Developer: Xtal Sword
Publisher: Nyu Media
Eryi's Action may look like a cutesy anime 2D platformer, but it's going to kill you.
You'll die in the intro screen, lulled into a false sense of security by an adorable fairy hanging out in her ostensibly safe house. Discovering that a baddie has abducted her favourite fruit (that's pretty much the entire story right there), you'll saunter over to the right hand side of the screen, only for an enormous pot to fall on your head - killing you instantly. Eventually you'll find your way to the level select screen, which has its own creative ways of ending your life, at which point you'll begin a 12-stage journey through what could potentially be the most frustrating experience of your gaming career. Everything that could possibly hurt you will likely send you back to the nearest checkpoint, while everything else definitely will due to a comprehensive selection of outrageous traps and pitfalls.
For some, playing Eryi's Action will be akin to psychological torture. But dig a little deeper and you'll discover that this localised indie Japanese 'trapformer' is much more than just the sum of its parts.
Eryi's Action is a similar experience to Owata and I Wanna Be The Guy, the unforgiving freeware platformer from Mike O'Reilly. Despite an innocent appearance, the action revolves around grinding and grinding and grinding and grinding and grinding away at an unbelievably unfair challenge featuring levels designed to murder you in the most unexpected ways possible.
Seemingly safe platforms will drop into bottomless pits without warning. Spikes will erupt from the ground or fall from the sky. Tempting gems will lure you into inescapable traps, crushing walls appearing out of thin air. Item blocks sometimes contain essential pickups, but could just as easily contain deadly hordes of monsters or glue you into position directly in front of a massive cannon. I don't want to give out too many specific details to avoid delivering any spoilers, but suffice to say that even cartoon cats and background windmills will find unpredictable methods of shuffling you off the mortal coil. Eryi's Action is a game without mercy or pity, an experience that makes Dark Souls seem friendly and fluffy in comparison.
At least you have infinite lives - sort of. Each level contains a handful of checkpoints (thank heaven for small mercies), and though you appear to only have two lives at the start, they keep counting down as a tally of your miserable failure; a monument to your utter inadequacy. By the third stage, I'd clocked up a horrendous -135, a full sixty of which were on level one.
You'll probably ragequit. I certainly did, upon discovering that the goal flag in the opening level was in fact a trap in its own right. Thirty deaths was enough to make me immediately hit Escape and seriously consider breaking my keyboard over my knee. Many players will never come back and move onto easier pastures, but if you're willing to let Eryi's Action brutalise you for long enough, a couple of remarkable things happen.
Eventually, you'll realise that Eryi's Action has less in common with traditional platformers as it does with puzzle or adventure games. Each 'trap' has a solution - whether it's a matter of timing, stepping in a specific place or picking up an object/enemy to use in an unexpected way. For every section that requires perfect reflexes, there are two or three that revolve around lateral thinking or pattern recognition. Once you've unlearned everything you know about platformers and start viewing the levels as a selection of discrete puzzles, the experience becomes incredibly rewarding, with frustration turning quickly into compulsion. Brainpower is just as important as fast fingers. Eryi's Action is also more than happy to mix things up, offering some breezy homages to 8-Bit RPGs and even Danmaku shooters for players to get that far.
Then something totally bizarre occurs. The first fifty deaths, all of which will come out of nowhere, will make you wail in agony. Garments will be rent and monitors will be smashed during the next hundred. But after a while, you'll start to smile. Then you'll chuckle. Then you'll burst out laughing. Eryi's Action's traps are so inventive, its pitfalls so creative and unexpected, that you'll actively enjoy discovering the next way that it can find to kill you. Perhaps it's a case of psychological conditioning or borderline Stockholm Syndrome, but the whole thing soon becomes a joke that simply doesn't get old. "How will I die next?" you'll ask, followed by a rush of pleasure as you discover another exciting and innovative deathtrap formed out of seemingly harmless design elements.
If you love a challenge, Eryi's Action has the pain and pleasure you crave. You barefaced masochist, you.
As highly as I'd recommend Eryi's Action to its niche audience, however, there are a few issues holding it back. Xtal Sword had to limit Eryi's acrobatic skills to properly craft the traps, but jumping can be just a little on the unresponsive side. Some terrible boss fights eschew all of the fun puzzling and just put players through the wringer, requiring them to miserably die dozens of times before exploiting the non-existent AI. It's the bad kind of frustration, the kind that stops even dedicated players coming back.
Presentation is also a mixed bag, exhibiting some pleasingly colourful sprite-work but failing to provide anything resembling a cohesive aesthetic. It's a grab bag of random design elements that never quite gel. I can't help but feel that the story side of things could have been fleshed out just a little more, perhaps providing a couple of quirky conversations or little cutscenes as a reward for all your hard work.
For £3.99, though, these problems won't tip the balance. It's the core experience that matters, which you'll either love with unbridled ardour or hate more passionately than you thought possible. More than likely, it will probably be both.
- Frustrating yet incredibly compelling
- Recklessly unpredictable, creative and funny
- Surprisingly cerebral
- Unfair and sadistic by design
- Weak boss fights
- Incoherent art direction and unsatisfying storyline
The Short Version: If you like your games tough and crave the rush of Dopamine that can only be found by beating a nigh-insurmountable challenge, I can't recommend Eryi's Action enough. Despite its sadistic design and rough edges, this deceptive doujin title balances frustration and misery with inventive puzzles and irrepressible humour.
If you don't like the idea of being thoroughly humiliated and brutalised at every turn, however, perhaps you'd better try the demo first...