All Metroidvanias are limiting early on, of course – it’s in the DNA – but it’s pronounced here. The girl is a kind of priestess, immune to a zombifying blight that’s stricken the land, and able to purify the souls of the afflicted. She can only jump, dodge – an oddly dramatic dive, like Bruce Willis hurling himself from an explosion – and heal herself. It’s fortunate then that purified souls can be used, much like enemy souls in some Castlevania games, to add a buffet of violence to your repertoire. A default spectral swordsman is soon joined by other warriors, animal familiars, and archers and wizards for ranged assaults. Unlike Castlevania, however, these aren’t random drops. Meat and potato attacks come from cleansed bosses, doubling as abilities that grant access to new areas, the rest from elite versions of regular enemies tucked away in secluded rooms.
At first, wielding your gang of spirits in combat feels rather meek, with squelchy impacts that barely seem to register, except on your opponents’ health bars. But as ground and aerial threats stack up, emptying those bars quickly becomes a gripping occupation in its own right. It’s worth tracking down additional souls, too, since most can prove invaluable against particular foes. Dangling skeletal spider monsters? There’s a soul for that. Carefully switching and levelling up these powers becomes essential to progress.
Similarly – there’s a pattern here – level design starts off rudimentary, relying instead on the game’s visual composition to hold the attention. And it really is evocative, from mist-choked forests to the beauty of your reflection in ankle-deep waters. But in time, the explorer’s eye takes over. Ender Lilies unfurls, branching at key points and refusing to guide you around its environs, yet full of provisional dead-ends and hidden treasures. Its map of bureaucratic rectangles only tells you there’s more to find, teasing you to revisit unplundered sites each time you evolve.
Ender Lilies thus becomes an alluring web that pulls you towards its centre, especially if you seek its true ending. After drifting through opening stages, you get entangled in puzzle-box castles, hidden tunnels linking disparate map nodes, deadly gauntlets of hazards, and bosses that demand your ingenuity. Exacting, compelling, even devious. It’s always the quiet ones.
Respite spots where you save and modify equipment really live up to their name. Many take the form of benches, but it’s location that matters. A campfire in a cold wilderness, a secluded bedroom, a pondside alcove. These are warm, soothing places among the misery, where you can catch a well-earned breath.
From generic beginnings, Ender Lilies blossoms into a dense and demanding Metroidvania.
Genre: Metroidvania | Format PC (tested) / PS5 / XB S/X / PS4 / XBO / Switch | Developer: Adglobe | Publisher: Binary Haze Interactive | Price: £24.99 | Release: Out now