How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. External Visions doesn’t really have ability gating in the traditional sense – there are no permanent upgrades that assist in your traversal through the world. Instead, it has weapons you switch between to solve its various zones.
Primary Challenge: Riddle-Solving Puzzles
Time to beat: ~8 hours
Review Info: External Visions was played on Steam.
Buy External Visions if you like…
- Abstract Art
- Adventure Games
- Collecting Achievements
- Small Pixel Oldschool Aesthetic
▼ Review continues below ▼
It’s way easier to review games that are clearly very good or clearly flawed. Games like External Visions that are somewhere in-between are much more difficult to score and choose whether to recommend. Bits of boring level design, poorly telegraphed attacks, and somewhat awkward storytelling are things that tempt me to advise the public to skip this one. That sentiment however is contradicted by wholly unique ideas, interesting story concepts, and an ironic feeling of satisfaction when a difficult boss is defeated. I think the right niche will love this one, and many expecting a more traditional Metroidvania or even a great story will hate it. Thankfully it’s free, so the cost is only how much time you’re willing to spend to satiate your curiosity.
If you do give this game a try though, I definitely recommend making it past the first area. I’m not going to pretend it gets a whole lot better in the later areas, but it took me at least that long to catch on to what the game was trying to do. The initial stage has you doing some rote platforming and block puzzles – the obvious kind that qualifies as an activity but aren’t particularly interesting. Past the first boss however the game opens up and becomes closer to the “Metroidvania” it claims to be.
You’re given a few areas to explore, but you’ll quickly discover that they are for the most part tackled separately. There are adventure game style puzzles where you have to find the right item to use in specific locations, but aside from those key-finding instances all of the game’s puzzles are solved with your three projectile powers. These powers are designated creatively as “1”, “2”, and “3”, and you can only have one at a time. “1” is a basic damaging gun that breaks red blocks, “2” is a sticky yellow projectile that creates blocks when it hits a wall horizontally, and “3” looks like an ice gun but instead it allows you to control certain objects when you hit them. With each unique function, the levels are designed to impede your progress unless you find a specific gun and route your way back to the obstacle. Past the tutorial area, this is actually very interesting, and makes up the most engaging part of the game. Each area is self-contained however – when you pass into a new place you lose whatever gun you’re currently carrying, forcing you to start the process over. This prevents each area from becoming a too-frustrating case of wondering whether you have the right powers to progress, but it also defies the usual Metroidvania convention of obtaining permanent upgrades you use throughout your future playtime. Any useable items required for progression can be purchased from the store in the town area. Other quest items are found in the levels, but they unlock optional power-ups that may be unnecessary if you’re not playing on hard mode.
At least on hard mode, the bosses can be a bit of a bugaboo. Traversing the levels is relatively easy and free of danger regardless of the difficulty, but on the highest difficulty setting bosses like to spam bullet showers with little to no warning; surely killing you on your first attempt and forcing you to memorize the pattern on subsequent ones. It seems impossible, and it definitely feels unfair. Thankfully, almost every boss has a save point just outside of their chamber, so if you’re a madman like me, you can pretty easily throw yourself against the brick wall over and over until it breaks. This had me griping that “this game is stupid”, shouting “what were they thinking!” and other AVGN memes. Eventually, I would beat the boss and a wave of relief came over me – that I actually found myself enjoying. Between this feeling of accomplishment, the rewarding exploration and interesting puzzles, External Visions was almost a sure recommendation albeit with some caveats about the telegraphing and boring start.
The story is something that made me cringe, however. Conceptually, the idea is fantastic. The premise is that the game world you play in is a construct of the main character’s mind built off of his life experiences and understanding of the world around him – hence “External Visions.” It’s supposed to be his place to escape from his anxieties and depression, but little in the game world makes sense as a symbol and the dialog is far too obvious and awkward. Some of the game’s key reveals are centered on NPCs that you’re barely forced to interact with, including ending dialog that’s almost embarrassing to read. So much opportunity was lost here with the idea. They could have done a Silent Hill-esque exploration of a character where useful and therapeutic lessons were learned. Every facet of the level design could have alluded toward something deeper, with enemies representing his fears in a more explained way and dialog that doesn’t just “tell, don’t show.” Instead the story is something that really bogs down the game for me.
I’m certain there are people out there who will relish just the idea of the story though – perhaps it will ignite within them something they haven’t ever thought about and provide for them mental tools to deal with their own anxieties. Thus, I cannot say that what External Visions presents is wholly without value – it just doesn’t do much for me. The puzzles are still fun and relatively unique, and at the low price of free it’s worth jumping in and giving it a try at least. I would really like to see this polished up and presented differently; it is a great idea. In my opinion, however, it has quite a bit of journeying to do to become a great game.
Wonky hitboxes and poor telegraphing doesn't stop this game from having some fun-to-beat bosses.
The occasional platform challenge is slightly quashed by starting out with the double jump
There are a lot of optional quests and hidden secrets, but none of them are particularly meaningful even if they're fun to find
A lot of the ''Puzzle'' of the game is finding the correct route to have the right power in the right place, which is fun all by itself if not sometimes tedious
There is some evidence of author passion, but it's not well expressed.
Overall the visuals are a bit messy, with everything being just a little too small. There are some excellent pixel art pieces however
8-bit music fails to be as memorable as the songs coming from the era it emulates, but it does fine to set a melancholy mood
Unless you want to try the hard mode after playing it on Normal, there's little reason to play this twice
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