First off, I have to say that I love pixel art. I also love 8-bit music, and I enjoy video games where hidden content feels at least as important as the main-path content. So Infernax really does seem like it was built around my particular flavor palate. If you don’t appreciate these specific things, your mileage may vary.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m just going to gush about this game that I’ve fallen completely head-over-heels for. Infernax is incredible, and if you ask me, it’s the first must-play game of 2022.

When I first saw a trailer for Infernax, I thought it looked like a Castlevania clone. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but I’ve played tons of Metroidvania games and I’ve forgotten most of them; this just seemed like another one for the heap. But after actually playing the thing for dozens of hours, I have to say that the term “Castlevania clone” doesn’t do Infernax any justice at all. While this does have some very obvious similarities to the old Castlevania games (it leans way hard into the Castlevania side of the Metroidvania equation), it actually feels like what I imagine Dark Souls would have been had it released in 1989.


Part of this is the sheer confidence it has in its game lore. Too many games have so little faith in their audience that they have to hammer you over the head with plot details in hopes that eventually they’ll get through to you. If you look at something like Dark Souls (or the fantastic Mortal Shell), on the other hand, those sorts of games work really hard to build a consistent and compelling body of lore and then leave it up to the player to engage with it. Dark Souls doesn’t care whether you know your Frampt from your Anor Londo, so long as you’re cracking skulls and spending souls. If there’s a really cool thing that you absolutely need to see, Dark Souls will hide it behind a missable chain of side quests and let players figure it out themselves.

And Infernax is confident enough to leave some of its best bits locked behind labyrinthine series of A/B choices and multi-step side quests. You’re going to make wrong choices, and those choices are going to lock you out of secret dungeons or endgame boss battles. But Infernax doesn’t care. Infernax isn’t going to hold your hand or dry your tears; it’s going to sharpen your reflexes in a refining fire, training you to be observant and forward-thinking. “Pay attention or you’re going to get hurt,” it’s telling you.

Infernax - It Hurts

Yes, Infernax is a difficult game. There are cheat codes that will reduce the difficulty to an insulting level, but since I played the game before launch, I didn’t know about this until I had started my second run. I also had no guides to look at, so I had to solve every puzzle on my own. Without guides and cheat codes, Infernax is absolutely brutal.

But the game world is so well-designed, and the music is so damn good, that I persevered, even though I did hit some roadblocks on my journey. Stormheim Castle, for example, is a gauntlet of cheap one-hit deaths, where what are normally easy trash mobs can knock you back into drowning pits, killing you outright. I got so frustrated inside those murky halls that I almost gave up entirely. I did take a day off, and when I returned, my resolve had hardened and I pushed through.

I did manage to finish the entire game using only the Classic Restart option (where a save point is a save point, and anything you acquire between saves is gone if you die), and, like I mentioned earlier, with no cheats or guides (okay, so I was provided with a marked-up digital map along with my review copy, but I honestly forgot about it until I was almost done with the game). I swore a whole lot, but I actually got through it.

Infernax - Dungeon

When I finally saw the credits roll, I figured I had completed my Infernax journey. But then I was given a book that said “Chapter 4” on it. Inside it was a cheat code that gave me a jetpack. Wait, a jetpack? More importantly, this is just one chapter of many? So there are at least four of these books to collect? (Yes, past version of myself; in fact, there are at least five!) I flipped open the bestiary to see that I had only encountered 50% of the beasts in the game, with several blank pages in the boss section (or the Elder Demons section, in Infernax‘s language). My Trophy list was also embarrassingly incomplete.

Which means…

Yeah, Infernax is way bigger than it seems, and its branching story paths will actually lock you out of content depending on your choices. So if you want to see more of what the game has to offer, you must start over. You’ll need to make different choices, and pay close attention to what NPCs are saying to you. There are entire quest lines — really important ones — that I had completely missed on my initial playthrough.

Infernax - Projectiles

Oddly, what I felt upon this discovery wasn’t frustration; it was glee. I had to put the game down for a bit (it was almost 3 a.m. at this point), but I went to bed thinking about how much thread there was to still unravel. I was so excited that I almost couldn’t sleep, as exhausted as I was.

So the next day, I put on my shiny new jetpack (which makes the game go by so much faster), and I decided to do it all over again and see what new corners of the game world might open up to me. And I honestly loved the game even more the second time. It didn’t feel tedious or brutal — it felt vaguely familiar, like a dream half remembered.

Infernax - Jetpack

But this time, I took a more experimental approach. What happens if I decide to spare this character, or kill this other one? Can I really get through an “Ultimate Good” playthrough? (It turns out I could!) How do I even access the evil path?

My second playthrough uncovered more questions than answers, as well as a new playable character. And that meant I was going to have to play it a third time. This time, I was determined to see what the evil side of the morality system had in store for me. And then, when I learned about the Konami code, which gives you a machine gun and a flippy Contra-style jump, I knew a fourth playthrough was in order. And so on…

Infernax seemed like a neat little game at first, but as I got deeper into it, I realized it was neither neat or little. This is a messy tangle of Metroidvania-style gameplay that seemed to only tangle itself further the harder I worked at sorting it out. So I became kind of obsessed with it.

Infernax - Genevieve

Unfortunately, I have other obligations that are going to take me away from my beloved Infernax, but if I had the time, I could easily see myself attempting no-hit dungeon speedruns and things like that. This is a game that just keeps getting better the more you play it… so long as you don’t give up when you hit the most difficult bits.

What else can I say? Infernax is bewilderingly evil and astonishingly good. It’s a pixel-art masterpiece that truly understands what a Metroidvania needs to be in order to stand out in a crowded genre. If you ever wondered what Dark Souls would have been like had it released on the NES at the tail end of the 1980s, then you need to play Infernax to find out.

Note: I was given an early review code for Infernax on PS4, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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