Ultros review: a bold, beautiful, and baffling Metroidvania
12.02.2024 - 10:11
/ Giovanni Colantonio
Ultros MSRP $25.00 Score Details Pros
- Psychedelic art
- Fantastic music
- Unique gardening system
- Unclear visual design
- Underexplained systems
- Tedious backtracking
My bloody quest to kill a grotesque demon is about to reach its climax when I stop to do a bit of intergalactic gardening. Testing out a mysterious new tool I received, I blow a puff of blue gas at a hanging vine. At first, I’m confused as all I can seemingly do is slightly change the direction it’s growing in. That’s when I accidentally direct it into a pool of golden liquid. Suddenly, vines sprout out in every direction, cutting through the substance like a newly grown nervous system. After marveling at the wonders of nature, I lodge my handy digger drone into the wall and completely uproot my creation, turning it back into a simple seed.
Birth. Death. Rebirth.
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That simple loop powers Ultros, a stylish new Metroidvania by developer Hadoque, like a healthy heart locked behind a twisted rib cage. Once I weed through its dense sci-fi lore and overcomplicated gameplay systems, I begin to discover a more digestible spiritual journey about the unknowable cycle of life and death. Getting there can be a frustrating journey, though; Ultros is a confusing labyrinth of ideas that I still find myself a little lost in even now.
A psychedelic trip
In Ultros, I take on the role of an astronaut in a slick red coat who crash-lands on a massive vessel, The Sarcophagus. I quickly learn that the ship doesn’t just house corridors full of colorful plant life, but also a demonic entity known as Ultros. To vanquish it, I’ll need to hunt down seven Shaman, taking a different technological power from them that’ll help unlock new biomes on the ship. To make matters more complicated, all of this is happening in a black hole. At key points in the story, the entire cycle begins anew. I’m in a constant cycle of rebirth.
It’s like I’m exploring the inside of a human body.
The story leans into hard sci-fi, with a narrative so wrapped up in its own alien worldbuilding that it feels like reading a different language altogether. Like a lot of things in the game, it can be difficult to fully comprehend what’s going on even after the credits roll. Thankfully, Ultros’ more clearly communicates through its art design and gameplay systems — even if its most creative swings make the adventure feel even more obtuse.
What immediately sticks out here is Ultros’ astonishing art style. Inspired by the distinct work of French artist Moebius, The Sarcophagus is a psychedelic trip that’s unlike any digital world I’ve ever explored.