wasn’t paying attention to everything happening on screen.
Cervul winds up being a bit more powerful than Alcedor by the end of the game. However, it’s never to an extent where the scale is tilted too strongly in Cervul’s favor. Both players feel important throughout the campaign, and there’s enough freedom to let you control who will be more supportive and who will take point as the main attacker. I can’t believe I’m writing that sentence about a simple game like Infernax, but that’s how elegant the mechanics of Deux or Die are.
Honestly, my only criticisms of Deux or Die are nitpicks. The boss rebalancing doesn’t fare universally well in co-op, leaving some foes unusually easy despite their bolstered health bars. There was also one encounter on the Ultimate Good story path that Cervul absolutely trivializes. As good as the co-op is, Infernax never fully shakes the feeling that it was originally designed for one player.
That doesn’t particularly matter to me though. Infernax already felt complete at launch, so Deux or Die is like getting a new game for free. Moreover, with playthroughs lasting around six hours, Infernax makes for a great weekend adventure.
As an additional touch, Deux or Die lets you hot-swap between the two-player mode and one player controlling both characters. At first, I thought this was a nice way to let solo adventurers experience the new content too. However, once I realized this let one player make progress while the other takes a break to use the bathroom or grab a snack, I realized how hard Berzerk Studio prioritized making a fun experience for two friends over anything else.
Infernax doesn’t have the reputation of something like Shovel Knight, but Deux or Die proves its creators bring equal passion for their work. This free update was so transformative that I could have easily dropped $5 on it and felt I got my money’s worth. If you originally played Infernax via Game Pass, Deux or Die makes a compelling case to buy the game outright. It adds abundant replay value to a title already overflowing with it, and I can’t wait to explore Upal with more friends in the future.