Metroidvania titles are essentially few and far between when compared to the sheer amount of games within every other genre. So every time a Metroidvania title pops up, I can’t help but get excited. When I first saw the screens for Monster Robot Studios (GravCat, Bridge The Gap, Occupy App) new game, Beyond Dead, my jaw just about hit the floor. The game looks like a great homage to old-school Metroid games, and for those of you who don’t know yet, Metroid II is my favorite game… OF ALL TIME. One little drawback though; GameSalad.
Reminiscent of Metroid titles, something has gone wrong with terraforming project 1470. Two mercenaries, Tank and Vera, respond, and are after the truth. They make their way to the Asteriae system and need to explore the asteroid facility to find out what exactly went wrong. As you progress through the game, you’ll pick up stronger weapons, extra abilities, and battle zombie-like humans, along with monstrous beings, and slowly discover what’s happening within the facility. The story is well told, with no grammatical errors, and unfolds at a steady pace.
The action, however, is a bit on the slow side. You can shoot at and jump on your enemies, though both attack methods are fairly slow when it comes to killing. To avoid taking too much damage, you’ll be doing quite a bit of the run away, stop, take a couple shots, run away, stop, take a couple shots, ect… and that’s until you come across some stairs, which you’ll fall through if you’re going after a zombie because you’ll need to aim your weapon the correct way to use the stairs. While exploring, jumping can feel more like a hassle than anything, with a lot of platforms seemingly just out of reach until you try and make it to them more than a couple times.
There’s also the loading times. Typical GameSalad loading times, though moving from room to room is done in a flash, hitting the Pause button, or going to your Map will take about 4-5 seconds to load, and 4-5 seconds to exit, breaking up the gameplay quite a bit. The loading times between sections of the world aren’t so bad, as you’re given a pretty nifty picture to look at while the game is loading, but entering the Map and Pause menus can be a hassle. This is even more upsetting because of the exploration in the game. Don’t get me wrong, the exploration in Beyond Dead is fantastic. Completely reminiscent of old Metroid titles, which is great. Actually, it’s probably the strongest feature of the game. But breaking up the strongest feature of the game with loading times for the Map is… upsetting. I found myself constantly wishing that Monster Robot Studios used a different game engine.
Control-wise, you’re given two options;
Touch and drag anywhere on the left side of the screen to walk. Drag your finger up or down to adjust your aim. Double tap to dash. Tap anywhere on the right side of the screen to fire your weapon. To jump, swipe your finger up on the right side of the screen, and when you get weapons, you can slide your finger down to put the safety on or take it off. If you put the safety on, touching anywhere on the right side of the screen is your action button.
You’re given 4 arrows on the left side, two for left and right movement, and two in-between the movement buttons for aiming your weapon up and down. On the right side of the screen, there’s a jump button and a fire button, as well as dash and safety on/off buttons.
You’re able to change the controls in the pause menu, and are also able to make it so that you’re given the d-pad on the left side, while having the no-button set-up on the right, or having the buttons on the right, and the no-button set-up on the left. The only issues I have with the controls is that you don’t jump until you let go of the jump button, instead of jumping right when you touch the jump button, and sometimes the movement buttons are slightly un-responsive, causing your character to stop moving while walking, or in the air. Aside from this, the controls work pretty well, and being able to mix and match control set-ups to fit your gaming style was a great idea, implemented fairly well.
The graphics for Beyond Dead are really not bad, and at some points, when there are objects dangling from the ceiling close to the camera, like in the trash compactor area, look very nice. The animations for firing your weapon, jumping, enemy deaths, projectile collisions, explosions, they’re all there, and they’re not bad, but again, I can’t help but think that if this much effort was put into the game while using another engine, like Unity or Corona, that the game would look amazing.
Right now, Beyond Dead only contains the first ‘episode’. More episodes are in the works at the moment, and talking to the developer, I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be added, but ever since the ordeal with Grokion, it’s hard to really push any game that has more worlds coming, or future episodes being made. But with Episode 1, there’s about 45 minutes of straight line gameplay, and then about an hour (maybe a little more) of exploration if you’re interested in looking for extra weapons, an energy tank, and just getting to know the whole game’s world.
As it is right now, there’s not a whole lot of replay value, if any, but hopefully GameCenter will be added in the future, and include achievements, and maybe a leader board for number of zombies killed, quickest times for completing the episodes, things like this, as they would give gamers incentive to run-through the game again after completion.
You can tell that Beyond Dead has had a lot of work thrown into it. The graphics are great, especially considering they’re done within GameSalad, and the exploration throughout the first episode is done in a way that drives the game forward. Like I’ve said already, I can’t help but wish the game was made with another gaming engine, because Monster Robot Studios obviously has the talent it needs to create a very nice Metroid-like exploration action-platformer. For a dollar, and future episodes promised, at no extra price to those who pick the game up now, it’s worth buying, especially if you’re a fan of the Metroidvania genre. Just don’t expect a super polished, epic exploration game.
Exploritory Metroidvania-type games are a pretty big rarity in the AppStore, but those that can be found are extremely well made. Glowfish, by MumboJumbo (Luxor, 7 Wonders), is no exception to this. You’ll guide Glowfish through 50+ levels, finding all the little glowing fish you can use as your shield, defeating interesting enemies, exploring the depths for hidden areas, collecting coins, and gaining friends that you can take along with you, lending their abilities.
You’ll control your Glowfish with a virtual joystick, a shield button, which either brings the fish you’ve collected into a shield circle around you, or lets them trail behind you, letting you access areas joined by a small pathway, along with tapping on the screen to dash in the direction you are facing.
To start off each level, you will not have any fish you can use as a shield, and will need to find a certain amount before you can move on to the next part of the level. Once you have collected a fish or two, you can hit the shield button, and they will start to circle you, giving you a shield you can use to smash into enemies. The more fish you have, the bigger your shield, and the bigger the enemies you can take out. There are some hazards and water life that you will not be able to attack, like bigger crabs, sea urchins and others, these are best left untouched. If you do happen to run into one of them, you will bounce off and loose a couple of fish that you have collected. They can be re-collected, but you will have to chase them down.
The graphics are top notch, and look exceptionally good. The neon type color scheme works very well for the under water atmosphere, and along with the backdrops, everything stands out significantly. The animations are extremely well done, with everything flowing, adding immensely to the underwater feel of the game. Everything on the screen, aside from the rocks, moves and sways back and forth, and every character in the game has their own little quirky movements. Something else I feel like I need to bring up is the level design. It’s incredibly well done. There’s also a very good mix of small, medium, and large levels. The hidden areas are fairly well hidden, but are also pretty easily found with your map, which comes together as you progress in each level, ala Metroid. The music and effects help build on the atmosphere and feeling of it all, bringing the entire package to completion.
Glowfish is $2.99 for the iPhone, and $4.99 for the iPad, and worth every single penny, and then some. It is supported by GameCenter with a highscore leader board and 25 achievements, which, combined with the 4 star ratings available on each level, adds to the replay value a bit, though you probably won’t play through Glowfish more than one time in a row, it is a game that will call you back after a month or two. It certainly is a game that everyone who owns an iDevice should check out, and will easily end up on quite a few top games of 2011 lists.