Red suit. Glowing visor. Gunplay, upgrades, and platforming exploration across a vast alien terrain. No, this is not Samus Aran’s vengeful hunt of the Metroids. This quest is a far more innocent pursuit. However, innocence may just be its most cunning weapon.
Spiritual successor to Renegade Kid’s 2012 indie darling Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter is an odd game in a crowded genre; standing bare as an impersonation in a burgeoning cast of games distancing themselves from their inspiration. Is it an homage? Is it a deconstruction? Is it any good?
The stripped bare introduction answers none of these questions. An eerily familiar spaceship darting through space hits an asteroid, displacing your warp core. There are four planets. Pick one and start looking. When you eventually find the right path and face down boss number one, déjà vu is in full swing.
Pressing through the unknown and unbeaten is a methodically pedestrian affair, with the levels and pathways segmented and divided with a surgical rhythm. It’s when the gameplay mechanics reveal themselves that things start getting whacky.
As is often portrayed in 2D action-adventures, a background plane is added to the environment for aesthetic depth, to create the illusion of three dimensions. In Mutant Mudds, the player would be forced in and out of the backgrounds as a gameplay gimmick to segway the tight, linear platforming. In Xeodrifter, this mechanic is no gimmick.
With a press of a button, the avatar is compressed into a distant figure instantly, controllable in the background without pause. At first, it’s just a means to access new routes, but before long you’ll be threading in and out of planes, evading fire and ghosting across obstacles. With the consistent drip-feed of upgrades enhancing your maneuverability, the hero soon becomes an ethereal Ironman, weaving through dots and dishing dots in return.
And boy does that little cannon dish out the dots. It begins modestly with the rhythmic “pat-pat-pat” of a peashooter, but as you collect “+1 Gun” points throughout your quest, a strange evolution begins. Points are assigned, combined, mixed and traded to different, seemingly simple factors, creating slight variations to the blaster’s fire. Understanding comes with experimentation.
First I focused on the bullet output, to stack on damage and land more hits. Upping the bullet’s vibration into a sine wave covered more range. When I discovered how recoil worked, and that bigger dots had more wallop, I was in Bullet Hell heaven, crafting miniguns on the fly and whipping bullets past tight corners. The ease-of-access presented by Nintendo’s duel screens to customize and swap loadouts during battle, the quick paced action, and the endless weapon possibilities create an experience that is both hypnotically analog and charmingly antiquated.
Such grandiose toys would be little without a playground in which to unleash them. Renegade Kid’s mockup of Metroid’s Planet Zebes is lovingly crafted in the murky marsh tunnels and bubble-crusted cliffs of Xeodrifter. And though each of the four worlds only has one track each, the imperialistic majesty of marching into the dark is perfectly distilled in the crunchy anthems and bit-worn ballads. It certainly was a magical world, and one I was not ready to leave.
THE COME DOWN
Like so many a game fueled by creativity and experimentation, longevity is not one of Xeodrifter’s strength. Including a couple of stints being totally stuck, my quest clocked in at 5 hours to completion. And though I had a few extra hours of fun while fooling around with weapon customization and personal challenges, nothing in the climactic moments of the game granted any sense of conclusion, be it the limp challenge or unrewarding finish.
The truth is, a game like Xeodrifter is really about the concepts, not the content. One could be mistaken into believing that Renegade Kid used Mutant Mudd’s engine to create another Metroid-like, but in reality they had used the Metroid formula, to a t, to craft a sort of Mutant Mudds sequel. Brazenly pointed while unassumingly sweet, Xeodrifter is a journey that’s still not quite finished, but damn well deserves to be.
While this may not be a game constructed to the entirety of its potential, we can still feel Renegade Kid’s vision of a psychedelic voyage reaching out from another dimension.
- Unique Warping Mechanics
- Intuitive Weapons Tweaks
- Enchanting Pixel Artistry
- Ends Far Too Soon
- Difficulty Tapers Off
- ... And Then Nothing