Review: Xeodrifter (PS4)

xeodrifter-review-banner

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible No
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Xeodrifter
Format: PlayStation Network Download (57 MB)
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Renegade Kid
Developer: Renegade Kid
Original MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: E
Xeodrifter is also available on PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I get it. I really do. I grew up with them: those games that you love to hate and hate to love. My last couple of reviews have centered around games that purposefully chose to pull on your nostalgic heart strings with ramped-up difficulty and retro visual and audio style.

Shovel Knight looked and sounded like it was straight out of the NES era, with challenging difficulty and an almost-uncanny stylized resemblance to the era it was celebrating. Axiom Verge was more akin to a 16-bit MetroidVania, what with its SNES/Genesis-era visuals and huge side-scrolling world to explore. While its difficulty was bearable, there were a few moments of blind backtracking and challenging bosses.

Then there was Galak-Z: a game that was more of a nod to 80’s cartoons, with a rogue-like gameplay style that was not very forgiving to dying (you would start an entire season over). It also introduced a shoot-em-up combat gameplay that depended heavily on your understanding of inertia and precise controls.

These games reminded me that there was a time when dying in a video game sometimes meant starting the entire game all over from the beginning. But that’s the thing. The developers for these games still considered that, despite the nostalgic element of ridiculous difficulty, gamers still appreciate somewhat generous checkpoints here and there, or some semblance of progression, despite dying dozens of times.

Shovel Knight offers you the option to keep or destroy a checkpoint, in essence allowing you to create your own difficulty. Axiom Verge was generally forgiving with its difficulty, making it more like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This allowed difficulty to be based on gameplay as opposed to ridiculous death penalties. Galak-Z allowed you to still repurchase all of your looted spaceship upgrades after you died.

The reason for this long-winded exposition on the difficulty in recent retro indie releases is to explain why I understood what Xeodrifter was going for while playing it for this review. But I didn’t appreciate it, and here’s why.

Gameplay:
Gameplay for Xeodrifter is what you would expect in a MetroidVania title. You explore a side-scrolling world uncovering areas as you go and backtracking to find the right item to make said areas accessible. Initially you are only able to shoot left, right and directly above you.

Xeodrifter™_20150824215313

This makes lining up enemies above you a bit challenging, particularly when those enemies can also shoot down at you, and/or plummet down upon you. Fortunately, Xeodrifter rewards exploration with upgrades to weapons and your own personal ability to traverse the various terrains.

From the onset, you are allowed to explore four different planets. The problem is that knowing which planet to start with isn’t really evident. This in itself is not a terrible thing, in that I enjoy a little mystery – and less hand-holding. This only becomes an issue when you almost immediately discover that despite the four location choices being available from the onset, there really isn’t a choice at all.

I had the misfortune of picking every planet, except the one on which I actually needed to start. I ended up exploring for a few minutes on each before discovering that I truly couldn’t go further without the ability to swim, or jump very high. Eventually, I found the one planet that allowed me to explore without any prerequisites.

Xeodrifter™_20150818172750

As I mentioned before: I understand this nostalgic gameplay style. The original Zelda had some of this. You are set free in the world, and “best of luck.” But Zelda allowed for exploration of a giant world without immediate restrictions. Sure, you couldn’t get through the fifth dungeon without a bridge, but you could still explore the entire world and beef your character up before going to the first dungeon.

A better example of this would be the recently released Axiom Verge, where you explored quite a bit before realizing that you could proceed no further.

… cheap shots come from offscreen bullets …
Bosses in Xeodrifter are initially challenging, but it doesn’t take long to figure out a pattern to defeat them. The aforementioned weapon customization involves some fun experimentation, making the game a slightly different experience for everyone.

As I mentioned before: if you die anywhere before a checkpoint in this game, you will start back at your ship, or the previous checkpoint. There is no maintained progress of any kind. Reaching a boss checkpoint does allow you to continue right before the battle, but anything prior to that and it’s “Game Over” man!

Xeodrifter™_20150818172404

This is more of an issue here than with other games, because even being extra careful can get you killed since a lot of cheap shots come from offscreen bullets that present no warning. So you might be treading carefully, with one last bubble of life, only to meet your end at hands of an unseen enemy firing a bullet from outside of your visual area. Then it’s back to the ship to redo the entire area.

This made me approach levels by shooting blindly into the opposite side of the screen as I took baby steps (a method that was not very entertaining to me, despite it keeping me alive).

… the enemy variety is a little lacking …
Visuals:
Judging a game based on intentionally dated graphics can be a bit challenging so what I end up doing is comparing it to what others are doing in the field of “retro gaming”. Xeodrifter has a look all its own. There isn’t a lot of variety between the four planets, but certainly enough to help the illusion that you are in a different environment.

Xeodrifter™_20150818172807

The cute little astronaut you play as certainly lacks a lot of detail, but then again, he’s supposed to. I will say that the enemy variety in Xeodrifter is a little lacking, but that did counter the unforgiving death penalties in the game by giving you familiarity with the existing bad guys.

Audio:
Decent music accompanies you on your journey and retro sound effects complement your weapon discharge. Not much else going on here, but what is there, sounds good.

… not a long game …
Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
I enjoy being challenged. I loved Bloodborne, and games like Shovel Knight rank very high in my list of indie games. I’ve kicked and screamed and often wanted to throw my controller out a window at some of the more difficult areas in these games. But I never felt like I was treated unfairly, because “something” remained after death, and most of the time, it was my own fault that I was knocked out.

The issue with Xeodrifter is that I don’t always feel like deaths are my fault, but I sure as hell have to pay the penalty for it. There are folks that enjoy this, and to them, I will say that Xeodrifter is still a pretty decent little game. It’s not a long game and the lack of variety will not leave you with the sense of awe at newly discovered areas. There is enjoyment to be had here, just don’t expect a lot of it.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • vongruetz .

    I just finished it and I think you were generous with your score. I’m not sure how this game got such high praise when it was out on the 3DS, but all I can think is their standards must be a lot lower.

    • Sindred

      Hi Vongruetz,

      I really did have a tough time giving a score on this one. On one hand I didn’t not enjoy it’s brutal death penalty, but I know there are folks that enjoy this type of gameplay, so I just wanted to score it as a game that may work for some. I’m just not one of those people. But the game isn’t broken and its system works. It’s simply just not for everyone.

      • vongruetz .

        I found the difficulty varied, and that if I just took things slow it wasn’t so bad. Upgrade the gun and that made everything much easier. The problem was that in doing so, the monotony of the world became more apparent. The same enemies. The same situation. Every world is the same. Every boss fight is nearly the same.

        But apparently there are people out there who see it differently.

        • Sindred

          I agree. I know a few venues reviewed it with very high marks. I think for my money, Axiom Verge was a much better games.