A lone traveler flies through space, crashes into an asteroid that damages his warp drive, and proceeds to get stranded in a solar system surrounded by four planets. With that, you have your stage set for Xeodrifter. It jumps into things basically right off the bat. The game doesn’t give you any direction, so you can choose from whichever one of the four planets that you would like to explore. It’s a false sense of freedom though, as you quickly realize where you’re actually supposed to be. I just happened to stumble across the right planet on my first try, but at that point, the other planets are blocked off by sections that you clearly won’t be able to get through until you’ve gained the right ability.
Xeodrifter very tightly follows a basic metroidvania format. You’ll have to kill bosses to unlock new abilities to unlock new areas, and so on. I liked the format of having to go back in forth between the different planets while knocking out sections of them bit by bit. There is backtracking to be done, (which is expected in a metroidvania) and it rarely feels like too much of a drag since your character moves fast and it normally doesn’t take much time to retread previous areas. The map is very easy to work with, so as long as you’re paying attention to it, there should be no problem in finding where you need to be. The only checkpoints in this game exist at your ship, and right before and after bosses. They feel pretty sparse, but I didn’t have a major issue with it. It forced me to learn the environment and enemy placements well, so by the time I did get to a boss, I felt like I had earned it. If there were any more checkpoints, I would have been able to run much more carelessly past the sections until I reached one, which would have made things a bit too easy. The game’s difficulty as is I found to be pretty manageable anyway.
The four planets are very different from each other aesthetically, but there’s very little depth to them as separate entities. Whatever amount mystique that each location has to offer is worn out by their first segment. The game is still fun enough to play, so I enjoyed progressing through the planets for that reason alone. They weren’t actually interesting to explore on their own right though. Exploration stops being exciting when you’re coming across largely the same enemy types and environments over and over again. The 8 bit music was mostly boring and unmemorable, and that combined with other things gave this game an overall weak sense of atmosphere.
Even the bosses that you fight are palette swaps of the same enemy model with the same core moveset, and the only difference in each subsequent encounter being that a new attack would be added to its rotation. For me, it actually worked better in practice than how it might sound on paper. The boss is enjoyable to fight the first time, and it ended up being fun for me to go into the next encounter fighting a harder and more varied version of the enemy that I was already familiar with. Still, I wish there were a couple of different bosses, but it’s not surprising how things turned out when knowing that the developers at Renegade Kid whipped this all up in 5 months.
There are health and weapon upgrades to find throughout the planets. Many of them are basically out in the open, but you won’t be able to access them until you get certain abilities. Others are hidden behind false walls. When you get weapon upgrade modules, you can put them into 5 different stats that affect your gun. The game won’t describe to you in detail what they do, but the little icons should give you a decent hint. If you’re not sure, you can tinker around with them. The weapon upgrade points aren’t of permanent use, so you can always take them off of a certain stat and put them elsewhere. That character progression is definitely felt toward the end of the game where you will start to feel much more like a threat to the enemies around you rather than just a wandering nomad trying to get by, and it feels good.
Xeodrifter certainly seems like a game that needed more time to be fleshed out. A couple of the abilities that you get toward the end felt like they didn’t get enough use, and there was some opportunity for them to be used in more creative ways that wasn’t taken advantage of enough.
The character controlled a bit slippery, and his jump height was fixed (which got me into some trouble), but it wasn’t too big of a deal. Even with all of the gripes I had, I found it to be a nice little action platformer, just nothing too special.