We know there are a lot of Metroidvanias out there. But after spending about three hours with Afterimage, we’re pretty confident in saying that this is one of the prettiest we’ve ever played. Even before we got our hands on the game, Afterimage stood out to us with its stunning hand-drawn visuals. Even next to the likes of Hollow Knight, Bō: Path of the Teal Lotus, Islets, and Indivisible, it’s a real feast for the eyes with its beautiful locations, gorgeous character art, and soft colours. Seeing it in motion only made us fall in love with the visuals even more.
As part of Modus Games’ spring showcase, we were given the opportunity to check out a PC demo of this Metroidvania from developer Aurogon Shanghai. Afterimage smashed through its Kickstarter goal last April, and it’s coming to Switch (plus Steam and other consoles) on 25th April 2023.
The Steam build we played allowed us to explore the first five areas of the game, and what looks to be the first few hours of the story. The game throws you into the shoes of Renee, a young girl who chases after her mentor who has been researching ‘The Razing’, a cataclysm that almost wiped out humanity.
Even from just these few hours, it looks like the game is going to be big. There’s a lot of story with some fantastically-voiced cutscenes, and the map looks huge. There are connecting paths and all of the hidden secrets you’d expect from a Metroidvania, of course, but this is more Castlevania-style than Metroid-style, with levels, stats, skills, experience, and equipment to play around with as you explore the magical world of Engardin.
And what a magical world it is. The game is smooth and stunning to look at, and each environment is bursting with soft colours and vivid backdrops that make exploring every single area a complete joy. Tree branches that form paths, collapsed windmills, beautiful fields of flowers, and dusty libraries make all of those familiar Metroidvania level staples feel fresh. We also want to point out the work done with Renee’s character animations, too – her white clothing and nimble movement across each backdrop make us feel like we’re playing through a gorgeous anime.
For the map itself, the areas we got to explore in the demo were all made up of multitudes of open, spacious areas and densely-packed corridors full of enemies and platforms. Some locations like the Rainbow Plains and the Desert were much more sparse with the platforming, which helped us get used to the movement in the game, along with the occasional enemy to stop us in our tracks. But the interior areas with nooks and crannies, puzzles, and rewards to discover were a lot more interesting. There’s a library section within a castle, and an underground storeroom below Resting Village, and both of these were highlights in the demo for us. Tough enemies were dotted along every pathway, and some platforming challenges forced us to retry over and over because of how precise they were. It kept the map from feeling too sparse.
If we had one criticism, it’s how far apart some save points are from each other. These beautifully-drawn trees (which Renee picks a plump fruit from – and we love the noise and animation here) are spread thinly in the first few areas. If you die, you lose all the ‘excess’ experience you have (so if you have 500 exp out of 1000 to go up to level 6, you lose those 500 but stay at level 6). With no quick travel enabled in the demo, there were a few times when we had to trek quite a distance to get back to where we were and regain those lost experience points.
Going back to character movement, as with any Metroidvania, your options take a little while to open up. Initially, we found we were struggling with bosses and enemies more than we expected thanks to only having a small jump and attacks that force you to stay on the spot or get up close. But as we got deeper into Engardin and unlocked the obligatory Dash and Slide abilities, everything began to fall into place. Afterimage definitely nails that feeling of progression as you unlock more abilities.
If you’ve played any other games in this most prevalent of genres, then combat will feel incredibly familiar. You start with a sword that you have a basic attack with to hit enemies with, and later on, you get additional weapons which you can equip to a second slot, while a third slot is reserved for spellbooks. Just like with platforming, for the first 30 minutes or so, we took a lot of hits from enemies because we were greedy and just didn’t have the tools to stop the cute-looking animals covered in grapes (yes, really) or knights on horseback from charging at us. But combo-ing foes and staggering them by using two different weapons, and figuring out what weapons are better against what enemies, is satisfying once you get there. Ranged magic is also incredibly useful for some extremely difficult encounters towards the end of the demo, which netted us tons of experience points in the process.
The combat feels satisfying and meaty when you get other weapons like a scythe or a great sword – the latter of which we used along with our standard short sword. The sharp forward slashes of the short sword coupled with a huge arcing swing from the great sword meant we had cover on all sides and could nip in an extra hit or two with some well-timed jumps and dashes. Combat particularly shines during the boss fights, and a few battles at the end of the demo tested our dodging and attacking skills. One boss’ teleporting antics really made us consider our options and weapon choices – and this was before we unlocked dash!
In addition to all of this, there’s also a skill tree where you can spend Talent Points to unlock nodes on a huge grid. Stat nodes increase things like HP, MP, Attack, Defense, and Healing Proficiency (you get one cast of a heal spell which can only be restored at a save point), and each of these can be upgraded twice. Other nodes net you extra attacks, like combing dual swords with the dash to create a small wave attack that can hit nearby foes.
Afterimage is packed full of familiar features for the genre, and it wraps it all up in a beautiful package with lovely atmospheric music and an intriguing world. It does all of those ‘Metroidvania’ things pretty well, but besides its visuals, we’re excited to see what new aspects it can bring to the table. For what promises to be a 40-hour game, we hope there are some secrets tucked away that will surprise us to help Afterimage stand out in more ways than just its visuals — and it remains to be seen exactly how all this loveliness translates to your favourite handheld hybrid.
For now, we think it has a lot of promise, and the demo certainly beckons us to want to explore more of Engardin.
Afterimage launches on the Switch eShop on 25th April 2023.
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