That is already turning right into a bumper yr for Metroidvania followers. With the superb Prince of Persia: The Misplaced Crown having kicked issues off fantastically, Ultros now arrives from a smaller writer however with no small hype of its personal. With a gob-smackingly distinctive artwork fashion and a fungal, miasmic tone, it actually seems to be like nothing else on the market proper now, with a much more imprecise and player-led story than you would possibly count on.
The sport sees gamers awake on a mysterious spaceship, which appears to be taking part in host to the space-birth of an enormous being known as Ultros — a kind of Lovecraftian cosmic horror that instinctively seems to be like a foul factor for the universe.
The primary hour or so of Ultros is fairly conventional, as you discover a side-scrolling chunk of map, discover a brief sword to combat with, and meet a few quirky, odd characters who offer you some enigmatic data to digest. You begin to determine a talent tree, and are instructed you will solely be capable to earmark a couple of of those expertise for retention between “loops”, with out figuring out fairly what which means.
Then, after making it previous the sport’s first squelching boss, you will have that thriller solved as you sever the connection of a sleeping monk from Ultros’ delivery course of (you learn that proper) and get sucked right into a space-time vortex to awake again the place you began. You will solely have no matter expertise you managed to mark for defense, and that monk will keep severed, however from there you will have to start out over, making your means by way of to a central chamber to gather a power-up once more and heading off to search out no matter new route you may make it by way of with stated instrument to search out your subsequent monk.
That is Ultros’ loop, a curious fusing of Metroidvania traditions with the lightest of roguelite trappings. It is a loop that does not truly reset you too harshly, however thematically resonates as you begin to uncover extra particulars in regards to the ship you are on (most of these particulars aren’t precisely definitive, nonetheless).
Your two primary instruments are that brief sword for fight and a bit floating robotic known as an Extractor, which homes the navigation upgrades you will achieve step-by-step as you progress by way of the sport. Fight is easy, largely centred round a dodge system that leaves opponents open after a well-timed button press, and whereas it is pretty good and responsive, you will quickly realise that enemy selection is sorely missing. The sport additionally has little to no issue curve; bosses are constantly actually easy and enemies simply overcome, with the one actual limitations we ever encountered proving much more typically to be navigational ones.
As you kill buzzing beasties, you will decide up physique elements from them that can be utilized for therapeutic and to top off your shops of 4 levelling-up assets, a system that sounds extra complicated than it’s in observe. This looting brings into play one ultimate gameplay twist, considered one of Ultros’ most unique. You too can discover and decide up seeds as you progress across the ship, and plant these at designated spots to sprout a wide range of plant varieties, a few of which supply up bounties of therapeutic berries whereas others provide new motion choices, from climbing spots to momentum-building pace boosts.
The place you select to plant which forms of plant can have a extremely personalising impact on the sprawling map by the point you are in your final couple of loops, though the sport has clearly been rigorously designed to not make these selections lock you out of areas you should entry until actually clearly signposted. Better of all, the crops develop additional after a accomplished loop, and the ship quickly begins to develop into much more fertile and stuffed with flora, resonating with some story beats.
This bulging, pulsating sense of fecund life is in lockstep with Ultros’ beautiful artwork fashion, by far its largest and most distinctive success. It is a neon-soaked, hand-drawn slam-dunk of a visible experiment, in some methods easy due to its fundamental 2D design however constantly throwing pretty designs and backgrounds your strategy to actually promote its inventive imaginative and prescient. Hole Knight is a transparent touchstone for the sport, and that sport’s quiet, sombre tone is in some methods echoed right here, however visually Ultros feels just like the acid-spiked model of that subterranean world, in a extremely memorable means.
Nonetheless, in the identical vein because the underwhelming fight, the pure platforming of Ultros can also be not fairly on the elite degree that has followers slavering in anticipation of the long-awaited Silksong. Whereas shifting round feels clean sufficient, jumps are simply the slightest bit imprecise, and your motion set is simply the tiniest bit restricted in a means that may make the prospect of shifting from one aspect of the massive map to the opposite a bit daunting and draining.
Equally, close to its ending the sport presents you the possibility to take a brand new method story-wise by hooking up the entire ship to a kind of intravenous community — one which requires you to maneuver by way of its corridors rigorously linking up nodes to one another.
This course of is attention-grabbing and enjoyable in small doses, however locking fast-travel behind it’s greater than a bit harsh, and it did not take us lengthy to surrender on the concept in favour of a speedier decision. It is just a bit too janky to keep away from comparatively frequent moments of mild frustration.
Ultros boasts a visible identification that deserves actual recognition, a shocking imaginative and prescient of alien color with design concepts that reside lengthy within the reminiscence. Its platforming and fight cannot fairly match that vigorous success, sadly. Nonetheless, in the event you’re on the hunt for a unique-looking Metroidvania sport that comes bursting with concepts and a modest 10-hour runtime with the choice of extra in the event you adore it, few video games can match it for fashion.