I have a confession: I couldn’t get into the older Castlevania games.
While I can certainly acknowledge their overall quality, titles like Rondo of Blood were just a bit too challenging for my liking. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes enjoy difficult experiences — Catherine, Bloodborne and Cuphead are three of my favourites — but punishing old-school titles like Castlevania generally haven’t been my cup of tea.
With all of that in mind, I really like Infernax, the latest game from Quebec City-based Berzerk Studio. Admittedly, it’s a lot like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest mixed with a dose of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, splendid 8-bit aesthetic and all. But it also has a general approach to difficulty, structure and pacing that makes it much more appealing to someone like me.
Infernax puts you in the armoured shoes of Alcedor, a young knight who returns home to find it overrun by deadly monsters. While that premise is pretty standard, Berzerk keeps things interesting with an amusingly dark sense of humour (particularly when it comes to comical levels of gore) and a choice-based narrative. It’s by no means Mass Effect level, of course, but being able to make decisions that lead to one of multiple endings is a nice change of pace for this sort of old-school throwback “genre” of games. The narrative also offers a surprisingly engaging exploration of morality and righteousness for a game of this type.
But it’s Infernax‘s gameplay design that truly won me over. On paper, it’s very similar to those old-school titles — you have a mace for basic melee attacks, a shield and some unlockable magic spells that you’ll use to fight your way through gothic horror-inspired settings. But thankfully, Berzerk is astutely aware of how difficult retro games can be and has carefully added a couple of difficulty options to help you out. ‘Classic Mode’ is your standard retro experience — lose all your lives and go all the way back to the last save point, losing the rewards you picked up.
As someone who generally dislikes the feeling of losing progress in such a way, ‘Casual Mode’ is a godsend. With it, you get more frequent savepoints, the ability to retain XP and gold, and more. It’s perfectly balanced, though, because it doesn’t make the actual enemies or dungeon platforming easier. Those remain quite challenging, without a doubt. But to Berzerk’s credit, it almost always feels fair. With areas not being overly large, you’re encouraged to study and learn enemy patterns, which feels rewarding in its own right. (Cheat codes are also available if you want to “break” the game and make it even easier.)
On top of all that, the general flow of Infernax feels more appealing than some older games. Beyond the plentiful savepoints, you’re never far from a town, where you can spend gold to buy health potions, weapon and armour upgrades and other useful items. You can also take on sidequests to earn more gold and XP to further bolster Alcedor. The extra XP is especially handy, as you can use it to increase Alcedor’s maximum HP or mana, or increase your damage. Knowing I could grind if need be without much fear of losing resources in the process upon death was quite reassuring.
Ultimately, Infernax is a game that doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any major way, but instead offers a number of smaller, welcome tweaks. If you’re someone who wants a taste of those older, Castlevania-style games with some modern helping hands, this is exactly what the (plague) doctor ordered.
Infernax is now available on Steam, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One (including Xbox Game Pass).
Image credit: The Arcade Crew/Infernax