Zapling Bygone is a fine addition to the Metroidvania genre. However, it doesn’t add a vast amount of originality to a well-trodden experience. Instead, it evolves some much-loved mechanics to open up the game and make things a little less restrictive. In short, it does a great job of letting you do what you want, but you are held back by tough bosses and a funnelled ability system.
Developed by 9Finger Games and published by JanduSoft, this is a 2D Metroidvania experience. What’s more, there is plenty of killing. Moreover, it is colourful and oddly amusing and has a plethora of collectables to find. On top of this, there is a nice flow of lore, an interesting story to explore, and plenty of twists on familiar elements. As such, it doesn’t write a new chapter for the genre. Instead, it plays around with some excellent ideas and makes them fit its narrative.
Zapling Bygone loves a bit of death.
Aliens are renowned for being aggressive assholes (if you believe in them, that is). Yet, Zapling Bygone takes it a step further by implying that they are focused purely on murder and their own success. Accordingly, you control part of an alien hive mind that must kill everything in sight and absorb their abilities. By wearing the skulls of your foes, you will learn their skills, and move and act as they do. However, changing your bony mask will remove said powers, and you will learn a new set of skills.
This is Zapling Bygone in a nutshell. The tentacled alien mess must lurch around a tight network of tunnels, killing foes and obtaining their plasma. By doing this, you’ll be able to buy items and save your progress at the many altars you discover. This was fundamental to the gameplay, as you will die repeatedly as you explore the vast and strange environments. Moreover, there are plenty of bosses to take down, and this was no mean feat. Subsequently, you’ll have your ass handed to you many, many times before you overcome each creature.
Skulls, healing, and cruelty.
The main concept of the game revolves around each skull you find. These pasty masks endowed the wearer with a range of skills that are essential to unlocking parts of the map. However, the powers are familiar, as you’ll enjoy the ability to double dash, climb on walls, and much more. Sadly, though, until you defeat the rat king and gather his wall-climbing abilities, the action is restrictive and frustrating. Yet, once you can climb walls like an alien spider, you’ll adore the freedom it affords.
By clambering around the tunnels, you will reach heights that were otherwise out of reach. Yet, you are still penned back by almost impossible bosses and some cruel twists of fate. Additionally, the developers added multiple stages to many of the encounters. Subsequently, victory is snatched away from you just when you think you’re successful. This was tear-inducing and unbelievably harsh, but somehow, it was spectacularly rewarding at the same time.
Another key mechanic to master is self-healing power. With limited health points and tough enemies, this becomes your new best friend. Yet, it isn’t a free-for-all and you must successfully hit 3 items or creatures to replenish the skill. Sounds easy, right? Well, you try healing yourself when a giant spike or beastly creature is bearing down on you!
Zapling Bygone explores a seedy world.
With death at its core, I wasn’t surprised that Zapling Bygone was set in a seedy and sinister world. However, I was shocked to see the range of areas and the variety of enemies on display. What was also great was the simple but effective animation. The alien moved like a demonic octopus that was hunting its prey. What’s more, the bosses are unique, and overcoming their deadly assortment of attacks was a challenging ordeal.
Though I enjoyed the visuals, the map was unfairly covered for much of the time. Therefore, it made an already challenging title that bit harder. Consequently, it was frustrating to work out where you had been or what you needed to do when the world map didn’t update. Instead, it appeared that it would only unlock once a boss was destroyed. This seemed a strange concept that added both mystery and frustration to the action.
The grim visuals were complemented by atmospheric audio. The low-key music adds energy and a constant beat to the action. However, its subtle ways allow excellent sound effects to dominate proceedings. With wonderful squelching sounds, cruel screams, and plenty of tentacle slaps, the audio improves the fantastic action.
The gameplay was tough and it could have been much harder if the controls were poor. Fortunately, a tight setup and well-considered layout reduce the difficulty significantly. Moreover, the excellent UI ensures that any changes to the hero are easy to achieve. Additionally, the responsive inputs allow you to fight monsters and jump gaps with ease.
Where Zapling Bygone excels is its lore, collectables, and tough nature. With loads of memories, paintings, and fragments to find, there is plenty to see and do. Alongside this, each skull has a unique background, and this increases the lore further still. On top of this, you will find charms that can be used to upgrade each skull. However, only certain charms will fit each mask and this adds another element to the gameplay.
Zapling Bygone is strange but not remarkable.
Zapling Bygone does a great job of playing with some well-trodden mechanics. Furthermore, its story is strange and the lore and world are interesting to explore. Yet, its concept isn’t remarkable and it could easily be overlooked as a consequence. Though I enjoyed much of the action, it needed more guidance and funnelling to appreciate each element. However, lovers of the Metroidvania genre will enjoy the tough elements and its bizarre approach. As such, I recommend that you buy it here despite its issues. Can you complete the hive-mind’s quest and kill everything in sight? Jump, crawl, and climb around this tight and grim alien world.