This is already becoming a banner year for Metroidvania fans. With the excellent Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown having kicked things off beautifully, Ultros now arrives from a smaller publisher but without any of the hype. With an incredibly unique art style and a fungal, miasmic tone, it’s certainly unlike anything else out there at the moment, with a much vaguer, player-driven story than you might expect.
The game sees players waking up on a mysterious spaceship, which appears to be hosting the space birth of a massive being called Ultros – a kind of Lovecraftian cosmic horror that instinctively feels like a bad thing for the universe.
The first hour or so of Ultros is fairly traditional, as you explore a section of the side-scrolling map, find a short sword to fight with, and meet a few quirky and strange characters who give you cryptic information to digest. You start building a skill tree and are told you’ll only be able to reserve a few of those skills to keep between “loops”, without really knowing what that means.
Then, after getting past the game’s first silent boss, you’ll have this mystery solved by severing a sleeping monk’s connection from Ultros’ birth process (you read that right) and getting sucked into a space-time vortex to wake you up. back to where you started. You’ll only have the skills you managed to score for protection, and that monk will stay separate, but from there you’ll have to start again, making your way to a central chamber to collect a power again- up and leave. to find the new route you can travel with said tool to find your next monk.
This is the Ultros Loop, a curious fusion of Metroidvania lore with the lighter trappings of roguelite. It’s a loop that doesn’t reset you too harshly, but resonates thematically as you begin to discover more details about the ship you’re on (most of these details aren’t quite finalized yet) .
Your two main tools are this short sword for combat and a small floating robot called an Extractor, which houses the navigation upgrades you’ll get step by step as you progress through the game. Combat is simple, largely focused around a dodging system that leaves opponents open after a well-timed button press, and while it’s quite nice and responsive, you’ll quickly realize that enemy variety is sorely lacking. The game also has little to no difficulty curve; the bosses are still very simple and the enemies easy to overcome, with the only real barriers we ever encountered far more often turning out to be navigation barriers.
As you kill Buzzing Beasts, you’ll collect parts of their bodies that can be used for healing and to replenish your reserves of four upgrade resources, a system that seems more confusing than it is. is in practice. This pillage brings a final gameplay twist, one of the most original in Ultros. You can also find and collect seeds as you move around the ship, and plant them in designated locations to germinate a variety of plant types, some of which offer healing berry bounties while others offer new options of movement, from climbing points to momentum. -construction speed increases.
Where you choose to plant, what types of plants can have a truly personalized effect on the sprawling map by the time you’re down to your final loops, although the game has clearly been carefully designed not to make these choices you lock them out of the areas. you must access it unless clearly indicated. Better yet, plants grow more after a completed loop, and the ship soon begins to become much more fertile and full of flora, resonating with certain story beats.
This exorbitant, thrilling feeling of fruitful life is in sync with the magnificent artistic style of Ultros, by far its greatest and most distinctive success. It’s a slam-dunk of a neon-soaked, hand-drawn visual experience that’s simple in some ways thanks to its basic 2D design, but consistently delivers pretty designs and backgrounds to really sell its artistic vision. Hollow Knight is a clear touchstone for gaming, and that game’s calm, dark tone carries over in some ways here, but visually, Ultros feels like the acid-spiked version of that underworld, a truly memorable way.
Yet in the same vein as the underwhelming combat, Ultros’ pure platforming also isn’t quite at the elite level that has fans frolicking in anticipation of the long-awaited Silksong. While moving is pretty smooth, jumping is just a little imprecise and your moveset is just a little limited in a way that can make the prospect of moving from one side of the large map to the other a daunting task. unintimidating and exhausting. .
Likewise, towards the end, the game offers you the opportunity to take a new approach to the story by connecting the entire ship to a sort of intravenous network, which requires you to move through its corridors carefully connecting the nodes to each other.
This process is interesting and fun in small doses, but locking fast travel behind it is more than a little harsh, and it didn’t take us long to abandon the idea in favor of a quicker resolution. It’s just a little too edgy to avoid relatively frequent moments of mild frustration.
Ultros has a visual identity that deserves real recognition, a stunning vision of alien colors with design ideas that stay long in the memory. Unfortunately, its platform and fighting cannot match this vigorous success. Still, if you’re looking for a Metroidvania game with a unique look, packed with ideas, and a modest 10 hour runtime with the possibility of more if you like it, few games can match it. matched in terms of style.