- Developer: Neopopcorn Corp
- Publisher: Neopopcorn Corp
- Release Date: 19/02/2020
- Price: £11.29 / $14.99
- Review code provided by Neopopcorn Corp
Making a Splash in a Saturated Genre
“What makes this game stand out from the crowd?” That’s always the million-dollar question when I sit down with yet another indie metroidvania game. 3000th Duel is the inaugural creation of Korean publisher Neopopcorn Corp, and it comes out swinging with stunning visuals and a very steep challenge level. Sometimes, though, the “challenge” feels more like a blind struggle.
You awaken in a forest with no memories, and a mask that covers your whole face. As you set out in search of your past, you will battle powerful bosses – some of which are former-humans who played a role in your past before they were corrupted into monsters. Because the bosses are an integral part of the story, the plot never feels like window dressing. (Let’s be honest, that is not a given in the genre.)
There are friendly NPCs along the way, too. The adorable anthropomorphic “Hybrids,” as they’re called, give you tips, while a mysterious hooded figure acts as a merchant. Talking to skeletons will yield helpful hints, as well. One minor problem that broke my immersion was the occasional grammatical error or strange word choice in dialogue bubbles. The copy could have benefited from a native English speaker’s editing.
Your character’s identity remains a mystery till the very end of the game, and it’s an arduous path to that conclusion.
Kicking Butt for Karma
In your quest for answers, you’ll jump, dash, and slash through side-scrolling levels, each presenting unique – and increasingly difficult – enemies and obstacles. There are three weapon categories: slashing weapons, heavy two-handed blades, and lances. Each type has its own merits and feels powerful when used in the right context. For example, a lance may be slow, but it will grant you the greatest forward reach, while a small sword will allow you to hit enemies both above and in front of you in quick arcs.
Destroying baddies yields Karma, and much in the way of the Souls-type games, you will spend those points on leveling up. (It also serves as currency for buying items.) If you die – or in this game’s case, “Burn” – your Karma goes down to zero. The good news is, it can be retrieved by returning to where you died and slashing at a purple orb that will appear there. Beware, though – the Karma orb will gravitate towards you and deal damage! Of course, if you die before reclaiming your Karma, a new orb will appear, and you’ll lose the first one for good.
Just as the character regains their memory, so too do they grow stronger. Leveling up allows you to allocate points towards skill trees, boosting different stats based on which weapon and play style you want to focus on. Among the abilities you can boost is your Mortal Blow, which is a devastating attack that charges up as you land hits. Along the journey, you’ll also find movement-based abilities such as dashing and double-jumping, as well as “Occults,” which are essentially spells with different varying damage types and AOE.
As I progressed, I really felt the impact of the character’s growth. It drives home this feeling that you’re rediscovering who you are… and what you’re capable of.
An Uphill Climb
As with many games in this genre, the maps are all integrated into one, and it’s dotted with portals which warp you to areas you’ve previously visited. The result is a pretty consistent pace, and the ability to backtrack for items that were previously unreachable. The map helpfully marks chests that you haven’t opened, and allows you to place your own markers – a great tool to mitigate the tedium of searching through levels you’ve already cleared.
As I mentioned before, each level presents unique challenges – and so does each room. Some rooms are safe zones where you can save and level up, others are puzzles, but the vast majority are filled with monsters, platforms, and traps. My biggest frustration with 3000th Duel came with the placement of enemies and hazards, which I can only describe as cheap. Imagine the frustration of leaping to a platform, only to be smacked down three floors by an enemy or object which was literally impossible to see above you. Some enemies camp out in strategic spots, so you’ll be forced to either eat some damage or try to avoid them altogether. The only way to survive in this game is to memorize where these ridiculous obstacles are.
The platforming is nothing to write home about – in fact, it has a stiff and slow feeling. Sometimes I felt like there was delayed feedback on button presses. Often, I had to try several times to land on platforms that are meant to be reachable. As a result, many times I’d fall into a pit of spikes – only to find that all the nearby platforms are just barely too high up to reach. (Again, talk about cheap placement!)
Overall, these levels are just plain unforgiving. The enemies may be fun to fight, but they’re often placed in cheap spots, and if that doesn’t kill you, the platforming will. Good luck getting your hard-earned Karma back!
At the end of each level, you’ll reach the boss arena. Before entering, you’ll be treated to a brief respite: there is always a nearby safe room where you can save and spend your Karma. This is most welcome after the aforementioned series of death traps. Plus, this made it incredibly easy to throw myself at bosses over and over – or go back and grind a bit if the fight is too tough. As you reach later bosses, the challenge rises dramatically, and farming for levels will become an inevitability.
These bosses are no joke. Sure, many of them have very simple move sets, but they deal disgusting amounts of damage. With your limited healing ability, it feels like a big game of cat and mouse. In the second phase of each battle, the boss’s eyes glow red, indicating that they are “activated.” In this phase, they’ll usually do the same or similar move set with some minor adjustments. Some bosses will summon monsters during this phase, as well. When you beat them, you’re treated to an epic final slash, a healthy amount of Karma, and yet another welcome opportunity to save.
A Stunning Story
They say never to judge a book by its cover, but I have to admit: the visual design of this game was a big reason that I chose to review it. (It’s no secret that I dislike platforming.) The lighting is impeccable, and the boss designs are something to marvel at. Animations and effects are satisfying and smooth. One unfortunate issue is that in some darker levels, the platforms and the background are so similar in color that I found myself squinting to make sure I could see where I was jumping.
My favorite puzzles in the game are the rare ones which require you to pay attention to the environment – even the background layer. I only wish there were more of these to break up all the hacking and slashing. Oh, and the dying. So much dying.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mention the rich orchestral soundtrack. Each area is as unique visually as it is musically. After a while, though, the music can become repetitive, but hey – at least it’s great quality.
The Truth Hurts
At game’s end, when you learn the dark truth about this mysterious character’s identity, the victory feels nothing if not earned. It’s just a shame that hitting completion involves hours of memorizing levels to avoid the camping enemies, and mastering slow platforming controls which can betray you in vital moments.
If you can look past that, we have a solid new action-platformer on our hands. I thoroughly enjoyed the lore, and the wealth of skill customizations. Not to mention, the graphics never cease to impress, and help this game stand out among other similar titles on the market. After playing through 3000th Duel, I am excited to see what else this developer comes up with – they’re already off to a strong start.
- Outstanding graphics
- Challenging combat
- Many weapon & ability options
- Many camping enemies
- Stiff platforming
3000th Duel stands out among other metroidvanias with its stunning visuals and steep challenge, but suffers from unpolished platforming and ridiculous enemy placement.