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An experiment with lots of potential.

  • Decky
  • 01/04/2012 07:18 AM
I love both Metroid and RPGs, so it should come to no surprise that I fully endorse a Metroid-RPG hybrid. Add flying mechanics and coin collection? Even better! In theory, this game has the potential to be a classic mashup. In execution, this project in its current state is a somewhat successful, though lacking, experiment with tons of room for improvement.

The concept is even more bare-bones than the typical Metroid game. Players assume the role of an exterminator who has been tasked with defeating three nasty boss monsters. Along the way, the exterminator must traverse three zones - yellow, red, and blue - and collect equipment upgrades along the way to unlock the path forward. There are no other story elements in play, but I do like the foreshadowing of the three bosses in the intro screen.

In some ways, Air RPG feels like a more organically shaped Metroid 1 with similar graphics. Visually, the game certainly presents itself like an NES standard. Each zone has its own color, aside from the occasional green room or multicolored hub area. Enemies and weapon upgrades match the color type of each zone; for instance, the blue zone features an ice gun that allows you to open, surprise surprise, blue doors. The consistency may seem like overkill, but it works quite well in a game that is simple both graphically and mechanically.

The upgrade screen is the definition of simple and effective, and is perfect for this game's style. My only complaint is that this menu cannot be accessed at all times.

Musically, the game draws from various NES-inspired sources; the tracks are unoriginal but generally well selected. The boss theme could have been more intense, but it's still effective enough. Each are has a unique theme. There are, thankfully, no Metroid tracks to be found - their inclusion would made the game feel too unoriginal.

Aside from a few glitches, Air RPG is well polished. When exiting doors, I often ran into an invisible wall for a couple seconds. Jumping near cliffs doesn't always work, and I fell quite a few times in the first areas. The smooth and responsive flying controls help mask this fault, since players will be flying a lot more than jumping.

Gameplay: The Good
The actual gameplay is a mixed bag, so I'll start with the good. Flying in this game is a lot of fun. All players have to do is tap a key repeatedly and they can fly as high and as far as they want. Shooting and bombing are easily handled while flying, and some rooms and bosses are designed to make use of this mechanic. Certain areas have lava/waterfalls that can be traversed only by equipping certain wing upgrades.

The upgrade system is a great inclusion, and it serves as the main RPG element. One frustrating part of Metroid games is that there is often little reward for slaughtering countless enemies while searching for hidden areas and new paths. Air RPG remedies this by having enemies drop coins, which can be spent on upgrades to ammunition capacity, health, power, and defense. There are also plenty of coins to be found by just wandering through hallways and shooting or bombing through rock. In a way, these coins and stat upgrades make up for the lack of missiles and energy tanks; however, this is a two-edged sword, as I will get to later.

Combat in the game is fairly enjoyable, as well. The first and third bosses are solid renditions of classic "bullet hell" and "circle the room" boss tropes, respectively. Enemy patterns are fairly easy to identify, and the organic shape of most rooms allows for sneak attack and bombing opportunities. There is nothing more satisfying than waiting for a little crawler to cross your avatar's line of fire, or dropping a bomb on an unsuspecting shooter enemy from a small alcove above.

Bombs away! Bombs tend to bounce a lot and take too long to detonate, especially since this game is fast paced.

The inclusion of ammunition is a nice touch, as it encourages players to be more wise with their shots. Ammo limits prevent players from spamming bullets along a line of fire, and/or "spraying and praying" in a crowded room. There are plenty of opportunities to both increase ammo capacity and reload, so the limitation should not be an issue for careful players.

Gameplay: The Lacking
With the good also comes a lot of underused or poorly implemented elements that prevent this experiment from reaching its potential. Players level up as they kill monsters, but these levels offer only minimal increases to HP and ammunition capacity. It almost feels as if levels were included for the sake of having another RPG element. I was guilty of this in Carlsev Saga. Upgrading is the only RPG feature that's necessary, since enemies already drop sufficient rewards in the form of coins and health/ammo. If the creator wants to keep leveling in the game, I would suggest offering perks, passives, or skills at certain levels. Imagine Samus from Metroid learning special Screw Attacks at high levels!

Upgrading would be better if enemies were stronger. After a "test death" early in the game, I didn't slip below 50 percent health at any point. I upgraded my offense before my defense, and rarely had an issue with low HP or hard hitting opponents. In other words, upgrading HP and defense is not really that important. This is compounded by the fact that enemies are fast-moving and rarely stationary. If all points are invested in health or defense, and it takes a dozen shots to kill an enemy, then the avatar is bound to take damage during combat. But all of that can be negated by funneling points into weapon power and killing enemies in one shot; there is enough base HP to absorb a few hits should players make a mistake.

