Nostalgia is a strange thing to experience, on one hand, you can be reminded of everything you loved about the original. However, there are occasions where nostalgia can remind you of the thing you hated. The reason I bring this up is due to Infernax. This game came out this February on most major platforms and playing it is really like a trip down memory lane.
If you ever had the pleasure of playing through the first two Castlevania games then you will have some concept of what playing Infernax is like. The design and gameplay are very similar, but some important differences help to push Infenax out of the large shadow it seeks to emulate.
Firstly, however, let us look at the plot of the game. You play as the duke of a small kingdom, we shall call him Josh because it makes me happy, and have to rescue it from the clutches of an evil force. There isn’t much in the way of plot points but the story is told slowly over the dialogue with characters Josh meets on his journey. There is also the occasional choice for how Josh will act and each one has an end result that adds some variety to each playthrough. All of this is secondary and frankly ignorable if you really don’t care. All you need to know is that you have to clear dungeons and kill monsters.
As I said, the gameplay is very reminiscent of the Castlevania games. You have a melee attack, potions and spells at your disposal and need to fight off hordes of monsters. There is a day and night cycle (thankfully no one mentions it being a terrible night to have a curse) which affect the combat. Essentially there are more monsters during the day, but at night they are tougher and stronger.
Combat is a mixed bag at least in terms of how interesting it is. The melee is…well frankly its kind of dull. There’s not much here for players to do other than hitting the monsters over and over again. There are several weapons to use, but they don’t really change much. However, if we take the inspiration into consideration then the reasons become clear. You see, in the original Castlevania games, the combat was really only a means to an end. The game's focus was on using the items available to you to defeat your foes.
Infernax is the same in that combat is not the main focus for the player. Instead, it is making use of the spells and items you have. There is a range of spells available to the player, each has its own function and some are even used to explore more of the map. This means the player always has options for how Josh will deal with the enemies and the bosses. For instance, some spells help strengthen Josh’s weapon or potions that shield him from damage. This variety helps to make the combat engaging. The verticality of the maps and variety of locations help to make each dungeon interesting and the Metroid-like features mean that there are plenty of reasons to keep exploring.
Visually there isn’t much to look at, or at least that is how it seems at first. Infernax makes use of a retro style and does so well. The graphics are simple but they run smoothly and everything is clear in what it is and what it does. This might not seem like much but trust me, some of the older games often didn’t make it clear what was what and it got old quick.
There is one addition that I think really needs mention. See, early games rarely bothered with the gore and most enemies just flickered and disappeared when hit. Infernax goes in a VERY different direction. There is blood and it covers the ground and even the player when using a melee weapon. There are also death sequences for Josh and…well let's just say that they are visceral enough that I now regret giving the character my name. All of this helps to separate the game visually from its peers and, frankly, just makes it more fun.
Obviously, all games have their issues, and Infernax is no different. For instance, there is little direction given to players on where to go next. This was par for the course for retro games and is certainly a draw for some, but for the more casual players, it can be a pain. Also, as I said, the lack of weapon variety is a problem and none of them feel different to the others and the non-combat aspect of many of the spells is never really explained.
Look, Infernax doesn’t do much that would help it to rise above some of the other Castlevania inspired projects. However, there is enough here to bring back fans and help them re-live some of the emotion and enjoyment they had in the past. The inclusion of a classic mode of play, as well as a more casual mode, even brings back the punishing difficulty of the old generations. I’d say give it a go, heck maybe even call your duke Josh.
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