FGC #622 Infernax

This article may contain spoilers for Infernax, a title released within the last few months. Mind you, it isn’t exactly a “plot driven” adventure, but, if you’d like to go into this new game fairly clean, please keep it in mind. Additionally, speaking of “clean”, some of the images in today’s article may be on the bloody side. It’s that kind of game. Just letting everyone know!

Here is a fun worldInfernax is a “retro” action platforming title released in 2022. It started as an Adobe Flash game back in the elder days of the internet, and has now been upgraded to the crispest pixels available on Switch, Steam, and other advanced systems. But while the production of Infernax technically traces back twelve years, its origins go even further back than that. Infernax is heavily influenced by two prominent NES titles from 1987: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. And that is fascinating to this blogger, because Infernax is my favorite game of 2022 so far, and those two “biggest influences” on the game absolutely suck ass.

What the infernax happened here? What marks the difference between a-bear-to-play actual retro games and surprisingly fun faux retro titles? Well, a significant factor here seems to be…

Infernax has direct documentation

Now I get itPop quiz, hot shot: what do all the spells in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link actually do? You likely remember how Shield could cut damage, or Reflect is necessary for bouncing magic spells back and forth, but what about the fire spell? Does it simply hurl fireballs from Link’s sword, or do you actually need it somewhere? The Thunder spell is very similar: is it just a screen-clear, or something you need for defeating an appropriately named bird boss? And the Spell spell? Get the hell out of here, no one has ever remembered how and where that works without a FAQ. And, since we are looking at two games with very similar, confusing systems, go ahead and look up all the dead ends that require garlic in Castlevania 2. Do it, I’ll wait and get the article going again as soon as I hear the screaming stop.

But you know what Infernax has? Spell descriptions. Answers as to what exactly happens when you level up. Clean, immediate justifications as to what happens when you agree to make a choice that could either be deemed “good” or “evil” (the usual indicator is whether or not someone is bleeding/twitching on the floor). Yes, it diminishes the fun of discovering “secrets” for yourself, but should “what does the shield spell even do” be a secret in the first place? You want to play a game where you have to sus out the answers to difficult mysteries, you can play Phoenix Wright; I am playing a game where I hit monsters in the face with a blunt object, and I want to keep doing that without worry that I am doing something wrong.

And it is not just about plain English explanations for what stuff does, it is also about how every enemy in Infernax displays “I am being hit” in the same manner. You do not need to waste a half hour on a boss that disguises its weak point with “well, maybe I’m doing damage”. Infernax is a game about exploring an environment and dealing with the traps and tricks of various monsters. It is not a game where you constantly must second guess yourself as to whether or not you’re ever going to throw that knight off his mount. I may never know exactly where I’m supposed to hit Rebonack, but Mahalmon is a clear mark (if this sentence doesn’t make any sense, look at a bestiary some time). Is it not realistic that monsters from Hell have glowing weak points that flash red every three seconds? Maybe. But you know what else isn’t realistic? Monsters from Hell! It is all pretend, so let us at least pretend in a way that is immediately perceptible.

And while we’re on the subject of transparency…

Infernax has a map

Know where you areAnyone with a Nintendo Power sponsored NES Game Atlas knows one simple truth: Simon’s Quest and Link’s Adventure are totally different games if you have a proper map. There is no amount of invisible walls or fake bottomless lakes that can stand up to a bird’s eye view of everything in Castlevania or Hyrule. Even more than knowing what a Spell spell actually does, a map of the world theoretically drains all the fun out of games that are ostensibly about exploration. Simon’s Quest can be completed inside of a half hour if you know exactly where you are going, and it is hard to argue that speed runs were the intention of the second Castlevania’s creators. What is even the issue here? Make your own map is the point!

But automaps are more than just a convenience. There are multiple times in Infernax where the “next level” is not immediately obvious. Helpful townsfolk may encourage going to the next village, or finding the stronghold of the enemy cult, but nobody is giving directions any better than “head East, young man.” What’s a warrior knight to do? Well, he can take a look at his automap, and notice there is a big chunk of unexplored territory to the north. And, thanks to the way automaps work, it is immediately obvious where a part of the map does not have a proper border, and is the most likely route to finding the latest adventure. Now we can make some progress, not because an atlas outright stated the next destination, but because an already useful tool served a dual purpose. We’re back on track! Literally!

And this is the secret trick to a good automap: it not only helps you to learn where you’ve been, but can often show you where to go. Careful cartography will reveal secrets that would have been completely ambiguous without a proper map that arcs around a mysteriously empty area, and “I obviously stopped walking here” cutoff points will expose routes that require freshly earned abilities to traverse. You are likely to forget a path that was blocked by rocks that can only be smashed by a later-game ability, but ye old automap can immediately remind you that there is a reason to poke back around that starting area.

Maps are not just about “ruining” the exploration process: they can also be valuable tools that prevent long play sessions of bumping around looking for just anything to make some progress. Automaps save time in more ways than one, and their presence enhances modern games in ways we no longer even consciously register.

But modern processing power does allow for some changes that we do immediately register, like…

Infernax believes actions have consequences

Getting soggy hereBack in my younger years, when I needed some hearts (effectively currency in Simon’s Quest), I would spend all night whipping banshees around whatever Castlevania hamlet would have me. And, if you think about it, my version of Simon Belmont was doing some genuine good there. Monsters invade the cities at night, and, while he was benefiting from their extinction financially, the town had to be appreciative, right? Simon spent an entire horrible night to have a curse defending the town from invading green monsters! But do you think a single townsperson was happy to see Simon come morning? Nope! They said the same horse hockey about graveyard ducks whether you upheld justice or tried to burn the place down. Where is the love!?

