MindSeize Review: Treading Familiar Ground (Switch)

Villainous robots have made off with your daughter’s mind in MindSeize, a planet-hopping action-platformer in the vein of retro Metroidvania games. Is it a worthy successor to the classics, or does it prioritise style over substance? Let’s review.

MindSeize review: Treading Familiar Ground

MindSeize is an action-platformer heavily influenced by classic Metroidvania games developed by Kamina Dimension and published on the Switch by First Press Games. As private investigator M.C. Fox, you are tasked with hunting down the evil robotic organisation known as The Ascended and recovering the mind of your daughter before they are able to use it for their nefarious deeds. With the help of a scrappy band of misfits and a robot suit of your own, you investigate unexplored planets and battle members of The Ascended, all the while gradually uncovering upgrades for your suit and sniffing out your next objective.

MindSeize Nintendo Switch Release Trailer

MindSeize is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Story – A Second Chance

MindSeize kicks off with a comic-style opening sequence, detailing M.C.’s first run-in with The Ascended, a sinister cabal of robots, as they break into his home, steal his daughter’s mind away to be inserted into a robot body, and leave M.C. paralysed from the waist down. After a short time skip and a brief introduction to the group of bounty hunters that will serve as your crew for the game, you’re into the game proper and touching down on your first planet, Verdant Gamma.

The story is, to put it bluntly, nothing new. Evil robots? Check. Kidnapped loved one? Check. A ragtag team of supporting cast members, each falling into their respective trope-laden stereotype? You bet. A mysterious stranger who shows up halfway through to offer help, but you can’t tell what his angle is or whether you can trust him, but in the end, you can? With bells on.

Crazy evil robot who is also a monkey guy? Check.

Crazy evil robot who is also a monkey guy? Check.

Asking the Big Questions…Or Not

It feels like there was a missed opportunity to explore the nature of this sci-fi future where people can upload their minds into robot bodies, and the question of what constitutes humanity in a world where you can cybernetically enhance yourself in the vein of something like Westworld, but ultimately nearly every robot you meet in the game is crazy, evil, or both. Even when you meet a defector from the ranks of The Ascended, the game seems happy to leave their motivations as, effectively, ‘I suddenly realised that kidnapping people and forcing them into robots was bad, for reasons’.

M.C. himself would have been the perfect vector for a discussion like that – after the opening scene, he’s confined to a wheelchair and unable to walk by himself, but by transferring his mind into the MAG (your robot suit) he can run, jump, and climb once again. But nobody seems to want to talk about that at all – M.C.’s own focus is always and solely on his daughter’s whereabouts, while the most the rest of the crew want to say on the matter is along the lines of ‘hey, careful in that robot suit, your mind might go crazy if you spend too long in it, or not, who knows’. The traces of compelling writing and ideas that do exist are undermined by lifeless dialogue and hammy exposition.

And that's all anyone has to say on the subject.

And that’s all anyone has to say on the subject.

In the end, MindSeize suffers from a story that is a little hackneyed, a little underexplored, and a little poorly-executed. But even a weak story can be buoyed by strong gameplay, so let’s take a look at that.

Gameplay –  Metroid meets Mega Man

Combat is where you’ll spend most of your time in MindSeize. For the most part, the experience is fun and very reminiscent of the classic Metroid and Castlevania games from which it liberally draws inspiration. It combines the best of both series by offering pleasantly customisable options for both ranged and melee combat, with four possible variations for each weapon type, along with a Dark Souls-esque limited healing ability (explained away as nanobots, because sci-fi).

Traversal abilities like dashing, wall-jumping and double jumping soon become available to you, and in many ways, it feels like a classic Metroidvania game. The exploration aspect of MindSeize is often the most enjoyable, with big, interconnected maps filled with a wide range of collectibles to, well, collect. In a nice break from tradition, many of these collectibles are more interesting than just extra missiles or extra health: a lot of them are actual upgrades to your weapons and abilities, allowing you to stick to walls or phase through enemies while dashing and adding some pleasant variation to the gameplay as you hunt them down.

Breathing underwater comes free of charge.

Breathing underwater comes free of charge.

