Ok, so I finished this. True final boss beaten. I’m missing an extra hard DLC boss but I have an opinion.
This game, I think, belongs to a trinity along Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night as one of the three best metroidvanias ever.
The game specially shines in level and world design and in the platforming mechanics (except for the short jump, but I’ll get to that).
Level design is clearly inspired by Dark Souls. It is a really interconnected world with many shortcuts that you eventually open. The gating is not very hard for the most part, and for a long time mid-game it’s actually very open as to where you can/should go. In this regard I think it’s better than Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night. It’s just a more organic, more modern world design that has learnt a lot from past metroidvanias and instead of going through a super-planned structure (like most modern metroidvanias) it goes in the oppossite direction, taking a clue of pre-genre solidification games, with a couple of obscure puzzles and the like. A lot of care has been taken in making the world feel unified and organic. There’s a great sense of place here, with very few elements that feel tackled on.
This structural and world design is complemented by very tight platforming mechanics. Most of the gating in the game is done through mobility, and the game knows you are going to take advantage of all the movement mechanics. So the game ups the ante and offers you the hardest platforming in a Metroidvania that I remember. Some of the areas you need to go though for the true ending look impossible at first glance and force you to understand and use all the movement mechanics in pretty much every possible permutation, some of them apparently game breaking at first glance. Some sections are Super Meat Boy-style hard. You can get the regular ending without going through them, but even regular levels expect tight platforming control. This is pretty much unlike any metroidvania I remember and is what I think makes the game great.
Where the game fails to live up to it’s potential is the combat. The combat is tight and fast, and it has some interconnected mechanics that allow you to do crazy stuff with simple tools, but at the end it does not offer enough variety. Part of it is the lackluster equipment system, but overall you have the same attack (with minor variations in power and reach) for all the game. Nowhere you can see crazy effects like the freezing of Metroid, and the equipment overload of Symphony of the Night (with it’s many, many different weapons with different mechanics) is not there either. This has the advantage that combat can be designed very tightly, as tightly as the platforming sections. And bosses are fast and dangerous. But untimately 90% of them feel exactly like variations of the same thing. You have 3-4 evasion tools at most and bosses are just an exercise of reading patterns and executing in time. Coupled with an uninspired decision to have all but 2 boss fights be in a square, featureless arena, and it feels like a missed opportunity. Give me this game with a more delicate, expansive or expressive combat system and it could have been my favorite metroidvania ever. As it is is merely great :P.
Also, to make hard boss combats feasible they do this weird thing with the jump that if you release the button mid jump it automatically cancels the ascent (as oppossed to great platforming games where upwards speed is cut but not totally cancelled). Makes jump-slashing easier, but feels strange when platforming.
Finally, I think it overstays it’s welcome a tiny bit. Took me 35 hours to reach the true ending. 20 hours would have been a much more reasonable prospect. Part of it is the very mild fast travel you are given. A lot of time is spent going from one place to another with little tension or sense of discovery. The sense of wonder dissapears when there’s still too much game left. Once you open the regular ending they should have introduced a way to do all minor quest and remaining stuff faster.
But anyway, I thought it was fantastic, despite the minor flaws. Doesn’t replace Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night, but comes really damn close…