You have to hand it to the indie developers: they know where to aim their efforts. While the triple-A studios sling imprecise scatter shots at prospective audiences, the indie developer knows exactly whom they are gunning for, using something more akin to a heat-seeking missile.
Fenix Rage is a high-octane 2D platformer from Green Lava Studios, and the largest game they have produced to date. It pays homage to the good days of gaming, an age where the pixels were big, the cartridges dusty, and the controllers tethered confidently via rotund black wires. This golden age of gaming asked something of its consumer, demanded something. More often than not these requests were “try to beat me.” Or, “throw your controller at the wall.”
"It pays homage to the good days of gaming, an age where the pixels were big, the cartridges dusty..."
Let us attend to the elephant in the room and admit the immense difficulty of Fenix Rage. Fenix Rage. Rage. See, it’s right there in the title, you don’t even need me to tell you that. Fenix, however, is the player-character whose design meshes Sonic the Hedgehog and a common stress ball. You’ll guide the little bugger through 200+ stages that offer the lasting impression of a tumultuous romance. Depending of the level, you will squeal with glee while endorphins fire in your head. Counter to this are the levels where you yell loudly, producing animalistic noises and have very real, important arguments with the screen. Arguments where you swear it’s all Green Lava’s fault, and you’re a hard seasoned gamer.
It isn’t Green Lava’s fault. They have crafted a game that pits you against ruthless level design while giving you a small, yet effective list of abilities to utilize. Really, this isn’t a complicated game, just a hard one. Fenix can pull off a number of fancy tricks using the environment but the bread and butter’s are the horizontal dashes, and jumps that can be used an infinite number of times. The player will need to effectively use these gestures and unpack their underlying uses e.g. cancelling a jump by quickly using a dash move. The levels in Fenix Rage are riddled with hazards that require you to master the ever-useful jump button. Since you can jump endlessly, the real challenge is controlling the rise and fall of Fenix to duck and weave through the busy screens. The result is a game that feels like Super Meat Boy, Flappy Bird, and a bullet hell game.
The first two worlds of Fenix Rage are thrilling. The movement is fluent and elegant, and the dismissible gravity is sure to produce some magical speed runs. Early stages will have you sliding down vulcanized walls to ignite Fenix, allowing him to dash through measly bricks of ice. You will grin after evading a tricky mess of hazards, and rocket through color-coded portals that send you snapping around the stage. It’s all very invigorating. Before long you’ll come to know the control calibrations, and the annoying anthropomorphized bricks of toxic goo that litter the stages.
If you die (and you will) Fenix is instantaneously reset back at the start for another go. Beating a level has zero fanfare, passing you along to the next whooping with zero downtime, resulting in an endless stream of attempt and reward. The difficulty does not escalate linearly throughout a world, either. The player is thrown a few easy, quick levels to keep the ball rolling over potential jams. This liquidity is so fun and fast that you’ll have trouble ignoring the allure of the next set of pain.
Fenix Rage has a lot of levels to see, but its breadth of content becomes less appealing as the stages roll by. Roughly three hours into the experience, the liquid pacing runs dry, and the magic hat becomes finite. In fact, Fenix Rage seems to exhaust most of its gameplay elements in the first world or so. After that, you may find yourself starving for new enemies or player abilities only to rack up another set of levels comprised of the same gooey no-no spots.
Everything halts. Some of the enemy movement patters become so complex that you’ll stop and postulate on where you can stand without getting killed. Let me try standing over here – dead. Well, maybe if I just – dead. Surly I need to – no, still dead. You can almost hear the developers cackle over your shoulder as you simulate the real-world birth/mortality rate. Later levels tend to put the most challenging task at the beginning or middle of the level to maximize frustration. Even if you can outsmart the remaining 98% of the level, you’ll perish at the starting line due to some absurd hoop of fire.
Eventually, Fenix Rage develops of sour relationship with the gamer. A good challenge is, by definition, something that invites one’s skills in a compelling manner. What begins as invitation soon devolves into humiliation as the player drills stages for the umpteenth time on excessively demanding gauntlets. The snappy flow of Fenix Rage’s first hour become a thing of the past as you hit toll booths asking for 10 minutes per level. The excellent boss fights pull you back in only to wane you away with another 20 lookalike stages.
Retro veterans may roll their eyes at the game’s hurtles, but the lack of new abilities or opposition is inarguable. You’ll see the same kind of enemy every single stage, the same network of danger, the same notion that the floor is lava and the floor is everywhere.
"Eventually, Fenix Rage develops a sour relationship with the gamer."
Fenix Rage reminds you what was so good about 2D retro gaming – but not in all the right ways. The risk and reward formula, and rush you get from beating a pesky boss are in tact. The soundtrack of harmonizing metal guitars and chip-tune bleep-bloop will brings you back to yesteryear. Similarly, you’ll be reminded of what a good mascot and identity can do for a game like this. Both Fenix himself, and the worlds he visits are indistinct and eventually bleed together as the hours cycle. Fenix Rage does a great job of imitating past genre success but fails to carve out of spot of its own.
There are a few dashes of personality here. Collectible cookies are buried in each level and their collection will be rewarded with baking recipes you can use outside the game! Delicious! These shimmers of identity are nice, but may leave you wishing it were a full on sunspot. Still, it feels good to hear the chaotic symphony of face buttons clicking and joysticks colliding against the bearings. What’s old is so pleasantly, comfortably new.
So, who should play Fenix Rage? Well, if you’re a fan of difficult 2D games then you must. You have cookies to collect, screens to argue with, and controllers to replace. For the rest of you, well, take a few deep breaths. There is certainly enough content here to warrant the price tag even if the appeal ages more like milk than wine. Collectibles and post-game mini challenges assure you there are plenty of cookies in the jar. Get your thumbs ready.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Editors note: Due to technical difficulties on the site this review has been published under Philip Hartmeyer’s byline. In actuality, Eli Kineg wrote this review and deserves whatever credit is due. You can follow Eli on Twitter at @NAPK1NS
Responsive controls, Bosses are fun opponents, Lots of levels and bonus extras, Demanding difficulty with exciting victory.
Demanding difficulty with soul-crushing side-effects, Repetitive level/enemy design, Lacks unique personality.
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