Few games have made me more excited over a simple trailer than Infernax. As someone who grew up with 8-bit action games, I eagerly covered a preview of it last month, where I was pleased with what they had and could only speculate on where it would go. When I heard I’d have the opportunity to try out the finished product, I knew I had to see whether my hopes were realized.
Infernax is developed by Berzerk Studio, published by The Arcade Crew, and releases on Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Game Pass on February 14, 2022
Paved with Good Intentions
Infernax follows Duke Alcedor (or whatever you name him, but we’ll go with the default here) as he battles demons across the land of Upel. Things stay pretty straightforward from there. Once you’re past the intro bit that sets up needing to clear the five dungeons to access the final tower, there’s little in the way of plot interruptions or direction until the end.
It’s a bit minimalistic by today’s standards, but it fits the retro vibe the game has and I never felt like the plot was especially lacking either. It’s not like I went to a castle and had questions of why I was there: I was there to slay a demon, ’nuff said.
If you do want more plot and world building though, there are side quests and NPCs to chat with. Like the main plot they’re fairly basic, but they do give each town a unique flavor. They show more of how the demons are interfering with the lives of the townspeople, and over the course of them you do find out a bit more about the cult that caused the whole problem. There’s even a few genuine storylines here and there. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s far better than what we had back in the era the game is mimicking without feeling too modern.
Now, there is one aspect I’ve been neglecting so far, and that’s the morality system. There are multiple endings to the game, two depending on if you’ve been more good or evil and two more that require you to have stuck to one side almost exclusively to unlock some final sidequests.
Sadly most of the choices are fairly straightforward: pick the option that punishes demons or cultists and shows mercy to villagers for good points, vice versa for evil. This is actually one area where I felt the game was a bit too simple for its own good. There were numerous occasions where it felt like it was going to have me make a more complicated moral choice, like showing mercy to my enemies even if it may bite me later or needing to make a hard choice to do what’s right. But no, I was simply overthinking things, and it was a simple choice of whether to punish the evildoers or let them keep doing evil.
Still, it does add a surprising amount of difference for an otherwise fairly straightforward game: Your choices impact not only what ending you’ll receive, but what spells you can acquire and which sidequests are available (with their own unique encounters as well.) It’s simplistic in terms of the choices being made, but manages to have more of an impact on the game than a fair number of AAA titles.
Having a Hell of a Time
So, in my initial impression I felt Infernax was going to go in a bit of a Metroidvania route, but in the end that’s not quite accurate. It’s still a side-scrolling action platformer where you get new abilities to access new areas, but the emphasis is more on the platforming and combat, and less-so on the exploration. It’s more in line with classic NES adventure games like Legend of Zelda, Castlevania II, or Blaster Master where your abilities are used to access entire areas, never for secret rooms and collectibles.
As covered in the preview, gameplay mainly involves platforming and melee combat, with your melee having only a little bit of range to it. There are levelups for more attack, health, or magic, and you can buy new equipment, potions, and spells in town. The lack of range makes positioning and recognizing enemy patterns very important, especially with a very limited amount of health and resources between save points.
While there are spells you can use, the vast majority of them are buffs to aid your melee combat, and the few ranged options cost precious magic points that could be used for heals and buffs. So the best option is typically to just get good and swing away. Thankfully, all the enemies have tells you can learn, and after a few attempts studying a boss it’s even possible to find safe spots for a number of attacks that keep you in striking range.
I will say it’s certainly more difficult than the preview. Enemies no longer drop health and magic; instead what you have is what you get until you hit the next save point, or use one of the precious few potions you’ve been able to bring from town. Although, there is one saving grace: extra lives. They’ve managed to take the retro concept of lives and play with them in a way that actually makes them meaningful even with the modern concept of frequent and free save points.
So, extra lives are fairly rare; each town has one for sale, and for a hefty amount of gold at that. However, what you’re buying is an increase to your maximum, and you get all your lives back when you hit a save point. This allows the game to be mean with the platforming and means if you run out of health or magic it’s not that big a deal since you’ll come back at your most recent room with all your health and magic back once you inevitably die. You can only have so many lives based on how far you are, but it doesn’t feel too bad to use them either because you’ll be getting them all back when you hit the save point.
The developers really did strike a fantastic balance with the difficulty. This game is MEAN with some of the platforming requirements and enemy placements. But it’s hard in a way that never feels unfair. I always felt like if I came back a second or third time, I would prevail.
No Kill Like Overkill
One of my favorite things about classic and retro titles is how the background music feels like it should be called foreground music with how it’s often the most memorable part of an area, and Infernax continues this proud tradition. There’s some absolutely amazing tracks here; it really does feel on par with NES classics.
The developers have also outdone themselves with the faux-retro sprites, pushing the limit of how gory they can make them appear within their classic limitations. This is often to such an absurd degree that it becomes a bit of a dark comedy, and lends it a distinctive flair all its own. Even outside of the gore, there’s an impressive level of detail in the environment and characters, and the more dramatic scenes have full screen illustrations to really sell the scene while keeping the 8-bit aesthetic.
Overall they’ve absolutely nailed the NES aesthetic, and I do mean aesthetic quite explicitly. It’s not 100% accurate: there’s a broader color palette, the sound is a little bit higher quality… but it’s only inaccurate in ways you’d never notice unless you’re specifically looking for them.
A Modern Classic
Infernax keeps the things that worked from the nostalgic classics of yesteryear while changing what didn’t. I haven’t had this much fun with a game in a while. It’s just a perfect blend of difficulty and discovery from start to finish. It’s basic, sure, but sometimes shaving off the excess parts is how you polish something down to its core.
It’s not terribly long to beat once – about six hours for a playthrough – but you’ll want to go through at least twice, and there’s even some things that keep things fresh on a second playthrough so you’re not quite retreading the same game a second time. If you’re a fan of old-school action, definitely pick this up!
Preview copy provided by The Arcade Crew for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of The Arcade Crew.