UPDATE 2: Xeodrifter has now expanded to PS4 and PS Vita! We have updated the review again with another new section to deliver impressions of the belated PlayStation builds.
UPDATE: While our review of Xeodrifter primarily focuses on the original 3DS and PC versions of the game, we have updated the review with an additional section to deliver impressions of the belated Wii U release.
With Nintendo currently sitting idly on the beloved Metroid IP, it’s small wonder that indie developers have resorted to making their own unofficial Metroid games. Standing among these undeniably Metroid-inspired indies is Xeodrifter, a game that comes to us from Mutant Mudds and Moon developer, Renegade Kid.
Renegade Kid is no stranger to Nintendo platforms, which they seem to favour most of all, even in their more mature-minded releases like Moon and Dementium: The Ward, which only ever saw release on Nintendo’s handhelds. Despite this, Xeodrifter ended up also launching for PC, with a slightly pricier ‘Special Edition’ also packing in a soundtrack and developer diary along with the game, as an option for Steam users. Future ports are also planned for PS4, PS Vita, and Xbox One.
True to Renegade Kid’s form though, Xeodrifter undeniably favours Nintendo sensibilities most of all, and it does come close to recapturing some of that same satisfying curiosity and determination that the Metroid series tickles in many gamers’ brains so well. Unfortunately though, it only makes it partway to that same feel. Xeodrifter is well-presented and fun to play, but it also suffers from a limited suite of enemies and obstacles, and is sometimes brought down by just plain dodgy design.
Still, for just $9.99, this three-to-five-hour jaunt through a series of alien worlds should help to scratch your Metroid itch, if you’re feeling the void of Nintendo’s spacefaring series’ inaction of late. It’s best experienced on the 3DS over the PC though, and acknowledged as the heartfelt, but lesser derivative that is ultimately is.
Xeodrifter relies on very simplistic, pseudo-8-bit pixel art, as if to evoke the original Metroid game’s sense of ominous wonder on the NES, circa 1987. Everything has a humble retro chic design, presenting an adventure rooted in retro gaming innocence, with just enough modern polish to make it feel sharp. The sprites and environments are simple, intentionally evoking the limited and mis-matched colour palettes of the NES, but it helps to create a game that almost does feel like it could have existed in the 1980’s, were it not for some unmistakably modern flourishes.
Said flourishes are most noticeable in the 3DS version of Xeodrifter, which sports a surprisingly excellent 3D presentation! Cranking up the 3D Slider results in potent, highly atmospheric 3D, which sucks players into the game far more efficiently than just playing in 2D would. Those playing on a 2DS sadly won’t be able to take advantage of the 3D, and will be left with the satisfactory, but largely basic visuals on a flat screen, as will those playing the PC version, who will at least have the advantage of the sprites having slightly larger and sharper resolution. If you own any variant of 3DS model however, this is definitely a game to play with the 3D as high as you can tolerate, particularly in how well one of its power-ups utilizes leaping between the background and foreground of the environment, also making excellent use of the handheld’s 3D effect.
On both platforms however, the game performs well, and is generally well-presented. It definitely seems like it benefits highly from the added 3D atmosphere though, which makes it clear which platform Renegade Kid primarily designed Xeodrifter for to start.
Xeodrifter’s audio is as much rooted in retro chic gaming sensibility as its simple visual palette. The haunting, yet inviting soundtrack definitely echoes the score of the original Metroid game for NES, only ratcheting up the tempo when players encounter a larger boss enemy. The boss theme is catchy and genuinely fun to hum along with though, as you dispatch the big alien beastie that stands in the way of your success.
Sound effects in Xeodrifter also limit themselves to the same simple notes of the NES synthesizer, sounding solid for retro-minded gamers, though anyone else will find them a bit fuzzy. The PC version can offer some added punch if you have some potent computer speakers, just as the 3DS version contributes more heavily to the immersion with its audio if you plug in some headphones, but this isn’t an audio job meant to impress you. It’s an audio job that’s meant to harken back to a simpler, more innocent time for gaming.
On that note, it succeeds, even if it doesn’t go above and beyond the call of simply being nostalgic.
Xeodrifter is a simple game with a simple premise. Players take control of a nameless astronaut who is flying through space in his (her?) starship, before colliding with an asteroid. The asteroid shorts out the ship’s warp core, stranding the astronaut in a solar system populated by four distinct planets. Players are thus tasked with exploring the four planets in search of a new warp core.
Naturally though, it’s not as simple as just finding a hidden doodad and going home. Xeodrifter, like the various Metroid games, certainly invites speed runs for those who feel they’ve truly mastered it, but the true meat of the game is in exploration. As with the Metroid series, players must track down health and gun extensions, which help to make their character stronger, and better able to defend themselves. These collectibles are all optional, but the more you find, the better a chance you’ll stand against the extra-terrestrial threats in your way.
