Here’s a video game protagonist idea I bet you’ve never heard before: undead fish that can fly and shoot green fireballs out of its face. Super unique, right? Well in the roguelite shoot ‘em up Akinofa, you take control of such a character. Unfortunately, the game itself is not nearly as unique as its fishy protagonist.
Created by the adorably named Pixel Lantern, Akinofa is the latest in the genre that doesn’t seem to die. Get used to the roguelites and roguelikes, reader, because they’re here to stay. That isn’t entirely a bad thing, since we’ve seen some real winners lately like Going Under, Gods Will Fall, and the soon-to-be-coming-to-Xbox Hades. However, we’ve also seen games on the forgettable and unremarkable side of the spectrum – like Akinofa.
Other than the aforementioned flying, zombie fish, there isn’t anything new here. Gameplay consists of flying from left to right across an auto-scrolling screen, dodging enemies and their projectiles, but making sure you hit said enemies with your own projectiles. Each level will end with a little shop for you to buy upgrades that last until you die, and, in case death does find you, you will be sent to the beginning of the entire game.
Normally that’s not too much of an issue with a roguelite since it’s a genre-defining trait and all. Yet here it’s the worst part of the whole game. Dying is incredibly easy to do in Akinofa considering difficulty ramps up quickly after each level and you can only take three hits before starting from square one. This issue is taken to a whole new level of eye-twitchingly awful due to the fact that the permanent upgrades you can purchase upon your death are expensive as hell.
Sure, those upgrades can greatly extend your life, but that’s only if you have the insane amount of patience required to obtain even a small handful of the suckers. Defeated foes and broken objects in the environments drop coins so rarely that you’ll be doing more grinding than an underleveled protagonist in a JRPG from the nineties. In an unfortunately vicious circle, this is again made even worse by the fact that dying is so easy to do without those upgrades. You will see the same first few levels over and over and over. Enemies are always in the same place, they are always doing the same things, and, for the most part, so are coins.
For a roguelite, it seems that Akinofa has missed most of the lessons laid out by its predecessors. The lack of random generation in levels and enemies is an enormous oversight. Playing the game quickly transitions into feeling like a tedious chore. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if the moment to moment action had some appeal to it, but it’s incredibly simple stuff. Shooting is perfectly fine, but other than moving slowly in one of four directions and shooting simple bullets, the gameplay never evolves. All of this makes for an incredibly unrewarding experience.
Unless, of course, you care about Gamerscore. I don’t normally mention Gamerscore in reviews, but this is an incredibly unusual instance. In less than twelve minutes of playing Akinofa, I had acquired every single one of its achievements. And the score these things gave me were enormous! I received nearly one hundred Gamerscore for every single one of them, and, as I said, I got them all in less time than it took to go beyond the third level of the game.
As I thought about these achievements, it struck me as odd that there wasn’t one for completing the entire game. Isn’t that the first lesson they teach in achievement school? Give players a big achievement for actually beating the game? Combined with the immense amount of grinding required to make meaningful progress, it almost feels as if Akinofa doesn’t want you to play it. It’s like a child asking a disinterested babysitter for something to do and the sitter’s response is to throw a ball of twine in the child’s direction before saying, “I dunno, take this. Go nuts.” Why even see the game through to the end if the game itself doesn’t care about the ending?
Despite these thoughts, I did my time and grinded my life away to reach the ending and it was as unfulfilling as I had thought it would be. The levels barely evolved, enemies were lazily thrown into place throughout the entire game, and even with upgrades that made me stronger I felt bored out of my mind. The best thing to be said here is that the visuals aren’t bad. It’s some nice pixelwork and all of the action is easy to read, but that’s not nearly enough to redeem everything else.
In situations like these, I wonder if the game just needed more time. A scrolling shoot ‘em up is a great idea for a roguelite, and when’s the next time you’ll be playing as an undead, flame fish? The execution just isn’t enough, though, and Akinofa ends up feeling as pitiful as a fish out of water.
Take in the pixel art locales of Akinofa on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One – check out the Xbox Store for a purchase