Ultros Impression – What A Waste Of A Loop

Ultros, the 2D metroidvania from developer Hadoque and publisher Kepler Interactive, is a game that immediately spoke to me when it was revealed at a State of Play last year. How could it not, with the extremely colorful psychedelic visuals that create a space that’s entirely otherworldy, art directed by El Huervo (Niklas Åkerblad), the man who’s most famous for creating the incredible cover art for Hotline Miami 1 (2012) and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2015). Add onto that the dreamy ambient score that plays over those breathtaking images, and you got me hyped. Imagine my disappointment when, less than an hour into the game, I have to painfully admit to myself that one of the most fundamental aspects of Ultros’ design simply doesn’t work. I’m now part way through Ultros, here is my impression of the game so far.

It starts like many other metroidvanias do. You wake up and have no idea where you are, how you got there, or why you’re there. So you start moving around, quickly finding a sword and some enemies to kill, and explore the environment, slowly figuring out what your first goal is. A bit later, you get your first movement upgrade, the double jump, and even a bit after that, you defeat your first boss. So far, so good. I mean, Ultros doesn’t play amazingly; jumping and attacking don’t feel as smooth and precise as they should. It’s nothing too bad. And the presentation more than makes for it anyway. But then I destroy the first pod, of which you have to destroy seven, and as it turns out, every time you destroy one of them, you get reset back to the beginning.

This is where you wake up, and what a beautiful first impression

You wake up again, in the same place as before, without your sword or double jump. Ultros is a time loop game, and every time you destroy one of those pods, which I would estimate happens around every 40 minutes, you are stripped of all your abilities and get respawned at the beginning. You then have to make your way to a specific spot on the map to get your abilities back, and only then can you progress properly again. So every time you achieve a milestone in the game, you are reset and have to spend the next 15 minutes or so getting back to where you were again. Without any of your abilities.

This just feels so counterintuitive to what’s fun about a metroidvania. The best part about these kinds of games is that you gain more and more options to deal with your environment. And in doing so, those games get progressively more fun with every new ability you get. In Ultros, any time you get your abilities back, and usually shortly after getting a new one, the game strips them away again before you can get in the flow of using them. You spend almost half the game, if not half of it, to be honest, without any of your abilities. It’s so tedious and almost makes you want to actively avoid completing your tasks, because when you do, you know there’s about to be another tedious section without any mobility coming up.

I don’t want to!

I want to like Ultros, and I’m just waiting for the moment where a huge twist reveals why this all makes sense and becomes a satisfying experience. But at this point, with four of the seven pods down, I seriously question this design decision. I quite frankly do not understand, and it undermines any fun that could be had with the game if it simply let you progress steadily instead of putting annoying and entirely unnecessary roadblocks—the same roadblock every time as well—in your way.

Nairon played Ultros on PC with a review copy.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments