Indie Game Radar: Environmental Station Alpha

I think I’ve stumbled upon another indie game that’s of higher quality than its current level of visibility justifies. Only a handful of well-known gaming sites have mentioned it, it’s supposed to be out this year, and already has a demo available.

This time it’s Environmental Station Alpha. It’s a Metroidvania that’s been in development for a few years. I could best describe it by calling it “Super Metroid with Game Boy Color graphics.” The demo along with the most recent trailer make ESA seem like it’s shaping up to be one of the best designed Metroid homages in recent memory.

Basically, ESA knows well how to balance and pace its difficulty and level design. The demo contains a few abilities for you to find and even some health upgrades that are pretty well hidden. It immediately starts showing you path splits and unreachable places you return to with the new abilities. The main one in particular as far as the demo is concerned is a hookshot which ESA get’s great use out of shockingly quickly given the brevity of this demo (I finished it in 20 minutes, with some difficulty).

The hookshot let’s you swing on most ceilings Spider-Man style, but ESA almost immediately teaches and forces you to use it to swing on top of platforms or carefully time combinations of jumps and swings. The demo also quickly puts some ingenious design to its other obstacles and gimmicks, showing that the developers have some real level design talent. The boss that caps off the demo is a classic pattern-based challenge that took me around four attempts.

What might look odd to some people however is ESA’s choice of style for its pixel graphics. I said “with Game Boy Color graphics” above because ESA seems to have been designed around that system’s resolution. That might look great if you were actually playing it on a Game Boy Color screen or at least a 3DS screen. It’s a PC game though, and on monitors with today’s pixel density the game’s natural resolution is ridiculously tiny, even smaller than the screenshots at the website. You can blow the demo up to X4 and turn on fullscreen, but that just makes the pixels look really big. Otherwise it does scale up nicely though. As a result however, the character sprites are surprisingly small and low-detail.

Given that, I think ESA’s environments look really good. Mostly due to its art direction, which also follows Super Metroid quite closely in terms of color use and backgrounds. Despite being set in a small are, the demo actually contains a few distinct environments. The music is also surprisingly good, nailing a sort of soft feeling.

Hopefully, ESA doesn’t get pushed back and actually launches this year. I’d like to avoid more disappointments after Hypter Light DrifterChasmHotline Miami 2, and Stasis all got delayed.


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