Vernal Edge Preview – Devil May Metroidvania

When Devil May Cry was conceived (and after its brief incarnation as a Resident Evil 4 prototype), the idea was to create a free-flowing 2D action game within the 3D space. When it launched on PlayStation 2 in 2001, it set the benchmark for all 3D character action games to come.

Frankly speaking, there was never actually a 2D action game quite like Devil May Cry before because a lot of those ideas, especially the versatile combat, could only have been possible in 3D back then. Now, imagine reverse-engineering the gameplay of Devil May Cry and superimposing in within the confines of a two-dimensional space, and that’s basically the gist of what creator Matthew Martinez is looking to achieve with his Metroidvania adventure, Vernal Edge. Having just landed on Kickstarter, a free demo is available to all looking to experience the blistering fast gameplay that the genre has to offer. Even in its early stages, this winning combination manages to shine through.

In the demo, Vernal Edge sets the stage with its core gameplay system first and foremost, before getting into the typical Metroidvania shenanigans. There’s the primary attack button, a spell button, and a special pulse attack that lets you do cool and creative things with your primary weapon (such as launching it at the enemy as a projectile).

Unlike most 2D action games where each of the skills functions in isolation, in Vernal Edge, these abilities can be mixed up in ways that are only limited by your skill and imagination. The timing, sequence, and even direction of button presses in subtle and nuanced ways can allow you to create some pretty brilliant combination attacks. Although you only get a taste of this in the demo, the versatility and fluidity of the combat engine are worth getting excited about.

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Visually the game has a cool art style, with the titular protagonist Vernal sporting a rather cool pixel art design and looks great for the most part (understandably all the animations aren’t complete this early in development). Vernal is fantastic to control in combat, especially with a gamepad where everything maps on the controller rather intuitively.

However, jumping and grabbing on ledges proves to be a little troublesome in some cases. These minor nags will hopefully improve as the game goes deeper into development.

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As far as feedback goes, a game with such a cool combat system absolutely needs a HUD that flashes your combination hits… maybe a flashing a compliment or two for your efforts. At the moment, the game doesn’t have this but would make perfect sense. The visuals look strong and distinct thanks to the pixel art style, which has a bit of a Dead Cells vibe to it.  You also get a little feel of the sound design in this build, but not too much as the soundtrack mix doesn’t appear to be final at this point.

Now once you get into the Metroidvania design, Vernal Edge starts to feel quite familiar, and even this super early build provides a pretty sizeable sandbox with a variety of different area themes to explore. Exploration is a crucial part of the level design, but unlike most games in this genre, the adventure is punctuated more frequently with intense close-quarters combat.

Usually, this would hurt the pace of a typical Metroidvania, but in the case of Vernal Edge, this is both welcome and enjoyable, especially when the layout of the area complements the combo system as you experiment with inventive ways to juggle foes with technically stunning combos. There’s a variety of opponents to battle, too, both big and small, and this showcases how the combat system can be diverse and varied as you adapt to different enemy encounters with a unique combat approach.

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There’s more to it than just the excellent combat and action-focused level design, as Vernal Edge looks to have the depth of something like Bloodstained with its deep character customization with spell slots, abilities, and all sorts of items which can be equipped. An idea not too foreign to Devil May Cry either. The RPG systems and depth should further bolster what looks to be a very action-packed adventure.

Vernal Edge currently sits in Kickstarter, but the free demo offered is surprisingly fleshed out for a game that hasn’t entered its final stretch of development. The demo is certainly a great showcase of the core ideas of Vernal Edge, which help make it stand out clearly from the many, many Metroidvanias out there, and that’s saying a lot really. If all goes to plan, the game should land on all major platforms sometime in 2022.

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!