Not Another Metroidvania
There’s something to be said for learning from the past, but is it a good idea to try and recreate it wholesale? The developers of Aggelos apparently thought so, as their classic 16-bit styled Metroidvania is thoroughly reverent of the classics. Reverence, sadly, doesn’t really lend itself to mould-breaking originality.
Heavy on the Hack n’ Slash…
All of the trappings of the 16-bit era have been lovingly recreated; you can see this right from the first time the hero strides forth from his perfectly rectangular house as tinny chiptunes ring out. It doesn’t take long to realize the gameplay has been carefully calibrated to resemble Metroidvania games of yore. From the start, you’ll be jumping side to side and hacking away with merry abandon. Well, to be precise, it’s more likely to be careful consideration as each attack yields a big, immobile sword-swinging animation that makes you vulnerable to attack. There’s no dodge mechanic, so avoiding attacks is a matter of waiting for the right moment to walk around or jump over cannon shot, poison spores and fireballs. This plodding, methodical style of combat could get tedious at points, especially when I was encountering the same (adorably cute) enemies over and over.
Even buying from stores and upgrading your character is a blast from the past. No skill trees here! Increasing your character’s health is reliant on finding (or purchasing) heart containers found throughout the world. Likewise, instead of stores being a complex trading hub, these quaint outlets have generally no more than a few items standing atop podiums. Not really sure how a weapons store socked with only a single sword stays in business! Swords and armour are the main way of upgrading your attack and defense stats so you’re not left having to hack twenty times into the same enemy to vanquish them, or getting offed in a single hit. This makes Aggelos somewhat grindy at points as every edge will be needed before navigating a new dungeon, so all the best gear will need to be bought. You might need to spend hours, at times, just wandering around killing monsters for gems.
… But Paltry on The Plot
Another feature of the 8-bit era that’s been brought back to life is the almost comically straightforward plot. It’s merely minutes after you’ve left your house that you find a princess in peril, who needs saving from a roving monster. After dispatching the hulking beast, the princess invites you back to her castle. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, to get into the castle requires a trip through the rat-infested sewers first. And when you get to the throne room (presumably still dripping with sewage) you’re immediately tasked with finding four elemental orbs to save the Kingdom from The Big Bad. Conveniently, the Water Orb is found in the Water Temple, the Fire Orb is found in the Fire Temple, and so on and so on.
I was pretty disappointed by the threadbare, cliched narrative of Aggelos. Perhaps I’ve been just a teensy bit spoiled by such rich, narratively driven masterpieces like The Last of Us since I used to play games of the era Aggelos is emulating. Like a true diva getting on the nerves of a weary director, I need motivation to play my character!
Might and Magic
As things proceed onwards, some of the more generic gameplay loops are spiced up a bit with the addition of magic powers and martial disciplines. Receiving the power of earth, for example, allows you to not only blast enemies from afar, but also turn them into platforms to reach higher ledges. There’s also an upwards cleaving attack which somewhat helps with fighting airborne enemies.
I have to admit that the boss battles are surprisingly rewarding. For example, there’s the second boss battle, which required me to use the hero’s magical bubble power to float around, chasing down a maniacal, teleporting giant squid. What’s rather infuriating about the boss battles though, is that death will send you right back to the start of the level the boss is on! This makes getting back to the big baddy for a rematch a real chore. Did you use up that potion you bought at the store in your last failed attempt? Too bad! If you need another one, it’s a 5-10 minute trek back to get another one. Though these higher stakes of potential tedium make boss battles more tense and satisfying to succeed at, surely there’s a better way of making these fights more riveting?
No Hand Holding
If you’re a gamer if a particular vintage, you’ll doubtless remember that much older games generally lacked all those mod cons we now all take for granted. There’s no quest log to keep you on track for what you need to be doing; no HUD or map markers. If you need some direction, you’ll need to hoof it back to the central castle and consult the sage for some (usually rather cryptic) advice for where to go next.
Probably the most merciful addition of Aggelos is the addition of a special feather which allows you to teleport between savepoints in this elemental world. However, even finding this feather requires you to toddle off to a hidden water-logged cave (and the only clue of its existence comes from talking to a random woman in a village on the other side of the world). This one scant concession to convenience made venturing through the world infinitely more bearable. If not for it, I would definitely be docking a point or two from the final score, because there’s no end of backtracking to be done. Puzzles will sometimes require you to write down or remember information (such as when a monkey informs you of the directions to navigate a labyrinth inside a volcano). It’s a little unfortunate that the playtime of Aggelos’ central campaign is fairly short since it ends just as you’re really getting a grip on its often unintuitive adventuring.
Meet the New Metroidvania, Same as the Old Metroidvania
At the end of the day, Aggelos just felt like a more polished version of a game one might’ve rented from Blockbuster circa about 25+ years ago. However, I’m playing it without the rosy tint of nostalgia to make it glint with a beautiful sepia-tinted hue. The platforming, puzzling and ping-ponging around the map to find hidden goodies is all perfectly competent, but it’s altogether rather predictable. With so many games choosing to take a retro audio-visual style, but infuse it with fresh ideas and gameplay concepts, Aggelos just feels almost stubbornly formalist and retrograde. If you’re of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, even after multiple decades” mentality for games, you’ll love Aggelos, but if you’re looking for something fresh to tantalize your increasingly demanding palette, don’t expect anything too mouthwatering.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC , PS4 (Reviewed); Publisher: PQube Limited, Look at My Game; Developer: Storybird Games, Players: 1; Released: July 19th, 2019
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Aggelos provided by the publisher.