You ever arrive late to a party and see that everyone is leaving and muttering about terrible stuff, but all you see is some quality chips and dip and free beer? That’s happened to me a couple of times, where I totally missed whatever faux pas the host committed, and, while I support my friends to be pissed and whatever, I just came into a great party. That’s it man. Like, sorry the CD player was stuck on ABBA’s Greatest Hits for three hours, it’s fixed now and I didn’t hear any of that. Early Access has made it so players can often feel like they’ve gotten to a finished game that should, by all early reviews, destroy their computer, but, instead, it’s pretty damn spiffy. Some people follow a title through all the way to launch, whereas others like to shit on the early betas and never come back. I feel like that may have been the case with Xenon Valkyrie.
Xenon Valkyrie is a bizarre little sci-fi roguelite platformer, where you’ve got this Cave Story vibe going on and a lot of nods to the same in terms of play and appearance. You’re on this moon, right, and there’s this evil space witch at the very core who’s doing some messed up stuff. You decide, alright, let’s go blow up the witch. But you gotta get there level by level, and, every couple of levels, there’s a big ass boss you gotta fight. Weirdly, these bosses have the ability to disable everything except your melee weapon, which makes it a totally different ball game, but I’m getting off topic. Get to the core, destroy the witch, and unlock some cool stuff. Simple enough.
As I’ve just mentioned, there’s a MASSIVE Cave Story influence in Xenon Valkyrie. The chiptune soundtrack, the pixel art design, the way the characters move and interact, even the floating damage counters feel like they were made by Pixel himself. The aesthetic, as a result, gives you proper expectation for the atmosphere, not the execution. You’ll get the idea that you have to run around a lot, double back sometimes, and that the enemies will be unforgiving and you might die a lot. That’s accurate. I’ll admit the first impression of the game based on how it looked made me hesitant and I thought I’d be spending time on a clone of Cave Story. I was pleasantly surprised to see that simply is not the case.
Xenon Valkyrie, again, is a roguelite platformer, and the idea of delving deeper and deeper into the moon is executed incredibly well thanks to the randomization of level design. My very first run, I immediately encountered a treasure chest that can only be described as ultra rare, because it hemorrhaged what would turn out to be ten times as much cash as normal chests do. The resulting runs were pretty disappointing for a while, because I thought becoming fabulously wealthy was just what you do. The levels are sometimes a bit mishmashed, and you may need to run around a bit before you can find a way down. Most floors are destructible, and all three initial characters have explosives of some kind, so you’re not going to be up a creek on this one. You can’t double jump, but you can wall jump, creating some interesting scenarios. Additionally, the AI operates on its own accord, including some truly interesting results from friendly fire. XP, which you get from enemies and certain chests, flies through the air to you like you’re a homing beacon. You’ll just be walking along when all the sudden a clump of XP has come to join you. Why, you may ask? Because a monster somewhere eight screens down shot another one to death by accident or pushed him onto some spikes. Free XP!
Although there’s a ton of stuff to buy in the store that you find between levels (ammo refills, health potions), there’s really only two items you need to think about consistently: golden keys and Temmerites. The Golden keys are needed to unlock these massive chests that are hidden throughout the different levels, and it’s the only way to upgrade your weapons. You get a chance to upgrade your gun and your melee weapon, respectively, and you NEED to get your melee weapon up if you want any hope of moving forward in the game. You can grind all you want on the first two levels and max out your stats, but there’s a finite direction to power up and the very first boss won’t let you use your gun (or subsequent bosses, but that’s not the point). I wish there was an easier way to do this, but it comes down to: find the mini boss on each floor (they’re the larger than you enemy with a lot of HP), murder it, get the key and unlock the chest, wherever that might be. Pray it’s a melee weapon. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s entirely possible to go onto the next level without the chest, but having the weapons means a much, much higher success rate moving forward.
The temmerites are this moon currency that’s used to permanently unlock better stuff that you find in subsequent runs, as well as attributing directly to different endings for different characters. You can find it after beating some bosses, but you can rarely buy it from the store between levels as well. If you get a chance and have the cash, GET IT. You really want to buff up your chances of better EQ, and you really want to make the most out of this game. Because, at the end of the day, Xenon Valkyries has a lot more than meets the eye.
Seriously, between the different characters with different endings, great level design, goddamn tough bosses (that have changed a lot from the early days of the game) and some pretty great controls/physics, I’m flabberghasted at all the flak this game gets on Steam reviews. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see the olden times, or maybe it’s because the dev initially stopped working on improving the PC version when Diabolical Mind made the Xbox/PS4 port. But the game is solid now, has a ton of replay value and is honestly one of the better roguelites that I’ve played, and I’ve played a LOT. Here’s to hoping the game gets a bit more recognition, and that Nintendo figures out how to help Game Maker port to Switch soon: Xenon Valkyrie would be a perfect fit for the handheld notion.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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