Developer: Berzerk Studio
Release Date: February 14th 2022
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Berzerk Studio, The Arcade Crew, DotEmu
While the NES saw the birth of several successful franchises, it also happened to put out a couple of sequels seen by many as black sheep titles. Although they’re interesting games, the cryptic nature and sometimes questionable game mechanics prevented them from becoming most gamers’ favorites in the franchise. Infernax by Berzerk Studio and publisher The Arcade Crew embraces the energy and best of these sequelitis titles but fine-tunes the mechanics, making for an addicting and violent retro experience.
Infernax’s story begins with the exhausted crusader Alcedor returning after war only to see his home is in danger. An ancient artifact has unleashed demons and the undead, devastating the land and innocent villagers. It’s up to Alcedor to expel the evil creatures as he sees fits and save his home from destruction.
The gameplay is highly reminiscent of old-school side-scrolling action-adventure titles. Like those games, it keeps things simple with a standard attack, item, magic, and jump actions as your only means of defense. Later on, you can gain special moves that include an upward thrust, charge, and down strike. These moves also allow you to access new areas in the world, which ties in some Metroidvania elements.
One of my first impressions was how Alcedor’s jump controlled differently than what I was expecting. Most notable is how you have more control of his mid-air movement than his whip-wielding muse. This strangely took me a little while to get used to, but Alcedor controls beautifully and is highly responsive once I settled into it.
Infernax’s special and magic moves are all pretty satisfying to pull off. One of my favorite and most frequently used moves was the ability to strike an enemy’s projectiles, which sends it flying back at them. Another helpful ability is summoning a familiar which relentlessly harasses enemies giving you some much-needed breathing room.
Until you get these abilities, though, Infernax stresses you understand the moves of villains and how vital patience is to dispose of them properly. As challenging as Infernax can be, there is rarely a cheap death to be found, as there are weak spots and tactics to each enemy, big and small. If given enough time, you can spot enemy patterns and strategically predict their moves. It results in making any death or victory you face more earned. It’s another reminder that while Infernax may look retro, each encounter feels thought out and deliberate.
Platforming layouts also receive similar treatment. Some sections will stress your execution of abilities to thoroughly understand how they work before you continue. It’s an excellent way to teach you to become accustomed to them. At one point, I felt I would never get the timing of an ability right to advance, but with some trial and error, the mechanic became second nature to me.
Infernax’s good game design doesn’t equate to a lack of challenge, however. Most players will die numerous times and in countless ways. Each death sees you dispatched in a variety of vicious animations. In addition, almost all enemies and pitfalls have a unique death animation that is gloriously entertaining to watch if these mini cutscenes become too much. However, you can wisely skip through them as you might see Alcedor die the same way time during tricky areas.
To help ease your experience, save points restore all your health and mana. The trick is getting to these points before losing all experience, and gold gathered. This can be exceptionally daunting during dungeons, which may require you to backtrack to an outside save point when you’re worried about losing any meaningful progress. A “casual mode” can be turned on at any time, which gives you an extra life and allows you to retain some XP and gold acquired. While challenging, Infernax never felt overly difficult for this feature had to be turned on, but it’s a nice addition to have.
Included in Infernax are some moral dilemmas which result in multiple endings. These choices are less cut and dry than some other games. For example, being benevolent can at times have more costly consequences than being ruthless, making you wonder what the “right” decision is. Some of these payoffs can even affect the abilities you achieve, giving the incentive to replay it for different experiences.
Perhaps the most welcomed departure from the games that inspired Infernax is doing away with the cryptic “try everything” approach to advance. While there is some town folk you need to talk to to figure out a puzzle, it’s relatively straightforward and clues you in on how to progress.
There are some side missions that I have yet to figure out, but with enough time, I imagine they, like other the missions I completed, could be achieved with a bit of grit and contemplation. Most importantly, your main mission isn’t hindered by any puzzle too obscure, and it is ultimately more enjoyable because of it.
The presentation of Infernax is also delightfully gory and over the top. Blood and guts are a constant occurrence, even to the point where it drenches Alcedor after messy encounters. Designs of demons delve into some body and cosmic horror, and while disgusting, it’s still really cool.
Their designs and attacks are great interpretations of classic demons that manage to also feel unique to Infernax. While the presentation and designs are grotesque, it never feels like it’s trying to be overly edgy. Instead, it knows what it is and doesn’t take any of its gory fun too seriously.
Infernax is more than just an ode to black sheep titles that it’s paying homage to. With well-crafted platforming and combat, it surpasses many of the games that inspired it. Further, it is intentionally challenging without relying on cryptic padding or cheap deaths. Those looking for a retro action-adventure without the dated feel will have a bloody great time with Infernax.
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