Meanwhile, over in Infernax, when Duke Alcedor decides to destroy a dam and flood an entire city, people bloody remember.

Want to learn a secret? Nobody has ever cared about morality systems. It was never about being good or evil and making choices that turn your lightning blue or red or whatever. It was always about making an impact. It was always about making choices that, good or bad, wound up changing the world you were inhabiting for hours. Back in the olden days, there simply was not enough random-access memory to remember whether or not you stabbed a monster to death ten seconds ago, left alone how you treated the denizens of an entire town. Now the all-seeing eye of narrative can recall if you used a firestorm spell in the middle of town, and NPCs can be programmed accordingly. Doing nothing but friendly sidequests? The local guards will love you! Recklessly macing innocents until your blood-soaked hands are choking Handsome Hans? That’s an option, too, but it does mean you might wind up on the wrong end of a calvary’s charge.

I like this skeletonBut, dammit, if you get skewered by a brave knight that was your ally in another timeline, you remember that. Infernax has a “maximum good” ending and a “maximum evil” ending, but it is not whether you executed a corrupt mayor that makes an impact in choosing each route, it is how you change the world. A maximum good world is one where the townsfolk will soon build a statue in your honor, whereas an evil route leads to a world where there are barely enough townsfolk left standing to build a doghouse. Seeing the difference that “you” make is empowering, and a new avenue of fun that was never possible back in the days of Link skulking around a king’s grave.

But don’t worry about making too much of an impact, because…

Infernax believes forgiveness is divine

I think I have this issueYou destroy the dam, burn down the town, or choose to turn a cult leader into sausage patties; sorry, you’ve made your pick. Your choices have consequences, and you will have to live with them until the next time you select New Game. But one choice that does not have permanent consequences is choosing your difficulty level.

Much like its predecessors, Infernax is a game that becomes dramatically easier as it progresses. In much the same way that a Link with an upstab, downstab, Shield spell, and maximum heath is arguably an entirely different creature from his debut form that can barely handle a slime, Infernax’s hero goes from having one “life” and a piddling little health bar to a Level 7 health bar and five whole chances on top of six health restoring potions and a renewable magic spell that does the same. Suffice to say, there is a lot more room for mistakes by the time you are invading and/or conquering Hell. But would that mean anything if you had not fought so hard to grind those level ups, find those hidden items, and complete all the sidequests for enough gold to purchase a handful of shiny elixirs? Well, this question is not theoretical, as if you want to play with the core Infernax experience from the moment you hop off the boat, you can! Accessibility can mean a difficulty switch, and Infernax is down with that!

Link and Simon could only hope to see help from a Game Genie, but Infernax has its own, Infernax-approved, built-in Game Genie (well, Game Wizard). And it allows for some ridiculous customization! Cool with the combat, but having problems with platforming? Turn on infinite jumps. Would like a few more health dots? Max out that EXP, and pour your points into your heart. There are even codes that do nothing more than allow you to have more fun with the Infernax world, like the ability to “mod in” a chainsaw, or motorcycle (though, admittedly, that does make dungeon exploration a little… impossible). In short, where once games were rigidly limited to their “base” versions, there is now some wiggle room for those of us that simply do not have the time to hunt hearts for purchasing pearls anymore. I have maximum gold now! I never have to worry about collecting demon pelts again!

But, in a way, simply including such options is little more than learning from the past, which brings us to…

Infernax stands on the shoulders of giants

It is not about the technology, the accessibility, or even the dang automap. Infernax is good because it can draw from what has come before, and decades of games and genres that were only pipedreams back in the 80’s. Of course I enjoy Infernax more than its ancestors! Modernity has its advantages! It’s not like I’m writing this article on a Commodore 64! And Infernax has learned the right lessons from all the games that have come before. And I do mean “all”, as any game that can suddenly turn into Contra…

PEW PEW PEW

Is pretty damn good in my book.

FGC #622 Infernax

  • System: I played it on Nintendo Switch, but if you would care for Steam, Playstation 4, or any of those delightful new Xboxes, take your pick.
  • Friendly looking dudeNumber of players: 2 Player co-op Infernax is just a beautiful dream of a forgotten demon. This is single player, but I am jotting down notes about a Metroidvania where you and a buddy explore a world you may or may not be also destroying.
  • Favorite Boss: The terribly titled Lord of Maggot is basically a giant worm with a Pope for a head, so why not toss him a few coins? He is technically an optional boss in an optional area, but he is also a roly-poly silly lil’ dude in a game that too often relies on “maybe this monster needs a bleeding faux vagina”.
  • Favorite Mode: So you have some options with codes: there’s regular mode, barbarian with an axe mode, magician mode, and Contra mode. Contra mode is obviously the best, but the auto-restoring mana and “ammo” of magician mode is interesting all on its own. Magic mode is the most game-y option, and I appreciate that.
  • The Ol’ Ultra Violence: Yes, this is a very bloody game, and it often seems to be gory for the sake of being gory. That said, I can’t really fault it for this, as it seems to consistently stick to its aesthetic of “this is a grimy, gritty world of monsters”… at least if you don’t use cheats. If you fire up the Game Wizard, then Maxim Gunn running around on a motorcycle maybe ruins the moment a little.
  • Here we goDid you know? You can flood an entire town, effectively immediately killing half the population, by accident. I saw BEAT do it. He felt bad about it afterwards, but, dude, you just did a little genocide.
  • Would I play again: Yes! This is my favorite Simon’s Quest-alike in a long time, and there is a part of me that will always be fond of weird little villages with weird little zombies outside. And it doesn’t take forever to play! Double flawless victory!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja! Or simply Bad Dudes! Or simply Dragon Ninja! Depending on your region! Regardless, please look forward to it!

An excellent night for a curse

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