A recurring theme in recent Indie releases is style over substance. ENDER LILIES bucks the trend by expertly marrying playability and graphical excellence. The game is both a visual feast and a consistent joy to play. Though done in a familiar Metroidvania style, ENDER LILIES manages to bring a unique spin to the genre with its atmospheric focus and dark yet innocent style.
It goes without saying that the team behind animating ENDER LILIES is good at their job. Seriously, within the first few minutes, you can tell you’re experiencing a serious accomplishment. From the stunning lighting to the life-like movements of your character, Lily, everything is picture perfect. Normally I’m not one to heap so much praise on the graphical side of a game, but when the experience leans so heavily on atmosphere, you have to get it right. Here, they’ve done exactly that.
But, ENDER LILIES is much more than a visual achievement. It’s equipped with gameplay to match. In typical Metroidvania style, you’ll progress with the items and power-ups that you earn. Binary Haze Interactive has done an excellent job of balancing the difficulty of their game. It’s hard, but not unbeatable. The items (called “relics”) grant minimal bonuses and offer only a marginally easier experience in boss fights. I struggled to find many of these during my playthrough, but my lack of relics hardly hampered my progress. The rewards earned from the aforementioned boss fights, unique abilities, are far more coveted, as they offer a genuine upgrade that will help you progress.
For me, the weakest point of ENDER LILIES is the normal enemies. There is a marked lack of diversity in the mobs you encounter and their abilities leave much to be desired. They all seem to operate on some variation of a tracking shot whether it be arrows, missiles, or orbs. Or, they charge a powerful melee attack. Whatever the case may be, the enemies quickly begin to feel predictable and, by extension, rather impotent. It gets to the point where you can pattern most enemies on your first encounter. You simply have to jump over the tracking missile and dodge away from the charged attack.
While the encounters feel slightly monotonous, the addictingly smooth gameplay is more than enough to make up for it. The platforming is tight, and there are well designed areas of the map where the jumps are very difficult but totally possible. They’ve also done an outstanding job of integrating your abilities into your progression. You cannot move past an area of the map without first attaining abilities from the boss fight.
Having said that, the map design is linear without being restrictive. There is plenty of backtracking to be done, and multiple ways you can approach a playthrough of ENDER LILIES. It should also be said that you can backtrack at any point to grind for experience (and probably should). This helps to dismantle the railroaded impression of the game since you will undoubtedly spend time clearing earlier stages in order to bolster your stats. As mentioned earlier, there are also a number of spots that are inaccessible without abilities earned from future bosses, so once you’ve obtained those skills, it will be worth your while to backtrack and pick up rewards.
Beyond the obvious visual wins, ENDER LILIES boasts a great soundtrack. It’s relatively unassertive, but adds perfectly to the atmosphere. In fact, a distinct lack of sound characterizes the experience. You can hear your character’s footsteps echoing. Your guardian’s slashes ring off the cathedral walls. It all lends a very isolating, lonely feeling to the game.
As it is, ENDER LILIES is an expertly crafted but clearly early access game. Sure, it lacks a bit of depth, but the content that is there is encouraging. They’ve already managed to build a ridiculously forceful atmosphere and solid underlying mechanics. It’s polished well beyond most early release titles, but still lacks the depth of a full release. Now, the only task left is to add content. If Binary Haze can spice up their enemies a little more, and expand the game by a couple of hours, they’ll have a truly remarkable achievement on their hands.