Ah, good ol’ Renegade Kid. He knows all the right buttons to push when it comes to delivering retro-style games. One of his previous works, Mutant Mudds, was a right lark of classic platforming goodness, and while it frustrated me with its unforgiving difficultly, I loved it and couldn’t stop playing. With that in mind, I approached his other creation, Xeodrifter, with much eagerness. Did it deliver or was I set up to be disappointed?
Xeodrifter is unapologetically archaic; right away, the 8-bit style graphics and chiptune music invoke the sense that you’re playing a long-lost title from the heydays of the NES. It casts players as a lone, stellar nomad who explores four planets in the vaguely-named Omega Sector so that he may find a way home after his ship’s propulsion system gets damaged. Of course, our unnamed space hero soon finds that his environment doesn’t take kindly to aliens on their turf, and he’ll need to upgrade and adapt if he is to have any hope of survival. And, as brutal as the environment can be, it’s very pretty in its pinkish, gloriously pixelated glory. It’s just a pity the enemies aren’t too imaginative and altogether repetitive.
This game uses the same engine as Mutant Mudds, and it shows: it has the same, slow-paced gunplay, platform-dodging and blocky map design. You’re initially ill-equipped to deal with the assorted bad guys but it’s not long before you obtain an array of abilities; you’ll also be able to run, phase through walls, obtain a jetpack and even do a submarine stint. Another neat touch is the ability to jump into the background, which is one of many relics from its Mutant Mudds legacy. Also, weapons can be upgraded and customized, allowing players to choose a firing style that suits them best.
The experience is a bit short if you’re going through an initial playthrough. Things are definitely bite-size here, because even though it’s a love letter to Metroid and its ilk, it’s nowhere near as vast and sprawling as Samus’ adventures. The layouts in comparison are also smaller, a tad simpler and are more readily remembered. Still, this works in Xeodrifter‘s favor, as it never feels like it overstays its welcome and manages to keep players enthralled in the brief time they have with it.
As short as it is, the difficultly can certainly keep players at bay; it will test your patience and platforming skills to their extremes. However, it never feels frustrating or unfair. The controls are tight and responsive, so if you fail, it never feels like anybody’s fault but your own and it manages to annoy just enough to keep players trying instead of rage-quitting. The checkpoint system is a bit on the harsh side, but I prefer baptism by fire to being handheld. Finally, the boss system is surprisingly satisfying and well-implemented, despite featuring a single boss which players have to fight repeatedly with new abilities and augments. Renegade Kid just makes it work.
It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a solid, playable and loving tribute to the neglected Metroidvania formula. Whether you play it on the 3DS or Steam, Xeodrifter is a treat for anybody looking for a challenge and retrophiles everywhere.