There’s nothing quite like a good Metroidvania. Dense labyrinths to traverse, many kinds of demons/undead/monsters to slay, new equipment to find, hazards to leap, and, most importantly, abilities to acquire that allow you to explore even more. We’ve gotten quite a few stellar genre entries in the last decade, but now we have another that aims to join the most memorable of them: Aurogon Shanghai’s Afterimage. This sprawling, anime-inspired take on the genre double jumps and air dashes with the best of them, though it isn’t without its quirks.
Afterimage opens with a vague, Dark Souls-like overview of how its world has decayed, depicted with a series of gorgeous, hand-drawn images. We understood none of it. In fact, the narrative is a convoluted mess of fantasy pronouns and anime girls; even after a dozen hours, we still didn’t know what was going on other than that, taking control of a young magical girl named Renee, we had to seek out a cloaked girl that stole her master’s soul. Joined by a sassy spirit called Ifree, we were off through hand-drawn biome after biome, whacking a wide array of enemies with whips and great swords as we explored every nook for treasure and upgrades.
The gorgeous art is at the forefront here, much more than the forgettable story. Vivid backgrounds of the Rainbow Plains and the Ashen Canyon drew our eye away from the action or had us pausing to snap a few screenshots. We were excited to move from one area to the next to see Aurogon Shanghai’s wonderful rendition of these fantasy environments; truly, they quickly became a highlight of our time with the game.
The Switch, however, struggles to do the art justice; when docked, the screen looks muddy and frequently drops frames. In certain areas, the frame drops were so pronounced that they affected our ability to dodge the projectiles of knife-wielding bandits and to aim our counterstrikes. Undocked play – and especially on an OLED with its larger screen – suffers less from this, and the system's screen renders the art well. If we weren’t reviewing the game, we would have opted to play Afterimage on a more powerful system. We can only imagine how great it would look in 4K and with a smooth frame rate.
Instead of exploring a dense castle full of secrets, Afterimage presents you with sprawling natural environments to explore. It can, at times, feel overwhelming; these areas are not small, and have so many secret nooks and alternate pathways that we don’t think we’ll ever get 100% map completion without a guide.
Often, exploration resembled banging our heads against the proverbial wall. In the middle of the game we got stuck: a giant fish required a way to converse with it to cross a lake, and the only other paths open to us were a lava area where we died in nearly one hit to fiery foes, and a boss dubbed 'Auss, the Lunatic Mastermage' that seemed invulnerable. No one pointed us in the proper direction; unable to best Auss or make it through the lava region, Afterimage left us thinking we missed an area or a secret item to fell the magician, in which we ended up wasting an hour or two backtracking. Turns out, Auss held the key to speaking with the fish and could, in fact, be stunned after being hit more than you’d think was reasonable.
Another game in this genre would’ve had a helpful character or line of dialogue, even if vague, to mention how to stun Auss or where the key item resided. This was not the case, and holds true for other areas of the game. At any given time you have two to three different paths to take, delving deep into areas only to discover you lack the ability to continue and have to backtrack, or that the means to continue on were hidden away in a shopkeeper’s inventory.
Superb movement and combat lessen these frustrations, though. Controlling Renee as she double jumps, bounces off an enemy, and then air dashes to reach a chest works exactly like it should. As you’d expect, you earn more traversal abilities as you explore, giving you incentive to backtrack to where you can now reach that high platform or slide through that narrow crevice.
A small caveat with this is that fast travel between save points – called a Confluence – requires a scarce item for much of the game. Later, we unlocked the ability to fast travel at will, but if we wanted to head back to Resting Town to complete a sidequest and buy a new set of armour, for most of the game we couldn’t without spending 20 minutes leaping and dashing back from where we came from. Likewise, the map doesn't update unless you save at a Confluence, which caused us to get lost quite often – an odd design choice not to have it update as we explored.
