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Berserk Boy is a Wonderful Game With a Frustrating Structure

Key Takeaways
1. Retro action platforming with a perfect aesthetic.
2. Expansive levels with lots of optional hidden collectibles.
3. A frustrating late-game design turns things into a bit of a slog.

It took exactly one screenshot for me to know that I was going to be insanely into Berserk Boy.

The game is a 2D action platform in the vein of Megaman with big, bright, chunky sprites that looks like it could have been designed for the GBA screen.

If I have an ideal aesthetic in games, it’s that.

I’ve spent a fair amount of the past month glued to Berserk Boy on the Steam Deck, and have seen the main game through to the end credits. It is exactly as fun to play as it looks like it should be, but actually getting to those credits ended up being oddly frustrating.

Linear Despite Legacy

Kei is the protagonist of berserk boy, so naturally he's gifted with special powers.

Despite its inspiration, Berserk Boy is a remarkably linear adventure. You play as a member of a resistance organization with the unique ability to harvest energy from leaders of the oppresing army. Within missions, you’ll also find currency and stranded rebels to rescue, and then use those in your base between missions to upgrade your abilities.

Note: there are also five medallions in each stage that don’t seem to do anything. Collect them anyway, trust me.

I know it didn’t invent the format, but I was surprised at how closely that meta-narrative matched with last year's fantastic Gravity Circuit.

The level select screen in berserk boy shows how linear the game is.

However, unlike that game or the Mega Man games that inspired them both, there’s no choosing your path through Berserk Boy.

You start on Stage 1 of the first environment, and when you finish it you go to Stage 2, then Stage 3 where you fight a boss. Once you’ve beaten the boss and unlocked their powers, you move on to the next world.

You can replay a level at any time, and there is an optional, hidden time trial level attached to each stage, but outside of that, it’s a straightforward march.

Unlocking Abilities

I'm in love with the art style in Berserk Boy.

I do not want to get into any specifics, since unlocking abilities is a real delight in this game, but the different ability sets you unlock throughout Berserk Boy are surprisingly unique. Each one has its own set of attacks, but also come with entirely different ways to traverse the game.

There’s almost a Metroidvania feel to beating a boss and getting a new ability because you’ll inevitably have seen some obstacle that you couldn’t get past before and realize that now you know exactly what to do.

In Mega Man games I often pick a gun I like and only switch it up for boss battles where a specific weakness as at play. In Berserk Boy I did have a favorite ability set for combat, but the game constantly has you switching things up to solve platformer challenges.

The one downside here is that in some instances where platforming and combat challenges overlap, I’d find myself forgetting how to effectively fight with a suit I normally used for traversal. A lot of my deaths came down to me forgetting what to do to pull off specific attacks in very specific circumstances.

Large Levels

Getting a rank at the end of each level encourages replay in berserk boy.

The levels in Berserk Boy are surprisingly large, and expect exploration more than I anticipated. In fact, the levels are so large that they all have four teleportation gates you activate on the way to the goal that you can use to fast-travel backward if you want to check an alternate route you missed. In general, each level took me around 10 minutes to complete on the first try.

Thankfully, these gates aren’t the only checkpoints in the game. Berserk Boy isn’t the most challenging game in this style that I’ve played, but between juggling the different combat and traversal styles I died plenty to silly mistakes.

You’re never more than a minute or two from where you died. It’s not quite Celeste levels of getting you back in the action, but it’s close. Add in the fact that the game eschews a “lives” system entirely, and dying doesn’t hurt so bad.

I do wish that this game implemented a map system like some other games with expansive 2D levels do. There were a few times in revisiting a level where I wasn't sure which side of a T-intersection was the critical path I'd already explored and which was an optional route I hadn't seen.

The Problem

The pause screen in berserk boy tells you your time in the level, your score, your money, and how many medals you've collected.

So far this review has been pretty positive. For the first several hours, I was having an absolute blast with Berserk Boy. It was pretty clear I was heading towards the end of the story, and… well, then the game let me down a bit.

I have to get into some late game stuff that might be considered spoilery here, so if you want to jump ship the short version is this: the end of the game absolutely kills the momentum it’s built up, and getting to the finale took at least as long as I had played up to that point.

Okay, with the warning out of the way, here’s the issue. The final boss fight in Berserk Boy isn’t actually the final boss fight. You beat the baddie, but they escape to an unknown location. In order to track them down, you have to engage in a fetch quest nearly as tedious as the Triforce Charts in Wind Waker.

First, before you even know what to do to proceed, you have to find a survivor who knows what you need to do. There are a ton of survivors in the game, and each one you find then shows up at your base as an NPC with a single line of dialog. I had to wander the base talking to every single one of them because the one you need is not distinct from the others in any way whatsoever.

I have no clue if this guy is actually a survivor that I’d rescued in a level, or if he just spawned when the time was right. If he is an actual survivor I’d rescued already, lucky me. I can’t imagine how much more annoying this would be if he wasn’t there and you had to randomly replay levels hoping you’d find the right guy with no direction.

The npc who needs medals in berserk boy doesn't even have a face.

Anyway, finding the guy is only the beginning of the nightmare that is the second act of this game. To reach the final level of Berserk Boy, you have to collect 50 of those badges I mentioned way back at the start of this review. There are five badges in each level, three levels per world, and five worlds. That’s 75 total badges, and you need 50 to proceed.

That means diving back into levels to replay them over and over again to look for these stinking badges. The game does tell you how many you have for a level, but these aren’t like the purple coins in Super Mario Wonder where it will indicate that you’re missing the middle one so you know to search the middle of the level. These badges can be anywhere in the level, so you just have to replay and replay and replay.

Also, and I’m embarrassed how long it took me to realize this, you can lose a badge you’ve collected. When you grab one, your character pops up with a bit of dialog saying they’d better get it to a transporter. What that’s telling you is that you die between picking up a badge and reaching a teleport gate, then you didn’t pick up that badge. You have to go back and pick it up again, even if you hit a respawn checkpoint after grabbing it the first time.

I hoped that maybe the time trials would give me badges because that’d at least be something different to experience, but they do not.

I spent hours replaying the same fifteen levels over and over again to reach the end of the game. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like the level design and basic gameplay of Berserk Boy, so it wasn’t exactly torturous. It just broke what had been an extremely propulsive pace and forced me to play the game very differently.

Final Thoughts

Still illustrated cutscenes give berserk boy extra character.

Even with the late-game structure that slowed things down, Berserk Boy isn’t an incredibly long game. Steam says I’ve played for 12 hours, and I’ve seen most of what the game has to offer. That’s about the runtime I’d expect for this sort of retro throwback, and for fanatics you’d need to throw on a few more hours to find all the hidden secrets and complete the time trial levels, which I barely touched.

I really loved my time with this game, and it’s one I can see myself coming back to just to tool around with its unique combat abilities or to try to find those last secrets. I just wish that the late-game design was somehow tweaked to better keep up the fantastic pacing that had me hooked up to that point.

If you’re a fan of retro platformers, this is absolutely one to check out. Heck, from that perspective, the odd design choice might be an intentional throwback to the games we played when we were kids, just like the graphics and soundtrack are.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Quick View
Title:Berserk Boy
Release Date:March 6, 2024
ESRB Rating:Rated E for Everyone
Number of Players:1
Platforms:Steam, Switch, Xbox, PlayStation
Publisher/Developer:BerserkBoy Games
How Long to Beat:12 Hours
Recommended for fans of:Action Platformers, GBA Aesthetics, and Finding Secrets
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.

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