Developer(s) – 9 Finger Games
Publisher(s) – 9 Finger Games
Director(s) – Stevis Andrea
PEGI – Not Yet Rated (some violence and dark themes)
Released following an immensely successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2021, Zapling Bygone is a Metroidvania programmed by Stevis Andrea with heavy sci-fi elements along with an extraordinary amount of variety in gameplay. Following my first impressions article and my interview with Stevis in 2021:
I had high hopes for this game from the get-go. Having been impressed with its uniquely testing boss fights (even at that early stage of development) and outlandish conceptual design. And after having played the game from start to finish, I was not disappointed with the final game.
Graphics – 9/10
Making use of 8-BIT visuals similar to other indie Metroidvania titles, such as Alwa’s Awakening, Axiom Verge and Xeodrifter, the world of Zapling Bygone takes place on an alien planet with a particularly dark atmosphere; it reminded me of the original Metroid, but the element of grittiness and suspense is even more pronounced in this title. Every location in the game makes players feel as if danger is just around the corner, and for the most part, it is.
Gameplay – 8/10
As a traditional Metroidvania, the game has a heavy emphasis on exploration and combat; though the combat system is quite unique. The player finds relics throughout the game that give them a massive variety of different abilities and combat options that can be combined and used to adapt to different situations and to help explore more efficiently as well. This system can also be used to strategize in preparation for the good amount of insane boss fights the game throws at the player. Nothing is self-explanatory, relying heavily on a player’s individual skill to progress; it’s challenging, but not to the point of being inaccessible.
Controls – 10/10
The game’s controls not only present problems or unnecessary complications, but they also provide a new way of playing a Metroidvania title that I hadn’t truly seen previous to this, and I was particularly impressed with it. There are a few Metroidvania games that have provided unique control mechanics such as The Swapper and Blasphemous, and this game falls under the same category.
Lifespan – 5/10
The game, sadly, can be completed to 100% in around 6 hours, which for a Metroidvania, falls fairly short in comparison with the likes of the Ori games and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. However, since this was a solo effort, I can’t fault it too much for that. On the flip side, if Stevis Andrea does decide to make a sequel to this, the ideas perpetuated in the first game could easily be expanded upon for a second game. There is definitely potential for a future franchise of sci-fi Metroidvanias in Zapling Bygone, and given the right amount of time and resources, a sequel could be made to last far longer.
Storyline – 7.5/10
The story of Zapling Bygone has the player in the shoes of an alien hive mind, known as a Zapling, who has been sent to investigate a strange alien planet to find something that can end an intergalactic war with an infectious parasite. The game has a small introductory cutscene, but after that, everything is left for the players to piece together themselves, similar to Metroid Prime. It’s not the first Metroidvania to do this, with the likes of Teslagrad and World To The West relying heavily on the backstory to advance the current story, but the dark nature of the game’s backstory will have players particularly engaged.
Originality – 8.5/10
With its unique amount of variety in gameplay, story elements, and wonderfully twisted atmosphere, this game does well to stand out within a genre that has been taking more and more precedent over the last decade. I grow ever more impressed when I can find a Metroidvania that stands out to as much of an extent as this one does, and gives testament to the vast amount of imagination displayed by developers within the indie community. It’s always exciting to see what new upcoming developers have to offer, and this game certainly delivers in terms of excitement.
To summarize, Zapling Bygone, though short, is an incredible game for the time it lasts, and certainly worth investing the time in from start to finish. Given that this is Stevis Andrea and 9 Finger Games’ first full release, it is one hell of a first attempt.