When I got an initial hands-on with Quebec trio Berzerk Studio‘s pure nostalgia trip, Infernax, hooked in a hate/love relationship that has given way to one of the best gaming feelings I’ve had so far this year: liberation.
Let me do some breaking down here. As a disabled gamer with fine motor issues, Metroidvanias are often a nightmare for me. I’ve come to hate how unforgiving games like the soon-to-be seconded Blasphemouscan make me feel the full effects of my disability, but that’s not to say I don’t love the challenge the offer, even if it takes me a while to overcome… if at all. I’ve grown to love them. And still, I hate them for making me feel like my burden is one heavier than my accomplishments.
With all that out of the way, Infernax is a brutal and gory arcade classic that perfectly pays homage to quarter-costing, clout-raising video games of the 1980s and ’90s, but with a compassion that is modern and extremely hard to master. To Berzerk’s credit. They’ve hit it out of the park with their mace.
The hero who isn’t always just
Our hero, Alcedor, or whatever you chose to name him, comes home from a seemingly long and distant crusade to find that a tome previously salvaged has brought a plague of monsters to his home. With no rest for the weary, Alcedor must turn to religious righteousness to build up strength. However, the story is quickly scripted here to challenge players on maintaining morality.
For example, early on, a heathen begs you to kill him, questioning do you save with the power of religion or offer him his wish? A friar in the first city asks you to donate 25 gold to the unfortunate. Do you hand it over in the name of philanthropy or jump behind him and steal the pot? It’s little interactions with the citizenry, paired with a hefty amount of strengthening side quests, that really build an impactful narrative to a game that is otherwise a Souls-like slay fest.
By the grace of grind
The main point of my first impression was that Infernax leans heavily into a grind. While combat is a basic jump, attack, use magic and dash affair, it’s beefed up by an EXP and money collection system that creates one hell of a grind. Personally, I am a huge fan of a grind. As I said in the opening of this review, I hate feeling like I’m burdened and that I haven’t accomplished anything.
The fastest way to combat that is with a combat grind that over time helps to remove that burden while awarding my time. Infernax has certainly achieved that, in my opinion. Level minions will respawn every time that you scroll the stage left or right. They’ll drop less money after the first time you’ve defeated them, meaning you’ll have to rely on moving forward to be able to afford new armour, spells, potions and even extra lives in shops. And while that can be undesirable for those looking to soften the difficulty through grinding, I’ve found using the consistently dropped EXP allows you to buff your health and magic enough to overcome a lot of the game’s challenges.
Alcedor’s growth is tied to alters found in villages, castles, keeps and the overall stage. From these alters, he can grow his health, magic and the damage dealt by his mace. Each level you purchase raises the cost of the next one, but you are free to prioritize what you pick as you choose. Aside from personal growth, Infernax has quite the enemy growth cycle as well. They’ll start out as simple meat bags to be punished with your mace and dodged at the right time. But progression with introducing ranged enemies, faster ones with less predictable movement patterns and baddies who can hit you low if you don’t duck down and block with your shield. There’s quite the thrill involved with trying to recall was a specific monster is going to put you through.
Infernax’ Saintly Support
After my first impressions, I got to do an email Q&A with Mike Ducarme of Bezerk about how accessibility plays out in Infernax. Ducarme says in that interview that the team definitely considered how to make this game both approachable and accessible without losing the challenge and charm of arcade classics that were made difficult in an attempt to steal your quarters back when games were in cabinets and not homes. I am happy to report the team exceeds if you are asking me.
Infernax offers a difficult choice from the get-go that offers compassion in the beginning. Those who select “Casual” difficulty will start the game with an extra life, more alters across the stage, the ability to exit keeps and castles from an altar, and when they die, they get to keep EXP and money. This creates adaptability where players are taxed far less for dying and trying again. It also helps relieve some of the grinds for those who tire quickly or require cognitive accommodation. The story and challenges remain the same when picking “Casual,” but the rewards become easier to obtain. That’s a fair equation in my mind.
For those still having trouble, Infernax does have an accessibility menu that offers a code for invincibility and infinite jumps. It hides it behind a message that informs players that they may not get the full intended experience when using codes. I take them to mean the joys of learning character patterns and how to land hits successfully, but it offers the understanding that the challenge isn’t for everyone.
Infernax is brutal, but it’s gracious. It’s an old-school arcade grave robber that would most definitely be out for four quarters, but it’s also a game willing to reward you for your time and understanding. This game is one hell of a paradox. And that’s why I both hate it and love it. I implore you not to miss it.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]