We’d be lying like dirty, dirty little devils if we said the Switch lacked the likes of Castlevania. Games like Odallus, Aggelos and, most notably, the Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon duology, are already on the webshop to satisfy hungry fans of Konami’s apparently non-existent series – not to mention Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Castlevania Advance Collection for those who yearn to reconsider. So we dived head first into Infernax for a review. See, it all looked very familiar – the medieval-style world, the NES flashback visuals, and the Metroidvania map. But, fortunately, we were wrong. You see, it’s not like Castlevania at all, it’s closer to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden in both difficulty and feel of the game. And this, of course, is not bad.
Developed by Berzerk Studio (the developer of the great game Just Shapes & Beats), Infernax is an interesting mix of accessibility and challenging challenges. Thus, it seems that the game is uneven in complexity, but it is not. It’s more than what you have options. If you’re struggling to make progress, you’re never too far from a save point and you can always go elsewhere and fight monsters for experience and/or money, which is then spent on health potions, extra lives, upgrades for your weapons. and armor, spells and more. You can also complete side quests that reward you with a lot of gold and experience, the latter of which is used to increase your main strength, health, and mana. You are also always a spitting distance away from your next upgrade, which kept us playing when frustration could come from his issues.
And what challenges! Infernax is a rich combat experience and the game No going easy, even with extensive upgrades. From time to time, enemies will take huge chunks of your health from you, and from time to time they will dodge your own attacks with frankly disappointing ease. There is no progress that has not been earned, and there is not a single screen that will make your journey easier. Outside of the main world map, you will dive into castles and explore their dungeons in search of little keys that will eventually lead you to new bonuses and the castle master, a gruesome series of boss fights needed to reach the end. These dungeons are at times reminiscent of the Shantae series in their design, and despite being challenging and demanding, they never feel unfair. You can set the difficulty mode to a less severe one, but we didn’t find this to make things much easier – at any rate, we recommend leaving it on “Classic” difficulty to practice.
Horrible, indeed, is the watchword of the entire Infernax experience. This game nastywith exceptionally gory pixel art that features some of the most horrifying monsters we’ve seen in a 2D game, with all the blood, guts, and oozing holes (orifi?). They’re not lazy in the whole “kill you” department either – losing your last health to any given enemy won’t make them stop before the last hit, they’ll keep attacking as long as the screen goes black. You should be identified by your dental records, although we wouldn’t mind these creatures to grind said teeth into a fine paste just for yuks. The general feeling of blasphemous gloominess seeps into the mission as well, with some offering some pretty harsh choices that have lasting consequences later on when your decisions come home to haunt. It is surprisingly heavy at times, but retains Grand Guignol take on the grotesque, it’s much funnier than upsetting.
The visuals are solid 8-bit style sprites with a solid clarity of what is and isn’t a platform, but the stock monsters are a bit generic and appear small. They are still fun to fight and that’s important, but it would be great to see more variety. It all sounds right too, with great effects and a colossal old-school soundtrack. The cutscenes are brilliantly drawn and stylishly animated, and the overall atmosphere is surprisingly horrific, judging by the slightly smug disclaimer that appears at the start of the game.
A cute little detail we forgot to mention is the blood that splatters your character when you take out your enemies. It’s not much, but it goes hand in hand with level design and game balancing.
As hard as it is, Infernax is absolutely fair – you can’t make the game “easy”, but you can absolutely lower the difficulty or take a break by doing something else when you get stuck. Don’t expect an easy ride, though, and don’t expect to make the right decisions on your first playthrough – not that anything feels particularly “right” in this beautiful bloody little world. Only acquaintance brings Infernax – in fact, there is nothing. new here, but it’s all done and delivered so well you don’t care unless you’re desperate for a whole new experience. In that case, why start with a fake retro NES? Head and shoulders above most efforts in the subgenre, Infernax demands and demands attention.