Berserk Boy

Review: Berserk Boy – Powerful Nostalgia

One of the joys of being able to play and experience so many indie games in recent years is the chance to head back in time. New games constantly draw inspiration from titles that came before it, iterating and putting a new spin on mechanics or sometimes an entire genre.

Berserk Boy falls into that category, as it looks, sounds and feels like a classic Mega Man game. But what it brings to the 2D action-platforming genre is freshness, speed, uniqueness, and style.

This is a game I’ve had sitting on my Steam wishlist for just over two years. I finally got to experience it in the most recent Steam Next Fest and was quite happy with what I played. I’m even more thrilled to report that now, playing through the entire game, I can say Berserk Boy is a title that any fan of 2D action fan will have a blast playing!

Berserk Boy’s Story Feels Familiar in All the Right Ways

Berserk Boy has a familiar feel but in the best possible ways. This is evident from the get-go as the scene is set for a sci-fi world filled with powers, a big bad that is hell-bent on harnessing Berserk Orb powers, and a young hero set to save the day.

Yes, we’ve seen this all before. But I felt a certain charm and nostalgic kick while I saw the story take shape. A game like this can be more straightforward, cut to the chase, and give you some quirky characters to help set the scene.

Kei is surrounded by several friends and allies that will help him develop his new skills and harness the power of lightening, fire, ice, air, and earth. Berserk Boy mostly utilizes the supporting cast as friendly reminders of what to do next or to purchase new moves and health upgrades. Each one has a quirky personality with some cheesy, but fun dialogue nearly every time you speak to them

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Going Berserk!

Kei can harness different powers from the Berserk Orbs. This is the crux of the gameplay and mechanics in Berserk Boy. It’s familiar on the surface but quickly delves into an enjoyable version of controlled chaos (especially in later stages).

You can use several different powers, early or late in the game. Each one does some damage to enemies around you in different ways. For example, the lighting move set is most effective by dashing into a robotic enemy, then blasting them to bits with your attack seconds later.

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of Berserk Boy was the tiny bits of dialogue mid-fight. For example in the above attack, your character shouts “lightning justice!” It was a corny addition that I quickly fell in love with. It reminded me of Ryu yelling “Hadouken” in Street Fighter. Each orb power you’ll use throughout the game has a version of this.

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As you unlock more abilities, you’ll need to switch between them on the fly depending on the environment and what enemies you’re facing. This adds great variety to Bezerk Boy. I particularly enjoyed the stages that had me flipping between suits in mid air, dashing through a lightning gate, grabbing onto a ledge as an ice ninja, and then slashing at a shielded foe with my fire power.

Combinations like this make the game feel fresh and exciting. Part of that is due to the sheer speed of Kei and how you traverse each stage. There are rails to grind, giant mechanical cannons you launch out of, and large areas of dirt you can drill through, and that’s only the first half of the game! I loved this. And Berserk Boy is at its best when combined in a long, fast-paced sequence.

Challenging, But Still Accessible

Don’t let the insane sounding traversal moments scare you, Berserk Boy might have some difficulty spikes, but none of it is all that trying. If you’ve had any experience with challenging platformers like Celeste or Rogue Legacy, you’ll likely have no problem here. And that’s to the game’s credit. I found it had just the right level of challenge.

It’s not perfect, though. Berserk Boy sometimes feels like it’s fighting itself. While the controls are easy to understand, they sometimes feel too hard to master. The ice powers or ice ninja is the perfect example of this.

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This particular orb allows you to dash in and out of enemies. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy (using the joystick or the D-pad) to move off the pattern you need to be on to pull off what should be an entertaining combo. Instead, I often found myself hitting a robot 2-3 times before I inevitably was crashing into them and losing some of my health.

It’s not a massive issue, but it does kill the momentum and feeling of being the mighty and creative hero.

This is just one example. Many games encourage trial and error, and I’m ok with that. But when it happened in Berserk Boy it felt more like punishing design choice rather than a learning experience. Some of this can be attributed to its retro or choice to feel like an old-school game so I can forgive some of these minor frustrations.

There are limited accessibility options, and I’m slightly disappointed. But the one main one it does use allows you to choose between unlimited lives or the Retro mode that gives you three lives to work with per stage. While I like this idea, you can only do that and remap the controller. The game could have used a difficulty slider or some more in-depth accessibility.

Berserk Boy Is A Bright And Exciting Game

Regardless of what stage I was playing or the power I was wielding, I loved how the title character and the enemies I faced looked. The art style in Bezerk Boy strike an outstanding balance of retro and current gen graphics. At a glance the games looks just like a chunkier version of a Mega Man game, but the more you play and the closer you look, the more detail there is.

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This is coupled with an excellent soundtrack. It delves deep into the nostalgia zone with tunes that play over every aspect of the game, elevating the excitement no matter what you’re doing. As I write this I’m hearing the music in my head, loving how it feels like the perfect balance between a game that feels like a mix of titles from early 90’s and current-gen.

Verdict

If you’ve ever been a fan of the Mega Man franchise, I think this is a fantastic current-generation option for you. And while Berserk Boy is not associated with those games, it does a great job of iterating on what was laid before it. I had a wonderful time playing through Berserk Boy! It does a great job of merging new and old ideas into a colourful and fun package. It’s not mindless, but it is a title that will welcome you to sit back and experience a time when games were simpler while throwing in a healthy dose of new and entertaining mechanics.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Switch

Berserk Boy
Review: Berserk Boy – Powerful Nostalgia
Summary
Berserk Boy merges retro and new-school game design into an incredibly fun package! The 2D action-platformer is fast, wild, and inventive. It's a great way to sink back into a 90's-inspired game that feels familiar and new no matter what you're doing.
Liked
Different powers are varied and a ton of fun
Fast-paced action in every level
Presentation looks and feels fantastic
Didn't Like
Some sequences come to a screeching halt
Very few accessibility options