In an age of remakes and reboots, everyone is trying to get a slice of the nostalgia cake (with cute, money-filled frosting!). Activision recently wowed people with the Crash Bandicoot and Crash Team Racing remakes, and Team17 have tried their hand at few genres through their Yooka-Laylee series. With these big names bringing back their beloved titles, of course, you’re going to get indie developers taking their chances at revitalising or reimagining these classic genres. In steps Ritual Games, who have attempted to revitalise the Metroidvania genre of games with Paradox Soul – A feat which I consider admirable, but hard to truly do justice.
Metroidvanias are typically known for their difficulty. Before the days of Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy, traversing through alien planets or government bases was where the true difficulty lay. Paradox Souls takes this, and instead of making its enemies and bosses particularly difficult, it comes at you with a ‘hands-off’ approach.
The game opens with you entering what seems to be a hidden government base…and that’s it, that’s all you know about your character and the world you inhabit. It’s up to you to uncover the mysteries of this place and also learn more about the world. It’s not just plot that is absent at the beginning, Paradox Soul is unique for having absolutely no tutorials. You’re not shown how to walk, fight or interact, it is up to your own initiative to discover this by yourself.
This lack of guidance fits in nicely with the cold and lonely atmosphere that the game is trying to set. There is no one around to help, no one guiding you, it’s just you and the mysterious, evil forces in this eerie lab. The music helps create this ambience by being subtle and robotic, only being broken up by the sound of your rifle or the oncoming autonomous forces heading your way. Matched with its simple, but the beautiful pixel art style and Ritual Games have managed to get the ambience down perfectly.
If mood and atmosphere are where this game shines, then the mechanics and gameplay itself are definitely where Paradox Soul falls short. The core gameplay revolves around exploring through the laboratory fighting off the robots and feral animals you encounter along the way via duck-and-cover style shooting. The actual act of doing these is nicely put together and overall quite sound – once you get the hang of it, the tense hallway fights become engaging and dodging the many different enemy types does present quite a challenge. It’s just that it falls into a bit of a loop. There’s nothing outside of ducking and shooting. There’s very little that breaks up the monotony of the combat which becomes stale and boring after a while.
To its credit, Paradox Soul is only a few hours long – it can easily be completed in one sitting, but by the halfway point, you’ll have already encountered everything. Outside of the bosses, which are all unique and challenging in their own way, the enemies all act the same and rarely challenge the player once you’ve learned how they act.
Metroidvanias have never really been my thing. I can play them and enjoy them, but I’m rarely fully immersed in them. Paradox Soul manages to do a lot right: It’s ambience, lack of guidance and gameplay are all put together in a satisfying way, but the lack of variety prevents me from getting completely drawn in. It’s a short game and it’s relatively cheap, so it’s worth giving a try if you like Metroidvanias, but there are other better titles within this genre you could also look into.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*