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Review: Metaloid Origin wants to be Mega Man, but fails to deliver

So close, but yet so far.

metaloid review nintendo switch
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

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Retro graphics? Bright colors? 2D, action-platformer gameplay in the vein of Mega Man? Sign me up! I love all of those things! Unfortunately, Metaloid Origin by RetroRevolution just didn’t end up being what I was looking for.

The first thing you do in Metaloid Origin is select a character, which I’m all about. The trouble for me is that the game tells you nothing about what each character does. They all have unique special abilities and weapons, but you get zero information about that except for what the icons look like. I chose Zeta to start with because blue and lightning looked like they’d be up my alley.

From there, the game gave me a level select screen, but only one level to choose from. After beating that level, I only got one more level to choose from. This is fine, generally speaking, but part of the fun of a Mega Man game is that you have to figure out the best order to beat the levels, right? Metaloid Origin isn’t that, but it very clearly wants to be, so it seems strange to omit this convention.

metaloid review

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

The gameplay itself is pure Mega Man, a comparison I’m already tired of making. You can move left and right, shoot your weapon, jump, and dash. There are energy and health powerups, upgrades to acquire, so on and so on. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the design choices here, for better and for worse.

Where Metaloid Origin deviates, it becomes a weaker game for it. For example, the visual design is just muddy and confusing. Take a look at this screenshot.

metaloid review

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

Without being told or experiencing this game, I want you to tell me the following:

  • Which surfaces can you stand on and which ones are just decorations you’ll fall through?
  • Which surfaces can you climb on?
  • Which walls are solid and which ones are just part of the background?
  • How much health do you have left?

If you’re having trouble with any/all of those, welcome to the club. Metaloid Origin is visually a mess and all of the gameplay suffers for it. This will become especially apparent in a moment. For the record, here are your answers:

  • The grass and the horizontal orange bar below the right-most set of three gems are solid platforms. The tank next to you is not.
  • The notched bar next to the left-most three gems is climbable.
  • The wall between the columns of gems is solid, but the orange bars with diagonal lines are not. The tank next to you is completely background in every way.
  • You have just over 2/3 of your max health remaining.

The fact that I have to think about any of these visual cues for any time at all is a big red flag in an action game that requires quick, precision responses

Beyond that, there are tons of hazards in this game, from enemies to thorns to instant-death falls, and failing to parse the environment appropriately makes you a victim to all of them. Instead of feeling like my mistakes were my fault, I invariably felt like they were the result of improper visual communication.

Furthermore, the game uses those gems for everything. You need them to upgrade your character, but you also need to spend 50 every time you die to resurrect. Why would you unify upgrade and retry currencies? The net result isn’t careful spending, it just makes me not want to spend anything because I don’t know when I’m going to reach a challenging section where I’ll die frequently. I don’t want to explore the game’s upgrades purely out of caution.

inventory on nintendo switch

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

I finally grinded out enough currency to get what I felt like was the coolest-sounding standard weapon upgrade, the thunder cannon, described above. I tried it and it was cool in some ways, blasting out explosive orbs of lightning that lingered on-screen and dealt damage over time to pesky enemies with shields and lots of health.

This excitement was short-lived, however, as I realized upgraded weapons cost energy to fire, which is very quickly expended. This energy is a unified resource, too, spent on special weapons and your special ability.

You need those abilities, too. For example, there’s an enemy that stands motionless with an impenetrable shield, a type that will surprise no one who’s played Mega Man. Unlike Mega Man, however, this one rarely drops its shield, and when it does that offensive window is extremely small.

Furthermore, it turns around and does so instantly, so you can’t even jump behind it to get a rear attack off. Worry not, as Zeta has a lightning wave that blasts right through shields! But that lightning wave costs energy, so you better not spend it very liberally. This system just left me underwhelmed and constantly resource-starved, unable to use the things in Metaloid Origin that felt the most fun.

The final straw for me was the overall level design, which feels designed for maximum, “Haha, gotcha!” moments engineered to be frustrating

metaloid review

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

  • Those bright orange bars are all foreground decorations, so the one directly below you actually conceals an instant death pit.
  • If you jump to where the character is currently standing now, you’ll hit your head on those thorns on the ceiling, which will plummet you to instant death about 50% of the time.
  • The box next to you is an upgrade box of some sort, but I have no idea what it does.
  • The platform next to you is solid and raised off the ground, so you can only jump onto it with the gentlest, quickest tap of the jump button. If you press it for too long by even a fraction of a second, you’ll at least take damage from the thorns, but you might also plummet to instant death.
  • There’s also an enemy off-screen to the left that can arc a shot up to hit you while you’re navigating this. Yes, you can be knocked off to your death from these attacks.

This is an action game, so every action scenario is testing mastery of some sort, but what is this actually testing? My patience? My ability to memorize an arbitrary set of visual cues on what’s solid and what isn’t? The layout of enemies that I can’t even see yet? Remember that every death costs you hard-earned currency, so none of this learning comes for free or with any real grace period.

I could go into the nitty-gritty details of Metaloid Origin and what I don’t like, like the jump arcs, the too-sensitive jump timing, the health bar design, the lack of a mid-air jumping grace period, etc., but nothing about the macro details in this game actually grabbed my interest to begin with, so it seems redundant to harp on the details when the big picture isn’t compelling.

On its face, Metaloid Origin looks like it does a lot right, but it doesn’t hold up over time and scrutiny. If you’re looking for a Mega Man fix, I recommend looking elsewhere. This game is only for the most die-hard fans of the genre and those with a high tolerance for frustration.

Jake reviewed Metaloid Origin on Nintendo Switch with a review code from the developers. It is available now on Windows, OSX, and Nintendo Switch. 

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Jake is a writer and game designer in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves action, exploration, building, filling bars, and turning numbers into bigger numbers. Someday he'll release a video game.

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