The Adventure of Link's bloody tears.
At PAX West in 2019, an event that feels like it happened ages ago, I didn't get a chance to write about the best game that I played there. It was the final day of the expo, and so many other previews and impressions pieces had already piled up. I'm still eagerly waiting for a release date, but we know that 2D action-adventure Infernax is coming to Switch in early 2022. I had a chance to return to the demo (on Steam) that blew me away two years ago, and I'm happy to report that I'm even more excited for the final product now.
There's no escaping the comparison to games like Castlevania and Shovel Knight, but a bloodier version of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is what we are getting here, without the cheap deaths, cryptic clues, and maddening difficulty. Heck, villagers in the demo's only town even make Zelda references of their own. The website of developer Berzerk Studio explains how the goal with creating Infernax was to take players back to the '80s and the era of the NES, and that nostalgia is palpable minutes into playing the game.
Holy hero Alcedor is armed with only a mace initially, but he can purchase spells, armor, and life potions in town. Outside of town you'll encounter all sorts of demonic creatures: floating eyeballs, zombies, skeletons, and the like. One moment that really stands out comes very early on in the demo, just after you're introduced to the controls. A man is standing in the middle of the screen, and approaching him he implores you to put him out of his misery. Here, the game switches to a behind the shoulder view and gives you a choice to either SLAY or PRAY, and I can only hope there are more such events in the full game. Choosing to fulfill the man's wish is the safe choice; opting to pray for him instead sees him transform into a hideous monster that functions like a mini-boss.
Another element of Infernax that deserves emphasis is the sheer amount of blood and violence depicted. For instance, being killed by different enemies leads to unique death animations, with black silhouettes against a red background and the hero being stomped on repeatedly as blood gushes forth. I spent a good 10 minutes just dying to different monsters to see how they would drive the point of my failure home. The few boss encounters in the demo end with sprays of purple ichor and pixelated guts flying everywhere. Given the retro aesthetic, the effects are played more for comedy than vulgarity, but it's worth considering that the audience for the game will likely skew older.
Progression is reminiscent of Zelda II as well, with experience points earned from defeating enemies being stored and then spent at save shrines. You can raise your power, life meter, or magic meter, each at an increasing cost per level. During my first playthrough, the shopkeeper sold a healing magic spell, but one second later I was able to purchase a thunderstorm which could damage or kill all enemies on screen. An overworld map fills in as you explore the world, with a miniature version on screen at all times. The demo hints at features and abilities you'll likely gain in the full version, including a higher or possibly double jump, the ability to destroy fractured walls, and possibly a day-night cycle. There's a single sidequest in the demo--slaying a skeleton that is haunting a man's grave--but I'm not sure if you can actually complete it yet.
Mechanically, traversal and combat feel really great. Alcedor's jump is high and allows for a lot of adjustment in midair. The basic attack has decent range, longer than it would appear, and accessing magic and potions at the push of a face button makes using them a breeze. You can duck and strike low, and you'll hold a shield up automatically to block sword swipes and thrown spears and axes when you stand still. So much about Infernax feels familiar and natural, but it's hard to call it comfort food exactly with all of the blood present on screen.
With solid gameplay, heaps of nostalgia, and a sweet soundtrack to boot, Infernax is looking like one of the first must-play games of 2022. And while I don't think I'll be slaying anyone to find out the release date, I'll definitely be praying for it. Keep checking back for more updates on the game and a full review at launch.