Infernax Review: Gory Nostalgia
Infernax keeps its unabashedly obsessive 8-bit retro design front and center its entire length, which is probably enough for many gamers to know if it will appeal to them. Infernax is for people who love the idea of a brand-new hack n' slash platformer that could have, at least spiritually, been right at home on the original NES.
Whether it actually could've run on the old hardware is up to speculation, but developer Berzerk Studio has managed a nearly perfect illusion of nostalgia.
Infernax Review: Gory Nostalgia
Things begin when our hero, Alcedor (who can be renamed at the start) returns home from a distant war to find his land overrun with grotesque demonic forces. Infernax immediately throws you into a familiar-looking pixelated world with a variety of mechanical elements to elevate it beyond the simple build plate of Ghosts n's Goblins and other early arcade-style adventures.
Infernax owes heavily to the Metroidvania camp. It offers a large(ish) open world to explore with definitive gates between areas that can only be overcome with the acquisition of new spells and abilities. There's a strong focus on side quests and character stat building as well, both of which lend it distinction.
Monsters respawn in each "room" or area, which can get tiresome except you need a constant stream of things to kill to get more gold and experience points. This leads to a lot of back and forth across the ever-growing map.
There are towns, keeps, secluded wizard and witch huts, dungeons, churches, and demon-infested castles to explore. Towns have various types of shopkeepers — blacksmiths, potion sellers, wizards with spells and trinkets, an inn. Each town only offers a very limited set of purchase options, so to get better gear, you'll need to visit and purchase the wares from every new shopkeeper you find.
Defeating the boss at the end of each of the six or so castles and other side dungeons leads to new spells and abilities. Alcedor's only weapon is a mace though, which can be upgraded to a few better models (along with his armor). While he'll eventually get a fireball-like spell, most of the game's combat is entirely close-range, which can make tricky platforming areas even more difficult. We certainly wouldn't have hated seeing the guy get at least a crossbow during his trek.
Spells include a magical shield to reduce damage, an avian companion who can both attack enemies and trigger switches, healing, teleportation, and even the ability to change the time from day to night and back again. Experience points are used to upgrade the knight's health and mana bars, the latter of which is necessary to cast spells.
He'll also gain some agility attacks that are vital for reaching new areas, one of which makes him shoot upwards, and another a high-speed horizontal attack dash. Both enable Alcedor to reach otherwise inaccessible parts of the map.
While his move set increases a bit over the course of Infernax, Alcedor's combat overall is very basic. He mostly just jumps around and repeatedly hits things with his mace. Aside from the previously mentioned dash moves, there's not much subtlety or variety to the combat system beyond hitting things while standing up or ducking.
Boss fights therefore all have to stay within that range of abilities. Just the same, there's some interesting variety in the head demons. One is an auto-scrolling sequence where you have to avoid attack and instant-death falls until the creature presents its weak spot, then bash it. Others involve single-room matches where you'll have to use platforms and dodges to get close to an enemy's weak spot before it unleashes devastating and usually explosive attacks. Some bosses flood you with low-level baddies to keep you at bay.
These boss battles are fun and intense overall, and there's a humorous bent on making each more grotesque than the last. For those into the whole "Hell on earth" scenario, Infernax keeps things lively with zombies, tentacles, bloody pustules, even craven blood-thirsty babies. It's still not as overall bleak as Blasphemous, but there are plenty of dark bits in this world.
That horror theme is especially prevalent in the occasional moral choices Infernax throws at players. At the beginning, you encounter a clearly agonized man begging to be killed, for instance, and you can opt to try to help him or just outright kill him. Choosing to help ends in him turning into a larger monstrosity that you'll have to kill anyway, while killing him immediately is far easier. Except that easier choice has a distinct penalty later on.
There are sequences where you can opt to help people who are clearly not on the side of good, causing catastrophic harm to the poor denizens of the world. Different choices open different paths and ultimately lead to different endings. Part of the fun of Infernax is playing with these choices, which makes multiple playthroughs a more appealing prospect.
Infernax opens with a very stern warning about how bleak and bloody it is, but the overall presentation is still 8-bit pixels so the impact of all that gore, blood, and flying intestines is simply a bit limited. The retro visuals are highly complimented by the retro audio work as well, complete with a solid very-NES-era score, sound effects, and slideshow-like cut scenes.
Infernax Review — The Bottom Line
- A near-perfect recreation of NES-era nostalgia but with more meat on its old-school bones.
- Multiple paths and endings thanks to some amusing dark decision-making.
- Makes the constant grinding feel more entertaining thanks to several pronounced RPG elements, including side quests.
- Basic combat is very simple.
- That dogged old-school game design means things can get incredibly unforgiving, especially the platforming.
- There's still a ton of grinding.
Infernax is largely exactly what you'd think at first glance. It's very retro and challenging with simplistic 8-bit graphics and gameplay. Where it excels is taking those old-school constraints and expanding on them to create a gory adventure that feels at once totally familiar but with enough depth to still be interesting and worthwhile all on its own.
[Note: Berzerk Studio provided the copy of Infernax used for this review.]