For all its ups and downs, if anything else, Kickstarter has at least allowed the creation of some ambitious demos – and when these demos provide a few hours of solid, old school style gaming joy, I can’t complain. The Andromeda demo does just that.
As you’d expect from a demo, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a fully playable and enjoyable “NEStroidvania” throwback that will easily consume a solid few hours.
Setting you as a painfully hard-as-nails cool bounty hunter type, you… begin the game with no money, and only the most basic equipment. Shouldn’t I have like tens of thousands of credits in the intergalactic bank and some of the best tech and weaponry in the galaxy has to offer by now? No? Welp, never mind.
In terms of gameplay, the influences from Metroid are quickly apparent. From the nature of the main character’s profession to the slow-building dread of an eerily empty starting area to the large sprawling levels, it’s clear the creators were fans of Metroid in every sense of the word and wanted to capture some of that spirit. Graphically, the whole thing is taking cues from the NES era (but what looks like a much more modern resolution) and makes excellent use of limited, but thematic
In terms of the presentation, however, the whole thing is taking cues from the NES (Metroid) era rather than the SNES era (Super Metroid ), though in what looks like a much more modern, larger resolution). Andromeda makes excellent use of the limited, but thematic colour palettes to suit the current area. The audio is a bit of a mixed MIDI bag though (and may only be a placeholder for the demo) – in any case I found myself playing with the music switched off
Gameplay-wise, in addition to the typical Metroidvania upgrade ‘n’ explore roots, Andromeda’s main gimmick is the use of a ‘DNA gun’ to effectively create new weapons on the fly. Destroying the various alien lifeforms leaves behind blobs of gaseous DNA, just like in real life, which can be collected as ammo. The key here is that, like Gunstar Heroes before it, you can hold two ammo types at a time – combining the different ‘colours’ of DNA into a new ‘weapon’ (including two of the same colour). There’s certainly some high points to this – finding a new ‘colour’ and seeing what you can make is always exciting, and messing around with combinations taps into the fundamental collector-tinkerer nature of most of us humans.
The protagonist’s similar appearance to everyone’s favourite galaxy far, far away bounty hunter is perhaps no mere coincidence: the second notable gameplay addition yoru very own a portable jetpack. Having limited flight right from the get go is certainly a bit mix up in the classic Metroidvania formula. It has the potential to open up a welcome aspect of vertical exploration to a world previously dominated by “they who mastered the double-jump”, though admittedly the demo doesn’t explore this possibilty in a great deal of depth.
It’s not always sunny in Andromeda, though, and in a few areas – such as the jetpack – your mileage may vary. I mean, we all like jetpacks, who wouldn’t want one? But the counterbalance is the fact that you can’t jump in this game. Like, at all. This makes you utterly dependent on the jetpack and its auto-recharging fuel. It may add a touch of realism for a character wearing such heavy armour, but at times quickly becomes annoying. When you have to use the jetpack for every small jump, trying to quickly and gracefully transverse an area instead becomes an awkward series of bunny hops like that first time you tried driving Mum’s used Ford Pinto.
The DNA system, meanwhile, comes with its own caveats – it adds some welcome depth and incentive to combat, and I like it quite a lot, but the transience means that at times you can feel victim to the whims of which monsters the game throws at you; knowing that using up a good ammo-combo means not getting it back for a very long time. This is especially problematic if you die since pre-death ammo levels are not restored, forcing you to repeat a potentially difficult section without the benefit of proper ammo the second time round.
These three main niggles with the game are mostly just that – niggles. They make gameplay less fluid than perhaps it could be, but didn’t make for an unplayable demo. The exploration, story elements and shooting of weird coloured blobs is a tried and true formula and it works well enough here. With some tweaking and refinement – an invariable process for any WIP game – Andromeda could really become something special.
Sadly, it’s unknown if or when that will happen. Andromeda didn’t reach its Kickstarter goal in June, and the Greenlight page has not shown any activity since then. Judging by their Twitter account, the developers seem to be going with a “Plan B” for now; a retro Gameboy Colour style (possibly roguelike?) game.
In any case, at least for now, at around 2 hours of gameplay, the Andromeda demo provides a decent few hours of fun and make up a good experience in its own right, worth a play.