Developed by El Huervo, Ultros is a Metroidvania like no other. The first reason should be apparent thanks to screenshots on this page: with its psychedelic art style, Ultros is an absolute feast for the eyes. It’s a game that’s full of lurid colour and unusual characters. Clearly inspired by nature, flora and fauna are everywhere, with even the game’s humanoid characters having bug-like aspects.
But even when it comes to mechanics, Ultros is a bit out of the ordinary. How many Metroidvanias have you played where eating is the key to success, for example? Instead of having a leveling or skill point system, Ultros instead demands that you eat fruit and parts of the enemies you’ve defeated to grow in power and gain new skills. Each consumable grants nourishment of some sort as well as healing your character if they’re injured. And so it’s up to you to manage your consumables effectively, keeping your health topped up and unlocking skills to make sure your food doesn’t go to waste. Or at least for your current run, anyway.
You see, another unique aspect of Ultros is that as well as being a Metroidvania, it’s also a Roguelike. Starting anew is somewhat inevitable in this game, even if you’re skilled at it. Stuck in a loop, at key intervals you’ll essentially find yourself back at the beginning, with the majority of your skills and upgrades taken away from you. For what purpose, you’ll wonder? That’s something you’ll need to find out as part of the central story. Admittedly, it can be a bit irritating having things taken from you – including important abilities you’ve found such as being able to double-jump – but the game does alleviate this somewhat as you progress.
Each time you inexplicably black out and wake up back in your serene garden, regaining your key tools – your sword and your multi-use Extractor – is first on your agenda. After that, you’re free to once again explore. Hunting down a number of pods to destroy them, seemingly expediting the arrival of some sort of Lovecraftian god seems to be the order of the day here, but the story is intentionally vague. You’re not given much direction when it comes to gameplay, either, which can lead to frustration. You might often find yourself not knowing exactly what you’ve got to do, or doing something that you’re not sure if you should be doing to progress.
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Late in the game, for example, you gain the ability to link up nodes with a strange cord. This is how you unlock fast travel between pods which you can use to save and heal, in fact. The system’s never really explained, though, and it’s quite a faff. We actually found ourselves souring on Ultros the more we played it, which is unfortunate. Take the combat system that asks you to skillfully dodge incoming enemy attacks and vary your own in order to harvest the best-quality body parts; it’s robust enough, and fun initially, but over time it becomes repetitive and a little tiresome. It doesn’t help that there’s not all that much enemy variety.
One of the most interesting aspects of Ultros is its gardening system, which allows you to plant various seeds whenever you find a nice patch of soil. Aside from bearing fruit which you can eat to heal and perhaps enable you to unlock an upgrade during a cycle, you might find in the next cycle that it’s grown to help you navigate the game’s world. Some plants create ledges, for example, while others destroy clockwork blocking your path. Savvy players will make the most of this system, using compost to help grow their plants quicker, and ripping up plants placed in error with their Extractor.
We feel like Ultros is destined to become a cult classic. It will undoubtedly be loved by some, but many will find it overly vague in terms of story and direction to leave a lasting impact. It has some interesting ideas, a stunning visual style and a neat soundtrack, but the further you progress, more and more frustrations are likely to creep in, undermining them all. Add in the combat which doesn’t really go anywhere during your adventure, leading it to eventually become stale, and you have a game that doesn’t live up to its potential.