In most ways, Xeodrifter is brilliant. It takes that Metroidvania style and puts it to use in a well realized world with great design. Yet it can also be quite frustrating. Ultimately it’s worth a try for any who enjoy the genre, but Xeodrifter is certainly not without its hardships.
You are an “interstellar drifter” who collides with a rogue asteroid. You must fix your ship’s warp by exploring four planets and upgrading your equipment. It’s a simple story, told with no dialogue to speak of, but nothing deeper is needed. The premise is just a reason for you to get to exploring and fighting through alien planets as quickly as possible, and to that end, it works quite well.
The exploration side of Xeodrifter is very well done. There are four planets to explore, and to start you have to figure out which planet has no impenetrable obstacles in the way of your advance. Once you find the right planet, you’ll platform through until you reach a boss, from which you will gain a new ability. From there, you have to figure out which path on which planet allows you to get through to the next boss and ability.
The thing I liked about it was how straightforward it was, to an extent. Once you find the right path, there wasn’t a whole lot of deviation or confusion; once on the path, you can go right through. But at the same time, it allows for more than that. There are health and gun bonuses spread throughout, hidden in alternate and secret paths. So while the exploration can just be trying to find which path to go next, you can instead take the time to explore and find secrets if you desire.
The actual platforming itself is also very well done. The challenges are usually fair; they can also be extremely hard. Expect to die a lot, at least in the beginning or if you don’t find many health and gun powerups. Bosses are particularly tough, and they will get you the closest to tearing out your hair in frustration; they’re also really fun. It would also be easy to complain that the bosses are all the same enemy with increasing amounts of difficulty and attack patterns, but I felt it worked well enough; the bosses were just different enough, and the design just engaging enough that I didn’t quite care. It is still a disappointment, though, and more boss types would have helped the game go over the top.
I was mixed about one part of the set-up of the game. See, you can only save at your ship, and checkpoints (where you return after death) are only at the ship, before, and after a boss. There are also no health pickups except before a boss. So essentially you have to get all the way through an area, and then all the way back without dying, and if you want to quit after the boss because you keep dying trying to get back, you can’t unless you want to lose tons of progress. It’s not a huge problem, but the space between being able to save or get to a checkpoint just feels a little too long.
I had one big problem, too: the jump. There’s no way to control how high your character jumps. If you press B, he goes as high as he can. The ability to affect how high your character jumps based on how hard you press the jump button is a key part of platformers, and the lack of that hurts Xeodrifter on occasion. There are times where you’ll get hit because you can’t do a smaller jump, which can get frustrating.
One element I liked was how you upgraded your gun. You get a single “point” every time you get an upgrade. These points can be spent however you like, as there are several upgrades to your gun you can get, from more frequency to more power to multiple shots at once. You can upgrade any of these elements – and if you need a different upgrade to deal with a specific situation, you can change your upgrades on a dime from the pause screen. It’s a nice touch.
Visually, the game is great looking. It uses the same pixelated “12-Bit” style that Mutant Mudds used, and it achieves a similarly great effect here. None of the environments will blow you away, but this is most certainly a pretty game for those who enjoy good pixel art. As far as the sound design goes, it is simply great. The music is charming, catchy, and atmospheric. It pulls you into the world just perfectly.
The issue of length is an interesting one here. The game isn’t very long, to be sure, but I felt the ten dollar tag was worth it. This is a game that’s short but sweet – and if you’re bad at it, like me, it’s closer to “medium-length-and-sweet.” With lots of secrets to boot, it’s definitely worth the tag, especially as there’s not really any filler to speak of.
The Wii U version specifically doesn’t really add anything. Sure, you do get to play it on the TV, which is great – and the image is always reflected on the Gamepad, so off-TV play is available – but it doesn’t add anything else. It doesn’t even give the option to use the bottom Gamepad screen as the menu, which I felt was an odd omission. You have to pause to access it. Still: for owners of the 3DS version, this is free thanks to cross-buy – so it’s not a question of whether it is worth rebuying Xeodrifter to replay the game: it’s just a question of whether you want to replay it, and if so, do you want to replay it on the big screen instead. That really just comes down to preference. For those deciding which version to buy, you can buy both versions for the price of one. So if you want Xeodrifter on the go, you can have that; if you want the experience of playing it on a big screen, as I prefer, you can have that instead. Options for all.
Xeodrifter is a great little game. It’s too short and too lacking in boss variety to be an everlasting indie classic, but while playing, it really is stellar. The exploration is well done, the platforming is solid if flawed, there’s an impressive challenge, and the presentation is excellent. If you played Xeodrifter on the 3DS and are hankering for a replay, you may as well try the full screen version for free; and if you’ve never played Xeodrifter, it’s a fantastic, if flawed entry to the Metroidvania genre: one I highly suggest you check out.