There are a lot of ways to stand out. Some games try unique gameplay concepts, other experiences have an engrossing narrative, and games like Ultros look fascinating. Psychedelic images, and bold colors tantalize the senses in such a way it’s almost impossible to ignore. Given this powerful hook, will the final experience keep players interested, or is it better to just gaze at it from afar?
Ultros is rather unique compared to other Metroidvania games. Not only are paths inaccessible without one upgrade, or another, players are stuck in something of a time loop. Unlike a traditional time loop where everything repeats, each subsequent attempt retains elements of previous runs.
For example, there are items that allow players to retain specific upgrades when looping, along with defeated bosses permanently dying. It has some charm, though it doesn’t take long for the concept to wear thin.
A considerable amount of time is devoted to simply recollecting gear. First players wake, then there is a sword a couple rooms later, following that is a path leading to the device that enables things like double jumping, and then a new route can be explored. Ultros tries to shake up later runs by forcing players to explore new areas, or different interactions, but the core gameplay loop has more repetition than expected from this genre.
Part of what makes things drag is the general lack of narrative. Simply progressing will give a bunch of scenes that tease answers to this fascinating world, though anyone who truly wants to understand it all will need to explore every nook and cranny looking for memories. I prefer this to pointless collectibles, though it’s unfortunate your understanding is directly tied to how much exploration you do.
Some of these collectibles simply require the right tools to obtain, whereas other items rely on planting/time. This is a rather unusual concept that feeds into the whole loop idea. Instead of relying on secrets that require clever use of powers, players need to obtain seeds that can be used to create a wide variety of plant life.
So Much to See
These slowly grow across various loops, each offering distinct benefits. Some will enable certain moves, others give more food that can be used to unlock upgrades, or just add more nodes needed to create a network. It’s a cool system that is honestly held back by the core concept.
Often times I found myself either unsure which seed to use, or with a finite number of options. There is no real negative to using the wrong seed beyond losing progress, it just gets tiring going to the same places to get new seeds, to plant the right thing, in hopes long term you’ll break the loop.
What a Friendly Looking Fellow
While doing this players will also have to defeat a small number of foes. Despite having a rather simple combat system, it feels unsatisfying and clunky. The core idea is simple. Attack enemies, dodge roll through their attack, ending with a counter attack. Where it falls behind is dodge roll is useless when not properly timed.
Doing it too early will result in damage taken, as will doing it too late. Thankfully, Ultros is not a punishing game, so there is no real negative to failing. At most you fall a couple minutes behind.
Puzzles are also on the simpler side. More often than not the hardest part is figuring out where to go next, over how to get there. Most puzzles were solved by looking for the next place you might go, or by just looking at the map. That isn’t to say there aren’t a few challenging sections, even if most of the challenge is related to planting, just most things are fairly straightforward.
Negativity side, I can’t help but love the graphics. Even at Ultros‘ worst I found the vibrant world impossible to ignore. Every area, location, enemy, and even item leaves a distinct impression. It’s so well crafted it really elevates the overall experience.
Ultros Review Verdict
Ultros: It might be corny to say, but I look at Ultros as more of an experience. All the weak parts start to fade away as new locations appear, mysteries are uncovered, and a new location offers a fascinating new thing to see. Sure, it would be nice if some of the weaker points were more refined, but at the end of the day it's a 10 or so hour experience that will likely stand out for quite a while. – Grant
Editor’s Note: Ultros was reviewed on PlayStation 5, and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.