Infernax Review

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‘Member Castlevania?

Retro games – we all love ‘em, right? There’s nothing like nostalgia fuelled memories of your childhood to get you waxing lyrical about how great the older games were and how terrible things have become. Well, I’m sorry to say, some of those older titles really don’t hold up as well as you remember them. Maybe the controls are a bit awkward or the enemy AI is just unfair, but revisiting retro games with modern eyes can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Infernax feels like a true retro game through and through

A modern trend, particularly in indie games, is to look back at these older titles with fondness and make new releases that take heavy influence from them while adding their own quality of life changes into the mix to make them more palatable for modern gaming. These “modern retro” titles can sometimes have mixed results, be they not quite nailing the graphical aesthetic, or maybe making the game feel a little TOO modern. The latest addition to the “modern retro” catalogue, Infernax, from developer Berzerk Studio, looks to bring the classic Castlevania titles into the modern age, giving the style a more free flowing action RPG feel but retaining the 8-bit visuals and sounds.

From the word go it becomes clear that there’s a lot of love for NES style gaming at Berzerk, as the opening sections of the game hit home that aesthetic. Sure, there’s probably a few more colours on the screen, some smoother animations and more levels of parallax in the backgrounds in the many areas of the world of Upel, but Infernax feels like a true retro game through and through. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it feels like YOU REMEMBER those retro games, versus how they actually were. On top of it’s lovely visuals, there’s a wonderfully 80’s stream of violence running through the game with foes crumpling to a gooey mess under the blows from your mace, to horribly deformed and huge bosses that fill the screen with their pustulous forms. The game opens with a warning that things are about to get messy and 100% holds up that promise to a devilish and delightful degree.

You will die a lot!

Berzerk have added some brilliant quality of life improvements on top of the old school visuals and audio, from tight platforming controls to some excellent accessibility and difficulty options. In fact, the game even offers you the option of lowering the difficulty whenever you die (although it reminds you that you’ll never be able to raise it again in that particular run) – and make no mistake, you will die a lot!

Infernax positions itself as a hard game, one that’s uncompromising in its difficulty and punishing for players who think they might be able to breeze through it. Playing as a lord who’s been away from his lands for many years, you return to find your kingdom overrun with foul demons and hordes of the undead. It’s up to you to battle across this bleak kingdom, helping your citizens and vanquishing enemies to find out just what’s going on and try to put a stop to it.

Bosses require some quick thinking and reflexes

On the surface the game is extremely Castlevania-esque, taking a particular leaf out of the second game of Konami’s long dormant series, Simon’s Quest. You’ll start your adventure by exploring a large overworld and, in traditional fashion, you’ll quickly find your path blocked by geometry you’ll clearly need some future ability or item to overcome. The main loop to the gameplay has you wandering the land, smashing in enemy heads to gain XP and money, stopping off at checkpoints to save, heal and level up and uncovering towns and villages to spend your dosh at to acquire new weapons, armour and spells. Across the world you’ll uncover dungeons in the form of palaces, mausoleums and caves where you’ll have to explore, find unique goodies and battle huge screen filling bosses on your way to the final encounter.

The great thing about Infernax, despite its tough encounters, is how generous it is with allowing the player the freedom to explore the world at their own pace. Like FromSoft’s brilliantly designed Lordran in Dark Souls, Upel has multiple routes available to the player from very early in the game. While many of the key dungeons are locked off, this openness definitely encourages the player to explore rather than dive headlong into the critical path and I ended up discovering a very helpful spell and earning enough XP and gold to sufficiently level up without even making that much progress in the first dungeon. The save system is also very generous, even going so far as to allowing you to leave a dungeon part way through a run to save, cash in any earned XP and top up your health and potion reserves before continuing, a mechanic I found actually reduced some of the perceived difficulty a great deal.

There’s plenty to discover

That’s not to say Infernax is secretly an easy game masquerading as something else. It’s still tricky with some tough progression puzzles to solve and bosses that require some quick thinking and reflexes. That’s not even mentioning the game’s morality system and day/night cycle. The morality system requires you to, every now and then, make a choice – spare a captured monster or not? Dispel a group of bandits from outside a wizards hut or spend the night drinking with them? These choices often have immediate consequences but can also crop up way into the game to change how NPCs react to you, what side quests you can accept, what items you have available to you and even the ending of the game itself. This also ties into the day and night cycle. At night, monsters in the overworld are trickier but yield more goodies, while some quests and encounters are only available to you when the moon is up. These are both fascinating mechanics for a game like this and Infernax plays with them in some clever ways.

Infernax is not a particularly short game, but nor does it overstay its welcome. There’s plenty to discover in the world outside of the key areas the game wants you to explore and there’s some nice surprises in the side quests. The morality system and multiple endings also encourage replay to a degree to see what would happen if you actually manage to save certain NPCs or even make some more morally reprehensible decisions in your adventure.

Performance wise as well, the game is a treat running at an almost locked 60fps on Switch with some very minor slowdown in busier areas. As well as Nintendo’s hybrid console, which I tested the game on for this review, Infernax is also launching on Steam, PlayStation and Xbox, with a day one launch on GamePass meaning Xbox owners have absolutely no excuse to give this cracking Action RPG a go.

8.5

A brilliant throwback to classic 8-bit games given a modern spit and polish, Infernax is a challenging but rewarding Action RPG that encourages exploration, discovery and, thanks to its multiple endings, a degree of replayability. Come for the retro sensibilities and splashy gore, stay for the deep world building and fun gameplay.

Writes and produces films at independent outfit Shortorme Productions. Records music under the guise of Stage of History. Gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum. Always on the lookout for something new and fresh.

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