Exile’s End was created as an homage to classic shooter/action games from the 8-bit era. It boasts a staff roster that includes Keiji Yamagishi who composed music for games such as Ninja Gaiden on the NES and Tecmo Bowl, as well as design staff who worked on Mother 3 and Secret of Mana. While the game plays much like a Metroid game, it is often a bit too archaic for its own good.
The game begins with a cutscene that, in true retro style, features large, well-drawn sprites animated slightly to convey a bare-bones story. Something goes terribly wrong and the protagonist wakes up alone in a forest with a completely busted ship.
He then sets out to see if he can find any familiar faces and if anyone is alive at all. During this section you are only able to single-jump and if you fall too far you take fall damage. You also begin the game with no weapons and so can only fight by throwing a limited supply of rocks. Unfortunately, health replenishing items are few and far between, especially in the very beginning. If you die, the game is generous enough to kick you back only as far as the beginning of the screen on which your death occurred, but it also only restores your health back to what it was at that point. Until I managed to grind out some health I was essentially playing on an instant-death mode, as the slightest mistake meant I had to retry an entire section. Luckily, once you begin finding upgrades the game becomes better. Double-jumping, not taking damage from any falls, and a handgun are all earned in pretty quick succession which makes the game much more fun to play, especially since I found the controls to be pretty responsive and snappy. In a game that often requires precise jumps, it was nice knowing that I could reliably land where I wanted.
Exploration works Metroidvania-style, with a series of interconnected rooms and hallways to explore, with some of them being temporarily blocked off by locks or poison gas until you have the right item to pass through. While each individual area is distinct, the rooms within an area all tend to look the same. While this isn’t terribly different from classic 8-bit games, many of those same 8-bit games had more graphical variety than Exile’s End displays. Although you can map out a room by jumping around, some of the areas are completely unreachable, so if you like complete maps of areas this will be a consistent source of frustration for you. Enemies aren’t a challenge so much as they are predictable annoyances due to their poor AI. In fact, the only real challenge in the game comes from the couple of boss fights. Alongside all of this, the game is only about 7 hours max, and maybe 3 hours once you know where to go should you choose to play through again, though there isn’t really a reason to do so.
Additional features to the game include an optional scanline overlay to attempt to more faithfully emulate the feel of playing a retro game on an older TV, a survival mode that involves a timer ticking down while you rush to find an exit, and an online scoreboard that tracks things such as time to beat the game, time to get 100%, and scores in survival mode. The scoreboard is also the only time I had the game crash. Trying to cycle past the first 25 or so people on the scoreboard always caused the game to crash back to the Vita’s menu.
The music in Exile’s End is nothing more than serviceable. It’s inoffensive and pleasant enough to listen to while playing the game, but it’s nothing that most people will want to hunt down or remember after playing the game. The sound effects in the game are pretty basic, but this is once again due to the fact that Exile’s End is doing its best to be as much like older games as possible.
I suppose Exile’s End‘s greatest flaw lies in the fact that in trying its best to emulate the features and flaws of older games, it also falls into the same pitfalls that those games did 25+ years ago. Because of this, the game doesn’t seem to fully fit in either of two categories; the first being retro games, where it just doesn’t live up to the quality of past masters of the genre, and the second being other modern throwbacks to those same classics, games like Shovel Knight or Rogue Legacy that have advanced and polished the genre to new heights.