Category: Platformer, Action, Adventure
Release Date: 02.15.2018
Xeodrifter for Nintendo Switch is the latest in a string of phenomenal indie ports previously released on other systems. It is an excellent action platformer inspired heavily by Metroid, and borrows a few elements from it’s older sibling, Mutant Mudds.
At the beginning of Xeodrifter, we find our spaceship hurtling through space as stars whip on by, when some foreign material crashes into our ship. This sends our shop careening off into a small galaxy consisting of four planets. A little display window pops up showing us that our warp drive has exploded, and that we need to do a core swap to get ourselves going again. However, we are fortunately able to travel short distances using propulsion bursts to get between the four planets. We’re off to explore the four planets in search of materials to repair our core!
We can go to whichever planet we want from this point, but it won’t take long before we reach our first impassable obstacle. As we’ve all become accustomed to in a world of Metroidvanias, we know that we must go find our upgrade that will enable us to overcome this hurdle to repair our ship and be on our way. This leads to the core element of our game- which will be filling out the map and looking forever possible route and secret to make ourselves more powerful and harder to kill.
However, it is a good thing that we are tasked to explore these remote worlds in the cosmos, as the level design is superb. Backtracking across the levels to return back to our ship and go discover new routes on the other planets never feels like a chore (as it does sometimes get to be in other games of this formula). There are plenty of secret passages to be found, and they can be found without too much difficulty, we long as you’re an intrepid explorer. I found my first while trying to jump on a platform that was just a little too high, and ended up in the wall instead. I only spoil this one little passage to illustrate a point. When you run across great game design, it presents itself in a variety of very subtle ways. You want to include mechanics which not only encourage your player to do partake in the activities that will lead them to having fun, you want to reward them for doing so. The first secret that I found wasn’t a hard one to find, but if I had not attempted to jump across that gap and try to clear the cliff that I knew I most likely wasn’t going to, I wouldn’t have found that when I did. So, a person that isn’t trying their best to explore as much as possible as early as possible, may not have. We already know that we need to explore every nook and cranny of the map to move forward when we get stuck, so I’m already going to be trying to jump into walls, fire at out of place bricks, and endangering myself to fill out that hard to reach corner.
The world is populated by a limited variety of enemies, but they are placed in just the right amount. They offer a slight challenge to your unhindered exploration, but there are never too many that it is overwhelming. The big mama of this explorative platforming genre, Metroid, was sparsely populated enough that you felt isolated, but dense enough with threats that you were afraid to be so lonesome. Xeodrifter accomplishes that same feeling, even with it’s brightly colored sprites and layered backgrounds.
Speaking of which, these are also intriguing in that, much like Mutant Mudds before it, you can eventually shift between the foreground and background to explore, and the backgrounds feature the same exciting gameplay found in the foreground. Full platforming sections with enemies, power-ups, and secrets to be found.
Health drops are infrequent, only found at checkpoints that precede boss fight rooms, and come in the form of an easy to kill enemy that is essentially a health drop delivery machine. These infrequent checkpoints and health drops make perfecting the timing of your jumps and shots crucial to success. This also brings me back to my childhood, and really sells atooi’s slogan- retro roots, modern mojo. Jools often opines about how difficulty seems to always be brought up in reviews, but was almost never mentioned in the eighties and nineties. Well, that’s because so many modern games do so much hand holding, that when we are left to figure things out on our own (like we used to, when developers respected sir intelligence), it seems that games are much more difficult in comparison. As is usually pointed out when difficulty is brought up, Xeodrifter has some challenge to it, but the difficulty feels fair. You don’t die because of bad controls, poor field of vision, or because of cheap enemy placement. No, when you die in Xeodrifter, it is because you tried to rush in (again, this is a game about exploration, chill out), or because you haven’t learned the patterns yet. On that last one, you’ll come across boss fights that rely on you not only recognizing those patterns, but the telegraphs the sprites send you to tell you what is to come. So, in comparison to retro, the difficulty and challenge is comparable, but retro gamers were used to it. That is what made our games enjoyable. We learned their challenges, and we practiced to overcome them. Most modern games are just too easy, and often their difficulty comes from improperly explained mechanics or simply overwhelming you. When you have to use your powers of observation and deduction, it seems like too much work to the modern gamer.
Controls are intuitive, and start off with your standard “left stick/dpad moves, B jumps, Y fires”. Plus will bring up your pause menu, which is also where you are able to upgrade your weapon later on, and everything else you learn the button for as you acquire it. A feature unique to the Nintendo Switch version, is the incorporation of HD Rumble. My frequent readers will know that I love my HD Rumble, and here we are even given the ability to set it to low, mid, or max. You can even turn it off, if you’re into that kind of blasphemy. Every time that I play a new game that features HD Rumble, I am always surprised and delighted by how each developer chooses to utiloze Nintendo’s quirky little feature. In this case, we have a lot of stimulation effects that correspond with the onscreen propulsion and situation. Boosting your ship from planet to planet? Boom. Using the power-up where you pilot a personal sub? Your joycon feel as though jets from the bottom of the joycon are sending bubbles up through your hands. A little aside, here, you have weight in the water, which always pull you slowly down towards the bottom of the screen. While Xeodrifter is far from the only game to use this to add a greater feeling of immersion to the game itself, this is probably the most well balanced that I have ever felt it. I liked keeping my HD rumble set to Max, but it starts off at mid, and you can adjust it how you like. I do suggest that you at least turn it to Max once so that you can hear the water rushing around you at least for a few seconds.
Xeodrifter is another amazing indie that deserves continued recognition for it’s amazing design and fun gameplay. It’s only minor drawbacks are that the game feels a little short, and that the boss fights are repetitive. Even so, these two little drawbacks are miniscule among a mountain of plusses.