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Ultros review: A kaleidoscopic odyssey into the unknown

Ewan Moore

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Ultros review: A kaleidoscopic odyssey into the unknown

Featured Image Credit: Hadoque

I found my time with Ultros to be a lot like my time in life in general. Not in any particularly deep philosophical way - though Ultros is a game rich in meaning - but because I very rarely had any idea what was going on, but found myself sailing through on vibes alone. That’s basically how I made it to 30, and it’s how I fell madly in love with the kaleidoscopic charms of developer Hadoque’s psychedelic metroidvania.

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How best to describe Ultros? It’s a metroidvania first and foremost, certainly. You navigate a labyrinthine world, platforming and fighting your way to new abilities that unlock new paths. But there are also roguelike elements in that you’ll repeatedly loop back to the start of your adventure. It’s also kind of a gardening sim? Look, it’s a weird game. But it’s also unlike any metroidvania I’ve ever played, and believe me when I say I’ve played a lot of them.

Ultros / Credit: Hadoque
Ultros / Credit: Hadoque

The first thing to note about Ultros is that it is utterly and completely gorgeous. It’s as if someone fed Hollow Knight into a blender with The Beatles’ Revolver and a few kilograms of military-grade LSD. The world your characters wakes up in - referred to as The Sarcophagus - is a biomechanical wonderland of colour and sheer, undiluted imagination.

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Alien plants writhe and squirm underfoot as impossible, otherworldly architecture looms in the background. If you showed Ultros to a friend who had just smoked a little too much of the devil’s lettuce without warning, I suspect they might need to lie down on the bathroom floor to cry and catch their breath. It is equal parts far out, groovy, and outta sight.

I won’t say much about Ultros’ story, mostly because it’s a game that’s best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible, but also because I’m still not 100 percent sure I understand it all myself. You wake up in The Sarcophagus with no memory, before making your way through what feels like a very traditional metroidvania. You explore a small portion of the map, find a weapon, fight a boss, then… something happens, and you’re right back where you were at the start of the game.

Ultros is all about cycles, which on paper should be completely antithetical to a metroidvania, which tends to be about slowly progressing by keeping all of the items and upgrades you acquire. Yet it works beautifully. Very few upgrades and abilities will carry over between cycles, though there are special items you can find that “lock” certain skills into place forever, which gives you further impetus to scour every inch of the game’s gorgeous world.

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Ultros / Credit: Hadoque
Ultros / Credit: Hadoque

The idea of ending a cycle and having to rebuild your skill tree might not sit right with everyone - at least at first - but Ultros’ manages to make the case for it by finding other ways for players to open new routes, and the way in which you interact with the map in a previous cycle will have a direct impact on the next. Seeds found hidden throughout the world can be planted in various spots, which will, in future cycles, have grown into shortcuts between areas or grant access to previously inaccessible locations.

Combat sits somewhere between Metroid Dread and Hollow Knight, offering crunchy melee combat and lots of options to parry and dodge enemies. The more efficiently you slay monsters, the more viable their organs are in giving you stats which can be exchanged for upgrades. However, while Ultros’ combat certainly invites comparisons to Metroid Dread and Hollow Knight, it isn’t quite as successful as either of those, with encounters often feeling sluggish and imprecise. The same can be said of movement which, in a genre that puts such a heavy emphasis on backtracking, is less than ideal.

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Ultros is a game that, I suspect, not everyone will “get”. It’s unashamedly bizarre, and isn’t afraid to make players work to dig through its squelchy layers to find its shimmering, beating heart. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, Ultros is a breath of fresh air for an increasingly crowded genre, and one of 2024’s strangest surprises.

Pros: Gorgeous visuals, top-notch sound design, great original ideas

Cons: Sluggish combat, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea

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For fans of: Metroid, Hollow Knight, Outer Wilds

8/10: Excellent

Ultros is available now for PlayStation 5 (version tested), PlayStation 4, and PC. Review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Topics: Indie Games

Ewan Moore
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