Ultros Review – Psychedelics with Substance

9.0 TOTAL SCORE

Ultros Review

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Ultros is an incredible Metroidvania that any fan of the genre owes themselves to try. It has a gorgeous art style and beautiful soundtrack and refuses to compromise the gameplay for the sake of being prettier. It’s an amazing cross-section of Castlevania games and Action games that I cannot get enough of.


Features Rate 9
PROS
  • Incredibly vivid and psychedelic art style that never gets in the way of the gameplay.
  • Wonderfully executed Castlevania-inspired combat and exploration.
  • Beautiful and varied soundtrack that has some of the wildest range I've ever heard.
CONS
  • Technical difficulties on PC, namely frame drops and some strange graphical settings.
  • Progression feels less rewarding or substantial than most other games in the genre.
  • The game is around 8 hours long and left me wanting more, especially regarding collectibles.

About eight months ago, I was watching a PlayStation showcase, and as it were, the rare PlayStation day one indie was shown, this one being a trippy, psychedelic Metroidvania named Ultros. This stood out to me among anything else offered in the presentation, and It was a day one wishlist for me.

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Aside from the incredibly striking art style, it just looked like a Metroidvania that focused more on the Vania than the Metroid, which is much less common than you’d think. On top of that, they have the leading Hotline Miami composer on the soundtrack, so there’s no way this cocktail will turn sour.

In IGC’s review of Ultros, I’ll be going over each aspect of this game and seeing whether it’s an actual passion project that brings together the best of what this (frankly oversaturated) genre has to offer, or deciding it may have been better off as an art project than an actual video game. Let’s dive right into the colorful world of Ultros.

Exploration, Entrapments, and Excitement

This game immediately hooked me with how fluid the movement felt. Your character feels weighty and substantial, but every move flows into another, and it makes for an incredible game feel. – Image by Monica Phillips.

First and foremost, I was a bit wary going into this game, mainly because it’s really easy to screw up a Metroidvania if it doesn’t play very well, and considering I’d been burned by a game in this genre pretty recently, I was a bit worried. Those worries were eased quickly, though, since this game plays almost exactly like Symphony of the Night.

You’ve got a ton of really cool options for combat, and controlling your character feels incredibly responsive. This is backed up by pretty interesting world design that invites you to do certain skips, like dive-kicking a background object to get up on a ledge for a collectible, with your move set only expanding as the game progresses.

You have a skill tree that you progress in by spending stats; these stats are only acquired from food that drops from plants and enemies. The better you are at combat, and the cleaner your kills, the better stats you get. This system encourages you to get better at every aspect of the game, and it’s delicious; plus, getting a perfect kill on a random bug is always excellent.

This game feels like a proper fusion between an early 2000s Castlevania game and an intense combat-focused action game with a ranking system, and it pulls that off incredibly well. This is one of the best-feeling Metroidvanias I’ve ever played, and it’s really impressive how they’ve pulled off the perfect blend of two of the sickest genres of all time. If you’re looking for a fantastic game to scratch that Castlevania itch, this will do it.

Looping in the Abstract

You get presented with the goal that you’ll be chasing the next few hours in the form of Dark Matter from Kirby. Cool! – Image by Monica Phillips.

Now we get to how the game handles progression, and I’ll put a minor spoiler warning here. I’ll discuss something the game doesn’t show off all too much in its marketing, but it’s a crucial game mechanic, so I do feel inclined to talk about it. If you want to go in blind, skip this section. That being said, this game makes use of time loops for its progression, and if a time loop in a genre where getting progressively more powerful is the entire point sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it is.

Some games have pulled this kind of thing off, don’t get me wrong. The two that come to mind are Majora’s Mask and Outer Wilds, with the former letting you keep most items through the loop and the latter not even using items. Ultros, on the other hand, does not do that. The only things you can keep from loops are the seeds you’ve planted and a few optional skills you’ve pinned, with nothing else staying. This time loop mechanic sounds and feels cool for a bit, but it kind of brings the game down, in my opinion.

