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Aggelos

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: PQube
Developer: Storybird Games
Release Date: June 19, 2018

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PC Review - 'Aggelos'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 15, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Aggelos is a new, retro-styled 16-bit era 2D action/adventure RPG.

Due to the enormous popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System, few players in North America have had a chance to play the Wonder Boy series of games back when they were originally released. For owners of the Sega Master System and areas where that console was more popular, the series was a standard action platformer that included light RPG elements and had you going back and forth between areas multiple times. At the time, critics loved it, and it's now clear that the series was an influential part of some developers' childhoods. This is where Aggelos fits in; it's a PC game that mimics the original well and offers a fun experience.

In Aggelos, you play the role of a nameless knight who's in search of adventure. You immediately find it when you see a princess running toward you and a monster chasing her. You vanquish the foe and are immediately tasked with seeking out the king. It turns out the princess had just escaped from the clutches of an evil being that's hunting down the four elemental keys to open a parallel dimension where darkness rules. As the prophesied hero, it's up to you to get the keys back and prevent the opening of the doorway to the dark dimension.


The game takes away several mechanics from the Wonder Boy series, which serves as its inspiration. Your character has a decent sword attack that's limited to just left and right, but you earn a downward sword stab later on. You also earn quite a few powers that the game utilizes heavily in both the level design and boss fights. Coins are extremely valuable, as that's how you earn almost everything in the world. The game sports a light inventory system where you can store potions or change out your sword and armor, but you can't sell off your old equipment even though there's no penalty for keeping it. Killing enemies gives you XP, but that's also pretty limited since you can only power-up your overall health and defense, both of which are done automatically with no chance of allocating the points you want to spend in each category.

About the only distinct thing in Aggelos are the powers you eventually obtain as you traverse the game world. Some of the new abilities are pretty commonplace, like the ability to shoot a fireball or dash on the ground or in the air. Others are more interesting, like crafting an air bubble so you can swim underwater or transform otherwise unkillable enemies into platforms. Those same abilities also come with secondary powers and sometimes tertiary ones. For example, the same bubble you can use to swim underwater also lets you float when using it on the ground. It also lets you explode the bubble for a burst of damage all around and protects you from some damage when hit.

The mix of the new powers and classic game mechanics comes together to form a very well-done game. There are plenty of alternate paths to entice you to return to every area you've visited when you gain new powers. The puzzles you encounter are tricky, but it's satisfying to find the solution. The combat is solid, and boss fights are more exciting since you're forced to use all of your powers to fight off each one, so the encounters feel like more than button-mashing beatdowns. Everything feels right, with an attention to classic mechanics that don't fall prey to some of the conveniences that newer games use, even in the quest to stay retro.


With that said, there are some old-school mechanics that might not resonate well with those who haven't grown up with them. Leaving a screen and returning later results in a complete respawn of all enemies. That can be an annoyance if you just cleared a room full of tough enemies but have to fight them again if you double back. At the same time, that feature isn't so bad if you're aiming to farm for some coins and XP. The other thing people will have to contend with is the lack of a minimap, let alone a basic one that gives you an idea of the areas that you have and haven't visited. There's a map you can pull up in the game, but it feels worthless since it's simply a static screen without any context-sensitive information. Granted, the world isn't particularly large, so you can make your way through without guidance, but for those weaned on most of the more current Metroidvania-style games or those who are bad with directions, the game becomes much more difficult.

Although the game is scheduled to hit the Nintendo Switch soon, it's currently only on the PC, and that makes some of the game options kind of perplexing. In particular, the option to change screen configurations is anything but intuitive, as each option is only listed out by letter. There's no description given for each letter, and with some of them showing a screen that has no noticeable differences, the option can feel pointless for many. The controller options are also pretty bad, as they go with the classic button number listing as opposed to a more modern XInput one. The game controls fine by default, so basic functionality works, but it'll take a bit of trial and error to remember what the other face buttons do. For classic enthusiasts, they'll also lament that movement is only done via the analog stick and not the trusty d-pad.


The presentation is more akin to a TurboGrafx-16 title as opposed to a straight 8- or 16-bit one. The chiptune soundtrack backs up that assumption, as the sound is more robust than the NES but not as meaty as a typical Sega Genesis offering. All of the tracks are done well and evoke some good memories of those bygone days, but the limited selection is noticeable even though it loops well. Meanwhile, the graphics are awesome and feature some good use of bold colors, but what's more impressive are the large character sprites. It isn't just relegated to bosses, as some of the normal foes are quite sizeable, but their movement and facial expressions look amazing.

Aggelos works great as both a homage to the source material and as a game on its own merit. The faithful reproduction of the Wonder Boy style still holds up today, and while the new powers don't significantly change things for the better, they don't detract from the game, either. The gameplay is solid, and the gameplay length comes in at a good running time, so you'll get your money's worth from the experience even before you set out to play it again on Hard mode. With a great presentation backing up the entire experience, Aggelos is a great title for classic adventure platformer fans.

Score: 8.0/10


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