Last week I took a look at Omega Strike and how it got the foundation of a Metroidvania correct. This week, it’s time to talk about After Death and why it doesn’t hit the mark.
The story of After Death finds a soul possessing a skeleton in what appears to be the underworld. Your job is to power a portal that will get you out of there. The only things standing in your way are the various bosses and their minions.
Gameplay in After Death is pure metroidvania. Fighting bosses will unlock new upgrades that in turn will open up the next area and so on. You start out on the weak side of things; with an attack that is short range and only four points of health. There are save points and teleports scattered around the world for when you die. There are a few hidden areas and bonus items off the beaten path.
While the basics are there, After Death simply doesn’t do the metroidvania genre justice.
The problems with After Death aren’t immediately apparent, but rear their head as you get further into the game. From a control point of view, your character is not easy to control. When you combine short range attacks with a jump that carries you automatically in the direction you’re going, you will be taking a lot of damage. There are no additional resources in After Death; leaving enemies as roadblocks in your way.
The real killer (no pun intended) of the game is the level design, and how it encapsulates the worst parts of Metroidvania-likes. The various areas are completely linear with very little connection or reason to explore. It took about an hour of playing to even find my first optional upgrade.
The main upgrades are the perfect example of “keys” rather than useful abilities. The dash you unlock after the 2nd boss gives you no extra momentum; preventing you from combining it with a jump. Great takes on the genre like Axiom Verge and Hollow Knight reward exploration and progression with abilities that become integrated into your normal routine. Here, the environments only allow for one way through regardless of your upgrades.
Then there are polish issues that get in the way of the gameplay. At the first boss fight, the enemy attacked with a move that had no frames of animation; requiring you to preemptively dodge or you would get hit. At the fourth boss fight, I was killed by the hurtbox of a projectile that didn’t exist on screen yet.
Each area requires a lot of walking to get through; with very few save points. To make matters worse, die after you get an upgrade but before you return to a save, and you’ll lost the upgrade.
The only positive I can say about After Death is that the music was amazing, but that’s not the only thing you want to hear about in a Metroidvania title.
After Death is a great example of why metroidvania design isn’t easy. A good game starts you off on a solid foundation and let you grow from there. I’m sure after a few more upgrades my skeletal friend will start to feel powerful. The problem is that I don’t want to have to slog through it until the game gets good.