Growing up watching cartoons in the 90s, there were lots of shows about “cyberspace” with ancient computer graphics and cheesy storylines about computer programs fighting viruses inside of what the 90’s thought virtual space looked like. Recompile has strong vibes from that era, with its unique visual style and prodigious “glitching” effects. It even has overlays with computer interfaces that look like they’re from the late 80’s or early 90’s. But Recompile isn’t about nostalgia, it’s more about style—and it’s actually a pretty competent metroidvania.
Recompile is a third person metroidvania. In it, you play a semi-sentient program that is inserted into a computer system to gather information and stop a rogue AI. To do this, you’ll need to gain upgrades to be able to move more freely and fight back. In pure metroidvania fashion you’ll often come across some obstacle or barrier that can only be overcome after gaining a specific ability.
It’s slow going at first, and this leads to my first and biggest complaint: the first couple of hours of Recompile are painful. It starts off playing like a soulslike, but without even a dodge roll. At first, you can’t even fight enemies, though eventually you get a pea shooting rifle that puts you in a ton of danger just trying to take them out. Movement is really a problem in the beginning of the game. I’ve never played a metroidvania style game that starts you feeling so weak. Once you gain dash and double jump, Recompile gets a whole lot more bearable, and I was having a blast a few hours in.
There are two major things to do in Recompile: platforming, and combat. There is the occasional puzzle to solve, and that usually involves pushing switches in the proper order, and sometimes even hacking nodes to reverse their direction. While Recompile touts its hacking mechanic quite a bit, it’s actually one of the things I ended up doing the least. You can use hacking in combat to make enemies fight on your side, or outright delete them—which is a boon, because I really didn’t care for Recompile’s combat. Even after getting the ability to dodge didn’t help Recompile’s stiff gunplay. And it’s the same story fort he platforming sections—early on, jumping puzzles are horrible, but once you start being able to double and triple jump it’s a breeze.
In fact, Recompile has a bit of a problem with pacing. I feel like I spent way too long being underpowered, and then I was suddenly overpowered. Within an hour I went from being able to only double jump, to triple jumping, double dashing, and gliding—and then being able to outright fly. Yeah, that’s right—Recompile makes you spend many hours doing super tight jumps, only to give you the ability to fly, which I welcomed. Jumping puzzles in Recompile are tough, and sometimes frustrating. Since Recompile takes place in an abstract computer world, it’s sometimes hard to gauge distances, especially while falling. Recompile has insanely punishing fall damage, so I would frequently fall on jumps that look like they should be easy.
Death in Recompile can be a little punishing, too. It works a bit like Dark Souls with its checkpoint system—you create a backup copy of yourself at certain nodes, and revert back to it when you die. But that also means anything you accomplished since then is undone, making death a little annoying—especially towards the start, while you’re forced to take baby steps around Recompile’s large levels.
Recompile takes place inside of a computer, and while it does a good job of making a dark, glitch computer world look visually appealing—playing through these levels is a little boring. The world of Recompile is divided into different sections, with each of these sections being open to explore. Except, there’s a lot of space with glitching terrain and not much else to see or do. There are secrets and abilities to find, but those are actually marked on the map, with locations that are easy to discern with a little bit of terrain features.
Speaking of the map, I love that it’s in an ASCII style, even though I’m starting to feel like the retro computing aesthetic is being beaten to death. The map is accessed through the same interface you use to access your other abilities, which is a bit cumbersome.
I’ve had a lot of nitpicks with Recompile, but I had a lot of fun playing it. It is on the cusp of being a great game, but only manages to be pretty good. It has a compelling mystery under its metroidvania gameplay that is a compelling reason to keep moving forward. Recompile has a rough first hour or so, but once you get past that, it’s pretty damn fun.
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