Review: Berserk Boy

I will NOT go berserk. I will, however, enthuse effusively about this very good game. And then go berserk

Many indie games wear their influences on their sleeves, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. After all, if your favourite major publishers of the past are no longer making the games you want, why not… do it yourself? Or hope someone else does, I suppose. Like me, for example. I’d played Mega Man ZX Advent and had a ball. Unlike its predecessor, Mega Man ZX, it felt like a full realisation of what they wanted to do, how they wanted to differentiate it from prequel series Mega Man Zero. And then it just ended, leaving a cliffhanger that would never be resolved. Sob. But what I and many other gamers were really mourning was that feel, that gameplay. Fast-moving action platforming mixed with a hub-world-based storyline and exploration. Enter Berserk Boy.

Far more than just a Mega Man ZX pastiche, Berserk Boy also takes inspiration from Inti Creates’ Gunvolt spin-off Luminous Avenger iX, letting you dash into enemies to “mark” them following by slamming the B button to zip back towards them and batter them to pieces. You can hit multiple enemies before landing, which leads to some thoroughly enjoyable acrobatics as your increasing skill level allows you to tackle areas with advanced techniques that make you feel powerful and make getting better at the game rewarding.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s difficult not to when there’s so much going on here and so little space to evangelise it. Starting out at your home base, you’ll take on a series of missions across delightfully varied and character environments, slapping enemies, evading obstacles and rescuing your teammates, not to mention collecting well-hidden medals – five in all per level, and each of them requiring you to take them to a checkpoint before they’re locked in, which is a nice way of raising tension.

Naturally you’ll encounter a succession of boss battles, each of which take cues from the Mega Man series in their multi-form, multi-pattern onslaughts, leaving you dabbing your forehead when you finally manage to see them off, rewarded with a new transformation that unlocks a host of new possibilities to enhance the overall tricksy-ness (new word!) of the level design. But while it’s certainly not an easy game, it’s a very fair one; repeated death can be mitigated by purchasing upgrades for Kei (for he is the titular Boy of Berserk), but it’s better to simply plug away at it. You can warp around levels using the checkpoints, so gathering collectables is a very friendly experience without taking away from the deviously designed methods by which they must be reached. It’s all very cheerfully playable and all rather charming.

This is helped by the outstanding spritework throughout, not to mention a boppin’ soundtrack by composer extraordinaire Tee Lopes, perhaps best known for their work on the Sonic series, but their style and ability comes through inimitably in Berserk Boy despite the very different genre. Indeed, audio-visually this game is a treat from start to finish; you’ll want to progress just to see the next area, or hear the next banger song.

Is it original? Not particularly, but that’s not really an issue for me when the game is so enjoyable. It calls to mind Cyber Shadow, a game that mashed up several other popular titles but still made something fresh of itself. Berserk Boy is just as good, and has to be the best side-scroller I’ve played since Yacht Club published that ninja-nobbling masterpiece. Pleasingly priced and joyous to a fault, Berserk Boy deserves a big, big following, and I urge you to pick it up as soon as possible. It truly will not disappoint. Catering to pro players with its high skill ceiling, it’s also an accessible and upbeat experience that’ll appeal to anyone prepared to engage with its myriad mechanics. Get it down you right bloody now.