Review: Xeodrifter (Switch)

A punishing, yet enjoyable, retro throwback!

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 03/23/2018 07:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Rewarding challenge; clever suit upgrades; great color palette
Poison Mushroom for...
Old school difficulty can be frustrating; short length

Whether the publisher goes by the name Renegade Kid or Atooi, Jools Watsham and company are known for creating games with a strong difficulty level. With a steep challenge and little in the way of direction, Xeodrifter certainly falls into that category. If you can stand the heat, however, the title delivers a mostly enjoyable old-school experience.

In Xeodrifter, an astronaut’s ship has been damaged, allowing its sole passenger to travel only between the four planets he finds himself adrift between. Players start out by choosing a planet, and quickly discover that the initial three heath points the game gives you can quickly run out. When it comes to the planets themselves, there’s a bit of an illusion of choice: theoretically, you can travel to any planet at any point, but until you find the right suit upgrades, you won’t be able to get very far at all, similarly to other Metroidvania titles. Like the recently released The Mummy: Demastered, those upgrades help differentiate Xeodrifter from the games that inspired it; they’re rather unique! Players can transform into submarines, speed quickly over lava and, my personal favorite, shift planes into previously inaccessible areas in the background. The level design is quite clever in how it incorporates these new abilities. While it’s pretty obvious when you see lava that you’ll eventually find a way to cross it, I never considered that the areas in the background would be accessible, and the shift from foreground to background looks terrific.

The title’s 8-bit graphics are fairly simple, but there’s definitely a charm to the minimalist approach. There are lots of little details that stand out though, like the aforementioned plane shift. Enemies have a lot of personality, and the color palette really makes them pop off the screen, particularly in handheld mode. While most retro throwbacks tend to evoke the NES, I got a real Game Boy Color vibe from Xeodrifter.

The controls in Xeodrifter can take a little bit to get used to. Jumping in the game is a much floatier experience than I expected. Presumably, the development team made this particular choice in order to give the space setting a bit more of a realistic vibe, but when the game is already difficult enough, it can be a bit frustrating to get the hang of. I would also advise players to turn down the game’s HD Rumble as, even on the default “MID” setting, the rumble effect can be quite jarring.

The game’s difficulty will likely prove to be the most controversial aspect of Xeodrifter: it can be outright mean-spirited, at times. Saving can only be accomplished inside your ship, or at a checkpoint that automatically saves before and after boss fights. It’s a very old-school approach, and players will find the already short runtime a bit artificially enhanced thanks to the number of times they’ll have to repeat their treks across each planet after dying again and again. That having been said, while the death toll can quickly mount up, there is a lot of satisfaction to be found by clearing each area and finding the game’s next checkpoint. Once I got acclimated, I found the difficulty level became more enjoyable (at times), giving me a real sense of accomplishment. What’s more, as you press on and find hidden health and weapon upgrades, it makes the difficulty much more manageable. I’m far from a completist, yet I was able to clear the game at 90% without actively looking, and finding the various health and weapon upgrades scattered throughout each planet made the final boss the easiest in the entire game for me to deal with. I only died once on the end boss while the boss prior probably took me at least a dozen attempts.

As noted in Robert’s review of the 3DS version a few years back, the weapon upgrade system can be a bit confusing at first glance. The design is a bit archaic, but once you get the hang of it, it’s well worth it to figure out how best to assign weapon upgrades. Personally, I maxed out the rapid fire ability and used the upgrades I had left to increase the size of each shot, making my weapon a true instrument of destruction.

Xeodrifter certainly won’t be for everyone. The title harkens back to the days of 8-Bit gaming in not only its graphics, but also its approach to difficulty. It also joins an already stacked number of Metroidvania-inspired titles available on the Switch eShop. The title differentiates itself through a much steeper difficulty level than most, however, and gamers looking for an old-school challenge will find there is a lot of fun to be had while it lasts. The challenge is certainly steep, but the accompanying sense of accomplishment should please many old school purists.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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