Many thanks to developer XSeed for providing us a review copy of Exile’s End!
Despite what developer Magnetic Realms claims, Exile’s End is a return to the traditional Metroidvania style 2-D platformer. Players must unearth the secrets hidden across the world in order to escape the enigmatic planet all the while discovering new abilities and weapons. Boasting music from Ninja Gaiden composer Keiji Yamagishi and a team of artists whose previous works include Secret of Mana, Mother 3, and Guilty Gear, Exile’s End feels like it belongs on an SNES cartridge.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Players take control of Jameson, a grizzled space marine with a mysterious past as he explores the ruins of an ancient and mysterious civilization. Exile’s End relies heavily on its broody and lonely atmosphere, and what little story the game presents is scattered between cryptic writing and confusing cutscenes. While this form of storytelling is fairly typical in this style of game, Exile’s End offers a more cinematic approach with detailed cutscenes to move the story along. This process is visually impressive but fails to fill the player in on what is actually happening in the game. Players are told to stop a cataclysmic event, but the reason for the event and the cause of Jameson’s woes are never fully explained. Exile’s End raises more questions than it answers, and while this isn’t inherently bad, the rich and hauntingly beautiful world almost demands more answers.
In typical Metroidvania fashion, players begin Exile’s End with no weapons or abilities. The only item available to the player is a rock which can be used to distract enemies and to solve one puzzle early on in the game. The rock is a cute play on the sense of powerlessness that classic 2-D platformers invoke when the character first begins their adventure. However, this sense of uselessness last for an annoyingly long time, and the weapons Jameson collects doesn’t quite make up for the long lull in weaponry.
Functionally, there are only two types of weapons available to the player, hand guns and energy weapons. The hand guns consist of a pistol and an SMG, the only difference between the two is that the SMG has a faster rate of fire. The energy weapons are a bit more unique, drawing upon Jameson’s suit for power and forcing the player to balance the more powerful weapons with the added armor the energy grants Jameson’s suit. Unfortunately the energy that powers the suit and the weapons is dropped by nearly every enemy the player defeats.
Exile’s End does an excellent job of making exploration feel like a dangerous task. With health packs few and far between, every hit a player takes serves to increase the sense of impending doom that hangs in the air. Even jumping can be dangerous until the proper power-up is discovered which can be problematic in a game which relies on exploring. Exploring in Exile’s End is an exercise in restraint. The game punishes the player for leaping before they look by placing spikes just beyond the screen’s draw distance, or by spawning enemies directly where a player would land. Taking a ladder down a long drop would allow the player to see an enemy’s location, but slows the game’s pacing down drastically.
The only other tool initially available to the player is the map, which seemingly can never be filled out as portions of a room are tantalizingly out of reach, as if to taunt players who want to completely fill out the map. For a game that relies on backtracking, this can be particularly frustrating when it becomes difficult to tell whether a location is inaccessible because of a missing powerup or simply because the map cannot fully be explored.
Portions of the game often feel like the player is expected to utilize speed running tactics such as damage boosting to get past bosses or challenging areas. While not necessarily a bad experience, it does serve to cheapen the progression Jameson makes and can make what few weapons the players receive feel irrelevant if the player can simply run through enemies.
Perhaps the biggest divergence from classic 2-D sidescrollers is Exile’s End’s very forgiving checkpoint system. Simply walking into a room establishes a new checkpoint, so should the worst come to Jameson, players are set back to the beginning of the room with whatever health they entered with. Despite the game’s persistence to taking a slow approach to exploration, should Jameson lose too much life from recklessly exploring or even getting ambushed by an unexpected enemy, players can purposely die and recover their health.
Completing the game on normal difficulty unlocks a hard mode which disables the checkpoint system and a Speedrun mode that has cutscenes disabled and players only have one life to complete the game with. There is also a unique Survivor mode that pits the player against custom maps and a strict time limit with minimal weaponry. Players also receive a ranking upon completing Exile’s End, encouraging players to replay the game and try to reach that coveted 100% score.
Exile’s End does an exquisite job at ensuring the player feels like they are stranded on an alien world. Foggy rooms where enemies hang behind foliage, deadly radiation filled rooms where enemies are curiously unharmed, and large, sweeping rooms where ominous and ancient temples of a doomed civilization dominate the background. Complementing the eerie environment is composer Keiji Yamagishi’s soundtrack, drawing upon the sinister undertones of a hostile world.
Despite Exile’s End’s relatively short length, it does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of exploring a desolate planet and the isolation that come with being lost in an open world. Clocking in at under five hours, Exile’s End is a concise 2-D adventure that doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but fans of the classic genre will enjoy.
- Insanely atmospheric
- High replayability
- Slightly anti-climatic ending
- Few enemy models
- Confusing map system