Infernax (2022)

When I played through the Castlevania series a few years ago, I struggled with Castlevania 2 probably more than any of the other ones. Partly due to it being so bafflingly hard to progress without some sort of guide book, as it required you to hang out on random parts of the screen for a bit to get taken to the next area you needed to get to. So when Infernax was being brought up as a Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest type of game… I was really hesitant at first.

But after watching a solid 2 minutes of the game, I was hooked and set on playing it for myself. Once I found that it was on Gamepass I had no excuse not to try it out. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, getting to the first village and spending the time exploring and leveling up my character and taking on a couple side quests, I knew this game was something special.

Modern games gussied up in the style of old retro games are nothing new, and a dime a dozen, so to stand out above the rest, the game has to do something incredibly different or be extremely faithful to the feeling of the game it's trying to pay homage to. Infernax takes the core concepts and style of Castlevania 2 and gives it its own unique story, but takes large parts of the gameplay mechanics and uses it for its own.

One of the main mechanics of Simon’s Quest is the day/night cycle, where in the middle of playing the time shifts and day turns to night and more dangerous monsters come out at night. Back when it originally came out, it was an odd choice to make, because it felt to break up the flow of combat in the game, but did offer something unique at the time. That mechanic shows up in Infernax as well, pretty much not really changing anything, but does allow the game to utilize it a few times in interesting ways.

Infernax is the story of a Duke who comes back from the crusades to his homeland, only to find out monsters started appearing for the last year terrorizing the villages. Battling monsters is only part of the issue, as there are about a dozen sidequests and several different branching story paths that allow you to play the game evil or on the side of good. Several encounters in the game give you a choice on how to deal with the issue at hand, and the option for good and evil is not always apparent. I made several bad/evil choices when I thought I was doing the right thing, and it came back to bite me in the butt later on in the game.

Each kill rewards you with XP that can be stored up and spent at a save location, to upgrade your strength, health and magic. Also enemies will explode into coins that you can pickup and spend at various shops which can either give you better armor or weapons and spells. The spells really weren’t all that valuable to me, and there were a few I didn’t use at all, which is where I got a bit frustrated as I spent around an hour going back and forth on the map trying to figure out where to go. Only to find out I needed to use a spell I’ve had for hours in a certain location (Here is where the whole “Castlevania 2” gimmick really takes shape).

Other than that small snafu of wasting a bit of time and getting more XP to level up past where I was supposed to be and getting uber powerful… I can’t fault the game for taking those concepts from the original game and using it in a similar but easier to understand way, as there were clues of what I was supposed to do.

The retro inspired graphics do a good job of crossing the border between a 8 and 16 bit line and looking like an old school video game while feeling modern. The bosses have some of the most grotesque looking designs to them, ones that make you want to look away but you just can’t. It’s gross without going so unbelievably over the top, which is nice, but it certainly does push the envelope a bit in certain areas.

What I really enjoyed about the game was the great balance of difficulty, as these types of modern interpretations of classic games crank up the challenge too much in my opinion and go for a masochistic approach that I just don’t find all that enjoyable. I love a good challenge, but I don’t want to be forced to memorize the entire game and every enemy's pattern just to finish a game. Infernax gives two options on how to play. “Classic Mode” where if you die, you restart all the way back to the save point. Save points are right outside of dungeons and in towns. So you have to be good enough to finish the level in a single run. Or casual where you can die and come back but lose a bit of XP and money as a penalty. Each mode is extremely fair and I personally found the Classic mode none too difficult to complete the game in around 7 hours. I did die a few times throughout, but mostly due to my own stupidity of missing a jump and falling in lava, or water, or into a pit. Or being so enthralled in battle, I forgot to look at my health bar and heal up.

Infernax was a great way to spend a weekend and come back to a type of game that I both love and find frustrating in equal measure and walk away from it with a greater understanding and appreciation of. Gamepass makes it a no-brainer and whatever Berzerk Studio works on next, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on it.