Xenon Valkyrie+ is a rogue-lite platformer, developed by the Spanish team of Diabolical Mind and published by Cowcat games, and is definitely retro-inspired, with its chiptune soundtrack and 8-bit (ish) graphics. The story involves a wicked witch who poses a threat to your world, and you must travel to the deepest part of a moon in order to defeat her. Each level is randomly generated so you will never play the same level twice.
Let’s get one thing straight at the start, Xenon Valkyrie+ is hard, punishing and unfortunately unrewarding. Described by the developer as a Roguelite, it definitely has many of the attributes that define games as part of this genre, mainly permadeath and randomly generated levels. However, in my opinion it fails on another of those attributes, namely engaging and addictive gameplay.
The gameplay of Xenon Valkyrie+ is quite simple, you pick a starting character, of which there are three, but there is not a huge amount of difference between them, apart from their special powers – one has a bomb, one has a more powerful jump and the last has the ability to find specific enemies. Once selected, you need to get from the top of a level to the bottom, where you will find a teleporter to reach the next level. On the journey down you will obviously encounter enemies that you will need to kill with either your sword or your gun. Defeating these enemies, and destroying objects, will give you coins and skill points, which are then used between levels to buy items like shields, extra ammo or (if you’re very lucky) blocks of a substance called Teamerite. Within each level there are some harder enemies that drop a gold key when defeated. This key can unlock a crate, which contains a better gun or sword. Once you reach the teleporter you can choose to go back to the start of the current level (presumably to use or find the key) or to move on to the next level.
Before the next level is reached there is the chance to upgrade your character with any skill points, improving maximum health or to buy an item from the shop. Then, it’s onto the next level to repeat this procedure. After two levels there is a boss battle, and this is where my biggest criticism lies. These battles are incredibly difficult as Xenon Valkyrie+ won’t let you use your gun or your special power on them, instead making you rely on your sword. And it’s also really difficult to work out how to defeat the boss, as it’s really not explained or obvious. And, as the game is a Roguelite, once you die its Game Over and you are right back to the start, meaning you need to get through the first two levels again to get another crack at the boss. I always feel like I need to witness everything a game has to offer in order to be able to write a fair review, and, just for you dear reader, it took me HOURS of trying to get past the first boss.
Once this first boss was defeated, and at a cost of one Teamerite, another teleporter becomes available that will enable you to get to further levels immediately. If you take advantage of this you will get five talent points to spend, but will start with all the basic equipment as a higher level. So, a judgement call will have to be made in order to work out if this is a risk worth taking.
The weapons that you unlock during levels are not completely lost to you after death though. Although I had not managed to proceed this far, I know its made possible by the Teamerite you collect. Before you start the next run with the basic weapons equipped, there is a shop at your base where Teamerite can be used to buy an unlocked weapon. I don’t know whether this weapon is unlocked for all time, or just until the next death, but unfortunately I have to assume the latter, as my many hours of playtime has only given me three blocks of Teamerite so I have been unable to buy any weapons to test this.
I will probably get slaughtered for this next comment but I was also not a fan of the graphics and the sound. Graphically I found it very difficult to tell the difference between parts of the levels that were solid brick walls or platforms which could be jumped on. The levels where the game essentially makes you play via your characters torchlight are even more difficult. Musically it is very nice in the menus but I did need to turn off the in-game music as it was just too off-putting and irritating.
The biggest problem that Xenon Valkyrie+ faces is that the gameplay is not rewarding or good enough to warrant the time it takes to get practised enough to be successful. The jump mechanic feels erratic at times, as jumps can sometimes be unsuccessful even though you execute them in the same manner. To reach higher platforms you need to double jump and this is only achieved by jumping when your character hits the vertical edge of a wall, or other platform, and it is so hit and miss to get right. It also makes those boss battles where jumping is essential even harder.
It is a real shame as minor tweaks to gameplay would have made a massive improvement to my enjoyment of Xenon Valkyrie+. For example, if the guns were available in the boss battle, or if those boss battles had a bit more signposting as to how to complete. But in its current form Xenon Valkyrie+ is just too difficult and too punishing, It’s a Roguelite, I get that, but the gameplay doesn’t make for constant repeat playthroughs, compared to a game like Spelunky. Games like Cuphead are immensely difficult, but at least you always felt like you were improving and progressing, and therefore rewarded.
I do have to admit that at the point where I finally beat the first boss, and earnt the teleporter I got a glimpse into what Xenon Valkyrie+ has to offer. There was a part of me that wanted to continue and earn more of the elusive Teamerite, in order to unlock some more weapons, but it’s just too much of an unrewarding experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful game by any means, and fans of the Rogue-lite genre will probably be delighted and enthralled. But for me it’s just not enjoyable enough to persevere with.