Some people just don’t get why and how difficult games can be enjoyable. In an age where hard games come more in the form of Cat Mario and Eryi’s Action (read: intentionally unfair experiences with sudden and unpredictable interactions) and potentially alienating difficulty comes after a need for popular acclaim, trying to explain to an individual why an challenging game is rewarding and enjoyable puts you in the tinfoil hat-wearing camp. Team Meat’s glorious Super Meat Boy broke the mold by creating one of the most challenging 2D platform-puzzlers in years that, paired with its semi-saccharine aesthetics and over-the-top gore, ushered in a new era of acceptance for the challenge.
Enter Fenix Rage. It’s difficult speak of this newest ultra-hardcore platformer without comparing it to Super Meat Boy as it borrows so much of itself from that game, which in turn borrowed from unforgiving platformers of bygone ages. The Costa Rican indie team at Green Lava Studios took a great game and concept, tossed in a touch more humor, some freshly infuriating mechanics and came out with a lovely product. Each level has an optional chocolate-chip cookie in a hard-to-reach spot and a gold star-rewarding time to beat, ratcheting up the difficulty for the brave completionist who feels up to the task. From time to time, players will even find timed portals to somehow even more difficult dimensions.
Fenix Rage starts with the eponymous Fenix’s village being blown to bits by the dark and mysterious Oktarus, who promptly teleports off to who-knows-where. The rest of the game, players embody Fenix in his quest for answers and revenge, fighting through tons of levels in his quest. This is about as fully fleshed out as the plot ever gets; interactions between Fenix and Oktarus are limited to sub-60-second cutscenes, but as this is a game primarily focused on mechanics, pixel-perfect placement and split-second reactions, it’s understandable and completely excusable. The thin thread of plot still provides a backdrop and purpose for Fenix’s hellish journey, and the game even features two possible endings.
The quintessentially important part of a platformer like Fenix Rage is its gameplay, and this game’s is undeniably fun and solid. Dropping players in without any kind of overt tutorial beyond “jump, dash, get the cookie,” it doesn’t take long for the difficulty to ramp up intensely. Players will rapidly find themselves dying dozens and even hundreds of time in their quest for cookies and justice, and it’s the just-in-reach skill floor that makes Fenix Rage wonderfully addictive and engaging.
Players can jump infinitely and rapidly dash from point to point, allowing for creative trap-avoidance and millisecond-precise windows of opportunity. Fenix can catch fire, travel through portals, smash through blocks and more as he progresses. Each world provides new twists on old tricks and entirely new hazards alongside the omnipresent green insta-killing globs. The tight controls and constant stream of new problems to confront keeps the experience interesting and fresh, ensuring that there are new things to keep track of with every new level. Just when a player gets comfortable with a world, a boss appears to truly muck things up.
From a design perspective, the game looks great, but suffers from poor color choice. The world of Fenix Rage has a neat comic book aesthetic and the sun always seems to be setting in the background, casting purple and red hues across the sky. Unfortunately, a chunk of the world tends to be devoted to brightly-colored blocks that actually induce ocular discomfort. In a game that relies heavily on environmental awareness, making the environment difficult to look at isn’t a great move.
Another one of Fenix Rage‘s positives is the awesome soundtrack.. Jose Mora at Green Lava Studios created a chiptune/retro video game music soundtrack and meshed it with rock god-quality overdrive-heavy guitar and synth riffs. It’s catchy, driving and, even outside of the fact that it’s appropriate and nothing short of perfect for the game, makes for some damn fine listening.
Fenix Rage is nothing short of great. It’s a worthy entry into an unfortunately short line of hardcore and enjoyable platformers, with great aesthetics and music backed by solid mechanics. The occasionally difficult to look at environments and relatively thin plot are made up for by addicting, quality gameplay. Did we mention that collecting enough cookies nets you a real-life cookie recipe? That’s right. It even teaches you how to bake some damn good cookies.
Version Reviewed: PC