Ultros is a psychedelic Metroidvania where you find yourself stuck in The Sarcophagus, an esoteric ‘womb’ where an ancient and powerful being is birthed. Caught in a time loop thanks to the presence of a black hole, you find yourself repeating moments repeatedly, struggling to figure out the strange role you play in this cosmic drama.
Calling Ultros a psychedelic experience would be an understatement. Far beyond the game’s fantastic use of color, with its solid blacks constructed by bright greens, reds, and blues, the world feels like a total acid trip. It’s as if some deep part of your brain (or secret dimension) is accessible only by expanding your brain beyond its natural capabilities. It is such a unique look and feel that I struggle with describing, even as a writer who is paid for his ability to explain things as anything other than simply trippy and psychedelic.
Trust me when I say that the screenshots hardly do it justice, and once you get in the game and everything is animated and living, the feeling I’m trying to express will really hit you.
The art is by far the most standout part of Ultros, which can be described as a work of art. The hand-drawn environments and characters stand out for their powerful use of color and their phenomenal designs. Each “person” you meet feels utterly unique from each other.
The world feels as if there is no real rhyme or reason for how it should work, defying the laws of physics in ways that feel natural despite being utterly unnatural. Pair this with a soundtrack featuring El Huevo, renowned for their work on Hotline Miami, and you have a game that could easily find itself in a modern art showcase.
The gameplay in Ultros is remarkable for how it manages to blend simple controls with tactical ingenuity. Surface-level combat is pretty simple; you can attack, dodge, and use a special key to counterattack any foe you just dodged. By the way, the game will give you a big controller warning when you open it, but I found the keyboard controls to be fairly intuitive and easy to use.
Combat gets more complicated when you see how the many beasts of Ultros interact with the mechanics. Most creatures will not allow you to hit them for free, with one or two attacks getting in before they hit you with a fast-moving, hard-hitting attack.
The game challenges you to use your reflexes to properly dodge foes that could easily rip you to shreds and then counteract in the split moment you have time to do so before they launch themselves back at you. In that way, the game makes a fast-paced, deadly-feeling encounter system that keeps you on your toes.
Another aspect of the gameplay I specifically appreciate,e for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, is the healing system. To heal, you eat, and to eat, you must kill. You have to rip the flesh out of the many foes you slay and gobble it down in a brutal fashion. You can also plant drops from certain enemies in gardens, cultivating powerful fruit that heals your entire health bar. This almost relaxing little minigame further emphasizes the strange nature of the world around you. You eat for more than just health, though, with powerful abilities locked behind the nutrients you ingest.
Ultros’ level-up system is uniquely tailored to its psychedelic setting. When dreaming in one of the game’s save pods, you can access a skill tree full of unique upgrades to purchase to enhance your gameplay. The twist is that the currency used to purchase these upgrades, rather than plain old skill points or XP, is the nutrients gained from eating the various food drops planted or harvested from your enemies. This gives you a reason to seek out and eat everything the game offers beyond just healing, keeping your stocks of each nutrient high to get the skills you want.
The areas I feel UIltros needs to improve feel like simple oversights by the developers. Balance issues, level flaws, and simple areas any team might gloss over in development can easily be fixed.
Some of the platforming isn’t the smoothest. A particular mechanic the game struggles with is wall height. You’re intended, in most areas in the game, to jump and then grapple onto the ledge of a wall and pull yourself over. Because of this, most walls are designed to be higher than what you can reach on a standard jump. This led to me jumping into walls and falling, as I just barely missed the cutoff to wall hang, over and over and over again.
This issue is somewhat negated by the double jump feature, which you get mercifully early on in the game, but it still happens afterward and can be mildly frustrating.
A boss fight encountered pretty early into the game also exemplifies some of the buggy balancing I experienced. This particular encounter required you to jump on terrain that falls from the ceiling to reach the beast’s back and hit his weak spot. On my first attempt at this fight, I had plenty of time to execute this maneuver. However, after dying (due to my own mistakes), I found that each time I challenged the boss afterward, the creature would immediately destroy the terrain as soon as it fell from the ceiling.
The contrast between this version of the boss and the first time I faced it felt so jarring that I had to chalk it up to some kind of programming error, and it certainly made the boss more difficult to take on. Some of these issues, of course, could have been more or less on my part, as despite as many games as I play for THG, I have yet to “get good.”
The Final Word
Ultros is a psychedelic platformer that could easily belong in a modern art showcase. It has simple yet engaging combat mechanics, phenomenal art and music, and great characters. I urge you to check the game out if you’re even a little curious.
Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Ultros is available on Steam and PlayStation.