The resurgence of retro-inspired platformers is something that has not gone unnoticed. Through the [email protected] program, more and more of these little titles appear to be popping up on Xbox One and their popularity speaks volumes about the genre itself. Extreme Exorcism is one such title. Giving a twist to the established genre, this gutsy indie action platformer puts you in a spooky mansion inhabited by many evil spirits and then arms you to the teeth in order to rid them from existence in a series of battles that become increasingly more frantic and challenging as the game progresses. So far, so expected, but Golden Ruby Games were not satisfied with their creation simply being yet another indie platformer. In this game, your actions have consequences that we will go into more detail about later. The game offers a variety of different modes, supporting local couch co-op for up to four players, a gruelling challenge mode which tasks players with performing certain, tricky feats within a battle scenario, and a fun yet frantic competitive multiplayer mode.
In Arcade mode, Players can choose between one of four protagonists - fiery red-head Mae Burrows, supercool hero Ace Blade, smooth Japanese operator Mikato Itako or the cutesy yet badass eye-patch wearing blonde, Sylvia Burrows. In this mode, the player engages the evil spirits in fast-paced battles, equipping up to three weapons at once, from simple blades to harpoon guns and rocket launchers. Weapons spawn around the room at set points throughout the battle and can be picked up to use before they disappear again, keeping the action diverse and entertaining. The battles themselves are played out over rounds and in order to complete the round, the player must either exorcise (read: kill brutally) all of the spirits that appear on screen or eliminate a tougher crown-wearing ghost to finish the round early. There are a handful of rounds in each level, culminating in a fun and challenging boss fight.`
The haunted mansion itself is gorgeous-looking, slotting right in amongst some of the best spooky houses in the horror genre with ease and is broken up into ten areas which each have their own unique characteristics and perils, from the cleverly shifting stacks within the Library to the raging inferno in the Kitchen. Players will be able to unlock the new areas by achieving ever-increasing score barriers that can be collected over the levels within each stage. It is relatively simple to progress through the mansion as you don't need to fully complete a stage in order to progress. We opened up most of the areas without too much difficulty. The challenge then comes in trying to compete the levels within each stage to unlock the boss fight at the end of it. The further you progress through the rounds, the better the rewards, but it becomes genuinely harder to survive.
This is where the action/consequences system comes into play. As you progress through the rounds, the spirits begin to mimic your previous round's actions. For example, if you killed a lot of spirits with a shotgun, the spirits in the following round will now also be equipped with shotguns. This unique twist adds an extra challenge to proceedings, making it more and more difficult as you progress through the rounds and have to rely upon more powerful weapons to succeed. While it may be extremely fun to bounce around the screen, shooting rockets everywhere, it becomes a difficult challenge when you progress and then find yourself having to dodge rockets from your enemies. The protagonist has a standard "three-heart" health bar which allows players to respawn if they do jump accidentally into enemy fire but in later rounds, these hearts can quickly disappear, leaving you with the dreaded Game Over screen. The game does save which levels you have unlocked though so that when you do inevitably die, you can hop back into the game at your desired stage but you will have to start over again at Round 1 and fight through the waves of spirits once more, which can be frustrating when you reach the stage's boss and get instantly killed. We are not ashamed to admit that we experienced this for ourselves and it sucked royally but somehow that frustration did not deter us from trying it out again. And again. And then one more time. The addictive nature of Extreme Exorcism definitely works in its favour. The fun outweighs the frustration the majority of the time.
In terms of gameplay, there is some serious fun to be had with Extreme Exorcism. The controls are simple enough for even novice players to easily pick up, with A to jump (tapped twice to execute an impressively soaring double jump) and X to attack. In terms of weapons, we preferred to use guns rather than blades despite the extra challenge it then posed and absolutely adored the exorcism power - an area-of-effect ability which allows players to don an adorable pair of angel wings and eliminate all spirits that are foolish enough to wander into its pink, slightly overpowered glow. The action on the screen is as frantic as one might expect but there is a generous learning curve as you progress through the levels within a stage that gives the player enough time to get used to the pace as the game begins to increasingly throw more and more spirits at them. We found that a good rule of thumb was to target the crown-wearing spirit to finish a round as simply as possible, though this method did not make other spirits irrelevant. As the ghosts began to tote the weapons that we had used previously - mostly shotguns and rocket launchers - it became imperative to watch our surroundings while we made a beeline for our most-wanted ghoul or a prized weapon spawn.
A final word has to be given to the music, which is an integral part of the Extreme Exorcism experience. Far from being yet another heavy dubstep filled game, the soundtrack is suitably atmospheric, with slow, piano-laden tunes smoothly backing up the menus and the interstitial screens and more fast-paced, thematic songs accompanying the action itself. Unlike other games within the genre, the music seems to compliment the action well without ever become overbearing and is a true testament to the developers who have embraced the spooky horror theme in not just the gameplay.
Fun, frantic and freaky - Extreme Exorcism is a thrill of a game that gets the heart pumping and pushes the player to try and conquer the level just one more time. Whether it be the friendly rivalry of couch co-op or simply the enjoyment of blasting away ghosts solo in Arcade Mode, there is enough here to keep players entertained. The retro-inspired pixel graphics and frenetic pace will ultimately not appeal to everybody but there's enjoyment to be found, even for even novice players.