Ready for launch.
Xeodrifter is a 2D side-scrolling platform game from developer Renegade Kid which largely eschews any form of narrative in favour of an emphasis on simple exploration. It is also a quite blatant love-letter to the Metroid franchise; although it’s hard not to find the manner in which Xeodrifter wears its Metroid-loving heart on its 8-bit sleeve as anything other than endearing.
Lost in space.
A short introduction sums up Xeodrifter’s simple premise: the game’s protagonist, a small, pixelated spaceman, becomes stranded after a near miss with a meteor strike. The player must assist the spaceman in finding a replacement core for his ship’s engine, located somewhere amongst the nearby planets.
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita
Length: 4-6 hours
While Xeodrifter is not a lengthy game, with the main campaign clocking in at around four hours, it is tough, and deliberately so. The spaceman’s crippled ship can only reach four planets. However, the player is unlikely to get far in their initial forays exploring each of these planets, and will quickly discover that additional abilities are required to progress. With minimal opportunities to restore depleted heath nodes or upgrade weapons, and with checkpoints being few and far between, Xeodrifter does well to establish a sense of survival and tension throughout.
This is essentially the central aspect of Xeodrifter’s gameplay: nonlinear exploration and survival, wherein the onus is on the player to figure out where to go, what direction to take, and what to do upon seemingly hitting a dead end. It is an experience predicated on trial, error and a little bit of luck. The player unlocks various power-ups while exploring each planet in search of the spaceman’s prized engine core. Specifically, power-ups are gained by defeating a boss. While these boss encounters require a measure of concentration, deft reactions and a little patience to take down they are actually surprisingly unvaried, and as a result don’t actually become that much more difficult the further the player gets.
Defeating a boss and gaining an ability allows the player to return to planets that they have already visited and enter previously inaccessible areas. I had a little bit of luck in this regard – on the first planet I decided to visit I took off in one direction before coming across some water, which I couldn’t navigate. Undeterred I simply turned around and headed in the opposite direction, eventually encountering my first boss without coming across any further geographical obstacles. After defeating him I was granted the submarine ability which granted me the power to explore aquatic areas such as the one I initially stumbled across when first docking at the planet.
Houston, we have a problem.
There is an underlying balance between frustration, repetition and progression in this game that Xeodrifter does not always successfully maintain. While these traits are genre necessities, occasional spikes in difficulty serve to stall momentum and make certain sections of the game more tedious than they should be.
As a result, Xeodrifter doesn’t feel as naturally inventive as, for example, a game like Shovel Knight. Sometimes working to unlock parts of the map feels more like a chore than a natural and intuitive mode of progression. While there are only four planets to explore and only so far the player can go without coming across a solution to an obstacle, Xeodrifter simply doesn’t flow as well as it could.
That said, the fact that Xeodrifter is a short game doesn’t feel detrimental to the overall experience. ‘Too much of a good thing’ is a cautionary statement that should probably be taken a little more seriously by much of the gaming industry these days. Xeodrifter doesn’t overdo things here. It is a small, compact game that doesn’t oversell or overcomplicate itself. In that respect, it is genuinely refreshing. I didn’t need – nor necessarily want – to play more of the game than I got in the campaign, and I mean that as a compliment.
So long as the player expects nothing more from Xeodrifter than what it is very upfront about providing in terms of content, retro-aesthetic and gameplay, then it will be hard to feel disappointed after playing this game. It’s not perfect, but there is a sincerity here that is likely to charm even the most sceptical of gamers.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.