Yes, yes, we know, another retro side-scrolling effort amidst a seemingly never-ending stream of the things. It really can be quite hard to remain excited for such an overpopulated genre these days, no matter how much we love a bit old-school hack and slash action. However, this week sees the release of Berzerk Studios' Infernax, a release that also involves the game sliding onto good old Xbox Game Pass, and we can't help but bring it to your attention because, well, it's absolutely bloody excellent. With plenty of emphasis on the bloody.
Assuming the role of Alcedor, a heroic knight returning home from the crusades only to be faced with hordes of undead and unholy magic, this is a super slick and highly addictive 8-bit effort that recalls the very best of the likes of Castlevania, Simon's Quest, Zelda 2 and Metroid with a little bit of Dark Souls thrown in for good measure.
Yes, you'll crisscross back and forth across an impressively open-ended world here, every step recorded by your handy in-game map as you venture forth, delving deep into dungeons, platforming and pitting your wits against glorious body-horror bosses. Alcedor will continue to grow stronger, more capable of facing the dangers ahead as you level up, pump XP into your life, mana and damage and unlock new skills in order to open up new routes, discover secrets and all that delicious Metroidvania-style stuff.
What really sets Infernax apart for us, though, besides the gloriously detailed levels of gore and superb soundtrack, is just how zippy and slick the whole thing is. There's no unnecessary complications or faff involved here, you simply jump in, get a little exposition under belt, and you're away, battering baddies to a bloody pulp (watch as Alcedor gets absolutely covered in his enemy's entrails), upgrading, taking on side quests in order to earn coin and enjoying the dark humour, challenging dungeons, nods to 8-bit classics and endless procession of properly challenging bosses. There's always somewhere new to explore here if you're finding yourself stuck on a boss too, and grinding for coin is easy as enemies drop it generously.
Infernax just oozes class and style, there's a good deal of the likes of Blasphemous in how it carries itself in combat, with satisfyingly tight controls and a real heft given to your attacks through some delightfully detailed death animations. Its seemingly simple old school trappings belie a surprising amount of depth and longevity too, with multiple endings based on decisions made during your playthrough, some superb - and properly challenging - castle dungeons, and plenty of choice in where you decide to wander off to next. This really is one of our favourite old-school indie titles to hit Game Pass in the last few months and we urge retro fans to nab it at the earliest possible opportunity, as it's a super-satisfying love letter to the glory days of Castlevania and an excellent and addictive little game in its own right.