So there are some genres of games I’m just not good at. Have you ever seen me play the NBA games by 2k? I set it on Very Easy and I still manage to lose. And it’s not a close game. Now, this is entirely my fault – there’s some kind of interface or fundamental gameplay mechanic that I’m just not getting, even though basketball is great (go Bulls!).
The other genre is roguelikes. I’m just not fast or patient enough or something. A friend of mine got his masters in games studies and we talk about video games literally nine days out of 10. I’ve told him explicitly “The quickest way to ensure that I will never buy a game is to tell me it’s a roguelike.”
So I got a review copy of Xenon Valkyrie+ for PS Vita and immediately saw that it was billed as a “roguelite.” Damn. Even still, I’d be a terrible person if I trashed a game just because I’m not good enough at it. Things like ramped-up difficulty and permadeath are staples of the genre; if it’s too hard for me, that doesn’t make it a crappy title (same goes for any and every game by From Software – fantastic games, can’t play them). Right?
So I have mostly good news about publisher Cowcat porting Diabolic Mind’s Xenon Valkyrie+, dear reader. In my time with Xenon Valkyrie+, I found that I really enjoyed it. Bear with me as I approach it from super-rookie grounds.
Boot up Xenon Valkyrie+ and you’ll find yourself choosing one of three characters with different stats and special powers that help you traverse the 2-D retropixel landscape that’s waiting for you. The level structure should look familiar to anyone who’s played Spelunky or Steamworld Dig – it’s very clearly a tight-fitting platformer with randomly-generated destructive terrain and many varying bad guys lying in wait to surprise you. You can jump, swing a melee weapon, fire a firearm, throw a limited number of grenades or use your special power – one had unlimited sticky bombs with a cooldown, for example. Of course, killing monsters earns you experience which you use to level up and get skill points to spend between levels; searching breakable boxes and large chests (that unlock with keys you must find) will net you in-game currency, better weapons, health restoratives and other goodies. This also implements a very clear risk/reward system that I don’t need to explain much – rush through and get xp and coins on the way or explore every nook and cranny for more stuff but encounter more danger.
Make it through the bottom of the level and you get a break between levels to talk to random people hanging out there, some of whom ask for money. And by the way, how do the NPC’s always get there? I’ve been playing games for 30 years and I never quite got how/why helpless and defenseless civilians either set up shop or just stand around with a hand on their hip ready to feed you one rumor and never move. It’s the end of the world outside, son! Get back home and tell your mama you love her!
Anyway, I digress. The between-level areas offer shops, at which you can buy different items, and a big stone monolith thing to spend your skill points and upgrade your max health, damage, etc. Then it’s off to the next level down, which is usually followed by a challenging but not frustrating boss.
Okay, so of all the elements going into this game, the graphics were actually a huge stand-out. Not only am I usually not a big roguelike player, but I’m also not ALWAYS a fan of retro-style visuals. If you have a Vita, you’ve likely seen titles on it like Wipeout 2048 and Blazblue: Chronophantasma, which are indescribably beautiful. When we have engines and hardware that can run those (or if you have a main console like ps4 or XBox One playing games like Star Wars Battlefront and Persona 5), why make something that looks 16-bit or less, even if the gameplay is sweet? Well, I have to say the 16-bit look on Xenon Valkyrie+ won me over, just like it did on Axiom Verge and Butcher. The attention to every pixel of detail goes a long way and keeps Xenon Valkyrie+ keep feeling fresh.
So gameplay is tight, graphics are eye-catching, sound is all good – the only complaint I have about Xenon Valkyrie+ is really a genre complaint, not something specific to this game. Okay, so when I go through a few levels and earn the privilege of teleporting back up to the surface for stuff, I can zip back down to where I was. Handy. But then if I die, the next time I play as anyone (my original character included) they’re reset back to their lowest stats/level. I understand the whole permadeath thing, but here’s why it doesn’t do it for me. I can teleport back down to where I was, but as a level 1 character with no good weapons or stats, it’s basically impossible to continue from that point, meaning I have to go almost all the way back to the beginning of the game and grind my way back down. “Duh, n00b; you just need to stop crying and get better at the game so you don’t die!” Quiet, imaginary asshole. I know that. The point is, it’s not something I like doing. I don’t need games to be stupidly easy and spoon-fed to me, but basically doing an entire game in one life is not a thing I can or want to do. It really turns me off of roguelikes, and even though Xenon Valkyrie+ is objectively a very good game, permadeath discourages me from keeping most roguelikes going and it didn’t quite win me over.
But hey, that’s personal preference/taste. At the end of the day, it’s still a very well-made and fun title and at $10 I’d recommend it to just about anyone, especially Vita players who are up to their ears in otome visual novels and want to do something different than romancing all the boys. 😉 It’s a great game. I’m giving Xenon Valkyrie+ an 8 out of 10.
Disclaimer: AIR Entertainment was given a review copy of this title.