A fun Metroidvania-like that gets bogged down with cringe-inducing story, MindSeize nonetheless captures the spirit with its gameplay. The Finger Guns Review.
I’m not a videogame developer (if that weren’t obvious enough). I’m sure that creating a game like MindSeize isn’t an easy or speedy process. Major studios have the means to share the workload, but I’d imagine smaller indie studios take it more personally. So naturally, you’d be invested in the product you’re creating, rather than it being outsourced across many departments.
And perhaps because of that passionate involvement, you’d think that your narrative, dialogue or storyline that you’ve created is some top tier material. Your team may also like it, because they want to see it come to life too. But by god, I wish someone with an outside perspective had been allowed to read/view MindSeize before it saw commercial release.
I say this because, from a gameplay perspective, MindSeize is cracking. It’s a Metroidvania-like with all the usual backtracking and exploration, new skills and upgrades you’re familiar with. The in-game artwork is pleasant, if a little basic, but enjoyable nonetheless. But the story and character art? I would quite happily remove these and go in blind. It’s just… awful.
Am I being critical (more so than usual, anyway) or are these weird complaints justified? Let’s find out.
Seize The ‘Vania
I’d like to think most people are aware of what constitutes a Metroidvania by now, but just in case, I’ll give you a quick rundown:
“Metroidvania games feature a large interconnected world map the player can explore, though access to parts of the world is often limited by doors or other obstacles that can only be passed once the player has acquired special items, tools, weapons or abilities within the game.”
The only real change that MindSeize brings to the formula is having it broken up into levels, or worlds. So rather than have one massive map to explore, a la Super Metroid, you have smaller, densely packed worlds to explore instead. From the forest-and-cave stylings of Verdant Gamma to the robot junkyard that is Takoma 7 and beyond, there’s no slacking on variety. It’s all done in a graphical style that’s not quite pixel art, but reminds me heavily of early PC platformers like Zool or any of the Bitmap Brothers games.
What having a level/world-based structure does do, unfortunately, is break up the flow if you’ve missed something on an earlier planet (and I know I have, as I’ve seen upgrades I can’t reach yet). Rather than just take an adventurous backtrack or fast travel, you have to return to your ship and fly all the way back to said planet. It’s not awful, it’s just an unnecessary oversight.
Hacko, Slasho, Button Masho
Again, aping its successors, MindSeize has taken the portmanteau of Metroidvania quite seriously. By that, you can use ranged and melee attacks, from Metroid and Castlevania, respectively. Which is nice, as picking off enemies from afar or getting up close with your blade adds variety to the gameplay.
However, enemies shoot back, and you have possibly the worst evasive skills I’ve ever seen in a game like this. You have a shield, but that’s about as tough as a wet bag. You can learn a slide as you progress, which will help you avoid some projectiles. Yet strangely enough, you have to earn an upgrade that allows you to slide through enemies some time later.
Thankfully, you can upgrade your MAG suit (we’ll get to that) with nifty abilities and armour upgrades, but it’s a grind to get there. Rather than earn experience, enemies drop coin (because… game logic?) to be used to purchase upgrades. I don’t understand why you need to pay your crew to fix the suit you inhabit, though…
However, enemies don’t drop a lot, and the cost of some of these upgrades is ludicrous. It took me a good few in-game hours to get a basic armour upgrade, and all that did was make me marginally more durable. That’s not to say that Mindseize is a hard game, but definitely a reminder of the classics it apes.
The Need to Sieze
The yang to the combat’s yin in any game of this ilk has to be the exploration. Otherwise, it’s just a linear progression of enemy corridors, in essence. Thankfully, MindSeize has you covered.
Exploring new avenues and walkways is in itself a reward, as shooting a wall or jumping into a seemingly dead end can sometimes give way to secret upgrades. As mentioned earlier, sometimes you’ll come across a pathway that you need an ability for, so it’s fun to make a mental note of where to come back to.
However, there are moments where platforming can be a right spike in the uh, difficulty. Like platforms that last about a second before disappearing, for instance. Fine, if it’s only one and not a big climb. Absolutely frustrating if it’s several of them, and you’re near the top, so if you take too long to jump you fall right back to the bottom of the climb. That can get in the bin, as can areas that trap the curious explorer into a large, one-way gauntlets with no checkpoints.
But of course, these aren’t real complaints. They’re frustrations, reminding us of a time when this was the norm and that MindSeize is bringing it back. “This is Metroidvania,” it’s saying, “Remember how temperamental they were too?”.
So far, so good. It plays well, looks good. All it needs now is a killer story to make it an absolute classic… oh.
I’m sorry, but look at how awful this art is. Even the header image looks like someone’s fan art of a better game. I’m sure someone spent a lot of time on these storyboards and images but… maybe they should have commissioned someone better to do them?
The plot doesn’t act as much of a saving grace, either. The Ascended were once human who have now “ascended” into those cyber suits you see above. Your daughter is kidnapped by them, you get your back broken for your efforts. All is lost, woe is you, etc. But then, with the help of a ragtag team of generics you will put your mind into the MAG suit: the battle armour you’ve seen in the pictures so fair.
I could tell you everyone’s name, but why bother? It’s all so bland and formulaic. You’ve got the tough and stoic dude who chastises you for damaging the suit made for combat. There’s your “brilliant scientist who looks like a teenager”, and there’s even a ripoff Cowboy Bebop/Firefly genius mechanic who looks about twelve, complete with animal sidekick.
Am I just bitter and cynical? Well, yes, but it doesn’t detract from how cliched and hackneyed the plot is. It even made me do a, “Hang on… why did I do that?” moment on the game’s first planet. At intervals, whilst searching for signs of the Ascended, you’re taunted by a cybernetic monkey/hunter thing. He doesn’t really do much to get in your way, but then you have a boss fight with him. Once he’s dead, you realise there’s little value in staying here and piss off. Why did I need to kill him then?! From his point of view, we were the intruders!
The whole thing just reeks of bad anime plot, and honestly, I would rather just crack on with the adventure and not know what’s going on, why my daughter was so special or why I still have to pay my own crew to upgrade my suit.
Sieze The Experience, I Guess
Exaggeration about terrible plot aside, MindSeize is going to get a recommendation from me. The core gameplay is great fun, if a little bit annoying at times. Yet that it has those difficult and frustrating moments serves to remind us of those that paved the way for games like this to have their chance.
Once you get stuck in to upgrading your MAG suit and exploring each new world, the game opens up as you become more powerful. Pacing may take a knock with its planet hopping and waiting, but there’s a solid enough adventure to be had in here.
Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the “wacky” crew you’re stuck with. There’s even a hotshot pilot, for chrissake.
Whilst it has a plot about as generic as it is boring, MindSeize makes up for it with some cracking Metroidvania-like gameplay. It will test you at times, but the sense of accomplishment outweighs the frustration. Just ignore the story.
MindSeize is available now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed on Switch Lite) and PC.
Developer: Kamina Dimension
Publisher: First Press Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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