We know there are a lot of Metroidvanias out there. But after spending about three hours with Afterimage, we're pretty confident in saying that this is one of the prettiest we've ever played. Even before we got our hands on the game, Afterimage stood out to us with its stunning hand-drawn visuals. Even next to the likes of Hollow Knight, Bō: Path of the Teal Lotus, Islets, and Indivisible, it's a real feast for the eyes with its beautiful locations, gorgeous character art, and soft colours. Seeing it in motion only made us fall in love with the visuals even more.
As part of Modus Games' spring showcase, we were given the opportunity to check out a PC demo of this Metroidvania from developer Aurogon Shanghai. Afterimage smashed through its Kickstarter goal last April, and it's coming to Switch (plus Steam and other consoles) on 25th April 2023.
The Steam build we played allowed us to explore the first five areas of the game, and what looks to be the first few hours of the story. The game throws you into the shoes of Renee, a young girl who chases after her mentor who has been researching ‘The Razing’, a cataclysm that almost wiped out humanity.
Even from just these few hours, it looks like the game is going to be big. There’s a lot of story with some fantastically-voiced cutscenes, and the map looks huge. There are connecting paths and all of the hidden secrets you’d expect from a Metroidvania, of course, but this is more Castlevania-style than Metroid-style, with levels, stats, skills, experience, and equipment to play around with as you explore the magical world of Engardin.
And what a magical world it is. The game is smooth and stunning to look at, and each environment is bursting with soft colours and vivid backdrops that make exploring every single area a complete joy. Tree branches that form paths, collapsed windmills, beautiful fields of flowers, and dusty libraries make all of those familiar Metroidvania level staples feel fresh. We also want to point out the work done with Renee’s character animations, too – her white clothing and nimble movement across each backdrop make us feel like we’re playing through a gorgeous anime.
For the map itself, the areas we got to explore in the demo were all made up of multitudes of open, spacious areas and densely-packed corridors full of enemies and platforms. Some locations like the Rainbow Plains and the Desert were much more sparse with the platforming, which helped us get used to the movement in the game, along with the occasional enemy to stop us in our tracks. But the interior areas with nooks and crannies, puzzles, and rewards to discover were a lot more interesting. There’s a library section within a castle, and an underground storeroom below Resting Village, and both of these were highlights in the demo for us. Tough enemies were dotted along every pathway, and some platforming challenges forced us to retry over and over because of how precise they were. It kept the map from feeling too sparse.
If we had one criticism, it's how far apart some save points are from each other. These beautifully-drawn trees (which Renee picks a plump fruit from – and we love the noise and animation here) are spread thinly in the first few areas. If you die, you lose all the ‘excess’ experience you have (so if you have 500 exp out of 1000 to go up to level 6, you lose those 500 but stay at level 6). With no quick travel enabled in the demo, there were a few times when we had to trek quite a distance to get back to where we were and regain those lost experience points.
Going back to character movement, as with any Metroidvania, your options take a little while to open up. Initially, we found we were struggling with bosses and enemies more than we expected thanks to only having a small jump and attacks that force you to stay on the spot or get up close. But as we got deeper into Engardin and unlocked the obligatory Dash and Slide abilities, everything began to fall into place. Afterimage definitely nails that feeling of progression as you unlock more abilities.
If you’ve played any other games in this most prevalent of genres, then combat will feel incredibly familiar. You start with a sword that you have a basic attack with to hit enemies with, and later on, you get additional weapons which you can equip to a second slot, while a third slot is reserved for spellbooks. Just like with platforming, for the first 30 minutes or so, we took a lot of hits from enemies because we were greedy and just didn’t have the tools to stop the cute-looking animals covered in grapes (yes, really) or knights on horseback from charging at us. But combo-ing foes and staggering them by using two different weapons, and figuring out what weapons are better against what enemies, is satisfying once you get there. Ranged magic is also incredibly useful for some extremely difficult encounters towards the end of the demo, which netted us tons of experience points in the process.
The combat feels satisfying and meaty when you get other weapons like a scythe or a great sword – the latter of which we used along with our standard short sword. The sharp forward slashes of the short sword coupled with a huge arcing swing from the great sword meant we had cover on all sides and could nip in an extra hit or two with some well-timed jumps and dashes. Combat particularly shines during the boss fights, and a few battles at the end of the demo tested our dodging and attacking skills. One boss’ teleporting antics really made us consider our options and weapon choices – and this was before we unlocked dash!
In addition to all of this, there’s also a skill tree where you can spend Talent Points to unlock nodes on a huge grid. Stat nodes increase things like HP, MP, Attack, Defense, and Healing Proficiency (you get one cast of a heal spell which can only be restored at a save point), and each of these can be upgraded twice. Other nodes net you extra attacks, like combing dual swords with the dash to create a small wave attack that can hit nearby foes.
Afterimage is packed full of familiar features for the genre, and it wraps it all up in a beautiful package with lovely atmospheric music and an intriguing world. It does all of those ‘Metroidvania’ things pretty well, but besides its visuals, we’re excited to see what new aspects it can bring to the table. For what promises to be a 40-hour game, we hope there are some secrets tucked away that will surprise us to help Afterimage stand out in more ways than just its visuals — and it remains to be seen exactly how all this loveliness translates to your favourite handheld hybrid.