Extra Health? Pony Up

Speaking of upgrades, there is an extra system at play: as well as being able to find them in the world as collectibles, you can also offer up the game’s currency to one of your crew members (and, for some reason, one NPC on the first planet) to upgrade your MAG. It’s a nice touch in some ways and gives your crew something to do, but many of these upgrades are so expensive that you may find it difficult to raise the money for them unless you want to sit around and grind for a while. Part of the issue was that the same currency was used to restock the limited-use nanobot healing ability – each time I came across a checkpoint I found myself spending most of my money on that, leaving me with insufficient funds to unlock the next cool ability. To be clear, you don’t need any of these upgrades to complete the game, but it felt a little frustrating to have some of the content out of reach.

Come on lady, you think I'm made of scrap?

Come on lady, you think I’m made of scrap?

Movement is usually fairly fluid, especially once you unlock a few abilities like the dash and the wall-jump to get around a little faster. However, this doesn’t always translate well to your ability to evade incoming attacks, which becomes a problem pretty fast. Enemies in MindSeize hit often, and they hit hard. The only thing protecting your health bar is a shield so flimsy that it disappears in no time at all, so you’re going to want to try and avoid taking a hit as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is nigh-on impossible in practice: hitboxes, both on yourself and on the enemies, seem particularly ungenerous at times, and between the input delay after attacking and the stun animation after being hit by an enemy, it’s easy to get cornered even by normal enemies as you helplessly watch your health dwindle away. I also encountered a couple of bugs in my playthrough that left me stuck in place or unable to attack, which didn’t help. However, Kamina Dimension seems to be on the case and constantly working on patches, so glitch-related issues like that will hopefully soon be fixed.

Did someone kidnap Shredder from TMNT?

Did someone kidnap Shredder from TMNT?

Rinse and Repeat…and Repeat…and Repeat

The boss battles also tread the fine, fine line between challenging and frustrating. You can see the work that went into them: each has a different combat style and is beautifully animated, with almost every attack telegraphed to give you a fraction of a second’s warning before they let rip. However, they all tend to hit so hard that you barely have any time to actually learn any attack patterns before you’re put in the ground and have to start all over again, and if the arena has any environmental hazards in it, prepare to get stun locked and helplessly watch your health disappear in seconds. Usually, this isn’t too much of a problem as save points are normally pretty close by, but on occasion this would entail running through several rooms of enemies, potentially losing health and resources on the way and thereby making the ensuing fight even more difficult than it might otherwise be.

Just wait until the walls get lined with spikes...

Just wait until the walls get lined with spikes…

Ultimately, the gameplay is a mix of classic Metroidvania exploration and backtracking alongside combat and boss fights more reminiscent of something like Mega Man – there is precious little room for error in any fight, but if you take the time to explore and upgrade you might find yourself with enough of an edge to squeak by.

Graphics & Sound – Retro and Loving It

The gorgeous pixel art of MindSeize is where it really shines: every sprite, every background, every interactable item on the screen is lovingly rendered and beautifully animated. It frequently feels like playing a smoother Super Metroid, and that is certainly no bad thing. If you can get past the somewhat cringy opening scene with its radically different art style that honestly feels out of place next to the lovely pixel art, you’re in for a feast for the eyes for the rest of the game.

Don't worry, it gets better.

Don’t worry, it gets better.

If I had to make a small criticism of the graphics, it would be to say that the UI is a little too small and hard to read, particularly in the Switch’s portable mode, and that many of the rooms are slightly too dark in their colour schemes: in a network of caves and underground tunnels (of which there are many), brown on brown can make it very difficult to see the level geography and figure out where you’re able to go.

Just What You Need, No More

The soundtrack, likewise, is reminiscent of classic Metroid games, with ambient sci-fi music keeping you company throughout the game. It does its job in providing a suitable atmosphere and not distracting from what’s happening on the screen, but none of it is particularly memorable in the way that Super Metroid’s Brinstar or Norfair themes are, for example. The sound effect work is good, though – shots and melee attacks feel punchy and satisfying to the ears.

MindSeize was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a key provided by First Press Games.

Summary
MindSeize will certainly scratch the itch if you’re in the market for a decent Metroidvania game with a focus on challenging combat and enjoyable exploration. While somewhat marred by a clichéd and clumsily-executed story and some occasionally-frustrating gameplay moments, it’s nonetheless a solid offering with beautiful visuals that will appeal to fans of the classics.
Good
  • Beautiful pixel art
  • Big maps, suitable for exploration
  • Varied customisable combat options
Bad
  • Unoriginal and poorly-executed story
  • Challenging gameplay sometimes verges on frustrating
  • UI can be a little hard to read
6.7
Fair

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