Berserk Boy

5 March, 2024 - 4:00 pm by
About 11 mins to read
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

In a month where I celebrated my 40th birthday, I’ve been looking back over a lot of things, including video games. It’s strange to think that I’ve now been wielding a controller for probably three-quarters of my life, and how many of my favourite gaming experiences are still of those games I played almost 30 years ago. So as a gamer ‘of a certain age’, pixel art platformer Berserk Boy immediately appealed to my sense of nostalgia, sporting a gorgeous look that’s clearly inspired by some of the greats of my heyday. Without a moment to spare, I snatched up my pro controller – it was time to go berserk!

Berserk Boy takes place in the year 21XX, in a world where the powers of darkness have risen up and humans live under constant threat of their attacks. Helping fight back against the forces of evil are the Resistance, a military force who fight off the Shades and offer aid to the remaining human populace. Our protagonist is Kei, a young boy recently enrolled in the Resistance, who becomes embroiled in a battle to gather the long-lost Berserk Orbs -mythical artefacts of great power- from a maniacal scientist known as Dr Genos. As Kei, you’ll quickly find and merge with a Berserk Orb, granting you the power of lightning speed and the ability to control electricity! By using these powers you’ll have to battle your way through an army of Shades, overcome Dr Genos’ henchmen and collect their Berserk Orbs, so that you can grant Kei more elemental powers to help him take on the power-mad doctor himself.

At A Glance

Positives  + Pulsing soundtrack highlights the action
+ Bright and playful pixel art visuals
+ Loads of optional pickups to extend the fun
Negatives  – Collection of control niggles
– Later abilities begin to overpower the level design 
– Weak final act
Overall7 /10
Played OnNintendo Switch
Also Available OnPC
Find out about our scoring policy here.

At first glance, Berserk Boy may look like an old school run ‘n’ gun affair, but it actually plays a lot more like a Sonic-style platformer, where fast-paced jump and dash attacks are the order of the day. Levels are set out in large blocky pathways that are littered with spikes, pitfalls and blasters to hamper your progress. A la Sonic Adventure 2, enemies are strategically placed to invite you to dash attack multiple baddies in a row, and along with the handy grind rails, you’re able to traverse great chunks of the level without your feet ever touching the ground. It’s a simple but effective formula, and the pace at which you can zoom around the levels is an awful lot of fun. You can play Berserk Boy  on one of two difficulty levels, Modern and Retro; the Modern options gives you an unlimited number of chances to reach the end of a level, where the Retro mode takes a more traditional lives-based approach whilst also making the enemies a little bit tougher. I played in the game Modern as that seemed to be the default option, but I’d recommend Retro for players with any platformer experience, as Berserk Boy never risks reaching anything close to Mega Man difficulty levels.

Each level contains a number of human survivors who are hidden throughout, and as a Teleporter working for the Resistance, Kei must find them and get them to safety. Finding all of the Resistance members in each level unlocks an Ex. Level – these are time trials where it’s a race to reach the finish -but be warned- there are no checkpoints, so tread carefully or you’ll have to start again from the very beginning! Also stashed throughout each level are five Berserk Medals; often tucked away in the most tricky to find or hard to reach areas, you’ll need to search high and low to collect a bunch of these if you want to overcome Dr Genos and save the world. 

In the standard Berserk form, Kei’s basic attack allows you to smash into an enemy at high speed; this not only causes damage but charges them electricity as well – then with one simple push of a button, you can unleash a blast of power to any (and all!) baddies you’ve tagged with a powerful shock attack! Each of the five Berserk Orbs you collect come with their own skills and signature attacks, and you can swiftly switch between them at will with a flick of the right analogue stick. And since the action freezes while you’re on the form selection wheel, you’re able to select the right power without any stress before getting back to zooming around in your preferred form. 

