Here he is: big brother of scrawny little 8-bit Curse of the Moon. Was it worth the wait?
Well, if Axiom Verge was the epitome of the Metroid- half of the “Metroidvania” genre, this one’s the quintessential -vania.
It probably needs little introduction, considering that, much like Curse of the Moon with Castlevania 3, if you’ve played Symphony of the Night or any of its offspring you’ve basically played this already. Not that that’s a bad thing. Symphony of the Night was great; but even back in the day some of its flaws were pretty apparent. Number one was balancing.
It must be hard to tune the difficulty very precisely in a game with such a huge number of item drops and customization options, so I think they just gave up on trying.
My enduring memory of Symphony of the Night is this insane sword you could find pretty early on. Remember that thing? You know what I’m talking about. The one you could keep spamming on the run as fast as you could press the button, and every attack did four hits. Actually, it shows up here, too, but now they keep it locked away safely almost until the very end. I guess mortals weren’t meant to wield such power.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to launch yourself right off the difficulty curve.
Like I said, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Whether they planned it that way or not, this sort of game ends up being less about challenging you to refine your combat skills and more about letting you get ridiculously powerful as long as you’re willing to put in the work. So the good news is that If you like leveling up stuff, you’ll be in paradise here.
To start with there are these things called “shards.” You can equip almost half a dozen at once, and they give you special attacks or new moves; improve your defenses, make you faster and increase your damage with your various weapons; give you companions that follow you around; they can even raise the drop rates for money and items. There are tons of them; and every shard has not one but two dimensions along which it can be upgraded, either by farming more of them from monsters or by dumping in large amounts money and crafting resources.
Yeah, there’s also a crafting system, of course. Two of them, in fact, which both involve even more farming to acquire various materials. Then you can either turn them into things like potions and weapons (which you can then turn into even deadlier weapons) or use them for cooking, which gets you permanent and/or temporary boosts to stats, healing, etc.
I didn’t even mention the tomes yet, but I think you get the point.
They make a few half-hearted efforts to keep you in check by not letting you carry 99 healing potions and things like that, but with this amount of sheer grinding potential there’s only so much they can do to stop you.
Keep in mind, only a small fraction of this is needed for the average person to reach the ending; but if you want to go full doomsday prepper you can spend an eternity optimizing and stockpiling everything to the point where enemies pretty much drop dead as soon as you enter the room.
As for the rest of the game, it does what it’s supposed to do: give you a nice-looking playground for unleashing all of your crazy weapons and abilities. This evil castle they’ve created is a pretty fun place to explore. There’s lots of variety and attractive detail to the backgrounds, and the bosses and monsters are suitably big, colorful and weird looking. You always feel like you’re discovering something new, which is key for a game like this. Plenty of chests to open, secrets to find, hidden rooms to uncover and all that so it stays fresh even when you’re backtracking.
Speaking of backtracking, you’ll notice that they revisit a lot of the same locations you saw in the Curse of the Moon, although the quality can be a little uneven. Some parts like the storm-lashed ship and the moonlit garden courtyard really stand out; others aren’t so great.
There’s this one area, for example, where they just take the same monsters, put them in a bland-looking generic castle and then blow everything up to 3x the normal size. It really ends with a thud, too. The grand finale turns out to be a boring ice cave that looks like it ought to be the second level or something.
If you were as confused as I was by Curse of the Moon, you’ll be happy to know that they finally take more time to explain what the hell is going on. Well, sort of. At least you learn a little bit more about who those people were from last game and why the Main Guy was such an @%$&^#*. He mostly still is, by the way, even though he’s no longer the Main Guy. Now the Purple Girl With the Whip is in charge, and she’s expanded her arsenal in the meantime so she’s even more overpowered.
I have to admit I’m still not totally sure what these demons are supposed to be doing; and at this point I’m pretty much at peace with the fact that I’m never going to understand. I guess realistically it doesn’t matter.
That’s how it is with this whole thing. You know, I know and the game knows exactly what the deal is here, and like Symphony of the night you probably could point out a million faults if you were really determined; but why bother? There’s so much fun stuff going on that it would just be missing the forest for the trees.
It really is like your favorite big brother, after all. Good-natured, heart a mile wide, maybe kinda dopey at times but so likeable that it just adds to the charm.