Beyond Co-op Review: Infernax
Review by: Paul Acevedo
Before Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came along to cement Metroidvanias as a legitimate platforming subgenre, earlier platformers had to lay the groundwork. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link each combined platforming with bold adventure game elements that hadn’t been seen before. Though neither game is particularly beloved nowadays, they serve as inspiration to the newly created Infernax from Berzerk Studio and The Arcade Crew. Infernax looks and plays a lot like a classic NES game, but its creative design choices and sharp gameplay will easily qualify it as an early frontrunner for the year’s best Metroidvania.
The game takes place during the Crusades. Lord Alcedor, the protagonist, returns to his European kingdom after some time away at war. He comes home to discover that things have taken a turn toward the dark and demonic. Monsters prowl the land during both day and night, people suffer from curses and vile schemes, and a cult has even arisen to foment the chaos. Alcedor will face many tough choices to make on his quest to return order to the kingdom.
Infernax is modeled after the NES classics of yore, though the larger color palette of the sprites and some graphical effects put it closer to the Super NES Ninja Gaiden Trilogy than a true NES title. The blood and gore here wouldn’t have flown during Nintendo’s censorious early days, but the pixelated art style keeps things from getting too disturbing. Blood and guts aside, the exploration of desolate fields, swamps, and other wastelands while contending with a day-and-night cycle certainly evokes Simon’s Quest vibes.
Early on, the hero reaches one of the precious few settlements amidst the hinterlands. In each town, Alcedor can converse with townspeople, accept quests, and purchase a few unique upgrades like armor, potion bottles, and spells. Magic can be used to create a temporary shield, refill health, solve a couple of puzzles, and, eventually, fast travel between save points. Potions initially function like those of Dark Souls, with the player limited to two rechargeable potions for healing. Later, Alcedor can buy more bottles and even MP-refilling potions.
The most essential upgrades that provide access to new areas tend to be found inside of castles. These labyrinthine dungeons resemble those of Link’s famous adventure. Monsters can kill Alcidor if he runs out of health, although death by falling into pits is the real threat. The first two castles are reasonably conquered, but the third features some truly cruel and frustrating jumps (as pictured above) that will test even seasoned platforming fans. The remaining dungeons are actually easier, making this a rare balance issue in a game that usually challenges without veering into unfair territory.
The last thing that sets Infernax apart is its karma system. At various points throughout the game, Alcedor will have to make a choice: save or kill a man, let a group of squatters stay or go, etc. These choices are always fun and can lead to dramatically different outcomes such as an incensed man returning for revenge. The karma system is not without its flaws, however. First, the player often can’t tell whether a decision will count as good or bad. Second, there’s no way to check your karma other than seeing whether one of the opposing NPC factions has quests to offer. A significant amount of late-game content, including unique endings, is tied to having entirely positive or negative karma. Because Infernax never conveys whether decisions add or subtract karma, players basically have to rely on guides in order to see the last portions of the game.
With a few exceptions, Metroidvanias tend to be easy – just look at our recent review of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. Infernax offers two difficulty levels but tends much more towards old school challenge overall. On the whole, this is a tough but fair game. Players who want an easier time can always input cheat codes at save points. The game communicates several such codes, and they don’t even disable Achievements (though some probably should). There’s even a code that gives Alcidor a Contra gun instead of a mace. How cool is that? This game is clearly a labor of love, one that Metroidvania fans can’t afford to miss.
Infernax costs $19.99 on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and Steam. It’s also available on Xbox Game Pass as of this writing, so be sure to give it a try!
Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5