The fact this game maintains a somewhat open world while keeping with this concept means the progression never feels super satisfying. Sure, you’re getting stronger in combat by progressing in the skill tree, but you never get anything that feels as good as Metroids’ Wave Beam or Hollow Knight’s dash. You’ll get a double jump and a little gimmick with it, like flying or breaking barriers, then be forced to go back to the start, having to retread your entire path to get that upgrade again, which is usually unnecessary and not very interesting. It’s alright, it’s a cool concept, but it could be better.

Belleza Alucinante

This beautiful, ornate room comes packaged with some incredibly stunning music, making for an absolutely delightful sequence that’s still stuck in my head a few days later. – Image from Monica Phillips.

The visuals of Ultros are obviously incredibly stunning; you don’t need me to tell you that. Every bit of it looks beautiful, like it danced off the walls of a Mexican restaurant with the best food you’ve ever had, with incredibly vivid colors, stunning animations, and a few cutscenes being fully animated, bringing the style to life even further. The best part is it doesn’t sacrifice the gameplay for it, having an impeccable balance between beauty and practicality.

All the foreground is drawn in solid black, with everything important standing out super well from the background. Even if the background does feel distracting, the accessibility options provide a slider to turn down the contrast or blur it, so even if you think it can get distracting, you can fix that. My only nitpick is that the font choice can be a little hard to read at times, but there’s also a (much more boring) font available, again through the accessibility options, so there are 0 complaints. This is one of the best visual styles I’ve ever seen.

Harmony’s Haven

This scene reminded me of the SA-X scenes in Metroid Fusion, though it, unfortunately, doesn’t come accompanied with intense horror strings and a sprinkle of childhood trauma. – Image by Monica Phillips.

The music in Ultros is honestly beyond genre or proper definition. It dips into techno, synth-wave, and classical, all weaving into each other and somehow coming together to make something cohesive and beautiful, with some tracks being entirely synthesized. In contrast, others play heavy piano or woodwinds and combine with the incredible visuals to make something so wonderful to experience. It’s no real surprise that the soundtrack is excellent, considering the composer worked on Hotline Miami, but man, is it a delight.

It feels like the soundtrack comes straight out of Hollow Knight at some points, then goes to a track that feels like Spore, further complimented by the sound design, with everything feeling incredibly visceral or guttural, sometimes gross in a good way. Your hits feel super impactful, and it feels like you’re tearing into the flesh of a random ass bug with your big sword, with the sound effect for getting combat done perfectly being the cherry on top of an excellent sundae. This is an absolute treat for the ears, and I loved it.

A Cryptic, Grand Journey

Though the story is usually left completely up to interpretation, every character feels incredibly distinct and unique, with each one being really interesting in their own right. – Image by Monica Phillips.

I’ll be real: the story of Ultros is somehow both nigh incomprehensible, cryptic, Lovecraftian, dystopian fiction, and also an entertaining story that connects you to the characters you interact with. The characters feel more human despite the world surrounding you feeling incredibly alien, with you trying to make your way through as a silent protagonist in a world of mystical entities but still enjoying the company of a humble farmer who doesn’t mind a plant taking a few months to grow.

It’s cool since most indies going for a more cryptic and overpoweringly grand story would opt for entirely silent storytelling; balancing incredibly personable characters and a beautiful, strange world to explore makes the vibes unique. I love all the characters, too. Each one has a distinct personality, and it excites me to interact with them, even if I’m currently grappling with a strange alien environment where god(? (Satan(?))) rebirths everything every so often, using me as a conduit for its return.

Up to Your Devices

Ultros is relatively solid in the technical aspects, but I had some problems while playing it. First of all, there is no windowed fullscreen; I will mention this every time it’s not there because it’s so much better for taking screenshots. Aside from that, I’d occasionally experience odd frame drops when tabbing out of the game and back in, though they seemed to clear up after a minute. There’s nothing game-breaking here, but note that you might run into some issues on PC.

Restart the Loop

You get a defined goal right from the start to defeat these seven dudes represented by doors, and you can tackle them in almost any order, making for a really freeing and replayable game. – Image by Monica Phillips.

