Despite Nintendo’s reluctance to make a true Metroid sequel, indie developers have taken to making their own.
It’s definitely not a genre waning in popularity, but that also doesn’t mean they’re all good either. Not every game can reach the heights of Super Metroid, or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or even an Axiom Verge, but today’s subject, Exile’s End, tries its hardest to evoke the greats.
Exile’s End takes place on a mining planet in distress. The company, Ravenwood, hasn’t made contact with HQ in days so a mercenary team is assembled to investigate. Naturally, the team is shot down from space, and you, Jameson, the old grizzled soldier with a disgraced past, is a lone survivor. Most of the story is told through gameplay with Jameson talking to himself, or conversing with his A.I. communicator, Heleus. It’s an interesting setup with an aged hero mostly games don’t tackle, but the narrative unfortunately doesn’t go anywhere.
Exile’s End is more Metroid than Castlevania as it tries to evoke the desperation of survival games and the general vibe of the Alien franchise – and it’s definitely one of the tensest openings to a game I’ve played in a long time. When Jameson crashes he is low on health, has no weapons, and his shock absorption program on his suit shorted out. I’ll give props to Exile’s End for making me feel unsafe and in turn having me play carefully until I was able to restore my health, suit, and grab a weapon, but I would also argue it goes on for too long.
There are no dedicated save points in the game. Instead, it saves after every screen, which is kind of nice in terms of failure, avoiding the annoyance of retreading areas over and over only to die on a single spot. However, it also saves your health status and there no way to gain it back other than med kits and pills dropped randomly from enemies. Once you get a weapon, drops are actually pretty generous and if not you can always farm foes for whatever you need if you really need to grind that way. For the beginning though, it’s disastrously difficult. Let me walk you through it.
Exile’s End starts by giving yous some rocks and a med kit, before later giving you a shock absorber, and finally a gun. Rocks can activate switches and kill worms, but these enemies don’t drop health, meaning your one med kit has to last until you get a weapon, which is a long stretch of time. So if you happen to have a terrible time in a certain corridor and move onto the next, you’re stuck with that health because of the active saves. Sure, it adds tension by the bucketload, but also a lot of problems that might turn players away before they get to the good stuff.
Past the intro, I started enjoying Exile’s End more. The starting pistol has unlimited ammo and enemies become pretty generous with all types of items and ammo for other guns. There’s a machine gun, grenades, and some other tools at Jameson’s disposal that help with progression like double jumps, or a magnet gun to pull out of reach switches. Upgrades for your health and shields are cleverly hidden in walls.
While you do have a map, it’s not marked very clearly, making it very easy to wander down the wrong path. I’m all for leaving the mystery up to the players and not holding hands, but at the same time the frequent need to backtrack to find the correct path left me bored and frustrated. Without any kind of warp, fast travel or even any checkpoints, it just made playing feel like a chore at times to artificially elongate the somewhat short campaign. For those interested there is a survival mode wherein you have to find items and defeat monsters in order to move on with leaderboards. It’s fun for a time, if that’s your thing, but it’s little more than a distraction to me.
Exile’s End is a good action-platformer that checks all the boxes of a good Metroidvania, but does so without much pizazz. It’s a fairly short experience that is fine and does a nice job in evoking a horror vibe, but due to some poor design choices, it doesn’t reach the greater heights of its predecessors. That being said, even with its faults, to those wanting a good Metroid experience, this will suffice for now.