That’s it. I’m never jumping again. I think I’ve fallen into more pits here than in every other game combined.
Big pits. Little pits. High pits, low pits.
Pits of lava and pits of ice, pits with blades that rend and slice.
Drowned in rivers of pristine blue, and sank in bogs of quicksand, too.
Crept carefully ’round the pits of slime, yet still fell in them every time.
I’d scaled mountains, touched the stars.
‘Midst twists and turns I’d climbed so far!
Yet slid upon the snow, and then
I plummeted back down again.
I remember playing Ninja Gaiden when I was a kid. I died a lot in that, too, but it kept you going with cinematic cutscenes which were pretty novel for the time. The story made you want to find out what happened next, which helped you to push through all of the cheap deaths and level restarts. Point is, if you’re going to make a punishing game–especially these days, when there are so many options–you’ve got to give us a good reason to stick around.
I’m not so sure they do that here.
They don’t even really tell you what’s going on until the very end. The rest of the time it’s all just played for laughs and the characters you meet are only there to deliver fourth-wall-breaking riffs, like one of those Twitter threads where everyone’s trying to show off how snarky and clever they can be and nobody cares about anything they’re saying. It’s a very self-indulgent sort of style.
Look, if you want to make a retro tribute to Ninja Gaiden or something, then just do it, keeping in mind that those games at least tried to tell real stories that fit the nature of the setting. That’s what Axiom Verge did with Metroid. You don’t need to keep reminding us how savvy and genre-aware and above-it-all you are. Yeah, there can be comic relief, but it’s supposed to be exactly that: a break from otherwise meaningful events. When every character is a joke, it just spoils the immersion.
Or if you want to go the other route and make an affectionate parody of old video game conventions, that’s fine too. In fact, there’s a brilliant idea perfectly suited to that purpose at the heart of this game: using different eras in graphics to tell a time travel story. (They should have focused on that and explored it much further.) Then you can be as wacky as your heart desires; but in that case you really need to stay in better contact with the player. It’s hard to maintain a light, funny vibe while you’re sending us off to the pits for long, lonely stretches of torture.
There’s a part near the end when all of a sudden they take off the clown nose and expect us to sit through a long straight-faced cutscene, and all I could think was, “wait, am I supposed to be taking this seriously now? It’s a little late for that.”
These two sides of the game clash terribly with one another. They don’t go far enough either way to commit to a course, and as a result never manage to find their voice. It’s too bad, because this really is a creative and ambitious game. You can only hold players at an ironic distance for so long, though, before they start to lose interest, especially when you’re beating the @%#& out of them with your other hand.
For all the self-conscious irony of the story, the gameplay is all business. It starts off so easy that you wonder whether that’s part of the joke, too; but after a while the difficulty goes through the roof and mostly stays there. Their main thing is this ability where you hit stuff in midair and spring off of it to jump farther. You’re going to be doing that a lot, and most of the tougher platforming sections revolve around pushing it to the extreme while giant pits yawn beneath you.
You do see quite a bit of improvement in your skill over the course of the game, but overall the challenges feel like they’re more about memorization and setting you up to fall into sneaky traps than straight-up pushing you to master a set of abilities. It dampens the sense of any payoff for all of your efforts, like no matter what you do they’re going to find a way to screw you.
For example, there’s one level where you have to escape from this huge monster and if you hesitate the slightest bit at any point you have to start all over. It’s filled with obstacle after obstacle, all calibrated down to the micron to trick and frustrate.
You’d expect that kind of deviousness in a slower-paced puzzle-platformer, but in an action game like this–especially once you have to start backtracking all over the map–it ends up feeling like you’re spending hours in stop-and-go traffic.
The results speak for themselves. I was once a sane man; but fall into one too many pits, and next thing you know I’m rhyming like Dr. Seuss to vent my frustration.
Now gather ’round and hear the lesson of my sorry tale:
All ye who seek to play this game must be prepared to fail.