More than 10 years ago, a colleague of mine notified me of a metroidvania being in development. It was a solo project and people were getting pretty excited about it, even though details were scarce. That was Ghost Song (PS5). Again, over 10 years ago.
It goes without saying that a lot has happened in the meantime. Originally, the colleague tried to point out the genre would be fine, even without Nintendo (back then Other M was still an open flesh wound). We know better these days. Little did we know the genre would actually explode into a mature genre of its own. Not merely dangling above a pit at the mercy of both Nintendo and Konami.
All of these titles were released in the ‘10s. Some became hits. Some got sequels. Some were… not good.
What I want to say is this: Ghost Song has been in development during the entire metroidvania boom and it shows.
This is the one metroidvania that has it all. The variety in weaponry from Axiom Verge. The levelling from Demon's Souls. The pins from Hollow Knight. The considerate story line from TimeSpinner. The aim and movement from Samus Returns. Its solo developer apparently loved a lot of these games or got heavily influenced by them, because you cannot play Ghost Song and not go “oh, I remember that” at just about every corner.
And that’s good! The game somehow makes this eclectic mix of styles work. Although it has one hell of a start. For some reason, it managed to crib the difficulty balance from that one metroidvania avant la lettre: Kid Icarus. The first few hours of this game are brutal and it will take a while to get your bearings and understand the combat well enough to grind a few levels and not be so… squishy. It doesn’t help that this game does not drop health pickups. You are on your own here.
It’s only when you discover you are not, that the game opens up a bit. The Dark Souls-like cadence of the game finds its riverbed and only then can you start to enjoy mixing up ranged, melee, and dash to dance through battle. Even though it doen’t look as smooth as it might feel.
And that’s the issue really. Metroid Dread was a smooth experience bereft of wonder. This is almost the polar opposite: bumpy, lumpy, yet wonderful. Warts and all. Would I recommend it? No, not blindly. But if you are a metroidvania veteran, this really needs to be on your playlist.
This game is a bit of a mess. Too many elements from everywhere. A greatest hits without the IP to back it up. But somehow, it is an enjoyable hot mess. I’ve poured enough hours into it to continue and see it through to the end, but those first two hours were really, really shaky. Hopefully it won’t be too alien to throw of other players.
I thought I played DOOM II (PS4) to completion way back in the ‘90s. I thought wrong. Turned out I only played the first third on the Spaceship and never got to see the City and Hell. This grievous mistake has now been corrected.
While the Spaceship levels feel like a continuation of the wild and wacky expansions of the first instalment, it’s only during the City levels that I was truly amazed. Large open spaces, verticality, puzzles both simplistic and complex, everything was there. Sure, you were missing control over the Y-axis, but apart from that this pretty much felt like a modern shooter.
More so when the Hell levels rolled in. While in terms of graphical design here the levels can be a bit too blocky for the atmosphere its trying to evoke (shout-out to the block volume with four doors only showing pixelated stacks of corpses), in terms of design they take the City levels and add multiple mini-gauntlets all over the place.
It’s also not too scared to use power-ups and the game’s physics to its fullest extent. Calling very faint visions of future successors like Portal to mind. It’s more restrained than in the original's expansions, but the way the game pushes its own boundaries is mesmerising. It all culminates in a final boss battle that just lets you run wild and feels suitably over the top.
Sure, some of the secrets and triggers can be a bit obscure, but I’m still really glad I played through it all. It truly earns it title of classic.