Developer: Renegade Kid
Publisher: Renegade Kid
Platforms: 3DS eShop, PC (Steam)
Release Date: December 11, 2014
ESRB: E for Everyone
Note: This review is based on the 3DS version of the game
When playing a game, you can usually tell early on if the developer had a lot of passion for the project or not. A game that feels soulless often is because the developer never quite believed in it enough to make it the best they could before releasing it. On the flipside, one that is brimming with passion will shine through right away. That said, I could tell Renegade Kid was the latter example while playing through Xeodrifter, their latest 2D action-platformer, and it becomes even more evident if you read up on the history of how it came about. Essentially, lead designer Jools Watsham dove into development on the game out of a passion for the Metroidvania genre (as well as science fiction in general) and what resulted in the end is a fitting tribute to a dear classic—Super Metroid.
The plot in Xeodrifter is relatively simple—you play as an unnamed, spacefaring explorer whose ship is damaged by a rogue asteroid. As it turns out, the ship's warp core is damaged, and you'll have to explore four nearby planets in order to find enough material to produce a new warp core. Interestingly enough, the game leaves everything to you right at the outset; there is no hand-holding or even a tutorial (though one could easily look at the digital manual if they needed help with controls). The game assumes you are smart enough to figure things out on your own, which is largely a good thing as everyone should be able to figure out the basic controls (i.e. run, jump, shoot), though I am surprised it assumes that the player knows to press B + Down to fall through thin platforms.
However, it does leave you in a precarious situation at the outset—which planet do you go to first? Given that you can go to any of the four available planets, it initially appears that the design is non-linear, though a quick tour of the playable area in each will reveal that this is not the case as there are clearly barriers set to prevent you from progressing out of order and areas that appear to be out of reach. There is a set, linear path you're intended to take, but you're supposed to find out where to start on your own. It doesn't take too long to find out which is the correct first planet to visit, but it did feel strange that it doesn't at least start you on the right path instead of having you play through trial-and-error first.
In typical Metroidvania fashion, you'll explore an area of a planet, fight a mini-boss, and then gain a new ability. Then you'll go to another world, find areas that were previously inaccessible, use your new ability to proceed further, and repeat the process. In this sense, Renegade Kid does a remarkable job of replicating the Metroid formula here; it doesn't come off as tired or uninspired. There are a number of different enemies on each planet that you'll encounter, each with their own attack patterns, and there are different environments you'll need to traverse, such as water/liquid and moving over lava, or flying upwards with a rocket boost.
Everything mentioned thus far is pretty standard Metroidvania fare, but the main thing that separates Xeodrifter from the rest is its inclusion of the concept of jumping between the foreground and background to progress—a mechanic that originated in previous Renegade Kid title, Mutant Mudds. In the latter mentioned title, you would traverse both planes in order to proceed through levels, but it's a bit more cleverly implemented in Xeodrifter as it actively plays a part in some action-puzzle segments. For example, you may need to speed boost across molten terrain but also jump between the foreground and background when you reach dead ends in both, or you may have to do the same while using the super jump move (similar to the Metroid series' Shinespark jump).
There's only one type of boss throughout the game (with different color variants), which is slightly disappointing, but it's used in an interesting way. Each time you come across it, the creature will have learned at least one new attack method. It's similar in a way to Mega Man bosses where you need to nail down the attack patterns before you can beat them, but in Xeodrifter it actually trains the player to learn these patterns over each new encounter while at the same time making each fight more and more complex by consecutively adding more attack patterns. These boss fights are difficult, for sure, but they never feel unfair; you simply have to be on the ball with memorizing everything to succeed.
One of the most charming aspects of the game by far is its 8-bit-inspired visuals, which fits the world and environments to a "T"; In many ways, it's almost like a cuter, more family-friendly Metroid, with the short chibi-esque spacefarer protagonist wearing a spacesuit that almost looks like a red hazmat suit (the boss character has a pretty adorable design as well). And while the soundtrack isn't quite as good as Mutant Mudd's, there are a few tracks that I really enjoyed; it's mostly upbeat fare, so it's in keeping with the game's lighter atmosphere.
In the end, I completed the game in just over three and a half hours, which included extra backtracking to hunt down many of the remaining items, meaning the actual campaign from start to finish comes in at around two and a half to three hours. It's definitely on the shorter side, though the pacing is excellent and never leaves you feeling as if it's overstayed its welcome, making it feel like it's just the right length. That aside, Xeodrifter is a lot of fun and a Metroid surrogate worthy of your time.
+ Great use of the Metroidvania formula, backtracking
+ Game feels like an ode to certain games, but is original enough to be its own thing
+ Mutant Mudds-esque visuals work well with the environment and atmosphere
- May be a bit short for some people
- Use of the same boss over and over is a bit disappointing
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Xeodrifter is the Metroid title we wanted but never got from Nintendo, and though it's a bit short, it's a rollicking good time while it lasts.
Disclosure: This review is based on a 3DS eShop downloadable code provided by the publisher.