For now, we think it has a lot of promise, and the demo certainly beckons us to want to explore more of Engardin.
Afterimage launches on the Switch eShop on 25th April 2023.
The most beautiful Metroidvania? Ori would like a word...
Don't get me wrong, it does look beautiful. Is it more gorgeous than say the Ori games? I dunno. Still it's going on the Watchlist for sure.
@DiscoStuUK beat me to it.
@D_Munk Great minds bud
@DiscoStuUK as would metroid dread
I remember already being blown away by the visuals in the first trailer. Glad to hear the gameplay manages to keep up with the presentation.
The most beautiful Metroidvania is Yoku’s Island Express because it features the titular Yoku who is a beautiful dung beetle with a beautiful ball of dung.
3 screenshots of that game reminds me of Death's Gambit. Interesting...
@DiscoStuUK Yeah it's not even THAT great looking compared to any other big metroidvania. Sounds like a paid advertisement if I've ever heard one.
It looks like if Ori and Kingdom Two Crowns had a child.
@cylemmulo Finding a conspiracy where there is none...
@NintendoByNature And super metroid still looks fantastic as well.
@Raifteiri lol this isn't some crazy conspiracy. These sites do paid advertisements all the time. How do you think they keep open. Idk why that would be some wild accusation.
Although individual characters and environments are well drawn, they're too generic to stand out in a sea of anime inspired games.
Also, it's lacking a coherent vision that's unifying all the elements together, like a proper art direction.
On that note, when is Silksong coming out?
You forgot Ori didn't you?
Guess Alana never played Ori. This game looks beautiful, but nothing like the Ori games
@cylemmulo They make money through regular ads and third party trackers that soak up user data and feed it into whatever algorithms Amazon and the other tech giants are currently using to pump as much money out of the general public as possible. Admittedly, that's arguably worse than doing undisclosed paid promotions in the long run, but no need to throw around unfounded accusations.
After reading the title I watched it, thinking "I guess someone could find this is beautiful."
Then I looked closer at the screenshots and I'm kind of confused.
If we're nominating most beautiful metroidvanias, how come no-one has even mentioned Hollow Knight yet?
I haven't clicked on the screenshots used in this article, or looked at any other related images, but the screenshots here aren't begging me to look closer.
@cylemmulo My thoughts exactly.
No need to call it a 'conspiracy'. It happens all the time now. So it's not even that unlikely or shocking. That or it was just a clumsy moment from an otherwise great writer
The graphics are very beautiful it looks much better than the games from the past. The gameplay looks fun. Beautiful game what I say from here.
I've yet to see a more attractive looking entry in that particular genre than Metroid Dread when played on an undocked SWOLED.
Regardless, it is a nice looking game. It'll have to wait in line behind a whole mess of games in this genre I already own, but it's definitely on my radar now.
Call me crazy but I’ve still got a soft spot for ray man origins
As an FYI, Afterimage has a Demo on Steam this week. While I still would get it on the Switch if I picked it up, it'll give me a chance to try it out early.
It is undeniably pretty and each to their own, but I think both Ori and Hollow Knight are more aesthetically pleasing. This is super well done but it doesn’t feel as unique as either of them, I feel I’ve seen a lot of these enemies and environments before?
All that said, it’s on the wishlist!
I still find Symphony of the Night quite fetching after all these years.
Pretty game, and i'm looking forward to it. But you set yourself up for a fall calling it "the most beautiful metroidvania we've ever played". We can only assume either
Well click baited though
Huh, guess taste is subjective. This feels pretty generic to me.
It does look quite pretty.
It looks pretty but can’t beat the gorgeous hand drawn vibe of hollow knight and the brilliance of Ori for me. Still it looks good and might be worth checking out.
I Kickstarted this. Still looking forward to it. Prettiest ever? Nah, but it doesn't have to be. Just smooth and delicious.
It has a unique style. The backgrounds look better in movement, but the characters not so much. I'm not a big fan of those stretching and shrinking sprite animation.
It's a personal taste but I don't like much "metroidvanias" with too much open space, I'd rather have more cramped corridors and towers.
With all that said, so long as it's fun to play, those are mostly irrelevant
I can't stand that Dark Souls mechanic where you lose your exp and have to retrieve it after you die. The game is punishing you by wasting your time, and I ain't got time for that.
Defo bagging this one in its first fire sale.
Probs in about a year.
With about 2-3 exceptions, I am about a year behind the curve with video games.
JOMO - The joy of missing out.
Is this getting the physical treatment?
I hope so.
I need more Metroidvania games, I already have nearly all of them physically and I can't get enough.
Just picked up a second hand copy of Salt and Sanctuary and finished Death's Gambit, about to start F.I.S.T and Ender Lillies
Keep em coming.
looks so nice.. i really dig this visual style.. PC demo is 3.2GB!! Downloading NOW!!!
