In the first 10 minutes of Infernax, I was faced with the choice of killing or sparing someone who asked. I chose to kill them, and without a moment’s hesitation, my character’s mace smashed through their skulls. Their faces were disfigured, with eyes bulging out the sides as the mace destroyed everything between their noses and the hood at the back of their heads. It’s a brutal introduction to the kill or spare choice system that comes up a handful of times in Infernax, and was just a taste of the carnage that would soon color my crusader’s journey to end evil once and for all. defeat.
The fast and beautiful prologue of Infernax is reminiscent of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which seems to be strongly inspired by this game. It plays right after you start a new game, setting what to expect. Infernax is, on the one hand, an homage to those retro games of yesteryear – sometimes a mistake if the punishing difficulty of the NES era isn’t something you enjoy – and another part is Berzerk Studio’s crack in creating something new. For the most part, it skillfully replicates those experiences that defined that era of games.
You start Infernax as a crusader returning to your homeland, but you haven’t lost your crusade drive. Cities like Darsov are overrun with mysterious monsters seemingly controlled by a demon-like figure. Pentagrams and other satanic relics and statues are scattered to remind you that these once sacred lands are now infested by demons and other monstrous creatures. But Alcedor has the power of prayer and a bloody mace at his side. Over the next 10 hours, I would defeat hundreds of monsters, decide the fate of evildoers and the unlucky, complete missions and brutally solve problems, all while trying to track down and destroy five orbs protecting the great demonic villain that haunts the land. Throughout all this I was always intrigued by what was in the next dungeon or what mischievous plan a mysterious citizen was up to. The fight alone was enough to move me forward, but the world Berzerk built was just as interesting.
The game’s Castlevania II inspiration pervades Darsov and neighboring areas, and Berzerk skillfully ups the ante by using troubled citizens like cursed husbands or nightmare-ridden children to revel in the misery that blankets the land. From the beginning, I believed in Berzerk’s story that an evil figure brought dark magic to this otherwise normal and sacred place, and not once did it fail to sell that premise.
Infernax includes some light Metroid and Castlevania-esque elements that bring new life, entrances and secrets to places you’ve explored dozens of times. A previously unreachable house is a quick jump away after you gain an ability that takes you high into the air. You can buy a spell that makes teleporting from one shrine to another a breeze, and you can buy another that can hold the key to discovering a sunken castle. In addition to more subtle world changes like this, a constant day-and-night cycle keeps you on your toes. There are more enemies during the day, but they are easier to kill than the battle-hardened enemies that only appear at night.
I started Infernax with a simple weapon, but soon learned the Shield spell, which has saved my life more than once by reducing the amount of damage I would take. When the credits rolled, I had multiple weapons, armor, potion bottles, and over half a dozen spells at my disposal. I found many of these indispensable, such as a potion that restored my mana, allowing me to re-cast my Drain Life spell. This spell sucks health from nearby enemies to restore mine, and it was essential to reach the deepest depths of Infernax’s many dungeons. It was great to see my arsenal grow, but I was disappointed that weapons and armor didn’t change my approach to combat in any way. When I bought a new mace it felt exactly the same as the one I was using before – it just hits harder. When I first fired up Infernax and saw that I had four weapon slots, I was excited to see how different weapons could shake up the action. Unfortunately, combat doesn’t evolve much over the course of the game, other than spells, which greatly affect your approach to combat.
I mainly used spells that boosted my health and bolstered my defenses, but more offensive magic, such as the ability to imbue my weapon with holy light that can be thrown at enemies from a distance, got grabbed more than a few times.
Some spells help with exploration, although I wish Infernax was communicated more clearly when you need a spell to get through certain areas. For example, you unlock an ability that allows your hero to shoot high into the air. Shortly after, you’ll unlock an ability that allows you to run left or right through the air. More than once I came across an opening that looked like I had to run fast to the right and then immediately shoot up with these two skills. However, I could never perform this maneuver. Instead, I missed a spell that summons a crow that can fly to a lever that reveals a bridge. I loved this spell and how it contributed to my ability to move forward. Unfortunately, Infernax doesn’t always clearly state what skills you need to get past certain obstacles, leading to a few of these moments of frustration.
Such annoyances are minor nitpickers, though, because during my 10 hours with Infernax, less than an hour was spent troubleshooting issues like this. A few dungeon layouts are frustrating, and if you lose all of your lives, you’re instantly sent back to your last save. This meant that I had to constantly remember to save at the shrine just outside the dungeon before actually going inside. Luckily, Infernax’s difficulty feels decent, and I almost always felt like it was my fault that I died and not some element I couldn’t control.
Playing in classic mode will send you back to your last save point when you’ve used up your entire life. Since saving is only done manually, a few mistakes can cost you an hour of progress if you don’t save for an hour. Of course, you can disable classic at any time to play in casual mode, which will save some of your money and experience when you get to game over. I stayed with Classic my entire trip, even with the annoying progress resets. I appreciated that Casual mode was a bit more accessible, but unfortunately once you switch to Casual you can’t switch back to Classic, which is a shame because for the most part I enjoyed the challenge of Classic.
My time with Infernax was colored by wonderful “ahh ha!” moments of discovery, a challenging gameplay loop, unique bosses and lots of beautiful 8-bit blood and guts. I just hope a sequel (which I’d love to see happen) clears up and tweaks some of the minor frustrations that tainted these otherwise fun and retro romps.
From the moment you enter these demon-infested lands to the moment you deal the death blow to the final boss of the game, you will experience many surprises – the Konami code, for example, does something really cool. Infernax’s retro soundtrack that rips from start to finish, beautiful art, challenging gameplay, and a fun Castlevania-inspired design make it worth the price of admission.
This review is for the Switch version of Infernax. The game is also available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.