How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. There is a lot more Puzzle Platforming than you’d see in the genre’s original namesakes, but other than that the feel and setup of the level design is exactly similar.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for After Death was provided by the Developer.
Buy After Death if you like…
- Unique Puzzle Platforming
- Metaphysical narrative
- Grotesque Imaginative Enemies
- Rocking 16 bit era music
- Medium Difficulty
▼ Review continues below ▼
After Death is something of a hidden gem that I think most Metroidvania fans would enjoy. Its 16-bit graphics and upbeat soundtrack really called out the nostalgia in me for Sega Genesis games, or more specifically Apple IIGS games, that I used to play as a kid. It has an interesting premise that provides an enticing mystery box to pull apart, and for the most part its level design and escalating challenges match the quality of some of post Symphony of the Night Castlevania games, with a unique Puzzle Platforming emphasis to go with it. I definitely think that this game needs attention and I think it’s a fantastic accomplishment. However, it could use just a little work to really drive it into the higher tiers of greatness in terms of its Metroidvania competition.
The controls have a few quirks, such as not changing directions as intuitively when you roll your thumb from the left and right buttons to the down button, but it’s something I got used to. The combat also feels a little clunky at first. The character you control (I’m just going to call him “Skull Knight”) stops dead in his tracks when you attack while on the ground, and ducking still leaves a bit of a deadzone on your aim. However, the game is well-designed for your character’s limitations – there aren’t any enemies that are too short for you to hit, and you do get a couple of abilities that help you hit your dead angles when you’re jumping through the air. Skull Knight’s basic attack and the combat that results from it actually reminds me a lot of Alucard’s attacks from Symphony of the Night when you’re equipped with a Long Sword, so if that was your favorite weapon in that game you may feel right at home with After Death.
In terms of difficulty, After Death is on the easier side of things. Most of the bosses have exploitable safe-zones in their arena, often with angles where you can hit them and none of their attack patterns can counter-attack. Of the 14 bosses the game provides, I can recall 2 of them that stand out as excellent and memorable challenges, though some players might view them as unfair spikes in difficulty. Unfortunately those best bosses are not the final bosses. Both of these final challenges are indeed challenging, but the patterns are kind of uninteresting and therefore anti-climactic. I don’t think that they’re beyond repair though.
The story is also something that could use just a few more patches to elevate it into something special. I think the premise is great. It’s a typical amnesia plot, and from the beginning I had a few guesses on what was actually happening, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it go in a direction I didn’t expect. However, After Death doesn’t really follow through on providing a pay-off for its reveals. I think just a little more symbolism, maybe surrounding the concept of memory, and then some more time spent on the ending could really make After Death invoke more emotion other than just subjective nostalgia for old guys like me who grew up in the 80s and 90s.
But After Death does do one thing that makes it truly stand out; its primary mechanic of freezing and defrosting water is used to great effect in puzzle platforming. Every room is very obviously meticulously considered for ways this mechanic can be used in interesting ways, and it was fun to see how new powers could be combined as you traverse the giant map. The gimmicks just barely wear out their welcome as you approach the game’s normal ending, and I think if the game actually ended there it’d have been a really tight experience.
The game goes on, however, and maybe not in the best way. You’re given a secret detection ability in the late game, and if you want to see everything the game has to offer you’ll be using it. The drawback is that the secrets aren’t revealed unless you are in a very close proximity to where the secret is hidden. This basically means that without a guide you’re expected to wander the entire map all over again until you find at least 5 of the hidden passages. Unfortunately this highlights one of After Death’s level design weaknesses; it doesn’t handle backtracking very well. Skull Knight moves a little too slow for the repetition to be fun. He never gets a Wolf Form, or Speed Dash to make the journey through what you’ve already seen less tedious. And, because the primary mechanic of the game has you solving puzzles in many rooms, you have to solve them again and again as you pass through different areas. If you knew better where you were going this would be way less of a problem. I’d recommend making there be some end game challenge bosses or something that reveal where to go next for secrets, giving the players an option other than simply retracing everything or using a guide. I think the best solution would be to have entirely new areas to explore, because that’s what the game does best. Ultimately though this stuff was all optional, and the optional reveals in my opinion weren’t really much better than the basic ending, so it could be safely skipped.
Overall, while I think that After Death could move from good to great with a patch or two, I also think that it was worth my time as-is. I don’t think it should be ignored by any Metroidvania fan, especially if you’re looking for something different, but not too different. After Death at least puts on a solid performance that sets it apart from the average.
Combat is everything it needs to be to carry the game, even if it's not particularly a stand out feature
Not a lot of twitch platforming involved, but navigating through the game's maze-like corridors is kept interesting by the layout
There are a plethora of power-ups to find and challenges to meet to find them. End game secrets could be better directed, however
Puzzle Platforming is one of this game's strongest and most unique features, though some of its challenges are repeated late game
Tackles some deep themes with competency as far as presentation goes, and ALMOST says something profound about them
16-bit era style graphics brings in the nostalgia, especially with the CRT filter options
The rock and roll beat music is memorable and works great for getting you in the mood to explore some more
Currently only one difficulty mode and no new game +, though the developers have mentioned they want to add it.
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All Time: Very Positive
(96% of 54 Reviews)