Recently we are seeing a trend where game developers are choosing to forego flashy graphics and realistic textures in favor of a more retro style of game design. Focusing more on the gameplay itself and relying on the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks. For someone who grew up with an Atari 2600 and purchased his very own Nintendo Entertainment System with money, he had saved up all summer for, it’s an interesting dynamic to say the least. Back in those days’ imagination was required because the processing power was simply not there to mimic realistic looking graphics, the irony being with all the processing power we have today, some of the best (and most highly rated games) are ones that fall back on the simple premise of quality gameplay over a flashy coat of paint.
Archvale, by Humble Games, fits perfectly within this category. A bullet hell/RPG game that clearly takes its inspiration from the original NES classic RPG Legend of Zelda and mashes it together with a twin-stick shooter element reminiscent of games like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. Add the never-ending projectiles of a bullet hell game and you are in for a frantic yet satisfying experience.
The story is ironically one of its weaker elements considering it bills itself as a role-playing game. You are an adventurer who travels the land, exploring dungeons and destroying bosses in order to vanquish the world of the Undying. Along the way you gather ore, to craft additional armor and weapons, gold to purchase items and Mega Plums to increase the amount of healing your potions provide.
Luckily there are plenty of weapons (and weapon upgrades) to assist you on your journey. Weapons range from melee (which have a limited range but do exceptional damage), to numerous types of ranged weapons, both magical and traditional, that offer further range but minimal damage. Each enemy you encounter will spew projectiles consistently, filling up the screen and even passing through solid objects. An adventurer who stands in any one place for too long is an adventurer who will die quickly. In fact, dying in this game is a guarantee, but thankfully there are numerous fountains and villages spread across the map that act as both save points, and fill your potions and health. Much like the soul’s series, every time you click on one of these save points, all enemies will respawn, so choose your saves wisely.
Archvale doesn’t hold the player’s hand or restrict where the players can go. Typically, you know you’re in an area that is too advanced for your character when you find yourself dying…a lot more than you’d expect. The game does an incredible job of gradually increasing your defense and upgrades as long as you don’t attempt to go into an area that is too difficult for your acquired experience. That’s not to say you have to follow the path in a linear fashion, it just makes the road that much more difficult. As one would expect from these types of games, each enemy has a distinct pattern (the bosses as well), so learning the pattern, understanding how to dodge it, and ensuring you are utilizing the best weapons are keys for survival in Archvale.
On my high-end system (AMD 5950X and Nvidia RTX 3090) frame rates were not an issue at all, regardless of how much filled up the screen. In fact, even in the biggest battles, my FPS never dropped below 120 FPS. While I can’t vouch for lower-end systems, I can’t see any reason why this wouldn’t be a smooth 60 FPS+ regardless of the hardware you are driving. It certainly shouldn’t tax any system which is critical in a game such as this. Archvale does offer a couch co-op experience if you are looking to enjoy some frenzied action adventure with a friend.
I’ll be honest, when I booted up Archvale I didn’t expect the game to grab me the way it did. As I previously stated, I grew up when “retro” games were simply “new games”, so outside of the nostalgia factor, I am not always drawn into games with this sort of aesthetic. Rarely do even new games get me out of bed in the middle of the night to play for (just another hour), so the draw of Archvale simply shouldn’t be ignored. I found myself having far more fun than I expected, and similar to 4X type strategy games, I found myself saying “I’ll just clear out one more area before I go”. Archvale isn’t a perfect experience, I wish there was more of an RPG element to the game and feel that the story was not exactly engaging. However, the tight controls and frantic gameplay were what continued to draw me back time and time again. The generous save points, the gradual difficulty increase (assuming you explore every square), and overall gameplay that never feels cheap will keep you coming back for more.
One thing I should mention is that on my review copy I was unable to play the game with Windows 11. Every time I would boot up the game it would go to a white screen and crash. I have not had the opportunity to see if this has been fixed in the release copy (or whether there was a workaround) and it may have been specific to my hardware. That being said, if you are running Windows 11 (which I know most of the gaming community is not) then I’d recommend searching the web to see if a fix has been released (or if others have encountered the same issue).
What I liked: Fun Gameplay, Easy to drop in and drop out, Generous Savepoints
What I liked less: A bit more story, More interesting encounters, Wouldn’t work with Windows 11 at release
4 out of 5 stars