Hunter’s Legacy Review — An Empty Leap
Hunter's Legacy for the PlayStation 4 is a Metroidvania about a feline hero, but as a model for the genre, it doesn't quite land on its feet.
Hunter’s Legacy is the first game by independent developer, Lienzo, and tells the tale of Ikki, a feline warrior hero who must save her village of cat-people from the terrors of evil Morodir. When Morodir steals the Fang of Alliance, a powerful artifact in Ikki’s village, Ikki tracks him down to find he has locked himself away behind a door that opens only to one who has retrieved three ancient orbs from around the world. So, Ikki’s journey begins.
Hunter’s Legacy is a Metroidvania that attempts to earn its title amongst the greats in that long list of loved games in the action-adventure sub-genre, but it ultimately falls short. It’s a game that meets almost all of the criteria of a Metroidvania: 2D platforming, a large, interconnected world, upgrades that require skill and practice to take down a variety of powerful enemies. It just misses what makes so many in this genre special: some semblance of depth.
The plot synopsis offered earlier never really goes further than “retrieve ancient orbs to kill bad guy and restore peace,” and that becomes painfully clearer as you progress through the game. By the time you nab the second orb, you’re already 60% through the game, the plot has gone nowhere, and you’re left wondering if there’s anything more to it.
Lienzo has crafted a wide range of intriguing creatures, a civilization of cats that has some unclear history with Lord Morodir, and a setting full of varied locations. It’s a world that feels primed for secrets and lore for players who are eager enough to seek them out. Unfortunately, none of that is here, and the game’s plot is boiled down to a black-and-white fight against evil in an arbitrarily strange fantasy backdrop.
Ikki’s character is equally uninspired. When the game begins, she is already the village hero, which is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, the way the villagers speak to her implies that she has already achieved greatness. This harkens back to the issue with how there are simply parts of this world that feel empty. We never learn about Ikki’s previous endeavors. In fact, the player hardly learns anything about her at all. Then, there’s the simple fact that the Metroidvania genre is one that historically relies on character progression in order to build a relationship between the player and the protagonist.
By the end, we should feel Ikki has grown with us as we’ve learned how to play the game, and that should bring us together. Ikki beginning as a hero would imply that she has no need for progression at all. It’s a little discouraging from the onset. I can’t help but feel that I would have cared about her more if she began as the town idiot aspiring to greatness rather than the single shining pinnacle of power.
But Ikki’s abilities, of course, do progress as the game goes on, if only a little. Each of the five main levels in the game has its own boss battle and a new tactic/move that Ikki can learn to become a more skilled combatant. Early on, Ikki learns to use a bow (how she became a hero prior to this point, again, is an enigma), then she learns to perform a downward strike, or a dash, etc. These moves are mostly learned after defeating a boss, most of whom have some puzzle-solving element involved in their battles that offers a somewhat interesting gameplay dynamic.
The game also has an upgrade system in order to allow Ikki’s maximum health to increase or for her weapons to be made stronger. This is done in the village by spending gold that can be collected from the brown chests disbursed throughout the map. On top of that, these upgrades require Ore that are stored in white chests. These chests are considerably rarer and harder to reach than those that contain common gold. The first Ore you collect is practically handed to you, and in my playthrough, I was only able to find one other. Unfortunately, the game promptly forgot that I had collected said Ore, so when I went to trade in my pocket full of gold and precious single Ore, I had to leave the upgrade vendor empty-handed.
Even if these Ores were easier to find (or easier to hang onto), there’s not much of an upgrade system to brag about. Certainly, if you wanted to backtrack through old levels to hunt down each Ore that was previously inaccessible, that’s an option. But with three health upgrades, three sword upgrades, and three bow upgrades, there’s not a lot to get excited about. Although, I imagine the game might get a little easier.
Much of the gameplay is inspired by other Metroidvanias. If you’ve played one before, you’re not going to be surprised by Hunter’s Legacy. Platforming, light puzzle-solving, and 2D combat are largely the game’s most prevalent aspects. And at that, Hunter’s Legacy is actually good.
Mechanically-speaking, Hunter’s Legacy is a solid 2D platformer, albeit a little frustrating at times. Much of the early gameplay is rather simple. The player is only asked to learn the basics by practicing Ikki’s limited skills on simple enemy types and short chasms. The game’s difficulty is a slow build as Ikki gains access to more equipment and abilities. The body of the game doesn’t really offer much of a challenge. It isn’t until the third act when enemy types begin to vary wildly, dealing damage in different ways. One type would shoot magic at Ikki, causing the entire screen to turn purple and disoriented. In this same area, Ikki has the ability to begin dashing across wide expanses, making for much faster-paced gameplay. It’s only at this point, near the end, when the game starts to feel fun.
But that fun doesn’t last long, as platforming turns more tedious and mobs of enemies begin to swarm Ikki at every opportunity. Near the end, there are certain areas that ask the player to make perfectly-timed leaps just to cling to the far edge of a platform. Falling almost certainly means death, not because falling off of the map instantly ends the game (mercifully, Ikki will return to the last known ledge), but because there are almost certainly mobs or environmental hazards that will force Ikki to the nearest checkpoint. Absolute precision is required in these areas. At these times, Hunter’s Legacy is likely to make the most seasoned player seethe with frustration.
Visually, Hunter’s Legacy is a sideshow, but hardly beautiful. Lienzo used a wide color palette and created interesting enemy designs and environments. But nothing about the way the game looks implies that it was intended to be a marvel. For the most part, the game’s performance is much the same. At times, I encountered a hiccup in the game’s framerate or Ikki would get randomly flung far into the air. Other than my missing Ore, the game ran mostly smoothly over the course of my eight hour playthrough.
If this game sounds like a challenge, I can assure you that it is. If you’re looking for a difficult game and nothing else, Hunter’s Legacy delivers in the end. Parts of it are fun, but so much of the game feels like a missed opportunity, especially in terms of its plot, characterization, and world-building. The relentless gameplay near the end does nothing to redeem Hunter’s Legacy from what it’s ultimately missing.