A sweet, and simple homage to Metroid (and a million of other games.)
I went into Xeodrifter expecting a run-of-the-mill “retro 8-bit” imitation of the games of old, which are far too common in the indie ecosystem today, but what I got was a very pleasant surprise.
While riding on the unbelievably long coattails of the “Metroidvania” trend, Xeodrifter manages to set itself apart based on a few key tenets.
The 8-bit inspired graphics work very well for the game, lending an adorable charm, as well as a healthy dose of nostalgia, instead of acting as a crutch. Our precious little xenophobic, genocidal astronaut protagonist looks outstanding in the retro style, to say nothing of the scores of distinctive alien species inhabiting the four planets that the game takes place on.
The soundtrack is absolutely killer. Each track varies greatly from the previous one, creating a wide array of nostalgia-drenched NES sounding tunes. The soundtrack helps add to the overall wondrous and dark mood of Xeodrifter. As I sit in my room writing this review and listening to the soundtrack, I am imagining sprinting down dark corridors on an alien planet, not knowing what lies through the next door. That is an effective score, in my opinion. It should do more than just provide background music; it should create tension in the player, or invoke his or her imagination as to what monsters they may run into on this strange, enigmatic planet. This game’s soundtrack needs to be on vinyl, like now.
The power-ups are relatively commonplace between “Run,” “Jetpack” and “Submarine.” Where the real fun comes in is the “Plane Shift” ability. It allows the player to seamlessly drop into the background and continue exploring, fighting and traversing. The background sequences are often necessary for progression, but occasionally hold hidden power-ups for your gun or health bar, so keep your eyes open for the countless “Plane Shift” locations.
Perhaps the most peculiar feature of Xeodrifter is the gun. Throughout the short course of the game, you never pick up any new weapons; not that you particularly need any other weapons, but still, the option would be nice. In place of getting different weapons, the gun is highly customizable, granting six total unique variations: fire rate, frequency of bullets, strength of bullets, a spiral firing pattern, a trident shaped firing pattern and a slow, but immensely powerful “Charge Shot” power up. The sub-screen where you allocate the gun power ups into the different trees is confusing as hell, as they are only dictated by tiny frames with loose interpretations of their uses, and the “Charge Shot” is activated by clicking on an otherwise useless area in the far left of the gun sub-screen.
Now for the cons of Xeodrifter. I’ve already mentioned the confusing gun customization options, and how to decipher their different uses.
The story is very short and skeletal at best. There’s even a trophy for beating the game in under an hour, so it’s potentially very short, albeit reasonably challenging in difficulty. It took me nigh on six hours to complete, but that was with a disgusting amount of deaths.
The story details that of an astronaut whose ship breaks down in a small cluster of planets and for whatever reason has to wipe out hundreds of seemingly innocent aliens off of four different worlds, all to get the one necessary ship part from a single boss at the end of the game.
The bosses were all of the same species and very similar fighting styles, with the only variation between them being their skin color, and one new move per boss, which left a lot to be desired when you’re traveling between four unique planets with moderately distinct surroundings from each other.
When all’s said and done, Xeodrifter was a very fun, flawed tribute to the great “Metroidvania” games that came before it. It does not hold much replay value, unless you want to achieve that personal accomplishment of beating the game in under an hour, which is very difficult. Fortunately, its uniqueness and setting gave it a charm that places it in the echelon of the greats like Guacamelee or Rogue Legacy, rather than the slew of mediocre clones it could have landed in.