Infernax

Castlevania is probably my favourite series, despite its ups and downs. Although, even some of its lesser entries hold a special place in my heart, such as Simon’s Quest due to how it could have been good if its intriguing ideas had been polished and fleshed out. Surprisingly, the folk at Berzerk Studio has taken upon themselves to do this in the form of Infernax. This is an incredible challenge, but one I am all for! It is considerably more interesting to see someone take an unfinished product and make it work in contrast to merely updating a perfect retro title. Though, just how much can you improve upon a broken classic?


Familiar horror

Playing as a duke who has returned home from a crusade, you notice that the past is not at all done with you. Something from the holy land has come to keep you from taking a rest in fighting evil, this time in the form of a mysterious book with extraordinary powers. If that was not bad enough, your country has become infested by demonic creatures and only you can vanquish this horrible nightmare.

Infernax‘s tone is truly grim, with people suffering and moral decisions having to be made. Yet, it is also not afraid of establishing that it is a parody too through its macabre setting, with amusing references and insane violence. With its simple plot of killing monsters and acknowledgement of its influences, it is obviously not meant to be taken seriously and balances these two styles well to make itself an entertaining journey.

Though its shallow story and forgettable characters that never evolve are legit issues, the adventure certainly gives a lovely atmosphere with townspeople showcasing how they cope with what is going on, such as through hope, benefiting the weak or even cracking funny jokes. Your avatar even utters a poetic prayer whenever you are saving the game and makes humorous remarks about your strange actions, like commenting if you are still beating on a dead boss. All of these give this tale a bit more personality that is definitely endearing, despite being mainly a parody of other projects.

Another thing that will make you more invested in this land, is that your choices have clear consequences. Even if they are at times blatant good versus evil options, seeing them actually change what happens to the inhabitants or even what abilities you gain, is legitimately mesmerising and makes the journey more appealing. I suppose you could describe this as a B movie setup: undoubtedly made with care for the dark atmosphere with diverse places and foes, even if the plot and NPCs are not memorable.

Story Score: 7/10


Simon’s forgotten quest?

It is here where this indie title becomes fascinating, as it obviously takes inspiration from one of the most controversial Castlevania entries ever. This is still a metroidvania with villages to visit, an overworld to explore, and several dungeons to investigate, all done in a sidescrolling manner. Luckily, it also tries to fix its shortcomings in order to make this a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

To start with, your hero’s capabilities are quite minimal at first. With only a jump that he can control in midair and an attack that has a slight delay, he is easy to get the hang of, even if it would be better to have generally stiff controls for mimicking the original’s concept thoroughly. This feels like a halfway approach of doing respect to the classic style, but I suppose this makes sure that knockbacks will be the worst of annoyances in terms of platforming.

Besides your trusty mace that you can swing in a horizontal manner with, you also hold a shield for blocking incoming attacks both high and low, giving you some nice combat manoeuvres and being forced to play both offensively and defensively. There are new weapons and armours to find, though these come in only four types each and merely increase your stats, making for underwhelming upgrades. Granted, I do like that there are just a few to make them significant and that they are either located in shops or hidden within this vast world. 

Similarly can be said for gaining more flasks to carry brews with, though the spells to collect are incredible. Whether it is summoning beasts or creating barriers to name some, your magical powers are something to behold and offer a ton to various playstyles. The bottles can be used to refill health potion for free, and while mana and elixir will cost more, I never needed the latter two. Although, what might be severely important, are the hearts you can purchase, functioning as extra lives. These always replenish alongside your HP and MP by going past statues you can pray at for recording your journey. When these are gone, you get a game over and have to restart from your previous save.

Lastly for your arsenal, you can gather new skills that are both for progression and for battles, such as an upthrust that even works as a double jump! This is fantastic, since giving them multiple purposes for both exploration and combat, makes them more than just context-sensitive abilities. Speaking of, despite that these aspects will make you quite the impressive paladin, you will heavily rely on them in order to deal with the mix of enemies and platforming. There is a solid selection, including skeletons carrying swords, eyeballs that fly towards you, hulking monsters with enormous weaponry and more, making the amount a fierce threat. 

This was oddly enough not the case initially, as the game started out rather simple and shallow, with opponents just running back and forth with few kinds to tackle simultaneously. Thankfully, when you start on your first temple, you will be facing different creatures, dodge traps all over the place, and leap over hazards that will instantly kill you. It is here the challenge will ramp up, as you will be taking careful hops while learning the antagonists’ patterns in order to stay alive or at least get some keys or items before you hightail out of these palaces in order to save.

Yupp, recording your journey can only happen at specific statues and there is never one inside any household. Because of this, Infernax can be quite demanding, but it is never unfair. It always expects you to pay attention, learn from your mistakes, and keep going. With how defeated foes drop coins for purchasing upgrades and always reward you with XP, there is a constant sense of progression and getting better. Even the checkpoints are placed well. Nevertheless, since you can solely heal at inns, by sculptures or from spells, you will have to be prepared at all times. 

