2024’s already been an enormous yr for Metroidvania followers. Hardly a month in, we’ve already seen Prince of Persia: The Misplaced Crown launch and infuse the style with killer momentum as we careen in the direction of extra surefire bangers like Animal Properly, Tales of Kezera: Zau, Earthblade, and – sure – Hole Knight: Silksong. Each appears to have a definite hook; Prince of Persia marries the precision platforming of Celeste with trendy fight, Animal Properly is all about nonviolent puzzle-solving, and Tales of Kenzera: Zau guarantees a heartfelt story.
Ultros, the second cease on 2024’s Metroidvania hype practice, is likely one of the coolest-looking video games I’ve ever performed. Dripping in trippy, arcane sci-fi fashion, its gorgeous environments and characters are definitely worth the worth of admission alone. However this journey down the rabbit gap doesn’t all the time have the tight pacing you’d count on from the style’s greatest. As a substitute, Ultros is by itself journey.
By including roguelike recreation and even survival-farming mechanics to the method, Ultros’ crucial path turns into extra esoteric than you’d count on. Whereas these deviations necessitate better backtracking, they permit developer Hadoque to get artistic with development. I’ve solely seen round 1 / 4 of what Ultros has to supply to this point, however the seeds it vegetation early on are certain to blossom and impress in time.
Fascinatingly, Ultros’ best level of friction is intrinsically linked to its most artistic design concepts. Whereas it does function plenty of genre-standard skills and power-based development, you’ll have to plant seeds that then develop and finally drive open a lot of Ultors’ locked doorways. However seeds don’t simply develop at a second’s discover. As a substitute, you need to full a particular activity or attain a sure level within the recreation, which then triggers a sequence that causes months to cross in-world.
You lose your powers and begin proper again the place you have been originally of the sport in a really Metroid-esque flip of occasions – solely it occurs a number of occasions right here. Ultros makes it more and more straightforward to get your powers again and begin off the place you left off the extra you start the cycle anew, however this doesn’t erase the handful of occasions you spend retreading the identical worn path from zero.
However you’re all the time rewarded to your efforts. That seed you planted may need grown tall sufficient to succeed in a brand new door, or perhaps it’s shattered one thing blocking your path. It’s a artistic system that forces you to take issues sluggish and discover each inch of the map earlier than giving up your powers to develop your area backyard. Whereas its motion and fight make backtracking by means of even probably the most rote components of Ultros’ map extra bearable, its artwork path is the star of the present.
Artwork that leans into Electrical Kool-Support ranges of psychedelia tends to be a coin toss. For each Sgt. Pepper’s or Improbable Planet, there’s a bin filled with posters with Rick and Morty washed in sludgy Day-Glo at your nearest edgy novelty store or vacationer entice. To every their very own, however a lot artwork that wishes to cater to that style is little greater than heavy-handed pandering that lacks thematic depth. And whereas Ultros’ pacing and sense of path can sometimes frustrate, it greater than makes up for it in uncooked texture; each creature and merchandise you choose up has dense lore that takes its cues from bizarre, old-school sci-fi novels. Creature components, which you eat to heal your self, supply several types of dietary advantages, and the sport even describes how they style.
Whereas a few of its key design decisions will be tough to come back to phrases with, Ultros boasts best-in-class environmental design backed by some spectacular tracks from composer El Huervo. If Prince of Persia is that this yr’s Metroidvania blockbuster banger, then Ultros would be the cult-classic arthouse sci-fi flick that deserves simply as a lot reward for the leaps it takes. I can’t wait to complete Ultros so I can see which of its large swings repay.