Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Akinofa (Playstation 4)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
3 Stages (loopabe)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Pixel Lantern
Published by Red Art Games in 2022

The love for pixels goes way back in the history of home computers and, of course, video games. Even today in the era of ultra advanced high resolution graphic techniques people still resource to pixels in order to establish mood, ambiance or a simple connection to the style of old. German developer Pixel Lantern is of course aware of that, as we can see from what they were able to visually accomplish in Akinofa, a horizontal shooter that's completely built around pixels. In concept it's a very weird one too, an aspect that's certainly bound to draw some attention, at least when you first read about it.

Akinofa is a "mysterious undead fish of green flames". It doesn't swim, instead it flies in a mix of gothic and medieval settings populated by tiny creatures and fiendish ghouls. Normally it shoots green projectiles (button × or R1) but after a while it acquires the ability to fire special shots with limited ammo (button □ or L1). When in need and provided you have bombs in stock, the undead fish can summon a bigger version of itself that cruises the screen damaging enemies along the way and making you invincible (button ○ or R2).

Meet the boss of the forest world
Unfortunately this is another example of a game that requires grinding, at least until you've maxed out all upgrades by purchasing them with the gold collected during regular play. I actually tried to advance without upgrading anything once I saw you could rely on three random items that appear at the end of every section. Sadly they only allow you to obtain special shots (double, triple and 3-way spread), ammo refills, health points (hearts) and bombs (lightning bolts). You can't increase life and bomb stock, the ammo gauge, the firing rate or improve damage capabilities during the game itself, and while it is theoretically possible to finish Akinofa without these enhancements it would probably take ages to get through an extremely boring and frustrating ordeal.

Akinofa is comprised of three worlds, each one with five sections where you fight a boss in the last one. The first world takes place inside a decrepit castle, the second one is a magical forest and the last world is a medieval fortress. As I mentioned above, in the end of each regular section except the boss fight you can purchase up to three random items, in what's the only aspect that's remotely related to a roguelite nature. Stages unfold in the very same way every time at one single lethargic pace, which at least makes memorization easier. A tiny counter in the lower left keeps track of how many enemies are left in the section, and if you manage to kill them all you collect a "perfect" bonus of 1.000 points.

A single orb that appears in the first world might either release a heart or coins, but this orb is completely absent from the second and third worlds. This means that after the first world you can only recover health if the game allows it at the end of every section. Preserving health is the most important strategy to survive some of the enemy traps later on, and by then you'll certainly be accustomed to the slight inertia applied to the character's movement. That's the main reason why touching walls is often the major cause of health loss and deaths. There are no continues and you'll need to start from scratch if the game is over, even though there's a "try again" option together with "main menu".

Launch trailer for Akinofa on the Playstation 4
(courtesy of YouTube user and publisher RED ART GAMES)
If you accept what Akinofa has to offer, which is mild shooting action with little variety, somewhat grating music and no real rewards in the end, the first upgrade you need to get is "gold", which increases the chance of enemies dropping gold coins. Then it's just a matter of replaying the game over and over, collecting gold, upgrading your arsenal and learning how the gameplay works in the process. Eventually you'll get strong enough to not die by being sorely underpowered. On the other hand, bosses are wimps which can be obliterated in no time by bomb spamming. Once the boss of the third world goes down the game loops with little fanfare and more resilient enemies (new game+ begins now!).

There's nothing basically wrong with Akinofa's gameplay, it's just devoid of any real excitement. However, amidst the snoozy action and the na├»ve stage design there might be a few thrills in trying to get those 100% kills for the perfect bonus. Chests and vases don't contribute to this percentage so you can skip them, just note that chests will always have only gold coins whereas vases might also give you an ammo refill or an extra bomb. In any case, once all upgrades have been maxed out gold ceases to be important because you'll always have enough of it to get the in-game special weapons and recovery items. Excess gold doesn't even count for any extra points once the game loops, which is a shame. 

Once I looped the game I met my demise somewhere in the first world, pretty much out of boredom. At the time of this writing the result below was enough to put me in 7th place in the online leaderboards. There are no local score tables and no difficulty settings whatsoever, the only tweaks available are audio balancing and vibration.

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