Even the experience points, which are used to pay for upgrading strength, maximum health or mana points, are merely small supports because this title expects you to get through with skills first and foremost. This cleverly makes grinding never a part of the adventure, which I am all for. Unfortunately, the boss fights are complete wars of nutrition and pushovers. Only one gave me a sweat due to tons of projectiles flying everywhere, but I still managed to beat it on my first try, with the final encounter being a huge letdown. It is somewhat bizarre to say this, as the difficulty curve for each palace is superb and on a satisfactory climb, except for these battles.

However, getting to these parts will require you to venture through the overworld. With a handy map and clear descriptions of where you have been and where you could investigate, I never got lost and it was easy to remember each location due to their visual diversity. Towns always had merchants with unique stocks and exploration was constantly rewarding. Although, there are times when you can pick which moralistic pathway to take. Despite that I found them interesting for changing up the road ahead of you, the choices themselves were underwhelming. 

Another thing that was a shame, revolves around the clever moments where you need to pay attention to what the inhabitants say in order to learn about the zones you are in. These are too few and usually clear visual indications within the environments were enough to help, which is a tragedy when their subtle dialogues could also give you neat clues. I additionally cannot say that the day and night cycle did much for me, since this meant dark creatures attacking at night and possibly activating a quest at best.

While Infernax is not always at its highest, it still presents a good adventure that is fair and challenging. It makes the concept of extra lives work tremendously, combat is engaging, scouring the land is intriguing, the temples are wonderfully designed by testing your reflexes, and your entire arsenal is useful. Certain parts could have been polished, such as the bosses and moral options, but these are thankfully gripes that will not hinder your overall enjoyment.

Gameplay Score: 7/10


Bit off horror

I am torn on whether this is trying to replicate the capabilities of the GBC or the NES, as there is a clear 8-bit style here that occasionally goes beyond what either could do. Regardless, my main issue with the visuals is the character models, featuring minimalistic designs that make them relatively dull. Though the portraits do make each character you talk to distinct, it is hard to not shake the feeling that more could have been done.

This holds especially true when the foes you are up against are impressive with detailed pixels to them. Despite the traditional sorcerers and ghouls, this project also introduces tons of beasts that have unbelievably grotesque looks to them, making me always impressed by the sheer creativity in the body horror it offers. Some of these are even difficult to describe other than a mass of flesh that looks like is in agony, and I absolutely cherish this.

Escalating the gory scenery is the plenty of neat inclusions, like big cutscenes for enhancing significant events or having your avatar being covered in blood upon defeating his opponents. Although, the land you are traversing through is not as strong. There are some gorgeous backgrounds to give a sense of scope and I do admire how this title takes you through varied spots such as a fisherman’s village or icy mountains. However, these places are rather traditional than iconic.

While the day and night cycle also does little to enrich this world, it is intriguing to see your actions visually make a difference, like if you aid in rebuilding constructions or cause a town to become the next Atlantis. Dungeons are probably the worst aspect here though, as they are mainly coloured with simple textures that make each room become too similar. At least some set pieces do help to make them grim, but if it had not been for the creatures lurking around, these would not have had any kind of flavour to them.

The music is a fascinating mix of dark and slow tunes conveying an uncomfortable setting, with fierce and tense tracks containing strong rhythms. Both work off each other well to set distinct moods and are nice contrasts, despite simultaneously sharing an ominous tone. Every single melody also comes with a diverse structure and highlighted notes, making them memorable and exhilarating to listen to on their own. Finally, they are all being used perfectly for each setup, whether it is giving a calm atmosphere to the hopeful city or creating fear while walking through a dangerous graveyard. Sweetening the audio to the max are the sound effects that include screaming ghosts and your weapons smacking enemies into bloody piles, all being satisfying to hear.

Presentation Score: 7/10


Dumb secrets are the best!

Having to choose what moralistic action to take might not offer much in driving the story forward, but with tons of endings, varied upgrades, and unique events to discover, there are solid reasons for revisiting this title. Even the first run provides a good amount of side quests that can lead to new bosses or optional skills to uncover, and they are genuinely entertaining by encouraging you to look in every nook and cranny. The combat is still easy in these scenarios, but the rewards are worthwhile. Except if you do not take on the intended difficulty, which I will not judge you loudly on.

Furthermore, there are a plethora of exciting secrets here that show how fun the developers had with this project. Particularly the delightful nods to Konami’s old classics, with even their famous code giving an amazing mode that made me instantly play through the campaign again. In fact, there are plenty of cheats to find and they go beyond simply making you a powerful god, with some being for visual amusement and others providing completely new mechanics. Combine this with filling up the monster encyclopedia and you got robust replay value here.

Extra Score: 8.5/10


Verdict

It is hard to deny the influences from Simon’s Quest, but even on its own, this is a metroidvania that has a lot of strengths to it. Your avatar’s arsenal is wonderful for exploration and combat, both helped by the great level designs and engaging creatures. Admittedly, while the atmosphere is nice and the audio superb, there is a lack of personal identity and some lesser aspects to this journey, such as the boss battles and slow beginning. Even then, for anyone who knows why it is a horrible night to have a curse, this is definitely worth checking out.

75/100

Published by slionr

A guy who likes to talk about video games and loves tabletop gaming. Writer for corruptsavefile.com, you can always follow me on twitter @GSlionr if you ever want the latest article from me :)

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