Developer: idoz & phops
Release Date: December 2, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Humble Games
Genre: Action-Adventure, Bullet-Hell
The bullet-hell genre is known for catering to particular crowds who seek perfection. The satisfaction from completing demanding challenges is addicting beyond words. However, approachable systems for this gameplay style are few and far between, but thankfully, the Humble Games published Archvale fulfills this relatively underrated outlet.
Throughout Archvale, players fight against the Undying, beings cursed with immortality by an ancient king. The story is a light component of this experience. Instead, the gameplay is the driving force providing an addictive, if forgettable, venture. Linear rooms containing various enemy types are progressed through with upgrading and diverging pathways opening up later on. Further, there are resource points that can be destroyed, granting materials. Stockpiling these materials and defeating monsters will be the typical, expected gameplay loop as building more potent gear is necessary for survival.
The importance of upgrading gear as soon as possible becomes clear after the first boss wiped me out within seconds. Sure, its attack telegraphs take some getting used to, but a lack of proper equipment will be the actual downfall. I assumed the entire game would be this challenging based on this first significant encounter, but as it turns out, it is far easier than expected.
There are numerous mechanics present that don’t take away from the core experience. Several weapon types can be made in towns, such as wands or swords. Each weapon’s range and damage stats differ, so there’s plenty of experimentation players can utilize to discover their ideal weapon choice. Still, the useability and accessibility of each weapon are reasonably lean and welcoming, making it so anyone can feel familiar with any weapon. The throwing axe weapons were my favorite because of their decent balance of range and raw damage.
Additionally, there are Badges, essentially equippable abilities that grant substantial benefits such as enhancing pickup range for items or bending projectiles to reach foes easier. The vital gameplay changes Badges provide can not be understated and should always be accounted for when entering a new area or when struggling with a boss. For as simple as this mechanic was, I found it to be the most thought-provoking, especially when compared to how tedious it was to grind materials for weapons and armor.
Armor can also be made and is fairly self-explanatory, though not all new armor pieces are necessarily objective upgrades over prior iterations. For instance, some new equipment might enhance magic damage at the cost of defense and vice versa. These simple yet effective mix-ups regarding gear viability are instrumental in making the game not feel continuously one-note.
Despite differences in coloration or the like, the maps all feel reasonably similar to make headway in. Granted, the focus is usually combat, so this isn’t a massive detractor. I just would’ve appreciated more meaningful movement interactions. For example, a few map areas require dashing at proper intervals to avoid bullets and reach newer platforms. Further utilization of these novelties would have gone a long way to making areas feel inherently unique instead of mainly boasting varying visual flair.
At the very least, players can interact with crystals on the map, which leads to bullet avoidance challenges. These can be used as warm-ups to aid players in confronting the more demanding bullet-hell sections. These minigame scenarios gradually heightened in intensity, but they were never enough to scratch my itch for cathartic movement. Archvale tends to dabble in the concept of making movement engaging, but it seems to favor combat rather than forcing exploration.
Sound design is expertly crafted with glorious tunes that match their respective contexts and crunchy sound effects that complement the blocky art style. The music, in particular, caught me off guard with how fantastic so many of the songs were. I also found the sounds emitted by bosses during specific attacks to aid in better understanding proper timing for avoidance.
Archvale is a lite-bullet-hell that grants players a satisfying gameplay loop fraught with consistent upgrading and intriguing customization. Its narrative is practically non-existent and forgettable, and the dullness of progression can be a bit off-putting, but you can do far worse with a cutesy action adventure. Further, there’s a noticeable level of standout polish here from the delectable sound design, which alone makes it worth experiencing.
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