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Berserk Boy review: a fast and frantic platformer dashed by swift credits

A less dorky Mega Man

Berserk Boy's face makes up one half of the image, while his arch nemesis takes up the other.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/BerserkBoy Games

Berserk Boy is the legally distinct lovechild of Sonic The Hedgehog and Mega Man X, on account of how it fondly emulates the Blue Blur’s speedy momentum and the Dorky Mega’s various power-altering suits. That anatomically tricky relationship is enticing by itself, but even if those retro action platformers just register as historical relics in your memory, Berserk Boy does enough that’s new and interesting that it doesn’t need to rely on aping its inspirations. My only beef is that credits rolled before I was properly given a chance to test my newfound robo-bashing muscles.

As is the case with retro-inspired platformers, there’s not much to spoil. Our hero is part of The Resistance against evil robots, the manifestations of dark energy, and a “rebuild the world anew” plot acted out by a wide-grinning anime scientist. That is until the day he comes face to face with one of the five Berserk Balls (Chaos Emeralds, Infinity Stones, take your pick), which are just supernatural macguffins that give our Boy elemental get-ups with different powers attached.

Berserk Boy and his pal ride on a jetski and avoid bouncing projectiles.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Berserk Boy Games

Those suits, which you can switch between on the fly, really just give you different ways to jump, attack, and get through previously inaccessible spaces in past levels. The Flame Drill suit, for instance, lets you burrow into the ground to avoid incoming damage and bypass gaps too tight for a straight-spined Boy. The Ice Kunai suit can throw projectiles and hang on to certain surfaces. Mine Buster reveals hidden platforms and can make breakable walls go boom.

But my favourite has to be the starting suit, Berserk Boy, which lets you zip through the 15 levels with an electrically-charged leap. Once that leap bashes into an enemy, you can leap again in mid-air. And once you chain that move enough times, you almost feel like such an unstoppable electrical current devastating enemies that, after a while, they registered in my mind as platforms - no, leap restoratives - as opposed to serious threats.

Platforming in each suit reaches that tough balance between testing both your last minute reflexes and your quick problem-solving skills. Though, Berserk Boy’s best bits come when you’re forced to mix and match every suit. Zip through enemies, switch, deactivate a laser with kunai, switch, grind on a rail, drill into the side of a wall, and… breathe. Again, there’s real joyous momentum in chaining every suit’s distinct movesets.

While some corridors require certain skills to get past, I really love that the game allows you to choose which is best suited (ha!) for your mood. Combat in particular can be steamrolled using any suit, so it really comes down to whether you prefer keeping distance with kunai, getting up close with fire slashes, or just opting to fly over enemies when you have the Soaring Wind suit.

Berserk Boy races along a rocky level.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Berserk Boy Games

Switching suits has the biggest impact when you’re replaying prior levels, using all your new abilities on stages that should be familiar ground. Replaying stages for collectibles and whatnot can be arduous even in the best platformers, especially when you get to the tough, flashback-inducing sections. In Berserk Boy, though, skipping a particularly difficult obstacle course is as easy as flying over it with your new wind suit, making back-tracking a breeze for fellow collectible-obsessives who are too lazy to repeat the same pixel-perfect jumps twice.

What’s more transformative are the things that are new when you revisit a level, or rather, the sections that were previously inaccessible because you hadn’t unlocked the right suit yet. That impossibly wide gap? You can fly over it now. That locked yellow door? Blow it off its hinges with the Mine Buster. My eyes were glued to the screen’s edges on subsequent playthroughs, on the hunt for secrets and hidden pathways, and having that effort rewarded is oh-so satisfying.

Berserk Boy hits some minor speed bumps during these reruns, though. (I say minor because stages only last between four to ten minutes a pop.) I expected these secret sections to provide a tougher challenge and test everything I had learned in the pursuit for all the suits, but the game instead seems content with recycling similar obstacles in every corner. For example, it might take you a minute to figure out what to do the first time you come across a spikey crawl space. The fifth time? You already know you need to burrow into the ground using Flame Drill, and the game doesn’t remix that obstacle to make it any more of a dynamic, head-scratching challenge at any point. And the same can be said about other obstacles where you’re continuously memory matching the right ability to a roadblock.

Speaking of the secrets, all levels also have hidden resistance fighters that you can rescue, and doing so unlocks special time trial stages that thankfully focuses solely on that speedy platforming - stringing together dashes, hops, fire whirlwinds - to reach quicker times.

Berserk Boy shoots some enemies in a forest.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Berserk Boy Games

Berserk Boy really sings when you’re bouldering through stages with unstoppable force, all while the gorgeous pixel art blurs like street lights do when you're in a speeding car. That frantic energy is only bolstered by a hyper-catchy theme song courtesy of Sonic Mania’s composer Tee Lopes. But with so much variety in movesets and so much potential for tense, lightning fast plays, I was slightly disappointed to roll credits after a brief six hours without having a chance to fully flex everything I’d sorta-kinda mastered. The main stages didn't fully push me to my limits, nor did the time trial stages that I’d beaten so far, which was quietly deflating after I'd been given a taste for what’s possible.

Regardless, Berserk Boy is a cheery action platformer that makes Sonic’s high speeds readable and Mega Man’s unlockable powers genuinely exciting. There’s real fondness for those beloved games - even down to the occasional run ‘n’ gun vehicle sections - but more importantly, this never feels like a flat retread of what’s come before. None of the levels were challenging enough for my tastes, which might admittedly be a skill issue, although if my biggest critique boils down to simply wanting more, then I think that’s quite a promising sign.

This review is based on a review build of the game, provided by publishers Berserk Boy Games.

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