A new entry in the Metroidvania genre from RedblackSpade and Ratalaika Games is Fearmonium.
Now, the description on the storefront describes this game as “a psychedelic Metroidvania with an expressive aesthetic where suspense joins together with humour” and best of all, that the story is written by a Master in Psychology! Shall we see if the actual game on offer can live up to the trumpet tootling on display?
We will kick things off by discussing the narrative and the first thing to mention is that the story found in Fearmonium does discuss some difficult subjects, so much so that it features a trigger warning as you boot it up.
The actual story involves us being an unpleasant memory in the mind of a young man called Max. Max has been to a fair, confronted by some clowns. It’s these guys who have become the seed of a new phobia. The overall aim of the game is to become a full blown phobia, supplanting all of Max’s other fears. In order to do this, we will have to fully explore his inner world and root out all the other phobias. With the aid of Lady Depression, who bathes in Max’s tears, we’re left to explore Max’s mind, grow in power and become Max’s overarching fear. Fearmonium is certainly pretty dark!
Following on with the presentation of Fearmonium and it’s pretty positive. The visuals are hand drawn and feature frame by frame animation, a technique used to best effect in Cuphead. Obviously, given the game’s subject matter, the graphics are altogether darker. The map that we have to navigate is very large, complete with different areas to explore. In a nice touch, the enemies change to reflect the areas that we are in as well. The bosses are also well designed and feel like they owe a very large debt to Cuphead in their design. It’s all pretty good.
It’s similar in terms of the sound with balloons popping (they act as a kind of currency in the game) and enemies being squished. The music is also very fitting to the style of the game and works very well. In fact, the whole theme of the game is quite effective, tying nicely in with the narrative.
It is pretty much business as usual in the Metroidvania vein for Fearmonium too. We start out all weak and feeble yet by exploring and fighting get the chance to develop new abilities, helping keep us alive, and so on and so forth. The action is split between exploration and combat and it’s in the latter with which our female character – a clown with a big hammer – gets to work, utilising the hammer to vanquish foes. We also have a number of combo attacks available, pulled off by hammering X; these will suffice for the majority of the enemies we meet. Most enemies are pretty weak, and while some are incredibly annoying (the bully with the catapult is able to stun lock and nearly kill us if we mistime an attack), once you have learned the attack patterns, they are pretty simple.
As progress is made we get new abilities that can be used in combat, such as being able to shoot fireworks as ranged weapons, and various new moves; a dash to get out of trouble is particularly helpful, especially since it can also be performed in the air.
The bosses of Fearmonium up the difficulty and going into their arenas (which are unlocked by finding keys dotted about the place) can be a bit of a shock. The problem I have with the combat is in the controls as there seems to be a bit of a delay between performing an action and the character doing it; when you are trying to either attack in a short window or dodge away from trouble, it causes issues. Speaking of the dodge, the controls seem a bit strange too, as we have a button to dodge left (LB) and one to dodge right (RB). Surely one dodge button with a directional input would have been better?
Exploring is pretty much the same as every other Metroidvania ever, with the addition of some interesting sections. There are moments in which you’ll need to inflate with helium and float, others set on a minecart and even parts of the game in which you’ll ride on the back of a great big crow – the variety of the stages is very good indeed.
But it’s the use of new abilities to reach new areas which is vital, and backtracking is absolutely required. Luckily, Lady Depression can act as a teleport point, enabling you to zoom around the map by simply hopping into the bath with her. I don’t think I’ve seen a weirder way to get around! There are also puzzles to be solved, usually revolving around boxes and placing them in places where you can jump on them.
Complaints are few, but potentially major. The controls make Fearmonium just a little bit harder than it needs to be, and the map is quite unclear as to where you have and haven’t been; trying to remember where you haven’t been once you get a new ability is a bit hit and miss. There are NPCs you can interact with who will provide a hint for a price, but they aren’t a massive help. Other than that though, Fearmonium is pretty good. It may not set the world on fire, but the style is enough to make it interesting.