About 20 minutes into Infernax, I made the mistake of thinking it didn’t seem too difficult. Dare I say – it even felt easy? Skip forward another 20 minutes, and I was cursing my hubris – Infernax, as it turns out, does not fuck around.
I probably should have saw this one coming. Within a minute of your character – beleaguered crusader Alcedor – arriving by boat, you witness a crucified body struck by lightning and fall from its cross, only to return as a shambling zombie. That’s followed shortly by a screaming, contorted peasant that begs you to kill him. You’re given the option to ‘Slay’ or ‘Pray’ this unfortunate character’s woes away, and – perhaps unfortunately – I chose to give prayer a shot. It didn’t work – the character continued to contort and metamorphosed into a bulbous, screaming horror of skulls and exposed organs. Fine – slay it is.
The boss that really drove home Infernax’s challenge came a little later, but it was no less grotesque. Within a looming castle keep that screamed Castlevania (as with the rest of Infernax) I’d finally made it past countless traps and axe-throwing skeletons, only to arrive at a room laden with the telltale signs of a boss arena.
I was right. A shambling crab-eyeball-man hybrid showed up, with the monstrosity repeatedly made short work of me with that classic boxing one-two: spewing flames and birthing flying eyeballs out of its maw-stomach. You’re fairly fragile in Infernax, so I’m glad that Berzerk Studio has done a good job of signalling attacks – like a good driver, bosses will give you a fairly clear indicator on what they’re going to do next. Moving in time to respond to each attack is another matter entirely, and several misreads from me resulted in some gory deaths for poor Alcedor. Sorry, mate.
As well as some fantastic monster design – seriously, each creature is repulsively interesting to look at – Infernax takes absolute, unabashed pleasure in watching you die. Every repulsive baddie in the game has its own unique kill animation, and most of these result in Alcedor’s mortal remains being flung across the screen with careless abandon – sometimes in different directions at once. In the first dungeon alone I watched myself stabbed, decapitated, crushed, filled to (literal) bursting with fireballs, and showered down in meaty chunks from the ceiling. Infernax’s bathes in the blood-soaked Christian imagery of Castlevania and then takes things several indulgently gory steps further.
My only gripe with Infernax was that it has some very, very awkward controls. The opening screen does warn you that a controller is highly recommended, but being between controllers at the moment, I was stuck with my keyboard. I got used to it eventually and it feels like that layout has been deliberately chosen for the retro feel, but there was nothing retro about my hand cramping up every five minutes.
I was happy to ignore that though, because one, it went away quickly, and two – I felt a bit ashamed to complain about pain in front of Alcedor, a man who has repeatedly had his insides painted across every pixel in existence. If it’s any consolation to the knight – at least it always looks cool.