Do you like Metroidvanias? Well, considering how many of them I tend to review at this point, I’d certainly hope so, cause guess what? WE GOT ANOTHER ONE. Minor spoilers in this: Major plot elements won’t be revealed, but the way your character is affected gameplay wise from good or evil choices will be discussed and slightly shown.
Also, as of this writing, it is available as part of Xbox’s gamepass subscription for PC and the Xbox series.
GENRE: Bloody Metroidvania
GET IT HERE: https://store.steampowered.com/app/374190/Infernax/
Also available on Xbox Series, PS4, and Nintendo Switch
So, starting off here, I need to be honest. This game is actually heavily inspired by two NES games I have fallen out of love with since my childhood. While I don’t consider them “bad” games per-se, I do consider them weaker entries in the series they came from because they tried to do new things instead of sticking to their original winning formulas: Those being Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2. Both of these games are a major foundation and inspiration of Infernax, but I feel like in the case of Infernax this works in its favor because Infernax takes the good things I remember about those games and incorporates them into a good whole. That said, if you enjoyed those games and still do? You are in for an absolute treat here.
So, let’s start with the premise. You play as Alcedor, a young Duke who has become disillusioned with the Crusades and returned home to his duchy to find things are…Bad. Really bad. Apparently in the year he’s been gone things have quite literally gone to hell: The dead have risen. People are being possessed by demons, and things are just really bad in general.
One major thing I’ll get to right at the start: You choose what kind of man Alcedor is. You’ll have moral choices throughout your adventure that shape if he is destined to remain the noble, heroic man his people remember him as prior to the Crusades, or if the Crusades have in fact left him a changed, embittered man who no longer believes in the justice he once fought for. And this isn’t something that affects story: Your weapon of choice and some of your magical abilities will also be shaped by going down the good or evil path. …And I hate to admit it? But the evil path is a tad more on the badass side in terms of your weapon and magic.
But perhaps I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. Your adventure will be indeed full of choices, but I need to talk about the actual adventuring. Infernax is a 2D sidescrolling Metroidvania at heart, and thus uses a fairly simple but effective interconnected world design, with a few dungeon areas sprinkled into the mix that make up the game. In a more Zelda type fashion, your goal is to find and conquer several Castle dungeons in order to open the way to the supposed source of evil where everything began while Alcedor was away from his homeland. And that means a lot of adventuring around this 2D world. And jumping. Lots of jumping. Wouldn’t be a proper 2D metroidvania without jumping.
The exploration of a mostly outdoor world, with the dungeon areas being their own maps you access via doorways is definitely a Castlevania 2 inspired choice, but thankfully this world is much easier to navigate. Unlike Castlevania 2, you have both a functional map and eventual fast travel capabilities that make the exploration of this world far less of a chore. And the combat is admittedly where things feel a bit more Zelda 2, but with a bit of Castlevania thrown in. Alcedor’s weapon of choice is a mace: Short ranged but quick and powerful, allowing for fast, responsive attacking. He also employs a shield that allows him to block some melee attacks and physical projectiles like spears and hatchets, but not magical ones like fireballs. Using your shield to block oncoming attacks before going on the offense is key in a lot of encounters, as it will passively block anything in front of you while you aren’t attacking aside from low projectiles you’ll have to crouch to block. Alcedor will also gain magic he can employ in combat for both offensive and defensive purposes, though you have a very limited mana pool at your disposal, with some spells using up to 4 points out of a possible 10 max via levels up…At least I think it’s 10?
Levelling up is where things are a bit more Zelda 2 inspired. Rather than everything going up when you gain enough XP, the XP you earn is spent on a single stat upgrade: Attack power, HP, or MP. Each attribute increases in cost for future level ups, so specializing in one is typically not a good idea, you’re usually better off taking a balanced approach vs dumping everything into attack. That said, you can only level up at save points, and speaking of save points: USE THEM. If you die in Infernax, you’re back to your last save point, with any progress since you last saved lost! on Casual, you get to keep some of your XP and Gold, but any progression outside of that is still gone. While you do get extra lives that let you re-attempt the room you died in, losing them all is a game over. Thankfully any extra lives you buy are replenished along with HP and MP at save points.