The most beautiful Metroidvania you’ve ever played?
Maybe it looks way better in person, but for me, these visuals aren’t a patch on either of the Ori games, Hollow Knight, SteamWorld Dig 2, Dead Cells, Guacamelee! 2, Owlboy, Yoku’s Island Express or a certain Metroid Dread to name a few.
Everyone has their own particular tastes though, and the headline did make me open the page, so there’s that.
@Kalcheus I didn't know that so this is great news for me, I'll probably do the same thing.
I don't know if glimmer in the mirror is coming to the switch but I think that one is really nice looking too though, feels a little like ori in a way to.
I don't care about 'most' this or 'best' that. It looks like a beautiful game with a lovely protagonist with a huge, challenging world to explore and well-animated combat. I'm all in...at least tentatively.
It does look nice; I hope the Switch version looks and plays equally well as the steam demo they played. If so, I'll likely grab it.
The 'not many save points' worries me a bit; it honestly annoys me when I only have 20 minutes to play a game and the game simply won't let me play for that length of time. I know in theory I can just put the Switch in sleep and come back to that game later, but I might want to play something else the next day instead. At worst more save points means less repetitive back-tracking.
Regardless of that worry, I basically can't resist a super pretty metroidvania. Although my backlog will not be happy....
Certainly pretty but also a bit generic. The gameplay is what I ultimately care about though. Dust was a pretty game and it's the worst metroidvania I've ever played.
@mauhlin12 Hard games really shouldn’t ‘punish’ the player with anything but the gameplay itself. I love how Celeste is pretty difficult, but gives you the QOL of retrying instantly.
Day one buy indeed, looks and plays almost as good as Ender and Deedlit which is right up my alley.
I still think hollow knight has one of if not THE best art in any metroidvania i've played. The best part is how some stuff is actually utilized in the game well. It's such a well balanced game of art and gameplay, it's hard not to consider it as one of the best. Seriously, it's the first game that made me think: "the next 2D metroid has a high bar to beat". Of course, dread was up to the challenge, but hollow knight cannot be ignored as something special. It's not just background art that makes a game beautiful.
@PinderSchloss This is a really astute point. Celeste is simultaneously the most difficult and least punishing game I’ve ever beaten. …Well, maybe not the least punishing, but it certainly doesn’t revel in penalising the player for the sake of it.
There’s no real penalty for failure other than having to try again, but the process is so immediate and the gameplay itself so satisfying that it doesn’t feel punitive in the slightest.
Dying and retrying is so central to Celeste’s gameplay loop that death feels like less of an obstruction to progression and more like an inherent part of it.
Everyone talks about Ori which was ok and not great. Yes the background looked great but other than that it was meh
@DdG1408 I completed Ori (WotW) yesterday, and… yeah, it’s… well, I actually think it’s a really competently constructed video game that deserves a lot of the praise it gets.
…But I found it difficult to really like.
It feels as if it’s missing something, despite performing well in nearly every metric you’d usually use to judge a video game (controls, visuals, level design, etc.)
The characters and plot and music are all so twee and contrived and one-dimensional that it almost feels caricature of video games in general, but it’s such an undeniably well-constructed caricature that it’s impossible to dismiss as lazy, which is somehow even more annoying.
Anyway, I wrote a silly diatribe about the game on the forums yesterday so I’ll leave things at that for now. I have to begrudgingly admit that it is at least a ‘good’ video game, but one I simply couldn’t bring myself to like.
It's also playable on steam for literally anyone. You could mention that.
This looks awesome. I prefer my metroidvanias with a focus on story, exploration, and item collection and without pinpoint-accuracy platforming, so I hope this is the case with this game.
is it just me or does the main character move in like 25fps ?
It is 2D but it looks so much fun to play it.
Looks beautiful indeed (don't mind the hyperbole), overall seems fun although I'm not the biggest fan of sparse save points and losing EXP etc. by dying, already was in the wishlist and there it absolutely stays (hope we'll see a review here on Nintendo Life when it comes out)!
@tofuman86 It is key framed animation. Think Guilty Gear Strive or the cutscenes from Hi-Fi Rush, only in 2D. Or just compare it to most classic 2D games. Super Mario World only has so many frames of animation for Mario, but the game runs at 60fps. Same thing here. It's a better approach than the Flash-like "tweening" that a lot of other 2D games use these days.
I played the demo on my Steam Deck yesterday, and it was really good so far! Only issue I ran into was an unfortunate moment where I was in a cutscene, and a random enemy started attacking me while I was locked into the cutscene, causing almost all my health to disappear and nearly killed me by the end of the scene. Very odd bug that will hopefully be fixed by the final release.
Removed - unconstructive feedback
I can't help it. If it's a quality metroidvania, I have to buy it. It's a sickness
it looks kind of weird and janky...
It’s not really click bait so much as the author’s subjective opinion. Unlike a review which should attempt to be as objective as possible the author is merely stating an imo piece. No need to throw the “well actually”’s and “you are wrong because I said so”‘s.
Game looks pretty, thank you for bringing it to my attention.
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