‘Infernax’ review: a masochistic ‘Castlevania’ that’s hard to put down

Konami, take notes

Infernax, like any game that relishes in challenge, is great to review. Partly because succeeding against overwhelming odds can be supremely satisfying, but mostly just because you get to really go to town on a thesaurus. With Infernax, I’ll admit, this took me to uncharted levels. In the very first dungeon, I’m pretty sure a skeleton degloved me. Along the course of my time with Infernax, I also fell victim to dissection, dismemberment and decapitation – and those are just the D’s

I’ll admit, the difficulty in the first hour or so of Infernax didn’t really click with me. Although most enemies will die in a couple of hits, you’re similarly fragile – you’ll only be able to handle a couple stray spears or airborne axes before facing a silhouetted cutscene depicting your violent demise.

That’s all well and good but in the early moments of Infernax, the challenge – like the game itself – is rather 2D. Nearly every enemy has a simple pattern: block once, get one or two swings in, block again, kill, move on. Before you start accessing your upgrades, tougher enemies with higher health don’t really add much in the way of challenge, they just drag out the same rhythm of hit, dodge, repeat, albeit in a more tedious manner.

Infernax. Credit: Berzerk Studio.
Infernax. Credit: Berzerk Studio.

By the time you’ve beaten your first dungeon in the game, Infernax shirks off this repetitiveness. When you start purchasing upgrades to your health, momentarily brushing the wrong hitbox becomes a little bit less of a disaster. Spending XP on more damage means you can club those tedious fights to death a bit quicker, and getting your hands on magic sprinkles up your journey significantly.

With that, Infernax really gets rolling. The first stage of your quest is to visit five castles (dungeons) across the world, to break open a fortress that’s magically sealed with the international symbol for evil: a spooky pentagram. These castles are tougher than anything you’ll find in the overworld, but they’re the perfect length – not overly long, so they feel like nice little shots of streamlined challenge. The castles themselves are like fucked up episodes of Grand Designs: you’ll find yourself contouring past platforming segments filled with lava pits and brutalist traps, all the while trying to cut through hordes of undead foes who aren’t thrilled about you jumping around their house. I might have had a bumpy time with the first castle, but by the second, I was thoroughly engaged.

The architects of these gothic castles may have had questionable motives when they filled them with spikes and zombies, but at least they wore their influences on their sleeves. Infernax eats, breathes and bleeds Castlevania. Skeletons and demons – all designed to look intriguingly grotesque – roam candlelit stone hallways, and even the overworld, an unsettlingly warped visage of medieval life, is heartily decorated with rows of impaled corpses.

Infernax. Credit: Berzerk Studio
Infernax. Credit: Berzerk Studio

As well as its dark Christian overtones, Infernax shares one more crucial thing with Castlevania: an absolutely banging soundtrack. The world might be a dangerous place, but stomping around the overworld to the tune of a thumping arcade score makes you feel like you’re perfectly capable of handling any problem in the game with a flurry of mace swings. Not all of that imbued confidence is necessarily true mind you, but half the time you’re so amped-up on music that you won’t notice that until you’re watching yourself picked apart in yet another death cutscene.

Though Infernax is very helpful with explaining where to take your quest, it’s also perfectly happy to just sit back and give you reasons to explore. Visiting the few friendly faces around the game will give you quests to return to areas you’ve already been to, and there are some deviously fun mini-bosses tucked away in these side quests. In helping a reluctant soldier fix up his barn so that he could return home, I spent a few hectic minutes trying to club a teleporting necromancer to death before his ever-growing horde of zombies became too much for me.

In true Metroidvania fashion you’ll sometimes come up against progression blockers when you’re out exploring – impossibly high walls, or frustratingly fragile-looking walls are aplenty- that can’t be jumped or smashed until a bit later on. I’ve always found these spots to be powerful motivators, the prospect of a mysterious new upgrade being strangely more enticing than whatever unexplored worlds lie beyond. Infernax was no different – running into one of these hurdles stoked my desire to progress the main quest, and when I unlocked the ability to smash rocks in the second castle, my mind was already racing out the door toward obstacles I knew I could now pass.

Infernax. Credit: Berzerk Studio.
Infernax. Credit: Berzerk Studio.

I don’t know if there was an exact moment where Infernax clicked for me, but at some point – around the time it started opening the world up – I realised I’d become surprisingly enamoured with the game. I was constantly checking back in with characters to see if my virtuous deeds had unlocked more quests to take on and I’d turned the map into a demented game of Pong, as I constantly bounced between every end of the world in search of unexplored areas.

Infernax can take a bit of time to warm up, but those early frustrations seem like small bumps in the road when they’re back in the rearview mirror. If you’ve got an itch for a tough platformer or you’re simply looking for a fun challenge, Infernax is your game: just expect things to get bloody, fast.

Infernax launches on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on February 14. We played on PC. 

The Verdict

Infernax is a compelling arcade game that gives Castlevania more love than Konami has in a long time. Full to the brim with disgustingly good monster design and tricky platformer dungeons, you’ll die a lot in Infernax – but there’s plenty of reason to keep getting back up.

Pros

  • The art design – from the world itself to the undead that inhabit it – is fantastic
  • Side quests and a day/night cycle makes wandering the overworld a compelling affair
  • Lots of options to decide your morality changes your game in interesting ways
  • A flawless soundtrack that gets the adrenaline pumping

Cons

  • The opening segments suffer from simplicity
  • Some of the enemies and fights can be a little repetitive
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