Another day, another Metroidvania. It feels like the Switch is getting a new one every week at the moment, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will no doubt depend on your affinity with the genre. Whilst the Switch has become home to some of the finest examples of the genre in recent memory, such as Axiom Verge and Hollow Knight, it has also played host to a few less-than-stellar titles. And that, sadly, is where Paradox Soul comes in.
Paradox Soul sees you take on the role of Dr. Allie Rose, who must navigate a mysterious, deadly test facility filled with roaming beasts and monstrous bosses. Since this is a Metroidvania title, very little is handed to you on a plate. Right from the start, you’re given nothing to work with – no backstory or weaponry – just you and your spindly, pixelated legs.
Eventually of course, you’ll come to find new gear, such as an automatic machine gun that you can gradually upgrade, and a handy suit that allows Dr. Rose to morph herself into a ball when sliding and jumping… hmm, that sounds very familiar. But what sets Paradox Soul apart from other Metroidvanias is its cover-based shooting gameplay. Dr. Rose isn’t the most resilient of protagonists, and it only takes a few hits to take her down, so you’ll need to take on more defensive tactics when dealing with foes. If you happen to come across an enemy that can fire back at you, chances are there will be an obstacle nearby that you can take cover behind. From here, you can hide in wait until the enemy needs to reload, then pop out and take them down.
It sounds pretty compelling in theory, but Paradox Soul really struggles to make it feel exciting. Each encounter boils down to simply rolling into cover, wait for the enemy to reload, then fire back. Rinse and repeat. Of course, you don’t have to roll into cover if you don’t want to, but thanks to Dr. Rose’s poor health meter, it almost becomes a necessity as you struggle to survive. Additionally, those who like to navigate the environment quickly will use the roll ability frequently to gain extra momentum – what this means is that if there’s a crate lying around, chances are you’ll accidentally roll into it. It’s not a massive issue, but it does break your flow quite a lot.
Thankfully, other enemy encounters are a bit more hands-on. You’ll come across zombies, rabid dogs, surveillance drones, and more. These don’t require you to jump into cover, and a good mix of jumping, rolling, dropping bombs and firing is enough to take these enemies down. Then of course, there are the boss battles. These can be extremely difficult at the best of times, particularly since you have such finite health. Learning their attack patterns is absolutely crucial to survival, but even then it’s a bit hit-and-miss. The ability to alter the difficult at any time from the main menu seems like a very deliberate decision, so don’t be surprised if you find you need to take it down a notch if you’re struggling.
Metroidvanias are perhaps most famous for their ingenious use of environments. Everyone remembers the claustrophobic caves of Super Metroid’s planet Zebes, and the famous inverted castle of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This is unfortunately where Paradox Soul really fails to stand out from the crowd. Taking place within a test facility, the map looks very much looks like a lab you might find in the latter half of a Resident Evil game. Blood coats the doorways, crates lie around in all sorts of places, and zombies burst out of test chambers in nearly every room. The problem is there’s a severe lack of variety; every new room looks incredibly similar to the last one, and this causes repetition to set in very quickly.
To exacerbate this issue, the map is set up in a grid format, with doorways either taking you up, down, left or right within the grid. Whilst the map itself is easy enough to analyse once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll often feel forced to rely on its presence, as it can be incredibly difficult to remember exactly where you’ve been previously, or where you need to go next. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself visiting the same rooms over and over again.
Like so many indie games hitting the market these days, Paradox Soul displays self-proclaimed ‘retro’ graphics consisting of blocky, pixelated characters and environments. A lot of people may be getting a bit fed up of this particular aesthetic in modern games, but we think the graphics suit the nature of the game quite well. A lot more effort could have gone into the aforementioned repetitive room design, but for the most part, it looks decent enough. On the flip side, however, the music is particularly impressive, invoking a sense of horror, sci-fi and mystery all in one go, whilst ramping up suitably during boss battles. All in all, Paradox Soul is a decent enough Metroidvania that suits its low price point, but we think a bit more TLC within certain areas would have gone a long way.
On its own, Paradox Soul is an average Metroidvania that will keep you reasonably entertained throughout its fairly short duration thanks to its creepy art direction and atmospheric soundtrack. But when you look at it next to some of the more accomplished examples of the genre on Switch, its repetitive nature and uninspired cover-shooting mechanics hold it back from being truly recommendable.