The three games in the “Diabolical Mind Trilogy” are all broadly similar from a structural perspective, but the thing that makes them stand out from one another is the core mechanics on which they are based. For example, while Riddled Corpses was based on a linear, learnable twin-stick shooter formula, its spiritual successor Xenon Valkyrie instead adopts a procedurally generated platformer approach. The result is a game that feels markedly different, yet which is still also clearly part of the same opus of works — and testament to Diabolical Mind’s commitment to producing excellent, aesthetically consistent titles.
In Xenon Valkyrie, you take on the role of one of three playable characters and are tasked with battling your way into the depths of a moon to thwart the plans of an evil witch. Like most games of this type, there’s not a lot of emphasis on the plot, though there clearly has been a certain amount of effort made with lore — it just doesn’t really matter to the moment-to-moment gameplay. And that’s fine, because I suspect most people coming to a game like this are more in it for the mechanics and challenge factor than the plot.
Xenon Valkyrie eschews the fashionable “roguelite Metroidvania” approach to procedurally generated platformers in favour of something a little more akin to titles like Spelunky. It has discrete stages with clear start and finish points, and these are collected together into worlds, with a boss to defeat after two regular stages in a world. Each world has its own distinct aesthetic, plus its own lineup of enemies to deal with, and there’s plenty to discover as you gradually work your way through the game.
And it will be gradual, because Xenon Valkyrie is hard. Again, this is nothing unusual for the genre, but you should be prepared for it if you’re not a veteran of this type of game. Expect to get to know the first world very well while you’re starting out, because you’re very likely to die before even reaching the first boss — and then you’re quite likely to die once you reach the boss before you figure out its mechanics.
It’s classic die-and-retry gameplay, in other words, but the game is structured in such a way that a single run is pretty quick, with most individual stages taking just a couple of minutes at most. You can take a little longer if you’re thorough — and it’s worth doing so for the sake of gaining additional experience levels — but for the most part, if you’re confident in your own skills, you can romp through the stages quite quickly once you get a good feel for the controls.
Said controls are responsive and satisfying. As well as the usual running and jumping, your characters can repeatedly wall-jump up vertical surfaces in order to “climb” them, allowing for access to areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. The terrain can also be destroyed using explosive weapons (or enemies!) and you’ll want to make good use of this to reach as much treasure as possible.
Your character is equipped with both a melee weapon and a gun. The latter has limited ammunition, so should generally be saved for special occasions, and indeed is often disabled completely in boss encounters. New melee weapons can be acquired by discovering large chests in the levels; the pool of available weapons that appear in these chests can be upgraded as you progress through the game by acquiring a special currency named “Teamerite”, generally found from defeating bosses and making progress.
Within a single run, you’ll acquire “cells” and experience points. Experience contributes to a character level, which converts into talent points that can be spent between individual stages. These allow you to upgrade basic stats such as hit points, attack power and defence power. Cells, meanwhile, can be spent in a shop that appears between levels, though the three items available for purchase are determined randomly, so you can’t necessarily count on there being something useful to your situation.
There are also other bonuses that can be attained between levels, too; for example, clearing a stage without taking a hit (and thus keeping your shield intact) will reward you with an item that confers some sort of passive buff, and once you get to a point where you can reliably make progress through the game, a character who appears between each stage will request that you invest an increasing amount of cells in their mystery project. Once you beat a boss, you can also unlock a teleporter to take you straight to a later world if you have the appropriate resources on hand to do so.
Outside of the weapon and teleporter unlocks, there is no persistent progression in Xenon Valkyrie, giving the game a strong focus on player skill rather than attempting to grind your way up to a point where you can brute-force your way through. This is, of course, something of a matter of taste, because it does mean that some players will eventually hit a roadblock and feel like they are unable to progress beyond a certain point — but it does also make that progress feel all the more valuable when you do achieve it.
In this sense, Xenon Valkyrie can be described as being a tad less accessible and friendly than Riddled Corpses, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As noted, it’s very rewarding to make substantial progress in Xenon Valkyrie, and the short runs make trying again something of a compulsive, addictive matter. There’s also the inherent satisfaction in knowing that when you beat a stage — or indeed the game as a whole — you’ve done it because of your own skills, not simply because you played the game long enough to make it easier.
All in all, I’d probably say that Xenon Valkyrie likely has a somewhat narrower audience than Riddled Corpses as a result — though it’s also worth noting that its excellent pixel art and chiptunes are just as appealing as its spiritual precursor. It really is an absolutely beautiful game to look at and listen to — and if that’s the sort of thing you like in your games, then you might not mind that it puts up one hell of a fight!
Whatever your feelings on the overall difficulty of the game as a whole, it’s hard to deny that Xenon Valkyrie is further evidence that Diabolical Mind makes excellent games — and, once again, it’s worth tipping our collective hats to Brok the InvestiGator developer Fabrice Breton of Cowcat Games for making the console releases of Xenon Valkyrie (redubbed Xenon Valkyrie+) the definitive way to experience the game.
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