A person who strongly opposes accepted beliefs and traditions...
I’ve been excited for this game going back to the end of last year when I caught a trailer on PSN. It’s no secret I love my retro games and this would hold some obvious appeal to me. My first thought was around what kind of game it would be. It’s easy to think “2D Platformer” but this takes many forms; Mario, Prince of Persia, Castlevania, Wonderboy, could all fall under the same heading but they all play very differently. The trailer showed conversations, action scenes, screen filling bosses and cut scenes akin to something like Flashback.
Having been hands on it became apparent very quickly we were in Metroidvania territory, which I couldn’t be happier about. Not only does it follow this format, the game doesn’t restrict you to a single location so the play area grows and eventually connects to give you access to a huge world to explore and re-explore.
You play as Robin, a female mechanic in a world where all job roles are allocated by a religious authority called the One Concern (not entirely unlike Futurama) which is headed by “Mother” like some expanded cult. Those which don’t conform (and sometimes those that do) are subject to “penance” and the world is filled with NPC’s who cover the whole spectrum of non-believers to fanatics who’ll deem you a heretic for your wrench yielding ways. The story will have you travelling the whole world over which is made up of a whole manner of environments which are all beautifully realised and full of secrets.
Without giving out too much of the plot the main story has your exploring the world in its final days due to the supply of Ivory dwindling. In your travels you cover a vast area of the world in all its 2D glory and converse with a colourful cast of characters from the comical to the sinister. The game doesn’t actually shy away from the grotesque or brutality with several scenes showing dismemberment and the like. The game does an amazing job of keeping the level of intrigue just about right whilst drip-feeding you plot points that form part of the overall story. I’ve read reviews where others have claimed the story was a bit too vague and unengaging but I must say in the intermittent places where this is the case I was always aware of where I was headed and where I needed to be. These moments didn’t break up the flow of the game and the answers to the story where you got lost were caught up later on down the line.
Robin says very little throughout the course of the game beside a handful of dialogue choices and speaking in something not unlike emoji’s on occasion. As a general rule I’m not a fan of silent protagonists, this is however dealt with in an interesting way where your supporting cast acknowledge that the trauma of the death of your father (at the hands of the Concern prior to the events of the game) has left you somewhat distant. This doesn’t affect your capacity to get things done however and your actions speak for you and your party react in such a fashion and often speak on your behalf.
With a playthrough time of around 12 hours it’s ideally paced and whilst you naturally unlock additional items and abilities as you play, Robin doesn’t level up herself and these upgrades are few but significant. Your Health bar won’t grow and your weapons remain at the power they begin with throughout so bosses remain just as challenging whether you meet them in the story mode or the boss rush you unlock post you require at your disposal. The game is good and signposting how to use your new toys when obtained but can be deviously silent when you’re completing a sidequest!
The game has a strong sense of style and it’s pixelart a love letter to the 16bit era. The educated out there will quickly realise that there’s much more going on here with the size of the enemies (mainly bosses) than could ever be achieved on that level of hardware. The controls remain tight throughout and the game doesn’t have any really unfair moments, pitfalls or insta-death. Bosses can appear overwhelming at first and genuinely feel like a puzzle unto themselves at times. It takes a old-fashioned find the pattern approach and I rarely found myself defeated more than once on any occasion (took a severe beating throughout however!).
There’s plenty of dialogue but this doesn’t break up the game enough to annoy and isn’t actually spoken or anything so frustrating as that. Cut scenes are skippable but you’ll want to see them just once as they frequently include unique animations and every character has their own personality stemming from how they speak and behave. You can also hear accents in their voices in your own head.
It’s a game that does so much with so little and that only goes to show how much care went into its development. Towards the climax of the story you’ll find answers to the biggest mysteries with some questions left open to interpretation. I can only hope we find out exactly why the world is built the way it is in a sequel or spin-off.