A Metroidvania to test your ‘metal.’
The Metroidvania is one of my favourite genres. I dig the non-linear approach to platforming. I like chipping away at the map, revealing new areas and surprises. And most of all, I love starting out as a weakling I can build up with stronger attributes and new abilities. Feudal Alloy is a Metroidvania that encompasses all of these traits but gets carried away with the latter.
You’re Attu, a delightfully odd steampunk robot with a goldfish bowl for a head. From medieval times, of course, when aquatic-powered robotics were all the rage. Hoodlums have stolen the oil supplies used to keep aging robots in good health, so despite being nothing more than a farmer you set off to try and save the day.
Turns out, that was a bad idea. Attu is woefully unequipped to deal with the gruelling dungeons that await, stacked with tough killer robots. You have two gauges to monitor, your oil and temperature, which represent health and stamina respectively. But the former empties too quickly while the latter fills and overheats after just a few actions, making you a sitting duck.
Attu starts without a shield or dodge-roll maneuver, further leaving him vulnerable to attacks. Even touching an enemy smarts. Boss rooms are particularly savage, flooding a cramped space with enemies which overwhelm from all directions. You find annoyingly few health items so have to buy them, and on multiple retries of a boss room you could conceivably run out of enough currency to even do that. Oh, and said health items take a second or two to drink, leaving you exposed.
That’s not all. Early armour variations you discover merely swap around a few attributes between health, damage, cooling speed and overheating tolerance, a largely meaningless distinction when it feels like you don’t have enough of any of them. The map is a rudimentary tattered old parchment of scribbles, omitting an accurate location marker and most points of interest – inadequate for a Metroidvania. Miss an area’s map chest or checkpoints and you’ll have a frustrating, repetitive time of getting around.
To summarise, the beginning third of Feudal Alloy is agonizing. If I weren’t committed to seeing it through by having to review the game, I’d have likely bounced straight off it. And you know what? I’d have missed out on what develops into a cracking little adventure when it gets going.
You see, eventually the odds start stacking more in your favour. You reach a shop stocking more powerful armour. You level up a few times, unlocking upgrades which buff your resilience. You unlock crucial new abilities like a double jump, shield and electric powers. You get the hang of its idiosyncrasies, like the slightly clunky jump-heavy combat and barebones map.
By the halfway mark, things really slot into place. From there, it’s an exhilarating acceleration of power, discovery and progress. Levels become easier and more enjoyable to traverse with your newfound abilities. And even though enemies scale in size and strength with time, they’re much more manageable once you’ve bolstered yourself.
Feudal Alloy also nails the Metroidvanian interlinking of world areas, everything coming together as you unlock previously impassable shortcuts. “Ah, I recognise this place!” So satisfying. The levels are well-constructed with a variety of shifting and trap-laden platforms – though combat is predominantly where the challenge lies. Enemy robots don spikes, saw blades and bombs, some swarming through the air and others hulking towards you with thick armour and swords.
I fell in love with Feudal Alloy’s design. Its concept of fishbowl-controlled automatons never gets old. The hand-drawn animation is nothing short of marvellous, painting the world in sketchy outlines and pretty, muted tones. There’s a haphazardness to the rickety machines which personifies them beyond mere lifeless robots.
There are a few glaring points of neglect. AI is a little dumb, unable to climb or jump off ledges – an exploitable weakness. The soundtrack is an unremarkable medieval-flavoured tune which repeats incessantly. And all that exists story-wise is two scraps of hastily-told cutscenes bookending the meat of the game. But these are largely forgivable oversights.
I’m hopeful for Feudal Alloy. The style and mechanics are there, it just aches for a rebalancing of the introductory portion of the game. This is absolutely doable. And when it happens, it’ll be an unconditional recommendation. That doesn’t mean you should give it a miss now – just prepare yourself for a rocky start.
[Reviewed on PC]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.