Nowadays, Metroidvanias are all the rage with indie developers, all attempting to offer up their own unique take on the genre. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but there's something to be said about the power of simplicity and just going back to the basics. Xeodrifter is a game that plays it straight with the that open-ended formula, offering up a focused, concise experience that hits all the notes it needs to, even if it comes off as being considerably more barebones than its peers.
The story of Xeodrifter sees the titular character flying their spaceship through the stars, only to have it crippled when a meteor strikes. You then must travel between a system of four planets, running, jumping, and shooting your way through hordes of aliens as you search for a warp core to replace your damaged one. Along the way, you’ll pick up several upgrades that grant your character meaningful bonuses in traversal and combat.
Gameplay in Xeodrifter follows the tried-and-true Super Metroid formula, doing little to expand on it, but showing mastery of what makes the genre great. Controls are a little loose, but the gunplay and platforming still manages to feel rock solid and is an absolute blast to tackle. There’s a near perfect mixture of platforming challenges, combat, and backtracking here, with the flow of the game taking you around the four planets at a brisk and exciting pace. Memorizing enemy patterns and snagging new upgrades feel quite satisfying, and you’ll frequently find yourself looking ahead to the next thing you can do. Each boss you defeat will drop another upgrade that allows you to access more of the map than before, and you can also pick up health and gun upgrades to augment your combat performance.
The gun modification is one of the stronger aspects of Xeodrifter, offering you an RPG-lite way of controlling the character’s offensive options. You can invest gun upgrades into shot speed, power, spread, range, and reach, which leaves plenty of room for mixing and matching of attributes to meet your playstyle. It’s a bit of a shame that the enemy resistance seldom demands that you switch up tactics, but the customization aspect nonetheless adds a little bit more scope for replay value on subsequent runs.
Level design of the planets is well thought out, though they can tend to feel a less mazelike than one would expect from a Metroidvania. Exploration is still encouraged and backtracking to other planets after getting an upgrade almost always yields new results, but there’s a lingering sense of linearity to the experience that stifles one’s sense of freedom somewhat. Each planet is essentially composed of a couple loops of corridors with a few secret passages scattered here or there, which means that it’s next to impossible to get lost or find yourself stumbling upon an upgrade by accident. Some might appreciate this stripped back approach, but let’s just say there are a lot less surprises in Xeodrifter than you might expect to find in a game in this genre.
From a presentation perspective, Xeodrifter is top-notch, demonstrating the concept of design by subtraction quite well. The HD 8-Bit art style is demonstrated to great effect; managing to capture the look and feel of a retro game while retaining cool elements that only modern hardware could manage. Though environment design tends to get a bit repetitive, there’s plenty of color and smooth animation here that keeps things visually interesting.
Similarly, the sci-fi soundtrack matches the theme perfectly, capturing a sense of mystery and wonder quite well. The Switch version also features HD Rumble support, which is utilized to a greater effect here than you might think. Whether it be a missed shot impacting a wall or the rumbling of a submarine engine, you can feel just about every single kind of movement that happens on screen, which helps to significantly increase the immersion factor.
One of the most significant criticisms we have with Xeodrifter is that it feels a little too stripped back for its own good. There’s only a handful of enemies to fight across the entire game, and every boss fight consists of battling a palette swapped version of the previous boss with a little more health and one new attack. Couple this with the straightforward level design, and you’ve got a rather predictable open-ended platformer that can be cleared 100% in around three hours. Now, those three hours are a joy to play through while they last, but it feels like a bit of a let down when the credits roll and there’s nothing more to see. Xeodrifter has all the elements it needs to be considered one of the greatest games in the genre, but there simply isn’t enough content present to hold one’s interest for very long.
Xeodrifter is an interesting game, in that it’s both easy and difficult to recommend. The upside is that this is a finely crafted Metroidvania that oozes quality in almost every fashion, but the downside is that there just isn’t a whole lot to it. If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward open-ended platformer that’s easy to get into (or one that’s good for speedrunning), this is the game for you. If you’re looking for an in-depth experience that you can really sink your teeth into, this certainly isn’t. We’d generally give this one a recommendation - it’s a great ride while it lasts - but just bear in mind that it won’t last you long.