Renegade Kid has pretty much lost its element of surprise. When a developer consistently releases interesting games that are made well with attractive art, it's not really shocking when their next release follows suit. Surprising no one, Renegade Kid's latest release Xeodrifter is another excellent game brimming with style and charm.
Beginning as a demake of Moon Chronicles, Xeodrifter expanded into much more than that and took on a life of its own. Despite sharing an origin rooted in Renegade Kid’s First-Person Shooter, and both games being set in space, the similarities begin and end right there. Changing the approach entirely, Xeodrifter is a 2D side-scrolling platformer with a strong emphasis on exploration thrown in. Clearly drawing inspiration from the Metroid series, this interplanetary adventure nods back to the classics while adding elements that make it feel fresh and new.
As the story goes, you're minding your own business and flying through space in your ship when out of nowhere you're struck by a meteor. Your ship's core is knocked out of commission, leaving you stranded and nearly immobile in a cluster of four small planets. With just enough power remaining to travel from one planet to another, you set out in search of a new core so you can continue on your merry way. If it hasn't been made clear, Xeodrifter does not rely too heavily on storytelling to strengthen its appeal, but the use of different planets to explore and revisit does lend itself well to the Metroidvania sub-genre.
The majority of Xeodrifter features run-and-gun platforming gameplay that is entirely recognizable, and for good reason; it’s fun and works incredibly well. As you traverse from one planet to another, you will come across weapon and health upgrades as well as special abilities that are guarded by boss monsters. The same monster is used for each boss battle, meaning there is a lack of visual variety, but its attacks become more varied and powerful with each revisit, ensuring that your combat strategy must change each time. Defeating bosses earns new abilities for yourself, which in turn allow you to reach previously inaccessible parts of the already explored map.
While some games with large maps that require backtracking can feel tedious over time, Xeodrifter manages to strike a balance that doesn't grate on the player. Many of the same hallways will be traversed again and again, but each time you return with a new ability, the route feels somewhat new. Whether it’s the ability to phase through enemies and thin walls or simply blast your way through with an upgraded weapon, re-entering previously explored areas creates a feeling of tangible progression rather than simple backtracking for filler. This game doesn't stray too far away from the expected mechanics, but it does so with enough style that it still feels unique within its genre.
Xeodrifter can, at times, be relentlessly difficult, but not always for the right reasons. It's true that some of the enemies pose quite a challenge, and the bosses steadily become tougher and smarter, but the most difficult aspect to master is the controls. Though intuitively laid out and – by the end of the game – utilizing all of the 3DS console's inputs, movement doesn't feel nearly as tight as it should be. This would have been acceptable if each planet had its own unique physics to master, but instead every area feels like it is covered in a thin veneer of ice. Once you've started moving, it's not always easy to predict where exactly you'll stop, making death – or at the very least losing some progress – sometimes unavoidable. Lives are unlimited, however, and losing a life means starting again from your ship or a recent checkpoint, so the fear of losing a significant amount of progress doesn't really exist, and this mitigates the issue slightly.
As mentioned above, the controls are smartly laid out and work well, if you can look past the slippery landscape. Movement is controlled with the D-Pad or Circle Pad while the lettered and shoulder buttons shoot, jump, or activate one of the abilities you've picked up throughout the game. Switching from one ability to the next is seamless, working particularly well later in the game when you'll have to be quick on the draw in order to navigate some trap-laden mazes.
From the moment you load Xeodrifter up for the first time, it's immediately apparent that this game was intended to light a fire under the retro gamers among us. Using the same colour palette as the NES and boasting an enhanced 8-bit style, this game's aesthetic is nothing short of gorgeous. The art and soundtrack pair together to create a Sci-Fi atmosphere while still remaining true to its humble origins. The 3DS' ability to display images in 3D is also put to good use, adding layers of depth to the sometimes-explorable background — not unlike Renegade's other stand-out release, Mutant Mudds.
With so much going for it, it's a real shame that the Xeodrifter experience doesn't last any longer than it does. A complete play-through in which you collect all of the weapon and health power-ups can be completed in around four hours, or significantly less if you're in a hurry and don't want to uncover everything. There are no other modes beyond the campaign, and once the game is finished, all you can really do is revisit the map and bust up the same baddies as before. This is definitely the type of game that encourages speed-runs, but the short campaign is absolutely of note for the one-and-done players.
When playing this game for the first time, it's clear that Xeodrifter is something special. Combining 8-bit style with modern gameplay flair, it takes the best of both worlds and meets at a very comfortable middle. It's not a perfect game, especially when taking into consideration the sometimes frustrating platforming and short campaign length, but that's not to say this one should be ignored. It's not an adventure for the faint of heart, but there's no reason that Xeodrifter should be overlooked by platforming fans – especially those missing a little Samus Aran in their lives.