5 out of 5. A station full of rewarding mysteries to unlock, hidden behind a fair difficulty curve that just keeps escalating to instense extremes. Truly a masterpiece of difficult game design.
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How Metroidvania is it? Perfect Fit. Almost all of the Metroidvania tropes are here in full force. Closer to “Metroid” than “Castlevania”.
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~12 hours
Review Info: This game was played on Steam

More Info

Developer: Hempuli Oy
Publisher: Hempuli Oy
Sub-genre: Metroid-Like
Features: Map System, Multiple Difficulty modes, Guide/Hint System, 2D Platformer, Ranged Combat, Tricky Platforming, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Sequence Breaking
Difficulty: Brutal
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - Guided
Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Steam
Release Date: 2015/04/22
Available Languages: English

Store Links

    Steam    Humble Bundle    

Buy Environmental Station Alpha if you like…

  • Mystery and Secrets
  • Well designed and fair challenges
  • A Smooth Difficulty Curve that doesn't seem to know when to stop
  • Ambient Music
  • Grappling Hook Mechanics

▼ Review continues below ▼

Alright, let’s see what the hype is about here. I like the music. Hmm… gun is a bit shorter range, but that probably just means I’ll be getting a long shot upgrade later.

Seems pretty run-of-the-mill Metroid wannabe so far. First boss is kind of generic. Not too difficult either, but I guess that’s okay, I could probably use a small break from rock hard difficulty after Mortal Manor and Unworthy.

Hey a health upgrade. Oh, 4 hp. Well, I’m sure I won’t need it that much anyway.

I can see why people like this, it invokes the nostalgia quite nicely. Not really a stand-out so far though.

Huh… that boss had two phases. Not too common this early in a game, but I can respect that. I actually had to sit up a little for that one too, maybe this game will have some bite to it after all.

Hmm… looks like I’m not getting anywhere with finding upgrades, might as well go for the spot marked on my map.

Wow… this garden part is actually kinda challenging. I barely made it past all that with a few HP left. I hope there’s a save point soo– WAIT THERE’S MORE?

Man I gotta ace this first part to make it the whole way. I’ll just jump over and skip this guy… there! I made it to the computer…

That’s pretty cruel to put a spike trap right in front of it, especially with as few HP as I have at this point. But it’s cool, I’ve gotten pretty good at the grappling hook at this point. Minor obstacle.

So where’s my save point?

Wait… I gotta go BACK through all that? Wow everything is different, and harder!

No no, you got this man, this is nothing.

FINALLY! Back to the save point with one HP lef— HOLY CRAP I JUST GOT HIT BY THAT STRAY BULLET.

Okay! Made it that time… let’s see what hides behind that vine wall…

Huh. Looks kind of like that plant boss from Super Metroid. Heh, that’s cute. Their own take on a classic boss. Well, that wasn’t too bad…

Oh another second phase, I guess I’m not done yet. Now the walls are shooting at me? Well, now I’m dead, but I’m prepared for two phases this time, I’ll actually try to get past the first phase getting hit less.

Dang, it’s pretty hard to avoid those wall lasers, but I got this… A THIRD PHASE?!? I’ve got like 2 hits left in HP!

Okay okay okay… Just have to get through TWO PHASES without getting hit much. No big deal.

*dies*

NO BIG DEAL!

*dies*

I GOT THIS!!!

*dies*

I DID IT! I FINALLY BEAT THE BOSS— @*$*&@&#~~! I FELL INTO THE ACID PIT WHILE HE WAS EXPLODING!

Alright… you miserable… plant monster… get prepared… to face.. the full force… OF MY WEAPONIZED RAGE!!

(Okay, maybe I shouldn’t just do a Stream of Consciousness review…)

ACTUAL REVIEW

Environmental Station Alpha (ESA) is, on the surface, just another Metroidvania game. In many ways that premise is a only a base for the game as a whole – nothing is as it seems in ESA. It starts out feeding the player all the typical tropes, but with excellent pacing the game’s difficulty curve will take you to some pretty intense extremes. This could be a turn off to many players, so take that sentence as a warning; this isn’t by default a relaxing Metroidvania experience.

It is however, very well designed. You don’t get a TON of HP to work with, and there are no E-Tanks, potions, or anything else you can use to mitigate the challenges. You MUST learn the Boss’ patterns, you MUST master the Grappling Hook, and you MUST be prepared to try and try again until you get it right. With that said, I believe that every challenge can be performed flawlessly. Boss patterns are telegraphed well enough that a no-damage run is completely feasible. While the game does have its fair share of great bosses, I’d say that the hardest part of the game is the platforming – using that term loosely because there are often not enough platforms involved. Many of the hardest challenges involve the Grappling Hook tool that may be familiar if you’ve played games that use a similar item. If you’ve disliked using Grappling Hooks in other games, then you may have issues with ESA. The grappling hook does provide a great avenue for sequence breaking and player discovery, however.

One of the greatest draws of the game is the Exploration. Through your travels you may find a hint or two of something more, teasing a deeper mystery that may compel you search for answers. I can’t say a lot about it without possibly spoiling the experience, but I will say that ESA’s exploration rivals some of the best games in the Metroidvania genre, though it does make you work hard to unlock its mysteries.

So how hard does it get? Well, let me put it this way; Dark Souls is the Environmental Station Alpha of Souls-like games. ESA’s post-game is something like if the secret area in Cave Story and the entirety of LA-MULANA had a big fat baby with an attitude. You don’t necessarily die a lot, but you’ll certainly have to try a lot.

I personally find that aspect of the game worthwhile, and I regret that I can’t spend enough time on the game to truly master its ins and outs. If you enjoy a good challenge, make sure you put ESA in your library and play it ASAP. Even if you just like exploring though, Environmental Station Alpha is full of rewarding secrets, and it’s apparently pretty easy to edit your save file based on some forum posts I’ve read if you want to cheat (Just make sure you don’t care whether the fun of mastery is spoiled.)


Final Score

5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 5

Bosses are VERY well designed - each could be done no-damage. Variety is high even though you only have one attack

Platforming
– 4.5

For much of the game, it's all about mastering the grappling hook. If you enjoy that, there are a LOT of challenges to meet

Exploration
– 5

I think there might be more optional secrets than 'Mandatory' content. This game is all about exploration

Puzzle
– 3

There are a few riddles that help a lot for finding some of the harder to notice secret areas, if you can't just brute force it

Story
– 3

Nothing particularly deep, but it's compelling enough to entice you to keep exploring

Graphics
– 3

The graphics are something that takes some getting used to. I like pixel aesthetic, but sometimes it has that 'Please Focus!' feel to it

Music
– 4

The sound design in general is top notch, and what music is there is excellent. I could have used a few more tracks especially in the endgame though

Replayability
– 2.5

Besides a 1hp challenge mode for the clinically insane, there's not a ton of reason to 'Replay' the game except to speed run or etc. But there's a TON of content for one playthrough.


Want a second opinion? See what other reviews say:

Steam Reviews
Recent: Mixed
(66% of 15 Reviews)
All Time: Very Positive
(87% of 782 Reviews)


TBD Metacritic
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