Exile's End is a retro-themed sidescrolling platformer with in-game story, original Ninja Gaiden-esque cutscenes, and a host of graphical touches courtesy of talent who worked on 90's classics like Secret of Mana and Mother 3. Combined with a soundtrack by the audio genius who worked on the original Ninja Gaiden, independent developer Magnetic Realms has crafted a game that doesn't try to be retro, it succeeds.
Magnetic Realms first release was the Steam title Inescapable, a short platformer which was expanded and reworked into Exile's End, with the help of publisher Xseed/Marvelous. With their know-how and Magnetic Realms' determination, Exile's End has emerged a fun and engaging cinematic platformer.
The game starts like so many sci-fi films of the last few decades. You–a grizzled mercenary loner with a haunted past; the mission–a reconnaissance trip to a scientific outpost that's gone radio silent; the problem–you find out all alien-hell has broken loose.
The writing is pretty good; while it's intentionally sparse for a contemporary game, it's much heavier than the SNES-era games that most players will compare it to. The option to examine select objects with a button press, and get typed character dialogue in response, is a rarity in sidescrollers. The touch definitely makes the story feel more immersive. The cutscene artwork greatly adds to the tone as well, and is courtesy of OPUS, designer of Half-Minute Hero.
Not a metroidvania?
It has all the key components of the genre–find-able upgrades, multiple unlockable weapons, secret passages, and auto-mapping locations that players can (for the most part) wander between as they please. Yet their is a component in Exile's End that diverges from similarly described titles, and that's the fact that it features more cut scenes than most 2D sidescrollers to date.
This is not to say the game is text heavy, but their are rotoscope-style cutscenes that deliver important plot points in an effective NES-era way. This is part of Magnetic Realms attempt to make Exile's End a "cinematic platformer". In other words, less Metroid or Castlevania, and more Another World, Flashback, and Shadow of the Beast. Those latter titles held trial and error, tension-filled gameplay, and world-building above purely enjoyable mechanics.
Is Exile's End successful in attaining the same level of "cinematic atmosphere" as its inspirations? Not completely, but in this case, that's alright. Rather than jumping headlong into the obtuse, repetition-filled Another World play style, Exile's End straddles the line between puzzles, film-esque storytelling, and run and gun sidescrolling goodness. The result is a highly playable, nice-looking throwback to a time when Commodore home computers blew away convention and appropriateness, and gave us whatever storied insanities ran through game programmers' minds.
Hey, you got puzzles in my sidescroller!
Another part of Exile's End that separates it from the metroidvania norm is the occasional logic puzzle. Most of these have to do with timing, such as jumping at just the right moment to avoid rampaging alien beasts during certain of their behaviors. There aren't many of these puzzles, but they do add to the more common Metroid-esque "get-this-power-up-to-move-on" tasks, which the game also includes.
As for the controls, they're tight as an acorn's cap. But take note–they're inline with the cinematic approach Magnetic Realms has strived for, meaning that the speed of turning and moving fits the animations, and thus is slower than contemporary platformers such as Super Meat Boy.
Retro game, retro problems?
Aside from all the awesome gameplay and classic charm that Exile's End includes, there are a few minor complaints. The various traverse-able maps that are broken into unique locations (mine, temple, forest, etc.) are relatively large, which is good most of the time. When it's not good, it's because the way forward is unclear, which could have been avoided by better illuminating the next steps through in-game text or a cutscene.
Likewise, while there are several enemy types per location, the game could stand a few more, perhaps with more diverse mechanics. And, despite other players noting differently, we found the gameplay to be fairly easy. While death kicks you back to the menu screen, the load time is none-existent, allowing one to jump right back to the autosaved location of your death; this is not a problem in and of itself, but is more essential in games that provide more difficult enemies. Non-boss opponents could have been more aggressive, as well, which would've upped the challenge. However, these are minor concerns that don't mar the overall experience much.
graphics and sound
The graphics had a lot of potential to live up to, with veteran SNES-era RPG designers working on the sprites and OPUS working on the cutscenes, and the results are pleasing. However, it's important to note that they succeed in feeling like an actual early 1990's game, not a modern one that's merely inspired by old-school games. So while games like (the unarguably beautiful) Owlboy try to mimic retro visuals, Exile's End's graphics truly are retro.
The soundtrack is a work of genius. It's so good, you'd have left your Commodore Amiga running all day just to listen to it, all the while scratching Turrican scribbles into the margins of your high school math book. Yamagishi's tunes are top-notch, and the soundtrack is a worthy purchase on its own merit.
Overall, Exile's End is a true retro game in play style, visual style, and cinematic approach. With experienced talent from the NES's glory days, Magnetic Realms and XSeed have brought players a game that feels less like a retro-themed indie, and more like a re-discovered, unreleased Amiga disk bought at the world's coolest yard sale.
If you're in the mood to play something that won't hold your hand, and gives you a storyline straight out of the Alien knock-off section of the video rental store, then give Exile's End a playthrough. You'll be yearning for a CRT monitor and awful ergonomics in no time, and be damn happy about it.
|+ Great pixel art||– A few unclear directives|
|+ Truly retro feel and design||– Fairly easy|
|+ Responsive controls||– Could've used more enemy types|
|+ Some unusual puzzles|
|+ Awesome soundtrack|