Ultros provides a ton of inherent replay value since it gives you a bunch of branching paths you can go down, and you can find a ton of collectibles early. You can have your skill tree set up entirely differently on any run, and it had better be replayable, given what I said in the progression part of this review. It’s excellent, especially if you’re a speedrunner, as are most Metroidvanias.

The best part of this game on a replay is using your knowledge of how these areas work to progress faster, doing little skips with things like the dive kick and wall jump that save a little bit of time, or just getting your collectibles a bit earlier. It’s entertaining to discover new things, go down different paths from how you did before, and try to beat the game as fast as possible, especially since you can know which skills to prioritize on a repeat playthrough. You’re getting your money’s worth with this game.

Alternatives

While I could recommend just about any Metroidvanias here, I’ll go for ones with similarly striking styles and bonus points for some notable Castlevania inspiration. These are all games I think are great if you’re looking for more stuff like Ultros:

  • Hollow Knight is one I’m sure you’re already aware of, being the hit Metroidvania revival from 2017 with a distinct hand-drawn art style, a big focus on combat, and the dreary Castlevania vibe, plus, it has a sequel that’s never coming out.
Discover the Enigmatic World of Hollow Knight | GOG

Immerse yourself in the hauntingly beautiful world of "Hollow Knight," where every step unveils secrets and challenges waiting to be conquered. With its captivating art style and intricate gameplay, embark on an epic journey filled with mystery, danger, and discovery unlike any other.

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  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a Castlevania game, through and through. It was led in development by several of the most prominent people to work on Castlevania, and it’s an actual return to form for anyone who loves Symphony of the Night, and highly recommended.
  • Guacamelee might seem odd among a menagerie of Metroidvanias. Still, it’s one of them, boasting a bombastic hand-drawn and very Spanish art style and a more comedic focus in its writing. It’s a fun take on a Metroidvania, though it’s much less of a trip than Ultros.

The Verdict – 9/10

It’s only been a month and a half, and I can already say Ultros will be in my top 5 games of 2024. It’s an incredible time, constantly feeling absurdly high-quality while never compromising the gameplay and bringing the incredibly novel concept of time loop gameplay to a Metroidvania. It’s excellent, and I had a ton of fun with it all the way through.

Not only does it have one of the most fascinating, gorgeous art styles I’ve seen in a video game, but it also backs that up with a beautiful soundtrack, exciting story, and enjoyable gameplay. If you’re a Castlevania fan looking for something that isn’t the same as every other Castlevania-like game out there or just a fan of the genre, this is your sign that you should go and try Ultros.

It’s up there as one of the best Metroidvanias I’ve played, and even though we’ve been in the Metroidvania Renaissance for like five years, this is around the peak of all of them. It doesn’t have combat that gets as tiring as Hollow Knight, and it doesn’t compromise fun gameplay for its art style as Laika does. Incredibly, this game exists, and you should play it.

Pros

  • Incredibly vivid and psychedelic art style that never gets in the way of the gameplay.
  • Wonderfully executed Castlevania-inspired combat and exploration.
  • Beautiful and varied soundtrack that has some of the wildest range I’ve ever heard.

Cons

  • Technical difficulties on PC, namely frame drops and some strange graphical settings.
  • Progression feels less rewarding or substantial than most other games in the genre.
  • The game is around 8 hours long and left me wanting more, especially regarding collectibles.

Questions and Answers

Question: What is Ultros?

Answer: Beyond the trippy Spanish aesthetic, Ultros is a great Metroidvania with many intense action-combat elements.

Question: How long does it take to beat Ultros?

Answer: Ultros will take around 8 hours on your average playthrough, with a bit of variation since there isn’t too much optional content.

Question: How much is Ultros?

Answer: Ultros is typically $25, but it was launched on sale at $22.

Play Log

I played Ultros for around 8 hours on PC and a bit on Steam Deck, where it works great. I finished the game, not really bothering to get all of the collectibles since they don’t matter, to be honest.

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