One of the defining aspects of a Metroidvania is their typically labyrinthine worlds. With so many tunnels, crevices, cracks, and secrets to explore, you’ll often feel like nothing more than a tiny, insignificant cog in something much larger and unknowable.
At least, I’ve always found this to be the case. Whether I’m playing as Samus Aran or Simon Belment, as I slowly unpick a Metroidvania, the world becomes a little less mysterious as each room braved reveals a little more information. But in the beginning? I always find them kind of terrifying – the idea that the next room could hold some monstrous creature ready to devour you.
Carrion, the new indie game from Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital is a Metroidvania where I’ll never need to worry about what might be lurking around the corner, because I am the thing that lurks around the corner.
During my brief hands-on with Carrion, I saw what is largely the first 20 or so minutes of the game, with an interconnected HUD-type area apparently cut out from the demo for the purposes of getting me between levels a little quicker.
The game starts with you – a thriving, sentient mass of muscle and viscera – trapped in a containment jar surrounded by scientists. You break out, and the characters around you very much start losing their shit, as you squelch and slime along the ground of your cell before slinking up through a nearby vent.
The movement controls are the first thing that present themselves to you in Carrion, and they’re perfect. You aren’t supposed to feel like a bounty hunter in a power suit, or a plumber with a love of jumping, but a slithering, heaving thing. As such, you’ll stumble and snake over every surface, and along walls, throwing yourself across gaps using your tentacles to grab objects and throw them around. It feels perfect, and all too immersive.
Your tentacles are also used to take on enemies – though there’s a definite feeling that they can’t really put up much of a fight. I’d imagine the challenge in this area will build the further into the game, but I expect the point is that the humans aren’t really ready for your attacks and can’t stand in your way.
In fairness, a little towards the end of the demo I started encountering humans who wielded flamethrowers, which the monster didn’t seem to like, so it looks as if certain weaknesses will show themselves as we progress.
Any any rate, you’ll use terrible tendrils to latch onto humans and either slam around until they resemble a sticky paste, or drag them towards you and devour them.
While the game’s pixel art means it’s not super distressing to watch (although still bloody), the crunching, slurping sounds mixed with the screams of both your victims and you yourself as the monster makes dispatching enemies a a gruesome, yet satisfying task.
The more people you consume, the larger you become, and the more satisfying it feels to crash through a vent before devouring anything that moves within seconds.
In terms of the Metroidvania aspect of Carrion, your monster can “merge” with various test tubes around the underground station where you’re being held to learn new powers, which will then grant you access deeper into the world – or in this case, further out of the world? I guess the idea is that we’re trying to break out.
In my time with the game I picked up the power to shoot a line of webbing, which could be used to stick enemies to walls before eating them alive, or shoot through walls and activate various switches. There was also a dash attack I developed which I could use to smash through obstacles I couldn’t before.
The catch seems to be that you don’t have all your powers all of the time, and will instead have to return to certain points to switch between abilities based on what you need at that time in that area. I’m not sure if that’ll cause too much pointless backtracking, but Phobia seem to have the Metroidvania essence down, so I’m inclined to put my trust in them.
I had a blast during my time playing as John Carpenteresque abomination in Carrion. The controls are tight, the atmosphere is oppressive, and ending fights in a whirlwind of blood and screams is a sight to behold.
I don’t know why the monster is so bent on causing chaos, or what exactly it wants. In my head, it just wants to be free, but I fear that when the full game releases in 2020 I’ll discover its intentions aren’t quite so straightforward – and I’ll still have no problem guiding it to freedom.
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.