I’ve been playing a whole lot of retro games lately, and it’s hard to capture that retro game look and feel without compromising too many modern quality of life upgrades. Infernax doesn’t seem to care about quality of life upgrades, for the most part. It’s a pretty tough game that can be just as fun as it is challenging.
Infernax is a side scrolling action role-playing game that is modeled after classic retro games like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. In fact, it’s pretty much a mash-up of those two games with little dabs of modernization and lots of gore. In Infernax you play as Alcedor—a knight who returns from The Crusades to find his home cursed and overrun with vile creatures. As Alcedor your quest is to rid the land of the curse—but your actions have consequences, and choices matter: there are many encounters throughout Infernax, and in them you’ll usually have a binary morality choice: do the obviously bad thing or the good thing. These choices lead to different outcomes throughout the game.
Not short on difficulty, Infernax can be challenging in either of its difficulties. Classic Mode serves up far more punishment, while Casual Mode gives you a few crutches—but I wouldn’t consider it “casual.” You do get an extra life and extra checkpoints in casual mode, and while the checkpoints can be huge, the rest of the experience largely remains the same. And that means combat with lots of enemies that can kill you through attrition.
Infernax really leans into its classic game theme. Enemies don’t just respawn when you die, but they’ll be back ready to eat your face off when you leave the screen and come back. Movement and combat are both a little stiff—presumably a throwback to older games. Combat, overall, is one of Infernax’s weakest points.
For something that takes up most of the gameplay, I found Infernax’s combat to be pretty basic and stiff. Enemies themselves can be pretty tricky, and have varied attacks, though most just try to run at you or toss projectiles your way. You eventually get four weapons, but I felt like I spent the majority of my time learning the game with the default weapon. Not every enemy does equal damage, either. Sometimes I was surprised just how much more one enemy would hurt versus the others, often with no warning.
You aren’t completely helpless in Infernax. You can get a range of spells as well as potions that can help you along your way. There are offensive spells that can clear entire screens, and defensive spells that can bolster armor or heal you—or both.
In both difficulties of Infernax there is a checkpoint system. Though they are far more important in Classic mode, you’ll be happy to see them in both. Shrines are where you level up your character in one of three stats: strength, health, and magic. It’s pretty straightforward: strength makes you do more damage, health gives you another bar of health, and magic gives you another bar of magic. Shrines are also where you can save your game—and respawn when you run out of lives.
There is a lot to explore and see in Infernax, but it has some middling level design, especially in its dungeons. I appreciate the need to backtrack and explore certain areas, but the amount of backtracking in dungeons is just too much. Often you’ll have to get a key, and then replay entire difficult sections just to have to get another key and do the same thing. It’s not just harrowing, it’s tedious and stressful—which is a combination that leads to my carelessness and frustrating deaths.
It’s a terrible night to have a curse in Infernax, because when the day turns to night, extra enemies spawn outside. And these enemies are usually faster and more aggressive than those you’ll encounter outside during the day. This has gameplay implications beyond extra enemies, however, with some quests only able to be completed at certain times of day, for instance.
While Infernax is trying to mimic games of the NES era, it does a good job of utilizing modern graphical touches alongside a retro style. There are even sections where the color palette chosen was closer to what you would expect to see on an NES. But there are some impressive visuals, too, with plenty of pixelated blood spatter and impressive vistas.
Infernax scratches that retro game itch for me, but it also has a modern sensibility that I enjoy. It’s a solid game with a fair amount of difficulty, even in its “Casual Mode.” There is even a (not so secret) secret mode that’s a throwback to Contra if you enter in the Konami code. Overall, I wish its combat was a little more compelling and snappier, but I can’t really call it bad. I enjoyed my time with Infernax, and I’ll definitely return to finally finish it in Classic Mode.
A PlayStation 4 key was provided to us for the purposes of this review.