This year’s PlayStation Showcase had lots of different genres for us to explore. However, a category of games might touch the brink of saturation unless someone creatively brings in much-needed twists to the gameplay loop. And that’s where Ultros restored a lot of faith. The psychedelic Metroidvania looks like the developers had a fun trip creating this game with bright colors, detailed environments, and roguelike elements we’re all too familiar with.
Ultros, the first game from the brand-new Swedish studio Hadoque, was unquestionably one of the more innovative-looking titles shown off during the 2023 PlayStation Showcase. It’s a 2D side-scroller with dazzling and surreal graphics that takes the best elements of contemporary Metroidvania and gives them its authentic style. It might be just what the genre needs at the moment.
The shine and volume of 2D games
We’ve certainly come a long way in the video game graphics journey. From pixels to polygons, artists have tried to create games that mimic photorealism and feel immersive to the extent that everything in a virtual world feels dauntingly more real. In this trial and error to make it consistently realistic, many developers stepped in another direction and built some of the best games with 2D visuals that stand out in their sense of aesthetics. We’re considering games like Gris, Dead Cells, Cuphead, and Ori.
Ultros does the same, emphasizing its art direction as strong and expressive in its marketing. El Huervo, the gifted artist behind Hotline Miami’s instantly recognizable look and who gave Ultros its highly distinctive psychedelic graphic style, has reportedly been hired by the team behind this vivid game.
In Ultros, players must fight through a strange, enormous coffin drifting through space, investigating every crevice to learn more about the mystery. Roguelike gameplay, which makes up a significant portion of Ultros, is described in the narrative using an in-game Sci-Fi loop akin to those found in games like Deathloop and Returnal. Ultros’ surreal and colorful art style perfectly complements the game’s themes and tone centered on mystery and bewilderment.
It’s not all hack-slash-and-respawning, though. On the other hand, taking care of the ecosystem and sowing seeds in The Sarcophagus are calmer aspects of the game. You will raise various plants, each with unique traits and properties that can be used to subdue foes or unlock talents and level-up abilities. This alters the surroundings, gives players’ journeys personal touches throughout several loops, and gives the game world a lively feeling.
A passionate and artistic promise
Regarding the game’s reveal, lead art director Mrten Brüggemann had some promising claims to make about the game. They’ve aparently created a unique blend of hand-drawn art with big juicy sprites, topped off with active zooming that creates a hypnotic effect. Their goal was to produce a look that resembles a single, expansive canvas, with each frame appearing to be a stand-alone work of psychedelic art.
The game’s art might even carry its lesser vital aspects from the trailer. However, it’s too early to comment on the game’s core gameplay mechanics and what will bring out the best Metroidvania elements.
We’ve learned a valuable lesson from games like Dead Cells and Cuphead – when game developers and artists mix their talent to create something staggering, the game is remembered for more than just its commercial and critical success. A game’s uniqueness in its style and the themes it manages to create often make for an experience that we carry in our memories.
We are confident that Ultro’s unique blend of roguelike elements may make it a strong contender for an action-arcade Metroidvania, but its art style is something that we’ll be talking about for days on end. We look forward to hearing more from Hodoque.