As the Metroidvania genre continues to thrive, developers must progressively put more work into making their game stand out among the rest. Many have hinged on a central gimmick, such as Axiom Verge's intricate gadgetry, whereas others have looked towards crossing genes with separate genres, such as Guacamelee's beat em up combat. Renegade Kid's Xeodrifter, on the other hand, takes the opposite direction by boiling the genre down to its bare essence.
After a short cinematic contextualizing your mission, seven points of interest are highlighted across four uncharted planets, and then the rest of game lies entirely in the player's hands. Explore, conquer bosses guarding power-ups, use said power-ups to explore further, rinse and repeat. There's no room for filler, just pure gratifying gameplay. Even the age-old grumbles of getting lost or excessive backtracking are addressed as the only true save spot lies on your ship, which serves as a hub between the four planets. If you ever hit a brick wall undertaking another route can be accomplished as quickly as reloading your save. This could've been a double edged sword as death holds the penalty of sending you back to square one, but the game embraces this aspect intelligently in its design. Enemies and their placement are tailored to award careful and skillful play, crafting a challenging and intense experience that never feels unfair. Combine this with solid controls, checkpoints before and after boss fights, the relatively small size of the maps, an intuitive weapon system that encourages players to experiment with different setups for different situations, and death becomes more of a learning experience than a setback.
Nonetheless, Xeodrifter's minimalist design is not without its shortcomings. While each planet has its own unique environment and theme, they share nearly all the same enemies spoiling any actual distinctiveness between them. Worse still, there’s only a single boss in the entire game. It does gain a few new abilities and tactics each time you fight it, but it’s not enough to stave off the repetitiveness by the sixth or seventh time. The largest sticking point however is the length, Xeodrifter can be completed in two hours; three if one spends time collecting all of the health and gun upgrades. While this creates a fluidly paced adventure, the game concludes almost immediately after you find the final power-up, leaving very little time to experience your final setup. Additionally, with few shortcuts and no sequence breaking, speedrunning, intrinsic to the genre, is a tacked on afterthought at best. All this, coupled with the fact that there’s no reward for completing the game 100% nor under a certain time, gives Xeodrifter little to no replay value and makes the $9.99/$14.99 price tag hard to swallow.
Ultimately, Xeodrifter is a neat, if limited case study of what makes Metroidvanias so much fun. As such, it's a delight to enthusiasts of the genre and a stepping stone to newcomers, but if you’re not a Metroidvania fan, Xeodrifter won't sway your opinion.