Review: HunterX: code name T
As the gamut of Metroidvania games continues to expand at an exponential rate, so too does the need for them to somehow delineate themselves from their contemporaries. Be it through unique game mechanics, a slick visual style, or quality of content, a certain je ne sais quoi is required to really engage the player in the overall experience.
But with the sheer quantity of quality Metroidvania titles being released year-over-year, it can be easy to forget just how important it is for each one to carve that niche out for itself, no matter how small. Can a Metroidvania still succeed and be a great time without a singular approach to these elements? Absolutely, but it remains quite a hill to climb.
This is a facet of the genre that was on my mind a lot as I played through HunterX: code name T, the latest effort from developer Orange Popcorn and a sequel to last year’s HunterX, out now for PC as of December 11th, 2023. On paper, it has a decent amount going for it: an appreciable 2.5D presentation, stylish animation work, a variety of offensive options, and a sizable amount of locations to explore. Unfortunately, it’s the execution that’s lacking here, and it all culminates to a point where the experience is significantly lessened by its shortcomings.
Without further ado, let’s start with that storyline.
code name N(arrative)
code name T puts players in control of Taiyo, a devil hunter accompanied by a small demon. After traversing a futuristic cityscape, the pair discover a “crack” in the world that promptly teleports them to a more fantastical setting, packed to the nines with desert castles, spider-ridden mountains, and damp cave systems to explore. Oh, and a whole lot of monsters to kill.
This is the point where I would love to elaborate more on the storyline and its various strengths and weaknesses, but there just isn’t all that much to dig into. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a game’s story existing to justify the experience, but even by that metric what’s offered in HunterX: code name T is paper thin at best and nigh indecipherable at worst. Characters will appear and disappear at random while vaguely muttering their goals, certain translations of dialogue and text can be confusing, and the lack of meaningful cutscenes makes the journey feel more aimless than not.
As I continued to traverse the game’s locales and take down its bosses, I kept waiting for some type of consistent thread to materialize, no matter how slight, but it just never did. Your goal for continuing Taiyo’s journey is to experience more of the game, and while that’s largely fine in theory, it’s merely the first of a list of blemishes that work against the game’s fun factor.
code name G(ameplay)
At first blush, HunterX: code name T seems like your typical metroidvania and Souls-influenced action platformer, and there’s no sugar coating it: that’s exactly what you’re getting with this title. Earning level-up and shop currency from defeated enemies that needs to be retrieved upon every death, exploration yielding weapons, accessories, and other miscellaneous goodies, an emphasis on boss fights—it’s all here, and it’s all exactly as you’d expect.
One could easily describe the moment to moment gameplay as simplistic, and while it would be an accurate descriptor, it isn’t one that would paint the entire picture either. Movement is generally fast, there’s a decent amount of weapons and spells to discover, and an expansive skill tree lets players prioritize which upgrades they want and when.
HunterX: code name T’s parry system is the core mechanic that stands out most, however, and although it isn’t strictly required, it benefits the player greatly for successfully utilizing it. It shares some mechanical and tactile similarities to the Flash Guard system found in the Ys series, where successfully timed deflections boost your attack while reducing the defense of the enemy you parried for a short time. It works on every enemy and can make for some clutch saves and very rewarding gameplay for players willing to risk the damage.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game at large fails to capitalize on this enjoyable system by refusing to challenge the player for a significant portion of its runtime. There’s a variety of enemies to tackle, but each one of them sports one or two attacks that are usually trivial to avoid or parry, and every enemy can be taken down in roughly three or four hits as a rule.
This wouldn’t be as large a detriment as it is if not for code name T’s struggle to mix things up with its enemy placement and attack design either. More often than not, you’ll be traversing wide open zones with enemies that refuse to loiter near one another, making most encounters one-on-ones when combinations of certain enemies could have made for some engaging action. Nor does it help that saves are plentiful with very little space between each one, and shortcuts provide the player with even more convenience in getting around, effectively doubling down on the easiness.
Tragically, bosses don’t fare much better. For most of the experience (unless you’re intentionally avoiding putting your level ups into health or strength) their HP and damage output feels severely under-tuned. If you’re like me and love to take your time learning a boss and earning a victory, HunterX: code name T won’t have much to offer you in that department.
Steps were taken to make sure the player doesn’t just steamroll all of the content, like getting hit in midair immediately jettisoning you back to the ground. You can’t go through enemies either, but this limitation also makes for some odd situations where the game refuses to let you pass and stutters your movement at the same time, making for a janky feeling of losing control before Taiyo starts to move as he normally does.
Areas will also have the occasional puzzle or two thrown in. While neat in concept, they’re typically very simple and over before they really get a chance to tease your brain, particularly if you find the lore item that explains the solution prior to finding it. They’re also too few and far between, which is a shame because traversal would have been quite a bit more interesting if they hadn’t been. Instead, you’ll be running through sparsely populated rooms with enemies placed too far away from each other at nearly every section of code name T.
All in all, aside from their aesthetics, the areas are homogenous to the point of monotony. This wouldn’t be too large an issue as long as the gameplay itself were fun, but the same can be said of the enemy encounters, bosses, and even weapon attack animations as well. This makes for a big problem in any game, but it’s an especially difficult hurdle to overcome when playing a metroidvania.
code name A(esthetic)
Though it isn’t a style I would jump to call original, the presentation of HunterX: code name T is one of the the aspects I enjoyed the most during my time with it. It’s highly reminiscent of the 2.5D action games developed in the mid-to-late 2000s and manages to sport designs that are equal parts cute and interesting. The same can be said for the interconnected areas as well—interesting to look at, but predictable in visual design.
There are a few more hitches to be found on the auditory front. Though level most of the time, some sound effects have something of an uneven mix that can overpower the music and ambient noise to a high degree. This hits its worst point when there’s no music in an area, and you’re able to clearly identify when the ambient wind audio stutters and skips to start over on the next loop. It isn’t constant, but when it happens it’s very jarring.
HunterX: code name T’s soundtrack is similarly spotty. Most tracks go in one ear and drift out the other, but there are a few tracks that stand out; Spider Mountain’s thumping rhythm, grooving synth, and string harmonies in particular are a whole vibe. I wish more of the compositions had used it as a baseline.
code name S(hucks)
HunterX: code name T is a middle-of-the-road experience. If you’re looking for a new metroidvania to sink your teeth into, your attention would probably be better spent elsewhere, and that’s a shame because there are some solid ideas here. The inclusion of a notable parry system that decreases enemy stats while increasing your own isn’t enough to stave off the exhaustion that creeps up from the game’s other aspects. Enemies, bosses, and areas all feel the same to go through, and this eventually builds to a point of exhaustion—even in this shorter metroidvania. It could have been excellent with more refinement, but as it stands, HunterX: code name T remains simply functional and little else.
Review code provided by Orange Popcorn for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.