And you’re going to need those extra lives. Infernax is a game that emphasizes brutality. Not just because of all the blood from combat, but from how much it enjoys killing you. Instant death pits, hard hitting enemies, and rooms full of traps like spike crushers and spear launchers are all more than happy to leave you a bloodied corpse, each with their own unique death animations. Also, instant death pits. So many instant death pits. This game loves platforming sequences that can kill you so much. When you die in this game, the game REALLY rubs it in with how painful your demise is shown to be. I will say it now: There is no shame in playing on Casual, which grants you an extra life from the get-go so you have 2 lives at your disposal (Classic only gives you one), as well as savepoints in Dungeons to refill your HP, MP, and extra life stocks. The actual difficulty of enemies and areas is unchanged between difficulties: Casual basically just gives you extra save points and an extra life to work with, and frankly I find both are must haves for anyone who might be a bit rusty in their 8-bit retro gaming skills, or even if they’re decent. Things get particularly rough around the 4th Dungeon with an obstacle course of platforming over instant death pits and a very difficult to use ability for getting past all of it, where one mistake can send you all the way back to the last save point once your lives run out. This is one gripe I have with the game: The last couple of dungeons get a little absurd in how much instant death they throw at you, and the ability you’re expected to use to navigate these two dungeons is…Well, it’s rough. The enemies aren’t so bad, but the platforming gets downright ridiculous at times. And with the way the camera works, sometimes you can’t even effectively see below you, which results in some potential death by blind drop/jump. It’s frustrating, and something that did make me cheat a bit on my first playthrough since the game DOES offer cheats for accessibility purposes.
Thankfully you do get access to a variety of tools to help make the combat side of things easier: Healing potions, stronger maces, and better armor that protects from more damage. You’ll amass gold from fallen foes you’ll use to purchase these as well as the various spells Alcedor can employ, giving you a decent variety of ways to deal with the demons, undead, and other things that menace you throughout your journey.
Another thing from the Castlevania 2 influences I should mention: Day and night cycles. At night, more dangerous enemies tend to roam the countryside, making adventuring potentially more hazardous. Though some quests and events can only be done at certain times of day or night, so you will need to be in those areas at the proper time. Thankfully, inns throughout the game let you quickly swap between day and night at will so you aren’t having to sit around and wait for the next sunrise or sunset.
Fair warning though: If you’re expecting a deep RPG system and build customization, you aren’t going to find it here. The game does expect you to play it a certain way, and the upgrades are just to make playing that way easier, vs having your own build that defines how you play. While you can certainly elect to employ certain spells, their costs mean you can’t just spam them: Most of your combat is going to be smashing things in the face with your mace, hey that rhymes.
Not that I find this a bad thing, mind you, I just mention it since there’s been quite a few Metroidvanias lately that are all about character building, like Ender Lilies.
So, as you progress through the game, you’ll be given the option to take on various Quests and also have to make decisions: All of these affect your standing with the good and evil factions of the game, and which one you’ll eventually end up siding with. Which one you side with affects the finale of the game, as well as what weapon and spells you’ll have access to. This does encourage replays, since there’s multiple endings, and various secrets and features are revealed through each. Without spoiling any specifics, there are in fact 3 additional characters beyond Alcedor you can play as, with their methods to unlock each hidden behind an ending. Each of these characters plays very, VERY different from Alcedor, which makes replays very much worth your time if only to try them out. One in particular is a character I frankly couldn’t get enough of playing as, even if they basically broke the game.
So, the Metroidvania stuff. It’s minimal, but it gets the job done. The Metroidvania elements like finding new abilities to reach new areas is primarily used for progression purposes, so those who like replaying old areas to find upgrades and secrets might be a bit disappointed. You won’t be re-checking every place you’ve been to before in this, you’ll just open the occasional new path. But if you’re here for the secret and item hunting that most Metroidvanias employ, you aren’t going to find that here, fair warning.
Bosses thankfully are a strong point. Every dungeon has a big boss fight at the end, and there’s quite a few sprinkled throughout the rest of the game. Boss encounters are all about the good old approach of learning its tells and patterns to avoid its attacks, then smash it with your mace when you see an opening. We’re not talking Dark Souls type stuff here, more NES style, but with better tells to make it easier to anticipate enemy attacks. All of the boss fights were an absolute treat, with two of the possible final bosses being my absolute favorites for reasons I can’t really go into because spoilers. But if you’re here for good bosses? Don’t worry, you’ll get ’em.
And the music? Well, if you like NES chiptunes, you’re in for a treat. The game goes full NES here, even using music with a VRC6 sound to it. VRC6, for those not in the know, is a custom soundchip Konami employed on certain games for its own unique kind of sound to its music, but only in Japan. But if you’ve ever heard VRC6 music before ,you’ll know the sound I’m talking about, and it’s here in Infernax. I can’t get enough of the daylight theme for the majority of the game’s world, which just slaps with its beat. Love it!
At the end of the day, while Infernax isn’t a perfect game, it *is* one enjoyed due to the way it evoked the positive feelings I did have about the games that inspired it due to modern conveniences those games lacked. So if you enjoyed Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2? Absolutely give this game a try, you’ll see the influences and probably love the heck out of it all the same.