Thursday, November 10, 2016

Exile's End Review (XONE)

Exile’s End walks like a Metroidvania, and looks like a Metroidvania, and quacks like a duck Metroidvania, but it darn sure isn’t a Metroidvania according to its creators.  At first glance, Exile’s End seems like it can’t be considered anything other than a Metroidvania, but the developers insist on calling it a cinematic platformer along the lines of Out of This World or Flashback (or more recently, INSIDE).  So which genre does Exile’s End actually fit into?  The truth lies somewhere in between, which is both to the game’s benefit and detriment as it makes Exile’s End a unique blend of experiences, but it also feels a little flat and boring as it doesn’t fully embrace any of the things that make the genres it borrows from special in the first place.  Exile’s End is still good, and fun, and the $10 price make it worth a look pretty much regardless, but it’s just not spectacular.  See our full review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Magnetic Realms
  • Developer: Magnetic Realms
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Action Platformer
  • Pros: Great sound; nice presentation; solid gameplay;
  • Cons: Doesn’t fully embrace its obvious influences; kinda boring
  • MSRP: $10 

A team of mercenaries is sent to a remote planet to see what happened after contact with a mining colony was mysteriously lost.  Just as their ship approaches the planet, it experiences a massive electrical failure and the team crash-lands on the surface.  You play as the only apparent survivor, a soldier named Jameson, and it is up to him to explore and solve the mysteries of the planet. 

Exile’s End is a retro inspired 2D action platformer that blends elements of Metroidvania games – finding new items / weapons to open new areas of the game – and puzzle platformers – solving simple puzzles to make progress – to create a new and unique experience.  The problem is that it doesn’t really fully embrace either one of its chosen genre influences so you’re constantly waiting for something truly interesting to happen but it never does. 

What does that mean?  Well, let’s compare it to Metroidvanias first.  The combat in Exile’s End is sort of simple and straightforward and bland, but there also isn’t as much of it, nor is it as challenging, as you’ll find in a typical Metroid-like.  The game gives you several different weapons to use but your best bet is almost always to stick with the pistol and machine gun you get super early on and every boss can be beaten with a handful of grenades.  I would also say that, aside from the very beginning of the game where you have very limited health and no weapons, it is also a pretty easy experience overall.  Traps are obvious, enemies can be avoided, and patience is rewarded.  

Comparing Exile’s End to cinematic platformers leads to similar conclusions as well.  To start with there’s a lot more combat here compared to games like Out of This World or INSIDE or The Fall, but that’s fine.  The real issue with calling Exile’s End a cinematic platformer is that it is almost completely devoid of puzzles until the last third of the game and even then there’s only a couple real actual puzzles.  This is particularly disappointing because the puzzles that are here are actually pretty clever and satisfying to solve, but there just aren’t enough of them.  

The result is that Exile’s End is just sort of “OK”.  It is an enjoyable experience because it isn’t too difficult and when it does hit a high point here and there it motivates you to keep playing, but it is just sort of flat and unexciting compared to the games that inspired it. 

With that said, Exile’s End does do a few things really well.  The controls are fantastic and precise and the platforming feels pretty darn good.  Also, despite not telling you how to do anything or where to go, it is pretty intuitively designed.  While the map is open and you’re free to go back and explore previous areas with your new items and abilities to find hidden stuff if you want, progression is generally pretty linear so it isn’t like Axiom Verge where you have to backtrack across the entire map constantly.  Key items are used in the same area (though the areas can be decently large) they’re found in.  I also like the save system that autosaves every time you enter a new room.  This can cause problems if you aren’t careful, particularly at the beginning of the game as it might autosave when you have only a tiny sliver of health, but I liked that it never sets you back too far when you die.  And because the game is pretty easy, you shouldn’t die too often.  At least, I didn’t.

I think the sound design also deserves a special shout out.  It has been patched now, thankfully, but when the game first came out on Xbox One there was a bug that caused the music not to play.  But I, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, didn’t really notice until I had already beaten the game.  The ambient environmental sounds are spectacularly good and made the levels feel real and alive and extremely atmospheric.  The enemy sounds and weapon sound effects are awesome, too.  The pistol is loud and powerful sounding and satisfying to use.  Of course, while Exile’s End sounded great without the music, it definitely sounds even better with the fantastic retro soundtrack composed by Keiji Yamagishi of classic Tecmo games fame. 

The presentation as a whole is pretty good in Exile’s End with good looking sprite work on your character and the enemies and the environments are distinct and detailed and look good overall.  It would definitely fit right in on the SNES.

In the end, I’m more than a little conflicted on Exile’s End.  It isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t really hold up when compared to the games that inspired it or other similar indies on Xbox One.  It can definitely still hook you, though, and keep you playing even if it is kind of flat and boring.  I liked it enough that I beat it – in around 6-hours – and then almost immediately started a new game since I knew where to go / what to do and could beat it much faster the second time around.  Exile’s End is solid and fun and surprisingly compelling even if it isn’t always terribly exciting.  Retro action platformer fans will dig it and it is perfectly priced at just $10 so anyone curious should definitely check it out.
Disclosure:  A review code was provided by the publisher.