Back in 2014, the 3DS eShop received AeternoBlade, a hack ‘n’ slash focused Metroidvania that’s centered around the gameplay concept of controlling time. After a failed attempt at Kickstarting a sequel, Corecell Technology has opted to port the game to the Switch eShop, no doubt in hopes of building up the fanbase further. We weren’t huge fans of the game when it launched on 3DS, but there’s always room for second chances. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that much has changed.
The story of AeternoBlade revolves around Freyja, a warrior hailing from a village destroyed by the Dark Lord, Beladim. After being easily killed by him in the opening scene, Freyja is transported back seven days by the titular blade to prepare for her fateful encounter again. Though the plot takes some mildly interesting twists and turns over its seven-or-so-hour run, there’s very little here that hasn’t been done to death before. Granted, an engaging plot isn’t expected in a game of this sort, but the utter lack of charm or originality in characters doesn’t do AeternoBlade any favors.
It's a Metroidvania at its heart, but it opts to stack some interesting modifiers on that core formula which, unfortunately, aren’t terribly well executed. Rather than one massive map, the game is divied up into separate levels, and while this helps streamline level designs, it comes at the cost of incentive to explore. Secrets are often found in predictable and relatively easily accessed places, with time manipulation abilities playing into many of the basic puzzles you come across. Backtracking is encouraged by some paths being placed tantalizingly out of reach, though these can often have disappointing rewards waiting for you at the end. Overall level design, then, tends to feel unsurprising in many instances, and we couldn’t help but feel that the Metroidvania elements were added late in development.
Clearly, the focus here is being put on the combat, which is the best aspect of AeternoBlade, though it takes quite a bit of time to build up into an interesting system. Freyja starts out with some exceptionally basic combo moves, with more and more being unlocked with experience orbs you gain from downed enemies. The problem is that it takes quite a bit of time before Freyja’s options really start to open up, meaning that you’ll be spending lots of time mindlessly mashing the same button and watching the same attacks over and over. Adding insult to injury, most of the enemies - with the exception of end level bosses - fail to match your abilities in any meaningful way, acting as easily stunned sword fodder and little more. It’s a real shame, too, because the combat starts to get diverse and interesting once you pass a few levels, offering a tantalising glimpse at the better game that could’ve been.
Aside from upgrading her combo abilities, Freyja also has more traditional upgradeable stats, and a system of held items called Relics. These can be found throughout the game world and equipped to Freyja in sets, offering a wealth of different buffs and benefits. It’s nice that there’s this element of character building, as it enables you to skew your enhancements toward your particular playstyle, though it’s fairly surface-level character customization. Still, the potential of a better relic gives you some incentive to travel off the beaten path every now and then to see what can be picked up, and it breathes some much-needed life into the otherwise monotonous exploration.
From a presentation perspective, AeternoBlade falls quite flat, failing to provide much in the way of interesting audio or visual feedback. Its roots as a 3DS game are painfully obvious; the original release was considered so-so on that hardware, and not much has been done to pretty it up for Switch. Jagged geometry, stilted animations, a murky color palette, and blurry textures make for environments and characters that are passable at best and downright ugly at the worst. To be fair, running the game on more powerful hardware has allowed for some slightly better details in minor places, but the harsh reality is that putting lipstick on a pig does not do much to change the pig. The game appears to run the same whether docked or portable, but it looks better in portable mode, if only because the sub-par visuals aren't nearly as noticeable.
AeternoBlade is one of those games that’s frustrating, not because anything in it is broken, but because brief glimpses of excellence show what could’ve been. It's a decent game, but mediocrity rears its ugly head in nearly every aspect. You could do much worse with Metroidvania games than this, but there’s very little here that you haven’t seen done before, probably better. If you are chomping at the bit for every Metroidvania you can find for Switch, then perhaps AeternoBlade is worth the punt. If that’s not you, we’d suggest a better release in the genre - such as like Axiom Verge or Shantae: Half-Genie Hero - and to sit this one out.