When it’s in full flow, MindSeize has the flair and feel of Mega Man Zero. And believe us, that’s not something we’d say lightly, considering that Capcom’s beloved handheld series remains at the apex of 2D action gameplay. There’s a similarity in certain aspects of the game’s design, but mostly in its mechanics and movement, which – once you locate the right character upgrades – are exemplary stuff.
After a horrendous incident that sees the player character’s daughter captured and himself left crippled, his mind is transferred into a powerful and agile robot body in order to partake of segmented Metroidvania gameplay with a strong focus on platforming. Rather than one vast map, the game sees you fly between planets to explore separate, distinct areas – rather like the structure of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Some would consider this a compromise, but we rather like the variety and accessibility of this layout – having a definitive “end” to each landscape gives the climactic moments and encounters a little more weight as you transition from one area to the next; reaching a new biome is an achievement rather than an inevitability. You get better and earn progress – you don't stumble across it.
Of course, that’s arguably a reductive reading of the typical Metroidvania style – and it does raise a pertinent question about MindSeize. The ingredients for a superb linear action game are all present and correct, here. So why isn’t it one? We liked MindSeize from the start, but it only gets really good once you acquire the dash and dash-cancel abilities, so why weren’t they just… there from the beginning? The exploration on offer here isn’t bad, but it’s not the game’s strength, essentially amounting to a series of arbitrary locks with keys that happen to be in-game moves. The best stuff in MindSeize is the action-packed and cleverly-designed combat, the smartly-laid-out platforming challenges. Couldn’t the whole game have been that stuff? In a title as action-focused as MindSeize, we just can’t see what the standard genre backtracking actually brings to the table here. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, it just feels a little like it’s only a Metroidvania because that’s what people like now. Apply the exquisite precision and variety on offer to a traditional, linear action platformer and we’d be laughing.
Genre quibbling aside, we did mean it when we compared MindSeize to the venerated Mega Man Zero franchise – the sliding-dash move you acquire is functionally identical to Zero’s, and you have access to both your gun and a natty sword, allowing you to strike with multi-hit combos. The ability to cancel a dash into a sword strike feels marvellous, planting you firmly to the floor while you unleash the sword before dashing away once again. Your character's sprite is large, which grants a nice sense of vulnerability, but you're extremely mobile and while your inputs are limited to just a few, you'll need twitch skills to survive the boss battles here.
They're brilliant, you see. A highlight of the entire game and another fitting comparison to Mega Man Zero. Just like in that series, bosses here are powerful and adaptable, with even the most benign mini-boss having multiple changes of tactics and escalating hazards. There's an early battle that's straight out of Capcom's classic GBA series, with an insectoid enemy that leaps all over the screen, unleashing bullets. Halfway through the fight it sets fire to the floor, making manoeuvrability even tighter. Close to death, three pillars raise and you must finish the fight in the air. All the while dodging its freakishly fast, constantly changing attacks. It's brilliant, heart-in-mouth stuff - devastatingly difficult, but fair, with the last save point placed for minimum frustration.
Elsewhere, it's rather more business as usual, though certainly no slouch in any department. We've seen criticism of the story elsewhere - perhaps it is a little generic, but it's all so unobtrusive we found it pretty difficult to get upset about. Destroying enemies with the gun or swords is fun, and utilising their unlockable special powers adds a tactical sheen to the proceedings. You'll be gathering money and unlocking new upgrades with a well-balanced economy meaning that you'll be drip-fed new toys regularly enough to keep you going. Visuals are functional, with some attractive effects used sparingly. The synth-y soundtrack by Adam Al-Sawad is good stuff, too, though one of the tracks sounds quite a lot like "Popcorn". Hardly a bad thing, but it made us wish that every track in every game was "Popcorn" instead.
A pacey, exciting game, MindSeize excels when it pits you one-on-one against one of its varied, aggressive bosses, but there are no elements of this little gem that aren't up to scratch. You're constantly moving forward and getting better at it, and the level design is good stuff. We don't feel like the Metroidvania backtracking really adds much to the experience, but it didn't spoil our fun. What we have here, ultimately, is a fantastic action game that's been forced into the shape of a markedly less brilliant Metroidvania, a format that doesn't play to the game's strengths. So, very good indeed, but could definitely have been a classic with a little more structure.