Sometimes You’s Escape From Tethys is a retro Metroidvania seemingly obsessed with the fact that it is a Metroidvania. While playing, I consistently found myself frustrated with the game’s latent potential, and its self-destructive desire to stick as close to the classic genre’s formula rather than building on its own foundation, or the ideas contributed in recent years. By no means is it a bad game, but it is not exceptional, and unfortunately it will struggle to attract people that want something more than familiarity.
In Escape From Tethys, players are tasked with just that – escape from Tethys. The planet of Tethys itself is an ever-expanding labyrinth, enabling free exploration and the discovery of new player abilities, both traversal and offensive. To achieve this goal, players explore uncharted areas based on the map in order to find new abilities or bosses, which hold even more significant abilities – these then allow further exploration into previously inaccessible places.
This is the basis of the classic Metroidvania genre, and I only describe it so explicitly to illustrate how religiously Sometimes You sticks to this formula, both to the game’s benefit and detriment. When the game’s systems are working as intended, Tethys is about as good as any other successful game in the genre – creating a sense of dread and mystery during a desperate search for a health-restoring save point, or an intense battle with a boss.
Far too often however, things do not work as the team intended, both technically and through the game’s design. The platforming is, at times, heavily reliant on janky pixel manoeuvring. This is a problem particularly in the mid-game when the player has enough movement options for the game to throw hard platforming sections at them, while not having enough leeway to navigate around the less finely tuned jumps – for example when the player has to make seemingly impossible landings on platforms directly above them, or when an upwards air gust is involved.
This roughness in the game’s construction extends to faults in its design as well, particularly in balance over time. Escape From Tethys is marketed as a “difficult” game, which is absolutely true at the beginning, but as the player progresses through the game it becomes laughably easy. Their health and ability ammo balloons out of control, and this makes the latter half a breeze, going completely against the intended gameplay tone.
Sadly, much of the game feels largely inconsequential in between boss fights and obtaining new abilities. If possible, it is always preferred to completely avoid enemies and run to the next room as quickly as possible, since the only thing killing enemies gives you is health and ammo, and both are completely restored upon saving.
This is severely worsened by the lack of clarity found in the game map. While the map rightfully marks save and teleporter rooms, when the player needs to look for an unexplored thread of rooms it becomes a tedious search for unexplored corners of unmarked rooms, the vast majority of which will lead to nothing and instead extend the search.
Every time I found a new ability, rather than elation and excitement for my increased capability, I instead began to dread the incoming treasure hunt for new rooms as the map provides too little information as to what can and cannot be accessed. About half of my playtime was spent searching the map like this, and is the result of multiple questionable design choices heavily inspired by outdated metroidvania mechanics.
Once over this hump however, the new abilities greatly add much-needed expression and choice to combat and traversal encounters. While still relatively simple, areas previously encountered become playgrounds, with areas that were previously difficult to safely proceed through becoming opportunities to try out new skills and feel real, absolute growth, both as a character and a player.
What you see is what you get with Tethys’ presentation. Nothing is particularly exceptional, but nothing offensively bad. Of course, this is not a deal breaker, but when other games in the genre are so highly regarded for their presentation like Hollow Knight and the Ori games, I cannot help but feel slightly let down by the potential here.
Escape From Tethys uses a pixel art style, and does a great job in communicating both the world and personality of Tethys, and keeping important gameplay information accessible and clear to the player. Each area is successfully punctuated with different enemies which demand varying responses from the player and keep combat mentally engaging.
Similarly, music and sound are successful in encompassing each area’s character, with late game areas becoming more dynamic and heightened along with the enemy sound design. There are hints of gameplay implementation of sound when certain enemies begin to target you, but this is for a small handful of them.
In the end, I finished Escape From Tethys on Xbox One in three hours. While it definitely has issues that have a negative impact on the overall experience, I can’t help but look back on my time with the game positively, and if you are interested it definitely won’t let you down – if you can push through the tedium.
The game’s quality feels ironically in line with its story: lost in an unknown world burdened by hostile creatures, with only a sliver of hope for escape. While the game is absolutely solid, it’s nagging potential to be something more was always on the edge of my mind.
Sometimes You have made a very clear effort to pay homage to its Metroidvania roots, but in doing that feels lost in forging its own identity that will fail to attract anyone other than established fans of the genre.