Crusader: No Remorse
[Warning: Infernax contains brief flashing images, as depicted in the trailer below. There is an option to minimize (not remove) these effects, and Team Berzerk is working on an update to improve their implementation for photosensitive players.]
Dark clouds gather on the morrow. The lands of Upel were hardly the most resplendent of homesteads to begin with, but now — infested with unholy terrors and ageless nightmares — its ramshackle towns and barren farmland have been transformed into a literal hell on Earth. The people cower in fear as demons, monsters, and the undead lay siege to each and every night and day. The military is powerless, the monarchy worthless, and the land godless.
Into this living purgatory strides Lord Alcedor, returning home from the violent and bloodthirsty horrors of The Crusades. Finding his kingdom in ruin and his people slaughtered, Alcedor stands the one hope, the only hope, between the restoration of the land and the literal End of Days. Already well-worn and weary from his recent battles, Alcedor dons his crimson-stained armor and lifts his trusty mace once more. The Lord of the Land is both unprepared and ill-equipped to face the ghastly horror ahead.
Still, evil must be fought and the day won. The power of Christ compels him.
Infernax (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox Game Pass, PC, Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Berzerk Studio
Publisher: The Arcade Crew / Dotemu
Released: February 14, 2021
Infernax, developed by metal af indie outfit Berzerk Studio, is a particularly bloody love letter to the brutal platform RPGs of the 8-bit era. Taking titles such as Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link as its key influence, Infernax styles itself after an era of gaming where challenge was paramount, sadistic design commonplace, and the odds always stacked against you. Daubed in a classic aesthetic and splashed with lashings of gore, Infernax is an everything-or-nothing tribute to yesterday’s classics… with difficulty to match.
Recalling the earliest examples of the Metroidvania genre, (before the term was even coined), Infernax tasks the player with guiding Lord Alcedeor throughout his doom-trodden kingdom, slaughtering hellspawn, aiding the locals, and, ultimately, banishing a host of gruesome-looking demons that could only be crafted in the most twisted of minds. Armed with a silver mace, a rugged shield, and a scant handful of basic hexes, Alcedor is most assuredly the underdog in this quest — it’s going to take razor reflexes and steel nerve to send Paimon, Mammon, Leviathan, and the rest of their demonic ilk spiraling unto the darkness.
It should be noted that Infernax wears its love for the NES scene violently on its sleeve. While our modern technology allows for sharper visuals and tighter control inputs than those of gaming’s favorite lunchbox, Team Berzerk has made efforts to ensure Infernax does not tread too far beyond its retro roots. As such, this adventure is relatively simplistic in both its style and its gameplay design, with a sense of repetition to the visuals, locations, sounds, and rogues’ gallery of monsters. Infernax rarely oversteps an “8-bit” boundary. A bold move, but one that fortunately pays off.
Lord Alcedor can explore his cursed land with relative freedom, investigating local villages and venturing deep into dank dungeons and foreboding castles. As his journey progresses, our hero can trade in the spoils of war for enhanced armor, weaponry, new spells, and stat boosts, all of which are absolute necessities for survival in the kingdom of Upel, where death awaits in every step and shadow, Alcedor’s opposition decided by a rotational day and night cycle.
As this warrior lays waste to skeletons, banshees, and sorcerers, Alcedor will find himself faced with numerous moral choices, all of which risk potentially devastating consequences for the land of Upel, its citizens, and the hero himself. So choose wisely, for as Alcedor picks his way through his holy quest and a huge plethora of side-affairs, numerous fates await his words and actions.
Infernax is steadfast in its challenge, a hardy affair that will resonate immediately with anyone who remembers the sadistic platformers of yesteryear. Infernax isn’t difficult in the same way, say, Bloodborne is difficult, nor does it require the muscle memory of scalpel-precise platformers such as Celeste or Super Meat Boy. No, Infernax is simply tough by the simplicity of its own design, recalling the days of weighty jumping, unruly enemy placement, and a distinct lack of health pickups.
Do you wake up in cold sweats thinking about Castlevania‘s Medusa heads? Then you already know the score. Instadeath upon coming into contact with water? You better believe it. At least you can cheer yourself up with the title’s love affair with gruesome pixelated gore. Do you miss Splatterhouse‘s skinned babies? Have I got the game for you.
Despite its old-fashioned gameplay style, (as well as its stone-cold dedication to your demise), Infernax remains a compelling adventure. It’s hard as nails, but it certainly isn’t unfair. Bear that in mind as your corpse lies motionless, (and stomachless), in Stormheim Castle — perhaps the first major “tap-out” point for some players. Even with a slim cast of characters and a relatively thin story, Infernax still offers a solid 7-10 hours of engaging olde-wurlde adventure — mostly thanks to its nihilistic tone, menagerie of boss demons, and gruesome, blocky-blooded beheadings.
Infernax makes no allusions as to what it is: a simple yet passionate throwback to a golden age of gaming, warts an’ all. Infernax boasts neat pixelated visuals, great “horror comic” artwork, a pleasing chiptune score, and one hell of a challenge — packaged with the sort of bloodlust and satanic panic that might’ve seen it land in front of the senate 35 years ago. I miss those days. And, if you do too, then perhaps a weekend with Infernax is just what your sanitized brain needs. Thanks to its inclusion on Xbox Game Pass, (and its modest $20 price tag), it won’t even break the bank… just your spirit.
Given its strict adherence to an ’80s gaming mentality, Team Berzerk’s tough, visceral platform adventure might not be for everyone. But, for those who crave sadomasochistic challenges, doomsday storytelling, and absolute lashings of the red stuff, Infernax offers up a cathartic dose of 8-bit heathenism. Just run through a few FromSoft titles beforehand… You’ll need to warm up, after all.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]