The retro 2D side-scrolling action genre isn’t one that’s lacking in excellent titles to recommend on Switch these days. Indeed, fans of the old 8 and 16-bit era are practically drowning in a sea of quality titles to choose from, with heavy hitters such as Shovel Knight, Hollow Knight, Dead Cells and Celeste to name a few that pop immediately into our heads.
This is a tough crowd to stand out in, for sure, and one that gamers may by now be slightly fatigued with. Well, don’t go hanging up your pixelated adventure hat just yet because Aggelos has finally arrived on Nintendo’s console, some eleven months after its well-received PC debut, and it’s got more than enough about it to eek out a place of its own amongst some of the big boys in its class.
At first glance, it must be said, you’d almost be forgiven for taking a pass on Aggelos as a somewhat run-of-the-mill updating of the classic Wonder Boy format. There are so many similar looking, and sounding, games out there right now that its colourful and chunky - but hardly inspired or original - pixel looks partnered with a cut-and-paste story don’t give the best first impression. However, give it just the slightest of chances and you’ll find Agellos’ disparate parts quickly come together to form one of the most well-crafted and brilliantly paced tribute acts to adventures of old.
Let’s start off with that story, such as it is. You assume the role of the silent and stoic hero, a young lad in search of adventure, which he finds promptly in the form of Princess Lys, daughter of King Gentel, ruler of the land of Lumen. Lys sends you off to speak with her father who hurriedly explains that bad boy Valion is trying to fuse together elements of the worlds of dark and light in order that he might tear a hole between realms, wreak all sorts of havoc and generally make an absolute mess. Obviously, he needs stopping, and it’s your job, oh chunky little hero, to secure the four elements of the world of light, combat Valion’s advances and restore peace and tranquillity.
Once your adventure is under way, it doesn’t take long before Aggelos’ brand of satisfying combat and exploration - that classic Metroidvania gameplay loop of explore, fight, upgrade and explore some more - gets its nails into you. Aggelos deftly fuses the chunky combat, light puzzling and platforming we’ve come to expect from the best side-scrolling adventure games with some extremely well-designed dungeon-crawling which lifts it well above the monotonous rhythms of much of its ilk. While doing so, it cleverly doles out a steady stream of exciting new abilities and elemental skills with which to traverse its picturesque, varied world and dispatch its beautifully designed gallery of foes.
A gameplay flow is quickly established; four temples to visit in order to unlock all four elements needed to thwart the villain, each temple providing the player with a power which doubles as both weapon and new means of traversal. The first power you’ll come across in the game’s opening Earth Temple, for example, is an earth ring which grants you a ranged energy attack that not only kills enemies but turns them into platforms to reach new areas. Later you’ll unlock the ability to travel upwards during underwater segments in a bubble shield which doubles as a defensive upgrade whilst submerged. It takes a matter of minutes to gain these first powers and it’s in this unconvoluted, fast-paced approach to mixing up proceedings that Aggelos’ main strength lies; it isn’t interested in wasting your time.
This isn’t a particularly long game, around ten hours for an almost 100% playthrough on normal difficulty. It gets straight to the good stuff and almost instantly you’re chopping snakes, bats and pink goo to ribbons and turning forest wisps into platforms to aid your Metroid-esque traversal of a world full of clever little secrets, superbly designed dungeons and boss battles.
There’s no Shovel Knight style in-jokes here, no bloat, no clever wink-wink subversion of genre tropes, it’s a straightforward and perfectly formed blast through exactly the type of gameplay elements we all know and expect from the 16-bit era replete with a handful of modern conveniences such as generous checkpointing and even a handy little tip-giving NPC who lives in the castle just in case you get stuck.
Aggelos’ light-hearted approach even extends to player death; there’s no great punishment for failure, you’ll keep your progress and possessions while losing a little XP. Yes, there are light RPG elements here, however levelling up is quick and easy, grind is minimal to non-existent and the coin you’ll need to upgrade your way through its delightful assortment of weapons and armour is plentiful. It’s liberating, almost slightly disarming, to find a retro action game so willing to push you forward, not throwing roadblocks in your way or being difficult for the sake of being on trend.
There are some small annoyances, however. The world map is basic to the point of being useless, something that’s more annoying early before you’ve memorised your way around the world’s various areas and unlocked all the abilities which make moving from area to area a breeze. There’re also some slight issues with difficulty levels throughout your adventure; the first half is almost a little too easy whilst the latter two dungeons have a few annoying spikes which will stop you in your tracks, causing you to repeat runs on bosses to the point of irritation here and there.
Overall, this is a great little retro adventure that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It plays like a top tier title from back in the day, presents you with the sort of gameplay you want and expect from this type of game and serves it all up at a pace with such consistent quality that it’s hard not to be won over, no matter how fatigued you may be by the idea of another blast of old school pixel action.