The health extensions are pretty self-explanatory, with each one adding an extra node to your health meter. The gun power-ups help to set Xeodrifter apart from its Metroid inspiration though. How these work is, players can attach them to one of five different upgrade options, making their gun stronger, faster, or affecting the range and rate that it fires with. You can downgrade and upgrade your weapon parameters at any time, and can even create three different presets that you can switch between on the fly, for easy and quick customization. This is very cool, and encourages players to experiment and find the ideal weapon setup for any given situation, especially since it’s not immediately clear which upgrade section does what at first. Thankfully, there’s no limit to the amount of times you can add and subtract gun upgrades.
This is another mechanic that really seems to draw attention to the fact that Xeodrifter is primarily designed with the 3DS in mind. On 3DS, your gun upgrades and presets are quickly and easily managed on the Touch Screen, allowing you to effortlessly tap around and re-outfit yourself, without needing to interrupt the flow of the game. On PC however, you’re forced to make do with a pause screen, awkwardly using either the keyboard or a gamepad to move your gun upgrades around, which stalls the pace of gameplay. It’s certainly manageable, but it’s far less intuitive, and definitely works a lot snappier and more reliably on Nintendo’s handheld.
Even on 3DS however, you’ll have to deal with repetitive and annoying elements as you explore, which is a bummer. The well-hidden collectibles are fun to locate, and the movement and shooting feels pretty tight, but the enemy variety is really wanting, particularly given how predictable enemy patterns are. Likewise, the environments feel a bit constrained, having some hidden paths to find in the search for bonuses, but not often being big enough to get lost in, especially when the 3DS version lets you conveniently look at a minimap on the Touch Screen, even if that’s something else that you’ll need to pause to view in the PC version. It amounts to a disappointing half-realization of the sprawling, maze-like environments in the classic Metroid games that Xeodrifter is so clearly drawing inspiration from at every turn.
The biggest disappointment in the game comes from the boss battles however, which are always against the same mantis-like alien beast, just with a colour change for every encounter. This may be an in-joke referencing the NES era sometimes just re-skinning enemies and trying to sell them as all-new foes, but the joke wears thin very quickly. The mantis thing adds new attacks with each encounter, which gradually employ more and more of the tools that are awarded to you for beating every iteration of it, but that’s it. It can be fun to memorize and counter the boss patterns, but the fact that it’s always the same predictable boss is a big missed opportunity for Xeodrifter.
Making matters worse is the game’s strange lack of checkpoints. You get a checkpoint every time you return to your ship to switch planets, or enter/exit a boss area, but that’s it. If you’re ever killed even inches from trying to retreat to your ship after a boss fight for example, you’re kicked all the way back to when you exited the boss room, potentially losing lots of progress and collectible finds. You can also only save your game in your ship, which is also the only way to instantly heal your character, emphasizing care when it comes to exploring too far away from your escape. The lack of checkpoints may be rooted in retro game design, but it can be pretty frustrating, especially since the game sometimes seems to actively take advantage of its limited screen real estate to run you into enemies that you can’t see in time to react to, especially on 3DS. It makes the level design feel kind of questionable in some places.
Fortunately, as you exterminate those mantis bosses on the way to finding a new warp core, your character gets some nifty new capabilities. To provide some examples, you can deploy a submarine to move underwater, dash across lava pits, rocket up ceiling shafts, and leap between the foreground and background, which feels like the most unique power-up in Xeodrifter, and, like I said, it excellently takes advantage of the 3D effect on a 3DS handheld. It’s a solid arsenal of navigation tools, which is why it’s a shame that Xeodrifter’s environments are so tightly constrained, and its enemy variety is so limited.
You can mine some additional challenge out of trying to snag some pretty tough Steam Achievements in the case of the PC version, but beyond that, Xeodrifter largely functions as a sort of especially creative Metroid-Lite. It undeniably feels like imitation Metroid though, not the real thing, and is perhaps too small in scale to effectively realize its ambition. Still, retro gamers will find it charming, and may enjoy mastering its corridors and alien threats like they would in the case of Metroid. Xeodrifter no doubt won’t have the same staying power as Samus Aran’s classic adventures though.
Many months after originally launching for 3DS and PC, Xeodrifter has expanded to Wii U. Better still is that, if you already bought the 3DS version, the Wii U version is cross-buy, and will be given to you for free! Even if you have yet to buy Xeodrifter at all however, buying the game on either Nintendo platform will still score you the other version at no extra charge, which is fantastic.
