Monday, 14 September 2015

[PlayStation Vita Game Review] Xeodrifter

Platform: PlayStation Vita
Released: September 2015
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sidescroller
Developer/Publisher: Renegade Kid

Since Nintendo seems to have no interest in making good Metroid games anymore, it seems indie game devs have taken the torch and a lot of Metroid-influenced games have entered the market. Xeodrifter is one of them and since it was free on PS Plus for my Vita, I gave it a download. I'm not sure how different this version is from the PC, PS4 or 3DS versions, but you might as well treat this as a general review of the game as nothing about the PS Vita versions felt like it took particular advantage of the Vita's gimmicks. Is it worth picking up, or is this a game that should just be left drifting? Let's find out.

Xeodrifter is about a spaceman who ends up stranded in a small system when he accidentally bumps into a rogue asteroid. Scanning the nearby planets for resources, he finds some good energy signatures. However it turns out the simple plan to get a new warp core turns into a huge ordeal where he has to explore all four planets around him in order to find what he's looking for.

Not sure if it's meant to be lava, or boiling hot KoolAid...
Xeodrifter immediately should feel familiar to anyone who's played Metroid. The formula is pretty much intact, and the game obviously takes most of its inspiration from Nintendo's classic franchise. You know the drill by now. Find upgrades so you can uncover more of the map. You get upgrades by killing bosses. And you kill bosses by upgrading. However the system in Xeodrifter is a little unique. In addition to health upgrades that increase the number of hits you can take, you also have gun upgrades. Now, these upgrades DON'T act like you would expect in a Metroid game. Instead of each gun upgrade being something specific, it instead adds a gun point in your menu that you can spend in several categories, each category impacting how your gun behaves. You can have up to 3 different customizations and this gives you a lot of freedom to create different gun customizations for different situations. For instance, you can have one customization with maximum power for bigger more armoured foes, and one customization focused on fire rate for large hordes of smaller weaker enemies. It's a nice system that gives the game a very nice feel to it where you are in complete control of your power. The upgrades you get from killing the bosses mostly affect your exploration abilitiy. Areas that are previously locked off become available as they rely on you using your new abilites to reach them. For instance, while the areas in the background might seem off limits at first and nothing but cool little backgrounds to add more detail to the game's visuals, once you gain an ability you can literally phase into the background and use it as a secondary playing field. It's a cool mechanic that seems obviously inspired by oldschool platformers that tried playing the 3D gimmick, but adds some extra depth to the gameplay in a literal sense.

All modern space ships are of course outfitted with a save station, teleporter and map screen. No bed though.

Now, that's kind of where the positives about the game end for me. Aside from the graphics which are really good for an 8bit retro game and the music which is perfectly decent, the game falls short in a lot of areas. Despite having 4 planets to explore, they all feel... small. Tiny even. The maps don't feel that big and instead of feeling like you are exploring different planets they might as well be parts of one planet like in Metroid. Each planet has its own unique theme to it, but due to the small size of each planet's map, it ends up feeling a bit unnecessary to have them being 4 planets. I simply wish there was more to explore and not to mention a bit more variety as a lot of the same enemies appear on all of the planets without any indication why they would if they belonged to one planet's ecosystem. For instance, a giant eye-block (for the lack of a better term) on one planet looked like it belonged on that planet because its design seemed to fit the planet's design theme. However I ran into the same enemy on an entirely different planet where it felt entirely out of place. Not to mention, the game is VERY short and you can easily finish it in a couple days if you are good enough. There's a bit of a difficulty to the game but it feels cheap because it relies entirely on how much health and gun powerups you have. If you get killed it's easily because you aren't strong enough and by the end of the game you can pretty much rape everything and take all the hits in the world if you have found enough powerups.

"Imma firin' mah eyelazor!"
Another part where the game feels very lazy and cheap are the bosses themselves. Now, instead of having different bosses that fit the different planets and their themes, they have instead opted to reuse the same boss. Over and over. The only difference is that each iteration is a little bit tricker and involves a new pattern, as well as a simple color swap, but the bosses are essentially the same each time. It ends up feeling extremely monotonous and once you learn the boss' pattern, ALL of them become ridicilously easy. There's simply no challenge in them and they feel repetitive. The final boss does have one cool trick up his sleeve that I won't spoil, but otherwise, I really wish the game had more boss variety. Fighting the same boss over and over with some new patterns is just boring and tedious and doesn't feel interesting. It also feels a bit like untapped potential as the planets felt very thought out in their different designs, however putting the same boss on all planets made NO sense to me.

Controlling the spaceman also feels like it could've been improved. Not only is he WAY too tiny compared to his environment (he basically looks like Samus if she was the size she is when morph balling), which makes calculating his position hard on smaller screens (this game was obviously developed originally with PC in mind...), but his controls feel very slippery and takes a while to get used to. Even hours after playing this game it's still very easy for me to screw up simply because the controls don't feel as tight as they should be.

That'll teach you to spit fireballs on unsuspecting spacemen!


STORY: 5/10
Not really important to the gameplay and nothing memorable. It's just there pretty much.

Offering some cool gimmicks like the gun customization and phasing between background and foreground, but does little to expand on its formula or take full advantage of its level design and concepts. Repetitious boss battles and very cheap difficulty as well as slippery controls makes it hard to recommend repeated playthroughs of the game for anything but speedruns and to get a 100% rating.

The different planets have very cool designs to them and the graphics are generally very well done. The size of the hero is a bit too small for my taste though and I would've preferred a larger sprite for him.

SOUND: 8/10
While the music isn't outstanding and a lot of the sound effects are re-used over and over, it's servicable. A minor complaint is that the sound feels a little inconsistent. The sound effects sound like 16bit quality but the music is pure NES chiptunes which creates a bit of dissonance in my head. And the end theme is definitely not 8bit by any stretch. A bit more theming and consistency to the sound would've added a lot I feel. The music is alright, but nothing too memorable in my opinion.

All in all, Xeodrifter isn't a bad game. But it feels like it could've used more testing, more variation, and simply more of everything. Conceptually I like the idea of exploring different planets, but it doesn't feel like they explored the concept enough and instead stuck to some lazy shortcuts. It doesn't feel fleshed out enough. Compared to something like Metroid which the game obviously takes inspiration from, this doesn't feel like a worthy tribute. It has good ideas, but ultimately falls a bit short on all of them. It's probably worth the cheap price or getting it for free right now on PS Plus, but don't expect much for the money.

- Alyxx

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