Reviews - Updated on April 1, 2022

While the industry was gearing up for summer video game presentations, Astalon: Tears of the Earth quietly came out. Behind the complex name lies the best metroidvania of the year – at least until Axiom Verge 2 and Hollow Knight: Silksong come out. She so skillfully combines the ideas of other great games that you don’t want to think about borrowing and divide it into components – you just disappear for two dozen hours and regret that so few people know about the new product.

Deal with the devil

There are three main characters here: the swordsman Arias, the archer Kyuli and the magician Algus. They go to an ominous tower to find out how to help the villagers who are very sick because of the poisoned water. After the first death, it turns out that Algus is hiding something – he entered into an agreement with the Death Titan named Epimetheus. Thanks to him, the characters will be resurrected again and again until they complete the main task, and for this Algus will give his soul.

The plot is gloomy, but the game does not drive into depression and does not press on pity. There is a slightly oppressive atmosphere here – just look at the visual design a la Axiom Verge. Dirty locations, creepy faces on the walls, sometimes strange opponents (including worms with human faces and beating hearts) – all this works especially well if you leave the mode without anti-aliasing turned on. There are two more modes here that make the picture clearer, but “nostalgic” is considered standard – the authors say that such a game was conceived.

Astalon: Tears of the Earth: Обзор

The characters were drawn by Ryūsuke Mita and look like old manga characters.

History cannot be called the foundation of Astalon, but enough attention is paid to it. Gradually you learn the backstory of the main villain (and even begin to empathize with him a little), and the characters communicate with each other on various topics around the campfire. These episodes are easy to miss (conversations are optional), but thanks to them it is possible to restore health – there are practically no other ways to do this. When you still look through them, you do not regret the time spent in the company.

Collection of the best ideas

Gameplay Astalon is a hybrid of roguelite and metroidvania. The map here is always the same, and, gradually gaining new abilities, you learn to penetrate previously inaccessible locations. But sooner or later you die, after which Algus is transferred to Epimetheus and can spend the accumulated currency in his store. Here the game is already reminiscent of Rogue Legacy, where building a castle with collected coins made the character much stronger. Here the system is about the same: you buy an increase in health for all heroes, increase their defense, attack power and speed individually, and even unlock bonus combat abilities for especially big money.

Astalon: Tears of the Earth: Обзор

No one forbids “farming” currency by killing enemies in the room, leaving and returning back. But doing this is boring, and there is no need.

There are also other goods – either a red ball with additional health points will periodically appear next to you, or the currency will begin to be attracted to the character by a magnet. You make the map more useful by buying the ability to automatically mark closed doors and the place of the last death on it, you get instant resurrection after death – the number of upgrades is constantly growing. This is a kind of compensation for a failed attempt to pass the site – even if he died, but you can buy something useful.

And you will often have to go to Epimetheus – the game is not easy. The further you go, the more often you face difficult trials. Enemies become more and more unpleasant – at first they are helpless bugs, and later you defeat turrets and flying demons. Traps are becoming more and more common: there are disappearing platforms, and spikes periodically crawling out of the ground. Yes, and the enemies, it happens, are great in disguise – every little thing likes to hide in the water. At the same time, Astalon is far from being merciless – opponents do not become stronger after you pump, and bosses and mini-bosses do not respawn.

Astalon: Tears of the Earth: Обзор

It’s better to let ordinary spikes come out …

What most admires about Astalon is the design of the map. It’s pretty big for a metroidvania, but there doesn’t seem to be a single extra room in the world. You will either run into dangerous enemies, or you will have to carefully jump on the platforms, some of which are falling apart, or run through the floor with spikes, dodging boulders falling from above. All regions are unique, there are a lot of types of opponents, so the game is very exciting.

Over time, you realize that not only the main rooms were made interesting and special – there are also plenty of secret ones. It is possible to beat the game and only complete two-thirds of the exploration of the map – there are hidden passages in the walls, cracks leading to a hidden button, and sometimes it is necessary to interact with certain objects in different rooms in order to receive a prize. You find health upgrades, increase your attack power, meet new heroes, get to colorful keys – some of the doors in the tower are the last to open. If the key could not be obtained immediately, it does not matter – it will remain marked on the map.

All rooms are the same size, but what happens in them varies greatly.

All this makes Astalon the most excellent metroidvania, which at the same time looks like the best representatives of the genre, and looks like roguelites. And it even has RPG elements: for example, the same characteristics of heroes can be improved several times – if you want, you can not invest in health at all, spending them on increasing the protection of a particular character. Astalon looks and sounds like an eight-bit NES-era adventure, but it doesn’t try to cover up its flaws with nostalgia – it plays like the best metroidvanias of recent years.

Roundtrip

What you can find fault with is backtracking – even though it is familiar to the genre, there is too much of it here. At the beginning of the game, when the characters have not yet found any artifacts, they only need to switch between them at the aforementioned fires. And this means that if you took the wrong team member and got to a place where another would be useful, you have to run back.

The characters are different enough not to be interchangeable: a swordsman can cut through blue doors, an archer can bounce off walls, and a mage can shoot through obstacles. Fortunately, after a couple of bosses you get a plot item that allows you to switch on the fly.

Free switching between heroes makes the game much better.

But backtracking is still not going anywhere – it will just become a little less. There are several hundred rooms on the large map, and about ten teleporting elevators – even if you visit far from all areas, running from the elevator to the point of death is a bit tiring. And you don’t always remember or know exactly where you died, so you peer at the location of the doors in the nearest rooms on the map. On the other hand, it encourages you to be more careful and not to run headlong to the exit. The main thing is that there are usually elevators in front of the bosses.

Astalon: Tears of the Earth deserves what Hollow Knight, Bloodstained and Axiom Verge have achieved – so that metroidvania fans buy it, be surprised by the quality and quantity of content (it takes about 15 hours to complete), and recommend it to everyone. An almost flawless attempt at mixing great ideas, creating an interesting atmosphere with an unusual story, and wrapping it all up in a retro modern way.

Pros: great mix of metroidvania and roguelite, where elements of both genres work equally well; a large map filled with secrets and making you want to explore it; different characters that are equally fun to manage; nice visual style in the spirit of NES games.

Cons: backtracking is sometimes too much even by the standards of metroidvans.

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