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Xeodrifter (Switch) artwork

Xeodrifter (Switch) review

"Adrift in mediocrity"

Once upon a time (oh, about 2005ish), the Metroidvania genre was practically nonexistent and mostly hidden away on the GBA and DS. But given how beloved this genre is, it's no surprise that indie developers started pumping these things out like crazy, making our modern era the undisputed golden age of sidescrolling exploration. I mean, depending on classification, I've played between 5-8 Metroidvanias on the Switch alone. And perhaps that is Xeodrifter's greatest flaw. When surrounded by so many choices, why choose that which is average?

Xeodrifter is the story of a man in a spaceship who loses his warp drive, and no that is not a pithy or sarcastic summary. There is no deeper story: you are stranded among 4 planets and must search among them to recover your drive. Yes, four different planets that can be visited immediately rather than one vast world with distinct regions like Metroid. It's a minor variation on the theme, sure, but ultimately not much more than a cosmetic one. But if you're familiar with the genre, you know what you'll get: side-scrolling jumping and shooting with the path forward not immediately clear, and your goal is to find powerups along the way to help you reach previously inaccessible (and more challenging) areas. There are also optional upgrades of health (you start with 3HP and can get up to 15) and weapons. The weapon system involves obtaining up to 12 points that can be spent on increasing firepower or weapon speed or making a wave beam or whatever.

And I'll give them points for creativity here: one upgrade in particular allows you to jump into the background of the level, essentially giving you two planes of the map to work with. I'm assuming this idea was made for the 3D effect on the 3DS (where the game was first published), but it still works out here. You can use this to find upgrades hidden in plain sight, flip to the background to reach areas inaccessible in the foreground, and produce somewhat challenging platforming segments where you constantly have to switch between the two on the fly. Yeah, it's not mindblowing or anything, but at least it's not the typical double jump or whatever.

But while the planar shifting powerup may be creative, the actual level design is anything but. Xeodrifter takes a page from the original Metroid by being nothing but horizontal and vertical tunnels; no large open rooms with multiple exits like in Castlevania or Super Metroid, alas. While some might consider this a legitimate design decision, the reality is that it means the corridors are repetitive and rather simplistic. Likewise, rather than the intricate mazes we see in the giants of this genre, each world basically consists of a few loops, corridors to get to those loops, a few branches for optional powerups, and a couple secrets. In short, the exploration aspect of the game, usually a critical aspect of a Metroidvania, is extremely truncated.

Even worse, the enemies you meet are really, REALLY basic. Not only do you meet the same ones over and over (kinda kills the idea of four distinct planets, huh?), but they all have extremely basic and predictable movements and attacks. Thus, the supposed increase in difficulty as you progress is instead simply enemies that require a ton of hits to defeat and take more damage, not that require any complex maneuvers or paying closer attention. So you meet the giant stone with a massive eye-beam, and it's just shoot-shoot-shoot-duck, shoot-shoot-shoot-duck, repeated 5 times. Where's the excitement in that? Be prepared to meet static enemies that shoot a single bullet at exact intervals or simple enemies with predictable movement like crawling on the ground. And that's not cherry-picking, there is literally only one single enemy in the game with more complex movements than that.

OK, two enemies; I forgot the boss. Yes, that's singular. There is only one boss in this game that you face 7 times, it just adds one new movement to its repertoire each time you face it. Much like the corridor level design, what could be argued to be an interesting design choice instead makes the game simplistic and repetitive. Each move has a clear tell, each attack has an obvious strategy, the only challenge is remembering all of them near the end game and having the patience to not screw anything up. It also can be aggravating at the end with all those moves, since some of them have long periods where it is difficult if not impossible to attack it. And, of course, it means there's no surprise moments, no cool new designs to see as you move forward. Think about how many dramatic and memorable bosses you've seen in classic games of this genre, and weep as you realize you will see nothing of that sort here.

It's just another example illustrating this game's problem as a whole: while there are unique ideas here that could be interesting, the overall weak execution everywhere drags the entire concept down. Four worlds? Neat! Worlds having identical enemies and similar styles and thus not well differentiated? Boo! Linear corridors could work, but instead of a maze it tends to just be straight lines with extremely simple enemies that offer no rewards. Oh, and the jumping is very floaty as well, so you can't even say the character is fun to play even if there's nothing for him to do. So the action is weak, the exploration is weak, the controls are weak, the atmosphere is weak (I mean, there's no story, only a single boss, and very minimalistic world design...). Why, exactly, should you play that just to see a few somewhat unique ideas? I suppose the one upside is that the game is very short (maybe 2-3 hours at most), so if you do decide to try it the game won't waste your time.

Perhaps in 2014, this may have been a breath of fresh air. Perhaps flying into the background looked cooler with a 3D effect. But neither of those are true now. And while you might claim the simpler approach to the genre is refreshing, Xeodrifter ultimately strips away too much in terms of combat and exploration (to say nothing of aesthetics) to give it much value. I don't want to dump on this game too much since it was primarily made by only two people, but, well, it basically feels and plays like a game made by only two people. It may be worth a gander on a deep discount if you're curious since the game is so short, but if you're looking for a high-quality side scrolling exploration experience, you would be well advised to look elsewhere.


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Featured community review by mariner (August 05, 2019)

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