Over the last few years rogue-like titles have become increasingly popular, using quick deaths but continuous progression means gamers will often keep coming back for more knowing they’ll eventually be faster, stronger and more capable of the challenge ahead, titles like rogue Legacy stand out as a retro based rogue-like dungeon smash, but can Xenon Valkyrie + keep you coming back for more.
First impressions of Xenon Valkyrie + aren’t the best, I love indie titles especially when they give such nostalgic presentation, but Xenon Valkyrie goes one step further and instead of trying to mimic the 8-bit era, it seems content with looking no better than a Commodore 64 game. The main menu’s blocky pixellated look is all a little too basic for my taste.
The presentation maintains a below par performance when you start the game and get to choose between three characters, two seem to be young girls with a third some form of sun-burnt lizard, there’s no description, no back story and no real clarity between your characters and the surroundings which means it’s a lucky deep outside of the very slight change in numbers which represent strength, defence, HP and WPA? I’ve got no idea what WPA means and Xenon didn’t feel like telling me either, so I resorted to the age-old method of ‘higher is best’.
Either way, neither character really felt much different to the next, so we jump into the start of the game.
From here you’ll be able to speak to NPC characters who fill you in on the story line, an crazy witch is up to no good, there’s a huge ball of energy close to your planet and of course, you’re the hero who’s going to save the day. Stepping through the portal there’s no cut-scene, no harrowing narrative to tell you how bad things are, you’re just thrown into action with no clue to direction or objective. After a few minutes wandering around trying to kill everything, I soon realised that simply heading down was the best bet, kill a few bad guys, pick up anything that looked shiny and jump through the next portal.
I soon found myself in a central hub, options to speak to more people who didn’t help and grab a few upgrades, sadly these seem to come few and far between, so you’ll need to pick up more than a couple of shiny gems if your hoping to make any progress.
Moving forward, I skipped through the next level, taking down bad guys and picking up gems like a jewellery heist, before reaching another (very familiar looking) hub. Unimpressed I ventured through the next portal to face the first boss.
Now a giant robot with beams of fire circling him isn’t the easiest, especially when he has 150 health and my hits were barely scratching his surface, sure enough I died, and the next 3 or 4 times I died again, and again and after a few more attempts, I managed to die again and again, the perma-death solution is tough, unfair, gruelling and designed to make you spend 15 minutes doing a 60 second job.
Sadly these boss battles that you’ll encounter are quite a step up over the core platform gameplay, thee’s nothing really major over your classic 8-bit platform title, but the health bars mean you’re going to take some time levelling up your power and defence before you’ve got any chance of really moving forward.
Sometimes this rogue-like nature really appeals to me, but with Xenon Valkyrie is all felt too forced, I could reach that first boss in nothing more than a few minutes, but even spending 5-10 minutes killing everything on the level, I’d still spend close to an hour of frustrating repetition before I felt like I was making any progress at all and due to often awkward level design you’d often be taking unnecessary hits from small enemies that would be quickly taken down if you could see or hit them clearly before confrontation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love indie games, just ask ThatGuy. When it works, it seems to work pretty well and the fluidity of gameplay is probably the saving grace, but when levels are quite short, simple but forced upon the gamer it all feels a little weak, procedural generated levels are great when they work, but with Xenon, they all look far too similar, you’ll always find impossible sections and I lost count how many times items that looked important (such as a key) would pop out of a dead enemy and get stuck in the landscape and when that wasn’t frustrating enough, I’d end up trapped with a tiny gap to jump through or falling onto a pack of out-of-sight enemies.
Sadly there’s no saving grace with the actual story, because even after playing for hours, the background of the game still wasn’t very clear. Why am I the hero, what is this ball of energy and why does that guy look like a lizard. Time and time again I would look over at a game like Rogue legacy, which felt like it wanted me to love every single hier I managed to get chopped up, but Xenon Valkyrie just doesn’t leave me caring much for any of the characters or their world, so my only question was, why should I care about a ball of energy.
This might all seem unnecessarily harsh, but with more and more rogue-like titles appearing, Rogue Legacy while costing 50% more but more than double the experience, first person rogue-like games such as Immortal Redneck and the forthcoming (and very impressive) City of Brass, Xenon Valkyrie just doesn’t stand out among the growing crowd and any ‘features’ that I could highlight are sadly only negative.