Is there such a thing as a balanced video game? Can great gameplay be married to sheer spectacle? Can a game be both brutal and forgiving? The classic yin and yang dilemma. And the new flashy action metroid-vania Worldless tackles that very question.
The “worlds” of Worldless are wondrous, each one with a defined color palette and atmosphere while still feeling interconnected. The art style is simplistic, utilizing simple shapes that evoke imagery from other games like Gris or Journey. And every world is accompanied by a hauntingly serene musical score.
The story within this world is communicated completely through the environment. I encountered roughly one hundred TOTAL words of dialogue in my complete playthrough. Forsaking words, the game’s existential story of yin and yang is portrayed beautifully through clever animation and visual elements.
I was absolutely enthralled by the environments. As I walked through them, “flora” would spring forth, casting lights on the scene. Objects and other beings danced in the background, adding a sense of scale and gravitas to the world. Traversing through these spaces felt like a lucid dream, filled with striking set pieces and an overwhelming amount of sheer beauty.
And you will get yourself lost here. This is a metroid-vania with branching paths and platforming galore. The world consists a fair number of secrets, and although exploration was clearly not the focus of this title, it is still enjoyable to wander about.
Due to its minimalistic nature, the map and navigation can be confusing at first. The only indication of an objective is a marker on your map, and your map is both straight forward and vague. I did experience some frustration looking for the path forward, but it never stopped me long enough to find it annoying.
Traversal through the world starts slow and meandering. But then you get a dash, and a sprint, and a wall jump, and a double jump. The game is very smart at slowly feeding you abilities and quietly teaching you how to string them together. Gliding about the serene environments becomes more and more enjoyable as you become accustomed to the suite of skills at your disposal.
However, the thing that captured me most, was the combat. The combat is an absolute spectacle to watch, and a joy to play. It uses a simple system of different damage types and weaknesses. Breaking an enemy’s guard allows you to deal more “absorption” damage. If you deal enough, you can then try to capture their power, giving yourself an ability point.
This game features a skill tree system similar to other titles, but getting your ability points by “absorbing” your enemies is a fun twist. The skill tree provides many meaningful choices, rejecting the boring +10% to damage style. Each point usually unlocks a new ability or greatly enhances a current one.
One slightly troublesome element is the UI. It is almost wholly diegetic, using stylistic spheres, line art, and minimalist iconography. While it is beautifully crafted, it can be difficult to navigate and understand easily at a glance. The UI is not a large issue, but the decision was clearly aesthetic over function, may be hard for some players, at least at first.
What brings this system together though, is the stunning special effects. Each attack is flashy and punchy with a ton of weight behind your most powerful moves. You have a myriad of different abilities and chaining together a long string of cool moves is extremely satisfying. It feels akin to the insane combos of Devil May Cry, but 2D and more flashy color.
As a final point, the enemy design and encounters are stellar. Most enemies start as a constellation like version of themselves, leaving to the imagination their true form. But as you attack and defend against them, their full visage materializes for a brief moment. This feels like a special moment, so you keep your eyes glued to the screen, so as to not miss a thing.
There are over fifty enemy encounters in the game, and they all feel unique. They have different effects, weaknesses, strengths, counters and timings that will keep you on your toes. It gives a fantasy akin to a Shonen warrior, wandering the land in search of the next strongest opponent. And some of these fights will test you, and stick with you for days.
Coalescing all these elements, Worldless is a unique blend of action RPG mechanics, metroid-vania wanderlust, and – oddly enough – boss rushes. Every locale and enemy is precisely where it needs to be and stays true to its game philosophy. It may be called Worldless, by it is FAR from soulless. I wholeheartedly recommend this game to any intrigued by a new adventure, a daring challenge or enjoys long walks on a cosmic beach. I finished the game two days ago, and now that I have finished this review, I’m gonna go play some more.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A World of its Own
A spectacle for the eyes, and a rush for the soul, Worldless delivers on an abstract world of gorgeous proportions. Accompanied with its striking visuals, is a viscerally engaging combat system that does not get old after hours and hours of gameplay. It successfully marries influences from other games into a new seamless whole. Worldless is a trip to the cosmic Shonen fantasy you never knew you wanted.