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This morning I played through the newest Metroid-inspired action game, Ex Vitro. As a Metroid fan who's become perhaps a bit too picky in recent years, I have to say I haven't been as blown away by a Metrovania since Shadow Complex and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. And that means you should go check out the demo right now.
Ex Vitro is a solid indie game that takes its blueprints straight from Super Metroid. You play as a seemingly-nameless soldier stuck on an alien world where humans have constructed a massive bioresearch lab where they are plotting xenophobic galactic armageddon. In tried-and-true Metroid fashion, you begin with a weak pulse rifle and quickly acquire power-ups in the form of an EMP pulse cannon, plasma charge, and a beam that can shoot around corners(!). Using this arsenal, you quickly blast your way through an abandoned mechanoid factory, a research jungle, and seriously awesome wrecked lab. Looking at the in-game clock, it took me four hours to clear those three levels - and this is just the demo. What's more, for the most part, I had a blast doing it.
The game uses a WASD + Mouse aiming scheme ala Abuse, which you very rarely see, although I'd love to see gamepad support, or at least a MAJOR improvement to the clunky wall-jump controls - there's a reason they made this optional ability from Super Metroid easier to do in Fusion and Zero Mission. The graphics are a mixed bag, with some nice Game Maker graphical effects (including the death animation), tiles, and background designs (especially in the jungle), to sparse and often uninspiring enemy designs. The main character also could use a significant graphical update, and maybe a couple extra auto-abilities such as ledge-grabbing. Most of the background music is good, adding some great atmosphere with the jungle and abandoned lab (the SOS signal is a nice touch). However, I'd like to see a different track for the factory, and most of the SFX need a major update.
Despite its flaws, the best parts about Ex Vitro are the flairs and inspirations that I feel are a step above and beyond the source material. The include the awesome door animations, blasting through glass panels to get to power-ups, and environmental touches, such as glass tubes cracking as you walk through them and static interference in the research lab that disables your mini-map. And the best part of all is the entire game is original, rather than a Metroid remake, which means the developer owns 100% of what he puts into it. And hey, if you can put something in your game that I'd love to see in a licensed Metroid title, you've got something good.
Ex Vitro is still in beta stage, and I am seriously hoping the developer, Torerane, can continue to add some serious polish to it. With a bit more work, I feel Ex Vitro can be the Super Metroid on the PC I've been dreaming about for over ten years.
Until next time...