Renee can wield six different weapon types: a sword, blade, greatsword, dualblades, scythe, and a whip. Two can be equipped at any time, and each has a simple attack with it, though you can unlock a couple more techniques for each. We quickly fell in love with the whip’s aerial attack, where Renee swings it around herself to create a wide, persistent area of damage, and the greatsword, which we liked the raw power of. A handful of magic spells, called sub-weapons, can also be equipped, though more often than not we ignored these; rarely did we find managing the mana to cast them to be all that worth it when we could just swing a big sword around instead.
It was a joy to whack Afterimage’s surprisingly diverse enemy pool with these. Literal spider monkeys hung from trees; blob-like mushrooms leapt and bounced after us; grape-covered dinosaurs prowled forests – and dozens more, all of them wonderfully realised. Most of the bosses also grabbed our interest: a Crystallized Wolf required us to leap and attack with precise timing, and a winged bird-man had us deflecting his sharp feathers back at him. We stumbled upon boss arenas quite often, which were usually too challenging at first, requiring us to once again backtrack and find better equipment to survive more hits or deal damage more quickly.
In fact, whenever we entered a new area, the difficulty spiked until we levelled up and explored for a more powerful weapon. It can stray into frustrating territory sometimes, to go from obliterating cat-creatures that throw poison bottles at you to getting wrecked by ghostly wizards from one area to the next, but overall we enjoyed the character progression; Renee clearly grows stronger as you play and it feels good to find a new, more powerful whip that shreds enemies all the quicker.
While we did grow a little weary of the overwhelming amount to explore and backtrack through in Afterimage, we didn’t grow tired of whacking its wide range of enemies, nor did its gorgeously hand-drawn environments — which Switch unfortunately struggles to do justice to when docked — ever disappoint. It's best experienced elsewhere if you're playing on a television, but if you primarily play your Switch handheld, Afterimage offers a lengthy, lovely-looking Metroidvania adventure.
I play primarily in handheld so this will remain at the top of my wishlist.
Looks like a solid foundation for a great game. My guess is that some post launch updates fix the performance issues and help balance out some of the progression. I will definitely keep this one on my radar!
Looks like a good time, will definitely check it out, Might play on my xbox x though if the frame rate is an issue..
I love my Oled switch but it's probably time for an upgrade from Nintendo. Hopefully the next generation is just an updated switch but you never know with Nintendo, could be some weird headset with power glove controller...who knows! Update after taking the plunge on Switch ( just feels better playing metroidvanias hand held..) really fun game! Voice acting is kind of annoying so just playing with the sound down. Only other issue I've found is loading screen takes a while.
Graphics I really like, snappy controls, cool enemy types. If you like the genre definitely worth your time!
Weird that performance stutters on docked. Usually this is not the case, or even the opposite is true. I might check this one out later, it looks gorgeous
I play exclusively handheld. Sounds like a good romp that I’ll definitely pick up down the road.
I will try it out on pc and buy switch later if it gets patched
@Pillowpants Maybe a coding and/or bandwidth issue.
There were some Switch games in the past that could not run at certain resolutions while docked because of not enough bandwidth, maybe this game tries it anyhow and that is why it has performance issues while docked.
Got this on my wishlist.
I thought getting lost and finding your way was the whole point of a Metroidvania, you know, exploring, backtracking, leveling up etc is the norm isn't it?
I see that's positive not a negative.
Grabbing this regardless.
Yikes. Nothing a few dozen patches won't fix lol
Glad I opted to get a PS5 key. If I fall in love with the game and future patches smooth it out a bit, I may grab a physical Switch copy.
My Switch is my go to platform for metroidvania titles but unfortunately it's getting quite long in the tooth. Will wait for it to get patched.
Not even surprised seeing a game perform worse docked. Seen plenty over the years. Almost like dock is an afterthought to a lot of devs.
@hel105 I am not sure I will be a multi platform gamer in the future, but it is nice to have other options…. That said, and I hate to be that guy, but it really is time for new Nintendo hardware….a game like this should not have performance issues….