As for how the Wii U version stacks up with the 3DS version, it surprisingly takes more after the PC version than its handheld cousin, complete with one-screen presentation, which feels like a bit of a waste. The loss of 3D capability is a bummer, making environments feel flatter than they do with the 3D Slider cranked up on 3DS units, but the game’s sharp, increased resolution still effectively services the faux-8-bit style on Nintendo’s console. The Wii U version also supports off-TV Play on the Wii U Gamepad, with the game still looking sharp and performing well when played on the Wii U Gamepad Screen, and the image being streamed to both screens in real-time.
All in all, the Wii U version makes for a solid, if unremarkable port of Xeodrifter, though the 3DS version remains the ideal way to experience the game. It seems strange that the game wouldn’t take advantage of the Wii U’s asymmetric capabilities, and the controls are also limited to the Wii U Gamepad, which is functional, but feels limiting if you prefer a Wii U Pro Controller or Wii Classic Controller. The fact that both Nintendo versions can be scored together with a single purchase of either however definitely makes Xeodrifter an ideal investment on Nintendo platforms either way though!
Several weeks after it expanded to Wii U, Xeodrifter also launched for PS4 and PS Vita, also being a free reward for PlayStation Plus members throughout the month of the game’s release on PlayStation devices, and being cross-buy on PlayStation on top of that, so you net both PlayStation versions together with a single purchase of either! The shared trophy roster between the PS4 and PS Vita builds also includes mention of a PS3 version, though Renegade Kid has declined to bring up a PS3 port at all. This could indicate that Xeodrifter was originally planned for PS3 at one point, though this port was more than likely quietly cancelled, due to the PS4 being well established in the market now.
Regardless, the PS4 and PS Vita builds of Xeodrifter are both much the same, inevitably being restricted to the lesser single-screen gameplay that’s present in the prior PC and Wii U builds. The PS4 version looks and performs identically to the others, with its increased resolution still benefiting the retro chic presentation, and having it look about identical to the PC and Wii U versions, though the satisfying Dual Shock 4 controls in the PS4 version are definitely a unique plus.
As for the PS Vita version, it also offers the portable advantage of the 3DS original, and looks pretty sharp on the PS Vita screen. Again though, the inevitable omission of 3D in the PS Vita build versus the 3D-capable 3DS build is a disappointment, with environments looking sharply rendered, but also flatter and less immersive on Sony’s handheld. The controls also aren’t quite as comfortable on PS Vita as they are on PS4, or even Wii U, but they’re acceptable, and the portability of the PS Vita version helps to compensate for this. On one small note however, the PS Vita version has a strange glitch in the trophy roster, where it will show up as both having a shared roster with the PS4 version (and phantom PS3 version), and at the same time, a unique roster of trophies to itself. This is a very rare and odd bug, and I’ve only ever seen it in one other place, that being the PlayStation builds of Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt, which was ironically another indie game originally designed for the 3DS, and then ported to numerous other platforms afterward. Trophy hunters may want to play the game on PS Vita in this case, since that’s their best chance of not having to play the game twice on two different platforms to net every trophy.
Beyond that, there’s little to say about the PlayStation builds, which are functional, and about what you would expect them to be. The game is largely the same experience on PlayStation platforms as it is on PC and Wii U, but the 3DS version still remains the best way to enjoy Xeodrifter, with its seamless dual-screen gameplay and potent 3D presentation still remaining the biggest and best advantages for this game.
Xeodrifter wears its Metroid inspiration pretty proudly on its sleeve, but it doesn’t manage to reach the pedigree of its inspiration. It’s a way to scratch an itch of longing for Metroid, rather than a true Metroid substitute, but 3DS/2DS owners especially will have fun with it, if they’re partial to the Samus Aran school of game design. The game is noticeably less of a draw on PC however, where it undeniably feels like a secondary port, though Metroid fans who don’t own a 3DS/2DS may still find the PC version worth checking out. If you’re interested and you have the means though, definitely prioritize the 3DS version.
Xeodrifter realizes enough of the fun factor of Metroid, even if it ultimately fails to replicate the scale. Taken on its own merits, it’s a decent, but short-lived sci-fi action-adventure indie, with plenty of love for the NES era, but not much variety in the enemies or environments. The game could have been more, but what it is is still solid, if more unremarkable than it was no doubt hoping.
Still, since we’re no closer to an actual new Metroid offering from Nintendo in half a decade, fans have to take what they can get. So, if you need to scratch that itch, you could do a lot worse than Xeodrifter!
- Charming retro-style presentation, with superb 3D work on 3DS
- Clever, flexible gun upgrades
- Tight movement and shooting controls
- Frustrating lack of checkpoints and save options
- Repetitive enemies and only one boss model
- PC version is less intuitive to navigate