Renegade Kid has been working on Treasurenauts for a while now. That’s an upcoming 3DS game that we’ve had our eyes on since its announcement.
It paused its development when Jools Watsham, one of the two behind Renegade Kid, started working on a classically themed metroidvania. That game became Xeodrifter, and I’m here to tell you that it is glorious.
I originally planned on drafting up my review alongside the day the embargo lifted, but I stopped writing early on and wanted to go in for a second dip. I’ve since emerged with a bigger love for the game, and I’m happy to say that I’m looking forward to playing it through once more in a few months.
For now, here’s my review.
A Tight, Classic Formula
Xeodrifter probably has an unfair advantage when it comes to appealing to gamers of my ilk. I come from an age of gaming when things were much harder (up hill, both ways, yadda yadda), so when a game challenges me in ways that I remember being challenged while growing up, I tend to fall in love.
That’s what’s happened here.
You, a nameless adventurer, start out after the title screen soaring through space. You’re hit with some sort of space debris, sent spinning in between four planets and watch as your warp system fails. You’re told that you need to find a new core, the environment is scanned and then you can dock on any of the planets.
From there? The game slowly unravels in metroidvania style. You’ll randomly choose each world, progress as far as you can until you hit a roadblock. Once you hit that roadblock, you’ll need to turn around and find a power-up that lets you push forward.
What’s really interesting here is that there’s very little in Xeodrifter that can be considered an explanation. Its most retro design point doesn’t come from the art or the music. It’s that Xeodrifter forces the player to learn by doing. You’re never explicitly told, for instance, that it’s time to turn around and find another power-up. You need to figure it out, and it challenges you in this way throughout its campaign.
I’m so very tired of all the handholding that goes on in today’s gaming design world. I’ve played more tutorials in my life than I’d like to recall. Renegade Kid’s Xeodrifter deserves attention for a lot of things, but its lack of handholding might be one of my favorite points.
You’ll Die Again and Again
While you’re figuring out exactly how to move through each of the worlds in this game, you’ll meet your demise more than a few times. Especially in the early goings, you’ll run into strong enemies with very little in the way of health and fire power. You’ll die a few times before giving up and trying to find an upgrade first.
Then you’ll find your upgrade (while dying a few times), turn around, head back to that jerk of an enemy and blow it away with strong shots, rapid fire or spread shooting. Guess what? There’s a tougher set of enemies and obstacles waiting behind it.
I suppose my only complaint about Xeodrifter comes from the inherent need to backtrack while moving through these enemies. You’ll find an upgrade and try to use it to progress on each planet. It’s scattershot, really. The upgrade works in certain places, but you have no way of making a note inside the game about what you need or where you need it. So finding upgrades means moving back through each of the game’s locales once again in search of either progression or power-ups.
The difficulty really only bothered me in these moments. I like being challenged by enemies when I have a clear sense of purpose regarding where I’m headed after I finally beat them. With Xeodrifter, unfortunately, that sense of purpose is left up to random chance on your first playthrough. You won’t know what’s behind each tough enemy until you beat it. You’ll either be rewarded with progression, or you’ll hit a wall, find a power-up, come back and fight that same enemy again.
All Wrapped Up in a Great Aesthetic
So, you’ve got classic challenge, a great old formula and not a lot of handholding. Yes, Xeodrifter is designed like those games you played way back when, but what about how it looks and sounds?
Renegade Kid has a penchant for delivering really great soundtracks. In fact, the tunes behind Mutant Mudds stand amongst my favorite in the gaming medium. It’s no surprise, then, that the music here is solid. While it’s not as great as what we heard during Max’s adventure, it’s enough to keep you nodding your head while exploring levels and killing enemies a few times over.
As for the look of the game, Renegade Kid nailed that bit as well. Xeodrifter features some really solid pixelart. The brief intro cutscene is sharp, and the title scene reminds me so much of Mega Man II that it’s not even funny. The actual world design is strong too, with each featuring its own unique sense with special art and colors.
I don’t know if “beautiful” is the right word for Xeodrifter, but its look and sound completely complements what it has in the design department.
Xeodrfiter is a win for fans of classic gaming and the metroidvania genre.
I really loved my time with Xeodrifter. On both playthroughs, I found the game rewarding and challenging enough to keep me smiling and playing from my bed into the wee hours of the night.
This title surprised me. It was revealed only a few months ago, and it arrived with such little fanfare that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m happy I played it, and I have no problem recommending it to anyone else who loves classic games.
Xeodrifter‘s fun, tough and fair. I played it on the 3DS, but it’s also selling on Steam for $9.99. At that price, it’s a great game.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Xeodrifter from Renegade Kid.