What’s Good About Infernax
(Editor’s Note: CW for Mentions and Slight Depictions of Pixelated Blood and Gore, is kind of avoidable for this since it’s one of the main selling points. Now Back to the Regularly Scheduled Shenanigans)
Infernax is a weird video game, let’s get that right out of the way. It’s a throwback to NES-style game design and difficulty in the same way as Cyber Shadow was last year, but that intense difficulty is curbed with an understanding that the difficulty isn’t exactly for everyone. The ways it goes about it are different and varied, but we’ll get to that later.
The story setup is simple: you are a knight returning home from the Crusades to find that your land has been cursed by an unknown demonic evil and you are pretty much the only guy qualified to get the job done. From there, you get into a cross-country trek to destroy the seals on the demon’s citadel lock and go in there and take out their leader. It’s a lean setup, but it works because the game has both 5–6 different endings and is roughly 4 to 5 hours long, which lends it some replay value. It also is a game that has some unexpected player choices that end up affecting the game world that is all tied into the endings that I mentioned earlier, which is really cool. I also have to mention that this game is not for the squeamish because even though it’s based on an 8-bit aesthetic, it is ludicrously gory. To the point where they’re blood and guts flying around, that would make a slasher movie from the 80’s go “Hey friend, that’s a bit much”. The game even warns you properly about it too, so I feel justified in bringing it up.
Gameplay-wise, Infernax is, interestingly enough, a mashup of the structure of Castlevania 2 and the gameplay of both NES Castlevania and Zelda 2 of all things. You’ve got a small, but intricate open world that you can traverse at any time with a day/night cycle that determines the strength of the demons fought (done to show the curse strength increasing at night, a terrible thing to happen). Traversing the world is as much of a challenge as any monster or dungeon you encounter; with its tough platforming mixed with ledges and cliffs placed in ways that make it a tough but fair challenge. I actually really like this because it does a good job of showing how dangerous the world gets through gameplay, which is my preferred method of storytelling for games.
Once you get to the main dungeons, it’s on. The enemy placements are dense and the platforming is more than a little unforgiving with the timing. But the thing about it is that it’s not unbeatable, it’s just enough of a poke in the side to get you to pay attention and that’s something that I find really appealing. They are usually capped off with a tough as heck boss fight at the end that has you make the most use out of pattern recognition skills you got. I’m not going to lie, the first one of these kicked my ass so hard I had to use the invincibility cheat to get through it, which brings us to the cheats in the game. The game straight up tells you that while Infernax is meant to bust chops, the developers, Berzerk Studio, recognize that these kinds of challenges aren’t for everyone and if they need to use these extra codes in the master tools to get through a particularly tough segment, they get it and let you use it. There’s no penalty associated with it and the game even offers a slightly less challenging casual mode that lets you keep all of the XP and gold you gather in between deaths while still keeping the platforming and bosses the same. I pretty much stuck with that and I’m having an easier time getting through it. While I’ll admit that these codes aren’t as much of a fine-tuning t experience as saying, the Assist Modes in Celeste, the game manages to still do its best to at the very least not be antagonistic towards the player in this regard, so it gets points in my book.
Infernax is definitely not a game for everyone, but it’s one that I’m into. Its commitment to the Castlevania 2/Zelda 2 mashup of gameplay style and difficulty mixed with its genuine attempt to be as accessible as a game like that can be while sticking to the framework of that kind of vision is interesting. I don’t know if it fully pans out half the time, but I commend them for at least giving it the old college try to see what would happen. And with that description in mind, that kind of makes it the perfect idea of what a “Game available on Game Pass” is in my mind. You might stick with it, you might not. But at least it’s doing something.