They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then Nintendo’s classic game Metroid must be down-right blushing as of late. Xeodrifter, the latest from Renegade Kid (known for their pixelated platformer Mutant Mudds), is so heavily influenced by Metroid that if you squint your eyes just a little, it’s hard to tell them apart.
Sadly, despite it’s quirky and charming pixel art, Xeodrifter comes up as a pale imitation to its source material.
In Xeodrifter, you play as a stranded spaceman whose ship has a busted warp engine. Fortunately there are a series of four planets nearby that you can visit. As you explore each planets’ deep cavernous terrain, you’ll locate upgrades and new powers that allow you to enter previously unreachable areas. Once you acquire enough upgrades and defeat enough enemies, you just might discover a new warp engine for your ship (spoilers… no wait. I won’t spoil the ending but you can probably guess).
Some would call it “Metroidvania” except there’s no “-vania” to this. From the art, the story, and enemies you encounter, this game is Metroid through and through. Renegade Kid has also brought back the mechanic of switching between the foreground to the background which was so prevalent in Mutant Mudds, but its use is little more than a gimmick here. While playing through Xeodrifter, I was constantly reminded of other games that it was difficult to remember that this is something new and different. It is new and different, right? I kept getting the sensation that it was so desperately trying to be something else that it lost its own identity along the way.
As you’re making your way through the planets, there are a couple of collectibles you run across. One is an upgrade for your gun and the other is an upgrade to your health. Now, while the health upgrade is pretty straight forward, it’s the gun upgrade that is actually interesting. The gun upgrades can be used in one of five different slots to change how the weapon functions. You can allocate upgrades to make the gun fire in a wave pattern. Or you can upgrade the strength of each shot or even the fire rate. Best of all is that you can mix and match (which comes in really handy later in the game). So you can put a few points toward a stronger shot, a few to a faster fire rate, and a few to the wave shot. The result is a mash-up of all three. This allows you to create the weapon that works best for you. Another nice feature is that you can change your configuration at any time. The game even gives you three different presets to help you quickly swap between loadouts.
It’s not a great feeling when the biggest compliment you can dish out is “the weapon customization is kinda cool.” Unfortunately, so much else in the game just doesn’t work very well. For one, there’s a lack of variety in almost everything. There are four different worlds you visit, but aside from a few superficial things, they all look/feel the same. You find the same enemies lingering around each one, and the number of different enemy types is very limited. Even the boss fights are all nearly identical since you fight the same creature every time. Each boss fight might add a new element here and there to keep you on your toes, but it’s largely the same. After an hour or so the “been there, done that” feeling becomes overwhelming.
Something else that helped to play into the monotony of the gameplay was the checkpoint system. Xeodrifter’s system is a bit flawed in my experience. There’s a checkpoint at the very beginning of a world, and then another when you fight a boss. Should you die anywhere in between, it’s back to the beginning, and you lose whatever upgrades you found along the way. This pushed me to play very cautiously, meaning I took my time and destroyed every enemy I encountered “just in case.” I quickly learned that if I rushed a level, it was often disastrous. So as I would slowly make my way through each world time and again, the repetition started to sap any enjoyment I could get out of the game.
The controls were also another area of frustration. Some people may complain that the jump mechanics in LittleBigPlanet are too “floaty,” and if that’s the case, then Xeodrifter is giving Sackboy a run for his money. You’re not given the options to do a short jump or long press for a higher jump. Here, everything is high jump. It makes doing a precise leap a bit more difficult than it needs to be. Also, when utilizing the special powers like speed-running or rocket boost, it’s extremely challenging to stop without running into something. Like a kid learning to roller-skate, or the Greatest American Hero, often times the only way to stop is by slamming into a wall.
Xeodrifter adopts a heavily pixelated art style, but unlike the bright colorful world of Mutant Mudds, here everything is a bit drab. On top of it all, everything from the environment art to the enemy designs seem to be lifted straight out of Metroid. The music is also heavily reminiscent of… well, I won’t say it again. However, like much of the game, it’s also a bit repetitive and lacks a catchy hook to keep me interested.
At least it’s not a long game. Everything wraps up in about four hours or so, depending on skill and how much effort you put into exploring. A speed-run trophy is earned by completing the game in under an hour. This might appeal to a lot of players who are turned off by 30 hour long games and just want something they can finish in a couple of sittings. The downside to this is that once it’s complete, there’s little reason to play it again.
In the end, Xeodrifter seems like it’s trying to replicate so many other games that it fails to stand on its own. The monotony of the level design and the repetitiveness of the enemy encounters does little to spice things up. There’s very little here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, and while I love homages to classic games, this is one that just doesn’t hit its mark.