@rockodoodle We doing this song and dance again? How is it the hardware's fault when there's clearly more demanding games running better on the system? Whenever the Switch 2 releases, there will no doubt be titles released for it that will perform poorly as well.
Awesome tagline!! That's a really good song from waaaay back in The Before Time, in the Long, Long Ago.
Still interested in eventually getting this as I luckily play mostly in handheld, but because of the other cons like the weird fast travel and map updating systems and especially the difficulty spikes it's not at the top of my wishlist anymore, thanks for the review!
"Metroidvania", "Dark Souls-like". Only missing "Ghibli-inspired"; then I'd be interested.
Probably will get it for the physical release anyways just like Souldiers (which had similar score). I play Souldiers and most of the minor issues didn't really bother me as they were also in the other versions too so this one could be similar.
@Lowell Loved the "Walk away, Renee" reference! Now I will listen to The Left Banke
@DrGonzo some people also didn’t like monster tale because of the backtracking even though it’s also a metroidvania. (The game lacked fast travel though)
@ZealMajin it’s nothing personal, but why should I buy this on Switch if it runs better on Ps5 or Steamdeck?
Well I use a lite anyway! Definitely will try and get it at some point!
Sounds like it's worth my time...good thing I have a Steam Deck.
@rockodoodle why would it be personal? No one (except maybe the devs who didn't optimize their game very well for Switch) would be offended if you play the game on hardware that can run it better.
I also appreciate the song reference in the tagline.
May try this game on PS5 on sale at some point.
Well I don't play docked so may wait for a sale and patches.
@Dualmask these are Nintendo fans…. people get butt hurt if u say anything remotely negative about Big N. I still love the Switch, it’s just feeling a bit dated with load times and performance issues….
Something about the art style though doesn't really stick with me. Don't think I will be picking this one up.
@HarmanSmith That was actually the editor. They hijacked my inferior subheader!
With games like Hollow Knight, Blasphemous, Aeterna Noctis and Metroid Dread these indie devs need to really step it up when releasing a new metroidvania on a console that is oberloaded with many forgettable and mid-tier entries that easily get obershadowed by the greats. It seems every indie game is eitherna metroidvania, roguelite or both.
@rockodoodle I'm as big a Nintendo supporter as it gets. I've owned all the hardware they ever put out, pretty much. But facts are facts...some games run fine, other games don't. Sometimes the hardware is the problem, sometimes it's the developers.
Either way, a game or two not running smoothly on the system is no reason to go all ultra fanboy or anti-Nintendo one way or the other. Folks should just take it case by case and not worry what others think of their gaming preferences.
Actually looks good but I must say the cons do put me off with regard to the spikes and getting lost. Backtracking happens in many metroidvanias tbf. I'm primarily a handheld gamer now.
Cheers for the review content.
Okay so...I know when I say the bad story is maybe a deal breaker for me, someone will probably respond that this genre has always been story-light* so as to get the player into the playing part quicker but with a tiny bit of context. But that's kinda why it makes me hesitate. You're already starting at a lower bar via necessity. That doesn't leave much room for immersion if the story scenes are more dreaded than the boss fights.
"Oh ***** another story scene! Now I'm gonna be even more blandly confused!"
*By story -light, I mean as in they really just don't get a lot of total run time story exposition. Their cutscenes and expo are usually done with less overall time to put a decent enough story as to why you're there in the first place. Metroid Dread was great, but it wasn't an incredibly long story when you put it all together without gameplay in-between.
Con: Easy to get lost; requires backtracking
Did you remember you're reviewing a metroidvania??? Lol
"Metroidvania", "Dark Souls- like"... jeez, I feel like every other indie game could be described like this these days. I've tried some Metroidvania's such as Axiom Verge (terrible), Oni and the Blind Forest (boring) and Hollow Knight (pretty good but I doubt I never replay it again).
Truth is, Metroid is still the king of the genre with Dread. Would be nice to see a new, modern 2d/ 3d Castlevania game in the vein of Symphony, but I suppose that's not possible.
Tap here to load 35 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...