Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PS Vita
I cheer on any developer that's willing to embrace – and in some ways, enhance – the Metroidvania formula that was introduced between such games as Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Being able to explore a large area on a 2D plane may not sound like you're going very far but in truth there's a lot of depth to these games, and finding little surprises and upgrades provides just the right amount of motivation to keep playing.
That's the way I felt with Xeodrifter, the latest effort from Mutant Mudds developer Renegade Kid. While it's not likely to dethrone Samus Aran's mighty adventures on any given level, it's a fair little tribute, as you explore a series of planets, occasionally dealing with bosses and finding new abilities that will help you finish the game in style.
Trouble In Space
Xeodrifter definitely plays out like a game in the Metroid mold, right down to its progression. There are some situations where you'll need to backtrack to another planet in order to find an ability to help you move forward, like being able to transform into a mini-submarine so you can get around underwater (I guess the suit isn't quite equipped for aquatic travel, eh?). This can be a bit tiring for some, but for those of you who know and understand Metroidvania territory, it's just a walk in the park.
The game's controls can be a little loose at first, but as you settle in and take down your first boss (the first encounter is just a few minutes in), you'll understand the groove that Renegade Kid was going for with Xeodrifter. It's meant to be an homage to Metroid, and it works for the most part, despite the fact that the game can easily be beaten in a four to six hour timeframe. More levels would've sufficed, and it would've been great to see more diverse bosses appear, rather than just ones that do the same old thing, but overall, it's a decent little shooter to kill time with.
A Presentation That's Just Right
However, the real treat is the level design. While there is a shortage of planets in the game, each one is worth exploring, if only to find all the hidden goodies and clean up every last enemy. Renegade Kid did a good job here, throwing in curveballs every now and then, along with sparingly used checkpoints that are paced out just about right, so you don't get incredibly frustrated when you have to start all over again.
Plus, the music is a treat, offering the kind of 8-bit goodness you remember from the NES era. The sound effects are all right too, although, of course, not quite on the same level as Metroid. No matter – it still fits the bill.