Metroidvania, or search action, is a genre that has become popular with indie game developers. Of course, not because it’s an easy genre to master; in fact, I would argue that it can be one of the most challenging genres to get right. Indeed, I have encountered many titles that undertake the task but fall short due to their map design or gameplay feel. So, when I encounter an actual good game in the genre, I can’t help but tell everyone who will remotely listen.
Unveiling the Mystery: Ultros and the Time Loop Challenge
Ultros follows a nameless protagonist who has crash-landed on a mysterious planet under mysterious circumstances. It’s not long before the protagonist learns that this planet seems to be stuck in some loop, forcing everyone to relive various moments on the planet. Now, players must search for upgrades and free themselves from the loop before they are doomed to stay there forever.
Ultros is not just a game; it’s an intricate dance with time itself, making every moment on this mysterious planet a thrilling puzzle to solve.
I’m not going to lie; the game felt inspired mainly by Metroid. While there are some characters to talk to, like a gardener who takes care of the plants in his garden, there isn’t much character interaction, giving the entire game this isolated feeling. This feeling only gets more pronounced when the main character is the only one who remembers any of the past events of the loop.
So, players will be talking and reliving the same dialogue from the few characters that can be spoken with. This isolated atmosphere is challenging to nail down, especially when adding other characters, but Ultros ends up managing all of the narrative loops with grace. Even if the story is a little light, the mystery of the time loop keeps me interested throughout the journey, even when I inevitably get lost in the environment.
Gardening: A Novel Twist in Metroidvania Gameplay
The time loop also affects gameplay. It activates after every significant event, taking players back to the beginning of the game. All upgrades are lost until found again, and any unlocked path will be locked. However, a prominent gameplay feature is gardening.
The plants players can grow can create new platforms, vines to swing off of, or be used for food to heal. The most significant benefit is that even if a time loop activates, they will stay and grow if given nutrients before the next reset. This creates an interesting dynamic, as players can create shortcuts or paths to upgrades using these plants.
The innovative gardening mechanic in Ultros redefines progress in the Metroidvania genre, offering a fresh, green twist to the exploration and puzzle-solving experience.
The fresh mechanic is a perfect way for players to feel progress. In fact, I found myself attempting to figure out what plants were best to grow before I activated another major event. The only downside is that these choices are permanent at the beginning of the game without a few upgrades. So, any plants that could have been better used elsewhere will be stuck until players can uproot the plant.
This means that if players choose to grow a plant later in the game, they will have less time as the time loops become less frequent. However, a special item called compost can speed up the time to grow a plant, which is especially handy if players need food to heal up before a boss battle.
The Nutrient System: A Unique Approach to Upgrades
I mentioned it briefly, but food is an important part of Ultros that goes hand-in-hand with gardening. Food has a dual purpose: to heal and to gain nutrients to buy upgrades. Each food stuff has a nutrient value that adds to a bar with four separate values for HWK, KAR, YUG, and TIP. Each upgrade will require a certain amount of these nutrients and can be purchased at save points.
These nutrient upgrades vary between damage and health ups to abilities such as backstabs. Like any other upgrade, these will disappear upon a loop reset; however, players can choose which abilities to retain if they collect a certain item. This item called a Memory Lock, will lock an ability, allowing players to retain it upon each loop, which means that players will have more resources later to unlock more abilities in the tree.
These locks are out of the way and, with a few exceptions, require exploration of an area to find. This scarcity significantly makes this item very valuable when it reduces the food needed to fully upgrade the protagonist in each loop. Certain foods can feed creatures and create fertile soil for players’ crops. Of course, plants aren’t the only food source that players can use.
Ultros’s nutrient upgrade system brilliantly combines the satisfaction of gathering with strategic decision-making, setting a new benchmark for player progression.
The Hunt: Merging Combat with Ecosystem Interaction
Food comes from many sources, including the beasts roaming the land. Players will need to mix up their attacks to get the best-quality meat. This will be difficult at first as most creatures will need repeated hits to take down, and players will only have a few attacks at their disposal, leaving most a bloody pulp.
However, once more abilities are learned, obtaining the best spoils from creatures becomes much easier, especially when the combat feels as fluid as it does. While it doesn’t get very complicated, abilities help keep the combat feeling fresh, especially when the enemy variety is lacking. However, unlike other titles, I didn’t mind.
In Ultros, you’re not just a hunter or a gatherer—you’re an integral part of the ecosystem, where every choice impacts your survival and the world around you.
Instead, it felt like I was discovering how to effectively slaughter each animal to collect their meat before deciding which ones would be more useful alive. I liked this dynamic because instead of viewing enemies as obstacles, I had become a part of the ecosystem as I hunted my prey carefully to avoid ruining the balance.
Ultros: A Future Classic in the Rogue-lite Metroidvania Genre
Ultros was a pleasant surprise as a rogue-lite Metroidvania. The balance between hunting and gardening creates an interesting dynamic not found in other titles in the genre. This means that combat and enemy variety can feel lacking initially but will quickly become a non-issue for players as they explore the areas. I see this game becoming a classic that speedrunners and casual players alike will fall in love with.
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