We love indies because they do what AAA titles daren’t. But despite that, there’s something to be said for a studio that revisits pastures known. And, providing they do a good job, there’s nothing less admirable about that. I respect it. Infernax, the new retro-inspired 2D Metroidvania from Berzerk Studio, does exactly that. And it’s my GOTY for 2022 so far.
Heavily inspired by the likes of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (though far better), Infernax is a hardcore 8-bit platformer set in a similarly magical, monster-filled world. Our hero, Alcedor the Duke of Upel, has returned home from the Crusades to discover his homeland in turmoil, an evil force taking residence that only a warrior of God is equipped to defeat. Cue slaying! A perfectly simple premise, but the devil is in the detail. Infernax employs a hidden morality system, and Alcedor hasn’t taken five steps from the shore before he’s greeted by a man asking him to kill him, and thus your first decision must be made. To slay or to help? Each will yield results, but perhaps not ones you were expecting. However, the RPG-lite elements that Infernax employs run through it with subtle purpose, and the natural discovery of new side quests never feels forced or laborious.
At the core of Infernax is a tight and responsive platforming experience. Alcedor’s mace is his primary weapon and can be upgraded, as can his health, strength, number of lives, and mana. A series of spells can be bought, found, and rewarded, providing buffs or benefits of convenience such as allowing fast travel to nearby save points. Several combat/movement skills will be unlocked throughout your journey, and they’ll become increasingly necessary—for reaching previously inaccessible areas, sure, but also because Infernax offers a truly sadistic platforming challenge. Difficulty settings do exist, but the offerings are slim and really only reflect what gold and experience you can retain after death. Ultimately there are no shortcuts. It’s a good old fashioned case of practice makes perfect.
All of the creatures in Infernax are very cool, but the boss monsters are on another level. Hulking, monstrous, deformed behemoths covered in hideous appendages, reminiscent of Blasphemous. Most importantly, they’re fun to fight, and actually, when compared with the far greater platforming challenges that precede them, they feel like a relatively forgiving combat reward, always ending in explosions of blood and guts, showering your hero with entrails—so beautiful, it’ll make you cry.
Berzerk Studios developed the outstanding Just Beats and Shapes, so it’s no surprise that they’ve crafted an absolutely cracking soundtrack for Infernax. Each town, castle, road—every area, frankly—has its own piece of distinct music to enjoy. Optional bosses, multiple endings, and secret end game dungeons offering even greater challenges bolster its relatively short length with replayability. Honestly, if you have any inclination for retro-inspired Metroidvanias, challenging gameplay, chiptunes, and simple but well-implemented mechanics, I simply can’t recommend Infernax enough.
Infernax is everything I want from a retro-inspired 8-bit platformer. It looks fantastic, offers challenging gameplay, glorious bosses, and banging tunes. If that’s your bag, don’t waste any time diving in here. It’s a beauty.