Being picky, as I am, the controls can sometimes get a little bit in the way of the fun – particularly when it comes to the accuracy of inputs with the analogue sticks. This was especially true when using the multiple dash ability in ice form, and I felt like I never had great control of Kei as I attempted to speed between large numbers of targets. The right analogue stick is the main perpetrator though, and I found myself being given the wrong form from the selection wheel pretty regularly, particularly when I was in a hurry to switch. It seemed that pushing the stick in one direction would sometimes cause the game to select the opposite side when the stick ‘flicked back’ into place. This might not sound like an especially egregious issue, but when you’re trying to speed your way through a level and find yourself without the power you’re expecting, you can plummet to your doom which is really quite annoying.

The default button mapping on the Switch felt really foreign too, and I imagine this comes from cutting and pasting the control scheme directly from the PC version, where Xbox button layouts are the default. And yes, while you can remap the controls easily enough, this too comes with a problem – half of the onscreen prompts use the remapped controls and half of them don’t! This caused considerable confusion whenever I was trying to figure out what I needed to press, I was regularly second-guessing the prompts. Thankfully, all of this is very patchable, and I’m sure Berserk Boy Games will work out these kinks in no time. 

Visually, however, things are top notch. With its retro-inspired HUD, chunky character sprites, and bright, lively environments, it’s hard not to think of games like Mega Man X and Sonic 3 – two absolute giants in the 2D-platforming arena. There’s a wonderful cohesion between all of the visual elements that underlines how much care and attention has gone into crafting this very specific look and there isn’t an area of Berserk Boy that isn’t polished to a mirror shine.

While the environments and animations are well crafted, it’s the cast of characters that undoubtedly steal the show, with the strong anime stylings breathing tremendous life into each and every character you meet. Whether it’s stoic Commander Leslie, the maniacal Dr Genos, or just one of the nameless Resistance refugees, the look and style of each character really helps bring the world to life. Kei’s multiple forms have very cool looks too, with the ninja-inspired Ice Kunai and anime pilot themed Soaring Winds coming in at my top spots. 

Sadly, I do feel that Berserk Boy starts to lose some momentum as you begin to reach the later stages. Not an especially difficult platformer to begin with, once you collect the Soaring Wind and Mine Buster forms, the challenge level is lessened considerably. Kei is suddenly able to glide through huge areas of platforming by simply steering him with the analogue stick, avoiding pitfalls and dodging enemies with zero ability required. And the battle sections too are reduced to a few seconds of button bashing, since the Mine Buster cannon lays waste to any-and-all comers in just a hit or two. Even the ‘Final Showdown’ level suffers from Kei feeling overpowered, though I was glad that a genuinely enjoyable final boss battle managed to pull the nose up at the crescendo. 

Berserk Boy Games may have shot themselves in the foot by not also introducing some equaliser mechanics to maintain the challenge once you gain these powerful forms. I feel like having sections where you can only use one specific form to get around (and all of the others are locked out) would have a huge positive impact on the engagement, especially in those later worlds. Being able to change Berserk Boy’s abilities at the flick of a switch is a great selling point, but it feels like we might have been given a little too much of a good thing.

One thing that you can’t get too much of though, is the absolutely stellar soundtrack by Sonic Mania maestro, Tee Lopes. The music is perfectly in keeping with the aesthetic, made with equal portions of electro-beats and shredding guitars that push you on at breakneck speed. All of the tracks are catchy and well put together, but I think the boss theme has to be my favourite – it’s an awesome, high octane track that builds with frantic energy as you dash around, avoiding crazy attacks and pummelling your opponent. 

In summary, Berserk Boy is a beautiful homage to the 2D games of yesteryear, offering lightning-paced platforming that’s an absolute blast. With stunning environments and wonderful, anime-inspired pixel art characters, the visuals are to die for – as is the top-tier, turbo shredding soundtrack. A lean towards being slightly too easy, along with some level design oversights late-game keep it from being a classic, but Berserk Boy certainly offers a fun experience. I hope this is just the inaugural entry in a great new series of 2D platformers – it certainly has the potential.

In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.

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