Zapling Bygone is a Metroidvania title developed and published by 9FingerGames. Players take control of an arachnid-like alien, murdering several enemies and bosses to wear and absorb the power from each of their skulls to expand an evil hivemind. Zapling Bygone is precisely as grim and gruesome as it sounds, expertly implementing 16-bit graphics and a brooding storyline that lend themselves well to the atmosphere the game aims to achieve.
A straightforward Metroidvania game, the overall design of Zapling Bygone is highly familiar and easy to pick up. Players will traverse an expansive map over four hours, backtracking and unlocking new abilities and secrets. By no means does Zapling Bygone execute its gameplay elements flawlessly, but the game expresses its creativity without overstaying its welcome. Environments are elaborate enough to hold most Metroidvania fans’ interest for the duration of the first playthrough, and the progression through each area of the map is natural and well-paced. Anyone looking for a cheap Metroidvania to kill a few hours will not regret their purchase of Zapling Bygone, but it is a very short-lived experience.
Much of the difficulty in Zapling Bygone comes from the challenge of hard-to-master controls. Controlling the alien feels like the old Sega Genesis video game The Ooze. Predicting how a gooey, tentacled character will interact with the environment and enemies is often challenging. Tricky jumps are generally very easy to miss, and combat is unforgiving for the first portion of the game. Players can punch from their sides and upward, making it hard to combat enemies positioned on important ledges. Despite some flaws in the controls, Zapling Bygone still feels fun and rewarding to play.
Where Zapling Bygone may fail is its difficulty scaling. To upgrade and confidently face stronger and more challenging enemies, various skulls need to be acquired. However, players must explore some brutally tricky levels to find new skulls. Trying to navigate these parts of the game can be discouraging, even with the implementation of a skill tree. Finding the appropriate skulls and skills to wield is never straightforward, but those who enjoy a challenge may find this a redeeming quality.
Zapling Bygone executes its atmosphere and art direction surprisingly well despite some questionable character designs. Each color palette used for the environments effectively conveys the bleak tone and creepy climate players are immersed in. Blacks and reds provide a stark contrast to bright colors. Dynamic backgrounds with dripping stalactites and crumbling, rusted structures reflect the inhospitable, challenging nature of platforming through the environment. For me, this was the primary reason it was incredibly easy to engage with the game.
Unfortunately, however, the immersion is often broken by some poor character designs and mediocre hand-drawn pictures that occasionally pop up. For example, the pixelated graphics representing the human NPCs are incredible, but interaction with humans will open a text box that displays an image of what the NPC actually looks like: a disproportionate doodle of a cartoon man drawn with the skill of an eighth-grader. With some better attention to detail, these character sketches could easily match the theme of the rest of the game.
In many ways, Zapling Bygone is incredibly derivative of Hollow Knight. Though there are some challenges to creating a completely original Metroidvania title, the similarities are crystal clear. For example, every destroyed enemy releases a currency that can be used to open new save points or upgrade your character. Hollow Knight executed this same mechanic, and the art style used for the loot is also incredibly similar. Most noticeably, playing as a character wearing a skull for the entire game is directly inspired by Hollow Knight. Having so many similarities begs whether it is more worthwhile just to play Hollow Knight instead.
Overall, Zapling Bygone is not a memorable experience compared to some of the more well-known Metroidvania titles. Still, it will become a strong competitor in an oversaturated market of indie Metroidvanias. Even if it is somewhat derivative and unpolished, the story has enough charm and 16-bit art to make it a worthwhile experience.
Zapling Bygone is currently available on all major consoles.
- Rating - 7/107/10
Zapling Bygone is not a memorable experience compared to some of the more well-known Metroidvania titles…However, even if it is somewhat derivative and unpolished, the story has enough charm and 16-bit art to make it a worthwhile experience.