If you've ever wondered what might happen if you spliced together the platforming elements of Metroid with the run and gun aspects of Contra then Xeodrifter, this latest release from developer Renegade Kid might yield some answers. Combining 2D exploration and gun-toting action, the retro-inspired title is an enjoyable bite-sized adventure that will effortlessly melt away hours of solid gaming.
Upon starting, you’re greeted with a short scene outlining the plot; you’re an astronaut whose ship has been damaged from colliding with an asteroid. In order to repair your vessel you must explore the four nearby planets to find the tools necessary to continue on your way. As you can tell, this set-up is not the greatest or most complex and really only serves to facilitate the game’s mechanics.
By travelling between these planets you’ll pick up upgrades which enable access new areas to traverse. These upgrades are what make the title so compelling. They include a solar beam, a teleportation device, a dash run, and a jetpack, as well as an aquatic vehicle. Out of all of these devices, the teleportation aspect provides the most interesting gameplay results. By putting it to use you can alternate between the foreground and the background of the stage, expanding the level size significantly. The device also provides an excellent defensive manoeuvre to avoid incoming enemy fire, allowing you to dodge a projectile by moving from one plain to another.
There is also a levelling system in the game. This revolves around finding health and gun points scattered around the four planets, which can be used to improve your life bar and customize your weapon and ammo. You do this by entering the start menu and designating points to increase the rate of fire or the blast radius. This feature gives the title an unexpected level of depth, as you can repeat levels to locate more points as well as experiment with your options in the start menu.
The game’s visual style is another area that’s deserving of credit. The environments and other settings are incredibly atmospheric, further demonstrating the strong Metroid influence over the title. This ambience helps to establish the otherworldly feeling that underpins your experience whilst playing. It also highlights the creativity and ingenuity of the team at Renegade Kid, who achieve so much with very little.
It should be noted that Xeodrifter not only follows old school convention in regards to its pixel graphics and simple set-up. The game is also unforgiving in its difficulty, mimicking the more traditional NES platformers it draws inspiration from. Checkpoints are few and far between and bonus health is almost non-existent except in a few hidden areas. This actually works in favour of the title, as it extends the length of time you can squeeze out of an otherwise brief gaming experience.
Of Xeodrifter's few problems, there is a certain lack of diversity in its end of level bosses, highlighting the absence of a memorable antagonist to motivate your actions throughout the course of the title. Nevertheless, these battles do still manage to entertain and constantly raise the challenge by introducing new attack patterns and animations.
It’s also unfortunate that there isn’t a stronger story arc or antagonist to further improve the experience. Regardless, Xeodrifter is a clever title that’ll feel right at home on a PlayStation Vita with its short bursts of gameplay and inspired mechanics, providing a formidable challenge to boot.