Aug 03, 2023
ULTROS Is Like A Shroomy Hollow Knight... With Gardening
Going hands-on at Gamescom with one of the weirdest games of the year. I'm a sucker for a Metroidvania. Although there's definitely market saturation these days, some of my all-time favourite games
Going hands-on at Gamescom with one of the weirdest games of the year.
I'm a sucker for a Metroidvania. Although there's definitely market saturation these days, some of my all-time favourite games come from the genre. Alongside my adulation for the OG 2D Metroid games, the likes of Hollow Knight, Dead Cells and Steamworld Dig 2 count among my all-time faves.
So, despite not knowing a great deal about it, I couldn't say no when I was offered the opportunity to play ULTROS, "a psychedelic Metroidvania where you wake up stranded on a cosmic uterus holding an ancient, demonic being," at Gamescom this year.
And man, the developers really weren't underselling it when they called the game "psychedelic." In ULTROS, you spend a fair bit of time tending to an ecosystem, and the world is built with this in mind. Luscious environments filled with flora and hostile alien fauna make up the section of The Sarcophagus that I played, however everything had a very distinctive kaleidoscopic feel. It reminded me of going through Hollow Knight's Greenpath area after having taken a couple of droplets of LSD on my tongue.
Related: 12 Best Metroidvania Games Ever Made, Ranked
The protagonist Ouji's neon green visor, half-melted spacesuit and her bright purple trainers encapsulate this vibrant vibe perfectly.
ULTROS' sound design was also excellent. The developers forwent the usual sci-fi sounds generated by synthesizers and instead opted to orchestrate the game's soundtrack with a strong string instrument presence. Additional environmental cues were recorded in Peru and the Amazon, and that attention to detail has really paid dividends.
The combat of ULTROS is as satisfying as I'd hope for in a game like this. While not nearly as difficult, there's an almost Soulsy feel to things, as you're required to study and learn enemy's attacks, dodge them and then retaliate on the counter, something for which you are rewarded (and which I'll touch on later).
Alongside finding items designed to help you access new locations, the game has a fully developed skill tree. While 30 minutes is barely going to scratch the surface, I was already unlocking moves that let me pull off some cool combos, and dispatch of the boss in a fashion that impressed the devs, allowed them to stroke my ego.
Related: Every Metroid Game Ever Released, Ranked
Upon defeat, your adversaries drop monster parts, the consumption of which grants you both health and XP. This means that eating them is a delicate balancing act. There are four different types of XP to unlock different skills, each with their own XP bars. If you need to eat food to heal whilst any one of these bars are full, you'll get healed, but won't get the XP boost. Conversely, if you want to eat food to gain XP but your health is full, then you may be tempted to wait until a point where you lose some health before noshing down some monster bits.
ULTROS also lets you do something that no 2D Metroidvania has ever done before: gardening. During my adventure, I found mysterious seeds and met a friendly gardener, who explained to me the benefits of planting these seeds. I planted a seed, and lo and behold a plant sprouted, providing me with something edible which gave me a boost to my XP. Apparently you can also use these plants to solve puzzles, and take on enemies, though I didn't manage to experiment with these mechanics in my short time with the game.
I also crossed paths with a rather untrusting woman, who is almost definitely going to have a big part to play in the game. While my interactions with her were short, she helped me understand The Sarcophagus' mysteries a little better, and in doing so, fleshed out the strange story playing out here.
With everything I saw during my short time with ULTROS, I'm excited. The world, the story, the mechanics—every detail on show left me believing we have something special on our hands. It now joins the esteemed Hollow Knight: Silksong as my most anticipated Metroidvania game of the foreseeable future.
Next: 10 Hardest Metroidvania Boss Fights, Ranked
Sam (He/Him) is the Managing Editor at DualShockers. He's been playing video games for as long as he can remember and you can regularly find him on his Nintendo Switch. When he's not playing games, he'll no doubt be suffering watching his beloved Ipswich Town.