If the enemies were harder, it would force me to think about my upgrades more carefully. One option would be to give each area a combat theme - perhaps the enemies in the red area are hard hitting, while the enemies in the blue zone are pathetic on offense but have high health and move quickly. This would force me to tailor my upgrades based on the enemies in the area.

Another idea to improve the upgrade system would be weapon-specific upgrades, as well as elemental attacks. As it stands, new weapons and bombs have very little differentiation and serve only as "keys" to unlock more coins or the next room. On the RPG front, this issue could be fixed by giving enemies an elemental weakness/resistance based on their color. Players could upgrade certain weapons based on the weaknesses of the local fauna. This feature would also help offset the massive amount of repeat enemies that really don't require much strategy or patience to kill in the first place.

Overcompensation: Refill stations are so frequent that they function more as visual decorations than timely saviors.

Ammunition is a double-edged sword, as there may be too many opportunities to reload and increase capacity. I only came close to running out of ammo once, and it was in a simple shaft-like room that was absolutely crawling with enemies. In other words, I fell victim to the "spray and pray" technique out of necessity. I responded by spending some coins for an increase in my ammo capacity, and never had an issue after that. I would suggest reducing the number of recharge stations toward the end of the game, just as incentive to spend coins on capacity instead of pouring everything into weapon power.

As it stands, the game is extremely short and straightforward for a Metroid-style game, and all of the flaws - from the lack of enemy and item variety to the underused upgrade system - stem from this fact. Thus, most of my suggestions for improvement would only be relevant if this game was expanded or redesigned.

Areas are formulaic in design. There is a central shaft with a few different paths branching out. In these areas, players open color-coded doors and blast through color-coded blocks once they find the gun or bomb of the appropriate color. Here is the flow of each area: you enter a room, find an upgrade to unlock another door, find a switch to unlock another area, and find an upgrade to fly up to another area, where you find a bomb upgrade to access the boss. This formula was fine for the first two areas, but it became extremely predictable and disappointing by the final zone. But then again, I am a die-hard Metroid fan who loves nonlinear gameplay; most casual players won't have a major issue with this because the game is short.

Things are just too predictable. You'll know there's a boss ahead when you see a screen like this. By the third zone, you'll also know the order in which you'll get upgrades.

However, if the game is to be expanded beyond this experimental model, the developer will need to broaden and spice up the areas. As is stands, backtracking is extremely minimal, and the length of the game does not excuse this. The only real backtracking and exploring I could do was shoot some color-coded rocks in previous zones to grab a few coins. There were no special items, hidden passages, or new areas to explore in previous zones (aside from coin-filled alcoves).

As I've mentioned a few times, items lack variety. Each new weapon, bomb, or wing has a singular purpose: to unlock the next room. There are even times where you will obtain an upgraded item without even seeing an opportunity to use it first. I would like to see each weapon upgrade have an additional perk on the action side as well as the RPG side. I already suggested elemental weaknesses/resistances for the RPG aspect; for the action aspect, I would recommend things such as firing through walls, freezing enemies, spread shots, or rebound shots that bounce off walls. Some of these mechanics are Metroid staples, but there's no shame in including similar things in a game modeled after Metroid.

Air RPG is a somewhat enjoyable, though limited, platformer-RPG hybrid that borrows from Metroid but is not as deep or expansive. In its current form, the game is simply an above average fixture on this site that was enjoyable up until the third area. Nevertheless, this experiment is successful in that it leaves me wanting more. I want to see this developer expand this game into a labyrinthine Metroid-RPG hybrid with harder enemies, new and varied items, and a deeper or rebalanced upgrade system. Even if the game is not expanded, it could be improved immensely by incorporating secret areas, challenging monsters, elements, new items, and non-linear levels. The possibilities are numerous. 3 stars - "Above Average"


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i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
"This game has a ton of issues. It is above average."

I'm a dog pirate
Meh, even with all the unrealized potential I still enjoyed it more than the average indie game. Though I would say it's the FF13 of Metroidvania games.
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
I liked FFXIII.
I'm a dog pirate
Me too, but it was awfully linear :D
Woah, people that LIKE 13 as well?

This review is very highly informative! You certainly took your time writing it.
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