“Metroidvania” games are a subgenre that’s become quite a thing of its own in recent years, with dozens of titles done in this style released on a yearly basis, both big and small. As a result, it’s become a little more difficult for individual titles to stand out, as more creators are trying their hand at the style.
Every once in a while, however, certain titles release to fairly universal acclaim and stand above the rest. They gain praise not always for reinventing the wheel, but sometimes just for doing exactly what they set out to do, and doing it extremely well. Ender Lilies is a game that falls into this category. It incorporates many of the great elements from previous games that it pays homage to and mixes them all into something fresh that transcends its inspirations, instead of merely copying them.
Ender Lilies is a hauntingly gorgeous and dark 2D action RPG with an overwhelming amount of attention to detail in every aspect of its design. The game recently launched out of early access and also released on consoles, so now is a perfect time to dive into the experience.
As previously mentioned, Ender Lilies is a “Metroidvania” style game, featuring a huge, interconnected world to explore full of hidden secrets, encounters with enemies great and small, and tons of new abilities and items to help you reach the next area.
The gameplay draws its biggest influences from games like the Castlevania and Bloodstained series, as well as games like Hollow Knight, and manages to strike the perfect balance between all of these influences. The progression and layout are paced extremely well and encounters provide a good amount of challenge while avoiding the pitfalls of being obnoxiously difficult or having unbalanced difficulty spikes.
As with many games of this type, the character controls and abilities are limited at first, but once you get the swing of it, the controls are some of the best I’ve experienced in this type of game, hands down. Every dodge, attack, and jump feels perfectly responsive to your button inputs, and this becomes more appreciated once you start facing some of the tougher encounters in the game.
The world map and exploration also feel like the perfect balance of not being too big or overwhelming but also having such a massive amount of hidden secrets, that it makes the game feel bigger and more complex than it seems at face value. The in-game map system is also very well done, color-coding areas you’ve found everything in. It would’ve been perfect if there were some better map marker or zoom features, but it works well despite these small issues.
The customization of abilities is quite robust and allows you to assign any ability to any of the face buttons, as well as level up each ability separately to focus on the ones you like the most. There’s an ability for just about every kind of situation, whether it’s for ground/air combat or traversal, but there’s also not an excess of options, which can be a fault in similar games.
The art style is a luscious dark fantasy aesthetic mixed with a little bit of anime influence. Every character, enemy, and background has beautiful, flowing animation to go with their actions or presence. There’s a frequent contrast of light and dark, which also ties into the story in several ways, and makes for a truly exceptional sight in motion.
The visual design of the main character is also closely tied to the story. You play as a tiny young priestess, and all of your attacks are performed by your helpers, who are all the spirits of various knights or magicians. They appear in a split second whenever you need to attack or use a certain ability. The effect of the different characters constantly appearing around your main character as you move around and attack is breathtaking and works extremely well from a visual standpoint.
There is a large amount of juxtaposition of light and dark as well as tons of decay and violence throughout the world of Ender Lilies. This visual aesthetic makes for some of the most compelling 2D art I’ve seen in quite a while. I often found myself stopping to appreciate what was going on around me, which isn’t very common in this type of game. The attention to visual detail is nearly unmatched in this style and genre.
The sound design is equally somber and dark, but also childish and playful at times. Every music cue seems to fit just right with the encounter or area you’re in at any given moment. The music ranges from classical-inspired pieces to more modern, synthesizer-based pieces, sometimes featuring vocals. The range of emotions the tracks convey can range from hopeful and reflective to downright terrifying in some of the darker areas.
Given the size of the world and just how immersive it is, my initial playthrough and getting 100% completion took somewhere around 25 hours, though a non-completionist story run would probably be closer to 12-15 hours. There’s definitely a great amount of content here, compared to many similar games.
For this review, the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation versions were tested alongside each other, and technical performance and controls were great across all platforms. Resolutions and framerate varied slightly depending on which console version was used, as is to be expected, but there were no major issues across any of them.
Ender Lilies is clearly a labor of love from a small team of developers that oozes confidence and style all around, and you’ll feel it in every ounce of play you get from it. As a shining example of one of the best of its style, this one truly does stand above the rest.
From the absolutely gorgeous art and sound design to the perfectly paced progression, fulfilling exploration, and the tight combat, there’s a ton to love about this game from top to bottom. At its very reasonable price tag, it’s also easy to recommend to any fans of the genre or those who are simply drawn in by the gorgeous visual aesthetics.
(9 / 10)
A review code was provided by the publisher.